The Museum of Art & History at the McPherson Center

Keyword Site Search

Blog posts by Susan

The MAH Becomes a Work in Progress

Posted December 12, 2012

Thomas Campbell, who will be working in the Solari Gallery.

How did they make that? How long did it take to make that?

When I was a child, one of my favorite things to do was to watch construction projects. Seeing workers sawing and building things held my interest even more than playing Chinese Checkers.   I especially loved the plywood walkways with holes that allowed focused “spot-light” viewings of the various activities. Even now, I am drawn to sheet rock flying, walls being painted and wood being sawed and nailed.

It seems that a lot of our members and visitors are fascinated by the process of building or creating, too.  In general, the two most asked questions  we get regarding artworks are how something is made and how long it took. So, in the spirit of inquiry, we decided to share the process with you.

For the next couple of months, you can come by the Museum and watch artists in action. Even if you happen to come by when the artists are not here, you can see the progress made between your visits by looking at monitors, noticing how many  more frames are filled with sketches and how many stamps are on the wall. And, while you are here, you can help build a hay barn, add to the history of space and share your stories. You can also bring your sketch books, use one of our Etch a Sketches, make your own “finish stamp,” measure yourself and play with magnets.

Work in Progress is a Museum-wide exhibition that allows your heart, mind and body to participate in a multiple of potentially satisfying ways. Come build with us at 705 Front Street.

No Comments »

Does Art Save Lives?

Posted November 17, 2012

The Third of May 1808 by Francisco Goya

Thoughts from Curator of Art and Collections Susan Leask.

Years ago, I was given a one-dollar bill as change after purchasing something mundane. Stamped on the bill was “Art Saves Lives.” At that time, I was vacillating between choosing art history or mathematics as an undergraduate study path. Although I did become an art history major, I did not do so because I saw the message as an indication that the universe was sending me a personal memo;  in fact, I thought the sentiment was funny and a bit overblown. Years later, while packing up for graduate school, I “re-found” the dollar bill and decided to put it back into circulation because, by then, I saw it not as merely humorous, but as a big Truth:  Art Saves Lives.

Powerful art offers us perspectives we may not know exist and can lead us to a better understanding of the world and of ourselves. It can provide images that inspire research into historic and contemporary issues. In 1814-15, Goya painted The Third of May 1808, a painting the late Robert Hughes called the first protest artwork. When we look at it, we can see Goya’s anger and passion in the frenzied brushstrokes.  Having seen it, how can we help but question the motivations behind violent acts and be inspired to act in ways to ensure a more peaceful future? Over twelve decades later, Picasso’s 1937 Guernica, which continues to be a symbol and reminder of the tragedy of war, set off an immediate sympathetic roar. In 1972, when Huynh Cong “Nick” Ut’s photograph of a nine-year old girl whose clothes had been burned off by a napalm bomb was published, war protesters took to the streets in huge numbers. More recently, many of us became painfully aware of the atrocities in the Abu Ghraib prison when artists started exhibiting work of the harrowing images of released photographs and published stories.

Art saves us by helping us understand social problems and encourages us towards empathy. When a newspaper published Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother in 1936, readers sent money to help the starving migrant families who had traveled all the way from Oklahoma to find that a frost had killed the pea crop they had hoped to pick. Nearly thirty years later, Norman Rockwell’s heartbreaking 1964 painting, The Problem We All Live With jarred some Americans out of apathy and “onto the bus” of the Civil Rights Movement. How could anyone not be moved and feel their protective instincts activated when they saw the image of tiny Ruby Bridges being escorted by four U.S. marshals through a hostile, angry mob of parents (mostly mothers) so she could go to her first-grade class?

In order for art to save us, however, we have to open our eyes.  We cannot be passive viewers. We have to let art serve as a starting point for internal investigation and external communication. We must participate in the process so that it can help us interpret, classify, reframe and assimilate information. Henry Miller once said “Art teaches us nothing, except the significance of life.” I think I will write that on a purple five-dollar bill and use it to buy a pack of gum.

P.S. If you want to see The Problem We All Live With, go to the Crocker Art Museum between now and February 3, 2013.

 

No Comments »

A Ballot Box Art Show in the MAH Auditorium

Posted October 10, 2012

Myra Eastman – Woman in Booth

‘Tis the season for thinking about the next round of elections. In the spirit of debate, dialogue and decision making, we invite you to the Museum to see Myra Eastman’s “Voting Series,” on display now until October 24, 2012. These fifteen works, comprised of gouache, newsprint and collage on wood, are perfect reminders for us all to get out and exercise our civic responsibilities.

This 2008 series of paintings by Santa Cruz artist Eastman gives us the opportunity to look back and to look forward. According to voter statistics, the national elections of 2008 resulted in the greatest percentage of voter turnout since 1968. Eastman said, “People woke up and moved by the possibilities, they took action. People voted, and polling sites became symbols of renewal.” It would be wonderful to beat the 2008 voter statistics.

Because the Museum is a polling place for the elections, you will not see this body of work on view when the polls open on November 6th. It is against regulations for poll sites to exhibit any materials that have a political message, no matter how neutral.

Myra Eastman earned her B.A. at the University of California, Santa Cruz and continued to study at Cabrillo College and the San Francisco Art Institute. Her work has merited numerous awards and has been shown in over 30 exhibitions.

No Comments »

Joan Brown: Meditations on Love

Posted June 26, 2012

Joan and Donald, 1982. Now on view on the 3rd floor of the MAH in the Art Forum Gallery.

We are thrilled to welcome our Curator of Art & Exhibitions, Susan Hillhouse Leask, to the blogging crew here at the MAH. Susan will be writing about her experiences developing exhibitions and working with artists in the Santa Cruz community.

Once an exhibition is installed and the next exhibition is somewhat organized, as a curator I enjoy a period that feels “golden.” The gallery tours start, the viewers’ questions and the dialogue begin, and I have an opportunity to communicate what compelled me to choose a certain artist, a particular piece or an overriding exhibition theme. I have a chance to “introduce” to our Museum visitors artists of whom I have a deep knowledge and for whom I have infinite respect.

Today was such a golden day. A group of about twenty women had scheduled a meeting at the Museum and invited me to share with them, over an hour’s time, the results of a three-year exhibition planning project: Joan Brown: Meditations on Love. I intended to talk with them about Joan Brown’s life, her loves and her tragic death in India almost 22 years ago.  I wanted to discuss her artwork in terms of its contextual place, both at the time of its creation and today, as it continues to grow in critical acclaim.

Within the warm glow of any finished exhibition, I seek a space for reflection. So early this afternoon, before the group arrived, I sat in the Art Forum Gallery for a few minutes and thought about Joan Brown–not the famous artist of art history textbooks and world-class museums, but the woman who created these iconic paintings now installed in our third-floor gallery. I wondered how I would present to this group the crucial essence of a woman I did not know personally, but whom I felt I “knew” intimately through her life’s work.

When the group joined me in the gallery, I found myself saying that my favorite thing about Joan Brown was her ability to risk her autonomy for love. She loved her son and her four husbands; she loved artmaking; she loved life. She was a feminist who loved domestic activities. She loved animals, and she loved dancing and swimming.  Joan Brown also loved her independence and self-reliance, and these she did not abdicate. Ever.

No Comments »