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He went down to the racks, where they cross Lorain . . .  8" X 8" color woodcut from A Pocket Full of Change. 2015.

He went down to the racks, where they cross Lorain . . . 8″ X 8″ color woodcut from A Pocket Full of Change. 2015.

When my kids were little, their teachers celebrated One Hundred day—the 100th day of school each year. They marked the little scholastic holiday by bringing in 100 of something—100 pennies, 100 beads, 100 paper clips, 100 origami cranes, 100 marbles, 100 cookies. The idea was to give the kids a connection to the abstract figure, to give them a visceral sense of what that order of magnitude was. It’s easy to lose track of what big numbers mean if you haven’t actually seen what they represent.

I dive deep into the numbers in the hours I spend standing at a printing press, making the pictures that fill my books. In my new project, a wood block and letterpress book called A Pocket Full of Change, there are 20 pictures made with no fewer than 100 wood blocks, plus 33 additional blocks of magnesium, linoleum, and brass tool, all registered into colorful scenes. The book comes out this week, Friday night at Tregoning and Company.

One block for the sky

One block for the sky

I’ve been printing this book for about 3 years, one block, one color at a time. Let’s just say I know what 100 is. I know what 1,000 is. Indeed, I know what 10,000 is. Printing all those blocks, plus the pages of text, I figure I’ve cranked the Vandercook proofing presses at Zygote Press and the Morgan Conservatory more than 18,000 times.

The words that occur to me as I make each picture is that they are “built,” or “constructed.” One block for the sky. One block for One block for the clouds. One block for the pavement. One block for the light shining down. It goes on like that, until the whole picture comes together. There’s a moment of suspense, printing the black block over the top of the whole thing, hoping everything is properly aligned.

One block for the pavement, another for the clouds . . .

One block for the pavement, another for the clouds . . .

It’s all been a drum roll leading up to this Friday, when we open the doors and I let people see the finished book for the first time: 20 pictures telling the story of a boy who goes out on his bicycle and puts all the money in his pocket on railroad tracks to be run over by trains.

Jake took his bike

and a pocket full of change

and he pedaled down the block

til he was out of shouting range.

Come out and see it, bring the kids, and be sure to say hello. I’ll be at the opening from 6 to 9 pm. Tregoning & Co. is at 1300 West 78th Street, in the 78th Street Studios art complex in Cleveland.

Here it is on Facebook. See you there!

 

One block for the sun shining down . . .

One block for the sun shining down . . .

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2014-01-27 15.38.55 On Friday nights in the summer time in Tremont, Chick Holtkamp, Niki Zmij, and some friends occasionally climb the brick exterior of Chick’s building. It’s the urban face of rock climbing, a Cleveland reaction to the fact that we just don’t have much in the way of good natural climbing rocks around here. They attach belay ropes for safety, cling to the bricks and window sills, and go up like spiders, practicing techniques they’ll use on trips to places like Moab, or Yosemite.

Cleveland has a dedicated community of climbers, but they have to travel to find big rocks. There are a couple of small-ish rock gyms where they can climb indoors. Holtkamp and Zmij, however, have a vision of a climbing facility that would put Cleveland on the nation’s climbing map in a whole new way. If only they can get the right people to listen.

Rock climbing, Tremont style

Rock climbing, Tremont style

What they want to build is a climbing gym that takes advantage of the city’s spectacular architectural heritage. Of course there are plenty of large industrial spaces that might serve such a project well. But their vision is to use the city-owned Fifth Church of Christ Scientist. It’s one of the most celebrated vacant landmarks in the region, a neoclassical sandstone octagon that stands at the corner of West 117th and Lake Road.

The fight to somehow preserve the building has been going on for twenty years. The congregation opened the doors there in 1926 and held services there until 1989, before selling it to Riser Foods in 1991. Riser, which operated a Rego’s Grocery Store that stood nearby, wanted to level it for parking.

People in the neighborhood raised enough of a ruckus to hold up the demolition, though. They picketed and petitioned, and the grocers backed down. Riser’s first revised plan was to incorporate the structure into a new grocery store. They gutted the woodwork and other interior details, along with removing asbestos, in 1995. But the economics didn’t work out, and the plan was scrapped. In 2002 they decided working out a way to reuse the historic building was too much a burden, and they gave the property to the city of Cleveland: a gift. Since then a few developers have come and gone with ideas, including a bookstore, a produce market, and of course subdividing the structure into condominiums. Former councilman Jay Westbrook supported the neighborhood’s interest in finding an adaptive re-use for the building for years, but none of those visions became reality.  As of January 1, it became an opportunity for councilman Matt Zone.

Holtkamp and Zmij believe their proposal might have the magical combination that makes it feasible, though. First, renovating a stone building as a climbing gym doesn’t require the same level of polish as a grocery store or bookstore or pricey condos need. That would make it much less expensive. Neither does it need as much parking as any of the retail establishments that have been proposed.2014-01-27 15.39.53

Perhaps most importantly, though, it has the benefit of being visionary. It’s an inspiring way to preserve and even capitalize on a prominent piece of Cleveland’s fallow architectural heritage. Comparing it to other climbing gyms is almost unfair: It’s not a boxy warehouse, but a soaring, octagonal brick and stone space capped by a dome. The eight sides of the interior could create climbing challenges to satisfy all skill levels. There are other indoor climbing gyms, but the 56 foot dome would put this one near the top in terms of how high people could climb. And the appeal of adaptive re-use by a young congregation focused on physical activity would make it every bit as much a landmark as it was as a church.

It’s hard to imagine people better prepared to carry out the vision. Holtkamp is a respected climber, and not just in Cleveland. As it happens, he’s also a successful redeveloper and manager of old masonry buildings. He was one of the first new investors in Tremont back in the 1980s when he began renovating some of the most prominent buildings in the neighborhood. Lemko Hall, which was used in the film The Deer Hunter, is just one example. Zmij, also a climber, has worked in commercial climbing gyms.

Until the rock climbing proposal surfaced, the former church was facing the same fate as it did 20 years ago: A grocery store developer wants to demolish it for parking. As the Plain Dealer reported last fall, the best outcome people in the neighborhood dared to hope for was to keep the columns and portico standing in a little scrap of a green space flanked by parking for the grocery store. It would look like a fragment of ruin in a city park: it would be better than a total loss, but still a monument to how wealthy Cleveland once was, a sad reminder that we used to have classically proportioned churches built out of real stone.

But a rock climbing facility would keep the structure standing, and bring it back to life. It wouldn’t be the first time a hulking Cleveland vacancy was turned into an athletic attraction. Here’s hoping City Hall gives this one a chance.

 

Here’s a link to Neighbors In Action, a grassroots group looking to preserve the church.

 

 

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Who loves ya, baby?

This ought to be good: a little like a pick-up game, a little like a barroom brawl, with the bonus that a bunch of my friends are involved.

I’m talking about “Love is a Burning Thing,” the Valentine’s day poetry slam and jam at the Happy Dog. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 14, two teams will face off, taking up opposite sides of the pro-vs-con love argument. Judges will be chosen from the audience. One side will win. You know what that means.

I have no idea who gets which side of the argument or how those roles will be assigned, but the teams will be led by Erin O’Brien (whose new book The Irish Hungarian Guide to the Domestic Arts includes a spectacular recipe involving cucumbers), and Playhouse Square Slam-U poet Andre Clouden. Clouden would seem to have the advantage of competitive poetry slam experience. But that Erin O’Brien, she’s got

available in paper or for your kindle

the cucumber experience on her side, and that is not to be discounted.

Slam poets tend to shout their identity politics, but this –in the name of love–seems like it might depart from that mode of delivery. The event is put on by Ohio City Writers. If you haven’t heard of this fledgling nonprofit, it’s worth showing up just to learn about that. OCW is about teaching kids to write. They’re formed in the style of Dave Eggers and Ninive Calegari’s 826 Foundation–a front room full of schtick, which in Cleveland will be a Rock Star supply shop, and a back room full of free writing tutelage for kids. OCW is run by my friend Frank Lewis, who was editor of the Free Times and Scene for some very good years.You might even want to send some money their way.

Poet and well-traveled performer Ray McNiece will serve as emcee, backed up by members of his band Tongue-in-Groove. Apart from the competition, poet George Bilgere will read some of his work—which you may have heard on Garrison Keilor’s show, A Prairie Home Companion. Bilgere will also record the whole shindig for his WJCU radio show, Wordplay.

If you want to rub shoulders and mingle voices with those professionals—and hear yourself broadcast mightily around the East Side on WJCU, all you have to do is send some poems to Ohiocitywriters@gmail.com. And if your poems are found worthy to be slung about the stage in front of a rowdy crowd, well you’re in.

And did I mention that “Love is a Burning Thing” is free?

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Debra Sue Solecki and Mark Moskovitz at Cleveland West Art League in the 78th Street Studios complex Third Fridays

Forces of nature are at work in the Cleveland Art Scene this January. On the North Coast we’re accustomed to a gallery scene that hibernates after the holiday blitz, to reawaken only with the approach of Valentine’s Day. But January 2012 has been different. Already a multitude of exhibits have had us racing all over town—from John Martin’s terrific human figure monoprints at Loganberry Books, to Michael Loderstedt’s structured screen prints and photographs at William Busta Gallery, to Christopher Smith’s charcoal drawings of fauna at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes . . . Say nothing of the Tremont Art Walk, or the release of the Collective Arts Network Journal at Tom Balbo Galleries, or the fact that CAN Journal Mama and spiritual leader Liz Maugans has a solo show this Sunday: Her UpLIFT is a collection of new work that also happens to be the the inaugural exhibition of a partnership between Dragonfly Lounge and the Maria Neil Art Project.

That already seems like a lot for a North Coastal January, and I can tell you after years of editing Cleveland arts calendars, that in fact it is. But in January 2012– I’m surprised and happy to say—that’s just the beginning.

This Friday night, the dedicated followers of Cleveland art will have to go on tour as worthwhile events open on both sides of town.

Zygote Press opens a show reaching into the flat files and household treasuries of its members for Collected Gems II. This is worth a look because artists associated with Zygote are showing prints that they have collected over the years, including a few works commissioned by the Print Club of Cleveland, among other great finds. The show itself is complemented by a panel discussion and lecture-demonstration February 4. The panel discussion features the print collecting expertise of Bill Busta, Susan Trilling, Paula Mindes, Tom Calhoun, and Jack Lissauer, in a discussion about why they collect prints and what makes a given print noteworthy. Noel Reifel moderates. That’s from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Next, master printer Karen Beckwith will talk and show what sets very fine prints above the rest, and talk about the ins and outs of print editions.

But getting back to Friday night, the second leg of the evening tour will take you over to the West side, where the forces of nature continue to rage. West 78th Street Studios has its monthly, massive Third Friday opening, which means a dozen or so galleries and studios will open their doors and show new work.

Among them is my friend Debra Sue Solecki, who for years has been painting detailed, observant scenes and still lifes from the natural world –but in the relative isolation of her home studio. That’s because, in addition to being a parent, Solecki spent long hours in the halls of high school academe as an art teacher. Lately, though, she’s making up for lost time, with a recent show in the Beck Center for the Arts Galleries, and this one coming up in the Cleveland West Art League’s galleries at 78th Street Studios. She’s paired with the versatile sculptor / designer / installation artist Mark Moskovitz–whose four-drawer cabinet that looks like a stack of firewood was featured last spring in the New York Times. 

Meanwhile, William G. Scheele’s Kokoon Arts Gallery greets the new year with Nature Revealed, which features varied takes on the natural landscape by a whole bunch of historically significant Northeast Ohio artists. Among them are: Cleveland School painter Paul Travis; Scheele’s father, the painter of imagined scenes from prehistoric times W.E. Scheele; sculptor William McVey; art deco painter of butterflies and their flora E.A. Seguy, and several others.

Meanwhile, also in the 78th Street Studios complex, Legation, A Gallery presents works by sculptor and installation artist Derek Gelvin along with works of emerging artist Jim Leach.

Judith Brandon's "Storm Clouds." Image courtesy of Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery.

And of course Judith Brandon’s storms continue to rage at Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery. Rarely will you see a better marriage of media, technique, and content than in her portraits of weather in dye and charcoal. If you like to see how materials behave, and how that physical behavior can complement subject matter, then go see this show. 

So whatever the weather is doing outside, get thee to the Cleveland galleries. I’ll be there. Be sure to say hello.

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Shadowed title for the frontice, and a label for the spine of Common Household RhymesToday I printed the final impressions for my wood block and letterpress children’s book, Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child.  I printed the first layer of the title in copper ink, then moved my type just a touch and overprinted in black, to make a shadow on the words. I cranked the Vandercook proofing press at Zygote Press today for perhaps the 12,000th time.

I found myself slowing down as I got close to the end, to enjoy the labor toward the completion of something that’s been in the works for almost three years. Literally making a children’s book—writing the rhymes, drawing the pictures, carving the wood blocks, setting the type, printing the words and blocks on a manual letterpress machine, stitching, and binding an edition of 100 copies—has been many things: a labor of love, a learning process, a blow stricken for the Old School. It’s also been a manufacturing job.

We’ve heard this kind of language from the Community Partnership for the Arts and Culture for years: Artists and performers are the makers of our culture, laboring long and hard to make the objects and performances that make our lives worthwhile. It’s particularly true for artists who make objects. Consider Brinsley Tyrrell, firing glass on steel to make his stunning Ohio Landscapes. Or Stephen Yusko, artist in residence at Rose Iron Works. Or consider my sister, Toledo resident Kathleen Gill-Slee, whose Sherwood Inn Pottery has steadily increased production of  functional whimsy in clay to meet demand.

Olga, the grey cat

Making a children’s book from start to finish drove the point home for me personally. I’ve written about the work of artists and the way they build culture for a long time, but it is another thing to labor at a physical object for years and bring it into the world.

The people who see these prints on the walls at William Busta Gallery will see them as art objects, and they will think about them as pictures with rhymes.  That is how it began for me, too—as words and pictures in my head. But as the images began to build up on  these sheets of paper—and certainly as I began to stitch them into signatures—I began to think about making Common Household Rhymes as a manufacturing job.

Consider this cat, Olga.  She stars as the long-suffering “grey cat,” waiting, not quite asleep in her slanted patch of sun.   She’s 15 years old, and for most of that time was chased mercilessly by our other cat, the late Pablo, AKA “the black cat.” She is a much happier cat now that Pablo is gone. But let’s stick with Olga, shall we? She makes for a good demonstration of the way these pictures are built, one wooden block at a time.

Just the black, ma'am.

I drew the whole picture first, on a piece of wood that would become the black background plate. That image serves as a map for all the rest.

I printed it several times,  so I could transfer the shape of the cat, pillow, and sunlight onto other plates. Then I carved all that out of the black image to leave the empty space behind.

When it was time to print the color plates, I used the black background as a map to register the color blocks in their proper locations.

In this case, I printed the black background first. I wanted the effect of the sunlight shining across the room, the pillow laying on top of the bed, and the cat laying on top of the pillow. So that’s the order in which I piled up the patches of ink.

When I printed the light, I mixed opaque white ink in with the yellow so that it would have a little more substance: you can see through it, but there’s no question that you’re looking at yellow.

black and blue

Once each block was registered, I’d print about 115-120 of them. I printed extras because I knew there would be mistakes.

Once the printing was done–all 17 pictures, all 83 blocks, plus the words– I cut the sheets to size, stitched them into signatures with linen thread and fabric, then bound the whole package in acid free, archival boards with cloth. All of which brings me back to those labels I printed today. Attaching those is the the last bit of and hand work.

If all this sounds like a lot of work, that is part of the point.  This was an old-school,  Cleveland manufacturing job.  Sure, it’s about cats, and mice, and riding your bike, and adults staying up late. It’s also about work. Making a book this way in the 21st century is striking a blow for individual capacity and control. For kids learning to read in the early 21st century, holding a book manufactured entirely by one person using mechanical processes is an exotic

Three out of Four

experience. When my kids and yours read this, I hope they connect with the fact that one person did it, from start to finish.

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Facebook friends and readers of this blog have peeked in the window on something I’ve been doing for almost three years.

The happy bicyclist in my avatar, and the wheels and street scenes that appear at the top of this page are part of a children’s book I started making in February, 2009.   Using wood blocks and moveable type, I’ve nearly completed Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child, a collection of multicolor relief illustrations, and accompanying rhymes.

I’m releasing it Friday, December 2 at William Busta Gallery. I hope you’ll join me.

I wrote, illustrated, carved, typeset, printed, and bound it. There are 74 wood blocks, eight linoleum blocks, and one block cobbled together out of wood and copper wire used to make each book.  A total of 17 pictures, plus moveable type. We’re talking old school. 

I’ve hand cranked the cylinder of a half-century-old Vandercook proofing press at Zygote Press 10,000 times. I’ve adjusted registration by the width of a sharp pencil line, slipping in whisper thin strips of lead, and cranking it over again. I’ve stitched 100 bindings.  So you can imagine I am, shall we say, enthused to send this out into the world with a party.

I’m exceedingly grateful to Bill Busta for believing that to be a good idea. So I hope you will join me at his gallery to be among the first to see this collection of children’s rhymes and accompanying pictures.

"After your bed time, the moon gets up high. The grown-ups keep talking. Nobody knows why.

The rhymes play in the realm of domestic life in a decidedly Cleveland setting. There’s vernacular architecture, and a couple of nods to specific buildings. There are cats, mice, an orange fish, a bicycle ride in the depopulated city at night, and a workbench cluttered with tools. There is the true fact that adults get to stay up much later than children do.

The subjects are very familiar to kids, but the words don’t talk down to them in any sense. In fact, they aim high, calling on kids to observe, make connections to the world around them, and to other rhymes, and bits of culture. This is a book for parents of strong readers.

I’ll continually add to this story on this blog, but for now, I hope you’ll save the date and join me for my book launch. We’ll have some wine and light horsd’oeuvres. It’ll be fun.

Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child

Book Release Party

6 to 9 p.m. Friday, December 2

William Busta Gallery,

2731 E Prospect Avenue  Cleveland

216-298-9071

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IN TRAFFIC

If you’re going to say something about yourself and your bicycle, it’s polite to let the bicycle go first. That’s what you do for your friends, right?

Therefore: My bicycle and I have been in the news a bit lately.

First, I have to create an infinite loop of self-reference by telling you that a post that first appeared on this blog has been picked up by NPR’s Bill Chappell for his blog. He asked me a few questions, then amplified the story, which you can find here. That brought a bit of traffic my way. Here’s a bit of Cleveland bicycle traffic, courtesy of Shawn Mariani. 

Second, the Civic Commons radio show and podcast invited me on a show about bicycles in the city. They had B&K Bicycles owner Neil Kauffman, Akron transportation planner Curtis Baker, Bike advocate Diane Leese (whose spectacular Outspoken Cyclist radio show can be heard on WJCU), and Earth Day Coalition Transportation Program Manager John McGovern on to talk about issues, and they had me on to tell them what it’s like to ride a bicycle in Cleveland. You can find all that here.

To save time in my little monologue, I didn’t note that on most mornings, the first thing I do after breakfast is take my daughter to school—and I do that in a car. Neither did I note that most people who ride their bikes a lot also own cars–a fact that often gets lost in the confrontational dialog between motorists and people who ride bikes.

But here’s what did get on the air–which you can hear in context with all the rest of the people who contributed to the show.

I roll out onto Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, and the noise of the city is my soundtrack. Over my left shoulder I hear the cars coming up behind me. I flick in and out of sunlight in the shadows of buildings. I pass cars and busses. Cars and busses pass me.

There’s movement all around, and I am part of it, balanced on two wheels. This is why I ride my bike to work:  It’s about speed and balance, the physical experience of physical laws. A bicycle is a gyroscope that takes you places.

There’s no separate bike lane on Detroit but the traffic is calm. If you ride a bike a lot, you get to know  the different moods of traffic like Eskimos get to know different types of snow. Cars in a hurry take I-90, or Clifton. Detroit’s neighborhood traffic is less hurried, less stressful. Which makes it perfect for bikes.

I ride down the street with the cars. We mingle in a friendly way. I take the lane when it makes sense and give it up when I don’t need it. Mostly I yield to cars at cross streets, but when they give me right of way, I look the driver in the eye and wave a thank you. I wave to fellow cyclists, too, many of which I see routinely: Erika the barista, Shannon the nanny, Darren the architect. When I get Downtown, I don’t have any trouble parking, and I never get parking tickets.

I don’t think about the gas I don’t burn, or the cost of foreign oil, at least not in association with my bike.  To me, biking to work is about the joy of movement, and about being in control. It’s a truly conservative form of transportation in that cyclists are self reliant. No bus schedules. No loan payments. I get out what I put in. If I want to get there a little faster, I just push a little harder.

Public conversation about cycling is typically about confrontation—cars against bikes, either in tragic accidents or pressing for more space on the roads. That’s what makes good news stories. Confrontations like that certainly happen. They happen just between people in cars, too.

But what I tell people about riding my bike to work is that day after day, month after month, nothing happens except that I get where I’m going and have a good time on the way.

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