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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Neighborhood House Street Mural

On a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-September I stopped by Neighborhood House Rainier Vista to sketch. During the summer I had participated in the Horn of Africa Services (HOAS) street mural project, a five-week summer program that introduced local youth to the process of participating in a public art project by designing and painting a street mural in front in their own neighborhood. Because if my summer schedule I was only able to participate in the first three weeks. I knew the project had run into some delays and didn't know what to expect when I pulled up. So I was delighted to find the brightly painted street dazzling in the late afternoon sun.

Neighborhood House Rainier Vista with newly painted street mural

HOAS is a non-profit started back in the '90s by East African refugees. Its aim is to serve refugees and immigrants from Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia and neighboring countries as they settle in the Seattle area. HOAS operates out of Neighborhood House Rainier vista, one of seven branches  scattered throughout the Seattle area.

The summer workshop invited youth ages 10-16 from the local neighborhood to participate. In addition to designing and painting the mural, the project supplied instamatic cameras for the participants to document their community and their experience with the project. Those photographs were displayed at the Columbia City Gallery in mid-August.

The first week of the project we introduced ourselves and told the group what kind of art we like to do. I was surprised to hear at least have of the youth say they liked to sketch best.

The leaders showed slides of different public art murals and discussed the various purposes, themes and styles. We traipsed through the surrounding neighborhood finding examples of murals and getting to know each other a bit more. There was Chau, Mares, Mustaquma, Hamda . . .

Pho Bac on Rainier Avaenue
Consejo Counseling and Referal Services on Angeline Street 

Former Darigold Headquarters on Rainier Avenue 

The next two weeks the group worked on the design elements, discussing themes, styles and messaging. A representative from the Seattle Department of Transportation, the approving agency for the project, gave a presentation and later edited the design.

Some negotiation was required before implementation could begin, giving the students the opportunity to complete an additional smaller garden mural.

But seeing the finished street mural gave me a sense of pride for the program, the leaders and the youth that participated. Its the kind of project I've always wanted to participate in and it was more than satisfying. As I sat sketching the finished mural in the September sun I felt connected to the neighborhood and the people who live there. A mother and child came up to ask me about the mural. "Some kids from the neighborhood painted it," I blurted. I couldn't help adding, "And I helped!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Brooklyn Bridge . . .

I've always wanted to get a sketch view of the Brooklyn Bridge. It's tricky to get a good angle. Buildings and trees block the view. Streets are at the wrong angle. Finally after roaming and cite-biking in the neighborhood, I landed at the park right under the bridge -- who would have guessed--Brooklyn Bridge Park! I worked up some thumbnails to get a feel for the perspective and spacing. 

Different mediums: water soluble, brush and water color

3" x 4"

Brooklyn Bridge opened in 1883 after about 20 years of planning and construction. Story has it that the city partially financed the construction by renting space in the underground vaults in the Manhattan side tower. The vaults maintained an even 60 degrees year-round so it was used to store wine. It was dubbed the "Blue Grotto" because of a statue of the Virgin Mary near the entrance. 

Finally found my spot a few hundred feet from the base of the Brooklyn-side bridge tower. 

Stage 1

Stage 2

Now I'm sort of into bridges. 

the Queensborough bridge from 60th and 1st in Manhattan

Monday, August 29, 2016

Hanging out with NYC Urban sketchers

I'm visiting my daughter in Brooklyn and had made arrangements to join the New York City sketchers. Mark Leibowitz, the organizer for NYC USk, sweetened the pot by choosing my daughter's neighborhood for the site. 

We started at Pier 11 in lower Manhattan - pretty much the southern tip - where a free ferry will deposit passengers first at IKEA, then at Fairway market - about a block from where I'm staying. 

A couple of quick sketches on the boat . . .

Ferry passenger
View from the ferry

First ferry stop
 We hit Hometown BBQ for lunch... 

... then hit the streets. First stop: the Red Hook Yacht Club

Red Hook Yacht Club

A one-time plan to build a trolley system in Red Hook to connect to downtown Brooklyn started with a string of vintage streetcars. Because there is no subway line in Red Hook this was a popular idea.  Back in the '90s Bob Diamond, the visionary for this project bought a dozen vintage trolleys that had been rescued from an old tunnel and arranged for a half-mile of track to be laid back on the streets of Red Hook.  Soon after Bloomberg became mayor of NYC, the plan was pulled from the drawing board. Hurricane Sandy caused more damage to the streetcars and they quickly deteriorated. Recently all the old streetcars were removed except this one. It remains an icon to a different era. 

Street car 3303

In the middle of all this, before doing the sketch of the streetcar, we met at XXX for socializing and show and tell. After a few rounds of whatever you were drinking, each sketcher showed the group their day's work explaining a bit of their process. Everyone at the table, by that time about 10, got full attention from the others as they told the story of their day.  

Later Saturday evening I walked past Hometown BBQ again. The sun was casting a golden glow on the building face and painting the sky a rosey orange. I decided to do one more sketch for the day. After all, that's why I had come to NYC early before the rest of the family arrived for Labor Day Weekend. So I plopped my stool down and proceed to draw yet another sketch of Hometown. 

Then . . . oops. Not only did I misspell "Hometown", but I even put my "correction" in the wrong place. I guess there's a limit to how much sketching you can fit into a day. 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Say a Prayer for Hymie Weiss

I grew up on the south side of Chicago. As a kid I attended classes at the Chicago Art Institute. I also watched a line of policemen protected the first brave families to integrate the beach near our house. The good and the bad of Chicago is a part of my life story. 

When I was about eight, my father joined a plein-air painting group that visited several locations in Chicago's Loop. His paintings are embedded in my memory.

One of my favorites he called "Say a Prayer for Hymie Weiss".  It was Holy Name Cathedral on the corner of State and Superior near Chicago's water tower.  Hymie, an Irish Catholic who became a mob boss and leader of the North Side gang during Prohibition was Al Capone's bitter rival--"..the only man Al Capon feared." (wikipedia). 

On October 11, 1926 Capone's hit men shot Hymie and his buddies on the street. Legend has it that some bullets nicked the cornerstone of Holy Name Cathedral. 

Walking in my dad's footsteps, I found another spot that was the subject matter in his plein-air group -The Chicago Art Institute. My family still has the paining of this same scene done in oils by my dad.

The Ghery Amphitheater was built after my father's time, but it is definitely another Chicago landmark. We were treated to a balmy summer evening concert of Cole Porter tunes pouring forth from the sculpted metal amphitheater. Lit up with pink, blue and purple lights it was like stationary, melodic fireworks.  

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Columbia City Theater

Built in 1917 this little space, the Columbia City Theater on Rainier Avenue in Seattle, started as a vaudeville theater then hosted top jazz musicians Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Ella Fitzgerald in the 40's. 

Later, in the 50's, it was local movie theater where, on Saturday morning, Flash Gordon and the Our Gang series entertained the neighborhood youth. 

Jimi Hendrix played there in the 60's and in the 80's it hosted the punk scene. 

Somewhere in there it closed and reopened in 2010, to become, again, a popular neighborhood landmark and one that always catches my eye when I'm in the neighborhood.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Rainbows and candles shine a light on our grief

I heard about the vigil on my way home from Seattle on Sunday - 7:00 pm in Sylvester Park, the closest thing we have to a town square in Olympia.

I arrived mid-way through, just as the sun was casting it's glow to the treetops. Like Melanie Reim, I felt a little intrusive, standing with my sketchbook. We listened solemnly as speakers vented. I sensed we were all processing the horror of the day's events in Orlando.


Emotions ran high across the gamut - anger, blame fear, empathy, love...  Rainbow flags furled and unfurled with the light breeze.

Candles flickered, but persisted. A minister sang a song, "How could anyone ever tell you, you are anything less than beautiful..."

We wept inside, grieving the Orlando victims, and grateful for community. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Mother's Day Part 2-Emerald Downs

The track seemed to me a bit odd as a place to spend Mothers' Day, but my ninety-seven year old mom seemed excited to go, as much from nostalgia as anything else. She and my dad used to go to the tracks occasionally and it was, after all the day after the Kentucky Derby. It turned out not an odd choice at all for the thousands who showed up. 

Emerald Downs opened just twenty years ago in June of 1996. It's predecessor, Longacres, had been the longest continually operated track on the west coast. The Muckelshoot Indian tribe bought the land , then the building and facilities in 2015. 


The Kentucky Derby had been the day before anomy brother thought "Hangover Day" would be relatively empty. Wrong. It's one of the most popular days of the year, and despite the weather being cool and cloudy, moms were in abundance.

The picnic tables near the paddock and right next to the track are a fun way for families to enjoy the horses and save a little cash for betting. 

I got a chance to chat with Dan Harrington, the track bugler, a classy dude dressed in navy blue tails, black leather riding boots and top hat. When asked how he came by his position, "Well, I'm just a  trumpeter." His 15 year pin hinted of a different story. 

Winnings of the day: $1.60 (minus my entry fee), but way ahead with a fun experience.