The Amati Viola: a Cincinnati Art Museum Treasure

The Amati Viola: a Cincinnati Art Museum Treasure

“The violin family appeared in essentially its modern form in northern Italy, specifically in Brescia and Cremona, about 1550. Andrea Amati (ca. 1511–1580) of Cremona was among the first generation of makers to add a fourth string to the violin and to create the standard sizes of cello, viola, and violin in their classic modern shapes.” –Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City   Not many in the world know what a viola is, much less an Amati viola, but if it could be summed up in one word, to me it would be treasure. Last week, I found an opportunity to visit the Cincinnati Art Museum — a place I’d always wanted to visit, but hadn’t had the chance. Having visited many art museums around the world (Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, the Louvre in Paris, the Vatican Museum in Rome, etc.), I wasn’t expecting what I found. The Cincinnati Art Museum is fantastic — a Met on a smaller scale , but no less grand in collection. The entry collection is outstanding, with two Degas dancer sculptures and a gorgeous Van Gogh (two of my favorite artists). But a few pieces further, I found a stunning Amati viola. What is a viola? A viola is a stringed instrument held like a violin, but with one string lower, which draws a fuller, deeper, and many times richer sound. Viola music is written in the Alto clef, which is rare, and difficult. The strings are the same as a cello (C G D A), but are one octave higher. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Dvorak played the viola....
A Year of Oil Painting on Canvas

A Year of Oil Painting on Canvas

“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen” -Leonardo da Vinci     Ten Years of Oil Painting on Canvas Just over ten years ago, I bought my first handful of oil paint tubes, trio of brushes, and a big white canvas. I didn’t know what I was doing. Though I’d always loved to draw, paint, and take photos, I’d never trained in art. Yet on that day back in 2003, I simply couldn’t wait another day to paint a canvas with oils. When I arrived home with my 3 sons, all practically toddlers at the time, I remember wondering what to do with the canvas when I painted. I hadn’t bought an easel. And so when the boys were all tucked snugly in bed that night, I laid the canvas flat on the table, and found out in moments just how hard painting with oils really was. Oil paint usually has the consistency of toothpaste. Imagine dabbing a brush into toothpaste and trying to get the trailing smear to resemble something recognizable. It was, and still is, a challenge. Not long after, my mother-in-law gave me an enormous gift — she bought lessons with a renowned local artist for me for my birthday, and the gift came with childcare. I don’t know if I’ve ever thanked her enough for that gift. It was truly one which has kept on giving. In the years since, I’ve painted and painted, everything from flowers to landscapes to cities to people. Sometimes I’m happy with what comes out on canvas, sometimes...
6 Things Saving Me in This Long Cold Winter

6 Things Saving Me in This Long Cold Winter

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.” -J.M. Barrie (creator of Peter Pan) There are winters, and then there are winters. I’m talking about the latter. These winters are the kind that solidify the blood in our veins and make us stronger people, in general. I believe that; I do. I also am a firm believer in the philosophy of taking a difficult situation (like this frigid winter) and turning it into something useful. While I’ve thought about how to make this long, cold winter into something useful and positive, I’ve realized there are 6 things saving me right now … The 6 Things Saving Me in This Long, Cold Winter 1. Painting I love to paint, but I admit I haven’t made enough easel time in recent years. For 2014, I’m determined to paint and finish 1 canvas each month this year. Here’s what I’ve been up to: I painted the one above this fall (2013) and finished the one below last weekend (Jan ’14).   2. Photography Winter has unbeatable low lighting and dramatic shades of monochromatic blacks, grays, and whites. This winter, in particular, has been cold and stunning.   3. Flowers In the dead of winter, I need flowers — whether it’s forcing bulbs to bloom indoors or dreaming up what I might plant this coming spring, I need the thought of new growth and life in the dead of winter.   4. Books: Writing and Reading It’s a long process, working on a novel, polishing it and submitting it and waiting … it’s one that requires much faith and...
My Paris Favorite: Claude Monet, the Water Lilies, and L’Orangerie

