Thursday, December 20, 2007

anthenaeum's wild imagination exhibit: outsider artist james harold jennings (part one)

North Carolinian Ginger Young collected an exceptional group of works for her curated show: Wild Imagination. The exhibit, featuring rarely seen works by six self-taught artists from the American South, is currently on display at Alexandria's Athenaeum (Dec. 15, 07 - Jan 27, 08). The entire show has a combined commercial value over six figures and is whispered to be attracting the attention of some noted Smithsonianites. I have never seen so many Howard Finster's works (there are eight) in one venue; they excitingly and aptly depict several points along his artistic journey.

It's rare indeed to find such a collection of true outsider artists anywhere locally except for at the American Visionary Museum in Baltimore, or at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, or in the Outsider Art Show held there each January. Rarer still, is when one finds them in a quiet and unobtrusive historic hall used for part time ballet classes and other cultural events.

Young assembled such revolutionary outsider artists original works such as Howard Finster, Mose Tolliver, Jimmie Lee Sudduth, James Arthur Snipes, Nellie Mae Rowe, and James Harold Jennings. Amazingly, they all sit there on the wall with the light peacefully streaming in - check your hours of operation before you go - it took us two tries to gain access.

Of the Harold Jennings (1931 - 1999) pieces, one can see: Windmill; James Harold; Amazon Women; Indian Abstract; Spinning Man; Indian Family; Statue of Liberty; and Tall Woman. It's difficult to believe these works came from an eccentrically reclusive child who dropped out of school after the fifth grade. His school teacher mother home schooled him in the rural area of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He read dictionaries, encyclopedias, and magazines such as Popular Mechanics and National Geographic. Jennings worked for a time on his family's tobacco farm. Later, he was a night watchman and a movie projectionist - disliking both jobs.

When his mother died in1974, he received a small inheritance and supported himself by picking up bottles and cans along the road. Jennings' moved out of his home and began organizing three abandoned school buses, which were located across the street, in a sort of environmental assemblage. He slept and read in a big orange one, cooked and ate in another, and in the third, he created and stored his art. He lived from the late l980’s until his death in 1999 without electricity, telephone, or running water.

James Harold Jennings made by hand an estimated 4,000-plus works of art, most of them accomplished later in life. He worked non-stop and daily on his painstakingly detailed wood pieces. He carved and painted brightly colored figures with happy and bold strokes. His earlier works featured mechanical pieces with moving parts, but these tapered off as time went on.

Jennings’ was known to press his fingers into his closed eyelids for inspired ideas created by the blotches of color which appeared. Calling himself the “sun, moon and star artist,” he often used these symbols of nature. He began using scrap lumber to make assorted whimsical pieces such as whirligigs, windmills, and Ferris Wheels.

It wasn't long before pilgrims-in-the-know began searching him out. He remained shy and reclusive, but demonstrated pride with his spectacular crowns, symbolism of women, rows of Indians, animals, and imaginary creatures, all blowing about in the wind. He is reported to have said that his work was inspired by religion, but his inspirations came from experiences with “astral projection and metempsychosis.”

Jennings' work has been considered to be a outlay of Appalachian art traditions which embrace abstraction. Jennings' work was influenced by dreams, visions, and occasional articles and books.

Perhaps his visionary spirit finally got the better of him. On April 20, 1999, "Indian" James Harold Jennings committed suicide. His 69th birthday is said to have ended with failing health and fears about the impending millennium. Fortunately for us who did not know him, in 2002, The Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, NC, mounted an exhibition of his life and work entitled "Health, Happiness, and Metempsychosis."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

why every starving artist should be listing on eBay

The statistics for eBay art sales are a bit confounding if you try to pinpoint exactly what in the art genre is selling and why. But if you can believe Lisa Suttor, Founder/CEO of eBay Certified Provider who yesterday sponsored a workshop on Unlocking the Potential of Your Business, there were 32 million unique visitors to eBay on December 2 & 9, 2007.

Even though online shopping is still considered in its infancy, on December 10, 2007, the highest figure in retail selling hit 880 million dollars in 24 hours. That's HIGHEST EVER! 880 million dollars and a significant jump from last year on December 13, 2006 when the market hit the 633 million dollar mark.

Elsewhere on the web, we picked up unconfirmed stats. Estimates are that 95 million users spend $894 per second and another estimate has the same users spending $92,000 a minute (i know, the math doesn't add). Did you know 10 million or more e-Bay bids are placed every day? Daily, 100,000 new people register on eBay to buy and or sell. Each day over 2 million new items are offered and one estimate placed over 2,000 bids made on art work alone every hour. Amazingly, this afternoon at lunch a mere 206,888 items were available for sale (using a search field of all art). There were over 6,000 photographs and over 8,000 sculpture pieces.

You know, 6,000 or something photographs divided by how many million users? Part of the reason e-Bay statistics are unknown is because art is not a commodity that can be fully regulated, and e-Bay features such as e-Bay stores capitalize on compounded or referral sales. Quotes on revenue are difficult to track. We know of no known data on buyer demographics, original versus reproduction sales, numbers of galleries, independents, auction houses, etc. that may be masking themselves with e-Bay's anonymous trade names. And anyone in the art world is very familiar with the resale market of art, so tracking true and unique sales is quite a challenge.

Some limited statistics for major international auction sales can be found in database publishers like, Gordon's Art Reference, or Art Sales Index to name a few. Surely, if you as a starving artist want to PAY someone to give you rough statistics on what sells, there are a myriad of online companies specializing in just that feature alone. Probably the best source to date is Art Price's "Art Market Trends."

eBay does offer helpful tips to those who are just starting out and they include: organization tips; price selling point tips; timely days/hours to post; ways to capitalize on potential offers; ways to list your item to attract the most visitors; and something we touched on briefly yesterday - using the data to propel your art business forward as business relationship intelligence.

If the exponential growth rate of eBay doesn't scream, "Hey you, get off your chair and let's get listing," then I don't know what will. Consider this. Not only do you stand a very good chance (given proper marketing, etc.) of selling on e-Bay for MORE than what you might via other commercial channels, but now eBay offers the seller an opportunity to donate to a charitable cause of their choice. So you can profit and the world profits with you. Ingenious.

Make no mistake, eBay takes time to master and it's not for the weak of heart. Artists and galleries have to dedicate time to grow a successful eBay business. When you consider the global market artists have at their hands and feet through the eBay portal, it's time well spent. And remember ... you are not too late, you didn't miss the boat. This week and next present an EXCELLENT window for you to gear up and get ready for a successful (no more starving) 2008.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Arts Professionals and Commercial Web Innovators: Trends to Engage Customers

Commercial web innovators such as Schwab, FedEx, OnStar, and eBay are some industry leaders who are developing strategies and tactics to engage customers online. David Zanca, SVP e-Commerce Technologies, with FedEx and Chris Murphy, Senior Executive Editor, with Information Week, hosted an Internet Evolution Webinar this morning to help explain leadership thought in developing and building valuable business relationships. The concepts being used in the commercial sector are directly applicable to the arts. For example, Schwab uses technology to listen to non-customers. OnStar relies on users for developing research. eBay uses in-person forums and data for information.

1. The arts community must continue to capitalize on improvements to technology access. Access creates an extended marketplace. This in turn creates value and improves overall quality of life.

2. Connectedness, communities, and similar interest forms (i.e. MySpace, Second Life, Yahoo Groups, Craigslist) will help to continue to create a marketplace that transcends time, space, information, and other previous obstacles. Increased access to technology results in increased personal satisfaction, business expansion, national economic growth, higher expectations, innovation, and investment. Similar personal interests will continue to drive community attraction - if you're interested in race-car art, equestrian art, or Japanese silk weaving - there's a community of like-minded enthusiasts for you.

3. The online arts community must work to create seamless electronic transactions and simple integration; key to improved business sales. One-stop "clicking" is imperative. Your gallery customers, museum attendees, and art community must be able to perform the intended action on one site (in one sitting) without having to click over to PayPal to pay for an artwork, or FedEx to ship an item, or worse - having to constantly click back and forth between a home page and various screens where art work is being displayed.

4. The arts world must shift from a "destination" perspective (i.e. clicking on to a particular museum) to a "connection" perspective (i.e. what can I do once I get to the museum - how does the museum connect me to the arts, to upcoming events, to resources, or to other people). Think of your site as a portal or a gateway. To achieve this, the arts world must continue to talk to all different segments of the population, must examine changes in the arts marketplace, and must strive to understand the available functionality of new technologies (i.e. how can we use Blackberry technology to improve arts awareness and advocate arts participation?)

5. Arts professionals must listen to and strive to remain aware of shifts in how people are working and what they need to perform their functions. This is particularly important in fundraising, development, and public relations campaigns. If we can provide people the capability to use technology, we can integrate the services we offer - thereby facilitating the connections.

6. Have you thought about blog applications, social networking, instant e-mail campaigns, using high-end graphics, or techniques for sharing best practices and exchanging knowledge? The arts already has the benefit of being for and about people. The winning business strategies moving forward will be centered on services built around what's valuable to the people in our colorfully intelligent community.

7. Finally, the arts site simply has to be visually engaging, welcoming, and beautifully designed. Some recent estimates give the average computer user 3 to 5 seconds of "decision time" in initial determinations of whether they will stay and browse. The more your site is designed for your community, the more attraction you will ultimately create.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Can a self-taught tissue paper mosaicist blend into the Washington Color School?

Bryan Jernigan says yes! One of six kids growing up in Oklahoma in the 70's, Jernigan was introduced to art by his mom, a painter and quilter. And as the only one of his siblings who continued with art (albeit on a part-time basis), Jernigan's making big impressions with his tissue paper mosaics.

About two years ago, Jernigan began exploring his art interests with his jeweler wife, friends in the art community, and area art associations. He was told his work wasn't something one saw every day; a fact that has worked positively for him. His recent submissions to a color field competition judged by Sam Gilliam, won Jernigan two Equal Awards (the top 11 entries). The competition was held in advance of an upcoming Irreplaceable Hue show at Arlington's Cassatt's Cafe & Gallery. Opening reception is scheduled December 2, 2007 4:30 - 7:30.

Of 100 entries, about two-thirds of the works were selected by Gilliam for their influence or reflection upon the Washington Color School. When asked about Jernigan's acrylic piece, Vent et Pluie (shown left), he says it was definately color inspired. Whereas his tissue mosaics have hard edges and a graphic feel, Jernigan wanted to try different techniques reminiscent of Morris Louis' work with thinned acylic paint-like washes ... overlapping vials of paint.

Dansl'eau "In The Water," (shown left) is a Jernigan tissue mosaic not featured in the show. Jernigan first constructs cuts tissue paper pieces and then assembles them like a puzzle into various shapes, mostly triangular and rectangular. Jernigan says his work is non-representative, although it has been likened to space-age 1960's, funky-hippie, and similar to something that might hang over Dick Van Dyke's fireplace. Jernigan denies any political meaning; rather he'd like to have fun.

"I want to let people see things in a new way with color and simplicity. I want people to look at my work and imagine what it means to them. It's there for the purpose of being art. People respond to color in different ways; they respond to color and placement. It's like a maze. I'm interested in seeing the paths and avenues created by the color."

Jernigan points to the field of DNA mapping where X and Y axis are converted to color shades as being in the embrionic stages of his artistic thinking. He says he finds himself attracted to geographic maps, aerial views, and digitized maps of cities and surrounding areas. Perhaps this accounts for his top down approach and his reluctance to work with circle shapes.

"Circles with tissue paper are just a nightmare. I once did a series of small works involving landscapes and trees, very simple as an experiment. People were more willing to purchase them because they felt more comfortable with them - landscapes are something you can safely hang in the dining room in Washington, DC. I'm not sure I'd want to do that again."

Jernigan seeks a group of abstract artists, either in a studio or community setting, where he can feel comfortable to create and be much like his predecessors: Davis, Mehring, Downing, and Reed. These well known Washington Color Scholars exhibited periodically at Jefferson Place Gallery and subsequently expanded their influence. They achieved a dominant presence in the Washington DC visual art community from the 1960s to the 1970s; Jernigan hopes his name will be added in the 2000s.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

art brut, outsider art, and visionary art research: the national coalition of independent scholars

Shauna Lee Lange Arts Advisory Service is pleased to announce our affiliation with The National Coalition of Independent Scholars in the field of art brut, outsider art, and visionary art research. NCIS provides a network of independent researchers with a forum for shared methods and findings. NCIS publishes a quarterly journal, The Independent Scholar, and holds biennial conferences. The association is supported by regional groups; we are looking forward to working with the Capital Area Independent Scholars. NCIS is also an affiliate member of the American Council of Learned Societies.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Andrea Ellen Reed’s Sweet Struggle @ The Target Gallery: Power Seeks a Vacuum.

Years ago when I was working for the Department of the Navy in Newport, Rhode Island, I had a mentor with whom I could safely share some of the idiosyncrasies of working with certain personalities. And I still remember what he said. Power seeks a vacuum. Meaning that power goes to where there is a void, to where the void can be filled by a personality larger than itself, and to where there is no competition. And so it is with artwork that arrests us in its riveting, shocking, and disturbing elements. Powerful artwork causes one to shift entirely. And when that powerful artwork is directed at a subject that exists in everyday life, that we all walk around living with, but no one seems to really want to squarely address, well that’s power seeking a vacuum.

Andrea Reed’s problem, if she has one, is that she does not yet fully recognize the potentiality for the vacuum sucking up the her work or its message. If I had her here with me at this moment, I’d be doing some serious career planning with her and not just career planning the art world. She’s Al Sharpton and Jessie Jackson reincarnate. She’s Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman and Grandma Moses and Salvatore Salgado, but she doesn’t know it. I wonder what’s more dangerous. Having the power, hitting the mark, daring to speak the communication, or doing all of that and not having any inkling of what you’ve done. I imagine it’s kind of like sitting at a slot machine, when you’re an inexperienced gambler and you hit the jackpot and you’re not really sure what actually happened or what comes next. It’s amazing, you’re happy, you’re thinking about the money, but you have no clue what it is you’ve actually done or how rare it happens.

Several times at last night’s opening reception, one could hear the words, “powerful,” “disturbing,” “brave,” and “raw.” And they are all true. Reed seemingly does not completely recognize the timeliness of her black/racism/social condition message in a day of Duane Chapman, Don Imus, and Michael Richards and the controversies over demeaning language, its use, its application. Nor does Reed realize the power of an introspective and respectable examination of black stereotypes, black societal problems, and the black experience. She’s timely, she’s ahead of her time, and she’s behind the times all at once, it’s incongruent and it’s fascinating.

She says it herself, “I was fearful of how people would perceive the work.” And as you age, you realize that all that time you spent worrying about what other people think was time wasted. What should she care what other people think of her blackface images? It’s honest. It’s true. It’s presented in a nonjudgmental way, almost like a mirror. I want Reed to walk proudly. What she’s done is amazingly brave. She’s worried the black population will see her as airing dirty laundry; she’s worried whites will see her as capitalizing on negative stereotypes; she’s worried about staying true to herself; and she’s swimming in a sea of contemplation. And I want her not to give a flying frog what anyone else thinks, because when you’re a visionary, you get to stand alone. And it’s lonely, and it’s scary, and it’s all the MORE powerful because you’re the only one responding to the call, listening to the drumbeat, answering the higher cause.

And as I was walking through the Target Gallery, you know there’s a lot of glare from the lighting there, and I was thinking about how the glare in this case actually accentuates the large scale color photographs (a series of 10 diptychs on crimson/blood red background), giving a reflective appearance. It’s sort of like passing through the Vietnam Memorial; you can see yourself looking in at the picture. How powerful is THAT?

Today, the morning after, I find myself still conflicted about Reed. On the one hand, I feel bad that she herself honestly says, “I’m not exactly sure where I’m going to go. I don’t think the project is over and I want to continue with it.” She needs a serious mentor. She’s talent untapped. She’s it. She’s the real thing. And I’m thinking YOU may not know where you’re going to go, but I sure as heck think I have an idea. I’m reminded of the time I saw Yoko Ono’s work in San Francisco. THIS is an artist. THIS is art.

And so it is with Reed. She has difficulty articulating what she’s trying to say, but the thing of it is - she doesn’t need to. It’s clear. It’s blackface. It’s the mask worn. It’s the clownish behavior. It’s the mask of who we are as a people and what we do. And who is behind the mask. We’re ignorant, you know, white and black, all of us – and what do we think about it? Killing each other, gang violence, fatherless homes, selling out in exchange for the big house, broken self esteem, trying to achieve unreachable ideals established by someone other than ourselves, searching through meaning in acquisition of money, and things, and respect, and acceptance. Oh Lord.

On the other hand, I’m so excited about Reed. She admits, “I’m young, I’m still growing, I’m still trying to find my voice.” One of the things about youth, and I would tell Reed this too, is that you don’t know what you had at the time you had it until much later in life. Any of us who goes back to look at a photograph of an earlier self may catch themselves saying, “Damn. I looked good.” But we didn’t really know it at the time, did we?

Reed doesn’t know what she has. She hit the freaking jackpot, the end of the rainbow, the statement and work that takes some artists and photographers a lifetime to achieve. And she has it. She has it now. She could stop. Right here and never do another thing. She could go on tour. She could give lectures. She could sell at Christies and Sotheby’s and not for $3,000 a shot either. Commercially, she needs marketing. She needs exposure. She needs mainstream. Personally, she needs serious representation. SHE needs mentors. Reed can be the next voice of the people. Reed’s a revolutionary. She’s a seer. She understands. She gets it. She communicates it. She dares.

I go back through the gallery and I imagine the next life of these works. I’m thinking about redesigning the entire Barbie Doll Headquarters Enterprise. I’m imagining walking into a reception area with Reed’s “Barbie Girl” hanging behind a coiffed and reserved corporate greeter in front of a massively cold marble wall. “Barbie Girl” is an image that shows a young black woman, in hideous blackface makeup, squeezing the waist of a blonde, white Barbie Doll. A figure the woman will never have. A culture the woman will never relate to. And in the interim, the woman is holding her own mid-section. The smallest part of her is ever so enormous compared to the smallest part of the doll. This is what I mean by power. Reed’s tapped into every woman’s pain. Every woman’s inability to reach Barbie Doll perfection. And it’s not enough that she points to this feminist, beauty, perfection complex, she then adds the experience of being black and being a black woman in this culture on top of it. It’s quiet, yet it yells. It’s subdued, yet it feels like being submerged.

Fear is a powerful thing. And I suspect Reed is fearful on some subconscious level of what she’s actually achieved. She has the vision of what she wants to say, yet she steps back from really standing firm in her own conviction. And this comes with age, too. She spoke last evening about how the experience of showing at the Target Gallery and the attending the exhibition was a bit overwhelming for her. She stumbles a bit as she speaks. She’s embarrassed when slide photos come up too dark on the viewing screen. None of it matters. You, Ms. Reed, overwhelm us! You’ve taken survey. You’ve taken a look around at the black experience. You’ve said this is what’s ugly to me and not only is it ugly to me; it should be ugly to all of us. And you’re right. Completely right.

Reed speaks about using the light in the photographs in an ominous way. And she shares the story behind “Crack Head” and her attempts in San Francisco to acquire a crack pipe for the photograph. She explains she went to several places and honestly communicated what she was trying to do and her vision for the photographs and still was met with resistance, mistrust, or disbelief. She states her own personal experience was altered from this difficult project. One attendee pointed out that the hand of the young man who is holding the crack pipe is dirty and grainy. Reed states this is a result of having each of her models apply their own blackface makeup and the residue resulting from that. And she says interestingly that once the models finished with their masks, there was a distinct transformation and a very different energy in the studio, one she tried to capture on film.

I wonder whether Reed considered not using blackface, and truly I was encouraged by the amount of research and background Reed conducted in approaching the project. The images of the elements of our culture would have been just as powerful without blackface as they are with. The blackface is an added and very strong message about the ridiculousness of such a life – who are we entertaining? Where is the enjoyment? Why is no one laughing?

Reed says she felt she needed to make a statement about how blackface started in the white community and then was an “art form” adopted by black artists. She says she struggles to portray these issues and all of sudden, the lecture space becomes electrified and a little nervous when one attendee asks whether it would have been a different viewing experience if Ms. Reed were white. What? You have to be black to portray black issues? You can’t understand what it is for the rich when you’re poor? You can’t understand or portray nature as an artist if you live in the city? My head started spinning; Reed handles the question with grace.

She’s young. She’s introspective. She’s from small town Peoria, Illinois, she attended Howard University, and now lives in California. Her show features a piece entitled “The Bluest Eye.” It is inspired by Toni Morrison’s novel of the same name. And as I write this, my breathing becomes a little tight, for some reason, I still want to cry. The photograph shows a young woman removing the blue contact from one of her eyes and balancing it so gingerly on the tip of her extended finger. She has a skin condition, and she’s not Halle Berry. This is realism at its best. This is current, contemporary culture. Striving to be something we’re not out of rejection of what we are. This is all of us, balancing some aspect of ourselves, whether its work, family, health, finances, ever so lightly on the tip of a finger, able to be blown away with the slightest wind. Fragile. So fragile and so fruitless this constant struggling to be something else.

Of the ten works, any one of Reed’s diptychs could stand alone. Fully alone in a one-woman show. And she’s clever, that Reed. You’re so fascinated by the semi-automatic pointed to a young man’s head that you hardly even see the weapon has the same embedded line as the young man’s wife-beater t-shirt. Power. Care. Honesty. Shock. Reed’s saying, I see it and this is what I do about it. I make it art so others can see it too. I ask the question. And if that’s not a leader, I don’t know what one is.

She speaks about the work from a technical perspective. The feel, the focus, the framing. She shares how she worked with people she knew to create authentic characters, used Polaroids for tests, and opted for the split frame. You see, when power finds the vacuum, power wants to fill it. So Reed split the frames into large format diptychs because she wanted to show racism’s fragmentation. The separation from the whole. And the black frame is impenetrable, a border that cannot be broken. These are the reasons Reed won her spot on the highly competitive Open Exhibition Competition. I wanted to embrace the gallery management, and believe me; I rarely feel the urge to do that!

The Target Gallery’s mission is to challenge perspective, and gallery operatives stated last night’s turnout was one of the best yet. Reed’s work was selected by a blind outside juror panel. The show runs to December 2, 2007.

Friday, November 2, 2007

gerhardt knodel: the textile museum

Gerhardt Knodel unassumingly and somewhat professorily spoke last evening at the Textile Museum's New Lecture Series ( The esteemed textile artist (his 1978 work, Guardians of A New Day is shown above) is also the retiring director of the Cranbrook Academy of Art (

Knodel's animated and introspective lecture featured highlights of the recent exhibition "Hot House: Expanding the Field of Fiber at Cranbrook, 1970-2007." The lecture series, held in honor of Rebecca A.T. Stevens, Consulting Curator for Contemporary Textiles, was funded by Eleanor T. and Samuel J. Rosenfeld.

Knodel presented a slide show of exhibition highlights, thematically focused on a survey of major developments shaping the evolution of the fiber arts field from his 37-plus years of perspective. Knodel remarked, "The field of fiber has evolved in fantastic ways ... today, it is very potent." Of interest, were his thoughts on the language of fiber not being one of words and phrases, but of touch and physicality.

Knodel views 21st century as being one replete with significant change, change in our personal lives, change in the Textile Museum, and change in the field of fiber. He says that we find early 21st century textile works being jammed with bits and pieces, and that this is a microcosm of our world. As we are jammed together in terms of history, culture, political orientation, and vocation - the field of textiles is thirsty for inclusiveness, melding, and reforming or reshaping.

