Photographer and University of Kentucky Educator, James R Southard, was sent on assignment to circle the Great Lakes and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking and their environment. ________________________________________________________ LAKE ONTARIO
I knew that Lake Ontario includes the most populated region of Canada, so I felt that I’d be spending much of my time with contemporary artists and in fine art museums. To me, Toronto has always been the art capital of Canada as I had met so many artists working there over the years. Also, after a few weeks of being on the road for the most rural stretches of my trip I was eager to be in a metropolitan area and to catch up with the Canadian contemporary art scene. On the U.S. side of the lake, I was making a point to stop in a small town known for its historic role in the War of 1812 and not known for modern art. I was aiming to have a well-rounded tour of the Lake Ontario region. This was going to be my last chance to visit a small American town before I would stop at the larger Rust Belt cities on Lake Erie.
Toronto – Eric Kostiuk Williams is a Canadian illustrator whose work has been hitting the pages of Now Magazine, Dazed and Confused and the Believer. His comics exhibit his response to the gay community’s concerns in Toronto and his career is just taking off. I spoke in length with him about the Canadian comic world and how tight-knit it is, though all the successful comic artists still need that day job. Apparently being a well-read and distributed artist in the comic world still doesn’t pay enough to live and work in Toronto.
Toronto – Eric Kostiuk Williams’ subject matter and the plot locations in his work are real places he often goes to in Toronto. I was eager to see some of these important locals to his work, so he showed me. The Beaver is one of the bars you often find in his work and it now has a mural he just recently finished.
Rochester, NY- The studio visit with David Lane started with the amazing smell of leather. He has a great setup where he works on fine leathers for accessories such as watch bands and wallets among other items. During the day he’s an art teacher at the local public school but when he is not in the classroom he is a world-class leather worker. You can find some of his work in Esquire as well as in high-end watch publications. I was wondering why he still taught if sales were good, but he is always worried about his client base drying up and leaving such a reliable supportive job like education. Believe it or not, the artisanal leather world is rather competitive.
Rochester, NY – As you’d imagine, a leather worker also has an interest in other traditional products such as pipe tobacco, bourbon and scotch. We ended up spending a good deal of my interview discussing liquor infusions. We spoke the same language.
Toronto – I made a visit to the Tiff Bell Lightbox Film Reference Library. There I spoke to the Senior Manager of the Film Reference Library, Michelle Lovegrove Thomson, about their archive which is full of film, slides, media and assorted historical promotional materials. All of which is open to the public. She said mostly academics utilize the records for their research and I was wondering why more video artists and filmmakers didn’t spend more time with this amazing archive.
Toronto – I was hearing more and more in Toronto on how difficult for artists it is to find studio space in a rapidly developing city. I met with Erin Candela who works for Akin Collective. They work hard to find unused commercial spaces in the city that are in limbo which could be used as art studios. They have hundreds of spaces throughout the city. We had a long discussion that seemed so familiar to other cities. Local governments loves to tout how they want to support the local arts and allow “creatives” to stay in their city, though they take away funding for programs that would do exactly that and would encourage new construction in the only places that artists can afford. I think it’s pretty safe to say that artists don’t believe in any of the lip service they hear from their politicians.
Sackets Harbor, NY – Frank Shattuck is a tailor. And I mean classic bench tailor who trained under southern Italian masters. His suits and hunting jackets are legendary and he now has his workshop up in Sackets Harbor. Want a suit? Get in line. He has clients from all over the world.
Sackets Harbor, NY – Frank Shattuck moved up to the small town of Sackets Harbor awhile back for a girl and decided to stay after the break up. He loves it up there and enjoys the authenticity of the surrounding community. People love to work around here, he told me.
Sackets Harbor, NY – While he maybe a master tailor, Frank Shattuck is also a boxer and sometimes actor. I found that he likes to fill his days with a variety of tasks. The man isn’t idle too often.
Sackets Harbor, NY – With the heavy rains from spring and summer, the water levels are very high. This heavily affects the local businesses, as most of the towns that surround the Great Lakes rely on tourism and aquatic related activities.
Sackets Harbor, NY – My last night on Lake Ontario was a dark and brooding one.
I hadn’t been to Toronto since the late nineties and I totally missed how big and international Toronto has become. After visiting museums, galleries and stopping into gallery openings, I learned it is a rather competitive city to be an artist in. After speaking with a few curators and artists, I also learned that this would be one of the most expensive cities on my trip to be an artist. Studio space is a big subject of concern all over the city. When crossing over to the U.S. side of Lake Ontario, studio spaces are no longer of serious concern. In fact, much of northern New York reminded me of central Kentucky. Lots of talented craftsman working in small communities in oversized workshops who happily moved there from larger metropolises. It was a point of pride for many of the people I’d meet. When many of the folks in Sackets Harbor heard I was there for this project, I was immediately pulled into a dozen or so conversations and introductions to other locals of interest. The civic pride I kept finding was endearing.
In March of this year, UnderMain held its third panel discussion of the Critical Mass Series. The series was founded and is undertaken annually as a way to examine the role that criticism plays for Kentucky artists and institutions. The co-founders and regional partners believe that critical discourse can help us engage in a more meaningful dialogue regionally and with the national and international contemporary art world.
Collaboration is vital to the Critical Mass Series and as UnderMain hosts the series in a different part of Kentucky each year, we seek out new partners. Critical Mass I (2016) was conducted in partnership with the University of Kentucky Art Museum in Lexington, whileCritical Mass II (2017) was held at KMAC in Louisville. This year, we brought in The Carnegie Center in Covington with Exhibitions Director Matt Distel moderating.
In keeping with his curatorial style known as Open Source, Distel invited five artists (Harry Sanches Jr., Joey Versoza, David Wischer, Lindsey Whittle, and Sky Cubacub) to join three curators/writers working in the region. CMIII:In The Mid (2019) specifically addressed the topic of regionalism and its impact on artists and writers working in the mid-West. Distel set out to ask: What is a healthy arts discourse and does it exist in this region? What are the practical concerns for artists that are working outside of major arts centers? What role does art criticism and critical dialogue in general play in the careers of “regional” artists?
The symposium featured The Great Meadows Foundation Critic-in-Residence and Miami-based curator, Natalia Zuluaga, who shared some of what she learned during her March residency in Kentucky where she made studio visits to the studios of more than thirty artists. Natalia was joined by Valentine Umansky, Curatorial Fellow at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati; Annie dell’Aria, Assistant Professor at Miami University and writer for AEQAI; and Sarah Rose Sharp, Detroit-based activist and multi-media artist and writer for HyperAllergic, Art in America, Flash Art, and Sculpure Magazine.
For those of you who could not join us, below is an interview with Christine Huskisson and Matt Distel on the WEKU current affairs program Eastern Standard explaining a bit about The Critical Mass Series, as well as a short video of the symposium itself. We hope you enjoy.
Planning for Critical Mass IV is underway and is likely to take place in Berea. More on that soon.
UnderMain, Inc. would like to acknowledge the following for helping us organize Critical Mass III and producing this short video:
Curation and Administration
Christine Huskisson, Co-Founder and Curator of The Critical Mass Series
Tom Martin and Art Shechet, Co-Founders of The Critical Mass Series
Matt Distel, Moderator of CMIII and Exhibitions Director of The Carnegie Center
Savannah Wills, Coordinator of CMIII and Chellgren scholar
Julien Robson, Advisor to UnderMain for the CM Series and Director of the Great Meadows Foundation
The staff at The Carnegie Center in Covington, Kentucky
Due to audio complications, the artists discussion was not properly recorded.
We value highly the visual content and the sharing of artistic practices for discussion purposes.
Thanks goes out to:
Harry Sanches Jr.
Natalia Zuluaga, Miami-based Independent Curator and Critic-in-Residence with the Great Meadows Foundation
Valentine Umansky, Curatorial Fellow at the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati
Annie dell’Aria, Assistant Professor at Miami University and writer for AEQAI
Sarah Rose Sharp, Detroit-based activist and multi-media artist and
writer for HyperAllergic, Art in America, Flash Art, and Sculpure Magazine
John Williams, Principal Photographer / Producer SoundART Management™
HD PERFECT™ VIDEO & PHOTO
Great Meadows Foundation is a grant giving foundation, launched in 2016 by contemporary art collector and philanthropist Al Shands. Named for the home that Al and his late wife Mary created, the mission of Great Meadows Foundation is to critically strengthen and support visual art in Kentucky by empowering our community’s artists and other visual arts professionals to research, connect, and participate more actively in the broader contemporary art world. (www.greatmeadowsfoundation.org)
The Carnegie Center provides an extraordinary venue for the arts and arts education made possible through the generosity of individuals, private foundations and businesses in our community. They receive operating support from the ArtsWave, the Kentucky Arts Council, The Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation and Kenton County Fiscal Courts.
Published by UnderMain, Inc., P.O. Box 575, Lexington, Kentucky 40388
The sight of stringed instruments, the focus on traditionally based melodies and harmonies and a performance setting that often favors a social backdrop – meaning, in many instances, a festival. Put them all together and you have bluegrass, right?
Not so fast. Granted, that kind of reflex thinking might hit prospective fans of The Zinc Kings, especially those unaccustomed to the tradition, location and inspiration of the music this North Carolina quartet favors.
“Everybody thinks we’re a bluegrass band,” said guitarist, mandolinist and banjoist Mark Dillon. “When you play music with banjos, people are going to think you’re in a bluegrass band.”
The Zinc Kings, L to R: Mark Dillon, Christen Blanton Mack, Ryan Mack, Dan Clouse
The Zinc Kings’ traditional sounds are devoted more to pre-bluegrass country, folk and the assimilation of generations-old sounds collectively referenced as Old Time. Such traditional music ensembles are plentiful around the country. Most, though, operate so far under the mainstream radar that bluegrass becomes an accessible, available but ultimately misleading tag for audiences to pin on the music.
“It’s a bit of a novelty, I suppose,” added fiddler Christen Blanton Mack. “People who are not engaged in traditional music and they see a banjo, it’s like, ‘Uh oh, there’s that thing.’ It’s a symbol of something people don’t always connect with. They latch onto this idea of ‘Oh, they’re going to play bluegrass.’
“We played at a festival in New York and I knew a bunch of people there. They had been hearing me talk about the guys that I play with and what it’s like being in an Old Time band. They’re going, ‘Yeah, bluegrass is cool.’ I was like, ‘Dude, really?’ Because of where we’re situated and because we have access to a lot of really great local tradition, it makes for an easy connection. It’s not such a huge community, though, that you can’t find commonalities.”
In many cases, especially in Kentucky, Old Time music is passed down through families and communities, a lexicon built around fiddle tunes and folk songs that serve as the DNA for what later evolved into bluegrass and country music. It’s the music of rural regions, of working environments and often of spiritual worship. It’s the music of the mountains – the Southern Appalachians and the Ozarks, primarily. The Zinc Kings, playing as part of the Appalachia in the Bluegrass traditional music series at the University of Kentucky’s Niles Gallery on Sept. 20, have their own mountain inspirations to work from, their own music to play and their own ways of finding a new audience for it.
The Zinc Kings were spearheaded by members of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro Old Time Ensemble that set out, beginning in 2010, to explore the folk traditions of the Carolina Piedmont. The band, completed by banjoist Dan Clouse and bassist Ryan Mack (Blanton Mack’s husband, who joined in 2011), wasn’t made up exclusively of natives from the region. Still, they were quickly fascinated by the Piedmont’s accents of harmony and instrumentation, its distinctive string sound and, perhaps most importantly, the music’s adaptability for projects that weren’t strictly traditional in design.
“For us, the catch is that we live in central North Carolina,” Dillon said. “We don’t live in the mountains. We just recognized there was a pretty rich tradition that was happening with Piedmont.
“When you look at the history, a lot of people from the mountains were coming down into mill villages. A lot of African-Americans were coming into the mill villages, as well. When you get there, you start learning about artists like Charlie Poole (the North Carolina singer and banjoist whose late 1920s music would strongly influence succeeding folk generations). These guys were blending blues with North Carolina Appalachian music. We found there was a niche that really no one else, or very few people outside of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, were looking at.”
For the classically reared Blanton Black, the music of the North Carolina Piedmont meant the study of a style with a looser, more socially inviting discipline. But the sense of devotion she gave it equaled what was demanded of her classical studies.
“I didn’t start going to festivals right away,” she said. “For me, the natural habitat for traditional music was just making music with your friends.
“When you put old time music on a stage and people don’t know what they’re listening to – because a lot of times, people might not – you present that music in a way that you would if you were playing that music in a jam with friends. We like energy. We love singing. Both help to connect you with an audience.”
But the music of The Zinc Kings isn’t locked solely into string sounds. Clouse, a Michigan native, studied tuba in high school before pursuing a Master’s degree in music theory at the University of Tennessee. That’s where and when he was drawn to the banjo. As such, he adds tuba and even washboard to the band’s string sound. In fact, The Zinc Kings take their name from a washboard – specifically, a brand dubbed “the Stradivarius of washboards” by the Bone Dry Musical Instrument Company.
“I didn’t grow up with Old Time music,” Clouse said. “I never saw a banjo until I went to school in Tennessee. I didn’t come to it with these ideas of what the music should sound like.”
“All the world’s a stage…”
On The Zinc Kings’ third album, 2017’s aptly-titled, “Piedmont,” the inspirations of such Carolina stylists as blues singer Blind Boy Fuller, gospel/blues artist Blind Joe Taggart and musician/folklorist Bascom Lamar Lunsford are explored with the music’s blues, folk and Celtic roots blended into a deliciously unspoiled Old Time fabric.
But the band isn’t anchored to its homeland. “Piedmont” also reaches out to Kentucky by honoring famed Monticello fiddler Clyde Davenport with a lightly percussive and beautifully paced version of “Lazy John.”
Similarly, the band’s Old Time sound has sometimes taken flight from expected concert settings. A case in point: The Zinc Kings composed a score of traditionally inspired music for a 2013 production of Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” undertaken as a collaboration between Raleigh Little Theatre, Bare Theatre and the traditional music organization PineCone.
“For Shakespeare, we had to work really hard to make the Shakespearean text fit the traditional Appalachian influences,” Blanton Mack said “But the meter that’s in Shakespeare did kind of lend itself to the music. We tried to stay really true to the text of Shakespeare but have the music feel participatory and inviting in hopes that people would want to sing along with us because that’s something that everyone can do.
“There are bands into traditional music who do similar things to what we do. They’re into traditional music but also are writing songs, composing music and working with composers and theatre companies. The tradition presents itself as being pretty straight forward and simple. The forms are really accessible, so we try to take the things that we love about traditional music, like the danceability or the sentiment of the song or the ability to tell a story like you might hear in a ballad, and just put out own stamp on it.”
The Zinc Kings perform at 12 noon on Sept. 20 for the Appalachia in the Bluegrass series at the Niles Gallery of the John Jacob Niles Center for American Music at the University of Kentucky’s Lucille C. Little Fine Arts Library. Admission is free.
There is little in the recent history of the Lexington Philharmonic (LexPhil) to compare with the intensity and variety of the 2019-2020 season. After a ten-year stint on the podium, maestro Scott Terrell departed in June. Now the search begins for a successor.
Six finalist candidates will make weeklong visits to Lexington over the course of a season appropriately entitled RESOUND, their schedules crammed with whirlwinds of meet-and-greet receptions, fundraising dinners, discussions with multiple boards, Q&A with the search committee, meeting the orchestra’s musicians, nightly rehearsals, and, ultimately, conducting the orchestra they hope to lead.
In an interview for this week’s edition of WEKU’s Eastern Standard I spoke with LexPhil Executive Director Allison Kaiser about the audition process and the opportunities presented by transition:
Heuser’s program will include a composition by Lexington-born Julia Perry. Click here to read a column by Tom Eblen about Perry’s Lexington youth. And for a sampling of Perry’s artistry, check out conductor Karina Canellakis leading the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a performance of Perry’s A Short Piece for Orchestra. It was recorded live at the Hollywood Bowl on September 11, 2018.
I’ll be interviewing all conductor candidates prior to their arrivals in Lexington. Watch this space, and listen for them on UnderMain media partner, 88.9 WEKU.
Thomas Heuser conducts The Lexington Philharmonic on Saturday, September 21, at 7:30pm at the Singletary Center for the Arts. He will conduct works by Perry, Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky.
Tom Martin is co-publisher of UnderMain and host/producer of WEKU’s Eastern Standard.
James R. Southard, photographer and University of Kentucky educator, was sent on assignment by UnderMain to circle the Great Lakes – Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie, and Ontario – and document artists, their lives, work habits, social networking, and physical environments.
Earlier this year, James submitted a highly detailed proposal to UnderMain and we are happy to now present the first two installments of a five-part photo essay series.
The links below give us a glimpse of how artists are living in urban areas like Milwaukee and Chicago as well as small towns like Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and Duluth.