WEDU Arts Plus


Episode 1005

A Martial arts duo is sharing their craft with at-risk kids and the local community. Artist John Cross transforms blocks of wood into wonderfully defined sculptures. Bronze artist Merrilee Cleveland translates her life as an artist and a mother into her metal works. An exhibition at MassArt explores The Cultural Revolution in China through the works of eight Chinese artists.

AIRED: March 04, 2021 | 0:26:45

- [Male Narrator] This is a production of WEDU PBS,

Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota.

Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus is provided

through the greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts-loving donor,

who encourages others to support your PBS station, WEDU.

And, by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

- [Dalia] In this edition of WEDU Arts Plus,

a husband and wife team share the lessons

of an ancient art form.

- People should know that without ever seeing your gi,

without ever seeing your belt, it's how you carry yourself,

it's how you present yourself.

- [Dalia] History whittled in wood,

- The stuff I do tends to have a little sense

of period to it.

- [Dalia] Transformation through bronze.

- I think that's an amazingly positive message

to just put on a piece of bronze.

- [Dalia] And artists respond to the cultural revolution.

- [Liang] The only love you could express

during that period of time

was the love of the communist party,

and love of the country.

- It's all coming up next on WEDU, Arts Plus.

(upbeat music)

- Hello, I'm Dalia Colon, and this is WEDU, Arts Plus.

Martial arts have been around for thousands of years,

but they are not just for combat and competition.

Through the tutelage of Bryant and Leotte Harrell,

this art form provides confidence

and and outlet for creative expression.

Join us as we enter the St. Petersburg gojo

of the Midtown Miracles.

(gentle music)

- Fifty years ago, my uncle, who's my hero,

my uncle, Joseph Harrell, he started teaching me Judo,

and then Jiu Jitzu, and then Hapkido,

when he came back from doing a couple tours in Vietnam.

He was basically the springboard

that launched my martial arts journey.

He turned me on to another martial artist,

another dynamic martial artist, by the name

of Soke Li'l John Davis, and Soke Li'l John

is the epitome of what martial art is all about.

(woman yelling)

- I started training when I was a teenager,

I love being physical, actually, Tae Bo (grunts)

got me started. (laughs)

But then I really fell in love with it,

and I really started at about 18 years old.

I took up Tangsudo,

and the rest just kind of took off from there.

I was like, "I love it!"

I love the fact that I don't need a weapon,

I can be the weapon.

(Leotte calling out instructions)

- Always be...

- [Students] Ready!

- I was attacked and raped in college by an ex-boyfriend,

and at that point, my training became serious.

So, then I went on this search for, like,

I need some real life, hard tactical training,

and I found my Sifu, Sifu Karen,

and she's a tenth degree, full contact, no pads,

like, the real deal kind of training.

Her classes were small, because it's intense

and not many could take it,

but that was exactly what I was looking for.

- Safety and security is something that's really dear

and near to my wife and I, to our hearts,

and she studied martial arts before she met me,

and then we come together.

We just got a passion for people.

- So, you know, we're at the community center,

waiting, hoping people come in,

but a lot of time, they just weren't.

We went out and we hit the streets,

and we went to the parks, and, you know,

where they're sitting out in their front yard,

I'm like, "Hey!"

Then that got the ball rolling.

- And just getting the chance to actually be in the center,

and seeing the kids come in,

and just getting inspired by knowing how big it was,

the impact that the kids were gonna have on the community.

- By the end of the first class,

they can come to attention, they're giving courtesy bow,

and they're loud like, (grunts)!

Like, and to see the shock on their parents' faces,

because for a lot of them,

this was the most discipline they've ever seen

in their kids.

(Leotte calling out instructions)

- We was always involved in some kind of community thing,

as far as sports, but we got wind of this,

Eriyana started participating,

and we try to help out as much as we can with the program.

Soke and (indistinct) does an amazing job with these kids.

- Well, I played sports before I started doing karate.

Basketball, flag football, soccer, and I played tee ball.

- Being able to focus and concentrate,

and possibly being able to take their mind off

of some of the other things that they could be getting into,

and putting that energy and focus into martial arts.

So, I thought it was pretty awesome.

- Most people in my school don't do karate.

I'm very proud of myself for starting,

and I'm already a purple belt, and I was in about a year.

