Steel Sharpens Steel

This morning I received an email saying, “The living and true God makes every one and every thing exactly what they and it are at any given moment, and He is the way to navigate every situation at all times.”

It is in harmony with the several other quotes I keep by my kitchen sink, reminding us that everything is from the wisdom and love of God.

“Remember this, had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, divine love would have put you there.” – C. Spurgeon

G. Edwards wrote, “Again, I am awed by the number of Christians who find it utterly impossible to take this experience as from the hand of God… something that He meted out to them because He loved them, that this experience had divine purpose.”

God’s word: ” …for from Him, through Him and to Him are all things.”

Knowing these things doesn’t make suffering any easier… nor does it make the sword pleasant. Suffering is by its nature very unpleasant, yes? Yet, it IS meted out by the hand of God to those He loves… whom He loves…. and even more, we forget what we know in the midst of suffering, until He gives grace… until we all are surrendered to His will… until He transforms us into the image of His Son….

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Sufferings – 16″x 12″ – Oil

Husbands and wives, workers and friends, things in the world… He uses all things to produce a suffering which produces refinement, sharpening, dependence. It is humbling to be the spur or channel through which another suffers. Every time. Still, I seem to “do better” at causing pain than receiving pain. God have mercy. I would that I did not cause another pain, yet God gives this and may use this to produce “a weight of glory.”

The Spirit of Jesus living through us is “the way to navigate every situation.” We die to our self not by our own will.

 

Couples Portraits

Today I saw a double portrait of the Kroyers from the 1800s. They painted each other on the same canvas. I’ve never done that, but it got me thinking of “couples portraits.”

There have been a few times I painted couples portraits, and quite a few more with multiple people in it – not begun as a portrait, but recognizable none the less. Here are some of my “intentionally painted couples” portraits.

Most of the time, the couples stay together. There is quite a bit of history in these paintings. The top left couple have been married over 30 years; top middle were married  over 60 years until the husband died; top right couple got married after this painting was made of them singing together. This was not painted as a portrait, but of lifestyle, included in a western exhibit I was in. She was especially adoring, I thought.

In the next grouping, the top left couple have been married over 60 years. The middle left couple were engaged in this painting. The bottom left couple were married about two years when I painted this. The bottom right couple were married 20 years at the time of painting.

Really, I love painting portraits as much as I panic while painting them. Capturing a likeness doesn’t always come so easily for me… it can be a very intense undertaking. I work very hard to capture the people. When I’m painting groups of people or painting other people, they sometimes end up looking so much like the people that they are almost too specific to sell as “just paintings.” I do enjoy the people most of the time while painting them, liking them, sometimes loving them.

One time I painted a man who I did not like very much, and it showed up in his eyes. The portrait was true, but it captured something I was not comfortable with. It’s really much better to love the people you are painting.

What happens to these very specific paintings? Well, usually the people want them. Sometimes not. What happens when they split up… and you have a portrait that ended up quite nice, but it is no longer “true”? One time I learned of a couple divorcing just as the painting was finishing. I had worked nearly 2 months on that one. Oh my. Needless to say, even though the painting was very nice, the portrait was no longer needed. I destroyed that one.

Every painting tells a story, but to me, people paintings have the biggest stories… so rich, so varied, so living.

Faraway, Yet Near

Near the entrance to the amazing Chiricahua National Monument, is the original homestead of the Riggs family, called “Faraway Ranch”. The family settled there and then founded “The Wonderland of Rocks”, later becoming  “The Chiricahua National Monument”.

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Entrance to Faraway Ranch – 24″x 20″ – Oil – (Photo from older photograph, maybe early 2000. I do not remember where this original painting is now – nor the title ).

It is a beautiful walk into the ranch area, you feel yourself coming home in a way… it warms you as you come closer to pass by the old buildings past the fence, on the trail that leads to the main house.

There was something really odd while I was there one day, walking back from the house toward the old buildings. I do not know what the buildings were… work sheds, out-buildings maybe. But I thought for sure there were chickens there at one time.

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Wooden Fence at Faraway – about 20″x 14″ – Watercolor

I loved the pathway that passed this fence, and the light through the trees… the calm light gracing everything. It was peaceful. Yet, for just a moment I thought a woman walked by me with a basket of eggs in her hand, walking on this pathway. But there was no one there.

