Friday, May 13, 2016

The Secret Birds, Tony Fitzpatrick at the DePaul Art Museum

Audubon Bird Guide, Eastern Land Birds, (c)1946, Doubleday

When I was about 4, my parents brought home a variety of little toy plastic birds. I can’t remember if they came gradually or all at once, but I recall a fairly large number and variety. They were probably purchased at Valueville or Shopper’s World. Lifelike replicas of their natural counterparts, each bird came in its own colorfully-printed paper box that identified the species, its habitat, and its characteristics. The largest was no more than 3” in length. I think my brothers and sister accumulated most of the birds, but I had one, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. I hadn’t thought about those birds for more than 50 years, but the memory of them came flooding back when viewing The Secret Birds, an exhibition of work by Chicago Artist Tony Fitzpatrick at the DePaul Art Museum.

The show includes Fitzpatrick’s fantastically-imagined tableaux, drawn collages of birds, that are constructed with words, imagery, and twentieth century ephemera, much of it from Chicago.  The birds are soothsayers and harbingers, saints and sinners, provocateurs and teachers. They pay homage and they reflect. They seem to occupy that same but different magical space imagined in the work of Joseph Cornell.

The Secret Birds brought so many memories to mind – of my late parents, my childhood, books, poetry, and the city. They do not however evoke any sanitized and nostalgic desire for things past. Instead, they create a longing, a mourning for the city I now know Chicago will never become.

The Secret Birds is open at the DePaul Art Museum, 935 W Fullerton, Chicago, IL 60614, though August 21, 2016.  The accompanying publication Is available through Curbside Splendor Publishing.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A kite needs to be tied down…."

Among my artist colleagues, there’s something I don’t often admit. In fact, when we were dating, it was many months before I told my now-husband that I had been in a sorority. This is not a discussion about the pros and cons of Greek life, there are both. This is about a recent event.

It was a different school but that same sorority. Kappa Alpha Theta just disbanded its University of Michigan chapter for hazing and underage drinking. It had been the oldest sorority (actually, women’s fraternity) on campus, and one of the earliest chapters established in the United States.

Sadly, I agree with the Grand Council’s decision to close the sorority. According to a published account, a group of pledges responded to a fraternity serenade by becoming inebriated, taking off clothes, putting on chocolate syrup, making out (at the least), capturing it on video, and then posting it on the internet. Because the entire chapter has been punished, my guess is that this is but the latest infraction and part of a larger history.

As one of those young women who was emotionally and socially ill-prepared for big university life, I delved much too deeply into the recreational and celebratory aspects of Greek life. Fortunately, I had parents who recognized this and supported me when I transferred to a much smaller liberal arts college where I thrived. Actions have consequences, a hard lesson I’ve had to learn again and again.

I admit, I am not a parent. I can only imagine the challenge of navigating popular culture, peer pressure, social media, and celebrity – all bombarding young people today. But there comes a point when someone has to recognize that the Kardashians and Miley Cyrus are not role models; that Victoria Secret’s Pink and American Apparel sell with hypersexualized objectification of women; that ten thousand likes on one of ten thousand selfies are meaningless, and that often, sex with an inebriated minor is rape.

Perhaps it’s time to reset our moral compass and change the conversation. I don’t mean in some right-wing, so-called Christian fundamentalist way. While we’re arguing about the gender of bathrooms, young people are treating themselves and others with the same respect that third-world terrorists treat their captives. We define millennials by their buying-power, not their character, and our tendency toward charity, kindness, and empathy is certainly in scarce supply.

I keep hearing people who are worried about the economic future of their children’s children. I would suggest worrying about our own character, and how it informs the behavior of young people. In doing so we safeguard not only our young people’s future, but that of generations to come.

Oh, by the way, I was a debutante too.

Friday, March 4, 2016


For 22 years, Woman Made Gallery has supported the work of woman-identified artists through exhibitions and professional development opportunities. Exhibitions at the gallery address not only feminist issues, but also those critical questions we all encounter every day –­ gender, race, the environment and economic inequality. The gallery also serves the public, celebrating women, community and Chicago in a meaningful and thoughtful way. The most recent exhibition, ABANDONED MARGINS: POLICING THE BLACK FEMALE BODY, received national attention.

Woman Made has been profoundly and negatively impacted by the Illinois Budget crisis. Grants that have historically provided organizational support have evaporated. An organization that has, for more than two decades, employed, supported and educated members of our community, is struggling financially.

You can help Woman Made Gallery survive. Your membership and/or charitable contribution will insure the gallery’s future – no monetary contribution is too small. Let’s not lose this important pillar of Chicago’s cultural edifice. And don’t forget! After making your contribution, plan a visit to the gallery to enjoy and learn from the important work that will be shared in upcoming exhibitions and literary events.