June 12, 2019

The Palette is available to all interested with an e-Subscription


In this issue:

French exhibition aims to reveal naked truth about 'nude Mona Lisa'
The Restoration of a 1446 Painting Revisits Florence’s History of Infanticide
Multi-million-dollar Matisse fails to find a buyer at Toronto auction
International art project seeks to transform Flint’s image
A museum discovered water lilies under a Monet painting of wisteria.
A Nonprofit Distributes $2 Million Worth of Art Supplies and Books to New York City Public Schools
Study Finds Americans Would Rather Have Artistic Hobbies Than a Netflix Subscription
Art supply shop, gallery helps grow Downtown Arts District
A Toronto company is helping keep the ancient art of Japanese paper alive
Gaston teacher retires after 30 years at same school

 

 

 

 

French exhibition aims to reveal naked truth about 'nude Mona Lisa'
New research suggests work could be a prototype of an idealised “Venus” portrait designed by Leonardo himself

Is an old mystery about to be solved? A show in Chantilly, just north of Paris, lifts a veil on one of art history’s more enigmatic and oft-derided works of art, a celebrated drawing widely (and wrongly) known as the Nude Mona Lisa because of its formal similarities to Leonardo’s Louvre masterpiece. The exhibition will present detailed evidence that the work, attributed to a follower, may well have been made by Leonardo himself.

And the subject? Definitely not the Mona Lisa, nor Monna Vanna—another fanciful title attached to the work in the 20th century, inspired probably by the friend of Dante’s Beatrice (painted by the English Pre-Raphaelite painter Rossetti). A new interpretation suggests instead that this may be an idealised female portrait, depicting the sitter as Venus, the comely goddess of love. A number of copies and paintings clearly inspired by this prototype will also be on show at the Château de Chantilly (1 June-6 October).

The drawing had never been subject to detailed analysis until last spring, when it underwent an exhaustive examination by the French Museums Laboratory. Bruno Mottin, who led the research, concluded: “It could well be a work by Leonardo da Vinci. At the very least, all indications point to his workshop and the making of a pretty ambitious work.”

It was bought in 1862 by the Duke d’Aumale, son of Louis Philippe I, the last King of France. Sold as a drawing by Leonardo, it was described as “young woman, naked bust”. “Ever since then, everything and its opposite has been said,” says the Chantilly curator Mathieu Deldicque, about a work which “has given rise to the most contradictory reactions and fantasies.” The duke bequeathed his collection to the French Academy on condition that it never leave his château at Chantilly, so there is no way that the Louvre curator Vincent Delieuvin can include it in his forthcoming Leonardo blockbuster. But he has co-curated the show at Chantilly.

In the catalogue, Delieuvin describes the strange theories about this extraordinary figure, which combines feminine eroticism with a muscular physique. “This nude has become even more enigmatic than La Gioconda [Mona Lisa] herself,” he says. No reliable testimony can be traced regarding its genesis; there is only a notation in Salai’s post-mortem inventory of 1525, referring to a “meza nuda” among a dozen copies of Leonardo’s works. A pupil and lover of Leonardo, Salai was also the middleman who sold the collection to the King of France.

The work is actually a cartone (or cartoon): a full-scale preparatory drawing. Mottin reconstructed the meticulous contours of the pinholes, which were used to transfer the outlines of the design by rubbing in charcoal powder (spolvero), in preparation for an oil painting. The artist in fact made the transfer to a second cartoon, in order to protect the original one from the charcoal.

Since 1901, no scholar has recognised the hand of Leonardo in the work. But the laboratory’s findings tell another story. They show the traces of a fine drawing made with carboncino (charcoal), which “was widely abraded”, Mottin says. The sketch was highlighted with strokes of lead white, “an indication that this is not one of those cartoons destined to be thrown away after it has been used, but a ben finito drawing”. Another characteristic is its unusual size—77.5cm x 52cm—for which the artist had to paste two sheets of thick paper together. Some hatchings on the face are apparently drawn by a left-handed artist, which was the case with Leonardo. Like another of his cartoons, the portrait of Isabella d’Este in the Louvre, it was badly damaged and at one time was largely repainted with ink, covering and partially altering the original design.