My Paris Favorite: Claude Monet, the Water Lilies, and L’Orangerie

“Thanks to water, [Monet] has become the painter of what we cannot see. He addresses that invisible spiritual surface that separates light from reflection. Airy azure captive of liquid azure … Color rises from the bottom of the water in clouds, in whirlpools.” Claude Monet, Water Lilies, Paris and L’Orangerie This month, I’m sharing some of my favorite photographs from Art around Europe that I was able to see during my time living there. My family and I visited L’Orangerie in Paris and were able to see Claude Monet’s Water Lilies paintings. The exhibit is stunning, and these are my photographs of the Water Lilies. Even after walking along the Seine, through the Tuileries Gardens, around the Eiffel Tower and Arc D’ Triumph and Trocodero, and after mass at the Notre Dame on Ile d’Cite,  Musée de l’Orangerie in Jardin des Tuileries was my favorite in all of Paris, even after I’ve visited the city many times. For as long as I can remember, Claude Monet has been one of my favorite artists; his Impressionistic style has always resonated with me deeply. As a teen, I bought posters of the Water Lilies and kept them framed and hanging on walls of my room, wherever I moved. So to see Monet’s actual work, up close and personal, was a dream. It is difficult to explain in mere words the substantive presentation of Monet’s Les Nympheas (The Water Lilies) … so I’m including several photographs, along with quotes from Monet, to better portray his masterpieces and their sheer beauty. “It took me time to understand my waterlilies. I had planted them for the pleasure...
Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer

Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer

“Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.” -Leonardo da Vinci One of my favorite parts of the internet world is getting to know other writers and artists. Writers and artists aren’t folks who are easily known. We don’t have cards we hand out or wear certain spiffy suits to mark us as doing something notable. But in the cyberworld, we tend to find each other. One such friend is Lisa Ahn. Lisa wrote me a few months ago and asked me if I would write a guest post for her excellent blog, The Hatchery. Out of admiration and based on years of writerly camaraderie, I agreed. “Of course!” I said. “What would you like me to write about?” Lisa didn’t hesitate. “What it’s like to be a writer and artist in a city like Prague.” There is so much to say about living in Prague– the language barriers, the people, the incredible places and sites, the natural beauty. But there is also something deeper which is hard to put a finger on. For me, that is the feeling of so many lives that were lived there–the history, the people, the art. So that is where I began for my piece on Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer. I tried to put a finger on the significance of my experience in Prague, and how it changed me as a person. Here is the beginning of my piece for Lisa … Life in Prague as an Artist & Writer When I was very small, I loved to watch my grandmother...
A Book, a Painting, a Garden, and Some Summer Reads

A Book, a Painting, a Garden, and Some Summer Reads

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.” -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 It’s that middle point of the summer I love, when the sun shines bright and the weather begs for us to pull up a beach chair, hammock, or a shady piece of grass and enjoy it with a book. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately. And I love having my sons around. They’re at such fun ages — I treasure having summers with them, and having some extra time to create. Here are 4 things I’ve been up to lately: This week at GreatNewBooks.org, I’m recommending one of the best books I’ve read in a long time … Villa Triste by Lucretia Grindle When a friend hands me a book and insists I read it, I know it will be good. But sometimes a great book jumps at me when I least expect it. This is the case with VILLA TRISTE  by Lucretia Grindle. I knew nothing about it when I picked it up, but it is one of the best books I’ve read in many years, for its gripping storyline, lyrical writing, and historical setting. Villa Triste is woven between past and present, through the eyes of a young woman in Florence, Italy in 1943, whose...
A Library and a Garden

A Library and a Garden

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero (Ancient Roman Lawyer, Writer 106 BC-43 BC) For the past few months, my family and I have been in the process of moving across the world from Prague back to our native Ohio, USA. As I’m finding out, it takes a long time to move across the sea. While we’ve been waiting on our beds and other essentials to arrive with the shipment from Prague, life has gone on. My boys are getting taller and growing. We’ve been making friends and enjoying the American way of living again. And now, eight weeks later, our essentials have arrived. Sometimes it’s the smallest of things that make a place feel like home. I love having ice in a glass of water again, a picture or two on the wall, and a table to sit around with my family at the end of the day. It’s wonderful being home. As I unpack and arrange our home again, I remember that, besides family and health, the two things I personally love having are: 1) a garden 2) a library / studio I agree with Cicero. A library and a garden are two things that in some walks of life unnecessary, but for me are fuel for my soul. I’m rejoicing at having a place with a writing chair, a library of my favorite books, a desk to edit photographs, and an easel set up with my work-in-progress canvas. And I love having fresh roses from the garden, which is coming along, too. How about you? What...
Art is for Survival

