Two women painters you’ve never heard of

Drama of Fall, Constance Cochrane, c. 1940, depicts Monhegan Island.
Sandy Quang ran across two women painters this week. It’s sad how little documentation there is of their lives and work.
Helen Louise Moseley was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan in 1883. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago with Robert Henri, Hugh Breckenridge and John Christen Johansen. She regularly exhibited in the Midwest and Gloucester, MA. She died in 1928 in Boston.
Sailboats by Helen Louise Moseley.
Constance Cochrane’s life is better notated. She was born in 1882 at the US Navy Yard at Pensacola, Florida, where her father and grandfather were stationed. Motivated by her navy family, her work concentrated on the sea and shore.
Cochrane studied at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and with Elliott Daingerfield at his summer studio in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.
Rocky Ocean Scene, Constance Cochrane, undated.
Cochrane was a founding member of the Philadelphia Ten, a group of Philly-based women artists. In 1921 to 1930, she purchased a summer home at Monhegan, where she painted extensively. She died in 1962.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Sit and stare

It’s a parent-led insurrection, and it’s about losing local control.
Today marks the beginning of New York State Assessment for ELA and math grades 3-8. It’s my understanding that some districts will require non-compliant students to sit for the duration of the exam and do nothing.
“Basically none of our children will be allowed to read,” parent Amanda Talma told WHEC news. “They will have to sit on every testing day, six days for 90 minutes, while their peers are taking those exams.”
The notebook doodles here are by my son, Dwight Perot. Some years, he paid dearly for doodling, but he’s never stopped.
Not showing up won’t work; students marked absent will be forced to do a re-take. There’s incredible pressure for kids and teachers to conform. Principals in the Rochester City School District, for example, received thismemo asking them to identify any teachers who encouraged their students to opt out of the tests.
Bored with your econ homework? Draw.
Ninety minutes of silent staring is beyond discipline; it’s abuse. So if you have a kid in the affected grades and want him to survive the experience, I suggest you send him to school with several sharpened pencils and encourage him to draw. He can draw in his notebook if they aren’t confiscated; if they are, he can draw on the test papers. If his teachers take all the paper away, he can draw on the desk. If they take the pencils, he can draw on the walls with his saliva. Yes, he will be suspended, but do you really want him submitting to that kind of discipline?
Occasionally a student will get a teacher who’s amused by his doodles, but in my experience, complaints are more common.
Drawing is liberating. Drawing is liberation. I would never have lived long enough to graduate had my high school not been tolerant of my doodles and drawings.
In-school doodle by Dwight Perot.
“Art, like morality, consists in drawing the line somewhere,” wrote GK Chesterton. A friend sent that quote to me this week. How timely.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Be reasonable

Sugaring Off, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, 1944. In some of her winter scenes, she achieves a Bruegelesque quality, perhaps in part because of the flat lighting.
I was outlining my next six months’ schedule to my friend Berna, and she asked, “And you are painting when?” It’s a thought that’s occurred to me more than once this year.
I took a workshop on the business of art. The instructor told us we should be spending half our time marketing. I think it’s more accurate to say that I spend a third of my time marketing, a third painting, and a third on overhead. After all, I’m not wealthy enough to pay someone else to do my bookkeeping, and management takes time. 
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses with two of her children. After working as a farmhand and maid, she married at age 27 and gave birth to ten children, five of whom survived past infancy. Oddly enough, she didn’t have time to paint at this stage in her life.
Even if I could magically stretch out the work week to be 120 hours long, I wouldn’t have the energy for it. Fifty may be the new forty, but my joints haven’t gotten the message.
A sixty-something recently asked me how to start an art career. She’s been a wife, a mother, and a musician, and she recently earned her BFA. I’m the last person to rain on someone else’s dreams, but she’s going to be competing against youngsters with limitless energy. To succeed, she’s going to need to husband her resources.
Hoosick Falls, New York, in Winter, Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses, 1944. She was 84 when she painted this.
Yesterday I had three jobs blocked out: to wrap five bundles of stretcher bars, to deal with a small pile of paperwork for my trip to Maine next week, and to paint. The stretcher bars stretched out into early afternoon, and the ‘small’ pile of paperwork morphed into a bigger mess. I looked at the clock and it was 5 PM and I’d never lifted a brush.
Anna Mary Robertson (Grandma) Moses.
Oh, well. I suppose it’s better to be overly ambitious than to be too easily pleased.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Not your grandfather’s abattoir

