Thursday, November 14, 2019

We are all just Passing Through Like the River, oil on linen, 36" x 48"

He came to me in the night
two weeks after he departed this earth
I heard him climbing the stairs
which he had not done for years
I awoke and could see his silhouette on the landing
back lit by the hall light
his big strong head and shoulders monumental

I got out of bed and tiptoed to him
and sat down
He leaned against me and spoke in a deep baritone
which I always imagined he would have
I am sorry I left without explaining
But you shouldn’t grieve for me
We all know we will be leaving and moving to our next life
Who is We? I asked, pressing my forehead against his
The Animals, he said.
We exist before we come to earth and we exist after we depart
We learn while we are there-
about human frailties and strengths
about cruelty and kindness
and we give selfless love to those who care for us, to those who need us
Then we get our next assignment
and we depart
So please don’t grieve for me, you see
We are all just passing through like the river.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Rembrandt, fka Remy, RemDog

Dear Rembrandt, aka Remy, RemDog,

It is only a day and a half since you left us and our hearts are aching. Your absence leaves a literal and figurative giant hole in our lives and in our living space. I just thought I would write down some memories and message them to heaven, where I am sure you are now, reunited with your right front leg, enjoying a peanut butter kong and relaxing on a sofa, (as you were the all-time couch connoisseur), without a worry in the world and pain free.

 We brought you home from a shelter in western Virginia on December 30th 2007. We looked at the adoption form for the first time when we were almost home and noticed it said Mastiff Mix.  Haha

You were a bit of a hard luck Harry from the beginning.  You were such a mellow puppy … and then suddenly too mellow.  You came down with Parvo Virus on New Year’s Eve and spent two days at Friendship Animal Hospital in Intensive Care. This would be the beginning of your love for that place, with many more visits in your future. Miraculously you survived and this time when we brought you home you were no longer mellow -- but a wild guy!  You were big and strong even as a puppy and you could do some real damage in an astoundingly short period of time. I guess we didn’t really understand crating back then but here is a list of some of your achievements:
The lion foot leg on the oak dining room table – yes, oak -- gone in minutes.
The toes of two cleats and a custom-made mouthguard right before a big high school game. I made the excuse you were just excited for your boy, who was playing wide receiver in those days, but you are very lucky he didn’t tear his ACL that night, playing with plumber’s tape wrapped around his toes.
Every single toilet brush and dustpan in the house chewed to a nub. Some of those nubs still exist.
Two sixty-pound potted water lily plants, pulled out of the pond, shredded and strewn about the yard. I caught you red handed (pawed) and you stood there with your big goofy grin and your slow tail wag looking so proud.
And that is just to name a few. We were happy when your focus turned to bully sticks and marrow bones.

Your adolescent years were spent trying to get you to conform to societal norms. You loved everyone and everything, but we sometimes had to modify your 70 pounds of enthusiasm. When you hit the front door at a run (your unique form of greeting the mailman), I worried it wouldn’t stand the impact. Several training classes, some private tutoring, and a lot of treats did the trick.

Do you remember how much cats loved you? We’ll never forget when Jordan adopted a tiny sick kitten who we named Otis. He came into the house and started purring wildly the moment he laid eyes on you, and from that day on he thought you were his mother. Even when Otis grew into a very large snowshoe Siamese he still buried his face in your armpit and kneaded his paws into your fur until sometimes you couldn’t tolerate it anymore and you would stand up and send him flying. But he always came back for more love. Everyone did.
There was something about your hulk and kind demeanor that attracted people. I will always remember the day you were with me in a bookstore and a tall woman, elegantly dressed in business attire, came up to us. She stood there gazing at you while she stated that she didn’t like dogs. Then she got a little closer, looking at you even more intently and said, “He is very handsome.” Then she touched your soft ear and bent down to rub your head. Before I knew it, she was sitting on the floor with you between her legs, giving you a total body massage and you had rolled over into her lap. You convinced her that a dog might be a good alternative to a boyfriend. You had that effect on lots of souls through the course of your beautiful lifetime. 

One of my most “body contact” memories was during high school football preseason and Augustin and some of his buddies would come home from practice for lunch and to cool down from the summer heat. They would stretch their sweaty selves out on the sofa and watch TV and you would be right in the middle of them with their legs draped across your hulk and your big head resting in their laps. I wish I had pictures of that now.

You were a pro traveler and liked nothing better than a road trip. We sussed out the dog-friendly hotels up and down the East Coast. We would walk you up to the check-in desk, having already made a reservation for a dog “under 40 pounds” and hope that no one looked down. I’m sure they did but saw your sweet brown eyes and big smile. No one ever asked you to get on a scale. You knew to tip toe down the halls to our room as quickly as possible so as not to cause a distraction. You always enjoyed a king size bed and a good night’s sleep on nice linens.

You liked a vacation as much as anybody and loved taking the ferry over to Block Island or a trip to the Berkshires. One year I decided that I wanted you to learn to kayak with me. We practiced first on dry ground. You learned to “wait” while I got in, then slowly squeeze into the small space in front of me. When we got to the lake, all went well even with the kayak heavily listing toward the front. Then we got a little too close to the shore and you decided to disembark and do some exploring -- through poison ivy -- then came back to the kayak and settled back in between my legs. Enough said. It was a very itchy remainder of the summer.

