Why a Giant Community Mural in Downtown Loveland?

Loveland sweetheart city arts

Loveland’s “Creation,” by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, with help from local residents.

Loveland, Colorado, nicknamed The Sweetheart City, has developed a reputation as a city supportive of the arts. In recent years, citizens here have braved the cold to participate in an outdoor Valentine’s Day festival called Fire & Ice. The festival includes an ice sculpting competition and also metal sculpture involving lots of fire.

Despite brutally cold weather this year, people still bundled up and showed up. Lots of great musicians still managed to play and sing. And people still showed up to express themselves in paint even though the paint was freezing on the panels. ‘Word is that there were about 40,000 participants this year.

As an arts town, Loveland is best known for its sculpture and bronze foundries, so sculpture is a big part of the festival. But I’m mostly a painter, so this year the folks at the church I attend agreed to once again step up and help me facilitate a huge public art project for festival-goers. Beggars’ Gate pastor, Pat Sokoll, has insisted on the church footing the bill so that this event can be free for everyone.

This year we doubled the size of the final image to 15 x 27 feet. The image consists of 405, 12 inch square tiles. The way it works is that an artist (yours truly) translates the image beforehand into light, medium, and dark values. Each square tile contains a piece of the larger image with the correct value marked accordingly. Participants can express themselves as they wish so long as they use the correct value of paint in each designated area.

Last year we spoofed perhaps the best-known painting in the world – The Mona Lisa. We gave her a Loveland twist. She held a Valentine that says, “With love, from Leonardo,” and I put Long’s Peak in the background. (Click here to see her.) This year we spoofed another iconic image from art history – Michelangelo’s Creation from the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Since participants don’t know in advance what image they are helping to create, it seems reasonably safe to me to spoof a well-known and loved image from art history.

Why we do this
Several people have asked me about the inspiration for putting on such a large, free event. I think this is worth doing for a couple of reasons:

Community-building
I think our country has experienced a serious loss of civility and unity. I like this project because participants can express themselves individually while being an integral part of a larger picture together. It’s a great metaphor for community. An art project will certainly not solve our problems, but it can be a nice reminder that we all have a place here, making the community of Loveland what it is.

It’s just fun to look at the diversity expressed on the wall; to appreciate the creativity and to see the differing personalities of each individual coming through. I know the stories of many of the participants. I see tiles painted by a husband and wife who are physical therapists, a dad and his small kids, a retired school teacher who loves the arts, a child with Down Syndrome, a college student home for the weekend, a friend struggling with an unsettling medical diagnosis, and a competitive distance runner.

Every tile on the wall represents a person with a story. Maybe we can all get better at getting to know each other despite our differences this year. Maybe we can learn to be slower to shut each other down when we disagree.

public art community

Detail of local color…

Radical Inclusivity
Some tiles are quite complicated and require a bit of time and careful attention to complete. Others are completely blank and are impossible to mess up, so long as the correct value of paints are used. This means that even a child barely old enough to hold a brush, a person with a physical or mental disability, or even a blind person can participate. This is personally meaningful to me as a father of a child with a disability and also as a father of a very gifted child, both in the same family. I know how rare it is to find something everyone can engage with as equals

We made it free because we didn’t want anyone to be excluded for financial reasons. As an artist couple raising 5 kids, often below the poverty line, my wife and I often avoided events like this festival. Or if we attended such an event, we had to tell our kids in advance that we weren’t going to buy anything there. It was gratifying to see parents of large families smile to see that our event was free.

art and math

One of my favorite tiles, just because it is so different from anything i would ever do. The mathematical equation creates the heart shape shown on the tile. This tile appears near the head of God in the mural.

What do you think of having a permanent art wall in Loveland?
It looks as thought this may be our last year, as things now stand. The boarded up building on 4th Street where the mural is situated is scheduled for renovation in late spring. I think it would be a unique addition to downtown Loveland to have a permanent, rotating art wall for projects like this. Maybe at the Feed & Grain, or on the side of some other well-exposed building, visible from 4th Street. Or possibly a large billboard type structure reserved for 2D art display.

It could be another way for the city to support the arts.

Thanks again to the small army of volunteers at Beggars’ Gate for your service and ingenuity, and for sticking it out in the cold weather. Thanks to everyone who came by and painted a tile. I love being part of this community.

— Scott Freeman

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art for kids

A small artist with his tile.

You Won’t Believe What I Saw During the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

You’ve probably seen those photos where someone is taking a vacation picture of their family and then when they get home they discover something unexpected in the background of the photo? Like a hungry lion in the bushes sizing them up? Or Bigfoot running away from the camera?

Well, wait til you see this!

To see the total solar eclipse, my friend David and I drove 3 1/2 hours from our town in Colorado to the high plains town of Lusk, Wyoming – population 1500. Lusk was inside the path of totality and we figured it would be less crowded there than in Casper.

On the morning of August 21st we decided to watch the eclipse from the Niobrara County Fairgrounds in Lusk. When we arrived inside the grounds I saw a small mesa just a short walk away and I knew that’s where I wanted to go to see the eclipse. I could see a small crowd of people already gathering on the summit. We were stoked because it was a cloudless day in Wyoming – perfect for eclipse watching!

Lusk, WY fairgrounds-2017 solar eclipse

Inside the Fairgrounds. You can see people setting up in the foreground. I joked to David that we’d be closer to the sun on the mesa.

We arrived on the mesa to find an enthusiastic and friendly crowd getting ready for the eclipse, which was about to begin. It turns out that the view from the mesa gave us a unique 360 view of the Wyoming plains, all the way to the horizon.

Solar eclipse 2017-ridge at Niobrara Cnty Fairgrounds

On top of the mesa as the eclipse is beginning. Note the color of the sky for later comparison.

