Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Local Art Happenings As We Enter the New Year

In a few hours 2014 will come to a close. For many of us it's been a year of both achievements and disappointments, a year of satisfactions and sorrows. And a year rich in beauty. After a lingering look back, we turn the page and turn our faces to what lies ahead. I sincerely hope that for each of you 2015 will be a very special year in a way that deepens some aspect of your life in a profound way.

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Pink Aspens by Kenneth Marunowski
Here in the Twin Ports the art scene is bursting out of the gate like a flash-bang. There will be some exciting openings over the next ten days. If you can make any that will be good. If you can make all, that will be great.

Esther Piszczek's Visions at Benchmark Tattoo.
The opening will be this Friday, January 2 from 6-9 p.m.
Benchmark Tattoo, is located at 1831 E. 8th Street.  Her Zentangle-inspired art will be on display through the end of the month. And if you're interested in doing Zentangle creations, she teaches classes. You can find her on Facebook or email at

Kenneth Marunowski will be sharing new work for the month of January in the Zeitgeist Atrium.
The opening for Ken's show is Monday, January 5th at 7pm, which will include free food from the Zeitgeist Arts Cafe and half-price whiskey.

Marunowski is originally from Ohio, having received his Bachelor degree at Kent State. His plein air painting and drawing is stellar. Having also studied French he spent his junior year abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France at the Marchutz School of Painting and Drawing. (I'm jealous.) You can read more about the artist and this event here.

Ineke Grounds is the featured artist for January at the Red Mug Coffeehouse in Superior. The opening is slated for Thursday January 8. The show spotlights new work and is titled Bloom. The Red Mug always assembles wonderful receptions, and the time is just right for the after-work crowd, 5 - 7 p.m. I hope to see your there.

Second Friday Art Crawl
There are at least three places in Downtown Duluth where a art-fan can walk, talk and gawk on January 9.

The PRØVE Collective has announced the theme of their January event as Vestiges. In addition to being a release party for issue IV of their PRØOF Magazine, there will be an art exhibition featuring work pertaining to the impact of new media on old media. In addition to featuring art & writing by Jeremiah Moriarty, Sharon Rogers, Susanna Gaunt, Sheila Packa, Robert Adams, Hanna Newman, Devon O’Shaughnessy, Kevin Ealain, Darren Houser, Deanna Erickson, Andy Mattern, Samuel Orosz, Ed Newman, and em westerlund, featured artist and writer Brian Beatty will be reading from his work along with other select writers. 7 - 11 p.m.

If you like the early part of the evening for art before getting dinner and taking in a show, you can begin a few blocks east at Pierce & Piszczek Fine Pianos, 405 E. Superior Street. This is a joint art exhibit with nature photographer Ladona Tornabene, Ph.D. and Esther Piszczek. The artwork is displayed in a setting of beautiful, new YAMAHA and vintage pianos. Light refreshments will be served.

For your libations after these two shows, head over to The Red Herring on first street and check out the work of Patricia Canelake. It's always full of life.

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One final item of note: Today in 1869 French artist Henri Matisse was born.

During the year ahead... let ideas challenge you and beauty wash over you. Have a truly great 2015.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Little Known Fact about the Squirrels of Ohio University

In the second quarter of my senior year at Ohio University in Athens I lived in an efficiency apartment downtown. My one room space was upstairs in the rear of the building next to an exit where rickety black metal stairs zig-zagged down to the alley.

One morning in early spring as I stepped out the door onto the landing I noticed a squirrel affixed to the wall about eight feet above my shoulder. He had a look of terror in his eyes. I attributed it to his situation, seemingly stuck on the wall and unsure what his next move should be. He was approximately three stories from the ground and I surmised that this would be a nasty fall should he leap and fail to reach the staircase.

Though he may have simply been spooked by my sudden appearance, my heart went out to the cute little critter. I decided to fetch a broom which I proceeded to hold out toward where he tightly gripped the bricks. Springing into action, he bounded down the broom handle, sharp claws startling my wrist as he leapt to the stairs and scrambled to a more sensible place to play.

This memory came to mind this weekend while I was doing research on the concerts I saw at Ohio University from 1970 to 1974. From one website I was able to download the History of Ohio University, which though incomplete on the matter of concerts did make for an interesting read. For example, I learned that squirrels were intentionally introduced to the campus in 1908. They were Ivy League squirrels, brought here from Harvard University. The OU Board of Trustees felt this wildlife would benefit the university.

I, for one, never knew our squirrels were imported. I do know that they were appreciated.

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Photo Credit: This one is actually a Minnesota squirrel, captured and shared by John Heino Photography. We cannot tell precisely what his alma mater is, but we're working on it.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Year In Review: Artist Interviews 2014 -- July thru December

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” ― Thomas Merton

Large abstract by Elizabeth Kuth
The power of art cannot be overstated. It's been a privilege getting to know so many interesting artists again this year while writing for the Reader and by attending shows. I'm continuously surprised by the evocative power I encounter in the work of so many artists here in our region. And there are still so many I have not yet written about. What follows are interviews with artists from the second half of 2014, some of whom are among the most compelling I've encountered yet.

