Category Archives: Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Edward Gorey

Best known as an illustrator of vaguely Victorian and morose themed works, Edward Gorey was born in Chicago, 1925. I grew up fairly familiar with the artist – several of his books were on our family’s bookshelves, and my parents were (and are) faithful fans of the PBS program Mystery! Occasionally on Sunday nights I would hear the wailing of an animated woman atop an ink and paper building (see video at 25 seconds), a fine sound to close the weekend.

Gorey crafted the animation for the PBS Mystery! series introduction in 1980, and the work highlights much of what today is considered signature Gorey. The macabre and almost haunted humor of the artist pairs well with the spirit of the program. During his career Gorey’s style was often termed “goth” and his works warmly embraced by the Goth subculture. In reaction to his work being titled “goth,” the artist told The New Yorker in 1992, “If you’re doing nonsense it has to be rather awful, because there’d be no point. I’m trying to think if there’s sunny nonsense. Sunny, funny nonsense for children – oh, how boring, boring, boring. As Schubert said, there is no happy music. And that’s true, there really isn’t. And there’s probably no happy nonsense, either.”

Gorey's grim alphabet - as featured in his work "The Gashlycrumb Tinies" (1963).

Gorey’s grim alphabet – as featured in his work “The Gashlycrumb Tinies” (1963).

The artist’s formal training in his craft was limited – he spent only a semester at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the 1940s. Later, Gorey would leave Illinois behind him and spend time in New York City, where he worked with Doubleday Anchor as an illustrotor for book covers. The artist became well-known for his own works and artistic style when the Gotham Book Mart featured some of his pieces. In addition to lending his talent to books and his own works, Gorey was also responsible for the decor and costumes behind the 1977 Broadway production of Dracula. The artist was awarded a Tony for his work on costume design. Later in life Gorey purchased a 200 year-old home in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where he continued to illustrate, but also dived into the realm of puppetry.

Edward Gorey - Artist & Puppeteer. Image: Edward Gorey House

Edward Gorey – Artist & Puppeteer. Image: Edward Gorey House

Gorey died in 2000 at the age of 75. Today, that centuries old home in Cape Cod hosts an Edward Gorey museum, The Edward Gorey House. Open seasonally, the website promises an educational and enlightening look into a masterful, fun, and interesting artist. For those interested in Gorey’s work and not close to Cape Cod, the Loyola University Museum of Art in Chicago is currently presenting “The Art of Edward Gorey,” an exhibition up through June 15. Promising to be full of prints, letters, and unique emphemera, the exhibition looks very interesting. When we make our Illinois tour at the close of May, we’ll have to see if we can squeeze this exhibition into our schedule.

Chicagoans, have you seen this exhibition yet? I’d love to hear what Chicago EMPs think – or if any of the Windy City EMPs had the opportunity to contribute on this neat project.

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Artist Spotlight: Pulaski County Kidos!

Happy (Belated) Pulaski Day!

As a Chicagoan, I have fond memories of enjoying the first Monday in March off of school due to this famous Polish explorer. Celebrated in places with large Polish populations, Illinois actually enacted a law in 1977 to celebrate this American Revolutionary War hero. Born in Warsaw on March 6, 1745, Casimir Pulaski emigrated to North America to assist revolutionaries with military actions. He is known as “the father of the American Calvary” and was awarded honorary United States citizenship when he died, following injuries earned at the Battle of Savannah.

Now that we have relocated to exotic Arkansas, I was a bit disappointed (though not surprised) to find that Pulaski Day is not celebrated as such here. Little Rock however is located in Pulaski County – which is in fact named for Casimir Pulaski!

On that note, I wanted to share a couple of images of artwork created by Pulaski County children for The Art of Recycling Sculpture Contest and its resulting exhibition. This exhibition helps highlight the creative and continuous use of recyclables, while also emphasizing the importance of recycling by reusing and reducing waste. The top four winners (selected by a mysterious panel) won $300 for their school districts’ art programs. How neat is that?

Materials: Large Goldfish cracker box, gallon milk carton, newspaper, rainbow loom bans, cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel cores, trash bag tie, brown paper, GoGo squeeze toys, glue, ink sharpie pens.

Materials: Large Goldfish cracker box, gallon milk carton, newspaper, rainbow loom bans, cardboard, toilet paper and paper towel cores, trash bag tie, brown paper, GoGo squeeze toys, glue, ink sharpie pens.

“The Giving Tree” was created by students in third and fifth grade at Forest Park Elementary in the Little Rock School District. One thing that strikes me about this piece is the diverse recycling materials the classes utilized (with guidance from an art teacher). The range of material helps create multiple textures and an exciting amount of depth on this tree – inspired, I believe, by the popular children’s book The Giving Tree. The leaves pop out – at least to my eye. There is a great amount of detail on this piece, a bird on the branches, with a swing set hanging from another. The subject matter itself, about a tree continuously giving for multiple purposes for a little boy until (spoiler alert…) the tree is merely a stump, also uniquely supports the contest and exhibition’s theme about utilizing resources wisely.

Another piece I wanted to share from this special display is, well, pretty darn adorable.

Materials: Newspaper, toilet paper roll cores, bottle caps, milk cartons, paperboard

Materials: Newspaper, toilet paper roll cores, bottle caps, milk cartons, paperboard

Titled, rather whimsically, “Fuzzalina” this piece was submitted to the contest by two second grade students at Williams Magnet School, also located in the Little Rock School District. Fuzzalina looks a bit like a baby harp seal:

Adorable Baby Harp Seal - Source: Wiki

Adorable Baby Harp Seal – Source: Wiki

“Fuzzalina” is fun, rather quirky, and rich with details – which suggests time and effort by its young artists. The whiskers are probably my favorite – rolled strips of newspaper. : )

In short, some great pieces created by local young artists to celebrate recycling AND the arts!

Artist Spotlight: David Macaulay

Combining architecture, engineering, and down-right awesome illustrations, David Macaulay is perhaps best known as a children’s book illustrator. You may recognize some of his most popular works  – The Way Things Work, Cathedral, or, and this is easily my favorite, Motel of the Mysteries.

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Cover of Cathedral (1973)

Born in Lancashire, England in 1946, Macaulay was raised in New Jersey and attended the Rhode Island School of Design. At the RISD, Macaulay focused his studies on Rome and Pompeii. Combining his academic interests, attention to detail, and some witty humor, much of Macaulay’s work is grounded in intricate designs and architectural renderings of buildings throughout time.

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

An illustration from Pyramid (1975)

The illustrator focused on children’s nonfiction for the early portion of this career, producing some of his most well-known works. Additional titles include Pyramid (1975), Castle (1977), and Unbuilding (1980).

An illustration from Underground (1976)

An illustration from Underground (1976)

As I mentioned, my favorite of Macaulay’s work is Motel of the Mysteries (1979). This book focuses on future archeologists encountering a highway motel dating from the 1980s. The archeologists are led by Howard Carson, a young professional, designed with a nod to Howard Carter, of Tutankhamen fame. With limited data, the motel is soon interpreted as a religious burial site, with each room seen as a sacred tomb. Misguided conclusions are made, many of them terribly wrong. (A motel room’s TV is seen as a sacred alter, the toilet seat a decorative necklace…) Here, and in many of his other works, Macaulay presents some scientific lessons in observation and data gathering while producing a creative story with layers of history, archeology, and architecutre. I first encountered this book in the sixth grade, when a reading/social studies teacher read it aloud to our class. I still remember that day, and thinking “This is cool.” It was around this time that I became interested in how the past is interpreted and material culture.

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

An illustration from Motel of the Mysteries (1979)

In the 1990s and early 2000s Macaulay began producing some children’s fiction and picture books, such as Angelo (2002). Angelo follows the friendship of an Italian preservationist who, while working on a rooftop in Rome, encounters an injured pigeon. Overcoming a lifelong disdain for the animal (and its effect on historic buildings), the two form a friendship while the craftsman works to preserve the building. You can see why this illustrator appeals to me and others in the field.

Cover of Angelo (2002)

Cover of Angelo (2002)

In 2007 the National Building Museum featured an exhibition focused on the author, David Macaulay, The Art of Drawing Architecture. I’m sorry to have missed the exhibit, but I thoroughly enjoyed examining the exhibition designer’s renderings and photos – I even spotted some familiar gallery seating. The chairs utilized in the exhibition appear to be the same the Illinois State Museum features in its hands-on children’s gallery, The Play Museum! (For those interested: The chairs are Ikea Benjamin stools, here creatively utilized outside a museum gallery.)

I recently signed up to be a reader for National Reading Day through our local Volunteer in Public Schools Program (VIPS) in Little Rock. I look forward to selecting one of Macaulay’s works and sharing it with new audiences!

Have you read any of David Macaulay’s works? Do you have a favorite? I’d love to hear some recommendations!

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Artist Spotlight: Ansel Adams

We all know him for his landscapes and nature scenes – but did you know Adams was also a street photographer? I recently stumbled across this 2010 NPR article which details that the photographer’s range of work.

I came across the NPR article while researching  Adams. An advertisement for the Peoria Riverfront Museum appeared in the program for the upcoming Association of Midwest Museums 2013 conference “Locally Grown, Community Created.” The advertisement outlined the new exhibit “Ansel Adams: Western Exposure” which opened April 13 and runs through September 22, 2013.

Anyone want to check it out? 


Ansel Adams, c.1950


“Evening, McDonald Lake, Glacier National Park,” Montana., 1933 – 1942
Ansel Adams

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Artist Spotlight: Erastus Sailsbury Field

While interning with the Joseph Allen Skinner Museum in South Hadley, MA, I became fascinated with a painting on dispaly at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. Located in a permanent gallery, the piece was of a little girl holding a book. The background features a landscape scene with a lake, with a draped column on the left. The girl seems to greet you, her gaze warm. The straight lines of her dress and the detail on the fringe suggest a steady painter’s hand while the attention and care with the facial expression and eyes indicates an observant and careful creator. From the Skinner collection, this oil on canvas dates from about 1835 and is by Massachusettes artist Erastus Sailsbury Field.

What do you think of this piece?

Born in 1805 in Leverett, MA, Erastus Sailsbury Field spent much of his life in Massachusetts. The National Gallery of Art details that with an early interest in art, Field moved to New York in the 1820s to study with Samuel B.F. Morse. With a natural talent, Field spent much of his time painting portraits and landscapes, and was known for his quick and precise work.

The artist married and had one child, a daughter. Field integrated changing technology as he worked, utilizing evolving camera technology such as the daguerreotype to capture a sitter’s image. He would use this image as he finalized painting a portrait. Adoptive, resourceful, and industrious, Field created a small studio in Sunderland, MA.

By the time of his death in 1900, Field had produced over three hundred paintings. In addition to portraits and landscapes, Field’s work also includes many historical and biblical scenes. I was grateful to encounter this artist’s work while living in Massachusetts!

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Artist Spotlight: Edward Hopper, Nighthawks

Growing up, there was a print of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks above our family’s computer desk at home. I remember working on papers in high school and glancing up at the print, imagining what the figures would think of my poetry analysis or chemistry report. The figures seemed so lonely, isolated in the brightly lit diner. The colors and structure of the piece emitted an atmosphere almost of tired tension. I was – and am – often reminded of the movies from the 1940s and film noir period. I could imagine Humphrey Bogart or Barbara Stanwyck stepping into the scene, exhausted after a long day and in need of a strong, hot cup of coffee.

During this time I made it a point to hop a train and visit the Art Institute of Chicago and actually view Hopper’s Nighthawks in the flesh.


Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
Nighthawks, 1942
Oil on canvas
84.1 x 152.4 cm (33 1/8 x 60 in.)

Located in the American Art Gallery, this 1942 oil on canvas immediately captures a sense mystery  – Who were these individuals? What were their stories? The Art Institute points out that because the piece has a visible lack of narrative, it also has a timeless quality that transcends its particular local – inviting the imagination to concoct its own tale for the figures in the diner.

With just Nighthawks in mind, I was curious – who was Edward Hopper as an artist? What was his life like? In a 2004 biography written by Sheena Wagstaff, the director of exhibitions at the Tate Modern, London, Wagstaff notes that as a quiet and introverted man, Hopper had a gentle sense of humor and a frank manner. Born in New York in 1882, Hopper studied at the New York Institute of Art and Design, and was greatly influenced by Rembrandt, Impressionists, and engravers such as Charles Meyron. His work shifted between urban and rural settings, utilizing a spare and careful style. Hopper focused his work in mediums such as oil, watercolor, and prints. Nighthawks is his best known work, for additional pieces check out this convenient list. Hopper died 1967, and his wife, who had been a strong partner in his career, passed away ten months later. Much of his life’s work was left to the Whitney Museum of American Art. In 2007 the National Gallery of Art hosted an exhibit, Edward Hopper, which surveyed the artist’s work.

Hopper’s art has inspired countless other works in a variety of mediums from comics to motion pictures. Nighthawks specifically has inspired its fair share of parodies. Check out this 2009 article which highlights several pop culture interpretations of the piece.


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Artist Spotlight: Martin Lewis

Every now and then you just have to purge.

This afternoon – in a mild attempt at procrastination – I started the task of editing and deleting images on my phone (amazing how they accumulate). While deleting, I spotted a picture I saved sometime over Summer 2012, while interning in the sweltering hot Northern Neck of Virginia at Stratford Hall. The picture was from a newspaper and detailed a 1930 print by Martin Lewis titled Shadow Dance which had recently sold in New York at an artist-record price of $50,400.

The image shows flappers emerging from a city subway at dusk, ready to face the night’s adventures. The print captured my imagination while sweating out the summer inventorying a stable and coach house. The energy in the image is apparent, with the bright young things eager to explore and have a good time.

Martin Lewis (1881-1962)
Shadow Dance, 1930.
Drypoint and sandpaper.

An Australian immigrant, Martin Lewis spent much of his life in the United States in major cities such as San Francisco and New York, working with a variety of paper media. Lewis experimented with processes such as etching, aquatint, engraving, and drypoint with his works. His subject matter typically featured busy city street scenes, such as Shadow Dance. Later in life he focused on rural, country scenes after moving to Connecticut. The Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT, featured the artist in an exhibit which ran from October 2, 2011 – February 26, 2012. I’m sorry to have missed the exhibit, but here’s a link to its online presence.

(I decided not to delete the picture from my phone.)

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Artist Spotlight: Vivian Maier

Have you heard her story? It’s a good one.

In March 2011 I was thrilled to attend the exhibit “Finding Vivian Maier: Chicago Street Photographer” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Centered on the life and works of the mid-20th century nanny/photographer extraordinaire, the exhibit was the result of a 2008 discovery via a storage unit auction of Maier’s life work (suddenly Storage Wars seems a bit more credible). Not only is the discovery of her work amazing – so is the quality of her work.

As an amateur photographer, street photography has always fascinated me.There’s something especially entrancing about Maier’s work. Her camera captures both light and shadows, and her subjects’ expressions span the range of emotion from anger to apathy.

Is there a particular artist or medium that inspires you?

Here are just a couple of Maier’s works to wet your appetite (All photos by Vivian Maier). For more photographs by Maier, check out this blog.



Hooked on her story?

Check out this trailer of a new documentary about her life and work:

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