Saturday, February 4, 2017

"Mom, Can I Borrow A Shoebox?"

Making a Mardi Gras float...
I remember when my son had to create a mission in fourth or fifth grade as part of learning about the history of California. Naturally, all the parents competed with each other to create the best mission diorama for some elementary school open house. For sure, it was a fun family project, but I can't say I was not creatively involved.

I don't have any recollection about doing this in Catholic school, but the first four years of my education was at a public school and every year around "Carnival Time" (That's what we called it in back then!) we'd create Mardi Gras floats out of shoe boxes. Mom would sacrifice one of her boxes to staple the top of the box vertically to the bottom container that held the shoes. Lots of glue, tempera paint, colored crepe paper, usually the Mardi Gras colors of green, purple and gold, and old beads from last year's booty, help create the beginning of some sort of concept.

Even as a kid, I never was enamored with all that fake royalty, glitter, masks and such, but okay, the top of the box had to have revelers to help make a concise float concept. One year, the solution was to taking my plastic, olive drab soldiers, and paint them in the colors of Mardi Gras. I used mostly the soldiers who were throwing hand grenades, ( you remember that pose!) and have them throwing something into the adoring crowd. Another year, Trigger, Bullet, farm animals and a roping Roy Rogers graced the top of my float. I tried to glue my Nelly Belle jeep to the deck of the float, but it never would stay atop of the deck and would just roll off the float.

One year, I designed the float with those colored plastic, (Wasn't everything plastic back then?) four engined airplanes which I believe I received from the throws of the prior year. I used cotton balls to create the clouds which "floated" in front of a painted blue vertical background. Back then, we kids were seriously into the environment recycling all kinds of junk to enhance our special entry. We'd glue Life Savers, doilies, pins, MandM's, moss, sticks and stones, colored buttons stolen from granny's button jar, and Scrabble chips to misspell Marty Graw!

I wonder if any New Orleans mother ever got their shoe boxes back on Ash Wednesday or ever even wanted them back!

Copyright 2017/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The only record left of Santa Viking's existence.

Good Christmas Eve Saturday, y'all.
I am happy to report that I survived my ordeal yesterday with Mother Nature. I was afraid I would do something stupid and wreck Christmas, but, after about six hours of yard work, I am pleasantly surprised. 
Speaking about Christmas, this is my Santa Viking pic from yesteryear. When our family had young kids to celebrate Christmas, we'd ship our gifts to them from SoCal. My two brothers started a bogus Christmas company call "Dudenheimer Productions". Tee, Brian and I would look with much anticipation for all the zany silliness my brothers could conjure up.
It was always a fun time under the tree!
In retaliation, I started sending our gifts from "Santa Viking" who'd ravage and pillage and plunder... and blunder his way into the hearts of many a little Bensen! Many Polaroids later, this is the only record of Santa Viking's existence.
Enjoy... I think!
In case I forget, let me wish you all a wonderful Christmas. My Facebook and Google friends are the best...

Copyright 2016/Ben Bensen III

Monday, December 12, 2016

"Come All Ye Faithful..."

Holy Trinity Cathedral
"When we get there, I don't think we need to stay too long," my wife said. I thought to myself well what's the big deal. It's kinda rude just to show your face and then, run!

"Okay, whatever," I acquiesced.

When we arrived at the Holy Trinity Cathedral in New Orleans, which I later found out was first Greek Orthodox Church in North or South America, the parking lot was almost full.

About two Saturdays ago, I moseyed over for a cup of coffee and some abuse from the gang at Gus's restaurant, but there was no one or cars to be found as is usual. There was an envelope taped to the locked door of the restaurant. I wasn't sealed so I decided to open it up and see what was the reason for everyone's Saturday no show.

Written on a torn, half sheet of yellow ledger paper by a local landscape gardener, Steve Smith, was his condolences to the owner, Gus Michailakis. The first thing that crossed my mind was that Gus had complications from his inner ear surgery and passed away. 

I was not the only friend who shared that concern.

Sketchy information from close friends who spoke to witnesses said that on Friday night, with little or no warning, the eldest son, George, left the kitchen where he was working and went into the men's bathroom to end it all. George was the eldest son with a history of mental illness. One shot was all that was heard. 

Naturally, chaos ensued. The restaurant wasn't crowded at that time, but patrons poured out of the door into the parking lot. The local police showed as did the ambulance. Out of respect for the family, none of the patrons asked and little information was divulged. At this point, one week later, the details of his death don't seem so important.

Waiting our turn to see George in repose, I noticed in front of me, the neighborhood friend Therese and I ran into as we walked to the church. She stood in front of the casket with tears in her eyes. I looked around to see how precious friendships really are and what a simple neighborhood eatery means to a community. If only George could have understood the important part of his being alive and the out pouring of love that was shown at the crowded church.

I turned my head back towards the casket to notice that, our friend, Debra, touched George's hand which was surrounded by a crystal rosary. Her doing so reminded me of seeing our son in his casket and touching his hand. A hand, though still rather childlike, was a talented hand. Little hands that we had to hold so he wouldn't scratch himself from the many food allergies that plagued him most of his life. Soft hands that could easily grasped a double play ball or tap an errand throw of a football back into his arms. Talented hands that could build and paint model aircraft as well as create marker and charcoal and pastel art. 

The same hands that later would nervously pat me on the head as he passed by never knowing quite how I would receive it, were now cold and gray. It has always stuck with me. As our turn came up to pay our respects, I could tell Therese was beginning to have a hard time coping, for George was Brian and Brian was now, George. But when she met Pam Michailakis, in the receiving line, both mothers hugged and fell into desperate tears. I really don't know what was said or commiserated. I'll never know what it means to share one mother's heartbreak with another mother, but I could tell Tee was already exhausted.

We sat in a pew for a moment or two trying to regain some composure, then we walked back to the car. Starting it up, I slipped a Christmas cd into the player. The first song to play was,"Oh Come All Ye Faithful... It was then that I realized the "twenty minutes" was probably more than enough!

Copyright 2016/ Ben Bensen III

Saturday, December 10, 2016

"The Courthouse Wedding Sketch.. A FollowUp!"

The happy framer, couple and artist!
This is just a follow up to the preceding blog story:  

We, the framer, the couple and me, finally were able to meet at Pineapple Gallery in Mandeville, yesterday. 

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, I was really concerned that they wouldn't love it. Maybe, it had to do with only having a few minutes to complete it! I sometimes wonder what the hell is wrong with me! 

But, they both were ecstatic about the framing as well as the artwork. Whew!

Copyright 2016/Ben Bensen III

Monday, December 5, 2016

"A Sketch Artist, A Court Room And... A Wedding!"

Really a cool concept...
I received my courtroom/ wedding sketch nicely framed by the Pineapple Gallery when I visited Carol Hallock and Tanya Firmin Dischler's art show. I am hoping to set up a photo thing with the wedded couple, me, the Hamilton's, and, of course, the artwork, but coordinating everyone for these photo sessions most times just isn't logistically possible.

Well, it all started about a month ago. A young couple arrived at my booth at the Three Rivers Art Festival  and ask if I had any experience as a courtroom reporter. When I told them that I did and could send them samples of my work, they immediately recruited me to illustrate their wedding like a reporter would, as a keepsake. After explaining that they didn't want to lose control of their wedding to either side of the family, they decided since the groom was a budding divorce lawyer, that taking their vows and exchanging the rings in front of a judge in the local court house would be a pretty novel idea.

I did too, but I had no idea what was expected of me on their wedding day. To a certain degree, I should have taken more control of the proceedings. I was not aware of exactly where the judge and the couple had to be to make the best use of the scene. Unbeknownst to me, traditionally the bride is to stand or kneel on the left side of the groom. Had I known that ahead of time I would've place myself on the other side of the judge's stand. I wanted to position myself where I could get the bride's face and gown and leave the groom, who was visually easier to draw sporting a straw hat and a well groomed beard, in profile. 

I should have explained my concern and asked for their patience in order to transport my easel and supplies to the other side of the judge's stand, but I just didn't want to impose myself upon the couple in that way. I am positive that they wouldn't have had a problem with my request even though they seemed a bit nervous about the whole idea and now, just wanted to get it done.

The ceremony was to start at 2pm, but the couple was twenty minutes late. While waiting for their arrival, I spent some time conversing with the judge.

"Sir, I asked, just how long does the vows and ring exchange usually take before you announce a couple man and wife?"

"Oh, probably not more than two minutes or so," he blithely commented.

"Two minutes? You're kidding?" I asked. "Man, I'm a pretty good artist, but I can't draw that fast!"

"Well, maybe we can pose for you, a bit!"

If the vows took five minutes, I'd have been surprised. When the ceremony was over, the couple turned to me and asked to see what I had completed. I showed them what I had and begged for a few minutes more. The three granted my request. As I continued to struggle within that time frame on what I considered a botched drawing, many of those in the wedding party including the guards came behind me looking over my shoulder complimenting my every move. I seemed to feel better about the sketch with every passing minute.    

