Note: This exhibit WAS going to shut down at the end of January, but now they are expecting it to continue every weekend in February. Don't miss your chance to see it!
Capt. Les Bex credit: Kay Stephens
This circus is only briefly in town. But you have to bend down to peer at it closely. There’s a sideshow tent, an aerial act, a train and even a naughty little scene inside a donnicker (“bathroom tent”) where the teensy figures are in the various stages of undress.
The miniature circus world Capt. Les Bex began crafting when he was eight-years-old just about blows the mind of everyone who has seen this free exhibit at the Penobscot Marine Museum this winter.
A lifelong circus enthusiast, Bex spent decades creating every single element of this magnificent exhibit by hand. The Bex Bros. Circus contains hundreds of 3/8"=1' scale models of miniature animals, vehicles and people that has not been seen by the public for more than 25 years. Those fortunate enough to have viewed the display throughout December and January will take away spectacular memories of not only Bex’s intricate skills, but also his cheeky sense of humor. Unless another museum steps up to include it in a permanent exhibit, once it leaves the Penobscot Marine Museum, The Bex Bros. Circus will get repacked up in its various boxes and trunks and set back into storage indefinitely.
Here then, told by Capt. Bex, is the story behind certain scenes found under the little Big Top:
Here you can’t see in the frame but the Bex Bros. advertising truck just left after pasting up its Bex Bros. sign on the billboard. And a rival circus truck came up behind him and pasted up a big “Wait” sign to alert those that the advertising for a better circus was about to come along. It wasn’t uncommon for advertising wars in the circus industry and things could get got pretty severe. People got killed over it.
This was an inside joke. The man in the red and yellow was a friend of mine, another circus model builder and he wanted some elephant dung to make his models smell like a real circus. So, he brought his shopping bag and asked an elephant trainer to shovel some dung into it. When my friend saw this scene of the elephant dung [portaying him] he was not pleased with me.
At one time Ringling Bros. Circus claimed they fed 1,600 people three meals a day. This tent is the cookhouse and the steam kettles are for making potatoes and vegetables. On the other side, you see them washing pots and pans. In the dining tent each table had a waiter; it wasn’t cafeteria style. They could order what they wanted. The dining arrangement was segregated, not only for office staff and performers, but also for the workmen as this depicts the segregation period in the 1930s.
I grew up about 45 miles outside of Chicago and saw a lot of circus acts. This is an exact replica of a real flying act that I once saw and was able to measure. Whenever I went to a circus, I would take all kinds of photos and get some new ideas.
This is what you’d call a typical scene—a boy trying to sneak into The Big Top. I never did myself. I used to work for my ticket (sometime in late ‘40s early ‘50s). I’d go and talk to someone at the circus in the morning and help set up, carrying chairs, or tables or whatever. I’d stay all day into the night when they tore it down. One time, I was about 10-years-old and a performer called me out into the ring and gave me a piece of paper a foot long to hold out in front of me. Then he took his bullwhip and snapped it off. I don’t think that would happen today.
The Big Top tent was built in 1964. I made all the tents by hand out of unbleached muslin and twine or string, hand-knotted or spliced like a real tent so that certain flaps could come apart. The small rickrack around the border of The Big Top has a small hand-stitch between each border. I didn’t have sewing skills to begin with but I was a mechanical engineer so once I saw it, I knew how it was done.
I made each one of these banners and hand-lettered each one. They depicted all real people at the time. The sideshow featured oddities and freaks and so on and we didn’t have the stigma then that we have today, that it might hurt their feelings. In fact, it gave them a way of making a good living. Back in the day when there was no reality TV, if you wanted to see people like this, you had to go to the sideshow.
I found a lot of the people and animals for the circus from figurines, plastic toys, Christmas ornaments or at train shows, Goodwill and yard sales. But I carved some elephants myself. Here you see the progression from a block of wood to the finished painted elephant.
Susan Guthrie wins The White Hot Spotlight, which focuses on one's creative passions.Susan is a photographer who lives in Belfast. Her work
has been featured in a dozen juried shows in Maine, including the Center for Maine Contemporary Arts, and elsewhere in New England. A bit of her work is in private collections, including Kepware Technologies of Portland. She is represented by VoxPhotographs.com, also of Portland.
Q: Where is your favorite place to shoot and why?
A: I shoot mostly in Waldo County and never seem to run out of light, inside or outside. What drives me in my work is the love of capturing light and bringing it into a form that continues to spread that light. Especially interesting to me is how humankind’s ordinary, practical creations can become sudden scenes of great beauty when combined with a vigorous, living sky.
Q: Here are two of your photographs: "Chicken Barn and Wires" and "Roof Elephant." What kind of mood are you going for with shots like these?
A: These wild skies fill me with a delightful excitement of the Kundalini kind, although some may see them as slightly spooky or foreboding.
Q: What drives you as an artist?
