Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Paperhand Puppet wows again

August 14, 2011

The Sun Goddess is one of our favorites.

Last night’s showing of “The Serpent’s Egg” was our seventh time seeing Paperhand Puppet Intervention, and it was my favorite show since our first, in 2006. (So sad that we lived here in Durham, NC, for two years before we discovered one of the country’s most amazing big-puppet performances!). Paperhand is a summer highlight, and we love the stage at Forest Theatre on the UNC campus. This year the visuals (more photos below!) were mind-blowingly stupendous in every act, and I appreciated that the “teaching and preaching” — all good stuff — came at the end instead of throughout. The music was particular stellar this year, as was the female vocalist, Claudia Lopez. Here are a few scenes:

Poignant and hilarious was "We Are All Just Babies," no matter our age.

Paperhand always turns a little dark, as in this macabre death dance.

These creatures are athletic and technically challenging. The "riders" are on stilts and their horses/birds (?) buck and stomp. Amazing.

Eleven puppeteers operated the serpent, which has a ferocious roar.

Paperhand cofounder Donovan Zimmerman steers the serpent toward the outreached hands of mesmerized children. Magical and moving.


Tampa’s ambitious work of art

March 2, 2011

The new Tampa Museum of Art opened to much fanfare last year

Tampa, in my experience, is one of those Florida cities that people from away can’t place. I was often asked when I lived in Boston, “Now where is it, on the West Coast or East Coast?”  (West!) I lived in the “Tampa-St. Pete” area for many years, and now watch the two cities’ growth from afar and occasional visits. St. Petersburg has developed a stronger personality, but Tampa is catching up. One example: it’s stunning new Tampa Museum of Art , open just over a year now.

View of the Hillsborough River from the museum's second floor

We toured the gleaming new space during a visit late last year and were mightily impressed. The building, designed by Stanley Saitowitz, sits along a bank of the Hillsborough River, next to the spiffy and even newer Glazer Children’s Museum and Curtis Hixon Riverfront Park, a tremendous addition to downtown green space and entirely new to me. From the lobby and hallways of the modern-industrial 66,000-square-foot museum one can see the water, and, on the other bank, the landmark minarets of the Moorish-styled University of Tampa.

The ultra contemporary space — all shiny on the outside — lends itself well to its modern works, including a Calder mobile in the lobby, a room with cool LED displays, a sculpture-filled terrace, and a Do Ho Suh bathroom installation made of fabric that I so wanted to touch.

But the two or so rooms of ancient stuff was just jarring. OK, yes, the museum has this important collection of Greek and Egyptian art, but it just doesn’t work here. It broke my flow and harshed my buzz. What’s a modern-looking museum to do with its old stuff? 

A rock garden decorates the lobby

If you aren’t into art (what’s with that?),  at least check out the lobby (free) and Sono Cafe, which has an upscale sandwich menu and gelato — best enjoyed on the patio overlooking the river.

Another free thrill is the museum-commissioned nighttime display by digital-light artist Leo Villareal, which turns a wall of the museum into “a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors,” according to one article. Alas, we visited during the day. Next time!

New Dali Museum is the surreal thing

December 30, 2010

Florida`s new Dali Museum opens 1/11/11

Salvador Dali would enjoy the hoopla. To great fanfare, the new Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Fla., opens to the public 1/11/11 at 11:11 a.m. It is a beauty, both real and surreal.

January is chock full of public events to herald the arrival of this masterpiece of museums. Whenever you visit, now or later, take a docent tour. Not only are they entertaining, but, trust, me, you’ll want the explanations.

We were treated to a sneak preview of the $36 million building late December. With two weeks to go before the opening, things were still very much a work in progress, and the artwork hadn’t been moved from the current site eight blocks south. Though I loved the old museum, which opened in 1982, it was time for a step up for Dali’s art and for downtown St. Petersburg, these days a lively tourist destination.

End of the Helical Staircase and geodesic glass bubble on top of building

Many folks don’t realize that the Dali Museum here has more of the surrealist’s paintings than any place outside of his museum in Spain. The core collection was donated by the late A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse. The new 66,400-square-foot building more than doubles the old, and the exhibition space jumps from 7,000 to 15,000 square feet, meaning more paintings, sculptures, and melting clocks can be displayed.

The building itself, designed by architect Yann Weymouth, is the perfect vessel for Dali’s work. Visitors are first hit with a view of the “Glass Enigma,” geodesic glass bubbles that front the building. From the inside, the structure, made with 900 triangular glass panels held in a steel grid — none identical — looks over the city’s waterfront.

We hope the "melting clock" bench at the old museum will make the move

Just at the entrance is the cleverly titled “Avant Garden,” featuring a grotto and bridge, hedge labyrinth, and a patio with stone pavers forming the golden rectangle. Dali loved mathematics.

Inside, you’ll walk by (or browse in) an enhanced gift shop that will hold even more items than before, some custom-designed with Dali in mind, as they have been in the past. To the right is the first Dali café, with lacy metallic chairs. In the center is another mathematical masterpiece – “the Helical Staircase” – a spiral staircase resembling a strand of DNA that ascends to third-floor galleries and ends midair with a flourish of steel.

It's always raining inside "Rainy Rolls"

Also sure to make a splash is “Rainy Rolls 2010,” a custom-made version of Dali’s “Rainy Taxi.” His original installation of a taxi that rains on the inside was the hit of the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition in Paris. It’s been re-created several times over, and this one was designed by Alain Cerf, founder of the Tampa Bay Automobile Museum. The car is a fully functional 1933 Rolls Royce Sedanca whose mannequin driver, dressed in vintage dive gear, carries a passenger, in this case a mermaid, who is being rained on. (The water is actually coming down between plexiglass panels.) It’s an engineering and artistic marvel, and makes you realize there really is no shelter from the storm. That, my friends, is surreality.

Fun, fuzzy, funky dolls and balls from Paige Cox

December 6, 2010

Felted LuDoo doll

I love Paige Cox’s felted artwork! I wrote this for my regular Who & Ware craft column for the News & Observer in NC (it ran Nov. 6, 2010). Her pieces are sold around the country and online.

By Diane Daniel

When Paige Cox goes into high schools to talk to students about careers in art, she makes sure they know that drawing is not her thing.

“I always tell kids that I’m really not that good of a drawer,” said Cox, who lives in Greensboro, NC. “I don’t sell myself short, but I want to let them know that you can do other things as an artist besides painting and drawing. You can be a craftsman.”

And what a craftsman she is. For the past decade, Cox, 38, has felted joyful, colorful, highly artistic dolls, balls and more. Her work is in stores across the country, including the Triangle, and she’ll have a booth at the Piedmont Craftsmen and the Carolina Designer Craftsmen Guild shows this month.

Paige Cox in her Greensboro, NC, studio

Cox grew up in Asheboro, as Paige Helms and was encouraged by her mother, a lover of art and crafts, to explore her creative side.

When it came time for college, her boyfriend was going to N.C. State University, so she opted for nearby Peace College in Raleigh.

Things didn’t work out at Peace or with the boyfriend.

“I knew that art school was where I wanted to go,” said Cox, who enrolled in the highly regarded Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia. “I took to it immediately. I loved Savannah and the school. It wasn’t just drawing and painting. And then there were all these very interesting people.”

Cox focused on weaving, but in her senior year tried felting, where wool fibers are matted, pressed and adhered, with or without moisture, to form objects, shapes and designs.

Her colorful geodes are popular

“I made a big wet-felted piece and it was really kind of horrible. But I loved that it was such a tactile craft, and I like the blending of colors. It was just one of those things that clicked.”

After graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts specializing in fiber arts, Cox worked with Annawear hand-painted clothing in Highlands. Once back in North Carolina, she reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Tim Cox, a graphic designer who by then had moved to Greensboro. She joined him there the following year, and they married in 1997. The couple now have a daughter, 10, and son, 7, who were the impetus for her return to felting.

“Weaving and kids don’t go together,” Cox said with a laugh. “You’re calculating, working with patterns, needing to concentrate. Strings are hanging down everywhere.”


Denver, design mecca?

