School Pictures at the Wilma Theater

I am interrupting my regularly-planned blog posts to post a review of a play I saw this week at the Wilma Theater called School Pictures. It’s unlike anything I have ever seen: a one person performance by playwright Milo Cramer, who portrays a number of middle-school students they worked with as a private tutor in the City of New York before the pandemic. To take on all these parts in one play is quite an undertaking, but there’s more. Cramer sings all the parts in a high-pitched voice while accompanying themself on various musical instruments: a ukulele, a toy piano, a regular piano, and a portable organ. Sometimes they sit on the floor. Sometimes they sit on a chair. The set is sparse, an almost bare stage with minimal props.

Sound weird or tedious? It’s not. Cramer’s performance is engaging, well-paced, and entertaining. Nothing drags. You get drawn in to the personal stories of the students which are a combination of comedic, poignant, sad and illuminating.

Towards the end the play, Cramer wheels a tall blackboard onto the stage and resumes the role of teacher, instructing the audience about the institutional inequalities that plague the New York school system. There’s no preaching. Cramer’s arguments are all the more compelling because they engage in a dialogue with the audience, and lets everyone draw their own conclusions.

School Pictures will be at the Wilma Theater until November 20.

Philly on a Fall Day

Halloween is over. The Phillies won’t be going to the World Series. We have reset our clocks. This means the Fall season is upon us. I don’t think a lot of people really liked the paintings of dead rats that I posted last week, but I always suspected there was a reason that I never had a future as a highly-paid blogger and influencer. No matter.

One of my favorite activities is walking through the different neighborhoods of Philadelphia. This week was the ideal time for it. As always, I take pictures on the way.

Swann Fountain. I always thought it was called Swann Fountain because of the Swans. Come to find out, that’s Alexander S. Calder’s pun. The fountain is a memorial to Dr. Wilson Cary Swann, founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society. Those Calders were full of jokes. Read this about Alexander Milne Calder’s joke on Philadelphia from the top of City Hall.

Speaking of City Hall,

Here’s a shot of City Hall Tower from inside the courtyard. Billy Penn is up there making mischief, but you can’t see him in this shot.

And here’s a picture of City Hall Courtyard with a repainted compass and map of the original City of Philadelphia in the center.

Here’s the recently-installed I Heart Philly sign in Love Park. The heart was originally bare. Now, it’s covered with stickers of flags from around the world along with messages from people who have stopped by.

And what would a visit to Philadelphia be without stopping at the Love Statue? Except there’s something fishy about the above photograph. You probably can’t tell what unless you’re from Philadelphia. Maybe even then you can’t.

Here’s another shot which reveals the answer. The Love Statue sits at the start of the Parkway looking northwest towards the Philadelphia Museum of art. The picture that shows it with Philadelphia City Hall in the background has been flipped around. Which is why you should remember that things aren’t always what they seem.

Phoebe Murer at POST

I know mixed media artist, cartoonist, painter and printmaker Phoebe Murer from Fleisher Art Memorial where we both serve on the student advisory committee. So I jumped at the chance last month to tour her studio which was on this year’s Philadelphia Open Studio Tour, sponsored by CEVA, the Center for Emerging Visual Artists.

Phoebe’s work can be startling for those expecting portraits, still lifes and studies. Yes, there are some of those because she is a formally-trained artist. But, as a self-described person “on the spectrum,” she has had to navigate the sometimes brutal institutions and bureaucracies that occasionally seem to do their utmost to suck whatever is unique and creative out of us. If you are not on the spectrum, but are even a little bit different, you surely know what I’m talking about.

Phoebe takes these experiences and makes art out of them. She uses conventional art materials and mixes in a healthy amount of wit, humor, truth, love, and perspective. The emotional kind.

A self portrait

More Self Portraits

I learned that when Phoebe was in high school, she made a collage at the end of each year. Later, she made paintings of some of the collages

Phoebe keeps rats as pets, and they are very important in her life. (Before meeting Phoebe’s friends, the only rats I had ever met were in my kitchen late at night, or in the crawl space beneath my old house. ) She has a little rat cemetery behind her house and paints a sleeping beauty portrait of each furry friend after they die. Rats live about six years, so there have been many rats in Phoebe’s life.

