Mark Howell: Musician and Music Archaeologist

Mark Howell, Ph.D., Musician and Music Archaeologist — from Tee to Tux

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Meet Mark Howell, musician and music archaeologist. He started as an international musician including working in the cutting-edge “Downtown Music Scene” of New York City as leader and sideman in various bands, improviser, composer of rock, jazz, avant grade, experimental, so-called “serious music” pieces (string quartets, piano solos, etc.) and then on to an academic life with a Ph.D. in music working as an educator, museum director, curator and music archaeologist. Music archaeology is part of the archaeology of the senses — moving beyond the visual — recapturing the smells, the feel, and in Mark’s case, sounds of the past.

I’ve put Mark’s detailed bio below as well as his contact information.

Dr. Mark Howell, welcome to StudioSeeds. What inspires you?

MARK HOWELL: PLACES have always inspired me — the geography of expectations fixed in physical places. On my roof as a boy thinking of a myriad of places like the Congo River, the Silk Road, San Francisco and what they conjured up.

Congo River. Photo: Myriam Asmani,
Silk Road: Winds into the Shah Foladi Valley near Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Photograph: Alamy.
Silk Road: Winds into the Shah Foladi Valley near Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Photo: Alamy.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco California, Photographer: Mark Howell
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco California. Photo: Mark Howell

It was this projection of expectation that led me to New York City, but it was the reality of the City that inspired me to become a musician. Where I was from, the rural south, had/has a specific color to it, a light, a temperature, a landscape, a sound, a speed — all of which resonate(d) with my body (I guess ingrained since birth), it vibrate(d) my existence, and I feel like it’s the same with others from the south. This non-emotive feeling — to call it that — is a mooring that becomes familiar and assert(ed) itself as the norm for me.

The feeling is one reason people from the south are reluctant to leave. One has to pry him or herself away from the metaphysics of the place and the mindset of the people who have succumbed to its spell. Despite its visible charms it is conservative Calvinist and practical minded…meaning that the south of place, maybe as much as its people, informed me that art was frivolous and impossible to construct a career from. It was only after physically experiencing New York City that the parochial non-truth of that belief was unmasked.

In New York I saw, felt, and knew that here existed a place that not only encouraged art but demanded it. Art is one of the fuels that powers the City.

Mark Howell playing guitar with Timber at CBGBs in New York City
Mark Howell playing guitar with Timber at CBGBs in New York City, 1990s
Sunset in the South. Photo: Mark Howell

Place, whether in the contemporary world — like the modulations of breath in the Place de la Concorde in Paris, an imagined locale of the past — like the pre-Columbian Native American world of the Lower Mississippi River Valley, or in a specific faraway landscape — like Jupiter’s Europa is something my mind and body churn up, reliably providing a launching pad for inspiration.

I often find myself playing a paraphrased version of Yeats…give me a day in 15th century Tenochtitlan…to smell the mountain herbs and view the psychoactive plants in their plaza stalls on market day…the smells and textures moving to the sounds of the slit-drums and ceramic flutes…the flash of colors off the buildings reflecting those of the clothes of the people there from all over Mexico. Even imagined, it is an experience that can alter one forever.

I am also inspired by dedicated people. People devoted to a purpose in life, and who stick with that purpose no matter what. A prime example would be my parents. They risked their reputations, jobs, friends, even their lives to stand up to the white supremacy racism of the Klu Klux Klan (KKK) and the Citizen’s Council during the 1960s.

My mom and dad attended KKK rallies and argued their points. They challenged the status quo and paid a price, including the loss of my father’s construction company. Because of them I saw and participated in social activism at an early age. One of those rewards being witness to a speech by Martin Luther King in the town square, a place he later said frightened him more than any other.

Martin Luther King Jr. Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1966
March with Martin Luther King Jr., Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1966. Photo:
Martin Luther King, Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1966. Photo:

My wife, Stephanie, is also an inspiration because of her dedication to dancing. She’s got amazing inner resolve that drew me to her. The way she picks herself up after being rejected at an audition and then goes to another audition the next day — that’s guts and inspiration. She fills me with pride. More guts? She’s also, canoed down the Mississippi River with the Quawpaw Canoe company from St. Louis to Baton Rouge.

