Category Archives: Art

Two Bits

I see in the news that Maya Angelou is going to gracing our nation’s 25-cent piece this year.  I was actually a little skeptical about this, seeing as how Harriet Tubman hasn’t made it onto the twenty-dollar bill yet and they’ve been talking about THAT for years.

But apparently there is a whole series of 2022 American women quarters planned: Sally Ride, Maya Angelou, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong.  While I know Sally Ride (physicist, first American woman in space), Maya Angelou (writer, social activist) and Anna May Wong (first Chinese American film star in Hollywood), I have to admit that I didn’t know the names Wilma Mankiller or Nina Otero-Warren.

Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected as principle chief of the Cherokee Nation and a lifelong activist for Native American rights.  Her surname Mankiller is a Cherokee name (Asgaya-dihi) and refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank, like major or captain.  She was elected Principle Chief in 1985 and served very successfully for ten years.  She was Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1987, was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton.

María Adelina Isabel Emilia “Nina” Otero-Warren was a woman’s suffragist, educator, politician and the first female superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools.  In her role as superintendent she advocated abolishing the practice of sending Native American children to boarding schools  and sought to integrate ethnic cultures and languages into the New Mexico school curriculum.  She became the Director of Literacy under Franklin Roosevelt and later worked to preserve historic structures in Santa Fe and Taos and continued to promote Native American arts, language and culture.

I wish I had known who they were earlier, but I suppose this is better than never knowing them.  I’ll have to make sure to get one of each of these quarters in the coming year.

Did you ever collect coins?

Nostalgia

I’m not sure if it’s a pandemic thing but during the last year, I’ve had a greater yearning for tv shows and movies that I haven’t seen for years/decades. 

It started with two movies starring Gene Wilder as Cash Carter: Murder in a Small Town and The Lady in Question.  Gene plays a theatre director who helps the local police solve crimes.  Even though I’ve read that he was kind of a stinker in real life, I adore him on the screen.

Then there were both of the older Death on the Niles, one from the 70s with Peter Ustinov and the David Suchet version.  This is my absolute favorite Agatha Christie and both these versions are pretty true to the book.

Next up came The Girl From Uncle with Stephanie Powers.  It’s very dated but I did love it at the time and am always glad when there is a woman in a leading role, especially where spy/detective stories are concerned.

I’ve looked for years for The Scarecrow.  I hardly remember it except for the song and the shots of Patrick McGoohan with his Scarecrow mask.  It was a short Disney series but for some reason it has stuck in my memory.

And as soon as I started thinking about Patrick McGoohan, I started thinking about The Three Lives of Thomasina.  I talked my parents into taking me to see this three times while it was at the local move theatre.  In addition to the cat and Patrick McGoohan (I had a thing for him early on), I loved the “witch” who lived outside the town who cured the cat.

The latest of my obsessions is Flambards.  It played on PBS in 1980 – I was a young married and I still remember the haunting musical score.  I only saw it that once, but I loved the story of a young girl coming of age in turn of the century (20th) England.  I didn’t realize for many years that it was based on a trilogy of books by K.M. Peyton; I have just recently read the first one.

I searched for all of these movies/shows and didn’t have much luck (David Suchet’s Nile and the first episode of Flambards were available on the internet for a bit).  And I didn’t have much luck with interlibrary loan either – a lot of libraries don’t really want to lend out their DVDs; they show as available but then I get a “sorry” email.  I’m still waiting to hear about Flambards, but for all the others, I eventually went online and purchased them one by one.  This may not seem too remarkable but purchasing DVDs hasn’t been something I do very often and it’s hard not to feel like I’ve been behaving fiscally irresponsible purchasing so many over the course of a year.  But I have truly enjoyed them (over and over again I admit).  I have a friend who weighs purchases by how often they are used – she calls this calculation PPU (price per use) – the more often something is used, the cheaper it gets in her eyes.  By this calculation, I’m practically saving money!

Anything you’ve been nostalgic about lately?

Is a Puzzlement…

YA and I both received jigsaw puzzles for the hoidays.  Since I had several days off, I thought it would be fun to get one of them started.  Of course, I should have realized that the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree where jigsaw puzzles are concerned.

We started the puzzle about about 1:30 p.m., on the card table in the living room.  We finished the puzzle at 10:15 p.m.  With short timeouts for refreshing a beverage or making a quick sandwich, we both sat at the table until we were finished.

Sitting with her for that length of time I began to see some differences in how we approached the puzzle.  I like to go through all the pieces one by one at the beginning to find the edge pieces.  YA just like to sift through looking for edge pieces.  I tend to look for a piece that fits a particular spot.  YA likes to choose a piece and then figure out where it goes.  (Her method was seriously aided by a large fold out picture of the puzzle – which she hogged most of the day.)

The next morning my friend in Chicago texted me a photo of the puzzle she and her husband were working on.  They have all the pieces sorted by color and instead of assembling all the edges first, they work on sections by color.  It’s fascinating to realize that there are probably many other ways to work on a puzzled that I have never encountered or thought of.  I’m pretty sure that this realization will not change how I like to do puzzles although this will be tested out soon.  YA’s puzzle is made by the same company so I’m assuming it will have a large fold-out picture.  Maybe I can hog it when we sit down to do hers!

Any method to your madness (puzzle or otherwise)?

Last Minute Tasks

Ok, all you ND cattle ranching Baboons. You have until December 31 to renew your cattle brands. 91% have been renewed already. About 1,900 brands will lapse at the end of December. If you don’t renew on time, another rancher could take over your brand! Send your renewal into the Stockmen’s Office in Bismarck as soon as you can!

The Christmas season is busy enough, and then there are these extra things that need to be done. We paid our property taxes early to save $128. We renewed our professional licenses. We made sure our church pledge was all paid.

I am amazed by the number of cattle brands in my State. I would love to know their history, and who designed them. I have never attended a branding. They are real social events. It would be fun to incorporate a brand into signing my professional reports in addition to my signature. Wouldn’t that confuse the insurance companies! I would need to consult an artist to design one for me.

What design elements would you use in your brand? What do you need to accomplish before the end of the year? Are you happy with your signature?

Right Brain Baking

We got a text from our daughter the other day, lamenting the dismal failure of two Christmas treats she tried making-those Special K wreaths you cover with green-dyed almond bark, and a pretzel, M & M, and white chocolate, milk chocolate chip confection. Neither set up, and were real messes.

Daughter has turned into a very fine cook of soups, casseroles, and main dishes, but admits she is no baker because she “cooks from the heart”, adding what she thinks would be good and deviating from the recipe. That just doesn’t work for baking. Baking is a first and foremost a science. The decorative part is secondary.

Daughter’s cooking style is that of a person relying more on their right brain than their left brain. I am a left brain person, who rigidly follows recipes until I get brave enough to alter things. Artists, poets. and musicians do a wonderful job using both sides of their brains in their arts. You just can’t wing your way through it when you bake. Flour can only absorb so much liquid, you need just the right amount of leavening, chocolate melts at a certain temperature, and you have to understand how fats interact with all of it. It is amazing anyone can bake.

How do you approach a recipe? How are you at following instructions? What science classes did you like/not like?

Happy Birds

The warm weather the last several weeks has given us a glimpse of some fun bird behavior.

We have a bird feeder in our backyard that Husband fills with black oil sunflower seeds. We are the only people on the block who feed birds, so our yard is pretty popular, especially given the tall lilac bushes where multitudes can perch. They also like weaving in and out of the twisty grapevines on our deck. There is a very large flock of about seventy sparrows, with several Red Polls, House Finches, Chickadees, Rose and White Breasted Nuthatches, and Junkos who frequent our yard. There are often seven Eurasian Collared Doves on the ground under the feeder, eating what the other birds knock down. A Downy Woodpecker also makes an appearance now and then. They are all really greedy, and feast and gobble as fast as they can. The Chickadees alert the others after Husband refills the empty feeder to let them know that dinner is served.

I cleared out the rhubarb bed the other day, leaving a large area of smooth dirt that the rhubarb leaves had formerly covered. Last Saturday I noticed about twenty Sparrows rolling around in the exposed dirt, digging into the earth, making little indentations in the soil. I guess they were having dust baths, a luxury in North Dakota in late November.

Even more luxurious was the shower they and a migrating flock of Cedar Waxwings had a month ago on the last really warm day of autumn. I set up a sprinkler to water our rhododendrons, bleeding hearts, fern bed, and hydrangeas before freeze up, and we saw the birds flying repeatedly through the spray and huddling on the ground, letting the water cascade over them. The Waxwings made a point of drinking copious amounts of the water that collected on the walkway. The next day, they were gone.

What are your favorite birds to watch? Tell your bird stories. What is your favorite bird-inspired music and visual art?

The Mighty Wurlitzer

Every now and then I am surprised by the new and different things I stumble upon.  I’ve lived in the Twin Cities since 1980 and while I would never presume to know all there is to know about Minneapolis/St. Paul, I like to think I’m in the know on a lot of what is here.

