Category Archives: Culture

Guest Post: The Art of Art

A few days ago we posted “Thanksgiving Musings: We’re Grateful for that Still, Small Voice…,” in which we referred to a wonderful essay by writer and adventurer Willis Eschenbach. He generously gave us permission to reprint the essay in full on our blog. Here it is. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

With Thanksgiving coming up, I thought I’d write about something other than science. A few weekends ago, I went by kayak across Tomales Bay from Marshall to Lairds Landing, where I lived for nine months or so when I was about twenty-five with a wonderful friend and his lady and their son. It had been fifteen years since I was last there, I’d gone for the wake not long after my friend died. I went on this trip with a long-time shipmate of mine, a gifted artist, builder, and blacksmith.

Now, there are lots of words for the gradations of friendship—friends, acquaintances, work-mates, BFFs, room-mates, colleagues, and the like. “Shipmate” means more than any of those to me. It means someone who I’ve been through some storms with at sea.

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Gone, But Not Forgotten

By Vladimir Brezina

Gone…

Twin Towers

… but not forgotten.

Twin Towers Memorial

But memories are not enough—the new Tower has risen!

New World Trade Center tower 1
New World Trade Center tower 2

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Gone, But Not Forgotten.

Thanksgiving Musings: We’re Grateful for that Still, Small Voice…

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina

Backlit

This is the time of year to stop, take a pause, and think of all the things we’re grateful for. For most of us, that’s family, friends, a warm hearth when it’s cold outside…

And we’re grateful for those, very much so. Particularly our friends, who have held us close recently, and whose warmth and support have reminded us of the very best that human nature can offer.

We’re also grateful for something that’s a bit harder to articulate. It’s the common theme uniting art, poetry, adventure, and the love of nature. It’s that small voice that calls to you: “Pay attention! This thought, or image, or moment, or destination is important!”

Artists know this voice. They live by it. And scientists hear its call, too. As do adventurers. It’s the call that pulls you off the beaten path, onto a new path you didn’t expect to follow, away from all your carefully constructed, sensible plans: We were going to stop and camp here, but… what’s around that next bend? We need to make it to the next waypoint, but… look, there’s a double rainbow! Time to wrap up the experiment, but… what’s going on over here?

You could say it’s the call of the unexpected, or unusual, or unusually beautiful. You could call it, as Vlad sometimes does, an esthetic sense. Or you could just note that sometimes the world, in all its strangeness and beauty, sometimes just reaches out to tap you on the shoulder and say, “Hey! Slow down! There’s something here to appreciate!”

Whatever it is, we’re grateful for that voice, and for the ability to hear it.

We were recently reminded of it in an essay about an American artist, Clayton Lewis, who was also a woodworker and sculptor, and who, by all accounts, lived by this call. Writer and adventurer Willis Eschenbach, who knew him personally, encapsulates that worldview like this:

“Clayton was an artist, and a jeweler, and a boatbuilder, and a fisherman, and a crusty old bugger. He owned three boats, all of them with beautiful lines. I was going to buy a boat once, because it was cheap, even though it was ugly. ‘Don’t buy it,’ he warned, ‘owning an ugly boat is bad for a man’s spirit.’ ” —Willis Eschenbach, November 2014

Clayton Lewis

American artist Clayton Lewis (from Clayton Lewis’ website)

You can read more about Clayton Lewis, and see photos of his work, including the beautiful seaside studio he constructed, at his website. (One interesting note: He’s one of the very few artists whose bed is now in a museum!)

That voice often calls to Vlad in his photography. Here are a few examples—

(click on any photo to start slideshow)

Travel Theme: Colorful

By Vladimir Brezina

It’s not even winter yet—even though in the US Northeast it feels otherwise—but our thoughts are already turning toward the colors of the coming summer—

Colorful 1
Colorful 2
Colorful 3
Colorful 4
Colorful 5

All photos from one of the most colorful events of the summer, the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

A contribution to Ailsa’s travel-themed photo challenge, Colourful.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Angular

By Vladimir Brezina

New York City’s architecture is full of angles—

Angular 1
Angular 2
Angular 3
Angular 4

— along with some curves, of course!

Curvy

A contribution to this week’s Photo Challenge, Angular.

Cover Art

By Vladimir Brezina

Last week, the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge theme was Cover Art. How very timely!

Earlier this year, I was contacted by an author, Carmen de Monteflores, about using one of my photos on the cover of her forthcoming new book. And recently, a copy of the published book arrived in my mailbox. Thanks, Carmen!