The portrait is very similar in size to the Mona Lisa. Delieuvin believes that certain parts, like the seat or the right hand, point to the same artist. But a superimposition of both images shows significant differences. “This character is not a nude version of La Gioconda,” he says, “but you can see that the painter might have worked on both pieces at the same time.” Both authors discard the idea that the cartoon was used by Leonardo himself for a painting that has since disappeared. But a canvas from a private collection, apparently painted in the first decades of the 16th century, shows a striking correspondence with the spolvero points. This appealing work, on long-term loan to the Museo Ideale at Vinci—which could be by Salai or Francesco Melzi (another pupil and heir)—is now being shown next to the cartoon at Chantilly.

o what should the Chantilly portrait be called? For Delieuvin, the most plausible hypothesis is that the artist designed an “idealised portrait”, common in the Renaissance: an antique deity rather than a person of the time. One painted variation, lent by the Carrara Academy of Bergamo, shows the sitter as Flora, the goddess of spring. Delieuvin points out that the intricate hairstyle is the same as that adorning the Capitoline Venus Pudica, with the artist “choosing to stress the sensuality and ambiguity of this ideal of female beauty”. The Art Newspaper

 

The Restoration of a 1446 Painting Revisits Florence’s History of Infanticide
A documentary dives into the history of the Institute of the Innocents, which housed unwanted babies, and the first painting it ever commissioned.

For all of the progressive humanist ideals that made Florence the birthplace of an artistic Renaissance, during the 15th century it had a serious unwanted baby problem. Illegitimate infants were born across all social classes, to poor unwed mothers as well as wealthy noblemen (who sometimes impregnated their servants and slaves to produce wet nurses for the family’s legitimate child). The frequent solution was gruesome: infanticide.

“Go to the Ponte Vecchio, there by the Arno, and put your ear to the ground and listen: you will hear a great lament,” priest San Bernardino of Siena said in a sermon in Florence during the early 15th century. “What are these cries? They are the voices of the innocent babies thrown into your Arno and your privies or buried alive in your gardens and your stables, to avoid the world’s shame.”

Babies were abandoned in the streets, or left in open fields to be devoured by wolves. Humanist and devout Christian Florentines grew concerned as infanticide became more common, especially since according to their beliefs the souls of these unbaptized infants would remain in a hellish limbo state for eternity. An entire cemetery — Piazza del Limbo — was devoted to these unfortunate young victims.

Some Florentines felt obligated to help abandoned infants before they reached the Piazza del Limbo, by offering mothers who were clearly under duress an alternative. The Istituto degli Innocenti (Institute of the Innocents) was founded in Florence, and is currently celebrating its 600th anniversary of continuous operation as the first secular institution dedicated to the care of children. The festivities have included the recent premiere of a new documentary directed by Davide Battistella, The Innocents of Florence, commemorating the history of the institute and the conservation of the first painting it ever commissioned.

The film weaves back and forth from this painting to the history of the institute that it represents, uncovering centuries of stories parallel to the layers of patina being carefully cleaned from the canvas. The Innocents of Florence transports viewers into the archives of the Istituto degli Innocenti and the conservation studio, to see both archival ledgers and X-ray imaging.

The institute was established by the wealthy Florentine silk guild, who had a track record of funding social assistance projects and adopted the cause of illegitimate babies by creating a home for abandoned and orphaned children. The guild commissioned a young Filippo Brunelleschi (the architect who later designed the famous terracotta dome of the Florence Cathedral) in 1419 to plan a building where these infants could be fed, clothed, educated, and granted Florentine citizenship.

The original building designed by Brunelleschi (his first public commission) is still fully intact, down to the semicircular basin under one of the façade windows where mothers could anonymously deposit children.

The silk guild also commissioned local artist Domenico di Michelino to paint a processional banner for the young organization, to be used as a public image in parades. This was the first painting to enter the institute’s collection, which eventually included works by masters such as Sandro Botticelli, Luca della Robbia, and Domenico Ghirlandaio as part of its educational mission. These works, and others, are now on view to the public as part of an onsite museum.

Di Michelino’s painting, “Mother of the Innocents” (1446), is a nearly life-sized image of a young Madonna holding an outstretched silk cloak that shelters 16 children of various ages. She is their protector and champion, shielding them like the purpose-built institute recently constructed to do the same.

“It is still today what they consider their iconic symbol,” explains Elizabeth Wicks, one of the two conservators tasked with restoring the painting, in The Innocents of Florence. “It’s like the poster, and also it’s very important historically, because it shows the building behind which was their brand-new building.”

On a walk through the Innocenti Institute’s museum a few years ago, the painting caught the attention of Wicks and Jane Fortune, founder of the Florence-based Advancing Women Artists Foundation (AWA), a nonprofit organization devoted to identifying, restoring, and exhibiting art by women in Italian museum storerooms. “Mother of the Innocents” needed to be cleaned, and Fortune decided to fund its conservation by Wicks and a colleague, Nicoletta Fontani, despite the fact that the painting was not by a woman artist.

“[Fortune] was deeply interested in the Innocenti’s history because it was a place run by women, as early as the Renaissance,” Linda Falcone, director of AWA, told Hyperallergic. “We believe it is important to value forgotten works that tell ‘women’s stories.’”

Without spoiling the dramatic plot twist of The Innocents of Florence, conservators Wicks and Fontani found an unexpected, hidden image underneath the painting’s surface layer during the conservation process. Their discovery reinforced the fact that even as times changed, the institute clung to an image of a heroine savior coming to the rescue of innocent children.

“I think that the value [of the painting] is actually enhanced by what we found, because it makes the story richer,” Wicks says into the camera in The Innocents of Florence. “It makes the image more powerful, to me, that it was so important that they wanted to keep it going through the centuries.”

The Madonna stood steadfast, as the institute adapted to lower infanticide rates and new sets of needs. The windowsill basin once used for anonymously leaving children in the institute’s care was closed in 1875; as of 1989 the Brunelleschi-designed building has housed UNICEF’s International Research Center. Today, the building shelters expectant mothers and children in need, and houses a museum displaying six centuries’ worth of children’s stories that would otherwise go untold.

“It’s very difficult to find artwork that does not have a small or large story to tell,” Fontani, one of the conservators who worked on the painting, notes in The Innocents of Florence. “So there is the official story of the image that you see, and then there is the story behind the actual painting.” Hyperallergic

 

Multi-million-dollar Matisse fails to find a buyer at Toronto auction
The French Modern master’s oil painting Femme assise sur un balcon was withdrawn from a Canadian sale after bidding stalled below the reserve price

High hopes for a 1919 oil painting by Henri Matisse in the spring sale at Heffel auction house in Toronto were quickly shattered when the work only drew a smattering of interest Wednesday night and failed to reach the minimum reserve price. The 26- by 20-inch canvas, Femme assise sur un balcon, was the first work by the French painter to be sold at auction in Canada and was estimated to make between C$3.8m and C$5.8m ($2.8m and $4.3m), but bidding stalled soon after opening at C$2.8 ($2m).

The auction house’s vice-president Robert Heffel put a positive spin on the disappointing result, telling The Art Newspaper: “We were honoured to offer the Matisse. Not every artwork sells the night of the auction, and we’re confident that the painting will find its rightful home.”

Otherwise, it was a successful afternoon and evening sale for Heffel, which realised around C$16.5m overall (including buyer’s premium). A pair of Jean Paul Riopelle canvasses from 1953, Carnaval II and Incandescence, led the way, each knocked down at C$2.2m. Also on offer were three notable works by Group of Seven member A.Y. Jackson, all of them consigned by the Art Gallery of Ontario. They were paced by the winter landscape Laurentian Hills, which made just over C$450,000, easily outdoing its pre-sale estimate.

Another highlight was provided by Quebec abstractionist Claude Tousignant, whose canvas Sans titre surpassed its high estimate, realising C$253,250. The Art Newspaper

 

International art project seeks to transform Flint’s image

Artists from Michigan and around the world are painting 50 murals in Flint to refocus the city's image on art rather than the lead-tainted water crisis.

Joe Schipani, director of the Flint Public Art Project, told The Flint Journal that they aim to create 100 murals in the city by fall 2020.

Schipani said Flint's image has been muddied by the events in 2014 that led to the city's drinking water becoming contaminated with lead, and a Netflix series, "Flint Town," about crime in the area. He hopes bringing international artists to town will encourage visitors to recognize Flint for other reasons.

