At the intersection of art and mathematics

 

Photograph of Olafur Eliasson's Flower observatory courtesy Christopher Hartman, July 2014.

Photograph of Olafur Eliasson’s Flower observatory, 2004 courtesy Christopher Hartman, July 2014.

Mathematics and art at first seem worlds apart. But is it so? Might there be a relationship between these disciplines? And if so, can it be explored in the BMA’s collection? Are there works of art at the Museum that draw on mathematical ideas, processes, and overlapping notions of beauty?

A stroll through the BMA’s Contemporary Wing invites pause as I – do I dare – walk on top of Carl Andre’s Zinc-Magnesium Plain, 1969. I look down and take in the textures of the metal surfaces. I think about the shape of the squares and their imperfect alignment and how the grid that this zinc and magnesium surface represents extends out infinitely in all directions.

I look up and see an explosion of geometric shapes—this time in brilliant stainless steel. Olafur Eliasson’s Flower observatory 2004 bursts forth and lures a viewer inside and around the hulking form.  It is quite a complex structure. Each triangular spike that pierces the gallery air has curious openings of various sizes where the tips would be. I stretch up and try to see through them like tiny keyholes and spy intricate forms. I cross the threshold, feel the shadow of the large form darken the space and look up. It is a dazzling canopy of star-like shapes as if a new universe is unfolding. I am inside the observatory, observing, marvelling. I don’t rush this moment; the marvel has its pleasures.

As the wonder subsides, I catch myself thinking about shapes—the glittering diamonds and flower-like forms, the rhombuses, the pentagon that inscribes the invisible base of the sculpture, the hex screws that connect the steel planes. I wonder if this is what a mathematical imagination might feel and look like.

To try to understand these questions and ideas, I invited mathematician Susan Goldstine and architect Fred Scharmen to the Museum for a conversation about the intersection of mathematics and art in these pieces. Fred uses words like “striking and beautiful” to describe geometry and art.  Susan poignantly said that “the beauty of mathematics – and the mathematics of beauty – comes from the ways in which simple elements combine and intersect to form dazzling structures seemingly out of thin air.”

As soon as Susan walked under Flower observatory, she said that it was based on a rhombic triacontahedron – a convex polyhedron with 30 rhombic faces. I’d remembered reading that in my research but couldn’t see it. She helpfully explained it to me and offered to show me how to fold the shape with paper, so that I could understand it with my hands as well as with my mind’s eye.

This conversation about the relationship between art and mathematics will form the basis of the next Big Table Connections. Both Fred and Susan have a natural, deep connection to mathematical forms, and they will bring their knowledge to the BMA on Saturday August 2nd at 2 pm. We will also get the chance to fold rhombic triacontahedra and make mathematical drawings too. I hope you will join us! You can also join in the conversation online using the #BMABigTable hashtag on Twitter.

In the meantime, be sure to visit the Sondheim semi-finalist exhibition at MICA to see Fred’s large wall drawing inspired by his mathematical research. The exhibition is on view in the Decker, Meyerhoff, and Pinkard galleries at MICA through August 3rd.

A (Very Few of Many) Favorite Art Books for Kids

When I was a kid, summer meant being flopped in the grass with a book. Truth be told you might still find me there. And I may be reading one of these favorites, old and new.

For the youngest readers, So Many Stars is a delightful board book out in a new expanded edition (big at 24 pages) created with artwork by one of our brightest stars, Andy Warhol. Many images from his “So” Series are included here, as in “So Sunny” and “I Love You So”. I can’t think of a better introduction to Warhol than this sweet and playful book. Ages 1-4.

The Day the Crayons Quit

Yes, it’s a bestseller and deservedly so! The Day the Crayons Quit (by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers) is laugh out loud funny.  The concept is brilliant: anthropomorphized crayons revolt. And you thought all was calm in that pack of Crayolas! Parent alert: you will NOT get tired of re-reading this one (because you will be reading it over and again.)  Ages 4-7.

Nina's Book of Little Things

Sometimes it isn’t about reading and looking, it’s about making.  A treasured favorite, Nina’s Book of Little Things!, is out in a fresh new edition. Keith Haring created this book for a 7 year old friend and what a gift it is, full of love and inspiration. Of all the cre-activity (I think I just coined that word) books published, this is still one of the very best. Thank you, Nina, for sharing your book! Ages 6+.

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book

Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book (by Johanna Basford) provides hours and hours of coloring in beautifully intricate nature designs. I mean the kind that obsessively draw you in (no pun intended). Bonus: it is layered with hidden images, mazes, and spaces to draw. Excuse me – got to get back to my colored pencils  . . .  Ages 7+.

The popular surrealist painter’s “real” muse is revealed in this absorbing picture book tale. Magritte’s Marvelous Hat by D. B. Johnson is a visual treat that will keep you looking and looking again (and even again) at the inspired illustrations. Use this as a great introduction to the Magritte paintings that are referenced in the  book.  Kind of surreal in itself! Ages 4+.

Sandy's Circus

Find out how the iconic inventor of the mobile got his start in Sandy’s Circus: A Story About Alexander Calder (by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Boris Kulikov), and about finding and following your own path. And maybe a little bit about childlike wonder and imagination.  If you’ve never seen Sandy (Alexander) Calder perform his circus, you can watch a video here. Ages 6+.

Architecture According to Pigeons

Architecture According to Pigeons (by Speck Lee Tailfeather, illustrated by Natska Seki) gives a nice introduction to great constructions of the world, from the Gothic cathedral to the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Yes, it is told from a pigeon’s eye view with that unique high-flying perspective.  This is for the child who likes to pour over pictures and browse. Chock full of good information, it will pique interest not only in architecture, its history and styles, but the world as portrayed through engaging collages. Ages 8+.

            

Optical illusions are a topic of endless fascination for many kids. My Big Book of Art and Illusion by Silke Vry gives examples of all variety of visual tricks using art from the classic to contemporary, heavy on the contemporary. What AMAZING (and fun) effects! Each example is explained and each spread includes a related activity.  Ages 8+.

Happy reading!

We carry all of these books in the BMA Pop-Up Shop. You can also order them online at shopartbma.org, via the links above.

Artscape Day 2 and clues to the #BMABigThinker scavenger hunt

The BMA Booth at Artscape.

The BMA Booth at Artscape.

It’s Artscape Day 2, and we are having a great festival. The free 3D face scanning – inspired by our recent partnership with Direct Dimensions to scan Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker has given us lots of opportunities to meet people and say hi to festival goers. It turns out that everyone loves 3D selfies.

Photo of Rodin's The Thinker with invitation to find the sculpture at the Artscape fair, July 18-20, 2014 in Baltimore MD.

Be a BMA Big Thinker!
Five replicas of the BMA’s beloved Thinker are waiting to be found
at Artscape. Post a picture of yourself with the introspective icon to Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter using #BMABigThinker for a chance to win a bust of yourself! The more replicas you find and post, the more chances you have to win.

Today, we’re dropping some clues to the #BMABigThinker Scavenger Hunt, so you have a chance to win a high resolution 3D bust of yourself (now that’s a cool selfie to get). There are five 3D Thinker replicas hidden around Artscape, and if you find one, take a photograph with it, and put it on social media with the #BMABigThinker hashtag, you’ll be entered into the draw to win.

So, where are the Thinkers? Here are some clues… You can them in the following locations:

1. Follow the bubbles. You can lower your heating costs when you find this Thinker.

2. There is something fishy about this Thinker’s location.

3. This Thinker will be easier to discover if you’ve got kids.

4. Obese felines and colored llamas guard this Thinker.

5. The final Thinker is found near an artist stall, with a bird keeping watch.

Win a 3D bust of yourself, by finding one of the 3D printed replicas of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker, photographing it, and putting it online with the #BMABigThinker hashtag.

Win a 3D bust of yourself, by finding one of the 3D printed replicas of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, photographing it, and putting it online with the #BMABigThinker hashtag.

Artscape is on in the Mt. Royal area of Baltimore City from Friday, July 18 through Sunday, July 20. You can find the BMA’s booth located on the plaza next to MICA’s Brown Center (1301 Mt. Royal Ave.

BMA and Direct Dimensions – bringing 3D technology to Artscape

A 3D replica of The Thinker, on the steps of the BMA. Find these around Artscape for your opportunity to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.

A 3D replica of The Thinker, on the steps of the BMA. Find these around Artscape for your opportunity to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.

Today is the first day of Artscape – America’s largest free arts festival. Always a major feature on the Baltimore cultural landscape, the annual event includes theater, dance, and opera performances; classical, a cappella, and experimental music; street theater, fine art and crafts; film; and children’s activities. This year, The BMA is offering multiple opportunities for visitors to Artscape to interact with us.

Inspired by our recent partnership with Direct Dimensions to scan Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, the BMA has three activities at the festival:

    • BMA Biggest Thinkers – Tell us your best memories, biggest ideas, and burning questions at the booth, on social media, or at blog.artbma.org.  In appreciation, the top 100 participants will receive a mini replica of The Thinker created from Direct Dimensions’ high-resolution scan of the BMA’s sculpture.
  • Thinker Scavenger Hunt – Search for any or all of the five 9-inch 3D replicas of The Thinker placed around the festival, take your photo with it, and post it on Twitter or Instagram with #bmabigthinker for a chance to win a high-resolution bust of yourself created by Direct Dimensions.  The winner will be announced Monday, July 21.
  • Free 3D Face Scanning – Stop by the BMA booth to receive a free 3D face scan from Direct Dimensions with the option to purchase your likeness as a 3D selfie, Lego piece, bracelet charm, mug or other products from ShapeShot.com.

We look forward to seeing you at Artscape! Drop by the BMA’s booth and get a fan or a face scan, and tell your stories of the BMA via social media using the #BMABigThinker hashtag. We’d love to hear from you.

Artscape is on in the Mt. Royal area of Baltimore City from Friday, July 18 through Sunday, July 20. You can find the BMA’s booth located on the plaza next to MICA’s Brown Center (1301 Mt. Royal Ave.)

 

What are your big thoughts for the BMA in its next 100 years?

In 2014, the BMA is commemorating its 100th anniversary, and we’re spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a museum turning 100 in the 21st century. How has the BMA changed in the past century, and how might we change into the future, to better serve the needs of our communities? What should our Museum look like and do in the coming 100 years?

Be a #BMAbigthinker

Be a #BMAbigthinker

The answers to such questions won’t be found only inside the Museum, of course. So we’re turning to you! As the BMA celebrates its 100th, we want to get to know you: your memories of the BMA, and your hopes, dreams, and your vision for its future. We also want to help you get to know us. What do you want to know about the BMA? Ask us anything!

Tomorrow at Artscape, we’ll be launching the #BMABigThinker campaign, inspired by Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker, which we recently 3D scanned, we want you to:

  1. Share your best memory of the BMA.
  2. Give us your big idea for the BMA’s next century.
  3. Ask a burning question about the BMA.
  4. Send a message to the BMA’s Director in 2114.

We’ll use these memories, ideas, and questions, to help envision the BMA of the future. In appreciation, the people who come up with the top 100 ideas or memories will receive a mini replica of The Thinker created from Direct Dimensionshigh-resolution scan of the BMA’s sculpture.

Get involved! Drop by the booth at Artscape tomorrow or let us know using the #BMAbigthinker hashtag on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook, comment on the blog, or get in touch! What are your best memories, your biggest ideas, and burning questions for the BMA? We’d love to hear from you.

3D scanning Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker

A 3D scan of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker

Direct Dimensions’ 3D scan of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in The Baltimore Museum of Art collection

The BMA has one of only 21 authorized “heroic” sized casts of Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker in the world, and in June this year, we partnered with Maryland-based Direct Dimensions, Inc. – a leader in 3D scanning technology – to do a 3D scan of the sculpture.

The move is part of the BMA’s initiative to increase its use of 3D scanning in the digitization of its collection. We were inspired to see how utilizing 3D scanning technologies might allow us to see The Thinker differently, and to discover what other people might be able to do with such scans if they were made available to scholars and the public via the Internet.

Museums are beginning to embrace the possibilities for digital scanning for multiple purposes, and the BMA has previously partnered with Direct Dimensions to scan works for scholarly research.  In 2004, Direct Dimensions was engaged to scan two separate castings of Antoine-Louis Barye’s Walking Tiger. By scanning the two tigers and overlaying the resulting 3D models, the BMA was able to dimensionally inspect and compare the two castings.

The Museum again worked with Direct Dimensions in 2007 and 2008, in support of the exhibition Matisse: Painter as Sculptor, which featured more than 160 sculptures, along with paintings and drawings from the artist. BMA curators were interested in utilizing the scanning technology to discover more about Matisse’s creative process as a sculptor. Their analysis of the scans led to the discovery that bronze casts of the same edition had considerable differences in their methods of construction, patination, finishing, and size, contributing to knowledge about how Matisse created various casts.

These kinds of scholarly and conservation-driven research projects offer some of the most tantalizing outcomes for 3D scanning and printing in museums today. For instance, conservators can use deviation analysis of 3D data to compare the condition of a collection item against a past state, or curators can use the technology to learn more about the techniques of artists, as the BMA did with the Matisse sculptures.

The addition of affordable 3D printing to the available technologies has expanded the possibilities for how such scans can be used. The Brooklyn Museum, for example, has scanned Randolph Rogers’s The Lost Pleiad to experiment with replicating a 19th-century statue with 21st century technology. The Museum has used this sculpture as an in-Gallery teaching tool. Similarly, the Semitic Museum has used 3D printing in the reconstruction of a Nuzi lion. A damaged version of Rodin’s The Thinker has even been scanned before, to enable repairs to the sculpture after thieves broke into the Singer Laren Museum and damaged the original.

The BMA’s The Thinker – a 6-foot, 6-inch sculpture – was presented to the museum in 1930 by Jacob Epstein, a collector and member of the first Board of Trustees, and displayed in front of the entrance to the John Russell Pope building until 1971 when it was moved inside for conservation.  Though originally intended to represent the poet Dante, The Thinker has become a symbol for thinkers and creators around the world.

We have plans to offer our scan of The Thinker to the world, by putting it into the public domain along with the nearly 9,000 images and related information about objects in the BMA’s collection that are already available on our website. This will be the first time we’ve made available a 3D scan of a BMA object, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it might be used by scholars and the public all over the world.

What do you think? How might you use a 3D scan of The Thinker? What would you like to see us do with this scan?

To find out more about 3D scanning, join us this weekend at Artscape, where we’ll be joined by Direct Dimensions for activities inspired by The Thinker.

Posts for print lovers

Christian Gottfried Schultze (German, 1749‑1819)
After Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577‑1640)
Neptune Calming the Tempest, 18th‑19th century
Engraving
The Baltimore Museum of Art: Garrett Collection, BMA 1946.112.13497

In June, the Department of Prints, Drawing & Photographs (PDP) at the BMA launched its first social media account with a Tumblr dedicated to highlighting captivating works on paper from the collection. With the Museum’s online collection constantly growing, this new space offers PDP a chance to give a more intimate glimpse into the Department’s daily meanderings through the collection. It is also a place for interaction and research where you can ask questions about the works you see on the site, or other works on paper from the BMA collection. What do you want to know?

Benjamin Levy Curatorial Assistant Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs The Baltimore Museum of Art

Benjamin Levy
Curatorial Assistant
Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs

To find out more about this new project, we spoke to Benjamin Levy, Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Prints, Drawings & Photographs:

Ben, the BMA has more than 65,000 works on paper in the collection. What are some of the highlights of this collection? What might surprise me about the collection?
The size is normally the first thing that surprises people; works on paper make up about 70% of the collection. The works on paper collection ranges from the 15th century to yesterday. It is really a hidden gem. Every box and drawer has something unexpected, and that discovery is what is so exciting and surprising on a daily basis.

The core of the print collection, which you will see as the Tumblr chugs along, is made up of two collections – the Garrett and Lucas collections, both of which contain between 15,000 and 20,000 prints. They came to us in the 1930s. We are strong in Old Master, 19th century French, Modern and Contemporary works of art.

You’ve just started a Tumblr to share some of these works with the public. What can people expect from the Tumblr?
Because works on paper are sensitive to light they can’t be out in the galleries for extended periods of time. The way the public, classes, and scholars get access to the collection is through our Study Room. People can expect a parallel experience, showcasing works from the collection that are not regularly on display in the galleries for a personal viewing.

You can also expect to see the collection through my eyes, as an artist going through the boxes. Sometimes there is a visual theme that seems to come up often, like death and skulls, shipwrecks through the centuries, or just scrumpy mark making!

Have you been surprised by anything that you’ve found so far when choosing works to appear on the Tumblr?
My colleagues and I are surprised by the depth and variety of the collection daily, as we go about caring for it. This is exactly what we would like to share with a larger audience – a peek into what we see every day – the beautiful and the strange, and everything in between.

It’s probably the strange that catches my attention more than anything. Since prints are “The People’s Medium”, you can really get a sense of the popular culture and the sociopolitical currents of a place and time so far removed. Some things translate well, but others come off as completely alien, especially those involving scenes of everyday life, like Callot’s etchings of Italian street performers or Daumier’s lithographs caricaturing the people of 19th century Paris.

In the opening post for the Tumblr, you mention that you want the Tumblr to be a daily dose of inspiration, but I’d like to know what inspires you. What catches your attention and inspires you, online and offline?
What jumps out of the boxes and drawers most of the time will land on the Tumblr. The selection process is more or less visual, and while the works on the Tumblr are things that stand out for one reason or another, very few of them were specifically sought out for research.

What is inspiring is the amazing stories that arise when we go into research. It is so exciting learning about small moments in history, bits of biographies, myths and lore – not to mention the amazing diversity of artistic expression over the last 500 years or so.

The inspiration comes full circle when classes, especially studio art classes, come to the Study Room and that inspiration is shared and utilized to make new work. This is a working collection; not works entombed, but a vibrant place for learning and education that will inform the next generation of artists, art historians, and anyone who has a passing interest. We also get to make connections between historic works in the collection and contemporary works, and there is no better place to do that than the biennial Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair, scheduled for March 28-29, 2015.

What do you think? Is there anything you’d like to see on PDP’s new Tumblr? What kinds of works on paper inspire you?

Benjamin Levy is a native Baltimorian, printmaker, critic, and curator. He is a 2009 graduate of MICA and since then has been at the BMA in the Department of Prints, Drawings and Photographs. At the Museum he works with the works on paper collection, teaching in the department’s study room and is also the co-organizer of the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair with Associate Curator Ann Shafer.

Light Play–Musing on Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”)

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf").

Visitors observing Dan Flavin’s Untitled (To Barnett Newman for “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”).

The tower of fluorescent lights looms large at a tight triangular junction where the old building meets the new. On a quiet day at the museum, you can literally hear it hum.

Flavin’s signature use of ordinary fluorescent tubes gives the work both a straightforward familiarity and a strange magic. Up close, you can see the screws, the wires, the ordinariness of the fixtures. But stay a while—the colors start to work on your eyes. The red, yellow, and blue bulbs mix—sunset raspberry and a delicate melon sorbet splash on the walls. The entire room is noticeably flooded with a lavender glow.

The sensory experience beckons. I slowly look up and linger longer than usual on the exit sign which glows a gorgeous green. I look left and notice a dramatic yellow cast in the adjacent gallery which my intellect knows is a crisp white. My eyes have shifted. The world has become a complex tapestry of colored light. Experiencing Flavin’s piece is also about following the light out into the space occupied by the light. It is expansive and also quite mysterious.

One of the pleasures of sitting with light art is all the questions surrounding light—how does Flavin’s skillful work with light seduce the senses and alter one’s perception? What is causing my eyes to see a white room as yellow? Why does colored light create such suggestive moods and alter the character of space?

It is these questions and more that we’ll explore in the BMA’s Big Table Connections program on Saturday July 5, when light artist and lighting designer Glenn Shrum joins us for a session on Dan Flavin’s piece and the inner workings of light.

Shrum is the owner and founder of Flux Studio. He is an active member of the international lighting design and lighting education community and Assistant Professor of Lighting Design at Parsons The New School for Design. We invited him to lead a session of the BMA’s Big Table Connections program. Thankfully, Glenn very generously agreed. In June, he came to the museum for a fascinating planning session and developed a clever in-gallery project with his colored light tables. Participants will get to try their hand at color mixing with light. How might you mix light and reshape space. What marvelous effects will you generate? Be sure to bring your cameras or devices to document your experiments.

What do you think? Have you experienced Flavin’s work? How did it impact your senses? What other special experiences with light have you had?

The BMA’s Big Table Connections program is a great opportunity to unpack complex ideas in contemporary art from multiple perspectives. This year we have been presenting sessions on Minimalism and its offshoots. We could not finish the season in August without looking closely at the work of Dan Flavin in our Contemporary Wing.

Join us on Saturday, July 5 at 2 p.m., to hear Glenn discuss light art and lighting design, and provide valuable context for Flavin’s work. After Glenn’s talk, we’ll move into the galleries and try our hand at mixing colored light. Hope to see you there!

 

What do you wonder about African art?

D'mba Docent Tour

A BMA docent teaches a class of fourth-graders about the Great Mother Headdress (D’mba).

The BMA’s African galleries are currently under renovation, with a planned reopening on April 26, 2015. The new galleries will be filled with visitor favorites such as our Great Mother Headdress (D’mba), shined until she sparkles and fully dressed in a new full-length costume, plus never-before-seen objects. This creates an exciting opportunity to rethink how we can help visitors understand the art in the galleries, and why it is relevant in their lives.

During the last few months, we’ve spent a lot of time brainstorming different possibilities for how we might be able to share all the interesting information we have about the art, artist, or culture on display.

Now we have lots of ideas—everything from video projects to maps to iPad apps. But one thing that we’ve kept saying is, “That sounds interesting to me, but will our visitors be interested?”

What better way to answer that question than to ask?

Docent tour in the African gallery

Docent tour in the African gallery

We want to know what you care about when you’re looking at African art. Everyone looks at these artworks through different eyes—with different experiences and knowledge shaping how they see them.  What are your questions when you see a mask, a statue of a woman, a reliquary figure, a contemporary vase, or other objects?

If you have 7 minutes to spare, please fill out our visitor research survey at the bottom of this page and let us know what you care about. You can also leave us comments on this blog post. We’d love to hear from you.

Bonus Prize: If you add your contact information at the end of the survey, you will be entered into a draw for the prize, Museum Educator for a Day. You will receive a personal gallery tour with a BMA education staff person and then have the opportunity to write a blog post about it for the BMA blog! You can choose a particular artwork, gallery, media, or anything else you can think of to write about.

Take our survey

She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner), the final pages…

Painting by Pierre Auguste Renoir, On the Shore of the Seine, with man's hand and magnifying glass in foreground.

Pierre Auguste Renoir. On the Shore of the Seine. c. 1879. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Saidie A. May Bequest, Courtesy of the Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company, BMA 2014.1

In March, acclaimed Baltimore-based writer and producer David Simon (The Wire) started She Poses for Moses, Erroneously (with apologies to Mr. Kelly and Mr. O’Conner) – the first continuing story in our Renoir Returns story challenge. Now we return to the beginning of that tale, to see how it unfolded. Below, read the story as it played out from the beginning, with thanks to the multiple authors who contributed to it.

By David Simon
Nine months of loose-fitting robes and girlish misdirection were coming to a head, right here, at the low tide of morning.

“Hey,” said the princess to the most trusted handmaiden,  ”what’s that over by those white flowers.”

“It looks like a basket,” said her servant, dry as dirt.

“I wonder what’s in it?”

An infant’s cry answered, as if in reply.  Or, maybe, that was laughter.

By Peter O’Connor
The bulrushes rustled; the maiden tiptoed closer.

Newborns lay mewing, their eyes shut.

“Wolves!” she gasped.

The princess paused from washing off the mud to pull back the rushes.

“Coyotes,” she corrected, “My brother was raised by wolves. I recognize a coyote cry from a wolf any day.”

The handmaiden whispered, as to not startle, “Remember, a pirate wears a sombrero and does not lose his glasses. A man’s heart will pine until one gives him a swift kick in the ass to find his heart’s true deseo.” Her astronomy with animal totem beliefs became a quilt for Frida Kahlo’s memory.

By Ken James Guessen
Mauve shadows paint their faces.

Monet tells of her last days. Renoir interrupts. Degas squints, listening to the memory as if it were his own.
***
“Relax your arms like a ballerina.”

She’s goes under. He dives, surfaces.

“Aline!”

Tracing the rope to her waist, he lifts.

She arrives coughing, choking.

“A…line! You must learn to swim.”

“Get this off me!”

“La corda salvato la vita.”

“The rope was just long enough to hang me.”
***
The next morning he taps his razor. His reflection, an echo, his eyes reminiscing.

“I punched a hole in the wall,” he tells her.
***
Laughter erupts. Monet leaves abruptly.

By Jan Ryan
He stares down at the shore. He saved her, hoisted the carcass from the depths. The fabulous creature laughed at him, at all of them. The rest laughed too as if they understood erasure by water, mockingly floating a bubble up to the distant vague ship. How could she prefer to be hidden/lost/gone from them? Were we imbued to crave beauty only to deprive us… was creation not our assigned mission? Could one greedy, selfish lover, an ocean, incinerator, fireplace or thief be allowed to kidnap her?

By Jan Ryan
These kleptomaniacs would steal candles from a church. He pointed and she pocketed. With the ruckus behind the plants (Remus and Romulus basket kidnapping) you may wonder how anyone witnessed anything but I had a higher vantage point.

Newspapers were spread open across the carpet. They LOVED the publicity. They read the news coverage out loud to each other every day. Things were calm with Saidie May and the young lady but forget any peace with these basket cases. They were your feral children.

By Jan Ryan
Each day with no buyer, after optimism based on the serendipity that scored the Renoir, created a little more doubt as to how to escape from a Baziotes cocoon. If they could only sell the Renoir they could move to New York or putter in a propeller basket to the Caribbean. They read the Real Estate section, picking out an apartment that sold before they had the money to buy it, and the travel section, selecting their tropical island. Semi-consciously they floated, descending, through clouds.

By Jan Ryan
Picasso wasn’t in Mallorca in 1931 if that’s what you are thinking. He was up the coast in Southern France illustrating a Balzac story about a perfectionist artist who kills himself after being ridiculed by young artists.

When tourists assumed her paintings were no good Saidie May was ready to kill too.

“Don’t blab that you collect art. They will rob you.” warned the artistic sister.

The family never heard the details of Saidie’s trip but when the robbery happened much later they wondered.

By Jan Ryan
The thieves made contact. He explained that he was in the market for lesser-known artists like The Painter’s Window. He wanted it but a stolen Renoir from a museum? Too hot. “Not going to touch it but try this guy, he’s an idiot,” and “this guy” was an idiot. He bargained with all the same reasons to not buy then paid cash and disappeared.

They were dealt a better hand. The thieves dyed their hair brown, left their whole stolen collection in Baltimore, went by new names and never returned.

By Jan Ryan

“Did you seek protection? Couldn’t you find the museum or the May apartment?” berates the Interrogator.
“Do you understand simile?” she retorts, “Like a plant, someone has to move me.”
“… throw out some seeds or fall into a visitor’s lap?” the questioning continues.
“After I left the museum no one drew, photographed, no more art history analysis, no X-rays or Internet. There were dire consequences were they to admit they had me. Outside we could be chased through a land of video cameras.”

By Jan Ryan
He sacrificed much of the children’s tuition and his wife’s precious roasts for the Renoir for which the thieves considered him an idiot. He HAD TO bargain: How much cash did they think he could account for? He hated doing business with amateurs and their “buyer” was so condescending. He loved what he loved and he loved the Renoir. If you can’t see why you would have been nothing to him.

In a fit of nerves his wife gave the Renoir to the maid.

By Jan Ryan
The maid knew what “this guy” was all about. Research at the museum and libraries made her think the painting was real. There was no way to know for sure. She told her kids it was a copy of a corner of a real Renoir. They took crayons to paper to make their own replicas, thereby, in the maid’s opinion, leaving a trail. Uneasily she wiped it clean of fingerprints figuring otherwise her great grandkids would get themselves into trouble selling it thinking they were trying to pass it off as real.

By Jan Ryan
I would be happy to return to the museum with the school kids piping up with comments, the stoned teenagers dully saying, “Cool.Renoir,” the adults telling wise tales that aren’t true, the quiet ones (mysteries they are thinking) and intimidated visitors finally blurting out, “I like THIS one.” Thanks! What’s not to like? They all liked me but there was nothing to do but look at me so they looked and looked and I looked back.

This is the final post for She Poses for Moses. The Renoir Returns exhibition is on display in the Museum until 20 July 2014. Examine all the evidence in the Renoir Returns Flickr group, and visit the BMA to see the all the works of art shown in this story in person.