A look into the inspiration behind the work.

Sweet Williamís Girl

Sweet William's Girl

Sometimes great legends can be found among the unassuming wildflowers. The Black Eyed Susan along with the Southern European native plant Sweet William (which blooms at the same time and are wonderful companion flowers in a garden) tells a romantic love story that is replayed even today with the overseas wars and rumors of wars. The story of a farewell to a lover who is off to an uncertain fate has been experienced by myself twice as my husband, Chuck, left for the Iraqi war in 2004 and again in 2008. He came back not much worse for wear but not every soldier has been so lucky.

This timeless ballad takes us back to the years of our founding father's and their own struggles for Independence. Written in the 1700's by John Gay and at the time the lyrics were very popular in several ballad operas of it’s time. The words were set to various scores by different composers, including Carey, Leveridge, Haydon and Sandonis.

So I ask you as you prepare for this year's July 4th to take a moment and consider these lovers and the insecurity they feel about their future and think about our soldiers, many who have given all and never returned to their own Black Eyed Susan.

The Ballad of Black Eyed Susan by John Gay

All in the dawn the fleet was moor'd,
The streamers waving to the wind,
When Black-eyed Susan came on board,
Oh where shall I my true love find?
Tell me, ye jovial sailors, tell me true,
If my sweet William, if my sweet William
Sails among your crew?

Oh William, who high upon the yard,
Rocked with the billows to and fro,
Soon as her well-known voice he heard,
He sigh'd and cast his eyes below:
The cord slides swiftly thro' his glowing hands
And as quick as lightning, and as quick as lightning
On the deck he stands.

So sweet the lark, high poised in air,
Shuts close his pinions to his breast,
If, chance, his mate's shrill voice he hear,
And drops at once into her nest:
The noblest captain in the British fleet
Might envy William, might envy William's
Lip those kisses sweet.

'Oh Susan, Susan, lovely dear!
My vows shall ever true remain,
Let me kiss off that falling tear,
We only part to meet again:
Change as ye list, ye winds, my heart shall be
The faithful compass, the faithful compass
That still points to thee.

'Oh, believe not what the landsmen say
Who tempt with doubts thy constant mind,
They'll tell thee sailors when away,
In every port a mistress find:
Yes, yes, believe them when they tell thee so,
For thou art present, for thou art present
Wheresoe'er I go.

If to fair India's coast we sail,
Thy eyes are seen in diamonds bright:
Thy breath is Afric's spicy gale,
Thy skin as ivory so white:
Thus every beauteous object that I view
Wakes in my soul, wakes in my soul
Some charm of lovely Sue.'

Though battle call me from thy arms
Let not my pretty Susan mourn:
Though cannon roar, yet safe from harms
William shall to his dear return:
Love turns aside the balls that round me fly
Lest precious tears, lest precious tears
Should drop from Susan's eye.

The boatswain gave the dreadful word,
Her sails their swelling bosom spread:
No longer can she stay on board -
They kissed, she sighed, he hung his head:
Her lessening boat unwilling rows to land,
'Adieu,' she cries, 'Adieu,' she cries
And waved her lily hand.

To hear one of the most popular of those tunes to which this poem was set can be found at http://www.contemplator.com/england/susan.html

For Availablity of the Painting Click Here.

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Primrose Life

The Primrose Life is more than what it seems. In my painting there is one wonderful bloom shining bright in the sunlight and it is surrounded by a couple blooms that have seen better days and to the left one bloom that has promise but has not reached its full glory. When I was working on this painting I was thinking about how fortunate I am. I had taken off early from work and decided to paint. I’m my own boss, so I can do that on occasion. Of course, the first thing that came to my mind when I decided to paint this flower was “Primrose Path” which technically didn’t fit what I wanted to show in the painting. As I see it, the primrose has gotten a bad rap from the wordsmith himself, Shakespeare in Ophelia’s warning to her brother, Hamlet:

I shall the effect of this good lesson keep,
As watchman to my heart. But, good my brother,
Do not, as some ungracious pastors do,
Show me the steep and thorny way to heaven;
Whiles, like a puff'd and reckless libertine,
Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads,
And recks not his own rede.

