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A page from “Winter Landscapes and Flowers” (album ca. 1770, Qian Weicheng) ink on silk

Here is a lovely little winter landscape from Qing Dynasty master landscape painter Qian Weicheng (錢維城). Qian was a proponent of the orthodox painting style, and, indeed, we can see that his simple, elegant calligraphic lines emulate the techniques of the Song and Ming artists who preceded him. Although he was perhaps not a master of bravura ink-wash realism to the unearthly degree of Fan Kuan or Guo Xi, Qian brings his own 18th century virtues to the art, and there is a delightful & unaffected simplicity to his work which captures the austere beauty of winter’s bare rocks, leafless trees, and frozen mud. In this little painting, flocks of geese glide through the overcast sky above a branching river which is swollen with melt water. The simplicity of the countryside must have been a dramatic contrast with the opulent splendor of court life in 1774 when this image was dated and inscribed. Of course Qian himself died in 1772, so the inscription and the date were added posthumously by Qian’s greatest fan, the Qianlong Emperor himself!

Qian Weicheng painted over 275 paintings during his time at court and he rose up through the imperial bureaucratic ranks to the exalted position of second-in-command of the Imperial Board of Works. Perhaps you are wondering how it is that Qian came to the capital from his native Jiansu to begin with. Any discussion of dynastic China includes mention of the famous, formidable imperial civil service exams, the great standardized test which was at the center of imperial China’s administrative system. In 1745, Qian came in first place on the exam, an academic feat which brought him to imperial attention and guaranteed his success as a mandarin and as a painter. This path to artistic greatness (acing a standardized test about Confucian principles!) brings up a variety of questions about meritocracy, politics, and aesthetics which we are still wrestling with!

Under the Flounder Moon (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) ink on paper

Here are two more works from the series of pen-and-ink drawings in black and white ink on colored French paper which i have been working on. I apologize that the sienna one (above) is arguably Halloween themed (although, come to think of it, it seems unfair that carved pumpkins are so profoundly seasonal). To me, the drawing also suits the time of winter darkness which we have entered. In terms of subject matter, the drawing portrays a puritan in a cemetery gasping at the appearance of a black rabbit. Various little elves fall prey to insects and spiders as a ghoul and a ghost look on. In the background a nightjar flies past; while the extreme foreground features some fallen store-bought candies. The entire scene takes place under a great glistening flounder moon which illuminates the Jacobean manor on the hill and casts a fishy light upon the entire troubling scene.

Inside the Idol’s Cave (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) ink on paper

This second work shows what may or may not be an Easter scene featuring sacred eggs and yet another rabbit (is that guy really a rabbit?). The snapping turtle looks like it is about to snap up that little elf (which is maybe fair since another kobald is making off with her eggs). The entire scene takes place inside a cave where worshipers pray and present offerings to a Dagon-type idol. A bright flatfish shines an otherworldly light on the proceedings and put one in mind of the famous platonic allegory. Likewise the tapir (a famous dream-beast) indicates that this image has something to do with the vantage point from which one approaches reality. The nun (center) reminds us that faith will otherwise help smooth over any deficiencies in perception for those trapped in a cave.

The drawings are meant as companion pieces and it is interesting to see how the same elements reoccur in differing forms. There are two elves (one about to be eaten) in each piece. There is a rabbit in each work. Both works focus on a central religious-type woman in plain garb, and both works are illuminated by fishlight and by the stars. More than that, they are compositionally similar, with a big white scary thing to the immediate right and a field of stone obstacles (gravestones and stalagmites). Yet at a bigger level they are opposite. One work is about reality within the unreal and the other is about the unreal within reality. One work is about life in death and the other is about death in life.

Perhaps I should make some summer and winter companion pieces to make a complete set (assuming that all of these drawings aren’t one weird set of some sort).

