Art with a Soul

Bottle with jewelry on it in front of stenciled sign

Rows of lush paintings and intricate sculptures dot the walls, while carefully arranged collections of jewelry, textiles and avant-garde creations grace the elegantly draped tables. A fashionable woman dressed in a chic, off-the-runway look bustles back and forth simultaneously tending to guests and several buffets. Outside, musicians tune their instruments to get the sound just right for the evening’s performance.

No, this is not some fancy gallery opening in New York City’s SoHo District.

It is the charming atelier, Art N Soul on 101 in the sleepy beach town of Encinitas, Ca., where at least four times a year, the owners, Cindy Blumkin and Paige Perkins, host an open gallery brimming with food, beverages and entertainment. This evening they bid farewell to winter with the Spring Celebration.

Pictures of Cindy Blumkin and Paige PerkinsWhat sets Art N Soul apart from other galleries and retail establishments is that it gives 100 percent of its profits to charitable organizations, which they rotate about every two years. Neither Blumkin, who is in charge of the business operations nor Perkins, the creative force behind the gallery, draws a salary. The mostly local artists keep 60 percent of what they have sold. The other 40 percent pays the rent, utilities and operating costs. Then, four mostly small, grassroots charities divvy up the rest.

Blumkin describes how it all started on their website:

“Paige Perkins and I had hosted private fundraisers for friends who were suffering and dying of cancer. We succeeded in raising money that assisted our friends in the last months of their lives. We were so satisfied and humbled by our efforts, I began dreaming of a way to do this on a daily basis.”

That dream came true in 2007, when Blumkin was finally able to combine herPicture of the inside of Art N Soul Gallery philanthropy efforts, commitment for social change and support for local artists with Perkins’ creative vision for an organic and accessible space that incorporated recycled materials.

In their first year of business, Art N Soul raised more than $22,000, which it divided among its first chosen charities.  During that time, they also hosted a benefit for a local high school where students held a 24-hour paint-in and then auctioned off their work in the store. In spite of a crippling recession, artists and charities have received about $90,000 to date.

Unlike traditional galleries, Art N Soul’s mission is to attract passionate artists whose main wish is to promote their extraordinary, imaginative and sometimes outrageous work. And that art is actually affordable, which makes it easy for those who want to buy a beautiful, one-of-a-kind piece to wear or use in their home décor.

Art N Soul has only one rule for the artists: there are no rules. This becomes clear when a trip through the door sets off a visual explosion of shape, color, texture and form that cascades into a colorful array of tactile and uncommon textures.

Picture of John and Sandy ClauderVolunteers who are equally passionate about giving back to the community, staff the gallery; and their stories are just as colorful as the kaleidoscopic art that surrounds them. Take, for instance, John and Sandy Clauder. They have a band called, Drums of Fire, which provides entertainment for Art N Soul’s open-gallery events. That wouldn’t be so unusual except that John, a studio musician, once played with the 60s rock group, The Mamas & The Papas. He also toured with Buffalo Springfield and Nancy Sinatra among other headliners.

The Clauders met many years ago in Los Angeles on Sunset Boulevard where Sandy was doing Canada Dry commercials. She walked into a nightclub where John was playing at the time and the rest is history. Four years ago, two of their children, Patrick and Nick joined the band.

Picture of Michelle Hoffee“Clothes should tell a story,” says one of the artists, Michelle Hoffee. Her eco-prints, naturally dyed and handcrafted clothing and accessories hang next to a display that holds her small, captivating sculptures called “spirit dolls” as well as the name of her business, Living & Dyeing. Hoffee, who is a practitioner of reconstructing and upcycling makes her own fabrics using leaves to create the unique designs.

When asked about the past seven years, Blumkin sums it up by saying, “From the start, I wanted this place to be about the artists, the community and the volunteers. It’s just been a wonderful experience.”

And it has been a wonderful experience as well for those of us lucky enough to visit Art N Soul or benefit from their charitable donations.

Art N Soul is located at 633 South Coast Highway, Encinitas, Ca. For more information call (858) 442-8666 or visit Hours are Tuesday through Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and during the summer months, extend to include Friday and Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Appointments are also available.

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Reluctant Reflections and Non-Resolutions

Round Midnight

Sketch by Bohemian Opus

Around the end of the year, we Americans feel compelled to look at the past 365 days and decide what we can do to make the next 365 days better.

I was never one to get all excited over New Year’s resolutions. They always reminded me of my childhood when I had relinquish something for Lent.

“How about liver?” I consistently responded to the what-are-you-giving-up question. I hated liver.

According to the Chinese horoscope, 2013 will be the Year of the Snake—more precisely, the water snake. Snakes are not my favorite animals. I was much more excited about the Year of the Dragon. Dragons are cool.

Ancient Chinese wisdom says that people born in the Year of the Snake are keen, cunning, intelligent, wise and lucky. They are great mediators and good at doing business. The Year of the Snake is supposedly good for scientists and scholars. So far, none of these snake things apply to me. Maybe I should just skip this year and go straight to the Year of the Horse.

Some horoscopes say 2013 will be the Year of the Black Snake. I lived in Florida where there are black snakes that are also water snakes. Imagine the entire 2013-snake year wrapped up in one disgusting reptile. The Floridian black water snakes are very aggressive. If one of those critters gets into a swimming pool, it will chase whatever else is in the pool including humans. And it is impossible to outwit them. I tried.

But, I digress.

This year, on December 31 around midnight, I’ll probably do what I always do—drink tea and listen to jazz. Although I’m not one to list the five happiest, saddest or funniest events of the past year, I’ll probably drag out some photos and mull over a few of the more outstanding highlights—like the trip to San Francisco over the Memorial Day weekend. That was fun. I got to see my friend, Choogie, hike at Big Sur, visit some old hangouts and try out some new food. I’m always up for trying new food—unless it is snake.

Since I retired, every day has been just about perfect. The only exception being the time it has taken me to let go of my former lifestyle and embrace one that includes activities such as relaxing and contemplating my navel.

When I first left the workforce, I found myself stressing as if I still had a job. Everything was a task that I had to complete perfectly and on time. I guess it was sometime last spring when I realized that if my cooking sucked or I didn’t clean the bathroom, it would not be noted on my performance evaluation. I was finally able to exhale.

Then I got the urge to paint. I also thought about becoming a ballerina, but at my age, painting was more doable. I painted in oils many years ago, but when I moved from California to Florida, I became depressed and stopped. I didn’t think I would ever paint again until I returned to California and once again felt inspired. I figured I should at least give it a try.

I picked up a brush and enrolled in some online classes and a few workshops. After a shaky start, I realized that I had not forgotten much. I was a little rusty, but before long I was painting with confidence once again. Now painting, along with writing, takes priority over everything else.

I am not planning on making any resolutions—unless I resolve to never again clean the bathroom or do anything else that is boring. I have no regrets that another year is passing, and have no expectations or desires for the New Year. I’ll kiss the dragon goodbye and keep on living exactly as I do now—with the exception of maybe trying to make peace with the black water reptile.

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Ravi Shankar and Me

two lilies“Ravi who?”

My face twisted into a quizzical look as I posed the question to my friend, Jane who was jumping up and down. Her shiny black hair danced in the sun with each bounce.

“Ravi SHANKAR!” She screamed.

In the 1960s, Jane was the first in my group of teenage friends to discover Pandit, as Shankar became known. At that time, I was not quite sure what to make of him or his long-necked, funny-looking guitar. We Jersey girls all loved Motown, Elvis and The Beatles. Only Jane with her Mensa IQ knew about this fancy Eastern stuff.

