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Fiddlin’ Around – February 2015

Kim's paintingBy Nancy Buchan

We all know folks who fall into the category of ‘over achievers’. Those annoying people who can balance their checkbook, change the oil in their car, bathe the dog, jog a mile, mend a pair of pants, weed their garden, remember their aunt’s birthday and call her on time, fix a gourmet breakfast for four and do yoga – all before I’ve managed to make a decent cup of coffee and stop growling. I absolutely hate comparing myself to these folks who are able to pay such attention to the millions of issues and details we face every day, and I could never live with any of them….and how do they do it all anyway? Well, mostly they have better discipline, better organizational skills, better focus and they are ‘self-starters’ who have probably been that way all their lives. It’s not that they are driven to succeed exactly – but they are driven to be organized and to do things instead of lying in a hammock reading science fiction or sitting on a log contemplating the sunset. Now, don’t get me wrong – hammock time and thoughtful contemplation have their own importance – hence the saying “Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.” But on a practical level even I have to admit that things go better if I make a list before going to the store, or if I’m stopped by the cops and I actually have an up to date marchama or haven’t let my passport expire…

Palm basketsWhen you have an over-achiever combined with great artistic instincts and abilities in several fields you get a ‘Renaissance Woman or Man’. The origin of that description comes from the period of history between 1400 and 1600 AD, when Leonardo de Vinci was not only famous as a painter, but as a scientist, an engineer and a math whiz. Michelangelo was a poet, a sculptor, an architect, a mason and a painter. Along with their contemporary, Rafael, the combined scope of their interests and insights was huge. I’m fascinated by these people who are creative in so many different genres and whose art knows no boundaries.

A very cool art gallery/museum in New Orleans some years back presented a show of local musicians stepping outside of their regular skills to do visual art. I was invited to participate and in my ignorance and arrogance I assumed that art would just flow out of me. After all, I figured, I can play a song after hearing it once or twice, so surely I can draw something like those pen and ink drawings of M.C. Escher that I love so much and have spent hours looking at. HA!! I struggled for weeks in every medium that appealed to me. Or that appeared to be easy. Only to realize that the precision and technique required to actually produce a real piece of art on purpose was waaay outside of my grasp. You still gotta pay your dues and learn your craft. I was forced into a more accurate view of my own creativity. And ok, I’m just a one trick pony. Or maybe a two trick pony since I’m a pretty good horsewoman. But I can’t paint or draw or sculpt or even manage to dress myself very well.

Tree root LampAt the gala art opening, to my amazement there were a LOT of musicians who were also quite accomplished painters and sculptors and designers and photographers. Of course, they had all spent years getting to that point, and were clearly not johnny come lately imposters like me. There was also a bunch of sheepish musicians who I could relate to, whose best offerings to the show were fortunate accidents – not intentional artistic or creative endeavors.

Joni Mitchell, one of the best songwriters on the planet, has had a career full of hit records and awards and acclaim and innovative musical influence. I have loved her voice, her wise and deep lyrics, her instrumental expertise and her songwriting skills for as long as I have been aware of her, never suspecting until I recently watched an interview with her that she considers herself foremost a painter. She said – “I’m a painter de-railed by circumstance.” Of course I knew she painted – all her album covers were her work, but really??? She doesn’t consider herself a musician first – after impacting millions of people with her melodies and lyrics? Wow.

Hibiscus paintingThen there’s my friend, Ruby Kim Fergus, who lives and works in Dominical weaving and making all kinds of functional and whimsical art out of the indigenous plants found around here. From unique boxes, to lamps out of driftwood and palm parts, to purses and hats and whatever her fertile brain comes up with. But her whole life she has made art through many different mediums – she’s all over the place! In her younger days she was living unplugged in a remote logging area, while collaborating with lyricist, historian and folksinger John Cunnick. They wrote about the loggers of this fragile and beautiful region of Oregon, their singular skills, their history and slang and their isolation and hardships. After Cunnick died in a car accident Kim finished and published a book they had been working on, full of photos and drawings and essays and the lyrics and music to their songs. As proof that life is a big ‘ole circle, Kim was recently contacted by some young Portland musicians who had re-discovered the songbook and asked her permission to play and record these old songs. Now they are pestering her for more, but like any true artist Kim is continually changing and learning. “I’m still at it and hope to always remain a student of art and life.” Here’s a glimpse of her lyrics – “It’s a long old road to travel – from the east it’s all downhill and gravel. Listen and you’ll hear singing on the breeze. It’s the sound, the speech of old growth trees. To our founder, Earth, our Knowing Mother – let’s be thankful, joyful and tremble. From this humbling place, let us say our grace before we’re gone without a trace.”

Kim studied classical piano as a kid, but also plays by ear and has taught and played in various musical formats all her life. She played fiddle in a Celtic band, studied Balkan and Middle Eastern music, and took her love of folk dancing to the classrooms and public concerts after receiving a grant to do so from the state of Oregon. She worked for preservation of the forests and taught herself about the herbs and medicinal plants around her, sometimes growing them for money, sometimes to preserve the native species. She is a fine chef, cooking with healthy ingredients and love, and for years provided a weekly vegetarian feast to customers at Jazzy’s River House in Dominical, where they also gave young musicians and poets a forum to share their work. Folks love her classes and workshops on the ancient art of basketry, which she teaches out of her home in Dominical, on the banks of the Rio Baru. Here’s a small piece from her song ‘A Weavers Mind’. “Cutting, carving – hair, cloth, skin and bark. Blindly slicing through fears in the dark. Poking with needles, pruning and preening, as if this could pierce through the layers of meaning. Tying, twisting, folding then shaping the Self into balance that’s self-hate erasing.”

lamp and basketAlways a good painter of portraits, she can often be found at an easel producing beautiful works of art. She is a costume designer and maker, has produced a cd singing her original songs, and has written essays on various subjects, as well as fine and funny travel logs. Oh yeah, she and her husband Steve, (a musician, writer, masseuse, surfer and all-around handy kind of guy) also raised two great kids and are now teaching their grandchildren some of their skills and certainly their love of art. When they were building their house in Dominical, Kim taught herself woodworking, how to tile and do cement work and other building skills. No doubt I have left some things out, but you probably get the picture of how she has worked and lived in harmony with the plant kingdom and how art has always been her muse. As I watch the Envision Festival people come into town in search of ways to positively impact their time on this planet, I hope some of them will take a music class or be part of a workshop of Kim’s where all these things come together. Or buy some of her unique art! Check out her stuff at www.jazzysriverhouse.com or contact her at jazzysriverhouse@hotmail.com.

Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers (with New Orleans musician Kim Carson joining us!) play every Friday night at the beautiful and spacious Roca Verde, just south of Dominical. Come on out and dance like there’s no tomorrow, support local live music and celebrate art and life with us!!

“We dance for laughter, we dance for tears, we dance for madness, we dance for fears, we dance for hopes, we dance for screams, we are the dancers, we create the dreams. Creativity is intelligence having fun.” Albert Einstein

“The earth has music for those who listen.” William Shakespeare

“Don’t trust a brilliant idea unless it survives the hangover.” Jimmy Breslin

“Everything in life comes to you as a teacher. Pay attention. Learn quickly.” Cherokee Indian saying


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