On the windy mesa I met a lady with a colander and a whiteboard. You can see by the tiny dots that the eclipse is well under way at this point…

Solar eclipse 2017-Lusk, WY

I was interested in the people around me, as well as the eclipse itself. Note the lighting here for later comparison during the totality phase…

Eclipse watchers Lusk, WY Aug 21 2017

Here you can see the sky growing darker. Notice also that the people here appear to be fully human at this point.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. During a solar eclipse, the shadow of the moon moves across the face of the earth at some 2000 mph. I was talking with some fellow eclipse-watchers, and we were all wondering if we would be able to see this shadow approaching from the northwest. We thought this might be a possibility because of our vantage point from the top of the mesa as we could see all the way to the horizon.

So a lot of us were not looking up at the eclipse – instead we were looking out into the plains for the shadow. As the moon was about to cover the sun I noticed the northwest horizon growing dark. I wasn’t sure if I was seeing the shadow or not, so I started snapping photos with my iphone one after the other. All of the following photos are unedited, unless otherwise indicated…

Eclipse shadow1

In the contiguous US the path of totality began in Oregon and headed toward us…

Approaching totality2

A total solar eclipse creates a 360 degree sunset around the horizon. The eclipse was scheduled to reach totality in Wyoming at 11:45 – midday…

Approaching totality 3

This guy is checking with his eclipse glasses to see how close we were to totality…

Approaching totality4

Getting darker…more intense…still no discernible shadow approaching…

 

Total solar eclipse, Lusk Wy 2017

Full eclipse! Glasses can come off at this stage. In fact the sun cannot be seen through my eclipse glasses at this point.

Below is my lame, unfiltered shot of the eclipse in totality. I had to tilt my phone to get both the sun and the crowd in the frame. This photo is photoshopped: I had to add the black disc of the moon in order to show you a representation of what I saw because the corona was still too bright for my iphone camera. (It showed up as a bright spot with no disc)…
iphone shot to total eclipse, Lusk, WY

And now the part you won’t believe: Aliens appeared next to me during the total eclipse!
They probably thought no one would notice them in all the excitement and dim light. Or perhaps the eclipse forced them to assume their natural forms. See for yourself…

Here’s what happened: I started shooting pics of the people next to me in the dim light of the full eclipse. This is the same crowd in earlier photos. Notice how my iphone camera now sees them as dark silhouettes…
Aliens about to appear during total eclipse!

Now…check out this next, UNEDITED shot…

Extraterrestrials in Lusk, Wyoming!

Do you see the 5 aliens on the left, hanging out at the back of the crowd?
Below is a helpful, enlarged diagram I’ve made using my limited knowledge of extraterrestrials, for those who might need help seeing them…

Extraterrestrials captured on camera in Lusk, WY

So there you have it. You gotta love iphones.

The next shot shows the ETs morphing back into their human forms as the totality phase comes to an end, and the sun bathes the crowd in eerie partial eclipse light…

eerie eclipse light, just after totality

Well…I told you that you wouldn’t believe me.
But regardless, viewing a total solar eclipse truly is an unforgettable experience.

The Meaning of the 2017 Solar Eclipse

Eclipse-blg

This post is for skeptics scouring the internet for examples of religious people making claims about the meaning of the August 21st total solar eclipse.

I have a claim!

What is the religious meaning of the solar eclipse? Is it a sign? An omen? Should we start stockpiling food and weapons? Is the end near? Is the eclipse a heavenly metaphor about the Trump presidency?

Well, I think there is a “religious “ meaning, but it’s so obvious that most of us probably take it for granted. Here’s my claim:

The predictability of the 2017 solar eclipse is one more example showing that the universe was designed by an intelligent Creator with human beings in mind.

Notice that astronomers know the precise date on which the eclipse will occur. They can tell us the cities within the path of totality, and how long the total eclipse will last at each location. They can tell us how rare this event is for this continent and how many decades it will be before an event like this occurs in the contiguous US again.

Such precise predictions are possible because heavenly bodies move according to laws with such precision that their movements can be plotted out far into the future. It’s hard to imagine a naturalistic explanation for the existence of laws. Materialists would have us believe that a blind, mindless, cosmic explosion accidentally set the planets on their predictable courses, and that they have apparently sustained their clock-like movements for billions of years. I just find this too incredible to believe.

And then there’s this fact. During a total solar eclipse, the moon just barely covers the sun. This happens because the sun happens to be 400 times larger, but also 400 times more distant, than the moon. Does this remarkable coincidence mean anything? I don’t know, but it’s pretty cool.

From our perspective on earth, this couldn’t have been going on for billions of years because the moon is also receding from the earth at a rate of about an inch and a half per year. This also raises the question, “Can the moon be 4.5 billion years old if it’s been receding from earth’s surface at a rate of an inch and a half per year?”

I’m getting out of my depth here, so I’ll leave it at that and enjoy the eclipse. On a more personal and ominous note, when I learned that the solar eclipse falls on my wife’s birthday we had the following conversation:

Me: “Hmmm…I wonder if your birthday being on the date of the eclipse means that you’re the Antichrist.”

Wife: “No, I think it means that God thinks I’m special.”

Son #3: “That sounds exactly like something the Antichrist would say.”

Now I don’t know what to think. I’m open to suggestions as to what I should get my wife for her birthday. Please comment below.

A Tale of Two Neighbors. (And Many Dandelions.)

garden gnome-scott freemanThis morning as I was out digging dandelions in the sun, I noticed myself unconsciously making choices. It set me to thinking about human action and freedom.

