Caption Contest!


I’ve been developing the artwork for several 2018 calendars as I prepare for the holiday season arts/crafts shows.  One will focus on a group of vintage photos I found at a yard sale that show an office party from the 1950s.  And I’m stuck!  I need a caption for one of them and I know I can depend on the followers of this blog to help!

The calendar title is “Work Makes Me Crazy.”  Here are a few of the finished photos to give you an idea of the way the theme plays out.


And here’s the photo in need of a caption:

You can send your suggestions via the comments section below (you may be asked for an email, but it will not show up publicly).  Or if you prefer a more private submission, you can private message me on the Purple Tree Studio Facebook page. Caption that makes me laugh most wins. (Yes, very subjective!)  Winner will receive a free copy of the completed calendar.  Please send your suggestions no later than October 28th.  (And feel free to share this with others if you’re not afraid of the competition!)

The Dollhouse Project

Book projects, Dollhouse Project

You may have noticed that the home page for this site includes a new category – The Dollhouse Project.  (If you haven’t already seen it, please check it out.)

The Dollhouse Project was born during a brainstorming conversation over dinner with a group of wonderful artist friends.  I don’t exactly remember how the topic of dollhouses first entered the conversation, but suddenly there were a variety of stories being shared.  And I really wanted to hear more stories!  So I am inviting everyone I encounter to share a story about an experience with a dollhouse.  Here’s a sampling of what has been shared so far:

  • From a 96 year old who grew up in the Southern US during the depression:  She didn’t have a dollhouse and didn’t know anyone who did.  That kind of toy was too expensive for those times.  Her mother would make her paper dolls and paper doll outfits from Sears catalogs.  When asked about her play with the dolls, she described creating rooms for them from pieces of paper and boxes.  (And, yes, that does count as a dollhouse!)
  • A friend first said that she didn’t like dolls when she was a child, so didn’t play with her dollhouse.  A few minutes later she remembered something more:  she liked to play “office” and arranged her dollhouse on her desk to serve as a filing system.
  • A woman who grew up in Europe described looking longingly at her Grandmother’s very elaborate dollhouse – which she was not allowed to touch.
  • And one man who has shared recounted two memories:  having a gas station with people and cars as a child, and building a firehouse for his own sons which his wife finished with hand sewn bed linens.

I no longer have the dollhouse from my childhood, but I remember it vividly and have found a picture of it online.  It was a Keystone Large dollhouse.  I played with it for years – decorating, creating stories, and acting them out with a variety of dolls. I especially loved the two wings that opened out to reveal extra rooms and a second story patio. I thought it was the perfect house and planned to live in one just like it.

My goal is to collect as many anecdotes as possible, combine them with related photos and put them all together in a book.  I also hope to build some collaborative work into the project (a workshop on a dollhouse book perhaps?), but specifics have yet to be determined.

I hope you will decide to join me in this venture.  You will find a form on The Dollhouse Project page that you can use to submit your story.  Please use the comment section of this post if you have questions.

The Real World

Book projects, Stories

1: a series of thoughts, images, or emotions occurring during sleep
2:  an experience of waking life having the characteristics of a dream (vision, daydream, reverie)
3:  something notable for its beauty, excellence, or enjoyable quality
4:  a strongly desired goal or purpose; something that fully satisfies a wish.
(Merriam-Webster Dictionary)      

I found the book first – about five years ago at a flea market. A beautifully bound, slim volume of quality paper and end pages with the look of good marbling. Of the twenty-two pages, sixteen were blank.  I bought it thinking that a bound book with that many blank pages would be useful for something, someday.  I put it on a shelf and forgot about it.

The glass plate negatives came next.  A major find at the Brimfield Antique Flea.  Two photos of the same three people – older woman, younger woman, older boy – sitting by a camp fire in the early 1900s.  They intrigued me.  Why were they camping?  They didn’t look that happy – did they wish they were elsewhere?  I scanned them, stored them and periodically looked at the scans.  But I had no idea what I wanted to do with them.

