Turning plastic waste into art to bring awareness to endangered animals

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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’

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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

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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

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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

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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…

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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

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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?

Middletown: a home for art?

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Today, we continue our deep dive into how Middletown, CT, already a way cool city, might become even cooler by developing its potential to be an arts destination. In case you’re unfamiliar with Middletown, it’s well-known for its excellent restaurants. It’s got the Connecticut River running alongside it. It’s got Wesleyan University. And a classic wide main street. And an excellent library. Plus, as I can’t resist pointing out, but which you seem to already know, since you’re listening to it: an amazing college radio station. In this second installment of the series, we talk to Middletown artist Pierre Sylvain, the executive director of the Buttonwood Tree arts venue on Main Street, and last but not least, the mayor himself. What’s he think of the idea of artifying Middletown? In an upcoming episode, we take our portable mic for a walk downtown with the head of the Downtown Business District and the director of the city’s arts commission.

Haitian-born, self-taught Middletown artist Pierre Sylvain and some of his work
Anne-Marie Cannata McEwen, executive director of The Buttonwood Tree
Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim

Making a cool city cooler

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Great restaurants. That classic wide main street. Wesleyan. Excellent library. Way-cool college radio station. Middletown’s got it all, right? Well, except for visual art. In the first of a series about how to make Middletown an art destination, Open Studio talks with an artist, a former arts administrator, and a Realtor. They consider the sad proposition that maybe the city just isn’t into art.

Upcoming episodes will feature the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, the executive director of The Buttonwood Tree arts venue and other smart, creative people. We’ll even go for a downtown walking tour with the head of the Downtown Business District and the current city arts administrator.

Listen to Part One.

Artist Chris Mathison, who helps create exhibits for Kid City, has visions of a gallery/music venue/movie theater downtown. Find him and his work on Instagram @kissytunnel and at IMNOTJOEY.BANDCAMP.COM
Stephan Allison headed the city arts office for nearly 20 years.His late wife, Susan Allison, was the founder of The Buttonwood Tree and the city’s first poet laureate.
Realtor Trevor Davis, in front of a building he owns downtown, has been promoting greater support for the arts in Middletown for years.
Trevor Davis wearing his other hat!

A free LIVE-STREAMED concert Trevor Davis helped bring to town: TOMORROW!


Click here to donate to WESU.

‘A coupla crazy old people moving into a bus’

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Visit abusnamedsandy.blog to follow Holly and Joe Whiting, who will be living in a “schoolie,” a 100-square-foot bus they converted into their new home.

Joe in the nearly done bus.
Photos from the blog.
Holly’s art supplies must fit into these three shallow drawers. Joe will get a small shelf for poetry books.
Holly’s former 1,000-sq-ft studio in New Haven’s Erector Square
Holly painted The Stations of the Cross for a West Simsbury, CT, church. You can hear the 2018 interview with her and woodworker Dana Scinto here.