Author Archives: Janet Grace Riehl

My Life in Passports

Photo by Janet Riehl

Photo by Janet Riehl

Essay and photos by Janet Grace Riehl

A post on Facebook inquired “How many countries have you been to?” Okay, let’s count.

Europe = 11

Mexico & Colombia = 2

St. Vincent & Barbados = 2

Asia = 4

Africa = 16

For a grand total of 35

Photo by Janet Riehl

Photo by Janet Riehl

Top photo: high school year book photo Bottom photo: the world traveler sets forth

Some of these countries I merely passed through on my way to somewhere else.  In some I was a tourist. In a handful of countries, I was really there.

Now we come to My Life in Passports. In my collection I hold 8—including my current passport. These contain untold stamps and multiple extension pages.  I have 3 of the older, bigger, green ones which I used from 1968 to 1977 as I went to Europe twice and then later lived and worked for 5 years in Botswana and Ghana. I have 5 of the newer, smaller, blue ones spanning 1982 until now.

It’s the 3 green ones that draw me most strongly, for between 1968 to 1977—20 years old to 29—I grew more fully into my womanhood as I morphed from Janet G. Thompson (my maiden name) to Janet Grace Clark (my married name) to Janet Grace  Riehl (my grandmother’s maiden name, and the one I’ve kept since 1975).  Only three things stay the same. My hair and eyes remain recorded as “brown.” My height stays 5’4”. And the emergency contact is always my father Erwin A. Thompson always living at R. R. 2, Box 117, Godfrey IL, 62035. Through all my meanderings it’s family and the home place which anchor me.

Of these three green passports the 1975 one is my favorite.  It records my journey into the unknown—a true leap of faith—as I left Peace Corps after 3 years of teaching in secondary schools in Botswana and Ghana—to strike out on my own. Alone. I traveled on foot, public transport, and hitchhiking equipped with a small canvas rucksack holding one change of clothing and an orange nylon tent strapped to the top. The tent was secured with Ghanaian strip cloth I’d sown on in preparation for my journey.

Photo by Janet Riehl

Photo by Janet Riehl

I would travel from West Africa to Southern Africa where I found my calling back in Botswana working with villagers to set up a sewing center.  In Fall of 1975 I set off from Ghana traveling through Togo, Dahomey (now Benin), Northern Nigeria, and Cameroon in West Africa where I then caught a plane to Zambia. I continued overland through Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) entering Botswana on foot through the northern Botswana border gate of Kazungula on December 19, 1975. Then, my adventure began in earnest. After my work was done of launching the village sewing center (which later became a multi-village vocational-technical college), I went back to the United States via Malawi, Kenya, and Ghana. From fall of 1975 to fall of 1977 I lived on my Peace Corps re-adjustment allowance designed to cushion me during my transition back to America. I carried this money in my “bank.” The sheaf of travelers’ checks snuggled in a hidden pocket sewn into a long skirt of my design.

No wonder my parents worried about me. No wonder that they arrived to visit in 1976 begging me to come back home. In the 1970s security and job stability with a pension was real, not an illusion. How could I carry on in my adult life if I didn’t get started on that? And, most compellingly, my father told of his difficult adjustment coming back from World War Two.  If I didn’t come back to the United States soon, I never would be able to come back in any real sense inside myself. That clinched it, and I agreed that when my work was done I’d come home.

Photo by Janet Riehl

Photo by Janet Riehl

The 1975 passport photo shows a saucy young woman looking off to the side at someone outside of the frame. I no longer know who that was. She is wearing an outfit she designed and sewn by a local tailor made from traditional Ghanaian waxprint cloth. On the outside of her blouse she wears a necklace made from beads bought in an outdoor market. We can see the cord of a leather pouch tucked inside her bodice. She did well, this young woman. I send her my love across the years. She lives in me still. She shaped me into the woman I am today at nearly 66. She stepped out on space. She lived on love and fresh air. And, most importantly, this country girl who roamed the world found her way back home.

________________

Janet’s blog “Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century” is dedicated to creating connections through the arts and across cultures at www.riehlife.com

“How Do You Heal a Broken Heart?” by Erwin A. Thompson (for his youngest daughter)

Heart Springs Image by Janet Riehl

Heart Springs
Image by Janet Riehl

 

My father woke up in the night last week with part of this poem in his mind and walked into his dining room office to write it down on a construction clipboard on blue-lined paper. Where I found it the next morning.

