Posts Tagged ‘art’


Photo: David Jennings for the New York Times
David Esterly in 1989. His woodcarvings were in the tradition of a 17th-century English master.

How some artistic geniuses stumble onto their metier is a mystery. This wood carver didn’t even know how to carve wood when he was blown away by the beauty and intricacy of works by a 17th century master. He had to know more.

Katharine Q. Seelye writes at the New York Times, “David Esterly was in London in 1974, walking with his girlfriend to meet her parents for the first time, when she steered him into St. James’s Church, Piccadilly, to see the intricate woodcarvings by Grinling Gibbons, widely considered one of the greatest woodcarvers in history.

“Mr. Esterly, an American who had studied at Cambridge University in England and was trying to figure out what to do with his life, had never heard of Gibbons and knew nothing of woodcarving.

“But inside the church he was mesmerized by what he saw — a cascading cornucopia of delicate, lifelike blossoms, foliage and fruit above the altar, all sculpted in wood by Gibbons in the late 1600s.

” ‘I was seduced by the power of the carving and its capacity to convey the beauty of nature,’ Mr. Esterly told the New York Times in 1998. ‘It seemed to me beyond belief that a human hand had fashioned those seashell swags, drooping bellflower chains, birds with laurel twigs in their beaks and dense whorls of acanthus. My fate was sealed.’

“He decided to learn more about Gibbons, and to do so, he realized, required taking chisels into his own hands. He taught himself woodcarving, becoming so skillful that when some of Gibbons’s 300-year-old carvings were destroyed by fire, Mr. Esterly was summoned to recreate them. He became not only an expert on Gibbons, but also the maker of sought-after sculptures of his own. …

“Mr. Esterly’s life was shaped by his obsession with Gibbons, master carver to the crown, who was commissioned to work in Windsor Castle, Kensington Palace and St. Paul’s Cathedral, among other landmarks. …

“For Mr. Esterly, carving was as much an intellectual exercise as a physical one.

” ‘The wood is teaching you about itself, configuring your mind and muscles to the tasks required of them,’ he wrote in his book ‘The Lost Carving: A Journey to the Heart of Making’ (2012). ‘To carve is to be shaped by the wood even as you’re shaping it.’ …

“He worked slowly, creating only about 50 pieces in his lifetime. But as his literary agent, Robin Straus, said by email, he was ‘equally fluent with words and wood’; besides books, he wrote numerous articles and reviews about art and carving.

“The subjects of his carvings varied. One might be Gibbons-like but with a twist — a spray of delicate roses, but with insect holes in the leaves, or a broken stem; another might be a head covered in elaborately carved vegetation.

“In most cases Mr. Esterly carved to the specifications of a patron. For a buyer who revered Thomas Jefferson, he carved a necklace like one sent back by Lewis and Clark, whom Jefferson had sent to explore the Northwest Territory. In others he whimsically updated traditional themes by inserting, say, a carved iPhone or a set of car keys.

“After a fire in 1986 at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace, Mr. Esterly spent a year creating a replica of a seven-foot-long Gibbons carving that had been destroyed.”

More of the story — and some terrific photos — here.

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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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Photo: Christian Chavez/AP
Children on the Mexican side play on a cross-border seesaw that two professors designed to highlight human connection.

The language of illegality has for many decades gotten in the way of our communal understanding that seeking asylum is a basic human right. Seeking asylum doesn’t necessarily mean being granted asylum — efficient processes have to be put in place to weigh individual circumstances — but it is not illegal to ask.

I get very discouraged about the way our country has long been treating human beings who have run for their lives. Then I see that not everyone is on board with the policies.

Lanre Bakare writes at the Guardian, “A set of fluorescent pink seesaws has been built across the US-Mexico border by a pair of professors seeking to bring a playful concept of unity to the two sides of the divide.

“Installed along the steel border fence on the outskirts of El Paso in Texas and Ciudad Juárez in Mexico, the seesaws are the invention of Ronald Rael, a professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San José State University, who first came up with the concept 10 years ago.

“In an Instagram post that has received tens of thousands of likes [see @rrael ], children and adults can be seen playing and interacting on both sides of the fence using the seesaws, which provide ‘a literal fulcrum’ between the countries, according to Rael. He said the event was about bringing ‘joy, excitement and togetherness at the border wall.’

“He added that it was also about finding ‘meaningful ways on both sides with the recognition that the actions that take place on one side have a direct consequence on the other side.’ …


Photo: Carolina Miranda/ LA Times
Japanese art collective Chim↑Pom is one of many groups to build art projects along the U.S.-Mexico border. This one is a tree house called USA Visitor Center.

“Other art projects have been planned for the border. Estudio 3.14, an architectural practice in Mexico, designed a pink interpretation … inspired by the 20th-century Mexican architect Luis Barragán, employing the pink pastel colour he often used in his designs.

“Dozens of artists have used the wall as a setting for projects, including the Japanese art collective Chim Pom, which created a treehouse in Tijuana with ‘USA Visitor Center’ written on the side.” More at the Guardian, here. And for the Carolina A. Miranda Los Angeles Times report on the treehouse, click here.


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Art: Egon Schiele, 1913
“Gustav Klimt in a Light Blue Smock.” UniCredit in Milan will sell most of its collection of works by Klimt, Giorgio de Chirico, Fernand Léger, Gerhard Richter, and others to fund good works.

When I worked at a Federal Reserve bank, I was astonished by the beauty of the bank’s art collection — and shocked that the public didn’t get to see it. A few works were in public hallways, but most were in private bank offices, in storage, or in the offices of wealthy tenant companies. I think the collection was a lure for some corporate tenants.

So I was intrigued to read what the Italian bank UniCredit had decided to do with its own valuable collection: sell off pieces to fund social initiatives across Europe.

As Anny Shaw wrote in May at the Art Newspaper, “The Italian bank UniCredit has announced plans to sell off its art collection — one of the largest corporate holdings in the world — to help finance social initiatives across Europe.

The impetus has come from the firm’s chief executive Jean Pierre Mustier, who publicly sold the bank’s private jet, opting to drive a Fiat 500 instead.

“Earlier today, the Milan-based bank announced a €1.4bn profit for the first quarter of 2019, up nearly 25% from the same period last year, and Mustier stated he intended to sell of non-core assets.

“The collection of 60,000 works includes those by Gustav Klimt, Giorgio de Chirico, Fernand Léger and Gerhard Richter. A spokeswoman says the bank has not yet decided exactly how many works will be sold, and when, but sales are expected to begin later this year. Pieces are currently displayed in the bank’s premises in Italy, Germany and Austria. …

“The decision to sell the collection comes after UniCredit extended its Social Impact Banking (SIB) initiative beyond Italy to countries including Germany, Austria, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Education, gender equality and job creation are among the bank’s goals, which last year approved €73m in financing to social entrepreneurs and startups in Italy.

“According to the spokeswoman, some of the art will also be donated to local museums ‘and the rest of the proceeds will be dedicated to other relevant projects, including the support of young artists locally.’ ” More here.

Federal Reserve folks would probably never be able to agree on doing something like that with their art collection, but I hold out hope that someday they will decide to make it available for viewing by the public. (Question for art critics: How about reporting on corporate collections, especially government ones that technically belong to the public?)

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I have often noticed how absorbed and peaceful an ordinarily boisterous child can be when doing artwork. I myself feel happy when I have accomplished something creative —  even a little bit creative.

It’s nice to know but will surprise no one that research supports the idea that being creative makes people feel good.

Here’s a report from the BBC.

“Whatever gets your creative juices flowing will boost your mood, according to new research.

“Almost 50,000 people took part in the BBC Arts Great British Creativity Test. It suggested that being creative can help avoid stress, free up mind space and improve self-development, which helps build self-esteem.

“The findings also said there are emotional benefits from taking part in even a single session of creativity. But there are cumulative benefits from regular engagement in arts activities and trying new pursuits is particularly good for our emotions and well-being. …

“76% of participants used creative activities as a ‘distraction tool’ to block out stress and anxiety; 69% used them as a ‘self-development tool’ to build up self-esteem and inner strength; 53% used them as a ‘contemplation tool’ to get the headspace to reflect on problems and emotions.

“The survey also revealed that the most benefit comes from taking part in live creative activities that involve face-to-face social interaction, like singing in a choir or taking part in a group painting class. …

“Dr Daisy Fancourt, a senior research fellow at UCL [said], ‘You don’t actually have to take part for a long time for it to have benefits. … Also, we find that for somebody who’s been doing the same activity for more than 10 years, it actually starts to have less of an effect. So there’s a definite benefit to novelty.

” ‘And we also found that talent doesn’t affect this relationship. It’s not about being good at it — it’s genuinely the taking part that counts.’ ”

Of the top ten creative choices reported, singing comes in first. Read the others at the BBC, here.

I loved the part about getting headspace. That makes so much sense to me. If you are going around in circles with a problem, do something creative for a while. When you come back to the problem, you will be able to see new possibilities.

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Photo: MedLinx
Some doctors find that museum visits are good for patients’ health. And now museums have started to add art therapists to their staff.

I can relate to the former colleague who often dashed out of work to look at art when he was stressed. Even if I don’t especially like the art, I always find going to museums and galleries soothing. And in recent years, I’ve started to see an increasing number of articles about the potential of art to improve health and healthcare. Last year, for example, I posted about museum visits being incorporated into medical training. (Click here.)

Now at the Hypoallergic podcast, Hrag Vartanian reports on museums hiring art therapists — and doctors actually prescribing visits.

“In Canada, an incredible new program allows doctors to prescribe museum visits to their patients. Hyperallergic’s Zachary Small visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to talk with Stephen Legari, the first full-time art therapist on staff at a North American museum (he sees 1,200 patients a year), about his work in the city’s encyclopedic museum and what role art can plan in healing. …

“Zachary Small: After I saw the [Thierry Mugler] exhibition, I had the chance to meet with the museum’s art therapist on staff, Stephen Legari. … Canada is spearheading this movement. They are setting up systems where you can have a doctor prescribe you to the museum. …

“Hrag Vartanian: Weren’t they also doing that in the United Kingdom?

