Summer in Ann Arbor often serves as a reminder of Michigan’s natural beauty. Flowers are in full bloom, animals run through our yards, and (even for the heat-phobic) the sunshine is a welcome relief from the dreary winter behind us. For some, like artist Jenny Pope, this draw to nature is year round. Jenny lives in Ithaca, NY and works full-time on her craft while traveling around the country to sell and display her work. Luckily, she will be setting up shop as this year’s featured artist at the Ann Arbor Street Art Fair, one of the four fairs which will be taking over downtown Ann Arbor from July 21st to the 24th.
Primarily a woodcut artist, Jenny is drawn to capturing a variety of flora and fauna from commonplace cardinals to lesser known (but highly invasive) species like lionfish. She reads about, discusses and watches nature endlessly, bringing her acute observational skills and fantastical imagination with her each time she starts a piece. Her unique vision really comes through in all of her work – especially with Jenny’s magical palette of color. After speaking with Jenny, it was clear to me she constantly meditates on her craft while noting the intricacies of the world around her. She brings these observations into her studio, and the results of such a well-lived artist’s life are clear in the quality of her work.
Q: Your range of products is truly impressive. From woodcuts to ceramics, it seems like you have your hand in everything. What was the first medium you worked in, and do you have a favorite medium?
A: I have been making woodcuts for over 10 years and selling them full time for the past 8. Ceramics are a new medium to me, I have been playing with clay for 2 years. I started working with clay just before getting pregnant and it was super helpful to have a second medium. I got so big that I couldn't reach over the etching press to print, so clay was the only medium I could work with. These days I probably spend 80% of my time making woodcuts and 20% of my time working with clay.
Q: The imprints and designs you use recall a very organic and natural element. Beyond the depictions of wildlife and flora, your art seeks to teach the viewer about the environment. For instance, one of my favorite pieces, "Swallows Overwintering Underwater," is part of a series addressing myths of bird migration. What inspired this series and others like it? What role do you view art as having in being a pathway to learning?
A: I enjoy working in series. I read a lot about nature and animals which is where many of my ideas come from. Only recently I have started making a few pieces about my personal history with nature. "Seven Species" is a large woodpecker woodcut about all the species I have seen in my yard and "Resident Cardinals" is about cardinals that don't migrate in the wintertime. In the background of the cardinal piece, I carved my house and studio and barn. My grandmother was also an artist and she mainly focused on birds. I make bird pieces a lot, and every time I do I think of her. I hope that my work inspires people to think of their own backyards and the wide world beyond.
Q: Out of curiosity, where do you create your artwork? My guess would be outdoors or with easy access to it. Or, do you work from memory or sketches that you've done at an earlier time?
A: I make my artwork at home. I have a print studio inside and a building that I fondly call the "clay shack" outside. I do a lot of carving out there. In the summertime, I open the windows all the way up, turn the fan on, and open both doors. It's like being outside. A few days ago, I was carving and a baby deer ran by about 2 feet away from my legs. It was playing with its twin. I use photos for reference all the time and have a sketchbook that is full of writing as well as images that I look back on when I am thinking about my next piece.
Q: Your pieces often feature non-native species or plant-life. Does travel or exploration of other regions play a role in the research for your art?
A: People often ask me if I have been to the places that I make art about. I do love to travel and have been to a lot of places, the most exotic was Australia and I feel so lucky to have spent time in that country. I love islands and island life so I try to visit islands whenever possible. But, I have made art about many places I have never set foot in. I have a series about islands that I like to call, "Isolation produces oddballs," which features Myanmar and Indonesia, both places I have never been to.
Q: Is this your first year at Art Fair, and if not, what was your experience like last year? Why have you chosen to participate in Art Fair? Do you feel events like these are important for building a community around art?
A: I have been selling my art professionally at festivals for the past 8 years. The reason I do it is because I don't know a better way to make a living as an artist. I sell a lot of work online these days, but it is mostly to people who have seen it before at a show. I have a pretty hefty list of people who have signed my guestbook at festivals and I send out emails once a month when I finish a new piece. I think the festival environment is really helpful for artists being able to meet potential customers directly and build relationships with them. I think this will be my 4th year at Ann Arbor. My parents live about 40 minutes away so it is also kind of a family trip. I have friends from high school and college in the area so I love coming back. It's nice to see familiar faces. I always do at least one new show a year so often it is a sea of unfamiliar faces.
Q: How do you prepare for a big event like Art Fair? Are you featuring the work from your website mostly or will you be introducing a new series?
A: My woodcuts take a long time to make. I have been working on 2 pieces for 3 months and just finished one but am still working on the other. They all are editioned, but very limited. So, I will be showing the woodcuts that are on my website. All of my clay work is one of a kind. There may be some of the pieces from my website but I also have been stocking up and not posting my new work so that I have enough for the show. My frames are new this year. I have been displaying my pieces without glass. I have them professionally mounted and then they are varnished like an oil painting. I am working with a fabulous woodworker who is making beautiful hardwood frames (walnut and curly maple.) You won't be able to go to a frame shop and get anything like it so I hope to sell a bunch at the show.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays, and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Jenny Pope will be set up in the Ingalls Mall section in booth number A258 at this year's Ann Arbor Art Fair from Thursday, July 21 to Sunday, July 24, 2016. Jenny’s work can be viewed on her website or you can be follow her online on Instagram and Facebook.
Poetry is a democratic form of art; perhaps one of the most accessible genres of writing as it’s meant not only to be read, but heard and performed. The echoes of poetic language are all around us from the piece of a song you catch as you walk by an open cafe door to the movement of a conversation between strangers. Despite poetry’s underlying prevalence in our lives, one of the least expected venues for poetry may just be a sports bar.
Still, on Saturday, June 18th, The Arena in downtown Ann Arbor opened its doors to the Ann Arbor Book Festival Book Crawl and three local writers, including poet Zilka Joseph. A long-time Ann Arbor resident, Zilka has been nominated twice for a Pushcart prize and her poems have appeared in many publications from Poetry (forthcoming–look for it later this year) to the Kenyon Review Online. Her work was honored through several awards including a Hopwood, the Elsie Choy Lee Scholarship from the Center for Education of Women, and a Zell Fellowship from the University of Michigan. Against the backdrop of Michigan football memorabilia and muted ESPN highlight reels, Zilka read from her recent collection, Sharp Blue Search of Flame.
This collection is remarkable with its breadth and enchanting language, encapsulating the boundaries--artificial and real--of life in India and the United States. All the while, Zilka’s poems search for something larger, something beyond us and all around us. This may be spiritual or it may be the commonality of human experience. From guiding the reader/listener on an internal journey to mapping identity in a complex world, Zilka brings the cyclical nature of life and self-discovery to the forefront of her work.
This sentiment of self-reformation resonates in poems like Birds in a Blizzard where Zilka writes “your ancestors are wanderers,” or in Child of Churning Water where she asks “Who shall I be now? Where can I perch?” Zilka’s interest in rebirth extends outward to broader stories of mythology, cycles, and origin. With Apples and Oranges, the Adam and Eve story is reframed to challenge the common narrative of this tale.
In between her poems, Zilka offered insight into her creative process and the emotional source of her writing. “I feel as though I’ve lived many lives,” she told the audience. “We always find ways to reinvent ourselves even from our darkest moments.” The multitudes of Zilka’s lives seem to lend themselves to the deep introspection present on the page.
As she went on to read What Burns (Who Will Remember), a poem about the rape and murder of Jyoti Singh, a young woman in India whose death sparked international protest, the tone of the room changed to one of solace. A police officer in the audience was moved by this piece and pledged to read more about the story so as to better serve the community he works in, demonstrating the social value of reading poetry in public.
Art is ultimately a celebration of the unexpected, observed moments that are truly human and full of life. Hearing such beautiful poems read in an unexpected setting reminded me of the boundaries we often create in our own environments, and the importance of seeking uncommon moments of beauty.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Along with being an EMMY® Award-winning documentary filmmaker whose films have been screened all over the country, Ann Arbor native Sophia Kruz is using her directing skills to shed light on global gender inequity in her forthcoming documentary Little Stones . The documentary is currently in post-production under the working title Creating4Change.
Kruz, along with Little Stones cinematographer Meena Singh, is a co-founder of the non-profit Driftseed, an organization that "seeks to empower women and girls through the art of documentary storytelling." United through a mission to use art for social good, the women in Kruz’s Little Stones range across continent and industry: American fashion designer Anna Taylor empowers impoverished Kenyan women; Indian dance therapist Sohini Chakraborty helps heal survivors of sexual abuse; graffiti artist Panmela Castro uses her art to advocate for survivors of domestic abuses; and Senegalese musician Sister Fa challenges female genital mutilation. Behind the telling of these narratives of empowered women is Kruz’s own artistic vision. I asked Kruz about her motivation for the film, the process of making an international documentary, and how members of Ann Arbor’s community can follow in her footsteps to foster positive change locally.
Q: Your early work as a filmmaker focuses on immediate stories in the Ann Arbor community as well as within your family. What drew you into these initial subjects?
A: My first documentary, Time Dances On tells the story of my parents, how they fell in love, how their marriage slowly dissolved, and ultimately, how my dad decided to come out as a gay man because of the love and friendship he felt towards my mom. It's a story that I felt really compelled to tell throughout college, first as a fun get-to-know-you fact in my freshman dorm, then sophomore year as a short fictional essay in an intro to creative writing course, then junior year as the premise of a fictional screenplay, and finally senior year in documentary form. I suppose in some ways I needed to work through that story first to be able to move onto other projects, but it was also the story that allowed me to discover my passion for documentary.
Q: Little Stones is a study of human rights issues all around the world, jumping between several countries and cultures. Was there a common thread you found within the people you interviewed?
A: Little Stones follows four women in India, Brazil, Senegal, and Kenya who are using dance, graffiti, music, and fashion to create positive change for women and girls. There were certainly a lot of themes and similarities between the four artists that I started to see when we went to visit the women in their home countries, the most prominent of which was self-sacrifice. All four women have given up something to be an artist and activist. Sister Fa perhaps says it best: "If you just come close to most of the activists, we try to find solutions for the world, but we don’t have solutions for our own lives.”
Q: What is the function of art in changing norms and attitudes?
A: I think art is hugely important in changing culture. Often, artists are also activists, on the front lines of social change movements. Art can ignite an idea in the collective consciousness, rally a community around an issue, and provide healing for those in need. I do think art is undervalued in American culture and that just saying, as a community, "art is important," really isn't enough—we need to invest in the arts as well.
That said, I think some of the best forms of problem solving come about when artists and creative minds are paired with activists, lawyers, law enforcement, government agencies, philanthropy, and everything in between. The challenges and barriers women around the world face are great, and they take many forms. Our approach to problem solving needs to be equally great and all-encompassing.
Q: Why does the film matter to those living in the Ann Arbor area?
A: I would quote Alyse Nelson, Executive Director of Vital Voices, who said in an interview for the film:
"If you look around the world with all the issues women face, the one thing that unites us is that there is not a single culture, community, country, religion that can say violence against women, domestic violence, culturally harmful practices, trafficking, rape does not exist. It exists everywhere. It is that thing that all of us face. And really the heart of it is how we value women in our societies, and in our communities, and our cultures, and if culture and values are a barrier, couldn’t we also look at how to use culture, to use the arts, and innovative creative means, and brains, to combat the negative influences of culture?"
That quote certainly rings true in Ann Arbor, where we have a human trafficking clinic run by the University of Michigan Law School dedicated to seeking justice for sex and labor trafficking victims in our own communities, local women's shelters in constant need of resources to support survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence, local law enforcement dealing with cases of sexual assault on U-M and EMU campuses, and lower rates of female executives and board members in local businesses and non-profit organizations. Everyone in this community, not just artists, but women and men, can volunteer at these organizations, fight for gender equity in their workplace, and be an agent of change.
Q: In addition to the local issues affecting gender equity in Ann Arbor, what will be unique about screening the film in your hometown?
A: We're planning a sneak preview screening of Little Stones at the Michigan Theater this October, in part because Ann Arbor has played a huge role in making this film possible. I say that for two reasons. First, I'm from Ann Arbor, and I think the values that launched this film—that art can create social change, and we all have a role to play—are a product of growing up in a community that values the arts and gender equity.
Second, this film literally would not have been possible without the moral and financial support I've received from my friends, family, mentors, colleagues, local artists, women's organizations, business leaders, state government, and the University of Michigan. I want Ann Arbor to get a sneak peek of Little Stones as a way to say thank you to everyone who's believed in the film from the beginning, and all the new allies we've made along the way.
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications.
Little Stones is currently in post-production. You can stay up to date with Sophia Kruz’s work and future screenings on her website.
Emerging musicians and work week refuge come together at Crossroads Pub's Showcase Tuesday. The staples of a local dive bar -- pool tables, retro wall signs -- mix with the Starry Night-inspired stage decor and energetic lighting, creating an open space for live performances. Last week featured two Ann Arbor area bands, Gillie & the Freeman and Once United, who were enthusiastic about playing together.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Once United before they jumped on stage to perform a dynamic array of indie rock songs written mostly by lead vocalist and guitarist Patrick Beger. The core of the trio seemed to be the distinct musical identity of each member. “I just want to play the songs I write with good people," Patrick says. "Being friends first, and not being the exact same type of musician makes us who we are as a band.”
A Michigan native, Patrick taught himself guitar, piano, and drums while growing up on Torch Lake. He joined a friend’s classic rock cover-band, The Breakers, and played shows all over northern Michigan. The experience cemented Patrick’s love for songwriting and performance, encouraging him to move to Chicago to pursue music. In 2013, Patrick came to Ann Arbor to study communications at the University of Michigan and founded Once United.
Patrick started rehearsing with drummer Josh Weichman, a sound engineer for Solid Sound Recording Company, the iconic Ann Arbor studio tucked away in the woods with clients ranging from Beck to The Detroit News. Josh’s keen technical sensibility and resonance on the drums adds a punchiness to Once United’s sound, especially in the song “Trust Me”. While his past musical projects were mostly punk or hard rock, Patrick’s songs caught Josh’s ear. “This is not the typical type of band that I would have joined, but I'm happy that I did," Josh says. "The songs were really catchy. And fun to play too.”
As luck would have it, Patrick found a room in an apartment with Ryan King, Once United’s versatile bass player whose love for psychedelic and prog rock comes through in particular on songs like “Killin’ Time” and “Cracks of New York City”. Along with his uncanny ability on the bass, Ryan is an accomplished clarinetist and founder of several Ann Arbor area bands, including local jam prog band Stormy Chromer.
Ryan: “As a musician, you are a conduit for some feeling or emotion, or spirit, that needs to go through you, or through your fingers when you play, so it's not like we're responsible for the emotion that comes through. It just has to do with our hearts, and our ability to put sound through our appendages and through love.”
Patrick: “What he is kinda describing is the subconscious, which I think is true with a lot of musicians. It's your subconscious coming out, and for some reason you have to express it. I don't know why exactly.”
Ryan: “It's like your spin on the greater collective conscious. It’s like you are a certain tint or shade of glasses, and there's this man behind you looking through it, and what you see is the music.”
This interest in turning the stories running through our lives into song and experimenting with sound is apparent on “The Looper Song,” where electric guitar riffs are mixed live, or “Came to Get Greedy,” an edgier piece. Once United’s captivating hour and a half set proved their range as musicians and treated the audience to authentic songs that capture a simultaneous longing for intimacy and escape -- or, as Ryan put it, “just a healthy dose of human spirit.”
Juliana Roth is a writer currently living in Ann Arbor whose poetry, essays and fiction have appeared in The Establishment, Irish Pages, Bear River Review, DIN Magazine, and other publications. An original film she wrote will be released in 2017.
Once United’s refreshing sound can be heard online at onceunited.bandcamp.com or live at Ann Arbor Brewing Company on June 6th and Chelsea Sounds & Sights Festival on August 4th. Keep up with them on Facebook as they add more shows for the summer.