Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts Exhibition - Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

Pretty much everything has been canceled this weird year, and the Minnesota State Fair was no different. There were still two ways to get in though, through a food parade for cars, and a Fine Arts exhibition - and both sold out immediately (I'm showing off a bunch of works because most likely you didn't get to see them - and there was a WHOLE bunch more - these were just our faves). The highlight of the fair every year for my Mom and I (after the fair food and people watching, of course), is the Fine Arts Exhibition, so we were stoked to get our tickets for last Saturday. (This first piece depicting the Fair was called The Great Microdoodle Get-Together by Jeffery Gauss of St. Louis Park. The images are made up of words, in a feat you'll see the detail of below. It got 2nd place in Drawing!)

It was super extra strange to 1) be able to drive directly into the Fairgrounds, and 2) have absolutely no one on the Fair streets. Bizarre! We drove past the Culligan free water booth (empty) and parked right next to the Fine Arts building. They had timed entrances, so there were never that many people in there. Masks were required and hand sanitizer was available, so it all felt pretty safe to take Mom along with me - as she is the real artist in the family. It's always jam-packed in there during the normal Fair, so it was really nice to get right up close to all the pieces, without anyone in our way (especially with a wheelchair!).

There was a ton of art to see in our allotted 90 minute time-slot, and we saw every piece. I was thinking of the classic Bertolt Brecht quote all through the exhibition ... "Art is not a mirror to reflect reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." This was clear in so many of the works, with several works depicting George Floyd and the Summer of Uprising that began in Minneapolis this past May with Floyd's murder by the MPD. There were also many pieces reflecting on the pandemic that we're all still very much in the middle of. Those issues and the classic works depicting Minnesota life were the vast majority of the show, and I found myself once again both proud and impressed that so much intelligent talent comes from here. The first piece depicting George Floyd (and all the chaos we're still dealing with to demand social justice and racial equality) was by Andrea Canter of Minneapolis, and was simply titled, George.


I feel heartened by the fact that there were so many works about this subject, which means it's still on peoples' minds, which means maybe this time really will be different. I know that I'm very determined personally that it WILL be different. It HAS to be. David P. Biljan of St. Paul showed his photograph Building Will Fall - Lake Street 5/31/20, and it took me right back to being there that day. Heavy.

George Floyd Memorial by Jerry R. Wiese of Stillwater offered his take on the George Floyd momentf, and it was no less powerful.


The emotion of Floyd's family visiting that memorial was captured in a photograph by Craig Lassig of Minneapolis. Keep My Brother's Name Ringing (2nd Place, Photography) showed Floyd's brother in prayer, with the plea that we will all make sure is fulfilled. Say his name! GEORGE FLOYD!!! (Seriously. Right now. Please stop and yell his name!)

And while you're at it ... say ALL of their names - as there are many. This is why we march. This is why we create. This is why we must put an end to systemic racism ... because it keeps happening! And we can't let it anymore. We just can't. So Say Their Names too - as Jill Whitney-Birk of Minneapolis asks on her mixed media piece of embroidered paper on wood panel. 

None of us will ever forget George Floyd saying "I Can't Breathe!" and Eduardo A. Colon of Minneapolis gave us this reminder with his photograph, Stand

The aftermath of the Uprising this Summer left a lot of people and their businesses in upheaval, but every story I've heard has the shop owners understanding the WHY that it all happened and is happening. If only some of our white citizens could find such clarity in their own hearts. devastation and determination by Chad Niemeyer of Oak Grove gave us a glimpse into this special kind of dignity. 

My Guernica by Laura Hanson of Anoka reminds us that we all live in a melting pot of immigrants, and that this land is for ALL of us. Protesting in the streets for a better America is about as patriotic as you can get, no matter what our delusional President and his minions might think. 

The Breaching Of The Third Precinct by James Murray Casserly of Minneapolis already has an iconic air about it ... just as that historical moment in time did. Never before has a police department just abandoned their station and let protestors take over, and they must have realized that they had lost this night ... and if we do something right, they will lose their sense of being above their own laws, if not abolished completely, as they are clearly unable to be reformed. I hope this image haunts all of the MPD for the rest of their brutal lives. As it will haunt all of ours. 

After the fires came the clean-up, and the beautiful memorials. The sense of community in the days that followed was simply beautiful, and again made me proud of the fine people that came together to try to help make things better - for everyone. And still are. And will continue to until there is a tangible, noticeable, ACTUAL change in place. Systemically. No Justice by Robin C. Lietz of Minneapolis illustrates that fact - that if there is No Justice, there can be no Peace. Period. So get with the times.

There is a concern that people will just move on, and forget all of this past Summer's movement for a better world ... but I think that's impossible. To hear George Floyd's last words as he died under the knee of a man paid to protect and serve him ... is to never forget. We all watched for 8 Minutes 46 Seconds that are permanently etched into our minds. David Smith of Eden Prairie captured them for us just in case you ever get amnesia. 

Not exactly on topic, but certainly part of the problem is shown in Incarceration Inc. by Sasha M. Rayl of Hopkins (Honorable Mention). The inequity of People of Color behind bars must also change, which goes along with the police treatment of them. It must change. It WILL change. 

These pieces were all spread out in the exhibition, so it wasn't totally heavy throughout, but I thought it best to put them together here to feel the weight of it. And how much it really does weigh on all of our minds. The pandemic pieces made me feel much worse, for some reason. The isolation, the fear, the solitude, the death ... it doesn't have the same hope that the fight for social justice has. Quarantined Again was a sculpture in walnut by George G. I. Moore that kind of summed it all up for me - and Mom. 

I loved the piece You by Rebecca Pavlenko of St. Paul (Not for sale!) in colored pencils and micro-pens, because it made me think of all that makes up an individual, and their place in the cosmos. Remarkable what a simple three letter word can conjure up - as all of the best art does. Did I mention how GOOD it felt to be back at a public art show again!!! Ahhhh ...

 If things got to feel too weighty for you at this show, all was well, because there was plenty of plain beauty as well. Mom and I both loved this gorgeous autumn day (though we're not ready for the actual autumn that roared in on Labor Day like it knew!) depicted in oil by Leanne Hanson of Crystal in her Blazing Fall Sunset. Wow. 

If you're from Minnesota, you love a loon (the state bird). Emily Donovan of St. Paul showed some cool ones in her Chasing Loons, done in natural dyes and pigments on paper with beeswax. Neato!

A deer is just about as iconic as a loon in Minnesota, and one of my very favorite pieces in the show was Buck Wild In The Woods With Friends by Kristi Abbott of Minneapolis. How beautiful and creative and woodsy and excellent. Look at the other animal faces in the trees! It needs to be over a Minnesota mantel. 

There's a reason the Minnesota basketball team is called the Timberwolves ... as wolves are also an iconic Minnesota sight. 

The one by Erik J. Fremstad of Victoria called Canis Lupus was like the State Fair doodle one ... all made up  of words! It must have taken him forever, but the effect must also be totally worth it. We remain wowed. And so was everyone else, because this piece won Fremstad the Peoples' Choice Award!

Surprisingly, there was no work this year featuring the icon I think we're most proud of, Prince, but there was a depiction of Bob Dylan by Jeff Rodenberg of Shoreview that filled the musical Minnesota void, in a very cool, geometric way. 

Betsy Bowen of Grand Marais has long been one of my favorite artists in Minnesota, with her very Minnesota woodcutting pieces.  Her Birches would be perfect in any Minnesota home ... and if I was at all sure as to where I belong at the moment (REALLY missing Venice, CA ... but Mom), it would be at my own pad, trust that.

Another highlight of the Fair each year for us is the farming stuff (I LOVE a Farmer. I was a Farmer's Daughter - until he moved to the city and then died, a story for another day). The baby animal barn, the food, the blue ribbon pies ... all that Harvest-time, wholesome goodness. The Melon Farmer (First place!) was especially cool as he was done by Nifty Nikki (!) of Mizpah in paper quilling! That had to have taken forever, but it sure turned out great.

