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Juan Horta Castillo (1940 – 2006) was considered one of the best mask makers in Mexico. Horta worked primarily in wood usually painting and lacquering the finished mask. He lived in Tocuaro, Michoacan, Mexico with his wife and five sons working to preserve the heritage of his craft for generations to come. Don Juan passed on in 2006 but his sons continue his carving tradition. Horta’s work has been exhibited throughout Mexico and the United States including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Field Museum of Natural History, and Brown University.  He is a first prize winner of Mexico’s National Mask Maker competition, and is included in the permanent collections of El Museo de la Mascara in San Luis Potosi, Mexico.  His masks are featured world-wide in the performances of the “Ballet Folklorico de Mexico”. His masks are influenced by per-Columbian culture and iconography of modern Catholicism.  His astonishing works of art range from simple human and animal forms, to complex compositions that combine multiple subjects. Common elements include devils, snakes, cats, lizards and skeletons.  Horta masks come in a number of sizes, from full size functional masks, to miniatures created for decorative display.  His full-sized masks are used in dances and ceremonies in the Lake Patzquaro region of Michoacán.

Duality by Juan Horta Castillo hand carved and painted

The first piece I chose to feature is titled Duality it is 14 inches in height 11 inches in width and 8 inches in depth. It is hand carved and painted. It features a conjoined head with a female face and a male face that share an eye. Both male and female mouths are open. The female tongue is displayed. On top of the head are two lizards one green and one brown and brown owl that is embracing the lizards. Research explains that the piece represents the male and female energy in all things. I was unable to determine the creation date of Duality. I was drawn to the piece because of the beauty, the detail and the unusual subject matter. Although I considered the subject matter unusual Hota has another piece also featuring the male and female on the same mask and sharing one eye so this might be a traditional theme.


Two Faced Mask with Lizards and Snakes by Juan Horta Castillo

The other piece, Two Faced Mask with Lizards and Snakes, has a collected date of 1993. This piece is much smaller, 5 inches in height and 3.5 inches in width. On this mask both male and female mouths are closed. Draped across the top of the head is a brown snake. A green snake adorns the male side of the face and the female side is adorned with a tan snake. A green lizard sits upon the face partially obscuring the shared eye.  The tan snake’s tale wraps around the lizards tale.  I was unable to locate any explanation for these features. I speculate they have some cultural significance. I look forward to learning more about these interesting traditions of Mexico.


 Jean-Jacques Efiaimbelo Untitled & L'homme solitaire. (Tokam-Bata)

Jean-Jacques Efiaimbelo created exceptional funerary steles which are called alaolos in his native Madagascar. Efiaimbelo lived from 1925 to 2001 creating his alaols with origins in funerary rites of Mahafaly society going back to the early sixteenth century. Traditionally these alaolos serve as grave markers. They represent particular memories of the deceased for whom the aloalo was erected, as well as reminders of a particular era.

Typical of the traditional aloalos, Efiaimbelo creates carved posts of hardwood (Mendorave), roughly seven feet in height. Depending on the different interpretations of the Mahafalaly myths and legends, varying meanings are given to the conventional motifs which decorate the support as well as to the figures on the tableaux on top.

The lower part of the staff looks like a succession of stacked figure-8s. This is the Mahafalaly symbol for the full moon and the number for abundance. The figures on the tableaux on top are usually a representational scene. Efiaimbelo had deep ties to a Westerner who was inducted into his clan which might explain the one example that does not fit with the traditional motif.

I have included two of Jean-Jacques Efiaimbelo’s aloalos so you could see both traditional and non-traditional examples.

The first example Untitled is what first caught my eye when looking for subject matter for this blog assignment.  I saw the small airplane and just had to know more. Although the information was scarce I concluded that this was a aloalo for someone who was a pilot or had ties to flying. This would be the aloalo I would want for my mother. When she was in the Marines in WWII she was an aircraft mechanic and after the war she became pilot and flight instructor.

The second example I chose, L’homme solitaire. (Tokam-Bata),  is more traditional, depicting two tribesmen, one as an angel and one as a devil. The angel is on the top of a post caught in the act of jumping to the ground. It appears he will land on a launching spring and perhaps end up on the devil figure.  There is no explanation of this myth behind this tableaux but if can see how it might represent the games that the angels and devils play with humans.

Before researching this assignment I had never heard of funerary steles or alaolos but they remind me of the Native American totem poles. Unique to the individual they are created for they are beautiful way to remember the loved one after they have passed on.

Fiber Art is art constructed from fabric but meant to be displayed like a watercolor or oil painting (not lie at the foot of a bed). Fiber artists have many approaches to their art; they dye it, paint it, cut it, tear it, stamp it, fuse it, and embellish it. For most pieces the final step is stitching though the layers of fabric to create a dimensional effect. Quilting is as old as ancient Egypt if not older. Quilts were very common trade goods in wealthy circles in Europe and Asia going back as far as the 15th century

Distinguishing art quilts from the main category of quilts can be difficult. Art quilts can be created using any of the techniques of a quilt – piecing, appliqué, whole cloth, or even machine embroidery. These are techniques, though, and art involves more than mere technique. Meaningfulness, in whatever way the viewer perceives it, is involved in the experience of an art quilt, as opposed to a quilt built as an exercise in craft or technical capabilities, or for practical bedroom purposes. 

Caryl Bryer Fallert is internationally recognized for her award-winning art quilts, which have appeared in hundreds of national and international exhibitions, collections, and publications. Honors include 100 Best Quilts of the 20th Century, NQA, Masterpiece Quilt Award, and selection as one of the thirty most influential quiltmakers in the world. Caryl has lectured and taught in eleven countries around the world before opening the Bryerpatch Studio & Workshop Center in Paducah Kentucky in 2006. 

Poochie Smoochie was especially designed for a small art quilt show with the theme “The Kiss” The artist had this comment about the hand dyed, machine pieced, and appliquéd quilt.  “I thought my husband Bob was a very good sport to pose for this quilt. It took forty-five minutes and two dogs to get just the right pose. Believe it or not, a dog will get tired of kissing you on the mouth after half an hour and you have to go get a fresh one.  

Caryl Bryer Fallert Poochie Smoochie 1996 18”W x 24”H 

Caryl Bryer Fallert Migration #2 1995 88”W x 88”H 

Caryl Bryer Fallert Corona II: Solar Eclipse 1989 76”W x 94”H 


Cindy Friedman has had a lifelong obsession with fiber beginning in childhood with sewing and needlearts and continuing into her careers as an industrial designer and fashion designer culminating in quilt art in the 1990’s. Drawing from a fascination with the human form (function and construction) she has created pieces that include architectural and geometric shapes, girds and pattern. 

Her recent pieces are figure drawings done on two layers of silk (organza and china silk). Other fabrics are layered under and over and the quilting is done by hand with silk and various embroidery stitches. She is also known for her wearable arts and has participated in both the Fairfield and Bernina fashion shows. 


Heavely Bodies  is a whole cloth quilt features a mandala style arrangement of rings of bodies in Pilates positions. The figures are drawn on organza, cut out and appliqued, the the quilting is done and then extensive hand beading. 

Cindy Friedman Heavenly Bodies 2007 all silk 25”W x25”H  

I am an accomplished seamstress and have made several quilted pieces. This past Christmas I participated in a church group that constructed 28 quilts from donated denim and flannel. Although these quilts were intended as bedding they were hung on display in the sanctuary prior to being distributed to the recipients.I have the typical fiber artist’s obsession with collecting fabric scraps for some future project. 

I enjoyed this blog assignment which gave me the opportunity to research the art of quilting and showcase a couple extraordinarily talented fiber artists. I love Caryl Bryer Fallert use of vibrant, hand dyed colors and wide variety of subjects.  Cindy Friedman’s subjects are less varied and follow a theme that appeals to me.  Her use of the appliquéd Pilates poses on the subdued colors of the whole cloth and hand beading combine to make an exceptional work of  art. 

