Sunday, September 24, 2017

Plein Air Painting in the 21st Century: Last Night at the GLA

Jeffrey Larson, in his element here at Glensheen. (Photo courtesy C. Strom)
Fifty years ago people wondered if Warhol's "Brillo Boxes" were signalling the end of art. Everything's been done. Where else can it go. It half reminds me of the U.S.Patent office in 1900 when the director said, "We should just close our doors. Everything that can be invented has been invented." So it is that art continues, despite what many critics predicted.

As a long-time observer of the arts it would appear that the art scene is "still alive and well," as Johnny Winter once sang. The creative spirit continues.

It's funny how journalists and cultural observers keep making the same mistakes as regards what is to come. There was a time when radio was significant, but when television came along radio was going to be annihilated. Radio is still here, and cable didn't kill network television and the Internet didn't kill television or newspapers and magazines. So it is that photography did not eliminate realistic and representational painting and drawing.

Carl Bretzke's "Park Point" evinces an involuntary "Oh, wow."
This week a consortium of plein air painters has been in town to display of their exceptional translation skills, translating 3-D reality onto 2-D surfaces. The subject matter: our Twin Ports region. The results? Impressive.

Andy Evenson's "Rain on Canal Street" 14"x19" Watercolor
Last night the Great Lakes Academy of Fine Art opened its doors and welcomed the public to see a range of works created by this week's visiting members of the Plein-Air Painters of America. It was a heady experience. Hundreds attended from the community, nearly everyone awed not only by the art but also by the renovation that has taken place here. This Catholic Church, which had at one time been inches from the wrecking ball, is itself becoming a museum-piece.

I spoke with several of the paints who are in town and there was a universal sense that Duluth is rich with subject matter for artists. Industrial, historical, natural and nautical themes are abundant and accessible.

Friday evening the Tweed celebrated a new exhibition of America's Industrial Landscapes, featuring a whole range of atypical subject matter... until you dislodge the idea that painting outdoors means painting water lilies or parks. There are certain features of Duluth that contribute to its being an exceptional locale to collect artists. The steep hillsides pouring into a massive body of water, the railroad yards and shipyards, the multitude of parks, the ever changing weather -- it all contributes. Here are a few more images from last night's show.

"Green Van" by Carl Bretzke of Grand Marais
"Trailer and Timbers" by Bretzke
Billyo O'Donnell's dense oils produced vivid images.

Related Post: Interview with M. Stephen Doherty, author of The Art of Plein Air Painting.

THIS WEEK: IN SITU at the Duluth Art Institute
Opening reception: Thursday, September 28, 5:00-7:00 p.m.
Dorothea Diver, Lee Englund, Goran Hellekant, Constance Johnston, Cot LaFond, Dale Lucas, and Larry Turbes share a studio on Michigan St. in downtown Duluth. What does it mean to inhabit a space with other artists? What are the habits that develop throughout an artist's studio practice when working near others? This exhibit showcases five to 10 paintings from each of the seven while examining concepts of habitation and transposition. The artists will recreate their atelier environment within the gallery and create LIVE onsite 4:30 - 6:30 p.m. Wed. evenings (Sept. 20 & 27; Oct. 4, 11, 18, & 25). The exhibit is on view through Oct. 27, sponsored by: Cartier Agency, Inc.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Engage it!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

For Sale: Frank Holmes' "Big Date"

"Big Date" 51.5"x 83.5" Oil on Canvas
Most artists have a painting they return to time and again, never quite finishing but never quite being ready to give up. Not many artists, however, work on a painting for 30 years. Here's an article about Frank Holmes' "Big Date" that appeared in print a number of years ago.

"Frank Holmes began Big Date in 1974 while on fellowship from the American Academy in Rome for his realist work. Inspired by a fellow artist, Holmes wanted to break free from his rigorous adherence to the rules of realism. He finished Big Date in 2004 after showing it to a gallery owner and committing to its completion by the gallery's opening date. Holmes, who primarily paints still lifes and interiors, calls Big Date 'a strange painting that's not at all like what I normally do.'

"Big Date" (detail)
"In spite of its whimsicality, Big Date is tightly rendered. Holmes started loose, drawing 'big bloopy shapes' in pen and ink and filling them in with paint, mostly straight from the tube. 'I think I was seeing it as a very pure-color sort of thing,' he recalls.

"He interpreted the car's interior--doorknobs, the glove box, the key with its rabbit foot, the fluorescent red of the driver's cigarette tip and the windshield wipers--in stylized, unexpected ways. Through the years Holmes changed some of the shapes and locations of the elements, but says Big Date remained essentially the same as he originally envisioned the painting in 1974.

"I didn't work on it steadily for 30 years--probably for just a couple of months total throughout the 30 years--but it was always there for me when I felt the need to get away," he says. "I guess it was a refuge of sorts."

* * * *

This week I called Frank to get a little more insight onto this unusual departure from the realistic works that built his early reputation.

"'Big Date' was part of that first spring in Rome… I found myself doing various things that I hadn’t expected to. I was inspired to be like a kid... like the kid I was when a friend and I made a big-enough-to sit-in (but stationary!) roadster we could pretend we were driving around. It was great! This was about 1949--we were ten and both had a real love of cars."

Of the painting itself he explained, "I was trying to create something about the feeling around the things I did then when I was ten or eleven years old. It was loopy and loose before I tightened it up."

Sounds a lot like life, I thought. You're carefree, and then tighten the reins and become more careful.

"It was part of that abstract period that I went through in Rome," Frank said.

I can imagine a photo of the young Frank Holmes sitting in one of these home-made kid-crafted 1949 cars. When I look at this painting and what it represents, I think of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane and "Rosebud." Maybe there's more here than meets the eye.

* * * *

The painting is actually still available. Frank Holmes originals generally run in the neighborhood of $20,000. I've been told that the suggested "ask" on this is $2,000 plus S&H. Or best reasonable offer.

If this piece catches your fancy, send me a PM on Facebook or an email to ennyman (AT) gmail (dot) com.

If you're interested in an original car-themed picture, I believe Mr. Holmes would consider discussing that, too.

* * * *
Meantime, art goes on all around you. What are you into?

Friday, September 22, 2017

An Idea for Creating Tricky But Memorable Dylan-Themed Passwords

Am I the only one who's concerned about how complicated life is starting to become? I could enumerate a whole batch of issues we must deal with today that were at one time fairly simple, but I won't/ I'm just going to address this one: Passwords.

First, there are the passwords at the office, which every three months my employer reminds us to change. And then there are all the warnings from various places -- online banks, the Social Security office, social media sites, online stores -- that insist that the new password you create be different from all your other ones. Just in case one site gets hacked and now all your other spaces are vulnerable. And how many of these are there? Dozens. And every couple years these sites tell you that for the sake of security you not only need a new password, it needs to be longer and strong than your old password.

Is it essential to have these muscular passwords? They say so, and I'm inclined to go with it. For the record, you're not the first and won't be the last to find passwords frustrating.

So, what I aim to share here are a handful of password tricks you can use, followed by my ultimate Passwords for Dylanophiles Tipsheet.

1. Padding
This is what I use at the office. What you do is use the same password forever, but change the set of add-on characters at the end. For example, your favorite car is a Jaguar. The first time you create the password you might have used the word Jaguar. But then they said it wasn't strong enough and you needed a numeral and a symbol, and an upper and lower case letter. By "padding" you add a two digit number and a hashtag or $ or @. Let's say you start with Jaguar22@. Then next time you change to Jaguar 23@. No more thinking. You are a Jaguar forever.

2. Padding Type B
You have the password Jaguar but pad it with <><><> little meaningless characters so that Jaguar22 becomes Jaguar22#<><><>

3. Spaces
I read somewhere that spaces make it harder for codebreakers to crack or hack your password. I don't know if that is true, but I do know that at least one site where I used a space my password was reject. That being said, it does make sense that a space would fool people. Jag uar 22#--><><>< might be tricky.

4. Password Managers
These are something you will have to investigate on your own. If you work for a company ask your IT department. Or you can ask Google or Siri or whomever and get the skinny on what is arguably the most secure password system. It seems complicated. That's why I invented the Passwords for Dylanophiles Tipsheet.

* * * *
A Passwords for Dylanophiles Tipsheet

A week or two ago I saw an article on Flipboard that suggested a unique way of coming up with what appears to be a random assembly of letters and numbers, but which is actually memorable. That is, the biggest problem with random character sets is that we can't remember them and have to write them down. But we're told NOT to write them down because they can be stolen. Your IRA, your 401K, your bank accounts, your credit union accounts, credit card information and more is suddenly fair game because the Tip Sheet is somewhere at hand because you need it every day.

Well, the article said that you can come up with a memorable but apparently random sequence of letters by taking the first line of a song, like "She'll Be Coming "Round the Mountain When She Comes" and converting it to SBCRtMWSC. Not a bad password, but made stronger if you add numerals and padding. For numerals, you could take your birth year and divide it by your favorite number, and use the first three digits and an asterisk.

That's the concept. And now you probably already see where this is going.


For the purposes of this illustration I will use The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan as my code maker and code breaker.

How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

Well, if you’re travelin’ in the north country fair

Come you masters of war You that build all the guns

Well, I’m walkin’ down the highway With my suitcase in my hand

Well, the Lone Ranger and Tonto They are ridin’ down the line

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son?
Owhybmbes     or, just for the heck of it you might keep the hyphen and add the e so it reads:
Owhybmb-es    which I sort of like.

Now here's the fun part. You don't have to write down any of your passwords anywhere. You only need to know in what order the password protected sites are listed, and which Dylan album is your answer key.

Example: -- WtLRaTTardtl

Checking Account -- Wiytitncf

Credit Union -- CymowYtbatg

Gmail -- WIwdthWmsimh

Facebook -- WtLRaTTardtl

Twitter -- Owhybmb-es

You no longer need to make a list of your passwords. Rather, you will know your favorite Dylan album by heart, or at least the first line, and will know what order the songs appear in. And you you don't remember them, there is no penalty because you can quickly open a tab and visit and find all the lyrics to every song right there.

As for numerals and special characters, you can always mix things up with the square root of your birthday, minus the decimal. Or whatever scheme you wish to apply to throw hackers off the scent.

What do you think? Too complicated? You can always just do what I do. Zimmy***. With a space or two here and there. And a numeral. No one has broken yet.

* * * *
Bob Dylan's Fall Tour Schedule has been released. If you're already a fan, you probably already know, he'll be doing a Coast-to-Coast series of shows from California to Boston. Full schedule here, along with links to tickets.

A nine volume set (8 CDs and one DVD) from his "Gospel Period" (1979-81) has been announced. It's called "Trouble No More." There's a 2-CD Bonus that is available only if you Pre-Order. All the other details are here, though again, you probably already knew that.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Doesn't make your head spin?

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Dr. Punnybone and Other Artsy Moves

If you're a regular reader you'll know that I've published a few posts sharing some of the paintings of Frank Holmes, one of my art instructors who in 1973 one the Prix de Rome. This summer we re-connected and it's been a pleasure getting a retrospective introduction to his career. Like many artists, he works in a variety of mediums. In addition, like many artists, writers, musicians, he produces serious work over which he labors obsessively and all that other stuff. I'm thinking here of British author Graham Greene (The Quiet American, The End of the Affair) who called a portion of his output nothing more than "entertainments." (This Gun For Hire.)

Well, one of Frank Holmes' line of "entertainments" has been producing a series of witty cartoons titled Dr. Punnybone. I thought it might be fun to share a few of these while passing along a several arts-related announcements as we head into the weekend.

Tomorrow is a major Double Opening Reception at the Tweed Museum of Art featuring two great exhibitions. A Thousand Words opened earlier this year but its official "Opening" will be tomorrow. It's a powerful collection of large format photography and, as the saying goes, "every picture tells a story." The newer exhibition is titled America's Industrial Landscape, a show featuring the work of the national Plein Air Painters. The event runs from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. Learn more here.

This Sunday is a Wedding Showcase at the Oldenburg House from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. featuring wedding vendors, hospitality and more in a visually stunning setting on the edge of Jay Cooke State Park in Carlton.

All engaged couples, wedding vendors and those interested in seeing how Oldenburg House can be transformed into a wedding venue are invited. You'll have the opportunity to tour the grounds, chat with amazing vendors and to sample some delicious food. This event is completely free to attend, but you're being asked to RSVP through their event registration page.

Next week is another big week of music at Beaners, but tonight it's Third Thursday Spoken Word night at the coffeehouse. Poetry and other story telling, with this month's host being Gary Boelhower. Starts at 7:00 p.m.

* * * *

"James and Mary" -- 27"x 36.5"
And if you happen to be from out of town and live in the vicinity of Narrowsburg,  there will be an opening reception for a new exhibition titled, “Paintings, Now & Before: Figures, Flowers, Landscapes” featuring paintings by artist Jill Mackie. The show will run from October 6 – 28, 2017 with the opening reception from 7 – 9 p.m. on Friday, October 6. Alliance Gallery is located in the Delaware Arts Center, 37 Main St, Narrowsburg, NY.

* * * *

MUCH MORE can be said, but I have run out of time. I believe it's Michael Jackson Day at the Red Herring tomorrow, but there's always something happening there, even when it is not a special occasion. In fact, there are all kinds of music venues that will be hopping, and arts events to round out September. Can't seem to keep up? Just keep tryin'.

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Enjoy it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Stephanie Wilcox @ Beaners Central (Local Art Seen)

Stephanie Wilcox is an artist who paints and draws in Duluth, MN.

* * * * 

Beaners Central is a great venue to experience local art, local music, poetry and culture. 
Located directly across the parking lot from the newly opened Zenith Bookstore, it is a great place to start your day (java and a warm greeting from Jason) as well as a nourishing mid-day stop for lunch.
Evenings it is music and more, always something fresh and real. 
Follow on Facebook Here. It's almost as good as family. 

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

How Real Life Settings Set the Stage for Readers of Fiction

Fundraisers come in all shapes and sizes, from Rotary Roses to all-night Zeitgeist parties. One of my favorite events is the Duluth Library Foundation's Libations at the Library. In addition to drinks, hors d'oeuvres, a silent auction, jewelry raffle, dessert and coffee, there were again options to attend eight different presentations, all of the interesting, from The Accidental Musher to discussions of interior design, genomes, and how to make whiskey. The event takes place inside the library, so if you love libraries you're right at home.

The presentation I was most interested in was titled Stride's Duluth. Author Brian Freeman took his audience on a tour of various settings around Duluth where murders have taken place -- not real murders but the fictional ones in his numerous books that have Duluth as their setting. For Brian Freeman is a writer of thrillers whose novels have won him many awards, found him readers in 47 countries and given him the opportunity to do what he loves, which is to be a creative story teller and get paid for it. The recognition and fame hasn't dimmed his enthusiasm either.

He set up his talk by sharing how important settings are. Good settings can increase the drama as the author drops the reader directly, and thoroughly, into the scene.

Every crime series seems to have its carefully crafted hero, whether he be Sherlock Holmes, MacDonald's Travis McGee or Mike Savage's Dave Davecki. For Brian Freeman, it's Jonathan Stride.

Death in the Afternoon, Evening and Night.
Freeman does Duluth.
Freeman's talk was about settings, but it touched on many features of crafting thrillers. Naming characters has to be fun. From the beginning of time people have been naming things, and the quest to discover new things to name is ever ongoing.

Freeman shared that most of his stories take place in Duluth, but he's working on a new series that has taken him to San Francisco. And since this talk was titled "Stride's Duluth" it seemed natural to focus on the places and spaces where deaths have occurred in his books. Throughout the talk he showed slides of these various landmarks.

Landmarks like the lift bridge set the stage, and he includes it in the first scene of Jonathan Stride's first book, just so we know where we are. "Stride and Duluth go hand-in-hand," he explained.

In his book The Cold Nowhere his character Kat Mates has been at a sleazy party in the William Irvin ore boat, which he's given the original name of Charles Frederick. (Outsiders: Chuck is editor of our Duluth News Tribune.) Mates barely escapes with her life after being chased through the bowels of the ship then finding her way to the top-deck from which she leaps into the water below.

