Monday, November 18, 2013

Address Book Bestiary

It's finally finished and put back together. Took me almost a year!


Open. C is for Crake:

 Specifically, the Laysan Crake, an extinct flightless bird that once inhabited the Hawaiian islands.

Irish Elk (not really an elk, but a prehistoric deer):

Tasmanian Tiger (also not really a tiger - an extinct aphex-predator marsupial):


There are other animals in the project that aren't extinct, although I seem to have accidentally chosen ones for the sample images that are.

Friday, November 8, 2013

side projects

My address book bestiary project continues, slowly. Every so often I'll have an evening where I can sit down and crank out a few small drawings. Here's a recent one - O for Olm, an endangered, blind salamander that only lives on the Dalmatian coast:

I've been thinking for a few months about what kind of text to pair with these illustrations, whether I want to label any of the animals, etc. I have always been drawn to words and writing as an artist, just as likely to write about my ideas as sketch them (I'm not sure how typical that is - artists are generally stereotyped as right-brained, intuitive individuals. I'm not, but I'm also not sure that binary is particularly helpful, descriptive, or meaningful for anyone!). Much - probably the majority - of my work is inspired by books, articles, and poetry that I read, although in this case, I started making a bestiary first and felt later that I should pair some kind of text with it, since bestiaries generally do have text to go with the illustrations. 

I had thought I'd settled on using a famous William Blake poem, The Auguries of Innocence, but I'm not so sure anymore. Parts of it are very lovely and evocative, but maybe a little heavy-handed. I currently feel as though parts of a favorite book of mine might suit these drawings better - Out of Eden: An Odyssey of Ecological Invasion, by Alan Burdick (Syracuse, NY native, represent!!). I picked up this book at a yard sale years ago, and I fell right into the rabbit hole of long-form, serious ecological reporting that has since informed a lot of my work. (Predictably, David Quammen and Charles Mann also take up burgeoning territory on my bookshelf.) It's been hugely influential in helping me understand a post-modern sense of the word "natural" in the context of a very globalized world. Some of the excerpts I've highlighted:

     Once, in a museum, I saw the rings of a tree fossilized in a sheet of limestone: an entire lifetime fixed on the thinnest slice of a far longer, inanimate one. Perhaps the mind works the same way. The moments of the present come and go between blinks, one by one falling behind the eye, accumulating in the brain like chalk in the seabed. Only much later, in the tracing of deposited layers, does the experience of nature acquire a discernible shape: these are the sea shells I saw on the beach as a boy, this is the tree I climbed in, this is the bird I heard at the close of day. The stars were brighter then, there were fewer deer, it snowed more in the winter. How deep do the strata run? How much time does the mind contain? How long before the memories within are reshaped by the added weight of new sediment -- before the bottommost and oldest memories buckle, dissolve, and re-form, and one can no longer distinguish what really happened from the way one remembers it? That is perhaps the most vexing challenge posed by alien species: how to delineate natural history from the eye that perceives it. An inspector for the Hawaii Department of Agriculture ruefully put it to me this way: "Nature is defined by human memory, which is infinitely shorter than ecological memory." (from Chapter 6)

     "The natural world is far more dynamic, far more changeable, and far more entangled with human history than popular beliefs about the 'balance of nature' have typically acknowledged," writes the environmental historian William Cronon. "The task is to find a human history that is within nature, rather than without it." (from Chapter 14)

So... Burdick is maybe not as accessible as Blake, but I think his philosophy of nature possesses the shades of complexity I explore in some of my work.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Art Car Weekend

This past weekend, myself and four artists plus a huge team of volunteers convened on Cheryl Capezzuti's studio to turn our cars into enormous works of art!

The theme for this year's Art Cars is "Special Delivery." I'm making a car covered in a flock of cranes, a bird that has long been associated with good luck and the New Year around the world, especially in Japan. Cranes worldwide continue to struggle against habitat destruction, and U.S. populations of rare Whooping Cranes have slowly increased, but they are still very endangered. The cranes on my car are bringing good luck, but also a reminder of the fragility of these wonderful birds' futures.

Read about the first step - making the canvas slipcover - here in an earlier entry. This weekend, we began by wrapping my car in plastic to protect it from paint.

 Once I got the slipcover back on, I sketched out the design - a siege of cranes (which is apparently the proper term for a flock of cranes) traveling through a night sky. I realize cranes don't fly at night, since they require a lot of thermal energy to soar while migrating - and they generally don't flap their wings much except for takeoff and landing - but I'm hoping my artistic license will be forgiven by parade attendees.

 I had a squadron of individuals helping all weekend, doing everything from painting large blocks of color to refining detail work. One volunteer (whose name I unfortunately didn't learn) did all of the wonderful red crests on the crane heads.

Here's the slipcover in a near-complete state. I went back in a few times on Sunday and added some light definition to the cranes' bodies and wings. The bodies look a bit awkward since I drew them all higgeldy-piggeldy and freehanded (several kids said they liked my swans. Uh oh!). I've also got to paint more black on their faces, so they look a bit more like Whooping Cranes.

The back features an excerpt of a poem by Stephen Crane (author of "The Red Badge of Courage") entitled "I met a seer." I was thinking a lot about efforts in wildlife conservation and the challenges cranes still continue to face while googling "crane + poetry" and came across this poem. It seemed like an appropriate message to remind me of the pitfalls and imperfections in humanity's attempt to right its many ecological wrongs.

 My friend Jenn valiantly spent an entire day cutting crane shapes out of coroplast (corrugated plastic) so we could assemble the 3-D components on Sunday:

Here are some complete and partially-assembled coroplast cranes by the car. I think I've got nine total. They're held together with a combination of white duct tape, zip ties, and snug part fitting.

 The completed cranes will be mounted to the top of the car at varying heights. I've also set aside a few for the parade marchers who will be guiding my car to hold while they walk - there's me trying one out. A bamboo pole is enough to support the weight of the crane, and the bottoms of the wings are reinforced with sticks of willow that are just flexible enough to allow the wings some nice up-down movement.

Here are a few of the other artists' designs - a spacecraft that will feature waving aliens, and a toaster making some very special non-Jesus-face toast, with Hendrix and Elvis (flip side). There's also a giant blue mystic deer head car and a Dr. Who car featuring a TARDIS atop a time vortex.

I've still got to finish assembling and painting the faces on my coroplast cranes, but the majority of the work was finished in one very busy weekend! I'm eternally grateful for the many, many individuals who lent a hand, organized the weekend, and fed us. My thanks go out to Karen, Rose, Jenn, Barbara, Melinda and family, Tirzah, Sarah, Dave, Anna, Ryder, and Cheryl and everyone who helped out!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Warblers from the Field Museum

I've been working on this drawing for a month or so now. It's sort of about a lot of things - the model of the mind as an aviary (as discussed in Plato's Theaetetus, which I really don't know at all, but I read about this concept in a favorite book by Lawrence Weschler - Mr. Wilson's Cabinet of Wonder), memories of my grandmother, stillness, learning, death, etc. etc.

The birds are painted from a picture of a display case full of stuffed warblers at the Field Museum in Chicago. The little landscape drawings are from my grandmother's sketchbook. The xerox-transfer photos are of her and her family.

I had some little paper squares of text in this originally (they were standing in for the tags next to all the birds), but I ended up taking them out because it was a little too busy visually. I'm still working out how I'm going to finish this one off; I have a feeling that for everyone but me it just looks like a drawing of a bunch of sketchy warblers.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Art Cars: Step 1

Today I went to Cheryl's house to start the process of making our Art Cars for the First Night parade. We got the preliminary step mostly done - fitting the slipcover for my car.

Step 1: Drape the muslin over the car

(Big thanks to my in-laws, who moved to India this year and sold me their car, with which I'm doing this project!)

Step 2: Pin the muslin to fit snugly

Step 3: Sew the seams in Cheryl's amazing studio full of puppets (sewing machine not pictured)

Step 4: Admire the items her wonderful daughters collected and shared with me (ladies after my own heart!)

I'm really excited about this project. My slipcover is going to be covered with both painted images of cranes and some three-dimensional birds made out of sheets of corrugated semi-transparent plastic. I'm shooting for something translucent, like vellum. Here's a picture of the sketches and a tiny model; the finished version will probably include some color.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Upcoming Fall Events: Sounds Upstairs and Art Cars!

I've got two events coming up this fall that I'd like to highlight!

This blog is mostly about my art, but you can probably tell from reading it that I have other creative pursuits to keep me busy and feed into my artistic practice. One of them is, and has always been, making music. Next month, I'll be playing in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's Sounds Upstairs music series. Here are the details:

When: Sunday, October 6th at 3:30 PM
Where: Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Main Branch (Oakland), International Poetry Room on the second floor
Who: the South Side Sharps (myself, clarinet; David Rollinson, euphonium; Bruce Lazier, trombone), playing a free concert

And here is the Carnegie Library's page for the event. Dave (the engineer), Bruce (the actual musical professional in this group), and I (the artist) founded the Sharps last year after finding that we'd spent a lot of time playing together in the evenings preparing music for church. Our occasional music-making turned into a weekly ritual of shared dinner and rehearsal, and Dave came up with a punny name (it's a play on the neighborhood we live in - the South Side Slopes - and sharp [#] a common musical notation), so at that point we were ready to wreak havoc all over musical tradition.

We'll be playing a variety of classical music, with a concentration on music from the Renaissance and Early American hymns and folk tunes. We've also got a few pieces specially composed and arranged for us by Pittsburgh composer David Mahler and CMU alum Nathan Hall. Best of all, the concert is free! If you're in Pittsburgh, I'd love for you to come, whether you're a musician or music lover or just wondering what the heck a euphonium is. Everyone is welcome.

There's more to come after that. Shortly after the concert, I'll be turning my car into a parade float for Pittsburgh's First Night parade, held on New Year's Eve! The Art Car project is the brainchild of Cheryl Capezzuti, a Pittsburgh artist who specializes in amazing, engaging, large-scale puppets, and a lot of other wonderful things. This year's theme is "Special Delivery," and it's sure to be as colorful and fun as in years past. It will come as no surprise that I'm thinking of a piece involving birds - specifically, cranes. Coincidentally, I heard this story on NPR on Sunday about the 40th anniversary of the International Crane Foundation, and the birds' continued troubles with habitat destruction and declining population, so my idea feels even more suitable now.

I don't feel like I should write a whole post and not include an image, so I'll leave you with a photo of some red-headed cranes I shot at the Cincinnati Zoo this past spring:

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Stopping to look in the digital age

Last night, I was working on a new component of a piece I'm making with a found address book. I thought I'd give myself the challenge of not looking up a reference image from the internet. Luckily I've got plenty of bird guides to look at:

Clockwise from left: Audubon Guide, Golden Guide, Sibley Guide (Eastern edition), my sketchbook.
But I still failed at the one rule I'd set for myself! I ended up looking at pictures of diving falcons on Google, and basing a big part of the image on what I found.

I realized this year that I'm pretty attached to the use of the internet as a way of finding reference images and information. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I find inspiring articles that become seeds for new pieces (like this one), I can find images of pretty much anything I want, and I can research content through great sites like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. On the other, I'm becoming very dependent on using photos to draw things that aren't right in front of me (like birds), which attaches me physically to needing computer access to work, and opens up the big portal to extreme internet distraction, something I admittedly have a really hard time avoiding. I start at Cornell Lab of Ornithology and wind up on Cute Overload, or worse, facebook, in a matter of minutes. I've thought about installing some software to just block out the websites I find distracting, but thought it might be a better long-term habit to cultivate my ability to make drawings without any internet-aided visual references. After all, I somehow made it 21 years without relying on it, and so did everyone before the 2000s.

Artists in the past would produce notebooks full of copies and sketches of the "building blocks" of paintings - faces, drapery, putti, landscapes - because in a world where images were rare and there wasn't an internet, or even many books with images, your own drawings and memory became your best reference. A favorite example of mine is Da Vinci's sketchbook page of cats, drawn from life, with a fanciful dragon thrown in, clearly not:

Image from
The dragon is just as beautifully drafted as his from-life studies, thanks to a combination of acute powers of observation, incredible drafting skill, and vivid imagination. The greatest painters - Da Vinci (more of his work here), Michelangelo, Rembrandt - all have the amazing ability to turn snippets and sketches from real life into fantastic, completely invented scenes. A lifetime of close observation - the kind dedicated artists achieve - gave them the power to trust their own drawings, and their own judgment, without an object in front of them. The visual and muscle memory came from inside, and I've always been awed by that. It's something I'm still learning.

I wonder how many other artists who are as wedded to technology and photos as I've become struggle with this dependency. Or if people feel that it's a bad thing in the first place. Art is art, and if the audience can't see the process and the finished piece is more or less the same either way, is it really any nobler to take the more difficult road? Do I "see" less completely or less deeply because I'm looking at a photo, and not an object or a drawing I'm copying, or inventing everything entirely? At what point do you trust your own marks and stop thinking about whether it looks enough like the image on which you're basing it? These questions are at the heart of how artists interpret the world through their draftsmanship. To a degree, they're permanently debatable, but I think searching for some answers is the next step the improvement of my technique will have to take.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

White Nose news

Somewhat hopeful news is on the front for White Nose Syndrome, the mysterious and deadly disease that has been wiping out bats across the United States. Scientists have isolated and named several close relatives of the fungus thought to be infecting the bats, Geomyces destructans.

"According to a new report in the journal Fungal Biology, biologists from the US Forest Service have identified several benign relatives of the fungus that is believed to cause the disease.

'Identification of the closest known relatives of this fungus makes it possible to move forward with genetic work to examine the molecular toolbox this fungus uses to kill bats,' said study co-author Daniel Lindner, a research plant pathologist with the Forest Service. 'Ultimately, we hope to use this information to be able to interrupt the ability of this fungus to cause disease.' "

Important information to uncover - bats are essential in keeping insect populations in check. We don't have much time to lose.

Relatives of White Nose Syndrome Found, May Help Find a Cure

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Herb Experts" radio spot is up and ready for the listen

My friend Erika May - also a classmate of mine from Carnegie Mellon University - produces the terrific kids' radio program Saturday Light Brigade, and recently interviewed me and some other folks about the use of herbs in our life for a series called "Herb Experts."

Erika spoke with a great variety of folks using and appreciating herbs in their daily lives, including health professionals, cosmeticians, gardeners, farmers, and people like me, who have a real passion (obsession?) for cooking. I talked about my cookbook, A Time to Eat, which I wrote as a fundraiser and introduction into the world of fresh-food cooking for the exhibition A Matter of Convenience. (I'm still selling copies, so if you'd like one, just shoot me an email at maria [dot] mangano [at] gmail [dot] com. They're $10 plus shipping.)

You can listen to everyone's interview here at this link. I'm about halfway down the page.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Almost ready!

Here I am installing "hibernaculum" at LOCUS Artspace, as part of the Americans for the Arts Conference's ARTventure tours on Saturday:

. . . I brought way more bats than I needed!

The tour stop at LOCUS features the work of many terrific artists, and a few of my other pieces as well. Registration for the AFTA conference is required to sign up for the tour, so if you aren't able to do that, there will be an open house on Sunday, June 16th, from 2pm to 5pm. LOCUS Artspace is located at 431 Dargan Street, just off the Bloomfield Bridge.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Handmade in PA interview hits the interwebs

A friend and fellow alumna, Carrie Hamilton Barlup, writes for the Handmade in PA blog and interviewed me for a series on artists. The interview is currently up on the website!

Read it here:

Inspired by... Maria Mangano

Monday, April 22, 2013

CHAIR-ity Benefit photos

Here are some photos of the chair I made for the Mt. Lebanon Library Fundraiser last week. I'm a lover of both reading and birds, so of course I had to combine them in my piece, "Words of a Feather" (cue the groans):

All of the birds featured appear in books throughout history - everything from the dove in the Torah to the dodo Alice in Wonderland.

I tried to be diverse in both genre and bird species. A favorite of mine is below - Jurassic Park.

Everyone from professional artists to hobbyists and organizations decorated chairs. Here are some of my favorites.

Sam Ditch, For Glitter Mountain's Majesty:

Lucy Jones and Alicia Koloski, Armchair Philatelist:

A big group of artists, Children's Imagination:

Jessica Turner and Nina Barbetti, Spring Forest:

Mary Dornenburg, Artist's Studio Chair:

 I didn't get the artist's name on this one, but the title is You Can't Get There From Here:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New work in progress

With spring arriving, I've been working on the latest printing of my cookbook (more on that later!) as well as some new work. Here's a snippet of my project for the Mt. Lebanon Library's CHAIR-ity benefit (I'll post photos of the whole piece later so as not to spoil the surprise):

I'm also making some new small mixed-media pieces. I was lucky enough to choose a present in a white elephant exchange last December that turned out to be a mid-century fancy address book, complete with very old (pre-seven-digit) phone numbers. I've been making small drawings on each page. Here are the first three.

Passenger pigeon

Laysan crake


All three were driven to extinction at various times in human history, either due to overhunting or habitat loss. Not all of the animals in this series will be birds - or extinct - but these are the first three I was inspired to do. They're all a combination of gouache, graphite, and watercolor.