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Alla Prima

Richard Pelham Curtis–100 Years

RPC1941?

Richard Pelham Curtis, on a boat, c. 1940?

 

Today, June 1, 2015 would be my father’s one hundredth birthday, if he were still alive.

And it would have been my parents’ seventy-fifth wedding anniversary! My father sometimes said he got married on his twenty-fifth birthday so that he’d be less likely to forget his anniversary.

In honor of my dad, I am resurrecting and reworking a post from my former blog (which can still be found at Trusting Delight). That post was titled “Ten Random Things about My Dad,” though it covered a lot more than ten things.

Perhaps if my memories really started to flow, I could get close to one hundred random things about my dad–at least if I were to count every little individual fact.

1. My father, whose name was Richard Pelham Curtis, was born on June 1, 1915 in Marblehead, Massachusetts. (For example, that’s three facts right there: name, birthdate, birthplace!)

2. He was the youngest child of Greely Stevenson Curtis and Fanny Hooper Curtis. His older siblings were Greely, my Uncle Greely, and Fanny, my Auntie Fin; his sister “Maisie,” Marian Adams Curtis, died quite young.

3. Dad, who was called “Dick” by most of his friends, was born at his parents’ home overlooking Marblehead Harbor on “Gilbert Heights,” perhaps a half a mile from the house in which my siblings and I grew up and in which Dad died.

Other than years spent at boarding school and college, I don’t think Dad ever lived anywhere but in Marblehead. Marblehead was unquestionably his home.

4. My father whistled and hummed. A lot. His whistling was quite pleasant to listen to. He often “whistled while he worked,” perhaps even unconscious of doing so, and sometimes whistled while he walked, did errands, and such.

His humming was another thing entirely! I think of Dad’s humming rather fondly, but I know it could be rather annoying to live with. It was a “hum with an edge,” a sort of sharp droning tone not unlike a bagpipe’s drone, created as he simultaneously hummed and chewed his tongue. Our neighbors on the small dead-end street where we lived knew my father’s hum quite well. I’m sure they could hear him humming around the yard doing chores.

5. Dad loved to sail, even lived to sail! Sailing was for him about relaxing, being on the water, maybe getting some place, but usually going where the wind and tide would allow (and hopefully also allow getting home before the wind would drop, or fog or bad weather set in).

Sometimes in summer when the days were long, he’d go sailing after dinner after a day at work on the far side of Boston. He tolerated a long commute to and from work, in order to live by the water. An after-dinner evening sail might become a moonlight sail, and then a moonlit drift, as the wind often dies in the evening.

6. Photos of my dad as a young boy often feature sail boats. In one he is holding a model sailboat in his hands. (He is also wearing a sailor suit, as is his older sister–clearly a fashionable item around 1920!) In another photo he crouches by the edge of Red’s Pond in Marblehead, his father behind him, as he launches a model boat (the same one?) into the pond.

In yet another photo, my dad, my aunt, and my grandfather (whom I never knew–he died in 1947) stand in a boat beside the stone pier of a local boatyard. They are either just launching or about to haul it out.

7. Like me, my father was the youngest child in his family. I don’t remember we ever talked about both being “youngests,” but I think it about it now. I also shared his blue eye color (along with my brother David).

Although most people have always told me I look a lot like my mother, and I too see that resemblance, as I get older I see more of my father in my face. This photo of me, taken in 2011, startled me with its likeness to my father’s face. (My sister said she thought the likeness was the baggy sweater, but I think it’s in my face. What do you think?)

 

SBC2011

Yours truly, Sukie Curtis, Maine, 2011

8. Dad played games with us when we were small children–I remember bouncing on my dad’s knees as he sang, “Trot, trot to Boston” and “This is the way the ladies ride.” Later, card games (“Oh Hell” and Hearts) and board games, like Clue.

9. At bedtime, my mother would sing a song, “Teera, leera, leera in the spring” it begins, and my dad would sing “Day is done.” And he would say the Lord’s Prayer and close with a list of blessings.

