Tuesday, June 21, 2022

One of a Kind

An Unlikely Hero: Noor Inayat Khan WWII uniform at the Spy Museum in Washington DC  

I was surprised to read about and see the uniform of Noor Inayat Khan at the Spy Museum in DC. which we visited with our grand daughters.  Its a treasure trove of history and innovations and surprises like Noor Inayat Khan. I learned that she was a musician, author, princess, and a secret agent for the British during World War II. 

Wanting to know more about her, I followed up later : "Perhaps best-known by her Resistance code name ‘Madeleine’, the story of Noor Inayat Khan is unfamiliar to many today, but contains so many extraordinary elements that it’s incredible she isn’t more widely recognized. A staunch pacifist regarded by her captors as a fierce and dangerously uncooperative spy, an outspoken supporter of Indian independence who gave her life fighting for the British, a children’s author, musician and princess (descended from Tipu Sultan of Mysore), Noor is also the first - and so far only – Muslim woman to be honoured with a statue in Britain." And her service as a spy was very impressive:  "In the early hours of 17 June 1943, Noor became the first woman agent to be parachuted behind enemy lines in France (previous women had been sent as couriers). Her task was to maintain radio contact between Britain and the Resistance in Paris. This was an unbelievably dangerous job – radio equipment was bulky and hard to conceal, and staying on air for more than 20 minutes at a time risked detection by the enemy. The average lifespan of a field agent was just 6 weeks. Noor evaded capture for three months, as the Paris Resistance network – which had been infiltrated by double agents more deeply than anyone had realised – began to disintegrate during the summer of 1943. In October, she was arrested at her Paris flat and taken to German security headquarters.  Noor made two immediate escape attempts (and refused to sign an agreement with her captors ruling out a third). Regarded as a particularly dangerous prisoner, she was kept in solitary confinement in Pforzheim prison for 10 months. Finally, Noor was transported to Dachau concentration camp, where she was executed in September 1944. Her last reported word was ‘Liberté’."

It was her uniform that was on display at the Spy Museum (I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area!). 

The image on the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 for that week is a Kimono c1955 japan, Cotton with shibori tied resist patterning indigo dyed from the collection of Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Shibori is "a complex technique which selected areas are bound with with thread to resist the penetration of dye. The medium blue areas are composed of hundreds of small white circles created with kanoko shibori or tied resist while the petal like forms are nuo shibori or stitched resist. "

This page spread is dedicated to 'one of a kind' :) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 10 Feb 27-March 5

Bald Eagle Silhouetted on Pine Tree

There is a bald eagle family in our area and the birds regularly visit our yard. They sit on the branch and eat the fish caught from the river or just take a break. That tree is in east/south east section of our yard and from my kitchen window I always see the birds in the mornings as silhouettes. The painting on the opposite page for the week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 prompted me to paint the scene with black brush pen. That hanging scroll, ink on paper painting is by Tomioka Tessai (1836-1924)  Su Dongpo in a borrowed hat 1912, Meiji era.

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 10 Feb 28-March 6

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The Power of Words and Images

Jaume Plensa’s Silver Adagio at Planet Word  pen&I know and watercolor by Meera Rao 

We went to the Planet Word museum with our 8 year old granddaughter who was excited to show off the place. It’s a really fun ‘museum where language comes to life’ and is perfect for language/book nerds :) There are unique interactive exhibits on various topics like history of English, languages around the world, language of humor, poetry, advertising, music, children’s first words, and more!  There is playful poetry written on the bathroom walls ! Our granddaughter‘s favorite was a ‘secret book room’ in the museum that is ‘hidden’ behind a wall of shelf :) 

At the entrance is a sculpture ‘Silver Adagio’  by Jaume Plensa.  It is made up of stainless steel symbols from ‘9 different language systems : Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, Hebrew, Arabic, Hindi, Tamil, Chinese and Assamese’.  I was impressed there were three languages from India in that sculpture! It was fun to find them ! I read that Plensa’s sculptures often focuses on what it means to be a human ‘particularly in an increasingly globalized world. The meditative pose of the figure reminds us that we are not merely bodies but spirits that use languages to express themselves and connect to others.’ 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 9 Feb 20-26
The photo of the pin back button ‘Black Lives Matter’ is from the ‘Million Man March 2015’  that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the first Million Man March on the National Mall in Washington DC.  It is from the collection of National Museum of African American History and Culture. Thousands gathered and marched demanding an end to violence against black Americans. The button “features the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ which has become a movement and a rallying cry against racial violence and injustice. Plensa’s sculpture ‘speaks’ to the very same issue. I could not have planned the pairing for the week - pure serendipity! 

