What aspiring writer doesn’t want to spend mornings in various Le Marais cafes writing and noshing on pain au chocolate and cafe creme?
Paris in June with Jaime
Writing workshops are a great way to meet kindred writing spirits and exercise our writing muscles in new ways.
I’m captivated by Monet’s large lily pad paintings at Musee de L’Orangerie.
My daughter Jaime and I traveled to Paris in June of 2018 to take a writing course with Patty Tennyson, owner of the Paris Cafe Writing workshop and a former Chicago Tribune writer. What aspiring writer doesn’t want to spend mornings in various Paris cafes writing and noshing on pain au chocolate and cafe creme?
While keeping my expectations in check, I planned carefully for the trip and found an apartment in Le Marais, the hip/fashion/gay area of town where our Paris Cafe Writing classes would be held at various cafes. Patty and her husband Joe have an apartment in La Marais so it makes sense we’d be in their neighborhood.
Patty and Joe live in Chicago and spend the summer in Paris. Patty is a journalist and a foodie who has authored cookbooks; Joe is a retired English teacher who loves history, food and the history of food, which he shared with our group.
Le Marais is one area of Paris that still has most of its historic buildings dating back several hundred years. When neighborhoods of historic buildings were being razed across Paris last mid-century to build large apartment and office buildings, they didn’t get around to Le Marais.
That’s one thing about Paris proper; everywhere you look, the French love of grandeur is evident… architecture, gardens, bridges, the Seine River, the Eiffel Tower. Even lamp posts and public water fountains have delicate decorative details. The city center, straddling the Seine north and south, actually isn’t that big. You could theoretically walk across town in several hours. Luckily you don’t have to; Paris has an efficient and pleasant Metro system.
Jaime at arc de Triomphe.
Patty and Joe taught our class how to ride the Metro. Jaime and I got the hang of it, zipping around town from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe.
We stayed in an apartment on the fifth floor of a 15th century building. Our apartment was on the back side of the building, overlooking a small garden, so no street noise. We left the tall windows open every night and enjoyed the coolness, and sometimes a gentle rain.
But here’s what made being in Paris so perfect, besides spending lots of time with Jaime: Patty is an excellent writing coach AND event planner.
Patty’s workshop fee included meals. Each morning our group would meet at a charming cafe, upstairs, and they’d take our order for a croissant or chocolate croissant or toasted baguette with jam. Jaime and I ordered cafe creme each day and fresh squeezed orange juice. All we had to do was sit back and participate in the daily writing exercise with fascinating women while sounds of pedestrians and cars floated into the open windows.
Our writing group enjoying dinner on our first night together: Jaime is on the left and I’m next to her.
Almost every day when class ended at 11:30 a.m., we’d go downstairs and eat lunch, getting to know each other better. Afternoons were free for us to explore the city and write. Jaime and I did not write in our free time… too much to do and see in Paris! Although, each night when we returned to our apartment, we would talk about our day and I’d record our activities (and impressions) in Notes on my iPhone. Those notes would later turn into a record of our time in Paris.
One evening, our writing group met up with Patty and Joe and they took us to Duc des Lombard, a jazz club, where we saw Daniel Romeo lead a jazz band. Parisians love jazz, and having been to the New Orleans Jazz Festival the month before, I could appreciate Daniel and his team of musicians.
Patty had warned us ahead of time: do not talk while the band is performing. In France it’s rude, so no whistling or yelling, just gentle clapping. No one talked or cheered during the entire hour performance.
Our writing group visits Duc des Lombard, a Parisian jazz club.
Another night, our writing group met up and took the bus to the left bank to visit the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, originally started (at a different location) by American Sylvia Beach more than a hundred years ago. Sylvia befriended Ernest Hemingway when he was a 25-year-old writer-in-practice, published James Joyces’ Ulysses and was at the center of the expat crowd who made Paris in 1920s a creative hotspot.
Small, with book-stuffed nooks and crannies and an upstairs devoted to poetry, Shakespeare & Company feels like a church or museum. The guy who checked me out was American and young, most likely a “tumbleweed” allowed to spend nights in the book store for helping out during the day. Ethan Hawk was a tumbleweed. The young man behind the counter must have been living his dream.
After we all paid for our books, which were stamped with the official “Shakespeare & Company” seal, we went next door… literally next door… to a restaurant and settled upstairs around a large oval table from which we could look out of two gabled windows and see Notre Dame across the Seine.
Notre Dame was built starting in the 10th century and they’ve added to it over time. It sits on Ile de la Cite, one of two small islands in the middle of the Seine, and Patty made sure our group had the amazing opportunity to experience the river and the cathedral. When Notre Dame caught fire on April 15, 2019, like many people around the world, I felt the devastation and grief.
Notre Dame as seen from a restaurant next to Shakespeare & Company bookstore just across the Siene.
On our final night together, our writing group ate dinner at La Coupole, a restaurant where musicians, artists and writers in the 1920s would gather. The art nouveau interior hasn’t been altered and I could imagine Hemingway, Man Ray, Picasso and Gertrude Stein sitting in a banquette, drinking champagne or cafe creme, discussing the issues of the 20s.
Our group dined at La Coupole restaurant on our final night together.
In our free time, Jaime and I visited Yves Saint Laurent’s (YSL) museum, traveled up to Giverny to visit Monet’s home and gardens, and viewed Monet’s huge water lily paintings at Musee L’Orangerie.
The only problem with Paris, which really isn’t a problem, is that in June the sun doesn’t set until after 10 p.m. Jaime and I didn’t get to bed before midnight each night, too busy to realize how late it was. But we didn’t mind losing sleep to the sights and sounds of Paris!
Taking the writer’s workshop with Patty allowed us to experience the city with a knowledgeable “guide” who was fluent in French… and who was also a resident! Patty took care of the bill at every cafe and restaurant. Our writing group was quite spoiled. We just showed up, sat down, ate, enjoyed and left.
Patty had pre-arranged every meal, concert and excursion, even escorted us all via bus, walking or the metro. She and Joe were our personal guides. If any of us had questions, they had answers. And, boy, did they have some great stories to tell! Joe taught writing and poetry in Chicago public schools and took a three-year tour in China to teach English. He knows French very well, too, and is a wordsmith like Patty.
Patty and Joe introduced our writing group to the best falafels in Paris at L’as du Fallafel.
Patty could be just a writing instructor, but she does so much more for the people who attend her workshop. While she’s not responsible for her students’ satisfaction with Paris, they usually come away happy with their experiences and more informed about the things they saw and heard. Patty makes the trip special and an excellent choice for anyone who wants to travel solo or with a friend.
Taking Patty’s course is the best way to experience Paris for first-timers! And for second-timers, because I’m attending Patty’s Writing Workshop for Returnees in November 2019 and am staying an extra week to explore the city and museums… and maybe take a couple of day trips on France’s excellent train system.
When you attend a writing workshop in another city, or another country, the experience becomes richer and provides not just a way to improve your writing but also lots of fodder for future writing!
If you know of a writing workshop like Paris Cafe Writing that is held by a host like Patty and who also exposes the group to the local area, please let me know! Or tell me about a writing workshop you would HIGHLY recommend to others.
From Painter to Illustrator to Photographer and back to Painter
JoAnne Meeker, at 60, has the fresh-scrubbed face of a teenager, complete with a freckle-splashed nose and enough youthful ambition to take on oil painting after a professional career as a photographer and advertising agency owner.
JoAnne proves we can reinvent ourselves at any time, as long as we’re willing to study, work hard and make mistakes. She began her training as a painter at the age of 11 in Destin, Florida, with private lessons and her mother’s encouragement.
“I always knew I’d be an artist,” JoAnne says. “And more specifically, a painter.”
Now, she’s picked up brushes again and is seeking her groove.
“Learning to paint is like learning a new language,” JoAnne says. “I’m trying different techniques, which often feel awkward, just like learning new words and pronouncing them wrong. People might laugh, but I keep going.”
After attending the University of Kansas School of Fine Art,the Kansas City Art Institute and the Art Institute of Southern California, JoAnne started her career in advertising as an illustrator in her 20s. She moved to California to be in the movie business. When that didn’t pan out, she started her own design agency at the age of 26 and called it “Kaos & Harmony.” Her firm specialized in marketing for the retirement industry.
As Art Director, JoAnne would visit retirement communities and scout out photographic locations and angles in advance, so the real photographer could step right in and get to work. Her photographs, shot as prototypes, were actually good enough to be the real thing, so she began photographing more projects for her clients.
In 2001, JoAnne transitioned back into the arts as a fine art photographer. For 15 years, her cutting-edge photography broke new ground in capturing the western lifestyle… because she saw the world through the “eye of a painter.”
Established Western photographers began copying her style!
In 2015, JoAnne transitioned back to her roots as a full-time oil painter. She is studying with renowned Wildlife painter Greg Beecham, Landscape painter Phil Starke and Equine painter Adeline Halvorson.
“When I wanted to get back into painting,” JoAnne says, “an old man told me I’d be miserable and frustrated. He was right. When I started painting again two years ago, it was frustrating. I tried to draw and it was awful. I had to regain eye-hand coordination after doing illustrations with a mouse on a computer my entire career. During my first workshop, I was embarrassed. It’s taken a lot of work and time to find my own style.”
As a natural cartoonist and animator, JoAnne loves to create characters. Her favorite subjects these days, however, are dilapidated trucks left rusting in fields all across the west.
“I used to paint portraits of people and animals,” JoAnne says. “Now I paint portraits of trucks. They’re classics with a life of their own and a unique story to tell. I like to imagine who owned each truck, where they lived and how they ended up abandoning the truck.”
JoAnne finds most of the trucks she paints on the road. She divides her time between Dubois, Wyoming, near Yellowstone, and Scottsdale, Arizona. She spent the winter of 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona, as an artist exhibiting at the Arizona Fine Arts Expo, which runs from mid-January to the end of March every year. This was JoAnne’s first year at the Expo and she hopes to return next year.
In Wyoming, JoAnne’s art studio is on the second floor of her house with north-facing windows. She also has a workspace downstairs and a Giclee printer that produces works up to 44 x 90 inches.
When JoAnne retired in the late 90s from her design agency at the age of 40, she went to Europe. In Italy, she rode a horse through a marble mine, the first time she had ever ridden a horse and she was instantly hooked, though her love of horses actually started when she was a child.
A Cape Cod city girl with an air force pilot as a father, JoAnne wanted to be a country girl living on a ranch. Every Christmas she asked for a horse but it just wasn’t practical to own a horse and move so regularly; JoAnne attended 15 elementary schools between the first and sixth grades.
“After riding the horse in Italy, I began wondering how I could make a living riding a horse,” JoAnne laughs.
She eventually owned a horse and bought her own house in the wild country of Wyoming.
On a trip to a ranch in New Mexico, JoAnne spent a day photographing the branding of the ranch’s cattle. She printed the photos on really big canvases, when folks weren’t doing that yet. Her printed photographs sold well.
That’s when she knew the Western lifestyle would be her photographic genre. At art shows in Calgary and Texas, where the oil industry was strong, her work was in high demand. Between 2012 and 2014, oil was doing so great, overnight millionaires were building big houses with lots of wall space to fill with original artwork.
FORMAL ART STUDIES
JoAnne received a scholarship at 16 to attend art school. Back then, they used live models, and on her first day, a live male model was on display. She could barely look at him. Later, when she went to art school in 1976-77, she learned about the Law of Chance, as depicted in Jackson Pollack’s method of slinging paint.
