Thursday, November 18, 2010

Favorite Childhood Reads

I've been thinking about the books I loved as a child, when I regularly checked out the full limit of five books at a time from the Floral Park (NY) Public Library. Perhaps the reason I've felt these memories stirring is that I've been poring over old elementary school class photos posted by a fellow Floral Parker on Facebook. Guess I've always been an enthusiastic reader. When Mom and Dad first started giving me an allowance, I saved up four weeks worth to buy a Bobbsey Twins book! I also loved attending the Public Library's used book sales and filling up a grocery sack with unbelievable bargains. And here I am so many decades later, getting ready to volunteer a the Friends of the West University Library book sale this weekend.

For purposes of this post, I decided to indulge in a bit of research about three of my favorite children's authors: Lois Lenski, Louisa May Alcott and Maud Hart Lovelace.

Lois Lenski (1893 - 1974) began as a book illustrator but blossomed into a prodigious author who still did her own illustrations, which I remember with great fondness. Growing up in Ohio, Lenski later lived in New York and Connecticut. During the 1940s, for health reasons, she and her husband began wintering in the South. That is when she began producing her series of books about the lives of children in different regions of America, among them Bayou Suzette, Strawberry Girl (which won the 1946 Newbery Award), Cotton in my Sack, etc. I couldn't get enough of this series and read the books over and over. I knew of no other books quite like them. Striking in their realism, they put me into the shoes of then-contemporary children whose lives were so different than mine, migrant workers, houseboat dwellers, cotton pickers, etc. Children even wrote to Lenski and asked that she come visit and write about their lives. She also created many wonderful picture books most of us baby boomers can't help but remember: The Little Auto, Cowboy Small, We Live in the South, We Live in the North, etc. Unsentimental, innovative, prolific and dedicated, Lois Lenski gave the world her autobiography, Journey Into Childhood, in 1972, a book I hope to someday read.

I hardly feel qualified to write about Louisa May Alcott (1832 - 1888), except to say I must have read Little Women more times over than any other book from my childhood. I identified with the character of Jo, always a "scribbler", and remember how delighted I was to discover that her story was continued in Good Wives, Little Men, and Jo's Boys. During Alcott's childhood in Massachusetts, she was educated not only by her father, Amos Bronson Alcott, but by many of his learned friends, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Alcott was also a nurse during the Civil War, an abolitionist and suffragette. I've long wanted to visit Orchard House in Concord, Massachusetts, where Alcott wrote Little Women. She also wrote Gothic "blood and thunder" thrillers under the pseudonym of A. M. Barnard.

Maud Hart Lovelace (1892 - 1980) grew up in Mankato, Minnesota, a place she would later fictionalize as Deep Valley in her beloved Betsy-Tacy series (illustrated by none other than Lois Lenski). Very much based on her childhood, they took the main character of Betsy from age five to her wedding days. Tacy and Tib, her adventurous sidekicks were fictional versions of her real life best friends. How I loved immersing myself in their lives, replete with happy endings and the sustaining power of friendship. Researching the books today, I realized the series had a definite feminist undercurrent, for the girls had independent dreams and aspirations far beyond the expectations for girls of that time. Her popularity continues today, especially through the efforts of the Betsy-Tacy Society.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Collage Exercises

A playful approach to collage is the best tactic whether just starting out or feeling stuck for some reason. To that end, here are some collage ice breakers.

1. Find an image you like and cut it into 3 or 4 pieces, as in the sunflower above. How do the pieces interact in their new shapes? How can you make a new composition using them in any way but right back together?

2. Take a landscape image or some other patterned design and cut it into some commonly recognized shape: a circle, star, hand, heart or cross (as in the cross combined with the sunflower parts above). Use this as the starting point or repeat with many similar or contrasting shapes. You see this in commercial art a lot lately: the human body in the shape of a field of ragweed for an allergy drug, etc....

3. Take 3 or 4 images about the same size. Cut through all the pieces at once, making the same shapes. This might mean you cut the pieces quite randomly, almost making something like a jigsaw puzzle, or in any combination of known shapes. Take a look at the assortment of shapes you've created and put them together in a new and interesting way. Add to this as needed to form a whole composition.

In general, just sitting down with a stack of magazines, catalogs, etc. and giving yourself the license to cut out whatever appeals to you is the gateway to good collage. Doing collage with a group of friends is always fun, as collage can be very instinctive. Seeing what everyone chooses in the way of images can be revealing! Our obsessions pop right up. Making collages for me is something like a waking dream state, where all sorts of subjects and passions recombine and interweave. For me, collage is a world where all things are possible. Reinvention, integration and revelation sure to follow...

Collage by KAO: Flame of the Flower, 2008

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Collage Online

One of my favorite online diversions is visiting collage-related websites. So today I thought I would share a few of my favorites. First up: Scrapeteria, a blog where weekly themes are
announced and then exemplified daily by a variety of artists. Recent themes have included Weird Headlines, Halloween, Laundry, Assemblage, Pets. I've had one assemblage and one collage featured in the last two months, and hope to continue to find work to submit. Themes are announced every Thursday night.

Collage artist Julie Sadler maintains the website called Collage Clearinghouse, a "place to find all kinds of information about collage". There is such a great collection of links and resources there, I need to spend more time pointing and clicking around.

The National Collage Society, which I joined for the first time this year, lists as one of its purposes as advancing collage as a major art medium, and I'm all for that! I am pleased to be included in their 2010 26th Annual Juried Exhibit. See my piece above, Broken Labyrinth #3.

Notpaper is a Flickr group about collage, as well as a blog. Then there's Collagista, a collage-based e-zine, which I learned about following Cultural Dissection. Lately many of my friends have been exploring SoulCollage, a fantastic intuitive collage process. Global Collage is an interesting, diverse, participatory collage site I just discovered today. Thanks to the internet, there seem to be more places than ever to show and share collage work!

photo: Cut and paste paper collage, Broken Labyrinth #3 by Keddy Ann Outlaw