October 17, 2010

Irving Harper's Marshmallow Sofa (1956)

When you think of Denver, Colo., you likely conjure images of cowboys, the Mile High Stadium, Coors beer, and of course the Rocky Mountains. But as the location of one of the world’s best collections of mid-century modern design and decorative art? Hardly.

OK, you know where this is headed. It is indeed! The last time I was in town, my pal Kelley Griffin said that I must, simply must visit “the Kirkland.” And so I did. And I was wowed. Wow! Here’s the little ditty I wrote about it, which appears today as a “Rave” in the Boston Globe Travel section (finally!). 

In Colorado, cutting-edge design on display

Vance Kirkland’s studio remains intact, including the straps he used to suspend himself above his horizontal canvases

DENVER — You might want to wear your shades inside the Kirkland Museum of Fine & Decorative Art. Bright colors, crazy shapes, and offbeat objects — more than 3,300 of them — are packed into every conceivable cranny of the small downtown space. For starters, mid-century modern and Art Deco devotees will want to seek out the shiny chrome 1937 Electrolux vacuum, original-production 1956 “Marshmallow Sofa,” and the 1931 Jazz Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost, the museum’s American Art Deco masterpiece. Decorative objects share space with paintings from 170 Colorado artists of the last century. The star among them is namesake Vance Kirkland (1904-81), a design collector and eccentric painter whose own art incorporated, at times, Surrealism, abstract expressionism, and dots.

The 1931 Jazz Bowl by Viktor Schreckengost

The museum was founded in 2003 by his heir, curator Hugh Grant. The building had been Kirkland’s studio, and his work space remains intact, including the straps he used to suspend himself above his horizontal canvases after he became frail. While Grant started the museum with the modest goal of preserving Kirkland’s legacy and displaying his beloved objects, it has turned into something much bigger: a world-renowned design showcase.

1311 Pearl St., 303-832-8576 , Closed Monday. Adults $7; children under age 13 not admitted.

Way-high design at Atlanta’s High Museum

June 12, 2010

Mathias Bengtsson`s Slice Chair, taken from outside the building

Sometimes it is just sooooooo hard to not touch things in a museum. I was mighty tempted last week at Atlanta’s splendid High Museum of Art when touring the new exhibit “European Design Since 1985: Shaping the New Century.”

We were lucky enough to get a sneak preview of the exhibit (it’s now open) while there during a southeast chapter meeting of the Society of American Travel Writers, meaning we didn’t have to fight the nattily dressed crowds.

A funny aside: not only we were not allowed to take photos inside the exhibit (not unusual), we were told to put away our ink pens. That was a first. So I pulled out my pencil and scribbled away.

Bouroullec Brothers wall decoration (this one was at citizenM, Amsterdam)

The show, up only through Aug. 29 (so get going!), is billed as the first survey of contemporary Western Europe decorative arts and product design. It’s organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Denver Art Museum and encompasses furniture, glass, ceramics, metalwork, lamps, and household items. Designers include the ubiquitous Philippe Starck, as well as Marc Newson, Marcel Wanders, Tord Boontje, and the Bouroullec Brothers. Way exciting!

Ellen's kettle, designed by Philippe Starck for Alessi (photo High Museum)

Just how contemporary is the work? My travel writing pal Ellen Perlman of “Boldly Go Solo” fame kept exclaiming: I have that kettle in my house! I have that watering can, from Ikea! Who knew that Ellen was a design maven? (Hey, Ellen, wanna see my Alessi toothpick holder?)

The first floor holds a yummy collection of chairs. I wanted to not just touch but to sit, though most are more for looking, not lounging. My favorite was Mathias Bengtsson’s “Slice Chair,” the aluminum version from 1999. The Danish designer, based in London, has done several variations on the theme. Here’s a great Q&A with him.

Much in the way Ellen was excited about her household goods, Wessel was thrilled to see so many Dutch designers, not that that should be a surprise. We’re talking Tejo Remy, Piet Hein Eek, Tord Boontje (you’ve seen his paper-lace lampshades) and more, many whose work are sold through Droog, my favorite Amsterdam design shop (more on that some day).

