Category Archives: Portraits of interesting People

Frankie, Todd and Taffy put on their faces for Ptown Carnival 2016

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Roo, The Wonder Boy

photo courtesy  of buzzfeed

Linda Markarian recently posted on her Face Book page a touching article about a three year old boy, Roo, who likes to wear a tutu. The human interest here is that the kid and his Mom were being harassed by some slob who berated them both because Roo, a boy, was wearing his tutu. Roo’s ultimate comment was, “I feel beautiful, I feel brave, I like the way they look.”

 

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Roo ruminates on the  foibles of adults

photo courtesy of buzzfeed

I was glad that Linda, a constant champion of  kindness, introduced me to Roo and this was my response,

“Wonder Boy is simply expressing the universal and timeless human urge for adornment .We all want to be beautiful because our world is shimmeringly gorgeous and we want to be a part of it all. Rock on Wonder Boy!”

Click for more of Roo’s story 

In my book, The Family Jewels,  in a scene depicting the parade of guests arriving at the Dynasty Ball, I wrote, “There was of course a bearded nun, who kept drawling, “Oh Mary, oh Mary” while genuflecting, a performance that made forward progress sluggish. But the Crowd accepted this with good grace as a necessary benediction along the pilgrimage of the absurd, of which Gay people have an intimate perspective.”

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Three little Girls from the school of hard knocks painting the town with rainbow colors

photo by Iory Allison

Now, I don’t mean to imply that little Roo is in anyway Gay, he may turn out that way but that is for him to discover, however, his fututure sexual proclivities are an entirely separate issue. What I mean by making the reference to Gay people having an intimate perspective of the absurd is to say that we, ie Gay people, understand that ascribing sexual identity to inanimate objects is absurd and misses the point. So what is the point? For me that is The Mask.

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Taffy

photo by Iory Allison

I believe that we all universally have a lingering desire to be more than our single selves. This is why we tell and listen to stories, read books, go to movies and theater, attend sporting events and perhaps even tell lies. We want to break free of the limits of one identity and enjoy the freedom to create and be our own imaginary friends. This is the essence of empathy, coming from the Greek word empatheia, to be, “in – feeling.”  “To empathize is to  project one’s own personality into the personality of another in order to understand them better.” (Webster)  I believe this is because, in some peripheral way, we remember past lives or the collective unconscious, if you prefer. We are trying to recapture the complete experience of being one collective essence with infinite expressions and by extension of having empathy with all creation

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Todd

photo by Iory Allison

One of the tools to accomplish this is to create and wear a mask, costume, disguise, or drag. And with the later choice all serious intent is disguised with humor, which may reference the “ frenzied ritual” (see reference below) because what is laughing, except to join in the intense effervescent joy of living.

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Franky

photo by Iory Allison

An actor wears a mask to extend his life beyond his time and place, to adopt another’s outward form and to disguise himself   speaking with many voices.  The mask is universal and timeless. People have fashioned masks throughout time in every culture, country and continent seeking to travel beyond the limits of a single existence. The outward image of the borrowed soul is for a moment worn, allowing us  to see through another’s eye and to escape mortal limits. The mask of the hero imbues the actor with god-like grace and power. Masks releases the finite individual to create multiple personas of his own design. The mask enables a godlike freedom of metamorphoses, entering into the life or form of another being. The basic masks of Greek drama are Comedy, Tragedy and the Satyr, these variations of character  allow the individual’s emotional possibilities to expand beyond his own fate and beyond the script written for his present drama. The actor speaks through the mask amplifying his voice  carrying it to a larger audience. Theater derives from ancient rites of frenzied ritual that over time was articulated into a dialogue of individuals expostulating on their fate.

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The Joys of creating

photo by Iory Allison

So, all of that is a mouthful leading me to babble on sommore ‘bout my friends, Frankie, Taffy, Todd and their camp follower, Smoldering Beauty who wafted about in various disguises being generally alluring. The three main thespians extraordinaire carry on in Ptown with such gusto, expertise and chutzpah as to fairly take your breath away.

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the pink champagne  Bubbly Girls

Photo by Iory Allison

This August found The Two Happy Husbands, Mssrs. Iory and Leo,  lounging around the beaches and cafes of  Ptown biding our time waiting for the Big Event, Carnival 2016, “Back to the Eighties!” On the mornin’ of the parade while Mr. Leo staked out our claim in the sidewalk bleachers I invited myself over to the Three Little Girls from Ptown’s joint to witness and record their  metamorphosis process where, with the aide of liberal slurps of pink champagne, this trio of dignified Boston business men pecked through the chrysalis binding their true natures and became the aforementioned “Girls.”.

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Leo and Iory giggling all the way to Ptown on the fast ferry

photo by Elise Misiorowski

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Franky spills the beans

photo by Iory Allison

 A )  Who designed the costumes and accessories?

F ) I designed the costumes and accessories.

I A  ) How did you conceive of the ideas for the designs?

F) They always announce the theme for carnival at the end of the previous carnival. As soon as I heard “Back to the 80s”…I swore we wouldn’t be Madonna! I also noted the lack of prefix.  I thought it would be fun to go further back (1880) for elegance, but to nod to the recent 80s in fabric and style (1980).  Once the idea was in my head I did some research on 1880 costumes.  When i realized it was “Sunday in the Park with George” costumes…I was thrilled!

I  found a modern pattern for the top of the dress and I found a company that has re-created old sewing patterns for dresses from the 1800’s—same size and same “directions.”  This was probably the biggest challenge—transferring the old pattern to fit a man AND trying to understand the sewing instructions which were made for women (likely) who spoke another language! I studied the instructions for weeks before diving in to transfer the pattern onto muslin.

carnival-ptown-2016-37Todd loves Franky’s curls

Photo by Iory Allison

I A ) Who made the accessories?

F ) I  found the parasol kits on Etsy. Todd  was a doll and helped with the parasols which were more complicated than anticipated.  The parasol kits came from the UK with very poor directions.  There was lots of “figuring out” and hand sewing.

F I A ) How long did it take to finished them?

F ) The costume process began in September 2015 and went right up until the week before Carnival.  I would spend many Saturdays in my sewing room working on the costumes—mostly since January.  I began with the hoop underskirt Each dress needed about 10 yards of the theme print and another 6-8 yards of the complementary fabric.

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Gathering rose buds, the proof of the pudding

photo by Iory Allison

I A ) Which are the custom fabrics used in this production and how/where were they done?

F )  Fall of 2015 was mostly about searching for and purchasing fabrics. When I did our Candy-land costumes (last year’s theme) I came across a lot of quilting websites they had all sorts of themed fabrics.  It came in handy as we started looking for popular 1980s fabrics. Todd had originally wanted Care Bears, but we couldn’t find any vintage prints at a reasonable price and available in the right amount. The only custom fabric was the Pacman ghost fabric.  There is a website called Spoonflower which has many artists with their custom work.  I had decided to go with yellow dots to complement the Pacman print, but I happened to come across the ghost fabric and just had to have it.  Pacman is the only one of the three with three different prints.

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Don’t step on the petticoats please!

photo by Iory Allison

I A )  Have you ever performed in drag before and if so what is the briefest history of those escapades (yes you can be cryptic)

F ) Frankie is the only one who has performed in drag—for 13 years as part of Fresh Fruit Productions.  There are still some of their videos on YouTube for those who are interested.(“P’town/Bean-town” and “Boston Common Girl” are two favorites.)  Taffy did spot light for Fresh Fruit, but he was never in the spotlight.  Todd would rather die than be on stage.

I A ) Have the three of you always been a collective bunch?

F ) Taffy and I have done Carnival together for close to 10 years.  Todd came into my life in 2011—we actually met at Carnival ( these two are now love doves capital L. D. ) He joined us in 2012 and we have been a collective ever since.

I A ) What is the most gratifying reaction you have gotten from a performance?

F ) Well, these days, marching in the parade is the only performing we do.  It is lovely to get appreciation from the Carnival crowd.

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Let the magic begin!

photo by Iory Allison

I A )   How do you feel when you know that your audience loves you?

F ) “Then you walk out and if it’s a really great audience, a very strange set of emotions can come over you. … A really great reception makes me feel like I have a great big warm heating pad all over me.”  Judy Garland  (Frankie’s quote of J. G.)

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 The Three Girls in all their glory!

photo by Iory Allison

I A ) Please add any tid bits that your public should know about the process of  metamorphosis

F ) Costume making has become my artistic expression.  I just love the challenge of a new design.  I also love the details.  For example, finding cassette tape charms to add to the buttons of Taffy’s outfit.  Or the buttons on Todd’s dress—little ponies and stars.  Finding two different types of fringe to make one fabulous edge.  It is great fun.

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The Monarch waiting for her Queen, another of Franky’s creations

Photo by Iory

Click here to see Iory’s full photo essay of The Chrysalis unfurling

Dancing with Mesma Belsare’

 

Dancing with Mesma Belsare’

Mesma_Final-7Photo by Iory Allison 

I first caught sight of Mesma Belsaré  dressed in a formal black silk sari with a voluptuous peony tucked into the complex waves of her blue black hair. She was regally ensconced in a bicycle rickshaw enlivened with rainbow colors and sparkling sequins that was being propelled at a dignified pace by a sexy young driver. They were leading the MASALA  (Massachusetts  South Asian Lambda Association)  in the Boston Gay Pride Parade of 2009. Mesma gracefully held aloft a golden silk parasol protecting her flawless complexion from the brilliant morning sun, creating a nimbus that accentuated the modesty of her costume while she surveyed the carnival crowds gathering around her with an air of bemused delight. She was surrounded by a quartet of handsome near- naked Asian men joyfully celebrating the pride of being young and beautiful with an enthusiasm that Gay People around the world have special capacity for. Needless to say, I was captivated  by  Mesma imediately.  Sometime later I had the privilege to come to know her as a consummate Bharatanatyam dancer of classical Indian tradition and dear friend.

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Photo by Iory Allison

The second time I came across Mesma was in Gloucester, Massachusetts at one of the History Project’s events (LGBT history archive in Boston.)   She arrived in the soft light of dusk in a polished Lincoln Town Car in the company of an Armani clad group of escorts who all joined the party for dinner at one of those marvelous restaurants perched on an old pier stretching out into the Gloucester Harbor where the lights of a myriad bobbing boats reflected off the darkened water onto the ceiling of the candlelit restaurant. These sparkling emanations hovered above our company like fairy sprites eavesdropping on the festive conversation and adding a twinkle to Mesma’s eyes.  On this occasion she wore a simple black cocktail dress that clung to the sexy curves of her lithe dancers’ body.

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Photo by Iory Allison

One of the first dance performances of Mesma’s that I attended was at Wellesley College in the Houghton Memorial Chapel on campus. Mesma emerged from the shadows of the neo gothic paneling above which fading visions of a host of angels glowed from scintillating stained glass windows. Mesma is a storytelling dramatic actress in her dance. Her presence on stage demands your attention as if invisible threads were reaching out and taking hold of your psyche. One is compelled to follow her complex rhythmic movements that incorporate percussive foot work enlivened with anklets of shimmering bells that,  like the racing pulse of a leaping gazelle,  set your soul on fire. Mesma is capable of a vast and subtle array of emotional dynamics that animate the stories she is recounting. Her arms and especially her hands and eye movements articulate ancient sagas of love and loss, spiritual evolution, triumph and tragedy that come to us through her dance that reaches back in time to the pre-Vedic experiences of the Gods. Quite simply, Mesma is a vessel through which the essence of life experience pours by way of the exquisite art of Bharatanatyam!

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Photo by Iory Allison

Iory: What is your country of birth?

Mesma:  India

Iory:  What is your cultural identity?

Mesma:  Artist.

Iory:  What brought you to the USA?

Mesma:  Curiosity and Graduate School.

Iory: What is your primary art form?

Mesma:  Dance.