As we chatted about it, I suggested it might be fun to try as an exchange of letters between the father and daughter. I’m so pleased that Pop agreed to experiment with my idea, yielding the poignant result below.

I particularly thrill to the lines: “Each task you did with love and skill/ Was like a work of art” as that exactly expresses for me the way I see my father approaching his work, and his love for fixing things. 

How do you heal a broken heart?

by  Erwin A. Thompson

For Janet, my youngest

Dear Daddy,

My dolly, when her arms came off,
You fixed as good as new.
And then you fixed my roller skates,
When they lost a screw.

Each task you did with love and skill,
Was like a work of art.
I’ve got another job for you.
What do you have to heal a broken heart?

Dear Daughter,

Well, Honey—I don’t righly know.
That’s a bigger job, by far.
You need to crawl up on my lap,
Or listen to my old guitar

There is a song for everything,
Sorting through the pile.
Soft, sad music for the heart break
And some will make you smile.

You always loved with all your heart,
You gave your treasure to a friend.
You gave your heart to careless hands
With heart break at the end.

I cannot change this careless, thoughtless world
Or its people, and the things they do.
Just come on home, and rest awhile;
And be ready when it’s time to start anew.

Daddy ‘n Me: Remembering Mother

Mother's memorial brochure

Mother’s memorial brochure

Pop and I are sitting are the kitchen table; I’m holding his hand. We’ve been singing “Remember Me (when candlelight is gleaming).” The words to our version are slightly different from the printed one.

The sweetest songs I know are songs of lovers
The sweetest days are days that once we knew.
The saddest words I heard were words of parting
When you said, “Sweetheart, remember me.

Remember me when candle lights are gleaming
Remember me at the close of a long long day
‘twoud be so sweet when all alone I’m dreaming
just to know you still remember me.

Me: Pop, do you still talk to Mother? (who died in 2006)

Pop: Sometimes. Sometimes she feels very close to me. Sometimes I just go about my business. Then something will remind me of a trip we took or something we said to each other.

Me: She’s always there with you, don’t you think?

Pop: Yes, I believe so.

Me: I think your vows went beyond “til death do you part.”

Pop: Most likely.

Me: You know that you’ve done another one of those coming back from the dead things, don’t you? You were getting so weak during the last month. Your mind went on vacation.

Pop: I guess.

Me: It was as if you were in a continuous waking dream. You were on the poetic radar of life far away from logic. You talked a lot about birds. “There’s going to be a big migration. We need to get someone in here who knows more about birds than we do.”

Pop: When did I say that?

Me: When your mind went on vacation. I felt that you were calling mother, our Master Birder.

Pop: Sounds like it.

And then we sing a bit more of “Remember Me”

You told me once that you were mine alone forever
And I was yours till the end of eternity
But all those vows are broken now
And we will never be the same except in memory.

Daddy Chat: Morning Time (the sun also rises)

February 2014 114

Photo and Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

Yesterday Pop’s walk with Charlie was cut short. He came back and crashed into bed around 3. Dead out. Still sleeping at 7 that evening. My brother Gary and I conferred, and decided to wake him up to get properly ready for bed. He took his breathing treatment, medicine, and took out his teeth. I read to him from one of the books that he’s written for ten minutes and he was off to dreamland once more. Or, maybe before

This morning as I moved through the dining room he called out, “I’m awake” earlier than he has been in quite awhile.

Pop: I had the best sleep last night.

Me: Yes, you did! You had a proper rest.

Pop: What’s happening today?

Me: Not much. Gary and Patty go home today. It’s the last day of August. Tomorrow is officially Labor Day.

Pop: What do we need to do?

Me: Let’s get your breathing treatment going. Then I’ll get your teeth and you can take your medicine. After his breathing treatment he pops right up.

Me: You’re strong today. I’m impressed.

But when I bring in the plastic container that holds his teeth and set it on his lap, he’s not so sure.

Pop: What do you want me to do?

Me: Put your teeth in.

Usually he’s an ace at this. Until a week ago he trotted into the bathroom and did this all by himself.

Pop: Where are they?

Me: Right here, Pop. On your lap.

