Category Archives: Art

Art Is not Obliged to Be Beautiful

This has been a rainy, humid week. While the rain has been much needed, a few dry days would be nice. The house smells like mildew, and I even had to resort to using the clothes dryer. I know from sad experience what clothes smell like when racks are used for wet laundry during rainy, humid weather. Not good!

On the other hand, it has been a good week for going to the movies and to the Colby Museum of Art.

At Railroad Square, we saw two movies: Sorry to Bother You, Boots Riley’s wild, surreal, pointed look at racism and economic injustice in the United States; and Leave No Trace, a sad, beautiful story about an emotionally-wounded veteran and his daughter. If you like character-driven movies, Leave No Trace is a must-see film. In fact, both movies are very much worth seeing.

For a small liberal arts college (1,800 students), Colby has an incredible art museum. It is free and open to the public six days a week. Because we live so close—about thirty-five minutes away—we have the luxury of focusing deeply on one exhibit at a time, which is my favorite way to visit an art museum. For this week’s visit, we focused on Self and Society, a collection of German Expressionist Prints.

On its website,  MoMA notes that  German Expressionism was a “major modernist movement that developed in Germany and Austria during the early decades of the 20th century.” The painters and printmakers—George Grosz and Max Beckmann, to name two—were more interested in portraying emotions rather than the actual physical world. And the emotions they portrayed were usually  dark and grim.

Why wouldn’t they be? Many of the artists had fought in World War I and had witnessed firsthand the ugliness and brutality of that war.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but the post-war period was not exactly smooth and tranquil either. Then  we all know what came next. It seems to me that these Expressionist artists, who would be persecuted during the Nazi regime, had their fingers on the pulse of society. Their art will never go on the cover of chocolate boxes, but art is not obliged to be beautiful.

To be sure, beauty is a part of life, and I appreciate  beautiful art as much as the next person. But ugliness is also a part of life, and there are times when that reality is so great that artists have no choice but to face it and portray it.

Here are a couple of photos I took of prints from Self and Society.

Max Beckmann, “Die Granate (The Grenade).” 1915


George Grosz, “No. 73 Restaurant,” c. 1925


In the gallery below Self and Society, we came across this—Cracked Question by Elizabeth Murray, who was not a German Expressionist.

But somehow, after seeing the horrors portrayed in Self and SocietyCracked Question seemed absolutely appropriate.




Don’t Rain on My Books

Oh, the weather! All week it was dry and sunny, simply and utterly beautiful. But then it rained on Saturday, when Clif and I were selling our books at the Windham Summerfest, an outdoor fair.  Luckily we have a very good canopy—brand new—with sides. And luckily the day started out as overcast, with the rain coming mid-afternoon. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have gone, as books and water are not a good combination, and we will not set up in the rain.

Although we didn’t sell as many books as we would have liked, Clif and I still had a good time at what was a very nice event created to promote community spirit. (Boy oh boy, we could certainly use lots and lots of community spirit in this country right now.) Also, a woman bought Maya and the Book of Everything to send to her granddaughter in Texas. It always tickles me to think of Maya traveling out of Maine, to places as far away as Texas. Not bad for a little indie book.

However, one of the nicest parts of the day was being next to an artist named Erik Howell. His snappy abstract art really brightened the gray day. It fact, his work was so appealing that we bought a small piece. We were going to give it to our nephew Patrick for Christmas, but we liked it so much that we put it on our dining room. (Don’t worry! Patrick will be getting plenty of other presents from us.)

By 3:00, the overcast sky made up its mind to rain, and under wet conditions, we packed up and left early.  But it’s heartening that even at events that are literally a wash-up, there are always good bits that make up for it. I even got a tip about a big fair in South Paris, Maine, in mid-November.

However, that’s several months away.

In the meantime, this weekend—weather permitting—we will be taking Maya to a Steam Punk Festival in Dexter, Maine.

Should be fun!

Five for Friday: The Golden Age of Illustration

Today’s post is going to be a little different, a reflection of my newest obsession, the golden age of illustration, which ran roughly from 1880 to 1920. As Artcyclopedia puts it, advances in technology allowed for “accurate and inexpensive reproduction of art,” both in books and magazines.

Nowhere was this more evident or glorious than in illustrations for children’s books. Beatrix Potter, of course, comes to mind, but there were many others, too: Edmund Dulac, Jessie Willcox Smith, Walter Crane, and Sir John Tennial, to name a few.

As chance would have it, there is even a Facebook group called The Golden Age of illustration. I joined the group not long ago, and that’s when I became hooked on illustrations from this period, especially the ones for children’s books. Not surprising as I write books for young people.

Many of the images from this period are in the public domain, which means we are free to use them as we wish. Clif, who is a talented graphic artist, has caught the golden age of illustration bug and is working with some of the pictures. He has been enlarging the illustrations, smoothing the pixels, and retouching the illustrations. We plan to sell matted prints at fairs we go to, and he has done research about the artist and the books the illustrations come from. This information will be included with the prints.

Below are five of the illustrations he has worked on, and they are by Edmund Dulac and Jessie Willcox Smith.

This is one of my favorites. The illustrator is Edmund Dulac, and the picture is from the story “A Little Girl in a Book,” written by Mrs. Rodolph Stawell. Funny to think there was a time when women writers went by their husband’s name, but there you are. Progress has definitely been made on that front.

This is another of Edmund Dulac’s illustrations, and it’s from “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Andersen. It’s not a scene I’m familiar with, that’s for sure.

Jessie Willcox Smith did this illustration for The Little Lame Prince by Dinah Maria Mulock Craik.

As well as this one—Little Red and the Wolf—otherwise known as Little Red Riding Hood.

And finally, here is a Jessie Willcox Smith’s illustration from The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

Today, there are many fine artists who create illustrations for children’s books. But for me, there is something about pictures from the Golden Age of Illustration that captures the wonder, magic, and even the dread of fantasy and fairy tales.

I wonder what it was from that period that allowed illustrators to tap into art that goes so beautifully with the stories.

Finding the Unexpected at Colby Museum of Art

On Saturday, Clif and I went to Waterville, to Colby College’s fabulous Museum of Art.

We wanted to see two specific exhibits: Herman Bas: The Paper Crown Prince and Other Works, and City of Ambition: Photography from the Collection.

We did see The Paper Crown Prince, a small exhibit that included a few dreamy, exquisite paintings that symbolically explore the coming of age of teenage boys.

Here is The Paper Crown Prince.

And here is Fitting In.

But we never made it to City of Ambition because I was unexpectedly waylaid by Game Time: The Sports Photography of Walter Iooss. I used the word “unexpectedly” for a good reason. Full Disclosure: There are few people who are as disinterested in sports as I am. For me, watching people pursue, hit, or kick a ball is akin to watching paint dry. Baseball is the worst—do the players even build up a sweat?—but basketball, hockey, and soccer are only marginally better.

I will admit that sports such as skating, skiing, and snowboarding hold my attention longer, say, for five or ten minutes. But to paraphrase Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice—of some pleasures, I believe, a little goes a long way.

So imagine my surprise when Walter Iooss’s sports photographs reached out and pulled me in.  Not literally, of course—I was not, after all, in the middle of one of my own fantasy novels. However, when I intended to just pass through the gallery with his photos, I found that I couldn’t. Every one of Iooss’s photographs told a bright, vivid story, whether it was of someone famous, such as the tennis player Billie Jean King, or of children playing stickball in Havana, Cuba.

Here are a few of the photographs, taken with my wee wonder of a camera, that unfortunately did not do them justice. I had to crop in close to give some idea of the intensity of the pictures, and my reproductions are nowhere near as sharp as the originals. Still, I hope they give some idea of the power of Iooss’s work.

Here is Billie Jean King, Wimbledon, 1979:

Note how petite, almost waifish, Billie Jean King looks. Yet also note the look of intense determination on her face. Here is a woman who wants to win the game, and she has worked long and hard to acquire the necessary skills. Whoever is playing against her had better watch out.

Consider this astonishing shot of the diver Julia Cruz, Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 1984.

There she is, in the gray wide open, and she is about to dive backward into water that is way below her. Cruz’s body is poised, muscular, ready. A leap of faith?

Finally, there is Havana Cuba, March 1969.

Iooss writes that the children’s “eyes [are] fixed on the pitch like it’s the only thing in this world. Nothing else matters. To me, that’s sports in one single frame.” Even the dog is sitting in stiff attention.

Yes. For the first time I understand how it is for people who love sports. It’s how I feel about art—in all its varieties—and nature.

Readers, if you live within driving distance of Waterville, Maine, go see this exhibit. Even if you don’t like sports. I expect that you will be illuminated, the way I was, by these terrific pictures.

Fortunately, Colby is close enough so that we can easily return to see City of Ambition. Also, there is no admission fee, which means we can stop in and  just look at one exhibit. We don’t feel as though we have to hurry through the museum, when we are past the viewing point, to get our money’s worth.

The Colby Museum of Art is such a gift to central Maine.



An Illuminating Week

Last week was a week of illumination, where I learned so much and also had so much fun. I guess you could call it a nearly perfect week of good movies, good food, a wonderful play, a fine lecture, and time spent with my nephew and daughter. Who could ask for anything more?

Once again, I am grateful that we live in a rural area with lakes, rolling hills, and forests yet also have access to plays, art, lectures, and independent movies. This definitely falls under the category of having the best of both worlds. We are also three hours away from Boston and seven hours away from New York City. In short, central Maine rocks.

First, the food. When Dee comes for a visit, one of her favorite meals is a waffle breakfast. I know this is bragging, but Clif’s homemade waffles are pretty darned good. We bring the waffle maker and batter to the dining room table, and out the waffles come, hot and fresh. This time, for sides, we had fresh strawberries and veggie sausages. (Dee is a vegetarian.) We had this breakfast not once, but twice.

Dee is a pizza hound as well as a movie buff, and it seems this pairing is not unusual. Next to Railroad Square Cinema is Grand Central Cafe, which makes pizza in a wood-fired brick oven. I am not a pizza hound, but I have to admit that Grand Central’s pizzas are very tasty.  The pizza featured below, which Clif and I shared, had cheddar, chicken, mushrooms, and barbecue sauce and was served piping hot.

And as far as Clif is concerned, pizza and beer go together the way chocolate and peanut butter do. This particular beer came from Bar Harbor.

Now for the illumination. Colby College, a liberal arts college with an incredible art museum that has become a destination, is a major sponsor of the Maine International Film Festival (MIFF). This year, in conjunction with MIFF showing one of Disney’s most beautiful, films—Bambi—Colby hosted a lecture called “Bambi and the Art of Tyrus Wong” presented by the filmmaker and animation historian John Canemaker.

I had never heard of Tyrus Wong (1910-2016), a Chinese immigrant who suffered poverty, discrimination, lack of recognition, and at a young age, the loss of his mother. Despite the hardships, Wong became an animator extraordinaire who worked on Walt Disney’s Bambi. Wong’s luminous, Asian approach of soft, blended backgrounds enhanced the vivid, memorable characters in this movie.

During the lecture, I also learned that Bambi was based on Felix Salten’s 1923 Austrian novel, Bambi, a Life in the Woods. When I came home, I Googled Felix Salten and discovered that his book “was  one of the first environmental novels ever published.”

Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend MIFF’s presentation of the movie Bambi, a 35mm Academy Archive print shown on the huge screen at the Waterville Opera House. It meant leaving our dog buddy Liam unattended for too long.

Ah, well! I really can’t complain as I learned two things I didn’t know about—the animation of Tyrus Wong and the Austrian writer Felix Salten.

And I saw some first-rate movies, which I’ll write about tomorrow.

The Invisible Made Visible: A Gathering of Franco-American Writers, Artists, and Creatives

Last weekend, I went to the Franco-American Centre at the University of Maine at Orono, which hosted “its sixth annual gathering (or Rassemblement) of Franco-American writers, artists, and creatives. The annual event, organized by UMaine’s Franco American Programs, aims to create a culturally supportive space in which members of the Franco-American creative community can share their work.” (The quotation was taken from an invitation sent by the Centre’s director, Susan Pinette, and I used this because it states so well the raison d’être for the event.)

I’ve been going to Rassemblement from the beginning, and what a treat it is to spend time with so many creative Franco-Americans.

In the past on this blog, I’ve written a brief history of Franco-Americans in Maine and how they comprise about a third of the state’s population. (Most of our ancestors migrated from French Canada in the mid- to late 1800s.) Because of the history of discrimination and repression, many Maine Franco-Americans feel invisible, and I understand this is also true for Franco-Americans in other parts of New England.