Iory: What other art forms do you practice?

Mesma: Painting.

Iory:  What is the name of the dance you practice?

Mesma: I was trained in Bharatanatyam: a classical dance style from South India.

Iory:  Is that dance form popular in India and around the world now?

Mesma: It has become extremely popular in the last 15-20 years, not only in India, but all over the world. I attribute this to the glamorous exterior of the form. However the artistic mysteries and nuances pulsate deep within the rigor and discipline of classical training.

Iory: How long have you been studying dance?

Mesma:  Ever since I was born. Dance is a fundamental expression of the living. As long as one is alive, one is dancing. My formal training began when I was 7, which continued for the next 15 years or so.

Iory: Who are your major dance teachers / Gurus?

Mesma: Sri Shankar Hombal and Padmashri Geeta Chandran in India and Dr. Maya Kulkarni in NYC.

Iory: Do you still study dance now?

Mesma: Yes, every day.

Iory: Is it possible to give a brief description of that dance form? Can you sketch out for us the basic history of this dance art?

Mesma:  Bharatanatyam is one of the 9 classical dance styles in India. It has a long and complex history. Some attribute its origin to the Natyashastra, a treatise on dramaturgy dating back to the 2nd century B.C.E.  While the guidelines of stagecraft and technical knowhow may be credited to a treatise, the art form no doubt is a living, breathing entity and has evolved through a history of bardic storytelling, temple rituals and refinement in royal courts.  It is inextricably connected to the practices designed to propitiate the temple deities and / or the patron kings.  Sadir, as it was called before being renamed Bharatanatyam, was the sole domain of the Devadasis, communities of women who were guardians of propitiating temple and court rituals in both pre-colonial and colonial India. When the Devadasi practice was declared illegal in 1947 (ironically and merely two months after India’s political independence from the British), women from non-Devadasi communities took to it and the form inevitably and dramatically underwent a transformation. The rest is history.

Iory: Is there a theme or over all message that you are intending to convey with your dance?

Mesma: There is never a singular ‘theme’ that keeps an artist going, but a plethora of stimuli. While there are many ideas that enthuse as they might strike a chord within me at a given time, it is the inevitability of movement replete with meaning that is the impulse of dance. My hope is that my audience is moved by what they experience. I am interested in the experiential aspect for my audience rather than the intellectual “understanding” of dance.

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Photo by Iory Allison

Iory: Do you enjoy performing?

Mesma:  Every act in life is a performance. One enjoys performing as long as one is ‘alive’ and not just surviving. On a given day when one doesn’t feel alive, dance becomes a mechanical exercise. Either way dance demands that we submit to its discipline, whether one enjoys it or not.

Iory: When everything is going right with a performance how you do feel?

Mesma: Those moments are rare. But when they occur, there is an experience of “nothingness”, which is the essence of yogic science. Dance is natya yoga, a dynamic meditation. It takes time and patience to acquire the quality of being meditative so one can become receptive.

Iory:  Is there a “Life Lesson” in art and especially your dance?

Mesma:  Dance is Life for me. One doesn’t live it to learn lessons, but simply because one must. There are no alternatives. Dance has given me the tools of looking inward, so the external world doesn’t tip the equilibrium.

Iory:  Are you ever satisfied with a performance?

Mesma:  No. Never. It is the striving that keeps me going.

Iory: You are also an art educator, how did that come about and where are you working now?

Mesma:  I came to the US to study art education. Given my passion for painting (which puts me in a completely different frame of mind than dance.)  I simply wanted to explore another avenue. Currently I am at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s Bakalar & Paine Galleries of Contemporary Art in Boston, MA.

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photo by Iory Allison

Iory: What do you do to delight your soul, to sustain your appreciation for life’s drama?

Mesma:  I am blessed to have had a loving family, mentors, friends and an appetite for learning. A simple sunrise or a flower can fill one with the wonder of nature’s miracle at work. No artistic masterpiece or scientific invention or discovery would have been possible without this singular curiosity with which human beings are blessed. I strive to be receptive to the magic that we call life. It is not for me to understand it, but I live for the moments when one can transcend the cerebral to the experiential. Dance and Painting are my two doorways to experience and appreciate what you call “life’s drama.”

