AHA! A House for Arts



Ruby Silvious is an artist whose moody & evocative paintings on used tea bags garnered international acclaim and attention. Learn how artist Jennifer Lanzilotti's inspiration started when her car became covered with falling leaves one autumn. Michigan artist, Steve Kolpacke, recently discovered his passion…woodturning. Go behind-the-scenes of the Cirque du Soleil show, Corteo, as it comes to Reno.

AIRED: August 21, 2019 | 0:26:46

(light music)

- On this episode of AHA!,

(light tranquil jazz)

steeped in art,

painting on leaves,

a woodturner finds his passion,

the show must go on.

It's all ahead on this episode of AHA!

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA! has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund, contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M & T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our community is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts, and we invite you to do the same.

(light tranquil jazz)

- Hi, I'm Matt Rogowicz and this is AHA! A House for Arts.

a place for all things creative.

Ruby Silvious is an artist whose moody

and evocative paintings on used teabags

garnered international acclaim and attention.

We stopped by her studio in Coxsackie, New York

to hear her story and see what she's up to next.

(light whimsical music)

- I had no idea that this innocent experiment

would change my life, and it has changed my life.

I had been doing sort of repurposing everyday objects

and so when my sister and I were having tea

and we were looking at the teabag we thought, ya think?

(softly laughs) You wanna try this?

(light whimsical music)

When I was five years old,

I don't think I ever thought that this is

what I would end up being. (softly laughs)

But it went viral, so in 2015,

the beginning of 2015, I decided

that I was going to sort of challenge

my daily practice and do something everyday.

But I could not decide what medium to use.

So I waited till the third day

and hence this series is called 363 Days of Tea.

(light whimsical music)

I had a full-time job, I was driving

all the way down to Poughkeepsie

and then at the end of the day, after dinner,

I would go up to my studio and create something on a teabag.

I did not even know anything about social media.

My kids had to set up my Instagram account

because I did not know how.

I just put it out there and just dive in

and do this project and see what happens.

I had no idea that it would resonate with a lot of people.

I was getting interviews from The Guardian,

from the UK, I had absolutely no clue

who some of these people were.

It was Metro Holland, Metro Russia,

it was getting posted and reposted

and I was also on Twitter so it was getting retweeted.

It was actually quite exciting, very exhilarated.

But at the same time, I'm looking at this art

as being viewed by the entire world now and I'm thinking,

I gotta get better at this. (softly laughs)

So when the used tea bags are dry enough,

this is how I open them,

and there's several ways to do it

and this is the easiest way, actually,

and I just use my fingers.

And I don't use scissors or anything.

I tear it in the back, I empty it out.

The process is a little, it's a little tedious

because you have to empty the teabag

and then you have to iron it before you paint on it.

And it comes in all different shapes

and it's just, actually, it's been a wonderful education

'cause I had no idea that they come in all sorts

of construction, and shapes, and sizes, and textures.

So at the end of the day, I have this teabag

that's ready to paint on.

I use gouache and watercolor

and once in a while I use a little bit of ink,

which is a fine-point marker.

The subjects are random.

So it's whatever I think of that day.

I mean, remember, this is not quite seriously thought of

and it's not planned, it's not preplanned.

So whatever inspires me that day,

it could be a sweater on clearance,

it could be something I saw,

it could be nature, I did a lot of flowers.

It could be the takeout from last night's dinner.

And I love that it's that way

and I think my viewers share the same.

I just plunged into this thing,

not thinking about making money of it

or even thinking that it could be exhibited.

It's just an outlet,

it's what makes me happy at the end of the day.

What's next is big, I wanna (softly laughs)

I want to do bigger art.

I'm doing a wearable series using the teabags.

I made kimonos out of them.

So I have done at least three kimonos,

I've done a couple of dresses,

and I'm in the process of doing more.

Always been fascinated with paper

and I've actually started a new series,

just starting this year,

and they're shoes made with paper scraps.

(soft whimsical music)

I paint on eggshells, I paint on little pistachio shells,

I paint on rocks, I think I just bore easily.

I love to do so many things.

I want the viewer to consider the art of the possible

so you can just pick up anything

and try doing something with it,

try creating something with it.

Fold it, paint on it, do all kinds of medium.

There's just this overabundance of accessible materials.

- Jennifer Lanzilotti decided

to start writing young adult fiction novels

when she left her job as a social worker

to stay home with her kids.

But when her car became covered

with falling leaves one autumn,

a new creative idea took hold.

(light acoustic guitar)

- You're working on a canvas that is part of the earth

and then if I paint on this leaf,

I'm giving a piece of earth back to somebody.