Carcass of Beef by Chaim Soutine, c.1924. This is part of a series that was painted in his apartment in Montparnasse, sans refrigeration.
Every art student knows Chaim Soutine’s Carcass of Beef series. Soutine—who didn’t always act as if both his oars were in the water—kept a beef carcass hanging in his studio to paint, bathing it daily in blood to keep it fresh. The stench drove his neighbors to call the flics. Soutine promptly lectured them on the importance of aesthetics over mere hygiene. At one point, the painter Marc Chagall saw the blood from the carcass leaking into the hallway outside Soutine’s room. He rushed out screaming, “Someone has killed Soutine!”
Rembrandt van Rijn’s Slaughtered Ox, 1655, was in the Louvre at the time Soutine painted his Carcassseries. Another version, very similar, is in Kelvingrove Art Gallery.
Soutine painted 10 works in his Carcass of Beef series. They were inspired by Rembrandt’s 1665 still life, Flayed Ox. The Christ-like aspects of Rembrandt’s steer carcass are often remarked on, but that probably reflects our modern separation from the slaughterhouse. We simply don’t see beef on the hook much anymore.
The similarities to a crucifixion noted in Rembrandt’s paintings probably come from the reality of slaughtering beef. Modern beeves are split in half before hanging.
I periodically buy a side of beef from a farmer in Niagara County, NY. I knew his grandfather, who farmed the same patch of land. The farmer has switched abattoirs to the one where we used to send our own steers back in the 1970s. It’s gone through two owners since then, so in a way I guess I knew the abattoir’s grandfather too. It’s still a small operation, but now it’s immaculate and odor-free.
Beef aging in a modern abattoir.
Either mid-century French beeves were a fraction of the size of modern American steers, or that old story about Soutine is flawed. The hanging weight of the steer we collected yesterday was just under 700 lbs. Soutine could not have humped that from the slaughterhouse up the stairs to his apartment. I doubt he could have paid for it unless it was already rancid, since he was perennially broke. A month-old Angus calf can weigh between 80 and 200 lbs., so I’m guessing those paintings should probably be called the Carcass of Veal series.
Gustave Caillebotte was an upper-class Parisian with an independent allowance. His Rib of Beef, 1882, is a much more sanitized affair.
I jumped at the opportunity to take a tour of the abattoir. We followed the workflow from the room where steers are stunned and killed, to the great coolers where they hang for a few weeks to age, to the newly installed smoker. The place was absolutely spotless. “When we kill a steer, we have both a veterinarian and a USDA meat inspector right here,” the butcher told me.
The stamps are from the USDA inspector.
Most of us eat meat but want to imagine that it originates in the plastic packaging in a grocery store. But there is nothing particularly revolting about a well-managed slaughterhouse. I am certainly more confident about a well-regulated abattoir in tiny Hartland, NY, than I am in the great slaughterhouses of the Midwest. And as a bonus, there are no plastic films, no Styrofoam trays, and no blister packs.
And, yes, I would jump at a chance to paint a hanging side of beef. They are beautiful, complex, corporeal, and colorful. Alas, the food inspectors would never allow it.
Lovis Corinth’s In the slaughterhouse, 1893, was painted during the first great reform movement of slaughterhouses.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Picturing modern-day slavery

Day’s Work: “I remember every client, every face.  It is like a horror movie.” From Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking, Kay Chernush.
Slavery is officially illegal in all countries, but there are still an estimated 20 million to 36 million slaves worldwide.
Debt bondage, often spanning generations, is the most prevalent form of slavery today, and is most common in Southeast Asia. Another common form is forced labor, which includes child labor and prostitution. Last but not least are forced marriages, including marriage-by-abduction. Chattel slavery, where people are treated as the personal property of an owner and bought and sold as a commodity, is the least prevalent form of slavery today.
From Borderless Captivity, Kay Chernush.
ArtWorks for Freedom is a non-profit that describes itself as using “the power of art in the global fight against modern slavery and human trafficking.” This organization was founded by freelance photographer Kay Chernush.

