Drawing the past and present

The lights are dim, and some of the images require bend-in, squint-close viewing. Magnifying glasses hang on the walls here and there. We’re grateful to find them.

It all makes sense when you reflect that we’re looking at fragile drawings on paper from hundreds of years ago. Can chalk and graphite really live this long? If the conditions are right.

Now at the Cantor Arts Center, the Blanton Museum’s “Storied Past” show of French drawings may not be the most dynamic of exhibitions, but up-close viewing has its rewards. Jean-Baptiste Greuze’s delicate “Arms of a Girl Holding a Bird,” carefully drawn in red chalk on cream paper. Nicolas Lancret’s barely-there “Study of a Man” in black and white chalks. The subtlety of everyday life in a medium we’ve all tried our hands at.

Striking bright spots emerged where the artists used white chalk as highlights: on faces, figures, sparks of sky. In Theodore Rousseau’s 19th-century “A Marshy River Landscape” (pictured above), the glints of chalk in charcoal feel like hope on a dark day.

In case you were wondering, this is how you climb a pyramid. Especially if you’re in the 19th century and you’re being photographed by Felix Bonfils (1831-1885).
This photo, a print titled “Ascent of the Great Pyramid,” is part of a new small exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, showing 19th-century images of North Africa and the Holy Land. These photos were especially popular with Westerners who never left the States or Europe, either because they couldn’t or because they were afraid of being pushed up a pyramid.
Other vintage views include a print of the Mosque of the Emeer Akhor by Francis Frith (1822-1898), a Briton who was a grocer before his first jaunt to Egypt inspired him.
Onward!
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In case you were wondering, this is how you climb a pyramid. Especially if you’re in the 19th century and you’re being photographed by Felix Bonfils (1831-1885).

This photo, a print titled “Ascent of the Great Pyramid,” is part of a new small exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, showing 19th-century images of North Africa and the Holy Land. These photos were
especially popular with Westerners who never left the States or Europe, either because they couldn’t or because they were afraid of being pushed up a pyramid.

Other vintage views include a print of the Mosque of the Emeer Akhor by Francis Frith (1822-1898), a Briton who was a grocer before his first jaunt to Egypt inspired him.

Onward!

My top arts events from 2010

Every year I sew together a patchwork of my 10 favorite local arts moments and happenings from the past 12 months. A little bit of this, a little bit of that from the mix of shows, exhibitions and other bright spots from my year in the arts.

Enjoy, disagree, discuss. Chime in with your own faves by emailing me at rwallace (at) paweekly.com or commenting at
Palo Alto Online.

Stellar singer:
Sasha Cooke, Music@Menlo
Two years ago, I was wide-eyed by Sash
a Cooke’s performance as Kitty Oppenheimer in the opera “Doctor Atomic” in New York. But as fabulous as the Met is, you do have to sit kind of far away. This summer, I saw Sasha up close at Menlo School, singing the dark and darkly humorous lullabies of Benjamin Britten. The mezzo-soprano (pictured above right) was passionate, angry and tender, with a voice that was simply sublime.

Super set: "Auctioning the Ainsleys," TheatreWorks
The grand family house where all the action took place in this new Laura Schellhardt play was not only striking; it also seemed a virtual miracle. How can you fit a two-and-a-half-story mansion in the Lucie Stern Theatre? And do i
t with such black-and-white panache. Weekly theater critic Kevin Kirby described the set best: “a Victorian interior from a New Yorker cartoon.”

Super Steve:
"Off Center" painting show, Pacific Art League
Painter
Steve Curtiss calls himself an introvert. But he’s a charming interviewee, and his canvases are anything but shy. His humor was ever evident at a spring show of his paintings at the Pacific Art League: Titles included “Thoreau Moves to Los Altos Hills” and “Gravity Goes Out in Palo Alto.” Curtiss will have a new solo show in April at Gallery 9 in Los Altos.

(My list continues after this image of Steve Curtiss’ “Still Life With Fries.”)



First-clas
s class: “Writing Historical Fiction,” Stanford Continuing Studies
Continuing Studies offerings are always top-quality, but this winter 2010 course was the best writing class I’ve ever taken. Writer/teacher
Stephanie Soileau created a syllabus filled with fascinating writing assignments and a classroom filled with encouragement, creativity and community. I hadn’t managed to find a Palo Alto angle on Eleanor of Aquitaine, but after this class I bet I could.

Fine family show:
So Percussion, Community School of Music and Arts
Kids got to play African drum and vibraphone, bounce and cla
p, grin and run around. When the So Percussion quartet came to Mountain View last January to play a family show at CSMA, the musicians knew exactly what their young audience would love. Meanwhile, we older folks just enjoyed the rhythm.

Paramount play: "Opus," TheatreWorks
One of the top perks of my job: getting to interview a playwright before I see a play. After talking to
Michael Hollinger, I had a feel for his writer’s journey even before I stepped inside the Mountain View CPA to see “Opus,” which depicts the drama, artistry and passion of a string quartet. And the production was captivating, from the finely tuned acting to the minimalist scenic and lighting design. The script wasn’t bad, either.

Otherworldly watercolors,
William Trost Richards show, Cantor Arts Center
Visiting these sweeping paintings was like stepping into the 19th century. Glowing skies and meticulously detailed leaves were lovely features of the landscapes, and the Cantor folks kindly put two comfy chairs in front of one ocean scene.

Sleek scenes: Tarmo Pasto, Pacific Art League
A pleasant surprise hiding upstairs in the Norton Gallery this August. The elegant lines of Tarmo Pasto’s modernist landscapes contrasted nicely with the gazing-out-the-balcony charm of the space. The late Pasto was a longtime educator in Sacramento.

(The list continues after my photo of Pasto’s “Yellow Ridge” in the Norton Gallery.)




Winsom
e waitress: Kristin Stokes, "Fly By Night"
Theat
reWorks veteran Kristin Stokes gave another fresh performance as the waitress Miriam in this new musical at the company’s summer New Works Festival. Her winning sweetness made at least a few viewers want to change the show’s ending.

Rockin’ requiem: Schola Cantorum,
Summer Sing
I never had so much singing about death as I did with Schola. The audience got to join in with the Faure and Durufle requiems as part of the chorus’ summertime series, and thanks to patient conductor Amy Hunn, it was just like being back in the college choir, discovering the music for the first time.

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