Monthly Archives

January 2018

Duck cum Fit

· with some goose bumps thrown in ·

In so may words: They are ducking their responsibility.

They are complicit by sticking their head in the sand, or the mud, as the case may be.

They are continuously, remorselessly pursuing a course to undermine DACA and escort the dreamers out of this country.

After all, it’s all water off a duck’s back.



They are preening for the next affair, conveniently tolerated by their evangelical base – and hush money is a good way to launder money as well….

Let’s hope it all ends with a splash landing.

Then again, a stable genius might also be able to walk (away) on water….

Sparks of Fire

A bit of fire represented by sunlit shrubbery all photographed yesterday might counterbalance Monday’s water and Tuesday’s ashes, I thought. Well, the colors of fire.

For the written bit I’ll focus on the fury, however. More specifically, the fury we find in current music that is reacting to the age of Trump.  The link below is a thoughtful and comprehensive take on contemporary protest music, describing musicians we all know, and also several many of us might not be familiar with.

The article is an interview with the U.K. music critic Dorian Lynskey who wrote a book, 33 Revolutions Per Minute: A History of Protest Songs in 2011 and now talks about the boom in music explicitly protesting against the current state of affairs. He claims that Trump elicited more protest music than previous political figures because he is so detested and so much the focus of what is going on. Only wars have been able to generate more protest music than despicable public figures.

Lynskey points out that protest music had already seen an upswing around the evolution of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increasing polarization that people were willing to risk, in the entertainment business, under Trump. An example is Eminem’s freestyle—if you’re a fan of Trump and you’re a fan of me, I’m drawing a line, which side are you on? People are willing to lose parts of the audience (unless they are country music singers who stay silent. And of course there is Ted Nugent…) Many of the ideas expressed in current protest music are not just dealing with the ugliness of Trump and his minions, but about the ideas of America. The songs tackle how we are going backwards due to greed and hunger for power, how so many feel powerless and in mourning.

Here is Lynskey’s take on what the music actually accomplishes – a take I very much liked.

Protest songs make people feel not alone. If we were looking at a situation where no artists were doing songs about Trump and nobody was talking about opposition to him, you would notice the absence. It would be painful. On a macro scale—a global or online scale—it serves the purpose it served in civil-rights demonstrations, where you’d be walking along singing freedom songs. This is where I think preaching to the converted is underrated. It’s fine to cement beliefs to inspire people to act on them.

There are also cases where they can turn somebody on to a particular fact or a certain way of looking. I learned a huge amount from Public Enemy as a white, suburban, English teenager. A large part of the reason many people know about Kent State as they do is because the [Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young] song “Ohio” brings it to people who are not necessarily researching the Nixon era.

Among the many examples the author gives for music clips, one of my favorite musicians is Kendrik Lamar. Many of my readers might not be familiar with that style of music but it is worth some exploration.  

Same is true for a Tribe called Quest. Stretch yourself and leave the comfort zone, listen to the words – even if the use of 4 letter ones remind you of the one they’re directed against.






A Smidgen of Black

Yesterday the US celebrated Martin Luther King Day, with the usual platitudes, the usual wagging fingers from sources that otherwise spew racist sentiments quite frequently, and a president who played golf.  There were also, of course, some smart articles that reminded us what the day is all about, what someone who fought in a civil rights movement with the strongest commitment and who paid with his life for it, stands for.

I selected two things as important reminders to keep an eye on during the struggle for social and political change. One is the fact that institutions are easily influenced by their leaders and one wonders how much they are impervious to change. For that I picked the blackmail letter that the FBI sent to MLK in 1964, demanding that he commit suicide unless he wanted them to publicize his extramarital affair.  Yale historian Beverly Gage found the original in the national archives and commented:

When the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. received this letter, nearly 50 years ago, he quietly informed friends that someone wanted him to kill himself — and he thought he knew who that someone was. Despite its half-baked prose, self-conscious amateurism and other attempts at misdirection, King was certain the letter had come from the F.B.I. Its infamous director, J. Edgar Hoover, made no secret of his desire to see King discredited. A little more than a decade later, the Senate’s Church Committee on intelligence overreach confirmed King’s suspicion.

The article below discusses the details.


“King, There Is Only One Thing Left For You To Do.”

The second thing we should take to heart, is a fact that King himself pointed to: racism, poverty, militarism and materialism are all intertwined.  An attack on one needs to include a rejection of the other factors as well, if we want lasting, structural change. Here is a smart, short essay on the topic in the Paris Review.

Martin Luther King’s Radical Anti-Capitalism


Drops of Water

Wish I could just relish the beauty of little drops of water. Water is on my mind because of the crisis in Puerto Rico, however. They don’t have time to waste there over a discussion of the beauty of water – all that counts is the absence of it, the horrifying, shameful, sickening lack of it.

Two articles make my point better than I could, the first one written by a homegrown young man who is really making a mark on the world as a writer and reporter. Proud to know him.

I visited El Yunque in 2012, together with about 12 million other people on that very day. None of whom will this spring be a tourist in Puerto Rico, depriving the island of income now needed more than ever. All of whom will recognize too late what our unwillingness to help with the disaster relief implies: try and find a hospital that is not short on infusion bags during the current influenza wave…. or  a cancer ward not short on chemo infusions.

All that pales, of course, in comparison to what the people of Puerto Rico go through, without end in sight.

Drops of water just like little drops of help won’t make the difference – there needs to be systemic, structural change.




The Laika exhibit at PAM showed whole wardrobes of tiny clothes for its tiny characters. For our last installment of made by hand, thenI chose the act of sewing.  My own experience with the craft has been less than stellar. I remember spending childhood Sundays with butterflies in my stomach because Mondays saw “needle craft lessons” in school. At which, to use contemporary language, I sucked. Darning damned me, cross stitch killed me. Crocheting cursed my brain. Back stitch blinded me, chain stitch tied me down and basting stitch bowled me over. The sewing machine reserved its clogging spools for your’s truly, and then there was the day where I gave it a good kick in fury and ended up at the headmistress’ office….


It is with pleasure, then, that I introduce someone today who has much better attitude and aptitude, a creative seamstress of my acquaintance. Here are her words about the process, studio and inspiration and her photographs to demonstrate.

In most cases, what I like to do is start with white cotton fabric and dye or paint it, then stamp it, stencil it, silk screen it, and stitch it (by machine or hand or both). Once I have colored and decorated the fabric, I like to sew it into useful items (examples: shoulder bags, zipper pouches, coin purses) or art quilts and fabric collages. The possibilities are endless! Currently, bright colors and simple patterns are my favorites but I’m curious about working with earth tones and interesting combinations of hues and values.

Joan’s work can be found here if you’d like to see the end products: 

Only the images of buttons are mine, since I can proudly announce I am these days able to sew them on, at last.

And here is a fun trailer from a Spanish film about a seamstress who also became a weapon smuggler and spy during the war.  Title translated means The time in-between seams.  

(English version on Netflix The Time Inbetween)

Watching pretty people do dangerous things and fall in love from the perch of your couch is so much more pleasant than getting a seam straight, don’t you agree? I cherished the fact that the heroine’s idea of dying and twisting plain cotton/linen fabric to make a special gown manages to make said dress take on the sheen of silk. Hollywood magic…. Hey, I might not have the hand, but I still have the eye to see these things!

Small Houses

This week is devoted to the process of making things by hand, and building houses fits the category. In fact, one of the most amazing aspect of the Laika exhibit that I described at the beginning of the week, was the details found in their constructed houses, inside and out.

In truth, though, today’s choice was also motivated by my wish to get the attached article into circulation. Much in it moved me and dealt with problems that we are all aware of but often feel helpless about.

Can Tiny Homes Solve America’s Homeless Problem?

Here is a quote from the article – a reminder of how privileged we all are.

In the planning stages of Emerald Village, there was a question about whether to include individual bathrooms in each home, which would have limited the number of units that could be built. While board members supported the move, the vote came in against them. The homeless individuals said they would rather have smaller units with communal bathrooms — because they wanted to provide housing for more people.

For photographs I thought I offer images of tools needed to make the stuff that fills the houses, furniture, floors, special beams etc. – when they are still made by hand.  I am lucky enough to know people who have the most amazing woodworking shops, in Philadelphia and in Germany. So you get a sampling of what caught my eyes.

And here is music for woodworkers – Joe Glazer did a lot of political songs, enjoy the lumberjacks!




Shoe Makers

I might not be a minor god, but I’m a miniature Imelda, with a conscience. Remember her, the Philipine’s Marcos/monster’s wife, she of the 1060 pairs of shoes? I share the affinity to footwork, but not the urge to consume or collect in her dimensions.

Nor do I share the style – I have never in my life owned or worn a pair of heels,

not even kitten heels. They’re in the way if you have places to explore….

This is more my style:

or this:  not exactly hand made, though.

Reading up a bit on the history of shoemaking, I learned that ancient hunters wrapped their cold feet in skin, and it was an accidental discovery that ashes tanned the skins to leather. It is also claimed (below) that when the lady of the cave asked for yellow, fashion was born…. medieval cottage industries required some extra skills from those involved in cobbling: they needed literacy to keep the books for ordered work and precise measurements so that the shoes fit. War brought an end to that: starting with the napoleonic wars so many boots were needed that shoemaking became mass production. Soon the skill of sewing top to insole was replaced by cheaper gluing methods.

History of Shoemaking

I think shoe designers are creative bordering on artists. Sadly, much of the more visible creativity is now expanded towards poor little rich girls. Since these only have two wrists, two ears, one neck to display their wealth of jewelry, shoes have to be the next platform. For a mere $1675 a Chanel boot provides extra glitter. (The folks at Nordstrom looked at me suspiciously when I photographed them – they seem to have a nose for who would never buy….)

And slippers with a hint of mink guarantee that no PETA eyes will ever fall on them:

Here is a short video that shows the process of boots being handmade, with the assurance that if you use elephant leather they will last 100 years. Reassuring for a woman getting on in age, don’t you agree? It’s fun to watch, though, if only for the alligator skins displayed on racks.

My fall back option: 

Work needs to get done!  (These boots, by the way, are worn by Rena, the owner of the funkiest shoe store in town: Switch Shoes in Multnomah Village. They have a fabulous comfort/look/price ratio. Hold on to your wallets….)



Metal Work

I don’t even know what some of the words mean: “The early metalworker was familiar, for example, with hammering, embossing, chasing, inlaying, gilding, wiredrawing, and the application of chemicals.” But I do know that I like the finished products of all this activity, particularly when it is made out of wrought iron.

In fact I find myself chasing it with the camera wherever I can – although that is different from the one cited above…: “Chasing is accomplished with hammer and punches on the face of the metal. These punches are so shaped that they are capable of producing any effect—either in intaglio (incising beneath the surface of the metal) or in relief—that the metalworker may require. The design is traced on the surface, and the relief may be obtained by beating down the adjacent areas to form the background.”

I learned this and more from an overview in the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

Ironwork is fashioned either by forging or casting. Wrought iron is the type of ironwork that is forged on an anvil. There are no fabrication similarities to cast iron, which is poured in a molten state into prepared sand molds.

Wrought iron is fibrous in structure and light gray in colour. It can be hammered, twisted, or stretched when hot or cold. The more it is hammered, the more brittle and hard it becomes; but it can be brought back to its original state by annealing (heating and then cooling slowly). It will not shatter when dropped.

The individual components of a wrought-iron design are often plain or twisted rods, with or without chisel-mark incisions. They are frequently composed as a series of straight, parallel members or in combination with scrolls, or as a repeat design of some geometric shape such as the quatrefoil. Where two curved members are tangent, they are characteristically secured together by bands or collars, rather than by welding. Where two straight bars intersect, it is accredited craftsmanship to make the vertical bar pierce or thread the horizontal member. Grilles consisting of two series of parallel small-diameter rods, one series at right angles to the other, were sometimes interlaced or woven.

For details and history you can read this:

or a short version, if you don’t want to have your nose in the book until 2019)

The evolution of decorative ironwork

In Europe wrought iron was used in decoration of churches since the middle ages; later, Victorian houses displayed a lacework of wrought iron grids and garlands ending in scrolls, leaf-ends or fishtails, offering a paradox of solidity and daintiness. It was meant to send out a message of a significant social power – confident in its stronghold, parading expensive artwork with a view of its property behind.

In the US, New Orleans reigns supreme when it comes to the art form, but frequent fences can be seen in Charleston as well.

I like the art deco (Jugendstil) works I photographed in Paris and Bremen, which are more elegant, less ostentatious.

In any case, I imagine what it meant to be a blacksmith working with all this, inventing patterns, methods to make it more pliable, designing forms, if it was to be combined with casting, and then erecting those balconies at houses that he could probably not afford in a life time….



Made by Hand

What would I do without my friends? They open up my horizons, over and over again. Just last week a dear one dragged me into the Portland Art Museum to an exhibit that I would have never, ever visited on my own: the show about LAIKA, the PDX-based animated movie producers.

I don’t watch animated movies, never have. And so I never thought about what goes into them, except some kind of trickery of animation, probably computer-based now, via filmed drawings then. What I now learn is that the folks at LAIKA actually build models, in 3D, creating entire worlds, that are the basis for their magic.

The exhibit at PAM shows some of these models, elucidates the technical processes, gives behind the scene glimpses of the core mechanisms, materials and tools used. All of which was rather interesting, but paled in comparison to some visions inside my head: what would it be like to go to work and everyday create a world in full detail. Sort of like being a minor god, who has the choice to supply or withhold. To let whimsey dictate some of the details, or full understanding of an artificial, agreed upon universe command the ways to fill it.


And, importantly, a work that unites thoughts and ideas with working with your hands. Someone builds all these modelscuts and saws, flattens and glues, scrapes and irons, sews and hammers, and puts it all together to create a world. Mind boggling.

Not that I have the talent for handiwork, or, these days, the flexibility of joints and fingers. But it speaks to me, and makes me want to get into the artisan’s minds of how it feels to make something, rather than sit at a computer and write, or take pictures with my camera. Well, for occasional change, anyhow……

This week, then, I’ll focus on things that are made or tools that are used.  And might even watch a Laika movie to see the model worlds come to live.


In their own Words (and Pictures…)

Charleston SC is a city practically devoid of street art. There are a few official murals.

To find graffiti you have to scout the outlying areas, and even then the results are meager, hidden behind empty malls and off traffic arteries.

What you can spot in the city is small and unobtrusive.

The occasional writings in shop windows or on banners are supposed to be funny, I let you be the judge.

I was puzzled by this since I associate the East Coast with a lot of tagging activity and some really cool art works, in Miami in particular. Good weather leaves the stuff intact.  Not here, though.  And with these few exceptions, not political.


Luckily, there always photography….