Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Author Victoria Christopher Murray talks "The Personal Librarian," Part 2

Belle da Costa Greene

"The Personal Librarian" has introduced countless readers to the life and legacy of Belle da Costa Greene. Belle has been well and truly outed as the smart, ambitious and accomplished Black woman that she was, thanks in no small part to the efforts of co-authors Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray. It was a real treat to hear from Murray about Belle and the process of bringing her to life for their readers.

Belle was not the first accomplished member of her family. Her father was Richard T. Greener, a professor, lawyer and diplomat who was the first African-American graduate of Harvard. It was Greener who introduced Belle to the world of illuminated books and art, taking her to museums and poring through art history books with her from her earliest years. And it was Greener's activism that led his wife Genevieve and their children -- but not Greener himself -- to live their lives passing as White. 

In 1883, the Supreme Court overruled the Civil Rights Act of 1875. Predictably, violence against Blacks rose. One day Greener received a message from some friends that the Klan was coming for him. Genevieve told him to escape and that she and the children would follow in a few days. But there had been a misunderstanding. The Klan was after the entire family, including the kids. And so the Greeners decamped and moved to New York. From the age of 16, Belle passed as White when outside her home. No longer was she Belle Marion Greener. She had become Belle da Costa Greene, a young woman from a family of Portuguese descent. 

The fact that Belle was Black wasn't unearthed until more than 30 years after her death. She burned all of her personal papers before she died, leaving little for researchers to discover. But a writer researching J.P. Morgan and those close to him stumbled upon Belle's birth certificate. The box next to "colored" was checked for Belle's race. She had suddenly become an even more complex figure.

Victoria Christopher Murray
When Murray and Benedict got to work on "The Personal Librarian," they used "An Illuminated Life: Belle da Costa Greene's Journey from Prejudice to Privilege" by Heidi Adrizzone as their source material. It's the only biography that's been written about Belle. But where to go once that preliminary work was done? And how would two wholly different writers and people work together? 

Murray shared that two pivotal events happened during the writing process. The first was the pandemic. The second was the death of George Floyd. Suddenly, these two women were in an altered world. Imagine how these new colleagues -- one White and one Black -- must have felt during a time of such turmoil to be working on a book about a woman who had hidden her race from the world. Not surprisingly, the fate of George Floyd, the societal underpinnings of his death and the Black Lives Matter movement became major topics of discussion. These conversations brought a depth to their relationship that might not have otherwise occurred. It facilitated their trust in one another. Today they consider themselves sisters. 

Murray and Benedict spent hours each day on Zoom going over the book. They would work on five chapters at a time, with one person writing the first draft and then handing it over to the other for editing. The process can't have been easy given their wildly different styles. Murray said she would write something like, "Belle would go into J.P,'s office and say, 'What's up, dude?" Benedict would massage the language. Then Benedict would pen a lead up to a steamy love scene that went something like, "They entered the room and closed the door." Murray definitely needed more. At the end of the day, the book reads more like Benedict than Murray, but it is after all set in the Victorian era. 

Bust of Belle by Jo Davidson
On display at the Morgan Library
The Morgan Library in New York is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. Spoiler alert if you haven't read the book, but Belle was responsible for the institution opening its doors to the public. Still, it came as a bit of a surprise to the authors to learn that Belle will be the focal point of the anniversary festivities. A major exhibit chronicling her life and career is opening at the Library this fall. The exhibit will include some of the more than 600 letters that Belle wrote to art historian Bernard Berenson, her long-time lover and colleague. Murray said she knows Belle would have wanted those letters to be destroyed. "And I will feel bad as I'm reading their every single word," she continued. For more on the Belle Greene-Bernard Berenson Letters Project, click here. The video is terrific. And for more info on the Morgan Library and its celebration of Belle, click here

And as to the question of whether Murray and Benedict got the story right? Well, as Murray pointed out, the genre is called historical fiction. But the pair had the opportunity to hear from a Morgan family member on a Zoom call with the board of the Morgan Library. At first, all they could see of the speaker was his forehead. "That book was a hoot!" the forehead repeatedly said. It wasn't exactly what Murray and Benedict had been going for, but okay. Eventually someone helped the gentleman get his face on the screen. It was one of J.P. Morgan's great grandsons, now 90+ years old. After repeating once again that the book was a "hoot," he told Murray and Benedict that they had gotten two things wrong. And what, they asked, was that? "Ann [J.P.'s daughter]  was nicer than you portray her in the book, and Jack [J.P's son] was boring." Or so it seemed to the man who was six years old at the time in question. I'm pretty sure this insight wouldn't have altered the storyline. 

Kudos to everyone involved in creating and implementing Sarasota's One Book/One Community project for the past 20 years. And, of course, to those responsible for bringing Victoria Christopher Murray to Sarasota to talk about "The Personal Librarian." In a season packed with fun events, it's a night that continues to stand out. Murray was a hoot. 

And if you want more from the team of Murray and Benedict, be on the look out for "The First Ladies" come June. This time they're taking on the partnership between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Civil Rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune. Murray shared that a third book by the pair is already in the works. For a short interview with Benedict and Murray that took place in the Morgan Library, click here. And for more on Victoria Christopher Murray, click here

Happy reading! 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Author Victoria Christopher Murray talks "The Personal Librarian," Part 1

Talk about burying the lede. When Victoria Christopher Murray's agent sent over a proposal to co-write a book with Marie Benedict, Murray could not have been less interested. She glanced at the first of the proposal's three pages -- single spaced and in tiny font -- and immediately tossed the document aside. She was not up for writing about J.P. Morgan. But her agent was persistent, and three months later Murray got to the proposal's last line. It read, "No one knew Belle da Costa Greene was Black until she died." What?!!! Benedict finally had Murray's attention. And thus "The Personal Librarian" was born. 

The book was this year's selection for Sarasota's One Book/One Community program. The idea is "to help foster the expression of ideas within the community through the shared love of reading." To this end, the library hosts a variety of free events relating to the selected book. This year's festivities included a highly engaging talk by Murray. But before I turn to what she said about the best-selling book, I must first share some of Murray's story. 

Murray has been writing a long time. She penned her first stories as a kid. Her parents encouraged reading and took Murray and her sister on weekly visits to the local library. But there was a problem. The library allowed patrons to check out only three books at a time. What's a young reader to do? Murray took matters into her own hands and wrote her own books between visits. Her sister declared this a stupid idea because Victoria already knew the ending. I suspect she became Victoria's earliest fan. 

With Victoria Christopher Murray
Murray created her first masterpiece at age seven. I was laughing too hard to take proper notes, but here's the gist. The book was called "Betty and the Witch," and Betty perpetually wore a red cape. Betty had six siblings -- three brothers who happened to be wolves and three sisters who were pigs. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The tale was put on as a play for her second grade class, with Murray assuming the role of the Witch. 

Despite these auspicious beginnings, Murray didn't turn to writing as a career for many years. She had plenty of ideas, but she just couldn't get herself started. She'd tried the discipline of writing three pages a day, then one page, then one paragraph. Still, she failed. Eventually her ever-supportive husband urged her to give writing a serious try or to forego her dream. (I'm not kidding that he was supportive. His wedding present to her was a computer.) 

Murray developed a plan. She would commit to writing one word a day. Yes, a single word. And it worked! Some days her entire output consisted of something pithy like, "she said." But by the end of three months, Murray had a first draft. She quit her job and turned to writing full-time. 

Murray is now a celebrated author with 30+ books and multiple NAACP Image Awards to her name. Several of her books have been made into movies for the Lifetime channel (which explains why I haven't seen them). Over the years, she's developed a rhythm. Still, Murray says that collaboratively creating "The Personal Librarian" with Benedict was the best writing experience of her life (although I don't know how she can top "Betty and the Witch"). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, in which I'll share Murray's stories about their collaboration and, of course, Belle's life. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Therman Statom's "Stories about Learning" at Ringling College

There's a work I seek out at Imagine Museum each time I visit. It's a colorful glass house that never fails to captivate me. The artist is Therman Statom. Needless to say, I was excited to learn that Ringling College was hosting an entire exhibit of Statom's art. It is special. 

Statom considers himself a painter who uses glass as his canvas. "If I had my way, I'd paint on air," he has said. Not surprisingly, Statom's houses have a very airy feel, both because they have openings that simulate doors and windows and because you can see through the glass. What was surprising is the life size glass house that greets visitors when they enter the gallery. You can actually walk into the work to admire it from all perspectives. It is amazing. But I've gotten ahead of myself. 