Her current show with ArtWorks for Freedom, “Bought & Sold: Voices of Human Trafficking,” is up until May 17 at New York University’s Kimmel Center 8th Floor Gallery. Many of the images verge on the obscene, but don’t blame the artist. Human trafficking itself is obscene, and an honest artist can only depict that. 

Chernush’s assignments have taken her around the world for U.S. and international magazines, Fortune 500 corporations and both nonprofit and governmental agencies. Her photos of human trafficking have been shown in eight major exhibitions.
From Borderless Captivity, Kay Chernush.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Art and depravity

Theresienstadt painting by Ela Weissberger

“I remember thinking in school how I would grow up and would protect my students from unpleasant impressions, from uncertainty, from scrappy learning,” Friedl Dicker-Brandeis wrote in 1940. “Today only one thing seems important — to rouse the desire towards creative work, to make it a habit, and to teach how to overcome difficulties that are insignificant in comparison with the goal to which you are striving.”

At the time Dicker-Brandeis wrote those words, she was in exile in the Czech countryside, in the grip of an inexorable journey that would lead to her death. A Bauhaus-trained artist and a Jew, she lived in a world that had no room for either. A frustrated mother who would never carry a child to term, her artistic legacy today comes mainly through the children she taught.
Theresienstadt painting by unknown child artist
Born in Vienna in 1898, Freidl Dicker studied textile design, printmaking, bookbinding, and typography at the Weimer Bauhaus. After leaving the Bauhaus, she began a successful partnership with Franz Singer in Vienna. She fled Austria after the civil unrest of 1934 brought the Vaterländische Front into power. In Czechoslovakia, she began teaching the children of other refugees, devising art therapy techniques along the way.  She met and married her cousin, Pavel Brandeis, in 1936.
In 1942, Dicker-Brandeis was incarcerated at Theresienstadt, a “model ghetto” (concentration camp) that supplied slave labor for mica mines and other Czech industry. There she spent the last two years of her life continuing to teach art to children. She treated their instruction not as a way to distract them but as a serious educational pursuit, providing rigorous instruction in drawing and theory.
Theresienstadt drawing by Ela Weissberger
“Her room was full of the most beautiful paintings of flowers on the wall. She had covered the wall with a blue sheet and over this, her paintings. This little room became a wonderland, something that made us feel we have the greatest teacher,” recalled Ella Weisberger in an interviewwith the New York Times.
Dicker-Brandeis had declined papers to go to Palestine before her incarceration because Pavel Brandeis could not go with her. In September, 1944, Pavel was transported to Auschwitz. Dicker-Brandeis volunteered for the next transport to join him.
Theresienstadt painting by Helga Weiss
Before she was taken away, she gave Raja Engländerova two suitcases containing 4,500 drawings and paintings. These survived the war; 550 of the 660 young artists did not. Neither did Dicker-Brandeis, who died at Birkenau on October 9, 1944.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click 
here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Voiceless, almost

