Category Archives: Arts

World Fantasy

Early in November  I attended the World Fantasy Convention in San Antonio. WFC is a professional writers’ event to a significant degree, but even I, with no fantasy books out as of yet, had several attendees ask me for autographs at the Signature Event (with every writer in one big room signing autographs.)

The convention venue was adjacent to San Antonio’s Riverwalk.  It’s one of my favorite places, an oasis in that city—though as cities go, San Antonio, with its ancient Hispanic roots, is its own kind of oasis in Texas.

The Riverwalk meanders for miles through downtown San Antonio, though on the river’s level you’d hardly know it.  There are some shops and restaurants reaching all the way down to the water’s edge.  There are also whimsical bridges and sculptures, birds, and even water taxis:  it’s Venice in Texas!

There’s also the aquatic version of street sweepers.

Below the Southwest School of Art & Craft, people who walk or jog by are watched by miniature folk sketched on a wall of rough timbers.  Here’s one of the watchers.

No visit to San Antonio, by someone who writes speculative fiction with spiritual angles, would be complete without paying respects to  San Fernando Cathedral, or, to use the full name, the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria y Guadalupe.  Portions of this cathedral date to 1738.  It is a major anchor in the Mexican-American life of San Antonio.

And then there’s this:  the towering mosaic on the facade of Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital.  The artist is Jesse Trevino, a native son from the West Side of San Antonio, who when he was young saw a tombstone angel with a broken wing that he never forgot.

The image is fantastic – a kind of sacred fantasy that speaks to the hope of healing in the real world.

Piping Down

There’s one sure-fire way to get Episcopalians to pipe down and listen up. I’ve seen it work at potlucks and now at an organ concert Friday night. The concert was by Dr. Philip Kloeckner, who teaches keyboard at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music and directs the choir at my church, which is why the Shepherd School organ hall filled up with Episcopalians happily and loudly nattering. When it came time to begin, the emcee said, ‘THE LORD BE WITH YOU!” The audience instantly chorused “AND ALSO WITH YOU!” and awaited the emcee’s next words in perfect silence!

And what a concert it was.  The Shepherd School organ is a magnificent instrument with 5,000 pipes. It can sound like any of several eras of historical organ.  Philip gave us at least three distinctly different organ sounds in music by various composers.  His last piece was an improvisation on two Christmas carols given to him on the spot.  After thinking about it for all of half a minute,  he wove “Joy to the World” and “Angels We Have Heard on High” into an incredible fabric that seemed to involve pulling out every stop on the organ and sounding every pipe from the tiniest tinkling one to the massive pipe that sends a vibration through your chest if you’re in the audience.

Comfort, Joy and Creativity

Per today’s New York Times, you can rent live potted Christmas trees in Southern California. It isn’t cheap, but it gets you a quite nice tree that does not proceed to die in your living room. And: “Families can even order the same tree year after year to see how it has grown. ”  Somehow this seems as touching as it is silly.

And so is this:  my craftsy colleague Sarah not long ago informed me that earlier this year a call went out to the knitting community for wool sweaters for lots of little penguins rescued after a bad oil spill Down Under. There was a knitting pattern online.  Knitters the world over responded with a flood of tiny sweaters.  With some of these the knitters got really creative – bright colors, colored borders, even tuxedo patterned knit jobs.   The results, as reported in Fashionista (!) online, were adorable. And it worked.  The wool sweaters kept the birds warm until their oil-soaked, cleaned-up feathers regained their natural oils, by which time the sweaters shredded off.

Speaking of adorable, one of the Circulation student assistants here at Fondren Library, unbeknownst to us,  created a YouTube video of herself and several confederates studying in the Library in Finals to a soundtrack adapted from a pop song and with full-bore choreography.  That video has been a big hit around here.

Meanwhile everything else that’s going on in the world is going on.

Penguins strike us as lovably odd species, but it’s Homo Sapiens that’s genuinely peculiar – in ways that are good and bad and indifferent and profound and never more so than at this season.

To the App-Cave!

Going over my notes and recollections from FenCon last weekend, this one stands out even among a LOT of news, good advice and reading recommendations.  Pyr editor Lou Anders showed a few of us this fantastic iPad/ iPhone app for reading comic books digitally.  It’s called ComiXology and I found it very nicely reviewed at a British tech review Website.

DC and Marvel are digitally available this way and so are plenty of edgier, bolder independent comics.  Oh-oh. I have never felt an itch to invest in an iPad until now.  I’ve always loved looking at comic books, and this app gives you a full-color, flexible view that can sequence through the panels in order and then zoom to the full page for the layout to be appreciated.  Between that and the enormous amount of talent doing comics these days – wow.

Watchworks Owl

Bev Hale made this cool piece of Steampunk jewelry.   It is much admired when I wear it to work at the Rice University Library.  I work with a lot of people who have an eye for unique jewelry – and the Rice mascot is an owl!

Organ raga improvisation

Oh, this was interesting!  Below is the description of the event at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.  What the description leaves out (because it could not have been promised, and was almost ineffable) was the sense of  holiness that came across in the mingled voices of the singer and organ.  The organ hall – extremely acoustically live and reverberant – came alive with Hindu prayer.  I’ve never heard anything like it.    

At the beginning, the organ played by Dr. Phillip Kloeckner sounded notes that definitely weren’t Western, rhythmic music.  Mr.  Surender Talwar entered the hall and sang as he slowly walked to the front.   Immediately, the shape of the organ’s biggest pipes became conspicuous.  These are flue pipes.  They have mouths.  They sing.  It never registered on me that way before! 

The final raga-organ improvisation (by which time the place was saturated with the musical stuff of this marvelous experiment) included Mr. Talwar singing  one of the few Sanskrit words recognized by many non-Sanskrit speakers.  Namaste.  Reverent greeting – how apt as a final graceful note on this occasion. 


A twenty-first century exploration of the synergies between two ancient traditions, one Eastern, one Western. Hindustani ragas (melodic modes) have been the vehicles for improvised mantras (sanskrit prayers) for centuries, and for almost a thousand years, organists have provided spontaneous music for liturgical and non-liturgical occasions.  Enjoy and appreciate an hour of improvisations that blend, juxtapose, and contrast these diverse traditions into fresh and provocative music for our time with the magnificent Edythe Bates Old Grand Organ.

Phillip Kloeckner, organist
Surender Talwar, baritone
Srinivas Koumounduri, sitar
Dexter Raghunanan, tabla



In Terminal E of the Atlanta airport , there’s a conspicuous mosaic that says, “Let each man pass his days in that endeavor wherein his gift is greatest – Propertius.”  Per Wikipedia, Propertius was a Latin elegiac poet.  To read the words easily you have to be at least half a gate area away.   Close up, it’s hard to make out the words, but you notice what the mural is made of:  business cards. All kinds of real cards of all kinds of business.  Those that are white or pale in color form the background, and the less numerous brightly colored business cards constitute the poet’s advice.

The Atlanta airport is big on art – which is a wonderful boon to travelers with time on their hands.  The Propertius mosaic and other concourse works of art are shown here.


November 2 was All Souls’ – the Day of the Dead for people in Mexico and their descendants in North America’s Southwest  (and around the world.)  One way it’s celebrated is by making an ofrenda in the home.  Ofrendas honor one or more deceased ancestors, family or friends.

This one was for my maternal grandmother, Nannie Ruth Thomas Howard, who was variously known as Ruthie, Ruth T., and to her grandchildren, Mompsie.  Que Dios la tenga en la vida eterna. May God keep her in the life eternal.

Ofrendas include pictures, flowers, candles, salt, water, religious symbols, things the deceased person owned, and food and drink they liked.  Traditional flower colors are yellow and orange.  Traditionally there is papel picado, the Mexican art of cutting detailed designs in tissue paper.  I substituted doilies (!).  My grandmother being an Alabama lady, that seemed apt.  Where traditional ofrendas have a plate of tamales or even chicken mole with side dishes, I put some fried chicken in the cast iron frying pan on the lower level.  With a can of collard greens and a can of peaches on the side.  Ofrendas always have pan de muertos, bread of the dead – a slightly sweet yeast bread with bone-shaped decoration on top.  This was the first time I’ve ever made pan de muertos.  It caused me to remember how my grandmother taught me to separate egg yolk from the white by pouring the yolk back and forth between the halves of the broken shell.

In making this ofrenda, I discovered that imagining, collecting and handling all of these things and placing them just so is the most powerful way of remembering a loved one that I’ve ever experienced.

I love you, Mompsie.

Art Car

Seen in the parking lot of St. Stephen’s Episcopal church yesterday:  St. Stephen’s School’s own Art Car in all its shining glory!

This Art Car’s theme is – obviously – recycling.

Note the row of metallic daisies on the lower edge of the car’s body – the sea turtle riding on the driver’s side – the passenger rear view mirror tiled with bottle caps.  Way to go St. Stephen’s Episcopal School!

Folk art

Whimsical folk art often turns up in the workplace – in this case, the Circulation/Reserve Department at the Rice University Library.  This item is on top of one of our space dividers.  It’s only about 6 inches long but conspicuous w-a-y out of proportion to its dimensions.