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Photo: Calvin Nicholls
Wilson’s Bird of Paradise rendered in paper.

Some people seem to make a beeline straight from childhood to the work that will define them. People like Mozart, for example. Others have a long, circuitous route to greatness. Malvolio weighs in on the puzzle in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Pat Leonard writes at Living Bird that Calvin Nicholls came to his amazingly great art a bit by accident.

“The daily commute to his attic studio is short and steep. The road to success for Canadian artist Calvin Nicholls has been much longer. He’s spent the last 30 years perfecting an unusual art form that is all about light, shadow, shape—and illusion. Nicholls is a paper sculptor who creates fantastically detailed birds and other animals that seem to leap, lean, or flutter straight out of their frames. His career evolved from drawing, model-making, sculpting, photography, and periodic doses of serendipity.

“ ‘It’s so clear in my mind—it was 1983,’ says Nicholls. ‘I had my own graphic design studio in Toronto. I met a fellow who was manipulating paper to produce areas of highlight and shadow to create the feeling of depth in two dimensions. We worked on a restaurant menu concept together and I could see the potential in this technique. I got playing with paper sculpture myself and it was just so much fun.’

“At first, Nicholls created his sculptures as a method for creating his final product, a photograph that could surprise viewers by seeming three dimensional. The technique turned out to be a hit when Nicholls introduced it to some of his clients. He showed photographic prints of his work in an art show in Ontario in 1990, but he also wound up selling sculptures of a Snowy Owl and Mallard as well.

“ ‘I was focused on the prints and trying to make two dimensions look like three,’ Nicholls says. ‘Then clients would say, so where’s the artwork? And I thought, yikes—I never even thought about displaying the artwork! I still marvel that I didn’t know then that the original artwork could be as interesting as the illusion created in the prints with sophisticated studio lighting.’

“Switching focus to the original artwork meant reducing the depth of his sculptures so they could be framed and so the jumble of foam core supports and toothpicks underneath didn’t show when the piece was viewed from an angle. It took a lot of time and experimentation. But the end result is an uncanny illusion of depth from layers of paper that are only about an inch thick. …

‘What makes the sculptures work is thinking about anatomy and how [feathers] flow a certain way on the musculoskeletal structure,’ says Nicholls. ‘I have to get a sense of the skeleton and the muscles and what they do in certain gestures.’ ”

Read more and see the great pictures at Living Bird, here.

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I’m headed off to New York soon to spend some time with my sister. Regular readers know she was diagnosed with a bad cancer last summer, but she is stable with ongoing treatment and living a normal life. I hope to get good pictures on my travels, but in the meantime, here are scenes from my own backyard.

The first is from an art exhibit called “The Moon: Eternal Pearl.”  I particularly liked this Joseph Wheelright sculpture. The gallery itself (once a stop on the underground railroad) is always pleasant to visit, especially right after an opening reception when there are flowers everywhere. I liked how the gold dome of the UU church shows up beyond one flower arrangement.

When the gallery isn’t open, you can still enjoy the curious outdoor sculptures, like this elephant and ostrich.

The blue photo is from a blues concert I attended recently. The musicians are actually just doing a sound check here. The next three pictures are from my walks around town, including my walk on a new piece of the Bruce Freeman bike trail on a former railroad bed, which technically isn’t open yet but is so enticing that lots of people are using it. The trail has been taking decades to complete because of lawsuits by abutters. They will soon find out it is an asset, in my opinion.

I’m not sure if I posted the library’s children’s-book quilt already, but I want to be sure that quilting friends see it.

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Photo: Aventura Mall
Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches are among the impressive works of art at Miami’s Aventura Mall.

When Suzanne was a toddler, I loved going to the mall, Eastview Mall in Victor, New York, so she could run around. Even today, I may go to a mall for my walk when the weather is bad. But on the whole, I avoid the typically oppressive atmosphere of malls. This one in Miami would have to be an exception. It’s a real art gallery.

Alexandra Peers writes at Architectural Digest, “About a dozen years ago, [real-estate developer Jackie Soffer] began buying artworks for the 2.8-million square-foot Aventura Mall, one of the largest in America. …

“A few malls have art, a very few have good art, but almost none have the button-pushers and immersive installations that the Aventura Mall features. Artists on view include pioneers or buzzy contemporary players like Louise Bourgeois, Wendell Castle, Lawrence Weiner, Julian Opie, and Daniel Arsham. There’s a 93-foot-long slide by artist Carsten Höller, who had another one in London’s Tate Modern museum.

