Here a Doodle, There a Doodle

Doodlers of the world, unite! We’ve always known what people say now, that doodling is a healthy outlet for a writer. It enhances creativity, increases productivity, helps concentration, and stimulates areas of the brain that are dormant. Some say that it alleviates stress and calms the amygdala, thereby helping process our emotions.

I don’t know. I just like to doodle. In high school and college, if I could find those noteboks, I doodled all over the pages. Usually it started with drawing borders around important words, but then elevated to symbols and pictures. And when I studied, I think the graphics helped me remember the information.

I remember that my sixth grade teacher told a story about a boy that had been in her class years before. He was always doodling at his desk (which I don’t think she discouraged). Anyway she said she’d just received an invitation to attend an exhibit of his work in an art gallery.

Famous doodlers include Queen Victoria, Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Claude Monet (who woulda thought?), Marlon Brando, and Presidents Hoover, Eisenhower and Kennedy. I imagine George W. Bush was and is, as his artwork is pretty good.

A squiggle may or may not be just a squiggle. It could be a Freudian slip. It might mean the person with the pencil isn’t paying attention to the speaker at all, completely lost in his own thoughts. There’s even a theory that a doodle says something about the author according where it’s drawn on the page.

I just think they’re fun.


Andy Warhol, sketch. Courtesy of Schulson Autographs.
Andy Warhol
Steve Jobs. Courtesy of Schulson Autographs.

Steve Jobs

Mark Twain
Herbert Hoover
Dwight Eisenhower
I wish I were talented enough to create this doodle. classroom

Information and doodles from:,, alfastudio,com,,,,,,

Paint or Print?

Painted portrait of George Washington Image result for george washington photograph

 George Washington, left; and George Washington Parke Custis, right.  Technology changed the way we remember them.  National Portrait Gallery,

Try to imagine what it would like to meet George Washington.   Look at portraits painted in the late 18th Century (not hard to do each time you pay with a dollar bill) and read his diaries, details about his personality, upbringing, and military career; and his actions as president.  Surmise what he might have sounded like from accounts of dialect experts and those who knew him.

The most prominent visuals we have for getting to know him are portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart, Charles Willson Peale, Robert Edge Pine and others.  They used their gifts to preserve the man to his country and posterity.  Colors in the Pine portrait above show Washington’s resolve in his face, fist clenched on a walking stick, and dashing uniform.

Less than 50 years later, the camera emerged.

An early photographer recorded the image of George Washington Parke Custis on a glass plate.  Custis was Martha Washington’s grandson, whom George adopted.  He built Arlington House, the grounds of which would become our national cemetery, and his daughter would marry Robert E. Lee.

The contrast between the painting and photo is striking.

The Washington Family

A scene too early to photograph: George Washington and George Washington Parke Custis  as a boy, with Nelly Custis and Martha Washington.  Painting by Edward Savage, National Gallery of Art.

'Washington Crossing the Delaware'

Several years ago I walked into a room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and stood looking at the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware.  It was the size of a school bus.

If Emanuel Leutze had had a camera available and was able to follow the troops on their way to New Jersey, what would the photos have looked like?  A bunch of ice and fog?  He probably would have lost his grip and dropped it in the river.  We’ll never know.

Lieutenant John F. Kennedy’s PT-59 in the South Pacific in the Second World War.  It’s pretty hard to capture the determination in their faces from a live shot, as opposed to the soldiers in the painting of Washington’s boat.

I remember seeing a photo of Charles Francis Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, in his old age.  He was sitting outside near his wife, Louisa.  Why, that looks like it could be an picture of my great-grandparents!  Paintings must be of legends, photographic prints for real people,  I thought.

Timothy O’Sullivan captured this Harper’s Weekly artist sketching on a hill overlooking Gettysburg.

The Civil War was the first to be recorded by camera equipment (which required its own caisson).  It is reported that sometimes photographers moved bodies in the battlefield to enhance composition or purpose.

