Jacki Kellum

Juxtapositions: Read My Mind

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When What You See Is Not What You Get – Symbolism in Art and Writing

Symbolism is a peculiar game. You say or paint one thing, but you mean another, and the odd thing is that you really want people to figure what that other thing is all about and yet, you camouflage your meaning. It is rather like the silly game that is played by petty wives.  When their husbands hurt their feelings or if their husbands forget birthdays or anniversaries, the wives sulk.

The husband asks, “What’s wrong?”


“But I know something is wrong.”

Even though the woman protests that something has upset her, she behaves as though something has, and she wants the husband to guess what that something is. It is as though the true test of love is clairvoyance. If another person can see deep into my soul, he wins.

When I was married, I wanted nothing more than for my husband to stop on his way home, even if it was on a deserted lot, and to pick me bunches of wildflowers or daisies or red clover or whatever else that he could find. But he never did. A smarter wife would have simply said, “I need flowers from you at least once per month.” But that would have ruined the whole thing for me. I needed for my ex-husband to intuitively know that I needed flowers–even free flowers–at least once per month. I seemed to believe that if another person could read my mind, and if he could decipher all of my wants and my needs, he would be my one, true love. No doubt, that is a reason that I am divorced.

But I play that same kind of game with my art. Allow me to illustrate my point:


Thanksgiving Across the Lake – Watercolor by Jacki Kellum

A couple of years ago, I was home alone for Thanksgiving, and I was remembering Thanksgivings of my past–a time when family, hearth, and home seemed to glow a great deal more than they do for me now. I was a little bit depressed, and  I painted Thanksgiving Across the Lake.  I could write the long version of this post, explaining in detail that the painting and its meaning grew AS I painted it; but I’ll summarize by assuring you that I did not realize exactly what I was painting nor why until I completed the work.   By the end of the painting session [not before then], I knew how the final painting would look; I knew what the title would be; and I knew what the painting would mean.  Notice that the “evergreen” trees are hardly green at all. They are dark and bluish.  The Thanksgiving colors dance around my painting; but the most warmth–the greatest glow is not in the center of attention–not in the main grove of trees that are in the foreground. That was where I was standing in this piece, and that was a dark and foreboding place. The golden and glowing warmth of Thanksgiving was within sight but not where I was standing. It was across the lake, somewhere that I could not reach. In a symbolic way, my painting says that happiness and home were in a place that I could not trouch or access in any way.


December River – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum

As I painted the creek or the river that is snaking its way across the snow in the above painting, I thought about Joni Mitchell’s song River.  I consider Joni Mitchell to be the greatest poet of my generation; and every time that I hear her sing River, tears well in my eyes.

Not wanting to try to ride on Joni’s coat tail, I initially decided to just name my painting December 1, but in writing this post, I decided to be totally honest.  My painting means more than December 1.  I am not Kandinsky, and my paintings are more than mere numbers.  My painting December River means that I, too, wish that I had a River I could skate away on……Thank you, Joni Mitchell.  No one has said it better than you.

I do not want to be the prophet of doom; but both of the paintings that I have shared today have been a reaction to the holidays and to my own feelings of aloneness during this time.  Yet, on a more positive level–on an art-as-therapy level–perhaps my art [both my visual art and my writing] are my River that I do skate away on. I do that through symbols.

I often write in symbols, too. At least 15 years ago, I wrote a group of short verses about flowers. My idea was to illustrate each flower and to publish the book of paintings and verses together, and I would call the volume Garden Songs. [Shhhh! I didn’t just tell you that. I still plan to do it. But like so many other things, I simply haven’t gotten it done yet].

Keep in mind that I want all of the poems to be very short so that they don’t detract from the paintings that will be the true focus of the page. Even though the verses are short, however, I want them to have greater meaning. I want the verses and the images to be symbols for greater truths. Here is the poem that I wrote about Snapdragons:

The Painted Parade
by Jacki Kellum

Watch the painted parade,
With bold and biting dragons,
Teasing all the toddlers—even me!

They’re really just pretending.
Everyday’s a New Year,
A fun and festive firework jamboree.

© Painted Parade Jacki Kellum October 19, 2015

My grandmother always had snapdragons in her garden, and I used to love to pinch the snapdragons and allow them to bite me or to at least close around the tip of my finger and nibble. When I heard the dragon part of the word “snapdragon,” I thought about the Dragon Dance in the Chinese New Year’s Parade, and that provided me a springboard into what would become part of my greater meaning.

