Ars Medendi

Ars medendi is Latin for medical arts.  Is medicine an art or a science?    Some say it’s both; medical knowledge is gathered through scientific study, but the application of that knowledge  is an art .   That’s why they call it practicing medicine, and it is not coincidental that practicing is also the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
But seriously folks-I live in Philadelphia and walk past  a couple of fascinating sculptures almost every day.  One is a tall weathered metal cylinder in which mysterious looking symbols and foreign words in several alphabets-Latin, Cyrillic, Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese-are punched out of the metal as if the creator wanted to make a giant stencil.  The other sculpture is a long trapezoid-shaped screen with the same design motif.   They intrigued me from the first time I saw them, but there are no plaques indicating what they are, who the sculptor is, or why they sit on opposite ends of   the plaza of Thomas Jefferson University Medical College.

People must have been asking the Jefferson administration the same questions because it appears that Jefferson recently added information to its web site about the sculptures.  They are entitled Ars Medende and the artist is Jim Sanborn, known for his Kryptos sculpture at CIA headquarters in Langley Virginia. You can read more about Sanborn and his work here.

And now for the sculptures

The Medical Arts cylinder was installed on the corner of 9th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia in 2009.   It interesting by day but captivating at night.

When the cylinder is lit up at night it reflects  cryptic  symbols and foreign words onto the walkway and an adjacent building.   What do they mean?

I got a clue one night as my husband and I walked across the plaza.  He pointed  to the top of the  cylinder and asked me, “Do you recognize that?  It’s a DNA sequence.”  He should know, because he wrote a book called Corporate DNA: Learning from Life and did a lot of thinking about DNA and how it works while he was writing that book.   I admitted that the letters bore a strange familiarity even though I would be hard pressed to remember anything about DNA from high school biology.

Another look at the cylinder by day.  See the DNA sequence at near the top? Can you recognize anything else?

The Medical Arts screen  on the other side of the plaza on 10th Street  was placed there in 2008.  The first time I saw it, I was transfixed.  When I finally looked down,  I found two rusty X shapes from the stamped out metal that lying on the sidewalk.

There is other beautiful  art on the Jefferson Campus and I wish they would let the public know more about it.  You might remember the controversy that ensued after TJU decided to sell Thomas Eakins’ painting “The Gross Clinic” to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2007.   American surgeon Samuel Gross taught at Jefferson Medical College and the story is that Eakins took one of his anatomy classes.

There is a statue of Gross in the courtyard by Alexander Sterling Calder who was the father of  Alexander Calder, known for his jewelry and  better known for his mobiles.  There is so much history at TJU both artistic and scientific.  But that is a topic for another post.

Enjoy the video about Jim Sanborn


Desert Jewels

I have always been fascinated by the jewelry of the African continent.  Each region (I hesitate to say country because those are mostly artificial creations of colonization) has its own style and these are broken down further depending on the tribe or ethnic group.

Some of my favorite designs come from North Africa, so I jumped at the chance to see  the Desert Jewels: North African Jewelry and Photography exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last year. If one word describes North Africa Jewelry, it’s flamboyant.  These massive jewelry pieces blend design  traditions (Moorish and Jewish for example) and materials that could be local or that could have traveled thousands of miles on the back of a camel.   Most of the jewelry is meant to be worn every day; some is ceremonial.   It’s not uncommon for a piece to be taken apart and  refashioned into another design.  Gold is rare and most of the materials are not precious.    I was surprised to see the Star of David motif on so much of the jewelry, even though the Jews have long been a presence in Morocco.  And the jewelry is stunning.

The photographs in the exhibition gave me the opportunity to see some jewelry as it was worn and and to catch some glimpses of this exotic part of the world portrayed as even more exotic and mysterious for the Western audiences, sometimes by staged scenes or the use of fake back drops.

The Exhibition was put together by the Museum for African Art.   I highly recommend the  exhibition book.  If you buy it directly from the museum, you will help to support local African artisans and museum programs.


Philadelphia From Up High

Here’s another way to look at things: From the 50th floor of a tall building on a clear day with a zoom lens.  You can look down into Easten State Penitentiary, get a bird’s eye view of Swann Fountain,  see ships on the Delaware,  the Ben Franklin Bridge, and see the Schuylkill River meandering behind the  Art Museum.

Fifty Years of Public Art in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its Public Art Program this year! It had one the first “percent for art” public art program in the United States when it passed an ordinace in 1959 that required that a percentage of construction costs for municipal projects be set aside for fine arts. Read more about the program’s history here.

The pictures below are a sampling of some the public art in Center City Philadelphia. I’m sure you’ll recognize some of them. Yes, those are huge dominoes and Monopoly pieces! One of my favorites has always been Claes Olbenburg’s Clothespin in Centre Square. That’s a reflection of City Hall in the building behind it in the picture below.

