The World, As Reflected in Puddles

November 30, 2015

fo PICT0071In my photography, I’m always on the lookout for images reflected in puddles.  The still, standing water serves as a mirror which faces up. These are like small lakes.

This neighborhood parking lot was treacherous to drive through or to walk through.  They’ve since filled some of the holes with dirt and gravel.  It’s better now but still pretty bad.  Erosion does its work.

I’ve done a series of these puddle photos.  It’s hard to find any that are worth shooting but I keep looking for them.

fo PICT0070


This one was in the rain under streetlight. It was raining, and the lights in the water looked like strange eyes.

Halloween Meets the Day of the Dead

October 30, 2015
Charles Addams books, a witch rattle and some Japanese skeleton art.

Charles Addams books, a witch rattle and some Japanese skeleton art.

Halloween and the Day of the Dead as Ritual and Festival

This is an exhibit at the Library of the McNichols Campus of the University of Detroit Mercy.

The display runs from October 30th to November 20th, 2015.

The library is currently open seven days a week.  Here are the hours:

It‘s on the west side of Detroit at McNichols and Livernois.  Here’s the location:

Both Halloween and the Day of the Dead celebrations go way back.  Halloween goes back to the Celtic harvest festivals in the 1500’s.

The Day of the Dead has roots connected with Aztec festivals even earlier than the Celtic harvest festivals.  In Spanish it is called El Día de los Muertos.  It used to be celebrated in the summer.  In the 1500’s, it was moved to the same autumn days as the Christian Allhallowtide.  It started as a harvest festival yet ended up as more of an an occasion to honor and remember those who’ve died.

José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) is an important figure in connection with this holiday.  His skeleton drawings have become iconic.

One major expression of the holiday is the ofrenda.  This is a sort of memorial altar which commemorates a specific person or a group of people.  Flowers, food, sugar skulls and mementos are items which are included in these ofrendas.

I made one when I was part of the Zeitgeist Detroit group, about ten years ago.  There are always enthusiastic Day of the Dead celebrations here in Detroit.  In the past few years, the Detroit Institute of Arts has celebrated the holiday by hosting a grouping of ofrendas

I think that it’s important to keep the Day of the Dead celebration separate from the Halloween holiday.  They both employ skeleton imagery.  Both involve the community.  Yet the Day of the Dead is about poetic imagery, memory and honoring those that we’ve lost.  Halloween seems to have become a sort of oddball party.  It’s focus is more wide-ranging.

Halloween goes back to the 1500’s.  It became a popular holiday in the United States around the mid 1800’s.  Before that, it was celebrated here only sporadically.

In America it started off as mainly a children’s holiday, but now Halloween’s become a big holiday for adults, as well.  It gives people and excuse to dress up and to socialize.  Of course, it’s also become big business. There’s money to be made from candy, drinks, food, costumes and decorations.

Kids still go from door to door begging for treats.  They’re usually in costume and collect candy in paper bags or pillow cases.  They ring door bells and yell Help the Poor or Trick or Treat to alert the households on their route.  Sometimes kids go out and play tricks on people, whether they get a treat or not.

There are massive Halloween parties for children or adults or for both.  There are “haunted houses” and Halloween themed concerts.  There are parades.  It’s an interesting holiday.  It’s all about ghosts, witches, goblins, fright and things that go bump in the night.

Halloween rarely seems to be a harvest festival or a time for memorials.  I think that there’s still a little of that though.  It seems to be more in the background.

I’ve seen attempts to commercialize the Day of the Dead as well.  I hope that it doesn’t happen.  We try to pay tribute those who we’ve lost in an honest and creative way.  It shouldn’t become just another way to make money.

A pumpkin, a gift and three masks.

A pumpkin, a gift and three masks.

The exhibit is on the first floor of the library.  In the farthest case, I’ve installed an exploration of the skeleton.  This is made up of quotations and of skeleton imagery.  In the nearby flat case, there a tribute to the Day of the Dead. This includes works by José Guadalupe Posada and Diego Rivera.  There’s a tribute to Frida Kahlo.  There’s also information and history related to this celebration.

In the lobby there’s a tribute to Halloween.  The first case is primarily a group of masks.  There are also a few toys and books.  The second case is a collection of Halloween themed children’s books.  There’s also an audio cassette of frightening sounds.  In the third case there are books on haunted houses, vampires, werewolves, ghosts and poltergeists.  There are also Crypt of Terror comic books and a few toys.  Case number four includes Charles Addams books and a witch toy.  Case five is a tribute to scary movies.  These are mostly older works from 1920 to 1980, including works by Harry Houdini, Alfred Hitchcock, Tod Browning, F.W. Murnau, Lon Chaney and others.  I hope that these displays give a good sense of the spirit of this holiday.

This case is in tribute to various scary motion pictures. Films featured here include The Haunted Castle, The Phantom of the Opera., Dracula, Freaks, Nosferatu and The Wicker Man.

This case is in tribute to various scary motion pictures. Films featured here include The Haunted Castle, The Phantom of the Opera., Dracula, Freaks, Nosferatu and The Wicker Man.

Further Information

Dia de los Muertos:

José Guadalupe Posada:


Ofrenda Altars:

Halloween “versus” Dia de los Muertos:


Harvest Festivals:


Devil’s Night:

My Library Exhibits at the University of Detroit Mercy

September 30, 2015
From a 2007 exhibit detailing the history of the art and theatre at Detroit's

From a 2007 exhibit detailing the history of the art and theatre at Detroit’s “Zeitgeist.” The painting here is by Jacques Karamanoukian.

I work at the library on the McNichols campus of the University of Detroit Mercy.  I’m responsible for a great many jobs, including book repair.  Since 2001 or 2002, I’ve assembled some 20 to 40 exhibitions here.  One of the “fun parts” of my work is to assemble and install these displays.

First I go through the collection here at the library.  I often find good materials there.  Then I also go through my own collections.  When I do that, I need to carry it all on the bus.  Once I had to spend thirty minutes standing up on a crowded bus with a heavy framed drawing.  I’ve had to lug a lot of books and other objects back and forth.

Sometimes I’ve borrowed materials from friends and acquaintances.

I loved doing the 2007 show on the history of the Detroit’s Zeitgeist art space.  It was a lot of work though.  I’ve had several art exhibits here including a strong group show and a solo exhibit by Jennifer Gariepy.

In 2002 I had a huge solo exhibit of my own work.  I had a concurrent solo exhibit at the Zeitgeist as well.  George Tysh came and interviewed me and I had a full-page article in the Detroit Metro Times.

Of all the exhibits I’ve done here, that was the most “press” I’ve received.

In 2002, my friend Jacques Karamanoukian died.  Later that year, I did a memorial show for him, including a lot of his artwork and writings by and about him.

Part of a

Part of a “Black History Month” display in 2007.

Most years, I’ve put together exhibits for Women’s History Month and African-American History Month.  We also do an annual exhibit for Constitution Day.

There have been a number of exhibits honoring Dudley Randall and Detroit’s Broadside Press.  Some of these I helped with and some I didn’t.  I remember Randall from when I was an undergraduate here.  He was a librarian at this library.

Recently, I did an exhibit of books from the library’s collection.  Here, I tried to include books from nearly every category and interest.  In the past, I’ve done exhibits of art books, of photography books and of children’s books.

Early on, I did an exhibit on what not to do to books.  I included nearly everything bad which can happen to a book.  There were books that had been damaged by water.  There were books attacked by pets and by children.  There were examples of underlining and dog-earing.  One book had been ripped into two pieces and was captioned The Complete Edgar Allan Poe, in Two Parts.

I did a generic all music exhibit, including a lot of album covers.  I did a wide-ranging cinema exhibit too.  It got a nice write-up in the events listings at the Detroit Metro Times.

From my 2008 Puppet Exhibit.

From my 2008 Puppet Exhibit.

One of my favorite exhibits was my puppet exhibit.  I showed most of my personal puppet collection.  There were also books, articles and pictures which explored the history of puppetry.

Another detailed and expansive exhibit was The Wild Imagination at Play from 2010.  This dealt with overlaps and intersections between newspaper cartoons and film animation.  It featured such favorite as Popeye and Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland.  Though there, it went into the history and methods of both printed and cinematic cartoons.

From a 2008 Exhibit.

From a 2008 Exhibit.

There was an interesting chemistry exhibit which I put together with the UDM chemistry department.

There was an exhibition remembering the events of September 11, 2001.

I’m sure that there were interesting shows that I’m just not remembering.  I’m trying to assemble a complete chronological listing.

I’ve started a series of exhibits detailing Detroit’s cultural history.  In 2014 I did a history of Detroit’s visual arts scene.  This was fairly extensive and expanded into a facebook page and a series of blog posts.

This was the first of a series.  This year I had a 3 month-long Summer show celebrating the Detroit poetry scene and my own poetry and art zine, The Poetic Express.

It’s hard to get people out to see a Summer show, even if it’s up for three or four months.  Next year I plan on doing a history of Detroit’s cinema/motion picture scene including the Detroit Film Theatre, Jam Handy, Cass City Cinema and more.

Also in the works are show on Detroit music and a further exploration of Detroit’s poetry scene.  Get by if you can.

Found Photos

August 31, 2015
At the Electric Shoe Hospital.

At the Electric Shoe Hospital.

I’ve long enjoyed collecting photographs of people that I don’t know.  Some of these are discarded or lost family photographs.  These include both snapshots and more formal photo studio portraits.

To me, most of these are worth looking at,  Some are just odd or curious.  Others are mysterious and poetic.


The Cat and the Fish.

I’ve found them at garage sales, at used book stores and in trash piles by the curb.  They just keep turning up.

Some related material:


Four Women, One Pointing.



My Text Collection

July 28, 2015

midjuly 008also

This box contains a collection of notes written over a forty-year period.

I’ve written things on small pieces of paper since I was in my late teens.  Recently, I started putting most of them all in one box.

I call these my texts or my text.

Sorting these will be one of my Winter projects.  Some will go right to trash or recycling.  Some will go in the treasure pile.  There are sure to be some strong winners.

These include the well-written bits, especially the fully formed poems.  I’m sure there will also be fragments of poems or plays and ideas for poems or plays.

Some will help me to place my history.  If I wrote down what I was doing and dated it, it can help me to reconstruct bits of my life.

There’ll be a lot of scribbled down quotations and things that I copied from books.  Then there are the phrases and ideas that pop into my head.  If they’re worthy, I try to write them down before I forget them.

There might even be a few drawings.

These texts account for a very small portion of my written works.  I have thirty or forty blank books which are filling up.

The pen and pencil are both essential.  The manual typewriter and the word processor have been my steady companions and worthy tools.  Then too, there are all these blog posts.  I have many works in progress.

I feel a strange compulsion to write.

From 1934: Old Tickets from the Cleveland Railway Company

June 30, 2015

tickettooI found these tickets in an old book on a used book sale shelf.  They’re quite beautiful and unusual.

Here, I share with you a bit of history.  Trains and streetcars were huge in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  More and more, the automobile came to prominence and supremacy.  As we become aware of the price we paid for that, maybe the world of the rail will have a resurgence.

As I write this, they’re building a stretch of train track on one of Detroit’s main streets.

ticketduo Further information on the old  Cleveland Railway Company:


Detroit’s new rail system, phase one:


Woodward Avenue, Detroit, June 2015

Woodward Avenue, Detroit, June 2015

Detroit’s “No View” Bus Windows

May 31, 2015
One of the current buses with the

One of the current buses with the “no view” windows.

For years now, some Detroit buses have had ads covering up their windows.  When I get on one of these buses, my heart sinks.  It’s very difficult to see the city through these windows.  One of the few pleasures granted to the passenger is denied or at least severely diminished.  If you get a window seat, you can see a little bit.  There are tiny holes to peek through.

It’s a sign of disrespect toward the riders.  The view of Detroit from the bus is often poetic and even beautiful.  If you’re a “people watcher” you can see some interesting things.  Some of the houses and building are curious, even the damaged ones.  The trees, plants and clouds are also pleasant.  Do these advertisers believe that Detroit is so ugly that we don’t really  need to look at it?

On overcast days, I’ve found myself unable to read the time on the clock as we drive by it.

I call them “prison buses” because you feel more enclosed and trapped.

There are always some businesses whose ads don’t cover the windows at all.  Some cover them partially.  This isn’t nearly as bad.

There are few ads inside the bus.  It’s not like I’m longing to see ads.  Yet there’s a sense that if you can’t afford a car, then it must not be worth pitching ads at you.  The ads are on the outside.  Sometimes they block the view.

The view out the window of a

The view out the window of a “prison bus.”

Postscript: my bus routes still seem to run pretty badly.  A half hour trip still can take 60 to 120 minutes.  This is mainly due to long waits for the “next bus.”  There have been a few hopeful signs.

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit

April 30, 2015
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the Detroit Institute of Arts, 1932

For those of us who live here, it’s long been a legendary story.

The current exhibit, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit, up until July at the Detroit Institute of Arts, is well worth seeing.  I caught it on April 27th. On the same day, there was also a lecture and slide show by Frida Kahlo biographer Hayden Herrera.

I’d immersed myself in this story before seeing the exhibit.  First, I researched and wrote the previous blog post. Then I read Patrick Marnham’s 1998 book Dreaming With His Eyes Open A Life of Diego Rivera.  I also engaged in other researches.  I saw a few films and did other readings.  So I was primed to see see the exhibit.

They’re both amazing artists and are both well-represented here.  I look forward to reading the catalogue.

There seems to be no mention of the troubles which faced the Detroit frescoes in 1952.  This was long after the couple had left town.  I thought that it’s an important part of the mural’s history.

Their lives were quite adventurous.  Kahlo’s health was often fragile and she died at the age of 47.  Rivera wasn’t always a nice man.  Some of his circle described him as “amoral.”  Yet they both had the energy and drive to create a group of excellent art works.  Also, they cared about each other and felt tied to each other.

I enjoy exploring their histories and their work.

Supplemental Information

Thanks to my sister Gazine for helping to find some of these articles.

A 1933 article about Frida Kahlo:

More on Frida Kahlo:

More on Diego Rivera:

Hayden Herrera:

On the current 2015 exhibit on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit:

Diego Rivera’s Detroit Industry Murals Were Threatened Twice

March 22, 2015
Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city.  If we are proud of this city's achievements, we should be proud of these paintings and not lose our head over what Rivera is doing in Mexico today. 1952:  In response to  a Joseph McCarthy-style/ Red Scare uproar, a disclaimer is installed near Detroit's Diego Rivera murals.

1952: In response to a Joseph McCarthy-style Red Scare uproar, a disclaimer is installed near Detroit’s Diego Rivera murals.

A few years ago, I started to write this.  It was a draft that I kept going back to, adding this and subtracting that.  Here it is, at long last:

There was a huge controversy when Diego Rivera first painted the Detroit Industry frescoes in 1932 and 1933.  One of the leaders against them was Father Charles Coughlin.  In his autobiography, Diego Rivera writes, “The day after the appearance of the column denouncing my work, Father Coughlin began to honor me daily with long diatribes condemning the institute frescoes as immoral, blasphemous, antireligious, obscene, materialistic and communistic.  As a result, the whole city of Detroit began to argue about what I was doing.”  According the Rivera biographer Bertram D. Wolfe, the Detroit News wrote in an editorial that “the best thing to do would be to whitewash the entire work completely.”

His supporters stood by him.  Rivera writes, “I was gratified that Edsel Ford stood by me loyally.  And until all the sound and fury had passed, an army of eight thousand, working in shifts, guarded my work from destruction.”

The frescoes were a hit.  When they were first opened to the public, they drew huge crowds.  Most people appreciated them.  The favorable responses outweighed the unfavorable ones.

The 1952 story is more obscure. It’s difficult to make sense of it because there’s little information to be found.  I once found photocopies of local newspaper articles about this second controversy. They were in a trashcan and caught my eye.  This chance discovery piqued my curiosity.

In early 1952, Senator Joseph McCarthy was rolling in power and influence.  He had his followers in Detroit.  One of these was former Detroit Mayor Eugene Van Antwerp.  He was elected to the Detroit City Council after he’d served as mayor.

From Bertram D. Wolfe’s 1963 book, The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera, page 390:

“…a number of people, including former Mayor Van Antwerp, petitioned the Detroit City Council to remove or cover up Rivera’s Age of Steel frescoes in the inner court of the Detroit Institute of Art.”

The City Council requested an evaluation of the murals by the Detroit Art Commission.  Members of the commission included Robert T. Tannahill and Eleanor Clay Ford. The commission defended the art and said, “We recommend that the paintings remain on exhibition.”

Others who defended them included Edsel Ford and George F. Pierrot.  Pierrot was director of the People’s Museum Association.  It seems that he wrote a book about the frescoes in the 1930’s.  He tried to promote attendance at the Detroit Institute of Arts during the depression and into the 1940’s.  One of the ways that he did this was through a series of lectures know as the World Adventure Series.  This lecture series grew into his popular travel show, which ran on on Detroit television from 1948 to 1976.

At the height of this controversy, the late Joy Hakanson wrote a profile of Diego Rivera for the Detroit News on March 21, 1952.  We knew her later as Joy Hakanson Colby.

I don’t think that the frescoes were in any danger of being destroyed.  They could have been covered by curtains or otherwise hidden from view.  Instead they stayed open, with a sort of “disclaimer.”  It is pictured in the photo above and it reads, in full:

“Rivera’s politics and his publicity seeking are detestable. But let’s get the record straight on what he did here. He came from Mexico to Detroit, thought our mass production industries and our technology wonderful and very exciting, painted them as one of the great achievements of the twentieth century. This came after the debunking twenties when our artists and writers found nothing worthwhile in America and worst of all in America was the Middle West.  Rivera saw and painted the significance of Detroit as a world city. If we are proud of this city’s achievements, we should be proud of these paintings and not lose our heads over what Rivera is doing in Mexico today.”

Peter Schjeldahl’s New Yorker article of November 28, 2011, titled “The Painting on the Wall” mainly deals with Rivera in New York, but has this to say about Detroit:

“Other magnates had been enthusiasts for Rivera, as witness the magnificent frescoes of factory scenes that Edsel Ford commissioned, in 1932, for the Detroit Institute of Arts. (They weathered the McCarthy era with a sign that defended them as art while conceding that the artist’s politics were ‘detestable.’)”

In the early 1952 there was another controversy going on with Rivera’s work in Mexico.  This was alluded to at  the end of the disclaimer.

This trouble centered around his mural “The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace.”  Among other things, it had images of Joseph Stalin and Mao Tse Tung.  It’s counted among his works that are missing or destroyed.

This controversy likely put a fire under the opponents of the work here in Detroit.  It made them bolder.

It’s too bad the museum administration felt that they had to use the word “detestable.”  Maybe it was partly the climate of the times and partly “throwing the zealots a bone.”

My thanks to those Detroiters who got together and defended the murals, both in the early 1930’s and in the early 1950’s. These included Edsel Ford, William Valentiner, and thousands of ordinary museum patrons.

Thanks to the great Frida Kahlo, for her own work and for supporting and encouraging Diego’s work.  It’s interesting that she’s better known than he is now.  Her work is usually regarded as equal in quality to his work.  Many think it’s better than his work.  I appreciate them both.

My sympathy to Diego Rivera’s work is influenced by having one of his best efforts here in my hometown.  The room the frescoes are in is known as Rivera Court. When the museum’s open, the frescoes are always on view.  The museum even sets up chairs and holds concerts and lectures there.

I glad that the Detroit frescoes escaped the fate of those in New York.  They’re still here and open for viewing.  They look great.

Supplemental Information

On the the current 2015 exhibit on Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit:

On the fight over the murals in 1932 and 1933:

The Michigan Daily, March 21, 1952, “Move Made to Banish Rivera Mural in Detroit”:,1305620

The Owosso Argus Press, March 20, 1952, “Controversy Revived over Detroit Murals”:,2537505

William Bostick, an administrator at the Detroit Institute of Arts from 1946 to 1976:

“WILLIAM BOSTICK: Councilman Van Antwerp, formerly   Mayor Van Antwerp, was stirring up a storm again about the Rivera murals. He   tried to draft a resolution in the Common Council to have the murals covered up or somehow hidden from view.
MARY CHRIS ROSPOND: Was this during the McCarthy scare?
WILLIAM BOSTICK: This was in 1952. That was probably the McCarthy. . . But Van Antwerp had attacked these before when he was mayor. And of course they had been a subject  of attack over the years. Then Van Antwerp renewed the criticisms which had been made [repeatedly]: Rivera’s personal character—he was living with a woman he wasn’t married to—the murals were communistic, so was Rivera; the workers were ugly; the murals were blasphemous and decadent. The Arts Commission approved a letter written by Director Richardson refuting this and we got by again. …”

The entire interview is here:

More on William Bostick:

George Pierrot:

From "The Detroit News" March 21, 1952

From the Detroit News, March 21, 1952

On Diego Rivera:

Information on the lost mural “The Nightmare of War and the Dream of Peace.”  This was the Diego Rivera which was stirring up trouble in 1952:

Eugene Van Antwerp (the major force against the murals, a former Detroit mayor):

On Joseph McCarthy:

On Bertram D. Wolfe:

From "The Detroit Free Press" March 20, 1952

From the Detroit Free Press, March 20, 1952

A New Yorker article from 2011, “The Painting on the Wall”:

On the fate of Diego Rivera’s Rockefeller Center murals in New York:

“Farmer Bill Dies In House” or the Art of Collecting Badly-written Headlines

February 25, 2015


I found this book of flawed headlines on a visit to New York.  It was among a group of “books for sale” spread out on the sidewalk.

This one is a treasure.  It’s brought me much laughter over the years.  It was put together by the Columbia Journalism Review in 1980.  It was two dollars, well spent.

Some are puns.  Some are typos.  Others connect for more mysterious reasons.

Then too, there’s the satisfaction of seeing a whopper or an extreme mistake appear in print.  Many of these were even on the front page of the paper.  People are often inept and prone to executing blunders.

Some headlines are strange due to context.  They’re not all humorous.  Some are just puzzling.  I’ve collected a few myself.

A Detroit paper had a banner headline which read NO HOPE LEFT.  This was in the context of John F. Kennedy, Jr.’s 1999 plane crash.  Still, some readers could take that headline the wrong way.


Then too, there are the wacky headlines in the tabloids, but that’s a whole other story.


They’re still at it:

The book, Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim, and Other Flubs from the Nation’s Press:

Some nice collections:

From the New York Times:

Jay Leno was famous for digging out headlines too.  I never really watched his show at all though. :

patRichard M. Nixon’s wife was named Pat, of course.



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