Biking in a Hay Field at Crystal Bridges



Russ surprised me with a weekend getaway, and we loaded our bikes onto our new bike rack and headed south. Riding around on the Compton Gardens and Crystal Bridges trails, Russ was determined to see a new sculpture that he read about at the entrance. After several trails and up many hills, we chanced upon this crazy installation of hay people by Tom Otterness.

“Makin’ Hay” is a series of sculptures made of bales of hay by Otterness in Montana in 2002 as part of a friendly hay contest. Later acquired by the Alturas Foundation, the sculptures have been exhibited in many places and must be newly arrived at Crystal Bridges because it’s not mentioned anywhere on the website.


The whole thing was a total surprise as we had the fortunate opportunity to visit Otterness’s studio several years ago during an ISC Conference. Seeing so many of his roly-poly urban bronze figures there, I had no idea he had made these hay sculptures.


Not only that, but happening upon the installation by way of a back door trail rather than the entrance to Crystal Bridges was perfect!

It’s also a good thing we were on our bikes, because these sculptures and the hay field installation were huge. So trekking across tractor ruts to get to the farthest hay woman was rough, but do-able.



Roxie Castro exhibition at Arts & Letters

Math to Go — Anywhere, March 7-28, 2014
at Arts & Letters, 214 S. Campbell, Springfield, MO, (417) 830-8186
Mon – Fri: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm, Sat: 11:00 am – 5:00 pm


Math to Go — Anywhere is a clever idea by Roxie Castro to create paintings on vinyl fabric inspired by her sister, the “Mad Mather.” This body of work on exhibt at Arts & Letters, Springfield’s newest downtown gallery and eclectic boutique, has been developed over a number of years.

Upcycling cast-off wallcoverings and outdoor fabric, Roxie prepares the surface with gesso, then layers imagery of mathematical formulas, tools, rulers and theories using acrylic paint and colored pencils. The  paintings can be rolled up, displayed by hanging, used as table coverings, floor cloths, or as a portable work surface outdoors.

Well-known in Springfield as a print-maker, Roxie also has on display a few mathematically inspired mono-prints, and she has taken the time to print posters that can be cut and folded to make geometrical shapes such as the octahedron that is part of a blue and yellow installation in the gallery.

Statement from the artist:

Math to Go—Anywhere is a study inspired by my sister, the Mad Mather, who skillfully, cheerfully and patiently describes mathematic concepts. This body of work has been developed over many years. The Mad Mather’s fun attitude toward her passion is contagious! For me to understand, I must visualize the concept and am thus driven to paint.

My paintings take form at a tall, wide table where I stand and paint on large vinyl mats. I choose vinyl to incorporate upcycled cast-off wallcoverings and outdoor fabric. The vinyl is prepared with layers of gesso, as one would prepare a canvas. The structure of the painting begins with traditional mathematic tools, rulers and protractors, paired with colored pencils. Happy, bright colored pencil lines show through the final varnish and add sparkle to large planes of color. Sometimes, painting in the lines feels necessary, but often the color leads my brush or dauber away from sharp angles in favor of fuzzy edges. Handmade stencils and tape add to the contours and edges.

These mats can be rolled up and placed anywhere—table, floor, wall, desk, grassy knoll. They become backdrops for viewers to explore numbers and concepts in a fun way. A friend of mine used to say, “if you have a difficult text to read, put the book under your pillow as you sleep.” The implied result: learning by osmosis. Maybe it works for math concepts by imbedding them in artistic mats to be absorbed while sitting on or walking on or gazing into them. The general idea is that the exploration is internal and meditative.

Thank you for reading and I hope you find some enjoyment here!
Roxie Castro

Reflections on public art on the 50th anniversay of MLK’s “I have a Dream”

MLK memorialToday is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and it’s caused me to reflect on how different artists have portrayed the man and his words.

Last summer we were lucky be able to visit the MLK memorial in Washington DC. It’s a massive public art installation (look at the tiny people in the lower right-hand corner of the photo) by Chinese sculptor sculptor Lei Yixin. The figure of King is moving out of a “mountain of stone” and is at the center of the wall of inscriptions of his quotes. So many wonderful quotes!

On the other side of the sculpture, another quote is currently being removed by the sculptor. Not because of something offensive, but because many people considered the quote was taken out of context. There have been times I’ve written and said words that I wished I hadn’t, but can you image trying to erase words written in stone?!

MLK memorial wall

This summer we visited the MLK memorial in the Yerba Buena Gardens across the street from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The gardens are a beautiful spot of nature and art in the middle of a busy city.