He bumbles around. Gets them turned around.

Me: I think these are the bottom ones. Okay. The top ones. No, they go around the other way.

Each of these small markers is a tiny shock to us. A tiny grief. It’s the slow, slow fade, incremental, molecular that’s the hardest to take. Increasingly I see that courage is in these tiny daily details for all of us.

I camp out on the bed to make sure he gets all the pills down. He takes them along with tiny bites of a banana. He moves at a fast clip and gets them all.

Now to the trousers. I get the legs of the trousers over his legs–not deftly, but it’s done.

Me: Stand up now.

Pop: You want me to stand up?

Me: Yes.

Pop (grins a bit): I just wanted to make sure we were in agreement on the direction of progress.

I grin, too. It’s this mixture of confusion with droll wit that’s so endearing and slightly heartbreaking.

Pants up, shirt tucked in. I see that his oxygen tube is underneath his belt. We fix that.

Me: Off we go.

Pop: Where?

Me: To your chair.

He moves along at a fast clip for a guy who usually moves at a snail’s pace. Then he levers himself into his Lazy Boy.

When it’s time for breakfast, I outfit him with the cowboy apron I bought him so long ago. The design of the cowhand on his horse twirling his lariat is a little harder to make out with each washing.

Breakfast is standard: oatmeal with raisins. But Pop laid out the specs long ago. We have two aluminum measuring scoops at the ready that I’ve been using since girlhood (quite a long time ago!) 1/4 oatmeal. 1/2 cup water. Raisins. Two minutes in the microwave. Milk and sugar.

I serve his food on a large white enamel flat-bottom pan trimmed in blue. The iron shows through the corners. I can’t remember anymore what we used this for all these years ago. While he eats his oatmeal with dispatch, a goodly amount lands on his cowboy apron.

Me: Pop, that’s an Olympic record!

Pop: What’s happening this next week?

Me: Nothing special. All routine.

Pop: Then I can go to sleep now.

Me: Yes, and snooze throughout for the next five days.

I putter around in the kitchen until I hear my brother shaving Pop. Gary and I talk a few minutes in the kitchen to compare notes on what we know about Pop.

As Gary says good-bye to Daddy before he goes up to his house up the way, he says (with the boyish grin I don’t see often enough): “Don’t let Janet work you too hard.”

The sun shines through the window. The trees are green. Mother’s day lilies are blooming. All is well with our world.

_______________

Janet Grace Riehl lives on both sides of the Mississippi River between her place in St. Louis and her father’s place in Illinois on the bluffs that overlook the river.  Learn more about Janet’s work at http://www.riehlife.com. Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century. Creating connections through the arts and across cultures.

THE ZEN OF ART OPENINGS

A Star Is Born

“A Star Is Born”

Image and Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

This is my 70th Creative Catalyst  post since 2008. During that time so much has happened to me personally and in my creative life. Whether I’ve written about Daddy Care or Doodling you’ve responded and shared your lives right back. How appropriate, then, to tell you now about the culmination of artwork I began in 2011. All those doodles became a beautiful exhibit. Through Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection I claimed them as digital images—fine art. And, the opening of the show opened me.

In all the arts—literary, visual, performing—there is that moment where the art becomes public. There is so much creativity advice about how to inspire, coax and sustain our practice. But, there is little that I know of to help us move through and use the opportunity of shaping and showing our work for an audience.

A mentor once told me that “Your show is really for you. It shows you what you’ve been doing. It’s a time to take it in so that you can use what you’ve done as inspiration to go forward.” With all creative work it’s like that. In studio art made of paint or clay it’s even more striking to see your work altogether in a clean space.

Three equations expressed this protected time.

Work = Play

Play  = Work

Work + Play = Joy

In making the body of work, it worked because:

1) I had no ambition beyond making each image work on its own terms.

2) I let my images do the talking.

3) I taught myself (and taught myself how to teach myself) as I went.

4) I surrendered, and entered a state of easy-going exploration.

Every event has its challenges, and this one was no exception. My framer became sick unto death and I had to find a new one—while on holiday 2,000 miles from St. Louis in Northern California off the grid. “Set up a fashion show? In a month!” the head of the design department of a nearby college wailed when I asked if they’d participate. But, I urged them to continually redefine what a fashion show is, and they hit on a perfect orchestration that blended with and augmented the artwork to make the night even more fun.