A: It took half a century, through hard, even desperate, times, but I never stopped picturing myself living in an old house, filled with love, on the beautiful coast of Maine and expressing myself through art. Of course, it didn't hurt that I met the love of my life, Larason Guthrie, a world-class organic architect, and that he has loved and encouraged me for almost two decades. We share so many interests as well as a deep, glowing love.
Q: Do you live by a quote or motto?
A: My favorite quote is: "Courage is going from failure to failure without
losing enthusiasm." —Winston Churchill
Q: Expound upon that for others going through a similar journey as yours... but who are on the brink of losing enthusiasm.
A: No matter how many disasters I have seen my way through since leaving an abusive home at 14, two lost husbands and associated houses, plus a dramatic business crash, as well as career swings (going from a Who's Who executive to a cleaning lady in a year). Through it all, I never lost faith in myself nor my tenacious love of life, usually not longer than 24 hours, that is. My exuberant character does seem to require much humbling and I have embraced it at every turn.
Susan's work can be found at:
Want a chance to win a shot at The White Hot Spotlight? Like The Killer Convo on Facebook and look for the monthly photo contest: "How Well Do You Know Midcoast Maine?"
This feature highlights all the crafties in Maine who don’t necessarily have a physical shop or an online presence other than Etsy (etsy.com), which is like an online open craft fair that allows users to sell vintage items, handmade items that are modified, as well as unique (sometimes downright wacky) handcrafted art.
Meet Bar Harbor artist Jennifer Steen Booher, of the Etsy Shop Quercus Design. A self-described hoarder of quirky objects, Jennifer says, "I'm part magpie, part squirrel, part scientist, and part historian. I find things, hoard them, take them apart, and research them. Sometimes I reassemble them, and sometimes I make new things from the bits."
Jennifer's original fine art photograph might strike a chord. If you were a child in the 1970s, you will instantly remember these vintage Fisher Price Little People.
Says Jennifer: "These are my very own Fisher Price people, with the marks of my milk teeth where I gnawed the mom's ponytail. I've been an artist as long as I can remember, although I've danced between media over the years. For a long time I made assemblages, and hoarded all sorts of odd bits and pieces to use in them. I've also been beach-combing since I moved to Mount Desert Island in 1997, and, being a curious sort, have gradually been learning more about the marine life and the flotsam that I find.
Back in early 2010, I had to photograph my overflowing collection of sea glass in order to sell off some of it. I quickly became fascinated with arranging the pieces, then obsessed with improving my photography skills to capture all the detail and texture that I find so intriguing. I was trying to achieve a scientific level of clarity and documentation. By the end of the year I had begun to develop a very modern style of still life around my beach-combing finds.
I've begun to apply the techniques to my other collections to document things that intrigue me: It is a very personal obsession, and there may not be any overarching meaning to it. On the other hand, these photographs appeal to a lot of other people, and I suspect that my formal, organized and clinically-lit objects are triggering memories for all of us. There's often a physical start of recognition when people see them. Almost everyone who has been to a beach has gathered a handful of odds and ends that gave them pleasure. Most people have a small stash of their childhood toys for the same reason. Oddly enough, in spite of my attempts to develop a quasi-scientific documentation, I think these photos end up being as much about nostalgia for the viewer as they are about my own curiosity."
To learn where to get this photograph, visit Jennifer's Etsy shop at quercusdesign.etsy.com or visit her blog, quercusdesign.blogspot.com
Sometimes a story will literally cross my path when least expected. That’s exactly what happened one recent evening sitting at Rock City Café when a young guy in his mid-20s with a flop of curly hair and a nerved-up expression motioned to one of the Rock City employees: “Is it okay? Now?”
I could tell he was about to make an announcement to the patrons of the café, which I thought had been preplanned — as if he were the hired entertainment. But it soon became clear that something was about to happen. With soft-spoken reticence, he announced over the bustle of quiet conversation and spoons clanking on cups that he was about to do a spoken-word poem in the alley if anyone cared to see it.
Maybe three people got up to follow him. I shrugged. “I’m in.”
Right time, right place.
Spoken word is a form of poetry, kind of like a stage performance, usually around some kind of social commentary. It’s the kind of impromptu street performance you see regularly in the cities or at slam poetry events, but it’s rarely done on the sidewalks of small towns.
In a sweatshirt and jeans, the poet, Matthew Wellman, stood under a spotlight in the dark alley while a friend stood apart, holding a flip cam to film him. “This is my first public performance of this poem,” Wellman explained rapidly, still nervous.
“Okay,” he cleared his throat. “Here goes.”
Suddenly, the shrinking violet dropped into fourth gear. The words that exploded out of his mouth were not vile, nor obscene. They were compelling and topical; yet, the frustration in his delivery, the way his eyes screwed tight as he dropped a boatload of verse might have appeared to unwitting passersby as though they’d stumbled across a ranting raving lunatic in the alley. It was the way his whole demeanor changed that blew people’s doors in. Gesticulating as he rhymed, his fist pumping, then carving downward like a hip-hop artist, he was here to tell us something. And you can bet your boo-tocks we were listening.
Information concentrate! It gives the means to replicate! All the emotions we used to need past the points of what the mind can see. Because a tactical advantage is often in need when the human mind can’t keep pace it would seem. So! We created systems to streamline the flow; it’s to ease the burdensome evolution of binary codes. Digital IDs are the foundation for civil integrity a combination of information and facial recognition technology.
The origins of this poem developed out of a class assignment. A student at The University of Maine in Rockland, Wellman had been taking a future studies class that required him to write an paper about any issue involving the future. Wellman, who’d grown up in Maine singing with Boy Singers of Maine and performing in several high school and college bands, decided he’d let the words jump off the paper if his professor would allow it. He wanted to write more than an essay; he wanted to discuss an issue that was very personal to him and he wanted the outcome of his efforts to be felt by an audience, not just read by a single professor. Information Concentration was born.
“Between my future studies class and my American government course, all the information just smashed together in my head and the poem just came right out,” he said. “I found writing in writing it, I was able to express myself in the same way as I’d always done writing music.”
The poem took about a month to write.
“I’ve never felt more alive than when I put everything into it,” he said.
When not in performance mode, Wellman is back to his soft-spoken self, endearingly polite and humble.
“It was very intense for me," he said. "I began to get excited about performing it in front of my class at ‘Expressions Night,’ sort of a Talent Night for the university. I had to get out of my head to do it but after, the reaction from the audience was a lot of smiles. Wide eyes. A couple people said to me: ‘You need to perform this in a bigger venue.’ ”
Evident from the first stanza, the poem tackles a relevant theme: how absorbed we are by our technological gadgets? And likewise, have they absorbed our humanity?
“I wanted to express a frustration with what seems to be an endless technological progression,” Wellman said. “It’s supposed to make us more inter-connected, more social, more human. But it’s almost as if we’re disappearing into something that connects us as much as it isolates and diminishes us. From the point you’re born, you don’t have a choice to abstain from technology. Everybody wants to feel together and connected and yet, one of the hardest things to do is to completely cut yourself off from it. It’s not a legitimate option for the average person. I only know of a few people who refuse to engage in any sort of technological connection and for them it’s like a religious calling. I feel like by artificially creating the world the world we live in socially, that we’re leaving behind something that is a fundamental part of being human.”
While he notes the irony of ultimately promoting this piece relies on the very technology that spurred it, Wellman’s plea, particularly to his own generation, is to be more aware, and less apathetic about how much one allows technology to be all-consuming.
“After this, I plan to do a series of four spoken pieces starting with Information Concentrate and really memorize it and do this out on the street," he said. And, with a knowing shrug, “it will probably end up on YouTube.”
As it is, it actually ended up on Vimeo. Here is the first night I met Matthew and the first time he performed Information Concentrate outside of Rock City Cafe.
New! Viewing hours in January. Saturdays, Jan. 14 and 28 from 2 to 5 p.m. and by appointment.
Everyone has heard the expression, “It was right under my nose the whole time.”
For Anastasia Glassman, a Midcoast creative who describes her artwork as “the collision of many interests,” the very tools and items she worked with every day in her catering company, Swan’s Way, were in fact, the raw materials right under her nose destined to be the art pieces in her ongoing December show at Pascal Hall.
Several years ago, Glassman pulled out one of her battered baking pans and discovered there was a beauty in the patina of the scorched underside. So, she used them as the background for a series of plant photographs.
With a pile of well-used baking pans sitting in her studio, Glassman eyed them in a new way. She saw them as blank canvases for a series of collages she wanted to make, using a collection of old tools and scraps of metal she had amassed over the years. Attached with heavy-duty magnets on the underside of each sheet, the result is both raw and energetic. And it’s not just the magnets that will be drawing a crowd for this show.
Here is the Story Behind The Baking Sheets and three of her pieces currently on display.
After I sold Swan’s Way (my restaurant) in Camden, I bought land in Lincolnville and built my house. On the property was an old granite quarry. The bonus was there were lots of remnants from its days as a working quarry. Lots of cable and gears. The metal for the piece on the wall is from the old forge.
It was the patina of the full-size sheet pans that compelled me, but once I went to a real grungy, used restaurant equipment store and found several of these ‘contiguous’ bread pans in the back of the place. I found the pans very graphic. I have used them both ways: by attaching the shapes on the outside bottom of the pans, the shapes seem to be floating; attaching them on the inside frames the shapes and confines them.
I was experimenting with ways to not have a traditional wooden frame. On some pieces the wooden frame gives the piece a sense of completion and stature. But here, the T-squares keep the rustic, rough quality that is more appropriate to the work. You don’t want to confine it. Keep it volatile.
Glassman's artwork kicked off with an opening on Dec. 18. It will be open by appointment. Call Pascal Hall 236-4272.
For more information about the individual pieces, email Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Killer Convo
This blog is a is a killer roundup of all arts, entertainment, brewery & distillery, food trucks, happy hour happenings in the Midcoast Maine. Feel free to email me anything about Midcoast arts, entertainment & the creative economy.