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Left: He put a nickel on the track, and when he came back it was silver, smeared oblong, a shiny puddle of tears, five cents hammered smooth, a smoky mirror. Right: Inertia by the megaton obliterated Washington when the train came along the rail he put a quarter on. Color woodcut images from A Pocket Full of Change.

Left: He put a nickel on the track, and when he came back it was silver, smeared oblong, a shiny puddle of tears, five cents hammered smooth, a smoky mirror. Right: Inertia by the megaton obliterated Washington when the train came along the rail he put a quarter on. Color woodcut images from A Pocket Full of Change.

A Pocket Full of Change is the story of a boy who puts all the coins in his pocket on railroad tracks to be crushed by trains. It’s also a new letterpress book, illustrated with original, hand-pulled color woodcuts. I made 100 of them. I’ve been at this project for about three years. Naturally, I had to conduct some research.

If you put a penny on the railroad track and leave it to be crushed by a passing train, it will flatten to an odd shape that might reach the diameter of a quarter, depending on how many wheels roll over it before the coin flips off into the gravel.

If the penny was minted before 1982, it was solid copper. If your penny was minted after that, it is only coated in a thin film of copper, and the pounding of the wheels on the rail might split the covering to reveal the cheap zinc beneath.

I didn’t start putting pennies on railroad tracks until I was an adult. There were no tracks near my childhood home in North Olmsted, Ohio, so the opportunity didn’t come up.

But Lakewood and Cleveland are crossed over and over by Norfolk and Southern, CSX, and other freight lines, as well as the Rapid Transit. As an adult, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to explore the behavior of pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and all the coins under the intense pressure of passing trains.

Each coin denomination behaves differently. The weight of the train always smears them into useless forms, flat and elongated, never quite symmetrical. But when crushing a dime, for example, the copper layer between the faces always spreads out to make a ring around the silver center, like a bull’s eye. Crushing half dollars and silver dollars makes something resembling a shiny potato chip.

In A Pocket Full of Change, our hero Jake goes coin by coin through all the money in his pocket, weighing dollars and cents against experience. The book is full of imagery from Northeast Ohio: specific buildings, streets, and skyline perspectives, vernacular housing styles, and even examples of the region’s street art. Some of the images will look familiar to people who are connected to me via Facebook, including the one that serves as my profile picture.

Jake took his bike, and a pocket full of change, and he pedaled down the block til he was out of shouting range.

Jake took his bike, and a pocket full of change, and he pedaled down the block til he was out of shouting range.

The twenty, multicolor wood block pictures in A Pocket Full of Change are made with a total of more than 150 blocks of oak and shina. Each book in the edition of 100 is hand bound. A Parent / Teacher / Nanny sub-edition includes footnotes and helpful discussion points set in hot metal Linotype at Madison Press.

You can check it out at Tregoning and Company from October 16 – December 19, 2015. I’ll be there for an opening reception from 6 – 9 pm October 16.

Here’s the event as it appears on Facebook.

Michael Gill: A Pocket Full of Change

Wood block artist book and prints

October 16 – December 18

Also on view: Andrea Hahn: Collage

Tregoning and Company

1300 W 78th St

Cleveland, OH 44102




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IMG_20141122_214232Sometimes you need a change of context to continue evolving: different scenery, ideas, tools, or language, or all of the above. I got a big dose of all that printing at the Grafikwerkstatt in Dresden, Germany. The result was two print projects unlike any I had ever undertaken before.  The Grafikwerkstatt lithographer Peter Stefan got to the crux of one key change when he noticed that I was printing the chaotic marks of a cutting board.

“These are marks from life,” he said. “Not about life, but made from life.”

That captured not only a critical aspect of this collection of poems, 2014-10-14 12.01.22Elementary Science, but also a moment of printmaking evolution for me: This is not a children’s book. The fine lines of my Exacto knife weren’t descriptive of anything, weren’t an illustration or any kind of picture, but graphic material made in the process of life: the lines of a cutting board, printed as the pale green background for a book about living and dying.

It took two presses to make this book: a Karl Krause relief press for the wood blocks, and a small hand press for the movable type.

I wrote the poems in Elementary Science years ago, in 2007–a memorial to a dear friend who died too soon. David Cornicelli passed away in 1999, 15 years ago this December. He remains a formative person in my life, and the lives of several friends. 2014-10-16 13.17.11

The poems are built upon the classical elements – Fire, Earth, Air, and Water– and deal with things that mattered to us. Anyone who knew David, and especially anyone who knew the two of us together, likely knows we spent a lot of time contemplating fires. Our friends also know that we once helped to recycle a stone barn and used the rocks to build a passive solar heated extension to a centuries-old manor house, Caer Llan, in Wales. Relevant to that, we shared an appreciation for labor, and the life of cities. Our closest friends knew that I learned to play music with him, 2014-10-16 13.09.06 and the best of times for us involved loud and shameless improvisation, mostly in basements and attics. And finally, that we shared an understanding of natural life cycles, especially watersheds. Riding on those ideas, these poems are about they way life consumes itself on the way to death: Fire, earth, air, water: fate and inevitability, the most glorious and saddest of truths.

David would have appreciated that this was printed during a residency in Germany. He would have appreciated many of the same things about the city of Dresden as me—its age, its history through the twentieth century, from the World Wars to the fall of Communism, to the resurgence and the confluence of cultures going on there now. IMG_20141021_144610

He’d also appreciate this: I made just 20 copies of this book, most of which I will give to our friends. One, though, I will metaphorically deliver to him in the same way his body returned to dust. One day when the time is right and the right friends are gathered, I’m going to pass this on to him by throwing one of the twenty copies into a fire. To David. Delivered by fire. Somewhere in Ohio.


























































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I brought my own pedals to Germany, and a pedal wrench to install them.

The Checker Pig, with road pedals

The Checker Pig, with road pedals

I knew the vast majority of my cycling in Dresden would come in daily commutes around the city. But I knew there would be days when I wanted something more, and today was one of those days. Clipless pedals with cleated shoes make for speed and distance. I was headed to Meissen, the intact medieval city 25 kilometers west of Dresden along the Elbe. And my tour guide would be none other than Marina Jach, the Meissen architect and town planner.

On the road to Meissen

On the road to Meissen

Urban geeks: Her job is to coax back into use the scores, maybe hundreds of medieval buildings that were run down under the communist government of the GDR time. She talks to landlords, floats ideas, helps them navigate many of the same kind of redevelopment challenges we know in Cleveland. But the buildings are older. And the burden that wore them down was not the march of so-called free market capitalism, but instead the stagnation of communism. She is a friend of a friend. We met one night drinking.

This is the story of a day, a bit of an odyssey, a trip out and back with adventure in between. Regular readers of this blog will know that the bike I ended up with is the Checker Pig 6000, a full suspension mountain bike with big, fat tires—not a bike for 50 kilometer round trips. But under stunning blue sky I mounted my road pedals, changed my shoes, slung my backpack around, and got on the road.

Regular readers will also know how my travel stories spin out of control. Something happens that I didn’t plan for. Here in Germany the effect is compounded by the language barrier, and my willingness to go far into the realm of what you might call “improvisational living.” Stuff happens. By the end of this, for example, I might be headed to the opera. You just never know.

Through fields of joy

Through fields of joy

But getting back on track: I have marveled at the ways Dresden reveals its history. You can tell, for example, where the Allied bombs fell during World War two: Just look for the new buildings. Where they stand now, after February 1945 there was rubble. New buildings map the footprint of the bombing. The exception is the old Baroque neighborhood around the Frauenkirche, the Semperoper Haus, and the Zwinger complex of museums. Those were also leveled by bombs, but in recent years have been rebuilt, stone by numbered stone.

Meissen, though, was not bombed. It’s an entire town of buildings 400, 500, and 600 years old, tightly clustered in a rolling landscape along the Elbe, its skyline dominated by a palace and cathedral on the highest hill.

I passed a windmill . . .

I passed a windmill . . .

So I rode. The Elbe bicycle trail—which runs from Prague through Dresden, Berlin, Hamburg, and all the way to the North Sea—winds along the green flats on both sides of the river: planted fields, meadows, groves of trees, small villages. It is paved, level, and altogether gorgeous. The skinny and smooth tires on my road bike would make hardly a whisper on such pavement, but it’s not that way with the Checker Pig 6000. The big, knobby tires on this borrowed bike hum along the asphalt, generating a pitch that wavers up and down with the pressure on the pedals. As I rolled, I could hear each pedal stroke in the hum of the tires, the wavering pitch like tuning a guitar string: sharper is faster. That’s the pitch we want.

Along the Elbe, close to Meissen

Along the Elbe, close to Meissen

I crossed farm land and passed through villages. I saw a windmill. I arrived in Meissen. And there, standing on the Eastern side of the bridge at exactly noon, was Marina. We parked my bicycle at her office, and we set off to tour the town. We visited the stunning Meissen cathedral, gothic, stark, bare stone interior with muscular pillars and vaulting, big but not huge, mostly built in the 13th century. I generally don’t take photos inside churches, and so I don’t have pictures here. Unlike the big cathedrals of Rome, and despite a beautiful Sunday afternoon, we shared the space with perhaps a dozen or twenty other, respectfully quiet people. One could feel the gravity of the space. Marina and me, with the city's most famous view

We also toured the Castle, built in the late 15th – early 16th centuries.

But enough about the spectacular buildings. As profound as those are, I am at least as taken by the fabric of the city, the narrow cobbled streets with their small grandeur, two- and three-stories, peaked roofs with ornate gables, most beautifully restored, thanks in part to encouragement from Marina Jach. The town planner of this ancient place deals with many of the same issues as her counterparts in Cleveland, and likely wherever cities are recovering from something: “We talk to landlords,” she says. “And then we wait.” 2014-10-19 13.02.11

At the heart of Meissen

At the heart of Meissen

The town square, with its 15th century town hall, was the sight of a familiar battle: whether to allow cars, or not. Here, in a great victory for humans over cars, the people won. On weekends, in the town’s historic district, there are no cars.

No cars. Plenty of bikes.

No cars. Plenty of bikes.

Meissen — like Dresden and many towns along the banks of the Elbe–deals with periodic flooding. Marina showed me a building with plaques marking historic high water marks through the years, many of which are above her head.  2014-10-19 12.25.09

I stayed in Meissen much longer than I expected, or wanted. My plan was to ride home in daylight, at least mostly. But the excellent guidance of Marina kept me pushing departure back to the point that it was getting dark in Meissen before I even arrived back at my bicycle. Neither of us was concerned about this: I could just take my bike along and ride the train back to Dresden. So she gave me directions to the train station, I got back on the Checker Pig, and off I went.

It was at the train station that I met Chris Bruckman. He had arrived at the station a minute ahead of me, long hair well kept, with red cotton pants and a sweater, riding an old mixte three-speed. I couldn’t tell by his accent if his English was spectacularly good, or if he was a native speaker, and the edges of his words had picked up a Germanic flavor after years living here. The latter, as it turns out. Chris is from New York.

Meissen town hall

Meissen town hall

He could read the signs at the train station, which told us something all of us knew, but all – including the town planner – had also forgotten: The engineers were on strike. There would be no train. It was fully dark by this time, and I had no light. Chris did, however, and he was also headed back to Dresden. So off we went together, following the path along the Elbe.

Chris, it turns out, is a rehearsal pianist with the Semperoper company, one of the great opera companies of Europe. He just moved to Dresden to take the job, having worked for smaller companies in the Rohr region of West Germany for several years, since studying at Lucerne. It was a slower ride home in the dark, but under clear skies we talked about music, orchestras, and the arcs of both our lives, for about two hours. We had to stop once in the middle of a field to look up, so distracted were we by the stars.

Strike. A little back and forth.

Strike. A little back and forth.

So –like a prophecy being fulfilled–by meeting a pianist on a trip to Meissen, I ended up going to the opera, to hear Beethoven’s Fidelio a few nights later. But that is another story. Back in Dresden, after a great day and moonlight ride, we ate middle eastern food at the Durum shop on Rothenbergerstrasse, and made plans to hear jazz the following night. This is how it goes. Stuff happens.

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Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

Caer Llan, view from the Driveway

The last time I drove a rental car in the United Kingdom, it was to get to a Welsh cultural festival. Recent Hiram College graduates Tim Walker, David Cornicelli, and I were in Wales working for the summer, helping to build a passive solar-heated, earth-sheltered extension to the Caer Llan Field Study Centre. This was 27 years ago. We had come as graduate students to pitch in on the environmentally visionary project, and to spend a summer surrounded by the ruined castles and abbeys of the Wye river valley and nearby black hills, and to drink the beer. One weekend we heard about this cultural festival, the Welsh National Eisteddfod, so we figured we’d rent a car for the weekend and drive up to hear the famous choirs.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Caer Llan, view from the back garden.

Back then, to rent a car in a foreign country, a person needed an international drivers license. David had an expired one, which he’d brought with him from the US for no good reason, but he didn’t bring it along when we went to pick up the rental car. After all, it had expired. Why bother? But when we arrived at the rental place in Monmouth, the proprietor wouldn’t give us the car without the proper paperwork.

"Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David."

“Dear Peter, I want to build a wall. Love, David.”

View from the Berm House roof

View from the Berm House roof

“We forgot to bring it,” we told him. “We’ll be back.”

So we went back to Caer Llan to see if we could figure out some plan to rescue our weekend: No license, no car, no choirs. None of the anticipated road trip debauchery. So David took out the old license, a slightly worn document three years expired. And we noticed that it was made only of heavy paper, no laminating, no photo ID. And further, that at the bottom, just below the expiration date, there was some left over free space. We happened to have some US coins in our pockets. So there was borne an idea.

A US quarter would do the trick. We laid it down on a block of wood, and the driver’s license down on top of it, and a heavy rag down on top of that, and then another block of wood. We popped the whole sandwich with a big hammer from the construction site, embossing the page with the very official looking profile of George Washington. In God We Trust. We got a black pen and a ruler, and next to the improvised notary stamp we drew a line. We wrote in a new expiration date. We signed it “Richard Shagnasty,” in a script so sloppy as to be illegible to anyone who didn’t know.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

Double rainbow, full arc, right the whole way across the landscape below Craig Y Dorth.

This was satisfying work. We showed it to our host and employer, Peter Carpenter, who –despite the position in which our expatriate criminal activity might put him—had that usual gleam in his eye. “I’ll either see you in a few days, or I’ll see you in jail,” he said.

We picked up the car without a hitch. The lending agent didn’t look twice. We drove through the night to Porth Madoc, the town in North Wales where the Eisteddfod was held. We drank the local beer.  We slept in the car. We met some Welsh women. At no time did the the police intervene.


These days you don’t need an international drivers license to rent a car in the United Kingdom. I know this because twenty seven years after that summer at Caer Llan—last week–I went back. I took a short break from an artist residency in Germany to catch up with Peter, his son Jake and

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

With Peter Carpenter, the visionary who conceived the Caer Llan Field Study Centre, and designed and built the earth-sheltered berm house there.

family, and to see the beautiful place we had helped, in the smallest way, to build. What I feel looking at the place –more than pride in my tiny role there–is massive gratitude for having been involved in such a visionary project, with such capable and generous people.

Caer Llan was originally built as a private house at the turn of the 18th to 19th century, overlooking pasture land marked off by hedgerows undoubtedly older. It was enlarged over the years, but as fortunes ran down in the twentieth century, so did the house. In the sixties it was being run as a small boarding school, and it came up for sale. Peter Carpenter was teaching biology and leading his students on field study excursions at the time. Circumstances aligned, and he bought the place in 1969 with a plan to make it a field study center—a place for student groups to come and stay while they studied through the lens of the surroundings: The English majors would visit the ruin of Tintern Abbey, famous as the place in the Wye valley above which William Wordsworth wrote his famous lines. Perhaps they would take in a bit of Shakespeare in the courtyard at Raglan Castle. The history students might do that, and look at Chepstow and other castles, and any of the significant prehistoric stones that can be found nearby. For the biology students, there are peat bogs. For everyone, plenty of English beer.

The passive solar-heated extension followed. Timothy, David, and I originally met Peter on Hiram College trips to Cambridge, which stopped at Caer Llan. That was in the early 80s. The berm house was an unfunded vision then. But a few years later, we learned that Peter had cut a deal with a retired submarine commander, who pledged enough money to get the project moving, in exchange for being able to live there in his remaining years. So we wrote Peter letters, telling him we’d give a summer’s labor in exchange for lodging and food. By then it was 1987.

Caer Llan was among the first (if not the first) passive solar heating structures in the United Kingdom. The modern addition uses recycled stone to match the original house, and does not

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

The ol . . . as in late 13th/early14th century . . . church at Penalt.

obstruct the view of its façade or any of its other sides. Castellations and other features are complementary. Built into the side of a hill, it has southwest-facing, double paned windows and hyper insulated walls. To top it off, it is covered with six feet of earth, atop which are planted a lawn and garden. A BBC news program once featured Peter mowing the roof. The idea and reality of the construction are that for the majority of the year it is heated and cooled by just a single fan that draws in fresh air, warms it in the solar corridor, and vents it in and out of the rooms. Only in the coldest months do rooms require a little boost from a space heater.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former  pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

Garden vistas abound. This one ends with a foot path through the woods, toward a former pub called The Gocket (now a private home) and beyond.

In the years since I worked there, Peter has handed the place off to his son Jake and his wife Vicky to run. Caer Llan has evolved under their leadership to keep up with the changing economy. Instead of students sleeping in bunk rooms with group bathrooms, eating meals prepared by live-in help, the place caters to weddings and business conferences, offering five-star group lodging.

For my return visit, my rental car travels were not quite as eventful as the first time around. I picked up a nice Vauxhaul at Stansted airport at about midnight, and set off, guided by a GPS I borrowed from an artist friend in Dresden, Kerstin Franke-Gneuss. I made one wrong turn, landing eventually on two-lane “A” road that took me through Oxford, Ross-on-Wye, and about 47 thousand roundabouts. After a three-hour trip that took me five, I rolled up the driveway at Caer Llan at about 5 a.m.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

Chris, the senior gardener, then and now.

The Welsh countryside is still there, including the hilltop known as Craig Y Dorth, with incredible views over small farms, delineated by ancient hedgerows and populated by sheep and cows. I walked around it a couple of times, and saw the full arc of a double rainbow there the day I arrived. Peter Carpenter chauffeured me to the 13th/14th century Old Church in Penalt, which was one of my walking destinations a quarter century ago. I’d have walked this round, too, but for lack of time in a three-day visit. Other destinations back then and now included the old parish churches of Mitchell Troy and Trellech; the Virtuous Well of Trellech and Harold’s Stones nearby; the town of Monmouth with its old fortified bridge; and, in a quick stop on the way back to London, Tintern Abbey.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

With Jake Carpenter and Vicky Carpenter, who run the place now.

All this, obviously, is illustrated with photos from the trip. Huge thanks to Peter, Jake, Vicky, Charlotte, and Georgia for unparalleled hospitality. Here’s hoping the next time takes much less than 27 years.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The phone booth at the end of the drive, with phone still operative.

The road around Craig Y Dorth--a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

The road around Craig Y Dorth–a walk of a mile or two, with glorious views of the green Welsh countryside.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Returning to Caer Llan on the footpath that leads to pastures behind what used to be a centuries-old local pub on the road from London to Monmouth, the Gockett.

Steps in the garden

Steps in the garden

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

The Virtuous Well of Trellech, a destination for pilgrims ho came for its healing properties, fed by water from four springs.

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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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A black-capped chickadee in the hand

A black-capped chickadee in the hand

The pictures speak for themselves: It’s a snowy day, and the tiny birds alight in the palm of your open hand to to pick out a sunflower seed before just as quickly fluttering off to eat it.

At the Brecksville Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks, chickadee feeding in the winter months dates to the 1940s, when naturalist A.B. Williams began to feed the birds. Inside the nature center there’s an old black-and-white photo of Mr. Williams, nattily dressed in his fedora and tie, his hand outstretched as a black-capped chickadee perches there.

A.B. Williams

A.B. Williams

Seventy years later, the birds in those woods know the custom. Dozens of them gather in the trees around the feeders at one end of the shelter—chickadees, woodpeckers, and some other birds that don’t skip town for the Cleveland winter. They know the drill. When we were there, as many as a dozen people at once stood in a little arc around a split rail fence, their hands reaching out, offering food.

The feel of a little bird’s feet perched on your finger tips, suddenly, twitch twitch, and gone—is a little like fishing for perch. You wait. You wait. You concentrate on standing still. You try to think like the birds. You look into their eyes, and when they get close you can tell when they’re thinking about the seeds in your hand.

These birds aren't afraid of a little snow.

These birds aren’t afraid of a little snow.

They flick their wings and land there, peck a seed, hop, twitch, and then the bird is gone, and once again you’re waiting for the next.

The chickadees are dusty shades of grey, white, and black, with beige beneath their wings. They’re quick and beady-eyed. You’d be justified on a cold winter day to put a glove on your hand, and the birds don’t seem to care if you have a glove or not. But I’d recommend going with your bare skin, the better to feel the little bird feet, the shuffle of their weight, the gentle peck of their beaks as they snatch a seed.

This very life-like dummy might lead you to think the birds are not very bright.

This very life-like dummy might lead you to think the birds are not very bright.

It feels lucky every time.

A Naturalist in Brecksville says they prepare for the chickadee feeding season about a month ahead of time by putting a dummy naturalist out among the trees with a wooden bowl of an outstretched palm there full of seeds, just to introduce the idea of a human shaped feeder standing there. Some of the other Metroparks reservations have begun feeding programs in recent years, she says, and she’s tried it herself at home. But nowhere she knows is it so magically successful as in the Brecksville reservation.

You should try this, and bring your kids. It’s 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Sundays, through January. Here’s the info. 


How could you not love this?

How could you not love this?

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Yeah, I’m down with OPB. Other People’s Blogs, that is.

I’m generally wary of compliments from people I don’t know, especially in the blog-o-sphere. So much of what so many bloggers have to say to each other feels more about self promotion than sincerity. But after a bit of clicking around, I’m proud to have been tapped by Portland print maker and blogger Drew Kail for the “One Lovely Blog” award.

There are two reasons: One is that Drew’s relief prints are teriffic, especially in the way they play with the transition of positive and negative, each taking turns carrying the information of an image. That’s the stuff of print-making. My own work is significantly dependent on color, and I truly admire folks like Dru (and like my friend Claudio Orso) who do it all in black and white. So thanks Drew: even though we’ve never met, and I hadn’t run across your work before, it means something to me to hear from someone with your skill.

The other reason: I clicked through the list of fifteen blogs Dru follows–the listing of which is part of passing on the word of “one lovely blog”–, and they are generally teriffic–relevant to art and fine writing. He clearly had found stuff that makes sense, and which coheres.

As that particular requirement to forward a list of blogs might lead you to believe, the “One Lovely Blog”  award is indeed built for promotion. The rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link.

2. Name 7 random things about yourself.

3. Pass the recognition to 15 blogs you enjoy and let them know.

I’ve already taken care of that first rule, and I hope the mandate doesn’t undercut the sincerity of my gratitude. It’s not just checking off an item on a to-do list to say “thanks” in this case.

As for that second rule:

1) I’ve just returned from a long weekend of bicycle camping on Kelly’s Island with my lovely wife and two kids.

2) I’m searching for a good set of Maillard 700 high flange hubs and a few other select parts to help me complete the restoration of my old Peugeot racing bike, which I sold more than 25 years ago and recently (at least two owners down the line) bought back

3) I’ve been about 2/3 finished tuck pointing the front of my 102 year-old house for about 10 years.

4) The first fish I ever caught was a 10″ small mouth bass. I caught it with a line tied to a clothespin, sitting in a rowboat with my uncle and grandfather.

5) I never had pets as a kid.

6) I’m constantly trying to figure out what to do next.

7) I invented the Water Moose Portable Sprinkler Park, which converts a fire hydrant into a water wonderland. Behold:

That final requirement of the Lovely Blog Award–posting links to fifteen blogs a person follows and admires– is no small thing. You’ve got to work to be able to comply with this rules. You can’t be one of those bloggers who’s all about “me.” You’ve got to follow other people who have something to say. Following 15 blogs isn’t as time consuming as following 15 newspapers, but it does take a bit of prowling.

Fortunately, we only go back to the blogs we like. The blogs that I pay attention to generally fall into three categories: They have to do with bicycles, art (especially printmaking), and urban-ism, especially in Cleveland. So  Here’s my list.


Old Ten Speed Gallery is exactly that, a portrait gallery of old bikes from the era when they used to call them “ten-speeds.”

The blog at Momentum (a cycling magazine). Momentum is an asset when you ride a bike. When we ride bikes, we guard our momentum like diamonds. That’s why so many of us run red lights.

