Momento Mori

When I was hanging out with some League of NH Craftsmen members a few months ago, one of them shared a silkscreen print she had created of a pine cone. Not everyone in the group was an artist, so when she said, "I keep that pine cone in my studio," some people looked at her a little funny. They were wondering why someone would keep a dead thing in their working space.

But not me - I understood completely. I have quite a few skeletons in my studio closet - piles of shells and shell fragments, sticks and dried leaves, along with a few seal bones.

The bones are always out in the open. They don’t smell anymore, but they did years ago when I first collected them on a rocky beach in ME. Sometimes I draw them. Most of the time, I just admire their forms while I am between other projects.

The sand dollars and sea shells are nestled in boxes since they are fragile. Some years, the tides offer up large, intact sea urchin exoskeletons and sand dollars. Since they are quite rare in New Hampshire, I treasure the ones I have found over the decades.

Within my piles and piles of sketchbooks are drawings of these bones and shells because the shapes are so intriguing.

A few years ago, I set up a more formal still life of sea urchin shells and painted it. It was so much fun that I did another one.

Last spring, I brought a dead beech branch into the house and painted a small still life of leaves, twigs and shadows.

I don’t know why I never showed them to you before now. I guess I was worried you'd think it was creepy - spending that much time with the dead.

Whether it's creepy or not, here are the paintings of the urchin shells and the beech leaves.

When I am painting or drawing anything, it loses its identity and becomes an arrangement of shapes and colors and lines and I forget it's a dead thing for a while. Which probably means I could pick subjects that were less morbid.

Or not.