Carla Hamilton is back in Duluth after 18 years in Germany.

Brent Kustermann believes it is the artist's responsibility to bring a unique perspective to the world.

Hong Kong born International artist Simon Ma showed his work in Miami.

Young Saydee Lanes has honed her talents admirably.

Sue Rauschenfels continues to show her work in a variety of venues.

Impressed by a visit to the studio of Elizabeth Kuth on Island Lake. Read both Part One and Part Two.

Among other things Elliot Silberman has been doing portrait drawings for near forty years. This is another two-part interview. Read Part One and Part Two.

Sculpture by Timothy Cleary
Joellyn Rock of UMD adds her insight into this year's major Sophronia Project.

Timothy Cleary of UWS has been producing sculpture that is nothing short of astonishing.

Twin Cities artist Kyle Voigtlander showed his work in Duluth this fall.

Fatih Benzer is another impressive painter here in the Twin Ports.

Stephanie Johnson's wilderness-inspired art reflects her way of life.

Dan Neff is one of several area artists specializing in glass art.

Dana Mattice stepped in as temporary director for the Duluth Art Institute.
Fatih Benzer
All-in-all it has been an exciting year in the local Twin Ports art scene. Best of all, there's always more to look forward to.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Year in Review: Artist Interviews 2014 -- January thru June

Inside the studio of Eric Dubnicka
Another year is coming to a close. Everywhere you look there are magazines touting the top news stories of 2014, top people, most important events and all the rest. In keeping with previous years I like to summarize the artist interviews I've had the privilege of sharing. Bring your laptop to the fireside and curl up with your favorite libation. Here are some of the interesting people I've enjoyed getting to know a little better in 2014.

Karen Sunderman of the Playlist.

Local painter Adam Swanson has gained increased visibility this year.

Eric Dubnicka remains productive.

Here's part one of Teresa Kolar's two-part interview, which continues here.

"Stewardship" by Marian Lansky
Marian Lansky continues to impress.

Sarah Riley discussed the value of art in therapy.

Karen Owsley Nease brought her vision to the North Country this year.

Andrea Boyadjis also shared insights about art therapy and its importance.

EJ Arnold's background is apparent in his drawings.

Painter/sculptor Erik Pearson completed a new mural in Superior.

Kathy McTavish broke new ground with her multi-media expressions.

Joel Moline shared the secrets of printmaking with four other artists in May including Cecelia Lieder and Joel Cooper.

The Sister Mary Charles exhibit that Peter Spooner curated was a highlight of the Tweed this year.
(Here's the second half of the Spooner interview.)

Performer Gretchen Seichrist talked about her painting, her gallery and her music.

Teresa Kolar, inspired by horses.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Student Artists Can See Their Duck Drawings Become Stamps: Call for Art

If you're an art teacher, perhaps your students might enjoy a project like this to tackle. Here's the press release that ended up in my inbox.

Call for Duck Stamp Art


December 23, 2014
Contact: Lynda Knutsen
218-449-4115 Ext. 202

Draw a Duck to Conserve Wetlands 
Entries Being Accepted for 2015 Junior Duck Stamp Contest 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting entries for the 2015 Federal Junior Duck Stamp Contest, which in Minnesota is administered by Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge. Student artwork will be judged in four grade groups: kindergarten through third, fourth-sixth, seventh-ninth, 10th-12th. Submitted artwork must feature a native North American waterfowl species. A full list of permitted species as well as an entry form and information about the contest is available at

Three first place, three second place and three third place, along with 16 honorable mentions will be awarded in each age group. In addition, the conservation message and special student honors will be awarded. The artwork will be judged on original design, artistic composition and suitability for reproduction on a 1-inch by 1½-inch stamp.

A Best of Show entry will be selected from the twelve first place winners and entered in the national contest held in April. The national winner’s artwork is used to create a Junior Duck Stamp each year. The stamp is available for $5, with proceeds used to support conservation education and contest awards. Entries must be postmarked by March 15, 2015, and mailed to Agassiz National Wildlife Refuge, 22996 290th Street NE, Middle River, MN 56737. For more information, contact Lynda Knutsen at 218-449-4115 or

The Federal Junior Duck Stamp Program is a dynamic educational program designed to spark youth interest in habitat conservation through science, art, math, and technology. Students in kindergarten through high school are encouraged to interpret the natural world through artistic expression. By providing a basis for participation in the Junior Duck Stamp Design Contest, the activities encourage students to move beyond simply "learning about" wildlife and wildlife art to testing their abilities as wildlife artists. The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service.

For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit http://www.fws/gov Connect with our Facebook page at, follow our tweets at, watch our YouTube Channel at and download photos from our Flickr page at

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Photo courtesy John Heino Photography.