You can find out more about the great public art in Philadelphia here and here.

Klay Kismet

A couple of years ago, I spent a few days at Arlene Groch’s house claying nonstop alongside Arlene, Ellen Marshall and Melanie West. During the course of the claying frenzy, I made some bracelets with long beads usinga variety of techniques.

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In October, Barbara McGuire taught a master class in Philadelphia and was the guest artist at the Philadelphia Area Polymer Clay Guild’s monthly meeting. She saw my bracelets and remarked that I had used oneof the stamps she designed. Then I remembered admiring one of Arlene’s stamps and using it to texture some of the beads.  Arlene bought the stamp on Barbara’s web site.

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Barbara McGuire is the author of two of my all time favorite polymer clay books,Foundations in Polymer Clay Design and Wire in Design. So I was  looking forward   to her demo at the meeting.  I was not disappointed.  And the members who took her face canes class gave it rave reviews. The Guest Artist Program is one of the best perks of PAPCG membership.

If you want to see pictures from the meeting, go to the guild’s Flickr site. If you’re in Philadelphia this weekend, try to catch the  PMA Craft show where Melanie West is participating as an emerging artist.

And not for the last bit of Klay Kismet:  Arlene happened to go to school with my boss.  How Kool is that?

Dear Fleisher

Dear Fleisher, 4 X 6 Inches of Art is the Fleisher Art Memorial’s biennial exhibition and sale of original artwork. The invitational exhibit features postcard sized (4″x6″) art in a wide range of media. Each piece is signed on the back to preserve the artist’s anonymity and sold for $50.00. I heard Fleisher raised almost $55,000 this year.

Some of the more than 150 contributing artists this year were Jill Bonovitz, Burnell Yow!, Signe Wilkinson, David Brewster, Isaiah Zagar, and Eliza Auth.

I was asked to participate in the last two exhibits and have chosen to work in polymer clay. Here are my pieces from 2006 (left) and 2008 (right). The Fleisher Art Memorial is a neighborhood and City treasure to which I am glad to contribute.

DVD’s from Kato, Miller and a Calder Article


 

Donna Kato Presents: Tips, Tricks & Techniques for Polymer Clay  is three and a half hours of Donna Kato demonstrating caning, transfers, mica shift, finishing techniques and more. The gals at video night (you know who you are) gave it a five (out of five) pasta machine rating. A bargain at $34.95. To order, press here.

I love everything Sharilyn Miller. (To see my review of her Tribal Treasures video, press here.) I just got finished watching her Ethnic Style Jewelry Workshop video, and all I can say is “Wow!” Another three and one half hours of valuable information on wire working, and instructions for making four bracelets and two necklaces. A steal at $39.95. To order it, Press here.

I wrote about the Alexander Calder Jewelry Exhibit at the Philadelpha Museum of Art in an earlier post. The latest issue of Lapidary Journal Jewelry Artist has an article on Calder’s jewelry well worth reading: “Calder’s Mobile Jewelry” by Cathleen McCarthy.

Thinking about Design

A book I heartily recommend is Hinges and Hinge-Based Catches for Jewelers and Goldsmiths. It covers more than hinges and catches. You’ll find information on soldering and construction, some tool making ideas, and tips on solving technical and design problems. Even if you are not a Metalsmith, I recommend you read the book for examples of author Charles Lewton-Brain’s approach to creative thinking and problem solving:

Thinking is the most important thing you can do as a goldsmith and a jeweler. Solving problems is what being an artist or craftsperson is about. Utilizing contrast and comparison helps in analyzing a problem. Look for patterns: if something looks like something else, there is probably a relationship, a link. . . .[from which]one can gain a deeper understanding of the principles behind them. This is the same approach used by scientists and art historians; one understands systems and problems by using contrast and comparison.”

In the same vein, I recommend you go to the Polymer Art Archive and read  Rachel Carren’s explanation of why one of Victoria Hughes’s necklace designs works so well. Sure, we all read about design and take classes where teachers use abstract terms and diagrams. Maybe you could take a test on the class and get an “A,” but most of us are not going for the grades at this point. We want to improve our designs. Carren, provides a concrete analysis of how a master approached a design. How cool is that?   The Polymer Art Archive contains some more examples of  Carren’s  insightful commentaries on design.  Well worth a read. 

Finally, the Philadelphia Museum of Art is hosting a not-to-be-missed exhibit of Alexander Calder’s jewelry. The exhibit runs through November 2, 2008 at the newly-opened Perlman Building. This is the first exhibition devoted solely to Calder’s jewelry. What’s especially nice about it is the large number of pieces are displayed in glass cases so you can see the front and back.

Calder used cold connections and basic fabrication techniques to make his jewelry, but this didn’t limit him. All of his designs were well thought out and seem fresh 60 years later. If you can’t make it to the Museum, you can always order the exhibition catalog on line. Or you can do both like I did.