Monday, September 13, 2021

Is Summer Over?


I’m only just recovering from the NECC summer enrichment program. Imagine spending every day making art with kids ages 5-11 and teen interns. It was awesome. One highlight was the week we spent on day hikes with Sachem HawkStorm, the chief of the Schaghticoke First Nations. He challenged a lot of our assumptions about the woods and how we approach our food and our history.  


My other joy this summer was the opportunity to spend a week in Iowa with my mother, just the two of us, traveling back to her childhood in Des Moines. We traveled even further back in time- visiting the town of Algona, that our family founded in 1847. I am working on an illustrated family tree text about my great grandmother, and we were able to meet with passionate members of the Kossuth County Historical Society who had tons of archives to share and were very helpful. The history of the founders is very much alive in the town today. Imagine my surprise to see a fresh colorful mural with my great great grandpa’s name in it?

Asa and Ambrose Call Founders of Algona
Less delightful was the awareness of the role our family had in the displacement of indigenous tribes. Mother and I traveled southeast of Algona to Tama, where the Meskwakie Nation have lands and a nice Tribal Cultural Center and Museum. It helped me get a better understanding of their culture and the impact of the homesteaders who stole their lands. I also identified the helpers who petitioned to let the Meskwakie return to their land, sold them acres, and advocated for their status as human beings under US law. Many of the helpers, like my great great grandparents, were horrified descendants or veterans of the Black Hawk wars.


When I am not writing or researching, I am painting a series of fairly silly wolf paintings. It is still too early for me to know what they mean. But I hope to have a few large unframed paintings for sale at my open studio in October. At that point I will make sure some of the proceeds goes to an organization that helps the wolves. They are in dire straits. If you have a suggestion which organization I should pair with, please let me know. I appreciate guidance here. A lot needs to be done.


I continue to do accountability art coaching via zoom. It’s been more fun than I expected. Now in my second 6-week session, I’ve found each group of artists to be inspiring, kind, and honorable. Every time I talk with them, I get so happy I just float! If you need help with your artistic practice, if you can’t get to the studio, let me help you show up. It’s all run through the MidHudson Arts Council in Poughkeepsie, though the participants are as far away as Colorado and South Carolina! Stay tuned for the virtual show of the participants work this winter.


Group shows on the calendar and places where you can see my work:

Opening on the 23rd at ArtsMidHudson “Wish You Were Here” 5 x 7in. postcard show in Poughkeepsie NY. Through the 18th the Reinstitute Millerton NY, see “Together in Isolation” outside underground installation. I just made the deadline! My work is called the Lost Keys of Covid. Closing the 24th, my sketchbooks at the DM Hunt Library in Falls Village CT “Book Marks” show. My 6 large paintings at the Hammond Museum “Voices I Remember” show will be hanging through October, in North Salem, NY.  And through the 30th, the Live4Art Gallery in Pawling NY features the Arteastdutchess studio tour preview show.


Thank you for reading through this. I hope you are well and finding creative outlets for your days.  Stay curious- Tilly

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

A Ride to the Past

My family is flawed. Because of that, the research into my roots for my art project has often stalled. I write about leaders and pioneers in their fields who are acclaimed for their achievements. Yet with a little searching I find them prejudiced, mysogynist, racist, or thieving. Many harbored opinions that I consider untenable today. My family story, much of it a story of white males, had to be balanced a bit by focus on the strong matriarchs. The women come to light (and literature) in the branch of Americans that wrote books and kept diaries. I want to focus on the brilliant and inspiring Florence Cowles, (1861- 1950), who grew up in Algona and traveled the world visiting schools and talking to teachers. That is what drove me to the Midwest last week- a need to gain a clearer perspective on the people I admire.

Florence and Gardner Sr and their home famous for mandatory Family Sunday Lunches

Our week in Iowa felt much fuller than a mere 7 days, for the amount of time we spent in the past. From the moment we landed at the airport and took the road named after my granddad into the city, we were faced with signs of family legacy from the late 1800's to mid 1900's. It was special traveling with my mother. She had grown very quiet over the summer, and on the trip her memories came flooding back. She remembered details, names and addresses and recounted little stories every where we went! I booked us a room in the Savery Hotel, Des Moines' first sky scraper at 13 stories, across from the Cowles Commons. We looked out to the capital building dome covered in 23 carot gold. Grand Avenue linked us to her childhood neighborhood, her grandparents home and the art center. 

