An Ethiopian Diary: From Maji to Tum

Writers and all other artists try to tap into vivid, surprising, primal moments and details in order to spark the vision. So powerful to see how Stephanie does it.

Stephanie Schlatter Art

acaciainspire2-3616.jpg The view that inspired so much.

Many painting in this Ethiopia series were inspired by that magical moment on the road from Maji to Tum when the sun was setting and the mountains glowed as they rolled on all around us.

acacia1-3616 24 x 48, acrylic

All of us four painters who were a part of An Ethiopian Odyssey II were glowing, basking in the warmth of a perfect day.  We had trekked to a waterfall, saw the vast dramatic expanse of Nafis Bir and brought the Polaroid out in the town square, with many memorable exchanges.

acacia2-3616 24 x 8, acrylic

Our truck was bopping along the ever-twisting and turning road and suddenly, this acacia tree was before us, popping out of the landscape like a regal, proud ancestor. It’s given me loads of inspiration, burning the memory even deeper in my mind. This is a joy of painting, to be…

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An Ethiopian Diary: All 21 Ethiopian Odyssey II Paintings!

I write…Stephanie paints…deep gratitude for seeing my magic world through her eyes.

Stephanie Schlatter Art

all21EOpaintings.jpg

I know as the year goes on I’ll be painting more in this series, but for now, it’s a wrap!

When you have a concept of a series, it’s like something bubbling up inside you. You’re bursting at the seems to get all these images held inside of you out. Especially if you are a landscape painter who has just been to one of the most beautiful places on earth. Especially when you have been traveling with other artists who inspire you and with whom you’ve had the time of your life.

But alas, I came home with a crushing jet lag (eight-hour time difference, 30 hours in transit), the usual culture shock, a cold and a pile of “catch up.” I was delayed in my start. But maybe that was a good thing because once I started this series, I could not stop. It was like running down a hill…

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Don’t leave home without it…

A team, I mean.

eoiiblog-book-pic4

Too many things go wrong on the road. People get sick or turn out to have needs or expectations that we were barely able to articulate ahead of time. Obstacles wave their tentacles until you can hardly think.  Even unexpected opportunities–like waterfalls–knock the day’s plans askew–let alone the day in Maji we suddenly got the chance to jump in the car and galumpf down the road that our family used every time we needed to meet or catch a plane when I was young.

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Ato Marcos

Ato Marcos, one of our hosts in Maji, told Caroline that he hardly notices the flowers around him, and he was surprised to see the artists taking pictures of them. “I thought, if they think this little flower is beautiful, what will they think of nifas bir?” he said to her.  Nifas bir. Gate of the wind.  A spot of childhood nightmares for me.

more nifas bir

It’s hard to capture vast landscapes…how narrow the road is in this spot…how far it drops on both sides.  Far in the distance, you can see a mountain beyond which is Kenya.  You can see down, down into the lands where the Surma roam and where Odyssey I unfolded.

We were willing to set aside our plans that day–a carful of artists–and just go. I got to see what it was like in the artists’ vehicle and how their driver was part of the team, too, used to stopping and having them all leap out and snap photos.

road to nifas bir

Just like in my childhood, the car got hung up on a rock and couldn’t move, at one point, so Stephanie Schlatter and I walked ahead.  I got to see nifas bir through the eyes of a painter for a few minutes.

nifas bir with Stephanie

amazing note

Sometimes a team is hard because everyone’s priorities have to be taken into consideration. Sometimes, though, the team spurs you on and helps you see things through new eyes and gives you courage to carpe the diem and not miss something precious.

artist car

One of the most delightful parts of being on the faculty at Vermont College of Fine Arts is the chance to hang around with fellow writers for 10 days every residency. And in Maji, I got to hang around with painters. I wish everyone the joy of being on a team with artists.

An Ethiopian Odyssey: The Final Days (Making Books)

No matter how much I thought about the bookmaking ahead of time, I could never have guessed all the things I would learn on this adventure!

Stephanie Schlatter Art

eoiiblog-book-pic13

The rest of my days in Ethiopia found me in the capital city. I’m not a city girl; no matter the country, I love the countryside. Addis Ababa is a bustling, rapidly growing city. It reportedly has a population of 3,384,569, with a growth rate of 3.8 percent, but  both numbers are widely considered underrated, according to Wikipedia.

But it gives you an idea. The pollution and chaos cannot be overstated. I try to spend as little time here as possible, but I still have some work to do. So I’m resigned to a few more days. The city has a certain energy and bustle that is charming, but for me the charm lasts about an hour, so let’s go visit a few artist studios and make some books and get me out of here.

First is bookmaking day. My dear friend Jane Kurtz is a very accomplished children’s book …

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Holding pinkies around the globe

I know to my bones how important it is to be humble and playful as we dance up to the cultural divide and stare over.  Respectful curiosity goes a long way. Calmness goes a long way.  Hubris is a good thing to leave behind.

The community of third culture kids is deep and wide with many things to separate us from each other–but I’ve never met another third culture kid who didn’t seem a lot like me.  And when we talk about respect for other cultures…well…I think that’s really important, of course. But I also think there is a culture of women around the globe. There is a culture of readers and writers and artists.  We  have lots of common ground.

This is an Ethiopia Reads school being built.  It’s a great image for how I feel as I set out for Odyssey II.  Precarious. Hanging on the edge. But aware of those holding my hand.1 foundation of support for building projects

Three writers (one who is pretty good in Amharic), two American painters, an amateur photographer who wants to help document the trip, two Ethiopian painters…we’re going to see what we can do to create our own art together but also to start creating a body of simple, playful, culturally appropriate, local language books that can go into the schools and libraries where Ethiopian kids are just learning to read.

1 Stephanie

Stephanie Schlatter, the American artist here, has done a lot of art work with kids in Ethiopia.  As she and I have discussed, visual art dodges the language question that is so hard as we struggle with sharing books.  I believe we will find the shared language of art on this trip and we will come back changed…if nothing else from a week lived off the electric grid.

1 empowering women through strong models

Tough team.  Watch this space for more!

Stories circle the globe

http://www.ethiopiareads.org/ethiopian-odyssey-ii  I’m super jazzed to talk with my Vermont College of the Fine Arts students about how to think about the progression of a tale. I’m also super jazzed to see what this artistic collaboration can bring to some very simple, easy-to-read stories that can be used by Ethiopian educators, especially after they’re translated into various local languages.  I created this one from a story that’s told in Ethiopia and around the world…and Noh and Ellemae and I tried to teach ourselves a tiny bit about how illustrators work with perspective. See what you think.

01 turtle flower

She talked about flowers.

01 turtle ants

01 turtle wanted to touch clouds

01 turtle eagle

01 turtle touch clouds

01 turtle flying

 

01 turtle last picture

01 turtle goat friend

 

 

And another simple story for Ethiopia

01 secret a bag

01 secret what's inside

01 secret jumps01 secret thuds

01 secret

01 secret is out

01 secret last page

Our challenge to ourselves–a third grader, a fifth grader and me–was to think of American sayings or proverbs or idioms that we could turn into simple, easy-to-read stories.  These will be translated into various local languages. And of course part of the collection, ultimately, will be stories made from Ethiopian sayings or proverbs or idioms, too.