Some kids seem destined for great things. Statom was not one of them. He was what we refer to as a "problem child." He went to six different high schools in his hometown of Washington, D.C.  But unlike most kids who cut class, when Statom left school he headed to the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art. Statom spent so much time there that he considered the Smithsonian an extension of his home. "It's where I found myself," he has said.

Wanda inside Statom's life sized house 
Statom's frequent presence at the Freer did not go unnoticed. The curator there engaged with the budding artist and gave him a job mixing clay. It was the start to his career. While studying at RISD, Statom was introduced to glass. He immediately felt a connection with the medium. He went on to study at Pilchuck Glass School and Pratt Institute. It turns out Statom actually loved school so long as he was studying a subject that engaged him. 

Education continues to be a huge part of Statom's life. When looking for interviews with the artist, it was hard to find ones in which he talks about himself and his art. Instead, he speaks about his involvement with arts education, which he has said gives his work greater meaning. He considers teaching the highest form of advocacy. 

Craft in America created a wonderful video about Statom's work with students that I found particularly inspiring. It shows the artist working with two very different groups of kids -- Indigenous kindergarten-aged children and Sudanese and Black high school students. With the younger kids, he was creating a large bench in the shape of a medicine wheel. (In Native American cultures, the medicine wheel represents the importance of balance between our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual selves.) When you were in school, you might have made a handprint in clay in art class. And so did these children, but the recesses of their handprints would be filled with glass and embedded in the bench. In this way, they would literally become a part of their school forever (or at least so long as the bench was there). Statom said he hoped a positive educational experience such as this might help offset the history of Native American residential schools these kids will learn about when they're older. 

The high school students had a more adult art experience, painting and even blowing glass. Before they started, their teacher asked the kids whether they felt perfection was necessary. Almost all of the students raised their hands and, when asked, expressed the view that perfection was necessary to achieve their goals. Statom couldn't believe it. "It's okay to mess up," he said, "In messing up, you learn and refine your aesthetics." To give kids permission to try something new without the pressure of doing it "right" is a real gift. To watch the interview, click here. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when Statom worked with the Ringling students. 

"Therman Statom: Stories about Learning" is on display at Ringling College's Willis Smith Gallery through March 24. The galleries are open from 9-3 on Monday-Friday. Get there if you can. And if you do make it, be sure to stop in next door for the latest iteration of the Basch Gallery's annual glass exhibit. This year's works are all variations on the theme of circles and spheres. For more information about all the exhibits on now at the College, click here

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

"Women of the Resistance" by Vicki Chelf

Vicki Chelf with her "Women of the Resistance" at Art Avenue
A couple of years ago, artist Vicki Chelf and her husband went to France to help a friend clear out the basement of an old house he was buying. She came upon piles and piles of soggy old newspapers. And when I say old, I mean it. Many dated back to 1912 and reported on the events leading up to WWI. Chelf was fascinated by the papers and immediately started thinking about how she might incorporate this medium into her work. 

While there, Chelf also visited The Museum of the Resistance in Avignon. A lightbulb went off. She would create collages from old newspapers and paint images of women she had learned about at the Museum. She found a stash of German newspapers from 1935 and got to work. Fast forward to last week when I heard Chelf speak about her exhibit at Art Avenue entitled "The Women of the Resistance." It was fascinating. 

Hedy Lamarr
When people hear the name Hedy Lamarr, the actress' beauty and sex appeal are likely what come to mind. She was definitely a bombshell. But did you know she was also an inventor? And we're not talking things that have no relevance to our lives today. Lamarr, together with composer George Antheil, invented a form of spread spectrum technology that she dubbed "frequency hopping." It is the technology that provides the underlying basis for Wifi, GPS and Bluetooth communications systems. But back to the war. 

Lamarr's first husband was Freidrich Mandl, a munitions manufacturer who was in bed with the Nazis. By the time Lamarr escaped from their marriage in 1937, she had heard much talk about war-time weaponry over dinner with people involved in the industry. When she met Antheil, she ready to put what she had learned to use. 