- One thing that Soke's always saying and stressing,

"I want you to express yourself." Express yourself.

It is a tremendous way to channel everything.

Every emotion can come out when you're practicing your kata.

- I am!

- I am!

- A martial artist.

- A martial artist!

- Sometimes when they go home, they're like,

"Eli, show me how to do this," and "show me how to do it,"

so he takes a lot of pride in being able

to show them what to do.

A lot of confidence.

- I am!

- A mighty miracle.

- A mighty miracle!

- There's been a name change.

When we first started the program, almost four years ago,

it was the Midtown Miracles, you know?

And now, we changed it due to COVID,

and also due to trans-, you know, transcending is big,

you know, that word, transcend,

means come out of self, come out of something,

be different, be bigger.

You know, I lost my son almost 30-some years ago.

And he was 15 months old, died of a massive heart attack.

And I was overseas at the time.

And so, what I tell the kids, it was my katas,

my routines, you know,

my techniques that got me through that.

So I use that, and I dedicate what I do to him.

- You're not just a mighty miracle.

You're a martial artist, and a mighty miracle.

When we say our mantra at the end, "I AM a mighty miracle,"

we want you to recognize that,

we want you to represent that.

Not just for us, but for you.

You know, take pride in that.

And let people know, not just by what you say,

not just by walking around with your gi,

let them feel it.

- For more info,

visit the Midtown Miracles page on Facebook.

What do Pavarotti, Abraham Lincoln, and Babe Ruth

have in common?

They're all featured in the work of artist, John Cross,

who whittles blocks of wood

into wonderfully defined sculptures.

(knife scraping)

(jazz music)

- For some reason, and it's not clear,

I don't know if it is for any artist,

I wanted to be an artist.

I had a gift, I think?

(jazz music continues)

I learned to carve.

(jazz music continues)

I remember, as a boy, I was really little,

we lived in Jersey, and there was an old grandfather

lived next door to me.

And he carved little pigs

for his kids, for his grandchildren.

And I thought that was so wonderful.

He was able to carve these things, give them away,

and he just knocked 'em off, I mean, he'd do tons of them.

And I thought, well, what a nice thing that would be to do,

and then, so I think that's what first attracted me.

I started doing sort of primitive figures.

Somehow, somebody saw those.

The guy said, "yeah, I'd like to show your work,

do you wanna show it?"

I said, "Well, I don't know anything about," I mean,

I knew artists showed.

This guy sold out the show.

And I said, "wow, this is pretty good,"

and I knew I wasn't gonna get out of advertising right away,

but it was great.

(big band music)

The stuff I do tends to have a little sense of period to it.

(big band music continues)

I like the older time, I think we all do,

it was kind of wonderful, and I liked sports,

I liked baseball, so I carved the Giant-Dodger game in '51.

(upbeat music)

(recording of baseball announcer)

I buy white pine from the south,

and it's a very nice wood to carve, it's soft,

and it has a lovely smell to it.

When you hold it in your hands,

you can smell the pine-y-ness of it.

And then I would saw it up into lengths,

say, "okay, I'm gonna do a figure this tall."

I like to work from the head, down,

because what can happen if you don't,

is you start off with a body,

and then you end up,

and you haven't got room enough for a good sized head.

(accordion music)

If you've ever been to the circus,

there would be the big parade,

this is, basically, my version of that parade

with the elephant, and the baby,

and the man who picks up what the elephants leave behind.

(accordion music continues)

I did this for my grandson, and his name is Will.

The Will Cross Traveling Circus, greatest show on Earth.

(accordion music continues)

Absolut came to me and said, would I do one of their ads.

They used to feature artists. Warhol,

there'd be Absolut Warhol, Absolut this, Absolut that.

And I, so, I said, "sure, I'd love to,"

and they paid for it, and I was happy to do it.

And they said, "well, what would you do for us?"

And I said, "well, how about guys sitting on chairs,

stacked Absolut boxes, playing checkers?"

'Cause that meant I'd just have to slice off a stick

or a dowling.

They said, "well, we'd like that, but the head of, Mr. Ruse,

head of Absolut, is a chess player,"

and "could you carve a chess game?"

So, obviously, carving a chess game

is different than carving a checker game.

So, but I did a chess game, and it was kinda fun.

I carved a lot of guys, and I said,

"well, wait a minute, I gotta start carving girls."