“At first glance, it all seems highly unlikely, but — much like Steve Wynn’s groundbreaking Bellagio Hotel, which signaled to a certain set that the luxury property in Las Vegas had Picassos — the art immediately and wordlessly brands the shopping center.

” ‘Mall has slightly negative connotations,’ Soffer notes, but in Aventura, given its size, longevity (it opened in 1983 and has expanded repeatedly since), and events program, it means to be ‘a real community center.’ Plus, the art is an audience attraction — and great selfie bait.

“[Soffer] concedes that there’s also a popular and much-photographed ‘Love’ sculpture on New York’s Sixth Avenue, near the Museum of Modern Art. But she brags happily, ‘That’s red and blue. Ours is a red, blue, and green artist’s proof!’

“Not all the mall’s retail-art mash-ups go smoothly, of course. One October, sculptures by Ugo Rondinone, a series of Easter Island–style heads atop a plinth of weathered wood, were installed in a gloomy corridor. A few weeks later, a store tenant asked when the Halloween decorations were being taken down. He found them ‘scary,’ given their tucked-away locale. It was a classic case of bad placement, laughs Soffer, who adds that the works have been moved to a wide-open area and are quite popular now. …

“Perhaps the biggest surprise of having the art collection in the mall, says Soffer, has been the unexpected number of adults, rather than kids, who want to take pictures with the pieces. An outdoor fountain of spouting bronze gorillas and animals by The Haas Brothers is, if anything, even more popular when bad weather forces the mall to turn off the water—because fans can get much closer to the figures.”

See more of the art here.

Photo: Leo Diaz/ Aventura Mall
Carsten Höller’s Aventura Slide Tower.

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Photo: Annie Tritt for the New York Times
Muriel Miguel, a founder of the feminist Native American collective Spiderwoman Theater, is considered a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada.

I’ve been interested to read how indigenous peoples around the world are reaching out to one another and starting to benefit from the strength of numbers. One result has been the emergence of international festivals staking out a place for native people in the arts world. I’m late with this story, but I wanted you to know about one such festival. It took place in January in New York City.

Siobhan Burke at the New York Times noted in particular that a grandmother of the Indigenous theater movement in the United States and Canada, Brooklyn-born playwright Muriel Miguel, was scheduled to be “among the 30 or so artists participating in this year’s First Nations Dialogues New York/Lenapehoking. (Lenapehoking is the homeland of the Lenape, the original inhabitants of the area encompassing New York City.) Taking place at multiple downtown theaters, the Dialogues bring together Indigenous performing artists from Australia, Canada and the United States for a week of performances, discussions and other gatherings, beginning Jan. 5. …

“In drawing attention to the breadth of contemporary Indigenous performance — with works spanning dance, theater, performance art and genres in between — the Dialogues are something rare for New York, if not unprecedented. Describing what to expect is not easy and not intended to be. In deciding what to program, the chief organizers — [Merindah Donnelly, an organizer of the series and the executive producer of BlakDance in Australia], the choreographer Emily Johnson, and Vallejo Gantner, the former director of Performance Space — set out to challenge a notion they often come across, that Indigenous performance fits any single description. …

“Ms. Donnelly said. ‘The people making it are Indigenous, but Indigenous is not a genre.’ …

The offerings here — many of which deal with themes of trauma, grief and healing — include Ms. Miguel’s Pulling Threads Fabric Workshop, in which storytelling and quilting serve as tools for mending old wounds. …

“While the tone may be somber at times, there is also much to celebrate. SJ Norman, an Australian artist of Wiradjuri and Wonnaruah heritage, said in an email that the opportunity to gather in New York ‘feels like an honoring of the continued existence of our peoples in the big city, as well as the dynamism and globalism of our peoples, which is absolutely vast.’ …

“A Native Alaskan artist of Yupik ancestry, Ms. Johnson has been working tirelessly to counter what she calls ‘the perceived invisibility’ of Indigenous performing artists, particularly in the United States. …

“One approach to bringing the United States up to speed is an ambitious pilot program, the Global First Nations Performance Network, which will be in development during this year’s Dialogues. … The network also requires, of each presenter, a commitment to undergoing what Mr. Gantner calls ‘a kind of decolonization process.’ …

“Ms. Johnson sees this year’s Dialogues as a microcosm of what the network may eventually accomplish, including opening up international exchange. For the Australian choreographer Mariaa Randall, whose ‘Footwork/Technique,’ [explores] the footwork of Aboriginal dances, a highlight of the Dialogues is the chance to simply talk and listen with peers from around the world.

