Monday, October 7, 2019

A Slice of Americana

Madison, Indiana on the Ohio River

A Slice of Americana
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson


“We’ll give you free delivery if you win it.” The man on the street corner pointed to the bright red golf cart with chrome wheels and shiny rubber tires. “Just twenty-five dollars a raffle ticket. The proceeds go to maintaining the river walk.”
“I live in Kansas City and I really don’t need a golf cart.”
“You can opt for $7500 cash.”
The guy was going to have a busy day. It was only 9:00 in the morning but he was in his element. He pointed out to the man in the pick-up truck at the red light. “Hey Jack. I’ll put you down for four tickets. I know you got a hundred dollars cash in your pocket.”
I sat at the outdoor table by the curb, and viewed the surroundings while I ate a homemade apple-cinnamon muffin and washed it down with a big cappuccino. The guy never gave up. He almost had me believing I needed a golf cart. I got up when he wasn’t looking and started walking towards downtown Madison, Indiana, a historic district on the Ohio River. I looked down a side street through the mist toward the Kentucky side. Kentucky mist. Sounds like a good brand of bourbon. The sun and humidity were invading the quaint town in the late September morning while the people filled the sidewalks. It was the annual arts and crafts fair, and there were booths full of handiwork, as well as homemade jam, local honey, and baked goods.
Outdoor market at Madison, Indiana
I wandered over to the outdoor market on Broadway and sat on a bench by the fountain to wait for my son-in-law and granddaughter. Amish boys took turns pulling each other in an old Flyer wagon, as they wound their way through the crowd. A guitarist was twanging and singing at a microphone. I thought the lyrics sounded familiar but the quality of his voice and guitar kept me from remembering the original group or the song title.
Two dogs on their leashes passed each other in the crowd. The small bulldog strained and pawed to get near the little cairn terrier. The terrier glanced at the bulldog as if to say, “Why bother?”
I sat down and thought, this is a happenin’ place. A shapely gal walked by in flip-flops, zoomba pants, and a top that left her midriff bare. Then I noticed a guy with a curly beard so big it made me think of the beards worn by some of the major league baseball players these days.
My son-in-law with the granddaughter in the stroller met up with me. We applied sunscreen and began to look at the arts and crafts booth. There was more than you could imagine: leather goods, blown glass, jewelry, wooden walnut bowls, photo art, bonsai trees, pottery and sculpture, but not much framed art. A woman and her friends walked out of the bonsai booth. “Oh lordy, my cats would never leave those things alone.”
The town folks were working to cash in on a good opportunity. Signs on the lawn at the Christian Church read, “BBQ Lunch $10.” The church volunteers had their propane grills fired up and ready to go. I was thirsty so I stopped at a private home where the owners sat by a table and cooler on the other side of the wrought-iron fence. The homemade sign read: Ice Cold Bottled Water - $1.00.
“How’s it goin’? I’ll take one.”
“Business is brisk.”
The whole town was spruced up for the big weekend. Historic private homes had their mums out, hedges trimmed and fall gourds and decorations strategically placed. Bi-planes and helicopters buzzed overhead. This is a happenin’ place.
Historical homes in Madison, Indiana
Cecilia, the granddaughter, reached her hand out over the stroller and yelled, “Ooo, hey,” while she waved her finger towards a big bounce house for kids. At two years old, she didn’t know what it was, but the colors definitely got her excited.
The food trucks down by the river looked like they had just pulled in from a state fair. Wisconsin Cheese, The German Haus, Funnel Cakes. The aroma and steam from the brats and burgers added to the stifling heat. Step right up and stuff yourself silly.
I loved being in such a vibrant atmosphere, but the heat and humidity kept bearing down. Before walking back to my car, I made a special trip over to a back street where there was a doorway to a townhouse that I used for a watercolor painting I completed a year ago. It spoke to me as an image that summed up the historic town. Every time I go back to a spot that I’ve painted, it feels like a space where I’ve taken root, and that in some special way a piece of my spirit is always there. Today, I experienced another slice of Americana.
Doorway and Steps
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Class of '69




