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Honolulu Museum of Art Blog
Honolulu Museum of Art Blog
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During the last two weeks of May, bookworms of Hawai?i got a special treat. The International Center of Photography based in New York City, teamed up with local publisher Bess Press and Minny Lee Fine Art to host a two week-long Masterclass in Bookmaking and several public programs.

It’s safe to say that Minny Lee, a recent addition to the Art School’s team of teachers, played a major role in getting the program over to Hawai?i. Originally from Korea but having lived in New York City for the past 25 years, Lee is no stranger to the ICP. In fact, their relationship spans 15 years. She was the one to propose Hawai?i—more specifically, her gallery space—as the next locale for the program for its unique arts and culture.

Students looking over some photos for their bookmaking.

Students looking over some photos for their bookmaking.

The program had 12 students in total, with six hailing from the islands—two from the Big Island and four from O?ahu. In addition to the students, Lee had a teaching assistant from the Big Island and three interns who were also local.

“From the very beginning we were very conscious about having a large part of the students come from Hawai?i,” Lee said over the phone. “People want to come to Hawai?i to take these classes, but for us it was important to have local people come in and enrich our program by bringing their own backgrounds and culture.”

The rest of the six students came from all over the world—New York City, Finland, Japan, Guatemala.

“They were all working with each other and I really loved the community they formed here even if it was for two weeks,” she said.

The students didn’t need to have any prior bookmaking experience. They just had to apply to the program—and obviously have a large passion for books. Lee tau

Designing a book.

Designing a book.

ght the students how to turn their ideas into page-turning realities, teaching them how to edit, design in InDesign, and then hand-bind the books with sewing. With bookmaking, “You have total control about the way you express yourself,” Lee said.

Helping Lee out as faculty members were award-winning editor Alison Morley, Benjamin “Buddy” Bess, Lee herself, and Teun van der Heijden of the Netherlands.

The Masterclass and its faculty also held lectures, panel discussions, and of course, an exhibition where the students showed off their finished creations at da Shop in Kaimuki. The public programs were totally free and open to the public.

Panel discussion. Photo by Brian Melanaphy.

Panel discussion. Photo by Brian Melanaphy.

“With free public programs, we were able to connect with local people who were not part of the workshop,” Lee said. “It was important to hear their feedbacks and exchange ideas.”

At the end of the two weeks, the students each had a completed book made from their own body of work.

A book that's just about ready!

A book that’s just about ready!

Even though Lee was an instructor of the Masterclass, she says she learned tremendously from everyone else. “Since everyone’s work had a personal significance or cultural significance, it was emotional journey they took with their bookmaking process,” she said. “Everyone was proud to hold a finished book dummy in their hands because of this journey everyone took with a courage.”

4 days ago |
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The exhibition Making Waveson view beginning June 14 in the contemporary collection gallery—highlights works by women artists from the museum’s collection. The selections center around the theme of water, employed by the artists as conceptual foundation or as literal subject matter.

As the museum is able to display only a small fraction of the collection at a particular time, an exhibition of works by women adds diversity to the galleries, allowing for exposure of underrepresented artists and for the consideration of new perspectives.

Water is a subject that has fascinated and inspired artists throughout history and continues to play an important role in the traditions and practices of peoples around the world. It is emblematic of spiritual purification, and is considered to represent the feminine force yin in Taoist philosophy. In Western mythology, the femme fatale and the dangers of water are closely tied in stories of sirens and mermaids—part woman, part animal creatures—who lure unsuspecting sailors to their watery graves. The horizon as seen over vast expanses of water often symbolizes the unknown, adventure, and the afterlife. Rivers and streams have historically served as areas of division or of joining together, as between the living and dead in ancient Greek mythology, and as geographical markers between states and countries. In the Hawaiian ahupua‘a system, land and water are interconnected ecosystems that sustain life.

Water plays a direct role in the daily life of Hawai‘i’s people and is especially relevant today. Surrounded by ocean, the islands have a unique responsibility to play in the protection and conservation of this critical resource. The environmental effects of climate change—sea-level rise and its effect on coastal communities, ocean pollution from plastics and runoff, sustainable fishing and farming practices, and access to safe drinking water—are timely topics of discussion locally and globally.

We caught up with California native and current Kaua‘i resident Carol Bennett to learn more about how her love of swimming began to inspire her artwork and why Hawai‘i is the perfect location for such an exhibition.

Bennett in action.

Bennett in action.

Why and how did swimming and art intersect so seamlessly for you?

I’m not a particularly good swimmer, but it’s like my daily meditation. My work is self-referential, so I just kind of paint what I do—and I swim. It’s like point A to point B. I finger the texture of the fabric of my everyday life and kind of idealize it, or make icons out of my everyday, so that they become kind of universal. I’m a woman and I paint women in water. [But they remain] anonymous because I don’t want it to be a specific individual, I want it to be like any woman—or every woman.

Tell me more about the piece you have featured in the show, which differs from your more well-known pieces.

I’m really excited about the piece that [Katherine Love is] putting in. I don’t think many people have seen it and it’s kind of an epic piece. It’s a recycled net…I remember the piece as being quite dramatic and epic because it’s bigger than you are, and then you go into the detail and uniqueness of every knot that the net connects. Nets are always about connections for me. That net I found at Mahaulepu [Beach on Kaua’i]. I dragged home tons of nets from Mahaulepu. I used to make tree houses and forts for the kids out of the nets, and that particular net is from that time.

Carol Bennett (American, born 1954),

Carol Bennett (American, born 1954), “Falling Waterline,” c. 2007,
Graphite, acrylic, oil on Dacron sailcloth,
Gift of The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, 2011, and gift of Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith, (TCM.2008.28), Copyright Carol Bennett

What do you want audiences to feel when they look at that piece?

I want them to feel lost in it. That’s how I respond to that piece because I get lost in it because of its size. Everything else can just kind of float away. I think it’s kind of mesmerizing. It’s kind of like looking at a puzzle and trying to puzzle the pieces together. It’s a lot to take in in its entirety but when I look at that piece, I’m kind of compelled to look at it piece-by-piece-by-piece to see how they fit together.

What do you think about the concept of the exhibition?

I think it’s exciting, and how many museums can do that? I like that it deals with what’s unique about Hawai?i—our affinity and our constant exposure to the oceans and to the water and environmental concerns. It’s a good platform for artists to talk about that.

5 days ago |
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On Tuesday, June 5, HoMA was honored to welcome two special guests: His Imperial Highness, Crown Prince Akishino—second son of Japan’s Emperor Akihito—and his wife, Princess Kiko, for a private tour and luncheon in the museum Café. The royal couple’s four days in Honolulu comprised their first official visit to the United States, and was in honor of the 150th anniversary of gannenmono—the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawai‘i.

“As stewards of one of the most significant holdings of Japanese culture outside of Japan, we understand and dedicate ourselves to the great responsibility of ensuring that we educate people from around the world about the art of Japan,” director Sean O’Harrow told the royal couple and their guests.

Accompanied by Mayor Kirk Caldwell and his wife Donna Tanoue, the Prince and Princess visited two of our galleries, The Robert F. Lange Foundation Gallery and the John Dominis and Patches Damon Holt Gallery: The Arts of Hawai’i, where O’Harrow shared a few highlights from the museum’s collection. For the royal visit, a selection of ukiyo-e prints, including Katsushika Hokusai’s renowned The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, were brought out of the vault and displayed for that day only. Since Her Imperial Highness is known to be fond of textiles, the museum’s textiles curator, Sara Oka, chose several antique Hawaiian quilts to showcase.

As the couple made their way to Luce Pavilion for lunch, they were greeted with a jubilant performance by dancers from Kumu Hula Nalani Keale and his Halau Kaulakahi. Emcee Misty Kela’i welcomed the Prince and Princess to the Café, where they were fêted by an impressive gathering of Hawai‘i’s business and cultural leaders, including former Governor George Ariyoshi, City Councilmember Ann Kobayashi and museum trustees Taiji and Naoko Terasaki.

Kumu Hula Nalani Keale and his Halau Kaulakahi.

Kumu Hula Nalani Keale and his Halau Kaulakahi.

Lunch was provided by the museum Café.

Lunch was provided by the museum Café.

After a spirited kampai (and okole maluna!) by Reverend and former Bishop Yoshiaki Fujitani and a blessing by Bishop Eric Matsumoto—both of Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawai‘i—the group enjoyed a deconstructed kukui nut and limu ahi poke bowl prepared by Chef Robert Paik. During a dessert of mango sorbet, the group was treated to a concert by members of the Hawai’i Youth Symphony Orchestra.

Afterwards, Mayor Caldwell stepped up to the podium to offer Princess Kiko a surprise gift—her own handmade Hawaiian quilt. 

The quilt gifted to Her Imperial Highness.

The quilt gifted to Her Imperial Highness.

“I want to thank Their Imperial Highnesses for visiting Hawai’i and helping us to celebrate this historic anniversary with pride and respect for our mutual shared culture,” O’Harrow said in his speech to the couple.

Before departing to a tree-planting ceremony in Thomas Square, Prince Akishino addressed the group in English. With his maile lei fluttering in the breeze against his pale green Tutuvi aloha shirt, he acknowledged our historic new friendship, “Mahalo nui loa,” he said.  

10 days ago |
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The middle of June—more specifically, June 17—marks Father’s Day, which means it’s time to gift dad the thoughtful gift he deserves. Dad’s may be notoriously challenging to shop for, but hath no fear. Our Museum Shop has got you covered.

Help dad make a stylish statement with this 100 percent cotton aloha shirt by Tutuvi. It comes in a muted sage green color with bold botanical detailing.

Tutuvi shirts feel as good as they look.

Tutuvi shirts feel as good as they look.

The aloha shirt also comes in a brilliant lime green, perfect for the summertime (and provides a much-needed pop of color during the dreary winter). Prince Akishino of Japan would probably agree with that sentiment—he was spotted wearing this very aloha shirt during his visit to the museum on 7/5.

Dads who want to stand out in a crowd will rock this lime green Aloha shirt.

Dads who want to stand out in a crowd will rock this lime green aloha shirt.

The Tutuvi shirts retail for $62 each, and come in sizes S-2XL.

For more casual weekend wear, dad might appreciate this fierce Kabuki t-shirt, which features the image “Goro Sharpening an Arrow” by Meiji Japanese woodblock print artist Toyohara Kunichika. This museum exclusive is sure to add a little bit of attitude to his outfit. This shirt retails for a cool $29.95 and comes in sizes S-XXL.

This Kabuki t-shirt is a museum exclusive.

This Kabuki t-shirt is a museum exclusive.

Spice up dad’s morning routine buy gifting him one of our modern minimalist HoMA mugs for his first coffee of the day. The mug comes in a variety of colors—there’s also gray for the neutral-leaning father—and costs $14.95.

Dad will love sipping coffee (or tea) from this HoMA mug.

Dad will love sipping coffee (or tea) from this HoMA mug.

Since he can’t be toting around an empty coffee mug, don’t forget to purchase a bag (or two!) of our custom-blended Maui or Costa Rican coffee, which can be found at both the Honolulu Museum of Art and Spalding House. The coffee blends are roasted exclusively for HoMA by Kona Coffee Purveyors. The Maui Coffee was chosen by HoMA interim food and beverage manager Josh Hancock for its subtle sweetness and toasted-nut characteristics; it pairs perfectly with the Costa Rican’s silky body and bittersweet chocolate notes. A six-ounce bag costs $14.99.

Our senior graphic designer Anjali Li designed the lively packaging for these coffee bags.

Our senior graphic designer Anjali Lee designed the lively packaging for these coffee bags.


11 days ago |
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In the lobby of the Linekona building, Chris Zorn looks calm, cool and collected in what has the potential to be a stressful mess—he’s working on his Nanogallery exhibition. (Like the name suggests, the Nanogallery is a 12-square foot space, which presents a unique challenge to the undertaking artist.)

Called “Words Create Worlds” (try saying that 10 times), the exhibition consists of Zorn—an Art School instructor of calligraphy and watercolor—painting the walls of the Nanogallery in purple words along the lines of “gratitude” and “peaceful”—no surprise considering Zorn’s staple zen-like demeanor.