A “mask-ini” rendering of an imaginary bikini made from COVID masks. A humorous reaction to the difficulties mask wearing can cause for some on the spectrum

Screen prints

Water scene.

To see more of Phoebe’s work, go to her website here, and her Instagram feed here. Read an article on Phoebe’s work at Fleisher Art Memorial here.

Some words about this year’s POST tours.

I didn’t go to many other art studios this year. Why? Read on. The way POST works is that art studios in certain neighborhoods, like South Philadelphia or West Philadelphia, are open to the public on a given weekend day. In the past, CEVA provided easy access to the addresses of art studios that were participating on a given date. So if I wanted to visit several studios that were participating on, say, October 15 in South Philadelphia, I could find their addresses together on a list and plan my route.

This year, CEVA provided a link to a poorly-designed interactive map which was extremely cumbersome to use on your phone. I was not the only person who had this problem. There were brochures that listed the addresses of which studios were open on a given date by area, but they were scarce to the point of non-existence, (although someone at a South Philly studio cheerfully told us we could pick up copies at CEVA’s office in Rittenhouse Square, a mile and a half away. )

There were booklets that gave the addresses of the studios, but these were listed in alphabetical order by name of the artist and not grouped by date or part of the city. The QR code in the booklet inexplicably took you to the same thing. It should have taken you to a downloadable PDF with the addresses for each studio participating in each neighborhood on a given day. I truly hope CEVA does better next year. POST is a wonderful program.

West Craft Fest in the Woodlands

I made my way to West Philly last weekend to meet my friend Patty for West Craft Fest in the Woodlands. The Woodlands is actually a cemetery with some notable Philadelphia personages buried on its grounds. It was the perfect day for an outdoor craft fair.

I ran into my friend Nicole Rodrigues there. Nicole is a print maker and ceramic artist. See that honey in the above picture? Nicole’s father keeps bees and put up the honey. I went home with a jar of it and can’t wait to try it.

There were an abundance of artists selling candles and prints this year. Not of particular interest to me. But the work at the Barbaric Yawp Workshop stopped me in my tracks. Kasidy Devlin, who runs Barbaric Yawp with his wife, Natalie Kropf, gave me a short explanation of the mask making process. The masks, he told me, were made of vegetable-based leather which is wood fiber which is soaked and treated to form the masks. There is obviously a lot more to it than that. These are not your ordinary masks. These are works of art that you can wear or display. If you want to learn more about these incredible masks or buy one, click here. The Etsy site is here, and the Instagram site is here.

Looking for Inspiration

I’m back in the pottery studio this week. I plan to revisit the tar paper technique for hand building. Preferably with some interesting surface designs. Here are some pictures of a vase in progress.

Diálogo 365: New Rhizomes

Art-based community engagement has always been a cornerstone value of Fleisher Art Memorial. 360 Culture Lab is an example. In this program Fleisher teams with local Venezuelan and Indonesian cultural organizations to mount cultural exhibitions and arts experiences by lending resources, gallery space, and expertise, so these organizations can share their culture and traditions with the larger community.

Diálogo 365: New Rhizomes, a collaboration with Casa de Venezuela, showcases the work of 19 artists who have roots in several Latin American and Caribbean countries. The artists use a variety of mediums to connect the viewer to the places in their lives.

Untitled HenryBermudez
Henry Burmudez Untitled
Untitled HenryBermudez(detail)
Henry Burmudez Untitled
Patricia Patzi Armor Propio
Patricia Patzi Armor Propio
Patricia Cazorla One Walk (detail)
Patricia-c=Cazorla-one-walk-detail
NancySalmeNoMoreNoisySilence
Nancy Salme No More Noisy Silence
Lina Cedeno & Pedro Ospina Untitled(2)
Lina Cedeno & Pedro Ospina-untitled
Kalena Marshall Arroz y no Gandules
Kalena Marshall arroz y no gandules
Idalia Vasquez-Achury 12,980 Masque
Idalia Vasquez Achury 12,980 Masque
Gallery
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon's Genesis (2)
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon’s Genesis
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon's Genesis (1)
Doris Nogueira-Rogers Amazon’s Genesis

Press here for more pictures from the 360 Culture Lab project.

