White Helmet Rescue

Marc Nelson  Charcoal and Watercolor  2016

Today we remember the protest of March 15, 2011 in Damascus. Joining what had already been dubbed the Arab Spring, Syrian protesters took to the streets to demand governmental reform and the release of prisoners. Six years of civil war, chaos, and destruction, and there is still no reform.

When we saw the security forces open fire on the crowd that day, we knew it was bad.  But which of us realized the future that lay ahead for this country?  Who among us knew the suffering children not yet born would endure?  Could we have predicted six years of civil war with no relief in sight?  And most alarmingly, how could we possibly have known our own country would turn our backs on those most in need, those seeking refuge?

The Syrian Civil Defense, more widely known simply as the White Helmets, are the best hope for Syrian civilians.  They are not military or militia.  They do not defend homes with weapons, nor do they sit in offices in far off lands debating the fate of others.  They are the heroes.

They may consider themselves unarmed volunteer rescuers, but what they are is something bigger than heroes.  They’re angels.  They are hope.  They have saved over 78,500 lives after attacks.  More than 150 have lost their lives in the process.

Last year, a middle school art teacher in Kewanee, Illinois challenged his students to draw portraits of people who performed acts of kindness “under the radar.”  Marc Nelson used the White Helmets as examples for his students, and has several sketches of them in action.

I love the bright, white helmets in the drawing.  They seem to cut through the fog of rubble and chaos behind them and shine as beacons of hope.  The boy’s face is grey and ashen.  The face of the man that’s holding him is happy to pass him over to the rescuer.  But the boy, the far off look of his eyes is almost eerie, lost.  This is a child  who has probably spent half of his short life with the hum of airstrikes looming.  Gunfire just a part of the soundtrack to his everyday life.

One has to wonder, have we lost them?  Have we lost them all?  A whole generation that knows nothing but violence.  Their parents protested in peace to have the freedoms that we in America enjoy.  They once envied our way of life of religious freedom, tolerance for all ethnicities.  Now do we show them our true colors?  Do we tell them they are not entitled to the rights we enjoy?

Each time we take to the streets to protest, let us remember we have not only that freedom.  We also have the freedom to go to bed without the fear of bombs falling on our heads.  We have the freedom to buy food or walk across the street without the fear of gunshots killing our children.  We have the freedom to live in a land where all peoples are represented in our government.   We are free.  I hope that some day the Syrians will be too.

To read more about the White Helmets, click here:White Helmets

To see more work by Mr. Nelson, click here Marc Nelson




Abraham and Isaac

Harold Copping  Illustration  Circa 1910

Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, one of the most important Holy days in Judaism.  In addition to the Jewish New Year, it is also a Day of Remembrance.  Celebrants remember the story of Abraham and Isaac at the alter.

Abraham was instructed by God to take his son, Isaac, to Moriah to serve as a sacfrice.  Abraham obeyed and took his son to the alter and prepared him.  However, before Abraham could perfom the sacrifice, an angel appeared.  God was satisfied with the knowledge that Abraham would have done what he asked, so he didn’t need to go through with it.

And here’s when the story gets pretty important.  The angel called out to him a second time.  Genesis 22: 16-18:

16 He said, “I have sworn by myself — says Adonai that because you have done this, because you haven’t withheld your son, your only son,17 I will most certainly bless you; and I will most certainly increase your descendants to as many as there are stars in the sky or grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants will possess the cities of their enemies, 18 and by your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — because you obeyed my order.”

Isaac went on to be the father of Jacob, who in turn became the father of the 12 Tribes of Israel.  Abraham’s other son, Ishmael, was a prophet of Islam and an ancestor of Muhammad.  So indeed, Abraham’s descendants are many.


Some people may recognize this painting by Harold Copping, or at least his style.  He is one of the most popular Bible illustrators of all time.  I believe this is an illustration from The Copping Bible, which he produced in 1910.

Harold Copping worked with missionary societies and traveled to Palestine and Egypt to make his Biblical illustrations more realistic.  His painting “The Hope of the World” from 1915 is particularly popular, as it shows Jesus with children from different nationalities.


This painting has a much different composition than most paintings you see of Abraham and Isaac at the altar.  Copping shows Abraham looking up, probably toward the angel sent to stop him.  However, there is no angel in the painting.  Maybe this is the moment before the angel arrives and Abraham is just taking one last look, one last breath, one last hope that he won’t have to go through with it.

