The Use of Art and also Trivia


I like the discovery of unusual word meanings, amassing trivia. And art. Both have uses. Cathartic in using art in creative ways and amassing facts fills the WHY I continually ask of everything around me. Observing details, I’m often prompted to dig deeper. Take these windows for example. 

These windows under the gables, rotated 45 degrees sideways are called ‘witch windows’ (aka ‘coffin windows,’ or ‘Vermont windows’) and are common in Vermont especially in 19th century farmhouses. It makes sense to squeeze in windows where you can, for venting tight spaces but the superstition is that

witches can’t fly broomsticks through crooked windows.

I suspect that the windows were installed sideways from necessity, and the lore about the witches followed after the fact– just because it seemed the crooked windows needed a story. The Chinese used to believe (do they still?) that ‘bad’ spirits traveled only in straight lines, and so a lot of their architecture ended up with roofs that have stiff peaks. I still suspect Vermonters put the windows in sideways to let in light and to air-out the upstairs in a cost-effective manner. Anyway, these windows only seem to be common to Vermont, and I look for this architectural element whenever I go there.

Connecticut has an interesting array of architecture too, in particular the gargoyles and other stone sculptures to be found on high on New Haven buildings. Rena Tobey, Lively Mind LLC offers this photo of a weird monkey at her site (link below):


See the following quote by Rena, and I find it interesting because I live in such close proximity to the Yale Campus and had never known ‘yale’ had an alternate meaning:

“A ‘yale’ is a fantastical figure that can resemble a goat, a unicorn, or a hybrid with a human.  It can be embellished with an elephant tail, polka dots, or horns that go in separate directions.  Lots of latitude in portraying a yale around campus.”

Here is a stone sculpture on Davenport College, with photo credit to University photographer Michael Marsland:


This one, same photographer, is on the Sterling Law Building:


In Connecticut, where I reside, Gillette Castle in East Haddam:


This castle (picture located at the site link below) was commissioned by the American actor William Gillette, who played Sherlock Holmes. After his death, Gillette (who was unmarried and childless) left a clause in his will that it was to never be owned by a 

“blithering sap-head who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” 

Eventually, the state stepped in and took over the estate. I’ve toured the place a few times. It can be seen mysteriously from a highway peeking over the crest of a hill. I especially like Gillette’s remark about “blithering sapheads.” I am not amused easily but I do love word play. Okay, perhaps I am amused easily…I send a PunADay in my PunADay Service to a family friend daily now for years. Here was a recent one:

Anyway, on the topic of art used in cathartic manners, a few weeks ago, I read “Beer Money,” by Francis Stroh, heiress to the beer dynasty which went belly up… I love memoir and love to figure out what makes different types of people tick. But I had no idea I’d run across such an interesting artist in Fran. 

She worked as an ‘installation’ artist, and yes- she had to offer a job description every time she told someone that -because few people, myself included have a clear idea what this is. Here’s an overview of one of her installations that intrigued me in an unforgettable way. Every family has embarrassment, secrets, weird goings-on that no one knows about, tension, longstanding squabbles. Her family was no exception. She turned this into art.

Here is a quote from her book about the video art installation:

“I stood in the center of a white room, darkened and soundproofed, with six videos playing on screens surrounding me, each one featuring an enormous talking mouth. I was trying to see the installation as others saw it. Visitors to the exhibition took in the cacophony of voices—a family of six telling the family story from disparate points of view.”

The talking mouths were herself, her brothers, and parents. Each mouth from her “ruined family,” as she put it, spoke over each other in sometimes blistering pronouncements of the other family members- each telling their unique side of the situation, and upon approaching one mouth to hear the particular voice, the others remained a cacophony in the background. Stepping back, the words rushed and melded, chattered and the ear picked out phrases:

“There were years and years during which our family lived in denial of who and what we really were,” said one young man.

“I’m sure there are families with problems similar to our own,” offered another, “somewhere out there . . .”

“My life has not unfolded as I thought it would,” the mother said. “I lived in a dream when I was young.”

“Happiness is not something you turn on and off like running water.” The father smiled and puffed on his pipe. “Life doesn’t work that way.”

Art illuminates life. I can only imagine, using art in this ingenious way, the effect it had on the viewers. Giant moving mouths, without the other facial features, all talking at the same time. Art has a way of being controversial, and certainly Stroh’s was, at least when family members, who were videotaped for the project separately, had a chance to see (hear) what the others had said. But controversy is akin to being moved in some way and that certainly reminds you you’re human, you’re alive. I had such an art moment, over a decade ago.

The photo on the left (1936) is Nude, by Edward Weston, the one on the right is me:


Amy, a family friend at the time, circa 2003 or thereabouts, was an RIT student, always looking for models for her photography class. If you’ve read my book Under The Banana Moon, then you know the story behind my mime period, my much needed breaks from caregiving, my sorrow, identity loss and my escape into art-as subject for Amy’s assignments. 

A lot like Francis Stroh, I suppose, I needed a creative outlet to process chaos. What we used to do, Amy and I, is scour the internet for interesting poses and we happened upon this one, Nude by Weston, one of many I tried to replicate. Amy wanted me in the nude but we settled on mime make-up (which you can’t see here), the occasional hat as seen here and a catsuit. I have dozens of these photos, most all face forward- and many reveal a sad quiet mime trying to process a lot of crap. 

Imagine my surprise when recently I saw profiled on TV, the interesting fact that Elton John, being an avid photo collector (because he likes the ones that ‘move’ him) has Edward Weston’s ‘Nude’ – the very image I tried to replicate-pictured above, in his personal collection. As Weston’s iconic photo flashed on TV, I realized that years ago I hadn’t realized it to be so famous. I thought, “I know that photo! I once twisted myself into that pose.”


So here’s what I’ve been up to besides reading, planning, shopping, working, reminiscing, arting and writing:

It was such a big and heavy tree! Al and I were taking turns sawing and lugging. I hope to string popcorn chains and glue construction paper garland tonight. For now, I’ve got to get ready for work. Oh, before I go, I must mention the IOD calendar (I receive nothing monetarily for being a part but I share it here because I am the month of Februrary and because I want to promote such a worthwhile organization that does a lot for the disabled through art). Here is my contribution, and the’s about being overwhelmed in a public place.


Enjoy your day!

My book here:

The IOD calendar:

Witch windows Vermont oddity:

Bizarre buildings:

Francis Stroh on the exhibit:

NH Register, Randall Beach CT stone figures:

Rena Tobey on architecture:

Yale photographer Marsland:

On Francis Stroh:

Elton John photo collection:

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