The Abraham Lincoln Situation: Goodbye Abe, We’ll Miss You

Elanah Sherman with a package that delivered a Lincoln artwork

The two alternative Abraham Lincoln exhibitions–Enabled and The Lincoln Orphans–were the best of the Lincoln shows in Norwich during the month of May. They proved it again this past weekend, as a joyful and fun-loving spirit fueled the closing reception for the shows.

The trio of Elanah Sherman, Dan Topalis, and Grippo organized, managed, and hung the shows, and they were on hand to oversee the party. Grippo provided the People’s Choice Prize of $300 (given in all five dollar bills, of course) which was presented to Jo-Jo Kolodnicki, Jr. His pencil drawing of Lincoln was so luminous it looked like a daguerrotype, not a pencil drawing. He even taught me a technique for grinding graphite, then brushing it onto the page to get the effect.

Elanah also presented awards to Nancy MacBride (her mixed media piece got one of my two, yes two, votes) and Dan Topalis. Also, every artist was given a copy of The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: A Book of Quotations, edited by Bob Blaisdell.

Courtesy of the artist, Colin Hassett

How’s that for generosity?

Elanah, Dan and Grippo, in turn, were presented with books by which to remember this adventure: Honest Abe: 101 Little-Known Truths about Abraham Lincoln by Brian Thornton (an inside joke in that the title referenced my blog post of a similar title) and Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life by Adam Gopnik. Abe Lincoln masks were also freely dispensed.

I also came home a winner, with a piece of original art: a drawing of Abe on a box of Matzo Ball Mix by Colin Hassett, which I adore. And I’m very thankful that this experience has led to the opportunity to present a solo show at the Wauregan Gallery in July. The opening reception will be July 1 (First Friday), from 7-9. Stay tuned.

Some of the artists in attendance at the closing, besides Dan, Grippo, and the above award winners, were Laura Levine, Colleen O’Connor, Candace Grabel, and Richard Conover.

Elanah, Dan and Grippo have done a wonderful thing in opening their hearts and galleries to the “orphaned” Lincoln portraits. Many thanks, again.

Artist Sue Brehant with her Abe,
Artist Deb Ramthun in front of her work. (Abe impostor on the left).

Maura McGurk’s Art Blog Featured on, the website devoted to exploration of each and every one of Connecticut’s museums, has featured Maura McGurk’s art blog in its recent article about the Norwich Arts Center Gallery. The article discusses the Abraham Lincoln portrait contest.

The website has identified over 650 museums and historical sites in Connecticut (not bad for the third-smallest state in the country), and plans to visit and review each one of them. The list is currently at #211.

July is for Patriotism, and for Giving Back, Says Artist

July is shaping up to be a charitable month for Maura McGurk; she will donate 10% of proceeds from her art exhibition about anti-gay bullying to The It Gets Better Project, and donate an original artwork which will be auctioned off in support of the New Bedford Art Museum.

It Gets Better will promote McGurk’s solo exhibition, which will take place at the Wauregan Gallery in Norwich, CT, with an opening reception during Norwich’s monthly First Friday celebration, on July 1. The artworks on display will take a stand against gay bullying by presenting McGurk’s thoughtful yet colorful take on teenaged suicides due to bullying.

“As we think about how to be patriotic during July, let’s remember that there’s nothing more American or patriotic than supporting our kids,” McGurk said. “Having this conversation [about bullying] is saving lives, and The It Gets Better Project is saving lives”.

Works for sale will include framed paintings on paper, paintings on wood panels, and an art installation which will be sold off piece by piece.

McGurk’s other charitable focus during July is a donation of artwork to an art auction in support of the New Bedford Art Museum. The theme for the artwork is New Bedford/Southcoast Through the Lens.

“I donated a little painting of a bird last year, and I have a special place in my heart for the New Bedford Art Museum. I lived down the street while I was in grad school, and liked to walk over there to see what was going on, and brought my students there for field trips,” McGurk remembers.

It Gets Better Project to Support Maura McGurk’s Solo Art Exhibition

The It Gets Better Project, founded by Dan Savage in response to several teen suicides caused by anti-gay bullying in Fall 2010, will support artist Maura McGurk’s solo art exhibition at the Wauregan Gallery in Norwich, CT during July 2011.

The exhibition will feature artworks that take a stand against gay bullying. McGurk began this body of work in Fall 2010 because of the same concerns about teen suicides due to anti-gay bullying. McGurk says that although the subject matter is weighty, the work itself is colorful and attractive.

“Whenever people hear the words abstract art, or gay art, or political art, they say “Uh oh”. It sounds confrontational, or weird, or people say I don’t understand art nowadays,” McGurk said. “I want my work to have a chance to tell its story, and so I try to make it beautiful through colors and textures, so you want to spend time with it. And if you spend time with it, hopefully something else will emerge. Lots of art has been made about war and tragedy, and some of it is really bleak and ugly. Let’s face it–tragedy is ugly. But I can’t make my work that way; that’s not me.”

After a pause, she added, “Like Harvey Milk said: You gotta give ‘em hope”.

It Gets Better, Acrylic/Mixed media on panel, 6 x 6, In the private collection of Dan Savage

McGurk contacted It Gets Better because of their shared interest in saving teens’ lives, and told them about the exhibition. It probably didn’t hurt that founder Dan Savage was already acquainted with her work, since he owns one of her anti-gay bullying paintings, called, appropriately enough, It Gets Better.

The It Gets Better Project will promote the exhibition and have provided their name and logo for use in advertising. McGurk will donate 10% of proceeds from the exhibition to the non-profit foundation. “I wish it could be more, but a girl’s gotta eat!” she laughed.

“There is a wide range of pricing, with affordable pieces, and a fun aspect where an installation of puzzle pieces will be sold off piece by piece. There’s something for everyone, so I hope at the end of the month, I have a nice big check to give to The It Gets Better Project”.

McGurk’s anti-gay bullying artwork can be viewed on her website. To purchase a painting, please contact Maura McGurk at or through her website.

The Abraham Lincoln Saga: Closing Reception

You’re cordially invited to the Closing Reception for Enabled: The Lincoln Portrait Show that Tells Artists: Do What You Want! and The Lincoln Orphans Exhibit: Giving a Home to the Excluded Portraits!.

114 Main Street, Norwich, CT
May 27, 7-9 PM

Three People’s Choice winners from Enabled will be announced at 8:00 PM. I can hardly stand the suspense–there are some excellent works in that show, very deserving of the recognition. See you there!

New Anti-Gay Bullying Painting

Before and After, Acrylic/Mixed media on panel, 24" x 24", $1500

This painting, part of my series against gay bullying, is called Before and After.

Tyler Clementi and the other teens who have committed suicide because of bullying are still on my mind, especially after recent legal action on his case these past couple of weeks related to his former roommate and hallmate.

Also, I’m in the middle of the It Gets Better book, and both of these related trains of thought keep raising the themes of “Before” and “After” in my mind.

Many people in the book (and in the videos) tell the story of how, as kids, they just went about their business until one day when they were confronted with a homophobic remark or action, one so remarkable that it somehow divided their lives into Before and After.  Sometimes, it was notable because it marked the first instance of bullying in that child’s life.  Other times, it was notable because that was the moment when the writer realized that the world perceived them as different.  Or gay.  But for everyone, it was remarkable because of the way that everything that came After seemed different.  It changed the way the writers felt about themselves, how they saw themselves in the world, and how they interacted with others.

For Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked, it was when his friends told him that their writing group would disband because “guys writing in journals is a faggy thing to do” (p 23).  For singer Meshell Ndegeocello, it was the day her friend responded to a boy’s teasing by publicly rejecting Meshell and puching her in the face (p 112).  Undoubtedly, the boys and girls who committed suicide due to anti-gay bullying had their own Before and After moments.  Certainly, we can look at their lives and suicides in terms of Before and After:  they were here, and now they’re not.

