no woman is an island…cont.

This post is about Joe and Jane from San Antonio, the patron saint of kitchen and cooks San Pasqual, and about a commission (…no woman is an island).

San Pasqual, Patron Saint of Cooks and Kitchen

On Friday, March 18th, I receive an email from Jane.  She found my blog and read about the  San Pasqual tile mural I’d designed for Greg and Veronica, back in 2008. How did she find that posting, I wondered. I don’t know, but I’m glad she did.

I love your San Pasqual mural and am looking for same for my renovated kitchen that I am doing in Talavera tile. Are you still painting tiles?
Hit Reply, Yes. Send.
Our conversation continues over the telephone. Before the call ends, I’m surprised to learn Jane lives in San Antonio. I’m originally from Texas. I spent one college summer working in San Antonio. It’s good to make this connection and I am pleased to take the commission. She’s excited with her project.  I’m excited with mine.

After more communication to gather information to personalize the small mural, I begin prep work and design. To be included are their 2 dogs: Sophie their pup, and Sarah who’s with them now, only in spirit. Jane bakes bread. Joe bakes Cherry pies, in a red pie pan. They love cardinals and squirrels. Jane sends along a quote that had been on the wall of the new home, Júntate con los buenos y serás uno de ellos. Gather together with the good ones, and you’ll be one of them. She shares a few more details for me to pick and choose from. My sketch takes hold. Later she sends me a photo of a heart that holds the couples initials. It’s a playful note her husband painted onto a bare wall, pre-remodel. Could you include this, she asks. Of course…it’s just the right story telling element.

San Pasqual has symbols connected to him, and some appear in the design. He’s devoted to the Holy Eucharist. It’s believed that he cooked in a monastery and his kitchen duties were miraculously taken care of because his devotion was so great.  It is said he fed the poor, and story has it that his baskets were always miraculously refilled.  I include the chalice, and a basket.  I show him with a (grey and white) cat, because he is also caretaker to domestic animals, and a grey cat often accompanies his image. I use my tabby as the model.  I include the cardinals, a red male and a golden female and below them, in a nest, a young male peeks out…(in this case representing the family).

Jane asks for Iris’s, Bluebonnets, and Geraniums. I want color across the bottom scroll of words, and this is the perfect solution. She tells me about the squirrels in their backyard, a squirrel appears at the upper right corner of the arch. I include hummingbirds, a personal favorite symbol.  They represent spirit, holy spirit. Native American legend tells that if you are ever lost in the desert, look for  the hummingbird to lead you out. Jane tells me Joe feeds and photographs hummingbirds all summer. I include a turtle, because I receive a card from Jane that Joe has designed. It’s a photograph of turtles.

Finally she tells me to please include the year 2011 somewhere in the composition. And then ends the email with…
Please sign the mural..and then visit it in San Antonio.
I can do that.

folk arts/yoga…and other news of the day

Sheila's Flower

Friends came by the studio to make flowers this morning.

I was going to write something thought-provoking about arts and crafts.  I planned to put together information about the folk arts.  But it’s been a sad day, despite the fun we had.  AZ Representative  Gabrielle Giffords was shot in Tucson early today. While finishing up our project we got the news.  The tone of the afternoon took a turn.

AZ politics, gun control, the nations political climate, and Ms.Giffords…took over our conversation. It’s not fun being an Arizonan these days. Among the bad news, we continue our connection, finish our plans and clean up. I’m still going to pull the post together, but I’m not going to get too serious about art vs. craft. We had a morning of interaction, creativity, and fun. And the result is a symbol of that.  Still, an historical event is respected and not ignored.


The folks in this case… fellow yogi’s, Dave, Dominique, Sheila and Susan… arrive to the studio to make flowers. Yes, that’s right… yoga and flower making reigned today. My husband hung out with us too.

We’d been talking about doing this for months. Dominique was eager to get going. But holidays and life pushed out the plan.  She was patient. We agreed to organize soon after the new year.

Today’s the day. After morning yoga class…My studio to craft flowers.

I’d sent a list of supplies out earlier in the week.