Jane’s father was a prominent orthopedic surgeon and not exactly thrilled that his only daughter was hanging out with us wild girls who the politicians bused from a place 10 miles away to the high school that was in their exclusive, bucolic town. Jane’s father especially didn’t like us after I convinced her and a few others to cut class and go on American Bandstand, which had not yet left Philadelphia. Who knew her grandmother would be watching the show as we danced the Mashed Potato across her black-and-white television screen?

A few years later, around the time I started burning incense, wearing Patchouli oil and thinking about what it would be like to live in a peaceful world without wars and hatred, I began to take his music seriously. It became the Eastern thread that wove its way into the tapestry of my tie-dyed universe.

I’m not sure exactly what lured me to listen again to Shankar’s music. Maybe it was watching the small, wiry man on the television. Or, maybe it was just the idea that the music was something my parents wouldn’t understand that placed it high on my list of priorities.

I can still recall watching Pandit teach George Harrison how to play the sitar. I had never seen such a patient teacher in my life. In my ethnic community, I was more used to temper tantrums and things becoming airborne when one’s patience ran out. But, there he sat, calmly going over the lesson until he was sure Harrison understood.

20ProgramRoseFlatWebIt was these thoughts that drifted through my mind as I attended Ravi Shankar’s memorial service in Encinitas, California on a warm, sunny Thursday in December. I thought back to Jane’s excitement after she bought one of his thirty-three-and-a-third-RPM vinyl records and my attempt to redeem myself with her parents so that I could listen to the album.

Shankar’s music played throughout the service, and with each tune another memory from my youth marched across my mind: hanging out in the Haight Ashbury after leaving the East Coast for San Francisco; my crazy life in Berkeley; living in a commune; and finally, discovering the self that I never thought I would find. It all passed in front of me as I stared at the picture of the elegant, elderly man whose music once accompanied me as I zoned out of one world and into another.

At the Self-Realization Fellowship where the memorial was held, one person after another paid tribute to this talented man of peace whose humility and sense of humor touched so many. Just when I thought I could not cry another tear, his son-in-law, film director, Joe Write brought some levity to the crowd by recalling his first meeting with his future father-in-law.

“He asked me if I washed every day,” Write said drawing laughter from the crowd. Then he went on to talk about Shankar’s further questioning on whether Write washed “only his face and hands, or everything.” Write called this first meeting, “Page One: Personal Hygiene.”

Write went on to describe a time when Shankar faced a risky medical procedure. He described the scene where he saw Shankar’s fingers moving as if he held an invisible sitar while the doctors wheeled him away.

“I never at any moment saw his fingers not playing, not beating a rhythm,” Write said.

The tears came again.

The moving tribute left me with a renewed appreciation for the real treasures in life. When we must bid farewell to an important piece of our autobiographical puzzle, we come to realize that the once familiar picture will be missing something that can only be filled with memories.

Ravi Shankar will live forever through his music, and for me, he will always be the brightest color on the canvas that is my life.

I am sure Jane would agree.

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Boomer Angst

PosterizedFinalWhen I am an old woman I shall wear purple                                                                         With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me. – Jenny Joseph

I am in complete awe of Jenny Joseph’s old-woman self in her poem, Warning. The character defies convention and lives life on her terms knowing that society will forgive her because of her age.

Having turned a certain age myself, I too have recently felt anxious about making up for “the sobriety of my youth.” I fantasize about taking up Joseph’s suggestions and pressing alarm bells while learning to spit. But, I wonder if I—someone who for most of her life has played by the rules—could ever get away with publicly freeing my eccentric self.

I come from the Baby Boomer generation, which is known for its rejection of traditional values. I also come from a blue-collar neighborhood that had little tolerance for different ideas. That community expected productivity and compliance. We were not given new cars or trips to Europe, and our families enforced a strict code of behavior. This might explain why I became more George Harrison and less Yoko Ono.

