Sunday, December 10, 2017

My favorite things 50


I got interested in Zuñi fetishes, those tiny carved animals who represent the Prey Gods or guardian animals of the six regions of the earth, in the late 1980s when I took my sons to Los Angeles on a business trip.  My professional organization was holding its convention at Disneyland, in a resort hotel that was adjacent to the park, and it seemed that the boys, in their early teens, could occupy themselves safely while I attended the meetings. 

One day we drove into the city to ooh and aah at the weird people on Venice Beach, and to gape at the La Brea tar pits.  And we went into the next-door museum, where the gift shop was having a big sale on fetishes.  I fell in love, and bought several, and over the years I have gotten many more on visits to the Southwest.  Here are some of them:

Before fetishes became collectible art objects, they were used ceremonially and carried in small pouches by hunters for protection and good luck in hunting.  Thus they were small -- the littlest one in this photo, the donkey in the center front, is only about an inch long.

Each of the fetish animals has a little "prayer bundle" tied around its middle, which it carries for its own protection and good luck.  According to tradition, you're supposed to feed your fetish animals to keep them healthy and happy, by strewing some cornmeal in their case or pouch.  Mine have never been fed but I think they're still happy.  I know I am.



Friday, December 8, 2017

A goat named Kathleen


Just checked my email and was intrigued by a message with the subject line "A goat named Kathleen Loomis."

I have donated to the Heifer Project before, following in the footsteps of my parents who would give a sheep or chickens to poor families in faraway places as Christmas gifts to their grandchildren.  When our grandchild turned six last year, we thought he was old enough to understand the concept of charity, so we donated a goat and had the project send him a personal letter.  (A nice touch -- I got to write the message, and they printed it out with a goat picture and mailed it to him.)

Afterwards, his mom reported back that a few weeks after the letter arrived, he wanted to know when the goat was going to arrive and where they would put it, since the back yard is kind of small.

Oops.  I said maybe we did this too early -- maybe he isn't old enough to understand how this works.

No, she said, he understood and was fine with giving the goat to a poor family, but he thought after they had it for a while it would be nice if he could have it for a while too!

So this year the organization is trying hard to get me to donate again, which I plan to do, but haven't gotten around to it yet.  They have been sending me emails for the last week or so, including this one, which explains "We're expecting newborn baby goats on the Heifer Ranch this spring.  We're going to name our next baby goat after one lucky donor who makes a tax-deductible gift before midnight tomorrow.  Will it be you?"























To be honest, I'm not sure I want a baby goat named after me.  I already have a baby human named after me (well, it's her middle name, but still...) and a goat seems like a step backward.  I wonder whether this is going to turn out to be a successful fundraising approach or not.


Thursday, December 7, 2017

Chicago art 3 -- Campeche wax


Ever hear of Campeche wax?  I hadn't either, until I ran into not one but two spectacular works of art in Chicago that use it.  Campeche is the Mexican state just west of Yucatan, and Campeche wax is a very dark beeswax originating there.  Because the wax is sticky, it's used for the substrate of art where you want to adhere a top layer of decorative stuff.

Eduardo Terrazas, 1.1.30, detail below

This large piece, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, was made by covering a board with wax, and fine wool yarn was pressed on in an elaborate pattern that must have taken ages to lay down.  (The piece is dated 1974-2014, and I hope he had time to make other things besides this during that half-a-lifetime.) The slight irregularities in the pattern showcase the artist's hand up close.
Santos Motoaopohua de la Torre de Santiago, The New Awakening, details below

Glass beads were introduced to Mesoamerica by the Europeans in the 1590s and became an important part of jewelry and ritual objects.  This huge work, at the National Museum of Mexican Art, references traditional motifs.  Tiny seed beads are pressed into the Campeche wax on a plywood support, painstakingly arranged so the holes point up (can you imagine how long that takes, and with what tiny tweezers?), although I was happy to see that a few beads escaped, slumped over on their sides and proved that even the most meticulous artisan takes a ten-second vacation every now and then.





Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Chicago art 2 -- Latin American fiber


I apologize for taking so long to get back to my visit to Chicago several weeks ago.  In mainstream museums I always like to keep an eye out for art made from fiber, and I found lots of interesting examples.  Today's three artists are all Latin American.






















Rafael Ferrer, A Flag for the Straits of Magellan, detail below






















This work, made in 1972, is an imaginary flag for Puerto Rico, the artist's birthplace, which he envisions not as a U.S. territory but as a faraway independent place.  Hung far up in a dim corner of a dark gallery, the flag was hard to see; the sign said it includes fabric, rawhide, leather, wire, pipe cleaners, rope and various other stuff.  The triangular shape, 3-D surface and midnight colors made it considerably more exotic than your run-of-the-mill flag.