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Iory’s photo of Mesma’s lighter side

 

Trained in classical Bharatanatyam by Sri Shankar Hombal and Padmashri Geeta Chandran in India, Mesma Belsaré is continuing her studies under Dr. Maya Kulkarni in New York City. Mesma is a recipient of the Cambridge Arts Council’s Artist-Grant and the Government of India scholarship for advanced training in Bharatanatyam and Indian classical music. Her professional dancing career includes solo performances at the Lincoln Center (NYC), Asia Society (NYC), Alvin Ailey Theater (NYC), The Lincoln Theater (Washington D.C.), Siri Fort and Triveni (New Delhi) and the Harbourfront Centre (Toronto) among other venues. She was twice nominated for the Brother Thomas Fellowship by The Boston Foundation and for the Dora Mavor Moore Award by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts.
Mesma is also a Museum Educator and is currently the Curator of Education at the Boston’s Massachusetts College of Art and Design’s “largest free space for contemporary art in New England”.

Mesma’s web site with links to videos of her dancing is at:

www.mesmabelsare.com

 

 

 

 

 

Brett mounts artfully

A Pleasant Chat with Brett Angell

Last April my dear friend Linda Markarian invited me to the “Make / Speak” event at The North Bennet Street School which was billed as “Seven takes on craft, Seven presentations, Seven minutes each.” So off we trundled to find out what this was all about. Since last I went to NBS School they had pulled up the tent pegs from their old spot on North Bennet Street and beat a hasty retreat around the corner to spiffy new digs at 150 North Street. That was a wee bit mystifying for me so if you are headed over there Google the place first to avoid confusion. Once the proceedings got underway and I was listening to Brett Angell talk about his job at The Museum of Fine Arts Boston, making exhibition mounts for the art objects, I was hooked.

Brett at NBS School

 

Brett at “Make / Speak,” North Bennet Street School

My first glimpse of Brett Angell was enough to tell me, I wanna hear all about this guy. Brett is a towering presence; his handsome chiseled face has the far-away gaze of a regal hawk. At the lecture he was decked out in a “dancing skull” sports coat, designer jeans and a glorious pair of, do I remember correctly – yellow? wing tipped shoes. Brett stood at the podium of the new Windgate Gallery of the North Bennet Street School at the “Make Speak” event and held his audience in thrall. Who knew that hanging a ton of antique silver off a twenty foot wall would be so complicated or involve such precision skill?  Brett knew and he made his story gripping. He told us all about the process he and his staff of skilled craftspeople went through to make, by hand, all the required armatures and fixtures to secure this spectacular treasure to the wall of the new European Gallery at the MFA.

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Huguenot Silver Trophy at MFA

At the reception after the presentations I asked him if I might visit with him at the MFA and chat about the complexities of museum display craft and his profession in general and he graciously consented to meet with me. But because of his national and international work schedule our meeting became more eventual than immediate. I have added to this time delay with my own travels and procrastinations but the man is an engaging speaker and what he does fascinates me so I have persisted and finally transcribe our conversation which I now offer to you.

Before I recount our conversation, let me mention that Brett is an accomplished painter and collage sculptor. You will get what I mean by taking a quick peek at his web site where you will see that on top of being a meticulous craftsman and prolific artist, the guy’s a real “Dude,” in the best of ways.

http://brettangell.com/index.php

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A sampling of Brett’s collages

“As Senior Exhibitions Preparator at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Brett Angell has installed over 85 exhibitions and has traveled extensively to install the museum’s traveling shows including to the MFA’s sister museum in Japan. In addition to preparator he is the chief mount maker and orchestrated the mount designs for the installation of the new Art of the America’s Wing. Angell has previously worked at the Walker Art Center and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. He is also a practicing artist whose artwork is represented locally by Gallery Kayafas and is in the collections of the Chazen Museum of Art, Springfield Art Museum and the Sioux City Art Center.”