If I do get the nerve to free my inner rebel, I should have no difficulty finding role models in Southern California where I live. My fellow Southern California Boomers dusted off their love beads and bell-bottoms a long time ago. They discovered that to “party like it’s 1999” was not nearly as fun as it was to party like it’s 1968. Here, they not only wear red and purple like Joseph’s character, but also tie-dyed chartreuse and fuchsia.

Some time ago, I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally. It was there that I met a chartreuse-and-fuchsia woman named Mattie. Mattie dressed like a belly dancer and looked around 90 years old. Spotting me standing there with my sign, she used her walker as a weapon to shove her way through the crowd and hobble in my direction.

“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years now,” she said as she swerved her walker to meet me. Then she turned her head and winked. “Watch this,” she said. Before I knew it, she had scooted into the middle of the street stopping in front of a luxury car and extending her middle finger. Her actions caused the driver to slam on the brakes barely missing her.

Then there was the financial seminar for seniors that I attended where an intoxicated group of the Silver Sneakers, or Silver Streakers as they called themselves, twirled their way into the room disrupting the meeting with tambourines and other noise-making devices. What I thought would be a sedate dollars-and-cents meeting turned into a geriatric Cirque du Soleil.

Probably the most colorful group of Boomers I have ever met was the Top Cats Hatters who shared the train with me from San Diego to Los Angeles. They were a group from the Red Hat Society, which is an organization for older women who don red hats and wear purple as homage to Joseph’s poem. They believe silliness is a necessary part of life and good for the soul.

The Top Cats Hatters were from a working-class neighborhood of San Diego. They wore tee shirts that sported a logo of a large, red fedora with a big feather that looked like it belonged with a zoot suit. The hats they wore were among the most lavish I have ever seen. One lady donned a fez, another a fedora—but the “Queen Mama” wore a hat that rivaled the headpiece of any Las Vegas showgirl.

After almost an hour of raucous behavior, they went silent. I thought maybe someone was ill. I lifted myself ever so slightly out of my seat and strained to peer over the heads in front of me and get a better view. They were praying. After all that carrying on, they were praying?

A call to serve the food they had brought broke the silence. A loud complaint bellowed from the opposite end of the train about the lack of chicken in the containers. “We got Jesus, but we don’t have chicken?” shouted someone from the middle of the group. Once again, the women rocked the train with their antics. Sadly, they disembarked in Fullerton and for me; the rest of the ride was boring.

Joseph’s poem ends:

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

Yes, maybe I ought to practice now. I think sequins and a red hat with a big feather just might be a good start.

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In an Instagram—An Artist’s Journey

Still life with artist's handI sit here with a watercolor brush in my hand, running my fingers through the bristles. How long has it been? Ten years? Fifteen? Twenty?

In the 1980s, I was a prolific painter. I worked in oils, and painted mostly portraits. The smell of turpentine and linseed oil was all I needed for inspiration to search out an interesting face to capture on canvas. But, in recent times, I produced my work in the digital world.

Santa Cruz, California was my home then, and many artists from the Monterey Bay were my friends. Our little painter posse traveled together attending workshops or simply gathered to paint when our collective radar picked up the telepathic message that we needed to meet.

Photo and Painting of PhotoThat all changed in 1988—June 30, 1988 at 7 a.m., exactly. That is when my husband and I sold all our possessions and moved across the country. We thought we would be getting a better education for our son and a cheaper place to live. We were wrong.

The nightmare began after we exhausted our life savings to buy a home in Florida. When we arrived, we found that the previous owner had taken the well pump, all the fixtures and hardware, and never divulged that the plumbing and electricity did not work properly. We had no choice but to go into debt to get the place livable.

That is when I started losing sleep, my appetite and interest in everything I once loved. I had no friends, and felt marooned in a wasteland that was full of poisonous snakes, alligators and oppressive heat. To make matters worse, our new gun-toting neighbors shot everything in sight—including each other.

