Thursday, February 22, 2007

My First Commission! Success!

Several weeks ago, right before going to Washington, DC, I had the privilege of meeting with Barbara Blau, the CEO of DP Professionals ( and discussing a commission. She really wanted a large textile for her spacious, main conference room. On the far wall proudly hangs a glorious oil painting by the acclaimed artist Brian Rutenburg. On the exterior wall are two large places for artwork. The opposite wall includes windows to the hallway. This space and the existing artwork, a real showcase setting, frightened me. I felt much more comfortable accepting my first ever commission for the more intimate and smaller, second conference room. Then I set to work. Below is a photo I took while in the process of doing the free-motion machine embroidery.

Well, I finished the piece last Sunday and met with Barbara and her daughter Dana Shenkar, the company's account manager, this afternoon. Success! They both loved the much so that it will be soon hanging in the large conference room! Steve will build the selected frame and deliver the piece next week while I'm in California. I couldn't be more thrilled, more honored, and yet....
They need another piece for the second place on the same exterior wall. I've got in mind a really large piece like Strata I. I'll be thinking about it while out west. For now, I'm just giddy over how well my artwork looked in such a fabulous office with such outstanding decor and furnishings (the conference table is TOO DIE FOR!)
I will get a photo of Barbara by In Box XXIII when I return!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Elements of Architecture XXXII

Here's the last of the three embroideries stitched in England and free-motion machine stitched over the past weekend. It, too, is pictured with the corresponding collage made from the heat-activated painting on paper. I am already stitching the next piece and have others to take with me to California on Friday. This is a good series for traveling as I can simply pack a bunch of yarns and threads in a giant ziplock bag. I use whatever threads I have; I'm not picky about it!

Architecture XXXI

Here's another one of the embroideries recently hand stitched in England and free-motion machine stitched last weekend along with its counterpoint in collage.

Elements of Architecture XXX

This is one of the pieces I hand-stitched while in England and on the plane. I did the machine stitching over the weekend. I'm posting it with the corresponding collage.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Earth Moods, an altered book

I finished my altered book, Earth Moods, and have taken images of every spread. I haven't written my statement for it, but I've been thinking about it. Alex should soon be working on a mini-video soon. This week has been difficult for him. He's had a terrible cold and is getting prepared to go to "Skits" a high school drama competition taking place at Converse College in Spartanburg. The class leaves on Friday.

Elements of Architecture XXIX

I actually completed this piece right before going to England but didn't have time to post it. It is Elements of Architecture XXIX and is shown with its counterpart in collage. I've finished three more and will post soon.

Stained Glass

What can I say that these images don't already say for themselves? I found the stained glass windows in England more beautiful than any other place. Perhaps, it is only because I was noticing them more than elsewhere. Perhaps it is because England, at least in February, is grey and overcast and thus the brilliance of the stained glass windows just jumps out at viewers. Whatever the reason, I have dozens of other images and was truly overwhelmed at the diversity, age, and power of this medium


This is a view of the main street into Shrewsbury from the castle (and also the train station).

This is a view of the main building in the castle complex which included a nice, grassy courtyard maintained by the local botanical club and a military museum in its lowest level. Steve and I visited the museum. Unfortunately, we were unable to go inside the main building because of the construction. The picture was taken on a way up to an outlook tower. There was a great but hazy view to the city and surrounding areas.

Most of the downtown area of Shrewsbury included quaint Tudor architecture blended with urban businesses. Several streets were "pedestrian only".

We didn't read it in our tourbook, but Charles Darwin just had to be from Shrewsbury. Banners hung across several streets advertising the "Darwin Festival" and this Unitarian Church had a plaque stating that it had been the church attended by Charles Darwin in his youth.

Birmingham's Art Museum

I'm more than a little behind in posting images but it is only because I'm swamped trying to get ready to leave for California on Friday. I've been very busy though. Four more "Elements of Architecture" are ready to go into frames. The extra large "In Box" for Barbara Blau is done too. I also finished my altered book "Earth Moods". There's lots to get done here at Mouse House. But, still, I've wanted to share some of the pictures from the Birmingham Art Museum. Why? Because I really enjoyed this place. I loved the lay-out, the attention to children, the juried show of local art (photography not permitted), the permanent collection of Pre-Raphelite art, and even the architecture of the place (which was amazing). So here are some of the images, including the gorgeous domed ceiling in one section (above).

An antique map on vellum.

