Monthly Archives: September 2016

song-6This is Jaki’s song which she started to teach us on the road. Lots more work to be done, but here are the words. It’s a waltz, so ONE two three TWO two three –


Up on the high plains it’s dry and it’s hot, and the wind it don’t stop for no one,

As the miles they roll by, see the earth touch the sky,

Up on the wide high Lonesome.


There’s a feelin’ of freedom that no man can reason,

A longin’ to reach for the sky

Where your spirit can wander way out over yonder

And wave to your troubles goodbye.


Well I do declare it’s a real fine affair, we’re floatin’ on air on the high plains,

My buddies and me, we’re footloose fancy free, and we’re feelin’ as high as the mountains.


Well there’s good ol’ Fiona and good ol’ Diana,

There’s good ol’ Di good ol’ Bron,

Good ol’ Freddie is here and we’re full of good cheer,

‘cos we’re sure glad that she came along.

And as we smoke our tobacci well there’s good ol’ Jaki

Who’s willing to lead us in song.


While the stars fill the night, such a beautiful sight,

And your heart it feels light as a feather,

Way up here all alone, all you want is to roam

For ever and ever and ever,


For ever and ever and ever.


Up in the morning early, packed and into town for breakfast and pawn shops. May sound alarming, but these shops are regarded as the Navajo ‘banks’ where they hand over their possessions in exchange for money, and if not collected within the year or whatever the agreement is, the goods are put on sale, far cheaper than anywhere else. All run by the Navajo themselves in this extraordinary town. So we did our Indian shopping and went on the road again, with a last stop in Nature at Church Rock just outside Gallup.

Gallup 6.jpg

Freddie, Di and I walked up the arroyo (dry river bed) till we reached the head of the river (a large, damp, red rock) and came slowly back, loving every minute of this mini trek with its side canyons and caves and aromatic flowers and bushes,


then back down to join the others


and back on the road again, the mountains and mesas of the Indian tribal lands on every side. A very last stop off road for fry bread at this little shack, which turned out to be closed. So we left our camping chairs there for the next visitors


and with the setting sun in the West at our backs, drove down into Albuquerque for our last stop. For the keen eyed, here is Betsy reflected in a shiny truck (well, you can just about make out her headlights..


So now I’ve come to that part of the gig where we say our thank yous: to you, our friends and relations, whose interest and appreciation has been wonderful for us; to all the friendly, helpful and courteous people we met on the way who smoothed the way for us so well, and to my fellow travellers of course – extraordinary artists all. Jaki – visionary and, well, reason for us all being here; Diana – driver, organiser and all round expert on this area; Di – organiser, photographer and enthusiast; Fiona – kitchen boss and healer with ever ready first aid bag; Freddie – naturalist, explorer, general fixer and co-driver; and me – documenter and diarist. What a team! Off to the airport in a couple of hours. See you all soon.

Part 1 being Sedona to Gallup, where we are now in a motel, and it feels more like America to me (highways, trucks, trains, billboards, parking lots, diners, drive ins, Edward Hopper in fact). The start of the journey was more red rocks, stunningly so but I think we’ve all seen enough red rocks so I’ll just post one because it’s a nice one of Diana:

r66-9And then it was onto Route 66 which was everything I’d imagined it to be (not enough Harley Davidsons though, but loads of great long trucks, and a railway line running beside, with endless freight trains nose to tail – these came to haunt us later…..


r66-2R66 1.jpg

After miles of desert, we turned off the road actually INTO the desert: the Painted Desert as it is known. Time for lunch and we tried in vain to find a spot out of the wind. “And the wind it don’t stop for no one” is one of the lines of Jaki’s song written especially for us to learn on this trip. She’s so right. So we nestled by the car


while Fiona tried to sort out a plastic bag. She’s in pyjamas too. Seems to be becoming de rigueur for us Lonesomes (limited wardrobes here due to limited space in Betsy).