Also different in this painting is the positioning of Isaac.  He appears calm.  And although his legs are bound, his father’s reassuring hand rests on his chest.  The viewer doesn’t see his face.  In many paintings he is seen twisting or fighting.

Abraham is center stage.  For someone that’s in his mid-hundreds, he looks fit, strong.  But take a look at his wrists and hands.  They are my favorite part of this painting.  He grips the knife of sacrifice in his right hand, but when you look closely you see the hands of an old man.  And the juxtaposition of one hand gripping a knife and the other hand comforting his son is such a great representation of Abraham’s faith to me.  He will do what he feels needs to be done to please his God, but that doesn’t mean he’s happy about it.

Luckily for Isaac and his descendants, Abraham’s gesture was enough.  And it is this act we remember.  Shanah Tovah, happy new year!


A Bold Bluff

Cassius Marcellus Coolidge  Oil on Canvas  1894

In 1903, the publishing company Brown & Bigelow commissioned a series of paintings from American artist Cassius Coolidge for cigar advertisements.  Collectively, these are now generally referred to as “Dogs Playing Poker.”  This isn’t a completely accurate description, however, as not all of the paintings were actually gambling.  I particularly like one entitled “One to Tie, Two to Win,” which depicts a baseball game.

For this National Dog Day, I have chosen “A Bold Bluff.”  It’s probably one of the most popular dog paintings of all time, so  it seems fitting.  “Poker Game” is also a popular selection from this series, but that depicts all St. Bernards.  I prefer this one since it shows a more diverse group.

There’s probably nothing on this earth I enjoy more than anthropomorphic animals.  Two of these dogs are even wearing glasses.  I mean come on, what’s not to love?

I especially love the expression of the bulldog.  He is really examining that St. Bernard, who seems to have quite the poker face.  Although we can’t see all of his cards, he looks to have a pair of deuces and a nice stack of chips.

I’d also like to point out that in “Poker Game” an incredibly similar looking dog is also getting looks from his cohorts and seems to be winning there too.  It appears he could be a hustler, but that’s just my interpretation.

Don’t believe me?  Check out the painting “Waterloo” that Coolidge painted in 1906.  It was originally entitled “Judge St. Bernard Wins on a Bluff” and shows this same group moments later.  I love this dog on the right that looks like he was just shaking his head.  Classic.A_Waterloo_Dogs_Playing_Poker

National Dog Day was founded in 2004 by Colleen Paige to raise awareness about dogs of all breeds awaiting adoption.  Learn more at National Dog Day.  If you’re able, go adopt a dog.  If not, go pet someone else’s dog.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard

Olga Shvartsur  Watercolor and Colored Pencil 2016

June 16 is the day on which we celebrate one of our most beloved captains, Captain Jean-Luc Picard.  Traditionally, Captain Picard Day is celebrated more as a children’s holiday. School children across the galaxy are encouraged to create portraits and sculptures in the likeness of Captain Picard.  As such, it is also seen as one of the great art holidays of the year.

Captain Picard was born in Labarre, France and went on to have a long and distinguished career in the Federation.  After his stint as the First Officer of the USS Stargazer he became Captain of the USS Enterprise-D.  He was also a POW survivor of Borg assimilation.  His Federation honors and awards are numerous.

An amateur archaeologist, an avid reader, an equestrian, flute player, and a diplomat, Captain Picard is a well-rounded role model for children of all ages.  He was married for 35 years to his wife Eline and had two sons and a grandchild on Kataan, which was only an astonishingly short 25 minutes on the Enterprise.

Olga Shvartsur is a Seattle-based artist best known for her portraiture in graphite.  She has recently started using watercolor and colored pencil, which are the mediums of this piece.  You can see a lot more of her work on her etsy site here:  OlechkaDesign

There are a lot of portraits of Captain Picard out there, so it was hard to choose one.  I really like the way she used the colored pencils to get the detail of his skin and face, but uses watercolor on the uniform and the starry background.  It’s such a great likeness of him.

So enjoy a cup of Earl Grey, hot.  Read some Shakespeare.  And of course, do what should be done on Captain Picard Day, create a likeness of our favorite Captain of your own.  Make it so.


Building at Night

Dita Polachova (approximate age 13)  Watercolor   1942 in Theresienstadt Ghetto

This evening marks Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  Originally this observance coincided with the date of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.  There are actually numerous different dates that many countries use as a Remembrance day.  Some use the day the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz, others when Americans liberated Dachau or other important events during the war.  Regardless of the date, many Western countries have an observance.

Approximately eleven million died during the Holocaust, six million were Jews.  The other estimated five million came from numerous ethnic and religious groups, POWs, homosexuals, the disabled, or resisters.  Many were non-practicing nominal Jews.

But in those millions of people affected by the Holocaust, some continued to strive to better themselves and those around them.   One was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, an artist and teacher.  She was deported to Terezin Ghetto (Theresienstadt) in 1942.

When she learned of her deportation she collected anything she could use as art supplies– wrapping paper, charcoal, ledgers, receipts, scraps of books to take with her.  Knowing she could only take what she could carry, she chose to leave most of her possessions to have room for her supplies.  However, the supplies she carried where not for herself.  They were for the children.

Tens of thousands of children lived in the fortress of Terezin.  They were starving, they were afraid, and they were bored.  Friedl Dicker-Brandeis didn’t do “arts and crafts” project with these children, she taught them art.  Not only did she teach them art concepts and techniques, she taught them how art could be therapy.  She gave lectures to parents and other adults on using art to give them freedom and hope.

She taught hundreds of children and held art shows and set up galleries of their work.  After her husband was transported to Auschwitz she collected over 4,000 pieces of artwork her children made and passed them along to someone else for safe keeping.  She was taken on the next transport and was gassed in 1944.

Over 5,000 pieces of art survived from her students.  Most of them are now in the Jewish Museum in Prague.  You can also find several in the book  I Never Saw Another Butterfly, which also contains poems from the children of Terezin.

This watercolor can be found in this book.  It was painted by Dita Polachova while she was in Terezin.  She was transported to Auschwitz in 1943 and liberated from Bergen-Belsen in 1945.  She later moved to Israel.

I chose this painting because I thought the subject matter was intriguing.  The assumption is that she painted a building she could see.  It’s obvious this painting is of a church, there is a cross at the top of the building.  Was it chosen because it represented something she was not?  Again, assumptions are made.  As she moved to Israel, one might assume she is Jewish.  Or maybe it was chosen because she had little choice.  She painted what she saw.

On this Holocaust Remembrance Day I encourage you to not just remember the death and destruction, but the ones that gave hope.  Freidl Dicker-Brandeis never stopped believing the children should learn, even if she believed their deaths were as certain as hers.  She believed that some of these children would live, and they would need art in their lives to help them survive long after the terror was over.

To learn more about the Holocaust, please visit www.ushmm.org.

You can also see more artwork here: http://www.holocaustawarenessmuseum.org/content/Art-From-Within-Terezin





Dawn Derman  Watercolor  2011

On this day in 1999, two troubled high school students terrorized their school and changed the way Americans would perceive everything from bullying, gun laws, mental health, and school safety forever.  Fifteen people, including twelve students, one teacher, and the two shooters died. An additional 24 people were injured.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold planned and perpetrated one of the most deadly school shootings in American history.  When their original plan to bomb the cafeteria failed, they began shooting.  Although according to their journals the plan was to kill  hundreds of people with bombs and explosives and then escape, both would take their own lives before they could be taken by police.

Although 17 years have passed, school shootings continue in this country.  Children are still bullied every day.  Guns are still readily available.  The internet is full of young people screaming for attention.  Mental health is still scoffed at in favor of mass incarceration.  People still suffer.

I combed through hundreds of photos for a suitable painting to stand as a memorial for those lost at Columbine.  However, I found an alarming amount of fan art from “Columbiners” who seek to idolize the shooters.  I found a couple interesting pieces, but nothing that seemed appropriate.

Instead, I opted for this watercolor of a columbine flower by Dawn Derman.  It’s simple in color palette, but I find the composition intriguing.  Maybe I’m influenced by the subject matter, but I see something extra in this little painting.

The blossom on the left seems so sad and dark.  It almost seems defeated.  The blossom on the right, however, is flourishing.  It’s open and bright.  It has movement and flow.  It has survived.

Cassie Bernall                  Daniel Rohrbough               Coach Dave Sanders

Steve Curnow                   Rachel Scott

Corey DePooter                Isaiah Shoels                         Eric Harris

Kelly Fleming                   John Tomlin                           Dylan Klebod

Matt Kechter                    Lauren Townsend

Daniel Mauser                 Kyle Velasquez



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