Polymer Clay in Tokyo

I recently rejoined the International Polymer Clay Association after letting my membership lapse for a few years and I’m glad I did. The IPCA is sponsoring a host of online activities, including regularly-scheduled Zoom meetings, weekly letters from dynamic President, Amy Brown, and a Design Lab series where members can have their work critiqued and evaluated. A couple of weeks ago, Amy wrote about her experiences in Japan while she served the US Navy as a segway into an introduction to the Japan Polymer Clay Association. This really took me back, so I would like to share some polymer-related Japanese memories of my own.

Kaz Yamashita was one of the artists whose work was featured in Nan Roche’s The New Clay. Kaz was living in the Washington D.C. metro area, when the book came out, and splitting her time between the D.C. area and Tokyo.

Around the same time, my husband wrote a book that they really liked in Japan. So a Japanese business group offered to fly him and some other business consultants and writers to Japan to address a gathering of their organization in Tokyo. And here’s how I know how much my husband loves me. He traded his first class ticket for two tickets in coach so I could go with him.

Needless to say, I didn’t know anyone in Tokyo and have a hard enough time with English, much less Japanese. But I had heard there was a polymer community in Japan and I did some Internet sleuthing. That’s I found out about Kaz, who by this time was called Kaz Kono. I emailed her out of the blue, and even though she didn’t know me, she answered with her contact information, and an invitation to look her up when we got to Tokyo.

We met up with Kaz and one of her students before my husband’s conference started. They gave us the grand tour of Tokyo and we ended up in the family restaurant run by the student’s sister. The kind with paper screens where you kneel at a table, drink Saki, and the waitresses wear beautiful kimonos. It was quite an experience. When we got home, I mailed the sisters Navajo pendants I’d bought in an Albuquerque pawn shop as a thank you. I wanted them to have something that was truly American.

At that time, Kaz was teaching in Japan and in the Philippines. She also started a Japanese polymer clay group.

Kaz had an exhibit in a gallery and asked me if I was interested in seeing her work. Was I ever! But she was leaving on a flight to D.C. the next day and couldn’t go with me. So she wrote out directions to the gallery from our hotel. In Japanese. My job was to take the Tokyo Metro to a certain station, head in a certain direction, stop people on the way, show them Kaz’s instructions, and have them point me in the right direction. I am not sure about now, but in those days, the Tokyo Metro system had signs with station names in English, but not much else. And not a lot of people on the street spoke English. And it didn’t really help to have an address, because of the way the streets were laid out. Buildings were numbered in the order in which they were built and not their physical location. The first building erected on a block was numbered 1 no matter where it stood. Number two might be somewhere down the block. There was no GPS. None of this really bothered me, because I have a terrible sense of direction and have grown quite comfortable with it. Odd, but true.   So I had to rely on gestures, and the accuracy of Kaz’s directions. And the kindness of strangers.

My walk took me down side streets and twisty little alleys. I didn’t know where I was going, but I soldiered on, asking (gesturing really) for directions as I went.

Then I came to a dry cleaning shop, and showed Kaz’s directions to the woman behind the counter. I still remember her big smile. She even spoke some English! She asked me where I was from and how I liked Tokyo, and then led me out of the store, and walked me a half block to the gallery. As we parted, she called, “Have a nice day!” The one time when someone’s said that to me where I really believed they meant it.

I bought this pendant at the gallery.

I also got Kaz’s cane pattern book. I have never seen it for sale anywhere else, so I’m glad I snagged a copy when I could.

A few years later, Kaz visited Philadelphia with a couple of her students in tow. I asked Ellen Marshall to join us for lunch, and for a tour of the neighborhood which includes Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Gardens just down the street. I had never met Zagar and the Magic Gardens weren’t open yet, but we just waltzed right in and he gave us a personal tour. The world’s smaller than you think.

A gift from Kaz’s students on their trip to Philadelphia

Be sure to check out the IPCA and click here to join.

A Walk in FDR Park

The Fairmount Park Conservancy is a non-profit corporation that supports efforts to improve the public parks of Philadelphia. And there are lots of parks in Philadelphia. Click here for an interactive map. They sponsored a tour of FDR Park that I took a few weeks ago. I learned a lot about the park, its history and the ecology of the area.

FDR Park is located at the southernmost tip of Philadelphia in an area once known as “The Neck.” It was originally marshland and wetlands, which is probably why it didn’t get build up too much, although people did live and farm there. FDR Park, which was known as League Island Park when it was opened in 1913, was designed by the Olmsted brothers, sons of Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park. FDR park contains a golf course, sports and recreation areas, playgrounds, landscape architecture, picnic areas, and lots of shady paths and trails to walk.

FDR Park is also home to the Asian Market. My neighborhood has a lot of Southeast Asian grocery stores and restaurants, so this was not too exotic to me. Still, the smells were wonderful and I jumped at the chance to try fried crickets. Hey, why not? But they were out. I had some water ice instead (this is Philadelphia after all) and bought a jar of kimchi to take home.

Meadow Lake in FDR Park is man made, but connected to the natural tidal wetlands that are low lying and increasingly prone to flooding. Climate change and increased usage is changing the park.

The park is also home to many invasive species of plants which threaten the delicate balance of the natural ecosystem if they are not eradicated. Not every non-native plant and animal is a threat, but when they interfere with the natural ecology of the area, they can be a threat to the well being of the park.

So there is a new plan to reimagine, reconfigure and redesign FDR park for the future. This will entail relocating ball fields, replacing some lawns used for sporting events with artificial surfaces, and moving things around. Not everyone is happy with the plan, which has been in the making for some time. Quite frankly, I do not have the knowledge to have an opinion, although it’s clear that something must be done to improve the drainage and clear out the invasive plants. Until the dust settles, I intend to go back and enjoy the park.

Suzanne Valadon at the Barnes Foundation

I saw the Suzanne Valadon exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia last Fall. Now that the dog days of August are upon us, I have finally decided to write about it.

The Barnes Foundation, for those who are not familiar with it, is an art oasis on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. It used to be located in Merion, a Philadelphia suburb. The move to Philadelphia was controversial, and a testament to the fact that money pretty much rules everything in the art world and everywhere else. But there’s no denying that it practically took an act of congress to gain admission to the Barnes when it was in Merion. And there’s also no denying that many more people get to see the collection now that it’s in Philadelphia. You can read more about the history of the Barnes Foundation here.

Suzanne Valadon (1865-1938) was a French artist who “never attended the Academy and was never confined to a tradition.

She was tough because she had to be. She was born out of wedlock and had to make her own way in the world that didn’t treat women very well unless they had money or position behind them.

But she was talented, ambitious and smart. She didn’t have any formal training but started drawing at an early age. She knew many of the French Impressionists, and served as a model for some of them. She was reportedly in love with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Edgar Degas was a friend who greatly respected her drawing and served as a teacher and artistic mentor. He taught her printmaking so she would have a way to make a living other than being a model, a laundress, milliner, waitress, or countless other jobs she held.

She was an independent woman who lived as she wished and who was admired because she “painted like a man,” or with masculine sensibilities. Some said that she painted “with an energy unheard of in a woman.” I am not sure what that’s supposed to mean. She used bold colors and bold contours. I guess you could say that she painted like she meant it.

She ultimately married and had a son who became a well-known artist in his own right.

In an interview late in her life, she said, “I found myself, I made myself, I said what I had to say.”

If you are interested in learning more about Suzanne Valadon, here’s a timeline of her life, a short biography, and a summary of her artistic legacy.