Monday, September 29, 2008

Afternoon at the Zoo

It was one of those weekends that happen every now and again, where you say “We should do something…but what?”
On such occasions I like to play tourist, grab the camera, and explore Cleveland by the guide book. There are so many interesting things to do in this city.
“How about the zoo?” Tom offered.
“Wow, I haven’t been there for a long time. When was the last time you went to the zoo?” I asked.
He rubbed the goatee on his chin and thoughtfully answered, “I think it’s been about thirty years.”
It was a perfect zoo day. A mid-morning drizzle insured light attendance for this early autumn Sunday. The sky was a little overcast, and the cooler temperatures meant the animals would be a bit more active than they are on hot, sunny afternoons. Cleveland Metro Parks Zoo is truly a beautiful place to wander. The landscaping is lovely, and the exhibits are well planned, and quite informative.
Young parents pushed strollers and herded children along the pathways, stopping at each pen to roar, squeal, or whistle relentlessly, trying to get the creature to pay attention. Usually the animals ignored the obnoxious humans, some hiding in the corners of their enclaves, noses to the wall.
Zoos always make me a little sad.

I know, I know… many of the animals are endangered, and their chances for survival and procreation in the wild are shaky in this day and age of climate change, environmental poisoning, and the encroachment of man. But to see these noble beasts confined to such tight quarters, pacing back and forth, like frustrated claustrophobics; it tore at my sympathetic soul.

The silverback gorillas were the most heart-breaking of all. Their faces, so close to human, looked almost annoyed as they stared through the thick partition at the visitors who pressed their noses to the super strong Plexiglas. Innocent prisoners, on display for our entertainment, they sit hour after hour on concrete ledges designed to simulate the rocky terrain of a mountain habitat.
I wondered if they ever dream of freedom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Shop Talk

"When you're making chips, you're making money."

That's the mantra of the machine shop, and Cleveland area component manufacturers have been filling up the chip bins.

Surprised? Cleveland has been bleeding manufacturing jobs for years, high labor rates in the states, and free trade legislation have decimated the industry, right?


The first rule of entreprenuership: misfortune for some means opportunity for others.

As component manufacturing began moving offshore to take advantage of the incredibly low labor rates, many local business owners threw up their hands and closed up their shops, saying, "We just can't compete."
The remaining die-hard companies asked the question, "How do we become more efficient?"
By taking advantage of new technology and automation, smart manufacturers were able to not only decrease labor costs, but dramatically increase production. Not only were they able to keep work here, but some jobs were even brought BACK from overseas factories. With less local competition, many of these businesses find themselves in the enviable position of needing to expand their operations.

Alas, every silver lining has a cloud. Automation requires highly skilled technicians, adept at math and computer programming. Employers who invested in education for their workers were able to survive. The problem now is some of these folks would like to retire, but there aren't enough young people to take their places. Companies are poaching technicians from each other.
I understand there may be a whole lot of folks in the banking and finance industry who will be back in the job market soon. I'm thinking they should look to the manufacturing sector for retraining. We could really use them.
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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Artist Market at St Josaphat Hall

This morning I stopped by St Josaphat Hall on East 33rd street to preview the first annual Sparx in the City Artist Market, sponsored by Convivium 33 Gallery owner, Alenka Banco.

Artists do indeed accumulate wonderful things, and this eclectic sale showcases the treasured hoards of a number of creative Clevelanders who are willing to part with their collections of tchotchkes, antiques, and furniture at bargain prices.

Make sure you schedule a stop at the Artist Market this weekend as you check out the rest of the galleries and artist studios during the Sparx Gallery Hop.

September 20-21, 2008(Sparx in the City Weekend) from 10am-5pm
Artists have the coolest junk/stuff!
Convivium33 Gallery at Josaphat Arts Hall has invited artists to sell their wears/wares during Cleveland's Sparx in the City Weekend.
On Saturday, September 20 and Sunday, September 21, 2008.
The naive at Josaphat's will become the Artists' Market.
Doors open at 10am with early admittance at 8:30am to dealers/public for a $5.00 donation.
(100% of admittance fee will go to to support the Art Department at: Max S. Hayes High School/Cleveland Metropolitan School District)
No admittance fee during regular hours from 10am-5pm.
So...whether you are looking for art, clothing, furniture, etc. it should be fun!
Cool Junk, Cool Neighborhood- The Quarter!
For additional information: vendor Please email
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Friday, September 19, 2008

Teaching Conceptual Art

"Anyone here an artist?" I ask. A few hands go up.

"Anyone here who would rather be taking a different class?"A few hands go up again.

"Who thinks the class could be cool, but are not sure if you'll be any good at it?" Almost all the hands go up."

"Now that's encouraging." I smile.

Most high school visual art programs are elective courses, offering a traditional arts foundation curriculum. The kids who sign up for the classes have an interest in drawing, painting, sculpture, printing, or photography.

Because Max Hayes is an industrial trades school, many of the students I teach come into my class with no desire to become artists, and even less desire to make art. You see, all students must have 1 fine arts credit to graduate in the state of Ohio, and I am the only arts teacher in the building - no music, dance, or drama here. In order to make art relevant to the kids studying auto tech, construction, or machining, I've learned to take a very different approach to the arts curriculum. I focus on art as concept, and the artist as communicator and visual problem solver.

This year, I began my course with a poem by the artist who created Cleveland's "Free Stamp", Claes Oldenburg. The poem, titled simply "Statement" , is a long reflection on the idea of art as concept.
It begins:

"I am for an art that is political-erotical-mystical, that does something other
than sit on its ass in a museum.

I am for an art that grows up not knowing it is art at all, an art given the chance of having a starting point of zero.

I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap and still comes out on top.

I am or an art that imitates the human, that is comic, if necessary, or violent, or
whatever is necessary.

I am for an art that takes its form from the lines of life itself, that twists and extends and accumulates and spits and drips, and is heavy and coarse and blunt and sweet and stupid as life itself.

I am for an artist who vanishes, turning up in a white cap painting signs or hallways.

I am for an art that comes out of a chimney like black hair and scatters in the sky..."

After looking at more prints of Oldenburg's sculptures, depicting everyday objects treated as icons and transformed into monuments, I asked the students to come up with a few "I am for art..." sentences of their own. Here are some examples:

"I am for art that fools a mosquito into the light, but is betrayed and hits the earth like a comet."

"I am for art that makes a fat lady seem small when she smiles."

"I am for art that has no thought nor expression, free of emotion, yet little discretion."

"I am for artists who sit in the dark and paint."

"I am for the art of monsters in my closet and secrets hidden under the bed."

"I am for art that grinds through life on a skate board, and I ain't talkin' lupe fiasco."

"I am for art that tickles my skin."

"I am for art that claims my life story through powerful words of my poetry."

"I am for the art of love between 2 teens whose love is doubted by parents."

"I am for art that is 'hood."

"I am for art that helps old ladies cross the street."

"I am for art that doesn't exist."

"I am for art that makes you think"

Hm-mm...I'm thinking, they "get it".

I'm forever fascinated by the number of kids who are eager to share their poetry with me. Once they know I'm interested, the old spiral bound notebooks and scraps of lined paper filled with verse are retrieved from closets and under beds and timidly placed in my hands in between classes. Teenage love songs, family tragedies, neighborhood violence, and tales of adolescent angst, I read them all without criticism. One young machinist even asked if he could bring his guitar to school and play for us, while the class illustrated their statements on long strips of donated, factory remnant, poster-board.
"Of course!" And so after many months of practice he finally had an audience.
I am for an art that gives the soul a voice.
An advocate of experiential learning, I like to take advantage of Cleveland's vibrant arts community and bring working artists into the school, take my students out to explore urban galleries, view public art in our neighborhood, and visit local artists in their studios. Last week, I took a group of kids to the Rock Hall for a presentation on Woodstock and album cover art, stopping by Claes Oldenburg's Free Stamp along the way. Next week we are going to SPACES gallery to view the "Bilingual" show and meet Cleveland painter Michelangelo Lovelace.
Our school is fortunate to be located on an RTA main route, so close to downtown. We can go all kinds of places for the price of a bus ticket.
I believe my students need to experience art beyond the walls of my classroom. If what they learn about art while they are in high school is confined to a few school projects, they will have a very limited education indeed.
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Summer Project: 1965 VW Beetle - Part 9

Take a look at these before and after pictures. Two months ago, Barney was nothing but a dangerous rust-bucket with gaping holes in the floor and a body slowly succumbing to the inevitable corrosion that results from driving the salted streets of the snowy Mid-west.

The Optimist was certain the Beetle would be on the road by the end of August...make that September...well, October for sure. Hey, I still think this bad-boy has come a long way in a short time, considering it has been a project delegated to spare-moment status.

The doors are finally on, and Tom has been sanding and smoothing the surface this week, getting ready for the first coat of primer.

Of course, the fenders still haven't arrived yet, the dealer has them back-ordered, but the bug is masked off and ready to be painted.

Hurry up... and wait. That's our mantra.

To be continued...

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Friday, September 12, 2008

Bad Behavior

The red truck suddenly swerved into my lane, as I sat patiently waiting for the line of oncoming traffic to pass so I could make my left hand turn.
My eyes opened wide at the imminent impact. But before I gasped, I could see the driver laughing at my startled expression and he quickly returned to his side of the street.
I looked in my rear-view mirror, and saw the man craning his neck to look back at me, alone in the cab, shoulders shaking with laughter and a sadistic grin stretched across his face.
"That is one sick human being." I thought as I made my turn and continued toward home
Over the course of my career, I've worked with many young people who suffered with emotional and behavioral disorders, as well as severe mental illnesses. These kids struggle daily with the chemical imbalances that play havoc on their brains. Fortunately, we live in a day and age of medical miracles, and many of these students find balance with the proper medication.
Teachers who work in schools having significant populations of children who are diagnosed with these types of disorders, become quite adept at determining which behaviors are merely symptoms of their condition and, while disruptive, can be tolerated with sympathy, and which manifestations call for removal of the student. Wisdom as well as discernment come with experience. Over the years, I notice I've become a far more patient teacher than I was as a rookie, especially when it comes to kids who can't focus, or have energy levels that range from extremely low, to obnoxiously high. I've learned to roll, in a manner of speaking. When I make a conscious effort not to get upset, I find I am a much happier person.
Last week a colleague shared an experience he had that morning as he walked into the school office, and a student deliberately stuck out his foot in an attempt to make the teacher trip.
"My immediate reaction was anger," he confided, " but when I looked at the boys face, I could tell there was something wrong with the young man mentally, and suddenly my anger became compassion. I could only feel sorry for him, because at some point, he must have seen a comedy where a person was tripped, and all he could think of was that tripping somebody is funny. "
This man is a new, second career teacher, and I smiled, thinking how lucky we are to have added such a talented, thoughtful, and kind member to our faculty.
Tolerance should have it's limits though. Where I personally draw the line is with the true sociopaths. These are people who have absolutely no regard for the feelings of others - the bullies. I meet a few of them every year in my classroom; just plain mean kids who find entertainment in the misery and humiliation of their chosen victims. They are usually not students who have been diagnosed with special needs. In fact, most of these kids (girls as well as boys) are normal, even bright. The seemingly innate cruelty baffles me. I often find myself wondering how these personalities develop. Do they also suffer from some chemical quirkiness, or are their attitudes a reflection of their home lives?
Unfortunately, school house bullies grow up to become adult sociopaths. Sometimes, a few years down the road I will read their names in the crime section of the metro pages. However, most of the time they refine their bullying and quietly become our neighbors, have families, and get jobs.
And sometimes they buy red trucks and terrorize women stopped at traffic lights.
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Summer Project - 1965 VW Beetle: Part 8

Finally! Another update for you Beetle maniacs.

The day Tom drove the little blue bug home, I called the car a "Flintstone mobile" since there were holes in the floor-pan so huge one could literally drop their feet through and skid on the road, just like Fred and Barney did in Bedrock when they put on the "brakes". Of course, that was the day I named the Volkswagen "Barney".

Well, now take a look at that nice solid bottom. It's been coated and re-coated, and coated a few more times with Rustoleum. Winters here in the rust belt can be rough on sheet metal.

Speaking of paint. The underside of the Beetle body is sporting a fresh new coat of Sea Blue. The color is much prettier than I could imagine when I first saw the faded blue bug sitting in that weedy back lot in a couple months ago. Every inch of this car will be repainted. After all this effort to restore the little guy, we want him to last.

The last bolt gets tightened, and the body is back on the chassis. To our great relief, it fits. Even The Optimist was a little nervous about things lining up just right after removing the old heater channels, but it looks like the braces he welded in did the trick. Barney's got his wheels back.
I had to leave right after this momentous event, but I hear the doors are reattached, the steering is working and the fenders have been ordered. It looks like Barney's next photo shoot will be of a car instead of a carcass.
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Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sparx in the City Artist Market to benefit Max Hayes Art Deparment

Many thanks to Alenka Banco for her generous effort to support arts education at Max S. Hayes High School.

Tour the Cleveland art scene during the Sparx in the City gallery hop next weekend. Whether you ride Lolly the Trolly or make your own agenda, please come check out the gorgeous Convivium 33 Gallery and do a bit of treasure hunting at the St. Josaphat Hall Artists' Market.


September 20-21, 2008
(Sparx in the City Weekend) from 10am-5pm

Artists have the coolest junk/stuff!

Convivium33 Gallery at Josaphat Arts Hall has invited artists to sell their wears/wares during Cleveland's Sparx in the City Weekend.

On Saturday, September 20 and Sunday, September 21, 2008.

The naive at Josaphat's will become the Artists' Market.

Doors open at 10am with early admittance at 8:30am to dealers/public for a $5.00 donation.

(100% of admittance fee will go to to support the Art Department at: Max S. Hayes High School/Cleveland Metropolitan School District)

No admittance fee during regular hours from 10am-5pm.

So...whether you are looking for art, clothing, furniture, etc. it should be fun!

Cool Junk, Cool Neighborhood- The Quarter!

For additional information: vendor Please email

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Saturday, September 06, 2008

We must be Hatched or go Bad

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
C.S. Lewis
Can Cleveland's leadership break from the status quo shell of "the way business is done in this town" and truly embrace the visionary, or has the culture of greed, corruption, and fear irreparably corroded this place?
As I wander the decaying neighborhoods of my city, I sadly watch the carrion lurking to profit from poverty's misery, but recently I have also begun to see emerging signs of new life. Yes, the grass has been burned, but the community roots are sending up new shoots. It is my hope that a fresh breed of civic leaders might also spring from these places. Young leaders who will combine vision and innovation with compassion, common sense, and the courage to break out of the shell that has constrained this city for too long.
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Thursday, September 04, 2008

Max Hayes Cruise-In

My post today is an unabashed promotion for Max Hayes High School's Fall "Cruise-In".
Saturday, September 20, 2008 the parking lot at Max S. Hayes Career and Technical School will be host to customs, classics, hot-rods and specialty cars from the Greater Cleveland area.
The Spring Classic Car show was such a success, and so much fun, the participants couldn't wait to come back. So this month the cars and the crowds return to Max Hayes.
If you have a cool ride, cruise on in and join the party. This one is free! No registration required.
Click on the YouTube link below to check out a video of the Spring 2008 event.
Max Hayes is located at 4600 Detroit Avenue. For more information call (216) 631-1528
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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Back to School 2008

Although the official start of school was August 28th, the wacky schedules of the first couple days which accommodate orientation assemblies and extended homerooms, along with the relatively high percentage of Cleveland families who will not send their children to school until after Labor Day, my classes don't begin to get rolling until the first week of September.
The first drawing exercise I give my students each year is a diagnostic tool used by art therapists. I ask my students to draw a picture, or pictures, of where they live and who they live with. I use the drawings to assess their skill level, of course, but I can also learn some very helpful things about their backgrounds, developmental levels, and emotional relationships.
The teen years for many students are traumatic, and as the shooting incident at Willoughby demonstrated yesterday, some kids can become so distraught they become a danger to themselves and other people. The more we as adults can do to become aware of individuals who may be going through an emotional crisis, or the early stages of a serious mental illness, the safer we all will be.
Perhaps best strategy for security in schools has always been the relationships we build with our students.
And those relationships begin on day one.
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Monday, September 01, 2008

Grease, Sugar, and the Gorilla Girl

The voicemail was clear and succinct, "Summer's almost over. I need festival food."
There was an urgency in Susan's tone that demanded an immediate call back.
"I need elephant ears. I need a funnel cake. I need food on a stick!" After weeks of strict dieting and a systemic cleanse, my best friend looked fabulous, but was craving grease and sugar like a junkie.
"The Geauga County Fair is this week," I offered "Can you wait until Saturday?"

Tom, Susan, and I made the 45 minute drive to Burton, giddily throwing the GPS wench into a tech tizzy, by asking for directions then purposely taking alternative routes. You see, we were in MY old stomping grounds, Geauga, the sixteen townships which made up the 'hood of my youth. I grew up in Auburn, located in the southern part of the county, and like most rural kids back in the early '70s, participated in 4-H. The 4-H exhibits are still a major component of the Great Geauga County Fair, with horse shows, livestock auctions, sheep shearing, and milking demonstrations drawing large crowds of fascinated suburbanites

"Gabora the Gorilla Girl! Watch her change before your eyes from a beautiful girl into a terrifying gorilla! Guaranteed Alive! Only $2.00!"

How could anyone resist?

Well, Tom could. He stood beside the tent grinning and shaking his head while Susan and I, seduced by the campiness, forked over our money and entered the dark tent where we waited with about twenty other affectionados of midway marvels.

Soon a puffy faced barker appeared, beginning his shpiel with "Please put away your cameras." Not only did I ignore the directive, but I snapped his picture. Soon a bored redhead appeared inside a stage-crafted cage, while the puffy-faced man told the story of her capture from the dark continent. As the lights dimmed further a projector aimed on the transparent screen she stood behind began to metamorphose the fair maiden into a hairy beast. A sudden bang, a puff of smoke, and a flash of red light was followed by a man in a gorilla suit cavorting about the stage, while the puffy-faced barker shouted "Run for your lives! Gabora has escaped! Please exit at the rear of the tent."

"Oh look Sue!" I pointed "Myrna the Mermaid. The tiny girl who lives in a goldfish bowl. And it's only a dollar."

"I've seen that one before." Susan laughed "You get what you pay for. It's a sea monkey."

The Great Geauga County Fair has something for everyone. From apple pies to giant zucchini, hot air balloons and demolition derbies, square dancers and tractors. You can buy a new lawn mower, listen to the Geauga Fair Band play old show tunes, or pet an alpaca. Most important of all for our happy little troop, you can eat just about anything ever concocted that can be served on a stick, raise your blood sugar, or elevate your cholesterol.

I can't think of a better way to end the summer.

Check out the sidebar for more Fair photos.
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