Remembering My Father

“I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.”
― Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum

My father, Lee Newman, when he was young.
There are many factors that conspire to make us who we are. Genetics, heritage, and the choices we make interweave to produce unique individuals, to such an extent that for each of us who can say how much of what we are is from within ourselves or from our heritage. It is one of life’s great mysteries.

There are over seven billion people in the world, with untold numbers of families. I have had the privilege of being born into a family where a man loved his wife, where Christian values were respected, and where responsibility and the possibilities of tomorrow were sown in my heart.

I think about these things because today, the day after Christmas, was my dad's birthday. He would have been 86 today.

When he died in 2006 I wrote a tribute to him for his memorial service that included many memories from growing up including deep sea fishing off the Jersey shore, milk shakes at McDonald's, the fort he built for us in our back yard, searching for crawdad's at Tinker's Creek, going to see the Indians at Cleveland Metropolitan Stadium, and the magic tricks he brought home to us from business trips where he had to be away, but had not forgotten us. (All four of us boys ended up trying to be magicians in one form or another as boys.)

Pitching horseshoes in their Florida community.
Another of Dad’s qualities was his humility. He never boasted of his strengths, never put himself forward as something he was not. The spring he passed away he won the horseshoe championship at their winter home community in Tampa. Mom was the one who told me because for Dad to say something would sound like boasting. But when I congratulated him on his achievement, he simply replied, “Well, I was lucky. All the better horseshoe players had a bad round when they played me.”

That’s only half the story. After Dad died, his pitching partner came to Mom’s trailer to ask what kind of horseshoes he threw. We found the shoes and cited the brand. Mr. Smith said, “I pitched shoes with your Dad every day. Your dad was the best.” I never would have known that.

Dad on the floor with my son Micah.
I likewise appreciated the fact that his family seemed his most important value. Whatever he was doing, it seemed that he would drop it if we asked him to play a game with us, or give us his attention. He didn't say it often, but showed it always that we were more important than nearly any earthly thing (except maybe Mom.)

Growing up he had a pretty hard life. They lived in a three room house, six kids in the living room, and my grandparents in the bedroom. No bathroom, or basement or attic. He was the oldest son and responsible to keep the furnace going in the middle of the night. Years later when I asked him about how we came to stay in furnished cabins on vacations, he said he'd roughed it enough while growing up.

When Mom took her four boys to church on Sunday mornings dad stayed home and listened to classical music while reading the newspaper. He'd grown up in a Nazarene church that practiced religion, not Christianity, and was through with that. My own enjoyment of classical music began in those early days with his Beethoven symphonies 5 & 6, Echoes of Offenbach, Scheherazade, and Dvorak's New World Symphony.

Dad's last birthday.
He was punctual to a fault, and wise in the way he handled money, enabling us to to grow up enjoying a better life than he'd been able to experience. He believed in education and hard work, and assumed a measure of responsibility in ensuring that we got a good start on our own life roads by buying a house in one of New Jersey's best school districts and helping us get a college education.

He didn't touch alcohol. He'd seen up close the pain alcohol could cause and this wasn't something he wanted to invite into our home. Pepsi became the drink of choice in our house, which in my teen years he had delivered in bulk so as to save money.

Dad was the major male influence in my life. He always remained involved with whatever I was doing. Even though he seldom if ever voiced it, mom said he was proud of my accomplishments as an artist or later a writer, even though growing up I always had the feeling he'd like to have seen me become an engineer. He hung some of my paintings on the walls of our house. He visited us in Mexico and wherever we lived in Minnesota. He never stopped being involved in my life, and I never stopped being his son.

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It seems like something more should be said here in closing, but not everything has been said. Which means maybe next year this tribute will have to be continued. 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mary Did You Know?

This was sung at out Christmas Eve Candlelight Service last night... a song of pondering and wonder.  

Mary Did You Know

Mary did you know that your baby boy will some day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you've delivered, will soon deliver you.

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God.

Oh Mary did you know
The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb.

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven's perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you're holding he is the great I am

Words and music, Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene. 

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For the story behind this song that has been recorded over 400 times since penned in 1984, read Martha Drake's interview with Mark Lowry.

May the Spirit of Christmas live year-'round in your heart. "And God bless you, every one."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ten Minutes with Duluth Art Institute Interim Director Dana Mattice

When Duluth Art Institute director Annie Dugan took a leave of absence to become a mom this year, it didn't take long for Dana Mattice to take the reigns as interim director and fill Annie's big shoes. Dana stepped forward and showed once again what depth of talent and experience we have in this community.

Dana Mattice
EN: What was your background before becoming part of the DAI staff?

Dana Mattice: I’m from central Wisconsin originally, and then lived in Houston, TX, for seven years before moving to Duluth. I worked as a publicist at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and was able to work on promoting a lot of great projects, including the renovation of our Arts of Asia galleries and the building of the Arts of the Islamic World collection; the launch of a Latin American art database; various exhibitions; and the museum’s film program and Glassell School of Art. It was exciting to work with talented people on such a broad range of happenings.

I continued doing some PR work for the MFAH as a contractor when I first moved to Duluth, working specifically on the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY show, and then I did a bit of freelance arts reporting in Duluth and Houston. One assignment had me traveling up the rugged Gunflint Trail and then hiking across a frozen lake to interview painters participating in the Grand Marais Art Colony’s winter arts festival. They were out there in freezing temperatures, painting landscapes! That was a great introduction to art in this area. I also joined the board of the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, where I participate in business meetings and review grant applications, and I started volunteering with the DAI, assisting them on their special events and fundraisers, before being hired.

EN: When did you first take an interest in art?

DM: I have always been interested in art since I was a child. My dad worked at a paper mill, so there was always abundant paper to draw on, and my mom is a wildlife painter and crafter who encouraged my brother and me to be creative. In high school, I was lucky to take a Humanities course my freshmen year that introduced us to a little art history and provided field trips to the art museum in Chicago, which was a revelation. And then I went on to study art in college, and was exposed to even more.

EN: Are you yourself an artist and what media do you work in?

DM: I always struggle with this question. If you define an artist as someone who makes art, then yes, I am an artist. I paint, and I dabble in creative writing as well. But I would not call myself a professional/working artist, as my output is not steady, my practice has been fairly private, and I have not been actively showing or selling work.

EN: Who are your favorite artists?

Karen Nease will be featured in a show this spring.
DM: I am always looking at art, so my “favorites” continually change. In Duluth, I’ve been enjoying the weekly pictures that Tim White curates online in the Selective Focus series on Perfect Duluth Day. I made it out to Adam Swanson’s mural unveiling at the Spirit Mountain Chalet, and it was fun to see his work so massively sized (and I’m thankful for the public arts commissioners who make stuff like that possible). There have also been some recent openings that I have not been able to get to yet, but hope to catch: Patricia Canelake at the Red Herring Lounge; Bob Pokorney at Lake Avenue; and the UMD faculty exhibition, What We Do: Art & Design Faculty Biennial, at the Tweed.

It’s been fun to discover art further afield in this region, too. I was in Kohler, Wisconsin, in the summer and was blown away by the Kohler Arts Center’s Arts/Industry show. I worked in a factory to help pay for school, and the idea of having artists embedded into a factory environment and given those tools of production to make art was really exciting to me. The exhibition was just stunning, and I’m keeping an eye on what they do over there. And I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts earlier this winter and was happy to see a solo installation by Andy Messerchmidt, an Ely-based artist who was awarded Best in Show in the DAI’s 2012 Arrowhead Regional Biennial, as well as The Nature of Nature. Alec Soth, Kiki Smith, John James Audubon, and ancient Chinese ink drawings are just some of what is on view together, connected by theme, and it makes sense. That show really had me energized!

On my wish list is a trip to the South Dakota plains the next time Duluth-based artist Catherine Meier has one of her site-specific installations up. I’m amazed that she animates these large-scale graphite drawings and then places them right in the landscape, and I’d love to sit with one and experience it. There are many more fascinating and skilled artists who I won’t get to mention. There is so much happening in the arts that excites me.

EN: What kind of formal training have you had?

Dana takes a moment to experience the lake.
DM: I studied Art and English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I had a life drawing professor who was really influential for me, David Becker, and I took every class with him that I could. I was also able to take classes on contemporary art with Michelle Grabner, who introduced us to current practices and really shook things up at the time. But otherwise I was sort of all over the place as an undergrad art student, experimenting with everything—and it was a blast! And I kept learning more and more art history on the job, and I continue to take classes here and there as an adult. That is something else that I appreciate about the DAI—the opportunity it gives to people to be life-long learners. We can all acquire new skills and expand on what we know and do, or take a chance and try something totally new.

EN: What does a DAI director do all day?

DM: I’m really thankful to have joined the Duluth Art Institute team, and acting as interim director during Annie’s leave has had me wearing many hats! I meet with the DAI board of directors once a month, as well as with the subcommittees that further support specific efforts. And I connect with artists showing with us; individuals collaborating on projects; our members and visitors; media contacts; corporate, foundational and individual supporters; and more. I work on grant applications and reports, news releases, magazine text, social media posts, e-newsletters, appeals, proposals, membership letters… the list goes on! A big accomplishment was planning and executing the annual fundraiser at the Kitchi Gammi Club this fall. I’ve also tackled public speaking, giving a presentation at the rotary club and making remarks at DAI events, hopefully drawing attention to the artists and other participants who are at the heart of what we do.

We are looking forward to Annie’s return in the New Year, and I’m sure she would have even more to add to the list of what a DAI director does. She is a terrific leader with a real vision for the organization, and boundless energy to see it through. Tyler and Shannon are great assets as well: incredibly hard-working, passionate about the arts, and skilled in their fields. I’ve been really fortunate to work with them. And Amy Varsek has done a great job installing art for us, and we’re excited to have her come on board as Education Director in 2015.

EN: What are you working on now that has you jazzed?

60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial
DM: I’m looking forward to the annual membership exhibition and “Emerging Photographers” in January, as well as our roster of spring shows. We’ll have some really dynamic work on view, and I can’t wait for the new installations!

I’ve also been working on “Plein Air Duluth: Paint du Nord,” a festival and exhibition slated for summer 2015, which was envisioned and planned by Annie and a team of local artists and is supported by the Depot Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. Lake Superior, the boreal forest, and the many historic buildings abundant in Duluth are a source of inspiration for local plein air painters. They travel to Grand Marais, MN, and Port Wing, WI, for festivals, but Duluth has not had a dedicated event of that scale. I think that this will be something really exciting for the city as a whole. There will be group painting events at the rose garden, Glensheen Manor, and Lester Park, and artists striking out on their own anywhere within a 30-mile radius of Duluth. It will be really cool to see sites around our town enlivened by artists out and about, shining new light on familiar people and places. And then the work will be on view and for sale in an exhibition in DAI galleries, and Andy Evansen will select prize winners with a $1,000 first place prize to be awarded. We are accepting submissions for participants through January 30.

* * * *
Photo Captions
Karen Nease is shown with a painting in the Biennial. She builds almost sculptural layers of paint in her depictions of the Lake Superior horizon. Found Horizons: Karen Owsley Nease will be on view at the DAI April 30-June 4, 2015.

60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial at the DAI, on view through February 15, 2015

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The King's Speech Revisited

Just finished watching The King's Speech again. What a contrast between this film and the myriad superhero flicks that have run amok through theaters in recent years.

I wrote about the film in 2010 when it first came out, more or less citing the significance of the story it was based on.  A few additional features of the film caught my attention this time around.

The film centers on two main characters; "Bertie" (Colin Firth), the Prince of York who ultimately assumes the throne when his brother abdicates, and Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), the speech therapist who ultimately helps Bertie find his voice.


The Prince of York has a speech impediment that shames him and the film begins with his giving a speech, quite badly. It ends with his first radio speech to the nation as king in an effort to inform his people of the impending war.

One of my favorite pieces of classical music is the second movement of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. It broils with tension and has been used effectively in the climactic scene of this film. It was served up with equal power in Immortal Beloved during a scene in which Gary Oldman as Beethoven has his carriage stuck in the mud while on the way to an important tryst. There are few pieces of music that so effectively convey anguish.

But King George prevails, and he delivers his lines with authority.

The second thing that struck me was the parallel to my new children's book A RemarkableTale from the Land of Podd. Just as England was on the threshold of war, so also the king in my story is in trouble, with enemy troops on his country's border. He needs a hero to save the land, but everyone he asks to help is more aware of his or her shortcomings and refuses. The king in my story also has an issue to overcome. Instead of a speech impediment, he doesn't like his feet. Either way, the important thing is to take action.

We all have shortcomings that we're often painfully aware of. This should not disqualify us from doing our part when called upon.

"and even though he didn't like his own feet..."
Read more about The King's Speech.
A Remarkable Tale is available online here.

Live courageously. The world needs your voice.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Culting of Brands, Dylan and Modern Celebritydom

About ten years ago Douglas Atkin, a New York ad man , wrote a book titled The Culting of Brands. It was a marketing book showing the similarity between great business brands and cults. The notion is initially creepy as when we think cult we think of Jonestown and the downside of drinking the Kool-Aid.

Atkin created a profile of the kinds of people who join cults, and then demonstrated how these characteristics are precisely what draw people to strong brands.

His profile of people who join cults goes like this:
1. Feel different from the world around them, alienated
2. Open to or searching for a more compatible environment
3. Looking to feel a sense of security and safety in a place where being different is perceived as a virtue.
4. Presents opportunity for self-actualization within the new, like-minded group.

Atkin’s premise is that some companies appeal to people with this profile, which thus creates extremely loyal customers. Harley-Davidson is one example. Apple/MacIntosh is another. NFL football teams like the Green Bay Packers have likewise become brands.

Over the years I have thought a lot about how modern celebritydom is a form of brand building. In our modern celebrity culture people themselves become brands. The term "brand" originates with the branding of livestock, as in an identifying mark seared on cattle with a hot iron. The term has come to mean "a type of product manufactured by a particular company under a particular name." It's a strange notion to think of celebs as products, but in a sense this is precisely what they have become.

Chuck Norris comes to mind here. He's a symbol. Yes, the guy is a real person but we only encounter the image that has been crafted, which may be altogether different from the man. Or it may not be, I wouldn't know. What we see is the branded product, not the person.

I have never combined this idea (celebrities as brands) with the notion of cults before, so this blog entry is an off-the-cuff exploration of that idea.

David Kinney's The Dylanologists was the first book that I know of to make an in-depth study of the various kinds of Dylan's fans. I'm not sure if there's ever been a similar book written about any other modern celeb's fans and followers. Much has been written about the paparazzi who mediate fandom to the wider public, but I know of no such book about Brad Pitt's, Madonna's or the Rolling Stones' fans.

Let's break it down based on Atkin's proposition. Do Dylan fans share a sense of alienation from the world around them? It's possible there's something in this. I was experiencing a measure of existential angst as a youth when Dylan's music first caught me. That's just anecdotal. That's also just the nature of youth, isn't it? Do MacIntosh fanatics share a sense of alienation? It's a stretch, though I did know a few die-hard Mac users who saw Big Blue as the enemy and mainstream computer companies as the herd to be avoided. Carrying this to Dylan diehards like Glenn Hertzler, who has attended 100 Dylan concerts or more, most are probably self-aware enough to know they are different from the mainstream. Does this give them a sense of alienation? I doubt it.

As for Atkin's second point... Does being around other Dylan fans make one feel they are in a more comfortable, compatible environment? Again, the cult comparison feels extreme because I don't think the Dylan fans I know are incompatible with other interests and groups, but it's true we enjoy being around people who share our interest in all things Dylan. This would seem to apply to people whose share an interest in avant garde art, Latin American literature or travelling abroad.

Are we looking to feel a sense of security and safety in a place where being different is perceived as a virtue? I don't know. I can see how cults wear a badge that says "being different" is a virtue. When I carry this notion over to Harley-Davidson owners, who spend gobs of money customizing their bikes and attire to make a statement about their identity, it's possible this can have a cult-like flavor to outsiders.

Maybe it's all part of humankind's search for meaning. We like the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. But is this really why people become fans of brands, and in this instance celebrity brands? When I listen to the stories others tell, including David Kinney's and my own, Dylan's music resonated with us and initially it had nothing to do with a larger body of followers whom we discovered only later, though it's true that later we did indeed become aware of our not being alone with our passions.

The last point regarding self-actualization, hmmm. Google says self-actualization is "the realization or fulfillment of one's talents and potentialities, especially considered as a drive or need present in everyone." It is the peak of Maslov's hierarchy of needs. Is this really the driving force in our untiring interest in Dylan's music and other accomplishments? I have a hard time connecting all those dots.

According to about education, Maslov defined self-actualization this way: "What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization... It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming."

Is this what keeps us coming back to the well?

I vaguely remember an article thirty or forty years ago predicting that there would be a future religion around Bob Dylan. This is exactly the kind of thing Dylan found repugnant. Being head of any movement was not his thing. He was not aiming to be anyone's spokesperson. But despite these disclaimers his career has been one of continuous crafting and re-configuring of the brand he's become. And there is something akin to religious fervor taking place with each new release of archived recordings and new discoveries regarding every facet of this man's creative output.

I s'pose this is enough for today. The Browns game is on and those fans really are a cult. No matter how much they/we suffer, seems like we can't escape.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Each day is a gift. Unwrap it and celebrate.

EdNote: Dylan photo submitted by Jose Enrique of Spain.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating and Other Cervantes Quotes Worth Prolonged Pondering

Don Quixote de la Mancha
“The proof of the pudding is the eating.”
 ― Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

There's nothing quite like a quote with pith. What I find amazing is how many of the maxims we use today come from two sources, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes.

In earlier times (two decades ago) every serious writer owned a handful of companions: Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, Roget's Thesaurus or Rodale's Synonym Finder, and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, along with a good dictionary. Today, writer's still keep a copy of The Elements of Style close by, whereas the rest is accomplished with a Google search, which is how today's collection of quotes were assembled.

Shakespeare and Cervantes were contemporaries. One lived in England and the other in Spain. Both were poets and playwrights. The latter's most significant work, Don Quixote, is frequently cited as the first modern European novel. It's influence has extended globally and through the centuries.

My first exposure to the story of Don Quixote was through the 1972 Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha. (I saw a local troop reproduce it at the Morristown Theater.) It made such an impact, young idealist that I was, that years later I purchased Dale Wasserman's book and a CD of the soundtrack which I'd listened to so frequently I probably knew every song by heart. Eventually I borrowed from the library an audio book of the original source for this inspired work, Cervantes' magnum opus.

Among the many sayings that have been extracted from his work, this is a good starting point: “A proverb is a short sentence based on long experience.”

What follows is a small selection of such proverbs Cervantes left for posterity. They are best enjoyed while reading slowly so that the flavor may be savored.

“Honesty's the best policy.”

“All sorrows are less with bread. ”

“He who sings scares away his woes.”

“Thou hast seen nothing yet.”

“There were no embraces, because where there is great love there is often little display of it.”

“Time ripens all things; no man is born wise.”

“Facts are the enemy of truth.”

“Hunger is the best sauce in the world.”

“Those who will play with cats must expect to be scratched.”

“The pen is the tongue of the mind.”

“Virtue is persecuted by the wicked more than it is loved by the good.”

“Drink moderately, for drunkenness neither keeps a secret, nor observes a promise.”

“What man can pretend to know the riddle of a woman's mind?”

“Make it thy business to know thyself, which is the most difficult lesson in the world”

“In order to attain the impossible, one must attempt the absurd.”

“The wounds received in battle bestow honor, they do not take it away...”

“Diligence is the mother of good fortune.”

“Until death it is all life”

“One who loses wealth loses much. One who loses a friend loses more. But one who loses courage loses all.”

“Many go out for wool, and come home shorn themselves.”

“Good painters imitate nature, but bad ones spew it up.”

"Can we ever have too much of a good thing?"

"To give the devil his due."

"Plain as the nose on a man's face."

"Why do you lead me a wild-goose chase?"

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

"All is not gold that glisters."

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If you like these, here are some sources where you can find more.

Meantime... make the most of your day. '"It's good to live and learn."

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dylan's Concert For One

If you're a regular follower of the Never Ending Tour, then this is old news... but it was fun to find that last month in Philadelphia Dylan assembled his team to do a concert for one. It seems our man Bob is determined to continuously confound. Who would have thunk he'd do a Super Bowl commercial? We've known he was an artist but who expected a sculpture show? A radio hour, books of his paintings, and other surprises seem to pop up in unexpected ways.

That's what makes sites like so much fun to visit. The contributors are committed to sharing the never ending story.

For the concert in Philadelphia on the afternoon of November 23 only one ticket got sold. There were plenty of seats, but a very thin audience. That lucky patron was a Swedish fan, Fredrik Wikingsson who has a television show there... in Sweden, not Philadelphia.

Here's a video about the event, Experiment Ensam, contributed by Egil Mosbron.

Or if you prefer the music alone, here's another source.... now being shared by popular demand. Yes, he's still the king of cool.

The set list that afternoon went like this:

1. Heartbeat (song by Buddy Holly)
2. Blueberry Hill (song by Fats Domino)
3. You're Too Late (song by Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams)
4. Key To The Highway (song by Charles Segar)

Historical classics and tributes, and none of his own songs. Maybe this is in part prelude to his own upcoming album in which he does Frank Sinatra covers, though this Forbes story claims that Dylan is not really doing covers, but rather is "lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day."

I began checking out the lyrics to these songs and found something else they have in common. Or thought I had. Fats Domino's classic begins, "I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill." It's just a line nearly everyone is familiar with.  The Buddy Holly tune Dylan began with also had the word "thrill" in it.  "I know that new love thrills me..." he sang.

This got me thinking I'd found something. So I checked out the lyrics to You're Too Late.

If I had someone that's true
It would thrill me through and through

There, it's another thrill. When I finally scanned Key to the Highway, my investigation broke down and I realized I'd been overthinking it.

Anyways, the concert must have been a thrill, even in its brevity.

Keep on truckin'.

Dylan the Elder Statesman painting by ennyman.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DAI Membership Exhibition Announced

Detail of piece by Adam Swanson,  a local painter. 
One of my favorite art events each year is the Duluth Art Institute Annual Membership Exhibition which holds its opening celebration sometime in January. Nearly half the members of the DAI hold artist memberships and are thus invited to contribute something for the show. The show is exciting because it features new work by area artists, that is, work that has been created in the past year.

The opening reception this year will take place January 22 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Union Depot (506 West Michigan St) and is free and open to the public. During the reception, everyone in attendance is invited to cast a vote on a write-in ballot for a favorite work. The ballots are counted that evening and a People’s Choice award is announced at the end of the night.

“We like to think of the Annual Membership Exhibition as a ‘show-and-tell’ for the past year in the arts,” said DAI Interim Director, Dana Mattice. “It is a great way to check in and see new work by familiar faces, as well as to discover new artists. The exhibit is really representative of the Twin Ports visual arts scene and is one of our most popular shows.”

Last year there were nearly 200 pieces on display. Those who can't attend this year's opening are encouraged to visit the Depot's Great Hall during a lunch break or weekend afternoon through February 15 to soak it in.

Official sponsor of this year's event is U.S. Bank.

In addition to the Membership opening on January 22, the DAI will also celebrate the opening of Emerging Photographers: UMD Photography Students, on view January 22—March 31, 2015 (sponsored by True North Color Lab). George Morrison: Drawing at the Horizon is on view through February 8, 2015 (sponsored by the Depot Foundation and the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation); and the 60th Arrowhead Regional Biennial is on view through February 15, 2015 (sponsored by North Shore Bank of Commerce).

* * * *
Speaking of calls for art, here's a reminder of the Vestiges call for art and stories from PROOF Magazine.

Of Note: Tonight Teague Alexy will be featured at the Third Thursday open mic at Beaners Central from 7-9. I believe he will be reading from his new book, How Lefty Stepanovich Turned Water into Wine. These Third Thursday open mic nights have become a fun event, interspersed with trivia and prizes.

While on the topic of books, my new book A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd is not yet in book stores, but can be found locally at  Beaners in Duluth and The Red Mug in Superior, as well as Goin' Postal on Tower Avenue.  And if you're not in the neighborhood, you can find it online here at

Meantime... art goes on all around you. Celebrate it.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On the Ground Floor: My Steppenwolf Life by Margie Marcus

1990 groundbreaking at the new theater. 
There's a saying that every person has a story. Over the course of a lifetime I've observed that some people have many stories. One of these people is Margie Marcus, whom I met earlier this year via the internet when she was on a quest to find Tony Scaduto. Scaduto had played an instrumental role in her efforts to meet a man who changed her life, Bob Dylan. That was quite a story.

