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musings from the studio and beyond ~

dawn chandler’s reflections on art and life. . . .

 

I don’t know what to say about the fires…

but what any sentient person might say:

The fires are horrifying.

A consuming history- and life-erasing hurricane inferno of destruction and heartbreak.

When I look at the map the fires are almost too big to grasp:

The Hermits Peak and other epic fires in New Mexico 18 May 2022 via https://inciweb.nwcg.gov/

The big fire — Hermits Peak — started in early spring — April 6th. April 6th!

A hard lesson for me living in New Mexico coming up on 30 years now is that the rhyme of my mid-Atlantic youth — “April showers bring May flowers” — holds absolutely zero truth in New Mexico. Rather spring in New Mexico means WIND. Fierce, relentless, dust-driving wind. Even with that though, this year is the first time I’ve EVER received a warning to seek cover from a wind storm, as I did on April 22nd:

Dust Storm Emergency Alert for Santa Fe, New Mexico, 22 April 2022.

My understanding and experience is that June is New Mexico’s hottest, driest month and marks the height of fire season. That’s why I usually leave New Mexico in June.

And then those gorgeous, blessed monsoonal rains come in July. Hallelujah!

But June. June heat and wind and smoke in April and May. We’ve had June weather for weeks. My watch weather app’s been telling me for days that Santa Fe will be “DRY FOR 10 DAYS.”

DRY FOR 10 DAYS weather forecast for Santa Fe, New Mexico 18 May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

This spring I escaped for a while. When I made plans for a cross-country camping trip to West Virginia, I had no idea I’d be driving in mid-spring away from the largest wildfire in New Mexico’s history. How surreal to drive deeper and deeper eastward into green humidity every day while receiving on my phone Air Quality and Red Flag warnings about the ever-worsening fire conditions back home. I felt like I was cheating somehow, bundling up in a wool blanket against the cold on a screened porch in Harper’s Ferry, watching the marvel of grey streaks of rain against the impossibly verdant backdrop of Appalachian forests.

On the drive back west, Mother Nature must have felt we needed a transition, a reminder of what real humidity is. Just north of Memphis she cranked up the heat and humidity to 94/85% while we camped in a forest where vines of poison ivy thick as my forearm trailed up the trunks of hardwood trees. After a restless night of sweating sleep, too hot and muggy for a top sheet or even bed clothes, we cancelled the last night’s campsite reservation in Oklahoma and booked a hotel instead. They say you get used to humidity if you live in it. I can’t imagine ever getting used to humidity like that.

Our last day on the road we drove straight west on I-40 peering the horizon for smoke. For the first time in my life I dreaded crossing into New Mexico.

Soon after the border we saw them: the first smoke plumes. I guess I’d never really studied the map carefully. I just never realized that the Sangre de Cristos were all that visible from I-40. But one glance at Inciweb and there was no question where that smoke was coming from. And the earth….it’s beyond parched.

Distant fire haze as seen from I-40 crossing from Texas into New Mexico May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Distant fire haze and a definite smoke plume as seen from I-40 in New Mexico May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
The growing smoke plume of the Hermits Fire as seen from I-40 in New Mexico May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

I thought I knew fire in New Mexico. I saw my first pyrocumulonimbus in 1996 when the plume of the Hondo Fire rose up like a raging giant over Taos Mountain. Never had I seen anything so colossal, so awesomely frightening before. I remember talking with my parents on the phone, “I just can’t bear the thought of all the animals, all of the wildlife….”

“You can’t think about that” my father cautioned. My mother echoed an agreement.

Twenty-five years later, I’m still trying not to think about that. I’m no better at it now than I was then.

Two smoke plumes of the Hermits Fire as seen from Rte 14 driving into Santa Fe, May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
Smoke plume of the Hermits Fire as seen from Cerrillos Road, Santa Fe, May 2022. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Just before my trip, a friend and I were talking, crying “Uncle” together to the Universe as yet another soul-crushing depressing news story made headlines. There have been so many lately that I can’t even remember what this one was. The question weighing over us was: How to carry on? To live day to day when it seems the world is imploding? So much hatred. So much distrust. So much destruction. So much suffering. How to not give in to despair?

I don’t really have an answer. But what I keep coming back to is Kindness.


Just be kind.

For God’s sake, just be kind.

To your neighbor, the testy postal clerk, your mechanic, the gal in front of you at the checkout. To the receptionist, the guy asking for spare change. To that annoying relative, that tiresome commenter. The “Others.” Your partner. To your relations.


To yourself.

I’m not saying it’s easy most or even some of the time.
But surely — surely — it’s worth the effort.

Be kind.


That, and take a deep breath and try to find one small bit of beauty somewhere, anywhere within your purview.

Notice the beauty.