10. The blessings were always the same, and in the same order: “God bless Mummy and Daddy and Dickie (my parents’ first child, who died before I was born) and David and Jonny and Peggy and Sukie and everybody.”

Amen.

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Two Paintings, Two Haiku

SCurtis_SurprisedtocomeuponRoses

Surprised to Come Upon Roses, oil on canvas

Mornings come and go–

the cardinal’s liquid song

announces this one.

 

Above and Beneath, oil on canvas

Above and Beneath, oil on canvas

Salt tang in the fog–

the grey-green dampness dripping–

the red bird redder.

 

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These two paintings were painted long ago (the first, late last year? the second, almost two years ago). I wrote the two haiku this morning.

And then it occurred to me that they make an interesting pairing of words and images.

The two paintings are currently part of the show, “Abstract,” hanging at River Arts in Damariscotta, Maine through June 25. If you’re heading through mid-coast Maine, stop in to see a large and interesting mix of pieces spread through several rooms.

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Selfie with Haiku

SBC in GSC door

That shape reflected

in my great-grandfather’s door–

an unplanned selfie.

 

Photo taken April 30, 2015, 28 Mt. Vernon St., Boston, MA

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A Tale of Two Art Shows

A Tale of Two Art Shows

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Kitchen Mosaic, oil on canvas, ©Sukie Curtis 2015

May has arrived and with it, rather suddenly, some very balmy weather, bulbs in bloom, and the delightful frothy greens of new leaves! There’s nothing quite like this time of year, especially after such a long winter.

 
Rather than a tale to tell, I have two invitations to extend! I currently have several paintings in two different art shows, both with opening receptions this weekend. And I’d love to see you at one (or both!) if you are able to attend! Feel free to bring a friend along, too.
 
On Friday, May 8 from 5 to 8 pm I will be celebrating at Ocean House Gallery and Frame, 299 Ocean House Road in Cape Elizabeth, Maine for the opening of “Interior Life,” featuring paintings by Brita Holmquist, Louise Bourne, and me. The show is already up and looks great! 
 
If you aren’t able to attend or simply want to enjoy a preview of works in the show, this link will take you to an online catalog of the show, under the title “Interior Life.”
 
And on Saturday, May 9 from 4 to 7 pm I can be found at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery, 720 US Route One in Yarmouth, Maine for the opening reception of “Winter Cowers as Spring Empowers.” This show includes works by more than two dozen artists, all “regulars” at Yarmouth Frame. It’s sure to be a fun reception making connections old and new!
 
Both shows will be up through the month of May (the Yarmouth show through June), so even if you miss the opening events, I hope you’ll be able to drop in another time to see them. Let me know if you’re heading in that direction, and perhaps I’d be able to join you.
 
In the meantime, enjoy the rich gifts of springtime!

 

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On Baptism, Breastplates, and Amulets

pictishwarrior  Forty years ago today I was baptized at the age of twenty (almost twenty-one). I dare say that this was not exactly what most of my Trinity College peers were up to that late Thursday evening! On April 24, 1975 Bishop Morgan Porteous, then Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut came to the Trinity College Chapel to baptize and confirm me, with my mother, father, and sister and lots of friends in attendance. (He later ordained me a deacon as well!)

I still remember quite a bit about that evening. In those days there was a weekly Thursday evening Eucharist (at 9:30? 10 pm?), when some weeks it was clear that the Chaplain had had too much to drink. His sermons would be extra long and rambling, and we students rolled our eyes at one another at being somewhat trapped in the small Crypt Chapel as the Chaplain droned on, not making total sense. But on this occasion with the Bishop present to preach and preside, the Chaplain was in decent shape.

What I remember most about the occasion are these three things: first, how the Bishop wove the liturgical drama of baptism together with the impressive architecture of the chapel (designed in the same English Gothic style and by the same architect as Washington Cathedral, on a smaller scale, though still quite grand for a college chapel). The death-to-new-life movement of baptism was echoed by our beginning in the small, underground Crypt Chapel, then processing upstairs and through a small outside cloister, like the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, into the main nave of the chapel with its high Gothic arches, stained glass windows, carved wooden pews facing one another “collegiate style,” and a large pipe organ for robust hymn-singing!

