“. . .and as far as my life is concerned, poetry has saved me again and again.”

Muriel Rukeyser, American poet, Dec. 1913–Feb. 1980

All of us experience loss of one kind or another.  Sometimes we experience loss and are not particularly aware of it, perhaps because it is so commonplace, like the loss of hair on our heads.  If we do notice it, we probably give it no more than a second or two of our time, sigh an “oh well,” and continue our day.  As we age and experience more, we strategize in order to keep loss at bay.  We take supplements, faithfully exercise to keep fit and healthy, watch what we eat, and still look both ways before crossing the street.  We get educated, work hard at our jobs, buy insurance, and plan for our golden years. One day, something in our world knocks us sideways.  A job is lost, a beloved pet dies, or a spouse leaves. It is during those times, says Kay Mullen, that we can turn to poetry, an art form which “confronts everything in daily life in clear, metaphorical language. . .that takes us to the edge of what life is about.”

Kay leads workshops on using poetry to help heal and cope during times of loss and grief.  In the workshop, each participant  has time to read, discuss and write, based on a thoughtfully selected set of poems.  Although the workshops are not therapeutic counseling sessions, participants bring their own stories of loss and grief to the work that is done there.  In part, that work is to identify how poetry “works.”  As an example, Kay talked about Joseph Stroud’s “Stitching the Woe Shirt,” a carefully crafted poem about the death of his wife.  On reading that poem, one can sense the power that is wielded by the placement of only one introductory word, “inconsolable,” on one line.  Each word, each line is so powerful that “sometimes grief just oozes” out of the poem.

Mullen was initiated  into the world of loss and grief by the death of her dear husband of thirty-five years. Until that time, nothing had prepared her for all that was to come.  She had been a classroom teacher, the mother of two, who eventually became a mental health counselor and school counselor. She had, with encouragement from both her husband (an accomplished writer in his own right) and a colleague, published two, full-length poetry collections:  Let Morning Begin (Caritas Communications, 2001) and A Long Remembering: Return to Vietnam (Foothills Publishing, 2006). Her work also appeared in various journals such as Valparaiso Poetry Review, Appalachia, Avocet, Crab Creek Review, as well as anthologies: Tatoos on Cedar, Mute Note Earthward, Pontoon, Northwind. She entered  PLU’s Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program with her husband at her side for the first summer residency. And then he was gone.

Following her husband’s death, Kay devoted her time to his memory.  She spent countless hours collecting his writings, putting some together into an autobiography, others in a full-length book, and gathered together his letters, short stories and poems.  During the seven years following that, she turned her attention to her own work, her “poems of grief, memories of our first year of marriage in Alaska, poems about his illness, memories of our life together and events after his death.”  The result was her third book of poems, Even the Stones (Caritas Communications, 2012) She also managed to complete her MFA, win a Stafford award and be nominated for a Pushcart prize.

Those years were a crucible in which the strong forces of intellect, professionalism, spirit, faith and love tempered the sense of the “inconsolable” in trying to “make sense of the world after this major loss in my life.”  From her experience she is able to help others begin or continue the process of healing with poetry being the vehicle.  Her most recent workshop was in January, 2013, at Catherine’s place (a center for women in Tacoma).  Other workshops have been held at Kings Books, at the Olympia library, at Urban Grace church and even at the correctional center in Shelton.

What if a person is relatively unacquainted with poetry—who would be “good” poets to begin reading?  Mullen’s reply was, in addition to the two poets already mentioned (Rukeyser and Stroud), that a person might want to begin reading poetry by Tess Gallagher, Jack Gilbert, Lola Haskins, Mary Oliver and Billy Collins as a way of beginning to experience the “soul work” that is poetry.  A date has not yet been set for Mullen’s next workshop.

For a quarter of a century, Retha Hayward and her White Dove Gallery have been part of the Tacoma-Lakewood art scene. We recently discussed her involvement with the arts, and in many ways her story is like a good novel in which there are several plot points upon which the action spins around, taking the story in a different direction.

Part of her story is a familiar one:  A college student earns a BA, with double majors and double minors, from a local prestigious university but can’t find a job on graduation. There was in this case, however, one semester’s class that bore no relationship to the rest of her academic work and that was a class in accounting principles. That accounting course was what qualified Hayward for her first post-graduation job.

Retha enjoyed her work in accounting over the years, learning to utilize the various computer programs that were available, working hard, steadily gaining experience and responsibility as a valuable employee.  Suddenly, mid-stream in her career, Hayward lost her job because the company she worked for was being downsized. She put her accounting skills on the shelf for the time being.

Fortunately, she had a resiliency that helped her adapt to change, having been an Air Force brat whose family moved from place to place. When it became apparent that she had to change career direction, she took stock of what she had and what she could do.  Tentatively, she turned to her hobby of working with stained glass, building three-dimensional items.  She took a few pieces to the nearby White Dove Gallery and left them there on consignment. Often she would hang out at the Gallery, sometimes even waiting on customers.

That connection to the art world felt comfortable for Hayward. In addition to her undergraduate degree in liberal arts, Hayward had grown up with art. That is, her parents sponsored a young Hungarian woman, an artist, who was fleeing from the communist takeover of her country. The artist and Retha’s family were long-term friends, and as a child, Retha learned some art basics in color, form and style.  Eventually, the émigré landed a job at Boeing, working as an illustrator during the week, and on weekends setting up shop in a department store where she painted portraits. Her entrepreneurial spirit was an important influence in Hayward’s life.

More and more often, Hayward was drawn into the life of the gallery, continuing to sell her work as well as expanding her art to include fused glass and staffing the gallery on frequent occasions. In a little more than a year, Hayward was offered a partnership in the gallery where her accounting skills were taken off the shelf and put to good use.  The partnership lasted through two decades ending only by the death of her business partner.

In addition to the gallery, Hayward manages three studios at the Manitou Art Center. There she teaches classes in fused glass, stained glass and making mosaics.  And from the kiln located there, many of the Empty Bowls are created for each year’s community effort to help feed the hungry. Jeff  Klein of Emergency Food Network is quoted in Tacoma.com as saying, “Retha Hayward has been on the committee to make this event happen for more than a decade. She runs the Manitou Art Center and knows most of the potters in our region. She spends months poking and prodding artists in the community to donate bowls, and probably half of what’s sold, approximately 600 to 700 bowls, are glazed and fired in her kiln. It’s incredible, the amount of work she puts in to make this happen.”

She makes that community event happen because she believes it is a necessary component of what a good city can do. Likewise, she believes that cities should enhance the life of their citizenry by emphasizing and supporting the arts. Consequently, when Lakewood formed its first arts commission in 2006, Retha was one of the first members, an office she still holds today.

At an age that many people would consider as time for retirement, Retha Hayward is busy rearranging the gallery, looking to find funding to keep the Manitou Art Center open, and getting ready to once again gear up for Empty Bowls 2013.  You can find her at the White Dove Gallery Tuesday through Friday, 12 to 5 p.m., and by appointment at (253) 582-7859.White-Dove-Gallery-display-color-web

Over the several years I’ve written about art, the arts, artists, galleries, etc., for this newspaper, I’ve seen many changes to include the fact that galleries have recently had to close their doors.

So, it was of interest to note that Proctor Art Gallery is on the threshold of its fourth anniversary celebration. Wondering what accounts for its continuing success, I went directly to the artists themselves to learn more. A call went out and 10 artists quickly agreed to be interviewed about how the gallery works and their roles in it. We met at the gallery on a Sunday afternoon.

Although its structure is similar to that of a cooperative, the Proctor Gallery is organized as an LLC.  This means that the owners, Carolyn Burt and her musician husband Chuck Gourley, have controlling interest. Each artist staffs the gallery two days a month, pays a monthly rent, and has a limited voice on how that money is to be spent.

“Our owner is a wonderful manager with creative promotional ideas” who does the bookwork, which most artists hate doing, said Bonnie Cargol.

Sharon Crocetti  explained that the books are set up so that transactions can be easily tracked and recorded by computer programs.All the artist has to do is check and fill in the right spaces on the paperwork

Artists must sign a contract, agreeing to the financial stipulations as well as agreeing to participate in the monthly meetings. These meetings are on the first Tuesday of each month. Any business matters are handled in the first part of the morning.Then all the work comes down off the walls. If anyone has something new to hang or display, it is brought in.

In a collegial atmosphere, the art is discussed and placed in the resulting new arrangement. This change-out, says Scott Nelson, is a lot of work but it generates “a really good mix of quality art” that is fresh each month. For most artists, this ability to be seen by the public is important.

Everybody’s work is initially juried by a committee of peers to be accepted into the gallery, Sparks and Hein pointed out. Stockdale says the vote is a way to “assure quality control.” Gary LaTurner refers to it as creating “high expectations” by both the artists and the public. Each artist I talked with extolled  the harmonious, non-competitive nature of the group.

Proctor District businesses have wholly embraced the gallery as one of its own, says Burt. She points with pride to the many activities in which they participate, not the least of which is the $4,000 total it has raised for a food bank.

In time for their Christmas open house (Dec. 1, 2-6 p.m.), the gallery will be offering 10-notecard packets for sale. On Jan. 26, they will celebrate their anniversary with entertainment and prizes.

As Andrea Greenfield puts it, “Proctor Gallery is a treasure for Tacoma.”

The Proctor Art Gallery LLC is located at 3811 N. 26th St. in Tacoma. Its phone number is 253-759-4238.

The gallery is open daily Monday sthrough Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.


About the artists

Thanks to all the artists listed below who took the time out of their Sunday to talk with me about the gallery.

• Carolyn Burt. Owner who manages to also be a popular gallery artist.

• Bonnie Cargol. Bonnie earned her Masters in science from UW, taught for many years, and now is retired, devoting time to her hobby as an award-winning water colorist.  See bonniesgallery.com.

• Sharon Crocetti. Portraits in pastels, charcoals and oils, using live models, are what Sharon enjoys doing most of all, especially in learning to read the face of her subject. Her work can be seen at proctorartgallery.com.

• Andrea Greenfield. One of the founding artists of the Gallery, she produced the winning poster for the 2012 Art Fest.  Often her representational, watercolor florals are directly inspired by her garden.  She also knits items for sale. See proctorartgallery.com.

• Linda Jacobus. Working in oils since 1994, she is self-taught and believes there is always some light to capture in a scene, which draws many to her work. See it at http://fineartamerica.com/profiles/linda-jacobus.html.

• Gary LaTurner. Taught 33 years mostly in art, works in the arts community while doing his impressionistic pencil drawings and oils in studio or in the outdoors in places like Chinook Pass. See garylaturner.com.

• Scott Nelson. His day job is in communications for a law firm and his art work is in photography, a lifelong passion. Prints his photos on open-frame aluminum sheets. See jacksonscott.com.

• Anne Doumit Sparks and Helen P. Hein.  Fiber and mixed media sister team. See proctorartgallery.com.

• Carol Stockdale  [Retired educational therapist who, after 20 years as a wood block print maker, now focuses on fused glass, especially creating beautiful bowls and glass sculptures.  See glassbystockdale.com.]

Is your calendar handy? If so, here is a date you might make a note of:  Nov 2. It’s when classical guitarist Jeffry Hamilton Steele will be in concert (following a 6:30 potluck supper) at Lakeview Congregational Church, 4606 S. 108th St. in Lakewood.

The theme of the program is “The Bach Family Takes a Rio Holiday,” with music composed by the baroque genius, J. S. Bach, and two Brazilians, the late Jobim (think “Girl from Ipanima”) and the prolific composer, Bonfa, who could make his instrument sound like an entire orchestra.

If you miss this programs, you can hear Steele’s work by going to his website, www.jeffrysteele.com  where you will find a large array of audio files as well as listings of his appearances.  His work today is the result of a richly varied background that began with the first appearance of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964.

Like many of his contemporaries, Steele wanted to emulate the Beatles, to play their kind of music, to be a rock musician.  His father had an old, steel-string Hawaiian guitar that became Steele’s first string instrument (he also played piano, the recorder and the trumpet).  Five years later Steele found his way from New England to Bethel, New York and the phenomenon that was known as Woodstock.  The legendary rain did not dampen his enthusiasm but the theft of his guitar was an event not soon forgotten.

Steele speaks of insights and experiences that helped form his work and style.  For example, there was a time when he listened to his mother practice at home on one particular piece over and over on the cello.  By chance one day, that same piece was aired on television and, Steele reports, he was transported by his own familiarity with the piece, with the satisfaction in being able to anticipate what was coming next. This experience became part of what drew Steele to classical music.  Later it was a roommate’s dedicated practice sessions that modeled commitment for Steele, providing a window to what he should expect for the future.  In the mid 80’s Steele spent two summers in Nicaragua, an influence heard in his music today.  Drawn also to all things that comprised Renaissance arts, Steele became acquainted with mime and all the costumes and courtly gestures of the period. This training became useful over the years and into present day programs, especially those that are collaborations with other musicians and dancers.

Along the way, Steele became certificated by the state of Massachusetts in elementary grades music instruction. He taught both in the classroom as well as giving private lessons. He went on to earn a Masters in Musical Composition from the New England Conservatory of Music.  Although he did live and work in western Massachusetts for five years, most of his teaching and performing was done in the Boston and Gloucester areas where his 87-year-old mother still lives.

In 2009, Jeffry and his family moved to Tacoma where once again he became teacher certified.  Although he worked as a classroom teacher, he found himself increasingly moved toward providing individual instruction.  Steele has recently opened his home studio for teaching purposes, and he is accepting students, as young as second to fourth graders with parents’ presence, to the golden-ager.  In all instances, Steele will work to assure the student’s familiarity and working competence with the basics before moving forward.  So, experience is not required, only the desire to participate in the joys of classical music.  If you or someone you know might be interested in lessons, you can reach Steele at 252-970-8602.