Today’s show — the last of the season — contains an abundance of riches, more than I’d planned on when I invited two expert jewelers – Linda Staphos Wosczyna (left) and Deborah Strano – to come on the program. As you’ll hear, this wise and wonderful pair has been making art together for decades, inspiring each other, urging one another on, taking creative risks together, making treasures out of what others might toss in the cast-off bin. They’ve laughed, they’ve cried — they’re twin sisters of different mothers. You might even say their connection is metallurgical, especially as they helped build the jewelry department at Wesleyan Potters in Middletown, which is how I know Linda. You’re going to love them as much as I do.
Above, a selection of Linda’s work, including the ring and “Puttanesca: Hot and Spicy” necklace discussed in the episode. She’s on Instagram @lindastaphos. Below, Deb’s work. She’s on Insta @deborahstrano1.
Although this program typically centers on visual art, today we’re zooming all the way out to take in “the humanities.” The poor, unappreciated, probably doomed – in academe, at least — humanities. Dr. William Major chairs the English department at the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, where I also teach. Recently, he published an essay in the publication Inside Higher Ed that, well, it made me kinda worry about him. As if the decline of the humanities wasn’t disturbing enough, he pairs it with the demise of the planet.
Enjoying Walden Pond while it lasts, Dr. Bill Major and his wife Ginny. And likewise, the humanities in academe.
Today, finding freedom and human connection through art. Art that may just change your mind about people in prison.The annual show, up through April 22, is at Eastern Connecticut State University’s art gallery this year; it rotates around the state so it’s convenient for prisoners’ families to visit. Maybe you’re wondering, why would I go to an exhibit like that? What could a prisoner have to tell me? And why should prisoners even get to make art? Keep listening. Jeff has an answer for you.
For information about visiting the exhibit and helping the cause by donating or volunteering:
Top row, l-r: Vernon Haynes, Full Woven Samurai Outfits; Cong Doan, Autarky (materials include plastic from underwear box, floor wax with non-dairy creamer and sugar)
2nd row: l-r: Ryan Carpenter, I Don’t Know Why I Run Away; Nicholas Soucy, Apartment Building, Office Building, and Garage Model
3rd row. l-r: MAC: The World is Mine; Monty the Marlin detail showing hundreds of tweezers, and full view
4th row, l-r: MAC: Hater Blockers, Beads of Peace
5th row: l: Carroll Bumgarner Ramos, Scabagail; center top & bottom: Mark Despres: collection and My Pain; right: Mark Despres, The Otherside (back cover of vol 18 of the Journal of the Community Partners in Action Prison Arts Program)
6th row: l-r, Dean Devon, The Otherside of Jamaica; Roderick Lewis, masterworks
7th row: l (top to bottom): Exhibit overviews and Nina Robinson’s wall of Non-stop Painting!!! and r: Johnnie Arthur’s Mother Africa
Today, we zoom in with Carrie Jacobson who calls herself an Accidental Artist. That’s because she was plying a career in newspaper journalism, not really too happily, when, one day, out of the Prussian blue, she was possessed by the idea of making a painting for her husband of their six dogs. And that was it. With the first swipe of the brush, she fell in love with painting. Fast forward to today, when she’s happily making a living solely from her art.
Carrie lives on the rural DelMarVa peninsula, in a town called Watchapreague, where the mayor is also the lawn guy, and the local doctor owns the general store. Carrie ’s not interested in getting rich; she says she just needs enough to pay the bills by doing what she loves, which is making art. I learned a lot from our conversation. About pricing paintings, for instance, for me, always a tough nut to crack. Carrie prices her work by size: she charges $1.65 per square inch. And because she paints small, many of her paintings can be had for a song.
In another interesting approach to selling, she’ll sometimes post on her blog that she’s going on an art trip to some destination and that she will be painting along the way. Her followers can then buy the as yet uncreated paintings; and when Carrie gets back from her travels, she posts photos of the work on the blog and her followers get to choose, deli style, in the order in which they committed.
Carrie makes the kind of expressionistic but still realistic work that’s my favorite kind. And she uses a palette knife to really get down and dirty with the paint. It frees her, she says, from “the tyranny of detail.” Love that! She’s also just started working in fused glass. Glass is another enthusiasm of mine.
We even have former newspaper careers in common.
Anyway, you get the picture. Trust me, you’re going to love my new art friend and kindred spirit Carrie Jacobson. Kudos to her little brother, Rand Richards Cooper, Open Studio’s go-to movie critic, for connecting us!
Above, in her happy place. Below, a selection of oil pantings done with palette knives on black canvas
Below, her first-ever painting, a Christmas present to her husband, who loved it.
Below, lately Carrie’s experimented with fused glass.
As expected, our conversation overflowed the banks. Click below to hear Rand’s thoughts on whether All Quiet on the Western Front is too beautiful to make a pacifist statement and Banshees of Inisherin‘s deeper existential inquiry.
