When teen pop idols Davy Jones and Don Grady died, I wrote tributes to both of them. When a pantheon of greatness like Roger Ebert dies, it is a bigger challenge to write a worthy piece. Roger Ebert is as synonymous with Chicago as Oprah Winfrey, Vienna Beef hot dogs, Wrigley Field, Deep-dish pizza, and Studs Terkel. Roger Ebert made me proud to be a native Chicagoan – I took other aspects of the city for granted, but never Roger Ebert. He was without a doubt the greatest film critic that ever lived. There have been others of considerable talent – the legendary Pauline Kael at the front of that list, but Ebert wrote in a natural, conversational style without any pretense. How is it possible to be so knowledgeable about film without sounding pedantic or pretentious? I think many of his colleagues hit it right on the head – Ebert was just a regular Joe at the core – a chubby, bespectacled, brainy geek from downstate Illinois. And he basically stayed that way despite fame, acclaim, and fortune. Think about it – he probably met more famous movie stars and directors than any person on earth – even Barbara Walters, yet never came off as elitist or snobby. Here are a few tributes to Ebert from his Chicago buddies/colleagues: Neil Steinberg Rick Kogan Richard Roeper Jim Emerson Dan Gire I first discovered the powerful magic of movies when at age 10, I found it difficult to tear myself away from Some Like it Hot – we were going to meet my dad at the Chicago Auto Show and had to leave the house before it was over. But my earliest memory harkens back to the age of 3 or 4 – very vague and I cannot remember the film, but a little girl who was paralyzed etched an indelible image…
This article is dedicated to Linda W., a generous collector who donated her entire matchbook collection to me after reading my previous blog on this subject: Matchbooks Spark The Unearthing of Long Forgotten Histories. The matches in this blog were selected from her collection – some for their visual appeal and others for the sagas that accompany the now shuttered establishments. I had no idea that Carson Pirie Scott had restaurants at O’Hare Airport until I looked at this matchbook. In fact, Carson Pirie Scott operated two restaurants at O’Hare Airport. They were both located in a building that connected Terminals 2 and 3. The formal restaurant, Seven Continents, was located on the building’s upper level and the casual cafeteria called the Tartan Tray was on the main level.
Just before I lost my high level position as director of communications for a national medical association in mid-June 2011, I read Just Kids by Patti Smith. In the darkest days after losing my job, I found inspiration and salvation in Patti Smith’s words. Just Kids also sparked a rediscovery of her groundbreaking music, but with a more appreciative, mature ear than I had at RISD when my freshman roommate played Horses day and night. Her cutting-edge punk rock music was a bit too hard for me back then, but listening to it some 30 years later made me fully comprehend the sheer genius and depth of her musical poetry. Below is a collage I created in homage to Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe that I exhibited in a group show at Studio 659. During my depths of despair, I played several Patti Smith songs over and over as if I was once again a young adult coming of age. Well, I guess in essence I did go through a rebirth of sorts spurred on by losing my high-paying job. Having more time on my hands enabled me to get back to my fine art and exhibiting my work. Gloria, Dancing Barefoot, People Have the Power, and the brilliant Horses among other songs inspired this burst of creativity … that continues to this day. While I haven’t had a major solo gallery show, I feel promise looming on the horizon.
Much has been written about the history of postcards and there are a plethora of websites, collector’s clubs, blogs, and books on the subject. The earliest known picture postcard dates back to 1840. It was a hand-painted design on a card, sent in London to the writer Theodore Hook with a penny black stamp. A rather eclectic postcard collection is among the many treasures I have accumulated over the years. Easy to store in one large shoe box, I take these out on occasion as inspiration for my collages. I have yet to sell any of this collection, but really have no attachment except for a few postcards that evoke long-lost personal memories. Some of these postcards date back to my youth – a few are vintage late 1890s-early 1900s. I have fond memories of riding my bike as a young teenager to Archie’s Coins in Edgebrook and buying a few really cool antique postcards for pennies. I also have an attachment to beautiful, early handcolored photographic postcards bought in 1979 at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris – my first trip to Europe.
A few months ago I embarked on the rather difficult task of helping my elderly parents rid themselves of 53 years worth of amassed stuff in their home. A longtime art collector, my dad has a rather impressive collection that theoretically (depending on the fickle art market) will contribute to a very nice inheritance for my two sisters and I. However, it is not the art that has fueled my desire to analyze the psychology behind collecting. As the daughter of a psychoanalyst, it is very tempting to delve into this subject and learn WWFS in the process – that is, What Would Freud Say? I am guessing it is your mother’s fault, but we’ll see. In any case, in cleaning my parents’ home, I have uncovered a lifetime of junk and a few goodies, including: Rusty tools and hardware that is worthless Ancient papers that should have been shredded decades ago An old suburban bus schedule, circa 1964 A huge stockpile of Ace bandages, gauze pads, band-aids and other assorted first aid items that would make Clara Barton jealous A nearly full box of Tampax tampons circa 1950s that I actually sold on eBay Tons of traditional camera parts such as filters, meters, lens caps/hoods, film splicers, but it appears these have little value on the secondary market An Abercrombie & Fitch pocket warmer NIB, circa 1950s that I sold on eBay An old reel of metal/rubber weather-stripping, circa 1960s that I transformed into a funky art piece that is currently in the Crest Hardware Art Show A leather Hasselblad case for one of my dad’s classic Hasselblads sold long ago – I sold this on eBay to a European collector
Amulet: an object intended to bring good luck or protection to its owner. Talisman: an object held to act as a charm to avert evil and bring good fortune. Fetish: an object regarded with awe as being the embodiment or habitation of a potent spirit or as having magical potency. I have always been fascinated by talismans and good luck charms, but strictly from a visual standpoint. It is hard to believe that anyone would put so much stock in a trinket or charm, but throughout history this has been the case. My obsession with these symbols began as a young child when I bought my first rabbit’s foot. I was entranced with the dyed pink, turquoise, purple, and yellow varieties and the little claws poking out of the fur, as well as the attached solid brass key fob and chain. It is believed that this good luck charm harkens back to 600 B.C. among Celtic people. While I find the origins of this good luck amulet fascinating, as a child I simply liked the way the rabbit’s foot looked. When I was painting figuratively back in the early 1980s, I adorned several of my subjects with a trompe l’oeil rabbit’s foot, attempting to blend a Renaissance look with contemporary punk in my portraits.
On many an occasion, Betsy and I have been delighted about how our interests and experiences with candy, toys and pop culture have coincided, despite having grown up in very different circumstances. Numerous times we have brought up the subject of Sid and Marty Krofft and the psychedelic Saturday morning shows they created. Last weekend I discovered that all 17 episodes of H.R. Pufnstuf were available on Netflix. So Sunday morning when we sat down to eat breakfast I fired up the Roku box to watch the first episode. I guess our expectations and memories of the show were quite different since we had last seen it more than 40 years ago. I tried to keep in mind that I was just 10 years old when I first saw it, but I still sat there in disbelief at how BAD it was. Betsy and I glanced at each other numerous times to communicate our astonishment.
When personified, there is something about rabbits and bunnies that can be downright creepy … eliciting a similar reaction as clowns do. This morning on ABC7 Chicago News, a viewer shared a shot of her baby crying hysterically on the lap of a human dressed as the Easter Bunny. I cannot say I blame this child – the costumed creature was downright scary. Stuffed bunny rabbits are very cute and Jeff’s daughter, who is now 24 and married, was in love with these until the age of 13 or 14. And dwarf rabbits apparently make wonderful pets, as evidenced by my older sister turning to mush when her little bunny Shana is nearby – my serious, scholarly sister with the PhD! Rabbits have been used effectively and annoyingly in advertising, by film directors and artists, in cartoons, and of course – as a lighthearted symbol of the Easter holiday.
As an impressionable young woman, I journeyed to fabled Manhattan from my relatively sheltered life as an art student at RISD in Providence, R.I. Upon alighting at Penn Station for the very first time, there was a bit of a glitch. My older, worldlier sister who had already been living in the Big Apple for 3 years had not given me clear instructions on where we were to meet. Those were the days before cell phones – there was no way to get in touch with her. I was an innocent 18-year-old in New York City wondering what the hell had happened to my sister – after about 40 minutes or so I decided to go search upstairs and there she was … my street-smart sister nearly as frantic as I. For a good part of this visit I was on my own – marveling at the gritty, wonderful streets of NYC. Camera in hand, I attempted to summon the spirits of dead immigrants on the Lower East Side, admired the Art Deco lines of the Empire State Building – imagining King Kong and Fay Wray at the top, and prowled Canal Street for Vintage. A longtime admirer of the photography of Bernice Abbott, Jacob Riis, Walker Evans, and Helen Levitt, I too desired to capture a moment in time in “The City that Never Sleeps.”
Creative types have been fascinated by clowns, circuses, and circus freaks for eons – from film directors to musicians to amateur artists. Examples are the rather commercial clown paintings of Red Skelton, the notorious groundbreaking film Freaks, directed by Todd Browning in 1932, and most recently – Water for Elephants starring Reese Witherspoon. Widely considered a masterpiece, the most touching clown-related film – and my personal favorite – Fellini’s La Strada. Personally, I find clowns rather creepy which is why they are so fascinating. It seems as though amateur painters make up the vast majority of the clown painting genre. I have bought kitschy clown paintings at thrift stores for my own collection. So it is refreshing that Life’s a Tightrope at Studio 659 takes on this theme with a creative, ambitious zeal, presenting the work of fine artists rather than amateurs. Many of the artists appear to feel the same way I do about clowns – there is a decidedly dark underbelly lurking beneath the surface.