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Photo: Gavin Ashworth
Klewicke, “Original Design Quilt” (Corning, New York, 1907), pieced silk, faille, taffeta, and satin, digitized by the American Folk Art Museum in New York City.

Nowadays, it’s not enough for museums to exhibit art that you can go see or read about in a book: they want to be able to share their treasures online. That’s why the American Folk Art Museum in New York City is digitizing the New York Quilt Project, which features more than 6,000 quilts and their histories.

Allison Meier writes at Hyperallergic, “From a 19th-century block pattern quilt made from a woman’s wedding dress, to a commemorative quilt celebrating the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, the New York Quilt Project contains an invaluable record of the state’s folk art history. …

“Now AFAM [the American Folk Art Museum] is digitizing these materials to make them more accessible. …

“The vast majority of these quilts are not at the New York City museum, but are heirlooms in private collections, whether an attic in the Catskills or a quilt trunk in Brooklyn. … AFAM has so far put about 1,500 quilts online, and expects to finish the digitization in 2019. AFAM also has related oral history recordings that they’re working to digitize.

“Quilt projects statewide were really popular in the ’80s, and people started collecting their histories,” [Mimi Lester, an AFAM archivist and project manager for the digitization] explained.

“The Kentucky Quilt Project, founded in 1981, was the first of these, inspiring a resurgence of interest in the United States. Frequently these grassroots initiatives revolved around ‘quilt days,’ at which people could have their family quilts documented. …

“People would bring their quilts to YMCAs or churches or museums, and we would have registrars there who would help the individuals fill out the forms and take photographs,” Lester said. …

“Details were recorded like family background, religion, where a quiltmaker learned the craft, why they made the quilt, and where they obtained textiles, and a small tab was sewn into the back of each quilt for identification. These stories often chronicle immigration.”

Click here for photos of some lovely quilts — and lovely quilters.

Hat tip: radio show Studio 360 on twitter, @studio360show.

The Turkey Whisperer

Photo: Andrew Jackson for the Guardian
Elin William says, “From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round.”

A few months ago, I told my younger grandson that I had read a story about a woman who plays music to calm down turkeys. I don’t think he quite believed me.

But it’s true. Elin William wrote at the Guardian about her unusual use of music.

“I got my first guitar when I was 12, and it’s been a slow process of self-tuition since then. I also play piano and violin, but I only play the guitar to the turkeys on the Rhug Estate farm in Corwen, north Wales, where I work.

“It began as an experiment. Rhug is an organic farm, and the main principle is to create as little stress as possible for the animals. But the farm is on the side of a main road, so some get spooked by loud noises: the traffic, machinery or sounds from the car park. We started playing the radio to them overnight. We’d put on Classic FM when we were shutting up at 7 pm and leave it on until we returned in the morning.

“The turkeys in particular responded really well. So we started playing the radio all day, every day. Then my boss, Lord Newborough, thought, ‘What if the music was much more up close and personal?’ He knew I played guitar and suggested I had a go. …

“From the moment I started strumming, the turkeys crowded ’round. I got the impression they enjoyed listening to me play. They started pecking on the guitar and plucking the strings. That’s the result of organic farming: you get inquisitive animals, rather than ones that are scared. …

“I’ve now performed in front of hundreds of turkeys. … I sing Welsh folk songs and ones my dad would have loved to hear, like the Animals’ ‘House of The Rising Sun’ – that’s the one I like playing most. …

“I’ve been described as a turkey whisperer. It’s like a horse whisperer, but not as glamorous. I don’t have a magic touch – anyone who played to them would get the same reaction, to be honest. …

“I’m an animal lover and it’s important to me that the turkeys are happy. But I’m not a vegetarian. Getting so close to the birds doesn’t make me think I have to give up meat. Farming is a mega industry, but here the focus is on quality of life. Having worked with them, it’s impossible to imagine turkeys in cages.” Read more at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Elizabeth Hafalia, The Chronicle
Facing a need for affordable housing and arts space, San Francisco’s Mission Economic Development Agency is joining with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers to repurpose this neglected 1919 building.

Have you ever visited San Francisco’s Mission District? A poor, immigrant neighborhood, it is nevertheless a vibrant experiment in people-oriented housing and support for food entrepreneurs and the arts. The creative energy there is tangible.

Moreover, the neighborhood’s community-development folks never stop turning dreams into reality. J.K. Dineen has an update at the San Francisco Chronicle.

“A historic but long-neglected commercial building at Mission and 18th streets in San Francisco is poised to be rejuvenated with a mix of affordable housing, child care and dance.

“The dilapidated 1919 structure, a former furniture store that was remodeled with an Art Deco flair in the late 1930s, has been on and off the market for more than a decade. …

“Finally the Mission Economic Development Agency, a politically powerful group that often opposes market-rate housing, reached a deal to buy it by collaborating with Dance Mission Theater and the Mission Neighborhood Centers, which will open a child care facility there.

“ ‘We are all going in together to do a new model of cooperative living and dancing and taking care of our children,’ said Krissy Keefer, executive director of Dance Mission Theater. ‘It’s going to be very communal.’ …

“Brokers with the San Francisco office of the realty firm Marcus & Millichap … said market-rate developers were scared off by the Mission’s anti-gentrification political environment and that ‘MEDA was very good to work with.’ …

“The building will be the group’s first home ownership project — the others are rentals — and the first targeting middle-income families rather than low-income folks. Mission Neighborhood Centers is providing some of the project funding, along with two nonprofits: Low Income Investment Fund, a financial intermediary that provides capital for community developments, and the Neighbor to Neighbor fund.”

I’m sure everyone has read about the housing crunch in San Francisco, with tech employees pushing prices up. It’s good to hear of anything designed to ease the shortage. More here.

Artist of the Southwest

stella2

Stella McLennan Roca (1879–1954), a painter known for her landscapes and her influence on the arts community in Arizona.

At Christmas, friends in Minnesota sent a letter that included this update: “Out of the blue in the spring, Mariana was contacted by Lonnie Dunbier, an art historian who was searching for information about Mariana’s grandmother, Stella Roca.

“Lonnie was preparing a series of lectures, to be given in Lincoln, Nebraska, about early Nebraska women artists. Stella [had] grown up in Nebraska City before attending the Chicago Art Institute and moving to Mexico, where she met and married Mariana’s grandfather, subsequently settling in Tucson, where she became a widely acclaimed landscape artist. Over a couple months in the spring, all of Stella’s landscapes that we have were photographed and quite a lot of historical information was exchanged, updated and edited, resulting in a comprehensive biography for use in her lectures.”

What a lovely experience! As a person who saves every letter ever written to her, I thought about what fun it would be if someone contacted me for information like that.

And I’m always interested in women artists, so I went to Wikipedia to learn more. I got a little sidetracked fixing typos in the entry, but I figured out that an offer Roca received through the Art Institute of Chicago to teach in Mexico was what led to her meeting her future husband.

I also read that her “work was known for light colored desert landscapes and glowing mountains” and that she served as president of the Tucson Fine Arts Association in 1932 and “was featured in the ‘Who’s Who in American Art.’ ” I search the internet for some of her work and was impressed. Delightful.

As for being sidetracked, do you know that anyone can edit Wikipedia? People will check up on you, of course, but it is ridiculously easy, and as a former editor, I simply had to fix a couple misspellings and a run-on sentence. If I was wrong to do that, Wikipedia experts will let me know.

Art: Stella McLennan Roca


Photo: National Institutes of Health via AP
Soprano Renee Fleming looks at a brain scan with NIH neuroscientist David Jangraw after singing in the MRI machine.

To help scientists understand how music helps patients heal, notable musicians like opera’s Renee Fleming are getting brain scans.

Lauran Neergaard writes at the Associated Press, “Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care — although it’s still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning.

“ ‘It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don’t have to think about what’s going on,’ said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

“The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown’s, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain’s circuitry and figure out how.

“ ‘The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate,’ said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

“To turn that ability into a successful therapy, ‘it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan,’ Collins added. …

“ ‘The water is wide, I cannot cross over,’ well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

“The opera star — who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative — spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

“ ‘We’re trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain’s working right and what happens when it’s performing at a really high level,’ said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

“To Jangraw’s surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain’s emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.”

