December 6, 2016

Boss Tweed Versus Boss Tweet: A Nasty Cartoon about the Trump Cabinet Picks

"I don’t care a straw for you newspaper articles, my constituents don’t know how to read, but they can’t help seeing them damned pictures."

-Boss Tweed

"Just tried watching Saturday Night Live - unwatchable! Totally biased, not funny and the Baldwin impersonation just can’t get any worse. Sad."

-"Boss Tweet" (aka Donald Trump)

The first quote at the beginning of my story is attributed to William Magear Tweed, a corrupt politician noted for his cronyism, graft and an unbridled greed that eventually led to his arrest in 1873 and the dismantling of his infamous Tammany Hall in New York.

I first became acquainted with "Boss Tweed’s" Tammany Hall in late nineteenth century New York politics through the drawings of political cartoonist Thomas Nast. As "Boss Tweed," observed, Thomas Nast’s caricatures of his visage were scathing. It is entirely possible that they may have had enough influence on public opinion to have played a role in his eventual ouster from public life.

Recent political events have reignited my interest in the cartoons of Thomas Nast, often referred to as the "father of American political cartoons." These early political cartoons are fascinating for their exquisite narrative details and complex compositions. Unlike cartoons of today, they were complete story lines contained in a single picture. Today cartoons are more like a one-liner, punching out a central idea to be held up to ridicule (We have comedy skits like Saturday Night Live for narratives). In Nast’s cartoons, we get the whole picture of just about every transgression foisted upon the public by ne’er do well politicians and their cronies. It tends to make things a bit jumbled, but interesting. An illustration of Nast’s technique is shown below in the picture of Boss Tweed and his cronies in the guise of predatory birds, ostensibly vultures, picking apart the hapless public.

Because Boss Tweed sounds very much like "Boss Tweet," it occurred to me that it would be interesting to transpose this latter day "Boss" and his recent picks for cabinet appointments on to a Thomas Nast- like nineteenth century cartoon format. Doing so required reading a considerable amount of news and commentary in order to find out what the most fuss was about, then encapsulate all this in one picture. Channeling Thomas Nast from nineteenth century America, I placed the faces of Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, and Tom Price, on to the bodies of birds. More could be added, of course, but I ran out of bird space!

In my "Boss Tweet" rendition of a Nast style satire, Donald Trump is cast in the role of bird in chief. The "Tweet" part of his title, refers, of course to his favored medium of communication with his supporters. Although it is rather small and difficult to see, his talons grip a padlocked suitcase containing his unreleased income tax returns. In choosing photographic information upon which to base my portrait, I found that our president-elect has offered a treasure trove of unusual facial expressions. Modern cartoonists seem to favor a facial expression that exudes arrogance. I chose the ubiquitous "I can get away with anything" smirk.

"Boss Tweet," in my cartoon, points to vice-president elect Mike Pence. Although volumes can be written about the more dubious aspects of his political leanings, I chose to highlight just one. The "not allowed" circle on his chest refers to his difficulty in accepting same sex unions as a right to be respected and protected.

Peering over Donald Trump’s right shoulder is his pick for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. Alluding to the racial slurs that cost him a federal judgeship, a tiny, cheering hooded Klansman perches on top of Session’s head. For Mike Pompeo, there has been much commentary written about his Tea Party politics, his stance on tougher interrogation techniques, ties to Koch industries, and his appeal to overturn the Iran nuclear accord. But for the sake of brevity, my cartoon makes reference only to his advocacy for a return to bulk collection of America’s domestic calling record - hence the "CIA Sees You" label and the tearing up of the fourth amendment (protecting citizen’s rights to illegal search and seizure) in the bird’s talons.

Staring out from the background is a caricature of Steve Bannon. Once again, volumes could be written on his ties to disreputable news agencies and propagandistic rambles, but for the purpose of summary, I just place a teapot on his head, alluding to Tea Party politics. While looking over images of Steve Bannon, what struck me was his persistent five o’clock shadow. So this very simple cartoon face features that same stubble, with the teapot having hair stubble as well, just for good measure.