Knodel says retirement will bring him an opportunity to write a long harbored project - that of a book on the void having expressive meaning. As Knodel aptly puts, everything has an expressive life, but you have to come to it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Impressionists By The Sea: The Phillips Collection

More to come.

Going West - Quilts & Community @ The Renwick Gallery

We weren’t the only ones who could not (even with begging and pleading) gain admission to the Corcoran’s exhibits on a late Saturday afternoon, so if you are headed for the Leibovitz/Adams shows, get there early in the day! All wasn’t lost … the Renwick is a few short walking blocks away and we comfortably strolled through the Going West exhibit without nary an elbow bumping. The Renwick Gallery is a fine, first rate museum in its own right; it houses a dynamic collection of examples of American contemporary craft, art, and design spanning the 19th - 21st centuries.

Featured in the Going West exhibit are about 50 rare quilts from the first quarter of the 19th century to the 1930s. If you can imagine embarking on the journey out west, and having to bring along only a few cherished keepsakes, then your appreciation for the sentimentality of these items will be right on key. Or better yet, imagine the life of a woman newly established in her prairie home, and her need to create items not available at the local Target.

Necessity IS the mother of invention, and the Going West quilts prove that there was a deep focus on recording family history, using available objects (see the quilt made out of neckties), the irrefutable strength of the creative spirit, and the desire to commemorate important anniversaries in the lives of community members. It is interesting to consider how these quilts might have represented efforts in journaling or even fundraising. And from a crafts perspective, well they are just inspiring.

If you plan to visit the gorgeously detailed works, we would like to suggest a method of viewing. To really appreciate the work, materials, and time invested in craftsmanship, the trick is to stand as close to the quilt as the museum curators will allow. Isolate a six inch square, or a series of six inch squares, to really see the art embedded in the various cloths and stitches. This is particularly illuminating with the use of velvet cloth against other materials - one can see how the shimmer impacts the commonality of cotton cloth for example.

A quilt is a collage, a composite whole of smaller unrelated parts. And although the whole can be quite stunning, the devil is in the detail with a careful examination of the pieces. If you consider assemblage, construction, color selection, and composition, it will help to transport you back to the Wild West. Quilts from this exhibition are a fine example of a continuum along the tradition of useful textiles. They provide insight to the essential role that quilts and the making of quilts played in the lives of women on the frontier and they are (in my mind) a testament to feminism even, in their own sort-of-quasi-political-way.

The Going West exhibit runs to Jan 21, 2008. The Renwick Gallery is part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and is located on 17th Street & Pennsylvania Ave, NW. Admission is free. Hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., closed December 25. Tours and General Info: 202-633-8550. Be sure to check the calendar, as the Renwick hosts a series of crafts demonstrations, lectures, receptions, and musical performances in its mission to collect and preserve the finest in American crafts.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Annie Leibovitz: A Year Ago

In honor of Annie Leibovitz's A Photographer's Life Exhibition at the Corcoran, we are re-posting our story from last year.

The good folks over at Politics and Prose Bookstore in northwest DC ( had us packed in like sweltering sardines on October 16, 2006. The standing room only crowd gathered for one of the store’s most exciting author events ever. You never knew so many people could fit into such a cramped space without the fire department rushing in, but none of us cared very much. We were all there (some of us up to three hours early) to stake out our own personal square footage just to see, hear, and be in the same room as American born celebrity photographer and portrait artist Annie Leibovitz. A popular culturist and a modernist, Ms. Leibovitz (born Anna-Lou), was honored in 1991 with a major exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. Her work has received major acclaim and criticism centering around her concentration on celebrities, a practice she's continued since her early success with Rolling Stone Magazine. Ms. Leibovitz read for about a half an hour from her new, highly praised retrospective entitled, “A Photographer’s Life.” (Available through The retrospective is a collection of work from 1990 – 2005. It is inspired in part, due to the death of Annie’s long time companion, Susan Sontag, and the death of Leibovitz’s father a mere few weeks following. Both black and white and color images span personality novelties of the rich and famous to more personal and intimate relational works on the author’s family. Of particular note is a photograph of Ms. Leibovitz’s mother in her late seventies, one the photographer loves because of its authenticity and its absence of pretension. Ms. Leibovitz appeared unpretentiously to be in a mixed state of joy over her young children (she gave birth to her first daughter at the age of 51 and was 8 ½ months pregnant during September 11, 2001), while at the same time also fighting the clutches of resigned and unrelenting grieving. She bares her soul and describes her experience as being not primarily that of a photographer, but rather one as an observer of life. Most interesting were her perspectives on the effect of engaging a subject in conversation prior to taking a photo. Leibovitz says no matter what you say to a person, it changes their face, changes their emotion, and changes the expression in the eyes. This is one of the reasons she most prefers unstaged and unposed photography. She’s searching for who the person is – what’s their statement. When asked by aspiring photographers what the key to a successful life in photography is, she quips, “Stay close to home.” So it seems the retrospective may be asking – who, where and what is home – does the definition of home change as people die – is home within – and can you find your home through Leibovitz’s expression and years of work?

suzanne stryk - u.s. botanic gardens

Suzanne Stryk is showing some of her more careful "Green Evolution" illustration at the U.S. Botanic Gardens thru November 11, 2007. Highlighted is the exhibition of personal sketch journals containing extremely intricate pen & ink works. I always marvel when artists turn over their journals, to me there is nothing more that points to the core of thought and process.

The Botanic show also features Stryk's drawings (her paintings are somewhat less represented) and is a beautiful and thoughtful corridor walk OUT of the gardens. The lovely tea-washed effect in some of the works lends to a very earthy feel. I saw several people pausing and reflecting on the WORK, the hours, the intentful effort, and the complexities involved in botantical illustration.

Stryk, in her mid-fifties, is originally from Chicago and has shown at several solo and group shows. She enjoys representation in some pointed and impressive private and corporate collections (Bank of America) and many of her works have appeared in esteemed publications (Orion). Although you could walk through the show during your thirty minute lunch "hour" and have done it justice, you're certain to leave with a new found appreciation for nature's grace.

What I really love though, is Stryk seems to glaringly prove as example one, that you DO NOT need to go to big city art school to make it big in the big city! Here she is at the freaking SMITHSONIAN in Washington DC where you can throw a rock to NGA and the Corcoran - and her MFA in Painting was accomplished at East Tennessee State University with a BA in Art History at Northern Illinois University! Gotta love a gal with talent. Gotta love a gal with gusto.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Thinking About Appraisals?

If you've been thinking about getting a professional appraisal of your artworks, many qualified appraisers understand the different values, assigned uses, and market levels of assessments. Be forewarned though, appraisals can also carry risks.

Not one of us wants to sell too low, pay too much, or find ourselves over or under insured. Almost all of us want to get our fair share in property division, escape the risks of incurring tax penalties, avoid audits for works we gave as charitable contributions, and go to sleep at night knowing our estate taxes were properly calculated.

How do you ensure your item is being appraised at the correct value? The answer lies in how you plan to use the appraisal. There are ten major types of valuation. Utilizing a professional from the International Society of Appraisers or the American Society of Appraisers will go a long way to giving you piece of mind. Members of these societies are normally certified in using the Uniform Standards of Professional Appraisal Practice (USPAP).

Types of Appraisal Valuation:

1. Insurance

2. Estate Tax

3. Consumer Resale

4. Charitable Contributions

5. Investment

6. Liquidation

7. Price Confirmation

8. Equitable Distribution

9. Loan Collateral

10. Casualty Loss

In addition to the types of valuation, it is important to understand why the valuation is being developed. Are you as the client seeking cash, a financial arrangement equivalent to cash, other precise terms, non market financing, or financing with unusual conditions?

When you start looking for an appraiser who understands your ultimate motivation and goal, you'll want to be sure the appraiser is going to provide you with some basic report items. These are critical in chronicling your fair attempt to obtain a qualified report.

