A blog about the arts, books, flora and fauna, vittles, and whatever comes to mind!

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Friday, May 20, 2011

The Art of Nicholas Galanin

Raven and First Immigrant, 2009.
Photo courtesy of Wayne Leidenfrost/Vancouver Sun.

Nicholas Galanin is most recently famous for the art work he did this past March for Boekenweek, the annual Dutch literature event.  But the artist is well-known for making modern art pieces with a traditional twist.

Curriculum Vitae - written portraits of Anne Frank, Vincent
van Gogh, Kader Abdolah, and Louis van Gaal,
for Boekenweek, 2011.  Images courtesy of CPNB.

Born in Sitka, Alaska, he comes from a background of artisans.  His great-grandfather was a wood sculptor.  His father works in precious metal and stone. When he was young he apprenticed with his father and uncle, then other local traditional artists.

Four Seasons, hand engraved copper pillar,
showing spring and winter.
Same pillar showing fall and summer.

Deciding to pursue a formal education, he studied at London Guildhall University from 2000-2003.  Although he graduated with a B.F.A. with honors in jewelry design and silversmithing, he did more modern art work on the side.

Inert, 2009, photo courtesy Wayne Leidenfrost/Vancouver Sun.

Looking for a place he could develop as an artist more creatively with less rigid training, he attended Massey University in New Zealand.  He graduated there with an M.A. in Indigenous Visual Arts.

The Imaginery Indian:  yéil, 2008.
Photo courtesy Wayne Leidenfrost/Vancouver Sun.

Eventually, he moved back to Sitka.  Trained in both traditional as well as contemporary approaches to art, he blends them together.  His work reveals his cultural background and his exploratory nature.  His art is political in the sense that he mocks how native cultures are adopted and adapted into preconceived notions. He cleverly employs traditional cultural themes in ways and mediums that reflect their appropriation by the mainstream.

The Good Book Vol. 15, 2006.
1000 pages containing text from the Holy Bible with human hair.

With such an impressive oeuvre of a wide variety of themes and techniques, his popularity is understandable.  One can only contemplate what he will create next....

S'igeika'awu:  Ghost, 2009.
The Imaginary Indian Series, 2009.
The artist claims "a modern skeletal ruin of ghost like
objects hang on gallery and collection walls, most of
which mimic a romantic cultural lifestyle."
Engraved copper bracelet, 2004.
Knowledge, 2008, 2500 pages of cut and bound paper.  Pages from
Under Mount Elias:  The History and Culture of the Yakutat Tlingit
Parts one, Two, and Three by Frederica de Laguna.
What Have We Become? Vol. 3, 2006, 1000 pages.
Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of 
the artist's website.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ticklin' and Noodlin'

An Oncorhynchus Mykiss, or Rainbow Trout
Image courtesy of Jonathunder/Wikipedia.

The ancient Greeks did it; there is reference to it in the Halieutica, considered the greatest work from antiquity on angling.  Aelina, another Greek from 230 C.E., wrote about it in De Natura Animalium, which was published in England in 1565. In 1624, it was mentioned in a ribald English play, Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher's Rule a Wife and Have a Wife.  Shakespeare wrote about it in Twelfth Night and Measure for Measure.  Even Mark Twain mentioned it.

The Salvelinus Agassizi, or Silver Trout (now extinct), 1902.
Image courtesy of Frank MacKie Johnson/Wikipedia.

"It" is trout tickling, the art of rubbing the underbelly of a trout with the fingers.  If it is done right, the trout will go into a trance and then can be caught by hand. Popular among those who don't have any fishing equipment, and by poachers who don't want to be caught with equipment.

Golden trout, image courtesy of Rayfound/Wikipedia.

In Scotland it's called ginniling or guddling.  In England it is illegal, presumably because of the danger of overfishing because of the ease of doing it.  It gives new meaning to the phrase "tickled to death"!

A Greenback trout, image courtesy of Kriscotta/Wikipedia.

There's a similar way of fishing for catfish, called noodling.  Again, this entails using only the hands, and it is primarily done in the southern United States.  It is also called catfisting, dogging, grabbling, graveling, gurgling, hogging, stumping, and tickling.