2009 Community Covenant Church Christmas Quits (4 of the 28)


Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers from the film Stormy Weather

Jumpin Jive – Cab Calloway and the Nicholas Brothers, is a song and dance number from the 1943 American musical motion picture Stormy Weather. This film is considered a time capsule showcasing some of the top African-American performers of the time. The film takes its title from the 1933 song of the same title and is loosely based on the life and times of its star, dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Robinson plays “Bill Williamson”, a natural-born dancer who returns home in 1918 after fighting in World War I and tries to launch a career as a performer, along the way wooing a beautiful singer named Selina Rogers, played by Lena Horne (the character of Selina was invented for the film; Robinson did not have such a romance in real life). Co-starring is Dooley Wilson as Bill’s perpetually broke friend.

Jumpin Jive is one of about 20 musical numbers in this 77 minute film. Cab Calloway, Fred Froeba and Jack Palmer wrote the words and music.  Here is a YouTube video of that performance which was one of the musical highlights of the film.

This film clip demonstrates Calloway’s scat singing, vocal improvisation with random vocables and nonsense syllables or without words. Cab begins scat singing at 1:18 into the clip and it is at about that point in the number when the Nicholas Brothers dancers join him.  

Cabell “Cab” Calloway III (December 25, 1907 – November 18, 1994) was an American jazz singer and bandleader.  He led one of the most popular African-American big bands during 1930s and 1940s. Early in Cab’s career he met and preformed with Louis Armstrong who taught him to sing in the “scat” style. The Cotton Club, a premier Jazz venue, hired Calloway’s orchestra to play while Duke Ellington’s Orchestra was out touring. Their music was broadcast nationally twice weekly from the Cotton Club on NBC which greatly enhanced the band’s popularity. In 1931 he recorded his most famous song, “Minnie the Moocher”. That song, along with others were performed for the Betty Boop animated shorts Minnie the Moocher, Snow White and The Old Man of the Mountain. Through rotoscoping, a technique in which animators trace over live–action movement, frame by frame to create animation for use in films, Calloway not only gave his voice to these cartoons, but his dance steps as well.

The Nicholas Brothers, Fayad (1914-2006) and Harold (1920-2000)  stormed the stage in 1930 as the Nicholas Kids. They are cited as the two greatest tap dancers that ever lived-certainly the most beloved dance team in the history of entertainment. They are known for their highly acrobatic technique “flash dancing”. They grew up surrounded by Vaudeville acts and continued their successful careers performing into the 1990’s on stage, film, and television. In 1932 (Fayad only 18 and Harold was only 12) they opened at the Cotton Club. They traveled to Hollywood in 1934 and appeared in the films “Kids Millions”, “The Big Broadcast” (1936) and “Black Network”. Their Broadway debut was in Ziegfield follies of 1936. The brothers had no formal dance training but went on to teach master classes in tap at Harvard University and Radcliffe as Ruth Page Visiting Artists. Some of their well-known students are Debbie Allen (of the movie and TV series Fame) and Janet and Michael Jackson. They were awarded a Kennedy Center Honor and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I am a jazz fan (and like my eggs on the Jersey side) and love this performance because it is so upbeat, and is a true showcase for the talents of Harlem Renaissance artists Calloway and his Orchestra and the Nicholas Brothers. The dance number is fabulous, the way these guys descend the staircase at the end is incredible, all I can say is ouch!

References cited:

I love Impressionism, the art style that started in Paris in the 19th century and spread. It was sometimes called optical realism because of its almost scientific interest in the actual visual experience and effect of light and movement on appearance of objects. Early impressionistic artists were radicals who broke the rules of academic painting. Until this period most art was created in the studio, (even landscapes) the Impressionists took it into the real world. I find it very interesting that it was a controversial style at first. Indeed the name of the movement came from critic Louis Leroy’s satiric review of Claude Monet’s painting Impression, Sunrise. Leroy declared that Monet’s painting was at most, a sketch, and could hardly be termed a finished work. Monet had a fascination with light and that led him to not only paint this picture, but also several others showing the same effect on different objects.

Claude Monet Impression, Sunrise

The Realist movement was lead by Gustave Courbet another French painter of the 19th century. Realism in the visual arts is a style that depicts the actuality of what the eyes can see. This style creates the image as a near exact representation of the subject. The example I chose for this blog is Corbet’s self portrait. I like this painting because I am drawn to self-portraits and this one is rather unique, it depicts the artist as a handsome young man with a crazed look in his eye. It is an example of Realism that  demonstrates the near photograph representation of the subject.

Jean Désiré Gustave Courbet - The Desperate Man


I chose for my blog on the neoclassical era the ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay which debuted in 1728 in London, England. It is an example of satirical ballad opera and remains popular today. The lyrics were set to popular broadsheet ballads, opera arias, church hymns and folk tunes. The opera had forty-five fast paced scenes and 69 short songs. The work became Gay’s greatest success.  He died four years later in 1732.

The Beggar’s Opera ran for 62 consecutive performances (the longest run in theater history up to that time). It was so successful that John Rich, the manager of Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theater, was able to build a new theater, The Theater Royal, at Covenant Garden which was the forerunner of the Royal Opera House. In 1920, The Beggar’s Opera began a revival at the Lyric Theater in Hammersmith, London. This run of 1,463 performances was one of the longest runs in history for any piece of musical theater. 1953 Peter Brook directed an authentic rendering of this musical in a motion picture staring Sir Laurence Olivier.

The story satirized politics, poverty and injustice and focused on corruption at all levels of society. It was characterized as anti-opera.  The rise of the middle class was definitely a reason for its success. The middle class was taking great pleasure at the satire’s poking fun at the passionate interest of the upper classes in Italian opera.

The Beggar’s Opera has had an influence on all later British stage comedies, especially on nineteenth century British comic opera and the modern musical. Gay wrote other plays, but none achieved the great success of The Beggar’s Opera. Throughout the eighteenth century The Beggar’s Opera was staged “just about everywhere in the English speaking world where room could be found to put up a stage”

I found this opera appealing because I myself am not much of a fan of Italian opera (I can easily understand poking fun at it) but I do love musical theater and musical comedy. I was familiar with the song “Greensleeves” and have enjoyed listening to it for years (as a Christmas song) but was not aware that it was one of the songs in the ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera.

The Beggar’s Opera From Wikipedia
The Contemplator’s Short History of John Gay and the Beggar’s Opera

Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt van Rijn oil on canvas painted in 1632

Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors 1533

Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors 1533

Hans Holbein, The Ambassadors 1533
207 × 209cm, National Gallery, London

I chose Holbein’s The Ambassadors as the subject for this assignment because the painting is beautiful and interesting. I was able to find references of a couple of the requirements for this assignment: The Reformation and The Influence of royalty (Cromwell commissioned Holbein to produce reformist and royalist images, and in 1536 Holbein painted a portrait of Henry VIII). 

Holbein (1497-1543) was a German artist and printmaker who worked in England 1526-1528 and again 1532-1540. This work is a oil and tempera on oak, a double portrait of two ambassadors who are visiting England from France which also contains still life of several meticulously rendered objects. The portrait is full of the Northern tradition of precise detail and the Italian tradition of linear prospective and foreshortening.  Both traditions demonstrated the celebration of wealth and success. Georges de Selve, the man on right is a bishop and Jean de Dinteville, the man on the left is the ambassador from France to England. Were they meant to be symbolic of religious strife? At this point in time Europe is divided by the reformation. Historians suggest the broken string of the lute is symbolic of the discord in Europe at this moment and that the hymnbook in Martin Luther’s translation suggests the strife between scholars and the clergy during the reformation.

There are objects in the painting which are placed there to tell us about the people in the portrait. The top shelf contains objects of navigation to represent that these men are travelers and live in the age of exploration. There is a partially obscured crucifix on the wall in the upper left corner half hidden in the folds of the curtain. This was likely placed there to remind the viewer of salvation and God’s plan for mankind. This type of imagery was common in works of the Northern Renaissance.

The painting contains a mement mori. It is unclear why Holbein gave it such prominence. Perhaps the painting was meant to hang in a stairwell. A person ascending the stairs from the painting’s left would no doubt recognize the skull. Maybe it is just there to call attention to the artist’s skill in anamorphic perspective.

I hope you appreciate this painting and all research material available from the art historians who have interpreted it. It is obvious this work has fascinated many through the years.


Zipping along in México

Zipping along in México

October 12, 2009

themax is off on another adventure! (UAF distance learning.)

Word Press is first assignment.