Category Archives: Cool Stuff

Happy Birthday Corita Kent!

If you’ve searched google today, you saw this image by Corita Kent.Corita Google

I first encountered Sister Corita’s work as a young art teacher. Someone, I wish I remembered who, gave me a copy of her book Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit as a graduation present from undergrad. Corita would have been 96 today, and I am so grateful that Google reminded me of that. And that Retro Renovation extraordinaire Pam Kueber alerted me! Thank you Pam! (and for the fun Merry Kitschmas, too–you are an inspiration!)

Some of you might remember Corita because of her love stamp, but probably only if you also remember that you used to have to lick stamps…ah, those were the days!CoritaKent_Stamp

I am currently in the homestretch of printing our 2015 PRESS calendar along with fabulous interns Jonas McCaffery and Isaac Wood. These two young men are embracing the sentiment of Corita along with me as we make our calendar of sayings that will hopefully both inspire and challenge you. We are even including one of Corita’s rules, Rule #9: Be happy whenever you can manage it, enjoy yourself, it’s lighter than you think. Corita’s exhibit that Skidmore College organized at the Tang will be opening at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh on January 31, 2015 running through April 19, 2015. I was lucky enough to see it in Cleveland where they also had a Cleveland only work of Corita’s, the Beatitudes Banner. I wrote about that here. My favorite part of the exhibit was the movie that featured a few interviews with Corita. Watch it here.

Next up on my list is Primary Colors, a 60-minute documentary of her life from 1991, who wants to come over and watch it with me??

Waste more time in nature

One of the things I love about BlueQ products are the little hidden messages. Some messages are quite irreverent, others surprise and inspire in the best possible way. The subject line of this post was one such message hidden in a bag that I was recently given. (It’s the owl bag…and BlueQ is a Berkshire Company that never fails to 1. entertain me and 2. be a model for corporate giving and good practices.)

The message came at the perfect time for me. I had recently returned from ten fabulous days in Spain. And while this was not a nature immersion trip, I did get reacquainted with the architecture of Antoni Gaudi–which is completely based in what he observed in nature. Talk about biomimicry, this guy was the king of it. Here’s what he wrote about La Sagrada Familia–a cathedral that he began to create in the late 1880s and work continues on it today:

The purpose of the building is to shelter us from the sunshine and the rain; it imitates the tree, as this shelters us from the sunshine and the rain. The imitation touches the elements, as columns were trees first; then we see the capitals decorated with leaves. The ramified shape of the columns and their great number will give the congregation the feeling of truly being in a forest.

Throughout all his works, elements of nature can be identified, he played with shadow, form, color and content. He experimented with roof lines that mimic how a leaf functions, utilizing a conoid–or a curved plane that funnels rain water and hold great weight. He hesitated in using this structure at first because no one else had ever considered it. He was completely revolutionary in how he let nature inspire him with her building blocks–adapting them to fit his functions. A true modernist–form follows function. This National Geographic page gives a brief overview. Check it out.

These are some of my favorite pics, the ones that remind me the most to waste more time in nature. I especially am got excited about the sunflower inspired chandelier, partially because my friend Tara wrote a post about sunflowers and I read it minutes before I left the hotel to go and draw and visit Casa Batllo.



I am in Haiti.

I am in Haiti.

My anxiety level rose a few notches in anticipation of this trip, especially when the State Department upped their warnings for Americans traveling to Haiti on December 28, 2012, five days before our departure. I was grateful for the Bradt posting of how one of those warnings might be written for Haitians traveling to America. That helped, sort of.

This pic from the plane, and the collage inspired by it, also helped.

View from the plane--oh how I love the blue.

View from the plane–oh how I love the blue.



Sea collage, looking down on the Caribbean

Sea collage, looking down on the Caribbean

So did freshly picked mangos and guava jam. But perhaps the best fix came from meeting with Regine, the Haitian Cultural Attache for the State Department. Our trip is not a State Department sponsored trip, so we don’t have to adhere to the yellow and red zone guidelines, but the State Department has helped make this trip possible. Her briefing on our first full day in Haiti completely eased my mind, as did meeting Phillippe Dodard, who has guided us through the museum and gallery world as well as the Grand Rue, a noted State Department red zone, but home to some of Haitians most well-known contemporary artists.

So why am I in Haiti?

I am accompanying eight MCLA students along with my incredible colleague Jonathan Secor, Director of Special Programs at MCLA, on an arts and culture immersion trip. We are exploring historical and contemporary visual and performing arts in Haiti. Each student researched a different aspect of history, contemporary society or art prior to the trip, and now we are spending our days meeting artists, visiting studios, galleries, and museums. We each have a sketchbook, with the assignment to document, draw and write, as well as the goal to help our fellow artists in Haiti by purchasing art. Tomorrow or later today, I will write about our focused looked at the Saint Soleil artists.