This brings the last cartoon portrait to the pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price. Because Health and Human Services funds Planned Parenthood and Tom Price is purportedly against government funding for Planned Parenthood, birth control, and reproductive rights in general, this does not bode well for the future of women’s health care. Many of those who oppose legal access to abortion services call themselves "Right to Lifers." Since nothing they advocate has anything at all to do with preserving or protecting the lives of adult human beings and may even put these lives in jeopardy, I prefer to call a spade a spade here, as the saying goes, and refer to the new Price is right agency as "The Office of Pregnancy Enforcement." I would not wish to disparage those whose religious beliefs confer personhood to a cluster of fertilized cells. I would argue that this is more of a living thing with a potential to become a person, though, and that in such a case, the life and health of an actual living person takes priority.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing that has come to light about Tom Price’s affiliations is his membership in the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. This is an organization that has come under fire from mainstream doctors and medical associations for its pseudoscientific proclivities. Most appalling to physicians is the organization’s soft stance on vaccination requirements, citing a link between vaccinations and autism - despite repeated demonstrations that there is no causal link between the two.

A grass roots effort has been under way for some years now in the United States for parents to assert their rights to refuse childhood vaccinations. This has unfortunately led to a resurgence in potentially deadly childhood diseases such as Pertussis (whooping cough).

It would be cause for concern then, and a scarey prospect for the health and welfare of American citizens, to have a "vaccination denier" heading up the agency that is supposed to be protecting us against plagues. At this point, we may not know to what extent the views promulgated by the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons reflect the personal views held by the prospective head of the Health and Human Services, but in keeping with the AAPS’s purported positions, in my cartoon I have Tom Price rolling out the welcome matt for Diphtheria, Pertussis, Tetanus, Zika and Polio. One can only hope that common sense will prevail here, and that the American public will not be put at a significant health risk or the nation at large put at a national security risk. As to the latter, just think of it - an open advertisement from our government that we intend to be sitting unvaccinated ducks. Coooome and get it!

Getting back to Thomas Nast and a borrowed cartoon, one often sees in these nineteenth century drawings images of a hapless public being eaten by something or crushed under the weight of some public policy or indiscretion. For this I submit that twenty-five million dollar wall with Mexico that president-elect Donald Trump has committed to building. So if Mexico won’t pay for it, then who will? A hint here can be found in the arms and legs coming out from underneath the wall with the labels "Tax payers" on them.

This might be the last of my political cartoons. They are actually quite difficult to do! Of course I made the job much more difficult by attempting the complex style of Thomas Nast. Something perhaps only a Nasty woman would think of.

November 29, 2016

Alternative Facebook Icons

My work on my paintings began to slow down, as did my work on my book manuscripts. I found that I was spending more time on Facebook than I would have liked. As I clicked out of my account there the familiar "thumbs up" for "like" icon appeared. For some reason, I started looking at this emblem differently from how I had always seen it before. It had previously had no more consequence to me than a commercial sticker. But looking at it this time I thought, "I can do something with this." I traced it on to a piece of paper directly from my computer screen and transferred it on to ten different sheets of paper. Thus began my "Alternative Facebook Icons" series.

I’ve been making about one a day, posting them on to Facebook along with short explanations. Earlier I had posted icons for "Troll Be Gone," and "Toilet Talker Flusher." I posted my last one, "First Peel off Label," today. I made this one in response to all the labels for people of various socio-political persuasions that are being slung around in social media. I try not to use any of them. I suppose that is why there is a "no entry" mark on the thumbs up hand in this drawing. My drawings in this series are all 8" x 10" in dimensions and done with charcoal and pastel. Some of my friends on Facebook are actually using these as alternative icons when the choices for the real ones are limited.

Since most of the choices, given social media emoticons, encourage emotional reactions, I thought it would be interesting to make fanciful drawing icons that included actions and thoughts instead of emotional reactions to things. Would it make social discourse more thoughtful? Who knows? But they were fun to make and I post them here so others can enjoy them. The others included here are: "Beautiful," "Makes Me Think," "Great Idea!" "I’ll Work on It," "I’ll Study this More in Depth."

