On Sketchbooks and The Sketchbook Show at the Nave Gallery

I love sketchbooks. As a tool readily available to anyone, sketchbooks are important in documenting the growth and development of an artist; they allow for experimentation and exploration of ideas that may or may not produce a completed or more meaningful work later on. Sketchbooks are the subject of an exhibit at the Nave Galley Annex and as one might expect from an exhibit of this nature, there are some sketchbooks and then there are pages torn out of sketchbooks. As the sketchbook enthusiast that I am, the latter hurt my eyes, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

Curators Ellien Laramee-Byers and Rachel Mello write in their curatorial statement that “what distinguishes sketchbook work from other artist’s works is the sense of a thought being puzzled out, a problem being explored.” I agree in that most, if not all the work in a sketchbook give one a sense of the ideas that emerge out of the creative process—ideas that haven’t yet blossomed into something worth presenting to the public. I’d go as far in saying that much (for the most part) of the work in a sketchbook may not be ideal for exhibiting or even selling, but as I wandered through the exhibit on two different occasions, I kept asking myself, “why would someone sell a page torn out of a sketchbook if it’s something so personal and close to the creative process?” My answer, of course, lies in the call-for-work, which specifically asks those submitting to the exhibit to remove pages from their sketchbooks because “sketches will be displayed statically; visitors will not be able to flip through books.”

That observation out of the way, there are some outstanding sketchbooks in this show ranging in size and quality and some coming from artists with diverse practices.


Gary Hawkins, Sketchbook Drawing, Ink and Washi Tape. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Five in a series of eleven sketchbooks by poet and artist Gary Hawkins are on view in this year’s show and they’re all very impressive. Hawkins documents his daily 15-minute drawing-and-writing practice, resulting in a wonderful juxtaposition of text on one page and drawings—all done with ink and washi-the traditional Japanese paper (tape in this case)—on the facing page.

Catherine Aiello’s accordion-like sketchbook is another swoon-worthy work. Completed in 2011 while on a 10-day trip to Cuba, Aiello sketched her way through Havana and Pinar del Rio using ink and watercolor, capturing the colors and energy of a country at the verge of another social and political change.

There are twenty-five artists in the show and from what I could tell, many submitted pages from multiple sketchbooks. Among some of the artists whose work I wish I’d seen in a sketchbook rather than on pages torn out of it include Daria Theodora, Bryan Ramey, Lisa Kraase and one of the show’s curators Rachel Mello. Illustrator Daria Theodora’s work recalls the flowing, elegant and graceful lines characteristic of Art Nouveau aesthetics as well as Japanese woodblock prints.  Using fountain pen, colored pencils and ink, Theodora’s highly stylized flowers, gingko leaves and animals appear to burst out of the page.

Bryan Ramey’s work—like Theodora’s—is also characterized by fluid, elegant lines, however Ramey executes his lines with much more restraint, capturing the surreal and dream-like tendencies his drawings often convey.

Lisa Kraase’s sketches are some of the most colorful and most memorable in the show. At times spilling over two pages, the repetitive cosmic-like diagrams on view are in Kraase’s own words, “borderline obsessive.” I’d love to flip through one of Kraase’s sketchbooks and obsessed over her drawings.

The sketches of Rachel Mello depict much of the artist’s surroundings wherever she may be at a given point in time. Using ink, watercolor, pen and sometimes graphite, the artist takes her viewers on a stroll around the neighborhood, zooming in on architectural details of houses or zooming out on a section of a street or public square.


View from the Morrisville, VT Hospital, watercolor & brush pen on paper; 7″ x 5″ Image Courtesy of the Artist.

There are so many more sketchbook pages worth drooling over including those by Hannah Earley’s and her incredibly detailed studies of MBTA passengers as well as Tony Astone’s stunning comic book renderings—many left in pencil and others inked in, allowing the viewer to peek into his process.

Going back to my comment on pages torn out of sketchbooks, I understand that last year’s sketchbook show was curated and hung the same way as this year’s show, but what if a different approach in exhibiting sketchbooks is taken? More specifically, I am referring to The Sketchbook Project in New York City and how they organize and exhibit their more than 30,000 sketchbooks in their collection. The Sketchbook Project gives people the opportunity to browse and flip through an artist’s sketchbook cover to cover truly gaining a broader sense of an artist’s work and process. I find this approach much more fulfilling in that I can walk away with a better understanding of who the artist behind a certain sketchbook is and how they tackled a certain challenge or problem page after page. But that is just me, your approach in looking at a sketchbook may be different from mine and that is OKAY.

The annual Sketchbook Show is on view until March 03, 2016 at the Nave Gallery Annex, 53 Chester St in Davis Square (next to Redbones).

Shattering Stereotypes at the Peabody Essex Museum’s Native Fashion Now Exhibit

The Peabody Essex Museum is no stranger to mounting thought provoking exhibitions on Native American Art. Thanks in part to its favorable location in Salem and to the elite members of the East India Marine Society—the Peabody Essex’s founding institution—who began amassing much of the museum’s 20,000 works made by Native Americans, the museum is now home to oldest-ongoing collection of Native American art in the United States.

In recent years, exhibitions such as Intersections, Native American Art in a New Light and Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art, have shattered many stereotypes and preconceived ideas of what Native American art is or should be.

Currently on view at the museum is Native Fashion Now, a survey of contemporary Native American fashion spanning the last 60 years. Billed as the first large-scale exhibit of its kind, I had been looking forward to Native Fashion Now since December 2011 when Curator of Native American Art and Culture, Karen Kramer first hinted at it during the press preview for her excellent exhibit Shapeshifting

Organized into themes, the nearly 100 garments and accessories on view illustrate the vitality and creativity of Native American artists and designers. While it is an exhibit about the work of Native American artists, select pieces by non-native designers such as Isaac Mizrahi, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan are smartly integrated within these themes, commenting on how these designers have been influenced by traditional Native American design motifs and cultures.

There were many statement pieces in the exhibit such as Isaac Mizrahi’s iconic “Totem Pole Dress” and David Gaussoin and Wayne Nez Gaussoin’s “Postmodern Boa,” but it was the shoes that made a lasting impression on me (of course, being me, it had to be the shoes!). Among the shoes in the exhibit, Jamie Okuma’s boots by Christian Louboutin are the most exquisite for their color combination and delicate craftsmanship. Hand-stitched by Okuma herself with antique 1880s glass beads creating a bold design inspired by motifs common to Western tribal communities. Nicholas Galanin’s hand-made shoes of leather and engraved with copper armor detail on the quarter of the shoe are another standout in the exhibit, along with Louie Gong’s Converse “Spirit Wolf” Chuck Taylors.


Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock). Boots, 2013–14. Glass beads on boots designed by Christian Louboutin. Museum commission with support from Katrina Carye, John Curuby, Dan Elias and Karen Keane, Cynthia Gardner, Merry Glosband, and Steve and Ellen Hoffman, 2014.44.1AB. © 2015 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Walter Silver.

The exhibit does not disappoint and surprised me in ways unexpected. I think the biggest surprise for me was the entrance to the exhibit gallery, which really sets the tone for the rest of the show. With the unconventional designs of Patricia Michaels, Project Runway’s Season 11 runner-up, the moment one walks into this first gallery is the moment our preconceived notions of what Native American fashion is are shattered.

Native Fashion Now is on view at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA until March 6, 2016. It will then travel to the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, OR, the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK and finally, the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City, so if you’re traveling to any of these cities, you’ll have to catch the show there, that’s if you’re unable to see it at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Desert Heat-2

Orlando Dugi (Diné [Navajo]) Cape, dress, and headdress from “Desert Heat” Collection, 2012 Paint, silk, organza, feathers, beads, and 24k gold; feathers; porcupine quills and feathers Courtesy of the designer, Santa Fe. Hair and Makeup: Dina DeVore. Model: Julia Foster. Photo by Unék Francis.


David Gaussoin and Wayne Nez Gaussoin (Diné [Navajo])/Picuris Pueblo) Postmodern Boa, 2009 Stainless steel, sterling silver, enamel paint, and feathers Courtesy the designers Courtesy of the designers and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. Model: Tazbah Gaussoin.


The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem is one New England museum determined to keep up with the times. Always thinking outside of the box…wait…forget the box—the Peabody Essex Museum doesn’t even need a box—the museum has added a podcast to their already marvelous blog Connected. The museum’s blog, which was launched in the summer of 2013, is a window into the inner workings of an art institution. Connected acts as an extension of the Peabody Essex’s educational programming as well as a platform for the Museum’s docents and staff to express their thoughts and experiences with current and past exhibits as well as objects in the museum’s collection. The blog also allows curators to document and reflect on their explorations and travels, but the possibilities are endless when it comes to the Peabody Essex. I’ve been following the blog ever since I wrote about it for Big Red & Shiny two years ago and it’s been a wonderful experience reading and learning about a wide range of topics including Japanese books (this post is found in The Conversant, the blog of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum) or the re-interpretation of the Ropes Mansion—one of the historic houses in the museum’s architecture collection.

Joining other fellow podcasting museums such as the National Portrait Gallery’s Face-to-Face, the Metropolitan Museum, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston and their podcasts of classical music—PEMcast has already featured a range of interesting topics. Their latest podcast is about public art, something the Peabody Essex knows a thing or two and features artist and arts reporter Greg Cook, the work of Patrick Dougherty, Theo Jansen and David Yann Robert and others.

Museums in general, but especially those in the Boston area are often slow in embracing new and emerging technologies, but the Peabody Essex Museum has been at the forefront of this technological wave. My hope is that other museums in the area continue to experiment with blogging and podcasting like the Peabody Essex and use their experts to shed new light on their collections and research.


The talk on social media today is not last night’s Iowa Caucus—but how 18 New York City museums have swapped Instagram accounts for one day—at least, as far as Museum Twitter goes that is. New York museums, who are always innovative when it comes to their social media presence, have swapped their Instagram accounts to explore each other’s collections and architecture. While a bit crazy, this project may in the long run show that a collaborative effort like the #museuminstaswap can open the doors to new audiences and promote a fun and positive public image. If anything, it definitely lets us know that it’s okay to let your guard down once in a while and have some fun while at it, promoting each other’s collections and work.

This can work in Boston, but first, many of the area’s museums need an Instagram account. Can you picture the Gardner Museum swapping Instagram accounts with Historic New England (I’ve just been told HNE is on Instagram, but only has one post. @HistoricNewEngland) or the Museum of Fine Arts swapping accounts with the Peabody Essex Museum? Or The West End Museum taking over the Metropolitan Waterworks Museum? I can. Bostonians almost never get to see museums in their city communicating with each other through their social media accounts, but an initiative like the #museuminstaswap, which originated in London last year, can change that.

Click on the #museuminstaswap link to see the participating museums.

I think we need to do this, Boston.