And then there was the relationship you had with my teenage art students. This part really brings tears because it was so meaningful to me. You knew the days that I had classes and you seemed to know who was coming. You knew the ones that were stressed, the ones who had had a rough day at school, or whose parents were going through a divorce, or the ones who had just had a break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the one who had no friends at all. You would greet them as they entered the studio and flop down on the floor at their feet and they would flop down with you and bury their face in your broad back and stroke your fur. Then after a little while they would gather themselves and go to their easels and start to draw, calmed and renewed. Anyone who ever doubts the concept of a therapy dog should have born witness to the effect you had on these kids. And sometimes they drew you. There were some wonderful drawings of RemDog over the years. All we had to do was pose you in front of a donut and say “leave it” and you were the perfect model.

You were also a champion foster brother to many puppies and fearful dogs. You could make a rambunctious litter of five sit at attention with a soft but firm “ruff”.  We called you “The Sheriff”. You also knew intrinsically how strong or gentle you needed to be from a chihuahua puppy to a big 14-week-old pit mix who needed some exercise. One of your most touching charges was the special needs puppy from Lucky Dog we fostered for four months. All four of her legs were malformed from birth and Lucky Dog had provided her surgery on her front legs to try to give her some mobility. She was terribly fragile, and her bones broke easily, so you couldn’t play with her. But boy she adored you and you knew that. You would lie by the puppy pen and she would wiggle up to you and give you kisses through the bars. You were the braveheart to our shy fosters. Just your presence made them feel safe and more confident, and your enthusiasm for everyone who entered the house gave them a new attitude toward life.

There is a long list of funny stories but I just want to remind you of a few. We don’t want people thinking you are a saint, right? Did I mention that you were very food focused?! There was the Washington Post Sports department holiday party each year that you enjoyed thoroughly.  One year someone brought a platter of beautifully decorated cupcakes. At the end of the party, a little girl came up to me, tugged on my skirt and said “you know what? I just saw your dog eat 19 cupcakes and I counted.”  You were fine because you were a gastronomical tank.

A year ago July when you were limping I feared the worst. An x-ray at Friendship Hospital showed that you had bone cancer at the top of your humerous and there was no alternative to amputating your front leg. Everyone was worried because you were a big guy with a giant head and already had an iffy back leg (from a prior run in with a Hummer on Connecticut Avenue that led to FHO surgery at Friendship. This is another story for another day). But we were not ready to part with you.  So the surgeon took off your leg and stitched you up with the most elegant strip of stitches I have ever laid eyes on. And you know what? You did great. Within 24 hours you were up on three legs and learning to maneuver. There are times when having a huge food drive really pays off -- anything for a cheese stick! With the help of a big stroller/bike trailer thingy you could do anything and never missed a walk in the neighborhood, a stroll to Bethesda for a Sunday morning bagel, a trip to see friends at Strosniders Hardware, a vacation, or a party. You loved your weekly visit to your favorite, lamb treat generous physical therapists and your best friend Matt at Friendship. Fourteen months of a full life. But then that big C raised its ugly head again in your lung and spleen. Once again you were a trooper and an inspiration until the bitter end.

Rembrandt, aka Remy, RemDog, we are going to miss you buddy -- your big warm calming presence, your goofy smile, your gorgeous brown eyes and soft ears. But we know you are up there in dog heaven seeing old friends and making new ones and romping around on all four legs.
We love you. Forever.

Modeling in the Drawing Studio

Roadtrip! with siblings

This past August in Maine

So good at making others comfortable

With his special foster sister Deana, now Danica

Another shot with her
With human sister. A classic RemDog look

Best snuggle of all with human brother

The summer of the kayak adventure

Sharing a cigar and a bullystick with dad

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Shine Theory and the Sentry Lionesses, oil on linen, 50" x 50"

I completed Shine Theory a few weeks ago. Sometimes the idea for a painting evolves as I compose. Images appear and disappear. The music I am listening to changes. The mood swings and swings back. This is one of those paintings. It is lots of things to me. It is about a safe and quiet space. It is about vulnerability. It is about allowing the light that glows from others fall onto you and glisten. It is about illumination. It is about the meaning of beauty. So just gaze at it and let it be whatever it means to you.  

Here are a few words by the poet Marcin Brykczynski 

A white heron's dream 
The orange moon 
Is blinking 
Over the roofs of Manhattan 
Don't answer 
If he asks you 
About the dreams 
The white heron has brought 
You don't have to reveal it 
As long as the lions you dream 
Protect you 
Against the curiosity of the world

Monday, June 3, 2019

"LIterary Dogs and a Few Cats" Connie Morella Library Bethesda Maryland- The Installation April 12, 2019

I recently had the great opportunity to do a mural for the Connie Morella Library in Bethesda, Maryland. It is 40' long and 5' tall. I painted it in my studio on a giant scroll contraption, rolling out 8 feet of canvas at a time. It is painted in Golden Matte Fluid Acrylics on primed canvas.  It took me 5 weeks working 6 days a week and on the seventh day we rolled up one section and rolled out the next blank 8 feet of canvas.  Rolling it took four people because of the weight.  It was installed April 12th by Jim Lackford of Paper and Paint in Silver Spring. Thank goodness for his expertise!
It was wonderful having so many dogs and cats in my studio for awhile! I miss them but I can always go to the library to visit. It is really nice to have a mural in my own community!

roll out on the library floor pre- intall

video of Jim installing


Big Red, Lassie, Jack and Bandit, Old Yeller, Buck, White Fang, Luath, and half of Bodger

Bodger, Teo, My Dog Skip, Fang and Crukshanks

Winn Dixie, Cat, Big Dan and Little Annie, Sounder, and in the air -Asta

on the right- Thy Servant Dog by Rudyard Kipling

Nana from Peter Pan

Ribsy, Zoe, The Watchdog, Charley

my favorite- Beautiful Joe, his friend, and Puss 'n Boots

view from left of circulation desk

full view

some touch up