There are those who would dismiss photography as an art form.  And those who scorn oil paintings as reality.  I think they can be both.  If, while looking at a photograph or a painting, you ask yourself questions about the subjects, the landscapes, the furniture, or the architecture, how can you not learn about what was?

photography…a subject of enormous social relevance…not a pitiable craft.  –Osip Brik, 1926.

Related image

The iconic Migrant Mother by tells the story of a  woman and her seven children during Depression in California.

Who sees the human face correctly: the photographer, the mirror, or the painter?  –Pablo Picasso

A student once said that when she looked at a painting, she liked to think about what was going on in the world as the artist worked.  That’s critical thinking: cause/effect.  That’s key to trying to get to the bottom of things.  It is both concrete and abstract.

Paintings and photographs are irreplacable primary sources.   People can debate about their worth in the art world, but why choose between them as a teacher?  Each has a purpose.  The medium itself reveals part of history.

The Art of TR

View of sculptures in Theodore Roosevelt library at Sagamore Hill National Historic Site 

Remington’s Broncho Buster at home with several other bronzes on the mantel of the North Room at Sagamore Hill.

Two familiar western artists of Theodore Roosevelt’s lifetime, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell, were intermingled with the twenty-sixth president’s life as cowboy and lover of nature and history.

A sick, asthmatic boy, “Teedie” read The Leatherstocking Tales while resting indoors.  Living on the frontier appealed to his imagination and sense of adventure.  He yearned to be a western hero like the characters in the books.

So as an adult, he bought a ranch in Dakota Territory and roughed it himself (albeit as the cowhands’ boss).  Then he began to write about it.  Theodore Roosevelt’s Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail was serialized in Century Magazine in the late 1880s, and he hand-picked Frederick Remington for the illustrations.

The National Gallery of Art, “Stampede by Lightning”

Remington lived most of his 48 years in New York.  He attended Yale and was drawn to the romance of the west, working on ranches and in saloons for a time.

Douglas Brinkley says in his massive volume Wilderness Warrior (HarperCollins 2009) “To Roosevelt, at least before the Spanish-American War, Remington (who’d once herded sheep) was a plebian, not fit to share a private club.”  The artist was assigned by William Randolph Hearst to cover the Rough Riders in 1898.

And after the brief war, the volunteer soldiers presented their colonel with Remington’s The Broncho Buster while mustering out on Long Island.  He tells in his autobiography how touched he was at the gesture.

Remington also wrote his own novel of the west, John Ermine of Yellowstone, in 1902 along with 30 illustrations.  Roosevelt liked his description of roaming Crow tribes.  “It may be true that no white man ever understood an Indian…but you convey the impression of understanding him!”

Two years before the artist’s death during an appendectomy, Roosevelt said that he had done “real work” for this country and Americans owed him a debt of gratitude. “He is, of course, one of the most typical American artists we have ever had, and he has portrayed a most characteristic yet vanishing part of American life…”

In 1888, Century Magazine published a series of articles about the West written by Roosevelt and illustrated by Remington. In a May article, Roosevelt told the story of his daring capture of three thieves who had stolen a boat from his Elkhorn Ranch. Remington depicted their capture in this painting.

Remington’s 1888 illustration for Century Magazine, accompanying TR’s story of chasing boat thieves in North Dakota.

The president also said, “The soldier, the cowboy and rancher, the Indian, the horses and the cattle of the plains, will live in his pictures and bronzes…for all time.”

L164 RUSSELL Cowboy on a bay horse

Charles M. Russell, on the other hand, was born in St. Louis and lived his adult life in Montana, providing drawings and paintings for authors Bret Harte, Owen Wister and Roosevelt.

Iconic were the ones of dying cattle on ranches in the severe blizzards of 1887.  Skulls, ribs, skin and bones.  Devastation, starvation.  And the ruin of many cattle operations, including Roosevelt’s.

Correspondence between Roosevelt and Russell is housed at libraries around the country.  On the occasion of the loss of the Progressive Party in 1912, Russell relays to his friend the disappointment felt by the school children of Great Falls.

