Notes from a journey: a window into warm afternoon of re-connecting with an inspiring, intellectually stunning life. Melissa Smedley honors the life of Helen Harrison.
Left: Doris Bittar with Newton Harrison; Right: Melissa with her beloved dog, Bailey at El Toro pond in Salinas, California
"Why not a Pilot?"
Doris Bittar and I (Melissa Smedley) traveled to the Santa Cruz home of Helen and Newton Harrison to celebrate the life/passing of Helen Harrison. During the early nineties, Doris and I intersected at UCSD and each had our experiences, our imprinting from this art making couple.
On Sunday morning, we traversed the salad bowl of Salinas Valley all the way to the mouth of the river at the sea edge. After leaving one car near a slough, together we made our way up route 1 toward Santa Cruz. We encounter some traffic molasses, due to the coolness of Santa Cruz, and accidently allow navigation-lady to lead us to a slightly dystopic hilly stucco area. It was noticeably very un-Helen like and too quiet, where people may be trapped in their cul de sacs. Because we are fortunate to have studied with these exemplary forward-thinking humans, Helen and Newton Harrison, they have also listed themselves deliberately in the various locator search engines, because they’ve been running a business.
When we arrived at the real place, of course the gathering had oozed out the door and into the street with conversations, squirrely children’s noises and food smells, all a- buzz with thoughtful humans, chairs and such on the street: this was the undead gathering we were imagining. The oldest son out front wearing an apron cooking tri tips on one of those portable crank-up-and-down grills. All ages of folk, woven in and through their lives through many channels and chapters. While Joseph Albers prints hung humbly and dustily on a wall.
Newton was dressed in a nice suit, with sandals and black socks made to not ever be shoes, reclining on a chair, one made for that, next to a matching recliner that was not empty, yet it was not exactly her there, yet it was. His handshake was warmed doubly as two large tanned paddles cupped my scrawny arm; a great hospitality was extended though I personally have been a lousy near-neighbor, never visiting ‘til now.
When it was time to make a toast, to say a few words, there were considerable twinklings in Newton’s and others eyes. Some great little snippets were uttered. Including the daughter who, after an exciting international trip at age 10 or so, was enamored of the stewardesses and given a set of wings. “I know what I want to be when I grow up” she says to her mom, “a stewardess” …. .. “Why not a pilot?” said Helen.
A woman standing in the kitchen with lovely unruly grey hair and artistic glasses sang a song about Soulmates, “Hiye diddle lye diddle eye Lye .. (or something) she sang for us in Yidddish what her rabbi had sung to her over the phone, (which I remembered as “hey diddle diddle”) yes the cat and the fiddle. The song was roughly about how you can’t say good bye to a soulmate, because this one is part of your puzzle, always there because you two made you together.
Newton recounted that last week Helen had come directly into his ear speaking – she told him to switch the TV channel, “You know I don’t like “Westerns”. “So, I changed the channel” he said.
Another woman sang a song in Croation, acapella, standing there by his bookshelf, she offered a song about being very very sad, so that through singing it, you can let some of the sadness out, so that you can then be more free to carry on.” La LA La la la la she closed her eyes and let it flow and pause and breathe in sad sad song, with the shared intent in her cradle, wearing a simple dress in the afternoon.
Where this here story-delivery person broke the water out of her eyeballs was when the caregiver spoke, telling us what a privilege it was to get to know Helen and what a whole new lease on life she had as an independent woman after having been part of the family. “A part of the family”, was a theme here, as persons from many chapters of their lives coalesced in one space. Various academics, authors, neighbors, children, colleagues, former students, curators, etc., etc., had in different ways, been made to feel like part of the family.
Former students expressed awe of her work, at the same time as the nurturing, which does not always happen.
As we were exiting, I was drawn to a big pure smile saying goodbye and “thank you for coming”: this turned out to be a neighbor who had been coming over twice a week for two years to sing with Helen. “You are my sunshine.. my only sunshine ….” being the last song she sang.
My own memory having to do with Helen was that she always carried a big big purse that seemed at times at odds with her prodigious thought orbit. But what did I know? Now, I think the purse was a form of insulation from the institutional concrete grind.
I’m very glad to have attended, besides interface with the legacy, this included several interesting conversations with strangers, as well as a re-bonding with classmates Doris Bittar, Stephane Heyl, now Violet Harlo, from “the institution”, as well as conversation with daughter, Joy.
Doris adds, "I feel compelled, at the end of Melissa’s lovely recollections, to interject about the big purse. I think Helen wore a big purse, because essentially these maverick artist team were/are a product of their circumstances. Helen had a lot of things in her purse like all middle class moms. There was aspirin, band-aids, the latest book she was reading as she was a voracious reader, a small package of tissues, probably Newton’s medications, a notepad or small sketchbook. She was often in that bag looking with some consternation. The nurturing, we grad students received was in that bag. I was a new student and also a new mom while at UCSD. I was in a disarray over coinciding mom and art duties. I was sometimes quite frustrated and sad because if it. Being a new mom interfered with my art. I stumbled over my new role, and it felt quite awkward. Helen took me aside and pointedly said, “It is better to express anger than be sad. Anger motivates.” I was reluctant to accept this for years, but I never forgot it. Having long vowed not to become one of those kind of tough women, I had to learn to be angry and constructive somehow. I worked on that for fifteen years, being angry, motivated and constructive about all kinds of issues. Finally, in my mid-forties I wore my Bitch medal with honor, and always remember Helen’s words, which decidedly got me out of my hole of sadness."
We hope you can join us this Thursday, April 12, 5:30-8:00 pm, for the opening reception of The Agency of Artexhibition. The exhibition is on view at the University Art Gallery @ Mandeville Center.
Passport photo, early 1960’s. All family members shown in the same “family passport.” Thirteen year old Luis on the right.
Thanks to a grant from The Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Pasadena California, I was able to hire expert Anne Laure Bovin to help me document and archive my work. We completed the first part which is photographing and documenting most of the work in my studio, “La Línea Curva,” in Pasadena. The second part will be discovering and archiving chronologically all the documents of my career as an artist and cultural promoter from1972 to the present.
Due to the great amount of work documented and for the purpose of practicality, I have decided to make public parts of the archive for people interested in my work, which will be renewed every 15 days.
STEPS TO GO TO THE ARTWORK ARCHIVE OF LUIS ITUARTE
Go to the website: https://www.artworkarchive.com
This is the site where most of my work is located: (approx. 500 pieces).
1. Click on ‘’Discovery’’ in the menu at the top right of the page.
2. Look down the page on the lower right of the page and click on ‘’Search by Artist Name.’’
3. Type ‘’Luis Ituarte’’ in the space that appears.
4. You are now on Luis Ituarte’s public page:
When you click on the first picture, you will find information on the piece as well as other pictures relating to this piece.
To move to the next piece, click on the blue arrow at the top right of the page.
If you require seeing more information of Luis’s art, go to www.luisituarte.com or contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org,
“La Linea Curva” studio visits in Pasadena CA by appointment only
Gerda Govine Ituarte: “Check out “Consejo Fronterizo de Arte y Cultura (COFAC): Poetry Within Reach” from Side Street Projects on Vimeo.”
The video is available for your viewing pleasure at https://vimeo.com/189013271
Gerda with husband, Luis Ituarte, illustrator of her books
I am a poet because I cannot help it. The words always find me and ready to be put onto the page. They wait move into motion—lift off with my breath--sounds, tone and cadence. Sometimes they flow, sway, hit between the eyes, bring lessons and weave themselves into stories know and unknown that follows you home and lingers—feeling different.
Sliver of Light
to get through
This eight-year journey is one that I am so glad that I did not miss. I dance with words. They never step on my feet.
Sipped cup of words
Both poems are from “Future Awakes in Mouth of NOW,” published in by Éditions du Cygne SWAN World), Paris, 2016. Artwork cover by hubby artist Luis Ituarte.
Joyce with Erika Torri after receiving the UCSD Geisel Library Citation for her philanthropy last fall
It’s with great sadness that Public Address has lost our friend and colleague, Joyce Cutler-Shaw, who passed on March 19, 2018. There will be a celebration of her life in 4 to 6 weeks. Following are remembrances of Joyce by two of our members.
Ruth Wallen writes, “It is with great sadness that I share with all of you that Joyce passed away yesterday. Joyce was one of the initial members of the ecoart dialogue, having been on the panel from which the dialogue was formed. Joyce was a very active public artist in San Diego. Her early work included an alphabet of bird bones and many works with pigeons as messengers. She almost always wore a bone on a necklace around her neck. Among her big public projects her large sculptures of sycamores and grasses for a new branch library along the San Diego River, and Orbital Loops at the Count building.
She was a vital member of the local San Diego community. This fall she was recognized for her philanthropy for the UCSD library. For many years she sponsored a series of lectures on art and architecture at the local Athenaeum music and art library, in which some of us from this list participated. In fact I think she’s donated money for this series to continue. She generally hosted dinners at her La Jolla home, with a wonderful view of the ocean, afterwards. Every year she sent out a holiday card with wonderful drawings and updates about her and her husband’s activities. “Work, work” was a constant theme, even in the last year of her life.
Much of her work centered around the human body. For many years she was artist in residence at the UCSD medical school, where she also taught drawing to med students. She was also a member of Public Address, a local group of public artists that is planning a big exhibit this fall.
Her most recent work concerned her illness that began to manifest about two and a half years ago. I’m sorry that I can’t recall the name of the disease. It is somewhat similar to Parkison’s but more severe. Early symptoms were that it effected her speech and her hands, so that she could no longer draw. Gradually it also effected her balance and ability to walk. Joyce was very tenacious and courageous. Slowly she would carefully pronounce the name of her illness, and in very straightforward terms describe the symptoms. Always working on a new project, she was determined to keep making artwork documenting the disease’s progress. When she was first diagnosed, she was told that typically people live for about four years after diagnosis. I never expected she would pass so soon. She will be missed.
