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Wentzel & Maher – May 15

Janet Maher and Patricia Wentzel traded art and words. Janet shared this image, entitled “Woolen Mill #7,” with Patricia:


In response, Patricia wrote this poem:

Woolen Mill #7
Janet Maher, encaustic

Sober Irish faces stare at the camera, two halves of a group picture positioned just so, an old mill town map for background. A river and a railroad run through the town.

Eyes, made translucent by the encaustic wax, give nothing away.

What do these still, white, distant faces hide? Do they mask deep sorrow and a ceaseless yearning for home, for Ireland? Would a bump of wool outweigh such pain, if we measured things thus?

Bare clasped hands lie exposed in laps; booted feet rest on light snow.

Is it the style of the times or the cold air or the layer of wax that makes the girls in the photograph seem detached, even listless? It is as if they are stoically waiting — for what? To return home, knowing that day will never come? For release from this suffering? For the photographer to light the scene?

Hair braided or confined by a hood, the girls sit and stand painfully erect.

How many twists did it take to give these particular young women the resilience of warp yarn, the strength to cross an ocean, the will to live when others were dying?

Every button is done up, every collar smoothed.

Or does the harsh glare of the magnesium flash obscure relief? Instead of lamenting their loss, do they praise the Saints and God, rise and give thanks each day, grateful to have been saved from starvation and penury? Perhaps their pale faces conceal both grief and grace in equal measure.

No doubt they are wearing their Sunday best.

The writing on the map is largely illegible under the changes wrought by the artist’s hand. Parts of the map are yellowed and there’s a building sketched in that might be a mill.

A river and a railroad are clearly visible.

>> See Janet’s response to Patricia’s poem here.

* * * * *

Patricia shared this poem with Janet:

In Search of This and That
(Dialogue II, 1931, oil on masonite, John Storrs)

The two friends laughed and then they cried,
as the train raced down the track.
The coal fire roared and spitted away,
while they spoke of this and that–
how far they’d gone, how near they’d come,
the folly and peril of traps.
Its size and shape were obscure at best–
as small as an epitaph?

The third repeat of the fourth tale told
and the friends turned their thoughts to the past.
They pondered the merits of poets of old,
stopping just short of using an axe.
They grew quite fatigued and decided to stop
for an epic and then a short nap.
A lowercase tea with hyperbole
was served when the rhythm went slack.
The fat one finished the first ten words,
the thin one submitted his snack.

When they reached their stop they found a friend,
a wordsmith and epigraph.
She climbed aboard, greeting them with glee,
four consonants sewn in a sack.
She passed out transcendent superlatives
in bottles without any caps,
then together the friends set off towards the East,
in search of this and that.

In response, Janet made this piece, entitled “Folly and Peril”:

Folly & Perilsm

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 20, 2015 10:23 pm

    Truly incredible work. Janet, I’d love to know more about your creation process for these images.

  2. May 21, 2015 11:09 pm

    Thank you! It’s been a long journey, that’s for sure. Oddly, I’ve stopped talking about it on anything related to my website, but some work that’s come out from it can be seen there ( It’s art that coincides with a long research and writing process. My second book (Waterbury Irish) will be out in October, from the History Press. Digging up my — and everybody else’s — roots in immigrant Irish Connecticut, New Haven County, early nineteenth century forward. So glad you like the images!

    • June 2, 2015 3:11 pm

      Your site is lovely. I’ll spend a little more time there for sure!

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