Zorn’s exhibition is properly aligned with his skills. He’s a longtime calligrapher, having been doing it since the late 90s. He has experience working on quotes, certificates, wedding signs—you name it. But once the North Carolina native moved to Hawai’i, he struggled to find classes that would help improve his skill. Thus, he started teaching. Before working at the Art School, Zorn taught similar courses at Kapi’olani Community College. About a year and a half ago, he reached out to the former director of the Art School Vince Hazen and hasn’t looked back ever since.

Although he’s not quite done yet on Wednesday afternoon, we chatted with Zorn to get the behind-the-scenes scoop on what it’s like to create the Art School’s latest Nanogallery exhibition.

Zorn's incomplete Nanogallery exhibition.

Zorn’s incomplete Nanogallery exhibition.

Tell me more about your relationship with calligraphy.

It’s like meditation practice where it’s calming for me. Whereas here, it’s strange—people are walking by looking at you and there’s noise all over the place and I’m working in weird positions. It’s very different than when I’m home and I’m sitting and I’m quiet.

Why is your exhibition called “Words Create Worlds”?

It has to do with a thing called Appreciative Inquiry. One of the principles is called the Poetic Principle. It basically states that we are the poets of our lives and we choose what words we privilege, what words we choose in conversation, what words we have going on in our heads. This is a sort of exploration of that concept. What would it be like if these were the words that we privileged all day long? Would it create another world or not? I spent the last couple of years diving into that concept. It’s based on the idea of how important language is in our everyday life and shaping our own lives.

[In addition to adults] I teach high school kids and little elementary kids too. One of the things I teach them is mindfulness practice. In that practice, you’re always confronted with this internal dialogue and what’s going on with that. I think it’s interesting to see where other people are, how they relate to the words that they use. This is the kind of stuff I do everyday in my calligraphy practice, I’m always conscious of the words I use. This exhibition is an extension of that.

Zorn's set-up.

Zorn’s set-up.

How is it working with the small size of the Nanogallery?

For me, it’s a large space because I’m used to working [with paper and canvas]. I’m used to working really small. But here, it’s a chance to break out bigger brushes, try something experimental. The small space makes it good, it’s not like a whole wall I have to fill, it’s a reasonable amount of bigness. It’s somewhere in-between what my comfort zone is and totally overwhelming. Because it’s an enclosed space—it kind of wraps around—it sort of helps the experience of stepping in and imagining if these are the kind of words that go on in your head or do you have a different set of words that you tend to perpetuate. Are you even aware of the kind of words you tend to perpetuate all day long?

How come you chose to express your words in only purple paint?

It was one of those things where it’s creative limitation, where you have all these choices of colors and it’s very easy in a space which is much bigger than what I’m used to to just throw the whole palette at it. I thought it’d be interesting to limit. Secretly, there might be some gold in it, a couple of splashes, I don’t know. But mainly for me, certain colors evoke certain feelings, emotions, mind-states, perhaps. I think through history and a lot of different traditions, purple evokes—or invokes— some sort of regality and nobility and uplifted-ness.


Zorn’s Nanogallery exhibition will be up until June 28 in our Art School. See it for free!


11 days ago |
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On May 17, Neiman Marcus Honolulu celebrated its 20th anniversary with a special Runway Report fashion show and a special guest—Neiman Marcus fashion director Ken Downing. Generously hosted by Neiman Marcus, 100 percent of the ticket proceeds benefitted the Honolulu Museum of Art. The result? Over $14,500 that will go toward supporting the museum’s mission to bring together great art and people through education, exhibitions, our collection, and other programs. More than 30,000 children can make art and engage with our diverse collection through these very offerings.

The stylish event opened with a bustling cocktail reception, which included delicious bites to eat and flutes of sparkling wine to sip.

A cocktail reception was held for guests.

A cocktail reception was held for guests.

Attendees enjoyed an exclusive front row look at over 40 custom-curated looks with runway commentary by Downing himself. His 80s-inspired Runway Report shared the latest trends to grace the catwalk, from Dolce & Gabbana head-to-toe leopard to Stella McCartney pant suits. It was truly a fashion extravaganza, as other designers featured include Off-White and Brunello Cucinelli. 

PTH_5940 PTH_5883

After the show, guests got a behind-the-scenes look at all of the featured outfits—and were also able to meet with Downing and listen to his coveted fashion advice. (A tidbit of Downing’s advice: More is more and less is a bore.)


The Honolulu Museum of Art partnership with Neiman Marcus Honolulu dates back to the opening of their Ala Moana Center store, and was driven by the late Al Tomonari, general manager and museum trustee. The museum looks forward to continuing this longstanding partnership with Gina Haverly, current general manager, and is grateful for all that Neiman Marcus does to support the arts and arts education programs in the communities they do business in.

A special thank you to Honolulu Museum of Art trustee Corine Hayashi for spearheading this partnership for the museum.


15 days ago |
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In 1976, I was a second-grade student at Hokulani Elementary School, at the base of St. Louis Heights. As was normal in Hawai‘i public schools at the time, art, music, dance, and theater were part of the curriculum. To further my creative imagination (and keep me busy and out of trouble!), my parents also enrolled me in painting and ceramics classes at the museum. The studio program was a vibrant, integral part of the museum, and directly influenced my present career.

Fast forward more than four decades, and we find ourselves in a very different century. In April, Sen. Mazie Hirono visited Hokulani Elementary School to see how the Honolulu Museum of Art teaches art integration within school curriculum, as part of our Art Seed program. Sen. Hirono observed how students use artwork to illustrate scientific principles. She saw their plasticine models of bug anatomy and drawings of larvae. In this model outreach program, students learn art as part of other subjects that seem, on the face of it, very different.

Now why, you may ask, would an art museum spend time and resources teaching art in schools? It is an investment in the future. The dynamics of our lives today mean that sending children to learn art at museums is not necessarily a given. In three decades of working in arts education, I have seen across the country, primary and secondary schools systematically eliminating many forms of art and creativity from their curriculum. The reasons are various and, in my opinion, difficult to comprehend: from lack of time to funding issues, from lack of expertise to politics.

To create a more informed, curious and creative student population, the museum has been put in the critical position of delivering art history and art-making lessons and skills to teachers and schoolchildren. The objective is to make art a normal part of their daily lives, and make visiting an art museum a natural thing to do. It is heartening to see that HoMA is making a difference in the lives of many students, such as those at Hokulani.

The museum’s education work continues full- steam ahead. Our two grants from the State of Hawai‘i totaling $2.2 million have cleared their last bureaucratic hurdle, and we can start planning the expansion of the museum’s education facilities. A big mahalo to State Sen. Brian Taniguchi, State Rep. Della Au Belatti, their dedicated staff, and other hard-working civil servants, including those in the State of Hawai‘i departments of Labor, Finance and the Governor’s office. This has been a long road and now the project to benefit of our public education programs can begin. We are grateful and appreciative for these grants and all the effort involved.

Thank you for your support for the museum, and if you would like to contribute to such wonderful programs, I actively encourage you to do so! I look forward to seeing you at a museum event soon.


Sean O’Harrow


19 days ago |
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Our current contemporary exhibition “Abstruction: The Sculpture of Erick Swenson” is a visceral experience that forces audiences to confront explicit displays of mortality.

From the mystifying Ebie to the decaying Ne Plus Ultra and of course, the shimmering mano of the Present in the Past, Swenson’s work is honest, shocking, and poetic—all the makings of a great soundtrack.

“Present in the Past” by Erick Swenson

We encourage guests of the exhibition to create a playlist on SoundCloud inspired by Swenson’s labor-intensive sculptures.

Here’s one made by our digital media associate, Kathleen Wong:

Make your own playlist on SoundCloud and then share the link in the comments so that we can feature it on our SoundCloud page.


19 days ago |
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If you enter our museum from the front entrance, you are immediately greeted by La Grande Penelope, a bronze statue cast in 1956 after the French artist (and pupil of Rodin) Antoine Bourdelle’s original 1912 sculpture. She stands tall in our Central Courtyard. 

La Grande Penelope is made in tribute to the character of the same name in Homer’s Odyssey. Her eyes are closed and her head rests in her hand as she painfully waits for her loved one to return. Although made to honor Penelope, the statue’s facial features are inspired by Bourdelle’s first wife, Stéphanie Van Parys. The statue is both captivating and patient. 

