Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

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The Prophet Daniel

The prophet Daniel is the hero of the Book of Daniel in the canon of sacred Jewish writings and the Christian Bible, who was a celebrated Jewish scholar, a master interpreter of dreams, and who received apocalyptic visions.  He is one of four Major Prophets in Hebrew Scripture, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.   And he is famous for successfully interpreting the proverbial “writing on the wall” and for miraculously surviving being thrown into the lions’ den.

During this lunchtime bike ride I discovered a statue of the prophet Daniel.  But it was not located at a synagogue or church, as you might expect.  The statue is displayed on the grounds of The Organization of American States, located at  200 17th Street (MAP) in Downtown D.C.  The 8-foot tall statue is made from concrete, and is based on an original 1805 soapstone sculpture by Antonio Francisco Lisboa,  better known as “Aleijadinho,” a sculptor and architect of Colonial Brazil.  It was a gift to the Organization of American States from the government of Brazil, and dedicated in 1962.

I decided to learn a little more about Daniel later when I got home.  But there is so much known about him from his writings and from history that I will only include a few of the more interesting highlights here.

  • Daniel was a good-looking man.  We know this because King Nebuchadnezzar’s criteria for serving in his court included physical appearance, and Daniel makes the grade.
  • Daniel was renowned for his wisdom and intelligence.
  • Daniel was descendant of the royal family of David.
  • Perhaps most appropriate for D.C., Daniel was a government official.  He served in Babylon under four kings: Nebuchadnezzar; Belshazzar; Darius the Mede, and; Cyrus the Persian.
  • And finally, and absolutely shocking for government official in this city, Daniel was scandal free.  In fact, when his political opponents tried to get dirt on him, their only option was to make it illegal to obey God.

 

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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During this bike ride I encountered an interesting sculpture I had never seen before.  The large stainless steel artwork is located on New Jersey Avenue near H Street (MAP) and just four blocks from the Nationals Park in southeast D.C.’s Navy Yard neighborhood, and it is entitled Shindahiku (Fern Pull).

Shindahiku commands attention.  And at 22 feet high by 10 feet 6 inches wide by 6 feet 9 inches deep, and weighing 1,400 pounds, the towering sculpture is hard to miss.  But it is much more likely to catch the attention of passersby like me on a windy day, when the piece seems to come alive.  That’s because it is a kinetic wind sculpture.  It consists of 18 balanced wings that use wind power to rotate around a circular axle, silently swallowing and reopening its stainless-steel “fern fronds.”  The effect is a dynamic pattern of movement that can best be described as mesmerizing.

The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District and developer W.C. Smith purchased Shindahiku early last year, and it was installed just four blocks from Nationals Park on July 12th, 2018, just in time for that year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game.

Shindahiku was created by the prolific American artist Anthony Howe, a resident of Orcas Island, Washington.  Howe has been working on projects like this for more than two decades, including Di-Octo, Shindahiku’s sister sculpture located on Concordia University’s Sir George Williams Campus in Montreal, Canada.  These sculptures are said to be inspired by his former part-time occupation of building steel shelves for office storage.  Howe’s other works have appeared all over the world, including at the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics, and behind a performance of “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana during the 2017 Oscars, as well as in hundreds of private collections from California to Dubai.

       

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Paul Robeson Mural

As I was riding along the U Street corridor during this bike ride, I looked down an alley next to the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute, located at 1351 U Street (MAP), and caught a glimpse of a mural that necessitated turning around and going back to get a closer look.  The mural is entitled “Living Time Line: Paul Robeson,” and is the work of lead muralists Cory L. Stowers and Andrew Katz, their artist conclave known as ART BLOC (comprised of Eric B. Ricks, Maria Miller, Serena Z, Ernesto Zelaya, Jaa), and made possible with the permission of the building owner, and funding from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.