“The instructors had students shredding brown paper for two weeks. It was monotonous and didn’t teach us art. When the shredding was done, the fragments were dropped from a high spot and left where they randomly fell. That wasn’t art! I wish they had taught me to paint instead.”
JoAnne believes painting can be taught. Some people may have a natural ability, but it takes practice for everyone.
For aspiring artists in the Phoenix, Arizona, area, JoAnne recommends the Scottsdale Artist School. Students can study with specific artists, according to their preferred genre. Additionally, twice a week they hold an open studio with a hired model and students can sit in and paint or draw.
JoAnne has successfully reinvented her art persona several times. But she also learned that reinvention doesn’t mean reinventing techniques. Learning from others is key.
“During the Expo, I was inspired by the creative environment, and being surrounded by artists of every medium. I welcomed their coaching. And painting every single day helped me advance my skills. Anyone wanting to improve as an artist can’t go wrong by painting every day, being open to suggestions from other artists and actually seeking out the company of other artists.”
JoAnne’s next reinvention of herself? She wants to get into plein air painting, and in a big way. She wants to go to France and Italy and paint plein air like the impressionists.
“I love it when I try to do something and it turns out exactly like I wanted,” JoAnne says.
Awards & Recognition
2016 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2015 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2014 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2014 Best of Show, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2013 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2013 Commission, 100-page book “The Life is Art – A Photographic Journey of Ranching in Western Alberta”
2012 Feature Poster Artist, San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo
2010 Feature Artist, Rodeo Austin, Texas
2009 Best of Show Artisan, Western Showcase – Calgary Stampede, Alberta Canada
Dominic Bourbeau doesn’t realize what a great painter he is.
Soft-spoken, Dominic is Minnesota nicer-than-nice. His unassuming nature shows up in his humble view of his work, which is colorfully geometric and stunning.
During last year’s Arizona Fine Art Expo in Scottsdale, Dominic’s artwork was tucked into a corner with little traffic flow, but I saw his work and was stopped cold by it.
In fact, his mid-century modern-style paintings intimidated me. How do you approach a genius? Especially one who is always painting, canvas lying flat on the table, head down? But it turned out that Dominic is highly approachable and generous with his time in explaining his supplies and techniques.
At this year’s Expo (January to March 2018), Dominic’s booth was in a high-traffic area near the cafe so his wall of art could be seen from the main hallway. Again this winter, Dominic kept his head down and painted constantly, but was as approachable and responsive to visitors as ever.
Hopefully, after hearing so many folks see his art for the first time and say “Wow!,” Dominic will realize how special his painting is.
Dominic’s Aubrey Hepburn-esque painting ran on the December 2017 cover of Modern Luxury Scottsdale magazine, and his sassy mid-century portrait of a well-dressed woman in red was used on all the Expo passes.
During the Expo, Dominic had to paint all day, every day, seven days a week, because everything he hung on his booth wall sold. Instantly.
Or, he was asked to paint one of his classics, like Frank Sinatra’s Living Room, five times. Maybe six. Maybe seven.
“This was the year of commissions,” Dominic says, laughing. “I finally lost count.”
Luckily, not every client wanted to take possession of their painting before the Expo closed on March 25, allowing Dominic to return to Minneapolis and complete all his unfinished commissions.
One day at Kinko’s in Scottsdale, Dominic was scanning his painting of Frank Sinatra’s Living Room when an architect from Palm Springs saw the painting and asked about it. Dominic told the guy he painted it and the man instantly pulled out his check book and commissioned the painting for his home.
“That was unbelievable,” Dominic says to me the day it happened, and he’s shaking his head, like it shouldn’t have happened.
But it’s totally believable that someone saw his artwork and instantly wanted it. Dominic’s style is infectious.
His brother, Martin Bourbeau, is also an artist at the Expo. Martin uses cake frosting tubes to pipe paint onto magnificent landscapes on huge canvases, layering and layering the lines of paint to create 3-D art. They’re gorgeous and impressive and expensive.
“I originally struggled with how to price my paintings,” Dominic says, echoing every other artist. Pricing is always tricky. With advice from his fellow artists, Dominic has charged slightly more for his work lately, particularly when a subject is selling well, but psychologically it’s still hard for him to increase his prices.
This winter, he began to paint cityscapes depicting well-known landmarks, making them smaller than his usual paintings, and they all sold.
He painted a cat, then more cats, and the paintings sold before he could even hang them on the wall.
Gouache is Dominic’s medium of choice. Pronounced “gwash,” the medium is another type of watercolor, though it remains opaque rather than translucent and it dries matte. It’s fitting that Dominic uses Gouache because the medium was first used in creating Medieval Illuminated manuscripts and then became popular with French and Italian painters in the 18th century.
Also, before digital design, gouache was commonly used by Mid-20th century commercial artists because the medium made crisp images and letters possible, and it photographed well.
“I draw out the design in pencil, sketch over it in pen,” Dominic says, “and when all the details are done, I’ll start painting, which is the fun part.”
He smiles big.
His technique is to texture different blocks of color by adding wavy or squiggly lines, or dots. His dots are amazing and appear to be machine-made, but he produces each one with absolute focus and precision.
While attending a boarding school in Michigan, Dominic studied iconology and followed the tradition of mixing his own tempura paints, including using a beetle to produce red.
In Iconology, every line has a purpose, nothing is used simply for the sake of being ornate. The strong geometry and symbolism of iconology are present in Dominic’s style.
Dominic’s artistic experiences also include throwing pottery, drawing portraits and painting murals for Shakespearean stage sets. He greatly admires artists such as Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and Charley Harper, and is captivated by their use of simple, yet bold, design based on sophisticated, yet minimalist, geometry.
“I was able to pull from each of my past artistic experiences a segment of its beauty and technique,” Dominic says. “The geometry of iconography, the simple shapes of pottery, the puzzle-like composition of stained glass windows, the details of a portrait drawing, and the intensity especially in color of a mural painting.”
Frank Sinatra’s Living Room
Dominic, at 38, is the oldest of 11 children.
“All eight boys are artistic,” Dominic says. “My three sisters are not artistic. One brother, Peter, has a Master’s in Art and teaches art in a boarding school.”
Their mother, a school teacher, always brought art projects home for the kids to play with.
Dominic almost completed his Master’s in Art, so he could teach, but decided against teaching when he noticed students were using it as an elective and weren’t serious about learning.
Instead he got a degree to be a Surgical Technician and for 12 years now has specialized in assisting orthopedic surgeons in mostly hip and knee replacements.
With his “casual” employment, Dominic is hired to be the personal assistant of a physician and can work when he wants. That’s how he’s been able to take off three months for the last three winters to exhibit at the Expo in Scottsdale. Being a surgical assistant is a great gig; as long as Dominic is attached to a surgeon and keeps his medical qualifications current, he gains seniority in his position with the hospital.
Fours years ago, Dominic’s artistry was discovered by his hospital co-workers when he was drawing on sterile paper towels in the operating room. He then received commissions to create pen and ink portraits of his colleagues’ kids and families, or portraits of pets wearing sunglasses. Dr. Santos, a co-worker, asked Dominic to create anatomy illustrations for a book, including sketches of a spine and spinal implant.
At home in Minneapolis, Dominic paints in his kitchen, which does double-duty as his art studio.
Dominic is on his careful way to ultimately making a living solely as an artist.
In the meantime, he keeps his head down and paints for hours every day, in addition to doing all his own marketing and accounting… when he isn’t assisting in surgeries or exhibiting in Scottsdale.
I predict he’ll hit it big one day.
Maybe then he’ll realize just what a great artist he is.
“There is nothing in this world that make more sense to me than the balance and beauty of nature,” Evgeni says on his website. “In my art, as in my life, I try to maintain this delicate process.”
Paintings to Live In
Ordinarily, I meet an artist whose work speaks to me, and I click with them on some level before writing them up on cre8-space.com. However, Evgeni Gordiets is at home in Pennsylvania while his art is on exhibit at the Arizona Fine Art Expo through the end of this month. He may show up in Scottsdale for the last two weeks of the Expo. If he does, I will crawl across the desert to meet him. Meanwhile,his artwork is much, much too good to not show here… NOW!
“There is nothing in this world that makes more sense to me than the balance and beauty of nature,” Evgeni says on his website. “In my art, as in my life, I try to maintain this delicate process.”
Graceful. Elegant. Serene. Pure. In some of his works, Evgeni uses pointillism to create his sometimes soft, sometimes vibrant scenes… layering tiny dots on top of tiny dots.
Looking at his still life paintings brings about a peaceful feeling, as though our daily worries are wiped away by ruminating on Evgeni’s images. Seeing one painting is not enough. Having another and another to contemplate brings contentment, like the meditative trance of watching water flow easily over river rocks.
Scouted as child prodigy at the age of five, Evgeni grew up in the Ukraine and earned a Master’s of Fine Art degree from the State University of Fine Arts and his PhD in fine Arts from the State academy of Fine Art, both in Kiev. He was then a Professor of Art at the National Art University of the Ukraine.
His work has been compared to Monet, Magritte and Dali, but it has a magical tranquility and sunniness unique to Evgeni. His artwork has won many awards and can be found in museums and private collections worldwide. His marketing flyer says, “In 1991, his work was chosen for the cover of Christie’s Evening Auction catalog.”
“Today, for me,” Evgeni says (on his marketing flyer), “life and painting are one. I have no desire to follow fashion; it has no value to me. In my art, the sea, the sky, woman and child are subjects of importance, eternity. In nature, I find a never-ending source of inspiration.”
Aksana and Paul, a local couple also originally from the Ukraine, are working in Evgeni’s booth at the Expo while he’s in Pennsylvania. Paul tells me they own several pieces of his artwork (lucky them!!!!) and are helping out in hopes of Evgeni and his art gaining recognition in Scottsdale.
He sure has my attention!!
Paul was kind enough to allow me to take a few photos, and I pulled others from Evgeni’s website, which is definitely worth a visit: http://www.EvgeniGordietsArt.com
One of Jeff’s earliest impulses to sculpt happened at Riazzi’s Italian Garden restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, circa 1964, when she was six years old.
One of Jeff’s earliest impulses to sculpt happened at Riazzi’s Italian Garden restaurant in Mesa, Arizona, circa 1964, when she was six years old.
“Our table had white candles,” Jeff said, “and I remember using my thumbnails to press the warm wax into shapes. Every time we ate there, I looked forward to playing with the wax. I always loved playing in the mud, too, because I could squeeze forms from the muck.” Sadly, Riazzi’s closed in August 2017 after 72 years in business, but Jeff continues to sculpt professionally and for fun.
Growing up, Jeff stayed outdoors as much as possible, and claims to have been a Tom boy. “I was the perfect son for my father,” she laughs. Her father, Wade Hoffman, hailed from Gastonia, North Carolina. He’s the reason she has a masculine name. “I think he really, really wanted a son after they had my older sister, Patricia,” Jeff said. “And sometimes he says he named me after the actor Jeff Chandler. Then why didn’t he name me ‘Chandler?'” she laughs.
Wade started his career in the U.S. Secret service. Eventually, he was sent to Japan where he met Shizuko, a big-city girl brought up on the Ginza strip in Tokyo, what Manhattan is to NYC, with all the big-city accoutrements, including a fine education and an impeccable fashion sense.
When they married in the late 50s, Wade could no longer be in the secret service, so he brought Shizuko and Patricia to Rock Hill, South Carolina, where Jeff was born in 1958. Three years later, Shizuoka could no longer stand the injustice of a segregated south and insisted they move. After traveling throughout the U.S., Wade and Shizuko chose Phoenix to make a home for their family.