Above Quoted from NBS School, web site

So here we go, I have let Brett speak for himself, slicing out my inquiries as superfluous to his eloquence. But just to put you in the know, we met in the grand European painting gallery at The Museum of Fine Arts Boston where there is an incomparable array of glorious paintings and an extravagant display of Imperial silver enhanced by lordly tapestries, all magnificently displayed in a lofty hall.

MFA European Paintings Gallery

Grand European Paintings Gallery at MFA

Brett: “This  gallery has marble walls covered partially with fabric. The fabric is attached to wooden stretchers that are bolted to the marble, filled with cotton batting and covered with beautiful crimson silk damask. We did tests to explore the structure of the wall with a hammer drill and discovered that behind the marble is empty space of approximately six to eight inches and beyond the space there is masonry. From this we could figure out how to make our mounts. To mount all of these pieces, which, as you can imagine are heavy, we had to secure each of them to the wall even though it looks like some of them are sitting on shelves, those are only a decorative illusion. We design and custom make most of the mounts used in the exhibits throughout the MFA in our laboratory work- shop upstairs.

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The Mount Shop at MFA

The silver plates are held with clips that have three prongs. There are two little clips on the bottom and one clip on the top that goes in by gravity. These hold the object in place although we also put in set screws too, just to be safe. The clips are joined to an armature behind the object that screws into a metal stem which is the part that is attached to the wall through all the layers.

When we did this we went up on a lift with a hammer drill, once the designers and curators had decided where they wanted the objects placed. We drilled into the marble and masonry wall so the stem is held in two places by the marble and the masonry. We were able to use a small enough bit so that the fit is tight and it’s not going to pop out. That was enough to hold the pieces in. We had to have engineers look at the over-all situation beforehand because we were worried about the marble’s strength. They had to figure out if the combined weight of the all the shelves and objects would cave in the marble but they decided that it was structurally sound.

The ewers, urns and candle sticks have clips at various points and underneath there’s a piece a plexi cut to the shape of their foot so that if someone did try jimmy it off and take it, the object would be secure because you have that form underneath that is attached to the clips and the whole mount is then screwed into the wall, so essentially it is being clamped into place. We do tons of color matching to make the clips look like the material they are holding. Here we have matched the silver, the red damask on the wall and the all the rest. The clips are made of brass which is braised with solder using a torch and then we prime it to seal it and then we carefully color match it with acrylic paints to match it to the object. We also  clear coat it to protect the artwork and underneath, not intended to be seen, is padding, to further protect the object, so there is no abrasive contact.

These kinds of clips are a common design but we often have to come up with our own design, for instance the trumpets. We made the mounts fully articulating because what often happens is that the curators have an idea of what they want it to look like, but you can’t just make a fixed mount because then there’s no flexibility when you get into the gallery.  The mounts we made for the trumpets move in all directions, right and left, up and down, and in and out. It did end up that Malcolm (Rodgers,) the Director, wanted it angled up and away from the wall to animate the display a little more.

Generally the Director will come in during the installation but he usually lets the designer and curator do what has been previously discussed and what he himself has approved. When he joins us he’ll often have good suggestions like, “Let’s move this here or change that.” And I’d say probably 90% of the time his suggestions are really good and absolutely enhance the design. And sometimes he comes in and doesn’t change it at all. It’s his prerogative, obviously, because he is the director of the museum and he has a certain vision of how he wants everything to look. But he’ll come in and say maybe, “this is too close” or “maybe this could be moved over” and sometimes, as I said about the trumpets, he’ll say, “you know, what if we angle this away from the wall a little.” We just try to please him, and the curators and the designers.

Brett Angell

Brett, did I mention the tattoos?

The shelves that appear to be holding the drums are hollow inside. They actually have a metal structure that attaches to bolts that are embedded into the wall and the shelf that you see slides over that, it is just decorative. The thing that is actually holding the weight is a steel armature. When you have an object the size and weight of these silver drums or these larger ewers and urns, they need stronger support. We have a conservation engineer that does those things. Because when you use steel you need a high amount of heat and special tools with elaborate equipment to handle the weight and size of installation. My team consists of myself and two people so we don’t deal with these issues. We create mounts that are table size or smaller, being able to hold small objects or maybe one hundred or a hundred and thirty pounds. Some of the larger component parts, such as the steel shelf, can be fabricated by outside contractors but mostly it is done here by the museum staff.