  • Metal Craft Rod
  • Heavy, yet bendable wire
  • Epoxy
  • Wire cutter
  • Needle nose pliers
  • Scissor
  • Tape
  • Nail, Hammer, Block of Wood (or old phone book in my case)
    oh….and bright, colorful, aluminum cans.

I thought the biggest challenge was going to be collecting enough aluminum cans for six people to make two flowers each. Leave it to Dominique to take charge of the cans. Last we connected, she had some 49 cans. More than plenty. She’d cut the edges off, and nicely set the flattened sheets into a shoe box. Organized our choices.  Thanks Dominique. You so cut our work down, the group will never know. But I know, and my hands, especially tonight, appreciate it.

stacked sheets of aluminum cans

We set up and get going.

We're off to a pretty organized start.

Dominique and Dave...breaking the rules...I mean cutting patterns.

I run instructions by everyone.  Each person has a mind of their own. Not surprised. Though I’ll just say, cause I’ve said it before…a very left brained group of people…once again, in my studio. They listen, mull over details and come up with a more efficient way to proceed. They figure out a new way to cut  petals. Lace them.  Bend them. And glue them. Now… I’m not complaining. I’m simply making note. Creative and smart, two valuable qualities as far as I’m concerned.

Sheila, Susan, and Dominique discussing options....

Eddie and Dave

Focused Susan. Sheila in the background.

A few people…I won’t name names, work in a sort of assembly line fashion. ↑ ↓ While finishing my one, they complete two. I’m impressed.

First flower of the morning…Dominique’s green delight, with blue, yellow and white highlights.

Flowers, for everyone.  What do they represent?  Basically…a Saturday afternoon spent with spouses, friends, music and coffee, tea, cake and tasty breads. Oh…and one cat that wanted in and out the studio door.

As of the latest news, the congresswoman survived, there are 6 dead, including a federal judge and five others (a 9-year-old among them).

I’m home with my husband, wondering…what to be aware of.  Maybe all of it. That’s the yoga.

We learned eventually the congresswoman was shot in the head.

Update: 8/1/2011 – Rep Gabrielle Giffords returns to Washington to vote ‘yes’ on increasing the debt ceiling. She sends out a tweet…The #Capitol looks beautiful and I am honored to be at work tonight.

And the flower making group…I hear everyone kept a flower and gave away a flower.  One person made a whole bunch of them, to keep a few and give a few.

Life continues, the big things and the little things.


kidneys in solar plexus area

I research a long time, before and during my painting and drawing work. I’ve shared lots of that with you.  I sort of traverse time and space looking at both ancient and modern culture. I’ve studied pagan ritual, yogic practices, and various Christian religions, and specifically Catholic symbols and rites.  The latter is most familiar to me, because it’s part of my personal history. I am still drawn to rituals of Catholicism, especially those mixed in with the Native (US and Mexican) Indigenous Peoples.

I’m working/reworking the life-size figure/self portrait…painting I thought I’d completed, for next month. Today I redid the entire solar plexus area of the composition, yet again. The whole area is slightly off and it bugs me. I’d been working on small sketches of body organs and was realizing more and more, the large figure’s anatomy is off in some places.   Though I lean towards abstraction in general, cause I don’t want realism. Right now, I do want precision because human anatomy in its simplicity and complexity is pretty wonderful. It really is like a little miracle.

While re-working the kidneys this afternoon, I’m reminded of milagros (Spanish for miracles). Milagros are small religious charms, used in Mexico and other areas of Latin America. They serve to petition saints for guidance, help and protection. Milagros are made in many symbolic forms, from ears and eyes, legs and arms to angels and animals. These religious charms get tacked on to the surface of altars and statues of saints, crosses…etc. They act as prayer reminders or as thanks to a particular saint for prayers answered.

I have a few wooden crosses with many milagros attached to them.  Here are a pair of silver kidneys. And beneath it is my study of the kidney.

kidney "milagros"

my kidney "sketch"

It appears to me, despite my research and wondering out into other cultures and studies, I come back to what is most familiar.  In this case…folk art familiar. And then I put it out again, with a significant personal twist.

ear "milagro"

my inner ear drawing

Above is an ear milagro and beneath it is my inner ear drawing. I call the little work Oido, Spanish for ear.  Check out that ear drum and cochlea…such great shapes. I added the little form to the face of my large painting as an after thought.  I couldn’t, after really looking at the intricate parts of this mechanism, leave it out.

