My studio was a mess and I couldn’t find anything. Pieces of driftwood lay scattered in different boxes. Cabinets held items I hadn’t looked at for months. Plastic containers were not labeled so I had little idea what they held. And items that should have been grouped together were scattered all over the place.
Chaos had taken over and the making of art slithered to a back seat…because I didn’t know what I had, or where it was. While the necessary job of cleaning up and organizing seemed onus at first, I soon took delight in the task because it became a treasure hunt. I discovered dandy pieces of wood that would great book covers. Bird and wasp nests (wasps feed on nectar and make ‘paper’ nests by mixing saliva and wood fibers) gave me new ideas for using in book art and art in a box. Misshapen pieces of driftwood offered endless possibilities.
It took a little over a week, before order gradually took over. Boxes were labeled and put on shelves. “Like-minded” items were put together and stored in a logical manner. Debris was blown out of the studio doors with my trusty leaf-blower. To free up counter space, I hung as many items as possible on nails pounded into the wall.
Yes, a studio is a place to make art, but it is also a sacred spot for artists. Or as Joseph Campbell says: “To have a sacred place is an absolute necessity for anybody today… This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first, you may find nothing happens there. But, if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen.” (Joseph Campbell) .
My studio is a place for my spirit to breathe and it has be neat and organized for my spirit to truly breathe!
(Top photo shows before and after photos of my studio.)
What do we take from a burning home when we have minutes to escape? I recently sat on a plane next to a woman who faced that decision as the wind whipped one of the recent California fires in her direction and she had minutes to escape. She grabbed the two family pets and her children’s scrapbooks/photo albums. Those were her most priceless possessions. (Well, the cell phone was in her pocket.) That’s right, family photos. Because not all photos are on iCloud or on a thumb drive.
Looking at vintage or old family photos, make us laugh, make us wonder at what a relative’s life was “back then.” (“Oh my goodness, look at those cute button up shoes.”) Because we are curious, about a past that goes beyond our generation. And when as adults, we look at our childhood photos, it often jogs of our memory of the time, or place or event…and tells us stories that we often forget.
I recently reconnected with a cousin, the daughter of my mother’s sister, my Aunt Alice. Aunt Alice is now in her mid-nineties and had always been a favorite aunt.
I mentioned to my cousin that I had a number of photos from our moms’ childhood taken in the late 1920’s and 30’s and promised to email them to her once I returned home–a promise I kept. Her mom was ecstatic when she saw them on the computer screen as she had never seen them at all. But vintage photos on a computer screen? Shouldn’t they be in a book? This is a woman in her mid nineties, staring at a computer screen at photos which provided a tangible link to her childhood. No, she deserved a book with those photos. She needed to have the luxury of turning the page and stopping to stare at a photo.
Since I’m a book artist, I decided to make her a small photo book with her childhood photos. I used a book binding technique, called “drum leaf binding,” the construction of which is somewhat similar to child’s board book. It allows me to assemble a few photos in a easy to open format.
I’m getting ready to mail the book to her daughter and she will give it to her mother. I hope my aunt will enjoy looking at the book as much as I enjoyed making it.
See a video of the book on instagram: judyfolkenbergart
There are millions of images on the internet, and sometimes we want to share a few of those with friends. I sent the two photos above of a rescued man with his kitten during Hurricane Florence (North Carolina) to my girlfriend, as I thought she would be as touched as I was. A third grade teacher, at a K-8 STEM School in Seattle, Ms Kathryn Show was so affected that she took the photos to school and showed them to her students, who seemed mesmerized by the images. So she asked them to write a story based on the photos and ended up with 24 great realistic fiction stories written by a bunch of eight year olds.
Realistic fiction, or fiction based on a true story, is a difficult concept for third graders to grasp, she said. Students often mix in elements of fantasy. The sequence of events is often out of order, and there are huge gaps in time. “In the past, stories might start out about one thing, but then fantastically the character would turn into something else, and sail around the world in 2 days, before falling in a hole in the middle of the earth,” she said.
“My students have so little experience with real tragedies and so much of entertainment that they are exposed to on a daily basis is filled with fantastical feats by superheros. ”
The students immediately empathized with the man’s plight, said Ms. Show. They kept asking questions about the man and the cat in the photo. Does the cat belong to the man? Whose boat are they in? Is a hurricane like tornado? Why is there water everywhere? They wanted to know if he made it to safety. And they were so worried about the fate of the kitten. “And all of sudden I got this idea,” she said.
She realized she had a true story represented by the photos. There was a real setting, real characters, and an actual event– the hurricane. What better way to foster their imagination into wondering what happened before the boat rescue and what might have happened afterward, said Ms. Show. “I think seeing a photo of two real participants in the storm, and having some background info about what a hurricane can do to a town, helped them stay “real” and not suddenly lurch into fantasy,” she added.
She and the students brainstormed as to where the man and his kitten might have been when the storm began, how they might have gotten stranded, and how long they waited in the flood waters before a boat rescued them. “I gave the man a name but not the cat. I thought out loud about how they might have been doing one thing or another as the storm struck their town,” she added, telling them to use their imaginations to come up with valid scenarios.