Therefore, on one level, the poem is simply about a colorful bed of flowers that have the capacity to nibble at my fingertips–like a biting dragon. On another level, the parade is talking about the non-scary, scary dragon in a Chinese parade. But on the deepest level, my poem is about something entirely different.

When I said, “Watch the Painted Parade,” I was actually chastising all of the people around me that I thought were being pretentious, wearing masks, and playing games.

My simple, little ditty about Snapdragons was actually a symbol for the way that I felt deep within myself about people who are fake. I do this type of thing all of the time. In other words, what you think that you see in my art and in my writing, is not all that there actually is. My art and my writing are only the tips of an iceberg that lies deeply within me.

Now, here is the silly part: I actually want my viewer and my reader to know what I am thinking, but just like a silly wife, I want you to guess what that is. As I pointed out yesterday, in writing and painting in symbols and metaphors, I may be playing a bigger game than the people in the Painted Parade, but at least, I do dare to look inside myself.

Too many people are nothing more than the surfaces that they reflect to everyone around themselves. Although I am lacking in many ways, I know that I am much, much more than a shallow image, and my art and my writing are keys to some of the gems that I keep locked inside.

You use a glass mirror to see your face; you use works of art to see your soul. – George Bernard Shaw

©Jacki Kellum September 10, 2017


Happy National Dog Day – German Shepherd Dog Drawn by Jacki Kellum – Tribute to Former Pro Baseball Player Mark Littell

Today is National Dog Day, and I thought that this would be a good time to share my most recent dog drawing.

Fritz – A German Shepherd Dog Drawn in Pencil by Jacki Kellum

This is an iPhone photo of a drawing that I have begun of what I believe Mark Littell’s dog Fritz looked like. Mark Littell is about to release his second memoir book Country Boy Conveniently Wild. This new book is about Mark’s childhood before he became a professional baseball player and pitched for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals. Mark and I grew up together, and he has asked me to do some drawings for his book. That is my main project now.

Sunflower – Watercolor Painted by Jacki Kellum

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Most people only know that I can paint wild, colorful flowers, but when something doesn’t call for a wild, colorful flower, I can also draw, and I would say that to lllustrate Mark’s childhood, I won’t need many florals.

Mark and Eric Littell and Fritz

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This drawing is a close-up study of the head of one of the geese that I am drawing for Mark’s book. One of Mark’s stories is about a flock of geese this his dad bought to weed the cotton fields. The geese terrorized Mark and his younger brother Eric.

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Mark and I grew up in Gideon, Missouri. In the class photo above, I am on the top row–the second person from the left.

Mark Littell’s Senior Picture

Mark Littell was a good-looking boy who was about three years younger than I, but because our families were friends and took trips together. I knew Mark  fairly well. Mark recently reminded me that our families would frequently go to a  little local restaurant [it was not much more than a diner] for Sunday dinner. The restaurant was named The Clarktonian [the Clarktonian is situated in the town Clarkton].  The Clarktonian was one of those places that had great coffee and a wall of homemade pies. Rich and creamy, homemade coconut pie in buttery and crispy crust comes to my mind.

Mark’s first book On the Eighty Day God Made Baseball is filled with stories about the days that Mark played ball first for the Kansas City Royals and second for the St. Louis Cardinals. You can buy the book at Amazon Here

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Mark’s second book will be titled: Country Boy Conveniently Wild. Both Mark and I are country people and both of us are pleased to be able to look back at how growing up in the country has enriched our lives. In the above image, you see the initial marks that I made, as I began to draw a country mail box.

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Here is that same mail box, a few hours later. The drawing is still incomplete and messy. One of the stories that Mark Littell tells in his new book is about the “loco” weed that grew wild along the ditch banks and country roads of our rural home. In the above drawing, I am practicing weed drawing. This isn’t Mark’s loco weed. I’ll leave that to your imagination. I work on several pieces a little bit each day. That helps keep me fresh. This is just day 1 on the mail box. It will get better. I am using #2 Ticonderoga pencil and Ebony pencil for my drawings. I’ll probably paint this, too .