Vivian Suter, Untitled, detail below






















Hanging right below the triangular flag is this large unstretched canvas by an Argentinian artist who lives in Guatemala.  Her shtick is to apply the pigment, mixed with glue as a binder, with a machete, and to leave it outside to weather.  I'm not sure exactly how she achieved the distinct raised effect, or even whether we're seeing real shadows or just 2-D differences in value, but I like the subtlety of the patterns.  I wished for more light and a better view (I adjusted the exposure so the detail shot is lighter than in real life).

Arturo Herrera, Behind the House III, details below

What could be simpler -- get some wool felt, cut out some shapes, hang it on the wall.  He may have used a laser cutter because the edges are perfectly finished; very little trace of the artist's hand in this piece.  According to the sign, the shapes are "abstracted from popular culture and children's literature."  That may be an overreach, but the shapes are beautifully drawn and composed, and the slight distance away from the wall allows shadows to punctuate the image.  The kneeling figures are not part of this installation, although they look right at home. 








Sunday, December 3, 2017

My favorite things 49


If you've ever been in a Lutheran church service you know that congregational singing is a really big deal.  When I still lived at home the major topic of conversation on the way home from church was occasionally the sermon or the Bible reading, but always the hymns -- I love that one, that one was way too slow, strange wording in the third verse, can't go wrong with a Bach cantata.  Of course I own modern hymnals, but wonderfully, I also own these four old ones.

The big black one was my grandfather's, and my mother appended sticky notes inside with historical commentary. 






















The really beat-up green one belonged to my grandmother's sister, and I don't know how it got into my possession.  Both these really old ones had words and music, in German, of course.  The latest of my ancestors to arrive in the U.S. emigrated in the 1880s and I'm sure they spoke English in town, but German at home and in church at least until World War I.   

The two little ones -- with words only, no music -- belonged to my parents, with their respective names stamped in gold on the covers, issued upon their confirmations.  My father's book, given to him in 1927 when he was 14, was in German, his first language, from which I deduce that Holy Cross Church in Saginaw had not.  Or maybe they just had a box of books left over and weren't about to throw out a perfectly good book, even if it was in a language that the kids couldn't read any more; it would build their character.  Meanwhile, my mother's confirmation hymn book, given the following year, was in English. 

By the time I learned to sing hymns, of course, everything was in English, and I know only tiny bit in German.  Stille Nacht, of course, and a few lines of my favorite Advent hymn, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen.  Since today is the first Sunday in Advent, here's that hymn from the little green book, in case you want to sing along.

Es ist ein Ros entsprungen
aus einer Wurzel zart
Wie uns die Alten sungen,
von Jesse kam die Art,
Und had ein Blümlein bracht
mitten in kalten Winter
wohl zu der halben Nacht.


Friday, December 1, 2017

Hugs in the workplace


I've been out of the workplace for 17 years now so I can't tell you whether innocuous hugging is more or less prevalent than in the previous century.  But I have been annoyed by all the guys who have piteously protested that yes, all those predators were disgusting, but how about all us nice guys who just like to hug?  For instance, a letter to the editor in this morning's New York Times:

"We as a society are exhibiting mass hysteria... The political correctness demanded by current public opinion throws out the baby with the bathwater.  We don't want to go so far as to discourage any hug or embrace to show caring and warmth."

I've been talking about this with my husband and son, and my position is that hugs are so rarely appropriate in the workplace that you can practically count the occasions on your fingers.  For the edification of all you nice guys who just like to hug, here's my easy guide.  You might want to print it up on a little card and keep it in your wallet, just in case you wonder if a hug is OK.

It's OK at your co-worker's retirement party.  OK when your team has just won the election or the million-dollar contract. Probably OK after somebody has shot up or burned down your office and you're all huddled on the sidewalk in dismay.  OK when your co-worker returns from the hospital, or prison, or three years in Ethiopia.  Maybe when your co-worker has just gotten a call that her mother died.  OK on occasion if the two of you are engaged or married (to one another).

But not to say good morning or good night.  Not when the hug initiator is the boss or superior of the hug recipient.  Not when the recipient's work clothes are skimpy or suggestive, or when the recipient is standing on a ladder.  Not when you're the only two people in the room, and especially not if the door is locked.

Just remember this, guys: if you want to show caring and warmth, give her a raise.