December 29, 2015

Words of the Month - Linguistics Jokes

        When it comes right down to it, most jokes are linguistics jokes, to the extent that they all use the medium of language, and rely on different meanings of words, "garden path" phrases (down which one may be led), and so on.  But I have a particular affection for jokes that play specifically with aspects of spelling, grammar, lexicography, and other linguistics topics.  Leaving out jokes that depend too heavily on knowledge of  linguist jargon, here are a few of my favorites that should be generally intelligible.  (Keep in mind that most are designed to be spoken aloud, and may be spoiled by seeing them spelled out instead of heard to begin with.)
        First, a few about spelling.
Why is the Panama Canal like the first U in cucumber?
Because it’s between two C’s.

What starts with a T, ends with a T, and is full of T?
A teapot.

It occurs twice in every moment, once in every minute, and yet it never occurs in a hundred thousand years.  What is it?
The letter M.

What word remains the same even when you take away all its letters?
The postman.

What cheese is made backwards?

        Then some jokes based on principles of grammar.
What’s the difference between a cat and a comma?
One marks with the claws at the ends of its paws, and the other marks a pause at the end of a clause.

Past, present, and future walk into a bar.
It was tense.
And a related pun: You can’t run in a campground.
You have to say “ran” because it’s past tents.

Let me tell you a little about myself.
It’s a reflexive pronoun that indicates me.

        And finally, one of my all-time favorites, not because it’s so uproariously funny, but just because it reflects what makes me happy.

Where can you always find comfort and sympathy?
In the dictionary.

[Pictures: Still Life II, rubber block print by AEGN, 2009 (sold out);
Cat Attack, rubber block print by AEGN, 1999.]

December 26, 2015


When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
      To find the lost,
      To heal the broken,
      To feed the hungry,
      To release the prisoner,
      To rebuild the nations,
      To bring peace among people,
      To make music in the heart.

        I wish you peace, joy, and hope in the new year.  May you share many stories with others, and feel how all our stories are unique, and all our stories intertwine.  Make your own life be a story of love!

[Picture: Hope, rubber block print by AEGN, 2015.]
Poem “Now the Work of Christmas Begins” by Howard Thurman.

December 22, 2015

Book Sculpture (Part III)

        Here is my last collection of book sculptures (at least for now!)  These are mostly back to the more typical approach to the medium: using a book as a base and the pages as a material for building shapes and figures.  There are still some interesting things going on, though.  In this first piece, by Thomas Wightman, the book is opened 90° and the train is driving right out of the tunnel in the pages.  The train itself is beautifully detailed.  I especially like the coal car’s cargo of little letters, that spill out as the train derails.  Although the sculpture is actually meant to illustrate the effects of OCD, it makes me imagine that letters or words are mined deep in the book mountains, and transported to writing markets by trains running day and night…
        Su Blackwell has made an incredible number of cool book sculptures in a variety of styles.  I’ve picked out a few of my favorites.  Although the tree house sculpture is simply placed atop the book without really using it as anything more than a base, this one is made exceptionally lovely by the use of light.  Blackwell includes light in many of her pieces, and I think it can add a wonderful magic, implying that there really is someone living in there.  The light is a major focus of the lighthouse, as well, and that sculpture also uses the book base a little more, as those pages have become the ocean with a lot of texture and rough cutting.  Blackwell also does a lot with the texture of her buildings, giving them individual roof tiles, or growing ivy, or other cool details.
        I love this entire street of narrow buildings with their steep front steps.  Notice the bird flying above.  It’s supported on a black wire that pokes up from below, and Blackwell uses this technique a lot.  She especially seems to favor owls, and you can see one in the beautifully eerie woods.  It illustrates one of the most atmospheric fairy tales I know, “Jorinde and Joringel.”  This one’s a little different by being built in a shadow box for a frame.  Note that Blackwell builds her structures from individual sheets of paper: flat sides for the flat sides of buildings, wrapped papier maché style for the twisty trunks and branches of the trees, cut into thin strips or fringes to make railings, grasses, feathers, and so on.
        Now compare that with the construction technique on my last picture.  Rather than being hollow shapes, made of rolled tubes, or flat sides of paper joined into cubes, all the thickness of the forms is multiple layers of stacked paper.  The hull of the ship is a solid block of paper, and the body of the octopus is solid layers of strips.  The suckers are little stacks of paper circles, enough to build up the desired thickness.  I also really like the way the book is open off-center, and the way the octopus pierces through the top pages.  Unfortunately, I can’t tell you the artist of this cool piece.  I found it on a web site that gave no attribution for any of its pictures, and despite lots of searching, I found the picture pinned several more times, but never with any
information.  (Have I ever mentioned before how much I hate Pinterest and its set-up scientifically designed to optimize the ease with which thoughtless people can steal other people’s artistic work?  Grrr…)
        Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this array of fantastic book sculptures, making the pages come alive in a different way from reading.

[Pictures: Derailing my train of thought, book sculpture by Thomas Wightman (Image from (where you can also see some photos of his construction process));
The House in the Oak Tree, book sculpture by Su Blackwell, 2015;
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage, book sculpture by Blackwell, 2014;
The Globe and Mail, Canada, book sculpture by Blackwell, 2010;
Jorinde and Joringel, book sculpture by Blackwell, 2010 (Images from;
Octopus or kraken, book sculpture by unknown artist (If anyone can identify this, I’d love to hear it!)]

December 18, 2015

Christmas Lights?

        This time of year I enjoy the holiday lights brightening houses in my neighborhood in the all-too-early dark.  So I thought this would be a good time to share this interesting wood block print by Zsigmond Walleshausen Von Cselény (Hungary, 1887 or 1888 - 1957?).  It shows floodlit buildings in Budapest seen from the river, with lights bright against the black night, and fainter reflected in the water.  I tried to check on how long Budapest had been electrified in 1928, the date of the piece, because I wondered if the whole idea of floodlit buildings, so standard for us today, might still have been a bit of a novelty at that time.  I couldn’t find the information, but I did discover that Budapest had one of the earliest subway systems, so they may have been early adopters of electricity, as well, and therefore this scene might not have been new to the artist.  Clearly, though, it’s one he appreciated!
        One of the most interesting things about this piece is the carving technique.  The larger white areas are carved out with very zig-zaggy lines as if Walleshausen rocked or jittered his tool as he cut.  (I haven’t seen something like this since Julius Griffith.)  The unlit objects are suggested with just the merest thin outlines, cut with a fine blade moving straight instead of rocking.  But the marks creating the reflected light are even more interesting.  It looks as if Walleshausen simply stabbed the wood over and over with the v-shaped tip of his gouge.  I did something like that on the hind leg of my Iguana at Uxmal.  For me it actually took two stabs, very close together, to take out just a tiny bit of wood and make the V’s show up.  I don’t know how Walleshausen actually created his marks, but clearly he was interested in the different effects that different ways of using his tools would have.  I think it works remarkably well for suggesting the twinkling of the lights in the water.
        I have no idea what time of year this scene represents, or whether it actually had anything to do with the winter holidays.  Still, I think it’s pretty cool, and I’m enjoying the way it evokes one of my favorite things about this time of year.  After all, don’t holiday illuminations carve light out of darkness just like relief block prints?

[Picture: A Kivilágitott Halászbástya (Floodlit Fisherman’s Bastion), woodcut by Zsigmond Walleshausen Von Cselény, 1928 (Image from Annex Galleries).]

December 15, 2015

Book Sculpture (Part II)

        Here are some more sculptures that use books in a different way.  In this first one, Jodi Harvey-Brown has used the book as a frame rather than a stage, so it could be hung on the wall.    The dove is not contained in the frame, but hovers in front of it.  In the second piece, the book has become a sort of plaque, and the butterflies have flown even farther from the pages.  Harvey-Brown has also added color to the cut paper instead of leaving it the black and white of the text.  It’s simpler than many of the others, with larger areas, fewer tiny details - simpler than most of Harvey’s other work, too - but I think that makes it look more like paper and the pages of books.  If the paper were too chopped up or smushed into papier maché it would be farther removed from its bookish roots.
        On the other hand, Guy Laramée uses books as if they were simply blocks of wood or stone and not anything readable at all, and yet his sculptures delight me, too.  He doesn’t fold paper, or build up shapes from pages, and there’s no text visible
anywhere.  I love the idea of burrowing into the books, spelunking in books, tunneling deep and discovering hidden landscapes.  Many of Laramée’s sculptures are pretty big because they aren’t built from single books but from entire shelves of books.  I don’t know whether they all represent real places, but some of them certainly do, and I’m particularly excited about a Petra carved from books - two great tastes that taste great together!
        Having gone on a search for book art, I kept finding more and more cool stuff, so I have one more installment for you, coming next week.  Stay tuned!  In the meantime, whether or not you love your Kindle or e-reader, take a moment to consider the magic of physical books as objects.  Perhaps it’s mere nostalgia, but it’s hard not to love the beauty of printed words bound together on paper.

[Pictures: Peace on Earth, book sculpture by Jodi Harvey-Brown (Image from Harvey’s Etsy shop WetCanvasArt); 
for Morphée Jewelry, book sculpture by Harvey-Brown (Image from;
from The Great Wall series, book sculpture by Guy Laramée;
Book People(?) from Biblios series, book sculpture by Laramée;
Petra from Biblios series, book sculpture by Laramée (Images from]

December 11, 2015

Three Cities

        Three relief prints from the first half of the twentieth century, depicting scenes from three US cities, by three artists.  From 1930, this view of Chicago by William Jacobs (USA, 1897-1973) is bold and blocky.  The buildings and trains are depicted mostly in solid blacks and whites without texture, with the sky’s rays for dynamic contrast.  Even the puffs of smoke from the trains look solid and muscular.  With its bold, clean cuts, the whole thing exemplifies an optimism about the bright future of progress.
        By contrast, this view of Beacon Hill in Boston, made by Thomas Nason (USA, 1889-1971) seems to show the city as old, staid, and tired.  This is a wood engraving, and the careful, tiny cuts that make up the piece emphasize the worn texture of the buildings, and the long shadow across the square.  Where Jacobs had smoke-puffing trains, Nason has a bent tree, and vines climbing the buildings.  The two pieces were made the same year by artists who were close contemporaries of each other, so it’s interesting to see how different were their styles, Jacobs embracing modern art movements, and Nason mastering traditional techniques.
        The third cityscape, from 1940-5 seems to emphasize neither the optimism of the future nor the shadow of the past, but the cluttered, busy, present.  It’s messier, or choppier than either of the other two, with shapes superimposed and sometimes askew.  The artist, Henry Kallem (USA 1912-1985) has gone a step less realistic than the other two.
        I like that all three artists have different styles, and show different moods of different cities.  While they all use the wood carving medium with its distinctive properties, they each emphasize different qualities of the medium and use it to different effect.

[Pictures: Chicago, woodcut by William Jacobs, 1930 (Image from;
Louisburg Square, Beacon Hill, Boston, wood engraving by Thomas Nason, 1930 (Image from William P Carl Fine Prints);
Manhattan, woodcut by Henry Kallem, 1940-45 (Image from William P Carl Fine Prints).]

December 8, 2015

Book Sculpture (Part I)

        This past weekend I began carving a block designed to keep me busy for a while: the largest block I’ve ever done, and full of tiny intricate details.  After some six hours of carving over the weekend, I’m still not halfway done.  The scene is a bookshelf on which the books are little houses and buildings, inhabited by tiny people, cats, dogs, a dragon…  The idea of the life and magic within books is one I’ve visited before, particularly in my piece The Open Book, and it’s an idea that is also illustrated by book sculptures.
        I admit to a bit of ambivalence about using books as the raw material for sculpture: cutting them up, destroying their content of words, seems like sacrilege.  On the other hand, lots of old books just end up getting thrown away, and it’s certainly far more respectful of them to transform them into a new form of art.  I’m quite tempted to try my hand at the medium myself!
        I won’t be sharing any purely abstract sculptures here.  Some of them are certainly incredible, but for me there’s something much richer about the intertwining of words and pictures, the turning of one storytelling medium into another.  In any case, there is no shortage of artists making cool sculptures out of books, such  that I’m going to have to break up the topic into more than one post.  So here’s a start…
        First, a ship at sea by Emma Taylor.  What I like particularly about this one is the wonderfully wavy pages on which the ship tosses.  Many book sculptures are simply placed atop a flat book surface, but in this one the book really is transforming into the scene, not simply supporting it.
        This scene of books within a book, by Karen Diot, is wonderfully self-referential.  Books, it turns out, make excellent bookshelves.  But I also like the idea of a book as a window, and in this example the light emphasizes the open window within the open book.
        Perhaps the coolest story about book sculptures is that of the eleven mysterious works of art left hidden around literary landmarks in Edinburgh in 2011.  The anonymous artist has never been discovered, and each sculpture was accompanied by a note “in support of libraries, books, words, ideas.”  Here’s an article outlining the whole mysterious, magical story.  This ferocious dinosaur shredding out of a book is one of those eleven mystery gifts.
        This Saturday I’ll be participating in the Needham Winter Arts Fest, continuing to carve my big, ambitious block, and continuing to dream about the magic of books and art.

[Pictures: A Ship Sets Sail, book sculpture by Emma Taylor, 2013 (Image from From Within a Book);
The Paper House, book sculpture by Karen Diot (Image from Architecture and Design);
The Lost World, book sculpture by anonymous artist, 2011.]

December 4, 2015

Upcoming Events

        It’s been a rather trying day, so I will simply share three things.
        First, this interesting woodcut by Edgar Dorsey Taylor (USA, 1904-1978).  It’s entitled Erosion, Punta Baja, and I’m not sure how representational the spiky shapes are meant to be.  In any case, it certainly evokes spiky, harsh landforms under a parching, relentless sun.  It also evokes the feeling of my frayed temper and frazzled mood!
        The other two things to share are my upcoming holiday sales.  This weekend - tomorrow and Sunday - I’ll be joining the artists of Gorse Mill Studios for their holiday sale.  Maggie Schmidt, who does gorgeous soft-focus oil paintings of flowers (check out her work here), is generously letting me show my work in her big, beautiful, sunny studio.  Much of today’s
frustration was occasioned by the fact that while setting up I stupidly locked myself out of her studio - with her keys, my purse, cell phone, wallet, and all on the inside.  Aaargh!  Luckily the door was eventually unlocked, and everything will be serene again by tomorrow at 10:00, when I’ll be sitting there with a smile, carving the biggest rubber block I’ve yet attempted!
        Exactly one week later, on December 12, the town of Needham will be hosting a Winter Arts Fest upstairs in Town Hall, and I’ll be participating in that, as well.  I’ll have a smaller display there, but will almost certainly still be working on the same huge, intricately detailed block.
        Please come by to check out my work, and the work of all the other artists who will be showing at these two events.  It’s a great opportunity to find unique, handmade, local, very special gifts for everyone on your list  (except, of course, any soulless people on your list who like nothing but boring, mass-produced generic stuff!)

[Picture: Erosion, Punta Baja, woodcut by Edgar Dorsey Taylor, 1969 (Image from The Annex Galleries).]