‘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.

‘Making the known unknown and vice versa’

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Painter Peter Waite says he works at the intersection of private and public memory. A classroom, for example, may remind the viewer of their own school days. His subject matter is largely drawn from his domestic and international travels, and, except in occasional paintings of statuary, devoid of figures, instead depicting “a scene just before you enter and one last take before you leave.”

He sketches and takes photos on site — “It’s difficult for people to think I’m working but I am”…

Back in his studio, he paints on panels he can stack — “It isn’t art unless it fits ifn the back of your vehicle”….

Panels are “materials from the trades” that recall various graphic art jobs he’s held …

He uses thinned acrylic paints, applying them in “a regime of stains”…

Of the intended effect, he says, “Things are never really in focus, but they are — and they can fall apart.”

A typical good day? “I paint, I eat, I take a nap, I go for a bike ride.”

“Sower/KewGarden/London,” 1991, acrylic on panels, 6×8′

From left: “Greenhouses,” 2016, acrylic on panels, 8×8′; “Crystal Palace, Retiro/Madrid,” 2017, acrylic on panels, 6×8′; “Middle School,” 2020, acrylic on panel, 44×38″


Mentioned in the interview, from left, my recovery from having failed to record our first interview; jazz musician Eric Dolphy

Drawings from Spring 2008 in my Wesleyan Graduate Liberal Studies course, “Monster Drawing: Large Scale Rendering,” with Peter Waite:

A twig, charcoal on brown paper, 36.5×48″; Gregor Samsa from Kafka’s Metamorphosis, charcoal on gray paper, 19×25″. (I added the yellow hair as a political commentary this year.)

I regret that I can’t find my salmon head! 😦








Down with Some Art? A Lincoln Scholar on Confederate Statuary and Other Subjects

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Retired RI Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Williams helps us close out Presidents Month and Black History Month by weighing in on what should be done with problematic — especially Confederate — statues. Should they be pulled down? Stored in warehouses? The Chief votes nay.

Besides writing, speaking and teaching about Lincoln — and quoting him liberally in his court rulings — Chief Williams was a collector of Lincoln art and artifacts since childhood. He and his wife Virginia have donated some 30,000 items to Mississippi State University, choosing that repository in order to increase the store of knowledge in the South about Lincoln and the Civil War.

But he held onto a few favorites:

Clockwise from top left: “Hermes Bust” by Leonard Volk; “The Council of War” by John Rogers; “Lincoln the Railsplitter,” inscribed with “best wishes” to the Chief, by the artist,Norman Rockwell; “Lincoln” by Leroy Neiman

This bust, on the Chief’s desk in his Providence chambers, is also by Leonard Volk:

See items from The Frank and Virginia Williams Collection of Lincolniana, at Mississippi State University

This statue, by Thomas Ball, depicts a former slave kneeling before Lincoln, who holds the Emancipation Proclamation. It is controversial for seeming to show African Americans in a subordinate stance. Chief Williams says that’s a misreading of the artist’s intent.

The Gates of Hell and Other Art About Love

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Following along with University of Hartford art historian Fran Altvater, the busiest person in academe, as she unpacks for us 10 artists’ takes on love:

Love the pink hair! Happy birthday, Fran!

Also mentioned in the episode:

My Robert Indiana-inspired LOVE necklace; and WIlliam listening to our chat:

Also, a link to Waldy & Bendy’s Adventures in Art, a terrific podcast:


Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! Stay safe out there!

Building more diverse architects

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… Not more diverse architecture. Architects. Did you ever notice? Though your doctor may be black, and your lawyer may be a Latina, and other professionals in your life may be gay or trans, most architects are plain vanilla white men. What’s up with that?

We’ll talk with a progressive-minded architecture professor –  a white man, as it happens – who places at least part of the blame on the academy. University of Hartford Associate Professor of Architecture Theodore Sawruk  says that although college architecture programs may work to attract a diverse student body, and congratulate themselves for it, those students may actually fail to graduate because they have few mentors and role models like them to model success.

But why take the professor’s white male word for it? He’s assembled a lovely panel of underrepresented architecture students for us – three undergrads and a grad student – who can tell us what it’s like to be black, female, queer, or trans as they try to make their way in the competitive, even backbiting, field of architecture.  

Ted Sawruk and a Connecticut Verizon store he designed in 2019

Jason McDonald and his masterplan for a residential eco-tower in Florence, Italy

Aurora Perrault and her five-story mixed-use building with retail and office spaces on the ground and second floor and residential spaces on the floors above. The goal of the building was to create a sense of community and a connection to nature for building residents and neighbors.


Renee Parry’s New Haven mixed use residential/commercial complex plan


Grad student Magic Santos and her Phillips Metropolitan CME Church in North Hartford, CT

Is There Life After Art School?

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We check in with five recent graduates of Hartford Art School (full freight nearing $57,000/year) about how things are going so far. Is the American Dream inaccessible to them? Is it even their dream? Should they make marketable work or paint their souls? Is Instagram the best path to finding community? How have their thinking and their work changed since graduation?

Special thanks to Lori Fogg for suggesting the episode!








Film critics Richard Alleva and Rand Richards Cooper, occasional guests on my previous show, invite you to join their Zoom series “Monday Night at the Movies.” Find a list of the films and info about enrolling at hartford.edu/presidentscollege.