Ophelia is warning her brother take his own advice and not reject the difficult and arduous path of righteousness that leads to Heaven in favor of the easy path of sin. Shakespeare later used 'the primrose way', which has the same meaning, in Macbeth.

Let’s explore that Primrose Path, which by definition is a life of ease and pleasure, which leads to a bad end. It also seems to be the “in” kind of lifestyle lauded by many Americans today, and they don't even realize what they are missing. Ok, I’m not going to be preachy but I want to explore what an easy life surrounded by pleasure is like and does it always have to a bad end? I think it depends on how you go about your pleasure and whether or not you are serving your bliss or simply falling in with the crowd.

When you find that one thing you love and you figure out how to get that to make a income by doing it, you end up living a life of success down the Primrose Path. Now, you must be careful not to be led down the Primrose Path to your own disaster by the hypocrites, but to find for yourself the path that leads to your own happiness and wellbeing.

Sometimes that road can sure feel like a wild goose chase, but if you choose a path that is true to yourself and fulfilling a need to others which is a true entrepreneur mindset and lifestyle. You will find that your Primrose Path even seen to others to surely lead to a bad end is indeed a path of ease and pleasure with huge payoffs at the end. Discovering this path is not a simple process but it is truly worth the pain to get there.

So now I’ve argued myself into a box. Maybe what we really need is a new Primrose idiom. How about simply the "Primrose Life: A life of ease and pleasure filled with service to others that also creates a good standard of living income." I’m getting a little philosophical here, but I think that turning the negative into a positive is always a great way to live – so I’m taking on Shakespeare. What do you think? Are living a Primrose Life or being led down the Primrose Path?

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Mystique and Madness

This is my first painting of this beautiful treasure with the odd name of "Spiderwort"; I have been fascinated by its simple beauty since the day I found them in a field near Clinton Lake. I found this particular one a few weeks ago, bouncing in the wind near a roadside ditch. It seems sometimes, when I am out specifically looking to wildflowers to capture, they draw me in with a nod with the wind or a glimmer of color. This one brought me in from my moving vehicle with both the nod and the glimmer. When this happens I stop the car, grab my camera and walk back to the place I thought I saw the color. I was not disappointed. Not only did I find this beautiful Spiderwort, I also found a Primrose which will be coming around soon.  

As one of the few flowers in the Tallgrass Prairie of Kansas with a blue bloom Spiderwort grace us with their pretty petals for one day and then fade away, however the plant itself continues to bloom with each pod taking its turn for glory throughout the month – so the mystique and madness of me finding this very flower and painting its portrait with adoration to lengthen that short lifetime, hence the title. 

Not only does the plant intrigue me, but even in my research, there is a lot of mystique that goes along with this plant, the oddest being that the stamens will turn pink in the presence of nuclear fallout.  I suppose that came in handy for the service men who manned the nuclear missile sites buried throughout the area.

Some of the more interesting tidbits about this plant is that there is a long standing herbalist tradition that the sap from the leaves (which comes out clear and stringy like spider webs or “Cow Slobber” another common name for this beautiful plant.) cures spider bites and an interesting disease called “The Dancing Madness” (symptoms included headaches, sweating, trembling and severe melancholia) which was believed to be caused by spider venom. Never the less the plant gets its name as many plants do through the Doctrine of Signatures which is an ancient herbalist theory that a plant can be used as a medicinal for human ailments based on some aspect of its form or color gives us a clue as to the plant’s beneficial nature to the human body. So, since spiderworts grass like leaves are suggestion of a crouching spider and the sap looks like spider webs, then the plant is a good remedy for spider bites. So there you have it the mystique and the madness surrounds this pretty little blue flower from all sides. – Enjoy!

To see more of this series go to http://michelleleivan.com/collections/21558

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Paint Topeka Plein Air Exhibit and Book

Today I would like to share that my  artworks "Coffee and Conversation at the Flying Monkey" and "Raks Sha'abi at the NOTO Saturday Market" have been selected for exhibition in the Paint Topeka Plein Air Exhibit! Paintings produced from this event also will be featured in the upcoming art book, Topeka: A Great Arts Town!, published by SouthWind Gallery.

Opening Reception Activities & Awards Ceremony

The Paint Topeka art exhibit will open September 7, 2012, during the First Friday Art Walk, from 6: 00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. Activities will include an Artists' Reception, a special recognition ceremony for the winners of the Paint Topeka competition and a book signing. In addition, all artists' names and artwork will be posted on the SouthWind Gallery web site.

The Mission: To Paint Topeka. The Topeka Plein Aire Paint out presented by SouthWind Gallery.  Over 60 painters met on Saturday, April 28th at 6:00 a.m. at the Ramada Inn for breakfast and then they converged on Topeka and created paintings of our town. I was one of them and this little piece "Coffee and Conversation at the Flying Monkey" is my entry for the competition. All the artists wore a tangerine colored ball cap so they could be identified all over the city. All of the pieces will be juried and the accepted pieces will be published in a fine art book "Topeka: A Great Arts Town."


When thinking about Topeka, it seems to me the community is best reflected by the people who live, work and play throughout the city. I chose to paint the new coffee shop the Flying Monkey along with two college students who were out enjoying a bit of coffee on the early Saturday morning. "We just stopped in to talk before we went to work-out." one of the girls said. 


Unlike many of my paintings in this series, I did not know these two girls prior to asking if they could be my subjects, I also promised that they would not be readily identifiable - I'm just an artist stalker - randomly choosing people to paint. But my trusty tangerine colored ball cap with the SouthWind gallery logo helped to legitimize me. The two girls knew one of another artist participating! It was an interesting experiment on my part as well, not knowing the girls there was less pressure to make sure they reflected the personality I knew they had, instead I was free to impress my own imagination about who they were and so, like the viewer, I was forced to create my own story about them. 


They were as agreeable as anyone could expect and I am sure that my quick photograph has been long forgotten about on that sunny spring morning. However, there is no doubt in my mind that their memory will be sparked when they begin hearing about the new exhibition in September during the First Friday Art Walk.

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My Lucky Day

My Lucky Day - Violet Wood Sorrel

I discovered this little Violet Wood Sorrel growing in my “Hidden Garden” this spring. I was hidden in among the other foliage and shyly peeking through the shadows. It only grows about 4” tall so you can see why it was a treasure to find.  The day I discovered it, I felt lucky to have found it instead of stepping on the fragile plant. I didn’t realize that day that I had possibly been luckier than I thought.  There is an argument that the Wood Sorrel is the original St. Patrick Shamrock. I don’t know about you, but I remember as a kid spending hours in the playground searching for a lucky shamrock or 4 leaf clover. Well, here I am – decades later and I have actual shamrocks growing in my own back yard!

Through my research on this little guy, I dug up an old manuscript from 1911 that is available on the web, “Myths and Legends of Flowers, Trees, Fruits, and Plants in All Ages and In All Climes” by Charles Montgomery Skinner. This eBook will be most valuable while considering stories about my Kansas Wildflowers.  I love to learn new things about the plants that I’m drawn to painting, it adds to their character in my mind and make the plant even more fun to paint.

So here is the argument from the early 20th century as to why the Wood Sorrel is actually the original Shamrock – Enjoy!

“The clover which we call wood sorrel was anciently a charm against snakes and other poison dealing creatures; and witches, too, would none of it. On going into fights soldiers would tie a sprig about their sword arms, or to the handles of their blades, that they might be secure from the foul strokes of enemies who had black and secret ways of killing. The Arabic word for the trefoil is shamrak, and Persia makes it sacred as emblematic of the Persian Triads. Our wood sorrel is white with faint ruddy or purple streaks in the petals. A pink variety appears in England earlier than the white, but, as in other flowers, the farther north we go, the more of white appears in the flower, bluebells being white in Russia, and red campion emulating the snow in Arctic lands. Wood sorrel is ‘the hallelujah’ in Spain and Italy because of its blossoming when the Hallelujah is sung, after Easter; the Welsh name it fairy bells; the Scots call it hearts and gowk's meat. Cuckoo sorrel is a common name for it in the British islands, where it appears when the cuckoo begins to sing.

“Among the plants one no longer eats is this same wood sorrel, once used as a salad. Sheep or field sorrel, which is of a different botanical family is still used as greens, though it is sharp to the untrained palate.

“The acid of wood sorrel (oxalic, from the botanical name of the plant, oxalis) is extracted as ‘salt of lemons,’ a chemical in some demand for commercial purposes, but a rank poison. Its leaves yield five per cent. of acid. Because of their heart shape the doctrine of signatures prescribed them as a remedy for heart troubles. The variety cultivated in Bolivia as oca has a tuberous root as well prized as the artichoke; another four leaved variety is used on Mexican tables; the Peruvian species, arracha, is also eaten, both root and leaf stalk.

“Wood sorrel is held by many to be the original shamrock, as its Persian name implies, although the plant commonly worn as such on the 17th of March, when all the bows to St Patrick is Dutch clover. It is a little disconcerting that the authorities are not a unit as to what a shamrock is. The Erse word seamrog is from seamar, three leaved, and og, meaning small. It occurs variously as seamsog, seamroge, shamrote, shamrock, shamrug, oge, and chambroch. The plant actually used by St. Patrick may have been Dutch clover, or trifolium repens, or trifolium minus, or wood sorrel. Early references to it in Irish literature represent it as a food plant, Campion, in history of the island printed in 1571, speaking of ‘shamrotes, water cresses, and other herbes they feed upon.’  Matthias Lobel, a Flemish botanist, tells of the purple and white trefoil, and says of the white variety it is good for fattening cattle, but that it is also ground meal for consumption by the peasantry.  Spenser, the poet, also relates how, during the wars of Munster the escaped starvation by feeding on cress and ‘shamrokes’; and Fynes Moryson describes them as devouring herb of sharp taste, the acrid wood sorrel, one may fancy, ‘which as they run and are chased to and fro, they like beasts out of the ditches.’  If, however, the ditches contained water, the plant was probably cress, which still use as a garnish to our meat.

“The religious association of the shamrock, and its adoption as the emblem of Ireland, is due to an inspiration of pioneer of Christianity in that country:  After his landing St. Patrick found his pagan subjects in deep trouble the Trinity. Preach and argue as he might, he could not prevail on them to accept its possibility till, looking down on the earth, in the course of one of his homilies, he chanced to spy the little divided leaf of the shamrock. It exemplified his point to a nicety. Stooping he plucked it and showed how, though a leaf, it was yet three leaves in one. After the Irish accepted Christianity, they used the shamrock as their sign, the three leaves typing in their formulary, the national virtues of love, heroism, and wit. The leaf was already in general use as a defense against witchcraft in St Patrick's time, and many a peasant plucked a trefoil before he ventured across the moors and bogs where banshees cried and fairies stole the souls of wayfarers. It was the power of the shamrock indeed, over poisonous and maleficent things, which enabled St Patrick to drive the snakes from Ireland, for he had only to hold it toward them to see them go scuttling into the sea.”

From “Myths and Legends of Flowers…” by Charles Montgomery Skinner (source link above)

Well, no matter where you come down on the argument – may the luck of the Irish be with you always.

Check out my entire collection of Kansas Wildflowers in Oil

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