The baptismal font was located toward the back (west end) of the chapel outside a small chapel known as the Friendship Chapel, and I remember the Bishop remarking on the importance of friends and community for each of us endeavoring to live a life of faith, hope and love.

The second thing I remember happened there at the baptismal font, when the Bishop posed to me the questions for candidates for baptism. (They now appear in the Book of Common Prayer liturgy for baptism, but back then I believe we were using the “Green Book,” one of the steps along the way of liturgical reform back then.)

I remember being very aware that I had freedom and power to choose how to answer those questions for myself–that I could have, at the last minute, said “No” when the Bishop asked if I desired to be baptized! It was a moment of dizzying autonomy–probably the clearest, most public decision I had ever made that set me apart from my family of origin (and our Unitarian upbringing).

The third thing I remember is singing the hymn known as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” now hymn 370 in the Episcopal Church’s Hymnal 1982. I believe we sang it in sections as we moved from place to place in the chapel, arriving finally before the altar for the Eucharist.

The text of the hymn is a translation of words traditionally attributed to St. Patrick himself, although many now believe the words are from 8th century Ireland rather than the 4th to 5th centuries when Patrick lived. It has always been a favorite hymn of mine, and many years later, it became part of our family ritual to sing the sixth verse (unusual in that it is sung to a completely different tune and in a different key from the rest of the hymn!) to Bekah and Anna at bedtime:

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me. Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The idea of the “breastplate,” also known as a “lorica” from a Latin word for “body armor,” reflects an early Christian monastic tradition of reciting specific prayers for protection, not unlike the idea of wearing an amulet, a small piece of jewelry thought to give mystical protection against danger, evil, or disease. (I have a feeling that traditions of protective prayers and  protective jewelry are found in many different cultures and religions.)

David and I bought the piece of jewelry pictured in the photo above in Doolin, County Clare, Ireland in 2005. It was David especially who was taken by the little warrior–we were told he (she?) was a “Pictish” warrior, rather than a Celtic warrior. (I’m not sure how they differ, other than I think the Picts may have preceded the Celts in Ireland.)

At the time I wasn’t sure I wanted to wear a depiction of someone clearly ready for doing battle! But now I find myself drawn to my silver warrior as if he/she were indeed some sort of amulet, with mystical powers of protection together with the power of truth-telling. I’d like to think he/she gives me courage to live bravely, compassionately, and honestly.

 

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In Praise of Clotheslines

Islesford Clothesline

Islesford Clothesline, oil on canvas, © Sukie Curtis 2012

I.

Hanging my prayer flags–

Assorted sizes, colors–

Shirts, sheets, socks and pants.

 

II.

Season’s first harvest–

April sun, wind and birdsong–

Laundry from the line.

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The Challenge of “Living Free”

twobooks    Seven years ago today I took the unusual step of “renouncing” my ordination to the Episcopal priesthood by my own choice–something perhaps akin to a physician voluntarily relinquishing her license to practice medicine, together with some of the emotional and psychological dynamics of a divorce. (I did, after all, make vows in the process of being ordained.)

On that day seven years ago, gathered in the Immanuel Chapel at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke in Portland, with David, assorted friends, and the Bishop and members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese, I said the following:

The brief and simple thing that we are doing here today is so big and so multi-faceted that it’s hard to speak about it briefly without gross oversimplification and leaving a whole lot out. So what I say today is just a thin slice of this renunciation of ordained ministry–and even this thin slice has been boiled way down.

The “slice” is this: What I am doing here today–or more accurately, what we are doing here today–is letting go of something which has grown old for me, in order to make room and to welcome something new.

I say “we” because if ordination is about more than just the ordinand (the person being ordained), then un-ordination or de-ordination must be too. Probably in more ways that we can presently imagine, we are altogether here to let go of something old in order to make room for something new.

I chose the readings for today to be like doorposts marking this threshold–the one lesson declaring “new things” and the other, the possibility of starting again even after one has grown old.