Although I had him sketched to my satisfaction, it didn't take long for the groom to get fidgety... about ten minutes. I hastily laid in some tone with the side of my Prismacolor pencil and declared the sketch complete and as the party raced toward the door, the groom turned back towards me and said,"It looks great!" "Can you get it framed for us?"

Copyright 2016/Ben Bensen III

Sunday, October 30, 2016

"Nevermore, Nevermore... Quoth The Raven!

A red winged blackbird...
Well, one can blame Edgar Allan Poe for creating a poem that demonizes all ebony colored birds especially at this "trick or treat" time of year. Blackbirds of all kinds, brewer blackbirds, cowbirds, grackles, ravens and crows and maybe even those "four and twenty ones" that somehow were baked in a pie, are obviously up to no good.

Ravens are the worse. Those big black demons with their cold black eyes, screeching howls, and a menacing bill designed to pick the meat off of the deceased, are throughout history, considered to be evil omens, the harbingers of bad tidings!

Although I consider myself an educated opened minded guy, my experience with a certain blackbird does make me wonder. About a year or so ago, I went with some friends to paint a marsh scene off of Lake Road in LaCombe, LA. At certain times of the year, you can get some incredible views where the bayou feeds into Lake Pontchartrain.

I spent about two hours, dodging gnats, painting a portion of the road. I really didn't know exactly what my subject matter was. At the time, I was just trying to quickly capture the fading light, but a very determined male blackbird was not having any of it. He never really attacked me like the ultra-territorial mockingbird would, but it was obvious to me that he was not happy about my presence. He would call out to me with that irritated sound as he flew circles around me from his telephone post vantage point. This went on for at least an hour totally ruining my pastoral moment. I left that day with a fairly nice rendering of a telephone pole in the marsh... and it stayed hanging on my office wall for well over a year.

About a month ago it dawned on me how I could quickly salvage what seemed to me to be a pretty boring scene. I decided to immortalize the little territorial tyrant with a rendering of him. Entitled, "Territorial Rights," it will be on display with about thirty other paintings at the Three Rivers Art Festival,  November 12/13 in downtown Covington, LA.

Regardless, it seems an appropriate addition to a "Poe-etic" legacy. Happy Halloween to everyone!

Copyright 2016/ Ben Bensen III

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

"Pondering That Old Matchbox Hole..."

My friend, "Paula and the Big Belgian!"
Good morning, all bodies. I'm sitting with the old matchbox hole watching the morning sun bun off the fog that's settled over our back paddock pond... and pondering.
Yesterday, I went to Giddy-Up to talk to the owner about his placement of a painting... on a wall mounted coat rack. I envisioned all kinds of scenarios about his reaction to my asking him about it.
Giddy-Up is a local coffeeshop that has become THE signature place to just relax with a book, a cup of coffee and a nosh. It was beautifully designed and built by the owner, who Tee and I have become great friends of, but the painting of a friend of mine on horseback just can't be hanging where it is and I wasn't sure how to express my displeasure about it being there. 

I remember how some AFAPO and Society of Illusrators members used to complain about the Air Forces placement of their art at the semi annual galas. I always found it to be a bit rude and presumptuous of an artist to make such a fuss. Some demanded moving someone else's art for theirs stating their tenured statue in
the program. Some used being a board member as a way of manipulating the scene.
So, it was with some trepidation that I went for some coffee wearing my blue "Giddy-Up" tee shirt... just in case. I actually hoped that the owner was not going to be there to avoid any awkward moments. I'd just steathfully grab the painting and tell the barista that I was taking it home for an upcoming show... that wouldn't have been a lie.
Instead, Frank, the owner was there, came by to greet me and some other guests and inquired about my recent epidural. Well, I thought, now's the time if there ever was one.
"Hey Frank, I know you take great pride in this place and I know that the walls are well ADORNED with art work and western stuff, but I can''t have my painting hanging where you have it. Ya know?"
"As it gets colder, people are gonna want to," I started to say.
"Yeh Ben, I apologize." I have a handyman that was supposed to come over the weekend and fix a few things. I was gonna have him hang your painting somewhere nicer where it can be seen, but he never showed up."
"I love the painting. I want it here, but I just haven't gotten to it yet."
"Okay, man, thanks, that' cool. I'm glad you understand my concern," I said.
"So, slightly moving on, Frank said, "it is a great morning. How come y'all aren't sitting outside?"
Satisfied that negotiations went better than expected, I sank deeper into the big comfy leather chairs and replied,"The chairs are incredible and great for my back!"
I've read that the Milennial generation doesn't know how to socially be with people and address situations that might not be to their advantage. Socialologists blame it on the iPhone and texting. They might have a point, but I can't say I'm all that great at it either.

Copyright 2016/ Ben Bensen III