So I actually don't have a background in art.

It's really funny, my background is in social work.

I gave up social work to be home with my kids

and that's when I started writing.

So I wrote some action-adventure romance

and I kind of did it with the idea in mind

that my kids would read it one day.

They're kind of the movies that I had going through my head

that I thought, I need to get this on paper.

The series is called Heal Me

and the first book is Heal Me

and the second book is Healed.

And it's actually about a woman

who has the ability to heal.

And so at a time when terrorists

have hit nuclear power plants,

a government agent is sent to find her and bring her in

and he ends up learning that this person's not

who the world thinks she is.

For Chicory Island, there's an organism in the water

and it's the fear of if something happens

to our drinking water, to the Great Lakes,

and I'm obviously a big nature person.

I love nature so much and I'm all

about protecting the water and the Great Lakes.

I spent years writing as a stay-at-home mom

and I'd never painted before, ever in my life.

And the opportunity to paint on leaves

literally fell on my car (softly chuckles)

I parked my car under a maple tree,

and it was in the fall, and when I came outside,

my car was blanketed with maple leaves.

So the opportunity was right there.

So I picked one up and I remember thinking,

this is flawless, and I thought,

I'm gonna try it, I'm gonna just try painting.

And I honestly didn't even have any good paint.

I didn't have a good paintbrush,

and I realized for the first time

that I'm really drawn to landscapes,

and it was a learning process for me.

(light acoustic guitar)

I can collect 100 leaves and out of all those leaves,

only 50 of them are gonna be worthy.

So I bring them home, I soak 'em in the sink and water,

and then I dry them with paper towel

and I press the leaves.

I have a really good friend

who made me this really great leaf press.

(light acoustic guitar)

I wait the three weeks and then

when they're completely dry and I'm happy with it,

I'll take it outside and I'll spray it

with a protective spray,

and then it's ready to be painted.

I have always loved nature

and the idea of bringing nature inside.

It's almost nostalgic, a leaf, fallen from the earth.

And so, you're collecting a leaf that has died

and you're giving it life.

It's being reborn in the form of a painting

that will be forever preserved on someone's wall,

and I love that idea.

So, once I released this inner artist

that I obviously always had

but didn't know it until recently,

I started doing everything differently,

and I'm obsessed with trees, I love birch trees.

(light acoustic guitar)

The initial is to look at something that inspires me

but by the time I'm done with it

I have gone off in a totally different direction.

I've added my own twists to it

and it's all just almost like beginner's luck.

Everyday I'm inspired, I wanna paint or I wanna write.

I'm writing another story, it's like creativity overload.

There's so much I wanna do.

I started doing bottles.

I ran out of leaves and then I thought,

well, let me paint on a bottle,

make it one continuous scene around the bottle.

My friend gave me the idea

to turn them into incense bottles.

It works, it makes a really nice incense bottle.

It's also a bottle that you would've just thrown away

so the same concept, you're repurposing it,

recycling a bottle. (softly chuckles)

Pallet wood is really popular right now

and I remember thinking like,

I wonder if I could paint on canvas something

that would look like pallet wood.

And so, I took the canvas and I made a stencil

and I painted it and worked on it all afternoon,

and when it was done,

it actually did look like painted pallet wood.

I think somewhere with being a mom and a parent,

I dropped the idea of I can't.

I used to maybe look at something,

oh, I could never do that.

But now I have this attitude of,

hey, all I can do is try.

I don't know if I can do it, but I'm gonna try it.

And so I did and it's one of the things I'm most proud of,

out of all the things I've ever done,

it took me 30 some hours to do and tons of paint.

I'm still in the beginning stage

where if you really like my art enough

to wanna hang it in your house,

I'm just thrilled to pieces.

More than anything, I think I'm really grateful

that I was able to be a stay-at-home mom

because that gave me the extra time

and this was a discovery for me.

I don't ever wanna quit painting,

I wanna keep going and pursuing it.

I'm just so grateful that I have this.

I would definitely like to keep selling

and I'd like to get my books published

and I would like to really get my name out there.

I'd just be happy to have more than 100 followers

on Instagram, to be honest. (softly laughs)

(light acoustic guitar)

- Michigan artist Steve Kolpacke

recently discovered his passion, woodturning.

We catch up with him in his studio in Metro Detroit.

(soft acoustic guitar)

- It matches nature and life, that things aren't perfect,

that there's always something different there.

And it's just the little hidden surprises

I think you find on the inside.

I like the outdoors, working with trees,

with wood is just pleasure.

