My father was an officer in the Royal Canadian Air Force stationed there, training troops for the war in Europe. His name was Richard William Freeman James and my mother’s name was Ruth Katherine Porter Wood James. After the war I grew up in Toronto, with no siblings, but close friends, Chinese and refugees from Estonia, Latvia, Poland and the Ukraine.
I liked those first school years at downtown Brown School, and I wonder what has become of my good friend Lydia Ranta. We shared a birthday, 16 May 1942. I lost touch with her and the rest of my friends when I was taken out of that school and sent at the age of 12 to Bishop Strachan (BSS), a private school for Anglican females. So much for my 1950s.
But the 1960s started well. For a couple of evenings a week, while finishing my last two years of schooling (matriculated in 1961), I went to extra art classes at The Artists’ Workshop in Toronto. That was by far the best thing I had ever done. I adored life drawing and painting portraits of models. Also at that time I went to the Banff School of Fine Arts in the summers of 1960 and 1961. My teachers were Francoise André and Charles Stegeman, a married couple of artists from Belgium, and they reckoned I had talent and invited me to apprentice with them. Amazingly they convinced my parents and so I “dropped out” of the regular system and started into the life-long process of learning and exhibiting. I married John Clute in 1964.
Although I started painting seriously in the early 1960s in the above mentioned apprenticeship I don’t feel I hit my stride until 1970 in London. I exhibited then in a two person show at the New Arts Lab with Pamela Zoline who had been a fellow student back in the early days with the Stegemans. I painted what I called boardpaintings. Further paintings in this decade were painted on whitened board, but still in acrylic. (I didn’t want to subject those I lived with to the turpentine effects of oil paints. There were four of us, two couples living in the small space of our Camden Town flat: John and I slept in the room in which we worked, our bed being in one half of the room and John’s desk and my easel, on the other side by the windows. )
Apart from the medium being different, I can see that my current work bears a direct relationship to the paintings of this time. Janet Daley, panel member of the radio programme, Moral Maze, and now writing for the Daily Telegraph wrote of my exhibition at Triad, Regional Arts Centre, Bishops’s Stortford, in 1974:
The paintings “seem to grip one with their extraordinary mysteriousness… They combine the animal with the machine with the human in ways that make us want to say, at the same time, ‘why?’ and ‘Yes, of course.’ The fact that the images point in different directions and are often on a totally different scale from one another adds a further level of ambiguity, a worlds-within-worlds quality… ”
Early in the 1980s I experimented with etching and I was also back to oil on stretched canvas because I worked in a couple of studios rented from SPACE. The first was in Wapping Wall. I look at the renovated warehouses there today and marvel at how our drafty studios have metamorphosed into Manhattan Loft-style apartments. The second set of studios is still in existence in Hackney: Victor House, Richmond Road. I began painting a few large paintings – but not so big that they couldn’t be hung on the walls of ordinary homes; I like my work to be “domestic” – one of these was The Golden Years Return, 60″x 40″, 1983.
Inspiration came from a Giorgione composition done 500 years ago called The Three Philosophers. It is in landscape mode with a dark cave, Plato’s cave most probably, on the left. I chose to borrow the right side of the painting, changing a few things like having one of the “philosophers” holding a Picasso-type painting.
Once in a while an event in the outside world hits me with such force that I have to make a painting or two in response. The Chernobyl nuclear reactor melt-down happened in 1987. One of the resulting paintings was The Awakened , 14″x 20″, 1987. It is based, with changes of course, on a photograph taken of local people as they were being tested for radiation. In the actual photograph they looked sunny and brave. In mine their faces are stressed, as though they know something of their future. Another painting I did in response was Plato’s Cave, 21″x17″, 1987. The firemen are based on firemen who had to go in shortly after the melt-down.
Also in the 80s I did several covers for The Women’s Press. Would like to do more of that sort of thing.
