Thursday, July 31, 2008


When I started this blog I decided not to write about my personal life and my family. What I didn't bargain for was the friendship and the warm, caring blogging community who have made such an impact on my life. I received so many wonderful emails (and comments) after the Synchronicity post about the birds in my garden and my husbands fight against cancer. One of the emails I received said "your post has given me hope" and since so many lives are touched by cancer I decided to add another post along those lines because that is exactly what one needs to get one's mind around something that at first sounds so frightening. Hope.

It's not the first time our family has had to face cancer. Our precious eldest daughter lost her battle with lymphoma at just 16. It's a nightmare we deal with every day ...and though it is not easy we have learned to find ways to make it less painful ....and this is where passion, art and dreams come in.

Our friends, family and even strangers rallied around supporting us through the most devastating time of our lives but a time comes when life goes on and we have to go on for the sake of the people who love us. I can honestly say that Art, my passion, is the reason I didn't go completely insane. It healed me. It still heals me. Every day I would pick up a paint brush and begin, something. Anything that could grip me enough to direct my thoughts away from death and loss. Creating art takes me out of myself and transports me to a place where I focus on colours, textures, ideas and imagination.

My husband has his fishing. He is so passionate about it that he can switch off from the world by merely thinking about it. His passion played an important role in his own healing. Whilst recuperating after chemotherapy he would lie back in bed with his eyes closed, feeling weak and nauseous. Under his hand would be a fishing reel..... and a fishing rod.... and tangled spools of line with hooks. This took a lot of pressure off me because I knew that while he was thinking about fishing he wasn't giving up.

My youngest daughter is passionate about cooking in the style of those humerous TV personalities...Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Ainsley Harriett. Hands in, a pinch of this a pinch of that. Her face lights up when she speaks of fresh coriander, pancetta and homemade gnocchi. And yes I now agree that fresh coriander... makes all the difference.

On my noticeboard above my computer I look up at my favorite photograph. It is just a photocopy, but I treasure it. It was taken on Christmas day, only a few days before M started his chemotherapy. He had struggled with pain for a year before a second opinion bought to light the reason beneath his continual pain. He was so thin, grey and frail, I just wanted to hold him close and protect him. Twelve of us gathered that day to support our beloved M. We all learned a valuable lesson from this experience and that is that there is nothing so amazing as a family united in the face of adversity. Being a part of that, sharing the love, strength and courage of my family made every moment of the struggle worthwhile.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


At the moment I'm enjoying Geoffrey Gorman's sculptures, Nick Bantock's assemblages and Anne Westlund's poetry.

I loved reading Gorman's artist statement. It captures exactly what he's all about.

"A broken bent tree branch, bleached from sun and rain, makes me think of weathered bones: fingers, legs, backbone, and hip bone. Old stained strips of cloth act like bandages and clothing, hiding and holding it all together. Sculpted wax covers the frame and joints of wood. Found and lost objects assembled into curious and evocative shapes is what excites me.

When I am making objects, I think of model airplanes made of balsa wood, then covered in thin transparent paper. Or I see decoys and shapes made to attract wild animals. I visited a museum in Alaska that had drawers filled with toys that had been put together, used and collected from previous cultures. I also think of a forest of tall, dark trees covered in moss and moisture, a silent, meditative place".

The Artful Dodger by Nick Bantock is a book that I dip into frequently.

Anne Westlund is a writer I "met" over at Coach Creative Space where she runs a group called Writers Clique
for "all the unpopular kids."


I wait for inspiration
Like waiting for the electricity
to come back on
But the light bulb stays dim
And I sit here in the dark
Cold and alone
And bored out of my skull.

There are candles
Like some desecrated church
With candy wrappers and pop cans
And graffiti on paper if not walls
For anyone to see
If they would just look
But it’s dim in here
I can hardly blame them
For their disinterest
It’s my own
That I find so distressing
Unable to write
More than this note
To self—take out the garbage
Tomorrow—when it’s light.

