Monday, September 15, 2014

Rosie's Sister

I dressed up my sewing machine a bit in honor of Rosie, who has been on my mind recently.

For those unfamiliar with that World War II poster girl icon, Rosie the Riveter, here's the original image by J. Howard Miller. This poster was used to persuade 6 million women to go to work in the armament and aviation industries when men marched off to war. The patriotic red, white, and blue tells the viewer to serve the country in its time of need. It was a very successful propaganda campaign indeed.

Rosie's image seems to appear frequently these days and came to mind when I wanted to express an idea about my sewing machine that had nagged at me for awhile. And so, Tessie the Tailor, Rosie's sister, came into existence.
Having a professional interest in the representations of women in the media, I found myself reflecting on the image and analyzing it as I drew. The point of the Rosie image was, of course, to convince women that they were strong enough to do a man's job (as if they didn't have enough to do already). In fact, it is a masculinized image. I found it interesting to examine the feminine features as compared to the masculine features of Rosie. 

First of all, what's in a name? The name contains the hard consonants of R, S, and T that suggest masculinity while the "ie" of Rosie brings it back towards the feminine. However, "the Riveter" carries strong connotations of masculinity. Consider other aspects of the image:

Feminine Traits                Masculine Traits

1.  red scarf                   1. blue working clothes
2.  a few escaping curls   2. black hair (a harsh color)
3.  red cheeks                3. square, firm jaw  
4.  small nose                4. firm chin
5.  shaped eyebrows      5.  black eyebrows with a no-nonsense expression
6.  mascara                   6. black eyelashes emphasize the hard, no-nonsense look 
7. lipstick on full lips       7. lips turned down at the corners       
8. one well-manicured fingernail 8. the hand is very large
9. ---                             9. a muscled arm that has the sunburn of a worker
10.---                            10. The flexed arm that ends in a hard fist
11.---                            11. The figure itself is not elongated or elegant, but 
                                    rather broad and stocky.
12.---                            12. Thick neck.

At this point, the scales tip toward the masculine and one may wonder whether Rosie was a man or a woman. It's not that women don't have traits listed on the masculine side. There are women with strong chins and square jaws, like me, for example. However, the sum of the male traits gives an overwhelming impression of masculinity. 

In addition, the power establishment was only letting women into the work force as lowly workers. There is no suggestion of possible promotions, career, or any sort of professional aspirations. Women were going to give a hand--temporarily. 

Obviously, the artist was a male and, consciously or unconsciously, created an image that told women they had to be more than they were; to be a woman was inadequate. Looking around at representations of women in the media today, I'm not sure we've made much progress. We must remain vigilant. 

Come to think of it, I'm not sure I want Tessie the Tailor 
representing MY sewing machine at all!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo, 2

Campers at Grandma's Boot Camp delighted in getting away from camp for an excursion. The Bardo Museum in Tunis houses one of the largest collections of Roman mosaics in the world--a wonder to see. 
One large hall contains mosaics of Roman houses in Tunisia, each one the size of the wall. To get such detail, the pieces of mosaic are minute.

Note the soulful look of the bull.

From the chained dog in front of his doghouse in the upper right corner to the elegant woman choosing jewellery in the bottom row, this sophisticated mosaic exudes human activity.
And of course, complex borders (to die for) frame each work.
This one is particularly interesting for the horse, and for the woman spinning with a drop spindle on the left.
For those interested, click to enlarge and read the information given by the museum about Roman houses.
The subject is dear to my heart as there was a Roman house in a field behind us. My Roman-rock plant table is proof. Recycling at its best.