Jeff has spirit. She’s gentle and energetic, witty and considerate, and always creating something with her hands.
Jeff’s latest creation made the newspaper! She sculpted a life-size bronze statue of Pat Tillman posted at ASU’s Sun Devil stadium near the entrance of Tillman Tunnel. Arthur Pearce II provided funds for the statue and commissioned Jeff to do the piece.
Tillman is remembered as a former Arizona Cardinals and ASU football player who enlisted in the U.S. Army in June 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11, and who, as an Army Ranger, was tragically killed in Afghanistan in 2004 by friendly fire.
Jeff sculpted the 16-inch maquette, or model, in clay from a photo of Pat with his long hair flowing and his ASU helmet in his hand. Officials at ASU however, asked to have Pat’s likeness crafted from photo of him wearing a helmet. She revised the model and re-submitted it to ASU.
They approved the revised maquette and Jeff proceeded to work with local foundry Bollinger Atelier to digitize the model into a 3-D image, which was then enlarged to 1.1 times life size and cut out of foam to form the core of the statue. The foundry layered the foam with clay between 1/4 and 1/2 inch thickness all over.
Jeff later crafted the letters “ARIZONA” AND “TILLMAN” and laid them on the life-size clay sculpture. When she made the 16-inch maquette, it was too small to place raised lettering on the jersey.
The 6-foot, 400-pound statue was revealed in a dedication ceremony on Wednesday, August 30, 2017, and Jeff, her mother and husband Mike attended as special guests. With the statue’s unveiling, ASU’s new pre-game ritual involves players touching the statue as they run onto the field.
The entire process of producing the statue was emotional for Jeff, who, as an ASU graduate, followed Pat’s career and story.
How did a young Amer-Asian woman become a bronze sculptor?
After studying fine arts at Northern Arizona University (NAU) in Flagstaff, Jeff worked as a metal chaser at Beyond Bronze Foundry in Colorado, where she welded parts together, ground down metal to clean seams and other surface imperfections to make just-poured pieces look like one complete piece.
Back in Tempe, though, her parents had opened a Japanese restaurant and asked Jeff to come help out, which she did. Next, she began her 25-year stint at Arizona Bronze (now Bollinger Atelier), a foundry in Tempe, Arizona, where she worked as a metal chaser, then switched to wax works when the pneumatic tools caused her hands to hurt. Jeff used dental tools to take down wax seams and design the gating system that feeds the bronze into a mold. She also learned the art of mold making.
“I love making molds!” Jeff said. “You must be methodical and plan everything out. It’s an engineering feat in mixing the rubber, brushing it on and them pulling the rubber as it sets.”
The one thing Jeff has never done at either foundry was pour the bronze. She also did not work on patinas for foundry clients, however, she occasionally adds patinas to her own works.
“To add a red patina to Pat Tillman’s ASU jersey, and a hint of gold to his pants,” Jeff said, “I brought in Aiya Jordan from San Francisco. Aiya is also an ASU grad and one of the best patina artists I know.”
Aiya Jordan adding patina
Preparing the surface for patina
There are at least 12 steps to producing a bronze sculpture and Jeff became intimate with them all during those 25 years. Here’s a five-minute video of a “How It’s Made” episode showing the lost-wax casting technique.
“I did the fine detail work on projects,” Jeff said. “If a piece required detailed precision, I’d have the stamina and small motor skills to make it right.”
Having Art Pearce as a client means Jeff went from being a long-time employee of the foundry to being their valued customer. Before Pearce commissioned the Tillman statue from Jeff, he had asked her to create a bronze statue of his grandfather, Zebulon Pearce, a former Mesa mayor who owned the local Feed & Grain store on Main Street located at 155 W. Main Street. Zeb Pearce is also known for bringing Coors beer to the valley.
Like most folks, Jeff’s life hasn’t been all work. She married, had two sons Jeff and Cori, divorced and then married Mike, a retired NAU police officer, 21 years ago. Mike also has adult children; Michael, Lisa and Kyla.
During her annual performance review 11 years ago, the foundry owner told Jeff her salary had topped out; if she wanted more money, she needed to work elsewhere.
“Like many people who hit a dead-end in their job,” Jeff said, “I considered going back to school to learn new skills.”
A Friend suggested Jeff teach art; the pay is okay and benefits are really good, especially having summers off! Jeff applied to an education program offered by the Deer Valley Unified school district and Arizona State University. Having a bachelors degree was a pre-requisite. Of the 22 students accepted into the program, Jeff was one of 11 who made it all the way through.
She started teaching 10 years ago, initially instructing 4th graders. Four years ago, she went to Sandra Day O’Connor High school to teach art and ceramics.
“I enjoy building relationships with the kids, and I learn so much from them, Jeff said.”
Jeff challenges herself to make something every day. In class, as the kids work on their sculptures, Jeff molds earthenware clay into small animals or abstracts.
“Sometimes, the little thing I’m sculpting becomes the inspiration for a statue, like the boy playing soccer, called ‘Over the Rainbow.'”
“Learning Together” won first place in the Prescott Valley art show and now sits in public spaces of Prescott Valley, Mesa, and Oro Valley. Jeff has other public sculptures, including the “K9 Police Memorial” at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix and Vancouver, Canada, “Charlie” at Wickenburg Ranch, and the “Scottsdale Police Memorial.”
“Learning Together” won the people’s choice award and features a boy with a ball and a dog ready to fetch. Jeff has a knack for making her subjects appear weightless and buoyant, even though they’re cast in bronze. And her style touches hearts, as evidenced by the connection between the boy and his dog while playing catch.
Charlie was Merv Griffin’s dog, and Merv donated the land in Wickenburg that became the Dog Park where Charlie watches over the visitors.
“When my students see my sculptures in a public place,” says Jeff, “they come up to me with eyes wide, asking for my autograph, and I remind them I’m still the teacher they’ve always known. I’m me.”
Even on the days when Jeff sculpts at work, she still arrives home and sculpts or paints. Usually, she works in her detached art studio, which she and Mike built in 2016. Their house in New River sits on a hill and their backyard looks out toward hills and into a valley.
Lately, Jeff comes home from work and sculpts on two secret projects. One will eventually be six feet tall and dedicated in a public ceremony. The other could potentially be a life-size statue of someone everyone would know (but maybe not by name). We’ll add news and pics when the statues are revealed.
“I look around and am amazed at how much I’ve produced,” Jeff said. “I was in a local gallery one day and admired a little bronze piece, an alligator bag on the back of a horse sculpture, and I said, ‘how would they do that?’ The gallery owner said, ‘Don’t you remember, you made that?’”
Jeff laughs at having made so many tiny bronze items and not being able to remember them all. If an artist needed a small item for their sculpture, they would ask her if she would create it. She’s made everything from that small alligator bag for a horse, to guns, holsters, rabbits, cats, and even a cowboy riding an armadillo. The last item was for an artist from Texas.
When Jeff’s students complain about not being creative, she asks them if, when they play video games, do they go through all levels the first day. “Of course not,” Jeff said, “the more you play, the better you get. It’s the same with sculpting, or anything you do. I’ve been sculpting for 40 years, which is why my students think it looks easy.”
Her advice for anyone who wants to make a living doing the creative work they love is to “keep with it. That’s what I was told by my professor. The artists who make it are the ones who don’t quit. Work, work, work. You get a little bit better each time.”
Kit Carson is Alive and Well and Living in New River, AZ (at least for a couple more weeks)
Last night, Brent told me about a yard sale in our neighborhood where he spent two hours going through jewelry-making tools and supplies, including precious stones and gems.
“The house belongs to an artist named Kit Carson,” Brent said. “That’s really his name.”
Kit Carson is a well-known Arizona artist who sketches, paints, makes large sculptures out of rusted metal, and handcrafts jewelry. He moved to New River 25 years ago onto a 2-acre plot where he designed and built his stone house, complete with metal framing around interior windows and doors.
Brent, thrilled with his haul from yesterday (particularly the price) spreads his treasures over our dining room table. Some are pieces of Kit’s jewelry in various stages of completion which Brent plans to use in his own jewelry one day. His jewelry-making supplies are in his office closet and eventually he’ll bring them out, set them up and cast silver and gold pieces with inlaid stones.
“He’s having the yard sale all weekend,” Brent says. The way he describes Kit’s house and yard makes me want to go.
When we turn onto 20th Street, the big yard sale sign from yesterday is gone. We park at a trail head in front of Kit’s house, to keep his yard open, and find him on the front porch. Kit is tall and slender, wearing sunglasses and a hat against the determined morning sun as he organizes things.
“Your sign is gone,” Brent tells Kit.
“Really?” Kit says, “Hey, I recognize you from yesterday.”
“Yeah,” Brent says, “and I brought my wife this time.”
Kit’s friend Linda is coming over to help with the sale and he says he’ll wait until she gets there before replacing the sign. The missing sign is a great opportunity for us to take a very careful look around the yard before other people begin to arrive.
Kit’s house sits on the edge of his land facing Tonto National Forest, a glorious desert valley that rises up to tall mountains and plateaus as far as the eye can see. The house sits on a rise and across his yard is a half-round metal building looking like a military barracks, with a wood shelter built over the top, and barn doors that enclose the building. His workshop is in the barracks. Three feet from the workshop is an art studio with white walls and a large table down the center, a big picture window facing Tonto. Attached to the studio, and connected by a door, is a garage. The studio and garage have items for sale, but I’m more interested in the neglected antiques scattered about the grounds.
Kit recently sold his house because his “need to be in Prescott, his hometown, right now is more important than me being in New River.” When the house sold, he told the new owner he’d clean up the yard. Thus, the yard sale.
Kit will continue to make art in Prescott, and so he’s taking a lot of things with him. Those items are marked NFS (Not For Sale). Of course, they’re the pieces everyone wants!
I’m looking at auto parts when he opens an old Frigidaire next to me and says, “I think I want to keep this. Put in a couple of glass shelves and a light and it will make a great cabinet for storage.” It’s a fine old fridge with curved lines and a handle that works securely. The patina is perfect. I notice a $150 price tag. Not only does Kit keep finding things he wants to keep, he tells me he actually took a couple of things out of a customer’s hands the day before, refusing to sell them.
Obviously, even though he’s made the mental decision to move to Prescott, it’s emotionally hard to leave his custom-built home of 25 years.
In his 67 years, Kit collected metal pieces from everywhere he traveled. “Every piece you see out here,” Kit says, “I loaded into my Nissan truck from somewhere and hauled it here.” All over the yard, Kit has organized the pieces, mostly metal, into his “Library of Visual Solutions,” which includes gears of every size from every type of machine; automotive parts; discs from tractors; aluminum serving dishes; hubcaps; scrap metal; chunks of colored glass; drill bits; lighting fixtures, ceiling tiles; mid-century lawn chairs; oil cans and on and on.
Everything is old and covered in rust. I carefully go through boxes on the porch of the workshop then wander out back and spend the next two-and-a-half hours sifting through the Library of Visual Solutions. A nearby blooming Palo Verde has attracted so many bees, they provide a steady buzz as the sun warms the surrounding metal.
The weather is ideal for being outside on a Saturday morning. High of 78 and a breeze. I find a white box and stick in a tiny, old porcelain heater used for target practice. Then I find another tiny, porcelain heater, turquoise and not as beaten up. It still has the little door on hinges, though the door is rusted. Into the box it goes.
Here’s a wire light cover, and here’s a rusted oil can with no bottom. What about this metal dashboard with speedometer? Wonder what kind of car it’s from. Into the white box. Metal drawer pulls go in. A piece of rusted wood stove, two rusted ceiling tiles and a railroad lantern (unfortunately without the glass globe) go in.