For now I sit and smell
The incense, marginally better
Than the litter box, I listen
To music sung by rock gods
Now six feet underground
Death carries a tune
Better than I ever have
Still uninspired, stale

So many poets,
Not near enough rotten fruit
To go around this theatre
Of the faintly amused
With cynical smiles
Painted in silver greasepaint
Everyone’s a clown,
Turn that smirk upside down
I can’t even muster tears
Tonight, not exactly sad,
Just annoyed that I can’t
Check my email for Nigerian
Bank scams and Dell communiqu├ęs
How many computers can one
Person use?


As far as I can tell
But don’t quote me on that
Cyber Sunday is long past
I missed out on all the good deals
The light is burnt out in the bathroom
I don’t suppose that matters now
With the blackout, outage, 75 mph
Wind gusts shaking the house.

The neighbors finally break
The quiet, some altercation punctuated
By truck doors slamming and a cold
Engine going into gear
I’m fabricating a little here, just
For my own amusement
Of course you can’t really tell
What’s the truth, and what mere falsehood
Don’t even try
Most days I can’t either
With all those creativity articles
I should be able to come up
With something.

No, I can’t think of anything
To write about, not nature, love,
I can’t even write one of those depressing
Goth teenage poems about heartbreak
And suicide. Not tonight.
This dim bulb has gone out.

December 4, 2007
© 2007 Anne Westlund

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Contemplating my garden before rushing off to a birthday lunch.
I've been doing a lot of that lately. Contemplating. Not that I have too much time on my hands. On the contrary, I'm brimming with ideas (love this feeling!) and am busy working on a totem that grips me.......for today at least.
I was sitting outside under my meditation tree, thinking how much I am enjoying the art I am creating now. For me that is amazing because I'm constantly sliding from one extreme to the other. Love it.....hate it...... not too bad......brilliant? it.....hate it. Today or all weekend actually, I feel totally content.
I am exactly where I want to be at this stage of my life. Creating the art I have always wanted to do but have put off in the past because of the need to churn out quick money spinners. What a waste of time because the work I'm doing now is actually just as lucrative and I'm far happier doing it. If only I had had the guts to start sooner. I woke up one morning and it hit me (quite hard in fact) that life was passing me by and that if I wasn't careful it would be too late to create the work I have always hankered to do. That was a big wake up call.

Grinding stone which I use as a bird bath. They are still used in the rural areas to grind corn.
For more information on the Southern African cycad situation see

Friday, July 25, 2008


I discovered the extraordinary work of Ron Pippin at Sparrow Salvage.....a blog I am wallowing in at the moment!

"Pippin makes books that don't open but whose covers bear talismans like butterflies and lizard skins, and whose edges are crowded with tabs and markers, assuring that material of significance lies bound within." - Los Angeles Times April 16 1999.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


When my husband was gravely ill with cancer he spent many months lying in bed, especially after surgery and radical chemotherapy. To distract ourselves from the situation I decided to hang bird feeding platforms in the trees near the bedroom windows so that we could see how many different bird species we could attract to the garden. Everyday I would prepare a feast that became the talk of the town and soon every bird and his aunt arrived in our garden.

Jewel like Sunbirds often flitted to the windows flirting with their reflection in the glass. After a while they flew into the bedroom attracted by the flowers in the room. They darted around a bit and then flew through the house and out the back door. They did this daily becoming so tame that they would sit on the flowers for minutes at a time.

Collared Sunbird.

A few weeks after setting up the feeding station a Jackie Hangman (Fiscal Shrike) arrived, very dapper in his black and white plumage. These are the birds that mimic pet budgies and the next thing you notice he's yanked poor budgy's head through the bars. Jack also spent months visiting our bedroom. He too would fly through the window, down the passage and out the back door.

Fiscal Shrike.

Later I bought a nesting log made out of a palm stem. It wasn't completely hollowed out because it is always best to keep everything as natural as possible. Armed with wire and pliers I climbed into the the tree opposite the window and fixed the log so that my husband could see it directly from the bed. Coming back into the house I commented that it may be a few weeks before the birds became used to the log. Not so! I have goosebumps thinking about this ..... but almost immediately my husband whispered "Come take a look, quickly"

There, perched on the log were two Blackcollared Barbets and while I was watching with mouth agape they started pecking the pith out of the center of the log. I couldn't believe my eyes and I'm still amazed at the synchronicity of it all.