Guardian of the Herd 1899 By Charles M Russell - Oil Paintings & Art Reproductions - Reproduction Gallery “Guardian of the Herd”

File:Charles M. Russell, Water for Camp.jpg

The Freer Gallery was built in Washington, D.C. in 1906 because Theodore Roosevelt, pounding on his executive desk, demanded the United States accept a large collection of art (including oriental paintings and the famous Peacock Room by James M. Whistler) and half a million dollars for the building to house it.  Smithsonian officials had been dragging their feet.

Frederic Remington     Frederic Remington    Image result for theodore roosevelt young man

                                                                             Remington, Russell, Roosevelt

TR established by Executive Order 1010 the Council on Fine Arts, a federal agency, in 1909.  President Taft replaced it with the Commission on Fine Arts the next year.

When Roosevelt saw works of cubism early in the Twentieth Century, he exclaimed “This isn’t art!”  Art was life to him, and life, especially among the landscape, people and animals of western plains and mountains, was never abstract.  It was real.

Image result for skull by charles russell

The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, Texas, has an extensive collection of Remington and Russell art, which may be browsed at

Breakfast Club



Daylight!  Let’s go see what there is to eat.


The cook isn’t usually serving this early, but you never know.


It’s slim pickin’s after a snowfall.


Hey!  Cake on a platter!  I like that.


Peanut butter flavor, oats, crunchy seeds — very tasty. 


What’s the matter with the big ones?  They seem afraid to come here.


They don’t know what they’re missing. 


They’ll be around when the one with the camera leaves. 



>>  <<

Who is your favorite member of the Breakfast Club?  Vote in Comments below:  #Junco, #Tufted, #Downy, or #Chickadeedeedee.


While my camera and I get to know each other, I’m going to share photographs that were named as winners in the BBC’s International Beautiful Garden Photo Contest this week.  I usually blog my own stuff, but these are too good not to have a wider audience.  And I’m sure they’ve delighted millions already.  So, in case you haven’t seen them, these pictures are my idea of highest accomplishment.

Red in Forest - Cheng Shi /

Chen Shi; Henan, China (This reminds me of a watercolor painting I attempted at a class I took with a friend!)


Iridescent Starling - Hazel Byatt /

Hazel Byatt; Surrey, UK


Magic Moment - Rosanna Castrini /

Jardin du Bois Marquis; Isere, France.

Frozen - Johannes Klapwijk /

Johannes Klapwijk; Zwolle, Netherlands.


Tekapo Lupins - Richard Bloom /

Tekap Lupins; Lake Takapo, New Zealand (overall winner).

More beautiful photographs from the contest may be seen at

New Toy

I’ve decided to shutter instead of shudder in the cold of winter with the help of a belated Christmas gift, an Olympus OM-D.  I chose this model because it was recommended by two friends whose photography I admire, and who said they liked the way its smaller frame handles.  I think I will, too.

I don’t know that anyone would consider me a camera buff, but I have always liked taking pictures.  The nameless brand I used to record my 4-H projects of long ago was black with a round flash holder on top which a bulb could be screwed into.  I remember the firesmell as it flashed and fizzled to black during its shining moment.  Taking the roll of film to the drugstore and picking it up the next week, I found it had morphed into square black and white prints with the date and year stamped in the margins.  I put them in my scrapbook (which resembled nothing of those today) with little corners we licked so they would stick to the page.

Along came Instamatics with snap-in 110 film cartridges and flash cubes.  And flash cube towers!  Easy to take on vacation — and everyone did.  The ratio of station wagons full of kids to Instamatics was probably 1:3 in the 1960s and 70s.  Kodak did a great business when families took up the challenge to “see the USA in your Chevrolet.”  I guarantee there were more pictures of Old Faithful taken by Instamatic cameras than any other until the IPhone was invented.

The market was also saturated with the Swinger.  “It’s the Swinger, the Polaroid Swinger…only nineteen dollars and ninety-five.”  Oh, how I wanted to be the girl in that commercial!  The best I could do was wear white lip gloss and use my carhop tips to buy a camera like hers.  Now that was chic technology.  Could anyone imagine an instrument so advanced it would produce a photo right away?  And a blurby image to be seen as it solidified?  In color!