Thinking about all of this, I painted a lively, chaotic mix of colors and shapes throughout most of the painting.  This is Before:  kids being themselves, not necessarily self-censoring their speech or actions yet.  This is Gregory happily and obliviously sharing his journals, Meshell playing with her friend Gwendolyn.  It’s daydreaming or playing or the usual things that come with living a busy childhood.  It’s not perfect or sugarcoated; colors muddy together sometimes, textures (some made by collaging drawings onto the surface of the painting) hint at things buried underneath, slightly ominous forest greens or gray-blacks appear amid brighter colors.

But a shift in color and imagery happens near the bottom of the painting.  Two dark gray slashes of paint that resemble an X seem to bottle up the activity, like a plug in a drain.  Below those marks, the painting becomes more gray, and less active.  This is the resting point in the painting, but it’s not a peaceful rest.  It’s tense and unsatisfying, a contrast to the activity and spirit elsewhere.

Before and After.

I Saw Someone Who Jumped Off a Bridge This Morning

I saw someone who jumped off a bridge this morning.

On my usual morning walk along the East River, I noticed several NYC fire trucks on the other side of the river.  They were parked at intervals, facing the water, lights flashing.  I felt a little queasy at the thought of a terrorism-related threat but then also considered that it could be a movie or television shoot.  I kept walking.

A Fire Department boat roared by.  Then a Fire Department truck and a police car sped down the pathway, honking for me to get out of the way.

Way too elaborate for filming an episode of SVU.  When I approached the curve by Gracie Mansion where I usually turn around, there were three people gathered, looking at the ferry dock.  Various Police and Fire Department boats had closed ranks around the pier, and about three dozen officers were in the process of assembling ladder pieces.

We were told that someone had jumped off a bridge, and the current had carried him here, where the pier sticks out into the river.

They put a bundle on a wire stretcher, loaded it up with blankets, and lowered an oxygen mask into place.

The officers lined up on both sides of the stretcher, like pallbearers, one of them calling out “Left Right Left Right” like a drill sergeant, as they carried the stretcher away up the steep winding path to get to the road.  They passed right by me, so close I could have reached out and touched any of them.

The jumper was young, with dark, wet hair.  I don’t know if he was a boy or just barely a man.  I don’t know what made him jump off the bridge, or if he’ll recover.  I don’t even know which of the several nearby bridges he jumped from.

But how could I not think of the bullying that drove Tyler Clementi to jump off a bridge just about 6 miles away?  How could I not be reminded of all the other teen suicides due to bullying–anti-gay or otherwise?

As I walked home, I was struck by the incongruity of the scene:  Tents are waiting outside Gracie Mansion, in advance of a party.  Landscapers prune bushes and plant flowers in the park.  New joggers and dog walkers enter the path, completely unaware of what just happened.

My heart is heavy, thinking of all the people who are troubled by things they believe no one can understand.

Trading Cards: They Work for Ballplayers AND for Artists

I made these artist trading cards to give out at the Women in Arts exhibition I was involved with at the Queens Museum of Art.

  • The occasion was SWAN Day (Support Women Artists Now) and I thought people might need a crash course in what that meant, being that’s it’s a recently created celebration.
  • I wanted to present a little gift to all the women who came that day, in the spirit of generosity.
  • I thought it might be a good hook to start a conversation, which would hopefully end up focused on my paintings.
  • I hoped it might be a takeaway that could start a conversation even after the day was over, since I put my contact information on the back.
  • With a brief art history lesson on the back, I thought it was a bit more interesting than handing out business cards.
  • In my shy moments, it gave me a reason to approach people, instead of just smiling or feeling like an aggressive fool, trying to “sell” something.
  • I think it put others at ease too, because even if those I approached didn’t know anything about art, there was something in front of them that they could talk about–even if it was just to say that they hadn’t heard of the artist, or hadn’t known what she looked like, etc.

