Kathleen Canrinus

September 13th, 2022

A Tale of Two Remarkable Women: Interview with the author of The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience by Helen Gibbons

Bay Area native Kathleen Canrinus wrote The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience to honor her mother, Dorothy. When Kathleen was 15, her mother suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident. After three months in a coma, Dorothy emerged partially paralyzed and cognitively impaired, upending the life of her family. 

Photo of Kathleen at work in her small office. Behind her is a painting by her father, who took up oil painting after retirement, immersing himself in it much as Kathleen has immersed herself in writing. Photo: Don Anderson
Photo of Kathleen at work in her small office. Behind her is a painting by her father, who took up oil painting after retirement, immersing himself in it much as Kathleen has immersed herself in writing. Photo: Don Anderson

Kathleen’s memoir focuses on the relationship between mother and daughter, particularly its evolution during the 54 years between Dorothy’s accident and her death at age 99. There were plenty of challenges, but also lots of laughter and, oh, so much love. It’s a story I will enjoy reading again and again, finding some new insight or well-crafted sentence to relish each time.

I met Kathleen in 2006 when we both joined the World Harmony Chorus in Mountain View, California, and our conversations over the years have focused mostly on music. I wanted to learn more about Kathleen’s writing life and in particular The Lady with the Crown. We exchanged some emails and then sat down to talk. Our conversation is edited and condensed.

Helen: When did you start thinking of yourself as a writer?

Kathleen: I came to writing late in life, that is, after I retired from teaching elementary school. When I signed up for my first writing class, I had in mind writing stories from my life and wanted to tell them well.  Even though I have now written a book that was published, and numerous personal essays too, I still hesitate to introduce myself to a stranger as a writer. But as far as thinking of myself as a writer, that came in the first few years of writing seriously, when I discovered that I was a person who noticed and remembered things, that I could write an occasional beautiful sentence, that I had a sense of how to shape a story, and most importantly, that finding words to match experience brought with it a thrill like nothing else. Writing lends meaning and purpose to my life. I like the Joan Didion quote: “I write to find out what I’m thinking.” 

Helen: How did The Lady with the Crown come to be?

Kathleen: The Lady with the Crown evolved from stories I wrote about my mother over a decade in various writing workshops and classes. My mother had a remarkable attitude about life in spite of epic reversals. She was funny too—good material. I was never writing about her for family alone but for people like my classmates and possible future readers who didn’t know her. I intended to honor her and others who live small lives with dignity and courage. Although I wrote about other topics like friendship, marriage, and aging, the response to the mother stories was the most positive. I planned to string them together in a book and had finished most of them when the editor at a small press offered me a contract.

Helen: What a great opportunity! What happened next?

Kathleen: Next I spent nine months finishing a manuscript. Everything I had already written needed to be revised and new chapters added to complete the story. My editor made a lot of suggestions that improved the book.

Helen: Can you share examples?

Kathleen: When I originally thought about doing a book, I thought I would take the stories I had written about my mother and link them very loosely, like the stories in Olive Kitteridge [a novel by Elizabeth Strout that is a collection of interrelated stories]. I thought that approach would make my task easy. But when I told the editor, she said, “No, no, no! Make it one story. And whether you like it or not,” she added, “you’re the main character. You need to put yourself into this story; you’re not just the witness.” 

Helen: Did following her advice make the task harder?

Kathleen: Yes, and it made the book better. Here’s another example: After my father died, my mother had a series of caregivers at her home in Santa Cruz—one bad one after the other. I was living hundreds of miles away in Southern California. I tried to make the arrangement work, but eventually I had to give up and take over. In my first draft, I summed it up briefly, something like, “We had a series of disastrous caregivers, and finally I brought my mother to live with me.” And the editor said, “No, no, you need to put that in scene.”

Helen: “In scene”?

Kathleen: Putting something in scene means that you don’t use a lot of narrative description. Instead, you use images, dialogue, and sensory details to bring the reader into the story. As Nancy Packer [short story author and emerita English professor at Stanford University] puts it, “Make it happen on the page.” So I went back and included phone conversations and moved through the caregiving calamities step by step. It’s harder to write that way. It would have been easier just to say, “That was a tough time.” It wasn’t a time I particularly wanted to re-experience, which is something that happens in the writing.