Stephanie Dancing. Photo: Mark Howell
Stephanie Dancing. Photo: Mark Howell
Stephanie resting on the Mississippi River. Photo: John Rusky
Stephanie resting on the banks of the Mississippi River. Photo: John Rusky

While I didn’t know him, Miles Davis was my musical inspiration. He once told Sarah Vaughan everything he’d done in music (by that time including his electronic experiments) was done to recapture one Billy Eckstine concert in St. Louis where as a high schooler he filled in on trumpet.

I’d like to think we all try to get back to a single magical moment, even as we do it in different modes, and even if we’ve more often forgotten what that magical moment was.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Mark, thank you — place, dedicated people and moments (real, imagined and seemingly magical) inspire you! I know the readers of StudioSeeds will be fascinated.

Please connect with Mark Howell in the COMMENTS section for this post.

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Mark Howell is the co-editor of the music archaeology book series “Flower World: Music Archaeology of the Americas” at — excerpts of publications. is a composers’ collective with Mark Howell’s music scores.

Dr. Howell is the Director of the Winterville Mounds (2006-present) in the Mississippi Delta near Greenville, Mississippi. It is a 12-mound Mississippian pre-Columbian Native American city of the Lower Mississippi River Valley. Mississippians developed some of the most complex societies that ever existed in North America (1000-1600 AD). The Winterville Mounds is a state site, part of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. It was declared a National Landmark in 1996. 

Dr. Howell recently secured funding from the State of Mississippi for the restoration and maintenance of the Winterville Mounds to replicate the city’s 13th century appearance, its heyday of human occupation.

Frei University and Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany
Dr. Howell is currently working with Graeme Lawson and Ricardo Eichmann developing a master’s level degree program in music archaeology for the Berliner Antiker Kolleg.

With TOPOI in Berlin (2009-2012)
Organized “Sound, Political Space, and Political Condition: Exploring Soundscapes of Societies Under Change” (2011) with Graeme Lawson and Ricardo Eichmann.

Dr. Mark Howell: TOPOI is surprisingly, not an acronym, but the Greek word for “space”. TOPOI 1 was a 5-year project devoted to the holistic study of space. I was part of a group of international scholars working on sound in space.

Organized “Klangraumes” for an exhibition at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany (2012) for TOPOI.

Music History at Fordham University (1999-2006), New York City

Hunter College (1999-2004), New York City

“Origin and Meaning of the Hopewell Panpipe,” in Flowerworld: Music Archaeology of the Americas Vol. 2 (2014)

“Music Evidence of Spanish, French, and English Encounters with Native Americans: The Similarities, Differences, and Consequences,” (proceedings from the TOPOI workshop [2013]. Served as co-editor for this volume)

“An Organology of the Americas as Painted by John White and Other Artists,” in Flowerworld: Music Archaeology of the Americas Vol. 1 (2012)

“Tzunam Bailes and the Role of Music Instruments in Pre-Columbian Highland Guatemala,” in Studien zum Musikarchäologie VII (2012)

“Music Syncretism in the Postclassic K’iche’ Warrior Dance and the Colonial Period Baile de los Moros y Cristianos,” in Maya Worldviews at Conquest, University Press of Colorado (2009)

“Some Enigmatic Native American Artifacts. Audio Devices?” In Orient Archäologie Band 34 Studien zum Musikarchäologie X. Eds., Ricardo Eichmann, Fang Jianjun, and Lars-Christian Koch. Berlin (2016)

Dr. Howell’s interests include music survivals and transitional music of the New World with a specialization on those north of Mexico.

Dr. Howell was a working musician-composer based in New York City from 1982-2006 and was an active participant in the ‘Downtown Music Scene”. During that time he played guitar and/or trumpet with John Zorn, Don Cherry, Elliot Sharp, Yo Lo Tengo, The Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, and others, and composed for traditional and untraditional ensembles.  His work is featured on over 50 LPs and/or CDs. He toured extensively throughout Europe and North America.

Mark Howell, Ph.D.

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Carolyn Palmer Sculpture of Lucille Ball Replaces “Scary Lucy”

Carolyn Palmer, sculptor, working on her national-competition-winning sculpture of Lucille Ball aka Lucy! Photo of the finished sculpture below.