(jazz music)

It was a nice thing to carve,

because it was an action figure,

they were moving, and swan diving.

(jazz music continues)

Carving, wood carving, whittling, if you would,

is a nostalgic activity.

I can spend days doing it.

(jazz music continues)

- You can find more of John Cross's work


Merrilee Cleveland's life as an artist, a wife,

and a mother in Williamsburg, Virginia,

isn't the typical juggling act.

For this bronze artist, it is the transformations

in her own life that provide the themes for her sculptures.

- Casting the work in metal,

it's just a medium that I've become really comfortable with,

and that I really, (laughs) for lack of a better word,

I can really shine. (laughing)

♪ There's that sunshine ♪

♪ Coming out again ♪

Bronze is really the butter of metals.

It is very cast-able, very weldable,

it's great to hand file, it's great to sand,

very tool-able, in short, you can control it.

♪ There's that sunshine ♪

As a little, little kid, I used to play in dirt piles a lot.

(laughing) You know?

But I remember finding this huge cast iron gear,

and feeling like, "wow, how did it get here?"

Like it just came down from space

and (mimics explosion) got planted there.

For me, it's sort of suspending disbelief with your artwork.

They shouldn't be able to see all the work

that came into it, they should just be like,

"wow, how did that get here?"

"How did she make it?"

I try to do things that compliment, are attractive,

and make people happy,

and I know there's a place for political work,

and controversial artwork, but I don't think that's me.

As a kid, I remember looking at the sky

and trying to figure out how somebody could see a bear

in the stars, or a dipper,

but I read a lot of books about star lore,

there are typal figures,

some of these characters are like our modern day superheros,

there's something for everybody there.

I typically sketch in 3D, in wax.

This is a microcrystalline wax,

it's developed for sculpture purposes.

Three figures based on Pulpi Cucina's

that are my own take on them, so I have modified them a lot.

One of them's like a sun god, he has a rainbow.

If something doesn't make me smile,

I will throw it back and melt it down.

It didn't make it.

Some things don't get committed to bronze.

When James and I got together and I moved here,

I continued to cast my work at foundries

in Loveland, Colorado, which is where I moved here from.

I'm not currently pouring bronze in my studio,

so we did visit some dear friends of mine,

who are professors at East Carolina University,

and they opened their foundry up.

What's the largest thing you've poured here?

- It's the ECU pirate.

- [Merrilee] The pirate? That's here on campus?

- [Man] Yeah, here on campus. Jodi made, and I helped.

- Well, we're just pouring little stuff today, but.

- Yeah.

- It was a wonderful opportunity, I think, for all of us,

and to let my daughter and my husband be involved, too,

which was pretty great for me, to share that.

This is Quinn Elizabeth, she's our greatest work of art

and collaboration.

It's mostly a visual experience, I think, for her.

- One of the things that I concentrate on now,

is just just teaching her to be comfortable

in the environment wear her mom creates.

I figured out early, the women in my family play with fire.

- I've seen hot metal flow,

I really do feel at home in that environment.

Got a kind of a tribal feel. It's very social.

At that level, you really need to do the dance

with your team,

'cause if you're not right on track with them,

you could end in disaster.

(fire roaring)

(metal clinking)

(workers chattering)

(casts shattering)

(metal clinking)

We did it!

- As an artist and a mother,

a lot of people can't make that decision,

or don't make that jump.

They decide to pick one or the other.

- I think about it, too, just in my life is,

how can I make this situation the best it can be?

I think that that's amazingly positive message

to just put on a piece of bronze.

- We had kind of been on our own professional tracks

and had not really contemplated having a family,

and that's a huge transformation.

I've always liked the saying that

"the same fire that melts the butter hardens steel,"

and I think that the crucible of childbirth,

and parenthood, and marriage has totally made us stronger.

- I thought he didn't know what he was getting into,

and I'm still wondering.

- Too late now!

(both laughing)

- I've been excited to be in the Williamsburg Art Gallery

in Merchant Square, it's a beautiful setting,

a very intimate experience with fine art.

A three dimensional piece of artwork,

people should wanna walk around the backside.

There should be a question,

enough that you wanna see the other side,

that it's a story, still,

even though it's all there at one time.

The Cosmo Dancers.