Kathleen and Dorothy.
Kathleen and Dorothy. Photo: Don Anderson

Helen: What else was going on in your life as you did this work?

Kathleen: The pandemic offered uninterrupted writing time. While I was finishing the book, I stayed active in writing groups, but on Zoom. I also sang world music with our chorus—for a while on Zoom, and then distanced and masked outdoors. I hiked, swam, made sourdough bread, and explored Japanese cuisine. I reread memoirs that, like mine, describe caring for or coping with a severely brain-damaged loved one—Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, for example, and Family Life by Akhil Sharma. At the end of the summer, I sent my publisher the final draft of the manuscript from Montana where I was visiting my daughter. It took another four months to polish the writing, work out cover and interior designs, and plan publicity, during which time my husband had a knee replacement—a lot to juggle! Getting the word out is an ongoing project.

Helen: Did you read parts of the book to your mother?

Kathleen: No. Because of my mother’s short-term memory problems, I never read any of the book to her. I talked to her about her grandmother though, and early days on College Avenue [the Los Gatos house where Dorothy grew up and Kathleen spent her early years], things she remembered. Several times, I mentioned to her that I was writing about her. “Me?” her shrug and blank expression seemed to say. “Why me?” 

Helen: How about other family members?

Kathleen: In general, I’ve kept my writing life mostly private. My family was aware that I was taking writing classes, but I never talked much about them or about writing except to other writers. For years I have thought of myself as a person learning to write, practicing, with nothing quite good enough to share yet. With the book, I had to go public. Before I sent it to the publisher, I read it aloud to one daughter, who is also interested in writing, and she made suggestions. My husband read it after I sent off the manuscript. I didn’t ever mention to family members that I was writing about them because, although they appear, the story is very focused on my mother and me and does not include much about other parts of my life.

Helen: In many of the scenes from your girlhood, you are reading. What are some of the books you enjoyed?

Kathleen: My parents read to me and my brother when we were little—nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and picture books like Make Way for Ducklings and The Golden Egg Book. The book that turned me into a reader is Pam’s Paradise Ranch. I lived my dream life while reading that book. As a girl, I consumed horse books by Walter Farley and others. Nancy Drew was a favorite, Cherry Ames too. I grabbed Boys’ Life magazine before my brother could read it. I also recall reading volumes of Reader’s Digest Condensed Books that were around the house. Later, I enjoyed Louisa May Alcott and the Brontës, Pearl Buck, and Jade Snow Wong. Gone With the Wind was the first book I read through the night to finish, or nearly. I read quite a lot of French literature in high school and college, all forgotten now except for titles.

Helen: What do you read now?

Kathleen: These days I particularly enjoy books by or about people my age—novels like The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. I read younger authors too, like Lauren Groff and Curtis Sittenfeld. One of my favorite genres is literary nonfiction—three good examples are The Beak of the Finch, A Civil Action, and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. I enjoy many genres—poetry, biography, cookbooks, you name it—and I have read at least a hundred books about writing. 

Helen: Who are the authors that have most inspired you?

Kathleen: Certainly the two memoir writers I already mentioned: Abigail Thomas and Akhil Sharma. But if I could write like anyone, it would be Grace Paley. No one can, and that’s what makes her special. She wrote short stories that came directly from her life. “Wants” is my favorite short story by Paley.

Helen: What have you written besides The Lady with the Crown, and what are you working on now?

Kathleen: In addition to the memoir, I have published about a dozen essays—two since the memoir came out—and a book review. I wrote a poem about my father right after I finished the memoir. It’s hard to write about him because I can’t see his faults, I can’t see him really as human. After my mother’s accident, he stayed with her—he did all the cooking, he did the caregiving, he did everything. He didn’t complain, and he didn’t ever talk about his life being hard. He just carried on. I have always admired him for the choices that he made, and I want to write more about him. Meanwhile, I have three short stories underway. Fiction is harder for me than memoir, but it interests me and is a nice change.

Helen: Has writing become central to your life?

Kathleen: It has. The creativity of writing thrills me. Starting with a blank page and making something—it’s so different from anything else I have ever done. I loved collaborative teaching, but something about the non-collaborative aspect of writing, being on my own, appeals to me. From nothing to something, and I did it!

Helen: Do you have any advice for aspiring memoir writers?

Kathleen: Read. Read memoirs especially. And take a class. In a class, not only will you learn what to do and what to avoid when writing, but you will read great stories, both by published authors and by classmates. The first class I took was through a Bernard Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. In this class, an English woman who had worked at Bletchley Park [an Allied code-breaking center during World War II] sat next to a German woman who had survived Kristallnacht [a violent attack on Jews and Jewish-owned stores, buildings, and synagogues throughout Nazi Germany in 1938]. Both were terrific writers with compelling stories. Another classmate grew up poor in Hungary, came to this country, started a company, and invented a computer language. From other students, I learned what it was like to grow up in Iran and Holland, Michigan, and on a farm. If you don’t think you can remember enough to write about, try this: Imagine yourself in the home you grew up in or spent years of your childhood in. Walk through the rooms. I’ll bet you can even draw a floor plan. Open drawers. Listen for sounds like the front door closing. Add family members if you like.

Kathleen does a lot of writing at her kitchen table. Photo: Don Anderson

Helen: Did writing The Lady with the Crown help you process some of the trauma of your mother’s accident?

Kathleen: The answer to that is two-fold: “That’s not why I wrote it,” and “Yes, in a sense it did.” I wrote my memoir to share my remarkable mother. I included the dark parts like facing and owning up to a few unpleasant truths about myself to render the complete story and so others with similar experiences would know they are not alone. What’s true also is that the process of writing about this trauma, turning the chaos of experience—in my case a random tragic accident and its fallout—into a story with a beginning, middle, and end, giving the story shape and meaning made a difference in the way I hold the memories. I feel lighter. This is a therapeutic effect of the writing process. But for the record, no goal, whether freeing yourself, healing yourself, or even honoring a beloved mother excuses a writer from the hard work of making art. Writing about personal experiences is not easier than other kinds of writing. Good storytelling of any kind involves doing research, creating a narrative arc, and using all the elements of craft—dialogue, scene, and description—to bring the pages to life.

Helen: The Lady with the Crown was released in January of this year. What kind of feedback have you received?

Kathleen: The book has gotten good reviews, online and at readings. The feedback is extremely gratifying because the book has touched people. Every couple of weeks I get an email from someone who has just read it. Often, they have their own story, of placing a parent in a memory unit or caring for a mother who became ill when they were young. There are very few people whose lives have not been touched by something like this.


You can order The Lady with the Crown: A Story of Resilience from independent booksellers everywhere. It’s also available at public libraries in Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Los Gatos. 

Kathleen Canrinus enjoys attending book clubs in person and on Zoom to participate in conversations about The Lady with the Crown. Contact her at: theladywiththecrown at gmail dot com

Helen Gibbons worked for many years as a science writer and editor in the U.S. Geological Survey’s Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center. Highlights included blogging from an icebreaker in the Arctic Ocean and editing the newsletter Sound Waves. Now retired, she enjoys reading, singing, walking, and writing an occasional article as a USGS volunteer.

Elizabeth Gómez

October 2nd, 2021

Elizabeth Gómez is a Redwood City based artist and children’s book illustrator. Part of Gómez’s practice involves designing and managing community participatory murals in both paint and mosaic. 

I first met Elizabeth during her July 2021 Redwood City Art Kiosk exhibition. Her installation, Naturaleza Muerta, was striking in the manner it pulled the audience in and then held their attention with an edgy softness: A lifesize deer and mountain lion hang upside down in the center of the kiosk. They are accompanied by a squirrel and a crow. These hand sewn creatures are made from pale, low contrast fabrics. Scatterings of thin red cloth trail from each body. The kiosk floor is covered with pink quilting and a spare grid of deep red, fabric roses. There is a feeling of being in a child’s bedroom. These layers of symbolism reveal a multi-dimensional philosophy about the relationship of humans to other animals, to profound effect. In this work Gómez brings together a blend of Louise Bourgeois construction with Sue Coe content to make her own statement about real life events involving wild animals in our suburban neighborhoods.  

