Please forgive this blitz-mail approach, but I have some great news I wanted to share with all of you, and since I’m not yet into the Twit/Face/social page thing, this seems the best way to connect with those of you who still have regular email, or might feel like reading a letter, which is longer than a text message. If you don’t feel like reading more of this, just skip to the brief NOTE* at the end, or you’ll miss the point of the artwork.
OK. I don’t want to bore you with too many details, but this chapter of “Maude Faces Life” has been scary, but exciting, and important–at least to me, so skip through as much or as little of this chaos as you like, please.
[As background organ music begins, we find Maude, gloomy and despondent, struggling with a vision problem growing steadily worse for three months– a wonky right eye, in fact, which threatens all plans for future artwork, especially miniature projects with itsy-bitsy rat bones, tiny beads, and details, details, DETAILS of any kind, which are necessary for happiness in general for either obsessives or compulsives (I forget which I am). The music slowly fades………………..]
I’d been told by two optometrists that it was no longer possible, even with stronger glasses, to correct the (non) focus of my right eye anymore, especially for close-up work, and my poverty-level insurance wouldn’t cover a lens implant or other surgery even IF it was correctable in that way. Also, a cataract had formed there, though not yet large, and that was not covered unless it was a huge cataract (or I was nearly blind), maybe months or years from now, which meant my fast-changing perception of color would just continue to get worse. So I scampered over to my Native American Health Center, and got myself referred to the best eye surgeon in town, Dr. McLeod at UCSF Medical, for an opinion. This Doctor is a famous researcher and humanitarian, so I thought it was worth a shot.
For the appointment the following week, I took along a few photos of my Boneworks skeleton boxes (plus shots and samples of the tiny beads I use to cover ostrich/goose eggs) to show him the miniature aspects of the artwork I hope to keep doing. He appeared suddenly in the doorway of the exam room, a tall, elegant man, with a finely-tailored suit, and the most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen. He introduced himself in a subtle British accent, asked a few questions quite seriously, then listened carefully while I explained my mounting concern as an artist over my vision loss. Then I opened the small photo album I’d brought, and he reached for it. His eyebrows shot up as he saw the size of the tiny beads I’d put on one of the pages. I thought “Well, at least he sees what I mean,” and thought he’d hand the book back. But he turned a couple more pages, and suddenly his face broke into a big smile. He said “Oh- wow! These are really great!” He turned more pages, took a longer look at the Boneworks photos, and laughed out loud at several of them. “Rodent bones? Rats??” he asked. Then came “Where…How….?” The usual questions. I answered as briefly as I could. Then I just shut up until he was finished smiling and chuckling over the photos, and thanked him for his appreciative remarks. I felt comfortable with him, and idly wondered if he had a favorite painter. “Oh, Vermeer”, he said. “Of course,” I thought. “The master of light.” We agreed that the recent Exhibit at the de Young Museum (“Girl With A Pearl Earring”, and many fabulous Dutch “Golden Age” paintings) had been terrific.
He began asking more detailed questions, and I explained that my real worry was that my COLOR vision was becoming impaired, and my right eye no longer focused at any point, but even if it was a fixable condition, since I’d been told my insurance wouldn’t cover anything but a basic eye exam for glasses, I really wanted his opinion as to how bad it might get and how soon, and so on. He waved that away, and said “I can fix that, so let’s just do it!” and ordered a bunch of tests. In a week, he set a surgery date, and the next week, he removed my own useless lens and replaced it with a new clear lens, for close-up work. And the next day, I could see COLORS and white- real white!- more brilliantly than I have for years! Now I can focus again with both eyes and no glasses for reading and close-up work (and Photoshop…!), and only put on glasses for distance. HOORAY for Science! HOORAY for Dr. McLeod!!
[Organ music swells triumphantly, the crowd goes wild, and Life has a meaning once more! There’s a short silent pause, and since we don’t believe in commercials, organ music begins again as we find Maude reveling in the now gloriously sharp and colorful world of 17th century painting…………………… ]
I’d left my next-to-last post-op visit with Dr. M. in a state of bliss, with a pretty certain feeling that should the other eye need attention, the good Doctor will take care of it, because he’d looked closely at my LEFT eye and said “Are we doing this eye too?” Then after looking at the test results, said “No, we won’t need to do that one yet.” That “yet” from him felt like a promise as solid as Gibraltar’s rock. So with life-long gratitude in my heart for Dr. McLeod’s skill and generosity, I secretly decided he might like a surprise Bone Box of his own. Vermeer? Master of light? Sure! Why not? I can SEE again, and I have a big beautiful monitor, a great printer, and my neighbor’s library of the best fine arts books for reference. How hard could it be………….?
There are only 36 or 37 known paintings by Vermeer. Most of them didn’t seem to have room for one of my little boneheads, or the light source or the angle of the scene would not have worked. But when I found “The Milkmaid”, an old joke popped into my head, and I knew I had it. Then began a long search for the most authentic color image I could find and adapt, since my new vision sees dozens of variations in hue and intensity in the many, MANY images and prints I found of that single painting, from day-glo to ghostly. My neighbor is a true fine arts painter, has seen the real “Milkmaid” painting, and advised scanning and adapting an image from his catalog, which I did. And after 32 trial photos and print attempts, the color refinements were as close as possible, and I had my background print! It took about 10 days of bone cleaning and matching, locating and adapting the frame (no easy job!), shadow box construction, making any needed props, and of course some finishing details the last day or so. But most of the time was spent experimenting with bone positions against the print (and finding replacements for rat ribs and finger bones which often break before they can be glued). I hate rat ribs. And finally, the most delicate and nerve-wracking part of it all- the actual bone gluing. You only get one shot when placing each bone, no matter how tiny or delicate. One shot. And super glue (even gel) is merciless. A dropped or misplaced bone will leave a glue mark that cannot be removed or covered or hidden without permanently marking the print background. No other glue has ever worked with these bones. (Doesn’t this all sound like FUN??!) But this is what I DO, so I must enjoy it… I do enjoy it. I need to create things. Complicated things. Invent ways of getting the results I want. Then improving the results over time. “ART” is a lifestyle.
Here’s the basic set-up for this Boneworks piece:
The painting is of a kitchen maid, working in a somewhat pitted and bare-walled 17th century “cool room”, and she’s pouring milk from a pitcher, intent on her task of service. All I had to do was ask myself what should my skeleton be doing? Why is he there? What props should I make for him?
AND HERE’S WHERE THE JOKE COMES IN:
A skeleton walks into a bar and says “I’ll have a beer……… And a mop.”
The Vermeer bone box was finished in about two weeks, and I gave it to Dr. McLeod at my last follow-up exam. He was quite surprised, and seemed delighted as he examined it closely, then looked up and… beamed at me. And that’s when I told him the joke. He just broke up, and suddenly rushed out of the exam room and down the hall, calling to his staff and other doctors in the eight or ten other rooms and offices “Hey- come here you guys, you’ve got to see this!” I stuck my head out of the room and saw a whole crowd of doctors, interns, nurses, and staff following him down the hall. I practically had to yell after him “Where are you going?” He called back “I’m giving this pride of place in my office RIGHT NOW!” And it was MY turn to beam.
Yeah, I’m proud of this one. So please forgive this long ramble, and some bragging. I like the idea of trading my work for things I need. For some reason, doctors, especially, seem to like these Boneworks, and so does my dentist. And I’m positively ecstatic to have found a way to augment my insurance!
Hope you like the Vermeer piece. My photo of it really doesn’t do it justice. But I’m not a very good photographer. I do better with rat bones.
Best to All,