When you see somebody have an emotional response

to work that you've done,

then you go, "yeah, I did it."

Learning to communicate

through a three dimensional visual image,

I wanna inspire some curiosity and wonder.

That's the story.

(hopeful music)

- For more information about Cleveland's work,

go to

The cultural revolution in China lasted from 1966

until 1976, but its legacy lives on.

An exhibition at Mass Art in Boston, Massachusetts,

looks at the revolution through the lens

of eight Chinese artists who either lived through it,

or were shaped by it.

- In my own family, it's not talked about.

- [Male Narrator] Artist Fred Han Chang Liang

was 12 years old when his family left China,

just three months before the end of the cultural revolution,

a decade long period that saw Chairman Mao strip the country

of its heritage, history, and ancient ways.

- The entire society was collapsing in terms of culture,

but that doesn't mean culture didn't exist.

I was very much into drawings, looking at art,

looking at whatever kind of art that I had,

it was just very limited.

- [Male Narrator] For Liang

and the seven other artists featured in this exhibition,

their work is meant to be a reclamation.

They're processing what the cultural revolution did to them,

both culturally, and individually.

- [Liang] Everyone's humanity was stripped down

to the most neutral sense,

and the only love you can express during that period of time

was the love of the communist party,

and love of the country.

- All of the artists in the show are expressing a dream,

whether it's a more socially aware dream,

or something that they want to call our attention to,

- [Male Narrator] Lisa Tung is the curator

of the show she titled, Chinese Dreams.

- [Tung] It's all very, very beautiful,

and very thought provoking,

and sometimes, what you see on the surface

is a little bit different than what you think it's saying

when you delve a little deeper.

- [Male Narrator] This photograph, by Hai Bo,

shows a moment of intimacy between an elderly couple.

But it's actually the picture of how they've been abandoned

by modernization.

What could be Zon Wong's enduring mark

of ancient calligraphy, devolves into darkness,

and his work, "Night", features two men happily caught

in the throws of a rally.

The piece even shimmers up close.

- It's like diamond dust or something,

and you get very, very close,

and you realize that the painting

is actually painted all with ash.

So, during the cultural revolution,

Mao tried to stamp out any religion.

So "Night" is created entirely with ash

sourced from Buddhist temples.

So if you look a little closer,

you realize that it's saying that, you know,

this is something that the cultural revolution tried

to stamp out, but it has still persevered.

- [Male Narrator] During the cultural revolution,

millions were killed, died of starvation,

were imprisoned, or sent to labor camps.

Even for these artists, working after the revolution,

art making came at their own peril.

Many first showed in underground galleries.

Performance art, though, presented less risk.

- [Tung] It happens in a set amount of time

and then it goes away.

There's no trace of anything

that could be used against them.

- [Male Narrator] Unless it's recorded.

This film, by Ma Cho Sha, shows her discussing the toll

of China's one child policy,

with a razor blade in her mouth.

In curating the show, Tung chose works in media

that reflected China's long history of art making,

painting, porcelain, and paper.

Like Fred Liang's sculpture,

seemingly steeped and stacked in heritage.

- [Liang] It probably doesn't jump out as having, like,

kind of a Chinese influence,

but generally speaking, the large part of the influence

is from using a Chinese folk art form,

called genesis, paper cut.

- [Male Narrator] He created this installation

using one of China's most historic white porcelains.

- [Male Interviewer] Now, tell me,

are these pieces emerging or receding?

- [Liang] You can think of it either way,

because one of the things that I'm trying to get across,

is that it's in flux, it's in transition,

as a metaphor for ideas gets transitioned

from one location to another.

- [Male Narrator] Just as this exhibition does.

So, would you ever see an exhibition like this inside China?

- Every one of these artists have shown in China,

every one of these paintings has shown in China,

but never in this context.

So that's what makes this exhibition kind of unique.

- For more exhibitions at Mass Art in Boston, Massachusetts,


And that wraps it up for this addition of WEDU Arts Plus.

For more arts and culture, visit

Until next time, I'm Dalia Colon.

Thanks for watching.

(rhythmic music)

- [Male Narrator] Major funding for WEDU Arts Plus

is provided through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation

by an arts loving donor,

who encourages others to support your PBS station, WEDU.

And, by the Pinellas Community Foundation,

giving humanity a hand since 1969.

(orchestral swell)