Tag Archives: deborah mersky

Still Life: The Show

Last weekend, May 11, was the opening of the Troika Still Life show at the Bitters Co. barn that I wrote about last month. Troika is what Julie Paschkis, Deborah Mersky, and I call our joint collaborative endeavors.

The barn is a beautiful old building near the town of Mt. Vernon in the Skagit Valley of Washington State. The slanted ceiling is high and the beams and rafters are dark, aged wood. The weather for the day was clear and sunny. Light streamed through the windows at both ends of the space. Bitters Co. is owned and run by sisters Katie and Amy Carson, who design beautiful and useful goods made by craftspeople from around the world. 

Here are some photos from the installation:

The hanging of the first of our three fifteen-foot long collaborative stenciled banners:

Julie is looking for the best spot for her larger-than-life paper lady.

She found it!

Here, my daughter Ella is helping fill the pockets in my “Correspondence” piece.

Katie Carson has just helped install the hooks to hold the dowels to hold my “Cream Top” and “Sugar Shirt.”

And here are photos from the day of the opening! (I forgot to take pictures during the event itself, but here are photos of the work before and after attendees were there).

Julie’s paper lady welcomed our guests.Our three “Cloud Banners” graced the center of the gallery space.These are some of Deborah Mersky’s collaged clay prints.

These are two sugar lift prints by Deborah.

Julie installed a wall of cut paper pieces, painted and poked.

Here are two more paintings by Julie.

This is my Entwined I piece, knitted from twine.

This piece is titled Correspondence. It is sewn from cotton batiste fabric, and includes 33 pockets that hold letters and cards that my mother and I wrote to each other over many years.

Below is Loneliness, sewn from denim, but maybe I should have titled it “Solitude.”

And Workmen’s Circle, also sewn from denim. Six pairs of continuous jeans – each right leg becomes the left leg of the pair in front of it. This piece required a lot of planning and engineering on my part. Added plus: it spins in the breeze.

And outside the barn hangs one more banner. Three wheels of Troika. 

The show will be up till May 27. The barn is at 14034 Calhoun Rd. The hours are 11-4 daily. 360-466-3550. The new Bitters Co. shop is in La Conner: 501 1st St. Call first to make sure they’re open if you plan to stop by.


Last week Margaret wrote about the work she is making for our upcoming Troika show. You can read her post here.
As she explained, our common theme is Still Life. I began my explorations by painting with ink and gouache.

Still Life paintings celebrate ephemeral pleasures – light, flowers, food. Life.
Transience. Time passes.

I had been exploring similar themes in paintings for a show I will be having with Mare Blocker at the Taste Restaurant at the Seattle Art Museum. That show is called Abundance.For the Troika show I began to play with cut paper.

This winter I was making pinprick lanterns – Froebeling. I carried this technique into paintings that are part pinprick and part paint.

I also made many pinpricked freestanding still life objects of various sizes.  The theme is ephemeral, and the medium is ephemeral.Some of my pinprick pieces wandered a bit away from traditional still life imagery.Our Troika logo is three wheels. They represent Margaret, Deborah and me.
Wheels roll! For all three of us the idea of a Still Life transformed as we worked.As an artist, a children’s book illustrator and as a human I try to stay open to new ideas and to let them roll. As the ideas roll by in this fleeting life I try to grab on to some of them.

Please come see the new work at Taste and at the Bitters Co. Barn. Thank you.


Birds placemat

“Birds have wings; they’re free; they can fly where they want when they want. They have the kind of mobility many people envy.” – Roger Tory Peterson

I must be one of those people to whom the famed naturalist was alluding. I find that things with wings, especially bird wings, have a special attraction. Real birds fascinate me. How they have evolved, the way they communicate, their behavior. And of course, how they move. This attraction extends to other winged creatures as well – angels, putti, mythological characters. Anything with wings on it seems imbued with magic.

Cherubs-Neopolitan-mid 18th c

Have you watched the PortlandiaPut A Bird On It” skit? Now, I enjoy the humor in that show as only a true urban Northwesterner can, but since that episode aired, I can no longer indulge my bird love without a twinge of shame. Damn them. Don’t they understand that we just envy birds’ mobility?

M Chodos-Irvine -Get Out Of Jail Free charm

So bear with me while I bare my feathered soul.

