Tag Archives: smithsonian

Curiosity Kills the Cat, but Not the Writer….

Woodpecker - Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

Woodpecker – Paper Sculpture by Diana Beltran Herrera

I love getting newsletters from Smithsonian magazine emailed to me once a week – they send links to their articles and I usually find a thing or two (or three or four or more) to think about and explore further.  I subscribe to the print magazine, too;  it’s the one I reach for first when the mail brings me lots of heady reading. I have a thick folder in my file cabinet that’s just for articles I’ve torn out from their pages. This week, it was the beautiful birds of paper sculptor Diana Beltran Herrera (see link below.) I sent the link on to my sister, who also likes such things and whose intellectual curiosity and capacity for wonder inspire me. It seems to me that the bottom line for all artists is curiosity, no?  If you want to be a better writer, try being more curious about the world and the way it works.

Here, then, are links to some recent Smithsonian articles (and there are links within those articles – you can get lost inside it all.)  I hope they set you wandering and wondering…and writing!  Just click on the description:

1. Paper robins, woodpeckers, cardinals, kingfishers…

Robin in flight...

Robin in flight…

2. An insect with “mechanical” gears…

3.  …and a mechanical insect! (this one is from the archives)

Man-made beetle...

Man-made beetle…

4. A “sonic bloom” at the Seattle Center

Sonic-Bloom-Dan-Corson

5. Making music with the Brooklyn Bridge …

6. Shooting frozen flowers? (Who would even think of it? Eerie and beautiful…)

Frozen Flower, Shot

Frozen Flower, Shot

7. Repairing memories and changing memories…

"Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it."

“Each time a memory is recalled, the brain rebuilds it.”

8. There’s an exhibition of Brian Skerry’s photography up at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C. right now. Here’s a slideshow of his work. 

This is how you photograph a whale...

This is how you photograph a whale…

(By the way, it doesn’t take much to support our wonderful national museum – just $19 and you automatically get a subscription to the magazine.  Click here to visit their website and become a member.)

****

The word is so full of a number of things,

I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Maps: Textiles, Textures, Texts

Image

“Lost Boat” – Leah Evans

I love the Smithsonian. Visiting it several years ago was one of the highlights of my traveling life, and I am feeling the pull of it again. I subscribe to the Institute’s magazine, I get their newsletter emailed to me, and I am swooning this week (I have prolonged swoons) about this exhibit of the work of Leah Evans.

Imagine: Quilt maps! Abstract charts of of soil surveys, lost boats, cranberry farms, satellite photos. All made out of fabric. How do artists do it, keep finding their voices in the most unexpected places?

I admit to loving maps. No matter what material they are made of – from parchment (think Magellan, think terra incognita, think Here be dragons) to satellites in space  (think Google Earth) to textiles (think Leah Evans) to wood (think State Park and “You are here”) to the voice on the GPS device (“In 200 yards turn right on Northeast 75th St.” – if you don’t follow directions think  “Recalibrating….recalibrating…”) maps give us a sense of where we stand – at times literally, at other times metaphorically –  in the world.

I once gave a lecture at the Vermont College of Fine Arts about maps in books (it was really about the importance of setting, but I focused on those wonderful maps on the endpapers) and then I followed the lecture up with a special workshop where we made maps of our works-in-progress. You can read a tidied up version of it in the May 2010 issue of The Horn Book. In the workshop (for writers, not quilters) students studying in the Writing for Children program made maps of their works-in-progress, down to the smallest details possible (“Draw a house plan of the house in your book. How far away is the parents’ bedroom from your protagonist’s bedroom? Through which window does the morning sun come in? Where would the protagonist stand to watch a sunset? How does he or she get to school – what neighborhood places are passed each day? What color is the house at the corner?”)  I’m a great believer in developing setting as a character in a book, asking what the setting wants or demands or begs for from the human characters. Just think of the writers for whom setting was essential: Eudora Welty, Robert Frost, John Steinbeck – it’s impossible to imagine them without Mississippi, New England, the fields and flophouses of the Monterey Peninsula.  Beverly Cleary’s Ramona – how could she live any other place than Klickitat Street? How could Octavian Nothing be anywhere but Boston during the Revolutionary War?

Image

Here is  a stanza from Elizabeth Bishop’s “The Map.” (You can read the whole poem here):

The shadow of Newfoundland lies flat and still.
Labrador’s yellow, where the moony Eskimo
has oiled it. We can stroke these lovely bays,
under a glass as if they were expected to blossom,
or as if to provide a clean cage for invisible fish.
The names of seashore towns run out to sea,
the names of cities cross the neighboring mountains
-the printer here experiencing the same excitement
as when emotion too far exceeds its cause.
These peninsulas take the water between thumb and finger
like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.

No matter what the medium- yard-goods or words – and no matter what the peculiar genius of the artist/writer, maps bring our focus squarely in on the sixth sense: that of our own bodies in physical space. I think interesting art art is made by people who explore that physicality.

I would love to go see the Leah Evans exhibit at the Smithsonian. As abstract as her quilts seem to be, they converge with maps we are familiar with – we can almost see the satellite photo that the quilt below is based on – is it Manhattan? Is it Cuba?We can puzzle it out, or we can go with just an impression. Art provides a wide berth. When we look at both photos, we “take the water between thumb and finger/ like women feeling for the smoothness of yard-goods.”

————————————————————————————————–[P.S. If you’re interested in that Elizabeth Bishop poem or poetry in general, you can head over to Anastasia Suen’s blog, Booktalking, to see what people are posting for the weekly round-up on Poetry Friday.]

Image

“Green Satellite” by Leah Evans

Image

Satellite Photo of the Caribbean