Edythe Haendel Schwartz has an art exhibit hanging at the International House this month. She also has a recently published book of poems. And she’s a dancer with the Pamela Trokanski Dance Workshop’s Second Wind group. You could say she leads a life for the arts.
Her interest in the visual arts is lifelong. Growing up in New York, her parents took her to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and others. “The Guggenheim Museum (which opened in 1959) wasn’t built when I was a baby,” she said over coffee last week.
She got so familiar with some of the major museums that she committed their floor plans to memory. “I knew where to find the American wing, the history of instruments, the mummies, the Picassos.”
Schwartz has been making visual art for most of her life, but the works on display at I-House this month are relatively recent.
“Most are from the last two years; some are from the last two months,” she says. “There are maybe four or five that were done three or four years ago.”
The exhibit is titled “Impulse of the Hand,” with the artwork organized into several different groups.
“There’s one group that focuses on impermanence, things that are transitory in nature and the world. Another section focuses on what it is like to be a maker,” she explains. “There are paintings and mixed-media pieces that reflect jazz, and dance. There’s a third group of pieces that look at the variety of ways people figure out to be in the world.”
Many pieces explore the interface between language and art through ekphrastic poems — “ekphrastic” means “based on visual art” —and interweave text and visual imagery in mixed-media works.
“Working in oils, cut or torn papers, bits of fiber and often parts of text, I allow the material to suggest the work’s direction,” Schwartz says. “I tend to grow my pieces slowly over weeks or months, often working on several pieces at the same time, layering paint and other materials, abrading and layering again. I also enjoy experimenting on different surfaces — paper, masonite, glass, canvas, wood.”
The exhibit at I-House, 10 College Park, will be up through April 9.
While Schwartz has been working as a visual artist for most of her life, she started writing poetry after she retired from the faculty of Sacramento State in 2003, where she was a professor in the College of Education, focusing on child development.
“I wanted to learn how to do something completely new,” she says. “I wanted to write poems, learn how to make them. I had done a tremendous amount of writing (in academic life), but I had not done what people call creative writing.”
She found that writing poetry “is not an easy art at all. It’s very challenging, aesthetically, intellectually, wedding the various elements of what makes a poem, the sound, the rhythm. I use a lot of rhyme that’s hidden, but it’s there. It’s complex. And I work in many layers in my poems, and in my paintings. There’s a surface layer, and then many layers underneath.”
She published a chapbook, “Exposure,” in 2007. Her poem “A Natural Phenomenon,” won first prize in the 2012 Friends of Acadia Poetry competition, and her poem “Resist” was a winner in Persimmon Tree’s 2011 Western States Poetry Competition. In 2006 and 2008, she was awarded grants for residencies at The Vermont Studio Center.
Her new book, “A Palette of Leaves,” is her first full-length collection, published by Mayapple Press. The cover art features an image of one of her paintings, and the cover has been nominated for a publishing industry award, which pleases Schwartz.
The new book has generated a burst of attention. She was interviewed on Capital Public Radio’s Insight program earlier this month and she will be the featured poet at Sacramento State’s Festival of the Arts on April 15. Schwartz will give a reading and sign books at The Avid Reader bookstore in Davis on June 14.
Some of the poems in the new book are sonnets, including two that are set on the coast of Maine, one about a child who was swept into the water at Thunder Hole, a famous spot at Acadia National Park. Some poems are set in Argentina, where her son lives.
Other poems use terza rima, a rhyming verse stanza form with an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme, which was used by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri in medieval times. Still others use a technique known as envelope quatrains.
“People sometimes ask, ‘Do you write free verse?’ And I say ‘yes’ — but I like playing with form a lot,” she says. “Some people say ‘These poems are dark.’ Well, some of them are.”
Schwartz also took up dancing around the time she retired from academic life.
“I’m in Pamela Trokanski’s Second Wind class, which is for dancers over 65. I had danced when I was young, I studied modern dance in junior high and high school, and in college. I love Pamela’s work, and what she does with the community.”
Schwartz also is a 35-year member of Davis Aquatic Masters. “Swimming keeps me going,” she says. She likes the 6 a.m. group “because it fits best with my work” as a poet and painter.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.