More early books

In the early 1970’s I made three kinds of books. I still wasn’t thinking about books, just photography. So the first was another spiral bound photobook about my father’s business. My father distributed poultry to restaurants. He was trained as an architect, finishing school and getting married in 1929. He worked as an architect for about two years then was unable to get another job. In 1932, my mother’s father died. Her brother, Meyer, was in the poultry distribution business and my father substituted for him while Meyer sat Shiva. One of the customers told my father he wanted him to continue servicing him and loaned him $5 so my father could get a truck and merchandise. For more than forty years Pops drove a truck and delivered chickens all around the city of Chicago. At the age of 69, with no plan for selling the business or retiring he had a heart attack. (On a weekend. He never got sick or had any problems except on weekends.) His customers owed $30,000 and that money would never have been collected without keeping the business running.

At the same time, fortuitously as it turned out, my husband was out of work. On Sunday, after the heart attack, Richard and my brother Arvin, who knew all about the business, went to the hospital and my father gave them the pertinent information. On Monday, Richard and my father’s helper ran the business, continuing for about three months until Richard found a buyer for the business and was able to get my father’s money for him. During this time I went out on the truck with them and photographed. Book #5 is a documentation of the business: no words, only pictures.

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Garage doors where the truck was kept. No merchandise was ever kept in this terrible place. It was purchased and distributed daily

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Richard and helper.

 

First Books

img_2577I didn’t really think about them as books, certainly not artist books. They were just compilations of photographs. The first book, which no longer exists, was created in 1963 or 1964. We took a trip to the East Coast going from Gettysburg and Williamsburg to Cape Cod. This book contained photographs of Victorian houses on Cape Cod. I didn’t know anything about making books or using archival materials. A few years ago I found that the book had aged badly, filled with brittle and yellowed pages. I think I removed the pictures but don’t remember where I put them.

In 1969 we took a trip to Europe and Israel. I was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago and had already taken several years of photography classes. So the books are intact, although not in very good condition. They are too thick for the spiral binding, which threatens to come undone. The photos are beautifully printed and mounted; I was an expert darkroom technician. However, I never added any details about location, people, dates. I was only interested in the images. I’m sorry now. I’d like to know where I took some of the pictures and who some of the people are; I no longer remember. But the truth is most of my books are still primarily focused on the image.

Trouble is a 25 cent purchase

I was going to begin with my earliest books, but I am currently obsessing over book 61 so that’s where I will begin. About a month ago I went to Construction Junction, a Pittsburgh building materials recycler, to get a piece of rusting iron (more about it at another time). There was a time when you could find such a thing on the street. No more; now only plastic. I found what I wanted for fifty cents and then wandered around; they always have interesting things. I found a bin full of what might have been round seat or pillow covers, all in blue with the “Monopoly” logo, like the game. Also in the bin were were olive green fabrics with the beautifully embroidered name, Cleopatra’s Garden.

img_2589I bought two pieces for an additional fifty cents and started on a book. One of my favorite places here in Pittsburgh is Phipps Conservatory. It’s a nice walk from my apartment and I occasionally take pictures. Over the years I’ve accumulated lots of flower pictures with no particular idea in mind. Using Photoshop I removed backgrounds frommum the flowers and made them look somewhat like watercolors, then printed them out and put them in an accordion fold structure.

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Full of confidence I stitched and glued the butterflies to the embroidery after adding iron-on stiffening to the back, and tried to glue the whole thing to a board. My idea was to put the accordion between two covers and be done with it. This was supposed to be a kind of quick knock-off.

Problem #1. The fabric won’t glue. It must have something on it like a flame retardant or spot retardant. I managed to glue the butterflies but I also stitched them and hadn’t tried to pull them up. (They pull up easily).

Problem #2. I couldn’t wrap the fabric around the board. It was too thick or maybe the board was too thin.

Problem #3. There wasn’t enough fabric in one solid piece to cover the back board.

Problem #4. I was able to glue the accordion to the board but the paper tore when I lifted it. There was not enough support to keep the accordion properly aligned.

These problems didn’t show up as neatly as I wrote them down. Before realizing this wasn’t going to work I went to the local crafts store and spent $7 on ribbons to cover the back pieces and tape to make the accordion. The tape was the only thing I finally used.

