Saturday, July 16, 2016

Donald Trump and Diane Sawyer--Post Election Fun and Games on Nov. 7, 2012

(Just came across thus post that I did in Nov. of 2012 when I was amused by Trump's reaction to Obama's victory.    Four years later Trump seems a lot less amusing and a lot scarier.)
Nov. 7, 2012--Much more fun than following the pre-election debates (yawn!) and the election night results is reading today's after- election commentary and Monday-morning quarterbacking on the internet. 

Trending now as number one topic on Yahoo is not a search for the breakdown of electoral votes, but the burning question: Was Diane Sawyer drunk?  Evidently ABC and her colleagues are saying she was merely exhausted from staying up night after night memorizing election facts and figures. I say, never mind if she was celebrating Obama's win off camera; she still did a great job.  I think Diane Sawyer's wicked smart and gorgeous to boot.

Salon has listed the 20 top sore losers after the election results came in and Donald Trump has won first and second place in this race for two tweets , one of which he has deleted after cooling down a little.  This is what Salon said about Trump:

(Credit: Salon/Benjamin WheelockAs election night wore on and an Obama victory became more and more likely, conservatives began explaining away the loss for Mitt Romney and other Republicans. On Fox, Bill O’Reilly kicked it off on a sour note, predicting on Fox News: “Obama wins because it’s not a traditional America anymore. The white establishment is the minority. People want things.” Then it deteriorated.
The sorest losers, ranked in order:
1). Donald J. Trump, for his tweet:
He lost the popular vote by a lot and won the election. We should have a revolution in this country!
Trump has since deleted this tweet, maybe after he learned Obama would not lose the popular vote.
I think the painting of Trump on Salon (above, by Benjamin Wheelock)  is probably adding to the mogul's anger and disappointment over Romney's loss, so I thought I'd repost a portrait of Trump which hangs in his estate Mar-a-Lago,  which is now a private club.  This is the way Trump prefers to see himself portrayed:

I first posted my photograph of this painting after a lunch at Mar-a-Lago in April 2011 when the Donald and his family passed through and greeted us visitors.  This is what I posted about it:

Lunch at Mar-a-Lago with the Donald

Someone passed this self-aggrandizing photo on to political blogger Andrew Sullivan, whose blog is Goliath to "A Rolling Crone's" David.  When Sullivan posted it, hilarity ensued, but no one knew where the photo came from in the first place until another political blogger, Michael Shaw, traced it back to my humble blog and my pocket digital camera.    Suddenly I was getting 3,000 hits an hour--a heady experience for  a novice blogger.  If you want to read more about the brouhaha, click on

"Somebody's Playing my Trump Card"

Meanwhile I'm going back to search the internet for more sour-grapes tweets from Trump and explanations of Diane Sawyer's slurring.  It takes my mind off the rain, sleet and snow in the nor'easter which is fast heading our way.  (Now where did I store that snow shovel?)

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Overdosing on Art in NYC—Part One

 Last month, while in Manhattan visiting the grandkids, I had a rare opportunity to go on an “art walk” with two friends, fellow crones Mary and Lynn, who live in Manhattan and are sophisticated art mavens.  They are au courant with all the happening events in the city and they periodically do a stroll through art galleries to see what the hottest contemporary artists are up to.

We started with lunch at the Chop Shop, a small, trendy Asian fusion restaurant on 10th Avenue near 24th Street, then, with Lynn holding her list of galleries, we visited so many that I can’t remember all of the artists’ names.  But I’ll share with you what I do remember.

The only artist I knew about ahead of time was Wayne Thiebaud, at Allan Stone Projects.  Often called a New York Pop artist, Thiebaud is famous for his paintings of luscious cakes, pies, donuts, cupcakes, etc.
I hadn’t seen a nude by Thiebaud before. I think this one is pouting because she can't get to any of those pastries.
I can’t remember who is the artist behind this patriotic collage…

Nor do I remember who painted this touching tribute to Mom and Pop.

Bruce Conner at the Paula Cooper Gallery has done “large jacquard tapestries”  the handout says, “Woven with cotton thread on a Jacquard loom in Belgium, each tapestry was derived from a specific collage…..sourced from old illustrated books in the Old and New Testaments and the life of Christ.  The collages were scanned and digitally edited...  to produce weave files.” (I think that means he didn’t actually weave them or draw them himself.  I don’t know... 

 But I think his art is saying something about religion versus modern technology.)

Even the streets outside the galleries on 21st, 22nd and 24th Street were full of art.  I have no idea of the reason behind this lady on a wall, but I like it.

And this man washing windows outside a gallery didn’t seem a bit worried by the sinister animals and mummies lurking around him.
And this crazy wall—is it graffiti or art?

The sign over the door, “Heavenly Body Works” doesn’t explain much, but Lynn and Mary said, “You have to come in!”
Turns out it’s a chic and extremely expensive store of “Comme des Garcons”.  There was an Asian man trying on a wire cage that he placed over his head, resting on his shoulders.  Lynn suggested a resemblance to Hannibal Lecter’s headgear.

The Paula Cooper Gallery was presenting new work by Meg Webster—the only female artist I recall seeing that day.  The handout says, “Meg Webster’s work finds inspiration in the intrinsic beauty of natural materials.”

Here’s Mary in Meg Webster’s “Solar Grow Room”, looking pretty in pink. It’s an “ecosystem sustained by solar panels installed on the galley exterior.  Bathed in pink light, raised planters are cultivated with moss, grass, flowers and other vegetation."

In a larger room we encountered more of Meg Webster’s art.

Here’s a visitor taking a photo of “Volume for Lying Flat” made of peat and green moss to create a human-sized bed.”  I wonder what they’d do if I lay down on it?

I walked right into “Stick and Structure” made from “branches, twigs and flowering plants that converge to form an enclosed circle.”  I didn’t check on the price.

A man was cleaning the floor around Meg Webster’s “Mother Mound Salt” which required nine thousand pounds of coarse salt.  It “evokes the curve of the earth or...a pregnant belly,”  the handout said.

The last gallery we visited, the Gagosian Gallery, featured Richard Serra, who seems to have shows everywhere right now.  The NYTimes review by Ken Johnson called him “Certainly today’s greatest living sculptor of Minimalist abstraction.”

 We approached Serra’s giant structure called “NJ1”—think of a sky-high letter “U” made of rusty metal.  The only way to get inside is to walk into the curve of the U and then turn either left or right into the openings there.  Mary and Lynn bravely charged into the huge edifice, only to realize that they were in a maze of paths and turns.

I took one look at the thing and refused to go in.  I’ve got claustrophobia, guys, and the NYTimes review said  “Claustrophobes beware!” The title of the review was “Richard Serra's Behemoths Get Into Your Head."

After our Art Walk was through, my mind was reeling with all the modern art I’d seen—and I was starting to wonder why, as an artist, I’d spent all that time in life-drawing and anatomy classes when you could become rich and famous with just 9000 pounds of coarse salt. 

But the very next day, I took myself on an art walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where I finally got to seen the stunning exhibit “Pergamon and the Hellenistic Kingdoms of the Ancient World”, not to mention, on the Met’s roof, the spooky red house inspired by the Bates mansion from Psycho and Edward Hopper’s painting of the house by the railroad, which I love.

But I’ll tell you about that another day.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

A Child's Grave in an English Churchyard

Facebook reminded me that I posted this exactly five years ago.  I'm re-posting it now and am happy to say that my dear English friend and her 95-year-old husband are still thriving in Gloucestershire.
We’re back in Northern Greece after a four-day weekend spent in the English countryside—specifically in Gloucestershire where a dear friend was celebrating her husband’s 90th birthday with a lavish outdoor party at Chastleton House which included tours of the stately home, waiters who were professional opera singers and a picnic lunch which included champagne and smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches in the famous topiary gardens.

The day before—Saturday—an erudite gentleman named Sebastian Halliday gave us a tour of the bucolic villages of the area including Bibury, Swinbrook, Minster Lovell and Burford.

We explored the thatch-roofed cottages and ancient churches covered with climbing roses and honeysuckle vines and ate in a pub overlooking the wide, shallow river that wound through each village.
Along with Japanese tourists we photographed swans, ducks and horses with new foals, sheep and gardens at their peak of glory. We saw graves of knights and soldiers, church dignitaries and ordinary people who died of the black plague in 1349.

I love exploring cemeteries in every place I visit. (Favorites are in Edinburgh, New Orleans, Pere Lachaise in Paris and the Poor Cemetery in Martinique.) The green, mossy ancient stones leaning every which way in a rural Cotswold churchyard always remind me of Sir Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” which mourns the many simple peasants and villages who have lived and died without leaving any record of their lives or their talents and abilities.

I photographed the tombs of the Fettiplace knights, all resting on their elbows in the church of St. Mary’s in Swinbrook, and was fascinated by the tombs of several of the Mitford sisters—perhaps the most controversial, scandalous and talented sisters ever produced by England. (The engraving at the top of Nancy Mitford's gravestone is a mole, which is the animal of the coat of arms of the Mitfords because she hated crosses.)

But the only gravestone that moved me to tears was one near the ruins of the Lovell stately home at Minster Lovell, near the wide shallow river, filled with water lilies, where children and dogs were wading. I was drawn to the grave because it featured a statue of a sleeping cat. The stone read “Noah Wright/ 14-11-05/ 16-1-05/ May your light shine through.”

This grave was in memory of a little boy, born in November of 2005 who lived only two days—not even surviving to his first Christmas. His parents and mourners had visited his grave repeatedly, leaving flowers (fresh and artificial), a stone, and, on top of the sleeping cat statue, a yellow ceramic star. I picked it up and turned it over, thinking it looked like a Christmas ornament. On the other side someone had lettered in a child-like hand “Noah.”

I put the star back where it was and went into the church to photograph the tomb of a sleeping knight with his hands folded in prayer but I couldn’t get the thought of Noah and his parents out of my mind.

And I remembered the most famous lines from Thomas Gray’s elegy:

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air 


Sunday, June 26, 2016

Remembering the Gates in Central Park

Not long ago, my friend (and prize-winning author) Nicholas Basbanes posted on Facebook  a stunning long-distance photograph  of the Gates, a work of art which had taken 20 years for the artist Christo to bring to fruition in New York's Central Park in 2005.
Seeing the line of orange fabric "gates" trooping across the landscape with the Fifth Avenue Manhattan skyline behind them, in Nick's photograph, set me to hunting for the photos I took of the Gates on the last day of the exhibition in February 2005.  And I found them! One is above.

What are the gates,  you ask?  According to Wikipedia, the Gates  were "a  work of art by Bulgarian artist Christo Yavacheff and French artist Jeanne-Claude, known jointly as Christos and Jeanne-Claude.The artists installed 7,503 vinyl 'gates' along 23 miles of pathways in Central Park.  From each gate hung a panel of deep saffron colored nylon  fabric. The exhibit ran from February 12, 2005 through February 27, 2005. All told, 7503 individual gates were installed." 

And on the last day, as I was taking photos, the saffron panels contrasted beautifully with the new-fallen snow.
Nick Basbanes' photograph gave a panoramic look at the Gates, but I found I was focusing more on the interaction of the people and the art.  In fact, whenever I go to a museum or art exhibit, I always end up photographing the people reacting to the art, rather than just the art itself.  (see my last year's post about "People Peering at Picasso")

Look at the fun that people of all ages are having interacting with the Gates, above. (This was before the age of selfies, remember.)

But the photo that somehow got me choked up was this one below of a well-dressed older couple, undoubtedly New Yorkers, enjoying the show just as much as the children running between the posts.  The Gates was, in my opinion, New York public art at its best.

And here's Nick Basbanes' wonderful photograph (below) that set me hunting to find mine after all these years.  Thanks Nick!

By the way, Christo has just revealed his latest art project, "The Floating Piers", connecting two small islands in Northern Italy for 16 days, starting June 18.  I don't think I'll make it there, but at least I have my memories of the Gates, from 11 years ago.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Changing Role of Fathers Through the Decades

(I posted this on Father's Day three years ago but it's still appropriate today,  as the role of the father is evolving --for the better in my mind--every year.)

In 1911, when my mother was born, the father was a god-like figure who occasionally came down from Mount Olympus to offer criticism, praise and advice.

(My mother is on the far right in the back row. In addition to the seven girls in the family, there were two older boys.   My grandmother, Anna Truan Dobson is holding her ninth and last baby, who was born when Anna was 49 and her hair had turned completely white.  The father, Frederick Fee Dobson, was a Presbyterian minister in Oswego, Kansas.)

In the 1940's, when I was born, the father would come home from work and sit in his favorite chair with his scotch on the rocks and read his newspapers, and he was not to be disturbed until dinner time when he presided over the dinner table.

In the 1970's, when my kids were born, the father was more hands on, but not to the point where he ever changed diapers, took a kid to the park, or knew the names of his children's friends or teachers.

But our granddaughter Amalia, born in 2011, has the benefit of the current breed of father, who is hands-on from the moment of birth.  He changes diapers and makes breakfast and gives baths and Amalia knows a father is also for :
Going down the slide together and

Dancing on the patio together and

Looking for fish and dolphins together and

Feeding giraffes together and

Holding you up in the water and

Playing horsey and

Admiring your artwork and

Walking to the park together and

Singing in the park together.

And grandfathers, whether or not they changed diapers in their younger days, are for telling you a story every day, even if they have to do it by phone or by Skype.

Happy Father's Day, Emilio and Nick!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Executioner’s Granddaughter

Discovering the history behind an antique photograph is my favorite kind of research.  It's like finding a window into another era or like time-traveling.  I first posted the story below, "The Executioner's Granddaughter",  four years ago and it has remained one of the most popular of my posts labelled "The story behind the photograph."
Last week, as I was selecting antique photos of children with toys from my collection for my post of May 18, I picked up this one of a curly-headed moppet holding a toy lamb and a riding crop.  It’s a CDV (carte de visite) a calling-card-sized photo that could have been taken any time from 1854 to 1900.  The photographer is listed as “Samson” in Liege, Belgium.
Then I turned the card over and saw some words in French that set me on a path to a fascinating story about the man who executed King Louis XVI and nearly 3,000 others.  (His son guillotined Marie Antoinette.)
I didn’t need my high school French to translate the words on the back of the card as: “Louise Samson, Descendant of Sanson who decapitated Louis XVI, King of France.”
I don’t know why I never noticed this inscription before.  But thanks to the internet, which I didn’t have when I started collecting photos, I quickly learned the bizarre story of Charles Henri Sanson (1739 to 1806) who was the  fourth in a six-generation dynasty of Royal Executioners of France.  His great grandfather and grandfather and father were all named Charles Sanson too.
The Charles Henri Sanson who beheaded Louis XVI really didn’t want to be an executioner—he longed to be a doctor—but when his father became ill, his bossy paternal grandmother forced him to give up the study of medicine and take over as royal executioner to continue the income and position of the family.
It was this Charles Henri Sanson who introduced the guillotine –invented by  Joseph-Ignace Guillotin--as the executioner’s weapon of choice, because it was more efficient and humane than previous methods.  He was no doubt inspired by a very messy and unpleasant execution when, as Wikpedia puts it, “In 1757 Sanson assisted his uncle Nicolas-Charles-Gabriel Sanson, executioner of Rheims, with the extremely gruesome execution of the King’s attempted assassin Robert-Francois Damiens.  Through his well-executed intervention he shortened the quartering of the delinquent and thus the pain  His uncle quit his position as executioner after this event.”  (Wikipedia also says of Sanson, “His hobbies included the dissection of his victims and the production of medicines using herbs he grew in his garden.  In his free time he liked to play the violin and cello.”)
Charles Henri Sanson put on the blood-red coat of the master executioner in 1757 and held the position for 38 years. He performed 2918 executions.  He executed Louis XVI on Jan. 21, 1793 at the Place de la Revolution which is now Place de la Concorde  He was assisted by his two sons,  Gabriel, the youngest, who was supposed to eventually take over the job, but Gabriel “died after slipping off a scaffold as he displayed a severed head to the crowd,” (talk about irony!) so the position fell to the older son, Henri (1767-1840) who took over in April, 1793 and remained the official executioner of Paris for 47 years.  Only six months after  he started, Henri  executed Marie Antoinette.
His son, Charles Henri’s grandson, Henry-Clement Sanson, took over the job in 1840 and served until 1847.  He was the sixth and last in the dynasty of executioners.
One of my favorite stories  is this: “An anecdote reports that Charles-Henri Sanson after his retirement met Napoleon Bonaparte and was asked if he could still sleep well after having executed more than three thousand people.  Sanson’s laconic answer was, ‘If emperors, king and dictators can sleep well, why shouldn’t an executioner?”
Thirty-seven years after the beheading of Louis XVI, Alexandre Dumas interviewed Henri Sanson—Marie Antoinette’s executioner--about the king’s behavior on the scaffold. Dumas asked about the report that there was a “wrestling bout” between the king and the four assistants at the foot of the scaffold. 
Henri replied, “The King had been driven to the scaffold in his own carriage and his hands were free.  At the foot of the scaffold we decided to tie his hands, but less because we feared that he might defend himself than because we thought he might by an involuntary movement spoil his execution or make it more painful.  So one assistant waited with a rope, while another said to him ‘It is necessary to tie your hands.’  On hearing these unexpected words, at the unexpected sight of that rope, Louis XVI made an involuntary gesture of repulsion.  ‘Never!’ he cried, ‘Never!’ and pushed back the man holding the rope.  The other three assistants, believing that a struggle was imminent, dashed forward…It was then that my father approached and said, in the most respectful tone of voice imaginable, ‘With a handkerchief, Sire’.  At the word ‘Sire’, which he had not heard for so long, Louis XVI winced and…said ‘So be it, then, that too, my God!’ and held out his hands.”
As for little Louise Samson, the innocent child holding the lamb in the photograph above—she would not have been the grandchild of Charles Henri , because his son Henri died in 1840.  She could be the child of Charles’ grandson, Henry-Clement Sanson, the sixth and last executioner, but I suspect she’s another generation removed. 
Notice that the family name Sanson has been changed to “Samson” for Louise, and the photographer who took the photo in Liege, Belgium, is also named Samson.  This child’s father may have changed his name and moved to Belgium to escape the blood-soaked history of his forefathers and open a photography studio.
Or the inscription on the back of the CDV may be wrong.  Maybe Louise is not really descended from the famous executioners.    But even if this is the case, I’m glad that the written words led me to a fascinating history that I’d never heard before. It’s accidental discoveries like this—sheer serendipity—that keep me collecting antique images and looking for the story behind the photo.