May 17, 2010

Color, Kent State Art History, and Mark Rothko

I have always loved winter and snow; when I lived in Florida I missed the changing seasons much. (Darn that ol' sun, shining all the time.) The light in Sarasota is beautiful though, folks come from very far away to paint on the west coast of Florida, just because of the quality of the light.

I've also always liked white and black. In accessories, in clothes, in DisneyWorld's It's A Small World After All ride with all the white cut out pretty scenes (at least I saw them like that 25 years ago!).

So, this February when we had all that snow, you know, when Philadelphia got like 30 inches! I was surprised to find myself mentally fatigued from all that "white stuff." Out our kitchen window: white. Looking up at the sky: light gray. The trees: gray trunks, white branches. The ground, white. Our house, white. Mailbox: white. The only color at all was the very sad maroon peaking out from under the snow on my van.

I had tired of white and I'm not sure I will ever love it the same way again. Dear past art teacher, I know it is "all the colors combined" but please.... if you can't see the colors, what does it matter? I missed green, red, brown, a way I hadn't ever before in my life. I wanted Spring to arrive so much I found myself standing at the kitchen sink, staring out at the woods and valley across the road and imagining what it would be like a few months forward and is!

The color has returned and all is right with the world.

Speaking of color, when I was in my second year at Kent State I started painting purely for the love of shapes and colors. Large abstract paintings with shapes of pure color. I loved it. So, apparently, did my art history professor, Dr. Harley*, as he had me drag one of the paintings to his office, then grabbed his camera and I followed him out into the sun in front of the art building where he took my picture with the painting. I thought, wow, this must be pretty good, but decades later I suspect he took pictures of many of his students and their paintings. If I was an art professor with a love of history, I would have too.

One of the main things I remember about Dr. Harley, other than his encouragement of my work, was his method of teaching art history. There was another art history teacher in the department who read from a lecturn while slides were shown and we noted what to memorize. My notebooks had little sketches of the paintings and sculptures to remind me what was what. Everything was memorized.

Not in Dr. Harley's class. We discussed art movements in the context of social and political movements. I began to understand the role of the artist in society and the way art projects, precedes, and reflects the life around the artist, the life inside of the artist. But the most interesting thing I remember Dr. Harley saying was that it didn't matter if we could memorize facts, one day there would BE A DEVICE that would have all the facts inside of it. We would type in what we wanted to know and the answer would come up. It would give us facts, but it couldn't think for us, so he was teaching us what no machine could.

Wow, would there be such a device, I thought. That would be so cool and it wouldn't matter that I have such a stinky recall of Very Important Events in History (not to mention faces, chronological order of events...) Anyhoo.... the iPad, iPod, personal computer, Kindle... all unknown to me, but predicted by dear Dr. Harley. I hope he lived to see his predictions come about and I wonder how he envisioned they would change the nature of art and the lives of artists.

Years after art school, I was married, had children, divorced, moved from Ohio to Florida to Ohio and bought an old house. In the house was a window, tucked into the dining room, that faced west. Each evening the sun would shine through the old window shade and this is what I would see (see photo at left). I loved this, it was like a beautiful painting appeared in my house every evening. I didn't want to replace the old shade because I would lose this magic.

A while ago I was searching images on Google (yes, Dr. Harley, there is an Internet!) and came across this
Mark Rothko painting.... I love color!

* I believe this was his name. It may have been Dr. Harvey. I see, doing a Google search that there is a Ted Harvey, faculty emeritus, at KSU's College of Art. But I cannot find more info on him or a photo. The Dr. Harley who taught at Kent State in the late 70s seemed like an older gentleman to me at that time, but he was probably in his mid to late 40s! And, it seems I couldn't pull up his exact name on the Internet as easily as I'd hoped.

May 13, 2010

Art Dolls

The recent flooding (flooding is really too severe a word for only 2 inches of rain...) of my art/craft studio saw Mark and me hustling a variety of objects to drier ground. Here are a few dolls that I made a while ago, some decades ago, that I've been wanting to post photos of online and will do so now in chronological order.

At left is my first painted doll. This figure is based on a painting of a little girl that was in an art book in our home library. The painting was an example of Early American art.
I loved her pink dress and the toy that was hanging around her neck. She is eating a strawberry. I painted this in the late '70s or early '80s. The color has held up well, but the whole doll has a faded, antique look which is intentional. If I can locate the original painting she was based on, I will post the link. She was painted on natural muslim fabric.

