The Conjuring

This year, in December, it will be fifteen years since my father died. His presence feels further and further away as time passes. That’s what happens to the departed – they recede into something sketchy and fragmentary. Spectral-like. Not random loose bits and pieces zig-zagging about, but not whole either. Yes, I can accurately recall the precise tone and timbre of my father’s voice, and his body movements and shape when he walked or sat in a chair. But he’s not here. The full man, ghostly or otherwise, is simply not here. He’s not here to DO anything or SAY anything or exert any action or influence. He’s not here to solve problems, lose his temper, or play his trumpet, or mix a martini … or give me shit about one thing or another.

If we make a conscious, deliberate effort to ‘bring’ the dead to us, we can conjure them in our minds and forcibly make them return. But it’s a temporary sensation … and a strained one. I know there are many people who sincerely believe and swear that they feel the actual, living presence of a departed loved one, and even communicate with them. I heard a lot of that, expressed very earnestly, in my grief counseling group. God bless those folks, truly. But I guess I differ on this subject. To me, the absence is thoroughly overpowering. So much so that all the living memories in the world can’t tamp it down. If anything, all the conjuring and remembering only amplifies the absence. I honestly feel like the dead are perfectly secure in their escape from earthly affairs and having shuffled off their mortal coil. It’s us, the living, who insist that they finish their business and continue their roles in our lives. But really, let’s face it, they’re done with us. And they probably wish we’d stop bothering them. John Kennedy is somewhere in the afterlife thinking, “You fuckers shot me in the head. Leave me alone now, ok? I’m out.”

This photo was taken on my wedding day, September 19, 1998. Dad and I in the limo on our way to church. When we got to the upper east side of Manhattan we unexpectedly hit serious traffic due to the Steuben Day Parade on Fifth Avenue. So yeah, my father and I were late to my wedding! I remember making a crack about it to my Dad, because he and I were habitually the ‘late’ types of our family, while my brother and my mother were always perfectly, and annoyingly, on time. A propensity for lateness was one of many behavioral and character traits he and I shared.

This photo makes me laugh because, on what was supposed to be a joyous day, both my father and I look like we were headed to the guillotine. But I can break down what’s going on here. Dad was just nervous about all the planning and hoping that things would go smoothly, fidgeting with his bow tie as he eyed the Saturday traffic. And I, with my “What the hell am I doing?” expression, was wrestling with uncertainty and apprehension about the whole thing. An apprehension well beyond mere wedding day “cold feet”. It turns out that my instincts were correct, as instincts always are. The marriage was over after four years. And Dad would die of a stroke two years after that. Maybe both of us should have just stayed in that limo and kept on driving.

Given the strife and difficulties I’ve had to endure with my family these past couple of years, I’ve come to resent my father for having stranded me with my mother and my brother. It’s incredibly stupid, I know. My father didn’t have a stroke and die on his bedroom floor on purpose. But my current frustrations and hopelessness have led me to this irrational, inane interpretation. Mom and Chris are profoundly aligned in personality. That makes me outnumbered, unheard, and unable to maneuver effectively without a wingman. Dad abandoned me to deal with them all by myself, and I’m furious at him for it. So when sincere, well-meaning people counsel me to seek guidance from my father’s ‘spirit’ I can’t help but think to myself, “Oh please. That is sooo not helpful”. He’s not here. He did his best and made a great impact when he was here. But he’s not here now. That’s the reality.

Understand that I’m not discounting the significance of memories, and past experiences, or the lasting influence of loved ones. We can and will continue to play the ‘conjuring’ game, in which we mistake echos for present vibrations, transplant a voice from the past into this afternoon, and deceive ourselves into thinking the dead haven’t already fully and completely moved on to the kingdom. We can always do this, and seek solace in such a way. It harms no one to do it. But for this Father’s Day, I will just messily and angrily confront the blinding, handicapping void left by my father’s absence, banging away at the keys on my laptop right now as I gulp down red wine and vent that I’m super pissed off at him for not being here. But also, I’ll conjure up the limo ride on those gridlocked Manhattan streets in pre-911 New York City one more time. My Dad’s tie, my unkempt bridal veil, and a throng of marching German-American New Yorkers waving to us at red lights. Love you Dad, and miss you more than you know. Happy Father’s Day guys …

