Saturday, August 29, 2015

Lower 9th Ward Village - update

The Lower 9th Ward Village
In 2010, I visited the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans to collaborate on a small mural project with residents working to reconnect neighbors displaced after Katrina. The"Where's Your Neighbor" project was the idea of the Lower 9th Ward Village's beloved leader Mack McClendon. The Village and Mack were known as the "beating heart" of the Lower 9th after the storm, and even though the center eventually had to close, it's influence on the neighborhood continues. Mack passed away earlier this year at 61.  Below is my original post from 2010 that describes our project.

Mack working with the mural team
This past May, while I was working in Tonkawa, Oklahoma, I took a few days off to attend the Community Built Association's 20th Anniversary Conference in New Orleans. Cruising down U.S. 271, my car was loaded with paint, brushes and drawing materials because, as a part of the conference, I was going to lead a mural workshop at the Lower 9th Ward Village - a small community center that emerged after Katrina to bring neighbors together and help with basic needs. The driving force behind the Village is Mack McClendon who has made it his mission to reconnect Lower 9th Ward residents with relatives and friends who left during the storm. To help in this effort, Mack wanted us artists to work with local folks to create a map that symbolized the Katrina diaspora, or in Mack’s words “Where’s your neighbor?”

At the back of the Village’s warehouse, which was being set-up for a fundraising auction, ten people gathered around a make-shift table to brainstorm. The idea was to create a visually captivating map that would remind people that many neighborhood residents, for different reasons, were still not home. Some died. Some fled the storm, found new homes and did not intend to move back. Some wanted to come back but didn't have the resources. And others had returned to the area but could not reoccupy their homes in the Lower 9th.

Making a map of the U.S. would be easy enough and we had a pretty good idea of how people spread out after the storm, but the mural team wanted to embellish the artwork with more than just the facts. We scrounged around the warehouse and nearby alleyways for materials and inspiration.

Mack brought us a coil of telephone wire. Someone else found an old doorknob. Perfect. The doorknob, emblazoned with a Fleur-de-lis, was attached to the mural and became New Orleans. The telephone wire, after we stripped it down and divided its many intertwined colors, was tied from the door knob out towards cities where people took refuge, each color indicating a different predicament or intention - red for not coming home, yellow for wanting to come home, green for back in their home, and black for back in New Orleans but unable to to reoccupy their house. Five hours of painting and wire stretching later and the mural-map was finished and ready to be installed in front of the community center. But how would the greater neighborhood (people who didn’t frequent the Village) know about this effort?

Somehow we had to spread this small painting out into the streets where more people could see it. The next day, and my last on this visit, we used scraps of plywood and old roofing to reproduce details of the larger map.

When they were dry, our crew scattered out onto the nearby streets and hung, wired, and placed the panels on fences, old street signs, and abandoned buildings. Hopefully, the would be curious enough to catch people's attention and lead them to the Village.

Someone drove by and asked what we were doing and, after they heard our story, asked if they could have one of the paintings for their house. We followed him down the street to his house where this small portion of a map of the Katrina diaspora was hung carefully and with pride on the wall of the front porch. Other neighbors inquired about the brightly colored paintings, and within an hour or so all twenty small panels had found homes.

This little mural/map (and its satellites) of “Where’s Your Neighbor?” was just a beginning I told Mack. A lot more could be done, and now it appears it will be. Just the other day someone sent me this article. It looks like the New Orleans artist group NoLA Rising is proposing a giant mural with a reproduction of our little mural/map as its centerpiece.

Mack McClendon

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

New story about the Great Mural Wall of Topeka

Click on the photo to read the story about the latest mural at the Great Mural Wall of Topeka.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mural Workshop this June

Kansas Mural Workshop

A week-long intensive workshop (sponsored by the Hutchinson/Reno 
Arts and Humanities Council, Hutchinson Art Center, and The Downtown 
Hutchinson Revitalization Partnership), with internationally recognized 
muralist Dave Loewenstein, that will lead participants through all of the 
technical and organizing skills needed to develop a successful mural 
Over the course of the week, participants will learn:                                                     
- History of the community mural movement
- Contemporary trends in community engaged public art

- How to organize, fund, and promote a community-mural project
- How to work with city representatives and develop contracts
- The basics of team organizing, research and design
- How to transfer your design, prepare the wall and plan community painting
- The importance of a culminating event and mural maintenance

All of this will be taught through an actual mural project, for a downtown Hutchinson location that participants will work on over the course of the week.

Artists, teachers, community organizers, arts councils and students should sign-up for this rare opportunity to learn from one of the leading muralists working today.

June 15 - 21, 2015 in Hutchinson, Kansas

Contact to receive an application. Submit your application by June 14th. Participants will be limited to 20. The $45 fee includes all materials. 

To find out more about Loewenstein’s work and approach, go to:

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Thank you C.J.