"milagro" of arm and hand

my arm and hand finished painting

Despite all the intellectual research and connection that I shared some of in an→ earlier post,  here/now I make one very direct and simple visual association.   I know I saw it before, but why didn’t I think it was worth mentioning?

It is.

The tie-in to the sacred is key. The body = The Sacred.

cross with milagros

These milagros, little miracles, are the ground work, probably for most of the art I have made in the last couple of years. I realized this so clearly today, I  had to make note of it.

a character’s character.

Took a break today. Only drew for the amusement of it. No clear end in mind.

Scrap of paper, pencils, markers, scissors, adhesives, and collage bits from a 1915 book titled Character, How to Strengthen It. Book’s always amused me. I use it carefully, as it slowly dissapears. I settle into drawing a profile. Text determines direction in this case. I don’t have much room to work with and I like the set up of a small portrait. Small portraiture… usually means I’m going to play with human thoughts/emotions.

Been thinking about Character. You know…that thing we develop as we age. And saw Alice in Wonderland this weekend, queens make an impression. A play of both word and image, is how this drawing pans out.

I prefer the simplicity of the start. Too late to go back. Rework. Tighten up composition.

Title comes with end result, A Character’s Character. On days like this…I think it might be fun to illustrate children’s books.

karl and helga-a fantastic story


In the book On Writing author Stephen King shares with the reader his approach to writing a story. I note he describes almost the same process I used for many of the commissions I painted this year – the ones that were narratives. He writes about the value of being aware of what he wants his reader to experience.  I think about my audience, and their experience, at the start of most everything I do. King writes on translating what he visualizes in his mind, into words on a page. I translate my thoughts  into signs and symbols and place them on to a canvas. He notes another quality, and yes, I use it too…allow the reader (the viewer, in my case) to supply some information. And then…he says…it’s all about the story

Part 2 of this story goes like this…
The commission:

I meet with Dominique in early January, on a Saturday afternoon, to discuss a commission. She has in mind a family portrait.
She informs me of the two main characters, the focal points, her father Karl and her mother Helga.  Karl has been in spirit for at least a decade. Dominique is considering presenting a family portrait to her mother. I don’t know why I imagine that she might keep it for herself. I ask her if it’s possible that she could keep it.  Well, of course, I suppose that’s possible, she says.
I can’t meet Karl in body, to get a sense of him. Nor can I really sit and talk with Helga as it would ruin the surprise (if there’s to be one). I rely on Dominique’s descriptions and stories. Important to me are her facial and body expression as she shares details. We spend the Saturday discussing what appears to me to be a magical childhood. I’m sure Karl is present that afternoon…and maybe even Helga for that matter. I leave hours later with notes, photos, and a few unusual shells. The shells are a gift.

content begins to take form

content begins to take form

Part 1
The Wichtl’s:

Karl Ferdinand Wichtl and Helga Maria Hörmann marry in Vienna, on Sept 21, 1958.

Karl, born March 19, 1932. The life of the party, over indulges in everything, Dominique tells me…food, drink, kindness, celebration…all of it!  I like hearing about Karl, he’s a character. A free spirit. Yet practical! Self educated. Oil engineer. She smiles, lost in remembrance. He loved to have fun. He was also the one who made sure everyone else was having fun too. He wore wacky, crazy ties, thin, red leather, he had sideburns, he drank a lot, and he ate a lot…again, she smiles. He was a self-made man, very intelligent. And he had green eyes. Karl liked Boynton cartoons and treasure hunts. He liked the word FANTASTIC and used it often. She tells me a bit about his mother and father, her grandparents.
And she tells me how much Helga loved Karl.

Helga,born December 13, 1937, she is…intelligent, tenacious, disciplined and organized. Very organized! Dominique stresses. She held down the fort, she had to, we moved every few years. She was brilliant! Helga was an oil brat. Education was important to her. Dominique comes back to the present…light green eyes and… she…loves… black pearls.