One of the neatest everyday products was a Ty Nant water bottle from Wales created by Welsh born designer Ross Lovegrove. The sensuous asymmetrical bottle was designed to evoke the fluidity of water.

Whippet lovers will go wild for this bench (photo High Museum)

Whippet lovers will go wild for the “Whippet Bench” by RADI Designers in Paris. If it were a dachshund, I’d go out of my mind and might have to spent my life savings on it.   

Groupings of work were labeled with headings like modernism, post modernism, neo-pop, biomorphic, neo-decorative, etc. Whatever you want to call these movements, I call them super cool (one reason I’ll never be an art critic)!

Speaking of art criticism, we watched two museum staffers spend an inordinate amount of time trying to change a light bulb inside a wildly shaped lamp. So, how many art guys does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to hold the precious lamp, one to screw in the bulb, and one to review the show.

A museum and its art, transformed

May 28, 2010

The new expansion (photo The North Carolina Museum of Art)

I admit my bias – when the North Carolina Museum of Art was about to unveil its 127,000-square-foot, $50 million expansion, I thought, ho-hum, how interesting could anything in Raleigh be? Plenty, it turns out.

I left the press preview last month blown away by the architecture, landscaping, interior, and, oh yeah, let’s not forget the art. (I swear I was not influenced by the yummy free lunch of grilled salmon and crunchy asparagus.) The new works were impressive and the old ones looked new under a new light. Kudos to architect Thomas Phifer and the thousands of other pros who accomplished this achievement.

“In a new light” was in fact the headline accompanying a review of the museum in our local paper, “The News & Observer.”  Light is the dominant element here, from the cool metallic walls of the shiny exterior to the sunlight-filled galleries, thanks to the 360 skylights. Natural light pouring into museum galleries!? Unheard of, right? But the museum staff utilized the latest in state-of-the-art light filters to control the natural light instead of blocking it out all together. Seeing old masters in full daylight is somewhat shocking, in a good way, and the more contemporary work looks right at home.

Rodin sculptures around a reflecting pool

Outside the building are areas of beautifully balanced landscaping, reflecting pools, sculptures, including  a new cache of Rodins (some are indoors too). I’ve had about enough of Rodin, but I appreciate the importance of the museum acquiring 29 castings.

Overall, there is just a lot to love here. I could tick off a list of works on the walls, but really you need to come see for yourself. While you’re at it, enjoy the walking and biking trails in the 164-acre park the museum sits on.

Open-air dining area with Patrick Dougherty tree branch sculpture

Do make sure you leave time to eat. The food is great (even when you have to pay), and the wall of the long open-air dining area is covered with a delectable Patrick Dougherty sculpture. Called “Out of the Box,” it’s made of red maple sapling branches and boughs from the area.

We are so lucky to have this sculptor based in Chapel Hill, one town over.

Roxy Paine’s stainless steel tree outside the new museum expansion

Not to focus on trees, but if I had to pick a “favorite new piece,” it would be “Askew,” Roxy Paine’s stainless steel sculpture outside the museum. The 43-foot-tall work is one of his “Dendroid” tree-like sculptures, with branches formed from various sizes of pipes and rods. This series of photos taken during the installation is fascinating, though I’d rather imagine that the tree simply sprouted one day, like Jack and the Beanstalk, filling the blue sky with its shiny limbs and beckoning visitors to explore the treasures inside and out.

His wonderful whirligig world

April 22, 2010

Vollis Simpson in his backyard whirligig park in Lucama, N.C., in 2005

Update: Rest in peace, Vollis Simpson, who died at home in Lucama, N.C., on May 31, 2013, at the age of 94.

The recent article in the New York Times about our North Carolina treasure Vollis Simpson reminded me of our trip the the whirligig master’s home a few years ago. Hard to believe that Vollis is now 91 and still whirligigging! Here’s what I wrote on Nov. 12, 2005, for my (still ongoing) Who & Ware column in the News & Observer:

The state fair left Raleigh a couple weeks ago, but there’s a midway of sorts you can see year-round over in Wilson County.

The display, plucked down amid pine trees and tobacco and cotton fields, is a startling sight if you’re unprepared.  The sky suddenly fills with a carnival of contraptions, some of which resemble Ferris wheels, carousels, and kids rides. Colorful parts move excitably in the breeze while the sounds from dozens of spinning wheels clatter and click out a wind-powered melody.

Vollis cuts a propeller out metal

The mastermind of this handmade midway is Vollis Simpson, 86, a lifelong resident of Lucama, a tiny town in western Wilson County about 50 miles east of Raleigh. For more than a decade now, the curious and the collectors have come from near and far to come visit Simpson’s “whirligig farm.”

Simpson, known nationally, has large-scale pieces in Raleigh, Greensboro, Atlanta, Baltimore, and downtown Wilson.  He’s been written about in national magazines and had a documentary made about him. Last year USA Today listed his farm among the “10 Great Places to Sample Quirky Americana.”

Simpson, a lifetime tinkerer, machine shop owner by trade, and artist in “retirement” seems to take his fame in stride. You can ask him yourself if you stop by his workshop near the intersection of Wiggins Mill Road and Willing Worker Road.  You’ll have to maneuver through a few piles of metal, fans, fan blades, bicycle wheels, buckets, radiator covers, and more to reach his work space.

A tabletop whirligig

While Simpson might be one of North Carolina’s most famous “outsider,” or untrained, artists, he’s no recluse. He’s also not full of himself.  When responding to “Hi, you must be Vollis Simpson,” he answered, “Yep, what’s left of me.”

We visited on a Sunday afternoon, and, as usual, Simpson was working. He wiped the smudge off his large, lined hands with a rag and held one out for a shake. He advised his visitors to speak up, as he doesn’t hear so well these days.

Simpson, wearing his usual jeans and a plaid shirt speckled with paint, led us  into his field of dreams. His bigger works are worth $10,000 and up. (Not that they’re for sale, though he does still fill custom orders.) He also has a shed full of smaller pieces for the tabletop and yard that he sells from $100 to $200.

Vollis tests a tabletop whirligig in his workshop

For its centennial this year, Wilson commissioned a dozen large whirligigs. Five of those now dot downtown and the others are in the works. (Two are at the intersection of Tarboro and Nash streets.)

The house Simpson shares with Jean, his wife of 58 years, sits back behind the field holding the whirligigs. One son, Michael, a mail carrier, lives in a separate house on the family property, the same farm Simpson and his 11 siblings were raised on. His daughter, Carol Kyles, a social worker, lives up the street, and his other son, Leonard, a TV newscaster, lives in Greensboro.


They’re dying for you to see it

March 22, 2010

Race car #61, marker for Joey Laquerre Jr.

I recently came upon a mention of Hope Cemetery in central Vermont, bringing back memories of our own visit there a few years ago. Situated in the small city of Barre, the “Granite Capital of the World,” the cemetery is the canvas for masterpiece markers honoring deceased granite workers. Some are somber, some are playful, and some are just wild. Here’s a piece I wrote about it for the Boston Globe: 

BARRE, Vt., — It was a dark and stormy day. And all the better for visiting Hope Cemetery, except that our marker map got soaked. This cemetery in central Vermont is no ordinary final resting spot, but a Louvre of memorial art. 

In memory of soccer fanatic Robert Davis

When you live granite, as a huge number of Italian immigrants did a century ago in this working-class Vermont city, you die granite. What better way to memorialize a granite sculptor or a worker’s loved one than with a locally produced and quite unique grave marker? 

The 65-acre cemetery, just north of Route 302, is a lovely setting for viewing and strolling. Visitors — from all over the world — are a common sight. A large burial service was going on when we were there on a late fall afternoon, which kept our mood rather somber. That is until we came upon the granite automobile marker, and the airplane, and the soccer ball. These markers celebrate life as much as mourn death, striking a balance between comical and poignant. One of my favorites was an oversized chair in the form of a favorite chair of the deceased. 

Elia Corti's impressive gravestone stands out as being cut from a single piece of granite

The floral carvings are also amazing, and the Visitors Guide to Hope Cemetery, published by the Barre Granite Association, explains the meaning of some of the flowers. Roses symbolize love and wisdom, Easter lilies, purity, and calla lilies sympathy. 

