Sweet Betsy from Pike

Dear Liza,

Grandpa Nelson gave me my guitar for Christmas in 1978. She was a not-very-expensive Franciscan guitar, and I loved her. I named her Sweet Betsy from Pike after the old Pioneering song, and learned five basic chords right away. I was working at a daycare center and knew how much children loved music.

Betsy was a great addition to my time in the daycare business. If clean-up time was going slowly, I would pull Betsy from her case and the toys would be on their shelves in no time.

The thing is, I wasn’t very good. I didn’t have to be. When your audience is three- and four-year-olds, the bar is pretty low. But I was good enough for that place and time.

Me, struggling with Ike the autoharp, 1989

Years later, when I got my teaching credential and my first job, Betsy proved herself valuable once again. Kinderbloom was a major step up from daycare and my teaching partner, Laurel Sherry-Armstrong, knew a lot more about music than I did. She played lots of instruments, but the one she brought to class was an autoharp. We named it Ike, after Sweet Betsy’s lover. I practiced and improved, and together we taught the kids to sing “I Love you Forever” and had parents smiling through tears at the Mother’s Day tea.

Second grade needed better skills, and when I finally landed in my happy place of third grade, I was ready. Regular classes meant regular class programs, and I was accompanying dozens of singers in front of a big roomful of kids and parents. I had moved up to about ten chords and a few strumming patterns.

Me and Betsy, about 1998

When I retired a few years ago, Betsy got put up. My fingertips got soft. This Summer when I tried to play “Teddy Bear’s Picnic”, I couldn’t make it work.

Betsy and Bridgett Bear this summer

And now we are coming up on Christmas, and I am not ready to go through a quarantined holiday without playing and singing Christmas carols. I got Betsy out and dusted her off, found our folder of Christmas songs and went online to transpose them into keys I can play (with my ten chords). I spent half an hour strumming and re-learning, painfully feeling the strings on my fingertips. Later, I spent another half hour playing and singing a little with Auntie Bridgett, with things coming easier and my fingers feeling stronger.

Auntie Katie playing Betsy last Christmas

I can do this! Christmas carols, here we come!


Grandma Judy

More Mixing of Media

Dear Liza,

Learning and doing new things is a wonderful way to stay young. Doing the Art Journal challenge with Ruth Inman every week is making me be a better artist, too.

This week I decided to use the mixed media items (address labels, box tops, and can labels) to make a picture that wasn’t about the collage. Let me explain.

I have usually made collages where the paper itself is the feature. The Tootsie Roll wrappers in my bouquet, though bright and fun, never looked like anything other than what they were.

My new challenge was to make a real picture using collage bits. Since I am getting better at faces (by practicing a lot), I decided to draw a face with watercolor pencils, then build the environment with collage.

Naked face and some tentative background…

Once I got the basic proportions in, I built my cityscape background from junk mail. I made them very vertical so they looked like tall buildings. Auntie Bridgett showed me how to make the perspective.

Then came the hard part, making the face. Auntie Bridgett suggested making my character monochromatic, or all one color. I chose blue.

The more I drew, the more I liked it. Shading cheekbones and eye sockets is something that definitely takes practice! Putting in sky and what I thought was a street made it more ‘real’.

He needed a face, so I made eyes out of box tops and junk mail, with eyebrows from address labels, and lips, mustache and goatee from security envelopes.

His hair is made from address labels, with a little black acrylic sponged on to make it more uniform in color. I kept liking it, so I put some details in the background with an Elegant Writer and a few clouds to give perspective.

Looking again, I realized the ‘street’ really looked like an overcoat, so I put in some lapels. And voila! I call him Georges, because he looks French, stylish, and a bit paranoid. I hope when you see this, you will try making a collage picture, too!


Grandma Judy

Flowers on My Table

Dear Liza,

As the Corona shut down continues into summer, the world outside continues to get more beautiful day by day. We have had an unusually cool summer so far in Portland. I remember our first summer here, with temperatures of 111 degrees for a few days, and am grateful that we are enjoying mostly mid-70s . This, plus a few random showers, have made the flowers very happy.

Feeling pleased with water colors and pencils

Being inside most of the time, I have tried my hand at water coloring different types of flowers. I started with daisies and moved onto sunflowers, shading them with colored pencils as needed. The other day I found a great picture of some coneflowers online, and worked to paint them.

Tackling some coneflowers….

I was pleased with my first attempt, and am working on my second. The slight tremor in my right hand isn’t getting in my way as much as I expected and I am feeling more confident.

A second go at the same flowers….

Then yesterday, or our way to the market, we met this fabulous specimen! A real, live coneflower! I took her picture and will use it for my next attempt.

The real thing!

Art imitating life imitating art imitating life….. It’s a perfect cycle.


Grandma Judy