Studio Spirits

Hellooooo Museworthy friends! It seems that I took the entire month of May as a hiatus, which was totally planned of course! <— not really 😆 But I’m back now and will do my best to not use this blog as a sounding board for my life’s aggravations and distresses. Can’t make any promises though. I’ve been attending counseling fairly regularly, but besides that I haven’t been taking very good care of myself unfortunately. Then last week an aggressive assault of seasonal allergies swooped in which was bizarrely debilitating. It’s just pollen dammit! I estimate that I coughed and sneezed at least 80,000 times in five days 🤧

I’d like to pay tribute to a local artist who was among the regular loyal attendees at Minerva’s Drawing Studio for years. Walter Lynn Mosley passed away a few months ago after a valiant battle with cancer. A most lovely gentleman, Walter is sorely missed at the studio. His gentle, polite, kind-hearted demeanor was a welcome presence, and his respect for the models made him a particularly beloved studio regular among us models. Walter lived and breathed art of all subject matter – whether figure drawings and portraits, plein-air and landscape, or still lifes. He continued to create art throughout his final weeks, making sketches of staff and visitors at the hospice. Here  is just a sampling of Walter’s portrait drawings of the studio models. His sensitivity and thoughtfulness clearly shines through.

This is me, by Walter Lynn Mosley:

Donna:

Freddy:

Kuan:

Our tribute to dear, departed artists continues with the recent passing of an art world giant. Renowned portrait painter Everett Raymond Kinstler died on May 26th at the age of 92. Back when I was still a fairly new artist’s model, I was booked for my first ever painting workshop, instructed by Ray Kinstler! It took place over a Saturday-Sunday at the National Academy of Design. I had no modeling-for-a-workshop experience at the time, but it turned out to be a wonderful weekend. Kinstler was not just a charismatic teacher but also a great storyteller and raconteur. Very entertaining and funny man. A dyed-in-the-wool native New Yorker with an engaging personality. I remember taking a seated pose, wearing a colorful kimono, and just before we set the timer Ray approached me to adjust my hand placement. He said he wanted it to look “more natural”. See, I told you I was inexperienced! It bothers me to think that I was once, way back when, a little ‘stiff’ in my posing. But there was Ray Kinstler to set me straight.

Tony Bennett, who was an art student before he became a successful singer, posted this tribute to Raymond Kinstler on Twitter that I thought was worth sharing:

Two artists have passed; one venerable and illustrious, the other of more modest renown and local esteem. And I am privileged to have posed for both of them. This long art modeling career of mine has blessed me with such a glorious scope of experiences, and I’m astounded at times when I think of the multitudes of crossed paths, remembered details, demos and easels, the sounds and sights and settings, the voices and faces and paint-splattered smocks, the artists known, lesser-known, and even the unknowns. And with the recent graduation of the New York Academy of Art’s class of 2019, the soon-to-be “knowns” are embarking on their post-art school journeys. We art models truly are witnesses to the careers and dreams of others. It’s a profession like no other.

Since today is Monday and we haven’t had a Music Monday in ages, I’d like to share a recording by a vocalist I only recently became aware of. I heard this on the jazz radio station WBGO and it absolutely blew me away. She goes by the name Yebba, and she’s an Arkansas native. Stylistically, if you like Adele you’ll like Yebba. Here she accompanies the brilliant pianist James Francies in the unique and expressive “My Day Will Come”. It really got under my skin, and will maybe get under yours as well. Love you all, and I’ll see you soon 🙂

Sanctuaries

A few days ago, I was planning – or rather expecting – to prepare my annual Easter blog post as a eulogy for Notre Dame Cathedral. Like the rest of the world, I was horrified watching news videos of the blazing orange inferno licking ferociously at the roof of the 800 year old house of worship and bringing down its famous spire like it was just a flimsy stack of toothpicks. But miraculously, the damage turned out to be nowhere near as devastating as predicted, and the image of a burned-to-a-crisp building skeleton never emerged. Most of the artwork and holy relics survived, as did the pipe organ and the exquisite stained glass Rose windows. I thought for sure those windows would be goners; blown out and shattered by the intense heat. But incredibly they remain intact. Even the resident bees survived unscathed. Yes, the bees! And they did so without even having to fly away. Apparently the CO2 from the smoke makes bees so drowsy that they simply hunker down in a stupor. Nicholas Geant, Notre Dame’s beekeeper, posted a photo to his Instagram of the Cathedral bees safely huddled in a crevice of a gargoyle. Glory to god, and glory to the bees who are so critically important to the world’s ecosystem. I love this photo. The bees are like, “Fire? What fire?” 🙂

