WLIW Arts Beat


WLIW Arts Beat - February 3, 2020

In this edition of WLIW Arts Beat, an artist reflects his New Mexican roots; exploring Harlem's history of art; a family creates handmade leather goods; and a sculptor shares her passion with her community.

AIRED: February 03, 2020 | 0:26:46



>> In this edition of

"WLIW Arts Beat"...

An artist creates

to keep his heritage alive...

>> We're forgetting about

our roots.

We're forgetting

about where we came from,

and our morals and values,

they're disappearing.

I feel that it's very important

to keep those traditions alive.

>> A place considered an engine

of artistic expression...

>> I see vibrance.

I see a people

who have been through so much

and were given so little

and have made this out of it,

this miraculous -- this place.

A lot of people describe

Harlem as a cultural mecca.

>> Handmade, hand-tooled leather


>> I'm the one

who picks out the leathers

because I like what I see.

And I also do trim work

and zipper work.

We have a lot of

different colors.

We have, like, eggplant

and a green and gold

and yellow and everything,

all my favorite colors --

we really do -- that

are fall colors.

>> And a sculptor shares

her passion through her

whimsical creations...

>> I just love to watch

people look at the pieces

that are there and giggle.

That's what I want.

I want them to make it

part of their daily grin.

Have fun with it.

>> It's all ahead on

this edition of

"WLIW Arts Beat."

Funding for "WLIW Arts Beat" was

made possible by viewers like


Welcome to "WLIW Arts Beat."

I'm Diane Masciale.

New Mexico artist Thomas Vigil

is pursuing a harmony

between culture, religion,

and his love for art.

We meet the artist

to learn how he brings

all of these elements

together in his creations.

>> I've always had to pick up

a pencil, a pen, a crayon, a

spray can, and express myself.

When I was exposed

to graffiti at a young age,

I felt like that was

a pure art form.

There's something about creating

for the sake of creating.


>> Can you tell me about that

snippet of origin story

for you as an artist?

>> I've always forced myself

to work with acrylics

and oils and paintbrushes

and canvas because

that's what I was taught.

I eventually realized

that it was the canvas.

It was the frames.

It was everything that was kind

of standing in the way.

So, I said if I was

going to continue to do artwork,

I was gonna do it my way.


It's when I was trying

to conform to how everybody else

was doing things

that I was failing,

that I wasn't ever whole.

And now that I'm breaking

the rules

and doing it my own way,

painting on what I want to paint

with my own medium

is where I'm really succeeding.



>> How do your mixed-media

pieces of art tell a story?

>> More than anything,

I've worked on street signs.

I've worked on license plates.

I've worked on old scrap pieces

of metal, old barn wood.

Some things can be found

around the neighborhood.

At one point I asked

the New Mexico

Department of Transportation

if they had any old signs,

and they actually donated

quite a bit to me.

The found objects themselves,

they're not necessarily just

an old piece of rusty trash.

It's something that this once

was somebody's license plate

that they had on their vehicle.

God knows how far it's traveled,

how long it sat

in somebody's shed

and then got forgotten

and thrown in the dump,

and somebody else picked it up

and collected it.

I feel like every found object

has a story all on its own.

To place historical figures

on those things brings

those stories to life.

The Bible itself is

the oldest story ever told.

And I feel like I'm combining

the story I'm trying to tell

with historical stories

and bringing it all together

at the same time

and trying to convey something

that evokes one's emotions.




>> When you made that

transition, why the icons?

>> I have always been drawn

to religious imagery,

and I grew up in the church,

and I followed the church.

I found myself, more so rather

than listening to the lecture,

looking at all the artwork

on the walls

and all the sculptures

and these big murals and altars.

And I found

that more interesting

than the actual lecture.

And it's always stuck with me.

Obviously, you hear all these

stories growing up

from the Bible and from saints,

and it affects you,

and it makes you

become a better person.

At the same time, these images

were speaking to me.

When I was painting them,

I realized that they spoke

to other people, as well.

And the images themselves

continue to hold the story.

>> Can you share an example

with us, one of your favorite

stories that you've told

through your art?

>> I've always been drawn to

Our Lady of Sorrows.

>> Mm-hmm.

>> For some reason, that image

has just always spoke to me.

And even though I didn't know

the story when I was a young

kid, asking the questions and

learning that it was about

Mary's Seven Sorrows, about the

day that Jesus died.

And I wanted

to tell the same story.

And the Virgin Mary itself

is something that you'll see in

my artwork over and over again.

I've painted her a hundred

different ways.

But the later Sorrows has

a sacred heart

sitting in front of her

with seven swords in it,

and each sword has its own story

and reason for her pain.

>> Why does this story

speak to you?

>> There's something about what

she had to endure as a mother

and what Jesus went through

for everybody, for humanity.

And people forget that,

that He gave his life so that we

could be forgiven for our sins.

And she is a mother.

I feel like any mother that has

to see her child go through

that was affected by it.

And La Pietà

and Our Lady of Sorrows,

it's just a testimony to that.

The imagery that people

have painted of her

and her pain has always been

something that's affected me.

It's something

that conveys emotion.

And what other way

than do it in a fresh

and new way that speaks

to the younger generation?




>> Thomas, how do you feel

about reinventing tradition

through your art?

>> I feel that it's a necessity.

I feel that people forget where

we came from and are easily,

with everything that's happening

in the modern world,

all the tragedies,

with cellphones, with the

Kardashians, with all this

stuff, our minds are overloaded

with a need for the next thing.

And we're forgetting

about our roots.

We're forgetting about where we

came from, and our morals and

values, they're disappearing.

So, I feel that

it's very important

to keep those traditions alive,

those traditions

that are fading away.

We really need to continue

to keep true to our values.

And by creating things with this

iconography and the symbolism,

I'm hoping

to keep these things alive.

And I don't really care

what religion you are,

but I feel like to have religion

or to have some kind of

greater sense of good,

it's a good thing.

We should all be concerned

about treating each other

the right way.

>> And now for the artist's

quote of the week...



Harlem, New York,

has long been a cultural mecca,

a place where black artists

settled in the early

20th century

and created an engine

of artistic expression.

The Addison Gallery of American

Art in Massachusetts

explores that history

from the artists

who documented it to the artists

who define it today.

>> ♪ Drop me off in Harlem,

anyplace in Harlem ♪

♪ There's someone waiting there

who makes it seem like heaven

up in Harlem ♪

>> The 19-teens saw the start of

the Great Migration,

when millions

of African-Americans

moved from the South,

many to the North,

and to Harlem, which became

an oasis from oppression,

especially for artists.

>> The art was important then

in creating a new visual lexicon

for African-Americans

against histories

of dehumanizing and degrading

stereotypes and imagery in the

American popular imagination.

>> At the Addison Gallery

of American Art, we find nearly

100 years of life in Harlem,

mostly in photographs

from the museum's collection.

The show takes us

from the 1930s, just after the

Harlem Renaissance, to today.

>> I see vibrance.

I see a people

who have been through so much

and were given so little

and have made this out of it,

this miraculous -- this place.

A lot of people describe Harlem

as a cultural mecca.

This is where a lot

of the socializing happened,

was out on street corners

or in front of shops.

>> Stephanie Sparling Williams

is the exhibition's curator.

The Harlem of the 1930s,

she says, was a place reeling

from the Great Depression.

And here in the work of both

black and white photographers,

it is a place of both

fortune and despair.

>> You see a tension

between Harlem's working class,

the unemployed, and then also

Harlem's upper- and middle-class

citizens stuck within Harlem,

but all trying to pick up

the pieces.

>> As difficult as the times

may have been,

a number of black artists

featured here,

like photographer Roy DeCarava,

focused on more than misfortune.

This work is titled

"Graduation Day."

What do you see there?

>> Oh, man.

I see celebration.

I do.

I see a beautiful woman

in a dress

that has taken to the streets.

You know, maybe

she's in transition.

And you see a print on the back.

I think it's a playbill.

And it says in Spanish,

"The woman

emerges out of darkness."

>> We've been asking ourselves

this question -- what is

America? -- a question that is

both an eternal question

and a timely question.

>> Judith Dolkart

is the Addison's director.

By the 1960s, Harlem became

a hotbed of protest in America,

thanks in no small part,

she says,

to its community of artists.

>> I always see artists

as active agents in the culture,

so artists have the ability

to change the culture

as much as anyone else.

They have a point of view,

and they are putting

a point of view out there.