I have two favorites from this series. The first one is "Facebook Fake News Alert," because the duck with the human foot wearing a fake chicken hat and surrounded by a fishy sea is so irreverent. It reminds me of the funny cartoons I used to make as a teenager. My other favorite is "I’m Listening." I made that one in response to situations where social media discourse devolves in to an "all mouths no ears" forum. I think that I like the classic style of drawing on this one.

I do hope that people enjoy these. I had fun making them. I believe that this short series is finished for now - unless I come up with something for "social bubble." Funny where a source of inspiration can spring from!

November 19, 2016

You Know You're a Nerd When....

I take what has happened in my country very seriously.  But sometimes the news has to be balanced with a temporary release from the cares of the world.  To that end, I tried on some self-deprecating humor with this post about my own interests in obscure subjects and my tenacious pursuit of these subjects.  Riffing off of Jeff Foxworthy's "You Know You're a Redneck When...." I decided to poke fun at stuff that I actually have done and call it "You Know You're a Nerd When..."  Here goes:
You know you’re a nerd when:

*You open a shop for your art works on Etsy, then type words in the search bar like, "Pseudo-Dionysis the Aeropagite." Then you wonder why your shop isn’t getting any hits.

*Spell check highlights at least one word in every sentence you write when you know that you’ve spelled the word correctly.

*You think that Game of Thrones refers to the internecine conflicts of sixteenth century Tudor England.

*You do a Google search to find out more about an obscure topic and the only thing that comes up is an article you wrote yourself in 1986.

*A fellow nerd with opposing political views posts a response to your "I voted" post on Facebook by asking if you were celebrating Walpurgisnacht. You get hot under the collar because you know instantly what he is insinuating.

*You consider responding to the above with an equally acerbic comment that perhaps his own vote for Trump was cast by consulting the Malleus Maleficarium.

*Your other friends on Facebook do not jump in on conversations like the above because they are wondering what planet you both are from and spell check is going wild.

*Your idea of a good time with friends is to hold a contest to see who among you can use the most alliterative words in one sentence.

*You name your recently completed sculpture after a molecule you read about in a neurology textbook.

*You then find that the molecule was named after a video game character that you didn’t know about but millions of people around the world were familiar with.

*You often notice on the back flap of library books that you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked that book out.

*You are married to someone who shares the above experience and laughs at your jokes.

*The books you wish to recommend do not appear on "Good Reads."

*You write poetry about the structure and function of the autonomic nervous system.

*You hide jokes written in dead languages in your art work.

*You sing favorite tunes from Peking Opera in the shower.

*You discover Mongolian polyphonic singing on the internet and consider giving that a try as well.

*The most nerdy man on campus is the only one who "gets" your allusion to a specific aria in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman in a song you just wrote.

*You write to The Huffington Post to complain about errors in their science articles.

*You write to The New York Times to complain about an error in an op-ed piece. It took reading a law center’s list of 892 organizations in order to ferret out the error.

*Your blog posts have a dedicated international following of twelve people.

*You have delayed filling a prescription medication because you are using the written script as a book mark in Alexander Von Humboldt’s Views of Nature, which you are the only one in the history of the library to have checked out.

*You cook historically accurate meals. Tuesday evening: Pullus Frontanianus from the chapter A Convivium in Ancient Rome, in Phyllis Pray Bober’s book Art, Culture & Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy. You own this great book because you personally knew the author.

*Your doctor’s eyes glaze over when you tell her that your allergy to methyl-paraben should also include local anesthetics in the ester family because these are broken down by the body in to para-amino benzoic acid, which is also a metabolite of methyl-paraben.

*You find that doctors often respond to your questions with "I’ll have to look that up."

*You watch Tavis Smiley at night.

*No matter how much you read, you always know that you are woefully undereducated.

November 16, 2016

The Curse on Social Media

I've been back on social media for a few months now, and find that it is a great tool for keeping up with friends and relatives.  It is also a great way to share creative work.  It is a poor tool, however, for social discourse, especially with those I may not be well acquainted with.   To that end, I started a series of tongue-in-cheek drawings based upon the Facebook "thumbs up" or "like" icon.  My first one was "Troll Be Gone,"  pictured at right.  My next one is "Flush Toilet Talk," at left.  I expound upon the second one here.   This icon can be invoked for profanity-laden posts
. I fortunately won’t have to invoke this much because the few people who read my posts are decent, educated folk. Generally speaking though, with regard to social media, I suppose that some writers, both in the amateur and professional categories, believe that the inclusion of foul words is a great way to emphasize a point. The only thing that it points out to me is an annoyingly limited vocabulary and rather puerile communication skills. I’m not impressed. That’s why I never answer these and never press "share."

I reserve curse words for when I inadvertently step on a sharp object or bump in to a closed door at night. Interesting research in neuro-biology confirms that this does in fact reduce pain. That same research tells us that cursing emanates from the frontal cortex as opposed to the normal language centers of the brain. If I recall correctly, the former area relates to emotion (as does the limbic system) and impulse control. Getting a little political here, since we just elected a leadership that "tweets" from their collective frontal cortexes, I will continue the ultimate subversive act in using only the language center of my brain for public communication.

To be fair, the foul language does come from all sides of the socio-political spectrum. A cursory observation seems to break that down in to the homegrown variety (right) versus the collective share of the pre-fabricated (left). Astoundingly, "potty mouth" traverses educational levels as well. One response I got on Facebook in recent weeks was something to the effect of "****up the a***hole." This rolled off the keyboard in response to the urging of the frontal cortex and into cyberspace from a man in possession of a doctorate in English. Would love to see that dissertation.

What I find also noteworthy about vulgarity in social media is that for English, it is particularly boorish, boring and tedious because it is so limited. Any student of foreign language knows that cursing in other cultures is a goldmine of possibilities, albeit those possibilities mostly having to do with one’s mother. These generally include references to impossible variants in one’s mother’s anatomy, or to being the resultant spawn of various types of biologically impossible animal assignations with one’s mother. I’m not advocating actually adopting these usages, just pointing out how even more pathetic we are with regard to our invectives. We just get the garden variety, "f-you", "f***", "M***f***" and the ubiquitous aforementioned "a***hole." Over and over again - ad nauseam.

To this effect, the words and phrases tend to lose their emotive impact over time due to overuse. They become not only totally meaningless in themselves, but impediments to communication through the accumulated expenditure of trash talk - a dump of unusable verbal toxic waste that one has to plow through in order to get to any reasonable content, if any even remains. Just as there is something totally demoralizing to see a physical landfill of garbage, there is something disconcerting about this verbal landfill in cyberspace. For my part, I’ll refrain from contributing or exponentially emphasizing through passing it on. What else can I say to verbal waste material? Flush you?



November 12, 2016

Lines of Demarcation on Facebook

This election year was not exactly a banner year for women. In fact, it was a disgraceful year for women. And there was unfortunately plenty of misogyny to go around on all sides of the political and social spectrum. For my part, I spent the days leading up to this historic election by painting "antidotes" to the negative images of women assaulting my sensibilities from all sides: Hillary as the devil sporting fangs and horns, Melania Trump as a vixen.

For supporting Hillary Clinton, I got two hate emails and had negative images of my person pasted up on Facebook. Some suggested that I might be a witch.  One darker one was a faintly veiled threat of assault. But I was equally disheartened by some posts coming from the self-righteous left. The worst of these was what could be interpreted as a racist picture of Melania Trump as "unfit" for the white house. In this picture splice, there were three columns of "respectable" fully clad first ladies, Jackie Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, and Michelle Obama, followed by a picture of a naked Melania Trump inhabiting the last column. Interestingly, not only was Melania naked, but she was half the size of the other women. In this context, it was clear that the woman on the end was considered "not our kind." For my "liberal" friends, it was simply a juxtaposition of what they considered the emblems of decency followed, in contrast, by an evocation of a dark and sinister underworld of female exploitation and submission. I understand that. But for me, the unfortunate juxtaposition was also evocative of something else that might have escaped white middle class notice. The deliberate contrast of larger than life clothed American women with a half sized and naked foreign born Eastern European one resonated in unpleasant ways for me. It struck me as an emblem of American hegemony. It evoked the feeling that they were telling us, "We’re the status quo and you must go." It made walls that hitherto may have been conceptual or psychological suddenly palpable and very real. The woman in the last column was "the other". It is possible that I might not have fully grasped the implications were I not part Eastern European myself and, ironically, had a grandmother named "Melania."

In my last post I mentioned that the other Melania, my grandmother, came in to the country at a time when Eastern Europeans were considered non-white and even labeled as "unassimilable" (A word fallen so out of use by now that spell check claims it does not exist). The pressures of time and socio-political climate change over the course of the twentieth century saw Eastern Europe, Southern Europe and North Africa slowly, grudgingly, absorbed into the status quo of "white." Yet such assimilation may be tenuous at best, as evinced by the recent "barriers of acceptability" photo of the good ladies and the bad lady. The photo of the clothed good ladies juxtaposed with the naked bad lady brought that recognition to the fore on social media. Although I alluded to the photograph in my own posts I never really took the subject on in full until a more widely read writer and blogger, Shani Raine Gilchrist,  started complaining about it with a little more vim and vigor than I had. I saw that her complaints were amazingly not getting the traction that they should have but I hesitated to point that out, for my experiences with commenting on social matters on Facebook has been mixed indeed. I know first hand now from social media that identifying oneself as coming from one territory and commenting on those from another territory can effectively cause the trolls to come out of Facebook forest, pelt you with cyber-rocks, then stuff you in to a virtual cannon and fire you back to where you came from.

But I bit the bullet, as the saying goes, and made a pithy comment in the writer’s defense explaining how the nude photo of Melania was taken out of its original context for use in a demeaning way and then confessed to having a Melania in my own family. I am glad that I did because I noted a few exhalations of relief, some actual support, and little in the way of trolliness ( a convenient neologism on my part here).

The election year has been draining for us all, totally demoralizing for some of us. But if there is one positive that will come out of it all, it is this: For better or for worse the politics of the year have made very clear where the walls and other boundaries are, but this very visibility offers an opportunity to evaluate those boundaries, trespass them, and to know more clearly who you stand with and what you stand for.

The recent painting at the top of my post is an allegorical portrait of a woman I knew as a child in the 1960's. She was the first in her class, I believe, to attend medical school.

November 10, 2016

Melania Gets a Groundhog

Just off my easel is the next in my series of paintings about interesting women that I have personally known and what influence they may have had. I call this painting, "Melania finds a Groundhog." Many reading this might conclude that I am referring to Melania Trump. Any one of my six brothers looking at this painting will know instantly what exactly it means. It is not a painting of Melania Trump, but a painting of Melania Perik, my grandmother. She came to America just before the Bolshevik Revolution, around 1916. This would have put her arrival time in the period between 1880 and 1924, when folks from Eastern Europe were not considered white, but in the category of an "unassimilable race." The chief eugenicists at the time, Madrian Grant and Charles Davenport, would have identified her as "inferior stock." Over the decades, those epitaphs were dispensed with and the "others" increasingly were drawn in to the status quo. Yet even in these modern times we live in, people here in South Carolina sometimes note that I look just a little different and have a name they can’t pronounce so I get the "what are you?" question. I had to ask myself that same question in looking at the exit poll results that have come out declaring that white women have voted about 53% for Donald Trump for president.

I hate those little boxes that we keep being asked to check. A good many of us have ancestors from here, there and everywhere anyway. The box check makes me feel like I have to submit my genetic makeup to a referendum and vote on it...Irish genes check here...genes bordering on Asia stand aside. The "other" box is increasingly calling my name as a way to retroactively embrace the "unassimilable race" category. Apparently my voting preferences put me there. At other times I feel like drawing my own box, checking it, and labeling it the " none-of-your-dammed-business" category, totally emasculating efforts to throw this back in everyone’s face later. Or maybe I could interpret the word "race" as a marker of how quickly one can move in a sporting event. I would also have to draw my own box here, check it, and write in "very slow."

