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Photo: Trader Joe’s.
Each of the grocery chain’s 500-plus locations “has custom-made signage, created by staff artists,” says the Post.

They don’t get paid much, but it’s unusual for artists to have a steady gig with benefits. According to Kelsey Ables at the Washington Post, a lot depends on which of the independent Trader’s Joe’s markets you’re working at.

“Growing up,” Ables reports, “Zoe Terrell dreamed of becoming an artist — she sketched scenes from her local farmers market and even won drawing competitions in her native South Korea. But she eventually learned what many creative people know too well. ‘My dad was like, “Well, drawing is not going to feed you,” ‘ Terrell says.

“So she studied education in college and, after moving to the United States in 2008, taught Korean — that is, until a curious job listing caught her eye.

“An ocean away, Terrell called her dad with surprising news: ‘Hey, guess what, Dad? Now, drawing is going to feed me,’ she recalls with a laugh.

“Terrell is one of hundreds of sign artists employed by grocery store Trader Joe’s. You probably know the idiosyncratic chain for its eccentric snacks and peppy cashiers, but that festive atmosphere extends to the stores’ interior design, too: Each of the 500-plus outposts has custom, handmade signage, all created by staff artists. Your grocery store is their art gallery.

“As what Trader Joe’s calls a ‘crew member with sign making talent’ (we’ll just call them sign artists), Terrell, 40, spends much of her workday at the Athens, Ga., store wielding a paint pen in a backroom studio. She makes signs to promote products with puns like ‘Hot Grill Summer‘ and creative drawings such as the Powerpuff Girls reimagined as vegetables. She paints murals that represent the local area, University of Georgia sports teams or the surrounding rural landscape. Occasionally, she gets to incorporate Korean lettering into her work, such as when the store got a shipment of scallion pancakes known as ‘pajeon.’ That was a highlight for Terrell — Korean students told her that seeing the Hangul writing made them feel a little more at home.

“Terrell says that in her early days in the United States, she sorely missed Korean grocery stores, where employees knew her family and each store had its own character.

“ ‘Especially when I moved to the U.S., everything seemed like it had been kind of standardized. You go to Walmart in New York or you go to Walmart out in the boonies in Georgia, and they look exactly the same,’ she says. ‘Trader Joe’s is just throwing a totally different curveball.’ …

“Trader Joe’s calls itself a ‘national chain of neighborhood grocery stores.’ And everything seems to have a human touch: from sweeping murals of local landmarks, which can stay on view for years, all the way down to individual price tags telling you that clementines are $5.99 and ‘great for the road!’ But for the artists, the work isn’t just about selling produce or marketing the latest peppermint-coated, jalapeno-infused, almond-butter-filled whatever. It’s a way to channel their artistic energy in a world that doesn’t make being creative easy. While job postings list pay for sign artists starting as low as $14 an hour, for many, it’s the stable art job they never thought they’d have.

‘I always tell everybody, it’s probably the best entry-level artist position that has a steady paycheck, good benefits and everything,’ says Dan Kaufeldt, a 35-year-old sign artist in Sacramento, who has been with the company for 16 years.

“Kaufeldt’s store decor combines comic book energy with meticulous detailing. For Thanksgiving, he painted a smooth-looking Turkey named DJ Gravy Grav who mixes ‘All about that Baste’ on a turntable, while spring break this year inspired an image of a cartoon lemon, strawberry and potato going on a road trip in a bouncing, orange RV.

“For many Trader Joe’s sign artists, going all out is part of the fun. At one of the Philadelphia stores, McKinna Salinas, 25, is working on transforming the bathroom into a parody of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, inspired by works from the museum collection such as Severin Roesen’s ‘Flower Still Life With Bird’s Nest.’ In her version of Winslow Homer’s ‘The Life Line,’ a man is seen dangling above stormy seas — but instead of saving a woman, he’s saving a carrot. …

“Trader Joe’s rarely advertises. It doesn’t have coupons. It avoids the words ‘sale’ or ‘cheap.’ The atmosphere is deliberately friendly. …

“As for the signs, ‘the handcrafted quality emphasizes the personal relationship,’ says Mark Gardiner, a former marketing executive who worked at Trader Joe’s while researching his book Build a Brand Like Trader Joe’s, which unpacks how the chain attracted a cultlike following. ‘It’s the graphic equivalent of that cheerful conversation that you’ll have with a total stranger that’s working there, who sees you buying dog food and asks you what kind of dog you have.’

“While working at the downtown Minneapolis Trader Joe’s, Georgia Gump took that idea to its extreme: The 25-year-old artist made a window mural featuring the neighborhood’s dogs. It was a big hit.

“But for Gump, who left the store in May, the early excitement of working at Trader Joe’s faded fast. That particular Minneapolis store is now trying to unionize for better wages and benefits (a store in Hadley, Mass., became the first Trader Joe’s to unionize last month), and Gump says it has been plagued by bad management. Gump hit a breaking point after breezing through the installation of an elaborate, handcrafted Christmas village.

“ ‘At first I was really excited that I did it in less than two hours,’ Gump says. ‘Then, it hit me that installing this piece of art cost the company less than $30.’ …

“Some artists have used the job as a jumping-off point. Gump now does sign commissions and pet portraiture around town. Salinas recently made a piece for NASA that will be featured on a satellite. Terrell says, ‘Trader Joe’s became my self advertisement.’ “

More at the Post, here.

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They Stayed in Kyiv

Photos: Iryna Dobryakova.
Young creatives who stayed behind in war-torn Ukraine.

Blog readers know that Asakiyume and I spent a few months helping media people in Ukraine with their English social-media outreach. (See this post.)

It’s not the same, but the native English speakers and Ukrainians on the team do keep in touch via Facebook. And we donate to former colleague Vitali’s work to help children traumatized by war in Rivne. Vitali has not seen his little daughter since the war started, which makes me sad. At least he knows she’s safe outside the country. And while he stays behind, he volunteers to help other children.

Shelby Wilder writes at Mic about some others who stayed behind.

“Russia’s war on Ukraine has disrupted the lives of millions. Many people fled their homes when mounting evidence of the impending ‘special military operation’ surfaced. As the country’s economy nosedived and the possibilities of work and earning a living wage evaporated, Ukrainians have pivoted their careers and reinvented themselves for the sake of survival. … It’s young people — the future of the country — who are leading the charge. History has shown that wars are not just fought with guns; they are fought with art and stories by creatives with the capability to fortify hearts and minds.”

MICHAEL FOSTIK | МИХАЙЛО ФОСТИК Profession: Director, Cinematographer, age 32

“Michael Fostik, a director and cinematographer by trade, resides in London but returned to Ukraine during the COVID pandemic to be closer to family. He was shooting commercial and creative projects while in his home country, but just as the pandemic began to wind down, news of a potential war with Russia started to spread. At the beginning of February, Michael relocated his mother and grandmother from Kyiv’s northern suburbs to his hometown in Transcarpathia, a remote region in western Ukraine. His family initially resisted immediate evacuation, but in time, Michael’s insistence would prove vital. Russia’s invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, and within a matter of days the Russian military was within reach of the family’s by-then-vacant home.

