Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Following up ...

Portraits, abstracts go on display at library

The portraits and abstract paintings featured on Kilbourn Library’s art wall may look like the work of two different artists.

But both come from the brain of local artist Tom Scharbach. Or to put it more precisely, each style comes from one side of his brain.

Scharbach said he uses the left side, the analytical side, for his portrait pieces and the right side, the visual and intuitive side, for his abstract painting. He said he can switch between working on the abstract and portrait pieces, but the demands are different.

“I can switch modes, but it is two different complete modes,” Scharbach said.

For the black and white portraits, Scharbach frames the painting very closely to his subject’s face.
Scharbach said he doesn’t try to reproduce a face exactly, and he is more interested in capturing its expression.

“When I’m doing the portraits I have a very clear specific, face, emotion that I’m trying to get,” Scharbach said. “I’m really working to get that expression.”

Scharbach said he was influenced by the how to draw and how to cartoon books his father got him after he came down with rheumatic fever as a child and was confined to his bed for several months.

“That’s where these faces came in,” Scharbach said.

When Scharbach works on a portrait he break’s down his subject’s face into its component shapes until he is able to reduce it to its most basic elements. He then brings that plan to the canvas, working on the piece in stages.

For his abstract pieces, Scharbach said he works on those here and there for around four to six days, and he does not try to guide the process. He said he started about a year ago as a break from portrait pieces by working on paintings with no subject: just a focus on light and color.

“I love color and I love light,” Scharbach said. “I’m simply trying to let color and light do what they will.”
Scharbach said people tell him they see objects like a carnival mask or landscapes like a stormy seacoast in these paintings. He said he never sees these until someone mentions it to him and it is never his intention to include them.

When he has tried in the past, the paintings have never turned out well, Scharbach said.

Currently Scharbach is also working on painting a series featuring area rusty old trucks. He said the painting are Fauvist — a style of painting he described as impressionism on steroids — and Fauvism is the style of painting he worked with around the time he started painting after returning from Vietnam.

Going forward, Scharbach said he is thinking about working on a project involving three dimensional paintings and one involving magnetic tiles of varying shades. He said he plans to continue to explore painting and have a good time in life.

“That’s one of the great things about being completely amateur,” Scharbach said. “I don’t have to paint what anyone wants. I can do what I please.”

Scharbach’s paintings can be seen on the art wall at the Kilbourn Library where they will be featured until September when a new artist’s work will go up.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dieting for the doctor (?)

My dental hygienist told me once that most people floss for two weeks before and two weeks after a dental appointment. It made me laugh, because at the time it was certainly true for me. I assured her I did floss regularly -- once every three months is regular, right? Now I am doing better.

At any rate, the whole do-it-to-fool-the-doctor approach to many things is a habit that is hard to break. Even knowing better, I still think if I could just watch my cholesterol for three or four days ...

Why do I mention this? Tom has a doctor's appointment on Wednesday. This afternoon, Monday, he went grocery shopping. Since I will be cooking tomorrow and was hoping he was not planning to use chicken, I asked what he had bought.

Tom: Ribs.

Me: Ribs?

Tom: Ribs! I'm unhappy about losing all the maple treess to the drought, my painting isn't going well and I need a treat. I ate too much popcorn and Dr. E___ is going to be upset with me because I weigh too much.

Me: So you decided to make up for eating too much popcorn by making ribs?

Tom: Yes.

Well, the boy does make him some good ribs.

And my next doctor's appointment is many months away ... I had better remember to floss tonight, though.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Fakification of the lake

Lake Delton, the 260+ acre artificial lake that drained completely over the space of a few hours during a flood back in 2008, bounced back quickly and began to attract tourists again. The lake is hardly the only or even most important attraction around here, but it is considered part of the natural beauty of the Dells area. We locals were somewhat amused at how quickly the necessary road repairs -- MAJOR road repairs -- got done when the business owners in the area pushed for help. We also noted that other badly-needed road repairs elsewhere at the time remain still undone four years later. Whateve.

