“I think women should allow themselves to be luscious. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a brain.”
A few years ago I had the privilege to help with an exhibit at The Trout Museum of Art in Appleton, Wisconsin featuring the Art of Sir Winston Churchill. One of my main charges was to research Churchill’s family of artists. In doing so, I was particularly inspired by the captivating art of his vibrant granddaughter, Edwina Sandys. Her work spoke to me in a primal way, serving literally as a catalyst for artistic yearnings too long dormant inside of me.
During an intimate pre-opening gala, I had the pleasure to meet Ms. Sandys in person. While chatting, I shared with her my particular fondness for her Library Series. Edwina Sandys grew up surrounded by books and inherited her mother’s library. Over the years, the artist has repeatedly turned to books as a background for her images. The brightly colored Library Series serves as a literary obbligato to Edwina’s many themes.
“Wherever I live, I always have my favorite books with me: ‘Rebecca,’ ‘A Town Like Alice,’ The Discoverers,’ ‘The Oxford Book of English Verse.’ Even if I don’t reread them, their existence on the shelf is a tangible memory, a reassuring presence. This is my virtual library.”
Her companion piece Literary Woman – which I beyond love! – echoes that theme:
A great lover myself of books, libraries, and art, we quickly connected and I told her I hoped she would complete the series with all star signs represented (of course wanting to see how my own sign, Aquarius, would be depicted). Below are some print images from this wonderful, witty series:
Also of particular interest to me was hearing that although Sandys has sketched since childhood, she didn’t take up art seriously until 1970, when she divorced her husband and started her life over again. “I wanted to do something interesting in life,” she said.
She never went to art school, concluding that at 30, she knew who she was and how she wanted to express herself. “I wanted to get right into it,” she said.
So did I! I immediately bought her gorgeous hardcover Edwina Sandys Art book. While graciously signing it for me and – unbelievably! – spontaneously sketching me (something which those close to her said “never does”) she asked if I was familiar with the term ‘ekphrasis.’ I wasn’t and she briefly explained that it was one form of art describing another.
As soon as I returned home that evening I Googled the word and learned the following: Ekphrasis or ecphrasis, from the Greek description of a work of art, possibly imaginary, produced as a rhetorical exercise, and is a graphic, often dramatic, description of a visual work of art. In ancient times, it referred to a description of any thing, person, or experience. The word comes from the Greek ek and phrasis, ‘out’ and ‘speak’ respectively, verb ekphrazein, to proclaim or call an inanimate object by name. [Wikipedia]
Immediately intrigued by the concept, I wanted to give it a try. Sandys’ life, words, and art were like a spark to me, igniting a part of me somehow forgotten, a flame diminished and begging to be rekindled. I was on the cusp of what I have since referred to as an “awakening.”
From that point forward – the very next morning, actually! – I frantically dove into writing poetry. Flipping through her brilliant book, a small image on one of the inner pages caught my attention for some reason. Perhaps it was the curly, mussed hair I related to. Or maybe the inquisitive eyes of a woman metaphorically buried, her face only partially exposed, drew me in.
Lit from within, I recall feeling an urgent desire to express myself and started with this ekphrastic tribute poem:
MORNING AFTER – by Jean Detjen
Languorous, lascivious, like a landlocked siren in a high fever,
Drowned in a pool of forget-me-nots
in a wave of cerulean blue.
Red hot embers tamed underneath,
smothered and stifled by a blanketing heaviness
as solid as the cage of encroaching bed rails.
Like a seasick woman carried away
with the rhythmic ebb and flow
before the silken waves have a chance to wash their cool relief over the beckoning sands,
she summons Melusina to ease her restlessness.
Dissolved by something reflected for a moment
perhaps only imagined,
she fashions herself like Sedna the Sea Goddess,
creatures swimming around her,
darting in and out of the wavy tangle of her long hair,
moving like dancers with the cadence of the tides.
Something now remembered by Anaïs Nin-
“I must be a mermaid… I have no fear of depths
and a great fear of shallow living.”
Eve’s curiosity embraced, all is wide open now.
She touches her hair, rubs her eyes,
settles her core with a gentle touch,
wishing only to float out to sea in ancient bliss.
Compelled to express my gratitude, I forwarded a copy of my poem to my momentary mentor and muse with my appreciation for all she shared. I expected no response, and was incredibly surprised and humbled to receive this reply from her, which I shall always cherish:
Wow. What a poem. I hope you have a big collection and will make a book of them. My goodness! Brilliant you have let yourself journey far … And returning .. Like Mozart’s music never quite letting go of the thread. Letting the kite fly but knowing when to girl it. Look forward to seeing you again. -Edwina xx
Since that life-changing meeting back in 2012, I’ve rediscovered my love for all forms of writing and art. Poetry, painting, music and other forms of creative expression have healed and nurtured many elemental parts of me.
My kite is flying, Edwina, and I’m girling it without abandon. Thank you for reminding me that it’s never too late to create a new thread and soar.
I couldn’t resist lying in the floor of The Trout Museum of Art during pre-installation of the 32 x 12′ Edwina Sandys Breakthrough art display.
One of Sandys’ major works, Breakthrough, is a tribute to her grandfather. The 32-foot-long sculpture, which is made of salvaged sections of the Berlin Wall, is installed at Westminster College in Fulton, Mo., site of Churchill’s 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech.
If you are interested in learning more about Winston Churchill and his family of artists, here’s a link to the exhibit’s Facebook page I developed and administer: https://www.facebook.com/ArtOfSirWinstonChurchill
Photos below of me meeting Edwina Sandys…
“Painting is silent poetry, and poetry painting that speaks.” — Simonides