As fascinating as we are for people we meet, we find equally fascinating and enigmatic people:


And the painted desert was, well, lush



And here’s my image of the day: Fiona in pursuit of a photo:


Back on the road again, and quite soon we were in Gallup. On the real route 66 ( the other one is the new fast highway):




Not our motel, fortunately. We were next door, but this was a better sign. And here is the sunset view from our rooms. Much more Edward Hopper.

Gallup 2.jpg

And ps, the trains kept us awake all night, rumbling past our motel and sounding their massive sirens for the benefit of the level crossing just opposite. I worked out that they were a diminished chord, sometimes Phrygian, never reticent, ALL NIGHT.


Barely a day has passed, and here we are in Sedona, on the terrace of our rented house, and this is the view. Sunrise – or second sunrise in a way, as the first one just brushed the tips and disappeared. Last night, when we arrived, it was overcast and wet, so a trip to the local wholefood store (it’s very Glastonbury here) to stock up, and here are the green grocers:


But the next day – yesterday actually – was bright and clear, and Di and I set off up the road to find some red rock to sit on and draw. Red Rocks everywhere, not just under our feet. This was one of the views:


Here’s the hill we sat on to draw


Exhausting drawing rocks! So many of them. But a great place to be. Then we realised that it was actually Autumn Equinox so we drove up to the local ‘vortex’ point to watch the sunset, and discovered the rest of Sedona had come too. Room for all, fortunately.


Sunset and sunrise are the best times to watch the rocks, so it was up with the dawn this morning again (exhausting!), but I was rewarded with the sight of 5 wild boars running through the scrub below our house. And with this gorgeous blue bird – turns out to be a ‘scrub jay’:


I was followed up the hill by Di in her pyjamas! (only in Glastonbury – I mean, Sedona…)


and this was the sunrise. It lasted for ages: so many rocks to illuminate.



So I’m writing this blog and have just become aware that all around me people are sanding sticks, winding string, painting – last evening in Sedona, and the sun has finally come out again.


The great Indian craft tradition of this area is clearly having an effect. Or maybe that’s why we are here in the first place. Whatever, I’m going to join them…


Here’s how the day started. Sunrise over the San Francisco Peaks, where we were staying. And here’s our house: Morning Star.


We’d already spent a day here, with no wifi, hence the gap in blogging and the reason why the posts are coming thick and fast. I’m trying to catch up! Here are some pictures of our first day:


The ladder washing line (no actual washing lines in America it seems: just dryers…)


Freddie’s juniper sticks


Diana’s smudge sticks


And a Mexican dinner that Freddie and Fiona rustled up from ‘bottom of the fridge’ ingredients (delicious). So, anyway, the next day we got into Betsy and drove to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Not sure how to present this. Everyone knows of the Grand Canyon, has seen the photos, and mine don’t help any better to give an idea of the sheer scale of the place. So I’m posting a couple of sketches first: this one was in the first flush of seeing the canyon – just what was near at hand: I couldn’t cope with the entirety of the view:


And this one which was a mapping of what I could see, later on in the day when I had calmed down a bit.


And here is Di’s lovely painting which really catches the subtle colours: it was somewhat overcast by the time we started drawing


So now for some photos. In two of them you can see the turquoise coloured Colorado river. A mile wide. Gives some idea of the scale.


mv18Monument Valley: we’ve seen so many marvels on this trip, but for me this is definitely the high point so far. Just writing about it fills my mind with awe and I can’t find good enough words, so I’ll stick to facts and photos. We set out from our lovely Aztec house on a bright morning, crossing deserts where we searched in vain for a picnic spot:

No shade for a hundred miles

No shade for a hundred miles (great views, though)