"When you get all these big names coming here to do work, you gain an international presence," Schipani said. "Hopefully people will start noticing us for our art and not our water."

He added that inviting artists from around the world serves to bridge connections for local artists.

Simo Vibart from Argentina is among the artists whom Schipani welcomed to Flint.

The 29-year-old has painted murals at the Hispanic Tech Center and the walls at Totem Books downtown.

Vibart said the environmental crisis was all he knew of Flint, but that its real value is its people.

"I've been through a lot of cities in America and Flint is very different," Vibart said. "I think the people here are really appreciative, very kind people who take the time to say they love that I'm here doing my work."

Flint will host its first International Mural Festival in October to showcase the outdoor artwork across the city.

"I think this project helps the community out a lot," Vibart said. "When people see this art, it will change at least a minute of their lives." The News & Observer

 

A museum discovered water lilies under a Monet painting of wisteria.

Analysis of a Claude Monet canvas in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague has revealed water lilies lurking beneath the painting, an abstract depiction of wisteria. In anticipation of “Monet.The Garden Paintings,” an exhibition slated to open in October, the museum took Wisteria (1917–20) down for the first time since acquiring it in 1961. The institution’s conservator of modern art, Ruth Hoppe, noticed that some retouching work had been done to cover up holes where tiny shards of glass had gotten wedged in the canvas, and decided to have the work subjected to an X-ray scan. This revealed a painted layer beneath the wisteria depicting one of Monet’s most famous subjects: the water lilies that floated on the ponds of his beloved Giverny gardens.

Intriguingly, the work was made late Monet’s life, after he’d had achieved great success—when, presumably, he would not be hard up for cash for art supplies, and would have little reason to paint over an old canvas rather than start on a fresh one. As Hoppe told the New York Times:

There is no obvious reason why he would reuse a canvas. [. . .] The most logical reason for me was that he wanted to try something new, and he wasn’t sure yet where it would end. [. . .] To my eye, this is a bridge between the water lilies and the wisteria.

Monet created his water lily and wisteria paintings concurrently, as part of a planned installation titled “Grandes Décorations” that would feature a continuous watery and verdant landscape. However, while many of the water lilies were ultimately shown at the Orangerie in Paris, the wisteria paintings would not fit into the space and were left in his studio. It was not until several decades later that Monet’s late works found favor with modern art museums, and the water lily paintings (and, to a lesser extent, the wisteria paintings) were snapped up. The Gemeentemuseum discovery suggests there may be an even closer link between the two bodies of work.

As Gemeentemuseum curator Frouke van Dijke told the Times, “For us it was a big surprise [. . .] especially because all the focus is always on the water lilies, so no one really cares about the wisteria.” Artsy

 

A Nonprofit Distributes $2 Million Worth of Art Supplies and Books to New York City Public Schools
Mister ArtSee received an in-kind donation of over 100,000 art education books and kits to be distributed to children in public schools throughout NYC.

Mister ArtSee, a non-profit that promotes art education in public schools, has received an in-kind donation of over 100,000 art education books and kits to be distributed to underserved children and NYC public schools. The anonymous gift, valued at over $2 million, is the largest single donation of art education supplies for schools in the city’s history, the non-profit says.

The kits include a series of children art books created by art historians and educators Janet Boris, Walter Hopps, and Deborah Schwartz. The books educate children on the works and biographies of Frida Kahlo, Robert Ryman, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein.

The books are accompanied with art supplies that represent the materials used by the artists in creating their original works. Those materials include paper, nontoxic paint, air-drying clay, oil pastels, and other supplies. The kits also include teacher guides that assist and maximize the educational benefits of the collection.

Mister ArtSee was founded in 2009 sculptor Elliott Arkin and a group of art professionals to promote art education in public schools, where it often suffers from the lack of material and curricular support. “Art education is an area that has to fight for every penny,” Arkin said in a phone conversation with Hyperallergic.

With scarce budgets for art education in public schools, teachers are left with no option but to carry the expenses for art supplies themselves. A 2018 survey released by the federal Department of Education showed that 94% of public school teachers in the United States reported paying for supplies without reimbursement during the 2014-2015 school year. The teachers in the survey reported spending an average of $479, while 7% of them reported spending more than $1,000.

