Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Great Moby-Dick Read-Along

My 1972 edition of Moby-Dick that I've pulled from my bookshelf to finally read
Everyone in my daughter's grade has to read Melville's Moby-Dick.  It's a tradition, a rite-of-passage.  The headmaster encouraged us parents to "join the fun" and read along with our student.


I first tried to read Moby-Dick in junior high, but the voluminous tome about manic obsession and killing a whale held zero interest for me. I didn't read far.   If we were going to read long books about animal struggles, I much preferred one of my favorite books: Richard Adams's Watership Down, a tale of courage, friendship and, well, rabbits.  

Nonetheless, as a grown-up and a parent, I decided that I had better give Moby-Dick another shot.  And thus began what I am calling The Great Moby-Dick Read-Along and, potentially, the re-evaluation of my initial impressions.  I'm actually enjoying the book.  The seemingly never-ending sentences that annoyed and bothered me as a teen I now see as the voice of a chatty friend, trying desperately to give as complete a picture as possible of his impressions and experiences.  I've discovered the narrator has a sense of humor, something that escaped me in the past.  And I'm beginning to look forward to reading what comes next.  I don't know if I'll still feel that way on page 573, in the middle of the chapter titled "Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish?", but for now I'm entertained.  Perhaps you can understand why:

Who ain't a slave?  Tell me that. Well, then however the old sea-captain may order me about -- however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way -- either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and be content. (p. 96 - 97)

I remembered a story of a white man -- a whaleman too -- who, falling among the cannibals, had been tattooed by them.  I concluded that this harpooneer, in the course of his distant voyages, must have met with a similar adventure.  And what is it, thought I, after all? It's only his outside; a man can be honest in any sort of skin. (p. 114)

For all his tattooings he was on the whole a clean, comely looking cannibal.  What's all this fuss I have been making about, thought I to myself -- the man's a human being just as I am: he has just as much reason to fear me, as I have to be afraid of him.  Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian.  (p. 118)

If I continue to enjoy the book, I may continue to report back.  I mean, who doesn't want to hear about a book in which a character is described thusly -- "Queepqueg was George Washington cannibalistically developed"?  Now doesn't that paint an interesting picture?

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Flurry of Photo News

I've recently gotten good news about my photography.

Beach Cluster, ©Vivien Zepf

For those of you who didn't see my "shout-it-from-the-rooftops" announcement on Facebook last week, Beach Cluster is one of two of my photographs that was juried into The Print Show at the Katonah Museum of Art that will run concurrent to the next exhibition, SupraEnvironmental.  Works by Kiki Smith and Lousie Bourgeouis are also part of The Print Show.  Whee!  I'm feeling honored, thrilled, nervous... all those emotions that go along with taking a huge leap and somehow finding oneself in a strange new world.  I just got my loan agreement from the museum.  I'm going to be able to put "museum" on my resume!  How crazy is that???  Now I'm working with the lab to print these images on metallic paper to 24" x 36".  They will positively shimmer and pop.
Georgia Poppy ©Vivien Zepf
Also, this is one of two of my photos that will be hanging at the Northern Westchester Hospital for a year, beginning in January, 2016.  Artists were asked to submit artwork of a celebratory nature as part of an exhibition for the hospital's 100th anniversary.  I sent in two flower images, not knowing if they were suitable to the theme, and was very pleased to learn they accepted both.  The organizers asked me to print them as large as possible so I've printed them as 24" x 36" canvasses that will be wrapped on stretcher bars.  I decided on this presentation because 1) the canvas is durable for the long exhibition time, 2) the wrapped canvas has a complete look without a frame, 3) I don't have the added expense of a large frame and Plexiglas, and 4) if they don't sell, the material is suitable for hanging in my master bathroom, and I've been dying to find a picture that can withstand the humidity.  I'll be dropping the canvasses off at the framer's this week so they're done in plenty of time.  Postponing this project to the end of the year would only give me grief in the midst of the hectic holiday season.  No, it's best to get it done now and store them safely until needed. I'll post pictures when they're done.

Thanks for letting me share my good news!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My First Lesson Plan

I'm not a classroom teacher in real life, but I had to pretend to be one in order to complete my Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art class. The final project required that we each select an artwork and create a lesson plan that tied back to our curriculum, using the artwork as the starting point.  Ideally, the project we created would allow for multiple outcomes, meaning that we wanted the activity to be open-ended enough to allow for lots of different results  This was to be presented as if we were doing an activity in a museum or classroom setting with the artwork in view.

Oh, did I mention we also had to give peer reviews on at least five other participants' lesson plans, too? We had one week to do both, and you could only give critiques after you'd submitted your own project.

Let me tell you, this really stretched my brain muscles.  I felt like I'd jumped off the deep end.

As I noted in my previous post, I chose Frida Kahlo's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.  I had seen it when I went to the Frida Kahlo exhibit at the NY Botanical Gardens -- a rather underwhelming exhibit, if you ask me -- but it seemed ideal for my project. 

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940

I called my lesson plan "Personal Symbolism and Interpretation".  Here's what I submitted, following the format we were asked adhere to.

English Literature, High School

Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, 16" x  24"
Theme and Curriculum Connection:

Upon seeing Frida Kahlo's 1940 "Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" viewers wonder why.  For example, why did she portray herself in this setting surrounded by these animals?  What do you think it mean to her?  What does it suggest to you?  This project facilitates the identification and discussion of personal symbols within a narrative, whether textual or visual, and reinforces the students' acceptance of multiple interpretations of the same symbol.

Activity Goals:

  • Students will be asked to articulate their thoughts and understanding of an individual in a narrative through symbolism, building clarity of thought and, hopefully, leading to more clarity in writing.  
  • Students will also build understanding that symbols are the result of personal context and experiences and, therefore, the same image can be viewed in many ways by different people.  The goal is to give students confidence that their own understanding and interpretations are valid, provided they can support their point of view, and encourage original thought.

Activity Instructions:

  1. Students are each given a blank note card and a pencil or pen.
  2. After reflecting on Kahlo's work, each student will individually identify two symbols in the work and then write down words, references, or emotions they believe these symbols convey.  There is no restriction on what a student can decide is a symbol. 
  3. Once complete, the students will share their thoughts with the group, sharing their interpretations and supporting explanations.  The goal should be to identify and discuss the similarities and differences in the multiple interpretations.  Respectful disagreements are welcome because it will enable students to defend their point of view, as they would have to in any critical discourse on paper or in person.  

Wanna be in my class? 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Crunch Time is Over

I did it!  I've managed to check a number of things off my very task heavy to-do list.  Here are three:

1) SPUN is done -- In other words, the entry images were prepared, the juror made her selections, the artists were notified, and exhibition paperwork was distributed.  Now we get to sit back and wait for all the fabulous art to come in.  It looks like it's going to be a great show.  I'm so excited!  I hope you'll all be able to come to the opening on October 3, from 6 - 8PM.  If not, stop by Etui FiberArt Gallery anytime from October 3-31 to see the exhibition.

Henrik HÃ¥kansson, Untitled (Cocos nucifera)

2) The docent training packet is done -- In other words, I've submitted what I hope is the final draft of my presentation.  I just love jumping off the deep end into intense research.  It's going to be a very cool and thought-provoking exhibition.  The image above is a sampling of what's going to be on display.  Curious?  I hope so.  SupraEnvironmental will be at the Katonah Museum of Art from October 25, 2015 - January 24, 2016.  I'll be leading all the tours the first week so I hope you'll come see and talk about the art.

3) Art & Activity: Interactive Strategies for Engaging with Art is done -- In other words, I completed all my assignments, final projects and passed my class.  (I'm not sure I told you I was doing this.)  The final project was to create a lesson plan based on a piece of art of our own choosing from any time period or genre.  I'll tell you more in a later post but for now, I'll share with you the artwork I selected for my lesson plan:

Frida Kahlo, Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, 16" x 24"

I'm excited by all that's been going on and I'm looking forward to getting back into the studio and doing a bit more reading. I read a very good book last week called Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger.   It's about childhood, every-day miracles, family, tragedy, and forgiveness.  It was beautifully and engagingly written.  Have you read it?  I recommend it if you haven't; everyone in my book group liked it, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Back to business

I've squeezed every last bit of summer out of the last ten days before my daughter started school again.

I've added gold highlights and flung paint on my cheesecloth-textured cloth,

used the left over grey to paint loads of circles (though heavens knows what I'll do with this),

packaged up and sent off Betwixt and Cosmic Sunset, both of which were juried into Quilts Unlimited at View in Old Forge, NY,

spent a fun weekend visiting our oldest at Notre Dame and tailgating,

and cheering the football team from two rows from the top of the stadium

with my four brother and sister-in-laws (though you only see the youngest SIL here).  We had a great time.

Now it's back to business.  There's back-end administrative work to do for SPUN and still lots to do for my upcoming docent training presentation.  We had the first review of my draft yesterday.  I also met the new assistant curator and the media coordinator. What a great group of professionals who are generous with their time and knowledge!

Lots more to do this week, most notably, I have to get some photographs prepared for exhibition!  More on that later.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Time's Running Out...

... to enter SPUN, the fiber art exhibition for which I'm co-director with Jane Davila.  The on-line entry deadline is SEPTEMBER 4, just six days away!  Don't miss out on your chance to have your work juried into this show by Robbin Zella, Director of the Housatonic Museum.  The maximum size for 2D and 3D art is 24"W x 60" L.  I look forward to your entries!!

Prospectus details can be found at 

Time's also running out for me to create a piece for my fiber art group's upcoming show at the View in Old Forge, NY.  I have an idea, but now it's pedal to the metal to get it done on time.  I took the first step today when I went paint a piece of fabric on my driveway.  (I just love the texture the asphalt makes.)  I complicated things by adding in some pieces of cheesecloth.  Lesson learned: start painting over cheesecloth by dabbing with a sponge, NOT a brayer.  The unsecured cheesecloth pieces just got stuck on the brayer and wrapped around it.  Oops.  Also, it's also best to paint in a more protected area; breezes, while lovely on a hot day, don't play well with cloth just barely held down with stones.

Little flecks of dirt are now part of my artwork forever.  Oh well.  Character, right?

The cloth is back inside, resting on my work table.  Tomorrow's task: adding bits of color texture to make this a bit more interesting and complex.  Shall I fling paint at it?  Rub with oil sticks?  Both?  I'll decide tomorrow.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Fun with Riffs

In my last two posts, I've been hinting at the pleasure I've had reading Kathy Loomis's new book, Pattern-Free Quilting, Riffs on the Rail Fence Block.

I'm also honored that Kathy asked me to provide a review of the book.  Put simply, this is a great book to have on your shelves.  Why?  Let me explain:

1) Kathy is an excellent writer.  It can get dull reading pattern books but Kathy's lively writing style, anecdotes, and examples make it interesting and entertaining.  As I noted in my previous post, I love Kathy's analogy of creative quilting to cooking; recipes evolve with the addition of an ingredient here or the subtraction of another there.  Using the rail fence block as the starting point -- the basic recipe -- we can each modify this traditional pattern so that it transforms into something that's uniquely our own.  Even more advanced quilters can get ideas on how to manipulate an idea to take it to the next level; Kathy makes suggestions throughout on how to up the ante during the design process.   Because of this, I think this would also be a good book for anyone interested in working in a series and exploring how to keep the ideas fresh.  She shares thoughts on
    -- color combinations
    -- fabric selection
    -- shape manipulation
    -- free hand vs. ruler cutting
Yep, plenty there to keep you busy!

2) The book includes many images, both quilts and line drawings, to illustrate the variety of ways blocks can be arranged to different effect.  So often we forget that a 90° rotation creates lots of options.  And this leads to Kathy's mantra of Sew First, Plan Second.  Just create a stack of blocks and see where they take you.  It's liberating, sometimes scary, but always fun.  It is, really, the best way to learn to develop your own voice and to listen to it.

3) Some of Kathy's art quilts are in the gallery and it wasn't until I read the book that it registered that these were all crafted from manipulated rail fence blocks.  I really liked that there was a simple reference chart after each quilt summarizing the elements: how the rail blocks were created, in what arrangement, the color decisions, etc.  For beginners and advanced quilters alike, sometimes we just want to know "How did she do that?"  Kathy's book takes away some of the mystery and makes the creative process accessible to even the most beginning quilter.

After reading the book, I decided to try my hand at a rail fence project.  I started with a group of fabrics my sister had once compiled (she loved the color purple and Japanese-inspired fabrics):

Since I'm on a circle kick I decided to sew blocks in such a way so that, when laid out, they'd resemble a circle.

NO, NO, NO!  This was a mess and probably didn't work because 1) I forgot about the Sew First, Plan Second -- I was trying too hard, and 2) there was too much pattern inherent within the fabrics to look good like this; they didn't mesh well in a "blob".  So I took the blocks off the wall and wondered what to do.  I realized that some of the blocks were, in fact, lovely together; they just needed more breathing room.  Aha!  I cut several blocks apart to make new rail fence units and ultimately arranged them in the basket weave pattern after fiddling with other layouts as well.

This has the makings of a nice table runner that I think I'll set out on
my sister's birthday.  I think that will be a nice tribute to her.

Much better.  Yes, I ended up with a more traditional-looking arrangement of block but, ultimately, my goal was to showcase what my sister had collected and this layout supports that goal.  Forcing the fabric grouping into a preconceived idea wasn't going to work or make me happy.  I had to listen to the fabrics and go from there.  To quote Kathy's book, "I believe that the fabric will let me know whether it’s happy with what I’m doing with it, and give me clues about what I should do next. That’s where the excitement comes from!"(page 9)

Yes, it really is fun to throw planning to the wind and to see where you end up.  Give it a go with Kathy's excellent book as your guide.  Don't worry; you won't end up floundering.  You'll find your own path and that's exciting!!  You can buy the book here.