I’m quite fond of the quirky little piece of downtown property where my wife and I live and raised our family. I love my wife’s garden. I love our art studio. I like our fruit trees. I like that our yard is not fenced in. And I really like that there is no Homeowners Association (HOA.) This allows me to do things like dig a pit and cook a turkey in the ground at Thanksgiving. Or to add outdoor art to my property. Our “inner city” neighborhood has a lot of cool, creatively embellished properties, and a lot of urban farming going on. Several neighbors keep chickens and bees in their backyards. These are usually among the best kept properties. I love this.

Of course there is the occasional trashy property as well, and the occasional display of poor taste. This is part of the cost of freedom. I think it is a small price to pay.

This post is a brief tale of two neighbors. It’s a story about the dynamics of living in community. (I’m pretty sure neither of my neighbors reads my blog.)

I will call my neighbor on one side, Harvey. Harvey is a middle-aged, single guy. We’re buds. We’ve talked a lot about life, God, politics, and stuff, in a dude sort of way. I like a lot of Harvey’s views, though he can be a little pugnacious. But underneath his crusty, cigar-smoking exterior, as human beings go, he’s a good man. He volunteers his time and resources to help under-privileged kids. For years he has worked with the deaf community in one capacity or another. He has purchased my art and books on several occasions. He has given us pecans from his farm in another state. I like Harvey.

A few years ago, Harvey adopted an enormous dog. A black lab, or something. I’ll call him Dogzilla. Dogzilla is clueless and friendly. I’d say he’s a little too friendly. He often escapes his pen and comes immediately into our yard, snuffling around and peeing in our garden, where we grow food that we intend to eat. Dogzilla produces enormous poop that doesn’t decompose because Harvey feeds him cheap dog food. Sometimes at night, I’ve noticed Harvey letting Dogzilla out for a potty break, while he enjoys a cigar in our shared alley. Recently, I shoveled all of Dogzilla’s petrified poop back into Harvey’s yard. I haven’t told Harvey about this yet, but if he doesn’t like it, I’m looking forward to the conversation where he explains why he has a problem with me putting his dog’s poop back into his yard.

Harvey pieced together a make-shift pen for Dogzilla. The makeshift pen is quite large and consists of five-foot sections of chain-link fencing, held up with bungee cords and stacks of cinder blocks, with a tarp thrown over part of the fence for shade. With dandelions and goat heads growing all around. It looks like crap. It’s very reminiscent of a third world slum, or a refugee camp. Of course, I have nothing against third world slum dwellers or refugees, but I don’t believe that Harvey and Dogzilla are in a crisis situation. Unless you count the dandelion crisis. But even so, that’s really a first world problem.

So that’s on one side of my house.

Then there is my neighbor on the other side. I’ll call her Betsy. She is an interior designer. Her house and yard look like a greeting card scene. She’s like Martha Stewart without the prison record. Her property has been on the annual Loveland Garden Tour. It’s like a Disney movie over there, with rabbits and birds and butterflies hopping and flitting about. When I step out of my house to go to work in my studio, if I happen to glance over to the right at Betsy’s property, I often break into song.

Betsy is also a great neighbor and a giving person. She is from an old Loveland family, and it’s fun to talk local history with her. My wife and Betsy exchange gardening plants. I have painted several paintings in her sanctuary-like backyard during plein air art competitions. (I have never asked Harvey’s permission to paint in his “yard.”) During winter, she always has her snow removal guys do part of my sidewalk. At Christmastime we exchange Christmas cookies, and hers are amazing, and ridiculously Martha Stewart-like. (Harvey does not give us cookies, but that is probably a good thing.)

That’s the other side of my house.

So, when I went out for my first springtime dandelion digging, guess where I started digging first? I headed directly to Betsy’s side of my yard. I wanted to be sure she didn’t have to wonder if I was going to get rid of the dandelions next to her property. (Her yard is dandelions-free.) She has never complained to me about my sometimes lax grounds keeping. She doesn’t have to. Because she treats her property with care, it makes me want to do the same. Not out of guilt, or shame, or keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, but out of respect and appreciation for the effort and creative care she puts in. I’ve noticed that she likes to entertain guests in her garden, and I would like to not be the jerk who ruins the sanctuary vibe that that she has going on over there. All of this is unspoken. I could completely neglect my property, and the world would keep turning, but the fact that she cares helps me to care.

Isn’t so much of life like this?

All of us struggle every day against entropy and degeneration, in every aspect of life. The physical universe is winding down. Left to itself, our environment gravitates toward disorder and decay. Civil society naturally tends toward confusion and degeneration. Even the genes in our cells are continually mutating, causing our bodies to degenerate and eventually lose function. But we fight against this. By intelligence, creativity, and work, we rebuild, restore, support, and hope. Ultimately, our only hope for salvation is an intelligent, loving, regenerative Life-Source existing outside of creation, commonly referred to as “God.” But whether or not we believe in such a God, most of us still hold onto hope. I find this bittersweet.

For me, every creative act is worth something. While even our hoping and dreaming is imperfect, every hope and dream in the face of futility testifies that we were created for life, love, and goodness. Creative acts affirm life. Caring acts make the universe make sense to our neighbor. Loving acts transcend the futility of our hopeless trajectory, in some small way. To me these things signal that there is something better to come.

I’ll close with some gardening tips from the apostle Paul:
“…whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:7-10.)

dandelion

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Abusing Christmas Decorations

Surely no one will be interested in reading about my family’s quirky behavior at Christmastime. But, I’m sorry…this is just funny to me.

Years ago, someone – I think it was an aunt, or maybe my mom – gave us a snowman decoration as a Christmas gift. As an oh-so-cultured and aesthetically sensitive fine artist, I thought it was kind of tacky. However, as our tolerance for tackiness necessarily goes up at Christmastime, we continued to set the decoration out each year. Also, our daughter liked it. The decoration consists of 4 pegged blocks with letters on them, with 4 little detachable, smiling, sparkly snowmen, whose little snowman rectums fit over the pegs. The letters are very limited in their scope of possibilities. There are lots of “o”s. You’re supposed to spell out words like “JOY”, “SNOW”, and “NOEL.” Like this:

Abusing Xmas decorWell, in a house full of artists, theatre people, and word freaks, I suppose it was inevitable that one day I would look over and see this:

Abusing Xmas decor-SOY…And that was all it took. (Thank you, Lee.)

