Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Serpentine Table

View from some previous Thanksgiving

What is that?, I get asked frequently whenever I mention my “new”, now 3 years old, holiday tradition. The Serpentine Table (capital letters required) is how I bring together all strays, orphans, misfits and assorted others who need a place to go and people to be with for one reason or another on official holidays. What started as only a Thanksgiving thing, became Easter the following the year and we now are adding Christmas Day to the list.

I am rather short on traditional family for assorted reasons. With my kids grown up and parents growing older, we got rather bored with celebrating with just our little group that did not even need a leaf in the table. In the midst of casual conversations, it became apparent that couples in my parent’s age group, whom I have known for many years, were facing the phase where their children lived far away and were making plans of their own. These older folks would be alone.  That broke my heart and made me realize that I really did have a big family, we just didn’t share any biology.

As the calendar passed, a core group formed, some who come every time, others who cancel their reservation but hold a spot for the next gathering. A standing list of invites exists, but I reach out each year to those who may be facing a sad or solo holiday. The recently divorced or newly separated, those with family far away or financially not in reach right now, those with an ill family member who can’t do the work themselves….whatever….I add another table and explain the “rules”.

Rule #1 – No separate tables hence the title of my event. I just connect one on to the other and zig-zag a bit. The standing joke is that someday we will wrap all the way through the front hall and back into the kitchen. First timers get a “good chair” and after that, it depends upon where I place you in the mix.

Rule #2 – We use the good stuff. The china, the crystal glasses, the silver flatware, the real linens, the fancy wedding present serving pieces….and transfer foods to real serving dishes (unless it is a crockpot), I’m not stupid. I polish and dust and iron and sparkle the stuff as best I can because why else do we have it all taking up closet space?  Even candles get lit on everybody’s table, each decorated to the hilt. No one is shorted on feeling like their table is not the “main” one, all of them are the “grownup” tables.  Your place settings are right out of Emily Post so if you don’t know what “that” fork is for, who cares, but it looks nice right?!

Rule #3 – Everybody brings a dish to feed the total number attending and you have to pre-sign up for what you want to make so we have a balanced meal. Updated numbers and menus are sent out weekly the month before.

Rule #4 – We accommodate all allergies and food preferences, but don’t subject them on anybody else. You wish to experiment with some new creation? Have at it!

Rule #5 – No cleaning up, getting up from the table early, texting or phones (unless on call for the hospital) and everybody has to talk to everybody else. I make a seating chart to keep the conversation going from one end to the other and putting newbies into the middle so they can be most comfortable.

Rule #6 – Nothing is precious. If it breaks, or spills, or falls flat etc…we laugh it off and move on. Life is too short to care.

Rule #7 – A window of time is provided to allow for early birds who socialize but don’t come so close to seating time that I trip over you. The bar (with anything you could possibly want) is open and coffee /tea/special liqueurs come with dessert.

Rule #8 – Dessert crashers, last minute change of minders, the suddenly orphaned and so forth are welcome at any time…I have plenty of dishes and we always seem to have enough food to feed an army. The door is open. Don’t ring the doorbell or bang on the glass…just walk in and say Hi!

Rule #9 – Laugh. Relax. Linger. Switch seats for dessert etc…I don’t care. This is my home, not a house or a museum. The mortgage pays for every square inch so let use it!

Rule #10 – Before leaving for the evening, you are welcome to confirm a reservation for the next official Table, hold a reservation, decline but hold the one after that, or just think we are all nuts and find something else to do. The years are slipping away fast for all of us. So what if we hear the same stories….

Oh, the most important rule of all….we pray before we begin. I give thanks for having a crazy assortment of misfit toys as my “family”.  

Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Testing my computer and testing my patience.  This has been a terrible month, my computer (translation: my entire visual career and history) has up and gone to parts unknown twice in a matter of weeks. A new tower (I will attempt to use all the proper lingo) and hours upon hours upon hours of work by my son from remote access plus some visits by his old high school buddy that speaks the language, have yet to get everything back online. Nobody who speaks this language or has yet to use wrinkle cream seems to understand the emotional toll this takes upon someone over the age of 50 but I am not alone.

This turmoil appears to be a generational thing. I grew up with paper and pencils. A file cabinet sits to my left, a box of index cards to my right, and stacks of papers on the floor behind me ready to be mailed in for show entries. But I can’t do anything at all right now, I am dead and adrift on the cyber-sea because my pictures are off in the clouds someplace.  I hit this keyboard with the touch of a smith corona veteran, pre-electric. Sometimes I miss the ding at the end of a line and that push of the lever rolling my page to another line, progress being made.  But back to the issue of being lost in space.

I am still visually dead in the water after a week or more (I have lost track of time by now) with no idea if I will see my children again (the canvas ones). Assurances that they are alive and well in three different locations does not appease me because those “location” do not physically exist. I can’t pull open a drawer and hold slides up to the light. I can’t visit the storage facility and flip through the stacks….I have to rely on trust and technology….it makes my stomach churn.  

I need passwords to access things, to open things to retrieve and restart and reboot. Those passwords are numerous, change constantly, are hard to remember, have different requirements of numbers and letters and symbols and security questions to the point they are written down, scratched out, redone, forgotten, changed  arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!  I made a document with the list of them. It is on my computer, the one I can’t get to with that info so we start over. Sometimes I have gotten back on and found some familiar documents and such but all the bookmarks are gone.  I guess I don’t need to know where I have been anymore. I will find you again if I need you.  Auto fill emails are gone too. So if you don’t hear from me maybe that is why. I can’t look you up in a phone book anymore. I used of those the other day at the mall. The lady had to take it out of a locked cabinet because she said people steal them now! Really? The phone book?

And another thing….wires and ports and connectors and such….why are they all black? Would it not have made more sense to follow the code of Gir-animals (remember matching tops and bottoms of kids clothing by matching the animals?) Why not make monitor cords one color, printers another, and the mouse, the speakers, the wifi, and the backup drive all that jazz have different colors so the separation of cords would be easier? That jumble of dusty medusas behind the desk is another exercise in frustration.

Back to my feelings of fear and helplessness. Perhaps it is the helplessness that is fueling my anger and my fear. I am not angry at anyone in particular, I am angry that I cannot do anything about this. I am at the mercy of others, much like someone who needs an operation is at the mercy of the surgeon. Same set of circumstances although mine is much less serious and pretty petty in the scheme of things. But the modern world has forced my world to go inside this little box in order to survive. Art is submitted online for shows, manipulated in various programs to be printed or produced. This had taken my work from my control and put it the hands of people who speak a language I do not understand and done in a way I find just silly at times.  Why is it, when I select to do something, that two or more choices come up and one is highlighted in blue? I made my choice, I knew what I wanted to do but it seems as if some programmer someplace with commitment issues has to make sure I want to do whatever it is because maybe I really don’t. Sorry programmer geek but I grew up with a sense of commitment. Stop causing me anxiety by thinking that I don’t know if I should do something or not by sort of choosing for me at the next step with options I had not considered or needed to know about.

I am angry that I have caused my child to get upset because I am upset. I am not upset at him, I am upset at his (as in generational and professional) world. It all got so complicated so fast and I figured out why recently. The decade or so , say 15 years, when this computerization of our culture was happening, I was raising babies and toddlers and kids and teens with timetables, play dates, lessons, homework and so forth….I have no idea what TV shows, music, or movies were popular. I can sing the theme songs about trains and typing plumbers, name the characters who live under the sea and know how to work a VCR but suddenly, those days are gone and it is a whole new world. I was not learning along with everybody else, I did not have time. Now that I do, I am so far behind that I get anxious and angry about what everybody else finds so easy. They laugh at me. They make me feel stupid and old because I am worried that things dear to me are gone forever because I can’t see them.  But they are “in the cloud” or “on the hard drive in the old tower now upstairs”. No they are not...not to me anyway. It is like paying bills. I was made fun of the other day because I write out a check, pull the seal off the envelope (anybody recall that awful taste of envelope glue?) and peel a stamp (no glue there anymore either) to send the money on its way. Take a photo and expect it to deposit? Are you kidding me? I don’t trust that one bit but it seems everybody does it now.  

I know, I know….you think I should just go gather my buggy whips and slide sheets and burrow into the rabbit hole where I came from.  My state of anxiety won’t let me right now. I am still waiting right here from my prodigal children to return from their cyberspace adventure so I can see them once again and know all is safe inside this little black box I call my career.

PS- Evidently HS buddy (aka batman to me) will be by later to save the day. But I may have to pick him up…my how things have not really changed as much as we like to think.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Stark County Artists Exhibition 2013 MassMu

"This dress would be really hot if it were not so striking."

(Full disclosure, my Hoard Couture  Dress #13 pictured above was juried into the show.)

The opening for this show and the legendary arch rival's HS football game were held on the same day. The winning local team's colors are orange and black. Perhaps the jurors knew something we did not as to who would win because the undercurrent connecting this show is the color orange. A few years back I recall that same phenomenon occurring involving the color red.  Sometimes I think something as subtle as a repetitive inspirational color can guide the entire selection process. Overall, it is a very strong show with many new names on the walls. As is with all juried shows, a couple of big clunkers made it as well. No way I will identify them however as one man's clunker is another man's cash.

Judging is always the most anticipated part of any juried exhibition and this show is no exception. Three judges are used for both selection and awards. Anytime three people have to reach a consensus however, compromises must be made and I think sometimes some very deserving pieces gets lost in translation. Many national shows use one group to jury the entries in and then bring in one independent judge, not part of that process, to act as the awards juror. That way his or her vision is limited to what is physically in the room after the show has been hung. Just my suggestion for future consideration to level the playing field.

I won't bore you with the number of artists vs entries, photography /digital vs media ratio or other such details. Go see the show (on view through Jan 5th) and pick up a program. Side note...DO NOT miss the photo show on the 2nd floor!

Okay, back to the hunt for orange and a target on some of the outstanding pieces to be found in this exhibition. One award winner I want to mention is the linen weaving by Stephen Tornero. It is entitled "River" which I get, but I did not see that as much as I did the Twin Towers on fire as seen from the Hudson River. The intricate tapestry patterns felt like swirling smoke, radio waves of communication and mass confusion more so than  moving water. Perhaps that is my generational observation.  Weaving is tough, one class in college was enough to cure me of the loom for good.

A definite winner should have been Michael W. Barath's photo "Self Portrait with Boo", the synchronicity between the profiles is stunning and seamless.  It is a moving piece and his second entry "Self Portrait with Bike Wheel" is just as intricate.

The whole back wall reads as one big work of art itself, hung perfectly to highlight the pieces...and bring out the orange. As one travels to the left, the gray wall on the ramp is almost completely devoted to works of little color, putting the emphasis on textures and details. Unless one pauses at Rick Altimus's photo "Hide the Noodle", you won't get it and it is very clever. The silver frame on Billy Ludwig's "Lady in Black" could be on the wall by itself, but his photo of a woman in soaring architecture is the right fit. Speaking of his work, I was disappointed that "Kitty Bat" was not hung near "Erte's Batman"  by Anna Zotta as that would have been a golden opportunity for a visual play on content.  Zotta's work is new to me and very much like a vintage version of Rick Huggett's former style....seems simple, takes some think'n. Touches of orange anchor her works in this show as well.

Another unfamiliar artist (to me anyway) is Haley Farthing. I was not sure at first about her pieces until I stepped back to about 8 feet and then I got it. Up close, the charcoal and ink on wood seem flat, but once you are able to take in the whole surface and soften some of the detail, an ethereal depth takes over. "Carbondale Spring" is stunning in that regard, almost photographic. I am sure we will be seeing more of her.

Stepping back is also encouraged to view the fiber piece by Clare Murray Adams "Ancestral Vessels". Yes one has to be up close to see the ghostly imprints on her fabrics and the fine details of stitching, but the clear shelf is no minor player. The reflections and ghost like cast shadow under the physical work itself is just as important to her message. I always look forward to her pieces because they require as much brain power as optical nerve involvement.

While looking for orange things (I know you will now.....) don't miss the showcase featuring Julie Deutschman's "Memento Mori", a neck piece made from moth wings, copper, rose quartz and sterling silver. One does not find sculptural jewelry entries like this very often.  Also hiding in plain site is the signature on Max Rossett's ink drawing "Loaded".  Some multiple meanings could be derived from the title which I will leave to your own imaginations. Multiple meanings (maybe) are to be found in Mark Pitocco's digital photograph "Two mothers, Newberry, Michigan 7.5.2013"  One might miss that the mothers' on the TV are those of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.  If you have been under a rock for the last two years, Google this unfortunate connection.  Normally I am not a big fan of photography, but this one held my attention as I worked on the story behind its composition. To me, there is great symbolism in the open door on a corner room, two faces trapped inside a small box, darkness and emptiness...who is watching them ? Happenstance and circumstance can be a *itch.

One final mention before I close, since I gave myself a perfect transition, is "Nursing Time" by Emily Vigil.  It is a wall piece made from breast pads and diaper cloth plus various mark making media, but unless you have been a nursing mother, one might not get all the references. First of all, bravo for figuring out what to do with those leftover pads beside making them into coasters. And a diaper cloth? how many people even know what that is? The message is one of passing time. How quickly that fragile connection between a mother and a child is lost once weaning takes place. The intimate bond of pregnancy and then the life giving connection of nourishment gets replaced with the feeding of the mind, the nurturing of emotions and the filling of a lunchbox. These precious few months are gone forever but her piece preserves that in a personal way. Granted, her kids will be freaked out by it in the coming years, but from mom to mom, good for you!