>> In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s,

Harlem's streets were host

to civil rights' marches

and later black-power rallies.

It brought an energy

that Stephanie Sparling Williams

says courses through

these photographs.

>> I describe it as a buzz,

the sound when you get off

the subway

of just people in the streets.

And I think that's captured

throughout the exhibition,

not only the built environment

and people, but how both

come together to create

the social life of Harlem,

the lifeblood of

the neighborhood itself.

>> Today, Harlem offers

a different story.

Gentrification has taken hold.

Its way of life is changing,

as it always has.

But now so are its people.

>> It comes into sharp focus

through Dawoud Bey's

series "Harlem Redux,"

which he shot in 2016.

When we see the development,

the construction,

we see the different ways

in which space is being claimed

by other bodies,

particularly white bodies.

>> The show's parting shot,

though, is an epic one

by Kehinde Wiley, who created

this instantly famous portrait

of President Barack Obama.

The subject, regal and wielding

a sword on his equally

mighty horse, was straight off

125th Street in Harlem.

>> It's carrying along

this tradition

of self-determined imagery.

But also there's a tension,


This tension between

the art-historical canon,

this genre

that African-Americans

would never find themselves


The black body

was never portrayed

in these heroic paintings

that depicted valor

and masculinity

and virility often.

But Wiley shows us that

the black figure is no less

powerful, no less masculine.

>> Instead, there is glory

in a neighborhood

that has long fed it.

>> And now here's a look

at this month's fun fact...



In Mount Vernon, Ohio,

four generations of one family

have been creating

handmade, hand-tooled

leather goods, from carpetbags

and purses to belts

and key chains.

In this segment,

we hear more about this

almost 50-year family tradition.



>> You're in Down Home Leather.

We manufacture

and make and design all

of the products in this store,

and everything is made

right here in Mount Vernon.


We started in 1969.

So, we have been here

almost 50 years.

I grew up in a leather shop

that my father ran

in Mount Vernon, and his father

also had a leather shop.

Me and my son produce

90% of it.

My wife cleans up our act.

She is quality assurance

to make sure the things we bring

are finished,

or she sends him back.


>> I'm the one

who picks out the leathers

because I like what I see.

And I also do trim work

and zipper work.

We have a lot

of different colors.

We have, like, eggplant

and a green and gold

and yellow and everything,

all my favorite colors --

we really do -- that

are fall colors.


>> Well, it's got this magic

aroma that people seem to like.

And I do especially.

The fibers are very tough.

You can cut them

in almost any direction.

It's not like material

that you have to be so careful

of which way the fabric

is pulling or stretching.

But it's got a tough resiliency

and nice to work with.

You look at several things,

and you say, "Well,

if we made this better

or a different color,

it's gonna look really nice."

So you have your own inspiration

and your own ideas

that bring forth these ideas.

And hopefully somebody else

is going to agree with you.

And we enjoy, you know,

putting things together

and getting it finished.

It sometimes

does not behave itself.

And sometimes it's stiffer than

it should be, and other times,

it's not as resilient

as it should be.

And every hide

is completely different.


One mistake that people make

with leather is when you get

leather wet, you do not want

to get it near heat.

Don't try to dry it in any kind

of heat or put it in the sun.

If you just let it at a cool

temperature dry naturally,

it will not hurt it at all.


>> After all these years,

I see people that they have

bought purses from us 30 years

ago, and they're still carrying

them, and they tell me about it.

Makes me feel fantastic.

It really does.

>> I mean, it's an enjoyable

business at this point.

I hope it can stay this way.

I don't want to increase

production to a mind-boggling

thing or anything else.

As long as we can keep people

happy, that's an enjoyable part

of whatever anybody's doing.


>> And here's a look

at this week's art history...




A sculptor in the Detroit,


area shares her passion

for her work with children

and adults through community

workshops and her whimsical

and functional creations.

Here's a look.


>> I'm just a middle-aged lady

doing her thing.

I always had art involved

in my life.

Always had pottery to fall back

on as my hobby.

And through the years

it's just developed into more

and more and more of a passion.

And now it's my livelihood.


I opened my own studio

in September of 2015.

I was fortunate enough

to be one of the first ones

through the door

when they turned PARC into an

arts-and-recreation complex.

When I do my work, it's really

fun, and every one is different.