Class of ‘69
Memoir 
by Gregory E. Larson

I turned up the Bob Dylan song, “Like a Rolling Stone,” on my iPod music to keep from getting drowsy on the highway, and yelled out, “Sing it loud and sing it proud!” Slapping my knee with one hand and holding the steering wheel with the other, I began to sing “Once upon a time, you dressed so fine…”
I kept slapping my knee as I looked out across ocean-sized farms that stretched as far as the horizon. I was comfortable inside the air-conditioned car, but it appeared hot and windy outside. The mirage from the late afternoon sun made it look like there was water on the pavement ahead. I had to admit there was a bit of angst in the pit of my stomach as I approached Garden City in Western Kansas. The fifty-year reunion of my graduating high school class of ’69 would be my first one to attend. Would any of my old friends be there? Would anyone recognize me?
I hardly recognized the town since it had tripled in size from the days of school. When I drove to the older parts of the main thoroughfares, I remembered that Garden City was aptly named. It really was a green spot in the bleak stretches of land that made up the surroundings. It was an oasis of culture, a safe place to raise a family and connect with friends, a place of protection from the unceasing winds and the harsh weather.
That first evening at the Eagles Lodge for the meet and greet party, my fears melted away. The friends, the stories and the laughter greeted me as I walked in the door. The memories weren’t so much about what we learned in class, but about life and growing up. High school was the beginning of finding our way in the world. The stories of sports, part-time jobs, first cars, extra-curricular activities and shenanigans – that’s what were etched in our memories and what we shared all evening.
A tour of the old high school building the next morning was bittersweet. So much remodeling had taken place to the building, we had to hunt for something to hang our memories on. Carpet was on the floor instead of tile. Someone said the tiles that made up our mascot (the Buffalo) on the floor were taken to hang on the wall of the new high school. And there were ghostly memories of encounters with the faculty – both good and bad. Those teachers were on a mission to mold us into adults, and in the process, we learned that both teachers and students are human – sometimes right and sometimes wrong.
What touched me most about the reunion was how important every person was that made the effort to come. Somehow, some way. we’d all survived the intervening fifty years and had the stories to tell. The social pecking order of 1969 didn’t exist. We were a big group of peaceful, caring folks. All the greetings and all the shared thoughts were precious. The stories brought fifty years of humanity alive. Births, marriages, divorces, death, years of toil, years of joy. It reminded me of the English teacher from our high school years, Miss Barbee, one of the faculty mainstays. I can still hear her southern accent as she spoke to us, “These classical novels of English literature are filled with life events.” I realized that after fifty years our lives have the richness of novels. Living in the real world can be more fascinating. I truly enjoyed listening to people talk about the past, letting them tell their story.
In those two brief days of the reunion, we experienced somewhat of a time warp and it almost seemed like the '60s. Several of us had lunch at the old dairy shop downtown. The tin ceiling, the long counter and the old menus were all still there, and it reminded me of “the good old days” when we used to drive our cars down Main Street to see and be seen.
This was a rare August day for the reunion – mild temperatures and almost no wind. One of my high school friends and I drove by the houses where we were raised, and that brought back even more memories of coming home late at night, or shooting baskets on a goal that was taken down long ago. The little spruce tree my dad planted was now 60 ft. tall.
The second evening we had dinner at the Knights of Columbus Hall, catching up on lost years with old friends and making sure we didn’t forget to say ‘hi’ to someone and share an old memory. And a group picture was taken with umpteen cell phones pointed at us. It was sad to leave at the end of the evening. Our brief encounters came to an end.
Sunday morning was blanketed with a light fog across hundreds of miles of flatland. I gassed up the car, cleaned the bugs off the windshield and pointed my car to the east, just as I had done when I left Garden City for college. As I drove out over the prairie, I thought about all the stories and memories I’d heard and shared that weekend. Fog enveloped the city behind me, as if a curtain closed all the festivities. I searched for a Beach Boys song, turned up the volume and sang, “Round, round, get around, I get around . . .”

