Using Text

Makeshift 2019
36″ x 20″ x 16″

There is information invisibly flying all around us, penetrating our bodies, and playing with our minds. It was true even in the days of radio.

To give a nod to this phenomenon, I have used text in my work for years and years. Way before the internet, I was stitching symbols in my work, some unreadable, some not. I made sentences with only one letter per word. “R U M T?” Are you empty?

Digging for pieces of wood at the Goodwill Clearance Center provides me with letters for words/not words in my work. “Melissa and Doug” have a company that makes wooden toys for kids. They are good to stock up on if you work with wood.

In this chair, letters were cut up and applied to the inside of the chair and are not meant to be read. They are just noise, are blackish and work well with the inside of the apron, which is also blackish. The letter “C” sits on the back of the apron.

Because of the power of language, I don’t often compose a real word. It would totally dominate the composition. Even shapes that disguise themselves as being letters, but are not, can be powerful. I sand those letters down, relieving them of some of their power.

Short Colon 2018
42″ x 16″ x 17″

The woman that this chair is depicting is me. The words and letters are not just noise. They are clues. The backward yellow “C” in the front refers to colon cancer, which is why I have a shorter colon than most. Placing it backward and muting its color with sanding cuts its visual strength. I took the word “family”, cut it up, only suggested the “Y”, cut the “F” totally away, and cut the “A” in half, so the word does not overpower the rest of the composition. And so it does not look like a label.

I included this suggestion of “family” because it seems to be our family’s disease.

On the back of this piece, there is another “C” performing a functional job at the top of the left leg. The two other letters here are just noise, a “W” and the “F” from the word “Family” in the other view, presented backward.

Using things backward presents lots of opportunities and allows for a quiet suggestion.


“Baby-Carrier” 2018
38″ x 18″ x 16″

In my current sculpture, I am noticing that compositional ideas ring true in comparison with my older work. Perhaps the personal way one builds a composition is one of those core truths. 

I start simple. Think of a Japanese sumi-e painting: Broad simple strokes, the detail very limited and only as much as needed to convey the message.

In a way, my chairs are composed in the same way.  In “Baby-Carrier” the bones of the chair are simple and strong. As are the bones of a woman of baby-carrying age.  Simple details accompany the chair: An egg, the womb, and an entry mechanism. Not much more.

Even with the strong bones and simple function, the chair is unusable as a seat. That is the point of these feminized chairs. This chair is different from later work, in that the chair is made from the parts of many totally different chairs, save that of the armrest and support element on which the egg is sitting. In much later work, more of the original chair is included making the added detail more like a superstructure to substitute for the missing parts of the chair. 

What challenges me in this work is the interdependence of form and function. The final structure has to support compositional integrity and have enough strength to live in the world. Or be shipped from place to place. 

Then, according to my visual art history, for the next piece, more detail is included. Below is the piece created after “Baby-Carrier”. 

“Dreamgirl”  2018
37″ x 16″ x 18″

And here is the piece created before “Baby-Carrier”, “Young Woman”.

“Young Woman” 2018
39″ x 17″ 18″


Glenn has done a lot of work for Brad and Tracy.  Actually we both have been involved in their recent home renovation.  At a counterpoint in their professions, time and effort outside of that work is finely paired, and their home is a unique expression of their movement in the world.  This is the way you are supposed to live.  Feather your nest with stuff that helps define you as a person.  Act on the stage of that theater; you will feel harmony.




As their boy worked through scouting, they earned “advanced degrees” as well.  Their personal universe is built around the natural world, pulling symbolism from old Indian ways, to which of course the Boy Scouts is more than a little indebted.  Arrows, spirals, rays of sun play in their personal iconography.  The three images above show details of a mosaic “frieze” I did for their sun room utilizing symbols from the Boy Scouts and Indians of the Northwest.  The third detail features an abstracted portrait of the family.  The mosaic is just under the 10 foot ceiling on three walls, and little china bird collectibles found at the flea market are used in several places (I think there is one in the middle of the triangle of arrows in the third image, and top and center in the first image).

The materials used in the house as you might imagine are floor stone, lots of it, fine woods, light and dark, both as structure and as object.  Look at nature and wonder how we think we can improve upon it!  Maybe we can simply organize these wonderful raw materials to do specific jobs.   Glenn has fabricated a limb with branches to help deter rainwater from puddling in the wrong place.

Tracy's tree branch

This steel limb has maple leaves that can be twisted to usher the rainwater into a better spot.


Above is another steel sculpture Glenn did for Brad and Tracy’s home.  It is a life sized fox and bird, with the fox heated to a reddish color and the bird towards blue.


Recently they acquired a huge ancient pot.  More than a thousand years old, they needed a display device to secure it in a home environment.  Tracy bought a deer skin to use for cushioning material. The structure incorporates symbols of the sun and arrows used by Indians.  The arrows will contain the pot.





Arrows keep the pot from moving sideways, and embrace its middle.  The triangular base lends stability.


The hide covers parts of the armature that nobody wanted to see in addition to its cushioning of the pot.


All these natural materials present a lovely almost monochrome composition which contains amazing textural variety.  They are happy, Glenn is happy.  But know what?  I am not going anywhere near that pot!




Perfect for the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, this giant head made of things from the garden.  Only this one is in the Dulwich Picture Gallery Gardens in London.


This one is in Atlanta.  They have also been displayed in NYC and in the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix.

flowe head



four seasons, original and source

Any self-respecting art historian must stop in their tracks in seeing  this.  Great idea, but it has been done!  Good thing the source is mentioned in his artist’s statement.  Some are not.  The image above shows Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s 16th century paintings at the bottom, and Philip Haas’ huge sculptural copies in several locations in this country.

botanical artist statement


The following discussion is from Wikipedia:

“At a distance, his portraits looked like normal human portraits. However, individual objects in each portrait were actually overlapped together to make various anatomical shapes of a human. They were carefully constructed by his imagination. Besides, when he assembled objects in one portrait, he never used random objects. Each object was related by characterization.[2] In the portrait now represented by several copies called The Librarian, Arcimboldo used objects that signified the book culture at that time, such as the curtain that created individual study rooms in a library. The animal tails, which became the beard of the portrait, were used as dusters. By using everyday objects, the portraits were decoration and still-life paintings at the same time.[3] His works showed not only nature and human beings, but also how closely they were related.[4]

After a portrait was released to the public, some scholars, who had a close relationship with the book culture at that time, argued that the portrait ridiculed their scholarship.[citation needed] In fact, Arcimboldo criticized rich people’s misbehavior and showed others what happened at that time through his art. In The Librarian, although the painting looked ridiculous, it criticized some wealthy people who collected books in order to own them, instead of to read them.[3]

another librarian

So, nineteenth century painter Georges Seurat must have know about Arcimboldo’s work while creating his visual language of pointillism.  What is important to note about both of these painters is that they, whether fruit or dots, disappear when viewed at a distance.  That is the magic part.  And even further with Arcimboldo’s work, there was “content” as discussed above with “The Librarian”.


Look at the precision in this portrait made with fish.


These are painted images, not constructed.  They represent a whole different ball game than simply pulling three dimensional masses together.


Now this is just another kind of clever.




Were you ever so involved in a couple of books to the point that your own reality seemed dull and uninspiring? That you could not wait to lay back into those pages whenever you had the chance? In a place like that now, I must recommend my current obsession.
easter islands

Worried about climate change and the fact that most are not paying any attention to it, I was alerted to a great book by an NPR interview with Jerad Diamond, a professor of geography. He won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Guns. Germs, and Steel”, but I’m reading now his work “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed”. He tackles and explains huge climate and societal problems in common language. His title says it all. Societies may be new to an area via colonization, and the imported old ways do not work in the new lands. Religions may make a solution impossible for a certain society. Skills in dealing with the land and climate may not be known by colonizing peoples. Probably the most dramatic example in his book is the old society on the Easter Islands, and their sculptural solution to a problem that needed addressing in a way other than making art. But could they choose another path with the techniques and knowledge they had?


Diamond even looks at our American Montana and problems with water there. It makes one wonder why on earth folks wanted an area without much rainfall to be farms. But it happened, and we (they) have to deal with it. By far my favorite discussion in the book is about Medieval Greenland and the Norse. They lived as colonists for some 450 years, and then were gone. The experiment was unsuccessful. What interests me is what the people thought when realizing that their grandfathers had horses they could feed, that there was plenty of meat for the winter, and vast numbers of seals in the fiords.

Thought of a book, half-read, by Jane Smiley, dated 1988. Read part of it last summer and something from Diamond’s narrative made me get that book out again. She has a huge interest in the Middle Ages and the Norse, and this monumental and difficult book was years in the writing.

the greenlanders

Illustrations (photos) from the Diamond book picture the farms on which the drama occurs in the Smiley book. Going back between the two, the stories are confirmed. They represent two ways to tell the same story: the reporter’s way and the dramatist’s way.

Of course Smiley’s way is the more difficult. The following review attends that issue far better than I am able.

Know this sounds strange, but I could not find a date of publication on my paperback copy of Diamond’s book. And in reading “The Greenlanders”, I was sure that Smiley’s hat would be tipped to Diamond for his research. But “Collapse” was written in 2005! Amazing interface.


Only abandoned.   Said Leonardo da Vinci.

How true in his case.  And he worked in the perfect media where this could easily be the fact.  His unfinished or modified works are staples of the student of art history.


In the charcoal and white chalk on buff paper above, Leonardo’s “The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and John the Baptist”, we can see abandonment by Leonardo.  This is a fine example of Renaissance chiaroscuro, which is the technique where shading by the artist replicates the light areas and shadows that describe a three dimensional mass on a two dimensional plane.   It is these light places and dark places that create the illusion of  a three dimensional mass.  This piece is a tour de force exemplifying this, and is even more interesting in that Leonardo abandoned it giving us the example of contrast.  Look at the Virgin’s feet (she is the one holding the baby), and St. Anne’s upraised hand.  One of the Virgin’s feet is merely an outline; the other features some work, but is nowhere complete.  Likewise St. Anne’s upraised hand,  just behind Christ’s which is blessing St. John, is just taking up space, waiting to be worked on.  It never happened.

There is a lot of visual interplay in this drawing.   St. Anne is Mary’s mother.  Christ is Mary’s child.  This composition describes these relationships by having Mary sit on her mother’s lap, and Christ sit on Mary’s as he blesses St. John.  St. Anne gazes at Mary, Mary at Christ, Christ at John, and John back at Christ.  St. Anne points her hand toward Heaven, mirroring Christ’s blessing. Within these actions is the armature of the whole Christian story!  To the left of this composition, a pattern of knees and legs sets up an interesting rhythm where it is difficult to ascribe the knees to the correct woman.  “Families” are depicted by Mary and Christ mirroring each other in their torsos and heads, as Anne and John do.    Of course, for the beauty of a composition, it was not beyond the Renaissance masters to distort size and shape.

Look at what Michelangelo did with the Mother and Child:


In this “Pieta”, we see Mary holding the dead body of her child.  Look at the pair.  In your mind, make Mary stand up.  She would be enormous compared to Christ, but in the composition as it is, they are a beautiful and rhythmical pair.

Back to Leonardo and our original topic of unfinished works.

mona lisa

What are those two dark half circles on either side of the painting just about at Mona Lisa’s shoulders?  I am abandoning this discussion for another time…


Everything is a composition.  We walk through them and thereby change them.  It can be invigorating or stultifying:  all these continually modified compositions.

Much art is intentional, and creators thought about it more in past times. Various kinds of craft was utilized on the surface of things.   Symbols were added to reflect ideas.  Think about old buildings; the ones some want to tear down now.

That is not to say that symbols are not important now.  Look at the viewing structure at the intersection of the Mississippi and the Ohio Rivers.

1-between ohio and mississippi

This structure is simplified, but even Mark Twain would recognize this as the front of a river boat.  It is perfect for this site.  This is in Fort Defiance Park in Illinois, and in addition to the converging of the rivers,  this was a Union stronghold in the Civil War.  Pretty important piece of land.


Astronaut photo of the confluence of the Missi...
Astronaut photo of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers at Cairo, Illinois. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fort Defiance, known as Camp Defiance during the American Civil War, is a former military fortification located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers near Cairo in Alexander County, Illinois. The strategic significance of the site has been known since prehistoric times with archaeological evidence of warfare dating to the Mississippian era. It is the southernmost point in the state of Illinois. Fort Defiance Park, formerly a State Park, is owned and maintained by the city of Cairo. At 279 feet (85 m) elevation, Fort Defiance Point is Illinois’ lowest point.

Below is an amazing factory.  And the heart of St. Louis with its tentacles reaching out into other venues, the St. Louis Cardinals for one.  The Germans who started this business represent a major immigration to this part of the country.


The buildings within this complex are not short on symbols or surface decoration.  It is not “fluff”.  It is who and what this family and business is about.

Art reflects life.


In this case, Victorian life.  And the value of beer perhaps!  Behind these columns are mash tanks, and here is where the various Budweiser beers are made.  Imagine.

And the symbols here?  Look at the chandelier.  It is embellished by hops.


Of course these Clydesdales are powerful symbols of Anheuser-Busch.

two symbols

And this mash-up locates the place.

1-St Louis Waterfront Trail


Look at these poles.  Don’t they favor the Clydesdales?  These are  in Riverfront Park, and everything is intentional.


Happy New Year from St. Louis!