December 27, 2012 § Leave a Comment
For years I have been impressed by Ron Richardello’s “After Hours” album — which I picked up at the local Goodwill — and his visionary, exceptional accordion playing.
I knew little about Richardello until this summer, when his obituary appeared in the Transcript. Shortly after that, I got an email from Richardello’s son, Rick, in regard to a blog post I wrote about his father’s music.
Rick agreed to an interview about his dad, a good opportunity to find out more about Richardello’s work and introduce him to newer residents of the Northern Berkshires who had never heard of him.
Rick says that his dad started playing accordion when he was about seven, picked up from Richardello’s Uncle Alfred. He grew up in a volatile environment and found peace with his instrument.
“That was part of his reasoning for sticking with the instrument,” Rick said. “He could lock himself in his room and practice for eight hours.”
As Richardello continued, his parents sent him around for instruction. Once he would tap one teacher out of his expertise and knowledge, Richardello moved onto the next, and this required a lot of travel.
“He very obviously had a gift,” Rick told me. “He excelled at it. Almost prodigy type excel at it. Dad was doing classical pieces on the accordion. He didn’t have the have sheet music in front of him. He’d learn it and replay everything note for note, just from memory. He could visualize the music in his mind and that would translate to playing.”
Richardello began performing for audiences in his teens, in the late ‘50s. There was an appearance on Major Bowes Amateur Hour with an all-accordion band. He opened the Philharmonic Studio in 1958 and performed with the studio orchestras sometimes.
In an interview with the Transcript on March 29, 1962, Richardello told reporter Richard G. McGurk, “I want people to accept the accordion as a serious musical instrument, and take the music played upon it seriously.”
The early ‘60s saw him tour with Carmen Carrozza and his Accordion Symphony Orchestra, and study under Art Van Damme, but 1965 was the year that promised to change his life when actor/comedian George Jessel approached him to come on tour in Vietnam with the USO. Richardello taped an appearance on the brand new Dean Martin Show before leaving with Jessel.
During one flight in the tour, his jet was fired upon by the Viet Cong.
Richardello would go on nine trips to Vietnam with Jessel, a point of pride for Richardello that had a dark side.
In 1989, Richardello told Transcript reporter William Sweet, “I remember swimming with George, when a three- or four-year-old child came down with a grenade, the pin pulled out. Our security guard had to shoot him. I didn’t eat for three days.”
Richardello’s time with Jessel yielded lighter stories, too, with frequent appearances on The Tonight Show, Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas, and parties with the Hollywood elite. He played Tahoe with Sammy Davis, Jr., and met General Douglas MacArthur.
“He told me a story of when he was 18 years old and traveling with Jessel,” Rick said. “He was at a party in Beverly Hills with Jessel and Ann-Margret hit on him. He told me how scared to death he was. Ann-Margret was probably one of the hottest redheads who ever lived, and he said all he could do was stand there with his mouth on the floor. He couldn’t say anything, he couldn’t do anything.”
Richardello began suffering more from chronic back pain, related to scoliosis that he had lived with, and which had been made worse by heavy accordions played with no accordion stand.
“The problems would cause numbness in his hands and extreme pain,” said Rick. “He went through chronic pain from then until the day he died. He refused drugs, any kind of pain meds, and he would play through the pain. He was never the type to rely on prescription medications for anything. In his later years, he had no choice, his problems got so bad.”
In 1967 he fell down a flight of stairs and cracked a disc in his back, which set off an endless series of surgeries over the next couple decades. This was also the year his first album, “After Hours,” was released. Richardello was backed up by a 27-member band, including members of the Tonight Show Orchestra.
His second and last album, “Brand New Bag,” came out in 1969, and featured a stellar jazz line-up: bass player Milt Hinton, trumpeter Ernie Royal, trumpeter Snooky Young and tenor saxophonist Seldon Powell.
The same year, Richardello married Susan Spada.
In the early ‘70s, there was a brief stint living and touring Canada, with his band of North Adams musicians, Poor Richard, which existed in different configurations over the next 15 years.
Rick was born in North Adams shortly after that. Richardello made his living partly with a shop called New Photo and Camera on Eagle Street, and partly by playing music locally.
“Back then, there were quite a few venues for local jazz bands,” Rick told me. “Dad was out playing every weekend and did the photo shop during the week.”
During that period, around 1978, Richardello also had a band called Ma’s Chops, played gigs at the British Maid in Williamstown, at least once with Milt Hinton.
He also did studio sessions in New York City, including some for George Benson and Wes Montgomery.
“Dad did some recording for James Brown at one point and they became really good friends,” Rick said. “I remember being five or six years old and going to one of James’ shows in Albany. We would go back to James’ trailer and him and dad would sit there and talk for a couple hours, and James is bouncing me on his knee.”
Rick also met stars like Natalie Cole, Rod Stewart and Sting thanks to his dad and his studio work with his accordion synthesizers, the Cordovox and the humongous, MIDI-capable Synkord.
“He could play horns, he could play regular keyboard sounds,” Rick said. “He didn’t have to use the bellows, he could leave it shut and use it as an electronic keyboard.”
In the late ‘80s, Richardello worked for General Electric in Pittsfield, but layoffs in 1987 sent him to Tennessee for work, during which time he did not perform. After a divorce in 1989, he was eager to play music again. In December, Richardello returned to North Adams to play at the Mohawk Theater for a high school music program benefit. It was the first time Rick played on stage with his father.
In 1992, Richardello was arrested for assault with intent to murder against his mother. Rick says that the whole thing was a misunderstanding between his father, grandmother and police, but it was the beginning of a spiral from which Richardello never recovered.
“During that time period, my dad went through a lot,” Rick told me, “and going through what he went through, he made a lot of bad decisions and hurt people.”
Richardello got three-years probation and returned to Tennessee, hoping to get back into music. He announced a Nashville recording project with Rick that was to include former Elvis and Ricky Nelson guitarist James Burton, as well as a documentary about his own life. Neither of those ever happened.
“Years upon years of abusing his body playing accordion and the surgeries, it finally took its toll, it finally finished him at being able to perform,” Rick said. “He took some stabs at producing, he took some stabs at playing a regular keyboard, which he was very good at, but it was never the same for him. As time progressed, he was getting more and more crippled.”
