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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Robin Hill: artist and birdman

Robin Hill, Great Horned Owls

With a name like Robin Hill, you were expecting someone other than a natural history writer and artist? Perhaps, a composer? An illustrator? An outdoorsman? A conservationist?

Check all of the above.
Robin Hill at the Fairfax at Embassy Row, Washington, D.C.

The Robin Hill who was in town recently at the Fairfax at Embassy Row is about as colorful a personality as the birds he draws: lively, quick, intricate, and down to earth

His name and birth place were an early prescription for his life, steering him to wildlife and natural history paintings, chiefly birds which the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia claims ownership of 200 (and has devoted four exhibitions to them over a period of seven years).
Robin Hill
Robin Hill, Loon Family

At the "artful evening" hosted by Studio E Partners of Bethesda which represents Mr. Hill, he talked about his life's work, standing alongside a few of his canvases.

An artist in the style of John James Audubon, Mr. Hill said he never sits outdoors to draw animals and plants, nor does he take photographs, but he relies upon years of experience knowing where to find the best pictures to use for modeling, including Ranger Rick magazine for children.
He amplifies scenery and branches, often including a beetle or two, and when they are omitted from a work, purchasers frequently ask that he add them.

He likes to draw birds of prey.

Born in Brisbane, Australia in 1932, Mr. Hill's family moved to England when he was a year old, and there at age 11, he enrolled at the Wimbledon School of Art. When he was 16, he returned to Australia and studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

“I got tired of school partway through, and I ‘went bush,’" Mr. Hill writes on Studio E's website:  "I worked as a cowboy on a sheep and cattle station, and then I travelled the country working in shearing sheds. During this time, I was drawing, painting and closely observing nature, which laid a foundation for what was to become my career."

He eventually returned to school and finished his studies, continuing on his natural history path, drawing and illustrating books on wildlife, crafting magazine illustrations. 

Like his subjects, he thrives on the natural world. Pox on tech stuff and gadgetry: “Electronic communication is not my world; I’m not technically inclined. I know Studio E can facilitate this for me, and I can get on with my painting.”

And so he does.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Olney's newest holiday hit, 'Mary Poppins'!

From left, Henry Mason is Michael, Patricia Hurley is Mary Poppins, Eileen Ward is the mother, Mrs. Banks, and Audrey Kilgore is Jane in Mary Poppins now at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

The Olney does it again:  Brings to the stage the audience so much fun and glee, you'll want to fly away with the star on a lighted kite, too.

Right here at the holidays, and if it were my family nearby, I know what I would say about making this a Christmas tradition: "Let's go to the Olney!"

Forget that Christmas shopping and wrapping, the paper, the labeling, the mailing:  "Where's the Scotch tape?"  "I can't find the scissors!" Do it all right here: Give theatre tickets. Help save the Earth. After all, experiences and memories are what counts. Not things, or as my aunt used to say "that collect dust."
Patricia Hurley in lavender on the front is Mary Poppins, and Rhett Guter is Bert and her dancing mate, whirling away in Mary Poppins with the cast at Olney Theatre Center/Photo by Stan Barouh

Dancers par extraordinaire (under the direction of Tara Jeanne Vallee), fabulous costumes which draw "oohs and ahhs," a production unto themselves (by Erik Teague), mostly non-stop action, and things that fly around all over the place, amidst a lot of cheer and color and song,  Mary Poppins is great entertainment for all ages.

Like Santa, Mary (Patricia Hurley) swoops in from the sky, dressed in her head-to-toe finery that you can visualize right here, wearing a radiant smile, and brimming with joy which she sprinkles on those around her, and to you, too!


Children always like to see children in a show, and Olney's Mary has two adorable ones, Jane (either Katharine Ford or Audrey Kilgore) and Michael (Henry Mason or Tyler Quentin Smallwood) confident, experienced, and able to make the audience laugh, despite it being hard to hear their lines up on the mezzanine level.  (We knew they were funny because we could hear those on the orchestra level hee-hawing a lot, but not to fear, mezzanine-level patrons, you've got a special treat coming when I held my breath and up, up, and away (?).)