And then, back in the States, my eldest granddaughter is studying Rome in school. However, she's too embarrassed to tell the teacher about what she has visited...ahhh, teenagers!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Flower Power or Sketchbook as Memory

Remember Flower Power in the late 1960s? My mom had a different take on that. She loved fine china with all its complex and flowery designs, and checked out junk and antique stores regularly in search of teacups in Spode or Lalique or Royal Albert...the list of companies in her mind was lengthy. I suspect her collection grew once all the kids went out into the world, because to amass such an extensive collection on my dad's meager teacher's salary was quite a feat. And she would use them lovingly, when friends would come around, on formal occasions, or just for her afternoon cup of tea. There were flowery, decorative stacks of them in the dining room to brighten the grey, drizzly Oregon winters.

Truth to tell, I raised my eyebrows and never quite understood. Give me a big, sturdy mug so I don't have to worry about breaking anything.

Recently, however, with the online classes at Sketchbook Skool, my thoughts have turned towards the sketchbook or art journal as a work of Memory, as a commentary on one's life to be bequeathed to loved ones eventually, to the younger generation. I tend to use my Textile Sketchbook/Art Journal in that sense, but, paper and paint never tempted me much. That may be changing. One of the assignments concerned teacups and suddenly there was a torrent of outpouring from SBS students remembering mothers and grandmothers. This seems to concern women in particular (what is it about teacups?), but the Memories were there.

This forced me to think about 18 of my mom's teacups gathering dust in my cupboard. I looked them over and realized they really are beautiful. I chose one and started a layout over two pages.
Because of the complexity of this design, I got distracted by another cup in blues that seemed just a bit simpler in design. (Hmmph! It still took me 3 weeks to finish.)
I glued a recycled watercolor painting to the corner. I like the yellowed paper and the hard lines of the geometric patchwork design that contrast to the swirly florals. Done with a Bic Crystal ballpoint pen, I had fairly good control over the floral design. Then the moment of truth came when I added the watercolor shadows.
After spending so much time on the finicky flowers, I nearly had two heart attacks when I ruined it all twice...however, if I've learned one thing at Sketchbook School, it's to keep going. And so, it all worked out in the end. And I thought often of my mom--OK, Mom, got it, teacups are useful (to paint). A series may be developing here.

Now, I find it comforting to think that maybe one day my granddaughters will sit and sip tea from their great-grandmother's teacups while looking at their grandmother's sketchbooks. They will remember... Memories of Flower Power...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp: The Bardo Museum, 1

As the Bardo Museum in Tunis contains one of the most spectacular collections of Roman mosaics in the world, the Camp director decided to take campers to visit and sketch. However, the palace itself is worth the visit.

The Bey (King) of Tunis resided in the Bardo Palace, which was constructed in the 19th century, until it became an antiquities museum in 1885.

The museum has been renovated and extended, however, one can see the former splendour of the palace.  Leading up to the front door, a series of lions stand watch. The National Assembly now meets in that section of the palace.
Some exquisite ceilings can be seen.

I could live under this ceiling.
Maybe the most spectacular and certainly over-the-top: an ornate mezzanine floor.
It's hard to know what to admire first, the woodwork, the painted ceilings, the metalwork, or the gorgeous marble of the columns.
And of course, lovely tile work graces many walls. 
Memories of Istanbul, for the beys were of Ottoman descent and kept ties to the center of the Empire. One can't help but admire the sophisticated use of pattern and color. 
I'll have to go back when the weather gets cooler.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

If the Shoe Fits...

After the Little People left, I vowed to do some Spring Cleaning early, you know, some deep cleaning, organizing and junking stuff that will never be used, especially in my workroom, which is really my playroom, but don't tell my family (I keep the ironing board set up and ready to go to keep up appearances). In the corner, a framed pen & watercolor painting from the 1990s leaned against the wall, out of use and forgotten.

It was just at this moment that the cat decided to have an accident (he tried to tell me he was desperate) on the frame of the painting...which in turn required a thorough cleaning of the whole corner. I took the picture out of the frame, washed the frame and put it in the garage for future use. The painting was yellowed so I tried to put it in a drawer, however, it was too big. I'd have to roll it up.

Then I looked it at, I mean I looked at it. I remembered...I remembered the lovely Tunisian wedding shoes with the tapped design in silver foil, nailed onto a wooden clog. They dated from 1940 and belonged to my Tunisian mother-in-law. The craftsmanship was outstanding, but one shoe was obviously made by an apprentice and the other by the master, seen in the clarity of the detail work.

Then I remembered the hours spent gripping a Rotring pen (maybe a 0.2 or smaller). It probably took me more time to draw them than it took to make them. I framed it up with a patchwork design. 

These clogs are not particularly comfortable, but the modern ones are worse. My daughter's wedding shoes are too narrow, less attention is paid to the craftsmanship, and the designs have been simplified. Yet, they're pretty to look at.

Lately, I have been reflecting on the sketchbook as a "travail de mémoire", Memory, which is linked to recycling as well. I took my "fancy" sketchbook (Stillman & Birn with heavy paper), painted a background with watercolors, then cut out and glued on one of the shoes.
Of course, I had to tell the story of the shoes and the painting. Maybe one day a family member will read it. Memory, memory...
The patchwork sections frame a watercolor of figs. I like the contrast of the yellowed paper and the stark white of the journal.
That old painting has taken on a new life and I like to look at that "fancy" sketchbook often. Now the shoe fits much better... 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Grandma's Boot Camp 2014

The Little People have headed home after another summer at Grandma's Boot Camp. 

Taking care of cats (do they really need all that attention?) was the first order of business. 

Then, there were the birthday parties. GD2 (second granddaughter, now 7) loved the fairy cake

GD1 (now a grownup 12--"What do you mean, Little People???") devoured Harry Potter's Sorting Hat (complete with magic wand).

Notice the leathery effect on the back. Man, that was a delicious cake--chocolate through and through. I get a sugar high just thinking about it! Cake credits go to my friend and fellow sketcher. 

Besides piano practice every day, the girls spent several days at the beach, and we worked on our sketchbooks, sometimes at breakfast.
GD2's breakfast sketch

GD1's breakfast sketch

We did our annual visit to the Roman city of Uthina.

Just imagine that what appears to be a hill is actually a buried city, which is s-l-o-w-l-y being excavated. We visited the water reservoirs that served the city--incredible constructions. 

And then we took out our sketchbooks and sat for awhile at the temple on the top of the hill.
GD1's sketch at Uthina

GD2's olive tree at Uthina

Back on the farm, GD2 practiced driving the tractor.

OK, I admit that it sounds like we had a lot to do, but, after a busy and stressful school year, the kids (of all ages) arrived at the farm and simply collapsed. Sometimes lazy is good and one just needs time to grow. Take the case of GD2's new tennis shoes, a subject for sketching at the beginning of summer.
GD2's tennis shoe sketch

GD1's tennis shoe sketch

On the day of their departure, I found GD2 sitting on the steps and fussing: "Grandma, my shoes are too tight." Sure enough, the new tennis shoes didn't fit anymore and we had to scramble to find a pair of sandals suitable for traveling. 

And they almost had me participating in the ensuing crying fest. But Grandma does not cry--she has a reputation to maintain. It was close, though.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Joyful Education, Art, and Dreams

In 1968, George B. Leonard published his ground-breaking Education and Ecstasy, qualified as "epochal" in the blurb on the back cover. Leonard analyzed the problems of education and schools and not only proposed solutions, but also looked to the new, developing technologies that would enhance the learning process and come to the aid of teachers. As I come from a family of educators who place a premium on education as the ultimate goal in life, this book filled me with excitement and hope and I have carried it with me since 1968. 

Today while rereading Education and Ecstasy, tears came to my eyes and my throat tightened. Tears for the wonderful possibilities that have failed to materialize, for the grinding state of our educational systems and the burden that our teachers must bear, for our failure to make use of the amazing technologies that have sunk to the lowest common denominator of Facebook with a Big Brother lurking in the background, for the dreams that have escaped our grasp. And yet, tears of relief because I have had the privilege of participating in two exciting university programs in language education that may measure up to Leonard's standards, programs that are creative and that make use of new technologies while taking the student into consideration. 

Leonard delivers a blistering critique that remains relevant today pertaining to the state of our school systems: "To learn is to change...Do not blame teachers or their administrators if they fail to educate, to change their students. For the task of preventing the new generation from changing in any deep or significant way is precisely what most societies require of their educators. Perhaps it is enough that schools should go on with their essentially conservative function: passing on the established values and skills of the past" (7). Does this sound familiar? Doesn't the word "school" carry heavy connotations for the majority of us? And as for technology, hasn't the cell phone become a glorified leash with blinders, preventing us from communicating directly and focusing on the here and now?

Several simple yet profound ideas run through Leonard's work. First, that education is a life long process and should be joyful and even make us ecstatic. Educators should be able to share the inspired moments of learning with their students, moments that happen only rarely in the traditional classroom.

Secondly, Leonard places importance on the mastery of technique, giving the example of the violinist who "arrives at the sublime only through utter mastery of technique." He adds, "The instruments of living that are now coming into our hands--rich, responsive and diverse--require mastery" (18). 

And finally, the environment contributes to the learning experience: "Learning involves interaction between the learner and his environment, and its effectiveness relates to the frequency, variety and intensity of the interaction" (19).

Here is what gives me hope, what has, in fact, made me ecstatic: I have stumbled upon a small miracle, finally, the appearance of a learning experience of which Leonard might have dreamed, the online Sketchbook Skool (SBS).  The brain child of artists Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene, the "skool" provides one "klass" each week for six weeks with six different teachers from all over the world with the intention of showing students (from all over the world) how to deepen their creativity and connect to life within the pages of a sketchbook.
My homework assignment--the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The use of the "k" brings humor and signals that the "kourse" organization has a familiar structure and yet, is not threatening. There are no grades, no critiques, no tests. And yet, the forum for homework assignments, which are voluntary as is posting, shows that students are working enthusiastically, investing time in practicing and doing extra credit as well. 
My homework assignment about toast.
Ruzuku provides the klassroom platform that contains videos and pdfs from each teacher, plus the galleries for student postings. The "playground" is found on a closed Facebook page where everyone can post work, suggestions, and information of interest to sketchers. Not being a Facebook fan, this is the best use of Facebook that I've seen in a long time. The forums are friendly, students help each other, and teachers and students are supportive.

SBS provides not only lessons in a variety of techniques but also in materials,  sketchbook possibilities, and subject matter. In addition, this "kourse" seeks to ground students in daily life by helping them develop a sketchbook habit of drawing everyday in order to see the world more intimately, to see what is real. Danny insists that SBS is not about Art (as in art galleries), but about the intimate practice of art in a sketchbook. 

The SBS motto of "Art for Everyone" indicates that all levels of ability are welcome, that the doors are wide open. Consequently, students range from beginners to professional artists in an atmosphere of camaraderie and creativity. This lively environment contributes enormously to students' desire for mastery, which requires daily practice. This exceptional environment stimulates students and teachers alike to learn and to grow. The attitude of students plus the huge response in numbers has surprised and almost overwhelmed the founders and teachers. Several teachers have noted that the SBS experience has been delightfully unique for them. And to Danny Gregory and Koosje Koene's credit, they have listened to the students and addressed issues that have come up and made the necessary changes, which an experimental program demands.

I remain the Reluctant Sketcher. Although I may not develop a serious sketchbook habit, as an educator and as a lifelong student, I am ecstatic and delighted and I highly recommend SBS for all creative people. If only Leonard could have seen the SBS phenomenon--it would be a dream come true...

For more information see the SBS site (here), an article at "The Art People" (here), and Danny Gregory's blog (here).