In August a friend/neighbor asked me to teach him how to make pesto.  Kind of a tempest in a teapot – a quick internet search will show you dozens of recipes and “how to” videos – but it wasn’t an imposition, so I went up and showed him how.  As a thank you he asked if I had ever been to the Heights Theatre and when I said “no”, he insisted that we go to one of their special shows.  Apparently every month they do a screening of a vintage movie on their big screen which is preceded by the playing of their “Mighty Wurlitzer”. 

The vintage movie on Monday night was Singin’ in the Rain.  My friend has been to the theatre many times, so bowing to his experience we sat in the front row, just off to the right.  It turns out that this is the best vantage point to watch the Wurlitzer player (and not a bad seat for the movie itself).  In addition, my friend knows everyone who works there, so I got a great tutorial about the organ from one of the engineers, including all kinds of photos of the pipes and instruments behind the scenes.  Suffice it to say I had no clue about how extensive a set-up a big Wurlitzer has.

I’ve never seen Singin in the Rain on the big screen and it was amazing. It made me a little sad to think about how thoroughly our society has taken to the small screen – phones, tv, ipads, laptops.  Even most movie theatres have cut down screen size to make room for more.  Made me think back to when I saw Star Trek: Wrath of Khan on the massive screen at the now-defunct Cooper.  The opening shot of stars and space took my breath away.  Even without the Wurlitzer experience, I may have to keep going to the Heights to enjoy films on a really big screen!

What’s the last thing you saw on a big screen?

CPU

I learned frugality at my mother’s knee so sometimes it’s hard for me to part with my hard-earned cash.  I have a good friend who sometimes gives me grief about this.  Her view of life is all about CPU… cost per use.  If she purchases something and then uses it a lot, the CPU gets smaller and smaller.  She taught this life view to YA early on, so I am exposed to the theory on a fairly regular basis.

The one place I have been good at applying CPU is with the Minnesota Zoo.  I have an annual membership so when YA and I go to the zoo, we don’t have to pay anything.  It’s obviously not free but it feels free at the time.  We go enough that the annual membership is less than the full price and parking we would have to pay.

I have another friend who has been a supporter of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum for many years and have always urged me to get a membership.  But at $60 I knew I’d have to go at least 4 times a year to justify the CPU.  This past spring, this friend called me to tell me that the Arb was having a membership sale.  Just $30 for the annual membership.  Right up my alley.

Now that I don’t have to pay every time I go, I’ve been to the Arb a few times.  Twice this summer I even parked myself in one or another garden with a good book.  In October they had their annual Scarecrow exhibit so last weekend, I made some space in my Saturday and headed out.  I strolled about, checking out how things are changing now that the big blooms of spring and summer are over.  (I even got a gardening tip; I noticed that in the Peony garden, they have chopped the peonies back.  This is not something I have ever done but the afternoon after my visit, I chopped all my own back!) 

The scarecrows were a lot of fun.  Most of them were up on the hill and it was almost like a fall festival – lots of kids and lovely autumn displays – not to mention a gorgeous sunny day.  I normally take the tram ride but since it’s done for the season, I drove slowly along the Three Mile Drive myself with Enya playing on my phone.  I’m sure it’s the lowest my blood pressure has been for years!  They were starting to put up the lights for the Winter Lights Walk so as soon as I got home, I ordered tickets for that.   The CPU will be seriously low this year.

I was thinking as I enjoyed my day that even if they raise the price of membership on me next year, I’ll probably renew anyway.

How do you decide if something is “worth it”?

Pride of Workmanship

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

I knew a young woman who was an indifferent student through high school, the kind of girl who gets lectured endlessly by school counselors who knew she could do better. Her early employment history after college was more of the same. She did what people told her to do, but not much more.

At some point she began working in the office of a company that tried to match temporary workers with jobs offered by companies who didn’t want the trouble of finding, compensating and training temp workers. Like so many companies, it was badly run. Upper management was clumsy, rewarding the wrong workers and failing to produce sound policies. And yet, like many badly run companies, this one did well enough to keep making a modest profit and thus could continue functioning as a business.

Then something strange happened. As that business grew, it assigned two young women, including my friend, to head up a new branch office. While neither of them had distinguished herself in earlier assignments, this was different. Both women had been paying attention to the shortcomings of their business and had thoughts about how they might do better. The two women threw themselves into an effort to run their office in an exemplary way. They did not expect their model to lift up the whole business, and in fact it did not. They didn’t expect their excellence to be identified and rewarded, and in fact it was not. And yet they experienced the rare joy of managing the only effective office in an organization that continued to limp along with shoddy practices.

