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Author: Margaret Almon

Margaret Burroughs, Spirals

Margaret Taylor Burroughs(1915-2010): Printmaker and Community Maker

Margaret Burroughs Portrait in Mosaic by Thomas Hill via Sumi-I on Flickr
Margaret Burroughs Portrait in Mosaic by Thomas Hill via Sumi-l on Flickr

Margaret Taylor Burroughs(1915-2010), was a founder of  the DuSable Museum of African American History, as well as the South Side Community Arts Center(SSCA) in Chicago when only 23 years old.  There were no galleries in  downtown Chicago for African-Americans to exhibit their art, or gather together in the 1930’s. With the New Deal, Roosevelt’s WPA Arts Project provided funding to open the SSCA. In an echo of 2017, Burroughs writes:

As we progressed further into 1943, it became more and more evident that the art center would no longer receive WPA funds to pay for its salaries or operations. Reactionary congressmen wiped out all of the social and culture programs. Efforts were made to build a membership which would contribute annually to the center’s support. Pauline Kigh Reed organized a committee of 100 women to help to raise funds.(Chicago’s South Side Arts Center: A Personal Recollection)

Burroughs was a printmaker, and one of her color prints caught my eye.

Margaret Burroughs, Spirals
Margaret Burroughs (American, 1917-2010)
Spirals, 1985
Linocut
Koehnline Museum of Art
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Harlan J. Berk, 2013.55

Her black and white linocuts have the bold power of contrast, and in Sleeping Boy, I see an echo of a spiral as well.

Sleeping Boy by Margaret Burroughs
Margaret Burroughs (American, 1917- 2010)
Sleeping Boy, 1990s
Linocut
Koehnline Museum of Art.
Gift of Dr. Margaret Burroughs, 2008.15

In the serendipity that comes with researching Margarets for Margaret Mondays, I discovered a mosaic portrait of Burroughs by Thomas Miller(1920-2012), graphic designer and visual artist. The DuSable Museum commissioned Miller to do portraits of the founders, in a unique style:

The founders’ murals are Miller’s magnum opus, and beautifully demonstrate the creativity that is typical of his work. Unlike traditional mosaic that is made with earthenware or glass tile, these are made from thousands of pieces of plastic that were harvested from plastic egg crate light diffusers which were then individually colored and arranged to create the images in the series. “Anybody can do an oil painting,” he said during an interview, “but to take a face and do it with squares is hard. They have to be turned at an angle to catch the light”. (Interview with Lauren Fitzpatrick)

He was fascinated by art from a young age, and read all he could at libraries. After serving in the Army in WWII, he enrolled in a Commercial Art Program at the Ray Vogue School of Art in Chicago. Finding a graphic design firm that would hire an African-American was hard. One agency said they would offer him a job if he worked behind a screen. He declined the offer. Morton Goldsholl hired him the 1950’s, and he went on to do the logo rebrand of 7 Up in 1975.  Check it out. I like how it resembles a mosaic.

 

Luminous Beauty by Nutmeg Designs

You are required to make something beautiful: A Conversation with Shawna Lemay

Luminous Beauty by Nutmeg Designs
Luminous Beauty by Nutmeg Designs. Glass and Mother of Pearl on wood, 12×6 inches. $215.

Author Shawna Lemay invited me into conversation about beauty on her blog Transactions With Beauty. I was curious where the title Transactions with Beauty originated, and then I read the quote on Shawna’s About page. The phrase comes from Rumi, the 13th Century Muslim poet from Persia.

I feel an affinity for Shawna. She is from my hometown of Edmonton, AB, a poet, art lover and photographer, and in search of beauty. You are required to make something beautiful.

I repeat, you are required to make something beautiful. Even if it’s a single line in your diary, a photograph, a row of knitting, or an arrangement of flowers on the windowsill. Clarice Lispector writes in her book, A Breath of Life, “Sometimes writing a single line is enough to save your own heart.” And what’s interesting is that reading her line has the same effect, as in, it has the power to save the reader’s heart, to save mine. For who can read what is so simple and true without feeling as though one’s own heart has been saved? (Shawna Lemay)

I started the conversation with Shawna’s questions, finding what I had written about beauty on my blog to have something on the page rather than the uncertainty of where to begin. I discovered that seeking beauty is a thread throughout my writing. As I continued to consider Shawna’s questions, I slowly eased out the copied text and into my answers. Beauty is not always immediately apparent. Sometimes it is revealed bit by bit.