The doll at left is a peddlar doll (chair was store-bought) that I made in 1989. I was so pleased that Dolls magazine published a picture of this doll!

Her head was made of Cernit. (Here is a link with info on Cernit and other polymer-based clays that harden in your oven.)

Her body is made of felt. She is wearing felt blue slippers with lace edging. Her hat, scarf and the inside of the basket are pink lace. Her dress was made from an old dress of mine. The items in her basket were purchased at a store in Sarasota, FL, that specialized in doll house items. (I don't know if the store is still there, but this person might know, she has links to shows featuring dollhouses and miniatures and is based in Sarasota.)

After making the peddlar doll, I made this little man whom I imagined was French. He also had a couch that I made for him, but the couch has been lost over the last two decades. Jacques' head is also made of Cernit. His eyes are painted, as is his mouth and beard stubble. He has grey fuzzy hair and a white shirt. His hands are also scuplted of Cernit as is his little dog. I crocheted his sweater and found a neat button which I really like a lot. (If you live near Ann Arbor and need a unique button, check out the Found Gallery, profiled in my previous post.)

Jacques' slippers are made from an old blue leather purse. His body, legs, and arms are felt and stuffed with polyester stuffing (fiberfill) and also with the small plastic pellets that give him a nice weight.

My favorite thing about the contruction of this doll is that his head turns left and right because I placed a joint at the bottom of his neck and in the base of his shoulders.

The art doll at left with the red beaded necklace was made in the '90s. Her face is painted muslim or canvas. Her body was made from bendy foam curlers! I thought these worked better for dollmaking than for curling my hair (I could never get them to stay in long enough for my hair to dry.)

I avoided the whole how-hard-it-is-to-sculpt-hands issue by making her hands and fingers be lengths of colored, wrapped wire. She has no hair, but wears a little veil. Her outfit was crocheted from the same blue yarn used in Jacques. Her little feet are covered with tan suede slippers.

Sometimes, a certain piece of fabric will be the reason for an entire creative endeavor. This was the case in the doll at left with the dusty pink, silk coat. This fabric was a garmet I'd bought at a secondhand store. It did not fit me and so I decided to make a doll using it. The button, too, was very special to me. It is an old button, square, and while I don't think it was made of Bakelite, it seems to be an old plastic, or perhaps even some type of bone.

This doll is one of my favorite things I've ever made. I just love her sweet expression and her jacket.

Her pants were made from black suede and there is some fake fur around the top of her boots.

Here are some links related to Art Dolls for visual delight and for instruction:

Art Doll Quarterly Magazine

The Professional Doll Makers Art Guild

Dolls Magazine

Art Dolls on Etsy

The Art Doll Ring

Original Doll Artist Council of America

Index of various doll artists

The Artist Doll (gallery)

May 11, 2010

A Saturday in Ann Arbor, Michigan

This past weekend Mark and I attended a wedding in Ann Arbor and took some time to visit a few shops. I'd never been in Ann Arbor before and loved the little we were able to see of it. First off, it was easy to get from the hotel (Weber Inn) to downtown; what easy access to the downtown, traffic moves right along, it was a breeze.
We had checked out the visitor's guide in the hotel and after practically fainting when I counted THIRTY-FOUR bookstores in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti, we headed downtown to "Kerrytown" to look at the shops there.

HOLLANDERS: Oh my goodness! Like some sort of homing pigeon, my crafty-artsy self made her way into this large, beautiful, well-organized store and time stood still. Mark waited patiently while I explored the handmade, marbled, and beautifully designed paper; stickers; stamps; stationary; magnets; book making supplies; art supplies and did I say paper?

I bought several Charlie Harper items (cards, an address book, and postcards to frame and hang in our kitchen). Mark gifted me with several books on, yep, book design and the joys of type, and I picked up the latest issue of Somerset Studios and a book on altered books.

From Hollanders we made our way to FOUND Gallery of Whimsical Art and Vintage Treasures and well, this about put me over the edge. All the beautiful new things in Hollanders and all the beautiful old things in FOUND... my bliss meter was on high and we weren't even at the wedding yet!

