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Beauty in Restoration

hope-chest

I paused my Portraits of Scotland series the past few weeks while I’ve been working on projects around my house. Having an October that feels like September inspired me to open my garage door and set up shop where I could see sunshine and breathe fresh air! This resulted in two woodworking projects – one still in process, and another the completion of a mammoth task I began years ago.

When my great-grandmother passed away in 2008, I inherited her hope chest. The piece was practically a white elephant. As HGTV would say, it had “good bones.” However, those bones were hidden beneath layers of cream and brown paint, plywood veneer, and contact paper. Yes, contact paper! Apparently, my great-grandfather went through a phase in the 1960s or 70s where he covered everything in brown wood grain contact paper. Whether this was to “protect it” or to make a fashion statement by “updating” the look, I will never know…maybe we’ll have that conversation when I see him in Heaven some day. He also glued a plywood veneer to the top, seemingly to protect the nicer wood beneath. Looking back, I wish I’d taken photos of what it looked like then. I’ve asked family members whether they have any old photos, but no luck so far. The contact paper peeled off easily, leaving several layers of paint to strip. With an orange gel stripper, paint gave way to something that looked more hopeful. Wood grain peeked out from the shell that had encased it for decades. As I sanded down the veneer top, the glue beneath loosened. Thankfully, that veneer came off without damaging what was below. The top left photo you see above is what was below! After weeks of work, now came an even tougher task – the nooks and crannies. I was on my stomach with a toothbrush, toothpicks, and a tiny flat-head screw driver, working cream paint out of old scratches, dents, and joints in the wood’s surface. By now restoring the white elephant had become a labor of love. I knew every inch of that hope chest by the time I’d finished stripping it.

Two more years passed while the chest sat in my garage, looking thirsty and neglected, awaiting the final stages of restoration. Its potential had been revealed. Now came time for an artist to bring it back to life. Mineral spirits cleaned every surface, showing the depth of the natural grain. I chose a gunstock stain for the first coat, bringing a reddish-brown tone to the wood. Then I accented the legs and edges with an ebony stain, deepening almost to black. Finally, I sealed it all with beeswax, rubbing in two coats and buffing to make it shine. The finished piece has a home at the end of my bed, where I can see it and enjoy using it each day.

Restoring this hope chest reminded me of our own need for restoration. Each of us have layers of paint and grime that build up over the years. We become thick-skinned to protect ourselves from harsh realities we’ve experienced. We put on a veneer facade, like a face mask, showing the world only what we’d care for them to see. The potential for true beauty is there, lying just below the surface. But we’re hesitant to expose that potential to the elements. Perhaps we even robe ourselves in wood grain contact paper, trying to keep up with the cultural fashion of the times. If nothing else comes of this, at least our scratches and dings have been covered, hiding hurts and weaknesses. By the end of it all, we’re a mess. So, we sit, wondering whether anything can undo all that’s been done to us, or undo all the choices we’ve made. We cry out silently for an artist, a craftsman to come. We long for One who sees beyond our surface to the beautiful beneath. We hope for One who loves us enough to tackle the hours/weeks/years of restorative labor. Part of us hopes he’ll be able to relate to our wounds and scars…because, (perhaps) if he can relate to them, he’ll understand rather than despise them.

As we head into Thanksgiving and the advent season, I’d like to encourage you that there is One who came into the world just for that purpose. He came as an infant, in vulnerable beauty (Luke 2:1-20). He grew up in the same world we live in, with its harsh realities and ever-changing cultural times (Luke 2:41-52). He stayed true to his purpose, unafraid of harsh words or biting accusations. He never hid behind facades, though he often stripped away (sometimes gently, sometimes forcefully) the facades of those around him (John 4; Matthew 23:27). Finally, he carried scars (our scars) to the grave. All the dings and dents, failures and festering wounds went with him to Sheol. But the grave could not hold him down. He rose in beauty, fully restored (John 20:1-18). Like my hope chest, he is known by his scars (Revelation 5:6). But his aren’t scars of sin. They’re scars of a love so deep it would sacrifice itself for the sake of restoring a broken world.

Portraits of Scotland – Edinburgh Piper

edinburgh-piper-crop

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

Opening the window of your apartment on the Royal Mile, you’re met with sights and sounds of a bustling city. Tourists and lorries, street vendors and shop owners create a chatter of activity. This cacophony is part of the music of Edinburgh. However, it’s merely the backdrop for a ribbon of song that floats and weaves through the city street. For, on several corners stand Edinburgh pipers whose bagpipes screel the notes of the nation.

During the several days we spent in or near the Royal Mile, we saw (and listened to) pipers of all ages. Each wore a traditional kilt, some in full regalia. And most played traditional Scottish bagpipes. Then, one day we came across a young piper whose music carried more harmonies, without the shrill drone of Scottish pipes. I asked the young man, whose name is Rex, whether these were Uilleann pipes – an Irish form of bagpipe I’d heard once in college. The Uilleann pipes look a lot like those Rex played. Turns out I was on the right track! Rex was playing a lesser-known instrument called the Scottish smallpipes. In preparation for this blog post, I emailed Rex, asking for more information about smallpipes and his experiences as a piper. Rather than summarize what he said, I’ll share his responses here:

edinburgh-piper-web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

Specifics: The ‘Scottish smallpipes’ as played when we met are a less commonly played form of pipes. The more traditional ‘Highland Bagpipes’ are most common. They have a huge link with Scottish culture and are referred to by some as an ‘instrument of war’. The ‘Scottish smallpipes’ are more quiet and usually played in pubs and at local gatherings. Very few people play these and so it takes around 6 months to a year to get a good set from a maker. They have the same finger work as the highland bagpipe although look and are played differently (with a bellow instead of a blowpipe). They are great for playing with other instruments, particularly the guitar whereas the highland bagpipes are more of a solo instrument (unless of course played with drums) The Uilleann pipes, also known as Irish pipes are, in my opinion the holy grail of piping expertise. There is a saying which is: “7 years learning, 7 years practicing, 7 years playing”…21 years to master. They are usually played sitting down and have 2 octaves with wrist actions to hold chords at the same time as playing. These are extremely complex to play and indeed make, which is why it can take several years to get hold of a set.

My piping life: I have been playing the pipes for around 7 years now, starting off at around age 8. Having lived in Scotland all my life, I have been surrounded by piping since as long as I can remember. But it never occurred to me to play as I thought it was too “mainstream.” I couldn’t have been more wrong! Piping is a passion for me now. My grandfather was a piper in the black watch regiment, so he played a role in getting me motivated. My first teacher was ‘Alasdair’, the piping legend of Dunbar (east coast). He taught me for 5 years and in my opinion is one of the best teachers that one could ever hope for. A truly amazing man! Not only does he play fantastically well but also makes his own instruments. Next I moved to Paris at 13 and joined the ‘Paris & District Pipe Band’ for 1 year which was fascinating. They’re a group of piping enthusiasts from Brittany who used to play the Breton pipes but had moved over to the traditional ‘Highland Bagpipe’ as the repertoire was larger. This was when I first started to realise there were different branches of piping. Whilst there I met a man who reconstructed pipes of the Baroque period by gathering information, specifically from paintings. This was really an eye opener to me and prompted me to expand my playing abilities. Since then I have started the Scottish smallpipes and also the tin whistle (guitar also for accompaniment). Busking (street performing) is something I love. I often go out with a friend and we play together. We have done so all over, in Edinburgh, London, Paris, and Italy. These have been self-paid-for trips that we have covered with busking proceeds. This is what keeps my love for piping going. Not only do I get a chance to improve my piping and get more confidence performing in public, but I also meet new people all the time. Piping has a real impact on people. It conjures powerful feelings of patriotism and is also very emotional at times. It gives me a real kick to see people so happy to hear the pipes and to be so supportive of them! It is an incredible tradition that has been around for centuries, and I hope it will continue be so.

