Tag Archives: art

“I Paint So That I Don’t Have to Talk”: The Art of Drew Struzan

Back in December when we were reflecting on all the Star Wars-related materials the Library has, I briefly touched on the majestic music of John Williams. Today I want to talk about another artist who was first introduced to me via Star Wars–Drew Struzan.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, what about names like Indiana Jones, John Rambo or Harry Potter? Now there’s probably so much bell-ringing in your ears you should make an appointment with an audiologist. You might not recognize Drew Struzan’s name, but you’ve certainly seen his work, whether it’s in the form of an album cover, a book jacket or one of his over-150 movie posters.

Some of his most famous movie posters are collected in Drew Struzan: Oeuvre and The Art of Drew Struzan. From Hook to Hellboy, The Thing to The Walking Dead, Blade Runner to Batkid Begins, Struzan’s work is instantly recognizable and unquestionably beautiful. The books also include some of his studio work, like portraits of his grandchildren and his own interpretation of Baba Yaga. I’m someone who can barely draw stick figures, so I admire an artist like Struzan—his drawings and paintings almost look like photographs.

For more on Struzan beyond the art, I highly recommend the 2013 documentary Drew: The Man Behind the Poster. It reveals a placid, taciturn family man, like the sweet grandfather everyone wants. While the details of his early life are fascinating, hearing him talk about his work is the most interesting aspect of the documentary. Regarding movie posters, he says how important it is for a poster to not only sell the movie’s premise but also evoke the feeling or emotion of the movie. In a world where most movie posters consist of awful photoshopped giant heads, Struzan’s work has a classiness to it that harkens back to a golden age of cinema, when the multiplex was a portal to another world of imagination and wonder. Often imitated, but seldom replicated, you can look at a movie poster by Struzan and know exactly what kind of movie you’re going to see.

If you’re a fan of Steven Spielberg or Star Wars (read: everyone), or if you just like good art, you should check him out.



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You Know Andy Warhol, But Do You Know Mozelle Thompson?


Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here. The following is a guest post by Pittsburgher J. Malls, who has studied and researched Mozelle Thompson over the past several years, and put together an exhibit of more than 100 records featuring the artist’s work.

In January 2013, I was listening to Buddah Records’ 1969 release of Black America Vol. 2: The Man of Love, Dr. Martin Luther King when the liner notes caught my eye. They include a paragraph about the artist who illustrated the album cover. Mozelle Thompson. “Mozelle Thompson was born in Pittsburgh, PA. He is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and attended the Art Students League and New York University. He is a profuse illustrator of book jackets and record covers. His magazine illustrations and theatre posters are known throughout the United States, while his courses in commercial art and window display are attended widely.”

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

I was intrigued as to who this native Pittsburgh artist was and why I’d never heard of him before. The finite amount of information available online didn’t deter me from researching and digging for more. After twenty two months of combing through microfilm at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, tracking down and interviewing Thompson’s family members and piecing together articles, I identified more than one hundred twenty Mozelle Thompson illustrated LPs and EPs. With a short career (1953-1969), Thompson appears to be the only prolific African-American artist to illustrate album covers. He was a pioneer in his industry, working alongside the first generation artists who contributed to the history of album cover art within the first fifteen years of its existence.

Born in the Hill District in 1926, a young Thompson won awards for his artistic abilities as early as second grade. Like Andy Warhol, Thompson was a student of Joseph Fitzpatrick in the Tam O’Shanter Pallete Saturday classes at the Carnegie Institute. Thompson and Warhol attended neighboring high schools, Thompson at Peabody and Warhol at Schenley. Whether or not they knew each other I don’t know, but considering they were only one grade apart I think it’s very likely that there were some moments when the young artists occupied the same room at the same time. Thompson went on to win numerous local and national awards while studying under Jean Thoburn, who was perhaps his biggest influence.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Drawing and painting were just the tip of Thompson’s talent iceberg. A keen eye and passion for fashion and costume design landed him a spot in Mademoiselle. The November 1944 issue of the magazine not only published his award winning dress designs, but they also produced the garment from the seventeen year old’s sketches. When he wasn’t designing beautiful garments, he was a socialite and budding journalist. In the summer of 1945, the aspiring young fashion designer wrote a column titled “The Junior Social Swirl” in The Pittsburgh Courier. He kept readers up to date on who was accepted to which college, who had returned to Pittsburgh and local music events. These events are documented in many Teenie Harris photographs. So far, Thompson is identified in four photographs in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Teenie Harris Archive.

Thompson attended the Parson School of Design in 1945, returning to Pittsburgh in the summers where he created window displays at Gimbels department store in downtown Pittsburgh. In 1948, he received a scholarship to study abroad in Rome and Paris. Thompson set sail for Europe that June with a group of fifty students from Parsons. His adventures overseas are documented in a three page feature in the February 1949 issue of Ebony when he was twenty-two. The Ebony article is an interesting read and insightful on various levels. He speaks briefly on race relations of the 1940s and his aspirations as a young artist. Thompson mostly talks about his interest in fashion design. The article references his commercial work, which had already been published by 1949 — floral arrangements in Vogue and fashion drawings in Glamour magazine.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

In 1953 RCA Victor re-released the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess LP with a Mozelle Thompson-illustrated cover. This is the earliest of Thompson’s album cover illustrations identified so far. He illustrated several more albums from 1955-1957, but 1958 is the year that he churned out the most album covers. So far there are over seventy LPs and EPs released before 1960 that feature Thompson’s drawings and paintings. The bulk of the albums are classical releases, popular music of the 1950s and ethnic and international releases. In addition to album covers, he also illustrated a number of magazines, book covers and theatrical posters, including the original cast album of Purlie and a 1963 paperback edition of A Clockwork Orange. (Which, by the way, looks absolutely nothing like Stanley Kubrick envisioned it.)

Thompson illustrated until the time of his death. The work he created the last year of his life is particularly interesting. It contrasts with his earlier work, both in terms of style and theme, and it’s indicative of the change that was going on in our society throughout the course of his career. This is a change that was eventually reflected in the industry that he worked in, which was gradually becoming more inclusive as the years progressed. In 1969 Thompson continued to illustrate classical LPs and soundtracks, but he also creates a body of Afrocentric work that there was likely less of an opportunity to do in prior years.

Mozelle Thompson’s career and life ended tragically when he fell six stories from his apartment window on December 6, 1969. In addition to illustrating, he taught courses on fashion and window display design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He was working on an illustrated version of the well-known hymn Life Every Voice and Sing at the time of his death.

Thompson’s work spans many industries and mediums. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the work he did for books, magazines and various posters, etc. but I hope the research that I’ve done up until this point does justice to Thompson’s legacy and introduces this amazing artist to new admirers.

-J. Malls



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Four Times OverDrive Saved the Day


Star Wars Heir to the JediI was waiting in line to see Carrie Fisher’s panel at Star Wars Celebration Anaheim 2015 (remember how I’m a big Star Wars geek?). I did not have a book with me, because I didn’t want the extra weight in my backpack, which I knew I would slowly fill with merchandise over the course of the day. Longingly I thought of the book sitting in my hotel room.

Then I remembered I had also put an eBook copy of that book–Star Wars: Heir to the Jedi–on hold through OverDrive. And it had come in, and been automatically checked out.

I whipped out my phone, opened the OverDrive app, and downloaded the book. In about ten seconds, it loaded, and all I had to do was find my place and start reading.

(Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi was a disappointment. It’s written in first person from Luke Skywalker’s perspective, and mostly he runs from planet to planet and almost gets eaten by monsters. It was also horribly predictable. I don’t mind a bit of predictability in books like this, but I’d like to at least pretend I don’t know what’s going to happen. With Heir to the Jedi, that was impossible.)


Fifty Shades of GreyDuring the height of the Fifty Shades of Grey mania, my husband and I were eating breakfast for dinner at a diner. He told me about his coworker’s obsession with the book, and how she said it had changed her life and opened her eyes.

Giggling, I pulled out my phone and found an eBook copy on OverDrive. When it finished downloading (again, in about ten seconds), I read out loud in my best fake serious narrator voice.

For the next few days we read segments out loud to each other, making toilet sounds every time the main character “flushes” (which is about every other sentence).

All right, all right, that last example wasn’t exactly a “pinch.” But thanks for the fun, OverDrive!

(It’s not the kink that I find funny, but the repetitive writing style. I recommend Leigh Anne’s post “Fifty Shades Better” for well-written kinky romance recommendations.)


The Non NonprofitAn actual pinch came after the time I found this awesome book in the Nonprofit Resource Center called The Non Nonprofit. It is full of fantastically challenging exercises that get you to think about your nonprofit’s mission, goals, and strategies. I was working through them when the book’s due date reared up, and of course someone had a hold on it.

But not to worry! The ebook copy was available, and before I even returned the print book I had the ebook on my tablet, ready to guide me through the world of effective nonprofit leadership.


On Becoming an ArtistThat same thing happened to me with On Becoming an Artist, which I didn’t start reading until it was overdue, because I forgot to return it and wasn’t about to make an extra trip to the Library just to avoid a thirty-cent fine.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you view it), I fell in love with the book and the author before I had finished the first chapter. Once again, OverDrive came to the rescue–there was a long line of holds on the print copy, but the ebook copy was there, waiting for me to download it.

I’m not a die-hard ebook fan, but I do love having another option for finding a book, especially when it means I don’t have to wait. The next time the book you want RIGHT NOW isn’t available, check OverDrive (and/or our eBook collection through Ebsco), because it just might be sitting there, waiting for you to love it.



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Gallery Crawling

Part of HC Gilje’s “The World Revolves Around You” at the Wood Street Gallery.

A City Without Guns, by Jennifer Nagle Myers, part of the Unloaded exhibit at Space.

This past Friday, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust hosted their quarterly gallery crawl in the cultural district downtown. The library had a buttons-and-fliers booth there, as we do at a lot of downtown events. I just went as a citizen; I love these. I wasn’t always an art fan, but I met a few local artists when I first moved to Pittsburgh, and discovered that these events were a great introduction to the community.

The gallery crawl is a relatively simple event: multiple venues open, often with special exhibits or live performances, and the public is invited to visit and witness art. The downtown Pittsburgh events sprawl throughout about ten square blocks, at twenty to thirty separate venues. Some venues, usually the ones that are actually galleries, showcase traditional art (i.e. art you can hang on a wall or put on a literal pedestal). Others show films, offer dance lessons or yoga classes, present improv comedy, host artist talks, demo cooking techniques, etc. A night market allows local artisans and small businesses to display wares for purchase, and is generally accompanied by food booths from local restaurants. If you missed this one, the next one will be happening July 10.

From Tamara Natalie Madden’s exhibit “Out of Many, One People” at 709 Penn Gallery.

This kind of event is one of the things I love about Pittsburgh. I went to this event as part of a foursome, hoping to see one artist and one musical group that I recognize from previous events around town.  I encountered a handful of unexpected familiar faces, including a few of you I know from the library. I got into conversations about love and pain and funk music and ephemera and and and….

A lot of the artists are new enough or working on a small enough scale that the library doesn’t yet have them in our collection. And let me tell you, we are missing out. Some were beautiful, some were perplexing, and some just felt like they reached in and grabbed the heart out of your chest. To learn more about some of the themes and events, try these from our catalog:

August Wilson’s Fences, currently in rehearsal by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company.

The Early Mays self-titled second album, songs from which were performed during the “crawl after dark.”

A collection from a National Poetry Month podcast, an event coming to an end in just a few days that was being celebrated at a downtown public school.

Several books in honor of National Jazz Appreciation month, which has been associated with performances downtown throughout April.

To learn more about cool things to see and do around Pittsburgh, look at these:

Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine

Whirlwind Walk: Architecture and Urban Spaces in Downtown Pittsburgh

Food Lovers’ Guide to Pittsburgh

The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Bucket List

Pittsburgh (travel guide)

Finally, to get more art in your own life, try borrowing materials from the Braddock Library’s Art Lending Collection.

-Bonnie T.


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The Pop Art Nun

Be Patient, Corita Kent

Be Patient, Corita Kent

I was off last Friday and instead of laying around my house, watching terrible daytime television, and eating Jalapeno Cheetos (they are a thing, a delicious, delicious thing) I actually put on pants and left my house. Not only that, but I did something cultural. I am so glad I did! I cannot remember the last time I was so inspired by art. Now I think everyone needs to see the Corita Kent show at the Andy Warhol Museum before it ends on April 19th. (Who can resist anyone called The Pop Art Nun?)

from the Warhol:

Someday is Now is the first major museum show to survey her entire career, including early abstractions and text pieces as well as the more lyrical works made in the 1970s and 1980s. The exhibition also includes rarely shown photographs Corita used for teaching and documentary purposes.

In other words, it’s a big deal. (If you don’t believe me, here is a review from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and an NPR review- both glowing.)

“Like a priest, a shaman, a magician, she could pass her hands over the commonest of the everyday, the superficial, the oh-so-ordinary, and make it a vehicle of the luminous, the only, and the hope filled.” -Friend and theologian, Harvey Cox

“Like a priest, a shaman, a magician, she could pass her hands over the commonest of the everyday, the superficial, the oh-so-ordinary, and make it a vehicle of the luminous, the only, and the hope filled.” -Friend and theologian, Harvey Cox

Corita Kent was a designer, an illustrator, a writer, an artist, a feminist, a nun, an activist, and according to artist Ben Shahn, “a joyous revolutionary.” She was born Frances Kent in 1918 in Fort Dodge, Iowa. In 1936, she entered the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart, taking the name Sister Mary Corita Kent. She earned her MA in Art History at the University of Southern California and taught at the Immaculate Heart College for almost 30 years. During her time at IHC, she worked with such ground-breaking artists as Alfred Hitchcock, Buckminster Fuller and Charles & Ray Eames and her classes became a mecca for inventors and avant-garde creators. She eventually left the order (because of some disagreements with the Vatican) to pursue her art full-time in Boston, MA. She died of cancer in 1986.

She worked almost exclusively with silkscreen and designed the United States Postal Service’s annual “love” stamp. Her ground-breaking (and massive) body of work includes pop-inspired prints that used the writing of Albert Camus, Robert Frost, e.e. cummings and even Jim Morrison of the Doors to question the social upheaval of the 1960s, religion, activism, and also spread messages of hope, faith, and tolerance.


As a librarian and lover of words, I love that she uses text in her work. It took nearly two hours for me to move through the exhibit because I had to read every word she printed. I left wanting to reread all of Frost and then read all of the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. I had to make a list so I could discover more about the artists she references. I found myself laughing and questioning and getting teary-eyed as I moved through her life’s work. It made me want to share her with everyone.


Who needs paper? Not this librarian!


SomedayIsNowSomeday is Now: The Art of Corita Kent, curated by Ian Berry & Michael Duncan

Full-scale survey of her work

Damn Every Thing but the Circus: A Lot of Things Put Together, Corita

Illustrations, quotes and poetry from Corita.

DamnEverythingButTheCircuCome Alive: The Spirited Art of Sister Corita, Julie Ault
The first study of her work, containing essays that examine her life and career.

Learning by Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit, Corita Kent, Corita Kent

This was the textbook she used in her classes. Sadly, we don’t have this title. But I found lots of copies for sale online!

Also, if you would like to look at more of her work, there is a brilliant online collection through the Harvard Art Museums.

And finally, the full quote from the painting “Be Patient” is from  Letters to a Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

The show ends April 19th! Don’t miss it!









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Being Fine About Not Being Any Good

I am only one kind of crafty and it’s the kind that gets people to make things for me, not the kind where I make things for myself. Last year, I was given a sewing machine and some patterns by a friend. That’s all I have to say about that. I don’t have the needed attention to detail and patience I think is required for knitting. My fingers are too unwieldy to do anything like origami. I had resigned myself to not being an artsy-craftsy person. Until I discovered that I am an amazing painter.

When I say “amazing”, I mean there’s no screaming and I like it. And by painting, I mean paint-by-numbers and rock painting. During Christmastime last year, I went shopping with my niece with the intent of buying her a book, but we ended up buying three paint-by-numbers kits and a rock painting kit. It took some time to finish the paint-by-numbers, but I was so happy when it was finished.

Look at my art! (It's a sorcerer.)

Look at my art!
(It’s a sorcerer.)

Then I moved onto rocks. I’ve only done two so far, but I’ve noticed that there’s something incredibly soothing about painting a rock. There’s also something incredibly soothing in accepting that I am not a master artist and will never be. The painting isn’t about creating a masterpiece (rock). It’s not about me making some beautiful thing; it’s about me making some thing. It feels so great to create something that I’m thinking about breaking out that dusty sewing machine and making something that may be so horrible I can only wear it when I’m alone.

So if you’ve been wary or unwilling to do something because you think you’re not going to be good at it, join the club. Then read a few books or dive right in with no instructions and join the other club where we knit or paint or sew and make something that may be not so great, but is all yours.

MeandMySewingMachine    Watercolor101      PrintingbyHand



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The Great Art Heist

The Concert, about 1665, Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675. Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, www.gardnermuseum.org

The Concert, about 1665, Johannes Vermeer, Dutch, 1632-1675. Photo courtesy of Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, http://www.gardnermuseum.org

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of what is known as the largest art theft in U.S. history. In Boston, while revelers were still celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, during the wee hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as policemen entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum  and stole 13 works of art, estimated to be valued at a total of $500 million. Items taken included a Manet, 5 drawings by Degas, 3 Rembrandts (including his only known seascape, Storm on the Sea of Galilee) and Vermeer’s The Concert. This makes the robbery the largest theft of personal property ever. The story of the burglary and subsequent investigations are the subject of the 2004 documentary by Rebecca Dreyfus, Stolen (conveniently also available as an eVideo through our online collection), as well as a book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft by Ulrich Boser.

The film concentrates on the revitalized investigation in the early 2000s led by renowned art detective Harold Smith. He worked diligently on this investigation until his death from skin cancer in 2005. Mr. Smith was able to interview on-screen known art thieves, such as Myles Connor, whom the Boston Police considered a viable suspect for the Gardner theft, even though he was in prison at the time. Whitey Bulger, notorious Boston mobster, has always been thought to know something about the heist. But even though he was finally apprehended in 2011, he has not provided any major breaks for the investigators. Theories about where the paintings are today range from a warehouse in the Boston area, to the homes of mobsters in Russia.

The Concert by Vermeer is considered to be the most valuable work of art stolen from the Gardner museum that day. Because so few Vermeer paintings exist, taking even one out of the public eye is a great loss to the art community.

Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Photo courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, www.gardnermuseum.org

Isabella Stewart Gardner, 1888. Photo courtesy of the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, http://www.gardnermuseum.org

The museum itself is a work of art, the model of a 15th century Venetian palace surrounding a courtyard garden. It should really be on any must-see list for Boston vacations. Admission is free on your birthday and always free for anyone named Isabella. (True!) The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the only art museum in the world designed by a woman, built by a woman, paid for by a woman, and filled with art collected solely by a woman – a wonderful example for Women’s History Month.

Isabella Stewart Gardener was a captivating and complex woman.  She spent two years depressed and ill after the death of her 2 year old son. Her doctor suggested that her husband take her on a tour of Europe. During this and subsequent travels, Mrs. Gardner cultivated her love of fine art. At home in Boston, she supported the arts and local sports teams. Mrs. Gardner did not conform to the Victorian ideals of what a woman should be like. This led to many rumors and speculation about her activities. In response to these stories about her, often printed in the Boston newspapers, Mrs. Gardener would reply, “Don’t spoil a good story by telling the truth.”

Fascination, obsession even, with the Gardner Museum art theft continues today. Just last year investigators may have uncovered pertinent information to the case. With a $5 million reward on the line, you can understand why many armchair sleuths are trying to solve this mystery.

-Melissa M.
“Win as though you were used to it, and lose as if you like it.” – Isabella Stewart Gardner


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There is nothing quite like checking out a few books from the library and learning how to do something. We all love to learn and read and be entertained. But picking up a new skill or refining an old one is something very special. The Library has it all: home repair, building a canoe, raising goats, etc. …and knitting. I don’t think there is enough yarn in the world to make every project or idea available on CLP’s shelves.