As we corresponded, she began sharing more stories with me, stories about Ralph Gleason, Lenny Bruce, Joseph Heller, Studs Terkel and others whose lives intersected her own in various forms as a result of her mid-life "awakening." Ultimately this led to her sharing with me her Steppenwolf experience.

It's a story I've wanted to share not because it involves celebrities we're all familiar with. Rather, because she exemplifies what it means to roll up your sleeves and make a difference.

The Steppenwolf Theater is now world-famous and recognized as an important piece of the influential Chicago theater scene. But it wasn't always so.

Margie's passion for the fledgling theater group propelled her to not just buy tickets to see the performances but also impelled her to step forward to ask, "How can I help?" She ultimately became a member of the board, making sacrifices to do what she could to help the Steppenwolf grow.

Here's the link to a rewarding and lively read--> On the Ground Floor: My Steppenwolf Life.

Margie sharing a light moment with Albert Finney at unveiling of new theater.

Photo, Top Right: 1990 Groundbreaking for the new theatre at 1650 N. Halsted. Jeff Perry, co-founder and daughter Zoe in front with shovel. Back: Randy Arney, Tom Irwin, Laurie Metcalf, Terry Kinney and Fran Guinan.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Local Art Seen: Benchmark Tattoo's December Show

Saturday between book signings, my son and I went up to check out the December show at Benchmark Tattoo. If you're in the neighborhood, you should check it out. They're in the new building kitty-corner from Sara's Table/Chester Park Cafe. Since their opening, Kyle and Dane have utilized a portion of their space as an art gallery, with track lighting installed to highlight the works they display.

This month's show features clusters of paintings by each of the various artist's they have represented since opening this summer along with a preview of works by Esther Piszczek, who will be the featured artist in January.

Here's an overview of the work. To fully appreciate it, check it out in person. Like a good poem, art is to be savored in an unhurried manner. Take your time and engage.

Jeff Dexheimer
Kristin Grover
Carla Hamilton
Katheryn Lauer
Ed Newman
EdNote: Esther Piszczek's Zentangle-inspired work not pictured here.

* * * *
Today's Trivia: French architect and engineer Gustave Eiffel was born on this day in 1832. In addition to the tower in Paris that takes its name from this man, he was responsible for designing the armature that holds p the Statue of Liberty.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Local Art Scene: A Few Images from Yesterday's Action

Interesting configuration of the numbers yesterday. Saturday the 13th, which turned out to be 12-13-14. I don't think anything like that can occur for nearly a hundred years, can it? (On August 9, 2110 it will be 8-9-10. I don't think January 2, 2103 counts, unless you accept the abbreviated 03 and called it 1-2-3, but I am going to rule that out.)

There was a lot happening yesterday. In addition to numerous collections of artists in various locations (Lakeside, Superior, London Road) Chris Monroe had a book signing at the Bookstore at Fitgers, and I had two book signings accompanied by Ian Welshons, the young illustrator from Stillwater who brought my story to life.

Festive booths constructed by Steve McDonald.
Ian and I began at the Red Mug Coffehouse in the Board of Trade Building in Superior. But before carrying things in I ran across the street to the ChristkindlMarket, the art-centric "peoples' square" kitty-corner from the Historic Board of Trade (and former police station here). Each Saturday they gather to sell their wares, with a bonfire to keep customers warmed and fresh.

The space has a scenic Christmas card feel, with bright colors and all the trimmings you might find on an old-fashioned Christmas carnival. There were familiar faces in several of the booths, including Heike and Steve McDonald of Heike's Creations.

Brian and Rebecca Minor had a tent there as well, with the North Shore-Opoly game displayed, along with other cool gift ideas.

From here it was over to the Red Mug to set up our event. Thank you to Suzanne Johnson for the invitation, and so I could read A Remarkable Tale from the Land of Podd to the friends and patrons gathered there.

In addition to the book itself, Ian had made several enlargements of illustrations from the books, which we displayed as well. It was fun listening to Ian share stories about the process he used to produce each illustration. I had no idea that at least one of the pictures was re-worked 9 times in order to get a satisfying outcome. Ian did a masterful job throughout, and we're both thrilled with the final product.

From there we slipped across the bridge to the Armory Annex to be part of the Holiday Celebration there which included music, art and more. The Forging Community blacksmiths make their home here as does (at this time) Pierce & Piszczek Fine Pianos. It is also the office space/HQ for the Armory Arts and Music Center, which continues to labor on behalf of the future restoration of the Historic Armory.

All in all, a good day.... and home in time for a yummy late supper.  

Tonya Borgeson shows how to work the wheel.
Aurora Baer sang from the heart.