Maybe you’re planning to hit the road…

Spectators at an Aviation Meet, c1910

Or maybe you’re daring enough to fly…

A Curtiss Byplane Taking Off, August 1911

Maybe you’re going to help out someone in need…

German Immigrants, Quebec, W.J. Topley, c1911

Or make a child happy…

Christmas Stocking, Frances S. and Mary E. Allen, 1900

Maybe you need some quiet time alone in nature.

Piping Plover, 2016

However you celebrate, there’s no maybes. Fill your holidays with happiness!

Artist Books

The Book as Stage, the latest exhibition at the Yale Haas Arts Library, features artist books. Artist books use books as the form and can vary wildly depending on the artist’s vision. This show focuses on theater and theatrical presentations using the book arts.

So much fun are the books that look like stage sets in miniature or mock ups for the real thing. Here’s the tunnel book format, with pages layered so we’re tricked into seeing depth.

Laura Davidson. Tunnel Vision. 2001.

Look at how this accordion-pleated book creates a construction site stage set, fronted with a nude in contrapposto. Weird and fun juxtaposition.

What you see in the back of the below image is the mirror reflection of the book. Notice the complicated intersections and weavings of strings. Aren’t the doorways of this sculptural book appealing? We can walk right into a Medieval world and join in with the characters.

Susan Collard. Geschichtliches. 2011.

The book is meant to be architectural, just as during the Medieval period, interest in Gothic architecture peaked (all puns intended). Susan Collard, the artist, purposefully included women in contemplation and learning, arenas occupied by men at the time.

This book focuses on the theater of war. It opens up to create the stage set, as you see. The pages are cut out to create theater scrims, layering the space. Newspaper clips and maps are collaged in, focusing on Middle East conflicts.

Maria G. Pisano. Theater of Operations. 2006.

Of course, what I see is the tie-in to the flag and American imagery. And I think of the Southern Connecticut State University students in my class “Shaping the American Identity.” Each made a page, mostly collaged, about their understanding of American identity at the end of the semester. The pages were then assembled into a class artist book. It was a powerful experience for us all, coming after their first election.

Hon 298 Fall 2016 and their Artist Book

Their energy, passion, and political intelligence is an inspiration, as powerful as any of these professional artists.


In my first Kaballah study session since the election, I realize how quickly I lost the grounding of this thinking. Fear will do that.

So today, I listened with an ear toward Tikkun ha Nefesh, repairing the soul. The old airplane adage ‘in case of emergency, put your oxygen mask on before your child’s’ applies. We cannot Tikkun Olam, repair the world, until we are actively working on Tikkun ha Nefesh, fixing ourselves.

Today, we talked about three elements for Unification, the soul’s mission of reunifying with spirit. Action, devotion, and contemplation form the Kabbalist’s path.

I’m committing to this path to re-ground in Tiferet, or the Essence, the Heart that balances giving and receiving on the Tree of Life and energizes all action.

Image result for tiferet

From this place of a grounded Heart, I hope to reengage with the world in a more productive way. Perhaps these strategies will work for you, too.

Take care of your body. Illness, pain, and stress are huge energy depleters. To be able to repair the world, your body has to be strong and healthy.
Exercise not for appearance, but with the intention to energize the body and relieve stress. See the above point.
Appreciate your food for its emotional pleasures and express spiritual gratitude that a vegetable or animal was sacrificed for your nourishment so that you can be strong and heal the world.

You may already be doing all these. You might consider adding a ritual.
Starting your morning with gratitude that your soul has reconnected with your body.
Look at your eyes in the mirror for 30 seconds to reconnect with your soul after its nighttime visit to heaven (love the Kabbalists!).
Take 10-breath meditation breaks twice during the day to be aware that you are aware.
Look at nature for five minutes, even if the weather prevents you from going outside.
At the end of the day, review your day; how can you improve your reactions for Tikkun ha Nefesh and Tikkun Olam?
Read a short spiritual or meditative piece before sleep to connect with your soul before its nighttime journey while your body rests.

Yes, you can pray, but for me, I am going to increase Chesed, loving kindness. I am conscious of doing lovingly kind acts for others and of course, can add more. I want to also add kind thoughts, since mine have been elsewhere since the election.
Rebellion with awareness is also an act of devotion. I am working with this reframe.

Apply spiritual nourishment to your actions. You probably have your own ways to do this. I am thinking through mine.
Meantime, light a candle during this dark season and allow its flame to nourish all levels of your body and being.
I’m going to set my Kavanah, the intentions of my heart. Both inner and outer intentions are sacred. I want to live in a more sacred way through these difficult times.

Image result for kavanah

What will you do?

Above the Line

I did my day backwards. Starting from a reflective, quiet experience, I ended with a quarreling barrel of noise and anger that fueled the Trump victory.

