Thursday, December 24, 2009


Excitement built in me all day long as I watched the clock in my fifth grade classroom tick...tick...tick toward that magical moment when the bell sounded the end of the school day. Normally I loved school, but two days a week I couldn’t wait to be released so I could head for the after-school activities at the Northeast Neighborhood House. We called it the Nut House, a name I never understood until, as an adult, I learned that this Minneapolis settlement house was so named by the local residents who, during the Depression, thought anyone who’d give away food, health information, etc. must be nuts.
By the ’50’s, my girl friends and I saw it as nothing more than a great place to take tap dancing lessons and act in plays. My favorite was the arts and crafts classes. I looked with excited anticipation to see what each new session would offer. I remember with a warm fondness the hours spent making Christmas bells out of the tops of tin cans: cut four equidistant slits toward the center of the lid of a tin can. Do not let the slits to meet. Pound a nail through the center of the the lid, thus leaving a hole. Open a paper clip and slip it through the hole, leaving one end of the paper clip as a hook. Attach the other end of the paper clip to the bell. Bend the four sections of the tin lid downward. Attach a little red bow on the top of the paper clip and a jingle bell on its opposite end. Apply a little glue and a lot of glitter and there you have it...a sweet little ornament.
No one worried about kids using tin snips or manipulating sharp-edged tin can lids. Cuts? Blood? Iodine and Bandaids? Probably, but I don’t recall that. All I remember is the elation I felt when I brought these stunning (to my eye) creations home.
Now I’m in my mid-60’s and while I still love making things, I hadn’t had the opportunity to revisit that eager anticipation I knew back in the “Nut House” days until this fall when Three Rivers Park District (previously Hennepin County Parks) opened Silverwood Park in the northeast area of Minneapolis. It’s a stunning place: 32 acres of oak and maple that wrap around the northern side of Silver Lake. A small cafe serves wraps, ice cream, and the best fresh brewed coffee in town...all organic. But the best part is that it offers some wonderful art workshops, and not just for kids! Pottery, book making with handmade papers, relief printing...and my current find: Intro to Botanical Painting. Under the skilled guidance of Marilyn Garber, recent president of the American Society of Botanical Artists, I’ve discovered a discipline I never thought I’d fall in love with. I signed up for this because I figured that if you want to improve as a jazz pianist, you’re well advised to study classical piano. This kind of discipline and exactitude, along with color analysis, was just what I needed. But what I’m finding is the intense pleasure in a zen-like, focused experience. Just me, the gorgeous colors of nature, and my paint brush.
A few brush strokes and I’m a fifth grader again, happily creating art at the Nut House.

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