Life is precious.” http://www.joycecutlershaw.com/home/
Larry Kline writes, “The arts lost a visionary this week. As I worked on a new set of drawings, I found myself listening to “She is Fierce,” a wonderful video by Becky Cohen. In this documentary, Joyce Cutler Shaw is, as always, hard at work, creating in the studio and planning for new exhibitions. This could be a portrait of any artist at work, or at least any artist with ambition, drive and determination, but one quickly becomes engrossed in her story as she strove to create remain a creative force despite her struggle with Corticobasal syndrome. She was rarely at a loss for words, though the disease slowed her once frenetic speech patterns to one more deliberate and concentrated. This neurological disorder also profoundly affected her motor skills though even in her later years it was hard to keep up with her once on the move. She took her struggle with balance in stride, resolute to the fact that she would continue to move forward though her body may occasionally disagree. The result was that she fell frequently, and Debby and I both witnessed falls that would have brought a “healthy“ person to tears (and perhaps an emergency room.) With a helping hand she would simply shrug it off as an inconvenience of life, regain her composure and push ahead. We were with her at her last exhibition at the Athenaeum. When she found the crowds overwhelming, she was escorted into the glass walled conference room, where she held court for well over an hour as friends, well-wishers and fans lined up to share a few words with her and show her their love and respect. When she signed our catalog, though she struggled to make the marks so familiar to to her, she persevered. Her signature showed a gradual transformation which bore an eerie resemblance to the Alphabet of Bones typeface that she had developed some years back. One of the exercises that she regularly assigned to medical students was to have them sign their names repeatedly on a piece of paper until it was completely filled. These became insightful self-portraits as her own showed that she was indomitable. The changes in her signature followed the dominant themes of her work throughout the years; survival, evolution and transformation.
In concert with her career as an artist, Joyce was a force for change in the community and she and Jerry gave generously to countless institutions in San Diego and beyond. We ourselves are direct beneficiaries of these gifts. We were privileged to be able to work with her directly over the last few years as she trained us to take over her course Drawing as a Way of Seeing, which she developed for UCSD School of Medicine. One of our proudest accomplishments was to have been named the Joyce Cutler Shaw Artists-in-Residence at the medical school where we will do our best to continue her legacy. Her presence will be greatly missed.”
Doris is helping newly arrived refugees learn English through a volunteer-based support group she helped found, Teach and Learn Literacy, or TALL. Read about this work in this San Diego Union Tribune article.
Since 2010, over 100 million trees have died in California alone--ravaged by beetles, drought, fires and more. Humans and trees are bound in reciprocity. In addition to shade, shelter and food, trees produce oxygen and take up the carbon dioxide that we increasingly spew into the atmosphere. In many cultures, trees are a symbol of life itself. What does it mean that the trees are dying?
This exhibition chronicles the ecological changes in a few locations in southern California from Torrey Pines State Park, Cuyamaca State Park, Mount Cuchama, and Pine Creek Wilderness in San Diego County, to Joshua Tree, Walker Pass and Alta Sierra further north. Coastal chaparral, pines, juniper, oaks, and Tecate cypress are represented in sumptuous photomontages that express the dynamic qualities of these environments. As opposed to the grandiose sublime, these visuals encourage active exploration, offering glimpses, or incomplete views at a variety of scales evocative of the enchanted vibrancy of life.
The visual exploration is grounded science. Text provides insight into the complex intertwined impacts of urbanization, globalization, invasive species, and climate change that are causing the trees’ decline. A tree stump with an ipad displays diagrams of trees rings with historical data and models projecting climate to the year 2100. Tree rings are often labeled with historical events and pressing on selected rings reveals information about a local ecological event that has occurred or might occur in that year. (For tree stump could you also link to this URL? www.ruthwallen.net/listentothetrees
Visitors will be encouraged to interact with the work. Reminiscent of Jewish mourning rituals, outside the gallery, they may share their grief by writing of their losses on stones. Or they can write their suggestions for actions to effect change on leaves that will be placed on bare tree branches.
See also this article in San Diego City Beat:: http://sdcitybeat.com/culture/seen-local/ruth-wallen-remembers-the-trees-at-mesa-college/
Mesa College Art Gallery
Mesa College Drive, San Diego 92111
March 12 - April 3, 2018
Open M, T, W 11-4; Th 11-7
Sunday, March 4, 2018, Gerda Iturate Govine, Nina Karavasiles, and Anne Mudge on "Threshold Tessallation" at the front door of the California Center of the Arts, Escondido. Made by Wick Alexander, Robin Brailsford and Doris Bitar with LithoMosaics specifically for the museum as part of Robin’s “Cold Call” project.