Saturday, April 26, 2008

Maori Painting

The Waitomo Hotel shares its Guest Room Museum art in its lobby. Found in New Zealand's north island (photo left), the hotel prominently displays in their lobby a painting that caught my eye. "The First Discovery of the Gloworm Grotto By Fred Mace & Tane Tinorau December 28, 1887" not only had a comprehensive title, but the images conveyed a deeply unifying moment between two disparate and often competing cultures. English surveyor Fred Mace and Maori local leader Tane Tinorau together explored the local Waitomo Caves for the now famous gloworm discovery. After witnessing my lack of photography skill to capture my own discovery, the woman at the front desk asked if I liked the painting. After I confirmed this, she informed me Tane was her great, great grandfather (photo right), and the land where the current hotel sits was owned by him. I am so happy I wandered into their Guest Room Museum, with her great, great grandfather continuing to oversee all who stay there.

Kauri Wood Carving

Just north of Auckland, Kerry Strongman's house is his Guest Room Museum. This Scottish/English/Irish/ Maori artist sculpts super-sized iconic images (many from indigenous Maori folk culture) out of the local Kauri tree, most of which is more than 10,000 years old. This tree species was almost lumbered to extinction by 1800's colonists. Qualities that attacted Maori to the tree (for sea-worthy canoes) and the English (for residential and port building) also caught Kerry's eye. He let's "the natural wood tell me what it will be", and the outcome is large and organically beautiful, preserving natural color, curves, grains and inclusions. His current series is called "Jewelry for Giants" (photo left, with large Maori fishhook icon, he and wife, Monique). His home is a full-service studio with warehouse for raw Kauri (over 20 tons), complete processing to finishing studio, and exhibit area. Final art can take several years to complete from swamp to finish and weigh over a ton. If New Zealand is too far to see for yourself, then visit them at

Friday, March 21, 2008

Painting: Dance of Transcendence

This original art was inspired in someone else's Guest Room, and now resides in a church. Pastor Barton Buchanan had an idea to paint Jesus in a dance pose with a ball and chain. After visiting art museums in Chicago and D.C., he realized most of the Jesus paintings were of his passion, descent from the cross, or his burial, and not celebrating triumph. Believing "suffering has a purpose, and not only are we not to stay in it, but transcend from it", he adjusted his original "ball & chain" concept. Here, Jesus finds a way to transcend pain and humiliation by dancing and using his thorny crown as a tamborine, a symbol of turning suffering to victory. Inspiration is just part of the story; execution is the other. In 1998, he began a series of anatomical sketches. By 2001, he sought to dimensionalize the drawings. Instead of using a model, he sculpted first (left) and then painted (right). The sculpture used for the painting model was actually the first one attempted. The results are a powerful, uplifting painting. If you're in their neighborhood, stop by to see, Another bonus there are original early 20th century stained glass windows that were relocated to the church's current location.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Portrait Miniatures

People wanted to carry "wallet-size" portraits of loved ones way before the invention of photography (and wallets). English 17th century innovation made this possible where artists painted palm-sized portraits. The small size required advanced portrait skill, producing amazing results. Some strokes were applied with a single-hair width brush. For example, viewing these images with a loop reveals eyelashes have individual strands. The "canvas" medium was also important: parchment (not pictured), celluloid (left), and ivory (right). Ivory offered superior luminosity. Here, avoidance of dark backgrounds allowed lighter colors to surround the figures, resulting in a less contrasting, but warmer feel. Kodak's predecessors made this art form obsolete, but more collectible.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Moche Portrait Vessels

Moche people thrived in pre-Columbian Peru, contributing advanced clay-molding talent that resulted in portrait vessels (like pictured, circ. 100BC-300AD). These vessels were not only usable but the faces were so accurate they also provided a record of everyday people from all aspects of society, i.e. warriors, infirm, family, professionals, laborers, erotica, etc. Artists strived to capture exact likeness, including all imperfections and avoiding any artificial "beautification". When you see it, this level of realism really adds to identifying with this person's portrait, even millenia later. A great private-gone-public collection is in the Museo Larco in Lima, Peru. Get a glimpse at

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Neolithic Chinese Pottery

Some art is a lot older than European antiques; those would be called antiquities. Take the neolithic period for example, way before 3300 B.C. (well over 5000 years ago from today!). The pictured Chinese vessel was made before the potter's wheel was invented, which means it is 100% hand formed. Note the geometric painted design on the clay medium, dated between 3500 and 5500 B.C. In much later years, Chinese pottery/art is often categorized by dynasties (Han, Qing, Ming, etc.); however, this pot dates long before before the first Chinese dynasties, so it's on its own as far as history goes.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

"Liquid Lace": Dresden China

Dad's early collecting years included European antiques that made their way across the "pond", and a few into our Guest Room. A favorite was Dresden figurines. Around 1700's, the Chinese' secret of hardpaste porcelain made its way to Europe, enabling more detailed, delicate formed creations. One spectacular new form was Dresden "lace" porcelain, developed in Germany (Dresden, thus the name). The process involved dipping real lace into a liquid porcelain and then adhered by hand to the base of a figurine. The lace burned off in the subsequent firing process. The result looks like beautiful flowing fabric, but it's so fragile its rare to find one not broken (at least the lace part). Popular figurines depicted idealized "guy-meets-girl" scenes, called crinoline groups (see photo). Some themes really do transcend time and culture.

The Guest Room's Window: Art Travels

Keep checking the Guest Room Window for art adventures outside the house.

LONG ISLAND: Nassau County Museum of Art's OpArt exhibit features 1960's paintings with optical designs that create fluctuating spatial depth (with potential for retinal after-images, without a hangover). If the OpArt's abundance of geometric form and color is too much, the adjacent Tee Ridder Miniatures museum brings your retina down to scale. "Tee" was a fine arts miniaturist who created over 100 miniature rooms with period precision, many on display here. gives more info.

WYOMING: Dad's art interest began with American firearms art. If you start your art journey there, one of the most comprehensive American firearms collection is at Buffalo Bill Historic Center in Wyoming; you can check out their searchable digital firearms collection at