Sunday, February 22, 2015


O you virtuous owle, 
The wise Minerva's only fowle.
Sir Philip Sidney

The owl, a symbol of wisdom and erudition, is featured as a bird (a Barred Owl) and as a butterfly in a drawing to be installed inside a wall cabinet / library.  It will be obscured in its final state by books attached to the drawing.  There will be five books "written" by different species of birds and five books written by different species of insects.  The text will, indeed, be in their own languages.

Viewers will be able to open the doors of the cabinet and remove the books for reading.  The concept is based on "literatura de cordel," a tradition in northeastern Brazil where books of poetry, songs and stories are hung on strings for sale in marketplaces and at festivals.  These books, with original woodcut covers, are affordable and popular.  They follow a long tradition of chapbook and pamphlet printing in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Sunday, June 29, 2014


 The number of guests at dinner should not be less than the number of the Graces nor exceed that of the Muses, i.e., it should begin with three and stop at nine.

Marcus Terentius Varro

At the same time that I was pondering designing four dinner plates for the Birds and Insects project, I was also reading Virgil's Georgics as research for a book dealing with the observation of bees.  The Georgics is divided into four chapters.  It became clear that the two projects could be combined.

Reading the Georgics was a wonderful adventure.  It included forming a very small reading group with another avid reader/artist, Ruth Bardenstein, and searching for a translation which suited us.  After many attempts we settled on the recent, remarkable translation by the poet David Ferry. 

Each of the four books is devoted to a different aspect of agriculture and explores its glories and its terrors.  In the first book Virgil looks at seeds and planting, weather and celestial indicators, - how beautiful as well as how fickle the world is.  Everything worked so hard to attain can be ruined in a minute.  In the second book he speaks of trees and vines with emphasis on grapes and wine.  The third book is the most alarming with its love of livestock and animals in general, followed by the horrors of plagues that kill them and ruin the lives of the people who depend on them.  The final book deals with the lives of bees and the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, overlapping with the story of Aristaeus
and the eventual discovery of bugonia, an ancient belief in the creation of bees in rotting animal flesh.

In each book the dark side includes a snake.  

Using other reference material that clarified actual species of birds and plants, I selected images that were specific to the books.  The project was not an attempt to illustrate the Georgics;  rather it was used as inspiration for the images.  On each plate there is a snake which in three cases is headless and looks like a ribbon so it would be less frightening to the diner.

Monday, April 21, 2014


At one magical instant in your childhood, the page of a book - that string of confused, alien ciphers - shivered into meaning.  Words spoke to you, gave up their secrets; at that moment, whole universes opened.  You became, irrevocably, a reader.

Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

Owls, linked with darkness, were once considered frightening - serving in myths as guardians of the underworld.   They were  believed to have the gift of prophecy.  Supposedly the hooting of an owl predicted the death of Julius Caesar.

Alternately, they can be cast in the more appealing role of representing intelligence and learning.

In this drawing the Hawk Owl (Surnia ulula) represents wisdom.  It rests in the night sky behind a heap of books that deal with birds and insects.  Although they are not identified by titles they are all actually books from my library.  Among the volumes  is the field guide to Damselflies of Texas, written by John Abbott of UT Austin and illustrated by Barrett Klein.  One of my artist's books, a collaboration with Bill Harris, appears in the upper left with a stag beetle on the cover.

The remarkable, articulated, silver, praying mantis pin was made by Ricky Boscarino.  The ceramic owl came out of a package of Red rose tea and the plastic rooster on wheels was brought to me from India.

Living with the owl is the owl butterfly (genus Caligo) displaying its underwings which imitate the bird so amazingly well.  The astral object near the bird's head is  the Owl Nebula which resides in the cup of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major).  Also depicted is the now obsolete constellation Noctua which was once placed at the end of the tail of the constellation Hydra.  Athene noctua is a small owl associated with the goddess Athena.  It is known to live on the Acropolis in Athens.

This drawing is the second in the series of the Life of Birds and Insects.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


"Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open under the sky.  Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars."

Carl Sagan

A Marbled Godwit and a Whimbrel, shore birds native to Michigan, stand rapt in wonder, watching the night sky.  It is their theater.  The darkness is filled not only with stars but birds and butterflies that aspire to be equally as beautiful.  This is part of the Life of Birds and Insects.

A companion drawing - Theater of Insects. The title is taken from a book published in 1634 - a work generally credited to Thomas Mofet but actually inherited and completed by him.  Mofet did not see its publication as  that final step came 30 years after his death. In this drawing there is the addition of the Moonflower which is a botanical pretender to the night sky.

Friday, December 13, 2013

SKY book

Everything in the world exists so it can end up as a book.