By 2000, things looked bad for Richardello. Personal and family tensions saw him cut himself off from loved ones. Money problems hounded him, resulting in the loss of his home and a move to public housing in 2007. And the physical pain got worse.
Richardello had a heart attack in May of 2012, then further problems with arthritis. He died in July.
During his father’s demise, Rick carried on the family tradition in his own way as a keyboard player, guitarist and singer. Starting in the late ‘90s, he performed and recorded in the Christian music industry. He currently heads up the rock band Plan of Action, after leaving Christian music in 2008.
“My faith has always been there,” he said. “It’s one of those things where the Christian music industry is run just like the secular music industry, there is no difference. As a matter of fact, it’s probably more cutthroat, and I got fed up with it.”
Upon his father’s death, a pile of memorabilia was found in the house, and Rick and his sister are currently sifting through it all — photos, clippings, sheet music, records, even the master tapes for Richardello’s two albums. His plan is to try and digitize all the paper media and photos, but hopes that someone out there might be interested in his father’s seminal recordings as he tried to change the world’s perception of accordion forever.
Perhaps some small label somewhere is interested in preserving the positive side of his father’s legacy for current and future audiences.
“I look at all that stuff and then I think about the life my dad led from 1987 forward, and I think to myself, what the hell happened?” Rick said. “Was the divorce from my mom just so traumatic for him that it did this to him? I don’t think so.”
“He did a lot in his lifetime and he was a typical musician. Dad was eccentric. My mom has a joke. ‘Your dad thought he was eccentric. I just thought he was weird.’”
August 25, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Richard Criddle is well-known as the chief fabricator at Mass MoCA, a job that casts him as a master problem solver, where he is expected to figure out realistic ways to accomplish the impossible. A new art show reveals these as the same skills that Criddle brings to his own work as a sculptor.
Criddle’s show, “Compendium,” opens at Gallery 51 on Thursday, Aug. 30 , featuring sculptures and drawings by the artist, as well as a documentary film about him by his son, Jack Criddle.
Criddle’s sculptures are a mix of materials that come together through his hands, and memories that flow through his brain — bronze, steel, copper, plastic, aluminum, wood, fur, bone and much more are all bound together as three-dimensional representations of his psyche and world views.
“It’s a mix of me finding things, fabricating things, cutting things, tailoring things, putting things together — it’s a collage,” Criddle said.
Criddle’s sculptures are part self-investigation and biography, part historical investigation and social commentary and part engineering experimentation, all in the service of fashioning bizarre creatures of unexpected materials.
In one piece that speaks to his larger body of work, Criddle combined parts of a plastic toy horse and a store mannequin with a fur coat, a translucent ladder that Criddle fashioned himself with huge bones used for dog chews as steps, to create a grotesquerie that just might make you wonder what’s going on in his head.
“I set up this huge propane torch and a grill outside and I had to cook all the remaining meat off and drip the fat off these bones,” he said. “Then I had to paint them and shellac them and drill them and pin them into this bullet-proof Lexan. This isn’t just your off-the-shelf Plexiglas, this is bullet-proof Lexan leftover, the off-cuts leftover from supporting Nari Ward’s boat.”
But that’s just what it is in front of your eyes. What led to this monster in Criddle’s studio goes back decades to his years in art school in his native England, when a working-class boy found himself hanging around the aristocracy. Simply put, the idea of taxidermy and a vulgar rich woman wearing a fur coat add up to the same thing to Criddle, but that statement doesn’t do justice to the story that lurks behind the alarming image that he presents, which is as much real autobiography as imaginary nightmare.
“Art schools in London were definitely a finishing school for the rich, particularly the debutantes, the young ladies who would come to art school rather than go to Swiss finishing school in Geneva,” Criddle said. “If you got invited out to the country to visit mummy and daddy, if you got your knees under the table with British aristocracy, one of the questions they would ask you was, ‘Oh, darling, do you hunt?’ Or, better still, ‘Darling, do you ride?’ Ride? I ride a bike.”
“I came from a working-class background and I’m going to art school and I’m mixing with the offspring of the aristocracy, and going to stay up in Inverness. This is weird. They filled their houses with, I’d never seen so much taxidermy. Stag’s heads coming out of the walls, stuffed foxes, they seem ed to like to stuff everything.”
Criddle came over from England with his wife and family in the 1990s. An early encounter with Joe Thompson cemented his position at the museum even before the museum existed, but also changed his life and work in ways he hadn’t expected. It wasn’t in the plan to immigrate to America, and it wasn’t in his trajectory to do the kind of sculpture he is now well-known for. In England, he did a lot of bronze casting, creating his own work and teaching it, and that was at the center of his creativity. The loss of access to a foundry changed everything.
“I couldn’t make art without pouring molting metal,” said Criddle. “I certainly was an eclectic sort of sculptor, but more often than not, I would have tak en molds of things and taken the various found objects and cast them into another material.”
“For a long time, I was lumbered, my cross to bear was the craft of bronze casting. If you don’t have the convenience of either a commercial foundry, where they put up with you, or run a college foundry, you’re working with what you’ve got here, which is welding gear, and a band saw, and a table saw, and more power tools that you can shake a stick at. I make all of this stuff with what any guy can go and buy at Home Depot.”
The work he does now — both in his employment at the museum and as a sculptor — hearkens back to his roots more than the work he did in England. Criddle was raised in a working-class family in South End on Sea, a Coney Island-like resort town on the banks of the Thames as it comes in from the North Sea. His dad was a former Royal Air Force airplane mechanic and later a union shop steward and truck driver with a penchant for auto repair.
Criddle’s schooling from age 11 to 17 had a huge shop component in it, learning woodwork and metal work that was entrenched in the world he was growing up in and the prospects for a kid in his position.
“I was always the kid who was resourcefully building and repurposing things,” he said, “like some thrown-out supermarket trolley or somebody’s old pram on a dump, we would be making go-carts. I was always building dens and shacks in the backyard, and bomb sites — there was always plenty of dereliction that was a feast for us kids. It’s like Peter Pan, I suppose I never grew up.”