“ZS: Exactly. The UK actually started this movement and really innovated art as a therapy tool. That started in the mid-1990s with psychologists who found that art had some really positive effects on the brain. … A lot of other creative disciplines are doing this. Theater therapy is popular, especially with military veterans. I think the greater question we can ask is: Can art be used as a tool for therapy? When I sat down with Stephen a few weeks ago to discuss his work, I was thinking about that, and how art therapy actually functions in the room. …

Stephen Legari: The museum prescription was inspired by a movement in what’s called social prescribing. This has kind of taken off more in the UK. And in looking at the literature, we see that doctors were prescribing, in addition to things like eat better and get out there and walk more often, they were prescribing social activities within the patient’s community, with the belief that that was going to accelerate their healing and give them opportunity for more agency, that I am a participant in my healing. I’m not just waiting for something to be fixed for me. …

Art therapy is a therapeutic practice where we can explore your feelings, your memories, your desires, your thoughts about yourself and your life through making art — and then also through reflecting on it. In art therapy, we are focused on the process of making art, of being in the art-making and seeing what that feels like, and less on the product as something that we necessarily want to put a magnet on the fridge with, though many people do find that they feel good about the art that they make, and they want to keep it. …

“ZS: I’ve seen art therapy described as curative therapy. What does that mean?

“SL: That’s a charged word. I describe art therapy as a healing journey through the use of art and a therapeutic relationship. That’s maybe the shortest and best definition I’ve ever come up with. Art therapists believe in the containing power of art. So a participant like this can share something really traumatic, and the art helps to contain it. It’s not flowing out into the room and overwhelming everyone. … I don’t present art therapy as a replacement for any other kind of healthcare practice. It’s an ally. …

“HV: In the mid-1990s, Globe and Mail art critic John Bentley Mays wrote a fascinating article about how living with work by Toronto artist David Urban actually helped him with his depression. So I keep thinking about this. It’s unique that art serves all these different purposes in our lives.

“ZS: And it goes beyond illness. Stephen also works with immigrants who have just arrived in Canada, victims of violence — there’s a whole spectrum of people. That’s what makes his job really interesting and challenging; he has to figure out what artworks are going to help patients and edge them toward a deeper understanding of themselves.”

More here.

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Photo: Tim Tai/The Inquirer
Lifelike statues by Seward Johnson mysteriously appeared in a West Philadelphia parking lot this year.

Although parts of West Philadelphia are lovely (consider the campus of the University of Pennsylvania), other parts have been rundown for decades. Many approaches to lifting up West Philadelphia have been tried. Maybe the attention drawn by a new, mysterious art project will be the key to success.

Stephan Salisbury has the story at the Inquirer. “It seems as though a wormhole in time has opened up on West Market Street, and 10 figures from midcentury America have tumbled out right into the center of an empty lot beneath the Market-Frankford El.

“There is a strolling professor, in a suit, reading an open chemistry text as he walks, utterly oblivious to the bikinied woman in a lounge chair over his left shoulder. Nearby are some besuited businessmen wearing black cordovan wing tips. A hot dog vendor holds a bun in his hand for no one in particular.

“Around them – there are 10 figures in all — is a rubble-strewn lot between 47th and 48th Streets. …

“As unlikely as it may sound, it appears that the 4700 block of Market Street has been targeted by a somewhat reclusive private foundation — the Daniel Veloric Foundation — as the site for a museum sometime in the future. The figures are all sculptures by Seward Johnson, the New Jersey-based artist of ordinary folks doing ordinary things.

“A check of city records indicates that the Veloric Foundation acquired the entire block along Market Street in 2017. Two lots at the corner of Market and 48th were sold to Philadelphia Community College at ‘below market value,’ according to the college, as part of a 63-acre parcel Veloric dealt to PCC. The college intends to use the land to expand its Automotive Technology Program.

“But the rest of the block, now studded with the Seward Johnson figures, Veloric sees as a spot for ‘a museum, classroom, and public meeting space and other community activities in West Philadelphia,’ according to the foundation’s 2017 federal tax return. …

“Veloric is the sole manager and trustee of the $84 million foundation, according to the tax return, which states no mission, an unusual omission according to nonprofit officials. (The Veloric Foundation is registered with the government as a nonprofit charitable foundation.) …

“Veloric, who is 91, referred questions to his attorney, Albert S. Dandridge, III, a partner in the law firm of Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis. Dandridge was a bit vague.

“ ‘It’s an opportunity zone,’ he said of the location along Market Street. He said the statues are ‘sort of a holding spot for now,’ and may not end up at that precise location.

“I don’t know exactly how they were acquired,” Dandridge said.

“Dandridge characterized Veloric as an entrepreneur who has labored in West Philadelphia his entire life, running multiple businesses, in the health-care and financial services industries. …

“Dandridge said that Veloric wanted the sculptures out in the open to be seen. ‘It gives the neighborhood hope’ he said, describing Veloric’s thinking. ‘People walking by are going to say: “Oh my god. Somebody wants to do something here. All these years it’s just a vacant lot.” ‘ ”

Read more here.

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