Luce Design Series: Five Questions with Tanis Gray, Knitwear Designer
August 21, 2014

This Saturday, August 23rd, from 1:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m., the Luce Foundation Center's Design Series will host a talk by Tanis Gray, local knitwear designer and publisher of numerous knitting books. Public programs coordinator, Katie Crooks, had a chance to talk with Tanis about her work.

Tanis Gray

Tanis Gray. Two-time National winner of the DAR American Heritage Committee's Women in the Arts Awards for fiber arts, author of numerous books including Capitol Knits, Knit Local, winner of a gold IPPY Award, Cozy Knits, and Knitting Architecture & 3 Skeins or Less. She is also a host on PBS's Knitting Daily TV

Eye Level: How old were you when you started knitting?

Tanis Gray: My mom wanted to knit me a sweater when I was 8 years old. She had knitted in her youth and wanted to get back into it but it had been a long time and she needed someone to help refresh her skills. While she re-learned, she taught me. With the help of her, a knitting neighbor and my LYS (local yarn shop) owner, I quickly became obsessed and fascinated that I could make something that was both beautiful and useful. I never looked back!

EL: How long does it take you to design something to knit?

TG: It depends on what I'll be designing. If it's something that has a fairly specific surface area (like a hat or mittens) I know the parameters I have to work within. That doesn't mean it's always easy. There are thousands of stitch patterns, a lot of math, gauge, silhouette and aesthetics to work into the equation, but working on something small like that takes less time than a sweater, shawl or cowl where the possibilities are endless. Sometimes a design that you think will work simply doesn't when you get to the actual knitting stage, even if you swatched it out. Yarn is a factor as well, especially if it's tricky to work with. It can completely change a look or idea.

EL: What do you look to for inspiration?

TG: Inspiration has never been an issue. I'm fortunate enough to live near DC, where the architecture, landscape and museums we have at our disposal are bursting at the seams with inspiration. My mother is a painter and pastel artist and has taken me to museums my entire life. She taught me to always be on the lookout for inspiration and I do my best thinking and working out of patterns and ideas at night when I run.

EL: How does one, and you specifically, become a knitwear designer?

TG: Anyone can design! Just like anything in life, practice, practice, practice. I got started because I couldn't find mittens that I liked, so I designed and knitted my own at age 8. I always tell people that I've ripped out more than I've knitted and you need to be able to do that, not get attached to your knitting and not be afraid to make mistakes and go back to the drawing board. Take classes to learn new techniques, speak with other knitters, find your own voice and aesthetic and do what makes YOU happy. I stumbled into designing while working at Vogue Knitting. I never thought I'd be able to design something as beautiful as what was in the magazines, but it takes a little faith, a little experimentation and a good idea. I find a lot of knitters to be perfectionists and they get frustrated when they can't make something work. I tell them to remember when they first picked up knitting needles and had no idea what they were doing and look where they are now! In the digital age we live in, anyone can start a blog and publish a pattern.

EL: Are there other types of crafts that you'd like to learn how to do or that you do on the side already?

TG: When our son was born I got pretty heavily into photography. I took a lot of classes and read a lot of books and now photograph knitting books for other people as well as my independent patterns. I also love to sew and tend to sew and quilt late into the night while everyone else is asleep. I am fascinated by all sorts of crafts and techniques and will try anything at least once!

EL: What did you do before you started designing knitwear?

TG: After I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, I worked briefly at Martha Stewart, HBO doing animation for their family station and in TV and film in the art department. I left the film industry after the hours got to be too much and worked at Vogue Knitting for years. I never thought something I had enjoyed most of my life that I had just seen as a useful hobby could turn into a career that I adore!

Posted by Jeff on August 21, 2014 in In This Case: Luce Foundation Center
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Plastics in Pop Art Prints
August 19, 2014

Curatorial assistant, Nina Williams writes about the use of plastics in Pop Art printmaking. Our exhibition Pop Art Prints is on display until August 31, 2014.


Roy Lichtenstein, Moonscape, 1965 © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein

In one of the most famous scenes from the 1967 film The Graduate, Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman), anxiously greets a flurry of guests at his college graduation party. Among them is a man who takes Benjamin aside to offer his unsolicited advice. He says, "I just want to say one word to you, just one word. Plastics. There is a great future in plastics."

Nearly fifty years later, that statement has certainly proven to be true. Just look around you—plastics are everywhere!

But back in the 1950s and '60s, plastics were new and exciting. Everything from chairs, to clocks, to children's toys, were redesigned in the gleaming, colorful material. During the postwar economic boom, plastics fueled Americans' growing desire to consume more and more new and affordable products.

Pop artists, too, were attracted by the versatility of plastics, and incorporated them into their artworks. It was the ideal medium for artists concerned with popular culture and material consumption. There are three examples of how Pop artists used plastic in their printmaking practices in American Art's Pop Art Prints installation, including works by Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Tom Wesselmann.

In the mid-1960s, Roy Lichtenstein constructed hybrid printed works using a prismatic plastic called Rowlux. In Moonscape, Lichtenstein uses the specialty plastic to simulate the night sky in all its infinite depth. The artist took full advantage of this newly invented material, which was originally intended for use in road signs, to create a mesmerizing surface that moves before your eyes.

Claes Oldenburg, who famously made larger-than-life sculptures of everyday objects out of sagging vinyl (a form of plastic) in the early 1960s, also experimented with vacuum-forming, an industrial process for manipulating plastic. Teabag showcases his innovative approach to printmaking: he combined screenprinting with a popular technique used to form eye-catching road signs.

Come down to see these prints in person while you still can; Pop Art Prints will remain open through August 31st.

Posted by Jeff on August 19, 2014 in American Art Here
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Picture This: Dowager in a Wheelchair by Philip Evergood
August 14, 2014

Philip Evergood

Philip Evergood's Dowager in a Wheelchair

If you haven't seen American Art's exhibition Modern American Realism: The Sara Roby Collection, it's time do come on down to the museum. The show closes this Sunday, August 17.

Following World War II, with the accent of Abstract Expressionism, still life painter, Sara Roby encouraged artists to make figurative work. In 1952 she created a foundation to purchase and exhibit this work. After Roby's death in 1986, her foundation donated the work to the American Art Museum. The show includes seventy paintings and sculptures from the collection.

Posted by Jeff on August 14, 2014 in American Art Here, Picture This
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Five Questions for Andrew Greene, Director of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra
August 12, 2014

On August 16th at 2 p.m., the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery will present the next installment in our Cine-Concert series. The next program features Andrew Greene, Director of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, performing his original score for the Buster Keaton classic College (1927, 66 minutes). As a special bonus, the screening will be followed by a 30 minute concert of back-to-school themed ragtime classics. For more details, check out our museum calendar.

In anticipation of the screening and concert, programs coordinator Allison Jessing spoke with Andrew Greene about his passion for ragtime and the upcoming performance at the museums.

Andrew Greene

Andrew Greene, Director of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, will perform an original score for Buster Keaton's 1927 film College at the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery on August 16th. Image courtesy of Andrew Greene.

Eye Level: You're the Director of the Peacherine Ragtime Society Orchestra, which is dedicated to the celebration and performance of ragtime music. What is it about ragtime that you find interesting and compelling?

Andrew Greene: Ragtime has a pep and enthusiasm that no other musical style can match. It is America's first popular music, predating jazz. Many composers who define the American music genre wrote during the ragtime era, including George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, John Philip Sousa, and Scott Joplin. It grabbed me at a young age as being more "fun" than other works, and I try to share that fun with the audience when I play it. One of the sad things about this music is that while so much of it was published and recorded, it's popularity faded over time. So many worthy compositions have been forgotten. It's thrilling for me to rediscover these pieces and have them performed again.