Now, in the midst of all of the truly meaningful celebration that Christmas brings, we have the stupid snowman decoration. Even worse, for ten years now its place has been the bathroom, which means that no one ever gets caught messing with it. Days will go by after you’ve finally begun to ignore the latest permutation. Then as you’re drying your hands, you look over and see this:

Abusing Xmas decor-SNOOPor this:

Abusing Xmas decor-YES/NOThings started out somewhat tastefully. But as years have progressed, it’s been harder to come up with new words. After all there are only 4 blocks, and some letters repeat. (For you word freaks, there are only ten letters: S,N,J,H,O,Y,P,E,L, & W.) And they’re in a fixed position on the blocks, limiting one’s options even more. So this really does present a patron with something to think about when answering nature’s call.

Sometimes removing the snowmen from their pegs helps:

Tacky Xmas decorationsWe’ve realized it’s possible to flip some letters to increase our options. Adding an “M” probably gave us a whole season’s worth of new possibilities:

Snowman gender is a social construct (I’ll agree that gender is a social construct in the case of snowmen.)

Fun with Xmas decor!Then someone (okay…me) started adding additional bath-roomy elements. Like toilet paper:

Fun with snowmen!And shampoo:

Winter fun with toiletries!There is the occasional borrowing from other Christmas decorations:

More fun with Xmas decor!I’ve stopped bothering to warn our guests about the decoration, so I can only wonder what impression they leave with.

SONY That’s “all I got” this time. I hope this has been fascinating for everyone. Part of me would love to hear your favorite stories about tacky Christmas trappings, in the combox below.

May you and your loved ones have a wonderful Christmas Season!

I leave you with this simple holiday(?) message:

YOLO snowmen

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Boyhood Visions of the Future

Image

I was born in the year 1960. Have you ever had moments of realization when you look back on your childhood and suddenly see how media was shaping your perception of reality? Kind of like finding out that the “food” you’d been eating as part of your “healthy diet” was actually part of a seductively packaged alien plot to incapacitate you so that the aliens could take over the planet? Lately I’ve noticed this around popular assumptions about the future that I grew up with.

I’m referring to the booming period of optimism and faith in human progress after WW2, when new nuclear-age war technologies began to be applied to the public sector marketplace. When cars began to grow fins, and vacuum cleaners and toasters were mass-produced to look like rockets. When “the future” was upon us – “The Space Age,” promising to give us a better world through chemistry. When little kids like me grew up watching the Jetsons, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, and Star Trek on black and white TVs. This era was the context of Pixar’s more recent, Toy Story, the era when little boys began to turn their attention from Cowboys and Indians to “the new frontier” – Outer Space!

There is a song that still cracks me up, summing up many of these early 60’s stereotypes about the future. The song’s bad grammar helps make the point, probably more accurately than songwriter Terry Taylor could’ve guessed it would, that human beings are still the same, despite technological advances:

(It’s the Eighties So Where’s Our) Rocket Packs?

I thought by now I’d walk the moon
And ride a car without no tires
And have a robot run the vacuum
And date a girl made out of wires…

I thought by now we’d live in space
And eat a pill instead of dinner
And wear a gas mask on our face
A president of female gender

Though progress marches on (new day)
Our troubles still grow strong
And my expectancies become my fantasies
You turn my blood to sand, the earth stands still again

My hopes are running low
Things moving much too slow
There’s no space men up above
And we’re still far from love…so very far from love

I thought by now we’d build a dome
Around the world, control the weather
In every house a picture phone;
Communicate a little better…

                          – written by Terry Taylor, 1984, from the album Vox Humana

You have to watch this Youtube video of the song. You must. Asap:
(Click here. Now.)

I thought it might be fun to list a few of the more damaging myopic futuristic assumptions that everyone thought would be so cool. At the time I was completely oblivious to the politics behind them.

Improved/Synthetic/Space-Age Food
Really? Why did anyone think this would be a good idea? Oh, that’s right – because Science has so perfectly grasped how food and the human body works. It is beyond pompous to assume that we can process, refine, chemicalize, and even genetically modify, the food supply and end up with better results than if we eat the stuff that organically grows out of the ground from nutrient-rich soil. (If you can still find any.) Genetically modified corn and soybeans were introduced into the American food supply in 1990s. Since then, food intolerances/allergies to these foods have exploded.  ‘Could be just a coincidence. Nevertheless, some 60 plus countries have now banned GM crops. Not in America though. There’s too much money to be made. But don’t worry. After all, it’s only the nation’s FREAKING FOOD SUPPLY.

Many futuristic assumptions forgot to take into account human greed and arrogance. Apparently this was supposed to evolve away, or something.

Apart from the nutritional benefits of eating actual food, it is worth noting that preparing food together and sharing a meal with family and friends has always been the quintessential communal act of human existence. Maybe we shouldn’t do away with this in the name of convenience.

Living in Outer Space on a Synthetic Planet
This doesn’t sound fun to me. Maybe for a couple of hours. The reason given for living in space was that the earth was going to become too crowded and polluted. I actually had teachers tell me this. But even as a boy the obvious question seemed to be, “But, couldn’t we just not destroy the earth?”

The Gender Thing
Visions of the future often included a more androgynous society, featuring both women and men wearing matching unitards. Apparently this was supposed to directly equate with equality, as if men and women cannot be equally valued so long as gender and gender roles exist. As if difference must necessarily imply inequality. I think they apply this same strategy in North Korea today, except they don’t use unitards, exactly. No one really knows.