Gómez has an MFA in Pictorial Art from San Jose State University. She has shown at the deYoung Museum in San Francisco; the Oakland Museum of California; MACLA in San Jose, California; and at the Mohr Gallery in Mountain View, California.

This week Gómez’s most recent mural, created with the help of many from our community, will be unveiled at the Magical Bridge Playground in Redwood City. We spoke during the last weeks of mosaic tile making under the redwoods and oaks on the back patio at Red Morton Park, the mural’s home.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Whirligig: Let’s talk about your background. You went to San José State?

Elizabeth: I did most of my college in Mexico City where I am from. I did three years at the San Francisco Art Institute and then I did my masters in painting at San Jose State. I had great professors like Erin Goodwin-Guerrero and Rupert Garcia. It was an excellent program, lots of support, really nice.

Whirligig: How long have you been working in mosaic?

Elizabeth: I have been doing small things here and there but I am really a painter. I have been working with Redwood City for many years. I have done murals in the schools and parks. The city knows me as an artist that can create and facilitate public works with volunteers, with the help of the community. That is why they asked me to do this mosaic mural. I have learned a lot doing this. 

Whirligig: What are the dimensions?

Elizabeth: It is gigantic. It has more than 700 square feet of tile. 

Whirligig: You did the design?

Elizabeth: I did the design and many workshops. For example, here in Red Morton Park during the pandemic we were outdoors and indoors and outdoors again and then we couldn’t do it at all. Then, I had to transport boxes of materials to the volunteers, house to house, I would bring a new box and take competed work away. I did that for many months. It was a lot of work. Then we were allowed to work here outside again, almost a year and a half after we started. The hardest thing about this project has been the management. We have had more than 750 volunteers on this mural. Everybody is welcome. I have taught the class on how to make mosaic shapes hundreds of times now. I will be happy to see it on the wall.

Whirligig: You plan to install next week. . .

Elizabeth: We have two walls and a tunnel. We are hiring professional tile installers because it is so big and heavy. I will be there as support. I don’t know what problems we will encounter, but we will have problems. We already fixed a few things–the walls were uneven and there was an anti-grafitti sealant on one wall that would not allow the tiles to adhere, so we had to remove that.

Orange Halves

Whirligig: Tell me about your painting work.

Elizabeth: My work belongs to the Mexican tradition. I like surrealism. I like animals and nature. I like a lot of handmade patterns and decoration. I have been working on a collection called Madre Tierra (Mother Earth). They are women with the face of an animal. Very surreal. They represent the need to care for the environment. The most recent is Mother Earth Crow. She is signaling with her wings the end of the wilderness, saying “From here to here is wilderness, so you don’t build. And from here to here is for humans, so stay on the human side.” They almost look religious. They are big animals with dresses, in nature. One is Vindictive Mother Earth. She has humans in a cage. Bird Mother Earth is teaching little birds how to protect themselves against us. But all very beautiful and colorful, filled with flowers. Mother Earth Wolf is planting flowers on the pavement in Mexico City. She is taking care of them with a watering can, a nurturing Mother Earth.

Whirligig: Those are in acrylic, oil?

Elizabeth: I love to paint old style, oil on wood, because with painting in glazes it becomes very jewel like and medieval. You can touch the colors. 

I’ve also illustrated many children’s books. I just finished a book on El Salvador, ABC El Salvador.

Crow Mother Earth at the Edge of the Wilderness

Whirligig: Are there specific artists you are inspired by or look too?

Elizabeth: Sometimes I am a bit sad that the person most known here is Frida Kahlo. When you see Frida’s work it’s not only Frida’s style, but it is Frida’s style on top of the Mexican tradition. Her work makes a lot of sense within Mexican art. When she was painting there were a lot of women painting. For example Leonora Carrington and Remedios Varo. There was a magical group of women painters that had this surreal, folksy, decorated, colorful work. I really like their work. Because I grew up in Mexico City it was normal for me to visit Frida’s house or see a show of Remedios Varo and other artists from that time. I don’t try to do what they do, but I like the visual language they were using. My own work is always about nature and the environment.