Though Florence spent one year at the Chicago Institute of Art, her legacy is in the education emphasis of the Des Moines Art Center

After a few days in Des Moines we ventured up through a sea of corn and soy crops to Kossuth County and the town my relatives founded, Algona in 1854. Within minutes of arriving in the sleepy town, we saw fliers about the restoration of a family grave and colorful murals across multiple buildings referencing Asa and Ambrose, the patriarchs of our Cowles branch of the family! Ambrose is Florence's father. Needless to say, we were welcomed warmly to the Kossuth County Historical Society and quickly overwhelmed with the amount of information and personal items in the collection. All my questions were answered and I only wished my sisters could have been there to glean from their own perspective from the treasures on display. 


Mid week we visited the Meskwakie Nation in Tama, and had to ourselves an afternoon in the Tribal Museum. It was important for me because any story of my pioneer ancestors has to acknowledge the settler colonialism that crushed the indigenous population. Manifest Destiny was firmly in the minds of the pioneering Asa and Ambrose and the land they staked a claim to had other residents. 

 My time in Iowa answered many questions about the limitations of my ancestors and exposed me to their liberal leanings. I came to see that they were compassionate and on record as eventually supporting the Meskwakie (Sac and Fox) in their bid to return and own land. People like Governor Grimes were real heroes, changing the tide and protecting the native Iowans from the homesteaders. Florence's diary detailed some of the cultural interactions she witnessed between her mother and the destitute tribes that passed through. The stories of the settler's survival emphasized their willingness to treat the natives fairly and peacefully in all transactions. I learned about a handful of other people who also felt the enslavement of blacks and the incarceration of natives were wrong and to be protested. I feel relieved that Florence spent time and money securing decent support for the natives and spoke up about the civil rights of all those less fortunate. 


Of course there was Hezekiah, Ambrose' wife's father... my great great great grandfather and Florence Cowles' grandfather). He and his brothers fought in the Black Hawk and Civil war, clearing the natives away from good farm lands and from potential cross-continental routes to rich mines.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Exploring my Settler Legacy

My family is full of creatives, risktakers and influencers, so it is inevitable fodder for a project to go looking for them. In search of the story behind my great grandmother Florence Call Cowles, I am off on a week-long adventure of research and memory-lane type of wanderings.

Florence and Gardner on their Around the World Trip in 1924


The first stop is Des Moines Iowa- the birthplace of my mother- and here I should share that I will be dragging her in tow. It has been since 1994 that we were last in the city. Our plans are to visit the art museum, the newspaper, the health clinic, performing arts center, the Cowles Commons, Drake University, the old neighborhood, and then travel to Tama and the Meskwakie Indian Reservation before ending in Algona- the county seat created by Florence's father, Ambrose Call. 

My suitcase of maps
Originally, I thought my mom and I could rent a car and set out across NY state and meander though the upper midwest to reach DesMoines, after visions of fruitful conversations and daydreams over rural landscapes, but my mother was less than enthused. She has tried to convonce me not to do this trip, practically begging my boyfriend to take her side. I know we will have fun and, like a reversal of the parent child relationship, I believe this will be good medicine for us. We will enjoy it, God dammit! 

Mom at lunch wondering what the hell we are up to
And I have compromised with plane tickets to Des Moines and a rental car just for the state driving needs. And a really nice hotel for the first few nights.

Day to day postings will be on my Instagram: tilly Strauss

More will follow here as I summarize my findings. Wish me luck. Wish US luck.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

August happenings

 Hey there- You know the saying "when it rains it pours"?

 So many things have converged and I am proud to say that my art has been able to get out of my studio and into the world!

Right now I have works at the Hunt library in Falls Village, NY, at the Hammond Museum in North Salem, NY and at the Kent Library in Kent Lakes, NY! In addition, I was a panelist with 6 other fantastic artists last weekend at the Hammond. We were talking about emotion and creativity.  Next weekend I will be hosting a free workshop at the same museum on Collage and Processing Trauma. 


There are also some virtual shows I am proud to be a part of- such as the Wells International Covid-19 show, a member exhibition with ArtQueens and a culminating show (soon to be up) of my coaching clients, (accountability coaching for 6 weeks for artists, through the 

My day job continues to be herding and inspiring 7- 11 years olds at the community center's summer enrichment program. It fills my days with laughter, but does bring hobbley achy feet by the end of the day.

