Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Crazy Cat Celebration at WAM


Worcester, MA has an art museum that is considered one of the best small museums in the country, with a wealth of old masters and priceless antiquities.. (It was even featured, with one of its Rembrandts in the film “American Hustle.”) But occasionally WAM does something wacky and untraditional, like its current exhibit MEOW, (May 21 to Sept. 4) which features a “cat walk” through WAM’s galleries to see “the felines as an iconic artistic muse in this exhibition off prints, drawings, paintings and sculpture of cats.”

In conjunction with the exhibition, WAM invited the local community to participate in a separate exhibit, called “Community Cats” in the education wing of the museum.  For a donation of $10 to go to the Worcester Animal Rescue League, anyone could submit a work they have created or collected, “whether the work of art was created in memory of a long-time pet, is an interpretive study, or is the centerpiece of your own private collection.”

Over 250 people brought in cat-themed works of art in every medium imaginable.  We wrote our own labels to explain the work. (As you know I’m a cat person, (although we don't have a pet at the moment), so I brought in a watercolor painting and a copy of my  Greek Cats book.)

 Last Sunday I went to the reception for the opening of “Community Cats” and loved seeing artists of every age proudly posing with their art in the Museum.  The art, created by artists as young as six and as old as, um, 75, was funny and  touching and surprising.  Here are photos of some of my favorites.

Above is the "Kitty Warhol" that began the exhibit-- by Paul Koudounaris, who wrote it's a “photoprint on metallic lustre paper”.

These line drawings, incorporating quotations about cats, are by Suzanna Roberts.  I learned that she calls herself the “Wicked Good Witch” and that these drawings are part of her very successful “Karmic Cat Coloring Book.”

A number of the submissions involved needle and thread. Here are two wall hangings. I love the cat quilt on the left with button eyes.

  This cat is all needlepoint and took the artist three years to finish.

There were scary cats.
 And Asian--appearing cats.

Flat cats...The lady on the right wrote that her cats never let her read anything.

Cats with big ears....

Memorials for those who had passed away....

  This says Mr. Fur was "gone but not forgotten...one of God's little creatures -- always a gentleman."

This label said "I always thought Grandma's art belonged in a museum."

There were child-like and primitive cats.

This one below is papier maché.

My watercolor scene featuring a harbor cat on the Greek island of Hydra was near the end of the exhibit.

 My photo book "The Secret Life of Greek Cats" is under glass in a display case.  The thing behind it is a Japanese ceramic pillow in the shape of a cat.

The book was also for sale in the Museum's store, which is overflowing with cat-themed merchandise.

 I think WAM's decision to have cat-themed exhibits and events all summer was brilliant, and I can't wait for the next event--the "Cat-in-Residence Program" from July 13 to September 4:  "Interact with live cats in this contemporary art installation.  Cats will be available for adoption through Worcester Animal Rescue League.  Free admission."

Friday, May 20, 2016

A Tree Falls in Grafton

We had a lot of excitement around here lately (for a sleepy rural village.) During a windstorm a few weeks ago, one of the two huge, ancient weeping willow trees at the back of our house split, and half of it fell on the driveway.  The tree clearly was hollow and rotting inside and we called a tree man who said we'd have to take the rest of it down.  The other willow could be saved for now, but it needed to have dead branches removed and the rest of it pruned so it would be fuller and healthier next year. (That's the main house on the left.  The building on the right has guest rooms and Nick's office on the top floor and the garage and rec room leading to the pool on the lower floor.)
This was really bad news to the Gage family, because the giant trees, planted at least 150 years ago, had been sort of the symbol of our house, the back of which dates back to 1722.  I even painted one of the trees on our mailbox (along with our late cat) and the kids had named our "estate" "Twin Willows".
On Wednesday morning, three young men working for the tree service came with two trucks.  One was a bucket truck lifting a man high enough to cut off limbs and the other two men fed the limbs into a wood chopper in the other truck.  First they cut all the branches off the sick tree.

Clearly it was rotten at the core.

When nothing was left but a lonely trunk, the man in the bucket started removing dead branches from the other tree.

While I was taking pictures I noticed that the lilies of the valley outside the kitchen window were in bloom, so I picked lots.

By afternoon it was time to take down the lonely stump of the victim tree.

One guy took out a really big chain saw and another held on to a rope attached to the top of it.

He cut out a big wedge so the tree would fall in the right direction

Then he cut from the other direction straight through.  It starts to fall...

And it's down.

But as the three tree men crowded around, they saw eyes peeking out of a hole in the tree at the far right in this photo.  It was a baby racoon that quickly pulled back inside.  They decided to cut off  a piece like a lid to the log to see what was inside.  Immediately one baby raccoon raced out and climbed high into the cleft of a nearby tree.

