Light My Fire

The 50th anniversary of Woodstock is a year away. That will be a milestone for “My Generation.” Who was I back then? A “good girl” from suburbia who had just gotten her driver’s license two days before the unprecedented cultural explosion we did not yet know would define our generation. Now I am an artist (who qualifies for senior discounts) revisiting my own long and winding road to Woodstock, armed with a sketchbook, a scrapbook, and always tuned in to quirky facts that amplify what was simply billed as “three days of peace and music.” As we now all know, it was so much more.

I live just 60 miles, or one hour, from this hallowed hippie ground, yet I had never even done a drive-by. Last December I visited the museum dedicated to all things Woodstock, and down the rabbit hole I went. I wandered the exhibits and started to think about who, and where, I was when Woodstock took control of the zeitgeist of a troubled, yet hopeful America.

By The Time I Got To Woodstock is the illustrated memoir I am immersed in, determined to finish in time for the 50th anniversary.

Rock icons Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison died, all at age 27 (all drug-related), soon after Woodstock. According to Michael Lang’s The Road to Woodstock: “The Doors were at the top of our list, but since Jim Morrison’s arrest in Miami in March, he’d become really paranoid. He told his booking agent he didn’t want to play Woodstock for fear of being assassinated onstage.”

Today is the anniversary of Morrison’s death—July 3, 1971. He was in a bathtub in Paris, and I was in the ocean at Stone Harbor, NJ. It was the summer before I moved to New York City to go to art school and (I thought) become a fashion designer.

What I didn’t know then was that what I really wanted to do was draw. And eventually, archive memories.

This summer I get to do both.

Jim Morrison copy

 

art & text copyright Sharon Watts 2018

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Cabinet of Childhood Curiosity

I recently submitted a proposal and was accepted into a curated group exhibit for Women’s History Month at the Howland Cultural Center, here in Beacon, NY. The topic was enticing: Girlhood. Oh boy, was this ever custom-meant for me and my kind of personal art! One foot is always in my girlhood.

Girlhood overview

Looking back all these years, I assume that I asked questions from the time I learned to talk—what child is not curious? My nuclear family really was perfect, so I know when the answers stopped coming. My father simply disappeared from my life, in 1957, and my big question was Where’s Daddy? What I remember first was being in our linoleum-floored kitchen with my grandparents and asking Why is Mommy crying?  I have no memory of having his death (electrocution on the job as utility pole lineman) explained to me, or going to a funeral, or ever being comfortable asking questions or talking about any of it with my mother. Not until lately.

With the recent escalation of a nuclear pissing contest between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, I found myself having a bit of PTSD. Childhood fears are being resurrected from the Cold War. I grew up in the era of “Duck and Cover,” and here we are again. Of course, ducking and covering was a joke, but the threat itself was very real, and still is. The idea that we could simply hide under our desks to avoid the blast—who knew how ludicrous that was back then? Answer: A lot of people in high governmental positions. But that’s the propaganda pablum they fed us. And I was very frightened, especially when Nikita Krushchev thundered on our black-and-white television sets: WE WILL BURY YOU!

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Old electrical manuals and my civil defense booklets from the 1960s, a charm bracelet with the ten commandments, glitter, some toys, and my childhood art

Where did I find solace and a sense of safety? That is what makes up this installation. Sifting through a lifetime of personal archival material, as well as trinkets I’ve collected for my assemblage art (that connected me nostalgically to my childhood), I address my unanswered questions, my fears, and how I navigated my girlhood—steeped in family love, but also loss.

GH 3

More vestiges of growing up in the 1950s & 60s along with a very early book of poems

GH 4

Prayers weren’t working for me, so I switched to Mighty Mouse. “Here I come to save the day!” Gauges and gee-gaws. My childhood bank. A buddhist prayer flag with my questions.

At the center of the installation is my first assemblage art done in 1996. That was when I began to seriously address my past and how I became who I am today. No longer afraid to ask questions. Now I also write poetry to make peace with what I may never find out.

Insulating Materials

 

DEFENSIVE MEMORY

I ask now what you remember.

For me:

Air raid sirens pierce arithmetic lessons as we

practice for nuclear war.

My classmates and I scramble

under wooden desks:

girls’ plaid skirts tenting pale knees scabbed at recess and

even the boys are quiet.

Spitballs at a cease fire.

 

You say you don’t remember much.

A hint:

Did you ask me what I learned in school that day and did

I already know not to

disturb you with my fears?

