I first came to Eritrea in 1994, to interview artists for a book project, Africa: Women's Art, Women's Lives. Those artists became my guides to Eritrea's war-weary past.
Villages are the pulses of this small Horn of Africa nation. Frequently invited to share tea or coffee in adobe or stone and thatch homes, we sketched the mothers preparing tea or weaving baskets, children caring for other children or fetching water at the village pond. There were sheep and goat herders carrying long guide sticks, men plowing with oxen or leading camels to market. In the process, my eyes, hands, and heart merged with the pen lines that eventually filled many sketchbooks.
In 1995 I returned to Eritrea to present an art workshop at the Asmara School of Art. In all my 32 years of teaching, I had never experienced such enthusiastic students. They ranged from 10 young teachers in training to the majority of older, seasoned soldiers. The workshop culminated in an exhibit of more than 100 detailed pen drawings and acrylic paintings. Impressed by Eritreans who valued art in war as well as peace, I kept returning to visit friends and to continue our sketchbook ventures.
In my studio, select travel sketches placed on a wall near the easel became catalysts for the large acrylic paintings that emerged later in my home studio.