Monday, October 20, 2014

Finding Common Ground with “The Real Apes of the Planet”

Photo courtesy of Animal Planet

We’ve all gone to the zoo and marveled at the fact that chimps, with their expressive faces and distinctive personalities, seem to be just like us. But it takes a special like The Real Apes of the Planet to show just how deep the connection between humans and our primate brethren runs. It’s true that in addition to the fact that we all share large brains, faces with forward facing eyes and opposable thumbs, we also all run the gamut of personality types.

From the tiniest tarsier to the most steadfast silverback gorilla, The Real Apes puts the variety of personality traits in the primate world on display. And in doing so, the special takes the viewer on an globe-spanning journey from the northern most monkeys of Japan to the baboons farthest south in South Africa’s cape.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chuck Connelly Explores “My America” at the Warhol Museum

Courtesy of Chuck Connelly

Almost 60 years ago artist Chuck Connelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But for an artist who admits he “hates going backwards,” what matters is that the painter is back in his hometown for his first solo museum show at the Andy Warhol Museum. 

The exhibit, “Chuck Connelly: My America,” is meaningful to Connelly. First of all, it’s dedicated to his late brother Christopher Connelly, Jr.  The artist’s sibling passed away in April and Connelly admitted in a recent one-on-one interview, “My brother was the one I was playing to. He was my biggest fan.” 

The location is poignant on several other levels. As he noted, “It means a lot. Everybody I know who is an artist thinks it means something… Also it’s my hometown and I was a big fan of Andy [Warhol] all the time I was growing up. And I knew the Warhols as a kid. I knew his family, so I had a connection that way. I knew his nephews. They were in my classes… And we were competing in who could draw better and stuff.”

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cayce Mell Discovers Her Grandmother’s Past by ‘Tracing Outlines’

Photo courtesy of Cayce Mell

Some stories are destined to be told, even when they’ve been hidden away for decades. Such was the case with the new documentary “Tracing Outlines,” which tells the story of a modern art gallery that was established in 1941 by Elizabeth Rockwell in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. What filmmaker Cayce Mell didn’t realize was that the gripping tale had been right under her nose her entire life.

So how did a social justice advocate become an independent filmmaker? The story is almost as interesting as the one that unfolds onscreen — and all thanks to a chair that was for sale on Craiglist.

As Mell recounted in a recent one-on-one interview, “My husband sells antiques. A young couple came to our house. They found a chair he was selling on Craigslist. I all too often see the significant other of the person who’s buying a chair or a lamp looking very bored and I’ll just go out to the driveway and talk to them.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rachel Tribble Creates Art for Peace

Photo by Thomas Winter

Artist Rachel Tribble has always been inspired by peace and the concept that art can produce a feeling of serenity and a connection to the universe. So it was a natural fit for her to join forces with Michael Brooke, publisher of Concrete Wave magazine and pioneer of the Longboarding for Peace movement.

In a recent exclusive interview, Rachel described the movement that started a little over a year ago. "Longboarding for Peace became involved with at-risk youth and started to teach them longboarding as a way of learning about balance in life and learning that you can overcome obstacles… [Michael has] worked in Israel with Palestinian and Israeli children bringing them together for a week at a time teaching them all to skateboard."

She explained that they have also worked in Texas trading weapons for skateboards in an effort to curb violence there. Longboarding for Peace has a goal of building a global Peace Army of 50,000 people. Rachel noted that have already reached people in 30 or 40 countries.

Longboarding for Peace's most recent project is in support of the Native American activist and member of the American Indian Movement (AIM), Leonard Peltier, who was imprisoned for the death of two FBI agents in the 1970s. Many, including Amnesty International, believe he was wrongly convicted and label him a political prisoner. Peace activists have been working for decades to have his sentence reversed.

So when Rachel, a longtime advocate for the rights of Native Americans, found out that Michael was planning to start a project to benefit Peltier, she jumped at the chance to create artwork for three longboards. She explains, "He wanted to do a project that gave Leonard some public exposure to people that didn't know about the case. And he asked me to paint some longboards that would somehow define and quickly tell the story of Leonard, which was almost impossible to do."

While Rachel was challenged initially by how to tell Peltier's tale through her art, she described her ultimate inspiration for the colorful, abstract, linear work she created. "One board has a feel of earth, one board has a feel of darkness and water and the other board is one of red fire… I did some research and I found a letter that Leonard himself wrote this year, 2014, from prison. It's a beautiful letter of thoughts on peace and what it's like to be in the situation that he's in. I took excerpts from the letter that were very fitting for the story and I used Leonard's own voice and his own words to tell his own story and his own statements."

Rachel's one-of-a-kind boards will be auctioned off on eBay with the proceeds going to the Leonard Peltier Defense Fund. She stated, "Longboarding for Peace is a movement I really believe in. It's longboarders and skateboarders and anybody with a good heart and a desire to see peace in the world. It's not a non-profit, it's more of a pay it forward. So essentially we're a network of people who know people who know someone… Nobody's making any money off of it, it just people trying to help other people."

Rachel has always been interested in examining the concept of peace through her artwork and has recently launched a new jewelry line that explores the themes further. While she has been working in this realm for a long time, the current state of the world makes her mission that much more timely. She said, "I'm pretty outspoken about how I feel about what's going on in the world right now, so I'm hoping that people of like minds respond."

Her necklaces, mainly 28" in length, are handmade beads and glass on a weather froze chain. She remarked, "I want to call them Nebular, like a neutron star, a place where new hope and new life is born… to remind people that we all come from the one place, we all live in one earth, in one universe and one solar system and we should all be happy to be together here."

Rachel shared that she gets her inspiration for all of her art from nature and meditation. "I live in a very quiet, rural area and I spend a lot of time in nature. And in those quiet moments I am often inspired by either something in a meditation or some depth of color that I may see in the morning. I get up just before the sun starts to rise and I go outside… I go into mediation as the sun pops the horizon. Everyday it's something different. It's amazing when you do that for a really long time, you start to realize that every single sunrise on this planet is different, every single one."

She continued, "I am completely inspired by nature in those quiet moments… So when I paint I am trying to offer that to other people. When they look at my paintings, or they live with them like many people do, that they also can feel that connection to the universe and that connection to some serenity in their own lives. And my hope is that when people are around my work or they live with my work, that it will inspire them and they will be inspired to do something peaceful and help other people."

Find out more about Rachel's art at her website and discover more about Longboarding for Peace at

Monday, August 11, 2014

Filmmaker Mick Caouette Shines New Light on Thurgood Marshall

Image Courtesy of Mick Caouette

Most of us learned about Justice Thurgood Marshall in school. We all know he was the first black Supreme Court Justice, nominated by Lyndon Johnson in 1967. But few know of the heroic life he lived leading up to that high profile position. Filmmaker Mick Caouette has set out to change that with his new documentary Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP, scheduled for a fall 2014 release.

Mick said he wanted to make the film because he hoped to shine a light on the Thurgood Marshall none if us knew. He states, "He was the first black Supreme Court Justice, which is probably the most significant thing… A lot of people only know him from that period… But the early part of his life was, in many ways, more courageous — from 1908, when he was born, to the early 1950s… So the story we're telling is that story of that period."

He continues, "He traveled the south as an NAACP lawyer and fought case after case in these white courtrooms. It was really dangerous. He was at the foot of death wherever he went. And he traveled a lot alone. Always running from the Ku Klux Klan and other people. He slept in three or four different houses some nights and just kept moving, and all by train from Harlem to the South. He was a really courageous person."

Marshall was trying to do what no one else at the time would dare. Mick explains, "He was trying to bring equalization to education. He was trying to enroll African Americans in colleges and high schools. So the Brown vs. Board of Education decision was the culmination of his journey in 1954 and 1956."

The filmmaker, who has been making docs since the '90s, didn't know much about Marshall himself when he decided to make the film. He recalls, "I knew something about him from [my earlier film, "Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible"] because they knew each other. Humphrey was Vice President when Marshall became Supreme Court Justice. For the Humphrey film we interviewed Roger Wilkins who was Roy Wilkins nephew. Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall were best friends and they ran the NAACP together." When Mick contacted Wilkins to do a film about his uncle, Roger suggested he look into Marshall instead. "So I dug into it a little bit and he is a colorful person."

The film tells the story of how Marshall paved the way for the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. Mick tells us, "He had a dozen Supreme Court cases that had been decided that he had won, that were the foundation for all the things that happened in the '50s and '60s, like Rosa Parks. Those decisions were based on his victories in the Supreme Court."

During his research, Mick was most surprised to learn about Marshall's courage. He claimed, "I had no idea that he did what he did. At one point they brought him to the river to lynch him and he was arguing in the Supreme Court within weeks. So absurd. He got away from them at the last minute, because another group of black guys that came back from World War II had guns in the car and they chased the crowd and got him freed. That's the kind of courage he had. He was going to these kinds of places where they wanted him dead… It's not a well known story and that's why I wanted to do it."

Marshall went about his crusade under the radar and was never really acknowledged for his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. Mick points out, "He was a real hero… He was not out in the public. He was behind the scenes doing all this. He laid the foundation for the [Civil Rights Movement] and never really got credit for it."

In fact Marshall was so behind the scenes that it posed a problem for Mick while making the film. "It was tricky because he didn't really travel with a camera person, so it was hard to find visuals."

But he found resources to help round out the doc. "There were a few black filmmakers from the '40s and '50s that were shooting around Harlem and they were shooting these amateur films. And I found a number of those that were public domain and used scenes from them. And also there a lot of photographs of Marshall. And then I used contextual film from the time of Harlem and New York and other places… But I panicked at first at what I got into. There's nothing. There was no TV, no anything at the time… If you look through the old newsreels, everything's covered except African Americans, through the whole period. They were nonexistent. So it was tricky but it worked."

Mick hopes the film will be an inspiration to all people facing any kind of hurdle. He says that the film is evidence that "incredible obstacles can be overcome with persistence and drive and the belief that you can change things. What [Marhsall] changed and what he did is no less difficult than any problem we face now. He was overcoming everything. He was overcoming race. He was overcoming opposition everywhere he turned, and yet he did it. It's a story of inspiration and courage."

To find out more about Mick Caouette's film Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP visit Mick's website at and watch for the doc on screens this fall.