Monday, July 8, 2019

Paris, Etched in Stone


The Louvre Museum - Main Entrance
Paris, Etched in Stone
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

          During a stopover in Paris on my 2017 trip to the Netherlands, I made a visit to the Louvre Museum. There’s enough to see for several lifetimes and I’ve just scratched the surface.
          My main reason for the visit was a hot ticket that I’d purchased at home to see a special Vermeer exhibit along with period Dutch paintings. Although it was crowded, it was a treat to see the Vermeer paintings first-hand and get close to the brushstrokes of the highlights.

Mona Lisa painting at the Louvre
          I then proceeded to the room with Mona Lisa, an elevator ride to a room full of people. Mona let me down. Was I really hoping to make a connection to this famous painting? They could have replaced the original with a cheap print, and no one would have known. I dodged a mob with selfie sticks. Each person was trying to get a picture with Mona.

Typical exhibit hall at the Louvre
          Oh well, I thought, there must be something else in this vast repository that would pique my interest. The architect in me began to focus on the building details, the sculptures and art that were a part of the building and ceiling. At one of the huge windows I looked out upon the city and the Seine.
          There was natural light ahead, filtering down through a skylight. That's when I saw her. The soft browns and grays reflected off the sculpture of Winged Victory. Oh, I wished she could speak to me, the winged lady.

Winged Victory with base

Looking up at Winged Victory
          I longed to see her face. It wasn’t there, but I felt it’s soft beauty, it’s happiness. The irony of a stone body, set free, with the garments flowing in the wind, awakened my soul. This mother-of-all-hood-ornaments was perched on the prow of a stone boat. Irony multiplied. But all was perfect on that morning in Paris. I forgot the crowds that wandered through the space. It was just me and the lady on the boat. I got on my knees to take a picture of the underside of the stone prow, and looked up at the magnificence. What purity of line and form, unlocked from the ages. Aerodynamic stone. Weightless rock. Humanity unleashed before returning to dust.
          All the museum items beyond Winged Victory seemed to be collecting dust. I left the behemoth to get some fresh air and to walk along the Seine. Pont Neuf caught my eye. It’s arches gracefully crossing the river, an artful work of stone in its own right, beckoned in the Paris atmosphere of gray sky, green water and patches of sunlight.
Memories for the keeping.
Pont Neuf
with the Louvre Museum beyond
2019 Original Watercolor
by
Gregory E. Larson




Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Our Lady of Paris



Notre Dame Cathedral -  Paris 2007
photo by author


Our Lady of Paris
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

          Shock. Sadness. A sense of loss.
          Multiple emotions flooded over me yesterday as I stood in front of the television, aghast at the scene unfolding at Notre Dame in Paris. A conflagration of epic proportions was out of control at the heart of the cathedral. Where were the pumps? Where were the standpipes with hoses and nozzles at strategic locations?
          I have no answers.
          My thoughts went back to my teenage years of the 1960s in Western Kansas. My interest in architecture had taken root and I adopted Notre Dame as my personal symbol of Western Civilization. At that time, it seemed to me that the cathedral was the perfect building in the perfect city. The edifice was situated at the east end of the Isle de la Cité and appeared to have naturally grown out of the ground on the banks of the river Seine. Yet it seemed light years away from the sparsely populated plains of Kansas. I vowed to make a visit, and pay homage to Our Lady.
          Forty years later, on a Sunday morning in June, I fought off the jet lag while I stood in the verdant park on the east side of Notre Dame. I could hear strains of the organ playing inside the cathedral during an early mass. Our Lady didn’t disappoint me. She looked more elegant in person than in all the photos I had seen. I walked out of the warm, sunny morning and into the dark interior, and was amazed the public was allowed to walk the perimeter of the sanctuary while the morning mass was underway.
          The next day, I was compelled to take the tour of the exterior, which included a climb up the bell towers and a walk along the parapets. The views of the cathedral and the surrounding city made my heart sing. Far below the gargoyles were cars, motor scooters, busses, tour boats, and sidewalk cafés, all full of tourists and locals moving about on a Monday morning. My pilgrimage was complete. No doubt — this was the heart of Paris and my heart was so close to this symbol of Western Civilization. Our Lady held me in her arms.
          Even on the rooftop, the cathedral was chock full of stone carvings, copper statues, and artistic details. Grotesque and mythic creatures leaned from the edges to ward off the evil spirits. An angel stood at the peak of nave’s gable, blowing a horn of stone.
          Just before climbing the countless steps back to the ground, our tour guide let us inside the top of the south belfry to see the large bell that was a key element in Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
          Those memories are significant now that most of what I saw that day is gone.
          Our Lady was more vulnerable than anyone imagined. A tinderbox waiting for a spark. I hope they rebuild her, although it will never be the same.
          Shock. Sadness. A sense of loss.

