Thursday, January 24, 2019

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings House Tour

 Pam Schwartz and I drove to Cross Creek, Florida to see the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings home. Her cracker-style home and farm, where she wrote her Pulitzer prize-winning novel The Yearling and other wonderful works of fiction, has been restored and is preserved as it was when she lived there.

She was born on August 8, 1896, in Washington, DC. In 1933, after the publication of her first book, she and her husband Charles were divorced; living in rural Florida did not appeal to him.

Her biggest success came in 1938 with The Yearling, a story about a Florida boy, his pet deer, and his relationship with his father, which she originally intended as a story for young readers. It was selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club, and it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. MGM purchased the rights to the film version, which was released in 1946, and it made her famous. Gregory Peck who starred as the father in the film adaptation is said to have stayed as a guest in Marjorie's Cross Creek home.

Marjorie loved the local characters who inspired the characters in her books. One cantankerous woman described by the author as an "angry and efficient canary" was enraged by how she felt she was depicted in one of the books. She sued the author for $100,000 in defamation. The case was eventually dismissed by a judge, but the case was overturned in an appellate court and the author was ordered to pay the woman $1 in damages. This was also a victory, but Marjorie must have payed lawyers plenty of money to defend herself. After this case she never again wrote about her Cross Creek neighbors. Hardened Florida neighbors would never again appear in the pages of her books. They just weren't worth it.

The cracker home is lovingly restored to look exactly as it did when Marjorie lived here. Chickens ran around the grass and a small orchard of orange trees was still in the back yard. She wrote about the struggle of trying to save a crop of these oranges from the freeze. In 2007, the house and farm yard was designated as a National Historic Landmark, our nation’s highest historic recognition. Marjorie died on December 14, 1953 in St. Augustine, Florida.

After touring the house, we went to the Yearling Restaurant (Hawthorne, FL) for pulled pork and a chance to sketch a local guitarist in the rustic setting. The musician seemed convinced I would make a mint on the sketch and seemed upset that I wasn't cutting him in on the yet-to-be-seen profits. Then we hiked in the Ocala National Forest where The Yearling was filmed. Only hints of the foundations remained of the movie set. We also ran across an old cracker cemetery with maybe 10 graves from early settlers. Hiking out we came across two hikers who had on short shorts and were carrying gardening sheers. There were two paths into the forest and they asked us how long a hike it was. Rather than take a path they started cutting their own path into the forest with the sheers. Pam kept looking back convinced they might be murderers. She was ready to take out the one on the right. The trail head is out in the middle of nowhere and oddly the two mystery hikers had no car parked at the entrance. It must be miles to the next town. Maybe they jogged, but they didn't seem winded.

In skimming news posts, I found out that bodies are always being found in Ocala National Forest. In 2018, a dismembered female torso was found by a hiker in the 387,000-acre forest. Police send out a photo of a beautiful robin tattoo in the hope that someone in the community might identify the remains. Within 24 hours, she was identified as Robin Lee Upson of Belleview, Fl. Christopher Lee Takhvar, 43, of Hawaii, became the number one suspect after Upson’s mother told detectives that her daughter and Takhvar had argued.

Takhvar was Upson’s business partner and had traveled from Hawaii to help her with some work.
While at Upson’s residence, the two began to argue. During the argument, he killed Upson and then stole her van. The van was later found in Orlando.

Takhvar claims that he killed Upson in self-defense. He stated that she came at him with a knife so he defended himself with a chainsaw that he “accidentally turned on” as he was defending himself. He then "accidentally" decapitated the woman and dismembered her body with the chainsaw. He cut off her arms, legs, and head and buried them in the backyard of Upson’s home. He then discarded her torso in the Ocala National forest.

Takhvar fled to Texas where he was arrested on August 15, on an outstanding Marion County warrant for Grand Theft Auto. 

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Paint Nite at Roque Pub

I went to Roque Pub, (3076 Curry Ford Rd, Orlando, FL 32806) because I saw an invitation for a Paint Nite, which I figured would be a great subject for a sketch. The invitation explained that pub patrons could create art over cocktails while guided by a professional artist and party host. Would be artists and friends would spend two hours drinking, laughing, and flexing their creative muscles. It sounded exciting.

Roque Pub used to be called Rogue Pub. I always find it odd that they changed the name. Roque is an American variant of croquet played on a hard, smooth surface. It was popular in the first quarter of the 20th century and billed "the Game of the Century" by its enthusiasts. I have never heard of it. Perhaps the pub name was changed because it was too close to Rogue Ales, which is an award winning brewery founded in 1988 in Ashland, Oregon, United States. Either way, Roque it is an odd name.

Sooo... I stopped in and got a beer. Long story short, there was no Paint Nite. It was canceled because no one signed up. A few folks were drinking at the bar, so I got to work and started sketching. There was an exciting game of darts going on. At Walt Disney Feature Animation, dart championships swept through the studio. With some of the most talented artists in the world playing, it was a badge of honor to even compete. Artists have some wicked eye/hand coordination, so I got my butt handed to me on many an occasion while trying to compete. I never returned to Roque to see if they do hold a paint nite. Who goes to a pub to get creative? Far better to go to knock back a few too many beers.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Future of Arts and Culture in Florida

The recently elected Anna Eskamani and Carlos Guillermo Smith, also an activist and member of the Florida House of Representatives, hosted this Legislative Town hall session about the Future of Arts and Culture in Florida. Florida is now ranked 48 of 50 in Arts and Culture funding. Last year the state only allocated 2.7 million for arts and culture non-profits, down from 25 million the previous year. Arts funding dropped an astronomical 90%. Orlando has a vibrant theater community along with world class museums and cultural centers. The bottom line is that the arts cannot grow if there is no investment in the future.

Florida is a very red Republican state. Orlando is a tiny blue bubble of artistic liberalism. After Pulse there was no response from Florida Representatives, but that might be because they were out of session at the time. The Marjorie Stoneman Douglas mass shooting however happened while representatives were in session. $400 million dollars were allocated to fund security in the schools across the state including $67 million to arm teachers with guns. This is a solution that only makes sense in the the twisted minds of representatives in the gunshine state. Carlos explained that this was used as an excuse to cut funding for the arts.

On March 13, 2019 Terry Olsen is organizing a bus trip up to Tallahassee for Arts Advocacy Day. It is a chance to meet representatives face to face and insist that the $61 million Department of Cultural Affairs grant program (DCA) be restored. The trouble with Florida Republican representatives is that they consider funding going to the arts to be funding LIBERAL Arts. The message that needs to reach their ears is that there is a solid return on investment. For every $1 invested in arts we see $5 to $11 in economic activity in return. It should be easy to see that arts and culture can encourage people to visit Florida.

A panel was seated at a long table consisting of Flora Maria Garcia from United Arts, Elizabeth Thompson from the Wells Built Museum, Joanne Newman from the Science Center, Mitzi Maxwell from Mad Cow Theater, and Chris Barton. Each offered their insights into the challenges of being a non profit struggling to get by with the ever-shrinking budget. Mitzi has been applying for grants for over 10 years. In the past, those grants were enough to help her theater grow but now all the organizations are fighting for the same few dollars. There used to be more DCA grants in the past. Funding to DCA has been cut as well.

Since Florida is 48th out of 50th in terms of supporting the arts, I decided to research the states that are doing a much better job at supporting the arts. Washington D.C topped the list and Hawaii came in third. Since Washington is shut down, I'm thinking it might be time to move to Hawaii. It is warm, just like Central Florida but less humid, and people really appreciate and invest in art there.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Monday, January 21, 2019

Mrs Wilkes Dining room in Savannah Georgia

I was traveling through Georgia with Pam Schwartz, John Naughton and a relative of John's named Ben Wozniak. John had researched Mrs. Wilkes' Dining room (107 West Jones St. Savannah, GA 31401) and it was the main reason we stopped in the historic city.

A line gathers each morning at 11 o'clock. That line literally wraps around the block. When the doors open, the lunch crowd finds seats at one of the large tables-for-ten shared by strangers. Tabletops are crowded with platters of fried chicken and cornbread dressing, sweet potato souffle, black-eyed peas, okra gumbo, corn muffins and biscuits. We had our choice of some 24 food options all on one table! The menu changes daily so regulars can have something different every day. There is a unique pleasure of having a meal shared with neighbors and strangers. Lunch is $23 per person but reservations do not exist. You just need to get in line and hope to get in. The place is closed in January so don't drive up that way immediately.

This dining experience was the highlight of the trip. You had to pace yourself to be sure you tried everything but had seconds of what you truly loved. It was like having Thanksgiving with strangers. John purchased the Mrs. Wilkes' Cookbook and Pam took down some of the recipes, so we will be trying some of these traditional southern dishes.

We also explored some of the city's historic squares in Savannah to walk off the huge meal we had. The final destination of the trip was Charleston, South Carolina where Pam and I visited my sister Shirley Steinmetz. The three of us went to the River Dogs' baseball stadium where the game was interrupted by a complete solar eclipse. We had the necessary solar glasses to watch the sun as it was eclipsed. When the day turned black everything became completely silent. Then as the sky began to turn light again, the game resumed.

My sister loves genealogy, as do Pam and I, so there was plenty to talk about at my sister's house. Pam has encouraged me to do research online and I am amazed at the amount of legal documents that are available at the press of a button. I am able to quickly find source documents to verify all the information on my tree. There are still road blocks, but the journey is what is exciting.

The road trip back to Orlando was as much fun as the trip north to Charleston. John Naughton did all the driving. He and Pam discussed recipes in the front seats and I dozed off in the back seat as the miles flew by.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Visiting Great Aunt Erma Gruhn

By Pam Schwartz

Since April of 2016 I have lost most of my grandparents generation of relatives: my Great Uncle Hugo at 88, Grandma Rose at 93, Grandma Martha at 97, Great Aunt Lucille at 98, and my Great Aunt Gladys at 100. 

 I moved to Florida in January 2016 and since then every time I have gone home, I have done my best to see each of them. This Thanksgiving and Christmas I spent as much time with my 99 year old Great Aunt Erma (my father’s aunt) as I could, (a bout with food poisoning and bad weather were unhelpful) which amounted to about 7-8 hours over both trips. 

During this time Aunt Erma and I talked about many things and I recorded our conversation as an oral history. Aunt Erma is the matriarch of my family and that last tie I have to my Grandparents’ generation. Since my Grandpa Vernon (her brother) died when I was 3 and my Grandma Martha never remembered, or didn’t share, many stories of her childhood, I have learned so much from her about them and it means so much to me. 

It’s amazing how much time you can spend talking to your family members and then when they pass you still have so many questions. I asked my Aunt Erma what it was like growing up with her parents and my grandpa. I find it sad that I never got to meet my great grandparents, but Aunt Erma only ever met one of her grandparents as the others passed before she was born. 

 On the Thanksgiving trip we talked about her childhood, my great grandparents, my grandpa (her brother), Christmas at their house, what they ate and did for fun, my great grandfather having had a ticket on the Titanic that he (luckily) gave up, she talked of my great-great uncle’s suicide just months after my great grandfather came from Germany to join him here in the US leaving him alone as a 14 year old boy to find his way, and more. 

She even told me stories about my mother’s mom that I wasn’t expecting since it was from the other side of the family. She described her, Rosie, as always being so jolly and full of fun. It made my heart melt to hear it, because that was the grandma that I had always known. Always a smile, and a twinkle in her eye. She explained that my Grandma Martha had a bit of a tougher upbringing and so was harder in a way, but said that you could always count on her to lend a hand, and bring lunch and a cake over for any illness, hardship, or holiday. And that too, was how I knew my Grandma Martha, though Erma provided more insight into Martha’s childhood then I ever thought I’d know. 

 It is hard to pick which stories to tell as so many were told in those seemingly fast running hours. Tom came with me over Christmas and did this sketch as Aunt Erma and I discussed her marriage, a falling out with my grandparents over the family farm, and the 1958 car accident which horrifically took my Grandma Martha’s brother and his wife, badly injuring their two children and my grandfather. 

As many interviews as I have recorded with my family, you can never capture all of the memories. If you have older loved ones, don’t wait. Spend time with them, ask questions, and record or write down what they say.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Otronicon at the Orlando Science Center

Otronicon just opened at the Orlando Science Center (777 E Princeton St, Orlando, FL 32803). The Orlando Science Center’s favorite interactive tech expo is back and better than ever. You can see Synthestruct’s audiovisual performance Viscerality, participate in workshops and hear from industry professionals. Plus, gaming competitions and a hair-raising Tesla Coil show!

I decided to sketch on my tablet since it is a bit high tech. I figure that was my way to blend in to the tech event. I walked the multiple floors of the exhibits and finally decided to sketch this slinky roller coaster exhibit. The nose of the pup was a photo opportunity with a small red platform that said, step up to be tall, sit down to be small. Parents loved to take photos of their kid on that red platform.

The body of the slinky dog was set up like roller coaster cars. People could get in and then they were handed headsets. They were shown an interactive video that showed the slinky as it roared down the roller coaster tracks. The video people were seeing was also broadcast on a TV up near the pups head, so I could keep track of what the people were experiencing as I sketched. A line formed and people came and went quite often.

To my left was an exhibit for Polytechnic University. Their slogan is, "Imagine what you can accomplish." Lori M. Huertas spoke to me about possibly stopping by the campus to show students how I use my iPad as a sketchbook. One woman was fascinated by my sketching and she asked me about the program I was using. Her son loves to draw and he already has an iPad. She said that finding me was the one thing that truly inspired her about the event and she plans to get the drawing program for her son. I just hope she realizes that the program wasn't doing the drawing, I was.

Much of Otronicon is about kids who love to play video games. As soon as I entered I could see crowds of kids competing in their virtual worlds. They shouted their annoyance when they died. I am hoping to meet and help inspire kids to transition from being video game consumers to becoming creators.

Otronicon is at the Science Center through Monday, January 21, 2019. Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. daily. General admission to Otronicon is free for Orlando Science Center members, $20.95 for adults, $18.95 for seniors and students, and $14.95 for youth (ages 3 – 11). Purchase tickets here.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Friday, January 18, 2019

Weekend Top 6 Pick for January 19 and 20, 2019

Saturday January 19, 2019
8am to 1pm Free. Parramore Farmers Market. The east side of the Orlando City Stadium, across from City View. Purchase quality, fresh and healthy food grown in your own neighborhood by local farmers, including Fleet Farming, Growing Orlando, and other community growers.

10am to 4pm Free. Commander's Call. Museum of Military History 5210 West Irlo Bronson Hwy Kissimmee FL 34746. This ongoing program is held on the 3rd Sat of each month is designed to appeal to families, military memorabilia collectors, history buffs, re-enactors & others interested in military history. In addition, persons interested in displaying, trading or selling their military items such as honor coins, swords, photographs, military buttons, scale model boats & planes, military art, uniforms or other equipment register in advance by calling the museum to reserve a spot. Re-enactors and ; veterans are welcome to come in uniform to add to the history & authenticity of the military experience. Non-military booths such as health care providers, home improvement, local attractions or other businesses are invited to be vendors for minimal donation.
INFO: 407-507-3894 or to register your table space.

4pm to 8pm Free. Cruisin' Downtown DeLand Car Show! East Indiana Ave Downtown DeLand, Deland FL. Classic cars and rods. Live DJ, giveaways, shopping and dining. Fun for the family! Every 3rd Saturday night!
INFO: and for showing your car 386-738-0649

Sunday January 20, 2019
9am to 9pm Free. Gasperilla Pirate Festival.  Bayshore Boulevard, Bayshore Blvd, Tampa, FL.
The world famous Seminole Hard Rock Gasparilla Pirate Fest will take to the streets of South Tampa along Bayshore and into Downtown Tampa.
The annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest has been invading Tampa Bay for over 100 years now. From the water invasion, to the street parade, over half a million people will be showered with beads and entertainment of all kinds!
The Gasparilla Festival is the pride and joy of the city of Tampa and a must-attend event.
Enjoy a pirate party with the dazzling parade featuring bands, beads, floats, and more. There will be great live entertainment, food, drinks, and much more throughout the Gasparilla Parade.
Experience the Gasparilla Festival in Tampa on land or water but don't miss out on the amazing pirate festivities!
11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Gasparilla Invasion
Route: The Jose Gasparilla sets sail at the south end of Hillsborough Bay at 11:30am., sails north to Seddon Channel and; docks at the Tampa Convention Center at 1:00 pm.
9:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Gasparilla Invasion Brunch
Location: Tampa Convention Center
Admission: Tickets are REQUIRED for adults and for children over the age of two.
2:00 p.m. – approx. 5:30 p.m. Parade of the Pirates
Route: The Gasparilla Parade begins at Bay to Bay Blvd & Bayshore Blvd. It continues along Bayshore Blvd to Brorein St., turns east on Brorein St,, then north on Ashley Dr. Parade ends at Cass St. and Ashley Dr. FREE to attend.

10am to Noon Free. Heartfulness Relaxation and Meditation Class. University, 5200 Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32811. The Method of Heartfulness A simple and practical way to experience the heart’s unlimited resources. 

Noon to pm Free. Yoga. Lake Eola park near red Gazebo. Bring your own mat.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Christmas Day in Iowa

There is no internet reception in this small Iowa town except with a daily brief phone hot spot, so I didn't write up the Christmas posts until I got back to Orlando. Christmas day the kids presents were boxed up under the tree. There was some attempt at setting order in opening the presents, but the kids had ideas of their own and it became a free-for-all of ripping paper as presents were opened. Allie got a pretty sweet mermaid's tail from Pam, Jenni, and I. It is made of really warm fleece and is great for cuddling up on a cold night. It is also rather large because Pam demonstrated how it worked for her parents several days before Christmas. I am pretty certain it is far more hip that the bunny suit pajamas modeled in A Christmas Story. Pam and I ended up with some pretty great warm winter socks. They were needed to keep our feet warm at night since no amount of covers are quite warm enough.

This was the first Christmas where the family didn't go to Grandmother's house for a big family meal. Grandma Martha Schwartz passed away this year leaving a void in that holiday tradition.  Instead, a large roast was cooking in the oven all day. An extra table was brought out so everyone could find a seat. Luke ate two heaping plates of meat. I have never seen a man eat so much meat in one sitting. For me that was the Christmas miracle of the day. I helped in clearing the tables and then the games resumed for the rest of Christmas day.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Christmas Eve Cookies

On Christmas Eve in Iowa, Kimberly brought out the blank Christmas cookies for decorating. Icing came in three colors of squeeze tubes and there were sprinkles of every variety. Allie Rose turned a snowman cookie into the bloodiest Santa Claus with a green beard. She glopped the icing on with zealous glee. She was encouraged to be more conservative with her icing but her style was thick and gloppy.

Kimberly clearly has an artistic streak because her cookies turned out being maser pieces. The biggest tree cookie was meant to be a cookie decorated by everyone at the table, but Kim decorated is so beautifully that no one else dared touch it. I decided to add one ornament as my contribution. Pam decorated a tree cookie with a Zorro slash of red ribbons and some very fancy snow flake sprinkles for ornaments.

Destiny also had a real knack for decorating cookies. Hers were well though out and cleanly executed. The candy cane had just the right mix of red and green stripes, and a snowman's smile had 5 individual green sprinkles to represent his teeth.

I decided to decorate a cookie myself after the sketch was done. The cookie looked like a thought bubble. I had no idea exactly what it was meant to be, so I ended up creating a rather abstract cookie with a green Grinch face at the center. I later found out that the cookie was supposed to be shaped like Santa's head which makes sense in hind sight. I didn't actually eat any of these cookies, but I bet Allie's Bloody Santa cookie was the sweetest of all. This was a fun and creative family activity that I enjoyed documenting and participating in.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Game Night in Iowa

The night before, we had watched a West World marathon for who knows how many hours. This evening was set aside for games, be they board games, card games, what have you. Preston was over for part of the night. He sat on the recliner chair scrolling through his iPhone. Pam sat at the kitchen table, which is mission central for games. Since Preston was up for a game that meant I wouldn't be needed to fill out a a four player set.  That left me time to complete this sketch.

For the first time, I re-cropped the sketch several time as I was working on it. This is a feature I have been waiting for. In this case I had to make the sketch a bit bigger since Preston sat in the foreground. I didn't want to crop him off at the knees. The Christmas tree was to my left and can be seen reflected in the sliding glass door in the back of the scene.

I used the perspective tool to chisel in the composition quickly. When I started painting, the lights were off in the kitchen and when they were turned on, I kept painting to lighten up the scene. This was a good way to work guaranteeing that I progressed from dark to light. There is an inviting warmth to the scene as the family gathered around the table to play.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at