There are no two pieces alike.

A lot of my work is whimsical,

as well as serious,

and I just love to watch

people look at the pieces

that are there and giggle.

That's what I want.

I want them to make it part

of their daily grin.

Have fun with it.

I think we don't

get enough grins and giggles

because we're always

in these times

searching for something more.

"I got to do more.

I got to go more.

I have to be more."

So, for people to pause and look

at a piece that I've created

and get a smile from it?

I think it's better health,

mental health, for everybody.

I find my inspiration

for my work

in a lot of different places.

I love making high-relief tiles,

and I also love nature.

So, the tiles that I make

are a series of wildflowers

for the Great Lakes.

Fishing --

fish are kind of my thing.

I like to carve fish

and do those on my lanterns.


The other functional pieces

that I make are big bowls.

I have things called

"grate plates"

because you can grate garlic

and ginger and nutmeg

in these plates, and their

oil-dipping dishes kind of go

along with that.

So, the work

that goes into my sculptures

and functional pieces,

almost all of them are thrown

at the potter's wheel.

And then they're all altered.

The man in the moons that I


Throw those at the wheel.

Then I will create the face.

And every one's done


For the big sculptures

and the big carvings,

the lanterns that I like to do,

those can take up

to 20 hours to create.

So, it's weeks of work

that it takes to go into those.

Then they're hopefully dried

properly, and then they get

fired once, they get glazed,

and then fired again.

My favorite thing would be

carving lanterns,

both tall ones and small ones.

I like to draw on them first,

and those drawings can take me

four or five hours,

then carve them,

then embellish them.

So, it's just a labor of love.

I've come up with a vase that

I haven't seen anywhere else,

and it's taking into it part

of my carving and part

of my cutting away.

So, it looks kind of like

a lantern, but it's a vase.

There's a lot of people who say

that when you're making,

you get into a zone,

and it's so true with pottery.

You start working,

and you get in a zone.

It just makes life

better for me.

I never thought that

I would get here.

Always knew in the back

of my mind that this is what

I would eventually like to do

and just didn't ever see it

as coming to fruition

at this scale.


I have known for a long time

that I wanted to teach

and wanted to teach kids,

and I just decided

it was time to do that.

So, we can go right off the


Is that good?

Those that can attend

the art camps are anybody from 6

to 17 years old.

I have different camps

for different age groups,

and I have different themes

for each week.

The theme for this camp

was cartoon sculptures.

And so today they were making a

mug, and then they were putting

a cartoon character on there.

The kids in camps

get the basic instructions of

how to put the piece together.

After that, they can do

their own thing.

>> I wanted to come to this camp

because it's fun

to play with clay.

>> I like that you can sculpt it

in any way you want.

If you're thinking of something,

you can pretty much do it.

>> I like how it feels.

It kind of feels like slime,

and I like to just play with it

and kind of make stuff with it.

>> I think that you really gain

a lot of life skills

when you're making art,

or when you're making.

And in this day and age

where a 6-month-old

knows how to use a phone,

I think that we're getting away

from knowing

how to use our hands

and knowing how to make things.

And that's what art brings

to the table.

And it goes back to allowing

kids to understand success

and allowing kids to make their

own mark in the world

through their art.

>> I thought it was really fun

to do Mickey Mouse

for the mug 'cause

I really wanted to make it

funny and artistic.

>> And the smaller this loop,

the better

because it gets real fragile.

>> If you want to make

something, she really tries

to make it happen,

and she helps you out

with everything.

>> Use this part of your hand

and roll it on there.

Give it a little smoosh.

Yes, ma'am.

>> I made Bill Cipher

from "Gravity Falls"

and a whistle that's a bird.

>> I made a sculpture yesterday

of Mr. Krabs,

and I made a whistle,

and it was a fish.

>> I'm proud.

I think they

turned out pretty good,

so I'm happy with them.

>> That wraps it up for

this edition of

"WLIW Arts Beat."

We'd like to hear

what you think.

So, like us on Facebook, join

the conversation on Twitter,

and visit our Web page

for features

and to watch episodes

of the show.

We hope to see you next time.

I'm Diane Masciale.

Thank you for watching

"WLIW Arts Beat."

Funding for "WLIW Arts Beat" was

made possible by viewers like











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