Good things happen when people take pride in their work. We all have known workers who slacked off whenever possible, but we have also encountered workers who set a high personal standard for excellence. A persistent mystery in business management is exactly how some workers demand a high level of work from themselves. Studies show that the level of compensation is not the critical factor. What seems more important is pride, pride of workmanship.

When I edited a small magazine I worked with writers and photographers who were badly compensated. My magazine paid so little for articles that we couldn’t demand outstanding work from contributors. Some contributors, acknowledging that we paid poorly, sold us articles that were slick and poorly written. And yet some contributors gave us good articles in spite of our amateurish payment programs.

My own work became an example. I realized that I was the untrained editor of a very badly run publication. All of us on the magazine’s staff were ignorant about making magazines. Most of us tried to do our jobs well, but the business was a sort of clown show because had never been trained and now were badly led. 

And yet I came to understand that, with all its obvious faults, this was my magazine. Whether it was wretched or entertaining, I was the single person ultimately responsible for the quality of each issue. I began rewriting bad articles, trying to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Our readers never guessed how hard I had worked to salvage shoddy original copy. It didn’t matter to me whose name was on a story. What mattered was that each article should be as funny, interesting or educational as possible.  We continued to print pictures upside down, print captions riddled with misspellings and make all sorts of factual errors. But more and more, almost in spite of ourselves, we began putting out a magazine that people really liked. Our readers were on our side, hoping desperately that a magazine like ours would triumph over the amateurism, disorganization and lack of resources that continued to plague us.

Later, when I became a freelance writer/photographer, I discovered how easy it was to write articles that were marginally better than average for that field of journalism. That is, I could knock off a slick article in two hours that looked pretty good, even if it was pretentious and lacking merit. That could have encouraged me to be lazy, and yet the opposite happened. I came to value the fact it was my name on an article. I took that to be a promise that I would do the very best work I was capable of, in spite of how meager my reward might be. The longer I worked as a freelancer, the higher my standards became. It became increasingly important to put out articles I was proud of.

How did you acquire the standards you hold yourself to in your work? Have they evolved over time? Did anyone serve as a model for you of doing the job well? What gives you pride in your work?

Claiming Your Space

Today’s post comes from Steve.

I paid no attention to home decor in the early years of my marriage. We were grad students living on sketchy incomes. Our furniture—sagging, mismatched and threadbare—came as gifts from our parents. Moreover, my former wife dominated all decorating decisions. When I ventured to suggest something that might make our home attractive, she was amused that the spouse with lousy taste was offering advice to the spouse with good taste.

Then, rather suddenly, the marriage ended. Within a few weeks I lost my father, my job and my wife. Everything about my life changed almost overnight, with my address being virtually the only thing that stayed the same. When my erstwife suggested I was now free to sell the home and move anywhere on earth, I panicked. Like a man who has suffered a shipwreck and now clings to floating parts of his old boat, I needed security. I needed my home to be constant and comforting.

But there was a problem. The upstairs of my home had become a place where I did not belong. I lived in the basement, rarely venturing upstairs where everything reflected the taste of my former wife. That began to bother me. After dithering for half a year, I decided to take on the challenge of changing everything about the appearance of the upstairs of my bungalow. I had to make my home a place where I would not feel like a trespasser.

Home decor, something I had ignored all my life, became an obsession. Although I had never bought furniture, now I haunted furniture stores and consulted catalogs. Having never bought a lamp, I bought seven, all with stained glass shades. I gave away the art that my erstwife had put up and replaced it with original art, a big tapestry and a triptych. I collected fine art pottery and a handsome Mission clock to promote a turn-of-the-century look. I bought six rugs, including two hand-tied Bokhara orientals from Pakistan. I changed the color of every wall of every room. I installed new sconces, chandeliers and light switches. I studied the Arts and Crafts movement in American domestic architecture, and educated myself about the fascinating home design movement that produced the bungalow. My home had been built in 1925, and now I honored that by filling it with lovely objects from the early 20th century.

Reclaiming my home took about four years. I understand that the way I accomplished it was unusual, but I had been put in unusual circumstances. It was the perfect project for a divorced gentleman who was not as young as he once had been. Buying Chinese knockoffs of Tiffany lamps was healthier than other ways I might have processed the divorce. When I was done, virtually nothing was the same. It was all different and it was all me. The upstairs became a place that made me smile, a place where I could—finally—feel “at home.”

Have you ever taken a serious interest in the look of your home? Are you fond of any particular style of domestic architecture (Colonial, modern, Gothic revival, Arts and Crafts, etc)? Or, like most people, are you happy with an eclectic approach?