Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trick or Treating

Home from the annual candy quest, only a little damp.

Scarecrows of Middletown, 2013

Today on my way back from Antietam I stopped in Middletown to see their annual scarecrow contest. What a wonderful local tradition -- may it long endure.

General Jubal Scary, one of my favorites.

A cow who proclaims that our government is udderly ridiculous. This year, who can argue?

Harry Clarke Illustrates Edgar Allen Poe

Plates from a 1923 edition of Poe's Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Irish illustrator Harry Clarke (1889-1931). More here. Just wonderful -- and these are large files, so feel free to click on them to see them bigger.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Roman Eagle

Sculpture of an eagle with a serpent in its beak, recovered from a construction site in the City of London. Archeologists were naturally suspicious that it must be a fake, given its remarkable condition, but unspecified tests have convinced the Museum of London Archaeology that it is a genuine Roman artifact of the 1st or 2nd century CE. It is just over two feet (65 cm) tall. Installing this in London must have been a statement of imperial power in the far-flung provinces.

Pumpkin Carving

And passing the torch. I let Robert (20) design and carve the big family pumpkin, on the left. Ben designed one of the smaller ones and Clara the other. I carved those.

Philosophy in the Wilderness

George Santayana muses on how the immense spaces of the American west might affect the way the think:
A Californian whom I had recently the pleasure of meeting observed that, if the philosophers had lived among your mountains, their systems would have been different from what they are. Certainly, I should say, very different from what those systems are which the European genteel tradition has handed down since Socrates; for these systems are egotistical; directly or indirectly they are anthropocentric, and inspired by the conceited notion that man, or human reason, or the human distinction between good and evil, is the centre and pivot of the universe. That is what the mountains and the woods should make you at last ashamed to assert…

It is the yoke of this genteel tradition itself that these primeval solitudes lift from your shoulders. They suspend your forced sense of your own importance not merely as individuals, but even as men. They allow you, in one happy moment, at once to play and to worship, to take yourselves simply, humbly, for what you are, and to salute the wild, indifferent, non-censorious infinity of nature. You are admonished that what you can do avails little materially, and in the end nothing. At the same time, through wonder and pleasure, you are taught speculation.
This is something I wonder about from time to time: how and how much do our circumstances determine how do we think? Is there such a thing as urban philosophy, or small town art?

Antonio Murado

New York based artist, born in Spain in 1964. I like these. Above, Land 1, 2013.

Golden Lake, 2009. According to the propaganda from his gallery,
Murado’s canvases are feats of technical virtuosity, demonstrating his facility with paint and ability to create paintings that are at once both abstract and representational. From a distance, this new body of work appears to approach photographic realism, but when viewed more closely the rural landscape imagery dissolves entirely. Murado is interested in the idea that our eye seeks recognizable forms, finding a visual narrative where there are only brushstrokes. Several of the new paintings include a solid block of bright color that stands in contrast to the subtlety and depth of the rest of the canvas—a continuation of Murado’s interest in juxtaposing movement with stillness and transparency with solidity. These bold vivid bands interrupt the suggestion of the nineteenth-century landscape painting, blending tradition and innovation to surprise and captivate.
Which, for gallery prose, almost makes sense. But still.

Land 3, 2013.

Catskills 1, 2012.

Untitled 2010.

The Whale, 2012. I wonder if we are supposed to wonder where the whale is.

Halloween in Britain

American-style Halloween is taking off in Britain:
Sales of Halloween items in Britain are forecast to grow 12 percent this year to 325 million pounds, or $525 million, from a year earlier. . .  In 2001, British Halloween sales were just £12 million.
Halloween seems to be crowding Guy Fawkes Day off the Autumn calendar. Which may have been inevitable, since Guy Fawkes Day celebrated the death of a man who was trying to politically integrate Britain with Europe, and the holiday long had an anti-Catholic tone. Another reason:
the British love costumes, and costume dramas are a staple of British television. To dress up and to be observed is almost a national sport, whether at horse races, rowdy rugby matches, drunken university parties or balls for young socialites.
Since I love Halloween, I generally think this is great, but too bad they can't keep Guy Fawkes Night, too.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

IRAS 05437+2502

Cat People and Bird People, Still Going at It

Good piece by Jessica Pressler at New York Magazine on the rage the cats vs. birds debate inspires in some humans. Novelist Jonathan Franzen:
The bird community’s position is, we need to get rid of the feral cats, and that means cats must die. We feel bad about that, but we can morally justify that position, with all of the birds that they are indirectly killing.
And then there's Becky Robinson, president of Alley Cat Allies, who says the bird crowd is motivated by an irrational hatred of cats: "It’s like speciesism, racism, whatever other-ism." She responded to that study earlier this year on the number of small animals killed by cats in North America like this:
This study is part of a continuing propaganda campaign to vilify cats . . . a veiled promotion by bird advocates to ramp up the mass killing of outdoor cats.
I am most puzzled by the people who refuse to admit that cats actually kill birds:
My best friend is a CAT. How dare you suggest that CATS are killers.
But then people can be highly irrational about those they love.

Orsolya Haarberg, Scotch Pines on the Island of Sula, Norway

Another masterpiece by my favorite new photographer. From National Geographic.

A Real Christian Conservative

Ohio governor John Kasich, once a Gingrich revolution firebrand in Congress, has gotten religion. He has found a way to bypass the state legislature and take up Obama's Medicare expansion without their approval, and he has been talking a lot about Christian compassion and saying things like this:
I’m concerned about the fact there seems to be a war on the poor. That if you’re poor, somehow you’re shiftless and lazy. You know what? The very people who complain ought to ask their grandparents if they worked at the W.P.A.
The thing that bothers me the most about the Tea Party and their ilk is their equation of money and virtue. They seem to believe that if you are rich, that is because of your virtues, so to take that money away with taxation amounts to punishing virtue; and if you are poor, that is because of your vices, so programs that help poor people amount to rewarding vice. I think this is wrong, and more to the point it is unchristian. I don't see how anyone can spend every Sunday morning thinking about Christ's message and come away thinking that poor people are no good.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Today's Fact about North Korea

Gone with the Wind -- the novel, that is -- is hugely popular there. Tim Sullivan:
This nation revels in the 77-year-old novel, finding echoes of itself in the tale of civil war and the ruthless, beautiful woman who vowed never to go hungry again. More than one million North Koreans are estimated to have died or gone missing in the Korean War, and hundreds of thousands more died in a 1990s famine that tore deep into the country. The government, for reasons never made clear, had the book translated in the mid-1990s, when North Korea was struggling to survive without Soviet aid and the mass starvation was under way.

In a country with few entertainment choices that have escaped the propaganda bureaucrats, the novel gripped the capital. Today it’s hard to find an adult in Pyongyang who hasn’t read it. A guide at the Grand People’s Study House, a musty Pyongyang monolith, sees the book as proof that American women are poorly treated. A Kaesong bureaucrat, a haughty man with a fading blue-striped tie, sees the book as a Marxist morality tale. A woman with a troubled marriage tells me she discovered strength in Scarlett O’Hara’s cold-blooded tenacity. The book is entertainment and solace and inspiration. It’s a window into America. It’s a celebration of a people who, like the North Koreans, are fiercely proud of fighting the Yankees.

Alison Elizabeth Taylor

Alison Elizabeth Taylor was born in 1978 in Alabama, grew up mainly in Las Vegas, and now lives in New York. Her first art works to make a splash were marquetry, that is, pictures made from elaborate, layered inlays of different sorts of wood. Mostly she worked with cheap paneling. Above, Era of Argus, 2007.

A panel from an installation titled Room, 2009, which surrounded the viewer with a recreated desert cabin.

Those early marquetry works don't have any special impact on me, but her new exhibit at the James Cohan Gallery includes works I find a lot more interesting. She is still using layered paneling, but as part of compositions that seem much richer to me. Kelso, 2013.

The Optimist's Ennui, 2013.

The Transparent Eye, 2013. Here only the tree is formed of layered wood, and the rest of the scene is painted.

Laocoön, 2013.

Detail of the above, showing the layered wood veneers. A gimmick, I suppose, but a rather clever one, and not one I mind.

Metal Detecting in the Great Valley

Spent the day in Maryland's Great Valley with my crew, metal detecting on Federal property around the edges of a Civil War battlefield.

It was a glorious day.

Yes, professional archaeologists use metal detectors; the only difference between what we do and what relic hunters do is that we make a precise record of where we found every artifact, in this case with a high-end GPS unit. Above, an ordinary dropped (not fired) Federal bullet. Dropped bullets show you where soldiers were standing while they tried to load their weapons, and fired bullets show you where people were aiming.

Piece of iron case or cannister shot, from an artillery shell.

North Carolina button, something of a mystery since so far as I know no North Carolina troops fought here.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


Instead of one hard frost this week, we had borderline frosts three nights in a row, which had the same effect in a longer time frame. The annuals are all done, and there isn't much left to do in the garden but clean up the dead plants and wait for spring.

Halloween Cookie Decorating

We only have a few Halloween cookie cutters, so we had to improvise. Christmas angels became demons, and tin soldiers became zombies.