Subtlety

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There’s really nothing subtle about Kara Walker’s masterwork “A Subtlety” at the derelict Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn.  Before the factory, and its history, are removed for urban development (yes, condos), Kara Walker has contextualized and commented on the history of this factory and sugar manufacture as a whole.

The sugar-mammy-sphinx rises four stories high in the sticky sweet remains of the factory.  The architecture clamps her in place, and her noble bearing, with its inevitable comparison to  Egypt’s Sphinx, here is sexualized with enormous breasts, a distended rump, and visible vulva.  Her facial features, accentuated by the head cloth, are stereotypical, exaggerated, and bulbous.

She is at once vulnerable and proud, caged and powerful.

 

The construction armature is visible

The construction armature is visible

 

With this figure made of sugar-coated polystyrene blocks, Walker has pinned a biting statement on the cost of sugar and sugar production, in terms of slavery and the devastation of a people.  It’s her send-off for the blighted behemoth on the waterfront and its connection to the historical sugar trade.

And as a piece of art, it has a huge visceral effect.  I knew I was in the presence of something great.  Its here-ness also makes the issues it provokes seem topical and timely in today’s diverse and more tolerant society.  History is today, Walker seems to say.  Pay attention.

 

Kara Walker creating the monument

Domino donated 160,000 pounds of sugar for the project.  The figure sits in a nest of granulated sugar, and yet the sculpture diffuses over time.  The features are no longer as crisp as shown here.  Who knows how much will be left of it when the exhibit closes July 6?

The approach to the sculpture is via a long walkway, with the figure radiating at the end of the dark, molasses-stained corridor.

You walk past many sculptures made of molasses, showing children at work in various stages of production.

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You promenade past these larger-than-life-sized children, working for our sugar pleasure.  They stand in puddles of molasses as if melting away in anonymity, becoming one with the other key ingredient of the production process.

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So the figures, both the large and the monumental, are ever changing in this environment of continuing decay.  It’s as if Walker says these issues are not statically stuck in the past, but continue to effect us today.  They must be acknowledged, interpreted, and kept relevant so we can choose a different path.

Subtle this is not.  Compelling and haunting, it is.

 

 

 

 

So much in common

Going to Newport, RI means excess, so no wonder I found myself most attracted to The Elms.

The little cottage just like mine

The little cottage just like mine

After all, I have the most in common with Miss Julia Berwind.  She and I both worked on our houses.  Now, Julia did spend $1.4 million in 1901, which makes me feel better about what I’ve spent in 2014.  And she only stayed there a couple of months a year there.  My house is a bargain!

The Elms is considered “quiet and sophisticated” compared to the over-the-top opulence of The Breakers, etc.  Certainly my turquoise cabinets and multi- colored counters would also be considered quiet in comparison to the gold and pink marble and molded plaster of Marble House.

And as a woman after my own heart, Julia loved mah jongg!  She regularly played it in her “real summer home for a real family.”

Alas, that’s where the similarities end.  The Elms was a “machine for entertaining,”

Welcoming you at the entrance

Welcoming you at the entrance

representing efficient, Industrial Age America.  Of course, it was also Gilded Age America.  So Julia had 43 servants, who worked 14 hour days.

Julia never saw “the dirt and grime” of the construction process or the parlor maids who, along with the dirt, were kept invisible.  Only male servants were acceptable to see.

My favorite ballroom of the five mansions I visited was also at The Elms.  It opened on all sides, so that the length of the house was accessible and visible end to end.

For the Housewarming Ball, the quadrilles started after midnight, allowing DRparticipants to show off the complex moves which could last two hours per dance.  One of the 400 guests remarked he had so much fun that he never wanted to leave.

Such fun took great planning, and Julia conducted her business, like other Newport hostesses, right from her bedroom.  This social life took great planning.  Julia managed a $300,000 budget for the season and had to plan time well, too.  She’d get mail by the sackful (and we complain about email) and had an elegant pre-printed, pre-stamped rejection letter at the ready.

For all the remaining yeses, not only did any one day require 4 to 7 clothing changes, but strict schedules had to be adhered to–one must always arrive exactly on time for any function.  Too early and one embarrasses one’s hostess; too late, and one throws a kink in the works.

Elms-diningSo please.  When you are next invited to a Newport do, be on time, and don’t put your knife in your mouth!  Rest assured though, when you break a dish or spill your wine, Julia will merely smile.  And she will keep such meticulous records that you will not be seated next to the same dinner companion twice in a season.

Oh, and she will not call you on the telephone.  How rude!  The telephone is only for communicating with the servants.  She will write you a note.  Please respond in kind.

Chances are you won’t spend the night at The Elms.  Julia only has 7 bedrooms.  Don’t worry, she has 3 guest cottages nearby.

Giovanni Boldini portrait of Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, Paris, 1905

Giovanni Boldini portrait of Elizabeth Drexel Lehr, Paris, 1905

Julia and her peers didn’t have the vote and were expected to behave.

Take this story.  Elizabeth Drexel Lehr was told by Harry, her husband, on her wedding night, that not only did he not love her, but that he was repulsed by her.  He married her for her money, and she must avoid him everywhere but in public.  They remained married for 28 years.

So as much as I like and admire Julia (and her friend Elizabeth), I’ll keep my for real cottage versus lust after her Newport one.

The Environment, BIRI, and Suzan

New London, CT harbor

New London, CT harbor

Memorial Day weekend calls for the beach.  No matter that the ferry crossing to Block Island was cold and the indoor seats smelled of mildew.  No matter that the sun couldn’t find its way.  There’s nowhere quite as sweet on a late spring day as the seashore.

On the ferry

On the ferry

 

 

Lighthouses and painted rocks and bluffs and sand and surf and cat tails and shades of gray and green.  Junk shops and galleries and fried seafood and ice cream.

Check out the slide show below.

 

And then, there’s the alpacas.  Wait!  What?

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Yes, these alpacas are part of the North Light ( named after the lighthouse) Fiber production process.  From animal to textile, they do all the steps here.  I bought several skeins of alpaca for my new rigid heddle loom.  Wish me luck!
 

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I took an island taxi tour with Barry, who showed me his house and their Norwegian Fjord horses Orion and Jenny.  These are stocky work horses, living a pretty good life on BIRI, or Block Island, RI to you land lubbers.
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Barry lives on the west side of the island, the most isolated part of this isolated place.  Historically, roads on the 10 square mile island were so bad, the west siders had their own school.  Prejudice ran high.  West siders were considered “short, ugly, and inbred.”  Now, their houses circle $1 million.

The island is still covered by 300 miles of stone walls, used to separate fields of mostly 2014-05-26 10.19.52corn and potatoes.  But today, no longer part of a farm culture, the fields and hedgerow are mostly overgrown.  The Conservancy maintains this pasture to show what the island looked like since its European settlement in 1661.

 

 

 
An environmental theme also organizes my friend Suzan Shutan’s new show at the elegant Five Points Gallerie in Torrington, CT.

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I always love Suzan’s Pom Pom pieces, here documenting Connecticut’s well water in “Mapping Ground Water.”  The Pom poems are scaled to indicate the prevalence of wells, larger means more.
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Most spectacular is “Flow: Tarpaper Seepage,” one of a series Suzan has made from tar roofing and handmade paper.  It roller coasters through the gallery space, perhaps slightly visible through my inadequate pictures.  It belongs in a museum, so let’s help Suzan make it happen!

 

The whole installation of Suzan's work

The whole installation of Suzan’s work

 

Bewitched

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Have you ever noticed how spring is bewitching?  I fall under its spell of simple beauty.  I have a very positive view of witches and wish I knew more of them.

 

 

 

 

Of course, the world hasn’t always been kind to the bewitching.  Connecticut seemed to take the lead on witch persecution, long before Salem, MA lost its head over witches in 1691.  The first witch was tried in Connecticut in 1642 and the first hung in Windsor, CT five years later, when witchcraft was not only condemned in the Bible, but was also a capital offense.

Virginia Wolf (a great name for an actress specializing in witches!) brings the stories of the mostly women accused of witchcraft in “Panic in Connecticut: Accused Witches Have Their Say.”

Wise women, who often also worked with herbs for medicines, were generally the ones accused.  The pattern was eerily prescient for the horrors of Salem to come.

A woman was accused when a cow died after she passed by or a child took ill after her glance.  A woman was blamed for the murder of her lodger, and the man who did the deed became a respected property owner.  Drought was blamed on witches.

A Dutch woman was accused because a girl she “possessed” started speaking with an accent.  She successfully appealed to the Governor of neighboring New Amsterdam (now New York), the powerful Peter Stuyvesant, for help.  “God help the woman who doesn’t have a strong man behind her,” she wrote.

Most of the accused were middle-aged women (who were considered no longer productive in society).  Insidiously, widows were often targets, as property owners.  The township could seize the property of a witch.

One test of a witch was the presence of “witches’ teats” from which she nourished the devil.  Wolf put perspective on this test–middle aged women often grow moles and skin tags, considered “strange markings” and a convenient excuse.  One women described in detail how all her hair was combed, as she was stripped of clothes in front of a judging set of women.  Her pubic hair was deemed “not normal,” whatever that meant.

Men were taken to trial, too, if they were in close association with an accused woman.

Neighbors turned on neighbors, suspicions dominated interactions.  Some thought their punishment would be lighter if they pulled a McCarthy and named names.

And the horrific test of a witch was present in Connecticut before Salem.  The accused witch’s thumbs were tied to opposite toes, and she was dropped in water.  If she sank, she was innocent (and dead), and if she floated, she was confirmed as a witch (and condemned to die).

Witch trials and executions were held around the state, including in New Haven, and up into Massachusetts in nearby Springfield.  All before Salem.

By 1663, the madness played itself out, as a married couple were the last to be hung (although others still went to trial).  Part of the change came with a new, learned Governor.  He was an alchemist who believed in magic and its potential.  He changed the law so that two people had to witness the bewitching event.

A year after Salem started to roar, witch persecution came back to Connecticut in 1692 and lasted about a year.  Fortunately, no witches were executed.  Many of the accused escaped to Rhode Island, known as the place of freedom, rather than be dogged by the label.  Rhode Island alone in New England (plus the Virginia colony) did not accuse or persecute witches.  I think New York stayed well out of it, as the Dutch tolerant culture was dominant even after the peaceful English transfer.

The persecution of witches ended by 1750 and the understandings of science–the discovery of germs and bacteria ironically helped save lives of these berated women.

Witches and witch hunts have been with us through history, and often focus on the poor, weak, or suppressed voices in society.

2014-05-18 16.49.28But today, I experienced a witch with a huge voice, mezzo soprano Aleksandra Romano, the niece of my friend Margaret.  At today’s Yale graduation recital, she sang three selections, each bewitching.  But the most compelling evidence of her witchcraft came with William Bolcom’s Amor.  The lyrics make the point:

It wasn’t the policeman’s fault in all the traffic roar.  Instead of shouting halt when he saw me, he shouted Amor.

Even the ice-cream man (free ice-creams by the score).  Instead of shouting Butter Pecan, one look at me, he shouted Amor.

You get the picture.  This character caused so much trouble, she was taken to court, and you guessed it, she bewitched the judge and jury.

Here’s an earlier performance she did of the song.

Romano is a bewitching talent, one you’ll likely see as she continues her career.  Good thing we’re tolerant of witches now!

A Night at the Silent Flicks

A silly smile, a goofy grin, a loopy laugh.  Through the whole performance of Orchestra New England.

Conductor Jim Sinclair arranged and narrated the program, filling it with entertaining anecdotes.  “We’re dressed for the ’20s,” Jim said, but then his tie malfunctioned, “and I’ll have to do this sans tie.”  As he took it off, a catcall came from the audience: “take it all off.”  Yes, it was that kind of evening.

What were we in for?  Musical accompaniment to three silent films.  The music was provided by an abbreviated orchestra of eight members, but the sound was just perfect.  Like those old radio shows, the percussionist Patrick Smith stole the hour, with his hilarious renditions of actors speaking, a horse clopping down the street, cops smacking into each other, doors slamming, the hot tamale, the flirting couple, and much more silliness.

So what were some of Jim’s tidbits?

I had never put together that silent films transferred straight from Vaudeville.  They didn’t even have to come up with new material.  This Charlie Chaplin film from early in the scheme of things, 1916, featured the Little Tramp (who turned 100 in 2014).  The Vaudeville stuff?  The classic duck-and-the-innocent-gets-punched schtick, the swinging doors routine, and roller skating slips and falls.  Here in it’s entirety (with music by someone else) is the two-reeler (each reel lasted about 9 minutes) The Rink:

You have to admit that the “Stout Lady” was a very good sport.  And did they speed up the film to get those shots?  Goodness!  They were all such athletes.

I had not seen Harold Lloyd before, and apparently of the main silent film comics, he was the sort of “normal,” leading man type.  We saw Haunted Spooks from 1920.  It’s filled with some dated black performer/minstrel stereotypes, but also one great Little Rascal who almost makes up for the other.

Buster Keaton certainly competes in high-jinks athleticism with Chaplin.  Keaton was also an engineer and used physics to help plan his stunts.  Don’t miss the moment in Cops from 1922 when Keaton grabs on to a moving car.  This one seems to use that ‘when a moving object hits an immovable force …’ or, well, I’m not much of a scientist.  Take a look:

This film has a kind of plot that exceeds the Chaplin strung-together routines, which is definitely part of its appeal for me.  Poor Buster all the way through, and then at the end…

Now I will say that the music used on these videos doesn’t compare to the hilarity of what we heard with Orchestra New England.

The overture they started with reminded me of “Fractured Fairy Tales,” although this was “An Operatic Nightmare (Desecration No. 2),” which Jim pointed out meant there had been a No 1!  It features familiar operatic music converted to fox trot and ragtime beats.  “You can dance to it,” said Jim.  Especially fun for you musicologists out there.

Check out a taste of it here.  The overture did its job; it certainly put us in the mood.

The three films were accompanied by Jim’s compilations of Irving Berlin, Richard Wagner, Igor Stravinsky, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Charles Gounod, and more, but like you’ve never heard them before.  He was not afraid to splice and dice the music, changing rhythms, fragmenting familiar motifs, and all so cleverly done that the music seamlessly integrated with the images.

I’m not sure if it was the pictures or the sounds or the combination that made my friend and neighbor Penny and me repeatedly laugh out loud, but we certainly did, with dopey aplomb.  Wish you could have been there, too.

 

You can give me a gift like this anytime

This is Senior Week at Yale, the time leading up to their graduation.  So all kinds of events celebrate University notables from today and yesterday.

A curator from MoMA was in town to discuss a Claes Oldenburg sculpture on the Yale campus. The then-famous pop/conceptual artist was an alum, although at Yale he studied literature.  For many years, Oldenburg thought he wanted to be a writer and worked as a journalist.  Things started to change when he moved to New York and immersed himself in its streets and bric-a-brac storefronts on the Lower East Side.

He began to make works of the commercial, the mundane, and with the help of his wife, made colossal sized sculptures of hamburgers and rubber stamps and more.

He made the Yale work as a gift, and after fabrication and flat-bed trucking it to campus, literally assembled it with no warning in the Beinecke Library Plaza.

Surprise was a key element.  The year was 1969 ,and protest was in the air.

While Oldenburg doesn’t call Lipstick Ascending on Caterpillar Tracks a political work, it’s hard not to see the army tank topped by a tube of lipstick as anything but.

The inflatable lipstick deflated regularly; easy to see its erotic undertones.

From the first, students used the “monument” to post notices of protests and posters for other campus events.  Over time, apparently it was vandalized and deteriorated.

In fact, the original lipstick was made of a soft material that didn’t even last two weeks before being replaced by sturdier fiberglass.

Ultimately the sculpture was removed, at least in part because it was seen as incendiary on this traditional campus.  Ironically, it showed at the Guggenheim, where it was surrounded by stanchions–“keep off!” they communicate.

Reinstalled at Yale in 1974 after restoration, it now is a notable part of Yale’s identity.  One audience member commented that a senior rite of passage is to eat a particular greasy sandwich while sitting on the sculpture (although campus rules prohibit touching the sculpture, rarely is it seen without a rider).

We watched a film of the fabrication, done by  Lippincott in North Haven nearby.  That foundry also fabricated Barnett Newman’s works of broken obelisks.  They apparently knew what they were doing.

Frank and Ed, identified in the film, did their work while also laughing with the artist.  One commented that “I think they (Yale) should accept the sculpture because it’s fine art.” A far cry from how Oldenburg’s “low” subject matter was first received.

