Blogs Field Guide Interviews

The Family Business: A conversation about art, work and motherhood

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, […]

In partnership with mnartists.org, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs department is launching a monthly series of personal essays, interviews and exchanges with and by local artists — “The Family Business.” We hope these dispatches from the intersection of art and real life will offer a window on the lived experience of Minnesota’s working artists, in their own voices, and on the day-by-day juggle of art-making with the rest of their responsibilities: kids & family, day-jobs and other everyday obligations. From grocery shopping to daycare, caring for older relatives to community activism, we aim to offer snapshots of what a life in the arts really looks like, as seen through the eyes of the creative people living it every day.

Our first installment in this series is an email exchange, led by artist Carrie Thompson, between a group of acclaimed photographers — all mothers with children of varying ages — about the struggles and hard-won insights that come with parenthood, from the unexpected epiphanies and self-discovery to the frustrations of watching one’s productivity take a back seat to the necessity of caring for small kids and the slow process of integrating family with a vibrant career. What follows is the first of three posts; the remaining two will appear next week.

This conversation originally appeared on Little Brown Mushroom, a blog published by photographer Alec Soth, and is reproduced here with permission. We hope you’ll join in and share your own experiences in the comments below. (Speaking of which, the comments at the base of the original post on LBM make for a really wonderful conversation in their own right and are also well worth a read.)

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Carrie ThompsonWhen I was pregnant, I had a studio visit with Lorna Simpson. She is a mother, so I asked her for advice. Specifically, I wanted to know: What should I be sure to do before having my baby? What might be some of the challenges I face when I become a mother? Her advice to me, since I had recently been working on two projects dealing with family history (including a trip to Japan that directly preceded my son’s birth), was that I should write down the narratives of all those photos. She said I had to do this before my child was born. She actually repeated that advice a few times.

I didn’t listen. I didn’t write the stories. I should have. When my son was born, everything changed: my extra time disappeared, making work slowed way down.

Carrie Thompson with Goma. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the challenges of balancing motherhood with a career as an artist.  So, I decided to get some other photographers/mothers engaged in a conversation on the subject. There are a few things that I want to address in this exchange: I want us to talk about being women, mothers, and artists —how do we find balance among those roles? How do we continue to make work, raise children, and continue/find success with both?

For example, Alec Soth is obsessed with age on this blog (see here), but I think something important is missing from that discussion. No one seems to address the fact that many people over 35 have children, families, and other responsibilities.

So, here’s my first question: Do you, as mothers, think that having children makes it harder to be successful?

Greta PrattTo this first question, I have to say that it completely depends on how you define “success.” If success is defined as a mad dash to the top of the ladder, and whoever gets there first is “successful” – then, yes, having children definitely interferes. But if “success” is defined in terms of quality of life — as in being loved and showing love and having deep, long term relationships that cause you to question the meaning of life and love and art, and that help you to look at the world through different eyes – well, then I would say that having children helps you to be successful.

Photo courtesy of Greta Platt.

 

Beth Dow with her son, Miles, and daughter, Maisie. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Beth DowI can’t lay claim to the word “successful,” but I’ll substitute “productive.” I envy people who can switch on their focused mind in an instant. Focus for me comes much more inconsistently, and if I’m really engrossed in something, the worst thing that can happen is having real life

get in the way. If I suddenly need to get someone from school, for example, if I’m in the middle of a project, it’s like a million little bubbles popping, and it’s difficult for me to regain that focus later. This is especially true when I’m writing. When the kids were little and I had a tight deadline, I warned them that they could only interrupt me if they were bleeding especially badly (black humor fuels our household).

Now, to address the “harder” part of your question, “Is it harder to be successful?”: I often feel like I should apologize to my kids for having a career, and to my career for having a life.

Paula McCartneyI just read Beth’s comment after listening to my two-and-a-half-year-old yell from his bedroom, both in joy and in despair, for two hours in an attempt to not got to sleep. The whole time, I was sitting in the living room, trying to prepare tomorrow’s photo history lecture.  I can definitely relate to what Beth is saying about finding it difficult to focus.  When Oliver is talking — whether he’s in the same room with me or not — I find it extremely hard to concentrate on anything else.

Paula McCartney and her son, Oliver. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Having a child and an art career, as well as teaching – it’s a lot to juggle.  I always wonder about how to manage it all and I’ve asked other women how they do it. The most helpful response I’ve gotten was from a photographer who I greatly admire; she said, “Sometimes you are a not-so-great artist, sometimes a not-so-great mother, and sometimes a not-so-great teacher.”  Hearing that made me feel not-so-bad about being not-so-great all the time at everything I am trying to do.

Since grad school, I’ve made the decision to define “success” as continually moving forward in some way, even if very slowly.  And while I continue to ask artists with children how they do it, always hoping for some bit of wisdom that will make my own juggle easier, I realize that I already am doing it.  For me, finding some balance (though that word makes life seem a little more stress-free than it is) happened when my son started going to day care two days a week. I had those days as studio days, which meant I could focus on my work during that time, teach a few mornings each week, and then be genuinely present when I was with him.

The thing that I have seemed to sacrifice to being an artist and the mother of a young child and teaching is having a social life.   In the whirlwind of the first two years, I didn’t pay that much attention to it, but I’ve recently made much more of an attempt to make dates with my friends (mostly other women artists, many with children).

When I think of all the women I am friends with who are artists, the ones who would be considered the more “successful” are the ones with children.  So, I guess I’m saying: No, having a child doesn’t make you less successful — just more tired.  And while, for me, life is definitely more difficult with a child, it is also definitely more amazing.