After I tore the attached accordion I decided to put the whole thing in a box, which I made from illustration board. I gave up on using the pieced fabric for the box and went back to the crafts shop for some paper; $3.50 on sale. Then I stitched the embroidery to a window in the paper and glued the whole thing to the box. What you can’t see in the photo above is that I turned the embroidery the wrong way. Also made a couple of mistakes when I put the accordion together. In Thailand they make a deliberate mistake in their creations because only God can make a perfect object. I tried to convince myself but three mistakes are too many.

So I have created another accordion and another box. Now I’m trying to figure out how to handle the whole thing. Problem#5, which is really the biggest problem, is the size of the embroidery. It’s actually too large for what I want to do. Still thinking about it.

January 25

Finally finished.

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New box

Made a new box. Bought seam binding and stitched it around the embroidery, then glued and stitched to the paper. I was able to move the butterflies img_2626-1and restitch and glue them in place. They hide a number of stitching sins. The box opens correctly and there is almost enough room for the entire accordion. The last page has a problem, unfortunately. That’s my homage to the Thai gods.

This box is 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.25. If I were to do it again using the 8 x 10 sheets, I would make the box 8.5 x 6 x 1.5 and the cover 9 x 6.125 allowing an overhang on three sides. I hinged the cover using Tyvek inside. I would like to figure out a better hinge so I could open the cover more than 90 degrees.

Art and an Osher class

I am from a crowded place where siren songs
blast holes in the steady drone of traffic.
I see tall buildings and blue water and
smell bread and flowers as I walk
and sometimes unpleasant perfume
on fashionable women who walk past me.
I would like to taste the lilacs and touch
the passing dogs and cats
But never come close to the lovely ladies.
I am rather pleased with this first attempt at poetry. It was inspired by a wonderful Osher class I took last month at Carnegie Mellon. It was called “Artists as Activists Choose Pittsburgh” and facilitated by Leslie Golomb, who presented ideas about activist art and in three subsequent weeks brought in other artists who created activist work. In the final class Amanda Gross, a fiber artist, asked us to tell her something about ourselves using the following:
I am from… sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch

This is only a small part of what I enjoyed in the class. To explain, I have to make a small digression. Some weeks ago I went to the Carnegie Museum of Art to a space they called “The Sandbox” filled with “photo books” that are actually for sale. I looked at all of the books and understood very little of what I was seeing. The curator/salesperson kept asking me if I had questions. I think slowly of late, and couldn’t even begin to frame my questions. The books contained photos that may or may not have been taken by their author/editor/curator and meant nothing to me. She showed me a book she had compiled, telling me the photos were “vernacular.” That meant they were taken from a collection, made by someone else, over a period of 25 years. She got permission from the owner to put them in “her book,” which was bound professionally. I told her I made books and she gave me a look that said ‘aren’t you a sweet, little old lady.’ So, I am an old lady, not necessarily sweet, and I was confused. All of this was absolutely meaningless to me.

Back to the class: four weeks of food for thought about meaningful art, often beautiful, certainly significant. My artist friends are not here in Pittsburgh and I don’t often have a chance to participate in this kind of stimulating conversation. In the first class, Leslie, who is a print maker, talked about artists as acivists and also about her own work, which has dealt with feminism and slavery amongst other themes and ideas.

In the second class, Ben Sota, the founder of the Zany Umbrella Circus, talked about his passion for circus and how his presentations in other countries have generated thoughts about freedom in his audience.

Bec Young, a printmaker and fiber artist, talked to us in the third class. In addition to doing volunteer work in her community her prints deal with activist themes. Quoting from her artist statement: “…seek to give voice to stories that remain unheard with work that is beautiful and powerful.”

Amanda Gross, who inspired my poetry, showed us her beautiful work and talked to us about her huge community organizing project called knit the bridge, which brought people together from all over Pittsburgh. This last class tied together all of the ideas about making meaningful, beautiful art and banished the despair I felt in the Sandbox.

Dear Mage

You are so nice to keep looking for me. I am fine; better than I’ve been all year. I’ve just been lazy about writing. Spent much of the last eight months doing leg exercises to counteract my arthritis. I have also lost 27 pounds and am working on losing 10 or 20 more. I am no longer in pain, I can walk normally, and haven’t opened the Tylenol bottle for the last couple of months. I had a wonderful birthday celebration last month. Instead of giving me gifts, I asked my guests to make a donation to the Israeli volunteer organization, Road to Recovery, that helps West Bank Arab children get to hospitals in Israel. Here is a video that tells all about it.

You can learn more about them at http://www.roadtorecovery.org.il/

I’ll tell more about my celebration in my next post, which I promise will be soon. I have to get pictures from Robin and she’s out of town this weekend.