¡Jíbara!¡Jíbara! by Carmen de Monteflores, AuthorHouse, August 2014

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Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had time to read ¡Jíbara! (which, despite its Spanish title, is written in English) thoroughly. But, skimming it, it looks to be very well written and promises to draw in anyone interested in Puerto Rican culture and history. Here’s a synopsis:

Carmen de Monteflores brings her intimate knowledge of Puerto Rican culture and history to this story of a rural mountain girl-a jibara-struggling to become a teacher during the turbulent changes of the 1930s in the island. After a devastating hurricane, Juanita and her mother, Cisa, to whom she is fiercely attached, are forced to move to San Juan to find work. Like many others arriving from the country, they end up living in a slum. Unexpected circumstances introduce Juanita to Clara. They become close, but their lives take different paths. Juanita enters the university to be tested both by violent politics and her mother’s illness. Clara’s influential relatives introduce her to society life and her husband-to-be. Relationships become strained and lies and secrets explode when Juanita asks for help from a former teacher and from a close friend of Clara’s as Cisa gets sicker and Clara’s marriage collapses.

The finished book illustrates some of the perils of selecting photos for cover art. The book has a portrait format. But the original photo had a landscape format, and consequently most of it had to to be cropped away. And, inevitably, the colors came out differently on the printed cover. Oh well—I did get paid ;-)

Here’s the whole original photo:

Mountain view, Puerto Rico

More photos from that day in October 2001, high up in the Cordillera Central of Puerto Rico, are here.

Happy Birthday, Hell Gate Bridge!

By Johna Till Johnson
Photos by Vladimir Brezina and Johna Till Johnson

Barge Approaching Hell Gate Bridge

Barge approaching Hell Gate Bridge

It’s hard to believe the Hell Gate Bridge is almost 100 years old.

98, to be exact: The bridge first opened on September 30, 1916. I’ve written about my love for the Hell Gate three years ago, in my birthday greetings to the Bayonne Bridge.

But it’s worth summarizing again why I feel so strongly about the Hell Gate. As I wrote then:

I love bridges. I’m not entirely sure why. Partly it’s the look of them: They seem almost alive, taking off in a leap of concrete, stone, or steel,  somehow infinitely optimistic and everlastingly hopeful. Partly it’s their function: Bringing things together, connecting people and places that were previously divided. And of course, bridges often cross moving water—another of my favorite things.

But though I love them all, some bridges in particular hold a special place in my heart.

Many years ago I worked north of New York City (in Connecticut and later in White Plains). The hours were grueling—some days I’d leave my apartment at 5 AM and not return until 11 PM. Sometimes I drove, but I preferred to take the Metro-North train. I relished the peacefulness of the scenery rolling by.

As we crossed the Harlem River, I’d catch sight of one bridge in particular, a study in contrasts: graceful, soaring, yet solid, composed of two steel arches with slightly different curvatures, so they were closer together at the top of the arch and wider apart at the bases, anchored in solid stone towers.

The rising sun would touch this bridge and (so I thought) paint it a lovely shade of rosy pink.  The memory of that beauty was often the nicest part of my day.

Hell Gate Bridge, seen from our window

Hell Gate Bridge at sunrise, seen from our window

But for years, I didn’t know what the bridge was called, or even where, exactly, it was. All I knew was that the sight of it reliably brightened my mornings.

One day I happened to mention the bridge to my father, a retired naval officer who had once been stationed in New York City, but now lived hundreds of miles away.

He recognized it immediately from my description: “That’s Hell Gate Bridge,” he said. An odd name for a structure of such harmonious beauty! I hadn’t heard of Hell Gate before, and my dad explained it was where the Harlem River joined the East River. Hell Gate was a treacherous body of water characterized by converging currents and occasional whirlpools that had been the doom of hundreds of ships over the past several centuries.

“As a young ensign, I was on a ship that went through Hell Gate,” my father said. “But I don’t recall that the bridge was pink.” That would have been in the late 1940s; I can’t recall for certain what kind of ship he told me it was, but my memory insists it was a destroyer.

Many years later, I’ll not forget the thrill I had the first time I passed under the bridge, in a far different vessel: My trusty yellow kayak, Photon.

We paddle under the Hell Gate Bridge

We paddle under the Hell Gate Bridge (photo by Johna)

As for the bridge’s color, I later learned my dad was right. The bridge was painted “pink” (actually a color called Hell Gate Red) only in 1996—but the paint has faded to a pastel rose, as you can see.

When doing further research, I learned that:

  • The Hell Gate and Bayonne Bridges reflect the vision of the same man, Czech-Austrian civil engineer Gustav Lindenthal. (Lindenthal designed the Hell Gate, and his Swiss co-worker and protege Othmar Ammann designed Bayonne.)
  • Their beauty is no accident. According to Wikipedia, “Lindenthal’s work was greatly affected by his pursuit for perfection and his love of art. His structures not only serve the purpose they were designed for, but are aesthetically pleasing to the public eye.” Indeed!
  • There’s a third sister (or perhaps cousin): The world-famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Although designed by a different firm, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was inspired by Hell Gate and Bayonne.

I also learned that the Hell Gate Bridge was so perfectly engineered that when the main span was lifted into place, the adjustment required was a mere half-inch!

Happy birthday, you beautiful creature. You haven’t aged a bit!