K-k-k-Katy

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

This is a multigenerational post. I am Katy, Katherine after my maternal grandmother. The drawing is of that grandmother, done by my mother H. Ottaway in 1978. My mother mailed me the sketch diary for Christmas. My grandmother was Katy B, for Katherine Burling, and I was Katy O, for Katherine Ottaway. I have inherited a spoon that has Gertrude, Margaret and Kathryn engraved on the bowl. A different spelling, so I don’t know which Kathryn that was.

So K is for Katy. My father used to sing K-k-k-Katy to me when I was very little. It is from 1917!

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

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J is for joy

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

I am nearly done traveling and I am running out of photographs of Helen Ottaway’s work! J could be for jonquil but there are none in this watercolor. But I think it is a joyous and messy bouquet, typical of my mother. She would complain about her garden, how it was riotous chaotic beauty rather than neat rows. But I loved her garden and her bouquets and her paintings, untamed and joyous!

This watercolor is from 1994, the year before my parents moved from Alexandria, Virginia to Chimacum, Washington. My grandmother’s house two doors down from my parent’s house was sold. Someone came to my parents’ house and said, “They are ripping out the garden!” The new owners tore out the beautiful and elaborate garden that my grandmother had paid her granddaughter in law to design and build. Many uncommon plants, torn out and in a pile on the sidewalk. The whole neighborhood of gardeners turned out to take the plants home and replant them. The garden was replaced with bushes and two rows of marigolds down the path. I suspect that that household was shunned by the neighborhood gardeners for years after that and I wondered if my grandmother would haunt them. I do not have marigolds in my garden! My mother shrugged and said, “Well, they own the property.” but she could barely stand to walk by it.

I think the bouquet is from my mother’s own garden, a mix of humble and more exotic flowers. I love the purple and it gives me joy.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

G is for greenish blue

G for greenish blue. I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

Greenish blue is a stretch, but this is a blue crab. They are greenish blue. I wrote the poem and my mother did the etching. I was thinking of a cooked crab, but H. Ottaway did a live crab. I went with her to the crab restaurant, where she explained that we wanted one live crab. “One live crab?” said the restaurateur. “Yes, one live crab.” The owner shook her head, but sold us one live crab.

At home, my mother got the crab out and put it on the floor. The cat was intrigued. The crab was NOT happy. I took photographs of her drawing the crab and making the etching. Apologies for the reflections but I am not at home, so I can’t retake these!

Three photographs: Helen Ottaway drawing a blue crab on the floor, the crab and Helen running an etching on the press.

You can see the crab and her drawing it, as well as the etching press. I took the photographs in the mid 1980s.

Our poem/etching collaboration was a delight! She said that she would illustrate poems as long as they rhymed. “No free verse,” she said. “I don’t like it.” So, the poems had to rhyme. We did ten different ones. I am so glad that we did, since we didn’t have nearly enough time together!

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

F is for Fish

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

F is for Fish. But… it isn’t a fish, right? It’s a dolphin. At the moment I do not have access to all the art because I am on a trip. I have what I have.

This is one of my mother’s tiny etchings. It is 2 inches by 1.5 inches. She very much enjoyed the tiny etchings. She said that tiny, etching and fantasy were NOT popular with her college professors at the University of Tennessee. She said that her friend, Maline Robinson, was doing large abstract works, both silk screen and oils and that those were much more to the professors’ tastes.

Maline Robinson is another woman artist. Her silk screens are 18 by 24 except then she wanted bigger ones. She built her own frames to do 24 by 36. Her painting tend to be 4 by 6 feet, and she has done triptychs that size. Three large oils that go together. She says that most of her really large works are bought by companies, who hang them in their huge imposing atriums. The tiny dolphin would be lost.

Here is one of Maline Robinson’s works. I took the photograph a few years ago when visiting. I wanted to be immersed in the painting. I think that this one is 4 by 6 feet. I will have to contact Maline for the title!

Not all of H. Ottaway’s work was tiny. This etching is another ocean themed one, with the plate size 9 inches by 11 inches. This is a proof and I will have to look up this title as well! She has used two colors together inking the plate. That is one technique. Another is to have multiple plates and run the paper through the press multiple times.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE

E is for etching

I am blogging A to Z about artists, particularly women artists and mostly about my mother, Helen Burling Ottaway.

My mother loved water colors, but she also did etchings, for as long as I can remember. We had the largest etching press that she could get back in the 1960s. When I was 14, we moved from Johnson City, New York, to Alexandria Virginia for my father’s job. The press went into the basement, along with numerous boxes of books. Soon after we moved, there was torrential rainfall and the sewers in the Del Ray neighborhood backed up. The water stopped draining and just piled up! There was a crack in the foundation of our basement with a waterfall pouring down. My mother wanted the engine of the press saved first! She and my father and I could barely carry it up the stairs, but managed to. Next came boxes of books, some of which were so waterlogged that they were floating. The water was cold, dirty and up to my upper thighs. We unloaded box after box of wet books and spread them out to dry.

I think that my mother’s art was not in the basement, so we did not lose much of that! We installed an automatic sump pump eventually, because that was not the last flood. That was the most spectaular, though. The water was 8-12 inches deep in the front yard. Buses would still drive through the water, sending a wave to hit our front steps.

Afterwards we wished we had taken a photograph in the canoe in the front yard, to use for Christmas. Our Christmas ornaments were flooded too. All the color peels off the balls, so our tree was silver and glass that Christmas. My mother claimed she liked that better and kept it that way from then on!

Etchings are diddly, as my mother would say. A zinc plate, coated with a tar mixture. Then a drawing in the tar, set the plate in acid, and wait for the drawing to etch into the plate. At a certain point, my mother would take the tar off and run some proofs. These were experimental, trying different colors. She would put the tar back on and continue with the drawing. When she was satisfied with the proof, she would start running the edition. The tar is removed, and for each etching the plate is inked with a roller. The ink is gently wiped off, until it is light on the remaining flat parts of the plate and heavier in the lines. The plate is placed on the press, a piece of paper that is soaked is placed on the plate, heavy felt cloth is lowered over it and the plate and paper are run through the press. We had a guard, but keep your fingers away! The felt is lifted, the paper is lifted and the paper is set to dry. The plate is wiped and inked again. The edition is numbered: 1/20 or 1/50. My mother ran some plates many many times. A tiny one named Tag, of a unicorn playing tag with butterflies, is done in multiple colors. Others were a much smaller edition, of 20 or 30. The very large plates are a challenge to ink and wipe. It takes practice to wipe the ink but not wipe it out of the lines.

I have three photographs of H. Ottaway’s Iris and Poppies etching. The featured image is 17/30, colored edition, 1976. The one below is a proof for the color edition. The last one is a proof for her black and white edition.

Iris and Poppies Etching, by Helen Burling Ottaway, proof for color edition.
Iris and Poppies Etching, black and white proof, Helen Burling Ottaway, 1976.

#ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 # art # Women artists # Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE