Chickens, War rugs and a few quilts

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Today my friends Lisa and Anna and I left the peaceful, chicken-ey atmosphere of Lisa’s place and headed to Oxford, Ohio to see Miami University Art Museum’s show entitled Tanks, Helicopters, Guns and Grenades: Afghan War Rugs of the 1980’s – 2007. On display were hand woven, pictorial rugs depicting the images relating to everyday life in Afghanistan. Most often these rugs have been woven by people, mostly women, who are on the move as refugees, fleeing from war torn areas of violence.

Rugs are used in Muslim culture for praying, sleeping, birthing, even to cover tombs. Often, rugs are one of the few possessions refugees can carry with them when displaced. It is sad to see how once common iconographic images of nature, animals and people have been replaced or at least joined by the imagery of war – helicopters, bombs, airplanes, guns. Yet also in these rugs there is woven a strength that is palpable, to me at least, upon viewing them. On some rugs, the artist mixes in her own image as woman into the image of a warplane. These rugs have been discovered in the Western markets and so there is commercial value in them. However, I think their greater value is the message these images bring to the world outside of Afghanistan. I was deeply moved by this collection.

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After being slightly overwhelmed by the vast number of War Rugs on display, I was a little disappointed in the lack of number of quilts on display in the Hiestand Galleries across campus in the show, Pieces of Power: a Selection of Quilts from Gee’s Bend. That said, the ones that were available were simply wonderful to see.

I have only seen Gee’s Bend quilts in books over the years and have always been impressed by their graphic design quality and use of colors, but quilts should be seen in person, up close, where you can feel their coziness. The women of Gee’s Bend made these quilts to use – to cuddle up with, and this is evident upon seeing them. I am grateful for the opportunity to see at least a few of them and will certainly jump at the chance to see the larger show if it comes around to my corner of the world.

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got skills?

There are lots of ways a person can be smart in this world. It took me a long time to figure this out – but there are times I still revert to a childhood belief in my own utter stupidity.

For a couple of weeks now, my WordPress Admin page had been bugging me to install a new version of software that would fix a bunch of things I didn’t even know were wrong. So yesterday I finally set aside some time and took a concentrated look at what needed to be done. I mean, how hard could it be?

Hard enough, actually, as I had to call in reinforcements in the form of my poor husband (who already spends too much time in front of a computer) and a phone call to my genius friend Chris who built my website and to whom I owe a lifetime of techie gratitude.

After a number of hours and a mountain of patience on the part of my spouse, the new software was installed and I was left to ruminate on my uselessness in the world of technology. On the one hand, a few years ago I couldn’t even find the power button on my new computer, and now I manipulate files and navigate the web successfully enough to blog most days. On the other hand, what would I do without the people in my life who possess the computer smarts necessary for the more complicated side of this work – those who get me out of my computer jams? Without them, I might not have a website or be a blogger.

As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t grow up feeling like the sharpest knife in the drawer. (Algebra and beyond have a way of doing that to a kid.) But as it turns out, my skills include (but are not limited to) communication, negotiation, and creative problem solving. I may not know a tremendous amount of computer lingo, but neither am I a dummy.

I guess the important lesson for me with regard to software installation independence is that people of different “skill sets” need each other. In order for me to have a website and blog that look and feel like I want them to, I need the expertise of those capable of navigating the technological hurdles. Meanwhile, I have jobs that utilize my abilities and “soft-skills” as they are called and I am valued professionally for them. I simply need to value myself for these skills and not be so hard on myself when I need to call my personal tech support network for back up.

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Do or Do not… a dose of Yoda

My daughter Madeleine is quite a piano player. She acquired her love of music from her first piano teacher, Ms. Pat. Ms. Pat patiently nudged Maddie through her first struggles in music and taught her that slowly, with a little practice every day, she would get over those hurdles and move on to newer challenges. She coached Maddie when it was time for auditions to get into the School for Creative and Performing Arts, giving her the confidence to go in there and do her best. (She made it in).
Today we met up with Ms. Pat at Pleasant Perk to celebrate Veteran’s Day. Pat underwent surgery for breast cancer a couple of weeks ago, and is now, thankfully-miraculously, cancer free. She is a veteran of sorts I think, and it was wonderful spend the kid’s morning off of school with her, celebrating her new lease on life.
After coffee we all walked up the street to the Earth Toy Mall for a little playful retail therapy. Anyone who knows me (or has ridden in my car and seen the dashboard shrine) knows that I love Yoda, and especially his philosophy.  My favorite line in Starwars goes something like “Do or do not, there is no Try”.

I know so many amazing people in my life that remind me of the truth in this life philosophy: Ms. Pat and my sister in their cancer survivorship; all of the musicians in my life, (young and not-so-young) who don’t try to play music, they just DO; the artists and writers I know – every day, DO. I look to these Doers and I draw inspiration and hope for my own fumbling through life.

Here’s to the doers – there is no try.

Old Trout

What do you think of when you think of puppets? Sesame Street? The Muppet Show? Kids stuff? Much of mainstream puppetry is geared toward kids and the good work is really brilliant. But available to a less mainstream audience is the work of puppet theater companies such as The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, a group based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Groups such as this normally do shows that can be found most often in places such as New York, Washington DC, or Chicago. I had the pleasure of seeing Old Trout’s latest show, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, this past Friday at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.
I am a relative new comer to really good puppet theater and was so moved by this show. Puppet theater combines moving sculptures, human performance, illusionary stage manipulation and sound to create a magic that transcends all of the above. To put it simply, I was blown away by these guys, and incredibly inspired.
Below is a picture of our “host”, Nathaniel Tweak who provided one of the more touching death scenes himself. If you ever have the opportunity to see the work of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, do it. I made the 2 hour drive to Columbus and am so glad I did.