In college I took Photojournalism, which required a single lens reflex (SLR) camera of which you could adjust the shutter speed and aperture.  Brick wall.  Since I didn’t have the funds to buy one of those, I borrowed one, but it turned out to be older than the one I’d used before the Instamatic.  An Argus.  “That’s a dinosaur,” my professor remarked, and I did the best I could with it.  The developing room at Ball State was located in the basement of an old two-story house that was one-third of the Journalism Department at the time.  And mice liked the place, too.  You get the picture.  The best thing I got out of that class was reading the biography of Margaret Bourke-White.

My husband and I put the nice Minolta SLR we bought after our children were born to very good use, which I’m reminded of every time I try to organize photographs from the last 30 years.  These (and envelopes full of their negatives) are left over from what we’ve put in albums.  I also took great slides on trips which I was able to use in school presentations for a time.

But in the digital age, cameras are changing so very quickly.  In the past we wouldn’t have believed someone telling us the same little camera would take both still and moving pictures (my dad’s Bell and Howell would be another subject for a blog).  I’ve been pleased with two point-and-shooters, a Canon and a Nikon, which I’ve used in the past few years.  Of course my Smart Phone, like everyone else’s, makes me look good without too much effort.

Now I’m back to adjusting shutter speeds and incoming light.  I’m actually reading the instruction manual.  So far I have charged the battery and attached the strap (I tend to get things backwards, so having the strap on squarely and securely is an accomplishment).  I hope that success follows in the shots I get, too.



I reminisced over the year when a friend challenged me to post a nature photograph each day for a week on Facebook.

Oasis: We visited Israel during early March, at a time when they had had an unusual amount of precipitation.  En Gedi provided spectacular scenes like this double waterfall.


Desert: This rock formation was fascinating.


Buffy: How do you hide a buffalo?  In the bluestem grass of North Dakota, during his breakfast.


Drops: Sometimes the best photo ops are as far as your front yard.  I took closeups in the morning rain when the peonies started to bloom in May.


Snow on the trees: In November, a sudden snowfall beautified the trees in the back of our house for a few days.  I stepped on the deck and shot up, giving the picture a wide angle look.



Iris: My mother and her sisters always called these flowers “flags.”  Their translucent petals shone in the sun on our backyard hill last spring.


Dinner: The seventh photo I chose is the one at the top of this blog.  In January I tried making suet cakes and then, as it snowed, watched our neighborhood birds visit the feeder.


In 2016 may we have just as many opportunities to see and photograph nature, and take a part in preserving it for “our children, and our children’s children.”

Boston and Beyond

Somewhere in the stacks or shadows of the Boston Public Library there has to be a teacher lurking, because another of their exhibits we saw a few weeks back, “Boston and Beyond,” breaks set with a lead Madeline Hunter would be proud of.  When a child walks through the doors he sees colorful pieces of original cartography — from fiction.  Narnia, Oz, the Hundred Acre Wood, Neverland, and Fairyland are all there.  Then, gradually, the course changes to maps and globes with actual locations (though I would still insist Oz is real).  A glassed-in area holds atlases to take off the shelf and read.








Along the perimeter of the exhibit room are cubbies with corresponding blue chairs which small people may stop off at — to read, to put together puzzles, to twirl a globe.  And, too, there is an invitation to join a map club just for them.  At a window near pop-up landscapes and fairy books, one may look out at an enchanting courtyard.  All work together for an afternoon of exploring Boston and Beyond.







Thomas Nast

Image: Nast, Thomas. New Life in the Old House. I Don't Know When I've Felt so at Home Here. 1901. Sagamore Hill National Historic Site.


You know his crosshatched images like an old tune for which you cannot remember the words.  His symbols for the American political parties and, for that matter, America itself, will stay with us for all time.  He is credited with the reelection of presidents and the tumbling-down of one of our biggest political bad eggs.  And then there’s our common perception of Santa Claus.  All this from one artist?

