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Sunday
Aug142011

We are Becky and Susan

Two Women, Au Fond, 6 x 13 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.

I always thought it was a hardship to be so close in age to my sister. Although we were two years apart, my family referred to us as the girls.   It was one less name for tired parents to recall. By eliminating singular identity, every item a little girl might require could be purchased in multiples of two.  This convenience was at great cost to us. We were not twins, not the same size, and clearly we were not interested in the same things. If she looked good in the dress, I did not. If I wanted to play a game, she did not. Haircuts, household tasks, even allowances were ridiculously the same.  Sameness caused frustration and often real battle as we tried to claim independence. 

As we entered our teen years the inevitable separation naturally occurred. Eventually our singular talents and interests emerged and we found our separate paths.   There are more than 1,500 miles between us now, and we seldom see each other, yet she remains a significant part of my life. Most of my childhood memories are not singular. I don’t remember that I did anything.  We played dress up, we raked leaves, we drank Pepsi after we did the dishes, and we fought.  My memories are the shared experiences we had as the girls.  But you had better call us Becky and Susan.

Nonstop identity crisis for the girls!

Wednesday
Aug102011

Stealing Connie’s Lilacs  

Helping Myself to Your Flowers, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.Dear Connie,

So there you were, right across the street from me.  Allow me to set the stage. My bedroom window is right in front of the house. It’s a beautiful spring morning. It rained the night before. I’m lying in bed, the window is open, the birds are singing, a gentle breeze is drifting through the window. Floating on that breeze, don’t forget the birds are singing, is a subtle yet intoxicating fragrance. I perk up and then I sit upright in bed. Oh boy! Connie’s lilacs are opening! I am compelled, and I mean that literally because I can’t help myself.  I am compelled to run across the street and clip a stem to bring back in the house. Well, since I’m confessing, two or three stems. 

Every year since you planted them, I had the same response to your lilacs blooming.  And it is one of the most visceral memories I have of my neighborhood.  I love the way the stems gracefully droop over the sides of the container. I love the fragrance that fills the house. I love the texture and design of the leaf. And for goodness sakes, they’re purple. 

What did you think was going to happen when you planted an entire hedge of lilacs right along the street? Did you think we were all going to just walk past them every day and settle for brushing up against them for a little sniff? You did? I think I’m speaking for all of us living in immediate proximity to your lilac hedge. We became drunk with the heady fragrance of the blooms, and like possessed women, went straight for them.   I was really careful when I snipped the branches to make sure I didn’t damage the bush.  I hoped my pruning made it fuller the next year.

I’ll just conclude by saying I had many gratifying days when the lilacs where in my house. When I dream myself back into the old neighborhood, you are in my kitchen and the lilacs are blooming. Please accept these Small Art Paintings titled Connie’s Lilacs as an apology for over pruning your lilacs and taking more than I should have.  

Love, Susan

Monday
Aug082011

Behind a great rose garden there is an Uncle Dan  

American Beauty, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.My sister, Becky tells a story about her attempt at a rose garden.  She bought a dozen rose bushes to plant in her yard. She amended the soil, planted, fed and watered them. She did all the things she read in her gardening books to ensure her roses bloomed. Sounds like she worked her behind off in that garden, doesn’t it? What she really meant was her husband, Bob, amended the soil, planted, fed and watered the roses. I like this story, because I really don’t know any true gardening women. I just know women who go to the nursery and pick out plants and bring them home. Someone else, (insert husband’s name) is out in the yard schlepping wheel barrows of dirt around the yard. Becky’s roses did poorly and she lamented her ( Bob’s) failure to grow roses to our Aunt Dorothy. Becky asked how is it that your roses are so beautiful. You must have the golden touch.  Aunt Dorothy replied, Not at all. I can’t grow anything. They die all the time. Uncle Dan just digs them up and plants new ones. 

Aunt Dot admitted her failure as a gardener freely. She liked that Uncle Dan grew roses for her.  He brought the fresh cut roses in and put them in a vase on her kitchen table.  He always said something romantically nauseating for guests to hear.  But he had a twinkle in his eye and he made her smile.  I think there is something really affectionate about a husband planting and growing roses for his wife, especially if she lacks gardening skills.   As for the women I know, most of them would readily admit that behind a great rose garden there is an Uncle Dan. We have been the lucky recipients of roses planted for us and think it’s just fine.

Dorothy, a real American Beauty.


Monday
Aug012011

Catalog Money

catalog moneyYou Pick, 6 x 13 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.My mother-in-law, Jane, was a city girl, but her cousin, Francie, was all country.  Francie grew up on a farm, married a farmer who lived down the road, and raised her children on the same farm. They were one of those wonderful multi-generational families that worked together. They farmed in the spring, canned in the fall and quilted in the winter. Francie and husband George grew everything they needed. They even collected heirloom seeds to continue growing the lettuces and tomatoes their families had protected for generations. It was amazing to walk through the fields and see so much. But I have to say, the most impressive field in the spring was Francie’s strawberry field. It was big, and when the berries were ripe, she opened her field to friends and neighbors to pick their own.  Whatever profit Francie collected became her catalog money.  Very clever of Francie to tempt us with fresh picked strawberries.

 

Above: (Left) Country Girl, Francie Wilhelm, teaching us how to pick. (Right) City girl, Jane, picked strawberries with ouroldest son. Check out Jane's red pantsuit and strawberry blouse. There will be more about this fabulous woman later.

We were given instructions on picking strawberries: stay in your row, don’t leave ripe berries, don’t kneel on plants, don’t knock blossoms off, and don’t eat too many before you pay.  Once we started it was hard to stop. Warm from the sun, the sweet smell of ripe berries is intoxicating. And if we picked extra, well, it just gave Francie a little more catalog money.

1984. Wilhelm Farm, Mascoutah, Illinois. Me with my sons, Justin and Brian.

Monday
Jul252011

Bring tomatoes

Tomato Goddess, 8 x 8 inches, acrylic on paper, 2011.Have you ever grown abundant tomatoes like this? I’ve grown tomatoes but only in St Louis, where it’s hot at night.  Now that I’m living in Denver, I don’t even try.  My dad always responded to anyone who inquired about bringing something to one of our family events, “bring a ham.” I don’t remember anyone actually bringing a ham. 

However, if anyone from the Midwest visits in the summer and asks me if they can bring something from home, “bring tomatoes”.  

 

 

The Best Way to Serve a Tomato 
sun warmed tomatoes sliced
a drizzle of olive oil and red wine vinegar
salt & pepper
a little sweet basil or fresh parsley chopped and sprinkled over the top