An Artist's Journeys in Nature

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Black Mamaku Tree Fern

I painted this work over Christmas 1979/80. It was a time of great changes to come in my life, though I didn’t know it then. I was on a long Christmas vacation, having completed 3 units of science at Uni that year, and having decided science was not going to be my future.

I knew I would return to Wellington, but in what capacity I had no idea: I had no job. Meantime there was a long holiday spell to concentrate on art.

I painted 3 major pieces that Christmas and created a number of smaller works and some drawings. I put the drawings up for sale in a small local gallery and they sold immediately.

My father, who had always been my art mentor, disliked this painting intensely, and soon let me know it. I dug in my heels and carried on with it, and in January entered this piece and 2 other works into the Bay Of Islands New Year Art Exhibition in Paihia. Two were for sale – this one and Unfolding Fern Kiokio . The third one was The Sacred Place . They all passed the jury examination and the two pieces on sale sold during the exhibition.

So much for that!

I returned to Wellington and by an amazing turn of circumstances, within a couple of months I was full time National Secretary of the NZ Deerstalkers Association, with over 40 branches nationwide. a 7 man national executive that met quarterly and a large scale annual conference. I’d been involved with them for several years. Looking back, it was the happiest time of my life in a job. However –

During my first year there, my father was diagnosed with chronic lymphatic leukemia.

It’s a long way from Kaeo to Wellington (about 600 ml), so 18 months later I went back into law and moved north to Hamilton as regional solicitor for my former employer the ACC. This move was not an entirely happy one, but at least I saw more of my folks.

My dad died in August 1985 and that Christmas my mom and I came up here to get this place ready to put on the market. He had said we would have to sell the property and with the half-finished house which they had been building, he foretold we wouldn’t get much for it… It was a sad time.

But by Christmas, we had decided NOT to sell up!

I couldn’t bear the idea and nor could my mom. A huge load lifted in our spirits, because we both loved the property dearly. We did our sums and got a builder in to finish the house (drama, drama) and while my mom stayed here, I completed the lecturing contract I now had with the Waikato Polytechnic (Business Law for the NZ Society of Accountants’ qualification), visiting at weekends as much as I could.

By Christmas 1986 I was back up here to stay. The distance from this place to the New Zealand I had been used to is a bit daunting, but several attempts I’ve made to move have come to naught, so this must be where I am meant to be.

Christmas is always a time of great memories for me here.

Kathleen and the building on a sunny autumn day in 1986.

For more details on the work and to see products, click on the image.

Patricia

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The Plains Of Africa 2

Moreover, this journey has its own unstoppable momentum. Days flow into nights and nights flow into days.

There are no ‘sleep stopovers’, no hotel rooms. no packing and unpacking bags, no break in the inevitable flow of the steady heartbeat of this mighty continent, transmitted through these shining, silver rails.

When night falls, living space is transformed into sleeping space: bunks let down that rock the traveler into slumber almost before his head hits the pillows. And the journey goes on.

Up ahead, the loco still puffs its way through the darkness, slowly gaining altitude as it heads towards the central plateau lying beyond the Highveld. Final destination altitude is over 4500′ (1500m) above sea level: a long, slow climb of over 1100 miles (1800 km) from Cape Town, and that’s as the crow flies.

The route passes through the South African diamond town of Kimberley – viewed only as a skyline during a short station stop – and then heads more directly north. After Kimberley, no major towns are in evidence as the loco strikes out across the eastern plains of Botswana, with the Kalahari Desert lying further over to the west.

All around the train the open canopy of trees – mopani, msasa, acacias – drift past the traveler like ghostly sentinels under the moon, illuminated by the glow from the carriage windows. Wildlife goes about its night business, probably with barely a glance at the familiar string of passing lights and muffled sound, soon to vanish again intp the vast spaces of the dark.

Digital – vector art. For more details, click on images.

Patricia

The Plains of Africa

To travel north from Cape Town via railway into the wilds of Central Africa is to discover mile upon mile of veld stretching interminably as far as the eye can see – a vast ocean of grasses and trees that goes on for days.

Traveling by air can’t even compare – what can you see from 40,000 feet?  That kind of journey doesn’t make much of an impression on the mind, let alone the soul.

But train travel is a different story.  The slow rocking of the carriage on the rails brings a sense of peace and timelessness: three days of suspended animation in which the demands of the modern world are laid aside.  Back to the era of Burton and Speke – and Rhodes?  Not quite that far – but far enough to realize we have seriously compromised ourselves with the modern fads of ‘fast’ and ‘instant’.

This land teems with wildlife, rarely visible in quick glimpses from the train – and much less so today than formerly. But the wildlife is there, as it has been for centuries – living out its own dance on the hot, shimmering plains that would swallow us up if we were to step away from the lifeline of the two slim, steel rails beneath us.

africa-plains

Digital – vector art.  For more details, click on images.

Patricia

http://patriciahowitt.com/

Sleep At Last

Geology and the passage of time…

The volcano that once existed here is sleeping now. The scorching fires have long since died away, and the battered earth has drawn a cloak across its scars.

The subterranean pipes that carried searing hot magma from the earth’s fiery core remain: embraced now by powerful, living roots that grip and swell around them.

Where once a crater stood, a wild tree grows. Tucked away in bolt-holes far below, by day the kiwi sleep.

Yes, there are 2 of them there.

Acrylic on Arches Dessein 120 gsm art paper, 19″x 25″.

For more details, prints and products, click on the images.

Patricia

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The Elusive Moth and The Cure-All

A few days ago, I cut down a heap of understorey bush known as kawakawa or pepper tree (Macropiper excelsum) and threw it in where the sheep were grazing, to be burnt when the time comes.

It is aromatic and very hot to the taste. I soon discovered the sheep will eat it – not entirely surprising because when I had my neighbor’s cattle in here some years ago, they also ate it.

It was highly regarded by the Maori people as a remedy both external and internal for many ailments – abdominal pains (especially digestive), rheumatic pains, toothache, kidney, bladder and urinary complaints, and as a blood purifier. As a poultice it was used for boils, bruises, eczema, toothache and badly infected wounds.  In her book ‘Medicines of the Maori‘, Christina Macdonald cites a case that she knew personally of an old man who bound up the nearly-severed top of one of his fingers with kawakawa leaves – and the finger healed quite easily.

When used in steam baths, the effect was “stimulating, exciting the salivary glands, kidneys and bowels”.

Many Maori people still use it today, and I boiled up some leaves to try it as a drink – much more mild, warm, and pleasant-tasting than I had expected: definitely added to the ‘drink more often’ list!   I’m about to try making a healing ointment out of it, too.

Branches were burned by the Maori to keep away insects from rows of sweet potato seedlings, and more recently by explorers, surveyors and hunters to keep mosquitoes and sandflies out of their camps. One asks – why are we messing with deadly chemicals when the Creator has made this stuff available to us? (And we all know the answer to that.)

The leaves of this plant are invariably covered with shotholes, and when I was illustrating ‘Taketakerau The Millennium Tree‘ I finally found out (after quite a bit of hunting) that these holes are caused by the nocturnal caterpillars of the Kawakawa Looper moth (Cleora scriptaria). You will find if you research it, that many people can tell you the holes are caused by caterpillars (big deal!), but it was hard in 2011 to find a source that would actually identify the species. There are far more illustrations of Cleora scriptaria on the net now.

Needless to say, though I’m surrounded by this stuff, I’ve never seen either a moth or a caterpillar in daylight. When I did the artwork for the book, I took the liberty of painting the moth on the leaves of the plant, in the subdued light of a storm.

Many people have commented how appropriate the use of this plant is for a painting entitled ‘Endurance’ that reflects on the long life and turbulent times of a tree now more than 2016 years old.  See also http://taketakerau.com/painting32.html

Acrylic on Bainbridge board 15″ x 20″.

For prints, products and more details, click on the images.

Patricia

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The Good Shepherd

Had an interesting little adventure last night.

We’ve been in about four days of uncomfortably cold, high winds, accompanied from time to time by rain. Down in the South Island (and probably on the Central North Island Plateau too) there is snow on the mountains, a friend from Karamea tells me. I’m not surprised.

Last night I went up to get the sheep in at about 5.15pm, I guess. They were up in the gorse and tea-tree on the hill, and though we called back and forth, they were not inclined to come – heads down, eating, from what I could see through the scrub. Alright, so I left them. They will come – it’s a cold night with dark, lowering cloud.

They didn’t come.

I went up again, about 20 minutes later – with the pot of nuts this time, rattling and calling. They were still on the slope and not about to come down. Finally Alphie the ram detached himself from the girls and came to the sound of food. I led him down to the shed and fed him, hoping they would follow.

Still they didn’t come.

I went back up a third time, leaving Alphie behind a loosely shut gate. Two-thirds of the way up the hill, he overtook me, heading back to his women. I decided to leave it a bit longer.

Back at the shed I did a few things – keeping out of a rain shower. Thank goodness I’d already fed the pigs and put them to bed down below, I thought. I almost felt like leaving the sheep to their own devices, but the good shepherd inside sent me up for a fourth time. It was getting darker.

Just above a little grassy plateau, I stood looking up at the ewes in the scrub, and suddenly realized I couldn’t see the lambs. “Where are the babies?” I asked the sheep. Then I spoke in the high-pitched voice I use to talk to the lambs, and immediately App, the younger ewe, turned and moved towards a little hollow in the hillside. Then I saw the little heads – they were sitting in a bunch. It was a very nice camping spot with a bit of overhanging tree trunk, but if it rained they were going to get wet, no doubt about that. And the wind was coming straight across from the north.

So grumbling and grumping, and feeling thankful that I’d brought a staff, I threaded my way up the steep slope through the tea-tree and gorse bushes, over fallen branches and clumps of long grass – which being wet were quite slippery.

When I approached the lambs they jumped up, then the whole party moved off westwards along the ridge, near the fence line at the top. That would do just fine – they were headed for a corner in the fence that would send them down off the hill and along towards the shed. I have an arrangement down there with two 10 foot gates that can be opened and hooked together to form a race leading into the place they have been sleeping in at nights. Fortunately, I’d left it set up ready, because I was still a little way behind them.

They all had feed – Alphie for a second time – and I finally got in home at about 6.30pm: nearly dark.

It’s always a good feeling at the end of the day to know that everyone is fed and in shelter. Especially when the weather’s bad.  It HAS rained, several times, since darkness fell.

Acrylic on illustration board. – 10″ x 14″.

For prints, products and more details, click on the images.

Patricia

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Turn Around

I’ve been out of circulation for quite a few months – and there’s a reason for that.   Back in late 2014 I was struck by a nasty disease called polymyalgia, which came close at the time to destroying my mobility.  Fortunately, once diagnosed, the solution was revealed – prednisone.

Aaargh!  Well I wasn’t entirely happy with that, but does one want to walk freely or not?  In addition, it was causing mayhem with my blood – too many platelets, anemia etc.  So my doctor put me on a modest dose of prednisone and over the period of about 18 months we tailed it back and achieved a recovery.

In the meantime, however, I had an accident and decided to go to a chiropractor (fortunately a very good one).   I’d had chiropractic before because I have 2 curves in my spine, not helped by riding horses.  So we entered into a process of sorting out these curves and re-stabilising my backbone.

I’d been quite depressed at the time of the polymyalgia – a mental state that was not helped by seeing all the things that needed doing round my 10 acre property and not being able to do a thing about them (physically or financially) – and so the obvious answer seemed to be to move away from this place, which I’ve been associated with for 47 years and have loved dearly.  I’d even got to the point where I wasn’t interested anymore.

But things kept getting in my way – not the least being shortage of finances to get things tidied up for sale.  On top of that I had a tree fall on my roof (damage? – oh yes!) and a second tree taken down because it was in danger of following suit.   Fallout everywhere.  Funds getting even lower.   I seemed to be stuck in mud.

Then just before last Christmas, the tide started to turn.  We began to win with the chiropractic.  I’m now getting around my land as in the old days – and for the most part it’s steep and hilly – and working quite hard, if carefully.  There are a few things I used to do and now cannot, but apart from that, the recovery is little short of miraculous.

I’ve decided to stay – how could I ever have thought of leaving?  To keep my grass down I’ve taken on breeding rare breeds Damara sheep.  My first 2 bought in early July are a Damara/Arapawa cross and her daughter.  Both have had lambs to a Damara crossbred ram, and I now have a fullblood Damara ram also.  So the headcount is currently 4 females and 2 males – and the lambs at 2 weeks old are a delight!

 

Below is one of my drawings of an Arapawa ram.  This breed, now officially accepted as a Rare Breed in this country, came about by early explorers and whalers dropping off sheep (probably of merino origin) on Arapawa Island in Cook Strait – where they continued to breed.  No doubt the motive was to provide a food source.

Initially they were regarded as game.  Later they were marked for extermination, until their value as a gene pool was recognized and a sanctuary established for them on the island, all thanks to the efforts of Betty Rowe and her husband Walt.  Now there are a number of breeders of Arapawa sheep throughout New Zealand.

Like Damaras, Arapawa sheep are shedders, and are naturally resistant to fly-strike.

So here we are!!  Hallelujah!

For prints, products and more details, click on the images.

Patricia

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