Family

The photograph is from left to right, my sister Christine Robbins Ottaway, my (sort of but not blood) cousin Katy, and me. This is a fourth of July. We wanted to DO something. We were at my maternal grandparents’ in Trumansburg, New York. My mother suggested that we dress up and do a presentation. We wore her 1950s prom dresses, held a small parade involving three dogs and a cat who were also in costume, and read the Declaration of Independance and the Preamble to the Constitution to a group of adults in lawn chairs. This was in lieu of fireworks. We had fun but we still missed fireworks.

I am thinking about asking. I could not ask my mother for specific things I wanted as a child. She would get me a different and cheaper alternative. If I was disappointed, I would be guilt tripped or humiliated. I did not ask my father for things either. He would make and break promises, too sick from alcohol or he would have forgotten. I stopped asking because I did not like being disappointed and I did not like being shamed. Once I really really wanted something for Christmas. My sister and I made a quiet deal, showing each other exactly which toy we longed for. Then we each shopped with our mother and insisted on the toy the other wanted. Our mother did try to talk each of us out of the toy. We had arranged it so that we were spending the same amount of money: $20. She thought that was outrageous and that something cheaper would do just as well. We both stood our ground on the other’s behalf and then open the presents on Christmas day with faked surprise and real joy. We did NOT tell our mother.

On an earlier Christmas I sewed my sister a toy stuffed snake. My mother was discouraging, but she let me have cloth and needle and thread. “Why do you want to make her a snake? A snake?” I couldn’t really explain well. We had gone to a county fair and my sister and I both longed for the velvet snakes, six feet long and deep red. The snake I made for my sister was only a foot and a half long and I had flowered fabric, not velvet. I coiled it in a circle and wrapped it. My sister was delighted with it and held it all Christmas morning. My mother just shook her head. “A snake.” she muttered.

The things that I could ask for were books and music. I was the kid that the teacher would hand the scholastic book box to after she handed out one or two books to the other kids. I would order 20 books. My father said I could have as many as I wanted as long as I read them all. The only books I avoided were about television or movies. I loved a non fiction book about WWI Flying Aces. The technology of the airplanes and the problem of bullets ricocheting off the propeller were amazing. I also liked that it talked about the ACEs on both sides: German, English, French, American.

For the Ragtag Daily Prompt: ask.

I don’t know who took the photograph. I think it was one of my grandparents. Oh, I think “cousin” Adam is in the picture too, though he is nearly hidden behind the flag.

Z is for Zarasthustra

Last day of April A to Z, blogging about Women Artists and particularly Helen Burling Ottaway, my mother. Can you name five women artists now?

This etching is from 1975. I was fourteen years old. I remember my parents discussing titles of etchings. My father, Malcolm Kenyon Ottaway, would often help title them. This etching is titled “Thus spoke Zarasthustra”. I wish that my parents were alive so that I could ask about this etching. Why Friedrich Nietzsche? When I am fourteen, my father receives his MA in mathematics and leaves SUNY Binghampton for a job at General Electric in Alexandria, Virginia. We move from New York State to Virginia and I start high school that year. I think that Alexandria was a much better place for my mother, all the art and artists, than for my father.

I hope that you have had a wonderful month in April: and I hold those in my heart in the war zones or who are lost and suffering.

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

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

Y is for Yellow

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

My parents both loved puns and my mother loved gardening. Cowslips is an etching that is then painted with watercolors. She has a whole series of pun flower etchings.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

X is for X-Acto knife

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

My mother disliked cutting mats more than almost anything except vacuuming and cutting glass. In the late 1980s and early 1990s my grandmother lived two doors down in Alexandria, Virginia. My mother took over part of the basement for matting, glass cutting and framing. Times right before shows included complaints about cutting mats and glass, her saying that she didn’t have enough things framed (though she always did) and at least one piece of glass broke. The X-Acto knife was the tool for mat cutting at that time. My mother usually cut herself at least once for each show. She was particularly annoyed if she bled on the freshly cut mat or the painting or etching.

Hanging the show involves a lot of time out words as well, but she would get excited once it was hung. Then it was time for dress up. Shows were a command performance: my sister and I were to go as well. We dressed up and talked to people politely and ate the strawberries when my mother was not looking. The opening of the show would include food and usually wine. In small glasses. And no, we weren’t allowed to have any. We had to look at the art and be polite to adults.

The photograph today is another of my poems with my mother’s etching. And look, she has avoided cutting a mat. She bought special frames, with two slots. One holds the glass. The second holds the mat with the mounted etching. If the glass rests on the etching, it can ruin it. She mounted all of our ten prints and poems this way. Clever artist and they look wonderful.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

W is for Window

There are two Kitchen Window pen and ink drawings, then reproduced in a limited edition: this is Kitchen Window II.

My mother Helen Burling Ottaway always had a wonderfully chaotic garden inside and outside. Kitchen Window is a pen and ink drawing that she then did a limited edition of copies, numbered and signed. She had many dual drawings and etchings. One would be realistic and the second…. maybe the second is what she saw.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

V is for La Vague

I am blogging from A to Z on women artists.

