Turnabout is Fair Play

Turnabout is Fair Play

Once, long ago, the most excellent band Rodan said they would agree to an interview if they got to ask questions of me as well. I agreed, and it went OK. I still remember their question about how I wipe my butt, which seemed to be equally motivated by bathroom humor and some Freudian idea one of them had. My answer truly surprised them.


Recently, the tables were turned again, when Ann Trusty and John Hulsey sent me interview questions for their artistcentric website The Artist’s Road. It felt weird being the interviewee. But I dearly love Ann and John, and was honored that they would want to hear from me.

Check it out here. It will be behind a paywall pretty soon. Subscribe to The Artist’s Road if you like it–their articles are pretty beefy and helpful. Ω

I’m Not a Joiner, But I Joined

I grew up in a house that backed up to the 14th Tee of a private country club golf course. My family didn’t belong to the club. My parents weren’t about to spend that kind of money on a club membership, raising six kids.

A lot of my friends in the neighborhood did belong, though. I was a frequent guest of them at the country club pool. In fact, I was so frequent a guest that I was always brown as a biscuit by mid-July, and became so strong of a swimmer that the country club coach asked why I wasn’t on the swim team. The shit hit the fan when he found out that this kid he saw all the time wasn’t even a member.

At times I wished we were members of the country club, but not often. Some of my best friends were. They and their families seemed like really good people for the most part, from what I recall. But there was a fairly large contingent at the club who were boorish. The dads were overweight, the moms were underweight, and both were often drunk. It was good fun to watch certain members zoom up in a golf cart, drunkenly chop at the ball on the 14th tee, curse, and veer away down the fairway, while we ate dinner and watched out our window. And let’s not talk about the clothes. Yeesh.

In high school, I was in the Spanish Club my sophomore year, but as far as my parents knew, I was in the Spanish Club my junior and senior year, too. But those weren’t Spanish Club meetings that were making me come home late. They were detentions.

In college I despised the Greek system because in my freshman year I watched my best friend be humiliated over and over by his “frat brothers” who hazed him as a “pledge.” I couldn’t understand why he accepted the abuse. If somebody slapped my head and called me those names, I would have given them a nice Hawaiian punch. I mercilessly made fun of the fraternity at my small liberal arts college, via a humor column in the student newspaper, and on more than one occasion, I went to frat parties at UofL and flipped the breakers on the fuse box, yelling into the dark, “Frats suck and you all buy your friends!”

So I guess you could say I’ve never been a joiner.

I don’t feel a need to formalize a friendship with other people, pay dues, go to meetings. I would feel pretentious putting letters after my name. I’m a registered Democrat, but I was an independent for years before aligning myself with a party.

But in September, I joined something. Not just a club, but a GUILD. Now, the word “guild” is a dirty one in my vocabulary. I hate the idea of excluding someone from a trade organization until they meet the real or imaginary standards of the establishment. Always seemed elitist, exclusionary, and bullshitty. Nevertheless, Tammy Lucas offhandedly asked if I wanted to be a member of the Wind River Valley Artists Guild, and I found myself immediately saying, “Sure!”


I don’t know.

I imagine that I won’t be terribly active in the organization. After all, it’s located in Dubois, Wyoming, and I live in NYC. It’s not that I’m super close with a lot of the members. I’m sure I know a few because I have experience and connections in the Dubois art scene, but I have no idea who is on the roster. But I’m proud to be a member of the WRVAG nonetheless.

Is it the quilts that members sew, some with depictions of birds so wonderful, each square could be its own piece of art? Is it because their yearly painting and sculpture show is surprisingly big and of good quality even though Dubois is a town without a stoplight?

I think it is for two reasons. First, I love the Wind River Valley. I am eager to make permanent connections there. I’ve already made some good friendships with people in the town of Dubois, and elsewhere in Wyoming.

The second reason is related to the first. Life can be hard in Wyoming. Most of the people I know who live in the Dubois area have more than one job. The high school football coach has a bead store and carves art out of moose antlers. A real estate agent is also a trout fishing guide. A rancher also works at the Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center. But the artists in the area do all that they need to do to make a living, AND they put together a show and support each other. That’s my kind of club.

I won’t be putting “WRVAG” at the end of my name on papers, letters, or paintings. It’s funny even to type that. But I’ll be paying my annual dues and stay a member in good standing.

Nobody is more surprised than me. Ω


Into the Next Phase

Painting at the Taylors’ property outside of Dubois

For four years, I wrote between 2,000 and 5,000 words a week for PleinAir Today–usually closer to 5,000. Ten stories, 51 weeks a year, no vacations, no breaks, lots of reportage. I didn’t have time for anything else, but it fit our household rhythm, for the most part. And we certainly found the money useful.

I quit in March, and life has been much better, if a little scary without that income.

Now I can announce that I’m writing a book on the history of visual art in the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming. It will book me up for a year, and then I hope to slide right into another book project.