Danielle MericleI, like everyone, am so busy most the time I forget how useful camaraderie can be.  That said, I’ve been surprised at the positive impact motherhood has had on me, both in a general sense and artistically.  I was one of those who had little or no interest in having kids, so when I found myself pregnant, I was pretty terrified at what it might mean in my life.  Much to my relief, I’ve found that it has made me less anxious about “career,” more genuinely invested in the process of creating, and happier, in general.  I think this is for a few reasons: First, I simply don’t have the time to be anxious anymore. After the full-time job, and Charley (and house, food, exercise, etc.), I get, on average, a half-day per week to focus on my work. So, when I’m in my studio, I’m working, and it feels so nice, so necessary, to have that space to work, however little the time.

I also have experienced a major shift in my priorities (a cliché, I know); I’m not sure that I can entirely articulate the change, but I know that my definition of “success” is different, and that it has much less to do with the notion you have in art school — of art-stardom. Rather, the kind of “success” I think of now is a better match for what I really want to do in life — which, fundamentally speaking, is to have an interesting and fulfilling life.

Danielle Mericle with her son, Charley

This is not to say that my experience has been totally rosy and without issues. My darker moments have come over battles for time. My husband is a working artist, too, and our struggles for an hour here or there have been a constant throughout our tenure as parents (almost three years now). For whatever reason, I’ve had a tendency to relinquish my time more than I would like; it has been a really terrible habit that I’ve had to consciously break.  If I had any advice to a new mother/artist, it would be to guard what little time you have; it may not feel like much to give up an afternoon, but considered from the perspective of protecting your sanity, it’s huge. Other things: I, too, have little or no social life, which is fine for now.  I worry that we’ve alienated a few people around here since we had kids, but there’s not much to do about it. (And, really, I don’t know that we actually have.) And I don’t read anymore — this drives me crazy, and I’m really looking forward to time for books coming back into my life.

Amy Stein: Danielle’s comments really resonate for me – many of them are spot-on descriptions of my recent experiences as a mother. I, too, feel less anxious about career concerns than I did before Sam came along. I used to be very consumed by my work and career. Now, I feel I’m much more relaxed about it, like I have more perspective on my professional trajectory, as well as many other aspects of my life. The clichés we often hear — that motherhood is “transformative” and “puts things into perspective — are uttered so frequently because they are true. And yet even those clichés don’t go far enough toward describing the awesome, overwhelming changes that motherhood brings. In the past six months since I’ve become a mother, these changes have overwhelmed me and thrown everything I knew before out the window. I am still adjusting to the countless large and small impacts motherhood has had on my life. But as a 41-year-old first-time mom, I welcome those changes.

Before, I think I was getting used to the idea that the major positive changes of life were over for me. I switched careers at 32, and then built a new career in the arts that was satisfying and rewarding. Sure, I still had a long way to go, but I was happy to plug away at it everyday, grateful I could spend my days making, thinking about, and teaching photography. We tried for a long time to get pregnant, and went through a lot to have a child. Just before I got the good news, I had resigned myself to the fact that it just wasn’t going to happen for us. Then along came Sam.

Of course, there’s joy and the deep sense of connection that comes with having a child — which has made my life immeasurably fuller and more meaningful. As Danielle says, there’s also just less time to worry about yourself — which, for me, is a good thing, because I was spending about 90% of my time before motherhood fretting over work, career, and where to find meaning in my life. And now, there’s so much meaning that those demons are crowded out, swept away.

Amy Stein and her baby, Sam. Photo courtesy of the artist.

I think we, as artists and mothers, struggle with the same issues most working moms struggle with: limited time filled with overwhelming demands. We want to do well outside the home, with our careers, and also with our personal and home lives. Often, it’s just not possible to do it all well. And as Danielle mentions, the constant negotiations with one’s partner — about who will care for your child and when — are wearing. Then, there are the financial concerns: how to pay for childcare, etc. Finding the right balance is so hard — figuring out how much childcare you need to do your work and, for me, fighting guilt over watching someone else spend large amounts of time with my son, as I answer emails and Photoshop image files at my desk ten feet away. I feel incredibly relieved when the work gets done, but I am missing my son at the same time. It’s a cocktail of joy, resentment, and guilt.

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Look for the remaining two installments in this conversation next week. Meanwhile, what’s your story? Join this ongoing conversation in the comments below by sharing your own experiences and insights about juggling a creative career and the evolving demands of parenthood.

Interview with Conservator Christa Haiml

In this conversation among peers, local art conservators Patricia Ewer and David Marquis posed questions to Christa Haiml, another practicing conservator and educator who’s coming to the Walker this week (from Vienna) to give a lecture called “Restoring the Blue,” about Yves Klein’s painting materials and methods that will surely include the low-down on what […]

In this conversation among peers, local art conservators Patricia Ewer and David Marquis posed questions to Christa Haiml, another practicing conservator and educator who’s coming to the Walker this week (from Vienna) to give a lecture called “Restoring the Blue,” about Yves Klein’s painting materials and methods that will surely include the low-down on what exactly makes International Klein Blue, International Klein Blue. The talk is one of several events happening as part of École de Klein (a series of public programs related to the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers) this Thursday night; a drop-in monochrome-making workshop and improvisational dances in the Klein galleries by the local performance team, SuperGroup (just look for the folks clad head-to-toe in colorful monochromatic spandex bodysuits) help round off the evening. Click here for more details.

Christa Haiml, Photo by Anja Hitzenberger

Before executing the conservation treatment on the Yves Klein painting Blue Monochrome (1KB 42), one of the works included in the retrospective, Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers, you performed a very extensive technical analysis. Conservators, to the best of their abilities, routinely perform such analysis on any type of object they conserve. It is important to be completely familiar with all the materials and their degradation properties before executing a treatment. At the Menil Collection you had exceptional resources such as two individuals (Tom Learner and Kate Duffy) who did pigment analysis. How important do you feel it is for a conservator to have access to scientists or other specialists to aid in analysis?

During my fellowship at the Menil Collection I was fortunate to have access to scientists at other institutions (such as Tom Learner at the Getty Conservation Institute or Kate Duffy at the Williamstown Art Conservation Center) to perform analysis on paint samples.

There are certainly cases, where collaboration with conservation scientists is indispensable in order to identify the materials in a work of art and help devise an appropriate conservation treatment. However, it is not always necessary to take samples from works of art and at times it is not possible, for example when dealing with pristine monochromatic paint surfaces. Much information can also be gained by non-destructive methods such as visual examination under the microscope.

In a conservation reference you related how you were able to do some very important mock-ups (a model that closely imitates the painting and its technique) in preparation for your actual treatment. Mock-ups can be very time-consuming, were you on a tight deadline? Also how accurate do you feel your mock-ups were?

The fabrication of mock-ups can indeed be very time-consuming, but can be very helpful to gain a better understanding of an artist’s technique. Moreover mock-ups can be used to try out treatment options or experiment with different materials that cannot be tested on the original painting (which is often the case with the unforgiving surfaces of monochromatic paintings).

I was not on a deadline for this treatment. In my mock-ups, I was able to achieve a variety of different surface textures and hues. The surface of one of the mock-ups I made was accurate enough to be used as a tool in the restoration treatment.

View of Blue Monochromes in the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers Photo by Cameron Wittig

Can you describe the techniques, materials and unique challenges of consolidating the blue pigment in Blue Mononchrome or other Klein paintings?    With Blue Monochrome, do you feel the adhesion was significantly improved after consolidation?  Were there any changes in color saturation after consolidation?

In the case of Blue Monochrome (1KB 42) I did not have to carry out a consolidation treatment. However, in general it is true that the consolidation of matte monochromatic surfaces presents a particular challenge for conservators.  The paint layer in Yves Klein’s blue monochromes is underbound, i.e. it has little binding medium and densely packed, partly exposed pigment particles (that is, they are not surrounded by binding medium). When introducing a consolidant, one has to be extremely careful not to saturate the paint (which makes it appear darker) or change the gloss of the paint surface.

Do you consider your area of conservation expertise to be contemporary painting?

I was trained in the conservation and restoration of traditional easel paintings. After graduating, I had the opportunity to learn about modern and contemporary paintings during a two-year internship at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and a two and a half year fellowship at the Menil Collection in Houston. Currently, I teach in the program for conservation and restoration of modern and contemporary art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, but I also work in private practice where I carry out treatments on both, modern and contemporary as well as on traditional paintings.

Are there any overarching concerns you have with contemporary painting collections, not just in terms of actual treatment but collections care in general?

Many of the modern and contemporary paintings I treat in my private conservation studio suffered damages caused by careless handling or inadequate packing for transport.

Fingerprints on an unvarnished monochromatic paint surface or imprints of packing material on such a fragile surface can be irreversible damages. Preventive conservation (such as climate control and lighting), adequate handling, storage and packing would be some important aspects in the care of contemporary painting collections.

You teach in the program for Conservation and Restoration of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna; how does this modern and contemporary focus differ from traditional conservation training?

The conservation program at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna offers different areas of specialization: easel paintings and polychrome sculpture; wooden objects (including musical instruments); mural paintings and architectural surfaces; paper, books and archival materials. Students in the conservation of modern and contemporary art train in one of the above areas in their first and second year and specialize in modern and contemporary art starting from their third year. Training includes practical work on artworks ranging from contemporary paintings to three-dimensional objects, installations and time-based media. The curriculum encompasses lectures on modern materials, new methods of documentation, interviewing artists, ethical issues of dealing with living artists and artists’ intent.

Conservation training programs in the UK and a bit in the US have begun to suffer.  In this economic climate universities worldwide feel they need to focus on programs that can pay for themselves. Conservation (like library programs in the late 1980’s) is a very time consuming discipline to teach and several universities are questioning their viability/sustainability; some programs have actually closed (Textile Conservation Center, University of Southampton – closed, and now taken up by the University of Glasgow; Royal College of Art/Victoria and Albert Museum Conservation Programme – closed). How do you feel about the training of future conservators?  Do you feel there is less interest in this field in academic institutions in Europe? Does your program have a good number of applicants?

I cannot speak for other academic institutions in Europe, but I believe that at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna the number of applicants for the conservation program has remained relatively constant over the last few years. In fact, our program was fortunate to have been expanded with the implementation of a new area of specialization (the conservation of modern and contemporary art) five years ago.


Patricia Ewer is the principal of Textile Objects Conservation in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a conservation professional with over 30 years of experience in treating textiles, managing, developing and staffing conservation projects. She has held conservation positions at Historic Royal Palaces (U.K.), Midwest Art Conservation Center (Minneapolis, Minnesota), Biltmore House (Asheville, North Carolina), Textile Conservation Laboratory at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine (New York, New York), and The Textile Conservation Workshop (South Salem, New York). She has been a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works since 1989. Ms Ewer was recently a presenter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Tapestry Conservation Symposium (December 2009). She is co-editor with Frances Lennard of the recently published book Textile Conservation: Advances in Practice.


David Marquis, Senior Paintings Conservator
Mr. Marquis began with Midwest Art Conservation Center (MACC) in 1984. He has distinguished training and experience in the conservation of historic and contemporary paintings including the structural conservation of canvas and panel paintings, the authenticity and permanence of varnishes, and the mechanical behavior of paintings. Prior to joining MACC he was at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and also an instructor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Minnesota, School of Architecture. He holds a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree in Painting and Drawing and a Bachelor of Arts magna cum laude in Studio Arts from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Mr. Marquis is a Professional Associate of The American Institute for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works and a Member of the Midwest Regional Conservation Guild.

Writer to Writer: John Yau on Yves Klein

You may know John Yau as the arts editor for The Brooklyn Rail, for his books on artists–A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns (D.A.P., 2009), The United States of Jasper Johns (1996) and In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol (1993), or his collections on poetry Paradiso Diaspora (Penguin, […]

You may know John Yau as the arts editor for The Brooklyn Rail, for his books on artists–A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns (D.A.P., 2009), The United States of Jasper Johns (1996) and In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol (1993), or his collections on poetry Paradiso Diaspora (Penguin, 2006), Ing Grish, with Paintings by Thomas Nozkowski (Saturnalia, 2005), Borrowed Love Poems (Penguin, 2002), Forbidden Entries (Black Sparrow, 1996), Berlin Diptychon with Photographs by Bill Barrette (Timken, 1995), Edificio Sayonara (Black Sparrow, 1992), Corpse and Mirror (Holt & Rinehardt, 1983) to name a few. This list doesn’t include his novels or artists’ books, but the point is that Yau is a prolific writer who’s work isn’t limited to one genre. Same is true of the artist Yves Klein, who Yau will be “channeling” in his talk this Thursday as part of a Free Verse/École de Klein program copresented by Rain Taxi Review of Books. If you’re curious to know more about the Klein-Yau connection come to the talk. Below is an interview to whet your appetite.

Portrait of John Yau. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

What is it about Yves Klein that you admire?

The particularities of the dance between eye and mind his work starts.

How and when did you first get into writing?

I started writing in high school and so far I haven’t stopped.

You write art criticism, poetry, prose, and fiction–can you speak to how you balance your many-sided practice and how one type of writing informs another?

I don’t know that I balance them. It seems that each calls to me in a different way, and it is my responsibility to pay attention to the questions that are being asked.

The critic Pierre Restany was a champion of Klein’s work and helped bring him notoriety in the art world. How has the role of critic changed or stayed the same since the Restany/Greenberg era? How has your own relationship/attitude to criticism changed over the years?

It has often been repeated that critics have no power, meaning they don’t effect what takes in the marketplace of art. I am not interested in that reality. I am interested in the conversation that art engenders, and I participate in that. I am interested in the history of art that is submerged by the story that is being told. Even when an artist is well-known, the story that is being told about his or her work often submerges another story.

Can you talk about what was happening in the avant-garde literary circles of Klein’s era?

A lot was going in America between 1950 and 1962, much of the effort focusing on how to make the poem modern and responsive to the world after World War II. There were older poets such as William Carlos William; poets associated with Black Mountain College (Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn); independent figures (Philip Lamantia, Denise Levertov); poets associated with the New York painters (John Ashbery, Frank OHara, James Schuyler, Barbara Guest); poets in and around San Francisco (Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser); Allen Ginsberg. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

How does this experimental poetry connect with Klein’s work and your own?

They were all trying to get beyond the habits of thinking that were pervasive and repressive.

What artists and poets have been most influential to you and your writing?

The list is so long I wouldn’t know where to begin.

Can you give any teasers for what you might read next Thursday?

So far—and this of course may change—I am thinking of reading a new piece that is neither an essay nor a poem. It is a monologue and/or daydream in which Yves Klein talks to someone (you, whoever you are) (thinks to himself) about art and life.

Given your history of working collaboratively on artists books, is there someone you’d like to collaborate with on a future project?

There are many artists I would love to work with.

A new limited edition artist's book written by John Yau, artwork by Max Gimblett abd published by Granary Press, New York in 2010 left: Max and John Yau at Max's Bowery Studio (December 2008) photo: Matt Jones, NY

Children’s Films: The End

The final day was the hardest. I was bit tired and movies were starting to blur together. I was also bit distracted by trying to time movie watching, then a cab ride, and getting through airport security. Even so, I managed to watch 7 short films, one animated short, and a feature film. What is truly hard about the […]

The final day was the hardest. I was bit tired and movies were starting to blur together. I was also bit distracted by trying to time movie watching, then a cab ride, and getting through airport security. Even so, I managed to watch 7 short films, one animated short, and a feature film.

What is truly hard about the last day is realizing that every film you watch is choice to not watch something else. As I go through the program book, small descriptions with a film still is all have to guide me. So for the close I thought I would share a smattering of film stills. Which would you choose to watch?

Here are the totals: 82 animated short films, 38 live action shorts, 4 feature films.  Now I just have to wait and see which ones I will choose for future programs. That’s when my job gets hard.

Raising Creative Kids: Interview with Elizabeth Mitchell

Working with musicians and performers is one of my favorite parts of programming for Free First Saturday . The upcoming Free First Saturday, on November 6,  we have invited special musical guest Elizabeth Mitchell to join us for the day.  Her partner Daniel Littleton and their daughter Storey have been on the road for several months performing as […]

Elizabeth Mitchell performing at Free First Saturday in 2005

Working with musicians and performers is one of my favorite parts of programming for Free First Saturday . The upcoming Free First Saturday, on November 6,  we have invited special musical guest Elizabeth Mitchell to join us for the day.  Her partner Daniel Littleton and their daughter Storey have been on the road for several months performing as a family and promoting their new album Sunny Day.  Somewhere between New York and California Elizabeth took the time to answer a few questions about her childhood and what she is doing to raise her own kid creatively.

1. How did you express creativity as a child?

I studied modern dance from the time i was six years old. My mother first took me to a ballet class when I was five, but I was not made for ballet! I remember my favorite part of the ballet class being the end, when the teacher would bring a bag of small plastic animals, and we could reach in blindly and choose an animal, then dance as that animal. The ballet teacher looked at my mother at the end of the term with a kind smile and said “maybe try modern with this one.” From that time on I went to class twice a week and loved every minute. I was not a technically “good” dancer, but that was not the point. I was moving my body and it was feeding my soul! And I was learning to express myself, in an abstract, nonlinear way. For me, that was the beginning of my life as an artist

2. What was your favorite book?

The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I was fascinated by the idea of things being hidden, the little boy hidden away in the house, the garden hidden behind the tall stone walls. I think I found that very romantic and subsequently did a lot of excited imagining that there was much hidden beyond what I saw.

3. What kinds of music did your parents play around the house?

Equal parts Ella Fitzgerald interpreting the great American songbook and the acoustic folk music of the 1970s. Ella was my mother’s favorite singer, but she also loved Simon and Garfunkel, Carole King and James Taylor. We had those albums on vinyl. But then, come 1978, it was the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever all year long, and on an 8 track tape!

4. Were you encouraged early-on by your family or teachers?

Always, by both my family and teachers. My elementary school music teacher gave me a lot of love and encouragement, and was an enormous part of my musical path. She was a thing of radiant beauty to me, her wide eyes and smile, playing Beatles and Joni Mitchell songs on the piano while we all sang along, sitting on a masking taped circle on the floor. She was joyful and relaxed and made me love to sing. It was the 1970s and there was still a lot of support for the arts in public schools at the time. In my memory, we had music class everyday.

5. How would you describe the art that you made as a child? What kinds of materials did you use? Any unusual ones?

I remember constantly making collages. I loved cutting up and piecing found things together, to make something new. Newspaper, yarn, leaves, layering tissue paper, old photographs, seashells, fabric, anything. I think the music that I make today is a form of collage, taking bits of inspiration from many different sources and influences, juxtaposing moments of sound from entirely different eras, cultures and genres, and creating new conversations between generations of music.

6. What was the best gift you got as a child, and who gave it to you?

My grandmother had a best friend named Katie Minton. She was an elderly but very spirited woman who lived alone. We would go visit her and she would always give us something of hers when we left- an old postcard, a piece of costume jewelry, a little box. It taught me to love giving, to be generous and unattached to my things.

Elizabeth Mitchell and Daniel Littleton

7. What was your first job?

When I was a teenager I worked at a fruit stand at a local farm. I grew up in a suburb of New York City so it was a rare thing to have a working farm in our town. But it was my favorite place to be. I loved spending the day surrounded by basil, tomatoes, corn, peaches, it was sensory heaven for me.  The customers were funny though, women who would ask for a tomato that would be ripe in exactly three days! The woman who ran the farm became a second mother to me, she was from Sweden and worked harder than anyone I knew at the time.

8. What song did you —or do you —always include on mixed tapes?

Three songs- Cucurrucucu Paloma, by Caetano Veloso, Djorolen by Oumou Sangare and Bela Fleck, and Raccoon and Possum by the Seeger Family.

9. What’s the coolest thing about being on road? What’s the hardest?

The coolest part is meeting so many amazing and beautiful children and families everywhere we go. People often share stories with us of how our music has affected their lives, and those words truly keep us going. The hardest part is being away from home and trying to find healthy food in the USA!

10. What was the first instrument you learned to play?

I started studying piano at age 5. I had a year of music theory before I even started playing the instrument. I can still remember the light and the colors of that room where I had theory lessons.

11. What instruments do you still play?

A little piano, guitar, harmonium, and lots of percussion. If I could do it all over again, I would be a drummer! Drummers have the most fun.

12. What’s the family favorite bedtime story?

There is a story my husband Daniel and my daughter Storey made up, called “The Land of Blue Clouds.” All kinds of magical things happen there, it changes every night. Daniel wrote a song about it called “Blue Clouds”, that was featured in the HBO Family Documentary “A Family is A Family is A Family.” It came right before a Frank Sinatra song, so we got billing over Frank Sinatra, which was cool!

Elizabeth and Storey

Interview with Auctioneer, Glen Fladeboe

Saturday, September 4th is the grand finale of Open Field summer programming and it’s also the conclusion of the month-long residency project, “A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard” led by the San Francisco-based art collective, Futurefarmers, and a core group of local art school students. Together they have been exploring the topic of […]

Saturday, September 4th is the grand finale of Open Field summer programming and it’s also the conclusion of the month-long residency project, “A People Without a Voice Cannot Be Heard” led by the San Francisco-based art collective, Futurefarmers, and a core group of local art school students. Together they have been exploring the topic of “voice” in a myriad of ways. For their final project they have brought in a professional father-son team of auctioneers, Glen and Dale Fladeboe of Fladeboe Auctions to lead a public auction that anyone can participate in, on Saturday September 4th at 1 pm on the Open Field. Click here to find out how you can get involved.

Read on for an interview with Glen about the auctioneering world!

Auctioneer, Glen Fladeboe Photo: Courtesy of Fraser

What led your father, and then you and your siblings to get involved in auctioneering?

My dad became an auctioneer in 1978 to supplement his income while he continued to be a farmer.  As to my sisters and I all becoming involved, we all grew up in the business , helped with the business in high school, and upon graduating from college we all continued to love the business and believed we could succeed as second generation owners.

Did you attend many auctions as a child, and if so, what impression did they have on you?

I attended hundreds of auctions as a child.  Contrary to many public impressions about farm auctions or sadness in selling a family farm, by far most  auctions were a very joyful, community event that in many ways was a celebration of the farmers life.

At what age did you know you wanted to become an auctioneer?

At age 18 I decided to go to auction school in the summer after graduating from high school, and before I attend my first year of college at Hamline University.

Where did you receive your training, and can you explain a little about what goes into this training?

I attended the World Wide College of Auctioneering in Mason City, Iowa.   The class is two weeks long and spends half the day teaching people the “auction chant,” or how to speak quickly when auctioneering, and the remaining time is spent on how to build or grow an auction business.

What types of auctions are you typically involved with?

Our company specializes in conducting benefit auctions for non-profit organizations, and selling farm land through real estate auctions.

Does the way you use your voice change according to the type of auction, i.e. a cattle auction vs. an art auction?

Yes, at a black tie fundraising auction in Minneapolis you are auctioneering much slower, with more time for jokes and humor than a typical farm auction where you need to sell hundreds or thousands of items in a few hours.

What kind of preparation goes into leading an auction?

For our non-profit clients the key to preparation is deciding the right live auction items and more importantly, how they will tell the story of why supporting the non-profit – in the form of bidding or pledging money – will make the community a better place.  As to our other auctions, the main key is marketing the merchandise so the public is aware of the auction and the value of the merchandise.

What’’s the strangest thing you’’ve ever auctioned off?

At a charity event I once auctioned off a chance to go to a tattoo parlor and get the tattoo of your choice.

What’’s the highest bid you’’ve ever received, and what was it for?

I sold a yellow puppy for $60,000 to benefit Cystic Fibrosis.

What’’s the biggest challenge and biggest joy of auctioneering?

The biggest challenge in auctioneering, unlike singing or another form of public performance, is that auctioneering requires the audience to communicate back to you, in the form or bidding or spending their money.   At the end of the day, we are always asking for money from people, and that is difficult because you cannot always control if the audience has any interest in the items you are selling.

The biggest joy in auctioneering is the difference we have made for all our clients who rely on the revenue to keep their doors open,  and continue serving Minnesotans through wonderful non-profit work.

What advice would you give to someone looking to get into this profession?

Focus on being a people person, treating the audience and the community well, and communicate in ways that you can build likability and trust with your audiences.

What are you most looking forward to about the auction with Futurefarmers on September 4th?

I am looking forward to sharing a little “auction experience” with some children and adults who may not have had the chance to attend an auction.   For many Minnesotans, attending an auction brings back old memories of day with your grandpa or your dad, and hopefully this opportunity will excite others about the rich heritage or diversity of our state.

Photo: Courtesy of Brite Idea Photography

Olive Bieringa on the ecosomatics classroom

From August 20-27th dancer and choreographer, Olive Bieringa of BodyCartography Project will be facilitating a week-long collaborative classroom (in the Walker’s FlatPak House and at off-site locations), teaming up with a collective of scientists and artists to co-investigate the scientific and physical ways we interact with and understand the environment. The ecosomatics classroom is a […]


Photo courtesy of Olive Bieringa

From August 20-27th dancer and choreographer, Olive Bieringa of BodyCartography Project will be facilitating a week-long collaborative classroom (in the Walker’s FlatPak House and at off-site locations), teaming up with a collective of scientists and artists to co-investigate the scientific and physical ways we interact with and understand the environment. The ecosomatics classroom is a roving experimental project that intertwines the fields of ecology, biology and other sciences along with dance and the somatic practice of Body-Mind Centering. For the full schedule click here. Olive was kind enough to elaborate on the big ideas behind this project:

What is ecosomatics?

First let’s begin with the word somatics which comes from the Greek word soma meaning “the living body in its wholeness.” Thomas Hanna coined the term  “somatics” in 1976 to describe the practices  that directly address mind/body integration e.g. Body-Mind Centering, Feldenkrais, Alexander technique, etc.

Ecosomatics is an emerging interdisciplinary field which connects embodiment practices such as dance and the healing arts with ecological consciousness. It is a dynamic approach to learning and living and a manifestation in how the moving arts can facilitate a lasting positive impact upon the natural, and the social landscape.

Where did the idea for this project originate?

For over a decade I have been creating site specific performance work in all kinds of social and physical landscapes which has stimulated my environmental awareness. Through the study of Body-Mind Centering® I have been exposed to the practice of embodying anatomical and physiological information and this has deeply informed my art making. I had an appetite to extend my interdisciplinary research to other fields of science.  How can we can access knowledge from other disciplines to enrich our own? How can embodiment/movement play a role in how we accumulate knowledge? How can our somatic knowledge expand research in other fields? How can embodied and empathetic practices help us to evolve as human beings and transform our environmental consciousness?

Olive Bieringa, BodyCartography Project Photo by Christian Glaus

Who are your team of collaborators, and what role will they play in the Ecosomatics Classroom?

I will be joined by four scientists John Schade, Ecosystem Ecologist  St. Olaf College, Biology and Environmental Studies, Bonnie Ploger, Behavioral Ecologist, Department of Biology & Artist in Residence, Center for Global Environmental Education, Hamline University Environmental Education, Ben Jordan, Biologist, Harvard University and Bryce Beverlin II, Biophysicist working with the brain and neural networks, University of Minnesota Physics Department. They will offer other short lectures and participate in activities and exchanges throughout the week.

How does this project fit into your work as a dancer?

I consider myself an artist who works with the body as my primary site. I make performance work, installations and alternate learning environments such as SEEDS (somatic experiments in earth, dance + science), an annual festival of arts and ecology and an ecosomatics classroom. This project is a prototype for me. I will facilitate the week.  It is an experiment in interdisciplinary education in which anybody can contribute to the subject at hand.

SEEDS/Earthdance, 2010 Photo courtesy of Olive Bieringa

What is your definition of the commons?

My definition of the commons includes our shared resources both natural and cultural, of course that includes our embodied knowledge. We each live in a body, a free resource. Together we have a shared experience  of being conceived, growing from an embryo to a fetus, being born, living, breathing and shitting on this earth. How can we tap into this living knowledge that exists in our tissue to help us regain our sense of wholeness and relationship with the world in which live.

What do you mean by ‘rewilding the commons’?

Together we will play, overcoming our domestication to engage in our human wildness. Using our animal instinctiveness we will discover other ways of perceiving and interacting with the commons/world.

What’s your vision for an alternate classroom model?

With this classroom project I am interested in how knowledge can be gained, embodied, exchanged and given away for free.

What are your most pressing ecological concerns?

Water, earth, air, nuclear waste, social inequities, food quality, war, the bees…our bodies and those of other animals, insects and plants are direct mirrors of environmental health. Things are at a crisis point.

How do you hope movement and dance will help you and your participants gain a better understanding of the environment?

Through real and metaphorical connections, expanding our ability to empathize and take action.

What can we expect to see and do in Open Field on August 26th at the Rewilding the Commons program?

For people who come for the whole day we will look at perceptual systems of other animals. We will build a movement score that everyone can participate in. A herd of animal-humans that will roam the field pursuing wild and serene group actions and random solo adventures.

Photo: Adam Holloway

How can the public get involved?

People are invited to attend any day of the ecosomatics classroom. They can also come to participate in either of the performances: Rewilding the Commons or GO on Nicollet Avenue. They should check out the ecosomatics blog to see the schedule and email me if they have questions.

Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio

In 1993 the late architect and MacArthur Genius Samuel Mockbee started the Rural Studio at Auburn University, a design/build education program, in which students create striking architecture for impoverished communities in rural Alabama. Guided by frank, passionate interviews with Mockbee, the documentary Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio shows how […]

In 1993 the late architect and MacArthur Genius Samuel Mockbee started the Rural Studio at Auburn University, a design/build education program, in which students create striking architecture for impoverished communities in rural Alabama. Guided by frank, passionate interviews with Mockbee, the documentary Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio shows how a group of students use their creativity, ingenuity and compassion to craft a home for their charismatic, destitute client, Jimmie Lee Matthews, known to locals as Music Man because of his zeal for R&B and Soul records. The film reveals that the Rural Studio is about more than architecture and building.

Mockbee’s program provides students with an experience that forever inspires them to consider how they can use their skills to better their communities. Interviews with Mockbee’s peers and scenes with those he’s influenced infuse the film with a larger discussion of architecture’s role in issues of poverty, class, race, education, citizenship and social change.

Citizen Architect makes its’ Minneapolis premiere at the Walker Cinema on Thursday, July 1 at 7 pm. A discussion follows the screening, featuring panelists Maureen Colburn, cofounder of the Minneapolis-St. Paul chapter of Architecture for Humanity and architect with LHB in Minneapolis; Paul Neseth, cofounder of Locus Architecture in Minneapolis and founder of the RAW design/build program; and James Wheeler, intern architect at Gulf Coast Community Design Studio in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Below are snippets taken from a Q & A with Citizen Architect director, Sam Wainwright Douglas. To read the full interview click here.

You are Samuel Mockbee’s son-in-law. Aside from the family connection and access to the subject, what drove you and your wife, Sarah Ann, to work on and complete this film?

SAM: I was always struck by the beauty and power of Sambo’s architecture and drawings. They had a lot of life and energy in them. But, more than that, I was inspired by the simple fact that he tried to make the world a better place with his talent, creativity and compassion. I think every artist wants to touch people the way Sambo was able to.

My father and Sambo were friends and did several jobs together in the 80′s and 90′s, starting with the Mississippi Pavilion at the World’s Fair in New Orleans in 1984. As a kid growing up in Houston, I was quite taken by this big Mississippian with a huge beard who liked to draw as much as I did. And, then later on I was blown away when I saw that he was making architecture not only for the usual crowd, but for everyone else and also engaging students to use their skills for something more fulfilling than just a paycheck. When I was a student at NYU, I would often drive through Mississippi on my way to school. Sambo always welcomed me into his home. We’d drink Heinekens and talk about art. He always had time to talk art.

You’re in a grocery store checkout line, and you’re explaining to someone the legacy of Samuel Mockbee … GO:

SAM: Samuel Mockbee was an architect who tried to make the world a better place through his creativity and compassion. He co-founded a program called the Rural Studio that invites architecture students to design and build striking, functional, respectful architecture for very impoverished communities in the rural South. He created an educational model that not only provides badly needed homes and facilities but also provides students with a seminal experience that leaves them bitten by the bug of incorporating a social responsibility into everything they do.

When taking on a big personality like Mockbee’s – especially someone you were close to – what did you consider when making this film? What did you want to accomplish?

SAM: We wanted to produce a film that followed a project from start to finish, so you could see the impact the experience was having on students, while also allowing Mockbee to explain the Rural Studio and his motivations, allowing you to get to know this amiable, thoughtful person. We also tried to show his impact on the profession beyond the borders of Alabama and have a larger discussion about architecture’s role in our lives, education, citizenship and social priorities. And, we wanted to do it in an entertaining, thoughtful way that engages audiences beyond the architecture community.

One of the funnier moments of the movie is when Peanut Robinson, a Hale County resident, tells Rural Studio’s Jay Sanders in no uncertain terms that architects don’t work for poor people and haven’t done anything for him or his community. Can you tell us how that scene came about and why you included it?

SAM: Peanut sets up one of the main questions explored in the movie. Can architects have real impact? Is architecture just for the wealthy or can it benefit everybody? Peanut was very accommodating as far as filming went. He has a masters degree in education from Tuskegee and he loves to pontificate. So if you catch him in downtown Newbern, which you usually can, then he’ll be happy to strike a conversation with anyone who’s going to be respectful.

One of film’s biggest strengths – you have never-before-seen interviews with Samuel Mockbee, speaking eloquently about his teaching philosophy and the effect of Rural Studio on students and the community. How did you get access to this? When were these interviews done?

SAM: These interviews with Sambo were conducted at his home in Canton, MS in 1999. I’d been out of film school for a year. They were supposed to be a preliminary interview for a film on Sambo that I knew I wanted to do some day, which is why the production quality is a bit lackingI thought we might just use them to get a grant or something. Sadly, Sambo passed away and these interviews ended up becoming the only candid, in-depth footage that exist of him on camera. It’s very fortunate that we have them for future generations.

You offer an alternative perspective to Samuel Mockbee’s thinking by interviewing Peter Eisenman, Yale professor and noted architect. Why did you choose to add this element? Was it difficult to get him to open up?

SAM: We interviewed Mr. Eisenman so the audience can hear from someone who is on the other side of the architectural spectrum from Sambo. He is very sure of his opinions and was very forthcoming, which we really appreciated and respect. All we had to do was ask the question. He liked Sambo, but he approaches his work from a different point of view. It’s important to have multiple perspectives—it’s not about who’s right or who’s wrong—that’s the great thing about dialogues like this.

It took a while to put this film together. What drove you to complete it?

SAM: The year before Sambo passed away, he charged me and Jack Sanders with making a film that got to the heart of the Rural Studio. We had to honor that, and it’s a story we really cared about, so we never doubted we would get it done somehow. It has been 10 years since the initial interviews with Sambo, but I’m glad that the film has had the opportunity to explore his ongoing impact several years removed from that first footage. It’s a testament to his lasting impact and relevance.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from architects and designers who have seen the film?

SAM: Simply put, EVERYONE we’ve screened the film for leaves inspired and entertained… and they want more, which is why I’m grateful for this website. We hope to continue the conversation and engage those who want more.

Play: What’s to be learned from kids? Part 2

Part of the Designing Play program series, developmental psychologist Edith Ackermann visits the Walker this Thursday to address the topic: Playful Inventions and Explorations: What’s to be learned from kids? (Thursday, April 22nd, 7 pm, Cinema, Free). Ackermann has studied under Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist renowned for his studies on child development and has […]

Edith Ackermann

Part of the Designing Play program series, developmental psychologist Edith Ackermann visits the Walker this Thursday to address the topic: Playful Inventions and Explorations: What’s to be learned from kids? (Thursday, April 22nd, 7 pm, Cinema, Free). Ackermann has studied under Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist renowned for his studies on child development and has devoted her research to exploring the relationship between play, learning, design, and technology at MIT’s Media Lab, the LEGO Learning Institute, and most recently at the Exploratorium Museum of Science, Art and Human Perception in San Francisco, California. Below is the second part of an interview with Ackermann, click here for part 1.

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What happens when you design with, rather than for kids?

When you design with, rather than for kids there’s a better chance to come up with a solution that fits the children, provided the designers don’t surrender their expertise to come up with surprising solutions, and the children are given the elbow-room and time to let designers know what they really care about (beyond the contrived context of usability studies). Easier said than done! When it comes to innovating for others, don’t guess what they want or do what they say: co-create what they—and you—will love once it is there!

Playscapes Activity at February 2010 Free First Saturday "Let's Play!" Photo by Gene Pittman

What’s your earliest play memory? Why do you think we remember these experiences?

I always loved to play on the beach with my sister. We spent hours building castles and entire cities, using buckets to moisten and shape the sand. We collected stones, sticks, and shells for decoration. It was also fun to dig holes in the sand till they were deep enough for the water to appear at the bottom, and then to widen the walls to form puddles big enough for us to sit in – and our dolls to swim in. Not to mention the joy of covering ourselves up in the sand, letting only our heads stick out, and then running into the water to rinse off! Looks like the beach is a perfect playground for old and young to have fun together….

Why is play important, and what can adults learn from kids’ play?

Play, like imagination itself, requires an appreciation of things in their unreality, a desire to move outside the comfort zone. Through pretense and fantasy play, children detach messages, experiences, and objects from their context of origin, creating a new frame that allows for greater freedom, interactivity, and creative possibilities. As they tweak the constraints of a situation [respecting and transgressing rules], they feel free to move, engage with new contexts and open up their experience to unexpected possibilities.

People, young and old, need fun, humor, poetry, pretense, and make-believe. They seek to cross boundaries, widen their horizon, and feel ‘transported’. They love to know what’s NOT THERE and take a walk on the wild side.

Do you think there’s a deficit of play in the lives of children or adults? If so, what’s your suggested antidote?

We seem to witness both an overkill of entertainment—and its pedagogical servant: edutainment—and a lack of open-ended and constructive play—and its pedagogical equivalent—genuine “hard fun”: the ability to move or operate freely in a bounded space. The metaphor of the “leap” is often used to capture the sense of exuberance and freedom that characterize children’s play, as well as its boundary-crossing nature. Problem is:  We can’t just leap without a place to land, and there would be no levity without gravity.  It is in this deep sense that play is not merely an escape from reality but the freedom to participate in, transform and be transformed by the world.

As John Holt put it  “Children use fantasy not to get out of, but to get into, the real world”. It is their way of understanding it and coming to grips with their experience, turning it over and owning it. To play is to become a part of a reality in constant transformative engagement with itself. Play does not disappear with adulthood, nor is it a luxury reserved to poets and artists alone.

Father/son team designing a model on Google SketchUp. Photo by Ashley Duffalo

What are your thoughts on technology’s effect on children living in the digital age?

Question is: what do “we” mean by technologies. In Allan Kay’s words: grown-ups tend to call “technology” any tool that was invented after “they” are born. Not so for children! Born into a world filled with human-made artifacts (from spoons to buzzers, from electric appliances to remote-controls, from tree-houses to interactive toys), Children have no preconceived ideas of what’s high-tech or low-tech, animate or inanimate, physical or digital. Instead, they build their own categories as they gravitate toward and come to experience useful and fun things to play with. Children, in other words, re-purpose intended uses and appropriate the tools and toys at their avail to support them in own their relentless desire to play and learn. Obviously staring at a computer screen day in day out won’t get the kids moving, nor, for that matter, will sitting in a library, in a car,  or in a classroom for hours in a row.

What’s your perspective on the relationship between kids and their senses these days? Is the profusion of screens (TV, computer, mobile phones, etc) making them afraid to get their hands dirty?

The profusion of screens seems to have the paradoxical effect that today’s children are more than ever obsessed with getting their hands in the dirt! Unlike their parents or grand-parents (the TV watchers), many so-called “digital natives” (the young cyber-geeks) are, in fact, reclaiming their mobility (cell phones, iPods) and their territory (digitally-augmented physical places, locative and ubiquitous computing). They form a new culture of makers, hobbyists, bricoleurs, pro-ams, fabricators and tinkerers –who care about things because they know how to fix, mend, personalize, and recycle things. They are also a culture of participation – people who share their creations; and who borrow, remix, address and swap their creations. They build on each other’s contributions all the time…

It has become commonplace to think of young people as “geeks” who spend their lives playing on line and browsing the web. While many still do, today’s tinkerers also design, create, and invent: they move between worlds (digital, physical, virtual), they mess with materials, and they care for their environment. While worried parents fear for their senses, the children ironically show us the way.

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