Art is for Survival

All successful artists have disturbing stories in their lives and careers. They survive by coping consistently and creatively. Those difficulties keep us very creatively active, keep us aware with a deepening insight. -Harley Brown In Prague, if you stand and listen on a quiet morning, you can hear the whisper of wings — many wings — in unison. It’s startling to see, really, these swooping and diving and sharp-turning flocks of doves as they fly in tight formation along their aerial roller coaster. It’s one of the things I love most about Prague, and where I live. On any given day, these flocks of doves, peppered with dark, gray, and snowy white birds, will swoop and play in and along the rooflines around my house for hours. It’s mesmerizing. And in many ways, I think it’s art. Recently, I’ve been reading many books (as one of my favorite parts of summer!) in a chair outside below those often-swooping doves. One of those books instantly became one of my all-time favorite books: Ann Patchett’s STATE OF WONDER. In a story that pulls the reader along through a literary mystery so ripe with atmosphere in the Amazon, the main character Marina struggles to the point of death. And one paragraph struck me as being so absolutely true I knew I had to share it here. Marina has just come through a horrific battle with fever and a local sludge-like drink to cure it. An hour after her scrape with the lowest of lows, Marina must go with two others to the opera in Manaus. I don’t have to tell you she...
Introducing the Great New Books Book Group

Introducing the Great New Books Book Group

“Great New Books is all about sharing our favorite books, one week at a time. Our passion is for recommending quality books which keep us turning pages long through the night, great books which have the potential to touch hearts, and lives, and open doors to a better world. We’re so glad you’re joining us. The Great New Books site is run by a team of 6 bloggers who happen to love to read, write, and share great books. For 2013, we all have reading goals. Between the 6 of us, we plan to read 250 books in 2013. We also feature Author contributors, who share their favorite recent books as well. Each of us has our own style and tastes in reading, and our book recommendations reflect our individual preferences. Most of all, we recommend only books that we absolutely love.” -Great New Books book group Not long ago, a friend rushed up to me at a party and took hold of my arm. She smiled, and said, “Have you heard of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS?” This friend is a book-lover, a reading fanatic like me, so I knew she was talking about a book. I shook my head, no. “Oh, you have to read it. Have to. I can’t stop thinking about it, it’s that good.” The first thing I did when I got home was to google THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. And now, as I finish the book, I turn the last page and nod. Yes. It was that good. Maybe even better. Good books are meant to live on. Great books change lives,...
Author: A Video

Author: A Video

au·thor/ˈôTHər/ : A. The writer of a book, article, or other text. b. One who practices writing as a profession. One day about six years ago, I was deep in the process of writing my first book, and the UPS man pulled up at my house. He brought a package to the front door, from my publisher, Tyndale House. After holding my Boxer back from tackling her favorite Man from the Big Brown Truck, my three boys helped me tear into the package. I’ll never forget what waited for me inside the box. I had recently received news that Tyndale had contracted with me for the book, and the package was a congratulations follow-up. Inside the box, I found a hefty white coffee mug and a textured white book. The word “Author” had been printed in simple black typewriter font on both the mug and the book. As soon as I saw them, my eyes misted over. It made it real. I was an Author. Since that day, I’ve kept my pencils and pens in the mug, at the corner of my desk. And, every so often, I flip through the wonderful book Tyndale sent, the book about being an author. For those of you who are not writers, the process of writing a book may seem different or mysterious. And for those of us who are writers, we know the tremendous amount of life and love and effort that goes into creating a book or a novel. It’s all-consuming at times. I’m steeped in research for my next novel, and have been thinking about what goes into writing...