There is something about birds that I find comfort in. I don’t collect birds like a philatelist collects stamps. Rather, such items accumulate around me like pigeons around a cafe. They inspire me. Why shouldn’t I want bird imagery on things I have around me in my nest, so to speak?

Such as outside my window, on a metalwork piece by artist Deborah Mersky.

Deborah Mersky-Crow metal hanging

Or on the walls of my home, as in one of my favorite paintings by Joe Max Emminger, “Bird Moon.”

Joe Max Emminger-Bird Moon

And on jewelry.

MOP bird pin

Blue bird and moon pin

Winged school bus pin

Japanese bird badge mount set

I also have amassed a large number of bird related postcards.

I H Jungnickel-Der Hahn als Festordner

Bill Reid-Haida-Raven and the First Men

Pablo Picasso-The Dove

Claude Coats-Disney production image for Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs

Crows-detail of Japanese screen-c 1650

Ruan Sidi-Jinshan folk art-Ducks Eat Rice

Along with this page from a Mary Poppins “Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot” coloring book by J. LaGrotta and E. Eringer for Disney Inc.

J LaGrotta and E Eringer-Disney Mary Poppins Magic Paintless and Dot-to-Dot

Of course, the works some of my favorite children’s book illustrators have wings too.

Julie Paschkis:Julie Paschkis-Word Bird-Flutter and Hum

Leo Lionni:Leo Lionni-Tico and the Go copy

Lizbeth Zwerger:Lizbeth Zwerger-Swan Lake

Wood engraving is a beautiful medium for portraying the delicacy of feathers. These are some of my favorite prints in that medium.

Sarah van Niekerk:Sarah van Niekerk-Jacobins in a Bay Tree

Eileen Mayo:Eileen Mayo-Two Doves-1958

John Buckland-Wright:John Buckland-Wright -Endymion-1943

This is a wood engraving of the sculpture of the Winged Victory of Samothrace by an uncredited illustrator, used as an advertisement for air power. It came from the now defunct scrap file at the Central branch of the Seattle Public Library.

Winged Victory of Samothrace-Airlines determine the destiny of nations-artist unknown

There are wings of inspiration in all sorts of places. I took this photo of some old airline signage from the Boeing Museum of Flight.

Boeing logo bird arrow

I went to Paris recently. Paris has wings everywhere you look.

Winged monument Paris

Winged Victory statue Paris

Wall decor painting - Louvre

So by now it shouldn’t surprise anyone that bird imagery shows up often in my work.

M Chodos-Irvine -Dreamer

M Chodos-Irvine -Cycnus

It helps to have some good reference materials. I have accumulated a number of  bird books, but there are a few that I use often. Birds In Flight, by Carrol L. Henderson, has excellent photos of birds on the wing. Any bird book by Roger Tory Peterson will be good. The World of Birds, by Peterson and James Fisher has good structural information, such as this page on the anatomy of the wing.

R T Peterson-wing anatomy

The “How To Draw” series from the 40s includes a handy instruction book on drawing and painting birds.

How To Draw and Paint Birds cover

Hunt makes it look so easy.

Lynn Bogue Hunt-How to Draw and Paint Birds-pg 14

Audubon’s illustrations are fun to peruse. His birds are placed in the most awkward positions, yet they are graceful in their own torqued way. I guess this is what you get when you are drawing from death, rather than life.

Audubon-White-tailed Kite

Birds and wings and feathered things. They tell a story of flight, of soaring, and of freedom. May they inspire you to make great art. Or at least put a bird on something.

Jean Honore Fragonard-The Cage

Wandering Goats

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Goat border from the Poppyseed Cakes, by Maud and Miska Petersham

Last weekend I went on a road trip with my husband. I thought we would see friends, birds and beautiful landscapes. We did, but we also saw goats.

The word for goat in Spanish is cabra, which may or may not be related to the word capricious.

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

Maurice Sendak: Zlateh the Goat

We visited friends with goats, and were reminded of the origin of the word goatee.

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

Maud and Miska Petersham: Andrewshek and the White Goat

We saw goats and kids playing in fields.

Arthur Rackham Goats

Arthur Rackham Goats

We came across this photo in a book at El Nido, a sweet hotel in Tieton, WA.

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

Goats climbing a tree in Morocco

It was capricious the way that goats entered our trip and my mind.

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840's

De Tre Bukke Bruse, Norske Folkeeventyr 1840’s

I like leaving town and leaving my routines. While I may be looking for something in particular I often find something completely different, such as an inspiring goat.

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Nanny Goat by Yevgeny Rachov

Here is a poem by Eve Merriam, lightly related to goats and wandering. I welcome your comments and rhymes about goats, goatees, meandering or caprice.

Catch a Little Rhyme

Once upon a time
I caught a little rhyme

I set it on the floor
but it ran right out the door

I chased it on my bicycle
but it melted to an icicle

I scooped it up in my hat
but it turned into a cat

I caught it by the tail
but it stretched into a whale

I followed it in a boat
but it changed into a goat

When I fed it tin and paper
it became a tall skyscraper

Then it grew into a kite
and flew far out of sight…

Arthur Rackham


ADDENDUM (May 26):

Here are some late breaking goats:

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Goat collage by Deborah Mersky

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Dancing Goat by James and Jonathan, 1956

Enjoy some Mama Lil’s peppers while watching this video of Bridget and Baylee eating lunch. They are the goats that inspired this post, owned by friends Kerry and David in eastern Washington.


Time Travel

My post today is not related to children’s books, except that illustrating children’s books led me to study Spanish. But it is a story, and a true story at that.

At the beginning of February I went to Guatemala with my friend Deborah Mersky to study Spanish at La Cooperativa, a wonderful school in San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlan. Here is San Pedro himself in the town square.san pedro

The night before I left I came across some photos that my great uncle (Karl Paschkis) had taken in 1953. They were taken in Santiago, another town on Lake Atitlan. I took the photos with me.santiago guatemala 1953santiago, guatemala

The teachers at the school instantly recognized the people as being from Santiago because of the fabric in their clothing, and they thought that some of the same families might still be selling their wares at the market.

One afternoon Deborah and I took a small ferry across the lake to Santiago.boat on Lake Atitlan

The town sprawled over the hill. Over 30,000 people live there now. Deborah and I showed the photos to several women at different stalls in the market, some of whom spoke only Tz’utujil, a Mayan language.  No luck. So after a while we gave up and went to see the church. In a courtyard behind the church several women were sweeping up leaves. I showed them the pictures. One woman was so excited that she practically grabbed them from me. She held the pictures to her chest. She knew the people in the photos and cared about them. We spent some time explaining who took the pictures and when, and trying to understand her relation to the the people in the pictures. I am still not totally sure if they were friends or family (madre o compadre) because Spanish was a second language for all of us and everyone was excited.

I told the women to keep the old photos – I don’t think they would have given them back to me in any case. Then Deborah took some pictures. Three little boys ran across the courtyard to get into this photo.santiago

I can hardly believe that we found these people so quickly in a town that big with photos from 60 years ago. Maybe in 2073 someone can go back to Santiago and find these boys who will be old men by then, or someone who knew them.


Last week I heard I heard Krista Tippett interview the oceanographer  Sylvia Earle. Earle was given the nickname Her Deepness because she was the first person to walk solo on the bottom of the sea.

Her Deepness talked about revelation: the wonder of the phosphorescent world beneath the sea. And she talked about conservation: the need to preserve the diversity of the ocean.

One morsel that stayed with me was her comment that every fish looks different. I take it for granted that every human, cat or dog looks unique. It is surprising and wonderful that this is true for fish as well. She recommended meeting fish in places other than your dinner plate.

Here are some fish by Bilibin:

The Underwater Kingdom

A snipefish from Leonard Baskin:

From Saito Shoshu:

from Matthaus Merian:
Deborah Mersky drew this with gall ink that she made from an oak tree:
Deborah Mersky
and here is a Merskmaid from many years ago.
Deborah Mersky Mermaid
 I’ve been thinking about creatures of the sea all week. How do these undersea thoughts relate to creating children’s books? Maybe in some way, maybe not at all: I don’t know yet.

Here is a poem by Stephen Spender.

The Word

The word bites like a fish.

Shall I throw it back free

arrowing to the sea

where thoughts lash tail and fin?

Or shall I pull it in

to rhyme upon a dish?