Oct 23, 2012

Kentuck 2012

Recently, Mary Ann and I replaced the countertops in our kitchen.  We chose a light marbleized Corian material.  It dramatically changed the "feel" of the room, since the countertops had previously been a deep red formica.  You can probably anticipate where this is going -- obviously the room needs new wall colors, etc., etc., etc.

Mary Ann had rightly concluded that we probably needed to decide what might be hanging on the walls to help us decide what color might look best on those walls.  It's all about texture and harmony and complementary hues.  So the quest began to find just the right wall decoration.

Fortunately, we had run across a terrific juried art show many years ago that is held every year in October.  It's called the Kentuck Festival of the Arts, held in Northport, Alabama, and now in its 41st year.  We made plans to attend this past weekend to see if we might find something that would be just the thing for the corner that needed brightening up.

Mary Ann had done her homework.  She had started with the list of exhibitors on the Kentuck Web site and looked at the Web pages of as many artists as she could find listed.  So by the time we arrived on Saturday morning, she was well aware of several artists whose works interested her.  We began the quest.

Within the first half hour, we arrived at the display of an abstract painter from St. Louis named Sharon Spillar.  As soon as I saw Mary Ann's reaction to this lady's work, I felt we had found the right source.  Then began the challenge of selecting the "right" pieces that would all be complementary.  We ended up purchasing two panels 30" by 10" and six smaller accent panels, each about 8" square.  Here they are on one of Ms. Spillar's display panels at the show:

They are done in acrylic, over which the artist applies a glossy clear acrylic seal coat.  They should be absolutely impervious to any airborne contaminants that a kitchen can produce.  They look striking set in place in our kitchen.  Now, of course, we need to decide on wall coloring and do the painting.

Saturday evening, we proceeded to a restaurant in Tuscaloosa that had been recommended by Kay Brown, a colleague at Camber.  The Cypress Inn proved to be a marvelous choice.  Our table overlooked the Warrior River and the sun was setting during our meal, so the ever-changing scenery was just perfect.  What a treat!

We awoke Sunday morning to another beautiful day, and Mary Ann had planned even more surprises.  We got cleaned up and loaded the car and proceeded to Five Points South in Birmingham, a really quaint part of town.  We had a nice lunch at Fuego Cantina, then proceeded to walk along Eleventh Avenue, past the Highlands Bar and Grille, then through their parking lot toward a large mansion undergoing restoration.  This turned out to be the home of sculptor Ira Chaffin.  Mary Ann had located him through her search for a carousel horse carving school, something I had expressed an interest in for several years.

Mr. Chaffin opened his animal carving studio to us and took us on the grand tour.  We saw several projects being completed by his students.  These included a local surgeon now working on his fifth animal and a grandmother who started with zero experience and is now working on a most impressive lion, her second animal!  Here are some examples from his studio:


We spent an hour or so talking with Mr. Chaffin, after which we returned home, tired but pleased that we had found the decorative items we had hoped to find, done so much and learned so much.

Oct 7, 2012

Dr. George M. Sutton Remembered

A few weeks ago, I ran across a post in a forum of the Antique Automobile Club of America (AACA) in which an individual was trying to sell a couple of framed Stark Davis-painted "bird advertisements" for 1928 Lincoln Automobiles.  I didn't make an offer on these particular ads, but it turns out that I knew a little bit about their origins.

In the early 1970s I took a job as Superintendent of the Power and Chilled Water Plants at the University of Oklahoma.  I worked with another engineer by the name of Bob White.  Bob happened to be an artist and was at that time the president of the Norman Art League.  One day he came to me with an unusual request.  Bob had somehow discovered that I had learned and practiced decorative italic writing and had on occasion done presentation certificates.  The Norman Art League wanted to formally recognize the life's work of Dr. George Miksch Sutton, a world-renowned bird artist who was a Professor of Ornithology at the University.  Bob asked me if I would be willing to do a presentation parchment scroll for Dr. Sutton's recognition banquet.  I was honored and agreed to do it.