I spent time last week in a house of worship significantly ‘younger’ than the medieval-era Notre Dame. My priest Father Byrne asked me to help him chaperone our church’s youth group to an event called “Nightwatch”, organized by the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Our cathedral (which has no bees!) is the Cathedral of the Incarnation. It was established in 1885 – quite the contrast to the 1200s of Notre Dame. Other than both being designed in Gothic style architecture, the two structures don’t have many parallels. Significantly, Notre Dame is a Catholic cathedral, while the Incarnation is Episcopalian. We can get into the Catholic/Protestant divide another time. For now let’s just establish that all such Christian structures serve the purpose of the glorification of God and the veneration of Christ. There are, throughout the world, cultural buildings such as theaters and opera houses, and historic mansions and museums, that are all amazing places to visit. But a worship space of any faith has a distinct and unique aura within, whether a Hindu temple, Islamic mosque, Jewish synagogue, or Christian church. The prevailing sense of devotion is palpable in every inch of the place. It is the structure’s entire reason for being. Here in New York City, a stroll through St John the Divine is a completely different experience than a visit to The Frick Collection, the former private residence of an obscenely rich man. We can enjoy and appreciate both, of course.

Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, Long Island:

One need not be religious to appreciate the aesthetic beauty, rich history, and architectural splendor of houses of worship. The great cathedrals of the world are ornate and richly detailed. Small town or country churches, which are not seats of Bishops or home to large congregations or Tiffany stained glass windows, are equally sacred in their modesty and simplicity. The historic 300 year old Quaker Meeting House in Flushing, Queens, just a few miles from my house, is the most unassuming place you’ll ever see. But the plain rectangular-shaped building with its dark floorboards and unadorned interior is thoroughly imbued with deep spirituality and intense devotion. In a way, it’s deceptive, because the Quaker Meeting House has been a gathering place for some of the most committed ‘agitators’ in America’s history, most notably the early abolitionist movement. Check out their website and you’ll see that three centuries has not slowed them down in the slightest.

Back to “Nightwatch” and the purpose of the youth event. Young people from different parishes around the Diocese (which encompasses Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk counties) spent the night in the Cathedral and participated in games and activities led by youth group leaders, myself included. And by ‘spend the night’ I mean sleeping bags, pajamas, pillows, toothbrushes, the whole works, with every inch of the church space available to us. Children slept on the pews if they wished, on the floor, up at the altar, next to the organ, at the base of the lectern – literally wherever they wanted. They climbed up the bell tower, sang songs, did crafts. Activities were organized according to the Episcopal Church’s Lent Reflections, which consist of “Learn”, “Go”, “Turn”, “Rest”, “Bless”, among other meditations. I was very interested in “Turn” because there is a lot you could with that one. I’m still exploring it in my mind, days later; turn ‘away’, turn ‘toward’? Many interpretations. But I was assigned “Rest”, which I enjoyed a great deal because I got to connect with the young people through our shared leisure time. “Rest” did not involve sleeping or napping, mind you. It involved no-pressure togetherness of coloring, art, and labyrinths.

Here is my “Rest” station, replete with blankets, pillows, coloring, pencils, and markers:

Returning to my previous point about the unique ambiance of religious spaces; as adults and children slumbered in the Cathedral that night, sprawled in sleeping bags on marble floors while rain poured down outside, I awoke abruptly around 5 AM. My mind has been so troubled and distressed these days with my ongoing family strife and health issues I’m lucky if I even get five hours of sleep a night. So when my eyes fluttered open I was captivated by what was in my field of vision. It was beautiful, comforting, calming. I reached over for my iPhone and took a picture:

That light streaming through the bays represents, for me, the ray of light that I try to see – at times squinting (metaphorically) because the darkness can easily dominate – to get me through these difficult days. During this Easter time, I wish for all of you to bask in your light, be nourished by it, and follow it wherever it takes you.

A blessed Easter, blessed Passover, and blessed spring season to each of you. We can all be reborn ….

Love, Claudia

Sketching the Stress Away

After two agonizing weeks of sobbing, fear, and anxiety, I needed desperately to break away or else I would have had a total breakdown. So what did I do? I headed over to life drawing at the National Art League where I’m usually the one doing the modeling. But Tuesday night I showed up to sit and sketch with my friends instead. And I’m so glad I did. It took my mind off my troubles and brought a smile back to my face.

The female model was great but I had so much difficulty drawing her. Artists, my question to you is this: HOW do you manage to draw the figure? 😆 What a challenge, my goodness. And all this time I thought we models were the ones who had the tough job! So my drawing attempts of the model suck big time and I won’t post them here. What I will post are the pen sketches I did of the group after I gave up on the figure.

