A Minute in the City 4-26-22: The Thing About Moms and Dads

It was an idea that took years to materialize: greeting cards to celebrate moms and dads.

The reason it took me so long was that I had questions about the subject matter. What did it mean to be a mom or a dad? And how did adult children really feel about the once-a-year celebrations to honor them? The answer was complicated. There was no one-size-fits-all answer.

First, many kids – and let’s face it, we’re all kids – have an expanded idea of what a parent is. Some grow up with extra parents – aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family friends – who love them and lead them and help them explore their universe.

Others grow up with one parent. Or with two moms or two dads. Still others grow up in homes far from their countries and families of origin. How does one create a greeting card for all of them?

It took losing my own parents a few years ago to realize how complicated the parental role is. My mother was a witty woman who could think on her feet, so she could handle anything that came her way. She was a teacher, a domestic engineer, and a practical joker. And she was content to perform all these duties to her own high standards without ever expecting to be recognized for any of them. In fact, she really didn’t like it when I thanked her for being a good mom.

My dad, on the other hand, loved the accolades. And he deserved them. He worked hard all day and played just as hard in the evenings and on weekends. He threw the ball with us in the aisles of the grocery store. He took us swimming at the Y. He took me out for donuts every Saturday morning.

In other words, he was a dad. And my mom was a mom. And the older I get, the more I realize just how much that means. So it was with deep personal reflection and with a recognition of all families that I created Artcards “suitable for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.”

These cards aren’t specific to one parent or the other. And they’re not tied to a single day of the year. But they say what is sometimes hard to say on a daily basis. And they say what is especially hard to say to those who know us better than anybody else. An everyday message for an everyday 24/7 relationship. We’ll be looking up to them forever.

 

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A YEAR IN THE CITY Artcards are designed to “matte in a minute” so they can be displayed as mini-prints after they are received. Packaged 8 to a box with brightly-colored envelopes and all-occasion messages: 2 birthday, 2 love, 2 Mother’s/Father’s Day, 1 “missing you” and 1 congratulations.  Click here to purchase or here to watch the quick little matte-in-a-minute video.

A Minute in the City 4-9-2022: Energy in Motion

I may have been deprived as a child. I didn’t have kinetic sculptures to teach me about science. I didn’t have wind tunnels and archaeological digs. I grew up in a time when science was serious and dangerous and even a little angry. Science wasn’t meant to be fun. It was meant to be intimidating. And my, how it delivered on that promise!

I played through eighth- and ninth-grade science, dressing up the life-sized classroom skeleton and drawing diagrams of Brownian Motion in my notebooks. (You guessed it. The pictures were of brownies running away.)

Later, I discovered that there may have been a reason that I didn’t take STEM more seriously. In an education course I took in college, I learned that girls’ brains develop differently than boys’ do – the right brain being dominant earlier in life, while the opposite is true for boys. Historically, this led educators to believe that women weren’t meant to be scientists. When I learned this, I felt vindicated. I was free to pursue my right-brain impulses! I had permission to ignore science!

And you have permission to judge me for that. Older Janet judges Younger Janet all the time. Especially when I consider the company I am lucky enough to keep now: professors, researchers, and doctors who happen to be women. Not only are they making a difference in the world. They are communicating what they know to the right-brained without prejudice, including little girls.

Only now is my left brain beginning to question the world around me, way too late in life for me to do anything about it. But, if the point of learning is not to advance, but to understand, that’s still something, isn’t it?

So back to the St. Louis Science Center, the largest part of which was erected off of Highway 40 (as it was then called) in 1991. We had just returned to the St. Louis area after a prolonged hiatus, with two little kids in tow. And the science center became one of our favorite places to play.

At the time, I hadn’t learned too much about science, but I’d learned a lot about kids. One thing I’d learned was that play was just another word for learning. And our kids played hard. In many ways, they were like the balls of the Energizer Ball Machine racing above their heads – bright, beautiful illustrations of energy in motion. It took only the slightest nudge and they were off and running – learning, playing, discovering the power within.