Report Items:

1. The purpose of the report: What type of value is being sought? Who is the appraisal being conducted for (the client's name)?

2. How the appraisal is to be used: The function of its assigned use.

3. Methodology employed by the appraiser.

4. Resources used by the appraiser.

5. Appraiser's market analysis.

6. Market selected.

7. A full description of the property so it can be identified without photographs.

8. The date and location of the inspection (I also like to see any weather or other considerations).

9. The effective date of value.

10. A statement that the appraiser has no financial interest in the property or that such interest is disclosed in the report.

11. Appraisers qualifications & signatures. At times, an appraiser who is untrained in a specific area may elect to collaborate with another appraiser with greater skills in that discipline. If this occurs, you will want a disclosure statement from both appraisers. Also when this occurs, it is common practice for the appraisers to split the appraisal fee. You may wish to inquire about the financial construct of the report.

Always remember, an appraisal is ONLY a professional OPINION of the economic exchange value of the legal rights inherent in ownership of property. Make sure your appraiser has spent a reasonable amount of time with the item in order to establish: specific identity characteristics; the relative quality of the item; and the physical and economic attributes with a material effect on value. Does the appraiser know the condition, style, size, quality, manufacturer, author, and materials?? Or how about the origin, age, provenance, any alterations, or restorations?

It's no secret that particularly in matters of estate, property division can be very tricky. Your appraiser should be asking you whether there are any restrictions, encumbrances, leases, covenants, contracts, declarations, special assessments, ordinances, or other items impacting your claim to ownership.

An appraiser's negligence qualifies as failure to exercise a standard of care which a reasonably prudent person would have exercised. This is failure brought by carelessness or intention.

An appraiser's incompetence qualifies as a lack of knowledge and ability in distinguishing the relevant from the irrelevant. This is often discovered and exhibited in the scope of work decisions where the level of research and analysis are most evident.

One of the ways an appraiser determines the value of your item is by analyzing a host of factors: what's the wholesale level of trade; the retail level of trade; the auction conditions, the economic conditions at the time of valuation; the market acceptability of the property; the supply; the demand; the scarcity; and the rarity. Many appraisers will use a sales comparison approach, comparing cost data of the item in new condition and the cost of the present work (with accrued depreciation).

There's a joke in the appraisal world called I-IBISIT. Don't be taken in with the It-is-because-I-said-it-is approach to your property valuation! As with many other things in life, in the appraisal world, you often get what you pay for. Appraisal of your artwork IS NOT the time to try to cut corners. Ask questions and be sure YOU understand the historical value, aesthetic value, intrinsic value, and economic value of your loved items.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Artwork to Support Jena 6 Defense Fund

Kenya Bevans is a Washington DC metropolitan freelance Web Designer. Over the past five years, Bevans has directed her firm, The Bside Designs and Networking, while simultaneously maintaining employment in Reston, Virginia as a Web/Print Designer. As a working artist, she decided that an art show would be an ideal way to help out with the Jena 6 cause.

Recently, Bevans began placing advertisements on Craigslist seeking artists works donations in support of the Jena 6 Defense Fund. Bevans plans to collect the works in preparation for a public online art show/auction, to be held for 24 hours on October 20, 2007 (start time 9:00 a.m.). The auction will be held at and will feature functionality similar to e-Bay. Volunteer donor's names also appear on the site.

All auction proceeds will be transferred in total to the Jena 6 Defense Fund, a fund primarily designed to support the legal costs of providing immediate justice for Mychal Bell. The Jena 6 Defense Fund is also supported and promoted by syndicated radio talk show host Michael Baisden ( Details about the Jena 6 Defense Fund can be found at Bevans will also provide all proof that the funds have been donated in total to the THE UN-EQUAL JUSTICE LEGAL DEFENSE FUND for the Jena 6 upon request.

To promote a successful auction, Bevans makes an Open Call to all artists of all mediums, including but not limited to jewelry and stone artists, sculpture, fine art, cartooning, muralists, and graffiti artists. Her effort is an opportunity for artists to volunteer and be a part of the online auction show. Artists who are interested in donating works, should let Bevans know their full name, city, medium, and name of the piece. Please also provide a digital file of the work to be put online. All artwork should be shipped to: Jena Donations c/o Kenya Bevans 2425 Merrybrook Drive #301, Herndon VA, 20171. Bevans can be reached via e-mail at or at 571.233.0914 with any questions.

When asked what motivated Bevans to organize the event, she said that she is not so separated from her own history to know that in 2007, there is still a deep divide in social class. She says that the bottom line for the Jena 6 is that what has occurred is just wrong. Bevans feels the children of today need to be made aware of the persistent and pervasive undertone of societal racism and that children should not be taught racist attitudes in the first place.

Bevans is encouraged by an excellent response to date from many contributors. Two local radio stations will also lend media coverage. Bevans looks forward to a positive and productive auction experience for all involved and to a day when art can overcome violence.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Alexandria Black History Museum: Big Al Carter's God Has Made a Way in Leesburg

The Alexandria Black History Museum proudly hosts a photographic exhibition of Allen D. "Big Al" Carter's work. All photographs were taken in the 1970's in Leesburg, Virginia. Shown is: Expression of Joy in Leesburg; Uncle Charlie Bowles With an Old Triumph Motor Bike, Leesburg, Virginia; and Uncle Brady Bowles Sign of Life in Leesburg, Virginia.

God Has Made A Way in Leesburg runs from September 11, 2007 - January 20, 2008. A special reception with the artist will be held this Thursday, September 20, 2007 from 6 - 8 p.m. In this second exhibition at the museum, Carter explores his family connections in one moment of time - working, relaxing, and surviving in Leesburg more than thirty years ago. Then, space was open, homes were modest, life was simpler. Carter's collection of male relatives have sadly left us, and as Carter looks back on their influence and inspiration, he sees valuable messages. Make the best of what you have. Enjoy the gifts you're given.

Carter, a Virginia native, loves Virginia history and is proud of the advancements made by African Americans. In May of 2006, the Washington Post called his talent "inexhaustible creativity." Sometimes known as Big Al, Al, or Big, Carter while teaching in Arlington, called himself a "burnt umber man." He is a poet, a painter, an educator, a sculptor, a music lover, and at times an insomniac. Two of his works can be found in the Corcoran - this small venue is nonetheless gripping.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Target Gallery: In The Flesh - Manion's Toward the Ideal

If art is about what's beautiful, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then art also has to be about what's unattractive, thought provoking, downright shocking, and deeply disturbing. It's the piece, much like the infamous Piss Christ, that makes you wonder, WHY would someone DO that. John C Manion of Iowa City, Iowa recently submitted such a piece to a jurored competition of contemporary works. Manion's Toward The Ideal sells for $8,000 and is one of over 500 entries submitted to In The Flesh, currently on exhibit at Torpedo Factory's Target Gallery.

Modeled clay and cast silicone (8" x 18.5" x 28.5") are formed to sculpt a naked baby, expressionless and totally immersed in believable bathtub water. Long pause. Repulsion. Wait. Did I see that correctly? I mean, who THINKS these things? And who spends time, energy, and materials on producing a work like this? Reeling, I remembered that maybe the manifestation of the subconscious mind, the repressed, and the taboo is cathartic in it's own right.

It's not all Manion's fault. I recently gave birth to my son who is now about the size and proportion of the submerged infant. No unsuspecting mother wishes to stumble upon yet more violence involving children. How can Manion know this scene is what all mothers deeply fear - there are people out there who think and do very bad things and sometimes, we are powerless.

I tell you, my little guy just loves the water. When we're at the pool, we wonder, is swimming for him what it was like to be back in the womb? This warm, weightless, free floating experience -- and what if we could go through all of LIFE like that? What if there's nothing more honest? We're flesh. Bland flesh that needs to be washed. Flesh that is dangerously close to innumerable forces that could lead to demise. Flesh left best, perhaps, in an innocent and unknowing world, albeit the tub!

