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Visiting an artist

October 5, 2009—Green Lakes State Park was a case of YAWC (Yet Another Wooded Campsite), so I won't bore you with the photo (unless you click that link). My small campsite had plenty of electricity, plenty of trees... and plenty of mud. In fact, it has rained every day for the past two weeks, which makes me yearn for New Mexico's sunny climate. Lack of sunshine for more than a day or two depresses me—I lose ambition and just want to curl up with a good book or movie.

Rainy days

The next morning I slept late while the rain drizzled down. After breakfast I made a batch of gingerbread, put it in the oven, and then drove to the campground office to pay for my stay.

It turns out that the NY state parks have a rather clumsy system. To begin with, all campsites are reservable—or from my point of view, all sites must be reserved, which is a pain when, like me, you'd rather not be tied to schedules. (Hey, I'm retired!) But unlike all other state parks I've been in, these people don't put "reserved" placards on posts at the campsites, so you can't tell whether a site has been reserved without going to the campground office... which is closed most of the time, due to funding cuts.

Even when it's open (I was lucky!), they can't give you a list of the reserved sites. Instead, you have to drive around the campground, make note of some likely sites, then go back to the office and see whether one of them is available for the period you want. If not, you have to go back to the campground and look some more, then return to the office and pay. This is an unnecessarily cumbersome system for both campers and staff.

Add to that the fact that in this campground the sites are very small, muddy, unlevel, and there are no pull-throughs, and I wasn't left feeling very charitable toward NY state parks. But eventually I did manage to reserve another site for seven days (at about $22 a day)... and then was told to go back and move my rig immediately, even though nobody had reserved my current site until Friday.

When I got back to Skylark, the rig smelled deliciously of fresh gingerbread, which magically improved my mood. And despite all the rain, I did have something to look forward to that day: I was going to visit my good friend and former officemate Holly Knott in Skaneateles.

I have to make a confession here: when I first met Holly back in the early nineties, I didn't pay much attention to her. She was so quiet that I thought there wasn't much going on. Well, that was my loss. It wasn't until ten years later, when a software project brought us together as officemates, that I discovered how wrong I'd been. As I got to know Holly, I realized that she was smart as a whip, highly articulate... and an artist with talents that go way beyond mine. The designed-by-committee software we were turning out didn't give those talents a chance to shine, but when I saw her paintings and—especially—her quilts, I was bowled over.

We're not talking about traditional block quilts here; Holly creates textile art—paintings made with fabric. Consider her 28" x 40" rendering of the four-century-old Lafayette Sycamore at Brandywine Battlefield in Pennsylvania:

Lafayette Sycamore

It's not your grandmother's log cabin quilt, but it's a stunning piece. On a smaller scale, I love her 16.5" x 16" quilt "Salsa!", inspired by fresh vegetables from her garden that ended up as a spicy sauce in her kitchen:


(You can see more of Holly's work, including art quilts, cards, and other gift items, on her website.)

The more I saw of Holly's work, the more impressed I was... and the more time we spent working together, the better friends we became. So when she moved to upstate New York with her husband Paul to pursue a full-time art career, I was sorry to see her go, but delighted that she was following her dreams. Since then, we've kept in touch via frequent emails, and collaborated on a website for people who want to photograph textile art inexpensively, "Shoot That Quilt!".

In the past five years, Holly's artwork has been featured in many shows and galleries. In addition, last year she wrote a book called "Quilted Garden Delights," featuring eight easy yet beautiful quilting projects based on her mother's watercolors. (Holly's mother Diane Knott is a successful commercial artist and fabric designer.)

But despite all the good reviews and recognition Holly's work has garnered, it's hard to sell "wall art." People buy jewelry, ceramics, and other small artwork on impulse... but when it's something that hangs on the wall, that's a bigger decision. Holly's been co-owner in a couple of small-town co-op galleries, but sales were sporadic at best.

Coffee Pot Cozy

Sorry, I didn't mean this to turn into a plug for my friend! But Holly does such excellent work, thanks to a combination of her artistic eye, excellent design skills, and knack for clear writing, that I can't help bragging about her work... it really is topnotch! (And while I'm on the subject, she's also an outstanding website designer.)

Holly's corner of Gallery 54

It was a rainy drive to Skaneateles. I bought coffee for us at a nearby shop, Holly added some of her favorite pumpkin spice latte-in-a-bottle mix, and we munched on fresh gingerbread while we chatted about old times and recent events. She showed me the corner of the gallery where her work was on display at the time, and I tried to take her picture, but it didn't come out well because of the lighting. (Here's a portrait taken by her husband Paul.)

A few customers wandered in from time to time, but on a rainy fall weekday there's not a lot of tourist traffic, so we mostly had the place to ourselves. As with Lou and Julie, I felt immediately at home with Holly, even though we hadn't spoken face to face in four years. But all too soon it was time to close up the shop, and I headed back to my campground in a much better mood than I'd left it.

Next stop: New Jersey.

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