38th Voyage Part Two: Morning Muster

This past July, I had the honor of being selected as one of 79 “38th Voyagers” to sail on the restored whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, as she made her way along the New England coast. The program, through Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and partly funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, sought to bring artists, scientists, writers, and other academics on board, to see what their experiences would create.

I was placed in the Provincetown to Boston leg, and what follows is my own experience on the ship:

Part Two

“Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it, and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with magic.”  Herman Melville


As we slept on the Charles W. Morgan, we were protected by a beacon of light. Hanging above the bowsprit of the ship, this nightlight was a sentinel, letting all other ships know that we were moored for the night.

The morning of our sail, I awoke suddenly in my bunk, wondering why I was rocking. Then I remembered, I had spent the night sleeping on a ship, safeguarded by a night light. I lay there for a moment, wondering if it was time to get up, when one of the crew came into the fo’c’sle and said gently, “OK voyagers, this is your 5:15 wake up call. It’s a little wet out there, so put on some layers.”

I maneuvered myself out of the tight quarters, scurried over to the littlest sink I’ve ever seen to brush my teeth, decided makeup was superfluous, and put a sweatshirt on under my official Voyager t-shirt. I hope I brushed my hair, but can’t be sure I did in my haste to get on deck.

I climbed the ladder up to the deck, thinking of coffee and maybe a roll or pastry, like this was some pleasure cruise. Instead, I was greeted by this sight:

voyage14_sunrise_pulling anchorANCHORS UP!!

The crew was already hard at work, preparing to haul the anchor and get ready to move. They must have been awake at 4 am – they let the landlubbers sleep in, apparently. Crew members were running all over the deck, and Sam, the chief mate, was shouting out orders that were shouted back in repetition by the deckhands. I quickly began drawing the action, coffee can wait!

morgan37and38_anchorsup!_blogcrew co-operation

The pinkish morning light was struggling to take over the white sky as the soft rain barely fell on us. The atmosphere was beautiful and the weather felt very appropriate for our endeavor. The captain began organizing the other 38th voyagers to help bring up anchor. I stayed put on deck near the try pots and drew the scene. The 38th Voyagers were quite excited to be involved in the experience, and several of them looked with unconcealed elation at the stain of tar left on their hands by the rope.

morgan36_towing the anchorAs  a big storm was headed in our direction, the decision had been made for the tug Sirius to tow us most of the way to Boston, assisted by the sails. The crew slid the large cotton sails along the lines of rigging on rings, somewhat like a shower curtain, (although maybe the rain affected my perception of that.) The morning light hitting the sail creating a luminous glow, the rain fell gently, and the air was calm. We were going out to sea.


I went to the stern of the ship, where Dana was helping un-moor the tug Sirius, so the little boat could maneuver ahead and begin the towing. Sunrise was in full effect and Provincetown slept peacefully while the work to unfurl the sails continued at a frantic pace.

voyage1_dana_disconnects the tug siriusvoyage15_together_thinner

It may be cliché, but I can’t help but remark that a sailing vessel is the perfect metaphor for co-operation. I ran all over the deck that morning, trying to draw and keep up with the sailors as they heaved, pulled, pushed, climbed, unfurled, straightened out, bent, and maneuvered those cotton sails to their will.

The earliest illustration of a ship under sail can be found on a disc from Kuwait, dating from the late 5th millenium BC.  The utter hubris of the thought that we could control the winds and the sea with a few wooden sticks and a piece of cloth is mind boggling, especially when I think of what technologies were not available in those early times. To my untrained sailing eyes, the whole set up feels precarious – “we’re going where, to do what, in what?” – would be my first thought upon joining a whaling voyage. It’s all about rope and sticks, and it amazes me every time I think about how the world changed due to the invention of sailing vessels, and the belief of sailors who trusted the ships with their lives.

voyage18_starboard sheet! _2

The sails unfurled and billowed over the deck as the crew pulled the rigging this way and that. Like trying to control the breath of the universe and bending it to your will. I guess that’s why they call it “bending the sails.” If we could all pull together as a species to heal our environment in the way that this crew pulls together to get the sails up on the Morgan, I think there might just be a chance of leaving something worth having to the next generation.

