Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wines I'm Making: Labels for the 2013 Cabernet

Just finished designing labels for our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc. I added the words "10th Anniversary Vintage," as this is our tenth wine from the little backyard vineyard we planted in 2001. We made our first wine in 2004.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Miscellaneous: Kitty Knows Best

Cats always find the coolest spot in the house or garden in the summer. In winter, they always find the warmest spot. If our cat, Milo, isn't curled up on someone's bed, he's always outside. In the hot summer months he sleeps under tall bamboo clumps in the side yard. In the cold, wet months he's just as likely to be outside. When I pull into the driveway at this time of year, he often hops up onto the hood of the car and sleeps there until the engine cools. Sleep is good anywhere the temperature is right.

Wines I'm Making: Bottling and Racking (December 19, 2014)

Busy yesterday and today doing wine chores. I bottled our 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc yesterday. We made 40 bottles in 2013, which is fairly normal, although in a small harvest year like 2014, we make only about 25 bottles. 2013 was our tenth vintage. I've just designed a label. I'll be taking it down to the printers to be printed this afternoon.

This morning I racked and sulfited the 2014 Cabernet wine, which has been undergoing malolactic fermentation since the middle of October. I didn't bother to test it. I'm assuming the fermentation is finished. I also racked and sulfited the 2014 rosé from our Sangiovese grapes. As usual, racking was a breeze. A layer of tartaric acid crystals always forms over the lees in this wine (below), which means there's no danger of picking up unwanted sediment during racking. Next I will have to design labels for the rosé. I also have a hard cider fermentation ready for bottling, but that will have to wait until another day.


Monday, December 15, 2014

Rain: Yet more rain (December 15, 2014)

It rained much of last night and most of today (December 15, 2014). There's another 1.1 inches in the rain gauges this afternoon. That brings our total for the 2014-2015 rain year to 16.40 inches--now well above normal, but it's still early and we haven't by any means made up for the drought of the past two years. That said, this is good. Let it keep it up.

[Update: Another 0.2 inches overnight. Our total as of the morning of the 16th was thus 16.6 inches.]

[Update: By the morning of December 18, we had had another 1.25 inches of rain at my location, bringing our total to 17.85 inches. Right now the forecast is for more rain tomorrow and again on Saturday, December 20.]

[Yet another update: As of the evening of the 19th, we had received another 0.85 inches. Total now stands at 18.70 inches.]

[There's more: As of the 21st, we'd added another 0.35 inches. It just keeps raining--which is great. We need it. People are even beginning to get tired of it. Total is now 19.05 inches at my location.]

Friday, December 12, 2014

Art I'm Looking at: San Francisco--Keith Haring: The Political Line at the De Young

Two sharply contrasting exhibits are now featured attractions at the main venues of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco--the De Young Museum and the Legion of Honor. I visited both recently, starting at the De Young to see Keith Haring: The Political Line, a show  highlighting Haring's political activism. I enjoyed seeing the very large sample of work presented but kept wondering what fraction of his production might be called political. A little more context would have been helpful. Given the short period he was active (about twelve years, from 1978 to 1990) and the large number of works on display, my guess is that most of his work was politically motivated, particularly toward the end of his life, when his AIDS diagnosis spurred him and his growing fame had given him an international platform.

Motivation and message aside, what's clear from looking at this art is that Haring lived his short life at a fast pace. The work exudes energy. The zig-zag lines children use to depict lightning or electricity when they draw would not be out of place here. Garish, unmodulated hues; clashing colors set side by side; strong contrasts; angular, heavily outlined shapes; and "lines of motion" borrowed from the vocabulary of comic book artists all contribute. Influences are numerous and diverse. Mayan art, quilts, aboriginal art, graffiti art, the Nazca lines, comic books, advertising art, the chalk corpse outlines of Hollywood movies, writhing Boschian hells, and technological hells where demonic robots reign over electronic gadgets come to mind when looking at Haring's work. Yet, the work is always immediately identifiable as Haring's. This dialectical component is apparent also in the way his images operate on the level of pictographs--simple, symbolic, overtly didactic, and quickly absorbed on the one hand--yet remaining cryptic and baffling at the same time. Haring's is a language encountered in an anxiety dream; we feel we should know the language--and we recognize some of its words--but don't fully understand the meaning. The result is a lingering unease. Although there are political messages embedded in much of the work, Haring rarely gave his work titles--again leaving the viewer somewhat off balance. Without the direction provided by a title, it's often difficult to be entirely sure what Haring intended, despite his use of direct, icon-like pictorial elements (sometimes evocative of pictorial road signs or Olympic event symbols). That said, the work is not entirely without humor. There is joy in some of the dancing figures, a vitality in the glowing babies, and Andy Mouse (which does have a title) simultaneously pokes fun at Walt Disney and Andy Warhol; it made me laugh out loud (1985, private collection; detail above). A panel full of cartoon-like penis drawings from a sketchbook, many accompanied by diary-like entries indicating where the artist was when he made them, was funny too.

Haring's line is deft but un-nuanced. It sometimes leaves me cold, but I was impressed by the consistent confidence of its execution, whether in ink on paper, chalk on expired subway ad space, or in vinyl paint on a tarpaulin. I examined the works very closely. Nowhere is there any evidence of preparatory work--no sketching, no planning. Each piece appears to have been an unrehearsed improvisation, drawing on an ever-evolving vocabulary of signs and symbols, many recurring over and over again--barking dogs, crawling babies, snake-like creatures, robots, angular dancers, angels, crosses, bats, figures with holes in them, flying saucers, penises, electronic gadgets, and figures with Xs instead of brains.

The early subway drawings in the show were intriguing. These are perhaps the quintessential Haring. It was the subway drawings in chalk that earned him his first widespread recognition. They seem the most genuine expression of his gift. They were done quickly, as ephemeral performance pieces, in the platform time between connecting trains. They were done knowing the activity was technically illegal and might result in a fine (drawings on the blank panels were considered graffiti) and, like a graffiti artist, Haring made them knowing they wouldn't last, that they might be quickly covered by a new ad or wiped away. I was not alone in wondering how the examples in the show (presumably quite rare) were preserved, as they appear to be in the original metal frames that surrounded the subway advertising spaces they were made in, the whole in each case apparently lifted off the wall. Done in soft chalk, the subway drawings have an affinity with brush-and-ink calligraphy in that the artist has only one chance to get it right. Every hesitation is preserved. There is no going back to make corrections. Remarkably, there is virtually no evidence of hesitation. Perhaps our view of the subway drawings is a necessarily distorted one, based only on a few well-executed extant examples, but other work in the show suggests Haring didn't often hesitate. While some of the later work seems a little too practiced, a little too obvious in its message, a little complacent, I was generally impressed by the show.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Books I'm Reading: The Passenger Pigeon


The word "extinct" came into my consciousness as a child obsessed with dinosaurs in the early 1960s, when we had far fewer dinosaurs to think about than a child does today. The word came shrouded in a pall of utterly final doom overlaid with something giggly because it sounded like "stink," and that was associated in my childish mind with defecation. Extinction seemed absolute and infinite, and the idea of infinity was mind-boggling and dreadful in a vague way I would have been hard-pressed to articulate. Extinction. Death forever. Irretrievable loss. No living examples. The giggly component only made the idea seem more horrible, in the way that a murderous clown is horrible. As an adult, the idea of extinction has become no more fathomable or less fascinating, even if education and reading have greatly multiplied the number of animals and plants I connect with the word "extinct."

I wonder what images first come to mind when the average person hears the word today? By "average person," I mean simply non-biologists--people who do not study extinction or extinct animals. Aside from dinosaurs, I imagine the Dodo and the Passenger Pigeon symbolize extinction for a large number of people. The dinosaurs loom large because they loomed so large--literally--and because the era they dominated was so long ago. The Dodo has become the icon of extinct bird species, probably because of its awkward, comical face coupled with the paradox of flightlessness in a bird; the vulnerability of flightless birds always fascinates. The Passenger Pigeon occupies a special place among extinct species, however, for a number of reasons, and Errol Fuller's book The Passenger Pigeon (Princeton University Press, 2015), published more or less on the 100th anniversary of the Passenger Pigeon's demise, is both an examination of that bird's special qualities and a memorial to its passing.

First among the reasons the passenger pigeon is special is the sheer number of them that once existed. The Passenger Pigeon is believed to have been the most numerous bird on the planet at one time--numbering in the billions, birds blotting out the sun as they moved in miles-long flocks in search of food. The descriptions of Passenger Pigeon flocks quoted in the book are in several cases familiar, but no less dramatic for that. Among these is the well-known description of an anonymous journalist that appeared in the May 20, 1871 issue of the Fond du Lac Commonwealth:

Imagine a thousand threshing machines running under full headway, accompanied by as many steamboats groaning off steam, with an equal number of...trains passing through covered bridges...and you possibly have a faint conception of the terrific roar following the monstrous black cloud of pigeons as they passed in rapid flight...a few feet before our faces...nearly on a level with the muzzles of our guns.... [as quoted by Fuller in The Passenger Pigeon]

And it was these guns--the incessant, rapacious hunting of the birds--along with habitat destruction, that finally led to the Passenger Pigeon's doom. The decline was rapid. Only about 75 years separate the death of the last known bird from descriptions of what appear to have been stable populations (although we will never really know where the tipping point was). By the time people realized the bird was in serious decline, efforts to reverse the trend were far too little far too late.

The case of the Passenger Pigeon is special also because it's recent and well documented. Fuller's chapter headed "The Last Captives" is particularly moving. It's accompanied by rare photographs of the last known birds--not only the most famous among them--Martha, the last of her species, lost to the world on September 1, 1914, at the Cincinnati Zoo. We know the exact date of extinction of only a handful of other species. If the human role in the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon may be excusable to some degree by appeal to a combination of ignorance of the dynamics of extinction and the difficulty there must have been just conceiving of the disappearance of such an abundant animal, the extinction stands as a marker along the road of progress of the collective human consciousness. Before that marker, it is tempting and consoling to make excuses. We knew no better. After the well-recorded event, we can no longer plead ignorance of the human role in species extinction. And, in defining that shift, the Passenger Pigeon is again special.


Fuller's book is not an exhaustive study of the bird's biology, although a short appendix by Julian Pender Hume briefly discusses the bird's anatomy. In his introduction, Fuller himself says "This work is not intended as a textbook or a detailed monograph covering every aspect of Passenger Pigeon research and every known piece of information about the species." He refers the reader to works by William Mershon (1907), Arlie Schorger (1955), and Joel Greenberg (2014) for scholarly appraisals of the Passenger Pigeon, calling his own volume rather a celebration of the bird's existence and a reminder of the fragility of the natural world. Beautifully illustrated, and including an especially attractive section on the Passenger Pigeon in art and books, it serves that purpose well. Another very appealing offering from Princeton University Press. The front jacket illustration, reproduced above in full, is John James Audubon's depiction of a male/female Passenger Pigeon pair from his Birds of North America.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Rain: Storm Rolling In (December 10, 2014)

A predicted storm has moved into the area and we've had heavy rain now for the past couple of hours. It's supposed to last all night and into the late afternoon tomorrow. So far, we've received 1.25 inches of new precipitation. I emptied the rain gauge to help ensure it doesn't overflow overnight--that would now require six more inches of rain, which seems unlikely. As of 10:00PM on the 10th, our total for the 2014-2015 rain year was 9.45 inches, well above normal, but it's early. It's not unusual to have a lot of rain in December and then to return to droughty conditions later in the season. More tomorrow.

[Update: Checking the rain gauge this morning, we have had another three inches of rain overnight. It's still coming down and moderately strong winds buffeted the house all night, but I've seen worse. As of 7:30AM, December 11, our total for the year had risen to 12.45 inches. More later.]

[Update: Twelve hours later (7:30PM on December 11) we've had another 1.65 inches, bringing the total to 14.10 inches for the rain year--now well above normal for this date, but, again, we'll have to see if this becomes part of a sustained trend or proves to be just a one-off string of storms. In any case, the rain is good. Nobody's complaining about it yet.]

[Update: In a lull now, but we had another 0.85 inches overnight on the 11th and the morning of the 12th. Total now (mid-afternoon on the 12th) stands at 14.95 inches.]

Miscellaneous: Why It's Called The Golden Gate

Driving north from San Francisco yesterday I had an opportunity to gaze at the waters between San Francisco and the Marin Headlands, just before sunset. I imagined this place was given the name "Golden Gate" because San Francisco was the gateway to the gold fields during the 19th century California Gold Rush, but I had a simultaneous feeling the name may have preceded gold fever--that this view of the straits bathed in golden light was the source of the name.

Naturally, I looked it up. According to the website of the Golden Gate Bridge Highway & Transportation District, it was Captain John C. Fremont who gave the strait its name, the name we now associate more closely with the bridge across the strait, but he is said to have been inspired not by the view at sunset (or yet-to-be-discovered gold), but by the potential for trade with the East that San Francisco's harbor seemed to represent. He is quoted in 1846 calling the strait "a golden gate to trade with the Orient." According to the same source, the name first appeared in print "in Fremont's Geographical Memoir, submitted to the U.S. Senate on June 5, 1948" [sic--no doubt 1848 was intended]. So, gold, meaning the potential rewards of trade, but surely this view and then the Gold Rush--shortly after Fremont spoke about trade potential--have played a role in associating San Francisco forever with gold. In any case, the name seems wholly appropriate when you see the water gilded by the sun like this, just as golden brown, dormant grasses--in summer the main feature of our natural landscape--seem justification enough for calling California The Golden State.

The bridge, at my back, was visible through light fog.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rain: Another 0.85 inches

Although it was clear today (December 6, 2014), off-and-on rain in the past couple of days has added another 0.85 inches to our annual total. We now stand at 8.20 inches at my location for the 2014-2015 rain year, which is a little more than an inch ahead of normal for this date in Santa Rosa.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Plants I'm Growing: Flowering Cherry (December 4, 2014)

Yesterday, December 4, 2014, the little cherry by the driveway started blooming. I like this plant because, like the camellias, it blooms in the winter, when everything is wet and dreary. This is a cherry whose name I've forgotten, but it looked very pretty yesterday with fresh blossoms in the rain against a backdrop of orange leaves still on the plant.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Art I'm Looking At: "The Art of Collage" on the Art Wall at Shige Sushi (Dec. 6, 2014 - Jan. 31, 2015)

A sushi bar in the middle of downtown Cotati--Shige Sushi (8235 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati, CA 94931 (707) 795-9753)--has recently given me a free hand to curate small art shows on one wall of the restaurant. I've just finished organizing the first show and designing announcements for it--The Art of Collage--which will run from December 6, 2014 to January 31, 2015. There will be a meet-the-artists reception from around 7:00PM on Wednesday, December 17. The show includes collage works by Claude Smith, Sherry Parker and me. Claude's work, using Xerox transfer printing and other monoprinting techniques is bold and gestural in some instances, cryptically narrative in others, but always arresting. Sherry Parker's collages, mostly using found pictorial elements, combine whimsy, the surreal, and an exquisite design sense. I'm looking forward to sharing the work of these outstanding artists with the community and to organizing future shows for the new Art Wall at Shige Sushi.

 

Rain: More Rain (December 2, 2014)

More rain overnight and today so far, as predicted. There was a new 0.75 inches in the rain gauge when I checked it this morning, but it's rained more since then. I hope it keeps going. It looks like this  group of storms will at least bring us up to normal for the current rain year, which began on July 1, 2014 and ends on June 30 2015. The average for this date (December 2) historically is 6.02 inches in Santa Rosa. The more the merrier, though, as we have a substantial cumulative deficit from the past couple of years when rainfall was markedly lower than average.

[Update: As of the evening of the 3rd, we had received 1.5 inches of new rain since reporting the 0.75 inches mentioned above, so a total of 2.25 inches of new rain. That brings our total for the year as of today to 7.35 inches--slightly above average now for the first time this rain year.]

Art I'm Making: New Collages (November, 2014)

I've finished two new collages in the past couple of weeks. Pictured here is Untitled Collage No. 81 (Santa Rosa). This one is rather more boldly colored than usual, using some raspberry-colored paper and the luscious Venetian Red made by Sennelier.

In contrastUntitled Collage No. 82 (Santa Rosa) shown below is mostly in neutral shades, although with accents in a deep grey-blue and in purples. It's an altogether more contemplative piece. It incorporates a few bits of paper with torn edges. I mostly use a paper cutter to get straight edges, but I liked these ragged scraps. I've let one push out below the bottom of the picture edge.

I'll be showing some of my collages in December and January at Shige Sushi, in downtown Cotati, on the new Art Wall there. Come by and meet me and the other artists participating in the show (Claude Smith and Sherry Parker) called "The Art of Collage" on December 17, 2014 at 7:00PM. The show will run from December 6 through the end of January 2015.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Saturday, November 29, 2014

Rain: Much Rain in the Forecast

It's been misting all night and, as I looked out my studio window this morning, a brief, full-on downpour began. How long it will last, I don't know, but there's rain in the forecast for the entire coming week--rain we desperately need. I'm hoping to go to the Santa Rosa Farmer's Market this morning, but I'm happy to have the rain. No complaints. Looking a the rain gauge this morning after the skies cleared, we seem to have had 0.85 inches overnight and in the morning. That brings our total for the 2014-2015 rain year to 4.25 inches--still woefully low, but it was good to get nearly an inch, and more is supposed to be on the way.

[Update: We had more rain (an additional 0.5 inches) overnight on the 29th-30th, bringing the total so far this rain year to 4.75 inches. Later on the 30th, more light rain added 0.35 inches, for a total of 5.10 inches this rain year. Clear today (December 1) but more rain is expected in the next three days.]

Friday, November 28, 2014

Music I'm Listening To: Santa Rosa Symphony Youth Orchestra and Young People's Chamber Orchestra

I attended the November 22 Fall Concert of the Santa Rosa Symphony's Youth Orchestra and Young People's Chamber Orchestra (YPCO). The two groups played with guest artist Lyndsay Deutsch here doing a residency sponsored by the Classics Alive Foundation. The Youth Orchestra is conducted by Richard Loheyde, the YPCO is directed by Aaron Westman. The concert, at the main hall of the Green Music Center, began with performances by the YPCO followed by the Youth Orchestra after intermission. Both programs were ambitious. The Youth Orchestra played the Hoe-down from Aaron Copeland's Rodeo, Beethoven's Egmont Overture, an arrangement of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, "Mars" and "Jupiter" from Holst's The Planets, and "The Russian Sailor's Dance" from The Red Poppy, by Gliere.

The Gershwin was an interesting arrangement by Cristian Macelaru and Howard Cable, commissioned by Lyndsay Deutsch, that makes a violin the main soloist--although the famous opening clarinet solo is left to the clarinet. My son played the opening solo and acquitted himself quite well, I thought. After the concert, Ms. Deutsch told me she's played the piece with several professional orchestras and that my son handled the solo better than some of the professionals she's worked with--which was gratifying to hear--but the entire orchestra played wonderfully. It includes some very talented young musicians.

I had never seen or heard Ms. Deutsch play before, but I was very impressed by her focus and energy on stage, not to mention her gracious and friendly manner off stage. She has real charisma. I expect we'll be hearing more about this young violinist in the future. I took photos during rehearsals at the request of the Youth Orchestra, so I got to hear much of the program from the stage, up close, which was a lot of fun. The photograph above shows Deutsch and Conductor Loheyde discussing the Gershwin in rehearsal. The next concert featuring the Youth Orchestra and the YPCO will be March 6, 2015, with guest artists Trebuchet.      

Serendipitous Art: Parking Garage Spots (November 28, 2014)

The textured floor of a parking garage. An unlikely place to find something that seems so decorative. Everyone likes polka dots, right? Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Miscellaneous: Where Did Throwback Thursday Come From?

I've only recently become aware of the "throwback Thursday" thing people seem to do on Facebook--and elsewhere, I presume. I mostly see pictures of people I knew in college or high school with long hair, looking hopeful, having fun. It got me to wondering where this throwback Thursday idea came from. What is its history?

Above is my contribution for this Thursday--a photo of me in my first apartment in Columbus, Ohio. I found it yesterday while trying to clean up and organize my studio.

I lived for a year at 1350 Highland St., about a block south of King Ave., south of the Ohio State University campus. I had spent the previous year at Webster College, now Webster University, in St. Louis. Behind me on the walls are paintings I had done recently. Above right is a view of the houses across the street on Highland St. Below that is a view of my across-the-street neighbor's house in Dayton, Ohio, a painting I did when in high school. Just behind my head is a self portrait I did in my Webster College dorm room. Some of my Webster friends may remember that one. The large abstract painting to my right (left in the photo) I did in my Webster dorm room as well. The self-portrait is dated 1978. It hangs in my studio today. This photo is probably from about 1981.

[Update: A Google search, naturally, reveals something about the origins of throwback Thursday. Here's an article on the subject.]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Art I'm Making: Two Small Collages

Work has picked up a little, leaving me less time to work on art than I'd like, but I've completed two or three new collages since the end of the Art Trails open studio event. Untitled Collage No. 79 (Santa Rosa) uses red and raspberry-colored mono printed papers I've made set off with a scrap of orange paper from a chocolate bar wrapper. Pictured above.

Untitled Collage No. 80 (Santa Rosa), pictured below, uses umber, black, and a very deep (nearly black) navy blue offset with warm tones. Both collages are small--about four inches square.

Click on the images for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rain: Rain Yesterday and Today is Helping a Little (November 20, 2014)

Rain yesterday and continuing today after a short lull is bringing some relief to the landscape. We've accumulated about an inch in the past 24 hours, but it's still coming down--which is a good thing. We are about 8 inches below normal for the year and have a cumulative deficit of something like 30 inches over the past three years, so everything helps. As of 11AM on November 20 we have had 1.25 inches of rain  in the past couple of days, bringing the total at my location so far in the 2014-2015 rain year (which extends from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015) to 2.95 inches.

[Update: More rain on the evening of the 21st and into the morning of the 22nd has added 0.45 inches of rain, bringing the season total now to 3.40 inches--still well below normal, but every little bit helps.]

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Art I'm Making: An Old New Collage

Once in a while I come across an unused assemblage of shapes and colors that somehow works in juxtaposition with another leftover fragment. This little collage is a pairing of two such fragments from months back. As a result, this new piece has an affinity with work I was doing a while ago. Echoes from the past.

Click on the image for a larger view. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Monday, November 3, 2014

Books I'm Reading: Lawrence of Arabia--A Film's Anthropology

100 years after his activities in the desert during WWI, people are still writing about T.E. Lawrence. He remains a fascinating figure. Most of that writing is biographical. Steven C. Catton's book Lawrence of Arabia: A Film's Anthropology (1999, University of California Press), however, is about the 1962 film directed by David Lean--its conception, its reception, its meaning.

The better you know the film, the more interesting his book will be. I can imagine some of the detailed analysis of individual scenes being hard to follow if they aren't already fairly firmly embedded in memory. Given the time, the best strategy would be to watch the movie, read the book, and then watch the movie again. I suspect even people who know the movie very well will find something new to see in Lawrence of Arabia after reading Caton's analysis from the point of view of an anthropologist, examining the implications of the film's assumptions about other cultures, about colonialism, about class and gender. Caton succeeds in suggesting the film is rather more complex and ambivalent than it may at first seem. He also stresses how important it is to see Lawrence of Arabia as originally edited, arguing that seemingly insignificant details often cut to make a very long film more manageable are essential to understanding what the script writers and Lean intended. Worth a read if you're a fan of the film and want to add another dimension to your appreciation of it.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Wines I'm Drinking: 2005 Arceno Chianti Classico Riserva

A rather deep, more opaque red than Chianti Classico often is, this one showing its age, the color tending toward garnet. Leather, meat, wood, and stewed dark cherries on the nose. There was something about it that put me in mind of a wine made from the Carmenere grape--often meaty and leathery on the nose. I read later that the blend contains a considerable amount of Merlot ( a little under 20%, most of the remainder being Sangiovese), and the addition shows. A hint of cloves on the nose as well. Full-bodied (the wine seems quite alcoholic, although it's a fairly typical 13.5%) with deeply extracted fruit on the attack balanced by good acidity and chewy tannins. Chocolatey on the mid-palate and with a moderately extended finish marked by a hint of cola and bitter almond at the very end. Has character. Delicious, and a bargain at the Rohnert Park Grocery outlet at only $6.99 a bottle. This wine usually retails in the $20-$28 range. I'll be going back for more.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Rain: Finally a Little Rain (October 25, 2014)

Finally--a little rain. Too little, unfortunately, but at least a momentary downpour. It's been raining on and off all day, actually. I just checked the rain gauge and was pleased to find 0.5 inches there. That brings our total so far for the 2014-2015 rain season to 1.45 inches. It's a start.

[Update: On Friday, the 31st, we had another 0.25 inches, bringing the total to 1.70 inches.]

Miscellaneous: I actually Used Pi to Solve a Real-life Problem

In high school, I got it into my head that it would be impressive to memorize the value of π to 100 digits. I don't remember why. It was just one of those things.

I started out with enthusiasm but quickly abandoned the project because of something my girlfriend's mother said as I was attempting to rattle off what I had learned--she questioned the need to memorize 100 digits if my intent was just to impress people. She reasoned that most people probably know the value of π to four or five digits at most. Therefore, she said, it would be more efficient to memorize the first 10 digits or so and then make up the rest because almost no one listening would ever know the difference.

At this remove, I've retained the value of π in my head to nine digits--3.141592635. That seems like plenty to impress and for practical use, and yesterday I used π to solve a real-life problem. I was drilling drainage holes in ceramic pots. I was trying to decide whether it was more efficient to drill three 3/4-inch holes in the bottom of each pot or to drill two one-inch holes. To compare the area opened up by each of the two options I had to know the value of π. Three 3/4-inch holes gives 7.0 square inches of drainage (0.75 x 3π), while two one-inch holes gives 6.3 square inches (2π)--close enough given how hard it is and how long it takes to drill holes in a thick ceramic material. Nine digits was more than enough to do the calculation. Thanks Mrs. Knoll.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rain: Drizzle

Overnight we had a light rain. Rain is good, but it was hardly enough to make any difference. I found only 0.1 inches in the rain gauge this morning. That brings our total for the 2014-2015 rain year to 0.95 inches.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Art I'm Making: Another New Collage

Chartreuse is one of those love-it-or-hate-it colors. It's not a favorite of mine, but, having made some chartreuse paper recently, I started playing with shapes and colors and I developed a composition against a chartreuse background that I rather like. I used bright, sharply contrasting colors--magenta, red, burnt orange--to set off the yellow-green. Untitled Collage No. 77 (Santa Rosa) was born. Visit my studio this coming weekend to see the original (which is rather more subtly colored than the photo here suggests).

Sonoma County Art Trails 2014 continues next weekend (October 18 and 19). My studio is No. 125. I'm also showing photography and printmaking.



Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Rain: 0.1 inches on October 15

The forecast promised real rain on the night of the 14th and into the 15th, but we got only 0.1 inches, at least at my house. It's supposed to rain again at the end of the week, but the long-term forecast is for another dry winter. I miss the big three-day storms and downpours we used to get regularly in the winter months. The recent rain brings our total for the 2014-2015 rain year to 0.85 inches.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Art I'm Making: Sonoma County Art Trails 2014 First Weekend

I opened my studio as part of the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails event on October 11 and 12 (the event continues next weekend, October 18 and 19) and enjoyed talking about art and making art with the many visitors who stopped by. It was a pleasure to get feedback on work I've never shown publicly before. During lulls, I had time to do a little work and finished a couple of pieces using paper I made to demonstrate my working process, which involves painting on paper or mono-printing on paper and then using the papers I make to create collages.

Pictured above is Untitled Collage No. 75 (Santa Rosa), which uses some paper elements printed using Sennelier's Naples yellow and incorporates some scraps of a sheet of paper with pastel marks on it that a fellow collage artist brought me.

Sonoma County Art Trails 2014 continues next weekend (October 18 and 19). My studio is No. 125. Stop by to see my work in person. I'm also showing photography and printmaking.



Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).

Untitled Collage No. 76 (Santa Rosa) also uses a scrap of the pastel-marked sheet and some of the Naples yellow paper, but also incorporates older raspberry-colored papers and a peach-colored paper with round shapes.

Wine I'm Making: 2014 Cabernet Pressed, Sangiovese Rosé Racked

I got up early on the morning of October 11 to press our 2014 Cabernet before the Sonoma County Art Trails weekend began. I finished about 15 minutes before the first visitor arrived. I ended up with only 5 gallons of new wine, which will mean only 25 bottles of 2014 Cab, while about forty bottles is normal. The following day I racked and sulphited the 2014 Sangiovese rosé. We'll get only about 15 bottles of the pink wine. The Sangiovese yield has typically been between 15 and 25 bottles a year. I inoculated the Cabernet with malolactic starter on the morning of the 12th, so it should be starting its malolactic fermentation. The carboy in the living room makes a nice conversation piece amidst all the art I'm showing. I still haven't bottled the 2013 Cabernet. Perhaps this week.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Art I'm Making: New Collages (October 12, 2014)

During the first two days of Art Trails, I spent a lot of time on the floor working on collages in between visits by people coming to see my studio. I had time to finish several new collages. Here are Untitled Collage No. 73 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 74 (Santa Rosa). The first of these plays with the space a little. I've left the edges at slightly odd angles on two sides, which gives the piece a somewhat playful feel.

The second uses a rather large swath of green to balance the dark forms at the left and top edges. The green is offset by a beige circle.

Sonoma County Art Trails 2014 continues next weekend (October 18 and 19). My studio is No. 125. Stop by to see my work in person. I'm also showing photography and printmaking.



Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).




Books I'm Reading: Exhibitionism: Art in an Era of Intolerance

I purchased Lynne Munson's Exhibitionism: Art in an Era of Intolerance (Ivan R. Dee, 2000) several years ago. I read it this week. I wish I had pulled it down from my book shelf sooner. It clarifies a great deal about trends in late 20th century art. It crystallizes in a very useful way lot of what I and many others have sensed about the "art world." Munson looks at the art world using two case studies--the evolution of arts funding through the National Endowment for the Arts (the NEA) and faculty politics in Harvard's art history department. Both cases are instructive, but it's enough here to look at the example of the NEA.

President Johnson signed the NEA into law on September 29, 1965 following a congressional act of August 1964 that had created the National Council on the Arts. The council--an impressive group that included Isaac Stern, David Brinkley, Gregory Peck, David Smith, Leonard Bernstein, and later John Steinbeck, Richard Diebenkorn, and Sidney Poitier, among others--was tasked with creating an outline of the new Endowment's mission. An advisory panel that set priorities for the Endowment's visual arts program recommended that top concerns should include providing "direct assistance to the creative artist" and recognizing "excellence in artistic achievement." The first group of NEA grantees included men and women from all over the country working in a wide range of styles of painting and sculpture. The grants were based on a combination of artistic excellence and need. In other words, the people who created the NEA saw the Endowment's role as a source of direct support for the best working artists in the country, particularly those who were struggling financially. Many of the artists chosen to receive grants had virtually no income from their art, while producing work widely recognized as superior. Gene Davis, Edward Ruscha, Donald Judd, and Mark di Suvero were among the first group of grantees.

With the election of Richard Nixon came a change of leadership at the NEA that immediately and permanently changed its tenor, propelling it in the direction of the controversy perhaps most associated with the entity today, and, ultimately, creating public skepticism about the wisdom of any kind of public arts funding, sabotaging the original intent of those who brought the NEA into existence, people who took it for granted that quality art was essential to the life of a healthy nation. At the same time, Nixon's advisors recommended vastly increasing the NEA's grants--but mostly for political reasons; they believed spending on the arts domestically would go some way toward ameliorating the increasingly negative impact at home of what was going on in Vietnam. The associated bureaucracy grew and efficiency declined. The NEA's budget was less than $10mn in 1969, but well over $60mn already in 1974, when Nixon left office. The NEA awarded $16 in grant money for every administrative dollar spent in 1967 but only $10 per administrative dollar by 1983.

When Nixon appointed Nancy Hanks to the leadership of the Endowment, a shift in emphasis away from artistic excellence and toward pluralism accelerated. Nixon wanted to expand the audience for art. Hanks wanted that and much more. With growing funding at her disposal, she oversaw a sharp shift away from supporting individual artists (which, as Munson notes, became the Endowment's lowest priority). Public outreach and support for art institutions became the priority while the scope of eligible activities was expanded to include photography, printmakers, videographers, performance artists, conceptual artists, and even art critics. Before long, virtually any kind of creative activity or arts-related entity (many highly controversial) became eligible for NEA funding and the NEA began to feed the fringes of an expanding art world rather than support traditional artists in their studios.

As Munson puts it, "This weakened standard for awardees, together with the increases in funding, encouraged a freewheeling approach to grant making. Instead of painstakingly whittling down a list of candidates to only the best and brightest, the visual arts panels were now handing out hundreds of grants." The NEA was fueling the expansion of just about every new trend that came along, creating an illusion of value where often there was none and debasing itself at the same time. Eventually, the NEA came to sponsor the radical and deliberately controversial almost exclusively, effectively censoring most serious artistic activity. To get a grant, it was more important to be different, "interesting," or shocking than to exhibit any kind of technical skill or artistic vision. The NEA came to foster exhibitionism while banishing what many would still today consider more serious art from the pool of those eligible for support. This is the exhibitionism of Munson's title. The intolerance she refers to is the entrenched institutional hostility toward traditional art forms that has come to characterize the contemporary art world. Her book goes a long way toward explaining how we got where we are now.

The story of the NEA's evolution nicely illuminates the backdrop of public confusion about the visual arts today and deep public skepticism about art and government agencies associated with the arts. It also suggests why the only people that make a living as artists today seem to be those that feed off the arts bureaucracy--the posers that create "art" for dealer and gallery leaches that foist a great deal of trash on "collectors" who have no taste and have few places to go to look for less-biased guidance. While not everyone will agree with me about the lamentable state of affairs that has resulted from trends in the last 40 years or so, Exhibitionism: Art in an Era of Intolerance is well written, well argued, and hard to put down.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Art I'm Making: Last Collages Before Art Trails

The Sonoma County Art Trails open studio event, held each year in October, will soon be upon us. I'll be participating this year for the first time, showing mostly abstract collages made from hand-printed papers I make myself, but also showing some of my photography and printmaking. The event is on two weekends--October 10 and 11 and October 18 and 19. More than 160 artists across the county will open their studios to show their work and to show how that work is created. For more information, visit the Sonoma County Art Trails website. My studio is No. 125. Stop by if you have a chance. All studios are open 10:00AM to 5:00PM on each of the four days. I've been busy with preparations, but I've finished two more collages in the past couple of weeks--Untitled Collage No. 71 (Santa Rosa) and Untitled Collage No. 72 (Santa Rosa). 

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).






Books I'm Reading: Inventing Wine

Two developments in the history of wine and winemaking are largely responsible the quality of the wine we drink today and for the range of choices we have: the development of sturdy glass bottles with reliable cork seals (a combination that banishes oxygen); and temperature-controlled vats for fermentation and storage. These two innovations set the stage for what Inventing Wine author Paul Lukacs rightly refers to as wine's "second golden Age."

Inventing Wine (Norton, 2012) is a history of winemaking from ancient times to the present with an emphasis on how wine was transformed from a highly perishable, short-lived, near accident to a highly sophisticated creation of the human imagination, benefiting from the choices winemakers are afforded today by innovations like temperature-controlled fermentation. Lukacs makes it clear that the global selection of high-quality wines we take for granted today is a very recent development.

Winemaking is believed to have begun as long as 8,000 years ago, but wine is highly susceptible to the effects of oxygen and spoilage caused mainly by the strains of bacteria that convert wine into vinegar. Most wine through history has been short-lived. While amphorae allowed quantities of wine to be sealed against oxygen and stored for long periods if unopened, most wine was stored in casks that, once breached, allow the contents to quickly turn sour if not topped up. Wine was often transported in animal skins (which imparted scents and flavors few would tolerate in wine today). It was typical to add spices, herbs, and resins to wine to mask off flavors and spoilage. Wine has not always been the sophisticated, natural drink it has become. What we think of as wine is comparatively new. Inventing Wine takes the reader on a journey through the history of winemaking with an emphasis on how we got from sour, adulterated wines of little distinction to the highly particular, carefully handled fresh-grape creations we enjoy today.

Serendipitous Art: Loading Dock, Graton (October 9, 2014)

I found this paint-smear composition on a loading dock in Graton, CA. The old warehouse building is now used as artist's studios. It looks like someone was working here.... Unintended art, serendipitous art.

For more unintended art, see my blog Serendipitous Art.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Art I'm Making: September 2014 Collage Work

New collages. These two are further explorations using the raspberry-colored papers I've been making, but also drawing on some of the striated indigo blue papers I've made in Untitled Collage No. 69 (Santa Rosa) above and using the mossy green papers of a few weeks back in Untitled Collage No. 70 (Santa Rosa) below.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014

Books I'm Reading: Just My Type

We look at letters every day, often all day long. We see them on signs; on computer screens large and small, fixed and mobile; in books, magazines, and newspapers. But more often than not, we ignore their form, choosing instead to concentrate on the meanings they convey--and a good typeface (a good reading typeface, that is, as opposed to a display or advertising typeface) is often praised when it's seen as being "transparent," which is to say that it draws no attention to itself. Just My Type (Gotham Books, 2012) author Simon Garfield is far more sensitive to the shapes of letters.

Garfield takes the reader on a grand tour of typography. The book is an entertaining, often witty look at typefaces--where they come from and what they do for us. You may never look at street signs, billboards, print advertising, or book pages the same way again. Particularly fascinating is the way Garfield puts fonts into historical context. Next time you're watching a movie, you may find yourself looking for examples of lettering set in typefaces that didn't exist at the time of the film's setting--a new dimension in movie error trivia to explore.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Wines I'm Making: Fermentation (September 29, 2014)

I inoculated our pressed Cabernet grapes yesterday, after a four-day cold soak. We picked the grapes on the 24th. This morning, the wine is beginning to bubble a little. The fermentation appears to have begun. The Sangiovese rosé fermentation is now in day four. Having had minor problems with hydrogen sulphide in the past two years I decided to use the yeast nutrients usually recommended (DAP and Fermaid K), although I've never used them in the past. I'm hoping better nutrient availability will prevent hydrogen sulphide problems this year. We'll see.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Wines I'm Making: Harvest 2014 (September 24, 2014)

We picked our grapes on the 24th of September this year, which is about a week to two weeks earlier than usual. The grapes were looking a little dehydrated and rain was threatening. While rain is good for the plants, a heavy rain on soft, ripe skins could have been disastrous and I was worried about mold. With the sugar levels close to optimal anyway, I decided to pick.

The Sangiovese must tested at 22.8 degrees Brix and a pH of 3.47, the Cabernet at 24.5 degrees Brix and a pH of 3.37, both close to ideal, although these are averages of all the grapes in the vineyard. I would like to have let the fruit hang a little longer, but I'm hoping the wine will be at least as good as it usually is--which is not bad at all.

I pressed the Sangiovese grapes on the following morning. I always make a rosé from the Sangiovese. The juice was about 18 hours on the skins, which has been normal. That amount of skin contact typically produces a wine of a pale salmon hue. The Cabernet is still cold soaking (or cool soaking anyway). I usually let the crushed grapes sit for about three days before inoculating with yeast. The Sangiovese fermentation is already underway. As usual, I have used the Epernay yeast for the rosé, the French Red yeast for the Cab. Soon the house will smell like a winery.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rain: First Appreciable Rain of the Season (September 18, 2014)

There was a little rain overnight. It left 0.1 inches in the rain gauge--not a lot, but it was the first measurable rain of the 2014-2015 rain year, which began on July 1, 2014. We had traces of rain in July and, bizarrely, in August, but not enough to register. So, the 2014-2015 total stands at 0.1 inches as of today.

[Update: Still raining. So far, 0.25 inches as of 5:30PM. The following day we had another 0.3 inches and on the 26th we had yet more rain (0.20), bringing the total for the year to 0.75 inches.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Music I'm Listening To: San Francisco Symphony with Leif Ove Andsnes (September 12, 2014)

I attended the Friday, September 12 performance of the San Francisco Symphony. The program included Rossini's overture to La Gazza Ladra, Alternative Energy by Mason Bates, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1. Leif Ove Andsnes was soloist in the Beethoven concerto. Michael Tilson Thomas conducted. The orchestra gave a lively performance of Rossini's very familiar overture (although I would not have been able to name it before I had read the program), getting the evening off to buoyant start before shifting gears to a very modern piece, the Bates, which was composed in 2012.

The program notes say the San Francisco Symphony has done of series of concerts during the past two seasons pairing the music of Mason Bates with pieces by Beethoven, and this was another in that series, but nowhere does it explain why these two composers have been paired. I imagine there is a notional link, but it isn't obvious to me and the program had nothing to say about the juxtaposition, which was a little annoying (the failure to explain was annoying, that is). Personally, I'd rather hear a program of all modern music or all music of whatever period, unless there's some compelling reason to pair two pieces that are very different in style.

Composer Mason Bates wrote an extensive comment on Alternative Energy for the program notes. The piece begins, we are told, on a rural farm in 1896 and takes us to 2222, in Rykjavik, by way of Chicago (in 2012) and Xinjiang Province (in 2112). The piece is described as "an energy symphony" that moves from the cranking of an automobile engine, to sounds of contemporary Chicago, to scenes of a futuristic Chinese energy industry (including a meltdown), and finally to a post-apocalyptic Icelandic rainforest, before ending with "the occasional song of future birds" and "distant tribal voices" that call for fire "our first energy source." A motif played first on the violin (by Associate Concertmaster Nadya Tichman) recurs throughout the piece, often as a violin line, but in other guises as well. The composition includes recorded sounds played back through a surround-sound sound system that were nicely integrated--which is often not the case when electronic and live instrument sounds are used together. Some sections had a clearly Chinese feel (with the violins sounding like an erhu), other sections suggested gamelan music, sometimes the mood was jazzy. There was a cinematic sweep throughout. I thought the piece consistently interesting. I very much enjoyed the performance but didn't feel the need to know the "story" behind it. The audience was very appreciative. The composer appeared on stage to take bows along with conductor Thomas and the orchestra. He seemed very pleased with the performance, which was recorded for possible future release.

After intermission, Leif Ove Andsnes gave a controlled but lively rendition of the Beethoven piano concerto that was very well received by an appreciative audience. The applause lasted long enough to bring Andsnes out again to play two Beethoven bagatelles as an encore. Andsnes looked very sharp in a nicely tailored suit. The quality of the fabric it was cut from was apparent even from the audience (although I was seated in the second row and right in front of the piano). The concert was a very nice start to the 2014–2015 season.

(Photograph of Mason Bates by Ryan Shude, courtesy of the San Francisco Symphony website.)

Wines I'm Making: 2014 Harvest Approaches (September 12, 2014)

I did a full sampling of the fruit in our little vineyard on the 12th, the first serious look I've taken at picking the grapes so far this year. The Cabernet vines showed 23.8 Brix at a pH of 3.30, which is fairly close to ideal, but I'm afraid some of the sugar level reflects dehydration rather than full ripeness of the fruit. September 12 is about a month earlier than the usual harvest date. I will continue to monitor the sugar levels. I usually like to pick at about 24-25 Brix with the pH no higher than about 3.5. One theory says that the pH level squared times Brix should ideally be at 260 for picking. My September 12 numbers yield 259--so technically ready, but I will wait at least another week, perhaps two, unless the sugar or pH levels seem to be rising precipitously.

The Sangiovese grapes look a little less ripe, showing 20.8 Brix and a pH of 3.44. I usually like to pick the grapes for the rosé we make from the Sangiovese at about 22 Brix with the pH as low as possible. So, as with the Cabernet, I'll be monitoring the grapes over the coming week or two to see how things are progressing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Art I'm Making: More Collages (September 2-3)

In the past week I've completed a couple more collages. Untitled Collage No. 67 (Santa Rosa) shown at the top uses more of the raspberry colored papers I've recently made but also incorporates bits and pieces leftover from older work.

BelowUntitled Collage No. 68 (Santa Rosa) uses a piece of green paper with graphite scribbling on it as well as some deep blue papers and a scrap of dark blue mono-printed paper that involved scraping into the paint on the glass with different tools to create lines of various sizes. These two were completed on September 2 and September 3.

Click on the images for larger views. For more, use the Art I'm Making tab to the right or visit my collage and photography website at http://ctalcroft.wix.com/collage-site/ (requires Flash Player).


Visit my studio during the 2014 Sonoma County Art Trails open studios event, Saturday and Sunday, October 11th and 12th and Saturday and Sunday, October 18th and 19th, 2014



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