EL: You'll be performing a score for Buster Keaton's classic film College here on August 16th. What's your favorite moment in that film?

AG: Near the middle of the film there's a scene at a coliseum at his college, where Buster attempts to try and perform in all of the various track and field events (pole vaulting, javelin, discus, etc.) Each of these he tries to do, with hilarious results. Especially when he tries to do a high jump, and ends up buried in the sand!

EL: If you had to write a score for any film ever made, what would you choose and why?

AG: One of the joys of scoring silent films is that virtually no film during that era had a specific score written for it. So almost any silent film that still exists today has the potential to be scored by yours truly! That being said, I'd love to try out scoring The Artist (2011) to give it a true silent film score. It would be neat to see a modern silent film paired with authentic silent film accompaniment!

EL: My favorite question for our musical guests: "What's on your iPod these days?"

AG: Right now my iPod is 80% ragtime music, with a combination of modern and historic recordings of the music, and then selections by classic rock and jazz artists. You'll hear anything from The Beatles to Count Basie, Al Jolson to Rick James. There's not too much modern music on my iPod!

EL: Any exciting projects coming up that you can share with us?

AG: Well, the week after my performance of College my orchestra and I will be playing on the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, August 24th! It's quite thrilling to play for the Smithsonian one week and at the Kennedy Center the next! Other than my orchestra's touring concerts and silent film events, I'm about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for the orchestra to raise money for our next CD. The subject and fundraising will begin at the Kennedy Center show so keep an eye out for that!

EL: Thank you, and we're looking forward to the show on the 16th!

Cineconcert: Buster Keaton's College with pianist Andrew Greene is on Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 2p.m. in the McEvoy Auditorium. Free tickets will be available at 1:30 p.m. in G Street Lobby.

Posted by Jeff on August 12, 2014 in Post It
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Five Questions with Meg Saligman, Muralist and Conservation Advocate
August 7, 2014

Meg Saligman is an award winning artist at the forefront of the contemporary mural movement in Philadelphia. She is recognized worldwide for her work with light, paint, glass, buildings, and people. Meg is known for her exceptionally large scale, site specific work, including the nation's largest publicly funded mural for the new millennium, Once in a Millennium Moon in Shreveport, Louisiana, and her landmark mural, Common Threads, in Philadelphia. A painter at heart, Meg loves local color and incorporates what is distinctive about a place and its people, into the creative process.

While Meg's artwork is internationally known, her advocacy for art preservation and collaboration with conservators may be less widely appreciated. In addition to recognizing the need for ongoing care of her finished works, Meg has incorporated conservation methodology and practice into her process of creation and deeply values a continued dialogue with her colleagues in the field. On June 11, Meg came to speak at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on her work and involvement in preserving public art. We asked Meg to answer some questions for a bit more insight into her process and collaboration with the conservation field. Here's what we found out.

Meg Saligman's talk at American Art which took place this past June.

Eye Level: When you began creating murals, did you envision that you would be working with conservators to preserve your artwork?

Meg Saligman: I didn't have any inkling that I would one day be working with conservators to preserve my own work. When I began painting murals, I was just trying to figure out how to paint a wall for the first time. There is definitely a learning curve to best practices when making a mural. When I began painting murals in the late 1980s, there was nowhere to go to learn how to paint a large exterior surface. It was an experiment and a journey just to keep paint on the walls. The longevity of the work was low priority when I first began.

A turning point for me was meeting Dr. Joyce Hill Stoner, from the Winterthur Art Conservation Program at the University of Delaware. Joyce saw me give a talk and immediately knew that she could help mural artists with her conservation background. She understood that muralists needed a familiarity with preservation while they were originally creating the work if they wanted a chance to have a painting survive in the exterior. Dr. Stoner and her graduate students actually started recording what I was doing while I was doing it. That was quite a new notion to me. When I realized that there were experts who work to figure out the variables behind longevity, it was an epiphany.

The fact that highly skilled professionals and communities would devote their time and resources to preserve my work is one of the greatest professional honors I have experienced. It is important to note that conservators have worked with me not only after I was finished the work, but also while I was creating it. I think the fact that exterior acrylic murals have such short lives, 10-30 years without being restored, is probably the largest factor that contributes to my working with conservators within my lifetime. I would like to say that this collaboration is due to the genius of my creations, yet I learn and grow from every instance of the artist/conservator dialogue. I am surprised, grateful and delighted to be working as a living artist with the conservation community.

EL: Preserving public art can pose a wide range of challenges. What are the most pervasive issues to prevent?

MS: The most pervasive problem for exterior murals (specifically) is that they simply do not have a long life expectancy, at least not in terms of preservation. They will fade and deteriorate with sun, weather, and pollution. I have come to terms with the fact that different murals have different lengths of life. A wonderful thing about murals is they have a very bright life. In most sites they're seen by a vast array of people for a pretty significant amount of time. With that said, I also believe that the very few murals that deserve a beloved or landmark status can, and should, be kept in good shape, with regular maintenance, for decades upon decades.

Pubic art will have wear and tear in the public realm, which is the nature of the beast. A wide spread problem is that a lot of work has no maintenance plan in place after it is created. Even the most durable work will need a regular routine of TLC, whether it is once a month or once every five years. I say plan ahead: put a small amount of your budget aside and let it grow for future maintenance. This truly is the way to go. I do confess however that in my entire career I have never succeeded in convincing anyone to do this.

Issues may occur based on where a public work resides. In a mural's case, anything that happens to the building can affect the painting. Does the building ownership change hands? Does the building fall down and the mural with it? We know places change all the time. We also know that this is not a bad thing, and I would never say that development should be prevented. But losing some murals would be a great loss if they were to go. A careful assessment that will facilitate conscious decisions about what work should be preserved is crucial. You may not preserve every work and that is okay. I would say the goal should be preventing heartbreak within communities created by careless actions, decisions, or maintenance.

EL: Your work with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) has produced amazing artworks. As MAP is so invested in community outreach and interaction, do you, as the artist, rely on your murals' neighboring communities to act as caretakers of their art?

MS: My work with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has had wide reaching impact in the fields of murals and conservation. The Mural Arts Program is solidly entrenched within the Philadelphia community in many diverse neighborhoods. When you work within communities, you understand that it is they who will play a large part in the preservation of the public work. Throughout my career, it has always been the local person who made the work with me, who gives me a call when something on the work needs to be maintained or adjusted. It is the neighbor to a mural who watches out for it and protects it from people, weather, and building owner change. I believe it is also the communities themselves that should be deciding what public works get preserved and which ones don't. The Mural Arts Program has a vast number of public works that should be preserved, as do I. Perhaps, some of the works should be taken away, replaced, or changed. There is no one solution to what works should be preserved and what should not, but a thorough assessment is key. The community should have a prominent voice in deciding what works do end up being preserved. By default, the communities become the caretakers of the work because they're on the front lines. The community lives with it and so perhaps feel its effects most strongly.

EL: From a conservation standpoint, what is the one piece of advice you would impart to other muralists?

MS: Do it right the first time. Work alongside conservators while you make the mural. Having longevity in mind throughout the creation process will guide you in using the best materials and keeping good records for future conservators who may want to treat and restore the piece. Preserving a mural will always be difficult, but the process can be made less difficult by using the best materials and practices the first time around.

EL: Art conservation has an extensive network of resources for artists and collectors to consult. If an artist, or mural enthusiast is interested in learning more about how to care for their artwork, where would you recommend they look?

MS: There are extensive resources for artists and collectors to consult. If you are an artist or an art organization and you would like to learn more about how to care for a piece of art I would recommend you start with the Rescue Public Murals website's Best Practices section. Both the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and the Chicago Public Art Group, have restoration initiatives, their websites would be a good place to look.

Posted by Chris on August 7, 2014 in Conservation at American Art, Five Question Interviews
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