Guide to the Arts

. May 17, 2012.

We're so used to living in one of the artistic hotbeds of the Midwest that there's a real danger of taking it for granted. Once a year, Current gives center stage to some of the finest area artists working in all fields. Our writers sit down with some of their favorites for a special Q&A, and a special calendar section points out the best upcoming events to stir the heart and soul. 

Seth Bernard & May Erlewine

Teaching Joy

Folk duo spread new seeds of global awareness

by Christy Penka

In far too much of the world, poverty is real and ever-present. Last January, Michigan folk duo Seth Bernard and May Erlewine embarked on a journey to Ethiopia with On the Ground (OTG), an organization which supports sustainable community development across the globe by working in solidarity with communities, enabling them to achieve their goals. Teaming with OTG for a Run Across Ethiopia, the duo was inspired to make the trek to accompany ten runners from Michigan joined forces with six Ethiopians to run 250 miles across the Yirgacheffe region to raise funds for much needed schools. Bernard and Erlewine sat down with Current magazine to talk travel, coffee and, of course, music.

Traveling to Ethiopia and back is quite a journey — what inspired the decision to go?

Bernard: Chris Treter –he’s a really close friend and the founder of On The Ground. He had the idea to run across Ethiopia, trying to get inventive about ways to raise money to build infrastructure in the third world. He urged us to become more involved by writing an album and playing for the runners as well as the Ethiopian people.

Describe the experience of traveling to Ethiopia.

Bernard: After a 24 hour flight, we arrived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. We had heard about the Addis Acoustic Project (an Ethio-jazz band) and right after we landed, we went to see them. So immediately, we’re hearing the music and experiencing a multi-generational crowd in this awesome, legendary club, it was an immersion in kindness and culture.

Erlewine: We’ve traveled a lot, even to third world countries,
it was amazing. Ethiopians don’t have the walls that we do…here [Ethiopia] there were no walls.

Your music evokes quite an impassioned reaction from listeners in America. Describe the Ethiopian people’s reaction to your music?

Bernard: We played in a few different ways, mostly in schools for kids or on the side of the road as the runners would run by in rural communities, and then we jammed with other bands at night in clubs. But perhaps the most profound sharing of music I’ve ever had was at the first gig we played on Ethiopia’s Christmas Day. We went to a mission for the dying and destitute that Mother Teresa founded. We played at the orphanage first. The kids were so beautiful — a lot of them are sick, but still so joyful.

Erlewine: We were surrounded with smiles and the children just wanted to reach out and be touched. They were giving so much with their spirit.  Then we went to play for the men’s ward. One of the cooks told us they loved Michael Jackson, so we played some of his music. We weren’t sure they knew the words, but they’re so musical and have such joy, I’ve never had a performance that was so potent.

The new album, New Flower, has a raw message, a call to action of sorts, describe the process of writing it?

Bernard: It was very fluid. We felt the runners were pulling off this feat with total giving. So we felt responsible to do that with this music, to write as much as we could and channel it.  We had a great band — Brennan Andes of The Macpodz, Joshua Davis from Steppin’ In It, Mike Shimmin of the Red Sea Pedestrians.

Erlewine: To make this album was incredible.  Creatively, it was unlike anything we’d ever done before, so it was great for our creative process and definitely something we’ll carry with us forever.

Bernard and Erlewine released New Flower last month and will share their journey with audiences on Thursday, November 10, at The Ark. 

Rebecca Lambers

A life of creating

Rebecca Lambers' high fashion art

by Louis Meldman

Couturier Rebecca Lambers' work exists at the junction of art and high-end ready-to-wear clothes.  A working designer serving clientele for over thirty-five years, her focus is on the woman as she makes each garment, from concept through finishing.  Her work with birds and flowers was showcased at the Detroit institute of Arts in 2009. She was profiled as an artist in HourDetroit magazine in 2010 and participated in ArtPrize 2011. Her flowers are available at River Gallery Fine Art in Chelsea and through her website. Couture:  the art of dressmaking, melds Rebecca’s aesthetic sense with beautiful materials, intricate technique and interactive process to engage a client’s personality.

How is the economy affecting your work and business?

Lambers: I work smarter, longer and harder for less income. I make exceptional art objects, connecting to others through awareness of beauty, the heart, the eye, the sense of touch. It’s important to live true to self, to promote and protect our spirit, the distinctive life force we are born with. Compelled to make my objects as they are – it often seems impossible to continue, but it’s my job as an artist to make something of my responses to our world.

How are the issues of sustainability and the environment changing your work?

Lambers: My flowers are evidence of my response to deprivation, austerity and mass-market materialism.  A celebration of joy and exuberance, they concern aesthetics as a valuable and integral part of our world. I have always believed in a product of exceptional quality and beauty and try to change the world in that way. Action matters, proving our thoughts.

Where does your work fit in with the other priorities in your life?

Lambers: My life is my work – Couture is my reason for being, a constant striving, my best effort. It is the name of my dreams. It’s hard to find time for love and a real struggle to “tend the garden” of daily necessities. The choice for beauty and my craft often feels crazy.