“ ‘In our countries we can become kind of siloed,’ she said. ‘I want to be able to sit with and see and hear from other First Nations females: what their struggles are, their achievements, and how they continue to keep their culture and their practice together, to keep moving forward, because sometimes it is really hard.’ ”

More at the New York Times, here.

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This has been an amazing winter for sunshine amid cold temperatures and I fully expected to have lots of light-and-shadow photos to show you. But when I am outside, I seem to be mainly ogling the light and shadows and muttering to myself how glad I am to have seen that.

So today’s collection has additional photos from friends and family, who have been sharing more regularly.

My sister caught the moon on New York’s Upper West Side in February, and I tried to catch the Super Moon in Massachusetts.

I already blogged about my winter visit to New York (see the post on the Rubin museum’s Himalayan collection), but I wanted to add the port-a-potty for Asakiyume’s funny-potty-name collection — and also the pharmacist photo highlighting New York’s amazing diversity.

Next is a picture of my younger grandson on a ski trip to Vermont. He is climbing the walls, literally. I do it it only figuratively. Suzanne took the picture.

John’s photo shows a marine-themed lantern created by my older grandson yesterday at Arlington’s Art Beat, a shop where kids can buy art supplies or do a project — or both. His sister did a charming sand painting of a snowman.

Two pictures from Verrill Farm in winter show the scarecrow bean toss against a dormant field and a bench carved with horses’ heads.

The last photo is one that my artist-boss from community-newspaper days sent to a few former colleagues. It’s a still life that Bill Finucane painted for her out of the blue. Meredith writes, ” I had completely forgotten the wonderful gift of my assignment to help get Bill back on his feet and his job after a stroke and three years out of the world of work (four years not driving).” His painting is a gift of gratitude for her friendship.

I am grateful for yours.

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Photo: Katherine Anne Rose
On the south side of Glasgow every year the residents of Strathbungo decorate their windows with weird and wonderful displays for other locals to enjoy.

Here’s a grand idea to light up winter in a city. It reminds me a little of the mega jack o’lantern displays that Providence’s Roger Williams Park puts on at Halloween. Any city could do this.

Peter Ross writes at the Guardian, “Window Wanderland is a festival of lights that sees people transform their neighbourhood into a colourful playground using paper cutouts in their windows. In the streets of Strathbungo, Glasgow, the result is a night-time explosion of pop culture: Mary Poppins, the Moomins, Peter Pan, Paddington.

“The festival was founded in Bristol in 2015 by Lucy Reeves Khan, a set designer who had developed mobility problems, chronic pain and feelings of isolation following a car accident. As part of her rehabilitation, she took short walks in the streets around her home – at night, so few would see her struggling. Lonely, she glanced in lit windows at the people inside, and one evening the idea struck.

“Khan set about trying to articulate her concept to her neighbours. That wasn’t easy. ‘Nobody could understand what I was on about,’ she recalls. It wasn’t quite like Halloween, it wasn’t quite like Christmas. So she created a number of displays in her own windows as examples – and it took off from there, and has now spread to around 20 UK locations. …

“One home in Strathbungo is an angry lament for the Glasgow School of Art, which burned down recently for the second time; the windows of the home are bright with painted flame. On nearby Queen Square, Bernie Hunter, who is 24 and has cerebral palsy, has created a fond tribute to Still Game, the beloved Scottish sitcom, on the eve of its farewell series. …

“The politics of the event tend instead towards the environmental. On Regent Park Square, Emily Munro has decorated an upstairs window with the hourglass logo of Extinction Rebellion, the direct action campaigners. Her other windows show cutouts of insects, which Munro removes as the night wears on, symbolising their catastrophic decline, leaving just one – a bee.

“One home has been tricked out like a giant jukebox, with a real seven-piece band playing on the upper floor through an open window. …

“ ‘It’s beautiful, unplanned, chaotic,’ says Sarah Reid, who started this Scottish leg of the event. ‘Such a simple idea, but when people come together it creates something beautiful and powerful.’ ”

More here.

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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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