Category Archives: Art

Art-A-Whirl Old School Portrait

Art-A-Whirl portrait

Last Saturday we stumbled unwittingly into Art-A-Whirl in support of our friend Paul Johnson’s new photography magazine, Leaf Shutter. As part of the festivities, photographer Victor Keller had an old school camera set up and was taking portraits.

Victor Keller's Deardorff CameraThe camera he used was a refurbished Deardorff 8×10 (V8) view camera commonly used in the portrait studios in the 1930s-50s. It looked like something out of the 1860s, a square, boxish thing, complete with the black sheet the photographer hides under to take the picture. It had a pretty long exposure, so we had to stay perfectly still for two to three seconds.

When Victor finished he took us into the dark room to develop the picture, giving us the whole experience.

The best part was when he took a picture of the developed print using an iPhone and emailed it to us, turning the old school experience into a thoroughly modern one.

Check out the entire series of Victor’s Art-A-Whirl portraits.

A Boy Draws

A boy draws at a makeshift camp in Champ de Mars in Port au Prince on January 25, 2010.

I came across this picture in a CNN article today that gave the numbers of the tragedy. The stories are always more interesting, like this boy drawing in a makeshift camp at Champ de Mars in Port au Prince. I wonder what his story is.

But he’s drawing a picture.

I wish he knew that kids here in the United States are drawing pictures for him. How cool would it be if we could get his picture for Color4aCause?

I hope you’ll consider making a donation to help kids like this. Color4aCause: Make a donation, get a picture.

Color4aCause: Kids Color to Help Haiti

Buildings in Haiti that didn't break at allBy Friday morning the flood of stories from Haiti started to get to me and I wanted to help. I’d already donated, but I wanted to do more. So I started thinking of crazy ideas. And I tweeted like mad as I tried to think it through. All while Lexi sat down with crayons and paper.

Tonight we launched Kids color to support relief efforts in Haiti. Make a donation, get a picture. All the proceeds go to my church’s Haiti relief efforts. My church has a partnership with organizations in Haiti going back more than 20 years, so it seemed like a no-brainer to support that relationship.

It’s a crazy idea. But I love it. I love watching my daughter color. I love it when she tells me what she’s drawn. And I love that we can help in such a simple way.

It’s not always easy. I told Lexi about what happened in Haiti and she was concerned for the people who were hurt and was scared that the buildings would keep falling down (once we got past the idea that Haiti was a person). She dove into the coloring but then later got frustrated. She keeps telling me she doesn’t know what to draw or how to draw it, and I keep trying to tell her just to draw—you can’t do it wrong.

When she gets really frustrated she throws up her arms and says “Kids can’t help.” She’s kind of a drama queen. I know she’s having a hard time getting her head around all of this and I’m probably pushing more than I should, but the truth is kids can help. Lexi is helping. It’s her own small way, but she’s helping. She might not get it now, but it doesn’t matter. She’s still helping.

Coloring for a cause. It’s crazy, but sometimes crazy works.

You Can Change the World: Paso a Paso

Jenni White's painting of life in GuatemalaA friend of mine and his family spent six months in Guatemala finalizing the adoption of their second child. That experience inspired them both artistically and practically:

“It is a land of great beauty, but marred by devastating poverty and instability. Guatemala impacted us spiritually as well as aesthetically. We saw poverty and injustice unmasked. The reality of poverty—that some people cannot provide for their families no matter how hard they work—was overwhelming.”

In response, my friend’s wife Jenni created a series of 10 paintings depicting the life and people of Guatemala. They also got involved in Paso a Paso, a nonprofit organization that’s trying to build a sustainable community in a small neighborhood. They’re focusing on education, clean water, safe stoves and job training.

Most families in this community cook with open fires in their home, and as a result the World Health Organization reports that the leading cause of death for children under 5 in Guatemala is falling into these fires. That’s astounding. Paso a Paso is working to replace in-home cooking fires with enclosed wood-burning stoves made from insulated steel drums. You can buy a stove for $130.

In addition to donations, Paso a Paso also sells a few items made locally, including blankets, purses and stationary. Jenni just got back from a trip to Guatemala to work in the community and connect with the people.

Consider supporting Paso a Paso, purchasing some of their locally made products, or buying one of Jenni’s paintings (contact her through

Support Start Seeing Art

My local public art side project, Start Seeing Art, is now accepting sponsorship. It’s basically advertising—rotating banners in the sidebar—but I hate to use the word “advertising” because the site doesn’t justify the eyeballs to use that word. We get minimal traffic thanks to our extreme niche, so it’s more of a generous subsidy than a mutual exchange. If you or anyone you know would be interested in supporting public art by sponsoring Start Seeing Art, please send ’em to the support page.

The sponsorship banners are $25 per month (cheap!), with a maximum of five banners each month. So even if I sell all available space I won’t be getting rich ($125/month). More than anything this is an effort to bring some kind of revenue, any revenue, into the site. I’ve been running the site since November 2007 and we’ve mapped 371 works of local public art. That’s a lot of work. And a lot of gas. In that time we’ve made a whopping $20.36 from the Google ads (I think we’re too niche and too local for Google ads to be of much use). If the sponsorship banners sell I’ll probably drop the Google ads.