Lately for me, it’s been all about drawing. There is something so wonderfully simple about it. You just need a pencil and some paper. No expensive set of paints or easel to buy, no special equipment necessary, nothing to it. Transitioning from a lifelong doodler to an amateur illustrator hasn’t been easy, but it’s been fun, and CLP has tons of titles to help us along.  I have flipped through at least a dozen titles learning basic techniques, perspective and anatomy.

One of the unexpected benefits of this reading splurge is the encouragement to draw from life. Most of us don’t have the luxury of taking art classes in our spare time and it can be difficult convincing someone to stand naked in the middle of a room for long periods, especially now that temperatures are dropping. But books like Figure Drawing Without a Model by Ron Tiner recommend drawing whoever and whatever is around. So far, no one on the bus has caught me.  For the basics, I have been gravitating toward older titles like The Art of Pencil Drawing by Ernie Watson and Wendon Blake’s Starting to Draw and Landscape Drawing Step by Step.  There is so much to choose from on the shelves. The humble pencil is capable of great things, as evidenced by artists like Paul Calle.

At this point, some of you out there are wringing your hands in frustration, crying out against cruel fate and bemoaning a perceived lack of artistic talent. “I can’t draw!” you say. Well, you are wrong. Few of us will become great artists, whatever that means now. But drawing is a skill, and skills can be learned. Ultimately drawing is a trick, representing a three dimensional object on a two dimensional plane. Lines don’t even exist in reality like they do in many illustrations. But our brains can figure it out.  So for the hard cases out there and the non-believers, start with this book: The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. This groundbreaking work breaks down the nuts and bolts of seeing, perceiving, and drawing based on hard science. Anyone can learn once the veil is lifted.  In a similar spirit, I will go ahead and admit that I could probably get better at math if I worked at it.

Once the gears are oiled, I highly recommend this book The Art of Urban Sketching by Gabriel Campanario. This book was an amazing eye opener about the power and potential of field sketching in an urban environment. With pencil and sketchbook, the environment around us is potentially transformed and made more meaningful.  The book even includes a “manifesto” for the budding urban sketcher.  I hold manifestos to a pretty high standard. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels really set the bar high. Unless you are systematizing a new way of analyzing history, I think it’s better to call it a “guidebook.” That’s just me of course; the book is a can’t miss and will open your mind to the artistic possibilities of all the space and form we take for granted on a daily basis.  So, get to the library and start drawing.  Oh, and any urban sketchers out there with a doodle of CLP-Main, please send a copy to me. It’s an amazing building and I am very curious what people have done with it.



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Eye Candy

I loved to read as a kid—big surprise statement for a library blog.  But I can also admit to a certain feeling of disappointment, particular to the early part of my reading career, when I would flip through a book and sigh disconsolately, “No pictures at all?” Then and now, I am a big fan of illustrations. I clearly remember some of them: a beautiful painting of Normans and Saxons clashing at Hastings, a step by step series of a knight donning padding and armor, the intricate detail of a diesel engine revealed like an oyster’s pearl as it was winched out of a truck. These illustrations enthralled me. They had a very magical sort of quality, the perfect accompaniment to lazy childhood afternoons. Now, here at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, there is so much to look at I will never have to sigh again.

I am not the only one out there who likes a nice picture sandwiched into a book. Osprey Publishing has carved out a definite niche for itself with trademark slim volumes on military history. These fact-filled, topical books always feature plates in the middle.  Marketed to military history buffs and modelers, these gorgeous full color plates expose us as the overgrown children we actually are.  I particularly enjoy the ones about fortifications and castles.

The mother lode of illustration will always be found in the Children’s Department.   Just browsing through will unearth some gems, such as The Binding of Isaac.  This book introduced me to the stunning and evocative work of Charles Mikolaycak. They are simply incredible.

Another stand out illustrator available in Children’s is David Macaulay whose pen and ink work has treated castles, cathedrals, ancient cities, and mosques.  Macaulay’s books have even been turned into some fantastic PBS specials.

Some fun crossover can be found. The stand out artist for Osprey over the years was Angus McBride, who passed away too young in 2007. His stuff was simply brilliant. And in this outstanding book from the Children’s Department, The Best Book of Early People, I was treated to his vision of early man, including a wonderful scene from a village of mammoth hunters.

Early Hominids, may I say how nice you are looking today?

A heartfelt thanks to all the McBrides, Macaulays, and Mikolaycaks, and other non-alliteratively named artists who weigh CLP’s shelves down with such beautiful art.



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Art of the Everyday

“Most of life is offline, and I think it always will be; eating and aching and sleeping and loving happen in the body. But it’s not impossible to imagine losing my appetite for those things; they aren’t always easy, and they take so much time. In twenty years I’d be interviewing air and water and heat just to remember they mattered.” – Miranda July, in It Chooses You

Miranda July is not everyone’s cup of tea, but she’s definitely mine. Admittedly, your interest in her writing and art projects may hinge on your tolerance for conceptual or performance art, and here is where I out myself: I am a huge fan of both. I of course realize that both conceptual and performance art are deeply weird, dorky things to be interested in, and it’s not something I bring up in conversation very often. I think it’s something I’ve always been interested in, though, even before I knew of its existence. Growing up, my best friend and I performed “art interventions,” although we didn’t think of them as such, as they were more like pranks performed out of boredom. One that comes to mind involved making fake bumper stickers and anonymously sticking them on the backs of cars; I preferred non sequiturs on my stickers, while my friend Laura preferred puns and parodies like “Men at Work: Give ‘em a Cake.”

There may not actually be that big a difference between a prank, and what we call conceptual or performance art though. Both are meant to confound and confuse, and hopefully make the audience/recipient of the prank reconsider or rearrange something in their everyday reality. The biggest difference may be that pranks are often mean-spirited or embarrassing, and art rarely is. And Miranda July’s artwork is definitely not something I would call mean-spirited.

Assignment #63: Make an encouraging banner. From the website: http://www.learningtoloveyoumore.com

I’ve been a huge fan of July’s work ever since discovering the web project Learning to Love You More she began with artist Harrell Fletcher back in 2002, a website dedicated to giving out “homework assignments” and then posting the responses sent in by anyone wanting to contribute. Past assignments have included everything from Assignment #38: Act Out Someone Else’s Argument, to Assignment #43: Make an Exhibition of the Art in Your Parent’s House. I have also enjoyed her short video projects, writing, and films.

While she was working on the script for her most recent film, The Future, July became distracted and began to procrastinate—mostly by surfing the Internet. After weeks of doing this, she decided she needed a break from the online world and turned to another distraction, interviewing people she found selling things in her local PennySaver.  The majority of It Chooses You chronicles July’s interactions with this odd group of strangers: an elderly amateur singer selling her old suitcase, a shy teenager selling bullfrog tadpoles, an eccentric single mother selling her old hair dryer, and so on.

I liked this book more than I thought I would, having put off reading it because I was disappointed it was not a collection of short stories (I’d really enjoyed her last book). Rather than a traditional narrative, the book is part conceptual art project/part personal essay, but more cohesive and linear than I expected; in between visiting people she contacts in the PennySaver, July weaves together her own personal experiences with those of the people she meets. She is honest and thoughtful, and her willingness to attempt a connection (however tenuous) with people from all walks of life is admirable and comes across as genuine. Her observations on these strangers’ lives–their hopes, wishes, and dreams–are funny and surprisingly touching, as in this brief passage from the end of the book:

“We had to winnow life down so we knew where to put our tenderness and attention; and that was a good, sweet thing. But together or alone, we were still embedded in a kaleidoscope, ruthlessly varied and continuous, until the end of the end.”

Of course, some people might say, what business does a grown adult have in randomly interviewing people from the PennySaver, performing made-up homework assignments, or creating interactive spaces for people to walk through? To this I say, life can get pretty tedious and dull at times, and art has the potential to make it more interesting and fun.  It also has the power to reframe our day-to-day experiences in such a way that the ordinary and often overlooked “dull” occurrences of life can be reexamined with fresh eyes.

Miranda July found inspiration in the PennySaver, and here’s hoping we all find inspiration in unusual (and ordinary) places in the coming year.

Happy New Year,



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