Lee McFarlin, the noodling guru.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The choice of catfish for this "art" is purposeful.  Since catfish live in holes or under brush in rivers and lakes, they are easy to catch since they tend to dwell in the same place.  A noodler goes underwater in depths ranging from a few feet to sometimes twenty feet, depending on their courage or insanity, depending how you look at it.  The noodler finds the dwelling and puts his/her hand in the hole.  If all goes according to plan, the catfish will latch on to the hand, usually trying to escape the space.  If it's a large catfish (and the largest on record is 650 pounds in Thailand, but most average 40-50 pounds that are caught by noodling), the noodler can then grab onto the gills.

The channel catfish is the one most often caught by noodling.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Usually a spotter is needed to help bring in the catfish.  Once it bites it tends to hold on for a while, and if the noodler dove to get at the catfish hole there may be some difficulty coming up for air holding on to the catfish.  There are dangers involved.  The bite can result in superficial and minor wounds, or in the extreme can lead to loss of fingers, which can be prevented by wearing gloves.  If the noodler dives for a deep hole there is the risk of drowning.  But more importantly other aquatic life may be in the hole.  Things like alligators, beavers, muskrats, snakes, or snapping turtles.

An Eel-tail catfish, image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Catfish are unusual in themselves.  For one thing they have no scales.  This saves them from being eaten by those following a kosher diet.  They have small eyes, since they use their barbels to seek food.  These whisker-like organs, which gave catfish their name, house their taste buds, and they use them to search for food in murky water.  Catfish are bottom-feeders, which is why noodlers sometimes have to dive to noodle them.

Drawing of a catfish's barbels by Pearson Scott Foresman/Wikipedia.

Currently it is only legal in eleven states in the U.S.:  Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Laws change frequently, and a noodler needs to check state laws and regulations. It is illegal, again as in trout tickling, so as not to threaten the population if too many mature fish are caught, and because of the dangers.

The Pylodictis Olivaris or Flathead Catfish.
Image courtesy of Eric Engbretson/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

These two age-old angling methods are at least more of sport than using equipment - mano a mano, so to speak.  But I prefer real cats, and tickling their bellies.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Sex Slaves and Benefactresses

Hürrem aka Roxolana and the Sultan Süleyman the Magnificent
by Anton Hickel, 1780, courtesy of the Landesmuseum Mainz.

When my mother was a girl growing up in Athens, Greece, in the 1930s/early 1940s she and her friends were often warned to be very careful when they were out in public because they might get kidnapped and put in a harem.  The connotation of a harem is a place where women are kept captive and used as sex slaves, wasting away with boredom.  Even though women were secluded, they exercised their power through agents.  The traveler and historian Ibn Battuta remarked in 1336 that Turk and Tatar women enjoyed "a very high position".

Pool in a Harem by Jean-Léon Gérôme, circa 1876.
Writers and artists of this period strove to keep the mystique of the
harem, instead of being factual, to give the public what they wanted.

Although harem women were slaves they were never married to the sultan, however their children were considered legitimate if recognized by the father.  The Ottoman rulers routinely chose women of foreign backgrounds in order to gain the fidelity of those external provinces.  These women, of course, converted to Islam. In Islam women were allowed to own property and to control it, so business dealings were something of a norm.  Mothers, aunts, and even sisters of sultans were often entrusted with diplomatic affairs.

The Reception by John Frederick Lewis, 1873.

The harem had a very elite social structure.  There was a rule that once a concubine gave birth to a son, she ceased having children.  This was to ensure that a prince would not have to share the political resources a mother provided with any brothers.  The Sultan Süleyman broke that rule with Hürrem, with whom he had four sons.  She also moved into the imperial residence.  She was accused of bewitching him, so astonishing were his actions, and she was very unpopular. After this, harem women were not allowed to be prominent, except for the mothers of princes.

A rendering of a room in the apartments of the Valide Sultan in Topkapi Palace.

These harem women held considerable power.  The Valide Sultan (literally "Mother Sultan" in Ottoman Turkish) was the title held by the mother of the reigning sultan.  This was a very important and powerful position, at times second in power to the Sultan, and the Valide Sultan had great influence on the affairs of state.  There was a time during the 16th and 17th centuries when there were a number of very powerful Valide Sultans who assumed new heights of power.  This period is know as the Sultanate of Women.

Musical Interlude by Fabbi Fabbio (1861-1946).
Fabbio, Lewis, and Gérôme were Orientalist painters.

These particular Valide Sultans acted as regents to their sultan sons who were minors or mentally unfit to rule, and as such acted as guardians of their sons and political tutors.  This rash of young and/or incompetent sultans was the result of a change in the rules of succession.  Primogeniture was originally thought to be unfair to younger, and perhaps more capable, sons.  Princes were expected to fight for the right to rule, but this was eventually deemed too violent, so primogeniture was adopted again.

One of the concepts of Islam is the five pillars - profession of faith, prayer, ritual fasting, charity, and the pilgrimage to Mecca.  Charity means giving a fixed portion of one's wealth to help the poor and needy.  This a religious obligation, to share the bounty from God, and is distinct from voluntary giving.  Some of the Valide Sultans commissioned great works, ranging from wells to mosques, to fulfill this obligation.  Some of their edifices have become historically famous...

Another portrait of Hürrem, artist unknown. 16th century

The aforementioned Hürrem was born in the early 1500s to a Ukrainian Orthodox priest (the Ukraine was then part of Poland).  She was captured in a raid by Crimean Tatars and taken as a slave.  She was eventually added to Süleyman's harem, where she became his favorite.  She was responsible for several major works of public buildings from Mecca to Jerusalem, including a mosque, two schools, a fountain, a women's hospital, a public soup kitchen, and a public bath.

The public bath constructed by Hürrem, located in Istanbul near the Hagia Sophia.

Mihrimah was the daughter of Hürrem and Süleyman, and evidently "Daddy's girl", traveling with him all over the Ottoman empire.  She was unhappily married to the Sultan's Grand Vizier, but continued traveling with her father.  She functioned as the Valide Sultan for her brother, Selim II.  She is responsible for two mosque complexes in the Istanbul area.  The Mihrimah Mosque at the western wall of the old city, and the Iskele Mosque, a prominent landmark.  There is a romantic myth about these mosques.  It is said that the architect of these mosques fell in love with Mihrimah, and that on March 21st, her bithday and a time when day and night are equal, at sunset, with a clear view, you can see the sun set behind the only minaret of the Mihrimah Mosque, and the moon rise between the two minarets of the Iskele Mosque.

The Mihrimah Mosque in Istanbul.  Photo by Josep Renalias/Wikipedia.
The Iskele Mosque in Istanbul.  Photo by Darwinek/Wikipedia.
Mihrimah Sultan, 1541.  Image courtesy of the Mazovian Museum, Poland.

Nurbanu was either a Venetian of noble birth or a Spanish jew.  As the mother of Sultan Murad II, she acted as his de facto regent for nine years.  Her ethnicity is unknown, and the subject of much conjecture.  Under her patronage the Atik Valide Mosque and Külliye (a multi-purpose building complex surrounding the mosque), and a Turkish bath were built.  The Atik Valide complex includes a medical school, primary school, hospital, refection hall, guesthouse, carvansary, a Koran recitation school, a school specializing in the study of the Hadiths (sayings and deeds of the Prophet), and shops.

Both photos of the Atik Valide Mosque complex courtesy of exploreturkey.com.

Safiye is thought to be of Venetian descent, born as Sophia Baffo and the daughter of the Venetian governor of Corfu.  She was captured by corsairs and presented to the Ottoman harem and was a cousin of Nurbanu.  She was one of the most influential Valide Sultans, veritably ruling as co-regent with her son. She is famous for starting the construction of the Yeni Camii or New Mosque in Istanbul.  The site she chose was in a commercial area of the city inhabited by non-Muslims.  Her intent was to spread Islam in the area, but getting the land was not easy.  When her son died, all construction stopped since she was no longer Valide Sultan.  It was completed later by the Valide Sultan Turhan.

Interior of the Yeni Camii or New Mosque, photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto/Wikipedia.

Kösem was the consort of Ahmed I, and one of the most powerful women in Ottoman history.  She was of Greek ethnicity, the daughter of a priest from the island of Tinos.  She was captured and sold in Istanbul at the age of fifteen.  Her son Murad IV was a minor, so she ran the empire.  When her son Ibrahim I succeeded his brother, he was mentally unstable, so she continued in power. Ibrahim was deposed and her grandson Mehmed IV was the successor, and she declared herself regent again, by virtue of Mehmed's mother being too inexperienced to run things.  Although she did not create any edifices, she was renowned for her charity and for freeing her slaves after three years of service.

Kösem, 1647, artist unknown.

Turhan Hatice was also Ukrainian and captured by a Tatar raid.  She was sent to Topkapi Palace as a gift to the mother of Sultain Ibrahim, Kösem.  When her son became sultan, she was overlooked for the position of Valide Sultan because of her youth and lack of experience.  However, she was ambitious and fought for the title.  Although there is no proof Turhan was involved, Kösem was murdered three years after being regent for her grandson.  Turhan built two fortresses at the entrance to the Dardanelles, one on the European side and one on the Asian side. But her greatest accomplishment as a benefactress was to finish the Yeni Camii, or New Mosque that Safiye began.  This is hailed as the first imperial mosque built by a woman.  Turhan Hatice was the last woman to wield great power as a regent.

The Yeni Camii or New Mosque, Istanbul.  Photo by Nevit Dilmen/Wikipedia. 
Inside the Yeni Camii.

This was the age of strong and capable royal women - Mary Tudor, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots, and Catherine de Médicis, to name a few Europeans. They were grudgingly admired and very powerful.  Kudos to these Ottoman women who literally made the most of their lots in life and contributed to the greater good.

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Wikipedia.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Eye of God

Quernado Mountain in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.
Image courtesy Anaroza/Wikipedia.

The Huichol peoples of western Mexico are well-known for their folk art.  When the Spanish conquistadores came across them they adopted one of their crafts, which the Huichol called Sikuli.  Sikuli stands for the concept of viewing and comprehending that which is unknown and unknowable.  What we might call the mystery of the divine.

This one made of Caron yarn.

In Spanish, these art pieces are known as Ojo de Dios, or the eye of God.  They are ritual tools of a culture with deep spiritual beliefs.  The Huichol use peyote to enhance their spiritual experiences but not in a light way.  One has to be instructed and qualified not only to use it, but to even collect it.  They consider peyote a gift from the Gods, and it is revered.

The Ojo de Dios is woven, generally square in shape, made of yarn woven onto a cross of wooden sticks.  The yarn is handspun and dyed with various types of berries, flowers, and other natural materials.  Original ones are very rare, but many are made for the tourist market.  These, of course, do not carry the same spiritual significance.

These were made by schoolchildren.

The originals are focal points which are used to concentrate energy.  They are also one of the objects known as a nierika, which comes from the root word nieriya, to see.  Thus it is a picture or appearance, a sacred representation.  A nierika is a metaphysical vision, an aspect of a god or an ancestor.  Natives who received guidance from a god or ancestor who appeared before them saw visions so intense and overwhelming that only the eye could be seen.  It is a representation of that eye that is created on an Ojo de Dios.

Image courtesy of craftypod, which has instructions for making them.

They also functioned as metaphoric shields, protecting against distractions or temptations along the spiritual path.  They additionally are portals that facilitate the entry into other states of consciousness or the spiritual world.  Portals that allow humans and gods or ancestors to perceive each other.

A specific type of Ojo de Dios is crafted to protect children.  When a child is born, the central eye is woven by the father.  Each year, for five years, it is added to.  This object is well-guarded throughout the person's life and functions as a talisman of spiritual protection and well-being.  It may be used by the person his/herself or by a shaman for healing or other rituals.

The four points represent the elements:  earth, fire, air, and water.  There is a significance to the color of yarns used in traditional ones.  Red is for life; yellow for the heavens; blue is both sky and water; brown signifies the soil of the earth; green stands for vegetation; and black means death.

Image courtesy of the Kansas City, Kansas Public Library.

Today they are meant as talismans of good luck and protection, and their use has spread all over the world.  Since modern ones are inexpensively and easily made, they are a favorite classroom project.  An ancient art, modernized by interaction with the outside world, what Ojo de Dios has lost in intrinsic meaning it has gained in popularity.