YerbaBuenaGardensUnfortunately the MLK memorial fountain, a 50′ high waterfall over Sierra granite and shimmering glass, was close for repairs.

They probably they were working like crazy to get ready for today, but you could still walk behind and see the civil rights photos and inscriptions behind where the water should be falling. Here’s what the waterfalls normally look like, and also a lot of other fantastic features inside the Gardens.

The fountains were designed by sculptor Houston Conwill, Poet Estella Majoza and Architect Joseph De Pace. In the sculptor’s words: The Memorial is “a sacred space … meant to be experienced as a cultural pilgrimage and a journey of transformation,” and poems are translated into the languages of San Francisco’s 13 international sister cities.

San Francisco MLK memorial

This summer, my husband and sculptor Russ RuBert has been working on his own tribute to King. A few dark nights, he has projected images and video of King on historic silos in downtown Springfield’s IDEA Commons near the ideaXfactory. These silos are 170-feet wide and massively tall, so you can imagine the impact of the images on this scale.

Russ RuBert - MLK projections on silo

Seen by only a few people in real life, he posted photographs of the projections on Facebook which inspired the organizers of today’s Unity March to invite Russ to help them project images and video on a large canvas installed in Park Central Square. This evening event will kick off a full year of a focus on civil rights for our city. It’s a step in the right direction, and I hope that it will also lead to commissions for more permanent public art here created by artists to tribute people, themes, and ideas as significant as other cities have done.

Although the “I Have a Dream” speech has been copyrighted and sold, the City of Springfield got permission from the King family to project the entire 15-minute speech. After I watch that tonight, I’ll probably have more to say on this topic!

You can see more images of the silo projections on the ideaXfactory website.

Russ RuBert - MLK projections on silo


American Visionary Art Museum


The American Visionary Art Museum is an wonderful place — three buildings of fantastic architecture dedicated to self-taught artists who follow their internal compass. The gift shop filled with art books and vintage toys and gimmicks was alone worth the trip around the Baltimore harbor on a rainy day.

Continue reading American Visionary Art Museum

Portrait of an Artist: Carla’s Collections

You can learn a lot about a person by the things they collect, and the stories they tell about those objects. A collected object often has a history of how it was found, when and where.

Or was it gifted? Then there is the story of who gave it and why. Maybe it was abandoned, and if so, there is a rescue story. Sometimes objects have been altered. Sometimes there’s a mystery — Who made it? How was it made? How old is it? What is it??

For an artist like Carla who uses found objects in the creation of art, the way objects are collected, organized, and stored is a window into their soul. Especially for someone who lives in a small house, everything saved is precious because space itself is precious.

When I visited Carla on Monday, she had just hung artwork in two shows, so her studio was almost empty, clean, and ready for new projects. Everything was stored neatly on shelves behind homemade curtains — until she started pulling out her collections of inspirations, resources, and materials to show me.

“These are old photos that I found at the Treasure House pawn shop”

“Here are some antique Japanese books that Hueping gave me”

“Here’s some scrap sign vinyl from your Halloween party”

“These are globs of paint that I peel off yogurt lids that I use as paint-mixing palettes”

“These are painted papers I’m going to cut out for collage”
“How did you make them, with a dry brush?”
“Yes, and with sponges and that one on the corner of the table was done with a cabbage.”

She showed me a photo of four people in a boat. We guessed it was from the the 1920’s judging by the style of clothing and hats and wondered who took it.

A Japanese book, a thistle, paint peelings, and painted papers

“Hueping gave me this Japanese book. Look, I can carry by the string like a purse!”

Some things are too beautiful to cut up, so Carla scans them and preserves the original.

A collage of two houses that hangs in Carla’s hallway has always been one of my favorites. Curiously, it’s hanging right outside her son’s bedroom, a boy whose time is divided between his mother’s house and his dad’s house that is right next door.

When I stopped back by later that evening to see how the light had changed, Carla had already cleaned up her studio because she is getting ready to go on a trip.

Going to visit her family, Carla showed me old photos from her childhood and her mom’s Chinese family in Hawaii. Her dad has passed away and her sister is struggling, Carla is going home to help her mom move into a nursing home.

This is a photo essay that I did as part of a Mobile Phone Workshop I’m taking with Sion Fullana. All the photos were taken on my iPhone and edited with photo apps including Snapseed, Noir, Crop Suey, and touchRetouch. Thanks for letting photograph you Carla Stine!


Stone Creatures in Time and Space

We were fortunate to have one of Russ’s friends from the ISC board come to Springfield as a consultant to aid in visioning as part of the search for a new director for the Springfield Art Museum. George has worked at great museums for over 40 years, but he’s also an artist and loves talking to artists.