Some collectors seek pieces that are so outrageously in your face with the power to transport the viewer. In these, the see-er has a predictable experience trajectory- shock, numbness, cavalier disinterest. The viewer is relieved from a secret thought prison. That's credited directly to the artist who was brave enough to risk saying yeah, you're not the only one who has ever thought THAT. I know a fellow who owns a piece so vile and over time, has come to regard it as high humor.

Laugh if you must, but look. In the Flesh is about what we all seek - meaning. Maybe Manion is asking, what does immersion of the flesh, immersion in water, in a work, in your own life and immediate paradigm, or immersion in art really mean to you???

Sunday, September 9, 2007

From Art Camp to Art Therapy: A Virginia Teacher's NOLA Experience

I met Kathleen Armstrong at the NorthStar Church Network Ministry Conference held in the First Baptist Church of Alexandria, VA on September 8, 2007. She was moderating a session entitled Network ... New Orleans, and she wanted to share her story of the transformative volunteer experience she had during her response to Hurricane Katrina survivors. Armstrong, a Fairfax County art teacher, is also a Disaster Relief Coordinator with NorthStar. She calls the story, From Art to Art Therapy.

Armstrong and a crew of volunteers had packed up a trailer full of arts materials including books, foam, and beads collected at Lanier Middle School. The team was intending to donate their time and service at a makeshift art camp for the residents of the New Orlean's Algiers community. After a two day drive in a rented truck and a stop-over in Tennessee, upon arriving the team learned that Michael Johnson, a young man who had just graduated from Frederick Douglas High School, was visiting a friend when another young man in a drug induced state mistook Michael's identity and shot him. Michael died in June.

The Bethel Baptist Church, where the arts camp was to be held, is located in the backyard of the high school where Michael graduated. Pastor Charlie Dale explained Michael had also lived directly across the road from the church. So it was at arts camp that over 40 neighbors and mourners, including Michael's younger brother Lil'G, and Michael's young girlfriend, gathered to seek solace and comfort through the connecting force of art and community.

Michael's mother, having lost all her photographs save but one in the flood, brought a picture over to the art camp to see if copies could be made. Armstrong helped her not only to make duplicates, but to create t-shirts and a scrap book in memory of her son. Also, because the local funeral home had been flooded, Michael's mother then asked Pastor Dale if the funeral service could be held at the church. Little did she or arts camp coordinators know, but the new church Pastor had been working towards trying to incorporate more members of the community in the congregation!

Armstrong believes her art camp quickly became art therapy and that the experience reinforced everything does not always go as planned. When she wanted to start camp at 9:00 each morning, she was told to look at it as a "suggested" time only. A major presence on the high school football team attended the camp and each day just sat and watched, absorbing everything like a sponge but not creating any art for the entire week. If the camp became therapy, perhaps that was best evidenced at the the end of the week when the football star accepted a church altar call and became baptised.

NorthStar is an association of Baptist Congregations at and recently teamed up with the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans to respond to need.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Old Town Alexandria Arts Festival: Sculpture and Glass

It can be difficult for artists to find successful venues to sell their works. Fortunately, the Old Town Alexandria Arts Festival is one of those shows you can just count on to generate revenue. Perhaps that's why every year, artists mostly from the Mid-Atlantic region return to the lower leg of King Street to set up white canopied booths along the brick and cobblestone for an arts bonanza weekend. It's a great crowd, dogs and all, with three or four distinctly different musicians filling the air with pleasant tunes. It's just great to see people of all ages truly enjoying the overall health of Old Town.

We recognized many studios who've made appearances over the past four years with sadly, not much new in their stable. Sometimes in the traveling arts circuit, when you find a formula that works (sells) - you stick with it without growing in new directions, or daring to push through to the next level. This year, we were surprised to see photography slightly underrepresented in the show. Two of the photo studios in attendance seemed to be drawing less than average interest AND we didn't see the boom in digital work that we expected. While there is multiple media in the show, this year's joy and surprise is in the growth of sculpture in general and glass in particular.
Oh, yes. The glass! What exceptional arrays of color patterns and shapes - and not only from one vendor. As anyone who attended today can tell you, the sun was just unbearable, and the glass just glistened. There was even a new twist in the jewelry genre - a booth of stained glass jewelry! We hit the show twice in one day - in the morning and again at sundown. Even at 4:0o pm it was easy to see people were just plain worn out from walking, humidity, and the crowds - so if you go Sunday, be prepared! Here's a sample of some of what stopped us dead-in-our-tracks. If glass isn't your thing, be sure to watch for the driftwood vendor outside of Bird in Hand Antiques. There's a charming and refreshing treat in store for you there! More details about the show are at

Arts Club of Washington: One Word Project Reception

Kudos to J.T. Kirkland and the fine curating job he performed in his One Word Project which opened Friday night at the Arts Club of Washington. To explain the show simply, Kirkland assigned artists with a single word as a thematic launching point. The idea was to create a triangular dialogue for visual and language communication between artist, viewer, and work. Three pieces of note are:

Gregory Ferrand's "Experience." Here is his Judge Me Not (For I Judge Only You), acrylic on canvas, 22x28, 2006, retailing for $1600.

Marsha Stein's "Pride," is of St. Jerome, a haunting and technically gorgeous execution of charcoal cast drawing, 24x36, 1999, not for sale.

Gregg Chadwick's theme on "Responsibility" drew the most evident enthusiasm. Chadwick traveled from Santa Monica, CA to explain the meaning behind his Marine in a coffin surrounded by monks. Chadwick grew up as a military brat and was deeply impressed that relatives of the deceased service member attended Friday night's opening. Chadwick said his own father was a Marine, and as a son, he felt he had the responsibility to paint his own military experience. As a self-professed Buddhist, Chadwick eloquently spoke about how responsibility is a common thread among all people and what it meant to him to participate in the show. He is pictured here in front of his work.

Honorable mention for layered meaning in story telling has to go to the Right Reverend James W. Bailey of Reston, Virginia for his burnt photo montage/collage of a church. Bailey's original explanation of meaning and his updated revisionist explanation are fascinating reading. One really does come away understanding that in New Orleans, A.K. (after Katrina), all is not okay.
The show runs to September 29th. More than 30 artists are featured, including Andrew Krieger's sculpture on Imagination, Baltimore's Rosetta DeBerardinis' 2007 work on Fluid, Alexandra Silverthorne's print on Forgotten, Angela Kleis' Hatteras Lighthouse silver gelatin print, and James Coleman's mixed media on canvas, seno utero matriz. Show catalogues are available for $25.
The Arts Club of Washington reminds us their third floor studio is open Tuesday through Saturday, with free arts classes open to the public every Saturday.

Friday, August 31, 2007

No Scratchers Exhibit Update

On a Saturday night in January 2007, a new Metropolitan DC gallery opened its doors in the Anacostia area. In its inaugural show, promo, and soft opening, The Honfleur Gallery hosted an exhibit entitled "No Scratchers." No Scratchers was an informal exhibition highlighting works of art created by D.C. tattoo artists. The show was curated by Imani Brown (tattooer, artist, and photographer). Lenny Campello (noted DC arts celebrity) also donated some of his works.

No Scratchers was a great success, drawing in approximately 250 - 300 people. The gallery sold four pieces of work by Renee Woodward (currently represented at NPR's Jackie Lyden did a segment on the exhibit. Gallery Associate Director Amy Cavanaugh commented that the show seemed so cutting edge for DC, and that in another locale, it would have been more mainstream. It's possible that in DC, the art world is a little less adventurous and more controlled.

The majority of No Scratchers artists were tattoo artists. In general, they seemed to love the publicity and the exhibit. No merger of this sort is without its obstacles. There may be a bit of adjustment needed in reconciling value differences between the sometimes legalistic and mechanical operations of a gallery versus the free-spirited, non-conventional artistry and creativity of many ink slingers. Despite the show's success, the gallery reported minor frustrations in challenges they encountered in various logistics and paperwork.

"No Scratchers" is derived from the term "scratching," - code for tattoo artists who do bad work. No bad work was found amidst the 60 pieces including photos, paintings, mixed-media works, and sculptures featuring the tattoo culture as the theme. Ms. Brown is currently associated with Pinz-n-Needlez (, a local tattoo parlor, and credits Andrea Hope with this show photo.

Brown says to her, scratchers are those that do less than top quality work, are not focused on the art perspective, and tattoo only for the money. Brown says a tattoo artist has one chance to advise the client, create the best piece, and get it right the first time. Since the show, she states she has had a lot of positive feedback with many awaiting the next exhibition.

Honfleur is located at 1241 Good Hope Road SE, in historic Anacostia. To make an appointment to view the spaces, contact or call (202) 889-5000 x 113. One of Honfleur's more notable goals is to raise money for more arts programming for youth in the area.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Baltimore Antique Show - Opening Day

Today was opening day at the Baltimore Antique Show which runs through the weekend. The Convention Center is again hosting a gaggle of galleries and dealers; noticeably this year are several from London. This is my third year attending the show. I found the line at the door much shorter, the food service slightly improved, and the air conditioning more manageable.

Other than some stunning very large floor mirrors, a $60,000 fun antique casino-type gaming piece, and remarkably breath-taking silver, the show is sadly predictable. Oh you'll find your antiquarian books, your jewelry galore, and your historic pieces (be sure to check out the gun canes and the chandeliers) ... but if you've been attending these shows as I have, it all becomes standard fare (except perhaps for the lovely display by New York's China Gallery or the ancient wood block reliefs also from China.)

Standard fare too are the often highly marked up prices. I saw a piece earlier this year at the Big DC Flea Market with today's tag more than triple the asking price - so shop around! The range of art is a bit impressive, however I'm talking about the artistry in apparel of the wanna-be-wealthy-posers. Pink Ralph Lauren pants and black leather dress shoes sported by a very tan romance novel hero were outdone only by the tall blonde Barbie with the brown bareback cocktail dress. Excuse me, I didn't know we were having drinks on Thursday at noon. Ahem. Bring comfortable shoes; the concrete floor is brutal. And carry lots of dough; my parking, entrance fee, and lunch alone killed a $50.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Creativity Lull? Revisit the Masters

Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way encourages artists to write three journal pages each day as an exercise in discipline, free thinking, and cathartic clearing. The exercise also serves as an idea bank for future creative lulls.

If you are experiencing creative blocks, another technique is to spend time looking at art you might not normally view. Google links to several Art-A-Day or Painting-A-Day sites and many of them can be sent right to your email. Since I prefer Outdoor Art (Art Brut), I like revisiting the Masters as counter balance. Here are examples of some of the greatest works of western civilization. When's the last time you took a look?

1. The Golden Mask of King Tutankhamen

2. Parthenon Sculptures

3. Scythian Gold Pectoral

4. Nicholas of Verdun's Enameled Altar

5. Grotto's Arena Chapel

6. van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece

7. Leonardo's Mona Lisa

8. Michelangelo's David

9. Grunewald's Isenheim Altar

10. El Greco's Burial of Count Orgaz (pictured)

11. Velazquez's Las Meninas

12. Rembrant's Return of the Prodigal Son

13. Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party (at The Phillips Collection)

14. Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon

You may also want to spend a lunch hour or two with the likes of: Leonardo da Vinci; Albrecht Durer; Caravaggio; Rubens; or Lysippus. The combined artists make the short list of some of the most interesting craftsmen - it won't be long until your name is on there too!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Collecting 101: Surviving Your 1st BIG Art Show

It was 2002 when I made my way to New York's Javits Convention Center to participate in my very first International Art & Frame Expo. Back then, wall displays were all in black (so was all the clothing). Times, they are a changing!

There's a science to collecting, and no shortage of twists and turns along the discovery. If you're just beginning, I like to recommend attending at least one of the Top Ten Big Art Shows as a quick and dirty learning and filtering experience. Without a doubt, as you get some art fair mileage under your shoe soles, you'll have a more discerning eye to the devil in the detail. First, let's survive the Big Show.

1. Walk and Bring a Pal. Walk through the entire show noting your first impressions. Look for items that are striking in their visual impact. Ask your pal for feedback. Notate the display location on the back of business cards (or mark it on the show map). Listen to the pitch. Watch others in the vicinity. I like to work from the back of the show forward to the door. Many shows are partitioned by venue. You may wish to select three to five genres you think you'd like to see. Many shows also highlight a particular artist or style, do make it a point to visit these high-traffic showcases to compare what's "hot" with what's "not." Feel the energy.

2. Walk Some More. Return to booths you noted earlier. Listen, talk, linger. Does the visual impact of the piece you're admiring increase? Does the work express what its intending? Does it grow in stature? Does it continually mature? Can the gallery recommend artists with similar styles? Ask questions. Check the price. Scrunch up your nose and walk away. View the piece from a distance. View the piece close up. Take three breaths to center yourself. What are you thinking? What does the piece represent to you?

3. Rest. I can't overstress the important of taking breaks. Go outside. Get a coffee. Take off your shoes. Talk to someone about something OTHER than art. Gripe a little (it clears the negative brain drain). Laugh a little (it produces endorphins). Compare notes with said pal. Lounge, close your eyes, and regroup. If there are art lectures or special symposia, attend an afternoon session. Big Art Shows can have a way of bringing out both the worst and the best in people. If you saw pieces you liked, but disliked the manner of the display, or the manner of the marketing, remember that many FINE galleries with FINE works can be viewed back at home over the Internet in a much less hectic environment. Also, know this. Big Art Show energy in the afternoon/late evening is generally much more relaxed.

4. Go Back (I know your feet are killing you!). By this time, you'll have a short list of the items, artists, styles, or materials you really like. You may even be hungry for more detailed information. Go back to the booth and see if the piece amazes you in a different way each time you view it. That winter in rainy New York, I recall seeing an enormous Japanese silk painting featuring a pink peacock. The first time, I wanted to purchase on sight - no questions asked. The second time, I noted the lush green forest surrounding the peacock (wait, do peacocks live in forests?) I took a picture with the artist, standing there smiling with polaroid in hand. Returning to the piece a third time, I realized that silly bird was really the only thing in the whole work that had stood out! A whole wall for a two inch bird?

5. Is it unforgettable? Pieces you consider for purchase to your permanent collection should present to you the power of mystery, the power of discovery. As important, is the question of whether the work is any good? A sad fact about Big Art Shows is along with fantastic finds, there are also finds less so. Most collectors want their collection to grow. And grow means lots of different things to various people. Is it any good, is it unforgettable, will it help my collection grow? Here's where your after-show follow up, research, and information will really pay off for the NEXT show.

Listen, there's more than one type of collector and more than one way to build a living legacy. Some of us buy for pure emotion, others buy for cost, others for provenance, and others for sizzle. Some buy for content, some for quality, some for quantity. Some buy for size, some for genre, some for fame of the artist, others for potential fame, and still others because they knew the artist in third grade. Whether the work is any good is a series of decisions only you can make after balancing a myriad of facts. I'll never forget the time I saw a real-live-honest-to-goodness Howard Finster (it was at the Outsider Arts Fair years later in New York's Armory). I STILL kick myself for not purchasing it. Sometimes you just have to buy on impulse, and in those cases, you'll be happy to have said pal to either encourage or roll their eyes at you.

The key to surviving your first Big Art Show is this. Before you get to a YES, there's going to be an awful lot of NOs. Remember, there's no big rush. There's plenty more coming right behind this show. It takes several show venues (and preferably in different geographic areas) to really get a feel for how things should go. And I try to remember it's the entire experience I'm buying. The experience of the magical find, the careful consideration, and hopefully, the final acquisition.

Gold: Luminosity, Luxury, and Lift

A little over two years ago, Irene Winter, Professor of Fine Arts at Harvard University, gave a talk on the ancient Assyrian site Nimrud and the Queen's ornate crown at the National Gallery. Winter spoke in exacting detail about the aesthetics of radiance, Summarian burial practices, the politics of acquisition, and practices stemming out of antiquities legislation all in connection with her life's work in art and archaeology.

I am not certain why, but what stuck with me was the gold and its immutable nature. I remember viewing slides of gold used over ivory, gold clustered stars, gold appearing as textiles, gold earrings and armlets worn by men, gold bracelets inlaid with turquoise and lapis, gold rosettes, Christian ornamentation and halos, and yes - gold Buddahs.

When you think about it, gold has a certain aura, a living vitality, a shimmering light. It's power, heat, shine, and luster. It's the golden calf, the representation of the sun, the great dome in Jerusalem. Gold is radiance, luminosity, emanating, strong, and durable. It's a strong cultural response. It's a visual andneurobiological reaction that grabs the eye and stimulates pleasure. Gold manifests outwardly, reflecting inner nature.

A high-end experience, gold is - and that's why I love it. It's vitality, auspiciousness, allure, and beauty. It's seductive, compelling, lovely, splendorous, and glorious. This malleable mineral, while today being expensive, also denoted money and wealth in its own accord all those years ago. It can be considered somewhat controversial. A thinking man has to ask what's the morality of luxurious acquisition and excess in a world of demise and suffering?

But to the artist, gold is greed and need. Who among us is satiated with only one hit of Klimt's gold foil, leaf, and paint? No. No. No. We need gold's lift again and again. Give us hearts of gold. Let us hold ourselves to the gold standard. Award us all the gold medal for courage in creating. Let us all live on the gold coast or by the golden rule (if we so choose). Please protect us all from the nasty gold diggers and let every art lover come across their very own golden opportunity. The luxury of a luminous lift.

Art Auctions: Sample Bidder Contract

Before you attend an auction of art masterpieces (Right. That's you and your millions I mean), you'll want to familiarize yourself with common auction terms - also known as a Bidder's Contract. Be advised that many large auction houses (e.g. Christies, Sotheby's, Bonham's, and Skinner) have their own rules and regs. In future articles, I'll share some winning auction strategies to outbid, outwit, outsmart, and outlast your competition.

A Bidder's Contract is entered into between the Bidder named and signed and the Auctioneers. A Bidder agrees that the terms shall govern the auction. Terms are often posted or announced from the auction block and are just as binding. Follow these simple steps: take a seat close to the auction block (you can visually inspect the items, hear the auctioneer better, and you're normally nearer to a doorway); pace yourself (many high quality items are saved until auction end when anxious buyers are tapped out financially or physically); read and review any available catalogues or descriptions; and have a blast!

1. Full Payment. All items must be paid for in full before Bidder leaves the premises. Nothing may be removed until it is settled for. Payments for purchases are normally made by cash, cashier's check, personal check, or business check when the Auctioneers allow. Letters of Credit or Guarantee must be for the current auction only, along with proof of identity. All sales are subject to State Tax laws. The Bidder agrees not to stop payment on checks or disallow a sight draft and is responsible for any expenses due to bad check collections. In the event of non-payment, the Auctioneers have the right to repossess, at any time, at your location, the merchandise.

2. No Warranty. All items are sold AS IS without any guarantee of any kind. Item descriptions appearing in advertising prior to an auction are believed to be correct. Descriptions, and/or oral statements made by an owner, his agents, officers, or Auctioneers, concerning any item shall not be construed as a warranty, either expressed or implied. The Bidder certifies that the merchandise has been examined and that the Bidder accepts it AS IS.

3. Disputes. Auctioneers designate the winning Bidder after each item is sold. When a dispute arises between two or more Bidders, the Auctioneer has the right to reopen the bidding. The Auctioneers' designation of a final buyer is normally considered final.

4. Buyers' Responsibility. When a Bidder has won the high bid, they become the new owners of an item, even though they may not have paid for it yet. The item becomes the full and sole responsibility of a Buyer and the Buyer assumes all risk of loss and damage. Buyers should guard their items.

5. Injury and Damage. The Bidder acknowledges responsibility for any personal injury or property damage caused by Bidder or his agent. The Buyer holds the Auctioneer harmless from any personal injury to himself or any property damage incurred on the premises.

6. Agents Only. The Auctioneer acts as the Owners Agent Only.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Why Artists & Art Institutions Should Care About Preparedness

September marks the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's National Preparedness Month (NPM).

The goal of NPM is to increase public awareness about the importance of emergency planning. Simple steps include: obtaining an emergency supply kit; establishing a home or work emergency plan; understanding potential threats; and assisting in community preparation efforts.

The NPM's Coalition membership is comprised of a host of regional, state, and local organizations including Wal-Mart Stores, Target, The Home Depot, American Red Cross, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Environmental Protection Agency. You can learn more, view instructional videos, obtain sample marketing materials, and get great ideas at

Make time and take time as a gift to yourself or your institution to step away from the daily drive to produce art, market art, attend fairs, submit art to competitions, etc. Do you have an emergency plan? I mean, really? Your art, your studio supplies, your client's work, your years of curating records, or your gallery's lifeblood are all simply irreplaceable. Beyond recognizing the immediate impact of a disaster, let's also celebrate the tremendous opportunity to help the community of our art world before one strikes.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Brentwood Arts Center - MD Studio Rentals

The Brentwood Arts Center, 3901 Rhode Island Ave., Brentwood, MD (one mile north of the District Line) will contain working space for 10-15 artists with studios in the 300-2,000 sf range. Refurbished warehouse with new air, heat, tall ceilings, rough cement floors, small common area, kitchenette, loading dock and outstanding natural light. Spaces are suitable for visual artists, jewelers, ceramicists, and woodworkers. All disciplines will be considered.

This is an excellent location for artists who teach. Studios will be large enough to conduct classes. Prince George's Park and Planning Department will run a gallery and classroom space on the first floor. (Tenants will be able to rent the Park and Planning classroom.) The Brentwood Art Center is a project of Gateway CDC, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a variety of live/work opportunities for local artists. This facility is designed to provide affordable, stable commercial space to artists. Spaces are available now. Ready for occupancy by October 30, 2007. Shown by appointment. Call John: 301-864-3860 ext. 3

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Master Works Challenge Reception: Saturday, August 25th

A Master Works Challenge and Artist Reception will be held Saturday, August 25, 2007, 6:00 - 9:00 p.m at the Overdue Recognition Art Gallery, 6816 RaceTrack Road, Bowie, Maryland.

The event culminates an opportunity for both new and established artists to show their works and compete for a private reception. The challenge ran from June 23 - July 28, 2007 and each artist produced works within the time constraints. Participants include: Pamela Hilliard; Karen Y. Buster; Larry "Poncho" Brown; James Redd; Deborah A. Shedrick; James Murphy; Yolanda Redd; and Larry O. Brown.

Overdue Recognition owners, Jackie and Derrick Thompson, along with Authentic Art Consulting curator Sharon Burton, will jury the show and decide which of the talented artists will receive a gallery showcasing at Overdue Recognition Art Gallery this late fall.

Ms. Thompson stated, "I'm very excited about the show. It has always been a goal of ours to give new artists a venue to show their work, and we're hoping to make this an annual event." For more information, contact Overdue Recognition Gallery at 1-866-726-8642, or (301) 805-8812 or

A Woman's Story Gallery: Artist Business Class

Could you use some artist business training? Empowered Women International will hold classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from September 4 to October 16, 6:30-9:00 pm at EWI - A Woman's Story Gallery, 1307 King St., Alexandria, VA 22314. EWI invites talented immigrant women artists, arts educators, and women who want to open arts businesses to participate.

Complete the online application at, or email Sharmila at Cost is $175 ($150/training fee, $25/artist membership) payable by check to the gallery's address. Need based applications may be considered for scholarships. Application deadline: August 31, 2007.

The class is an introduction to artist entrepreneurship, confidence building, and business skill enhancement. It will present practical resources and information to assist artists in their chosen paths. At course completion, artists will have the starting tools for a professional portfolio and a personal marketing plan. They will also participate in a juried exhibition and graduation in October 2007. (Photo credit