So when, hungry and travel weary, we reached the last town before entering the Valley, we were delighted to find this Mexican cafe:

mv-3awhere we had a delicious meal. Onward up the outside of Monument Valley and great red cliffs started to sprout from the landscape

mv1We were not just visiting for the day: we were heading for one of the only places you can stay in the Valley (there is some limited camping, apparently): the little Navajo Hogan in the middle, in a small settlement of 3 hogans and a shed. Oh, and a long drop loo too, a loo with a simply fabulous view… You can see this very hogan at the start of one of Ray Mears’ TV series on the Wild West. As instructed by airbnb we had all the provisions we needed, including water. Here we are, relaxing with a cup of tea after arriving

mv17and here is our hogan

mv13mv6Hogans, literally translated as ‘place,home’, are wooden structures. They are mostly covered with adobe as this one was (as Freddie observed: the same roof construction as the old Dove Door house). They are places to live, to give birth and to celebrate, laugh and tell stories, and make crafts, notably weaving. Our hostess Verna’s mother is a weaver who lives just a couple of hundred yards away in the family house: this is her loom (and she is the elder who features in Ray Mears’ film – we didn’t actually meet her, but we heard a lot about her!)

mv-loomJust in case our cup wasn’t full enough, it was also the night of the full moon. After watching (and filming) the shadows of sunset race across Thunderbird Mesa opposite our site, we sat round a juniper wood fire – delicious smell – keeping warm with thick Indian blankets until we fell into bed in the most exquisite ‘dorm’ you can imagine. In the middle of the night I got up and went out and the surreal picture of the cliffs illuminated as in some Hollywood studio, but by the light of the moon, is a sight I will never forget (sorry, no photo). We were all up just before sunrise and my first sight of this, with setting moon, was as in these photos:

mv3mv4Later in the morning we had a long chat with Verna: here she is;

mv8and had a visit from one of her family’s many horses:

mv16and walked over to Thunderbird mesa: here I am looking back towards the camp:

mv9and here are some wonderful round stones at the end of the mesa:

mv12Then it was pack our ‘wagon’ Betsy, and reluctantly we took our leave. We still had more than half the rocky road trail to complete, so many more joys still in store:



Three days at this wonderful house near Aztec, with its own extraordinary environment: cliffs, rocks, river, dry river bed, distant Rockies, juniper trees, sage: amazing. So much so that more words fail me. Click on any of the photos to start the gallery. Enjoy!

monday-1After 2 days in Santa Fe we are now more acclimatized and ready for the next bit. Which is: packing stuff and food, loading the van, doing our ‘chores’ and setting off for Aztec: a four hour journey on the pretty empty ‘scenic route’. But first: breakfast in the courtyard: our habitual table in the foreground (that’s Jaki in the green chair), and an art lesson happening for the resident students. It was a great place to land, and It is true to say that they pretty much adored us here by the time we were leaving, had probably overheard quite a few of our conversations in the courtyard (the wall have ears here) and appreciated our years of acquired community spirit. Perhaps every youth hostel should have some Grannies.

monday-2But on with the journey: here are Freddie and Jaki in the back of the car while the others pick up supplies.

monday-2aWe’re off!

monday-12Approaching Abiquiu (where Georgia O’Keefe had a house.

monday-5The subject of many of her paintings

monday-7We stop to picnic overlooking the lake near Ghost Ranch (another of her pads- she knew how to pick them). Unfortunately, a hasty move, coupled with the fact that we were parked on a slope the wrong way, led to this!

monday-6Luckily not a total disaster as only 6 eggs and a couple of bottles of beer were beyond redemption. But we’ll park the other way round in future, and not open the back door before instructed (you live and learn, it is hoped). So we found a picnic table and the feast was laid out. But have a look at the sky in the photo before last…..storms here are upon you very fast indeed, and we had barely finished eating when a biblical wind was lashing us and we ran for it, stuffing everything into bags and boxes and even pockets. You live and learn part 2. So on we drove, through the storm.  Great to have Diana Griffiths with us, not just for the obvious reasons (we love her) but she knows the whole area very well and so can point out places of extra special interest that we might have missed. She even pointed out some cattle that she had helped herd…. So thanks to her we stopped at this wonderful place:

monday-8Echo Amphitheatre, seen through the car windows. A stunningly beautiful rock formation: here’s another picture (it stopped raining and we got out:

monday-8aAnd on we went, turning west into Jicarilla Apache country. The rocks, to me, had a peculiarly Apache look.

monday-9After this it was up onto the high plains with huge views so huge that a camera cannot do justice to them. So I stopped taking pictures. Jaki started to teach us a song she has written for us, which fittingly starts with ‘Up in the high plains..’ And on and on we went. Jaki was heard to say, in the back ‘I haven’t any more ‘awe’ energy’. No, we agreed, we were awed out – I expect you are too – and arrived a couple of hours later, exhausted, at our destination north of Aztec. I’ll save that for the next post.


…gone to look for America…

I play the piano in  the Lonesome Doves music group. So called because the group’s founder and mentor, Jaki Whitren, arranged our first number for us, based on the music from the 1988-1989 American western television series ‘Lonesome Dove’. Jaki is a huge fan of western movies and has dreamed of following the trails of the pioneers and cowboys of South West America. So here we are, with friends (minus Miranda the cello player unfortunately): 6 women in search of adventure, starting our journey in Santa Fe.


Here are Di Milstein, Jaki Whitren and Freddie Miller in the Cathedral gardens.


Encounter in the Plaza (Diana and Fiona just down the path, on the right)

And here is a Santa Fe resident who gave me a badge saying Dump the tRUMP when I took her photo. I wore the badge for a bit, and it led to a most interesting encounter later on that day (yesterday). It was a couple of hours after this photo was taken, and we were somewhere else entirely: at Trader Joe’s store half a mile or so away. I was in the car with Jaki and Freddie, and an elderly man came over to us, leaned into the car via the open sliding door, and enquired politely if any of us was the woman who had been wearing the Dump the Trump badge in the Plaza. Yes I said, wondering a) how he knew and b) what was coming next. Oh, he said, my son told me he saw you and was fascinated to know why you were wearing it. This led to a discussion about what I thought about Trump (I gave him a brief and pithy reply) and whatever were we thinking about in Britain with Brexit? He then revealed himself as a Republican voter, who had worked for the ‘National Laboratory’(Los Alamos? Nuclear weapons lab? Manhattan Project? Diana thinks so) and who this time was going to vote for Clinton. The others came back at this point and he made his farewell and left. How very weird. Would any of this have happened in the UK? One thing was clear: 6 white haired English women (sorry, not you, Diana!) clearly stand out in the crowd. More on this later – we’re already notorious here….well, in the youth hostel where we are staying, anyway….


My studio is going to be open for Somerset Open Studios later this month (new name for Somerset Art Weeks), and I’m sharing it with Pennie Elfick and Tony Martin. Just as well, as I’m off to America for a couple of weeks on Thursday, and will be back for the last weekend: 29th, 30th Sept and 1st and 2nd October. But the work will be there when I’m not, and Pennie and Tony will be looking after the show and answering any questions about the work. They are also giving an informal talk about their work on Saturday 24th Sept (see flyer). The show in the Print Room studio is already up; since we are not having a preview evening, here is a sneak preview.sos-preview-1

sos-preview-2sos-preview-3sos-preview-5We didn’t set out to colour code it, but that is what has happened! That’s what comes of working together. Tony’s work will be hung in the upstairs studio. Opening day: Saturday 17th September.



Mud and Thread

Documenting the creative collaboration between ceramic artist Gill Bliss and textile artist Joy Merron.


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Produced by Artichoke and commissioned by 14-18 NOW, PROCESSIONS marks 100 years since the first women in the UK won the vote. Somerset Art Works and artist Dorcas Casey deliver a programme of creative workshops leading to Somerset participation in the PROCESSIONS mass participation artwork in London on 10 June 2018.

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