Mister ArtSee has teamed up with the New York City Department of Education’s Office for Community Schools to distribute the books and kits to a list of schools throughout NYC’s five boroughs. So far, 75,000 kits have been distributed to 78 public schools throughout NYC’s five boroughs.

“There’s always room for some budgeting in schools but it’s very limited,” Anthony Heinz May, an art teacher for 1st-5th grades at P.S. 20 in Clinton Hill, told Hyperallergic in a phone interview. Although his school receives “Title I” supplemental funds for having a high number of children from low-income families, May had to look for external donors for art supplies for his class. Last year, he was able to personally persuade the NYC art supplies store Blick to donate large volume of art supplies to his school.

“Art education is sidelined in the national curriculum,” May said, adding that resources are directed towards programming and computer studies. “They [schools] don’t see practicality in art education.”

“Art is important for practicing one’s own individual self-freedom, creativity and expression. That’s why we should have, and that’s why we’re not having it, why it’s being lost,” May continued..

Mister ArtSee has also launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the distribution of kits to schools and to revamp its “Mister ArtSee vehicle,” an ice-cream truck turned into an artistically designed art supplies van. Hyperallergic

 

Study Finds Americans Would Rather Have Artistic Hobbies Than a Netflix Subscription

In the age of binge-watching TV and social-media scrolling, you may not be forgiven for saying you can’t find the time to pick up a hobby. And there’s no time like the present. Experts agree that hobbies can make us more creative, happy, and empathetic; and if your hobby involves expressing yourself through art, it may even help to lessen anxiety, depression, dementia, and a host of other health conditions. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that a new study found that 75 percent of Americans surveyed have creative hobbies, and they’re not about to give them up.

The study

The study was conducted by Bluprint, NBCUniversal’s subscription service for online creative learning, to examine creativity trends in American society today. The company, which offers videos and classes on topics from watercolor painting to woodworking and cake decorating, also sought to learn about Americans’ creative hobbies and how much they value such activities.

Bluprint CEO John Levisay noted that he was keen to explore the ties between creative pursuits and health. “When you talk to a quilter or a cook or a knitter, they all talk about this kind of flow state that they get in when they’re making,” he explained. “It’s similar to meditation or yoga, where your blood pressure comes down, and you forget about a lot of the mayhem in the world, or personal stress.”

However, there’s a psychological misconception among American consumers, Levisay continued, who believe they don’t have time to be creative. “But then when people take inventory of where they’re spending their time, they realize that they’re spending three to four hours watching TV and an hour or two a day online,” he continued. And they acknowledge that creative activities make them feel better than watching TV or browsing social media. “We’ve heard it from our customers for years, and we wanted to do some more empirical research,” Levisay added.

Working with global consulting firm IPSOS, Bluprint developed a survey that was circulated in February 2019. It asked participants to identify their creative hobbies, rate the importance of creativity in their lives and that of their children, and consider the sacrifices they would make to keep those hobbies. Creative hobbies could be anything from drawing and painting to knitting, baking, making music, beer brewing, or journaling. In total, a random selection of 2,012 American adults over age 18 took the survey.

What it found

Americans have creative hobbies, but they’re hungry for more creative stimulation.
  • 75 percent of participants reported having at least one creative hobby.
  • The most popular activities were baking, gardening, cooking (beyond everyday meals), home decor, and DIY crafting.
  • 68 percent said that they are eager to use their creativity more often.
Participants with creative hobbies reported that making things by hand brings them joy.
  • 79 percent said they “love the process of creating something from scratch.”
  • 88 percent agreed with the statement: “Successfully finishing a creative project brings me joy.”
  • 75 percent reported that they “make mistakes along the way,” but that doesn’t lessen their “enjoyment.”
Some would sacrifice streaming TV and movies for their creative hobbies.
  • Of those who have Netflix, 77 percent would rather give up their subscription than give up their creative hobby.
Parents want their children to have ample opportunities for creativity.
  • 77 percent agreed with the statement “I want my child(ren) to be more creative than I got the opportunity to be when I was a child.”
  • 61 percent agreed that “public education doesn’t focus enough on creative arts.”
  • 72 percent agreed that “standardized test scores are prioritized more than creative thinking in schools.”
  • 79 percent of parents would prefer that their children “make just enough to get by in a creative job that they love,” rather than “make lots of money in a job they aren’t passionate about.”