I put a female artist (some well-known, some not) on the front, or a recreation of her work. I respected copyrights by using older works, my own photographs as stand-ins, painting the cards myself, and even using a model (Frida!).

I made more than I needed that day, but I still use them, to enclose in thank-you notes for example.

They worked well as a “ruse” to approach people, so I think I’ll use the idea of a trading card, or similar takeaway that’s tailored to the occasion, again.

The Bully Project

I can’t wait to see The Bully Project, a documentary that looks at bullying over the course of an entire school year. From the official website:

Stories include two families who have lost children to suicide and a mother awaiting the fate of her 14-year-old daughter who has been incarcerated after bringing a gun on her school bus. With an intimate glimpse into homes, classrooms, cafeterias and principals’ offices, the film offers insight into the often cruel world of the lives of bullied children. As teachers, administrators, kids and parents struggle to find answers, The Bully Project examines the dire consequences of bullying through the testimony of strong and courageous youth. Through the power of their stories, the film aims to be a catalyst for change in the way we deal with bullying as parents, teachers, children and society as a whole.

The trailer is incredibly moving all on its own, but be sure to visit their website for more information.

You Will Find Your People

Today, as I walked along the East River in Manhattan, I was shocked and delighted to see someone wearing a Boston Red sox shirt, with #10 Coco Crisp on the back.

To clarify, I pass hundreds of people on this walk each day and have never seen any visible support for the Red Sox (except my own Red Sox cap). Red Sox Nation is not received too kindly up here. Once, a woman who was cuddling a baby told it as I walked by: “She must be from Boston”, and she managed to make it sound vaguely threatening.

On top of that–Coco Crisp?! Not a major sports celebrity, and no longer even playing for the Red Sox, so it was an unexpected choice of attire in several ways.

Seeing that shirt was a little like finding a cool stream in the desert, and put a smile on my face for the rest of the morning.

My takeaway: There are other Coco Crisp-loving fans in the heart of the Upper East Side. (Apply this metaphor to whatever niche you happen to be involved in–like people interested in gay bullying paintings). It might take a while, but you will find your people.

A Hard Day’s Work

Yesterday was a good day. I got up early and got dressed pretty quickly, because I wanted to hurry in and get going on a painting that had been unfinished for too long. I worked on it all day, pushing and pulling, alternately struggling and rejoicing at what was happening in front of me on the panel.

I heard from a former professor, who said it was a pleasure to watch from afar as he saw my career taking off.

I finally finished the painting late at night, and my girlfriend told me: Hey, do you know you’ve got your shirt on backwards?

Another day in the life of an artist.

Favorite Quotes from It Gets Better, Part 3

“As a gay woman of color, I just want to let the youth know that it kind of doesn’t get better. All these straight, rich celebrities, I’m not even going to name them, they can tell you that it gets better because they’ve got money and people don’t care what they do. They’re comin’ from a good place and stuff. And I appreciate that, but I’m gonna be real, because I live this life and I’m not rich and I’m brown and I probably look like most of you.

First of all, it doesn’t get better but what does happen is this. You get stronger. You realize what’s going on; you see how people are; you see how the world is. And as an adult, you learn how to deal with it. You learn how to love yourself. You learn to just take it for what it is. You learn that other people are just crazy and caught up in their own crap.

Like all the people that are religious that say that gay people are bad, and then you see them being caught up in gay scandals. I might be gay, but I don’t have relationships with prostitutes–no disrespect to prostitutes–but I don’t have illicit affairs with prostitutes and get caught up in drugs. I’m a normal person that lives her life as a gay individual, has a relationship, and just tries to make it in this world…

And as for me and God, I view our relationship as hella strong. God made all of us so God made me. Therefore, in my mind, God is cool with being gay. And if Jesus were alive today, he’d chill with us because everybody else hates us. I will say this: Don’t give in to this myth that it’s going to be fancy and amazing when you’re older and that everything’s gonna be fine. Just know that you gotta get stronger. And the stronger you get the easier dealing with all this craziness will be. The stronger you get the more you hold on to your own life; the more you’ll love yourself. And you’ll be better able to be in relationships with other people. You’ll be better able to deal with the fact that you are gay. And you’ll realize that’s not the problem. It’s never a problem to be gay. The problem comes from everyone else giving you a hard time about it, making laws against you because they’re afraid to be who you are.”