Afterward, we went to Z for lunch. It was like being transported to Stage Door Deli in NYC, only with more windows and waitresses dressed like they are at the Village Bakery& Deli in Athens. While I ate my yummy sesame bagel, I heard the waitress explain the deli's bagel philosophy (I don't know what else to call it... maybe a Position Paper), which was basically that today's bagels are too fat, too puffy and have too small of holes. If you can't put three fingers through the hole of a bagel, you get it free. That's what she said... My bagel had a respectible shape.

I look forward to returning to Ann Arbor to see the expanded University of Michigan Art Museum and at least a few of those 34 bookstores. It was a bit chilly up there this past weekend, for MAY! And Mark wore a red T-shirt that, fortunately, said "The Cleveland Orchestra" on it because folks at Hollanders noticed it. A very friendly table of two older gentlemen, one of whom expressed what seemed to be more than a polite interest in Athens. In fact, Athens--its beauty and university--seemed to be known in some way by most of those we met in Ann Arbor. I have to say I was happy to return home to our hills. The thought of living anywhere flat again is difficult for me to imagine.

Athens is the perfect center of my universe.

May 5, 2010

Mod Purse Recognized!

Last weekend I attended the Columbus State Community College's 7th annual Writers Conference. It was a great day (even with navigating in unfamiliar territory around the 10,000 Capital City marathon participants on this particular Saturday). There were about 110 people at the conference and talks on everything from Self-Promotion (thank you Diane Mechem Kinser, Lucky Press's author of the forthcoming "Dappled Glory") to What Is Fantasy? (Jim Barnes) to a packed room on Humor writing taught by the keynote speaker David Rakoff.

My day was filled with navigation snafus: first the blocked downtown roads due to the marathon, then, due to that, having to park very far from the venue and not being able to easily find my car when I went to move it closer during the lunch break. (To all the strangers who tried to point me in the direction of Spring Street as we stood in the rain and I gave thanks for my rose-print umbrella, thank you!) To not being able to easily go "East" on Rt 33 to get home because the road was completely closed and everyone had to leave the highway....

Okay, where was I?

Hearing David Rakoff made it all worthwhile. So did meeting other writers, meeting Diane face-to-face, shaking hands with the president of the board of the Ohioanna Library, meeting a prof. from OU, and seeing the great interest CSCC (I think that is it) has in encouraging writers.

AND, when David Rakoff was signing the copies of his book I bought he complimented me on my
Incredible Plus Mod Handbag! The one I dreamed up and crocheted. The one that looks so odd I thought only I could love it (we all have loves like that, they art projects, children, little dogs or the odd feather-plucked parrot here or there).

I gushed and blabbered and made no sense faced with this easy affirmation from An Educated Artistic Writer Who Lives In New York. I mean, if he likes the bag, well. It must be good! How easily I am pushed over the edge from gratified to ecstatic.

I am working on "freeform" crochet now... a new handbag that may or may not resemble an eruption of yarn that makes no sense. Sort of like those modern poems that not only don't rhyme in any way but are also indecipherable and make me feel stupid because I don't get them. Why oh why didn't my high school offer advanced placement literature!

In any cases, I ask all people and poets and small dogs on my couch, to appreciate my yarn tornado for what it is: a physical expression of creativity that is not afraid to try things that may not amount to anything. You'd be surprised how many writers do that as well! Be brave!

May 4, 2010

More on the subject of rain!

An update on the water in my art studio. A longer title might be: "Hey! That's not the sketch I've left on the floor under a stack of scrapbook page cellophane inserts; next to a basket with old books I'm going to deconstruct. That's precious artwork that I started in 1996 that I was going to finish any day now! Grab it up, man! And wait [end of title, start of posting] look what else I hadn't gotten around to organizing, altering, painting, matting, putting in a really nice leather portfolio case that is on sale at College Bookstore on Court Street:

a perfectly preserved dead bumble bee that I want to draw; it's in a little brown box with a brass lock

a sketch of my son, Jesse, sleeping when he was 2 years old

all manner of artwork by my son, Bryce: drawings on t-shirts that no longer fit him; sketches within letters he mailed to me; small canvases he's drawn or painted on...

beads: glass beads, plastic beads, big and small beads, old and new beads--beads that are mostly put away in their proper places but because recent beading had taken place were all over the surface of tables, tables that needed to be cleaned off so I had a place to put all of the other stuff made of paper that was sitting on the flooded floor

bags of yarn, and by bags I mean handmade bags that I did not want to get wet

an easel, three canvases, a stack of old family photographs I needed to scan

a box of tools

stacks of file folders containing Very Important Stuff

Also in that room, which is not a large room, mind you: waist height-to-ceiling bookshelves full of art and craft books and boxes full of art and craft supplies. Knitting needles that were my grandmother's and great grandmother's (crochet hooks made of ivory!) My favorite videos. The Raggedy Ann doll my parents gave me when I was 6. The voodoo aging doll my mom gave me a few years ago when I was ill. The small stuffed animal made by my younger son when he was a kid, along with the teddy bear he made. A teddy bear from 1915 that flew in airplanes during WWI. On and on it goes...

This is a small room folks, with tall ceilings and a nice skylight but still... Not a lot of room. I have way too much stuff in it; but everything in it is really precious to me. This room is sort of a microcosm of my life, I realize. On the shelves in the closest are every photograph I've kept or taken (prior to digital cameras). In one day of heavy rain, I, with my husband's help of course, had to gather it all up (except what was on the shelves) and move it to the garage.

Now, upon reflection... as fans are whirling downstairs and the concrete floor naked--the carpet having been removed and part of the wet wall removed as well-- I realize that most all of my life, decades, was represented in that room. One room. And that question of "if your house was on fire, what would you grab to save, after your family members and pets" is not so easy.

Yes, I know things can be replaced. But not really. Not some things. Not a lot of things.

My rain-damaged art studio is not that big of a deal. The wet things will dry. The concrete floor whose paint splattered surface looks a bit like my middle-aged skin only gray, will be recovered and presentable again. The wall and its insides will dry and be fixed. I will go to Walmart and buy a ton of plastic tubs for my art supplies and go into organization mode and end up with a studio that looks better than it did before...along with a new resolve to clean up each project as I finish for the day because that is a really really small room!

I'm thinking of the folks in TN and KY this morning who are in shelters, who had their whole houses and lives flooded... who last week were looking forward to summer picnics and time off school, and the job they were trying to get and the book they might read and now they have to deal with insurance companies and mold issues and getting new furniture and how to keep their kids on an even keel when they just want to scream in frustration. My heart goes out to you. Thank God for the Red Cross, I think... And for time, the time that puts hard times behind us. One sunny day at a time. Until it becomes a memory and new things cover over the raw concrete memories of the hard stuff.

"Be kind to your web-footed friends... for a duck may be somebody's mother," my mother used to sing. Yes, this is the season for it.

May 3, 2010

When you have to review the contents of your art studio really really fast!

Rain! Rain! Rain! My little art/craft studio (this is where the creations on my blog originate) has a soaking wet carpet. (See photos of "before.")
While sitting in the living room all day long Sunday during a driving rain (the same system that flooded Nashville) thinking, I'm so glad we don't have to worry about water getting in the house because we have that big crawlspace....blah blah blah...

I then went to get some beads and thread and came smack dab into reality as my bare feet his totally soaked carpeting and the realization that, yes, I really should have cleaned up and organized my work space a week or so ago when I considered it, but decided to obsess about my up-coming garden instead! (Note: photos do not show recent creative-minds-are-rarely-tidy mess!)
Quickly, Mark and I began getting everything up off the floor, and my dear husband soon realized that "everything" means: the scrapbook and everything that goes with it that is waiting on me to enter Christmas info in!; Bryce's drawings; all manner of paper; bags of yarn; a wicker box of old books waiting to be "altered"; a little stool my sister painted; a plastic container of all my colored pencil abstracts; a few old teddy bears; artist trading card originals that had fallen behind a plastic drawer thing that doesn't roll anymore; old videos I like to watch but no one else does; blank canvases; half-blank canvases; Bryce's t-shirts he's decorated but can't fit into anymore so he's waiting for me to sew the art onto new t-shirts.... and on and on....

Everything is up off the floor now and as we only have two small rooms that are, yes Janice, located halfway underground... it's not such a big deal as I have a feeling it is for other families in Athens this morning. It is STILL raining and will rain tomorrow too, they say. The Hocking River is rising, at 15 ft and will reach just under flood stage of 20 ft.

Yikes, it just started really really raining. Our roof sounds like a tin roof, and it is not. The rain is bouncing off the skylight in our kitchen as if to say "There!" See what your pretty clouds can do!
And I hear on TV that Nashville is really facing some flooding. Grab the Wellingtons, Mother! And the chihauhua.