The two met shortly after a German sub had torpedoed the SS City of Benares, a ship that had been evacuating 408 people from Britain to Canada. More than 250 passengers were killed, including dozens of children. If I understand correctly, what enabled the Germans to destroy so many ships was a technology that jammed the signals of Allied torpedoes. As a result, the ships were left essentially defenseless. Lamarr and Antheil believed their frequency hopping invention would enable Allied ships to change -- or hop -- the frequencies guiding their torpedoes when those signals were blocked and to reacquire their targets. When the Navy was approached with the idea, Lamarr was asked to sell war bonds instead. She sold $25 million in bonds during a ten day tour by selling kisses for $2500 a pop. Fast forward to the 1960s and the Cuban Missile Crisis when torpedoes guided by frequency hopping systems were installed in all U.S. ships on a blockade around Cuba. For a great article about Lamarr and her inventions, click here

Virginia Hall
Virginia Hall was more personally involved in the Resistance. A wanted poster ordered by Klaus Barbie himself proclaimed her "The Enemy's Most Dangerous Spy." She was the United States' most highly decorated female civilian during WWII. The fact that she had only one leg makes her work all the more remarkable. 

Hall was living in France with the goal of becoming a diplomat. She was, after all, multilingual. Instead, she was hired as a secretary at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. An outdoorsy type, she was hunting one day and accidentally shot herself in the foot. Due to infection, her leg had to be amputated at the knee. She was fitted with a wooden leg and got back to work. When Germany invaded France, Hall volunteered as an ambulance driver. Soon, however, she fled with others to Britain, where she met an intelligence officer who saw her potential as an operative. 

Hall was based in Lyon where she built an expansive network of spies. She utilized a variety of sources in her work, including nuns and prostitutes. The Nazis called her "The Limping Lady" and made her capture a priority.

Newspaper clipping
In the winter of 1942, the Nazis were closing in on her. Hall's only option for escape was to traverse 50 miles over the snow-laden Pyrenees to Spain. It took Hall three long and hard days, but she successfully made the journey. Undaunted, she sought to resume her activities as a spy. The British refused, believing it too dangerous, Instead, she was swooped up by the Americans for whom she worked as a member of the Office of Strategic Services. Hall is truly a hero. To read more about this amazing woman, click here

Andree Peel is an example of an ordinary woman who became a Resistance fighter. She was a hairdresser working in Brest, a port town in Brittany, when the Germans occupied the city. When the Germans took over an area, one of their first priorities was to assume control of the media. Ultimately, the press systems in France, Poland, Norway and other occupied countries were operated by the German Ministry of Propaganda, headed by Goebbels. Peel's first job in the Resistance was the distribution of underground newspapers in Brest that kept citizens apprised about what was really happening. 

Andree Peel
Peel was soon given other responsibilities that included relaying information to the Allies about German troop movements and guiding Allied planes to safe landings by illuminating air strips with flashlights. Peel and her team were responsible for rescuing 102 downed Allied airmen from capture by the Germans. But Peel -- now known as Agent Rose -- was not as fortunate. 

Agent Rose was eventually caught by the Nazis and tortured by a method that was a precursor to waterboarding. Still she did not talk. She was transferred to the Ravensbruck women's concentration camp where she twice narrowly avoided death in the gas chamber. She was then transferred to Buchenwald, where she again miraculously escaped death. With the liberating troops approaching, the Nazis wanted to get rid of as many prisoners as possible. As the saying goes, dead men tell no tales. Peel was literally in line for the firing squad when American troops arrived and saved her and the remaining prisoners. Peel died in 2010 at a nursing home in Bristol. She was 105. For more on Peel, click here

"Women of the Resistance" will remain on display at Art Avenue in the Siesta Key Mall through the end of May. Chelf and her husband own Art Avenue, so you might catch her there if you stop by. Plans are in the works for some sort of stage production next year honoring the Women of the Resistance, so keep your eyes out for that event. Kudos to Chelf for featuring the stories of these brave women in her work. They are truly an inspiration. 



Saturday, March 4, 2023

Urbanite Theatre Presents "Backwards Forwards Back" by Jacqueline Goldfinger

Having the chance to see the first read of a play is always exciting. But having the chance to watch a first read after hearing from the playwright, director, actor and other creatives responsible for bringing those words to life for the very first time is incredible. I had this opportunity with "Backwards Forwards Back" by Jacqueline Goldfinger, a show whose world premiere is being mounted at Urbanite Theatre. It's an afternoon I won't soon forget. 

"Backwards Forwards Back" is a story about a veteran suffering from severe PTSD who undergoes virtual reality (VR) treatment. Goldfinger got the idea to write the play after reading an article about the treatment five years ago. 

The subject of PTSD resonated with the playwright. Goldfinger's grandfather was a lifelong military man. He ran away from home and joined the Air Force when he was 14 years old. He retired almost 80 years later. He was a genial man who loved his family. Yet her grandparents slept separately every night because her grandfather would try to throttle her grandmother in his sleep. The demons were deeply embedded in his psyche. 

When Goldfinger was ready to launch "Backwards Forwards Back" into the world, she considered which theater to approach. Urbanite was at the top of her list. Not every theater is willing to tackle difficult social issues, but that's right in Urbanite's wheelhouse. And the fact that Urbanite is a black box theater -- seating only about 65 audience members -- will lend immediacy to an already intense show. 

After reading the script, Urbanite founders Brendan Ragan and Summer Dawn Wallace were on board. Ragan was keen to direct the one man show, and he knew just the actor for the role, no audition required. Enter L. James, former soldier and graduate of Asolo Rep Conservatory. 

Goldfinger and Ragan look on as James does the first read of the play. 
James joined the Army when he was 21 years old. Two weeks later, the Towers came down. "I had joined the military to get an education," James told the group with a wry laugh. 

James was thankful when his unit was sent to Korea. Five years later -- and just a few days before he was scheduled to get out -- his unit received orders to go to the "sandbox." While James was involved in the preparations for the transfer, he was stateside when his friends and fellow soldiers entered the war. It wasn't long before the losses started mounting. Those who survived came back changed. One close friend returned home but suffered from severe depression and PTSD. His friend turned to drugs as a salve and recently passed away. This role is personal to James. 

In VR therapy, patients don a headset and are thrust back into the environment that caused their trauma. The idea is to relive those experiences in a safe space. It requires bravery -- and, often, desperation -- to subject yourself to this form of therapy. But the results have been promising, and with thousands of soldiers back from Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for effective treatments for PTSD is exploding. To get a sense of what VR therapy is like, click here

For the production, Urbanite secured the same type of goggle being used for VR therapy. The play will be visually intense for the audience as well as James as projections show the experiences he is reliving. The show runs under an hour, which all parties feel is the right amount of time for both the actor and the audience. 

As always, there will be talkbacks after the Thursday night performances. A representative from Operation Warrior Resolution will participate. The organization's mission is "to transform veterans to health and wellness and to provide innovative, holistic treatments for mental health to veterans and their family members, alleviating PTSD, anxiety and other mental health-related issues." Not surprisingly, there is a need for these services in our own community. 

Kudos to Goldfinger for tackling this difficult subject and to Urbanite and James for taking it on. "Backwards Forwards Back" will run from March 24-April 23. Click here for tickets. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Glass Coast Weekend -- Habatat Studio A

"Within the Landscape" by Michael Janis (2015)
Every year I think, "This is the year I will participate in all that Glass Coast Weekend has to offer." The annual multi-day event is organized by Habatat Detroit Fine Art in collaboration with Imagine Museum and the Ringling and gets rave reviews. But by the time this year's dates were announced, my calendar was already jampacked with other activities and commitments. Happily, there was one event that was open to the public -- Habatat Galleries' temporary studio at Ringling College. The art glass on display was nothing short of jaw dropping. 

Take, for instance, "Within the Landscape" by Michael Janis. If you think this looks like a painting, you've got that right. Janis actually "paints" his works on sheet glass using black glass crushed into a fine powder as his medium and a scalpel blade as his brush. He works in layers to create depth and power, with fused glass adding texture. I cannot say "wow" enough times. 

Much of Janis' work is focused on portraiture and issues of identity. He is interested in creating a narrative, with the viewer completing the story. So I'll leave it to you to interpret what's happening here. For a short video in which Janis talks about his work and process, click here. And for Janis' website, click here.

"Bullet Proof" by Daniel Marder 
in collaboration with Joe Ivacic (2023)
Daniel Marder's "Bullet Proof (in collaboration with Joe Ivacic)" definitely tells a story, although it's not a happy one. A stay-at-home father with two children, Marder is particularly attuned to the horror of school shootings and the impact these incidents have on our youth. His response was the creation of a series of backpacks filled with actual items kids take to school. In some works, the backpack also has bullet holes. 

Marder was on site so I had a chance to talk with him. Not surprisingly, he's very passionate about this work. "Bullet Proof" was created using one of his son's old backpacks that was destined for the trash. So the zippers and trim are from the backpack, with the clear material being glass. It's worth noting that many schools and other venues today only allow clear backpacks as an attempted means of ensuring no weapons or other contraband is being transported. 

Marder told me the bottom of his son's backpack had basically deteriorated already, which made filling it with snacks and toys his son enjoys and then sealing it relatively easy. When Marder and Ivacic are making a work from whole cloth (whole glass???), it's more challenging. Either way, I don't quite get the process but I can confidently say it requires a lot of skill. For a video showing the pair shaping a backpack from molten glass, click here. Marder's hope is that work such as this will create an opportunity for dialogue among people with different viewpoints and perhaps even social change. 

"Poodle Green" by Mart Klonowska (2020)
(after Jeune Femme en Robea la Polonaise by Pierre-Thomas LeClerc) 
On a happier note, what better antidote is there to today's world than a pet? Upon entering the exhibit space, visitors were greeted by Marta Klonowska's "Poodle Blue" and "Poodle Green." Can you say stunning? So many tiny pieces of glass. I think I even audibly gasped as I found myself surging towards them. I drew up quickly, though, as images of the collector knocking over a Jeff Koons glass "Balloon Dog" and shattering it into a million pieces came to mind.  

I was surprised to learn that Klonowska looks to art history, with an emphasis on works by the Old Masters, for her inspiration. She hones in on animals who have been depicted playing a secondary role to their owners. Dogs are frequently featured in these paintings as a sign of the owner's wealth and status. Klonowska allows these loving companions to take center stage. I was in awe of these poodles before I knew this; now I'm blown away. 
To see an image of the painting that inspired "Poodle Green," click here and go to page 11. If you're like me, you'll enjoy scrolling through the entire document. And for a great video on Klonowska's process and work, click here. In the interest of full disclosure, I neither have nor want a pet, but we did have a dog when I was a young child. His name was Beau-Beau because he was a French poodle. I couldn't make that up. 

"Seaforms" by Michael Behrens
I'll leave you with the more abstract work of Michael Behrens. But when you learn these works are from his "Seaforms" series, I bet you'll immediately see the relationship between these amazingly colorful works and our natural world. Behrens says on his website, "My vision was and is to create objects in which you can see and feel the energy of nature." Mission accomplished. 

Behrens wasn't always focused on creating art glass. His original plan was to be a furniture designer. In school, he was introduced to glass as a medium by chance when he interned at a company that produced and sold art glass, kilns and related tools to small studios. The internship must have gone well because the company awarded Behrens a scholarship to complete his final examination. For an artist, a final exam is not a paper but the creation of a portfolio of work. Behrens' first "Seaforms" were the result of this project. He passed the exam. 

For more on Behrens and his work, click here. And for an interview with Behrens in which he talks about how he came to work in glass, click here

Thanks to Habatat for making this portion of Glass Coast Weekend available to people who can't participate in the entire weekend. Perhaps next year will be the year I take part in all the festivities. Stay tuned! 

Saturday, February 25, 2023

A Visit to Imagine Museum

"Fluctus Radium Temporum" by Jan Exnar 2016
An outing to Imagine Museum is always a treat. And so the Museum was included in my St. Pete outing with Maggie. It had been a while since I'd visited, and it was wonderful to see some exciting new works while checking in on some old favorites. 

"Fluctus Radium Temporum" by Czech artist Jan Exnar grabbed my attention from across the room. From a distance, it looked as if a decaying castle on a hill had been dropped into a glass enclosure to be preserved for the ages. The protrusions at the top of the structure could be flags heralding whatever dynasty was in power, with the lower pieces depicting residents of the town coming to pay homage to their king. Definitely a Game of Thrones kind of vibe. On closer inspection, the form was more abstract, with lots of sharp edges. A sense of danger still prevailed. The work is a big "wow."