Stéphane Malarmé

The potential for reproducing an image accurately has become impressive.  Recently I have gotten digital prints of my drawings that are so close to the original it is a bit frightening.
Whereas I don't intend to go in league with those who sell their digital work in the same arena as original prints such as etchings and woodcuts, I am thrilled to be able to use the process to print posters and illustrate my books.

I used the digital images of the drawing mounted on the SKY cabinet, inside and out, for my most recent artist's book. Each element is paired with a poem or work of prose written specifically for the book. I am grateful to the writers for their generosity in working with me on this project.

The writers involved in order of appearance in the book:  Arnold Klein / Night Sky,  Bill Harris / Mars,  Arno Klein / Hugo Bristol,  Sarah Hart / Moon,  Henrietta Slote / Herakles,  Barrett Klein / Scorpio Rising,  Christopher Leland / Sol Invictus - Father's Regret,   Korinthia Klein / Saturn,  Alison Rogers Napoleon / Conversations with Uranus.

Sol Invictus may have been the final poem by Christopher Leland at the end of his life. He was a fine writer and an inspiring instructor who is deeply missed.

The cover of the book is a combination of paper with white wax dots, rhinestones and beads sewn on,  buttons, press on sparkles and touches of glitter glue.  The title page paper is metallic marble.
The digital images are printed in acid free inks on acid free paper by Eric Law of Color Ink Studio.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


"If it takes the entire army and navy to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that card will be delivered.” 

There are so many fascinating people who have contributed to the study of our world who are no longer remembered on a grand scale.  That said, when I "discover" someone it often turns out they appear in almost every book in my library - I have just been skimming over them, going on to something that seemed more interesting or currently vital.  They lurk, preparing to amaze me.

I found Gilbert White in John K. King's used and rare book store in downtown Detroit.  The Natural History of Selborne - never heard of it - but it looked interesting and it was in my price range.  It is a charming, quiet, book of observations of nature written by a clergy man who spent his entire life in the countryside he loved.  The book was published by his brother in 1789 and has never been out if print since.  If you do a search you will find an incredible number of editions.  There are enough to make it perhaps the 4th largest number of books in English.

White, an autodidact, is often compared with Jean-Henri Fabre, the great entomologist born in 19th century France.  Fabre came from great poverty, rising above all obstacles to write books on insects which are still read today for the quality of their information and their poetic style.  He too devoted his entire life to the study of his native territory.

I have begun a mail art project which I hope will arouse interest in some of the people I have been learning about.

The first mailing was posted to unsuspecting recipients and honored the birthday of Gilbert White on July 18, 1720.  There is no death date listed - for me he is still alive.  I used a bird to represent him as he is known by many for his work with ornithology.

The second mailing is in small book form which includes a short biography and quotes about insects by Fabre.  Many of the people who will receive this book are accustomed to finding a "solstice present" in their mail box.  It will be the 16th in a series of 6" square books published annually.

My plan is to do mailings during the next couple of years, honoring the birthdays of naturalists whose work I find compelling or eccentric.  Some of my favorites will be missing such as Luca Ghini who is stated as having been born in 1490 but the month and day are unknown.

The actual Mail Art is, of course, limited but can be viewed here in virtual form, now and in the future.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

John Burroughs

After honoring the great astronomers Galileo,  Caroline Herschel and Tyco Brahe I stepped back to look and realized that inadvertently I had also honored 3 of the 5 senses - touch, sight and smell.  It seemed silly to stop there - ignoring hearing and taste.

A logical selection for HEARING was Ptolomy who worked with the concept of Music of the Spheres first postulated by Pythagorus.  
The featured ear belongs to Lee Ptolomy Jackson, an artist and friend.  It resides on planet Earth which was then considered the center of the universe.  The other planets, the sun and the moon were each embedded in in their own sphere made of ether and rotating around the earth.  The layers were: Earth, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and then the firmament of stars and beyond that the crystalline Heaven.  
Ptolemy wrote an influential book called Harmonics that dealt with music theory and mathematical proportions.  He believed the same concept of harmonics was present in all things including the movements and relationships of the planets.  It is unclear as to whether this included actual sound or was simply mathematical theory.

TASTE was the greatest challenge to add to the sky.  I could not determine an astronomer who qualified to represent this sense.  Instead it falls to the 17th century French Benedictine monk Dom Perignon and a fictitious but incredibly appealing quote  attributed to him when he discovered champagne. 

 "Come quickly!  I am drinking the stars." 

Unfortunately he also did not invent the beverage.  That may have been an English man.   It is another charming falsehood.  I will replace this drawing with something more credible should a tasty astronomer be located.