Thursday, February 20, 2020

Art Made of Matchbooks to Ignite Awareness

This article was published in the Millerton News, Compass, February 20, 2020,  page A8.

In the cool crisp air of the cavernous Wassaic Project grain elevator stand or drape 7 large quilts in a show titled, Heirloom: Quilts from Another Country Quilt Cycle.
DARNstudio, "Amplify"

Walking through at first glance they can seem silent and even severe. It takes further reading, and peaking closely, to decipher the conceptual layers and emotional heat behind the works. The labels inform of title, ingredients, dimension, and date completed, but there is so much more to share.

Quilts are the quintessential heirlooms passed down through generations. They map our stories and stitch together family and community. A friend of mine in college had a quilt on her bed sewn by her mother commemorating the send off to school with an aerial view of her ancestral home. Quilts such as that one have warmed us, aided with healing, and silently comforted us in our beliefs. Historical lore has quilts serving most famously as poetic signposts pointing black slaves to promises of freedom along the Underground Railroad. 
This show does not point to freedom.

These DARNstudio quilts have a more sinister air. The patterns and colors are comprised of units made out of souvenir matchbooks lashed together and backed by thick grey felt. The places commemorated on the books of matches are of mundane sites: a train station platform, a convenience store, a sheriff’s jail cell, a traffic-stop intersection.

Put together by the collaborative duo of DARNStudio, based in Roxbury, CT, these quilts are part of a larger series-in-process making a statement about the killing of unarmed black American men.

David Anthone and Ron Norsworthy, the DARNstudio artists, design logos for each new place where such a killing has occurred and they then print thousands of custom-designed matchbooks. 

Flipped back to front for the sake of variety and rhythm, the matchbook fronts bear letters and numbers, codifying the names and most recent dates of a death of a victim by the hands of police,  stand-your-ground policy and other traumatic events. 
Vaguely resembling the patterns of coded quilt signage, these are contemporary pictographs where crows in the sky replace flying geese. In the quilt titled Amplify, the volume symbol of our cell phones is replicated over and over. 
Pattern titles such as "Snake in the Garden", "Go High", and "Double Cross" are an update for a vehicle that explores inherited trauma, and policy bias. 
This is the new story quilt that we, as a culture, are creating as heirlooms to pass down through generations. Each quilt of 2800 matchbooks appears colorful and comforting, but in actuality they are flashpoints. Each matchbook is a spark and a part of an overall blaze of conversation that needs to be shared. 

"Heirloom: Quilts from Another Country Quilt Cycle" is at the Wassaic Project in Wassaic, NY until March 28th. The Maxon Mills Gallery is open from noon to 5pm every Saturday and Sunday; admission is free. To learn more go to

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Are you using the latest Stamp on your Love Letters?

My series of drawings and history of the USPS love stamps was printed in the February 6th, 2020  edition of the Lakeville Journal, page A3.

Because it is the week for mailing out Valentines, we can look forward to the unveiling of the new 2020 Love stamp. Every year, on and off since 1973, the US Postal service has issued a new love stamp for the purpose of sending out your cards of intimate sentiment!
Sue at the Amenia Post Office shows me the new stamps
The first official love stamp featured the iconic stacked LOVE design by Robert Indiana. It cost eight cents!
By Robert Indiana
It was created for the Museum of Modern art's Christmas card and never copyrighted, so it has popped up everywhere. Poor Robert Indiana doesn't get a penny from it. Another design, a few years later, was created by the the nun/artist/activist, Corita Kent.

Corita Kent
There used to be a water tower in Boston that featured her rainbow slashes.Wonder if it is still up?

This year's love stamp design is by Alberto Alcala. He also designed last years. He is one of 4 art directors with the post office. You have probably used his stamps many times. Last spring he made the stamp of the waving flag. It is from a photograph he took while walking along the shores of Lake Michigan. Another Forever stamp series he designed last fall was of holiday wreaths against doors.
Alcala's stamps
More about it on page A3, under "The Season for Romance"!
Lakeville Journal

Saturday, February 8, 2020

In Miami and Baltimore, Mickalene Thomas is the life of the party

One of the most exciting exhibits I recently experienced was at the Baltimore Museum of Art's Mickalene Thomas:A Moment's Pleasure exhibit. I remember first seeing her work when she was a resident at the Studio Museum of Harlem back in 2001. This was so different, and yet very much connected. Known for her large colorful, elaborate, mixed media portraits of black women, Thomas has taken the viewer right into her paintings.  By building immersive installations that mimic a party room from childhood, Thomas is bringing intimacy and a different sort of stimulation from the rest of the museum experience.

view from my comfy seat towards the bar
Born out of a desire to memorialize her mother and inspired by old Polaroids she had of her mother getting ready for parties, Thomas has been creating rooms since her "Better Days" art bar installation at Galerie Volkhaus for the Basel Art Fair of 2013. In 2016 she created the work, "Do I Look Like a Lady", an immersive video installation of singers now owned by the Portland Art Museum in Oregon. She followed up "Better Days" with Better Nights, rooms installed at Miami's Bass Museum December 2019. In the ArtNewspaper, Thomas calls the work a "manifesto experience... celebrating a marginalized group of people".
The decor is 1970's and 1980's. It is dimly lit and the music is loud. There is faux wood paneling, carpet squares, tiled ceilings, mix matched furniture, angled mirrors, bright colors, macrame plant hangers and contrasting fabric patterns. I found myself lulled into having a seat in the darkened living room and watched a few animated video shorts, while in the next room a formal bartender lined up bottles and wiped the surfaces clean. As far as I could see the other visitors were just as entranced. Included in "A Moment's Pleasure" are paintings and videos by younger Pratt artist. Thomas, a Pratt alum, has a reputation of generosity. She mentors younger artists, particularly those of color, to help them get ahead in the art world. I am sure they produced some of the colorful and mesmerizing videos on display at the end of the room.
Some books on the endtables. New to me!
The Baltimore Museum recently announced that they would spend the totality of their 2020 allocated purchasing funds to buying art by women. The focus on decolonizing the institution's collection has spread to reflecting on how they welcome and cultivate relationships with patrons and collectors of color. Mickalene Thomas is a strong artist to support. She brings with her some serious humor, a community of fans and, with installations like these, her base is only building.
The exhibit will be at the Baltimore Art Museum until May 2021. "Better Nights" at the Bass in Miami will be up until September 27, 2020.
Links to Books here: Liliane by Shange and Sister Outsider by Lourde

Friday, February 7, 2020

Gift wrapping for my subscribers

Tricky part is intuiting which goes to which home. They are all oldies but goodies, and I am so happy to share. I get inspired by having readers visit the blog. Feels good to give back.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Some people have writer's Block

Can't remember who owns this now...
I have Asparagus Block.

Guess I will have to wait for the spring shoots...

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Reminder of gift offer

If you sign up with your email to follow my blog by the end of the month, I will mail you a piece of art from my flat files!
Just add your email address to the window at the top of the right side bar, and press "submit". You will get a verifying window that makes you click to prove you are not a robot, and once you do that, you will soon after receive an email to verify your subscription. Then email me your address so I can send you your the packet.
It's a blatant ploy on my part to build up followers among friends as I embark on a year of writing intentionally. I plan to post issues of history and finding your voice in the story. I want to share tips for art lessons and crafty ideas that can be done at home or in a classroom.  And I will continue to point out the art in our communities. By subscribing to me, you will participate in keeping me accountable. If the art and stories inspire you, I hope you let me know and don't hesitate to pass it forward.
I believe that the arts can make a difference in shifting the world view to a more positive and inclusive place. It's my small activist act... trying to make the world slightly more hopeful, positive and beautiful.
Thank you!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

What Really Happened to the Buffalo?

The Last of the Buffalo, by Bierstadt, 1888
In researching for my art history book, I was shaken to understand that the American Buffalo were systematically killed under the encouragement of our government. Hoping to force the Native Americans off the prairies and onto reservations, the thought behind the extermination of the docile species was that,  “every dead buffalo figures as one less Indian”. Without the herds, the native Americans would starve. This was the policy of leaders of government in the late 1800's, all the way up to President Ulysses S. Grant.
1938 nickle

Of course that was not depicted in the great paintings of the time. Alfred Bierstadt’s painting, The Last of the Buffalo, actually depicts a Native American in the act of planting his spear into the animal and surrounded by slaughter and a seeming abundance of wildlife. Bierstadt’s painting did a lot to reinforce the romanticism of the “wild west” and the white man’s “Manifest Destiny” to own all the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans. Though convincingly painted, the work shows vast vistas of “empty” lands, symbolic dried bones and primitive savage warriors of the past and a dramatic blue sky portending to a bright future. Painted at the same time as Van Gogh in Europe was painting, this picture is as surreal as Starry Night. Both are interpretations of landscape reflecting dreams of the times. 
Unfortunately the reality was more of a nightmare. Congress passed a bill in 1957 to protect the Buffalo, but President Grant refused to sign it. In 2016 President Obama signed a National Bison Legacy Act protecting the mammals, who have been on the verge of being wiped out, from further harm.
A real photograph from the late 1800's

Currently, President Trump sees the need to protect hunting as a hobby, over protecting any endangered species.
Donald Trump Jr.