I had surprising help the other day when I was feeling quite in touch with the grief and loss side of what I’m doing and less in touch with the new life side. I decided to clear a shelf of books–weeding out some to give away–part of an ongoing project of de-cluttering. I chose a very small shelf and made great progress, until only two books remained: Death in Holy Orders and Living Free. 

I stared at the books for several seconds, then felt something slip into place, and I started to laugh, or perhaps I was laughing and crying at the same time. “Thank you,” I whispered into the quiet of the morning. “I get it. I remember what I’m doing.” That’s the choice I’m making (that’s how it feels to me at least): I choose living free over death in holy orders!

It’s a choice that first dawned on me nearly ten years ago to the day at a clergy day in Holy Week right here in the cathedral. That was perhaps the first time that I had a fleeting glimpse or a guess that I might actually die, soul-wise, if I stayed in holy orders. It was not a piece of knowledge that remained solid and “above ground” but looking back, I can still remember a little of how it felt to hear myself say so aloud to a trusted clergy colleague.

Now ten years is a pretty long time, really. And some of you here have heard me speak about this choice and the wrestling and struggling that bring me to this day; no one has heard more than David. So with you as my witnesses, I thank David for his steadfast support. And I note that today begins a whole new reality for the two of us, because we have never been other than a “clergy couple.” (And I promise you it will be at least ten years before I will think of myself as a “clergy spouse!”)

As I cross this threshold, and you with me, I rejoice in and hold dear the gifts that we ask to be given at every baptism: “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love God, and the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works.”

Because I was baptized not as an infant but at age twenty, and I know that these gifts were very much alive and active in me before I was baptized, I think of them as divinely human gifts, marks of our truest humanity, present in us from the moment of our birth and simply named at our baptism. 

After a moment of silence to breathe and rest, I would like to ask you to join me in praying together for these gifts to be renewed in us.

*******************************************************************

Seven years later, it’s good to go back and remember and re-read what I said on that day. I keep those two books, Death in Holy Orders and Living Free, near my desk as reminders. Seven years later, I’m aware that what I did on that day was only a step, albeit a large one, toward truly “living free” in the fullest possible way. I’m aware that living free is a daily matter, and an ongoing one, built of a thousand daily kinds of choices. And I’m aware that in some ways I’m still just beginning to discover what that means!

I may have thought, naively and hopefully, that renouncing my vows was “it”–my passage through a door to a new life. (And I actually think that some people who know me may imagine it has been that, also.) But the interior journey is much more complicated than that!

And in all sorts of ways, I think I’m also still discovering new layers of what this journey is showing me and asking of me. Qualities like courage and faith and hope are necessary ingredients. And those gifts I mentioned seven years ago–those marks of our truest humanity.

All of this reminds me of a poem by Adrienne Rich that was important to me years ago, especially when David and I made the decision to leave the congregation where we had worked together for nearly fifteen years. It speaks to me again now, as I look back and look forward and consider the “doorway” that was–and is– my renunciation of my ordination. It’s called, “Prospective Immigrants Please Note.”

Either you will

go through this door

or you will not go through.

If you go through

there is always the risk

of remembering your name.

Things look at you doubly

and you must look back

and let them happen.

If you do not go through

it is possible

to live worthily

to maintain your attitudes

to hold your position

to die bravely

but much will blind you,

much will evade you,

at what cost who knows?

The door itself

makes no promises.

It is only a door.

 

 

 

 

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On Flinging Paint

SCurtis_WindfallApples

Windfall Apples oil on canvas, 26″ x 28″ ©Sukie Curtis 2015

 

I thought I’d finished this painting last fall.

Sometimes it happens that I’m not really sure whether a painting is finished (or I’m finished with it), but knowing how easy it is to overwork and “ruin” a painting with fussiness or stiffness–and occasionally with reckless messiness–I just decide it’s time to stop.

At least to stop the wheels of perfectionism that sometimes get put into gear.

And sometimes a painting that I thought was finished but haven’t yet sent out into the world keeps tugging at my apron or sleeves, demanding something more. That’s the case with these apples.

Something about them felt “off” to me. I can’t quite say what, but something along the lines of being too predictable, too conventional, too stiff. (You get the idea.)

