Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Remembering Robert Frost

I first became aware of Robert Frost when he recited a poem at the John F. Kennedy inauguration in 1961. As I was only eight, I remember it more because my mom made a big deal of it at the time, not because it really stood out on its own. Since that time I'd always assumed he was our National Poet Laureate until now when I did a little fact-checking. He was actually Poet Laureate of the State of Vermont, hence my tendency to associate him with the artist Andrew Wyeth, another famed New Englander in the arts.

Wikipedia begins its account of Robert Frost in this manner:

Robert Lee Frost (March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963) was an American poet. His work was initially published in England before it was published in the United States. Known for his realistic depictions of rural life and his command of American colloquial speech, Frost frequently wrote about settings from rural life in New England in the early twentieth century, using them to examine complex social and philosophical themes.

The photos on this page were taken by Gary Firstenburg while visiting the Northeast. The yellow trees readily remind one of Frost's The Road Not Taken.

We had five inches of snowfall last night, which also brought to mind Frost's Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Photos courtesy Gary Firstenberg

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Anheuser-Busch Does It Again -- Truly Fun Commercial for the 2020 NFL Season

It's apparent that times are strange. The mask thing is just one facet of our 2020 life experience, accompanied by markers on the floor spaced six feet apart in every public space. Strangest of all, IMHO, are the cardboard fans for baseball and football, accompanied by fake crowd noise. 

What I keep thinking is, when will Hollywood make films about events in 2020 in which the characters put on masks when they go to the store? (If this has already happened let me know in the comments.) 

Scott Adams, earlier than anyone else, had Dilbert and his co-workers masked, a cutting edge on the wave one might expect to be coming. That was at least a couple months ago, and still we see no masks on Dagwood and Blondie, Zits characters, the Lockhorns, Pickles or Rex Morgan.

So it was tremendously fun to catch the new Bud Light spot this past week during my few minutes watching the Browns get shanked by Pittsburgh. I have not been watching much football this year, so maybe this was not the debut weekend for it, but it was absolute fun. There will be a link below if you haven't seen it. 

The two minute spot opens with a brief long shot showing a professional sports stadium, then cuts to the camera facing the stands, crowded with cardboard cutouts as stand-ins for fans. One of the cardboard cutouts, our hero, spots a cardboard cutout of a beer vendor. (At this point it is a world of Flat Stanleys.) He proceeds to stand and slide out to make his way there for a Bud Light. Unfortunately, there is no beer left in the beer basket.

Our hero decides to go explore. Maybe he can find a beer elsewhere under the stands. Lucky he. A forklift loaded with cases of Bud Light. As he approaches the forklift, a worker says, "Hey! Can I help you?" 

Our hero, with his usual chagrined expression, quickly hurries off. As he leaves the stadium he sees a Bud Light delivery truck parked across the street. Unfortunately, he doesn't look both ways when crossing the street (a challenge without a real neck) so that he is struck by a car. Our flat hero is flattened against the windshield of a bus. The bus driver flips him aside with the flick of a windshield wiper.

His expression never changing--a cross between bemused nobody-in-particular and hapless hero--he ends up on the street, walked on, staring skyward. Shortly after he ends up in a dumpster where suddenly, there on the side of a building, he finds inspiration once again by a giant ad for Bud Light. 

After a quick interlude in the back of a garbage truck he ends up on his feet again and continues his quest. I won't spoil the ending. To see the actual spot here's the hotlink: Cardboard Cutout Seeks to Quench His Thirst

Kudos to the ad agency that invented this story, a tall tale perfectly suited for our maddening postmodern times. 

Monday, October 19, 2020

MASKERPIECE Show Features More Than 30 Masks by Local Artists -- Bid 'Em Up for a Good Cause: The Encore Performing Arts Center

Kudos to Kris Nelson for inviting local artists and curating the MASKERPIECE Mask Auction fund raiser for Cloquet's Encore Performing Arts Center. 

The bidding will starts today and will run through October 26. You can also stop by the theater, M-F, 9-4, to bid in person.

My "Bugs" motif mask is just one of more than 30 masks to bid on. The idea probably came from a feeling of being a little bugged at all the miscellaneous inconveniences associated with having to wear masks. 

Kris Nelson made a video which you can watch here

More importantly, here is where you will find the event itself

If you click on the DISCUSSION tab, you will find all the masks in all their regal splendor with info about the artists and what each mask is titled. Many of them are quite astonishing.

Even if you don't need a new mask (hopefully you are washing yours now and then) all money raised from this auction is going to a good cause: The County Seat Theater.

* * * *

Scratching Below the Surface of Mary Bue's Latest Album: The World Is Your Lover

Have you ever tried to write an original tune? OK, maybe you can, but can you keep writing them month after month, year after year? And not just original, but something that connects with listeners and sticks with them?

Writing music, creating it out of nothing, is much like looking at a blank sheet of paper and combining batches of words into a poem or story or novel. It's done every day, but not always effectively.

I've spent a lot of years contemplating the variety of expressions Bob Dylan's muse has expressed itself through him as a conduit. In a similar manner, artists like Mary Bue likewise seem to capture something original and evocative--maybe even magical--in their songwriting. 

Her latest album--I believe this is her sixth--is titled The World Is Your Lover, and the tracks are rich with emotion and energy.  

In a story titled Transcendental Bue a Minneapolis Star Tribune music critic subtitled the story, Mary Bue’s journey from Duluth to Minneapolis, New Mexico and India culminated in her best album yet, “The World Is Your Lover.”

Her best? I thought her last -- Holy Bones --was pretty good. Now I have to compare so I can decide whether I agree or not.

* * * *

I like the album cover and overall design. On the album itself (if you have the vinyl) there's a photo of Mary Bue embracing the globe. Upon seeing this visual I couldn't help but think of Woody Allen in Sleeper and the scene involving the Orb. Whether this is an intentional play on imagery or not I wouldn't know. It is certainly intriguing.

* * * *

The opening track on the album, titled "Sh*t Storm," is one powerful song. The closest thing I can compare it to is John Lennon's "Cold Turkey." Both songs have a story, but end in a turbulent whirlwind instrumental that replicates the feel. In Lennon's case it captures the feelings associated with heroin withdrawal. In Bue's, it's the apocalyptic whirl of our time in history. 

I walked for miles
On this parched earth
Once flowed with lava
Then a river birthed
And now the snow
Falls on the sage
When that shit storm comes
The earth’s gotta rage

I had a vision
The Great Lakes were drained
Superior Desert
Was her new name
Eagles cry
Barn owls shriek 
When that shut storm comes
It’s not gonna be good

Oh my god
Have you forsaken me?
All the gods
Are laughing now
As the earth starts cracking
And her bones start snapping
And the walls come crashing down

Oh my love 
He’s a brutal force
You can hear him coming 
On his big black horse
And he’s got friends
High and low
But when that shit storm comes
They all gotta go

I pray to Ganesha 
To tear down the walls
I pray in Chimayo
Protect those I love
I bow to the East
I bow to the west 
When that shit storm comes
Nobody’s gonna be left
Copyright 2020 Mary Bue

You can listen to this song and Purchase Album Here:

* * * *

I've been itching to write about Mary Bue's latest album since last month and today is as good a time as any. Why? Because this coming Friday night there will be a livestream show from the Hook & Ladder Theater with special guests Turn Turn Turn and Alan Sparhawk. Here are the details:

with special guests Turn Turn Turn & Low's Alan Sparhawk!

Friday, October 23, 8 pm CDT
Livestream from Hook & Ladder Theater
Tickets: $15 | Pre-Sale Tickets: $10 (through Oct. 16)
Ticket holders can watch the show live or any time over next week.

* * * *
Related Links

EdNote: There is some language on a couple songs that some people will find offensive, though no more so than a majority of cable television series offerings.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Visit with Artist Susanna Gaunt on Her New Show at the DAI: Integument

The Armory Annex has been a beehive of creative energy over the years. The former Perkins Restaurant became the property of the Historic Armory Board in order to have an office with proximity to the Armory during its two decades of renovation and resurrection. A local forging community took up resident there and a number of artist studio spaces were created. 

One of these spaces belongs to Susanna Gaunt whose new show Inegument will go on display this week at the Duluth Art Institute this fall in the George Morrison Gallery. I myself have been busy with a mural project at the Armory, frequently going in and out of the Annex this summer and fall. throughout this time I have watch Ms. Gaunt's dedication to this array of new three-dimensional work. After a number of visits, I felt a desire to learn more and share here.

EN: When did you become serious about making art? Was there a trigger moment or just a gradual dawning?

Susanna Gaunt: I have been making art in some form all my life. Even when distracted by other life events, such as having kids or moving from one city to another, I found I naturally came back to making. Perhaps when I realized this – that I just have to make art – I became more serious. There have been pauses, again due to life events, but also because of shifts in confidence and fears. Being serious was affirmed most recently during my time as a BFA student at UMD. The experience opened my eyes to not only new techniques but also ways of thinking about art, and an art career. Since then (2017), I’ve allowed art to be my career: applying for grants, having a studio space and continuing to put myself out there.

EN: Your work is a departure from traditional drawing and painting. How did this form of expression evolve?

Though I drew a lot as a kid and through my first undergraduate degree, my primary medium for over twenty years was photography. I dabbled in commercial photography as a means to pay the bills, but turned to teaching as a back up to exhibiting photographic projects. As the projects evolved, I began to want more than just a 2-dimensional photograph on the wall. I started to push the presentation of my series, taking the photo out of the frame and suspending it in multiples, or turning it into an object hidden in a faux book. This was about when our family landed in Duluth and I decided to go back to UMD for a studio art degree. I wanted to learn as many new mediums as possible. In my final years, which included a mixed-media class and the senior exhibit, I found myself transitioning to installation work – a new way to present my art.

EN: What’s the most gratifying aspect of your work?

SG: I love the sense of accomplishment when I push through creative challenges to new discoveries, whether it is with the layout of an individual piece of work, or the hanging of an entire exhibit in a new space. There are a lot of logistics to figure out with installation art: How will the work live in the space aesthetically? Or what kind of walls does the gallery have and will they hold my 20lb drawer? This can often be daunting, but when all the parts come together and the presentation materials become part of the work - that is quite satisfying.

EN: You’ve not only been in juried shows here, but in shows around the country. There are so many components in your displays. Seems complicated having shows in other places. Care to comment on this?

This is definitely one of the more problematic aspects of installation art – not only does the work tend to be larger, it also requires a complicated install process that often includes adapting and re-adapting the work on site. Since I’ve only been truly doing installation art since 2017, I’ve limited my geography with this style of work. The art that I’ve exhibited beyond Minnesota (and Superior, WI) has been my traditional photographs or prints, or at least been smaller in size and therefore easier to send. I have not yet solved the equation of sending my current work or traveling to be present for the installation process on site. Down the road, options may include traveling farther to a site or providing detailed instructions with shipped work. At this point, I am still nervous about the pieces getting damaged in shipping or handling.

EN: The title of your upcoming show is Integument, which is defined as “a tough outer protective layer, especially that of an animal or plant.” How does integument relate to this show?

For me, integument is a great way to tie in both the idea of layers and my interest in biology. I have used layers as an aesthetic tool for the past several years because it provides multiple avenues into the artwork. Layers of meaning. Layers of content. Layers of design. 

In this work, most of the pieces allude to skin, as a covering or the thin layer between two sides (inside and outside, for instance). With biology, I think a lot about processes that occur in nature and integument can be a physical sign of these transitions when you think about skin shed, or hair lost. One of my favorite things to find is the exoskeleton of an insect on a tree or beside a river. There is so much present in that moment of discovery – proof of the existence of a being that was once encased in this layer. It is a proof of time passing, of aging - something all organisms experience, for better or worse. For me, it is also proof of the wonder of nature that something can look both so delicate and transparent while maintaining the perfect shape of the subject that discarded it.

EN: In the DAI description of your upcoming show you are quoted as saying you work “is often enhanced with the use of layers that conceal enough to raise questions and reveal enough to suggest answers.” What are some of the questions you are alluding to here?

My first undergraduate degree was in philosophy so I am cursed with asking questions without answers. What is the meaning of life!? Over the years, curiosity and wonder have become important components in my explorations in and outside of the studio. The curiosity encourages those questions while the wonder offers some answers or at least provides some comfort in not knowing. I find it's important to allow for multiple meanings in the art I make because there is plenty of complexity in the world and in life, This is why I gravitate towards using layers. For example, a translucent layer that only partially conceals what’s beneath it can spark the viewer’s curiosity and pull them in closer. Then, a more intimate view can reveal clues to the details within the work or even the idea behind the work.

I read a lot of natural history books as part of my research. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a favorite. She observes and shares everyday moments that happen in her small geographical area. Her skill at writing evokes wonder in me and I strive to offer that with my artwork when I can. In the end, it's about finding meaning and I steer towards discovering the wonder in the small details and moments by simply asking “what will I observe today?” It forces me to consider my relationship with the natural world and the artmaking transfers that reflection into action.

Show details:
Susanna Gaunt
Duluth Art Institute
Morrison Gallery
506 W Michigan St in Duluth
October 20 – December 31, 2020
In person: Tuesday – Sunday, 10am – 3pm

Smartify app for iPhone and Android

Artist talk: November 18, 6pm on @duluthart on IGTV
Livestream: At noon on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of each month (October, November and December); Susanna will answer questions and work on her growing piece, “Disperse.” Subscribe to DAI’s YouTube channel to attend.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

How Engaged Are Your Employees? The 12 Questions Gallup Researchers Ask

For years I have referenced data from the Gallup organization for insights on various topics. What I like about Gallup  Polls is that they stake a claim on getting the most diverse viewpoints from the broadest field of data. They have the resources to do this because they do it well and have become trusted for it, unlike many news polls that pretend to do so. 

When companies measure ROI, they are measuring results after the fact. When they measure enployee engagement, they will impact future ROI because, as 20 years of Gallup research has shown, engaged employees are more efficient and more productive than their disengaged peers.

When employees are engaged there is less turnover, less absenteeism, more profitability. This not only aligns with common sense, it has all been extensively documented. This Gallup report was assembled by analyzing data from 100,000 teams. Sort of blows your mind when you consider the scope of this project.

Wherever your company is at, employee engagement can be improved by knowing what the real needs of employees are. According to Gallup, there are just three kinds of needs and 12 questions to ask. First there are personal, individual needs. Then there are teamwork needs, and finally growth needs. Here are the 12 questions. Yes or no.

Q01.  I know what is expected of me at work.
Q02.  I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right.
Q03.  At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
Q04.  In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
Q05.  My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
Q06.  There is someone at work who encourages my development.
Q07.  At work, my opinions seem to count.
Q08.  The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important.
Q09.  My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
Q10.  I have a best friend at work.
Q11.  In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
Q12.  This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

Note the character of the questions. There are work environments where managers believe people do not need encouragement. There are work environments where you have to practically fight to get the tools and materials to do your job. I once worked in a culture where you had to go through a gatekeeper in order to get a pen to write with. 

The one about a best friend is interesting. Are we linked in with the company beyond the paycheck? Do your workers feel themselves part of a bigger family?


This is exceedingly useful information. Work cultures can be measured, and they can be improved. This report can guide managers and leaders on what areas to focus on, what really matters for your employees.

* * * *

Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

Thursday, October 15, 2020

To Write with a Broken Pencil is Pointless

Throwback Thursday

Over the course of a lifetime I've found it handy to keep a handful of pithy sayings in the back pocket of one's mind. You never know when they might come in handy.

Here are a few that I've found myself repeating over the years, primarily because they are a little less common than "it is what it is" which I also use a bit too frequently.

"Everything is easy for the one who doesn't have to do it."

This one is readily available for any number of situations, especially in the world of work. People often give advice to others and wonder why it isn't immediately jumped on and appreciated. Well, that's because everything is easy for the one who doesn't have to do it. Whether it's meeting deadlines, managing multiple projects, overcoming addictions, or saving for retirement, everything's easy for the one who doesn't have to do it.

This doesn't mean we can't ever give advice, but we ought be sensitive when we're dishing it out. As Eleanor Roosevelt put it, “To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart.”

"The butler who folds his hands spills no tea." 

This one is fun because it takes a moment to process. Bosses generally do not like mistakes, though generally they readily admit that mistakes come with the territory when you're attempting to accomplish things. A batter who fails to get on base six of ten times is considered great. Strikeouts are part of going up and taking your swings. 

"Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive." 

My mom frequently recited this and I know why. She's from Scots heritage and this statement's origin is Sir Walter Scott from one of his novels. With a handful of words it says plenty.

Life is complicated enough without trying to cover our tracks and be deceptive. Sooner or later, it's going to get you. How many times we read stories about people caught embezzling or evading paying taxes.

If you need to arm yourself with some new quip material, there are plenty of websites devoted to collecting these kinds of pearls. Here are a few from a website called Quips, Quotes & Pithy Sayings, which apparently no longer exists.

Experience enables you to recognize a mistake every time you repeat it.

To write with a broken pencil is pointless.

Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcefully.

America is one of the few places you can say what you speak without thinking.

Unless you have never been tempted, don't pass judgment on someone who has yielded.

Don't mistake activity for achievement.

Or you can simply quote lines from Dylan, like I do. I used to rely on this one:

"Meantime life goes on all around you."

 But for 2020 my new go to is:

"People are crazy, times are strange."

* * * *

Photo at top of page is Lena, my 5 month old granddaughter.