Happy Thanksgiving! Hopefully you are not tired of turkey yet (my mother said that the buff turkeys gathered under the bay window and gobbled evocatively while she and Dad had their holiday meal). Uhh…anyway, in this spirit, here is a little drawing to celebrate. As I mentioned, lately I have been working with black and white inks on autumn colored paper. This is a drawing from that series which explores the mysterious connections between various entities crossing paths in the forest at night. The main dramatic tension in the composition comes from the unknown relationship between the fashionable woman with long antennae and the blank-eyed peasant pursuing her with an adorable young larva in a wicker basket. Who knows what is up with people like that? In the foreground there are some frogs, flatfish, and spiders…and a being of some sort who has somehow gotten stuck inside a chianti bottle. Tsk tsk! An anthropomorphized cat troubadour is hopefully proffering his mandolin to the fashion-moth-woman, but, alas, she seems too distracted for night music. In the background fat white moths fly through the intertwined branches as a nightjar flies off and a great barred owl swoops in. Deep inside the forest a phantom desperately tries to share a frantic message from the world beyond.

Most importantly, there are some pretty turkeys in the middle of the square drawing. Honestly, you should probably just pay attention to them today. Oh, also, that tenacious critter pursuing the snake is a Sunda stink badger. This hardly seems like the tropical rainforest of Sunda, but, frankly, it is hard to pin down the location or the time of this enigmatic tableau with any true certainty.

Where did the time go? It is impossible to believe that it will be Thanksgiving next week. Speaking of Thanksgiving, I was back at the family farm during the beginning of this month (it is unusual for me to get to go home in November) and I therefore got to see how the little cream-colored turkey poults have turned into adult turkeys. For those who have forgotten my original post from back in August, my parents, who raise lovely Pilgrim geese, obtained these turkeys in a “One Kitten for Kim” type situation when a neighboring poultry farmer exchanged some poults for some goslings. Back in summer I was surprised at how tiny, slender, and delicate the turkeys were. It turns out that this was because they were young. During the intervening months they have put on some real heft (although they are still much smaller that the doughty bronze turkeys of my childhood). It is hard to take pictures of these birds, but I think I captured a bit of their personality. Look at the casual insouciance with which they strut on top of the chickenhouse and prance along the barnyard fence!

I also now believe that the turkeys–which I fancifully though looked like creamsicle or butterscotch in the summer sunsets–are actually a classic variety known as “Buff”. I suspect what is really on your mind, though, is anxiety about their fate. Does the oven call for them with Baalshamen’s hunger for the children of Phoenicia? (or perhaps I should say “with an Olmec priest’s desire to scoop out some succulent human hearts?)” Fortunately however, the answer is that these turkeys are pet turkeys rather than livestock. Provided their behavior remains righteous, they will remain free to run around prancing on the outbuildings and chasing the rooster (whose rubose head troubles them) for as long as they like. They had better not start kicking and pecking at my folks though. Biff the turkey did that back in November 1983 and he dressed out at nearly 50 pounds!

Obviously we will have some more turkey posts next week, but, in the meantime maybe also check out this Aztec turkey/plague god from the Ferrebeekeeper/Central American archives.

They are certainly elusive to photograph…

The Rapacious Frog Among the Wee Folk (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) ink on paper

Happy Halloween! I’m afraid that I didn’t write all of the posts I meant to write about graveyards, tombs, and memorial gardens. We will circle back to them later (if ever), but for the present moment–as the Halloween candles burn down low–there is, indeed, a final treat for you: these ink drawings I made for the season. I have been working on building more dimensional forms and more elaborate textures by using multiple tones of ink on colored paper. Here are two of the test images. The top image, which shows a giant hungry frog rampaging through a churchyard came out especially well. The poor little elves and goblins are trying to escape the rapacious amphibian, only to discover that not all carnivores are from the animal kingdom! (The woodcock flying by in the sky is indeed a nocturnal bird, but is otherwise uninvolved with the elf carnage). Presumably these elves, goblins, and fairies are members of the aos sí–the mythical mound folk who dwell in barrows and tombs in Irish folklore.

The second image, below, is in a similar vein, however the relentless frog has been replaced by a much friendlier-looking bear. This ursine goofball scarcely seems interested in eating anyone–even the strange elf pickled in a jar by his paw. The puritan and the mummy who are with the bear likewise seem fairly friendly (all things considered). Despite all of these friendly monsters and animals, this world is not without peril. Roving extraterrestrials (or somebody with a weird spaceship) are in the picture and they are up to their old tricks of making off with bystanders.

As always, the flounders represent the ambiguities of trying to live together in an ecosystem where everyone is hungrily jockeying for resources. There were supposed to be some more pictures (on purple, brown, and moss green papers) but I did not have time to finish them all. The real horror of the churchyard is that everyone there has so much time, whereas we poor folk who are still among the living never have enough to get anything done! Kindly let me know what you think of my pictures and enjoy the rest of your Halloween!