I realize this is not good, but I had fun doing it. I think if I practice a lot more, I could become a minimally decent little pen-sketcher. With these you can get away with all the mistakes and imperfections, and that’s good for me!

And this one is of my friend Paul; a person I completely adore and whose friendship I treasure. I showed this to him and he actually liked it!

It was a lovely little evening for me, right in my neighborhood, sketching alongside Paul and Marilyn and rest of my friends there. They all insisted that I come back on future nights when I’m available. I most certainly will.

Imprints

The first day of spring seems the perfect occasion for me to jumpstart this blog back to activity. Almost a month since my last post, my goodness. Well I’m still alive, dear readers, and as a true believer in seasonal affective disorder the arrival of spring works magic on my mood. To bid farewell to the winter, I’m posting perhaps the finest printmaking I’ve ever posted on this blog. No, not Albrecht Durer or Rembrandt. It’s my sweet cat Jessie! In the last snowfall of the season,  she left these beautiful paw prints outside my front door, and what an lovely work of art they are. Cats tread so lightly and elegantly. I think Jessie enjoyed the winter more than I did!

I suppose I should inform all of you that I’m in the beginning stages of planning for open heart surgery. It was inevitable given that I’ve had this aortic valve condition since birth. There’s much for me to prepare for and think about and it’s all weighing heavily on my mind: finances, recovery time and not being able to work, and the cosmetic issue of a heart surgery scar and it’s effect on my modeling confidence. But I’m in good hands with my doctors and am eternally grateful for the love and support of my friends.

I want very much to return this blog to its previous state of more frequent posting and more timely comment replies on my part. I apologize for allowing things to slack. Thanks to all of you who are still here!

Job Insecurity

For the past few weeks I’ve been posing for a life-size sculpture class at the New York Academy of Art. The instructor, Harvey Citron, who I’ve worked with before, tells great stories and shares interesting anecdotes about sculpture history. Last week, as the students carved away, he talked about Rodin and his model for his sculpture “Eve”. She was an Italian woman named Maria Abruzezzi, who was already pregnant, but not yet showing, when she agreed to pose for Rodin. Then, as the lengthy modeling assignment went on, Maria began to show, and Rodin obviously noticed the change; “Maria, dear, is there anything you want to tell me?” 😆

According to Harvey, Rodin was willing to continue sculpting from his model, pregnant belly and all, believing that a ‘pregnant Eve’ would carry powerful symbolic weight. But it became too difficult for Maria and she had to discontinue her posing. And who can blame her? Long term standing poses are grueling for models under normal circumstances. I can’t even imagine doing it in the third trimester of a pregnancy.

A few years ago at Spring Studio, Minerva Durham did a quick sketch of one of my short gesture poses. She showed it to me later and said it reminded her of Eve being expelled from paradise:

The story of Rodin and the pregnant model got me thinking about the practical realities of art modeling work, and really any livelihood that is ‘freelance’ in nature. We’re not true employees. We have to work to get paid. We have no sick days, no paid vacation days, no pensions. If a model gets the flu and has to cancel a job they lose the money they would have made that day. In my many years as an art model, I have worked with colds and pounding migraines, sprained ankles, a black eye, severe menstrual cramps, and oh so many days of depression episodes and emotional stress. It would be wonderful to take a “personal day” during those times. But that’s simply not how this kind of profession works. Now I won’t be getting pregnant anytime soon, but I totally understand why Rodin’s model didn’t disclose her pregnancy when he first hired her. It’s very possible she didn’t want to lose the job, and needed the job.

Because modeling is my sole source of income, I carry around a trembling seed of fear in the back of my mind that if something catastrophic were to happen to me, something that would put me out of commission for weeks and weeks, I’d be royally screwed. I could break my leg. I could get seriously sick and become bedridden. We artist’s models don’t have the convenient option of “working from home” like many people do. We have to commute there, physically be there, do the modeling, and get that time sheet signed. Don’t feel well? Too bad. Deal with it.

But the upside remains; that art modeling is awesome. So awesome that it motivates us models to carry on in spite of sore throats and allergies and cramps and aches. No sick days is the trade off for participating in such unique, liberating, and gratifying work. Here’s a photo of some works-in-progress of my standing pose in Harvey Citron’s class. It’s not an “Eve-like” pose, but a basic contrapposto:

In mid-January I received a jury duty summons in the mail. The date on which I was supposed to start calling was the Friday before my second Monday for this sculpture class. I was worried that if the recording told me to report for jury duty on the next Monday I’d have to let the Academy know, and then would most likely be replaced for Harvey’s class with another female model. That would mean seven consecutive Mondays of lost work and lost pay. For a single day job it wouldn’t have mattered much. But this class is a multi-week booking. The model is expected to be there for every session. So I postponed my jury duty, which we are allowed to do only once, until May. And again, this is an issue that affects us freelancers and independent contractors much differently than those with ‘regular jobs’, who are allowed jury duty absences when they’re called. I’m glad I was able to postpone, because I want to serve but also want to fulfill my modeling duties.

Sculptors work with lots of tools, but you know they’re really getting into it when they bring out the knives and hammers!

And finally, the photo you needed. My foot! Specifically, the foot of my weighted leg in the contrappposto after three 20 minute sets. I did not filter it black and white for a reason, as you can see. Can I please get some bath salts and a basin of warm water? 😆

Remains

Happy New Year Museworthy friends! I’m awfully late in offering that salutation, but at least it’s still January. “Happy New Years” in February are just going too far 😆

So I finally got to see the Armenia exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum. The show closed on the 13th. It consisted of many beautifully illuminated manuscripts, gospel books, bas relief sculptures, architectural fragments, liturgical objects and vestments, and, my favorites, reliquaries. In medieval Christianity, reliquaries were containers that held holy relics of some sort, such as physical remains of the saints or objects associated with them. Adorned with precious stones and other decorative embellishments, reliquaries are unique works of art in and of themselves.

This reliquary cross with relics of St John the Baptist is from the Cilicia region of Armenia, 14th century. Gilded silver, filigree, precious and semi-precious stones, pearl and coral:

And this is a hand reliquary of Saint Abulmuse, from the Kharpert region. Some of my ancestors were from Kharpert. This gilded silver piece was luminous in person. Abulmuse was martyred and is recognized with a feast day in Armenian Orthodox tradition. This reliquary was on loan from the Alex and Marie Manoogian Museum in Michigan. The Manoogians are cousins to my family through my grandfather’s side.

I hope that 2019 has started out better for all of you than it has for me. These past few weeks since my last blog post have been personally very trying. I won’t bore you with a laundry list of reasons, except that severe emotional pain from my family’s behavior, plus financial strains, plus dealing with a medical condition, have all piled on at the same time and I’ve felt like I’m drowning. I have an appointment tomorrow for a heart test to assess my aortic valve issue; my third one since the summer. It would have made an enormous difference during this tough time if only I had some relief from family aggravations. But no such luck. There’s never any ‘relief’ in this family. My mother used to be the greatest single support system one could ask for; a woman of bottomless compassion and understanding. Those were the good old days. But she has been hijacked by my brother and has chosen to aggressively prioritize his life, his concerns, his narratives and his needs over everyone else’s. It has cast a dark cloud over everything, and my recent anxiety hit levels I haven’t experienced in some time. However, I am immensely grateful for my dear friends, my sister-in-law Gayle, my niece Olivia, and my church family. Accept love and kindness from wherever it comes.

I’ll see you all soon …

City of Lights

I had a blog post all prepared for today. A Christmas theme with angels and lovely artworks and some art history discussion. But I’ve bumped it off the queue to indulge the surge of vicarious joy I felt when I received a photo on my phone early this morning. My niece Olivia turned 16 this month. Now, I gave her a pretty cool gift; two tickets to the Pink concert at Madison Square Garden in May. But honestly it was her mother, my sister-in-law Gayle, who gave her the most fabulous 16th birthday gift imaginable; a trip to Paris. It is Olivia’s first! For those of us who have already been to Paris more than once, we wish we could go back and relive seeing it again for the first time. Olivia’s middle name is Paris, so this is a trip that was meant to be.

Here’s Gayle and Olivia last night on a Paris street. This photo makes me so indescribably happy 🙂

Art critic John Berger described Paris as, “a young man in his twenties in love with an older woman”. Oh how I love that description! While there are so many great cities throughout the world, each with its own charms and attributes, Paris truly is a standout. People will always disagree and have personal preferences. For example, I loved Venice much more than Florence, an opinion that doesn’t always go over well among the fine arts crowd. I got pelted with tomatoes once! <– just kidding 😆 But opinions vary on all cities, from London to Tokyo to San Francisco to Prague. Some enjoy those places greatly, while others are lukewarm. Hey, it’s all good. But you’d have to search hard to find someone who doesn’t fall in love with Paris when they visit. I’m sure they exist, but it’s tough. Because Paris is, well, a blast. A sumptuous buffet of cultural enrichment. In the words of noted Francophile Thomas Jefferson, “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of life”.

Promenade at Sunset, Paris, Childe Hassam, 1889:

Olivia is blessed to have Gayle for a mother. She knows it too. With all the stresses Olivia has had to deal with regarding her parents’ divorce, Gayle has been her rock, 100% devoted to Olivia’s well-being. While Olivia’s father (that’s my brother) has moved on to a new family, with a new wife, new house, and new step-children, Gayle remains focused on her one role as Olivia’s mother and caretaker, putting her daughter’s needs above her own as a good parent should. It’s made all the difference in the world in strengthening Olivia through the challenges of adolescence and her teenage years. I’m absolutely thrilled that they’re touring Paris right now and experiencing it together. It’s allowing me to keep a smile on my face as I do chores and housework on this rainy day. Bonjour ladies!

Pont Neuf, by Edouard Cortes:

Giving and Receiving

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I take better care of my cat Jessie than I do of myself. She eats better than I do, sleeps better than I do, looks better than I do, gets better medical care than I do, and has more leisure time than I do. Her life is one of unfettered individual liberty. She commits violent crimes by killing birds and mice and answers to no one, and can roam freely outdoors and trespass on my neighbors’ property with impunity. Why can’t I trespass on my neighbors’ property? 😆 The other day I purchased for Jessie a brand new cat bed – soft, cushiony, and a bit more expensive than I can really afford on my shoestring budget. But like I said, she is the beneficiary of my limited largesse. And I’m not alone. In 2017, it was estimated that Americans spent almost $70 billion on their pets. Billion. 

So I presented the cat bed to Jessie, and for six whole days this is how she responded to it. “Eh? What is this thing? I’ll stick with the floor”. Dammit! The cat bed was a bust.

Yes, it’s funny. And at least Jessie blends in beautifully with the colors and pattern of my rug, doesn’t she? So then I was modeling for Kamilla Talbot‘s watercolor class and showed the picture to everyone. After a few laughs, one of the students suggested that, since cats are somewhat turned off by unfamiliar things, I should put an article of my clothing on the bed so she can smell me. Seemed worth a try. I placed my folded sweatpants on the cat bed and, lo and behold, here’s my sweet girl. Cat bed: Take Two. Mission accomplished! Never thought my purple sweatpants had such magical powers.

There is, of course, much more to give in this life than overpriced cat beds. Our time for one thing. So after tending to my pampered feline, I turned to my fellow humans and had the privilege of volunteering with my favorite local outreach organization, NYC Relief. Their primary service is the Relief Bus, a mobile soup kitchen that serves at various locations throughout the city. I blogged about it in 2017. On this day, I helped out at the Relief Co-op in lower Manhattan where we distributed clothing and other items to New Yorkers in need while they awaited Life Care consultations with staff members. Our clothing closet was fantastically well-stocked, and the volunteer team worked attentively as “personal shoppers” for each client. It was a great day.

For those of who you are on Instagram, I recommend following NYC Relief there. They post wonderful photographs and stories: @nyc_relief

Matthew 25:35-40

Through the Looking Glass

Hello friends. I want to advise the readers/subscribers of this blog to save my email address if you don’t already have it. You can find it on my Contact page. There’s a strong chance I may move Museworthy to another host, or just archive it, or take a chance and write freely about a certain topic which could very well get this blog taken down. WordPress, this blog’s current platform, has recently engaged in purging actions that I simply cannot stomach; aggressive censorship of voices – women’s voices – which are, frankly, chilling. I can tolerate a great deal. Like everyone else, I’m able to hold my nose and accept some degree of the noise, madness, and ridiculousness which contaminate our time. But this recent issue with WordPress has pushed me over the edge. I apologize for being oblique, but I’m just trying to exercise caution until I figure out what to do. I want you all to know that I have, over these past couple of weeks, tried with great mental effort to move past this issue in my mind. But I can’t. The thought of continuing to blog here after what happened disturbs me to no end. Perhaps my feeling can still change, but I doubt it.

This month marked 40 years since the Jim Jones mass suicide in Guyana. I was ten years old at the time and remember my parents watching in horror the news reports on TV. A cable channel last week aired a documentary about the Jones cult and as I watched it all I could think about was the famous quote from Voltaire, “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” I grieve for the 909 souls lost at Jonestown who died the most agonizing, horrific deaths from cyanide poisoning. The expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” has become part of our lexicon, and while those people should be acknowledged for the searching, hopeful individuals they were – however tragically misguided – the expression is as fitting and descriptive today as it’s ever been.

