No Pink Flamingos


On our walk last week, we passed a dilapidated shed with a pink flamingo gracing its space.  One of the members of the group commented that yard ornaments were not allowed in her neighborhood.

Because I lived in a very old house in a very old neighborhood, it was not until I moved to a very new area in a very different part of the country that I encountered this peculiar entity that now comes with home ownership:  The HOA.  For those of you as clueless as I was, HOA stands for Home Owners Association.  The HOA was created as a way to assure residents that a certain level of standards are met to maintain housing values and quality of life.



At first, this idea had some appeal to me.  In old city row housing, you are connected up close and personal with your neighbors and I was plagued with quality of life issues. Weeds over 7 feet high, stagnant water collecting and attracting mosquitoes, neighbors sneaking illegal dumping into your trash can (always be aware of who is breaking up concrete as you are bound to find it in your trash),  garbage thrown into your yard, used condoms and drug paraphernalia on the other side of your yard (if you were lucky, if not, this would be in your yard too), illegal businesses and questionable activity going on in the driveway, and, the thing that really got to me most, neglected pets (fortunately, other neighbors would often also rally to help in this case).

Laundry 2
Yards attached to row housing

So if there is an organization that can prevent all of that, sign me up!  But as I learned more about HOAs, the less appealing they sounded.  First, many HOAs have strict regulations about what you can and cannot do with the outside of your home. That may include something as innocent as a vegetable garden.  My old yard, which was a native plant and bird habitat, would be frowned upon in many HOA communities.  Hanging out laundry is a big no no.  Also, there are fees that go with HOAs and those fees may go to pay for things that you may not use or may be morally against.  For example, many HOA fees go to pay for lawn care.  Lawns and the care that goes into them are one of the biggest environmental problems we face.  This is a great surprise to many homeowners and I am not going to get into the reasons why here, but I do know that I will not support such fees.   The other thing, if you are buying a property in a community that has an HOA, the seller is not obligated to disclose the HOA agreement to the buyer, which is often hundreds of pages long anyway.  How do you know what you are getting into? Lastly, there is the irony of the HOA as a potential infringement on the glamour associated with home ownership and individualism.

My former backyard, Philadelphia, PA


Right now, we are renters so such questions can be put aside.  But at some point in the future, we may have to decide if we want to live within the rules of an HOA or take our chances elsewhere.  The real deciding factor will be whether or not we can put out a pink flamingo.


Seeking Understanding of “The Other”

other people
The Other, 2018, Mixed Media on Paper, Collection: Free Library of Philadelphia

It’s odd how things come in clumps.  Or maybe we are just more tuned in when we are engaged with a particular topic.    Not long ago, an opportunity arose to participate in an exhibition honoring women of the Civil Rights Movement.   What immediately came to my mind was a piece I had been working on called Making the Dress.  While not really about Civil Rights, a large influence on that piece was the sacrifices women have made to support their families, often in the clothing and textile industries.  While some women worked from home doing mending and tailoring, others faced terrible working conditions in factories.  A particular tragedy that comes to my mind when I reflect on this is the Triangle Shirtwaste Fire of 1911.  The curator of the exhibition was very gracious and said she would include my piece and asked me if I had any other work.  While I did not have any pieces on the Civil Rights Movement, I realized that I have made work in the past that subtly addressed the topic of race relations.

I had made a series of drawings and linocuts back in the 1990s that included generic faces which were always multicultural.  It was sort of my way of saying we are all human beings and here together.  In addition, I just recalled today that the first commission I ever had was for an organization called the Frankford Human Relations Coalition.  I made a cut paper collage of various ethnic groups of people engaging in chatting, playing jump rope, etc.  I have no record of this piece but it was made similarly to the image below of the people riding the subway.  Again, not a big statement, just a way of showing people living together going about their daily lives.

Morning Edition
Morning Edition, circa 1988


Continue reading “Seeking Understanding of “The Other””

Silent Echoes


This post is dedicated to my dear friend “Chief” Nancy

Several years ago, I embarked on a project called “Silent Echoes”. It involved noticing how people used the space around the outside of their homes, and also refuted the common belief that every row house is exactly the same.  Below is the text that was written for the project and the slide show underneath shows pairings of different photographs.  Oddly, I just realized this project was completed 20 years ago and I feel it is still relevant and relates to ideas presented in the Cookie Cutter House Project.

Text from Silent Echoes, March 1998



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When The New Normal Makes No Sense

Pepper MillIf you were around in the 1970s, you probably had the experience of going to a restaurant and, after your salad or whatever was placed before you, a waiter came over with a giant pepper mill offering you fresh ground pepper.  And, no doubt, you were so intrigued by this odd offer that you accepted having no idea of the results.

Now you are probably wondering “What does this have to do with housing”.  Well, everything, but give me a moment to explain.  I am one of the zillions of people who have replaced my good old standard pepper shaker with a pepper mill.  I have probably owned my current pepper mill for about 7 years.  It has only recently occurred to me how often I run out of pepper corns and how every time I go to buy them I

complain to myself about the price.  At the market today, I have once again found myself in that situation and opted for a can of good old fashioned ground black pepper.  Is there a difference in taste?  Well, probably to the most discerning palate, which I do not have.  I put pepper on my food purely for the aesthetics.  The little black specs somehow makes whatever I am eating look more appealing. But more importantly is this question:  at what point did freshly ground pepper from a mill become the norm in our kitchens?Continue reading “When The New Normal Makes No Sense”

Thoughts on McMansions and Suburbia


When going through an old sketch book, I came across some notes from March of 2000. The notes basically talk about an experience I had in a printmaking studio on one day when, strangely, nobody else was using the press.  I had made two small etching plates of these goofy looking houses.   The reason I made the goofy looking houses was because this is around the time that McMansions were being built at a record pace.  These houses always looked so strange to me because they were over sized homes on way too small lots.  Nothing like the big beautiful stately mansions you see with lovely grounds and mature trees that can be seen on the Philadelphia Main Line and other areas of the country.

March 2000 journal
Sketchbook Notes from March, 2000

So with the press all to myself, I embarked on a frantic pace of inking and printing these etching plates on pieces of very tiny paper.  The irony of this mad printing session was how I was banging out these etchings  as quickly as developers seemed to be building them and the very small pieces of paper sort of mimicked the very small lots on which these houses were being built.  I no longer have the plates, or any of the prints that came from this session as they were very poor quality (and I also have to wonder about the quality of those homes!)

Suburbia the future
Back of Sketchbook Notes from March, 2000


Anyway, the other part of this story is how suburbs have become more than just bedroom communities.  As more people moved out of the city, companies soon followed as well as recreational activities and shopping.  It seems that the suburbs became more crowded than the cities.  The above sketch was my interpretation of where the suburbs were headed.


Back to the Drawing, no, Printing Board!

So basically I am a printmaker.  At least that was how I was known where I lived for many years. Of course I did other work, but for some reason, even before I started only working in printing, I was referred to as a printmaker.

I have not pulled a print for almost 2 years.  When I moved, I sold my beloved printing press and all of my show inventory has since been liquidated.   So when I was asked by a local organization if I would donate something I had a challenge as I had nothing to give.  The challenge was to print by hand, something I have not done in many many years and did not even have the right equipment for.  Yes, there is always the old back of a large spoon, but to get a really clean print, you need something a bit more high end.

Set up for printing

Continue reading “Back to the Drawing, no, Printing Board!”

A New Version of an Old Favorite

Last week I went to visit my grandson.  I wanted to buy him a toy and I thought of the Fisher Price radio from days gone by.   I could not find that version of a radio but I stumbled upon this radio by Baby Einstein.  But it does not play the typical “Twinkle twinkle”, nope, this radio plays tunes by Mozart, Vivaldi, and Rossini to name a few.  I think it plays 8 tunes in all.  Though I recognized all the tunes, the only titles I knew were the William Tell Overture and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.  And they were not whiny tinny sounds but very pleasing.  The radio also lights up and I love the happy wiggly worm on top.Baby Radio

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Installation Art: Any Back Yard

Window on Broad
Any Back Yard, 2006 

I have talked on and off about installation art and mentioned a few pieces I have done in this medium.  One of my favorite installations I have made is Any Back Yard.  This installation was on view at the University of the Arts Window on Broad for the month of April, 2006.  The “window” is a deep space (think department store type window space) that faces a busy street. The installation is about attracting birds to an urban yard.

Personal symbols in artwork is another topic I touched on and laundry is another such symbol for me.  Laundry hanging out to dry is an everyday site in a city so it is no wonder such imagery was stuck in my mind.Continue reading “Installation Art: Any Back Yard”

Intro to the Cookie Cutter House Project & Beginning the Artwork

box and mug
Box and mug from Julie

The Cookie Cutter House Project is based on a number of things.  Houses and buildings appeared in my former work because I lived in an old, large city and became part of my subconscious.   Recently, I moved to a totally new environment comprised of a mix of rural and suburban landscape. Overdevelopment and a lack of housing for the booming population are major concerns. In addition, when I did move, I left the only place I ever knew as “home” and I believe this project is helping me address and possibly redefine my thoughts on home and community. Continue reading “Intro to the Cookie Cutter House Project & Beginning the Artwork”

Installation Art

Window on Broad
Any Back Yard, 2006

Probably the first thing I should do here is describe Installation Art for readers who may have heard the term (or maybe not) but never quite knew what it was.  Installation art is a themed exhibition that takes up an entire space, is temporary, and generally is not marketable unless an institution purchases the whole installation for its permanent collection.

My first memorable experience with installation art was sometime around 1990 at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.  My family was there visiting my mother, who had relocated there a few years earlier.  I cannot recall who the artist was or the exact message, but I do recall the work was making a statement about trees, possibly the exploitation of trees?  Anyway, I was very impressed how this artist used the medium to present a message.   A second installation that impressed me was on display at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.  It was was a map of the local rivers, streams, creeks, as well as ones that no longer existed.  The map was made of glasses filled with water (or turned upside down if the waterway no longer existed). The size of the glass seemed to represent the size of the waterway.Continue reading “Installation Art”