Hand painted English ceramic piece

Ancient pottery from Cyprus

Beautiful sculpture

Modern Glass

Stained Glass

A view of one hallway

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Mathias in Birmingham

I only took a few photos of Mathias while we were in England. He seems so grown up now that I tend to forget to take his picture. For some reason, this is something I only seem to think about doing for "little" children--not all grown up ones! Anyway, one is obviously outside Birmingham's Hippodrome Theater where the ballet company performs. The company office, studios, and facilities are somewhere nearby--perhaps attached. I'm not exactly sure. One picture was taken with Mathias' friends Aaron and Sonia. We met them in a nice oriental restaurant near the theater. The two came to celebrate Valentine's Day. The last one is how Mathias celebrated Valentine's Day--eating an eclair in nearly a single bite!

More from England coming later!

I have dozens of images from England. In fact, I took over 400 shots. I want to include a few on this blog but haven't got the time right now to post them. It is Saturday. I've been home only one full day. I need to get to my studio and WORK. While in England I finished the hand-stitching on three more pieces in the "Elements of Architecture" series. I've got the extra large "In Box" to complete. On Friday, I leave for California. Thus, the images will have to wait!

Home Again and Alex's Show

The trip home was long, full of weather caused delays, but ended finally with only one lost suitcase. In Philadelphia, my plane was even stuck in the snow at the gate. I'd never heard of such a problem, but it only took about a half hour for the ground crew to push and pull us free. My luggage was delivered the following morning.

Unfortunately, I didn't make it home in time to see Alex in the high school dramatic program that night. Now that I saw the Friday evening performance, I'm particularly glad that I didn't have to sit through it twice. It was terrible. Oh, Alex was good, of course, one of the best. The show was just poorly planned, poorly executed, and far longer than it should have been. I got the impression that students just put together skits. If lines were memorized, the skit was included in the program. Little attention to refinement was made. There was an attempt to string these vastly different "cameos" together, but it didn't really work. It program went on for two and a half hours or more. The singing selections were dreadful. The sound equipment made everything worse.

Thankfully, Alex's voice is so commanding that he wasn't using a microphone. Alex deserves to work in a more professional environment. I really hope he is accepted into the Governor's School as I can't look forward to seeing more from such a pathetic drama department. Thankfully, Alex knows how pitiful this show was. I didn't have to say anything about it. Steve and I only had to comment about his part in the production.

I looked around at the thin group of parents in the auditorium. I know some of them and had to wonder what they thought. After the show, many congratulated one another on their kids' work. The teacher was beaming. Steve and I smiled politely, waved to those we knew, and slipped out the door. High school shows should be better than what we saw. The students are far more capable of better work. The entire evening reminded me of Mathias and Alex putting on skits for Steve and I (and sometimes our employees got roped into watching!) It was "cute" then. They were six and eight years old. Drama performances from high-schoolers shouldn't remind me of such memories. Even Alex was disappointed, almost embarrassed, in the production. He really needs REAL direction. This isn't it.

Stravinsky Triple Bill

On Wednesday night we saw Birmingham Royal Ballet open their 2007 Stravinsky Triple Bill. They opened with Agon and then performed Stravinsky Violin Concerto. They closed with Symphony in Three Movements. We expected the house to be sold out, but it wasn't. I expected to be dazzled, but I wasn't. I was left with the same feeling that I've had every time I've seen a Balanchine piece, puzzled and wondering if I'd seen what was intended.

Again, I will reserve judgment. I am just not experienced enough to render an opinion. I also haven't seen Balanchine's work much, only USC students and an occasional solo at one of Radenko Pavlovich's LifeChance galas. Thus, I don't really know what to think. I know I was bored in Agon and that it did seem to get "better" with the other pieces. I really don't care for it, but I can't say it wasn't good. I know it wasn't perfect though. Every time the spacing between dancers is slightly irregular or a hand raises a split second before the others, I noticed it. It seems to me that any imperfection is totally obvious. Thus, the work seems spoiled. It is a shame to notice all the flaws. I found myself almost looking for them instead of enjoying some of the beautiful movements and lovely partnering.

When comparing the two performances, Cyrano and the Stravinsky Triple Bill, I can definitely say I liked the Cyrano much, much better. Judging from the cool applause for the Balanchine, I wasn't alone in this thinking. It occurred to me that Cyrano was like a very, very good classic children's book, like Alice in Wonderland. It could be enjoyed on the simplest level and would only grow more endearing with additional understanding. The Stravinsky, on the other hand, seemed to require an in depth knowledge and thus limited its own audience. Of course, there's a place for both types of literature as there's a place for both styles of ballet. I'm just not educated enough, I guess, to truly appreciate the Balanchine.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pictures from Worcester

Here are some of the pictures I've taken over the past few days. Mathias' doesn't have Photoshop so I'm using the programs he has. I can't crop them, so some include parts I would otherwise have eliminated.

This one is the cathedral in Worcester

This one shows the interior

The altar cover is a wonderfully colorful, contemporary piece of needlepoint. In fact, almost every church we've been inside included cushions and banners that were stitched both in the distant past and well as more recently.

Dozens of flags hung over the chapel dedicated to veterans from all sorts of wars. Some were quite old and had been carefully stitched to gauze-like fabric.

There were all sorts of grave markers and tombs inside the cathedral including this one with beautiful marble angels.

The crypt church had some of the most ancient sculptures including this lunette.

Here's another exterior view taken from the banks of the Severn River.

This is beautiful, downtown Worcester. We had great weather and a beautiful day.

Two Images from Parker and Arrol found on-line

I did a little "surfing" on-line and found these two images of throw pillows made by Meg Parker and Winifred Arrol in the studio I visited today in Shrewsbury.

Shrewsbury and a Textile Artist's Studio

Today Steve and I took a train to Shrewsbury near the border into Wales. The signage in the station included information in Welsh. We were instantly charmed. The place lived up to its tour book description. Black and white Tudor architecture seemed to make every street picturesque. We wandered through the military museum in the castle but didn't get into the main building due to construction. The view, however, from Laura's Tower across the walled enclosure was magnificent. We could see the overflowing Severn River meandering through the town below. We visited two ancient churches with beautiful stained glass windows and the parish church of a former abbey.

On our walk, I saw a shop sign, "Silk Painting". There didn't seem to be a store front but a doorway to an inner courtyard. Then I saw the words "Textile Designer" on the far building. I immediately went toward it. Everything seemed closed but a nice lady evidently noticed us in her "yard" and came out. She was the original artist who now shares the business with her daughter. They own Parker and Arrol and specialize in painted and discharged velvets. Their throw pillows, scarves, and other work are carried in about thirty shops all over England. She gave us a brief tour of her spacious studio and showed us samples and sketches for several previous commissions. We exchanged business cards.

Steve and I had a fantastic, truly English lunch in a nice pub. I had fish and chips. We drank local ale (at least we think it was local and we'd never heard of either kind). I am hoping to download some images and might be able to post a few even before returning home.

Monday, February 12, 2007

We are in Birmingham!

Steve and I got to Manchester, England on time despite some delays at the gate and due to inclement weather. Our pre-purchased train tickets were for a latter journey but the ticket agent waved us onto the earlier trains at both the airport station and at Manchester Piccadilly. We were in Birmingham just over an hour ahead of our plans. There was melting snow everywhere but the temperature wasn't cold and the wind was calm. We pulled our suitcases to Mathias flat. We had a key, dropped the bags, and walked back into the city center with ample time to grab a program and tickets to the matinee.

We are fortunate that someone had just turned in two very good seats in a section called "the stalls". I'd call it the first balcony or the loge. The view was excellent. The crowd filled the auditorium, nearly sold out. The curtain was up exposing the stage, a view to another, outdoor theater with a few rows of benches and two wooden seating stands. Dancers dressed in period costumes wandered in, two soldiers practicing their swordsmanship, flower sellers, actors preening before the performance, etc. Finally, the ballet "started" with excellent, live music when the mock theater director announced the play.

This unique opening totally transported me into a magical world. The sets, lighting, costuming, and humor held me there. Among the cadets was my Mathias. He looked great. His wig of long brown hair looked totally natural. He was perfectly part of the group in which he danced. The group was perfectly part of the whole. The blend of acting and dancing was charming. The sword play was unlike anything I could have imagined. It was totally excellent and yet wonderfully funny. The dancing was fantastic: lovely ballet from the soloists and principals mixed with basically character dancing from a strong, supporting corps. The ballet was in three acts and didn't seem half as long as the time that past. The narrative was so obvious that one didn't need to read the plot beforehand. The story and movement were seamed perfectly together. This was what all ballet ought to be, something that anyone, regardless to prior experience or knowledge, could appreciate and enjoy. Everyone around us seemed as spellbound as I felt.

Mathias found us in the lobby after the performance and we went to dinner at a nearby Oriental restaurant. It was very interesting to see the performance again so soon after the first viewing. It had an entirely different, slightly better cast. Knowing what would happen and what to expect allowed me to focus on the choreography. I found the ballet more brilliant the second time and I enjoyed it completely. I was amazed how entertaining and happy the show played out while it was still mostly a tragedy. Of course, by that time I was exhausted. Fortunately, the next day was Sunday. We slept in.

Well, that was yesterday. We caught the train for Worcester and arrived desperate for coffee. Mathias was out of anything that might have resembled breakfast! We had strong coffee and pastries before finding the cathedral. The exterior was magnificent but the interior was completely wonderful. Fortunately, Steve and Mathias liked it too. My camera got a good workout and we enjoyed many conversations while strolling from the aisle and nave into the elaborate choir and finally into the crypt. We walked along the Severn River watching dozens of swans and a few crew teams practicing. Finally, we window-shopped down the unique, Tudor-styled old shopping streets before taking the train home.

Today, Mathias went to class and rehearsal while Steve and I went to the art museum to see the great collection of Pre-Raphelite paints and the recently opened juried show of local work. The permanent collection galleries were all painted in vivid colors and there was an obvious interest to include children. One room had "dress up" clothes for kids. Another room, right in the middle of the exhibition space, was for "hands on" art. Yet, another room (impossible to avoid) focused on teaching various approaches to art. As a result, there was an energy in the air and well behaved kids really LOOKING at art with their parents. I liked this.

The juried show carried a sign that over 1500 entries were submitted. Only 235 were selected. I totally disliked the jurying of awards but was really impressed by the overall quality of the local work. The space was incredible. The signage clearly indicated the name of each piece, the artist, and the media. The catalogs included the prices. Like most juried shows, there were wildly overpriced pieces and some good buys. The show only open about two days ago and a few pieces already had red dots. Media included the usual oils, acrylics, and traditional 3D pieces with many others listed as "mixed media". There were also two altered books, some fibers, and several completely unique works. I took notes.

Steve and I didn't have lunch at either the Newt or the Toad restaurants. We had "food" at a place called EAT. Then we went shopping for Mathias. We returned carrying four bags of food at almost the same time as did Mathias. We spent a relaxing hour and a half, like a normal family. Mathias played an incredible football video game. He was the Steelers. The sound effects included Madden's voice and often I'd glance up from my embroidery only to be surprised by the computer animation. My mind kept thinking it was "real". Steve cheered for the Steelers and bought tickets to Birmingham Royal Ballet's performance at the Virginia Arts Festival. This was the first day that tickets were available on-line. Finally, Mathias had to return to the company for another rehearsal. Steve is cooking steak for a late dinner after Mathias returns.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Good News/Bad News: Ballet, grades, and a mild heart attack

I have images to upload but something isn't operating correctly. I don't have time to mess around with it or wait, especially since I haven't posted since last Monday and am about to depart for England.

After my last post, Steve and I got one of those dreadful telephone calls from Mathias. "Something" happened during the dress rehearsal. It had to do with the wig and the cue. What had been an opportunity for Mathias ended before it really started. He was replaced. He is still dancing the same role in the second cast. David Bintley, the artistic director, even complimented his efforts with the second cast's recent performance. Yet, this means we will not be seeing dance Mathias at all. (Unless we arrive with enough time to make the Saturday matinee--a show for which we do not have tickets.) Mathias was devastated. We don't have many details because when he's sad, he's silent. This, of course, makes for a heart-breaking telephone call. It seems that all he needs is a hug, the one thing quite impossible over the telephone. There have been other such calls over the past seven years. I'm always left in tears. I cried all afternoon. It wasn't unproductive though; all emotion was transferred into the large "In Box" piece. It progressed quite nicely.

To put things into perspective, however, we received a telephone call later in the week from my sister Sonya. Sometime on Wednesday night, my Dad experienced sharp pain down his arms and in this chest. He refused to let my mother call the ambulance but a few minutes later agreed to let her take him to the hospital. Before arriving, he felt better and wanted to return home. Wisely, my mother drove on. Preliminary tests were run and he was admitted. At this point, my mother passed out. Tests were run on her. Fortunately, she was allowed to leave.

Yesterday, my Dad failed the stress test administered by the local hospital staff. He was then taken to Allegheny General in Pittsburgh in order to be catheterized. I don't really understand what little information I've received. There was something about a "balloon" and "routine". We've been on pins and needles, but today, he's been released. Dad adamantly said we were not to cancel our trip to see his grandson. Thus, we leave at 3 PM

So, what's the good news? Alex got his interim report card. This is generally NOT a time for celebration. Ordinarily there is fighting, punishments, threats, and tears. The paper clearly indicates FOUR As, a B and a C. Steve and I nearly fainted. The C was in biology. It had improved since the last report card from an F. Last report card carried no As at all. This is the first time since sixth grade that we've been happy about Alex's academic performance. It couldn't have come at a better time!

Monday, February 05, 2007

We are going to Birmingham on Friday

This week is already in a whirlwind of activity. Steve and I are headed to Birmingham, England on Friday to see Mathias in Cyrano and to see Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) in a Stravinsky triple bill. Mathias is not cast in the later; he is only a "cover". Yet, in Cyrano he is dancing several parts and with the "first" cast. One scene features a sword fight. Obviously, the cast is all male. Yet, only Mathias is a member of the corps. He's quite happy about this. He said that tomorrow is a performance for critics and to be televised. I guess this might be called "dress rehearsal" but he said that they were already in costumes--or at least in partial costumes, like wigs and other props. I'm really not sure. Steve and I intend to learn more about how a production like this unfolds. We are also planning a day trip to Worcester. Steve is quite excited as we own a book about the cathedral. Of course, our book was published in 1836. Likely, nothing much about the architecture, art, and sculpture has changed much in the past 170 years. It could be really fun to take digital images of the same interior or exterior scene for comparison to the 19th engraving. We plan to take the book along, like our guide book or something!

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Bohemian Home, ballet, and Pub Night

This post is going to cover several thoughts. First, I called Bohemian Home, a new store on Divine Street. It's new, but not really. Originally, it was called Storehouse Furniture. The staff is the same, the place still sells upscale, contemporary furniture, and the focus is on residential interiors. Yet, Storehouse went out of business.

Bruce Schultz, long time owner of Bohemia, took over the location. Bohemian is just down the street. It is a wonderful shop full of fine art crafts, African artifacts, funky clothing, and interesting objects of all sorts. Best of all, it is LOCALLY owned and operated. It reflects Bruce's eye for quality. Bruce has included furniture for years and had a building full of great pieces that just didn't open onto the street. Now, he's got Bohemian Home.

While at my art reception a few weeks ago, Bruce suggested I hang some work in his new location. I called and talked to the manager, Tom Chinn, who said I could bring the entire African series later that very day. That was Friday. The next day was a "sidewalk sale" up and down Divine Street. All but four of my pieces were on the walls. Even the four were in public view. I went by and took these pictures. I'm totally thrilled.

Later that night, Steve and I went to see "Where the Wild Things Are" at the Koger Center. The Columbia City Ballet production included a new piece called "Men's Class" and a tribute to Fred Astaire before the intermission.

We enjoyed William Starrett's choreography and humor in "Men's Class". The dancing was good too. Five dancers, a ballet master, and an accompanist made up the piece. I particularly like the pause with the five dancers assuming the five ballet positions.

The ballroom inspired works, however, were dreadful. Perhaps the line of men opening this segment were under rehearsed. The movements seemed simple but was not often in unison. Much of the rest was suppose to be humorous, only it failed to amuse. It was suggested to me by another viewer that this was just "ballet's" impression of ballroom. Thus, it wasn't good ballet or good ballroom. Maybe?
The crowd just went wild when Mariclare and William danced together. Some even stood in ovation at the end. Steve and I bit our tongues. We thought William danced adequately but was painful to watch. It was further suggested to us that William danced poorly because he might have been in pain. Our friend added that the audiences' adoration of our local stars made this an important part of the evening but that it was utterly unnecessary for the two to attempt what could not be accomplished well. Ballroom steps don't have to include lifts. Ballroom dancing doesn't have to pair a couple in a grand wedding pas scenario. It didn't have to set these two up as if they were the principal dancers, the finest in the company, the best. Because it tried this, it failed.

Certainly my family owes a large debt to William and Mariclare. I like them both, dearly. I wanted to cheer and stand with the others, but not for the performance. What we witnessed did not merit this. Our feelings were so mixed that we left after intermission. We've never ducked out of a show before this.
On Saturday I worked on the biggest "In Box" I've ever attempted. Hopefully, this will suit Barbara Blau's small conference room. If not, it will still be wonderful. Later that night we went to CMFA's (Columbia Music Festival Association's) annual fund-raiser, Pub Night. The evening is all about good food and drink, a dart tournament, and dozens of door prizes. The "big" prizes each year are two round-trip tickets to anywhere in the continental US. Steve won one of them! We were stunned and had a great time! Alex worked setting the place up, selling raffle tickets, and cleaning up afterwards. I stitched until someone brought him home at 1:30 AM. One of the pictures is of Pub Night emcee, TV's Joe Pinner with Harriet Green and Rusty Sox of the SC Arts Commission pulling raffle tickets.