Criddle says that even though he loved all that, he never felt like that world was quite for him — he had another side, a creative side, that dictated his needs, and a trade job would never offer him.
“I was also the kid who loved to draw,” he said, “and whenever there was the opportunity in school to do a project that was creative, like make a model of an iron age hill fort or something, that was it, it was a great thing to do. If you went to trade school back then, they would beat that sort of creativity out of you with a whip.”
Criddle ended up going to art school, convinced that graphic design was his calling — a diagnostic first year changed that when he encountered sculpture, which brought together all his worlds.
“I was into that for about at term and then discovered the sculpture studio,” said Criddle, “and the fact that you could make a noise, you could make a mess, you could use tools and mix buckets of plaster and crap like that, and I got bitten by the bug, and all I can say is it must be terminal, because I’m still doing it.
“It was just amazing that this whole spectrum of sculptural possibilities were there. You could learn stump carving or you could learn bronze casting or you could perfect welding skills or you could work with a table saw and they would teach you how to do it, but the real thing was they would also teach you to think — think like a sculptor and have dialogues with other sculptors.”
Sculpture, as Criddle learned it, became an outward manifestation of an inward journey, a form of visual poetry to express the abstract truths that are learned through communion with oneself. In Criddle’s case, it became a way to take all the parts he amassed, all the skills he had learned, and use work to fashion three-dimensional, psychological signposts.
“It wasn’t just about stuff, it was about what goes on up here,” he said. “The real thing they taught you to do was talk to yourself. They say that’s the first sign of real madness, don’t they, but that creative dialogue that goes on in your mind, it’s like listening to voices. When I come in here with my sandwich box and thermos flask on a Saturday morning, you’ve got to shut up and listen to the voices. So when you have a bit of this and a bit of that, there has to be a bit of time to sit back in that chair over there. It’s not all just crash, buzz buzz, ying ying, weld weld, it’s like I’ve got to think about this.”
“Half the time, things are held together with a thousand clamps. I’m not going to drill a hole in it in case I screw it up, so I clamp it together first. Things are left what I call cooling. You’ve got to set them up, clamp them together, and walk away, and give yourself some menial task to do, laboring, and then maybe when you turn around and look back at it clamped together, the voices will start. You’ll actually see it with a fresh eye.”
While many of his sculpture’s parts are salvaged from other places — his job at the museum also puts him in contact with a network of professionals who are always putting aside material for him, including carnival ride parts — it’s Criddle’s own hunter/gatherer instinct that provides the purest pleasure of his process.
“One of my favorite things to do is go to flea markets and tag sales,” said Criddle. “I still like to carve and I still like to cast and I still like to weld stuff together, but I really like the shopping part of it. You’ve got to have your antenna out to not ice the bits and bobs that are out there that form the words and the phrases and the passages that make the visual poetry.”
There is also a problem-solving aspect to the sculpture that is also key to Criddle’s job in the museum, but with his own work he’s able to apply that skill in a more free form way, with no expectations toward what the process leads to.
“The first thing you have to do is work out the problem and then you have to think about how to try and solve it, or if solving it is the right thing to do,” Criddle said. “Maybe you just set up another set of questions.”
“But with me in the studio, the key is to be prepared to play, so that’s like going back to being a kid. It’s freedom, and it’s supposed to be fun, isn’t it? When I come in here, this is freedom. This is the free zone. This is not like having to do what some other artist needs or wants, or a curator asks me to do, or what people expect.”
June 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Print maker Kristin Carlson’s work demands a landscape as its subject, as filtered through her own psychological space.
Her prints will be part of The Phylogeny Projects at the Branch Gallery, 18 Holden St., as part of Downstreet Art.
Carlson’s print work is in spired by her own experience of place. When she began printmaking, it was with an interest in depicting very specific structures, but her focus began to shift as she encountered old maps, particularly medieval ones, that fascinated her.
“I started to feel like depicting entire neighborhoods or places on a little bit larger scale than individual buildings,” Carlson said. “It was just an exciting idea for me because I do a lot of walking and thinking activities and I started to feel that the overall movement through the space was what started to interest me more than the buildings themselves.”
Carlson’s interest was less in realistically representing the places than presenting multiple perspectives on one map, which saw her placing buildings and objects in different directions on the print that were impossible to see in real life. This was but one of the layers that made up the final image. There was the layer of the building itself, then its relationship to other buildings, then the patterns these relationships created in an aerial view and, finally, Carlson’s own paths through the space that she put down on the print.
The spaces she chose to capture were those she had spent a lot of time in, often places she lived. Places like Providence, R.I. and Vienna all found their way into her printmaking, as well as text meant to focus and elaborate her relationships with them.
“It’s about a growing attachment over time to the places that you live and the longer you live in them, the more things happen to you,” said Carlson. “There are stories written into the roads on the prints. It’s not something that I would expect the viewer to sit down and read — you might read a little bit of it — but it’s more the idea of evoking that sense that things have happened and there were memories implanted in the place.”
The perspective always represented her personal experience, although she is interested in the history of the places, and sometimes might fold in memories relating to a friend. It’s a personal map that is as much autobiography as it is about the space it captures.
“It’s perhaps what you wish you had, when you were in the space, and didn’t know anything, so you knew where you should go and which advice you should follow,” said Carlson.
This was especially true in foreign cities like Vienna, which maps her comfort level with the surroundings, and the paths she chose in that city as the most sure ones.
“There were certain times when I knew where I was go ing, and it was such a relief to have somewhere that I knew where I was walking,” Carlson said, “because it’s such a confusing city. I was self-conscious about looking like a tourist, so I really enjoyed it when I knew my route because you have to worry about having a map out, whereas many other times I needed to be constantly looking. So, you can see, there’s a heavier part of the path, lines on the print, of one direction that was much more heavily taken, and that would be my most common route that I knew the best.”
Carlson said that her one weakness is in the details of the buildings on the maps, and she allows herself to devote artistic time to that aspect, along with the more ethereal and psychological parts.
“I just love detail,” she said. “That’s what brought me to show the landscapes to begin with, the idiosyncrasies of not only the buildings themselves, but of their relationships to one another. That is of extreme interest to me, so it is important for me to record those things in detail and to be accurate about it, because you’re being accurate about the irregularities because it’s the irregularities that you really are interested in.”