Here are some of the highlights so far.

Our fearless students at the Mupanah Museum du Pantheon National d"Haiti

Our fearless students at the Mupanah Museum du Pantheon National d”Haiti

My new role model at Hotel Oloffson

My new role model at Hotel Oloffson

Gyode studio, Grand Rue, this sculpture is now in my collection.

Gyode studio, Grand Rue, this sculpture is now in my collection.

Philippe Dodard and me at Gyode's studio.

Philippe Dodard and me at Gyode’s studio.

Grand Rue

Grand Rue

All of us at Eugene Andre's studio in the Grand Rue.

All of us at Andre Eugene’s studio in the Grand Rue.

New Year's Inspiration, Grand Rue

New Year’s Inspiration, Grand Rue



“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42.” 

Some of you reading this blog will know the origins of that line. I forgot about it, but was reminded this year by one of my students when I was lamenting the completion of my 42nd year on this earth. She smiled at me brightly and said something along the lines of “Good things will come to you in this forty-second year.” I rolled my eyes and thought of the year I turned 20. The year many of my friends gave me sympathy cards in celebration of arriving into my second decade because I was so miserable about that number.

So here I am in this monumental year, grateful for my fabulous job at MCLA, the PRESS project, my honey honey Douglas, my studio work, my family and friends, my gorgeous garden and home, oh and my little animals. Yet I’m restless, amazed that I am 42. That more times than not I am a ma’am, not a miss when I go to the store. I never get carded. That to many 20-somethings I am old, out-of-date and irrelevant. I don’t feel that way, and I am like a week or so away from doing my first ever chin-up in my entire life.

If you look back at my life, it makes sense that I am restless. I went to school like most kids. Then, I graduated from college, worked for five years, then went back to school for two years. Then I worked for five years and went back to school again for two years. Now, I’ve just finished my sixth year of working. I am definitely not interested in going back to school, but clearly, if I really consider this pattern, I need something to change-up in my life. Leaving my job is certainly an option, but I am too committed, ambitious and terrified to do that just now. So then what do I do?

While killing time in the Atlanta airport recently, I saw this book:

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.
In this lively and compelling account, Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier.
Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that small changes can make a difference.
Each month she tackles a new set of resolutions, giving herself check marks or gold stars to celebrate her successes. 

This last bit made me want to start my own happiness project right away. Maybe this is the answer to my restlessness.  Gretchen begins by identifying overarching principles in her life. I have come up with my own personal principles that will guide my path through restlessness. Many of mine are completely and 100% inspired by hers.

  1. Be Melanie
  2. Let it go.
  3. Listen and engage, politely and sincerely.
  4. Act the way I want to feel.
  5. Do it now.
  6. Identify the problem.
  7. RELAX!! (You don’t always have to be doing something.)
  8. Less is more. (Remember to say no.)
  9. Do what ought to be done.
  10. Love.

Next, perhaps the best way thing to do is to follow the Happiness Project lead. There are definitely little things I’ve been wanting to change in my life, and some big things. Gretchen talks about her need to be appreciated and praised, to have the little things she does everyday get acknowledged. She wanted that daily gold star. Enter the resolution chart.  A chart that you keep daily to keep you on task for whatever you want to do to create more happiness in your life. (You can get a copy of hers by going to the downloads page of her website.) Gretchen addressed a new set of resolutions each month. And she gave herself the appreciation for doing it with the checkmark or gold start. I absolutely LOVE THIS. I am so motivated by little rewards and commitments like this. (i.e. Nike Training Club.) This seemed like a really fun way to tackle the restlessness.

I have 12 resolutions that I am going to work on, beginning today, July 1, 2012.

  1. Be Melanie.
  2. Tidy/Organize/Purge 30 minutes everyday.
  3. Review schedule and plan specific tasks the night before.
  4. Floss your teeth.
  5. Work in studio minimum one hour four days a week/Work in studio minimum five hours one day a week.
  6. Make time for friends.
  7. Think of small treats and courtesies for others, especially Doug.
  8. Avoid time-wasters.
  9. Show Up.
  10. No Interrupting.
  11. Work on one annoying, difficult or long-standing task for an hour everyday until they are gone.
  12. Sit and do nothing for 15 minutes everyday.

So far today I have been me, tidied for more than 30 minutes, flossed my teeth, avoided time wasters and interrupting. It’s only 3:30. We’ll see about the rest of them. I’ll post an update about my progress later in the week.

If you like this idea, get the book, contact me and maybe we can create our own little Happiness Project group here in the Berkshires. Accountability is a big part of success!




My brother-in-law introduced me to Photosynth, a great app for the iphone that stitches images together as you take them. Really fun.

I’ve been playing around with it to document the gardens in the early spring stages in-between moving wheel barrows of mulch, compost and debris. Between Doug and I, we’ve moved nearly 15 yards of the stuff, maybe even more. I’ve planted 80 square feet of grass seed and split and moved an incredible number of hostas.

Here are some of the gardens.

The vegetable garden, garlic growing strong, thank you Grandma Thomas!

We transformed this garden, cutting down an evergreen tree that was blocking the window. It’s now the greens garden, hostas, kale, collards and chives.

 Love the orange and pink and the little bit of blue of the bee’s balm, can you see it?

The goal was to get everything into the ground and good to go before I leave for two weeks on May 27th. And we did it, by May 18th!

Art House Co-Op Chronicle Project

The Art House Co-Op sponsors all sorts of great projects. I’ve participated in a couple of them in the past, and just finished this one, The Chronicle Project.

My image documents 24 hours using the same format that I use in my Visual Diary Project. BUT, instead of a daily format, I went by the hour. This one is on a 12×4 inch piece of paper that got folded down to the 4×6 inch required dimension. I finished it just in time to get it postmarked on May 15, 2012.


Patterns stop me, interrupt trains of thought, perfectly good runs, conversations and sometimes even presentations. Beautiful, graphic, repetition. Bold shapes repeated over and over and over again.

The above shadow play, certainly not a rigid repeating pattern, but a pattern nonetheless line the Ashuwillticook trail. I run this rail trail near my house, especially when I am in need of a flat run. But just noticed, stopped in my tracks when I saw these patterns today and looked at the trees from a renewed lens.

I began thinking of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, which is celebrated today, the last Friday of April in MA, and many of our states, and something that he said about trees.

A tree is the perfection of strength, beauty, and usefulness of vegetable life. It stands majestic through the sun and storm of centuries. Resting in summer beneath its cooling shade, or sheltering besides its massive trunk from the chilling blast of winter, we are prone to forget the little seed whence it came. Trees are no respecters of persons. They grow as luxuriantly beside the cabin of the pioneer as against the palace of the millionaire. Trees are not proud. What is this tree? This great trunk, these stalwart limbs, these beautfiul branches, these gracefully bending boughs, these gorgeous flowers, this flashing foliage and ripening fruit are only living materials organized in the laboratory of Nature’s mysteries out of rain, sunlight, dews and earth. 

And it all comes from a little tiny seed. Morton goes on to describe the process of planting and the science behind what happens to the seed as it becomes the tree, finishing his address with the commentary on how humans have cut down and consumed trees, but often do not replant or restore the forests. This sentiment was his reasoning behind creating Arbor Day.

Planting a seed, any seed is a commitment to the future, a fostering of hope, a belief that the tiny little thing will grow into something solid and massive, life-giving and beautiful.

My tree work and writings began as a way of creating my own forest in a treeless city. It was a gathering of friends, a gathering of quiet and peace, in an otherwise noisy place. I have seen the transformative power of trees for the earth and for humanity, and I honor this today with plans and actions of how I can be a better tender of the earth.


Be the change that you wish to see in the world

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” This website uses that quote as its motto. I came across this site while trying to find a link for the man in India who planted so many trees near some river that the land is being protected as a national trust. (But I haven’t found the link yet, so if you know this story, please send me the link!)

Maybe I’ll subscribe to the news feed, and add a bit of inspiration to my daily blog and subscription reads. What do you read daily?



I love postcards. I’ve kept nearly every single card I’ve received. I keep them together in a couple of different spots. Years and locations mingle in ways life never does. I can go from an artist’s rendering of blueberries on Mount Greylock, MA (thank you Karen Arp-Sandel) to Paris, to the Italian Alps to Mongolia in mere seconds.

I also send them. Some that I make, some that I buy. Sometimes I wonder who enjoys the sending and receiving more. Me the sender, or the recipient.

While in Venezuela I kept a look out for a post office. We were traveling in such remote areas that finding one by chance never happened. I also never found any postcards. The couple of “souvenir shops” we visited didn’t sell any.

So, I made some. I couldn’t stand the thought of going to Venezuela, my first time to South America, without sending anyone a postcard. This is coming from someone who spent a year sending postcards to 20+ people for every place I visited for more than 72+ hours. And, those were all handmade cards–of tree rubbings. (Don’t know that project? Go here.)

I don’t know if they will every arrive. I never found a postoffice, I gave them to our guide with some cash and the hope that he would follow through. So hopefully, fingers crossed, the recipients will get them. At this writing it’s nearly three weeks since I handed them over, so who knows where they are…