His name was Thomas Nast.

Nast was born in Germany in 1840, emigrating to the United States when he was six.  By the age of fifteen, he was drawing for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.  He became a war correspondent in Italy and then in the United States during the Civil War.

When he was in the field, he sent drawings to Harper’s Weekly, his new employer.  The art was transferred by engravers to wood blocks to be printed, appearing on double page spreads twenty inches wide.  But when he was in the New York office, he drew backwards directly on the blocks with a soft pencil.

After the war he set his sights on William Tweed of the Tammany Hall political machine.  Tweed, a New York state senator who blatently stole from the treasury and gave kickbacks to friends, said, “Stop them pictures.  I don’t care what the papers report about me.  My constituents can’t read.  But (bleep), they can see the pictures.”  The mission was successful and Boss Tweed was put out.

Nast continued creating illustrations for Harper’s Weekly through the 1880s, entertaining and persuading the public to take up social causes.  When the next generation took over, they disagreed on tactics: Nast preferred to “hit the enemy between the eyes” with his cartoons.  So about the time wood block printing was replaced with pen and ink drawings, he parted with the publication that had been his forum for so many years. 

A resident of Morristown, N.J., where the largest of his collections is now housed in a museum, Nast became wealthy and then lost most of his money to an investment firm.  He needed work at the beginning of the new century, and President Theodore Roosevelt gave him a job as U.S. consul in Ecuador.  When he went, he contracted yellow fever, dying in 1902.

His last Santa cartoon was inscribed: “New Life in the Old House.  Don’t Know When I’ve Felt So At Home Here.”  He gave it to the Roosevelt family in 1901, and it still hangs in the nursery at Sagamore Hill.


Sources: University of Southern Florida Libraries,,

Over Here

nyc october 2014 library lion and over here exhibition poster

On our recent visit to New York City, my daughter and I were able to see an exhibition about the Great War at their famous public library.  Michael Inman, NYPL Curator of Rare Books, who spent the last five years organizing “Over Here: WWI and the Fight for the American Mind,” graciously gave us a guided tour.  While I had read quite a bit about Theodore Roosevelt urging the nation to be ready for the war, I didn’t realize the extent to which the government used mass media to shape public opinion about it.

iphone 012

During Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency, he worked with Jane Addams on social problems.  However, their voices competed when it came to talking about entering the war.  Roosevelt wrote a book called Fear God and Do Your Own Part, while Addams, a pacifist, wrote, “We must hold at all times that war…affords no solution for vexed international problems…”

 iphone 011

The sinking of the Lusitania was the catalyst that propelled us to join the Allied Powers.  Center, back is the original “Uncle Sam Wants You” poster.

 iphone 009 (1)

 People across the country were urged to be “100% American” and buy Liberty Bonds.

From 1914 to 1918, the new inventions of recorded sound and motion pictures were put to use.  Songwriters George M. Cohan and Irving Berlin wrote nationalistic pieces that were widely played by the public.  But there was a song called “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier,” that became very popular, too.  Silent movies such as The Beast of Berlin and My Four Years in Germany added fuel for opposing the Axis Powers.  In 1916, camps like one in Plattsburg, New York, sprang up to train volunteers who anticipated serving overseas when the time came.

iphone 008

A new government agency, the Committee on Public Information (CPI), was created in 1917 by President Wilson to convince Americans to buy into the war effort.  George Creel, head of the bureau, said, “I had the conviction that the poster must play a great part in the fight for public opinion.  The printed word might not be read, people might not choose to attend meetings or watch motion pictures, but the billboard was something that caught even the most indifferent eye.”  The CPI was dissolved after the armistice, but a brochure detailing this exhibition states, “…the techniques it pioneered in the realm of mass persuasion are used to this day by governments, corporations, and public relations firms around the world.”

The First World War and these carefully chosen materials shake us into remembering that, as Marshall McLuhan said, often times the medium is the message.

All photographs on this page by Amy Griffin.  To see more of the exhibit online, visit