The maps represent choices made by Carlson — that is, for whatever she puts in them that represent her interest, there are plenty of things left out. Maps traditionally do this all the time, depending on scale or purpose, but the point of Carlson’s prints are more intangible outside herself, and that’s what cements them as extensions of her own mind more than replications of reality.
“You’re making conscious choices about what to include and what to not include,” Carlson said, “but in those situations, maps are extremely practical documents that we’re using to find our ways around. These might seem more layered because they’re adding that layer of practical experience.”
“In a way, they are very impractical. I’m not being explicit about any one type of thing, I’m choosing to include a dog park and one of them, there’s nothing else about dogs in that print. It’s really nice to have the freedom to include whatever is important to me so they are extremely personal documents.”
For her print “This is a Hog Farm ” Carlson took this idea to the extreme — it is an imagined landscape that was the result of a game of “Exquisite Corpse” with other printmakers who built a sentence together, swapped sections and then made prints based on the section that was given to them. Even this is based in some sort of reality, though, as Carlson spends time studying aerial photographs of landscapes, and this preoccupation is folded into the work.
“I always work with text and language, and especially the language that is in maps is very inspirational for me,” she said, “but this was a little different. I do look at a lot of aerial photos of landscapes, so that factored into that print. In terms of the circular side, you see the aerials photographs of fields that have been irrigated and there’s also a circular pattern, but the irrigation system is circular, so there’s a little bit of referencing things that I had actually seen. This one is much more loose than the other prints.
“Some of it is directly from the ‘Exquisite Corpse,’ but I took the liberty of adding some of the text myself, so I believe the ‘This is a Hog Farm’ part of the text was not a part of the original ‘Exquisite Corpse’, I believe that was my addition. “
More recently, Carlson has focused mail art endeavors and architectural prints that have seen her capture unusual structures like the City of Moscow Water Department Building (located in Maine) and the Providence Fruit and Produce Warehouse in Rhode Island.
“These are about the age and the changes that the buildings have gone through,” she said. “I can’t tone down my love of certain things, because I always discover there’s something that doesn’t fit into that limitation. As an artist you go through phases when you’re interested in doing certain things and it’s like you have this impulse to keep doing it, but you also have to move on.”
April 13, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Has there ever been a more inspirational American success story than Mitt Romney? He’s a true lesson in the art of not being very likable, nor desirable, even among those who technically agree with you, and still having the opportunity to run for the office of the presidency.
He’s an example of how you can pander and kiss people’s butts, and they will actually see through it — and it won’t damage your political career whatsoever.
He’s an example of everything that’s horrible and great about our political process, of how lineage and perseverance are everything, and ability is nothing.
He’s proof that you can actually insult your own past, as if that past self were an evil twin rather than you, yourself, and get away with it.
And to think he got his start here.
By here, I don’t mean merely Massachusetts, but North Adams. Not that Romney ever set foot in North Adams — I have no idea, and actually don’t really care if he did. But what did start in North Adams was the political trajectory of the person who was considered so much worse than Romney that he was able to buy influence within the Republican Party and seize his stepping stone to the presidency.
I’m not making any personal or specific political judgments on Jane Swift — that’s all so far in the past that in political terms, it seems like another century. Oh, wait, it was.
Anyhow, I can’t really remember what Swift actually did in her brief term as our appointed governor other than being passed over by her own party for the apparently more enticing Mitt Romney, and that’s a horrible thing to be remembered for — being considered by Republicans as worse than Mitt Romney.
Romney’s hubris, though, is coming back to bite him on the butt, and Jane Swift can breathe a sigh of relief, because while the rest of the country doesn’t know much about her, they know about Romney, and I don’t think they believe there is anything worse than him. Oh, sure, crazy people like Santorum and Gingrich and Paul are worse in that they are representative of the fringe and unelectable, and this makes them not really logical choices for candidacy. We’re talking American president, not small-time dictator. In that crowd, Romney is obviously the only logical choice, everyone can see that.
And everyone can pretty much see that they hate him for that.
This is why there has never been a more delicious election cycle for those of us who enjoy watching the slow death of the Republican Party. In 2012, it is finally a snake eating its own tail. Romney, the closest thing to the serpent in the Garden of Eden I’ve seen — except the Republican Party is less a garden and more a fracking site — and that’s the lesson they failed to learn. You can’t decimate your own landscape and expect to survive. And when you’re desperate, a huckster will come in as leader and out of desperation, you will be forced to follow because you have no other plan.
And so Romney’s ascendancy is the sort of public humiliation that’s been destined to happen following the over-heated entitlement of the Bush years. Romney was waiting, watching. It was lineage that dictated that John McCain run first — it’s the Bob Dole rule, old guys first — but in a slam dunk of being in the right place at the right time, Romney has been able to take advantage of the rise of the Sarah Palin mentality and, just like in Massachusetts, offer himself up as a more capable choice.
We here in Massachusetts could’ve told you he’d do that. I know we’re liberal heaven and all that, but we created Romney. He’s our monster. Looked at differently, maybe he’s our trap for Republicans, our ticking time bomb that is going to help that party implode once and for all. If the essence of politics is the right to take credit for happy accidents, then the state of Massachusetts reserves that right when Romney destroys his own party, and we’ll just smile and say, “Told you so.”
November 29, 2011 § Leave a Comment
For “They Draw and Cook,” recently published by Weldon-Owen, brother and sister team Nate Padavik and Sallie Swindell asked professional illustrators to give a visual flair to their favorite recipes and create a feast for the eyes and the tummy.
The book compiles artwork from the popular website of the same name. Padavik, who lives in the Eclipse Mill with his partner James Voorhies, says that in some ways the combination of art and food is a marketer’s dream, but it does cause some complications in other areas.
“It’s a good and a bad thing,” he said. “This book appeals to a lot of people. If you are art-minded, it’s an art book with a cooking/recipe angle. If you’re a foodie, it’s a sweet new cookbook that also happens to be artistically designed and illustrated. It appeals to those two big populations, but the tricky part is booksellers. The book shop asks ‘Where do we put this book? Is it an art book or is it a cook book?’ I say, ‘Just put it right next to the cash register.’ ” The challenge for Padavik and Swindell when it came to compiling the book was to choose works that stood as both good illustrations and good recipes, both at the same time. The good illustrations were obvious to their eye, but the recipe part could be a little more challenging. Most submissions rose to the occasion, though, and the use of tradition has been one quick way to spot delicious concoctions.
“If someone’s going to illustrate a recipe, they’re going to illustrate a recipe that they love,” Padavik said, “so what we found on the site is that the majority of the recipes are titled ‘Granny’s Apple Pie’ or ‘Mom’s Brownies’ or ‘Aunt Diane’s Pumpkin Cake,’ so there’s lots of family history that comes with the recipe. Right then and there, it means that the recipes are automatically good because it’s something that’s passed down from generation to generation” The huge international presence on the site has helped as well. Padavik says they routinely get recipes for obscure foreign dishes that they have never encountered before.
“I learned about something called Paplova, which is a dessert served on the holidays in Australia and New Zealand,” he said. “It involves cooking fruit into some sort of meringue. Never heard of it before, but we had four recipes for Paplova.”
The blog was created after Padavik and Swindell had a giggle one family holiday when they noticed he was cooking and she was blogging, and thought that was a great theme for a project. Although the idea was birthed between the two of them, it came to fruition with the help of eight friends in Cleveland — eight freelance illustrators — who signed on to use the idea for a small promotional book to give to family, friends and clients. That never actually happened, though theblog did.
“It takes more than just throwing a blog up in 10 minutes,” Padavik said. “It takes a bit of a community.”
Each person involved put their recipe up on the blog and then promoted it to their own following via Facebook and blogging. With each of them announcing to 300 friends, and then a number of their friends passing it along, people began descending on the site.
“It just spread more quickly than we expected because the very next day we got an illustrated recipe from a person we never even heard of before,” said Padavik. “It just popped in our inbox. It’s was kind of like a little ‘aha!’ moment. This could be a thing!”
A new recipe would come in every few days and they knew they had hit on something that tapped into a desire for expression shared by many professional illustrators.
“It’s a total creative playground,” Padavik said. “I’m addicted to illustrating recipes because I don’t have an art director telling me what to do, and I think that’s why a lot of people submit them. As a freelance illustrator, you’re always being art directed, so now and then it’s just nice to go and do something that’s straight from the heart.”
“ A lot of people have a really strong emotional connection with food and that really plays out in the illustrations. You can feel that. So many of the recipes have a little story behind them.” Such a partnership between brother and sister wasn’t always a logical or likely possibility. A 12-year gap between the siblings defined their relationship for two decades “We were both oblivious to each other’s existence until I was in my 20s,” said Padavik.
Padavik was looking to leave the world of computer science and programming and began to consider graphic design — a visit one day to his sister’s studio saw him asking about her about the possibilities. Swindell was busy working on a pattern for a textile company and needed some technical help with it. She proposed that if Padavik could help her with that, they could work together. Padavik took some appropriate classes and ended up doing production work for Swindell.
“That to doing my own patterns and then starting to do illustration,” he said, “and since then we’ve created over 2,000 greeting cards, hundreds of magazine illustrations, everything is collaborative.”
Almost immediately after the two masterminded They Draw and Cook, they had a follow- up already in mind — They Draw and Travel — which would see illustrators rise to the challenge of creating inventive maps for their favorite locations. They took a year and a half to make sure They Draw and Cook was going smoothly and then began work on their travel effort.
“Maps are a little trickier than recipes because with recipes you automatically have a formula – you’ve got ingredients and directions,” Padavik said. “With a map, it can go in so many different directions. Some of the maps are very literal. They show roads and icons and take you down the roads and visually depict what churches and museums and neighborhoods and restaurants cafes look like.”
“But other maps — and I use that in quotes — are more inspirational. They just give you a feel for what a place is like — a beach or a town — and then there are maps that are illustrated to inspire you to learn more about a place, not necessarily to take you from point a to point b. I think those are the maps that are most successful because they are just full of emotion.”
The maps are generally of mix of what you want to know about the area depicted and the artist’s personal experience that you’ll never find anywhere else but that map. Padavik has created a couple maps of the Berkshires and area for the site — one of North Adams, and one of his favorite bike route along the Deerfield River — and loves discovering new places through others’ work.
“When a new map comes in, I’ll immediately do a Google image search of that city or that beach town or that museum that they’re illustrating,” he said, “and I always find new places in the world. I’m planning vacations because of some maps I saw on They Draw and Travel.”
As the team looks ahead, the focus is on merchandising, which is a way to get the illustrations out there beyond the website, as well as compensate the artists. Part of that involves a They Cook and Travel book — WeldonOwen is interested in pursuing that — but it also involves some self-publishing, like the 2012 They Draw and Cook calendar that is offered through the website and splits 50 percent of the profits with the 12 contributing illustrators. “It’s fun, but it’s also helped the careers of these freelance illustrators and also for them to benefit financially,” Padavik said. “My sister and I wanted to do something that is a win-win — it helps pay bills for the website and also gives the artists a little monetary feedback.”
Commerce and publicity are nice, but Padavik points to his favorite part of the endeavor as the togetherness it has fostered.
“I think the relationships keep it fun,” he said. “Sally and I have built good relationships with the artists on the site and the community of fans are super generous with their comments. They say the nicest things and they share recipes among friends and it’s just a fun place to be.”
October 25, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Whenever I see a sign with Ron Boucher’s slogan “Back to basics,” I am reminded that ever since I was 15, there have been loads of politicians and those seeking election demanding that I go back, and that everyone in my generation goes back. And each generation of high-schoolers after me has been asked the same. We’ve only just started, we think, why do we have to turn around?
It’s a mixed message for people of that age. As we begin to be politically aware, as we start to figure out what the world is all about and we formulate what we want to do with our lives, our future, it’s strange to have someone tell you that you should accept that you’ve run up against a wall.
This is not a criticism of any of Mr. Boucher’s specific ideas. This is, instead, a lament for a particular brand of sloganeering that casually implies no progression is necessary.