The Puritan Elf Explains Terrestrial Morality (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) ink on paper

Roller Summer Sunset (Wayne Ferrebee, 2021) ink and watercolor on paper

Labor Day is over. Another summer is dying away. I wanted to celebrate the summer (it is my favorite season!) without giving into the elegiac feelings of fall, so I drew this sunset drawing of merriment in Central Park. As always my muse is the incomparable Lillian Newberg, doyenne of the resurrected New York roller disco scene (would that I could participate–but I can no more dance…or walk…or stand still…on roller skates than I can fly like Superman). Around her are strange & mysterious circus folk with hotdogs and ice cream, while a rather splendid toucan preens at the treeline. The sloth is not a roller skater either, but at least he can drag himself to the party on a skateboard. A langur turns the magical disco jack-in-the-box, while various angelic folk fly around the heavens as per their wont. The scene is delightful except for the tragic sentient lemon and the rubber chicken (which has been accidentally discharged from a novelty cannon). The snake represents moral choice whereas the flounder suggests that our appetites will always be lurking in the immediate foreground of anything we do. I don’t know what is up with that fancy garter belt. Somebody probably dropped it there by accident and it has nothing to do with the larger parable…

When I am back in the big city telling tales of farm life, one barnyard character is the most popular of all. His exploits are the most renowned. His stories garner endless comments. His (or her?) mysterious pan-sexual nature elicits the most speculation. I am referring to the ever-beloved LG, a Canada goose who flew out of the sky ten years ago with an injured foot and a duck concubine. When his duck flew away, LG was left forlorn and alone–a complete outcast. But his story was not over: LG ingratiated himself to both people and geese. He taught the store-bought geese to fly and eventually he worked his way up to being a goose of high status. Ultimately he became the foremost figure in the poultry lot, romantically connected to Princess (the prettiest pilgrim goose) and able to command the most corn and the best nesting spots. Here I am hand-feeding him cracked corn.

But things have changed for LG. Early this summer, a new Canada goose appeared. This new bird has a mangled wing and can not fly at all. My parents are flummoxed at how he (or she?) made it to the farm. They are equally perplexed at why the wounded goose even knew to come there for sanctuary to begin with. Because the new Canada goose has crossed tail feathers (and a mysterious unknown provenance) my parents call him (or her) “X”. I imagine him as a sort of World War I aviator figure who suffered a wound while battling with some super predator (a goshawk? A golfer?) and then clattered down from the heavens to crash land by the pond (while making sad single stroke sputtering noises, probably).

LG in the foreground and X in the background. It looks like they are kvetching about something (but it was hot and they are actually panting)

LG has taken a liking to X and they sometimes wander around the orchard, garden, and barnyard together (I hope Princess does not get forgotten now that LG finally has a chance to hang out with a friend of his own species). But LG has not given up his high status and he gets to take first choice of farmyard prerogatives and privileges.

It was hot August weather when I was home, with temperatures over ninety and one of my favorite things was watching the geese drink out of an old drywall bucket filled with water. They would stick their heads down into the bucket and go “slurrrrrrrp” then they would point their heads straight up at the sky and go “glug glug glug” and all the water would run down from the head part into the deeper goose (this sound cartoonishly ridiculous, of course, but it was strangely compelling to watch). Above is a picture of X drinking. You will notice that LG already had his fill and was regarding me beadily, no doubt calculating whether there were further advantages to be had. I will keep you updated on their status (hopefully X will heal and regain his flying abilities, but I doubt it). Who knows what they will get up to next. It is hard to believe that our skies (and, uh, golf courses) are filled up with these delightful, charismatic, lunatics!

Here is X with some other farmyard friends

Hello everyone! I am back from the family farm and ready to get to work blogging. I am sorry that Ferrebeekeeper has lain fallow for the last week (and seen scarce cultivation in the weeks before that) but maybe I can channel vacation energy into some thrilling new posts (and answer some long-neglected comments) before the daily grind reduces me back into an empty husk. Also, although I did not find anyone to take over writing while I was gone, I found some authors who expressed excitement over the idea of some iconoclastic and thought-provoking guest posts…so prepare yourself for that treat!

Speaking of treats, today features a topic which I haven’t written about for a long time: turkeys! When I was a child, I had a special fondness for the great birds, and the noble fowl still delight me (even if I have said almost everything that I can think to say about them). Fortunately when I stepped out of the study and out into the farmyard, I encountered the material for a new turkey post–in the form of new turkeys!

My parents keep a lovely flock of pilgrim geese (along with the remarkable tame wild goose named LG, who just showed up one day). Despite some run-ins with predators and the multitudinous snares of the world, the geese have been flourishing to such a great extent that my mother has been selling goslings to other hobby farmers and poultry enthusiasts. One such enthusiast had his own flock of hand-raised birds, and rather than paying for goslings with the coin of the realm, he obtained his geese through the most ancient custom of barter. Here is what he traded for his goslings: three adorable turkey poults–already grown to graceful near adulthood by the time I made it to the farm.

They moved deceptively quickly for my poor phone camera

These turkeys are much smaller than any I have seen so far and are currently about the same size as a large chicken–an extreme contrast with the huge double breasted bronze turkeys which my parents raised five years ago which puffed up to seem like mastiffs or cassowaries (although maybe the surly disposition if the bronzes called such comparisons to mind). I could not ascertain a breed for these little turkeys per se, though my mother thought the farmer mentioned a heritage of red bourbon turkeys in their lineage. Whatever the case they were sweet and affectionate and evinced a particular fondness for my dad, whom they followed around like puppies when he was near.

To my eyes they seemed too pale and too small to be red bourbon turkeys. It is hard to tell in my pictures but they are pale orange buff on top of a French vanilla color. I think of them as the orange creamsicle turkeys, although perhaps they would not appreciate being affiliated with such tasty imagery (it is also possible that they are “buff turkeys” a reconstituted breed meant to approximate a vanished lineage). I am sorry that I obtained limited photos of the three birds, but I promise to follow up with adulthood photos of them later in the year (maybe for November when the internet and society reward turkey-themed content). In the meantime I wish the little birds well and I hope that they survive the foxes and great-horned owls so that we can see what a little creamsicle tom looks like when he puffs up and fans out his feathers. Speaking of which, hopefully one of the turkeys is a tom! it is hard to tell turkey gender until they reach full maturity. It would be sad if they are all hens (although turkeys do have an elegant but shocking cell bio solution for such a contingency).

Dangit, out of all of these pictures, did none come out right?

Today’s short post is really just a link to an animal story about Arnold, a Canada goose whose foot was injured. Kindly veterinarians took in the wounded bird and performed surgery to mend his broken limb and toes. However, as they worked on the goose, there was a mysterious tapping at the door…which turned out to be Arnold’s concerned mate! She came over to the surgery to visit and see if he was alright. The story is adorably cute and, since I know LG (my parent’s guest goose who flew down to the barnyard and assumed command of the domestic pilgrim geese and has been lording it over the place ever since), I believe it entirely.

Disturbingly, geese are like little people with wings and giant hard noses. This is obviously not disturbing in and of itself, but it upsets me because so many people I talk to just despise Canada geese (usually because the geese defended their nests against blundering humans or pooped on a moronic golf course somewhere). I keep replaying Arnold’s story…but with some anti-bird cretin calling animal control to have the waterfowl euthanized (or just illegally attacking them outright).

As we can see from Arnold’s mate and from LG, animals have feelings and plans and worries. I wonder how we can make other people see that more clearly…

Flemish Flatfish (Wayne Ferrebee, 2016) ink and watercolor on paper

Happy Solstice! I wanted to finish off the ocean theme and celebrate the longest day of the year by coloring one of my large flounder drawings (which I originally designed to be in a huge strange flatfish coloring book). Unfortunately, coloring the image took sooo long that the longest day of the year is now over! (and I am still not happy with the coloring–which turns out to be just as hard as I recall from childhood)

Anyway, here is a sky flounder with a Dutch still life on his/her body swimming over the flat sea by the low countries. Little Flemish details dot the composition (like the clay pipe at the bottom, the bagpiper by the beach, and Audrey Hepburn in a 17th century dress) however the endearing minutiae can not forever distract the viewer from larger themes of sacrifice and the ineluctable passage of time (both of which are fine ideas to contemplate on this druidic holiday).

As always, we will return to these ideas, but for now, happy summer!

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