I almost forgot:

Got a hundred per cent on a spelling test and

Mike Clark ate a red crayon.

And I can’t sleep at night.

 

Copyright Sharon Watts 2018

Reclaiming My Studio (& Pappaw DeWalt’s Dirt)

Halo-lit by the setting sun, a hulking cumulus cloud looms in the sky like a bulbous atomizer for the Fishkill Creek. The funky summertime fragrance fills my nostrils as I soar down Tioronda Avenue on my bicycle. Along dormant railroad tracks, encroaching development in the form of luxury housing spreads over the abandoned industrial landscape like a modern pestilence. The lambs ear and sumac and occasional dumped sofa are standing their ground for now—and I am rooting for them. (Well, not the sofa.) A whip of wind and gnats and honeysuckle helps to create a miracle: my sixty-four-year-old body is still able to reclaim that giddy feeling of endless summer.

I have been reacquainting myself with my art studio for the last week—a 1920s brick garage that was a large part of the reason I moved upstate from New York City nearly seventeen years ago. It’s been a constant battle with the carpenter ants who have had squatters’ rights since time began. A recent tar-and-patch on the roof’s perimeter has given me the (most likely false) hope that maybe this time I can get the upper hand.

squirrel & tar

So, I am back to assemblage art. I wanted to start small, both in scale and concept. While the setup was initially an homage to my paternal grandfather and the workshop he kept in his basement, this summer I am feeling the spirit of Pappaw DeWalt, my mother’s father. He had built a small, seasonal cabin (known as “the cottage” for some reason, but let’s not envision cobblestones and roses!) out of scavenged Stroehmann’s bread billboards. My dad and uncles would cart the building materials to the island in the Susquehanna from the tiny hamlet of Cly before my memories of summer even began. By the time I was nicknamed “Peapicker” by Pappaw, matching his motorboat, I was happily ensconced in that simple, idyllic setting.

Cottage - me on boat

It was less than a half-hour drive, and yet a world away from our suburban backyard and asphalt playgrounds (where we could easily crack our heads open with one faulty swing on the monkey bars). The cottage was at the very end of the island, which felt like the tip of my entire world, as I spread out on a doll blanket and memorized picture flash cards with all the butterflies and birds, or read the latest Nancy Drew. There was a small dock for the boat and jumping off into the chilly, murky river. Wooden steps led up to a screened-in porch where I loved to sleep on a metal cot, but the rustic interior I barely remember at all. Maybe an enamel-top table, an arm chair—but who wanted to be inside during summer?

 

Me at the cottage

*****

Nana & Pappaw picnicing.jpg

Pappaw and Nana DeWalt had traveled—camped!—across some of the United States, and he always brought back a souvenir for me. A fossil, some fool’s gold, and from one trip in 1957, samples of dirt. Sixty years later they are lined up in my studio, their masking tape labels still legible: Wyoming, Cedar Rapids Iowa, Hinkley [sic] Illinois, and “50 MI west of Omaha Lincoln NEB.” To christen the rebirth of my creative workspace, I decided to give them a little more of a presentation, using materials that evoked feelings of the cabin on the river, and of a time when feeling dirt underfoot and memorizing Latin names for butterflies was really all a girl needed to pass a long, summer’s day.

Dirt on shelves

3 removed and mounted, 4 to go

Samples in progress

experimenting with backgrounds to mount the dirt samples

Linoleum in driveway

a nice sheet of aging linoleum that evokes the cottage, warming up in the driveway

Linoleum on masonite

cut down to the size of pre-cut masonite (done years ago by Pappaw Watts . . .for what?)

Dirt__Lincoln Nebraska

One sample assemblage ready

Dirt__Wyoming__Mike

This one goes to Pappaw DeWalt’s great-grandson, Mike, and his wife Charlotte, who live in Wyoming. Passing the dirt!

Lost & Found In Translation

Sharon Watts-Body 1

Sharon Watts-Body 2

I was contacted to be featured in a Beauty/Health magazine called BODY in Taiwan. Here are the results…and the original pre-edited Q&A for those of us who only speak Chinese menu.

To enlarge pages above, just click on them.

BODY: Hello, could you please introduce yourself.

My name is Sharon Watts and I am an artist and writer living in Beacon, NY, a town on the Hudson River about an hour and a half north of NYC.

BODY: Describe yourself any optimistic DNA related?