For a while, drawing and painting farm scenes was done so very much that it became hokey, and as I embrace the challenge to illustrate my country heritage, I want to avoid hokey sentimentality. I live on the New Jersey Shore now. My current home is close to Philadelphia and to New York City–far away from the cotton fields that cradled me as a child, but I cherish my childhood in rural Southeast Missouri, and I  want my drawings to express some of the dignity, as well as some of the softness and some of the rustic vintageness that is part of country living.

Be looking for Mark’s new book, which should be released before the new year. I’ll be drawing and painting several things about the country between now and then. I’ll keep you posted.

©Jacki Kellum August 26, 2017




My Kitchen Is Almost Complete: Story of a Miracle

America has become a jiffy society. We are accustomed to instant everything. I am surviving a seemingly never-ending kitchen makeover that defies the American norm. It has been anything but quick. In fact, I have essentially had no kitchen for three years–the period that my remodel has required–but it does seem that the project is nearing completion.

Last week, my crew installed my cabinets and yesterday, they installed my marble countertop.

Yesterday, I ordered the old Chicago brick for the backsplash and to run behind my stove.

 Old Chicago Brick

I hope to enclose the range and hood within bricks, sort of like this:

I hope that I have a sink and dishwasher installed next week and the moulding the following week. The new tile floor and brick backspash will follow and Voila! I’ll have a functional kitchen.

Allow me to preface my story by admitting that I brought this long wait without a kitchen on myself. Almost three years ago, I ripped out the wall that divided 2 small, 10′ x 10’ rooms that had been built to serve as my house’s kitchen and my dining room. Both of the diminutive areas were dark and constrictive. I always felt that I could hardly breathe in them, and while a table for 6 would fit in the dining room, it was not large enough for 6 people to sit in the chairs. Neither the kitchen nor the dining room were adequate.

bluekitchen1On top of it all, my kitchen floors and counters were an obnoxious color of blue, and the flooring was a cheap, roll vinyl.

A couple of times, I considered selling my house and I briefly listed it both times. People would walk through the front door and about 15 feet through a nice living room, which has old hardwood floors. Their faces would seem calm and perhaps even pleased until they reached the kitchen. Once would-be-buyers saw my blue kitchen, their expressions would sour and within minutes, they were out the door and off to look at someone else’s house. I realized that a kitchen re-do was eminent. With sledge hammer in hand, I myself knocked down the wall between the old kitchen and dining room, but I had no idea how I would ever afford to replace what I had destroyed.

Not realizing how long the process would be, I donated my appliances to Goodwill, and for a full year, I had no stove or kitchen sink. I cooked with a crock pot, a microwave, and an electric skillet. Finally, I bought a few cabinets, and I had my old sink installed in my family room/bar. My first handyman was a loser–He was more of a doper and crook than anything else, and he caused more problems than he corrected. In fact, I wrote a poem about him.

A Limerick for My Contractor
by Jacki Kellum
I hired me a contractor who
Preferred the white the powder and flew
Clear out the door.
My money! You boar!
My house is still far from half-through.

After that guy fled, my project was paralyzed for more than two years. During that time, I have been forced to look at my half-down wall that looks like giant rats have been eating it, and after I yanked up the blue linoleum, I have been forced to see the scabby-looking sub-floor.

It all became depressing to me. I had almost given up on my kitchen project, but just before I did so, things began turning around for me. A series of miracles began falling on me. A wonderful family gave  me a complete kitchen that is gorgeous. It comes with a magnificent commercial range and hood, cabinets, and a marble countertop. In this case, one man’s trash is more than any treasure that I could have imagined.

I have even found a builder that I can barely afford, but I know that I can trust him. He has completely rewired and re-plumbed my kitchen, and we are beginning the final stages of my kitchen re-do. I am a Christian, but I rarely talk about my religion. Yet, I do believe in miracles.

My kitchen is a miracle.

Another friend gave me the garden window, and yet another dear friend has fronted me enough money to finally finish this project.

The wall between the breakfast nook and the kitchen is down, and we’ll finish that project next

I am planning a series of parties to celebrate with my friends. At Halloween, I am hosting a campfire and storytelling party. We will roast hot dogs and everyone is invited to tell their favorite Halloween story. At Thanksgiving, I am truly giving thanks for my new kitchen. I am cooking an old-fashioned Southern Thanksgiving dinner-Southern cornbread dressing, dumplings, fried corn, fresh green beans and bacon, squash, pumpkin soup, fresh cranberry sauce, and pies galore. Everyone is invited.

©Jacki Kellum August 13, 2017


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