This 5-gallon stoneware storage jar, incised “March 4 1857 Dave” on shoulder, sold at auction for $39,550.
Yesterday I mentioned in passing that the banjo is credited to American slave laborers, who made themselves skin-and-gourd stringed instruments of a type similar to those left behind in Africa. That image of singing in the depths of slavery stayed with me all day. The urge to create is our common humanity made visible. Creativity itself is what separates us from all other orders of creation.
The ceramic disk that is the pendant in this Chokwe wood-and-raffia necklace could be considered the currency in which slave lives were valued. It was made in Europe specifically for the slave trade. It resembles the cross section of a white snail’s shell, a symbol of spirituality and leadership in 16th-18th century Central African cultures. 
Sadly, the Negro Spiritual (and its influence through almost 200 years of music) is the major part of what is left of the American slave’s artistic heritage. There were slave artisans working in the Americas, of course, but their work is generally either anonymous or missing.
Early American Powder Horn, dated 1777, used during the American Revolution by a former slave named Prince Simbo.
Among them was one “Dave the Slave,” or David Drake, as he styled himself after the Emancipation.  Born around 1801 on a plantation in South Carolina, he made large jugs, which he often adorned with short poems. At the time it was generally forbidden for African-Americans to read and write, making his occasionally-seditious poetry a peculiarity.
For example, “Follow the Drinking Gourd / For the old man is a-waiting for to carry you to freedom,” is an instruction telling his users that the Big Dipper points north.
He has no biography other than his work; we don’t know the date of his death any more accurately than the date of his birth. But from his own hand, we do know that “Dave belongs to Mr. Miles / Wher the oven bakes & the pot biles.”
Face jug by an anonymous Edgefield, SC slave potter.  Many of the slaves in Edgefield have been identified as belonging to an 1858 shipment of people from Kongo. These people used spirit containers called nkisi in divination. It’s possible that the face jug derived from that tradition.
Dave the Slave was unusual because we have a name to attach to a body of work. He worked in Edgefield, South Carolina, a pottery center due to its clay soil. Slave owners like Benjamin Franklin Landrum and Thomas J. Davies hired out their slaves as workers at the kilns. Unsigned pottery from Edgefield is identified by the name of the kiln owners; the artisans are for the most part undocumented.
Portuguese trader figure from Benin. Dahomey (Benin) sold their war captives into transatlantic slavery. By 1750, the king was earning an estimated £250,000 per year selling slaves to European traders. This little figurine was originally part of a larger set.
But to add insult to injury, Dave’s jugs are now valuable collectibles, selling at up to $40,000 each. 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Make your own fun

Sampler from Salem, MA, 1791.Needlework was one of the last traditional crafts to vanish; girls were still taught to embroider into the 1960s.
One would have to be blind to not notice the current trend in adult coloring. Of the top ten sales positions on Amazon, threeare adult coloring books (and one is a guide to decluttering).  
19thcentury fretless banjo. The banjo was invented by American slaves, fashioned out of gourds strung with gut strings. Talk about making your own fun in a stressful situation!
Evidently, coloring is nostalgic, it’s stress-relieving, and the end result gives a sense of accomplishment. I wouldn’t know; I never liked to color as a child.
Carved whale bone whistle, 1821. This was carried by a ‘Peeler’ in the London Metropolitan Police Force.
Our ancestors played musical instruments and sang. They painted in watercolor, they did tole painting and needlework. They did scrimshaw and macramé. They whittled birds, made toy furniture and tin sculpture. They kept diaries.
Quilters in Crenshaw County, Alabama, late 19th century.
To some degree, you can lay the blame squarely on our economic success: we are accustomed to buy, not make, our own fun. But three generations of us have also been raised in schools which are rigid and unyielding. Our schools viciously stamp out creativity, and our art and music teachers are at the bottom of the heap.
Whittlers in Shelbyville, Tennesee in 1968. Many of the best stress-busting crafts were ones done in community.
And now we have a nation which seeks release through coloring.

Adult coloring books are a symptom of a culture that has forgotten how to entertain itself. And that’s a problem.
Mid-19thcentury hair-wreath. It was a time of gut-wrenching infant mortality and limited photography. 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

The changing face of Polonia

Historic Polonia is no longer a Polish neighborhood, and the workers at the Broadway Market reflect that changing demographic.
Today is Dyngus Day—the Monday after Easter—celebrated in Buffalo, South Bend, and Cleveland. It originated in Central Europe, where it is still observed, and was brought to the United States by the Slavic Diaspora.
The Broadway Market in 1906, when the East Side was a Polish and German ethnic ghetto.
On St. Patrick’s Day, all of Buffalo is Irish. On Good Friday and Dyngus Day, all of Buffalo is Polish. Historic Polonia is no longer predominantly Polish, but on Easter weekend it returns to its Polish roots.
Pussy willows at the Broadway Market.You don’t have to be Polish to enjoy a good party, but it helps.
When I was a youth, Dyngus Day was described as a sort of Polish Sadie Hawkins Day, where boys splashed water on the girls they fancy, and girls collected pussy willow and hit the boys they like. Mostly, though, it’s an excuse for a good parade and party.
Dyngus Day sign from a few years ago at the late, lamented Central Terminal on Paderewski Drive.
As usual, the origins of this festival are lost in the mists of time. In truth, it probably has more to do with the end of Lent than anything, since it always falls on the day after Easter.
If you’re in Buffalo this evening, the Dyngus Day Parade starts at 5 PM, at Corpus Christi Church, 199 Clark St. Festivities at the Pussywillow Park Party Tent start at 3 PM with music from Those Idiots. The complete itinerary is available here.

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.

Stations of the Cross (5 of 5)

This week I am running a series of Stations of the Cross. They were completed during a deadly year, one in which I was being treated for an advanced cancer. For this reason—and because I was traversing new territory for myself—they’re uneven. But their power comes from the underlying story.
The language is simple, meant to be accessible to a child.
The originals are on display at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 2000 Highland Avenue, Rochester NY 14618.

Jesus died.
The sky grew dark. At three o’clock, Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
“He is calling for Elijah,” the people said. Someone got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and lifted it on a stick for Jesus to drink.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” cried Jesus, and he died.
At that moment, the sun’s light died, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, and there was an earthquake. When the soldiers felt the earthquake, they were terrified. “This man must have been God’s son,” one said.
People disagree about what Jesus meant when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The crowd did not know what Jesus meant, either. They did not understand he was God’s son, so they thought he was calling for Elijah.
The soldiers recognized the earthquake as a sign of God’s power. But there were other people who still would not see.
Jesus’ side was pierced.
The crowd did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath. They asked Pilate to break the legs of the three men so they would die faster. Since Jesus was already dead, the soldiers did not break his legs. One soldier took his spear and pierced Jesus’ side.
After Jesus died, he stopped talking, but he was not quiet. The things that happened to him were signs.
The blood that came from his side was the blood of the new covenant. The water was the water of baptism. “On that day a fountain shall be opened to cleanse them from sin and impurity,” said Zechariah.
Jesus was taken down from the cross.
Joseph of Arimathea was a secret disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked him for Jesus’ body.
Joseph took Jesus’ body from the cross and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. A man named Nicodemus helped Joseph.
The people who had come to watch returned to their homes, making a big show of their grieving. But the people who loved Jesus stood at a distance and waited.
Joseph was a member of the council. He was a rich but good man. Nicodemus was a religious leader. Both were secret followers of Jesus.
When they asked for Jesus’ body, their secret was known. They risked losing their power and money—even their lives.
Joseph and Nicodemus could not help Jesus without showing their faith to the world. Sometimes we are afraid of what other people think of our religion. But we cannot serve God if we keep our faith hidden.
Jesus was laid in the tomb.
Joseph and Nicodemus laid the body in Joseph’s own new tomb. They rolled a large rock over the opening. They had to work very quickly because the Sabbath was starting.
Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother Mary kept watch nearby.
The next day, the priests and Pharisees went to the tomb and sealed the stone shut. “Otherwise his disciples may steal the body and say ‘He has been raised from the dead,” they told Pilate.
On that Saturday, did Caiaphas, the council, and the people believe they had finally silenced Jesus? 

Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me on the Schoodic Peninsula in beautiful Acadia National Park in 2015 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops! Download a brochure here.