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?!

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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

 

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 panoramio.com. 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.

What is PechaKucha and How do you say it?

Over the years we’ve hosted many events at our studio, but this is the first one that most people I meet have trouble pronouncing. I started saying it just like it looks and am slowly working up to Peh-Chuk-Cha.

The name PechaKucha comes from the Japanese term for the sound of “chit chat.” PechaKucha Night started in Tokyo as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public and now has similar events happening in cities around the world. Presenters are allowed to show 20 images, with 20 seconds per image. This totals 6 minutes and 40 seconds per person, which makes for an upbeat tempo and allows the audience the chance to see wide variety of creative presentations in one evening.

PechaKucha Springfield was organized in Spring 2011 by Amanda Taylor of Dake Wells Architecture, meets quarterly, and previous events have been hosted at Lindbergs, Lemondrop, and Historic Firehouse #2.

The one I attended at Lemondrop was a lot of fun and touched on topics of art, history, architecture, film-making, the irony of yearbook signing, with an occasional cow thrown in.

Friday, September 23 from 7-9 p.m. at RuBert Studios

PechaKucha #4 we are hosting is open to art and design fans, and we have several artists scheduled including Stephanie Cramer, Kat Allie, Carla Stine, Brandon Dake, and some surprise guests. Doors will open at 6:30 if you’d like to walk around the studio, or have a glass of wine at the Tiki bar. If you’d be interested in presenting, Amanda may have a couple of slots left.

The event is a fund-raiser for the AIA Springfield to help with master-planning to rebuild Joplin, MO after a terrible tornado destroyed its center city last June, so we are asking for a minimum $5 to help with Joplin’s rebuilding process.

Some Past studio events

Although our studio is not normally open to the public, usually about once or twice a year we host events for non-profits with an art or art education emphasis. One of the more intensive but fun projects was a series that I call the Monster Foam workshops for Drury University art foundation students with art professors Todd Lowery and Tom Parker, using mountains of foam collected by Russ RuBert.

Another was a series of First Thursday artist discussion forums with featured speakers. But most have been one-night receptions for the Mid-America Art Alliance or group tours for Kansas City Art Institute students or the Missouri Art Education Association. Here’s some photos from past events. It was especially fun to dig out the old Monster Foam photo album.

3D Neonscapes by Russ RuBert

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Don’t know why I like these two photos so much. Maybe it’s a little neon yin and yang? Maybe it’s because I just learned that the grill-shapes came from the eyes of Griff’s hamburger guy, who had eyes with hamburger grills in the middle.

Russ has rescued a lot of vintage neon over the years, from old restaurants going out of business or getting demolished. He stores it all, then when an opportunity like the Spiva Center for the Art’s Brave New Art Show comes up, he makes new creations from the old glass neon tubes.

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The old stuff is incredibly fragile. If you handle it carelessly, it may crack, or one of the glass nipples where the glass-blower ended the tube is bumped, the tip can be broken. If any of these things happens, the gas inside will leak out, and it will never again work as a colored light.

Also there are little wires on each end, embedded in the glass. If these break off or are cut too short, there is no way to hook the electricity to the tube — which is what excites the gas and makes the light. I know this stuff, not because I do any of the technical or design stuff, but because I help hold and move the glass!

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Like much of Russ’s other art, these pieces are interactive. The glass is all hooked up to motion sensors, and as people move around each piece, the colored light goes on and off — illuminating the room and metal in different vivid colors.

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For more photos of the neon, you can visit Russ’s porfolio here. Probably I’m trying to do too much right now, but also trying to edit some video of the installation since it is very three-dimensional and four-dimensional as the different pieces light on and off.

Visiting Calder and other inspirations

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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.

Moving a Sculpture, or this weekend reminds me why I make quilts

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We finally got back up to Omaha to pick up this sculpture purchased at the Bemis Art Auction last fall. It will be a fun Memorial weekend project to move it back home for our new sculpture garden collection.

It’s very heavy and awkward to move — took six guys to drag it to the edge of the loading dock at the Bemis, before it could be lifted with a fork truck.

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Oops, lost a wheel.

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Actually in the end, it worked better to take off all the wheels and load them separately.

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Oh well, if the wheels really worked, it would just spin in a circle anyway. The sculpture is very heavy and now the truck and trailer is difficult to drive on the highway. Although it was a beautiful evening in old downtown Omaha last night, today the forecast is for heavy storms, wind and hail. Should be a exciting trip home!

Also stopped yesterday at the 51st Brownsville, NE historic flea market and craft festival. Wait till you see what I got there…

International Quilt Study Center and Museum

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While in Lincoln, I was able to sneak over to the new International Quilt Center and Museum very early in the morning before the sun rose, because I had heard the new sculpture in front of the building was beautifully lit.

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The sculpture by Linda Fleming is called “Reverie” (daydream) is wonderful to walk around and through — lots of different viewpoints and even some matching fantasy chairs inside the structure.

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The museum itself is another work of art designed by architects Robert R.M. Stern of New York. The wall of glass front facade wraps about interior gathering spaces, exhibition rooms, and will house the world’s largest collection of quilts. Currently and through the summer exhibits include: Quilts In Common from the museum’s collection and Nancy Crow: Cloth, Culture, and Context which traces the development of Nancy Crow as a studio artist.

Lisa and I also got a chance to see another beautiful exhibit of quilts by Michael James in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket District. You can see a slideshow of James’ “The Life in a Day” series of quilts based on abstracted photographic imagery on the Modern Arts Midwest gallery website here.

Olympic Sculpture Park

calder.jpgSunday was a beautiful day in Seattle. The last sunny day, my friend Susan told me, for the next nine months, so a great day to tour the new Olympic Sculpture Park. It’s a zigzaggy park that switches back and forth, up and down over reclaimed brown fields surrounding the railroad that runs along Elliot Bay.

