Sunday, June 29, 2014


 The number of guests at dinner should not be less than the number of the Graces nor exceed that of the Muses, i.e., it should begin with three and stop at nine.

Marcus Terentius Varro

At the same time that I was pondering designing four dinner plates for the Birds and Insects project, I was also reading Virgil's Georgics as research for a book dealing with the observation of bees.  The Georgics is divided into four chapters.  It became clear that the two projects could be combined.

Reading the Georgics was a wonderful adventure.  It included forming a very small reading group with another avid reader/artist, Ruth Bardenstein, and searching for a translation which suited us.  After many attempts we settled on the recent, remarkable translation by the poet David Ferry. 

Each of the four books is devoted to a different aspect of agriculture and explores its glories and its terrors.  In the first book Virgil looks at seeds and planting, weather and celestial indicators, - how beautiful as well as how fickle the world is.  Everything worked so hard to attain can be ruined in a minute.  In the second book he speaks of trees and vines with emphasis on grapes and wine.  The third book is the most alarming with its love of livestock and animals in general, followed by the horrors of plagues that kill them and ruin the lives of the people who depend on them.  The final book deals with the lives of bees and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, overlapping with the story of Aristaeus
and the eventual discovery of bugonia, an ancient belief in the creation of bees in rotting animal flesh.

In each book the dark side includes a snake.  

Using other reference material that clarified actual species of birds and plants, I selected images that were specific to the books.  The project was not an attempt to illustrate the Georgics;  rather it was used as inspiration for the images.  On each plate there is a snake which in three cases is headless and looks like a ribbon so it would be less frightening to the diner.

Monday, April 21, 2014


At one magical instant in your childhood, the page of a book - that string of confused, alien ciphers - shivered into meaning.  Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened.  You became, irrevocably, a reader.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

Owls, linked with darkness, were once considered frightening - serving in myths as guardians of the underworld.   They were  believed to have the gift of prophecy.  Supposedly the hooting of an owl predicted the death of Julius Caesar.

Alternately, they can be cast in the more appealing role of representing intelligence and learning.

In this drawing the Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) represents wisdom.  It rests in the night sky behind a heap of books that deal with birds and insects.  Although they are not identified by titles they are all actually books from my library.  Among the volumes  is the field guide to Damselflies of Texas, written by John Abbott of UT Austin and illustrated by Barrett Klein.  One of my artist's books, a collaboration with Bill Harris, appears in the upper left with a stag beetle on the cover.

The remarkable, articulated, silver, praying mantis pin was made by Ricky Boscarino.  The ceramic owl came out of a package of Red rose tea and the plastic rooster on wheels was brought to me from India.

Living with the owl is the owl butterfly (genus Caligo) displaying its underwings which imitate the bird so amazingly well.  The astral object near the bird's head is  the Owl Nebula which resides in the cup of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).  Also depicted is the now obsolete constellation Noctua which was once placed at the end of the tail of the constellation Hydra.  Athene noctua is a small owl associated with the goddess Athena.  It is known to live on the Acropolis in Athens.

This drawing is the second in the series of the Life of Birds and Insects.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


"Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open under the sky.  Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars."

Carl Sagan

A Marbled Godwit and a Whimbrel, shore birds native to Michigan, stand rapt in wonder, watching the night sky.  It is their theater.  The darkness is filled not only with stars but birds and butterflies that aspire to be equally as beautiful.  This is part of the Life of Birds and Insects.

A companion drawing - Theater of Insects. The title is taken from a book published in 1634 - a work generally credited to Thomas Mofet but actually inherited and completed by him.  Mofet did not see its publication as  that final step came 30 years after his death. In this drawing there is the addition of the Moonflower which is a botanical pretender to the night sky.