“Once Michael moved his family to safety, he had planned to return to the U.K. ‘My life was in London,’ he tells Mic. ‘I have an apartment there, I had jobs lined up, everything was waiting for me, and then overnight it suddenly stopped.’ Less than 24 hours after Russia invaded, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree of martial law that banned male citizens ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country, in case they were needed to defend their homeland. So Michael stayed in Kyiv. …

“Beyond being physically constrained within his country’s borders, Michael’s creativity was restricted by the conflict too. ‘The digital and creative content being produced in the country is centered around war,’ he says. ‘There isn’t capacity to create in other genres or to cover anything else; it’s not relevant. As a result, there’s currently an undeniable heaviness in our culture.’

“So, Michael pivoted to journalism, covering the unfolding conflict in order to make ends meet. He visited the front lines as Russia’s army made advances on the capital. Ukraine’s Armed Forces required that individuals reporting to the war zone have their own body armor, but Michael knew that it would be nearly impossible to acquire a bulletproof vest during the chaos. He tried to be resourceful and ordered a flak jacket on Amazon. But when it arrived, the vest was empty; the essential Kevlar was not included.

“In true Ukrainian spirit, Michael filled the lining of the vest with books instead and headed towards combat. Michael says he deliberately selected the books that would serve as makeshift armor: ‘I chose carefully. I couldn’t just fill it with any random book! I chose books that meant something to me.’ The literature ended up coming in handy when he was forced to retreat to a bunker for several days. He passed the time by removing and reading the books one by one. When he emerged from the bunker, he says, someone remarked that his vest looked different.

“ ‘I’d finished all the books by that time and left them behind,’ Michael says.”

VIKTORIIA PETROVA | ПЕТРОВА ВІКТОРІЯ, choreographer, age 23, and OLEKSII STEPANKOV | СТЕПАНКОВ ОЛЕКСІЙ, artist, age 30

“Viktoriia Petrova and Oleksii Stepankov are a husband and wife who have been separated by the war. A trained dancer, Viktoriia has worked as a choreographer in independent theater productions, specializing in modern dance with a focus on free form. ‘Improvisation is imagination,’ she says. Oleksii is an artist and director of photography who works in theater, cinema, and sculpture. He works with materials in their natural surroundings to combine textures and light, allowing the imaginations of viewers to interpret their own stories. Oleksii comes from a legendary family of artists: His grandmother is the famous theater and cinema figure Ada Rogovtseva.

“Since Feb. 24, the lives of Oleksii and Viktoriia have completely changed. On the second day of Russia’s invasion, Oleksii joined the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps for the defense of Kyiv. After Russia’s military retreated, he joined the Armed Forces of Ukraine and was deployed to the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, while Viktoriia has remained in the capital city.

“Viktoriia describes how their priorities shifted: ‘Men fight, and the volunteer movement rests on the women left behind. The theater that our family is involved in has become a volunteer center. Instead of rehearsals, we’re coordinating humanitarian aid.’ On March 27, the International Day of Theatre, Viktoriia, along with others from her theater troupe, helped organize an evening of poetry for Ukraine’s military. ‘We continue to hold theatre performances and film screenings whenever possible to support the Armed Forces,’ Viktoriia shared. She has held dance workshops since Russia’s invasion, and she sends all the proceeds to her husband’s unit in the military.

“Facing long periods of separation, the couple is never sure exactly when they’ll be able to see each other. So they communicate through art. Viktoriia sends videos of her improvisational dances, and Oleksii sends back photo collages from the front lines. Viktoriia insists that the ‘four days of vacation with him once every few months is still a gift.’ Of course, even when Oleksii is on ‘vacation,’ he continues to check in with his unit and deal with internal military affairs, ‘We know what we are sacrificing and fighting for,’ he says. ‘We dream of a free Ukraine and of love. This is our salvation.’ “

Also at Mic, here, you can read about BOGDAN ZHDANOV | БОГДАН ЖДАНОВ, actor, age 28 —  “We all cry these days. It’s okay. We cry and then we carry on” — and VLADYSLAVA SHLIAMINA | ВЛАДИСЛАВА ШЛЯМІНА, line producer, age 31 — “We are united as a nation, and we are not giving up.”

At the New York Times, here, you can find out more about the publication Mic, which was new to me.

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Pirate Artist

Photo: Art in America.
Dick Riley’s approach to art stirs things up.

The New York Times calls this anti-plastic missionary a “pirate artist.” Melena Ryzik‘s article explains how he got that moniker.

“The artist Duke Riley isn’t exactly sure why he had the idea to turn a plastic tampon applicator into a fishing lure, but he knows one thing for certain: It works.

“He put it to the test one summer day on a buddy’s boat in Block Island Sound, and, with his pastel bait bouncing along the ocean floor, pulled up a sizable fluke. It was a keeper — ‘I definitely ate it,’ he said.

“The applicator tube had first washed up ashore, part of the many tons of seaborne trash that Riley, a Brooklyn artist known to scavenge New York’s waterways for materials and inspiration, has collected over the years. Putting this spent plastic product to use as fish food — that was some D.I.Y. upcycling. Putting it into the Brooklyn Museum of Art: that is Riley’s wild and singular artistic ingenuity.

“There’s a film of the fishing endeavor, done in the style of a crusty YouTube tutorial. The lures — displayed on pegboard, as in a real bait shop — join other plastic detritus that Riley has repurposed, like straws, dental floss picks and vape pens, in ‘DEATH TO THE LIVING, Long Live Trash,‘ an exhibition [that opened in June] at the Brooklyn Museum. Across multiple rooms and settings, it confronts the calamitous environmental impact of the plastics industry and the ways in which unchecked consumption, for personal convenience, has polluted waterways.

“Its centerpiece is more than 200 works of painstakingly hand-drawn scrimshaw that Riley has spent three years making. Instead of the whale teeth and walrus tusks that 19th-century sailors once etched, he uses a contemporary, dispiritingly abundant, analog: discarded plastics. Lotion tubes, squirt bottles, brushes, a honey bear, solo flip-flops, a Wiffle ball and a legless lawn flamingo now stained bone-white, all provide the canvas for Riley’s patterned mariner drawings in India ink.

“As whalers often depicted the leaders and profiteers of their day, Riley portrays the C.E.O.s of chemical companies, plastic industry lobbyists and others he deems responsible for producing the devastating tonnages of single-use plastics that are engulfing our oceans and threatening our ecosystems. It’s a downer, but if you look closely there’s often a Riley twist of humor, like the seagull shown relieving itself on the head of a water bottle magnate.

“ ‘This is an artist who I always refer to as a modern-day pirate,’ said Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum. ‘He’s not just an aesthete pointing to something passively, he’s working to actively spur change — you have to be in it with an artist like Duke. He’s not going to hold back.’

