Category Archives: Art

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.

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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.

Along Came a Spider…

The meal on Jill's deck
The meal on Jill’s deck

 

The week with our daughter Dee was bookended by two outdoor meals with friends. The first was with Jill on her deck in the trees. (The back of her house sits high on a slope, and on the deck it really does feel as though you are in the trees. ) We had an absolutely fabulous appetizer meal. As we ate and talked, I watched the tree tops sway in the wind. I also watched the birds that came to the many feeders Jill has in her yard. All in all, a magical meal.

Then, this past Sunday, after Dee left, we had another absolutely fabulous meal—salads and salmon and grilled bread—with our friends Cheryl and Denny. (Alas, I did not think to bring my camera. The hot and humid day must have clouded my mind.) Their deck is low and overlooks a sweep of lawn with flowers and a bird bath. Another magical place.

In between, we went to two movies—Star Trek and Captain Fantastic—and two plays—The Illusion and Henry V.  In central Maine, which has a low population, we are extremely lucky to have the Theater at Monmouth, which calls itself the Shakespearean theatre of Maine. Each summer, equity and nonequity actors perform four or five plays in repertory, and two of them are usually Shakespeare’s plays. While I love all the arts, theater is at the top of my list, right up there with books. In short, I can never go to too many plays, especially if the actors are good.

This year, the troupe at the Theater at Monmouth is very good indeed. So good, in fact, that when, in The Illusion, a huge spider decided to descend from the heights and join the fun, the actors—bless them—never skipped a beat, never once indicated that a giant arachnid was hovering nearby. Up the spider went, and then down again it came, nearly running into one of the actresses as she was in mid-speech. An audible ripple of dismay  spread through the audience, and I covered my eyes with my hands.

But the actress never flinched, and on went the show. That darned spider finally dropped to the stage, and we didn’t see it again. Thank goodness!

This unpredictability is one of the reasons I love theater so much. Who knows what will happen in any given performance? As the house lights go down, I always get a little shiver of anticipation, and sometimes, just sometimes, there is even alchemy in the theater.

Our week with our daughter is over, and back to our normal routines we must go. However, thanks to Dee, who for Christmas bought us season passes to the Theater at Monmouth, we have two more plays to see next weekend.

I wonder if there will be any more unexpected visitors.

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens: The Sculptures

At the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, the beds of beautiful flowers with their snappy color combinations would be enough to please most people. However, what makes these gardens really special is the attention that has been paid to the aesthetics of place—the use of stone, water, and sculpture. I know it is hyperbole  to call any place magical, but the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens really fits that description. Going through these gardens and taking pictures becomes a sort of mediation, a celebration of the beautiful now.

Here are some pictures of the sculpture at the Botanical Gardens. They only give the barest glimpse of what it’s like to be there and walk along the pathways with the drifts of flower, the expanse of blue sky all around, the many, many pieces of art, the dappled shade, and the solid yet lovely stonework.

Readers, there is only one solution. If you live within driving distance, go visit these gardens and see for yourself. If you don’t live within driving distance, then you can follow Botanical Gardens online.

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A wonderful interlude, but now it’s back to Maya and the Book of Everything. I have a deadline of August 3 to get certain materials ready, and I am making good progress.

Onward!

Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens—A Longer View

Yesterday’s post featured close-ups of the many delights at the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. Today I’ll  give a longer view of this lovely place. Eliza and I arrived at about 11:00 a.m. and didn’t leave until about 4:30 p.m. As I have mentioned previously, we were the perfect companions for this outing. I had my wee wonder of a camera, and Eliza had her larger Canon.

Here’s how it went. We’d take a few steps, stop, snap some pictures, and repeat. For someone not as enthused about taking pictures as we were, it would have been excruciatingly slow. But the pace was just right for the two of us.

As I was going through my pictures this morning, I realized that a third post was in order to highlight the wonderful sculptures in this garden. The sculptures are so fine and so integral to the look and feel of the place that they deserve their own space on this blog.

But for today, here is a broader sweep of flowers, sky, water, and stone.

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PechaKucha (PK) Night in Waterville

On Saturday, Clif and I went to Waterville for another rousing  PechaKucha Night, or PK Night, as it is more commonly known. (PechaKucha means chitchat in Japanese.) Here is a little background info about PechaKucha gleaned from the official website:

“PechaKucha…is a simple presentation format where you show 20 images, each for 20 seconds. The images advance automatically and you talk along to the images. The presentation format was devised by Astrid Klein and Mark Dytham of Klein Dytham architecture. The first PechaKucha Night was held in Tokyo in their gallery/lounge/bar/club/creative kitchen, SuperDeluxe, in February, 2003.”

Why 20 images, each for 20 seconds?  Because some people have a tendency to, ahem, go on a bit too long when they have a microphone. The 20 x 20 format keeps people in reasonable bounds and often leaves the audience wanting more rather than wishing for less.

The thing I love about PK Nights is that they  “are informal and fun gatherings where creative [and local] people get together and share their ideas, works, thoughts, holiday snaps — just about anything, really — in the PechaKucha 20×20 format.”

Clif and I have been going to PK Waterville for several years. We so enjoy listening to and watching the various presentations given by everyday folks who are living creative lives.

Saturday’s PK Night was held in the Hathaway Creative Center, formerly the Hathaway Shirt Company. My father once worked at Hathaway Shirt Company, and it was one of the cornerstones of Waterville’s economy. However, the great factories in Waterville are gone, either torn down or converted into some other use, the way Hathaway Shirt Company has been. Times change, and Waterville is struggling to find a new way to support itself.

Hathaway Creative Center
Hathaway Creative Center

 

Hundreds of people came to last Saturday’s PK Night, and the huge meeting room was packed. A snappy jazz band, Mes Amis, played before the presentations started, and there were tasty appetizers provided by the Last Unicorn, a restaurant in downtown Waterville.

The crowd at PK Night
The crowd at PK Night

 

Tasty appetizers
Tasty appetizers

 

The presentations began, and they included a young woman recreating her stylish grandmother’s clothes and wearing them around NYC; another young woman, in Elizabethan garb, who has started a low-budget Shakespeare company; an acquaintance of ours—Pat Clark—who outlined her experience as a lumberjack and Jill coach at Unity College, where she works.

A little about Pat’s presentation: In Maine, there are lumberjack competitions at various fairs and colleges where young women and men compete to see who can saw the fastest and straightest, among other woody activities. They use hand tools, and let’s just say that these young people are in very, very good shape. Clif and I have never gone to one of those competitions but after listening to Pat and looking at the slides, it is on our must-see list. (Colby College in Waterville just had a woodsmen’s and women’s competition. Next year Clif and I will go.)

Then there was Tim Christensen’s “Art in the Holocene Extinction.” Christensen is a potter who lives in Down East Maine, and he makes exquisite etched-porcelain pottery. He regards potters as the record keepers of humanity, and his concern is the natural world—the systems that hold the world up, the weather, waves, and tides.

Christensen went on to speak of some alarming observations. One spring there were no smelts, and the lobsters shedded earlier.  How to save the animals? Finally, he spoke of how he etches about life Down East, how life emerges form the vernal pools, how bees pollinate, how hummingbird moths feed. He etches chickens in the coop, and life as man and animal.

Here is a link to Christensen’s website were you can see his beautiful creations.

When the evening was over, I came away inspired and informed, as I always do. The next PK Night is in July, and if the schedule allows, Clif and I will be there.