Friday, August 05, 2011
Lately, when we've been walking at Stricker's Pond in Middleton my attention has usually been captivated by the Sandhill Cranes that have reappeared. I love their ungainly majesty, and their wild calls, the way they stretch out in flight. And the domesticity of these pair-bonded creatures is fascinating to watch. Great Blue Herons also spend a lot of time at the pond. They're more solitary than the cranes, and there's something poignant about their lonely vigils, even if -- as I suspect -- they're just waiting for their next meal to swim into sight.
View Large On Black
West 16th Street, New York City
I like it more than the photo I started with.
Photographs and drawings are as different as apples and oranges, and it's usually best to keep them separate. Photographs express form through tonality and drawings express form through line. Nevertheless, I've occasionally experimented with trying to turn photographs of mine into drawings -- sometimes totally freehand, sometimes with mechanical aids -- and the results have usually been dreadful, stilted drawings and awkward renderings. Since a drawing isn't a photograph, it's all too easy to get led astray by the original. This is one of the few I was pleased with.
It's from a photo I took during a memorable family trip to New York for the Bicentennial, during which all three of us saw Queen Elizabeth up close in person, among other things.
As I recall, I traced the main outlines from an 8x10 BW print (I'm terrible with geometric relationships), used transfer paper to transfer to a drawing pad, and then filled in the rest freehand with pencil.
Scanner Note: The scan (view large on black) was made on my iPhone 4 with JotNot Pro, a scanner app that's the best 99-cent investment I ever made. It uses the camera's phone to make faxes, PDFs or jpegs, which you can email or fax to yourself or others. With halfway decent lighting, it makes PDFs of documents every bit as good as a scanner, and in less time. If you shoot a document against a contrasting surface, it will automatically compensate for camera angle distortion and square off the corners -- and if its guess is wrong, you can do it manually with a couple finger swipes. Works with photos and art too. Some of my apps are fun toys, but this is a really useful tool.
Thursday, August 04, 2011
My friend Joey took this photo in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It really expresses a whole different philosophy of bicycling as transportation rather than, or maybe in addition to, recreation. Nobody's going to carry an umbrella while pedaling fast in racing gear on a 21-speed. It would be too much of a drag -- or it might even blow away. But at a leisurely, meditative pace like this, why not?
By American standards, Madison is quite a bike-friendly city, though there's certainly room for improvement. But by most European standards, the streets of Madison are one big accident waiting to happen for bicyclists. A recent article in the New York Times about bicycling in the Netherlands shows what a bike-friendly city really looks like (Joey's photo would have made a better illustration than the one they used, because it sums up the difference between the Dutch approach and ours so beautifully).
For American cities to think outside the car would seem to require a mental sea change. Then again, Americans, too, are practical, no-nonsense people. And Zef Hemel, the chief planner for the city of Amsterdam, reminded me that sea changes do happen. “Back in the 1960s, we were doing the same thing as America, making cities car-friendly,” he said. Funnily enough, it was an American, Jane Jacobs, who changed the minds of European urban designers. Her book “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” got European planners to shift their focus from car-friendliness to overall livability.I've always loved Jane Jacobs, whose ideas have been misinterpreted and misrepresented -- or more often, just ignored -- in the U.S. Nice to see her cited as an influence elsewhere.
When I noted that Manhattan’s bike lanes seem to be used more for recreation than transport — cyclists in Amsterdam are dressed in everything from jeans to cocktail dresses, while those in Manhattan often look like spandex cyborgs — Mr. Hemel told me to give it time. “Those are the pioneers," he said. “You have to start somewhere.”
Want to see what (part of) Madison would like like as a really bike-friendly city? The next Ride the Driv is September 25. Mark your calendar.
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
The good news is that Madison has an unusually large and expensive arts center for its size. The bad news is that Madison has an unusually large and expensive arts center for its size.
Never has a $205-million gift (from local businessman Jerome Frautschi) been so controversial. Ever since it opened nearly 7 years ago, the Overture Center for the Arts has elicited a wide range of reactions -- a magnificent cultural asset treasured by many, scorned by others as an overbuilt playpen for Madison's elite, with most people falling somewhere in between.
ownership and control used to be as complex as Cesar Pelli's design for the building, which combined new construction (left) old landmarks -- or at least parts of their facades (Yost's department store, center, and the old Capitol Theater/Madison Civic Center, right). As the chart shows, three different organizations used to be responsible for ownership, operation and fundraising. In last December's reorganization, they were replaced by a single private organization, the nonprofit Overture Center Foundation, although as the chart shows, it retains many members of the old organizations. The foundation takes over next January.
The Overture Center was built at a time of expansive optimism, part of a major boom in downtown real estate development. Then the financial crisis happened. Then the recession happened. Then the Walker budget cuts happened. In short, an arts center that was built during a time of buoyant prosperity now faces a time of austerity and fierce competition for arts dollars.
Nevertheless, Overture backers have retained their optimism. The Overture's new budget reflects that optimism. In contrast to the $13.5-million 2010-11 budget, which projected a deficit of nearly half a million dollars, the new $14-million 2011-12 budget projects a surplus of more than $600,000 -- this despite a projected decrease in ticket sales because there's no Broadway blockbuster like The Lion King on the schedule. So where does the surplus come from?
The 2011-12 budget differs from the previous one mostly in an optimistic projection for private fundraising. The new budget has $2 million in fundraising compared to $350,000 in 2010-11.That's about a six-fold increase in fundraising. Proponents say fundraising will be encouraged by the new foundation's role, since donations will be tax-deductible. But it's still hard to imagine such a bump in fundraising at a time when other local groups also desperately need money and the Madison Public Library is in the midst of a major fundraising drive for its new downtown branch.
The budget also counts on a $1.85-million contribution from the city, a little less than the $2 million that was agreed on last December. But that was before the Walker budget threw Madison into its own budget crisis. Will that contribution stand up now that Madison faces major budget cuts, including likely furloughs and possible layoffs? No wonder Mayor Paul Soglin has been worrying about it.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
The debt ceiling negotiations in Washington have been a dispiriting example of how a determined, organized minority can hijack the democratic process to blackmail the majority into accepting a disastrous, foolhardy and unpopular agenda. If this is how we're trying to sell democracy by example to the rest of the world, we're doing a terrible job.
Meanwhile, far from Washington, out here in the real world, lots of alternatives have been suggested. But nobody seems to be listening.
This sculpture by Harry Whitehorse is one of the most beloved works of public art in Madison. It overlooks Lake Monona in Hudson Park on the city's east side, facing a peaceful grove of trees and a surviving effigy mound at what had been the one of the Ho Chunk people's most sacred groups of mounds.
Whitehorse originally carved the Effigy Tree in 1991 from the stump of a hackberry tree in the park that had been shattered by lightning. The Effigy Tree soon became a point of pride in the community. But by 1997 it had suffered weather damage, mainly from the successive cycles of freezing and thawing that come with our Wisconsin winters, and it had to be restored. Ten years later, it needed to be restored again and it became clear that something more permanent was needed. Neighbors and a wide variety of community organizations pitched in to fund casting the sculpture in bronze. The bronze sculpture was returned to Hudson Park in a dedication ceremony in May, 2009.