The change is gratifying to me, but rather than feeling jubilant, I merely feel free to accomplish what I’ve known I could do. A full book is something I’ve never done (let’s ignore the horrific sci-fi novel I wrote in 2002), but I feel pretty good about my abilities.

Certainly the prospect of visiting the Dubois area of Wyoming a few more times in the next months buoys my spirit. My wife is thrilled for me, and well, I guess this is just a happy post. Ω

Renewal in Maine

ahhhhh, Maine!

Every once in a while, fortune truly smiles upon me. An example is meeting Mary Erickson, an artist, a connector, a lovely person. I met Mary at a painting event in the Adirondacks, and we got along well, in part because most people get along well with Mary, and in part because we shared a love of birds, nature, and painting.

Mary likes painting Maine, but she likes to do it with friends. So she started renting a house called Nanatuck outside of Port Clyde, and inviting painting friends to stay for a week and share the costs and cooking. This expanded into six weeks, and a rotating cast of characters.

We had lobster for dinner one night. Tough life.

It’s impossible to describe how Mary manages to stay out of people’s business, encourage their endeavors, smother any emerging drama, foster fellowship, and in general create an environment that is productive, fun, and drenched in beauty. For a week at the end of August, I was a part of the Nanatuck tribe–there to write about artists, but also to be a part of the whole experience.

Painting-wise, I was a guppy among whales. Don Demers was there, and I was reminded how no matter how good a photo of his work may be, it is even better in person. I don’t know of another marine artist who is better at capturing water, sky, and atmosphere. Everyone else was also represented by high-end galleries and enjoying considerable success with their art.

The Happy Clam’s lobster roll, with sides of red cabbage and some amazing, turmeric-tinged spätzle.

Unless you drive to a bigger town to shop, you will find that chicken costs more than lobster in Port Clyde. So what is a hungry artist to do? I sampled lobster rolls from various shacks, and came away the most impressed by the roll at The Happy Clam. I must admit that the delicious spätzle that was an option for a side dish swayed my opinion somewhat. On my last full day in Maine, I came close to a lobster hat trick–I ate leftover pasta with lobster for breakfast, and had a lobster roll for lunch. Alas, no lobster at dinner. Tough luck, huh?

Marsha Massih made this incredible rice dish. I wanted fourths!

Maine. The ocean is manganese. The rocks are volcanic, with folds and layers forming ridged granite with much personality. Fog coming off the ocean is grey and cool. Cormorants, American goldfinch, mergansers, gulls, and blue jays are common. Kingfishers, osprey, cedar waxwings, eiders, Canada geese, and chipmunks abound. Pines turn the landscape a deep dark green. The sun can be brutal. The people are friendly. The blueberries are small and flavorful.

Daniel Ambrose sketching on the shore

My first painting was pretty bad. I was just getting used to the colors. I was trying to figure out how to get verticals into the vistas. The weather was so changeable, and the tide was dramatic and seemed quick.

Soaking my feet at Drift Inn Beach

I soon realized that paintings of any size at all would require two painting sessions at the same time of day. Two of my paintings were completed that way. I painted one triangle painting 80% on site, and it might be my favorite of the trip. On my last day at Nanatuck, I started a painting that went nowhere. But when I finished it up back home in NYC, it turned out well.

“Marshall Point Triangles,” 2017, acrylic, 6x8ish

The renewal of old friendships and the development of new ones, the art-making, the food, the beauty of Maine, the simplicity of our days were fantastic, but the most important aspect of my week at Nanatuck was being Bob Bahr. At home, I am Daddy. I am a husband. I am a writer known only on the phone and online. I am a painter who posts to Facebook and Etsy. At Nanatuck, I was a person, relatively unknown, free to be me, free to be social or antisocial, free to be generous and gregarious or reclusive and resting, free to experiment or to paint traditionally, free to let my personality come out. I am loved at home, but I am old news, seen in one way. Being around supportive people, creative people with little experience with me, allows me to reestablish what makes me, me. I don’t know if this makes much sense, but I can’t stress how important it is.

So, thanks, Mary.

Painting at the Anderson Farm


Reporting From Dubois

Reporting From Dubois

While doing research in Wyoming, I reported on this weeklong event, which was great for the participating kids–and extremely edifying and helpful to me. The Boys & Girls Club of Dubois, along with Traci Jo Isaly, put together a team of instructors that included local historian Stephen V. Banks, backcountry guides and Sheep Eater experts Meredith and Tory Taylor, geologist Johanna Thompson. Tom Lucas, a Dubois artist and arguably the premier craftsman of traditional Shoshone items, taught drawing. Isaly guided the roughly dozen kids through the making of figures that explored local history and their own inner histories. The Susan Kathleen Black Foundation underwrote the program, which is called PLACE (People Land and Community Education). It’s programs like this that make me proud to be a part of SKB.

A Sense of PLACE: SKB and the Boys & Girls Club of Dubois Team Up