Although I was a little bleary eyed from the drive to see Old Trout, Saturday I worked at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts center in Covington, KY for my first Family Saturday. We had a wonderful group of artists comprised of kids and their accompanying grown-ups. Everyone seemed to enjoy making the available projects and I enjoyed getting to know some new people. Many folks said, “We’ll see you next month!” which I take to be a positive sign that a good time was had by all. So far, for December’s Family Saturday, we are thinking of projects that involve holiday gift giving with a less consumer based philosophy. I’ll keep you posted!

Corn Husk Dolls and Mouse Guard

This week I am gearing up for my first of hopefully a long line of Family Saturdays at the Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington, KY. I am planning to have plenty of kid friendly art projects on hand for folks to try inspired by the art currently on display in the galleries there.
One of the artists showing this month is Anne Straus whose work uses many natural materials and evokes a somewhat primitive and tribal feel. One element in a work by Straus is that of a doll which is covered with beads. I was reminded of the corn husk dolls of the early Native American/ Pioneer days and figured that might be a fun project to try this weekend. So I have been practicing putting some husky figures together as examples then maybe we’ll decorate them….

Meanwhile, my friend and fellow artist Dan Carlson turned me on to a relatively new comic book series called Mouse Guard. The illustrations in these books are really beautiful and I enjoy being swept away into a new world by David Petersen’s delightful characters. I have never before been much of a comic book reader, but this is a series I may have to collect over time.

a job to do

Everybody needs a job or at least to feel some purpose in their lives. This true for people, (both children and adults) as well as for dogs. Some dogs I know, my own included, seem to be happy casing the neighborhood a couple times a day on a walk and ridding the yard of rodential vermin. We used to have a Labrador whose soul purpose (pun intended) in life was to fetch a saliva slimed tennis ball. He could do this for hours.

I have been thinking a lot lately about dogs with jobs other than just as pets. One of my favorites of these “working breeds” is the blue heeler, a form of Australian cattle dog known for its herding abilities. Next week I am going to pay a visit to a farm down in Kentucky that employs a couple of these dogs. My goal is to take tons of pictures and some video footage of them in action. And then make drawings.

There is something about these dogs that appeals to my dog-drawing side and I am feeling the need to follow that thread these days, along with all the other stuff going on in the studio. I have had the idea for years that it might be fun to produce a picture book. So we’ll see where it leads. My “job” as artist is one I enjoy, even with its rather winding path.
Below are some sketches of heelers…

The view from Devou

Yesterday I took the day off from my usual to do list approach and went on a little field trip. This fall weather has had me in the mood for homemade apple pie so I went in search of some local apples and sights unseen.

After dropping the kids at school, I headed west down River Road to the Anderson Ferry to hop a ride a cross the Ohio River. Why I don’t treat myself to this crossing more often is a mystery to me as it is a lovely way to spend a few quiet minutes enjoying the river, and a convenient way to get to Northern Kentucky.

I found a great little fruit and veggie market in Bromley, Kentucky where I got some locally grown jonathan apples for my pie. Next I headed back east toward town and stopped off at Devou Park in Covington.

I have often heard that Devou provides the best overlook of Cincinnati and shamefully, in all my years of living here, I had never been to this park until now. It is well worth the fairly lofty car climb up the hill – the view is, indeed, magnificent.

It’s a worthwhile thing to get out of the studio for a bird’s eye view of my home town and a little perspective of all this area has to offer. Today, I am nibbling on pie and enjoying renewed studio energy. Who knows where it may lead?!

The Language of Drawing

It is my belief that anyone can draw. Like most languages, some people are naturally better at the language of drawing than others. But we are all capable of doing it. It just takes the right outlook and some practice.

One of the most exciting things for me as an artist is to spark some inspiration in someone who is just discovering their own artistic nature. Below is a Daily Dog drawing by my friend Olivia who is in the 2nd grade (I think that’s right…) She shares with me a love of all creatures and, from the looks of it, is already developing her own style of drawing.

I went to a music workshop once and the featured guitarist, John Doyle, made a wonderful point about the development of style in playing music, which I think applies beautifully to drawing or art-making in general. He said that it is not what you can do that makes up your personal style, it’s what you can’t do, and how you get over that hurdle, that really creates your signature sound.

So whether or not you consider yourself an image maker, drawing is really just a wonderful way to meditate on something or someone you find interesting. (For me, that is often the nearest dog.) If there is something you think you can’t draw, try anyway. Through this practice, you might very well begin developing your own artistic style. Just like Olivia.

Getting out of my way

This past week I have spent far more time than necessary in my own head (not always the best place to linger). The inability to get out of my own way and just BE is a constant battle for me, and from what I hear, for many creatives. Madeleine L’Engle put it so nicely in her book Circle of Quiet:

“Every so often I need OUT; something will throw me into total disproportion, and I have to get away from everybody – away from all these people I love most in the world – in order to regain a sense of proportion… often I need to get away completely, if only for a few minutes. My special place is a small brook in a green glade, a circle of quiet from which there is no visible sign of human beings…. If I sit for awhile, then my impatience, crossness, frustration, are indeed annihilated, and my sense of humor returns.”

It is this sense of humor, the spirit of play, that gets me out of my own head and back into the Flow of things. Today I went over to Kim’s to get some footage for her next video. We spent the morning following threads of ideas and laughing – a lot. Somehow over the past few weeks, I had never gotten around to sculpting the doll character we had intended to use for this video. As it turns out, we don’t even need it.

I guess the lesson learned this week is to play more. To trust more. To trust that by working in the spirit of play, the balance between work and life will work itself out, at least until I find myself in the way again…

part rabbit warren, part spin on art & life & etc. art, illustrations & workshops by amy bogard