Jump cut to opening night—a rousing success! Both on the outside and the inside. On the outside, it was everything any artist could wish, pray, and hope for:

  • Lots of people came. 100?
  • Lots of people bought art. We raised a goodly sum to benefit Portfolio Gallery (all the profits went to the gallery).
  • Everyone (including me) had a good time!
  • People didn’t only raise their glasses and chat. They actually looked at the work and appreciated it.

And for me, on the inside? My opening was an opening of me. An opening of my heart and soul.  There was so much love that allowed the work to happen. To be asked to show. To have a friend who took on all the technical work. To be on TV.  To experience the hilarity of 15 minutes of fame. To have my family and friends come. To have the joy of giving to Portfolio. To have the joy of seeing my work apart from my phone or Facebook transformed into elegantly framed images. The joy of people loving the work. Validating. Affirming. Filled with possibility and a sense of rightness.

______________

Want to read more Creative Catalyst posts about this latest art journey?

In June 2012 I described the wonderful surprise of visual art coming back into my life through “Doodling a Body of Work.”http://storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/doodling-a-body-of-work

In July 2014 I shared my happiness at my upcoming exhibit with “Bliss + Work = Results! Case study: Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection.”

http://storycirclenetwork.wordpress.com/2014/07/01/bliss-work-results-case-study-women-and-wardrobe-the-riehl-collection/

Learn more about Janet Riehl’s work on her blog magazine Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st Century (www.riehlife.com). With the mission to create connections through the arts and across cultures.

 

 

Bliss + Work = Results! Case study: Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection

Janet portrait

Photo by Henry Lohmeyer.  Essay by Janet Grace Riehl

“If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.”

 –Joseph Campbell

Yes, sometimes it does happen that way. In 2011 serendipity entered my life and I followed the thread. I started making art again using the small canvas of my phone. Three years later, I’m having a show. All along the way this new art love unfolded organically. Friends saw the possibilities and flooded me with suggestions for replication and marketing. I wasn’t ready. I wanted to protect my refuge of bliss.

But Robert Powell, the director of Portfolio Gallery in St. Louis, never let it drop. Finally, he simply said: “Come talk to me.” And now? We have Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection—an exhibit and fundraiser.

People moved in to help me make it happen. Curiously, for this celebration of women these helper-angels were all men: printing, framing, and showing the work. If you are in St. Louis, join us at the opening. If you can’t make the opening, the exhibit runs through the end of August. Just call Robert Powell (314) 533-3323 and he’ll arrange a time for you to see the work. If you’re not in the area, go to my website to see all 30 images I’ll be showing. 

I can’t say it much better than in my press release, so here you go.

Women & Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection

 PORTFOLIO GALLERY

3514 Delmar Blvd, St Louis, MO 63103

Exhibit and Fundraiser

Opening reception August 2, 2014

7-9 p.m.

Artist Janet Riehl works big—or, did—exhibiting large-scale paintings, sculptures, and outdoor installations in California, New Mexico, Latin America, and Europe. But, sometimes things come in small packages as proved by “Women and Wardrobe: The Riehl Collection” opening at Portfolio Gallery August 2nd .

Riehl was dazzled by African expressions of beauty during her five years working in Ghana and Botswana. Thus began a love affair that still ripples through her life and art. The images in this exhibit with their creative use of color and pattern strongly reflect these African influences.

Presented for the first time these 30 high-quality framed images signed by the artist are culled from the 2,500 she’s made on her phone since 2011. Portfolio will receive all profits from the sale of Riehl’s work. Cards and books featuring women and wardrobe images ensure that something is available for all pocketbooks.  You can also see a slide show of the larger body of work.

“I’d never imagined making digital art, let alone art on my phone,” says Riehl “I started by chance when a young friend asked for something to draw with. I reached for pen and paper in my purse, and she looked a bit crestfallen.” That night Riehl downloaded her first app, called “Doodler”—thus dubbing the images “doodles.”

This unlikely media turned out to be just the right thing at just the right time. “My studio was always with me with no muss or fuss.” Whether in Illinois taking care of her father (now 98) or back in St. Louis she made art before going to sleep, when she woke-up, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or even in the grocery line.

