Friday, February 15, 2008


Almost all, if not entirely all, of the cultural and artistic references in my novel Ginny Bates are real. Most are drawn from lesbian-feminism. At some point, I'll write a post filling in those of you not "in the know" on references already published here. Right now, I want to mention one: Mara Smith. Mara is a nationally-famous sculptor in brick, one of only a few folks in the country who can do what she can do. She lives in Seattle, so I inserted her into the book: Her friezes, murals, columns, etc. are dotted throughout urban areas in the Pacific Northwest as well as nationally, and Ginny would certainly notice them, one highly skilled artist picking up on the unique work of another.

Which Ginny first did in the book on 13 April 1996, in the excerpt already posted as More Life With Two Bright Children. She refers to some of Mara's work around Seattle and indicates she's going to try to find out who the artist is.

I'm going to do a post soon on Mara, showing you some of her work over the decades. She is my oldest friend, has known me since I was 19 and we both lived in Denton, Texas. In the meantime, I'll publish (after the fold) the story of when Ginny finally locates Mara and they all meet for the first time.

If you are not yet a reader of Ginny Bates and need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

July 1996 -- Margie is seven, Gillam is five

Ginny heard the Tukwila Farmer's Market had a bonanza of hazelnuts, so on Saturday after breakfast, the whole family piled into the Volvo and headed south. As they were about to enter Tukwila, Myra got off the freeway to ask directions to the Farmer's Market. Back on the frontage road, she was repeating the instructions she'd just been given to herself when Ginny suddenly shouted "Stop! Pull over, Myra!"

Fortunately, there was no car immediately behind them. After hitting the brakes hard, Myra pulled onto the grass and said "What's wrong, are you okay?"

Ginny had turned and was looking behind them. A couple of people were between the frontage road and the highway putting up something made of brick, like a low wall. Ginny said "That's the same artist!"

"What artist? Where?" said Myra, trying to see what Ginny saw. But Ginny had unbuckled her seatbelt and opened the car door. Myra said swiftly to Margie, on the driver's side, "Don't you dare open your door, not yet". Ginny shut her door and walked around the back of the car. Myra put on her hazard lights and rolled down her window, yelling "GINNY!"

Ginny finally stopped and looked at Myra. "The artist who does all those brick carvings in Seattle. They're erecting something else by her right over there." Ginny turned her gaze back on the two men with the brick wall and scurried across the frontage road in a gap between cars.

Myra sighed and said to Gillam "You can get out on your side, but stay next to the car over there until I tell you different." She checked her rear-view mirror, found it was safe to open her door because no cars were near on her side, and got out quickly. She opened Margie's door and said "Come on, go stand at the back of the car." She took each of her children by a hand and waited until the road was very clear in both directions, then marched them across quickly.

Once in the middle of the grassy zone, she unclenched her shoulders and they walked more slowly to where Ginny was already in conversation with what turned out to be a woman in worn jeans and a multicolored jacket. The other worker was a man, mixing mortar the color of dried blood and talking to himself as he did so.

The woman turned to stare at them as they approached, a wild crooked grin on her face. Ginny said "Myra, this is Mara Smith. She's the sculptor! Mara, this is my partner Myra and our children, Margie and Gillam."

Mara was several years older than Myra, with hand-rumpled short blonde hair and crinkly blue eyes that were deeply intelligent. Her face was lined with decades of outdoor exposure, and her hands were an artist's dream, powerful, square, and coated with brick dust.

Myra let go of Margie's hand to shake the hand Mara extended to her, but quickly said "Margie, don't touch a thing. I mean it." Gillam didn't pull away from her. His gaze was fixed on the otters and raccoons who seemed about to crawl out of the brick wall.

Ginny said "So who exactly hires you to do these murals?"

Mara, still grinning, said "Do you work for the city or something?"

"No, I'm a painter, I've just been noticing your art for years" said Ginny. Myra could imagine Mara's confusion. She spoke up "This is Ginny Josong-Bates, we live in Seattle."

Mara's face registered recognition at the full name. "Well, hell, I've seen some of your work" she said to Ginny, relaxing a little.

Ginny said "You do this before they're fired, right? Has to be." She was running her fingers along the bottom half of what appeared to be an entry gate. A rondel with three hazelnuts sat to the side of a partially-completed sculpture of a heron, along with raccoons and otters. The upper half still lay on plastic sheeting on the ground, including Tukwila carved in bold letters, all incised deeply into umber bricks.

But Mara's brain was working another line. Her face showed a second jolt of recognition, this one widening her grin, and she said to Myra "Are you the Myra Josong whatever it is who wrote the Skene book?"

Gillam said proudly "She sure is. She's my mama. They are both my mamas."

Mara took him in, her face softening even more. But Myra interrupted everyone by yelling "Marjorie Rose, what did I tell you?"

Margie had five fingers stuck palm-deep into the trough of rusty mortar. "He said I could" she argued.

"Here, I got a rag" said Mara, picking up a cloth from the ground and heading toward Margie. She deftly wiped Margie's hand and said "Wash up good before you eat anything or put your hand in your mouth, okay?"

Myra, joining them, said to Mara "You gotta be from Texas, the way you talk."

Mara grinned crookedly at her again and said "Grew up in Houston, but my people are from Carthage. You?"

"South of Santone" said Myra.

This was not going according to Ginny's expectations. She came up next to Myra and said "Can we invite you for dinner some night, so you and I can talk art? You and anybody you want to bring -- " she looked at the mortar guy.

"This here is Bob, he's my mason" said Mara. Bob nodded at them but didn't offer to shake -- his hands were as red as Margie's fingers. "I could bring Kris, my partner" continued Mara, "She loves your book, too."

Myra reached in her pocket and pulled out her wallet, extracting a card and handing it to Mara. Mara slid it into her back pocket, saying "I don't have one to give ya in return, I didn't expect to be networking out here today".

"Myra, put her phone number in your notebook" commanded Ginny. Mara gave a little snort of laughter, and Myra joined her but did as Ginny directed. Mara shook their hands again, gravely shaking Gillam's hand, too. "We'll call you tomorrow" said Ginny firmly, and Mara said "Well, allrightee, then." Ginny picked up Gillam and Myra took Margie's gory-appearing hand in hers to head back toward their car. "Nice to meetcha!" Myra called back over her shoulder.

"Same here" said Mara, hilarity in her voice.

1 comment:

letsdance said...

My response to your Ginny Bates chapters is limited to happy sighs, Maggie.