1990s and early 2000s
By the 1990s I was painting back at home. Pamela Zoline and John Lifton having moved to Colorado, their room became my studio. The solvents of oil painting were not now a problem. I did several paintings in The Footpads of Darwin series, the first of which has an up-side down monkey face. The women with their backs to us, one of which has a bird on her head, are standing on the red-faced monkey: we are all, in some sense, footpads, an old English term for “thieves”.
As I write in 2002 I can see my painting life in the throes of the same old passions. Two series begun in the 1990s, Footpads of Darwin and Progress of Anansi, are still alive for me and I’m working further with the iconography of the letter “a” and recurring images of elephants and masks. And I’m still turning motifs upside down. Also I enjoyed my visit as Guest Artist at 2001, A Celebration of British SF, in Liverpool. And I’ve had pleasure working on two books which have come out in this year, 2002:
We’ve set in a new category: Grab Bag. There are lots of drawings and sketches not on display. And linocuts. If you are curious and want to see more, a meeting can be arranged: as always e-mail me. Also there are strange things like the joke drawings done by Joe Haldeman and me. Included here is a photo of us on an Underground train in London doing these crazy drawings, passing the sketch book back and forth, adding shapes until nothing more could be added. In this fashion we filled a sketch book from Heathrow to Camden Town. Gay Haldeman took the photo.
In the early part of the summer 2003 John Clute assembled some of his reviews to be published as Scores: reviews 1993-2003 for which I did the cover. See Covers. My photo shows him hard at work on the project at our kitchen table.
To make etchings is my new passion. Alongside painting of course. After a gap of twenty years, I needed to learn the craft again, or perhaps from a different perspective. I joined Artichoke Print Workshop and I’m working out strategies to get the varied effects I managed by luck in the early 1980s.
April 2006 update
Two special books have just been published. The first, Polder, A Festscrift for John Clute and Judith Clute, is edited by Farah Mendlesohn, published by Old Earth Books, Baltimore. The book design is by Robert T. Garcia and he has made use of my painting, Zeus Weather, for the cover. This painting is from the collection of Farah Mendlesohn. I’m completely stunned by the book. I knew about it in the works, thinking that the project was to commemorate our flat, 221 B Camden High Street, because a number of writers have made use of the place over the years, and indeed some very important works have been written here. Tom Disch wrote “Camp Concentration” here in 1967. And Pamela Zoline wrote “The Heat Death of the Universe” here around the same time. But the substance of the contributions just amazes me. So many friends have participated with love and affection. First, of course, Farah in her introduction. Actually Tom Disch’s poem, “ Songs of the Rooftop” leads in before the introduction and it makes me laugh and cry at the same time. Then there are contributions by Damien Broderick, Rob Latham, Sean McMullen, Candas Jane Dorsey, Joe Haldeman, Geoff Ryman, Scott Bradfield, Paul Kincaid, Brian Aldiss, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Ian Watson, Neil Gaiman, Javier Martinez, Andy Butler, Jack Womack, Gary Wolfe, Mike Harrison, Edward James, Stan Robinson, Ellen Datlow, Liz Hand, Graham Sleight, Roz Kaveney, and last, but not least, Pamela Zoline. Again I say I’m – stunned. There is so much creative beauty in this book. I look at a story like Sean McMullen’s, for instance, and I know the point of departure. When he came to stay he did indeed spend hours sorting out the tangle of cables coming for the telephone and I don’t know what all. When he left, everything was neatly labelled and ordered. Somehow, from all this, emerges a story about Baron Clute. And then a little farther into the book there is Joe Haldeman’s contribution. That one hits me right in the heart. I’m so touched I can’t speak the words. I just want to hug everyone who contributed. But I mustn’t go on in this venue. I’ll be writing personal letters.
The other book is “Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol” by Elizabeth Hand. As Beccon Publications say in their publicity, it is the “first separate publication of this novella”, and is a hardcover edition limited to just 222 signed and numbered copies. Each is signed by both Liz and me. It is illustrated with nine original etchings which I designed to be reproduced same size. Also I did the cover painting specially for the book.
