Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Susan Laing Shares Her Incredible Adventure -- From Down Under to Duluth Dylan Fest

Hibbing's Dylan Days and Duluth's Dylan Fest have attracted visitors and fans from from all over the world. Over the years I've had the opportunity to meet, or begin friendships with, folks from England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Sweden, Spain and Australia. This year Susan Laing of Australia made the furthest trek to be part of our weeklong Duluth festival. Her story was quite impressive, for she came to the States to not only walk the glorious hills of Duluth that a young Bob sang about on Planet Waves, but to touch all the major touchstones associated with the Nobel Laureate. What follows is a very brief recap of Ms. Laing's six weeks in America.

EN: Can you share the places you visited while you were here on your six week adventure?

Susan Laing: I arrived in Houston... visited the Museum of Fine Arts (MFAH) ...
I saw the sculptures of (Australian) artist Ron Mueck ...
I saw a fabulous exhibition of Cuban revolutionary art Adios Utopia: Dreams and Deceptions in Cuban Art Since 1950...
Wanting to take in as much American music as possible...
I saw Martha Redbone perform ‘Bone Hill - The Concert’ at the Alley Theatre....
Being a tourist I heard songs from traditional Cherokee chants and lullabies to Bluegrass and Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rock & Roll, and R 'n B...

I saw the Houston Space Center and, unlike the crew of the Apollo 13 moon flight, I did’t hear the words “Houston, we’ve had a problem here”...

Portal, the Dylan sculpture in Maryland.

The Intrepid Traveller
The point of starting my Dylan expedition in the South was to visit the Woody Guthrie Center in Tulsa and experience the future hometown of the Dylan archives.
I saw Woody’s original handwritten manuscripts, lyrics, inscribed photographs, early photographs, rare letters, medical records, flyers and films.
I saw paintings, drawings and assemblages.
I saw guitars, a mandolin... felt the dust.
I heard his songs and the songs of all the good people who have travelled with him and since.
I saw Pete Seeger’s exhibition... his film ‘The Power of Song.’

Then on to old New York City... an East Coast city that you all know well... swept on to MacDougal Street... walked a line from the Lower East Side to the ghost of Gerde’s Folk City... I heard the Transatlantic Sessions’ voices of Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carter, Sarah Jarosz, Karen Matheson, Aoife O’Donovan, Declan O’Rourke, John Paul White.

The sculpture working in a medium familiar to all Iron Ranges.
EN: What was it that prompted you to make this journey?

SL: I wanted to attend Dylan Fest.

Duluth's Aerial Lift Bridge is a memorable landmark here.

EN: How did you come to be such a Dylan fan?

SL: In 1998 I was living in Sydney and visited the studio of Brett Whiteley. He was a Dylan fan and this was the music he played while working. I had an instant feeling of connection when I heard it.

EN: If you have time, can you share one highlight from each place you visited?

Susan at Fitgers
on Bob Dylan Way
SL: The Tulsa highlight was the Woody Guthrie Centre .... I had no idea of how much there was to his story and his contribution to music, history and American culture

The Hibbing highlight was the grandeur of the castle in the wilderness High School and the Historical Society Museum at the Memorial Centre. In Duluth it was the amazing community of people who join to celebrate all things Dylan in the week long festival.

The boondocks of Hibbing-Duluth are far greater than The City - or Paris!

* * * *
Right: One of three Dylan-themed manhole covers on Bob Dylan Way. 

* * * *
The magic of our town is made moreso by the many who make their way here to visit with us and share memories. Thank you, Susan, for being with us in May. And we loved your hat! (VBG)

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Embrace it.

P.S. The Dylan-machine continues to fire on all cylinders. Reviews of recent concerts on his Never Ending Tour, such as this one in Providence, have been stellar.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trending On Twitter: #MondayMotivation

Writing is in my DNA. When I look back on my life I see that I started a newsletter for nearly every organization, group or club that I was part of. The chess club, history club, even our bowling league in high school -- I saw a need for communication, and produced a primitive form of a newsletter, mimeographed in those days before copiers. I used my art/design skills and would come up with a cartoon for each issue as well as write summaries of the key events of the previous week.

In 1982, when I returned to the Twin Cities from a year in Mexico, I obtained temporary employment painting apartments till I sorted out what I wanted to do with my life. I'm not sure how it happened, but before long I was producing a one page newsletter as I had in high school, called the New Monday Memo. The owner of this loose association of painters, Terry O, liked the idea and the NMM became a useful communication vehicle. He came up with the name and wanted it written in an upbeat manner for the purpose of countering the prevailing drabness associated with going back to work on Monday.

It was a great concept. A shot in the arm. Fresh juice to start the week off on the right foot, to give one a lift.

Fast forward. 

One of the Twitter features that I like is the Trends list that runs alongside your Twitter feed. It's useful for identifying key stories or breaking news based on what people are talking about. It's how I learned about the Mumbai massacre before CNN or the local news outlets.

On Mondays one of the trending topics nearly every week happens to be Monday Motivation, or rather, #MondayMotivation with the hashtag. It's a social media phenomenon that shows our little team of room painters were on to something. A little uplift on Monday mornings can really help put wind under your wings as you soar into a new week.

Here ar a few gems from my Twitter fee this a.m.:

--Your Attitude Determines Your Direction

--Let your smile change the world.
Don't let the world dampen your smile.

--The only way to win with a toxic person is not to play.

--Setting goals takes Desire
But completing them takes Determination.

--Don't Make Excuses, Make Changes.

--Get out of your comfort zone and step into your great self.

You get the picture. Whether heading back to the office or the factory, to the fields or to knock on doors, if you need a lift check out the MondayMotivation hashtag on Twitter.

Have a truly great week. Thanks for checking in. 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Franconia Sculpture Park Is An Expanding Universe

Franconia Sculpture Park is one of the surprise discoveries we made in the late 90's. We were headed toward Taylor's Falls and off to the right there was a large field with large unusually-shaped sculptures planted here and there. Fifteen years ago we paid another visit to this intriguing place.

When I heard the the Duluth Art Institute's Amber White had left for Franconia it triggered a desire to return, which was doubly amplified by Christa Lawler's DNT article in late May. I was "in the neighborhood" recently so I took a brief self-guided tour of some of the structures on the North end of the park. It's 43 acres and I really didn't have a lot of time, but I saw plenty. And I like the price: free.

Taylor's Falls makes a nice day trip if you're seeking a place to go on a lazy day. It's beautiful down there. Franconia Sculpture Park is just another stimulating diversion, worth the time.

Here in the Twin Ports it's day 2 of the Park Point Art Fair. If you were scared off yesterday by the forecast, let it be known that a 40% chance of rain actually means a 60% probability that it will not rain. Today's forecast has similar foreboding from 10 a.m. till noon. Don't worry about it.

* * * * 
Meantime, art goes on all around you. Get into it.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Local Art Seen: Tribute to Russell Gran

After the closing of Washington Junior High School in the Central Hillside community of Duluth the building was converted to residences for the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative. One of it longest residents, Russell V. Gran, recently passed away and a special art event was held this past Thursday at the gallery there, curated by Eric Dubnicka, former curator at the Tweed Museum of Art and friend of Mr. Gran.

I've crossed paths with Russell Gran seemingly countless times over the years during annual studio tours or while covering art shows in the Washington Galleries, including a few shows featuring his own paintings. Even so, there was much I didn't know about his life and how he came to be living in Duluth. From the obituary this past week I learned he was not only a Denfeld valedictorian, but also a UMD valedictorian.

His first career was teaching before moving to Hartford, Connecticut in 1959 where he became an underwriter for the Traveler's Insurance Co. While in Hartford, he took graduate courses in literature and painting at Trinity College and the University of Hartford. In 1971 he moved to Boston and continued working as an underwriter, this time for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Because of his mother's health he returned to Duluth where he completed his master's degree in studio art at UMD.

His obituary mentions a gruff exterior that served as a facade for a humorous, sensitive and loving man. This gruffness must have become something of a trademark since this week's Duluth New Tribune story about the exhibition notes the passing of "a loveable curmudgeon." In point of fact, in 2012 Gran titled one of his art exhibitions Curmudgeon.

The June 22 art show at the Washington Studios Artist Cooperative was a celebration of his both his art and his life, titled Russell V. Gran: A Lift's Retrospective. Here are some of the paintings that were displayed and/or sold that evening.

He lived a full life, and left a big mark on a small part of the world.
A very special man, he will be missed.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Murders in the Rue Morgue: Poe Creates Prototype of the Modern Detective Story

I was in sixth or seventh grade when I acquired and first read Edgar Allen Poe: The Complete Stories and Poems. I had been into horror films as well as thrillers at the time and was drawn naturally to stories like The Pit & the Pendulum, The Black Cat, Tell-Tale Heart, and Masque of the Red Death. I didn't, as yet, know the extent of Poe's literary influence. I only knew that I found the stories were compelling.

A half century has passed since then and after having read recently of Poe's influence I picked up a copy of several Poe mysteries featuring C. Auguste Dupin, the first of these being "The Murders in the Rue Morgue." Very early in the story I recognized the first outlines of a pattern that every reader of mysteries will readily grasp, the format of our modern classic detective stories. Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot parade before us, but it was Poe who invented the prototype. Each detective hero is introduced in a similar manner by means of some incident in which we observe his or her masterful powers of observation and deduction. In the case of Poe's Dupin, he deduces that the narrator, his companion, is thinking about a certain actor. "How could you have possibly known that?" his friend exclaims. Dupin outlines the steps by which he pieced together what, to him, was obvious.

I immediately thought about one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories featuring Sherlock Holmes in which the great detective deduces that Watson has just returned from Afghanistan. I do not recall the story, only that there one of the clues had to do with his shoes, and Watson was simply astonished.

Once the brilliant mind of our hero has been established the story can begin. It is nearly always a murder, one that leaves the authorities stumped. In Poe's story two women are brutally murdered shortly after receiving a sum of money (a red herring). They live on the fourth floor of  building locked from the inside and their fourth floor apartment is similarly locked from within. The younger woman has been shoved up inside a chimney with such force that it could not have been a murder suicide. The windows are such that it appears no possibility of entrance or exit there either. Several people heard the commotion, the screams and what was  clearly the sounds of the murderer, but no one could agree as to what language he spoke. The Spaniard said it was English, the Englishman said it was Dutch, the Frenchman said Spanish, etc. It was essentially a garbled mess of unrecognizable garble.

As one would expect, our brilliant detective has already solved the problems in the case long before anyone has the first inkling.

Just as Sci Fi writers aspire to win a Hugo, journalists the Pulitzer, and Hollywood actors an Oscar, the coveted prize for detective fiction is the Edgar, named after Poe and placing his achievement with this story at the pinnacle of originality and significance.

What is the pinnacle of success in your field? 

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How to Create and Manage a Creative Culture: Lessons from the Pixar Experience

When I first saw the silhouette on the cover of Creativity, Inc. I was stymied. It bore a resemblance to the familiar conductor who appears in Disney's Fantasia, but was not, yet it had a familiar look. It's like that puzzle with the vase and the face, or a number of similar optical illusions. Once you see it, you generally don't un-see. It was Buzz Lightyear, or rather a hybrid of these two iconic images, standing in as symbol for the phenomenal business hybrid of Disney and Pixar.

It was Brent Schlender's Becoming Steve Jobs that cued me in to the role Steve Jobs played in saving Pixar Animation Studios from the ash heap of stories that might have been, keeping the company on life support till all the pieces could be pulled together for the Hollywood supernova called Toy Story. Upon completion of this Jobs career and character development story, I felt impelled to read Ed Catmull's insider account of Pixar. The big achievement there, and the basic storyline in this book, was not Toy Story, or its various other superhits. Rather, Catmull's aim is to share a lifetime of insights about management in general, and managing creative people specifically.

How does a company create a creative culture where excellence flourishes, where ideas actually come to fruition and become earth-shaking events? Catmull shares everything, including all the lessons learned through their various failures, and the miracles that rose from those ashes.

The amazing thing is that despite the various mis-steps, Pixar never had a single film that bombed.

The book's subtitle tells the real story of what made Pixar such a superstar: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in The Way of True Inspiration. Unseen forces means forces can refer to forces that are invisible, like the ice below the surface that sunk the Titanic, or it can mean forces that are in plain sight, like Poe's Purloined Letter, but we do not see them. Catmull states that the management team had to be perpetually vigilant. What they were vigilant about was very different from most organizations.

At the end of the book Catmull does a summing up of his "Thoughts For Managing A Creative Culture." If you Google that title, you'll find that numerous writers have begun sharing these. Though Ed Catmull's stories make it such a rewarding read, his distilled thoughts at the end are well worth deeper reflection. Here's a small collection of notes from this five page reiteration of the book's themes.

--Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. Give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better. If you get the team right, chances are that they'll get the ideas right.

--It isn’t enough merely to be open to ideas from others. Engaging the collective brainpower of the people you work with is an active, ongoing process. As a manager, you must coax ideas out of your staff and constantly push them to contribute.

--There are many valid reasons why people aren’t candid with one another in a work environment. Your job is to search for those reasons and then address them.

--Likewise, if someone disagrees with you, there is a reason. Our first job is to understand the reasoning behind their conclusions. Further, if there is fear in an organization, there is a reason for it— our job is (a) to find what’s causing it, (b) to understand it, and (c) to try to root it out.

--There is nothing quite as effective, when it comes to shutting down alternative viewpoints, as being convinced you are right.

--In general, people are hesitant to say things that might rock the boat. Braintrust meetings, dailies, postmortems, and Notes Day are all efforts to reinforce the idea that it is okay to express yourself. All are mechanisms of self-assessment that seek to uncover what’s real.

--If there is more truth in the hallways than in meetings, you have a problem.

You can find more of these here or if you go ahead and purchase the book here.

* * * *
Healthy organisms and healthy organizations will grow naturally if given the right nourishment and environment. In the case of institutions, there have been plenty of books written about how they fail. Ed Catmull's insider perspective on Pixar's achievements has applications for all types of organizations. But it would be especially valuable for companies working in creative fields like ad agencies, theater, Hollywood, arts communities, new product development, communications and more.

More can be said, but we'll end with this: Read the book.

“Achieving enormous success while holding fast to the highest artistic standards is a nice trick—and Pixar, with its creative leadership and persistent commitment to innovation, has pulled it off. This book should be required reading for any manager.”
—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Local Art Seen -- Eris Vafias at the Red Mug

You can see these and more work by Eris Vafias 
at the Red Mug Coffehouse in Superior 
through the end of June. 
There may be a closing reception announced at 
Twin Ports Arts Align on Faceook. Stay tuned.

* * * * 
Meantime, life goes on all around you.
Get into it.