What was the ArtPrize experience like?

Lambers: It’s a little early yet to know. I’m glad for the opportunity, but it’s been exhausting.  My venue hosts at Craft-Revival Jewelers were wonderful to work with and it’s a great place for my work. They hand make fine jewelry. Patrons responded well to my artwork “coronaFlora”, a human scale, 7 foot diameter, site specific ceiling installation of over 300 silk flowers, branches, bugs and vines (pictured below). I used the visibility to promote new online sales of my flowers.

Rebecca Lambers’ studio is at 201 East Liberty #4. For more info, 734.475.8988  or www.rebeccalambers.com

Susanne Stephenson

Pure passion

Susanne Stephenson shares decades of knowledge

by Louis Meldman

Susanne Stephenson's ceramic work is all over the world — The Crocker Museum in Sacramento, The Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, The Ariana Musee in Geneva, Switzerland, and The Museum of Decorative Arts in Prague, Czech Republic, just to name a few. The former Eastern Michigan University professor of 28 years is currently a guest member of the Clay Gallery. After devoting decades to ceramics, her list of awards and experiences is much too long to list here. 

What's the biggest trend in ceramics today?

Stephenson: I don’t think there is just one trend that is dominant today. It seems there are several, such as installation works, figurative work with a narrative in mind,  to clean line limited production work for everyday use and unique functional work, plus the very decorative work.

What do you like about the Clay Gallery? 

Stephenson: The Clay Gallery shows a great diversity of work from well-know artists and new and emerging artists who are young and new to the area. The ceramic work has a great variety in style and content ranging from functional work for the table and garden to sculptural work — both figurative and abstract. There are works from large platters for the wall to small tiles. The gallery has been operating as a cooperative for many years. Artists change over the years plus there are visiting artist exhibiting for just 6 months, artists exhibitions every month or so, and a educational lecture or gallery talk or demo by the special exhibiting artists. We have a national competitive cup exhibition coming up in Feb, 2012 titled “Cups of Fire.”   

How does the economy effects your art?

Stephenson: I think the economy is effecting everyone’s art. A number of artists that I know have lowered their prices on works from a couple of years ago. Some artists who were making many large, more expensive pieces have changed to producing smaller works. A large number are looking toward the Internet — either their own or a group web site — to market their work to a boarder market.

Advice for someone looking to purchase ceramic art?

Stephenson: One should realize that ceramic art — unlike painting and works on paper — can be placed on walls with a lot of sun and light, as glazes do not fade. Most sculptural works can be outside on decks, patios, or in the garden. If you are looking to purchase art in the gallery ask questions about the artist and the piece you are interested in to the artist working at the time. They are all ceramic artists and can explain the process and the ideas behind the work. Selecting a piece of ceramic art or a vessel for use is a very personal thing — you probably have an idea of what you like.

Susanne runs a gallery with her husband John. For more info, www.stephensonceramics.com

Micheal Brian Ogden

Taking the stage

Michael Brian Ogden's path to here

by Sandor Slomovits

Actor Michael Brian Ogden is a resident artist at the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea. He grew up in the Detroit area, studied theater at Western Michigan University and did his graduate work at Wayne State at the Hillberry Theater. He is also a playwright and has had two of his plays, Bleeding Red and Corktown, premiere at the Purple Rose.

In your current role at the Purple Rose, in Escanaba in da Moonlight, you play Reuben Soady who is, as his father says early in the play, “not the sharpest tool in the shed.” But by the end, you show us a different Reuben.

OGDEN: I remember being in a class with Dr. Joan Harrington when I was an undergrad, and she said something to the effect of, 'Character is not developed, it is revealed.' We talk about characters changing throughout the course of a play, but less frequently do they change, as much as they’re uncovered. The key, or the great challenge, is if you can put hints of who you really are in early, then later on, when there is a big revelation, people can say, 'We should have known this was within the capability of this character.'

Did you grow up in a theater family?

OGDEN: My father was an English teacher and my mother studied to be a concert pianist, but decided she didn’t have the performing bug and became a music teacher. They were always extremely supportive of everything I’ve ever wanted to do. Before I wanted to be an actor I wanted to be a visual artist and draw comic books and they were very enthused about that. I can never remember wanting to do anything that would be financially viable. (Laughter) But they’d say, 'You go ahead and do that.'

Describe your studies with the Moscow Art Theatre.

OGDEN: We had classes from 8-6 every day — ballet, singing, Chekhov, technique, movement, theater history and then we’d jump on a bus or take the underground and head out and see a show every night. Half of our instructors didn’t even speak English, we had students translating for us, and it was incredible. I felt at once so honored and entirely humbled to be there.

Talk about theater in Michigan now.

OGDEN: It’s a very close-knit community. The coolest thing is that there is a mutual enthusiasm, a desire for the other places to do well and thrive. Historically theater has never been more important than at times like this, when people need to get out of themselves. I think that everybody in the theater community in Michigan is on the same page with that. We want to give people some hope.