A book for the Christmas Season and beyond – Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol (Beccon Publications, 2007) by Elizabeth Hand, illustrated with nine etchings by Judith Clute. Signed by author and artist, limited to 222 copies hardback in dust wrapper: £19 from Beccon Publications (US price varies with exchange rate.)
Images for Chip Crockett, a limited edition suite of the plates from this book, is also available. Each individually-pulled etching is printed on 300wt Somerset paper, 15″ x 11″, in a signed and numbered edition of 20. Numbers 1 to 9 of each etching are included in the portfolio. Only nine copies will be issued. The etchings are enclosed within boards and flaps. The boards are marbled with cloth ties. £500.
Images of the nine etchings appear in the etchings section.
March 2007 update
This time I’m re-organising my etchings into categories: Believing the Bones; Footpads of Darwin; Masques of the Disappeared; Chip Crockett’s Christmas Carol; and Forever Peace. The latter is a series (a work in progress) of etchings on the theme of Joe Haldeman’s poem Forever Peace. The publisher of Temporary Culture, Henry Wessels, plans to do a special limited edition (maybe 24) with hand-printed text and my original etchings bound into a special binding of some sort of special cloth “for subscribers and patrons of contemporary artist’s books” (Henry’s words). Then perhaps there would be a couple hundred copies as an anti-war pamphlet, printed offset with reproductions of the images (nice paper but not art paper). The last line of the poem is – “To stop war, make men gods”. The first lines in each of the previous six verses play with these words. They shift the words in different combinations. My etchings will respond in a visual way to the ideas of the poem and each will contain a word or part sentence or part word from those six staccato words.
An exhibition has been organised for a number of my paintings and etchings in Finland this summer. It’s a two person exhibition with Timo Sälekivi. It will be in the Galleria Becker in Jyväskylä which is a beautiful university town in central Finland. It is famed for its range of schools, being called the Athens of Finland. This show has been organised by the Artists Society of Jyväskylä and also with monies from the Finnish Arts Council. Irma Hirsjärvi did all the work setting this up so that it will coincide with Finncon 07.
October 2007 update
The latest set of etchings, Forever Peace, is complete
November 2007 update
There is a new painting in Works for Sale which has taken months to paint. It is called The Soldier’s Pole is Fall’n. This is from Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra. Antony has just died in Cleopatra’s arms. She says:
The Crown o’the earth doth melt. My Lord!
O, withered is the garland of the war.
The Soldier’s pole is fall’n. Young boys and girls
are now level with men. The odds is gone,
and there is nothing left remarkable
Beneath the visiting moon.
I made the painting in memory of Peter Wilson, an old friend and lover, who died on November 7, 2006. As a very young man he had been an officer in the Canadian Army. When I first met him in the early 1960s he was still wearing his khaki shirts while studying to be an artist at the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta. I did a sketch of him then and I’ve used it for reference in this painting.
As I was working on the theme of artist and model, I think I captured something of his Celtic beauty. And John, who also knew him from the mid-1960s, helped me with the title.
Also Susan Crean who lived for many years with Peter wrote an excellent note called The Lives Lived about Peter for the Globe and Mail, May 24, 2007. In fact she had a little help from me and another close friend of Peter’s, artist Karen Montesanto. So the three of us were credited with the writing. But it was really Susan’s.
May 2008 update:
One completely new painting, a few reworked ones, (Footpads of Darwin: Jump for instance), and some etchings. And also I’ve had two little exhibitions – London School of Economics Art Show and Artichoke Printmaking at Clifford Chance.
As I sit at my computer here in the main room I look across at two paintings – Noah and The Doorman. I see that somehow through the years, since the 70s even, I’ve been pushing and pulling at disparate elements, trying to achieve a sort of poise, a moment of calm, on the canvas. I like some of the results. They breathe of the present moment. At least that’s they way I see them.
But also I’ve been doing close-up faces. They are quite different. There’s more a feeling of horror implicit in them. Right now there are two of this sort hanging on my studio wall, Valley Girl and Slippage. (Both recently reworked.)
Incidentally, I’ve made a decision to no longer set in any dates on my paintings. Only a small signature. Likewise, no dates on my etchings. Of course dates will always be here in my site.
December 2008 update:
I’m so happy with the way Henry Wessells has produced his book: Forever Peace. To Stop War. His paste paper covers are stunning. And if I may say so it is very satisfying to see my actual editioned prints in situ. Here’s a pic of me looking very happy this summer when I was handing over to Henry all the finished artwork (270 prints). Note the paper size fitted perfectly into boxes from the street market outside. Cucumber boxes even. And also a pic of Henry leaving with all that editioned work.
February 2009 update:
On the 6th of February this year (2009), the Guardian newspaper ran an article featuring two of my paintings, Valley Girl and Footpads of Darwin: Slippage, in an interesting context: Amanda Palmer of the cabaret punk group, Dresden Dolls, likes these paintings and wanted them framing her in the photo shoot. She had been here in London playing at the famous Electric Ballroom, across the road from me, to mark the beginning of a long European and Australian tour.
(Guardian photographer is Linda Nylind)
Shown below are the two images that are in the background of the newspaper article.
June 2009 update:
Forever Peace. Stop War in the limited edition has almost sold out. Here’s the cover and the colophon page. Also a detail where we learn that a photocopy edition will be distributed to politicians in the United States of America and also here in the U.K. Henry Wessells has sent copies to everyone in the Senate and House of Representatives. I’m a bit slower getting copies sent to Members of Parliament. I’ve a big stash of this very fine “cheap” edition. They are in excess of my needs so if anyone one wants a copy just get in touch with me. They are 9″ x 6″. The protest element of this endeavour is still with me. See the recent painting Night and Silence. The title incidentally is from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
March 2010 update:
I’ve recently become a framer. The last couple of years have been a time for mastering this new craft. To see a first selection of several framed etchings there’s now a link, here framing notes at WordPress and on homepage. I’m most grateful to Graham Sleight for getting this set up for me. He even designed the heading. The main purpose for this framing set of pictures (in blog format) is to show how an etching would look framed. Since this first selection went up I’ve been learning about a different type of frame – a floating frame suitable for certain paintings – and may set in some examples of this too.
Just recently, after a couple of days work on a new painting, I found that what seemed still to be a sketch turned out to be a finished painting, far more gestural and loose than I normally work for. Its open roughness resembles the underpainting in all my more finished work, but on this occasion it can stand by itself. Having decided I had finished one painting, I immediately started a second version, of the same size, which will run on into who knows what explorations. My taste tends to go for a more finished form of painting but obviously I also like the marks made in the “present tense” of early stages. I hope to hang the two painting side by side in my next exhibition.
“This “Work in progress” photo shows these two paintings side by side. The painting on the left is the second, and will be worked on further; the one of the right is finished. And will be framed thus.
September 2010 update:
Of course the loosely painted work – on the March update above – couldn’t sit on my shelf forever untouched. Even after I had put a frame on it. Eventually I took off the frame and worked the painting to the sort of finish I really prefer. Meanwhile the other painting moved along its own way and eventually ended up sideways as you can see below.
Incidentally the early stage of the one with its delicate marks and hinted-at shapes was like a soft whisper (I liked this at first) but that was why I couldn’t keep it alongside my other paintings. I need my finished work to project across metres of space with variations of some sort of controlled voice in paint. And that one just didn’t project. Now it does and it fits with the other three recent paintings to make a good foursome. Assent Requires Several Voices. Chinook. Quorum. Stamen.
May 2011 Update:
Thanks to Paul Brazier for being my web master from 2001 until this year. For all that time he patiently put my bits and pieces into their designated niches. What a lot of work for him – especially as I’m not good with words (I’m a painter after all) and I’d often be unhappy with the look of what I had written and ask him to change and change yet again. However in 2011 the world of web sites has progressed, and I can take responsibility for my own needs; do the updating work myself.
I’ve been so lucky in finding Stuart Hodge of Koallo Internet Services. He got the ball rolling and brought in Sarah Green of SiLK Web Solutions. She cunningly translated all my flat designs into the edifice you see in front of you.
Interestingly I’m working with Canadians in this endeavour. This is not a hint of some great diaspora of scattered Canucks back to the homeland – main thing is I like to keep in touch with where I came from once; and Stuart does good work.. (He bridges both the UK and Canada as well. He was born over here but now lives in a place called Carp, a large village near Ottawa.)
My focus right now in May 2011 is getting works ready for two exhibitions opening 9 July 2011. One is at the Schüttkasten in Primmersdorf, Austria near the border with the Czech Republic. The other is in Slavonice on the Czech side of the border at the Centre for the Future.
Also a photograph with a couple of flats of John’s book, Pardon This Intrusion: Fantastika in the World Storm, a book of essays and addresses. The title quotes the first words spoken by the Frankenstein “monster” in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Because he is not a monster. We are. The cover is my design. Roger Robinson, who is the guru of Beccon Publications, brought a couple of copies over yesterday, straight from the printers.
June-July 2011 Update:
In the latter part of June, Joe Haldeman came through London on his way to France and he took a photograph of me standing by my favourite etching press at Artichoke, Brixton.
Then I went on my Great Adventure to the Czech Republic and Austria. It started early Saturday morning, 9 July 2011, when Molly Radecki met me at the Prague airport and, with Petra, as driver, we three sped south through hours and hours of beautiful Czech countryside.
We finally crossed the border into Austria, now a simple unmanned control point, and within a short time found ourselves in the hidden beauty of Primmersdorf, where Jonathon Roberts and Vesna Elfriede Michi preside over a most special environment. There’s an inner courtyard with a studio for Vesna’s Haut Couture designs and a clock tower and various houses, but the real accent is the Schüttkasten. I’m placing in here a photo taken from a Wiki entry. Consequently it is very small. The snow somehow accentuates its baroque lines. And my summer-time photo shows the entrance. It was built in 1706 and the architect is Jacob Prandtauer. He is famous for the Benedictine – Melk Abbey. And so the Schüttkasten is original baroque.
Inside, the feeling of the building hits straight to the heart, partly design, partly warmth of spirit. The bar lounge area is where I met Jon. He enfolded me in a friendly hug and offered me a drink from the bar. He warned me in his charming way that, as it happened, there weren’t going to be many people at the vernissage that night, but that it was going to be a very good party. And he was absolutely right.
It was a wonderful party. Good wine, good entertainment, good food. And above all fascinating people. At Vesna’s atelier there was one especially striking couple. Erika Ebner, dressed in red with red flower petals attached by honey to her forehead. She is in the Haut Couture business. Her partner, Pekka Janhunen, is an architect and lectures in Vienna at the University. But look at his outfit – green trim on his black jacket and – green shoes. Erika organised this apparently. My photograph shows him writing out his address for me. These two photos also show something of Vesna’s atelier.
When the opening party for this two-person show happened upstairs in the Schüttkasten I didn’t take any pictures because I was, well, focused on the party atmosphere.. But oh yes, a little before, I nabbed a picture of Ida von Szigethy as she was posing for a friend in front of one of her paintings. I like Ida. I hope we will keep in touch.
Here, by the way, is the exhibition information with its title in German:
Kunst der Frauen
Ida von Szigethy und Judith Clute
In Partnerschaft mit “Centre for the Future” Slavonice.
Die Ausstellung ist vom 9. Juli bis zum 31. August 2011
And the contact details:
tel: 02846 464
Mobile: 0650 8713727
Vesna had asked me to say some words. I thought about it beforehand. Although some of the people speak English very well, it of course was a German-speaking audience, so I made my speech very simple and short. (I saw a good photo of this and I’m hoping that it will get sent to me. A promise in the whirl of a party is not to be counted upon, though.)
The photos here of our exhibition space were taken the following day with natural light. The salient feature is the beauty of the venue. Just look at its depth. And the thickness of the wall as shown by the window niches.
Alexaner Stipsis – “Dearest Sascha”- will make a video of the hanging when he returns from Colorado, and it will go onto my site under Real Media. There is plenty of time because the exhibition lasts until end of September.
Entertainment downstairs in the bar lounge area was quite extraordinary. I’ve included here two pictures of Taurinta, the Lithuanian jazz singer. One at rehearsal in the afternoon: the other performing in her bright green dress. Note that she holds a handset from a gaming module. This is her gizmo to click in certain electronic procedures. The keyboard player of the band, Gert Kapo, from Albania, is an avant garde composer. He combines various 21st century elements and, along with David Rival’s computerized remixing, transforms traditional Lithuanian folk music something surprising and wonderful – a striking new jazz form, fresh and immediate. Completing the combo is Palestinian bassist Ahmed Eid, in the background of the green dress picture. More information on this band: Taurinta.info.
And so the festivities stretched beautifully into the deep night and then we were presented with a delicious buffet dinner. I wish we could live this way back home in London.
But the Schüttkasten ambience has its own special story. Several decades ago Jon and Vesna were able to buy this complex set of properties very cheaply. How? The answer has to do with iron curtain politics: all along the border were aggressive gun installations. Whatever inherent beauty there was in these historic buildings was negated by the bad atmosphere. Jon and Vesna had the foresight, however, to know that the buildings had great potential and soon the politics of the time would change, and they could be transformed into something beautiful.
And here we are in 2011, and the world created by Jon and Vesna and their friends enfolds all newcomers. Theirs is a place I would want to return to. Certainly most of the guests, many of whom stayed over, are “Friends” of the Schüttkasten. They do return again and again.
June 2012 Update:
Since I’m able to put things into my Available Light (the bottom of the list on the left), I’ve rather forgotten this space. For now I’d like to pull from there a segment about:
The first intimations for the painting began with Gassed by John Singer Sargent. I had an uncomfortable feeling as I stood in front of that massive anti-war painting in the Imperial war museum, south London. It depicts blind-folded soldiers from WW1 standing for ever in a line, each with a hand on the man in front. At their feet lie other soldiers in various positions of blind exhaustion. I still feel this moment in time is going on forever. Paintings do this to us.
I thought to make my own small painting along these lines. I’d lift a portion of Sargent’s composition for background and I’d foreground it with a young woman wearing a CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) logo. I wanted her to somehow haunt the work. This was how I started. My canvas became filled with charcoal marks as I thought about the Sargent painting, copying some parts in faithful appreciation.
But of course my own temperament* soon took over. My inside world bustled in and everything changed. It kept changing for months. One of the main elements which lasted through all the changes was a shaman image, his moon head being a point of entry for three of the soldiers. Their heads and shoulders were just about all that remained from the first sketch.
Incidentally the shaman was a borrowing from one of my own paintings:
On some level the painting says – or at least I intend it to say – that human lives are pulled into nothingness. Whatever, I think we have to keep re-telling the story of the sadness of war because no man is an island; we all feel it.
*temperament is not quite saying what I mean. Indeed temperament is something we are born with, yet the artist’s temperament gets honed through the years. In my case I have been painting for over 50 years. I think hard about what I do. I get excited and tend to put too much onto the canvas. For instance, in this painting there was a flute player laid in at an angle. I very much enjoyed painting his fedora. It shaded his eyes and that was in accord with the feel of the rest of the painting. But in a stern judgement, did he fit at all? It had become an “all right” painting and had passages of interest, but it didn’t sing. That’s what I have to keep working for in a painting that is well underway. I have to find ways to make passages that are already there and waiting. I have to make connections so that those elements work in harmony and suddenly at the end, if I do it rightly, the whole thing has taken on a humming note. Nothing in this world is truly “well tempered”, but a painting can express its temperament and mine. That’s when I stop.
July 2012 Update
In this very small painting, Gene Pool, I’ve made use of two great Spanish painters, Velasquez and Juan Gris. Velasquez is a god and it takes cheek to borrow from him without acknowledging his magnificent way of placing characters in deep space. I can gaze at his paintings and time stops. But I’m up here in the 21st century and I need Juan Gris to confirm me in my chosen task of making this composition sparkle across the surface of the canvas. (It’s only 24 by 20 inches.)
Over a century ago when Juan Gris’s name was still – José Victoriano Carmelo Carlos González Pérez – he developed a distaste for “good” painting. While still in Madrid, in a gesture of independence, he gave himself the pseudonym – John Gray – Juan Gris. All this was before he went to Paris and met Picasso and lived in Le Bateau Lavoir. He was ripe for the new esthetique that was in the air and his paintings from 1912 to 1922 remain some of my favourites of all time.
One of the things I love about Juan Gris is that, despite his distaste for “good” painting, he believed in real painting, paintings that moved him. Paintings done by masters. He would go to the Louvre and study, for instance, the French 18th century painter, Chardin. There he saw the object treated with enormous reverence and emotion. In his own cubist paintings he somehow did the equivalent. They are not motivated by mere design. It would be a huge mistake to say that his works are a product of his training in engineering. Gertrude Stein understood his emotional depths. She was able to unsettle Picasso by suggesting that Juan Gris’s paintings were more perfect than his. (Picasso is, of course, another god.)
I feel a barbarian outsider, sitting up here in 2012, borrowing from these old masters, mixing my stuff with theirs. I’m post, post, I don’t know what.
Visit to Cedar Key in March, 2013
I’ve been to Cedar Key several times before. It’s an old fashioned backwater place on the Gulf of Mexico. It’s a “before Disney” place in Florida.
Here’s a watercolour I did three years ago. The structure has since disintegrated further. Winds and hurricanes.
The history intrigues me. Native peoples occupied the islands for more than a thousand years. Then there was the Spanish era and then the recent history, which, in some respects is upsetting: Seahorse Key, the outermost island, served as a detention camp for captured natives during the Second Seminole War (1835 – 1842).
There, now we’ve set down the really bad stuff. Let’s get to the story of pencil making at Cedar Key. It was in 1855 Eberhard Faber purchased much of the land around Cedar Key. Cedars grew in abundance. A mill for making pencil length cedar slates was established soon after. These would be sent up north to a New York factory which inserted lengths of graphite inside and lo! – Faber and Faber pencils were the end result. For a time it was big business and other mills were established.
But the cedar mills are no more. Within a couple of decades all the beautiful cedars were used. It’s the way we treat our planet.
Joe and I decided not to dwell on the sad parts of the history of Cedar Key. In the early spring of this year we spent an idyllic moment there, not thinking much about anything, other than drawing and painting. Here’s Joe sketching at the old air field.
We took a boat trip to tour the islands. Here’s Joe walking on the white sands of Rattlesnake Island. And also an arty rendering I did of the wild foliage of that island.
We saw porpoises playing by the side of the boat.
We had delicious fish paste on crackers and beer at Dock Street.
Pelicans came to the main dock.
I sketched Joe playing the guitar. His face is too long and thin, and therefore looks nothing like him, but I leave it as a gesture.
And here he is in life, playing some more, at a cluttered table.
Joe in serious colours.
Joe masquerading as Monet.
Judith looking eldritch.
Judith with a blue sky.
And here’s one of my sketches of the mangrove islands that dot the saline edge of the Gulf of Mexico. It is a view from the dock of no.7 Pirates Cove. (Pirates, by the way, have had their time at Cedar Key: Captain Kidd and Jean Lafitte.)