Lessons in Art and Piano

Pure exhaustion made me miss my “Focus on Black” post last Friday, so I’m posting this morning to avoid the same mistake this week.

Today, I’m using children’s art to “introduce” African American artist Romare Bearden.  Even though Bearden is far from an “unknown” artist, few people know who I’m talking about when I reference his work:

Considered one of the most important American artists of the 20th century, Romare Bearden’s artwork depicted the African-American culture and experience in creative and thought provoking ways. Born in North Carolina in 1912, Bearden spent much of his career in New York City. Virtually self-taught, his early works were realistic images, often with religious themes. He later transitioned to abstract and Cubist style paintings in oil and watercolor. He is best known for his photomontage compositions made from torn images of popular magazines and assembled into visually powerful statements on African-American life.  -from Biography.com

Last year, my favorite (now retired) second grade teacher, Mrs. Crarey, introduced her students to Bearden’s work. They studied his art, noted his interest in jazz music–which influenced some of his art–learned about his collage technique and then created their own Bearden-esque masterpieces. [Click an image for a closer look]

The children used rulers, pencils, Sharpies, crayons, and markers to imitate Bearden’s collage style. As you can see, they used piano keys patterns for their borders.

I pretty much love everything Bearden created.  The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou is my favorite, probably because it was the masterpiece that inspired African American playwright August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson, one of my favorite plays.

The piece was inspired by jazz pianist Mary Lou Williams who collaborated with Bearden’s wife, Nannette, on a musical and dance composition.  If you are familiar with Henri Matisse’s The Piano Lesson and The Music Lesson, you will see his influence on the work as well.

There are two versions of the work–the original:

Romare Bearden’s  “The Piano Lesson: Homage to Mary Lou” (popularly known as “The Piano Lesson”). Watercolor, acrylic, graphite and printed paper collage on paper.

And a signed lithograph:

Romare Bearden, “The Piano Lesson,” Lithograph

For more about Bearden’s life and influences, click the links below:

The Bearden Foundation’s page features more resources such as a timeline and an impressive collection of Romare Bearden’s artwork.

Until next time…

An “African” Christmas Party

“Gateway to Africa Tree”

Every year the university at which I teach hosts an elaborate “themed” Christmas party. Faculty, staff, and administrators dress according to theme, compete for prizes in some cases (like the ugliest sweater contest one year and the talent competition another year). Photo booths, craft stations, excellent music, door prizes, food, and “the envelope” that reveals our Christmas bonus are “staples” of the event. This year there was even a massage station and a cash bonus in addition to our regular bonus!

The team that coordinates the event always does an extraordinary job transforming the university’s skating rink into an amazing reflection of the theme, but this year’s theme, “Gateway to Africa” ousted my former favorite, “New York, New York.” I was thoroughly thrilled when I entered the party yesterday because I love African art and textiles.

Take a look at what I managed to capture [click an image for a closer look]:

The tree was decorated with African flags, fabric, masks, and ornaments in the shape of the continent:

The displays featured African clothing, art, baskets, and other items.

Everything was beautiful!

For faculty, the party marks the beginning of the holiday break. We submit grades on Monday, party Tuesday, and then recuperate from Fall Semester and rest up for January.

And so winter vacation begins…

Creative Conundrum

I’m on break for seven more glorious days (including the weekend). I desperately need a mental break, so I’m trying not to slip into my old “Thanksgiving Break” habit of spending the entire time grading papers, catching up, and updating my grade book.

There is a pile of books on the floor in my crafting space, paint, ink, and a bin of stamps begging for attention–not to mention the words, words, words in my head needing to come out!

So many things to get into, so little time.  But…I’m determined to get my hands stained with ink and paint and stuck to something this week.

What about you? Are you planning any creative adventures this week?


Get Up and See!

Today is my birthday!

Normally, I spend the days leading up to my very own day contemplating the past months and making plans for the the days ahead.  My “New Year’s resolutions” begin October 2, not January 1. Not so this year. The last couple of weeks have been filled with anxiety, noise, and internal clutter, and I haven’t been able to grasp the calm I need to get the internal work done. It did not help to wake up in the wee morning hours to the horrible news of an attack in Vegas.

But I am grateful. To be alive (I’m familiar with the alternative). To be well (for the most part). To be accepted. To be showered with love (and brownies, every now and then). For the many, many good people and experiences my many days have brought to me.

Exactly five years ago one of these good people–at that time a new friend–gave me a beautiful card for my birthday. Because it “lives” on my desk, I see it frequently, but today I took a moment to appreciate it again.

“Rita Dove,” detail of The Furious Flower Portrait Quilt, 2004. Mixed media collage on canvas. Artist: Malaika Favorite

The portrait of U.S. Poet Laureate (1993-95) Rita Dove is part of a 24-poet/panel masterpiece by mixed media artist Malaika Favorite which honors the history of African American poetry. The work was commissioned for Furious Flower, a conference held every decade (since 1994), that celebrates, stimulates, and encourages African American poetry and poetic voices.

Dove’s poem, “Dawn Revisited,” from her collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks, is printed on the back of the card.

Imagine you wake up
with a second chance: The blue jay
hawks his pretty wares
and the oak still stands, spreading

glorious shade. If you don’t look back,

 the future never happens.
How good to rise in sunlight,
in the prodigal smell of biscuits –
eggs and sausage on the grill.

The whole sky is yours

 to write on, blown open
to a blank page. Come on,
shake a leg! You’ll never know
who’s down there, frying those eggs,
if you don’t get up and see.
The poem is the swift kick in the butt I need to “shake a leg” and get things done!  Please excuse me while I get up and see…

Rumi: The Guest House

Artwork by Chante Marie

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī
translated by Coleman Barks

Monday Blues with the Moon Goddess

Since today is a holiday in the USA, I replaced my usual Monday blues with some other blues.

“Painted Snail”

Christine B. sent this cool painted snail postcard with well wishes for the start of the academic year. She found the card at Snailmailcool, which is all about “old school” mail–“putting it in a mailbox…so the recipient can open it, read it, save it…treasure it.”

“Swimming with Dolphins,” Mixed Media Mandala by Judi Rose

Do you see the tiny dolphins in the center of the mandala? They swam all the way from Albany, Western Australia, thanks to Nyima. Since we met, Nyima and I have noted the synchronicity of our encounters.  Even our names are synchronous–her name, given to her by a Tibetan lama while on a spiritual journey, means sun; mine means moon. It was not so surprising, then, that I received her soothing blue dolphins the same day I received Christine’s blue snail.

She addressed me as “Moon Goddess” in the card and expressed wishes for “much joy, love, and happiness–today and every day.”

Nyima creates stunning mandalas, under the name Judi Rose Art. You can see more of her art via Facebook and Instagram.

“Autumn Blues” by Tara Kamiya

Of course, this Monday holiday required taking a little quiet time, gazing out of my home office window, watching the butterflies play, and updating my everyday ARC for autumn. My friend Cy gifted this divider and matching stickers to me last autumn. She purchased them from Tara Kamiya who designs and sells planner goodies.

Since it wouldn’t be a proper bluesy Monday without music, I leave you with some music for Tuesday–in case the other kind of blues are deferred till you return to work tomorrow:

Have a cool blue day!

Look for the Gift

Do you remember my student, Chante Marie?

She’s leaving in a week to pursue her music career! Needless to say, I’m so proud of her. I know “just going for it” can be a scary venture, but Chante has a beautiful gift and spirit and she’ll be more than okay.

She and her hubby (they’re such a cute couple) dropped by my office yesterday and brought gifts—a lighthouse postcard, which I’ll share later, and a journal. Chante did not give me a journal to fill with words, but she gave me her very own art journal—filled from cover to cover with her art and brief musings!

Dream: Chante’s Art Book

This is such a precious gift. I am speechless.

During the drive to school and work this morning my son and I talked about the importance of looking for the gift in each day. Life can be, well…life. Something might happen during the course of the day that “knocks the wind” out of us—an injustice, an unkindness, a failure, a disappointment. Some days we’re knocked down before we can recover from the last blow, and sometimes we feel like we can’t “catch a break.”

A page from Chante’s Art book

Even on those days when it’s a struggle to lift our heads, there’s a gift waiting for us.

Sometimes the gift is tangible—a flower, a letter, a beautiful art journal, or a hug when needed. Sometimes, it’s intangible—the beauty of another’s soul, the sighting of a hummingbird, a painted sky, the good feeling that comes from doing well, a phone call that comes just when needed, or the sudden appearance of someone who just crossed your mind.

Actively seeking the gift works to rescue us from slipping into a mundane pattern of doing and getting and merely tolerating life. It saves us from cynicism and from fretting over trifles.

Fly Away: A page from Chante’s art book

Chante’s gift provided that for me yesterday and continues to bless me today. She gave me more than a physical journal; she also gave (part of) her soul journey. The intangible expressed through the tangible makes a very powerful gift.

 

Join me in making a habit of looking for the gift in each day. If you need a little help, check out my penfriend Beckra’s blog: Every Day, One Good Thing.

Be sure to collect a few gifts from Chante’s IG and blog too!

Ciao!