As a little kid I remember seeing an artist’s conception in LIFE magazine about the future. The image contained a line drawing of a man and woman, each wearing only identical striped, bell-bottomed pants. They were the same height, both of their heads were shaved, and they had the same skinny build. The only difference was that the woman had boobs, sort of. (One can only guess at why.) I remember the picture made me cry, because I thought this was what the future would inevitably be like, since it was in LIFE magazine.

In remembering 60’s pop culture I have a hard time coming up with any innate difference between the sexes being celebrated in the future. I can’t think of any futuristic men with beards, (unless they were villains.) I don’t recall seeing a pregnant woman in a futuristic show or movie at all, let alone an image of woman breast-feeding a baby. Eyuu! How primitively human would that be! That would just call to mind all sorts of inequalities and unscientific, subjective feelings. It’s taken decades for breast-feeding advocates to overcome the misperception that breast-feeding is somehow innately less “modern” or less “scientific” than bottle-feeding.

The Procreation Thing
And speaking of babies, in songs and movies it was definitely assumed that this messy, emotional, undignified business of childbirth would somehow be cleaned up in the future. We’d pick babies from a test tube. Fetuses would be grown by scientists in a big tank. We’d be able to pick the gender, eye color, and intelligence of our (probably only) child. As if intelligence is a virtue, apart from good character. (Why does everyone assume their genius child is going to use their intelligence to eradicate disease and hunger? Maybe your genius child will use her intelligence to make weapons of mass destruction and eradicate humanity.)

I’ve been in a number of conversations with pro-legal-abortion-on-demand people who have brought up the idea of an artificial uterus. They seriously hope for this development. This would resolve the issue for them, finally making men and women equal. What is this impulse that pushes us to reject what is most innately human and deeply meaningful about ourselves?

The Inconvenience Thing
The idea of the innate worth and sanctity of all human life necessarily seemed to be on shaky ground in futuristic visions. There were never any people with disabilities, or blindness, or incurable diseases, or old age, in the Future. Why? They’re not there because, well, we will have learned how to fix the human machine by then. At least one hopes that’s why they’re not there.

Much of the futuristic vision seemed to be about overcoming inconveniences, like food preparation, childbirth, children, work, infirmity, and human limitations; the very things that have given shape to the lives of everyone who has ever lived on the planet.

The Work Thing
The idea of a person going to work all day at a job involving physical labor was not futuristic. Even walking more than a few steps was oh-so-20th century. A smiling George Jetson carried a briefcase home from work as the moving sidewalk carried him to his front door.

Of course most labor would be performed by cool-looking robots. Transportation would be akin to a trip to the amusement park – everything from personal hovercraft to rocket packs.

Things Missing From the Future:
God, of course. Of course there would be no belief in God in the future because everything would be explained and fixed without Him. And that would make us God. Super convenient! I now assume this was the media industry buying into the “secularization thesis” – the now discredited “Enlightenment” idea that as nations modernize and progress technologically, belief in God will inevitably die out. So surely in the scientific, space-age future, God will have been long gone.

Large Families. Gosh – there’s just something kind of undignified and Stone-Age about large families. And there is that overpopulation thing. It is interesting to note that the nations that are going extinct today, due to a failure to reproduce themselves, (as in Japan and much of Europe,) are also the ones where belief in God has been on the wane for some time.

Not What It Used To Be
In the present day, entertainment media’s conception of the future is very different from that of the 50s and 60s. It is now difficult to find an optimistic view of the future in popular culture. Most movies portray a very seamy, hopeless, barbaric, apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic futuristic vision. Perhaps this is because Science has proved to be an insufficient savior – it has indeed helped us with our technological problems, but not the human problem. The Modernism of the 50s has given way to the Post-modernism of today, which can offer us no transcendent purpose to history.

So what is my point in going back to the 50’s and 60’s portrayal of the Future, besides for the fun of it? I hadn’t noticed until recently how uniform the picture was that was presented to me, even during that innocent era. As pop culture’s vision of the future has grown darker, the picture of the future continues to be quite uniform. The underlying assumptions that guided the optimistic makers of children’s entertainment in the 50s and 60s happen to be remarkably fitting with the same metaphysical and political agenda promoted by the entertainment media today. Secularist values have not really changed – they’ve just lost their luster. People aren’t smiling at the future anymore. It’s the same fascism (for a better world, of course), the same evolutionary materialism, the same confusion about sex, gender, marriage, and family, the same utter lack of any transcendent basis for valuing all of human life, the same repudiation of the most meaningful aspects of what it means to be human.

In the not too distant future, I may or may not produce a children’s book that will set the vision of the future that I grew up with on its head. Set far in the future, in my book these prevailing secularist ideas will be looked upon as backward. Ideas such as food coming from a box, can, tube, or pill will seem funny. The idea that gender is a mere social construct will seem puzzling. What if children grew up with adults pointing out to them that, back when God ceased to exist, human beings ceased to exist as well, becoming merely accidental bundles of chemicals floating through space? What if children grew up convinced of the absolute value of every human being, since all human beings bear the image of a universal Creator who loves them? What if children grew up respecting the unique gender and parenting roles of both men and women? And what if bringing a new life into being were seen as a great privilege, and a valuable responsibility, rather than an inconvenience? I can testify that it would make for a better world.

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Introducing Our New Greeting Card Line…

Many of you know that I worked at Hallmark Cards for almost a decade before moving to Colorado to pursue a living as a fine art painter. Well, recently, after decades of creating original fine art and illustration, I realized I have lots of nice work sitting around in computer files, not doing me or anyone else any good. So Mollie and I have decided to make the best of this work available in the form of greeting cards, note cards, apparel, and other gifty stuff. Digital technology now makes it super easy and affordable to do this. If you’re a fan of our work, I hope you’ll go to our Zazzle page and check out what we’re offering to you.

We’re resurrecting a business name I was toying with when we first moved to Colorado – The Loveland Company. Originally I wanted to open a store in Loveland selling art, creative gifts, great local music (by locals such as Taylor & Rebecca Mesple, and Dave Beegle,) and other cool stuff. Fortunately, I realized that I really didn’t have the capital and business savvy to open a brick and mortar store. We still don’t, so we’re opening an online store. If we get a decent response, we’ll keep adding new stuff.

Why The Loveland Company?
Because:1) I love the name of our town – Loveland, Colorado, 2) I love the fact that The Loveland Company initials happen to be “TLC,” 3) My town, Loveland has developed a reputation as a great little art town. There are proportionally a ton of artists of all types living here. So how fitting to name our little art & design company after our little artsy town, 4) I love love, 5) I hate hate.

I’m timing this announcement a couple of weeks before Valentine’s Day, since I’m featuring a Valentine’s Day card design. Since I’m a (possibly obsessive) storyteller, I thought I’d tell you the story behind this design. (I promise not to do this every time we add a card to the offering.)

The Time Angel
I tried to push a very different version of this idea at Hallmark, but they rejected it. Then, when I got to Loveland, I learned that the City holds a citywide contest each year to pick an official Loveland Valentine card, which is then sold all over town at local businesses and stores. At the risk of sounding like an art snob, I will say that some of these designs seemed to me to be just a wee bit amateurish. Which is fine. It’s a small town. Whatever. So one year I decided to submit my Time Angel idea, which Hallmark had rejected. You know…since I had worked as an artist for the number one greeting card company in the whole freakin’ world. I spent a couple of days creating a new watercolor painting, which I was quite happy with. I submitted the design.

The Loveland Chamber of Commerce Valentine’s-Day-Card-Picking-Committee also rejected my submission. (Sigh…)

So I later sold the little original watercolor at a studio tour, and moved on to the next thing. But I still have a great digital scan, and I still like concept. Whether ANYONE ELSE LIKES IT OR NOT!

LOVE RULES, MAN!!!

Here is the card design, blank inside, suitable for giving to anyone you love, available on Zazzle:

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A Note About Loveland’s Valentine Re-mailing Program
Valentine’s Day is kind of a big deal in Loveland, because of the town name. Loveland is also known as The Sweetheart City. You may or may not be aware of Loveland’s re-mailing program, the largest of its kind in the nation. Each year more than 160,000 cards from all 50 states and over 100 nations are re-mailed through Loveland so that they can be postmarked with Loveland’s Valentine cachet. This year marks the 68th anniversary of this program.

You can have your mail stamped in Loveland by following these 2 steps:

1)     Pre-address and pre-stamp all valentines, and enclose them in a larger 1st Class envelope.

2)     These envelopes should be sent to:

Postmaster – Attention Valentines
446 E. 29th St
Loveland, CO 80538-9998

All valentines will be removed from the larger envelope at the post office, postmarked with the official Loveland Valentine’s Day cachet, and sent on their way!

To ensure delivery by Valentine’s Day 2014:
> Foreign mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 4

> U.S. destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 7

> Colorado destined mail must be received in Loveland by Feb. 10

> Proper postage must be affixed, especially for foreign mail.

Colorado residents have the option to drop off their pre-addressed, pre-stamped valentines to local King Soopers or City Market food stores, where you can find special drop boxes for this purpose. Feb. 8 is the final day to drop off valentines at these locations to ensure on-time delivery.

Below are some examples of past Loveland cachets. They’re all designed and written by locals, as part of the annual contest.

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More Interesting Details
This year, 2014, the cachet stamp slyly references the floods that buffeted a segment of our community last fall:

From the Sweetheart City
Scenic, Safe and Strong
Comes a flood of Valentine wishes
To you, where they belong.

Here’s something else I just learned from the Loveland Chamber of Commerce website. Apparently, there is a waiting list for people who would like to be one of the 60 plus volunteers who “lovingly hand-stamp” each card with the Valentine cachet during the first two weeks in February. Check out this video. At one minute and forty-one seconds, it’s almost too long, but it’s so stinkin’ cute. Go ahead! Click here and get a glimpse of some local color! (ie: red and white.) When I saw it, it hadn’t quite gone viral yet, at 474 views…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1P296xn4b70

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“Retro Family”
Here’s a card design I put on Zazzle that was yanked because I apparently violated John Wayne’s privacy/celebrity rights. (‘Sorry, John.) It’s adapted from a cover I designed for a now defunct alternative newspaper – KC Jones. I thought you’d like to see it before I give the Duke a makeover.

Thank you again for stopping by our ZAZZLE STORE (click here.) Please bookmark the link as we will be adding cool stuff periodically.

Angels: My Quest to Paint a Masculine Angel at Hallmark

It’s the Christmas season, so what could be more appropriate than a story about angels and Hallmark? Okay…I’ll admit I can think of a couple of things, but I thought that was a pretty Christmassy opening sentence.

For me, as a Bible-lover, working on Hallmark holiday product was like walking a tightrope over a yawning vat of pink cotton candy and glitter. On one hand I was excited to be a part of contributing to the shaping of American popular culture in some small way. But on the other hand, it was like trying to deliver a healthy meal as a burger-flipper at McDonalds.

If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible, you might assume that the Bible and Hallmark would go together like a hand and glove. But as a Hallmark artist who often submitted ideas for religious product, I learned that it was almost impossible to find a “nice,” Hallmark sentiment in the Bible. Even though Jesus was all about love and light, He did not seem to have the greeting card industry in mind when proclaiming His message.

