Thursday, February 28, 2008

Machine Shop

I've been spending some time down at the shop with my camera, poking around in the bins full of metal, the barrels ful of scrap, and the crates filled with parts. Some of the guys proably think I'm a little weird, taking pictures inside the dumpsters. I don't blame them, it does look weird...Until you look a little closer.

Metal shavings differ from one machine to the next. Each job produces it's own unique scrap. For some reason, I am intrigued by the variety of textures, the subtle changes in color, and the way the light reflects off of the different types of metal.

Metal, once cold and unyeilding, has been transformed into fragile curls and flakes. The chips are mezmerizing, kind of like a Jackson Pollak painting. Stare too long, and one can get lost in the details.

Beauty is where you look for it. Art is where you find it.

Sometimes it can even be found on a factory floor.

Posted by Picasa

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Be Jealous

I have the time this morning to rub it in to all you regular folks...Because I'm blogging from my bed.

My Blackberry buzzed the alert at 5:45 AM just as I was grabbing my bath robe to head to the shower.
Cleveland schools have a snow day this morning!

Rather than immediately head back to bed, I grabbed my camera, aimed it out of my bedroom window, and pressed the button. Then, I crawled back under the blankets with my laptop.

Go ahead be jealous. But you chose to NOT be a teacher.

Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 24, 2008

My City was Gone.

Last month, I spent several afternoons driving around the East Side, documenting street after street of boarded up houses. Reading about the 15,000 foreclosed homes in Cleveland barely prepared me for the experience of witnessing these devastated neighborhoods firsthand.

Just as striking as the abandoned houses were the empty storefronts and the decaying factories. But the myriad vacant apartment buildings screamed the message the loudest.

"Cleveland is disappearing!"

Each empty apartment complex represents scores, or even hundreds of people who no longer live in Cleveland. The vacancies mirror the abandoned factories and the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in Cleveland.

On the right side of the page I have included a slideshow of some of the abandoned apartment buildings that I photographed last month.

Another intriguing statistic is the number of Clevelanders incarcerated outside of the city, who are counted as residents of the district where the prison is located, mostly sparsely populated rural areas. (Even though they do not vote, pay taxes, use the roads or any municipal services such as schools, libraries, etc.)

The number in the year 2002 was 10, 441 Clevelanders imprisoned in other locales.

Because the prison population is growing at an alarming rate nationwide, I am certain that you can add a couple thousand more to that number to reflect the current 2008 statistics.

Census figures show Cleveland has lost more than half of it's citizens since 1950, and nearly 7% of it's population since 2006. At 444,000 people, Cleveland ranked as the 40th largest city in the U.S.; quite a drop from being the 5th largest American city in 1920.

A Plain Dealer article last summer forecast the population decline continuing, and quoted a demographer at Cleveland State, Mark Salling, who predicted that by 2015 the number of Clevelanders will dip below 400,000.

I'm wondering if Mr. Salling took the foreclosure crisis and the booming prison-industrial complex into account at that time. I am guessing the 2010 census will reveal an even more dramatic decline in population than the Plain Dealer article predicted.

My recent wanderings through the city's neighborhoods prompt childhood memories of a vastly different Cleveland.

Not quite the idyllic town of Dick Feagler's reminiscing; I recall a city blackened by factory smoke, with a stink that sickened my stomach. It was crowded and noisy, a dangerous but exciting adventure for this suburban child, when my parents loaded us kids into the big Ford Country Squire wagon to visit my grandparents, who lived near East 131st and Miles, or my Uncle, who had a house near East 70th and Superior.

Those teaming enclaves, the neighborhoods of working class immigrants, are now deteriorating into ghost towns, whose empty and decaying buildings will soon fall victim to the demolition crews.


"I went back to Ohio but my city was gone. There was no train station, there
was no downtown. Southtown it had disappeared. All my favorite places. My city
had been pulled down, reduced to parking spaces.

Ay! Oh! Where'd you go Ohio?

I went back to Ohio, but my family was gone. I stood on the back porch, there
was nobody home. I was stunned and amazed. My childhood memories, saw this world past, like the wind through the trees."

"My City Was Gone"

The sustainability crowd dubbed Cleveland the "Green City on a Blue Lake" several years ago. With the speed I see grass and weeds fill the empty lots, which have been replacing buildings in this town, Cleveland is rapidly earning the "green" description in that eco-hopeful moniker.
What will the city look like 7-10 years from now?
Will green space eventually reclaim the old working class industrial neighborhoods, or will new development take the place of the blighted old buildings and the recently vacant property?
Will the regions' greatest asset, Lake Erie's fresh water, become even more valuable as climate change and global warming begin to spark new migration patterns away from the sun belt and back to the rust belt?
What I do know is this: The Cleveland my children, and eventually my grandchildren, will know is going to be be a very different city than the Cleveland my parents knew, or the city of my own childhood.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday, February 03, 2008

My Friend, Sidney Rackoff

Can you see it? That sparkle of delight, springing from his heart, shining through his eyes, and spreading the warmth of genuine affection to!

This is a picture of my dear friend, Rabbi Sidney Rackoff, taken when we met for coffee one morning a few weeks ago, at Phoenix on Lee Road in Cleveland Heights. It had been over a year since I had seen him, so we had much catching up to do.

I wrote about Sid several years ago (Click here to read the post), and wanted to write about him again, now that I have redesigned my blog and can share photo images with you. I have heard they are worth a thousand words, which saves me a whole lot of time pecking at this keyboard.

The renowned sculptor, Fred Schmidt, introduced me to Sid when I first began teaching at Max Hayes High School. Fred had invited my art students, who were also studying welding, to visit his Cleveland studio were he fabricated his monumental works of stainless steel. The kids were so excited and inspired by his sculpture, that Fred took me aside and said.

"You need to give my friend, Sid Rackoff, a call. He uses recycled scrap metal in his work, and I'm sure he would be happy to talk with your students. His technique is more affordable for the kids who would like to create art using their welding skills."

He handed me a phone number on a slip of paper.

I met with Sid and his wife at his home in Cleveland Heights the following week. They graciously showed me some of the artwork they kept in the house and, pulling an album off of a shelf, looked through photographs as we talked about the early years of his sculpting career, which he began at the age of 60.

He readily agreed to come out to the school and talk with the kids, while his wife shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"There he goes again."

Turning to him she fussed, "Now remember you aren't as young as you used to be."

Back to me she continued, "I worry about his health. He takes on too many projects."

Sid just smiled and said "I'll see you Wednesday."

He came to the school the folowing week, with his leather jacket, mask,tools, and a crate full of scrap metal. I just wanted him to talk to the kids, he immediately put them to work.

That was seven years ago.

Sid is eighty nine now, and still making sculpture in his Willoughby studio.

These open arms bid welcome to all who enter Max Hayes High School. Sid's sculptures can also be found at several other schools as well as gracing the lawns and entrances of various businesses and civic institutions around North East Ohio. One of his sculptures is a part of the permanent collection at the Butler museum in Youngstown.

Sid never sells his art. Instead, he is happy to loan his sculptures to anyone who would like to display them for other people to enjoy. The sculptures in the photo below can be seen in front of the Recovery Resources building on Chester Avenue in Cleveland.

This last picture is a very large figure of a welder on display in Niles, Ohio.

It is my favorite of all Sid's pieces, since it was welding that brought him into my life and the lives of my students.

Over the few years we have known each other, he has been an inspiration to me as well as sympathetic listener and wise couselor. I feel quite blessed to be able to call him my friend.

Posted by Picasa