I want the feeling of happiness in the workJoy! Freedom! Bare feet! Dominique quickly starts to give visual possibilities but I don’t listen to all of it…I get the picture. She comes back to the word fantastic…everything was fantastic to Karl. With that word I begin and with that word I end.




and more processing

We use to vacation in Bora Bora. The request is for a Polynesian landscape. Two other characters are important to this story – Dominique and her sister Patricia. We spent a lot of time in the water, like fishies. The four of us, all the time. Scuba diving. Collecting shells. She shares photos of their water escapades.


I begin the composition with an outline in treasure hunt format and then a cobalt sea floods in and takes over.  I follow some of the barely visible trails and insert an oil rig in one spot, a representation of Karl’s work. His job took his family across the world.


An imaginary boat named “The Fantastic” gets placed strategically across the rig (in another treasure hunt spot), signifying balance, of work and play, the real and the fantastical.  In the far background is the family, in bright silhouette. I borrow the familial image from the tarot deck. They point up to a cloud filled DNA strand where 8 birds fly, representing each daughter and her respective husband and children, the generations that would day come.  The sun or the moon, I can’t say which, sits in the horizon and deposits light across the water, in the form of South America where the family lived for some time and where Dominique is born.  Austria floats in the foreground, where Karl and Helga marry and Patricia is born. The masculine sun, and the feminine moon also act as time elements, night and day, day and night, on and on. Eternity above (infinity) and beneath Karl and Helga. The white dog represents Helga’s favored family pet. The cup of abundance and four fish shooting upwards…four shells collect around the cup…four sea horses make their way into the art work…family of

I fill the landscape with palm trees…lots of vegetation, sky and clouds, and a bungalow…all accurate to the photos I borrowed.
Wild and calm bright blue, full of life, fluid, magical is The Fantastic Tale of Karl and Helga.

Part 3
The story doesn’t end here.

…I complete the painting in May.  Dominique has it in her possession today. Where will it land?  I suspect it will move several times…belong to one generation and then another, and perhaps another. The story will only continue. Fantastic!

photo painting

another ex-voto


Margarita left a message on my answering machine last summer. My siblings and I  would like to commission you to create an ex- voto for Dolores. Call me.
This is the beginning of a lively creative process with the Marquez family. Before the work is complete, about 9 months later, I hear memories, events, and stories about my friend Dolores. I learn about the strong Marquez family connection.
The siblings had already commissioned an ex-voto from me, in celebration of the 50th wedding anniversary of their parents. This new one will be in thanks and celebration of Dolores’s 50th birthday.  I want input from all of them. The process begins one way, and ends in another. Busy energetic picture becomes clear intimate portrait.

Margarita begins: I have been praying and thinking about the gift for Dolores. Thoughts that come to mind…Her children, Elisa and Jose, are very special to her. As are Family, the Arts, wines, good book, gathering with women, simple, elegant, classy, colorful art.

Leo’s organized and detailed addition follows:
The “royalty” photo  of Dolores and her sisters as the center of the piece, with the four sisters  pointing to her <<ELISA,  please attempt to steal photograph, photocopy, then return to your  Mom’s desk…cue Pink Panther music>>.
Elisa is Dolores’s oldest daughter.  We are instigating thievery, but I am certain Dolores supports the Pink Panther twist.


my processing all the info

Mom and  Dad’s wedding picture or otherwise symbolized.  Elisa and Jose on the  Brophy (family) chair.  The crown with jewels, of course,  since the artist dreamed about it.
I’d dreamt about Dolores being handed a jeweled crown. The crown symbolizes honor, position, and also transition. It’s appropriate.
Leo continues, Our Lady of Sorrows (for Dolores) or  Our Lady of Guadalupe (for Latin America).
I knew ‘Our Lady of Sorrows’ would be in the image, the connecting element to the first ex vote.
Other images:  musical notes and treble clef, books (authors Allende and Alvarez for sure, which others?), Latin American folk art (papel  picado, ceramic cross, paper flowers, Frida, etc.), passport or bus or  airplane for travel (overloaded Mexican bus might be fun), wine, coffee,  Scrabble (since she is a woman of letters).
A woman of  letters? Wonder what this means?
Leo goes on, Other  themes:
Independence (orange Volkswagen??  Keys (could be car, could be apartment)
Indignity (starting  at age 11 months with birth of twins, beginning her  “reign”)
Beauty (she taught  the rest of us about makeup and high heels)

About the shoes…I learn, on a visit to Dolores’s home, she has many of them. I say to her, Wow…you sure do own lots of shoes! She replies, with a smile, I love shoes! Intrigues me. I have mixed feelings about shoes. A free foot is a happy foot, but a cool shoe, is after-all, a cool shoe.
Leo continues:
Culture (museums,  docent stuff)
Music (recorded,  live)
Girlfriends (very  important to her, starting with the 5 in her immediate  family)
Leo is organized, I’m impressed. Margarita indicates many of these same symbols in our conversations.

Aurthur chimes in:
If there was a way to include the picture of Dolores as a toddler digging into the can of Nestlé’s chocolate mix…. Ok, maybe not for an ex voto…
…and about the “smelly boys”?  I’ll have you know that I took no less than 5 baths last month, at least two of them willingly…  a new record!
One of the sisters had made reference to the “2 smelly boys,” the 2 brothers. Should I get permission to include the comment here? Nah! Anyone with a brother gets it.

content forming

content forming

Mom and Dad contribute prayer, an important element in an ex-voto,
Thank you Dear Lord for the gift of our beautiful  Dolores.  Everthing she is reflects Your Goodness.
Thank you Dear Lord for the gift of Dolores.  Her life reflects Your Goodness.
A combination of the two goes into the art.

Mom notes: For Michael we can use the Volkswagen with a Marathon Run’s sign and traveling labels since he’s traveled to Mexico, South America and Europe. For Arthur, we can use Scrabble and a computer. The computer is his really passion and love.

Lots of ideas and images. The composition is active. I gather all information and make a decision. Simplify. Rather than include everyone as figures and stories into the ex voto, I will represent each one as a symbol. The figure of Dolores will be the focal point. It will become a puzzle for her to piece together. I inform the Marquez clan about the change and ask each to send me a symbol representing themselves. I don’t want them to discuss their choice with anyone. All of them will be surprised.

Gathering up this second round of information is as interesting and amusing as prior communication. The set up is clear and specific.
Mrs. Marquez’s sends out the word. It’s her blessing for my new idea….

Hi Monica and my children and grands,
You have been very patient with us trying to get our ideas.  I think that the artist should be given the freedom to create and not be hindered by ‘opinons’ or whatever from us.  Giving you ideas is ok but  us trying to guide you may not be in our or your best interest.  I say let us give you the symbols of each and you run with it, we have “helped” you enough.  The Good Lord has blessed you with lots of creative juices…go to it girl!!
It’s signed,

Ahhhh….the power.

Margarita: My mom is soooo funny and truthful!!!!  My image is one of two things…  a sewing machine or a piece of fabric with needle & thread.



Arthur: Dolores and I love to play Scrabble.  A Scrabble tile or two would be a perfect symbol for me. BTW, I love the idea of symbols for each of us…




In the past 10 years or so, I’ve become somewhat famous, in Marquez circles, for my stick people.  For the 40th birthday parties or for other celebrations in my family, I’ve retold stories using my stick people.




Martha:  I am a Registered Nurse.  The symbols I thought about were an oil lamp, candle, or healing hands.  I educate patients and promote natural remedies like good nutrition, exercise, massage, and change in thought to uplifting positive thinking.  The glowing hands might symbolize me the best.



pattysboots2Patty:  I wanted to use boots like shown here in black but make them pink like in the other picture.  I LOVE pink.  The “boots” are when we went on a trip together and I was SO excited that I got some boots.  (long story but Dolores knows) .

Dad:  For my symbol, use a lightning strike, for electrical engineering.

Mom: My symbol can be 5 little somethings and 2 little somethings representing the 7 kids, since that is all I did for the first 20 plus years of our marriage OR a  cane to represent my work in the field of aging.  Use whatever fits for your creation.
I chose the 7 little somethings (stars, inspired from Sandy Brophy’s needlepoint).

Michael is last but not least. A man of few words.  A VW is fine for me. Said and done.

This is exactly how this ex-voto came to be.

I include things from my own memory of Dolores. The dress, a reminder of the first time we connect here in Phoenix.  She arrives to one of my art openings dressed very elegantly, in black. The luminarios, I admire a string of them across her back door. The photo collage of her mom and dad, in the upper left corner, is from the anniversary invitation. Her kids, Elisa and Jose,  painted in as she is, are central to her life. Her home, the final design of the ex voto, represents sacred space. Family in book representation, clearly the book ends on either side of her, support from beginning to end.

The original image of Dolores presented her in long hair. Having already completed her in the work, one Saturday afternoon in February she came to dinner. She arrived with a new hairdo!  I’d hid the ex-voto, as well as all the photos and notes before she arrived to our home so she would know nothing. A secret. The day after the dinner I redid her hair in the artwork. It was a slight retouch, indicating the ex-voto was on its way to its current completion.
She’s cut her hair again since then.  Transition…it’s what life is all about.

Happy Birthday Dolores.

no woman is an island…contd.

Dolores purchased a work from my last solo, Mental Concoctions.  She was the first to arrive for the evening opening. She moved through the gallery slowly and then came to me and said “I want that one.” She pointed to a small self-portrait, casein on canvas, titled Truth and Lies. I hear that often so I don’t know when to take it serious. She said it a few more times, and then said, “Do I pay you now, or what?”  “You really want it?” “Yes, I really want it.”
This is how it is sometimes. I get surprised when someone responds to a work and wants to buy it. I recall asking “Why do you want it?” She explained.  She’d gotten it, she’d made a personal connection. It was a great way to start the opening…laying down a red dot on a sold painting…

Truth and Lies, Monica Aissa MartinezTruth and Lies,
Monica Aissa Martinez SOLD

I’ve known Dolores since we were kids. One day, last year she telephoned, “My siblings and I would like to commission you to create an ex-voto for my parents 50th wedding anniversary. Can you do it?” I took this commission for several reasons…family friends, 50th wedding anniversary, ex-voto. “Yes, I will be happy to do this.”  I looked forward to it.

An ex-voto is a votive, an offering to a saint for a particular prayer or asking fulfilled.  It represents devotion and thanks. It is considered folk art and is traditionally painted on tin. In small towns in Mexico, the ex-voto might be  made by the artist of the village. I was happy to take on this role, artist of the village. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen myself this way. It’s a sort of sacred position, at least in my eyes. Phoenix is a large city, with many artists, and one can feel insignificant, regardless of ones role.
She’d asked me early enough that I had plenty of time to research elements to be included in it, various parts of the story of her parent’s life.

The story…
Flash back…Susana a young teenage girl, wanting a good man in her life. Everyday she goes to St Patrick’s Cathedral (in El Paso, TX) and kneels at the altar of Our lady of Sorrows, Nuestra Senora de Los Dolores. She asks Our Lady to send a good man, if not soon, then one day. Susana promises Our Lady that if she does send a good man, and they marry, she will name their first-born after her.
Enter Albert.  Albert and Susana marry. Nine months later their first-born, is named Dolores.
Flash forward…Albert and Susana married 50 years, 7 adult children, full life, love and always present is God.

Marquez Ex-voto

Marquez Ex-voto

I took bits and pieces from their life story to form the design which I wanted to appear as folk art. Albert studied Electrical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso, the emblem, his presence.  Susana worked for an upholsterer, helping get him through school, hence the tack and hammer, hers.  Our Lady of Sorrows is present as is the young teenage Susana. The Cathedral is depicted. Education, always important to the family, is represented by the books which are titled with some of the other family values of travel, family, faith and God. The seven children and their parents are in the ex-voto as is their offering, a prayer of thanks. The sunset and mountain represented in the background would be familiar to anyone growing up in neighborhood of Sunset Heights. Susana’s family grew up in Sunset, as did my parents.

Susana and Albert renewing their vows

Albert and Susana celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary August 23, 2008.  My husband and I attended the event which included a mass officiated by Susana’s brother, who is a priest.  There was music, song, dance, food, many friends, and lots of family. The ex-voto was a surprise gift from the kids to their parents. A photograph of it was included on the cover of the evening schedule of events. All the guests received a copy. It served as a memento for everyone, including myself.