Slam Poetry Workshop and Ideas about Art

Not the kind of place you’d expect to attend a Slam Poetry workshop – a little historic Baptist church with vintage neon sign. But the Missouri Literary Festival hosted many events over three days, in a variety of places, and this little church on the edge of campus was saved by Drury University and renamed the Diversity Center.

Drury-diversity-centerI went to the workshop, not knowing anything about it. I was intrigued by the title and thought it might be fun to videotape. I’ve been spending a lot of my creative time this month working with video. I’m better at editing than shooting, so I need the practice. Russ is the great photographer and techie in the family.

In the 90’s we did a lot of video work – documentary type stuff — and am now finding how much fun it is to upload and share videos via our new YouTube channel as compared to having to dupe tapes, design packaging, and figure out how to distribute them. I love video, it’s total immersion into a world of thousands of trillions of single photographic moments smashed together and find myself getting lost in it. But back to poetry.

The workshop was great, amazing — maybe partly because of the environment of the church and the beautiful light that filtered that afternoon through the large stained glass windows. But most definitely because of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. I found out later that he’s really famous – 2008 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion, 2009 World Cup of Poetry Slam Champion.

And so kind and generous – with his talent, his spirit, his desire to teach and to share ideas. I made three short videos from the one-hour workshop. This overview of Slam Poetry has pretty much what I think are some universal truths for all art.

The keynote speaker for the MO Literary Festival was Billy Collins, two-time Poet Laureate for the United States. I was pretty excited about hearing him. I thought I was a fan, but he pretty much lost me when he said that all poetry is about death and that someone should tell English majors that when they are starting out.

I was an English major — no one ever told me that, and I wouldn’t have believed them if they did. I’ve always thought that poetry and art were about life, so I’m happy to post this other video of Joaquín Zihuatanejo. He pretty much sums it up in a short minute.

Vintage Photo Friday – Capri motel sign

This has to be the best motel sign that I’ve seen in the midwest. Capri_motel_signDuring the week of installing Russ’s neon show in Joplin and this week of de-installation, I’ve unintentionally explored many routes in and out of town. By far, my favorite route is old Main heading towards I-44, because of all the old buildings and funky signs on Main. At the edge of town on the way to the interstate, there is this car-stopper.

Capri_motel_sign2You probably won’t realize how huge this thing is until I show you the motel next to it.

It has old pieces of neon hanging off of it. Wonder if any of it still lights up? There’s more neon signs that say things like “cocktails” (of course) on the bar at the front the hotel, but I couldn’t get around the Miller Lite beer streamers to get a good photo.

What do I love about this? The fonts for one thing. Would love to trace those letters and use them in a design. And the funky retro shapes.Capri_motel_exit_sign

Even the little Exit and Entrance signs are funky. You can also just see a the edge of an abandoned swimming pool on the hillside down from the sign. What a place this must have been in it’s heyday.

Who do you owe?


Sure, becoming an artist is a long rough path with lots of hard knocks. We all know that. But who do you owe — for tiny little favors or inspirations along the way? Although we often hear about mentors and role models, sometimes it’s the smallest of things that give us light and illuminate our path. And it’s good to remember and be thankful for those.

This photo was taken in Febuary 2004, back before I cleaned out and took all the old junk to the salvation army (aren’t digital photos great — I can always reference a date using the file info). A friend from college has a daughter who is an artist, and she asked for help to recreate the daughter’s drawings for a bedroom mural.  After scanning, resizing, and combining her small drawings into a scale drawing that would fit the wall space in a bedroom alcove, I had learned the rudiments of what was to become my pattern-making process for making wall quilts.

Not only that, I was exposed to a wonderful imaginative world of cats who went to garage sales and sushi bars, cats who competed in the Olympics, picture stories of mermaids and other characters acted out by the author/artist.

I can’t tell you how all this entered into my artistic psyche. But that it did.

Vintage Friday

buttermilk_pancakes.jpg Long ago I told Paper Dolls for Boys that I would post vintage photos on Fridays, but I really haven’t got that many great vintage photos.

I do however have a nice collection of mid-century cookbooks — many I found when I bought two big boxes of old papers at an auction. They appear to be the entire 1950-60’s Home Economics classroom files of a woman named Frances, and are full of leaflets and brochures about choosing silverware, how to use a deep freeze, bug sprays, dieting, and more.

I love looking at these old cookbooks, finding a lot of humor and inspiration for my work from the drawings and advertising copy in these retro pieces of domestic history.

So Tracy, I hope you won’t mind if I post some of these instead of photos. For some more inspiration from retro graphics, check out my Flickr set here and the Flickr group mid-century illustrated.

Update: I almost forgot to post these, here are some folks who actually did the photos:
Los Angeles is My Beat

Laughing Living and Loving in Austin
A Jen Too Many
and  be sure to check out the hula hoops on

Cover for a Gratitude Journal

graditude-journal-cover.jpg Here’s a quickie project that was fun to make. I had a small quilt that I liked, but never finished. So I cut my favorite part out  — the swoopy loop stitching — backed it with two pieces of fabric and zig-zagged around the edges.

graditude-journal-cover2.jpg Inside it has a pencil pocket, ribbon page marker and an office calendar that I’m using for this year’s gratitude journal.

My friend Merrilee makes beautiful covers like this, except hers are nicely turned and neatly finished. This version was definitely more impromptu — didn’t even think of adding the velcro closure until the very end (and yes it would have been better to plan ahead!)

Creativity as a new focus

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If only in my own mind, I’ve decided to reframe the focus of my blog. Originally I called it my Art Adventure Blog and decided to post mainly art-related articles, projects, and photos. That was four years and 462 posts ago. (which reminds me that I need to figure out what to do about that crazy-long archive list in my sidebar)

But there are times when I’m not able to work on what I think of as heavy-duty art projects, and those are the times when I don’t post for a while.

Even when I’m not able to dedicate full days to art, I always try to interject creativity in small ways throughout the day, art being what I consider to be a subset of creativity.

So now I’m thinking about re-subtitling it, The art of a creative life which is kind of pompous, but you get the idea. Maybe Adventures in Creativity or Creative Miss-adventures? Just a little bleary-eyed brainstorming going on here at 3 a.m. What do you think?

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What is humor?


What is humor? I been thinking about this question since I was asked to juror the show for SAQA called “Sense of Humor” (see last post for more details.)

I’m not going look in some dictionary and give you the definition, I don’t even know what a real definition is — I just have my own personal definition: humor is thinking outside of the box. And here’s another one: creativity is thinking outside of the box.

What was it they told us in algebra? When A=B and C=B, then A=C. You do the math. Anyway, that’s just my own take on things.

The above photo was taken at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art last October at this event on my blog. The artist: Jeroen Nelemas. The art is not the man in the photo, it’s the installation made of grass, astroturf and metal grid called “Six Feet Above.” When you climb the steps, then turn around and look out, this is what you see looking out from “Six Feet Above” to the biggest exhibition space at the center.


The thing below is another artwork by Keith Lemley called “Hovercraft.” Also not as it appears at first glance. You have to experience it. Here’s the directions. hovercraft_directions.jpgAnd here’s me doing my Silver Surfer impression — it really does float and move around, but not recommended after a glass of wine at the opening. Or maybe that’s when it’s best.


That thing hanging behind me is another installation by Vanessa Tomczak and Carl Bajanda. The little gizmo at the bottom very slowly unknits the long white hanging scarf(?), you can see the pile of unknitted yarn at the bottom.


Here’s some details. Click to make big. vanessatomczak_carlbajanda2.jpg

I loved this show and my whole experience at the UICA. Just curious, does anyone else think this stuff is funny?

Vintage postcards for inspiration


Lately I’ve been busy with some projects that I’ve had no extra energy to blog… but tonight am writing several entries that I will post over the next few days.

Earlier this summer I was working on a series called “Wish You Were Hair,” a series of world monuments transformed into humorous hair styles. You can see the progression of some of these drawings and quilts here and here.

This is an old wire clip stand in my office that holds some vintage postcards that inspired this series.


Sometimes I just like to look at old things, things that have been places I’ve never been and belonged to people I never knew — it gives me a sense of traveling beyond and out of myself and my small place in the world. It’s different than just reading magazines or stories on the internet, because these objects seem to hold lingering traces of their past. And it’s good exercise for the imagination.

Visiting Calder and other inspirations


Yesterday we went to visit this sculpture by one of my very favorite artists Calder, the master of cool shapes. I read somewhere he said, “My fan mail is enormous. Everyone is under six.”

calder2.jpg Unfortunately we missed the big Obama rally that was held underneath the sculpture by just a few hours, because we were inside at the conference listening to the history of this piece and how it was one of the first public art installations funded by the NEA — after Nancy Mulnix Tweddale wrote a long-hand letter to then congressman Gerald Ford for support. So artists, maybe we need to get back to writing long-hand for our agendas and skip this email stuff!

Russ took this photo of me testing the weight of the sculpture — yes, it is too heavy to lift.

The rest of the day was busy with lectures at the Meijer Sculpture Park. I took pages of sketch-notes at a mentoring session with Patrick Dougherty who makes fantastic sculptures out of sticks, and at a profound keynote address by Barcelona artist Jaume Plensa, and will have to wait until I’m home to fully reflect on it all. Both are artists I’ve mentioned on this blog before, so you can check the links in the meantime.