Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Storytelling connects us to the world

In December like a bird, I can't wait to migrate south to my home and studio in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Sitting here at my weathered wooden desk covered with paint and coffee cup stains I've been thinking about storytelling and how it connects us to the world. Originally practiced by elders, stories passed on knowledge and wisdom to new generations.

A humble art form practiced in Mexico are small retablos or laminas painted on tin. Deeply rooted in Spanish history they tell stories of miracles and represent the heart, soul and religious traditions of Mexicans from the 17th-19th centuries. I've always been fascinated with the colorful symbolism and allegorical storytelling found in these clever art works used on home altars to give thanks to the infinite number of Catholic saints. Usually painted by self taught artists working alone in their studio or workshop I've been waiting for just the right opportunity to get a piece of tin and give it a try.

My closest friend Gil Gutiérrez lives in a bohemian home that used to be a horse stable in the centro of San Miguel. He is without a doubt our town's most beloved musician. A virtuoso on the guitar, he has played with symphony orchestras across the U.S. and at Chicago's Millenium Park to a crowd of 10,000 people. My favorite place to hear him play is sitting around his kitchen table as his authentic music and vibrant spirit is an endless inspiration. He is building a home in the countryside near town and this past Fall was attacked by a stray rottweiler abandoned near his land. His arm was injured badly but healed quickly and he was able to get right back to making music. To commemorate and give thanks for this miracle I painted a lamina for him in the style of my compatriotas. My gifted friend is pictured with guitar on his land where he grows lavender and his favorite drink mezcal invoking the protection of El Señor de los Rayos. You might notice the surrealism of his extra hand in my painting with the popular cuernos symbol to signify that he won't let anything stop his music. A graceful bird carries the banner of musical notes and the hand painted text tells the story of the miracle. I used sponges to age the piece that was painted with Mexican acrylics on tin.

In this painting I wanted to celebrate the humble art and storytelling of Mexican lamina painting as well as the power of my friend Gil's music.
If you live in New York please be sure to catch Gil Gutiérrez live at Carnegie Hall with trumpet legend Doc Severinsen on January 28th.
I believe his music captures the sound and soul of San Miguel de Allende and to hear it you can check out his website or visit his blog: Gil Gutiérrez Music

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Art of Giving Books

December is really here.
Our family continued to realize our passion for books this year by growing a library for our son's public school. The holidays are a chance to connect with family and friends and share the magic of books with the people that matter to you. If you really think about it there is a book for every special person in your life. A blog post by a wonderful friend, artist and writer Yuyi Morales inspired our family to brainstorm special ways to give books.
We saw a wonderful book tree in Simple Magazine and my son challenged us last night to build our own-so here is our version. In the spirit of giving or not knowing what to give, I want to share this post about how much fun you can have giving books.

These incredible books are favorites of our family.
Doña Flor. Art by Raul Colón and Written by Pat Mora.
Illustrator Raul Colon used Prismacolor pencils to make this gorgeous book and what kid or kid at heart wouldn't want a set of their own radiant colors. The flat box will nestle nicely on top of this book.
The House in the Night. Illustrated by Beth Krommes and Written by Susan Marie Swanson. Caldecott Medal Winner Beth Krommes introduced Santiago to Scratchmagic Paper and now he practices making art that looks like real scratchboard.

Gracias. Thanks. Art by John Parra and Words by Pat Mora.
Need a stress release? Click the CRICKET toy. "For the cricket hiding when he serenades us to sleep. thanks!"

Return to Sender. Written by Julia Alvarez. Winner of the 2010 Pura Belpré for Narrative.
This beautiful folding rainbow colored umbrella is perfect for children. Express your love of peace even on rainy days.

The Dreamer. Words by Pam Muñoz Ryan and Art by Peter Sis.
Really Big Words refridgerator magnet poetry is a great way to have fun and start to dream like Pablo Neruda. This book is such a gem.

Books can teach you things you didn't know before. If you're fighting a winter cold they distract you from your misery. When you are stuck in long lines at the airport they will help you pass the time. We all know things get crazy at the holidays and sometimes you just need to escape to a quiet place-well a good book will take you there. Great books get better when they get old just like people.
Here are some of my son Santiago's most loved picture books we've paired with favorite things. The illustrations are hard to resist.

Never take a Shark to the Dentist [and other things not to do] by
Judi Barrett with fantastic art by John Nickle and a colorful Plaksmacker toothbrush. She wrote Cloudy with a chance of Meatballs and you will learn important lessons wonderfully illustrated like never hold hands with a lobster or never go to the bank with a raccoon.
Blueberries for Sal by a legendary author/artist Robert McCloskey. Find out what happens on a summer day in Maine when a little girl and a bear cub wander away from their mothers. The story won the Caldecott Medal in 1949 and the drawings are as fresh as blueberries in a beautiful bowl. In my son's art class the kids hand built pots that could be filled with berries.

Iggy Peck Architect makes you smile by Andrea Beaty with clever illustrations by David Roberts. "Young Iggy Peck is an architect and has been since he was two, when he built a great tower-in only an hour-with nothing but diapers and glue". Brio natural building blocks have wonderful shapes to construct you own skyscrapers. Our friend Daniel Renner saves leftover wood scraps and sands them to make an incredible set of blocks in crazy shapes that kids never get tired of.

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears by Verna Aardema with pictures by Leo and Diane Dillon. This is a favorite African tale and we bought the book on a trip to Washington D.C and the National Museum of African Art/Smithsonian Institution. No wonder these paintings won the Caldecott Medal as they take you deep into the heart of the African jungle.
At Rosenberry books you can buy an inexpensive kit to cut and glue amazing handmade papers [some are like tree bark] to make your own African masks.

Frederick's Fables: A Leo Lionni Treasury of Favorite Stories. Leo Lionni.The stories and art makes you imagination soar into the clouds. Kids can learn about nature, peace, community, friendship, beauty, and being your own unique self. More than any other character in books there is just something about Frederick. You'll fall for the part where it is winter and the mice are tired of the snow and cold. Frederick tells them to "close their eyes and sends them the golden rays of the sun, and the colors, blue periwinkles, red poppies in yellow wheat, the green leaves of the berry bush and they saw the colors as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds". Pair this book with inexpensive Backyard Safari Binoculars to see the world as Frederick does.

Please click here to read more.