Pentimento by Preston B. Lawing of Winona was cool ... and had a little AC unit attached right on to it (earning him an Honorable Mention).

Erik Jon Olson of Plymouth must be pretty cool, because his art sure was - and thoughtful. She Wore Green Velvet: Portrait Of The Mississippi Watershed was a mermaid type of gal made entirely of quilted plastic waste, earning Olson First Place in the Textiles class, as well as the Textile Center Award for Excellence and Innovation. Well done!

World Of Haute Couture by Janine Olmscheid of Shoreview had a similar vibe, as it was made from paper folding and hand stitching, and you know I love me some fashion. And maps. Very cool.

Another one made from fabric that I loved was Morning Fog At Blue Mounds by Nancy Birger of Roseville. I was just in Blue Mounds State Park the week before, and her work beautifully captures the sense of peace that overtakes you in that prairie vista. Lovely. 


It amazed me what one can do with colored pencils, and the beauty of Barn Owl With Io Moths by Julie Greenwood of Burnsville fully dazzled me. Like my adult coloring book is no match fot what this lady can do. So beautfiul. 

We also loved the stained glass mosaic work of Mimi T. Leminh of Chaska in her piece called Homeward. It calmed me down, and took me somewhere tropical ... and simpler. Thanks, Mimi! 

Sharing that tropical vibe was another one of my very favorites, She Makes Rain by Chholing Taha of Anoka. Oil, acrylic, mixed media, gorgeousness. Loved it so much. (And it definitely brought the rain).

Oil painters that are so realistic that they can make things look like photographs are so impressive to me, and Cynthia L. Higgins' portrait of Undredal Norway brought us right into the Scandinavian fishing village ... via paint. Amazing!

Equally impressive was the oil painting of Downtown Minneapolis by Leila Rastegar called Sunset Over The Bridge. This beauty touches my heart, because this is the city that I'm from, this is the city where I'm so hopeful that real, systemic change that will make the whole world better began this Summer of 2020, and this is the city that I love.

We made it through the show with just a few minutes left in our time slot to spare. There is SO much that I didn't put here (or I'd get carpal tunnel), that you should really see, and you still can look at the show's catalog, where I believe some pieces are still for sale. Artists need our support more than ever now, so if you see something you like, reach out to them to see how you can give a home to some of their work. Because, don't forget, art can be the hammer that shapes our world. Here is a photo of two happy ladies who finally got to see art in person again (and not just on plywood covering up windows, though all of that work was great too!). Art saves.

Love to everyone from your art lovers in Minnesota!

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

A Dignified Birthday In South Dakota!

2020 has altered a LOT of plans, and that's what happened to my birthday plans this year, like everyone else. As it's been an extra difficult year for me and mine (like everyone else), I really wanted to get away and do something special ... but that was not to be. Or was it? A closer, actually do-able plan took shape, as I've been dying to see the statue Dinity: Of Earth and Sky, located in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

I booked a room and put Mom in the car, and we set out to drive hours across the dusty, hot plains to look at a statue at a rest stop on the 90 freeway overlooking the Missouri River ... and it was totally worth it. I actually got a little emotional when we pulled up, as even just the word DIGNITY is so loaded to me right now. I thought it was funny to say "I'm aging with Dignity!", because I really want to (A lady doesn't share her age, but just know that I could legally be President. And probably should be.). But also the Dignity of our Native people, who have been so mistreated in this country, but are still so beautiful and resilient, and yes, DIGNIFIED, that it's very emotional for me. The racial unrest in this country also came to mind, as well as my Mom who has handled losing her leg with such dignity, and she was with me, and had me on this day, and we were together doing fun things in spite of it all  ... so yeah, loaded. 

 The 50 foot tall Native woman created from stainless steel by sculptor, Dale Lamphere, is one of the most stunning works of sculpture I've ever seen. 

Three different Native women served as the models for the Plains woman receiving the traditional Star quilt of the area tribes. The blues in the quilt are representing the water and sky that surrounds it. It's something else. I met a lot of people there taking pictures and generally standing around in awe as the sun set into the river. Many of them did not know this work of art was here and were just going to the rest stop where she resides. A few, like myself, were there as their final destination, like the female biker couple who had ridden 500 miles from Iowa just to see her. I understood. 

When the sun sets, Dignity lights up and becomes even more beautiful.  We visited the Akta Lakota Sioux Museum the next morning, and they told us that they are going to be adding fringe to Dignity's quilt, so they will move in the wind. And now I have to go back. 

The museum was awesome, with a ton of information about the Dakota, Lakota, and Sioux tribes of the Plains - as well as an awesome gift shop. It's located on the campus of the St. Joseph Indian School, a free boarding school for Native kids to learn and keep their traditions alive. Super cool. 

There is a beautiful medicine wheel outside, where my Mom offered up a prayer to all of the directions. I can't believe I had never been to South Dakota before, and am so happy to be able to check off another state on my list. I will say that not a single person seemed to care about Covid in South Dakota, so that made me a little bit nervous with Mom, but we took every possible precaution and stayed far away from others. No masks, everything was open (even pool and hot tubs!), and I overheard an old dude say "I turn down my hearing aids when anyone brings up Covid." Yeah. So, use your best judgement. 

I was tempted to keep on going to the Black Hills and The Badlands, but we only brought enough meds for the one night, so back we had to head. I think I'll wait to hit those more touristy spots until all of this mess dies down, but now I know that I'm really into it. I didn't get a chance to respond to any birthday messages or anything with all of the driving, so please don't feel bad if I haven't called you yet - I will! 

We headed back to Minneapolis in 100 degree heat, but we had the air on in the car so it was fully pleasant as we watched all of the gorgeous scenery fly past (80 is the legal speed in SD!). I had heard about a new mural in Mankato, Minnesota that covered huge silos, so that's where we headed next on the way home. 

WOW. The work by Guido van Helten is about the same height as Dignity (maybe taller), and depicts Native kids in what looks like a black and white photo but is in fact a painting. I had to climb down across some railroad tracks (and wait for a massive cargo train to go by) to see all of its angles, and it really is something else, there for everyone to see as they fly down Highway 169. 

 Birthday 2020 definitely had a Native theme, and I'm so happy that at least this part of the world shows them the absolute reverence (and apologies!) they deserve. This is truly THEIR America, and it's high time we all start acting like it. Thanks. 

Yesterday was also the picture wrap of our documentary film, 90291: VENICE UNZIPPED!! The crew had some pick-up shots to get yesterday, and when they were done they FaceTimed me and I talked to and thanked everyone for all of their passion and hard work from the side of the road in the 100 degree South Dakota sun ... and was once again emotional. We could never have imagined how much things would change in the world during the production of this film ... and make our topics of income inequality, gentrification, homelessness, and art in our BELOVED Venice even MORE timely. 

Everyone kept their heads down and continued to do the work, and now we will have a beautiful, important film to share with the world, and maybe help to make it a little better. I'm SO proud of the crew, and of this film, and of the wonderful hearts, minds, and souls that made it all happen. I'm bursting with love and just can't wait for it to be out in the world! 


So, Birthday 2020 is behind me and now I can kick off a new, cool year ... PHEW! Made it through another one! Gratefully, for sure. Please put beautiful Dignity on your list of must-sees, because it's just stunning (and I think a lot of people just fly by the hill if they don't need the rest stop, because the Missouri River lying ahead is so majestic you might now even notice the sculpture up above unless you know about it)!

THANK YOU TO EVERYONE WHO CARED AND MADE ME FEEL SPECIAL AND LOVED! I love you. I thank you. I hope I can actually party with you soon! I can't wait. Love, your Ceej

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

A Violin Vigil For Elijah McClain At The Minnesota State Capitol - HalleluElijah!

There was a violin vigil for Elijah McClain last Saturday at the Minnesota State Capitol, and it was beautiful. McClain is the young man who was murdered by Aurora, Colorado police in one of the very most disturbing police murders ever committed. Easily one of the most kind and gentle souls ever to live on this planet, McClain spent his free time playing his violin for shelter kittens. His last words to the police and EMTs that were busy murdering him were absolutely crushing ...

"I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here... My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies. I don’t eat meat. But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better... I will do it... I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. I'll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work."

Now, if you aren't destroyed by that, you don't have a soul or a heart yourself. So, there was no question that I HAD to be there for McClain last Saturday, since no one was at the time of his murder. The event had been re-scheduled from the previous Sunday due to weather, and it looked like rain on this day too, but there were still hundreds that showed up to pay their respects to a life taken far too soon.

I was startled to see a big crowd with no masks and giant U.S. flags yelling about whatever, and soon figured out that it was a group of MAGA fools there to protest about wearing masks. UGH. They're all so idiotic and heartless that I don't even want to mention it ... but they were there, trying to disrupt a gathering in honor of someone who was murdered for absolutely nothing by the people meant to protect and serve us. But these mouth-breathers thought they'd mar the proceedings by exposing themselves to the Corona virus. So free of them. It's sad when the sight of our country's flag now makes me sick to my stomach, because usually these days it's being held by someone who actually wants to destroy our country with their ignorance. I walked right through the middle of these fools with my BLACK LIVES MATTER shirt and my mask in full effect. No one said a word to me directly - but I almost wish they had.

I thought I was late to the proceedings, but there was just a big crowd (very socially distanced and masked, it's important to note - good hearts also seem to have smart minds) kind of sitting around waiting. Booths were set up to buy merch, register to vote, recall Mike Freeman (YES!), and sign a big banner to send to the family of Elijah McClain so they may know that people all over the world care about their Elijah very much.

There were a few speakers, from WeareoneMN.Com (the organizers), and we got to hear from Courteney Ross, the fiancée of George Floyd. What she said really stuck with me, as she said she'd been all fired up to go confront the Trump people across the street, and really get into it with them. Then she realized that we get nowhere with hostility (as they show us every day), and that if she were to go over there and find common ground, that would be the way to heal and go forward for us all. How full of grace to feel like that when the love of your life has been murdered by police, there has been worldwide outrage, and these people still come and try and add to her pain. I need to be more like her - and told her so afterward.

There were over 50 violinists and cellists there, and as rain started to sprinkle down, they gathered in front of the steps of the Capitol to play three selections for Elijah McClain. They began with "Hallelujah", and though I've heard it enough for many lifetimes, it was heartbreaking and gorgeous as these players did it for Elijah. Sniffles could be heard all across the lawn, as we were all thinking about this gentle young man, and how he didn't deserve to die, and MUST get the justice he deserves. In fact, just yesterday there was another incident in Aurora, CO, where their AWFUL police forced a Black family - including a little girl in a pink crown! - to lie on the hot pavement while they bungled about figuring out they had pulled over the wrong vehicle - an SUV vs. a motorcycle at that! This murdering department can obviously not be reformed, and MUST be dismantled - as well as have all of those brutes locked up FOR GOOD. My blood just boils thinking about it.

Back to the calming music for Elijah ... the musicians next gave us "Stand By Me", and then finished with "Somewhere Over The Rainbow", and it seemed at that moment that a rainbow would actually be likely, but not this time. It was incredibly touching, though brief, and I'm very glad I was there to show my support. I made a new friend at the Recall Freeman booth, a lovely woman who was wearing a shirt that said, "I can't keep calm, I have a Black son". Now, if that doesn't hit home with people, I don't know what will. The big thing missing for a LOT of people who want to hear only themselves talk is EMPATHY. People need to step out of their own biased brains for a moment and just think about what it would be like it this was YOUR son. If it was YOUR family. Once people can gain even a tiny bit of empathy for someone other than themselves, you start to have a working society for everyone, you get the justice that is deserved, and you fulfill the original intent of this country, which really was LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL - not just you.

When the music was over, there was a long line to sign the banner for the McClain family, and a lot of smaller groups breaking apart to talk, plan, organize, and hope - for a better future for us ALL.

Please PLEASE sign the petition that demands justice for this dear, sweet soul. PLEASE SIGN TODAY!

Thank you, thank you, thank you ... and I hope you know how much people care about you, dear Elijah.