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Photo: Kagin’s
A detail from a 4×5-inch photo depicting Billy the Kid, left, playing croquet in 1878. Worth millions of dollars, the picture was found in a junk shop and bought for $2.

When I was growing up, kids regularly played games of “cowboys and Indians.” My brother and I had cowboy and cowgirl outfits and toy guns, “six-shooters.”

How times change! Today I am much more aware of the injustices done to tribes, and my preoccupation with better gun laws makes kids running around and shooting seem uncool.

But for sure, back then we thought cowboys were great: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Hopalong Cassidy — and the real Wild West holy terror, Billy the Kid.

I hadn’t thought about these guys for years, and then my husband pointed me to this article on a Billy the Kid photo.

Peter Walker writes at the Guardian, “Henry McCarty, known in Wild West lore as Billy the Kid, lived a brief and violent life, stealing and killing before his death in a gunfight aged 21. He lived with a gun in his hand – and sometimes, it seems, a croquet mallet.

“In a surprising historical twist, the second photo of McCarty ever to be authenticated shows him and his posse, the Regulators, playing the sport in New Mexico in 1878.

“The faded image was among a pile of photos inside a cardboard box at a junk shop in Fresno, California, unearthed by a collector in 2010. Randy Guijarro paid $2 for the image, which is now estimated to be worth millions of dollars. The only other confirmed photo of Billy the Kid, from 1880, sold for $2.3m in 2011.

“The photo was authenticated by a San Francisco-based Americana company, Kagin’s, which identified Billy the Kid along with several members of the Regulators, as well as friends and family. It was taken after a wedding in the summer of 1878, just a month after the gang took part in the brutal Lincoln County war.

“When the photo was first brought to the company, its experts were ‘understandably skeptical,’ said David McCarthy from Kagin’s. ‘An original Billy the Kid photo is the holy grail of Western Americana.

“ ‘We had to be certain that we could answer and verify where, when, how and why this photograph was taken. Simple resemblance is not enough in a case like this – a team of experts had to be assembled to address each and every detail in the photo to ensure that nothing was out of place.’

“The team spent a year investigating the photo, and even found the location where it was taken, in Chaves County, New Mexico. There they unearthed the remains of the building shown. …

“Liz Larsson, from the UK’s Croquet Association, said the series of photos from the scene left little doubt what game was being played: ‘It’s clearly croquet. You can see the hoops, the balls, the mallet, the centre peg. They’re all there. It’s a fascinating picture.’

“The first croquet club in England was founded in 1865, the same year the game was immortalised in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Larsson said. …

“[It was] not a game for the masses. … Things were, however, slightly different in the US, where companies making croquet gear created a smaller-scale version of the sport, which could be played on rougher turf, using cheaper, lightweight equipment. …

“All types of Americans played. In 1867, General George Custer wrote to his wife, Elizabeth, from his frontier fort in Kansas, asking her to ‘bring a set of field-croquet’ when she next visited. Thom Ross, a US artist specialising in historic scenes, has previously painted both Native Americans and cowboys playing croquet, saying this is based on extensive historical research.”

More here.

My brother’s cowboy hat.

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Photo: The Music Lesson, by Frederic Leighton, 1877. The young girl being taught to play the saz (a Turkish lute) is Connie Gilchrist. She was not a musician but became famous as an artist’s model and jump-rope entertainer.

The little girl in this story, born to a stage mother in a 19th century London slum, appears to have had a very successful life. But do click on Little Fatima, a painting by Frederic Leighton, and tell me what you see.

Vanessa Thorpe writes at the Guardian, “Fame is a fickle thing – and this point is well made by the painting of an opulently dressed girl being taught to play a stringed instrument that now hangs in the City of London’s Guildhall Art Gallery.

“Researchers preparing for an exhibition on Victorian attitudes to childhood, called Seen and Heard, have found that Connie Gilchrist, the forgotten young musician in painter Frederic Leighton’s canvas entitled The Music Lesson, was once the toast of England. …

“The child star, then known as ‘the original Gaiety Girl,’ made her name on stage at 12 with a novelty skipping rope act. But even at that early age, Gilchrist’s face was well known across London.

From the age of four she had posed for many of the great artists of the era, including Frank Holl, William Powell Frith and James McNeill Whistler, and for photographs taken by Lewis Carroll. …

“Gilchrist’s is a remarkable rags-to-riches story, yet one masked by her later identity as Countess of Orkney, the name by which she went until her death in 1946.

“Leighton’s sumptuous 1877 painting shows Gilchrist playing the saz, a Turkish stringed instrument, in a scene influenced by the artist’s visit to Damascus in 1873. But it is not the portrait of a child of the English aristocracy. In fact, Gilchrist had been born in the slum area behind King’s Cross station – a district described in 1851 by the writer WM Thomas as ‘a complete bog of mud and filth’ – which was demolished the year after her birth in 1865.

“ ‘Connie had been pushed into celebrity by her mother, it seems, in the hope she would be able to pull the family out of poverty – which she eventually did,’ said [Katty Pearce, curator at the Guildhall gallery]. ‘But although she appeared in hundreds of stage shows, becoming a star turn, those who met her in artists’ studios remembered her as quite a sad little girl.’

“Gilchrist was six when she began sitting for Leighton, and she is the Arab girl in his painting Little Fatima. Whistler even attempted to depict her skipping rope routine in an etching. …

“Gilchrist was able to quit the stage for good after doing an American tour in 1886. Her two wealthy benefactors, Lord Lonsdale and the Duke of Beaufort, had introduced her into high society, one buying a London home for all the Gaiety theatre girls, which he then left to Gilchrist, and the other becoming in effect her adoptive father. In 1892 Gilchrist married a Scottish peer, the 7th Earl of Orkney in London, and they lived quietly together for 53 years in his home near Leighton Buzzard.

“The painting of Gilchrist is one of 50 on show until the end of April in Britain’s biggest exhibition to examine Victorian representations of childhood.”

More images of Gilchrist, here, including the Whistler painting. More of her story at the Guardian, here.

I love how the various strands of this story could lead to many different investigations: on the sadness of child stars, on benefactors that do things like making a home for girls working in a theater, on how a town got a name like Buzzard. Leighton Buzzard — such an English name! Can you say it without affecting an English accent?

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Photo: Pinecone.org
Becoming a musician should not stress students out. That’s why students at a music school in Manchester, England, are encouraged to take time for a well-rounded life.

Our niece is a music teacher and youth orchestra conductor in North Carolina. Her husband and all three of her children are also accomplished musicians. One thing that’s hard to remember now is that when she was studying music in college, she was very stressed out.

That’s something a music school in Manchester, England, is determined to prevent as it launches its new wellness program.

Photo: UIG/Getty Images 
The Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, which has about 800 students, is promoting physical and mental wellness for students.

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Sally Weale writes at the Guardian, “The Royal Northern College of Music has become the first conservatoire to appoint a lecturer in musicians’ health and wellbeing, to help equip students to deal with the pressures of a career in music.

“The number of students reporting mental health concerns has risen sharply across higher education in recent years, and the RNCM is concerned its students have to deal with the additional pressure of concerts and recitals as well as long hours of practice.

“Sara Ascenso, a clinical psychologist and trained pianist, will start at the college in January. Her role will include lecturing and research, and she will also develop the health and wellbeing provision across the college, ensuring it is tailored to musicians’ needs.

“Kathy Hart, the RNCM students’ union president, said … ‘The work needed to build such a difficult career can come at a price, both physically and psychologically. … The more work we put in, the higher the stakes become – and the more devastating the impact if we are held back by injury or mental health struggles.’

“The Manchester college plans to lay on extra counselling sessions for students, particularly when performance pressures are at their peak, plus wellbeing activities such as yoga to help prevent injury. The RNCM also intends to extend its community outreach so more students get to work with people in need.

Ascenso said: ‘We want our students to learn how to make music with excellence, but also how to live fulfilling lives as musicians and as human beings more generally.’

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: Mark Bell
A relaxed family recital communicates even to the dogs that music is something to enjoy.
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Photo: Jackson Food and Art Festival
A food festival in Mississippi incorporates the arts to address nutrition issues.

It’s a good thing that philanthropies are able to support projects that improve lives in communities, because low-income municipalities can’t afford to tackle as many concerns as they’d like. Among the initiatives that Bloomberg Philanthropies supports are arts programs that address human needs.

As ArtForum reports, “Jackson, Mississippi, is the latest city to be awarded a $1 million Public Art Challenge Grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. … The funds will support the project ‘Fertile Ground: Inspiring Dialogue About Food Access,’ which aims to inform policy related to nutrition by using art as a medium to communicate the complexities of the issue in the city. Local and national artists, landscape architects, filmmakers, farmers, chefs, nutritionists, and community members will be invited to collaborate on a citywide exhibition featuring installations and performances, as well as other programming.

“The initiative will activate public streets, community gardens, a local elementary school, and a vacant building, which will be converted into exhibition space and a food lab with a pop-up kitchen, to address challenges stemming from the proliferation of fast food restaurants in the area. According to the Clarion-Ledger, many areas of Jackson are considered food swamps where there is almost no access to grocery stores.

Due to the overabundance of fast food, the city has the second highest obesity rate in the nation and the highest rate for children between the ages of ten and seventeen.

“ ‘The city is overjoyed to have been selected in this process,’ Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said in a statement. ‘This was a highly competitive grant.’ …

“Among those participating in the project are artists Adrienne Domnick and Kara Walker; filmmakers Keegan Kuhn and Roderick Red; Mark Bittman, the country’s first food-focused op-ed columnist for the New York Times and a faculty member of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health; chef Nick Wallace; clean eating advocate Ron Finley; and landscape architect Walter Hood.

“In February [2018], Bloomberg Philanthropies invited mayors of US cities with thirty thousand residents or more to submit proposals for temporary public art projects that address important civic issues.” More here.

And click here to read descriptions of other winning projects, including one to help heal the community after the Parkland school shooting: “The City of Coral Springs in partnership with the City of Parkland proposes developing five temporary installations to bring the community together in collective healing and reflection following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February of 2018. The artworks will serve as the community’s vision of change and hope for the future. The project will draw on and support Coral Springs Museum of Art’s ‘Healing with Art,’ an art therapy program which began as an immediate response to the shooting.”

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Photo: Kacper Pempel/Reuters
In the top photo jeweler Katarzyna Depa, 26, holds a silver ring with coal at her atelier in Katowice, Poland. Below, Grzegorz Chudy, 36, paints at his atelier in Katowice, where affordable rents have drawn artists.

Having recently watched the devastating 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA about a Kentucky mining strike, I’ve become a little more skeptical about longtime miners’ ability to transition to a new kind of life. Although I have blogged about efforts to help miners learn programming skills, for example, or be trained for jobs in the solar industry, such things may attract only younger people.

In this story from Public Radio International (PRI), we learn about recent changes in Poland, where the conservative government still supports the mining despite climate-change issues.

“When the Wieczorek mine, one of the oldest coal mines in Poland, closed [last] March, Grzegorz Chudy noticed for the first time the neighborhood was vibrant with trees in the full bloom of spring. The smell was heady.

” ‘It was incredible. You never knew all those trees were there,’ he told Reuters in his art studio in a housing estate for mining families in the southwestern Polish city of Katowice. ‘The smell wasn’t there while coal was being transported on trucks. The dust covered it up.’

“The Wieczorek mine in Katowice, with its towering brick shaft, is among dozens closing down throughout Poland, home to one of the most polluted coal mining regions in Europe. …

“Poland has had a painful and difficult experience with the economic transition from coal. Even as it counts down to [November 2018 climate talks], it announced plans for a new coal mine in the south of the country.

“Its government drew support in part from those with an emotional attachment to the job security, social fabric and national pride associated with mining that overlooked the downsides for health and the planet. …

“Chudy, 36, whose paintings often depict the life and architecture of Nikiszowiec, is one of hundreds of people who have moved to the area, drawn by its industrial feel and affordable housing.

“Built to house the families of miners at the start of the 20th century, Nikiszowiec was designed as a self-sufficient neighborhood with its own communal bread ovens and pigsties, as well as a bath house for miners and laundry facilities. …

“Those in the artistic community say their work could only exist with the inspiration provided by decades of mining.

” ‘For me using coal in a different way than it used to be, which was energy, shows its completely new face, so we can call it our new, cool black gold,’ said Katarzyna Depa, who makes jewelry from coal.

“But for those with mining in the blood, moving on is harder and the smell of coal dust is as sweet as blossom. Above all, they miss the community spirit even if it meant shared danger and hardship.”

More at PRI — which is, by the way, an amazing window on the world. Check it out if you don’t know it.

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Image: Green Tara Protectress from Eight Fears; Tibet; 19th century; Pigments on Cloth; Rubin Museum of Art; Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin. The Eight Fears are 1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts.

When I was in New York this week visiting my sister, she suggested we go to the Rubin Museum on West 17th St. She told me that the museum, which opened in 2004, was notable not only for the founders’ Himalayan art collection but for its peaceful aura.