But getting back to Melania Perik, not Trump. She was decidedly "different." Her name was changed to "Molly" when she came in to the country, in a misguided attempt to hide that difference. It didn’t work. She never assimilated. I don’t think she even became an American citizen. She had skin of pale gold, flat features and very long, straight, black hair. She was always very robust and had a personality that bordered on what seemed akin to Attila The Hun. She lived on a farm in rural New Jersey with her husband Dmitri. I never new Dmitri because he died very young, before I was born. So Melania spent most of her life as a widow, having to handle the farm chores by herself. One such chore entailed keeping marauding animals away from crops. The New Jersey groundhog was the most devastating of these. They can grow up to thirty inches long and can weigh up to thirty-one pounds. That would seem to be intimidating for a small woman like my grandmother, who stood just over four feet tall. Yet she was famous for running down groundhogs and catching them with her bare hands, promptly dispatching them. She did this until she moved off the farm in her mid-eighties.

The rental house Melania moved in to was small but had a parcel set aside for a small garden. No sooner had Melania’s lettuce appeared, however, when so did a large groundhog. She could have dispatched him, as she told me that she was able to run him down and catch him by the tail. Instead she had a different idea. Melania told me that she went to her landlady’s house, holding the groundhog by the tail, rang the doorbell with her free hand. She proudly showed her catch to the landlady when she came to the door. I wish that I could have seen the expression on the landlady’s face.

For some reason, at that moment my grandmother decided that her groundhog hunting days were over. She let that last one live, naming him Moshky. Moshky and Melania shared a garden for the blessed time that they were both able.

October 30, 2016

The Girl With the Brown Striped Pants

It was the summer of 1970. My mother and I were shopping for back to school clothes at the popular bargain clothing store, Robert Hall. Http:// My eyes lit upon a beautiful pair of pants. They were a rich brown color with gold pin stripes. The soft material was a blend of combed wool. I pointed them out to my mother and she agreed that they were very nice. But she noticed a detail that was socially problematic for the times in which we lived. The zipper was located on the front of the pants.

On line clothing historians claim that pants were generally not acceptable social wear for women and girls until the 1970s. I do recall those that were available at that time and prior often had the zipper placed awkwardly in the back. So that was why, when my mother looked at the pants that I had chosen to dress in for my return to school in the autumn of 1970, she was instantly at odds with style and social anxiety. She pulled the pants towards her and mumbled, "But the zipper is in the front." Nevertheless, she acquiesced, and decided to buy the potentially socially controversial pants.

It was certainly not the first time my mother had provided pants for my school days. Even pre-1970, she and a friend created a few sets of vests and pants. Was the zipper at the side or the back? I cannot recall, but most likely it was on the side. So when did zippers start being placed in the front in women’s pants? I looked a little longer and found at least a few examples.

Looking through sewing patterns for women’s clothing from the late 1960's in an online search, I did find patterns for ladies’ pants that had zippers placed in the front: So clearly they were out there, just perhaps not common.

In the context of the 1970 public school system of Dutch Neck, New Jersey, however, pants of any kind, wherever the zipper was located, were not universally welcome as trappings for girls. This was a restrictive thing for girls in spring and autumn, but could be most unkind in the winter months. To understand this, we have to revisit how the middle of the day was organized in public schools during the late sixties and early seventies. Unlike today, where elementary, middle and high school students are expected to wolf down a meal in twenty minutes and return to class without playground exercise (Childhood obesity anyone?), students back in my day had a forty-five minute lunch period followed by forty-five minutes outdoors in the playground. During the winter, New Jersey could frequently have below freezing temperatures. I recall several single digit temperature readings during our winters on the playground. Try exposing bare legs to that for forty-five minutes. Yet that was what girls were expected to do when they wore skirts to school. Some, like me, would not conform to the skirt wearing rule in any climate, let alone frost-bite inducing weather.

Pants wearing girls were met with ire, however, and I recall this causing controversy at my school. At one point, there were panel discussions organized for students to discuss whether or not girls should be allowed to wear pants to school at all. These were assembled on a stage in our school auditorium and we were all required to attend. I wore pants to every one of these forums. Girls were not allowed to submit their views in this public forum so I simply had to make a fashion statement. I recall one small boy reading his prepared response about pants wearing girls being an affront to his sensibilities. With all the zeal of a budding member of the moral majority, he outlined how the wearing of pants would cause girls to adopt masculine behavior and his stern warnings that they might even become involved in physical fights. (I tried to recall here whether I was wearing pants or a skirt the day I counter-attacked a bully on a school bus). His view was countered by a more liberal leaning boy who decided that comfort, safety and freedom should prevail and that this extended to girl’s attire. There was the pro-pants group and the anti-pants group.

Against this backdrop, I attended school in the autumn of 1970, not only wearing pants, but pants with the infamous zipper in the front. As expected, I was greeted with taunts, jeers, and obscene remarks. These were generally confined, however, to a table of like-minded fellows in my home room class. Boys at other tables just rolled their eyeballs in chagrin at the imbeciles making their sex look bad.

One female classmate came over to me and confessed that she and her mother had seen the very same pants I was wearing when they had gone to Robert Hall over the summer. They had come to the same conclusion that the brown pants with the gold pin stripes were stylish but intimidating with that zipper in the front. Lois, my classmate, admitted that she too, admired the pants and had wanted them badly but neither she nor her mother could muster up the courage to buy them. Lois asked me after that, how I could bear all the taunts and verbal abuse from the boys. I quickly pointed out to her that they were a very vocal minority.

"Give it a few days....a week tops." I told her. "The boys will see that I’m not intimidated, that their jeering is getting them nowhere, and then they’ll get bored with it and stop." This turned out to be correct. The jeering boys seemed to come to some sort of epiphany after a few days that they were making idiots of themselves because I wasn’t frazzled and they were indeed getting nowhere.

I never mentioned the incident to my mother, my sister, or to my six brothers. I did not wish my mother to feel that she had made an error in purchasing the pants with the zipper in the front and I felt strongly that this was my battle to fight and win.

I’ve often wondered where this early fighting nature and self confidence emanated from.

Perhaps my early proclivity for wearing pants and having that fighting tenacity was more in the genes than in the jeans. A recent genetic test indicated that my mixed Irish, British and Eastern European (Ukranian) ancestry was seasoned with a touch of Greek - one percent to be exact. Recent cultural historians have speculated that the Greek Amazons were most likely genuine and that their migrations can be tracked in to what is now Ukraine. Knowledge of their clothing can be ascertained by looking at their images depicted on ancient pottery. Looking these over I am struck by the standing figure of an Amazon wearing pants!

My holding out for my right to dress in comfort and style had a ripple effect throughout my middle school. In the weeks and months that followed, girls started wearing more pants, and pants with zippers side, back or audaciously in the front. And at the year’s end, on the very stage where that unseemly and unfair panel discussion about the rights of girls to wear pants took place, I performed in a play that required me to wear trousers and carry a play rifle. I got a standing ovation after my performance.

Whatever the reason for being so tenacious, looking back, I realize that this small feat of trail blazing could not have been accomplished were I not in an environment in which there were just enough broad minded and democratic adults to allow someone like me to squeak through arbitrary barriers and help pave the way just a little for others to follow. Thank you.

September 26, 2016

The Iris Apfel in Golda Finch

Earlier this summer, I watched an extraordinary interview with Iris Apfel on PBS. Iris Apfel was 94 at the time of the interview and was encouragingly ambulatory and cogent. Actually, she was much more than that. Ms. Apfel, a fashion icon, had amassed a large collection of fabrics, fashion, jewelry and art, which she spoke about in loving detail with a strong sense of individual will. The collection was sumptuous, idiosyncratic yet bold. Here was a woman who most definitely knew her own mind.

What stuck with me most about the interview with Iris Apfel was her modesty with regard to herself and how that played out in her accumulation of the stuff of embellishment. Her reason for the embellishment of both self and environment was to celebrate colors, textures and style despite being physically plain herself.