And in the meantime, I found myself wanting to fling paint! You know, as in…FLING PAINT–flinging liquid paint off the end of the paint brush! It feels vaguely forbidden, like something you were once upon a time told not to do, and very fun! And it’s the opposite of controlled. It’s very hard to “direct” the paint, hard to know exactly where it will land and how. (Random spots of paint beyond the canvas itself are proof of that!)

So I mixed up some oil paint with a bit of Gamsol (oder-less mineral spirits) and a bit of walnut oil–enough to make it more fling-able–and went to it!

I tried not to go overboard. I didn’t want it to define the painting, just to loosen it up a bit. Here’s a more detailed photo to show some of the paint flings.

Windfall Apples, detail

Windfall Apples, detail

I think I might be entering a paint-flinging phase. I’ll keep you posted.

The painting has now been framed by Graham Wood at Ocean House Gallery and Frame in Cape Elizabeth and delivered to Beth Newman at Yarmouth Frame and Gallery in Yarmouth.

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A Solar Interlude

IMG_2183

Ah, the first really warm day in quite some time! The sun is shining in a nearly cloudless sky.

And everywhere snow is melting, dripping from roof lines, and running downhill into street drains. The snow depth and snow plow mounds are shrinking before our eyes–if only we had a bit of time-lapse video to make it easy to see!

On days like this, I have no trouble at all understanding why peoples ancient and modern give  reverence to the sun and its life-giving powers. And why others might use the sun as metaphor for the un-nameable, undefinable source/force/creative energy that many call “God.”

Meanwhile, the photovoltaic panels that were installed on our south-facing garage roof exactly two weeks ago are generating kilowatts! Not oodles and oodles of kilowatts exactly, as we have only ten panels. But on a day like today, even in the month of March at Maine’s latitude of 42 degrees North, I’m guessing our electricity output will be close to 13 kilowatt hours, which is around two-thirds of our average winter daily usage.

As the days get longer, the sun climbs higher, and our electrical usage lessens toward its summer low, we look forward to the day (week? month?) when our solar output exceeds our home electricity usage, and we see a credit on our electric bill! As much as lower electric will be an exciting outcome, my greatest pleasure in our new solar panels is in feeling we have taken another step (after upgrading insulation in the attic, basement, and walls of the house) in the direction of a less carbon-dependent future.

I’m always happy to see the sun shining. Now my sun-joyment is multiplied many times over! And whenever I stop to admire the garage roof decked out in its new panels, I wonder if I will start incorporating some sort of grid pattern in my paintings some day.

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Flowers for Lent?

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Tall Pink Tulips, ©Sukie Curtis 2015

I was reminded recently by a friend that back in my “preacher days” (I was an Episcopal priest for 24 years), I gave a sermon once, if not more than once, about how the season of Lent doesn’t have to be about “giving something up” as many of us have been taught. It can be about taking on some new practice, especially something life-giving to your body, mind and/or spirit.

I remember clearly the first time I “dared” to break with the fasting/self-denial tradition and do something different for Lent. I should say, I remember precisely what I chose to do–go see a movie each week during Lent–and where I was–in Clarksdale, Mississippi where I was first Associate Rector, then “Priest in charge” of St. George’s Episcopal Church.

Two films I remember seeing during that Lent were “The Killing Fields,” and “Witness,” so a little online research suggests the year was 1985. It’s likely that in subsequent years I shared my experience in sermons in Foxboro and Concord, Massachusetts, and eventually at St. Bartholomew’s in Yarmouth, Maine, where my friend Jamie heard it and remembers it still.

All of this is a long way of saying that, although I’ve actually made a low-fanfare agreement with myself to write an hour a day during Lent, I might also be happy to “take on” buying a fresh bunch of flowers every week during Lent!

Sometimes I buy flowers with the “excuse” that they are models for painting. But why not buy flowers for the delight and encouragement they give to our winter-weary spirits? As bursts of color amid this winter’s very, very white landscape? As reminders to practice gratitude and compassion? Or as inspiration for your soul’s free-flowing contemplation of the beauty and mystery of the natural world?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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