Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A Story of Near Tragedy, Courage and Gratitude

Often we remember the worst of the news. Stories of greed, malice, deception and all manner of cruelty that frightens us and keeps us from trusting and hoping. Then, along comes a story of such bravery, courage and gratitude that we are uplifted.

I received an email about a 50-ton female humpback whale who became unmercifully entwined in long, heavy crab pot lines in San Francisco bay. She could barely keep her blowhole above the water line. A fishing boat captain saw her plight and called for a rescue team.

The rescuers could tell that the ropes were cutting in so deeply there was blubber in the water. The divers held out little hope for her survival. However, that little spark of hope was just enough for them to risk getting in the water with her.

They knew full well the damage she could do to the divers if she became frightened by their actions. The divers needed time to cut through heavy ropes entangling her dorsal and tail fins and to remove the ropes from her mouth and baleen. (Being near her mouth involved working right in front of her fist-sized eye.) She watched and stayed calm. She knew. She understood.

I can't say how she knew given the history of hunting the humpbacks to near extinction, but she did. Perhaps it was the way the divers approached her. They entered her realm with kindness and compassion - wishing only to help. Maybe she sensed their meaning.

When free, she circled and approached each diver gently nudging them. Yes, she knew.

What if we approached life with kindness and compassion towards all beings? And what if we remembered to show sincere gratitude for who and/or what we've been given?

May every day be a day of Thanksgiving!

(This is a reprint from 2011. I thought of this article as I read about several friends who have posted their stories of what looked like certain tragedy. Given time and reflection, they realized how very grateful they were. How their life direction changed- ultimately for the better. Also, I want to give a shout out to everyone who has gone out of their way to help the Veteran's homeless camp. Deepest gratitude!)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Ursula von Rydingsvard: from Childhood Planks...

In this time where news reports about war uprooting families to "refugee" status, I think about the artist Ursula von Rydingsvard (1942-). She was born during the time the Nazis controlled the area of Germany where she was born. Her father was conscripted into forced labor and her family lived in one refugee camp after another.

In 1950 at age 8, her family settled in the United States. However, she remembered her early years as a displaced person sleeping on planks in camps. As she stated, "It wasn't even a lumber construction. It was plank construction that wasn’t very warm in the winters because there was no insulation. It was just me, sleeping against a plank, and on the other side of the plank was the outdoors."

Von Rydingsvard would go on to graduate with an MFA from Columbia University Her works are on display at MOMA, Whitney Museum, National Gallery of Art, and many other most prestigious galleries and museums. She is also the recipient of many grants and fellowships.

Her sculptural works are monumental in size, scope and are mainly created from cedar planks glued into designs. Below are a few examples that barely reflect a 40-year career in the arts - all reflecting those memorable planks from her childhood. How can we ever know what experiences will inform the artist?

Von Rydingsvard was featured on PBS' wonderful series "Art 21." You can view it at:

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Life of Kai - a Miracle in Progress

Since this blog is about art and life, I wanted to share the story of the life of Kai. It should be a very short story as Kai is only 3 months old. Yet, he already has a very big story.

Kai - Kaimani Knight-was born on May 14, 2014. The date is important inasmuch as it was two weeks after Oregon enacted a requirement for newborn screening for SCID - Severe Combined Immunodeficiency.
Baby Kai was pronounced a "SCID baby."

Kai's parents, Jason and Nykki Knight brought their baby home with the knowledge that unless a bone marrow donor was found, chances were that Kai would not survive his first year of life. You see, at birth infants have their mother's antibodies. As time passes, they are replaced by their own immune system - is something baby Kai couldn't do.

At less than two months, Kai seemed to have a fever. His folks knew he needed to be taken immediately to the hospital. It was determined there that Kai didn't have a fever (faulty thermometer), but he did have a virus. The doctor recommended that Kai be taken to Doernbecher Hospital for Children in Portland. Jason and Nykki packed and made their way from Eugene to Portland - a two-hour drive.

Once at Doernbecher, they were told that because of the virus, Kai needed to stay in isolation while a search for a donor was conducted. Furthermore, because Nykki Knight is part Samoan, a donor who is part Samoan would probably make a better match. The search was on.

In the meantime, baby Kai was treated to reduce the virus and remained in the isolation ward, along with his parents. During all of the time, his loving and patient parents maintained a positive attitude about the survival and growth of Kai.

Finally, a donor was located! Every one of ten points matched between the donor and Kai!

Kai started chemotherapy to make sure that no part of his immune system was functioning. If it did, then the body would reject the bone marrow transplant. It was not without difficulty that Kai continued to thrive as a sturdy little soul that he is.

On Monday night of this week, this darling 3-month old received the gift of bone marrow from as unknown donor. As is little Kai's nature, he woke up the morning after surgery smiling.

He has a long road ahead of him. He has unbelievably supportive parents. His little body now needs time to accept the transplant.

His parents, the timing of his birth, the early discovery of the virus and now the donor demonstrate what is possible. And, so dear readers, please add your own thoughts of hope and a gentle recovery to his life.

(Kai's parents have neglected their glass-blowing art business for months and have months to go. If you can help, please donate at:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Séraphine Louis: When Artistic Religious Zeal becomes Psychosis

Here is an interesting and very different story of how an artist came to her craft... Séraphine Louis (1864-1924)
was born to a family of  manual laborers in Arsy, France. The life was poor and difficult. When she was one year old, Louis'  mother died. Six years later, her father passed. Louis, orphaned at 7, was taken in by her older sister.

By the time Louis was 17, she had worked as a shepherdess and then a domestic worker at a convent. When she was 27, she found employment in a middle-class family as a house cleaner. Nothing in her background would have explained her compulsion to make art, but yet she did.

At night, by candlelight and in secret, Louis painted. Her inspirations were the paintings and stained-glass windows in church. Her paintings were Louis' way of expressing the mystical ecstasies and visions she felt in the religious environment. Those sensations and the beauty of nature were her sources. This is how she lived- toiling very hard all day and painting at night. That is, until Wilhelm Uhde (1874-1947) came into her life.

Uhde was a very well-known art critic and collector. He needed a rest and rented a place in the town where Louis was working. As it happened, Uhde was invited to the home of Louis' employer. He asked about an unusual apple painting on the host's wall. Imagine his surprise to find out it had been done by their house cleaner!

Immediately Uhde took Louis under his wing. He found a market for her art and soon she was able to spend all her time making art. However, sad to report this story does not end with "happily ever after."

After World War I and the shortages of the subsequent Depression meant that Uhde could no longer support Louis. Missing the outlet of painting for her visions and mysticism, Louis descended into psychosis. Her last years were spent in a mental hospital. 

Louis left a legacy of the celebration of nature for all of us to enjoy. I like to imagine that during the process of painting, she found the happiness that eluded her in her daily world.

Below are some examples of her works. She painted in what the French refer to as the "naive" style. It is known as folk art in the United States. (Very little is known how Louis made her own paints It was her secret.)

There was a French movie made about her life. The lead actress was so good in the role of Louis that she won the French equivalent of the Academy Award (César Awards). The entire film won no less than 7 Césars!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The OTHER Barcelona Architect

Art Nouveau was an art period full of great architectural works.Of course, the architect most remembered for that period is Gaudi. (see Archives, January, 2014). Another architect known for his Art Nouveau works was Victor Horta, (1861-1947). (My blog of March 14, 2011 about Horta remains one of my most popular all-time blogs.) Like Gaudi, Horta's architecture and designs exemplified the Art Nouveau movement.

However, there was someone else noted for his architectural Art Nouveau style, and like Gaudi, his reputation was built in Barcelona. That architect was Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923).

Domènech was not only an architect, he was also a professor at the Barcelona School of Architecture. (Gaudi was one of his students.)
In fact, if you've ever been to Barcelona or viewed the famous architecture of that city, you have oohed and aahed over Domènech's architecture. Even UNESCO has awarded his most important works as "World Heritage" sites.

Here is one of the sites so designated. It is Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul).  Domènech designed it with the patient very much in mind. He made sure to allow for windows and views. He sunk the service areas below ground level so that patients and guests could have street access to the gardens. It consists of 20 pavilions on 40-acres of park. (The complex is being restored. It's expected to re-open in 2016.)

 The other one of Domènech's amazing architectural buildings recognized by UNESCO is the Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music). This is the one that he was most involved in the interior design. (It was very difficult to find a photo that showed the entire scope of the interior.) The last image shows the combination of mosaics and sculptures of musicians that surround the orchestra stage.

As with so many of my blogs about artists, this is only an introduction to Domènech and his works. If you're ever in Barcelona, remember that Gaudi wasn't the only exciting and delightful Art Nouveau architect.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

"Strapless:John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X"

The other day, I was at the local used book store trying to find interesting books on art and artists. I came across a book with a single-word title: "Strapless." I thought it was strange title given that it was in the art biographies section. However, when I pulled it from the shelf, the title made sense because the subtitle was: "John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X."

This very well-written biography is about the painter, John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) (archives May, 2012) and his painting of Madame "X."  Deborah Davis is the author. In the story, Davis creates engaging backgrounds on 19th century Paris, the world of art, Sargent and the famous Madame X; otherwise known as Madame Gautreau (1859-1915).

Sargent was recognized as a gifted artist and had reached the pinnacle in Paris. Wealthy people clamored to have him paint their portrait - very important to financial stability for artists at that time. Even the annual Salon allowed Sargent to submit his art directly without being juried.

Madame Gautreau was a young, exceptionally elegant and wealthy woman. She had all the right social connections and her attendance at any event was referenced in all the newspapers. In today's world, she would be regarded as a celebrity with all the attendant press coverage.
She was stylishly chic and wore gowns that showed her figure without all the frippery and fussiness that other women wore.

Sargent and Gautreau each wanted what the other could provide - the prestige of a painting by a famous painter of a famous beauty. What each got was entirely different than their joint expectations. Instead, what they got was scandal.

It would take a while for Sargent to recover from Paris' ridicule of his work. He would find comfort and benefactors by coming to America. Gautreau never recovered her reputation and, like many aging beauties, faded into obscurity.

The book deserves a read. Ms. Davis' research is impeccable. Footnotes and sources are confined to the back of the book. This helps it to read like a novel. I recommend it!

My own little footnote: When I finished reading the story, I thought how much it could be a story of a beautiful woman today and how easily we criticize as she gets heavier, older or resorts to surgery to try and maintain both her expectations and ours. Seems like a "no-win" to me since it's impossible to avoid the aging process - unless death occurs early such as Marilyn Monroe. Only then can she be considered an icon of beauty.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Nicolai Fechin: His Time in Taos

My first notice of the name, Nicolai Fechin (1881-1955) was that he was a painter who had lived in Taos, New Mexico. What? How was that possible that I'd never heard of him? After all, I've written so many blogs about artists living in that inspiring artistic area. Naturally, I looked him up on Google.

To my surprise, the first three pages (perhaps more because I stopped at 3) were all about Mr. Fechin. As a matter of fact, in 2011 Sotheby's in New York announced the auction of one of his pieces expected to sell anywhere from $3 million to $5 million! Very impressive, I'd say.

First, a little background on him and then a sampling of his works. Fechin was born in Kazan, Russia. After he finished his art training, he returned to his hometown where he painted and taught painting. He became known in America when he exhibited in Pennsylvania in 1910. Thirteen years later, he and his family immigrated to the United States.

Disaster struck for Fechin when it was discovered that he had tuberculosis. His best hope for recovery was to move to a dry climate. Hence, his move to Taos, New Mexico. There, he discovered a passion for Western subjects such as the landscape and the Native Americans - both considered to be some of his finest works.

Fechin left a large footprint in Taos. The house he lived in is on The National Registry of Historic Places and is now the location for the Taos Art Museum. If you've ever been there, did you know you were stepping inside Fechin's home?

Below are some of his interesting paintings and sketches. Did you know of him? What do you think of his style? his works? As for me, guess I'm going to need to do more research on Taos artists.

Portrait Sketches:

Paintings of Taos:

Native American Portraits:

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Li Hongbo and His Amazing Sculptures

The last blog was about Pissarro - an Early Modern painter in the Impressionist style. Now, a century later, new materials, new methods and a greater latitude for artists have given rise to a fascinating scope of art making. An example of such art and artist can be found in Li Hongbo ((1974-)

Hongbo, who is a resident of Beijing, China was a book editor and designer with a wide-ranging interest in art movements. One method that particularly interested him was the Chinese art of honey-comb paper mainly used to make toys. He noticed that this forming of paper made it strong and flexible.

It took deconstructing the process for Hongbo to figure out how he could create sculptures from paper. Patiently, he cuts, folds and pastes hexagons into the appearance of a log or piece of wood. Then, he uses an electric saw to shape the paper into sculptures.

With the help of an assistant, Hongbo will shape some 30,000 pieces of paper into a human face or torso. At first glance, the sculpture is a classic piece of art, but since it is made of expandable paper pieces, the art stretches until it resembles a Slinky toy.

Not only does Hongbo make human sculptures, but also replicas of antique Chinese pottery and large decorative objects.

Pretty amazing, yes?

If you'd like to learn more about his technique, there's a 3-minute video at: