Beneath The Womb: A forum on early New Orleans health care @ The Pharmacy Museum

Last evening I attended a forum that was part art show, part info session, part history lesson, and a final part eye-opening.

Beneath the Womb, hosted by the oldest pharmacy in North America, now a French Quarter museum, is the first event in a month long series of events exploring the history of female practitioners, midwifery, Storyville whorehouses, herbal remedies for pregnancy, menstruation, and menopause, and of course, linking these topics to the treasure trove of artifacts that the museum houses within its collection.

The panel, led by Pharmacy Museum docent Owen Ever, included local midwife Kate Paxton, who had been researching early midwives in the French Louisiana territory, University of New Orleans Anthropology Department member Elizabeth Seleen who is digging for trash in the old Storyville area, and Maypop Herb Shop employee Jen Stovall who advises and prescribes herbal remedies for all stages of womens lives and health. Artist-In-Residence Rachel Speck provided screen printed Victorian health product labels in a larger than life format, as well as hand rendered drawings of common herbal ingredients included in everything from contraceptives to abortive aids. Paired with the museum’s collection of medicine bottles, medical implements, and furnishings of a working 1800’s pharmacy, the tale told and illustrated by the panelists was one of limited resources, women turning to other women for help, and ingenuity using available resources and native herbs.

Further events will take place this month and can be found on the Pharmacy Museum website at http://www.pharmacymuseum.org/.

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Panelists discuss historical records of midwives in the French Quarter.

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Screen prints by Rachel Speck included labels from the 1800’s with dubious ingredients.

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The pharmacy museum’s collection houses many old cures and remedies, some of which we still utilize in modern medicine.

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Artist in Residence Rachel Speck combed through the museum’s women’s health section for some surprising finds, including opium soaked tampons.

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Cotton root was readily available to many under served communities and was used for a range of women’s health issues.

The Bronchitis Review

A sudden cold snap in New Orleans means that people hunker down, bundle up, and moan and complain about temperatures that may dip into the low 30’s. It doesn’t take many winters hiding in the Gulf South for a northern-born transplant’s blood to thin out and for the body to revolt and deliver a severe case of chronic bronchitis. Our shotgun houses are built to cool, and are still uninsulated in many cases, with kitchen thermometer temps dipping down to less than five degrees above outdoor temperatures. Floorboard cracks reveal the breeze from underneath the house, a blessing most of the year, challenging to electric heaters during the eight or so weeks of “true winter”. This year it’s come early and I wasn’t ready.

I was unable to cover the events of the past two weeks, many connected to Prospect 3 or the New Orleans Fringe Festival. I downed multiple cups of tea with lemons, had a neighbor go to Walgreen’s (which is only four blocks away) to get me more Nyquil, and called in a favor with a friend in possession of a MD to write me a prescription for antibiotics. I slept 14, 16, 13 hours each day while missing work and many many social and cultural events that took place.

My partner, Rotten Milk, has attended half a dozen shows, a play, a gong orchestra, a secondline parade, a DJ party, and more connected to the cultural events happening around town. I slept through some amazing stuff from the sounds of it. Now, as many artists and curators are aware, Miami’s Art Basel is right around the corner. Prospect 3 (P3) was originally designed to dovetail with Art Basel and draw artists and more importantly, collectors to New Orleans ahead of the big show in Miami. Art Basel is right up there with the “great” art fairs of all time, so attracting these key collectors was meant to boost the Post-K cultural economy and bring art tourism to the city. Now that we’re in our third (if you don’t count P2 1/2) biennial, and it has arguably not manifested the hordes of collectors from New York, LA or Berlin.

Ahead of the Art Basel fair several groups of performance artists, installation artists, videographers, and others are making New Orleans a stop on their journey to South Florida, and we get to reap the benefits. In the next week I’ll be hosting a theater troupe from Puerto Rico who is traveling inside a large whale, painters from LA, art handlers from Chicago, and musicians on tour from the east coast on their way to Miami. None of this is unusual, since moving here from Chicago, allegedly far far away from the art meccas of the coasts, the art world keeps showing up on our doorstep. Increasing rents and gluts of hopeful BFA graduates each year make it hard to stand out in the more bustling art markets. New Orleans, for better or worse, is attracting these folks from every corner. I actually feel more in touch with the “art world” here then I ever did in Chicago.

I huddled in my studio all week making some new paintings for a show sometime in the future. I kept thinking about the things I was missing out on since doing more than sitting at my desk or sleeping left me exhausted and hacking. Looking towards next week’s Thanksgiving festivities centered around my neighborhood and the races at the Fairgrounds, I am comforted in knowing that the party never really stops here. We’re in the midst of the holiday season, and after the rest of the country puts away their decorations and bunkers down for the remnants of winter to pass, we’re just gearing up for Carnival. I can hear St. Augustine’s band practicing each afternoon, and there’s only eighty-six days until Mardi Gras.

Winter in a shotgun can be no fun.

Night Garden- Orchids Not Blooming Winter in a shotgun can be no fun. Night Garden- Orchids Not Blooming.

Taylor Lee Shepherd’s Television Altarpiece “Space Rites” @ St. Maurice’s Church (P3+)

Altarpieces inspire awe, reverence, wonder, and depending on your religious convictions- either fear, or serenity.

Taylor Lee Shepherd’s P3+ installation entitled Space Rites makes excellent use of the St. Maurice’s Church in the Lower 9th by inspiring all of the above. The church, gutted and bare of most ornamentation, pews, pulpit, and other trappings of its former purpose, has been transformed into a space that challenges visitors to consider the reason the church is stripped down to the vaulted ceilings and plaster walls (read: Katrina), while also creating a sense of awe that comes from seeing a two-story tall stack of clunky television sets that have been changed into visual oscillator that interact with the many musical performances scheduled to take place in the church, which by the way still has excellent acoustics.

A few months ago my partner Rotten Milk got a phone call from Shepherd asking if their moving company, Black Cat Movers could travel to several Goodwill thrift stores and collect over 100 elderly television sets; the big, clunky old boxy ones that everyone had before the advent of flat screens. When Shepherd contacted Goodwill initially, someone in management offered to round up as many television sets as they could find, for free. Last winter, we had visited Shepherd’s home at the time to play records and see a few prototypes of the oscillators in action. The screen usually has a circular or linear pattern that moves in response to audio input, stretching, contracting, wobbling, and zig-zagging into patterns in constant flux. I’m not entirely sure still how this works, but each television had a unique response and varied in color and pattern from one to the next.

Shepherd’s P3 installation in St. Maurice’s debuted with a performance by a local assisted living center choral group collaborating with Murmerations choir, composed of much younger members. The two groups alternated with pieces from their repertoire, then came together at the front of the church to harmonize on several pieces together. Amplified, the choral groups triggered the televisions to pulse and react in time to the music.

Shepherd and the Airlift Collective have many more performances planned for the installation, including a gong orchestra scheduled for November 22nd, all of which are ticketed. Local noise musician Rob Cambry teamed up with Nels Cline of the band Wilco to play the installation this past Saturday. Airlift’s mission is to foster these sort of crossovers between local creative producers and outside talent. Additional performances are listed on the organizations website at http://www.neworleansairlift.org/. Space Rites will be on view through January 7, 2015.

Fiber Artist Lindsay Rhyner @ Namaste-ish, Floating Gallery Pop Up

Minnesota-native Lindsay Rhyner usually spends several months in New Orleans sifting through Criagslist free piles, trash cans, and abandoned buildings for discarded Mardi Gras costumes, fabrics, clothing, and other objects that she quilts into intricate large scale tapestries. I first saw Lindsay’s work at a cafe in Minneapolis, and two of those older pieces were present at the three person group show, which also featured assemblage pieces and recycled art from artists Shannon Tracy and Al Benkin. The gallery is a pop-up located on the second floor above Mister Gregory’s at 810 Rampart. The event was sponsored by PBR as a sort of Prospect 3 Biennial hanger-on, which I will return to in a bit. Several electronic musicians provided synthy soundtracks that dovetailed well with the artwork in the show.

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Tropical Murder Capital

Rhyner’s fabric art has evolved into some pretty great social commentary in the years since I first saw it. The older works were much heavier in material physically, and darker in color. They tend towards decorative occult in feel, and contain a litany of eyeballs, triangles, fringe, and symbols. New works, made in the last year, utilize a larger scale than before and some of the same symbols and shorthand imagery make appearances. The fabric utilized seems more considered, lighter, yet more intricate and conveys the attitudes of each piece well. The first piece, Tropical Murder Capital, has several clues embedded within the content to ground it in New Orleans. The materials are shiny, rich, and shimmer, some are even composed of a plastic-like material like vinyl. The largest clue to the piece actually references a street art project that an anonymous artist has been installing throughout the 7th, 8th, and 9th Wards. I’ve seen about half a dozen abandoned homes with a large, two foot diameter black bullet hole dripping red blood, made from plywood, installed at the peak of each building’s facade. A fabric reproduction of this in the lower right hand area of the tapestry, juxtaposed with tropical palm trees, bloody saws, and bolt cutters creates violence in the midst of aqua-blue and green lush scenes of sub-tropical lushness. The piece is organized into a landscape format, with a swirl of neon blue material at the top lending a sense of sinister weather to the work.

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Tropical Murder Capital (detail)

The second piece utilizes sepia tones and distressed fabrics to create a vintage feel in a piece titled 1944. Violence here shimmers gold and takes form in dozens of arrow figures targeting a central structure that looks like a temple or fortress of some kind. The composition is also a vertical landscape, with more of the arrow shapes flying in both directions in the background creating movement and confusion. The muted and harmonious palette and the unusual edges that break the rectangular mold of the other tapestries help focus the content inwards toward the scene of destruction created.

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1944

Overall the show was well attended and the artists all worked well together. The crowd was enjoying the free PBR and most everyone walked away with free PBR merchandise. I have been to several sponsored events like this as “hip” corporations seem to have discovered that a lot of creative people live and work in New Orleans. Microsoft sponsored a tableau vivant at the Wax Museum along with a bounce rave, and Scion recently sponsored a concert series that a lot of my friends attended. All three of these events sponsored by PBR, Microsoft, and Scion paid the artists, performers, and musicians, as well as decorators, actors, and seamstresses to make the events come off as “handmade” or “underground”. In a way they are fueling the creative industry of New Orleans, but many events such as these take place all the time and do so with limited monetary resources or volunteer power. Prospect 3 has engulfed many arts venues this year and includes many recognized international art stars, but seems light in the locals department. As a result, it is difficult to book as show or venue for art happenings as many spaces are taking part in P3 as venues. PBR filled that gap for better or worse, as it included five year-round NOLA residents and one part-timer. This balances the sponsored feeling and “icky” feeling many of the artists felt since it would be difficult for this event to happen organically at this time. The gallery space was small but well lit and had a balcony overlooking Armstrong Park. Overall, great music, great recycled art, and free beer added up to a nice evening, which overshadowed the corporate feel.

 

 

November brings Anna Timmerman to Studiola

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Nola Studiola welcomes Anna Timmerman for November!

Anna Timmerman is an artist and gardener living in New Orleans, Louisiana. Raised on a farm in rural Michigan, Timmerman developed an aptitude for gardening early on, learning from three generations of master gardeners within the family. At Michigan State University she studied Crop and Soil Sciences for two years before transferring to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), where she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Drawing and Painting.
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Timmerman’s paintings are made in traditional egg tempera, utilizing eggs from a backyard chicken flock. Early works focused on the relationship between natural landscapes and impossible situations, informed in large part by the landscape surrounding the Ox-Bow School of Art and Artist’s Residency program in Saugatuck, Michigan. Following graduation from SAIC, she began working for some of Chicago’s top chefs and restaurants as a private gardener, supplying vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers. Clients included Rick Bayless (XOCO, Frontera Grill, Topolobampo), Restaurateur Nicolas Kokonas (Alinea, Next, The Aviary), among others.
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In 2012 Timmerman moved to New Orleans, Louisiana, where her current painting studio and gardening practice are located. New Orleans offers a sub-tropical growing climate, and supportive local arts community. Timmerman’s current egg tempera works reflect her time spent in gardens around the city, and tend to contain both examples of local flora and hybrid creations not found in nature. Her paintings work as documentation of a diverse and ever changing garden history of the Gulf South.
Timmerman’s gardening practice is a collaboration with SAIC 2011 alumni Cassidy Stock (BFA), and includes many private historic Garden District homes, the Museum of the Civil War Garden, the Pitot House Museum Gardens, and several traditional Creole kitchen gardens or potagers. Timmerman and Stock’s work with physical gardens has begun to develop into a collaborative art practice, blurring the line between studio and garden.
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Anna Timmerman has been awarded the Joe Quattlebaum Distinguished Fellowship for Southern Arts at the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences in northeastern Georgia in June of 2014. Her curatorial projects have been presented in gallery spaces throughout the country, alternative site specific locations in the city of New Orleans, the NADA Art Chicago Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art (NEXT Art Fair), and several online projects.

 

 

 

 

Home is a Fluid Place

Wet Zen in Valdez, AK.

An old jetty in Valdez, AK.

Photo: Drea Knufken

 

Seattle. October. Eight months since we left our home in Denver and moved into the Airstream. I’m walking down a steep slope, past a golf course and a soggy Twix wrapper, moss growing in sidewalk cracks. I am walking to a place of indulgence: a group class at the local YMCA, then an organic meal at the delicious Chaco Canyon Café. This workout, this meal, these are things I only get in cities. At home I cook.

Home, wherever that is. I’m a drifter, breathing exhaust from passing cars, passing an old man in a baseball cap saying “bless you” as he pushes his walker. I no more belong here than on a highway in the Yukon. We move, my husband and dog and I. The only walls we call our own are aluminum. We borrow land on borrowed time.

You can’t be a tourist forever. A tour implies you have a place to come home to. Carpets and food processors and big screens and your neighbor’s yappy dog. Maybe chaos, roommate quarrels or kid messes. But four walls nonetheless, your very own micro-world. A world that doesn’t move.

This sidewalk isn’t mine. This isn’t my city. Everywhere is my city. When I visit walls, they’re someone else’s. It makes me feel too light.

In The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood refers to two kinds of freedom: free to and free from. Live on the road, and you’re free to explore almost anywhere. Live in a home, and you’re free from the worry about where to go next, and whether that new place is safe.

Like the weekend we took advantage of free camping on the mouth of the Knik River in Palmer, AK. We jokingly referred to it as the Redneck Riviera, because people like to party and drive their ATVs around on weekends. There are things you tolerate when the parking is free. Come Monday, it emptied out some, and I took the dog out for a walk. In one tall grove of trees, a guy was shooting his rifle. Pop. Pop. I think it was just target practice. Nobody else around but a cop parked on the other side of the highway. I walked in that direction. The river stopped me from getting too close to the cop. His head was dark, no face visible, unmoving. Looking for someone.

Weeks later someone asks me if I heard about the rape. That weekend, in that place. You never know not only what you’re getting into on the road, but what exactly you’re in.

Adapt. Quickly. That’s how you live this lifestyle. Scan, understand, adapt, live.

I used to think of nomad as a pretentious thing to call a first-world traveler. Nomads have tents and camels, no? But it is also a mindset. When you travel to a new place, you don’t take a mental template of home with you, because there is no home. You are fluid, observing your surroundings and adapting your behaviors as you go.

Travel frees you to live presently. A home frees you from the anxiety of not knowing. The biggest freedom of all is having the ability to choose which way to live.

A Review of 3 Online Writing Classes

You’d think being on the road would inspire creativity. It does, but other tasks (exploring surroundings you may never see again) eat into the discipline part of the writing equation.

When I signed up for my first online class in early spring, I doubted I would stick with it. The only other online class I’d taken, in college, was a statistics class. I dropped out and took one of those “Incomplete” grades.

Writing classes are different. I’ve found, to my surprise, that they work—as in, they force fingers to keyboard, they coerce output. In an ideal scenario, you learn more craft, meet people and finish things. I’m still working on the latter.

Here’s a breakdown of the classes I’ve taken.

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Intermediate/Advanced Fiction
Lighthouse Writers Workshop
Jessica Roeder

In a sentence: Challenged me to up the ante on comprehension of craft.

Summary: As a former Writerspace member, I have ties to the Lighthouse, Denver’s literary center, and appreciate their dedication to creating better writers (which they do, often). The small size of this class meant that students got to know each other as people and writers. With one reading assignment per week, one piece to workshop and one writing assignment, it can be immersive, but you can also opt to only workshop the one piece per week and pass on the rest. Two of your pieces get workshopped in this 8-week course. The teacher was incredibly responsive and posed challenging questions that helped me better understand the material. The reading assignments were well-curated and varied. I plan to take it again, because I like the personal attention and the small size that lets you get to know people. Note that you should sign up early to seal your spot.

Price: $310 w/annual $50 membership, otherwise $340
Duration: 8 weeks
Where to find out more: https://lighthousewriters.org

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Structure of a Short Story
One Story
Hannah Tinti

In a sentence: Helped me learn one thing well.

Summary: In one intense week (or two, for those that needed more time), One Story Co-Founder and Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti broke down the structure of a short story into easy and manageable steps, and gave brilliantly conceived assignments to help us understand it. One lesson and one assignment come out every day for a week. You can either keep up with assignments in real-time, or take another week to finish it all: the class is live for two weeks.

I loved the focus of this class, and the format was really effective—the way Hannah chose to teach and align her presentations with each lesson. The class was very affordable. The software platform they used made it hard to track ongoing conversations in this class of 300+ students, so I focused on individual study rather than forming relationships. I’d take this class or another from One Story again in a heartbeat.

 Price: $60 for members, $75 non-members
Duration: 1-2 weeks
Where to find out more: Sign up for One Story’s newsletter, or keep an eye on their events tab.

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Lit Star Training
Literary Kitchen
Ariel Gore

In a sentence: Supportive, fun forum that inspired surprising writing.

Summary: If you’ve read Gore’s writing, it’s always fresh and alive, and that’s how this workshop is, too. Literary Kitchen is an honest and inspiring forum for women in particular, a group of strangers that in short order feel like a tribe of sisters. It had a powerful effect on my creativity and motivation. One writing prompt per week (or just send out whatever you’re working on), and three people plus Gore give feedback. She also sends you one optional quick assignment every weekend to get your juices flowing. I liked Gore’s writing assignments so much that I ended up following the prompts every week, rather than having existing work reviewed, because the prompts got me thinking differently and really upped the energy in my writing. The class plucked me out of my motivational sludge in short order, and I relished it for that.

Price: $295
Duration: 8 weeks
Where to find out more: Go to the upcoming courses section of Literary Kitchen.