Two Gallery Shows

I’m honored that my photo, Mystical Light, has been accepted for the 1650 Gallery exhibition, Light and Shadow. The LA gallery show opens April 23. I made this image at the architecturally fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum.

Mystical Light_by_Joan_Miller

I’m also happy to share that my  photo Desert Sunrise has been accepted for the upcoming Black Box Gallery show, Taking Pictures: 2016.  This image, viewable in the online annex gallery, was made at the historic Twentynine Palms Inn, where I stayed near Joshua Tree National Park. In addition to the park, the inn grounds and buildings are picturesque.


Apple Blossom Country

apple1Gala, Pink Lady, Jonagold, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Honey Crisp, Granny Smith, Fuji, Braeburn, Cripps Pink. Can you taste the sweetness and feel the crunch?

Washington state is the apple-growing leader nationwide. You’ll see proof of this if you drive around Yakima Valley or Wenatchee, where the orchards are concentrated. The other top regions are the Columbia Basin, Lake Chelan and Okanogan.

I wanted to photograph orchards in bloom for a while. I thought, rightly so, that huge stands of trees covered in white blossoms must be a sight to see. Not just apple trees bloom in the spring, but also pear and cherry. I had written off finding cherry orchards and focused on apples. Pears, if I found some, would be the ice cream on the apple pie, so to speak.

I had driven around Wenatchee once, soDSC_0993 I knew there were many orchards there. In fact, the town has an apple visitor center, where you can learn all about the state’s sweet crop. But Wentachee was a longer drive from Seattle than Yakima, so I scouted out some areas near Yakima last fall, and found an ideal spot in Zillah.

My gut told me this could be the time, but in order not to miss the blossoms, I needed to go have a look. To Zillah I headed. It’s about a two-hour drive through shrub-steppe country. There‘s a nice rest area near Selah with a view of Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams where I usually stop for lunch. There was a clear view of both peaks.

After my break I headed on to Zillah. But before I got there, I began to see orchards in bloom, and whitish blobs covering the hillsides in the distance. It took a minute to realize I was seeing apple orchards in peak bloom!

apple17I made a quick decision to take the next exit and find the road that was closest to the orchards. I was just ahead of Zillah, but I knew I didn’t need to continue on. I wouldn’t find anything better.

Past Remains

It turned out I had arrived in the little town of Buena, and buena it was! This is not a ritzy area and the homes are very modest, but it seemed that even the smallest papple9lot of land had a mini orchard on it. Apples are lifeblood here, or at least, a sideline.

I found a main road that stretched north to south, with orchards in view. I turned off to a side road to get closer to the trees. Along the way I found a big old abandoned house and just had to stop to photograph it. Large trees cast soft shadows on the grass in the bright sun. A hundred years ago it was a grand house, surrounded by farm land. Now its windows were gone and the inside all graffitied up. I wondered how such a once-grand house could get to this state.

house1house2house3house4house5That the house was left to stand was evidence of someone’s respect for the past, or a simple lack of money either to fix it up or tear it down. What happened? Who now owns the property? Perhaps the last owner died without family who could take over. Perhaps someone tried to sell it and gave up. Why had no one rescued it before it fell to vandals? The locals must have a name for it, maybe “the haunted house,” or “the Smith house,” or “the big house.”

Peak Bloom

But I had to move on and find my orchards! I scanned the landscape as I drove, and spied an orchard up a side road that looked promising. I turned around and headed up the hill. Beautiful orchards on either side of the road came into view. I pulled onto a dirt drive and got out of the car.

apple6apple10apple2As I was admiring the landscape, I could hear what sounded like a hawk nearby. I looked around and finally looked up. Overhead were four red-tailed hawks, perhaps two pairs, wheeling around and squawking. What a treat!DSC_1347DSC_1346





Across the road and along the irrigation canal was another orchard. Mt. Adams loomed to the west.

apple12apple3apple31apple15Upon close inspection of some blossoms, I noted that bees were happily buzzing from flower to flower. I wondered if the orchard owner had rented bees. I didn’t notice any hives, but I guessed that bees must be rented every year to apple18polliapple25nate all the trees.







When apples are harvested, they’re loaded into traditional wooden boxes, which hold 40 lbs. of fruit each. You can see these in big stacks here and there.apple11 On average, the state harvests 125 million boxes every year. Washington grows 6 out of every 10 apples eaten in the United States, and its apples are enjoyed in some 60 different countries.