Gabrielle Rivera, pp 45-47

Favorite Quotes from It Gets Better, Part 2

“Okay. Listen up, people.

It gets better. You being here makes this world a more blessed place. There’s art to be made. And there are songs to be sung. There’s so much to learn about yourself. There are sexy people to make out with. Yeah.

There’s joy coming for you. So stay with us. It gets better.” Jules Skloot, p i


“My parents tell me all the time now how proud they are of me; how much they love me. They’re proud that I’ve worked so hard to go back to school. They’re proud that I’ve moved to a city and have all these friends. They are so proud of me, period. And it’s not even that they’re proud despite the fact that I am gay. My mom tells me all the time that the day I left the church is the day she knew she succeeded as a parent. She tells me she is proud to have a gay daughter–somebody who is brave enough to choose her own way. It is amazing to hear that, and to believe it.” Laurel Slongwhite, p 13


“My partner recently told me a story about my dad. We were at an engagement party for my sister, and my dad and my partner were outside together, and my dad looked at him and asked, “When are you and my son getting married?”.” Bruce Ortiz, p 17


“The only reason big changes happen is when people like you and me decide to fight for things to change, when we take action to make things different.” Urvashi Vaid, p 24


“Once you’re out of high school you can find an environment that will support you. You can find an environment where you can be happy, where you’ll find people that will be there for you and accept you and love you the way you are. And you can meet cute girls! Or boys, I guess, I don’t know. I haven’t really been paying attention to them, but…I guess they’re around here.” Brinae Lois Gaudet, p 29

The Abraham Lincoln Saga: Abe Resurfaces in Norwich at Opening Receptions!

A spirit of camaraderie and light-hearted fun prevailed at the openings of Enabled: The Lincoln Portrait Show that Tells Artists: Do What You Want! and The Lincoln Orphans Exhibit: Giving a Home to the Excluded Portraits! in Norwich, CT on First Friday.

Elanah Sherman, organizer of both shows, personally escorted groups between the floating receptions. Lincoln masks were provided, and Wandering Abes greeted each other on Main Street.

The Wauregan Gallery space was beautiful. Grippo, another local hero in my book, bent over backwards to get the gallery prepared, and hung most of the show. And, any of the works there in the Orphans show would have held their own in the juried show run by the Slater Museum.

Over at Enabled, artworks were more playful and included: prints of Lincoln in the style of Andy Warhol, a paper mosaic, several mixed media sculptures, a painting depicting Lincoln with today’s Tea Partiers, and a portrait of Lincoln on a box of Matzo Ball Mix.

The show was hung beautifully by gallery manager Dan Topalis–the big works didn’t crowd out the small pieces, and all works, no matter their size or placement, were able to shine.

It was clear that these shows were the hotspots in town on First Friday. The venues were packed with artists, supporters, and art lovers. The sense of fun was so palpable that as people passed between the floating receptions for the two shows, outdoor revelers at the local pubs stopped them (enviously) to ask where they were going.

Last but not least–my heartfelt personal thanks again go out to Elanah Sherman, Dan Topalis, Grippo, and everyone else who helped to make these exhibitions possible. They saw a need and they immediately and graciously stepped in to fill it, full speed ahead. This First Friday belonged to them–congratulations on putting together two wonderful shows. And thank you.

Enabled will offer a People’s Choice Prize of $300, courtesy of Grippo–be sure to stop by and vote!

There will be a Closing Reception (People’s Choice winner will be announced then) on May 27, 7-9 PM.

Gallery hours for both shows: Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays through May 27. 2:30 – 5:30 PM or by appointment. For appointments, contact Dan Topalis at 860.608.2661.

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