Caitlin Reilly is a freelance writer. Her last essay was the thrill of cooking Thanksgiving dinner with the Food Bank of Delaware. Now, a different challenge through the Newark Arts Alliance.
What is it about cows? People seem to like them. Cows mean something all over the world. They are sacred, profitable, so cuuuute, and (sorry PETA) sometimes delicious. I am a big fan of cows for all of the above. I coo over them while driving by fields, honor the wisdom of their bucolic repose, then order a brewski burger at the Iron Hill. Twisted? Perhaps. How can cows be so many things? They are surprisingly complex, yet refreshingly simple.
Just last week, here in Newark, Delaware, cows became one more thing: art.
A road lined with cows (also known as Route 72) led me to the Newark Arts Alliance. The NAA is a gallery downtown that displays, celebrates, and sells the work of local artists. Who knew? For a long time, I didn’t. I just happened to stumble upon it while coming out of a yoga class nearby. (Okay, it was the Adria Café pastry shop I came out of, but at least it wasn’t Iron Hill for a change.)
The NAA gallery is literally a hidden gem. Set back in a small plaza, the outside walls are bejeweled with mosaic designs. The inside is filled with photographs, paintings, jewelry, pottery, clothing, and—hello to you too!—a friendly monitor.
It started with a pair of beerrings (earrings made from beer caps by Dot Milson). I bought a Landshark pair for a friend and inquired about this organization.
“Are you an artist?” the monitor asked.
“It’s not my day job,” I told her, “but I’ve done some art.” I love painting, drawing, writing, music, and any kind of creative project. My “career” started young, the first “masterpiece” being a poster diagram of the giant otter on the banks of its natural habitat. It was my pride and joy, also the science homework for my “patron”older brother.
My other brother hired me next to illustrate his “How a Bill Becomes a Law” booklet for 10th grade American government. Then my sister caught on and had me mold the Bent (official badge) for her honors society. Was I underpaid? Absolutely—but it was all so much fun! There was still something satisfying about art. I decided to explore it, in all its forms.
Pottery took the place of chemistry in my high school schedule and screenwriting was my college major. For my first “patron’s” wedding a few years back, I did an oil painting as a gift. His sincere appreciation meant a lot to me. (It wasn’t a giant otter this time.) Though they don’t always love their portraits, the family support goes a long way.
Moving to Delaware from Massachusetts was one decision that had nothing to do with art. Until that moment in the NAA gallery, Newark was about family and friends and cows. Here was this whole community I never knew about!
Membership has its previleges
So I purchased a Newark Arts Alliance membership. For a $30 annual fee, you have the opportunity to submit your work for the gallery. Membership dollars also help to support all of their local art activities. They offer classes, monthly exhibits, music/poetry/dance events, and much more.
I went a little art-happy that first month, submitting work and volunteering whenever possible. The NAA is full of “artistic types,” but not the kind we all try to ignore. They are an incredibly creative and warm bunch. The wonderfully effervescent administrative assistant Carol Maurer trained me as a monitor, and recommended some great yoga studios. (I swear it was yoga, not pastries this time.)
Executive Director Terry Foreman is a bucket of bright paint coating the whole town. She works incredibly hard to give the NAA shape and vibrancy. Her phone rings off the hook with artists who want a part of the action. The Holiday Art Market (Nov. 22 through Dec. 30) is the main event this time of year. I stopped in this weekend to meet some more members who participate in the market.
Doortje Shover of Fantasy in Crystal & Glass makes exquisite jewelry, ornaments and window decorations. She grew up in the Netherlands with an interest in wooden beads, and came to design her own jewelry in the United States. She chooses glass or crystal for each piece because “it has to be shiny—the shinier the better!”
And they do shine. I was starting to get a little jealous of that window with all its glamour … then a little glass bird caught my eye. Plump and red, it reminded me of a hen. Old McDonald had some bling, e-i-e-i-Oh, I’ll take it!
In the other corner was Carole Fox of Silver Fox Pottery. Fox started young with clay in the Girl Scouts. Her first project was a little turtle toothpick holder made from clay dug from a riverbank. Now she uses porcelain clay to make beautiful yet functional pieces for your home. Her mugs will make even lukewarm Starbucks coffee look good.
“I’m just fascinated by how you can take clay and turn it into any form,” she said. There’s only so much we can do to mold our careers, our futures, our glutes, or what have you. I can see the appeal—with clay, you decide the shape and fill it with whatever you want.
That only covers two tables in a room full of art. Handmade clothing, framed wonders of every subject, and cows fill the room.
That’s right, cows.
“The cows were a hit,” says local writer/artist Karen O’Lone-Hahn about her early work. She started out with personal paintings, including a series called People on the Couch, along with a few cow pictures. The latter mammal, to her surprise, attracted more attention.
She decided to make one of her cows the protagonist of a children’s book. O’Lone-Hahn’s idea for “Millicent and the Faraway Moon” grew out of a negative life experience. Millicent is a “sad and somewhat gloomy” cow who just cannot jump over the moon. With the help of a friendly mouse, she tries to conquer her fears and reach new heights.
I had the pleasure of meeting O’Lone-Hahn this month at her self publishing class. It was so helpful to learn about the publishing process. Little did I know how much time, sweat, and money go into a 40-page book! The little stuffed Millicent she laid on our table softened the blow. The publishing process can milk you for all you’re worth, but that is what continues to feed the story and characters. Millicent could not survive on art alone.
“A friend made this for me,” O’Lone-Hahn said smiling. “My dream now is to pair little Millicents with each book.”
Books are on sale now at the Holiday Art Market and online at millicentthebluecow.com. Whimsical, inspirational, and pretty adorable. Go have a cow!
These few weeks before the holidays can make you a sad and gloomy cow. It happens to me. There are so many moons to jump over. Gift shopping, travel planning, pastry eating … well, that last one’s not so hard. It’s still a stressful time of year. Go find your cow. Find something simple, sacred, delicious, cute, or peaceful.
My cow is art. What’s yours?