Blackcollared Barbet.

It took several weeks for the birds to hollow it out to their liking but eventually they were satisfied. They stayed in the tree, building, nesting, feeding and rearing young for the rest of my husbands treatment. Our visitors would congregate in the bedroom and sit mesmerized as this little family went about their business.

What are the odds that a family of bright red birds will take up residence in a tree only minutes after putting up a nesting log? I have given palm logs as gifts over the years and most people say that no bird will go near the log for months, if ever. We experienced many miracles during the two years that my husband was ill and this was definitely one of them. I'm convinced the birds played a huge part in the healing process.

All illustrations on this post are taken from Newman's Birds of South Africa.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


A new day is dawning and I'm eager to continue work on my owl totem.

I decided that an owl with outstretched wings might be more interesting than my original plan. I try to be open to new ideas as I go along...unlike the early days when I followed my sketch to the nth degree. Something else I've learned along the way is that looking at photographs of one's work is a helpful technique to help one find any faults that need adjusting.

I have had the most fun creating the owl. As a teenager I hand reared two Spotted Eagle Owlets (see below) so I have quite a soft spot for them.

Monday, July 7, 2008


There's a new title in the Lark 500 series called 500 Tiles. I had to have it!

To me inspiration means new ideas. New ideas mean new work. New work means pleasing potential buyers. Potential buyers mean earning an income. Earning an income means I can afford more wonderful books to inspire me.

Does everyone go through this process to justify book addictions? Books (particularly art books) give me endless joy. They are my springboards to new ideas. I discover new artists, new mediums , new processes and new outlooks.

In 500 Tiles, I discovered Steven Bird's quirky mosaics. He creates playful, naive ceramic pieces, a number of which are featured in 5oo Tiles.

I'm guessing he started making mosaics when he had a surplus of broken ceramics that were beautiful in their own right. Far too good to throw out. His work makes me smile. (Another good reason for buying this book. There are many pieces that make me smile).

South African artist Hennie Meyer also features. He is known for his quaint teapots but now I have fallen in love with his tiles.

The set of 6 tiles tiles above are made by Hennie Meyer and the mosaics are created by Stephen Bird.

Friday, July 4, 2008


This morning started on a shrill note. The Hadedas roost on the roof and I swear they tiptoe over to where I'm sleeping, peep over the edge and say....yep, dead to the world...and then all hell breaks loose. They have a cry like a hundred wailing babies. I just about hit the roof every time!

We had an early trip to Durban planned, to deliver a carving and fetch a fishing rod ....... then the day was ours to browse. We headed to Art Africa in Umhlanga, my favourite shop in KwaZulu Natal.

They stock a wonderful selection of African artefacts, both traditional and contemporary. Most of my Ethiopian crosses come from Art Africa and I have my eye on quite a few other pieces but today was just for browsing.

A new consignment of life sized colonial figures had just arrived. Traditionally a Baoule woman would have a carving made of her future husband , dressed in the garb of whatever profession she admired. With the colonial influence in Africa the idealised vision of her future husband changed and the more westernised figures of doctors, teachers, priests, businessmen, chefs etc. became popular.

It was a treat to get out of the house to waft around the shops, eating food that I didn't have to cook and just sit, contemplating the sea from a cafe at the top of the hill. It's taken me far too long to finish my carving order due to a little accident or two, starting with a nick in one thumb. You won't believe how painful a nicked thumb can be....and as if that wasn't enough the following day I sliced through the other one with a chisel. Something I havn't done in years. Nicks yes but slices no. (Funnily enough it is the exact spot I had stitched when I sliced through my thumb when I was about 15 ). Since my trip to casualty I've been floating around with two thumbs sticking up at right angles, feeling very clumsy....and all thumbs! Ah well that will teach me for carving like a hooligan.