Monday, January 30, 2017

Snowy Tiled Patterns

Fondly remembering the beautiful patterns created by snowfall on the tiles of a Buddhist temple in Seoul.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Artwork: Naxi Woman with Blue Shawl (Color Pencil)

In anticipation of an art exhibition, I wrote a short story about each painting, as if written by the person in the painting. These are all real people, and the stories are based on experience, observation, and representative/factual information typical of someone from that region/profession. Some of these paintings are still available, so if you are interested in purchasing one, please contact me.

For eighty-three years I have trod through the narrow lanes of my small village--first to my parents’ home, and then to my azhu's family farm. I loved living with my nai nai; now I get to enjoy the laughter of my grandchildren as they run through the family courtyard or play with the kittens. Even though my son says I don’t have to go to the market to sell vegetables, I quite like it, for it gives me something to do and a chance to chat with the other women. With a basket securely fastened to my cape, I slowly make my way to the tiny market, chatting with friends along the way.

See more artworks on

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Out for a Quick Cactus Snack

Nearing lunchtime, this squirrel decided to take advantage of the tart, yellow fruit of the barrel cactus. He scrambled up to the plant, deftly (and quickly) climbed up, and began his snack. Those needles didn't seem to bother him at all; neither was he bothered by the people who stopped to snap a photo. In fact, he seemed to enjoy it, switching poses as he grabbed another fruit and chomp away. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

I see you...or you see me...

While hiking on the Peralta Canyon Trail in Arizona, we spotted these longhorn cattle. Looking at the spread on their horns, I was somewhat happy to see that there were some cactus plants acting as a barrier between us. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Kenneth Bae – A Modern Paul

Traveling and living overseas has created a heightened sensitivity and awareness of events that happen outside the border of my home country. Not only am I more knowledgeable about where those events are occurring, but there is a personal connection.
Having lived in South Korea for four years, I have read quite a few books pertaining to the Koreas on both side of the 38th parallel. My collection of read books (and documentaries) on North Korea is getting quite large. Each of the books, such as Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy and Yeonmi Park's In Order to Live  enlightened me on a slightly different aspect of the people and country called North Korea. My latest book I read on the "Hermit Kingdom" was Not Forgotten: The True Story of My Imprisonment in North Korea had an entirely different perspective. Instead of trying to escape the horrible prison labor camps such as in Escape from Camp 14, Kenneth Bae's true story mainly focuses on the transformations which occurred while a "prisoner of Jesus Christ" in North Korea.

Although I highly encourage you to read the book, here is a basic summary. Kenneth, an American missionary of Korean descent, was arrested after a portable hard drive was discovered in his bag when his tour group arrived in the country from China. Even though he admitted to being a missionary who had made the mistake of accidentally leaving the backup hard drive in his bag, the North Korean government convicted him of the highest level of treason against the country.

Sentenced to 15 years of hard labor, Bae originally prayed and hoped for quick release - even though he knew he was being used as a political pawn. Now he was forced to manual labor from 8am-6pm out in the extreme elements and then subjected to the political brainwashing of the TV in the evening. Prior medical conditions exacerbated the already difficult situation, along with isolation and uncertainty. It wasn't until he asked the Lord to do His bidding and use Bae while "in chains" that things turned around for Bae. This was such a parallel with the Apostle Paul, who while imprisoned for witnessing about Christ, shared the Gospel with the prison guards. A sense of peace enveloped Bae, known as Prisoner 103; "Once I accepted this place as God's will for my life, and I started praying, God use me, instead of God, save me, doors opened". The guards took note and asked why he was so happy and where his hope came from, to which he responded, "God has me in here because he cares for you and all of North Korea. He wants to you to know who he is and how much he loves you."

A citizen of the US but a native South Korean, Bae had a unique opportunity. He was able to communicate directly to the guards and develop special insight. "My two years in North Korea also taught me what it means to have compassion for those who live in darkness. People in North Korea have no access to information from the outside world, no freedom to travel, no freedom to speak their minds, and now way to choose their own religions."

He realized that there was a special sense of safety within a totalitarian regime, and that those who raise questions about the societal structures is a direct threat to the nation. In North Korea, the Kim Jun family is their god.

Kenneth Bae recounted multiple instances of where God seemed to directly intervene or send strong messages that He had not forgotten His missionary. For example, there were times when Bae was at a low point in the hospital when he was craving and had prayed for a particular food; for the next meal, that exact food was brought in from a special restaurant, even though he had not verbalized any request. This happened over 40 times. At the prison, Bae's planted field was spared the flooding that affected all the other fields. When initially held in a cold detention room, his left hand suddenly became warm and the Spirit's presence was felt. At another low point while in the hospital, the Disney movie "Finding Nemo" was on instead of the usual shows venerating the Kim family, providing Bae a connection with America. Also, since it was known that Bae was a pastor and the government wanted to convey to the world that they were being merciful, he was allowed to keep his Bible. Two years after he was arrested, Bae woke much earlier than usual and heard the Spirit of God direct him to open the Bible to Zephaniah 3:20 (Bae had no idea what it would be) - and read: At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. Four days later, Bae was released.

In the end, Kenneth Bae spent 735 days in detainment - the longest held of any American since the Korean War.

Some interesting things I learned:

  • In 1907, Pyongyang was known as the "Jerusalem of the East" for having more churches than anywhere else in Asia. Now, there is only one "token church" that is under total control of the government. North Koreans have no knowledge of Jesus. One guard said he had heard of a God, but not this Jesus, asking where Jesus lived - China or North Korea.
  • The Bible is viewed as a dangerous weapon. North Korea even has a Bible on display at an anti-American propaganda museum that is filled with weapons the US has used against them in the Korean War. 
  • Everyone is expected to contribute to the common good, including manual labor. For instance, Bae witnessed tens of thousands of people (including women with children on their backs) clearing the 200 mile long highway to Pyongyang with snow shovels. Even at the labor camp, the guards had to plant and tend their own fields for their food.
  • The guards had no conception of how families in South Korea or the USA could own both a car and a home. Years ago, the North Korean government provided families with a modest home, but now that is not typical.

I was amazed how Bae did not hold animosity towards the North Korean government. With a reframing of his outlook, he saw the period of detainment as a wonderful opportunity to witness for Christ, to a nation in the dark about their Savior. Bae continues to pray for the people of North Korea and hopes that one day, the spiritual wall that surrounds the country will fall. "More than a billion people worldwide still have not heard the gospel. We must remember them, pray for them, and build a bridge to them through which we can share God's love and compassion. May God be their God, and may they be his people."

Monday, January 16, 2017

Crested Saguaro - Cactus with Flair

While walking through the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix,  this saguaro demanded my attention. On the top of the main trunk was a fan-like protuberance. It stood so regally amongst the other plants in this desert landscape. When one of the garden volunteers came by, I asked him about this formation. 
This cactus, he said, was known as a crested saguaro. This beautiful, but rare occurrence, is still a bit of a mystery to scientists. Some say the cresting is due to a genetic formation; others suggest that it is a result of frost or lightning strike. Inquiring online, I found that there even is a Crested Saguaro Society. Its members have been documenting each crested cactus it finds. One passionate veteran of the society theorizes that the cresting is due to a hormone that causes the number of pleats on a cactus to go out of control, observing that some return to normal after years of cresting. Through the society's diligent tracking, they claim to have found over 2, 200 crested saguaros. 
Susceptible to frost and poaching, the crested saguaros are highly protected by the Arizona Department of Architecture. 
During my time in Arizona, I spotted only one other crested saguaro, located on a trail in Apache Junction near Meridian Drive.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Sunrises (and Sunsets) of Arizona

With my time in Arizona setting like the sun, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate this post to its sunsets (and sunrises). Although I've seen some beautiful sunset(rises) elsewhere, the dramatic colors and frequency of such brilliant displays seems to occur at a much higher frequency.

So what causes these brilliant skies? When the sun sets, light shines through more of the atmosphere, when compared to when the sun is higher in the sky. The light is bent, refracted, and reflected from tiny particles in that atmosphere. A lower frequency results in more warmer colors. 

Beyond the basic science, what makes Arizona's sunset(rises) so spectacular? Due to less moisture in the air, the clouds here are much higher. Such higher clouds reflect more light, with dramatic colors. 

With reduced levels of pollution, more variation in visible light can be seen, particularly those vibrant colors at the far end of the spectrum. It seems that dust (and pollution) actually diffuses or scatters color, resulting in a dull or muted sky. 

The presence of high clouds also greatly chances the chance of  dramatic sunset. These higher (and middle) clouds help intercept unadulterated light. 
I like how the higher clouds in the photo above reflected the orange color, making it appear as if those clouds were on fire.

For those willing to get up earlier and deal with the cooler early morning temperatures, the winter and fall months provide rewarding painterly effects.

Boo - back to the frozen tundra of Wisconsin!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Celebrating Western and Native American Art: The Eddie Basha Collection

When a friend of my parents recommended that we visit the Eddie Basha Collection, I wasn't sure what to expect. It was free, and the collection was in the corporate office building of Basha's, a supermarket chain in Arizona. Upon entrance into the first gallery room, I could see that this was not going to be a dusty collection with a few kitche pieces.

One room alone was dedicated to an expansive collection of woven baskets of varying sizes, mostly between the 19th and 20th centuries.
Apache baskets from the Eddie Basha Collection
Yet another expansive room was filled with over 40 years of over 3,500 collected pieces - paintings, sculptures, jewelry, katsinas, and drawings. 
Horse Pirates by Ted Long - Eddie Basha Collection
The collection is considered to be one of the largest private collection of Contemporary Western American and American Indian art. Originally encouraged and guided by his Aunt Zelma, Basha began visiting studios of contemporary artists, kindling friendships and supporting them. He sought to collect pieces of artists he actually met; cowboy artists such as Joe Beeler, John Clymer, David Halbach, and Martin Grelle, as well as contemporary American Indian artists such as David Johns and Larry Yazzie. Absent in his collection are deceased Western artists such as Charles Russell and Frederic Remington, since Basha wanted to focus on contemporary artists he actually met.
Geronimo by Harley Brown - Eddie Basha Collection 
Some of the pieces had rather lengthy descriptions. I especially liked the ones written by the artists, vividly describing historical events seen in the images.

Although we spent nearly three hours in the gallery, we did not have enough time to see all artwork. Actually, it was too much to see in one visit. Perhaps it would have been better to focus on one aspect of the collection, such as the bronzes one day, Native American pieces another day, etc.
The gallery is open to individuals or groups (above 25 people requires an appointment) but it is self-guided. We happily placed some money in the donation box, pleased that the proceeds helped support initiatives within the community, including the arts. 

The Eddie Basha Collection is located at:
22402 S. Basha Road
Chandler, Arizona 85248
Phone: 480-895-5230

It is open Monday - Friday 9-4 pm

Sunday, January 08, 2017

A visit with an Apache Family

This past weekend, we took a 3 1/2 hour drive from Apache Junction to the Fort Apache Reservation in the upper elevations of Arizona. While there, we had a special opportunity to visit an Apache couple. Bonnie is the kindergarten teacher at East Fork Lutheran School. Her husband Francis is an evangelist within the Apache reservation. 
Steps in making a cradeboard
First Bonnie showed us how she makes a cradleboard. The slats are made from the stalk of a yucca plant. For the canopy part, the wooden pieces are bnt through heat; sturdy wire is on the underside. The cradleboard fame is made from local wood and is bent with moisture. She uses foam for padding, but traditionally local fibers were used. 

Cradleboard with Cabbage Patch Baby
The baby was typically secured with two sets of ties; the lower pair could be loosened to change the baby's diaper without much disruption. Bonnie recalled that most infants were quite content within the cradleboard, finding the swaddling nature very comforting. Mothers either strapped the cradleboard over their shoulders or on their foreheads. This baby carrier enabled mothers to continue their chores while maintaining close contact with their infants.
Beaded Bolo Ties with Christian theme
Bonnie then brought out some beaded pieces; some were done by her, while many others were gifts to her and her husband. 
Jesus Wept bolo tie
Bonnie was especially proud of the Christian-themed bolo ties  - a beautiful indication of the Christian faith she and her husband shares. 

Burden Basket with family name

Bonnie also showed us a few other pieces, including a "burden basket" with the family name. Bonnie explained that the metal "tassels" at the ends once served as alarm signals. While the women were gathering berries or other items with the basket, if the metal began clanking excitedly, the men would know the women might be in some sort of danger (i.e. from warring tribes). 

With the football game completed, Francis joined in the conversation, sharing with us his experience coming to faith, as an evangelist to his community, and being a fan of the Green Bay Packers. Both shared some touching personal experiences and their concerns for their Apache brethren. When I later found out that our visit within the home on the reservation was quite unusual, I felt quite honored. Such a personal touch made the experience so much more powerful.

Monday, January 02, 2017

My latest Artwork: Bhunga and Bandhani, Gujarat (Color Pencil)

Here is my latest artwork, a color pencil composition of a Gujarat woman inside a Bhunga home in the Gujarat, whose walls were covered with mirror-work known as Lippan. She was wearing a heavy silver necklace, anklets, bangles, and gold earrings and nose ring. Her clothing is in Bandhani tie-dye.