Eight or nine years ago I started it.

Pretty much all it was self-taught.

I have always wanted to make stuff.

So I started building furniture probably about 25 years ago.

And occasionally, I had a need to turn something.

So I've got a machine lathe in the garage

that I've used to make stuff

and then once I started using that

for furniture pieces and other functional things,

it started turning into art.

To me it gives a second life to the tree.

It served its primary function,

and then it could be either used for construction,

for furniture, for fire, but to me,

turning it into an object of art is special.

The process is almost all manual.

So there's a motor driving the object

but everything, everything is by hand.

You move the tool bit by hand,

you do all the sanding by hand,

and you do the finishing by hand.

A lot of people are amazed at the object you're starting.

I start with something that looks

like it should be thrown into a fire pit or in a dump

and start taking away from it.

The tool that I use is a lathe.

So lathe is a machine that you attach an object to,

you spin it around so you get a general circular form to it.

But as you start cutting away at the piece,

you starting seeing more of what's inside.

Today you're gonna see various stages.

You'll see it all the way from the raw material

to getting chunks of wood into a shape

that you can actually start to cut them.

We'll see some rough turning of the outside

to get it to its rough shape.

We'll see some finished cutting on that.

With every piece, it gets attached more than once.

So you'll attach it one direction,

you have to turn it around to finish the other side.

So we'll see an example of finishing the other side,

we'll see an example of some hollowing out,

and throughout this we'll see various parts

in different stages, it won't be the same part.

'Cause it can take up to weeks to create a part,

or if you're starting with wet wood,

it takes months 'cause you need

to dry it out in between several days.

I look at a piece of wood

and I have an idea of what I wanna do.

And nine times out of 10,

it comes out completely different.

As you start to cut away, you start to see

and instead of you telling the wood what you want it to do,

the wood more tells you the shape that it wants to be.

I see what a lot of people look at

that are defects, or voids,

and to me it brings out the character of it.

So you start to see the grain inside,

you start to see different objects in there.

You'll find out that a branch came out of one side.

So there's additional feature that you start to see.

But you can see this one's got a lot of character.

There's the pith here, which is the center of the tree.

That's got a hole going all the way through it.

We'll try to keep that as much as we can.

And then there's this other one here

that appears that maybe there was a branch in here

and we're also trying to keep that.

It's addictive, there's a rhythm

of actually doing the cutting

and I can find that I can stand at the lathe

for sometimes six to eight hours a day doing it.

And it's exciting because as you keep cutting away at it,

you see something new, so it's kind of an adventure.

A vast majority of it is art.

So I do vases, I do vessels.

So a vessel is something that has a very small opening

at the top of it, it's hollowed out on the inside.

And of course, a favorite is Christmas ornaments.

And I do functional stuff.

On the functional side, salad bowls,

and rolling pins, stuff like that.

I would say 95% of what I use is

not only local but probably within about 50 miles.

I work with just about anything I get my hands on.

I've used walnut, oak, box elder, and ash.

So ash, with ash we're again,

there's a lot of wood available there.

In a short period of time,

probably very little will be available

'cause there's no more ash trees.

But each species has different texture,

different ability to cut.

So some are very easy to cut,

the grain and the fibers in it are easy to cut through

but they may not leave a good finish on the outside,

and others that are very hard, tougher to cut,

but they polish out very well.

I cannot reproduce any piece, they're all different.

They all start from a different piece of wood.

I can make maybe shapes that are the same

but I can't get the textures the same.

I can't get the same voids and other things like that.

So to me, art is important 'cause it's unique.

The message for people is just to enjoy it.

To enjoy that it's another use for the tree,

that also it's tactile, it's something

that you can touch and feel.

A common theme I find is people look at it

and it fills a void somewhere

either in their life or in their home.

So a lot of people have looked at it

and said, "I've got a perfect spot for that."

I learn something new everyday.

It's actually a big stress relief.

So as you go through life,

there's certain challenges here and there

and to be able to have something that you can go home to

and thoroughly enjoy it is great.

(soft acoustic guitar)

- Finally, let's go behind the scenes

of the Cirque du Soleil show, Corteo, as it comes to Reno.

(applause) - And now, we invite you

into the world of Corteo!

- Corteo means cortege, or procession, it comes from Italian

because they show it as a sort of clown

who is dreaming about his own funeral

but in an kind of atmosphere.

You're gonna see his friends from all over the world

and different circuses coming to see him,

show their amazing skills they have.

- [Jeffrey] It's the telling of his loves,

and triumphs, and faults,

and while the audience is being a part of it the whole time.

They get to sit and feel like they're on stage with him

as he goes through these memories in his mind.

- [Maxwell] Even the main theme

of the show is his own funeral,

it shows a celebration of life.

(upbeat music)

- [Host] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to...

- It takes us about a 12-hour day

to set the show up from an empty floor

to ready to go for the artists to arrive.

The first nine hours of that is us

getting the set actually built, installed,

and everything cabled, and the last three hours

for the lighting department and the sound department

is checking everything in a dark room.

- They are going through each act of the show,

every single moment of the show,

they need to go through it

and make sure that we have the lights

in the right position and the right color as well.

So they are checking the lighting,

we have the rigging team, also checking everything

that we use to make our performance fly,

not only the performance but also flying apparatuses.

We have the automation team making sure

that everything that moves on stage,

on the floor, in the air, is also in place.

- [Jeffrey] The lights play a very key point

in the safety reference for the artist.

They're used to seeing a beam at a certain angle

and a certain part of the set lit up.

That's where they know where they're at

in a role or a tumble,

and they can always stop right on the same spot

because they know the edge of the light is where it is.

But it's a subtle thing we can play to help them be safer.

(light tranquil music)

- This story is very unique

from any other Cirque du Soleil production

because of the way the stage is set up.

It's right in the middle of the arena

and the audience is sitting on both sides of it.

This way when you're watching the show,

you see something extraordinary happening on the stage

and the reaction of people on the other side of the stage,

you have the feeling of the actors,

so you know how does it feel to be on stage

and how do you see the reaction of people

when they see something amazing happening in front of you.

(actor speaking foreign language)


- You do have to change the way you perform.

You have to be able to perform at every angle.

That was something that took a little getting used to.

I've been in other shows but I've never been in a show

where I'm being watched from every single angle.

There's moments where you feel like nobody's missing a trick

and if you make a mistake or something,

you feel right in the middle of everyone's eye line.

(soft rhythmic drums)

- The creator of the show,

Daniele Finzi Pasca, he wanted the technicians

to also have some visibility because they are

as important as our performers as well.

They are a part of the show as well

so by the end of the show, all the performers,

they'll look back to the set of the stage

and all the technicians, they'll run and cross

into a high five with each other from one side to the other.

It's a very small moment that they are being part

of the show somehow, but it's beautiful to see

that our director recognizes the hard work,

not only from people on stage but also off stage as well.

(light whimsical piano)

- [Jeffrey] We're here to set the mood and help

subtly influence people into completely leaving the world

they're in and remember they're not in an arena.

And feel like they've moved into

wherever he is at any point,

whether it's the warmth in the air

or just a subtle little sound coming out

of the speaker behind them.

It's enough to just take them away into another world.

There is an amazing sound that comes out

of almost every audience at some point

during the show which is just you hear them

collectively all gasp at the same time

and it's the most spine-tingling moment

for somebody running the show

because you know you've made an impact.

- [Actor] It's too much, I'm already dead.

- The only time our job titles matter is

when the show's actually running.

- We have 52 performers who are 18 different nationalities.

They come from the most different backgrounds.

We have musicians, we have singers, actors, dancers,

people coming from gymnastics, circuses too.

So it's a very mixed group.

- [Jeffrey] We're about 110 people on the road together

and when the show finishes at the end of the night,

we eat in the same catering,

we're living in the same venues,

we travel together on the same plane or bus.

- And seeing these people from so many different places,

working together and being able to put this beautiful piece

of Corteo on stage every week, this is definitely

one of the best things that we could have.

- When the show is over we are 110 family members.

We're there for each other, we support each other.

If you're having a bad day, somebody's gonna be there

to support you and if you're having an amazing day,

you've got this 109-troupe behind you

that wants to celebrate your accomplishments with you.

(whimsical brass music)

- And that wraps it up for this edition of AHA!

For more arts and culture, visit mnht.org/aha

where you'll find features about our creative world

in our backyards and across the country.

Until next time, I'm Matt Rogowicz, thanks for watching.

(light tranquil jazz)

- [Announcer] Funding for AHA! has been provided

by your contribution and by contributions

to the WMHT Venture Fund, contributors include

The Leo Cox Beach Philanthropic Foundation,

Chet and Karen Opalka, Robert and Doris Fischer Malesardi,

and The Robison Family Foundation.

- At M&T Bank we understand that the vitality

of our community is crucial to our continued success.

That's why we take an active role in our community.

M&T Bank is pleased to support WMHT programming

that highlights the arts and we invite you to do the same.


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