Our La Grande Penelope. Émile-Antoine Bourdelle (French, 1861-1929).

Our La Grande Penelope. Émile-Antoine Bourdelle (French, 1861-1929). “La Grande Penelope,” c. 1912 (cast 1956) Bronze. La Grande Penelope.

She also has a sister over in Paris—an older sister, technically, since that one is the original sculpture.

Some of our museum staffers—including our director Sean O’Harrow, director of development Cara Mazzei, and development associate Ching Jen Lum—and supporters got to meet our Penelope’s counterpart while on a recent trip to the City of Lights.

Tucked into the residential neighborhood of Montparnasse—aka the 15th arrondissement—is the Bourdelle Museum.”It reminded me of HoMA as it had inside gallery spaces along with small beautiful courtyards,” Mazzei says. The intimate space is lined with blooming gardens and lit with streams of natural lighting. It also includes the artist’s former 19th century studios and apartments—it doesn’t get any more intimate than that. 

The group of HoMA staffers and supporters learning about the original Penelope.

The group of HoMA staffers and supporters learning about the original Penelope.

The Great Hall of the museum—which Mazzei called “impressive”—is dedicated to Bourdelle’s monuments. This is where Penelope, with her sense of longing, is on display. “For me, seeing her was like greeting a familiar friend,” Mazzei continues.

In fact, O’Harrow had a chance to meet with the Bourdelle Museum’s own director, Amélie Simier.

From left to right: Simier and O'Harrow.

From left to right: Simier and O’Harrow.

The trip is O’Harrow’s inaugural HoMA Director’s trip. Being so familiar with the area, he curated the itinerary—so it may come as no surprise as to why the Bourdelle Museum made the cut. The museum partnered with Benefactor Travel, a company that specializes in museum trips, to help the trip come together.


20 days ago |
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Downstairs in the metals studio of the Honolulu Museum of Art School, Kaori Vaughn sports long black hair, a striped shirt and a heavy duty tan apron. It’s fair to say that the apron is somewhat a staple of her look—Vaughn is the metals studio manager and an admired teaching artist for jewelry making classes, after all.

Teaching in the metals studio is actually something that Vaughn never thought she’d end up doing. In her past life, Vaughn worked as a television producer in Japan until she moved to Hawai’i and became a new media art student, then a metals lab assistant and finally, a teaching assistant at Kapi’olani Community College. Then Cynthia Wiig, a former metals lab instructor at the Art School, took Vaughn under he wing as her own teaching assistant. Since then, Vaughn has never looked back.

Some of the pieces made by Vaughn's students.

Some of the pieces made by Vaughn’s students.

Vaughn now teaches various classes in the metal studio; this summer, those classes are Intro to Jewelry Making, Advanced Jewelry Making, and Intermediate Metal Fabrication. We sat down with Vaughn to learn more about her experience teaching the Art School.

Why do you like teaching at the Art School’s metal studio?

I loved just using my hands, that’s why I started. I’m kind of a crafty person. As soon as I started I loved it. But before I started to teach, it was different. After I started teaching, I really wanted to help students and work with them. It’s an experience. If I do something by myself, it’s only my experience, but because I have a lot of students, their experience will be my experience. That’s something I love.

What are some of your favorite memories with your students?

A lot of the students from the beginning don’t have any idea of what they want to make and they start to use their hands and by the end of the semester, they always have something they can wear. After week two or three, they usually make something and if they show me or they send it to me in a picture, at that time, I feel really great. They give it to their family and take a picture and they send it to me.

What’s your favorite part about working with metals and making jewelry?

Students bring some picture or whatever that they want to make and we figure it out with them, like how to make it—and we usually make it! It’s really nice to have some idea of what they want to make. I don’t like copies so my students have to change something…[but when we] figure it out together, that’s really nice. Whatever they want to make, I want to help.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Brian Marshall. He is an American sculptor and is not famous yet—I guess—but I love his robots. He uses recycled materials and creates cute robots. They make me smile. I love anything that makes people happy! 


Summer 2018 registration for the Art School is currently open.


25 days ago |
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