The author said it's fun to explore these places and get details that one can only acquire through actually being there. The details are what make the setting so vivid in the reader's mind.

He described the access he gained to hidden parts of the Miller Hill Mall and other places where he's offed people in his numerous books. Someone asked, "When are you going to kill someone in my neighborhood?"

In addition to physical landmarks there are also experiential landmarks. That would include Grandma's Marathon, which he renames the Duluth Marathon in his book Marathon. The fun part is nosing out real places that fit the drama. Real houses. A green bench at the end of park point. (He shared that that bench is in a couple of his books, and yes, it is a real place.) He also spends a lot of time in cemeteries.

One section of his talk dealt with his approach to mapping a scene. He then outlined an incident that occurs in one of his books at a farmhouse on Lester River, and read a passage that left hearers almost breathless.

He's learned how to keep you turning pages.
He's evidently killed quite a few people in Duluth. Locations include Enger Tower, a beach on the Minnesota side of Park Point, inside one of the courtrooms of the St. County Courthouse, Fitgers Hotel, up at the antennae farm, out at Hartley Park, inside the DECC, atop the Blatnik Bridge and on some frozen lakes.

Wherever he turns he's got an eye out for creepy places where he can create another scene. The five creepiest, so far, which he's found include storage sheds, the Novitiate Building in Shawano, the William Irvin, the Graffiti Graveyard and the abandoned Clover Valley School.

I don't think this will be the end of the story. There are plenty of other places and spaces where Jonathan Stride will find crimework awaiting him.

The author is Brian Freeman. And maybe one day Hollywood will show up to do a Jonathan Stride thriller here, and the house where Stride resides will become a tourist attraction. The Visit Duluth website will have a map of Duluth points of interest like where Dylan was born and the house where Bob Dylan lived till he was six and Armory where young Robert Zimmerman saw Buddy Holly and the 94 settings where Brian Freeman had people killed in his Stride novels. Plus the green park bench out on the point where Stride reflected on all his adventures.

* * * *
For what it's worth, as a writer I, too, have loved researching settings. My young adult novel The Red Scorpion begins in Cuernavaca, one of my favorite places in Mexico, and then takes them to Tepotzlan, an even more fave place. The haunted house, a former bed and breakfast in Minnesota, is a hybrid patterned after a couple places out East with some interesting features. My short story Episode on South Street incorporated notes and observations from an evening on South Street in Philadelphia, which also had a Duluth connection when I found Sam Cook's first book in a used book store there. (A pair of film makers asked for permission to make a short film of the story, which is actually not too far off from the somewhat macabre storylines Brian Freeman has perpetrated on us. You can read the original story here and compare the two versions if you wish.

My favorite story setting that I went out of my way to investigated was for my story The Unfinished Stories of Richard Allen Garston. My narrator in this story strives to track down a character who was the last person alive to read the stories of a man purported to have been the greatest writer that ever lived, but his deal with the devil was that none of his stories would ever be published. The setting for this encounter was a Trappist monastery in Kentucky called Gethsemane. In researching the monastery I also saw the humble place where the remains of Thomas Merton have been laid. There is no better way to drop your reader into a setting than to actually experience the setting yourself, first hand.

This was the point Brian Freeman sought to impart to his hearers last Saturday night, many whom I suspect will be readers soon. As a writer myself I identified with every word.

Now, one suggestion for Mr. Freeman. Have you been inside the Armory? You mentioned "creepy places" where murders could be committed. I'm guessing that you can get some really great historical material there as well as some real drama. Opportunities for chase scenes. Hide and seek? Chills, spills and thrills? Just sayin'.


Monday, September 18, 2017

10 Things You May Not Know About the Oldenburg House in Carlton

At the end of July I attempted to convey some of the wonder I experienced during an evening at the Oldenburg House in Carlton. Since that time I've been doing a little research about the place and the people who have lived here. It's a pretty fascinating history. I serve this up today as the backstory for future events I hope to write about that will be taking place here. 

1. A Historic Home
In December 2006 the Henry C. Oldenburg House was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1894 it was the home of Henry and Mary Oldenburg.

2. Built by an Early Conservationist 
Henry Oldenburg got his law degree in Madison. He first began writing about protecting our forests as early as 1876.

3. He Helped Create Jay Cooke State Park
Henry Oldenburg became a lawyer for the Weyerhaeuser lumber interests and a respected conservationist. When in 1915 the St. Louis Power Company, now MN Power, wanted to set aside 2,350 acres for the state to become a state park, the State insisted that $18,000 in back taxes be paid. It was here in the Oldenburg House that Henry Oldenburg gathered a group of businessmen to pay those back taxes on the property. Adjusted for inflation, that $18K would be $435,000 today. To honor him, the most fabulous vista in the park has been named after him, Oldenburg Point, and a boulder monument placed there to acknowledge his historic contribution. His other achievements include the installation of Carlton as the County Seat, and heading up rescue and recovery efforts after the 1918 fire.

4. His Wife Played a Significant Role in the Community
Mary Oldenburg was a person of significance in her own right. According to a 2007 Pine Journal story, she "hosted many social occasions at the home that were often related to her many civic and social engagements. Documents say she was a well-educated woman who was involved in the establishment of local and traveling libraries, and that she and their daughter, Margaret, may have helped inspire the work to create Jay Cooke State Park, among other projects." According to one second-hand source it is believed she was a suffragette, on the cutting edge of women's rights. 

5. Perfect Location for a Home 
The house, built in the Classical Revival style, sits on property that is adjacent to Jay Cooke State Park, the Willard Munger State Trail and walking distance from the National Kayak & Canoe Center, and the Thompson Reservoir.

6. Up to the Present Only Three Families Have Lived Here
Henry and Mary Oldenburg owned the home from 1894 to 1931. Alfred and Rosina Lee purchased the home in 1931. Lee was County Sheriff and owned a lumber yard in Carlton. Les and Helen Swanson bought the property in 1968. Leslie, a steel guitar player, began renovating the property to revive its original mystique, thus contributing to its becoming a national treasure in 2006. After Les' passing the B&B idea was birthed, with Glenn and Emily Swanson becoming the new owners, keeping it all in the family. This trio of Swansons -- Glenn, Emily and "Mama" (Helen) -- are the spices and seasoning that make visiting here so extra special.

7. Today, a Bed & Breakfast
Oldenburg House opened as a bed and breakfast in January 2013 after being certified in September 2012. Though there are at least six other B&Bs in Duluth, the Oldenburg House is the only one that sits on the edge of Eden. Several of the others are situated in East Duluth, impressive upscale homes from Duluth's early mining history. 

8. Perfect Setting for a Wedding
You cannot imagine a better place to hold your Wedding of a Lifetime. Next Sunday, September 24th from 2:00 - 5:00 pm Oldenburg House and the Swansons are hosting a Wedding Showcase featuring wedding professionals and vendors associated with making memorable wedding experiences. If you're an engaged couple who hasn't yet finalized the where and when, or related to friends and/or family who you think may one day be tying the knot, you might want to RSVP here and experience the magic first-hand.

9. Cookin' at the O in the New Carlton Room
The Carlton Room is billing itself as "a performance space with a nightclub atmosphere in a historic house and timeless setting." It's major league jazz/blues artistry and cuisine magic. Once a month "Cookin' at the O" will inspire you with certified satisfaction. There's chemistry here that has to be experienced to be believed. Yes, everything I am saying sounds a bit like hyperbole, but that's only because words are insufficient to describe what they aspire to. Next event is the weekend of September 29. There are still tickets available, here.

10. Find Your Nature
One of my favorite features of the Oldenburg story is the Motto or Slogan that Glenn and Emily have selected for the place: Find Your Nature. Like many things in life, it's what you make it. Life itself is a process of discovery. The more we learn about the world around us, the more we discover who we are. 

* * * *
Bonus Tracks
If you do happen to make is out here, Mama is a huge Minnesota Twins fan. Just letting you know.

Also, a couple years ago I came down and spent the day on one of the porches reworking one of my book manuscripts. This house is a perfect getaway for writers and artists. Again, just sayin'.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. If you need an escape, Oldenburg House is here waiting at Eden's edge.

Photos courtesy Kelly Rae Studio.