Monday, May 31, 2010

Blue Star Museums Initiative

Today is Memorial Day and the best time to introduce to you the Blue Star Museums project, which gets underway today and continues through Labor Day, September 6.

The result of a collaborative effort involving the National Endowment for the Arts, many hundreds of  museums, and a service-related organization, Blue Star Families, the project enables museums across the United States to offer free admission to active-duty military personnel and their immediate families.

Among the fine art and craft museums in all 50 states that are participating in the "Operation Appreciation" initiative are California's San Diego Museum of Art, Museum of Photographic Arts, Mingei International Museum; Seattle Art Museum, Oregon's Portland Art Museum; the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, South Carolina; New York's Asia Society, American Folk Art Museum, and Brooklyn Children's Museum; the North Dakota Museum of Art; Wyoming's Fort Caspar Museum; Amon Carter Museum, Buddy Holly Center, Fort Sam Houston Museum, and Nasher Sculpture Center, all in Texas; Virginia's Chrysler Museum of Art, Gadsby's Tavern Museum, and Morven Park; Nebraska's International Quilt Center and Museum; Iowa's Figge Art Museum; Colorado's Boulder History Museum; the American Jazz Museum and St. Louis Art Museum in Missouri; Utah Museum of Fine Arts; Corcoran Gallery of Art, The Phillips Collection, and Dumbarton House in Washington, D.C. 

A map that lists every museum in a particular state when you click on it is here. Each listing is highlighted to enable you to go directly to the museum's Website to learn about its exhibitions. 

May as many military families as possible enjoy their arts ventures, wherever they are, as museums and the public that supports them show their appreciation for service to our country.

For a series of FAQs about Blue Star Museums, go here. The Blue Star Museums blog is here.

Happy Memorial Day, everyone!

My Monday Muse column returns next Monday with a feature on West Virginia's Poet Laureate.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Thought for the Day

Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, 
places to play and pray, where nature heals
 and gives strength to body and soul alike.
~ John Muir

John Muir (1838 - 1914), founder of a world-wide conservation movement, is considered one of America's greatest nature writers. His many books include The Wilderness World of John Muir, John Muir: My Life with Nature (Sharing Nature With Children Book), A Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf, and The Wild Muir: Twenty-two of John Muir's Greatest Adventures.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Saturday Sharing (My Finds Are Yours)

Image: Hubble Space Telescope 

Saturday again, already? As we head into summer, find a cool place to enjoy a few bytes and bits of literature, art, science, and technology. One of these sites literally will take you out of this world.

✭ Founded by Sophie Rochester, The Literary Platform showcases creative projects combining literature and technology. Its aim is to engage publishers, literary agents, literary magazines, writers, developers, and others in the publishing and technology fields to discuss and debate ways to bring "the traditional book format to new platforms". Among the highlights are The 24hr Book, a project that challenges writers to produce a new story about London in 24 hours; the Poetry Archive, which seeks to make English-language poetry available around the world and to supplement it with educational materials for both specialists and general readers; and Visit Grubtown, an interactive online experience for children. The list of innovative and experimental projects is found in TLP's Showcase.

✭ If you've been out of school as long as I have, you might have forgotten a lot of Euclidian geometry but maybe not Euclid's elemental explanation that "I. A point is that which has no parts. II. A line is length without breadth. . . ." Whether or not you appreciate such mathematical statements, you will have to marvel at the brilliant red, yellow, blue, and black Mondrian-like figures and diagrams in The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid, Taschen's new facsimile of a beautifully conceived 19th Century geometry primer. The two-volume reproduction of the 1847 edition of Euclid by the Irish author and civil engineer Oliver Byrne (c. 1810 - c. 1880) includes an introductory essay by Swiss art historian Werner Oechslin. Leaf-through the book virtually here.

✭ You'll soar in space when you take time for this collection of 100 gorgeous images from the Hubble Space Telescope. The images were gathered from NASA, The Hubble Heritage Project, Space Telescope Science Institute,, and NASA APOD. Be sure to explore these links. You'll be awed by the sheer beauty of what lies beyond.

✭ Art heals, as more and more hospitals and health care organizations are discovering. Across the Atlantic, the John Radcliffe Hospital, in Oxford, England, enlisted famed artist Michael Craig-Martin to create a five-storey wall painting, "Kids" (thumbnail image at left), which, Craig-Martin says, is intended "to transform the bleak view from the windows of the children's wards" and "create a sense of pleasure and wonderment" that will aid patients' recovery. To learn more about the concept behind art as therapy, watch this e-article featuring the painting: "Can a Wall Painting Help Patients Recover?" Go here to learn more about the hospital's Community Atrium Art Project and here for the painting's installation. The project was funded entirely from private gifts.

✭ Many of us have seen the photographs inside the Secret Annex where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis during World War II. Few of us, however, may ever have the chance to travel abroad and visit the house ourselves. Now, technology brings us the Secret Annex virtually. Another excellent video, about the creation of the online museum, is here.

✭ Ever wonder about the physics of pollen or its architecture? This video will show you just how beautiful "pollen grain origami" can be. (Special thanks to my friend Deborah at Slow Muse who alerted me to the availability to the video.)

Friday, May 28, 2010

All Art Friday

All Art Friday

Interactive Digital Collaboration Project

Sponsored by The Art Institute of California ~ Orange County, Los Angeles-based Kuro Interactive and Vision Design Studio have organized and launched an experiment in interactive digital collaboration involving artists from around the world. Called Shape the Hive, the project invites artists to submit artwork online that will be combined continuously to create a single huge art installation, the final size of which depends on the number of people collaborating. The concept, denoted by a honeycomb-shaped logo, is to connect artists intentionally using the Web as platform and tool for collaborative creation. The "hive" is the creative community.

Information about submitting work for an available hive or "pod" in the honeycomb is here. (To navigate the site, use the pulldown Expand Menu to the top and right of the site. Click and drag to explore the parts of the honeycomb. An interactive map on the site allows you to see pods currently "active".)

