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.

Tel Aviv: another adventure

Yona is grandma on Wednesday. She put me on the train to TA and went to her brood. I went, first to Museum Haaretz, museum of the land, where I saw two excellent exhibits. Israelis are amazing in their support of the arts and there is a thriving contemporary art scene here, especially considering the country is the size of New Jersey with about the same population. The first exhibit was unusual things made of paper: creased, folded, rolled, cut, shaped, made into books and made out of books. Very inventive.

The second exhibit was fiber art, again unusual creations all made by Israeli artists. The variety almost equaled Fiber Arts International in Pittsburgh, which draws entries from all over the world.

I had lunch in the museum cafe, tuna Nicoise, a nice change from all the hummus and other salads. From there I went to the Tel Aviv Art Museum, which was not as interesting to me but I was getting very tired. There is some contemporary photo and video shows, lots of 18th and 19th C. painting, and a display of miniature rooms. I have to find out more about them as a 19th C. interest. The knee finally got me. It bothers me less, but is still stiff and painful at times.

I got back on the train then took a taxi to Yona’s son’s home and got to see all three kids along with the brown and white dog who shed all over my black jacket. We then had a light supper in a Japanese restaurant.

My last day here is perhaps the most interesting. I’ll write when I get home. I leave at midnight tonight.

First adventure alone

I must admit I didn’t prepare for this trip the way I do for Japan. But I made up my mind to go about 10 days before and it took me three days to decide on a flight. So, relying on Yona, the fact that I’ve been here before and that I can read Hebrew, albeit slowly and painfully, I came without doing any planning. Not good.
Robin asked me to go to an exhibit in Haifa and Yona was busy with a grandchild so, complete with detailed instructions from her, I got on the bus and went to Haifa. I have spent a lot of time in Haifa but most of it was 45 or 50 years ago. I had just faint twinges of memory. And I neglected to carefully examine the notice, in Hebrew, about the exhibit.
Two buses and I was exactly at the place I needed to be. No one knew anything about it–not in English and not in Hebrew. No exhibit. Later we found out it won’t open until Sunday; maybe I’ll go back on Monday.
Plan B was a museum of Japanese Art–the only one in the Middle East and more or less walking distance. Of course that was on my list. The main exhibit was snow prints, which I could thoroughly enjoy in this land of sunshine. And they had Chushingura pictures by an artist I never heard of. I suspect this is just a spelling difference but I haven’t had a chance to look him up. If I could afford to collect Japanese prints, these are what I would get. This exhibit made me very happy.
Finally, tired and hungry, I stood in a bus stop and a taxi read my mind and pulled up. We had a good discussion about lunch places and he took me down to the port and I had lunch overlooking the Mediterranean.
Lunch is the big meal here; generally much more than I want to eat. It began with 15 small dishes, almost like salads: hummus, tahina, carrots with cumin, beets, pickled cabbage, egg salad, macaroni salad, some yummy but unidentified veggies and pita with butter and garlic. I never ordered an entree, and to hell with the diet.
Then I got on the wrong bus and had an unexpected tour of Haifa, finally getting back to Yona’s after the flaming red ball of the sun sank into the sea.

The party’s over

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Tomorrow we go back to our real lives. No more walks along the beach; no more discussions about our art work; no more meals waiting for us and all of the wonderful camaraderie. My week in Door County is always one of the best of the year.

Today was beautiful after two days of rain, but I only got a couple of short walks along the beach. Wet sand penetrated my shoes so I took a few pictures of the geese and went back. I love walking along the beach hunting the treasure of dead fish and small pieces of driftwood. Years ago, playing on the beach at Lake Michigan was an entirely different experience, with clean sand and warm bodies on blankets soaking up the sun. Here, about 250 miles to the north and 65 years later on Lake Michigan, zebra mussel shells, seaweed, dead fish, driftwood and a couple of helium balloons cover the beach.

I haven’t done much artwork, but I can’t wait to get home and work on the dead fish.

