Q is for Quoin: Teaching architecture to kids

Listen to the episode

Welcome to the 2nd year of visual art on the radio! Today, we visit via Zoom with architect Michael J. Crosbie, a University of Hartford architecture professor who has written a children’s primer about architecture. Below are some pages referenced in our conversation:

Can you guess what the ones below are?

We also talked about:

The Vessel, aka The Hive, in NYC
The Pantheon in Rome
The newest building on the UHart campus, the Hursey Center
Back view

As I wrap up this first year of Open Studio, I want to thank a few people who’ve been instrumental in keeping the show going, especially Leith Johnson for composing the opening and closing theme music as well as the station break music, for his stomping out all manner of technical fires, and for his all-round moral support. Thanks, too, to WESU general manager Ben Michael, program manager Rick Sinkiewicz, and program director Ben Spencer for determinedly making community radio happen during the pandemic. Thanks to Sarah Bank and Mary Ahlstrom for promoting Open Studio on social media. Special thanks to all my brilliant guests – you’re an inspiration — and finally, a big thank you to you, listeners, for tuning in. If you enjoy community radio and shows like mine, I hope you’ll be generous at pledge drive time. I’m Maria Johnson, thanks for listening.

The graphic novel as college textbook

Listen to the episode

Immediately above and below are images from a graphic novel created by UConn history Prof. Jason O. Chang about a 19th-century mutiny by Chinese slaves on a ship that ultimately wrecked on Japanese shores.
Today, we go beyond the Sunday funnies and explore the graphic novel with Prof. Chang and Prof. Charles Baraw, from Southern CT State University’s English dept.
Graphic novels, for those unfamiliar with the term, take the comic book into the deep end of the pool. One graphic novel you may have heard of is Art Spiegelman’s Maus, set in Nazi Germany. Another is Alison Bechtel’s Fun Home, which was made into a Broadway musical.
As you’ll hear, both of my guests, interviewed via Zoom, have developed creative approaches to reading, analyzing, and even creating graphic novels.

Prof. Jason O. Chang. One of his articles won the 2018 Koontz Prize for the most deserving contribution, tracing the role of Chinese merchants across successive imperial regimes in the Pacific. He also serves on the West Hartford Board of Education.
Prof. Charles Baraw. He is the recipient of the 2019 SCSU Board of Regents Teaching Award and the 2018 J. Philip Smith Outstanding Teacher Award. Below are covers of some of the graphic novels he teaches:

With this episode of Open Studio: Conversations on Art & Why It Matters, we close out our first year of visual art on the radio! I want to thank a few people who’ve been instrumental in keeping the show going, especially Leith Johnson for composing the opening and closing theme music as well as the station break music, for his stomping out all manner of technical fires, and for his all-round moral support.

Thanks, too, to WESU general manager Ben Michael, program manager Rick Sinkiewicz, and program director Ben Spencer for determinedly making community radio happen during the pandemic. Thanks to Sarah Bank and Mary Ahlstrom for promoting Open Studio on social media. Special thanks to all my brilliant guests – you’re an inspiration — and finally, a big thank you to you, listeners, for tuning in.

I invite you to enjoy the first episode of the new season, on Sept. 26th, when I’ll talk to Michael Crosbie, an architect whose books include a primer for children, called From Arches to Zigzags, an Architecture ABC.

‘Can You Repeat the Question?’ — an inquiry into identity

Listen to the episode

Award-winning Brazilian American multidisciplinary artist Chantal Feitosa, of New York, takes us through her exhibit, “Can You Repeat the Question?,” at Hartford’s Real Art Ways through Oct. 17. She was invited to exhibit as a winner, selected from hundreds of applicants, of a $2,500 award for emerging artists living in New England, NJ, and NY. Her work — collages and a video installation — focuses on, among other things, ethnicity and gender and how those differences play out from earliest childhood, in school.
Brown Bag Lunch (Ham’s Redemption), 2021, is based on a ’70s era survey of Brazilians invited to self-identify about their skin color. It has a video installation on the reverse.
Blackfish Bay Catch of the Day (detail), 2021
Nobody Puts Baby In a Corner (detail), 2021
High Fashion Bootstrapping (detail), 2021
Fireweed (detail), 2021

A related interactive website can be accessed at https://brown-bag-lunch.glitch.me/

Chantal Feitosa’s website: chantalfeitosa.com

Next episode: Sept. 12. Comics and the graphic novel

Turning plastic waste into art to bring awareness to endangered animals

Listen to the episode

Using discarded household plastic, Katharine Owens, an artist and poli sci professor at the University of Hartford, creates life-size wall hangings of sea creatures and birds that are endangered by eating or getting entangled in ocean waste. She hopes to exhibit the series of 46 all together when they’re done.

Connect with Kat on Instagram @katowens2012 and on TT @kathaowens; her website is katowens.com.

Below is one of three whales she’ll complete with the help of schoolchildren from across Connecticut and on Fishers Island, NY. Kat invites them to sign their work.

Below: I helped, too! (“Lotta DNA on this,” says Kat.)

Some finished seabirds below:

Below: “Trash talking” via Zoom:

Below: Kat’s mural of a sealion displayed in Kat’s home office, where she stores bins full of plastic:

‘Everything Italian Is Perfect’

Listen to the episode

Sicily native Franco Liseo, longtime host of WESU-FM’s Italian language news and music program ‘Avanti Tutta’, celebrates all things Italian — the art, the food, the cars, the language, the people — in a lively conversation at a noisy Middletown cafe.

‘Avanti Tutta,’ with co-host Lucilla Caminito contributing commentary from Rome, airs and streams live every Saturday from 1-3 p.m. (EST) at 88.1 FM and wesufm.org.

Listen to an earlier conversation, from 2018, on the occasion of Franco’s 30th anniversary on WESU here.

This is the Tuscan fruit seller I mentioned who wouldn’t take any money when I told her I needed an apple to paint.
The resulting masterpiece.

Power Boothe: Beyond the Bio

Listen to the episode

Power Boothe, Zooming

Abstract painter Power Boothe, a professor at Hartford Art School and its former dean, talks about his early development as a painter, including living hand-to-mouth in NYC, and his continuing development as an artist and teacher. Also: what it’s like to be named Power.

His work has been included in many public collections, including NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, and, in CT, the Wadsworth Athenaeum, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Florence Griswold Museum.

Here is a selection of recent paintings from artsy.net/artist/power-boothe. All are oil on canvas except for Ellipsis #121 which is watercolor on paper:

Disturbance, 2016, 48″x48″
Double Axis, 2018, 24″x24″
Ellipsis #121, 15 1/2″ x 15″
Entangle, 2016, 24″x24″
Fracture, 2016, 24″x24″
Heraclitian Fire, 2013, 72″x72″
Slow Turn, 2015, 18″x16″
Up Down and Across, 2018, 72″x72″




A morning with the Medici

Listen to the episode

Today, Mari and Maria’s Big Adventure. Two art buddies go to NYC for a press preview of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s latest blockbuster exhibition, “The Medici: Portraits and Politics, 1512-1570.” It opened to the general public yesterday and will run till Oct. 11. I urge you to take it in if you can, as it really has something for everybody. History buffs will enjoy the high drama – the powerful Medici banking dynasty turned Florence from a Republic to effectively a monarchy, complete with Popes, and used art to cement its power. Art aficionados will be awestruck by the portraits – in paint, in bronze, in marble, on medals, lent from repositories all over the world – works by such heavy hitters as Raphael, Pontormo, Cellini, Bronzino and more.

Not only was it well worth the trip but you know what else?, it just felt good to be in a museum again! I was lucky that my friend Mari Firkatian was available to join me, as she is not only an artist, but teaches history , including the Renaissance, at the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College. Also, she and I have traveled to Italy – specifically Tuscany – on an art trip. So suffice it to say, this exhibit spoke our language. Join us as we travel to the Met for a richly rewarding walk through room after room of The Medici in portraits and politics.

Listen to the audio of co-curator Keith Christiansen’s presentation to the press in a very echo-y room!

We took MetroNorth from New Haven to Grand Central Station.
It’s NYC. Had to have a bagel — with a shmear!
Outdoor air conditioning on a humid day
The obligatory banner

Met director Max Hollein greets the press and launches the exhibit…
… along with Keith Christiansen, the John Pope-Hennessy Chairman of the Department of European Paintings, who co-curated the exhibit with guest curator Carlo Falciani, Professor of Art History at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence.
Two busts of Cosimo de Medici by Benvenuto Cellini greet visitors at the entrance to the show
Unfinished portrait of Michelangelo by Daniele da Volterra
Helpful Medici genealogy and timeline
A poet, too, Bronzino hailed the noble onion in verse.
Interviewing co-curator Christiansen before Bronzino’s portrait of the poet Laura Battiferri, below, lent from the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and cleaned for the exhibition. It’s the work Christiansen was most determined to show.

Shown in profile like the portrait of Dante — both with prominent noses — to her left in the exhibit.

Having bid arrivederci to the Medici, Mari and I took in other Met wonders.
This room of Tell Halaf reliefs from the Ottoman Empire, 10-9 c BC, was especially affecting.
Is one ever too old to appreciate cute boys?
Back at Grand Central, we gathered picnic fixin’s for the train ride home. A great day in the big city!


Be sure to tune in next time, July 11, for a visit with abstract artist Power Boothe!

The Pandemic and Matt Best –It wasn’t all bad

Listen to the episode

ART IN THE TIME OF COVID — For Hartford painter Matt Best, shown above in self-portraits highlighting the tattoos he says were prompted by the pandemic, the crisis has had a marked effect on his art He feels freer to follow his instincts and not paint in a reliable style. He also believes society as a whole will benefit, that “everything’s going to be restructured in a better way.”

The tiers of a wedding cake suggest the kind of hierarchies that don’t work anymore. “The rules have been rewritten.”.

Older “structural” works, a depiction of Matt’s anxiety, above;

Newer, featuring Madonna and Marilyn Monroe, below. In a long-ago dream, Marilyn told Matt, “You don’t need me anymore.”


I waited until I was in my 40s to get my first tattoo.

My tattoos are a physical reminder that I have changed on the inside. Years of therapy and living through a pandemic was liberating. I wanted my first tattoo as literal mark on my skin to remind me that something new has happened. It was meant as a reminder that I am free. I don’t need to hold on to old ideas that don’t work, I’m free of the past. I’m free to recreate myself.

My first tattoo was of a poppy (my favorite flower). In 2019 I went to the Netherlands with my sister and I found a large mound of dirt in the countryside that was covered in hundreds of poppies. I spent time drawing those poppies, filling many pages my sketchbook. I made one drawing in particular that when I looked at it later I thought, “this would be a great tattoo.” But I didn’t do it.

2020, the pandemic. Getting a tattoo fell by the wayside because it wasn’t possible. The idea was still there but like so many other things that year, it went dormant.

Summer 2020, things are opening up a bit. A former student finds me on Instagram and he has become a tattoo artist. This gets me thinking about the tattoo idea again. I still don’t do anything until I mention my tattoo idea to a friend and by coincidence that day my former student posts a photo of a tattoo he did of a flower. I decided screw it and contacted him immediately. I had my first tattoo on my left arm a few weeks later. He executed my drawing beautifully.

As many people warned me, tattoos are addictive. A month later I got two more poppies on the same arm.

In 2021 I added more poppies to my forearm. My idea is to recreate that small mountain of poppies on my arm. My poppy arm reminds me of times before the pandemic when I was lucky enough to travel and see beautiful poppies blowing in the wind. My arm looks like my sketchbook now.

A friend told me my right arm is boring so I added a larger tattoo of three lady slippers to my right arm this year. Every spring my partner Paul and I go on a lady slipper “hunt.” This tattoo is a representation of the two of us (the third flower being our cat). For me this tattoo represents spring, it’s a celebration of my second vaccine dose (I got the tattoo on the two weeks past my second vaccination date), and a reminder that things grow and change.


‘THIS IS A ROBBERY’ and so are these…

Listen to the episode

On March 18, 1990, 13 works of art were stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. A recent four-part Netflix documentary, This is a Robbery: The World’s Biggest Art Heist, told the story.

Art historian Fran Altvater at her desk at the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, where she is the associate dean.
Images of the stolen Gardner works and others over the decades

Film critic Richard Alleva, who writes for commonwealmagazine.org, sizes up the Netflix documentary, plus, for good measure, Mare of Easttown.

‘It’s like baking a cake’ — making Middletown an art destination

Listen to the episode

Last in a three-part series: a walk downtown to look at what it would take to make way-cool Middletown even cooler by accentuating its considerable positives: its restaurants, classic Main Street, proximity to Wesleyan University, and creative community. 

One of a number of empty storefronts on Main Street
Kisha Michael, the city’s arts coordinator, left, and Sandra Russo-Driska, coordinator of the Downtown Business District, envisioning future arts activity.on city-owned property.
Russo-Driska has a downtown map in hand for checking off the flags and flower pots paid for by the Downtown Business Distrtict, which she says supports a livelier Main Street experience.
Making Middletown an art destination is like baking a cake, says Michael. It needs certain ingredients and the baking can’t be rushed.
Bringing foot traffic to the Main Street Marketplace indoor mall is a continuing challenge, says Russo-Driska.
A spot for a pop-up art exhibit?
Maybe art can fill the windows until a tenant is found?

What about something in here?