Palm Tree Brings Nostalgia  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Sheltering at home during the pandemic has meant that I looked out the windows and door at various times during the day and saw my own yard with new eyes ! Watching the way the sun shines and wind rustles the palm fronds on the tree near our front door brings back memories of areca nut and palm trees near my childhood home. On this particular day I felt an acute tinge of nostalgia. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 9 February 21-27

In the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 for week 9, is the ‘Portrait of the Artist’  an etching by Shahzia Sikander. It is from the collection at the National Portrait gallery.  That etching spoke to me differently than the explanation given ! 


Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Colors in the Sky and Garden

Flying Colors watercolor by Meera Rao

The Great Backyard Bird count  this year was on February 18-21 and the website says 'the world comes together to watch, learn about, count and celebrate birds.'  I observed, counted and reported the birds I saw in our backyard. Over the course of four days, armed with a binoculars, I was lucky to see herons(great blue and night), an egret, ducks, ospreys, bald eagles, northern mockingbirds, cardinals, finches(purple, golden/yellow and house), pine warblers, mourning doves, Carolina wrens, sparrows, pelicans, cormorants, tufted titmouse, chickadees, woodpecker, red winged black birds and many crows. And I also heard one owl at night! I feel fortunate to have so many different kinds around our neighborhood. The birds I painted in the repurposed Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 though, are not true to what I observed - but mainly my experiments with painting them in direct watercolor without prior sketching. I am pleased how they turned out :) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 8 February 13-19

It is indeed a fantastic coincidence that the photo opposite is a different kind of colorful flyer : Boeing Stearman N2S-5 Kaydet at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy Center, National Air and space museum. "More than 10,000 Stearman trainers were built by Boing, which had purchased the Stearman company in the late 1930s- Kaydets, along with Fairchilds and Ryans served as the backbone of US army and Navy primary flight training in World War-II. This Kaydet was used to train naval aviation cadets until 1946. 

Tasty Beauty Watercolor by Meera Rao

The 'Beautification of America' 6c block of four stamps January 16, 1969 on display at the National Postal Museum  matched well with the beautiful yellow mustard flowers from our garden during this week in February 2021. But then we grow them also for the tasty leaves for cooking :)  It is always exciting to get fresh greens in February from the backyard! 

"The stamp block, designed by Walter Dubois Richards, was part of a commemorative set in recognition of First Lady Lady Bird Johnson's 'Natural Beauty' campaign. These stamps honored the accomplishments of Mrs. Johnson's initiatives which encouraged involvement from government and local community organizations. They proved popular with the general public and the initial printing of 120 million stamps had to be increased to 170 million."

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 8 February 14-20


Sunday, April 17, 2022

Water, Earth and Sky

Watermen  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Late post! This is from February - week 7.  We see watermen in the river early morning. My research says they are harvesting oysters during February. Later it will be blue crabs and fish. As I am a vegan, until now I never bothered to look up what they were harvesting!   Their bright orange and blue outfits and yellow boat are easy to spot even when its foggy and misty. I love to watch them working and moving about in the waters. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 7 February 6-12

The photo in the  Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 Week 7 February 6-12 shows "Raft used by Cuban 'balseros' in 1992" now at the Anacostia Community Museum. 'This small craft, handcrafted from scavenged materials, buoyed two men on their journey from Cuba to the US in 1992. Styrofoam blocks are adhered to a wooden substructure with tar and held together by the Tarred cloth that wraps around the hull. the two men in the raft were spotted by a Florida based non-profit during a flyover of the ocean and then rescued by the US Coast Guard.'

Discarded Fish Heads watercolor by Meera Rao

There are about 5 bald eagles and a pair of Ospreys that have claimed our backyard as a part of their territory. The bald eagles are year round residents but the Ospreys usually migrate around mid March to nest in the Chesapeake Bay area  and fly south for winter in September. The bald eagles don't eat the whole fish - they usually drop the fish heads to the ground and its feast time for the fish crows and turkey vultures that always show up as soon as the Eagles or Osprey land on the pine tree branch lunch spot with their catch. With osprey though, the crows have to contend with bits that fly off while tearing into the fish. There is always lots of drama as the crows try to steal from the Eagles or the Ospreys and the Eagles go after Osprey with the fresh wiggly fish in its talons!

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 7 February 7-13

The pottery shown in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 7 February 7-13, is by Jeri Redcorn (Caddo/Potawatani) and is at the National Museum of the American Indian. "Like her ancestors, Jeri Redcorn(Caddo/Potawatani) gathers clay, makes her pottery by hand, and rather than using a kiln, fires it in a pit using wood for fuel. Though many of her designs and forms draw inspiration from those her ancestors used hundreds of years ago, they are, in themselves, unique works of contemporary art."  I learned that the art of Caddo pots were lost for more than a century until Jeri Redcorn revived them after seeing the pottery exhibited in museums. These pots were used  ceremonially and may have been used to accompanied the dead to the next world.  Seems appropriate to pair them the fish heads I find in the ground around the pine tree in my backyard! 


Friday, April 1, 2022

Paradise on Earth

Bird of Paradise  watercolor by Meera Rao 

These stunning beauties belonging to genus Sterlitzia bloom every February in our sun room bringing joy and color in the middle of winter !  They look like birds in flight as their name suggests. As a matter of fact, they are also known as ‘crane flower.’ They symbolize in loyalty, success, royalty, and of course, paradise on earth in various cultures around the globe. 

 As luck would have it, in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar that has been up-cycled into a sketch book / art journal chronicling my images of these pandemic times, the photo for the week is the equally colorful ‘Earth Spirit Tomb Guardian -zhenmushou.’   It is a late 7th to mid 8th century Earthenware from Tang Dynesty in China with three color lead glaze.

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 6 January 30-February 5 2022

According to the write up : ‘During the Tang Dynasty (618-907), pairs of these fearsome composite creatures known as earth spirits were interned in tombs of elites. Charged with preventing the deceased’s soul from leaving the tomb to wander among the living, these ceramic beasts also warded off tomb robbers  and evil spirits. Chinese potters exploited the random patterns of the runny glazes in cream, brown and green to accentuate an aura of supernatural energy and crafted the plinth to resemble a mountain top, the abode of protective deities.’ 

Winter Lines  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Week 6 photo in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 was an untitled work by Avery Singer. ‘Pushing the limits of painting Avery builds compositions with 3-D modeling software and then uses computer-controlled, industrial-scale printers to airbrush them on to canvas.’  After checking the photograph, I went through my camera roll for the week zeroed in on a shot. When I looked up, outside my window was the same image: beautiful lines created by the winter branches of the trees. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 6 :January 31-February 6 2021 


Thursday, March 3, 2022

Icicles and Blooms

Icicles watercolor by Meera Rao

In the last week of January this year, we saw some heavy snow fall and with it very interesting icicle formations as the snow melted slowly from the roof top.  It is indeed serendipity when I paired it with the photo of the week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022.  Debra Baxter's Devils Horns Crystal Brass Knuckles(Lefty) 2015 made with Quartz crystals and sterling silver was exhibited at the Renwick Gallery, Washington DC. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 5 

Relief in Full Bloom  Faber Castell PITT Artist pen by Meera Rao 

Spring came early for us last year on January 27, when we received our first shot of Covid-19 vaccine! It was indeed relief in full bloom! We then waited eagerly for the second shot scheduled in three weeks :) 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 5 

Japanese flowering apricot Prunus mume 'Peggy Clarke' in the Smithsonian Engagement calendar 2021 is a digital image  by Hannele Lahti from March 2019 at the National air and space Museum, Washington DC Smithsonian Gardens. 'This deep pink, double flowered cultivar of the Japanese apricot is easily mistaken for its botanical cousin the Japanese flowering cherry. Flowering apricots are the first sign of spring, blooming before cherry blossoms have even begun to open.' 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Little Sister

Little Sister watercolor by Meera Rao

This special little baby girl was a pleasure to paint. When it is hard to visit grand babies because of the pandemic, painting them has been a truly unique gift for me. It also gave me an excuse to watch her baby videos on loop and cherish the play time with her on video calls. While painting this portrait, I could almost feel her ‘baby smell’ and soft skin with each brush stroke :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Blissful Baby


Blissful Baby  watercolor by Meera Rao 

I finally finished the baby painting of my grandson. It was really long overdue (five+ years!). I was somehow never satisfied with my earlier attempts. This time, as preparation, I  watched many of his baby videos. That made it a lot more fun, felt a little bit easier and natural to sketch and paint. I am sure sketching consistently over the past few years also helped! In the end it turned out to be an immensely rewarding experience. 

If you could say it 
in words
there would be no reason
to paint.
~Edward Hopper~

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Changing Dance of the Universe

Changing Dance of the Universe watercolor on Yupo 

My Dad breathed his last on January 21. I know death is inevitable but letting go is never easy.  The pandemic fears meant I was not with him in person. But the marvel of video call technology and my dear brother's intuition made it possible for me to be there just minutes before he slipped away.  My swirling emotions later poured out in "Changing Dance of The Universe." 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 week 4

The photograph for that week in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 - 'Untitled Female Dancer with Mirrors' c1950 is attributed to Robert S. Scurlock. "The Scurlock Studio was an African American family photographic business that flourished in the Shaw area of Washington, DC., from 1911-1994. Among thousands of photographs in the Archives Center of the National Museum of American History, dancers represent a frequent subject, including professional performers, Howard U students, and private dance school clients. The identity of this dancer, shown rehearsing is unknown" 

Wearing Pearls and Celebrating Kamala  watercolor on Yupo

On January 20th 2021, Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Indian American, first black and Asian American to be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States of America! I wore pearls, a bright blue top that day as I watched the ceremony on TV and celebrated the historic moment. 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 week 4

Minnijean Brown-Trickey's graduation dress,1959 graces the opposite page in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021: "Minnijean Brown-Trickey (b1941)made history by simply going to school and claiming her right to belong. In 1957, four years after 'Brown v Board of Education', she and eight classmates integrated the all white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Bullied and eventually expelled, Brown graduated from Lincoln High School in New York city wearing this dress, which she designed. She later remembered 'I felt perfectly beautiful in it'." 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Folds and Craters

A Leporello In Celebration of Life color pencils by Meera Rao

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2022 -Week 3

During the the past two years because of the pandemic closings, the National Museum for the Women in the Arts has offered an Art Chat every Friday introducing women artists from their collection. I have thoroughly enjoyed attending those online chats rarely missing any. On Friday January 14th, during the art chat we were introduced to book art in Leporello binding and encouraged to fold a sheet of paper and draw along during the event. I took bits and parts, a color or form from each of the artworks from the three artists of the day and filled my page.  In book binding, Leporello binding is a concertina folded pages with front and back boards.   Leporella fibriata, I learned later because of a lucky spelling error  is a hinged orchid from Australia. While contemplating the page for week 3 in the Smithsonian Engagement Calender 2022,  I decided to fold my artwork and hinge my leporello like a leporella to the page.  Perfect for my 'upcycled'  dairy and art journal for sketching the pandemic years! 

The painting 'Luck Lines' on the opposite page in the Smithsonian engagement Calendar is by Nicole Eisenman. "Often steeped in allegory yet resistant to easy interpretation, Eisenman's paintings acknowledge the complex social and political structures that shape contemporary identity. 'Luck Lines' foregrounds the line believed by palm readers to reveal one's destiny encouraging us to consider whether our lives are predetermined or shaped by individual will."  

My page before folding

A Glorious Sunset  watercolor by Meera Rao 

Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 Week 3

The photo in the Smithsonian Engagement Calendar 2021 for week 3 was a photograph of the Greek village of Oia, Santorini by LucVI.  The caption on the photo reads "Part of the Cyclades, a Greek island chain in the Aegean, Santoni is also renowned for the important archaeological site of the Akrotiri, once a Minoan Bronze Age city buried in volcanic ash in the 16th century BCE."  As luck would have it, in my camera roll for that week in 2021 was a glorious sunset from my own backyard :) We may not have a volcano near by, but we have the Chesapeake Bay Meteor Impact Crater - 'worlds best preserved wet-target impact crater.' formed around 35.5 + 0.3 Million years ago in the late Eocene epoch era.  Scientists have proof that the continued slumping of the sediments over the rubble of the crater has helped shape the Chesapeake Bay

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