As I was drawing, Robert and I spoke a little about the poetry of the winds filling the sails, and he mentioned Buddhist breath meditation: the philosophy that simple mindfulness of breath in meditation can lead to enlightenment, and knowing. Watching the white sails unfurling against a whiter sky, I felt certain that this must be true.

Laying out Sails morningBut for the crew, hard work was the meditation of the moment. They moved and breathed as one unit, and got the sails into the correct placement to aid little Sirius in our journey to Boston. The complications of the physics of sailing are myriad, and I am not an engineer, so for those readers interested to read more you can click this LINK as a beginning.

Once the sails were set and the Sirius attached, we began to move. My growling stomach and approaching headache prompted me to go to the stern of the ship, where there was a decidedly modern coffee machine. (Pragmatism wins again!)

voyage4_jean-michele_and_annAs I reached for the coffee, a teasing voice called out, “it’s all gone!”

 It was Jean-Michele Cousteau, the famous scientist, film maker, and son of Jacques Cousteau. I was happy that Jean-Michele was on our voyage, I admired his work and had met him two days earlier in Provincetown, where he had been complimentary toward the mural that Dalvero Academy was doing on the wharf. He had offered some good advice too – keep it simple in your explanation, let the art do the talking. Sweet.

I respect his work, and loved his playfulness on deck. It seems that the most professional people know how to play the best. Definitely a flirt, he moved about teasing the female deck hands, who enjoyed flirting back. In this picture (up and to the left) he is having a more serious conversation with Anne Grimes Rand, president of the USS Constitution museum. And by the way, there was coffee to be had, thankfully. ;)


I sipped my coffee and noticed how even on a ship, everyone congregates around the water cooler, so to speak. Susan Funk told me that this is where we get the term, “scuttlebutt” since the sailors would gather around the barrel with fresh water, a butt (cask) that had been scuttled, meaning a hole put in it for water to get out. So much of our culture stems from the sea, I had no idea.

As everyone talked, I climbed below to have some breakfast: cereal, rolls, fruit. John and I perched on some barrels and talked a bit about the experience so far while we ate. Then we heard a call for everyone to gather on deck.

Captain Kip Portrait colorCaptain Kip Files introduced himself and the rest of the Morgan crew and Mystic staff. He spoke about how thrilled he felt to be the captain of this vessel on this voyage, and the other Mystic people echoed his sentiment. Elysa Engelman, the Mystic museum director, told us that this was the voyage she chose, and how excited she was to be on the Morgan as we arrived in Boston harbor. Museum vice-president Susan Funk nodded in agreement, smiling.Elysa_Engelman_Susan_Funk_2


We were all asked to introduce ourselves – 38th Voyagers, guests, and patrons – and say a few words about how we arrived on the Morgan, and why we wanted to be there. Some of us had more to say than others, but we all told a similar tale of how we wanted to be a part of this historic event, and how Mystic Seaport was unprecedented to create this experience for us. The former president of Mystic, Douglas Teeson, spoke of the beginnings of the restoration, and how he never imagined she would sail. He graciously thanked current president Stephen White.

And we spoke of how important it was to take the largest and only surviving symbol of our whaling past and environmental degradation, and turn it into the largest new symbol of our changing perceptions of the natural world, and our commitment to heal it. Ryan, the stowaway, added that he felt honored to be the first person to see whales from aloft in 100 years, especially since there was no hunt to follow!


We all had many things to say.

But Jean-Michele said the most: “I am Jean-Michele. I am a diver.” We laughed, but it was quite profound. Simple humility in the face of nature, a good lesson for all of us.


And then Thomas Sullivan made a formal presentation to the Captain of the wood  from the Charlestown Navy Yard, that his family had salvaged and donated to Mystic Seaport for the restoration of the Morgan. (Read more HERE.) Thomas has been taking this wood around the world, including sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, and the voyage on board the Morgan was an important part of the trip. The captain gamely thanked Thomas, and photos were taken.

