Dead Birds Society

Picture of an Educator by Uschi Jeffcoat

Robin.jpg

Six years ago, I left the classroom. A year and a half ago I returned. It is a profession which keeps me connected to people, yet also allows me the luxury of time for family.

But it is not easy work

Recently, I read The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel, the portrait takes on the aging and sins of the man. And I thought about the strength that educators show in the midst of stress. Not only theirs but also that of the students. Does the outside depict the reality?

To me, the American Robin symbolizes spring, new beginnings, children playing and hope. This image to me captures a great unsettling I feel at the moment. School shootings are becoming normal, low pay is an insult to the profession and the hours are long. In what profession does one begin their day manning a metal detector shortly before entering a classroom to shape hearts and educate minds?

So I painted all the words I feel but cannot say. Recognizing that bleeding heart conversations are damask political curtains we hang.

Keeping up with the Joneses by Uschi Jeffcoat

I love an idiom. And the culture it can capture.

"Keeping Up With the Joneses" is spot on American. To me it describes what happens when the American Dream becomes grotesque. When the pursuit of happiness and freedom leads to a warped and twisted captivity.

 Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

The idiom finds its origins in a 1913 comic strip by the same title. Arthur R. Momand was the creator and the term made its way into a few silent animations.

 Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Keeping Up With the Joneses, Watercolor, 22" x 30"

Ranging from the accumulation of stuff that quickly loses its luster, sick social graces, self-glorifying chatter, and debt beyond measure - it is a pattern of behavior to appear on equal social-economic footing or ground.

Appearances were significant in my childhood home. I wonder if it was simply my mother's German perfectionism or her attempt to never appear "less than" our fully American counterparts?

Most recently I saw this pull within myself as my children wrestled with their college choices. Was I (or my family)  "less than" because they made one choice over another?  Did my children feel that way?

But these were essentially the accoutrements that appeal to all people who are not actually rich but who want to look rich, though all they manage to do is look like each other: damasks, ebony, plants, rugs and bronzes, anything dark and gleaming-everything that all people of a certain class affect so as to be like all other people of a certain class. And his arrangements looked so much like everyone else’s that they were unremarkable, though he saw them as something truly distinctive.
— Leo Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych

What Happens to Birds During Hurricanes? by Uschi Jeffcoat

“He in his madness prays for storms, and dreams that storms will bring him peace”
― Mikhail Lermontov

The photo of this bird was shared in a bird group I followed on Facebook. It was captured by someone after a recent hurricane hit the East Coast. And it immediately struck me. What does happen to birds in these storms? Where DO they go? How do they find shelter if caught in the midst of one? Why did this one not escape it?

I asked the photographer if I might use her image as a reference for a painting. She granted permission and since then, I have been immersed in the intricacies of this one's composition.

It captures so much to me.

That there is grace and beauty in dying. And yet confusion as to how a death can look so peaceful with a ballerina like pose. It doesn't seem polite.

It swells in me the grief cycle. Pirouettes and all.

*A sincere and special thank you to Marylee Newmann for permission to use her photograph that captured such a striking and moving moment as a reference image.

 

Marauder by Uschi Jeffcoat

Marauder

"Gentrification is painted alternately as a destroyer of neighborhoods or a savior of cities," says Lance Freeman in a Washington Post Article from 2016.

I have from the sidelines observed this controversial tension in my previous work. Serving artists but also promoting development. I don't have answers.

Only more questions.

Is gentrification the urban version of a food chain?

Producers and consumers: ALL are integral parts of the circle of a city's life. Can one exist without the other?

Window Dressing by Uschi Jeffcoat

 Window Dressing 22" x 30" watercolor

Window Dressing
22" x 30"
watercolor

This juvenile European Blackbird was spied outside a Birkenstock outlet store in Germany. My sister and I were on a mission to reclaim for our closets the footwear trend of Birks. I'm old enough now to realize that trends do come and go.

It makes me think of all the labels/trends we spend more money on than we should because of what we feel that thing represents. We believe we are buying quality items that we need. When I was younger,  I needed Guess Jeans, Liz Clairborne bags and Clinique make-up.

And I recognize a pattern. I'm calling it window dressing.

Window dressing obviously refers to the beauty and mindfulness that goes into a window or store front display.

But it can also allude to the misrepresentation of something in order to give a more favorable view.

During a TED talk, cyborg anthropologist, Amber Case, describes that for many of us a second version of ourselves exists in these screens we hold. For example, when we are sleeping, others are interacting with our second "virtual" self such as perhaps our Facebook profiles. Two selves doing opposite things.

And that second self of ours also requires care / time / maintenance.

I'm thankful my adolescent "window dressing" was so much simpler then. There was only one me that needed to appear better than maybe I felt on the inside. 

And so I am asking. How and when does one project an authentic self?

And in another facet, this article from the Wall Street Journal provides a look at the cost of a little physical window dressing in 4 women. (Please note: I am not pointing fingers or judging here . . . I spend my fair share on the lotions and potions.)

But is aging and imperfection considered such a flaw? Or can it be viewed as something unique and individual? How do I as a person define and share beauty?

These are big questions for me. The culture I live in influences me. But so have the women in my life.

The "wall paper" behind this painting is inspired by patterns seen in my German great grandmother's home. It is hand drawn and painted, requiring dedicated time and embracing imperfections. 

Sadly this bird tells a moral of sorts. The young European Blackbird flew into the window of the Birkenstock store. The allure of the false reflection ultimatley harming her.

Vainglory by Uschi Jeffcoat

It began as I painted the beautiful plumage patterns. The shapes and markings oddly matched the sun spots I have.  We women of 40 years old have been taught they are our enemies. And I thought of the money, time and tangle of emotions we western culture ladies spend on battling aging.

Then I went to visit my grandmother in Germany and I saw the pain of arthritis on a daily basis. And it broke my heart.

Pause. Reset.

When in our society did aging lose its beautiful honor & wisdom? Why would we try to hide and fight against that? Perhaps because it frightens us?

So I am trying to live beyond myself. Learning to recognize which things in our lives give and which take.

Vainglory, I believe you are a thief.

watercolor

19" x 24"

(background hand drawn and painted, ... took FOREVER!)