Thursday, September 22, 2011

Michael Kalmbach

Michael Kalmbach has a lot on his plate.  He teaches painting and drawing at Cecil College.  Since 2006 he has curated five art exhibitions.  Since 2008 he has received four awards for his work.  In the same year he founded the New Wilmington Art Association in order to create community and opportunities for himself and other artists.  He is on the Board of the Chris W. White Community Development Corporation which governs Shipley Lofts, a living and working space for artists.  In 2010 he had paintings in ten exhibitions.  That’s a lot.  He is currently working as an independent contractor for the State of Delaware's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to start up The Creative Vision Factory, a free communal arts studio in downtown Wilmington.

Kalmbach describes himself as “a lanky white guy who loves the Wu-Tang Clan” and “a devout fan of the New York Yankees.”  Really just a guy doing his thing.  He is always neatly dressed, often in a pair of Saucony running shoes, a pair of Dickies with a fresh crease down the front, and a neatly pressed, slightly oversized t-shirt.  Although he’s a painter, you won’t find any splatters or stains on him.

He grew up in low-income housing in rural Pennsylvania and was raised by a single mother, Sheila Ulerich, the only person in Lancaster County to cast a vote for Jesse Jackson.  She’s the daughter of a Pittsburgh steel worker who put herself through college while raising her son.  Her education enabled her to become a teacher, to support her son and eventually enabled her son to go to college and become an artist.

This enabling trend lead Michael to found the New Wilmington Art Association three months after finishing an MFA in painting at the University of Delaware.  Wilmington’s artists lacked a sense of community and there wasn’t much of an art scene.  Kalmbach knew that if he wanted to stay in the city a context and a forum was needed himself and others to “behave as artists.”  Today if you’re an artist in Wilmington, interacting with Michael usually means he’s throwing an opportunity your way.  This year he has been responsible for four lines on my resume; two group exhibitions, one of which I was able to curate, and I will be curating two more in the coming months.  He has also been active in creating the Wilmington chapter of Sunday Supper, a national collective effort aimed at strengthening artistic communities by creating networking events and by providing project specific micro grants to artists.  He’s becoming the Don of the Wilmington art scene, a Don that you don’t mind owing. 

Kalmbach also identifies strongly with philosopher Richard Rorty.  Although Rorty wrote about himself as a person with “private, weird, snobbish, incommunicable interests" in the form of an obsession with wild orchids, he believed the point of being human was to spend one's life fighting social injustice.  Since making a name for himself as the founder of the NWAA, Michael is offered more opportunities to work towards a Wilmington that provides its citizens more opportunity and equal access.  His latest project, The Creative Vision Factory, is being developed with the State of Delaware's Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.  

Like many downtowns there are a number of people wandering around downtown Wilmington.  Many of us tend to see them as obstacles to get around and to ignore.  Although these people may have mental issues or substance abuse problems that make it hard for them to get or keep a job, most of them are not homeless and they are not panhandlers.  Shelter and services provided by the state tend to revolve around therapy and can be stressful reminders of the issues these people face.  One of the reasons they may have a hard time overcoming these issues to work their way back into society is that they lack a place where they can go and feel a sense of normalcy.  The Creative Vision Factory will be a free communal studio open to anyone who has received state services for behavioral health disorders and has an interest in art.  

If you’ve spent any time in downtown Wilmington Delaware in the last year, especially if you’ve attended the Wilmington Art Loop on the first Friday of each month, you will have noticed a change.  There is less litter and fewer rough-looking characters around.  While downtown still has a long way to go, there are more families and couples out socializing.  There are new businesses with their doors propped open, playing trendy music and inviting people in.  Downtown feels much safer.  This is the result of a lot of hard work by many people whose names you will likely never know.  Michael Kalmbach one of them. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thoughts on Writing and being an Artist

Artists should write.  They should write a lot.  To paraphrase Einstein, it is often more important to be able to think about what you are doing and why than it is to simply do it.  At the very least, if an artist keeps notes that can be referred back to they will develop a stronger foundation for future creative pursuits.  The important thing is giving some thought to what you are doing and why you are doing it.

Journaling helps you to bring a set of interests into focus and eventually to formulate and explore your own ideas and problems in the form of research questions.  This eventually leads to works created in series spinning off new questions and new series.  The ability to experiment and move forward constructively is the basis of success in any pursuit including the arts.

Artist's statements are really more helpful to the artist than anyone else.  Statement writing can be a different kind of self exploration.  Often artists just make work and more work without stopping to reflect on what they've really made and what their true motivations were.  An artist may keep a journal as they make their work and may have some ideas in mind that may seem very important.  But, when ideas are floating around in your mind they're too easy to treat lightly or over estimate.  Plus, journal writing usually comes out of a fast and loose creative process rather than analytical thought.  Statement writing provides time reflect and fix ideas on the page.  Once a thing is written down and staring back at you, you have to take responsibility for it and truly deal with it and maybe even provide for it.  There is an Arab saying, when a thing is true they say "it is written".  The other side of that coin might be that if you're going to write anything down you had better make sure it's true.  You have to decide if what you have written is actually true or not and whether you're being honest with yourself.  You artist might realize that what you were thinking about when you made the work isn't the important thing at all.

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Pan

My Pan
My new wife came equipped with a nice set of pots and pans.  Nice pots and pans that her mother helped her pick out when moved away from home.  They’re stainless steel and the bottoms have a heavy aluminum core that conducts well.  The lids fit perfectly and every piece has an ergonomically formed handle that won’t get hot on the stove.  These handles, however, can’t take much heat. They’re plastic and you can’t put them in the oven. So, when we got engaged I registered for some new ones.
From the way Bobbie, who would soon be my mother-in-law, drew out her “Okaaayyy” I knew she wasn’t convinced that we needed new pans.  She knows I love gadgets and maybe she thought I was just looking for an excuse to buy a shiny new thing.  I love hobbies provide an excuse to cruise the shelves of specialty shops and websites for the greatest multitasker or that particular tool that meets a specific esoteric need.  Rather than displaying the kinds of tchotchkes that most people buy on road trips and in antique shops my shelves are a bone yard of manuals, cameras, bicycle tools, and compasses. 
It’s true that a significant part of my attraction to the kitchen is the endless carnival of gadgets, cookbooks, techniques, artisanal and heirloom ingredients, as well as YouTube videos on how to hack your small appliances.  But, I have gained enough experience to see that the majority of these are gimmicky substitutes for basic knife skills and a little know how.  I have even begun to give away things that I have learned are unnecessary.  I no longer have a garlic press, bamboo steamer, turkey baster or citrus juicer.  And nobody needs one of those slicer-dicers as seen on T.V.
Dinner is a learning experience as well as a chance to experiment and to be creative.  I love to spend time at it. I frequently spend hours breaking down three or four or five or more recipes in preparation for making one dish.  I’ll make that dish in several variations until I have it just so.  Cornbread with brown instead of white sugar.  Cornbread with brown sugar and rosemary.  A vegan recipe says to use applesauce instead of the eggs.  Maybe keep one egg and replace one with applesauce.  What might be better in cornbread than buttermilk?  Nothing is better than buttermilk. 
It didn’t make sense to replace my wife’s pans altogether.  They are very nice and she and her mother did pick them out together.  If I wanted to move things from the stovetop to the oven I only really needed an omelet pan.  But, a five-quart sauté pan would be a little more versatile.  I imagined expertly heating a tablespoon of oil, waiting for it to smoke and browning chicken breasts in it.  When they caramelized to a nice dark brown on one side I would turn them and put them in the oven.  Seven minutes later, perfect chicken breasts would rest on a plate.  Back on the the stovetop I would throw in a handful of green beans, a dash of salt and a splash of dark beer and clap on the lid.  Five minutes later, perfect green beans.

I wanted good pans that could be counted on to last.  However, if they cost too much they wouldn’t appear on the gift table.  I needed to make careful choices.  Julia Child tells us that “Copper pots are the most satisfactory of all to cook in, as they hold and spread heat well …”  No doubt this is true.  However, a ten inch copper omelet pan like the one she describes - at least 1/8 inch thick, lined with a wash of tin and featuring a heavy iron handle – starts at over $200.  It would be vulgar to mention the cost of such a sauté pan.  One of Julia’s second choices is aluminum lined with stainless steel, like my wife’s pans.  Given that the other second choice, enameled iron, is double the weight and requires hand washing I decided to register for the stainless.
Thus armed, I turned to the source of all things,, where I navigated the loony bin world of customer reviews. The reviews for kitchen products are mostly about the difficulty of clean up, recommended cleaning products that didn’t work and, if it’s a pan, how it looks hanging from a rack above a kitchen island.  This is sometimes accompanied by a description or even photos of the kitchen in question with the offending pan in situ.  Pots and pans have become simulacra, pieces of home décor bought to complement open concept kitchens which recall Food Network sets and where nobody actually cooks.  
After sifting through page after page of this I eventually shook out enough relevant information to narrow the field to two brands in a reasonable price range.  All Clad is the brand used by most cooking shows and You Tube chefs.  Even no-nonsense Alton Brown uses them, quite an endorsement in itself.   The other was Calphalon, which was less expensive, the sauté was $99 compared to $150, and essentially made the same way.  They have a nice flat bottom, and an oven safe ergonomic handle riveted into place.  My mother-in-law had told us to try to keep the prices down or we might not get what we wanted.  I registered for the Calphalon five-quart sauté. 
I also noticed that the three-quart sauté was only $68.  That seemed little more approachable.  So, I registered for the three quart just in case nobody got us the five-quart.  And then I saw that the twelve-inch omelet was about that price too.   It didn’t come with a lid and didn’t have the tall sides of the sauté.  But, it was about the same size and would do if necessary.  The ten-inch omelet was only $45.  That was a good price for a wedding gift.  Somebody who wasn’t looking to spend too much would probably buy it for us.  It would be good to have around, so it went onto the list too along with a non-stick pan for eggs. 

Months later, married, we had some of the pans that I had registered for and several that I hadn’t.  We had several non-stick pans and pots in various makes and sizes.  We did not have the five-quart sauté pan.  We did not have the three-quart sauté or the twelve-inch omelet either.  We did have the ten-inch omelet. 
Trying it out I learned that ten inches is still a good size for a lot of things.  Protein for two or three won’t overcrowd it.  You can’t keep an eye on much more than that anyway.  A side dish for several people will easily fit in it.  It’s not too heavy – three pounds – so you can move it around pretty easily.  It’s wide enough that the heat from a burner has to go up and into its flat bottom before it can flow around.  It’s narrow enough that it doesn’t extend beyond the range of the burner and heat unevenly.  It can handle rocket heat and makes smooth, even changes in temperature.  Temperature control is the most important thing a cook has to learn. Some applications require the pan to be as hot as possible.  Others require changes in temperature at critical stages.  
Because it doesn’t have the taller sides like the sauté, you can’t cook things involving a lot of sauce or stock in it.  It won’t hold much liquid at all and it spills easily.  And there’s no lid.  Although the lid from one of my wife’s older set of pans does the job.  It’s still a great pan.  Just not for everything.  Even tough I’m making due with it in some ways, it has become my go-to pan.  I rely on it so much that I cook things in it that you normally wouldn’t.  Lately I have taken to baking a whole chicken in my pan every Sunday.  I think they’re coming out better than when I used a roasting rack. I often try to find ways to use it to for every part of a meal.  Instead of cooking separate things in separate pans so they’re all ready at once, I’ll cook them one at a time in my omelet pan. The first thing is usually cold by the time everything is finished, but it’s such a pleasure to use the pan that I don’t care. It may be cold, but it was cooked perfectly.
My pan doesn’t hang from an overhead rack and it doesn’t sparkle or shine.  It has a changing collection of seasoned-in tan and brown grease spots that move around its surfaces with each use like sunspots.  These may be unsightly to Suzy Homemaker but to my eyes these are proud scars earned in the learning of a craft. These are cauliflower ears and scotched knuckles. 
 [[Needs a stronger ending]]
There’s a very good piece in there—you have good material, writing style, and point of view. But it needs a good deal of work, as the comments indicate. A lot of them suggest that you have to make things easier and clearer for the reader, in various ways. More generally, I wish you’d develop the idea you bring in at the very start, yourself as this gadget nerd. First, it’s interesting and second, it’s an excellent opportunity for self-deprecation. 9

Monday, September 5, 2011


get up, radio on, start coffee
start shower, pee, bathe, the sound of voices on the radio
towel off, put on yesterday’s pants, pour coffee, add half and half
Put on a shirt.  Find something quick to eat.

I start to follow the talk on the radio as caffeine and leftovers start to bring me out of my sleep.  

After a couple more minutes I'm paying attention to the radio, listening to NPR.  Although I haven't been doing this very long, it has become part of my morning routine.  Most if the content is pretty boring.  A lot of it seems important but it's hard to tell what's going to matter in a few days or weeks.  I listen for things I’ve heard before.  I wonder how these people can keep talking about some of this stuff day after day.  But I suffer through it.  This is the kind of thing I should start doing, listening to the radio, reading newspapers, learning about the issues.  I'm going to graduate soon.  I'm going to be twenty-three soon.  Eric just turned twenty-three and Mrs. Freeman made sure he knew he wasn't a kid any more.  "You're grown now.  Mmmhhm, you ain't a baby no more."  I need to start keeping up with what's going on in the world.  

Eric was in the Navy or something.  He's going to school on the G.I. Bill anyway.  He'd been stationed in Haiti and he talks about it every day.  He told me about heat and the stench of rotting garbage and people so poor they didn't have front doors on their houses and people so rich they could pay people to do absolutely everything for them and never left the house except when they left the country to go shopping in America.  He said that most of the rich people hardly spend any time in Haiti at all and that the rich people pretty much use the poor people as slaves.  He told me that there were frequent gunfights between the different gangs and that at night you could see tracer bullets flying from one slum to another like lasers in Star Wars.  He told me that in the mornings there would be dead bodies on the roadsides.  Eric should have been grown, having seen things like that.  And wasn't that what they did in boot camp, make a man out of you?  And now he has two jobs.  One at a car rental place and the other one working with me at the library, and he was going to college too.  I don't see what twenty-three has to do with it.

Time to go to work.  Pour out the coffee, put on my shoes.  Pull out my new Specialized Hardrock mountain bike.  I wonder if there's still enough air in the tires.  I took it off some really good jumps yesterday.  Better make sure.  I'm still listening to the talk on the radio as I take the tire pump off the bracket that holds it to my bike's frame and attach it to the little nozzle on the tire.  A reporter breaks in with a special announcement.  I hate it when this happens.  It always sounds like some local intern who's not prepared and doesn't really understand the implications of the information they're reporting.  I was listening to the news. 

In his wimpy voice the intern reporter tells us that a plane has flown into the World Trade Center.  Ok, that doesn't happen every day.  So, I listen while I put on my backpack.  The reporter isn't sure of much.  Really just that the plane has hit the building.  There are no parts of the plane visibly sticking out of the building but it seems to have been a large plane.  Maybe a jet.  He speculates a little about how a pilot could have lost his way and wandered into the building.  The reporter is probably pretty sure that first responders might be converging on the building.  Why do they have to turn everything into a speculative cliff hanger?  Is there really anyone who wonders whether the fire department is on the way when these things happen?  Why is it such a big deal when they get there?  We knew they were coming.  I know reporters just need something to talk about but, why interrupt the news to speculate about things we can safely assume are happening?  

Listening to the special announcement has made me late for work.  I carefully replace my tire pump in the bracket so that it won't interfere with my feet or get its new surface marred by the chain and strap it down.  I'm going to go the long way anyway.  There are more good curbs to jump.

I get to the bike rack at the minute I’m supposed to clock in.  Mr. Fogt is going to be mad.  He kept harping on timeliness in the interview.  My dad liked to say if you’re not early, you’re late.  So, I said that to Mr. Fogt and he finally seemed satisfied.  I’ve only almost been late a couple times but, I can tell he’s not happy about it.  There's another guy locking up his bike on the other side of the rack.  His is older than mine and kinda beat up.  We say "Hi" and he checks out my bike's new silver frame.  He's got a look on his face like he's got something on his mind but different.  I quickly snap on my lock and run inside.  Mrs. Freeman isn’t at her desk.  I sit down at the computer and try to act like I’ve been here for a few minutes as I clock in.  Where’d that guy go, I wonder.  I didn’t see him come in.  

Mrs. Freeman comes up from the offices and doesn’t say hello before she tells me we’re still going to open the library today and just to get ready like normal.  She tells me we’re going to have a radio in the front to listen to quietly and goes to the back again.  She hasn’t noticed me slipping in.  Why wouldn’t we open today?  What’s going on? 

I start taking the books out of the book return.  Eric comes up from the back with a small radio.  I hadn’t seen him come in either.  He’s been in Mr. Fogt’s office watching the news.  I ask him what’s going on and why Mrs. Freeman’s acting like we might close.  “Because of the plane crash in New York” he tells me.  It was a big airline plane but, on the news they think it looked like it was on purpose.  They don’t know if it’s an accident so that’s why we’re listening to radio. 

I cart the books over to the computer and start checking them in.  The reporters are speculating about all sorts of scenarios and telling us what they don’t know yet.  I’m checking in the books and thinking about what they’re saying.  It sounds unlikely to me that the pilots would have let someone force them to fly into a building.  Eric and I talk about it.  He tells me that most pilots are ex-military.  Navy pilots are the best, he says, and they wouldn’t have hit a building on accident.  He tells me Navy pilots can land anything on anything.  They wouldn’t let someone tell them to fly into a building either.

I realize that I forgot to take the tire pump off of my bike.  It’s brand new.  Somebody might steal it.  Mrs. Freeman’s back in the offices again talking about the plane crash.  I run outside to get it.  It's gone. I look at the empty bracket.  I’m pissed as hell.  That damn guy stole my pump.  Shit head.  I walk back into the library and start to tell Eric about the douche bag who stole my pump.  “Another plane hit another building,” he tells me.