The rain had let up, and people were moving about the deck, settling in as we moved smoothly through the waters of Cape Cod Bay. Robert set up his navigation equipment, there was a videographer interviewing the Second Mate, and people sat in groups, discussing matters great and small.


Robert with his equipment, John and Carol converse.

Only the crew did not relax, and Sam, the First Mate, was ever vigilant at the prow.


Paul O-Pecko watches as Sean is interviewed, Sam looks out.

I asked Sam about the 38th voyage, and what he thought he would take away from it. “About 2/3rd of the hull,” he answered, laughing, “we’re gonna cut her off right at the foreshrouds.”

“No, seriously,” he continued, “I’ve taken away a really great experience to sail the real deal, and to have been able to get to know the ship, just a little bit, ’cause she’s such a sweetheart of a sailor. And you can tell why there were people for 90 years who thought it was worth it to take this ship to sea.” I asked him what he meant by that: “She does everything you want her to do, and there’s no mystery to it.  You throw her up into the wind, and she does that the way you want her to, she heaves to, she stops the way you want her to…she’s very docile. And that’s something actually something that often, in replica square riggers,  they don’t do things that you want them to do, or they will end up doing things that surprise you…the surprising thing about this one is it does everything that we think it should do.  From all the accounts that you read of how they used to sail these ships…you sail this one and this one actually does do it. You say, oh, that’s ’cause it’s the genuine article.”

He looked out over the water and continued: “You can’t build this ship again, the way this ship is… you can’t actually replicate this…there’s stability requirements for modern construction, things that alter the shape, and the intent, and the spirit of what these ships were, just enough that you have these sort of unintended consequences that you almost can’t really measure in the sailing qualities, but you just know that they’re not there.”

sails with fog and purple

“It’s like the difference that makes the difference,” I said, quoting Gregory Bateson.

“Right,” he replied, “…and this whole ship, it’s a painting, it’s this piece of artwork with all these details, that if you take one shade of purple out of the painting it looks a little different, but you’re not really sure why.”

Beautifully said.

I wanted to ask him more, but he very quickly had to get back to work. More yelling, pulling, heaving, calling out, and such, as the deck became alive again with the movements of the sailors. The weather had shifted, and the sails had to shift with it.

“Round the Corner Sally!”

The call out and repeat of a traditional work shanty rang out across the deck. The shanty singing kept spirits high and muscles strong as the sailors pulled the line to get the sails where they needed to be. You could just see the adrenaline pumping; it was thrilling to watch.


And the crew was in the rigging, and the sails shifted again…

voyage 16_working the rigging…and the fog rolled in.

fogCaptain Kip Files and Chief Mate Sam Sikkema look out into the fog.

The 38th Voyage, part one

This past July, I had the honor of being selected as one of  79 “38th Voyagers” to sail on the restored whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, as she made her way along the New England coast. The program, through Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, and partly funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, sought to bring artists, scientists, writers, and other academics on board, to see what their experiences would create.

I was placed in the Provincetown to Boston leg, and what follows is my own experience on the ship:

Part One

“I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing.” - Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Sailing on a 19th Century whaling ship is not something I ever expected to do in my life. The whaling industry is not a particularly appealing part of American history: the hunt seems so harsh to 21st Century eyes. And yet, in doing research and reportage of the restoration of the Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport, I came to respect the ship and the hard work of her sailors, and to understand the importance of the whaling industry to the growth of our country. We can’t ignore our whaling past, or judge it through the eyes of today, but rather we can shift our rudder with the knowledge we have now, to a new relationship with the whales and our environment. That is the message of the Morgan’s sail, and a timely one too. So it was with great enthusiasm that I got myself ready for to be a part of this very symbolic voyage.