Though the varieties that we export are a paltry drop in the apple crate when you learn there are 7,500 varieties of apples grown around the world. Apples arrived in the new North American world with the colonists.

Apple History and Lore

Archeologists have determined that apples have been eaten as long ago as 8,500 years, according to the Washington Apple Commission. Apples are said to have originated in Central Asia millions of years ago. So Adam and Eve might not have been the first to indulge.

Various notions and legends about apples have been passed down through generations. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We also say, “as American as apple pie.” Putting apples in a pie may be American, but now we know apples themselves are hardly American.

DSC_0986 - CopyWe have our folk hero, John Chapman, aka Johnny Appleseed, whom we imagine lived humbly, dressed shabbily and went barefoot, casting apple seeds everywhere he went. In fact, he was a nurseryman who collected seeds and raised trees.

apple30Crunchy, sweet and juicy.  Red, pink or yellow. The next time you bite into one of nature’s wonders, think of the growers who nurture their trees and the countless laborers who hand pick the fruit every year so you can enjoy it!

A Tale of Two Sisters

Sometimes it takes a few decades for something to come full circle.

Back in the 1970s, I lived and worked in Connecticut. New England is a wonderful place to go antiquing and browse flea markets. It was at just such a market that I happened to spot an old photograph, leaning against something on the ground, not very visible, not looking very valuable. It was quite dark and had a black frame, so the overall look was very dark indeed.

The image was of an old woman stooping over and placing some plant material in a big basket. The setting appeared to be some woods. The back held an inscription:


For years I wondered about the image. Was it truly a woman considered by the community to be a witch? after all, Deerfield was a hotbed during the heydays of witchcraft madness. Or was it just a model posing at one? Who were the Ray sisters? And who were Frances and Mary Allen?

Recently on a whim I decided to do some internet poking around to see what I could find. Instantly I turned up information about the Allen sisters, Frances and Mary, to whom my photo was attributed. How exciting! It’s so easy to play detective when you have the internet at your fingertips.

I read all about Frances and Mary, and their life and work in Old Deerfield, Massachusetts. I found an article from the New York Times that talked about them and their work, and a collection of Allen sisters photos in the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield.

These two talented, entrepreneurial women became quite successful in this medium at the turn of the twentieth century. They had been teachers, but began to suffer from hearing loss, and found interest, skill and financial security in photography. They received many awards for their photographs at various salons and exhibits, and their work was published in many periodicals. They made a good living from their art.

Here is an excellent website about The Allen sisters, with many of their images.

I quote from Suzanne Flynt on the website:

“In 1896, Frances and Mary Allen participated in the first American photography salon, the Washington Salon and Art Photographic Exhibition, sponsored by the Camera Club of the Capital Bicycle Club. Nine of their photographs appeared in this juried exhibition held at The Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C.; two received awards. The artistic photographs section, Class A, included 177 photographs; five were by the Allens. . . The second section, Class B, was devoted to photographs with excellent technical merits, and included 168 photographs. Frances and Mary were represented by four.”

In addition, Flynt writes, “the Smithsonian Institution “purchased fifty of the 345 photographs in the 1896 Washington Salon for their newly formed Division of Photographic History. Two Allen sisters’ photographs, Spring and Sybil, were acquired for $11.00 and $6.00 respectively.”

They caught the eye of Frances Benjamin Johnston, a noted photographer of the day, who was also the White House photographer for the Cleveland and McKinley administrations. She became a supporter and mentor for the two sisters.

I was riveted to the words and images on the Clio website, and searched for my image there. I did not find it, but found some similar images and knew I had the real thing.

I decided to contact the Memorial Hall Museum curator, Suzanne Flynt, to see whether the museum might like to have my piece in their collection. I had enjoyed the photo for decades and decided I could part with it. I emailed photos of the image to her, and she confirmed that the museum does not have this exact image. Good news! “The woman in the photograph is Miss Caroline Ray, who provided flowers to the Deerfield Church every Sunday,” noted Suzanne. Wow, another mystery solved!

The outcome: Suzanne would be pleased to have it, and I am pleased to donate it! Giving it to the museum seems like the right thing to do, to have it as part of the Allen sisters collection. I think Frances and Mary would be pleased.


The Witch of Old Deerfield will be home at last.

Black Box Gallery Honor


I am pleased to have my photo, Wind Farm, included in the Black Box Gallery’s January 2016 online exhibition, Landscape: Photography Now.

The photo also appears in the exhibition catalog. Here’s a link to the site.