‘These items, very farmhouse chic as popularized by Joanna and Chip Gaines, would sell so well on Etsy,’ I think. Maybe I should start an Etsy store as my cousin Sonua suggested. She thinks people would go crazy for photos of my cat in my miniature dollhouse. She’s probably right. Who doesn’t love a damn grown cat trying to fit into a miniature dollhouse? I could sell cats in dollhouses and rusted stuff.
“This is the light area,” Kit says, indicating the ground around him as he picks up a section of a mid-century modern floor lamp, the kind with cone-shaped light fixtures that can point up or down. “I used one of these fixtures on my outdoor shower. Go look in my backyard and check it out.”
Clearly, Kit has a sense of humor that comes across in his art. A toaster sculpture has a butter knife wedged into one slot. A giant tractor, at least 20 feet long and 7 feet wide, sitting in his front yard was bought by a client who lives in Cave Creek. She plans to place it between two large Saguaros in her yard. “There’s a tricycle on the very back,” I point out to Kit, “in case it’s not supposed to be there.”
“The tricycle goes on the very front of the rig,” Kit says, “to act as the new power source.”
I walk up to his house as suggested and admire the stone work. The deep porch faces Tonto National Forest and features old lantern lighting fixtures. He’s topped off his side banister rail with chunks of colored glass and laid tiles into the concrete walkway.
At the back door, which has a decorative, one-of-a-kind metal screen door, a vertical window is filled with colorful glass pieces. underneath the window, Kit randomly placed colored pieces of glass in the mortar between stones so it looks like they’re tumbling out of the window and onto the ground.
Next to the window is the outdoor shower with the lamp fixture over the shower head. In the back, over his patio, he’s welded gears and hubcaps and bicycle wheels to make an interesting eave. His house is his art. And his art is inspired by Spain’s Antoni Gaudi (that great architect of the La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Vincens, etc., who believed in making things by hand, and using mosiacs) and Art Nouveau imagery.
As the white box fills up, I find a metal wire container that’s a prize in itself and begin filling it: six Japanese glass floats that Kit picked up on the beach near Homer, Alaska; a deep silver platter weighing a couple of pounds and tarnished black; a large brass bed knob; an acrylic drawer pull with brass fittings; a white enamel light fixture; two child’s chairs, rusted, which will make great plant stands once I replace the seat with mosaic tiles; several car taillights with real glass and metal casings; an antique refrigerator handle; a mid-century modern lamp once painted, now rusted but ready for re-wiring; and my favorite find, two cast aluminum sconces with scroll work fronts.
Etsy buyers would go nuts!
Linda arrives and begins helping. She’s very thin, a retired school teacher and friend of Kit who once rented Kit’s art studio for two years just to sit on the porch and gaze at theTonto National Forest. “He’s a very famous artist, you know,” Linda tells me. She points to a rust-covered lighting fixture Kit welded together with scroll work and a fleur de lis as centerpiece. The price is $575. “That’s a deal,” she says. “Some of his clients will pay up to $10,000 for a commissioned piece like that.”
Everything needs cleaning, but Brent cautions me to not clean too much for fear it would remove the gorgeous patina. “That’s why Kit has these things outside,” he says, “so they’ll rust, and so the bronze and copper pieces will turn. If you burnish too much, you burnish away what makes them valuable.”
I hold up a very heavy, rusted item that looks like a big, round microphone from the 1930s. “What’s this?” I ask. “That is a burner,” Brent says. “The gas goes in through here and the flames come out of these perforations.” It looks like a sculptural piece to me.
“Can I use your sandblaster to remove the rust? What will it look like?”
“Sandblasting will remove the rust and all you’ll see is the cast iron underneath. It’ll be gray.”
“Will this last a while or rust out?” I ask.
“That will outlast you,” Brent says. “That will out last you by five times.”
Brent and I daydream together sometimes, talking about one day building a greenhouse in the backyard with an attached She Shed for my writing space. He’s looking for fun pieces to display, and maybe even lighting fixtures to use in the greenhouse. The aluminum sconces I place in the wire basket will be perfect on either side of the She Shed door, inside or out.
After Kit runs up to 20th Street and Circle Mountain Road and re-posts his big yard sale sign, more and more people begin to stream in, heading into the art studio and garage, where Kit’s expensive art pieces are on display. Some men wonder out of doors through the Library of Visual Solutions, but most folks are inside missing the real show outside!
However, Kit is a musician, too, and his electric guitar is set up in his studio, so he turns it on and plays a little rock, the perfect background music for treasure hunting. So there really is a show inside, too!
Brent finds a gorgeous, handmade box, about 5 x 4 x 3, made with dove tail joints and pegs and solid-working brass hardware. He’s going through all the jewelry items again, which are mostly in tiny zip-lock bags, and puts his picks into the box. I see a hair barrette made of brass with a craved design and put it into Brent’s box. Then I find an intriguing brass circle and put it in there, too.
When Brent shows Kit the box, to settle on a price, Kit picks up the brass circle and says, “I cast that from a level case. Then I put the level it in, and attach the whole piece as a belt buckle. You can tell if you’re level.” He laughs. I like it, and knowing it’s his handiwork makes it more meaningful.
Brent takes the brass barrette out of the box and places it on the table, not realizing I had put it in there. Kit picks it up and says, “I made that when I was about 22 years old,” and he puts it back in Brent’s box. The barrette has a very delicate carving of twisting ribbon. Considering it a piece of art, I’m proud to have it.
As I’m taking one final look around, Kit comes over and shows me a small black plastic level, the type he used to cast the brass circle. And then he puts it into my hand and walks away.
We load our goodies in the truck and head south on 20th, bumping along on the dirt road listening to all the metal items clanging, moaning and squealing in the jostle. I feel like Granny sitting in her rocker on top of the Beverly Hillbillies truck crammed with their rustic possessions.
“Dang, Honey,” Brent says, “sounds like The Grape of Wrath in here,” and I can’t help but burst out laughing!
Kit Carson – Craft in America Video: http://www.craftinamerica.org/shorts/kit-carson-segment/. I really like this 7-minute video because we see New River. It’s shot in his yard and the Tonto National Forest, which is basically his front yard. Kit does a great job of explaining his inspirations and process. Views of his property show his Library of Visual Solutions, his stone house and workshop.
Mary Jo perfected the art of hair styling before she plunged into painting with all her heart.
Mary Jo Strauss, Artist
Her mediums: oil, acrylics, charcoal, pencil
Her website: maryjofinearts.com
Human hair was Mary Jo’s artistic medium-of-choice for 30 years. She didn’t card human hair like wool and knit animal sweaters; the hair was always attached to the human. Instead, she used her design skills, color sensibilities and shears to transform the coiffure of thousands of Manhattan women for nine years, and then for hundreds of Steamboat, Colorado, women as proprietress of “The Gallery” for 20 years.
Mary Jo retired from being a hair dresser in 2013 and currently lives with her electrical engineer husband, Hans, in New River, Arizona, on a dirt road that climbs past their home and meanders up the base of Apache Peak. Raw desert views surround and city noises do not penetrate, just silence marked by the occasional rooster crow, propeller plane or all-terrain vehicle. Hans, originally from Norway, can often be found in the yard, spreading gravel, and building walls and botanical gardens designed by Mary Jo. Their shared vision has manifested in little niches of delight.
Mary Jo sketched and painted for most of her life. At age 8, she was invited to attend a summer program at the Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio, where she was born and raised. “I was naturally drawn to painting,” Mary Jo said, “and always gravitated toward painting models in magazines like Seventeen and Glamor. My paternal grandfather was a chemist who painted portraits and landscapes as his creative outlet. When I visited, he’d play Opera and we’d discuss the art of painting.” Mary Jo had seven brothers and sisters, so support for her passion from her parents wasn’t strong, even with a grandfather who painted.
Mary Jo bought her first paint-by-number set at age 12. She saved the paint and brushes so she could paint on paper plates or on paper her father brought home from his paper salesman job. In the 6th grade, she won a safety poster contest, beating all other entries from across Dayton, Ohio, and was awarded $15, in addition to having her poster printed. Affirmations of her artistic talents continued over the years, with the exception of an episode with a nun in her Sophomore year of high school.
The assignment was to paint a landscape picture. “I actually painted from a photograph I had taken,” Mary Jo said. “My instructor, a nun, saw the photo on my desk, took my painting up to the front of the room and ripped it up in front of the entire class. She then said, ‘Mary Jo will grow up to be a convict and will be thrown in jail because she copied from a photo.’”
“In that instant,” Mary Jo continued, “I knew I had to get out of that school. I forged the principal’s signature on some paperwork so they would expel me, which they did. When I switched to a public school, the art teacher encouraged me and I ended up winning an award in Cincinnati, Ohio, for a sculpture. He made me realize I could actually go to college even though the Catholic school insisted I wasn’t college material.”
Mary Jo studied painting at Ohio State for two years and later returned to college to study interior design. She also dreamed of becoming an architect, and a few years later found herself in jobs that used her creativity. She worked with a Denver architectural firm and was being trained in lettering and rendering. She also worked for a silk-screening company designing t-shirts. Eventually, while Mary Jo moved between Steamboat, Colorado, New York City and Scottsdale, she went to beauty school in New York.
“I was lucky to be hired at Henri Bendel,” said Mary Jo about the iconic 120-year-old women’s speciality store. “I worked at the salon of Jean Louis David in Henri Bendel. I received top-notch experience for nine years. It’s a famous store with famous clients, so working there was always interesting and fun. Also, in those days, Studio 54 was the place to be after hours in New York, and as a hairdresser we were always welcome to come right in.”
Life happened while Mary Jo was making other plans. She married, her son Tyler, and later divorced. Back in Steamboat, Colorado, she opened “The Gallery.” Why call a hair salon a gallery? “I had an art studio in the building and sold my paintings. However, within six months I was so busy with hair styling I quit doing art, except for the occasional sketch.”
Mary Jo may have quit doing “traditional” art during those years, yet it’s clear she simply channeled her artistic talents into being a hair designer… and many women benefitted!
There are a lucky few of us New Riverites who have the privilege of wearing Mary Jo’s artwork on our heads these days. Hans installed a professional salon sink and stool in her art studio, enabling Mary Jo to continue her hair artistry. It’s like going to a Henri Bendel’s hair dresser, but at a much lower price and only a short walk through our neighborhood.
In recent years, Mary Jo has created several large paintings, some of them multi-panels. A few pieces of her work are exhibited at Easy Street Galleria in Carefree, Arizona. In fact, one of her 8′ x 4′ foot paintings was chosen from among the gallery’s many offerings to be exhibited on the exterior of the gallery. One client commissioned a 9′ x 5′ foot painting, which Hans helped her build and install in the client’s Cayman Islands home.
Hans is as much a creative partner to Mary Jo’s painting career as he is her life and business partner. He moved to Steamboat to help Mary Jo when she started her wholesale company, Rodeo Cosmetics, and two retail stores, Cowgirls and Angels, and Yippie-I-O.
Hans builds the framework for many of her paintings and helps coat some of them with epoxy. He even encouraged her to go to Bali for two months in 2013 to study with an abstract master painter, Carja. Mary Jo had just retired from styling hair and was ready to get serious about painting. She ended up extending her Bali trip an extra month after adopting three baby monkeys and helping to raise them until they were placed in good homes.
Carja is known for his huge abstract paintings. “He didn’t teach us how to paint,” Mary Jo said. “He taught us how to paint from within. He’d tell us to close our eyes and mix paint colors, and feel it. He gave me permission to let go of rules and open up to painting from my emotions. He told me to just paint, every day if possible. ‘You’re style will come,’ he told me, ‘and you’ll be selling your work within three years.’”
Mary Jo began selling her paintings soon after returning to New York.
Is Mary Jo a Feminist? Maybe not a politically active feminist, but her work has always centered on helping women feel good about themselves, and not just on the surface. While making and selling women’s beauty products, and styling hair, Mary Jo mastered the art of connecting with her clients on topics that matter. Topics that nurture the heart and mind, then work their way outward. People find it extremely easy to relate to Mary Jo and often feel immediately comfortable with her.
It’s no coincidence that from an early age, Mary Jo was compelled to draw women. She has three examples of early sketched portraits framed in her guest bedroom, and her latest project was inspired by the 2016 presidential election results. “I was at an appointment the day after the election and the technician, who was African-American, told me her little girls had asked at breakfast that morning, ‘Does this mean they will bring back lynching?’ She and I both cried, and I knew I had to portray in my art that emotional state of women and minorities. I went straight to my studio and started painting.”
Her focus on women has come full circle.
Mary Jo is painting the new women’s series on textured wallpaper given to her by her brother. She leaves the side edges raw. “I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to paint over the textures, but I was drawn to the paper for this series as a representation of life’s complexity. Plus, my brother, who gave me the paper, is a member of the LGBTQ community, and I’m painting to give expression to all minorities and groups often ignored or, worse, vilified.”
Mary Jo’s well seems bottomless as she focuses outward, listening like the professional she is after years of bonding with her clients. But Mary Jo has a rich inner life, the source of her creativity. And that’s what we’re here to talk about!
Q: How do you describe your creative drive?
A: There’s a special feeling I get when I’m connected to my art. Like a high, or an adrenaline rush. I like to get some good music going and just lose time and get into the space. It’s the same feeling I get when I do something for someone else. I’m inspired by photographs and live entertainment. My response to learning more about elephants as endangered species was to paint them. My current project, a series of charcoal and oil paintings of women, came from watching Trump disparage and objectify women. My portraits emphasize the humanity in women.
Q: How have your life lessons contributed to your art?
A: I started out in life being a people pleaser and wanting to be loved. I wanted to prove to myself that I could be good at something, and that I was a survivor. It made me strong and brought me to this moment where art is central to my life.
Q: What is some good advice you can give creative people trying to start their own art thing?
A: Get a sketchbook and keep it with you, place it on the night stand next to your bed. Sketch before you fall asleep and when you wake up, and any time during the day. Close your eyes and sketch. Sketch your feelings. The more you create, the more comfortable you’ll become creating.
Q: Who influences your art style the most?
A: My brother’s partner, Sylvan, was an amazing artist before he died of AIDS. He taught me how to use leafing with gold, bronze or silver, and I still use leafing today. I also appreciate Georgia O’Keefe and never fully appreciated how similar our styles are until I moved West and began painting cow skulls and flowers.
Keith Jones, metal fabricator and Nice Guy, works six days a week to keep up with client orders.
Crafting Functional Art
Keith Jones is wiry. At 58, he has the long, lean physique of a much younger man, a musculature forged by his daily work of welding and turning iron and steel into gates, railings, stairs and doors.
With no shortage of orders from clients, Keith works six days a week to keep up. Judging by his finished products, it’s easy to understand why he’s in high demand. Each fabrication is a work of art. Piecing together metal isn’t just an art, though, it’s a science ruled heavily by mathematics.
Keith and and his wife Deb live in Black Canyon City, Arizona, where they built their own house overlooking the canyon, including a workspace where Keith does some of his finer fabrications.
For his larger projects, Keith works out of a welding shop owned by our neighbor, Jason Hedgrick, who builds mostly industrial metal architecture.
Keith is the nicest guy you could ever meet, always ready with a smile and gentle sense of humor. He and Deb are both avid hikers, rock climbers, kayakers and cyclists, though a few years ago he was hit by a car that ran a red light at 55 mph. The accident almost put Keith out of business.
He suffered four broken ribs, a smashed nose and had to have his right shoulder replaced. Though he was only in the hospital for three days, it took Keith a year and a half to recover.
“We visited a client after I got out of the hospital,” Keith said. “I was barely walking, had to use a cane, and she told me she had some jobs waiting for me. That’s the only thing that saved me.”
Fully recovered now and busier than ever, Keith continues to create metal architectural features, mostly for his clients’ homes.
One of Keith’s most recent projects was a double lounge chair with an adjustable back. He made one for his own patio and a client who saw it insisted Keith make a lounge chair for him, too. Keith asked $3,000 and the client didn’t hesitate; that’s a remarkable price for a hand-forged, over-sized lounge chair that will most likely outlast all of us.
Born in Tucson, Keith moved to Phoenix with his family at the age of six and grew up around Greenway and 40th Street. He graduated from Shadow Mountain High School and attended vocations classes in automative and welding at Paradise Valley High School. His welding experience led Keith to a job at a machine shop where he fabricated fighter jet parts commissioned by McDonald-Douglas.
“The government gave each piece of steel a serial number and the material was tracked through the entire production process,” Keith said, “including a guard standing over us.”
For 16 years, Keith built aerospace parts for Eason & Waller before forming his own business where he and his partner built 4-wheel drive vehicles. They tricked-out jeeps to handle Sonoran desert tours by adding roll cages, seating, bumpers and heavy-duty axel shafts.
Keith met John Gurley, a building contractor, when they both worked on commercial office space for Big Fish Advertising agency in Scottsdale. Keith built steel shelving and stairs for the customer’s space. John appreciated Keith’s work and began bringing him onto construction projects.
Eventually, Keith became the go-to metal guy for R. J. Gurley Construction, MAS Framing and other contractors. He operates two companies: Stone & Steel makes mostly residential fireplaces, fences, gates, etc., and EnviroSmith works with mostly green building products.
On average, Keith works on five jobs simultaneously, though he might juggle up to ten jobs at a time. Smaller projects can take two weeks. Larger projects can take years. Keith spent two years building hand railing, fences, huge planters, stairs, fireplace features, gates, etc., for two homes in the Rancho de las Cabellbos Golf Community in Wickenberg (see photos of the two Wickenberg homes and another client’s home in Scottsdale below).
Some homes use steel I-beams in framing the roof and walls, and that’s all Keith. One of the Wickenberg homes used 100-year old oak beams salvaged from the Great Lakes and the homeowners asked Keith to incorporate 100-year-old oak barn wood into gates for the property. .
Currently, Keith is working on a Desert Mountain Golf Club home, developing its structural steel frame and handrails.
Self-taught, Keith has built his business through his artistry and his likability. Clients become friends and return again and again for another piece of functional art.
As for his own home, Keith and Deb both put in $75,000 toward the building of their super efficient, solar-powered, 2,500 square foot home which they broke ground on in 2001. With their budget of $150,000, Keith acted as contractor and did most of the work himself, or he bartered for supplies or services.
He studied green building and still has a library of books about constructing environmentally friendly homes.
Their hillside lot overlooks Black Canyon, so Keith optimized the views by designing the house to nestle into the hillside. The house has five levels; the kitchen sits five feet higher than the living room. Averse to 90-degree angles, he made the main part of the house round, and rounded off all edges inside and out.
Solar power means Keith and Deb pay the electric company, on average, $600 a year. And they draw off gray water to irrigate trees.
“We use a clothes detergent and soaps that won’t harm plants,” he said.
Both Keith and Deb are certified blacksmiths, so their home has custom fabricated railings, stair treads with sun and moon cutouts, and unique metal bridge flooring between the kitchen and bedrooms. Deb made the kitchen cabinet handles, light switch plates and a bathroom towel bar that resembles a tree branch.
“There’s something about heating metal until it’s so hot it becomes pliable,” Keith says.
In fact, metal and concrete are his favorite mediums. They poured their kitchen countertops out of concrete and inset a few polished stone pieces. Over the oven, Keith drilled half-inch holes in the concrete countertop in a spiral pattern. He then put brass pieces with rounded heads into the holes. The metal pieces act like a hot plate, conducting heat from the oven to any pot or pan placed on them.
The floor is poured concrete, finished with a texture and stained. The concrete guy charged Keith half of the true fee because Keith helped him do the job and learned the skill in the process.
The walls are finished off with a clay that absorbs moisture. Accent architectural features are painted a deep rust color. Deb made the organic paint using clay and other materials she cooked on the stove.
In the kitchen, a large boulder sits on the ledge overlooking the living room and seems right at home next to a metal grid fence filled with small stones. Overhead hang hand-forged lighting fixtures Keith made from metal scrap, and a metal high-top bar made from reclaimed steel clings to a curved wall.
“We try to re-use everything,” Keith says. “Instead of throwing metal pieces on the scrap heap, we built a desk out of them.” Deb salvaged old metal sheets and spent hours removing paint. Those are now desktops in the home office Keith and Deb share.
Everywhere you look, artistic touches and little surprises delight, especially in the guest bathroom which sports a hand-forged copper sink, metal-framed mirror, hand-made sconces and, the piece de resistance, a hand-tooled copper shower wall.
Keith has always been a non-conformist in his businesses, particularly in not cutting corners to ease the workload or reduce costs. He does the opposite, taking time to add eye-pleasing details and additional steps to ensure a piece is structurally sound and permanent.
In his younger days, Keith non-conformed as an adrenaline junky. His bucket list (to be completed by the time he was 23) included skydiving and flying. Learning to Powerchute allowed Keith to do both at one time. For a summer, he strapped himself into a chair and flew as high as 6,000 feet. Until the day a small plan flew under him.
“My face flushed,” Keith said “as I realized I’m 6,000 feet above the ground, higher than a plane, strapped into what is essentially a lawn chair. I panicked.” On landing, Keith was caught by a sidewind and he barely missed two cars before tumbling into the desert shrubs. That was Keith’s last Powerchute flight.
Part of that adrenaline junky still exists, though perhaps minimized. Why else would he bend steel heated to thousands of degrees while also bending the rules of design? Keith doesn’t consider himself an artist, but looking at the fine detail work he does with hard metals signifies otherwise.
Keith is a fine artisan to know if you need metal work; and he’s a fine man to know if you need a friend.
Keith crafted all the handrails, huge planters and fencing.
Keith crafted all the gates using 100-year-old recovered barn wood.
Scottsdale Home (Photos courtesy of J. Gurley)
Keith built the exterior metal work (he did not craft the garage-style door or the interior aluminum door.
Matt Simon is the best thing that’s ever happened to foodies in Black Canyon City (BCC), Arizona. Maybe the best thing to happen to BCC ever, which is saying a lot because many fine creative folks have happened to BCC!
Ordinary guy Matt Simon rides his four-wheeler across BCC to his job and when he enters Nora Jean’s Koffee Kitchen, the restaurant he opened in 2014, it’s like Clark Kent entering a phone booth… he soon emerges wearing a cape… but in Matt’s case, his super power is revealed when he dons his chef garb and takes command of his kitchen.
Matt’s creative space, his kitchen, takes up nearly half of the restaurant space and diners can see everything that happens back there.
While he might look like an average restaurant owner, Matt’s creds go much deeper. He knows just about everything there is to know about cooking foods from cultures the world over, and he understands the chemical reactions of ingredients when they’re mixed or heated or allowed to rest, etc., yet Matt is especially steeped in the ways of French cuisine with their sauces, breads, braised meats and unlimited varieties of cheeses and mushrooms.
Matt makes eggs Benedict look easy. He doesn’t break a sweat over making falafels from scratch. He whips us compote or roux or clarified butter or an orange meringue pie as though he’s buttering a slice of bread. Matt freely shares recipes and cooking tips with his customers. And he’s the reason Nora Jean’s is the pulsing heart of BCC, frequented by locals and out-of-towners alike.
In the culinary storm that rumbles through Nora Jean’s most days of the week, Matt is the eternal calm at its center. He survived classical French cooking training so nothing can rattle him. His command of the kitchen is mesmerizing and most of his patrons want to be like Matt and cook like Matt, which is why his monthly cooking classes always sell-out.
Matt is patient with those of us who struggle with properly peeling an apple or de-skinning salmon or cranking linguine through a pasta machine.
Patient. That word perfectly describes Matt.
The Road to Nora Jean’s
In his steady way, Matt honors his mother, Nora Jean Kay-Askew, every day. Her dream had always been to open a small breakfast and lunch cafe with her two sons. When Nora Jean passed away in 2011, the cafe dream faded until Matt moved to BCC with his wife Kelly, who had grown up there. Kelly’s mother and Matt’s mother had been best friends for years.
Now, Matt has a four-person team of highly-trained employees who understand why each preparation step is important. Flora, Sam, Chris and May busily take, cook and deliver orders to customers they call by their first names.
“In addition to knowing our customers as friends, timing the cooking process is one of the most important aspects of serving meals,” says Matt. “Each food must be completed, plated and served at the right temperature.”
Having cooked in professional kitchens for most of his adult life, Matt’s internal clock has developed into a sixth sense.
“I must be aware of my surroundings,” Matt says, “watching what other cooks are doing, what I’m cooking and listening to what customers are ordering.” Matt exudes calm at the center of his modest kitchen and his watchful eye means the swirling storm never does damage.
Although French cooking traditionally calls for lots of butter, cream and wine, Matt applies a healthy twist to his food preparation, such as offering salads with quinoa, farrow and black barley. His exposed kitchen allows customers to literally see the freshness of his produce and other ingredients.
In the winter, Nora Jean’ is closed on Mondays; in the summer, the restaurant closes on Mondays and Tuesdays. Matt begins his day at 2 a.m. and gets to the restaurant by 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. to bake the bread and pastries and cook bacon and potatoes so they’re ready when the breakfast crowd begins arriving at 6 a.m.
Matt only serves breakfast and lunch, but it takes him until 5 p.m. to get the kitchen ready for the next morning and to catch up on food orders and paperwork. He goes to bed around 8 p.m. before waking up at 2 a.m. to start all over again.
“Nora Jean’s was going to be a grab-and-go place,” Matt says about its opening. “We only had two tables with seating and quickly learned people wanted to sit and eat.”
Matt added tables and hired more people, one of the first signs that he would adapt his restaurant to meet the needs of his customers, ensuring his success.
“Because we thought customers would take their food with them, we started with only a few plates, most of which were disposable,” Matt says. “Soon I had to buy real plates. I started small because we only had the TurboChef.”
Within three months of opening, Matt bought a stove and began to make quiches, breakfast sandwiches and eggs cooked in muffin tins. He allowed the restaurant to grow organically, investing in equipment as needed and not before.
Matt set a target revenue for his first year in business and he hit it!
Things haven’t always been easy for Matt. He started working in 1988 at the age of 14 as a dish washer at Pinetop Country Club in Pinetop, Arizona, the first year Swiss Chef Claude Nicolet ran the club’s kitchen. Chef Nicolet had come from the Boulders in Carefree and brought along his well-trained crew. Being young and inexperienced, Matt took ribbing from the crew but he jumped at the chance to enter a seven-year apprenticeship with Nicolet.
“One of my first assignments was to uniformly slice carrots,” Matt says, “and fill a huge eight-inch deep hotel-size pan. Chef inspected the carrot slices and found two that were not uniform, so he threw the entire pan out and made me start over. I didn’t like it too much, until I realized what he was teaching me.”
That hardline approach made Matt into a chef who rarely misses a beat, but who also has a sense of humor and shows kindness to staff and customers. The rigor of his training led to more rigor. Each year, Matt learned and mastered a different aspect of food and kitchen management, including pantry, lunch pantry, grill and sauté.
Matt went to Northern Arizona University to be a physical therapist but instead majored in Hotel/Restaurant Management. During the summers, he worked at the White Mountain Country Club as Food and Beverage manager for two seasons and at Pinewood Country Club in Mund’s Park as sous chef (assistant manager to Chef) for three seasons.
At 25, Matt was the executive Chef at Torreon Golf Club in Showlow, Arizona, for six years and then he worked at Hussaymampa Golf Club in Prescott, Arizona, as sous chef to be near Kelly, his girlfriend at the time (and now his wife).
Just before starting Nora Jean’s, Matt spent six years working for Compass group and managing cafeterias at American Express and American General Pharmaceuticals. Working nights, holidays and weekends got old, especially after Matt and Kelly married in 2009, and so Matt decided to start his own restaurant.
Growing the Business
Matt adds something new to the restaurant each year. In 2018 he added new tables. In 2017 he added milkshakes to the menu. In the future, he might add dinner one or two nights a week.
Matt’s calm demeanor allows him to focus. “At Torreon Golf Cub, I was upset with the bread guy because he wouldn’t use color-coded bread tags to identify the days on which the bread was made. So I focused on learning to make all our breads that year, including rye, baguettes and ciabatta. The next year I focused on learning how to prepare chile peppers, and the next year it was grains.”
This method of intense practice, practice, practice explains why Matt has perfected the dishes he serves at Nora Jean’s. And why customers walk in and ask him to fix them something special, without specifying what. They trust him and know whatever he makes will be good.
“Some people, when I see them pull into the parking lot, I start making their meal,” Matt says. “I know what they want, if they avoid salt, and if they have a favorite food.”
Over the last three years, Matt began giving his popular monthly cooking classes, which fill up fast with his die-hard fans and Nora Jean regulars. My husband Brent and I rarely miss a class. Matt and his team usually have a couple of dishes ready for tasting when we arrive, and then everyone eats again when the featured dishes are completed by the students. Amazingly, there are usually leftovers to take home for lunch the next day.
We like the classes because we feel part of Matt’s extended family, which includes BCC and beyond, and we appreciate how he shares his joy of cooking. For instance, during the Southwest cooking class, we prepared pork tenderloins with a prickly pear demi-glaze and Ancho encrusted salmon with southeast rice and a pineapple salsa. A black quinoa salad with chunks of shrimp was spooned into roasted Poblano peppers and baked.
Our heads were spinning but Matt gingerly plated the food on pretty serving dishes as we students watched intently. He spooned on rice with roasted corn and black beans, topped it with salmon steaks and garnished the whole display with salsa.
As he created the food displays, Matt hummed. Surrounded by us students, who were oohing and ahhing, Matt hummed away, in the zone, appearing content. Although it was almost 8 p.m., you’d never know Matt had been in the kitchen since 2 a.m.
As he was plating the food, he said, somewhat surprised, “Everything came out at the exact same time.”
Of course, it did.
Matt’s sixth sense is his internal clock.
Watching Matt navigate his kitchen that night as he danced to stir the saffron Chile sauce and the red onion confit while searing pork tenderloins, it was clear he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Past cooking class themes have included:
Italian Part I & II
At the end of this article, check out the list of dishes prepared in each of the classes listed above. In our most recent winter class on Comfort Foods, we cooked these dishes:
Chicken and Dumplings
Bacon Wrapped Smoked Meatloaf
Macaroni and Cheese
Baked Chicken with Roasted Root Vegetables
Because he’s tasting food all day, Matt doesn’t usually eat meals. Plus, his life can get hectic, not just with his work schedule but with his family’s two dogs, four cats, chickens and ducks.
“I don’t enjoy cooking at home because we don’t have a gas stove,” Matt says. “Sometimes I’ll just eat cereal for dinner.”
Doesn’t seem right that this master chef would dine on Cheerios, Raisin Bran or Grape-Nuts.
But that’s just like Matt; saving his creative cooking energy for his devoted diners.
Appetizers: Steak au Poivre Potatoes; Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce; Mushroom Strudel with Goat Cheese; Seared Tuna with sweet soy and Baked Wontons; Bacon-wrapped scallops; Ancho Shrimp Stuffed Jalapeño Poppers wrapped in Bacon; Baked mini Brie; Gouda and Beer Fondue Bread Boule; Cheese Puff Tower; Eggplant Ricotta Bites; Vegetable Bundles with Herb Citrus Dip; Steamed Mussels (or Clams) with Grilled Bread.
Spring Salads: Marinated Mushroom Salad: Asian Cucumber Salad; Spring Berry Salad with Goat Cheese and Strawberry Vinaigrette; Asparagus and Red Quinoa Salad; Roasted Asparagus Salad with Toasted Almonds and Balsamic Reduction.
Southwest: Spiced Chicken Salad; Ancho-Crusted Salmon with Pineapple Salsa; Spiced Pork Tenderloin with Prickly Pear Demi-Glace and Red Onion Confit; Rice; Grain- and Shrimp-Stuffed Poblano with Saffron Chile Sauce.
Reddog’s soul is intact, even after decades of playing blues in clubs and bars across the South… even after 35 years of spending nights in front of tipsy party people, and true-blue music fans, never diverging from his passion to play and sing, remaining a gentle, quiet, observant man.
Although I’ve known Reddog since the late 80s, he still appears a little fuzzy around the edges, his origins and family, even his age, are vague. But recently Reddog opened up about his love of music and how he managed to make a living heading up his Band, Reddog and Friends.
The first mystery about Reddog is the origin of his stage name. “I spotted an advertisement for a vintage clothing store named Reddog, and the ad had beautiful, long, lean, red dogs,” Reddog explains. “I thought it would be a good band name. As band personnel changed over the years, everyone just started calling me Reddog.”
The second mystery we encounter is how he was able to make a living as a musician. Having to build his own career, and lacking 401Ks and employee-sponsored pension plans, means Reddog had to be financially creative and astute. Brave souls like Reddog who attempt making a living doing what they love are investing in their self-expression and way of life, not just earning to pay for shelter and food. Sometimes saving for the future takes a backseat, but not with Reddog.
Reddog tells the story of how a very well-dressed gentleman approached him years ago between sets at Fuzzy’s Place, a bar/restaurant in Atlanta. The man had seen the joy and fun Reddog and Friends were having on stage.
“I’ve amassed a sizable fortune,” the man said to Reddog, “and I would trade my fortune with you any day to be able to do what you do.”
“The conversation made me see how fortunate I was to do what I love in life,” Reddog says. “I felt thankful. Work has always been pure pleasure.”
Reddog learned to play the guitar after high school. His step Dad noticed how much time he was spending playing guitar and suggested he take lessons… or not play so much.
“Within a couple weeks,” Reddog says, “I had packed a bag and caught a bus to a guitar workshop outside of New York City that I had seen advertised in Guitar Player magazine.”
His teacher was an excellent young guitarist who recognized Reddog’s talent and interest in music and gave him special attention.
“I got off the bus in Planting Fields Arboretum, Long Island,” Reddog says, “with no place to stay, a rather broken-down guitar, a suitcase and little money. Believe me, I stood out. My fellow students arrived each day in shiny new Cadillacs carrying expensive Martin acoustics.”
Reddog originally owned an inexpensive Japanese acoustic for about a year, but he soon acquired a Gold Top Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and a Fender Twin Reverb amp.
Early on, Reddog noticed all the great British guitar players like Clapton, Beck and Page had blues roots. “Duane Allman, Freddie King, B.B. King, Ray Charles… that was what was moving me!,” Reddog says. “Duane Allman is the reason I picked up the guitar. He created a new musical style and was just a burnin’ guitar player!”
Reddog’s blues destiny was set.
Although Reddog has written, performed and recorded original songs, he has always performed blues standards in his sets.
“Many blues clubs have kept me working through the years,” Reddog says, “because they know I revere the original artists who made the music, like Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King and Muddy Waters.”
Much of Reddog’s childhood was spent in Virginia and coastal North Carolina where his mother dabbled with the piano and continues to play out of the Methodist hymnal.
“The South just makes me feel like I’m home. That’s why I headed for the great state of Georgia as soon as the time was right. ”
The Allman Brothers, headquartered in Macon, Georgia, influenced Reddog a great deal, with Duane Allman, Freddie King and Otis Rush standing out as his biggest guitar influences.
Reddog attributes his successful musical career to being in the right place at the right time.
“I moved to the vibrant big city of Atlanta, a city with a strong economy and lots of live music venues. The norm for clubs was to hire a band for one night a month. Instead, I convinced club owners to book me one day a week (like every Thursday) and if their Thursday business picked up, my band remained the Thursday night house band. If business went down, they could fire me. Business usually picked up so we had lots of steady work. My trio had four or five steady gigs; Sunday on the North side of Atlanta, Monday in Underground Atlanta, etc. Many of our Atlanta gigs lasted years.”
Reddog kept his overhead low with a simple trio of guitar, bass and drums. All three players also sang.
Current Reddog and Friends band members are Michael D on bass and TJ Jackson on drums. Infamous musicians who have been a part of Reddog’s trio over the decades include the late, great Donnie McCormick on drums from the Capricorn Record band, Eric Quincy Tate and Chris Long on bass, formerly with the King Johnson Band. Steve Hawkins, a powerful, talented drummer and vocalist, performed with Reddog in the late 90s and currently plays with Daryle Singletary. Bill Stewart, session drummer from the Capricorn Rhythm Section, recorded and performed live with Reddog in the late 80’s.
Selecting the right mix of musicians is essential to a good sound and future gigs. Equally important, Reddog paid close attention to where his money went while managing the band and growing his career,
“If you are a creative soul,” Reddog advises, “it is so important to save and invest for your future. Being a creative soul means you’ll likely have less, so you have to invest! It makes me sad to see elderly musicians in need. So many classic blues artists live in poverty, it pains me. I have influenced many around me to invest, especially in well-diversified, low cost index mutual funds, Vanguard, Fidelity, etc.”
Reddog’s Creative Space
Reddog’s favorite place to create is a perch in his hallway, where he has stacks of CD’s to choose from, a good sounding CD player, an electric keyboard and a guitar close at hand. He thinks it’s nothing fancy, but finds it peaceful. Like playing in a club, Reddog has a hard time telling if it’s night or day in his hallway perch, making it easier to shut out the world and focus on his music.
“Music still burns in my veins,” Reddog says, “and I practice singing and playing guitar every day.”
Reddog’s discipline comes from his teenage years when he trained in Chinese Martial Arts, and he hasn’t just managed to preserve his voice, it has actually improved over the years.
In his prime, Reddog played nonstop. Reddog and Friends loved to perform and they often laughed about how many nights they were booked back-to-back. These days, in retirement, Reddog performs once every month or two at the local blues society.
“I love to sing and am so moved by that big, airy gospel sound of Reverend James Cleveland, Lee Williams and James Bignon,” Reddog says. “Practicing singing is so important to me. I practice ear training with a piano almost daily and sing along with some of my favorite gospel artists on CD. Just constantly in search of a bigger, warmer vocal tone! When you are singing, you are telling a story, trying to make every word believable and full of emotion. It takes work on my part.”
Reddog and I became friends in Atlanta when he was the house band at Fuzzy’s Place and Blues Harbor at Underground Atlanta. I wrote for the hudspeth report, a local entertainment newspaper, and caught Reddog and Friends as often as possible, no matter the venue. I even recall seeing him play on an outdoor stage in Buckhead one St. Patrick’s Day. Listening to live music was a passion for me and looking back, I can see how how vital Atlanta’s music scene was to the city’s culture.
I once traveled with Reddog and Friends to a music festival in Tennessee and enjoyed the backstage/insider view of what it took to build a reputation and career, and learned that active bands who perform regularly eventually see just about every kind of human behavior, whether driven by physical, mental, emotional, sexual or spiritual needs.
“The night after the Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta in 1996,” Reddog says, “we performed on a House of Blues Buckhead stage to a sea of people. There was some tension in the air, people hoping it would be a safe evening. It was hot and humid and the audience was just incredible.”
Another memorable gig was in 1991 when Reddog opened for Garth Hudson and Rick Danko from “The Band” in Stone Mountain Park. “Rick Danko could not have been any nicer! He made sure we joined him on stage.”
One of Reddog’s favorite gigs was at Fuzzy’s Place in Atlanta on North Druid Hills. Fuzzy’s is now closed, but it had a reputation as the place to go for live blues and jazz. Fuzzy was a nice guy who cooked up fine Southern fare (Rib eye steak with green beans and mashed potatoes) but more than a restaurant, Fuzzy’s Place was a magical music venue.
“We were the Tuesday night house band at Fuzzy’s,” says Reddog, “and because many musicians were off that night, they would come sit in. When I saw Gatemouth Brown’s tour bus pull into the parking lot one night while we were playing, I thought, ‘We’re going to have a great night.’ Billy Preston was in the audience on another night. That was one fun gig!”
Early on, Reddog had a gig in Sandy Springs at JP’s Paradise.
“JP’s was wide open!” Reddog recalls. “We performed every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night until 3 a.m. to great crowds, including strippers, drug dealers and musicians. Warren Haynes and Allen Woody from Gov’t Mule were among the many musicians who stopped by to jam with us. Before long, though, the authorities padlocked the place.”
Many other favorite musicians would show up to perform with Reddog, including guitar greats Oliver Wood and Barry Richman. “They were both world-class musicians,” Reddog says, “and really knew when to lay back and when to step it up and be aggressive. What an honor to have them sit in with our band.”
Other gifted artists that stopped by to share the stage with Reddog include Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Jimmy Thackery, Tom Principato, Tinsley Ellis, Sax Gordon Beadle, Bob Margolin, and Jai Johanny Johanson. Johnny Neel and Duke Robillard stopped by to listen.
Now, a special note about Luther “Guitar Junior “Johnson, who jammed with Reddog on stage at Blues Harbor in Underground Atlanta and then autographed Reddog’s black Stratocaster:
“Luther is the real deal,” says Reddog. “He performed with both Magic Sam and Muddy Waters and was in the Blues Brothers Movie. Luther is still performing. A few Luther Johnsons are running around, including one from Atlanta who regularly performed at Blind Willie’s in Atlanta. Be sure to look for Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson to avoid confusion. One night, after playing on stage at Blues Harbor with Luther, I asked if he would sign my guitar. We went into the kitchen and I handed him my guitar, which he had been playing, and went to get a marker. When I got back, Luther had carved his name into my black Fender Strat as “Luter,” misspelling “Luther.” He was a nice Cat. Anyway, that’s how you can tell the autograph is authentic, because he misspelled his name!”
With the release of his first record in 1986, Reddog gained widespread recognition and positive press.
Music publicist Mark Pucci helped Reddog spread the word. Reddog was in good company. Pucci had worked at Capricorn records in Macon, Georgia, for most of the 70s working to promote Southern hitmakers of the day, including The Allman Brothers Band, The Marshall Tucker Band, Sea Level, Wet Willie, Delbert McClinton, Dickey Betts, Elvin Bishop, Bonnie Bramlett, Percy Sledge, Dixie Dregs and Martin Mull. In the 90s, Pucci was back with Capricorn in Nashville working with the likes of Hank Williams, Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd and Kenny Chesney.
“The press coverage of my first album release was unexpected and earth shattering for me,” says Reddog. “Tower Pulse Magazine from Sacramento was the first publication to give me an incredibly nice write up.”
Tower Pulse wrote, “At his worst Reddog sounds like a pre-pop-star Clapton filtered through southern sensibilities. At his best, he sounds purely like himself.”
“I was also honored to be featured in a cover article in Guitar World, in 1988, entitled Who’s Who of the Blues/50 Bluesmen Who Matter. Stevie Ray Vaughan was on the cover with a headline reading, Special Issue Blues Power. That was a big deal for me! It was funny, guitar players would come into Atlanta for a gig and would ask about me. You know, it’s ironic because I’ve always been a musician who pays homage, respect to the originators like Albert Collins, Muddy Waters, Elmore James, etc.”
Jim Trageser, syndicated music critic, described Reddog’s guitar works when he wrote, “His playing is impassioned; his deftness at picking quickly is matched only by the smoldering intensity of his playing. In short, Reddog is one of the absolute best blues guitarists in the country today.”
Over the years, as his reputation grew, Reddog was featured in a 1993 Guitar School article entitled, The Next Generation of Guitar Heroes. During that time, he also worked hard to win an 18-month Anheuser-Busch corporate sponsorship which helped update his band’s equipment.
In 2009, Reddog and Friends won “Best Blues Band” from the Blues Society of Northwest Florida. “We went on to participate in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee,” Reddog says.
Reddog’s favorite song to perform is Freddie King’s Yonder Wall. “It’s a powerful groove and I love delivering the verse: ‘I hear your old man has been to Vietnam, I heard he had it kind of rough, I don’t know how many men he’s killed, but I think he’s done killed enough.’”
Reddog’s dream is to record in the legendary Muscle Shoals area of Alabama. He came close in 1998 when he recorded for a CD produced at Johnny Sandlin’s Duck Tape Studios in Decatur, Alabama.
“What an honor to work with Johnny,” Reddog says. “He was so gifted and generous to work with me. He brought some of my favorite players to the session, including Bill Stewart on drums, David Hood on bass and Clayton Ivey on keyboards. Gregg Allman, Bonnie Bramlett, and Jimmy Hall are among the gifted artists to record with Johnny at his Duck Tape Studios.”
Sadly, Johnny passed away in September 2017, before the CD was finished.
Reddog recorded at other Atlanta studios, including:
Studio One in Doraville, Georgia (where Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded)
Web IV (also where Lynyrd Skynyrd and Irma Thomas recorded)
As a musician, Reddog has many experiences and lots of stories to tell, not all of them pretty.
“I performed in a lot of biker bars, truck stops, country music halls and some seedy Southside Atlanta bars. One night after a gig in Tennessee, I was about to walk half a mile up the road to get some late night fast food. The club owner said, “Reddog, it’s not safe to walk late at night. Here, take this 9 mm handgun with you.” I listened, but didn’t take the handgun. I walked up the road and as I approached the fast food restaurant two police cars came speeding toward me, threw me on the hood of the car and yelled, “where’s the gun?” The police told me they just received a call that someone had a gun and was going to rob the restaurant. Like I said, it’s not always pretty.”
A sweeter story:
“We performed in Gray, Georgia, quite a bit. On one of our gigs there, Derek Trucks and his band were hanging out on the front porch listening to us play between their rehearsals in another building on the property. Later, the club owner suggested I go with Derek to see where they were rehearsing. It was just Derek and me in their rehearsal hall. Derek, in his late teens at the time, strapped on his guitar and played some slide for me. Let me tell you, the world shook. Derek had a big, big tone when he played slide. He played just a few notes, but what an earth shaking, incredible tone he had, even as a teenager.”