I received the parchment on which I would do the work along with the art league's text of the presentation scroll.  It was not brief.  It went on at length about Dr. Sutton's myriad achievements.  As I read it, I kept wondering how I could lay out that many words, along with some elaborately illuminated letters, in the limited real estate available.  I had three or four weeks to complete the assignment.

I don't know how other calligraphers work, but I know that after 15 or 20 minutes, I have to quit because my hand will start to tremble from the sustained tension.  Remember, you only get one chance at getting it right.  The ink sinks indelibly into the paper-thin leather.  There's no erasing.  As soon as I dip the pen into the ink, I am tense.  So, night after night, I labored through the wordy presentation.  I left room in a few locations, around the first letters of significant words at the beginnings of paragraphs, so I could come back later to embellish those letters with colored inks and gold leaf.  The final result was fortunately very impressive.  No misspelled words, no spilled ink, nothing left out.  Everything fit and the size of the italic font remained consistent throughout.  I was thrilled.

The presentation night came and went.  Bob informed me that Dr. Sutton had been deeply moved by the entire event and was particularly impressed by the beautiful certificate.  The art league sent me a lovely note expressing their gratitude for my services.

A few weeks later, I receved a phone call at the power plant.  It was Dr. Sutton.  He asked if I could meet him at the bird collection section of the museum.  He wanted to "meet the man who created that beautiful certificate."  I was very moved and agreed on a mutually convenient time to meet Dr. Sutton.  I had seen this world famous teacher on campus over the years but had never been formally introduced.  When I met him at the museum, he was warm and most gracious.  He gave me the "grand tour" of the bird collection that represented his life's work.

There were literally thousands of birds, carefully stuffed and mounted in hundreds of sample drawers.  Each tiny carcass was labeled, describing the identity of the example and the dates and locations where each was collected.  Dr. Sutton related stories about many of the examples.  Some he had collected on various expeditions.  Others were donated.  Many species were incredibly rare or extinct.  The collection was obviously a valuable and irreplaceable treasure.

He then shared some of his life story.  His interest in birds started at a very early age and he had joined the American Ornithologists' Union at age 12.  In 1916, as a teenager, he had sudied under the world famous bird artist, Louis Agassiz Fuertes.  After a rather stormy undergraduate career (He led a student revolt against mandatory ROTC and was temporarily expelled.), he graduated from West Virginia's Bethany College in 1923.  By age 27, he was the Pennsylvania State Ornithologist.  In 1929 he went to Ithaca, New York, to pursue his Ph.D. under Dr. Arthur Allen.  His long career had taken him all over the world, including a stint in the Army Air Corps during World War II, during which he tested arctic survival gear.  He had previously spent considerable time studying arctic birds.

Dr. Sutton had come to the University of Oklahoma in 1952 and had become an institution.  And everywhere he had gone during his long career, he had painted images of birds - hundreds and hundreds of birds.  He had published dozens of articles and books illustrated with his incredibly detailed bird paintings.  And on that day in 1972, he presented me with several artists proofs from his most recent book, "High Arctic."  He had personalized and signed each one.

Then, as the gracious Doctor showed me some more of the museum, he asked about my interests.  When I mentioned my interest in antique cars, he related a story about those Lincoln bird advertisements.  He was employed by the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh in the mid-1920's and had made some acquaintances at the Ford Motor Company,  In 1927, after Henry Ford had acquired the Lincoln Motorcar Company, his son Edsel had come up with the idea of producing some custom-bodied Lincolns colored to resemble the bright foliage of birds.  They had hired the famous commercial artist, Stark Davis, to paint the advertisements and the company had enlisted the services of George Sutton to help them decide on the colors and species of birds to use in this promotion!  And now, some 40 years after I met this remarkable gentleman, these ads crossed my path a second time...