Category Archives: photography


Wesley and Haven Music: Singing at Smith

When I rule the world, everyone will have a nametag... (rant)

Art comes from being in an alpha state for me, in water.

I learn things backwards sometimes. This was the year I learned about how to really conduct independent study. This was the year I learned about friends and how you don’t always agree. It was a year of listening to music together, and jokes, and studying hard, and working endlessly on projects or papers or dishes (see apron) or figuring out next moves.

I spent a lot of time in the bathtub at Wesley. I didn’t have enough clothes. I could not seem to get warm and stay that way. There was not one I could get to easily on the 2nd floor of Haven. I felt like one of the prune people when I got out, but warmer for a little.

I miss them, even though it has been so long. We learned how to mangle the lyrics to songs we listened to together in our rooms (on stereos! … remember stereos?) including “City of New Orleans” and “Lulu’s Back in Town.”

We heard the Smiffenpoofs (was that what they were called?), and the Princeton Nassoons sing in this house. We heard annoying housemates screeching up and down the halls in their nightgowns very late. We heard the singing and showering and coffee pots and papers of our fellow students and occasionally even their boyfriends.


If they were in San Francisco today. I would take them to Lovejoy’s Tea Room for some beverages and reminiscence. Ply them with truffles. Spoil them with love.

Perhaps it was Carole McSheffrey who invited the jug band to sing in our living room. I will never forget the banjo. I memorized the words to ‘Barnyard Dance’ during long cold walks across the campus to the studio. I think this is the year we were snowed in. People were skiing cross country in to work in Boston. Robert J. Lurtsema was still alive. A heck of a long time ago.

The radiator clanked, so I named it, but it still would not shut up since pressure and cold in 100-year-old houses do funny things to steam heat. Its a wonder I did not burn all my hair off sleeping next to it. I sure did burn my elbows and knees a few times. That sucker got hot!

Remember the Fire Rope Test, team? I felt grateful we didn’t have to dress for it silly gym costumes like I did in elementary school. They were sort of like… rompers.


Sam and Henry: the real names of things

I was a pretty solitary kid, pretty shy. Mom was always telling me to go outside. ‘Go out and play in the street!’

“Take your sister!” she would yell at my older sister, and she always meant me.  Bringing me along was a lot like dragging an anchor; eventually I figured out how to peel off and go on my own. I didn’t want to be where I was not wanted. Mom wouldn’t listen to these protests, I had to figure out how to separate from my sister, to give her air, room, her own life, her own friends.

Luckily, not far up the hill from where we lived, there were some twins my age, girls born a few minutes apart.  Both parents were architects, and were not around so much; neither were the teenage brother and sister.  We hung out in their driveway and in their backyard amongst the hollyhocks with their lovely English Grandmother.

It was okay with Mom if I went up there alone to play, as long as I told her where I was going. We had lemonade stands, we tried to sell our dolls, we played with trolls and creepy crawlers. We skipped rope, did a little hopscotch. On command from the grownups we attempted to stem the tide of bamboo shoots flooding up between the Japanese style river stones in their yard.  We took knitting lessons; we drew. Time passed.

Those were the days when Captain Kangaroo’s bangs and his smock were funny, yet we admired Mr. Green Jeans and his good humored skill in handling a helicopter. Popeye was my hero; we both liked spinach. Jackie Gleason wasn’t drinking coffee apparently, but he crooked his pinky, he wore a nice suit, he advertised coffee, and the Folger’s man lit the San Francisco skyline near the Ferry clock tower while sipping from his own bottomless cup.  Broadcast TV was still partially live and we had very limited access to anything like it on our own. You didn’t use the Hi-Fi without close adult supervision, either. We played outside, using our imaginations, some garden tools, some toys, rocks, dirt, water, bugs, and each other. And away we go, indeed.

Winslow sisters did irrigation on the scale of large civil engineering projects out on the rosebushes back by the gazebo in our yard. Watering was a collateral duty of playing outside. Inspired by a sump pump sporadically shooting water out from the sub-basement into the mini aquecia lined with baby tears traversing the width of the back yard, we built diminutive but efficient trenches. We dug holes to China if left on our own long enough; Bugs Bunny did it, so why couldn’t we?

Our house and all the houses nearby were built on fill in the 1920’s, right on top of a creek bed; Bret Harte Creek, according to the maps. So when it rained our sub-basement filled with water. The sump pump kicking on meant the water table was high and the furnace was in danger of flooding if we didn’t pump. It filled the ditch temporarily. It was water we could wade in, it was as clean as any local creek, since it was creek water. Sometimes we swung on the gate, watching; other times we took off our shoes and socks and explored with our toes.

T-Tiger was the family dog. He and Kiki the cat were some of my earliest buddies. A fierce temple guardian of a babysitter; T-Tiger once saved my younger sister when a neighbor’s German Shepherd Bootsie (a dog tortured by loneliness to the limit of sanity and trained to attack anyone except Mr. Hunter and Pearl who came to the gate and tried to enter) got out and charged down on the side of our house on the path where we were playing. Bootsie lunged, clamping his jaws around M’s face. She was a tiny child with a big crown of curls, and we all stood frozen for a moment in shock. T-Tiger lunged right in after Bootsie and locked on, seizing the exposed flap of neck near the big dog’s jugular; holding on until he could be persuaded to slowly unclamp his jaws from my tiny sister’s face in exchange for his life. What a fright it gave us all.