Read how the new insights are being used to study Alzzheimer’s patients and others here.

Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine by Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter whose reputation is second only to Caravaggio among 17th-century Italian artists.

Lately, I’ve been following a really cool twitter feed called Women’s Art, @womensart1. It’s astonishing how many women, known and unknown, have been creating beautiful works over the centuries. Paintings, embroidery, sculpture, photos, quilts — you name it. The pictures have been an absolute treat.

Speaking of women’s art, I just learned about Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter whose reputation is apparently second only to Caravaggio among 17th-century Italian artists.

Paul Jeromack reported at Art Newspaper that she recently scored a big price at auction. Too bad she doesn’t get to benefit.

“A previously unknown Self-Portrait as Saint Catherine,” writes Jeromack, “sold at Drouot in Paris on 19 December for an artist record of €2,360,600 [about $2.9 million]. …

“The work, which dates from the same period (1614-16) as another Saint Catherine picture by the artist held by the Uffizi, was discovered by auctioneer Christophe Joron-Derem and presented in his sale of European paintings. …

“Lionised as an icon of feminist empowerment and artistic accomplishment since the 1970s … Gentileschi was canny enough to exploit her singular fame as a female painter in the form of self-portraits in the guise of religious or allegorical figures (her most notable depiction by another artist is by her friend Simon Vouet, who portrayed her with her brushes and palette and a wonderfully commanding swagger).  …

“Despite the artist’s popularity, she is not represented in many important museums: neither of the National Galleries in London or Washington, DC, nor the Getty, nor the Louvre, which curiously did not pre-empt the sale under French patrimony laws. While the picture’s relatively modest size of 71 sq. cm would endear it to private collectors, one hopes a major museum would be astute enough to acquire it.” More here.

Don’t you love it when someone “discovers” a lost masterpiece? That’s what I dream of — finding a masterpiece at a garage sale. Or like the blogger Things I Find in the Garbage, finding something amazing dumped on the curb.


Art: JRR Tolkien
An Oxford exhibit will feature decades of illustrated letters from “Father Christmas” to the children of Middle Earth wizard JRR Tolkien.

This is more of a Christmas post, but as the exhibit won’t go up until next summer, you have time to plan a trip to Oxford, England, to see JRR Tolkien’s illustrated Father Christmas letters. They will be on display from June 1 to October 28, 2018. If you can’t go, there is a heavenly array at the Guardian.

Maev Kennedy writes at the Guardian, “In December 1920 Father Christmas wrote a letter to a modest house in the Oxford suburbs, enclosing a watercolour sketch of his own rather more exotic domed snow house, approached by a flight of steps lit by ice lanterns. ‘I heard you ask Daddy what I was like and where I lived,’ he wrote to three-year-old John Tolkien, and as the family grew to four children, he continued to write every Christmas for 23 years. …

“The illustrated letters continued to arrive every Christmas Eve, sometimes delivered by a postman who had been persuaded to include them with the more boring letters and cards, sometimes materialising on the hearth rug with a handmade stamp. Some years Father Christmas was evidently very busy, and could only pass on the briefest snippets of news, and other years, when he had time on his hands, he could include elaborate multi-layered paintings. One showed his reindeer and sleigh arriving over the Oxford skyline – ‘your house is just about where the three little black points stick up out of shadow on the right.’

“Many recount the adventures of his friend and helper the Polar Bear – in 1926 he accidentally switched on all the Northern Lights – or the goblins who attempted to steal the stored presents in 1932. In one letter Polar Bear ‘found a hole in the side of a hill & went inside because it was snowing.’ He slid down a rocky slope, more rock fell on him, and he could not climb back: ‘But almost at once he smelled goblin & became interested & started to explore. Not very wise for of course goblins can’t hurt HIM but their caves are very dangerous.’

“The snow, the entrance to treacherous caves and the smell of goblin will be instantly familiar to readers of the book Tolkien was working on at the time, The Hobbit, the first of the adventures of Middle-earth. …

“Catherine McIlwaine, Tolkien archivist at the Bodleian, [says,] “There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of how important his family was to him. He was orphaned from the age of 12, when his mother died, and then he spent years boarded out in lodging houses in Birmingham.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.