To entice artists' participation, Shape the Hive will award a MacBook Pro to the pod that receives the most votes in a social media popularity contest on the site. The competition ends on July 15; the winner will be announced August 1. It will award a $10,000 scholarship to The Art Institute to the submission receiving the highest number of points on creativity, use of space/time, and aesthetic quality; a team of faculty and industry professionals will judge each submission and may award as many as 20 points in each category. In addition, it will award a second prize of $5,000 and a third prize of $2,500. Entries for the scholarship competition, which is open to 2010 high school seniors and international students, must be submitted by July 31; winners will be notified by August 15 and have until August 30 to accept the offers.

Shape the Hive on Twitter

Art Exhibition Roundup

✭ At The Art League, in Alexandria, Virginia, Teresa Oaxaca's solo exhibit "Classical Realism: New Works", heads into its final week. Closing June 7, the show comprises Oaxaca's recent paintings and drawings, including "In Time" (see image at left), inspired by Jan Brueghel's "Triumph of Death Over Life". Oaxaca, who uses primarily oils, works entirely from life, drawing and painting from a live model. Images of Oaxaca's stunning work may be viewed here.

✭ "Illusions of Time: Two Photographers" continues through June 13 at the Athenaeum (201 Prince St., Alexandria, Virginia; 703-548-0035). On show are Lisa McCarty's altered Polaroid emulsion transfer images from her "Florid Interiors" series and Stephen Schiff's ditigal prints, titled "Potomac Ice". Trading on both nostalgia and reflection, McCarty's work addresses the changes in the home and environment of her grandparents. Schiff's photographs, taken along Georgetown's Potomac River waterfront following a snowstorm, went unprinted for three decades.

See McCarty's work, including "Florid Interiors", here. Schiff's "Potomac Ice 127" (January 1977) was shown in Gallery West's 13th Annual National Juried Show of artwork from across the United States.

✭ Opening tomorrow at MASS MoCA, North Adams, Massachusetts: "Petah Coyne: Everything That Rises Must Converge". Coyne, who makes creative if somewhat morbid use of dead fish, taxidermy animals, horsehair, birdcages, black and white wax, plywood, chicken wire, artificial flowers, bows and ribbons, black sand, and sundry other materials, includes in the show both photographs, described as "ghostly", and sculptural works from a decade ago, such as selections from her series based on Dante's Inferno. Coyne's pieces can be found in many public and private collections, including those of the Whitney Museum of American ArtCorcoran Gallery of Art, and Buffalo's Albright-Knox Art Gallery. She is represented by Galerie LeLong in New York City. The exhibition runs through July 29.

Coyne has a FaceBook page on which she includes a YouTube video of her 2008 show at Galerie LeLong. An interview with Coyne and a close-up of one of her sculptures are here. Her "Altar Mary" (see image at right; click on for larger view), a wax-encrusted installation commemorating Irish Catholic women who immigrated to cities such as Detroit, can be seen here; also found on that page is a installation slideshow and a video clip. Coyne is the subject of Petah Coyne: Vermilion Fog, co-authored with Ann Lloyd (Charta/Galerie LeLong, 2008). She's quoted in the book as saying her simultaneously figurative and abstract sculptures are "like a plant on somebody's porch that's kind of lost its mind."

✭ The Sylvia White Gallery, Ventura, California, is hosting through June 19 an exhibition of William T. Wiley's prints and tapestries. Tonight, Wiley will be present at the gallery for a reception and book signing.

The exhibition is in conjunction with "What's It All Mean: William T. Wiley in Retrospect", now showing at the Berkeley Art Museum until June 30. A 50-year survey of Wiley's artwork, the exhibition was organized and opened at the Smithsonian American Art Museum (October 2, 2009 - January 24, 2010).

Selected works from the exhibition may be viewed here. Be sure to visit Wiley's Website.

✭ Washington, D.C.'s National Gallery of Art is presenting "Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg" through September 6. Dating from the 1950s to 1990s, some 79 of Ginsberg's black and white photographs of himself and other "Beat Generation" poets and writers — Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso, William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady — comprise the first scholarly exhibition of Ginsberg's photographic work. An "Art Talk" connected to the show is available online. A list of Ginsberg's work in the NGA's collection is here.

✭ The Trammell & Margaret Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas, Texas, debuted "Modern Twist" on May 1. The exhibition showcases 20 baskets from 1948 to 2008 and other gorgeous bamboo works from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California. It also features the extraordinary art of Motoko Maio, including three of her byobu folding screens, which use panels of different sizes (each screen has 13 folds instead of the traditional 6 or 12). Maio's unique style and approach make the screens functional, as partitioners of space, without blocking sound or air flow and, in Maio's view, create a suggestion of "erotic possibility". The show runs through September 5.

For more on byobu, go here.

✭ At the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture you'll find, through July 31, "Zuan: Expressions of Modern Design in Early 20th Century Japanese Art". The exhibition includes paintings, prints, lacquer ware, ceramics, and kimono and early graphic design on postcards, illustrations, and posters designed by such masters as Hashiguchi Goyo, Takehisa Yumeji, and Kamisaka Sekka.

Image above right: "Woman in a long undergarment", Hashiguchi Goyo (1880-1921), polychrome woodblock print with mica accents; privately published in 1920; Nihon no hanga, Amsterdam. 

Interview with Glass Artist Tim Tate

Artist Rosetta DeBerardinis' informative interview with the superb glass artist Tim Tate, who founded Washington Glass School and is one of the Washington, D.C., area's best-known artists, can be found here.

Ellen O'Grady's Drawings From Palestine

Recently, the Jerusalem Fund Gallery in Washington, D.C., mounted the exhibition "What Ham Saw: Drawings From Palestine" by Ellen O'Grady, an artist and social justice activist who lives in Durham, North Carolina. O'Grady spent six years in Israel and Palestine and often draws inspiration from her time there to tell visually the stories of individual Palestinians caught in the continuing conflict. O'Grady's paintings from her book Outside the Ark: An Artist's Journey in Occupied Palestine, based on the time she lived and worked on the West Bank, were exhibited at Jerusalem Fund Gallery in 2006.

Below is a brief video of O'Grady talking about her drawings in the show that closed May 7. Close-up images of the drawings may be viewed here and here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sacrificial Lambs

There will always be sacrificial lambs in this war.
~ Taliban Recruiter

What is the worth of a child's life? The value of anyone's life that a child might be brainwashed to take it?

How does a human being live with the knowledge that he trains children — some as young as five, many more just 10- to 14-years-old  — to become terrorists and suicide bombers?

What kind of mother and father allows a son to be recruited to do the Taliban's killing?

What does it mean for the future of our world to grow hate in the hearts of boys?

If promises and provision of free food, shelter, and clothing are sufficient exchange to kill, what is sufficient to gain an oath to honor life? 

Whatever my answer might be, whatever yours is, I wonder.

Give me back myself.
Give me back the human race.
~ Toge Sankichi

Meaning displaces us. . . .
~ Mahmoud Dawish

Film producer and journalist Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy goes around the world to document the stories of refugees, women's advocacy groups, and men and women caught up in the life-draining struggle to defend human rights. Her award-winning work, including her films Children of the Taliban, with Dan Edge (an investigation into the creation of a generation of child-terrorists), The Lost Generation (about Iraqi refugees and exiles), and Afghanistan Unveiled (about Afghani women's lives in the war-torn nation), is her way, she told an interviewer, to try to help "effect change" in the world "in one community at a time."

As shown in the short piece below, Obaid-Chinoy sought to understand how the Taliban recruits and uses propaganda to train children to become killers. She spent a year trying to understand. I watched the excerpt; it's chilling. I understand what's done, even a little how the propaganda is used, that poor and uneducated and hungry-enough mothers and fathers can be bought off, and yet I understand nothing.  The children whom Obaid-Chinoy interviewed believe with all their hearts what they are saying; they believe the perversions of the Koran in which they've been indoctrinated in a language they do not understand; they believe that to murder "infidels" is to bring glory unto God.

What blessing would you get from carrying out a suicide attack?

On the day of judgment, God will ask me, "Why did you do that?"

I will answer, "My Lord! Only to make you happy!"

Obaid-Chinoy, a 2010 TED Fellow, helped found the nonprofit Citizens Archive of Pakistan, which seeks to foster and promote interest in Pakistan's culture and history. The organization's volunteers work with many thousands of children to teach them critical thinking skills and instill pride in their history and identity.

A complete list of Obaid-Chinoy's films is here; videos excerpts from her work are here.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Absorbing Black

This Saturday past I spent the afternoon at our National Gallery of Art in downtown Washington, D.C., a last weekend for such visits before crowds of welcome tourists begin making seeing impossible until after Labor Day.

My husband and I stopped first to see "The Sacred Made Real: Spanish Painting and Sculpture, 1660 - 1700" (closing May 31), an exhibition of 22 works — images of Christ, the Virgin Mary, and saints — rendered by the hands of Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Zurbaran, and other exceptional oil painters and the sculptors Juan Martinez Montanes and Pedro de Mena, whose polychromed (painted in many colors) wood carvings, some of which include human hair, ivory, cloth such as gilded linen, cord, glass, and other ornamentation, can leave one breathless, so natural do the figures seem. The NGA beautifully lights these masterpieces, and if you linger long enough before some of them — Zurbaran's Christ on the Cross, for example (see image at left, from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago)— it's possible to forget for a few minutes that you're in a gallery and not a sanctuary. 

There's an undeniable austerity about these artworks and yet they overflow with emotion; their placement by their painter in a field of dense black lit by a single shaft of bright light, their contemplative and suffered expressions, their physical torture realized in trickles of blood from face and hands and feet move you as much as make you want to turn away. Their very blackness is compelling.

For exhibition highlights, go here. A very interesting video about making a polychrome is here. To read or download a copy of the exhibition brochure, go here (for the Spanish version, go here).

* * * * *

From this gallery we walked to the Tower, where is installed for viewing until January 2, 2011, "In the Tower: Mark Rothko". We specifically sought out these paintings, which Rothko made in 1964 preparatory to his work on a Catholic chapel in Houston, now the non-denominational Rothko Chapel, commissioned by wealthy art patron and collector Dominique de Menil

My experience of these marvelous black-on-black paintings is the same as my visit many years ago to the Rothko Chapel: awe. To stand (or sit) before them — these huge canvases of rectangles within rectangles, their edge-blacked reddish-brown and purple color fields seemingly floating — takes patience, and in the patience is the seeing that comes from allowing oneself to be dominated by their color and what Matisse called black's "color of light".  The black of these paintings is not just a black into which one metaphorically falls or the black that is dismissed as the product of some form of deranged view of life. Rothko knew what he was after. These paintings' black has surface; you can see, depending on the angle of viewing and the strike of light from above or to the side or straight-on, the brush strokes, the sheen, the matte, I would even say the effort to achieve effect at once as meditative-inducing as it is impelling. You have to look across and also up and down, and when you do, you begin to notice the black at the edges of the canvas isn't black but violet-hued or red-tinged. And it's expansive, the way it bleeds into the rectangle within it, gradually minimizing that block of color until you begin to look out again and your focus re-fixes itself on the geometry.

Image above right: No. 7, 1964, mixed media on canvas; overall 236.4 x 193.6 cm; NGA's collection; Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation; © 1997 by Christopher Rothko and Kate Rothko Prizel.

The printed pamphlet for the show notes that "these little-known works have often been seen as tokens of the depression and illness that began to plague Rothko [after 1961] . . . even as harbingers of his suicide in 1970." I can understand how this kind of description might be ascribed, particularly knowing that Rothko killed himself. All this black produced something else for me, though: the quiet and heart-filling joy that can be had by simply sitting and looking and being moved to let go.

Playing in the gallery where the black paintings hang is Morton Feldman's Rothko Chapel recording from 1971. In the gallery preceding are earlier paintings from among Rothko's figurative and surrealistic works of the 1930s and 1940s, respectively. These, in all honesty, held little interest for me, perhaps because I'm drawn more to abstract art. They do, however, show something of Rothko's early use of black paint. A brief (10-minute) film narrated by NGA curator of contemporary and modern art Harry Cooper) loops continuously in the same gallery, and is worth viewing (it's also available here). My one quibble is that the film is mounted just outside the huge elevator that disgorges viewers directly into the gallery space.

A slideshow of the exhibit begins here. In no way do photographs do justice to these paintings.

Additional resources include these biographical notes, in-depth study, NGA's own considerable collection of Rothko works, and information about a catalogue raisonne in progress.

* * * *  *
I do my sketching and observing with the camera.
~ Allen Ginsberg, 1993

We wrapped up our visit by returning to the West Building to view "Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg", which continues through September 6. More than six dozen photographs are on exhibit; they range from Ginsberg's 1950s "drugstore" prints to his well-known portraits of himself and writers Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, among others, to late 1980s-1990s snapshots of friends and lovers, some of whom clearly were in ill-health. Ginsberg annotated virtually every photograph, and his hand-written inscriptions directly below the images  inform and give us perspective and viewpoint and humor. There's an exuberance in these photographs and also a wide-eyed observation. As I remarked to my husband on leaving the show, Ginsberg captured times the likes of which we'll never see again.

If you can't visit the show, do the next best thing and view the slideshow while listening to "Art Talk: Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg": Part 1, The Early Photos, and Part 2, Revisiting and Reprinting. To see the NGA's collection of Ginsberg's work, go here.

The gallery sales shops, by the way, are selling an impressive collection of Ginberg's poetry and other written work, along with an exhibition catalogue.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

See Me Let Me Be Me Barbies (Poem)

See Me  Let Me  Be Me  Barbies

See me be:

Anemone Barbie in my Christian Louboutin.

I'm inspired, like the ad says, head to toe,
done up nice in my lime green with pretty purple bow.

Shall I channel Nefertiti? Maybe Marilyn Monroe?
Get a quick make-over before my next show?

Limit. Five babes per order. While supplies last.
I'm va-va-voom in a catsuit, too, and fast.

Let me be:

Your Fantasy Barbie, say, The Scarlet McCaw.

Lavishly embellished in striking red shantung,
I can be anyone's bright vision, real top-of-the-rung.

The picture of perfection. Such a deal! I glow.
I come with my very own parrot and a dress cut low.

Arrgh. Away with you, Pirate Barbie, with your better deal.
One look at your price tells 'em I'm no steal.

But I admit you're arresting in your swashbucklin' style,
buckled boots, brocade coat, gold hoop earring, no bile.

Velvet breeches, some ruffles, and lots of lace,
such fancy frocks play up your saucy buccaneer's face.

Be me:

I do that diversity thing oh so well.

There's the I that's Miss Astronaut
who sashsays into space,

that Black beauty in afro and Stylin' Hair Grace.
There's the I can be Barbra or Cyndi or Joan

stepping out with Midge while Allan's alone.
I travel the world, I pack light as can be,

I'm Eiffel Tower, Big BenStatue of Liberty.
My theme's not just France, nor only Italy.

Need a Registered Nurse? No worries, you see;
I carry my accoutrements wherever I be.

For Pan Am I fly, and always first class.
Call me Stewardess once, I respond in a flash.

But a secret confession I do have to make,
I'm a Harley-Davidson Barbie when I catch a break.

Decked out in my finest white biker chic,
I can yell at the wind, I'm not meek! Not a freak!

And Ken, my beautiful dumb blonde Ken,
of all men, he just holds tight for the ride of his life.

Text © 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

You can find here the entire Barbie collection that inspired my poem. The names of the dolls correspond to the italicized words in the poem.

And, speaking of poetry and Barbie, please take note of the release of a new poetry collection, Barbies at Communion, by Marcus Goodyear, senior editor for and a friend. Marcus has published poems in Geez magazine, 32 Poems, and Stonework Journal and when he's not otherwise detained can be found writing at Good Word Editing, where you'll find this page devoted to his book.

Our friend Glynn Young reviewed Marcus' collection here.

TweetSpeakPoetry, where I hang for biweekly Twitter poetry jams, is celebrating the publication of Marcus' debut book with a writing activity (like the one I did here) and a giveaway: a signed copy of Barbies at Communion. Details are here. Be sure to join us for a bit of fun!

Bird Lands (Poem)

Bird Lands

Sleep shakes out into Morgenland
   — land of morning —

stubby doves break the fast of silence
with kwurr-kwurrs and woo-coos,

sift the grass for themes to nourish
lilting songs to fill the cracks of dawn

and beat off blue-jacketed jays'
rockfest of distractions.

Magnolias blossom in Abenland
   — land of afternoon —

its mood rising to the velvety blue-black
of ravens' shimmery long-lined backs.

Storms are coming, the sparrows
suddenly massing, tufted heads tucked in

close to wait out the cloud-clash,
the plaint of rain on fevered blades gone brown.

Soon the all-clear, borne on a live-wire streak
of dew-nipped wings, the sharp bead of eyes

thrilling to feed in the Land der Nacht
   — land of night —

the hoot of echoes in a clearing
just below the upraised roof of the sky

become a decrescendo of swooping owls
taking up their night's watch

of stars splitting the dark like gone-mad cells
making work of new life.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.

I wrote this poem for Cunning Poets Society, which earlier issued as its May theme the topic "birds". No stipulation was made as to how "birds" might be used. You will find other members' poems or links to their bird-themed work here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Monday Muse: Delaware's Poet Laureate

JoAnn Balingit is Delaware's 16th Poet Laureate. She assumed the position on May 14, 2008.

The state's first official poet, Edna Deemer Leach, was appointed in 1947, following the state legislature's passage of a resolution authorizing an annual appointment to the position by the governor. In 1964, the legislature enacted a state law creating the honorary office and authorizing the governor to appoint an individual to a two-year term and to perform duties at the governor's request and pleasure. In 1970, the legislature amended the law, giving both the governor and the secretary of state the right to "request" duties of the Poet Laureate and vesting the Delaware Department of State with responsibility for providing the incumbent with administrative and clerical services, as well as office space. The law, which is codified (Delaware Code, Title 29, Sec. 4401), also makes the Poet Laureate a member ex-officio on the Council on Archives and Cultural Affairs. 

In addition to Leach, fourteen other poets have preceded Balingit in the position, the most recent being Fleda Brown, who served from 2001 to 2007.

The state Division of the Arts arranges the Poet Laureate's calendar for appearances at state functions and events requested by nonprofit organizations. According to the arts division's page about the position, the Poet Laureate is an advocate, educator, and presenter of poetry throughout Delaware. Among other "proposed" duties are "promoting the importance of poetry and the literary arts as part of Delaware's cultural heritage" and "developing poetry programming and presentation opportunities" that support the arts division's program goals, such as Poetry in the Schools and Poetry Out Loud.

* * * * *
I want to convince as many people as possible
to give poetry a chance. 
To see if they're willing to be wooed or not. 
~ JoAnn Balingit*

When her appointment as Delaware's Poet Laureate was announced, JoAnn Balingit, Ph.D., said she wanted to be "a teacher of teachers about poetry"* and to help people to understand that poetry is not "scary" but something that can move you. Her own poetry speaks to that aspiration. As does any poet or other writer, Balingit draws on her ethnic background (her father was Filipino, her mother German), her travels abroad, and her life experience, which includes the fatal shooting of her mother by her father, who then took his own life. Balingit, one of 12 children, was just 16 at the time. Of that tragedy she told an interviewer, ". . . those [kinds of] things inform your poetry because you understand suffering. It's a wellspring when you're not writing about it."*

Balingit characterizes her style as "freewheeling". Her poetry is lyrical, evocative of mood and feeling, especially when it addresses specific memories, and beautifully captures sense of place (location figures among her subjects). It's replete with exquisite imagery (see "Winged Vessel", for example) borne out of finely honed observation of what surrounds her. Sometimes the poems are without punctuation or capitalization, and while they can be quite short, they also can pack enormous punch, demonstrating  Balingit's understanding of how poetry "can connect you to other people very closely."**

Balingit writes both in free-form and rhyme and also in such traditional forms as the sonnet (see, for example, her poem "History Textbook, America", about her father). Her collection Your Heart and How It Works (Spire Press), a chapbook published in 2009, touches on the universal theme of love — of mother, wife, and poet — and of relationships and what they mean.

A few excerpts (the first is an excellent example of ekphrastic poetry, Balingit using the form and function of a wooden bowl to comment on parenthood):

Shaped like a kidney, marbled and starry, this wooden bowl reminds
of the dish a nurse once packed into my things. Unable to divine its
   truth or

how to use it with my baby, I stuffed its sweet lobes full of cotton
Its confidence made me doubt myself, aware I was a guesser. . . .
~ From "Winged Vessel" in The Pedestal Magazine

Good morning, hands
you awake? My sandal strap's
undone. My heart
hardly buckled on.
~ From "Morning, Walking Home" in Your Heart and How It Works

The Blue Spotted Salamander

Does not flinch as my boot rolls the pine limb over
The night is wet with icy stars sprinked down its ribs
Not one muscle would I move if God rolled my roof open
I'd lie curled, an unborn word awake inside his skull

Balingit's poems have appeared in such literary journals as Rolling Stone, Pearl MagazineSmartish Pace, Can We Have Our Ball Back, Kweli Journal, Harpur PalateThe PedestalMagazine.comLa FoveaSalt Hill Journal, Delmarva Quarterly, and Philadelphia Stories, and in the 2006 Del Sol Press anthology DIAGRAM.2 and the Meridian/Samovar's anthology Best New Poets 2007. Her work also appears in the anthologies On the Mason-Dixon Line: An Anthology of Contemporary Delaware Writers (University of Delaware Press, 2008) and Returning a Borrowed Tongue (Coffee House Press, 1995).

In addition to receiving an Individual Artist Fellowship in fiction in 1995 from the state arts division, Balingit was nominated in 2004 for a Pushcart Prize (for her poem "Your Heart and How It Works") and was awarded in 2008 the Dr. Norman H. Runge Award (for her essay "Some Boy Somewhere"). She has been a finalist in many chapbook competitions; her Forage, for example, was a finalist in the 2006 Bright Hill Press Chapbook Contest.

In her official role as Delaware's Poet Laureate, Balingit teaches poetry in schools and community organizations all around the state; gives poetry readings at libraries, senior centers, arts festivals, book festivals, religious facilities, and other venues; and participates in writers' conferences and in-school residencies and workshops (from 2004 to 2007, she was the poetry teacher for a workshop she created for cancer patients and their families at the Wellness Community of Delaware). Later this year she'll be attending a Writers Retreat at Cape Henlopen in Lewes, Delaware.


* Quoted in "Give Poetry a Chance, Laureate Says" (Victor Greto, The News Journal at  Delawareonline, May 15, 2008)

All poetry excerpts © JoAnn Balingit. All Rights Reserved. [Note: Due to constraints of column widths here, three lines in poems above have been broken that are not broken in originals.]

Audio of Balingit reading her poem "Winged Vessel"

Balingit on Twitter

"A Poet and How She Works" in Delaware Today, May 12, 2009 

Delawareonline articles relating to Balingit (Balingit contributes occasional articles on poetry and writing to The News Journal.)

University of Delaware Article, "Grad Selected as Delaware Poet Laureate"

University of Delaware Article, "Delaware Authors Celebrated in New Anthology"

**"Local Poet Proves Her Craft Is Ageless" in The Review (University of Delaware), May 5, 2008

Delaware Public Archives page on the Office of the Poet Laureate

List of  Delaware Poets Laureate

Delaware State of the Arts Podcasts

Article on Balingit's residency at elementary school

State Arts Division page about Balingit

Poets&Writers page on Balingit

Delaware Artist Roster

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Lazarus Effect

The way I was feeling was like I was already dead.
~ Concillia Muhau

It is estimated that more than 20 million people in Africa have died of AIDS. Currently, some 3,800 people in sub-Saharan Africa die every day from the disease or from the complications of infection with the virus that causes it.

Tomorrow, May 24, HBO premieres the documentary The Lazarus Effect, a 30-minute film featuring the stories of four Zambians with AIDS who are given back their lives after gaining access to antiretroviral medicine: Constance Mudenda, who lost her three children to AIDS and who, along with her husband, is HIV-positive; Bwalya, an 11-year-old orphan; Paul Nsangu; and Concillia Muhau, who is HIV-positive and gave birth to a child who is virus-free.

The cost of the treatment each received: approximately 40 cents a day.

Directed by Lance Bangs and produced by Spike Jonze and Susan Smith Ellis, the film will also be shown on YouTube and on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom. 

Immediately below is the trailer for the documentary.


The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria 

The Living Proof Project

President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)


"A Cure for AIDS? Spike Jonze Is Not Joking" in TimesOnline (May 15, 2010)

"Spike Jonze Unmasked" in New York

(RED) on FaceBook

(RED) on Twitter

Thought for the Day (Rilke's "Memory")


And you wait, await the 
one thing 

that will infinitely increase
your life;

the gigantic, the

the awakening of stones, 

depths turned round 
toward you. 

The volumes in brown and 

flicker dimly on the

and you think of lands 
traveled through, 

of paintings, of the

of women lost and found. 

And then all at once you
know; that was it. 

You rise, and there stands 
before you 

the fear and prayer and

of a vanished year.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke


Letters to a Young Poet (GoogleBooks)

Rainer Maria Rilke: Selected Poems (GoogleBooks)

Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (Selections from The Book of Images, The Voices, The Book of Hours, New Poems, Uncollected Poems; Translations by Cliff Crego)

Chapter One, Life of a Poet: Rainer Maria Rilke by Ralph Freedman

The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke (Robert Hass, Editor/Translator)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Saturday Sharing (My Finds Are Yours)

Sometimes my All Art Friday column just can't hold all the items I want to share, so today's Saturday Sharing contains a few spill-overs. 

✭ Those who enjoy haiku will appreciate this excellent article on the form, "The Art of Haiku".

Nina Simon, who writes the blog Museum 2.0 and consults with museums on exhibition design, programs, and online experiences, has written The Participatory Museum, described as "a practical guide to working with community members and visitors to make cultural institutions more dynamic, relevant, essential places." 

Simon's book is available for purchase as a paperback and may be downloaded in e-book format or pdf; it also may be read online at no cost and used for an online resource discussion

Book-related events are upcoming in Gig Harbor, Washington (June 17) and Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (September 24).

Psychology Today has been presenting a series on art therapy "interventions". The introduction to the series is here. To date, the series has covered "Magazine Photo Collage" (#10), "Family Sculpture" (#9), "Mask Making" (#8) "Creating Together" (#7), "Mandala Drawing" (#6), "Show Me How You Feel Today" (#5). Everyone who reads this series will learn something new about the importance and benefits of art therapy.

✭ For those of you who have never visited New York City's Asia Society and Asia Society Museum in New York City, here's just one virtual treat: a trove of videos that includes films of some outstanding discussions of cultural programs.

✭ Attention emerging artists! Visual Overture Magazine has created a selection of resources just for you, including a virtual toolbox with tips for creating a resume, forums on such topics as getting into a gallery, and articles offering tips on self-promotion, beating artists' block, and photographing art.

✭ Once when I was traveling in France, I tried to see Lascaux. Unfortunately, I arrived too late and the site had closed to the few visitors allowed in that day. Recently, I found I can take a virtual tour of this marvelous cave. This is a stunning experience. You can explore up-close, too.

Friday, May 21, 2010

All Art Friday Special Edition

All Art Friday Special Edition
Interview with Artist Harold Sikkema

Last month I had the opportunity to interview artist Harold Sikkema. Harold lives in Ontario, Canada, and recently began exploring possible artistic opportunities with High Calling Blogs (HCB), a network of personal Websites that focus on the intersection of faith and work. Harold and I exchanged a number of wonderful and engaging e-mails about Harold's background and art-making. Harold is not only a gifted visual artist; he can speak computer design and programming languages, too. In addition, he can turn a conversational phrase in a way that helps you understand his philosophy of art and life and see more deeply into his work. Often during our conversations, Harold's responses to my questions prompted more questions, which Harold always graciously answered, sometimes in unexpected ways. 

A selection of questions and answers from my in-depth interview was posted at HCB on April 30, along with a number of images of Harold's fascinating artwork. Please go here to read that introductory post and then come back to read the rest of my interview.

* * * * *

. . . when art is the medium. . . Christians and non-believers
 can relate on a human level that otherwise might not be possible.
~ Harold Sikkema

Maureen Doallas: Harold, you're a recent (2009) honors graduate of McMaster University in Ontario. What did you learn there that you now apply to what you call "creative service"?

Harold Sikkema: McMaster prides itself on being a "research and innovation" school, and for this I'm indirectly thankful. After paying its top scientists to look at stem cells under microscopes,  the university often has very little left for the arts. [M]y and other painters' and sculptors' situation there was one we could only make the best of, and not the most of; but I've discovered that less-than-ideal circumstances come with their own rewards. It is precisely when you have no access to equipment, when you get the "wrong" professors, when parameters are restricted and options narrowed, that you begin to understand how real creativity thrives. The community at McMaster forced me out of my comfort zone, to be resourceful and to connect with others. It was a time to play within the tension of dreaming big while also having to work with what was available. Over time, it's become for me something I'd describe in terms of a slogan: "Live locally; think globally."

MD: When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

HS: Initially, I wanted to be a pilot, a dream that my limited budget achieved through building planes out of Legos. In high school, I had engineering ambitions; I took all the requisite science and mathematics courses. I found, however, some deep rewards through my early dabblings in creative service: yearbook production, stage prop design, and mural painting. When I first visited McMaster's art and multimedia spaces, I knew that [art] was where I wanted to pursue my gifts. However, it wasn't until much later that I consciously pursued "being an artist" as something more than a person who makes a living selling beautiful pictures.

One of my break-through pieces, "The Four Seasons", is an elaborate meshing of hand-drawn media with digital photographic texture. On finishing this piece, I realized that I had my own unique method and vision to offer the world. And so it became my ambition to pursue and to cultivate and to share with others the creative service of artistry.

MD: Do you make art every day?

HS: These days I weave my art, which is commissioned by "patrons" whose demands are highly technical and specific, from HTML code and database queries. [Harold, in addition to being a visual artist, designs Websites, troubleshoots computer problems, and creates software.] The last time I held a paintbrush was in the final strokes of November. I miss the tactile media sometimes but for the moment, I think it's important for me to "live locally". I figure that a short hiatus may allow for a buildup of creative juice. . . .

Image: "November"

MD: What makes an artist successful?

HS:  I try to understand success in local terms. It's important to be aware of one's historical and cultural contexts, to learn about others and broaden horizons. Maybe it's even important to be ambitious. . . but if you forget about your own neighbors and family,  then you're not serving as a creative vessel.

I think one of the more successful things I've done is serve as a bridge among communities. I've found it immensely rewarding to see my art facilitate deep conversations between leftist tree-huggers and the conservative-religious. These groups may not see eye to eye on everything but through art they can share in the human language of joy.

MD: I'm curious. How do you think your art facilitates "deep conversations" among those who, on the surface, appear to have little in common? Would you elaborate on that and give me a concrete example?

HS: In my final year at McMaster, I was privileged to be part of a museum show in which the participation of the wider community was much more tangible. In that show, I engaged audiences of many persuasions with [my piece] "Wind, Earthquake, Fire, Whisper". While this long, narrow "tapestry" is a visual reflection on the prophet Elijah's spiritual search for God in the desert, it's also an exploration of artistic tensions—between texture and negative spaces, between nature and culture.

The image resonated really well with [one viewer,] Ben, a particularly philosophical Christian who wondered whether I'd betrayed a Western bias in my arrangement of the elements from left to right—the opposite of the right-to-left composition to which the Hebrew prophet would have been accustomed. The piece also was appreciated by equally thoughtful agnostic visitors with whom I wondered aloud about the connection between the Old Testament God and the four ancient elements of wind, earth, fire, and water.

By far the most memorable conversation that this exhibit sparked was an ongoing e-mail exchange I had with an atheist, "Chuck". [His] view was, "All of the world's major religions are defective. They are the  result of what happens when man tries to control, or even define, spirituality." The conversations we shared were sometimes rough around the edges, challenging, and unresolved. What I found underneath our differences, however, was a common interest in redemption. Chuck's own art was made of recycled materials—in his words, "redeemed from the junk bin of materialism." Even though Chuck continues to live out of the humanist conviction that "there is no God that's going to absolve or forgive you", his ultimate outlook was quite in line with the teachings of my faith: Live well, take responsibility for all your actions, and don't make excuses.

I found that when art is the medium in the middle, Christians and non-believers can relate on a human level that otherwise might not be possible. Graham Todd, my sculpture professor, expressed this quite tangibly when, after reading my final undergraduate term paper, commented, "Although our theology may differ, I think we have developed a mutual respect that I find really refreshing."

Image: "Babel"

During our discussion of his art and specifically his participation in various art exhibitions, Harold told me that his art-show experiences "helped me to understand more deeply the kinds of things that move people" and added that "the stories viewers told continue to inform the direction of my work."

MD: What would be an example, Harold, of those "kinds of things that move people", and how do stories inform your work?

HS: In visiting my art exhibitions and finding hidden gems of detail in my images — bicycles, beads, baby birds — [viewers are] moved to recall their own youthful days of play. I've found that usually, the playful instinct (however repressed) lives on long after youth fades. When [people are] given the opportunity, as through art, to once again let loose and play, [their] resulting smiles are priceless.

Another welcome side-effect of the whimsical in my work is how it makes the art accessible to children. An example: One sunny Saturday a mother from my congregation and her six-year-old visited my show "Visual Theology". Until then, I had thought about my meshing of images as something intuitive and sculptural but when little Alexandra pointed with her finger and softly mouthed the word "fishy", I realized that even my theological explorations might fit within a long tradition of play, one that I had theoretically given up on but had never really abandoned. Ever since, I've been engaging more intentionally in play: making time for it, cultivating it, and learning from it. My advice in this regard is simple: Never, ever stop playing!

Image: "There Is a River" 

Over the course of our interview, it became clear to me that Harold's faith goes hand-in-hand with his art-making. When I asked Harold how his faith imbues or informs his art, which thematically centers on his ideas about language, time, growth, and resurrection, Harold allowed that although he grew up with the understanding that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", he's always been drawn to questions about the paradoxical — If God is sovereign, am I free? Can mercy and judgment co-exist? — and was unsatisfied with others' efforts to explain those questions away. It wasn't until he was in art school, he said, that he "(re)discovered the joys of paradox" and found that he could capture in his art  "those Sunday sermons" he'd heard as a child, using them to "tell the story of redemption" in his own unique way. He continued:

HS: [M]y perspectives about art and faith have been shaped profoundly by both the memorizing of iconoclastic catechisms and the whimsical "New Age" art forms of Andy Goldsworthy. In the tension between nature and culture lies a twin testament to the redemptive work of Christ, and I operate under the assumption that in Him the postmodern paradox and the modern manifesto have already been reconciled.

MD: What do you mean by "postmodern paradox" and "the modern manifesto"?

HS: For me, . . . the paradigm shift from modern to postmodern is one that affects me in tangible ways. Whether it is for lack of better words or from reading too much Derrida, [I find that] the broad cultural transitions that we in the West have made in the last century through lessons learned in love and war remain very real to me. I don't know that it's at all possible to define these terms but I can tell what I like about each—that ought to give you some idea. I like modernity's ambition to seek ultimate truth and to attempt to gloriously articulate it—in art, in music, in manifestoes and confessions of faith, and in declarations of independence. I also like the postmodern humility that asks, "Who am I to say that it is really so?" and that, in so doing, accommodates. . . the paradoxical views and pre-suppositions of many truths. Somewhere beyond our calculated confidence in machines, progress, and peace, we have discovered a healthy, subtle skepticism about our own fallen capacities. And so it remains only to say: All truth is God's truth.

. . . there remains something about the person of Jesus — the Word made flesh — that is powerfully redemptive. . . In sourcing this power for my art, I've seen how it becomes possible for a weak, withering flower to carry the full weight of an image, and for many disparate and often broken objects to become imbued with a new sense of purpose. . . .

Image: "Rise", From diptych "Fall, Rise"

Harold's Website

Harold's blog

Harold on Twitter

Harold on FaceBook

All images © Harold Sikkema. Used with permission. (Click on to view in larger size.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cave Story (Poem)

"Auroch", Lascaux, France
(Public Domain Image)

Cave Story

Older than the quarried travertine
of the Colosseo, its predictable fall Rome's own

Eons before the rising of the Preseli Bluestones,
the fitted Sarsen stones of Merlin-magic renderings
into earthworked horseshoes and circles of Stonehenge

As famous as the Pyramids of Khufu and Giza,
holding a darker secret than the twenty-storey temple-steps
in the jungles of the Mayans' Teotihuacan

Are the hands of the nameless who drew
in the absence of God's own light,
their art discovered by four boys looking for a dog.

A bestiary in a cave in southwestern France, marching
along engraved and painted walls, on once pure-white
ceiling, in profile, broadly and rhythmically stroked

Abstract and representational, line stylized
and lively, masterly if rudimentary,
graceful, emotive, fully confident head-on

This plenitude of cows and horses, of bison
and mammoths and bears, of wolves
and cats, deer and lion, ibex and aurochs

The hunted and the feared, the eaten and the fought,
the Paleolithic, the pre-historic,
the very rare, a stick of a man with a bird

A cavalcade in reds yellows and browns
ochres and black and — yes, this surprise — a violet
raw colors, strong colors, mysteriously made colors

Applied, perhaps, with mats of hair, clumps of moss,
maybe blown directly from mouths,
through hollowed-out bone, by hands without brushes.

September, 1940, and four boys in Dordogne — Marcel
and Jacques, Georges and Simon — give chase and
the little dog Robot suddenly stops in its tracks.

Inside, on elbows and knees, down a shaft boys terrified slide
into the dark of 17000 years B.C., 20000 years B.C.,
and see for the very first time

Painters' deliberations of contours in The Hall of the Bulls,
outlines black-sketched of swimming deer,
ponies angled in a close-up frieze
of narrative we will never hear that yet made memory

In shaped-by-hand beauty, imprinting a pulse
like the boys' own oath of secrecy too soon given up to a line-up
charged forty cents per head per admission.

Sought out, old schoolmaster Laval advised "Don't touch"
and "Guard from vandals" and the boys, they tried,
but awe released in thousands and thousands of breaths

Exhaled on the property of the Count of LaRochefoucault
left Abbe Breuil's Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Times ailing,
a bas relief of condensation, brown tears, a colony of stains.

Carbon dioxide was the killer, its first signs of Green Sickness
a lichen growth on walls, its next the White Sickness
of calcite on paintings, its next the attacks of fungi,
the algae and molds unstoppable

In the whir of compromised air conditioning, unsterilized shoes,
the suffocation by quicklime of cave floor, the invasive mechanics
of applied antiobiotic compresses and extracted bacteria roots.

Jacques the boy of 14 who first guarded Lascaux by day and night
turned chief guide and lived to see the cave he loved dying,
his menagerie of leaping stags and charging bulls
and galloping horses come to ruin.

© 2010 Maureen E. Doallas. All Rights Reserved.


Known as the "Father of Prehistory", Abbe Henri Breuil was a French priest and famed archeologist. One of the first persons to learn of the boys' discovery, he confirmed the authenticity and era of the Lascaux paintings and during his studies at the cave uncovered bone fragments and other evidence of humans' presence there.

The four boys who discovered Lascaux were Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas. They at first thought they had found a tunnel that local Montignac legend held would lead to a secret cavern containing hidden treasure.  (The story of the legend is told in the Curtis book noted below; see page 81.) Jacques Marsal was employed as chief guide until his death in 1989.

The French Government has been vilified for failure to act properly and appropriately to the problems besetting Lascaux, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The International Committee for Preservation of Lascaux, based in Oakland, California, is documenting the preservation crisis.

Lascaux has been closed to the public since 1963. 

The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists, by Gregory Curtis, on GoogleBooks

Lascaux History at Sacred Destinations

Official Site, French Ministry of Culture: 3D Virtual Tour (English)

Adaptation of Article by James Graff, "Saving Beauty"
* * * 

This prose poem is my response to High Calling Blogs' call for a Random Act of Poetry. The prompt was, simply, "take us to an ancient place". Not one to follow a crowd, I took the hint to "play around" and went to a time before the great civilizations in Egypt, China, India, Rome, and Greece. 

HCB will be highlighting a selection of contributors and providing a list of links on Friday. If you want to come along, drop your own link in the comment box here at Seedlings in Stone by Thursday, May 20.