“Calling out corporate titans and politicians — particularly when institutions like the Brooklyn Museum depend on them for donations and support — comes from a fearless ethic and ‘a wit that is hilarious and unforgiving.’ She added, ‘I always think of him as the George Carlin of the art world.’ …

“Best known for ‘Fly by Night,’ a 2016 performance in which 2,000 trained pigeons outfitted with LEDs lit up the New York sky, or for launching his own homemade Revolutionary War submarine into the path of the Queen Mary 2 cruise ship, Riley has mostly succeeded by navigating around the commercial New York art world, though he holds degrees from some of its prestigious feeder institutions (a B.F.A. from the Rhode Island School of Design and an M.F.A. in sculpture from Pratt Institute). …

“ ‘Duke is a natural,’ said Ernesto Pujol, an artist and former professor at Pratt who has mentored him. ‘A huge talent. … He had to fight his way for the art world to see him holistically — he is the kind of artist that is always more than you bargain for.’ …

“Riley works in many mediums: The Brooklyn exhibition includes films, decorative installations, mosaics and illustrations, like a vast map of Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, encompassing its history from precolonial bounty to Dutch settlers through the polluted Superfund site that in 2007 tested positive for gonorrhea. …

“His mosaics offer one of the biggest wows of the show. Inspired by sailors’ valentines, a nautical souvenir traditionally made of shells, Riley’s are enormous and quite beautiful.

Only on close inspection do you notice that the perfect, shiny seashells are interlaid with a rainbow of bottle caps, cigar tips, bits of mechanical pencils, and bread bag clips, all harvested from New York streets and waterfronts. …

“[His studio is] a cleanish space, stacked with neatly bagged, color-coordinated trash. A trailer outside was filled with more refuse. Some of it came from Fishers Island, the exclusive enclave in Long Island Sound, where Riley had a residency in 2019, and where he met a woman whose full-time job is to rid its beaches, the summer home of families like the DuPonts, of plastic rubbish.

“ ‘The exhibition is so much about holding people accountable, and the little acts that people can take to solve this problem,’ Liz St. George, the show’s curator, said. That includes museum administrators; in the course of working with Riley, they changed cafeteria suppliers to minimize plastic, and reconfigured water fountains to accommodate reusable bottles. …

“He did the scrimshaw in solitude aboard his boat, now docked in Rhode Island. A Massachusetts native who worked on the fish docks and grew up visiting places like the New Bedford Whaling Museum, he has always been attracted to a New England nautical aesthetic. …

“This week, Riley is also debuting a mosaic in Boston’s central library. It is one of only a few pieces of contemporary art purchased for permanent installation in the landmark 1895 building, since a circa-1900s John Singer Sargent mural. Riley’s work is partly inspired by the Great Molasses Flood of 1919, an urban disaster caused when a storage tank exploded, releasing millions of gallons of the sticky stuff. It destroyed neighborhoods in the North End, a community of Italian immigrants. …

“For his core group of collaborators, no project is too brazen, or too labor-intensive. ‘We always pull it off,’ said Nicholas Schneider, a New York City firefighter and a longtime member of Riley’s crew. Through all the fun, ‘there is always a somber or very serious component that I think he’s always been the most focused on and proud of.’ “

More at the Times, here. See also Art in America, here.

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Elizabeth Catlett: Sharecropper (1968)

If you are on Twitter, I recommend following @womensart1. She has introduced me to some outstanding art by women.

Her website says, “Art is art and artists are artists, yes, but there is also a gendered historical, social and cultural framework in which it is produced and received, which has ongoing implications on issues of value and recognition. The masculine term ‘master,’ for instance, and the ideal of lone male genius, still underpin the omnipresent Western concept of ‘the artist.’ …

“My own online project #WOMENSART was created with the simple premise of raising the profile of women artists. By highlighting their diverse historic and global work, the project clearly reflects that ‘women’s art’ is not a category in itself, yet it does indicate genres to which women are more culturally and socially linked.

“#WOMENSART also creates an integral opportunity to promote women’s self-representation and to explore the female rather than much more scrutinized ‘male gaze.’ … Specific exploration of the artwork of women has enabled insights into areas including capitalism, migration, class, globalization, ethnicity, disability and so on, from an unusual, uniquely female perspective. …

“In addition, the #WOMENSART project has enabled consideration of genres such as textiles, ceramics, zines, crafts and street art rather than focusing solely on the Western definition of ‘high art’ (sculpture and painting), therefore challenging the hierarchical limitations of a system historically based on discrimination rather than ability.

“Utilizing social media as an outreach facility has, in turn, proved quite a leveler, as it provides access to/for artists, genres and audiences that the establishment may ignore.” More here.

At MoMA, I learned more about the artist shown above, Elizabeth Catlett: “Catlett once said that the purpose of her work was to ‘present black people in their beauty and dignity for ourselves and others to understand and enjoy.’ Sharecropper calls attention to the tribulations of tenant farming — a system in which rent for the land is paid by the farmer with a part of the crop, creating an impossible-to-escape cycle of debt — while also offering a heroic portrait of an anonymous woman. …

“Her printmaking practice included woodcut, screenprint, lithography, and, most importantly, linoleum cut, which she learned at the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphic Workshop) in Mexico City.

“Founded in 1937, the workshop aimed to continue the Mexican tradition of socially engaged public art. It specialized in linoleum cut, a technique that produces inexpensive prints and can accommodate large editions. Catlett first visited this renowned workshop and artists’ collective while she was in Mexico on a fellowship in 1946, where she found a kinship with the Mexican muralists, including Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco. Like them she tried, she explained, to make art ‘for the people, for the struggling people, to whom only realism is meaningful.’ ” More at MoMA, here.

One of the many advantages of @womensart1 is that it inspires you to find out more about the female artists you see there.

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Photo: Dan Cameron.
Chumono, Muelle de Alma (2005), site specific art installation near Cucao, Chiloé, Chile.

Today’s article is the first in a Hyperallergic series about a fellowship for curators that one recipient used for a project in Chile. Blogger Rebecca may know the part of Chile that curator Dan Cameron talks about.

He writes at Hyperallergic, “While preparing this project one day, I was perusing Chilean regional news outlets for details about the December 2021 fire that damaged or destroyed a number of houses in Castro, the capital of the Isla Grande de Chiloé, when I noticed that multiple sources referred to the island as a ‘tourist’ destination.

“Maybe it’s the just intellectual vanity that goes with being the sort of curator who leaves New York City to come to a remote corner of South America, but it felt weirdly like a slap in the face to see this little-known (outside of Chile) place that I’d been steadfastly exploring for a future curatorial project seemingly transformed by a single word into a locale that would be for, well, tourists. In my mind it didn’t matter that Chiloé’s famed palafito stilt houses and 17th- and 18th-century wooden churches attract visitors worldwide, or that the more secluded corners of Chiloé I’d scouted on previous trips had everything a moderately resourceful traveler would need for a splendid visit. …

“My flash of pique at reading Chiloé so described is curiously linked to my personal history with Chile, which I first visited exactly 30 years ago. … I’ve returned consistently to Chile over the years, precisely because I thought I wouldn’t otherwise get to know it. This was summarized by the word that the Santiago-based artist Eugenio Dittborn would employ five years later as his title for a survey exhibition I curated of his signature pinturas aeropostales (airmail paintings) at the New Museum: Remota.

In 1992 I hardly knew anybody who possessed firsthand information about Chile, and that made it irresistible.

“During our initial meeting at his studio in Santiago, I shared with Dittborn my very ambitious itinerary, which included Santiago, Valparaiso, Easter Island, and the northern cities of Iquique and Antofagasta. … Dittborn responded that in the future, I should visit the southernmost art museum in the world, in Castro [in Chiloé], and perhaps consider organizing an exhibition there. …

“I finally made it to Chiloé in 2015 with the artist Gianfranco Foschino. … It helped that Gianfranco was personally enthusiastic about organizing a contemporary art exhibition in Chiloé, but what became less clear once we’d made our initial reconnaissance of the island was whether or not MAM Chiloé was the ideal venue for a project that would function largely as a platform for local artists. After spending time with and talking to various artists living on the island, it seemed that, for most, the museum functioned as a venue for artists based in Santiago. If I wanted to see where local artists showed, I’d need to dig a little deeper into the patchwork of regional museums, municipal libraries, gallery-cafés, and community centers, which tended to be scattered all over Chiloé, and on the nearby islands of Quinchao and Lemuy.

“My last time in Chiloé, in November 2019 … I started envisioning Alrededores more as a long-term curatorial endeavor, where instead of artworks appearing for one season and vanishing, some might require years even to come to fruition. That would place the project closer in spirit to the niche that the Chilote artist Chumono opened up with his site-specific Muelle del Alma (‘Pier of the Soul’), which since its 2005 construction has become emblematic of art and nature co-existing on mutually beneficial terms. Thousands of visitors each year park their cars near the village of Cucao and hike nearly three miles through verdant hills and pastures to the westernmost edge of the island.

“There, according to Chiloé folklore, the boatman Tempilcahue will someday ferry them to the afterlife; fittingly, Chumono’s wooden ramp visually beckons visitors up into the sky and out over the Pacific Ocean. …

“The most exciting part of my plan was the possibility that Chiloé’s artists might end up with an international context for their work, without rupturing the sociocultural framework of their lives.

“The art was already there — I had already been surprised by its depth, and it was simply a matter of introducing the world to it. Even if cultural tourism, broadly speaking, was on a temporary hiatus as new waves of COVID spread worldwide, other avenues could bring the public to the art of Guillermo Grez or Anelys Wolf, or to the sole-proprietor storefront Museum of the Accordion in Chonchi.

“The latter, a modest but beloved establishment, preserves an integral part of the musical legacy left through centuries of ships — on which the accordion was that rare instrument capable of surviving adverse conditions — rounding Tierra del Fuego to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which slowed to a crawl after the 1914 opening of the Panama Canal. Part of the original Alrededores concept had been to move the museum’s collection — acquired long ago from sailors who left their accordions for repair and never returned — temporarily to MAM Chiloé, while putting some TLC into the museum’s display and conservation in Chonchi, where exhibits are typically set out on folding tables with hand-written labels.

“This month I’m returning to Chiloé for the fifth time in eight years … in pursuit of something that compels me to return over and over again, and to continue dreaming of a truly marvelous future art exhibition.”

More at Hyperallergic, here, where you can click through the curator’s updates. No firewall, nice pictures.

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Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images.
Queen Margrethe II of Denmark is set designer on a Karen Blixen fantasy movie. So cool! But this is not the queen’s first rodeo.

I didn’t know anything about Denmark’s artist-queen before seeing an article in the Guardian. The report made me want to learn more.

Andrew Pulver wrote, “Queen Margrethe II, reigning monarch of Denmark, is to design the sets for a forthcoming Netflix film adapted from a novel by Karen Blixen. …

“A romantic fantasy set in the fairytale kingdom of Babenhausen, Ehrengard will be directed by Bille August, the veteran Danish director of Pelle the Conqueror (which won both the Palme d’Or and Oscar for best foreign language film in 1988) and The Best Intentions (which won August a second Palme d’Or).

“Margrethe, who ascended to the Danish throne in 1972 and is commander-in-chief of the country’s defence forces, has also had a long career as an artist, including drawing the illustrations for Danish editions of Lord of the Rings, and exhibitions at galleries including the Arken Museum of Modern Art in Ishoj near Copenhagen. She also has screen credits as a production designer on the 2009 [fairy] tale The Wild Swans, and a short film adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen in 2000.

“In a statement, Margrethe said: ‘Karen Blixen’s stories have always fascinated me, with their aesthetic tales, their imagination and their, to me, image-creating worlds – and I’m very happy to be part of this project.’ …

“August added: ‘The Queen has created the most fantastic decoupages for the occasion, and they will be the dominant feature of the film’s overall scenographic expression.’ ” More at the Guardian, here.

In a WordPress blog post from the Danish Home of Chicago, Mia wrote more about the queen: “Bewitching memories came tumbling out when I read about ‘The Fairy-Tale Queen‘ at Amalienborg Museum in Copenhagen. The special exhibit … is the work of Queen Margrethe II, whose artwork is on display. The exhibit shows the queen’s costume designs and scenography for productions of fairy tales, including ThumbelinaThe Steadfast Tin SoldierCinderella and The Nutcracker, that were presented at The Royal Theatre and The Pantomime Theatre. …

“I couldn’t wait to ask our friend Farfar, who lives at the Danish Home, whether he knew about the multi-talented queen of Denmark.[He] always thought of Margrethe as a pretty young thing. Her father, Frederik IX, was the Danish sovereign Farfar grew up revering. He had moved to the U.S. by the time Margrethe became queen in 1972. ‘I remember that she wore a daisy pin on her wedding gown,’ Farfar said, surprising me. ‘Daisy is her nickname, you know.’

“As a resident of The Danish Home, Farfar celebrates Queen Margrethe’s April 16 birthday every year … but he had never heard of her prodigious artistic talent. …

“While still the crown princess, Margrethe had sent J.R.R. Tolkien her own illustrations for his Lord of the Rings book. She used a pseudonym, so Tolkien had no idea the artwork that so charmed him had a royal provenance. The queen’s illustrations were published in a 1977 Danish edition of the Tolkien classic.

“Over the years, Margrethe has not only dreamed up costume designs, scenography and illustrations, but has also designed some of her own clothes and created paintings that have been displayed in some of Denmark’s most popular museums. Some of her watercolors appeared last year on postage stamps of Greenland, which is a constituent country of Denmark.

“She [is] serious enough about her art to clear her schedule every Thursday afternoon in devotion to it.” More.

At the Culture Trip, Aliki Seferou has more on the queen’s illustrations for the Danish version of The Lord of the Rings. “In 1977, five years after Margrethe’s father had died, leaving her the throne of Denmark, the Queen’s illustrations were printed and published in the Danish edition of The Lord of The Rings as well as on a British edition published by the Folio Society. If you’ve seen these editions and wonder how her name slipped your attention, it’s because Queen Margrethe used the pseudonym Ingahild Grathmer. …

“Even though the Queen of Denmark has an impressive academic background with studies in Political Science at Aarhus University, … Archaeology at the University of Cambridge and some years at the London School of Economics, it seems that she’s always been attracted to more creative activities. She’s known for designing her own dresses, ceremonial garments for the Danish bishops as well as costumes for theatrical plays. Among her most popular works are her designs for the movie Wild Swans, which is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s renowned fairy tale, and her costumes for the Royal Danish Ballet’s production of A Folk Tale.” More.

I have to say that my favorite part may be that, by tradition, this woman artist is the commander in chief of her nation’s defense department.

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Photo: Paul Braven/ AAP.
Images in support of the men and women fighting devastating bushfires were projected onto the Sydney Opera House January 2020

Remember the massive fires in the Australian bush and all the terrified koalas? It wasn’t that long ago. Artists were among those who used their talents to raise funds in the aftermath. I think the opinion piece written for the Conversation in January 2020 about Australia foreshadows the many ways artists were destined to help during the international disaster we now refer to as Covid.

Jo Caust, associate professor at the University of Melbourne, wrote the op-ed because at the time, a government was treating the arts as a nice-to-have but unnecessary frill.

Caust wrote, “Artists are again finding themselves at the receiving end of criticism over funding.

“A mural on the wall of a fire station funded through the Western Australia Percent for Art scheme has met with a hostile reaction in the light of the bushfire crisis.

“In WA [Western Australia] all new public buildings costing $2 million or more must spend 1% of the building costs on public art projects – a bipartisan initiative since 1989.

“Public art plays an important role in connecting communities, humanizing the environment and giving a community a unique identity, but WA Shadow Minister for Emergency Services Steve Thomas told the ABC ‘I think it is time for this policy to end. [It] is more important to put that money into the equipment [emergency services] require rather than art work to decorate the building,’ he said.

“Artists are a critical community resource, but this criticism is a familiar refrain in Australia, where arts practice is seen as non-essential.

“The federal government determined in December 2019 the arts no longer matter to the nation by disappearing the arts from mention as a governmental responsibility and continuing to cut arts funding.

Across the country, the average income of artists from their artwork is A$18,800, yet artists have raised millions of dollars in support of the 2020 bushfire crisis.

“Comedian Celeste Barber has raised over $50 million from more than 1.2 million people to help those who need it. Pink, Elton John, Metallica, Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban, Chris Hemsworth, Kylie and Danni Minogue – to name only a handful – have personally donated large amounts of their own money to help fighters and victims.

“Visual artist Scott Marsh raised more than $60,000 by painting a mural in Chippendale. … The Stardust Circus prevented a blackout at the Ulladulla Evacuation Centre by lending their generator. Theatre companies are organizing collections at their performances for bushfire relief.

More than 32 concerts are taking place across the country with musicians giving their time for free to fundraise. Visual artists are auctioning their work. Writers, illustrators and editors are donating books, mentoring, and naming rights to characters in forthcoming books to support firefighters. …

“Art and artists can have a transformational role in rural communities by building resilience. Rural communities value their local history and artists can play an essential role in recording and validating a community’s culture.

“Arts institutions, such as regional galleries, can also have a dramatic impact on a community. In 2012, the Bendigo Art Gallery generated $16.3 million for the local economy. The Book Town festival in Clunes, the Writers Festival in Byron Bay and the Folk Festival in Port Fairy are all crucial to the sense of community in those towns.

“Artists can be critical in restoring hope and providing healing to a community after it has experienced trauma. The Creative Recovery Network works together with emergency management agencies across Australia to help communities affected by trauma and natural disasters to recover from their experiences. …

“While the arts can create provocation, they can also be a means of honoring feelings and processing grief. There are times when communities need more than financial relief to recover from loss. They need a way to make sense of it so they can move forward.

“Artists have stepped up in a huge way at this dark time in Australian history by volunteering their talents and resources to support communities and firefighters.

“They have demonstrated artists and arts practice can contribute to our society with passion, ingenuity, and imagination. It is time the arts and artists received the respect they deserve by our governments and the broader community.”

More at the Conversation, here.

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Illustration: Shivani Javeri.
Many artists in India donated their work to fundraisers such as the Fearless Immunity art sale to help others during the height of the pandemic.

You can trust artists to come through when there’s a need for empathy. They are often sensitive enough — perhaps wounded enough — to feel someone else’s pain and want to do something about it.

For example, as Rohini Kejriwal reports at Hyperallergic, India’s creative community became a beacon of hope during Covid-19, using their talents to raise money for vulnerable populations.

“In April and May, amidst a devastating second wave of COVID-19, India faced an overwhelming shortage of hospital beds and vaccines, choked crematoriums, and a rising death count. …

“From their homes, artists took to social media and used visuals, words, and even cake to raise funds for frontline workers and organizations helping affected communities get basic supplies like oximeters, thermometers, basic medicines, and masks. From every part of the country, illustrators, photographers, poets, and bakers came together to do their bit. 

“Hundreds of illustrators across the country have sold their prints, calendars, and other merchandise in exchange for donations to individuals and organizations most affected by coronavirus. … Keeping transparency in mind, the artists and their supporters shared donation receipts publicly, and Instagram was suddenly flooded with posts by good Samaritans doing whatever they could. 

“Several artists also took on commissions, like Shivani Javeri and Upamanyu Bhattacharyya, who made digital portraits for COVID-19 relief, and Divya, who did pet portraits on commission. Ria Mohta of Artisan’s Arbor created Feel Good postcards, through which people could buy postcards and write a customized message for loved ones. Creative Dignity, a volunteer-run movement, has been working to help traditional artisans and craftspeople from India who face the double threat of a health crisis and livelihood uncertainty. 

“Several print sales have been hosted by the photography community as well, like Art for India, Ode to India, and Prints for Hope by Eight Thirty; Chennai Photo Biennale’s PhotoSolidarity, as well as the Print for Srishti sale, with 45 participating photographers, initiated by photojournalist Smita Sharma.

“A series of art sales, in which multiple artists pooled and sold their work to raise funds as a collective, also arose. Author-illustrator Devangana Dāsh brought together 26 talented women artists to sell digital artworks; Kulture Shop ran two Art Fights Covid campaigns with 50 artists selling their art for oxygen relief; the Fearless Collective created an art sale Fearless Immunity; and LOCOPOPO and a group of artists and illustrators sold their original works and art prints.

A Friendly Fundraiser was started by a group of friends who decided to donate their time in exchange for donations, offering a variety of services and experiences from home coffee brewing, writing better college essays, personalized digital portraits, and even guidance on raising a puppy in lockdown. More recently, community fundraisers with various workshops and panels have grown in popularity, like student-run initiative Moonflower COVID Relief and Sensory Expansion by Unlocked

“India’s poetry and music communities have also had a part to play. In May, a group of writers hosted an evening of poetry, In the Dark Times, There Will Be Singing. Poet Nakuul Mehta is currently running #PoemsForHumanity, where he writes and performs an original poem for those who donate. 

“Even the independent music community has been doing their bit. Producer Arjun Vagale mobilized his friends in the Indian electronic music community, and together, they created a charity compilation album titled SOS. Producers Sanaya Ardeshir and Krishna Javeri collaborated with the coffee estate Kerehaklu to create Kerelief, natural soundscapes intended to bring calm. Sanaya, along with 11 other producers, also helped create CRSP (Covid Relief Sample Pack),  a bespoke sample pack of sounds produced from across the globe.

“Offering workshops as a way to share practical knowledge also became a way to incentivize donations. Shub (also known as the Hungry Palette) hosted a visual journaling workshop, and natural color maker Manya Cherabuddi started a fundraiser called Find Your Calm and donated all the proceeds from her classes on natural dyes and pigments. In June, NPI Collective hosted a 3-day workshop on children’s books as maps to help navigate the pandemic.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Art: Vincent van Gogh.
“Memory of the Garden at Etten” (1888), oil on canvas, State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg.

From the quasi-animated film Loving Vincent to revelations in old postcards, Vincent van Gogh has been making a lot of headlines in the last few years. I’ve covered a few of the stories myself: for example here, here, and here.

Now there’s a book aiming to shine a light on the artist’s three sisters. Eva Recinos reviewed it for Hyperallergic.

“We might sometimes forget that major artists have had to exist as people, too, with all the trials and tribulations that might come before they reach fame. Take, for example, family dynamics. And in the van Gogh family, there were many of them. 

“Vincent van Gogh’s three sisters — Willemien (Wil), Elisabeth (Lies), and Anna van Gogh — are highlighted in the historical biography The Van Gogh Sisters by Willem-Jan Verlinden (Thames & Hudson). The book was originally published in Dutch in 2016; the English version, translated by Yvette Rosenberg and Brendan Monaghan, includes previously unpublished letters, largely the result of research completed after the Dutch version was first released.

“Through letters between the siblings, we read that Lies was frustrated that women didn’t have more professional options that were socially acceptable. We learn about how Wil often copied Vincent’s drawings and was his favorite model, and that the two wrote to each other about art and literature and inquired about one another’s mental health. …

“But about 100 pages in, there’s still a lot of focus on Vincent and his two brothers, Theodorus (Theo) and Cornelis (Cor) van Gogh, as well as their father. … While we do get more insight into the sisters’ lives, quite a few pages are dedicated to Vincent.

“The reproductions of art are largely his works. That’s clearly because there’s more of his art to share, yet it takes the reader out of the narrative about the sisters. (The book does include a watercolor piece by his mother, Anna Carbentus, also known as Moe van Gogh. She was an avid gardener and created pieces to capture the beauty of nature.) …

“We learn that Wil has an interest in making her own art and writing. She explored flower arranging and wrote an article for the journal ‘The Dutch Lily’ that was ‘an unconventional guide to flower arranging,’ Verlinden writes (one line speaks of her love for ‘more loosely arranged flowers’). Vincent, for his part, wrote to Theo that maybe Wil could marry an artist; as much as he did love discussing the arts with her, it can be deduced that he didn’t exactly see her being a professional artist herself.

“She eventually focused her efforts on the National Exhibition of Women’s Labour, which was organized to shed light on women’s contributions to the economy, particularly through the production of goods. But Wil would also end up struggling with mental health. She spent more than three decades of her life at a psychiatric institution, where she passed away.

“Lies wrote poetry and would go on to publish multiple books — including one centered on the life and work of Vincent. There’s also a fourth sister, of sorts, in the text. Johanna Gezina Bonger (Jo), Vincent’s sister-in-law, who helped organize exhibitions of his work after he died in 1890.  

“Ultimately, if you approach the book as a fan of Vincent van Gogh’s work, it will feel like a deeper dive into his place within the family, such as his struggles to prove himself as an artist to his parents and his complicated relationship with his sisters — an argument with Anna likely drove him from the family home in 1885 and he was disappointed that his other sisters, especially Wil, didn’t come to his defense. … But as with any under-highlighted history, we can only hope future research will tell us even more.”

The Van Gogh Sisters, by Willem-Jan Verlinden (2021), is published by Thames & Hudson and is available at Bookshop.org.

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Art: Jacob Lawrence, via PEM.
Missing Panel 28 from the “American Struggle” series as shown at PEM, the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This panel and one other were recently found in New York City.

Have you been following the story of the missing panels of a major work by African American master Jacob Lawrence? It was exciting enough when one missing panel was discovered in New York in the past year, but two? In different homes?

Hilarie M. Sheets at the New York Times reported on the latest developments.

“When a nurse living on the Upper West Side checked an app for neighborhood bulletins last fall, she learned about the recent discovery of a Jacob Lawrence painting in an apartment a few blocks away. It had turned out to be one of five panels long missing from the artist’s groundbreaking 30-panel series “Struggle: From the History of the American People,” which was on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, right across Central Park.

“The name Jacob Lawrence rang a bell. She walked over to look more closely at a small figurative painting on her dining room wall, where it had hung for two decades, its signature barely legible. It was a gift from her mother-in-law, who had taped a 1996 New York Times profile on Lawrence to the back. The nurse, who had only glanced at the back while dusting, learned from the app that Lawrence was a leading modernist painter of the 20th century — and one of the few Black artists of his time to gain broad recognition in the art world.

“Could lightning strike twice in just two weeks’ time? The woman told the story to her 20-year-old son, who had studied art in college and quickly Googled the Met’s exhibition. He found a murky black-and-white photograph of their very painting being used as a place holder for Panel 28. It was titled ‘Immigrants admitted from all countries: 1820 to 1840—115,773,’ and the wall label read: ‘location unknown.’

“ ‘It didn’t look like anything special, honestly,’ said the owner. … ‘I didn’t know I had a masterpiece.’ …

“After she had connected the dots, she called the Met, but her messages went unreturned. By day three, her son suggested they just head over on his motorbike. His mother recalled:

‘I grabbed a young kid at the information desk in the lobby and said, “Listen, nobody calls me back. I have this painting. Who do I need to talk to?” ‘

“Eventually, an administrator from the modern and contemporary art department met them downstairs and asked the owner to email her photos of the work — which she did on the spot, from her phone.

“By that evening, Randall Griffey and Sylvia Yount, the co-curators of the Met’s Lawrence show, and Isabelle Duvernois, the Met’s paintings conservator, were making their second trip to an Upper West Side apartment in the space of two weeks to verify the authenticity of a Lawrence painting that had not been seen publicly since 1960.

“The nurse, who has agreed to lend her painting for the last two stops of the traveling exhibition, was granted anonymity because she said she was concerned for her family’s security living with a now-valuable artwork. The panel will debut March 5 at the Seattle Art Museum in ‘Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle’ and remain on view through May 23.

“Before the discovery of Panel 16, first reported by The New York Times on Oct. 21, the Met’s team had known only the work’s title and subject matter — Shays’ Rebellion — but had no image to help authenticate it. … With Panel 28, they had a low-quality photograph of the work, which had been exhibited in the late 1950s at the gallery of Lawrence’s dealer Charles Alan.

“The painting, in vivid red, gold and brown tempera on hardboard, shows two women draped in shawls flanking a man in a broad-brimmed hat, their heads bowed and oversized hands clasped toward the center of the image. The panel, evoking old-world travelers, was inspired by immigration statistics in Richard B. Morris’s 1953 ‘Encyclopedia of American History,’ part of Lawrence’s exhaustive research on the foundational contributions of immigrants, Blacks and Native Americans to the building of the nation. (He refers specifically in the title to the number of immigrants who came to the United States during the early years of the 19th century.) …

“The owner of Panel 28 doesn’t know how her mother-in-law — who was an immigrant herself and raised her family on the Upper West Side while amassing an eclectic array of inexpensive artworks — acquired the painting. ‘I have a feeling my mother-in-law didn’t pay much more than $100,’ she said.”

More at the New York Times, here.

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Photo: Photoquest/Getty Images.
American scientist and educator George Washington Carver (1864 – 1943) was also an artist. Above, he works on his painting “The Yucca.”

It’s reasonable to ask, Why celebrate women or Black Americans only one month a year each? But one advantage is that there’s an incentive for the media to dig out stories about interesting people we either wouldn’t know about at all or wouldn’t know about in detail. For example, most Americans know that a Black scientist called George Washington Carver did research on peanuts that helped farmers in the South. But I, for one, didn’t know anything about his paintings.

Eva Amsen reports at Forbes, “Last month, the Getty Foundation announced the grant recipients for the 2024 exhibit series ‘Pacific Standard Time 2024: Art x Science x LA.’ This event will include different galleries and institutes in California, which will each focus on the theme of science and art. While some of the planned exhibits focus on current and future science, one grant recipient is featuring an artist from science history. The California African American Museum received $120,000 for their exhibit ‘World Without End: The George Washington Carver Project.’

“Although George Washington Carver is best known for his research on new uses for peanuts, he was also an artist. In 1941, two years before his death, Time Magazine featured a piece about Carver in which they mentioned that 71 of his paintings were being shown at Tuskegee at the time.

“Carver spent most of his career as an agricultural researcher at Tuskegee, but he didn’t start his university career in science. When he initially enrolled in college (after searching for a place that would accept Black students in the 19th century) he studied art and piano at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa. He’d always loved plants and particularly excelled at painting them. …

His art teacher, Etta Budd, encouraged him to enter one of his paintings to a local art exhibit, where it was selected as one of the artworks to represent Iowa at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. Carver’s painting, ‘Yucca and Cactus,’ got an honorable mention at the fair.

“Despite his talents, Budd worried that Carver wouldn’t be able to make a living as an artist, so she suggested that he take his plant illustration skills to the botany department at Iowa State Agricultural College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree here in 1894 and his master’s in 1896, Carver took on a research position at Tuskegee Institute. 

“One of his initial interests was to help farmers increase the yield of their crops. Besides doing research, he invested a lot of time in talking to farmers and explaining the benefits of fertilization and crop rotation to restore nutrients to the soil.

“Partly thanks to Carver, crop production in the South did indeed increase, but this led to a new problem. Now farmers were stuck with an agricultural surplus of crops they had harvested but could not sell. … Carver invented more than a hundred new uses for sweet potatoes and over three hundred different ways to use peanuts. …

“Unsurprisingly, considering his art background, one of the new uses he found for peanuts was to develop paints.  He didn’t just use peanuts to make dyes, but other natural resources as well. Carver even created a line of household paints using pigments from Alabama soil that he envisioned would be more affordable for poor families.

“Carver used some of his self-created paints for his art as well. In the 1941 profile about his art, Time Magazine noted that he used a series of plant-based earth tones created by his assistant A. W. Curtis Jr.”

Using Alabama soil to make dyes caught my attention because I love the work of natural-dye scarf artist Jamie Bourgeois. Sometimes she augments nature to document the polluted waters of Cancer Alley in order to help the Louisiana cleanup efforts. It’s amazing to see how pollution changes the colors. Read about that work here. And support the pollution cleanup here.

More at Forbes on George Washington Carver, here.

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Photo: Invaluable
“Summer Farm Scene,” oil on canvas painting by self-taught artist Helen LaFrance of Kentucky.

Whatever kind of art you make, I have a question for you. What matters most to you: being in the moment of making? Or the aftermath? And if you feel satisfaction in pleasing someone else with your art or joy in selling it, are those experiences all part of the making or entirely separate things?

See what the late folk artist Helen LaFrance had to say about the relative importance to her.

Penelope Green wrote the New York Times obit on the artist. “Helen LaFrance, a self-taught artist whose vibrant and intimate ‘memory paintings’ of scenes from her childhood in rural Kentucky brought her renown late in life, died on Nov. 22 at a nursing home in Mayfield, Ky. She was 101. …

“In glowing colors and sharp brush strokes, Ms. LaFrance painted church picnics and river baptisms; tobacco barns; backyard gardens with geese and children racing through them; kitchens with bushels of apples and jars of preserves shining like stained-glass windows. Her exuberant scenes of rural life invited comparisons to the work of Grandma Moses, Horace Pippin and other regional painters who drew from their memories to tell stories about a vanished time and place.

‘It’s just a way of reliving it all again,’ Ms. LaFrance told a television interviewer in 2010. The next year she told another interviewer, ‘If I do something somebody likes, well, I’m satisfied because somebody liked what I did, but I don’t think it’s important.’

“The author Kathy Moses Shelton, who, with the gallerist Bruce Shelton wrote ‘Helen LaFrance: Folk Art Memories’ (2011), called Ms. LaFrance ‘an American treasure.’ …

“Ms. Moses Shelton said in a phone interview. ‘She grew up under Jim Crow. She was 10 when the Great Depression hit. Her art doesn’t reflect the pain of that era. … Instead what comes through is joy, and the values of family and work. Her family owned and farmed their own land when sharecropping was the norm, and they were self-sufficient and lived in dignity. Her blend of personal experience, Black American culture and heritage, and her skill all come into play to make her work unlike anybody else’s.’ …

“Helen LaFrance Orr was born on Nov. 2, 1919, in Graves County, Ky., the second of four daughters. Her parents, James Franklin Orr and Lillie May (Ligon) Orr, known as Bud and Hon, grew tobacco and corn.

“Helen did not attend much school. Her parents instructed her in reading and math, and her mother taught her to paint, guiding her hand and helping her mix colors from dandelions, berries and Bluette laundry detergent. She and her sisters worked in the family fields; Helen drew after her chores were done. She recalled loving the smell of the crayons her mother would bring her.

“Ms. LaFrance spent most of her life no more than 10 miles from her birthplace. She worked in a tobacco barn and in a hospital as a cook. She made custom whiskey decanters for a local ceramics company and worked as a retoucher in a photography studio. She owned property, commercial spaces and land.” To read more of the story and to see more art by LaFrance, click here.

And speaking of outstanding, self-taught artists, I never lose an opportunity to point people to a special children’s book about WWI soldier Horace Pippin, here. You will love it.

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A dripping icicle.

Although officially it’s still fall, there are many days it feels like winter where I live. We are not yet at the point that the dogs are sticking to the sidewalks, but some days it’s pretty cold. Even the chickens at Codman Farm in Lincoln seem to shiver.

The snow we had a week ago froze into a hard and slippery crust, and we put on cleats to take walks. But what is going on with that yard? you ask. The pattern is the result of my husband’s wish never to use a leaf blower. He puts out a net, rolls up the leaves, and carts them to the town’s composting site.

I took a couple red and green photos on warm days, but they made me think of the holiday to come.

Hellabore uses any break in the weather to flower. So welcome.

In another picture, you see where someone made a child’s game with chalk. It was actually quite intricate, featuring a variety of tasks and awards for getting to certain squares. A more elaborate version of hopscotch.

Most of the other photos speak for themselves, but the lovely dove design is by artist Kristina Joyce, a commission for one of her clients. That photo is followed by a painted door from one of the Umbrella artists.

The last two pictures were sent by Stuga40 and were taken on walks in Stockholm.

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Photo: Shanna Lewis for KRCC
Muralist Valrie Eisemann is among the first four artists to work on the new levee wall in Pueblo, Colorado. She’s creating a mandala, KRCC reports.

Last month, I pondered the challenges presented over time by public art in the form of statues of historical figures. In the past, art that could last through the ages — Michelangelo’s “David,” for example, and the stone lions on the Greek island of Delos — was highly valued. Even painted frescoes were made to last, with pigments worked into plaster.

Nowadays, murals on buildings are proliferating, and I’m thinking that transitory art like that is a good idea. It’s OK for them to be painted over, worn out, or recreated with a new vision.

Today’s story is about a group of artists in Colorado doing just that.

Shanna Lewis reports for KRCC, “Bright colors have blossomed once again on the concrete face of Pueblo’s Arkansas River levee. Paintings are going up in an effort to reclaim a lost public art space and the title of the world’s largest outdoor mural.

“Muralist Valrie Eisemann of LaVeta is among the first of four artists to work on the new levee wall. Using paint donated by a local recycling company, as well as some that she bought herself, she’s creating a colorful mandala. …

“Muralists have to rope up for safety to work on the steeply sloped concrete. But that isn’t slowing any of them down.

“Each artist will bring their own unique vision and ideas to the project. Celeste Velazquez of Pueblo said her imagery is of a native woman that references the Azteca community, as well as Toltec and Olmec cultures.

“ ‘She’s going to have like four arms, almost like a shaman and there’s going to be the spirit Quetzalcoatl in the back of her in her native tent,’ Velazquez said.

“Puebloan Thomas Garbiso’s piece is a mountain view along I-70. … Aurora artist Kalyn Connolly’s design is of a deer with Colorado flora and fauna on its antlers, including columbines, crows and white butterflies.

“All the artists are excited to be among the first brush paint on the levee since construction to repair it started six years ago. … According to [artist and levee mural coordinator Cynthia Ramu], since the 1970s, hundreds of people helped create the murals that once lined the levee.

“ ‘Eventually, it became like a storybook for a lot of people,’ Ramu said. … Some of [the story] is literally underfoot because the concrete with the old murals was torn off during the repair project and then ground up and used to create a walking trail for the top of the levee. …

“She said, ‘I feel so excited at the possibility. It’s kind of like moving forward. It’s just endless possibility.’

Pueblo Arts Alliance director Karen Fogelsong agreed. … ‘One of my favorite things is to see beautiful art go on yucky cement,’ Fogelsong said. ‘So let’s put beauty on top of it. On viaducts on levees, on the sides of buildings, wherever we can make it beautiful.’

“Fogelsong thinks if Pueblo can regain the world record, it’ll draw tourists to the area to see it. The current record is held by a mural in South Korea that’s more than 254,000 square feet — so a lot of art is needed again to beat that.

“It could happen though. More applications for new murals are rolling in and creative energy is flowing along this part of the Arkansas River.”

More here.

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Maria Popova at the blog Brain Pickings is an endless source of inspiration. Whether she is posting about art, nature, philosophy, or children’s books, she’s a treasure. 

Today I want to dip into her report on an out-of-print book featuring an artistic rendering of the wonders of the Great Barrier reef. Considering how fast the optimal conditions for the reef are being lost to global warming and the ocean’s higher carbon levels, it might be a good idea to think about how it looked in 1893.

Popova begins, “While the German marine biologist Ernst Haeckel was salving his fathomless personal tragedy with the transcendent beauty of jellyfish, having enraptured Darwin with his drawings, his English colleague William Saville-Kent (July 10, 1845–October 11, 1908) was transcending his own darkness on the other side of the globe with the vibrant, irrepressible aliveness of the Great Barrier Reef and its astonishing creatures. 

“By the end of his adolescence, William had survived the unsurvivable. The youngest of ten children, he lost his mother when he was seven.”

Suzanne’s Mom pauses here to let you read what else was “unsurvivable,” including murder most foul.

“William was shaken by the inordinate share of loss, violence, and public shame he had accrued in so young a life. Taking refuge in the impartial world of science, he came to study under the great biologist and comparative anatomist T.H. Huxley, who had coined the term agnosticism and who had so boldly defended Darwin’s evolutionary ideas against the reactionary tide of opposition a decade earlier.

“Upon completing his studies, Saville-Kent received an appointment in the Natural History department of the British Museum as curator of coral. He grew enchanted with these beguiling, poorly understood creatures; he also grew bored with the museum position — he longed to do research, to contribute to the evolving understanding of these living marvels. …

“As Saville-Kent approached forty, his old mentor T.H. Huxley — by then the most prominent British life-scientist after Darwin’s death a year earlier — recommended him as inspector of fisheries in Tasmania. Saville-Kent left England and the dark specter of his youth for the bright open seas of the South Pacific, where he grew newly enchanted with the lush underwater wonderland of strange-shaped corals and echinoderms, frilly anemones and tentacled mollusks, fishes in colors that belong in a Kandinsky painting, creatures he had marveled at only as dead and disjointed museum specimens or segregated aquarium captives, creatures he had never imagined. 

“Determined to bring public awareness and awe to this otherworldly ecosystem — an ecosystem that in the century since his time has grown so gravely endangered by human activity that it might not survive another century — he authored the first popular science book on that irreplaceable underwater world. In 1893, several years before the German oceanographer published the gorgeously illustrated first encyclopedia of deep-sea cephalopods, Saville-Kent published The Great Barrier Reef of Australia: Its Products and Potentialities — a pioneering encyclopedia of one of Earth’s most luscious and delicate ecosystems, illustrated with a number of Saville-Kent’s black-and-white photographs and several stunning color lithographs by two artists, a Mr. Couchman and a Mr. Riddle, based on Saville-Kent’s original watercolors.” More at Brain Pickings, here.

One thing I love about Brain Pickings is the way Maria Popova’s own brain makes such interesting connections. At the end of almost every post she links to other posts on topics that may seem unrelated on the surface but play off each other in an interesting way. Her approach is a bit like suggesting an unusual cheese to go with your wine.

Illustration from William Saville-Kent’s book Fishes from The Great Barrier Reef of Australia, 1893. (Maria Popova at Brain Pickings makes it available as a print and as a face mask!)

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