I thought back on this interview yesterday as I worked on a painting for a book cover. The book, Woodland Harmonies, is an as yet unpublished manuscript by writer and artist Kristina Miller. In consultation with the writer, we decided that the best subject for a color cover was her story about Golda Finch. In the story, this female goldfinch made an elaborate nest, full of all the shiniest objects that she could find. As the story goes, Golda Finch’s desire to embellish her surrounding was on account of her own plainness as a female bird with duller coloring than her male counterpart. For this reason it was somewhat of a challenge to paint, because I wanted to convey the idea of the decorative nest but also did not want to overwhelm the bird in the nest either. So I made certain that Golda Finch herself was adorned but not erased. In keeping with the aesthetic of Iris Apfel, I included small bits of costume jewelry in the nest. I also decided to keep the background gold as well, drawing upon the art of Japanese enamels and the paintings of Gustav Klimpt.

I then did something that I almost never do. I took a picture of the painting while it was still wet on my easel and sent it to my client. That turned out to be fortuitous because she wrote back that although the painting was quite pretty, I had placed a male goldfinch in the nest. How had I done that? I wondered. For some reason I painted in the bold yellow colors and black crest of the male where the greenish hues of the female were supposed to be. I can only assume that I had unconsciously painted in the drab bird's desire to be bright!
  Fortunately because the painting was still wet I could wipe off the black cap on the bird’s head and tone down the feathers to a light olive green. A little glazing tweaked the colors and shading so that the duller bird was offset by the dark portions of the nest and the collected jewels highlighted. The revised version is pictured at right.

September 22, 2016



For the past three weeks, I set myself to my annual challenge of registering a work for the South Carolina State Fair that exists only in imagination. To make this especially challenging I register late and start a complicated and time consuming work. This year I called the painting "Silver Reach." Calculating about a week of drying time, I did indeed finish the work in time to submit it.

The painting, "Silver Reach" features a figure with extended arms. My husband gladly posed for the preliminary sketches. The long format of a figure with extended arms was initially inspired by a relief sculpture found in the collection of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. This sculpture depicts a man extending his arms outwards to indicate a fathom - a traditional unit of measurement.

My painting is a somewhat modified version of the fathom because only one hand is fully extended. The other is a fist. I did this for the most part in order to fit the figure in to the allotted forty-eight inches of my canvas, but it also imparts a greater sense of action to the subject.

To make this painting especially challenging, both the background and the figure’s garment were created not by blended paint but by tesselations configured as a mosaic. The background is formed as an opus vermiculatum style Roman mosaic, in units of square tesserae. The interior strokes of paint are smaller and longer, like the glass filati used to make micromosaics.

This is probably the first time that I created a painting in the style of a mosaic. Considering how long it took, it might be the last time!


September 17, 2016

Silver Reach

Back to being an artist! These past few weeks I have been working on a painting in a format that is unusual for me. I generally paint vertical works. I am not certain as to why - perhaps it is because it is the usual format for a book. Or it may be that they appear to take up less space on a wall. So it is was unusual to dream about a very long, skinny painting of a man with this arms outstretched and facing left. In the painting, the man was wearing a white shirt and painted on a background of silver, grey and white tesselations. He was reaching towards small squares of color on the periphery.

I woke up and decided that I would paint this for real. But it would take some weeks of planning. I had to buy the canvas, the heavy duty stretcher bars. I made the canvas 18" x 48", sized it with rabbit skin glue, two coats of primer, and a ground stippled in white, grey and silver. The canvas was so narrow that just a yard of cotton duck canvas allowed room for five smaller canvases. I was able to just fit in two sixteen inch squares and three eleven by fourteen inch canvases.

Since the figure in my dream bore a resemblance to my husband, I asked him to pose in that position and he obliged. Using composite photographs and templates, his visage eventually came in to being. The tesselations in the background and around the periphery of the painting turned out to be much harder edged than I had originally envisioned but I decided to keep them that way for the time being.

Taking a break from the painting, I took an outing and chanced upon a blue, white and grey feather flitting across the concrete walk. I decided to add this to the painting, adhering it with a dab of silver paint. Placed below the figure’s closed hand, it would appear to be an object clutched at and missed or perhaps never caught in the first place. This simple object might turn out to be the most evocative part of the painting - something I didn’t intend or have a hand in making.

I am in the last phase of painting - the figure’s clothes. I am hoping that I can keep the design mostly white and still have it show up against the silver background.