Online Art Encounters | BGC Craft, Art & Design Oral History Project

Career paths are not always straightforward, and creative careers even less so. So it is inspiring to learn how others have successfully paired their personal interests and talents with the need to earn a living. The BGC Craft, Art & Design Oral History Project is an online resource of interviews with a range of craftspeople and designers: studio potters, architects, rug hookers, industrial designers, and more.

Here are three that caught my interest:

Ignacio Ciocchini is an Industrial Designer working in New York City; his designs include the award-winning CityBench. In this interview he touches on design considerations for public urban spaces, and also talks about the challenges of integrating design teams into a corporate structure, an enduring issue I remember well from my days working at a design consultancy.


Stephanie Allen-Krauss is a fourth-generation Rug Hooker from Vermont. This interview covers her personal history in the craft along with technique, the selection and preparation of fabrics and dyes, and the business in general. I have a soft spot for textile arts, and am really tempted to enroll in the Green Mountain Rug School. Read the personal story behind the Bottom Star Big Dipper rug here.


Finally, Philippe Apeloig is a Graphic Designer based in Paris who is known for his typography. But he was no match for author Philip Roth, who requested that his portrait be the basis for a new poster commissioned for the Fête du Livre. That tale and its creative result tell the story of how Apeloig approaches design and interprets subject matter in visually rich ways, successfully blending his trademark style with client requirements.

With 13 interviews posted so far, the project is a valuable resource for future scholarship. But non-scholars be warned: these oral histories are presented as written transcripts and do take some time to read. Fortunately the interviews were digitally recorded so more plentiful video clips may be added in the future. All of the interviews are available on the BGC Craft, Art & Design Oral History Project website.


Miscellany | Favorites No. 2

Time for another [completely random] expertly curated list of recent favorites and curiosities! Herewith: Redstone-Studios-Map-of-Africa-with-animal-insetsFour years ago I heard Connie Brown of Redstone Studios talk about her hand drawn, hand painted maps and was hooked. I was even more impressed when I read that she has no formal cartographic training. Learn more about her work and view additional images here: Your Road Trip, Reimagined as a Glorious 16th Century Map. A-Boogert-Handpainted-Color-Guide-1692-Traité-des-couleurs-servant-à-la peinture-à-l’eauDid you see this hand painted color guide from 1692 when it was making the social media rounds? It’s the old, old Pantone. SCI-Dioramas-kitchen-Frances-Glessner-Lee.jpg. Ah, the dream of having millions in the bank! Think of all that time to travel, to read, to create…dollhouse death scenes. Francis Glessner Lee could have been a lady who lunched. Instead she pursued her amateur passion for forensics and in the process permanently changed the way crime scenes and evidence are handled by investigators and medical examiners in the United States. Read her full story here: Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. AMC-TV-Show-Turn-Revolutionary_Spy-Ring-Promo-PicI’ve been watching AMC’s new show Turn, and learning all about the revolutionary spy ring that helped win America’s War of Independence. While most of the action takes place on Long Island, I was excited to see my childhood hometown make an appearance (Washington’s Headquarters) and intrigued to learn that some the action took place on the now-abandoned Shooter’s Island, just off of Staten Island. Have you ever heard of Shooter’s Island? I hadn’t, but now I want to visit.

Finally, this How to Tell What Novel You’re In series makes me laugh. Make sure to read the Dickens and Austen posts.

Do you have some favorites and / or recommendations to share? I am always looking for new reads, shows, and adventures. Happy to summer to all!

Visit | Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park


Four Freedoms Park, looking south. Can you spot the Freedom Tower (One World Trade) in the distance?

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park is one of the most tranquil parks in New York City. Opened to the public last year, thirty-eight years after it was originally conceived and designed by architect Louis I. Kahn, the park is an elegant sliver of land from which to contemplate the park’s primary message: the promotion of the universal right to four essential human freedoms as outlined by President Roosevelt in his State of the Union speech of 1941. This message is reflected in the view across the river by the United Nations complex and, more poignantly, the Freedom Tower.

I put together a slide show of my recent visit. It begins with the abandoned smallpox hospital that Kahn included in his original plans as a visitor center. What remains of the structure has been stabilized for now and, site feasibility and fundraising allowing, could become an integral part of the visitor experience in the future. Pictures of the park itself follow, and the slide show wraps up with select views across the water. For those of you reading via RSS/newsletter, view the Four Freedoms Park slide show here.


A Seine-esque waterfront walkway south towards the park.