provincetown-whales-and-the-morganThe weekend before our sail, the Morgan had made a few day trips out to the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Provincetown. There she made contact with humpback whales, closing the gap between the past and the present in one glistening whale spout. “Thar she blows!” elicited cries of joy and clicks of cameras instead of thrusts of harpoons. The whales, to my mind, were quite forgiving, and swam up to the ship and little whale boats without trepidation. It was a beautiful few days, the sun was shining, and the Morgan was in full sail. I looked forward to more of the same. On a whale watch before my departure date, my husband and I saw many whales – spy hopping, fluking, breaching. On the horizon, a huge humpback rose to breach and fell, hitting the ocean like a small building. It seemed to my active imagination that the whales were celebrating the new spirit of co-operation between us and them that existed after the encounters of the weekend.

morgan-in-the-rainOn Sunday evening before our scheduled Tuesday trip, we received a text message – be prepared to wait. The skies were turning ominous, and the forecast for Tuesday was severe thunderstorms. I wanted to experience a bit of the life of a sailor, but I wasn’t sure how far that desire went. Monday morning at 6 am, the decision was made and another text sent out. We would sail on Tuesday, if only to beat the storm that was quickly heading toward Boston. Be prepared for rough seas and rain, it said. OK, I thought, I can do this. I packed my gear, a little dramamine, and looked forward to the adventure to come.


Monday evening I met my 38th Voyager co-hort, the group of people that selected to travel on my leg of the journey, to share a light dinner. There was Sara, a history teacher preparing a lesson for her high school students. “If whaling still existed today, these kids would go!” she said. I think Sara must be the most awesome high school teacher ever, taking a trip on the Morgan to bring the experience back to her students. Other voyagers were there: Daniel, a photographer and poet; Jason, a scholar of Native American whalers; Charlie, a scholar of African American whalers; John, an author and Melville scholar; and Thomas, who was traveling with a piece of wood from the Charlestown Navy Yard – wood that had been used for the restoration of the Morgan. Julia, who would be doing podcasts from the ship, and Robert, whose interests lay in navigation, were also in our group. We discussed our projects, and the disputed merits of eating hard-tack, which Paul O’Pecko, our co-ordinator, had brought for us. Soon he told us it was time to head to the ship.

approaching-the-ship-with-charlieWe got into a little speedster boat – “the bone-crusher” – and headed out of port. Bumping along with the surf spraying up around us, we chatted a bit and gazed out at the Morgan, our home for the next 24 hours. We were there for the experience, and in an age of digital mediation, for seventy nine people of various backgrounds to have the chance to experience a part of history first-hand – to feel the tactility of the rope, to smell the tar, to hear the creaks of the wood -was truly remarkable.

tour_with_RockyOnce on board ship, Rocky, the third mate, brought us into the hold for our orientation. “The general principal,” she said, “is people on the inside, water on the outside.” Seemed reasonable to me. She told us to please talk with the crew, they were interested in our projects and reasons for being on board. BUT – she said – if they are running towards something on the ship, best to get out of their way! Then she took us to the forecastle, or fo’c’sle, where we would be sleeping, and told us to choose any empty bunk. I found one not too far from the door, a bottom, not top, bunk, and staked my claim. Then I went back on deck.

night_thumbnailsI loved the atmosphere on board the ship at night. Provincetown glittered in the near distance, and the skies, despite the somewhat grim weather reports, were calm. There was a magical feeling about the silence of the ship, and I was not the only one enjoying it. Nearby, Robert had pulled a sextant out of the community chest below, and was aiming it at some fixed point on the horizon. He described the procedure of lunar navigation to me: “a giant protractor between the sun and the moon” he said. I was in awe of the mind that could conceive of the method.



