Getting ready for our Nutmeg Designs 2017 Open Studio and Food Drive for Manna on Main Street, I thought of this poem, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Nye tells the story of being at the airport and hearing an announcement asking if anyone spoke Arabic, and she goes to Gate A-4 where a woman in Palestinian dress is crumpled on the floor. Nye talks with her, and we are all transported to the shared sacrament of mamool cookies that the woman pulls from her bag.
Our show is an occasion to bring food for Manna on Main Street, which began with the vision, “That everyone one might be fed,” for those simply in need of a good meal and company. Our visitors brought an estimated 450 food items, and heartened me with their generosity.
Take a minute to listen to Naomi Shihab Nye read the whole poem. It is wonderful. This is the world I want to live in, the one where hearts open rather than break.
Last year, visitors to our show donated over 400 pounds of food! Help us have an even better year in 2017. Every 5 cans of food gives you a chance for a custom Dream Sign Mosaic in your choice of colors, and any food donation will also grant you a piece of Stratoz’s homemade strudel(so get there before its gone!)
Edited 5/17/17: We collected over 450 items, which was well over the 300 items from last year. The generosity of our clients, fans and friends was heartening.
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.
Her black and white linocuts have the bold power of contrast, and in Sleeping Boy, I see an echo of a spiral as well.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.