At any rate, those same business owners apparently decided that the natural beauty of the lake was not beautiful enough. So a few weeks back, they hired a company to dump blue dye into the lake to make it "more aesthetically pleasing." You know, a sort of tummy tuck for the lake. It cost the taxpayers of Lake Delton just under $30,000 and the aesthetically pleasing effect was supposed to last less than a month under the best of circumstances.
Full disclosure: I am not a property owner or registered taxpayer of Lake Delton, although Lake Delton does help fund the library where I used to work. Thanks, guys!
One of the board members who approved the dye -- passed as an emergency measure! --owns a big attraction on the lake, but he claims that his decision had nothing to do with his vote. He says he would naturally recuse himself from voting on any issue that affected his interests. Harrumph! If you believe that, you may wonder why he did not do so on this vote, which obviously was going to affect his business. Whateve.

This is all part of the fakification of natural beauty. The real lake is greenish due to real things like algae living in it. And it is a dull green, not a pretty emerald green. So we will just tweak it a bit, photo-shop it, if you will. There, blue! Ta-da. For a month. Or maybe only two and a half weeks. But hey, think about all those tourists who were here during the two and a half  weeks who got to see a blue lake.

It is easy to see where they got the idea.The dells area has beautiful natural rock formations along the river. That is why the place has attracted tourists for well over a century. Today the dells also has a lot of not-so-natural rock formations, made out of plastic and such, some of which have not-so-natural waterfalls cascading down them. Many of these waterfalls are colored blue, and I suppose the owners believe the contrast of the blue water and the earth tones of the fake rock outcroppings add to the aesthetic experience. Could be, could be. I must admit that the blue water looks to me more like the overflow from a Tidy Bowl toilet, and I honestly believed that the color was a side effect of something they had put in the water to keep the fake rock faces from getting splotchy with algae. And maybe in that case, they do. But the lake dye job, we are assured, does not kill the algae.
Someone involved in the lake project reportedly said that killing the algae that causes the unwanted green in the water would just be treating the symptom, not the cause. If that makes sense to you, I suggest you ponder it for a while. Dyeing the water blue is not treating (covering up) the symptom, because ...?
Well, the property owners on the lake seem to be okay with it, although some of the comments are a bit odd. One owner says he pays three times as much taxes as non-lake property owners, so it is only fair that those taxes go to make his view better. For two and a half weeks, that is. I don't know. If it is in fact not helping the general public but only the property owners (and the people they charge to look at the pretty phony blue lake for two and a half weeks), shouldn't the entire bill be footed by the lakefront property owners? If ever there were something that sounds like it should be funded by private enterprise, this might be one of them.

One can only hope -- and reasonably so, given the efforts of groups to prevent it -- that this sort of thing will not spread here. Think how much prettier the dells on the river would  be if the trees were more autumnal in the fall. Perhaps we could go out and paint those brown leaves a pleasing red and orange. Or we could carve interesting figures into the rock formations to make it easier for tourists to see what the shape is supposed to be. And how much fun would it be to have a wrecked pirate ship run aground at Blackhawk Island? Or if we stocked the island with black hawks to fly around over the boats? Or what it the Sugar Bowl actually had a giant spoon sticking out of the top?

God, who presumably made the trees and the rocks and even the water and algae in Lake Delton, preserve us!

Incidentally, although the story of the dye job was all over other news outlets in the region and in the state, our local paper reportedly did not deem the event newsworthy. Mmm.

Fakification: Synonym for Disneyfication.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Of e-books and such

Right before I retired from the library, a bookmobile patron approached me to help her publish in electronic format a novel she had written and published a few years ago. Since it is a fairly easy process, I offered to show her where to go so that she could do it herself, but she wanted to pay me to do it for her. I told her that was not necessary, but I will be going over this afternoon to try. I just put my Elijah book for sale on Kindle -- all three of the books already being available in Nook format -- and hope we will be able to manage the same for her. If she has all the things in acceptable form already (.doc version of the text and a doable form of the cover), it should go quickly. As with so many things of this sort, it takes more time to sign up for the account and the background information than it does to actually get the books out there for sale.

