October 28, 2007

Pogo and People

The Edisto clean-up continued, with the director of the Parks Commission, a vista volunteer, two volunteers from Friends of the Edisto, and an employee of the Parks Commission, all pitching in. The Parks Commission provided a truck, bags, gloves, water and snacks. What we had not planned for was the annual homecoming parade, which, I'm certain prevented late comers from also contributing, but did add inspirational music to our clean-up.

Evidence of the marauding possums and apathetic humans abounded in the litter but we cleared most of it from one side of the bank. I must admit that there is a fascinating irony in this for me. For the only two mammals possessing hands with opposable thumbs are possums and people. So our park was desecrated by the big hands of big brained mammals throwing out refuse to be retrieved by the little hands of the little brained mammals. Interesting symbiotic relationship, right?
It was cold and wet that day, but the comaraderie and a job well done gave me a warm sense of satisfaction. We'll go back for the other side of the river but it will be on to other writing for this blogger.

October 22, 2007

No Man of Woman Born

The meeting of the Parks and Recreation Department and Friends of the Edisto River is becoming civic action as I write. The first community clean up of the Edisto will take place this Saturday, October 27 at 8:30 AM. We will meet at the lower parking lot at Edisto Memorial Park. The invitation to beautify the riverbanks and learn about recycling is open to everyone. Equipment will be provided by the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Putting together the observations and analysis of four minds, I've come to some conclusions about the mystery of garbage underneath the boardwalk at the very site of a refuse receptical. As I mentioned in my first environmental blog, it seemed odd that someone would rebuke the garbage can in favor of jumping off the boardwalk to stash their trash underneath, then go to the trouble of having to uncomfortably hoist themselves back up. It just didn't suit the human paradigm of maximum gain for minimal effort, let alone the modus operandi of a lazy litterer. And that's where the rub is, because it now appears entirely possible that no man of woman born is responsible for the crime at this juncture. Because at the meeting, one report told of garbage collectors who saw little trash to collect in the receptical, but did notice a line of possums sitting at the edge of the boardwalk. Possums staring up at them with their beady little possum eyes and their spiky-toothed possum grins. Could it be then, that possums got the better of us? Raiding garbage cans for late night snacks, then stashing the evidence of their crimes in their lair beneath the boardwalk? And imagine the awful irony of Sunday picnics on the boardwalk with a simultaneous possum picnic happening right there underneath human feet.
Time to possum proof the trash cans.

October 20, 2007

Edisto, Continued

I soon realized that the clean-up of the Edisto River was a task much bigger than myself. So I turned to help from the Orangeburg County Fine Arts Center - nestled on a hill overlooking the river. Beth Thomas, the executive director at the center, knows city administrative contacts as well as local civic groups. She put me in touch with Betty Stone, who works with a non-profit association, The Friends of the Edisto. I called her to discuss the litter problem in the Horne Wetlands Park and how I had written an illustrated blog about my expedition to collect trash. Her interest piqued, she vowed to go to the Edisto the following morning to pick up trash herself. Concerned about her going out alone - with copperhead snakes at the ready on steep slopes and slippery banks, I volunteered to go out again with her.
In uncanny synchrony, we pulled into the parking lot and stepped out of our vehicles at precisely the same time, armed with gloves, boots and bags. Betty was everything that one imagines in an outdoors woman, robust, with short cropped no-nonsense hair and sensible hiking boots. She was obviously more advanced at garbage retrieval than a novice like myself, having procured long sticks with spikes on the ends for hard to reach refuse. So, armed with our industrial strength trash bags and a sense of mission we set out to the river.
The riverside had plenty of trash to yeild, including still more shoved underneath the boardwalk. We chatted and picked trash for about an hour and a half. Betty told me about her group, Friends of the Edisto and how they used to organize river sweeps to clean up garbage but that the organizaton had become inactive in recent years. Our day together inspired her to jump start the organization again and organize enough clean up brigades to clear the river and maintain its beauty thereafter. We agreed that if she found the people I would work on letters to the Parks Commission and the Mayor to solicit support. I went to it straight away with a letter to the local division of Parks and Recreation. Then I hand delivered a copy to the Mayor of Orangeburg.
When I stopped by the mayor's office with my letter he not only read the letter on the spot but chatted with me about it. This is part of the charm of Orangeburg, the most underestimated town in South Carolina. Where else could one stop by unannounced and have a spontaneous chat with the mayor and be dressed in jeans and a shirt with water spots on it no less. Imagine that happening in Chicago. Buster Smith, from the Parks and Recreation office, called today as well to set up a meeting with Betty and I to make our voluteerism official, with a web link to the newly jumpstarted Friends of the Edisto. So this is what Blog action day yeilded for us - an individual action leading to civic action making a big difference for Mother Edisto. Interestingly, after reading some of the environmental blogs, I found out that they were intended as discussion rather than action. But if I had taken the "action" part of Blog action more seriously than most, I am glad that I did.

October 15, 2007

Being Kind to Mother Edisto

The Edisto River running through Orangeburg, South Carolina, is one of only two black water rivers in the U.S. It is a beautiful river and a frequent source of artistic inspiration to me and to others. In my walks along the river I have chanced upon people who had been baptised in the river and have made pilgrimages back to this place of spiritual renewal. I've met people who were planning to be baptised in the golden water - stained the color of a richly brewed tea by the tannic acid of the cypress roots. I met a poet who comes back to the river to write along its banks. A dancer comes there to study the myriad complicated water eddies in search of inspiration for movements. I've studied these same swirls of golden light for patterns in my paintings. One woman, her love for the river palpable, simply refers to her river as "Mother Edisto," and is convinced that the water has curative powers.
For the past few years, however, this reverence for the Edisto has not been shared by all. By the increasing amount of litter along its banks in the Horne Wetlands park, there appears to be a growing disdain for this portion of an environmental preserve. It saddens and distresses me to see the white sands, the cypress knees, and the woodland flora defiled by beer cans and styrofoam food containers.
So for environmental blogging day I decided that I would do something close to home and personal. With garbage bag, gloves and boots in tow I set out on Sunday for the wetlands park. I had never picked up garbage before in a public park so this was a new experience for me. Like everyone else, I always just complained about it. But Mother Edisto and the Horne foundation had been good to me so I thought for at least one day I would return the favor. (In recent times, I have been working with paintings of figures walking into the Edisto River, one pictured above. Earlier, I had a grant from the Horne Foundation to make a sculptural bench for a hill overlooking the river.)
When I reached the Edisto with my rubber gloves donned and my garbage bag ready to receive its bounty of refuse I realized that there were some problems with my venture. The garbage had been tossed from the boardwalk and onto the banks of the river. I am fairly certain that park vistors are not supposed to mill around off the boardwalk but any attempt to retrieve garbage would neccessitate literally getting off the proscribed beaten path in order to reach it. Break a law to remedy a broken law? So not having had official permission to do this I decided to keep this project rather limited in scope, close to the boardwalk, and set a time limit.
This project turned out to be quite an educational experience. I had thought initially that it wouldn't be too difficult as I didn't recall there being a huge amount of garbage. But there was. I hadn't walked the banks more than an eighth of a mile before my garbage bag was almost full. (I stopped when I chanced upon a venomous snake coiled around a beer can - an intimidating site which might make its way into a future painting.) In the course of my garbage collecting I met well wishers and supporters. Many of them expressed the same perplexity as myself as to why someone would toss garbage onto the river bank within two feet of a garbage can. Some truly intrepid litterers would even have had to have lept off the boardwalk onto the bank, crawled under the boardwalk to stuff their garbage underneath it, then hoisted themselves back onto the boardwalk. All with a garbage can literally in front of them. It boggles the mind. The amount of the garbage stash undereath the boardwalk was quite a revelation. Most of the objects thrown away were soda and beer cans, various plastic items, and lots of styrofoam. But there were some very determined litterers who tossed big garbage items into the river - like a child's car seat. Yes - I removed it.
I have to admit with some guilt that I didn't go the distance and sort the garbage into items to be recycled but merely put the garbage into the trash receptical area at the park. But at least my own awareness was raised as to the extent of our local problem as was the awareness of others, who would peer into my bag at the terrible evidence collected into one undeniably ugly heap.

October 12, 2007

Here Come the Brides

The saga of the nudes in South Carolina Fairs continues with my figurative mosaic in the State Fair. "Brides," is a mixed media work composed of found objects, stone, glass and ceramic mounted on a hardibacker board. It is so named as an homage to Marcel Duchamp's Dada work of the beginning of the last century, "The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors Even." I thought of Duchamp in making this work because of his similar division of the artwork into two distinct domains - the upper part female and the bottom part male. I was always curious as to why Duchamp would depict a male as a chocolate grinder but I suppose he had his reasons. Click on the link to obtain more information about this early twentieth century work.
Presenting a work such as "Brides" is always a risk - not only because of the nudity but because one can never be certain that the juror has a knowledge of art history that would enable him to "get it." I like to think that the juror for this exhibition, Thomas J. Mew, III. PhD, did get it. He is chairman of the Art Department at Berry College so it is possible that he saw the correlation and the approximate centennial celebration of Duchamp's pivotal work. But one can never be too certain of PhD's. I once had a college professor with a PhD tell me in no uncertain terms and with the utmost authority that "If a chicken can lay an egg without a rooster, then a cow can give milk without having a calf." No, her doctorate was not in animal husbandry. But I digress - yet not too far because this is the South Carolina State Fair we are talking about in this blog, with art in close juxtaposition with bovines and poultry. Moooooove over Duchamp!
While Duchamp's grand work is allusive, mine is literal. I've reversed the male/female order here by placing the male at the top and the females at the bottom. The title of Duchamp's work alludes to a single woman and more than one male. In my work I have reversed this as well with a single reclining male nude in a static pose with two nude women dancing together. How I found these two women is my secret. I have been working steadily for three years on mosaics integrating my hand sculpted earthenware figures and this is one from my 2007 group.
I would like to thank the South Carolina State Fair for allowing the work to be shown and to the juror for awarding the piece second place.

October 9, 2007

How Nudes are Fairing in South Carolina

October is festival and fair month and there is so much excitement to distract one from working. This year I decided to challenge both myself and the South Carolina Fair system by exhibiting contraband materials - nudes. I had no trouble exhibiting nudes at the State level but only this year was told that technically it wasn't allowed. At the Orangeburg County Fair, there has never been a nude exhibited until this year when I presented my painting "Deluge." I painted "Deluge" in honor of the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The painting features a semi-clad seated woman partially submerged. It was cathartic to paint it, but not only for the people lost and for the sorrow over my country's response. I had lost a number of artworks in the flood and was saddened by the loss but because the human tragedy was so great I did not dare say anything about a material loss which seemed trivial in comparison. But it stung nevertheless and painting something about loss was soothing to the soul. So armed with a story and a painting that was only semi-nude I set out to make local history. Previously, someone coming to the County Fair with even the most tastefully rendered nude would be compelled to take it down before the opening to prevent offending public sensibilities. I had a few things working towards my advantage here, however. A friend and sensible woman was in charge of taking in the pieces at the fair, and I offered to stay and help hang the show - thereby making it neccessary for anyone objecting to the piece to have to say so to my face. Oh, we spent a whole week prior to the show, my friend Harriett and I, thinking up arguments and justifications - not a one of which had to be used. In the end, good manners were all that mattered and the piece stayed. It was the only oil painting not to win any prizes, mind you, but the public was allowed to see it. And for all the nervousness about nudes in small towns in South Carolina - there was not a peep of complaint from the public. And history was quietly made. Tune in Sunday for the results of nudes at the South Carolina State Fair - three of them!

October 5, 2007

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Photo Store

I had taught a course in mosaic making based upon the black and white figural mosaics of ancient Rome. These Roman mosaics were elegant works of art with refined motifs - the limitations of black and white marble revealing the integrity of the individual tesserae. I was pleased with how my student's work in this course turned out. Like the good record keeper that I aspire to be, I photographed my students' mosaics with black and white film then took the film to the photo store to be developed and printed. When I picked up the photographs, however, I was in for a bit of a shock. For as it turned out I had not been sold a virgin roll of film. Oh no. It was film that had been opened, used halfway, and then, by some surreptitious means, reloaded into its casing and returned to the photo store to be resold to an unsuspecting customer. And the film had been used by none other than an avid Elvis Presley fan who sought to commemorate his pilgrimage to Graceland on black and white film. He had shot various important Elvis sites in and around the vicinity of Memphis, Tennessee, then, for reasons I cannot fathom, relinquished a partially exposed roll of film.
The strange yet spectacular result of the double exposed film was a collision of cultures and history - a crashing together of ancient Rome and Rock and Roll. My student's Roman mosaics were superimposed on such landmarks as the Sun Records building in Memphis. The photograph I've posted here is not something that I conjured up in photoshop. Who would want to do such a thing to a mosaic or to Sun Records?
Sometimes life is based on art and sometimes art follows life. My art proclaims the vicissitudes of life and the creative potential in chance occurances. So starting with the double exposed image in the photograph, I set to work on my oil painting. I've named the completed work The Sun Records Flounder Building in Memphis Tennessee. We all know it well.