Cat Balco is a painter, a painter writing a memoir. It’s shaping up to be about painting, but also about a lot of other things going on in her life. Cat, who teaches at Hartford Art School where I’m proud to say she taught me painting, was my inaugural guest on Open Studio, back in September of 2020, and since then a lot has happened in her life. She says she has a stubborn little muse inside her that’s calling her to write about it in memoir. Painting, writing – well, that speaks my language. I had to invite her back on the show to talk about it.
A few of Cat’s paintings:
Orion’s Belt, acrylic on canvas, 60″x72″, shown in Cat’s studio
Three Green Triangles, acrylic on canvas, 72″x72″,
Today, a cure for the wintertime blues. The anti Super Bowl show, if you will, cuz in this episode, while the nation is getting ready to watch two teams knock the stuffing out of each other, we travel to that peaceful Polynesian paradise, Hawaii, land of not just natural beauty but all kinds of human-created art . In January, I was privileged to visit Oahu with two other faculty members and a group of honor students from the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, and of course, because I’m always thinking of you listeners, I took along my trusty portable recorder. I took it to museums, art fairs, a swap meet, and along the streets of Waikiki, and everywhere I went, there was art.
With special thanks to Hillyer College’s Dean Emeritus David H Goldenberg, who’s been organizing the honors trips for 20 some-odd years; history Prof Robert Churchill, who suggested I help shepherd the group; and the students, who give me hope about the future, what follows are some audio and photographic snapshots from the trip.
From left, Luana Lopez makes and sells leis and jewelry along busy beachfront Kalakaua Avenue, and gets some friendly competition from Renee Fernandez.
Top row from left: Joshua Chung and Chase Bailey-Schwartz arriving before dawn at the swap meet at Aloha Stadium, described as the country’s largest; fresh vegetables; Josh considers some secondhand clothes to repurpose as tote bags.
Bottom row from left: Casey who grinds and bags Kona coffee for sale; Landon making bracelets; Josh sips coconut milk as we Uber back to the hotel
Top row, from left: a monthly swap meet overlooking Waikiki Beach; Bob and Yoshia Hackney (@outofhandhawaii) sell his original tshirt designs; Christian Bendo handpaints and handcarves on local wood (christianbendoart.com and @christianbendo)
2nd row: Painter Beth Stephano (@beth_a_stephano) who works in watercolor and oil
3rd row: Amy Fung (amyHKFashion@gmail.com), whose textiles honor her late son; and Chelsea Johns (@chelseajohns) who electroforms jewelry from natural materials, such as mushrooms
4th row: Sarah Moore (@theconscioussea) makes jewelry, like this earring, made of saris, that Josh bought for $10; and Chrissy Hawk (@chrissy_hawk_aloha and @every_day_aloha)
Top row, from left: on a field trip to the Honolulu Museum of Art were, l-r, former Hillyer College Prof. Joan O’Mara and students Axl Long, Gianna Balsamo, Angelina Gargano, and Aidan Kelly; Moemoeā, sculpture made of natural found objects by Noah Harders;
2nd row: Another by Harders; the group with Émile-Antoine Bourdelle’s La Grande Penelope (1912); Gianna with a Deborah Butterfield bronze horse; Angelina before Theodore Wores’s The Lei Maker
British artist Rebecca Louise Law’s Awakening, an installation of thousands of native Hawaiian flowers and other natural materials (plus a few plastic specimens, to make a point about disrespecting Nature) was created with the help of local community groups and was a big hit with the students. Afterward, they wrote their reactions on strips of paper to roll and insert into a wall hanging.
Bottom row, at right, another work that fascinated the students was Nick Cave’s Soundsuit 8:46, which the publication Art & Object describes as “a mixed-media mannequin of vintage floral textiles and sequined appliques [that] is a response to recent police violence against people of color, in particular the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. The work revisits Cave’s iconic series “Soundsuits,” which were first conceived after the 1991 Rodney King beating and the resulting riots in Los Angeles in 1992.”
On a visit to the Hawaii State Capitol, with its distinctive roof open to the elements — the “dome” is the sky — Rep. Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden, a printmaker, took a break from hosting a group lunch to lead a few of us art lovers down the hall to his office to show us his work, which he says he largely learned from “retired local ladies” his mother’s age who offered expert practical advice.
The portrait shown above, a combination of lithograph, woodcut, and painting, is based on a mug shot of Kuya Joseph Kahahawai, a figure from early 20th-century Hawaiian history. He was acquitted of a rape charge but murdered — “He’s pissed for a reason ’cause he’s not guilty.”
Asked by Josh what it is about art that “makes you go,” Rep Ganaden explained that as a lawyer and politician, he talks for a living but that “sometimes you can’t say it with words.” He pursues art almost like clocking into a job: “You keep showing up and you keep making stuff” and learning.
Prof Churchill enters the Picture Gallery of the Bishop Museum where a painting, “Diamond Head from Waikiki,” ca. 1865, an oil on canvas by Enoch Wood Perry Jr (1831-1915), depicts the “volcanic tuff cone” that, below, greeted me every morning when I opened my hotel room blinds.
Making leis while the sun shines — Above, The Queen Kapiolani Hotel regularly offers free lei-making workshops in the lobby. In the photo top left, l-r, are Aidan, an unidentified guest, Sophia Mason, Angelina, Caroline Mehner, and Gianna, putting to work what they learned from instructor Lisa Konove, a medical social worker and actress, formerly of Danbury, CT, who was adamant that lei-making “is not arts and crafts,” but has deep cultural roots.
At the Black Palette tattoo parlor, Jace Y, a guest artist in residence, begins work on a design for Chase and, later, for Angelina; it was her first. To her relief, it didn’t hurt much.
One of a couple of tattoos Sophia added to her collection.
All the tattoo talk must have seeped into my brain because, too cowardly to commit to something that would last more than two weeks, I got hennaed at an art fair by Iori Casti, who’s from Micronesia and who’s worked for Henna Tattoo & Hair Braiding since 2011. “This job,” she says, is “nice to me, not hard, not bad, it’s beautiful job.”
On the same stretch of Kalakaua Avenue, I found Tilangi Folaha (@wood_carving_dave) making totems out of koa wood. This carving is for “strength and protection.”
At the Polynesian Cultural Center, I met Samoan polymath Kap ‘o-Tafiti (@kaptafiti) among whose many talents are shimmying up palm trees and painting. He explains that, growing up in Samoa, “nothing was given,” so he has always been “hungry for opportunity” to learn new things.
I brought a set of watercolors and some paper on the trip and made some small sketches. Top left is the view from my hotel balcony of Waikiki city lights the first morning, before I even knew Diamond Head was out there, Bottom left, fellow beachgoers and a still life of bits of coral, which I was surprised to discover is what washes up instead of seashells.
Mahala, Dean Goldenberg, and, back on campus, executive assistant Laurie Fasciano, for all the hard work you put into making the trip an unforgettable experience! Aloha!
So. I originally intended this interview to air and stream on Superbowl Sunday, Feb 12. But then I realized that my vast global audience will be occupied with watching the pregame festivities then, so consider today’s episode a pre-pre-game festivity. It’s an interview with a Providence Journal photographer, Bob Breidenbach, who shot all of the 11 Super Bowl games in which the New England Patriots played. Bob and I worked together at the Journal for more than a dozen years.; I was a reporter. I left the paper at the turn of the millennium and after 38 years on the job he just recently retired. I loved our Zoom visit. Bob is the same good-natured guy I knew back in the day and you’re going to love his lively reminiscences about the shots he got and the ones he missed. As a bonus for you, having listened to this show, you’ll be able to impress everyone at your party with your superior behind-the-scenes knowledge of covering the big game.
As for you listeners who couldn’t care less about the Super Bowl or about football generally, on Feb 12, you can listen to the stunning audio I collected about art in sunny Hawaii during my recent trip there: Lei making, tattooing, painting, printmaking, museumgoing – the whole Polynesian megillah. And maybe your family will still let you dip a chip in the five-layer dip and will make room on the couch during the halftime show.
Today, a visit with mixed media artist Kelly Taylor, whose work is abstract and inspired by her love of nature. I find it deliciously goozhy. The work looks to be built up of layers and layers of thickly applied paint, but as we’ll learn as she describes her process, there’s more than paint under there. And as for her tools, we’re talking everything from palette knives to dental picks. Kelly started her art life making collages, but over years of art making, taking workshops, doing residencies, and meeting regularly with likeminded artists in what she calls her tribe, she’s worked in all manner of media. “I’ve never wanted to be idn that little square of just doing one thing. …You have to be willing to experiment and make a mess, not thinking you’re creating a finished piece of art.”
Merry Christmas and happy every other holiday in this joyous season! Today, because you’ve been very good, a special treat! We catch up with Holly and Joe Whiting, to whom we last talked in March 2021 when they were about to start their retirement years as nomads, living on the move in the small bus they retooled – called a skoolie — named Sandy. The headline on the openstudioradio.org blog post says it all: “A coupla crazy old people moving into a bus.”
So. A year and three quarters in, how’s it going? We talked via Zoom from where they were parked – now in a new smaller, if you can believe it, vehicle, which they call their Nowhere Van, at a Texas truck stop. (We were reliant on the kindness of the hot spot gods so apologies for any audio anomalies!)
Before we join Holly and Joe, I’d like to remind you that WESU is a community radio station, which means it largely depends on the generosity of listeners like you. Please, if you’re writing checks to worthy causes, spare a thought for the station, which brings you the kind of unusual programming you can’t find anywhere else. Just go here and give what you can. There are way cool Thanks!
It’s a tight squeeze, man. Case in point: “We have a toilet. It pulls out from under the bed.”
Top row: That’s their bed in the background; the kitchen; minimal decor
Middle row: Little is right!; a deep thought; they took their bikes
Last row: This is a still from a music video by favorite band Bright Eyes, from which they took the name Nowhere Van.