His current passion is creating a national folk art museum and library in Nebraska and probably enjoyed the drive down here because he got the chance to explore the countryside.

Russ gave him a Ralph Lanning stone sculpture called Mountain Goat for the Flatwater Folk Art Museum, so that was probably another incentive to drive a car with a big trunk. Ralph Lanning was retired dam-builder from Republic, Missouri and mentioned towards the end of this New York Times article about outsider artists.

After Lanning’s death last year, his entire estate of concrete animals (including a two-headed dog), figures, small churches, and other carved stone went up for auction, and Missouri State University bought many of them through a grant and rep of the Kohler Foundation.

However Russ was also there and bought about 20 of the smaller stone carvings, and also this curious lady mermaid. She has fins for hands, but also the raised hand looks sort of like a heart, and a small mirror is embedded on the other side — so you could wonder if she’s looking at herself. Also I swear that, depending on which direction I approach, her mysterious smile/grimace seems to change at times.

Sound familiar?

Another large Lanning sculpture at our studio we call Adam, although I’m not sure why since he’s holding a baseball instead of an apple. I happened to find this Photo of a Naked Concrete Man and His Message on Apparently it was taken on location long before Russ acquired the sculpture, because it has some parts that are now missing due to a public dispute between Lanning, a chemical waste dump across the street from his house, the Republic City Council, and kid with a baseball bat.

Adam and the Mermaid make a great pair, and with many other smaller stone carvings, we have quite a collection.

I’ve been reading and writing a lot lately about public art and museums and had been thinking how art connects people through time and space.

But I could never put it so nicely as George did in his Visual Literary Statement that he shared with us:

“A work of art serves as a linkage of the human continuum — past to present, present to future. Cultural artifacts must be experienced and understood as both a physical object and an event in time. As an event in time, they carry numerous complex attributes implying intellectual, spiritual, social, philosophical and scientific records of experience and speculation that are unique to the time and place of creation.”

— George Neubert, Flatwater Folk Art Foundation

Now whenever I look at these primitive stone carvings in our studio, I feel like something is looking back at me from a different time and place.

Art Speed-Dating and Elevator Talks = PechaKucha Night #4

As Julie said in a previous comment on my blog post about hosting PechaKucha Night – it sounds a bit like speed-dating for artists. I love that description.

The format of 20 images with 20 seconds to talk about each one puts you in the range of 6 minutes 40 seconds to present your work. That’s a lot of time compared to the oft-promoted elevator talk  — the 30 second spiel you can introduce and explain yourself to a stranger in the time between the elevator door closing and re-opening. At the his reception at the Art Museum last week, Roger Shimomura told us he often juries NEA grants where artists are permitted 10 images with 10 seconds per image. So PKN is looking like a good first date.

PeshuKucha Night vol. 4 at our studio was great fun. We had over  a hundred people — maybe more with some people coming early, some late. Although the format of presenting sounds rigid and the presenters do have to do their share of prep, the actual event is pretty casual atmosphere. Our doors opened a half hour early, there was a half hour intermission, and we invited folks to hang around afterwards — so there was lots of informal time to network, ask questions, explore the studio or just try out the vintage submarine game.

We had the big screen for the presentations strapped to scaffolding in the middle part of the warehouse with a lot of mis-matched chairs from various sources.


Russ also added some creative ambient lighting using old slide projectors and slides of Mesopotamian and other historical art (courtesy of the MSU art department who last spring auctioned off all their Art History slides and projection equipment at a surplus auction for, uhm, $5)

He also did a special installation of neon that spelled out PechaKucha on our framing table that added atmosphere and a great place for group photos.

But getting back to talking about art. One of the most interesting things I learned was how my friend Stephanie Cramer talks about her vibrant and evocative paintings. She likes to say, “You go first, then I’ll share” which is a terrific idea that I never thought of, because then she has the opportunity to learn what people see her paintings before she gives them her ideas. Another thing she handles quite well is the issue of time. This is a often-discussed to death topic I see on artist email lists and forums. Some artists and some people who create incredibly complex hand-crafted items seem to hate being asked, “how long did it take?”

Stephanie just says, “this painting took me three years” and then moves on. Nevermind that she was also working on about 20-40 other paintings during that time. Art takes time to gestate, transform, evolve, to become what it is.

You can hear more of how artists talk about their work in these videos of Stephanie Cramer, Russ RuBert, and Kat Allie’s presentations on our studio PKN page.

The other thing that was great about the event was the opportunity to work with such a great team of creative people. Amanda Taylor organized all the volunteers and presenters, ran the projector, and still had time to take an awesome set of photos during the evening. It’s the first time that I’ve really been able to put together a good photo gallery of a studio event that included all the setup and weird stuff that seems to happen whenever we’re setting up for a big event.

At PKN-4, we got to see 9 presentations, including Brandon Dake, AIA, president of the Springfield chapter of The American Institute of Architects present on the efforts to rebuild Joplin after a devastating tornado, and raised $360 for the AIA efforts to help in re-masterplaning there. So it was a good evening of art speed-dating.

Related links:

Inspirations from the Japanese Fall Festival

It’s the time of year that I sometimes work on art for the Japanese Fall Festival. I don’t do it every year, but over the past decade have designed many posters and t-shirts, so looking back through my files, you can see sort of a snapshot progression.

I often return to Japanese wood-block prints from around the 1800’s for inspiration. There I often find originality of compositions and stylization of forms of nature that I need to reinvigorate my work. I love the way flat shapes are filled with complex patterns, and depth inside the picture frame is created not through shading, but by scale, color and composition. I also like the way images seem frozen in a moment of time, and yet at the same time tell a story by selective use of people, objects, and landscapes.

Another interesting aspect of this annual festival is that making outdoor banners for the event is kind of how I got started making fiber art and art quilts. I was trying to come up a with a way to make big outdoor banners — not signs – but vertical banners that would hang from posts — so I started experimenting with kite materials that could survive outdoor weather.

This was about 15 years ago, and they are still used every year at the festival. In the photo above that Russ took last year, you can only see the backs. The fronts are more colorful because they are appliqued color layers edged with black satin stitching. The black kanji above the figures was painted by a famous Japanese calligrapher who was visiting Springfield, and so I left room for him to paint in whatever characters he wanted, then we heat-set the paint with an iron.

Inspirational animated films – Secret of Kells and My Neighbor Totoro

We had a lot of kids visiting over the holidays, but that’s never the excuse around our house to watch animated films. Here’s a couple that really knocked me over.

“Secret of Kells” is the story of Ireland’s sacred artifact, the Book of Kells. The film by artist/animator/director Tomm Moore is filled with screen after screen of gorgeous stylized characters, plants and landscapes filled with textures and patterns.

The lines are elegant and the composition, always a delight. I just want to buy the dvd, freeze every frame and soak in it.

“My Neighbor Totoro” is an older film by Hayao Miyazaki creator of many wonderful films including “Howl’s Moving Castle” and “Spirited Away.” This film is especially good for younger kids, since one of the main characters is a small girl taking care of her even younger sister while their mother is away. (video clips here)

As for the fantasy that Miyazaki so well blends with every day life, Totoro is a mysterious and funny – with his great big mouth, strange staring eyes, and bizarre howls. He’s also good at twirling and flying into the sky. But my all-time favorite has to be the amazing Cat-Bus that has upteen legs, runs across Japanese landscapes, and jumps into the sky.

Art behind the Art

Looks like art, huh?

What a lot of people don’t realize is there’s “art” behind the art. The art of making things work, the art of presenting, the art of bringing things to completion.

These are just a couple of photos from last week’s take-down of the Vital Threads show at Stephens College in the Davis Art Gallery. Annie Helmericks-Louder’s  husband John Louder is removing Annie’s butterfly from the wall. He’s especially motivated because he’s going to install his landscape paintings for the next upcoming show.

The wood piece is actually the hanging hardware for Annie’s huge art quilt, but you’d never have seen this elegant structure during the exhibition. It’s completely hidden behind Annie’s big butterfly that is composed of all sorts of fabrics, threads, and other embellishments. You can get a better sense of the texture of Annie’s work if you go to her website to see the nice close up photos she has on her welcome page.

One of the nice things about exhibiting with other artists, you get a chance to see how they pack, transport, and install their work. I’ve learned so much from watching other artists – both at shows I’ve been involved with and with my husband’s sculpture and gallery work. Plus, it’s just darn fun.

Annie’s system is pretty amazing. The wooden frame has small hooks screwed into it, and the hooks all match hand-crocheted rings sewn onto the back of the quilt. At first I thought she had crocheted thread around rings, but she said no, they are completely made of the yarn or thread so they are more flexible than metal would be.

For more photos of the exhibition, go to the Vital Threads photo gallery on my website. I’ve finally gotten my website converted to WordPress, something I’ve been trying to do for what seems like a year. I don’t have all my quilts there yet, but some of the more recent work.

Now after going to see Annie’s website, it makes me think mine needs a lot more work. Thanks for the inspiration Annie!