What it means

The study suggests that not only are Americans aware of the value and benefits of creativity, they want more of it.

Maggie King, director of consumer insights at Bluprint, noted that the findings support a lot of the medical research that we’re seeing on the emotional benefits of creative activities. “Our data is showing that people who participate in creative hobbies versus those who do not are more likely to describe themselves as happy, joyful, [and] passionate,” she said, suggesting that creativity is positively affecting “their outlook on life.”

American adults want more creativity for themselves and their children, but they don’t necessarily know how to make that a reality. “They’re recognizing that even their schooling isn’t supporting creativity in the way that they want, and they want their kids to be even more creative,” King said. “So I think we recognize that we want it prioritized, but we’re still kind of struggling against all the other pressures to bring it into the fold more.”

Levisay believes that there are two factors driving the current relevance of creativity. He explained that there’s more recognition of the nature of creativity and its benefits. In the past, it was commonly believed that creativity is genetic—that some people are born with it. Today, we’re more open to the idea that creativity can be honed through education and practice. We can all be creative—it’s a matter of letting it out.

The second factor, Levisay continued, is the world we live in. “Always-on technology and the 24-hour news cycle [are] creating disorientation,” he explained. People may be reactively turning to focused creative activities to decompress or find respite.

King also emphasized the current moment. “We’re in a very divisive time in society right now, where we’re kind of disagreeing on more than we’re agreeing on, and we’re also prioritizing a lot of business,” she said. “We’re always on with all of our devices, and so we’re seeing that prioritized as a society.” Even though three in four Americans have creative hobbies, she continued, “more than two-thirds want to use it even more and want to find more opportunities for that.” For this reason, they’re framing the study as evidence of a “creativity crisis.”

The study also supports the theory that the ubiquity of screens is driving us to DIY culture and making things by hand. “There’s something inherently agitating, even subconsciously, when you’re pinging around through social media as opposed to kind of having a singular focus and the relaxation benefits that come with slowing down, learning about something, and then making with your hands,” Levisay offered. “There’s a real sense of satisfaction and well-being that comes from that.” Artsy

 

Art supply shop, gallery helps grow Downtown Arts District

ROME, NY: The Copper Easel, an art supply shop and gallery at 216 W. Dominick St., is the newest addition to the growing Downtown Arts District.

The shop opened late last month with a “Meet the Artist” event, and has been open from noon to 8 p.m. every day since.

Owner Adam Prescott Chrisman said his store should fill a niche in the city, providing supplies to artists locally.

“It keeps supplies in the area, so people aren’t foced to go to big box stores outside of Rome, if they just don’t happen to have something that they need,” he explained.

As a gallery, the Copper Easel also gives artists a platform to market their work.

“So we’re an artisan gallery, and the way we work is a little bit different from most galleries. We don’t take a high commission, we instead have a rent-based program, and a lower commission when things sell. It keeps the doors open and we aren’t as dependent on (art) sales to stay open,” Chrisman said.

Upon opening for business, the Copper Easel had five pieces each from 16 artists on display, available for purchase. “There’s originals, there’s prints, there’s jewelry, there’s all types of different kinds of art.”

By supplying artists with what they need to create and giving them a space to peddle their creations, Chrisman said he’s helping to sustain the city’s artist community.

“I figured I’d tackle it from both sides of the thing, where I can provide the supplies so the artists can create, then also be the other side of the coin, being a kind of a middle man between the artists and customers,” he said.

“Businesses locally that are looking to put art on the wall can just buy locally from a local artist. Then they (the artists) keep a higher end of the commission, so they can also be sustained as artists, if they’re doing it full time or not.”

An artist himself and a Poland native, Chrisman, 26, has lived in Rome for eight years. He’s the president of the Rome Art Association and formerly worked as the department manager of arts and crafts at Walmart, where he became “very familiar with the retail end” of art supply.

The idea for the shop came through his involvement with the Art Association, Chrisman said. “It came up between quite a few artists that they were sick of driving out of town to get art supplies, or ordering online with the shipping costs. So it just kind of opened up that there was a need for things, and I just kind of took the plunge.”

He continued: “It’s only really been in the works for probably less than six months. We found this space, and I have a very good relationship with the Capitol (Theatre, who owns the storefront).”

For now, Chrisman said, he’s focused on tweaking his inventory to match the needs of the artist customer base he’s cultivating, though there are plans to eventually offer programming to the public.

“We’re hoping to ffer classes in the future, anything from child to beginner to advanced paintings, drawing, anything like that... I have classroom space in the back, and I also have the full basement, so there’s a little bit of opportunity for growth.”

Chrisman also plans on reprising the “Meet the Artist” event monthly, though he said he’s still working out the details.

“Adam Chrisman is ingenuitous and ambitious, and the Copper Easel will be another great component of the continually growing Arts District,” said Art Pierce, executive director of the Capitol Theatre. Rome Setinel

 

A Toronto company is helping keep the ancient art of Japanese paper alive

Nancy Jacobi has been passionate about traditional Japanese washi paper since she discovered the handmade paper while teaching English in Japan forty years ago. “It was everywhere at that time and everything you bought from a store was packaged in some wonderful paper,” says Jacobi. “In Canada, the paper industry was very practical. There just wasn’t any beautiful paper around.”

So, she decided she would bring it home to Toronto and started to sell it out of the trunk of her car in 1978.

Washi is the Japanese word for the traditional paper made by hand using the long inner fibres of three renewable plants, Kozo, Gampi and Mitsumata, all native to Japan. Made since the 7th century, washi paper is known for its strength and versatility and has a variety of uses including shoji paper screens, lamps, window coverings, and archival book restoration by conservators and bookbinders.

Rembrandt used Japanese paper for his drawings and etchings and some of his students and contemporaries used the paper as well. “The paper was expensive and hard to get, but artists loved it. There are stories of the artists chasing down the Japanese dealers when they came to town to try and get some. It was like gold,” Jacobi said.

Bookbinders and calligraphers were her first customers, says Jacobi, but she wanted to get the paper into the hands of artists and makers.

“The artists who buy from us almost always continue because the traditional heritage papers have this appeal and practicality … the paper has been touched by at least ten pairs of hands,” says Jacobi. “It has this human warmth.”

Soon she was selling to stores like The Papery on Cumberland and eventually she opened her first retail location, The Japanese Paper Place on a gritty stretch of Queen St. W in 1982. “It was the land of used appliances,” says Jacobi. “But I liked that because creative people would come there. Everybody who came in those days would feel like they had discovered it and go and tell their friends … but I knew that I would have to do more than just show people the paper, people would need to know how to use it.”

Tania Love, a visual artist based in Toronto discovered Japanese paper in the late 1990s at Jacobi’s shop.

“That’s probably where a lot of people discovered Japanese paper,” says Love.

“Very simply, I love what it does. It’s very sensitive, it seems almost delicate and fragile but it’s incredibly resilient. Those qualities that are embodied in the paper, are also themes that are integral to my work. In my own practice, there is a pairing between the medium and the theme.”

Jacobi’s business, now located in Etobicoke, is one of the largest suppliers of Japanese paper in the world with thousands of different kinds of paper, but artists still seek her out for the handmade papers which she calls Heritage Washi.

Cybèle Young is a Toronto based artist and author who creates miniature worlds out of fine Japanese paper. Her intricate paper sculptures are inspired by everyday experiences, objects and abstract shapes.

Quality and sustainability go hand in hand, says Young. “When you are working with these materials it’s not just the ethics behind it, but that things made ethically are a better product. Any of the machine-made papers don’t come close to doing what the sustainably made papers do, and they are only sustainable because they are a deeply honed skillful craft - they are listening to the earth, and are listening with their fingers, nose, ears and eyes.”

In Japan, the everyday use of washi has declined as young people leave the villages for urban centres, and traditional washi makers struggle with few successors. In the 19th century there were approximately 100,000 families making washi. Now there are fewer than 200, says Jacobi.

“A lot of things are hampering the industry there now. One of them is the rarity of really good fibre. Japanese Kozo makes the best paper,” says Jacobi.

It’s not that there is a shortage of plants, but that there is no one to process them. The process involves a multitude of people - a village, and that in itself is part of the challenge. The families who make washi used to be in communities and the whole village may have been involved in the process. With a changing market and a demand for cheaper, lower quality paper, the situation can look bleak.