The mural depicts the life of Paul Robeson, who became famous as an American bass baritone concert artist and a stage and film actor known for productions like “The Emperor Jones” and “Othello.”  But in addition to his cultural accomplishments, he was also equally famous for his political activism.  An example of a 20th-century Renaissance man, his talents made him revered during his time, but his radical political beliefs and activism all but erased him from popular history.

Paul Leroy Robeson was born on April 9, 1898, in Princeton, New Jersey, the youngest of five children born to Maria Louisa Bustill, who came from an abolitionist Quaker family, and William Drew Robeson, an escaped slave who became a Presbyterian minister.  After his mother, who was nearly blind, died in a fire when he was only six years old, his father moved the family, eventually landing in Somerville, New Jersey, where he grew up.  After high school, Robeson won a four-year academic scholarship to Rutgers University, where he won 15 varsity letters in football, baseball, basketball, and track, before graduating as the valedictorian of the class of 1919.  He then went on to from Columbia University School of Law.  While attending law school he sang and acted in off-campus productions, and also played football for the National Football League.  It was also while at Columbia Law School that he met and married his wife, Eslanda Cordoza Goode.  He graduated from Columbia with an LL.B. in 1923.

After completing his education Robeson took a job with a law firm.  But he resigned when a white secretary refused to take dictation from him.  It was at this pivotal time that he left the practice of law, and decided to use his artistic talents in theater and music to promote African and African-American history and culture.  This decision would define the rest of his life.

After leaving the practice of law, Robeson began his career as an actor and a singer.  It was a career that would take him around the world during the 1930’s.  In London, he earned international acclaim for his lead acting role in “Othello,” for which he won the Donaldson Award for Best Acting Performance, and performed in Eugene O’Neill’s plays, “Emperor Jones” and “All God’s Chillun Got Wings.”  And he used his deep baritone voice to sing black spirituals, to share the cultures of other countries, and to benefit the labor and social movements of his time.  He sang for peace and justice in 25 languages throughout the United States, Europe, the Soviet Union, and Africa, and became known as a citizen of the world, equally comfortable with the people of Moscow, Nairobi, Helsinki and Harlem.

But it was during these travels that he learned racism was not as virulent in Europe as it was back in the United States.  Back at home, it was difficult to find restaurants that would serve him, theaters in New York would only seat blacks in the upper balconies, and his performances were often surrounded with threats or outright harassment.  It was a lesson that profoundly affected him and never left him.

During the 1940’s, Robeson continued to perform and to speak out against racism.  He was a champion of working people and organized labor. He spoke and performed at strikes and rallies, conferences, and labor festivals worldwide.  And as a passionate believer in international cooperation, Robeson protested the growing Cold War and worked tirelessly for friendship and respect between the United States and the Soviet Union.  It was during this time, when dissent was scarcely tolerated in the U.S., that Robeson openly questioned why African Americans should fight in the army of a government that tolerated racism.  Because of his outspokenness in supporting civil rights causes and pro-Soviet policies, he was investigated by the FBI, and later accused by the House Un-American Activities Committee of being a communist.  The accusation caused his income to plummet and nearly ended his career.  The attempt to silence him, however, did not succeed.

In 1950, the U.S. revoked Robeson’s passport when he would not recant his public activism and advocacy, leading to an eight-year battle to have it reinstated so he could travel again.  His passport was eventually restored as a result of the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles.  During those intervening years, Robeson moved to Harlem and published a periodical entitled “Freedom,” which was critical of United States policies.  He also studied Chinese, met with Albert Einstein to discuss the prospects for world peace, published his autobiography entitled “Here I Stand,” and sang at Carnegie Hall.  Robeson made his last concert tour to New Zealand and Australia in 1960.  In ill health, he retired from public life in 1963.  Robeson died on January 23, 1976, at age 77, in Philadelphia.

The Robeson mural concept stems from the Hung Tao Choy Mei Leadership Institute’s efforts to introduce Paul Robeson to the current generation and re-introduce him to previous generations through the Paul Robeson “Here I Stand” Award galas at the nearby Lincoln Theatre.  The two-story mural features two large portraits of Robeson at opposite ends of the building’s dark grey wall, which bookend smaller depictions of him at different stages of his life.  One of many quotes attributed to Robeson, “I make no distinction between my work as an artist and my life as a human being,” is also prominently featured in the mural.

Much like the mural, this blog post is just a short introduction to the fascinating career, activism and life of Paul Robeson.  I suggest you go down and see the mural it for yourself, if you haven’t already.  And then for a more thorough understanding of the vastness of his thoughts and experiences, read Robeson’s autobiography, entitled “Here I Stand.”

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Other Paul Robeson quotes:

  • “We must join with the tens of millions all over the world who see in peace our most sacred responsibility.”
  • “As an artist I come to sing, but as a citizen, I will always speak for peace, and no one can silence me in this.”
  • “I do not hesitate one second to state clearly and unmistakably: I belong to the American resistance movement which fights against American imperialism, just as the resistance movement fought against Hitler.”
  • “Yes, peace can and must be won, to save the world from the terrible destruction of World War III.”
  • “Four hundred million in India, and millions everywhere, have told you, precisely, that the colored people are not going to die for anybody: they are going to die for their independence.”
  • “In Russia I felt for the first time like a full human being. No color prejudice like in Mississippi, no color prejudice like in Washington. It was the first time I felt like a human being.”

 

A Mobile Art Museum

As I was riding my bike this afternoon though Downtown D.C., I found myself in an area named City Center (MAP), which is a unique, pedestrian-friendly, 10-acre mixed-use project developed by Hines and Qatari Diar.  The City Center project is home to more than 191,000 square feet of retail stores and restaurants, 520,000 square feet of office space, 458 rental apartment units and 216 condominium units, a 1,550 space parking garage, a public park, a central plaza and pedestrian-oriented streets and alleyways.  Additionally, construction of a 370-room luxury hotel, The Conrad, with 30,000 square feet of additional retail space, is almost complete and expected to open later this year.

But I had been to City Center before, and it was none of these things that captured my attention.  What interested me most during today’s ride was a blue, industrial-looking cargo container set up in the park area of the development.  It was open on one end, and people were going in and out of it.  So naturally I was curious and had to find out what it was and what was going on.  So upon closer inspection I was able to find out that it was a mobile art museum sponsored by CulturalDC, an organization that provides a wide range of programs and services that support artists’ ability to live and work in the city.

The mobile art museum’s sole exhibit is by an artist named Jamea Richmond-Edwards, and is entitled “Stay Fly.”  Richmond-Edwards graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Art degree from Jackson State University in 2004 where she studied painting and drawing. She went on to earn a MFA from Howard University in 2012.  In addition to being an artist, she is also currently an Adjunct Professorial Lecturer in the Art Department of American University here in D.C.

“Stay Fly” is an immersive exhibit that explores black Americana, haute couture and fashion, and status symbols.  Comprised of the some of the artist’s colorful, textured paintings, as well as large and small-scale collages, and some of the artist’s personal designer clothes and items that reflect the personal styles which surrounded the artist as a young woman growing up in Detroit in the 1990’s.  The totality of the exhibit is intended to draw attention to the historical and often complex relationship between Black consumers, capitalism, fashion, luxury goods and personal creativity.

Instead of happening upon it by accident like I did, I recommend you make plans to go experience “Stay Fly.”  The exhibit is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 11:00am until 7:00pm, and will be in City Center through April 13th, and admission is free.  And while you’re there, make a day of it and enjoy the rest of City Center’s stores, restaurants, and the uniqueness of the project’s park and open spaces.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

City Center’s Japanese Lanterns are an Homage to the Cherry Blossoms

Mamie “Peanut” Johnson Mural

Mamie Johnson got her nickname from a trash-talking third baseman for the Kansas City Monarchs named Hank Bayliss.  Although that was not his intention.  Standing at the plate opposite the 5-foot-3, 115-pound right-handed pitcher, Bayliss took a hard strike, after which he stepped out of the batter’s box and said, “Why, that little girl’s no bigger than a peanut. I ain’t afraid of her.”  But it would take more than trash talking when facing off against her.  She proceeded to strike him out.  After that, Johnson decided to turn the jab into her nickname.  And from then on the first female pitcher to play in the Negro Leagues was affectionately known as “Peanut.”

Peanut was born Mamie Lee Belton in Ridgeway, South Carolina on September 27, 1935, to Della Belton Havelow and Gentry Harrison.  In 1944 her family moved, eventually settling down here in D.C.  In 1952, when she was still just 17 years old, she and another young woman went to a tryout in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  This was the same league portrayed in the film “A League of Their Own.”  But despite Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball (MLB) five years earlier, the women’s league remained segregated, and she was turned away.  Years later she was quoted as saying, “They looked at us like we were crazy.  They wouldn’t even let us try out, and that’s the same discrimination that some of the other black ballplayers had before Mr. Robinson broke the barrier. I never really knew what prejudice was until then.”

She would later recall her rejection by the women’s league, however, was a blessing in disguise.  Because the later that year a scout saw Johnson dominate a lineup of men while playing for a team sponsored by St. Cyprian’s Catholic Church in D.C.  The scout invited her to try out for the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro Leagues, the same team that launched the career of Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.  She would go on to play three seasons with the Clowns, from 1953 through 1955.

At the plate the right-handed batter had a respectable batting average in the range of .262 to .284.  But with a career 33–8 win-loss record, she was not as good a batter as she was a pitcher.  A right-handed pitcher with a deceptively hard fastball, Peanut also threw a slider, circle changeup, screwball, knuckleball, and curveball, a pitch she received pointers on from Satchel Paige.  Of Paige, she said, “Tell you the truth, I didn’t know of his greatness that much. He was just another ballplayer to me at that particular time.  Later on, I found out exactly who he was.”

Peanut’s brief professional baseball career ended before her 20th birthday, but in that time she amassed a lifetime of interesting stories about a bygone era of playing baseball in a league born of segregation.  After retiring, she earned a nursing degree from North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and established a 30-year career in the field, working at Sibley Memorial Hospital back here in D.C.  She later operated a Negro Leagues memorabilia shop in nearby Capitol Heights, Maryland.

Peanut eventually received recognition for her career in the Negro Leagues.  In 1999, she was a guest of The White House.  And in 2008, Peanut and other living players from the Negro Leagues ere were drafted by major league franchises prior to the 2008 MLB First year Draft.  Peanut was selected by the Washington Nationals.  Peanut also spoke at an event entitled Baseball Americana 2009, which was organized by The Library of Congress.  And in 2015, a Little League named for her was formed in D.C.

Among these and many other accolades is a mural featuring Peanut, along with Josh Gibson, another prominent Negro League player from D.C. who was also known as the “black Babe Ruth”, and played for the Homestead Grays, who played home games at D.C.’s Griffith Stadium.  The mural was created last year here in D.C.  It is located in the alley off of U Street (MAP) between Ben’s Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater in northwest D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, and was the destination of this lunchtime bike ride.  Today is opening day for MLB and the Washington Nationals.  And normally I would ride by Nationals Park on Opening Day.  But since I couldn’t go to the game this afternoon, I decided to go see this baseball-themed mural during today’s lunchtime bike ride.

The colorful mural was painted by D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia, and is directly across the alley from his mural featuring the likes of Barack and Michelle Obama, Prince and Muhammad Ali on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.  The mural was conceived and orchestrated by MLB to kick off the weeklong festivities leading up to last fall’s MLB All-Star Game at Nationals Park.  At the unveiling ceremony, a speaker stated that one of the goals of the mural was to “inspire others to learn about Johnson, Gibson and the Negro Leagues.”  And today I did just that.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

The Golden Haiku Contest

There are certain things that indicate the arrival of spring.  The sighting of a robin is considered the first sign of spring by many in the U.S.  For others it is when we set the clocks forward for daylight savings time.  And some rely on a more official scientific indicator, namely the arrival of the vernal equinox.  But for me it is the return of roadside haiku signs displayed by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District (GTBID) as part of their annual Golden Haiku contest.

A haiku is a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  And this year marks the 6th annual Golden Haiku competition.  The GTBID received nearly 2,000 entries from 50 countries and 41 states, as well as local entries from many D.C. residents.  Judges then selected their top three haiku, including a D.C. winner, dozens of honorable mentions, along with many of their other favorites.  The haiku were then printed on colorful signs that are featured in tree and flower boxes throughout D.C.’s Golden Triangle, which stretches from the front yard of The White House to the Dupont Circle neighborhood.
During today’s lunchtime bike ride, I enjoyed many of the colorful signs despite the cool and overcast weather.  And I took photos of some of my favorites so that you could enjoy them too.  But there are more than 300 signs adorning the sidewalks throughout the Golden Triangle.  They are better enjoyed in person like I did today.  But you better hurry because they are only up through the end of the month.  However, if you don’t have time or are too far away, take heart.  You can also view all of them online.

 

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Links from the past:
Golden Haiku (2016)
Golden Haiku is Back (2018)

The Spectra Sundial

During this afternoon’s bike ride I came across a large sundial located near the eastern end of Georgetown Waterfront Park (MAP).  But later when I was trying to find out more about it, I learned that there is more to it that I initially thought.  The sundial is actually part of a unique tandem sundial, in which a second vertical sundial of the same declination is located on the outside wall, just below the window where the Spectra sundial is located.

 

This Spectra sundial is part of a unique situation where a tandem sundial of the same declinationis locatedThe time is indicated both indoors and out.

at a window of a nearby building. Together they are referred to as a Spectra sundial.

The Spectra sundial is a custom sundial and functional handcrafted art piece that is designed to be placed indoors on a table by a sunny window or directly on a window sill and enjoyed year round. Unique among sundials, the Spectra sundial earns its name by producing vivid prism beams throughout the day, flooding the room with intense rainbow color as it uses the sun to chart the rhythm of the seasons and accurately tell the time of day.

    
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

28 Blocks

During today’s bike ride on the Metropolitan Branch Trail I encountered a large mural on the facade of the Penn Center building at 1709 3rd Street (MAP), in northeast D.C.’s Eckington neighborhood. In addition to its massive size, what initially caught my attention was the realism and unusual yet simple gray tones that give the mural the appearance of an old black-and-white photograph.

The mural is entitled “28 Blocks,” and is the creation of American artist Garin Baker. Baker resides in New York City and is a traditionally trained realist painter, but his professional career spans across artistic disciplines. Baker spent four months hand-painting the 60’ by 160’ mural on 156 sections of parachute cloth in his studio. He then brought the work to D.C., and used a special polymer glue to attach the mural to the facade of the building, followed by a final coating and varnish that add UV and graffiti protection, thus requiring only minimal maintenance for many years.

The mural gets its name from the 28 blocks of marble used between 1914 and 1922 to erect the Lincoln Memorial’s iconic 120-ton marble statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln. But the mural isn’t intended to honor Lincoln. In fact, even the image of the Lincoln statue within the mural is only a peripheral image to provide context to the focus of the work. The mural depicts and is intended as a tribute to the men who are responsible for cutting out, hauling, carving and erecting the iconic Lincoln Memorial statue, which was designed by sculptor Daniel Chester French and planned by architect Henry Bacon. Most of those men were first or second generation black men who were born free, or Italian immigrants.

A quote from Frederick Douglass is also prominently featured on the mural. It reads: “Without culture there can be no growth; Without exertion, no acquisition; Without friction, no polish; Without labor, no knowledge; Without action, no progress. And without conflict, no victory.”

According to Baker, the color scheme of black, white and gray is intentional and carries symbolism. “People see things in black and white, but it’s really not the full story,” he said. “Only through all the shades of gray do we see the full truth.”

The mural is conveniently positioned adjacent to the Metropolitan Branch Trail, which gives cyclists, joggers and walkers a front row seat to view it. But not only that, the trail runs parallel to the train tracks that not only carries commuters and other riders on the Red Line between the Rhode Island Avenue and NoMa-Gallaudet University and New York Avenue stations, but also ferries people from New York to Union Station, allowing them to see the mural out their windows just before reaching the station. Officials with the city’s Department of General Services say 50,000 or more people a day can see the mural. I’m glad I was one of them today.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Two of the most well known murals in the city are located on either side of the iconic restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, located in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, next to The Lincoln Theatre, in an historic building at 1213 U Street (MAP).  The one on the east side of the building, entitled “Alchemy of Ben Ali,” depicts the restaurant founders, Ben and Virginia Ali.  But it is the other one that became controversial, leading to its removal.

In 2012, the Ali family commissioned its first mural with backing from the city’s graffiti prevention initiative, MuralsDC.  A few years later, however, public pressure to redo it started to grow as sexual assault allegations began to accumulate against one of the prominently featured people depicted in the mural – comedian Bill Cosby, who was accused and has subsequently been convicted of sexual assault.  Last year, the mural was first whitewashed, and eventually replaced.

The old mural featured local disc jockey Donnie Simpson, D.C.’s Chuck Brown – the Godfather of Go-Go, President Barack Obama, and Cosby.  Three of those men returned on the replacement mural.  Cosby, who had been a longtime friend of Ben’s, did not.

The newer mural, entitled “The Torch,” painted by D.C. muralist Aniekan Udofia, who also painted the original mural, celebrates D.C. history and black culture.  The mural depicts abolitionist and political activist Harriet Tubman holding a lantern that spreads light onto the other figures in the mural.  In addition to the three holdovers from the previous mural, those figures, who were chosen through a public voting process on the restaurant’s web site, are:  boxer and activist Muhammad Ali; former D.C. mayor-for-life Marion Barry; comedian and D.C. native Dave Chappelle; singer Roberta Flack;  comedian and civil rights activist Dick Gregory; actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; D.C.’s non-voting Delegate to the House of Representatives, Eleanor Holmes Norton; the late singer Prince; longtime local newscaster Jim Vance; D.C. rapper Wale; local radio disc jockey Russ Parr, and; former First Lady Michelle Obama, who now accompanies her husband.

But Virginia Ali, Ben’s widow, says the decision to repaint was based on the state of the mural alone, which she contended had become so soiled, damaged and weather-beaten.  Which means, years from now the mural may need to again be replaced.  So despite not making the cut for the current mural, I still have a chance.  I’ll just have to be patient and wait.

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Original Mural

The Whitewash

The Torch

         

         

         

         

         
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Golden Haiku Is Back

Today’s lunchtime bike ride felt like I was riding through a book of springtime poetry.  It was near McPherson Square Park that I first began to encounter the poetry on signs along the sidewalk.  And as I continued to ride I encountered the signs for several blocks in every direction.

Each sign contained a haiku, a short poem that uses imagistic language to convey an experience.  They were placed in sidewalk tree and garden boxes by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and will remain through the end of March.  They are part of the annual Golden Haiku Contest.  The theme of the short poems is Spring, even though Spring doesn’t arrive officially for over a week.

The signs contain the award winning haiku and judges’ favorites from among this year’s 1,675 submissions from 45 countries and 34 states, and D.C.  The contest judges chose their top three haiku, a D.C. winner, honorable mentions and dozens of judges’ favorites to share with the public and, in their words, “bring a smile to commuters and visitors alike and brighten the winter landscape as flowers begin to bloom.”

I took the following photos of the signs I saw, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Which one is your favorite?

[Click on any thumbnail to view a gallery of full-size versions]

NOTE:  The Golden Triangle Business Improvement District is comprised of a 43-square-block neighborhood that stretches from DuPont Circle to Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP).