GO FISH AT SECOND PRESBYTERIAN(and Remarkable Janice McMurray)

Several years ago 78 year old artist and retired social worker, Janice McMurray, was invited to participate in a public art festival organized and coordinated by 1708 Gallery, a non-profit artists’ cooperative. Similar to the public art display in Chicago of cows, Richmond’s “critter” would be a fish! The fish symbolized the return of the rockfish to the recently cleaned up James River. Artists would submit ideas and illustrations of interesting, colorfully painted fish to Gallery 1708’s project committee for approval.

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Made of polyurethane cast in a stylized design, each fish measured about 60 inches long and weighed 50 to 250 pounds. Most came with a heavy metal stand and were mounted on a concrete base. The unadorned sculpture would be transformed into a unique iconic work of art after it was painted and decorated. Sponsors would pay $500 per fish for each artist to paint.

GO FISH

The entire city of Richmond was caught up in the excitement! Corporations and individuals wanted to Go Fish! The painted fish would be auctioned off and installed all over town.

Janice immediately thought of her church—Second Presbyterian—as a sponsor because of the many references to fish in the Bible. (Loaves and fishes from the sermon on Mount; disciples were fishermen; Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and even the symbol for early Christians was a fish.)
Janice took her request to the associate minister. “Do you think Second Presbyterian Church would sponsor me to paint a fish to put in the public display?”

“Why not 12 fish since there were 12 disciples and the whole church could paint them?” was the enthusiastic response.

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THE ANGEL AND THE TWELVE

Janice was thrilled. She then contacted an “angel” in the church who was willing to pay the $6,000 sponsorship fee for 12 fish but wanted to remain anonymous.
They were on their way!

Using blank fish outlines supplied by Gallery 1708, artist members of the church suggested ideas for 12 fish: Holy Mackerel, Angel Fish, The Loafing Fish, Rockfish of Ages, The King Fish, Rainbow Fish, the First Fish, musical Tuna-fish, Fish Scales also a musical fish, Church Lady Fish, Lit-er-Sea and Food Fish.

After the illustrations were approved by Gallery 1708, next was approval by the governing body of the church. There were some skeptics. (Those skeptics later wanted to purchase a fish.)

Finding a place to paint the fish was a challenge. Sunday School rooms, church balconies and even private homes were turned into painting sites.
Janice was the organizer. Figuring out how much paint to buy (a huge amount for 12 fish), writing directions for all painters to follow, mixing colors, getting brushes, finding drop cloths, etc. took an enormous amount of time.
It was complicated, too. Paints had to be put away on Sundays, fish had to be moved around, and once painting was scheduled during a Wednesday night church dinner.

THE ARTISTS

For six weeks many, many persons worked on those fish including two boys who were in the Big Brother program, visiting relatives, and people who just dropped in to say hello.

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Everybody was proud of their efforts and proud to be a part of the “Go Fish” public art project.
The fish were auctioned off and placed all over the city. Second Presbyterian’s 12 fish brought $17,000 which was allocated to 12 programs in the church including adult and children’s choirs, the feeding program, youth group, and women’s retreat.

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The church became art friendly and as a result has supported other art undertakings with Janice as the “go to art person.” A full color book, called “Go Fish” was published and serves as a reminder of that glorious time.

MARRAKECH HENNA ART CAFÉ (and Remarkable Lori Gordon)

Recently, a new business opened its doors in the ancient medina of Marrakech. Part art gallery, part henna salon, part museum and all cafe, Marrakech Henna Art Cafe is the brainchild of a woman who was born and raised on the Northern Plains of the United States. Her path from South Dakota included time in Arizona and Mississippi, and finally North Africa, to a place she now calls home.

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Lori K Gordon has made her living in a variety of ways over the years including retail sales, elementary education, photofinishing, bartending, waitressing, carpentry and slipform concrete construction.

IT’S ALWAYS BEEN ART

Through it all has been her art.

