Thursday, January 28, 2010

Monday, January 18, 2010

A flock of crows

This is a companion piece to last Tuesday's.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Emperor Khan's Traveling Dining Room Scroll

(Detail from panel 17, Emperor Khan's Traveling Dining Room Scroll, "Shrike with vole atop pole on snowy steppe." Attributed to Quan T'rang Sh'i circa 1226 CE. Handscroll; ink and color on silk. 11 x 18 in [27.9 x 45.7 cm]. Reproduced by permission of the Alfred Hawthorne Estate).

Although scholars believe the date for Emperor Khan's Traveling Dining Room Scroll is correct, the identity of the artist or artists who created the handscroll is less certain. Quan T'rang Sh'i was in the service of Emperor Khan around the time the scroll was created, but certain matters of the scroll's style seem to contrast with other works that have been linked directly to T'rang Sh'i's hand, such as the famous Emperor Khan's Saddle Cover Scroll and the stylistically and thematically matching Emperor Khan's Saddle Cover Scroll Cover Scroll, both of which were painted in 1223 CE and hint, yet again, at the Emperor's fastidiousness and concern with dressing not only his wives but even his horse tack in multiple layers to protect against chafing under the harsh conditions of the Central Asian steppe.

The accompanying colophones shed little light on the issue of the scroll artist responsible for creating Emperor Khan's Traveling Dining Room Scroll, though the poem in black ink on the right side of this panel clearly reads as follows:

Emperor Khan went to the shrike and asked
"Shrike! Why do you eat?"
Shrike was silent.
Emperor Khan asked once again,
"Shrike! Why do you eat?"
In reply the shrike spoke to him in the third person and said thus:

"Shrike: kirshe! --
ershki! ekirhs!"

Satisfied with the answer, the Emperor executed 1,000 scholars.

There is no record of Emperor Khan having ordered the execution of 1,000 scholars, though he did have 500 killed on separate occasions; the poem could be apocryphal or it could be an example of what passed for humor on the great Central Asian steppe, circa the first quarter of the thirteenth century.

Additional, though admittedly scant, evidence for Quan T'rang Sh'i having been the painter who executed this particular scroll lies in the delightful and droll puns set up between the image of the shrike perched upon a "pole" barely taller than the length of the bird--a reference to a joke popular among nomadic peoples of the era and locale, which is impossible to translate today--as well as the inference, again, based on interpretations of one of the accompanying colophones, that the shrike has already eaten the vole rather than delivering it to the Emperor, as was the custom Emperor Khan demanded of all the creatures he encountered on the steppe, no matter how mean or humble they might be.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A stack of pallets

The "scribble" shape maker in PowerPoint is fun to play with. It has all the subtlety of an electronic signature device that you find at the grocery store checkout, but with a little bit more charm.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Sycamores along the creek . . .

("The Sycamores along the creek are noisy, rusty gates . . . ")

The temperatures last weekend never got out of the 20s (nor will they this weekend), and Gregory Creek was mostly iced over. Below a cluster of trees near a part of the stream that was shallow and fast-flowing, some rootlets hanging over the water had been hit with spray from the creek, which created rooted pendants of diamond-like ice crystals. Flocks of Starlings and Robins were passing through, stopping at a few open spots along the bank to drink or to feed.

The handwritten part of this version is a little sloppy. It should read "The sycamores along the creek are noisy, rusty gates," but it looks like "The sycamoes alony the aeek . . . " Penmanship is tricky . . . but there is a tiny, scrunched up, lowercase cursive "r" between the "o" and the "e."

"The sycamoes alony the aeek." I'll have to use that again. It sounds vaguely Scottish.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Teacup and Plecopteran

I bought a package of grid paper a few weeks ago, with the intention of trying my hand at sketching and drawing. I haven't tried much of that since high school, and the results this time around were similarly . . . odd. I tried drawing the tea cup that I used to use whenever I visited my grandma, which I did quite a bit growing up, particularly in high school. My aunt gave the tea cup to me as a Christmas present. It's a mass-produced item that I think my grandma bought in the 50s or earlier. She had a set of them, and usually used them for making gravy and related cooking tasks. Most of the cups met their end in kitchen accidents or were beaten and chipped up over the years. But this one survived. It's a solid thing, not a wedding-gift china sort of tea cup that feels like it could be broken between one's index and thumb, but more like an old diner or cafeteria coffee cup. It's stamped "U S A" on the bottom, which means, sadly, it's pretty old. Anyway, here's a copy of the resulting sketch (readers might wish to avert their eyes. Click on the photo for a larger version, but you've been warned):

A poorly drawn stonefly sneaked into the effort, and for a model I fished out a photograph of an adult stonefly that landed on me while I was wading in a creek last May, looking for dragonflies and mayflies. A friend and I have been wondering about winter stonefly hatches. There have been a few "half-hardy" birds, such as Eastern Phoebes, this winter along an effluent outflow from a water treatment plant into the Great Miami River. Last week, my friend found an adult male Wilson's Warbler (a possible latest-ever record for Ohio) foraging with a mixed flock of Chickadees and other locals along this same channel. Phoebes and Wilson's Warblers can eat seeds and fruit if they have to, but they're typically and mostly insectivores. It's been bitterly cold this week, but possibly the warm water channel is producing insect hatches that might otherwise need slightly warmer, sunnier days to come out on other local streams. We plan to do a little sweep netting and see what we find. My bet is we'll find winter stoneflies.

The stonefly that crept into the sketch above is not, to my knowledge, a winter stonefly. But I haven't tried to ID it, yet. Some winter stoneflies hatch out in early spring, others as early as January. Identification of this group seems really complicated. The dichotomous key in Merritt, Cummins, and Berg's An Introduction to Aquatic Insects of North America covers twenty-two pages and 112 possible steps for getting nymphs to family or genus. The adult key looks similarly imposing to a novice. Locally, winter stonefly variety is probably somewhat limited, and it shouldn't be too hard to get IDs or to find someone who can help with IDs, once we collect a few bugs. But that's for another day . . .

The sketching efforts having produced mixed results, I tried some photos of the tea cup, then sliced those up along with the photo of the stonefly perched on my left index finger taken last May on Gregory Creek in Liberty Township, used a couple pages scanned from the Merritt, Cummins, and Berg book as background, and ended up with an interesting still life/visual poem piece. I hadn't realized that a couple of the heating elements on our stove have the words "expandable element" on them, so that was a happy accident. The Merritt, et. al., book, grandma's teacup, and a copy of Hockney's Pictures--his photo collages from the late 80s are an obvious influence--helped make the stew out of which this piece came. However it turned out, it was fun to do, and the original crappy sketch was probably the reason the piece eventually came together. (To see it full size, please click on the image).

("Teacup and Plecopteran")

Monday, January 4, 2010


We made three trips to Erie County, Ohio and back between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It seemed to me that as we went further north, we saw more billboards that had fallen into neglect. Layers of advertisements were peeling away revealing portions of older advertisements and graffiti beneath them. A striking one I remember was on I-75 somewhere near Cygnet, if I recall correctly. It was a mostly white billboard with different layers of old advertisements torn away leaving the bold, black proclamation "NiXiT."

Along Route 6 in Erie County, near my parents' home, peeking out through an advertisement for some sort of health care concern was the phrase "My sweatshop," which I think was part of a pro-Union/anti-Wal Mart billboard from a few years ago.

I wish I had had a camera to capture some of these odd, neglected billboards, but our workhorse pocket camera perished in a Caribbean snorkeling accident in November, and we've yet to replace it. The above is a sketch from memory of a few billboards we drove past again and again over the past month.

I wonder if there's a correlation between neglected billboards and the economy? Ohio's worst unemployment rates are in the southeastern counties (the northwestern counties of Ottawa and Williams are also in poor shape), but Huron County, the county immediately south of Erie, at 13.7 percent for November 2009, isn't far behind the pack. (Erie County's unemployment rate was 11 percent, a little above the state average of 10.2, according to the source linked to, above). There certainly are large bubbles of unhappiness and hardship throughout Ohio. It seems to show even in the billboards.