Beach walking

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Time does not behave as usual here; it expands to encompass many events then passes slowly. We arrived with clear skies and sunshine on Monday afternoon and again on Tuesday. Yesterday and today we have had rain, a gray lake and lots of waves. I love to walk along the beach occasionally picking up pieces of driftwood and photographing masses of detritus left by the waves. Years ago, while I was going to art school, I photographed alewives along a beach in Indiana. The fish were larger than what I photographed this week, alewives in Wisconsin. Perhaps I’ll make a book of dead fish.

The rain stopped long enough yesterday for us to visit a wonderful garden and go to a play in the evening, Our theme this year has been serendipity, or as Jan says, “serene deputy” and the rain didn’t begin again until we got into our cars to return home.

The garden is on the lake

The garden is on the lake

We actually get work done in between eating and walking and visiting. I am still working on French knots for my book cover. Jan and Sandy are both working on books. Anna, a newcomer to our group, has been the most prolific, with wonderful cards and a quilt top. When the rain stops I’ll go back to the beach for more pictures of dead fish.

More friends and cousins

On the veranda in Door County

On the veranda in Door County

Early for my meeting with Neill the next day, I went to look at places I recall living in. First on Harding Ave: I don’t remember the address, but it was a 2 story building with concrete stairs across the street from a large gravel covered field that fronted Volta School. I remember this vividly because of the many times I fell on my knees on the gravel and went around for weeks with infected, scabby knees. The field has been chopped in half and a building covers the half nearest my house, but I can’t find the house. I’ve tried looking on Google maps and came up with nothing. It’s 73 years;why do I think it would remain unchanged. I went on to the next place, a 2-story building with four apartments. The building had changed for the better, all cleaned and painted. I don’t know who lives in the neighborhood, but it looks great. The playground next to the house is fenced in and looks clean. Only one surprise, the synagogue my parents and grandmother attended, and where I went to Hebrew school and which subsequently became a Korean church, a huge beautiful building, has been torn down and is now a parking lot. The last place I lived, the house I loved, looks good, the neighborhood looks good, marred only by an enormous, unfinished, totally our of place castle that fronts on the highway and dwarfs all the nearby houses. Built on every square inch of land it has remained unfinished and up for sale for several years.

Lunch with Neill and a little more nostalgia then dinner with Betty. My days have been filled with lunches and dinners and breakfast with Eli and Hannah on Saturday. Sunday I walked and breakfasted on Marilyn and Arnie, then met artist friends at an exhibit. Monday morning we drove to Door County for our yearly art camp.

Turnpike wasteland and on to Chicago

Korean ancestor at the Cleveland Museum, could be one of mine

Korean ancestor at the Cleveland Museum, could be one of mine

Drove to Chicago last Tuesday. Getting ready on Monday I gave some thought to food for the car. My worst fear about this drive is that I might fall asleep. I’ve found it helpful to have something to nibble on and I try to get things that are not fattening or unhealthy. Deciding I had enough, with mushrooms, carrots and a box of peanut butter Puffins, I did not go out and shop, although I really wanted fruit. After all, I told myself, I’m not going to the end of the world, but the truth is the turnpike might as well be nowhere. Finally got bananas a week later.

Spent the night in a motel near Toledo. Chicago is really a one day drive from Pittsburgh, but I’ve been breaking it up to make sure I don’t get too tired. I stopped at the art museum in Cleveland, which has finally reopened their Japanese and Korean galleries. Very nice, but not nearly enough on display.

The next day I stopped in Elkhart, Indiana and toured an old house called Ruthmere. It was named after a child who died before the age of one and is situated near the conjunction of two rivers, known as a mere. The house was not nearly as interesting as the story about it. Those two days were very hot, I think the warmest days we’ve had all summer. I wanted to stop at a big flea market in Indiana, but didn’t think I could tolerate the heat and sunshine. Picked up Charna at her job and we had dinner with Barbara and Fred. The next morning we went out to Waldheim Cemetery to visit her namesake.

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