At the Freer Gallery, a seminar on looting of cultural heritage

If you think museums are just homes for great art, think again. The art, academic and museum worlds have combined forces into activism against theft. They have to since the illegal sale of cultural heritages has become endemic. It is also immensely profitable.

At the seminar at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. were Acting Director of the Freer Gallery, Dr. Richard Kurin and Brigadier Gen. Fabrizio Parrulli of the Italian Carabinieri.

“Museums have become proactive,” Kurin said, “in conservation and cultural heritage.”

Much of the discussion concerned the recovery of stolen art, either after a natural disaster (think the Haitian earthquake) or war (think Iraq and Syria.) During and after the Iraq war, and in particular, with the advent of ISIS, which is adept at selling items stolen from the lands they held, antiquities have flowed into the market. New York’s Manhattan District Attorney‘s office has a new office devoted to it.

The international coalition seems mostly to be Western: US, France, UK, and more. Unesco has the “Blue Helmets for Culture” group. Parrulli mentioned that they spend time with some of the Special Forces groups going into war zones to make them aware of antiquities they might encounter. (Uh, good luck, antiquities.)

There is also now an Internet app, iTPC Carabinieri, if you run across something you think is suspicious on your summer holiday in Europe.

In international efforts, a 2016 conference in Abu Dhabi where there was an effort to create a $100 million fund for “protection of cultural heritage.” Also in 2016 President Obama signed legislation leading to the “Cultural Heritage Coordinating Committee.” This committee lies in the purview of the Department of State along with the Cultural antiquities Task Force, the International Council of Museums’ “Red Lists of Cultural Objects at Risk.”

The Q&A included Deborah Lehr, founder of the Antiquities Coalition, a very accomplished woman. https://archaeology.columbian.gwu.edu/deborah-m-lehr

What I came away with is the belief that there’s a lot of action on the cultural heritage field nowadays, happening under the cover of disinterest.

There were two amusing bits. Kurin mentioned that actor Ben Stiller (star of the Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian) was now supporting conservation efforts.

The last question, a young man asked Parrulli about the men arrested for art trafficking photographs. What he was asking was the younger generation as prolific in theft as the photographed men, who he referred to as being “in their fifties and sixties, getting elderly…” His question was drowned in laughter.

The average age of the audience was over 50.

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Don’t blink or you’ll miss ‘Artes de Cuba’ at the Kennedy Center

Cuba Celia Ledon

On a trip to pick up tickets at the Kennedy Center, I discovered the Artes de Cuba: From the Island to the World.

For those unfamiliar with the Kennedy Center, the theater along the Potomac River is one of several arts meccas in the Washington D.C. area. It’s usually know by its plays (‘Hamilton’, I’m looking at you) in June and musical offerings, but right now it has sculptures on the main floor, and an extended video and costume exhibit on the terrace level, next to the restaurant.

The outer room has a 15 minute video of Cuba’s vibrant buildings from Emilio Perez, but the most stunning part in the inner room are costumes by Cuban artist Celia Ledon.

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‘The Shining’ is made from pop-top rings crocheted together and tied with strips of lycra.

Her intricate costumes come from “discarded videotapes, pop-top rings and tires”. According to the wall information, she is “obsessed by trash.” With unusual articulated mannequins, her work looks like it comes from science fiction films. In fact, her work has appeared feature films and fashion. At this moment she’s working with the Teatro el Publico Teatro el Publico and Ludi Teatro, whose U.S. premiere was canceled in October 2017 after visa difficulties.

The exhibit is lit with blue light and neon. I converted one of the pictures to black and white so the detail can be seen.

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“Photo Sensitive” by Celia Ledon. The photo was converted to black and white so detail could be seen.

 

The Artes de Cuba runs until May 20, 2018. A pop-up store on the main level of the Center sells bright, Caribbean-patterned scarves and wraps.

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A crocheted gas mask tops “Loose Ends” from Celia Ledon. It’s made of raw canvas.

 

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Top shopping at the Smithsonian Craft Show

Smithsonian Craft Show

I have seldom walked through a craft show and had my jaw drop at virtually every booth. The outstanding quality and imagination sets the 2018 Smithsonian Craft show at the National Building Museum apart from so many others. It is a stunning show of artistry.

While this year’s theme is Asian Influence / American Design, the work for sale comes from around the world.

(I’ll be linking to websites for the exhibitors since they preferred no photography in the show.) It runs from April 26-29, 2018.

Selected from over a 1,000 applicants, the 120 artists were chosen by a trio of judges,  Bruce Helander, art critic, Jane Milosch of the Smithsonian Provenance Research Initiative and Shoji Satake from the West Virginia University.

In immaculate booths,  ceramics, glass, jewelry, lamps, woodworking and more are displayed. It may sound like a conventional craft show, but there is nothing conventional here. While pricy, what you see and can buy is often one-of-a kind work of art of stunning quality.

Out of  Wilson, Wyoming came stunning hand-blown glass platters and bowls from Thal Glass Studio in vibrant purple and oranges. With steampunk-influenced lanterns, California artist Evan Chambers evokes Jules Verne’s’ Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in an octopus lamp.

From Peru, Nicario Jimenez invoked the Day out of the Dead in his wall sculptures. Colorful and fascinating. He also won Best of Show.

Jennifer McCurdy’s ceramics may have started life on a potter’s wheel but their porcelain swirling lines, woven texture, and spiky leaves remind you more of wind-sculpted rock or, in one case, magnolia flowers. She’s from Massachusetts.

Zippers as art? Check out Kate Cusack‘s necklaces and pins. She’s one of the many jewelry artists.

If you want handmade unique shoes suitable for the office, try the Cordwainer shop.

Several of the fabric artists channeled the Show’s team of Asian influence. One used Chinese dragons in brilliant red and gold for a swing coat. Susan Bradley out of Minneapolis, Minn. does works with silk and kimono fabrics.  Cathayana from Troy, Michigan has multi-colored accordion-folded scarves.

There seemed an unusual number of ‘decorative fabric artists’ a.k.a. wearable art (think swing coats or filmy hand-painted scarves.)

Sarmite Wearable Art out of New Jersey, has stunningly designed coats. (I have provided a link to a Pininterest page because going to the Sarmite site, I get a list of pills for sale. If you search for them in Google, you probably can reach them through their phone number).

Many of the Show’s artists have donated items for an online auction that runs through May 1, 2018. The proceeds go to grants that the Smithsonian Women’s Committee (SWC) hands out supporting Smithsonian programs, education and research.

The latest set of 17 grants were national and international in scope. Among them, the National Museum of American History got a grant aimed at their digital and video efforts. The Smithsonian Libraries grant went to helping students from DC, MD and VA to help shape “programing” aimed at their peers. The National Zoo got two grants, one for “counting mammal species” in Kenya and the other for a study of the “release of golden frogs from captive care” in Panama.

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Kudos to the Smithsonian Volunteers, including Tia Duer, who worked hard to keep things running the day I went. They were unfailingly helpful.

The Smithsonian Craft Show runs for four days, April 26-29, 2018 at the National Building Museum in Washington D.C. The online auction runs until May 1st.

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A to-be-read book, ‘Darjeeling,’ turns out to be so worth it

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An afternoon cup of tea

Too often books languish in a pile named, “I’ll get to it soon.”

That’s what happened to Jeff Koehler’s “Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea” which has been gathering dust for roughly three years. Yet every time I thought of giving it away, I’d flip it open and fall in love with the writing all over again.

Jeff Koehler, noted food author whose writing has appeared in Food and Wine, the Washington Post, NationalGeographic.com and many others, has written a love song, to the delicately flavored India tea, Darjeeling.

It’s more than a song, it’s an opera. Spending at least a year, and a growing season in Darjeeling, India, Koehler tells the story of how the tea leaves are grown, shipped, and end up in your morning brew. That’s only a fragment of the book though. The rest is a world history of tea, how it came to India,  the influence of the British on colonial India (think Rudyard Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills or Paul Scott’s The Raj Quartet); and how things changed – or didn’t – in the tea industry when India’s independence came.

No one can tell a great story like a great writer. In just few words, Koehler can evoke the experience of a taste of an expensive hand-rolled tea, the 2013 Green (tea) Pearls. “He smiled and plucked a couple of rolled pearls the size of earrings from a jar. Once steeped, the liquor shines a pale gold, a shade closer to champagne than hay. In the mouth, it’s plummy in a fulsome and rounded way…”

He goes into the modern marketplace behind the small tea bags that you find in the local grocery or tea shop. By the end of the chapters on picking, rolling and tasting, you might want to know exactly when your tea was picked so you know you are getting the best of that season’s leaves.

Koehler also goes into the problems facing the modern Indian tea industry such as manpower demands, and the vagaries of Mother Nature in regards to rainfall and soil content. The  extensive bibliography at the end can be a jumping off place for more reading.

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Label from the bottom of a container of Darjeeling Tea from India

Being a food writer, he includes some recipes at the end such as how to brew the perfect cup of Darjeeling, Masala and Tibetan Tea with Salt and Butter. If you’re in a Victorian or “British Raj” mood, you might try Timeless Cucumber Sandwiches or Chicken-and-Fresh-Mint Hamper Sandwiches. Or, maybe local favorites such as Momos, Thunkpa or onion Pakoras.

Koehler’s latest book published in 2017, “Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your Cup,” which looks to do the same thorough research for the other morning staple for millions.

Tea has a history that spans millennia. Koehler’s “Darjeeling” is a good place to start reading about its past.

I recommend having a full steaming teapot and cup at your elbow, along with some scones with clotted cream, or some tea-marbled deviled eggs, as you begin your journey.

———-

Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea Bloomsbury Books, $26.00

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Ikats! Ubiquitous but unknown

Ikats from “To Dye For” at the Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C.

The next time you hit Crate and Barrel, or Target, take note of the ikat designs everywhere.

If you don’t know what ikats are, go down to Washington’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of Art for the new exhibit, “To Dye For: Ikats from Central Asia.” It displays antique robes alongside the work of a Western fashion designer who discovered and popularized the design – Oscar de la Renta.

The word ‘Ikat” is actually a Malaysian-Indonesian word that means “to tie” bundles of thread. It has become a generic term for the designs, said Chief Curator Massumeh Farad, of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. “In Central Asia the term  used is ‘Cloud Binding’.” Ikats are produced in India, Indonesian and Japan, but the Central Asian ikats are known for their “incredible color and palette and bold designs.”

The Sackler Gallery had an ikat exhibition in 1998 drawn from the collection of Dr. Guido Goldman. Later he donated 70 textiles to the museum. The museum has drawn from the donation for this exhibit.

Ikat from Central Asia at “To Dye For.”

Farad said that tiny fragments of ikats have been found as early as the 8th century from Yemen but they really flourished in Central Asia from the early 19th century. The ancient “Silk Road” cities of Bukhara and Samarqand became hubs of the textile industry. After Uzbekistan’s independence in the 1990s, there has been a revival of ikat production.

Ikat coats were expensive luxuries usually created for royalty or the rich. In nomadic cultures the vibrant lined coats were one form of wealth. Velvet ikats are “top of the line,” said Farad, since they are so complicated to make. “Ikat velvets are the absolute finest.”

Ikat robe from Central Asia, silk velvet, 1850-75

The process of making an ikat is laborious. The designs, with pomegranates, jugs and others, are created long before the actual weaving is begun. The threads are dyed from light to dark, usually starting from yellow to the red to indigo. At George Washington’s The Textile Museum, which also has a ikat exhibit, “Binding the Clouds: the Art of Central Asian Ikat,”  The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, has constructed several examples of looms strung with dyed yarn which shows the complications of the weaving.

The Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, looms

At the Sackler, Farad explained that the dying and weaving were done by different guilds. The indigo was done by the Jewish community; the Uzbeks “would be weaving the pieces together.”  The hangings were used to separate spaces in a house or to cover things like blankets. When you look at a large hanging, it is easy to find the seams where the shorter ikats were sewn together to make a large one. When they wore out, then fragments could be used as patching materials.

In the late 1990s, Dominican-American designer Oscar de la Renta went to Uzbekistan and was “stunned by the colors and designs,” said Farad. He introduced ikat designs into his clothing in the late 1990s and up to 2013. A dress and several of de la Renta’s ikat-patterned coats are on display alongside with the antique ikats.

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Fall 2013 Oscar de la Renta dress made from silk and wool jacquard using ikat designs.

On April 14, the Textile Museum is holding a “Shop Event: Ikat by the Yard” offering three new custom-designed and handmade velvet ikats from Uzbekistan.

 

“To Dye For” runs until July 29, 2018 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington D.C.
“Binding the Clouds: The Art of Central Asian Ikat” at The Textile Museum runs through July 9, 2018.

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A ‘March For Our Lives’ in Washington DC

2018-MarchforourLives-7They came from all around the DC area and from out-of-state – Minneapolis, New York State and more. They filled the historic Pennsylvania Ave and overflowed to some of the other streets.2018-MarchforourLives-14

The March for Our Lives was not just teens protesting. it was complete families, from grandmothers in wheelchairs to one-year-olds being fed a jelly sandwich by her mother as her father held a sign saying, “NRA Math. 1 Good Guy with (picture of AR-15) + Bad Guy with (picture of AR-15) equals 2 (picture of AR-15)’s $old.” The child’s sign said, “Gun Reform Now” and had a hand print in one corner and a crayon drawing in crayon.

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It was also one of Washington’s best run protests. The tee shirt vendors were hard at work flogging various versions of the name. Probably the blue-green tie dye shirt was the most exotic. They were hawking diverse offerings including buttons with a banned symbol over a drawing of an AK-15, bumper stickers, and rainbow flags. There were Philly “Real (soft) Pretzels.”

Outside the journalism museum, the Newseum,was a table to make protest signs. On the stones below were slogans drawn in chalk.

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Hail Canada! The Embassy stairs was the perfect place for a photo-op. and many took advantage of it. One woman flew a flag with the iconic drawings from the Women’s March.

2018-MarchforourLives-TopShotOn a street paralleling Pennsylvania, food trucks were linked up awaiting hungry marchers. This is the first time I’ve seen that happen. Usually the hot dog vendors are the saviors of footsore walkers. The restaurants were doing booming business.
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The “March For Our Lives” had a fantastic music playlist including Miley Cyrus. I wonder about the choice of “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones, but this is a generation that doesn’t remember the Altamont concert.

The media says there was a counter protest near the Trump International Hotel. The New York Times has an article about these protests  all over the U.S.

This march reminded me of the 2002 march against the Iraq War. Again, the president was out-of-town, and no one came out of the White House to address the crowd. That march failed in preventing the war. Here the President released a statement praising the teens but then his motorcade avoided them in Florida where he was headed for the weekend.

I hope this movement succeeds in producing some welcome change.

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DC’s morning meetings – Pence, Klobuchar

IMG_7208One of the great pleasures of living in the Nation’s Capitol is the chance to seeing  legislators in the flesh and hear their words without any media filter.

This can be good or bad depending on your thinking. If nothing else, you hear tidbits that don’t make into news articles.

Yesterday, I went to a noon meeting with Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar and Republican Vice-President Mike Pence at Axios. It was televised on C-Span if anyone wants more detail. In this case they served really good healthy food – salad, salmon, chicken, salad, quinoa, and avocado.

Senator Klobuchar is from Minnesota. She has sponsored the Honest Ads Act along with Senator Warner (Virginia), and Senator John McCain (Texas). She wants online advertisings having to follow the same rules as print ads in transparency. 2018-Axios-Klobuchar.jpg

Just as interesting was her casual comment about applying anti-trust laws to the online travel industry. This would be interesting Unfortunately C-Span doesn’t have a clip on this discussion.

On a lighter note, she’s a supporter of the popular sport of curling.

My interest in seeing Vice President Pence was spurred by many comments by friends which basically demonizing him as a bad man.

That wasn’t the way he came off to me. He was bland and stolid, the perfect balance to the President. Very vanilla pudding without any additives.

He spoke on visiting the Olympics and “ignoring” the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. “I didn’t avoid the dictator’s sister; I ignored her.” 2018-Axios-Pence.jpg

He went on to discuss the Russian meddling in the 2016 election, repeating twice, at the start and the end that it had “no effect on the 2016 election” and that the intelligence community was “…. confident of the election results of 2016.”  My takeaway: The vice-president doth protest too much. I think the results were indeed skewed by the meddling. Whether it made a difference in the winner, is up for debate (which I am not getting into.)

He was asked what does the media get wrong about Trump? He replied, “The man has a very big heart. (He) loves his family…. Just look at (his) devotion to his family and  his family to him.”

He also he spoke of being upset by comments on the ABC show “The View” which compared “my Christianity with mental illness.” He says he tries to start the day reading “the Good Book” (the Bible) and his “faith sustains him.” He felt that the comments demonstrated how “out-of-touch” was the show was with people.

My takeaway: People need to realize that there’s a human being at the other end of their comments, especially on something as personal to Pence as his religion.

He also said he was a booster about space travel and NASA. “We’re going back to the stars.”

Finally, at the end, in a lighter moment, he says he wanted a motorcycle for Father’s Day since both he and his wife ride them, but instead he got a puppy… which he named Harley.

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