Bikesnobnyc:  How he maintains his daily pace of snobbery is a marvel.

Urbanvelo. Years ago, when I fell in love with bikes, it was a sporting, recreational thing. These days, people ride bikes in the city, and it’s largely about transportation, style, and culture. The blog at Urban Velo steadily grazes on cycling news around the internet and comes up with plenty of images, video, and cultural notes, in addition to the product reviews which do not interest me at all. They picked up the story of my old French bike once.


Some bloggers are good at simply showing you what they’ve been up to. It’s a kind of conversational fluency that Hooksmith has in abundance. Plus, it’s great to find other people worldwide who deal with the peculiarities of obsolete printing equipment, such as Vandercook presses.

Speaking of Vandercook presses, the Vanderblog has great information about maintaining them, troubleshooting, presses for sale, etc.

Printmaker Alex Gillies keeps a diary of his wood block adventures in a blog called Against The Wood Grain. He’s got a great style, and he’s happy to take on projects with unconventional printing surfaces, such as a solid body guitar, or a skate deck.

Letterpress printer Larry Thompson blogs about the the kind of thing letterpress printers deal with as they use and restore old equipment. His Greyweathers Press seems to have produced several beautiful books, setting –among other things–great examples of English poetry in editions worthy of the words. Take for example this edition of William Wordsworth’s Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey. 

Woodblock printer Matt Brown tracks his adventures on the Ooloo Press blog. He does color wood block prints, as I do, with different blocks for each color, but his are a bit more nuanced, and he practices Japanese Hanga tradition, instead of using a letterpress.

Karen Sandstrom’s blog Pen In Hand is about drawing, and much more than that. It’s about going into a second career, becoming an artist. After a first career writing about the arts at the Cleveland Plain Dealer, she went back to school–to art school, no less–and launched a second career as an illustrator. So you know, if you’ve worked at newspapers all your life and are wondering what to do next now that the industry is in the tank, this is frequently inspiring. And nice to look at, too.

It’s almost like cheating to plug printeresting under circumstances like this: It’s a steadily robust gush of great print material related to printed matter of all kinds. Broadly read. Fueled by half a dozen regular contributors.  And they’ve got this great how-to zine project going on–for Printeresting’s Rum Riot Press exhibit, they’ve asked a dozen artists to make simple how-to zines in that cool, single sheet book format. Check it out!

Heavy Metal Press Co.’s blog is essentially promotion for that shop, but the photo documentation of the jobs they take on shows they are truly ambitious and have serious capacity to register, deeply emboss, and other feats that make letterpress printing look luxurious, and they are not afraid of a complex job.



The blog 100 days in Cleveland ended with the publication of a calendar (which has the same name as the blog) and a book (called New To Cleveland: A Guide to (re)Discovering the City) with writer Justin Glanville. Even though the hundred days are up, it’s still worth a look back at illustrator Julia Kuo’s affectionate renderings of the everyday details of the city.

Rustwire.com is Angie Schmidt’s blog about rust belt cities admires the innovation and pans the stagnation that’s common in old industrial cities like Cleveland.  In this post, Cleveland City Hall’s Poverty of Ambition, she takes on Cleveland’s response to bicycle advocates who wish the city were moving faster to accommodate the more energy efficient mode of transport.

I met Erin O’Brien through an old newspaper job, where her column “Rainy Day Woman” held forth on subjects diverse as internet porn and a family recipe for a Hungarian cucumber salad.  Her Blog, The Erin O’Brien Owner’s Manual for Human Beings, is at least as diverse as that–a constant supply of domestic bliss and deep Cleveland culture, from the food to the way people talk.

If you care very much about cities, odds are you’ve run across James Howard Kunstler’s high energy sarcasm, either in his books or in his blog “clusterfuck nation.”  My first encounter with Kunstler was his book The Geography of Nowhere, which makes its way through the history and illogic of urban and suburban development in the US. It’s nowhere near as nice or hopeful as Jane Jacobs, even if he did follow up with a book called “Home from Nowhere.” But Kunstler is just plain fun to read, and the vast majority of the time, even if he’s not offering solutions, I find myself cheering him on. In addition to his main blog, you’ll also find his “eyesore of the month” there–a photographic celebration of just about all the crappy things we Americans have done to the American landscape.


Well there you have it.

What are you reading these days?

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