Nature and technology meet at Gleason’s newest art show

by Karina Coombs

 

09bKC RissmanScrollA series of ceramic scrolls from Bedford artist Carol Rissman. Rissman makes each tile from white or red clay before imprinting or stamping them with natural found objects. Pieces are then fired and stained. Tiles are selected individually for each scroll and mounted on a wooden backing. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Gleason Library’s Art at the Gleason opened its first show of 2017 with “Affinity: puzzles, sculptures, and photography,” featuring the works of Carlisle residents Dale Joachim and Bill Claybrook and Bedford’s Carol Rissman. The show runs until March 25. 

The beauty of found objects

Nature’s influence is apparent when looking at the ceramic works of local artist, Carol Rissman. Since retirement, as a broadcaster and news director for a local NPR station (in addition to writing and editing for a number of publications), Rissman has turned what had been a hobby into a full time endeavor, making both functional and sculptural pieces at the Harvard University Ceramics Studio where she is a resident artist. 

Whether it is a stone, feather, leaf or some other natural found object, Rissman is attracted to the beauty she finds outdoors, incorporating it in unexpected ways into the mosaic and scroll tile pieces that make up her collection. “I’m happy to have this way of using them,” she says of the treasures she regularly picks up. Rissman’s pieces begin with handmade tiles, crafted from white or red clay. She then imprints or stamps them with these objects before firing them. A stain or underglaze is added before the tiles are fired again, with the high parts sanded to reveal the impression or pattern left behind. 

Rissman explains that she never really knows what she is going to get when she opens the kiln and this surprise is what she delights in the most during the process. How do all these pieces come together? In the mosaic, “Juan de Fuca,” located on the first floor, Rissman’s use of glaze creates a distant image of water and trees on a white tile. Stones from the Olympic Peninsula are affixed to another tile below, with earthy colors and patterns on neighboring tiles adding contrast. A branch at the top of the piece adds another interesting natural element with all of the pieces creating a juxtaposition that allows the viewer to experience both a long view and bird’s eye view of one scene. 

The mosaics were made in 2015-16, but the scrolls represent Rissman’s most recent work and are partly inspired by Japanese fabrics. Beginning with individual tiles, she then organizes the scroll based on how well images, patterns, textures and colors compliment or contrast one another. The scrolls, which can be hung horizontally or vertically, are located throughout Gleason in groups of three. “Untitled 10,” “Black and White #2” and “#3,” found on the first floor, capture natural elements with a number of techniques, intermixed with various patterns, colors and glazes. The contrast between the hard tiles and the delicacy of leaves adds another interesting layer of contrast. 

To see more of her work, visit http://carolrissmanstudio.com. Rissman’s sculptures can also be found at Handworks Gallery of American Crafts in Acton and she will be a part of the Harvard University’s Ceramic Studio show in May.

The digital landscape

Back when he was teaching at Virginia Tech, fine art photographer Bill Claybrook would take hundreds of photographs of the mountains for fun. His camera could shoot a 36 roll of film in mere seconds, and after spending $10 for processing, only then would he discover that he disliked them all. To say he was thrilled with the advent of digital photography is an understatement.

Claybrook bought his first digital SLR in 2002 (a Canon D30 at three megapixels) and began processing images with Photoshop with a focus on landscapes, architecture and seascapes. With a PhD in Computer Science and a 30-year career in the computer industry at the time, the technology was second nature.

It is easy to get carried away with photo editing software, but Claybrook is judicious in his manipulations. While he uses filters such as Photoshop’s Fresco and Palette Knife, he keeps his focus on creating fine art photography without losing the integrity of an image. Over the years Claybrook has also employed analog manipulation, describing a painting technique that he showed students during a photography workshop he taught in Door County, Wisconsin that involved painting on watercolor paper before printing. Located on the main floor, “Main St. Concord” is one of Claybrook’s favorites and an example of his successful use of Palette Knife, creating the illusion that the photograph is instead a painting. “Bales in Wheatfield,” also on the first floor, is another example of digital manipulation and creates an interesting effect in both the field and the sky above.

09aArt ClaybrookWaterHumps
Carlisle photographer Bill Claybrook captures two “water humps” protruding dramatically from the water in his black and white image of “La Push at Sunset,” found on the second floor outside of the conference room. Around the corner in the children’s room is a full color version of the same image. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

While a number of his color photographs employ these tools, Claybrook generally does not alter those in black and white, instead letting the scene do the heavy lifting. “I like stark pictures” he says, explaining that he tries to imagine a scene in black and white as he shoots, focusing on open space and big sky as seen in his favorite series of the 20-piece collection located in the second floor conference room: “Kingston Farm #1,” “Wheatfield” and “Gloucester Harbor #4.” Located just outside of the conference room is an interesting study in contrast between Claybrook’s color and black and white photography. “La Push at Sunset” is presented in both forms and while the color image burns with the vivid tones of sunset, the black and white image instead highlights the “water humps” protruding from the sea. 

To see more of Claybrook’s work, visit http://www.newriverphotography.com. His photographs will be on display March-April at the Emerson Center for Rehabilitative and Sports Therapies and from May 22-June 30 at Concord’s First Parish Church. A show at the Nashoba Brook Bakery will run during July and August with another in October and November at Concord Council on Aging, Harvey Wheeler Building. Claybrook is also available for custom landscape and architectural photography.

The call of the wild

While teaching speech processing at Tulane University, Dale Joachim introduced bird songs. Specifically, he was interested in capturing and analyzing their sounds and playing them back as a way to encourage other birds to call back or sing. This led Joachim to explore ways in which he could do this remotely through the use of cellular technology, particularly useful for those trying to study and count birds in difficult to get to areas. 

This interest followed Joachim to Cambridge where, during his tenure as a visiting professor at MITs Media Lab, it would evolve into the Owl Project, as seen in “Nature and Electronics,” on the library’s first floor. The structures and the technology they housed were used to count both Eastern Screeched and Barred owls in the woods of Connecticut and Maine over a several year period. Joachim explains that the birdhouses were outfitted with directional microphones, loudspeakers and cellphones and mounted throughout specific wooded areas. Making a call to the phone would initiate the playback of an owl call, which would then (hopefully) elicit a call back from an owl in the area with that sound captured by the device. “To call them is to count them,” says Joachim.

10aKC JoachimBirdhouse
Carlisle’s Dale Joachim is an electrical engineer with an interest in nature and how it intersects with technology and humans. These birdhouses survey owl populations. (Photo by Karina Coombs)

Joachim’s interests in nature and technology create some very thought- provoking pieces, despite his assertion that he is not an artist in a traditional sense. “Nature Calls,” on display on the second floor, is an example of this. In this piece, he has modified a series of household switches, allowing them to be controlled by external natural forces. Want a mourning dove or owl to control your lights? Simply set the switch and a microprocessor takes the corresponding signal from outside and turns the switch on. Joachim explains the point of the switches is more than function, it is a way to let humans feel subtle changes in nature as they affect their world. “[It provides] a sense of time based on natural acoustic events.”

Evident throughout all of his work is Joachim’s fascination with the simplicity and elegance of finger joint construction and in a number of mediums. This can be seen in his birdhouses, switches and especially in his puzzles, most notably “Puzzles of Puzzles” on the first floor, where each piece is in itself a puzzle. Joachim explains that the puzzles fascinate him and are mathmetically built, allowing him to specify height and size. Each piece is then laser cut and with such precision that he controls how much tension exists between the joints. 

To show how well finger joints work in construction, Joachim has also cut large-scale cardboard pieces for the show at Gleason, allowing children (or adults) to experiment with fabrication. This is an area he knows well, having had great success as part of an MIT Media Lab team that built a winning three-person boat completely out of cardboard and finger joints to compete in MITs Head of the Zesiger Cardboard Regatta. His team’s winning 2008 entry, Bailout, is now part of the MIT Nautical Museum’s permanent collection. To see it in action, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8M8u5pTymbs. A YouTube video showing hull construction is available here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4TUewkysMsY 

Gleason is hosting an artists’ reception on Friday, January 27 from 7-9 pm. Refreshments and wine will be served, with live music provided by the FRS jazz band. Tickets are $10 per person. To register for the event, call the library at 978-369-4898 or register online at https://eventactions.com/eareg.aspx?ea=Rsvp.   ∆