A big momma raccoon also burst out and disappeared into the distance.  And two more babies remained inside the hollow, alive but not going anywhere.

The three tree men put the lid back on the trunk and pondered what to do.  They called the log truck man who was supposed to take away the logs and told him not to come till tomorrow.  One guy called his girlfriend and she told him to bring one of the babies home as a pet, but I nixed that.  I called Tufts Veterinary School nearby and they said just leave the babies alone unless they're wounded or become deserted by the mother.  The tree guys left.  Later at dusk, somebody said they saw the mother raccoon across the road.

Thursday I woke up worried about what would happen to the babies when the log truck guy came.  He didn't come until the afternoon.

But first we took the lid off the hollow trunk...It was empty.  The mother raccoon had gathered the three babies in the night and moved them to another home.

So the log man picked up the remains of the tree...

And we said farewell to the weeping willow that had stood sentinel at our house for more than a century.

Monday, May 16, 2016

How Can We Stop Babies from Dying in Hot Cars?

I try to avoid reading news stories about child abuse and dying babies—but last week someone posted on Facebook a story that is every parent’s worst nightmare, and I read it.

On Wednesday, May 11, a mother in Mississippi put her two-year-old daughter, Caroline, in the car and drove her to day care at Little Footprints Learning Center.  Then the mom parked the car in a nearby garage, and went to work.  At the end of the day she came to pick up the toddler and was told that she had never dropped her off. The panicked mother raced to the car only to discover that the little girl was dead. Police have filed no charges and have not released the mother’s name, saying it was a tragic accident.

I couldn’t get the story out of my mind for the rest of the week.  I did some research and learned that an average of 38 babies and children die in over-heated cars every year—over 700 in the last 20 years. You can see stories and photos of 22 children who died of heatstroke and five more who nearly died at: http://www.kidsandcars.org/heatstroke.html.

Here are some shocking facts from kidsandcars.org:
  • Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths in children under 15.
  • A child's body heats up three to five times faster than an adult's does. 
    • When left in a hot car, a child's major organs begin to shut down when his temperature reaches 104 degrees Fahrenheit (F).
    • A child can die when his temperature reaches 107 degrees F.
  • Cars heat up quickly! In just 10 minutes, a car can heat up 20 degrees F.
  • Cracking a window and/or air conditioning does little to keep it cool once the car is turned off.
  • Heat stroke can happen when the outside temperature is as low as 57 degrees F. 

Yes, a child can die within an hour, even if the outside temperature is in the fifties.  I read about a couple who came home from the supermarket, unloaded the groceries, but forgot that the baby was sleeping in the car.  When they realized it an hour later, it was too late.

I learned that a company named Intel asked a young woman engineer, a new mom named Marcie Miller, to come up with ways to prevent child deaths in hot cars and she created the Smart Clip, a gadget filled with sensors that parents can slide onto the strap of their baby’s car seat.  The clip communicates with an app on the parent’s smart  phone and sounds an alarm if it senses the baby is still strapped in while the parent is walking away.  

But the device costs $50 and I suspect that most parents wouldn’t buy it because they think they would never forget the baby in the car ( judging from comments I saw about the Mississippi girl’s death.)

It was a tragic irony that, two years after they announced the Smart Clip, an Intel employee’s six-months-old baby died in a car parked in the Intel parking lot in Hillsboro, Oregon.  Her father, Intel engineer Joshua Freier, said he had taken her to the pediatrician for her six-month appointment and then was supposed to drop her at day care, but Freier started to think about work and drove past the day care and straight back to the Intel campus, he told investigators.

When I was a small child 70-some years ago, there were no car seats.  My father would let me sit in his lap and pretend I was driving.  Any parent who did that nowadays would be immediately arrested. Now every detail of car safety is spelled out by the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 213.

When my first grandchild was born five years ago, no newborn was allowed to leave the hospital until the nurses had examined the car seat and its installation (back seat, facing backward.) When I had to install baby seats for the grandchild in my car, a specially trained local fireman did it for free, and signed papers as to its safety.

I’m certainly no engineer, but after puzzling over the problem of babies dying in hot cars, I’d like to suggest the following solution:

1.    Every car seat should be equipped with a thermometer that will set off a loud, continuous alarm once the temperature inside the car rises above, say, 85 degrees.  It should be as loud as the car alarms set off with the panic button on car keys. (Yes, the noise would traumatize the baby, but it could save his life.)

2.     This alarm would be activated when you click the straps on the child’s car seat into place.  When you release the straps to take the child out, the alarm would be deactivated—the opposite of the way your car beeps when you haven’t put on your seat belt.