There was a lot of crying that day, but everyone survived. I don’t know what eventually happened to T-Tiger, but Bootsie’s unprovoked attack did not earn him a trip to the Department of Health to get a rabies exam, which seemed odd. T-Tiger deserved a purple heart. Why we don’t have a statue of that dog I will never know.

M. has since forgotten the incident.  No child died, but T-Tiger was the reason for that: loving instinct with Lhasa Apso teeth standing behind it.

My best friend was the younger twin. My Dad could never tell them apart. Once he was talking to me about the twins and he couldn’t exactly remember their names to differentiate. I didn’t have that many friends, I couldn’t believe he couldn’t remember. This seemed like a scam. After all, this was the guy who convinced us that you could not order a chocolate Sundae on any other day of the week. I waited, not helping at all.

They were fierce in correcting him when he mixed them up. He would try tentatively to call to one of them when they were over at our house. If he got it wrong, not only would her feelings be hurt and would she stomp off after scornfully correcting him with her true name, he would still not have learned to tell them apart, but would be trying to apologize to empty air.

To me they were quite different. The older one was bigger. She was brassier, and hung out with my older sister more.  The younger one was quieter, sweeter.  She is still in my life; she carries pieces of me in her memory that perhaps no other living person has. I am still so blessed by this friendship.

Dad solved the problem the same way he would later solve many a problem with confused proper nouns: he renamed the twins. While he stood there in the kitchen, trying vainly to name the one he wanted, the one which was my friend, perhaps to invite her on an outing, he was struggling even for both their real names. He was blocked. He kept saying “You know, the *twins…*” He not only couldn’t seem to think of the name he wanted, he couldn’t think of their names at all. I didn’t believe it. I hardly knew enough to forget stuff, knew nothing of whether grownups ever really do that.

I have this problem now sometimes. You remember the other parent’s name, but not the child. Or you remember the other child’s name, but not the sibling’s name. Our brains get full, and can only hold so many names. Now that my Dad is gone — I unwittingly sometimes rename people. I don’t mean to. I manage to map the wrong name onto them once, and it’s hard to get it off later, as though names have some kind of glue attached to them, wrong or not.

Thus the two girls names became Sam and Henry, and were known as such ever after in our house.  _We_ all knew who Sam and Henry were:  the twins; our friends.  Eventually we either told them about it or they busted us calling them that in front of them one day by asking us who Sam and Henry were, anyway.  They could never tell afterward between them who was Sam, and who was Henry. My Dad was thus saved from their righteous indignation, and from seeming to be ignorant, callous, or rude.

Over time, Kenelm Fayette Winslow renamed restaurants, television shows, food, cities, people: you name it. This was his way. If you wanted to keep up, you had to learn the lingo.

I remember the day they asked him to clear it up, once and for all. We were all in our kitchen again. My Dad was working on something over on one of the cutting boards. I think it was C. who went over and asked. “Mr. Winslow, which one of us is Sam, and which one of us is Henry?”  We had been upstairs having an argument about it, and all came galloping down to ask.

My Dad looked up from whatever he was working on. He bent down and looked at her and said:  “You mean to tell me after all this time, you … _don’t know_…?”

He went back to what he was doing for a second. We all thought about it, waited, watched him. C. said she didn’t know. She looked at us, and we didn’t know either. What were we going to do?  Then he started slowly started to laugh. We started to laugh. Everyone laughed. He looked up at us again.

Any questions?

E. had forgotten all about those names when I finally found her again after many years by way of a lucky search.

By the real names of things we know our future, but whether we call them beloved, call them Sam, Henry, T-Tiger, Margie, Liz, Kiki, Col, Karen, Grandma, or Mom, the names we give them in our hearts are the only ones we must remember in the end.

Thanks, Dad. For this knowledge we have received, we are truly grateful.

Grandpa’s Employment History (before Death of a Salesman)

My Dad once told me that he thought “Death of a Salesman” was one of the saddest plays ever written. Told me that Grandpa had bad luck like Willy Loman; Dad said that he’d cried and left the theater the first time he saw this play (as a young man), that he couldn’t sit through the second act. It reminded him too much of watching his father struggle professionally.

I’ve certainly had my own struggles with reinvention of a professional nature. I can relate to difficulty in watching the struggles of people I love and admire.  While I understand this play is a tragedy, I agree with my cousin Don Luce; older people have a different take on the arc of this story than young people. To young people, it looks like a life wasted. To older people who have struggled more, seen more, fought harder — it looks like a drama of a different kind.  Perhaps the real tragedy is giving up hope, or of not learning from the mistakes of the prior generation, or from your own mistakes.  It may be possible for me to sit through the play without bolting the theater in the manner of my ancestors.

This script may not have aged as well as some of Arthur Miller’s other works.  Perhaps Willy Loman would never have gotten angry or occupied Wall Street. Perhaps he’s lost in a way we no longer understand. But I don’t think watching this will devastate me at this stage of my life, in spite of how raw any ongoing struggle might be for me. Hope dies last. Today is a chance for change, another opportunity to learn and move on from mistakes. If we give that up, what are we left with?

What I understand is that my Grandpa worked hard and wrestled against the odds, much like everyone else did. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth.  If he ever had one in there, it was because somebody forgot to take it out after the photo opportunity. He had some breaks, and perhaps they didn’t pay off. At some points, the struggle was too overwhelming for one person — and Dad was a witness to some of those times.

My Dad had his own struggles. I’ve got mine. But in these pages, I read resilience, I read curiosity, I read initiative, and I read some double dealing on the part of Fate or other so-called Managers. I don’t think this makes Grandpa’s life a tragedy. Your life is a tragedy if that is all you define it as.

I remember Grandpa as a man who loved to go fishing, and who generously took us along. Kenelm Tracy Winslow was a man who loved buckwheat pancakes; he loved putting Barbasol® on his Christmas tree to simulate snow in winter, and who would play with us on the Slip N’ Slide® in the backyard in summer. Grandpa taught us how to shoot cat food cans off the back fence in his yard until Mom got mad and took the beebee guns away.

Some of the Winslow Tracy Clan, Chico, CA, August, 1960

Tracy Winslow Family members (August, 1960): Chico, CA

He taught us how to be on the road on an adventure, since every time he drove us to Paradise we thought we were actually visiting Heaven.  He taught us how to skip stones, to have fun, to relax. He held us close while he watched a game on the television. What may be tragic is that he didn’t grow wealthy from his hard work; but does that take away the fact that he did the work, that he loved us, and that we got to share in his life?

My Grandpa, Kenelm Tracy Winslow, wrote the following piece probably as part of an application for something sometime after 1944.  I’m not sure what he wrote it for, nor am I sure exactly when. We found the pages of typescript tucked into a scrapbook of my Mom and Dad’s wedding photos. More on that later. Grandpa’s bio / text follows the picture.

Photo of my granddad, KT Winslow

Kenelm Tracy Winslow, circa 1948

Personal History, K. T. Winslow.
30 (b)
1. Worked as a bank clerk with the Tracy Loan and Trust Company, Salt Lake City, Utah. Mr. R.L. Tracy, President of this company, is my uncle and I entered this bank at the wish of my mother and uncle. My salary was $125.00 per month. Resigned because of my desire to work independent of relatives.

Image of a silver spoon from Russel Lord Tracy's bank in Utah

Tracy Loan and Trust 8th Annual Dvidend

2. Worked as clerk in the San Francisco offices of the Reliance Life Insurance Company, where I made $100.00 per month salary. Left this position in an endeavor to better myself.
3. (a) Worked as distributor of kitchen aluminum in the San Francisco Bay Area for the Dilver Aluminum Company of Pittsburgh. This lasted about six months, when a defaulting partner ruined the business.
(b) Worked for Durant Motor Company of California as car order clerk for a few months, at a salary of $100.00 per month.
(c) Left this position to sell automobiles for Durant dealer in San Rafael, California.
(d) When this dealership folded up, I sold real estate and rented houses for the D. L. Jung Company, Berkeley, California. During this period my salary and earnings ran about $1200.00 a year.
4. (a) Started working for the Engineering Sales Company (C.A. Watts) of San Francisco at a salary of $125.00 a month. I was a stenographer. This was about 1926.
(b) Three months later I was handling the sales of this employer who as a manufacturer’s agent, handled such lines as Waukesha Motor Company, Waukesha, Wisconsin; Racine Radiator Company (later the Young Radiator Company and the Perfex Radiator Company) of Racine, Wisconsin; Pick Couplings, and Palmer B. Speed Reducers. My salary was increased to $150.00 per month. At this point I became interested in mechanical engineering, it being necessary to have a good working knowledge of design and performance characteristics of the Waukesha Motor Company’s truck and industrial engines, and to understand proper installation of the Racine Radiator Company’s truck and industrial plant cooling radiators.
(c) After I had been with company a year my salary was increased to $175.00 per month, and I was given a 10% interest in the business. During this period I traveled up and down the Pacific Coast soliciting business and assisting engineering departments in their installations of our products in such concerns as Fageol Motor Company (truck and bus manufacturers) of Oakland, California; the McDonald Truck Manufacturing Company of San Francisco, California; the DeMartini Truck Manufacturing Company of San Francisco, California; the Rix (compressor manufacturing company) of San Francisco, California; and other manufacturing companies in Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle. I also assisted in the installation of 300 horsepower engines in the “Yarders” and “Donkeys” for the logging industry of the Pacific Northwest. At the request of the Waukesha Motor Company, I left this position and took a position with them.
5. (a) I started working for the Waukesha Motor Company as an order and production clerk at a salary of $250.00 per month. I had under my direction six clerks. With the assistance and direction of Mr. J. B. Fisher, Chief Engineer, of the Waukesha Motor Company, I did home study on engine design and combustion characteristics.
30 (b) Con’t.
(b) Up to 1932 I alternated in the shop, office and on the road in sales and service work. During the depression years I took whatever salary cuts as were made throughout the plant and at the lowest ebb my salary was reduced 50%.
(c) In 1932 I was one of the five men chosen by the Waukesha Motor Company to assist the Co-operative Fuel research (C. F. R.) committee in research work on a method of determining the Octane number of gasoline. During this time I was constantly in the laboratory, or attending scientific lectures and meetings and at the same time, carrying on private research along these lines. During my association with this committee I wrote several papers on the fuel research work and delivered them before the Society of Automotive Engineers in Chicago, Baltimore, at A.S.T.M. meetings and at various universities throughout the country, including Purdue, Notre Dame, Lehigh University, etc. At Lehigh University Mr. H.V. Cummings, Chief Automotive Power Plant Section, U.S. Department of Commerce, and I were on the same program. We also worked together in C. F. R. work.
(d) At the end of 1932 when the C. F. R. engine design and fuel testing procedure was established, I was placed in charge of this variable compression fuel research unit, which by this time had been adapted to both self ignition (diesel) and spark ignition (gasoline) units. In promoting the sale of this unit I visited and sold the unit to large fuel distributing Companies, fuel refineries, and at each place demonstrated and explained the principles on which the tests were conducted. When the American Society of Testing Materials adopted the C. F. R. unit as a standard, its sale became automatic.
(e) In 1933 I was placed in charge of sales for Waukesha truck and bus, as well as industrial engines in the southern states, headquartering in Birmingham, Alabama. In this capacity I called on such manufacturers as used engines in the products they manufactured. This included pump, truck, shovel, and other manufacturers of construction equipment, boat works, etc. In all of these instances I assisted in the engineering of products which were being manufactured in so far as the engineering problems concerned the proper installation of the engine. I made installation of irrigation systems, drainage systems, and pumping plants, also power plants for creameries, ice cream plants, and stand-by units.
(f) During this time the Waukesha Motor Company developed the Hesselman spark ignition diesel fuel burning engine and I became so familiar with the design of this unit that I was called upon to make installations and to service them, both from a commercial and experimental angle. This gave me a full and detailed knowledge of gasoline, natural gas, and diesel engines. I continued to read and study gasoline and diesel engines under the direction of Mr. J. B. Fisher and Mr. Arthur Pope, Chief and assistant chief engineers of the Waukesha Motor Company.
(g) In 1935 I was asked to teach the design, the care and operation of the Diesel and Hesselman engines which the Waukesha Motor Company were then building. I was given complete charge of this work and carried on classes which were attended by engineers, mechanics, and executives of the various customers of the Waukesha Motor Company. I resigned in 1935 for a better position. At the time of leaving my salary was $250.00 per month.
6(a) I accepted a position as Industrial Branch Sales Manager in the Tractor Division of the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company, at Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

30 (b) Con’t.
(b) I was immediately transferred to the Sales Promotion Department. Salary $225.00 per month. (A bonus of ½% went with the Industrial Branch Sales Manager’s position). In this capacity I carried on education work on the design and service and operation of the Spark Ignition Diesel Fuel Burning engine this company was using, and also upon the design and service care of the Tractors, Motor Patrols, and other items of road machinery they manufactured. During this time I visited every branch of the Allis Chalmers Manufacturing Company in the United States, sometimes carrying on classes of instruction to as many as 150 people. I also spoke before other organizations such as the Paving Engineer’s Club, Chicago, Illinois, and the Altoona Engineering Society, Altoona, Pennsylvania. My salary was increased to $275.00.
(c) In 1938 I was made Industrial Sales Manager for the Southwest Division at a salary of $325.00. In this position I had under my supervision, seven industrial Branch house organizations, totaling 50 people, and indirectly I had working for me the dealer’s organization under these branches. Their total personnel were around 300 people.
(d) In 1938 I was made Industrial District Manager for the state of Minnesota and North Dakota. In this capacity I worked directly with dealers in the two states who employed about 30 people. I assisted contractors in estimating their work, recommended proper machinery for the work they had to do, and assisted in setting up repair shops for both the contractors and the dealers where needed; checked parts inventory and service records. I was paid a salary and bonus and earned between $4200.00 and $4400.00 a year. In May 1941, I was discharged, no reason given, and was told I would be given a recommendation and listed as having resigned. Incidentally the company had just come through a severe strike, and their defense orders were such that very little equipment was available to the dealers.
7.(a) In June, 1941 I went to work as an expeditor for the Procurement and Expediting Section of the Zone Construction Quartermaster’s Office, Omaha, Nebraska. I handled construction machinery. I was given this appointment by executive order #3564 of October 8, 1940, and given a rating as Engineer (p-4) Salary $3800.00 per annum.
(b) I was transferred to the Omaha district office of the U.S. Engineers when the Zone Construction Quartermaster’s Office was absorbed by the Engineers, and was made Assistant Chief of the Mechanical Section. Had under my supervision six people.
(c) In March 1942 I took and passed a Civil Service Examination and was given a rating as Senior Engineer (Mechanical) P-5 calling for a salary of $4600 per year.
8.(a) On April 21st, 1942 the 8th Civil Service District, St. Paul, Minnesota wired me that the Office of Emergency Management requested my transfer from the U.S. Engineers. I accepted the transfer and took the position of Administrative Officer in the office of the State Rationing Administrator (Grant McFayden) Lincoln, Nebraska. My civil service classification in this position is an Administrative classification of CAF-12 salary $4600.00.

[ends here]

Dad’s Navy Past: finding out what happened

One of my Federal coworkers has helped get me off the dime recently by giving me the information on how to get my Dad’s Navy service records. He’s a Veteran himself; he should know.

Navy cronies of Kenelm WinslowMy sister Karen kick-started the project this Spring by giving me a batch of photos and my Dad’s service medals in an intricately inlaid wooden puzzle box with a little stamp on the inside cover revealing that it was “Made in Occupied Japan.”

Service pins, an ID bracelet, honorable discharge pin, dog tags, bits of official paperwork, plus a small collection of various streetcar tokens from the cities he traveled to during the days when the Key System still ran down Sacramento Avenue, down University Avenue, and out to meet the Bay ferries. Here’s one that says Pacific Gas and Electric, and it sure looks like a streetcar token; a token from Council Bluffs and Omaha street car lines,  one from Lincoln, one of the old tokens from San Francisco MUNI. Tarnish in the cracks; maybe its dirt; they seem like they aren’t silver. Here’s a souvenir coin from Mardis Gras in New Orleans, it says Vince Vance and his Valiants Fan Club, and gives a telephone number. The emblem looks kind of like a mythical beast wearing sunglasses, but it is dated 1973, a later mythos. My Dad’s treasures, or a small representation of some of them.

There’s a tiny ID bracelet in the box with “Winslow” scratched into the sterling on the front side and our old LAndscape 6-0678 phone number stamped into the back; it was probably Marguerite’s when she was a baby. We kids and Mom were his real treasures, from everything we knew of his love.

Nanette Burket and Kenelm Winslow, circa 1949

Mom and Dad at a wedding, early days

In the days when submariners strolled the deep looking for enemy battleships, Dad collected streetcar tokens during shore leave. He was an only child, someone who grew up knowing how to interact as well as how to be alone; all about exploring on your own. He liked learning about new things. Mom said that his assigned duty was as a submariner in sonar, that his home port was New London. That is almost everything I know. I wonder what else he did in those days for fun besides going out on blind dates… he and Mom  passed many of their courtship dates at places like the Buena Vista, the Gold Spike, and the Japanese Tea Garden. Or so my unreliable sources tell me…

There’s some photos of a destroyer (the USS Meredith, DD-890). Rufus says that it may have played cat-and-mouse games with Dad’s sub in the Atlantic when they were learning their maneuvers off of Rhode Island.

Sure looks like an image of Fort Mason

Somewhere in Ferry-Land

All I know about is what Mom told me, which means almost less than nothing. She met Dad on a blind date while he was still in the Navy. She married him during the end of that era. She was engaged to be married to _someone else_ when they met, too busy to learn much about the military career of the man who declared he wanted to marry her on their first date.

My Dad had a dream about living on a houseboat, perhaps this is where it spawned

Waiting in the Lock, exchanging pleasantries

She was the world’s most Unreliable Narrator, but could spin a good story. He would never talk about his military service. I assumed it was because he didn’t want to remember anything painful or difficult. He still had his old uniform.  These pictures are so not painful that I am left wondering what the whole story was. I will never know, but I can at least send for the records.

Kenelm Winslow and his sailor mates posing for a photo

The face at the window indicates there were more sailors waiting to get out, perhaps?

[Dad is in the back row, big smile, big glasses ].  I also have been given the negatives, which is pretty exciting. I can print them up at Looking Glass. I’ve been itching to get back in the darkroom.

Sailors horsing around, 1940s

If you're going to work hard, then you'd better play hard...

This weekend I am getting reacquainted with my still-pretty-new scanner and sending away for the data. I am also learning some photo enhancement tricks for faded images in Photoshop. Bear with me.

Thanks Traci, for giving me the scanner.

Thanks Karen, for giving me the photos, the negatives, the souvenirs, and the encouragement. These are great photos, even if I don’t know who the heck most of the people are.

Naval cadets horsing around in a baseball field, garbage can lid hat

More than one way to be cool, sailor man!

Thanks Joseph, for getting me further motivated by showing me where to send away for the data.

Your memory is still a blessing, Dad. We miss you.

Kenelm Fayette Winslow holding another sailor's hat?

What about the hat?

Kenelm Fayette Winslow in his Navy Blues, sometime in the 40s
Dad in his Navy Blues, sometime during the 1940s

Day 1 of Visionary Mosaic Murals: get started, cut mirror, break tile, make blobs, get acquainted

For the first session of our Visionary Mosaic Mural class, Isaiah and Julia Zagar met us in the large classroom space of The Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA) in Oakland on March 4, 2009. They were supported by Amber Hill, Isaiah’s assistant, and Laurel True, owner/co-founder of IMA, mosaic artist, and proprietor of True Mosaics Studio. Laurel began the class by calling roll and introducing us to Isaiah, who is her mentor.

Isaiah turned out to be a compact man in a red watch cap, denim pants, a brightly decorated shirt covered with line drawings, a ruddy complexion, and a grin surrounded by neatly trimmed whiskers.

[ Rufus talked to him while visiting the work site last Saturday and found out that Isaiah will be 70 years old this month. His hair is white. Isaiah has to be one of the most photographed men in mosaic history, and I didn’t make any images of him during the class (except one, a cartoon of the proposal for the rest of the mosaic, called the Tilesetter Constellation, which I later gave to Chuck DiGuida). Rufus took one or two pictures, though. More on that later.

I’m glad Isaiah doesn’t color his hair, just his mosaics. Even the Dalai Lama has decided to go natural these days. Why shouldn’t the 4-armed Tilesetter Genius of South Street have white hair? He earned every one of them. ]

Isaiah presided over introductions and instruction, with several helpful additions in content from Julia, Laurel, and Amber. He explained about his theory of the continuous line, of Blobs (“that’s the ‘technical term’…”), of cutting mirror, some things about safety. He also talked about a little of his history in making mosaics. Explaining that he would like to cover the world with mosaics, he said that he would be willing to settle for Philadelphia. He has a dry sense of humor, a ready-to-go attitude. He listened with interest to our self-introductions.

There were 12 of us in the class. Many of my closest seatmates were heavy-hitters in art: art-teachers, collaborators with Josef Norris (another Isaiah protegé in San Francisco), tile-business owners, mosaic makers; others said they had taken several classes at IMA and claimed they could not stop. I am a beginner who has occasionally been bold at gluing things with silicone. I made my first mosaic (an ashtray for my Mama) during a class taught when JFK was still alive and President; not much activity since then. Compared to these people, I am a rank beginner. I didn’t have time to think about that during the five days of class: I was too busy.

Laurel made an important comment during the morning: she was remembering when she first met Isaiah in Philadelphia, about how excited she was to start, about how much material she’d accumulated over time for a big project. She told him about it. His observation at the time was: “You don’t own your materials; your materials own you.”

This is a theme for me: it is sometimes difficult for me to let go of things. I see how stuff (material goods) continuously rules our lives. We have to pay to store it, move it around, and try to take care of it. We could give it away, but we often choose to hold on. I don’t want to die owning a lot of stuff. Like everyone else, though: once there is beauty in my life, I automatically grip it a little tighter. If Rule Number 4 = Let Go of Outcome, then the corollary is: There Will Always Be More Beauty. I have to re-learn this lesson constantly.

Mosaic material is everywhere. You don’t have to accumulate or hold on to it. It will be there when you are ready to collect it and make something. Julia talked about how people would leave old dishes and tile outside their door: they knew.

This isn’t a precious, fussy, color-matching technique. You can use almost any stone or stone-like material at hand for this technique: asphalt, river rock, broken brick, marble, bits of crockery, bathroom tile, plates, glass, marbles, geegaws, sea shells, beads, bottles. You name it, you can mosaic with it.

Josef Norris used some photos on tile in this piece; check it out at the IMA photo gallery

Josef Norris used some photos on tile in this piece; check it out at the IMA photo gallery

Julia made an important comment about giving away work. She said that many of the over 100 murals in the South Street area of Philadelphia (where they live) were donated by Isaiah. Her remark was that you must keep working, you need to do whatever it takes to keep putting the work out. The implication is that if you can’t figure out how to get paid for it, then you need to figure out how to give it away and still keep going.

[ The struggles of living while performing creative mitzvaim are never-ending. ]

Amber helped us with technique; she cut marble/stone with precision over many years and works very fast. She cut large swaths of mirror down into smaller strips for us to learn the mirror-cutting technique.

For a while, the studio was filled with ozone of silent concentration and the plinking of many tiny hammers (the ball-end of the wheeled glass cutters sound like xylophone mallets). Mirrors gave off little flashy lights. It was the least flashy day of all: we were under a skylight, not outside.

Isaiah showed us how to work on a tarp, to get rid of the fragments safely, to position the mirror safely, not to worry about imperfections, to cut small small pieces when needed. Julia helped cut mirror. The buckets filled up fast. Then we all went out to the garden to sort/break tile and to make the Blobs. Part of Isaiah’s design technique revolves around the Theory of Blobs. Sounds like science fiction? Okay, then!

Isaiah has created several mosaic murals in the Jingletown/IMA neighborhood: one is in the garden of the IMA classroom complex. There’s a quotation by Vanessa Bell (Virgina Woolf’s sister) as part of the mosaic on one wall. Its a pretty wild, pop-art experience, working near the garden wall. The color is intense but soft. Rivers of mirror everywhere at slightly different angles, each section reflecting light and color, with black lines flowing in between the rivers of mirror and tile. The old continuous line which would connect each of us eventually, and each of our days of class to the rest of the Universe — that was part of Isaiah’s design. Older than Ancient Mesopotamia, the Ancient Pictish Ones, or the Celts, the art of the continuous line flows on. It connects everything, everywhere.

Think of that  photograph of Pablo Picasso drawing (“line-writing”) with the sparkler:

Photo from

Photo from (see the faces on the plates? Faces were a theme, too.)

It has genius, the spontaneous continuous line.

Merman, continuous line, what a theme!

Merman, continuous line, what a theme!

The Isaiah Mural in the Yard/Garden of IMA

The Isaiah Mural in the Yard/Garden of IMA

We spread the tile out all over the yard of IMA. Everything has to be absolutely dry for this process, and though it rained for about 4 days steadily before the class, we finally had good weather for most of the first day. While it’s good to see the sky in late winter, we needed every drop of this rain after 2.75 years of drought.

Too much of everything is hardly enough. It started to cloud up and rain again after we’d carried about 15 buckets of tile/ceramic shards into the studio to keep dry overnight. So we broke for lunch. Amber and I stopped picking up dry tile and schlepped a few more buckets into the shop while they were still mostly dry. Almost everybody got food Karen ordered earlier from the geniuses at the Voila! Cafe next door.

[ Voila! is still owned by Gary Boland. I’ve know Gary since way back in the 80’s: I worked in downtown Berkeley during the blooming of the gourmet food revolution. Nothing compares to fresh orange juice. During certain parts of the year the Texas oranges are sweeter, but then other times, its the Florida oranges. Perhaps its been a long time since California oranges were king, but lately I’ve been really enjoying the Tom Wilson ones at Andronico’sPark N’ Spend” (as my family Doc calls it), where I shop gladly, since they have both women checkers and Union labor. Nothing wrong with that!]

I ate crackers and peanut butter most of the five days of class. I tried to drink hot tea to stay warm. Its hard for me to eat much when I am this excited. Never mind enjoying food or staying hydrated. Its all a challenge.

While the others ate, I dug into my bags and fished out a cracked teapot, some plates, some broken cups, and some marbles I had brought from home. I smashed them a little more with those fabulous 6 ounce tile-breaking hammers and put them on top of one of the “bling” buckets (bling is what Laurel called the fancy tile, even if broken) in the corner of the shop. Letting go is not a bad thing. My son traded me the marbles for some I had which he really liked. There were some good ones in there: cat’s eyes and aggies. Yummy art materials. Rich!

It stopped raining, so Isaiah took us out in the garden again after lunch and showed us how to mix cement (in Texas where Karen comes from, it’s see-ment, which we all love): Portland Type A. Isaiah likes the plain old white sandbox type of sand. We used what we had: bags of construction grade sand, no whiter than the average Alameda beach community. Red, yellow, black, and brown: stick around!

[ Wear a mask and goggles when you’re mixing this stuff, you don’t want to breathe it, and you don’t want any splashing in your eyes. After the water goes in, you can take your mask off, but keep your hands away from your face until you’ve washed it off. Fresh cement is a bit caustic. Don’t mess with it. ]

Isaiah added pigment from a can by pouring it into the tray after the powder was mixed to a pie crust type consistency with the sand and kind of smoothed out flat: like adding water to the pie crust dry mixture. Pure white sand would make the color more intense; more pigment is only going to do so much to color sand which already has color in it.

[ ICI seems to be the pigment brand, though you can’t use it any more, for some reason you can still buy it at the Borg (Home Depot). Isaiah made me wash my hands after I handled the can and got a lot of it on my skin. You don’t want it on you. I washed them in the water bucket we were going to use to add to the cement mix. He watched me, making sure I didn’t slack on the instruction to get that stuff off my skin. ]

We used a big plastic tray with two sloping sides (think of a 3-D trapezoid) for mixing, and a masonry hoe. A masonry hoe has a hole or two in the blade so the goop can get through. Its an “ooh-ee-oh!” rhythm of — pulling a bit of mixture down from the berm and pulling it toward you (hoeing to mix the material) — only there’s no Wicked Witch watching over you while you mix it up. Just line up on either side of the tray and take your turn hoeing the mix from the berm on the other side of the tray toward you until its all hoed over to your side and the Maestro says S’alright!

First you measure and mix the cement and sand: a 1:3 ratio. Then you add the pigment (not much!), and it starts to look like an ant farm disaster [the first big batch we made was a terracotta brown cement, looking a bit grainy]. Then you begin to add the water: be careful if you start out with wet sand, like we did. Not too much water, just enough to be able to pour the stuff. You want those suckers to cure overnight.

Keep mixing with the hoe until it is all uniform. It looked like a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon cooking disaster (‘Ack! puréed monkey heads, again!’) when it was ready to pour. We decanted it into a smaller bucket from the mixing trough first, then poured the blobs.

Blobs got poured onto plastic-sheeted plywood, looked like 1/4″ sections of it, exterior grade boards. These supports allow them to dry somewhat protected. Plastic sheets protect the work surface and enable you to pick cured blobs up without breaking.  Blobs are fragile even when they are cured. You use a “swimming pool” trowel with four rounded corners to flatten the newly poured blob.

Isaiah decorated the first several blobs as a demo and we gathered around watching. He told us we were making propellers. I tried to maintain a distance from my natural tendency toward disbelief; maybe a propeller is brown if you stare into it long enough, or if its rusty, or painted.

I couldn’t wait to get home and ask Rufus what he knew about the installation site. Bridgehead Studios is the name of it now. I don’t make calls when I’m in class except for emergencies, so I practiced the Principle of Delayed Gratification (which I’m a master at) for the time being.

[ The site we were going to do the mural at was an old propeller factory at one time (Pitchometer Propeller). It still has a working chain hoist and a big T-shaped opening in the front of the building. It is a large cinder-block storefront, 2 stories tall. Rufus has gone to the factory many times on Coast Guard business, but not while they still had a working cupola and foundry. Think _big_old_propellers_ and lots-o-bronze. An industrial site. They closed the whole factory about 10 years ago. He’s worked for the CG quite a bit longer than that.

If anyone can mess up a propeller in the line of duty, its the Renegade Navy. Rufus is a naval architect; lately he’s been working on their 378s. Just being on the bridge of one of those things makes you feel like you’ve entered a science fiction movie, something like a cross between Captain Nemo, Star Wars, and Big, depending on the age and mission of the vessel. Maximum respect for the work that Coast Guard enlisted/civilians do; it’s hard work with little glory, 24/7.]

Isaiah used a bucket of bullnose tile and mirror and then marbles and then started to just whip pieces of tile (Amber seemed to be feeding him tile just about as fast as he could use it) out of the bucket without really examining them, laying them onto the surface of the blobs. He created a kind of “outline”  structure for the blob using the big pieces, and then filled in using the little pieces. He showed us how to use a screw and a washer to make a place or two to attach the blob to the mosaic wall.  He stepped back. He made a few comments on what he was doing: making a mandala.  Then he said: “Now, go for it!”

So in we jumped, with he and Rob pouring more blobs (Rob Tobin was the only male student, and I’m afraid he got asked to do more of the heavier work b/c of his gender, but he never complained) out on the table, and then it was: Avast with the Waiting, Go Forth and Make Ye Some Blobs, Me Hearties!

The Tobin 'Cousins' Tile Sticking Team, up on the scaffold.

The Tobin 'Cousins' Tile Sticking Team, up on the scaffold. See the blobs on the right, down by Rob's knees? Propellers? Mermaid belly-buttons? Wait and see...

We only took breaks to make more cement and get tiny bits of brightly colored bling tile and marbles for certain places in the Blob-world. Several people were working on two or three blobs together; some of us just flitted from blob to blob, putting a piece in here or there. Sometimes a bit of bright colored tile showing in a dark, plain background seems like a comment, a joke, a whimsical thought.

Then we made green blobs, sort of a forest green. They were faces. Isaiah carried out some special tile he’d brought in the belly of the plane from Philadelphia. Face components: eyes, noses, mouths. He talked about being myopic, about being a baby and only seeing parts of faces as people moved in close to say “Hi!” He doesn’t seem to wear glasses much. He’s got a 3rd eye too, or so it seems. The faces turned out pretty Cubist; more shades of Picasso.

These were white tiles he had gathered and intentionally painted with glaze and re-fired, making components for the faces in this project.  An eye on one, a nose on another, a pair of lips, an ear. Marbles went into the faces, so did the mirror, bits of our teapot (the spout and the handle), and other tile shards. Isaiah used some fancy curly bling tile for the hair. He used a tile he had painted with a silhouette of himself, almost a pictograph of how to lay tile combined with the dance step of tile-laying (he has 4 arms in the silhouette, with dotty lines showing the motion) for a nose on one of the faces.

[ A green face, a dance step for a nose. Get behind me, disbelief! ]

Then he asked us to step in and finish everything. The blobs filled up. We were out of room. We had a total of 16 blobs. Some of them were rather large. We left them in the ramada out in the garden to cure undisturbed overnight.

With only a half hour of class left in the day, we broke and cleaned up. Isaiah, Julia, and Laurel went over to the work site so that he could paint some design lines on the wall. We went home. Before I left I took a few photos of the outside of IMA. Even though it is unfinished, it sure is beautiful. I guess all our beauty is a work-in-progress, hey?

We were told to report to the school the next day, to help load “Bubba” (one of the students had a big truck she was loaning us the next day) with tile and materials to haul to the site. The time was a little unclear. The class started a 10 a.m.  I decided a little early couldn’t hurt, and moved out to get some rest.

I hurt all over and my brain felt fuzzy. I guess that’s from all the concentrating and being tense around strangers. Pretty exciting to meet one of your heroes, but always a big fear for me that somehow I’ll kludge the whole thing up. I wish Isaiah knew what a gift he was giving us all; perhaps he does, really.

Day 1, IMA Mural on Chapman Street

Day 1, IMA Mural on Chapman Street

Unfinished IMA Mural, but still the Casbah!

Unfinished IMA Mural, but still the Casbah!

Time for a Little Blog-a-luia!

I started blogging this week because of an incredibly visual experience last week: a visionary mosaic mural class I took in Jingletown at the Institute of Mosaic Art (IMA).

We (12 students, 1 assistant, a few teachers/guardian angels, and many enthusiastic witnesses) worked during 4 days to put up over 200 square feet of visionary mosaic mural on two sides of a building which once was the old Pitchometer Propeller factory (across from Stone Boatyard) on Blanding Avenue in Alameda, California. The building’s official name is Bridgehead Studio. Let’s see how long that holds with a flashy mosaic containing mermaids/men/birds/ships on the wall.

Words sometimes need pictures. I have become the owner of a digital camera; I took some pictures when my hands were clean and while my fingers still worked pretty well on the camera’s teeny tiny buttons last week. I wrote a Press Release for the darn thing on Monday. I intend to combine words/pictures here. These are my blogging baby steps; I need to walk before I can run.

Caveat: handle these images with respect; they are copyright protected!

Ana laying tile at 2516 Blanding, Alameda, Bridgehead Studios / Casa de Las Sirenas. More on her work at

Anha Fender laying tile at 2516 Blanding Ave., Alameda, CA. More on her work at

Our teachers/sensei-team, Isaiah and Julia Zagar, come from South Street’s mosaic-rich wonderland in Philadelphia, PA. Isaiah is the mentor of Laurel True, one of the founders of IMA, which offered the class. This is Isaiah’s 3rd (or is it 4th?) mural in this neighborhood. His title for the work is Mermaid Harbor.

Laurel was present when she wasn’t teaching classes, running the school, or generally trying to do the work of True Mosaics.

Isaiah has created over 100 murals on South Street’s neighborhood walls. See his work at

Stay tuned for more photos.