It was the message of Ronald Reagan — we apparently were supposed to return to traditional American family values back then. By the definition of many, that seemed to mean 1950s social norms. But it seems to me that was only the criteria because that was Reagan’s hey day, and the same for so many pushing this idea.
Each time someone suggest reaching back, embracing old values, it is inevitably a time that the person feels is the best time they had. Bible thumpers routinely go back anywhere from 50 to 5,000 years in their evocation of what era was so perfect that we have to move back to it. Reagan might have liked the 1950s, but I have a feeling that by 1959, there were a lot of conservative people who were pining for 1941, when there weren’t so many out of control teens and Communist radicals and black people on their televisions. Or even televisions.
So ethereal is the concept of going back or reaching back or looking back, that when I see a sign that says something like “Back to basics,” I have to ask when those basics were that we are going back to. Two years ago? Twenty years ago? Fifty years ago? What basics? And whose? Who decides what is basic to a community?
Does basics mean no frills? What are considered frills certainly change over time. What people considered a solid education in 1945 was different from what people considered the same in 1975. What was considered a great career in 1921 was long gone by 1995. And still, we can look back to 1995 and say that things should be more like they were in the Clinton era. Lots of liberals have, but liberals are as likely to wear rose-colored glasses as anyone else.
I’ve often thought that the reason so many conservatives are opposed to the fact of evolution has nothing to do with the actual science versus religious aspects, it has to do with the idea that evolution validates change as a natural process.
Change happens, nature does not look back, nature has no basics. And if evolution upsets conservatives, please don’t tell them about entropy, that will make them blow a gasket.
On second thought, do. Teach entropy in schools. It’ll drive the tea party crazy.
The only way looking back does any good is to teach a lesson about what used to be and how we can either avoid that happening again or improve on what was done. Going back is not only the worst plan in any situation, but a cruel thing to teach 15-year-olds to do.
Teenagers, don’t listen to your elders. Keep your eyes on where you’re going, not where we’ve been.
September 2, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Just last week I was talking to a visiting artist about the Hoosic flood chutes that move through North Adams. We were speaking of the lack of engagement between people and the river, and how interaction used to involve the river flooding the city. I didn’t realize then that over the weekend I would watch the rainfall from Irene creating a fury in those chutes and reveal their importance to North Adams.
Respect the chutes, that’s one lesson I learned from Irene. There were plenty of others.
I learned something that I had forgotten — that big cities operate in bubbles. If it happens outside the urban area, then it doesn’t really happen.
That’s the only explanation for complaints from New Yorkers and Bostonians that echoed loud in cyberspace, television and radio even as Vermont and the Catskills were being washed away.
Because of this, I learned something further about big media — that is, they don’t always serve all of their audience.
So much attention was being paid by the major outlets on what might and didn’t happen in New York City and Boston that not only did the citizens of those area have no clue about the surrounding areas, but the non-urban areas serviced by these news sources had no idea of what was about to hit them.
Maybe the New York Times should pay attention to its own storm tracker. That’s how our house and everyone we know locally realized as early as Friday night that Irene was headed directly for us. You’d never know it from reading the Times that day.
One unexpected lesson was in the importance of Facebook. Anyone out there who wants to dismiss it as atrivial waste of time, do so at your own peril. Facebook was ground zero for local information, whether it came from citizens, politicians or news outlets, and it was a way for people who were unconnected to share updates and images of what was going on. Facebook revealed things that were going on before any official source released them through traditional channels.
I also learned — though this should be no surprise — that any American misfortune is prey to those trying to seek political advantage. Shame on you, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and your effort to hold natural disaster relief as a way to enact destructive Republican fiscal ideology.
And shame to those who use disasters to create superstitious fear for coercive purposes. Michele Bachmann was the first to step up with her pronouncement that the earthquake and the hurricane were messages from God aimed directly at Washington.
The creator of the universe is so worried about our fiscal policies he is willing to destroy people’s lives to trim the deficit, apparently.
Sadly for Bachmann, this weekend was not about superstitious fairy tales and apocalyptic signals, but about science. A large storm shooting warm, wet air at mountains saw that air shot back up, condensed in a colder layer of air and sent it back down in buckets and buckets and buckets — eight hours worth. Simple.
As to the earthquake earlier in the week, that was due to the fault lines. Not a miracle — we’ve been seeing them happen in New England since 1755. What was God punishing us for then?
It was science that helped out — the chutes that saved the day for North Adams and Adams, and the science that lead to achievements like social networking, digital video, the Internet and cell phones in order to share crucial information.
That’s the biggest lesson I learned — the rationality inherent in science may not get the ratings or the sales, but it helps out in the end.
If only the major media had — instead of stoking audiences in Boston and New York City and providing forums for people like Bachmann — done the simple job of informing the correct people of the correct information they needed to know, the devastation might not be as much a surprise as it was.
May 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
As part of “The Workers” show at Mass MoCA, Camel Collective will pull from the site’s actual history to recreate a moment from the 1970s when labor took a stand, and got creative in order to do it.
“The Workers” opens on Sunday, May 29.
Camel Collective — which for this project is made up of Anthony Graves and Carla Herrera-Prats — is recreating a scene from the 1970 strike at the former Sprague plant, utilizing a 40-foot chain link fence and screen-printed imagery pulled from the Transcript’s account of the times.
With one huge image and 12 smaller ones, the piece reveals a moment captured by the press when workers used a similar chain-link fence to hold Styrofoam coffee cups as part of the message of their protest.
“The reporter who took this picture named this intervention of the workers as artwork,” said Herrera-Prats. “So, in this picture from the ‘70s, there is a moment from the future, of what would happen in the future. They’re calling these workers artists, who are doing an intervention on the site of what in the future will become an art museum.”
While there were surely other creative moments in the complex over the years of its existence, this is the first time that anything in the media was captured and disseminated as art — and Camel Collective is celebrating that odd moment of precognitive journalism by taking it and blowing it up far beyond its original proportions contained in a newspaper microfiche and decorated by what was originally an instrument of control on the part of management.
“We didn’t anticipate that it would be about the fence,” Graves said. “We went through many, many images trying to figure out what struck us, which is when we came across this sign system that workers had improvised on the existing institutional structure. The fence, as I understand it, was put up by Sprague to limit the access of the strikers and to offer protection for the supervisors and scabs to enter.”