Meet Carolyn Palmer! A master sculptor with an international reputation. Her work is in museums, public venues and private collections around the USA and the world.

Carolyn makes magic with clay cast into bronze and marble sculpted directly. She brings the famous from times past “back to life” as well as giving more life to the living. Her most recent sculptures are Pope Francis (the living Pope!), the Roosevelts (Franklin and Eleanor), and Lucille Ball.

Photo: Suze Bienaimee for

A bronze Pope Francis bust by Carolyn Palmer will soon be placed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York.

Carolyn Palmer, sculptor, at work on the bust of Pope Francis.
Sculptor’s Hands: Palmer working on her portrait of Pope Francis.
NEWEST Pope Francis Carolyn Palmer 3 copy
Palmer’s bust of Pope Francis greeted him in the Papal Residence, New York City, 2015.
Lucille Ball, “Lucy” replacement of “scary lucy”. Sculpture by Carolyn Palmer unveiled in Lucille Ball Memorial Park, Celoron, New York, August 6, 2016
Carloyn Lucy front right
Palmer’s sculpture of Lucille Ball replaces “Scary Lucy”.

Carolyn Lucy front leftLucille Ball! In the top photo, Carolyn is working on her larger-than-life figure portrait of Lucille Ball. Palmer’s sculpture replaced in infamous, “scary lucy” by selection as the winner of a national competition. Palmer’s Lucy sculpture was unveiled on August 6, 2016 on Lucy’s birthday in Lucille Ball Memorial Park, Celoron, New York.

After a visit to Carolyn’s studio for photographs, we continued our conversation in a restaurant converted from an old bank, dwarfed below the thirty-foot ceiling, dumbfounded to see diners in the old vault with its formidable five-ton steel door and surrounded by the bustle, crackle, chatter, hum of waiters, diners, dishes, music; we leaned in to hear each other.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: The purpose of this site, and @StudioSeeds on Twitter is to explore inspiration — the seeds of creativity.  

What is your inspiration?

CAROLYN PALMER: Light, shadow and spirit.

Light dancing on the various planes of people’s faces; I am passionate about looking for this. Because I sculpt mostly figures and faces, I’m inspired to bring out the features of each person by studying their lighting environment.

Theatre lighting is one of my favorite venues for inspiration because when I turn around to the audience before a play or intermission, I can see hundreds of portraits under a very strong overhead lighting. It’s a very dramatic way to see the nuances of many facial characteristics at once. Just check it out, you will see a powerful play on light; all the different facets of the face come to life through light casting it’s play on shadows.

And it’s the shadows created by the light.

I sculpt by manipulating the shadows. First, I stage a light from above and watch where it lays on the cheeks, nose, the forehead and then I read the shadows. If you look closely shadows have a spectrum from dark to light. This is how to perceive the depth of the planes; if they curve, turn or where they stop. When trying to achieve a person’s likeness from two-dimensional images, I’ll simulate the exact lighting in my studio with the shadows seen in the reference photographs. Then I start adding clay into the shadows where needed or take clay away from the lit areas to create more shadows. Next, I’ll twist and turn the portrait in various directions to to get a three dimensional likeness.

And spirit!

During this whole process of recreating shadows and light, I am feeling the spirit of my subject. It’s important to work from the heart. Artist, Marc Chagall said, “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing”. I agree!

So I would say, to bring out the spirit, I’m inspired by the way light and shadows dance on faces in many different environments. My current sculpture will be placed outside and when working on the patina, I am considering the position in the park to decide which patina looks best. With the morning, noon and evening lighting, it will appear different, like Monet’s “Haystacks”. The light casts various shadows and colors depending on the time of year and day. Other than the appropriate patina, another concern is sculpting the eyelashes, so they are thick enough to withstand the elements, but there is one caveat: I might not be pleased  with the shadows from the sun’s zenith, but some things can’t be controlled.

Sculpture for me in not just about seeing. I sculpt with my eyes closed sometimes; I like to feel the sculpture.

I learned a lot from the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt public commission; they said my pieces should be touchable, that the blind would be feeling the sculptures, so I started feeling them too with my eyes closed and thought, gosh, this is a gift to me too — to feel and sculpt with my eyes closed!

Even when I’m working on a leg, I think, that doesn’t feel like a real leg and so then I sculpt with my eyes closed until it does feel real. Then when I’m working on a neck or face, I feel along the shoulders and if I think a body wouldn’t feel that way, I can change it. So a lot of it is touch and feel — the way a real body would feel.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Wow! Feeling the spirit of your subjects with the help of light and shadow! And sometimes your eyes are closed when you sculpt! That’s inspiring!

Thank you Carolyn.

Please connect in the Comments section of this post here on — much appreciated.

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Carolyn Palmer Sculpture of Lucille Ball Replaces “Scary Lucy” StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee

Demetri Malki, Restaurateur of Happy and Delicious

Demetri Malki at his restaurant, De Novo.

All aboard!

Hop a train in Penn Station, New York City and get off in just a few stops for lunch or dinner at De Novo in Upper Montclair, New Jersey. It’s in the renovated train station!

De Novo, here on the left, is in the Upper Montclair train station.

Once in the station/restaurant you will be greeted by the warmth of Demetri Malki’s sunshine smile. De Novo is his latest love and canvas for his artistry as a restaurateur highly skilled in all aspects of the restaurant business.

Demetri’s passion for food and his love of people are inseparable.

De Novo is Demetri’s third restaurant. He started his first, Demetri’s, when he was just twenty-six years old and it’s here he earned his confidence and the confidence of his clientele. After four and a half years, he began Table 8 and ran this restaurant for almost six years in addition to getting married and starting a family. His desire to take a little time off to be with his wife and two children (Niko born in October 2016) prompted a four year “retirement” in 2010 to not only be with family, but to build a beautiful home in Westfield.

Demetri created his next restaurant opportunity in the summer of 2014 in Upper Montclair’s old train station and De Novo was born — the joint’s been jumping every since.


De Novo chandelier of crystals and utensils

Under a very unique chandelier of crystals and utensils near the bar and with the hum of a full restaurant, we began our conversation.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Demetri Malki, De Novo is a delicious delight. What inspires you?

DEMETRI MALKI: My kids are my driving force; I want to give them a better life than I had as a child. They are my inspiration to get up everyday to do what I do. Then once I’m here at De Novo, I love it. It’s my drug, but that initial getting up and going in the morning, my kids are my kickstart.

Malec, Niko, Sabela

De Novo is about making people happy. What better satisfaction could I ask for? When I go to work, my friends are my customers and my customers become friends. They come to see me, have a bite to eat. When they’re happy, it makes me happy.

I walk through the restaurant and talk to my friends, but then I also get the problem people, just like I get happy people, but thank God, I don’t have many problems at all.

Demetri Malki and a De Novo customer.

Cooking is also my passion.

Food is all about bringing people together with the love of food, sharing stories, creating relationships. Food makes my job so pleasant. There is a lot of love in the food and a lot of love in the dining room.

Salad with roasted beets, tomatoes, goat cheese.

That’s why our customers keep coming back.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Demetri, thank you for your time and inspiration. You are definitely the “Restaurateur of Happy and Delicious”.

Please connect with Demetri Malki in the COMMENTS section for this post.


Hamburger with caramelized onions, sautéd mushrooms and French fries.


Black and white sesame crusted tuna over chipotle sauce.


De Novo
275 Bellevue Avenue
Upper Montclair
New Jersey 07043
Upper Montclair Train Station

Be sure to make a reservation.

Demetri Malki, Owner/Culinary Director
Adolfo Marisi, Chef from Florence, Italy
De Novo’s food is “fun, fresh and forged”
American, Italian, European cuisine

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Molly Peacock: Sparks & Triggers for Inspiration

Tea and Conversation: Molly Peacock in New York City

Meet Molly Peacock. She is a multi-genre writer of poetry, biography, essays, memoir, fiction and even a one-woman show! Her poetry includes eight collections with her newest, The Analyst, due in early 2017.

Molly Peacock reading from Alphabetique at The Corner Bookstore, Madison Avenue, New York City, Spring 2016
Molly Peacock reading from Alphabetique at The Corner Bookstore, Madison Avenue, New York City, Spring 2016

Other books include a genre-busting Alphabetique: 26 Characteristic FictionsIt is a creative delight with lush illustrations by Kara Kosaka.

MOLLY_ Paper Garden
The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72 by Molly Peacock

Molly’s non-fiction work includes The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, about an 18th-century artist who came into her creative powers as a septuagenarian.
Molly has another biography in process about a 19th- and early 20th-century American-Canadian artist. It’s titled Flower Diary: Mary Hiester Reid Speaks Up at Last. 

Molly Peacock: goes back to the founding of the New York City Poetry in Motion project. Here is an August 2016 poster with a poem by Nathalie Handal,  illustration by Olympia Zagnoli, and reflections from the subway car.

Long active in public service for literature, Molly was one of the founders of the New York City subway arts project, Poetry in Motion in 1992. Now living in Toronto for fifteen years, she inaugurated the annual publication of The Best of Canadian Poetry and is also the editor. (A more detailed biography for Molly can be found at the link below our conversation.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-27 at 4.49.39 PM

On a sunny day in New York City, Molly Peacock and I met at a French cafe that turned out to be a favorite we had both been to many times before. The windows were open to the street and the breeze cooled the restaurant, the sun reached in from the sidewalk, so amid the shriek of brakes, fire engine sirens, the clack of dishes and hums from fellow diners’ conversations, we began and in typical New Yorker fashion, we only heard each other.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Molly Peacock, writer and poet, extraordinaire! You inspire me. What inspires you?

MOLLY PEACOCK: I’ve never quite been asked this question. I love it!

What inspires me is a combination of noticing something small that then sparks a memory.

One time on the street in New York City I saw someone had dumped a huge bunch of flowers in one of those big wastebaskets (that’s like a giant inverted basketball net). I looked down inside it, and the flowers were coming up.

That’s the kind of thing that might spark a poem in me. The image will float around then surface in my consciousness. Inspiration requires me to be alone. I wouldn’t have noticed this if I’d been talking to someone. Noticing something also evokes memory. Whatever memory it brings up eventually adds to the poem.

Molly’s desk: her grandmother’s table

A new project I’m working on is to take every inherited object I have and to write a poem about it. I’m not going to just focus the poem on describing the object — how boring!

Since I don’t have children of my own, I’m going to pass these things on to younger cousins I don’t know very well. I’m hoping to memorialize each object in a poem. The poems might give my cousins some sense of the importance of these pieces of furniture, dishes, and textiles. The cousins didn’t grow up living with these things, so they might think, “oh, some grandmother’s table, let’s sell it,” and I want to avoid that!

But back to inspiration, the poems combine each object with a memory, and I hope this equation will create something even larger.

Sometimes I abandon these projects, though. I am not a perfectionist. (Laughs.) Art has taught me not to be a perfectionist.

The Analyst, Poems by Molly Peacock due in early 2017
The Analyst, Poems by Molly Peacock

Another thing that inspires me, but I hesitate to call it inspiration, is necessity. Often there is something pressing inside me that I absolutely have to write about to understand.

The Analyst, my new book of poems coming out in January 2017, was written from necessity. It’s about my analyst who had a stroke at age seventy-seven. She lost both memory and subtlety with language, so she had to close her practice. I was devastated, yet amazed because she rekindled her youthful artistic talent and turned her therapy room into an art studio. Although she had a big memory blast, she was able to reach out to me because we went back so far in time — forty years. Although obviously I was no longer in therapy with her, I would visit her, and I had the privilege of watching her transformation as she valiantly reconstructed her life.

Joan Stein, The Analyst, and Molly Peacock
Joan Stein, The Analyst, and Molly Peacock

She had been a talented painter as a girl, so talented that she studied with adults, but when she went to Radcliffe, things dramatically changed. She was harshly critiqued in her first painting class. We have all had to take classroom criticism, or witnessed it. This can be absolutely brutal. (Yes, yes, it’s especially a young woman’s story.) Because of what she called this “excoriating” critique, she turned away from painting completely and started taking psychology courses. She didn’t pick up a brush for 25 years — till she was in her forties.

Her youthful gift turned out to rescue her in her old age.

In my devastation at thinking I would never see her again, I wrote. The poems just poured out from my state of shock and abandonment. The Analyst is both a portrait of her and also a portrait of what she did for me.

But unwittingly during the years of our analysis in my late thirties and forties, I also did something for her. Just as she was helping me to recognize my talent, she was rediscovering her own gift. As she helped me manage rejection, she was taking painting classes. Of course I never knew that at the time. I found out more about her life post-analysis. As she helped me gain the strength to write book after book, my own energy was validating hers for painting.

Lemons by Joan Stein
Lemons, by Joan Stein, watercolor, 8  x 6″H. See poem “Fret Not” below.

After her stroke all this hit me. Oh gosh! She wasn’t able to overcome that professor’s criticism, but she was able to give me an incredible resilience to rejection. She walked away for twenty-five years, but she helped me stay my course. (I can’t tell you how often I’ve been rejected, but have, of course, gone on.)

Screen Shot 2016-08-31 at 3.58.13 PM

Sometimes I am so busy that for inspiration to be available I have to disconnect from the world. For me, this disconnection is a mental action that feels physical. I feel like I’ve taken all my strength and put it in my arms to push the whole world away. Only then do I have a little bit of space in front of me where nothing’s coming in, and I can write. Part of the receptivity to inspiration means making that almost physical space for creativity. Is this only true for busy women? (Laughs.) I’ve done one busy woman’s biography (The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life’s Work at 72, photo of the cover above) and I’m working on another now. I’ve been researching an obscure but totally marvelous painter named Mary Hiester Reid, since 2012 and I’m writing her book now. Cross your fingers. It’s called Flower Diary: Mary Hiester Reid Speaks Up at Last. There’s no pub date yet.

Mary Hiester Reid, Roses in a Vase, 1891
Mary Hiester Reid, Roses in a Vase, 1891

And then there is play. Just as a child has to be safe in order to play, there have to be boundaries that make a safe playing space for art. It’s just a matter of dimensions, the way a hopscotch game is marked out in chalk or a baseball diamond is marked with plates. Once those outlines are designated, you can begin to play. In a poem the “play” takes place within the lines and stanzas.

View of Toronto from Molly Peacock’s Garden Balcony

I do think people are saved by their imaginations, and it’s our imaginations that give us strength. I absolutely believe this, and I think that if we falter out of fear, It’s because we’re not trusting our imaginations.

Anyone who has successfully survived trauma knows this.

I’m not exactly sure how to connect trauma to inspiration, but I know that inspiration is being available to your senses, and this availability to touch, sight, sound, smell, and taste cultivates imagination. Without the senses, no imagination; without imagination, no inspiration.

Molly Peacock in her new office created by Canadian master cabinet-maker Vince Fyfie. He made everything, including the desk. Her grandmother’s table — gone!

This brings me to delight. Even if I am writing about my most devastated and weakened moments, the writing itself lets me feel a certain kind of delight in the act. Even in a poem about a grave event, I find myself surprised by a realization. I’ll go “Oh!” That “Oh!” of surprise recognition is a delight. It helps make sense out of devastation.

Last story.

Hand prints from the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, Spain.

Other people’s “making” inspires mine. So much of art is made in response to other peoples’ art. Some say “I don’t like art about art,” and I understand about distrusting too much artifice, but I’m speaking about the broader enterprise of human making.

As part of my research for my new book, Flower Diary, about Mary Hiester Reid, I was lucky enough to receive a grant from Access Copyright Canada to replicate Reid’s trip to Spain.

I announced my trip in a newsletter with an offhand comment that if someone ever finds a cave painting of a flower, then the rest of us will know there were women artists forty thousand years ago. Bascove, the painter, wrote back to me with a link to the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, the site of many prehistoric small hand prints, perhaps by women. I looked at a map and realized I didn’t have to make a big detour, so I went. It was absolutely amazing. It was wet, cold and I went down, down. There were stalactites and stalagmites and I was following a flashlight held by our guide; it was slippery; a person could die from a bad fall just inching down those rocks.

Hand prints from the El Castillo Caves in Cantabria, Spain.

At last we saw the hundreds of small hand prints. Some  anthropologists think they are the handprints of women. (It’s controversial. But there’s no doubt that some hands have female configuration. Women tend to have ring fingers that are shorter than their index fingers, and men tend to have ring fingers that are longer.) I was so excited at the possibility of these hundreds of women’s hands!

