Monday, December 20, 2010

The Christmas Gift.....

It was Sunday and I was watching TV. One of the featured stories was an interview and as I listened,I knew this story would be the one I'd retell for this Christmas week's blog

The interviewee was a 91-year old woman named Helen who was recalling when, as a 14-year old during the Depression, she and her family barely had enough to eat. This story was far too common during the Great Depression which started in the U.S.A., spread throughout the world, and lasted about a 10 years.

In the Depression, there were no economic safety nets - no food stamps, no unemployment insurance and no Social Security. Hard working employees and farmers saw their income, if they could keep their job, reduced to a pittance. Many people went hungry, lost their homes, and gave their children over to orphanages so that at least their children could have food and shelter.

Helen's own family regularly ran out of food, cut cardboard for the holes in their shoes and did without warm clothing in their town of Canton, Ohio. One day close to Christmas, Helen read an ad in the neighbor's borrowed hometown newspaper.

Someone named "B. Virdot" was offering to help needy families
in time for Christmas. This benefactor asked only that letters be written explaining their plight. Helen was the youngest person to do so. Her letter was chosen!

When Helen received the largess of $5.00, she bought clothes for her siblings, Christmas dinner for her family and new shoes for herself. What a Christmas!

It would be 77 years later when Helen found out who her benefactor was and then only because the identity of "B. Virdot" was discovered by Ted Gup, the donor's grandson.

Gup was going through his deceased grandfather's old suitcase when he came upon letters written to "B. Virdot." There were also 150 cashed checks. Then, Gup found the yellowed newspaper ad and realized that it was his grandfather, Sam Stone, who used the amalgam of his own daughters' names to create "B. Viradot." (Barbara, Virgina and Dorothy)

Sam Stone, an orthodox Jewish immigrant who had come to this country, learned English and worked his way up from menial and harsh physical jobs to owning his own chain of shops, had given 150 Christian families a Christmas gift.

May your holiday blessings be shared with a sense of compassion and gratitude.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Unrecognized Artists...

Last week's blog was about the modern day influences of the Hudson River School - a pastoral art movement of the mid-19th century.

The movement included names such as Thomas Cole, Frederic Edwin Church and Albert Bierstadt. What you don't hear about - even in Wikipedia - are the names of the women artists in the movement. The question is: why not?

The answer is reminiscent of the same circumstances that surrounded the women Impressionists artists. (Archives: Morisot - Jan. 2010).Women were excluded from the academies and did not have access to wealthy patrons. Some were actually forbidden to make art and came to art later in their lives. Some were the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters of their highly recognized male artists and were not able to compete. (Portrait of Eliza Greatorex above.)

Now, recognition of these gifted artists is beginning to happen. There have been recent museum exhibits and an article in the Smithsonian magazine on these talented women.

These were women who hiked in long skirts and corsets through the mountains and cliffs to paint, etch, photograph and embroider images of the landscapes. Many of these women traveled throughout the east and went even south all the way to Florida for the opportunity to paint the countryside and waterways in the Hudson River School style.

Here are some of the women whose names are finally being recognized:

Laura Woodward (1834-1926)

Harriet Cany Peale (1800-1869)

Elizabeth Gilbert Jerome (1824-1910)

Susie Barstow (1857-1934)

Julia Hart Beers (1835-1913)

Eliza Greatorex (1819-1897)

Monday, December 6, 2010

Stephen Hannock: A Throwback to Another Time... or Not

Sometimes on the PBS' Antique Roadshow there will be a pastoral scene of water and a valley. The appraiser will say, "This is from the Hudson River School." However, it wasn't an actual school. It was a group of mid-19th century landscape painters of great talent who were inspired by the area around the Hudson River. (On the left is a work by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), arguably the most famous artist of this style and subject.)

In time, this style of work was considered too realistic and romantic. Then along came Stephen Hannock. (1951-)

Stephen Hannock is often described as a throwback to that Hudson River School. You might agree based on the image below. Hannock paints pastoral scenes with the luminescence and large dimensions of those 19th century painters. Yet, his techniques are modern and, upon closer viewing, there is something else.

With regards to the technique, Hannock doesn't like the way light plays on the paint ridges and so he sands them down - with an electric sander - between paint layers in order to achieve the luminosity. The "something else" is text. Hannock embeds text of his thoughts and recollections in the vista. On the left is an entire painting and on the right is a close up with barely discernible text.

Do his techniques and text make him uniquely modern or is he really a throwback to the Hudson River School because his subject and ultimate works are so highly reminiscent of those painters?

If you go to his website by clicking here Hannock's site shows areas of a painting where he has placed text. If you click on those areas you can see more distinct examples of his writing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Open House Invitation... a Chance to Share

For a few months now, I've been preparing for this coming weekend's Open House and Studio Sale. I stayed mindful of the economy and created inexpensive gift items exclusively for this event.

There are hand-painted one-of-a-kind ornaments. Some are classic. Most are interestingly different subjects for ornaments.

There are also wooden boxes with glass top frames. Under the glass is an original pastel. The boxes come in a variety of sizes, colors and subjects. Here are a few of the paintings:

My friends, the ones who love to shop garage sales, brought me turned wood recycles which I painted with original designs.

There will be note cards, unusual place markers, small framed art.

This is not just a Studio Sale. It is an Open House. A chance for us to visit, share time, sip hot mulled cider and sample home-made goodies. There's even a small gallery to see what new art I've been making.

There's really only one thing I ask (besides YOUR presence): Please bring canned goods for the collection bin. If we fill the bin, each person who contributed will be entered for a chance to win a very special art piece. See you SOON!

This blog travels to many places - too far to actually join us this weekend. I wish you could. However, your spirit and the spirit of giving will be.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Louise Nevelson: The Other Louise

It seems that the 20th Century provided us with two outstanding sculptors named "Louise." Both were born in Europe and immigrated to the U.S., both made monumentally-sized sculptures and both had long lives devoted to art. One of the two, Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), was the subject of this blog in August, 2009.

The other, Louise - that is Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) - was not only an outstanding 20th century sculptor, but was considered a pioneer in the use of found objects as part of her sculptures.

The daughter of a family in the timber business, it seems that Nevelson could not resist scavenging objects, especially woods ones, to create her art. She was known for her creations of sculptures of geometric shapes based on the assemblage of reused items. A lintel, a door frame, an old chair or a crate all held design possibilities for Nevelson.

Out of found materials came her signature sculptures which were often large and always painted black, white or gold. (One of her sculptures measured about 55 feet!) Below are images of some of Nevelson's sculptures which you can click to enlarge.

There is just one last thing: both Louises continued to work on commission until shortly before they died. They were two women of immense vigor and passion for art. As Nevelson stated, "It isn't how you live, but how you finish."

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Chuck Close: The Invincible Magician


If you've ever had the pleasure of standing in front of one of Chuck Close's (1940-) enormous portraits, there is that feeling of magic. When you stand near, it is a jumble of small colored shapes. The mind's eye sees no specific image, but stand back and there it is. The viewer's eyes blend the colorful shapes and a face appears - a portrait of someone. It is like the magic of an illusionist.

The magic doesn't end with the portrait for there is something else. Chuck Close has "face blindness" ("Prosopagnosia" in medicalese) How is it possible that someone who cannot distinguish faces is a famous portraitist?

Close says that he can only recognize faces when they are static. It is a problem of recognition in 3-dimension. As Close describes, "... move your head one half inch and its a face I've never seen before." Naturally, Close does not paint portraits from life, but rather from photographs. That's not the last of the magic...

...after spinal artery collapse left Close paralyzed, he learned to paint again by strapping a brush to his wrist. In his wheelchair, he is elevated up to scaffolding where the canvas is raised as he paints to a finished size of 9 feet x 7 feet! One painting may take him 6 months as he interprets a photo into a series of small colored areas on a very large canvas.

How does he do it all? I'd say he's a magician with an invincible spirit.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Winner: The Mola

When the Christians first happened upon the Kuna tribe living in what is now Panama, the women were heavily decorated with geometric paintings. Of course, nudity was simply not acceptable and so the women began to wear chemises or blouses. Sounds rather boring except you could say that the women had something up their collective sleeves.

You see,the women began using introduced fabrics to create a reverse applique for decorative panels on their blouses ("molas" in Kuna language).

In reverse applique, all the layers (Kuna women use up to 7 layers of different colors) are sewn together. Then the design is formed by cutting away the pattern through each layer, turning under and hand stitching the raw edge.

Typically, a woman wears two mola panels as part of her blouse - one in front and the other in the back - based on the same theme.

Now, a short digression into history: The Kuna did live in Panama, but with the diseases and social pressure of the invaders, they moved to the San Blas islands off the Panamanian coast. As too often happens, the government tried to force the Kuna to integrate by requiring they wear western clothing and outlawing the molas. This led to Kuna resistance and an uprising.

Today, Kuna Yala (Kuna Land) is a semi-autonomous region of Panama and the molas made by the women are one of the most important cash exports for the Kunas.

Below are examples of traditional and contemporary mola themes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Do-Ho Suh, Part Two

Do you remember my story about a trip to the Seattle Art Museum and seeing the beautiful sculpture of an Asian-style emperor's robe made of dog tags? (see: Archive - May, 2010) The sculptor of this memorable piece, Do-Ho Suh (1962-) is Korean and divides his time between New York and Seoul.

It is Suh's life in the two cities plus his time as a soldier under Korea's requirement of a 2-year military commitment that informs his art. His sculptures consider the complex relationship between individuality and the individual's responsibility to the collective culture. Pointedly, he titled the two series featured here as "Some/One" and "Cause/Effect."

Here are some of the thought-provoking installations and magnifications: