From Otis Street: A Basket of Tchotchkes

Artist Gloria Chapa of the Otis Street Arts Project reflects on the hands-on workshop she led: A Basket of Tchotchkes: Art Treasure Trove of Inspiration.

The best part of teaching art is getting the surprise presents (art pieces) at the end of a class. The creativity of any group of participants rarely disappoints me. I had enjoyed my “time alone” during this quarantine. However, after a full year of isolation, teaching the final Otis Street Arts Project (OSAP) Phillips Workshop was a good opportunity to ease back into the mix.

There is more to art work than just the making of the piece. The process is so imbued with all of the spirit of the person creating it. There is no avoiding it. The way the workshop participants worked their materials was varied. It was obvious that they all had a vision; unique, strong and particular to each of them. I could sense a timidness amongst some of them. I knew it because  during my isolation period, there were times I also questioned my own intentions. Sharing our creative thoughts during the workshop helped dissolve any doubts that had crept into my art lexicon. It helped recover some of the energy lost to the quarantine. Perhaps the best thing about the pandemic is that there will be pervasive sincere appreciation for all that we do have. My favorite Robert Louis Stevenson quotes sums it up very well:

“The world is so full of a number of things, I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.”

Artwork by Gloria Chapa: (left) CASCARAS, Onion peels, recycled aluminum, tree branches; (right) POTATO CHIP BLANKIE, Foam mattress, potato chips, fiberglass resin

Seeing Differently: World Famous Chefs respond to Luncheon of the Boating Party

The Phillips Collection engages with local voices by asking community members to write labels in response to works in the collection. Read some here on the blog and also in the galleries of Seeing Differently: The Phillips Collects for a New Century. What would you write about these artworks?

Longer tables and shorter walls is the only way forward. Tables where are all welcome. And together we can all dream of a horizon of hope where we support others and they one day may support us.
― José Andrés, Chef/Owner of ThinkFoodGroup and Founder of World Central Kitchen


As I look at this painting I’ll admit that I am drawn to the terrier on the table as I know full well that my own terrier, Charlie, would be in the same spot! His surroundings certainly reinforce how much we all long for the days ahead when we can gather around the table again, sharing stories and meals with loved ones and new friends. There can never be too many opportunities to share our human experiences, especially when it’s over a meal.
―Aaron Silverman, Michelin Star Chef/Owner of Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple & Pearls and Little Pearl

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81 Oil on Canvas, 51 ¼ x 69 ¼ in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1923

When I was a child, my grandfather lived close by to the Renoir museum that was previously the artist’s house. I went there many times and discovered the Renoir universe. His paintings bring back for me many happy memories from my childhood. The scene in this painting is about conviviality around a meal. Despite what looks like a simple meal with a casual ambiance, there is a certain sophistication to the scene because of how the women are dressed and the elegant stances of the men. This painting is a good reminder of how food brings people together, not only nourishing the body, but also the soul. This snapshot of a weekend moment is unique because of the talent of Renoir, and it is recognizable in his signature style portraying both a romantic flare and simple joy.
―Eric Ripert, Michelin Star Chef and Co-Owner of Le Bernardin, New York


I wish I could go into a time machine and go back to that time and attend as a guest or better yet to cook for the luncheon in an 1880s kitchen. It evokes such emotions of happiness, joie de vivre, which I think we could all use right now.
―Jean-Georges Vongerichten, International Award Winning Chef and Founder of Food Dreams

From Otis Street: Weaving with Wire

Artist Shelley Lowenstein of the Otis Street Arts Project reflects on the workshop she led: WIRED: Line Drawing in Space.

What a year! How can I bring joy into a world turned upside down?

That was my first thought when our studio (Otis Street Arts Project) was asked to create a series of hands-on zoom art classes for The Phillips Collection. I reluctantly volunteered even though I don’t enjoy public speaking. Why not? I asked my inner voices. If not now during a pandemic, then when? Growth. Face your fears and do it anyway.

For some time, I had been weaving with wire, and I decided to share my endless enthusiasm for Alexander Calder while creating Calder-inspired wire portraits with the Zoom participants. It was easy to be enthusiastic about this artist. I fell in love with Calder as a child. I was so amused by his toy figures and hanging portraits. I was not alone: “My fan mail is enormous; everyone is under six,” explained Calder. He believed that “above all, art should be fun.” And what better way to create a relaxed, inclusive few Zoom hours than by focusing on the joyful Calder and his brilliant work. And so, we began to work with the wire while learning more about the man.

Drawing with wire during the online workshop

Alexander Calder, known as Sandy, was a playful genius. He became one of the most beloved American sculptors of the 20th century. Only recently, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City opened a new exhibit about him. From the review in the New York Times: “The Modern has welcomed Calder back with a beauty of a show that, over the next several months, will make the world a better place.” Calder once said, “I think best in wire.” He was a big man with large strong hands, perfect for bending wire. And he loved to laugh, seeing humor in the world.

After college, he went to Paris to become an artist. He rode a bright orange bicycle around town, with a large spool of wire over his shoulder. He’d studio hop, visiting his famous artist friends to see what they were doing. And often, he would create a portrait likeness of these celebrities, sometimes on the spot, by bending wire—Joan Miró, Josephine Baker, Fernand Léger, Edgard Varèse, and many more. He called himself an “illumination engineer” because the shadow cast by the wire was as important as the portrait itself. Simply put, he was contour drawing in space.

It was on a visit to the studio of Piet Mondrian that his world changed. Studying Mondrian’s geometric paintings of red, blue, and yellow shapes, Calder’s mind turned to the idea of “kinetic art.” What if those big shapes of color could actually move? What if I can draw in space? And that “spark” evolved into the invention of the mobile.

Drawing with wire during the online workshop

Via Zoom, the participants and I began to bend, twist, and curl wire. We made circles and squares. We made hearts and zig zags. We learned different ways to join wire. I recommended using 18-20 gauge wire because it’s easier to bend than what Calder actually used. Basic tools included flat-head pliers, needle-nose pliers, and wire cutters.

In no time, some 54 participants were getting comfortable with the materials. We examined a number of Calder portraits, how he elegantly joined wire connections, how he created various shapes, and how he created simple contour drawings―just the simple outline of the features of a face. No shading. No color. No value. Calder’s genius―he emphasized only the prominent features, not the detail, because our mind can fill in the blanks.

And soon, to the amazement of the Zoom participants, we were making three-dimensional portraits. There was joy in the air on that Zoom. Participants were chatty, asking questions, sharing their work, laughing. We were “playing” with art, as Calder had advised. And the feedback was heartwarming. Above all, art should be fun.