“People don’t realize how strong, versatile, long-lasting and sustainable it really is. It may look fragile but it’s deceiving,” says Jacobi. “We have a lot of things that the world will never see again…how many crafts or art forms are still practised the way they were 1400 years ago?”

But Jacobi’s initial instincts when she started all those years ago may be the way forward, which is why her passion for artists endures.

“Nancy really wants to work with artists and she paves the way for artists to do what they do,” says Elizabeth D’Agostino, who works with print media, sculpture and installation.

The first time she worked with the paper she realized it would be life-changing, says D’Agostino.

“I took the thinnest and strongest piece of Gampi and I started working with it, and the way that the marks, my etchings would transfer – I couldn’t get that anywhere else, on any other paper. It was translucent and was very physical, I just found I could do more with it.”

Jacobi often hosts workshops and events at the warehouse, including Washi Wednesdays where local artists demonstrate the artistic uses of washi and participants get a chance to create and learn more about the ancient material.

“I love it when people do something brand new with it. It’s very exciting when someone studies it enough to come up with something different and wonderful. I feel as excited by that now as I did in the very beginning.” The Star


Gaston teacher retires after 30 years at same school

She’s worked at the same school for 30 years. Now, she’s decided to retire and take her artistic talents outside the classroom.

On Friday, Blair Smith continued the sentimental process of removing years-worth of artistic memories from her classroom walls at Mount Holly Middle School, where she began teaching three decades ago. It’s always a lot to take down at the end of the year, but this one in particular.

“This year, especially, I have carloads,” Smith said.

Smith, 59, remembers her first day teaching, which was right after students returned from spring break in 1989.

“My first day I thought, ”’Oh, my goodness, I have no idea what to do,” Smith said. “And then I had a teacher that had her classroom inside my big art room. She was an exceptional children’s teacher and she became my mentor.”

Smith was born and raised in Gastonia. From a young age, she began taking art classes and honing her crafting skills.

After graduating from Hunter Huss High School, she enrolled at Western Carolina University and earned a bachelor’s degree in art education.

“I had a really hard professor in one of my design classes who said, ‘You won’t get an ‘A’ in here,′ Smith remembered. “Well, I made an ‘A’ in his class. I always wanted to be a teacher and I loved art. So I wanted to be an art teacher.”

But that didn’t happen right out of college. Instead, she opened a business with her mom, who had also graduated from Queens College the same year with a degree in music. They went into business together, opening “The Music and Art Shoppe” in a small house near Lineberger Park. Blair taught art classes and they sold music and art supplies. But it wouldn’t last.

“We did that for about five years and made nothing, but it was fun,” Smith said.

And so, the teaching profession beckoned. One day, Smith’s junior high art teacher came to visit and said, “You need to be in the school system.” A couple of weeks later, Smith’s cousin, who taught at Mount Holly Middle, said the art teacher was retiring after spring break, and asked if she wanted the job. Smith interviewed with then-Principal Butch Adams, landed the job and taught art there for the next 30 years.

And she’s done most art projects imaginable with her students; fibers and weavings, painting color wheels, and wrapping soda bottles with various textures and patterns. She’s embraced students’ love of technology in the classroom, having them cut out design their own iPads and smartphones, complete with their own unique apps.

Among her favorite projects at the beginning of the year is writing on the board “Art is...” and asking students to fill in the blank. Her own personal answer to the question: “Art is my life. Art is my passion.”

Today, Smith and her husband Jerry have two children; 26-year-old Kaitlyn, a teacher at Page Primary School in Belmont, and 23-year-old, who is enrolled in medical school at George Washington University.

When Kaitlyn decided to become a teacher, her mother told her, “Being a teacher has been good for me. It’s let me raise my two children, having summers and holidays with you guys. It’s just been good to me. It’s a great and rewarding career.”

Staff at Mount Holly Middle celebrated her retirement during a party at the school last week.

While she’s retiring from full-time work, she expects to return to substitute at some point. She also plans to continue doing her own artwork, hosting painting parties at The Social Vineyard and Grape and Barley in Gastonia, selling her arts and crafts, and traveling.

“I have so much on my list you can’t imagine,” she said. “I can’t wait.” Gaston Gazette