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The St. Louis Science Center is the April feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as a limited edition archival print or litho print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 3-21-22: Size does matter.

I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up with the arts. My parents enrolled me in preschool at the art museum at four and took me to the symphony before I was big enough to weigh down the seat. Later, they drove me to piano lessons and dance classes and orchestra and summer art programs. On rare occasions, they treated me to live theater.

In my childhood memory bank, the concerts and plays and museum visits still stand out. But in reality, they happened less frequently than birthdays. And they came with a lot of rules: Dress better than you’d dress for church. Act better than you’d act in church. Drink only one Shirley Temple at intermission… and only if it’s offered. Don’t clap between movements. Stay behind the velvet ropes. Don’t touch the artwork.

As a kid, I sensed that these rules were in play for older people, too, judging from appearances. People who went to concerts wore uncomfortable shoes and looked as though they had headaches. How in the world could they have been enjoying themselves? The people on stage were no better. They may as well have been grade school principals, the way they shut everyone up.

Sure, some of this may have been my eight-year-old way of looking at the world. But later in life, I still sensed a chasm between artist and audience. Unable to explain it, I chocked it up to greatness. Performers were higher, better. The best they could hope for was that others would admire their art, even if they never truly connected with it. It was just too overwhelming for ordinary people to share space with great talent.

Unless, of course, they were in the right space.

The night I took the pictures for my Sheldon illustration, we had just been to a concert at Powell Hall and were strolling down Washington Avenue, looking for our car. I remember saying to my husband that The Sheldon could probably fit inside of Powell! I googled it and discovered I was right. Powell Hall could hold three and a half Sheldons! And, largely because of that, Powell would never be able to offer the intimacy that The Sheldon could.

As it happens, size does matter. Especially to those who feel art is untouchable, or to those who feel great distance from performers, or to those who can barely tolerate being part of an audience. If “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” as the saying goes, the beholder can’t be too hung up on protocol.

Whether or not The Sheldon takes this into account when they line up their programs, I have no idea. But their offerings seem to suggest that they do. I saw local phenom Erin Bode perform there and felt like I was in her living room. I played trivia there and got the sense I was at a street party. I “golfed the galleries” and felt liberated playing in the presence of art.

The Sheldon brings art to ordinary lives. It invites us to forget ourselves and become a true and dynamic part of the artistic experience. This is culture at its most accessible.

Which is why, as I created the artwork for the March 2022 calendar, I had artists and patrons walking toward The Sheldon together. In a perfect world, all of us are part of the picture.

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The Sheldon is the March feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as a litho print or limited edition archival print. For more information, visit ayearinthecity.com . Then visit The Sheldon!

A Minute in the City 2-4-22: Under the Sea

A year ago today, I finally made it to the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station. I had finished the rest of my 2022 calendar. Just a few quick photos of the fishies, and I’d be good to go.

It was sort of a big deal, not just because it was my first trip to the aquarium, but because it was my first trip anywhere in one year’s time. I was newly vaccinated, and I was ready to see the world that I’d been missing.

I feel the need to insert here that I never viewed the vaccine as a political issue. I just knew it was right for me. I hated fear and anxiety. It only made sense to me to minimize those feelings in any way I could. So I got my shots. And I headed to Union Station. I was fearless.

Funny, though. I discovered that I was also green. Curious. Wide-eyed. It was impossible to curb my childlike wonder, because the world outside my doors had grown much larger while I was away.

I tend to be a little that way, anyway. The world always looks big to me. My curiosity is stirred daily by things I see. But this was different. My visit to the aquarium tapped all my senses at once and brought up every emotion I knew. It wasn’t the fish. It was the people. Being around others was new again. Their universal message seemed to be “Welcome Back.”

There were, of course, still lots of restrictions in February of 2021 – stickers placed every six feet on the floor, areas cordoned off, hand sanitizer everywhere you looked – reminders of just how dangerous human beings could be. But, even with a six-foot barrier, I couldn’t believe how much I loved seeing them!