Whirligig: Would you say that you are mostly inspired by female artists?

Elizabeth: I would say that I really like their quality. I don’t want to generalize, but with Mexican women artists there is something that is, to use a trite word, feminine–care taking, nurturing and smaller–that I like. The famous male Mexican artists are very grandiose, “Industrialism came to save us! The workers will save us!” Full of big ideas, but with little heart. I like works with more heart. I am not saying that men cannot do this, just historically in Mexico it has been the case that women pay attention to heart.

Lion Fountain

Whirligig: You exhibited sculpture in your Art Kiosk show.

Elizabeth: I do a little bit of everything. I have created three installations with ideas of nature and animals. At the Oakland museum for the Day of the Dead I showed dead animals. I made a coal circle . . . where it is clean the animals are alive and flying. Where it is dirty the animals are dead. 

Whirligig: What is it about working with animal symbolism that you hope to communicate?

Elizabeth: I sometimes feel that we humans do not believe that animals have the same right as us to be here. That we are more than they are. That we own this place. After all of the facts telling us this is not the case, global warming. . . I want to be a voice for animals, even if it is a small one, saying “We are here. We belong. This is also our earth.”

Whirligig: So you grew up in Mexico City . . .

Elizabeth: Yes. I did most of my formative years in Mexico. I came here after I got married. I have been many years now here in California.

Whirligig: How is it to be an immigrant here in California?

Elizabeth: Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not so much. Especially if you are from Mexico. My husband is from Argentina and he does not cross too many people with stereotypes about what an Argentinian is. Maybe they know about the tango. . . But if you are from Mexico the stereotypes are very, very, very strong. Sometimes when I encounter someone who knows only that I am from Mexico and nothing else about me, I feel discriminated against. For example, people who don’t know me immediately assume that I am not educated. They talk to me as if I didn’t know things. This actually happens a lot. I am not saying that everybody needs to be educated, but oh my gosh, they speak to me in such a way that I want to say, You know I have a graduate degree you don’t have to talk to me as if I don’t understand things.

Whirligig: Because of your accent?

Elizabeth: My accent for sure, and then they ask me, Where are you from? And I say, Mexico. In my life in California I have been hired at least three times as a babysitter. I would be with my children and they [some stranger in public] would assume I was a nanny. It was hard for me to convince these moms that I was also a mom and not the nanny. They would ask questions like, “The children speak Spanish to you?” And I would say, Yes. Then they would say, “That’s wonderful. Other nannies I know speak Spanish to the children but the children do not speak Spanish back. Do you have a driver’s license? How much do you charge?” They would be so surprised to find out I was the mother and not the nanny. Some assumptions are stronger than you think. In daily life doors can close easily because people have very strong stereotypes about what a Mexican is. I moved to a new neighborhood and the next door neighbor told me, “I don’t want to be discouraging but Mexicans are moving here. . .” Things like that happen here and there and everywhere. It always surprises me because most people are nice and good. But those who are rude and not nice. . . they don’t know me, I don’t know them. . .

Whirligig: Part of it is being a woman. . . 

Elizabeth: Yes. But why don’t they just ask me what I think rather than thinking I don’t know anything? Sometimes people start sentences like, “Here in California, we. . . ” immediately making me the other. I’ve been here 30 years. I can say, We in California. . . 

I like so many things about Northern California, but when I face those discriminating people I don’t like it.

Whirligig: I’m sorry that is here.

Naturaleza Muerta, at the Redwood City Art Kiosk

Elizabeth: People don’t know that if you have an accent you are asked a lot, Where are you from? How long are you staying? If it were a neutral question . . . but when you are asked that on a weekly basis it makes you feel as if you don’t belong, you don’t belong, you don’t belong. It makes you feel there is a wall around you everywhere you go. Now when they ask me, I ask them, And where are you from? Tell me about. . .  We all are from somewhere, even if we didn’t cross a border. I try to be light about it but I wish it wasn’t the case.

Whirligig: You’ve been working on a two plus year project. What will you do after?

Elizabeth: The park has asked me to make some individual animals. It will be only me in my studio. I will have control of everything. I am looking forward to that. Then I will paint. I have loved doing this, but it was a lot of heavy lifting.

Whirligig: It’s an important project.

Elizabeth: I love that we have so many community members taking part, and also, if someone came to a workshop and made a piece of the mural, it is included. I didn’t get rid of anything the volunteers created. I kept my promise, that “if you learn to do it, you are a part of the mural.”

Whirligig:  Do you think there was anything in your upbringing that made you particularly tune into non-human animals?

Elizabeth: My grandfather was a farmer. He could barely sell his cows because he loved them. He named them and the chickens and the pigs. When buyers came to take them, he had so much trouble. They followed him like dogs. He was a bad farmer in that sense. I think growing up with him I fell in love with the animals just like he did. Growing up in Mexico City, nature was so devastated by pollution, 20 million people in one city.

One day, everywhere I went, there were dead birds. Something was happening in the air or poison. Walking to school that day was one of the most important days of my life. I realized it was not a normal day. This was human induced. I think I became an environmentalist that day. Later we heard it was a paper factory that did not have proper air filters. They polluted the air. The birds died. . . It really welded a before and after for me.

Whirligig: Do you have a spirit animal? Is there a particular animal you are closest to?

Elizabeth: Not really. I strongly believe the earth would be better off without us. We are the extra animal.

Whirligig: Agreed.

Magical Bridge Playground mural, 2021

Elizabeth: Even sharks and insects have a right to be here. I’m a little bit of Buddhist in that sense. Everything that is living has a right to be here.

What makes me really happy is that I have found many paths to follow and they have taken me to incredible places that I never thought I could go or do. My parents were very sad when I told them I wanted to be an artist. But I am so happy that I am. A perfect day for me has art and nature. I have lived my life like that. And Northern California is a beautiful place and people respect nature here. People are also more open. I know that the Bay Area is the right place for me. Here I can blend in. California has a very nice collection of Asian art and Latino art and Californian art and good food.

Whirligig: How are you feeling now that the mural is up and complete?

Elizabeth: It was a tremendous amount of work. I am exhausted. I am happy.


Whirligig Interview by Nanette Wylde.
All images copyright and courtesy of Elizabeth Gómez.
Elizabeth Gómez’s website.

Minoosh Zomorodinia

July 28th, 2021
A Week Living Art, 2015

Minoosh Zomorodinia is an Iranian-born interdisciplinary artist and curator working in time, space and the natural world. Her current art practice involves nature walks which are documented via smart phone app. The resultant maps are then made tangible via a variety of both old and new technologies. There is an edgy, accessible humor in much of her work, this she calls “the abstract absurd.” actuality, Zomorodinia uses all aspects of her making to parse and comment on current critical issues including borders and territories, colonialism, immigration, culture and identity, stereotyping, relations of the self to the environment, the power of technology, and the art world itself. Her work is both layered and engaging—smart, funny, and often visually exquisite.

Zomorodinia earned an MFA in New Genres from the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI). She has a Masters in Graphic Design and a BA in Photography from Azad University in Tehran. She is the recipient of a Southern Exposure’s Alternative Exposure Award, a California Arts Council grant, and a Kala Media Fellowship Award. She has received residencies at Headlands Center for the Arts, Ox-Bow School of Art and Artists’ Residency in Michigan, I-park Foundation in Connecticut, Local Language Residency in Oakland, Santa Fe Art Institute Residency, Djerassi Residency in Woodside, and Recology in South San Francisco. Zomorodinia has exhibited locally and internationally. She volunteers for Southern Exposure Gallery’s Curatorial Council and is a board member of Women Eco Artists Dialog. Zomorodinia currently lives and works in the Bay Area.

We spoke in the studio at Recology, where Minoosh is resuming an artist residency interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Minoosh Zomorodinia Integration with Nature
Integration with Nature, 2010

Whirligig: A great deal of your work has a focus on the body in nature—often your own body which is shrouded, wrapped, blanketed, responding to external elements. Why the body? Why your own body?

Minoosh: There are different reasons to use the body in my work. First, I want to acknowledge that my friend, Tara Goudarzi, generously accepted to be a model for the Destruction of Nature, Destruction of The Human Being as we were traveling together.

One reason to use the body is expressing self. I spend a lot of time in nature, it’s an extraordinary experience and inspiration for my practice. My mind opens and I see things when I’m in nature. I search for spirituality in nature and some sort of psychology for finding positive energy. I have been wanting to illustrate this feeling in different ways.

Another reason is to dematerialize and use my body as a signifier to lived experience as well as illustrate identity. I believe using my body offers a variety of contexts and perceptions. Employing my body in my work somehow represents time and space, especially in my performance installations. I consider my body as a sculpture—I make myself vulnerable to challenge the perception of the female body, and represent culture and religion. I want to emphasize a political perception from a Muslim woman’s body and how it’s been interpreted in the world.

Whirligig: Are you thinking of specific interpretations of a Muslim woman’s body? Can you explain?

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Ever Rodriguez / La Feroz Press

September 22nd, 2020
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.
Ever Rodriguez and Gabriela Valencia in the studio of La Feroz Press.

Ever Rodriguez was born and raised in Mexico and has lived in California since the early 1990s. He writes prose and poetry on themes related to his experience, including immigration, biculturalism, music, language and nature. Ever is a pragmatic writer for whom the common becomes the special as a way to contrast the abject against the normal.  His education includes a B.A. in Spanish Literature and a M.A. in Library & Information Science from San José State University. He has worked for the Stanford University Libraries for the past 25 years. Ever’s letterpress studio, La Feroz Press, focuses on handmade editions with original texts and translations. His work often has the intention of amplifying the voices and concerns of his marginalized community.

Although we live a short bike ride apart, we conducted this interview via email while sheltering-in-place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whirligig: What is the history of La Feroz Press?

Ever: La Feroz Press officially started with this name in January of 2019. We had been working under the name of Taller de Tinta y Texto since 2015, which was the time when our printing press project really took shape. It is wise to say here that when one has the intuition or the wish to do something, one has to follow up with at least one decisive action that would move further towards that direction to really get started. 

For me, the decisive action that put me on the printing track was taking a letterpress class. This allowed me not only to learn the basics of letterpress printing, but it also laid out the challenges I would need to overcome in terms of space and equipment, and it put me in touch with the printer and bookmaking culture and communities that would inspire me to fully embrace this activity.

Out of such initial inspiration I was able to create a space for myself at home where I could potentially house a printing press and other essential equipment. For years our one-car garage was filled with unused furniture, souvenirs and unwanted items, so one day I just decided to get rid of all of it and remodel the space to make room for a printing studio.  

Once I had the space, I started itching to find me a press. At first, I was looking for a hand press, but those are as rare as they are expensive, and I even started looking at the possibilities of making my own wooden hand press. I figured that if Gutenberg’s contemporaries were able to build those presses without the tools we have today, I should be able to build one press half as good. I found and bought a book entitled The Common Press, by Harris and Sisson, which has drawing plans and notes about the construction of the Franklin hand press, owned by the Smithsonian Institution. But I deviated from that adventure for a different alternative.

In January of 2015, I found a small press for sale online. The press was not ideal, and it was certainly nowhere near the Franklin hand press, but it was an inexpensive alternative that would get me started. So I bought it and the next day I drove to Los Angeles to pick up a midsize (14 x 24) Morgan Line-O-Scribe proofing press. This was the very first piece of equipment that I owned, and it came with a little bit of awful metal and wood type, but that satisfied the itching.

I experimented with that proofing press for about one year, and then Matt Kelsey—printer and owner of Camino Press, in Saratoga, California—told me about a Chandler & Price (C&P) 10×15 platen press that somebody was selling in Gilroy. I decided to buy that press, and a few printer friends helped me pick it up, bring it to my garage and install it. Mark Knudsen and Kim Hamilton made beautiful wooden feed boards and a treadle for it, and other printer friends gave me some tools and made me feel welcome to letterpress printing. 

The acquisition of this C&P press gave me added impetus to get more serious about letterpress. I acquired both new and used metal type and other essential tools and items through friends and referrals, and then I started to get more adventurous with printing and designing other things beyond postcards. All along, my wife—who I call Gaby—had been supportive about my new adventure, and I think that when she saw me purchasing that big, old C&P press and hauling it into our garage, she realized that my temporary craziness had turned into long-term seriousness. I think she was happy but surprised and concerned all at once. Once Gaby realized that these old devices and tools were here to stay, and she saw how excited I was about them, she got excited as well and started making lemonade with my lemons.

LFP_ZoombiesCard

A couple of years passed, and in 2017 our friends Linda Stinchfield and Kim Hamilton gave us a beautiful Griffin etching press, thus helping me to expand my horizons to allow for more and better relief printing, which now includes linocuts and occasional woodcuts. Finally in June of 2019, I was lucky to bid on and win a Vandercook SP15 press at a local auction and that is now part of La Feroz Press.

By then I had taken several letterpress printing classes and I even earned core letterpress diplomas from the San Francisco Center for the Book on both the platen and the cylinder press. So far that is the story of La Feroz Press, which is still in the making.

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Judith Selby Lang

November 16th, 2019

Judith Selby Lang

Judith Selby Lang’s website states that she “is an artist committed to the creation of positive symbols and life-affirming images to help energize the conversation about social, political and environmental issues.” This is a perfect description of the uplifting and transformative nature of her multi-dimensional art practice as well as a reflection of her demeanor and personality—creative, positive, life-affirming, energetic, and openly communicative about critical concerns that affect us all.

Lang’s work includes artist’s books, mixed media objects, and a wide range of projects using plastic debris collected from 1000 yards of one beach on the Northern California coast. Lang has an extensive exhibition history. She currently has a large scale beach plastic installation in The Secret Life of Earth: Alive! Awake! (And possibly really Angry!) at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland; and will be showing in The Great Wave: Contemporary Art about the Ocean at the Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek, California in early 2020. Her current project is creating a wedding dress made from recovered plastic bags for exhibition in Castaways: Art from the Material World at The Bateman Foundation in Victoria, British Columbia, which opens in Spring of 2020.

Lang has a BA from Pitzer College and an MA in Interdisciplinary Studies in Creative Arts from San Francisco State University. She spent many years teaching art in a variety of North Bay (California) venues before turning her focus to the studio full time. With a barn full of beach plastic—washed, sorted and boxed—collected over the years, Lang has an immense body of work, both independent and collaborative, which reflects our times while engaging viewers from all walks of life in conversations regarding possibilities for improving our environment.

We visited on a bright fall afternoon in her rural Forest Knolls studio, just a short drive to Kehoe Beach.

Whirligig: How did you come to art?

Judith: Defining myself as an artist was a long time in coming. I thought I would never have the patience to be an artist. People have this preconception that art is a wild and spontaneous activity but don’t know that after the flash of inspiration sometimes a long and tedious effort is required to realize the vision.

I grew up in a family that was art friendly. My dad and mom both painted. We went regularly to the art museum. In 1962 my parents took me to the Dallas Museum of Art where I saw Andrew Wyeth’s painting That Gentleman.

The painting drew many to the museum—there were long lines with stanchions and velvet ropes to control the crowds. Was it because curious onlookers wanted a glimpse of a painting of a black man? Mind you it was a simple scene of a black man seated, in dusky light, in a moment of repose. It’s of Wyeth’s neighbor Tom Clark. To me it seemed a radical move for the museum to exhibit a painting of a black man especially at a time when segregation still existed in the South. I remember water fountains with signs for whites only, for blacks only. This was 1962, years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. Perhaps it was the shock to the public that the museum had purchased the painting or maybe, it was, as I would like to think, that there was tremendous interest in seeing a masterwork by a great American artist. Either way there were people, lots of people waiting for their turn to view the painting.

The line moved slowly in a kind of reverential prayer and when it was my turn I stepped up in front of the painting to gaze with wonder not only at the power of the image but also the incredible finesse of the brush work. Something in my young heart was deeply moved. At that moment I made a commitment to art. I made my pledge to become an artist. That an image could have such an incredible impact on me and the people who had come to the museum was something that I too wanted to accomplish. On that day, at age twelve, I knew that I wanted to do something that would make a difference—to make art that would shine a light on injustice in the world. Read the rest of this entry »