Everywhere there was evidence of lives lived, hearts given, times gone by.

Maybe that’s why these paintings came to mind this new year. Yesterday I read of someone else’s experience of his life lived, of the memories now being longer than the time remaining, of the “owning” of our own imminent bodily death. But then, “And then I lift my head and look about me at the river and the valley, the great, unearned beauty of this place, and I feel the memoryless joy of a man just risen from the grave..”

The memoryless joy of a man just risen from the grave…. a new creation, in resurrection life. Gone is the old and the new is here. Jesus said He is making all things new. All things. Not only now, in this life and the ages to come for those who believe, but all things.

Our time on this earth may be a shadow, or passing wind, but in Him is Life… His Life never ends. His Being IS, WILL BE, WAS…. of His kingdom there is no end.

So here, I look about me at…the great, unearned beauty of this place, and feel joy. I am grateful for this life/time that remains on earth, until we go home.

It really is a gift.

 

Community Library

I was reminded of this work by a post on FaceBook by the people who run the George Walker House Bed and Breakfast in Paradise, Arizona. It snowed there today.  But I’m not writing about them today, even though you might look them up on the web. They are expert birders, chocolate makers, and talented stained glass makers, as well as gracious hosts.

There are about nine different biomes in the “Sky Islands” area of Arizona, New Mexico  and Mexico, ranging from arid desert to 7000 ft. mountains.  Different plants and animals survive and thrive in desert and mountains, and it is one of the most prominent birding places, being on a migrational route. But I am not writing today about the natural splendor of the area, or the National Monument, (though I will in the future), today only about a community in the Chiricahua Mountains that is named “Portal”.

The climate and acclaim of Portal draws people from all over the United States, many upon retirement. Portal lays claim to a very educated population, bringing with them their expertise in all matters of science including stargazing, biology, geography, history, entomology, and more. The Chiricahua Gallery is there, with some very good art and some of community interest. Many people volunteer to “sit the gallery” to keep it available, and they offer community lessons in art. They are worthy of acclaim as well, as active and knowledgeable as they all are. However, that is not what I am writing about today, either.

In the center of the charming hamlet is an old school building, that has been converted into a library, setting immediately next to the post office.

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Portal Library – Watercolor

Sycamore tree and American Flag by the porch of the post office. Both are watercolor.

The second flag painting is a tribute to 9-11. There are watermarks on these images, just not as apparent as Tom’s painting.

The library in itself is a special little place, having a fine selection of books and friendly volunteers. The volunteers that make it even greater, offering library help, but also special activities throughout the year for children and adults. It is a community gathering place. Many “meet and greet” at the post office and library.

The Library painting hangs in the Library in Portal. It is an honor to “hang” there. I do not remember where the other two are, but I loved painting them. I love the sycamore tree, the creek running near by, and the memory of times there.

Portal also boasts of an exceptional all volunteer fire department and rescue.

I enjoy working in watercolor at special times, when I want to cozy in and work smaller. It is a special mode to sketch in the drawing, working from light to dark – instead of dark to light as in oil painting. Leaving the white spaces bright enough is vital. While working, watercolor is a much more precise medium than oils – there is little room for error, even though in other ways there is so much more freedom.  I keep some rags ready for absorbing. My brushes are always Windsor & Newton Series 7 – I think they are the best in every way. My paints are usually either Windsor & Newson or Daniel Smith.  I really like the heavier watercolor paper, preferably Arches 300 lb. rough or cold press, (but I do not scrub much).

 

A Friend

The “random” setting on my screensaver brings memories and works to mind. Today my friend Tom went by, and my heart was happy to remember him.

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I can’t remember the exact size, but it must have been 12″x 16″ or so, in oil. I hope I named it “My Friend Tom Tom”. That’s what I’ll call it today. He usually doesn’t wear a watermark across his neck, that it there to stop people from making posters and mugs of things that isn’t of their own creating. So, I apologize for that distraction.

Tom, himself, is wonderful, a kind and determined man.

I don’t think he’s mind me telling you that the sign on his office wall read, “Never give up! Never give up! Never give up!” He magnified the things he could work with, and suffered the things he suffered with equal grace and determination.

He ran a coffee shop, which in its day, was the best. He said he liked to “create experiences” when he made your coffee or whatever was your delight.  He also had hair, but at this point in time, he didn’t. I thought he was feisty and nice looking.

We moved away and I no longer hang my work in his shop or see Tom, but I think of him occasionally, when I drink coffee, or look at the cabinet he traded me that I now use for art supply storage. Lovely. He is no less my friend just because I do not see him.

The painting itself is one of my favorites that I’ve done. I didn’t struggle with it then, but now I wonder how I painted it. He owns the painting, and last I saw, it was hanging in his shop.

I praise God for Tom Tom.

Following the Work

There are pieces that want to be painted. They literally show you what they are, and we become a servant to the work. This was one of those.

The vertical climb of the Hope above the flying seagulls lifts one’s soul from the earth, to a more beautiful place.

I loved spending time with the Lord in this piece, a reflection of a part of my time staying in a more primitive cabin next to a small lake, healing, learning, remembering.

Layer by layer, I followed the work, and then the seagulls began to fly.

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Rising, Like Hope  – 18″x 36″ – Oil

“Rising, Like Hope” was a piece in my first one man art show, along with Empty Nester and Earl’s painting – there were around 20 paintings there. Most were seeking Hope.

The painting went home with a man who purchased it from that show, we had our photo taken together in front of the painting. I was pleased it went home with someone who truly knew how to rise. It is a piece I hope I see again.

 

 

In Memory of Earl

Maybe it’s the overcast sky that brings me to these memories.

Twelve years will have passed in the first week of January since my dad died.

It felt as if the universe shifted… a vacancy so large that it took a quake to fill it. I never thought he’d be gone.

When in Michigan for his burial and settling other things, we almost couldn’t bury him because the frost line was 6 feet deep. However, because he was in an urn, they were able to “tuck him in” before I went home.

The idea of that frost line stayed with me while snowed into the Chicago airport. Somehow I didn’t mind this time in the airport, overnight with other stranded folk. The wings of the planes were iced over. The ground was frozen deeply. I thought about what else lied beneath the frostline, and what remained above.

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Beneath the Frostline – 14″x10″ – Oil ©Bohlender

It was a little like being in shock – the sense of unreality. When I came back home, I went to call him to tell him what a lovely day it was down in the southwest. That’s when it hit me that he was really not there anymore.

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“In Memory of Earl” – 30″x 24″ – Mixed Media ©Bohlender

My dad was a hunter, an outdoorsman, a unique man. He always said he was born a hundred years too late. He was a character, genuine and true, even where flawed. He loved me. I do not remember a time when I was younger, out “truckin’ ” across the USA, when he did not help me get started again. He was Swede, proud of it. He was not proud of his French heritage.

He was sick toward the end of his life, and ready to go. He had returned to the area of his birth and childhood because he wanted to die and be buried there.

I painted this while grieving his loss. The bark is from the birch trees in the area, the landscape of near where he grew up; his grave and urn a solid reminder of his death, yet his walking away in the background a reminder of him having been and life yet to come.

Catching up with some of the family, I did get to hear stories of dad and his relatives, and find a sense of roots that I had never known before – being accepted locally because my great grandparents and others were buried nearby. I met my grandma’s brother, and saw myself in his eyes. What an amazing thing to touch roots like that.  And, the family homestead was nearby, the barn still standing then.

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Family Homestead – 36″x 12″ – Oil ©Bohlender

This place was alive in me from my childhood. Now the barn is blown down and another generation is passing away, but I have a taste of my earthly roots.

All of these paintings are with different family members. They are some of the most heart-felt pieces I have ever painted.

Below is my grandma’s brother. I was able to spend a little time with him while living, still relatively hardy even at 94. His death was grievous to me as well. I spent a little time with him before he died; then also in my art, even though I couldn’t be there in person.

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“Uncle Dying” –  14″x 11″ – Oil ©Bohlender

I have been grateful to know some of where I came from, even if it took my dad’s passing to touch my earthly roots. We could never go there, until it was time.

Now I contemplate more my own leaving, my heavenly heritage and citizenship in the Lord’s kingdom. Death is a doorway, a beginning. We are all going home at His appointed time. Praise God.