It’s way easier to find statements by Jesus that do not work as greeting card sentiments:

To Our Wonderful Son,
“If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matt 18:9)

Congratulations on Your Promotion!
“Truly, I tell you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 19:23)

It was in a Hallmark store at headquarters that I once saw the worst example ever of a Bible verse twisted into a commercial greeting card sentiment. There was a bookmark with an illustration of a smiling little girl gardening. The bookmark said, “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees.” The Bible reference for this gentle environmental sentiment was Revelation 7:3. Wait a minute…Revelation? I had to look that up. Here’s the context:

“Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: ‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of God’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel…”

This passage is describing the apocalypse during the end times destruction of the earth. It immediately follows the opening of the seven seals that include the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” who destroy a fourth of the earth by sword, famine, plague, and death. In the next chapter seven more angels are given trumpets, the first of which introduces the burning up of a third of the earth and trees, and then it gets more horrible from there.

Which brings me back to the subject of angels in the Bible.

They’re not the pastel, Disney-princess-like characters that appear on Hallmark cards. In the New Testament, whenever there is a waking interaction between a human being and an angel, the angel’s first words usually are, “Do not be afraid.” Or, sometimes they have to instruct people not to worship them.  Apparently there is something so imposing about an angelic appearance as to inspire fear and worship.

We see this in the Christmas story when the herald angel appears to the shepherds in the fields. It says the sight of this angel filled them with fear. The book of Hebrews says angelic messengers are like fire and wind (Heb 1:7,14.) Often they are simply described as men with an “appearance like lightning” (Matt 28:2-5.) Never are wings or halos mentioned, and never are angels described as women. In one instance, Jesus seems to indicate that angels are androgynous (Matt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35,36.)

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“Annunciation” – Advent Calendar Stencil, Scott Freeman
Here I experimented with making an angel’s hair resemble flame.

Wings and halos seem like reasonable visual symbols for depicting spirit-beings of light. It doesn’t put my shorts in a twist if somebody wants to depict angels that way. But to depict angels as fragile, placid women from a Jane Austin novel seems to me to mess with the substance of what is depicted in the Bible. As a Hallmark artist, I figured that if I noticed this, then Hallmark’s religious consumer probably noticed it as well. Since Christmas is, after all, a Christian holiday, I thought these consumers might appreciate Christmas cards depicting angels more in fidelity to what the scriptures actually describe.

So I submitted a couple of Christmas card ideas depicting more masculine angels.
I know…I’m such a radical.

I didn’t make them hulking, sweaty warriors with AK-47s, or have them smoking cigars. I simply leaned them away from the popular archetypal Hallmark girly-angel. In other words they didn’t look like Bob Haas angels.

You may rightly ask, “Who is Bob Haas?” If you were a Hallmark artist in the 80s & 90s, you knew who Bob Haas was, even if you had never actually seen or touched him. Bob Haas was one of a handful of artists who dwelt at the misty pinnacle of Hallmark’s elaborate hierarchical creative pecking order. In the world of Hallmark artistdom, Bob Haas bore the title of Sr. Master Designer. This was similar to being knighted. In layman’s terms this meant that Bob had made boatloads of money for Hallmark. He was a legendary greeting card artist.

Bob Haas was known for his angels. In fact Bob practically was an angel. Bob was especially known for his popular Christmas angels. He produced a whole series of them while I was at Hallmark. If you are reading this in America, there is a good chance you’ve received a Christmas card bearing one of Bob’s angels. I just got another one last Christmas. You can see it below. You’ll notice it is very girly.

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Why am I going on about Bob Haas? Well, it turns out that both of my masculinized angel card submissions were accepted for production. Guess who my manager picked to shepherd me through the creation of these 2 projects? That is correct – Bob Haas – the King of girly angels; the very guy whose work I was specifically hoping to not resemble. Why did I need to be shepherded? Because at the time I was a mere Redesign Artist 2, well below the halfway point on the hierarchical Hallmark pecking order.

Newer Hallmark artists were mentored by seasoned Hallmark artists so that we would not commit greeting card sins. I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to consider it an honor to be mentored by Bob Haas. Silently, I determined to do my very best to treat him as a full equal. Cheerfully, I set out on this adventure, to boldy go where no Hallmarker had gone before; to plunge fearlessly into the crucible of wussy Hallmark angeldom and face the King of girly angels himself.

I must say that my story would be more entertaining if the girly angel King had turned out to be a butthead. Or if he had insisted on making me put mascara, nail polish, and print dresses on my manly angels. But in fact, I ended up liking Bob Haas. He turned out to be an interesting and reasonable person, as well as a knowledgeable artist with a very cool library. It was indeed an honor to work with him.

Happily, my angels ended up going into production (mostly) unneutered. Large, sparkly, greeting card snowflakes began to fall lightly as I saw three ships come sailing in. On Christmas day, bells chimed as I carved the roast beast and everyone joined hands and sang together joyfully in the town square. The Mouse King was dead at last. God blessed us, everyone. It was a wonderful life, and the best Christmas ever. And my angels got their wings. The end.

Manly Angels

Here are the 2 angels as they appeared as finished, boxed Christmas card product…

All Hallmark images are reproduced without permission, for educational purposes. Hallmark: Please do not sue me.

Stories from the Old ‘Hood: Halloween

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I liked Halloween as a kid. As an adult I find it to be the most annoying, pointless holiday ever. It’s bizarre to me, how adults so often do harmful things to children to make them happy. If I hated children, and I wanted to lure them down the road to sugar addiction, obesity, and heart disease, I would go around the neighborhood dressed like a clown and give them all large bags of free candy. Halloween saves me the trouble. Except that I don’t hate children.

I get that Halloween is the one American holiday where people get to dress up, which is fun, and ridiculously cute with small children, so for this reason Mollie and I grudgingly participated in Halloween when our children were younger. The first year our oldest child went trick-or treating, he didn’t know what candy was, so we didn’t tell him. He has a disability, but despite his visual impairment, he enjoyed the experience. He came home with his jack-o-lantern bucket full of candy, played with the unopened candy for a couple of days, enjoying the crinkling sound of the candy wrappers, and then we threw it all in the trash when he lost interest. Of course, eventually he had 4 sighted siblings, so we couldn’t get away with that any more.

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Halloween is a great time to reinforce traditional gender roles…

Recently I ran across an old letter I wrote to some friends after they moved away from Kansas City. Our kids used to trick-or-treat in their neighborhood with their kids before they moved away, because their neighborhood was nicer and safer than ours. The following year, since our friends were gone, Mollie and I decided to try trick-or-treating in our own dicey, inner-city neighborhood. Our “historic” Northeast Kansas City neighborhood was near the red-light district on Independence Avenue. I’d always heard that Northeast KC was once an Italian ghetto controlled by the Mafia – an isolated pocket within the much larger, black section of town. By the time we lived there it was very racially and ethnically mixed, but the names of several local businesses still bore Italian names, like “Spalitto’s Drug Store.” It was still a pretty rough neighborhood.

This particular Halloween the streets were mostly deserted. Most of the local kids were standing in humongous lines at the Kansas City Museum and the surrounding old mansions, where they traditionally gave away cool stuff. (There was a rumor that the museum was handing out Beanie Babies, while they lasted.) We drove by, but then Mollie and I convinced the kids that they might come up empty after waiting in line all night, since the lines were already quite long. Plus it would be boring. So we decided to drive around and visit the houses with decorations and lights on.

At one point, we finally saw some houses that apparently had working electricity, so I pulled over and the kids piled out. Right away I began to get hints that this might not be the most warm and fuzzy area in the ‘hood. But I thought, “Well, we’re out of the van. We might as well go to the door. It will be an adventure.” Besides, we had Batman, a Ninja Ranger, and an angel in our company. In the distance I heard the sound of either a gunshot or a firework going off.

There were 2 houses on this dreary block that seemed to be lit up for Halloween. At the first, an eerie red porch light bathed the plastic, fake wrought iron door and the astro-turf covered steps. Our cute little children innocently waddled up to the door and shouted “Trick or Treat!” A prostitute opened the door, smiling broadly down at the children. Okay – it was Halloween, so maybe it was only a lady dressed as a prostitute, who happened to like decorating her red living room with lots and lots of big synthetic animal-print pillows, and giant mirrors. The children thanked her for the candy and we headed across the street to the other house.

A chilly October wind sent garbage and dead October leaves swirling around our feet. An empty beer can clattered down the street. We approached the house, stopping at the chain-link fence enclosing the front yard. For the first time, I actually looked at the poorly lit decorations draped across the screened-in front porch. It was Santa and his six and a half reindeer, along with a few blinking Christmas lights. This made me pause. A kid said, “C’mon Dad.” Ignoring him, I whispered nervously to Mollie, “Honey…this person doesn’t even know what holiday it is…” We paused longer as I tried to assess what could possibly go wrong. “Daaaaaad…”

“Well,” I thought, “We’re here…we might as well see what happens.”

We opened the gate and approached the dismal house, which featured a pitch black, open doorway inside the dark, screened-in porch. No TV on inside. No noise. But we thought we recognized a candy bucket next to the yawning black hole. The children cheerfully shouted into the void, “Trick-or-Treat!” Immediately two snarling, crazed black animals with bared teeth hurled themselves out of the black doorway, smashing into the screen door and spraying us with hot saliva. My 2 year old, who I was holding, clutched me and screamed, burying her face into my chest, becoming a very sad little clown. Over the sound of the barking dogs, from the depths of the darkness we could hear an angry human-like voice swearing and shouting at the dogs to shut-up.

As the tiny hairs on the backs of our necks began to settles back down, a small, round woman appeared in the doorway. She approached, alternately smiling at the children, and grimacing angrily down at the dogs, kicking at them, “Git back! Git back #@%#&^$*#!!!” Eventually she got the screen door open enough to fit her hand through. The children thanked her for the candy. My 2 year old stopped sobbing, leaving a cute little splotch of red make-up on my jacket where her nose had been.

I couldn’t resist saying something. “Getting an early start on Christmas this year, huh?” I said cheerfully. She chuckled back, “Yeah I just figured I’d turn ‘em on since it’s Halloween.” I’m not sure what she meant, but I had to admit the overall effect was very creepy. Especially with the live killer dogs and all. I guess we should’ve considered ourselves lucky; a lot of people pay money on Halloween to get the crap scared out of them. But in our old Northeast KC neighborhood, there was always plenty of real fear and creepiness for free.

A few blocks away a siren wailed. We hurried the kids back into the van as another firecracker (?) went off in the distance.

Back at home, we learned that Halloween in Northeast KC doesn’t end when the small children are in bed for the night. In my mind, Halloween was over, but at around 11:30 came the second shift of “trick-or-treaters.”  There was a knock on the door. I looked at Mollie with raised eyebrows. In our neighborhood, a knock on the door late at night could mean almost anything. When I opened the door, there was a group of about 7 older teens in hoodies, (that’s right – hoodies.) holding pillowcases open. They weren’t wearing costumes, and they were too cool to bother with saying trick-or-treat. The thought occurred to me to ask, “What are you guys supposed to be?” but I decided to keep my mouth shut, cooperate, and put the candy in their bags. I still can’t decide if it would have felt less or more like a robbery had they been wearing masks.

Halloween in Northeast Kansas City was so confusing.

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