It really was a treat. Here’s what the website says about the current exhibit. “Gateway to Himalayan Art introduces visitors to the main forms, concepts, and meanings of Himalayan art represented in our collection. A large multimedia map orients the visitors and highlights cultural regions of a diverse Himalayan cultural sphere that includes parts of present day India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia. …

“In addition to sculptures and paintings, objects such as a stupa, prayer wheel, and ritual implements demonstrate that their patrons sought the accumulation of merit and hoped for wealth, long life, and spiritual gains, all to be fulfilled through the ritual use of these objects and commissioning works of art.

“Among the featured installations are a display that explains the process of Nepalese lost-wax metal casting and a presentation of the stages of Tibetan hanging scroll painting (thangka).”

At the base of the museum’s circular stair we encountered male and female lions with fire (I think) flaming from their mouths.

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There was also an interactive table on which we were bidden to type our “intentions” (for the visit or perhaps for our lives). When we hit “enter,” our phrases whooshed up toward the ceiling, joining the flow of little star-like lights and other visitors’ “intentions” on the underside of the spiraling stairs. I typed “find light in shadow,” and my sister typed “experience peace.”

From the impressive collection we learned about the interconnection of Buddhist and Hindu culture and imagery. Among the highlights was a recreated Tibetan shrine where butter lamps were burning and visitors were enveloped in the deep, deep voices of monks chanting.

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There were also two excellent art recreations, one showing how artisans make a sculpture (the museum hired contemporary artists in Nepal to create the different stages of the process to be displayed in a glass cabinet) and the other demonstrating the steps for making a painted cloth hanging, a thangka. At first my sister was puzzled by the hanging’s label because it said “2014,” and all the other labels had ancient dates!

She, in turn, showed me an amazing thing that I had passed right by. It was a kind of virtual-reality video of what the houses of the Buddhist gods might look like, but the most amazing part came when the video swooped in on an aerial view. By George, a mandala! A mandala can be an aerial view of the houses of the gods. Probably other people know that, but I didn’t.

Here is a mandala that Melita showed me in process at MIT a few years ago. Colored sand was painstakingly dripped on a floor space by a visiting monk.

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Photo: Grace Z. Li
Yuleyca Ortiz, the security supervisor at the Graduate School of Design and one of the subjects of a recent art show.

I like this idea. A graduate student in the Design School at Harvard decided to honor the security and custodial staff by making art about them. Grace Z. Li and Ruth Zheng have a report at the Harvard Crimson.

“Sometimes Doris Reina-Landaverde wanted to ask artist Annie J. Liang why she wasn’t painting a professor, or a famous person. Why her, a custodian working at the Extension School? The goal of ‘Harvard Works 2.0,’ an eight-part portrait series on exhibition in the Science Center, is to challenge the premise of this question. …

“Liang, who graduated from the Graduate School of Design this past spring, developed the idea for the exhibition in VIS2448: ‘Painting for Designers,’ a class she took with Professor Ewa Harabasz in the fall of 2016.

“For one assignment, the students were asked to draw on top of concrete, a ubiquitous texture in the Design School’s Gund Hall. Liang said she was inspired to capture the social landscape of the school — that is, ‘the workers, and the people who support the institution in all its activities.’

“Despite their work being as foundational to the University as its physical structures themselves, the hours they dedicate to supporting the institution often go unnoticed, Liang said. She said ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ integrates those who do maintenance work into the layers of the painting — reimagining Harvard’s history with Harvard’s workers at the forefront. …

“In addition to highlighting the work done by Harvard’s custodial and security staff, ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ also raises awareness about the struggles Harvard’s workers may be facing.

“Reina-Landaverde arrived in the United States from El Salvador in 2000 and is a recipient of Temporary Protected Status, a designation the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grants to certain foreign nationals who are unable to return to their country of citizenship due to unsafe circumstances like armed conflict or natural disaster.

“TPS recipients can legally live and work in the U.S. and are immune from deportation. The status is temporary, but previous presidential administrations have largely left the program alone, allowing recipients to continue residing legally in the US.

“[Because of current federal] efforts to repeal TPS, workers at Harvard have taken part in activism to defend TPS, holding multiple rallies, appealing to former University President Drew G. Faust to take action to protect workers from deportation, and calling on the University for greater legal aid. …

“For [Yuleyca Ortiz, the security supervisor at the Graduate School of Design], her inclusion in ‘Harvard Works 2.0’ was above all a reminder to herself that the work she puts in at Harvard has been paying off.

“ ‘It doesn’t matter that sometimes I feel like a failure, that I’m not doing my very best,’ Ortiz said. Seeing that picture and the caption accompanying it, she said, confirms that ‘I am doing okay.’ ”

More at the Crimson, here.

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