Earl Sherman Braggs wrote us a poem. by Melissa Hefferlin

Portrait of Earl Sherman Braggs by  Timur Akhriev

Portrait of Earl Sherman Braggs by Timur Akhriev

Daud and I met Natalie and Braggs when we were still a very young couple. It was an opening in the home of art dealer Linda Woodall, the beginning of a treasured friendship. I’ve benefited from cross-pollination with the couple, exchanging music and ideas, doing so when we’re lucky over their wonderful food. We share a history with the former Soviet Union, as both Daud and Natalie (Earl’s wife) were born there. Earl admires the poet Anna Akhmatova, and he and Natalie have toured Russia and the Ukraine. Conversation with them is always intriguing, sometimes passionate, always treasured.

To have Earl unexpectedly send us this beautiful composition about our meeting was a life highlight. It’s an honor to share it with you.

I hope you’ll enjoy the work, which I think sounds great read out loud. Never miss an opportunity to hear Earl read his work in person. His books are available on Amazon and from Anhinga Press.

Melissa meets Daud
for everyone, Champagne

Linseed oil, pastel colored paint impressionistically etched
into the actual color of unmixed reflected light that night,

the night she met him somewhere beneath the sometimes
stubborn white branches of Russian white birch trees. So

the lack of shimmering leaves remembered their names
as white Russian winters would have them not. Sometimes

the colors of paint forget the words, but the canvas always
plays on, music, like pages of a Boris Pasternak love song.

Van Gogh said yellow is the color of love. Saint Petersburg
was still a yellow city then. Patiently, without words, they

fell in color with the silent love of canvas covered wet paint.
Real-life and still-life afforded each enough natural light to

see the small softness of harsh rides on subways and Russian
crowded bus stops/steps up, down Nevsky Prospekt (Street).

A song, perhaps the first, they sang on the steps of the Singer
Building, Prince Alexander Nevsky’s most notable landmark,

in Soviet times known simply as the House of Books. There,
they read/re-read the short story of each other’s eyes. There,

he taught to her the Red Square root of Russia. There, she
taught to him the circumference of an American circle. There,

they taught to each other that color has no shape. Texture
and concept tried to tie her balance to his, still they fell from

atop the tallest roof in that yellow town, spinning, spinning,
down, down at the speed of floating flowers, Van Gogh’s

sunflowers, one dozen like roses. A vase, slowly back-dropped
in a pillow of yellow. Soft Flowers land softly, the steps of art.

So there they were, playing paint. Melissa waltzing the way
a red dress waltzes, waltzing across a palette page, a perfect

stage, still-life, Green, oil on linen—blown glass green bottle,
big as the chair upon which it sits—a green silk scarf hangs

from the left side chair back, sweeping, cascading, pleasingly
graceful, elegant. Softly fanning blue, a painted floor. Miles

away in the next room, Quiet Neighborhood, Venice, Daud,
slow brushing the colors of slow drying paint before looking

into the eyes of Laura in Blue, (figurative) oil/11.625x7.9375.
Stylistic pluralism, Daud and Melissa, realism and still-life.

The first time they met was not the first time they met, for
they, each, had known forever, the brushing sounds of color.

Repin Institute of Painting painted them before they painted
each other that Saint Petersburg night when the city was still

Van Gogh yellow. I met them in America one art show night,
a night when the necessary was so unnecessary. Perhaps by

chance, first glance, I knew who the coloring book colored
them to be. Me, I’m a poet. Recognition, not a hard question.

A place of galleried paintings, seemingly miles from anywhere,
a room of art rooms, Linda Woodall’s place, a house placed deep,

dark in sacred woods. There in the lobby of painted life, still-life,
my wife and I stood, situated upon edges sharp enough to believe

in the comedy and tragedy of love. This is where we met Melissa
and Daud drifting without drifting amongst tables for tea, coffee,

red and white art-opening-night wine, red caviar and cheese. It
was one of those nights when the moon knew everybody’s name.

In conversations banked upon Russian vodka banked upon being
Swedish made, they drove us that evening through Russian city

streets of The Long Winding Road. The Beatles took us home as
I remember. Too awake to drive, I was remembering the colors

of them standing upon things remembered. They remembered
blue as the two painters painted Timur, Daud’s son, softly into

the picture as the third painter in a family of three. Together,
madly, they all fell in love with what they were already in love

with, the perennially planted brilliancy of soft drying paint. Then
when in Spain, Spain already knew how to spell Melissa’s name.

Madrid, ever the kid in Daud’s playful mind, knew him as well.
He kissed Kiss of the Peacock-oil on canvas. Delivery Boats-oil

on gessoed panel, Evening at the Port, Harbor Conversation, Daud,
talking on water again. And in Spain where Spanish dirt invited

each of them to plant olive trees and watch them grow, he painted
the matador and the bull. The Spanish sun loved his studio light.

The Spanish moon loved her rhythm, Spanish Rhythm-oil on canvas,
76x40cm; Sevillanas and Stallions-oil on canvas, 200x 100cm. Jazz

in the lobby of a painter’s life, a Spanish guitar, a piano. I know
paint and colors on canvas don’t know perfect. Perfection doesn’t

want to know the colors and textures of wet paint. Improvisation
knows without knowing, improvisation feels without feeling what

painters and poets and Miles Davis, trumpeting Sketches of Spain
never learns to name— that which can be named is not the Tao.

Melissa meets Daud, beautiful meets magic, wet paint meets brush
for lunch; champagne-chilled, caviar, Canvas Cafe, and then, Zen.”

Earl Sherman Braggs

Pursuing your Dreams with Dennis and Adisa by Melissa Hefferlin

Strangers Bearing Gifts, Part 1

This is the first in a series of blogs about by our experiences with the strangers who came to our home, and the gifts they brought.

The motto “Beware of strangers bearing gifts” comes from the Trojan horse story, more specifically in some translations “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” I have the impression that contemporary thought often distills the phrase to simply, “Beware of strangers.”  While I know there are broken and dangerous people in the world, and I have encountered a few of them, my overall experience with strangers has been nourishing.

My attitude towards strangers is informed by the fact that since 2011 Daud and I ARE “the foreigners,” or the “giri” as known locally, here in Andalusia, Spain. (I asked my friend Tatiana how “giri” actually translates, and the best she could do was “imagine an English person who is prone to wearing clunky sandals with socks.”)  Thankfully, Spaniards meet us with seemingly boundless welcome and oft’ needed patience, and we believe the gifts we bear to Spain in return are benevolent ones.  This experience fortifies our endorsement of human mobility in general.

"Giri" sighting, explained a local.

"Giri" sighting, explained a local.

Apart from our own foreignness, a home in Andalusia has given us another reason to appreciate what strangers have to offer because of our participation in the website community www.workaway.info.  This is a hub where travelers volunteer assistance of most any sort in exchange for room, board and cultural exchange. When inviting volunteers, of course one sorts and investigates possible matches in hopes of maximizing compatibility. But still, all participants are strangers to one another, and usually from different countries. The website would naturally self-sort for people who are adventurous. 

From our Workawayers I have learned many new skills, acquired new points of view, expanded my knowledge of other cultures and formed friendships. I want to share some of their stories, beginning with Dennis and Adisa.

Dennis wrote to us on Workaway, remarking on the similarities between our lives. Not like us, Dennis is a quadruplet born in southern California, who while in grade school developed a love of maps of far away places. He found a high-school exchange program which permitted him to travel to Kazakhstan’s former capital, Almaty, and live with a family for a long stay. He fell in love with the place. Now in his early thirties, Dennis moved post-university to Almaty and married Adisa. So, Dennis pointed out in his initial letter, we  are two couples, both with one American and one person born in Kazakhstan, whose lives have Russian/Soviet art in them and who love to travel. Not something that you meet every day.

A creative powerhouse, Adisa is a native of Almaty. She is tiny, but athletic and energetic, with a 1000-watt smile and a command of English that would do an NPR radio journalist proud.  She founded an English language school for adult entrepreneurs, where she herself is the rock star private language coach. She sings well, and learns with Dennis a song in the local language from every country she visits, which is not a short list. She married Dennis in a fully-traditional Kazakh wedding which was broadcast on national television, complete with sheep’s head and (not so traditionally) California in-laws. She is a keen observer of the cultural differences and similarities between her mixed-culture families, and a diplomat of the highest order. She’ll try anything, including starting Petalka , an craft cooperative for Kazakh women. She's won international grants to help them get their wares to market. I fell in love with Adisa as soon as her smile hit our town.

After moving to Almaty, Dennis become a Kazakh television personality. (As you do…) When not filming episodes of “Discovering Kazakhstan,” he has a business conducting private walking tours of the former capital. www.walkingalmaty.com While doing all the walking tours he noticed a plethora of aging Soviet mosaics, stained glass installations, monumental sculpture and various other kinds of public art. He was naturally curious and wanted to tell his walking clients about the installations, but nobody local seemed to know much about the artworks, nor were many people interested. It was as if when rejecting the Soviet Union, the artwork was thrown out with the bath water. Some of the art installations were decaying. Dennis began a web archive of all the public art he could find in the city, posting photographs of the work, along with whatever provenance he could dig up.

People are taking notice. The news, governmental and cultural entities in the city have begun to use www.monumentalalmaty.com as a resource. Denis has formed an alliance with a good gallery and a group of patrons who are backing an upcoming exhibition and the publication of a book about Kazakhstan’s public art. The website now has over 150 monumental art installations on record, and is growing steadily. Dennis has hired a dynamo research assistant to share the work load. Perusing the website, which I highly recommend, gives the impression of a city in love with decorative design, and an exuberant national creative spirit, resulting in many genuine masterpieces. The monumental art of Almaty also is a beautiful document to the Soviet Union’s belief and investment in the power of public art, even if their purposes were ideological in addition to aesthetic.  The artists were often Kazakhs, but there are artworks by other artists from all over the former Soviet Union, as well. Dennis reports that a sense of ownership of these masterpieces is returning to the city, especially among the younger generation, and pieces are attracting preservation and restoration. He has become friendly with many of the now-elderly artists or their families. An American quadruplet who plays the ukulele is the catalyst for a Kazakh public art renaissance.

Part of a six-month walkabout, this couple spent a month in our home. They made themselves useful in exchange for room and board, and they did so while infusing our home with a sense of joy. They made a spreadsheet of everything in the pantry and then created recipes to utilize supplies which could go to waste. They played music in the evening. They helped out by doing the grocery shopping, taking photographs we needed and stretching canvases. Adisa posed for paintings as well as Serithea scarf publicity photos. Their contribution to our home gave me back several hours a day to devote to painting. We shared a Christmas together I’ll never forget. Sitting around the table every evening we had informative conversations about mosaics and mosaic techniques in different parts of the world. Systems of art education. Films, lots of films. Methods of monumental art preservation. As we primed linen or mixed drinks, Adisa and I shared and compared our experiences as spouses who both have half a family from Central Asia and half a family from the USA. Adisa sat me down and showed me how to use Instagram, about hashtags and “stories.” One evening Dennis got out his Ukulele and convinced me to attempt to accompany them on my violin while he played Christmas carols from around the world and Adisa sang. I was not musically brilliant, but wow, was it fun. Dennis told us about consulting on a film we loved, “The Eagle Huntress,” and about hunting carpets in Kirgizia. At the end of their visit, Dennis gave us a walking tour of Olvera, in the style of his Almaty walking tours.

What has stuck with me about this couple is how they steadily pursue their inquisitiveness and their dreams, and the surprising life path unfolding before them as a direct result. Because Dennis pursued his love of maps and wandering curiously on foot, he finds himself a documentary host working in the entertainment industry in Kazakhstan and catalyzing a public art rebirth. Adisa loves languages and meeting people, she now has her own school, skills in three languages, and an artists’ coop getting off the ground. They are an inspiration to me, and their boisterous attitudes fed my soul. They bolstered my sense of purpose about my work and the subjects which are dear to me, and they gave me much-enjoyed camaraderie as mixed-culture, mixed-religion families. I am deeply grateful to them.

That's my story for today from my Spanish studio (where today I got a brand new skylight!!!! Whoohooo).  I'd be delighted to hear about some of your positive experiences with strangers bearing gifts.

Yours truly, Melissa

With Ukrainian artist, Victoria Kalaichi, and her husband Denis Sarazin who's taking the photo, at the top of the Malaga ferris wheel. But that's a different story.

With Ukrainian artist, Victoria Kalaichi, and her husband Denis Sarazin who's taking the photo, at the top of the Malaga ferris wheel. But that's a different story.








The History of the Magical Rabbit by Melissa Hefferlin



This Spring blog features my treasured still life subject, the winged rabbit. That such an unlikely prey animal should possess the power to fly charms me and is symbolic.



A new adventure is underway for Daud and myself, a quest to fulfill a long-held dream. We are creating artist-designed fine silk scarves under the name Serithea. (in Greek: "Seri" means silk and "thea" means goddess.) Woven into both of our life histories is a passion for textiles. Scarves are a way of life for a large portion of the planet's women. The four women in Daud's family have libraries of exquisite scarves to enhance every occasion. I remember inheriting one of my Swiss grandmothers Hermés scarves, and what a useful and sensuous heirloom it remains. Another influence is my mother and a sister who are quilters---composing fabric into useful and elegant designs which will pass on through generations. We want to create wearable, artistic heirlooms on finest silk.

It's early days yet---we are sourcing the silks and selecting production partners, and of course, designing. Initially the project was Daud's. He already created the first suite of designs. But I could not keep my hands out of the project and will be cutting linoleum prints for a more graphic suite of scarves.

We are deeply grateful to ThreeTwelve Creative branding and marketing company. They are helping us with the identity for the endeavor. Simultaneous thanks to each of you for the enthusiasm and support you've already shown towards the project.  Thanks to John and Angela Shaheen and Pierre van Minxel who set us on the path to the silk makers. Our passion towards Serithea scarves means that we are busier than ever because we continue to be easel painters, but the creative reward is worth the time. We hope you enjoy the results!

Early prototype scarves which meet our standards will be available for pre-launch sale within weeks, and we hope to have our web boutique within 6 to 12 months. To receive information on Serithea's awakening, click on the link below, or comment on this blog.


Thank you for visiting my Olvera studio this Easter morning, and I wish you a wonderful Spring.


Sisters in Crime by Melissa Hefferlin

Welcome back to my Spanish studio. I'm glad you're here, because I am writing with forewarning that the linoleum print of the 2016 nymphs is even less modest than usual. The excellent Inelda, my mother, will shriek in mock horror when she sees them. I wavered about the design, I really did.

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In Good Hands, Italian Style by Melissa Hefferlin

Plein aire painting in Florence is heaven. Let me be more specific: it is my husband's heaven. I prefer figure painting and still life, and for me, plein air painting in Florence is a crowded and joyless business that involves too much brown. As Daud headed out into the heat-shimmering city with field easel clanking beside him

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Trying to create space by Melissa Hefferlin

For the last ten years or so still life has commanded at least half my attention. Because of the time which I have in my Spanish studio, I've been able to be more adventurous about my compositions. As seen below, I've added complexity with the introduction of a miniature self-portrait, and a back wall which not only has different planes, but has three separate lighting situations. I want the

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