My father would pretend to speak French, but he spoke terrible French. Right after high school my mother went to Europe with her parents. They traveled and she stayed in Paris, doing art. Her French was much better than his.

Helen Burling Ottaway was influenced particularly by Japanese art and the empty space on the page. We have an ancestor named Morris Temple. I have a photograph of him in his Civil War uniform and of his wife. He was the owner of Temple Pumps. However, the family story is that he was more interested in Japanese art then pumps and proceeded to “run the company in to the ground”. I do not actually know if this is true. My maternal grandfather’s mother was Tessie Temple, and Morris Temple was her father. My middle name is Temple and my cousin is Fred Temple Burling II but goes by Temple, as my maternal grandfather did. He was F. Temple Burling I.

My mother started a series of paintings of Mount Rainier after she moved to the Pacific Northwest in 1996. I think that she planned to do fifty views or one hundred. She did not get to finish the series but I do have some of them. La Vague and the views of Rainier are tributes to other artists that she loved.

This is an etching where more than one color is applied to the plate. This is a proof, so she is still messing around trying to decide what she wants as final colors for the edition.

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

U is for unruly

I am blogging from A to Z about Helen Burling Ottaway, my artist mother, and other women artists.

Artists are unruly. They are not obedient. They are usurpers. They are unreasonable. This is another etching of my mother, a self portrait, titled “Giantess”. She looks giant, rising from an ocean. Will she have arms and hands and legs, or is she an octopus? We do not know. It may depend on her mood.

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

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

S is for Shame

I am reading Kim Addonizio’s Ordinary Genius for a Centrum poetry class.

She challenges white poets: why don’t you write about racisim?

I write that we are afraid. I think it is more than that: it is shame. Thinking about her words, I thought about one of my mother’s pieces of art and how it makes me uncomfortable. And that my discomfort with it is new. I wrote this poem.

Race forward

Kim Addonizio asks
Why don’t white poets write about race?

Chickenshits, I think.
Afraid. We are afraid.
My mother called one color Nigger Pink.
She says, “It’s the color that only looks good on black people.”
She looks wicked as she says it and I know that I never should.
She didn’t think she was racist nor a feminist.

One time she says, “Maybe I am a feminist.”
“Why do you say that?” I ask.
“We had a group of women who went to plant trees. None of them could dig a hole.”
“Oh,” I say.
“They didn’t know how to use a shovel!”

She might be horrified how many high school graduates today would call a spade a shovel.

A mentor art teacher says, “Stop being small,” to her. “Get bigger.”
She starts pastel portraits, larger than life.
One that I love is titled “One Fist of Iron.”
Now: don’t lie. What race do you think the person is? And what gender?

Did you guess correctly?
African American and male.

Another friend tells me he is trying to get his father to stop calling Brazil nuts nigger toes.
My mother told me that term too.
And that it was unacceptable.
At my friend’s father’s birthday, I focus my camera on the birthday man.
He holds a bowl of nuts. He says to himself, “I will now eat a politically incorrect nut.” and the camera clicks. I love this photograph because he is 90 and white and reluctantly changing his wicked words.

My mother says there might be hope when a small black child trick or treats her house in black face, in Alexandria, Virginia, in the 1990s.

I think there IS hope, even though the race seems slow and painful and there is so much anger
Look in the mirror, white poets.
And write the words.

One Fist of Iron, by Helen Burling Ottaway

The photograph at the beginning of this is not my mother. It is her mother’s mother, Mary Robbins White. I have pictures of five generations of women with that serious expression. She was the wife of George White, the Congregationalist Minister who was president of Anatolia College in Turkey. They and my grandmother and siblings were escorted to the Turkish border in 1916. George White and his wife were two of the main witnesses of the genocide of the Armenians in Turkey.

Let us not stand by and witness more genocides.

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

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

T is for tree

I am blogging from A to Z about Helen Burling Ottaway, my artist mother, and other women artists.

My mother loved painting trees and doing etchings of trees, but this is a tree peony. Another etching, and this printed with two colors at the same time. Delicate work, to ink the plate with two colors and gently wipe off the excess without mixing them.

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

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.

R is for Resume

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

I find two copies of her resume. One is from 1991 and one from 1993. I will add the 1993 information, but it’s a LOT. My mother was prolific! She complained about getting ready for shows and I did not realize how very many she did! I am so proud of her. She died of ovarian cancer in 2000 and I do miss her still.

Helen Burling Ottaway

  Del Ray Atelier

105 E. Monroe Ave

Alexandria, VA 22301

SELECTED SOLO SHOWS

1991 Nov     Will have solo show at Bird-in-Hand Gallery, Washington, DC

1989 Sept     “Cascades: Watercolors of Washington State”, Bird-in-Hand Gallery, Washington, DC

1988 Nov     “Fantasy Etchings”, National Orthopedic Hospital, Arlington, VA

1987 Oct      “Spirits to Enforce, Art to Enchant”, Fantasy Art, River Road Uniterian Church, Bethesda, MD

1986 Mar     “Prints and Poems”, Poetry by Katy Ottaway, Martin Luther King Library, Washington, DC

1984 Nov     “Forests, Flower, and Fantasies”, Sola Gallery, Ithaca, NY

          Apr     “Birdland and other Lullabies”, Pastels, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

1981 May    “Fantastical Bestiary”, Etchings and Drawings, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

          Mar     “The Way of the Brush”, Watercolors, Gallery One, Alexandria, VA

TWO PERSON SHOWS

1986 Nov     Two Person Show, “An Occasional Pair of Claws”, Fantasy Art with Omar Dasent, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

1985 Apr     Two person Show, “Figures and Foliage”, Pastels, Capital Centre Gallery, Landover, MD

1982 Nov     Two Person Show, “The Four Seasons”, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

SELECTED GROUP SHOWS

1990 Feb     “Visions 1990” Westbeth Gallery, New York, NY

1989 Feb     “Year in—Year out”, Studio Gallery, Washington, DC

1988 Mar     “independent Visions III”, Metro Gallery, Arlington, VA

          May     Juried Show, Sculpture, The Art League, Alexandria, VA, Juror: Bertold Schmutzart

1987 Dec     Juried Show: “The Best of 1987”, Martin Luther King Library, Washington, DC, Jurors: Dr.

                     Jacqueline Serwer, Sandra Wested, Robert Stewart

1987 Apr     “Independent Visions, Fifteen Women Artists”, Metro Gallery, Arlington, VA

          Feb     “Portraits 1987”, The Art Barn, Washington, DC

1986 Oct     “Juried Show, “Printmakers VIII”, The New Art Center, Washington, DC

          Jan     “Independent Visions”, Metro Gallery, Arlington, VA

1985 Dec    Invitational, “Highlights of the Year”, Martin Luther King Library, Washington, DC. Jurors:

                     Linda Hartigan and Monroe Fabian

          Nov    Invitational, “The Macadam Nueve-Splintergreen Conspiracy Show”, Gallerie Inti,

                     Washington, DC. Curated by Omar Dasent and Ann Stein

          Oct      Juried show, “Printmakers VII”, WWAC, Washington, DC. Juror: Jane Farmer

          Mar     Invitational, “Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Artists”, The Splintergreen

                      Conspiracy, Martin Luther King Library, Washington, DC. Curated by Omar Dasent

          Mar    “Shakespearean Images”, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY

1984 Nov     Juried Show, “Printmakers VI”, WWAC, Washington, DC. Juror: Carol Pulin

           July     Juried Show, “Printmakers VI”, WWAC, Washington, DC. Juror: Jo Anna Olshonsky

           Oct      Four Person Show, “Just Four”, Galerie Triangle, Washington, DC

                        “The First Great American Camel Show”, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

1983 Mar      Juried Show, “Printmakers V”, WWAC, Washington, DC. Juror: Barbara Fiedler

          Feb       Juried Show, “Artists – Art Historians: A Retrospective 1972-1982”, National Conference, The Women’s Caucus for Art,m Bryce Gallery, Moore College, Philadelphia, PA

1982 May      Juried Show, “Woman as Myth and Archetype”, WWAC, Wshington, DC. Juror: Mary Beth Edelson

          Feb       Invitational, “Art is where the Heart is”, Gallery 805, Fredricksberg, VA

          Feb       “The Printmakers of the WWAC, The Torpedo Factory, Alexandria, VA

          Jan        Juried Show, “The Eye of Eleanor Monroe”, WWAC, Washington, DC Juror: Eleanor Monroe

1981 Oct.      Juried Show, “Collage and Drawing”, WWAC, Washington, DC Juror: Jan Root  

Numerous juried shows, the Art League, Alexandria, VA

Numerous group shows, Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

EDUCATION

1967 B.F.A Cornell University, Ithaca, NW

WORK EXPERIENCE

1992-currently   Teach Drawing and Watercolor, Capital Hill Arts Workshop, Washington, DC

                              Teach Art Class for Seniors, Recreation Department, Alexandria, VA

                              Teach etching workshops and watercolors at the Delray Atelier, Alexandria, VA

1987-1990           Graphic Artist, Al Porter Graphics, Washington, DC

1985 Fall               Co-Director of Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

1982                       Director of Exhibitions, WWAC, Washington, DC

1982                       Director of Gallery West, Alexandria, VA

1981                       Chair of Exhibitions Committee of Gallery West, Alexandia, VA

                                Taught watercolor classes at Washington Women’s Art Center, Washington, DC

                                Taught children’s art classes for the Arlington Recreation Department

1967-1970             Assistant Curator at the Ithaca College Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY

ATOZBLOGGINGCHALLENGE2022 #art #Women artists #Helen Burling Ottaway #ATOZCHALLENGE #Christine Robbins Ottaway #APRILATOZ

For more information about the #AtoZChallenge, check out this link.