One evening before dinner recently, Penelope decided to start an art project. She headed into our home office, grabbed some black construction paper and declared quite firmly that she was going to make a Santa Claus. I had just finished a phone interview, and I took a break from deciphering the cuneiform in my reporter’s notebook to watching her rummage through her desk drawers for a pair of kiddie scissors. In a heartbeat, papers, pipe cleaners, crafts and crayons are flying about the office. By the time her scissors are snapping happily away, the room looks as though a pair of overzealous FBI Agents ransacked the office after mistaking me for some kind of drug kingpin.
Then Bernadette rang the dinner bell. And since we don’t actually have a dinner bell my wife just bellows “DINNNNNERRR!” from the kitchen.
Typically, dinner time means all play and work ends, we wash our hands and head to the table to eat. No electronics, no TV. But this night was a little different; I felt reluctant to drag Penelope away. And, although Bernadette has re-embraced her detox diet which means she cooked some unpronounceable ancient grains wrapped in cabbage, my hesitation had less to do with my wife’s menu and more to do with my daughter’s mien. It also had a lot to do with the phone conversation that just ended.
I recently undertook the role of communications consultant at the Hunterdon Art Museum. I had just ended a phone call with a terrific artist, Raven Schlossberg, who has three collages on exhibition at the museum. I asked Raven about one particular collage titled “A Moonlight Apparition,” because the piece simply astounds me. Whenever I wander about the second floor of the stone mill which houses the museum, I freeze when I approach this work. Every time I stop I see something new in the collage that evokes a different emotion.
And, that’s precisely her intent, she told me. The piece, cutout illustrations of discarded children’s toys and household items against backdrop of houses bathed in moonlight, aims to trigger childhood memories that are both personal and universal. And, for whatever reason, this piece connects with me on a personal level.
I was curious about the cutouts and Raven said she’d been collecting magazines for over 20 years. She’s a lifelong pop archeologist, and began cutting out illustrations and creating collages before she hit kindergarten. “I started when I was around three years old. My bedroom was filled with magazines and books. I was an only child and I learned how to entertain myself,” she said.
Fifteen minutes later — the artist’s words still ringing in my ears — I sit at my desk watching Penelope hovering over her black construction paper, her lower lip jutting out as she concentrates. For the moment, I can’t stifle the creative energy I’m watching.
I don’t necessarily anticipate my daughter’s future artwork will grace the walls of a museum, however, her black Santa Claus looks beautiful hanging precariously from a single strand of scotch tape on our filing cabinet drawer. Santa has one thin eye where his earlobe should be; the other rests comfortably on his shoulder. There’s some line near Santa’s mouth. I’m guessing it’s a Lucky Strike.
On some occasions you just need to throw the rules out the window. For a 10 minute delay before dinner, I now have a precious memory.
P.S.: If you’d like to check out Raven Schlossberg’s work, go here. Better yet, go to the Hunterdon Art Museum where the collage exhibition runs until early January. Or, if you’re in NYC in February, she’ll have a solo show at the Pavel Zoubek Gallery, 533, West 23rd St.