It was an act of appropriation on the part of the workers, and Camel Collective’s installation memorializes this forgotten symbol at a time when labor struggles have been in the news again.
“We wanted to have the fence in the gallery space and refer back to the images and be an example of the contemporary struggles that workers are facing today,” Herrera-Prats said. “We were able to link what is happening today with the fight for unions, with what was happening already in the ‘70s, because it is a continuation in this process that has not really changed but actually has been directed to a very specific direction.”
“It’s a similar struggle, but there’s also so much happening in terms of not just popular representation in the media of unions and what unions do, and also fewer and fewer people are able to recognize themselves as working class per se, because the economy has changed so much since the ‘70s,” Graves said.
Camel Collective’s modus operandi is one of research, as well as a rotating roll call per project. There is a third partner in the collective — Lasse Lau — and any given project will utilize combinations of the members as well as other people who are brought in for that specific project. With various artists allowing the thrill of research be their thematic guide, a situation is created where the collective never really knows where their investigations will take them or what will result. In this way the group starts off with at least a semi-blank slate that benefits from the collisions of artistic styles.
Herrera-Prats says that even though the group might not have preconceived notions of a project, it does drift toward topics that concern them the most.
“Our interests are education, technology that deals with work and the worker, that deals with the ‘70s as a generation,” she said, “and becomes more photographic in the sense in that the three of us were born in that decade and to go back and look at the material that formed the first years of our own education has been in our interest,” she said.
“These things have been already decided, in terms of the collective, as some things we like or agree as being interested in and whenever we’re looking at images in an archive, we start looking for those things, or whenever we start a project, that will be not an easy topic, but we’ll already have a common geography in terms of research.
“Our interests are similar but our approaches can differ,” said Graves. “The reason we’re in a collective to begin with is to negotiate different approaches, the social activity rather than isolation as an approach.”
For the group, there’s a seat-of-their-pants aspect to any given art project. Even if they acknowledge the allure of the site, they still don’t know what specifics that site will offer as material for work.
“That can produce a lot of anxiety because there’s always a fear that maybe the material isn’t so interesting, but somehow it’s always interesting,” Graves said.
Graves says the collective process is a nice way of learning and surprising one another, especially since the work tends to bust the image one might have of collaborators. It’s a method that gives as much to the creators as it does to the visitors in a gallery, and creates a group artist identity that might be far more healthy and useful in a collective existence than in the lonely life of one painter, one room, one canvas.
“If we take an individual artist as the model if there’s antagonism, then you immediately pathologize it as a personality disorder,” said Graves, “but if you have a collective doing the same thing, that’s like a personality order.”
May 30, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Collage artist Mary Lum has been collecting hidden messages for years and is about to unveil them at Mass MoCA.
Lum’s work is part of “The Workers,” which opens at the contemporary art museum on Sunday, May 29.
For well over a decade, Lum has been making note of the bottom of each paper bag that passes through her hands and found a largely unacknowledged directory of paper bag factory personnel that literally litters our landscape.
“Almost every paper bag that you get in a store has somebody’s name on the bottom on it,” Lum said. “It’s the person who made the bag in the bag factory. There’s often just a name but sometimes there’s a phrase with the name like ‘Made with pride by’ or ‘Manufactured by’ or ‘Safety and quality a way of life.’ There’s often a phrase and more often just somebody’s name. There’s more often a series of numbers and a date, so by looking at the bottom of the bag you can tell where, when and by whom the bag was made.”
“You just think of them as being anonymously made by a machine and in a way, the person on the bag is probably the person who inspected the bag or is responsible for the quality of the bag when it comes off the machine, because the machine actually does make the bag. Some of the bags do say ‘personally inspected by,’ but a lot of them say ‘made by.’”
It’s part of a massive quality control system — a low-tech tracking network that assures commonly used paper bags aren’t shoddily produced. Lum has scoped out the best sources for these locally, since not every bag has a name on the bottom. Lum recommends liquor stores in general, Wild Oats and McDonald’s as some of the prime places to find these components of her new wall collage piece.
“There are a few different places in North Adams and Williamstown where the bags all have names,” she said. “It’s really common, but it’s not something that people really pay any attention to. Who looks at the bottom of a brown paper bag? It’s something interesting once you do notice it.”
For Lum’s piece, the bottoms have been torn out and placed on the walls of MoCA in a a single band that moves around the corner of the gallery.
“The Workers” concerns itself with the state of the modern working class and the headlines it inspires in the areas of the recession, unemployment and the assault on collective bargaining, as well as immigration.
As fashioned by Lum, the bag bottoms on the wall create a direct two-dimensional analogy to workers lining up outside the factory or even leaving after a long, hard day’s work.
It’s a visual that stretches back through the history of one of the most industrial forms of art, films — one the earliest films ever was the Lumière Brothers’ “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory” in 1895.
Lum’s piece is in lineage to that film, as well as the work of Soviet avant garde artist Yevgeny Lysenko. The colors of the walls are a direct reference to his Workers Reading Room, which he made in the 1920s. But to Lum, none of the art references hold the power of the revelation behind the names on the bottoms of bags.
“That’s not as important as the idea that I’m trying to point out, that actual people made these bags,” said Lum. “The interesting thing is that the bag was made and stamped with somebody’s name, and then the bag was used and then the bag was collected, so one single piece of throwaway paper that we would generally overlook gets handled by so many people and passes through so many different people’s lives.”
Lum current has about 1,000 bags with 700 different names given credit for the manufacture or inspection of the bags, and she traces a lot of them to a plant in Elizabeth, N.J., as notated in the “EL” portion of the codes on many of the bags she has collected.
Lum’s collage work is generally created from items not considered traditional, but the bottoms of bags are a change of pace for her in that they are multiple examples of a single item, which is not indicative of her usual choice of material.
“There are close to 1,000 fragments in this installation and they’re all exactly the same category and the same typology,” Lum said. “I don’t usually just do one thing, but the whole idea of a pattern or something that’s painted or something that is pointed that’s not necessarily noticed is a basic thing in my work – or taking something historical and adding something from everyday and the combination of those things is what makes the work.”
In this manner, Lum is affixing a decade-long history of the items she has amassed — one that disappears each time we toss away or even recycle the evidence. This is in line with many of Lum’s past collage work.
“I often make things that are not commercially viable or that just go away after the show,” she said. “I do a lot of work on the walls that just gets painted over once an exhibition is over.”
In Lum’s piece, people’s identity are represented by fragments of the items they help manufacture — who they are to the museum visitor is what they do for a living. Lum views this as a common way people identify each other, especially when first being introduced, when
“What do you do for a living?” is often utilized as a way to size up the person or configure a way to approach the conversation. It’s shorthand for who this person is and how to treat them. For many, work is one of the final descriptions we get in the summation of our lives, one of the central facts for people to know about who we were in life.
“One piece that I have done in the past that is very related to the idea of the worker and being known for the job you do rather than the person you are is I collected job titles from the obituaries for a long time because in many obituaries,” Lum said. “The headline of the obituary says your name and then what you did in life, your job. It might say Michael Smith, banker in Toledo — you’re identified at the end of your life by what you did not who you were.”
Lum’s piece involved thin strands on a gallery wall created by job titles included in newspaper obituaries and arranged concurrent with the studs behind the walls, thus marking he interior architecture of the space and bringing it out as a map to view.
It’s a similar idea to her work at MoCA and one that Lum sees as integral to the social order of modern America, particularly in a landscape of huge unemployment. If your job is your identity, is unemployment as sentence to non-personhood? Is stifling collective bargaining akin to rendering people mute?
“It’s interesting how you can make the leaps across history and how the issues never seem to change all that much,” said Lum. “There’s always this struggle of the worker against the administration or government.”
Lum’s efforts are symbolic representations of the very struggle by workers to be recognized by the large monolith of government — bits of bags arranged on a wall, each highlighting a worker, become stand-ins for actual workers organizing for recognition. Lum’s challenge has been to find a way in her own artistic vocabulary to do this. Rather than capturing them in her own imagery, Lum’s choice is to have the work represent the people hidden behind it
“It’s all about noticing work as it’s represented, so instead of photographing bag factory workers, you figure out some other way,” she said.
August 22, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I’m not one to offer live music reviews, since I’m of the mind that most musical events, being in the past, don’t bear talking about to people who weren’t there in the first place. Wilco’s Saturday night debut in North Adams, however, is of a higher significance than the actual show that took place.
As nestled in the weekend-long Solid Sound Festival, it was the collective opportunity of the holders of the Wilco brand name to present themselves as a single unit to the city, as well as the scores of thrilled fans who showed up. For people here, when Wilco took to the stage, it wasn’t just a band that appeared before us that night, but a score of possibilities about where our hometown is headed.
As a music performance, there’s nothing to quibble with — Wilco is a solid, professional group with strong musicianship built around great song craftsmanship. There wasn’t anything alarmingly special about the performance, despite Seth Rogovoy’s curious, near-religious experience, as related in Berkshire Living — must have been all the pot wafting in the air — but it was a great one, nevertheless. Extended guitar solos and songs building into noise crescendos with regularity gave the impression that the band was sticking with its program — Wilco was, after all, the centerpiece of the event and though experimentation was the impetus, there needed to be a dollop of surety to make sure things went correctly. And things did, with a nice mix of the old and new.
I was one of the happy geeks Tweedy mentioned who were thrilled to hear the B-side “A Magazine Called Sunset” — and a charming opener in the song “Wilco (The Song),” in which the band assures its audience that they will love us when we’re feeling down, complete with intentionally botched computer-generated band introductions that highlighted Wilco’s affable persona.
The real personality in the show came out not so much through the music but through the personas of the players, particularly guitarist Nels Cline, whose animated and wildly joyous stage presence came alive in non-stop guitar-god gyrations and bouncing, manic dancing throughout the performance. At the heart of Wilco, as always, stands leader Jeff Tweedy and his personable, impromptu humor and down-to-earth conversational style with the audience. That presented the most magic, as well as his willingness to step back and let the other guys grab the limelight. After all, the entire being of Wilco is built around Tweedy’s glorious and distinctive voice and songcraft — he doesn’t need to steal anyone’s thunder.
As the centerpiece, he presents his band as an affable and tight group — and he had plenty of opportunity to cement this the next day, as he took the stage solo for a largely quieter set. You could nap on the greenery during that for a lazy wind-down.
Anyone can comment on the show, though — you’ll get enough of that on NPR and The New York Times and elsewhere. The big question I get asked, and I’m sure many others do, has to do with the big “T” word — transformation. Will Wilco’s festival be as transformative for the city as Mass MoCA was? It’s really going to be hard to say for quite some time whether it will truly transform anything. I think that will become clearer if the festival repeats over the years and we all wake up to find a different city because of it.
I will say this: Mass MoCA has offered up an amazing venue for live performance in Joe’s Field, flanked by the industrial eye candy of its campus with the backdrop of lovely mountains and the vast Berkshire skies. You’re not going to find a better place to see music around here, and that is a great gift to the area.
It was a great realization as I left the Wilco show that I would not be stepping out into Northampton or Worcester or anywhere else. I would be home. My wife and I wandered out into the town on a Saturday night, and it was buzzing with people — some I knew; some I didn’t. The Mohawk Bar was filled, and there were musicians jamming, and it wasn’t even remotely out of control.
It was nice to see people enjoy my home. There were plenty of folks who made a bee-line for the shuttle buses after a very long day, but even a fraction of those 5,000 who stayed are enough to make a difference in the feeling of downtown. It felt lived in, not forgotten, and that was nice.
Apparently Joe Thompson and Jeff Tweedy are saying there will be a next year, and I couldn’t be happier about that. What I hope to see next year is discounted day passes for North Adams residents. Let’s make this great event more inclusive of the city that’s hosting it.
If the Wilco show gave us any great gift, though, it’s a precedent not only for a festival of the future and the opportunities that go with it, but also opening the door to the notion that North Adams is a place for major performers to come. After years of stalling on the festival front, something was finally done about it, and it worked. We got some good rock shows out of it. And Wilco loves us and we love them.