I’ve been preaching this for a few years via my weekly missive. Why? Because I need to remind myself over and over again that if I simply pause for a moment and look for beauty, it can soften the hard edge of Life.

Notice the beauty.

As when I returned home, weary from three weeks on the road and a barrage of worries, I pulled into my driveway with yet more dread, expecting to see a dried-up garden.
Only to discover the flowers were waiting for me.

With astonishment I noticed my whole garden was thriving.

Springtime pink and gold blooms in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Soon I learned that my neighbor took the initiative to water my garden while I was gone. I hadn’t asked her to, indeed, I had left my garden abandoned, not wanting to burden my neighbors with its care. But she noticed that some of the plants looked thirsty, so she kindly watered them, and kept the birdbath filled, too. I had expected to come home to a wilted and forlorn garden sucked dry of life, but instead my beds were flowering oases, musical with birdsong. I couldn’t stop staring at the flowers.

White iris in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

It’s such a small thing, to notice a flower. Yet the impact can be profound: In just a breath or two I was carried away from despair to a long moment of near perfect peaceful presence.

Try it.

And while you’re at it, please pray for rain.

Red poppy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.
The stunning black center of a vibrant red poppy in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.

― Georgia O’Keeffe
Red and gold iris in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time –

and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.

― Georgia O’Keeffe
The alluring center of a yellow rose in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Photo by Dawn Chandler.

Artist Dawn Chandler in her Santa Fe studio.

Thank you for reading my musings. If you think others might appreciate them, feel free to share this post. And if you’d like to read more of my musings please consider subscribing to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. Find other ways to keep tabs on me here.

Thanks for finding your way here.

Stay safe. Be kind.

Peace on Earth.

~ Dawn Chandler

Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

“the wood I use houses pain, as do I, as we all do”

In deepest Wisconsin winter, on a bitterly cold day in the middle of February, on the seventh floor of a massive concrete building in the middle of a busy city block, I walked through a wispy, ethereal forest.

700 trees planted neatly in seven rows. Or rather 700 trees suspended neatly in seven rows.


The arborist is my nephew, Ian VanDeventer Chandler — “Ian Van D.” The forest is his breathtaking graduate thesis project.

You know what a rubbing is, right? It’s where are you take a thin piece of paper, place it on a textured surface and then rub graphite, charcoal or a crayon on the paper to capture an impression of the texture underneath. It’s a fun, cool thing to do with things like tombstones or manhole covers. Or, in the case of my nephew, an eight-foot walnut board.

In a Herculean effort, he took a roll of tissue paper and chunks of graphite and rubbed 700 impressions of that walnut board.

Then he took 700 clippings of twine, tied each into a loop about a foot in diameter, and attached the top of each tissue paper rubbing to a loop of twine. Then he suspended the 700 paper rubbings from a grid of rope 8 1/2 feet above the floor.

And created a forest unlike any other I have known. Yet also created a arboretum that feels utterly familiar to me. A moving, ghostly gossamer forest of paper, graphite, twine and heart.

Detail of N 700 Scarecrow County art installation by artist Ian VanDeventer Chandler. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Detail of N 700 Scarecrow County art installation by artist Ian VanDeventer Chandler. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Detail of N 700 Scarecrow County art installation by artist Ian VanDeventer Chandler. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
Ian VanDeventer Chandler's artist statement for N. 700 Scarecrow County.

If you are unable to view the embedded videos, try viewing this page in a different browser,
or view the videos individually via these links directly on Vimeo: Ian’s Forest 01 & Ian’s Forest 02

The artist glimpsed through paper trees of N 700 Scarecrow County art installation by artist Ian VanDeventer Chandler. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.
N 700 Scarecrow County art installation by artist Ian VanDeventer Chandler. Photo by artist Dawn Chandler.

Artist Dawn Chandler in her Santa Fe studio.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you appreciated this post and would like to read more, I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. You can find other ways to keep tabs on me here.

Stay safe. Be kind.

Peace on Earth.

~ Dawn Chandler

Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

another cup of tea

close up of steaming tea in a ceramic vessel. photo by artist dawn chandler.

I get to….
fix myself hot tea
hold a steaming mug in my hands
pull a wool shawl around my shoulders
shift my weight in my cozy chair
sip and gaze out my window
unbroken by bullets

I get to
step into the shower
turn on the water
adjust the temperature
let hot water lavish my body
as I lather with lavender

I get to
squeeze toothpaste
brush and floss my teeth
rinse my mouth with cool, refreshing water

I get to
make my bed, smooth flannel sheets, fluff my pillows
choose my clothes, change my socks, put on shoes
decide on earrings

I get to
spritz my paints
dip my brush into yellow, into blue
paint a little heart, then another, and another

I get to
write morning pages
jot a haiku

I get to
turn the page

I get to
turn on the news
I get to
turn off the news

I get to
make a list
rearrange my list, cross things off, add more, scribble little stars and notes

I get to
pay my bills, pay my taxes, order needs, order wants, order gifts

I get to
unwrap packages, fold up boxes, take out the trash

I get to
pull thyme from my cabinet
chop onion, garlic, celery, carrot

I get to
hum a carefree tune, stir the soup, ladle into bowls
wipe my lips with a clean napkin

I get to
misplace my keys
I get to
find them again

I get to
walk out my door,
lock it securely behind me
scatter seed on the ground
be distracted by three ravens
watch them crow and call and dance and soar

I get to
notice tiny purple crocuses popping up shyly from brown earth
listen to birdsong, to finches, to robins

I get to
walk down the lane
pause at the elm tree, admire curving branches, tiny green buds

I get to
pause at the rock wall, wonder how long till the orange roses start to come in
the iris
the lilac

I get to
cross the street
wind my way along the path
stroll across the bridge
with easy confidence, roam
without fear
of being shot down
left to lie and die there,
a crumbled mass of denim, pink nylon, down,
flesh and bone
pooling in blood
with three other bodies — two
children
and a family friend

I get to return home
I get to write these words
I get to breathe
I get to live

I get to make myself another cup of tea

tea in a ceramic vessel with images of cranes. photo by artist dawn chandler.

Artist Dawn Chandler in her Santa Fe studio.

Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you appreciated this post and would like to read more, I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. You can find other ways to keep tabs on me here.

Stay safe. Be kind.

Peace on Earth.

~ Dawn Chandler


Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

enchanted color and a small bit of wondrous truth

Hand-painted color swatches specially painted by Dawn Chandler for her Enchanted Color Art Experience at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe.

To view this post with its intended layout flow, view it on the website via your browser.

This is the fourth installment of a four-part series on my creation of my Enchanted Color Art Experience for Bishop’s Lodge Resort in Santa Fe.


Now the challenge was to create my own color-centric collage papers.

Somewhere in my research I learned that newsprint — the unprinted off-white paper used for newspapers and packing material — cuts and pastes really well. It also takes acrylic paint beautifully.

I started with green. It’s impossible for a painter to have a favorite color; I love them all. But if I were pressed by the Keeper of the Bridge of Death to choose my favorite color, it would have to be green. The color of forests, of trees.

A dozen sheets of forest green. Then a dozen more of bright sun-dappled light green. I mixed cerulean with viridian and cream and yellow: fifteen sheets of sage.

Next came blue: Horizon blue. Midnight blue. Ultramarine, phthalo. Back-and-forth with my paint brush across my work table pushing colors of clouds… horizons… Sky.

Earth colors next: Burnt sienna. Transitions of tan into orange. Hints of rose. Colors of adobe.

Mixing acrylic paint for hand-painted papers.

Yellow for daffodils and forsythia. Springtime. Purple for lilac and desert shadows.

Deepest red of apples, cherries…willow…blood. Dark grey for rain, for sorrow, for cozy wool slippers. Magenta for hyacinth. Teal — my mother’s favorite.

Soon my studio became a jungle of colorful papers. Hundreds of sheets of 16″ x 20″ hand-painted papers.
Eventually these would be torn into much smaller swatches.

Dawn Chandler's studio as freshly painted papers lie on racks to dry.
Stacks and piles of hand-painted papers in Dawn Chandler's studio.


The swatches were then stacked and divided into packets of several dozen colors each. The packets are distributed to my guests — my students — as we set out to explore color. Added to these packets are an array of other papers I’ve painted, multi-colored and various in visual texture.

Multi-colored hand-painted papers collage projects in Dawn Chandler's Enchanted Color Art Experience at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe.

Key among the exercises my guests and I do together is noting how colors interact with each other; how colors change. It’s a small bit of a wondrous Truth that has fueled and delighted my eyes all my life as a painter: Color is relative. Meaning it changes depending on what’s next to it, and what kind of light or shadow it’s seen under.
We’ll also notice the ways color has touched each of our lives personally, how we each carry within us an autobiography of color. to celebrate this, we’ll each fill a little book with these exercises — our own “color journal.”
And — close to my heart — we’ll consider the colors of landscape, how light and distance effect color. We’ll especially note the colors of New Mexico; the enchanting colors of the Land of Enchantment.

Maybe most important of all? We’ll be reminded that skill and experience aren’t necessary for creating art: all it takes sometimes is a bit of glue and few tiny pieces of paper.

And time, of course. Pausing in the midst of our busy lives and just doing it. Simply beginning.
Just as I’ve done these cold mornings away from home, by carving out a few moments away from distraction and filling myself with the warmth of creativity in gluing tiny bits of paper.