I’ll keep exploring other ways to make the site work. Grants are the most likely option, but it gets complicated since I’m not a nonprofit—unfortunately not making a profit doesn’t make you a nonprofit, as the joke goes. Hopefully we’ll figure something out and I can justify the time I put into the site.

Start Seeing Art’s Downtown St. Paul Art Map

Protagoras by Charles GinneverOn Saturday I posted the Downtown St. Paul Art Map on Start Seeing Art. It’s a free, printable, 7-page PDF map that features outdoor sculptures and murals in the downtown area.

I’m intentionally putting it out just before the Republican National Convention comes to town. Hopefully it will draw some attention to some of the amazing public artwork we have in the Twin Cities. The map itself isn’t very pretty (I’m no designer, and I didn’t even try to be), but it does include 85 works of art and pictures of each one (OK, 84 pictures. One sculpture is supposed to be placed any day now and I don’t have a picture of it).
Continue reading Start Seeing Art’s Downtown St. Paul Art Map

Why Public Art is Cool

Me and Alexander Calder's FlamingoThe night before my trip to Chicago I started looking up public art. I found a handy guide to public art in Chicago (all it’s missing is a map) and during a few free hours I wandered around downtown, specifically looking for a few works of art (Picasso, Calder, Gehry, Kapoor) and stumbling across a dozen more (Hunt, Miro, Dubuffet, You Are Beautiful, Chagall, more Calder, Moore, Smith, Piensa, Di Suvero, Kearney and Johnson, among the ones I could identify).

I’ve never done that before–seeking out public art during a vacation. Aside from the fact that I run my own public art site, that seems kind of weird. I like art. Heck, I even minored in it. But I usually don’t go that far out of my way to seek it out. So since I spent part of my vacation checking out art and for the last nine months or so I’ve spent loads of free time checking out public art, I thought it might be time to explore what’s so captivating about public art.
Continue reading Why Public Art is Cool

Start Seeing Art Passes 300 Works

International Academy LEAP student self portraitThis week my little side project/hobby, Start Seeing Art, posted its 300th work of public art. No wonder I can’t write a book, I’m too busy with art.

The project’s been a lot of fun. I get to check out cool artwork in the city and I usually bring my daughter along to climb on the sculptures (her most recent favorite is the one she called a “sculpture boat” even though it looked nothing like a boat).

While I do have Google ads on the site, it hasn’t been much of a money maker (maybe $10?). And I don’t expect it to be, at least not yet. It’s really too niche of a site for Google to work well and I need more traffic to attract my own ads. So in the mean time I’m just doing it as cheaply as possible. That means using WordPress and a couple plugins to make it work, though it doesn’t function as cleanly as I’d like. I also haven’t bothered with a real logo or a slick design. I’d love to make a lot of changes, but I can’t justify the time or the money. It’s a real bootstrap project, and for now I’m just putting the time into content. I think the content makes all the difference. When you have 300 works of art it suddenly becomes a lot more useful.

So we’ll see where it goes. Though currently I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the photos I’ve taken. I guess it’s better to load up on photos in the summer when it’s nice, and then when it’s not photo weather I can post them all to the site.

St. Paul Sculptural Complex is Torn Down

The Late St. Paul Sculptural Complex by George SugarmanA sculpture by George Sugarman that has graced a downtown St. Paul corner since 1971 is being torn down. A potential million-dollar masterpiece, “St. Paul Sculptural Complex” was left out when the building was sold and is being removed and shipped to Austin, Texas for restoration and reinstallation.

And if you want to say goodbye, you better hurry. The 44-piece sculpture is at least halfway down as of tonight.

“This is just wrong, so wrong,” Public Art St. Paul founder Christine Podas Larson told the Star Tribune. Her organization raised $20,000 in an unsuccessful attempt to save the sculpture. (link via Across the Great Divide)

Discovering Art in West Bend, Wisconsin

Art keeps following me. Apparently it’s not enough to be mapping public art in the Twin Cities. Last weekend we were in West Bend, Wisconsin (about an hour north of Milwaukee), helping my brother and his family move. While getting some lunch we drove past a shiny, metallic sculpture and I pointed it out to Lexi. She looked out the window and said, “Where’s ah art?”

I didn’t think much of it, though I thought it was cool the small town had some public art. Turns out that small town has quite the thriving art community. It’s home to the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which houses the largest collection of Wisconsin art anywhere, the West Bend Sculpture Walk, where I saw my shiny, metallic sculpture (“Wave Dancer” by John Mishler) among 20 others, and the Labryinth Garden Earth Sculpture (Warning: The site plays music and borders on the artsy-fartsy).

I discovered all that while researching a work of art in downtown Minneapolis. Brad Goldberg created “Continuum” in Minneapolis (as well as a few others, including Mears Park in downtown St. Paul) and also created “Place of Origin” in West Bend (though he calls it “Brownfield to Greenfield” on his site).