Saying Good-bye To The Bell Museum—My Last Day There and Some Musing on Painting

January 6, 2017

161221_088_Bell_MerganzerCRBROr as I like to subtitle this post: On Painting Dead Birds…

Left: 9 x 12 inch sheet of Stonehenge. Pen and gouache, with Montana Marker Background. Not from my last day, read below to find out more.

I love setting up projects with specific parameters, and scheduled times, and sometimes even special forms I design for myself. I love organizational stuff that I create for specific tasks.

But one thing I’ve learned over a lifetime of projects is that the best laid plans always develop hiccups. And when that happens I like to have a balanced approach.

During the last week of my recent project “The Bell Museum—13 Weeks to Say Goodbye” I caught Dick’s cold. It came on slowly and I was still ambulatory. Since I cannot remember ever going to the Bell Museum and not running into a parent with a sick and coughing child in tow, I didn’t think twice about continuing my scheduled visits. 

However I woke on December 31, which was the Bell’s last day, sicker than I’d been all week. The thought that I might have to deal with hoards of people (that’s a wave of hoards) while coughing made me reconsider my plan. I opted to stay home that day. I did what I think is a fabulous gouache painting of a friend (I was sick so I couldn’t visit her in person and I had to work from photos, but Dick says it’s like her in a good way). And as the 7 p.m. closing time for the Bell approached I had no regrets.

And that was what my project was about in the first place.

161221_088_Bell_MerganzerCRBRDetailLeft: Head detail from the first Merganser painting above. While I painted I thought about my friend Art who died over a year ago, who taught me how to recognize Mergansers from afar.

I’ve attended the Bell regularly since I was in graduate school (and before that when I was a child I had spent time there on visits to town) but as eldercare took up more of my time I found in the past summer, for instance, that I was rarely at the Bell. This project allowed me to get a healthy goodbye dose of the Bell. I made the right decision for myself on Saturday, though I really wanted to break 100 pages for this project. (I ended at 99.)


Above: The unfinished bird painting I’m writing about in this post. 9 x 12 inch sheet of Stonehenge, ink with gouache. I do like my white space!

My last day at the Bell was Thursday, December 29, 2016. Even though I was ill, I was as I mentioned, ambulatory. In fact I didn’t cough at all. However on that day EVERYONE who walked by me stopped to talk to me as I painted a gouache painting of a Tundra Swan. It was too FUNNY. (I haven’t scanned that painting yet.)  

I talked to them all with my croaking voice, including two kids, 5 and 6 (they volunteered their ages), who loved painting and were full of questions for me. One woman had very specific materials questions which I answered—but then I asked her if she lived in the Cities.  (She had a German accent.) When she said yes I told her to go to Wet Paint in St. Paul and tell them “I met Roz and she said you would tell me what I need for gouache painting.” (Sorry Darin, but I didn’t have a business card I could reach and she didn’t seem able to understand my email address. I know she’ll get the right paints at Wet Paint.)

I finally gave up on the swan painting because there had been so many interruptions the background would need a lot of recovery work, and fatigue from the cold had kicked in.

But it was a great last trip. Any day you get to talk to kids while you paint is pretty much a great day—because they go off knowing it’s OK to paint as an adult. They have something to hold on to when people tell them they can’t.

161221_089_Bell_MerganzerCRBRDetailLeft: Detail from the female Merganser image above.

I’ll eventually get the project journal scanned and up on the blog. I’m changing some things on the blog in the next month or so. The journal will go up when I know how things are going to be. I looked through all the pages again on the 31st and I’m excited and pleased by them. I am especially pleased with my warm up pieces—usually pages that are a jumble of birds and mammals. There was something easy in them. Familiar.

Today I’ve put up two paintings from an earlier visit. I love these as well, because I was able to paint with a real brush and fresh gouache and sit and absorb the sounds around me. The dim light at the Bell is always a factor and so painting there is a bit of a surprise when you get home and see what you actually got. At least for my eyes.

I was so happy with these I showed them to my friend Tom…

T: It’s OK. [he said looking at the female]

R: You don’t like it?

T: [scrunching his nose as if there was a bad smell in the room and shaking his head] Not really.

R: I just love everything about her lovely little head. [I motioned to the head as if I were stroking it.]

T: [laughing] It’s just a dumb dead bird. [Laughing some more] You didn’t even finish it!

I laughed and laughed. 

R: That’s one of the things I love about it.

T: Why do you care about my opinion anyway? Besides you have thousands of followers and you even have minions.

Now that was a low blow. He knows I have always wanted, but never had, minions!

I laughed and laughed some more. (Of course he is laughing hard now too—a transcript’s tone is often difficult to understand fully, as I found out when I read through so many of the transcripts of the House Un-American Activities Committee when I was in high school studying the writers blacklist—you guessed it, another one of my projects.)

R: I’m writing a post about this!

T: Of course.

R: I don’t CARE what you think, but I do wonder what you LIKE.

The conversation changed direction to our video projects. 

I made mental notes to myself. Tom likes Lars Lerin—loose, large birds, Roz’s birds—nope [we both paint dead birds]. Tom likes realism, loose, finished. Roz, not so much. 

It’s good to keep a file on all your friends.

But it’s most important to know what you like and what you enjoy doing. All people are never going to like everything you create. And the trick for me has always been to create things clients want, keep my sanity, and then make the stuff I want for myself. This realization and path has served me well my entire adult life.

I enjoyed every second I spent painting the two images in today’s post—even when I was slightly distracted by the three Chinese students talking in the hall with me. I stopped to wonder “Gee wouldn’t it be fun to know what they were saying? I wonder if I could learn Chinese at my age?”

They were probably wondering why that old woman with pigtails was “painting a stupid dead bird.”

Note: To see other pieces I’ve already scanned from this project use the “Bell Museum” category.

  1. Reply

    I love your “unfinished” painting….it leaves something to the imagination, which is what art is all about.

    • bilby
    • January 6, 2017

    I always like to know what people like and why. I love the “unfinished” paintings of artists. It’s like a look into their process. And the paintings that show signs of “pentimento” as the artist struggled to say something different from the common. I am reminded of the unfinished portrait of George Washington. (Gilbert Stewart?)

    • Gerda Wolzak- van Hummel
    • January 6, 2017

    I like it. For me it isn’t an unfinished painting; you painted what was important for you in that moment.

    1. Reply

      Thank you Gerda, that’s how I feel about it. I’m glad that came across to you!

    • Molly Reed
    • January 6, 2017

    I like the unfinished female as it gives the eye and imagination a place to go. I also really needed the laughs – at yourself (ourselves…..) & with others. Thanks!

    1. Reply

      Thanks Molly. I think it’s important to have a focus. (And always to be able to laugh at ourselves!)

    • Cyd
    • January 6, 2017

    Your use of color always astounds me! I love the unfinished pieces, the way they have a focus that is tended to and then it’s time to move on to something else rather than filling in what the viewer knows is there, can imagine is there. They are so much less ‘forced’ than a completed piece. I think that’s what I find so appealing about sketching. I am very sorry to hear this museum is closing. Thanks for sharing its last days with you.

    1. Reply

      Thanks Cyd, I’m glad you enjoy my use of color. As for sharing it’s last days, coming up (when the scanner gets adjusted, I’ll be sharing all my sketches from the last 13 weeks the Bell was open! Sorry if I already answered this. I can’t see it in the comment mode and I wanted to make sure I got all the comments answered before I shut down tonight. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Reply

    I’m a birdwatcher and love all the Mergansers and you did a great job on them. Unfortunately the UW Madison does not allow access to their Natural History Museum to anyone except researchers. But we can go to the Geology Museum. One quiet afternoon I was the only one there and I sketched the enormous T. Rex. It got a little creepy after awhile and I could swear it moved! I learned that if you sit with those long dead critters and really look at them you feel their presence. Thanks for sharing all the posts from the Bell Museum. I am loving the Nostalgie sketchbooks. I got all 3 sizes and will get more. I’m using the big one for Veronica Lawlor’s class at Sketchbook Skool. A great class to start the new year with. I still have all my notes from your section of the Beginning class which was wonderful and I will be referring to those notes this winter. You gave us a book!! Happy New Year and get well soon, Pat

      • Roz Stendahl
      • March 16, 2017

      I’m sorry you can’t get into the UW-Madison Natural History Museum. That’s a real shame. But I’m glad you’re using the geology building. I think you’re right that when we spend time with the critters we get a sense of their presence! I’m so glad you enjoy the Bell paintings. I have about 100 pages in the loose journal I did in the final 13 weeks. Once all the features of the blog get sorted out I’ll be scanning them and posting them, so watch for that coming probably in April. I’m also glad you’re using the Nostalgie sketchbooks. I love them and have one going myself right now for the studio (the large one) and a small one in my pack for when I’m out and about. I’m so glad you’re finding my class notes useful! Keep sketching Pat.

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