32 articles

Earthshakers, or People to know about: A series of profiles for Black History Month and beyond

betye saar

Betye Saar, 90 year old mixed media artist and force to be reckoned with. Photo by Ashley Walker.

I was hunting for Valentine’s Day ideas and came across this profile of African American artist Betye Saar in Design Sponge. She has long been one of my favorites, both because she makes work out of all sorts of things (some of her pieces are paintings, some quilts, some sculptures and everything in between…) and because each piece has a narrative that seems to flow out of it effortlessly. Nothing is preachy, yet they all have a strong message to convey that is at once deeply personal, magically surreal and culturally relevant. She is a true modern master.

So if you don’t know her work, please take a minute to read the Design Sponge profile, and watch the video below in which she speaks about racism in southern California between the World Wars.

And here are three examples of her work, just to whet your appetites to dig deeper.

Stay tuned for more inspirational people as Black History Month continues…

MLK on drawing up a blueprint for our lives

I’ve been sitting here, with loads of work to do, a mountain of unread emails, an apartment to clean (or at least make semi-presentable for people coming over) all kinds of self-care resolutions to wish I had time to fulfill… and my MLK post to write.

So what do I do? In classic procrastination style, I open up my email newsletter from NY Times Cooking, which my friend Sam Sifton writes, and which I almost always make time to read no matter what else is on my plate. The first line after ‘Good Morning’? “Here is Martin Luther King Jr. speaking at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia, Oct. 26, 1967.” I clicked on the link, watched the speech, cried as I always do when I hear Dr King speak, and then realized that my search for a blog post was over.

So thanks, Sam, for hooking us all up with today’s content. And thank you, Dr. King, for continuing to be a beacon of light and an inspiration to us all… especially as we enter these murky and unstable times. And for speaking so eloquently to kids about what their potential can be if they take themselves seriously.

Parents, if you have kids old enough to listen, you should all sit down and watch this video today. And then let us all pay a little attention to our blueprints, make adjustments if necessary, and head out into the bright world full of determination to change what needs to be changed, to protect what needs to be protected and to treat everyone with the love and respect that we would like to have shown to us.

Amen.

And Happy Birthday, Dr. King.

Sometimes hanging out with dogs is just what the doctor ordered…

find shadow

This is Rasha and his great dane puppy Tigran. Who is going to be HUGE, by the way…

For the past 6 months, I have been managing the Instagram for a posse of dog lovers called Find Shadow whose current purpose is to help people in Brooklyn and Queens to find their lost dogs. I would never have defined myself as a dog person, but I have to say that hanging out in parks and dog runs and just talking to folks with their awesome four legged partners is starting to make a convert out of me. Plus with all of the hectic stuff that’s going on in our geo-political universe as of late, sometimes you just want to feel good. And nothing feels better than helping somebody find their lost dog.

So in the interest of spreading some of that good feeling around, and also just to let you know that this crew exists and can help you if you’ve lost your dog, I’ve posted some of my favorite shots below. Please enjoy them. And if you or anyone you know has lost their pup… send them to findshadow.com for some help.

Thornton Dial, American Artist (1928 – 2016)

Thornton Dial.

Thornton Dial, self taught and internationally renowned artist, died this week at his home in Alabama. Photo courtesy of aptv.org

“Art is like a bright star up ahead in the darkness of the world… a guide for every person who is looking for something.”

Wise words, spoken from the heart by one of America’s greatest artists, Thornton Dial, who died this week at 87 years old. A self taught African American artist, Dial spent most of his professional life as a metal worker and created art in his back yard, in poverty and relative obscurity, until he was ‘discovered’ by the Atlanta folk art collector William Arnett at the age of 62.

By the mid nineties, Dial’s work was being shown in museums and galleries around the world and his reputation slowly grew, particularly among students and admirers of American folk artists. His work is now in the collections of major museums and he is widely regarded as one of the most important artists to emerge in the US during the second half of the twentieth century.

His work is complex, masterful, inspirational and intricate, and it pushes boundaries, raises uncomfortable issues and touches our hearts. He is at once “self taught” and a true master of his craft who will continue to blur the lines, categories and pigeonholes of the art world even though his time with us on the planet is over.

To dive deeper (which all of you should) check out this Studio360 podcast, this celebration of Dial’s life and work on hyperallergic, a fascinating article in the New Yorker about the complicated relationship between Dial, Arnett (his largest collector and champion) and the art world at large, and what I like to call the “official” obituary in the New York Times.

Monday, Monday– or a few ideas for sharing the meaning of MLK day with your kids

MLK and family

Martin Luther King, Jr is greeted by his family after having been released from prison in 1960.

You and your preschoolers can watch this Brain Pop animation which tells a brief history of the life of Dr King.

National Geographic kids tells the story of the great communicator with a series of historical photographs and captions that help to create a picture of what his life was really like. Without going into too much of the potentially upsetting images of dogs and firehoses.

Enchanted learning is full of printouts, short articles and activities for kids. These are great resources that you can draw on any time you want to start going a bit deeper into the struggle against racial injustice in this country.

So there’s this 11 year old boy called Kid President who (along with his family) has created a series of videos on YouTube that have the simple goal of changing the world for the better by spreading the love and being awesome. Here’s what he has to say about Dr King.

And last but not least, lets think of this day for our kids as the beginning of a potential lifetime of working to make the world a more just place for all of us (that Kid President stuff is catching on over here…) Here’s a list of kids books about everyday heroes to get us all inspired.

This is potentially more than I can take

Alan RIckman Gaklaxy QUest

Alan Rickman in one of my favorite roles: as Sir Alexander Bell playing the stoic Dr Lazarus on Galaxy Quest.

Just last night, my daughter and I were watching Harry Potter and the Goblet Of Fire (for probably the 35th time) and I heard myself saying, out loud, to nobody in particular, that I was so happy there are people in the world like Alan Rickman, because I have no idea how I would have survived so many repeated viewings of the 8 Potter movies without his luminous performance.

I’m sure that most of you have seen his Severus Snape, but I am here to tell you that his Dr Lazarus in Galaxy Quest is every bit as profound, brilliantly hysterical, and not to be missed.

Here’s to you, Mr Rickman. You will be sorely missed.

I am too sad to write a real post today…

kid david bowie

David Bowie, back when he was just David Robert Jones.

My mother, who is at once one of the loveliest and least sentimental people I know, cried when Jackie O passed away back in 1994. She explained to me that she felt as if a part of her had died too. This morning, when I first heard the news about David Bowie, I finally understood exactly what she meant.

I’ll be back on track tomorrow, I’m sure. But today, I’ll leave you with this New York Times obituary and a really interesting and insightful e mail exchange I read between two writers who thought they were crafting tributes to the thin white duke after Grantland.com got a tip (back in 2012) that Mr Bowie was on his last legs and would be dying at any moment.

Terrie Gross (of NPR’s Fresh Air) of course has something meaningful to say, plus she replays some great moments from her 2002 Bowie interview:

Also this photo, which features my favorite hair incarnation:

bowie

David Bowie (1947 – 2016)

And this song, which is one of the sweetest songs ever written from a parent to a kid:

Kooks

Will you stay in our Lovers’ Story
If you stay you won’t be sorry
‘Cause we believe in you
Soon you’ll grow so take a chance
With a couple of Kooks
Hung up on romancing

We bought a lot of things
to keep you warm and dry
And a funny old crib on which the paint won’t dry
I bought you a pair of shoes
A trumpet you can blow
And a book of rules
On what to say to people
when they pick on you
‘Cause if you stay with us you’re gonna be pretty Kookie too

[CHORUS]

And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up
this old fool
Don’t pick fights with the bullies
or the cads
‘Cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s Dads
And if the homework brings you down
Then we’ll throw it on the fire
And take the car downtown

[CHORUS (repeat ad inf.)]

I was thinking about Maya Angelou today

In honor of National Poetry Day (which is today, in case you all missed the memo), please take 5 minutes out and listen to Maya Angelou, one of the most profound poets to come out of this country, if not the world, read her poem “The Mask”. It is words like these which remind us all of what a monumental feat it has been for so many just to hang on to their humanity in this world.

It’s not the best recording, but the combination of watching Angelou’s face and listening to her voice dig deep into this profound subject is well worth the video glitches.

Here are the words:

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

For any of you who want to dig deeper, this poem is actually an adaptation of an earlier poem by Paul Lawrence called “We Wear The Mask.” There is a very thoughtful post by Marie-Thérèse O’Loughlin which compares the two works that is well worth reading.