Eventually, we left and moved to Texas, which was a bit better than Florida, but not much. In spite of our best efforts, our financial problems grew worse and as if that were not bad enough, we lost our business, our relatives abandoned us and we lost a close friend to cancer.

A few years later, we managed to move from Texas back to California. Although we arrived broken and battered, we were ready to start fresh and focus mainly on our finances, which did not leave much time for any artistic pursuits.

The desire to paint again did not emerge until my life’s puzzle began to reassemble itself, and the creative pieces reclaimed their rightful place.  One day, as I browsed the Internet looking for inspiration, I came across a blog that included an art journal. The paintings were in watercolor over an ink drawing, and something about the lines spoke to me. It was as if a finger came out of the page and beckoned me to come in and take a peek.

As I read the blog, I found that the artist offered online workshops. My heart began to soar at the thought of actually signing up for one. But, insecurity and doubt clouded my mind. To register meant that I had to commit. I would have to see it through to the end, and there would be no more excuses for not picking up a brush.

The first lesson arrived in my e-mail. I opened the link with both reservation and anticipation.

First assignment—still life—set up some fruit—draw what you see. I set up two pears and an apple. I stared at them. They stared back at me. I wondered if my eye-hand coördination would still work.  Follow the outside edge of the object, the instructions said as if whispering into my ear. I whispered back to myself, come on you could do it!

The pencil fit comfortably into my fingers as I picked it up and began to draw. With the first line, I felt a familiar rush that only came when I attempted to record what I saw. At that moment, the stark white paper lifted the darkness where I had lost all my hope, faith, money and reasons for existing.

I sit here now holding a watercolor brush and running my fingers through the bristles. It is time to add paint to the drawing. I take a deep breath. I dip the brush—first into the water, then into the sunny yellow pigment and stir it slowly. The brush moves as if by its own power from the paint to the paper.

The first color is down.

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Finding World Peace through a Kaleidoscope of Music

Dove in front of Earth carrying musical notes

When my son was only a few weeks old, I decided that a good mother should soothe her baby with lullabies. So, I attempted to sing one—well, not actually sing—more like hum. And the song was not a lullaby, but Land of 1000 Dances, by Wilson Pickett.

When I got to the na-na-na-na-na part, his little body started bouncing to the beat. To most parents, this performance would simply be labeled as cute; but to my music-loving family and me it meant that he had inherited some important genes. I still remember almost dropping my child as I ran with him clutched in my arms to show my husband our son’s first evidence of rhythm.

We listened to jazz almost exclusively, which is probably why our son developed a passion for offbeat music. In kindergarten, he refused to sing ditties about inky dinky spiders and farm animals, preferring instead to belt out Billy Holiday’s, Good Morning Heartache.

As he grew older, music took on an increasingly important role in his life, which eventually led to his writing and composing songs that defied genre. Then, sometime around his late teens, he began to write concept albums—music that wraps around a theme.

At first, I thought these albums were silly and did not listen to them. But, by the time he graduated from college, I had developed a new appreciation for his efforts. The albums created audio art that illustrated a musical story that I did not want to stop reading. Soon the tunes stuck in my head and before long, I found myself humming the lyrics as I went about my business.

But, I digress.

Since his teen years, my son has produced 22 concept albums. For his 23rd, he chose to undertake an ambitious worldwide collaboration with color as the theme. I thought he was crazy. Where would he find musicians from a global palette to mix together on a musical canvas when not only logistics, but also cultural differences presented a challenge?

Fortunately, technology solved a large part of the problem by funneling the far-flung participants into one virtual arena by way of the Internet. Those who could physically attend recorded in his tiny studio apartment, and those who could not, transported themselves via cyberspace.

Album cover for KaleidoscopeDriven by their creative vision, more than 40 national and international musicians put aside their regional and cultural differences to take part in this sometimes-serious-sometimes-whimsical collection of music and poetry. The project, called Kaleidoscope, soon became a testament to what the world might look like if everyone put aside his or her differences to pursue a common goal.

Who would have ever thought that an Israeli and a Palestinian would join an African-American and a Latino to sing and rap about green? Or that the words in The Illuminated Self (White) could so eloquently express a longing to take part in something greater than the self, especially in the passage:

–but I can’t feel fine!
I stand, a piece of a kaleidoscope
One of a million means of reading hope
I want to see them all, I want the brilliance of the scope.

Okay, I am his mother and there is a certain amount of prejudice when it comes to championing what my son does. And I am an old hippie who still dreams about a world filled with peace and love. But, the sheer delight of such a diverse group coming together to sing, rap and recite poetry gives me hope that there is still a chance for the peaceful side of the human spirit to prevail.

I think Wilson Pickett would be pleased to know that his Land of 1000 Dances created a dance from 1000 lands.

And yes, I’m on the album. I am silver.

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Thirty-nine Trips Around the Sun

Wedding CandleI can not believe that since our wedding day, my husband and I have made 39 trips around the sun on Planet Earth together. The memories of this voyage float around my brain like pictures taken from an orbiting spacecraft.

I can still remember what he was wearing the day I met him in 1973—tight gold corduroy pants and a green and gold turtleneck sweater.

His hair was long and brown then, and he had a goatee. That was the day my heart nearly stopped beating and time stood still—sort of like Maria in the scene, Dance at the Gym from the musical, West Side Story.

We had grown up just 40 miles from each other in New Jersey, but never met until that rainy February day in Menlo Park, California. It all seems so insane now, that less than a year after that first meeting, we married on the beach at Half Moon Bay.

Those early years were awash in watercolor hues painted in broad and spontaneous strokes. Cruising in our 1965 blue Plymouth Fury was all we needed to entertain ourselves. We camped in ghost towns in Nevada, rafted around Lake Tahoe, drank wine from a bota bag in the Sierras, ate bologna sandwiches on the beach and panned for gold in the creeks near the Mother Load. As long as we were together, we were happy.

Money was tight back then, but we didn’t care. It came in and went right back out again as we feasted on life and whatever came next. I remember once we paid the rent in pennies and another time we wrote a check to the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District with no funds in the bank so we could cross the bridge and make it home. We had gone to Point Arena looking for abalone shells and not only found shells in great abundance, but also a live abalone whose meat we fed to the dog. At the time, we had no idea of the extraordinary price of the mollusk or how delicious it was.

A few years later, my decision to return to college led us to putting in long days and even longer weeks. Still, we managed to have fun when and where we could. And when my new skills and knowledge made it possible for us to start our own business, we did, with nothing but a dream, persistence and a small savings.

We moved 21 times in 39 years—across three time zones, to three different states on three coasts before returning to the place that we always considered home. We lived in a trailer park as well as an upscale home. Once, we thought we would not have anywhere to live at all. We owned brand new cars, and vehicles that were falling apart. We even drove one automobile that had its underpinnings held together with a coat hanger.  When we lost the coat hanger and much of what it secured somewhere in the Nevada desert, we chugged and sputtered all the way home, laughing through a cloud of exhaust fumes.

Along our journey, we created a son who inherited our nomadic genes and traveled around the world to explore different cultures. Sometimes, I wish he would embrace the mainstream suburban life a bit more and settle down in a well-manicured neighborhood. But then, he is one of us, so why would he do that? We three seem to dance to the beat of our hearts—which is not always practical—or financially wise.

Now, on our 39th solar revolution, I look back at where we have been, ponder who we have become and get dizzy from how fast time has passed. We live a modest life surrounded by love and soft ocean breezes where each peaceful day melts into another dreamy night.

I’m always asked how we did it. How did we manage to stay together for 39 years in an era when some folks don’t stay together much more than 39 months, and in a state where many marriages don’t last 39 weeks?

I don’t know the answer to that. I only know that if I had one wish, it would be that we could have 39 more crazy trips around the sun together.

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