History · Writing

The Mural of Unusual Size

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

Everyday when I wake up, the first thing I see when open the curtains of my balcony door, I see a certain mural. This mural is very hard to miss because it takes up the side of three steel-framed, yellow brick buildings, the primary building being five-and-half stories tall. This piece of art is the primary reason why I am glad to have apartment on the side of the building that is located. I know that one of my neighbors is of the opinion that a child designed this, but judging by that comment, I realize that he doesn’t have much knowledge about the technical aspect of art. Everybody’s a critic.

Because of the mural’s enormous scale, the title of the mural is “The Mural of Unusual Size.” This piece was designed and painted in 2017 by HENSE, an artist from Atlanta, Georgia and was part of a project to revitalize blighted properties in the city. The painting required 170 gallons of paint to complete. While I was glad to learn this information, I wanted to learn a bit more, as I’ve never been pleased with answers on a superficial level. In particular, I wanted to learn a bit more about the building.

I knew that the buildings were currently occupied by an audio-visual consultant and an automotive repair garage, but I didn’t know anything about the building’s past. Someone had told me that it was once an old factory, but they did not elaborate beyond that. And for all I knew, what they told me was incorrect. I tried searching for the desired answers online, but I only got articles about the creation of the mural. I knew that someone had the answers. So decided to contact the artist—maybe someone had told him of the site’s history when he took on that job. I sent him an e-mail through the contact form on his site. A couple of days later, I thought of someone else who might be more helpful: the Washington County Historical Society. So I sent them an e-mail, too.

While I still have not heard back from HENSE, the office admin of the historical society suggested that I should check the Maryland Historical Trust’s website. Turns out that that was an excellent piece of advice. Using Medusa’s, their online database, map tool, I found an application from when the building applied for historical status.  I had learned that the building was once the site of D.A. Stickell & Sons Feed Manufacturing. This company was both a flour and feed producer. The building was constructed in 1947 and continued to operate until some point in the 1950s. Through this information, I was able to locate some of the burlap sacks that they used through online antiques dealers:

photo courtesy of powerballteresa

photo courtesy of lowerferryflair

photo courtesy of fordnut88

But to dig even deeper and farther back, another mill occupied the location of D.A. Stickell & Sons prior to its existence. According to the application, the site was once the place for the Anchor Milling Company. Reportedly, one of the old warehouses that stands there belonged to them and is dated as 1919. I cannot find much information about this particular company. I do come across information about an Anchor Milling Company that had once existed in Missouri, but I cannot figure out if this is the same company. What makes determining this more confusing is that I found information about a family that lives in Miller County, the site of the Missouri Anchor Milling Company, who originally lived in Hagerstown, Maryland prior to immigrating from Switzerland, and that people in this very same family worked for the mill in Missouri. I cannot figure out if the connection to Hagerstown is a mere coincidence or not. And what muddies the waters even more is that there was an Anchor Milling Company in Ohio at some point, too. Was that one in any shape or form connected to the other Anchor Milling Companies? Prior to starting this post, I thought I had my dots connected, but a second look has made me realize otherwise. I suppose asking the Miller County Historical Society could clarify matters.

There is even something more baffling that I have come across. I had found an ad for D.A. Stickell & Sons, but it is filed as being from 1915 in the digital library of WHILBR, Western Maryland’s Historical Library. I had originally not noticed that date, and assumed it was from the time frame that was reported on the aforementioned application. But looking a bit more closely at the artwork and typefaces, I highly doubt that the ad was from the 1940s or 1950s and that the year it is filed under is correct. (Printed ad artwork and typefaces throughout history is another subject that would make for an interesting post, but that is aside my overall point.) While the location has a different building number than what the building currently has and was filed as having in the historical status application, I am sure this is for the same buildings. Either the number in the ad is a typographical error or the buildings had a different (but similar) number at that time. I am certain that this ad is for the same location as the cross street that is mentioned is the same one that is where the mural is located. Perhaps these were entirely different structures that had been demolished at one point. But even if that were the case, why does the information in Medusa allude to the Anchor Milling Company being there at that time? For that matter, 1915 predates the existence of the Anchor Milling Company existing in Hagerstown by four years. Did the Anchor Milling Company buy D.A. Stickell & Sons and the former name was kept?

While I am a bit flustered that my question has yet to fully be answered like I thought it was (and perhaps it never will be), the buildings are a bit less of a mystery. Ironically, this newly acquired information does not paint a clearer picture of the artwork itself, and the mystery is as tangled as the artwork itself.

Inspiration · Visual Art

How to Make Homemade Gelli Plates

I think I’m confident in saying that regardless of anyone’s income, the vast majority of artists like to save money when purchasing their materials. This is no exception for anyone who uses Gelli plates for their printmaking. For those uninitiated with Gelli plates and printing, one coats a slightly sticky, thick sheet of gelatin with a thin layer of water-soluble ink or paint; this coated sheet is then pressed against a non-glossy leaf of paper. Before pressing, the ink or paint can be moved about with an applicator, stamped or stenciled onto, or gently scraped from the paint to form images. Thin, flexible objects can also be placed in between the coated plate and paper to form shapes on the paper that are devoid of ink. There are other techniques that can be utilized, but I were to explain them, I would be deviating a bit too much from the purpose of the post. Some of the classes Teaching Artist Laurie Brown has taught for Path with Art have utilized these items.

To connect the issue of expense and income with the acquisition of art supplies and Gelli plates, if you had visited the above link to the store page for Gelli Arts, you may have noticed something concerning: the plates have a steep price tag! A 3 inch by 5 inch plate costs $12.95, not including taxes, shipping, and other fees. Keep in mind that the dimensions of this plate are not even the size of a standard postcard. But fortunately, there is a more cost-effective way to obtain Gelli plates: by making them yourself.  And even better, the process of making them is not laboriously intense nor does it involve many ingredients. But keep in mind that access to a kitchen burner and basic kitchen equipment are involved in this process, as I know that some of you who are reading this article do not have regular access to either of these.

The recipe and instructions I am sharing with you is a modified version of the process found on The Frugal Crafter’s blog.  I found that the instructions she gave did not allow for the plates to congeal adequately, resulting in plates that were too soft and delicate for use. I also wanted to be much more specific in my instruction so that you are less likely to encounter any issues. Any grade of glycerin (craft, medical, or consumable) can be used for this project. Also, I included the optional ingredient of peppermint oil or clove oil for the sake of adding an additional preservative, making the plates without it will work perfectly fine, as the addition of glycerin helps prevent any spoilage that would normally occur without it. If you decide to use either of these oils, make certain that you are using essential oils, not flavoring oils for use in baking and candy making, and to gently wash the plates with dish soap after the plates are ready for use, as the excess oil may repel ink or paint a bit.

Permanent Homemade Gelli Plates

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

Ingredients

  • 15 tablespoons gelatin (or 15 Knox gelatin packets)
  • 1½ cups glycerin
  • 1½ cups boiling hot water
  • 3 to 5 drops peppermint or clove essential oil (optional)

Equipment

  • 2-quart heat-safe bowl (can be larger, if you do not have smaller bowl available)
  • 2-cup liquid measuring cup
  • dry measuring cups
  • measuring spoons
  • large mixing spoon
  • small saucepan
  • paring knife
  • rubber spatula
  • baking sheets, heat-safe plates, heat-safe bowls with broad bases, or other similar containers (has to be at least ¼ inch deep)
  • dish soap and water (if needed)
  • paper towels (if needed)
  • clean, sharp scissors (optional)
  • plastic zipper bags and/or firm plastic sheets trimmed to the width and length of containers

Instructions

  1. Measure and add 15 tablespoons gelatin, 1½ cups glycerin, and 3 to 5 drops of peppermint or clove essential oil (optional) to a 2-quart heat-safe bowl. Mix the ingredients until they are fully incorporated and no lumps remain.
  2. In a small sauce pan, bring 1½ cups of water to a full boil.
  3. Add the heated water to the bowl containing the gelatin, glycerin, and oil mixture.  Mix until well-blended and gelatin is fully dissolved.
  4. Quickly pour mixture into desired container. Make mixture coats the inner base of the container completely and is at a depth of at least ¼ inch. Ensure that the container sits on a level surface.
  5. Allow for the container to remain undisturbed until fully cooled and that the mixture forms a very firm gel. This process will take several hours, but letting the mixture set overnight will ensure the proper consistency.
  6. With a paring knife, very carefully insert the blade against the inner edge of the container and glide it against the entire inner perimeter of the container. Take care not to tear the gel sheet.
  7. Insert the blade of a rubber spatula and glide it along the same path you made when you used the paring knife. 
  8. Carefully slide the rubber spatula under the edge of the gel sheet. Slowly lift the spatula once the blade of it is fully inserted, taking care not to tear the gel sheet.
  9. While the gel sheet is elevated, gently grab the gel sheet with your free hand. Very slowly peel the gel sheet from the container, once again ensuring that the gel sheet does not tear.
  10. If you had used some essential oils, very gently wash the outer surfaces gel sheet under running water with a very small amount of dish soap. Do not use any washcloths, sponges, or scouring pads to clean the sheet—use your hands. Lightly blot any water from the surface with a dry paper towel to speed up the drying process.
  11. (optional, but recommended) With a clean pair of sharp scissors, trim any ragged excess gel from the top edge of the gel sheet.
  12. Store the gel sheet between plastic sheeting cut to the length and the width of the gel sheet and/or insert the gel sheet into a plastic zipper bag. (I recommend both because sliding gel sheets into plastic zipper bags alone can be a clunky process. And storing the gel sheets between plastic sheeting alone can still leave the edges of the plates exposed, possibly inviting dust to stick to their edges. While you can wash any stuck dust off, storing them in the bag allows you to not take that additional step.)

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

If you find yourself accidentally tearing the sheet at some point during the process, fear not. Depending upon the material and dimensions of the container you are using, you can pop the container with the hardened gel in it into the microwave for about a minute to melt the gel. And if you are using a container that is too larger and/or not microwave safe, you can always tear up the gel and place it into a saucepan, and melt the gel over low heat on the stove. Once the gel is fully melted, if poured back into the container if needed, you allow for the gel to properly set again, and you can make another attempt at removing the gel sheet.

Another perk to making your own sheets is that you can make a more varying array of plates of different shapes. To give you an idea of what I mean, take a look at the photo I have displayed below. The sheet in the bottom right corner is one that has been commercially produced. The other sheets are ones I have made myself. (The reason why the rectangle and oval have a white foam on their top surface is that I had used an immersion blender to mix them. I do not recommend doing this nor using a standard blender or food processor.)

photo courtesy of Angela Michaelina

Seeing that the FAQ page on the Gelli Arts website mentions that their plates do not contain products derived from animals, I would presume that you could use agar agar to make them. (I get the feeling that carrageenan or pectin would produce plates that are too soft.) Perhaps one of these days, I will experiment with it—if I do, I’ll be sure to provide an update.

Before I close this post, if you are unsure of where to begin with using gel plates, check out the printing basics category available on Gelli Arts’ website. They can provide far more information and techniques than I could. At a quick glance, I can see that they suggest some ideas that haven’t occurred to me!

Inspiration · Nature

Etching — what an art form!

An etching by Sheryl Steiger Young.

I came across this beautiful etching today. The artist is named Sheryl Steiger Young. The detail is amazing. “Fine line drawing and attention to minute detail characterize Young’s artwork.” Her animal etchings will be on display at a gallery in Vermont during the month of May. “The nature and animal studies are the root of her work, expressing all the perfection and beauty one could possibly be privileged to enjoy in the world.” I have done a few etchings myself, but nothing this intricate.

Cultures · Inspiration

Native Fashion

Since the beginning of the year, Path with Art staff have a tradition of sharing the work of Native American artists at the start of our weekly staff meeting. Today, here are some Indigenous fashion designers we’ve been learning about and admiring all year round!

Eighth Generation

Eighth Generation is a Seattle-based art and lifestyle brand owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe.  It was founded in 2008 when Louie Gong (Nooksack) — an artist, activist and educator widely known for merging traditional Coast Salish art with influences from his urban environment to make strong statements about identity — started customizing shoes in his living room. Now the first Native-owned company to ever produce wool blankets — with a flagship retail store in Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market — Eighth Generation is a proud participant in the global economy.

“Eighth Generation provides a strong, ethical alternative to “Native-inspired” art and products through its artist-centric approach and 100% Native designed products. Our Inspired Natives™ Project, anchored by the tagline “Inspired Natives™, not Native-inspired,” builds business capacity among cultural artists while addressing the economic impact of cultural appropriation.”

Be sure to check out some of the incredible artists behind Inspired Natives™ Project, as well as Eighth Generation’s awesome blog! Artist Michelle Lowden (Acoma Pueblo) shares some of her experience in the video below:

Jared Yazzie – OXDX Clothing

Founder of OXDX, Jared Yazzie (Navajo/Diné) is a self-taught graphic artist, entrepreneur, and designer known for his bold, graphic style that incorporates vibrant Diné motifs with messages of Native empowerment. Through his bold art and products, Jared works to increase awareness of indigenous issues while simultaneously showcasing the beauty of Native culture. Jared Yazzie is also an Inspired Natives™ Collaborator with Eighth Generation.

From OXDX website: “OXDX is a Diné owned fashion label operating out of Tempe, Arizona. Our creative team offers unique content and designs to properly represent Native people. Our artwork brings to light indigenous issues and challenges the institutions censoring our existence. We hope to engage people with visual storytelling and quality products and we hope you will follow our journey.”

Check out the video below of one of their amazing fashion shows!

Lloyd “Kiva” New

“Lloyd Henri “Kiva” New (Cherokee) was born in 1916 and is best known for fashion design and developing innovative concepts in culturally-based education for Native people. Earning a degree in art education from the Art Institute of Chicago in 1938, New taught painting at the Phoenix Indian School until enlisting in the Navy in 1941, where he served on the USS Sanborn on the Pacific Front. Upon returning to Phoenix after World War II, New became a charter member of the Arizona Craftsmen cooperative, a group of artists who helped develop Scottsdale, Arizona into a western center of handcrafted arts. New took the trade name Kiva in 1946, and the Lloyd Kiva Studio built an affluent clientele and earned national acclaim for handbags, clothing, and printed textiles throughout the 1950s. In 1961, New changed his career path, accepting a position as Art Director at the newly formed Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). New was appointed director of IAIA in 1967 and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1978. Although officially retired, New continued to be active in the Native arts community, serving on the Indian Arts and Crafts board, several boards of national museums, and engaging in writing and speaking engagements world-wide until his death in 2002.”

Bio from Institute of American Indian Arts. Check out some of the photos from their exhibition of New’s work.r

Stay tuned for more Native & Indigenous artistic excellence!

Cultures

Indigenous Writers

Since the beginning of the year, Path with Art staff have a tradition of sharing the work of Native American artists at the start of our weekly staff meeting. In honor of Native American Heritage Month, I wanted to begin sharing out some of these incredible artists that we’ve been learning about and admiring. Let’s start off with some writers, authors, and poets!

Deborah A. Miranda is an enrolled member of the Ohlone-Costanoan Esselen Nation of the Greater Monterey Bay Area in California. Her mixed-genre book Bad Indians: A Tribal Memoir (Heyday 2013), received the 2015 PEN-Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Award, a Gold Medal from the Independent Publishers Association, and was short-listed for the William Saroyan Literary Award. She is also the author of four poetry collections: Indian CartographyThe Zen of La LloronaRaised by Humans, and the forthcoming Altar for Broken Things. She is coeditor of Sovereign Erotics: A Collection of Two-Spirit Literature. Deborah lives in Lexington, Virginia with her wife Margo and a variety of rescue dogs. She is the Thomas H. Broadus, Jr. Professor of English at Washington and Lee University, where she teaches literature of the margins and creative writing. Visit her blog, BAD NDNS.

Buy Bad Indians from an Indigenous-owned bookstore or borrow it from the Seattle Public Library!

Robin Wall Kimmerer is a mother, scientist, decorated professor, and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She is the author of Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, which has earned Kimmerer wide acclaim. Her first book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, was awarded the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding nature writing, and her other work has appeared in Orion, Whole Terrain, and numerous scientific journals. She tours widely and has been featured on NPR’s On Being with Krista Tippett and in 2015 addressed the general assembly of the United Nations on the topic of “Healing Our Relationship with Nature.” Kimmerer is a SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology, and the founder and director of the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, whose mission is to create programs which draw on the wisdom of both indigenous and scientific knowledge for our shared goals of sustainability.

Buy Braiding Sweetgrass from an indigenous-owned bookstore or borrow it from the Seattle Public Library!

Rebecca Roanhorse is a NYTimes bestselling and Nebula, Hugo, and Locus Award-winning speculative fiction writer and the recipient of the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer. Rebecca has published multiple award-winning short stories and five novels, including two in The Sixth WorldSeries, Star Wars: Resistance RebornRace to the Sun for the Rick Riordan imprint, and her latest novel, the epic fantasy Black Sun. She has also written for Marvel Comics and for television, and had projects optioned by Amazon Studios, Netflix, and Paramount TV. Find her Fiction & Non-Fiction HERE. She lives in Northern New Mexico with her husband, daughter, and pup. She drinks a lot of black coffee. Find more at https://rebeccaroanhorse.com/ and on Twitter at @RoanhorseBex.

Buy Black Sun from an Indigenous-owned bookstore or borrow it from the Seattle Public Library!

Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. She is serving her second term as the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States. The author of nine books of poetry, including the highly acclaimed An American Sunrise, several plays and children’s books, and two memoirs, Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior, her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, two NEA fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. As a musician and performer, Harjo has produced seven award-winning music albums including her newest, I Pray for My Enemies. She is Exec­u­tive Edi­tor of the anthol­o­gy When the Light of the World was Sub­dued, Our Songs Came Through — A Nor­ton Anthol­o­gy of Native Nations Poet­ry and the editor of Living Nations, Living Words: An Anthology of First Peoples Poetry, the companion anthology to her signature Poet Laureate project. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Board of Directors Chair of the Native Arts & Cultures Foundation, and holds a Tulsa Artist Fellowship. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Photo by Matika Wilbur

Read some poems by Joy Harjo via Poetry Foundation or borrow a book from the Seattle Public Library!

Stay tuned for more Indigenous Artist highlights!