Middletown: an art town? A follow-up to last year’s series

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Lee Godburn and Sandra Russo-Driska share what’s new in the arts. You can find listings at https://www.downtownmiddletown.com/ (The furry screen over the mic buffers the wind but is helpless against the noise of passing heavy trucks on Main Street! Part of the city’s charm?)

Today, in my continuing quest to make Middletown, CT, an arts destination, I offer a follow-up to last year’s three-part series on the subject. In that first stab at it, we heard from artists and local art leaders, plus the mayor, about what it would take to have a few art galleries along Main Street or, at the very least, art displays in some of the vacant storefronts there. People agreed that would be great but weren’t exactly optimistic. Apparently, for all its charms – a wide main street, a world-class university, a lovely river – Middletown lacks an important element; namely, a benefactor with deep pockets. Also, a populace of art-buyers.

So what to do?

As you’ll hear in this first episode of the new series, all is not lost, as creative stuff is happening. Sandra Russo-Driska, coordinator of the Downtown Business District, and Lee Godburn, chairman of the Middletown Arts Commission’s 50th anniversary planning committee, recently met me downtown in the spacious alleyway next to BrewBakers on Main Street to catch me up on the latest developments in our mutual mission.

Mark your calendar, btw: the final First Friday arts fest of the year is on Sept. 2nd.

In the next episode, on Aug. 28, we’ll hear again from the mayor, who, I was delighted to learn, has a few artistic pursuits of his own. And in the third installment, on Sept. 11, we’ll talk with the originator of Middletown Arts Fest, Rachel DeCavage, and take in August event, chatting along Main Street with vendors and visitors.

But first, let’s meet Sandra and Lee.

‘The subject is light’ — sketching Provincetown

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The raw audio part 1

The raw audio part 2

Please don’t be jealous, all you lovers of art and Cape Cod, but a friend and I recently took part in an amazing four-day workshop, Sketching Provincetown, offered through the Provincetown Art Association and Museum.

The teacher, Aaron Thompson, was terrific; the small group of artists – just six of us — was congenial; and Provincetown was its usual Provincetown self! Mari and I took in a drag show – a first for me. It featured Cher, in quotemarks, and was so good, we wondered on the way out, “Was that really a man?” It was honestly hard to tell. We slurped down dollar oysters at a restaurant happy hour. We hit the beach one afternoon, allowing me to haul in quite a collection of sculptural shells and stones for artmaking.

But the very best part of the experience was the time spent drawing. What follows are some audio snapshots from the workshop. The other link is raw footage, for those — especially those in our group — who’d like a record of Aaron’s instruction.

I hope you’ll be inspired to start a sketchbook of your own. As Aaron pointed out, any old place that grabs you can be your subject, it doesn’t have to be Provincetown. But lucky you if it is!

Most of these are self-explanatory, but here’s some info about those that may not be. The 1st image is of our workshop leader Aaron Thompson. In the row below, that red photo slide is something he looks through to heighten the values. Next to that image is our group heading into the town library to draw on what was our only rainy morning. Had to snap a pic of that Open Studio sign! The photo under the Cher poster is of amazing P’town/Truro landscape painter Peter Hocking (@p.hocking), who was featured on the radio show, with my pal Mari. The penultimate photo is the interior of one group member’s waterfront summer place; she kindly invited us to paint on the beach the last day of the workshop. Another member provided a bowl of salt water taffy!

Seeking the way of the marble. View the photos as you listen.

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Listen to the overflow audio

‘This jar of marbles just beckoned to me.’ The center image, photos by Ben Michael, shows four views of a “Hybrid Caged-Cat’s Eye.” Find more of these close-up, back-lit beauties on Instagram at @bent-o-gram. The right-hand image is a contemporary model with dichroic glass. “There’s a lot going onl LIke if you were looking at a globe from outer space, with rainbow storms.”

Today, the marble – that little, swirly, colored round glass child’s toy you associate with, like, the ‘50s — as art. Ben Michael, who happens to be WESU’s general manager, and wears other hats, too, as you’ll hear, has lately become a marble aficionado – and more, a marble artist! And he’s far from alone but is part of a helpful, generous, mostly online, but also locally in person, community of marble-minded people. They always want to know: ‘What’s in your pocket?

Marbles. Who knew? My conversation with Ben — my first time in a long time in the actual studio! — overflowed the allotted hour. You can find the remainder at the “overflow audio” link above.