From all of us who were inspired by your vision, passion and never ending commitment to social justice - thank you C.J.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Kansas Murals" book available from the University Press of Kansas

The University Press of Kansas has a new website where it's easy to purchase copies of "Kansas Murals: A Traveler's Guide," the 2006 book I collaborated on with Lora Jost.

"As much a book on Kansas land and history as about its mural art, this is a portrait of a place and its people. From beloved clichs to unexpected innovations, Jost and Loewenstein's selections take us from a wild-eyed John Brown to the ornate box turtle capital of the world, from silos to post offices, covered wagons to rocket ships, graffiti to architectural heaven. Read this even if Kansas is not on your itinerary.” 
—Lucy R. Lippard, author of Lure of the Local

“Makes me want to jump in the car right now and go look at those marvelous murals!”
—Marci Penner, author of The Kansas Guidebook for Explorers

“An essential book for every traveler in the Kansas art-scape.”
—Charles C. Eldredge, author of Tales from the Easel

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Wings of Desire - The Art of William H. Howe

(This essay was originally published in on February 24, 2006. Since links to many of my old blog essays are broken, I am republishing them here.)

In 1941 as the U.S. entered into World War II, 13-year-old William Howe was busily filling sketchbooks with remarkable renderings of butterflies, as a student at the West Coast Institute of Arts and Crafts in Berkley, California. Later that year, William's father Edwin hastily moved the family away from the coast, in order to protect them from potential bombing by the Japanese. After a brief stay in Lawrence, the family settled in Ottawa, Kansas, which - as fate would have it - was directly in the path of the annual monarch migration. 

One of Howe's teenage journals.

William's infatuation with butterflies began at an early age. As he told it, the defining event of his childhood occurred when his father, who was an entomologist working for the USDA, brought home a cage full of caterpillars and left them on the dining room table. Over the following days, William watched spellbound as the striped caterpillars metamorphosed, first forming chrysalides and then emerging as elegant black swallowtails. From this experience grew a lifetime passion for the gossamer-winged insects. Howe said, "My fascination with butterflies has been welded into a lifelong avocation that has commanded both my spirit and my labors. But it isn't a scientific interest. The scientific problems I leave up to the experts. Sitting under a microscope in an office doesn't appeal to me. It is the emotional experience of catching a butterfly and the reward of being able to use my paints to capture it on paper or canvas. I do this for one reason - it's fun. And most jobs are not fun, I have found." 

In 2006 at age 77, Howe was still painting everyday in his small apartment in Ottawa. All of his paintings were made from observing actual butterflies (he never painted from photos), many of which he collected on his eighty-three trips to Mexico. Today, he is considered one of the country's most admired butterfly artists. His paintings are in the collections of museums around the world including the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and the Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. His authoritative book "Butterflies of North America" (out of print), illustrated with 2,033 watercolors, is hailed by many entomologists as the greatest volume ever published on butterflies of this continent.

Howe at work on "Butterflies of North America."

I first saw William Howe's paintings in 1991 at the old Plum Tree restaurant on Iowa Street. They may have clashed a little with the Chinese decor, but Howe always favored restaurants, offices, and other retail businesses that he frequented to show his work. The advantages of these venues over galleries were that they had a captive and frequently changing audience, and usually no commission on sales. 

I continued to spot Howe's curious and original paintings over the years, like "Butterflies Greeting Columbus" below, and always wondered what the artist who created them was like. Then in 2004, we met. It was in Ottawa, at the house that he'd lived in since 1941, where I interviewed him about his mural depicting monarchs migrating through Chase County that he was restoring in the old Ottawa Middle School cafeteria. That first meeting led to others where, over slices of blackberry pie and coffee at his favorite restaurant, we discussed organizing a show of his paintings in Lawrence.

That exhibition, Wings of Desire - The Art of William H. Howe, opened in March of 2006 at the Olive Gallery. At the opening, Howe gave a short talk about his work and signed copies of his first book "Our Butterflies and Moths" published in 1964. The twenty plus paintings in the show represented the wide range of approaches Howe had taken to his life-long subject. 

Part of the Olive Gallery installation.
There were trompe l'oeil portraits of butterflies hovering slightly above the canvas. There were carefully composed families of butterflies, rendered like Audubon, in their natural settings. There were the paintings, Howe often called 'surreals' or 'abstracts,' where his mutable subjects become vehicles for storytelling and abstract design. And exhibited for the first time, were Howe's figurative and narrative paintings which explored his personal life and political concerns.

All of these paintings reflected William Howe's devotion to craft and reverence for nature. But his paintings are about much more than studied technique and patient observation - they are deeply felt personal statements, that illuminate the fragile and quiet life of both butterflies and the man who rendered them with such affection.

William H. Howe died on August 18, 2009 in Ottawa, KS. He was 81. For more on Howe's work, go to his website here, and this 2004 article in the Pitch by Gina Kaufmann.