‘We can’t make wands fast enough’ — the magic of an inspired idea

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Ed Bareiss in front of his Stafford Springs, CT, store Orchard Works Magic Wands

Today, in the spirit of the season, we tour a Stafford Springs, CT, shop that designs, carves, and sells magic wands. Harry Potter fans especially, take notice! Are these lovely carved sticks really magic? you ask.

Well, it was a certain kind of magic that compelled Ed Bareiss to pay attention when, a little more than 10 years ago, the parents at his daughter Hillary’s birthday party marveled at the dozen or so wands he’d made as party favors and urged him to start selling them.

Fast forward to today when Orchard Works Magic Wands is an international business that’s about to have two locations in tiny, out-of-the-way Stafford Springs, and that sells all over the country at loads of comic con style events, with buyers including some way cool celebrities you younger listeners will recognize.

That birthday girl Hillary, by the way, is now a student at Hartford Art School, which is how I met her and learned about the family’s magical business. Ed tells the whole story and give us a tour.

You can access the shop at orchardworksCT.com and orchardworksCT@gmail.com.

Oh, and BOO!

Dominique Schultz helps spread the magic by selling at conventions around the country.

They traffic in the graphic … novel

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Welcome to the first Open Studio episode of the new WESU-FM season!

Last September, I did an episode about the graphic novel featuring interviews with two professors who teach the form. Because there’s so much to the graphic novel — and because I’ll be teaching a course in it for the first time at the college where I teach, the University of Hartford’s Hillyer College, I thought we’d revisit the subject.

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 with last year’s guests, both of today’s, interviewed via Zoom, have developed creative approaches to reading, analyzing, and even creating graphic novels.

Prof Patrick Gonder, left, teaches at the College of Lake County in Illinois and Rocco Versaci teaches at Palomar College in California. Both specialize in the graphic novel.

Here are their syllabi:

Prof Versaci has used this transcript of the Tennessee hearing on banning Art Spiegelman’s Maus from the curriculum.

One of Versaci’s students, an art major, was inspired to create this as a gift to his professor:

Prof. Gondor uses this page from Files on the Ceiling to illustrate how graphic novels can tell a story more effectively than film or novels:

Some titles mentioned in the episode:

Blankets, by Craig Thompson; Flies on the Ceiling by Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez; Hot Comb by Ebony FLowers; Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross; Mr. Miracle by Tom King and artist Mitch Gerads;100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso; Fables by Bill Willingham; This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki; Unflattening by Nick Sousanis; Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing series; Ms Marvel by G. Willard Wilson; Syllabus by Lynda Barry; and of course Maus by Art Spiegelman and Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Taking in the Middletown Arts Fest: a walk & talk on Main Street

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Rachel DeCavage, owner of Cinder & Salt, and a founder of the Middletown Arts Fest, which just wrapped up its second summer season, marks off sidewalk spaces before vendors start arriving.

Today, we caught up with Rachel as she did last-minute prep for the August festival and then we took in the event itself, talking with artists and musicians and vendors and shoppers. For those of you who didn’t get to any of these summertime first Friday events – and, sorry to tell you, it’s too late for this year – it was an opportunity for artists and craftspeople to display and sell their wares on the wide sidewalks of Middletown’s wide main street, for performers to strut their stuff, and for visitors to discover and rediscover what a cool and creative community Middletown is.

This was the last installment of this year’s series about making Middletown more of an arts destination. Find the previous two — and last year’s — in the blog’s archives.

Images from the event

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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‘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.”