Also, check out Ben’s eclectic music show on WESU, “Keep It Movin'” He says, “Enough chatter! Put on another platter!” His choices often respond to events of the day. Find it on every 2nd and 4th Friday from 4:30 to 6:30 pm EST on WESU, 88.1 FM, and wesufm.org

One last thing before we get rolling, as it were: WESU is a community supported radio station that relies on the generosity of people like you, who won’t find programming like this anywhere else. It’s free form, folks! And it’s a labor of love by volunteers like me but it also costs money: money to keep the equipment going and the tiny staff paid. C’mon. You know it’s important. It’s not enough to love college radio. You’ve got to do what you can to keep it going. Please go to wesufm.org and do what you can. Thanks!

“I’ve got a book right here.”
A book with a timeline of marble history is one of many reliable resources Ben relies upon!
An early German-made marble
Best guess is that this was from a ballot box. Many marbles have commercial and industrial uses.
Ben’s marble (right) is his take on a rare, busier Christiansen marble from the turn of the century.
Top and bottom: part of the cement crucibles in which glass is melted.
A big marble that topped a stickshift! “There’s a whole world of people collecting just these.”
An Akro Sparkler, one of Ben’s favorites: “There’s a lot going on in there.”
“I got a lot of favorites.” There are pieces of real mica in these German marbles from the turn of the century.
“Are you thinking about marbles all the time?” “Sometimes.”
Called a “Wasp.” Blood red! Goes with my boo-boo!
“All marbles are snapshots in time.” They have “weathered storms.”
A “Peltier Peerless Patch.”
Top and bottom: a Peltier “Liberty”. Peltier was one of the first and best American marble companies. The sparkles make them especially sought-after.
Red and green: a “Christmas Tree”
Ben’s “Superman”
A “Brick” and Ben’s take on it.
An ocean marble inspired by Ben’s son Sam.
“My ‘Yellow Jacket’ That one I’m keeping!”
Ben’s “Cosmic Peacock”
“I love them and I document them but I can’t keep them all!”
“My duds!” Ben’s earliest, overcooked attempts. He works on his marbles after the family’s gone to bed.
One of Ben’s marbles in a dragon claw. He gave it to me! Thanks, Ben!

Artists at the Barricades!

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So, here at Open Studio, we love art – art in galleries, art in museums, art in artist’s studios – but with summer just a little more than a week away, you know where we REALLY love art? You got it. Outdoors! Today’s episode is a leisurely stroll through West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square, where the West Hartford Art League and the town of West Hartford teamed up for a second year to beautify those white concrete barriers that are marking off the outdoor dining areas. It’s an inspired idea that makes so many people happy, especially the18 talented amateur and professional artists from near and far who competed for the pleasure of getting house paint all over themselves so passersby and diners could enjoy bright colors and remind themselves of the power of art. 

One last thing before we get strolling: WESU is a community supported radio station that relies on the generosity of people like you, who won’t find programming like this anywhere else. It’s free form, folks! Ian i’s a labor of love by volunteers like me but it also costs money: money to keep the equipment going and the tiny staff paid. C’mon. You know it’s important. It’s not enough to love college radio. You’ve got to do what you can to keep it going. Please go to wesufm.org and do what you can. Thanks! Okay, on to Blue Back square, then West Hartford Center. Enjoy!

Sneh Detroja, 15, of South Windsor and the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts
Drew Unikewicz of Portland, who quit her corporate job to study to become an art teacher, painting with her twin sister Taylor
West Hartford police officer Rob Potz on art duty!

Yvonne Espinosa of West Hartford (in blue, @ycestudios) painted with her niece, Yasmine Shwayhat

Naiya Gonzalez-Breen, 16, a high school junior from Westchester, NY, painted with her friends Lydia and Nadine Whelan, seen below

Annie Hayami of West Hartford (@anniehayamidesigns) used stencils to create her painting. She was aided by former co-workers who happened to be walking by.

This artist was either done or on a break.

Eva Blume, 16, of Windsor, making a “groovy” painting with her friend Naiya

Sam Ferri (@samsinkwell) “wearing” one of his “Fine Art of Feet” images. He’s offered to teach comics classes at the West Hartford Art League. Below, the art group he’s creating and WESU’s Mona Lisa tshirt that he admired. It’s one of the cool designs available for a donation to wesufm.org/pledge, btw!

Beth Reynolds of West Hartford, who teaches at the West Hartford Art League, painted with Melina Mercado, 19, of Windsor

Lindsay Schmucker of West Hartford (@lindsartandco) an artist at The Claypen in WH and The Firestone studios in Manchester, with her Matisse-y barrier.

Lindsay Landry of West Hartford is “an engineer by day and an artist by night.” She painted dandelions in their final fluffy stage because to her they say “summer has started.”

York Mgbejume of West Hartford, a student at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, paints “two people finding themselves.”

An observer noted my fluffy windscreen which I think an owl once took for a yummy rodent.

Julia Fahey of Moodus (@juliafaheyart)

Molested at 10, raped at 13, at least there was legal abortion

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Tori Weston (@writergrrl76) then and now

Tori and I knew each other in the ‘90s when she was a Woonsocket, RI< high school student and I was her so-called mentor at the Providence Journal Bulletin, where I was a reporter. Tori is 46 now, living and working, and writing and making visual art, in Boston and she says creativity has been the key to surviving the trauma of having been raped by her stepfather on the eve of her 13th birthday. Because abortion was safe and legal, she was able to rule out suicide. Art was also a lifeline. “How do people deal with their problems if they don’t have a creative outlet?” she wonders.

During the station breaks you’ll hear audio from a pro-choice rally in DC, one of many throughout the country last weekend, as women and men of conscience hit the streets to protest what, as of this writing, seems about to be the Supreme Court’s overturning of federal abortion protections.

Finally, I need you to know that WESU is in the midst of its spring pledge drive and could seriously use your help. Please go to wesufm.org/pledge and donate what you can to keep this kind of programming going. Thanks.

Some of Tori’s visual art:

Related links:

Risk Podcast episode #1

Risk podcast episode #2

Under the Gum Tree

Tori’s website:


Milton Avery at the Wadsworth Atheneum: a walk & talk with the curator

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Today, a walk through a monumental retrospective of the works of painter Milton Avery, whose career began in the late 19th century and continued into the mid 20th, and included some years in Hartford. His flattened forms and unusual color work prompted comparisons to Matisse and he inspired such younger painters as Mark Rothko. We’re lucky that our companion on our tour is one of the curators of the traveling exhibit, Erin Monroe, the Krieble Curator of American Paintings and Sculpture at the WadsworthAtheneum. The show, having started its journey in Fort Worth, TX, will be up at the Wadsworth through June 5 before moving on to the Royal Academy of the Arts in London. As the Washington Post reviewer put it, the show is “a treat.”

‘Just me and the wreck’ — a deep dive into the art of breath-hold diver Kenny Martin

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Today, an encore episode of last fall’s talk with Kenny Martin, a teacher and artist who lives on the edge. Not only do his high school students wield blowtorches to do metalwork, but Kenny’s hobby is undersea diving – while holding his breath. The images below are from an exhibit of his drawings based on his breath holding free dives that had a good run at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Oh, and Kenny’s also been a boxer, and most recently founded a Fight Club for teens; he’s convincing in making it sound therapeutic. Back when Kenny taught elementary school, he had his students bury tuna carcasses, a lesson in composting. So do I need to tell you Kenny’s an interesting guy? He says he also gives a great haircut.  This is the interview that convinced me I need to have more people from Brooklyn in my life. And btw, where else are you going to find conversations like this but on WESU? Please, during this spring pledge drive, do your part to support community radio by going to wesufm.org/pledge and giving what you can. Or I’ll have Kenny punch you in the nose.

Upper left, Ken with the first of his breath-hold-dive drawings, done from memory for artist Peter Waite’s “Monster Drawing” class in Wesleyan’s Graduate Liberal Study Program several years ago.

Below, two views of the art cart Ken, then a K-5 teacher, created when he lost his classroom. It was paid for in part with crowd-funding.

‘As They Saw It — Artists Witnessing War’

At the Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, MA thru May 30

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Art about war. Weirdly coincidentally, the Clark Art Institute in the Berkshires was in the process of putting together an exhibit on that very subject when, boom, Russia invaded Ukraine. And so it is that the show, “As They Saw It: Artists Witnessing War,” on view, appropriately, through Memorial Day, packs an extra emotional punch. It’s an exhibit of prints, drawings, and photographs of conflicts going back four centuries, all of them from the Clark’s permanent collection, works by such heavy hitters as Degas, Manet, and Goya, and many less familiar names whose work is no less powerful. I saw it a week ago and certain images still stick in my mind. We visit with curator Anne Leonard.

A selection of images from the show:

Top row: Pierre-Georges Jeanniot, The Survivors of a Massacre Used as Gravediggers (1915); Auguste Raffet, Military Uniform Study, Artillery (1837)

2nd row: After Winslow Homer, The War for the Union, 1862, A Cavalry Charge; Nicolas-Toussaint Charlet, A French Soldier of the Ancien Regime, 1842

3rd row: Hieronymus Hopfer, After Raphael, Combat of Cavaliers and Foot Soldiers, 1520-50; top right: Theophile Alexandre Steinlen, East Wind, 1916; bottom right: Goya, Que valor! (What valor!) from The Disasters of War, 1810-20

4th row: Goya, Yo Lo Vie (I Saw It) from The Disasters of War, 1810-20; Unknown, Portrait of a Civil War Veteran Wearing a Grand Army of the Republic Medal, 1866-70

Goya’s complete The Disasters of War portfolio and other images from the exhibition can be found here.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Birder: View the Photos as You Listen

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Today, a celebration of spring. We’re being treated to a screenshot by screenshot portrait of the artist as a young birder. Jenny Kroik is a freelance painter,  illustrator, conservationist, and, most recently, a fundraiser for humanitarian aid to Ukraine whose work appears in The New Yorker. She was the recent guest of the CT Audubon Society, which allowed us to record Jenny’s episode of its Young, Gifted and Wild About Birds Zoom webinar, in which Jenny traces her development as a birder through her art. She opens up her ever-handy sketchbook for us and tells anecdotes from her birding life, near and far, observing the several the ways art making is not that much different from birdwatching. She answers questions about her painting techniques as she treats us to a demo. It’s a fun hour with a lively guide who – probably like you – loves art and Nature. Find Jenny @jkroik and jennykroik.com.

Patrick Comins, exec dir of the CT Audubon Society, starting the webinar over Zoom.
Jenny Kroik, artist and birder
Jenny’s first New Yorker cover, based on a shopper at NYC’s Strand Bookstore
Two subsequent covers
People watching and bird watching have a lot in common
Birding during the pandemic
A friend turned Jenny onto birding
Jenny’s first birding trip, Cape May, NJ
Jenny’s caption says it all
Can anybody guess what bird this is? (Answer at end)
Jenny tries to capture animals’ attitudes
Fluffed up in a rainy Fort Tryon Park in NYC. Can you guess what this is? (Answer at end)
Capturing movement, “trying to get good at terns”
Having fallen in love with birds at NYC’s Museum of Natural History, got the urge to travel

A Red-Winged Blackbird, singing

So many sparrows! Jenny imagines a new one.
The famous Barred Owl who lived in Central Park
In real life
Sketching on site to memorize shapes and habitats
Jenny uses a brush pen and a few colors when working outdoors; she keeps a few Sharpies on her at all times
Noticing details around her subject, whether sketching birds or people
From a trip to Boston. She drew in the hotel afterward.
From a Cape May trip. Can you find the mistake? (Answer at end.)
Jenny’s mom
Jenny’s dad
Jenny’s pal, Jen, who introduced Jenny to NYC’s Wild Bird Fund
Rita is the director. @wildbirdfund
Jenny’s work in the gallery there; a bird pooped on one of the works, which Jenny took as a sign of its approval
Jenny’s workspace
Some of Jenny’s “Future Birds” for The New Yorker
Can anyone guess this bird from a few lines?
Yes, a Short-Eared Owl
Jenny’s take on the Bernie meme
A glimpse at Jenny’s phone
An owl Jenny visits in NY’s Inwood Park. She makes up whimsical poems to soothe herself when she walks in scary parks.
A view of Jenny’s desk as she starts a demo

A sketch of a Snowy Egret in NJ. Jenny starts with a penline to keep from getting too obsessed with details

Jenny chooses a Mistle Thrush to draw
She doesn’t sell paintings she makes from other people’s photos, such as those on eBird, only those from ones she made herself.
Often, she’ll neglect to leave enough room for the tail, so she simply attaches a piece of paper.
She often uses gouache, an opaque watercolor that she can layer additional coats onto.

Waiting for the paint to dry, she starts another one.

She paints on hot press watercolor paper, which is smoother than cold press. This is the start of a widgeon.

Birding and making art both require patience.
She adds “all the supernice details” after the paint’s dried. Also, the background.

Thank you!

[Answers to questions, top to bottom: Longtail Duck, Baltimore Oriole, Coot, Short-Eared Owl]

Outermost Artists Living and Working on Cape Cod

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OMG. Painting and Cape Cod. I hope I never have to choose between them, both are such soul food for me. Today I’m honored that my guests are two Cape Cod painters whose work I’ve been following for some years,  Peter Hocking and Helen Grimm. Each lives in Truro and is represented by the Four Eleven Gallery on Commercial Street in Provincetown, a gallery which, as you’ll hear, has deep roots in the town’s storied history of supporting art and artists. Both Peter and Helen paint landscapes – in Helen’s case, also seascapes and what she calls shellscapes; when you visit the openstudioradio.org blog, you’ll understand. In our conversation, we got deep into the dunes, as it were, about what it’s like to live on the Cape in all seasons, about why they don’t paint people,  and about just what it is that inspires them about the Cape. Talk about soul food. You’re going to totally love these two.