3.    Parents and grandparents should petition the major child car seat makers to build this alarm into every car seat. Our legislators should also be petitioned to add this requirement to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Go to healthychildren.org here  http://bit.ly/1RB15Mq

and scroll down to “Manufacturer web sites” to find the link to the maker of your child seat.  Then e-mail them, alerting them to this post and  demanding a temperature warning alarm in every car seat.

4. Finally, every day care center and preschool-- in fact every school-- should be required to contact the parent or caregiver when a child is more than10 minutes late.  Many already do this as policy, and it could save many lives, but during non-school hours it would not save the children who were forgotten in the family garage or parking mall, the way a temperature alarm would.


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Diane Arbus and Spooky Twins

This is one of my favorite posts about vintage photographs in my collection.  It was originally posted  six years ago.
Long before she killed herself in 1971 at the age of 48, (pills, slashed wrists, found in the bathtub two days later), the photographer Diane Arbus told a friend she was afraid that she would be remembered simply as “the photographer of freaks.”

Today that’s exactly how she is remembered for her searing, macabre photographs of “deviant and marginal people (dwarfs, giants, transvestites, nudists, circus performers) or else of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal,” as one biographer described her favorite subjects.

But one of her most famous photographs (on the left above) is not of circus freaks or mentally challenged people, but of identical twin girls taken in Roselle, N.J. in 1967.

This eerie photograph of young sisters Cathleen and Colleen Wade has been copied and echoed many times—including in Stanley Kubrick’s film ‘”The Shining” with its twin girl ghosts. In fact there’s a TV commercial on right now (for kitchen appliances) with a pair of similar sinister girls.

A print of Arbus’s twins was sold at auction for $478,000 in 2004 and a couple of months ago I saw another one at the AIPAD photography show in New York that was priced at around $275,000 for a tiny print with Arbus’s notes on the back.

Let’s face it, there’s something intrinsically spooky about twins—especially identical twins—because it’s shocking to see the same individual, the same face, doubled and standing side by side. Maybe that’s why I (and many other collectors) love to find vintage photographic images of twins. They always seem to look like something out of Stephen King.

The 1/6 plate daguerreotype, #1, that I have above next to the Arbus twins, is my favorite dag ever. In my opinion it’s just as good – if not better -- than the Arbus image. The two little girls, who were photographed in the 1840’s or 1850’s, look amazingly like the twins from New Jersey. Compare the faces of the girls on the left in each photo.

The stern young ladies in image #1 are each holding a daguerreotype case inlaid with mother of pearl, and they wear identical gold-tinted pendents and dresses.

(In vintage photos it’s very common for siblings—not just twins -- to be dressed alike, because Mom would buy a long length of fabric and then the dressmaker would come around to stitch up clothing for all the kids from the same bolt of cloth.)

These are some of my prize twin images—all of them spooky. In the early days of photography, people were not only intimidated by this modern invention, they were warned not to move—certainly not to smile—because it would blur the image. Children were often strapped into a chair with their heads in a brace. No wonder they often look terrified!

Images 1 , 2, 3, 4 and 5 are all daguerreotypes—the very earliest photographic process. Don’t you love the dour sisters in the checkerboard dresses in #3 (not a flattering pattern!) and next to them the long-faced girls in plaid. The sisters in image 5 I suspect, because of their somber clothing and jewelry, may be in mourning.

The girls holding books in image 6 are not identical, but the men in image 7 are mirror images of each other. I love how their top-knots curl in opposite directions. (Six and 7 are ambrotypes—negative images on glass—popular from 1854 to 1865.) People were always worried about how to pose their hands in these early days, and the photographer would arrange hands awkwardly like the ones you see here.

The two women in image 9 may not be twins, or even sisters, but I cherish them because they are feminists from the mid-1800’s! Written in the case behind their daguerreotype is this: “Mary, you and my self are still left single/ while others are double and full of trouble. Your KPL”


Photos 11 to 14 are tintypes, which became popular during the Civil War and continued into the 1900’s. The girls in 11 and the boys in 12 have high button shoes, and the ladies in #14, in ruffled skirts, are posed in a photographer’s studio. Check out the bathing beauties in #13, on a holiday at the seashore (but posed in front of a painted canvas background.)

The toddlers in # 15 are boy/girl twins. (Boys wore dresses until after age 5.) Their mother has written on the back of the cabinet card “Twins. Left, Louise Bertha Inez Forte. Right Louis Bertrand Forte. Born June 13th, 1893 at 2 p.m. in West Newton. Louis was born 5 minutes after Louise.”

An equally helpful relative noted the names of the young flappers in image #16, who look very chic in their cloche hats, as “Alice Antoinette Howland and Harriet Alma Howland, 1926.” Their relaxed pose in their fur-collared coats makes for a beautiful portrait, but none of the twins can compare to my ghostly, sour-faced girls from 170 years ago in image #1.