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

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Friday, April 15, 2011

About a Dog

Artist Nancy Diessner is a dog lover.  She has worked at the Save a Dog Shelter and learned there "that the bond that grew between often-abandoned or abused dogs and the people who adopted them was direct but not simple".  She got to know both the dogs and the people.

She conceived of a project to make portraits of both the dogs and their adoptive people.  Fourteen of these are currently on exhibition entitled "Shelter in Place" at the Bromfield Gallery in Boston.  This Saturday she will be at the Gallery between 1:00 P.M. and 2:30 P.M. doing a free demonstration of her photopolymer intaglio process.

Diessner adopted this "green" (less toxic) printmaking process which makes images have the antique look of a 19th century photogravure.  It's called "photo etching", or "photopolymer gravure" by artists.  She begins with a digital image, photoshops it, then alters it by drawing, painting, or etching on the image.

Then she makes a "positive" transparency of the image on light-sensitive polymer, places it in a vacuum frame, exposes it to mercury vapor and ultraviolet light, and develops it in water.  The light areas harden and the dark ones remain soft and get shallow grooves which retain ink for the final printed image.

Finally, she places the plate on fine printmaking paper and runs it through an etching press.  The resulting prints are mounted on fine Japanese and Vietnamese paper.

Diessner studied painting, drawing, and printmaking at Bennington College in Vermont where she got her B.A. in art.  She went on to Hunter College and got her M.F.A. in painting and sculpture.  She also spent a year abroad before graduating from Bennington and attended the Saint Martins College of Art in London.

She is presently an associate professor and chair of the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies at Chester College of New England in New Hampshire. There she teaches printmaking, book arts, and interdisciplinary courses.  She also developed a non-toxic printmaking studio.

An accomplished artist, photographer, and teacher, she still finds time to work with rescue animals.  This artist's heart is as deft as her talents.  Makes one want to go out and rescue an animal, who, without a doubt, will rescue one right back!

Images courtesy of Jacob Blecher/Daily News and Wicked Local

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Photo courtesy of Zé Eduardo.
Piñatas are popular the world over, especially as part of children's birthday celebrations.  But they have a long history, and in Mexico and Spain they are associated with religious celebrations - Lent and Christmas in particular.  In Spain a costume ball is held on the first Sunday in Lent - el baile de Piñatas - that ends with breaking a piñata.

The donkey is a classic piñata figure.

Like everything with a possible Asian origin, piñatas are said to have been brought to Europe by Marco Polo, perhaps the most amazing man in world history for the ever-increasing number of things he introduced.  The Chinese were said to use decorated clay pots filled with goodies during their Spring Festival, i.e. New Year celebrations.  When broken, seeds spilled out - apropos for a spring ritual -  then afterward what remained was burned and the ashes gathered for good luck throughout the year.

The original piñatas in Mexico and Spain were made from clay pots that were decorated.  The custom of beating them in order to break them open is thought to have begun in Italy.  The Spanish word piñata seems to come from the Italian word pignatta which was a squat clay pot shaped like a pinecone or pigna in Italian.  The Spanish used the word piña or pinecone.  The Latin word from whence both the Italian and Spanish words are derived is pinea (pinecone), from the pinus, or pine tree.

You can get directions to make your own taco piñata here.

The native peoples of Mexico, including the Aztecs and Mayans, also made clay pots, interestingly enough, although these were in the shape of their gods.  They were adorned with colored feathers and hung, sometimes in temples, and filled with beads, painted or colored rocks, berries and nuts.  When the piñata was broken and these items spilled out they were considered gifts from that god.  The Mayans played a game where the person striking at the piñata was blindfolded while he tried to hit it.

Food piñatas photo courtesy of EPA/Alex Cruz.

When the Spanish brought the piñata practice to Mexico it was readily accepted since it was a familiar concept.  But in the 16th century, the Spanish missionaries used the piñata to reach converts.  Cleverly, they made them in the shape of a globe with seven cones coming off it, and this is the standard type of piñata still today.

The classic seven-coned sphere piñata.

The central sphere represents the devil, and the seven cones signify the seven deadly sins:  anger, envy, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, and sloth.  They taught that the blindfolding signified faith, the stick used for beating was the will to overcome sin, and the goodies inside were the treasures of heaven (like the gifts from the gods).  The subtle message the friars were sending was that faith and intention could overcome sin, and with them one could receive the rewards of heaven.

There is a traditional song that is sung while swinging at the piñata, of which the following is one variation:

Dale!  Dale!  Dale!
No pierdas eltino,
Porque si lo pierdes,
Pierdes el camino,
Esta piñata es de muchas mañas,
Solor contiene naranjas y cañas.

Give it a hit!  Give it a hit!  Give it a hit!
Don't lose your aim,
Because if you lose it,
You will lose your way,
This piñata is wily,
But it only contains oranges and sugar cane.

Although the traditional shape is still the sphere with seven cones, today one can find a wide variety of shapes, including caricatures of popular figures and celebrities:

It's very interesting that the New World had a tradition similar to the Old World before they interacted.  It is also very interesting that this tradition has not only endured throughout the centuries, but has become popular internationally.  Maybe there's still hope for world peace - no, wait, the commonality was beating with sticks, as is the popularity.  Oh, well.....

Unless otherwise noted, images courtesy of piñatas.com.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Title is Tilde

A diacritical mark is a glyph added to a letter or a basic glyph.  It comes from a Greek word for "distinguishing".  The tilde is a diacritical mark most often seen over the "n" in Spanish, to signify a palatal nasal sound like an "ny".  It is also used in Portuguese over a vowel.

The tilde originally was used by medieval European scribes who mostly wrote in Latin.  If they came to the end of a line without finishing a word, they left off the final letter and drew a line over the letter after which the letter was omitted.  Or they would use it to save space.  In Latin, this line was called a titulus, which meant "superscription, something written above or outside something else".  It was especially used to abbreviate Latin words ending in "n" or "m".  The titulus could also be used within words, thus annus (year) could be abbreviated añus.
As the everyday Latin spoken in Roman Spain developed into Spanish, the double "n", as in annus, developed the "ny" palatal nasal sound.  So that word was pronounced "anyo" in medieval Spanish and still is today.  There are other antecedents for the "ny" sound.  Some are from the Latin consonant cluster "gn" as in lignum, which in modern Spanish is leña - firewood.  Another source is "ni", as in the Spanish word for stork, cigüeña, from the Latin ciconia.  There was no letter in the Latin alphabet for this sound, so Spanish scribes used the titulus to represent it, as many sounds came from the "nn" that they were accustomed to writing as "ñ" in Latin.

Image courtesy of Vivekanandan Manokaran.

The use of the tilde in Portuguese for a nasalized vowel comes from using the titulus to abbreviate the nasal consonants "n" and "m".  The Portuguese pão, the word for bread, comes from the Latin panis.  Another example is mão,  "hand", from Lat. manu.

The early Catalan language borrowed the world titulus from Latin and changed it to tilte.  The order of the "t" and the "l" was reversed as Latin morphed into Catalan.  Spanish changed it further to tilde.  A similar letter reversal occurred with the Spanish word cabildo from the Latin capitulum - the chapter of an organization.

In old French the Latin titulus became title, and that word made it into Middle English.  It eventually appeared in modern English as the word for a description or name written over a passage or the head of a book as in the title of a book.  So tilde and title are the same word etymologically.

There are other uses for the tilde.  It is commonly used in math to indicated an estimation or an approximation.  You will find it in dictionaries used by itself to mark the omission of the entry world.  No doubt it will be employed in other uses as time goes on.
Images from free download sites, except as noted.
For an excellent chart on how to type common diacriticals on a Mac or Windows, click here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

California Sunshine

Orange blossoms and fruit.  Image courtesy of Ellen Levy Finch/Wikipedia.

When I was three my parents bought their first house.  We moved to the new city of Granada Hills in the northern San Fernando Valley.  Right across from us was a hill, which is unrecognizable today with all the development, that was bare except for an old stone wall and a line of trees.  About a mile or two away was the San Fernando Mission, and between them were Sunkist orange groves.

Ambersweet oranges, photo courtesy of USDA.

The smell of blossoming oranges is still one of my favorite scents.  To get to the hill or the groves and mission my little buddies and I had to cross two very busy boulevards - Rinaldi or Sepulveda.  In the days before freeways, these were the main routes to get anywhere, so we were forbidden to cross them by ourselves. Therefore, of course, we crossed them all the time.  The orange groves were gorgeous when blossoming, and once they fruited we were there daily.  The pickers would throw us oranges and we would gorge on them.  Happy times.

In the 1880s oranges were packed in the orchard like this one in Pomona.

A few decades later and I had occasion to consider those groves again.  I worked for the Southern Pacific and one of my buddies had the same days off as me.  We used to take at least one of our days off and do something off-beat.  One day he said we were going to a meeting of fruit label collectors in the Valley.

We went, listened to their speaker, entered a drawing for some labels, and bought some.  We went several times, until they changed their meeting day, and met some really interesting people.  I still have those labels in my safe and secure SSSNEICFI (Someplace So Safe Not Even I Can Find It) where they await my framing them.  Next house.

Today Sunkist Growers, Inc. is one of the ten largest marketing cooperatives in the U.S.  It is a not-for-profit organization composed of California and Arizona citrus growers.  The cooperative markets oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and tangerines in the U.S. and abroad.  Owned and controlled by its members, a majority of which farm 40 acres or less, members are the only individuals eligible to sit on its board of directors.  It is headquartered in Sherman Oaks, California, in the San Fernando Valley.

First formed in 1893 as the Southern California Fruit Exchange in Claremont by P.J. Dreher, the Exchange included growers and groves in Pomona, Riverside, and San Dimas in Los Angeles County, as well as Santa Paula, Saticoy, Fillmore, and Piru, among others, in Ventura County.  By 1905 the Exchange had 5,000 members - 45% of the California citrus industry.  The name "Sunkist" was adopted in 1908 to refer to their superior citrus, making the Exchange the first to brand fruit.

1940 movie queen wannabees pose with their favorite fruit.

The events that promoted the growth of the citrus industry prompted the eventual formation of the cooperative group.  One of these was the California Gold Rush in 1848.  As waves of people came to California to make their fortunes, the state was hard-pressed to provide food.  Fruits and vegetables, in particular, were in short supply, thus much of the new population developed scurvy.  Citrus production increased as a result; lemons brought a price of one dollar each.

The next momentous event was the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1870.  The first Special Orange Train left Los Angeles River Station on February 14, 1886 via the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads and went to the Missouri River.  Ten years later more than 2,000 cars were shipped annually, and five years later that number doubled.  The planting of citrus groves also increased. Between 1880 - 1893, the citrus acreage in California went from 3,000 acres to more than 40,000.

River Station was Los Angeles' only depot in the last 1800s. 

But during this boom and all its profits, growers began to watch everyone else making big money on their fruit, agents in particular.  The growers were making "peanuts".  Things got worse when agents decided not to purchase citrus fruits F.O.B. - freight on board.  (This term is used for purchases where the buyer pays shipping costs and assumes risks of damage and delay in shipping not caused by the shipper.)  The agents insisted that they would only handle the fruit on consignment, which shifted all the risks to the independent growers.  There were years of losses - the "Red Ink" years - which forced them to rethink their position. They realized that they had less and less power over their businesses, and decided collective action was called for.

"Orange Week" in Iowa with California oranges.

Although other attempts made to band growers when commission houses refused to purchase fruit F.O.B. were futile, they laid the foundation for the Southern California Fruit Growers Exchange's success.  The Exchange was a federated structure, member-owned and operated, composed of regional marketing cooperatives called district exchanges.  Through regulating shipments and sending fruit where the demand was highest, the Exchange made an immediate and profitable impact on its members.  At the end of the first season growers realized about $1 per box, up from $.25 per box that they were likely to have made without the Exchange.  This prompted other growers to join.

1932 California Fruit Growers Exchange coloring book.
Image courtesy of Doug McIntosh.

As other areas witnessed the benefits of the Exchange and wanted to join, particularly growers in the San Joaquin Valley, the Exchange extended its range to include growers from the entire state of California, dropping the word "Southern" from its name.  The Exchange owned little besides its office furniture - no groves or property, no interest in the packinghouses or district exchanges.

In 1907 the Exchange formed its own timber supply company when it was unable to obtain a steady supply of wood for packing crates at a reasonable price.  The Fruit Growers Supply Company was also one of the Exchange's early attempts at advertising.  The wooden shipping boxes were 12"x12"x27" with labels that were 10"x11" on the ends.  Growers and packers created their own labels.  These wooden boxes were used until the mid-1950s when they were replaced by cardboard boxes with preprinted labels.  This abrupt change left large numbers of unused labels, which were gradually depleted by collectors.

In that same year the Exchange launched the first perishable food product advertising, using the Sunkist brand name.  Today that Sunkist trademark is one of the most recognizable trademarks in the world. In 1952 the cooperative changed their name to Sunkist Growers.

Sunkist soft drinks, at left in English, right in Chinese.
Image courtesy of Ichabod/Wikipedia.

When revenue dwindled due to their production exceeding local markets, new venues were needed.  The cooperative's first big foreign market was Europe.  By the late 1960s more than 12,000,000 cartons were shipped abroad annually, and they controlled about 80% of the citrus crop at home.  Membership soon dropped, however, endangering the cooperative's survival.  Membership requirements were relaxed, overhead costs reduced, and a new subsidiary - Sunkist Real Estate, Inc. - was created to offer members real estate, financial, and investment services and short-term financing.  Membership increased, and the cooperative endures.

The Sunkist brand now represents 600 products in over 45 countries on five continents, although not necessarily their own products but under their license. Sunkist soft drinks are produced by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, Sunkist Fruit Gems are a soft fruit candy made by Jelly Belly, and Sunkist Fruit Snacks, Fruit and Grain Bars, and baking mixes are made by General Mills.  By licensing the Sunkist trademark, the cooperative significantly augmented their revenue.

To think it all started with oranges, a hybrid fruit with an ancient pedigree, thought to be a cross of a pomelo and a mandarin.  Oranges originated in Southeast Asia, and were cultivated in China by 2500 BCE.  The name came originally from the Sanskrit, passing through numerous intermediate tongues.  (Sanskrit nagarugam, Persian nārang, Arabic nāranj, Spanish naranja, Late Latin arangia, Italian arancia, and old French orenge.)  The first appearance of the word in English was in the 14th century, and the name of the color, taken from the fruit, appeared in 1542.

I'm guessing no one is in favor of getting rid of these immigrants...

Unless otherwise noted, all images courtesy of Sunkist Growers, Inc.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Snippy Art

Contemporary Chinese example (for Year of the Dog) in a style that is
like the 6th century form.  Image courtesy of Fanghong/Wikipedia.

Papercutting is the art of cutting out paper designs.  Cultures all over the world have their own unique styles of the art.  No surprise that the oldest known papercut is from 6th century C.E. China, as the Chinese invented paper.  The traditional style of papercutting is Jian Zhi and red is the most commonly used color. Predominantly Chinese Zodiac animals are used.

The art is alive and apparently doing well in China.  Among the many websites dedicated to it, China Art World features some excellent artists in this medium, some whose work is shown below...

Peony Flowers by Ye Kai Yuan.

Old Bejing Scene - "Lao Beijing Bing Tang Hulu" - artist unknown.

River Dock by Gao Dian Liang.

There are also some extraordinary contemporary artists who choose to work in this medium.  One of the well-known ones is Hina Aoyama.  Born in Yokohama in 1970 she currently lives and works in Ferney Volaire, France.  She has been doing her lacy papercutting since 2000, aiming to make the finest cuts in order to replicate the look of lace...



Bovey Lee works with Chinese rice paper made from mulberry tree bark.  She was born in Hong Kong and currently resides and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She holds two MFAs - one in painting from UC Berkeley, and a more recent one in digital arts from the Pratt Institute.  She combines her knowledge of traditional and digital arts in her paper works.  She works from a digital template, using an X-acto knife to do the cutting...

Power Plant - The Capture of Pieta, 2008.

Little Crimes (detail), 2008.
Tsunami-Enmeshed, 2008.

Peter Callesen is a Danish artist who works almost exclusively with white paper. He mainly uses A4 sheets of paper, stating that it is probably the most common media for carrying information.  By stripping the information and using blank white A4 paper sheets that we all can relate to, he seeks to use its neutrality and create different meaning.  His paper sculptures (made only of paper and glue) expand into space.  An amazing and thoughtful artist, he has become very well-known...

White Hand, 2007.
Half Way Through (detail), 2006.

Distant Wish, 2006.

Down the River, 2005

Kara Walker, a California-born artist, was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World, Artists and Entertainers, in 2007.  She is best known for black cut-paper silhouettes that are room-sized.  In 1997, when she was 28, she became one of the youngest people to receive a MacArthur fellowship. Her work explores race, gender, sexuality, violence and identity.  She currently lives in New York, and is on the faculty of the MFA program at Columbia University...

Camptown Ladies
Cut, 1988

View of Walker's installation at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,
10/11/07 - 2/3/08.  Photo courtesy of Sheldan C. Collins.

I remember doing a silhouette in grammar school and cutting it out.  My German grandfather also did some simple cut-outs to amuse me.  But I never dreamed of anything like the work above.  Thankfully we are not created equal in our talents, and some people have such a high level of creativity it takes my breath away and inspires me to use mine.  The artists featured here are a "cut above" when it comes to executing their ideas.

Please click on the artists' links to see more of their excellent work!