Lois Reynolds Mead

Art and a pink monkeyflower in a native plant garden…


Chang’s Elephants…

In January of this year, I had a unique experience of setting up an art show in my community library. Along one wall were the paintings of my father and in a glass case would be my collages and handmade books. This was a large case with four shelves. The bottom shelf was quite low and my work that needs to be standing up really could not be viewed well from that vantage point. At the last moment I decided to open some old sketchbooks of my father’s to lay flat on the shelf and they could be seen perfectly. In fact there was quite a lot of comment at the artists’ reception about the uniqueness of the sketchbooks. When I took down the show and took everything home I realized that the sketchbooks I had there were just the tip of the iceberg. So I cleaned out a cabinet and gathered all that I have together and went through them. My stack of notebooks also included a mock-up of a children’s book my father must have put together in the early 50’s. It was called “Bobby Goes To The Circus”. I thought there was a story line there and I wanted to share the wealth of sketches with Chang’s descendents.

In March, I got to visit Portland where they had a baby elephant born last November. On a lovely day with my niece, Katura, I was able to shoot video at the zoo and I enlisted her to record a soundtrack narration for me.

The Bobby in the title of the story is my big brother Bob. There is a sketch of him from the back discussing the anatomy of elephants. There are two pictures of me (young, thin, and with long hair) from 1974. They were taken by my father (always in black and white and printed 8″x10″) and are from the first year I was married and the first year I lived in Redlands, California. My parents came out to visit and since there was a small circus on a vacant lot just outside of town we took Jed, Bob’s son at around one years old, to see his first elephant. Jed’s son, Jesse, is the narrator of the story. Katura, Bob’s daughter and Jed’s sister, who is an artist in her own right contributed some sketches of our day at the zoo and helped to get a recording of Jesse reading the story. Jesse has an impressive, expressive reading style and is a premier blooper comedian. I do believe he has a career ahead of him as a voice-over artist.

I had to shoot through glass to get video of Baby Lily, so I apologize for stray reflections, but we were so lucky to see her momma perform for a little kibble dessert. Only one chance to get that shot! You should know that being a baby elephant is some kind of hard work and sometimes you just have to plop down wherever you are. Some of the pages of the sketchbooks have yellowed with age but they are a treasure I wanted to collect to share with you. Any relatives wishing a copy on CD to store in trunks in their attics…just let me know.

The lights have dimmed, the spots have come up. The ringmaster has come into the tent. Children of all ages…have some fun!


The elephant in the room…

or, as it is known in some circles, pondering the pachyderm…

“When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it’s best to let him run.”
Abraham Lincoln

I spent a lot of time in front of the elephants at the Oakland Zoo a few weeks ago. Since then, I have been thinking about them often. I have early memories of circuses and zoos as my father would take us as kids along¬† (with his sketchbook) to any circus that came through town. Many family day trips were to the Griffith Park or San Diego Zoos for him to catch up with his animal keeper friends and get some drawing done. I think I associate sketchbooks with the smell of hay and peanuts. After I entered school and questions like, “What’s your favorite color?” became pressing, when I asked my dad what was his he would say: “elephant’s breath grey.” (When I was an art teacher I often thought that the name should be submitted to Crayola for their boxes.) Even though his name was Charles, my father had gotten the nick name of Chang when he was in art school. The name came from an elephant in the zoo that was his favorite to draw and he was always known by the name afterward. He kept a record of every elephant’s history that was in the United States and wrote articles and a book on circus history. So, when I ponder elephants, I really ponder elephants from a long family history.

My parents on an early date…………….Wait for it…

My dad is just off camera holding the pole. Even though he took her into a lion’s cage, my mother married him anyway!

The “elephant in the room” is always very literal with me because I have so many on my walls…

A watercolor from 1940 of raising a circus tent:

My father also made lithographs.¬† (During World War II he was stationed in Texas for Officer’s Training School where he learned lithography from Merritt Mauzey.) When he got out of the war, he purchased a lithograph press with a war bond his brother gave him. (I think in celebration of them both having survived the war.) That press was always stored in our garage.

“Circus Sunrise” 1942

Babe and Jenny, 1952.

In the 60’s and 70’s he loved doing acrylic ink dry brush paintings. He used to rave about the way he could build up the tone with layers of ink. He did a lot in black and white ink, but some were in color. He also painted in oil, but I do not have any elephants painted in that medium, lots of clowns in oil, though.

The top of my piano also includes the death-defying Stella griping a rope by her teeth and a porcelain elephant sculpture by my good friend Jan Mrozinski Crooker (before she was a plein air painter she worked in porcelain).

When I was a production potter, back in the day, I often used the circus as a theme, also.

Photos of old porcelain boxes with new application of iPhone alteration.

It was a natural thing for me to use an elephant as the subject of a collage for a class I have been taking on-line from Misty Mawn.

I used every “elephant’s breath grey” paper I could find around here for the elephant plus a photo of a bird house I own that is shaped like an elephant and a photo of an exotic yellow bird I took at the rain forest exhibit at the Academy of Sciences last week. Of course, once I had taken the iPhone photo of the paper collage, I just had to start layering it with other images in my files. First with a photo of a side of a barn plastered with circus posters announcing the date of the next circus…

Then with a photo of a wheel of a circus wagon…

“Words are cheap. The biggest thing you can say is ‘elephant’.”
Charlie Chaplin