Deep Waters

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copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

Says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine! When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, you will not drown…For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior.” ~ Isaiah 43:1-3

This painting and post are for Ava – an 8-year-old little girl and her family who have been trudging the deep waters of cancer. I cannot fathom what they are going through. Yet, though I only know them through a mutual friend, their story and faith have brought me to tears and put me on my knees in prayer continually over the past several months. I won’t try here to retell their story. Instead, I encourage you to read it yourselves. Ava’s mom has chronicled much of it through a Facebook page called Team Brighter Days.

Many of us know children or loved-ones who have faced debilitating illness. As we walk with them through the impossibly hard days/weeks/years, we fear drowning…drowning in sorrow, anger, exhaustion. Hope can either die or become a rock to cling to in those times. There is no training manual that prepares parents for talking with their children about the possibility of death. Ava has already had those conversations with her parents. More than most children her age, she understands that this world is not her ultimate home. And, while she continues to fight for her life, she also manages to sing the lyrics to one of her favorite songs: “You can have all this world. Give me Jesus.” While we plead with God to touch her cells, heal each one, and allow her many more years on this earth, we also pray that she and her family feel His arms carrying them in the midst of this.

No matter our walk, be it easy or heavy, we all need a savior who will walk beside us, able to relate to what we’re going through. One of the last words I painted in this illustration was the word “with”. As I filled in the letters with a flesh-tone brown, the name Immanuel, which means God with us, came to mind. God came in the flesh to be one of us. When Jesus was 8 days old, a man named Simeon took the baby in his arms, spoke of what his life would one day be, and said to Jesus’ mother, Mary: “A sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:21-35) What words to give to a new mother! I’m sure those words came back during the week of Christ’s crucifixion. Beaten, mocked, stripped, and hung on a tree, her boy (age 33 now) would have been barely recognizable. He had the power to heal, walk on water, raise people from the dead – yet he allowed himself to be overcome by death. Did Mary understand that death could only hold him down for 3 days? I think many mothers can relate to Mary, guessing that she wrestled with warring emotions of hope and despair. Michelangelo, in his sculpture Pieta, depicts Mary holding herpieta son after his body’s been retrieved from the cross. While Jesus’ body seems limp and lifeless, his calf-muscle is tense in the sculpture. Michelangelo, who dissected cadavers and knew muscle tone better than any painter or sculptor of his time, would not have accidently carved that muscle in a flexed/tense position. I believe (as others do) that he used it as a foreshadowing of the resurrection. Yes, Mary’s son was dead. But death could not hold him down. He would soon declare permanent victory over the grave. (1 Corinthians 15:54-57)

The man Jesus who walked on water, who walked through Hell, and defeated death itself, now walks with us through the deepest waters. Rivers cannot overwhelm us. The grave cannot swallow us. Because when we lack the strength to stand, he carries us. And when we’ve lost even the will to hold on, he won’t let us go.

Portraits of Scotland – Aileen

Aline web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

One of the leading industries in Scotland, tourism employs over 210,000 people and rakes in almost £6.4 billion annually (according to scotland.org). Not hard to believe, considering B&Bs, self-catering rentals, and guest houses line the streets of every scenic village…and in Scotland, nearly every village is scenic! Where the terrain is too rugged for a B&B, camping tents cluster along streams and cliff-sides. My parents and I stuck with the more conventional housing options. So, during our month’s travels, we encountered a wide variety of hosts and hostesses. Some were chatty, some shy, and others business-like. Many had moved from England to Scotland because they loved the land and its people. Others had been born and bred in the area. A few learned the hospitality gig from their parents. Others left the “dog-eat-dog” business world for a more relaxed lifestyle. But whatever their age, disposition, or background, they all share certain qualities: a knack for hospitality, the ability to organize and run a busy household, tremendous cooking skills,  deep love for the country around them, and a breadth of knowledge about their home’s history and the surrounding town/village.

Nine years ago, my parents stayed at The Victorian Townhouse in Edinburgh. This trip, Mom and I decided to return there for our Edinburgh stay. Mom remembered Aileen (pronounced Ay-leen with emphasis on the first syllable) as a friendly hostess who took great care of them in 2007. She was right! Aileen took wonderful care of us. She rents out 3 rooms on the lower level of the house. The upper level is occupied by herself (and previously) her son. The accommodation and treatment were fancier than anything we’d come across previously. High ceilings and window looking onto a back garden, ornate fireplace, large bathroom, and a sitting area with tea and snacks on-hand. We enjoyed getting to know our hostess and the other guests at breakfast each morning. And, upon request, Aileen took us upstairs to visit the Victorian parlour. This room has tall windows looking out onto Eglinton Crescent. The ornate tray ceiling, rich wooden wainscoting, and Persian rug with brushed tassels all harken back to quieter times. This particular townhouse was the childhood home of one of our favorite Scottish authors – D.E. Stevenson. Dorothy Emily was the cousin of Robert Louis Stevenson. While not as well-known as Robert Louis, she has a wide fan-base even to this day. Her books are novels about family life in England and Scotland, written from the 1930s-1970s. My personal favorites are Miss Buncle’s Book (recently made into a play, and possibly going to be made into a BBC movie), The Tall Stranger, and The Five Windows. During our Edinburgh stay, Mom and I actually stumbled across a treasure-trove of D.E. Stevenson books! They were tucked into a corner of an establishment called (appropriately enough) Edinburgh Books on West Port Road. The City of Edinburgh placed a plaque commemorating her birthplace at The Victorian Townhouse this very month! Seeing Aileen’s Victorian parlour, we could imagine D.E. Stevenson as a small girl…peering out the front window at people passing in the cobbled street, sitting by the large fireplace on chilly nights, ringing the bell to summon servants for tea. Our stay with Aileen was the perfect end to a memorable month in Scotland!

About the artwork:

For many illustrations in my series, I simply asked the person in passing permission to photograph them for a portrait. In Aileen’s case, I wanted to set her up in the Victorian room and do a more formal photo-shoot. While her cooking clothes and apron might have represented the everyday aspect of her position, The Victorian Townhouse hostess should have a chance to show off her string of pearls and stately sitting-room. Mom and I chatted with her for nearly an hour while I snapped photos. The photo-shoot itself was as fun as the actual painting of her portrait!

For the Grads – Sparrows

Sparrows web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

The time has come to say goodbye to my 2016 grads. Yes, their graduation was months ago. But this is the week when most of them head off to new states, new adventures, new “freedom,” and new pursuits. Some have already filled their parents’ living room with Rubbermaid storage bins, bedding, perhaps a borrowed mini-fridge. Others have procrastinated (a skill they honed throughout high school) and will pack the day before they leave. Having written a blog post last year For the Grads, I decided to write a post for this year’s group as well. This was a tough class to say goodbye to! Some I’ve known since they were in elementary school…eager, bouncy personalities whose older siblings were in our church youth group at the time. Some I taught in public school for both 6th-grade and various high school art courses. Others I’ve coached, mentored, sponsored in school clubs, helped with portfolios and letters of rec, or all of the above. One of my students once told me she could never be a teacher because it would be too hard to say goodbye to the kids you care about each year. She was right. That aspect of teaching can be bittersweet. But, having poured into these kids for several years, it would be pointless to hold them back when the time comes to let them go.

Appropriately enough, the verse in the painting above comes from a passage where Jesus is sending out his “grads”. The 12 disciples have been following Jesus, listening to him teach, watching him do astounding miracles, praying with him, eating, traveling, hanging out with him. He has been their mentor and they’ve looked up to his example. Now it’s time to apply what they’ve learned. It’s time to step out in faith, leave their comfort-zone, share the gifts they’ve been given. Like a school principal’s address to the student body at a graduation ceremony, Jesus packs words of wisdom and advice into the paragraphs of Matthew 10. But unlike the principal (who tends to paint a gleaming picture of glorious futures for his grads), Jesus knows that his disciples are being sent out into a difficult unknown. People and towns may welcome them. However, many will persecute them for their faith. The reality is that in years to come most of those 12 disciples will be killed for following Christ, even to the point of being hung on a cross as their mentor himself was crucified.