“It was just fun and captivating with no pressure to be great or establish an empire. It made me happy. When I started sharing the images on Facebook, I discovered they made other people happy, too.” She encouraged those she met to try their hand at doodling. “It’s such a joy to see people entertaining the notion that they have a little art in them.”

She first met Robert Powell, Executive Director and founder of Portfolio Gallery and Education Center as she explored African-American arts and culture in St. Louis upon her return to the Midwest. “I loved everything about Portfolio: its mission, the power of the art shown, Robert’s dedication to community service and talent as a sculptor, the opportunity to meet artists—some internationally renowned—and the gorgeous 19th century residence that resonates with St. Louis’ history. It was a no-brainer to use my show as a way to raise funds for this organization that has brought so much not only to St. Louis but, really, to American culture.”

Who is Janet Riehl?

Janet Riehl is an award-winning artist, writer, and educator. She describes herself as a country girl who roamed the world and then came home.  Her art is in collections in the United States, Europe, and Latin America.

In 1990 she mounted “Celebrating an African Experience,” an exhibit incorporating large-scale paintings on cloth, creative writing, chants, songs, dances, and ceremonies. The enthusiastic reception spurred her to earn a BFA from the California College of the Arts where she graduated with high distinction as a clay sculptor.

Janet’s focus on creating community through the arts led her to serve as West Coast Ambassador for An American Quilt, The Peace Project, and board member of EcoArts of Lake County. As Artist in Bioregional Residence (sponsored by University of California at Davis) she installed her art in state parks.

From large-scale paintings to sculpture to outdoor installations to digital art Riehl’s love of Africa ripples through.

 

 

 

 

Warning: Poems Save Lives (“Live in the layers. Not in the litter.”)

Fly Away Home  “Fly Away Home”

Image and essay by Janet Riehl. Poem “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz.

This morning readying for June’s Creative Catalyst post I opened a notebook  which turned out to be from 2008-2011. It fell open at page 31 to reveal Stanley Kunitz’ fine poem “The Layers.”  Ah, there’s the poem copied out in my own hand from a Memorial Booklet. It’s a poem of wisdom and compassion for self and others. Very much where I am now (and perhaps always have been).

I read the comments posted after the You Tube video of  Stanley Kunitz reading his poem “The Layers.” [Click to see.] People focus on how this is a poem of an older person. Some say what the heck is this about? Help me out here.

This poem is as close to my life story as anything  can get. It’s been the story of my life since my 20s. Now at 65 it’s still my life story. I believe our deepest life stories stay with us and do not change that much. I need no college course or poetry commentary or poetry discussion group to know in every syllable, word, and line  what this poem is about.

It’s about hope and heartbreak. It’s about the courage of not knowing. It’s about the fruits–both bitter and sweet–of a nomadic life of constant re-invention. Here you go.

Stanley Jasspon Kunitz (July 29, 1905–May 14, 2006) was a noted American poet who served two years (1974–1976) as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress (a precursor to the modern Poet Laureate program), and served another year as United States Poet Laureate in 2000.

THE LAYERS BY STANLEY KUNITZ

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

When I look behind,

as I am compelled to look

before I can gather strength

to proceed on my journey,

I see the milestones dwindling

toward the horizon

and the slow fires trailing

from the abandoned camp-sites,

over which scavenger angels

wheel on heavy wings.

Oh, I have made myself a tribe

out of my true affections,

and my tribe is scattered!

How shall the heart be reconciled

to its feast of losses?

In a rising wind

the manic dust of my friends,

those who fell along the way,

bitterly stings my face.

Yet I turn, I turn,

exulting somewhat,

with my will intact to go

wherever I need to go,

and every stone on the road

precious to me.

In my darkest night,

when the moon was covered

and I roamed through wreckage,

a nimbus-clouded voice

directed me:

“Live in the layers,

not on the litter.”

Though I lack the art

to decipher it,

no doubt the next chapter

in my book of transformations

is already written.

I am not done with my changes.

Stanley Kunitz, “The Layers” from The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz. Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.  Reprinted by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Source: The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2002)

_________________

Janet Riehl is a country girl who roamed the world and then came home. So many countries, so many homes, so many heartbreaks, and so many hopes. You can read more at Riehl Life: Village Wisdom for the 21st century  where the mission is to create connections through the arts and across cultures.