Author's note: All of the photos shown below are ones that I took during the tour of the bell towers in June 2007.










Sunday, March 3, 2019

Thank You, and announcement of online gallery

by Gregory E. Larson

          What a joyful evening it was at the art exhibit and reception on Friday evening. I was so grateful and humbled to see the large number of people turn out to see the artwork. My goal is to create art that makes people happy, and it was fun to see so many happy people.
          For those of you in the Kansas City area, the exhibit will hang through March and April, so you are welcome to go see it during church hours at:
St. Michael’s and All Angels Episcopal Church 
6630 Nall Ave., 
Mission, KS 66202
          If my schedule is open, I would be glad to meet you there. Also, I have an online gallery with all of the artwork, and with a few paragraphs that I’ve written for each painting which describe where the scene is located and what struck me as interesting, and what caused me to want to paint it. 
          For those of you who live far away, and those who just want to view the artwork, the online gallery website is:
          I’ll send updates in the future that direct you to new paintings in the online gallery, and some months when I write the typical magazine-style articles, I’ll direct you the website you are on now (www.aroundthebend-greg.blogspot.com). Thanks again for your interest and support for both the blog articles and the artwork. I thank each and every one of you.
          Here’s an example of a couple of the online gallery selections:
Doorway and Steps
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

DOORWAY AND STEPS - MADISON, 
INDIANA
          This little town along the Ohio River in Indiana has one of the largest historical districts in the U.S. (approximately 1.5 miles long and .5 mile wide).
          I spent three days in town, enough time to get acquainted with it, viewing the architectural styles and details. It was a tough job to visit the coffee shops and diners, but somebody had to do it. 
          One morning I parked the car on a side street and began walking to the main thoroughfare. The stairs and doorway stopped me in my tracks and I took a picture of it.
          Back in the studio, I became intrigued with the wrought iron benches, realizing that this river town had a lot of wealth in the 1850s. Town homes didn’t just have railings on the steps, they had elegant benches.
          The architectural details, down to the bricks pushed me to the limit on my patience while painting. The most difficult part was painting the portion of the black bench that overlapped the black door. I added the flag for some interest and balance, but the focus of this painting is on the steps and doorway.
* * *
Firewood
2018 watercolor by Gregory E. Larson

FIREWOOD
          The three-bushel galvanized tub came from an antique store in Alma, Kansas. I purchased it the moment I saw it on a Sunday afternoon while driving in the Flint Hills. It was the perfect container for keeping firewood dry in the garage before burning the logs in the fireplace on Friday and Saturday nights. 
          Add an oriental rug, kindling wood, and some tan rubber tile and concrete, and the outcome is a mixture of cool and warm browns, greens and grays with some deep shadows.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Greg's Announcement of Upcoming Art Exhibit

MARK YOUR CALENDARS!

ART EXHIBIT: 
VISTAS AROUND THE WORLD
Watercolors by
Gregory E. Larson

Sicilian Fishing Boat
by Gregory E. Larson


MARCH - APRIL
OPENING RECEPTION
MARCH 1, 2019
5:00 - 8:00 PM
SPENCER HALL
Sponsored by Horizon Arts Ministry


ST. MICHAELS AND ALL ANGELS EPISCOPAL CHURCH
6630 NALL AVE.
MISSION, KANSAS 66202



Friends and Readers,

I have been busy creating watercolors and have twenty-four that I will show at the exhibit mentioned above. I welcome you to come and browse, so that I can share the joy and fascination I have in creating them. There is a story behind every painting. Most of them are landscapes of locations that I have visited in Europe and North America.


I look forward to seeing you on March 1st!

Merci,
Greg