There was a family in front of me with little kids. And I quickly learned that the only thing more fun than seeing the fish at the aquarium was seeing little kids seeing the fish at the aquarium. They were nervous when the sharks swam right up to them, mesmerized by the diver cleaning the tank in the lobby clock, uncertain about sticking their hands into a school of doctor fish. It didn’t help when an aquarium employee said, “Don’t worry. The doctor fish won’t hurt you! They just want to eat your dead skin!”

And then it dawned on me. The kids had reason to be nervous. In their short lifetimes, outings had become a rarity, supplanted for months at a time by Facetime, Netflix, and birthday car processions, as their parents worked tirelessly to foster happy memories. These children had spent most of their lives under the sea, where they could only see part of the picture. But today, they had emerged at last, like the little fish they were, poking their heads above the surface and having a look around. When did the world get so big?

Revisiting this memory one year later, the question still bubbles up. When did the world get so big? I hope, like all the world’s children, I never stop asking.

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The St. Louis Aquarium is the February feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an archival print and – later this month – as a smaller litho print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 1-15-22: Frozen in Time

On December 16, 2019, St. Louis got one crazy snowstorm. I know this because of a task I had on my to-do list that day, still archived on my computer: Drive to Art Hill to take pictures.

I knew better, actually. I had been stranded in a winter storm eight years before when traveling to Springfield, MO on business. Freezing rain was in the forecast, so I opted to leave the night before. But I honestly didn’t know what all the fuss was about. There were no problems on the highway at all…until there were.

Less than an hour into my trip, they shut down the highway. Strangely, I had never before considered just what that meant. The highway really was shut down. All the cars and trucks turned off their engines. All the drivers, I imagined, stopped sipping their coffees and tried not to think about going to the bathroom.

The big rigs eventually maneuvered onto the shoulder, and the other drivers – myself included – jockeyed for the vacancies they left. My goal was to get to an exit ramp about 50 feet away, and I accomplished this in just under two hours. But, when I got there, I still had to navigate the ramp itself, which had turned into a steeply-graded slip-and-slide.

The climb was well worth it. At the top of my little Everest, I found a gas station with a Burger King. I penguin-walked with my fellow motorists and shared a booth with them. We were shoulder-to-shoulder, delighting in our fast food. We had made it to the Land of the Whopper. We were in this together.

Eight hours later, the highway reopened. I ventured back out, a big cup of coffee and a box of Good n Plenty at my side. I still had two plus hours of travel time. Even if it took me twice that long, I figured, I would make my mid-morning meeting. I was doing the numbers in my head – if I averaged 40 mph, if I averaged 30 mph – when I came upon the scene of the accident(s). A semi overturned here, a car there, several more vehicles in the ditch. I gripped the wheel and slowed to a crawl. I was wide awake now, checking the rearview mirror for would-be tailgaters. But I needn’t have worried. I was the only car on the highway. All the smart people were still back at Burger King.

It took me 30 minutes to get to the next exit, and half again as long to find a place to sleep. I took a short nap in a church that had opened its doors to stranded motorists, and then I headed back home. The sun was coming up by then, the highway had been salted, and the traffic was moving at a pretty good clip. Much to my surprise, it took me no time at all to get home. I had spent the night just a short distance away.

I later learned that the ice storm had cut a narrow swath, closing down just a few miles of highway. A small matter really. So small, in fact, that MODOT didn’t report it right away. When I called my boss to tell him I’d been stranded, he wasn’t able to verify it online. Neither could my husband. Nor could the people I was driving to Springfield to meet.

Until the ice storm was finally reported – and even after it was – I thought of this as my Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe moment. While the world was sleeping, I went someplace else. I had an adventure. It was treacherous and scary and strange and beautiful.

Fast forward to December 16, 2019 and that crazy St. Louis snowstorm. I was back out on the highway, heading to Art Hill to take pictures. The roads were snow-packed already, and the snow was continuing to fall, wet and heavy. It took me two white-knuckled hours to drive the 18 miles to Forest Park and, during that time, I saw a couple cars go into the ditch. But most of the time, I had the road to myself. It was if the rest of the world was sleeping.

