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Endings, beginnings and middles

by Jan Wheatcroft

It is difficult to endure heat, fire and fear but I find ways to work around it and live as optimistically and creatively as possible.

My travel journals smile at me from their special position on my bookshelf, all 15 of them, reminding me of joyous and exciting days spent roaming and exploring when the world was truly my oyster. (Now I am happy just to eat those sea offerings when I can get them.). At least I know that Francine, the statue missing from my garden, has decided to follow in my footsteps and travel. I received two cards from her over the last month. 

On the front of the first one she is posed (wearing a mask I might add), by an Italian lake all blue and shimmery.  On the back she had written,”beautiful space, clean air, good, friendly people happy to have me among them.  Francine.” I have never been to the Italian Lake area.  But I felt happy for her and her travel experiences. 

On the second card Francine was standing next to a tall, iron male sculpture in the middle of a very green garden surrounded by deep purple lavender looking very settled. “I have found my favorable garden and hope to settle here. My thoughts are with you and my old, happy home but now it is time for new beginnings.” 

Endings are hard to deal with but when the sadness is bittersweet there is always something new to look forward to which leads to new roads, choices not yet thought of and growth. Small things now arrive in the space once occupied by Francine, my queenly statue, and I leave them there as offerings to her and to her memory of being a part of my garden.

Many years ago, before I traveled the world with my friend, Frances, I spent a good deal of time taking classes, making things and selling at festivals here in California.

The first place was in Ojai at their fine arts Christmas Festival where my friend, Annabelle and I set up our booths and our wares for two days of selling. We stayed in a motel of rustic cabins on the main road as one entered the town. I didn’t know Ojai then but over the few years of selling I discovered a lovely small town with lots to explore and a good deal of creative activity that hasn’t diminished over the years. I have continued to go back to take print making classes from a local artist, to attend exhibitions and just to enjoy the town and to browse the great small shops throughout the community. 

There is a wonderful, funky bookstore which is fun to walk around, much of it is outside, and there are some good places to eat as well. Outside of the main area of the town are small areas full of creative places to explore.  I really love Ojai. It is such a relaxed and creative town and the changes over the years have been positive.

I remember as a highschool student my father decided I might want to go to a private school instead of the terrible school I attended in North Hollywood. One of the schools picked for me was The Happy Valley School in Ojai. I visited it one day and decided that it wasn’t for me; it didn’t feel like a “happy” place. However, the area was beautiful and it still is. Ojai has good memories and I would be happy to visit there and do some more exploring.

Another town in the west is Taos, New Mexico. Now I know that most people travel to Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is full of charm, good shopping, great architecture, Native American Arts and Crafts and galleries.  I have enjoyed my visits there and can spend hours wandering about. But the neighboring town of Taos is by far my town of choice. 

First of all it is “handle-able,” just the right size, filled with great galleries, shops and roads to wander around.  I used to spend a few weeks every summer there studying art with a great artist and teacher, Sas Colby, whom I had met on an art retreat in France. 

We stayed at the Mable Dodge Luhan house up on Kit Carson Road, which is full of history in itself. Our studio and sleeping rooms were there and the food was terrific. It was a great event to have the chance to explore one’s creative expression. We interacted with the gallery owners and explored the small enclaves of art communities around the town. Often I stayed with a friend afterwards and she taught me about the superior quality of Taos yard sales. 

I also discovered that the clothing company, Blue Fish, (where hand printing and painting of art on cotton clothing was developed) was located there. There was then a great yarn store where the wool was hand spun, naturally plant dyed and sold (TO ME) at high prices but entirely worth it. Oh yes, I was spinning and naturally dying my own yarns but could never get enough for all my projects. 

Taos is high up and I have always found that I needed a few days to be able to breathe naturally. However it is one of my favorite American towns and I hope to be able to return there to explore it as it is now and to breathe in the fresh, mountain air.

This has been a difficult year for us all. I have highs and lows, sleep badly, have fears that were never mine before and am so isolated and rely on the good friendships and Zooming to remind me that I am part of this world. Through it all I make things, my projects I call them. And now I have the pleasure of showing them to the community throughout the month of October at Stuido C on Bonita Avenue in the Village. 

Having been shut it for so long I have created a lot of Jan Art. I hope many of you will find time to stop in and see where I have been and where I am going. I live inside my head a lot but my heart still speaks through my hands.

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