Sadly, I haven't been able to find out much about this artist. One gallery describes Exnar's art as a combination of melted glass objects with a perfectly cut surface that, when combined with light, results in permanently changing monumental structures. Another description notes his use of bubbles inspired by cosmic spaces. I'm officially intrigued. To see more of Exnar's work, click here.

"Mazorca" by William Morris (2013)
I fell in love with William Morris' "Mazorca." I wanted to take the little pouting figure home with me. He is just so adorable. (Note: This is how Maggie looked in almost all the pictures from her visit although she swears she was having a good time.) Perhaps he doesn't want to go back out and pick more corn in the field, which seems to be depicted on the round piece to which both the man and the ears of corn are tethered. 

It's hard to believe this sculpture is made of glass. "Mazorca" definitely has a folk art feel to it that I associate with wood. But glass artists can be tricky -- and the artists whose work is on display at Imagine are masters of their craft. 

Morris' early training as a glass artist took place at Dale Chihuly's Pilchuck School. Morris couldn't afford to pay tuition, so he worked as a truck driver for Chihuly in exchange for classes. To further economize, Morris lived in a tree house for ten years. And so it came as no surprise to learn that he feels connected with nature. Morris' work also shows his connection with ancient cultures that lived off the land, from Indigenous people (as shown here) to Egyptian and Asian peoples.

Two books have been written about Morris' work, including "William Morris: Mazorca, Objects of Common Ceremony." Author Isabelle Allende is so taken with Morris' art that she wrote the foreward. For more info about the book, click here. And for a wonderful article about Morris with more images of his work, click here

Detail from "Human Rights"
by Bertil Vallien and Trish Duggan (2019)
The entrance to the Museum showcases two collaborative series of works created by Bertil Vallien and Trish Duggan entitled "Human Rights" and "Peace," respectively. Each series is comprised of multiple life-sized plus panels that are populated with more than 20 smaller glass works. Quite an undertaking. 

A panel next to "Human Rights" sets out Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It reads, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood." It sounds so simple and yet we all know that's not the way our world works. 

"Human Rights" includes images of people who lived their lives in this spirit and a short description explaining their contributions. This detail shows Mahatma Gandhi and reads, "He brilliantly brought independence to India and became an inspiration for movements of nonviolence, civil rights and freedom across the world." Other people featured include Eleanor Roosevelt, Oskar Schindler and Nelson Mandela. At the center of one of the large panels is a mirrored piece that reads, "The future depends on what you do today." Indeed. 

For more on Vallien's work, click here to read my post about an exhibit of his art previously on display at Imagine. And for more on Vallien's and Duggan's collaborations, click here

"Kabuki" by Karen Lamonte (2019)
I'll admit to being surprised when mailings from Imagine highlighted the "Floating World" exhibit featuring the work of Karen Lamonte. After all, it was only 2019 when Lamonte was introduced to visitors to the Museum. That's practically yesterday when taking the pandemic into account. But seeing Lamonte's glass kimonos displayed in a new way was fresh and exciting. And then there's the fact that her creations are spectacular. 

I was particularly taken with this striking work entitled "Kabuki." It is one of three styles of kimonos that Lamonte creates (with the others being Geisha and Odoriku). When I hear the name "Karen Lamonte," the image that comes to mind is a translucent kimono worn by an invisible figure. The effect is ethereal. But Lamonte incorporates different materials to convey different concepts. Iron, used in this "Kabuki," is associated with transience. To read more about the "Floating World" exhibit, click here.  And to read my own blog about the exhibit, click here. The best part of the post is the embedded video in which Lamonte talks about her process and the time she spent in Japan. It is so illuminating about both her intention and her process. 

A smiling Maggie with "Blue Circular Object"
by Daniel Clayman (1957)
As always, I left the Museum in awe of what glass artists can create. But don't trust me on this. Check out Imagine the next time you're in St. Pete. For more info, click here. And if you're in the Sarasota area, don't miss the Kotler-Coville Glass Pavilion at the Ringling Museum. Entry to this portion of the Ringling is always free, and you can see one of Lamonte's glass kimonos there. Enjoy! 

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