Sketchbook musing: Collage evoking birch trees in snow and a red cardinal, by artist Dawn Chandler

This is the fourth installment of a four-part series on my creation of my Enchanted Color Art Experience for Bishop’s Lodge Resort in Santa Fe.
I: how to teach your passion?
II: have art, will travel
III:
tiny little pieces

Some of the colorful materials used in Dawn Chandler's Enchanted Color Art Experience at Bishop's Lodge in Santa Fe.

Special thanks to the many friends who offered guidance, insight and encouragement as I developed Enchanted Color. Key among them: Joan Fullerton, Heather Snyder, Lisa Pounders, Ginnie Cappaert, Alexandra Merlino, Kathryn Wyatt, Cecilia Ciepiela-Kaelin and, of course, My Good Man. ❤️


Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. You can find other ways to keep tabs on me here.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler


Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

Pictured left: One of my favorite of my early collages made entirely of magazine cut-outs.

tiny little pieces


To view this post with its intended layout flow, view it on the website via your browser.


Early collage by Dawn Chandler made with early 20th-century bookbinding, dried teabag paper, 19th-century print, 19th-century signature, magazine clippings.

What amuses me about my little travel art kit quandary mentioned previously is that it was nearly identical to the quandary that kept me awake for nights on end a year ago. That’s when I was trying to figure out how to create an art experience focused on color for the guests of Bishop’s Lodge. What I sought then was a transportable, non-messy medium with an enticing array colors, that is easy-to use, and requires minimal prep and clean-up. Yet none of my “usual” art mediums — oils, acrylics, watercolors, crayons, colored pencils, pastels — met the criteria. Hence my insomnia: What to use? Mind you “insomnia” isn’t hyperbole here; I really was losing sleep over this.

Until I remembered collage.

Collage — the cutting, arranging and gluing of papers and other materials — has been around for centuries (think 17th-century herbariums and 19th-century scrapbooks). Yet it wasn’t recognized as a “real” art form (at least not by the “art establishment”) until the early 20th century. That’s when George Braques and Pablo Picasso began cutting and gluing cubists compositions with miscellaneous papers lying around their homes.

Below, collage through the ages:

Seventy years later, collage was the means through which I began to really learn about color. It was also my gateway into abstraction. Like those early Cubists, my first collages were made with papers I found lying around my environs. What artistic fodder I found in art school trash bins, secondhand stores, and sidewalks! Newspapers, magazines, old letters and used books, calendars, fabric swatches, wall paper, old photos, wine bottle labels, dried teabag papers and more were my medium. If I could glue it I could use it. My studio overflowed with baskets of found papers as I filled tiny books with my collage creations. My final graduate thesis project was the month of February in collage: Twenty-eight collages presented in 24” x 24” frames in a huge calendar grid on the wall.

Below, among my early explorations in collage, c. 1992 – 94. All of these are just a few inches in scale. From top: Evoking landscape with magazine clippings; collage of brown paper, fabric, 19th-century envelope, etching; collage made with early 20th-century bookbinding, dried teabag paper, 19th-century print, 19th-century signature, clippings from fine art calendars. Also, the image at the top of this post is one of mine made with found papers, including floral wrapping paper and a teabag.

One of Dawn Chandler's early collages evoking landscape, made with magazine clippings, 1992.
Early collage by artist Dawn Chandler made with brown paper, fabric, 19th-century envelope, etching.
Early collage by Dawn Chandler made with found papers including wallpaper and a teabag.

Even now as I paint I approach my canvases (the semi-abstract ones, at least) with a collagist’s eye, as I merge dissimilar elements into a cohesive, lyric composition.

But collaging found papers (papier-trouvé to use the lyrical French term) remains a foundational and much loved form of artistic expression for me.

Yet I knew that for teaching a class in color, using papier-trouvé would not work well; there’s just no continuity to them. I considered pre-packaged bundles of “Collage Papers” sold in art stores, but they, too, lack continuity and consistency. I needed papers of identical texture and sheen, easy to handle without being too fragile, that can take glue well. AND they have to come in a wide range of rich colors.
I couldn’t find anything that matched my criteria.

🤔

Then I hit upon an idea:

Make my own.

This is the third installment of a four-part series on my creation of the Enchanted Color Art Experience for Bishop’s Lodge Resort in Santa Fe.
Read the earlier installments:
I: how to teach your passion?
II: have art, will travel
iv: enchanted color and a small bit of wondrous truth


Thank you for being here and reading my musings. If you enjoyed this post and would like to read more, I invite you to subscribe to this, my blog.

Meanwhile, find more of my stories, insights and art here on my website, www.taosdawn.com. Shop my art via my Etsy shop. And please consider joining me for Tuesday Dawnings, my weekly deep breath of uplift, insight, contemplation & creativity. You can find other ways to keep tabs on me here.

Stay safe. Be kind.

~ Dawn Chandler


Santa Fe , New Mexico
Free from social media since 2020

Pictured left: One of my favorite of my early collages made entirely of magazine cut-outs.