Read the interview here: Margaret Almon – A Mosaic is a Conversation.

Luminous Beauty on Etsy for purchase

Hildreth Meiere Smalti

5 Women Artists Friday: Halstead, Marks, Reynal, Tuwaletstiwa, and Meière

Sun Trees by Suzanne Halstead and Margaret Almon
Sun Trees, oil pastel by Suzanne Halstead and glass mosaic frame by Margaret Almon

 

Part 3 of 5 Women Artists to Discover:

  1. Suzanne Halstead, Interview Part 1 and Part 2.  One of the first people to encourage me in making art. She introduced me to drawing mandalas, and playing with materials, and colors. I love her Sun Trees oil pastel above, and have it in my studio.

2. A Margaret of Many Names: Grete Marks(1899-1990) Labeled degenerate by the Nazi’s because she was Jewish, and forced to give up her pottery factory in 1934 Germany, and fled to England where she continued to create ceramics that still look futuristic.

3. Jeanne Reynal(1903-1983): Abstract Expressionist Mosaic Artist.

ruah. to spit. by Judy Tuwaletsiwa
ruah. to spit. by Judy Tuwaletsiwa(American, b.1941), fused glass, pigment, kaolin, canvas, adhesive. Corning Museum of Glass. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

4. Judy Tuwaletstiwa(1941-): Weaver, Painter and Glass Artist. Check out her exercise for thinking with your hands.

Hildreth Meiere Smalti
Hildreth Meiere Smalt sample boardi. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

5. Hildreth Meière(1892-1961): The Mosaic Artist who inspired me to make mosaics.

5 Women Artists Friday: Polony-Mountain, Honda, Tafoya, af Klint, and Driscoll

Music(1961) by Gabriela Polony-Mountain, Regina Quick Center for the Arts. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Music(1961) by Gabriela Polony-Mountain, Regina Quick Center for the Arts. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

Who are your favorite women artists?  The National Museum of Women in the Arts is doing their challenge for March, Can You Name Five Women Artists?  In the second in my series, here are 5 more for you to enjoy:

1. Gabriella Polony-Mountain(1918-) Mosaic Artist and Renaissance Woman.  Her mosaic Music is pictured above.

Margaret Honda, Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen) | 2016 | © Künstlerhaus Bremen
Margaret Honda: An Answer to Sculptures, Film (Künstlerhaus Bremen) | 2016 | © Künstlerhaus Bremen

2. Margaret Honda(1961-) Color Shifting Art

Margaret Tafoya
Margaret Tafoya from Pottery by American Indian Women by Susan Peterson.

3. Margaret Tafoya(1904-2001) Clothing Her Children with Clay. Tewa potter from New Mexico.

Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.
Hilma af Klint: Group IX/UW, No. 25, The Dove, No. 1, 1915, 151 × 114.5 cm, Oil on canvas. Foto: Henrik Grundsted. Courtesy: Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk.

4. Hilma af Klint(1862-1944) Swedish Spiritual Art with Rainbows. She was the first woman allowed to go to art school in Sweden.

5. Clara Driscoll(1861-1944) Designer of many of Tiffany’s Lamps

Spring into Color: Holi Festival

The Holi Festival by onthegotours
The Holi Festival by onthegotours via Flickr

Color has its own festival in India, Holi, celebrated by Hindus as the end of winter, the triumph of good over evil.  One of my favorite people on Instagram is Bhavna from Just a Girl from Aamchi Mumbai.  She writes the exuberance of throwing color at aunts and uncles and other children of the neighborhood, and how wanting some of that where she lives now in Australia.  Go check out her blog for the recipe for pannacotta with raspberry sauce and garnished with flowers that she made to satisfy her desire for color amongst the gray days.

Dyeing eggs was a Spring tradition I loved as a girl, though it hardly felt like Spring, the bright colors in contrast to the lingering winter of my Canadian home.  My mother filled mugs with hot water and white vinegar and drops of food coloring.  My sister and I would dip the eggs balanced on spoons, and I was mesmerized by dipping an egg into yellow and then into red and coming out orange. I remember taking some sort of intelligence test in school, and one of the questions was how to know if an egg was rotten.  I knew the answer because of watching a dozen eggs boiling for Easter, and my mother scooping out the one that floated.  I was happy I knew the answer but the strangeness of this being on the test stayed with me.  What if I hadn’t been there to watch the boiling eggs?

Elizabeth Osborne Detail of Equinox II

5 Women Artists Friday: Hicks, Bailly, Carr, Mirkil and Osborne

The National Museum of Women in the Arts is doing their name #5womenartists challenge for 2017. For Women’s History Month, here is my first installment of 5.

  1. Sheila Hicks(1934-), American: Fabulous Fiber Art
Sheila Hicks Silk Rainforest
Silk Rainforest by Sheila Hicks at Renwick Museum, Washington, DC. Photo by Wayne Stratz.

2. Alice Bailly(1872-1938), Swiss: Bold Painter

Alice Bailly Self Portrait
Alice Bailly Self-Portrait 1917. Photo by Wayne Stratz. National Museum of Women in the Arts.

3. Emily Carr(1871-1945), Canadian: From the Forest

Emily Carr House Posts
Emily Carr, House Posts, Tsatsinuchomi, B.C., 1912
watercolour and graphite on paper
55.4 cm x 76.6 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Purchased 1928
3542

4. Helen Mirkil, American: Philadelphia Painter of Ecstatic Landscape

Erosion. Helen Mirkil.
Erosion. Helen Mirkil.

5.  Elizabeth Osborne, American: Philadelphia Painter of Veils of Color

Elizabeth Osborne Detail of Equinox II
Equinox II by Elizabeth Osborne, James Michener Museum of Art. Photo by Wayne Stratz.
Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

Perfection is not a Prerequisite for Beauty

Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon
Glacier Cross by Margaret Almon. Glass on slate, with HMB Studios bead in the center, $221.

Do you plan to listen to something and then put it off?  I listen to podcasts in the studio, and I have meditation teacher Tara Brach on my list, and yet don’t get around to listening.  But I couldn’t resist the title of this episode, Relating Wisely with Imperfection. She describes how we react to imperfection in ourselves with anxiety and aversion, and how this creates a trance of unworthiness.  I am well acquainted with this trance, and how hard it is to break free of it.

Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  ~Danna Faulds

Tara Brach read this line of poetry and it resonated.  Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.  I have many years of believing that perfection is the prerequisite for everything.  The talk begins with a story from Ed Brown, Buddhist and baker, about his struggle to make perfect biscuits.  He realized that he was attempting to recreate biscuits from a can or a mix, that if he actually tasted his own recipe, the biscuits were delicious. What should our lives be like?  I believed I needed to have a book of poems published by the time I was 30.   In my 30’s I believed I should have a “real career” rather than being a part time librarian.  I believed that not having children meant I was outside the human story, even though I never felt called to have children. In making mosaics in my 40’s, I realized that this was my delicious life, and it was my own.

The chunks of glass in the photo are factory seconds of gold smalti.  They are hard to come by since the factory strives to produce glass with the gold evenly applied, but these are my favorite because of the variations in texture.  Beauty in imperfection.

Shine: Beauty in Imperfection

Glacier Cross on Etsy

Margaret Bonds

Margaret Bonds(1913-1972): African American Composer and Pianist Living Forth Her Talent

Margaret Bonds in New York - 1956
Margaret Bonds in New York – 1956 From the Carl Van Vechten Collection

Margaret Bonds(1913-1972) was an African-American composer and pianist, well known in her time, but then vanishing from accounts shaped by the stereotypes of classical music.  Many times when I search for Margaret’s, I am introduced to women I had never heard of. Simply by searching something as random as one name, I discover whole worlds.  Margaret Bonds grew up with a church musician mother, and played piano from a young age, and devoted herself to music. She enrolled in Northwestern University in Chicago, although she was not allowed to live there or use the facilities because she was black. In an interview with James Hatch, Bonds describes discovering the poetry of Langston Hughes in 1929:

I was in this prejudiced university, this terribly prejudiced place…. I was looking in the basement of the Evanston Public Library where they had the poetry. I came in contact with this wonderful poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and I’m sure it helped my feelings of security. Because in that poem he tells how great the black man is. And if I had any misgivings, which I would have to have – here you are in a setup where the restaurants won’t serve you and you’re going to college, you’re sacrificing, trying to get through school – and I know that poem helped save me.

Ten years later, Bonds finally met Langston Hughes and they started a musical collaboration and friendship. Take a moment to listen to Margaret Bonds’ arrangement of I, Too, sung by Icy Rene Simpson.

 

For a more in-depth study of Bonds’ work, check out Alethea N. Kilgore’s thesis on Life and Solo Vocal Works of Margaret Allison Bonds.

Sukoon Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs

Sukoon: Inspiration for Peace and Contentment in Mosaic

Sukoon Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs
Sukoon Mosaic by Nutmeg Designs, glass on slate, 12×6 inches, $175. SOLD.

Commissioned by a client for her inspiration in her office.  She defined this Urdu/Arabic word as meaning peace, bliss, contentment, when all is right with the world, and something she seeks. I hadn’t heard this word before and I like knowing there are words yet to be discovered to describe well being.

COMMISSION YOUR WORD

Jazz and Abstract Expressionism Meet Verve with Olga Albizu

Radiante 1967 by Olga Albizu Born: Ponce, Puerto Rico 1924. Died: New York, New York 2005 oil on canvas 68 x 62 in. (172.7 x 157.5 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum
Radiante 1967 by Olga Albizu Born: Ponce, Puerto Rico 1924. Died: New York, New York 2005 oil on canvas 68 x 62 in. (172.7 x 157.5 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum

Stratoz and I went to the fine exhibit Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art at the Allentown Art Museum(through 10/02/16). Walking into the gallery, my eye immediately went to this painting, Radiante,  by Abstract Expressionist artist Olga Albizu(1924-2005).

It looked familiar, and reading the tag, I discovered that her paintings are on several jazz album covers from RCA and Verve Records, including one of our favorites, Getz/Gilberto with Jobim(1964). This made Bossa Nova known in the US, and featured Stan Getz, American Saxophonist, collaborating with Brazilian Guitarist João Gilberto, and composer Antônio Carlos Jobim.  Astrud Gilberto sang the now famous The Girl from Ipanema.

I enjoyed how the music I love paired with art filled with abstract color energy.  Olga Albizu studied art with Esteban Vicente in Puerto Rico, and then won a fellowship to study in New York in 1948.  She was a student of Abstract Expressionist Hans Hoffman.

I wanted to know how Albizu’s work came to be on album covers, and finally found some auction notes through Christie’s, written by Abby McEwen, Assistant Professor, University of Maryland, College Park.

Albizu’s associations with RCA were also of a practical kind: she supported herself from time to time through secretarial jobs there, and through a remarkable connection – an assistant to the head of the record division, who displayed her work in the office – at least ten of her paintings were chosen for contemporary album covers. Albizu’s financial and professional struggles as a woman artist were, unsurprisingly, of a piece with her time; like peers from Carmen Herrera to Joan Mitchell and Elaine de Kooning, she lacked institutional support and regular exhibition opportunities.

I am fascinated with how many internet articles mentioned that her paintings were on album covers and how buried the actual practical connection was.  The confluence of people and ideas can  be vivid when we are the midst of it, and become obscure as years go on.  American jazz, Brazilian rhythms, Abstract Expressionism, and  Puerto Rican artists, all converging in New York City.

 

 

Our America: The Latino Presence in American Art
Exhibit at The Allentown Art Museum through 10/2/16. Photo by Wayne Stratz.