Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Jealousy and Murder in Easton, PA.

In my forty five years of being a Courtroom Artist, never have I covered such a gruesome trial.

Two weeks ago I was asked by the Allentown Morning Call newspaper to cover a murder trial, in Easton, PA.

The man on the right is the defendant, Michael Ballard, seated with his lawyers. At the time of the slayings, a year ago, he had just been paroled on a 15-to 30-year sentence for stabbing and slitting the throat of an
Allentown man, in 1991.

Ballard admitted he had very meticulously planned the murders of his girlfriend, her father, grandfather, and an
unfortunate neighbor, who heard screams, as "punishment" because he felt she was cheating on him. His
girlfriend's mother is on the left.

In the darkened courtroom, members of the jury view the bloody crime scene and autopsy photos on a big screen. Ballard stabbed his girlfriend 43 times.

This young woman is lucky to be alive. She found her friend's body in the kitchen, then ran screaming from the house when she heard Ballard in another room. It took Ballard approximately 12 to 15 minutes to complete his slaughter of four people that Saturday morning.

Ballard's lawyers presented testimony  via Skype from a County Sheriff and childhood friends in Arkansas, to imply an abusive childhood and head injuries contributed to Ballard's murderous mental state.

The jury didn't buy it. After deliberating for a bit more than two hours, they unanimously agreed Ballard deserved the sentence of death, on each of the four counts of murder in the first degree.

An unemotional Ballard was then led away by Sheriff's Deputies. Under the law, he has the right to appeal his sentences.

The general feeling among the citizens of Easton were summed up by this night security guard I met early on my first day in the courthouse. In this instance, it's very tempting to agree with him.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Nature's Wonders in Philly.

Exploring an island of green on Philly's western border.

Last Saturday the country boy in me ventured into a beautiful and magical forest, on the very western edge of Philadelphia.  http://www.schuylkillcenter.org/

The Schuylkill Center was founded in 1965. It is a natural setting high above the Schuylkill river, with six miles of trails, a stream, big and small ponds, meadows and wetlands. I felt right at home.

Here are Jenny Laden, Associate Director of the Environmental Arts Program, and two of her colleagues, at the edge of the Pine Plantation.

A truly magical space amidst giant evergreens, with school children darting in and out of the sunlight and shadows.

I was reminded of my brothers and me building forts in the woods, on our farm.

But none as sheltering and secretive as this rustic log structure.

Another structure; a boat made of twigs, created by a Chinese artist.

Mother Nature contributed her own art forms. I will return to paint this giant.

In contrast are these gently colored flowers, meandering along the banks of  "Smith Run", a stream flowing down through the forest to the Schuylkill river.

Here, deep into the woods, is "Wind Dance Pond."

A still-life, left in the night by Wood Sprites?

Not being a "Birder," I don't know what beauty left this feather in the middle of the trail.

A lizard frozen in time, eyeing the darting snake, on stones...

surrounding this mysterious pool. Steps leading up to...

the darkened interior of an abandoned Well House. Do Fairies dance within at night?

Hurrying up the trail at the end of the day...did I see a flicker of movement in this old stump?
Perhaps an impatient "Shape-Shifter," awaiting nightfall...?

Only in my dreams.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Monet Had His Haystacks.

There is a field behind my Dad's house that has been a constant source of visual delight to me.

For many years Pop's old country store sat in the hedgerow, having been moved  there from its original site, down on the corner. Like my Dad, it was retired after many years of service to the farming community.

Monet was  fascinated with the always changing light on his haystacks, in different seasons and times of day.

I've long felt the same way about the light down in the  hollow, on the trees and field, with the same need to capture it in paint.

One warm day last week, I set my easel up just inside the kitchen, and painted the view looking out the back door. At the end of  the afternoon I had three small water colors.

The first attempt ended up heading for the trash can. Much too busy in the trees, and generally pretty "mushy"
all over. A real stinker.

Painting number two, enveloped in sunlight,  I liked. A keeper.

I also liked number three, although there is too much blue in the shade side of the tree. The light was much softer, after clouds moved in. A "Gray day" painting that I'll use for reference in a bigger version, back in my studio. All in all, a fun way to pass the time while my Dad slept. Time to make supper.