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This beautiful 4 inch African  bug greeted me at my door this morning at school: I would LOVE to know what it’s name is. He has hung onto that door all day long, every students pointed it out. Awesome.IMG_0185Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature.- Cicero



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The Meaningful Mural Project has been an interesting experience. Both rewarding and challenging. My students created an inspirational piece for the Foyer de l’Esperance Orphanage in Yaounde, with the concept that it could change the boy’s everyday lives. I think they’ve managed to accomplish this. This orphanage is full of boys who have run away from home or have been put there by their families. It is one of the better facilities  and the boys seem happy. Yet we wanted to give them something to motivate them to achieve above what is expected and remind them to believe in their dreams. The very last finishing touch, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. states, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”


Students taught the boys side by side how to paint with a brush, which they had never used before, mix colors and share a space to create something beautiful. They learned how to grid and will hopefully be able to use this new skill in their future.

They worked as a team and developed trust for each other and my students.

Our 1st day at the orphanage we interviewed students in groups. Asking them about their hopes, dreams, likes and dislikes. This would fuel our concept for the mural composition.

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We were given a tour by the head nun and got to see where the boys slept  and a classroom they learned in everyday.




After this first week we went back to the classroom to brainstorm and create our image. Students combined their ideas and came up with one complimentary concept of all their visions.


We then added a proportionate grid to our chosen wall and began to transfer our small drawing to scale.



After we began painting, the boys joined in and my students taught them one on one or more..








After about 20 hours of painting we had a finished product. Check out our whole painting team!




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Chaga Woman
26 x 28
oil on canvas

Last spring I went on Safari. It was utterly breath taking and I recommend Tanzania to everyone that asks.  I realize I have not written anything about my amazing trip, I think the only explanation is that its was so wonderful and so much happened that it has been difficult to sit down and consolidate my thoughts. I saw every animal I can think of. Highlights being Black rhino, tree climbing leopards, Cheetah talking to each other about 5 feet from our vehicle, elephants, giraffes and elephants running and grazing with their heards, every type of bird and antelope, we even saw a lion pride kill a buffalo, and not to mention being in the middle of the wildebeest  migration.

But I could not introduce this painting with out a full recollection of the people I met.  I visited different tribes to get an idea of what the country was really like past all the safari tourist groups. After my safari I stayed in Karatu and first visited the Imbulu tribe which had a basic skit set up for visitors.

“This how we plant, and  this is how we make that weird drink we’re known for….”, “Come sit by me I will tell you your life..” I had my stones read, and she told me that I worked with many people.. I guess when you think about Americans, you are always working with many people. Anyway, after that I took time to  walk through the village market with a swahili translator.
I bought tire shoes, met the translator’s suppliers of meat and vegitables (he was a chef during his regular job) people said “jamaba”, and told me how pretty my hair was, and I got to see the play ground installed by some American program. It was great.

Most tourists choose to see Maasai in a popular Boma at the entrance to the Ngorogoro, I was determined to see  the warriors without 20 other tourists behind me, so I chose to pay to get back into reserve. I had a different swahili translator with me this time. He could say OK, Yes and No in english. That was it. After 4 hours of driving we achieved some sort of ridiculous sign language that only he and I could understand. My entrance into the Boma was interesting. They first did a welcome dance for me, this consisted of the men jumping as high as they could and then the woman. They sang and moved their head up with their chests making those cool necklaces bob around. Then it was my turn and I did not want to do this. One of the Maasai had my camera and was SUPER excited to photograph me jumping. I would made a very bad 1st impression if I didn’t, so i jumped and looked silly. But it was fun and the woman thought I was great and the men laughed. We were on the crater rim and I was alone with my new Maasai escorts. I was completely alone but felt well taken care of, my sign language buddy pushed me along and waved goodbye for the hour.  My new tour guide, an 18 year old Maasai warrior who spoke excellent English, showed me where he lived with his mother and where all of his brothers and sisters lived with their mothers. The are a ‘plural’ marriage community. After the man turns 18 they look for their 1st wife and build their 1st home. They start to have kids, look for another wife, build another home and the Boma grows. The homes are made of bark and dung and constructed in a nautilus shape. He led me in to his small round 8ft by 8ft home, through the narrow winding entrance. The room was completely pitch black with an exception of one small head size ‘hole’  or ‘window’. After my eyes adjusted enough to the light and could see his silhouetted figure I asked questions about this lifestyle. He explained his home was built this way to confuse lions and keep them out of their homes. Woah. Apparently Maasai are called warriors because they can ward off and kill lions. The red cloth they wear is supposed to fend off lions because its mimics the color of fire, every wool cloth pattern has meaning.

After visiting the school where children filed in to greet me with their ABC’s in swahili and english I asked if I could wander around the village by myself. I was givien permission with slight trepidation on the part of my warrior guide.  I watched woman with their children, taking the afternoon to make those round beautiful beaded necklaces, chatting etc. My short stroll around the Boma ended in the center where all of the gorgeous beaded jewelry hung around the packed cow ‘paddock’. The cows are essential to Maasai life, they spend all day allowing them to graze and while the warriors protect them from the predatory lions. The people live off the milk, meat and blood. Traditionally the blood is known to give strength. I really respect the Maasai value of tradition and their contentment in what they have. I asked my 18 year old guide if he would ever  leave this type of life and move to a different type of community. He said that some do, they have one wife and life in the modern community and that os ok for them, they are always allowed to come back and visit. But he loves his traditions and is planning to keep them, he wants to find his 1st wife and start his Boma in the next year or two.

The Chaga tribe was the last group I made an effort to meet. First of all, I had no idea what I was going to see. There was no brochure and nothing online really. My safari, Fay Safaris, organized everything for me, and told me it was worth it. So I went. They live on Mount Kilimanjaro and are they don’t get many visitors. Although they aren’t as visually exciting as the Maasai, the Chaga were my favorite. I had to bring a Swahili and Chaga translator, we did not climb (I didn’t have enough time) so we drove and then walked up a separate route to introduce me to the mountain. We walked up a gravel path that turned into dirt, walked over a bridge with missing planks that took us to the bottom of a hill that we walked up to reach the tribe. It was beautiful, green everywhere except for huge white flowers on the edge of the path.

The Chaga woman in the painting.

After arriving in the village I met a woman who had to be in her mid 80’s, she was worn down but had a big smile on her face. Later I learned she was in her mid 50’s. You could tell they didn’t get many ‘muzungus’ in their home, and they were happy to see me. I was given a seat while the translators helped them tell me about their land and what they do during a regular day. While they were talking with me her daughter who is in the painting, was doing regular chores with her  little boy who wore purple rain boots. The litte boy was picking up weeds and putting them in a pile for their cow to eat, but he would only carry one at a time. The daughter thought this was entertaining and had a HUGE smile on her face.

(On a side note. People in Cameroon smile, but this particular relaxed expression stood out to me)

Next the woman I thought was 80 took me into the original home her father built. It was made of straw mud and dung and in the form of a round hill. Like the boma it was pitch black inside I was asked to sit on one of  two benches that used to be a beds, she explained to me how her father slept on one and mother on the other but now they use the room for cooking. All of a sudden I felt something push against me followed but a crunching sound. I jumped and screamed (like a freak) and after everyone started laughing at me, saw the culprit, a goat in the corner . After she lit a small gas lamp I also found that a giant cow was behind him chomping on some of that greenery the boy in the purple boots had collected. After I calmed down the translators helped me ask the woman questions about her life and children. She said her father taught her everything about planting and raising animals. She showed me the cooking tools he showed her how to carve. Now she is teaching her grandchildren the trades because ‘its too late for my daughter’. She was married when she was 19  and has two grandchildren that she helps her daughter raise. All the families live next to one another in houses on a flat patch of dirt surrounded by their farm of fruit trees. She wanted to know why I was traveling alone and asked me if I was married, when I said ‘no’ she responded “good for you” with a big smile. She wanted to know what I did for money. She thought it was wonderful that I could take care of myself and told me she liked a lot of the foreigners she met. Some from Australia and England. She told me she wished she could have done some traveling but is happy with her life. After our talk she took a picture with me, and asked me to come back and visit someday when I had a family. As a parting gift she offered me a fruit that looked like an orange tomato. She waited for me to eat it in front of her and then offered me another before we headed back down the hill to explore the rest of the mountain.