So I am actually reclining with a lemonade as I write this... getting ready to load the car with more paintings for more places really soon. Thanks again and always for your time and support. It is lovely to be able to make art, and even more fantastic to get to share it with others.

Don't hesitate to reach out for more information!


Saturday, July 3, 2021

Fast, breathless, and catching up on the art scene

 Seems like the Covid quarantine days are really behind us. There is so much to do, so much scheduled... that I spend much of my time walking back and forth to the large wall calendar in the kitchen and consulting the scribbles that fill in every nook and cranny of the grid!

Michael Gellatly and part of his 14 foot painting

Last night, after a virtual opening of an Art Queen exhibition I was in, called "Inner Power",  Michael and I braved the torrential rains and headed 45 minutes away to Torrington, Ct, the Five Points Art Gallery for an opening of his in the 2021 juried show. It was a delight, and as the evening went on it was quite a crowd. Everyone eager to share about their work and connect with others. 

We made it to the bar and, with a cup of red wine, turned to look at the works. The first thing that stopped me in my tracks was a complex wall painting of Carol Taylor-JKearney (IG @caroltaylorkearney ), a reverse painting on glass of her studio space. As we read the painting we were joined by her gregarious husband. Carol's paintings are on the backs of windows with lots of additions, such as screen silhouettes and ritual candles.

Carol Taylor- Kearney

I enjoyed the symbolic narrative combined with rich detailed painting. Her husband is involved as the art handler and supportive cheer leader.  Nearby we were enamored by a sewn painting called, "Seeds and Pods", by Geri Hahn.
Geri.g. Hahn and paparazzi

Both her  (@geri.g.hahn ) and her husband were fascinating. She is an artist who identifies with her synesthesia and as the evening wore on we shared with her reactions to other works of art. I loved it when she stood in front of Michael's painting and said it sounded like a David Burn and it made her mouth water (a much abbreviated version of our actual conversation). 

Don Bracken

There was a lot of loud art and some quiet works- like Donald Bracken's clay and acrylic , "New dawn, and Marianne Petit's pop-up anatomical flap book. (Ig @ mariannerpetit )
Marianne Petit
I also loved the works by Erika Larskaya, Deborah Buck, Michele Cook, and Kim Carlino. Congrats to Nayana LaFond for winning the grand prize with her painting addressing native americans and domestic violence. She will be having a solo show at Five Points in the future!

Michael and the curious in front of his work

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Summer sketchbook


It was heavenly, and I hope to do it again next year, which is atypical of me. Usually,  I would rather do a new place. But this felt comfy and we only scratched the surface of possible beaches to visit.

Every summer I take a book that a library is getting rid of and I paint in the pages to create surfaces for summer musings. I have been doing this for years and years. In fact two sketchbooks- from 2014 and 2017 will be included in the "BookMarks" show at the Hunt Library in Sheffield MA, opening July 24th.

I filled some pages in my newest summer sketchbook at the Cape- a rehash of "the Creative Explosion". The text lends a nice texture to the memories...

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Call me your "summer accountability art coach"

There is still two weeks before this virtual opportunity starts.  

Called "a workshop"- it technically is just an online check-in, so you can do it from anywhere that you have access to Zoom. You only need to take notes the first meeting, June 15 at 7pmEST. You get your own materials and make your own hours.

How it works:

I will start you off with tips and tricks to setting up a studio practice that will help you complete a series of work. By walking you through handy steps and thought process, I will set you on the course with a weekly mantra. 

Once a week, Tuesday's at 7pm you will check in with me and we will discuss issues like time management, frustrations and any other blockages you may be suffering. If you miss a session, it will be recorded and available to check out when you can. You will work on your own during the week towards your individual goal. I just keep you on track by being there, to check in and ask how we, as a group, can support you.


In the end we have an opportunity to celebrate our successes with an exhibit of our work together through the MidHudson Arts Council in Poughkeepsie NY. 

This is a great opportunity if you want to get some art done, but know that a summer calendar can be like a run-away train. Together we will carve out time to focus, decide on a realistic scope for your series and you will create works that you will be proud of. 

Signing up soon at  Registration ends in about a week.

Cost $100 -$115 for ages 16+