I am artistic, therefore I have many moods! But mostly I try to live fully in each moment. That is the most fulfilling and spiritual thing I can do for myself, and as a ripple effect, for others. Luckily I see the glass as half-full most of the time.

BODY: Could you please share with us what kind of life you are into right now?

I think of myself as a healthy moderate (and a vegetarian) in many ways, especially about making a small carbon footprint on the planet. I am very opinionated about recycling, mindless consumerism and waste, and the need for gun control here in the US and women’s rights worldwide. But mostly I like to be quiet and enjoy what is in my own backyard, both literally and metaphorically. I have a bird bath and trees that attract a lot of birds and squirrels.

BODY: What does art act in your life?

I have always drawn. I don’t know what it is not to want to create something. I recognize as I get older that we can be creative in many diverse outlets. I also write, take photos, garden, and just “putter” and arrange my cherished objects, both in my home and also in my assemblage art which is very different from my fashion art. Art calms me and motivates me.

BODY: Are you fulfilling your childhood dream as a fashion illustrator?

I fulfilled that dream when I had my illustrations featured in the New York Times. That truly was a childhood dream. I also did art for a weekly column by the (then) fashion editor Carrie Donovan, for nearly a decade. And also ads for Macy’s and many other stores.

BODY: You use multi media for your illustration, but which media and method are you most stuck with?

I work traditionally–with paint and ink mostly. I need to feel them in a tactile way in order to be happy. This goes back to my childhood, when my mother gave me pencils and paper and taught me how to draw princesses.

BODY: What is your normal daily routine?

First–coffee! My cats demand attention and I wake up slowly. I read the news and check email, then depending on the day, I either work in my home studio (for commercial art) or in my garage-studio which I use for more personal assemblage art. I hop around–I may go do errands in town, then come back to work. And if the weather is nice, there is always yard work to do! I guess I have a loosely defined routine.

BODY: What makes you relax?

I like to explore the “back pockets” of anything: old dusty shops, city streets, country back roads,  my own archives of saved mementos: anything that might yield a treasure or surprise, or a new way of looking at something.

BODY: What’s your favorite thing to do?

Anything that has me totally immersed in the moment and fully present. But under that category I would have to say it could be anything from the obvious, doing personal artwork, to planning a getaway road trip to a new place.

BODY: What do you do at free time?

Whatever I feel like doing that day! Seriously, I honor my moods and do whatever I want. It might be organizing my art studio (which gets messy). Or it might be to curl up with a book and a cat on my lap.

BODY: What kind of style (clothing) makes you relax?

I wear Levis shrink-to-fit jeans almost every day, except in the summer I wear a lot of 1950s and 60s vintage cotton skirts.  My cashmere sweaters in the winter are old and have some moth holes and cat hair, but if I put on a little lipstick I am ready to head almost anywhere. I am old enough to value comfort and personal style over trends. I usually manage to look arty as well, so I can get away with a lot!

BODY: Any exercise habit? If so, what kind?

I do yoga, and sometimes dance and hop around as I play my old LP records, then practice some punches and front snap kicks (I used to train at karate and have a black belt). Usually by the end of the GoGos’ “We Got the Beat,” I AM beat!

BODY: Is there any place where makes you happy?

My backyard, my boyfriend’s beautiful renovated barn in Pennsylvania, an empty beach, a Paris cafe. Actually–the place I am striving to be most happy is in my own head. Then it doesn’t matter geographically where I am, right?

Assemblage Art in Beacon and on Beguile

It’s cold outside! The art studio (former garage) has no heat, but before I closed the door on it until springtime I had some pieces to finish. A group show was in the wings, and so I had to kick these babies out of the nest. (Did I mention I am part magpie?) Here is some of the “before”:

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And the final results (plus 8 more), which are in a group show entitled Family, at the Mad Dooley Gallery here in Beacon. Featured in the Po-Jo (Poughkeepsie Journal)’s “What Inspires Me” column.

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And over in Paris, some slightly older pieces from my Illumination series are currently featured on the e-zine Beguile.

Illuminate

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illuminate-3

So, on the shortest month of the year, a little “show-and-tell” between the shivers!

Hallmark Had Nuthin’ On Me

My grandmother or maybe father helped me choose this typical store-bought card from the late '50s

This gallery contains 18 photos.

My mother downsized last year, and “returned to sender” a pile of homemade cards I had given her over the years, starting when I was around five years old and ending before I went to art school in 1971. While … Continue reading