And yet, when I got to Art Hill, there were a hundred sledders or more – their toboggans, coats, and hats making a colorful confetti design on the hillside. Their voices punctuated the usual quiet of the snow with laughter, shrieks and calls to one another. It was exactly what I’d hoped to find.

The experience took me back several years to the night I was stranded on the highway. All these people had braved the storm to climb their little Everest, to have their day of adventure. One pure and perfect moment, frozen in time.

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Art Hill is the January feature in my 2022 A YEAR IN THE CITY calendar. It is also available as an archival print. For more information, see ayearinthecity.com.

 

A Minute in the City 9-7-21: Back to School

As a kid, I secretly dreaded this time of year. As soon as the trees grew too dark and dense to hold their leaves, I felt the inevitable approaching.  Summer was over.

Well, it wasn’t over over. Technically, there was still that date on the calendar when the Equinox would do its thing. But after Labor Day, there would be no more swimsuits, no more vacations, no more long days to draw pictures from my imagination. There’d be no more meals at the picnic table. There’d be no more fun.

My parents were both educators, which made this time of year even more of an emotional hurdle, because they expected me to love school. In fact, they told me that I loved it. And, because I didn’t yet feel entitled to hold opinions of my own, I believed them.

When my own kids were school-aged, I took a different tack. In mid-August, I would treat them each to a full day of shopping and lunch and/or dinner out. In the evening, they’d model their new clothes and show off their school supplies. But I always felt like I was conning them. For these paltry gifts, they would be expected to give up their freedom for the next nine months.

If you think about it, we were all conned as children. We were given new wardrobes and crisp new notebooks, then cast into the unknown. We knew not what awaited us, only that our teachers were more likely to be dictatorial than not. And, by the time we hit middle school, we also had a pretty good idea that our social circles would morph into something unexpected before the year was out, earning us a spot at the wrong lunch table.

But we made it. We grew up. And we found out that uncertainty is part of the picture. The things we don’t know as we’re trudging into that classroom make us more open to learning something new.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been noticing that fewer people are talking about “returning to normal.” It’s almost as if they’ve given up on going back to something known. Instead, they’re going forward to something new. They’re like kids walking into new classrooms. New sneakers squeaking on just-waxed floors. New classmates watching every move. They didn’t ask for this. None of us asked for this. But we got it anyway. And we’ll get through it the best we can.

Actually, we all know how to find our way in the fog, because we’ve done it before. The post-Labor Day conditioning of our youth taught us at least that much. When we don’t know the way, we take note of our surroundings, we listen to ourselves and others, we search for the answers that make sense to us, and we keep looking ahead. For the moment, everything we’ve ever known isn’t enough. There’s no telling how much more there might be. And there’s no telling how great it all might turn out.

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Central Library was the September page in my 2019 calendar and has always been one of my favorite back-to-school images. One might argue that it doesn’t belong to just one season. But it does speak to the deep dive we do this time of year. Prints of Central Library are available – along with my new 2022 calendar – at ayearinthecity.com. Wishing all students, teachers, and parents out there a happy and healthy year.

A Minute in the City 7-13-21: Live and Learn


If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be around children, you have probably discovered as I have that all “play” is learning. It’s physics – Does a cat really land on its feet when dropped? And it’s creativity – Let’s pretend I’m the teacher and you’re the kid! And it’s testing the limits of the human body.

St. Louis is really good at encouraging play, as evidenced by institutions like the City Museum, the Science Center, and the Magic House. But think of the science behind all that play. St. Louis is really good at the science, too.

I worked in economic development for 6+ years, and I was pretty blown away by the expertise St Louis had in areas like genome sequencing, plant science, and battery technology. Many companies working in those sectors were working with the big kids at the universities while enticing the little kids at local museums. It was community outreach at its best, encouraging a steady stream of talent for the next generation. But it never looked like science to the little kids. It just looked like play!

In the case of The Magic House, practically every school subject you can think of can be covered in a three-hour visit. From its grand front porch – so sophisticated a place, one might expect to take tea there – to its 60,000 square feet of interactive exhibits, it’s one big science/civics/math lesson.

On a visit there several years ago, our then 3-year-old grandson sat at the resolute desk in the mini-oval office for 25 minutes, occasionally taking calls on the presidential phone and refusing to leave until his term was up. His little sister was more interested in the (toy) mousehole when she was that age, laying on her tummy to spy on the mouse family, which had been thoughtfully staged for the holidays.

Personally, I’ve always been partial to the doorbell exhibit where kids can stand and ring for an hour if they feel like it. And who can resist the wind maze that spits out scarves? Or the wooden track that plays Ode to Joy as a ball moves along its path?

How on earth do these things work? I have no idea. But someday my grandkids just might figure it out, thanks to places like The Magic House.

Being there reminds me of a wonderful quote I heard once: A child enters school as a question mark and graduates as a period. The Magic House keeps that question mark stubbornly in place to remind the kid in all of us of the things we have yet to discover. We may look sophisticated on the outside, but, like the Magic House, we are messy whirlwinds of thought on the inside, learning new things every day. And the best way to learn is to play.

 

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The Magic House is the subject of the April page in my 2021 calendar. It is also available as a litho or archival print at ayearinthecity.com/products.

A Minute in the City 6-11-21: There’s No People Like Show People

 

Last week – after an 18-month hiatus – I set up my tent and sold my calendars in person. It was the thing I had missed most during COVID. After checking and re-checking my lists, after counting my inventory, after making contingency plans for weather, after packing the car, I got to be around show people again. It’s a wonder I got through 2020 without them.

Show people are a relaxed bunch. They are not out shopping as much as they’re out living the life. The food and live music and – in the case of Laumeier, the outdoor sculpture installations –  are more of a draw than whatever’s being sold in the tents.  And that makes shows a little less about selling and a little more about connecting with people.

Every show I’ve ever done has resulted in new insights for selling my work. Visitors to my booth suggest STL sites to feature OR they tell me how they shipped my work to Europe OR they share how they’ve grouped framed prints of mine in their guest rooms. I love hearing all their stories.  But last Sunday, a woman shared a first: how she and her granddaughter “reenacted” a YEAR IN THE CITY print!

This woman’s five-year-old granddaughter had been staring at my picture of Piazza Imo last month, insisting it was in California. Finally, the woman relented and offered to take the girl to “California”. Twenty minutes later, they were posing in front of the Piazza Imo fountain, as two women looked on from a nearby bench. And voila! It was A YEAR IN THE CITY LIVE!

It has always been my hope that people might identify with those in my pictures. And it has always been my aim to bring people out of their homes to experience something new. This is the way our “city of neighborhoods” can become a more vibrant and accepting community.

To that end – and inspired by my booth visitor last Sunday – I am introducing “YOU’RE IN THE CITY”, a quarterly contest for the best YEAR IN THE CITY staged reenactment. Visitors to my Facebook page will be encouraged to message me with their photos, and the winner will get a prize package and – get this – a cameo in the 2023 calendar!

It’s a “welcome back” to the great big world of St. Louis, where so much awaits us if we’re willing to be part of it. We don’t even have to go to California.

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“You’re in the City” will debut on June 21 on most social media platforms. Any A YEAR IN THE CITY image will be eligible for reenactment. To get inspiration for your staged photo op,  see the full gallery of images at https://ayearinthecity.com/product/a-year-in-the-city-archival-prints/

A Minute in the City 4-22-21: The 20-Month Calendar

Before I created my first calendar in 2017, I did everything I could to streamline the process. I researched packaging and shipping and framing to make sure my product conformed to standard sizes. I created templates for my illustrations to minimize inconsistencies from month to month. I inventoried things I already owned to cut show costs. I carved out time for social media and promotion. I even planned illustrations for the first seven years of the calendar, just in case my idea took hold.

The one thing I didn’t do was to start a second calendar before my first one had wrapped, figuring I might jinx things if I got too far ahead of myself. But since then, a natural rhythm has set in – owing mostly to production and show schedules. And I have come to accept the fact that, though each year starts on January 1st and ends on December 31st, my calendar business need not be constrained to 12 months. Time is a continuum.

April is a good month in A YEAR IN THE CITY land. This is the time that I nail down pictures for a calendar year that will start 20 months from now. For a few glorious weeks, I drive and walk the metro area in search of twelve perfect visual stories. Sites are selected for their coolness or their quaintness or their historical significance or sometimes just because they’re brand spanking new. I throw these ideas into the seven-year mix, changing things around as needed. In the end, I want to have mostly outdoor scenes with varied color palettes, preferably drawing from all parts of the city and county. Some sites may feature kids. Others, adults. Most of them need to appeal to people of all ages.

With my camera full of pictures, I tear into the illustrations, which can take up to 30 hours apiece. I space these out over a nine-month period – usually completing one or two a month. When I’m finally happy with all twelve, I create the calendar itself, checking and rechecking dates and holidays, tweaking colors, editing blurbs. And then it goes to print, one full year after I started it.

In the months that follow, I bind, package, promote, and sell my calendar – all while creating the next one! Today, for example, I am blogging from the kitchen, where my 2021 calendar hangs on the wall. And I’m getting ready for Laumeier – the first art fair of the year – where I’ll be selling my new 2022 calendar. And I am creating illustrations for 2023.

With the snow we got this week, I’m not entirely sure we’re in the month of April. And I really couldn’t tell you what year it is. But I’m not sure any of that matters. Time, after all, is a continuum. And, in the calendar business, that’s a very good thing.

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A YEAR IN THE CITY is now in its 5th year! The new 2022 calendar features the St. Louis Aquarium at Union Station, the sunflower fields at the Columbia Bottom Conservation Area, and the Katy Trail. For calendar details, please visit ayearinthecity.com.

A Minute in the City 4-5-21: A Moment on the Bridge

Is it just me, or is everyone vowing to reorder their lives right now, pledging to live life differently on the other side of COVID? It feels like a pivotal time for all humanity.

But this illustration of the Clark Bridge was a pre-COVID endeavor. I took my reference shots in August of 2019 and completed the artwork the following January. My aim was to capture the bridge and the town of Alton in a single shot, because I found Alton every bit as interesting as the road to get there. Alton, with its brick streets so steep they seemed to rise right out of the river. Alton, with its grain elevator, century-old row houses and modern-day casino – all in a single block. Alton, with its eagle-sightings and legendary hauntings. I was really going to have to get into the weeds to tell that story.

And I did. My photos of Alton were taken from the banks of the river on the Missouri side. I had to actually climb down to the shore line to take them. But when I uploaded the pics to my computer some time later, I realized there wasn’t much “there there.” No one was going to see Alton in this picture. They were never going to get past the bridge.

Here’s the thing about bridges. You really can’t see much when you’re on them. What’s behind you is behind you, and there’s no looking back. What’s ahead is often obscured by the bridge’s arc. And that’s where I feel we are right now, standing in this place between the recent past and near future, trying to figure out who we’ll be when we get to the other side. What should carry with us moving forward? What should we leave behind? For once we’re aware of the magnitude of our decisions.

In many ways the pandemic has been like a bridge between two lifetimes, and I expect the memories of this time will always be poignant ones. For me, the pace of life has slowed, and I’ve come to savor that. Interactions with others have become rare, so I’ve found them even more joyful. The uncluttering of my personal space has given me a renewed sense of value. The loss of life has given me reason to appreciate those I still have.

As much as I long to return to a pre-COVID world, I am grateful for this moment. No matter what awaits on the other side, I don’t think I’ll ever get past the bridge.

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The Clark Bridge is the subject of my March 2021 calendar page. It is also available as a litho print. For a full listing of products, please see ayearinthecity.com.