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Last year my high school students created two large scale murals on the school walls. One in the hallway between the music and art room and one outside on the walkway to the canteen. When I first started painting murals I sort of had to teach myself the correct way. I was not taught the right way to measure or grid. Didn’t even know how to grid until the job at the NJ Devils stadium. So its pretty amazing to me that I can teach it properly now. Watching them take initiative and act as a successful group inspired me to create a new Service Learning group The Meaningful Mural Project. Service Learning happens every other Friday at ASOY (the American School of Yaounde, where I teach). Our school reserves half the day for students to come together into groups to find ways to help or impact the community. Last year I was in charge of 8th grade, and their Sanitation Project. We focused on boiling water. A lot of villagers won’t boil their water because they consider it a waste of fire wood. Unfortunately well water can carry cholera and other diseases.

An example of a cook stove we made out of mud

We learned how to make ‘improved cook stoves’ out of mud and went into a village to educate the villagers about how to build them. During this experience we also learned how cooking by an open fire can cause cancer and blindess, there for making the the continuation of the project important to try and perfect the process as well as educate more of the community

This project is still continuing with other teachers, while I have chosen to teach my students something more personal to me that maybe other art teachers in the future may not be able to. The Meaningful Mural project is stemmed from the mural arts program in Philadelphia, USA. There are over 3,000 murals in Philly. Each placed in neighborhood’s that will benefit from their presence. You can learn more about this at

A mural can affect a community positively, while teaching the local children a craft that will afford them a skill for their future.  So this week my 10 students, that have chosen this project, will be visiting the Cameroon Catholic orphanage Foyer de l’Esperance, where they will have a chance to see the environment they’ll be working in. They will meet the kids they’ll be working with, and interview them to provide information for research.

A wall in the orphanage my students may be painting.

Students will use this information to choose appropriate imagery that the children will identify with in a positive way. At the end of this project the orphanage will be left with a piece of art that will hopefully help those students feel important on a daily basis as well as many generations to come.

Last week I gave a slide show and used podcasts about the ‘mural mile’ self tour in Philly to teach the students about how subjects are chosen and why they affect those specific types of  neighborhoods. We talked about the economics of the people, what their families might be like, and why they would be affected by this picture. We discussed the way the image was laid out in ‘composition’, why that was important, and how the colors made them feel. If you want to go through the power point and see what the students learned about click on this link:

Service learning Murals PowerPoint presentation.

I’m really excited, and want my students to feel the impact they will have on these kids lives. Its hard to project this ‘affect’ to students by just telling them. This week should be interesting, I will get to SEE my students be leaders  (hopefully) and  interact with kids using knowledge they’ve gained in the classroom through bilingual interviews (the orphanage is francophone). Wish us luck!

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The cherry farm I got lost in

So I haven’t written anything since I left for Europe last year, I want to catch you up. Alot has happend! Traveling, my amazing family, and friends took up my life for 2 months of bliss. Provence was amazing, after flying from Cameroon I took a train from Brussels to Avignon and rented a car, GPS and bought a guidebook to start my trip off right. I am so happy I rented a car, I would never recommend trying to huff it on public transportation in this part of France. Half the fun was getting sent on incorrect routes by my GPS. At one point, straight into a private cherry farm/dead end (I ate some cherries off a tree and proceeded to back my car 1/4 mile down the grassy hill I drove up). It was a freeing experience to feel completely independent with no right or wrong itinerary to follow. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous to travel alone, because that would be ridiculous. I love traveling with people and sharing the experiences and making memories, but at this point in my life I feel like if I have the opportunity to do something, I need to grab the bull by the horns and get the courage to face it. What if I don’t get another chance? During this week I went to 9 different villages met many people, smelled real lavender, saw beautiful sites and ate amazing food before meeting up with friends and heading to the Riviera and up to Paris for a week. Before I let this get too far behind I’ll start with Provence…

Hill top town of Les Baux de Provence

1. Les Baux:

Les Baux was the 1st stop on my adventure. You cannot really stay in the village of Les Baux. There are only 2 hotels there, and they both fill quickly. So, I stayed right outside the city. I was exhausted from traveling, and decided to ‘eat in’ at the hotel restaurant the 1st night. This was my first experience with amazing French cooking; my little inexpensive simple hotel served the most amazing duck and goat cheese salad. Heaven. Next day I woke up at 9am.. no one in France wakes up that early so I had a solid two hours to stroll around the village virtually alone. A medieval city that once ruled over 900 villages Les Baux is a fortress with remnants of medieval architecture set inside cave-like stone slabs. I was able to tour Upper Les Baux where I learned about the fortress and how it functioned as a city containing many types of buildings and homes. I then went down to the lower part of the city for lunch. I honestly feel like the food in France made this trip. Yes it was gorgeous and amazing, but man their food and wine even beats Italy (and that’s a BIG statement if you know me and my Italy obsession.) While looking over the valley and sketching, I ate steak, fries, salad with a ‘petit’ bottle of wine..there was no wine by the glass. What is a solo traveler to do? Build up her alcohol tolerance.  Afterwards I walked a.k.a. hobbled around the shops, I was able to use my French to talk with the store clerks (French is much easier to speak in France comparatively to Cameroon). I bought an artisan necklace, a bouquet of lavender, and a silk scarf, went to the Museum of Satons where clay figurines are made look like specific types of people (famous to this part of southern France). Afterwards stopping for a scoop of lavender gelato before heading to the ‘Carrières de Lumières’ set in a former bauxite quarry. Here images of french paintings are projected on 40 foot walls in complete darkness. A Pretty amazing start to my trip.

Church of St. Michel in Rousillon

2. Rousillon:

Rousillon is a small village in the Vaucluse known for its location above the Ochre cliffs. At one time, it served as a quarry for dye (the ochre color). At first I thought of using this as my base town but thankfully decided not too for more than 2 nights. The town itself is oh so small and oh so high with next to no parking and a very windy road to get there. Yet, it is quite beautiful and quaint with a spectacular view of the cliffs and valley. The Church of St. Michel is the highlight on the tour of things to see, with winding streets with many buildings tinted orange or pink. It was a nice place to relax, my ro0m at ‘le Clos de la Glycine’ had a a cute sitting area with fantastic view of the cliffs.

Abbey Senanque right outside of the hill top town Gordes


Gordes is a hilltop town, and once again I woke up early arriving before every other tourist. I took a look at its pretty view above the valley and proceeded to try my hand at boutique browsing. Linen is very famous here. I went on market day and bought a hand woven straw bag locals typically use when food shopping.  After walking around a bit I found a seat at a small cafe with a view of the central square where the market was set up. I sketched and drank Café au laits, the second just to give me more time to observe the people. I  left with my basket of goodies and proceeded on to  the most interesting part of my visit, the Abbey Senanque, a small very modest functioning monastery below the town. There is a tour of the monastery but I skipped it because of a timing conflict. I walked around the grounds and got to sit in on part of a Catholic mass the monks were giving. The church inside is grey stone and plain but the echoing voices on the cool walls gives you an otherworldly feeling and calmness. Afterwards I walked through the lavender fields they grow and found a shady bench to eat the lunch I bought at the Market of fresh multigrain bread, green olive pate, lavender cookies, and strawberries!

I stayed in the tiny town of Lourmarin for 5 days as a base it was perfect.

4. Lourmarin

Ah Lourmarin, what a wonderful village to call home for 5 days. I used this town as my ‘base’ while traveling to other places and rented a room in a house where an artist lives. My room, was extremely relaxing, and had huge wooden doors that opened to a view of the Chateau de Lourmarin. It was surrounded by a garden and gated in with a communal balcony for breakfast.  Lourmarin is sort of an in between size compared to the other villages I visited. Not as famous as Les baux but more restaurants, shops, and parking then Rousillon. Lourmarin is known for its friday market, taking up the whole town selling everything from frozen fish to handwoven panama hats. I was able to come back after a long day of traveling to get lost in the winding streets and order a beer at a local cafe where everyone is french, no American to be seen for miles. The last night I was there I ventured out to a pizza place that was highly recommended by the people I was staying with. To get there, I went the quick back way and had to crouch through small hidden tunnels next to local homes and gardens to end up in a small square already packed with dining locals. Afterwards I walked home following the lit up Chateau. Such a peaceful experience.

St. Remy de Provence famous town market!

5. St. Remy

St Remy is large and very popular with tourists. Lucky for me I was there in early June, which is actually off season for Americans. I was surrounded by older french tourists whole like me enjoy sitting and observing. When I got there, not early enough this time, parking was a nightmare. After an hour of driving around I found a spot, this ended up being great because by time I got out of the car I knew a lot of the street names and locations. I hit up the market first. This market unlike any other it is so popular they have 2 a week. One for Antiques only, and the other for… everything else. It took over the majority of the streets this small city. I was on a mission to… of course find lunch, but an olive wood cooking spoon for my mom. SO many choices, there were at least 4 stands for every one type of item.  I found the spoon and beautiful olives and cheese for lunch. But before trying to see the sites on the map, I sat with my older french comrades and drank coffee and watched people. The cafe I chose was fantastic, my favorite memory of the trip actually. I had a full view of the market, and street. I was sitting up high on a bar stool and shared a table with an older gentlemen who thought my sketchbook was fabulous, I was drawing people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I couldn’t understand him, but he kept giving me the thumbs up. A woman was singing old french tunes in front of the cafe and every one was singing with her. Songs you’d hear in romantic comedies (which is sort of my impression of france, one big setting for the perfect movie). I actually sat there for 2 hours nursing the same 2 cups of coffee and eventually caving for an orange juice. After deciding I needed to try and see something on the map, I pried myself away from the cafe and headed to a cultural museum where I learned about their history of making linen and proceeded on a route to Glanum a ‘grand’ celtic ruin on the edge of town. I only headed back to my car when I felt like I might collapse from walking.  I stopped to buy fruit off the side of the road to take home for dinner, I swear I could taste lavender in the apricots and cherries.

Arles, my favorite lunch place of the whole week. Cold Rose`, a salad with crispy pancetta, a fried egg, with a curry balsamic dressing. The owners golden retriever even sat next to my feet the whole time.

6. Arles

A city best known as Van Gogh’s inspiration was a stop I had to make. When I was in high school Vincent Van Gogh was my favorite artist.  Here, I got to walk the streets and see what he saw on a regular day. Arles is large enough to get lost in and I needed to follow a map. I walked to most of the spots he observed while painting, my favorite being the Starry Starry Night by the river. Along the way I shopped, stopped at their big cathedral in the center piazza and paid entrance to walk through the tunnels of their small coliseum where they still have bullfights. After a perfect Parisian lunch on a side street off the main sites I started to walk back towards the car and decided to take a breather before the hour drive back to Lourmarin. I took a short cut through a park and sat on an empty bench and decided to draw some flowers and a tree stump. On my way out I noticed a plaque with a Van Gogh painting. Turns out Van Gogh stopped there often to paint too.

Lacoste and its lovely winding romantic streets

7. Lacoste

At the foot of the palace of Marquis de Sade, home to the author of erotic novels, Lacoste echoes very very quietly. Going here was a last minute decision. Savannah College of Art and design owns most of the town using it as a study abroad extension, but it was off season. Off season is my new favorite term for what’s great about Europe. I walked through the empty winding streets, brown cobblestone making up every wall, and saw my reflection in the empty windows. I spent time taking photographs of the sculptures that filled the empty corridors, and of the views you could see peaking through the buildings that stood looking out to the perfect view of the valley.  I didn’t go into the palace although it was interesting with grass covering the now ceiling-less walls. They wanted 7 euros to enter, A bit ridiculous, so I continued to wander.  My walk ended at a cafe on the cliff side of town where I had my very first goat cheese omelet while overlooking my next village ‘Bonnieux’.

The view of Bonnieux from Lacoste, looks like a fairytale.

  8. Bonnieux

I was first told about Bonnieux through a Fodor’s blog. I was looking for a base town and one of the woman swore this was the best place to stay when traveling.  I chose not to stay there based on an article I found later describing it as interesting but ‘a large uphill town with few restaurants.’ Saying this town is uphill is an understatement. Every street you turn is a ‘switchback’. When walking you need to use stairs to get to the next street over. I parked at the top and walked down through the residential area, got lost in the beauty of this fairytale like atmosphere only to realize I had to walk the 10 minutes back at a steep twisting incline. It is a town made up of ancient stone structures uniform in style only unique in shutter color and flower pot choice. There are few restaurants but many galleries I went into at least 5 on the two ‘business’ street blocks. The art wasn’t very exciting but there was a great impressionist influence, many tributes to Cezzanne. Before heading back to Lourmarin, I stopped and bought lavender honey to bring home as a souvenir and an Orangina to cool off. I sat and watched the sunset before finding my way up to my car with which I drove the wrong direction home… This was the town that sent my gps on a tangent insisting the way home was through the cherry orchard. So, I still feel like I made the best decision by choosing a day visit.

Paul Cézanne’s Art studio

9. Aix en Provence

Aix is definitely not a small town. Even a little over whelming after being in such small villages for 5 days. But its beautiful, and I got over that feeling quickly. When I first started planning this trip I  wanted to come here for 5 days. The pictures looked so romantic and the streets like a ‘miniature’ paris. I love ‘strolling’, window shopping, and sketching. Here, it was much easier to blend in and feel like I belonged. One of the days I sat in a a cafe killing time for 2 hours drinking rose` and painting in my sketchbook.  Later that afternoon I walked out past the boarder of the center of town to a residential area known for Cezanne’s Art studio. Every 1/4 mile or so I’d see a sign letting me know I was headed in the right direction until I reached a line of people in sneakers and fanny packs. The grounds were small. A wall kept a small chunk of forest attached to the modest two story home. Below you paid the fee to walk up the stairs, to a one room studio with 9 foot ceilings and 5 foot windows. A lot of the people I came in with said ‘this is it for 4 euro?’, ‘no museum or library?’, ‘you can’t even buy a soda’. Of course I can understand why people like to have ‘extra’s’, I mean I enjoy the MOMA in NY and they have 2 different restaurants. But this felt like a tomb, preserved from the moment he left. It was so great to try and imagine what it would have been like to work in that room with those items around me and with a view of those trees. My friend Elizabeth was meeting me the next day but after being alone for a week I was getting a little desperate for something to distract me and headed to a movie theater. After being in Cameroon where there aren’t any movie theaters this was exciting. I saw ‘Prometheus‘ in 3D and English, I got out around 12 and was met by a festival in the street celebrating the history of Aix. Talk about sensory overload. I went from a plot about the future and aliens to a whole village of real people dressed in period clothing. They Danced circles around each other while a band lead by 18 yr old fluters was bizarre. In the states it wouldn’t be considered cool to go dance with my friends and grandparents at a local renaissance festival. But here it seemed like an honored tradition that everyone enjoyed. I watched for about an hour took videos and clapped along.

To be continued… look for France Part 2: The Riviera and Paris

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The whole academic year is a week away from being over. I feel like I’ve done mostly what I came here to do, missed the boat on some things but over all have learned a lot about myself. Last Wednesday was the school art show which included two finished murals that my students kicked a$$ with. They were definitely show stoppers.

‘Because All Dreams Fly’


This mural you saw begin a few months ago at the art show we had a slide show playing of all the students working through out the process. This is the final product:

‘A Whisper Through Fantasy’


The rest of the art show went really well, I was able to show pre-k through advanced high school. It was fun to watch the kids search out their own stuff and discuss each other’s work.


Next year can only be better Bonne journee Cameroon!

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Kribi Woman

26×26″ oil on canvas

After I had my appendix out we all went to Kribi for Thanksgiving. I spent a lot of time sitting and people watching since I couldn’t go swimming. I’ve talked about women’s attitudes in Cameroon before, and this lady wasn’t very different except for feeling of contentment and confidence. Her outfit was epic. Hearts everywhere in a wrapped pagne down to her ankles with earrings to match. She was alone but showed no signs of awkwardness. I wanted to concentrate on her emotion, conveying her positive view into the light.

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