Mary Poppins, straight from a fairy tale, drops in the Banks' household (what an appropriate surname!) to become the children's nanny whom Michael and Jane soon grow to adore (especially with her bag of tricks--how do they do that?) but circumstances cause her to leave, and (shudder) here comes the Wicked Witch of the West (Ms. Andrew, magnificently played by Valerie Leonard AKA Ms. Terrible ) to the Banks to perch as the next nanny, and perch she does, right down to her dark, drab  apparel, shrill, and magical disappearance.  (Ms. Hurley is practically perfect in her role, almost undone by the few moments onstage of Ms. Terrible, cast as the evil persona who must inhabit every show.  Or, what's a show without an antagonist or two?  We have to have somebody to detest.)

Karl Kippola is Mr. Banks, handsomely and realistically portrayed as the gruff but soft dad, quite concerned about his livelihood (the banking business, of course; you think with a name like Banks, he wouldn't be in the banking business?) his anticipated job loss, and how will he ever provide for his children's schooling, his family's household staff and expenses?  (An eternal dilemma faced by many heads of households.)

He is very busy with his business, thank you very much, to the neglect of his children who shall soon grow up and disappear, like Mary!  His wife (Eileen Ward) has a purposefully weak and submissive role (to omit her solo tune would strengthen the play), coddling her husband so unbelievably, I knew either she or I would soon become outraged and dash him in the head.  To be or not to be. 

Mary is accompanied by her good friend, Bert (Rhett Guter) who dances and chimney-sweeps his way through the show, from spot-on scenes (by Daniel Ettinger) which evolve from park to roof top to parlor, bedroom, bank, and more.

The songs will make you happy:  A Spoonful of Sugar and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious are two of the most familiar.  So much for baa-humbug.

The hidden nine-piece orchestra, under the direction of Timothy Splain, brings alive all the sights, sounds, and mischief of eternally smiling Mary and her troupe. 

What's not to like about Mary? Every home needs one. 
Mary Poppins is a musical based on the stories of P.L. Travers and the Walt Disney Film with original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman.  Book by Julian Fellowes with new songs and music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe.  OK before here. Co-created by Cameron Mackintosh.  Director Jason King Jones. Designers are Colin K. Bills, lighting, Jeffrey Dorfman, sound; Jim Steinmeyer, illusions consultant; Robert Ramirez, illustrations instructor, D2 Flying Effects, Matthew Pauli, puppets, Melissa Sibert, wigs; Nancy Krebs, dialect coach, John Keith Hall, production stage manager; Dennis A. Blackledge, production; Christopher Youstra, music theatre

The cast includes Kenneth Derby, James Frisby, Matt Greenfield, Lance E. Hayes, Amanda Kaplan, Ashleigh King, Julia Lancione, Benjamin Lurye, Emily Madden, Robert Mintz, Nurney, Dorea Schmidt, and Shawna Walker. 

What:  Mary Poppins by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman

When:   Wednesday through Sunday evenings at 8 p.m. with weekend and Wednesday matinees at 2 p.m. through Jan. 1, 2017 with additional performances on Tuesday, Dec. 20 at 8 p.m., Friday, Dec. 23 at 2 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 27 at 2 p.m., and Friday, Dec. 30 at 2 p.m.


Where: Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, 
Olney, MD 20832

How much: Tickets begin at $43 with discounts for seniors, groups, military, and students

Duration:  2.5 hours (it will fly by) with one intermission 

Refreshments:  Available and may be taken to seats

Parking:  Free and plentiful on-site

For more information: 301-924-4485


Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Cartoon idea: Hurricane Trump
I wish I knew how to draw.

Picture a map of Florida with (if room) the major cities  (Miami, Orlando, Jax); seas gnashing on both sides.

Off the southeastern coast comes Hurricane Trump, blowing and going, his silhouetted huge bust loaded with strong winds aimed at Florida.  And/or looking like a shark.  Maybe his hair becomes a shark's fin.

Hanging on to a palm tree with both hands, mid-state and flying parallel to the ground is a smaller Hillary in pants suit (natch), necklace (natch), hair blowing backward.

Caption:  "Blowin' in the Wind."

Free noon organ recital today at St. John's, Lafayette Square

Michael Lodico at the Lively-Fulcher Pipe Organ, St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./photo by Patricia Leslie

Michael Lodico, newly appointed director of music ministry and organist at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, will present a free program of German and French organ music today at the church beginning at 12:10 p.m.

Mr. Lodico who began his musical career at age six with piano lessons, is a North Carolina native who graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where he studied organ, harpsichord, improvisation, and piano.

A Fulbright Scholar to the Netherlands who completed a master's degree in music at the Amsterdam Conservatory, Mr. Lodico has presented concerts throughout the world, including a cathedrals tour in Scotland and England where he played the organ in holy places.

Mr. Lodico is also a critic who writes about musical festivals and performances he attends around the globe.

His concert today is part of St. John's First Wednesday Concert Series, presented from October through June at no cost to the public.

  St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C./Photo by Patricia Leslie

St. John's was founded in 1815 and is known to Washington residents as the yellow church at Lafayette Square.  It's often called the “Church of the Presidents” since beginning with James Madison who was president from 1809 to 1817, every president has been a member of St. John's or has attended services there. A plaque at the rear of St. John's designates the pew where President Abraham Lincoln often sat when he stopped by the church during the Civil War. 

First Wednesday concerts begin at 12:10 p.m. and last about 35 minutes. Food trucks are located at Farragut Square, two blocks away.

Who: Michael Lodico playing German and French organ music

What: First Wednesday Concerts

When: 12:10 p.m., November 2, 2016

Where: St. John’s, Lafayette Square, 1525 H Street, NW, at the corner of 16th, Washington, D.C. 20005

How much: No charge

Duration: About 35 minutes

Wheelchair accessible

Metro stations: McPherson Square (White House exit), Farragut North, or Farragut West

For more information: Contact Michael Lodico, St. John's director of music ministry, at 202-270-6265.

Upcoming dates and artists of the First Wednesday Concerts are:

December 7: Madrigal Singers from St. Albans & National Cathedral schools will sing seasonal music under the direction of Brandon Straub

January 4, 2017: Concert organist Janet Yieh will play works by Mendelssohn, Messiaen, and the "Beatles" Toccata

February 1: Jazz vocalist Sara Jones will sing a Winter Escape, accompanied by the Dan Dufford Ensemble

April 5: Soloists from St. John's Choir will sing

May 3: Thomas Smith, the director of music at Christ Church, Georgetown, will play A Journey to Merrie Olde England - A Recital of English Organ Music

June 7: Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 will be played by the U.S. Air Force Strings with trumpeter Mary Bowden

Monday, October 24, 2016

Cartoon idea: Trump the Titanic

"Untergang der Titanic", as conceived by Willy Stöwer, 1912
Created: 31 December 1911
Willy Stöwer, died on 31st May 1931 - Magazine Die Gartenlaube, en:Die Gartenlaube and de:Die Gartenlaube/Wikipedia

I imagine someone's already done this.  I wish I knew how to draw.

How about Trump's huge bust as the bow of the sinking ship? Raised in the air. His big image (hair, blowing in the wind and covering part of the ship)  consumes the entirety of the bow and behind him, on and off deck, are little men in suits and flopping ties (the wind; members of Congress) jumping ship and crying for help. Trump wears a tilted sailor's cap.

Can't you just see it?

Floating nearby in choppy waters (filled with likenesses of Hillary as shark heads) are struggling passengers and life boats loaded with humans.  On the slanting deck (the ship's going down) is the band seated and nonchalantly playing "God Save the U.S.A."

The ship has just crashed into a HUGE ("this is huge, folks!") iceberg on which a smirking (is she anything but?) Hillary looms large and/or carries the date: November 8.

Caption:  "We're going down! It's a sinking ship!  All hands overboard!"

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Book review: 'Undaunted Courage' by Stephen E. Ambrose

For two decades (literally) I've been meaning to read Undaunted Courage, ever since I found out that my Boss Man at the time was reading it, and I never thought he read anything except cereal boxes, so it had to be good.

At the East Falls Church Metro station not long ago, a woman walked up when she saw me engaged in the book, and talked about it nonstop while we waited for the train, and she continued chatting about it on the train. 

I know a book is good when I think about the characters during the day (!) and wonder what they are doing which first happened to me with Lonesome Dove, one of the last great contemporary fictions I have read.  But, back to the subject. Undaunted is a very good book.  And it's not fiction.I wondered what they were doing for food.  (Here, would you like some horse with that bitterroot?)

Although it starts out dry (someone said "like a history book") it doesn't take long before it inserts its hypnosis in your mind, and off you go riding on the trail (1804-1806), on the wagons, the horses, and the tree boats on the waterways with Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) whose assignment from President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was to find a northwest route to the Pacific Ocean which they did not, but they got to the Pacific.

Never mind.

Reading correspondence always enlivens any story, and here, the characters come alive in the only way they can.  President Jefferson's hopes, dreams, doubts, and orders to find a route are laid out.  He becomes more personable, too.

Excellent maps are included, and I kept wishing there were more of them to supply additional details.

Escaping and befriending various tribes of Indians are only part of the story.  The explorers' mastery of icy mountains and river crossings are astonishing, and Lewis describes vividly in his journals their discoveries of new plants, birds, and animals.  The men's jarring with bears, snakes, and their communication with Indians when no one spoke the others' languages were just a few of the feats which load the book and leave you incredulous so much was accomplished amidst the harsh conditions.
A surprising element with scattered bits of information found throughout the tale is description of a married couple who accompanied them, the woman, an Indian, Sacagawea, who joined the troop to help with language interpretation.  On the way she gave birth to their first child, and later, after the journey ended and she died,  Clark adopted both her children.  

I don't believe anyone has been able to pinpoint the exact reasons, after the journey ended, that Lewis did not respond to Jefferson's letters and pleas for information about the publication of Lewis's journals, but I shall join others and offer my guess.
Perhaps he was overwhelmed and did not know how to begin the massive project, assembling and ordering his papers, and take them through the publication process, unable to report to Jefferson that he had not begun. Sometimes, beginning is the hardest part. 

After the journey ended, President Jefferson appointed Lewis to the governorship of the Louisiana Territory. On a trip from there to Washington, D.C., Lewis supposedly killed himself on the Natchez Trace in Tennessee, according to "experts." (Here is the place. )   (When presented the evidence, Jefferson joined the believers, but there are many doubters.)

In 1996 (the year Undaunted came out) a Tennessee coroner's jury recommended (in concert with 200 members of Lewis's family) that his body be exhumed for forensic analysis which only took the U.S. Department of the Interior 12 years, until 2008 to sanction.  In 2010 the Obama administration rescinded the decision. Why?  (New book.) 

Maybe an erstwhile member of the Meriwether Lewis Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation can conduct her own exploration and use FOIA to request documents,  learn the reason(s), and write all about it

In later years Undaunted's author, Stephen Ambrose (1936-2002) was accused of sloppy research and plagiarism in many of his books. 

I kept wishing I had read it before I took a cross-country trip last year with my son, since we traveled on and near many of places Lewis and Clark visitedWe might still be on the road. 

A companion pictorial history is also available, with many of the marvelous scenes and paintings included in the original volume, all to be found at my favorite public library, the Fairfax County Public Library, the best.