Daddy's Christmas Angel

Friday, August 15, 2014

Visiting the Spruce Goose and the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum

Spruce Goose ©Mary Montague Sikes
It wasn't in the original plan, but during our visit to Crater Lake National Park in July, we took a side trip to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon. That's where the famous Spruce Goose is housed. Howard Hughes' H-4 Hercules huge wooden airplane has the widest wingspan in the world--320 feet.

If you saw the movie "The Aviator," you know a little about the strange reclusive life that Howard Hughes led. The Spruce Goose, built at the end of World War II, was designed to carry over 700 troops. Hughes piloted the seaplane's only flight. That was in 1947 in Long Beach Harbor when it traveled a mile at about 70 feet in the air. The war had ended and the plane was never certified to fly. For a while it was housed in a dome at Long Beach near the luxury liner Queen Mary where it was a tourist attraction.

Spruce Goose interior © Mary Montague Sikes
In 1992, the Aero Club of Southern California which then owned the plane made a deal to sell it to the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum. A 138-day trip by barge along the West Coast followed. The Spruce Goose now resides in a specially designed Aviation Building at the museum. The other planes that surround it are dwarfed by the magnificent craft.

I could have spent a day in the Space Museum building. The history of space exploration is beautifully documented in numerous ways. I learned more about Russia's space endeavors than ever before.

The SR-71 Blackbird was another fascinating part of the displays.Video presentations were available for many of the planes in the museums, and we enjoyed the one for the Blackbird.

SR-71 Blackbird      ©Mary Montague Sikes
Our family enjoys everything related to aviation, so the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum was a very special stop for our vacation. If air and space travel fascinate you, a visit to this museum is a must!

Boeing 747 greets visitors at the Evergreen Air and Space Museum - Mary Montague Sikes

Monday, August 11, 2014

Where Is Your Happy Place?

"Sunset Over Sugar Mountain, Banner Elk NC" ©Mary Montague Sikes
One of my favorite songs in Zumba class is "Happy." The vivacious lyrics and rhythm make me smile. The song reminds me of the wonderful week I just spent in my "happy" place with 14 other artists making art all week long.

I love going to Cheap Joe's in Boone NC where I paint and learn something new in a workshop every year. I especially enjoy the workshops that Mary Ann Beckwith teaches. This year was special. Many of the class participants are also workshop presenters, so the expansive classroom at Cheap Joe's was alive with creativity and energy.

One important thing I got from the workshop this year was Mary Ann's suggestion to take a piece of art you're working on around the house with you. Yesterday I took two paintings with me and placed them on a tabletop by the television where I added details while I watched my St. Louis Cardinals baseball game. It was amazing how different the paintings looked outside my studio where I work beneath three large skylights.

"Workshop at Cheap Joe's" ©Mary Montague Sikes
 From April through October, Cheap Joe's offers a different workshop every week. Some people take several classes throughout the summer. An artist can present a workshop no more than once every two years. (The exception is Joe Miller - Cheap Joe who does his extremely popular workshop once or twice each year.) Mary Ann Beckwith will return in the summer of 2016.

I realized as we unpacked the car in Boone that I had failed to bring any books with me. In the past, I have scheduled book signings to coincide with my workshops. One year I signed books at Waldenbooks which has long since closed. While I was at that signing, Leonard Cosmo who owned Highland Newstand invited me for an event at his store. I signed there for several years, but it is gone now as well. There are no Barnes and Noble stores in the vicinity, so scheduling book signings now is difficult.

While I still enjoy writing and will never give that up, my happy place is wherever I can make art. Where is yours?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Transforming an Art Center in Historic Petersburg, Virginia

"Old Towne Petersburg" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Last week, my husband and I visited the construction site of the Ward Center for Contemporary Art in Petersburg VA. We were there the same day the filming of "Ithaca" began nearby in Old Towne. False store fronts were installed to create the set of the movie that is based on the novel, The Human Comedy, published in 1943 by William Saroyan. Meg Ryan is directing the film, scheduled for release in 2015. It was Ryan's performance in the movie "Sleepless in Seattle" that inspired me to write my novel Daddy's Christmas Angel.

Old Towne Petersburg is now a popular setting for movies. During the filming of "Lincoln," Steven Spielberg, the director, was often seen in the downtown just as Ryan is now.

Mary Montague Sikes' Basement Studio at PRAC
All the production activity in the historic district of the old city, reminds me of why I liked Petersburg so much when the Petersburg Regional Art Center first opened 11 years ago. I had a studio gallery in the basement of PRAC for all of the 10 years it was open. That space in the renovation is now the center of a new configuration of studios. The day we visited, dust was flying as dry walls were hammered in place. The same old pressed metal ceilings remained overhead, and I wondered if the new paint would flake from them as it did when my studio was there. I loved the space that we painted white with black walls in the back. I chose a glass door that gave a more open look to the display.

Over the years, I discovered that visitors seldom made their way down to the basement. Perhaps new signage and offices in the front of the big open main gallery will encourage traffic flow to the lower level in the Ward Center.

For many years, the Butterworth building, constructed in 1848, was home to a large furniture business. Furniture store remnants remained long after it opened as PRAC in 2003. The old wooden floor will be refinished as part of the renovation of the large gallery space. New lights will hang from the ceiling and more studio spaces will flank the back of the first floor. In all, there will be 57 artist studios. Above it all, the Butterworth Flats will provide one and two-bedroom modern living spaces.

Jessie Boyland is the director of  the Ward Center for Contemporary Art that is set to open in Fall 2014. She is now
Jessie Boyland ©Mary Montague Sikes
accepting reservations for the new artist studios and wall spaces. Her temporary office is located at 133 B North Sycamore St. across from the Butterworth building.

The opening of a new Art Center in Petersburg with improved studio and gallery facilities is an exciting time for artists. In 2003, PRAC offered promise and hope for a village of artists. Perhaps in 2014, those hopes and dreams will be fulfilled.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Crater Lake National Park Provides Great Photo Ops

"Mt. Hood" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Flying into Portland, Oregon en route to Crater Lake National Park provided the first of many photo ops in a lovely and scenic state. As we approached our landing, Mt. Hood appeared on the horizon. This was the best view of the iconic mountain that I had for our entire trip.

Our daughter, Allison, has been planning our Crater Lake visit for almost a year. She and her sisters, Alicia and Amy, were not disappointed in the many hiking trails that offered even more chances to take pictures in a variety of scenic locations.

En route to our destination, we stopped at Cline Falls State Park where we had a chance to see a different kind of water view. We stopped and took more pictures at the quaint town of Sisters. Our daughters enjoyed seeing the Three Sisters Mountains located not far away.

"Cline Falls State Park" ©Mary Montague Sikes

While at Crater Lake, we stayed at the Lodge which was constructed in 1915. It sits on the edge of caldera (volcanic basin) and overlooks the lake. Extensive renovations in 1995 left it with a 1920s appearance. Two mornings during our stay, I went outside onto the hotel verandah before 5 a.m. to photograph the predawn hour. The first morning was hazy from the smoke of a forest fire. The second morning was much clearer, and I marveled at the sudden appearance of the bright sun on the lake's edge at 5:45 a.m.

"Crater Lake Lodge" ©Mary Montague Sikes


The majestic scenery that one finds at Crater Lake National Park is glorious and well worth the drive to visit this extraordinary park. We took the Rim Drive shuttle the first day we were there. The Park Ranger volunteer was vivacious and extremely helpful on the tour around the lake that featured numerous photo stops.

For those who appreciate the National Park system the way we do, Crater Lake is a must visit. Thank you, Theodore Roosevelt and all the other far-sighted people who have made the National Parks possible. Thank you for saving our beautiful land.

"Overlooking Crater Lake" ©Mary Montague Sikes
"Crater Lake Sunrise" ©Mary Montague Sikes

Friday, July 11, 2014

Giving Up on a Long Journey with a Writers Group

"Setting Sun" ©Mary Montague Sikes
Once upon a time long ago I read a newspaper article about romance novels being a new "cottage industry". I was intrigued. I was hooked. I could write one of those books.

Not long after my "discovery" I attended a conference sponsored by the Richmond Branch of the National League of American Pen Women. It was following one of the writing panels that a speaker told me about Romance Writers of America. At the time, it was a fairly new organization. I was excited. I was thrilled. I joined.

The group had a magazine, not slick but very informative. I read it each month from cover to cover. I also attended the national conference which was held in Minneapolis/St. Paul that year. It was the first of many national conferences that fed my thirst for learning all I could about romance writing.

That same year, four nationally known romance writers came to Richmond to speak to a crowd of excited readers and wannabee writers. My fantasy grew. I looked at all the people gathered in the tea room of the iconic Miller and Rhoads department store. It was amazing. Why couldn't we have our own romance writers group? I suggested it to the woman seated across from me, and we passed around a signup sheet that was the beginning of Richmond Romance Writers (now Virginia Romance Writers).

Not long after the formation of our chapter, several members got contracts with Harlequin, a major publisher of romance novels. Our little group was thrilled for them, and we were inspired to write more and try harder. Over the years, Virginia Romance Writers has produced many published authors. The chapter has worked hard to present programs to educate and guide members to publication. It has been a major success story.

Each year I looked forward to the summer conference. I loved the settings that included Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Denver, Anaheim, and New York City. I still read the magazine, now quite slick, from cover to cover.

Along the way, I discovered I couldn't write to formula, a requirement for most of the romance series. I wanted an artist for the heroine or a sports figure for the hero. That was not a good thing at the time.

When I did reach publication, it was with a small publisher, not recognized by RWA. I was disappointed. I loved the group, and I was proud of my accomplishment.

In recent years, I have lost interest in attending the national conferences. My VRW chapter meetings are on the same day each month as meetings of the artist organization to which I also belong. I have chosen to attend the art meetings which feature excellent workshops instead of the writing meetings which also feature wonderful programs. I no longer read the magazine.

Things change. My membership comes up for renewal at the end of this month. I have decided not to renew. That means I can no longer be a member of the local chapter of which I am a founder. I am sad about that.

It is really hard to give up on such a long journey that has provided many memories both good and bad. It is difficult to accept change. As I look at the beautiful website of Romance Writers of America, I realize I am still uncertain what to do.

What do you think? Is giving up my membership also giving up a dream? I don't know.