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Art: Finneas Avery Roels, high school student
The theme for the Arlington, Mass., banner competition this spring was Trees.

One day back in June, when I happened to be in Arlington, Mass., I was struck by some delightful banners hanging from lamp posts. I decided to see what I could discover about them. Turns out, the designs were created by kids.

From the website Your Arlington, I learned that the “youth banner initiative aims to promote and encourage development in the visual arts and to provide an opportunity for youth to participate in temporary public art projects in Arlington. The effort is geared to young people in grades 6 through 12 (and the equivalent home-school level).

“Funding is provided by the Gracie James Foundation in memory of James, who was a beloved, artistically talented Arlington High School student. The program invites teens to submit designs relating to a specific theme to be digitally reproduced on vinyl banners which are then hung on light poles along Mass. Ave. in Arlington Center.”

This year’s theme was Trees, and three designs were chosen to hang in town. The one above is by Finneas Avery Roels of Arlington High School.

But, oh, dear, I thought. What happened to Gracie, whose foundation provided the support? Alas, those answers were in an obit.

“Gracie Christine James, beloved daughter of Chris Bobel, James Lundy and Thomas Hartl, all of Arlington, Massachusetts, died on October 20, 2010, of injuries sustained in a car accident in the Wasatch Mountains of Utah three days earlier. She had just turned 17 years old.

“Gracie Christine James was born on September 29, 1993, in Whitewater, Wisconsin where she lived until moving to New Orleans just before her fourth birthday. After her father and mother separated in 1998, Chris and Gracie moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they lived until relocating to Arlington, Massachusetts, with Thomas in 2001.

“Gracie’s father, James, moved to Arlington in 2006. Until this fall, Gracie had been a student at Arlington High School. In mid-August, Gracie began attending a boarding school in Hurricane, Utah. On the morning of Sunday, October 20th, Gracie and fifteen other girls and school staff were enroute to a full day excursion in Arches Natural Park when the staff driver of their SUV lost control and the vehicle rolled over outside of Sevier, Utah. …

“Gracie was an unusually creative, intuitive, affectionate and sensitive young woman with a shy smile, beautiful eyes and a deep, feeling soul. She was an accomplished figure skater, an avid reader and a budding artist who created evocative and vibrant abstract works in soft pastels. But her main passion was writing. A brilliant and imaginative writer of both short and longer fiction and poetry, she aspired to a career in professional writing.

“Gracie’s gifts for caring, compassion and emotional connection touched everyone she met as shown by the outpouring of grief and support expressed by her peers at both her current and former schools. The day after her death, grieving students at Arlington High School wore green, symbolizing peace and honoring her memory. …

“The family invites donations in lieu of flowers to the newly established ‘Gracie James Foundation,’ which will focus on closing the gaps in systems of support for local teens. Donations can be sent to 76 Paul Revere Road, Arlington, MA 02476.”

Life is precious, Guys. I do like to think that at least people are reminded of the life of this young girl as they make art for the competition or, like me, drive by during the months that the banners are displayed.

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Art: Susan Jaworski-Stranc
Neighbors

I’m on the email list of 13 Forest Gallery in Arlington, Mass. The first time I went there, the owner enlivened his art opening with guest opera singers.

This time, he had a printmaker demonstrate a type of linoleum printing that Picasso dubbed “suicide” printmaking. Others use the word “reduction” instead of “suicide.”

When I tell you how the work is done, you will understand why Picasso felt as he did.

Instead of carving, say, four different blocks for a four-color print, the artist uses only one block. A mistake at one stage can end the whole project.

Lowell resident Susan Jaworski-Stranc has been doing reduction linoleum printmaking for more than 30 years. As the website for 13 Forest explains, “with each layer, you carve more of the block away — so once a layer has been printed and you start carving for the next layer, there’s no going back.”

The artist herself says, “After each successive printing of a color, the surface of the block is reduced while at the same time the printing surface is built up with multi-layered colors. Born from one block of linoleum, my relief prints have the nuance and rich textural surfaces of an oil painting.

“Although Picasso coined this method of working a ‘suicide print,’ I rather think of this printmaking process as emulating the journey of life. While creating my prints, I am never able to re-visit past stages. I can only proceed forward with the acceptance of all good and not so good choices which were mediated and acted upon with the hope and joy of completion.”

On August 13, the gallery was packed as Jaworski-Stranc demonstrated. Many in the audience were experienced printmakers who asked intelligent questions that showed the rest of us what sorts of issues matter to artists.

One person asked if Jaworski-Stranc knew what the picture was supposed to look like in advance, and she explained that she started with a detailed drawing. Another artist wanted to know if the colors of Jaworski-Stranc’s very first reduction print (which she showed us) were what she anticipated.

The artist laughed, holding up that print. “Are you kidding? How would I ever think up a color like this!?”

Clearly, despite all the careful planning that goes into a print, Jaworski-Stranc relishes the beauty of randomness.

More here.

Art: Susan Jaworski-Stranc
Coastal Forces at Sunset

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I’ve mentioned before that John is active on the Arlington Tree Committee. He’s been behind a major push to inventory the town’s trees, aided by local government support and the legwork of many residents.

Other members of the committee have been using Facebook to link to interesting research on the value of trees to communities.

Science Daily, for example, reported on a study by Adam Dale et al. of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) suggesting the best ways to keep trees healthy and sustain their economic value.

“Heat from city sidewalks, streets, and parking lots, along with insect pests, can damage trees planted in urban landscapes. Thus, it is critical to plant trees in the right places so they will do well in harsh urban environments, a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences researcher says.

“More than half the world’s people and 80 percent of the U.S. population live in urban areas. Trees benefit these residents by filtering the air, reducing temperatures and beautifying landscapes. According to a new study led by Adam Dale, a UF/IFAS assistant professor of entomology, these benefits are reduced when trees are planted in unsuitable urban landscapes. However, guidelines can be developed to lead urban tree- planting decisions in a more sustainable direction.” Check out the researchers’ “Pace to Plant” technique here.

At the Toronto Star,

“Using data from Toronto, a team of researchers has found that having 10 more trees on your block has self-reported health benefits akin to a $10,000 salary raise or moving to a neighbourhood with a $10,000 higher median income or being seven years younger.

“By comparing satellite imagery of Toronto, an inventory of trees on public land and general health surveys, the team, led by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, found that people who live on a tree-lined block are less likely to report conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.

‘Their findings appeared [in 2015] in the open-access journal Scientific Reports.” More at the Star here.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that research social scientist Kathleen L. Wolf has written extensively on the value of trees: for example, in this Communities & Banking article on how “the urban forest” benefits local businesses.

Photo: Tyler Jones, UF/IFAS
Numerous studies show trees improve health and quality of life in communities and make shopping at local businesses more appealing.

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Massachusetts Avenue in East Arlington is shrinking. After contentious debate, the town decided to widen the sidewalks, add barrier islands in the street, and new plantings and benches.

The job is not done, but in spite of construction and less room for vehicles, the traffic doesn’t seem to have increased — one of those counterintuitive results that designers tout. The goal is to make the street more pedestrian and bike friendly and allow more community activities on sidewalks. Through the tree committee, John has been involved with the beautification side of things.

One of the issues that gets raised when a major disruption like this is afoot is the effect on small businesses. Neighbors are making a point of shopping local, hoping that Arlington merchants won’t suffer.

And to make sure residents don’t forget how important that is, there is an amusing signage campaign — signs saying that “Businesses are [fill in the blank] during Construction.”

For example, “Businesses are Opalescent during Construction.” Other Mad-Libs-type adjectives used are Quirky, Colorific, Radiant, Prismatic, Harmonic, Niblicious, and Excellent.

Below, I include a couple of the signs. And I tried to show how the project is coming along — the wide sidewalk, the plantings, the bench. I look forward to seeing how the residents begin to make use of their new public spaces.

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This group of photos starts with four from New Shoreham, including the Southeast Light and the posters on the food truck.

Next we have two sides of a utility box in Arlington, Mass. — the work of local artists. Many other utility boxes around town are painted, all charming.

The old, unused water works building always strikes me as a perfect setting for a mystery novel. The dog in the next photo is checking out the portable Uni library in the Greenway, an initiative of Sam and Leslie Davol.

The lushness of the hydrangeas this year makes me think of sheep. I start singing, “Sheep may safely graze and pasture/ In a watchful shepherd’s eye.”

And you know clouds.

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John (founder of www.mistersmartyplants.com) is a member of Arlington Tree Committee. He figured out a way to use Google Maps to identify heritage trees in town and got a sign made to encourage residents to adopt a thirsty tree.

Now that so many urban and suburban areas have taken down their trees to make construction projects easier, people are realizing what they’re missing.

Many have noted that trees play a role in residents’ mental and physical health.

University of Washington research social scientist Kathy Wolf has studied the health aspects and also has economic arguments. She has shown that an “urban canopy”  makes local shopping more agreeable for customers and lends vitality to downtown business districts. Read what she has learned, here.

Chris Mooney at the Washington Post notes other research. “In a new paper published Thursday, a team of researchers present a compelling case for why urban neighborhoods filled with trees are better for your physical health. The research appeared in the open access journal Scientific Reports.

“The large study builds on a body of prior research showing the cognitive and psychological benefits of nature scenery — but also goes farther in actually beginning to quantify just how much an addition of trees in a neighborhood enhances health outcomes. The researchers, led by psychologist Omid Kardan of the University of Chicago, were able to do so because they were working with a vast dataset of public, urban trees kept by the city of Toronto — some 530,000 of them, categorized by species, location, and tree diameter — supplemented by satellite measurements of non-public green space (for instance, trees in a person’s back yard). …

“Controlling for income, age and education, we found a significant independent effect of trees on the street on health,” said Marc Berman, a co-author of the study and also a psychologist at the University of Chicago. “It seemed like the effect was strongest for the public [trees]. Not to say the other trees don’t have an impact, but we found stronger effects for the trees on the street.”

Thank you to my high school classmate, Susie from Cleveland, for putting the Washington Post article on Facebook.

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I have a few more photos to share today. The first is of some early flowers. (I don’t know the name. Will have to ask mistersmartyplants.com.) Next is a long-necked character hanging out in my neighbor’s backyard. Then there’s an example of how Arlington artists are sprucing up utility boxes, followed by the gourmet Bee’s Knees grocery in Fort Point, a commuter boat reminiscent of the water taxis we sometimes took when we missed the Ocean Beach back in the day, and a new fancy building about to sail into the sky. (Construction in Boston is making up for time lost during the recession. The view from my office window has been completely altered in just a few years.)

April-flowers

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