Monday, May 16, 2011

The Writers' Workshop

Dey House, home of the University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop.
Photo courtesy of tjilafave, 2008.

What do Flannery O'Connor, John Irving, Jane Smiley, and W.P. Kinsella have in common?  They are all graduates of the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, the first creative writing degree program in the United States, and the gold standard for writing programs.  Alumni have won seventeen Pulitzer Prizes, numerous National Book Awards, and other literary honors.  Three graduates from the Graduate Poetry Workshops have become U.S. Poet Laureates.  In 2003, the Workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities - the first awarded to a university and the second awarded to an institution (as opposed to an individual).

National Humanities Medal signed by George W. Bush.

The two-year residency program has no textbooks, no grades, and admission is not based on GPAs.  One just has to show more promise than the other hundreds of applicants to be accepted in either the Graduate Fiction or Graduate Poetry Workshops.  When the program has been successfully completed, which entails the submission of a creative thesis (novel, story collection, or poetry collection), one will graduate with an MFA in English.  This degree will allow the graduate to teach creative writing at the college level, as well as serve as a proud affirmation of hard work well done.

Frank Conroy and Marilynne Robinson with students.
Photo courtesy of Tom Jorgensen, 2003.

The Program requires students to take a small number of classes each semester, including the Graduate Fiction or Graduate Poetry Workshop, and one or two additional literature seminars.  The Graduate Workshops meet once a week for three hours.  Some students submit their work for their peers to read prior to the meeting.  The class is a round-table discussion, and the students and instructor offer their thoughts and observations about each piece.  This allows the writers to get feedback on their strong points and shortcomings, and in turn the other students are able to observe each others' processes and learn about developing as a writer.

The Program agrees that writing cannot be taught per se but believes that talent can be developed, therefore they see the Program role as one of encouragement.  To this end, they provide access to established poets and writers.  Obviously, their program works, and works well.

Writers' Workshop staff Dave Pryce Jones, R. V. Cassill, Robert Williams, Richard Yates,
Paul Engle, Mark Strand, Eugene K. Garber, George Starbuck, Frederic Will in the mid-1960s.

The first creative writing class was offered in the spring semester of 1897. Twenty-five years later, in 1922, the dean of the Graduate College announced that UI would accept creative work as theses for advanced degrees.  The School of Letters offered regular writing courses with selected students who were tutored by writers in residence as well as visiting writers.   Officially founded in 1936, this year the Program celebrates their 75th anniversary.  Among the many special events to celebrate this anniversary will be a reunion June 9 - 12.

This has been a few exceptional years for Iowa as far as reading, writing, and literature go.  In 2008, Iowa was selected by UNESCO as a City of Literature.  The Creative Cities Network was established at the end of 2004 to promote social, economic, and cultural growth of cities around the world by recognizing their contributions in the fields of literature, film, music, design, folk art and crafts, media arts, and gastronomy.  The cities that are chosen promote creativity locally and with wider audiences, and offer new opportunities to develop creative productions.  The Writers' Workshop and its impressive history is arguably the core of the city.

Additionally, another coup has taken place.  Dr. Alphabet (writer Dave Morice) recently completed a 100 volume work of 10,119 pages in 100 days, the Poetry City Marathon.  (Full text here.)  This was in recognition of the City of Literature honor.  The final text was printed out by Bu Wilson and bound by Bill Voss of the UI Library Preservation Department.  The binding measures 8-1/2 x 11 x 24 inches.  Nancy Kraft, head of the Preservation Department, said it took 24 hours to bind, spread out over four days with half a day spent in making a small press to put the pages together.

The creators are considering submitting this to the Guinness
Book of World Records as the world's thickest book.

The book had to be assembled into small units then bound using the special press.  Making and attaching the cover was challenging, as the binding and cover must be both strong and flexible.  Obviously the book needs support while being read, and this is done by placing blocks under the "shorter" side, which are adjusted as the reading continues.

Check out this site for a slide show and explanation of the binding process.

The Hawkeye state has a lot going on, and literature is definitely one of their "prize" offerings.  Here's to another 75 years of excellence for the Writers' Workshop!
Images courtesy the University of Iowa website.
For a very good article from 2007 assessing the top graduate writing programs
click here.