The Places I Keep

For as long as I’ve had an iPhone I’ve kept a number of locations in the Weather app. One might think it strange to find the city of Luoyang in Henan Province, China or Essex Township, NY in my phone when I’ve lived in the American Midwest for many years. For me, however, this little gesture of keeping my eye on these locations is important. I use that Weather app as a way to remember and connect to the spaces and times that have shaped me.

imageLuoyang, China. Where my second daughter was born. Where we witnessed so much. One of the places where we learned to love China.

imageEvanston, IL. Where my wife and I learned how to love kids before we were parents. Where we learned so many great lessons.  Where we worked and played as newly-weds. Where we received counsel. Where we were changed and made ready for a life together.

imageGrove City, PA. Where I – as a little kiddo – got my first taste of academia. Where I watched the Challenger explode. Where I dropped my Skeletor figure in polluted water. Where I learned to love reading. Where I gained many levels of imagination and learned about the evocative power of objects and spaces.

imageEssex Township in the central Adirondacks of New York state. This is the closest Weather app location to Keene, NY, which is the town nearest Mt Marcy. It was on the side of Mt Marcy, the highest peak in NY, where my cousin Chris and I found ourselves almost trapped by flooding one camping trip; it was an epic and transformative series of events.

imageGlen Arbor, MI. In some ways this little town represents much of MI for me (I’ve had so many amazing experiences in that state). Located at the base of Leelanau Peninsula, it sits in the midst of really beautiful country. This is a place where I had a wonderful artist residency and found space for contemplation after struggling to get my mind around full time teaching.

imageBloomington, IN. Where I went to grad school. Where I found my voice as a painter. Where I learned that I would love teaching. Where my wife and I had our first struggles and triumphs in marriage. I love this place, and going back to visit is like going home.

Photo Mar 01, 9 22 43 AM (1)Florence, Italy. Where the lessons of graduate school were catalyzed – in the coolness of cathedrals and musty halls of museums. Where Pontormo presided over a leap in my visual IQ. Where we learned that international travel was doable for us.

imageColumbia, MO. Where two of my children were born. Where I’ve found a place as an educator and mentor. Where we’ve found community.

What ways do you use to celebrate the places that have made you who you are?


Inspiration – Kenn Neely

Over the years I’ve made quite a few posts about artists who inspire me. Today I’m putting Kenn Neely in that group.

photo 1Kenn’s work desk – beautiful chaos.

Kenn has always been a maker and tinkerer. His quirky objects take cues from natural surfaces and geometries, as well as from the likes of Alexander Calder and Paul Klee. Kenn works with scrap metal and wire, found objects which he modifies or embellishes, and a variety of wood. Kenn’s wife, Julie, is a great graphic designer who went to RISD. Their home is full of art and warmth.

photo 2A Neely-enhanced cabinet.

asdgphotoOne of the vintage objects in the Neely home. This stool is just classic.

Kenn also makes jewelry, and you can see some of that work here at his Etsy shop. I own a number of Kenn Neely originals, and he’s got some of my work hanging in his home. He’s a thoughtful, genuine man. It was a joy to sit with him and his boys yesterday and make some crafts while chatting over coffee. Good times and a real blessing.

photo 3 The melty bead art thing I made with Kenn’s young sons. It’s sitting on a purple sketchbook that Kenn gave me as a gift.

Thanks for being an Inspiration, Kenn!


Nine years ago this month I was hired at Good’s of Evanston, in Evanston, IL. It was a great place for an artist to be – and the best art stores always employ artists. Good’s hired artists as clerks, shipping and receiving crews, framing specialists, and book-workers. I started there as the primary shipping and receiving guy. I’d deal with the trucks of supplies that arrived each day, check the orders to make sure they were complete, fill out paperwork for what was off, and stage the checked merchandise so the floor crew could either store or put out for sale.

