Sunday, August 31, 2014

doing it right

I've written a couple of posts in the past sort of poking fun of the way some galleries or exhibition venues handle certain things.  It's sort of an easy target sometimes.  I am, however, a fair person and when those same types of groups get something right, I don't mind patting them on the back a little.  

When you think of a county library you probably think about books.  We are probably all aware that libraries do much more than just let us check out books, but we still think about those things being closely related to books.  They host book signings and story time and maybe they let you use their internet and computers.  In the much larger cities the library may also find a way to host art exhibits, though even those mostly involve hanging art on the walls near the books.  

A couple of years ago Miranda Sawyer had an idea to host an art exhibit at the Spartanburg County Library headquarters.  This exhibit would showcase the work of students enrolled in universities in the upstate of South Carolina.  Miranda pitched her idea to Todd Stephens, the county librarian and he had the wisdom to give the idea the thumbs up.  Several months later the exhibit went up in a special area of the library with 5 area universities participating.  The reception was a high class event and the students who attended were very impressed and quite proud to be part of such a cool thing.  

The success of that exhibit spawned more annual juried exhibits.  A renovation allowed the exhibit space to be separated from another area of the library by a glass wall.  Then a couple of new exhibit spaces were created on other levels of the library.  That one idea to bring art to the library quickly turned into multiple visual art exhibits on display at any given time.  In fact, if you visit the library before February 26 you'll get the privilege of viewing several photos and prints by internationally known artist Andy Warhol.  Not bad for a local library.  

But this was more than just a good idea.  It was a good idea identified by several good people.  It was also thoughtfully planned and executed by those good people.  Miranda and Todd were joined by Derrick and Amanda and probably several others that I haven't met yet.  These guys are all very friendly and helpful and honestly they are a joy to work with.  It's so nice to deliver artwork to people who are willing to help you carry it inside and who care very much about the safety and preservation of the artwork.  It's so nice to bring students to their first ever reception and awards ceremony knowing that there's going to be live music and great catering to fancy up the situation.  The students I've brought so far will never forget these great experiences.  

So go to the Spartanburg County Library at 151 South Church Street in Spartanburg.  Go downstairs and see the artwork, check out the Warhol exhibit and then go upstairs to the Administrative offices and see the rotating exhibits there.  If you see an employee, be sure to tell them you came to see the artwork.  And if you happen to run into Todd, Miranda, Derrick or Amanda, shake their hand and tell them thanks for mixing visual art with books.  

And then go to Krispy Kreme.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

the art retreat 2014

Last weekend the fall semester kicked into gear with the annual art department retreat on Lake Greenwood.  jon is kind enough to let us crash his family's lake house to have our first big department meeting and planning session.  We also get to goof around and eat a lot and we get to do some floating.

You may be wondering what it's like to work with the best colleagues in the world.  Well, it's like this:

 We all arrived to find various gifts waiting on us.  jon had very awesome portraits for us, Jim presented us with big letters for our names and Asma gave us all gifts from Sri Lanka.  My letter "D" is from an old Huddle House sign.  (Ali, I'm sure you'll appreciate that.)

 Our meeting lasted through the afternoon as we planned all sorts of cool things for the academic year.  As the sunlight dimmed and our bellies growled we warmed up a potluck dinner and ate out on the deck.  While we ate we were serenaded by the sound of the ice cream churn and the sweet smell of charcoal cooking cinnamon monkey bread.  Then came the fireworks.  Jim brought several big fireworks packs and we killed all the lights and set up the first one in the yard while everyone watched from the deck.  The first blast knocked the base over and each successive blast fired randomly...first into the lake, then onto the densely populated deck, then at Jim and then at me.  Everyone ducked for cover laughing hysterically.

That excitement was followed by a very dark boat ride on the lake to watch shooting stars and tell ghost stories.  The next morning we had a great breakfast of bacon, eggs, homemade muffins and grits before getting ready to head out for the river ride.

It was also Jim's birthday.  Here he is with his Steelers medallion and his "BACON" ring.

And this is the group just before launching the canoe and kayaks into the lake.   That's jon, me, Jim in the back and our newbie Chrystine, Sandy and Elizabeth.

We headed out across the lake to the dam and portaged around to the river.

The river was calming and beautiful.  We saw fish, turtles, and otter and a snake.  We talked and goofed around and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  We were also escorted down the river by two enormous bald eagles.  As we paddled down they would leave their trees and fly down around the next bend and land again.  There they would wait until we got close and they'd do it again.  Eventually one of them let us get right under him before he took flight as if he was in a slow motion patriotic film reel.  Such a great moment.

After about 4 hours we landed at jon's family farm and had a little photo shoot to commemorate the occasion.

jon thinks of everything and he brought his costume collection for us to use.

I'm not sure how ESnipes got cut out of this one but she was equally awesome in her sombrero and gypsy beads.

On the way out Jim did a little extreme kayaking on the roof.

We ended the night with yet another well cooked meal on the deck.  The menu included grilled Fillet Mignon, scalloped potatoes, quiche and Reese's peanut butter delight.

Before Jim left for home we all lit giant sparklers and serenaded him with a stirring rendition of "Happy Birthday".  Just be thankful you didn't have to hear that.


It’s funny how death can make us selfish.

Or maybe that’s just who we are as humans with all the instant social media connections we hold so dear.  Maybe we just think that everything is, in fact, about us. 

Last week we lost an amazingly funny and wise human, but not the one you’re thinking about.  While the rest of the country was posting photos and stories based on their connection to Robin Williams I got the news that one of my mentors was in his final days.  I had noted that everyone online seemed to be adding photos of when they met Robin Williams and telling stories of how he had somehow impacted their lives.  I couldn’t help but note the not so thinly veiled truth that this was just another excuse to be selfish and brag about meeting a celebrity or to make everyone think that they were more advanced, more civilized because they had learned something from a man they didn’t know or barely knew. 

Soon the word came that this mentor who I’d known for many years - this man who had tangibly affected my life for the better - was no longer in pain and that he had shed his mortal coil.  And all I could think was, I need to write something about this.  The hypocrisy was staggering. 

Of course when we reflect on someone’s life, we think about our interaction with that person.  Our own experience is our touchstone for this consideration.  However, if we are not careful, that reflection can seem to be much more about us than about them.  Desiring to honor the memory of the other person should be the goal, especially when that’s what inspired us in the beginning. 

To some extent, all art is selfish.  What I mean is, artists create art about how they see the world, art that is related to their own experience of the world.  Even when songwriters take on a different personality to write a song or when painters abstract their narratives beyond recognition, the inspiration comes from their own personal experiences and emotions.  I might even suggest that when these stories are told, the artists may mix and intentionally confuse their identities with others to create a more interesting narrative.  On The Road wasn’t just about how cool Dean Moriarty was.  The portrait of Dr. Gachet was probably more about Van Gogh than the good doctor.

Tom was the music minister in the church that I grew up attending.  He and his family joined that church when I was young and they were still there when I moved on some twenty or so years later.  His oldest daughter was about my age and we were good friends.  His youngest daughter ended up being in classes I taught for 7 or 8 years.  He and his wife were fixtures.  As the music guy, Tom was in front of us all the time.  He led the worship services morning and night and he did so with much personality and life.  He was very funny.  He had the kind of face that was stern when relaxed but when he smiled (and he smiled very often) he smiled with his entire face.  This had the effect of the sun breaking through an overcast sky.

Believe it or not, I was ordained as a deacon in that church many years ago in a service that is traditionally very serious and mature.  Perhaps not as surprising, my service was a little more fun and a little less serious.  At the end of the service church members lined up to shake my hand and say kind words to me.  Tom came up with his face as serious as I’d ever seen it.  He shook my hand firmly and looked straight through my eyes and said, “Don’t ever let them make you grow up.”

Such great advice from a great man.  But now I’m left wondering if that story says as much about me as it does about him. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

a real beach vacation

Our June coastal vacation left us longing for the presence of a real beach with real surf and our favorite restaurants and hangouts.  Lucky for us, several things came together at just the right time and we were able to take a last minute trip to a real beach.  The kids were ecstatic and the adults were too.  Because it was last minute, as in getting reservations the day before we left, we got a great deal.  But also because it was last minute, I walked out and left the bag that had my sketchbook and drawing stuff along with my computer and books.  Actually things got weird much earlier the morning we left.  I had to get up at 4:30 am to run so we could leave early enough to beat the terrible traffic that's been on I-26 this summer.  It's really dark here at 4:30 and the critters are still out.  I was afraid I'd run through giant spider webs but I immediately startled a huge deer in the yard and was almost stampeded.  This was after not being able to sleep all night because the day before I was jumped by an unruly gang of fire ants who thought it would be fun to bite my legs and arms more than 20 times.  After the deer the run got easier and it was nice and cool but I was ready for vacation.

 We arrived early with no traffic at all and had plenty of time to get groceries and eat lunch at Hamburger Joe's.

 This is the second time this summer we've eaten in a place that had money all over the walls.  

 The ocean was happy to see us.  It was especially loud all week and the waves were very nice.  You could hear the surf quite well from the balcony and sometimes even inside with the door closed.  

 And we wasted no time getting out in the sun and sand.  This was a sea monster that almost ate the kids.

 Their favorite part of building sand things is destroying them.  This may have been the most fun they had all day.

 The weather all week was great.  The first two days were pretty hot but there was a nice breeze.  Perfect weather for eating dinner on the balcony.

 And with us it's always perfect weather for ice cream.

 I've decided that when I retire I'm going to work at one of these ice cream places for fun.  And for free ice cream.

 That bag I forgot to take also had our exercise DVDs in it.  We just started PiYo and I didn't know it well enough to do it without the videos so I tried to run extra to make up for all the bad stuff I was eating.  These early morning beach runs are great.

 We went to Broadway to enjoy the cooler temperatures that rolled in and we watched the statue lady mess with people and scare kids.

 We got one of the scavenger ducks to eat out of our hands but I just realized those photos must be on G's phone.

 A couple of nights we had some great electrical storms off the coast.  Phones are the best things to photograph lightning but you get the idea.

 The kids made some spending money at the art sale and this was the first and probably the best purchase made by Violet.  She kept saying she wanted to find a "prank store" so she could buy one of those "fart balloons".  The whoopee cushion was a big hit.

 Another early morning run with a great view.

 This started out as a small castle that turned into a 25 foot long alligator.

 What do we do while G shops at the factory stores?  We pretend to be mannequins and stand very still in store windows while people walk by and think we're idiots.  Blue got pretty good at it.

 The food was great all week.  This shrimp cheeseburger with sweet potato fries wasn't quite as excellent as the crab topped bacon cheeseburger I had at Russell's but it was still very good.  

 People watching is one of our all time favorite things to do and we discovered it's one of the things we enjoy about going to the Grand Strand.  Most of the people we enjoy and laugh at, but this guy really irritated us.  Broadway was so crowded people were parking in the grass medians.  At times it was hard just to walk from store to store.  And yet this guy thought he needed to pull his kids in a big wagon with huge tires.  They almost ran over G and as we watched them mow down all the other pedestrians it was hard not to notice how smug and proud the parents were that everyone was looking at them and moving out of their way.  I guess it's no wonder kids grow up feeling entitled, huh?

 No beach trip would be complete without taking a drive down Ocean Boulevard.  We rolled down the windows, drove slow, stared at all the people and explained to the kids why they wont be allowed to date until they are 40.

 Running is never easy, but it seems a little easier when you get to see this while you run.

 High tide rolled in every day during our prime beach time.  As the week progressed it became a game to us to try to build something that the tide wouldn't be able to destroy.  We built this one right at the high tide mark and gave it three walls and two trenches to protect it.  It took some pretty big hits during the day but it survived.

 Later we turned one of the walls into a dragon and Blue pretended to battle it before we gave the whole thing over to the neighbor kids and went inside.

 Not only were the morning runs pretty, they were also nice and cool.

 On our last night we decided to try the Gulfstream Cafe not far from where we stayed.  The view was great.

 After dinner we happened across Anna and Elsa, two princesses from that movie that Violet sings all the time.  She was beyond thrilled.  They had story time and a singalong where about 100 kids screamed that song at the top of their lungs.

 This is my new favorite family portrait.  We love Shell World!

 For whatever reason, there were fireworks every single night outside our condo.  

 For us they were loud, pretty and free.  The best kind of fireworks.

 Another retirement goal:  I want to live in this house.  I may need two ice cream parlor jobs.

 My last beach run until Thanksgiving.

I eat a lot of bananas.  They're starting to show up in my sketchbook.  I made a giant one out of sand.

Two weeks until summer is over for me.  I'll have to start wearing pants again.