Exhibition

An Interview With Our Land Artist, Bob Herbst

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Green River Overlook, After the Storm, 2006, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Interview conducted by Theresa Bembnister, Akron Art Museum Associate Curator

Akron Art Museum: Can you explain to me your interest in photographing the American West, specifically the national parks?

Bob Herbst: In 1993 I decided to take a photography workshop in southern Utah which involved camping out in the desert and photographing for a week. My wife and I were raised in camping-oriented families and had done canoeing expeditions for the 10 years prior in Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario, so it sounded like something I would enjoy. I added a few extra days on the front end of the trip and stopped at Zion and Bryce National Parks on my way from Las Vegas to the location of the workshop in what is now known as the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. I was hooked immediately. I had seen the Smoky Mountains and Yosemite, but nothing like the canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It was grand, peaceful, unlike anything I had ever seen, and like another planet in some cases. It was a beautiful place to photograph but just being there was enough for me. I camped out in the desert in a small tent under the stars, occasionally staying at a motel for a break, a soft bed, and a good hearty meal.

Jane went with me in 1994. I did solo trips in 1995 and 1996, and two trips with my best friend in 1997 and 1999. I returned in 2005 and 2006 with a different friend who had also explored some of the same areas himself for a number of years. With two four-wheel-drive vehicles, we could go places where it wouldn’t be safe for just one…and we did. Health and day job issues kept me away for a while but I returned in 2012 for what I considered my last “hurrah!” It was time to move on. I have years of printing ahead.

Your question caused me to reminisce a little and I found a picture that another workshop student took of me on the canyon country exploratory in 1993. I could carry that camera pack and tripod all day back then. This is where the 20-year odyssey started. The canyon country of southern Utah and northern Arizona is a very special place for me. Many of the national parks and national monuments are not well known which made exploring them all the more special over 20 years.

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

Herbst poses in canyon country in 1993, courtesy of the artist

At least one of the scenes you captured in your photographs in Our Land is no longer accessible to the general public, correct? How did you reach that overlook and why is it no longer available to park visitors?

Actually, both images are taken at standard viewpoints in the parks easily accessible by car. The image at Bryce Point is gone because split rail fences have been erected in the foreground in an attempt to restrict tourists from getting too close to the edge. The areas I mentioned that are no longer accessible are typically land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, a federal government branch. They have fewer resources than the National Park Service and manage far more land so they sometimes have to close areas due to funding issues. The National Park Service does an absolutely wonderful job of keeping the parks in southern Utah and northern Arizona accessible. In this country, it is not unusual for numerous dirt and gravel roads to be washed out completely several times a year. A single thunderstorm in Canyonlands National Park can change everybody’s plans on the White Rim Road. I have had that experience. Our trip out from Toroweep in the Grand Canyon National Park was similar after a major thunderstorm that wiped out roads all over the area. We made it out with a National Forest Service fire truck behind us if we got stuck – an angel on our shoulders! The park service has regular ranger patrols to help broken down or stuck visitors and to report road conditions. They repair the roads as quickly as conditions allow. I have been very impressed during my travels throughout the parks and have nothing but praise for the National Park Service.

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning, 1994, platinum/palladium print, 16 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Your photographs of the American West are remarkable, but you’ve also taken pictures of national park scenery closer to home. What can you tell me about your photographs of the Ohio Turnpike bridges in Cuyahoga Valley National Park?

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Old Bridge Rubble, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 12 x 20 in., courtesy of the artist

I began photographing the turnpike bridges in 2002 when I started working with a 12×20 inch view camera. Digital negatives were in their infancy at that time so you still needed a big negative for big prints. Because of the size and weight of all of the associated equipment, I needed local subjects for working with the camera. My wife and I had spent a lot of time in the Cuyahoga Valley on towpath trails walking our dog and when I was chasing the Cuyahoga Valley Line steam train up and down the valley in the late 1980s. The scale of the new bridges captivated me, especially when viewed from below. They were part way through the construction of the second bridge at the time. Some of the very first 12×20 negatives I shot were of the bridges.

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Bridge Piers, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

A 12×20 camera made from brass and mahogany with a red bellows tends to attract attention where ever you are. One Saturday I was shooting the bridges from Riverview Road and a man stopped by out of curiosity. He saw the camera and we chatted for a while. He turned out to be the supervisor of the entire turnpike bridge construction project for the main contractor. He gave me permission to photograph on the construction site on the weekends when they weren’t working and gave me one of his business cards for any questions I might get from others. I returned periodically until both bridges were complete and the last of the old bridges was dynamited and demolished.

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, Finished Bridges, 2002, platinum/palladium print, 20 x 12 in., courtesy of the artist

I would also like for you to see an iconic image from 1989 in what was then the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area, still administered by the National Park Service. The “National Park” designation came in 2000. The train was pulled by a steam locomotive, No. 4070, and known as the Cuyahoga Valley Line. It ran between Howard Street in Akron and Cleveland. The next year I spent the winter photographing the refurbishment of the locomotive in the old B&O roundhouse in the flats of Cleveland. After chasing it up and down the river valley all summer and fall, I captured the attached image at the Ira Road crossing near Hale Farm. A catastrophic mechanical failure early the following year sidelined the locomotive forever. Diesel locomotives have pulled the CVSR excursion train ever since.

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

Bob Herbst, No. 4070 at Ira Rd. Crossing, 1989, platinum/palladium print, courtesy of the artist

What type of camera do you use?

I have used a variety of camera formats over the years progressing through 35mm, 2-1/4” square, 4×5, 8×10, 12×20, and digital. Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning was shot with a 4×5 camera. The print is from a digitally enlarged negative made on an Epson ink jet printer. Green River Overlook, After the Storm was shot with a 12×20 camera, so the print is a contact print from the original 12×20 film negative. Platinum/palladium printing is a contact printing process so you need a negative the size of the print you want. Up until about 13 years ago when digital negatives became a viable option, the other options for creating large negatives was to either shoot with a large format camera, or employ a tedious multi-step wet darkroom process to create enlarged film negatives from smaller negatives. In 2002 I wrote an article in View Camera magazine about that process. I now print almost entirely from digital negatives made on an Epson ink jet printer. The source of the image can be a scan of any size of film, b&w or color negatives or color transparencies, or from direct digital capture from a phone, digital camera, or scanner.

Herbst’s 12x20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Herbst’s 12×20 camera at Hatch Point overlooking Shafer Canyon, courtesy of the artist

Why do you print your work using the platinum/palladium method?

I started printing black and white silver gelatin in the camera club darkroom at Goodyear Jr. High School in Akron in 1970. I was the quintessential high school yearbook and newspaper photographer at Akron East High School from 1971-1974 and did senior pictures in college after that. In 1991, at the urging of a friend, I took an evening class on platinum/palladium printing at Kent State University. I fell in love with the process. It renders images so much more beautifully than what I could get from silver gelatin. Platinum prints have a subtle tonal rendering, a smoother scale, an inner luminescence, and ability to represent a greater scale of light than is possible in traditional silver gelatin papers or ink jet prints. The images appear to have more depth because the coating solution soaks deep into the paper. A traditional silver gelatin print has an emulsion that sits on top of the paper making the image look more two-dimensional. Ink jet prints are mostly ink on the surface of the paper.

But as much as anything, for me, platinum/palladium printing is about the handmade print…made one at a time, coated with a brush, processed in trays, and placed on screens to dry, all by my hand.

Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service, is on view through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery. The exhibition includes the photographs Bryce Point, Snowy October Morning and Green River Overlook, After the Storm by Bob Herbst, along with photographs by Richard Misrach, Ansel Adams, Masumi Hayashi, Ricky Rhodes, Marilyn Bridges and others.

This Land Is Your Land… (Finding Photographs on the Run) Part 2 of 2

Editor’s note: Akron Art Museum board member Sue Klein has visited—and photographed—every single one of the national parks. She wrote the following account of her journeys for the Garden Club of America’s Focus magazine. The GCA generously granted permission to republish Klein’s article in conjunction with Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service. Organized in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the NPS, Our Land is on display through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery.

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

by Sue Klein, Akron Art Museum Board Member

Visiting the national parks took us to some unimaginable places in our own magnificent country. My husband George and I had visited 28 of the national parks when we decide to go for broke and visit all the other 39 (includes three added along the way). To plan our visits, we just figure out how to get there and where to stay and do the rest when we arrive on site. Usually I take a tripod, but rarely, if ever, use it–we are moving light and flexible. I look for the non-iconic shots (but truthfully I do shoot Old Faithfuls and Half Domes). In the following journal just one or two adventures or experiences per park are mentioned. This is only a taste.

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Isle Royale
Michigan, 2009

The essence of this place is wolves, moose, granite, water, prehistoric copper mining pits (1500 B.C.), a boreal forest, bogs and plant diversity. This 209-square-mile park is an international biosphere reserve, encompassing a remote and primitive wilderness archipelago on Lake Superior. It consists of one big island and several smaller ones off the Minnesota/Canadian border. A three-hour boat ride from Copper Harbor, Michigan, is our gateway to the park.

We explore only one little section of the main island and nearby Raspberry Island. Nevertheless, we get a taste of everything except for moose and wolves. But, miraculously, in the evening a professor lectures on wolves and moose and how they keep each other in check. Park talks are something we always look forward to and this one is especially interesting. Our basic lodging accommodation is the only place with beds and plumbing in the park. Otherwise it’s tents.

On our second day, we hear a big storm with big winds is headed our way. We opt to get out of Dodge before the storm hits and hop the evening boat on calm waters back to Copper Harbor. Isle Royale is a place to come back to, maybe to stay in a tent and just soak in all the goodies in this small jewel of a park. Perhaps we would even see a moose or wolf!

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Pinnacles
California, 2013

This park, our second to last, is just east of Carmel and Monterey. In early January 2013, I tell the superintendent of our Cuyahoga Valley National Park that we are about to complete our quest to visit the 58 national parks. “Oh no,” says he. “As of last week there is a new one,” and off we go to Pinnacles.

My sister and brother-in-law join us for this adventure. Pinnacles, a combination of volcanic and sedimentary rock, is part of a 23-million-year-old volcano 195 miles to the southeast near Los Angeles. The giant San Andreas Fault split the volcano, and the western part crept north, carrying the rock pinnacles.

The Junior Canyon loop trail from the west side of the park winds up to the top and goes back down a different way. It’s like a Disney ride with every imaginable feature squeezed in along the way: huge rock formations, backlit trees, tunnels through huge rock formations, narrow boards bridging rock ravines, rickety steep metal steps with a surprise lake at the top, scenic vistas from the top and the pièce de resistance: California condors with 10-foot wingspans circling at the summit.

I could walk this 4.2-mile trail every day and never get tired of it. It’s spectacular. In fact, I recommend this as my #1 favorite hike in all the parks… really!

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Yosemite
California, July 2014

“No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir. For me it’s about soaring trees, high waterfalls, huge granite walls, snow, meadows, the intimate valley and my memories. This is my home stomping ground for national parks.

We have been here before with our children, but this time we include our four grandchildren. It’s our victory lap celebration, as well as our 50th wedding anniversary. We expect it to be hot and jammed, and it is. However, somehow visitors have a reverence for this place and it‘s very peaceful, like being in a magic bubble. For four days we play in the valley on the river, in the visitor centers, on the trails and on the boulders. Part of the family goes rock climbing in the high country.

For me there is a heart-stopping “Aha!” moment. Part of our three-generation group drives up to Glacier Point (elev. 7,214 ft.) overlooking the valley. As we drive around a corner we are suddenly up close and personal with the iconic Half Dome (think Ansel Adams). There it is, at eye level across the valley, it is so close. I can’t take my eyes off old Half Dome. It pulls me with an irresistible force. I am speechless! I can still conjure up that moment.

As we leave Yosemite, our oldest grandchild, Jason (then 12) names his three favorite things: the lazy inner tube float through the valley on the Merced River, rock climbing in the high country and (be still my heart) the live, one-man John Muir show. I know he gets it.

Our thirteen-year adventure took us to unimaginable places in our own country, in many cases far off the beaten track. Whether the park was one of the biggies or something like Hot Springs, Arkansas (my first time in the state), Great Basin in Nevada (a five-hour drive across the Great Salt Lake desert at night), or Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (a two-hour drive west from Bismarck past oil wells and sunflower fields), I can remember every one by some unique experience. That is, as we checked parks off our list, we discovered, often by accident, so much about our own glorious country that we never knew!

So, “just do it.” Make plans, but don’t schedule every minute, something better might turn up, like a California condor, a sandstorm, a yin-yang experience or an in-your-face Half Dome. If you need extra incentive, take your kids or grand kids.

Read Part 1 of Sue Klein’s National Park adventure! 

Start your own National Park Adventure by visiting Our Land at the Akron Art Museum and the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

 

This Land is Your Land… (finding photographs on the run) Part 1 of 2

Editor’s note: Akron Art Museum board member Sue Klein has visited—and photographed—every single one of the national parks. She wrote the following account of her journeys for the Garden Club of America’s Focus magazine. The GCA generously granted permission to republish Klein’s article in conjunction with Our Land, an exhibition of photographs of areas under the management of the National Park Service. Organized in celebration of the centennial anniversary of the NPS, Our Land is on display through February 12, 2017 in the Fred and Laura Ruth Bidwell Gallery.

Wrangell—St. Elias National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Wrangell—St. Elias National Park, photo by Sue Klein

by Sue Klein, Akron Art Museum Board Member

Visiting the national parks took us to some unimaginable places in our own magnificent country. My husband George and I had visited 28 of the national parks when we decide to go for broke and visit all the other 39 (includes three added along the way). To plan our visits, we just figure out how to get there and where to stay and do the rest when we arrive on site. Usually I take a tripod, but rarely, if ever, use it–we are moving light and flexible. I look for the non-iconic shots (but truthfully I do shoot Old Faithfuls and Half Domes). In the following journal just one or two adventures or experiences per park are mentioned. This is only a taste.

Guadalupe Mountains

Texas, April 2003

Way south on the New Mexico border. The mountains are actually part of an ancient marine fossil reef. We find a flat 6.8-mile loop trail (loops are the best) at McKittrick Canyon. Around each corner we discover treasures: a rattlesnake, a tree with alligator bark, squawroot, an unusual cliff and, at the end, a blinding sandstorm. I am like a kid in a candy shop. The sandstorm blows in fast and furious, 80 mph we are told. The white sand piles up along the road like snow.

Everglades

Florida, December 2003

We are mountain people. We tell ourselves this is only a trip to check a park off our bucket list. However, our adventures in the Everglades are pure delight. There are so many short walks, boat rides (motor and self-propelled) and even biking opportunities through different environments: sawgrass, swamp and mangroves by boardwalks, alligator territory and others. Most can be done on our own time. The boardwalk at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is our introduction and I feel like I am squealing as we wander through this amazing swamp, hanging over railings and gawking at the birds, plants, flowers and the general landscape. (It’s actually in a national preserve contiguous to the official Everglades. National parks are often surrounded by other federal lands.) A favorite adventure in Everglades National Park is a moonlight paddle after dinner to see the roseate spoonbills. The pink birds are beautiful as they come into roost with a pink sunset and pink water reflections. On the way back in the dark, our guide shines a flashlight on the water and we see alligator eyes all around us.

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Joshua Tree

California, April 2004

“Rather than be dazzled by man’s accomplishment, you’ll be bewildered by nature,” say our hosts at our desert funk motel. We aren’t particularly interested in deserts. But, then there are the amazing rocks and rock formations. It looks like a playground for kids of all ages. Cacti, succulents and other plants are everywhere. Outrageous flowering plants are in full display. The Mojave and the Colorado deserts abut here. The Colorado is known for the cholla cactus and the Mojave (higher and wetter) is recognized by the Joshua trees. This is prime time on the desert. Look at us, we are now desert people! (FYI, it’s only 157 driving miles to LAX.)

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef National Park, photo by Sue Klein

Capitol Reef

Utah, April 2008

Capital Reef is Mother Nature on steroids. The reef is actually a “giant, sinuous wrinkle in the earth’s crust stretching for 100 miles” north and south, according to the park service. At first I love the huge-sized rocks, formations and jagged shapes. There is intense color, texture, layers, energy and chaos here. But after a few hours, I long for something peaceful, softer and soothing. I want out. We follow a dirt road outside and around the park, with less drama and lots of quiet beauty. Ahh, it feels better, and I immediately relax. A friend later explained to me that this was a yin and yang experience. That is I went too far, yang (chaos and jagged) and I needed to balance this with yin (rounded and calm). Bottom line, these parks really jiggle all the things I love, over-stimulating sometimes, but a thrill.

Saguaro

Arizona, April 2008

This park is divided into two parts, separated by the city of Tucson. We spend the night here in the 1930s Arizona Inn, a classic Spanish-style place… very high class for our national park adventures that usually run more to tents, Hampton Inns, and 1930s cabins (with one double bed and a bare overhead bulb). We head for Saguaro West and this time I have an agenda. I am looking for an image to enter in the “Joy of Sex” class at a Garden Club of America show. My 105 macro and monopod are with me as I walk along the Cactus Garden Trail. Oh, my gosh! When I focus in on the ripe blooms, it is a virtual porno show. I think I’m blushing. Giggling my way around this Garden of Eden, trying not to be such a prude, I discover a whole new lustful plant world. Mission accomplished.

Measuring up to 50 feet tall and up to 16,000 pounds, the saguaro plant is the largest North American cactus. In some places they covered the landscape like a forest.

Our thirteen-year adventure took us to unimaginable places in our own country, in many cases far off the beaten track. Whether the park was one of the biggies or something like Hot Springs, Arkansas (my first time in the state), Great Basin in Nevada (a five-hour drive across the Great Salt Lake desert at night), or Theodore Roosevelt in North Dakota (a two-hour drive west from Bismarck past oil wells and sunflower fields), I can remember every one by some unique experience. That is, as we checked parks off our list, we discovered, often by accident, so much about our own glorious country that we never knew!

So, “just do it.”  Make plans, but don’t schedule every minute, something better might turn up, like a California condor, a sandstorm, a yin-yang experience or an in-your-face Half Dome. If you need extra incentive, take your kids or grand kids.

Check back in a week for Part 2 of Sue Klein’s National Park adventure! 

Start your own National Park Adventure by visiting Our Land at the Akron Art Museum and the nearby Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Snack Recipes

by Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

While conducting studio visits in preparation for Snack, which runs through September 3 in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery, conversation inevitably meandered toward the edible. Pizza, milk, tater tots and deviled eggs are just a few of the foodstuffs that came up for discussion. With those exchanges in mind, I invited participating artists to submit recipes for the museum blog. To my delight, Brandon Juhasz and Kristen Cliffel responded with lists of ingredients and instructions for foods with strong conceptual links to their works in the exhibition. Brandon sent along an over-the-top how-to video for what is perhaps best described as a meat mass. (Vegetarians and vegans: consider yourself forewarned.) Kristen, whose experience as a wife and mother inspired her sculpture The Dirty Dozen, shared a recipe for her son’s favorite birthday cake.

