Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Mer-Wiz!

My latest Merman arrived today just in time for the new year!

Selected Works from the National Gallery of Art

 "The Last Valley--Paradise Rocks" 1867-69, 
by John La Farge (1836 - 1910
I love the stunning way he depicts the time of day with the setting sun drawing such a stark contrast against the ridge.
 "Ruins of the Parthenon" 1880, 
by Sanford Robinson Gifford (1823 - 1880
Completed shortly before his death, I thought this image very apropos after visiting the Hellenistic Bronze sculpture exhibition! And it also is a refugee. The Corcoran Gallery of Art went belly-up this past year--a local tragedy, and the NGA grabbed the bulk of the collection. This is one of the works formerly owned by the Corocoran and deemed worthy of not auctioning off by the NGA.
 "Mount Tom" 1869, 
by Thomas Charles Farber (1849 - 1891
At such a young age, he nails the reflection in the water--mesmerizing.
 "Winter Harmony" 1890-1900, 
by John Henry Twachtman (1853 - 1902
I am a longtime fan of Mr. Twachtman's impressionist works. And his winter landscapes are among his finest.
 "Hunting in the Pontine Marshes" 1833, 
by Horace Vernet (1789 - 1863)
In the first half of the 19th century and group of painters embraced the idea of the sublime in nature. For them this meant not simply the awesome power and beauty, but also the ever present danger. Tied into this was the notion of man attempting to hold dominion over nature against improbable odds. You can recall that this was an era of tremendous technological innovation that displayed man's prowess over the natural world. The steam engine alone was reshaping the ability of man to move from place to place in days instead of weeks. We were quite full of ourselves, eh? And here Vernet shows this little man hunting duck. All around him lay dangers he is blissfully unaware of--not least of which the huge tree trunk perched precariously over his head! I wish you could also see how Vernet paints the twisting trees to look like collections of woodland creatures/spirits. I'll wager you can see how even the root/branch at the bottom of the painting looks like the silhouette of a serpent.
 Here is a detail of the hunter. Can you see the mallard?
 "Wind From The Sea" 1947, 
by Andrew Wyeth (1917 - 2009
You must be familiar with his greatest painting "Christina's World" at the Chicago Art Institute? This must be the view of that very setting from within the house--don't you think?
 "Ground Swell" 1939, 
by Edward Hopper (1882 - 1967
A departure from his lonely houses, his stark room with lonely women in them, and yet, his ability to paint silence persists.
 "Head of an Old Man" c. 1630, 
by Abraham Bloemaert (1564 - 1651
No trip is ever complete without a looksee into the three intimate galleries of the Dutch Cabinet, curator Arthur Weelock's gift to us all. And here I found this beautiful portrait.
 "Leisure and Labor" 1858, 
by Frank Blackwell Mayer (1827 - 1899
Here's the painting I spent a little extra time with today. A relatively small painting in a ornate frame. I show a second version with the frame clipped back. Leisure in his fancy pants and white shirt and rich man's canine, watching Labor. Labor stooped and straining showing power of the horse. Notice how the woman in the background turns her attention to Labor, too. And the poster on the wall next to Leisure depicts a runner with the words "Stop Thief!" It's delicious allegory.

Diebenkorn @ NGA

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture in the Hellenistic World

What a gloomy break it has been here in DC! What to do? What to do? I know go to the National Gallery of Art! I mean, it is DC, there's always something to do. The show to see there is called "Power and Pathos: Bronze Sculpture of the Hellenistic World". Just over 50 of the couple hundred examples that have been discovered and survived from antiquity. The most stunning aspects? I loved the busts. They were so full of detail and individualism. You feel like you are looking at a man or woman 3000 years old who doesn't look a day of 25 or 45 or 70! And the feet! Well, the footwear. It swear it was all so intricate and folded over on itself with ties and flaps and I honestly could imagine what the actual thing would look like or how you'd go about putting it on... Something so basic and so mysterious in design. Here are some of the works on display. The equestrian was of table top size, while the others here where to human, or faun, scale!

Alexander on Horseback, 100 - 1 BC; bronze, copper, and silver. Lent by the The National Archaeological Museum, Naples (MANN).

Portrait of a North African Man, c. 300 - 150 BC; bronze, copper, enamel, and bone. Lent by the Trustees of the British Museum, London.

Portrait of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus Pontifex, 15 BC - AD 15; bronze. Lent by the National Archeological Museum, Naples (MANN).

Weary Herakles, AD 1 - 100; bronze, copper, and silver. Lent by the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell' Abruzzo, Villa Frigerj, Chieti.

Dancing Faun (Pan), c. 125 - 100 BC; bronze and silver. Lent by The National Archeological Museum, Naples (MANN).

Monday, December 28, 2015

"Seven Candles For Kwanzaa"

Tonight's holiday children's book is "Seven Candles For Kwanzaa" by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by her husband Brian Pinkney. His illustrations are lush and magnificent. Like most books on the topic of Kwanzaa this one is a sort of tutorial describing the origins and meanings of the rituals that define Kwanzaa. It's a wonderful way to learn about the holiday with friends and family. Published in 1993.

More Holiday Gifts

Arrived today!
 From James, school year photos and a bag of Dinosaurs!  And they formed a Chorus Dinosaurus as soon as they were free!
 And his mom and dad sent such a lovely cookbook!
Then later some of the Dino crew performed in my Wildlife in the Park photo shoot!

Wildlife Sitings In The Park

My production assistant lost interest too soon....

Welcome to the Union, Iowa!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

"Guys And Dolls"!

Ended the year on the high note of attending another Theater production. Back to Olney Theater for "Guys and Dolls".  Spectacular! 

When I purchased the ticket, it was the matinee of the final Saturday performance, but the production was extended by two additional weeks.  And well deservedly so. 

Essay: Snapshot

PART I: The Musical

Guys and Dolls was great fun! The casting was pitch perfect--with especially strong voices for the characters Sky Masterson (Matt Faucher), Sara Brown (Jessica Lauren Ball) and Miss Adelaide (Lauren Weinberg). The numbers were all there and a couple that I think are usually dropped from other productions for time considerations. To make up for the full repertoire, the pace of the show was hold on to your horses non-stop! There wasn't a single moment that seemed un-choreographed and the dancing was athletic and impressive. Both Sky (Matt Faucher) and Sarah (Jessica Lauren Ball) have incredibly powerful and restrained voices so that their duets were amazing, especially "I've Never Been In Love Before" which closed the first act on a power note. The over all show stopper; however, was "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat!" led by Nicely Nicely Johnson (Tobias Young). A wonderful production top to bottom!

PART II: The Show!

Of course, when you go to something like this alone, you get two shows. The production is the one you paid for, and the audience is the one money can't buy! My seat was four rows back from the stage (right) and four seats in from the aisle. Perfect sight lines. I arrived after the group to my right, three younger women on my row and two older women on the row above. Before the show and during breaks they talked up and down to one another about how hungry they were and where they'd made reservations for dinner (the show was a matinee) and one of the older women kept doling out cough drops to one of the younger women over my shoulder. During the show, the cough drop queen occasionally dozed off--no doubt out of hunger!--and snored quietly.

On my left was another group that also encompassed two rows. This time the main middle section of my row and the one directly below. They were late arriving, but must have informed the theater and the start of the show was nearly 10 minutes off and began directly after they were seated. There were 17 people in all of various ages and appeared to be of one family. As they filtered in there were questions about where individuals should sit and with each question the advice was the same, "Ask, Xxxxx (the middle aged women who ended up sitting next to me)" She was a noticeably thin woman whose directions had some members of the family literally climbing up over the backs of seats! Members whose best climbing days were behind them, might I add. Eventually everyone was seated and the show started. All the pre-show kerfuffle was quickly forgotten.

Intermission came and the "family" vacated for the lobby and some "them time," while the ladies behind and on the other side of me returned to a discussion of food. The large family was prompt at returning and the second half of the show finished wonderfully. Then there was an after show Q & A with members of the cast for those interested in staying. As it turned out the "family" stayed. Altogether about 60 people stayed and as those who didn't wish to stay left and those up in the balcony moved down to join the rest of us, the Associate Artistic Director shared some show facts and asked us a few simple one word questions like, "Shout out the one word that described your experience of the show today." When the 8 year old on the front row called out "Splendiferous" that pretty much made everyone chuckle, and it was time for the next question. This pre Q & A was to give the actors joining us time to change out of costumes and within a few brief minutes, six members of the cast had arrived back on stage: Matt Faucher (Sky Masterson), Evan Casey (Benny Southstreet), Jessica Lauren Bell (Sarah Brown), Lauren Weinberg (Miss Adelaide), Ben Cunis (Harry the Horse--and also one of the Choreographers), and Andre Hinds (a member of the ensemble)--seven if you add Jason King Jones (associate artistic director).

The first couple of questions were sort of technical questions, the kind meant to reveal more about the asker's idiosyncratic knowledge of stage craft than they are to actually secure a meaningful answer--you know the type. Then I thought it's either now or never, and I shot my hand into the air. When Jason pointed to me, I said, "This one is a toss-up for any or all, What is the moment in the production when you are saying to yourself, 'This is it! This is what I love most of all?" A handful of people in the audience said audibly, "wow. That's a really good question." and I thought, well the bar was set pretty low! Matt had the mike and said, "I want a minute to really think about that one." and then passed it down and one by one they all got a chance to tell about what they find most special about the production and their role in it.

All in all, the Associate Artistic Director allowed them to field about 12 questions and then said, "Okay, we have time for just one more question." The generalissima of the large family sitting next to me raised her hand and was called upon. What she asked brought such a pall over the entire place....

She began, "I noticed the words "Jesus Saves Sinners" on the wall of the mission set. I want to know if any of you knows of the Love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Not the mean Jesus or the strict Jesus, or the Jesus that makes you follow rules, but the Jesus that sets us free, and how that effects your performance?" If I only had a camera to have snapped a portrait of the actors' faces! They were utterly dumbfounded and after an awkward moment, Ben Cunis took the dagger for the group to everyone else upon the stage's heartfelt relief. He explained that everyone brings together their own personal beliefs and then leaves them at the door of the theater because it's not about projecting any religious or cultural perspective. It's about creating something magical and fleeting and giving that to the audience who are free to interpret it any way they see fit. What a good answer, I thought. Quickly we were thanked for staying and bid farewell. As everyone rose to leave, the women turned to her husband and said quietly in a tone perhaps more akin to the "strict" Jesus, "He didn't answer my question...." Like I said, the show costs a set amount, the rest of the experience is priceless!

"Winter Poems"

Tonight's holiday book for children is a collection of poems called "Winter Poems" selected by Barbara Rogasky and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. The book is intentionally nonsectarian. You will find poems by Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, Emily Dickinson and Edna St. Vincent Millay among the many. I will label each illustration I include here with the title and author of the poem it goes together with to further this point.

 "Something Told The Wild Geese" by Rachel Feild
"A Merry Note" by William Shakespeare 
"A Winter Piece" by William Cullen Bryant 
"Laughing Boy" by Richard Wilbur 
"Waiting For Birds" by David Kherdian

Pride Birthdays And Memorials For The Week - December 27 to January 2

Friday, December 25, 2015

"The Gift Of The Magi"

Today's Holiday Children's Book is actually a tale written for adults. "The Gift of the Magi" by O'Henry. It's a tale doubtless we all know and there is nothing diverted from or enhanced in the text of this version. It is the illustrations that set it apart! Elisabeth Zwerger is on that pantheon of top ten illustrators for me. She creates sparse, ethereal, dreamlike images that both highlight the starkness of the story and elevate it to a place of sublime wonderment. You must consider owning this one at any price. Happy Holidays!