Art 360: Adventures in Portsmouth, Ohio

“Art 360: Contemporary Art Hatching Across Ohio” opened a few weeks ago at the Southern Ohio Museum in Portsmouth, Ohio.  We spent an  entire rainy day traveling to and from the artists reception via a chartered bus engaged by Sharon Weiss, of Sharon Weiss Gallery.   Chuck Bluestone, curator of the show, rode along, sharing many home-made goodies, reading material and water along the way.


Chuck Bluestone with Rachel Stern and husband

The Southern Ohio Museum is a lovely building and just the right size for viewing and appreciating art:  not too big!




Once inside, an egg house of delights awaited.   The eggs were beautifully lit and displayed.


Mark Chepp, artist and Executive Director of the Southern Ohio Museum, did this egg and also served wine.  What a guy!


Barb Vogel egg on right, Sunami egg on left.

Long-time friend and art maven Barb Vogel contributed the thoughtful, dreamy egg on the right.  Ms Sunami accidentally broke hers in process but managed to turn tragedy into triumph.  The addition of car glass from an accident scene is a funny, arch touch and a nice insider’s comment.  Well done, Ms. Sunami!


Barb Vogel and Lynda McClanahan

Barb Vogel’s art is always a contemplative tool for exploring the the human condition.  Both the sweet and the bitter are mined and embraced, partners in beauty.   Her egg is no exception:  decorative from a distance but in-your-face strange close up.

Unintentional themes sometimes spring forth after a show is actually put together.   Human nature always tends toward narrative, so a collection of works often morphs into a conversation once an exhibit is up and running.  No matter how hard a curator tries to defeat this impulse, it almost always appears.


In general, there is tension between outstanding craft and creepiness in the show.  All the eggs in this case are graphically-inspired and beautifully done, but the rabbit nudges the assembly into what-the-heck-is-going-on-here territory.  I adore it.


Levent Isik, folk artist extraordinaire,  did the demon cartoon cat on the right.  Even when organized by theme, like this group of faces, the eggs can’t stay quiet once they’re put together.  I particularly admire the way Roger Williams’ manga red imp on the right manages to stay interesting all the way around, despite the problem of frontal weight of eyes and mouth.  Each artist who chose the face route solved the problem in their own way.


Some pieces were so strong they literally couldn’t share space with anything else.  This Heronymous-Bosch-like eruption by Rondle West is an example.


Other pieces shimmied together like partners glad to have finally found one another at a dance.


My egg is on the lower left.   I designed it to be slightly creepy but it seems pretty tame next to the vicious vagina-monster at the top right.   I really like the push-pull between the conventional and the risky in this display.


Cody Heichel With Eggs


My piece didn’t excite much comment but water-colorist-egg-artist Cody Heichel sweetly obliged when asked to pretend interest for this photo.

Another unexpected addition to the show was a series of egg-themed paintings by Clarence Holbrook Carter.


These really helped to flesh out the show, amplifying the theme but also lending visual interest and philosophical weight to some of the more decorative impulses in the show.

Afterwards, we attended a private artists reception at the home of Mark Chepp and Charlotte Gordon, Executive Director and Artistic Director of the Southern Ohio museum.


Their studio and loft apartment is right across the street from the museum in downtown Portsmouth. 081

A quick walk in the rain brought us to one of the many fine, underused retail establishments downtown, in this case a former department store and tailor shop.  There used to be a lot of money in Portsmouth.  It’s comforting to know people used to walk around in nice suits.

The new owners have filled the old shop windows with a quirky collection of primitive craft pieces, plants and vintage items.


The studio space was full of art-in-progress and completed pieces.



Upstairs, the living quarters were spacious and filled with collections of folk art and vintage kitsch.


Sock monkeys!


Strange I-don’t-know-what-monkeys….


…folk art carvings….


….and these Ronnie and Nancy slippers.  Our host said they were uncomfortable, which seems just about right.

It was a delightful day all round:  full of interesting sights and new people.


Lynda McClanahan With “Family Values” Egg

This show is better, more diverse, edgier and more beautiful than I had imagined possible.  What a thrill to be part of it!



The Sweet & the Sad

 We are entering the energetic airlock which divides Winter from Spring. Now is the time to wake up over-wintered plants and get them going before things get too busy outside.

spider plant starts

Spider plants, purple jewel and red sage are potted up and placed under fluorescent light.

coleus starts

Coleus cuttings started in water are now in soil and bursting from their containers.

elephant ear tubers

Elephant Ears over-wintered in the basement now rest in an old concrete mixing container, nestled over a bed of moist peat moss.  Elephant Ears are exceedingly slow to break dormancy so an early start is necessary if there is to be decent foliage before the 4th of July.

Tree Seeds

I’ve become interested in starting trees from seed.  Last year’s success with red bud trees has led to this hopeful tray of peaches, pears, cherries and mimosas.  Wish me luck.

It feels like a NASCAR event right before the race begins:  the cars are gunning their engines but nobody’s moving yet.  The whole world is standing in an open door:  Winter is finished but Spring is yet to come.

I’m in between art-wise as well.  “Girl With Landscape” is finished and back from the scanner but nothing new has appeared on the drafting table.


“Girl With Landscape”

The painting is inspired by an early memory of peering through the porch rails of an old house overlooking the Ohio River.  I used to live in the Mount Adams neighborhood of Cincinnati when I was very young.  The area is now a pricey, hipster playground marketed as a Midwestern Mont Marte, but when I lived there, many people didn’t even have indoor plumbing.  The river was choked with a never-ending series of coal barges chugging toward the Mississippi with nary a lotus to be seen.

Rather than my usual method of laying out one, iconographic image, this painting is full of creatures and little scenes.

Girl on Porch.jpg

The pensive girl is based on an old photograph.


   A fawn leaps in the foreground.


   A rabbit crouches on the right.


Deer drink from a serene pool…


…and an angry goose protests from the side.

This painting might seem like an overly sweet confection, but it’s a product of grief over the difference between how things are and how we’d like them to be.

Pull aside the curtain and the sentimental becomes a grave marker.