Here’s one of Calder‘s stabiles (as opposed to his mobiles.) Look at the little bird perched on the very tip of the piece, which happens to be titled Eagle.

serra.jpg Serra‘s powerful Wake was designed using computers and a demilitarized machine that once made French nuclear submarines.

roymcmakin.jpgBut my favorite of the day was artist/furniture-maker/architect Roy McMakin’s landscape installation called Love and Loss. It’s full of verbal and visual puns — loss.jpgL is the high bench, O is the table, S is the lower bench, another S is a stair-stepping sidewalk. Look closely, the painted bark on the tree makes the V in LoVe – a tree that seasonally blooms and loses leaves in nature’s cycles, much as our own lives have such cycles.

You can see all the sculptures in the park on a flash tour on the SAM site, which thoughtfully shows the full park overview and where each piece is located

susanncrab.jpgSusan drove us around town in her bright red Mini, to Uwajimaya for fresh crabs and oysters, and to her house to eat them. Also to Kobo on Capital Hill. If you embrace wabi-sabi like Christine, check out their cool site. Today I’ll try to get to the other Kobo to see the exhibit of wax and ink drawings.

Out the Front Door: In Memory of Pat Renick

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This morning someone left the front door wide open, so that when I got up for breakfast, a huge gust of spring air hit me full face. I felt like I was almost drowning in the glorious morning air.

Strange that I should feel so invigorated, since we had been up the whole night before, driving home from Cincinnati from the memorial celebration for Pat Renick or “Mother Art” as she’s often called. Pat was an artist, a sculptor, an educator, a mentor, and a friend to so many. We were lucky to see her at various sculpture events around the country, sporadically and sometimes far between. But she was one of those people whose words and contagious enthusiasm would stick with you long after. You can read more of her accolades on art critic Sara Pearce’s blog.

Pat always wore a hat. She said they were handy when you don’t want to make eye contact, or are rather bored at meetings, and that conversations when you’re wearing a hat are always more interesting than conversations without. So everyone wore a hat to the memorial celebration — wonderful hats with dinosaurs, hats with barbie dolls, with shovels, vegetables, sunflowers, you name it. It was a great event for a great lady.

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Looking back to her work in the 70’s, her themes are still universal and fresh. She transformed a VW car into a dinosaur to send signals about our dependence on fossil fuels. Another sculpture, Triceracopter: The Hope for the Obsolescence of War, is a dinosaur built on the body of a honest-to-gosh army helicopter. It’s amazing to read her descriptions of how she built these things, using roasting pans in her kitchen oven and a tent in the back yard in this conversation in Sculpture magazine.

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Later work her work became more haunting with Life Boats: Boats about Life — sculptures that make allegories to different voyages in life and death.

But as Pat said, “I’ve often had two parallel lines of creative work. One is playful and humorous, especially in drawing and sometimes in sculpture. At the same time, I’ve had enough experience to recognize issues in my own life and in the larger world. My work moves in both directions, and sometimes the two come together in unexpected ways.”

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While staying at her house last year during Russ’s sculpture installation in Cincinnati, I had lots of time to study the framed drawings on the walls of her house, drawings that sometimes feature the adventures of Sky Woman, who would fly around the world, tirelessly fighting those who “thrive on tearing the wings off dreams.”

At sculpture events, I usually feel like a tag-along, a non-sculptor. But not around Pat. She always had time to check in with me and to encourage me through the years before I found myself making art quilts. She’s one of those people I have much to thank for, but most of all for her belief in me, as an artist in search of an art. For her belief that everyone can find the artist within.

So this morning, when the fresh air hit me with gusto, I thought it would be good to start a ritual of throwing open the front door and walking out into the morning, rather than sneaking out the back door as I often do. And I felt Pat’s hands on my back, pushing me through the front door.

In closing, here’s a photo of Pat at one of her and Laura’s grand parties and a quote by one of Pat’s heros, Molly Ivins:

Be sure to tell those
who come after
how much fun it was.

Art Teachers’ Association Tours the Studio

Last week really did turn out to be a scrabble to get ready for a tour we agreed to months ago. The Missouri Art Educators Association had their state conference in Springfield, and one of the professional development tours was to visit Russ’s public art and studio

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The only problem was Russ’s metal-working area was still full of water-damaged stuff. Actually, I shouldn’t say that, the other problem was, our front offices are now missing ceilings, carpet, and furniture. Looks like a bomb went off up there.

But the teachers still wanted to visit, so we got to cleaning — actually it was a good motivator for me to roll up my sleeves and start to deal with all this stuff. Trash it, salvage it, replace it — what to do with each item? Yuck. I think the decision-making part is more tiring than the physical work, although whenever we get ready for a big event, I usually get blisters on my feet no matter what shoes I wear because there is so much space to cover.

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But we did pretty well, and Russ has a new work-area set up in the back warehouse. My studio is pretty much back to normal (except for water stains on the pin-boards), so that part was easy. The teachers were thrilled, cheered at the end of the tour, and invited us to their lunch banquet — which for me was rather eye-opening in terms of the state of education and creativity in our schools. More on that later, I’ve got lots of news saved up…

Moving the blog to WordPress

You may have noticed I haven’t written in a week. I’ve been working late every night getting all my old blog moved over to WordPress, and it was a bear of a job. I couldn’t find a way to import all 300 posts over the last two years, so I had to cut and paste. I still need to work on my sidebar, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to move all your comments, but I hope to be better at responding. Just leave me your email in the address box when you comment, so I can! (it doesn’t get published.)