Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Clinging to Hope in East Cleveland

Always intrigued by the road less traveled, I set out once again to explore the side streets of the inner-city. The images of poverty are overwhelming and heart wrenching. Despair weeps from vandalized buildings and railroad overpasses, marked in spray-paint by the drug boys claiming their turf. Businesses, long gone, have left behind a ghost town. Suburbanites mostly avoid the area, even the numbered state routes carry very few cars during rush hour.

Yet this morning I found evidence of hope.

An elderly gentleman carries his cane and pulls a cart along a weedy Euclid Avenue sidewalk. One of the forgotten Americans, he searches the littered curbs in front of boarded-up storefronts, for aluminum cans that can be traded for cash. Tucked in the seam of his collection basket the Stars and Stripes hangs, unwaving yet proud, in the humid morning air.

Amidst an entire block of abandoned and vandalized houses, this purple home shouts praise and pride. It's facade, a work of art, has become both painted canvas and sculpture. The resident's messages of hope and love call out to neighbors and passers-by, not to be ignored.

At the end of a street emblazoned with cryptic graffiti, tags, and the aerosol warnings that one has entered gang territory, a different hand has painted a plaintive message.
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

"I perhaps owe having become a painter to flowers."
~Claude Monet
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Country Afternoon

"The berries are ripe. Did you want to come and pick?"

My sister, Suzanne, lives on a farm in Auburn Township, out Geauga County way. When she and her husband bought the old farm house back in the 90's, they inherited a prolific patch of several dozen blueberry bushes. Suzy takes loving care of the berry patch, weeding, mulching, treating the bushes with organic pest repellent, and protecting the crop from the birds and other creatures who would greedily harvest the blueberries themselves.

Berry picking, although therapeutic when working solo, is best when engaged in as a social activity. So I called my brother David, and four of us, David, Suzanne, my nephew Ryan, and I, spent a perfect July afternoon amongst the bushes; picking, tasting, talking, and laughing. That evening, I brought home a few pounds of blueberries in a huge Tupperware bowl. There are lots to eat fresh and plenty still to freeze. Now, I think I'll get back to looking up recipes.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

More Cleveland Graffiti

On Hayen Avenue in East Cleveland, neighbors repainted an abandoned corner store that had become a message board for local gangsters. Although the neighbors seem to be fighting a loosing battle against the taggers, the painted walls still add an urban coolness to this depressed neighborhood.

Looking up from the dashboard, I noticed a train stopped on the bridge ahead. One of Cleveland's best taggers left a holiday message on the side of this box car a few years ago. Ridl's graffiti transcends tagging and crosses that ambiguous line into the realm of art. I am proud to say, he is a former student, a Max Hayes alum.

How can anyone even mention Cleveland graffiti without HEK. Not the most talented but certainly the most prolific tagger in the city. He has left his mark EVERYWHERE. I understand he has recently been outed by the justice system, and is now a bonafide art criminal.

A ghost image discovered under the Detroit-Superior bridge.

No artistic talent what-so-ever, but plenty of passion.
I found this remnant of summer love on the break wall at Gordon Park.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"The world is round and the place which may seem like the end may also be only the beginning."

Ivy Baker Priest

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why Would Someone Do That?

"Hey look Tom! There's a bike hanging from that tree."

It was early spring, and we were enjoying a beautiful afternoon exploring neighborhoods on Cleveland's near west side. Driving down the hill from Tremont toward the river I spotted the bicycle, carefully hung, high in the branches of a tree next to an old garage.

"Why would anyone hang a bike in a tree?

"I dunno, but turn around I want to take a picture."

Later this summer I was out with my sister Suzanne in Bainbridge, when she asked,

"Have you ever seen the Shoe Tree?

"The what?"

Since I had no idea what she was talking about, we drove down Haskins Rd...

There it stood, glorious, in a patch of woods alongside an isolated stretch of the quiet country road, dozens of shoes nailed to an old maple tree, with several pieces of abandoned footwear lying on the ground, apparently too difficult to drive a nail through.

Why would somebody do that?

"I'm not sure, it been here for years. Somebody nailed the first shoe to the tree and then more and more shoes began to appear."

"Have you ever nailed a shoe to the tree?"

"No, but I thought about it."

Turning down East 52nd St. off of St. Clair, I noticed a portable basketball hoop set up in the street. I slowed down, just in case there might be some kids still playing around, and then I stopped, backed up, and reached for my camera in the back seat. Hanging from the overhead wires were not one, but four pairs of shoes . And, once again, I asked
"Why would someone do that?"
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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Cleveland Skyline: Things Look Lovely at a distance

Last week Tom and I had dinner at Pier W. It was one of those days the TV weatherman describes as "partly sunny with scattered showers". In between showers Tom and I strolled out onto the pier, and I just happened to have my camera. (I always have my camera these days, since I was finally convinced by my daughter to get a larger, more fashionable bag. It's amazing how much crap I can carry around now.)
I love the way the clouds above the city have parted and the how sunlight is hitting the skyline towers just right. It looks like something wonderful is about to happen.
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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Pink Prisoner

Art is where you find it.

I came across this pink flamingo peeking through the barbed wire behind an auto parts store on West 25th Street. I guess this is what happens to the ones who dare to leave the lush lawns of Parma Heights and venture into the big city.
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Classism and Arts Education: A Need for School Funding Reform in Ohio

I figured I would add one more post to the series on my summer class at the Holden Arboretum. It is more of a reflection and commentary than my other entries thus far.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the "Art and the Natural World" workshop drew teachers from all over North East Ohio, and about eight of us from the Cleveland Municipal School District. An easy camaraderie developed, and naturally, conversations were most often about our own classes and schools.

The stark difference between the CMSD teachers and those who worked anywhere else was obvious the very first day of the workshop, when we were handed sheets of copper foil to work with. While the suburban teachers were considering foil projects for their students, CMSD teachers were all muttering, "I could never afford a project like this."

The comments continued through the rest of the week:

"My school doesn't have a kiln, so we can't do ceramics."

"We have an old kiln, but no money to fix it. "

"Last year I was given a budget of only $200 to buy art supplies for the entire year."

"My principal won't let us take field trips. She says we can't afford the bus."

" Our principal won't let me take my students on a field trip. He said we can't afford to pay for a sub to cover my other classes

" We can't go outside to draw, the neighborhood is too dangerous."

"Last year I did watercolor painting with my classes. I had to buy all the paint myself, and we used copy paper instead of watercolor paper."

"I supply all the pencils for my classes, if I didn't we couldn't even draw."

The suburban teachers would each breathe a quiet comment like, "Gee, that must be tough " or "Wow, you pay for your student's supplies?" and ease away from the group with "Thank God I don't work there" looks on their faces.

When you work in a district that doesn't have money for basic supplies, you begin to make-do with what you have, and figure out ways to get what you need. A new art teacher at John Marshall High School was assigned to teach a ceramics class, (the equipment had been purchased with money from a grant written by a teacher who was transferred) but there was no money for clay. Rather than tell the administration that he couldn't teach a ceramics class without clay, he went to a creek and dug out clay and hauled it to school for his students to use. Art teachers in Cleveland will beg companies for donations, write for grants, and take money out of their own pay checks, just because we know how valuable the creative experience is.

Governor Strickland told the Cleveland City Club last week that the inequality in education funding was a priority that is being studied during 2008, his first year in office, and will be addressed in 2009 by new legislation he hopes will be approved. For the sake of Cleveland's children, and the future of this city, I hope this state's politicians can come up with a plan that will provide a fair solution . I've never understood why other states had school funding methods that worked, but Ohio couldn't figure it out. What has been the sticking point?

It seems a shame that opportunities like these, to enjoy nature and create art, have become the privilege of the suburban set.

I had hoped the American Dream was somewhat more inclusive.

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Making Art at Holden Arboretum

This week I've probably made more art than I have in any five day period of time since my undergrad days at Ohio University.

The class, Art in the Natural World, consists of approximately 25 teachers from districts across North East Ohio. Most of us are art teachers, some are elementary teachers who teach art in their classes. All week long we have participating in lessons that get us roaming around the grounds of the Holden Arboretum to find inspiration for the art we are working on that day. Each day is a different project (sometimes two or three) in a different medium.

On Monday the first lesson was the creation of a book to use as a journal for the class. The cover of the journal was decorated with a copper foil design derived from the sketches we worked on by Holden Pond that morning. I spent my time buried in a winterberry bush. I wasn't too happy with my final product, but not disgusted either.

Tuesday we talked about Green Men, and looked at various examples. We spent the later part of the morning sketching in the woods, and returned to the studio to create our own version of a Green Man in clay. Mine became a Green Woman

Wednesday was spent in the butterfly garden painting in watercolor. I couldn't decide on a flower, so I painted the field across the from the garden.

Thursday we collected material from the gardens to be used in various forms of print making. We made linoleum block prints, worked with photo paper and plant materials in the dark room, and printed off of a dead fish. Printmaking has never been my thing. I get so frustrated with the process.. I did enjoy working in the dark room though.
I'm posting these photos this morning before I head off to the last class. Today we will be working with pastels.
I've been having some very interesting conversations with teachers from other districts, and will share some of the things I've been reflecting on relating to teaching art in Cleveland. One thing I'll tell you right now ... it sucks to be a "Have Not".

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Classes at the Holden Arboretum

I'm spending the week at the Holden Arboretum taking a summer class for educators called "Art in the Natural World". Of all the education classes I've had to take over the years, I think this may be the best one ever.

Of course I brought my camera. The gardens are beautiful, and I've taken over a hundred pictures so far. Today I'm posting some snap shots of the grounds, but later this week I'll post some pictures of the class and the artwork we are producing.

There is a wonderful program for families here. This is a living display of edible plants, and plants that like to be sat upon.

If you haven't been to the Holden Arboretum, or perhaps it has been a long time, try to get out to Kirtland this summer. The wet cool weather of the past few months has everything so lush and green. You can't help but appreciate how beautiful North East Ohio is.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Summer Project - 1965 VW Beetle: Part 4 - It's in the Mail

After a week, this is what we're down to, just a shell. Everything's been stripped off and ready to be cleaned and rust-proofed.

All wrapped up like a big blue burrito, Barney waits. We've been watching the UPS tracking web site. What's taking so long for these parts to get here? Only a few nuts, bolts and grommets have arrived so far, and the left floor pan. So now Barney's got half a floor. We'll see what comes in tomorrow.

To be continued
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Miracles and Cures on Euclid Avenue

I've been traveling Euclid Avenue east of Cleveland quite a bit lately, and it seems my eyes are often drawn to the wooded hills on the south side of the road where figure of the Blessed Virgin gazes serenely down at the six lanes of traffic whizzing past. A sign beside the chain link fence declares that this is the home of the National American Shrine and Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Having a little time on my hands this week , and eager to try out my new camera, ( I had to replace the one ruined in the downpour following the Cleveland Orchestra concert on Public Square) I turned up the drive to visit this sacred destination of pilgrims.

The first time I was at the Grotto was for a field trip back in the early seventies, when I was a student at Notre Dame Academy. I recall about two hundred of my plaid-skirted classmates and I noisily exiting yellow school buses and being herded by the sisters onto the rows of wooden benches to celebrate Mass amidst the trees. Afterwards we were encouraged to walk the path leading through the woods to pray the stations of the cross, and recite the rosary as we followed the stones along Rosary Hill. Not too surprisingly, more than a few groups of girls took advantage of the privacy afforded by the leafy trails to catch a smoke rather than meditate on the sacred mysteries.

I returned again about twenty two years later, under very different circumstances.

My mother passed away suddenly in 1995, and shortly afterwards, my father suffered a mild heart attack, and was told he needed a quintuple bypass. While awaiting his surgery date, he became very sick with what was initially thought to be the flue. After several days in the hospital Dad was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. We were told he was already in the fourth stage, and had about six weeks to "get his affairs in order".

As an adult, my beliefs tended more toward biology than theology, but times of crisis often cause us to re-examine our beliefs, as we scramble to gather every last shred of hope. Desperately seeking a miracle, I remembered stories of the cures attributed to Our Lady of Lourdes, and one afternoon on my way home from visiting my father at the Cleveland Clinic, I stopped to pray at the Grotto, dip my hands in the blessed water flowing from the fountain, and light a candle at the shrine. I stood before the large glass case to the right of the shrine that displayed items donated by pilgrims who had come to the grotto to pray for cures. Letters, pictures, and news paper clippings fill the case, as well as clothing, braces and crutches. Even if there was a God of miracles, why would He listen to the prayers of someone who wasn't even sure there was a God?

A few days later, a Bosnian doctor who was doing research at the Clinic asked my father if he would be interested in participating in a study using a new experimental type of chemotherapy. If he started the chemo, and then decided it was too uncomfortable he could quit the treatment. Dad agreed.
My father has been cancer free for eleven years now.
P.S. If you look at the last picture at the bottom right hand corner, and click on the picture to enlarge it, there is a little sign in the glass case next to a leg brace that reads " Cure of Peggy Zone 1956 Leg Cured" Below the sign is a doctors affidavit of her illness and subsequent recovery. Does anyone know if this is the same Peggy Zone who is now the wife of Ohio's Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher?
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Summer Project: 1965 VW Beetle - Part 3: Bug A La Carte

" C'mon to the shop and take more picture's. Hurry!"

The Optimist's voice sounded like a kid waking up his parents on Christmas morning.
I pulled into the lot and was greeted by a what looked more like a skeleton than a car.

"Whoa!" I thought, "What the hell happened here?"

As I walked into the shop I saw the rest of the car, up above my head, on one of the lifts.

"Take some pictures before it comes down. " said Tom, " I want you to get some good shots of the inside from this angle."

To make sure the body won't shift out of alignment, Tom welded some steel rods to the Beetle's frame to brace it. Something needs to hold little Barney together when he removes the rusted heater channels.

Thursday, while other people were out celebrating Happy Hour after work, the Optimist was getting happy with a welder. Not only did he brace up the Beetle body, but he devised what could only be called a gurney, so that the body could be rolled around the shop and out of the way when all of the lifts were needed for paying customers.

Here's a picture of the body being placed on the gurney. Unlike a lot of other bodies on gurneys, the plan for this one is resurrection.
To be continued
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