You’re only seeing part of what is going on here and obviously it is not important for the viewer to even know that. Here (Brett points the legs of a large silver drum) we had to make three little opposing clips that grab the legs and then again, to hide it, we had to have the metal follow the contour of the object behind to hide the mount. The goal for us, for our mounts, is to make them disappear. We always joke that if we do our job right no one will ever know anything’s there. In essence it looks like you didn’t do anything even though it’s holding all these things.

This collection of Huguenot silver had been in storage for some time so the curators wanted to show it. And one of the important concepts that Malcolm (Rodgers, MFA Director) has for the museum is to integrate all the arts. So we don’t just have a painting, sculpture or decorative gallery. He wants to bring things together from similar periods and revive how these artworks would have been displayed originally which they learned from careful research, including the silver and these tapestry panels.  It’s great to have the silver and paintings with their gold frames against the silk damask framed by the tapestries and further enhanced by the marble and coffered ceiling. The design and intention of the curators and the director was to embellish the room to the fullest degree to equal the importance of the MFA’s collections.

There were about 50 people working to create this display. Writing and printing the labels, deciding what information and images are to be in the labels, the carpenters to construct and install all these things, the people who did the fabric, my whole team to design, construct mounts and install the pieces, the technicians to coat the silver and many more. I really enjoy the process. In the beginning we meet as a team to discuss the issues like, “can we display all of this silver, can we display it this way, and does it make sense curatorially?” Then the different people who are experts in their fields can weigh in and from that, we can decide if there are any changes that need to be made to the display design, or can we go ahead.  Although there are challenges for my team, we rarely ever say we can’t do it, I’d say 98% of the time we’ll figure out some way to make the mounts to meet the display needs.

I’m a museum nerd so when I go to other cities I always go to museums. And, of course, doing what I do, I love to see how other museums do their thing. And sometimes I get new ideas and sometimes I think, “we do that better” but every museums does things differently. At the MFA we have a lot of human resources; a lot of other museums don’t have as many people working for them.  So we are able to do a lot more. I’ve worked in museums where you have to do multiple tasks, I’ve had to hang the sheet-rock, apply the mud, paint the walls and even do the eventual demo. But at the MFA with our huge budget and extensive staff, we are all specialized so we can get a lot done with the highest quality results. A lot of it is about money. It costs money to do these things.

Every two years there’s a mount maker’s conference started by the mount makers at the Getty Villa in LA about 8 years ago. It’s a two day seminar where we share freely with each other. The first day the participants give presentations and the second day we have poster presentations where people can come up and ask questions. It’s been fantastic because not only do we meet the technicians of our field but we are also establishing a data base so when any one of our members has a question we can just throw it out there by email and another member will come back with what kinds of materials to use or what possible solutions they have used.

Before I started at the MFA I didn’t have any idea that mount making was even a job. Now I’ve been doing this for the ten years. When I was in graduate school in Milwaukee I worked in a frame shop that happened to do a lot of work for museums. There I learned how to do archival framing which is technically specific.  Then in Minneapolis I got a job at the Walker Institute where I worked in their frame shop.

We were dealing with a lot of two dimensional work. When I came here I started working with three dimensional objects. I didn’t have my current position at first. I was what we call a “Collections Care Person” handling and moving art. I kept at it and worked my way in and eventually did projects I was more interested in. My predecessor saw my enthusiasm and started teaching me about mount making. This was a point when the museum was getting so busy that she needed help and they created a position for me to be her assistant and I did that for quite a few years.  Eventually she was offered a fantastic job at Harvard and I bumped up and took her position. She was super supportive and still is, since she is just across the river.”

tenuous-alliance

“Tenuous – Alliance” Brent’s  Art