Sean Bercaw, the second mate, sat down with me and I asked him what he thought of the old ways of navigation. “Sailors are a pragmatic bunch,” he said. “If they could have had GPS, they would have used it.” “Ah, well,” I answered, “but romanticism…” Sean finished for me:”It gets you dead!” he said emphatically. I had to laugh. All of my romantic notions aside, I was certainly happy the ship had GPS on board, especially since we’d be sailing close to shore in a storm the next day.


sailor_knows_riggingSean moved off to take care of something (sailors work constantly) and I drew some of the massive amounts of rigging on board. So much line, so many ropes, the ship is like one huge cats cradle. It’s amazing to know how many lines there are and that each and every one has a purpose and connection to something on the ship. I read that sailors need to know each line by feel in the dark, and understand what it’s purpose is. That’s an almost uncountable number to me.



sailors-coming-aboard The crew of the Morgan were arriving on board from their day in Provincetown, and it was time to turn in. We were told to expect a 5 am wake up call in the morning, so we could get an early start in hopes of beating the storm. I headed down into the hold, passing Jason, who was standing on the deck in his bare feet. “I want to get a feel of what the Native Americans felt when they were on whaling ships.” he said. I thought again about the power of experience. We can never really know what someone else felt, especially in another time, but somehow by standing in the space where they stood we might hope to gain some empathy for our shared history, and for each other. With that thought in mind, I went below.jason_barefoot




On my way to bed, I saw what seemed to me to be a typical view of a sailor in his bunk. I don’t know who these feet belong to, but I laughed out loud and loved the absolutely pragmatic (my new theme) solution to the problem of height on board the Morgan. I would use this image to remind myself to duck while walking around the hold during our journey.

didn't-fit,-feeAs I crawled into my little bunk and settled into position, I thought back to the first time I set foot on the Charles W. Morgan. All I could think about that day was the crew, what must they have felt as they pulled away from shore, destined to spend the next several years circling the ocean in a floating piece of bark. Did they feel regret watching the shore recede? Or excitement? And as the days and days of hard labor mixed with days of sheer boredom stretched into months and years, what did they think about? Dream about? Did they dream about rope? Knots? Whales? Home? Or were they just so exhausted that they didn’t dream at all? Looking up at the patterns in the wooden bottom of the bunk above me, four inches from my face, I wondered if they felt penned in by all the wood and the closeness of the rest of the crew. Personally I was surprised by how comfortable my little bunk was, with the curtain pulled across for privacy. It was tight, for sure, and I could only stretch out on the diagonal, but I liked the cozy, protected feeling it gave me. Not sure how I would feel in the midst of a storm out at sea, but fortunately I had the luxury of being docked next to a tourist town. Pragmatic thinking was beginning to seem more and more reasonable to me.

my-bunk-viewview from my bunk

I lay in my little cocoon, the ship rocking me gently, thinking about these things, and listening to the sounds of the ship creaking mixed with the light snoring of my fellow voyagers and crew. Then, I fell asleep.

OZY online mag

Read this article on my work in OZY online: http://www.ozy.com/good-sht/veronica-lawlor-when-drawing-meets-reporting/31764.article

Thank you to Lorena O’Neil!!




I just returned from my experience as a 38th Voyager aboard the Charles W. Morgan, as she made her way to Boston. It was an amazing voyage and it will take me some time to process all my thoughts and feelings from the journey. As well as all the drawings!

So here is a little preview. We left early morning Tuesday, and spent a good part of the sail enveloped in complete fog. What a spiritual thing that was, to fill our white sails with the wind, and move forward into an unseen white future…trusting only our instincts and the knowledge of the captain. Kind of like the philosophical voyage the Morgan is leading us on, into a new relationship with our oceans, trusting that we can make the change we want to see in the world, unsure of the results, but guided by our knowledge and instincts. Beautiful.

The drawing above shows Captain Kip Files and the Chief Mate, Sam Sikkema, looking off the prow into the foggy distance.

Sea Trials of the Charles W. Morgan

the_morgan_sails!Been doing a lot of traveling and drawing lately, and not enough scanning and posting! I’ve been following the start of the journey of the Charles W. Morgan with the Dalvero Academy, and last week (or so) we were lucky enough to get a floating view of the sea trials. She looked beautiful under sail, and so different from the ship we had seen in dry-dock, looking more like Noah’s Ark than anything that could float! But float she did, and looked so regal with the sails out. I couldn’t get over the romantic vision of how the sails billowed in the wind, and the crew up in the rigging, trying to hold them down! But more on that in a later post…


The Morgan looked so tall and skinny sailing on the horizon – again, very unlike the large hulking mass we had grown accustomed to when she was in dry-dock. But then, when she turned, she became super wide – too wide to really see all at once! It’s like she is many ships in one:



And try drawing her while she is turning! She moves so quickly, you can’t hardly catch her – -



And then, as soon as she’s turned, she sails off into the big blue….beautiful.


The Charles W. Morgan sails again! (and I’ll be on it!)



Veronica Lawlor will be joining the captain and crew of the 19th-century whaleship, Charles W. Morgan, as a 38th Voyager during the ship’s historic voyage this summer. While aboard the Morgan, on the Provincetown to Boston leg, Veronica will create a reportage essay of the voyage, in words and pictures, to add to her reportage of the restoration of the ship.

During the voyage, nearly 80 people, dubbed 38th Voyagers, will participate in an unprecedented public-history event. During one leg of the voyage, each 38th Voyager will take part in their own unique project using the Morgan as a focal point for their discoveries. The 38th Voyagers come from across the world and a wide variety of backgrounds including artists, historians, scientists, journalists, teachers, musicians, scholars, and descendants of whaling crews. Once back on shore, each 38th Voyager will submit a personal work that embodies their experience. These works may be incorporated into a coming exhibit at Mystic Seaport.

In addition to her visual essay on the July 15th Provincetown to Boston leg of the 38th Voyage, Veronica is creating a body of drawings and prints regarding whale conservation, titled “The Map is Not the Territory.” This work will be exhibited in 2015 at Mystic Seaport with the Dalvero Academy, of which she is a co-founder.

The Morgan’s 38th Voyage, her first since 1921, will take her to historic ports across Southern New England including visits to New London, Conn.; Newport, R.I.; Vineyard Haven, New Bedford, and Boston, Mass., where she’ll dock next to the USS Constitution. She will also anchor off the coast of Provincetown, Mass. for day sails to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, where the Morgan will team up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct science demonstrations and observe whales in their natural environment. The Morgan left Mystic Seaport on May 17 for New London, Conn. where she is completing her fitting out and will undergo sea trials. On June 14 the Morgan will continue her voyage as she sails to Newport, R.I. To follow the voyage in full, please visit www.mysticseaport.org/38thvoyage.

I’m so excited about all of this, it’s been a busy summer already! Please continue to visit my blog to follow the voyage of the Morgan through my drawings and writings. First post will be about the Sea Trials that happened on June 11th! As soon as I get them scanned!! ;)

Varoom! the Empathy issue


Varoom!, a British magazine of Illustration, Culture, and Society, has published the drawings I made of my sister Patty in it’s Issue 25. The theme is Empathy, and Derek Brazell, the reportage editor, asked me if he could show the drawings and ask me a few questions regarding the experience, for me and for Patty. The piece is so sensitive and I love what Derek wrote as well. I’m proud to have my sister represented this way and can’t wait to show her the magazine. Thank you Varoom! You can order a copy HERE.

St. Paddy’s Day Parade and (no) Regrets

vl_st-paddy's-parade-1So, today was St. Patrick’s Day. Also my birthday. After spending the morning teaching my Parsons School of Design Illustration in Motion class at Grand Central Station, I decided to go to midtown Manhattan and draw a little of the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and spend the rest of the afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. A perfect way to spend the day. Well, let me tell you, it was COLD on Fifth Avenue today! And I have to admit, I have a love/hate relationship with the St. Patrick’s Day parade. On the one hand, I am 3/4 Irish descent, and very proud of the contributions the Irish have made to the United States. Did you know that the French troops sent to help the colonists win the Revolutionary War were mostly Irish mercenaries? They couldn’t wait to stick it to England and help one of her colonies gain independence, how very Irish of them, ha! And I love to see all those proud people marching with their Irish sweaters on, bagpipes blaring. Those are my people! vl_st.-paddy's-day-parade-2On the other hand, I really hate that the Ancient Order of the Hibernians continues to refuse to allow gay and lesbian Irish groups to march in the parade. The group claims to exclude the homosexual marchers on religious principles, but, as my four-year-old nephew says, “REALLY?” It is so against the teachings of Christianity – Jesus accepted everyone, according to the Bible – that I just can’t abide it. And don’t believe that it’s right. Everyone who is PROUD to be of Irish descent should be welcomed, Irish sweaters, Kelly Green atrocities of fashion, and all! So there’s my dilemma about this parade. I mean, even the Pope himself has said that he cannot judge people by nature of their sexuality, and rightfully so!

vl_st-paddy's-parade-3So, there lies my overall mixed feeling of the St. Patrick’s Day parade: I love it, I hate it, but it’s a part of who I am, so I absolutely can’t ignore it. So that’s why I found myself compelled, despite the frigid temperatures, and despite my political/moral objections, to at least draw a little bit of it. And I have to admit, I enjoyed drawing those extremely Irish faces. Made me think of family members, some long gone, whom I have loved, and who have shown me love in my life. So come on Irish-Americans, let’s get it together and welcome everyone to the fold already!!


(Setting up at Grand Central Station.) 

After I froze myself for a little while on Fifth Avenue, I decided to treat myself to an afternoon at the Museum of Modern Art. It’s my birthday, after all, and I can’t think of a better way to spend it than  gathering some inspiration for the coming year at one of my favorite museums in NY. OK now, here is the crazy part. I swear to you, this morning as I got on the subway to go to Grand Central Station to meet my class, I mentally asked the universe for a sign. “Universe,” I said, “It’s my — – year, and I need a sign for the next part of my life.” (Didn’t think I’d tell you how old I was, did you?) So I’m walking around the MoMA, thinking over my life, and of course, thinking not only of the blessings of my life (there are many) but also of those things I wish I had done, or those things I feel that I should have done. Not in any kind of dramatic way, you understand, just that it’s my birthday, and I’m kind of going over my life, good and not-so-good, as all lives go. So, as I’m thinking these thoughts in a peripheral kind of a way, I turn a corner in the museum and see this word, in letters about two feet high: REGRETS.  No kidding, regrets. I can’t even believe it! So, I walk in to the gallery, and it’s a show by Jasper Johns, whose work I love.

lucien_freud_photo-3-6So apparently Jasper Johns purchased this old photo of Lucien Freud, that Francis Bacon had used as a point of departure for a portrait. Bacon preferred to paint from photos rather than from life. And this old photo is cracked, ripped, and mutilated, plus it is covered in spatters of paint, from being in Bacon’s studio as he did his painting. So Jasper Johns decided to use it as a metaphor for life. He took that damn photo and used it as a point of departure for a whole series of new paintings and prints. Johns turned the photo upside down, he flipped it, he turned it, he painted it, he printed it, he did all kinds of things to it, but most importantly, he saw the new art (life) inherent in the past art (life.) And the work was GOOD. What a statement, and what a wonderful thing to inspire me on my birthday. Wow.

Here is a quote from the show:

Seen as a whole, the series reveals the importance of experimentation in John’s practice, laying bare the cycle of dead ends and fresh starts, the way problems and solutions develop from one work to another, and the incessant interplay of materials, meaning, and representation so characteristic of his work over the last sixty years.

Dead ends and fresh starts. Thank you Jasper. Thank you universe, you answered my question and gave me a sign. I’m ready for another year, and looking forward to see the fresh starts and [more] problems and solutions that develop! There is so much more life and so much more work to do, even after the age of – - -!

(Still not going to tell you my age. I mean, I’m inspired and all, but haven’t lost my senses.)

And happy St. Paddy’s Day everyone! My gripes with the Ancient Order of Hibernians aside, I’m very proud to be an Irish-American!


Understanding Illustration…and Teaching

vl-cover-Understanding-IllustrationLast night at one of our Dalvero Academy life drawing sessions, I got my first chance to see the book, Understanding Illustration, that I posted about here. The book is beautiful, thank you to authors Jo Davies and Derek Brazell, and I am thrilled to be a part of it. Well written and designed, and featuring many illustrators whose work I’ve long admired. Including, one of my students, Evan Turk! It’s so wonderful to be recognized for our projects, and sometimes it feels even more wonderful when our students are recognized. Evan’s work in the book is his ongoing project on gay rights, and it features his reportage of the Seattle Gay Pride parade that was recently in Varoom magazine. (See the full interview on our Dalvero blog HERE.)

And while I’m bragging about Evan, let me also congratulate him on the release of his first picture book, Grandfather Ghandi. My copy arrived today – what a wonderful debut work! I recommend it to everyone – it’s an emotional, intelligent, and, a very personal look at Ghandi’s non-violent philosophy.

It’s so gratifying as a teacher to see your students rise, and it’s even nicer when you can continue to work with them as they do. This is true not only with Evan but all of the students of the Dalvero Academy, as we have been asked to create another exhibit regarding the 38th Voyage of the whale ship Charles W. Morgan. The work done for the exhibit of the restoration was such meaningful and thoughtful illustration, and I’m looking forward to see how this next phase of the project, which includes a mission of whale conservation, will be interpreted by all of the Dalvero artists. I’ll be posting more on this new endeavor as we begin the work in earnest, in the meantime here is a link to our website from the previous exhibit about the Morgan: DalveroMystic.com

Exciting days indeed!


 The Charles W. Morgan awaits the next step in the process

for her 38th Voyage.

New Orleans, Understanding Illustration

vl-ninth_one_2014Today is Fat Tuesday, and New Orleans is full of partiers enjoying their last Carnival moments before the start of Lent tomorrow. But a few years back, when I visited the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, I was surprised and saddened to see how much re-building was still left to be done. Families living among ghost houses, or fields, in what were once thriving neighborhoods. I was inspired by the emotional resonance of the abandoned homes, and did a series of portraits of them – as I felt they were speaking eloquently about what had transpired in the neighborhood. And the residents have spoken, too. Fats Domino said, “I’m gonna wait it out. I don’t think I’ll ever leave the Ninth Ward.” (Robert Siegel, “Fats Domino, ‘Alive and Kickin’’ after Katrina,” All Things Considered, March 13, 2006, National Public Radio)

vl_ninth_two_2014Recently, filmmaker Spike Lee spoke at Pratt Institute, and he had some vehement things to say about gentrification, and the racial divide that often still exists in cities across America. The Ninth Ward is a traditionally African-American neighborhood, and an artistic center for jazz, that most American of music forms. It seems sad to me that the will to bring this neighborhood back is not stronger than it is. It’s a holding ground of our cultural heritage and yet it has been largely abandoned. I don’t pretend to know what the solution is, I know that geographically it is a terrible idea to rebuild, but then again, emotionally, how can you not rebuild a place that means so much to so many people? There are some projects going on now that help, but it’s a shame there aren’t more.

vl-cover-Understanding-Illustration  My reportage essay on the Ninth District of New Orleans is going to be featured in an upcoming book, Understanding Illustration, by Jo             Davies and Derek Brazell. The book focuses on the meaning and message of illustration, and features 36 other talented illustrators besides myself. I am gratified to be a part of this project, and I hope that the inclusion of my visual essay in the book may bring some attention to the Ninth Ward re-building that is going on.

You can see my original posts on this topic HERE, and HERE.

If you are in London tonight, March 4, you can attend the panel discussion about Understanding Illustration at the Gallery at Foyles, Charing Cross Road, that begins at 18.30.

Read more about the struggles of the Ninth Ward in this interesting essay by Juliette Landphair in the Journal of American History here.


a member of Studio 1482