Her work may be found in the Smithsonian Institution and collections including those of two U.S. presidents, media and entertainment stars, and museums and universities across the United States. She founded a 501(c)3 called Six Degrees Consortium, which is dedicated to helping artists produce work that builds bridges across cultures.

Her interest in travel all over the world led her to Morocco, eventually making the decision to live in the fabled city of Marrakech. She formed a partnership with a Moroccan native, and in the fall of 2014 they began the search for a location in the medina of Marrakech. Their efforts resulted in a three year lease on an old building on Riad Zeitoun al Kdim, one of the busiest original streets in the souks (marketplaces).

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THE HEART OF THE MEDINA

Her partner obtained the necessary permits and licenses, while Gordon designed the interior of the building. Walls were painted white and a vibrant shade of blue, picking up the colors of the original ceramic tiles on the floors. The first of several murals was completed, and work was begun on the second. Gordon began painting intricate henna designs on the exterior door, as well as planning the design for the minuscule restroom, which has been dubbed “Ali Baba’s Cave.”  While her partner constructed the kitchen, Gordon arranged the collection of museum-quality Amazigh artifacts and hung the walls of the two galleries with her art.

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THE DOORS OPENED

In November, the cafe opened its doors. Two ground floor galleries offer seating in both western and traditional Moroccan styles, and two intimate rooftop terraces overlook the bustling streets below. Many guests ask for the all-natural henna tattoos provided by the cafe’s two naqashas (henna artists) and pieces of Gordon’s art have left with guests for destinations around the globe. Others take advantage of the opportunity to don traditional Moroccan costumes and have their photos taken in front of the mural in the Fatima Gallery, while some prefer to just sit in the warm Moroccan sun with a cup of mint tea to shake off the chill of a winter’s day.

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PEOPLE FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD

While she continues to create art, Gordon says that the best part about her new adventure is the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. After only 7 weeks, people from nearly 40 countries have passed through the doors of the cafe. Some of those guests will be returning with their own art for exhibitions in the galleries, which will begin this spring.

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Gordon and her partner are also in the process of completing the paperwork necessary for non-profit status for their organization Hand of Fatima, which will provide support for traditional Moroccan artists. For more information on the work of Lori K Gordon, please visit http://lorikgordon.org; to learn more about Marrakech Henna Art Cafe, log on to http://marrakechhennaartcafe.com and for Six Degrees Consortium, visit http://sixdegreesconsortium.org.

THE PRISON VISITOR (and Remarkable Charlotte)

Charlotte, a 67 year old retired school librarian, was looking for a new way to become involved in her community. She had specific goals. She wanted to support adults.  Ready to give whole-heartedly, she also wanted flexibility to travel and be retired. She sought a challenge, different from anything she had ever done and to make a difference to those who wanted help with their circumstances. “I kept my antenna up, had interesting conversations, read, listened, and waited for ‘a way to open’. “

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The Right Thing to Do

Then she watched a film sponsored by The Prisoner Visitation and Support Program (http://prisonervisitatiaon.org) about volunteers visiting inmates in federal prisons. Charlotte says, “The idea of visiting prisoners grabbed my heart and mind. Was I capable? I knew little about prisons. But I knew this was what I wanted to do. It felt right.”

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 The participating inmates request a visitor from PVS. They either have no family or their loved ones live far away with few resources for a journey. The volunteers and prisoners in the film described what a powerful gift the visits were for both. Research shows that prisoners with regular visitors have a better chance of not returning to prison after release.

THE JOURNEY BEGAN

After a security check and PVS interview, Charlotte was approved and visited her first two prisoners.

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 “I was surprised that I was not bothered by the security scanner, 3 steel doors, barbed wire fences, and being locked inside. I had to adjust to unpredictable delays, but I learned to accept and appreciate that waiting time.  After all, the prisoners and their families are always waiting.  I went monthly, on Thursdays, so often I saw the same people in the waiting room. Once they found out I was a volunteer visitor, they often shared their stories. These exchanges gave me a window into the world of families of prisoners who come to be together with their loved ones.”

Separation from Families

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 Once Charlotte arrived wearing open sandals— a dress violation. She borrowed, a pair of large orange, clownish, bowling shoes from another visitor. She now carries in her car extra shoes and clothes to save others from being turned away or from a buying trip to Wal-Mart.

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 “What do we talk about?

“Before my first visit I wrote a long list of conversation starters,” Charlotte says.  “However, I have never needed them, with any of my prisoners,” she adds. “I have been touched by their willingness to share their life stories and challenges.  I am also struck by their insight and desire to learn.  I don’t know their crimes but most accept responsibility and seek to use this “waiting time” to gain knowledge and/or skills to be prepared for their release.”

” They express how difficult it is to keep connected to family.  We talk about their interests, activities, books they read, and world affairs.  Sometimes we role play a situation where they need to practice strategies to manage anger, frustration, or injustice in prison.  Sometimes they share their deepest fears about what will happen when they are released. They know life will be very challenging for an ex-prisoner.”

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Dignity and Self worth

Before she began this program, Charlotte wondered if she would be good at it as well as helpful to the prisoners. Now she can modestly say, “I’m better than I ever imagined. I don’t judge,” she adds; “I just listen, accept, and affirm their self worth and human dignity. I’ve learned that the bottom line is we’re just two people sitting and talking about life. I have also learned about being patient and waiting. I love it.”

Being visited by someone like Charlotte who genuinely cares and doesn’t judge can have a major effect on the life awaiting a prisoner when he is no longer behind bars. To step out into the world with a sense of dignity because a stranger visited you can result in lasting changes in one’s self worth. This may be what love really is all about.

SPEAKING IN PAINT (and remarkable Judy Holloway)

“You’ve captured my spirit”— the ultimate compliment when viewing a portrait of yourself—but not always guaranteed even when the likeness is faultless and you’re pleased with the painting.

Capturing the spirit of her subjects, however, seems to be inevitable in the distinctive portraits by Richmond artist, Judy Holloway. When her brush goes to work, the paint talks! What it says through Judy’s fearless use of color and confident shaping of faces and features both delights and often surprises her subjects.

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An Edgy Quality

Her portraits have an edgy quality, too, that goes much deeper than the surface likeness. Part of the edginess is created by the intimate size that Judy prefers—8 inches square—and the strong application of oil paint. Much more than “a beautiful picture,” Judy’s portraits are not done to flatter her subjects, but to reflect back to them an authenticity that is recognizable, often with a slight gasp by the subject when the portrait is seen for the first time.

Judy’s definitive portraits distinguish themselves by what they say about her subjects—perhaps a love of the out-of-doors, a mischievous nature, or a melancholy side that few people notice.  Sometimes it’s a certain expression in the eyes—a knowing quality in the tilt of the head, or an exuberance that Judy has picked up in some unconscious manner.

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No wonder her subjects treasure a Judy Holloway portrait, often hanging it in the bedroom—the most intimate room in their house. One client commissioned portraits of her entire family—sons, grandchildren, as well as a portrait of herself with her husband and her husband’s parents.

Another client asked Judy to paint her daughter and son-in-law as adults plus portraits of the two of them as young children. And a collector wanted an entire wall of portraits of her friends.

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Something Even More Remarkable

While her portraits are truly remarkable, it is something more that makes Judy an ideal subject for this blog. First of all, Judy Holloway is 73 years old, youthful in appearance and ageless in her quest “to find my voice.”

After some 20 years as an art director, first for an ad agency and then a New Jersey magazine, Judy retired and moved to Richmond, Virginia to be closer to her daughter.

Although she had an art degree, she had been a designer, but not a painter.

However, once settled in Richmond she signed up for art classes, usually life drawing. She knew that she liked figurative work more than still life or landscapes. She went regularly to several groups, sometimes with an instructor, sometimes with a model paid by the class for posing.

Finding Her Voice

She worked in charcoal, pastels, oils, pencil, always trying to find the medium that felt most comfortable, and at the same time trying to find her style—her voice—her particular way of doing art.

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She spent little time thinking about the fact that she was older than many of her fellow students. Age had nothing to do with what she wanted to accomplish for herself.

She was persistent, even stubborn, and then gradually her standards got higher. She wanted to be in groups that were serious about what they were doing, who also wanted feedback, to become a better painter—in other words, to become an artist.

And more than that, Judy wanted to find her voice. She was willing to keep at it until she and her paints were close friends. Until the paint began to speak.

And when it did, it was in her unique and remarkable voice.

THE FOOT LOCKER BOOK BOX (and remarkable Mary Field)

An old foot locker transformed into a tantalizing box filled with children’s books sits on the edge of a neighborhood sidewalk halfway between the front porch and a riotous profusion of wild flowers. It’s accompanied by a hand painted sign that says “Kids’ Book Box. Take One. Read One.”

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Local walkers stop and peer around as if it might be a trick. Children passing by with their parents or by themselves often do a double take the first time they see the box. “Can we really pick out a book we want?” Older kids who’ve been there before check through the stash and sometimes tell their friends “there’s a library in front of that lady’s house on the corner.

“That lady” is 77 year old Mary Field, who, if she sees kids looking, comes out on the porch to reassure them that “it’s really free; take one home.” She loves to see the rummaging that results and the often cry of delight—“look what I found.”

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WHY A FOOT LOCKER?

“As a military family, we moved all the time and our treasured belongings were repeatedly packed in foot lockers,” Mary says. “Those treasures included favorite books; ours, our children’s and their children’s. The “Book Box” is one of those old footlockers.”

A former Addiction Counselor both overseas for the military and then in northern Virginia, Mary Field now lives in Richmond with her retired Army Colonel husband in a diverse, historic urban neighborhood. There she has turned her life long love of books into a daily happening in front of her house. She finds the books for the box mostly at thrift stores and with the amazing help of her lady friends “of a certain age.”

 STORIES

A local woman with two young children and a young dog recently walked by the house, noticed the box and selected some books.  The dog, however, was quite skittish around the box.  The next day Mary noticed the same mother, minus the children but with the dog. She was giving the dog commands to sit, lie down, and just sniff the box to become comfortable with it.  She, the boys and the dog are now regular visitors.

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Mary’s stories are endless. A car stopped in the middle of the street.  An older lady jumped out of the car and dashed over to the Book Box.  “My grandson is coming today”, she explained.  “We have been coming here since he was tiny.  The first thing is asks when he arrives for a visit is ‘Can we go to the Book Box?’  I am in a hurry today so I am picking up books for him.”

Another time Mary was interviewing a lady regarding work to be done on a rental property.  The lady was accompanied by her third grader daughter.  Mary suggested that they stop by the Book Box on their way home. Twenty minutes later Mary received an excited call from the little girl.  "Thank you much!” she cried; “I found FOUR beautiful books that I LOVE!  May I come back?"

THE BOOKS KEEP COMING

At one point Mary was running out of books and had exhausted her usual sources.

While at a local crafts store, Mary, who has the kind of friendly personality that attracts strangers, found herself telling the assistant store manager about the Book Box.

“A box for books!” the woman exclaimed. “I can’t believe it! My garage is filled with children’s books my Girl Scout Troop collected. I’ve been wondering what to do with them. They’re yours if you can pick them up.”

After that experience Mary, who had long ago stopped worrying whether children would take some books, also stopped worrying about their source when her supply runs low.

She’s done a remarkable thing, too. Turning her love of books into the chance of installing that trait in children, Mary Field is empowering them to choose their very own books. For free! And from a foot locker transformed into a book box.