Still, at the time, such a hybrid sculpture as Lipstick was radical.  Not a sculpture out of steel or marble, but made of plywood and fabric.  Not a monumental subject, but an ordinary subject made monumental.  And not easily interpreted or understood, as two very different kinds of imagery were molded together.

The model in the Yale University Art Gallery

As the students gathered and began to clap the slapdash installation of the work, an official of Yale, unidentified, said, “It’s grand and beautiful and monumental.”  And so it remains today.  A commentary about the power of women, the changing university experience as Yale went co-ed, the Vietnam war, and much more can be read from it.  But it’s also silly, playful, absurd, fantastical, and fun.

If Oldenburg wants to drop a gift off in my yard, bring it on!

 

 

 

To read more about Oldenburg, check this out:

https://www.artsy.net/artist/claes-oldenburg

 

 

Chock full of wonders

And you thought the Pez Factory Tour was fun.  Before opening, the Pez people came to the Barker Character, Comic and Cartoon Museum for advice.  No wonder.  It’s incomparable.  Take the wonderful Laurel and Hardy Museum in Harlem, GA and multiply it a thousand fold and you begin to get a sense of the vastness of the Barkers’ collection.  It’s all located in a tiny, 3 room museum in tiny Cheshire, CT.

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Herb Barker has a special affinity for Popeye, since they were born just 5 days apart in 1929.  Barker thinks of the cartoon character as his brother.  His collection of all things Popeye is eye popping. Here’s Popeye Heavy Hitty, from 1932 and worth over $14,000, which apparently still works.2014-05-08 15.55.52

Remember that spinach made Popeye strong enough to ding that bell?  Curator Judy First is concerned that one of the cans of spinach in the collection will explode some day!

Of course, I have a special fondness for Olive Oyl.  My brother nicknamed me after her, not such a compliment.  Tall and skinny.  Ah, those were the days.  Did you know that Popeye is actually Olive Oyl’s second boyfriend?  Her first was Ham Gravy.

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I also got to meet Jeep, Popeye’s very powerful pet.  He could bring characters back from the dead.  He was considered such good luck that the Army named a vehicle after him.

Barker and his wife began collecting, and still collect today, even as they live in Florida, nowhere near their Cheshire museum.  Showing me a recent collection bought online via Hake’s, Judy told me that Barker doesn’t play with his toys after he buys them.  She does though when she can, especially while dusting!

The Barkers collected toys–wind up, tin, stuffed, friction that spark, and yes, Pez dispensers.  They also collected cereal boxes, games, viewmasters, and lunchboxes.

In 1950, the first steel lunchbox featuring a character decal was introduced.  Hopalong Cassidy.  Wildly popular over the plain red or blue steel can, the new lunchbox concept was a smash.  By 1951, a new innovation of stamping a lithographed image over the whole surface the steel lunchbox was introduced.  Every year, we kids needed a new lunchbox with the latest hot character.  That US marketing ingenuity.  Well, until 1987, when steel boxes were outlawed.  A kid could crack another kid’s noggin with one, after all!

I loved seeing the Frito-Lay lunchbox strung up overhead, just like the one on top of my refrigerator.  Not only did I carry one as a child, but my current, vintage iteration came from my tenure at the company.

What did I love?  So much.  Here are a few extra special items.

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The 1931 Krazy Kat band.

 

 

 

 

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The Harold Lloyd squeeze toy from the 1950s; squeeze the tongs i2014-05-08 15.47.08n the back to open his mouth, move  his eyes up and down, and ding the bell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other squeeze toys would send sparks from the figure’s eyes–kinda spooky.

 

 

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Superman wrestling with the Soviet Army Tank.  Really.

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Topo Gigio, a favorite from the Ed Sullivan Show.  Eight men operated the mouse, including one that focused on his fingers.  Beyond cute.

 

 

 

Walt Disney's Mickey Mouse Club Bead-O-Rama craft by Hasbro

 

 

Bead o Rama, a game where beads are placed in holes over an image.  Like a coloring book, but with beads.

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The original Gumby and Pokey clay figures and the tool wielded by Art Clokey to fashion them.  Clokey called them claymation.  I wonder what he would make of claymation today.  Every wonder about Gumby’s lopsided head?  It was a cartoon version of his father’s side-parted hair style.

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The 1873 cast iron Ramp Walker elephants, the oldest toys in the museum, produced by Ives Company of Bridgeport, CT.  Put them on a ramp, and they will walk down it.  I would really like to see that.

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Elsie, the robot cow, the spokescow for Borden Dairy.  If every robot were this adorable, we’d live in a very different world.  People lined up to meet Elsie, the real Elsie cow, at her debut at the 1939 Chicago World’s Fair.  Elsie was so popular that when Borden’s introduced a glue, they wanted to use her brand name.  But then they considered that people would think the glue was made of/from Elsie!  Yikes!  So they named it after Elmer, her husband.  Over time, Elmer and Elsie had kids, too.

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The Mickey Mouse Milk of Magnesia toothpaste.  Really!  It was recalled because the container was lined with lead.  Oh well.  This item is so rare that Disney contacted the museum attempting to buy it.  No luck.  Go to Cheshire to see it.

 

 

These buttons with The Yellow Kid came with cigarettes

These buttons with The Yellow Kid came with cigarettes

 

The Yellow Kid, one of the oldest comic strips in its current modern form.  Not only was heused in the comics, but also in advertising, with the words drawn on the character’s body.  Dating back to the 1890s, this strip was targeted to “people living in the ghetto.”  The character wears a yellow hand-me-down and is bald because he had lice!

 

Vintage Mod 60s Gidget Fortune Teller Card Game Sally Field

 

The Gidget Fortune Telling Game.  I certainly would like Gidget to tell my fortune!

 

 

 

 

I can tell good fortune will favor you with good humor if you visit this wonderful, jam-packed, story-filled museum.

The old long-billed Donald Duck

The old long-billed Donald Duck

 

Old Mickey and Minnie

Old Mickey and Minnie

 

Gotta love those cowgirls

Gotta love those cowgirls

 

 

 

Knots of Science and Art

2014-05-03 12.42.23Several of the New Haven museum exhibits have changed over for summer.  So on this luscious spring day, I visited three.

The day was so pretty that I took the opportunity to stroll into the woods behind the Eli Whitney Museum.  I had never walked through the adjacent covered bridge, proclaiming on a sign that Hartford is 32 miles away, and then Boston beyond.

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The A. Frederick Oberllin bridge was erected in 1980, but seems like it could be much older.  It spans the heavily rushing Mill River.  After crossing, I ventured on a little hike along the far side of the river bank.  I’m so happy to know about this picturesque place, so close to my house.

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from inside the bridge

 

 

 

 

Inside the museum is the 20th Leonardo Challenge.  The theme this year is Knots, with artists riffing on “Knot What You Imagine.”  The challenge is about applying Leonardo-type thinking to a problem.  Using science and art in imaginative ways.  This year’s inspiration are the knots from the “Mona Lisa” bodice.

mona-lisa

What do they mean or represent, asks the exhibit curators.  They are intricate and specific, demonstrating the artist’s command of detail in that field of sfumato (smoky atmosphere).  Is this merely about the artist’s bravura?  Do they represent a brand for ‘da vinci’?  Are they a mathematical code?  Do they represent his exchanges with Islam via Istanbul?  These are the knots art 2014-05-03 12.33.44historians tie themselves in.

So why not challenge artists to do the same?  My favorite of the works is “Gordian Knot” by Brad Conant.  He perfectly represents how my brain feels right now.

I also liked the Conceptual word play of “Not, Naught, Knot” by Group C (Brad Collins/B. Whiteman).

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Makes you think a little, eh?

 

 

 

 

Hannah Clark’s proud grandmother showed me the secret of “Not a Knot.”  From most angles you see the pieces suspended in the box, then in just one spot, the pieces cohere.

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a very clever mind at work

 

 

 

 

 

Knots of a very different sort took me to the New Haven Museum, and its moving exhibit “Nothing is Set in Stone: The Lincoln Oak and the New Haven Green.”  Again blending science and art, the exhibit commemorates a peculiar event resulting from the October 2012 Hurricane Sandy super  storm.

On the New Haven Green, the “Lincoln Oak,” planted in 1909 to commemorate the centennial of Lincoln’s birth, was blown over by the storm.  Intertwined in the roots of the tree were human skeletal remains.