I did the Elijah book this morning and will do the other two books later. The Elijah book has been selling well lately -- another five copies were sold yesterday -- so I thought I would put it out there first. As I told Steve Payne, it's not like my royalties are going to push me into another income tax bracket or anything.

Another bookmobile patron who read my mystery was impressed enough to request copies of the other two books from the library. They don't have copies, so I wrapped up a couple for them to take to him today.

And one of the Spanish-speaking patrons asked for my telephone number because she had some questions about something. They explained that I no longer work there and that they could not give out my number. Katie told me she had emailed me the patron's number so I could contact her if I wished. I never got the email, though, so I will have to run by the library and see if I can figure out where Katie sent it. This particular patron is the mother of one of the children I used to see at the Ho-Chunk Headstart program. He is now in second grade and they come into the library all the time. He is, of course, bilingual and I helped his mother find an English tutor.

So the library still hangs onto me in its own way.

Tom, by the way, was interviewed by the local newspaper about the paintings on display at the library. He hmmphed about it, but he did give the interview. He grumbled that there must not be any real news if they are writing about a bunch of amateur paintings on the wall at the local library. I pointed out that the fact of my retirement was mentioned on the front page of the paper in three consecutive issues. So clearly, there is no real news.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61

Monday July 23, 2012 05:45 PM EDT
Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61
Sally Ride
NASA/Time & Life Pictures/Getty

 Dr. Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to travel to space, died Monday at age 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love," says a statement on the Sally Ride Science website, which announced her death.

"Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless."

On June 18, 1983, Ride captivated the nation when at age 32 she became not only the first American woman but also the youngest American to enter space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

She traveled to space again aboard the Challenger the next year, and was later named to the Presidential Commission investigating the 1986 explosion of the shuttle just 73 seconds after takeoff, killing its seven crew members.

Ride worked at NASA headquarters as Special Assistant to the Administrator for long range and strategic planning before joining the University of California, San Diego, as a physics professor and director of the University of California’s California Space Institute.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America's space program," says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally's family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."

Ride used her experience as an astronaut to encourage more women to get involved with science. In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, which develops science programs and publications from upper elementary and middle school students.

"My mission these days is to improve science education and particularly to encourage more girls and young women to go on in careers in science and math and technology or to at least explore the opportunities in those fields," Ride told members of the Allegheny County Women's Leadership Council in 2007.

"The philosophy we have is that we don't have to convert kids, even girls, to science. Let's just give them opportunities to explore those interests and show them that there are lots of other girls, normal kids, who share those interests and that there are lots of women who go on to careers that they love in science and engineering."

Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, along with her mother, sister and other family members.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The artist

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 When the Kilbourn Public Library inaugurated its Art Wall this past January, the idea was to feature work by local artists. Tom is being featured this summer. There are eight paintings on show (one of them is actually a diptych.), some of his abstracts and some of his monochromatic studies of men in Hyde Park. They are all from our house, and our own walls are looking a bit stark at the moment.

You can get an idea of things by clicking on the bottom of the picture above for a brief slide show. The first time you click on it, you may be taken to the Smilebox web page. Just close that window and click again. (I am using their "free" service, which means they want to stick ads in.) Be sure your speakers are on. Also, it takes a while  to load, so be patient.

Zelo zelatus sum

Happy Feast of St. Elijah!

For some reason, this is my book that seems to be selling lately. (Not in big numbers, trust me!) Maybe it has something to do with the proximity of the feast day.

Tom designed the cover, using traditional Eastern Orthodox iconography and a more modern Western-style raven feeding the prophet. He said he did this because the book is an effort to combine elements of an older traditional approach to reading scripture with spiritual issues of the present century.