And then came the “great re-arrangement” as I organized new studio space.  The book and the slides ended up on my desk together. I took a closer look at the book.  It seemed to have been an agenda for an upscale planning meeting (a “summit dinner” to quote the title page) and invited participants to help the hosts imagine the future of the agency.  The first printed page had a stanza from Wislawa Szymborska’s poem The Real World:

Without us dreams couldn’t exist.

The one on whom the real world depends

is still unknown,

and the products of his insomnia

are available to anyone

who wakes up.

The complete poem describes differences between dreams and reality.  (Read it here.) As I studied the poem, a story –  subsequently titled Dreamers –  began to take shape.

It is not so hard to imagine life changing suddenly, though most of the time we prefer to believe that reality, as we’ve defined it, is permanent.  The characters in Dreamers experience the loss of a loved one, a home, a way of life and their expectations for the future.  Lines from Szymborska’s poem are used to define their new world as it overpowers their dream world.

Are there other perspectives?  Taoist Master Chuang Chou also wrote of the puzzle of dream world and real world.

“Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly.  I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou.  Soon I awakened, and there I was, myself again.  Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.” (See  Tao Living: The Dream of the Butterfly by Derek Lin)

Dreamers explores the defining of reality through a series of photo composites.  Double page spreads in color illustrate the dreams of each character, while underneath each dream is a second layer with a monochromatic view of the “real world.” Szymborska’s words and Chuang Chou’s dream combine to create alternate routes.

Which is the real world?

See more photos from Dreamers in the Gallery.

Motel Mysteries: Motormouth Mike and the Alien Invasion


Hey hey hey. Are you listening to me? Nobody ever listens to me but you ought to because I’ve seen things, things that you wouldn’t believe and nobody ever believes me either but you ought to because i’ve seen things that you better believe if you know what’s good for you because they’re coming and you better believe it because I’ve seen them with my own two eyes and you should listen to me about that because you really really really don’t want to be taken by surprise with these guys. Really not with these guys because they’re DANGEROUS. I know they’re dangerous because I’ve seen them myself and they are not a good time let me tell you.  Do you understand English? Are you listening to me?  I can tell you’re not really listening just staring at me like you think that will fool me but you ought to be listening to me because this is VERY IMPORTANT and not just to me either. This will give you something to cry about let me tell you. I’m trying to warn you that the aliens have landed yes they have! It’s true right over there in that field last night I saw them and I saw their ship all round and shimmery like the moon had dropped out of the sky and then and then and then then they came OUT yes out of that moon and I’m not making this up I saw it and I heard them too they are very mean sounding and they are here to take over and I don’t know why you don’t listen to me how many times do i have to tell you anyway? You just sit there like always staring at nothing staring at me like I’m crazy or in your way or something and you all don’t even talk to each other do you?  Just sit there staring at each other and the parking lot like it was some kind of picnic spot but THIS IS NO PICNIC and you need to pay attention to what I’m saying and stop just pretending to listen. You think that’s polite, but you should do some soul searching because because I can still tell you’re not really listening to me just like always acting like I’m in your way keeping you from enjoying the thrills of this parking lot and the bug lights. Bug lights.  As if they even do any good at keeping the bugs away bet you wish they would keep me away because then you wouldn’t have to pretend to listen would you but you’ll wish you had listened pretty soon when THEY come here because the bug lights sure won’t keep them away you just wait and see they won’t keep them away from you and you’ll wish it was still me talking to you and you’ll be sad that you didn’t listen to me then you bet you will you’ll be crying but I won’t be here to hear you say sorry or to hear you complaining about what’s going on because I’ll be LONG GONE because I saw them and I know they are coming and so i’m getting out of here while the getting is good and you would too if you were smart but you’re not are you just sitting here doing nothing while other people work and other people do things for you and you don’t even care, you’re not even paying attention when other people are trying to save your life even though you don’t deserve it at all but I keep trying to tell you because that’s the kind of guy I am even if you don’t appreciate it.  Well never mind then I won’t bother you any more I’m going inside and you can all just sit here in the sun with the bugs and the cars and the bug lights and WAIT AND SEE what happens next. So there. Y’all have a good day now I’m going in. I hear my mother calling me.


The End

(is coming)


Emotion and Art

Studio talk

Art is a human activity, consisting in this, that one man consciously, by means of certain external signs, hands on to others feelings he has lived through, and that other people are infected by these feelings and also experience them.

Leo Tolstoy, What Is Art? (1897)[


I’ve been re-reading Entering Germany 1944-1949 by the acclaimed war photographer Tony Vaccaro.  He describes having made many photographs of dead soldiers but wanting to make one that would express the emotion that one gets from a musical requiem. “How,” he asks, “can a photographer transpose the feelings from music to a photograph?”  His answer was “White Death – Requiem for a Dead Soldier.” (See the photo here. ) Listen to Barber’s Adagio for Strings or Dvorak’s Requiem with the photo on your screen and decide whether or not he succeeded. (I say, he did.)

The problem of translating emotion to visual content is not a new one of course, but my work of the past few weeks has emphasized it for me.

I’ve just submitted two projects for the DeBlois Gallery Open Show.  The theme this year is “What Scares Me Most? or What Gives Me Hope?”

For the submission for “What Scares Me Most?” I illustrated a nightmare I had as a child that has remained  emotionally powerful.  In the dream, I stood in front of a panel of men who were clearly “the bad guys” and who intended me harm.  The cowboy hero Gene Autry showed up and I thought I was saved.  Instead, he accepted their lies and false reassurances and left without me.  Betrayal by a hero – what could be scarier? But could I recreate the feeling in a digital collage?

I started with several vintage photographs, altered and combined. Although the looming face takes up the most space, it is masked and stressed, while the men in the foreground are confident and even arrogant. The “hero” is reduced to a shadow, ineffective and spilling outside the frame. The background was created from a scan of a “ruined”  glass negative and then distorted to give it a swirling texture that would echo the swirl of emotions the dream brings up for me. I added shadows and text and then converted the whole to black and white.  The final version was enlarged (20”x30”) and printed on Kodak Professional Endura Metallic Photographic Paper, chosen especially for it’s reflective qualities and crisp lines and details.

Here’s the result:

It was an interesting process and pushed me into some uncomfortable places – both emotionally and artistically.  I’m glad that DeBlois issued the challenge and that I decided to take it on.

And I’m very excited to share that the piece was awarded “Best 2-Dimensional Work” in the show.

Motel Mysteries: #3 Siren Song


I know that I skipped Motel Mysteries #2.  I will post it eventually- after a little more revision.  Meanwhile, here’s my nod to noir fiction.  Hope you enjoy it.

Siren Song

Motel Mysteries - Siren Song

I didn’t exactly wake up screaming because I hadn’t been to sleep.  But the room was closing in on me the same way  a nightmare does – a little at a time until there’s no escape. It was too late for any of the glitterati who frequented this  dump of a motel to be out and about, so I headed for the pool.  Make that pools, plural.  The place had two, the smaller one ostensibly for the kiddies, but I don’t think much of a mother who would let her kid into it’s murky water.  The larger pool was the same, just, well, larger.

The night was on the cool side, but I hadn’t changed out of my suit jacket so I didn’t feel the chill.  I took a seat on one of the deserted lounge chairs, and stared into the dark waters of the smaller pool waiting for the jumps to ease off.

The moon was full and so close to earth that all it’s pocks and scars stood out. The stars were twinkling but the moon didn’t seem to care so neither did I. I just stared at it’s fuzzy reflection in the dark water, thinking about nothing, until I saw the mermaid floating back and forth. Yeah, you heard me, the mermaid.

The war taught me everything I needed to know about staying still when things get hincky. So I didn’t move a muscle, just kept staring as she drifted back and forth from one end of the pool to the other.  She’d drift along until her head bumped the wall and then start to drift in the other direction and keep on until her ail hit that wall and then start the drift back again. To be honest, it was kind of peaceful to watch.

I may be a vet, but I’m not crazy, at least no  more than most, so I didn’t really think I was seeing a mermaid.  There was a movie a couple of years back about this geezer who hooked a mermaid on a fishing trip and brought her home to his bathtub.  I saw the movie but that didn’t mean I swallowed that fish story. There’s no such thing as mermaids.

But there she was, drifting back and forth back and forth back and forth.

I thought about reaching into the water and grabbing her. But why bother?  She wasn’t hurting anyone and I’m all about live and let live.  Ask my boss. And she kind of reminded me of a couple of girls I’d known in the past –

that long wavy hair gets me every time.  So I just watched and let my thoughts drift along with her.

I thought about my job and the things I needed to do to keep it.  And I thought about leaving my job, and the things I’d have to do to make that happen.  I didn’t find any answers, but drifted with a thought until it hit the wall and started back in the opposite direction.

Why was she in the small pool? Maybe she’d like it better in the big one. It wouldn’t take much too lift her up and move her.  But then maybe there was something about the small space she liked better. Who was I to decide for her? I’d made that mistake with broads in the past.  And she seemed to be comfortable.  It would be nice to just drift like that, not trying to beat down any walls, just going along with the current.

Except that going along to get along is what got me where I am right now. The boss says “go”I say “yes sir.” Old habits die hard.

My old man had a song he used to sing all the time.  Something from his war, maybe.  “I’m forever blowing bubbles, pretty bubbles in the air.”  The line I remember the best, though, is “just like my dreams they fade and die.”  Is this mermaid a dream?  Maybe my life’s the dream. Then what happens when I wake up?

That’s the thing about dreams.  They seem so real but they never are.  Wake up and they’re gone.  Stay asleep and they go too.  Nightmares are different, they never end. Awake or asleep is all the same.  At least this mermaid stays a mermaid.  Hasn’t changed into some mackerel or shark or something.  That’s a nice change of pace.

Maybe this pool is really deep, and underneath is some mermaid kingdom full of castles and gold and happy endings.  I used to believe in those, in happy endings.  You went off to fight for what was right,  so you could come home and everything would be the way it was before only better.  Mom, apple pie, true love and all that. Right.  And I got a bridge I can sell you for a good price if you’re interested.

She just keeps drifting. What if I got into the pool with her.  Quiet-like, not even a splash.  Could I just float along with her?  Would she take me to her magic kingdom?  She wouldn’t have to do that.  Just the drifting would be enough for me.  Maybe she’d hold my hand, maybe her hair would float around me.  And we would just drift together.  I thought about that for a while.

Then I could hear my Top Kick laughing his ass off.  Tough-as-nails Pete mooning over some dame with a fish tail. Hah.

But it sure is peaceful here. I keep coming back to that.

Do you think the owner of this dump knows about the mermaid? What happens to her when all those screaming ankle biters descend in the afternoons?  I suppose she goes back to wherever she comes from then.  Deeper, away from the noise.

Maybe I’ll quit the job.  Go somewhere like Alaska and live off the land. Yeah, and for my next trick I’ll build a spaceship and fly to Mars.

But it’s like I can hear her humming.  What’s her secret?  This floating act of hers. If I just leaned over and put my ear near her mouth would she tell me? Whisper sweet nothings in the dark. It’s not so bad out here in the dark. Peaceful.  No bosses, no guns, no screaming. I thought maybe I’d stay a little longer.

I must have dozed off with my hand in the water.  I felt a sharp tug, a really strong hand grabbing mine and pulling.  There was a sound like bomb hitting a brass band.  I started to slide into the pool, that grip tightening on my wrist and lower arm.

I fought back. Hard.

It would take somebody smarter than me to find the words for what happens when the fight takes over the man.  There is noise and silence, rage and blood and pain. Time goes away along with everything else.

When I came back to myself it was over except for the shakes.  I looked at the pool. Empty. No mermaid.  The water still and dark.  Just another nightmare. I worked on breathing. I thought about going inside.

That’s when I heard the bird.  Some song I’d never heard before, not even in the jungle. It was sweet and disturbing all at the same time.  I looked around and saw it perched on top of the pool house.  It was big.  Real big. With talons hooked over the edge of the roof.  And there was something strange about it’s head. It occurred to me to be worried but there was that song, like it was calling me.  Like it had the answers to all the secrets in the universe.

I decided to stay out a little longer.  The night wasn’t over yet. Morning was still far away.