Tribute to Claude Monet

Every day you create, you touch something beyond yourself.

How much effort are you willing to put forth to pursue your artistic vision? Would you move to a new location? Divert a stream? Build a pond? Plant a garden? The founder of impressionism, Claude Monet did all of these things to create an environment for painting.

Most creatives find places to go for inspiration, few construct that place. This summer I visited Monet’s garden in Giverny, France, located west of Paris. Monet came to Giverny in 1883 where he lived and painted until his death in 1926. Alongside his property, he had a pond built taking water from a branch of the Epte River, a tributary of the Seine. His famous “Water Lilies” paintings were inspired by this pond. Click the link to view.

A view of the Lily Pond with the Japanese bridge in the distance.

Worth the Effort

Under Monet’s direction, a small army of gardeners, planted an exotic collection of weeping willows, bamboo trees, and flowers. He often referred to his garden as his “finest masterpiece.” But Monet wasn’t only interested in the plants around the pond, he obsessed with the pond itself. He studied the effects of light on the water at all times of the day and during every season. He painted 250 oil paintings of water landscapes. Any representation of sky or land is shown as a reflection in these works.

Up close and personal with a water lily.

Not Without Critics

Every cutting edge creative has a few critics, of course. The question is, “Do you allow yourself and your art to be hampered by the opinion of others?” When the local authorities learned that Monet had imported his water lilies from Egypt and South America, they demanded he uproot the plants before they poisoned the water system. Monet simply ignored them. As time went on, his paintings became more abstract, challenging the conventions of Parisian art in the modern age. This disturbed many patrons who normally commissioned artists to paint realistically. Their comments did not deter Monet from expressing himself.

No Stranger to Hardship

Do you give up when the going gets tough? At the age of 82 Monet discovered he had cataracts. The deterioration of his eyesight terrorized him. Still he continued to paint, determined to create what he saw. He painted the Japanese Bridge in fiery shades of yellow and red. Click here and scroll down to view a painting that expresses the emotions of Monet at this time.

A Bigger Reach

Monet pioneered the idea that artists could express themselves as individuals. Looking back we can appreciate the contribution he made to the art world, changing it forever. No artist can know how their work might be viewed historically. Every day you create you touch something beyond yourself.

In the garden.

Bletchley Park : Britain’s Best Kept Secret

Can you keep a secret? In today’s social media culture, many people can’t. Try to imagine not discussing any information about your work with fellow employees and immediate family members for thirty years.

Welcome back to my D-Day Anniversary Tour. This summer my husband and I took a Viking Cruise which included Normandy, Paris, and London. I was impressed by our time spent at Bletchley Park, located outside of London in Buckinghamshire. The estate was the home of Sir Herbert Leon until 1938. Then it became one of the most important centers of British intelligence during World War Two.

“The greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.”—Arnold Dahl

The British government purchased the serene fifty-five acre country estate because it afforded privacy and security. Nearby transport links to Oxford and Cambridge connected the estate to academia. Bletchley Park had its own power and water supply which guaranteed safe drinking water at all times.

No one in the surrounding community knew what was really going on at Bletchley. High chain link fences were erected around the perimeter. Neighbors thought it was a lunatic asylum. This impression was reinforced at the local pub, where brilliant and somewhat eccentric codebreakers spoke to each other in Ancient Greek. Ordinary folk who lived around the secret base were baffled by the unusual people in their midst.

Why so Secret?

The mission of Bletchley was to intercept, translate, and decrypt German communications and notify Allied troops of Nazi battle plans. Any breech of information that might get back to the Nazi’s would be disastrous. At the peak of its operation nine thousand employees worked here. All of them were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act of Britain. The penalty for careless talk could warrant imprisonment. Signs like the one posted below encouraged workers to not talk about their work. This pact of secrecy was enforced until the mid 1970’s.

A reminder to the Bletchley workers to not share information.

Of course not all nine thousand employees worked in the beautiful Bletchley mansion. Huts were erected on the property where most of the codebreaking occurred. The huts were dark and hot inside. All windows were covered with black blinds to keep staff from knowing what work was being done inside the neighboring hut. German messages were passed from one hut to another via a makeshift wooden tunnel.

After a ten year restoration project, the huts were opened to the public in 2004. No photographs existed of the buildings. All were restored by volunteers advised by veterans who worked here.

Cracking the Nazi Codes

Nazi communications were written using the Enigma. This machine looked like a typewriter except it substituted one letter for another creating an encrypted message. When an encrypted message was received by another Enigma, the operator would retype the gibberish and decode the actual message. A British mathematician at Bletchley, Alan Turing invented the Bombe, a machine that cracked the encrypted Nazi’s codes, and speeded up the process.

A replica of a Bombe machine.

Several Bombes were located in Hut 11 and were operated by members of the Women’s Royal Navy Service. (WRNS) The women worked eight hour shifts six days a week . Many of them were young, in their late teens and early twenties. The work was noisy as the rows of drums revolved. The smell of hot oil emanated from these machines. The women had little or no understanding of the importance of their work, but knew they had to keep each machine running. The Bombes of Hut 11 enabled the decrypting of three thousand German messages a day. Throughout the war and for years afterwards the women kept their contract of secrecy.

The work performed at Bletchley Park is thought to have shortened the length of the Second World War by two years. Winston Churchill thanked the (WRENS) for “laying the golden eggs without clucking.”