FYI: For those who do not recognize the title, it is the Latin for the first few words of Elijah in I Kings 19:10 -- "I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts." The motto of the Carmelite Order is Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth!

Here's hoping you all have a safe and happy Fourth of July. Tom will be marching in the famous Witwen parade along with the Flag Ladies. We are expecting a temperature of about 100 (37.8 C), so I hope the ladies don't collapse in their patriotic gear.

We are still in our drought -- although cruel weather forecasters keep mentioning the possibility of rain -- and fireworks have been cancelled all over the place. The state DNR has even said no open flames outside, so no grilling. I suspect that will be largely ignored, and individuals will probably be shooting off fireworks on their own. We can only hope no fires get going.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


Chessie was a popular cat character used as a symbol of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. Derived from an etching by Viennese artist Guido Gruenwald, the image first appeared in an advertisement in the September 1933 issue of Fortune magazine with the slogan "Sleep Like a Kitten and Wake Up Fresh as a Daisy in Air-Conditioned Comfort".

When the ad generated a positive response, the railroad developed an advertising campaign around the image and chose the name Chessie as a derivation of the railroad's name. The promotion proved widely popular and, in addition to national print advertising, grew to include calendars, clothing, and even two children's books about the character. Chessie acquired two kittens named "Nip" and "Tuck" in 1935, as well as a mate named "Peake" in 1937. During World War II, the Chessie character was used to promote War Bonds and support for the war effort, depicted as working on the home front to support Peake, who was off to war. The Chessie image continued to appear in advertising until 1971 when passenger train travel was consolidated under Amtrak.

When in 1972 the C&O merged with the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and Western Maryland Railway, the newly formed company was named the Chessie System after the popular image and adopted the "Ches-C" logo, which incorporated the silhouette of the kitten into the "C" of the railroad's name. The Chessie System later merged with other railroads to become the CSX Corporation. Though the Chessie logo is no longer found in advertising and was phased out of usage on trains, Chessie is still the mascot of the CSX Corporation, and there are many examples of rolling stock that still feature the kitten logo, having yet to be repainted.

Before he left on Sunday, Michelangelo spotted Sundance lolling across the back of the sofa in a strikingly Chessie-like pose and snapped this photo.

 It is even more obvious when flipped.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Desert? Cacti? In Wisconsin?

Looking for something to pass a few hours with Michelangelo today, we considered visiting one of the state's designated natural areas. We wound up going to Spring Green Preserve, known as the 'Wisconsin Desert'. It features a rolling sand prairie on an old Wisconsin River terrace and harbors a unique flora and fauna that are adapted to the hot, droughty environment.
Given that we are in a bit of a drought these days, Tom joked that this would give us an idea of what the whole state will look like by fall. 
The dry sandy soils contain many desert-like plants including prickly pear cactus which seemed quite abundant. Several sand blows, with shifting dunes and open sand, are scattered throughout. Bird life is diverse and includes large numbers of rare open country birds, but the bugs are the most unusual of the Spring Green fauna. Several of the spiders and insects are not known from any other site in Wisconsin. Of special interest are the black widow (!) and wolf spiders and predatory (!) wasps. A large pocket gopher population has created patches of open ground where short-lived plants grow while the tunnels are used by many of the reserve's 10 species of snake (again, !)

It was a bit beastly hot when we got there at midday, and we did not walk the entire 3 mile path. Nor did we see any of the more dangerous fauna, although we heard a couple of quite distinctive bird calls. Michelangelo and I tried unsuccessfully to spot an Eastern meadowlark, said the be common there. We thought perhaps that was one of the birds we heard, and I checked it out later on Cornell's bird site. Could be, could be. My sound memory is not that great, making it hard to know for sure.

So in one three-day weekend, Michelangelo got to work on the railroad, take a boat ride on the river, march in a parade and visit a desert. And all within a short distance of our house.