The two photos helped the students “stay on track” and prompted them to think in a logical way and to stay focused.
She asked her students to adhere to a simple outline, where there’s a beginning, and couple of steps before the end. “But the photos helped enormously with giving them a structure to follow,” she said.
“My students were amazing. They often “showed” rather than just telling the story. For example, here’s what one wrote: “Then they got to the second floor of their home and looked out the window. Garbage cans were flying through air. The winds were so hard shingols flew of off the roofs. A refridgerator flew out of someones home and against their door, they were locked in! After they climbed out of their window, and on their roof. Spots the kitten meee-awed aloud meaw over and over and over again. Finally, someone came to rescue them….Jo, the man, tucked Spots in his coat…
Another student wrote how, “They saw garbage cans flying like airplanes! They saw roofing of houses flying like black birds.” And went on to describe how Able (the man) “had…an apple and a bagle and cat food for Ningie (the cat’s name).
Some of them could only write a few sentences. One writer told how the man and cat got rescued, taken to a hotel, got in a taxi, and flew to Seattle where they bought a house and lived happily with no more sadness. Others were able to keep the man and cat in the same area and ended the story with them getting to a safe place. Another student ended the story by saying the owner put the kitten “in his jacket and they were happy.”
Students also illustrated the cover of their stories. “I thought their illustrations would have made any artist proud…they were imaginative and original,” said Ms. Show.
“It’s like herding cats to get 24 kids to write a story, including revising and editing within a 2-3 week time period. They only have enough stamina to write about 20-30 minutes a day, since they have to keep up with their other assignments. But all of them finished their stories,” she said.
Upon completion, they read their stories aloud to each other in groups of four. “They were so excited to read to each other, that I had to guide them in how to listen and respond to each other,” said Ms. Show.
Ms. Show also featured six stories each week, placing them in folders to be read during independent reading hour. The students eagerly read them often laughing out loud over the funny parts.
“The photos were so powerful that I think my students wanted to reach out and touch the man and his cat, and let them know that they also felt the anxiety he must have been feeling,” said Ms. Show.
Stories are often told through images. But more often than not, it’s only part of the story and we are left to wonder about the whole story. Leave it to a class of third graders, who had never written fiction that made sense, to use their imagination and came up with a complete story–a beginning, a middle, and in most cases, a happy ending.
The photos at the top of this blog post, were taken by Andrew Carter, a reporter for the North Carolina News & Observer.
There are a number of artists I’m admire, but that are also dead. Yet I sometimes imagine us making art together…maybe as apprentice, or even as an equal. Well this dream can come true. Because artists leave a body of work, that I can incorporate into my own art (as long as the copyright has run out). British-born Eadweard Muybridge, who laid the foundation for modern cinema and died over a 100 years ago, and I make art together.
Eadweard Muybridge, initially earned his fame for taking spectacular photos of the American west in the late 1800’s. But he was best known for his photos of animal locomotion done at the University of Pennsylvania. Leland Stanford (businessman, former governor of California, race horse owner, and founder of Stanford University) served as a catalyst in 1872, when he hired Muybridge to photograph his galloping horses. He wanted to know if all four feet of the horse left the ground at once (Stanford also hoped the photos might tell him how to breed a faster race horse, much to his rivals’ unhappiness.)
Muybridge wired 24 still cameras along a race track, and as the galloping horses passed by, the shutters were clicked on the cameras. Muybridge obtained a photographic record of successive phases in the horse’s motion and, discovered that all four hooves left the ground at once when the horse reached a gallop.
Muybridge’s motion photography for Leland Stanford excited some wealthy east coast citizens and came to the attention of the University of Pennsylvania and the famous American artist, Thomas Eakins in the 1880’s. They invited him to their city to continue his motion photography—providing him with grant money and an outdoor studio on the grounds of the University veterinary hospital. Animals from the local zoo served as his models. The resulting photos were published in an epic portfolio, titled, Animal Locomotion.
But Muybridge nearly sabotaged his artistic career. It seems his personal life warranted as much attention as his professional life. At middle-age he married a pretty, younger wife, but was frequently absent from home. He soon discovered that his wife was having an affair with Harry Larkyns, a San Francisco theatre critic. In 1874. Muybridge discovered that Larkyns had gone to Calistoga, a small town in Napa Valley north of San Francisco, and made the six hour journey by ferry and train. He found Larkyns playing cribbage (shouldn’t they have been playing poker?) and shot him in the chest just below the left nipple. Larkyns staggered outdoors and died under an oak tree.
Arrested and jailed for the murder, Muybridge soon stood trial. (His wealthy patron, Leland Stanford, paid the lawyer’s bills.) A sympathetic jury came back with a verdict of “justifiable homicide.” Adultery was a far greater crime than the murder of a man who seduced someone else’s wife.
What goes around comes around. Muybridge delighted audiences back then with his motion photos of animals walking and running across a University of Pennsylvania courtyard and laid the foundation for modern movies. And I came along and found his photos so enchanting that I “repurposed” them making art books with an accordion style form of binding. I hope that today’s viewer will get as much delight as I did out of seeing the rear end of a large elephant walking away from the camera lifting one large hoof after another and flicking his tail in my accordion style book.