The Green had served as an unregulated burial site for about 175 years.  Then in 1796, the new nation’s first chartered burial ground was incorporated and is still in use today.  You may remember an earlier post about the Grove Street Cemetery.  Meantime some 17,000 bodies were buried under the Green, expanding to both the Upper and Lower portions, and was still used up until 1812.  That New Haven history, ever revealing of something quirky and interesting.

So when the venerable Lincoln Oak toppled, it exposed some bones knotted up with it.  The New Haven Museum, itself founded during the Civil War in 1862, then came up with a remarkable idea.  They offered local artists branches and parts of the trunk of the toppled tree to work with any and all of the ideas in this complex knot of natural and civic history.  The results are powerful.

2014-05-03 13.04.15You can read the Gettysburg Address carved into pieces of the Oak’s trunk.  Click on the image to enlarge it.  Each chunk of the address is carved on a chunk of the tree, knotted together to form a spine in Erich Davis’ “Backbone.”

2014-05-03 13.09.35I choked up reading these familiar words carved into a tree that had come to represent New Haven and its history, a kind of backbone for this old place.  Plus Lincoln’s own strength of will served as backbone for a country divided.

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Look at this split–where the oak remained joined at the base, but split toward the top, as if recognizing a history that was unified and a divided present of the Civil War.  Here, Lincoln heads the attempts to reunify the discord.  This sculpture is Susan Clinard’s “A Nation Split.”  She used clay to add the head and hand of Lincoln to the Oak remains.

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So beautiful and elegiac–of Lincoln, of the loss of innocence of a nation, of a grand old tree that symbolized a city and the glory days of its past.

Michael Quirk, self-described as an artist, antique collector, and treasure hunter has created a work that blends history and the New Haven Museum, 114 Whitney Ave., presents "Nothing is Set in Stone: The Lincoln Oak and the New Haven Green," a tribute to the historic Lincoln Oak on the New Haven Green. It will run until Nov. 2.
In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy toppled the tree, which had been planted in 1909 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Lincoln's birth. Under the tree was found human skeletal remains.
Area artists were invited to use branches, limbs, or pieces of the trunk of the Lincoln Oak to interpret the history of the tree and the discovery of the remains. Hamden sculptor Susan Clinard, as well as Lani Asuncion, Erich Davis, Michael Quirk, Jeff Slomba, Rachael A. Vaters-Carr and Alison Walsh, participated in the exhibit.
Another component of the exhibit -- this one scientific -- consists of the results of the archaeological analysis of remains. The research was conducted by G. P Aronsen, F. Hole, Y. Tonoike, and K. A. Williamson (Yale University); N. I. Bellantoni (UConn); R. Beckett, G. Conlogue, R. Lombardo, and N. Pelletier (Quinnipiac University); J. Krigbaum (U. Florida); and L. Fehren-Schmitz (UCSC). Historical research was provided by J. Schiff (Yale University) J. Bischoff-Wurstle, and J. Campbell (New Haven Museum).
The contents of two time capsules found at the site of the fallen tree are also on display.
Details: <a href="http://www.newhavenmuseum.org"target=new window">www.newhavenmuseum.org</a>present.  He overtly references layers of human and natural history and creates a kind of time capsule with Lincoln memorabilia, coins, an arrowhead, news articles, and detritus from Hurricane Sandy.

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Quirk references a Cabinet of Curiosities, so popular in the 19th century for blending two passions–science and art.

 

 

At the Beineke Library, a new exhibit featuring small collections (when the large ones are splashier, more researched, etc.) has just the kind of objects that might make their way into a such a Cabinet.

Consider this “game” for glass blowing.  Really?  Yeah.  Before we coddled children, we allowed them to use blow torches and furnaces to blow glass.

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Well, so it seems, with the Gilbert Company’s highly gendered toy: “Gilbert toys bring science down to the level of boys.”

If any of you, boys or girls, actually “played” with this toy, I’d like to hear more about it!

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And imagine the knots lesbian woman had to tie themselves into to fit in a less inclusive world early in the 20th century.  But they could go to Chez Moune in Paris, the Cabaret Féminin, to be themselves, some dressing in tuxes to escort their lady friends.

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They could commemorate the experience with personalized matchbooks.  I have never seen anything quite like these and immediately wanted one for my Cabinet of Curiosities.

Untangling knots like these made for quite a day.