Epic Meal Time’s TurBacon “A bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a bird in a pig”
Submitted by Brandon Juhasz

Brandon Juhasz, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, 2011, Inkjet print, 24 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Brandon Juhasz, What I Want To Be When I Grow Up, 2011, Inkjet print, 24 x 16 in. Courtesy of the artist.

My work is really a satire on consumption as well as a metaphor for the body and existence—the mortal coil, if you will. I hope that the viewer is both attracted to as well as repulsed by the picture. Often times those two emotions go hand in hand with the experience of desire. The overwhelming control that desire can have is also something that went into the making of this picture.

With that in mind I want to share this video.


I couldn’t find the recipe transcribed but this video has stuck with me since I first saw it 2 years ago.
Enjoy!!
—Brandon Juhasz

Chocolate Cake, Frosting and Bourbon Cocktail
Submitted by Kristen Cliffel

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen, 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen, 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

My son’s favorite birthday cake is the traditional Hershey’s chocolate cake. The recipe is from the back of the cocoa tin. I’ve been using it for years. I modify the frosting to be one that he loves and usually will do something jazzy on top, depending on where his interests are that year.

I always feel like a child’s birthday is also a celebration and a sort of congratulatory event for the parents as well—successfully bringing the child to that moment in life.

The artist’s son with his favorite birthday cake. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The artist’s son with his favorite birthday cake. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traditional Hershey’s Chocolate Cake: From the Tin of Cocoa

First, get your oven hot. 350 F is what they recommend.

Now cut some parchment circles for your cake pans—very important. I like to use three 8” pans so my cake is nice and high when I layer it up with frosting.

Butter and cocoa the cake pans.

Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl:
2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup cocoa
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Sift these ingredients so they are well mixed and the particles are happy together.

Another bowl. Now for the wet stuff:
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons good vanilla, like Madagascar (vanilla bean paste is good too)
1 cup boiling water… I know. Boiling water, but it works…

OK, mix all the wet ingredients except for the water… mix them and then add to the dry mix and mix for a couple minutes.

When this is all mixed well, add the boiling water and mix. It will be soupy. Don’t worry.

Pour into your prepared pans and put into your hot oven. Bake for 30 minutes or so … check with a toothpick.

Cool cakes completely. They will pop out nicely because of your diligence with the parchment and cocoa/butter in pans.

Frost when completely cool. This is the fun part!

Chocolate cake by Kristen Cliffel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Chocolate cake by Kristen Cliffel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Frosting: Malted Belgian Chocolate (From another cake recipe—not mine. I just hijacked it for this cake.)

One pound butter
4 cups powdered sugar
3/4 cups Ovaltine malted powder
Pinch of salt
8 ounces Belgian chocolate chopped, melted over a double boiler and cooled
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Whip your butter and sugar together for a minute or so…nice and fluffy.

Add the malt, vanilla salt and beat on low for a bit.

Now add the melted and cooled chocolate and beat until smooth … 2 minutes or so.

OK, now add the whipping cream and beat on high for a minute or two.

This is the most lovely frosting for this chocolate cake!!!! Have fun frosting and decorating it. This is really the best part. This frosting is best in winter due to the whipping cream added. If it’s a summer birthday, make sure you have air-conditioning.

Enjoy!

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen (detail), 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Kristen Cliffel, The Dirty Dozen (detail), 2010, Low fire clay, glaze, lustre, wood and Lucite, 32 x 23 x 23 in. Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Gift of the artist in honor of Mitchell D. Kahan 2012.102 a-n.

Winter Manhattan

I like to put some cloves and a cinnamon stick in the bourbon for at least a couple of hours before serving. Strain out the cloves and cinnamon and then mix your cocktail.

1-1/2 jiggers of bourbon. Don’t be cheap. Use something nice like Maker’s Mark.
1/2 jigger of sweet vermouth
2 nice cherries, luxardo or make your own (steep them in ginger and bourbon overnight)
Bitters of your choice. I like orange for this drink.
Orange peel for garnish and rim

Ok, so you put your ice in the glass, get ready… Mix two of these for sure, I hope you are sharing with someone.

Pour your bourbon and your vermouth into a shaker, add bitters. Stir and swirl around the glass gently.

Garnish your ice with the cherries on the toothpick. Rim your glass with the orange peel. Pour the cocktail into the glass, over the cherries.

Place your orange peel inside the glass but sticking up a bit.

Toast to the other person across from you. Enjoy!!!

—Kristen Cliffel

Stephen Tomasko’s Fairgrounds

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

This season marks Stephen Tomasko’s seventh summer photographing county fairs throughout Ohio. Three of the artist’s untitled photographs of foodstands appear in Snack, which runs through September 3 in the Judith Bear Isroff Gallery. The Akron Art Museum blog chats with Tomasko about his current work as well as projects the artist pursues far from the fairgrounds.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2013, 18 x 12 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Akron Art Museum: Fair season seems to really pick up in August. Which fairs do you plan to visit this month?

Stephen Tomasko: August is amazing for fairs. I’ll definitely hit the Ohio State Fair. The county fairs are all over the place this month. On my schedule is Columbiana, Medina, Holmes, Cuyahoga, Lake, Lorain, Portage and the amazing Canfield fair at the very end of the month. There are some other good ones as well which I may fit in if time allows.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2012, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Do you see the same vendors at different fairs?

I do see many of the same vendors and carnival game operators at different fairs over the course of the season. Many of them are quite supportive and have a real interest in what I’m doing as they see their way of life as a disappearing piece of history and want to see it documented and remembered. The people with the games, in particular, are full of stories from their travels and the past: How far a particular game has traveled over the years, how old their metal milk bottles are, various bits of carny history, scams they have seen over the years, stuff like that. Also once you get to know some people over time you hear more about their own past and what their families are up to and how they got on the road. It seems that, like making art, once you get the traveling fair bug some people get pulled in and never get out. It can be an obsession as well as a lifestyle choice.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series I’m so Happy I’m Happy!, 2013, 12 x 18 in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

You tend to photograph in crowded, chaotic situations—county fairs, tailgate parties, outside of the Republican National Convention. What attracts you to those environments?

I am really interested in the crowded and chaotic lately, especially those groups that are formed around a shared interest or passion as opposed to, say, everyone on the sidewalk heading from work at the same time because it’s rush hour. I’m fascinated by what it is that makes people identify with a group enough to show up and join and dress a certain way and act a certain way. What drives people to spend all the time and effort to buy or make the stuff to fit in and stand out?

Also, with a certain density of engaged people you get a critical mass where everything gets noticeably intensified. People feed off of one another and really commit to what they are doing, emotions run higher, it’s much louder, even the smells are stronger. These are elements that I want to convey in my work.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Winter Was Hard, 2009, Inkjet print, 11 ¾ in. x 17 ½ in., Collection of the Akron Art Museum, Museum Acquisition Fund 2011.2

It’s not that different from my spring flowering tree work really. I pack those images from edge to edge with blooms and supplement the natural light with very theatrical flash to create an over-the-top, more-real-than-real tableaux and when it works people respond all the time with comments like “It smells like flowers in here!” So what I’m obsessed with doing now is entering into these energized packed places, distilling down the action there into the frame, capturing what it feels like to be there, maybe even reminding you of what it smells like to be in a place like that, not just what it looks like to be there even though that is of primary importance, too.

I think another part of it is that I like to do things that are hard, to make things that have not been done well before. Crowds are hard and these places are a mess. As a small example, the fairs are loaded with big ugly trash cans that will kill an image in a second if you aren’t careful about excluding them. You never notice that they are not there in the prints, but the work would suffer if they were in the image. Making visually coherent and beautiful photographs is a real challenge. My wife always says about these chaotic images “I love to look at the prints, but I wouldn’t want to be there!” They are a fun challenge to make.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series First Place and Our Congratulations, 2011, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

How do your subjects typically respond when they notice they are being photographed?

Photographing in a crowd can be easier to move around and work without people noticing you ahead of the exposure. By the time most people notice they are being photographed, if they notice at all, I have usually made my best shot. The reaction of those who do notice varies a great deal from venue to venue, and sometimes I can’t really figure it out ahead of time. In general, out of all the situations I photograph, the county fairs are toughest. The participants there, even though it is a very public venue and they are “showing at the fair,” tend to be very suspicious of outsiders. I’m not sure if they think I’m from PETA or something, but the reaction is sometimes pretty unpleasant. On the other hand, tailgating at the Muni Lot before Browns games is a blast. Sure I’ve got to clean beer off my camera almost every game, but the reaction of my subjects to being singled out and noticed is almost always very positive. I’m constantly offered food and drink.

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

Stephen Tomasko, Untitled from the series Fairgrounds, 2015, 12 x 18in., pigment print, Courtesy of the artist

In the spirit of Snack, I have to ask this last question. What’s your favorite fair food?

I’ve been to so many fairs now that the stuff that is straight up bad for you holds no more interest to me. The deep fried and the sugar doused has long since lost any allure for me. I’m usually looking for something that is good and will sustain me through the summer heat. A best bet for me is to get a ribeye sandwich from the local cattlemen organization at any given fair. That almost always satisfies and usually they will have some fresh sweet corn roasted on that same grill.

NEO Geo Studio Visits

By Theresa Bembnister, Associate Curator

If philosopher Alan Watts is right, and museums are the places art goes to die, then the artist’s studio must surely be the birthplace of a work of art.

For the record: I disagree with Watts. But I do relish the opportunity to see art in its native studio environment, before it’s displayed on the museum’s pristine walls. The context of an artist’s workspace offers clues as to how or why a particular artwork was made.

Studio visits made up a large part of the efforts required to organize NEO Geo. After scoping out an artist’s website, I would set up a studio visit to observe the work and ask questions. Not only did these observations and conversations guide my selections of works to include in the exhibition, but they were integral to gathering key information I could then convey to museum visitors through labels, tours, the brochure and this blog post.

NEO Geo artist Erik Neff

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

Pastel drawings on display in Erik Neff’s studio.

I visited Erik Neff’s studio in Newbury in rural Geauga County in early April and mid-May of last year. A prolific artist, Neff creates pastel drawings on paper in addition to the oil paintings and wooden sculptures selected for NEO Geo.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Small paintings stored in a flat file in Erik Neff’s studio.

Neff’s studio serves a dual role of a place to make and store artwork. His flat file drawer holds examples of the modestly scaled paintings the artist made when his children were younger. Now that they spend their days at school, Neff has more time to devote to larger canvases like the ones you see in NEO Geo.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

Erik Neff’s paintings in their natural habitat.

During my visits, Neff displayed his larger and mid-sized canvases propped up on aluminum cans, leaning against the wall. Neff’s painting Between, which is included in NEO Geo, is on the right of this photograph; the edge of Breakwater is barely visible on the far right.

The studio mascots in the studio.

The studio mascots in the studio.

Neff places his small wooden sculptures, or studio mascots, as he likes to call them, on a wooden bench. Here you see a set of Neff’s pastels in the background, and the wooden stove that heats his studio is visible on the far right. The wooden blocks Neff uses to construct his sculptures would have ended up in the stove if they hadn’t had a visual appeal to the artist, who sets them near his palette and brushes paint on their surfaces from time to time.

NEO Geo artist Paul O’Keeffe

I visited Paul O’Keeffe’s studio, which was specifically designed and constructed for the backyard of his Cleveland Heights home, in mid-March and late June of last year. A beautiful natural light fills his workspace.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

Paul O’Keeffe’s stash of acrylic.

O’Keeffe purchases colored acrylic pieces that are rejects from improperly cut commercial orders. He layers the translucent sheets atop one another, creating new hues in the process.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

The early stage of a distant silence XXX and XXI.

When I visited O’Keeffe in June, he had begun work on his two newest sculptures in the exhibition, a distant silence XXX and XXXI. You can see the skeletons of those two works, which were constructed in part with materials from a botched job for a Victoria’s Secret store.

O’Keeffe’s method of combining individual components comes from an example set by sculptor David Smith. “Years ago, as a student, I came across photos of him laying out individual found metal elements on the floor prior to welding (and also composing with cardboard). My acrylic pieces are generated in a similar fashion although the sensibility is considerably different.”

NEO Geo artist Janice Lessman-Moss

I first visited Janice Lessman-Moss’ Kent studio in mid-March of last year, with a follow up visit at the end of May.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Sketches pinned to the wall in Janice Lessman-Moss’ studio.

Pinned to the wall above her flat file are print-outs of digital sketches for the artist’s Random Walk series. The random walk theory, which is used to explain the unpredictability of the stock market’s rise and fall, serves as inspiration for the patterns that appear in works in this series, which Lessman-Moss weaves on a digital jacquard loom in her studio. None of the Random Walk weavings are on display in NEO Geo, but the work visible on the right in the above photograph, #420, is part of the series of tapestries created at the same industrial mill in North Carolina where the textiles in NEO Geo were woven.

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

Janice Lessman-Moss’ “crayon box.”

On the opposite wall hangs what Lessman-Moss refers to as her “crayon box,” a tapestry that doubles as a palette for the colors the artist creates by instructing the industrial digital loom to weave threads in a particular order. She set up a corresponding digital palette in Photoshop, the program she uses to create her designs before transferring them into files for the digital loom using software called Pointcarre.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the "crayon-box" during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Janice Lessman-Moss sharing the “crayon box” during her talk at the NEO Geo opening reception. Photo: Shane Wynn.

Each of the many, many colors featured in the complex designs of the weavings on display in NEO Geo corresponds to a square on the crayon box. This tool, which hangs on the wall directly above the desk where the artist sits to design her tapestries, provides valuable insight into the work’s creation—insights best obtained through visits to the artist’s studio, the birthplace of the works of art.

Find out more about NEO Geo, on view at the Akron Art Museum through April 24, 2016. • View the NEO Geo exhibition catalog online.

Visual Artists Direct Music Videos

By Elizabeth Carney, Assistant Curator

Music videos offer an incredible opportunity for pop culture and visual art to collide. Artists who we would typically see represented in museums or galleries often collaborate with musicians, lending their aesthetic as visual interpretation for their songs.

Besides often being quite fun, these crossover collaborations offer insights into the connections artists see between their work and music others are creating. And, as viewers, we get to see those connections and original interpretations. This is part of why I like Sam Taylor-Wood’s video for Elton John’s song “I Want Love,” and decided to include it in Staged, a photography/video exhibition on view at the Akron Art Museum through September 27.

First of all, the musician: Elton John. The song has all the makings for a good pop tune—drama, melodrama, sadness, angst, regret, self-deprecation, bared emotions, desire—and is tightly laced with the singer’s huge celebrity.

Next, the director: Sam Taylor-Wood (aka Sam Taylor-Johnson). Known for photograph and video work, Taylor-Wood has exhibited her art in at several museums. London’s National Portrait Gallery commissioned her portrait of David Beckham, a video in which the football star is depicted sleeping. John approached her for “I Want Love,” and she knew the video should be a single shot of someone (but not Elton) lip-syncing the words to the song.

Last but not least, the talent: Robert Downey, Jr. Elton John thought of Downey for this role, but wondered whether the actor would take the job. Downey had struggled for many years with drug addiction, and his wife had just left him and taken their son. John wondered if the song would hit too close to home, with lyrics such as “I want love, but it’s impossible / A man like me, so irresponsible / A man like me is dead in places / Other men feel liberated.” But Downey accepted.

A few more examples of music videos directed by primarily visual artists:

1. Yoshitomo Nara: “Banana Chips” by Shonen Knife

Shonen Knife is an all-women Japanese punk-pop band formed in the 1980s (“Shonen” translates to “boy,” by the way; “Boy Knife”). The song is so simple and fun, it makes me smile on its own, but the video makes me love it.

Yoshitomo Nara is an artist I’ve known for a long time. Also Japanese, he draws, paints and sculpts anime-like figures that are adorable at the same time they seem to be drowning in their own ennui. Hugely influenced by music, he’s a fan of the band. He designed the cover of their 1998 album Happy Hour and also created a 3D animated video for “Banana Chips.”

Not enough animated punk pop for you? Shonen Knife covered “Daydream Believer” by the Monkees—and Nara made the video.

2. Takashi Murakami: “Good Morning” by Kanye West

Mentioning Nara tends to bring up Murakami, another well-known contemporary Japanese artist whose work is infused with anime culture. Murakami collaborated with Kanye West to create this animated video. It is rather fun to see West portrayed as an adorable bear cartoon. Murakami also designed the cover for West’s Graduation album.

Kanye West has expressed his love of great anime films, so it’s no real surprise that his music reflects that interest—his single “Stronger” is accompanied by a video (by Hype Williams) inspired by the Japanese anime Akira.

3. Allison Schulnik: “Ready, Able” by Grizzly Bear (2009)

This is a recent find for me. I came across this video in an exhibition of animation art called Screen Play at the Albright-Knox Gallery in Buffalo, NY (open through September 13). Projected on a wall, the visuals were almost overwhelming at first—figures in clay melt and reform themselves in grotesque movements of color and ambiguous body parts. The song is very soothing, however, and I find myself endeared to the odd forest creatures that move about and sing forlornly.

Interestingly, this video was labeled differently when on view in the gallery exhibition. There, it was titled Forest.

Grizzly Bear is an indie-rock band from New York. Their other music videos are similarly compelling, sometimes grotesque, always of high production quality. Nice music, too.

4. Robert Longo: “Bizarre Love Triangle” by New Order (1986)

I must say, this is one of my favorite 80s songs, but I only recently watched the video and learned it had been directed by Robert Longo. The video features a falling man in a suit, a theme that Longo investigated in depth in his Men in the Cities series of photographs.

Longo directed a number of other music videos as well, including “The One I Love” by R.E.M., “Boy (Go)” by the Golden Palominos and “Peace Sells” by Megadeath.

New Order has made several other collaborative music videos, including “Blue Monday” directed by William Wegman and Robert Breer—yes, it includes Wegman’s iconic weimaraners.

5. Andy Warhol: “Hello Again” by The Cars (1984)

Andy Warhol absolutely loved celebrity and pop culture, and was deeply a part of it as a multimedia artist. His video work was fascinating. I wouldn’t by any means classify this music video for a song by The Cars as one of Warhol’s best, but it is interesting to see what he came up with for this TV-destined collaboration with one of the hot bands of the time. That is indeed Warhol playing the part of the bartender, by the way.

6. Damien Hirst: “See the Light” by The Hours

Slightly disturbing in content, just like much of Hirst’s artwork. Hirst was artistic director for this music video, which includes elements you might have found in the major exhibition of his work that circulated a few years ago. You may know him from his (in)famous 1991 sculpture, The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, a shark suspended in a formaldehyde tank. Other work involves medicine cabinet-like sculptures and various animal parts.

In this video, a woman inserts herself into the showcases of a fashion store, which take on an eerie clinical quality. It seems a bit melodramatic at the same time it is serious, with heightened emotions and metaphors that typify many music videos—making it an excellent ending to this brief list.

Did I miss a favorite artist-directed music video? Tell us in a comment.