Story of my life at the moment. Escaping into art before being forced into reality.

Agnes Martin made over 600 paintings exploring emptiness, energy, seeing, and surprisingly, joy.


The show at the Guggenheim opens with this oddly shaped room hung with the entire ethereal series Islands I – XII from 1979. Here in Martin’s signature style, the paintings explore light and form and formlessness. She challenges us to slow down and look in order to really see. This is the work of art. To make us slow down and think, feel, remember, dream, and aspire.Martin wants you to experience innocence, freedom, perfection attained and resisted.

Here shapes emerge. Stripes of pale blue and gray. Pencil lines. All revealed up close and melt away at a distance. The pieces unite and converse, push against each other for space. They look stunning with the architecture.


Martin explained that she works in a meditative way, emptying her mind and waiting for inspiration. For her, inspiration is emotional, and the intellect does not produce artwork. So despite what you see, her works are not minimalist, mathematical explorations of line, color, shape. You can see the artist’s hand.

Loving Love, 1999

Untitled, 2004

painterly detail

painterly detail

Instead emotion fills her intention, and she argues the work, like the Abstract Expressionists. And not just any emotion.

Loving Love, 1999

Loving Love, 1999

Martin says she draws a line and chooses to live above the line, with happiness, beauty, and love. By this approach, I’ve been living below the line since the election. After 9/11, art pulled me above the line. I don’t know what will this time.

Going to the Jewish Museum certainly wasn’t the answer. Although ostensibly I went for the John Singer Sargent portrait on loan, aching for his bravura splashes of color after the austere monochromes of Martin.

But I was literally swept into the bright noise of Take Me (I’m Yours). This democratic space lets artists express in the moment, and the below-the-line anger oozed through the rooms.


With objects to take ranging from pills to lemon water and t-shirts and ribbons to words on paper and words on the wall, I filled the bag provided. My bright yellow ribbon states “It is not enough to be compassionate” in hot pink serif letters. This was the cleanest saying hung for the taking.


The t-shirt: “freedom cannot be simulated.”


What tore my heart open was the poster created by Jonathan Horowitz before Election Day. I couldn’t bear to take one, although it was probably the most popular object in the exhibit. Now who’s face will join the portraits?


Martin’s Taoism that had so calmed and uplifted me vanished immediately.

I don’t know why I decided to follow through on my ticket purchase for Lynn Nottage’s “Sweat.” But I went and found the violent yelling and seething racism of working class plant workers  just more than I could take.

Yes, the play was written and even opened before the election. I bought my ticket when I could assume my pedestal height to empathize with their struggles for work, which in my privileged way I share, so a connection. I couldn’t make it past intermission.

I get it: working class white America is angry. Now liberal America is angry. What do we do with all this anger? How can we get back above the line?

Untitled, 1960, looks like a textile

Untitled, 1960, looks like a textile

Or do we need to blur the lines or weave the lines? Try something new?

detail; see each one of us showing up

detail; see each one of us showing up



Shining Future

Today has been my first day to not be brave and reasoned since the election. I spent some time wallowing in videos of post-election sense-making and then decided to take in this glorious fall day in downtown New Haven.

Walking through the Yale campus, I paused at the chalk writings covering the plaza and sidewalk outside Sterling Library. Students declaring they’re still here. They’re not leaving. Everyone wants to be seen and heard. Everyone. This need is not limited to the victors.

Over on Church St, a march was noisily passing by.

I stepped into the Yale University Art Gallery for my now daily dose of art as medicine. I hadn’t yet seen the Yosemite exhibit and having taught the promise of the West with my students, I really needed to see what YUAG had uncovered from its own collection.


Since the plethora of eye surgeries have created some new abilities, I was happy to discover another one. For the first time in my life, I can actually see the 3-D image form using a stereoscope. And it is marvelous! I sat with this one for several long minutes studying every detail.

Image result for underwood and underwood yosemite falls, from glacier point trail 1902

Underwood and Underwood. Yosemite Falls from Glacier Point Trail. 1902.

The flanks of the horses, the overlap to the lone shrub, the droplets of water seemingly visible from the falls, I marveled at every detail and “you are there quality.” I get it. I understand why these things were such a major form of entertainment in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This image was one of 3 with stereoscopes in the exhibit. I was arrested by it in particular, I think, because of the journey it promises.

Albert Bierstadt. Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Trail. c1873.

Standing in front of this large painting by Albert Beirstadt, I realized something. As one tear slid down my check, I understood why this moment is even worse for me than 9-11.

Then, I felt shocked and stunned because we were victimized into an awareness finally that Americans are not universally beloved. Art was my savior then, too. I stood many mindless moments absorbing an Impressionist painting of a winter scene, part of a special exhibit at the Phillips Collection at the time, before I realized beauty was what I needed an an antidote. I turned my life toward art.

No, this moment is different. Americans are not victims this time. We have stabbed ourselves in the heart. I feel broken in a new way that became evident when meditating on this glorious evocation of the belief in the American promise.

That saturated golden light represents the future infused with American values, rights, and systems. The journey toward the spiritually evanescent light calls to all of us in the foreground to journey toward it, to be clear-sighted, and stay the course to the future.

That light for me now has been snapped off.

It’s been a long run and a mostly good one since this promise was made after the Civil War. Perhaps, in the grander scheme of things, it’s time for another country’s light to shine bright.


Subway Therapy and Therapy Beyond the Subway


After reading about Subway Therapy, past election, I was really glad to participate. I thought the 6th Ave L train station was the site, but when I got to Union Square Station, the big crowd was the clue. Maybe there’s more wall space here, or the project has expanded.


Communications have grown, yet the messages have stayed simple, as is the process.


Take a post it note from the floor. Write on it, and stick it on the wall. I was glad to make a contribution: “resilience over fear.”

Read. Contemplate. Contribute. Connect. Whatever your transit schedule will allow.


It is good. We are not alone.


I reflected on a statement in a novel I just finished, which has nothing and everything to do with the election outcome: We’re all different, and we’re all the same.


I thought about what makes us the same. What is it we all want? To be heard with dignity and respect. I certainly have been dismissive this election season. Many, many people feel neglected and threatened now. That’s my takeaway, rededicating myself to people who are now more vulnerable than ever, including myself.

So what’s the answer?


Well clearly, one is to turn from the serious to the silly. Look at these ice cream cones.

Big Gay Ice Cream. What would our president-elect make of this?

How do I decide?! Ruben was my guide.

How do I decide?! Ruben was my guide.


My cone was lined with peanut butter, along with the Salty Pimp. Oh my!

Silvermine mines beauty

After the disruptions of this week, I found myself under the spell of the exhibit at Silvermine Arts Center today. Just what I needed. I was bringing the Gallery Manager Jennifer some Artventures! Games for their newly opened holiday show when my feet compelled me right into the galleries and the “New Work/New Directions” exhibit.

The Silvermine Guild is comprised of 300 professional artists from around New England, and this show features the work of several. What immediately appealed to me is this work by Arlé Sklar-Weinstein.


With “Rainbow Vines (Measuring Days)”, she works with cotton cord and tightly twisted yarn, playing with our conceptions of time. You know the idea of counting time on a stick. She riffs on that with these curly vines.

While they are sold separately, I love the curtain of vines as an installation. There’s something primal and snakey about them, while also patterned in the most pleasing way when seen as a whole.

This work by Camille Eskell is intriguingly titled “F-ezra: Made a Woman” from The Fez as Storyteller series.


You can make out the fez as what the artist calls “the sculptural foundation.” A fez is traditional headgear worn throughout the Middle East.

The digital images, Hebrew letters, coins beaded together, and the braid all represent the melding of the cultures of Iran, India and Sephardic Jewish traditions in her family, as well as gender representations. Notice the elegant Islamic style patterning as well. This piece is large, 55″ tall. Imagine actually wearing it!


These toy-like sculptures called “Once Upon a Time” by Marilyn Richeda look soft and cuddly, until you get up close.


Surprise. Now you can see the textured clay that makes up the piece. It almost looks like concrete. Just a little cold. Not so fuzzy-wuzzy after all.

Plays of light and texture make this artist’s work amazing, too. Joycelyn Braxton Armstrong has created these winged creatures out of clay. Yes, that’s not fabric, but clay. 2016-11-11-11-54-00

This work called “Tempest” references the white dove, a symbol of peace. Take a moment to fully take this in, in its spare, elegant beauty. Just the salve you may need as much as I do right now.

The work sold as part of the Silvermine Holiday Show is equally arresting. I’m so pleased to have Artventures! as part of this beautiful place. So go visit now for the holidays and absorb these celebrations of human creativity and possibility.



Fall-time cider

The New York Times reported this week that the one upside to global warming is that the foliage in autumn is more vivid. The drought we’ve been suffering means leaves make a vivid shout out to fall and cling to the trees longer.

Today, as I wandered toward B.F. Clyde’s Cider Mill, I jumped off the highway to avoid an accident and took some winding roads through scorching hot foliage territory. Spicy reds, sunshine-ing yellows, and sparkler oranges. Thank you, global warming, I guess…?

By the time I got to the Cider Mill though, the trees were already bare. I guess it’s just a tidge cooler there.


Operating since 1881, Clyde’s is the only steam-powered mill still in operation. Six generations of the family have worked the press, and I was there to see the apple cider get made. They can make 500 gallons an hour of cider. That might seem like a lot to you, but when you figure how many people had the same idea as I did today, well, maybe not so much.


The apples are loaded into the chute as you see above. Today’s were Honey Crisp. The cider and baked goods all shift in flavor through the long season depending on the apples that are harvested and used.

Once the apples are washed, they are funneled into a grinder, making a really thick apple sauce. The sauce is raked, yes raked, four times and put on a rack, swung around and pressed until the liquid flows. The smell is just wonderful.


The engine room powers the machinery. This cider mill is a, wait for it, National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, for all this original equipment. They have a little historical display, and I was most taken with the pamphlets and articles on prohibition, one extolling the virtues of drunkenness. What?



Well, Clyde’s makes 8 kinds of hard cider. I visited the tasting area, where a long line formed so that each of us could taste four of the 8.

While waiting, Mary became my guide for all things cider. She had tasted all these various styles of hard cider and knew all about the subtle flavor shifts as the apple harvests come in. What a palette!


Mary also clued me in to the apple cider donuts, which I admit are pretty outstanding. Who knew that a Honey Crisp donut would taste different from a Micun!


I’m most grateful to Mary for turning me on to Shagbark Syrup. Turkeywoods Farm was there selling various syrups they create from hickory trees. Without Mary’s deft guidance, I might have fallen for hickory nut syrup or the hickory ginger syrup. They are wonderful.

Shagbark. That’s the find!

Mystic Hickory Shagbark Hickory Syrup

Now with wine tastings, you have all these descriptors that distinguish the various nose, mouth feel, etc. You know how it goes.

Same thing for syrup. Shagbark Syrup has a complex flavor profile, blending woodsy, earthy, nutty, smoky, even honey overtones. This from the bark of the hickory tree. Not the nut, not the sap like a maple tree.

So yes, I’ll be eating bark with my French toast for some period of years to come. That’s how long it will take me to finish a bottle this size.

Okay, bark with some processing. It is boiled and then aged. Yes, age your cheese and your bark. Then the aged bark is blended with natural sugars. It’s divinely delicious.

And no trees are hurt in the process. The shagbark hickory tree naturally sheds its bark starting at age 7. The bark is harvested when it falls from the tree or carefully removed when loose.

We can thank the Connecticut Native American population, likely the Pequot, for this wonder. They drank tea prepared by steeping hickory bark in hot water, sweetened with honey. It’s supposed to help with arthritis. But who cares? It helps with my spirit.

So did my visit to nearby Enders Island, home to the St. Edwards retreat/monastery.

Enders House at St. Edmund's Retreat

I watched rocks and water for a peaceful retreat of my own.



Advanced Style

Feeling 18 without all the burdens.  That’s the assessment of her life by one of the older women featured in “Advanced Style.

No matter your sense of style, no doubt you will love these New York women who dream and live out those dreams. 

Whether you are feeling creaky or don’t recognize yourself when you look in the mirror because you feel so young, give yourself a treat with this documentary.  Maybe you’ll want to sign up for the blog for that ocassional pick-me-up!


Loving Kindness

As we wrestle with massive incivility in the American public sphere and greater racial tension than in several decades, today I experienced a microcosm of the issues enmeshed in this current.  And it was helpful.

In my Kabbalah class, we talked about the Tree of Life.  The Tree has always been my deepest connection to Judaism, and each revisit, I learn something new or hear just what I need in that moment.  Today, I felt the cord between Chesed, loving kindness, and Givurah, the judgement and balance needed to most effectively apply our hearts.

Tree of Life

Tree of Life

We talked about our speech, the importance of what we say, and avoiding ‘bad speech’.  Words are the expressions of spirit ( as in, from God came the word), so our speech is holy.  You know that experience of speaking joyfully and how you then become filled with joy.  How different that feels from whining (all words used with intention).  Do what you say you’re going to do, and you will be filled with the deep satisfaction of integrity.

I left class feeling calm, recommitted to kindness, and ready for my encounter with Anna Deveare Smith and her new one-woman show “Notes from the Field.”  Long an admirer of how she makes political and sociological points by giving voice to everyday people, I was interested in how she would bring her reenactments of interviews to the raw topic of racism by the police, our schools, and the justice system.

Image result for anna deavere smith notes from the field

When the show started, I grew impatient with the retreads of recent events, the inevitable pain and outrage focused mostly on Freddy Gray.  Take me somewhere new.  I expect this is Smith.

But, I realized, this inhumanity to humans is not new.  Smith’s responsibility is not to say something new, but to be a voice for those not usually heard.  I heard the school principal’s shock when a young man said prison wasn’t so bad because he had enough to eat and could play basketball.  She vowed to stop the school police from arresting students.  Make them stay in school.  Break the pattern.

Image result for anna deavere smith notes from the field

I started to hear hope in the possibility of words and actions.  Not be victimized into inaction by incivility of wannabe leaders or cruelty from other forms of institutionalized power.  By Act 2, I resonated with the small uplifts–the prisoner who trains service dogs for the disabled, the teacher who focuses on changing one life, John Lewis who forgave the man who beat him in 1961, now calling him brother.  I spent much of the second act in tears.

We live in a very tough world, and I don’t want to be victimized by it with a continual onslaught of pain.  I don’t want to turn into teflon either.  The Kabbalah suggests a balance—to use good judgement and hold each encounter with loving kindness.  It sounds so simple, but for me, it is the work of a lifetime.

Corn Maze

Everyone is trying very hard this weekend to make it seem like autumn, despite the warm temperatures.  Apple festivals, hayrides, pumpkin ice cream, and corn mazes are everywhere.


I went to the Nathan Hale Homestead for their corn maze.  Since a wedding had just ended, I had the whole maze to myself.


Except for Butterscotch, of course.


There’s still some corn left to be plucked.


The corn definitely grows as high as an elephant’s eye, way over my head.


And it makes its own music, like a rainforest, as you can hear in this video.

All is quiet enough to be surprised by a spook around the corner…


…and mourn the loss of some silly spirits.









No doubt, this place would be scary at night, but would it be scarier than this ear of corn?


What any of this has to do with our young patriot who wished he more than one life to give to his country, I’m not sure.  But today was not about questions and finding answers.  It was about getting lost in the corn.


The Joy of Wax!

I’m not often on the art-making side of things, but today I ventured to an encaustic workshop.  I do love the encaustic technique of building up the surface with pigment and wax.

After a day with it, I know the process to be very forgiving of someone who is not particularly gifted artistically (a nice way of assessing my talents).  There’s also that serendipity thing that happens, which I really like.

Our workshop leader Leslie Giuliani is very talented and a marvelous instructor.  She made painting with wax the easiest thing in the world.  She even managed to take all my self-consciousness and self-judgment out of my work.  What I so appreciated is that Leslie seemed to take genuine pleasure in each person’s work.

She and I shared a chuckle over this homage to Jasper Johns, who layered wax and newspapers onto his paintings of the American flag.


I built up the layers by using pigmented wax, collaing ordinary fabrics and patterned tissue paper, then adding a layer of silver metallic wax, topping it all with ‘medium’ or clear wax.  Over the next few days, the piece may clear up, lighten, take on a new look.  I like what’s here and am interested in what may emerge.

Leslie passed on the tip of using wax pieces, shards really, on the painted surface.  I loved tossing the pieces onto the surface like confetti.


Working with the heat gun, some of the confetti melted, blurred, swirled in a very painterly way.  Other bits stayed intact.  Just fun.

I’m surprised that I like the results from this playful day as much as I do.  I actually may keep these little pieces, unusual for me after any kind of hand-craft, art-making adventure.  A really delightful discovery!


Savin Rock, CT

Long a fan of the serene West Haven boardwalk, today proved to be just too hot and humid to enjoy it.  But what a perfect excuse to visit the Savin Rock Museum.

Norma gave me a very personalized tour, dappled with her childhood and teen-year remembrances.  She shuttled me from photo to photo, pointing out fun spots, sharing stories from the history of West Haven, and reminiscing about its fantastic entertainment center Savin Rock Amusement Park.  Step aside, Coney Island!

Everything new this year. Safest Amusement.

Everything new this year. Safest Amusement.

The park opened in the 1870s, advertising itself as safe.

Image result for savin rock

Savin Rock Park.  Yalies supposedly knocked down this tower in a feat of vandalism

By 1925, 60,000 people crowded in for Memorial Day.  Shwew!


Right there on Long Island Sound, people from all around the state enjoyed the amusement park and the beach.  Free, although the rollercoaster and other rides cost a nickel. The first rollercoaster was a “one hump.”  Yes, you understand that correctly.  You ride up over one bump, and you’re done.

Image result for savin rock thunderboltNo wonder the Thunderbolt seized everyone’s imagination, extending loop-de-loops out over the water.

Even I think that looks like fun…remind me to tell you my rollercoaster story.

Image result for savin rock thunderbolt

Of course, there was a wonderful carousel, with only this horse surviving.


Norma pointed out the cast iron shooting targets, with falcons and other birds and animals.  Real guns were used.  Just like a hunt.  Yikes!  “Imagine that today,” she said.  I can’t.  But rest easy.  Only parents were allowed to shoot…


I would have loved to go through the Funny House.

Image result for savin rock

When you step into that museum gallery, the Laughing Lady begins howling chortles and guffaws, the same recording as used in the day.  You can hear it in this video.

The amusement park was such a big deal, the whole area became famously known as Savin Rock, CT, foregoing any mention of West Haven, the actual municipality.

At its peak, Savin Rock had 68 hotels along its shore, some with fine dining.

Image result for savin rock

How many hotels are there now?  You got it.  None.

Prohibition came to the park, of course, but so did the speakeasies.

When this hotel bar was flooded, Savin Rock mechanic and passionate local historian Harold Hartmann disassembled the room piece and piece, brought them home, and placed them with dehumidifiers to dry out.  The process took 2 years.  Then he painstakingly reassembled the room for display at the museum.


You could take the trolley to the park from New Haven.  What fun.  But car culture was coming.

Image result for savin rock 1900

Roller skating and boxing and car racing.  All popular amusements.


By the 1950s, about 150 buses of New York and New Jersey residents started arriving each day at Savin Park.  Marketing had gone wide.  Bathrooms still numbered 8.  Pretty soon, the park experience grew seedy, and locals stayed away.

Just as the town had blasted through the two-block long Savin Rock to make a roadway along the beach, so too the town intervened with the decrepit park.  Basically nothing is left today, other than the boardwalk and a few fish shacks.

Yes, when you visit the museum, walk along the boardwalk at least to Stowe’s.  You won’t be sorry, with their wonderfully fresh seafood.

Stowe's on the West Haven boardwalk

Stowe’s on the West Haven boardwalk


Although I’m sad I won’t get to hear the opening bell for Savin Rock Amusement Park or try Terry’s Hot Butter-Flake Brand Pop Corn, at least the museum preserves what it can of the experience.





It’s all about the laughs, right?

Image result for savin rock boardwalk history 1907

Laff in the Dark, in the museum

Laff in the Dark, in the museum

The museum also features local history.  My favorite by far were the late 1800s fire company markers.








When you paid your fire insurance, you placed this marker on your house.  Much more elaborate than the simple star from the Colonial era.  In the event of a fire, you called your own fire company, but unless the insignia was displayed, no dousing.



The nights get longer

As we approach Labor Day, the psychological end of summer, I’ve been noticing how much shorter the days are already.  Maybe that’s why I fell under the spell of “Electric Paris” on view at the Bruce Museum.

Only the French would design an electric light pole that looks like this.

Image result for charles marville opera lampadaire

Charles Marville, Opéra (Lampadaire), c1865-9

Charles Marville went around the city photographing the extraordinary lamp posts.

Image result for charles curran paris at night

Charles Curran, Paris at Night, 1889

Even so, perhaps no surprise to you, I could give a pass on most of the French artists and their take on their city.  But I was mesmerized with this Curran painting, with its Americanist approach and style.  Look at how the gas lamplight dances on the street and the oil lamps on the carriages glow.  I can hear this painting.  Can’t you?

1889 was a big year in Paris, as it hosted the Universal Exposition celebrating the centennial of the French Revolution.  Artists like Curran were quick to capture the buzz of the spectacles–readymade scenes that pull us in and put us right there.

Image result for charles curran evening illuminations at the paris exposition

Charles Curran, Evening Illuminations at the Paris Exposition, 1889

Careful!  You might get jostled by the crowd!

See that vertical streak of color in the background on the right?  That’s the effect of the water fountains lit each night at 9 p.m. during the fair.  The water jets were illuminated by electric arc lamps with colorful glass plates to create the cotton candy effects you see.

You might just be able to make out the Eiffel Tower, at this moment of its unveiling to the world, in the far right background.  It served as the entrance to the fair and was the tallest human-made structure at 1000′ at the moment Curran captures.  It was lit by two electric search lights at the top, with thousands of gas lamps.  By the 1900 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower was fully electrified by 5000 incandescent lights.

Here’s Alfred Maurer’s look at the monument.

Image result for alfred maurer nocturne paris

Alfred Maurer, Nocturne, Paris, n.d.

Now you can make out the beams at the top.  Maybe we can take a break and lean up against the rail, too.  You can see why the Eiffel Tower has become the symbol of Paris as the City of Light.

And you can get a sense of how fascinated American artists were with painting the night scene, as it was changing with technology.

Image result for theodore butler place de rome at night

Theodore Butler, Place de Rome at Night, 1905

Don’t you have a sense of the night energy?  Light slashes on the wet pavement.  People are mere impressions as they move about their night.  Everything pulses with the vigor of the city.  Butler takes us way up over the scene, several stories up.  We look down on all the hustle and bustle, transfixed by light and color, now anathema to the dark night.

Night life moves inside with Everett Shinn.  In many of his paintings, he puts us right up front in the theater.

Everett Shinn, Theater Box, 1906

Everett Shinn, Theater Box, 1906

We’re seated in the box, just behind this woman with her deeply-decolletaged, sage green, pillowy dress.  Don’t you love how the faces of the other audience members get lit up?  This is truly a shared experience.

But sometimes, the night is just quiet.  And who better to give us such a scene than the painter of quiet, Henry Ossawa Tanner?  An African American painter, Tanner left the U.S. to live in Europe where his classically-inspired religious works were better received with less overt racism.

Image result for henry ossawa tanner, the seine - evening

For Tanner, light was religious.  Sparks of spirit.  Perhaps you feel that, too.

With nights like this, we might not mind the shorter days so much.  Happy Labor Day!


Site-specific art of wit and lightness

As ever, the Aldrich Museum, a non-collecting contemporary art museum, makes a worthy stop to see what its clever curators have dreamed up.  This summer, the show features four artists who have made site-specific works.  That is, works that in some way reference the museum or the town of Ridgefield, CT.

The works of two artists made me really happy: Virginia Overton and Peter Liversidge.

Overton worked with a dead pine tree from the museum property to make monumental indoor and outdoor sculptures.  I love the outdoor swing, which has attracted more than human behinds.  Apparently, a local cat really likes to sit on the swing, as do birds.

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The piece (actually three separate works, but I see them as one), though, that I lingered with, reveled in, and meditated on was Untitled (Log Stand) from 2016.  Not naming a piece leaves the experience to the viewer, but in this case, the artist also didn’t share any intentions with the work.

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Still, I had lots of experiences of it.  As a dead tree trunk, something we all know, the thing has weight, heft.  Yet Overton has lifted these trunks way up in the air.  It doesn’t take long for the support stands to lose their seeming weight, too, and for the whole piece to seem to float.

One of the museum interpreters told me the only thing the artist really intended was to have each piece point to the outdoors.  Which they do.  I started to see more, like sea creatures.

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I watched the logs’ spirit rise to heaven.  I started to feel my spirits elevate, the way architects intended when people look up in or at a church or cathedral.

The kinesthetic sense of the lifting and lightening of this ‘dead’ thing animated it and me.  Overton created a weightless sculpture, a defying of gravity that is so joyous and of the spirit.

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Peter Liversidge lifted my spirit, too, with his seemingly insatiable wit.  He made 60 site specific proposals to the museum, all framed, mounted, and on view in his gallery there.  24 were implemented in the museum and around town.  Some were not, as they were philosophical…

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…and just silly.

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A British conceptual artist (the concept is the art), Liversidge has a creative mind I relate to, so I’ll share my favorites of his works on view at the museum.

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The first could be easy to miss.  The above photo shows you why.  The work is just a dot on a sea of white wall.  Oh, but so much more.

(excellent shadows, too)

(excellent shadows, too)

Ridgefield is a town with deep history.  Keeler Tavern, next door to the museum, stills sports a Revolutionary War cannon ball fired by the British lodged in its walls.  Liversidge had Revolutionary War re-enactors shoot a cannon ball into a new wall, then installed it at the museum.  A Brit leaving yet another gift for Ridgefield.  Wonderful!

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A British philosopher Bishop Berkeley espoused that nothing is real but what’s in the mind.  An early postmodernist?  Samuel Johnson countered that matter is real, proving it by kicking a rock.  Liversidge proposes, “I intend that, whenever I come across a stone in Ridgefield that is a larger or similar size to my foot, I will stop what I am doing, and I will kick that stone to The Aldrch…”  He and his interns kicked rocks into the museum, into the elevator, then across the bridge to his gallery.  A man true to his word.

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Then there is Proposal No. 20: Wooden objects posted to the Museum from the artist’s studio in London, UK, installed on a shelf.  Yes, you understand that correctly.  Liversidge mailed found wooden objects to the museum.  He had to work with the postmaster in London and get agreement in Ridgefield.

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a little wear and tear, and the canceled postmarks

a little wear and tear, and the canceled postmarks

Liversidge mailed a tambourine and a scrub brush!

Liversidge mailed a tambourine and a scrub brush!

The postwoman normally delivers mail to the administrative offices, located in a church up the hill above the museum.  She started delivering the pieces directly to the museum, so that she, too, the interpreter told me, became a creator of the work.

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I leave you with this Liversidge proposal, one I resonate with deeply.

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Raising and Releasing Monarchs

2016-08-13 10.08.15It’s the Monarch butterflies that love this hot weather.  They can only do their thing when it’s 60 degrees or higher.  Today’s temp was certainly lots higher when Nancy at Natureworks told us about their concerted effort to help replenish the declining Monarch population–over 50% in the past 40 years.

As of 2015, Nancy and Natureworks released 100 Monarchs, with 30 more being nurtured now.  Only 1 in 100 eggs becomes a butterfly, so for a typical female that lays 300-500 eggs in her 2-5 week life, that 3-5 offspring.  But with a care program like Natureworks’, those odds are wonderfully improved.

Why is it so tough for an egg to make it?

Everything has to be just right, and that means, everything.  Presence of habitat, nourishment, evading predators.  So many potential complications.  Those eggs can sure use some TLC.  Natureworks cultivates the desired diet – milkweed – and introduces ladybugs to eat the aphids, one of those predators that loves the Monarch eggs.

Nancy points out a Monarch egg

Nancy points out a Monarch egg

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

Monarch eggs are teensy, and egg hunting is no small task.  Once found, the eggs are brought inside and placed in hatching boxes.

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The Monarch’s work is just getting started.

It takes a week for a caterpillar to grow to the size of a sunflower seed.  It eats its shell for protein and then molts four times, consuming the shed skin.  The caterpillars will eat Monarch eggs, too–a species-imposed impediment.

Then it’s time to grow, and as Nancy puts it, “poop.”  The hatching boxes have to be cleaned twice a day, which involves removing the caterpillars, not losing any, cleaning the waste, and replacing the carefully counted caterpillars.  It takes about an hour each time.  No more complaints about litter boxes!

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The caterpillar “unzips its skin” to turn into a chrysalis.  Then Natureworks dangles each chrysalis from a silk threat clasped by a tiny clothes pin.  You can see the stages, as Nancy points out the hanging J that becomes a chrysalis.

In 7 to 14 days, the caterpillar will “liquefy as it re-forms itself as a butterfly,” Nancy told us in genuine wonder.  When it emerges, the Monarch’s wings are wet, and it has to hang, like dripping laundry on the line, for 4 hours to dry.

Males have spotted wings

Males have spotted wings


Then they need to eat.  Voracious, these Monarchs.  Those white blobs are cotton balls saturated in hummingbird nectar, so that the Monarchs have a meal ready.  They love their nectar plants – daisies, phlox, ironweed, Astoria, goldenrod, and of course, the butterfly bush.

Natureworks releases the butterflies on their second day.  Below, a Natureworks staffer brings the day-olders to the nectar garden, so they can immediately “start tanking up.”  It’s like a “health food store,” Nancy explained.

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See, the butterflies born in late August into the early fall have a very different journey.  Unlike their short-lived parentage, the Monarchs are flying some 50 miles a day to get to a very particular 10,000′ mountain and 60-square-mile forest in Mexico, arriving November 1. Imagine having that kind of built-in radar.

Now their migration can be tracked through an innovative tagging program, and their arrival is celebrated in the nearby town.  Locals believe the butterflies represent the “souls of the departed,” and their arrival is celebrated as a Day of the Dead.  Traditionally, the butterflies are released in honor of someone who has died.

On the return journey through Texas and the Midwest, marked by laying eggs in milkweed, this 4th generation will die out.  A new generation takes over, branching out to different home spots, including Connecticut.  You can track their migration on Journey North.

But first, we have work to do.  It’s time to release those butterflies born yesterday.  One by one, the Monarchs are taken from their protective home…

One by one, the Monarchs are taken from their protective home...

…and off they fly.

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Released, the Monarchs head right into the nectar garden…

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…and start their miraculous journey…

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Kudos Natureworks for your astonishing Raise and Release program!


The Perfume of Basil

The Explorer is on staycation right now, exploring the deepest corners of the mind and sleep.  But fresh produce never rests, and tomatoes and basil are bursting forth now.

I walked into Hindinger’s farm store today, and the basil aroma was arresting.  I talked with one of the farmers, and she told me she’d been cutting basil all morning.  “My shirt smells like it,” she said.  “Nice perfume,” I responded, and we smiled.  I bet you’re smelling it right now…

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…and I’m off to make pesto.  Aaaahhh, summer.


Collaged Townscape

Jane Fisher, Director, is a visionary leader for the Wallingford Public Library, and today, she gave me a tour of the marvelous new community technology lab there and a glimpse into the future of public libraries.

Witness the community art project conducted by over 100 Wallingford residents from January through April this year.  Dedication, creativity, inspiration, and town-celebration all rolled into one.

The Wallingford Townscape is a 4′ x 10’4″ photo-collage created with the leadership of artist Rashmi Talpade.  Rashmi is from India and has sold her work internationally.  She immigrated to Connecticut in 1991 and has gotten deeply involved with community arts and museums around the state.

Rashmi Talpade. The God Next Door. Photo Collage.


In Wallingford, she worked with residents to collage over 1000 photographs of the town.  See if you can make out historic images, as well as contemporary scenes.

Wallingford Townscape detail

Wallingford Townscape detail

The four panels create an ‘imaginary’ yet realistic landscape that tells so many stories when looking up close and coheres into something universal at a distance.  It’s magical.

Rashmi Talpade with the collage waiting to be hung at the library

What a great idea to do in your community…