This destroys the narrative that says men went out to hunt and returned to the caves to draw animals, while women cooked, had babies, and had no thought of expressing themselves. The ritual gestures of these possibly female hands are so inspiring.

These handprints are far down inside the caves. But cave dwellers actually lived at the surface openings, where daylight was available. Yet they put their handprints safe in a deep, protected place—a place for ritual.

You can still go to the caves, but I’m sure they will be closed one day like the larger and more famous cave painting sites are. Yet because I could actually go there, it was utterly inspiring — just to be in contact with the human capacity of “making” is inspiring.

But no, I didn’t go home and write a poem about it. (Molly made a long and thoughtful pause.) Yet.

The end!

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Molly, thank you, thank you! Your generosity of time and spirit are inspiring in addition to all of your wonderful triggers and sparks for inspiration.

Also, thank you for sharing your poem, Fret Not, with StudioSeeds readers:

by Molly Peacock

When you welcomed me for the first time since
your brain hemorrhaged, you looked so trim and well
in black and white you could almost convince
us both you were whole.  Your living room welled
with light, the wall above the couch arranged
with your watercolors.  “I hung them myself,”
you said proudly.  Almost nothing was changed
(except for the attendant, making herself
small by sitting silently.)  You’re witnessed now,
as you’ve witnessed me.  “May I have a painting?”
I’d been afraid to ask, but I did somehow.
“You really want one of my paintings?
Then come in here.”  Your bedroom?  But I was
your patient!  Before your brain bled.  Yes, was.

I followed you into the narrow room:
plain as plain.  Like a nun’s cell, the bed,
a single pallet, no headboard, a deep red
blanket instead of a coverlet.  Blood bloom.
Nuns fret not at their narrow convent’s room.
No one could climb into that cot but one.
A tall row of wooden cabinets.  One
you opened, and small paintings that had loomed
above my head (as I’d lain on your couch
and talked about, around, for, yet, because…and wept)
you brought out now from where you slept.
Your pallet.  Next to your palette.
Red blanket like a hemorrhage contained
after a time bomb exploded your brain.

The painting I chose was small: two lemons
against a blue background, one with a tip,
a salmon-colored aureola.  Lemons
like breasts, nurturing companions, the tip
of a sensuous world on a piece of paper
folding out and beyond and inward and
onto the contours of the conquered land
of your mind, landmined.  We’re.  Were.
You laid the yellow watercolor down
on your bed, a camp cot for the wounded
in a tent pitched on a plot of scanty ground.
Fret not.  Fret you not.  Forget-me-not:  found.
So I lifted it up—then laid it in this frame
now on my wall.  Hourly I pass your name.

Fret Not was originally published in Plume and is in Molly’s new book, The AnalystPoems to be published by W. W. Norton.

Please connect with Molly Peacock in the COMMENTS section for this post.

Molly Peacock’s Website Be sure to sign up for Molly’s “Museletter” at the bottom of the first page of her website.

Detailed Biography for Molly Peacock

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Molly Peacock: Sparks & Triggers for Inspiration StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee

Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency

00_AT VERY TOP Cropped KKathryn Smith, journalist, community activist / co-founder of the Cancer Association of Anderson in South Carolina and now Missy LeHand biographer with The Gatekeeper:  Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency  (publisher Touchstone Books a division of Simon & Schuster, September 2016) is a delight to talk to, listen to her slow jazz Southern drawl and explore what inspires her.

And so we began to talk while driving on narrow country roads, on a clear and balmy day in November; I discovered Kathryn’s inspiration.

Our conversation follows.

SUZE BIENAIMEE: The purpose of and @StudioSeeds on Twitter is to explore inspiration in people who inspire.

What inspires you?

KATHRYN SMITH: History inspires me and it always has every since I was a little kid. And it’s funny, you know, I find these threads that I’ve followed since I was an early teen. I’ve always been interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII; since my early 30s, it’s been the Pre-Raphaelites and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I’ve been interested in Hemingway and Fitzgerald and the 1920s since I was in high school and I continue to be.

There was something FDR biographer Geoffrey Ward said about history being a moving river, things keep being uncovered from the river — dredged out of the river — history changes even though it’s history. So I guess I just really enjoy when there is some new fact or some new person — that’s my inspiration.

01_Missy Portrait Sq

Marguerite (Missy) LeHand

I’m dredging a body out of the river myself with Missy because she has been ignored, misunderstood, mischaracterized and really just forgotten; thanks to her great-nieces who have an incredible archive of her life, and my own digging, luck and connections, I feel like I’ve fleshed her out, though she is still mysterious, an enigma even to me.

01_LeHand with FDRMissy with FDR at his desk in the White House.

And Paris totally inspires. I am completely obsessed with Paris and the history of Paris, the hidden history of Paris, the catacombs under Paris. How those thousands and thousands of bodies ended up in the catacombs under the streets of Paris. It is really a violent city and tragic in so many ways and there is all that beauty on top of all that sad and violent history.

I get to Paris as often as I can — fairly often — I counted seven times in the last ten years. My mother always says: “you’re going to Paris again? Why don’t you go somewhere else?” But I don’t want to go anywhere else. It’s just because every time I go to Paris, I go to the old places I’ve been before, but I always find something new and it’s at least thousand year old city and there is something new every time I go. Plus it’s a modern, thriving City — with art, theatre, fashion — everything is changing and evolving, so it’s not like a museum.

Oscar'stomb-2 copy

Photo by Kathryn Smith of Oscar Wilde’s tomb in Paris:
“We will never forget the importance of being earnest” is written in white. 

My love for Little Red Riding Hood started when I took a snapshot of my daughter Elizabeth in a red hoodie when she was about three. She was peeping out with a sort of wary look that made me think of Little Red and the wolf. As a result, I made a series of quilts on this theme, including one I turned into a book; I have collected dozens of versions of the book, from old vintage ones to modern incarnations to foreign editions in French, Japanese, and Czech, among other languages.

03_RRHood Cover

Kathryn’s Red Riding Hood quilt on the cover of her book.

03_Red and Wolf

Kathryn as Little Red, partying with the wolf.

I also love making things. I’ve always worked with textiles since I was a really small child. My mother actually still has the first quilt I made. It’s about the size of an egg I guess, and it was made of little scraps of felt from some Christmas ornaments she was making in the 1960s; I sewed them together all these little scraps and I made this little quilt. She has it in a frame: “Kathryn’s First Quilt”. (chuckling)

So I still love quilting. I especially love to find old quilts that need help or have never been finished. To find a quilt-top that’s never been quilted, to repair it and to make it useful is a favorite thing to do.

04_K with GGM restored Quilt

Photo: Kathryn and her restored quilt; it was her great grandmother’s. 

SUZE BIENAIMEE: Threads! Threads inspire Kathryn Smith. The threads of history, Paris, Little Red Riding Hood and fabric — they all inspire her.

And Kathryn Smith inspires!

Thank you Kathryn.

Please connect with Kathryn Smith in the COMMENTS section for this post.

05_K typewriter etc.

A writer’s still life. Here is a corner of inspiration in Kathryn’s library.
From the left, clockwise: typewriter that belonged to a foreign correspondent in Japan; photograph of Missy & FDR; popular bust of FDR; a beer-opener donkey from FDR’s first presidential campaign in 1932;  Missy LeHand’s donkey from her White House desk.

04_K as Missy_Friend as ER

On the right: Kathryn Smith is dressed as Missy LeHand at a costume fundraiser for the Cancer Association of Anderson she co-founded. On the left is her friend dressed as Eleanor Roosevelt with a faux-fox-fur Kathryn made.

Join Kathryn on Facebook and on her website

The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency
The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership That Defined a Presidency by Kathryn Smith

Read an excerpt from the Gatekeeper on by Kathryn Smith, published August 28, 2016:

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal

The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy.

Read on Politico and follow @politico on Twitter | Politico on Facebook

FDR’s Secretary’s Secret Hand in the New Deal The most powerful presidential secretary in history, Missy LeHand made key introductions, advocated for legislation—and cemented Roosevelt’s biggest legacy. By Kathryn Smith, August 28, 2016

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Kathryn Smith, Author of The Gatekeeper: Missy LeHand, FDR, and the Untold Story of the Partnership that Defined a Presidency StudioSeeds Inspire By Suze Bienaimee