One of my favorite coworkers was Fred. He was thoughtful, well-spoken, engaged in the world, had a quirky sense of humor and great taste in music. He turned me on to Kitchens of Distinction and HUM, both bands I still listen to all these years later.

Me and Fred hanging out in the paper department at Good’s

Fred and I would often engage in debates of various kinds, always talking politics and public policy, musing on the current events and the changing post-911 world. Our friend and fellow Good’s employee Ronnie would often come upon our chats and, eventually, he would provide outside commentary and “lead-in” type introductions when he saw that we were ramping up for a talk. Over time, Ronnie created the fictitious “GoETV” network as a place where On Point! With Fred Sturkey and Matt Ballou (as Ronnie named it) could take place.

Good times, good memories. Here’s hoping Fred is doing well!  Unfortunately Good’s no longer carries art supplies, so much of the old crew is gone. But they still do high quality framing, so if you need something done and you’re in the Chicago area go see them!

Who Is The Gray Guy?

I’ve always wondered.

This guy always freaked me out. He’s in the parking garage at 1800 Maple Avenue in Evanston, IL. Go there and see him. At every elevator there’s a sign. A sign with an icon for a man and an icon for a woman. And an icon of a gray man. Is he an alien? Is it some sort of pre-integration/racist statement? Does it mean that androids can ride the elevator, too? WHY?

Dresses in 1967

In 2003 I found a box of photographs strewn across the pavement in an alleyway in Evanston, IL. The box looked as if it had dropped out of a nearby dumpster, so I figured I could look through the photos, see what was interesting, and then place the rest back in the garbage where they’d evidently been put.

But I became intrigued with a series of portraits of a young woman. Always posed in some new dress in  various locations – out about town, in the bedroom, outside in the sunshine – she seemed full of life and hope. I found it troubling that these images of her youth were apparently no longer important to anyone. So I kept them.

As you can see in the example above, the time stamp shows “May . 67” – the rest have similar dates from that year.

Though they are banal and nearly 43 years old, I find them poignant and sweet, a lost record of a person’s experience of their life and time.

I have no idea who the woman was. Since she looks to be in her early 20s here, I expect she’s still living. Here’s hoping she’s had a good life… and continued to model her dresses with pride.

One Unbelievable Gift

Yesterday evening was the reception for my show (with David Spear) at PS Gallery in downtown Columbia, MO. A while after I arrived, grabbed an adult beverage, and began to talk with guests, out of nowhere walked up George.

George, a neighbor of ours from Evanston, IL, is a man who exudes kindness and engagement. Alison and I lived just down the block from him – his mane of long gray hair was trademark on our block. Often he’d be out front playing frisbee with his young son or in his studio woodworking (he’s a master).  Always generous with his time and interested in whatever I was doing, I got invited to spend time in his studio a few times. We’d hang out and talk, each conversation tinged with his joyful, gentle demeanor; we have had some great conversations over the years. He and his wife have provided a good home to one of my most cherished paintings for a few years now. See it here:

The Measure, 2001

The Measure (detail), Casein on panel, 16 by 20, 2001-02

Anyway, George drove down from Evanston (just north of Chicago) early on September 10th. He told me he spent the afternoon walking around Columbia, seeing the University, visiting shops, and generally getting a very good impression of our little portion of the Midwest. He stayed through the reception, then took me out for an amazing dinner at Bangkok Gardens. We drank martinis (made to his order) and talked about all manner of things – from teaching and spirituality to art and family. It was a good time and a great gift.

George and Matt

Here we are in a photo taken by our waitress. A bit shaky but effective.

George emailed me this afternoon to say he’d gotten back to Evanston just fine. I’m thankful for devoted and joyful friends like him. The more I think about it, the more I realize that this gesture – taking two days and driving 800+ miles just to look at my work and share a meal with me – that’s what I’ll take away from that night and carry with me. I turned 33 on the 7th. This visit was an amazing birthday gift. Thanks, George.