One of the cemetery’s most famous gravestones is that of Elia Corti, who died at age 34 in 1903. This large statue was cut from a single piece of granite and is a life-size likeness of the deceased, carved by his brother. In the sculpture, Corti is seated with his right elbow on his knee. Seams, wrinkles, and creases, and buttons are detailed in his clothing. His face is extraordinarily lifelike. The tools of his trade surround him. All this from one block of rock. 

A granite cube honors Paul Martel

You’ll also come upon bas relief carvings, including one of an angel and another of an elaborate sailing ship said to symbolize salvation. There are family mausoleums as well. The Vanetti family’s has eight crypts. The elaborate grillwork on the door is made from granite. 

Whether your day is dark and stormy or sunny and clear, this is a place to celebrate life and the rocks of ages. 

Hope Cemetery is at Merchant Street at Maple Avenue in Barre. For a map, contact the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce, 877-887-3678. The cemetery can be reached at 802-476-6245.

Endearing robots steal the shows

March 16, 2010

For the March 6 edition of my regular “Who & Ware” feature on artisans for the News & Observer in North Carolina, I wrote about Amy Flynn, an amazingly creative maker of artsy found-object robot sculptures. Read on and make sure you check out her online gallery

By Diane Daniel

Amy Flynn with her creations

If you’ve been to the Raleigh Flea Market on a Saturday morning in the past year, chances are you’ve encountered Amy Flynn scouring the tables and stalls for, well, she’s not really sure. “I’m never looking for anything in particular,” the Raleigh artist said. “The most fun is seeing something you’ve never thought about using.”

Later she amends this.

“There is this certain type of drawer pull, if you turn it around backwards it makes the most wonderful cat whiskers,” she said. “I do have a couple vendors on the lookout for those.”

Over the past 18 months, Flynn, 49, has gone from underemployed illustrator to successful creator of unique robot sculptures. Except for a few nuts and bolts, the 10- to 20-inch-tall creatures are fully made from her vintage findings at flea markets, yard sales and, if pressed for a particular object, on eBay. The “Fobots,” as she calls the found-object robots, are artistic, humorous and totally endearing.

Junior Birdman

“They’re not symmetrical. There’s always something off, like one eye bigger than the other, or the arms are mismatched. I really feel like that’s what makes them human,” she said.

Take, for instance, “Junior Birdman.” His body is a bird food tin, his arms are faucet handles, and his head is a tea ball topped with a toy propeller. Other components include hydraulic fittings, a button and watch gear.

The Fobots’ debut has been well received. In the past year, they have gained Flynn entry into some of the country’s most competitive art fairs, graced the pages of the Anthropologie catalog and, most recently, earned a cameo role in the ABC comedy “Ugly Betty.” In the March 10 episode, 14 Fobots lined the shelves of the tube walkway that connects the reception area to the inner sanctum.

Flynn is surprised, elated and a little embarrassed by her success at a time when many veteran artists are having a hard time.

“I want everyone to do well, not just me,” she said. “The most important thing isn’t the success or the sales. It’s that I’m just really happy doing this.”

For many years, Flynn was content as an illustrator, doing what she’d always loved.

“My mother will tell you that I’ve had a crayon in my hand since birth.”

Flynn's robots grace "Ugly Betty" show

Her first job out of San Jose State University in California was with Hallmark Cards, illustrating greeting cards. Later she did similar work at Current in Colorado, and eventually left to freelance so she would have time to illustrate greeting cards and children’s books. Her drawings for cards and books were, for the most part, soft, sweet and seasonal.

Flynn landed in North Carolina when her husband, Phil Crone, who works in the computer software industry, was transferred to Raleigh in 1993.

She continued to freelance, but over time her regular clients all but vanished with the economic downturn. She was miserable.

Flynn isn’t sure what led her to make her first robot.

Fobots having fun

“We had all this junk in the basement, and it inspired me,” she said. She had collected most of the items at flea markets to potentially use for theater props. She and Crone have been involved in community theater, working with Raleigh Little Theater, Theater in the Park, the Actors Comedy Lab and others.

“Mostly I acted, but I liked to pay my dues backstage by making stuff,” she said.