When we come together for Rassemblement, we Franco-American creatives no longer feel invisible.  We read our poetry and fiction. We present our research projects. We perform our pieces, many of them centered on what it means to be Franco-American in all its various aspects. We listen attentively to each other, so grateful not to feel invisible anymore.

This year, there were a number of young Franco-American students who either read poetry or spoke about being Franco-American. What a treat to have them there! Most of the “regulars” who come to Rassemblement are what might be considered, ahem, mature. To have so many younger folks there was like having a fresh breeze blow through the event.

There were so many terrific presentations at Rassemblement, and I feel bad that I can’t describe them all. However even brief descriptions would make this post much too long.

Here are a few highlights from the Rassemblement:

Susan Pinette, the wonderful director, kicking off the event on Saturday morning.

The fabulous Susan Poulin, reading about her extraordinary aunt who was a nun.

Mitch Roberge, a UMO student, reading “Speak White,” a poem he wrote in French.

Steven Riel, a very fine poet, before his reading. Here’s an especially beautiful line from one of his poems: “Moonlight enters without knocking.”

And the talented Greg Chabot, performing one of his pieces about being Franco-American. Chabot maintains that “visibility comes from creation.”

I, of course, read from my novel Maya and the Book of Everything, and I was so proud to see it displayed on the table with other books and CDs.

And as a cherry on the sundae, I stayed at a nice little hotel down the road from the Franco-American Centre. By gum, it even had a room with a view.

A weekend with Franco-American creatives. A room with a view.

Who could ask for anything more?

Well, perhaps one not-so-little thing. I wish that you, readers, could have come to the event to hear all the talented Franco-American creatives present their work, to see the invisible made visible.

Off to the Colby Museum of Art

Let’s just say that Clif and I are beginning to enjoy these anniversary outings very, very much. As a matter of fact, today I told Clif that I’ll be a little mopey when these celebratory excursions are over.

But never mind about that! We will enjoy these outings now and not think too far ahead. (A blizzard is predicted for next Tuesday. Oh, joy.)

Yesterday we went to the Colby College Art Museum for a noontime talk about the artist George Bellows (1882-1925) and the propaganda war-series lithographs he did for the United States during World War I. At Colby, some of these lithographs are featured in an exhibit called Graphic Matters: George Bellows and World War I. (To see a sample of Bellows’s work, click on the link.)

This is from the museum’s website: “His depictions of reported German atrocities on the Western front were used by media outlets and the federal government to stoke anti-German sentiment. Bellows’s ‘War Series’ highlights the complex and porous relationship between art and propaganda.”

The speakers, curators Justin McCann and Diana Tuite, concluded that Bellows’s images were overwrought and over the top. McCann and Tuite are not wrong. However, during the Q & A, I did note that after seeing the images from the current war in Syria, I would have to say that war itself is over the top. Maybe Bellows wasn’t wrong to portray war that way. The violence and destruction are so terrible that it’s a wonder that people ever recover.

Or maybe Bellows went too far with the propoganda. Anyway, not exactly the cheeriest of talks, but interesting nonetheless, and the small gallery was packed with seniors and students.

After the talk, we had lunch at the museum’s cafe, where we had some of the tastiest and most reasonably priced food we have ever eaten at a museum. When I asked the woman who served us where the food came from, I was not surprised to learn that most of it comes from Colby’s own kitchens. Long ago, I worked in the kitchen at one of the dorms, and the food was very good, made from scratch.

Clif and I shared a tasty homemade chicken soup and shrimp sushi rolls.

Naturally, we also had dessert, a brownie big enough for at least three people.

Refreshed, we went to another exhibition—No Limits: Zao Wou-Ki. This couldn’t have been more different from the Bellows exhibit.   Zao’s big, bold abstracts jumped with color. They reminded me of representations of the Big Bang, and they filled me with joy. Zao (1920-2013) was a Chinese-French artist. I’d never heard of him, and I was grateful to have the chance to see his work.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude…I am so grateful to have a college with such an excellent art museum within easy driving distance. This museum is free, as are the many lectures and talks that go with the exhibits.

I love nature, but I love art, in its various aspects, with equal intensity, and both are of vital importance to me. Clif is the same way. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we’ve been married so long.

Whatever the case, we both feel fortunate to live in a rural area that has access to so much good art.