The Gothic Revival smallpox hospital was built by James Renwick Jr. in 1850. At that time Roosevelt Island was still called Blackwell's Island.


Renwick is better known for building Grace Church and St. Patrick's Cathedral.


The smallpox hospital has been stabilized for now; it remains to be seen if it can be restored and re-purposed.


The hospital was included in Kahn's original plans for the site as a visitor's center.


Contrasts of masonry, brick and ivy abound.


For now the hospital retains an air of faded grandeur and intrigue.


Stairs leading up to the park.


Two trees.


Four Freedoms Park, looking south. Can you spot the Freedom Tower in the distance>


I'd anticipated a 'chilly modern' feeling to the park, but it is elegant and warm in person. This allée, one of two, looks south.


At the southern tip of the park (and of Roosevelt Island) a granite plaza has been constructed. This bust of FDR welcomes all visitors.


Here are the Four Freedoms, as outlined by FDR in his State of the Union Address in 1941. His words are just as relevant today as they were originally.


A view from the granite plaza of FDR's words. The bust is on the other side of this cube, facing north.


Looking north to a juxtaposition of manicured lawn, ivy-clad hospital ruins, and the industrial beauty of the bridge in the distance.


An allée looking north.


Here are some views from the park; this one is looking north towards Manhattan.


Looking towards Long Island City at the Pepsi-Cola sign.


Looking south towards the Williamsburg Bridge.


Last but not least, a beautiful Manhattan skyline with the United Nations, Empire State, and Chrysler buildings.

Watch FDR deliver his 1941 State of the Union speech here:

I plan to visit this park and Roosevelt Island again soon. Now is the time – the adjacent Cornell Tech Campus complex is due to open in 2017 and the influx of faculty, students, and visitors will change the day-to-day feeling of the Four Freedoms park. Finally, after 20 years of living in New York City, I admit to just discovering that the subway (F train) stops on Roosevelt Island. I share this embarrassing confession with you to underscore just how easy it is to visit this lovely park. Enjoy!


American Folk Art Museum | Self-Taught Genius

What can a 21st century calendar savant and a 19th century girl possibly have in common? Innate creative brilliance. Works by both are included in the exhibition Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum, now on view in New York City through August 17th, 2014.


Jessie B. Telfair, Freedom, 1983. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York.

The show’s title is based on the idea that all Americans, as citizens of a start-up nation, were originally self-taught as they forged identities in a new and in many respects undefined land. Folk art – art produced without any formal artistic training or education – reflected this from the start but over time the self-taught ideal has come to be associated with artists working outside of the mainstream. The works in this show are best-in-class examples of the self-taught artistic tradition in the United States.


George Widener, Funeral for Titanic, 2007. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York.

The artwork is organized into seven themes – Achievers, Messengers, Ingenuity, Encoders, Improvement Guides and Reformers – an organizational device that highlights currents in American history across the four centuries represented here. Encoders includes Funeral for Titanic, 2007, by calendar savant George Widener. He notes that the Titanic sank on a Monday and was mourned on a Tuesday. That Tuesday is represented here, “starting on April 16, 1912, and going forward every Tuesday for 700 years. The number of Tuesdays approximately corresponds to the number of people who were rescued from the sinking ship.”


Newburyport Needlework Picture, c. 1810.Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York.

Jessie B. Telfair’s Freedom Quilt, 1983 (pictured at the top of the post), is included in the Reformers section. Telfair created this quilt as a response to losing her job after she tried to register to vote. The Newburyport Needlework Picture, c.1810, an elegant scene embroidered entirely in silk, is displayed as part of the Improvement theme. This work is thought to be the work of an anonymous nine-year old Newburyport girl. With over 100 works, there are many examples of ‘homegrown’ creative talent to explore in this show. Are they all works of genius? Does genius reside within us naturally or alongside us for cultivation? Watch this  TED talk on the nature of genius, and decide for yourself.


Sideshow Banner, c. 1930-40. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York

The visitor experience: what worked
Content: This show has a very clear point of view throughout. Each work has a unique story and these are told through well-written, engaging label copy.

Website: The dedicated exhibition website is highly visual, and includes pictures of all works, all label copy, options to sort by theme, artist or century, and supplemental information too.

Social: The hashtag for this show is #AFAMGenius. Assigning hashtags in advance is a smart way to establish where conversations about the exhibition should take place online, and shows that the museum is staying current.


Grandma Moses, Dividing of the Ways, 1947. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York.

The visitor experience: room for improvement
Audio guide: I am never going to dial a phone number (repeatedly) to listen to an audio guide. I forgot to check about downloading the audio to my phone in advance, and it just seemed like a hassle once I arrived. See my Iran Modern review for more on this.

Website: The home page navigation is slightly confusing. For example, rolling over the “Achievers” theme picture makes eight descriptive words appear. These actually are not navigational options, though the onscreen behavior implies otherwise. Also, why is there a link to an article about Kaleidoscope Quilts on the home page? This is not a show about quilts. The information hierarchy could use some tightening up.


Asa Ames, Phrenological Head, c1850. Collection American Folk Art Museum.

Remarks specific to the American Folk Art Museum:
Given the museum’s recent history, it may seem churlish to criticize the museum’s current space. But what are exhibitions without visitors? This is not a visitor-friendly space. It is a single lobby area shared by the gift shop, the exhibition gallery, and the bathrooms. The floor is tiled and the ceiling is high which means it is LOUD. Every sound – babies crying, staff chatting, toilets flushing, and hand dryers blowing – is amplified. It couldn’t be less conducive to viewing art or taking the time to read the carefully researched labels. Surely temporary, transparent walls could be installed?

I started writing this blog because I was so surprised at how un-evolved the visitor experience in museums still is, as compared to the consumer experience at retail, or the guest experience in hotels and restaurants. We’ve all had great shopping and dining experiences, and our expectations of a brand, a site visit, and an exhibition are increasingly sophisticated. It is a mistake to think that artwork and curatorial expertise are enough to supersede a mediocre visitor experience.

This show is an impressive showcase for the museum’s larger permanent collection and, thanks to a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, will be accessibly by many more visitors through a seven city, nationwide tour. I’m curious to hear about the installation (and see pictures) in the other venues. The works are visionary, technically adept, and historically interesting. In the right setting, this show should really shine. Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum is on view through August 17, 2014 and then will travel to the following cities:

Figge Art Museum, Davenport, IA
Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
St. Louis Art Museum, St. Louis, MO
Tampa Museum of Art, Tampa, FL



Kara Walker | ‘A Subtlety’ at the Domino Sugar Factory

KaraWalker-SugarSphinx-DominoSugarFactoryKara Walker’s “A Subtlety” — a Sugar Sphinx installed at the old Domino Sugar Factory — has been wildly popular since it was installed in early May, though not universally embraced. “Once a luxury — subtleties were sugar sculptures made for the rich as edible table-decorations — sugar became more widely available due in large part to slave labor.” The work, commissioned by Creative Time, is a perfect pairing of venue and art, provoking interpretations around race, industry and power in U.S. culture, past and present.

KaraWalker_DominoSugarFactory_SignThe Sphinx is a stunner, and the sensation of standing on the empty factory floor on Brooklyn’s waterfront (soon to be torn down to make way for residential construction and a park) with this monumental sculpture and its smaller molasses boys cannot be replicated from afar. Not even through the avalanche of images available on social media (here and here, for a start). The scale of the hangar-like space and its sticky sugary smell are vital to the experience.

KaraWalker-MolassesBoy-DominoSugarFactory-6June2014But what does the work stand for? That depends on your perspective. Here are three interpretations:

“…it is beautiful, brazen and disturbing, and above all a densely layered statement that both indicts and pays tribute.”
Roberta Smith, ‘A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby’ at the Domino Plant

“Both Murillo’s and Walker’s projects speak to labor and commerce, but both, by nature of their grand scale, are very much part of the structures they critique…. Let’s use these works to unearth troubled histories, sure. But let’s unearth the stories behind the works themselves to look at our troubled present.”
Ryan Wong, Sugar Coat: On Oscar Murillo and Kara Walker

“So much for institutionalized protest—this is art packaged to look like radicalism while supporting capitalism at its worst.”
Carol Diehl, in Dirty Sugar: Kara Walker’s dubious alliance with Domino, follows the money trail, citing the advertising alliances at play in this work and the checkered history and connections of today’s sugar industrialists.

And here is Walker herself, talking about the inspiration and development of the Sphinx, in this video from Art21:

‘A Subtlety’ is open Fridays- Sundays only and is scheduled to close July 6th. Because of its popularity there is often a line for admission, but it moves very quickly. Don’t miss this unique show and a chance to see the Domino Sugar Factory for the last time.

Photos: sphinx and boy by me; factory via Creative Time.