Club owners gave Reddog the boost his career needed and he gives them credit for being some of his biggest supporters over the years.
“Man, I’ve had quite a few club owners who said, ‘Reddog, I own a club, the stage is yours, I got faith in you. Come play my room, do your thing, pack the house, you’re in charge!’ As I was slowing down and semi-retired, I got to meet and work with music industry people and club owners who took an interest in my music. That meant the world to me.”
Reddog may be retired, but he still has some things he’d like to accomplish musically. He performs intermittently at the Blues Society of NWFL (and an occasional wedding, when asked by friends), and hopes to complete the CD started with Sandlin in 1998.
“During a recent set at the Society,” Reddog says, “I worked up an arrangement of Will the Circle Be Unbroken in tribute to Gregg Allman, and performed it for the first time on stage. Gregg sang it on his moving Laid Back CD. Love that song and his version. My old drummer and bass player were with me so we could just closed our eyes and let it flow. It felt so good.”
When he’s not practicing or performing, Reddog has fun tending to the grapefruit, orange and lemon trees in his yard, and harvesting his blueberry bushes. He also relishes beautiful weather, the art, people, food and, of course, live music in his Florida neighborhood!
Another pastime that kept him going was tooling around on his motorcycle.
“I’ve had the motorcycle jones forever and am so relaxed on two wheels. A late night ride in the deep South when it is hot and humid is indescribable. I had a thunderous, head-turning, black and chrome V twin for 17 years. Unfortunately, my motorcycle days ended about a year ago.”
Reddog is still a big believer in the stock market and investing to provide additional income, even something as simple as the Vanguard Total Stock Market Index Fund. His knack for investing will carry him securely through his retirement years. So will the knowledge that he’ll continue to perform and give back to his community.
“Someone once said the Blues are a Healing Power,” Reddog says. “I believe it’s true. To be creative, and get on stage with your band mates to entertain, have fun and get paid is incredible! But the music does heal. I lost count of the times someone in the audience had lost a wife or child, or was lonely, depressed, and somehow they found relief through the band and the music. It floors me. To see a listener leave a venue feeling better, even smiling, after you’ve performed makes it all worthwhile.”
Reddog’s Eight Guitars
Fender Stratocaster Black 1962 reissue: My main guitar. The strat is my instrument of choice. Sold to me as a parts guitar because a band threw it through a window and broke the neck. I had it repaired and brought back to life. It is a workhorse.
Fender Stratocaster 1960 White: I talked my brother into buying this guitar and he was nice enough to let me have it; he knew it should be with me. Holding a Fender Strat just feels natural and the Strat can make so many different tones.
Flying Finn Electric Guitar: A prototype guitar from Finland. We did a tour of Scandinavia which included a blues festival at the Arctic Circle in Finland. The Flying Finn guitar made it to me in that tour. A beautiful instrument!
Gibson Hummingbird 1968 acoustic: My acoustic guitar that’s been with me for years is beautiful and has a big, warm tone.
Sunburst Gibson 1959 ES-175: My jazz guitar. Easy to play while sitting and reading a chord chart.
Gibson SG Jr.: My guitar for playing electric slide.
Guild 12 string acoustic: Guild makes great acoustics!
Dobro: Old wooden body, great for acoustic slide guitar.
Well-designed clothing can be a work of art with lines so true and exquisite they make grown women and men weep.
From Exquisite to Tears
Well-designed clothing can be a work of art with lines so true and embellishments so exquisite they cause grown women and men to weep. I hope everyone has, at least once, the grand experience of being so moved by a couture gown or suit that they’re overcome with emotion, as though witnessing at Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel masterpiece.
Even people like me who have no sense of style and never learn what cut and shape best fits their physique can be drawn to the art of fashion like they’re drawn to study a Matisse or Van Gogh. Particularly when the designer is Hubert Givenchy, Cristobal Balenciaga, Christian Dior or Yves Saint Laurent (YSL), a few of my favorites.
YSL (1936 – 2008) ran his own haute couture design house for 40 years, after being head designer at Dior in his early 20s. He was known for adapting tuxedoes to the female form and designing comfortable clothing for women. He also changed the fashion world when he used models from African countries.
My daughter Jaime and I recently visited Musee Yves Saint Laurent Paris, housed in his former couture salon at 5 Avenue Marceau in the 11th arrondissement. Lucky for fashion fans, beginning in 1964 YSL began setting aside specific designs after each show, with an eye toward eventually building a museum. The actual garments and all documents related to their creation were stored away.
The museum officially opened in 2016.
The interior of the museum is gorgeous, and how exciting to be in the unchanged salons where Yves held his fashions shows until 1976, and where patrons, including famous French actress Catherine Deneuve, were fitted for their couture pieces.
YSL’s design sketches are works of art. He could draw beautifully and was pulled toward theatre stage design and costumes, in addition to fashion. While young, he even created 11 paper dolls and more than 500 designs for them, including accessories, for two full fashion collections. He mocked up a program for each collection that listed names of the models, each piece, the location of the haute couture house and various suppliers.
Most of YSL’s designs were sketched in his Moroccan home and their prototypes were crafted by his team working in collaboration with artisanal houses back in Paris.
Haute Couture has strict rules that could drain dry any creative person. Two collections are required each year; the spring-summer season presented in January and the autumn-winter season shown in July. Each collection contains about 100 designs, including accessories.
His designs were inspired by African, Russian, Spanish and Asian cultures. He often drew upon the history of fashion and yet was adept at reflecting societal changes in his designs, such as the feminist movement in the 70s.
YSL’s design house employed 200 people and, like most haute couture designers, he collaborated with skilled craftspeople at French artisanal houses who used their own techniques and style to create various aspects of the clothing, including weavers, dyers, printers, embroiderers, plumassiers (deal with ornamental plumes or feathers), goldsmiths and silversmiths. One garment could take hundreds of hours to embellish. Ateliers producing high-quality commissioned work for YSL using skills handed down generation after generation included:
Textiles & Embroidered appliqués: Brossin de Mere
Printed Textiles: Abraham
Embroidery: Rebe, Mesrine, Lesage and Lanel
YSL said, “I like a dress to be simple and an accessory to be crazy.” Designing costume jewelry, rather than working with gemstones and precious metals, gave him more freedom in putting together wood, metal, rhinestones, beads, feathers, ceramics and passementerie (tassels, braids, fringing) in “crazy” necklaces, earrings and bracelets.
My favorite part of the museum was YSL’s studio on the top floor with windows to the ceiling, a wall of mirrors, Yves’ simple desk and work tables strewn with bobbles, sketches, embroidered pieces, Polaroid photos, feathers, etc.
Different from the fancy salons downstairs, YSL’s studio was bright and quiet and the perfect place to view models in prototype garments. He found that looking at the models and garments in the mirrored wall gave him the distance needed to evaluate each piece.
Oh, and shelves of books! Fashion, art books of other topics inspired Yves. “The most beautiful trips I took were through books,” YSL said.
There are six short films showing the entire couture process from sketch to purchase. Another film shows YSL’s long-term business and personal partnership with Pierre Berge, a relationship that lasted until YSL’s death from brain cancer in 2008.
The museum rotates the pieces on display, so it’s possible to visit the Musee again and again and not see the same things.
Street art ain’t just stencils anymore… but we still love stencils.
The Bright and The Beautiful
My only disappointment about Paris was missing Banksy by one day. The famous British street artist has been in the City of Love lately posting art that mostly jabs at the French government’s treatment of immigrants.
Before Banksy arrived, my daughter and I enjoyed photographing graffiti in Paris, mostly in Le Marais, and the third and fourth arrondissements. I was intrigued to see not just paint, but also paper collages and plaques used on walls.
Here’s what we found (including a few of Banksy’s latest works captured by photojournalists).
Claude Monet (1840 -1926) is known around the world for his impressionist paintings, especially of his garden and waterlily pond, but he also strategically planted specific-colored flowers in his gardens, essentially “painting” the landscape in front of his home in the tiny village of Giverny, France, about an hour’s drive northwest of Paris.
Monet grew his flower garden like a florist arranges a vase of flowers, based on colors and shapes, carefully choosing flowers for spring, summer and autumn. For winter, he got his fill of flowers by visiting orchids in his greenhouse.
From the age of 43 until his death 40 years later, Monet obsessed over the garden and pond which, combined, comprised nearly five acres of common and exotic plants from around the world. (Monet favored single flowers and his favorite of all was the single-flowered “mermaid” rose in yellow, which he grew under his bedroom window.)
Eventually six gardeners would be on hand to help Monet “paint” his landscape with flowers. His gardens became his living studio, so he no longer had to trek into the countryside to paint plein air, which is what made the Impressionist painters and their paintings unique.
“Impressionist paintings take a fleeting moment and wrap it in light and mood and emotion,” writes Matt Brown in Everything You Know about Art is Wrong. The fuzzy paintings of early French Impressionists like Monet, Degas (1834-1917), Pissarro (1830-1903), Renoir (1841-1919) and Sisley (1839-99) were roundly criticized and mocked with descriptions of “intolerable monstrosities,” “ridiculous and horrible” and “victims of an unlucky disease.”
Matt Brown believes impressionist paintings are now so respected and loved “they might even be considered among the finest achievements of our species.”
As for the pond, Monet hired a special gardener who would row a little boat around early in the morning (before Monet started painting) to clean up algae and groom the lily pads to grow in visually-pleasing circular clumps.
His waterlily paintings blew the minds of folks in his day. They were used to tranquil pastoral settings composed as seen; land and sky. Monet’s waterlily paintings had no setting, no pond’s edge or sky to compose a nature scene. He simply put his pond border to border and rocked the art world.
Monet considered his gardens his greatest masterpiece. In 1907, Marcel Proust wrote:
“If I can someday see M. Claude Monet’s garden, I feel sure that I shall see something that is not so much a garden of flowers as of colors or tones, less an old-fashioned flower garden than a color garden, so to speak, one that achieves an effect not entirely nature’s, but it was planted so that only the flowers with matching colors will bloom at the same time, harmonized in an infinite stretch of blue or pink.”
That’s exactly what Proust would have seen.
These days, the little country road that separates the front yard from the pond has a tunnel underneath so guests can easily and safely move between the two distinct gardens.
On the June 2018 day we visited, a gardener was quietly rowing around the pond, skimming debris and making the surface of the water like a mirror, just as Monet would have liked. In front of the house, men and women were putting out plants and grooming others in a never-ending homage to Monet for visitors from all over the world to enjoy.
People speaking many languages mingled around the garden and pond paths, posing on the arched, green Japanese bridge. Groups of school children, some as young as four or five, were led through the house, garden and around the pond. Perhaps one day these little ones will be inspired to become gardeners, landscape architect or even artists. After all, culture and the arts are France’s most prized possessions.
The house, with a verdant hill sloping up behind, is very wide, but only one room deep, and Monet’s use of color throughout seems whimsical, which is why photos of the home’s interior are included below.
Musee de L’Orangerie
Before his death, Monet worked with the Musee de L’Organgerie in Paris, very close to the Louvre, to create the perfect display for eight of Monet’s massive waterlily paintings. He finally decided on elliptical walls. Here are a few excellent photos taken by my daughter Jaime of the giant paintings on display in two elliptical-shaped rooms at Musee de L’Orangerie.
Monet in Motion
Watch Monet at age 74 painting at his lily pond. The only known footage of Monet, the film was shot in the summer of 1915 by French activist and dramatist Sacha Guitry.