Pictures

It’s snowing. What I really want to do is hibernate in my bed, in a cave made of quilts and blankets, and remain there until the outdoor temperature is near fifty degrees and the sun is shining. I’ve been back here for one week and I’ve got cabin fever already.
So, here are the pictures from Israel; maybe they’ll make me feel better.
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Yona and me, on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean, just after sunset. The picture was taken by Haim Lev, Yona’s friend, who comes to this spot every evening, to photograph the sunset.

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Ceaserea, now a national park. When I was there in 1966 some of this was there, but much has been excavated since. You could just walk along the beach and pick up pottery shards or bits of stone.

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Tel Aviv: There was only one tall building the last time I was in Israel. Amazing how much has changed in thirty years. Highways, now much better than ours, were all two-lane and people who passed on curves obviously had a strong belief in God.

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Jerusalem. I spent most of the four days visiting friends so I didn’t see much of the city. I know that much has changed in the 30 years since I was there before.

Emek Hefer, the most fertile valley in Israel.

Emek Hefer, the most fertile valley in Israel.

Sunset from the bus returning from Haifa

Sunset from the bus returning from Haifa

 

Last day and coming home

I spent my last day with Yona. First we went to Beilinson Hospital where Yona had a brief appointment. The hospital is enormous, very modern looking and filled with people walking in the corridors. I’m used to large hospitals; we have them here in Pittsburgh; but I’ve never seen so many people in the hallways. We got to the Dr.’s reception room where a woman lying on a gurney and her daughter were already waiting. Two more women, only one a patient, walked in while we waited. Then the daughter’s husband and another family member came in along with the family of the other patient. Yona said this always happens: you go to see your doctor with your entire family and when you are hospitalized the entire family comes with food. That explained all the people in the hallways.

Yona lives near the Mediterranean in an area that narrowly borders the West Bank. We drove toward another checkpoint leading to the West Bank city of Tul Karm, only a short distance from Netanya. We did not enter Tul Karm but turned into an Israeli settlement filled with lovely homes and gardens that borders it. When the settlement was first developed it was considered high risk. Protected by the border wall, two electric fences, a no-mans land and a guarded gate, it has become a highly desirable location where children can walk home from school by themselves and play outside without constant adult attention.

Our next destination was a nearby Israeli-Arab village where we met with the principal of the school, whom Yona knew. She doesn’t really know everyone; it just seems that way. This village did not have the neat gardens and numerous trees we saw in the previous settlement. We arrived as school was letting out and saw lots of children walking in the streets.

After another lunch of hummus and falafel at an Arab restaurant we drove along the coast and looked at two more schools, this time boarding schools. I don’t know how much I could focus on my studies with the Mediterranean nearby.

It was a long day and I was happy to get back to Yona’s house and rest for awhile. My taxi came at 10pm for a 1am departure. The airport was filled with groups of kids waiting to go through security. To my amazement and pleasure I was invited to sit and security would come to me. What a change from our airports, of which I have more to say. I got through all the preliminary questions and the inspection of my bag. Clutching passport and boarding passes I went through the usual x-raying of my carryons, again with no waiting. They really gave me special treatment. I’ve decided it pays to walk around with a cane.

My plane arrived at JFK at 6am. I asked for a wheelchair and this made it much easier. I hope never to go through JFK again, but, if necessary, I wouldn’t hesitate to get a wheelchair again. My next plane (to Pittsburgh) was supposed to leave at 2:59pm. I love these time designations; like they are meaningful. Anyway, I had already arranged to meet with Renee. We each took our respective subways and met in the middle of Queens where we found a pleasant Hispanic restaurant and had a second (and third) breakfast. After a couple of hours I returned to Kennedy and she went home.

I got to the airport to find my plane had been canceled. I was standing in line so long I finally asked for another wheelchair. American Airlines put me on a Delta flight scheduled for 7pm. The wheelchair lady (very nice, as was the other one) took me to the other terminal where I found that the plane they put me on had already been canceled. They put me on another one, but that also got canceled. This time I stood in line a long time only to find I would have to wait until Sunday to get on a plane. The alternative they offered was an 8am flight from JFK to Atlanta and then a flight to Pittsburgh that would arrive at 4:15pm Saturday. I couldn’t deal with it. I went to Renee’s apartment where I slept like a rock then got on a 9:50am Megabus and arrived in Pittsburgh at 5:30. I have another nasty story about my suitcase, but I finally got it.

Pictures to come.