July 22, 2017

Norton Simon
Back garden of the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, April 2017 (colored pencil, graphite and ink on sketch paper)

I did this sketch the evening of the first Friday of April this year. One of my sketching groups meets at the Norton Simon the first Friday of the month, as admission to the museum is free from 5 to 8 (when it closes). It has become an activity I look forward to and participate in most first Fridays. And I not only enjoy sketching and talking with the artist friends I have made there, but I have also gotten to know, and enjoy, many paintings and sculptures in the Norton Simon collection. However, probably my most favorite part of the art museum is the outdoor sculpture gardens at the front and back of the building. Walking to the front entrance you go past a number of Rodin sculptures. (I have tried to sketch several of them, but almost all of those attempts became an exercise in anatomy that didn’t turn out looking so great.) So, moving on… Once you step into the front door you can either go to the left or right to see the wonderful art collection. Or you can just keep going straight and you will find yourself outside again in another outdoor sculpture garden. Of course I have happily wandered around for hours inside, to the left and right as well as the downstairs galleries, looking at the many halls of paintings and sculptures. This sketch was done while I was sitting in the back garden at a table next to the café, looking across the Monet’s Giverny inspired lily-filled pond.

But the story that goes with this art actually started in this back sculpture garden the evening of the first Friday of March. I was sketching a flotilla of mallards swimming between the clumps of water lilies in the pond and I noticed a couple of Canadian geese sitting on the roof of the museum. That seemed a little odd, as they were about two stories off the ground. I tried to sketch them sitting up there, but they were really too far away to see properly. And what I sketched didn’t look like anything—a silhouette of two long necks with beaks next to each other on the flat roof of the museum. So, I finished my sketch of the ducks and some nearby sculptures and left. When I came back in April, that very pair of geese had taken up residence in a spot on the ground, near the water by the trail that meanders through the garden. Thank goodness someone at the museum must have noticed the nesting geese and put up a temporary fence to keep people away from the mother goose as she sat on her clutch of eggs. I sat at a table with my son, right next to the nest and fence, watching the female sit on her eggs while the male walked around just inside the orange plastic fence. From my perch I could see directly across the pond and did this piece of art of garden sculpture and some people.

I really liked the idea that someone at the museum had been so accommodating to the birds and it made me feel good to be sketching in this lovely garden that I had come to enjoy. Canadian geese do not seem to be welcomed in other places in California. For example, many of the golfers at the Lake Wildwood country club (just outside Grass Valley proper) don’t like them at all. The geese swim in the nearby lake and can be found wandering all over the various greens, leaving small piles of “dog-sized” turds everywhere. And that particular golf course also has large flocks of wild turkeys running around the greens as well. I don’t know if they leave poop everywhere, but they also seem to be unpopular at that golf course. I think the turkeys are kind of cool. Early in the morning and at dusk you can hear that distinctive “gobble gobble” all around you.

So I guess what I found pleasing about the geese at the Norton Simon was the fact that maybe in such a grand outdoor sculpture garden it was OK to put up a temporary orange plastic fence to protect a random pair of “nesting” geese—geese that were bound to make a mess while living there. I haven’t been going to this museum for that many first Fridays, and maybe this pair nest by the pond every spring. Such thoughts are especially pleasing to my sensibility of what life well lived should be about. I mean, sometimes it’s messy and doesn’t look very good. And it might even smell a bit. But sometimes, unexpected life drops from the sky and lands right in front of you and you just can’t ignore it. You might even find you look forward to life’s messy bits year after year. Of course I have a long history of fun times at the dump and messy bird experiences. And I have loved every stinky, turd-filled minute.

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