Friday, May 28, 2010

Folk Stories

He Beat his Mules, acrylic on panel, 20x16

He beat his mules. Lena Lion (who could cast spells) said, "You will know what it's like to have hooves." He dreamed of running on all-fours. When he awoke, his feet and hands were bloody.

Fairy tales were okay; whispered stories about actual neighbors were more interesting. I always looked at his hands. When Lena Lion--a tiny woman--visited, I stayed quiet.

This setting is from imagination--dark quilts, rag rugs, heavy doors, old farm houses. The painting is almost finished--I will probably put these words on the upper portion of the door:

In the rural area of my childhood, several women had "powers" and creeks had suck-holes. These stories kept us from venturing onto others' property and kept us out of the lithia water of local creeks. The suck-holes were always close to the beautiful large, smooth, round rocks that beckoned. I was 28 when I took swimming lessons--in a pool!


  1. whoa! very weird story--and this kept you from swimming. hmmmm. My Mother used to tell me about a guy who used to yell at her (and other children) "run fast... or I'll cut your ears off"! Compelling! We only had a garden variety crotchety guy who didn't want us on his lawn--no unusual threats (thank goodness).
    I like that you reach back into your memory bank for subject matter. Super interesting--the mules on the rug --- inspired.

  2. Hi Celeste. I never heard anyone yell until I moved to D.C., and our neighbors were actually very nice--no crotchety ones. Good scary stories stick, though.

    Not having photos of these people is probably a good thing--I do remember the dark hair and mustache.

    (Now I'm picturing the man whose eye was missing, thanks to a knife fight.) My kids grew up in suburbia and missed these delights.

  3. Amazing Hallie how you come up with this stuff! I went over to my neighbors house tonight to let him know his puppy was stuck in the rain. (I thought maybe he had fallen asleep- he is elderly and alone.) He informed me that he was teaching her to get use to water. I got so damn angry, I couldn't speak. After I left, he brought her onto the porch.
    Your painting speaks to me Hallie. Feels like times of old- when people beat their mules. It still goes on- but I have to believe it is less now. Perhaps neighbors weren't busy bodies back then.
    Beautiful work as always Hallie- haunting, meaningful, beautiful.

  4. Thanks Pam. I think cruelty still goes on; some people just have no sympathy for animals. Maybe we can find a class in "spell-casting."

    On Wednesday a snake was lying in the grass off the deck. He stayed there posing while I got my "Snakes of Virginia" book, stood on the deck, and ID'd him--Plate 15--a ribbon snake, brown with gold stripes. I told the grass cutters to keep an eye out for him; didn't want him to get chopped up. They agreed that most snakes are okay--and they didn't roll their eyes.

  5. The last time I saw a painting with a man with his hands and feet bloody he had suffered for the sins of others. I'm glad this guy suffered for his own. Nice job. And, really cool story. Fear can sure be a good baby-sitter...


  6. Oh, what an eerie story! We didn't have stories like that from adults. We had stories of other kids of haunted houses, and weird meetings held in the woods in the middle of the night. Scared us(the girls) half to death! Love that you made it the subject of a painting!

  7. Hi Don. Because of the bloody hands and feet, I stayed away from this for years. I was intimidated by the thought--then I wondered if this might be my authentic voice. Now I wonder if this painting might be an example of "preciousness" (a term I don't quite get). I'm blaming Kathy's blog and will probably hang this in the upstairs gallery (the gallery for questionable works), not because of the subject--I'm not sure I like the painting.

    Hi Raena. This story wasn't told to kids--we overheard it. My family had a country store; people sat around telling tales. Our ears perked up when adults lowered their voices.

    (As a child I was an absolute chicken who worried about earthquakes and quicksand and was afraid of roosters and kicking mules--cows were okay. At age 5, I buried my first ruby ring because I worried about pirates--not many of those here in southern Virginia. Large yard; the ring was never found.)

  8. This painting reminds me of Latin American art I have seen, magical realism maybe; the allusion to Jesus, whether or not intended, seems not to be avoided. What is interesting is that the consequence is shown, but not the cause. If you write the words it will show his guilt, but the casting of the magical spell will of course be missing unless one knows the story. It is an interesting, unsettling painting.

  9. Hi Dan. The door was left plain because my first thought was to write the whole story on it. When I remembered how much I hate printing (& it would have to follow the perspective of the door) I shortened it. You make a good point,though.

    Today I was considering a couple of oval portraits on the wall behind him. How do I portray a spell-caster? I enjoy puzzles--and this is one. I like being between "not knowing and having the answer." I might stay for a while. I really appreciate your comment.

  10. I'm startled by this painting. My dyslexia kicks in. I puzzle over what I'm seeing. What does this imagery mean. I read the story. I feel out of balance.

    And then it occurs to me that this piece reminds me of 'retablos in reverse'...that rather than celebrate a miraculous outcome it addresses a foreboding. It's powerful, unsettling, mesmeric. The color constraint is brilliant.
    This will be a painting forever.

  11. Merci33, thank you. I'm not sure I could have posted this without reading in your blog that we need to get past "that voice that tells us we can't be/do/have that which impassions us." Often, when my work is headed towards unsettling, I change course--this time, I didn't.

  12. Hi Hallie - my blog apologizes!! Whatever the case, don't hide away this one. It completely fascinates me, as does the story. Frida Kahlo's work comes to mind here - open expression of troubling thoughts and symbolic gestures. This is when art goes from being "nice" to being "great!"

  13. Hi Kathy. Welcome Back. You blog shouldn't apologize. Your May 20th entry "Finding your work" addressed the obstacle of inhibition. It was important. Then Merci33's blog mentioned that each artist has her own experience and is the only one can can express it, and we should get past that voice that inhibits.

    I'm a "sign-reader." To me the two blogs meant go ahead--post a photo of the Mule painting! Thank you for the comment.

  14. Hallie,
    I've looked at and read this post a couple of times before dropping a note. I had to keep looking because I am absolutely intriqued by the story---told so well, like a snippet of great fiction, steeped in old tales. It reminds me of Latin American stories.
    The painting is equally intriquing. I'm glad you posted it. Thought provoking on many levels.
    What is lithia water?

  15. Thank you, Indogomar. We heard so many stories at the store--better than TV. Traditions, too--I found myself crossing the windshield today when a black cat ran across the street. Never quite figured out how these things fit with religion.

    I grew up a mile from Buffalo Lithia Springs--a resort that was established in the early 1800's and in business until 1930's. (My dad bought the library at an auction; good and strange books.) One of the minerals in the water was supposedly lithium--the water cured nervous problems and was actually bottled and sold all over the world. People still visit the Springs and fill their water bottles--we natives are rather laid back and we collect the antique bottles. I wrote a bit about it in an earlier blog, "The Lasting Effects of Drinking Buffalo Water, July 4, 2009.

  16. Fascinating story... I'm a little afraid of this guy (if he beats his mules, who knows what else he's capable of?) It's almost like he has stigmata? Very compelling.

  17. Hi R Garriott. This story (like most local tales) probably got better with each re-telling. When I was young I didn't know I should take these with a grain of salt.

    I so enjoy your blog--most recently the beautiful tulips. Your paintings lift the spirit.