Thankfully, none (or few) of my grads will face the persecution and hardships that Jesus’ disciples faced. They’re headed to reasonably safe college campuses, pursuing structured career-paths. They’ll return home every 4-6 weeks carrying a bag the size of Santa’s sack, bulging with dirty laundry. They’ll meet new people who expand their understanding of life and the world we live in. They’ll make friends – some who will be there for them for a few months and others who will be there for them for the rest of their lives. If wise, they’ll avoid pitfalls and temptations that can come with their newfound freedom. Or they’ll make mistakes and grow from those mistakes. The most important thing I hope my grads will take from the Matthew 10 passage is that the God who knows them intimately goes with them on this new journey…”Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”

God’s sovereignty is one of those big churchy concepts I can’t fully do justice to here. But the line, “not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from the will of your Father,” hints at that concept of sovereignty. Claude Monet puts it into perspective when he says: “Your mistake is to want to reduce the world to your own scale, whereas with a greater understanding of things you would find a greater understanding of yourselves.” We get so caught up in the immediacy of our circumstances, that we forget to zoom out and see the bigger picture. God, being outside of time and outside of space, is able to orchestrate both macro and micro details in our lives and world. Micro: He has constant track of the number of hairs on our head; knows where our keys are when we lose them; knows our thoughts/fears/joys before we speak of them; can even rearrange the cells in our body should He so choose. Macro: He knows who will come into power and who will be dethroned; allows both the beauty of a sunrise and the destruction of a tidal wave; is at work in the joys of birth and the sorrows of death. He does not want us to live in fear, driven by anxiety because of the uncertainty of our circumstances (Isaiah 41:10). When we let fear dictate our actions we are forgetting the depth of our God’s love for us. He sees a bigger picture than what we can comprehend! And, knowing our need, He is proactive. He does not leave us to fend for ourselves but sent His son to rescue us from the brokenness of a fallen world. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) As Jesus sent his “grads” on their way, he spoke as a friend who would give his very life for them. His words, “you are worth more than many sparrows,” were meant to remind them of that love. The better we understand his steadfast love, the better we understand ourselves and our place in this world.

About the artwork:

This painting was a graduation gift for a young lady who loves math. Her favorite “colors” are black and white. According to her mom, the only place she’d use bright colors was in her math notebook at school. A rainbow of pens brought those notebook pages to life. When I mentored her several years ago we’d play a dice game called Farkle. I’d sit with pen and paper, struggling to add up the score while she’d do the complicated sums in her head and tell me instantly. I’d laugh and say, “Why am I keeping score when you can do it all in your head!?” The Matthew 10 design was one of my favorites to create because it brought back many sweet memories. It also posed a fun challenge for me: to design a space using numbers as the focal point, with limited color palette. The sparrows are based off photos of sparrows, but simplified down to as few lines as possible. Since most of my work is photo realistic, I enjoyed the graphic-design aspect of this illustration. To throw an art term out there, the color scheme is what we’d call an accented neutral. Meaning: black, white, and brown are the main colors with a splash of aqua to accent them.

Portraits of Scotland – Leather Artisan

leather artisan web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

Tucked away, merely steps from Tobermory Main Street, is a small store where old meets new. You enter a shop where the walls, paint, carpet and furnishings are modern, clean lines. Yet behind the workbench stands a man whose craft dates back hundreds (if not thousands) of years. Alan Willetts taught himself leatherwork as a hobby. But the deeper he got into the craft, the more dissatisfied he was with his regular job. So, he opened up shop. Now, with both a store-front and an online site, he can be found working long hours at what he loves best. I stepped into the store out of curiosity. But both the artisan and his skill quickly caught my attention. One wall is a rainbow of earth tones, belts of all lengths and colors. In front of the workbench hang a row of leather bracelets with tooled or embossed designs. By the window are tables of wallets, journal covers, and other items, each hand-stitched and completely hand-crafted. We asked Alan if he might show us the tooling process. His eyes lit up as he explained various thicknesses of leather, demonstrating how to carve, emboss, and paint a leafy vine. He’s even designed a map of the Isle of Mull, made from his vine and leaf pattern. Mom and I would be leaving town soon, but we ventured to ask if he could finish a couple items for us if we placed an order. He was able to complete the order, and had both items ready by the following evening! Not long after we left the shop, Mom said, “You should see if he’d let you take photos to do a portrait of him!” So, when I returned to the shop to pick up our order, I brought my camera. Alan’s one comment was, “How does my hair look?” I assured him it looked fine! And we set up the shots that became the above illustration. I love that the photos (and painting) caught his intensity of expression as he concentrated on carving. This is a man in his element who puts ingenuity and time into every inch of every piece he creates. In a world and time where mass-production factory output is the norm, it’s refreshing to visit a place where time slows down while an artist hones his craft.

Portraits of Scotland – Dunvegan Gardener

Dunvegan Gardener web

copyright 2016 Mollie Bozarth

When I told my friend that I’d toured 3 castles during my first 3 days in Scotland, her thought was, “If you’ve seen one castle, haven’t you seen them all?” However, having visited several of Scotland’s castles this month, I can safely say that no two are alike! No one can accuse Scotland of lacking castles. I’d be interested to know what the ratio is per square mile. Some castles are mere ruins; others have been occupied by families and/or clan leaders longer than America’s existed as a country. Urquhart Castle (pronounced Er-keht), which looks out over Loch Ness, was purposefully blown up by its owners to keep Jacobite forces from taking control. Many castles are simple fortresses to claim or protect territory. Others were built as protective walls, with a village of people or armies living inside. Some were built for glory, (then torn down and rebuilt even larger) to declare the owner’s wealth. Each is famous in its own right. But a few are famous for their gardens. When a family has lived in one place for generations, they have time to cultivate trees, flower-beds, walled gardens, waterfalls, in some areas of Scotland even tropical plants. Think of it as “Let’s plant a bush for Mom for Mother’s Day”…then times that by several hundred Mother’s Days.

One garden especially well-known on the Isle of Skye is Dunvegan Castle garden. When you walk down Dunvegan paths, you feel as though you’ve stepped into a scene from The Secret Garden. Natural waterfalls tumble into streams, with foot-bridges crossing them. A fence constructed of sawn branches lines walkways, blending in naturally with its surroundings. The Walled Garden houses more protected plants, including a lily pond with deep pink waterlilies gracing the tranquil surface. Meanwhile, the Round Garden has sections of open lawn and monkey puzzle trees stretching up to the sky. Everywhere color explodes around you in flowers of all kinds, each labeled with name and Latin classification for those who care to know what they’re seeing.

Of course, these gardens don’t take care of themselves. Acres of manicured beds, trimmed hedges, and weed-free paths require work. So, today’s portrait is dedicated to the many gardeners working behind the scenes to maintain a castle garden’s majesty. This particular portrait is a woman who works part-time at Dunvegan. In the few minutes I spoke with her, it was evident that gardening is both an enjoyment and a labor of love. She seemed a quiet individual; perhaps shy, but happy to talk about the plants in her care. Each gardener is given a particular section of the grounds to maintain. Her segment includes Rhododendron hedges (Scotland’s famous weed), spotted with pale pink blossoms. It also includes several beds with springy green heather tucked amongst the flowers. As I photographed her, she was trimming the heather. When I asked when the heather blooms, she told me that this is a garden-variety heather that blooms in spring. The wild heather which transforms Scotland’s hills to gorgeous purple will bloom later this summer or early autumn. An old wheel barrow with tools and extra flowers stood nearby. And as we finished our conversation, she paused to put on “midgie gear,” a net-like head covering to protect her from midge bites. For those who don’t know, the midge is the national bird of Scotland. Just kidding! However, they are like tiny gnats that swarm and leave you itching. In a garden that looks like paradise, midges remind you you’re definitely on earth. With her midge protection in place, the Dunvegan gardener continued quietly and happily, content in her work.