Monday, August 31, 2009

Political Crop Art at the Minnesota State Fair

No one does political crop art like the folks who enter the competition at the Minnesota State Fair, where you can enter seed-and-bean-crafted pieces that are either painted or in natural colors. My friend Tracy Smith posted a few examples on her facebook page, and directed me to this piece by Paul Demko at the Minnesota Independent, where there's also a Demko story about Michele Bachmann's first health care town hall meeting.

Have to say, I'm impressed with the Minnesota Independent as an example of the new (online) news. It's fun, serious, easy to navigate, and gives me a chance to keep bookmarked tabs on one of my favorite states.

Note the fine artwork of Bachmann
as "Patron Saint of the Wing Nuts." Demko has examples of more Bachmann political seed art, an emerging genre in Minnesota. There's also a "Certificate of Live Birth" (Move on, Birthers!), and a strange "Self Portrait with First Ladies." The blue ribbon went to the AIG Bull. Thanks, Tracy, for the images!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dorm Move

Jack moved to a dorm last week, into a 3-man room with good windows and two great roommates. Our house is strangely quiet as a result.

Here are just a couple of photos that catch a bit of the spirit of this first big move. We watched I Love You, Man on the plane to Germany last June. Where has the time flown?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Coming Soon to the Lotus Festival: Little Cow

Coming up on the midnight hour. I'm busy prepping for the 21st annual Salsa Contest, at the Farmers Market tomorrow morning here in Bloomington, Indiana, and I ran up against the fatigue wall. Luckily, there's the Hungarian band, Little Cow. I found this over at the facebook page of LuAnne Holladay, Lotus Festival organizer extraordinaire: Little Cow is making a return visit to the Lotus World Music and Arts Festival on September 24th. Horns, accordions, a great little vid – now I'm just happy. The song is called "Cyber Boy": give it a listen and get your day goin' on.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Indiana State Parks Documentary at WTIU

There's a new documentary from WTIU, our excellent local public television station, called Indiana State Parks: Treasures in Your Own Backyard. Produced by Ron Prickel, it premieres this Sunday at 7:30 pm, repeating on Thursday, September 3rd at 8 pm. The footage was shot entirely in high definition, and word has it that it's really beautiful. There's a trailer at both links above.

We spent some wonderful days at various Indiana state parks when our kids were younger, and lived for several weeks in a cabin at McCormick's Creek State Park when Jack was a toddler. I'm looking forward to watching this show, and then dedicating myself to more exploration of the wonderful state parks here in Indiana.

Nine Great Regrets

I've never been completely convinced by Edith Piaf's song Je ne regrette rien, as much as I admire her voice and that spirit of infinite denial. Isn't it better to regret a few things – at least at first – before moving along to perhaps transcend the sadness and self criticism associated with loss and disappointment?

I've been considering this topic as an opportunity to think about poetic language. Joyce Kennedy wrote a poem called "Nine Great Herons," which I mentioned here at elenabella. Regular reader and poet Lyle Daggett looked at the photo she took of these birds and suggested that they were really egrets. Word change: substitution of one type of bird with another that is similar. Joyce went back and revised her poem, now called "Nine Great Egrets."

I can't read that title without thinking (in quick succession) "Nine Great Regrets" and then thinking "There's another poem." Nine great regrets make their surprise appearance at early dawn, or in the dark of night, or on a Tuesday in Baltimore, walking the dog. What are they?

There are the big ones: Nagasaki, Hiroshima, the Holocaust. The destruction of the rain forest. The appalling way we often treat animals. Slavery. Sex trafficking. The wanton destruction of sacred things in the name of dogma. Cruel intentions.

See, nine already. Even without turning to those more personal regrets, too personal even to post on a public blog. Nine Great Regrets: think about them, but not until after you watch this wonderful video of Piaf.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Next Generation Bluegrass

I'm still looking through photos from Clifftop, the Appalachian String Band Festival. Natalie Garrett Wurtz snapped this lanyard with Live Music road sign – clever, but it's all dudes. She also caught this hula-hooping girl fiddler. Just to add a little more challenge to that fiery fiddling, try this! I would like to see the brain scan of someone who can walk and chew gum in this way.

Other sweet pictures here, by Mississippi fiddler Jack Magee, anticipate the future of bluegrass – there are lots of young girls involved. Someday they'll populate groups like the incredible Uncle Earl, one of my favorites.

I really love the photo of the dad and daughter tutorial. It reminds me that Katey Bellville, daughter of Rod, also grew up to be a musician, carrying forward that old timey tradition, and fusing it with contemporary sounds.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

More Vicarious Travel: the Appalachian String Band Festival

My friend Mary Helen, one of Sav's three extraordinary midwives, recently returned from Clifftop, West Virginia, where she and her friend Claudio, Harmony School teacher extraordinaire, attended the Appalachian String Band Festival. She posted some photos on facebook.

These pictures remind me of one of my first trips to Indiana, long before I came here to live, on an upcycled (read "rickety") school bus filled with musicians. We came down for Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festival in Bean Blossom. Rod, John, and Sally Bellville, Mary DuShane, Cal Hand, Dakota Dave Hull, Bill Hinkley and Judy Larson were on the bus – I think I was the only non-musician. It was fun to be among that roving band of fiddlers and banjo pickers, who played music day and night, incessantly testing new and old-timey tunes. Bill Monroe appeared on the modest Bean Blossom stage dressed from head to toe in white, beneficent and magnificent among the mud-spattered folks (there were a few downpours) whose makeshift homesteads populated the campgrounds. At one point I needed to get away from the bee-buzzing constant sound of the music, so I took a walk in a field of daisies and Queen Anne's Lace, marveling at the natural beauty of Brown County, Indiana. Little did I know I would someday live just down the road in Bloomington.

Here are some pictures of Clifftop taken by Natalie Garrett Wurtz. The Jesus bumper sticker was a favorite at the festival ("most photographed") and I now have the William Holman Hunt images of Christ in my mind, trying to imagine if it really could be true that Jesus would be slap happy. (I have to doubt it.)

Richard's Roadkill Eatery: a joke perhaps, but also a testament to the uneasy transition from a culture that relied on food that was trapped or hunted, the old-fashioned way, and the situation today, when vehicles are a major weapon of animal destruction.

The photo of musicians Tim Litchfield, Chris Persson, Jeslyn Vaughan, Summer Gentry Case, Missy West, Kellyn Sanderson gives an impression of a session at Clifftop. Looks as if it is a beautiful thing.

Rod Bellville, Cal Hand, Andy Kozak, Gary Schwatrz and Bill Hinkley are still making music together, or at least they are in this YouTube video of the tune "Beaumont Clearwater" from 2002. I wonder if they ever meet up with their cohort at Clifftop?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Nine Great Egrets, by Joyce Kennedy

This previously unpublished poem comes courtesy of my mother, Joyce Kennedy, a regular walker at Wood Lake Nature Center. Joyce took yesterday's photo, too, making a reprise today. Many thanks!


make a surprise appearance
at dusk on the pond by the path
we are accustomed to walking.
Oh, our good luck! In dissolving light,
they are bright white forms of length and curl.
They move on stilted legs.
Their long necks stretch and bend.
Their long beaks dip casually
into darkening water. Slight breeze.
Bird voices in the surrounding trees
are down to murmur, sweet little
chips of sound. In the distance,
the busy roar of freeway. Like
the egrets, we choose not to listen.
We will carry this scene home with us.
Nine Great Egrets will be lodged
within a sanctuary of our minds.
To be themselves, not metaphor.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Walking in Wood Lake Nature Center

My mom, Joyce Kennedy, took this photo of some of the herons – or are they egrets? – at Wood Lake Nature Center, in Richfield, Minnesota, where I was able to take a few walks last week-end. It's such a beautiful resource, lovingly maintained, contributing quietly and peacefully to the quality of life in the Twin Cities. It's wonderful to walk across the water bridge, surrounded by cattails and other tall native grasses. In the early morning there are many birds flitting between marshland and forest, and inside the shelter is a large wall with data from bird sightings over the past 30 years. That includes some of the time when our friend Ann Sigford was a naturalist there. Ann and I developed some art and nature classes for children years ago, through the COMPAS program in St. Paul, before she moved on to northern Minnesota, and then Sweden. I was recalling those experiences while walking again through Wood Lake, watching the tiny tree toads leap across the footpaths. I'm so grateful that this place still exists.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Killers in Hyde Park ask again: Are we Human? or Are We Dancer?

It's my birthday, a day tilting a bit into play, and we (the family) just watched a television version of the Killers in Hyde Park London, last June, on the Friday that we left a big Euro family reunion in Holland. I like this YouTube video because of the two children in it, making me think about rock concerts today as intergenerational love fests, at their best. (I've had trouble embedding this video, so just pop over to YouTube for a look.)

They are singing the song Human, and for some reason it just makes me happy. Everyone knows the lyrics to all of the songs over there in Hyde Park, so it's a big sing-along.

This is my last birthday before my son leaves for college later this week, making me ask "Where did the time go?" Well, there's always rock and roll. The lyrics of Human speak to me about this situation, too, in quite a poignant, exuberant, and comforting way.


I did my best to notice

When the call came down the line
Up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind
And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes
Clear your heart...
Cut the cord

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I'm on my knees
Looking for the answer
Are we human?
Or are we dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Give my regards to soul and romance,
They always did the best they could
And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye
Wish me well..
You've gotta let me go

Will your system be alright
When you dream of home tonight?
There is no message we're receiving
Let me know is your heart still beating

Are we human?
Or are we dancer?
My sign is vital
My hands are cold
And I'm on my knees
Looking for the answer

You've gotta let me know

Friday, August 21, 2009

Reading between Digital and Analog: Henry Wentworth Monk

The Sin and Salvation exhibit (reviewed here at Minnesota Public Radio) shows how radical and quirky the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was, a loose band of painters who posed a challenge to the conventions of Titian-style portraiture. They made highly decorative works, often designing their own frames, complete with lines of text and sculptural elements. To fully enter these works, viewers are expected to read them, interpreting religious and poetic symbols and connecting complex narrative threads.

One of my favorite paintings is this one, a portrait of Henry Wentworth Monk. He's a man with alarming facial hair, like Hunt himself (in this self portrait). Hunt holds the Bible in one hand, and the Times (London?) in the other. It's a great depiction of how an individual situates himself between two very different forms of discourse. The Biblical messages are analog, requiring hermeneutic interpretation. The daily news is the digital mode, contingent on events taking place over time, unfolding in the historical present. The mind finds "itself" negotiating between the two, reading them in relation to and against one another. I like the way Hunt stares somewhat fanatically straight ahead, the blue globes in the glass window behind suggesting the spinning planets of his messianic vision.

These red-bearded men of the Brotherhood (and its circle) are like a certain kind of rare animal, now endangered or extinct, I think.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision

I went with my parents to the
Minneapolis Institute of Arts last weekend, where we saw the extraordinary exhibit
"Sin and Salvation: William Holman Hunt and the Pre-Raphaelite Vision."

This artist had a thing for hair, and for what he called "stunner" women with flowing tresses, including the two sisters he married, Fanny, and then Edith, Waugh. He made a portrait, too, of his disapproving mother-in-law, Mrs. George Waugh – her curls are tamed.

Check out the wild unleashed storm cloud of hair on the Lady of Shalot, Hunt's last major painting, before he went blind. He was also known for his renderings of sheep's wool, velvet, peacock feathers, and all manner of tactile textiles. Hunt was one of the first of the hyper-realists, with a religious agenda, a symbolic frame of reference, and an intense sense of color. There's a sensuous dimension to his work, all roiled up in imagined scenes from Biblical history. Every inch of each canvas offers microscopic renderings, making it difficult to apprehend the whole.

My favorite image was a small unfinished portrait of an elaborately rendered woman's face, with just the red sketch of a bonnet around it. It offered a bit of breathing room and emptiness – two features that are otherwise missing in Hunt's work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, Sav!

Today was the birthday of our beautiful Bird...seen with her brother and our extra teen travelers this past summer in Holland. (Look at the restored native grasses on the dunes of that beach.)

Sav was born at home 16 years ago, on a humid August night, the heat breaking post-placenta with a thunderstorm and lightning. We passed her from person to person, among three midwives, grandparents, dad, and uncle. Her two-year old brother tried to make sense of it all, playing with a new red fire truck, his trade-off toy for entering the era of life-with-sibling. I'm so grateful for supportive family and friends, those midwives, and the wonderful person Sav has always been, since her own personal odyssey began. You are my sunshine, Sav!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Michael Jackson Door at Cologne Cathedral: Mystery of the White Gloved Hand

We visited Cologne, Germany, in early July, and while walking across the wide expanse on the city side of the amazing Cologne Cathedral, I noticed a mysterious white-gloved hand on a door, and wondered what it signified.

Michael Jackson had just died a few days before, and he was all over the airwaves, permeating psyches everywhere with his music and the unsettled/unsettling dimensions of his life story. But I didn't think of that until later, when I looked back at my photos.

Zooming in on the white hand, at one point it became clear that there is a spidery weave in the stone inlay, giving it a lacy texture. What is the meaning of the gesture? The accessory? The downward pointing, finger-walking hand?

Zoom in further and notice the hinged-scissor lovers nearby: a laid back man and a female with bared chest, legs entangled and raised arms, kind of like the Strekdam swimmers, looking to be rescued by Super Dog. ("Help, Super God! We're merging!")

I just have to ask: WTF is up with the extraordinary ornamentation on the Cologne Cathedral?!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

elenabella Fabric Bowls

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day making fabric bowls, using the pattern link posted last June as inspiration. It was kind of a whirlwind production process, requiring the use of my more modern sewing machine, for the zigzagging. Mostly I use a vintage machine from 1951, housed in a wooden case: a piece of furniture with the names of previous owners written in pencil on the outside of a notions drawer. The zig-zag attachment, in its own intact box, is formidable and intimidating, so I switched to my plastic dial-a-zag Kenmore.

I used fabric from the quilt show held here last March, where I found a few little fat quarters in 40s era prints. The fabric reminds me of that used by my Grandmother Mary for the quilts she made way back then, with scraps from house dresses, childrens' clothes, and aprons. The shape reminds me of pumpkins, so they could be called pumpkin bowls. It was really fun to see these bowls begin to multiply as a set, during one intense day of sewing immersion.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Informational Signs in Holland and Germany

While there is a library of international informational signs, designed as symbols understood across geographic and cultural boundaries, there's another class of signs somewhat modeled on these that betray curious local variations. Here are a few I was drawn to during our summer trip to Europe.

First, the red, white and black signs from the beach in Domburg, Holland, where there is a lot of information: a high-flying kite (or is it a parasail? weighed down with shoes? – no, hands) poised to visually lift a dog. His blue leash is hand-painted in as an after-thought: whoops! (wasn't that the point? or does the sign mean that dogs run free from 10.00 - 19.00, and an irate sunbather is suggesting "restrain them, please!") Then a couple of Strekdam swimmers, keeping their distance from the dam and rolled cigarette fence. Synchronized drowning, anyone? Because of the juxtaposition of the two signs, my first impulse is to think that the dog is going to parasail in to rescue the swimmers.

In the Dutch city Zierikzee, in the province of Zeeland, I couldn't help but notice the lolli-pup sign, with its guilty looking kangaroo-shaped dog, just trying to do his business. I especially like his averted gaze, Rudolph nose, poised ear and uplifted tail – details betraying a lot of dog personality. Compare him with the frisky pup on the green bin for dog waste nearby. No self-consciousness there – instead a bit of slobbery Yumm! energy.

At the Monasterium de Wijngaard in Brugges, Belgium, a monastery for Benedictine women, we found an oasis of calm, with tall trees and field flowers, in the center of the city. But "sssst" – like a deflating balloon, this little sign with narrow-shouldered black coin mask face and gentle hand indicates the silence requirement, without the "h" sound I am used to.

Time for a hike in the woods. I've always liked this blue sign near my in-laws' house, at the entrance to the forest. I've never seen a mom in a business coat, though, walking there with her dressy daughter, as if entering the Church of the Woods. What I do like very much: the fact that these are more nuanced human forms, rather than the tube people on so many informational signs.

But what's up with the man (in Holland) taking a reluctant little girlchild into the forest? Am I wrong in sensing resistance in her stance? It's that hat and business suit that ominously suggest "abductor" to me. Would this sign look so disturbing in the city? She's been kidnapped by a man from the 40s.

Here is my favorite woods walk sign, from the forest near Westen. Time for the sexism analysis. How come he carries the back pack and walking stick, wearing wool hiking hat, thick pants and sensible shoes? She's got the bullet bra, flared skirt and flashing locks, keeping pace with his vigorous stride, arms tied behind her back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Foreign Icons

No, I'm not talking about rock stars, but rather, the informational signs in places other than our own. Daughter Number Three wrote a post during her Midlife Crisis Tour called Icons of Quebec, collecting drive-by shots of various signs, with observational comments. Included in the collection are this "Chute Fall" sign, as well as the blue one that could be called "Boogie On...and Up This Way." (It's all in the marvelous elbow-knee action.)

I was reminded of a few informational signs I saw during our recent trip to Holland and Germany. I'll gather photos of those together for a post tomorrow. Meanwhile, head over for a glance at some Quebecois icons!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City

Here's an opportunity for vicarious adventure: Daughter Number Three is just back from a trip to Quebec City, with sisters/Daughters 1, 2, and 4. They took a properly branded Midlife Crisis Tour, complete with themed buttons of DN3's (and her partner's) design.

I thought they were staying at Hogwarts, but it's actually Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City's landmark, overlooking the St. Laurence River. The D-Day invasion was planned there in 1944. (But did the Daughters really stay there? On second thought, I'm not entirely sure. The flowered photo, though, is one of theirs.)

What a world of stories must exist within that hotel! I'll have to show this to Sav's friend Alice, who traveled to Germany and Holland with us in July. She wants to go into hotel management...aim high, Alice! So much more intriguing than a microtel.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

'Cutesaces' from the 70s

There's a little shop on the corner near where I work called Material Plane, and it's one of my favorite places to poke around – very chaotic but filled with interesting ephemera. Last week I made a little score: these two small suitcases, bundled together, for only $10. They are from the 70s, and in remarkably good shape. I call them 'Cutesaces' because that's the word my daughter Savannah used when she was small (she liked cutesaces and 'mazagines')...

The large one is the perfect size to hold a few art supplies, including a favorite sketchbook. Felt craft materials go into the smaller one, all bundled and ready to go. What do you think? Pretty lucky? I find the fabric quite delightful. Interesting how this sort of bold patterning went away for so long...and now it's back, looking fresh and contemporary.

So much better than a Louis Vuitton case!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Mad Men Season 3: the Rising Tide of Life

Like Botticelli's goddess
, Don Draper, the male Venus from AMC's Mad Men, is quietly succumbing to a rising tide. Climate change, Hurricane Katrina, the idea of Falling Slowly ("Take this sinking boat and point it home," from the Frames song): submergence emergencies are in the air (or – the water).

Maybe we're all drowning in debt? Too Much Information? Or, in Don's case, his head is swimming, thanks to ambivalent relationships, the murky art of Mad Avenue persuasion, and all those guilty secrets.

If you follow this link, you can see a video about the creation of the Mad Men Season 3 poster, where Don/Jon Hamm is calmly getting up to his neck in water, while smoking in his office chair. I nibbled my fingernails worrying about electric shocks the whole time I watched it: do not try this at home.

Season 3 begins next Sunday, August 16th – how exciting! I'll be there.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Big Gay Ice Cream Truck Hits the News

I saw it first just now on Facebook – the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck, shown here in a photo by Annmarie Hordern for NPR.

Featuring metrosexual ice cream toppings (such as ground wasabi nuts),
the truck is the brainchild summer business of classically trained bassoonist Doug Quint. He is what makes it gay, he tells those customers who happen to ask. Love this quote from the breaking NPR story:

"If I weren't gay, I wouldn't call it the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. And if I weren't happy, I wouldn't have the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. It would just be the big crabby ice cream truck."

"It kind of came about because the idea of a middle-aged gay guy driving an ice cream truck seemed pretty humorous and a little bit suspect to me. I love the idea of what people might be saying, so I thought, 'Whatever they might be saying, let's grab it and amplify it times a hundred and label the truck that way,' " Quint says. "There's gonna be no doubt. It's the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck."

It's breaking news, folks! Doug has a great Big Gay Ice Cream Truck blog, too, where he notes on a Twitter feed: "Look at what we're sandwiched between. 'Real' news. Good lord. I need to wrap duct tape around my skull right now to keep it all intact!!!" And a brand (perhaps a franchise opportunity?) is born overnight, with a brilliant, authentic identity. How's he going to get back to bassoon season?!