We have among us in our society, truly sinister figures. Orwellian manipulators, idolators, and Josef Mengeles. Gullible enablers repeating mantras, doublespeak, and talking points. Is no one capable of critical thinking anymore? The train is pulling into the station and we’re soon to arrive in Crazytown. I want to get off.

Portrait drawing of me by Jean Marcellino:

Children of the Arts

When my father died in December 2004, my mother, my brother, and I managed to organize the funeral arrangements as we not only processed our heartbreak, but also while in a collective state of shell-shock. Numbing, bewildering shock. Dad died suddenly, you see. He collapsed onto his bedroom floor, brought down by a catastrophic stroke. He was dead in an instant. As the three of us spent the next couple of days making phone calls, sorting through old photos and mementos, writing our eulogies, and comforting each other in our grief, we agreed to let family and friends know that in lieu of flowers they should make a donation to the Save the Music Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to preserving music education in public schools. For those of you who may not know, my father was a musician – a trumpet player who once contemplated a career trading stocks on Wall Street but opted for one in music instead. He supported his family, paid the bills, and put food on the table for over forty years by playing his trumpet.

Arts education in schools in an issue near and dear to my heart, and to my family’s heart. I was reminded of this subject with the recent passing of Roy Hargrove, jazz trumpet player and Grammy award winner, who burst onto the scene during the 1980s. I distinctly remember overhearing my Dad ask a fellow musician, “Have you heard this kid Hargrove?”. To say there was a ‘buzz’ surrounding him in jazz circles would be an understatement.

Born in Waco, Texas, Roy Hargrove attended the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. It was there that the 16 year old Hargrove was discovered by Wynton Marsalis who was blown away by the young trumpeter’s skills and took him under his wing. The Booker T Washington School was originally founded in 1892 as a school for African-American students. During the 1970s it was transformed into an “arts magnet”; a public school with specialized curricula devoted to arts study.

Here in New York City, magnet schools of all kinds, both arts and academic, have been an integral part of our public school system for decades. (When I was growing up we didn’t call them magnets, we called them “specialized schools”). From the Bronx High School of Science, to Art and Design in midtown, to the old High School of Music and Art which resided adjacent to the City College campus in Harlem, to the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, magnets have provided the young people of NYC with priceless opportunities for enrichment, to grow, thrive, and explore their innate talents. I know many, many people – native New Yorkers all – who are alumni of our city’s arts magnet schools, and every one of them will attest to the significance of their high school experience and speak with tremendous fondness for that period in their life. It far surpasses their feelings about college.

Innate talent was something Roy Hargrove had in spades. Would he have found success had he not attended an arts magnet? It’s impossible to know. But we do know that his future mentor, Wynton Marsalis, found him there. Marsalis wrote a magnificent, deeply touching tribute to his protégé on his Facebook page. The news of Hargrove’s death was quite shocking, as he was only 49 years old. The NPR obituary for him is worth reading. This descriptive passage stands out:

“A briskly assertive soloist with a tone that could evoke either burnished steel or a soft, golden glow, Hargrove was a galvanizing presence in jazz over the last 30 years. Dapper and slight of build, he exuded a sly, sparkling charisma onstage, whether he was holding court at a late-night jam session or performing in the grandest concert hall. His capacity for combustion and bravura was equaled by his commitment to lyricism, especially when finessing a ballad on flugelhorn.”

For our Music Monday, we pay tribute to both Roy Hargrove and all the young creatives encouraged and celebrated at arts magnets throughout the country. While we all go about our days living our busy lives, remember that in a school somewhere in America, a teenager is sitting in a music room practicing on her violin, or gathering with classmates after lunch to jam some jazz riffs, or choreographing an original dance number. Those young people need us. More importantly, we need them. And props to Booker T Washington School for the Arts in Dallas. Keep up the great work! Here’s Roy and his band killing it at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2001. RIP.

Girl Crushes

Helloooo helloooooo friends! Well gee, I took a longer blogging hiatus than I intended. My apologies darlings! If the reasons for my absence were interesting in any way I’d certainly share them here, but alas they’re not. Just modeling, scheduling modeling, commuting to modeling, coming home from modeling and resting from modeling. Sounds monotonous I’m sure, but I wouldn’t have it any other way to be honest. Throw in the occasional drinks with friends and yoga classes and that’s my life summarized. I can’t complain.

Also, lately, I’ve been inspired and impressed by the actions of young women I’m privileged to know. Both of them are teenagers. One is my niece Olivia, and the other, M, is a girl I know from my church. Without going into any details I’ll just say that they’ve demonstrated the admirable ability to assert themselves, and push back against uncomfortable situations, in ways I was never able to do at their age. I envy them. And I applaud them. For far too long we’ve raised girls to be people-pleasers, to be “nice” and to “smile”, to “find a husband”, and be “supportive” and prioritize other peoples’ happiness while neglecting our own. That’s a toxic recipe for a life as a future doormat. When I was 13 years old my grandmother told me that I’d repel men if I had too strong “opinions”. In a family full of old country Armenian immigrants, in which sons and men were valued far more than girls, the message wasn’t exactly subtle. If you’ve never been a girl raised in that environment you can never understand. And even though I’m a grown woman now who has moved well past all that shit, I’m still thrilled to see young women taking the reins of their own lives and standing up for themselves, without getting ‘permission’ first.

Me in watercolor by Sylvia Ryder:

Happy 11th Birthday Museworthy!!

Here we are again, friends. Observing another “blogaversary” for this little modeling/drawing/painting/sculpture/music/animals/museums/NYC online journal called Museworthy. We reached the ten year mark last year, and that was extra special of course. But it’s all special to me. Meaningful in a way that is both a comfort and an enrichment. It’s an opportunity for me to connect with you, my wonderful readers, and share various incarnations of art, life, and beauty, both visual and verbal. I’ll repeat what I always write on this annual post, and that is a heartfelt thank you for your visits here, whether they be regular or sporadic, and for your emails, comments, contributions, and friendships. It all means a great deal to me. And to you ‘quiet’ visitors who subscribe and read, I know you’re out there. I see you and I thank you. Blessings to all …

So Fred Hatt and I did it again with our yearly photoshoot, this time at my house instead of Fred’s studio. He loved the natural north light of the bay window and felt strongly that we should take some shots there. We agreed on using this one for the blog. I like it because it’s a little strange, with the eye, the hair and the hands on the wall.

Perhaps because I turned 50 years old this year I’ve been plunging heavily into nostalgia these past few months, recalling the music, the trends, and the cultural and historical watersheds that I and my fellow Gen Xers lived through as children of the 80s. We had no Internet, no smart phones, no Netflix, no 24 hour cable news, no social media, and definitely no blogs! But as the ‘bridge’ between the postwar era and the digital age, my generation learned how to adapt and fend for ourselves; the latchkey kids weaned on MTV and afterschool specials, having the shit scared out of us by the AIDS crisis and Three Mile Island and the ‘War on Drugs’. We managed to come out on the other side as free thinkers, improvisors, and entrepreneurs, with a dose of slackerdom mixed in. Winging it into adulthood. Cynical but not nihilistic. Finding our way to rewarding, productive lives if we could. Art modeling came to my rescue after years of Gen X-style wandering. Better late than never! Where we go – where we ALL go – from here is anybody’s guess.

Which brings me to our music selection for today. In addition to the blogaversary, today is also a Music Monday, and the song I chose very much reflects both my personal mindset these days and the indelible song memories of my youth. In my junior year of high school one of the coolest bands ever, Talking Heads, released their album Little Creatures. I bought it and played it as soon as I could and had a blast. This is the video for the song “And She Was” and I hope you listen and enjoy its catchy, cheerful, imaginative vibe. The video is great fun, kind of like a surrealism mixed media artwork. Many days lately I feel like the girl in the song, ‘floating above it’. Other days I pray for the strength to float above it. Here’s David Byrne and Talking Heads.

With love and gratitude, Claudia 🙂

My Pretty Oriole

I have lived in northeast Queens for over 20 years, and so I’m familiar with all the creatures and critters in these parts. At the beginning of the summer I spotted a gorgeous colorful bird taking a bath in a puddle at the corner of my street. I stopped to observe this striking beauty but didn’t want to get too close for fear it would fly off. I wondered to myself, is that a Baltimore oriole? So I took this not terribly sharp picture of it on my phone. Lo and behold it was an oriole. It’s the first one I’ve ever seen in my neighborhood. Yay! I’m posting it here to commemorate the end of summer. I love the reflection in the water:

I also want to let my readers know that Monday is our annual blog celebration here on Museworthy, so do check out that post and join in the fun 🙂

Until then, have a great weekend, and I’ll see you right back here on September 24th!

Dream Makers

In an Artist’s Studio – Christina Rossetti

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel – every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Seated Model in the Artist’s Studio, by Paul-Gustave Fischer: