I am a window cleaner. I’ve been to the McLeans’ house before, but I got really excited when I saw Bruce’s paintings hanging outside their house. As Barb explained, “We simply ran out of room inside!”

They look fabulous hanging there!

Here are the photos I took outside, inside his studio and inside the house. Also, there is some artwork by Bruce’s mother, Colleen McLean, who was also very prolific.

If you’re interested, you may contact the artist at: brucezeus@comcast.net




with 2 candles



Reversible Voodoo Doll


2 part canvas

Skulls with fence posts. Some people like skulls, others do not. I think they’re stratifying that way, with all kinds of reasons for people’s likes and dislikes. I always like to think of them in terms of Mexican folklore and their Dia de Muertos.


I like how the borders of this painting resmble stained glass


Portrait of Bruce McLean

Portrait of Barb McLean



Google defined bohemia as: noun  socially unconventional, artistic people and the areas they frequent, viewed collectively.

The quotation below is from David Hockney in the 2016 DVD documentary Hockney.  It really struck me as emblematic of changing times and culture. I enjoyed the film and recommend it.

He said, “[AIDS] did change New York. I think it’s that that changed it more than anything else… Because when I think of all those people, if they were still there in New York, New York would be different today. It would. There would be bohemia still. And that’s the world I arrived in. And that’s the world that I lived in, actually.”

Peter Getting Out Of Nick’s Pool by David Hockney, 1966


4/5 Stars ****

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an influential movement in mid 19th century England that strove to throw off the stifling, classicist reigns of the art “establishment” (personified as The Royal Academy of Arts.) If you are interested in art, this 6-hour series is an excellent, condensed introduction to the story, imbued with all the drama and pathos, of how change was wrought. But as Fanny Moyle, the author of the book which it’s based on, says in her interview (an extra on the first disc), “I think what really interests me about that period and the Pre-Raphaelites is how modern they are. How iconic their relationships are. It could be happening today…”

As she goes on to say: “The Royal Academy had been set up by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the great painter towards the end of the 18th century. And it was an institution that dominated both the training of British artists, but also taste and opinion. It determined what was considered good art. And Reynolds, when he set up the Academy, had written, if you like – to be crude – a sort of rulebook about what he considered good art; and this had been interpreted and sort of ingrained in the thinking of the Royal Academy. This was really an art in what’s now referred to as the Grand Manner, when there were very particular rules of composition and of what was considered beauty. Beauty was something that was not real. Realism was not part of the Royal Academy doctrine, but idealization.”

“Now, all the Pre-Raphaelites went through the Royal Academy schools, which was a very rigorous academic training. And really, anyone who really, seriously wanted a career as a painter, if they could they would try and get into the Academy because it was an institution that once… Once you’d been through the mill, it spat you out into the establishment and it provided a market for your work, really.”

“So all of them were trained. …And what was so extraordinary was the way they turned on the Academy and said, “This is all rubbish, these rules.” That, “Life isn’t like this. We want to paint stuff that is real. We don’t want to do idealized images of the Virgin child. We want to find girls on the streets who look real and we want to paint them the way they look.”

Here is some humorous dialogue from the movie, at the annual Academy exhibition: Curator: “Is something troubling you gentlemen?” Millais: “We were just a little concerned about the position of our paintings [way up high by the ceiling.]” Curator: “What appears to be the problem?” Rossetti: “The problem isn’t so much that you put the work of these two men of genius so, so far above the line that you’d need a ladder to see them; it’s what you put on the line. On the line, Mr. Stone. I mean, look at this [pointing at a painting of three cherubs.] I’ve seen stains on a chamber pot with more artistic merit.”

Fanny Moyle goes on to say, “…It’s really hard today to understand how powerful Ruskin [the art critic] was as a critic and writer. But he was extraordinarily influential. The brotherhood had suffered two years of terrible criticism. Utter criticism. I mean, these were artists on their knees, where pretty much every national newspaper had said their art was awful, they were an outrage, they were an affront, they were audacious whippersnappers.”

“…Ruskin stayed silent throughout this period [1849-1851]. Then in 1851, Ruskin wrote a letter to The Times and he said he thought that, contrary to what everyone else was saying, in fact the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood could be the best thing for British art in the last 300 years. And then the minute he said that, other people shut up.”

“…It’s very interesting that Millais, in particular – his paintings of women, like Ophelia; like another painting he did called Mariana; were very, very, very popular with the female audience. There are descriptions that when these paintings went on show, there was just rows of bonnets. You know, women were desperate to see these pictures. And they are pictures that are highly sexed. I mean Ophelia is a woman drowning, but she’s also a woman in an almost sort of orgasmic sort of position.”

“What is extraordinary about these young men [twenty] – unmarried, very young, in mid-Victorian society – they were painting female sexual appetite; or Millais, particularly, was. And certainly you don’t really see the critics mentioning it overtly, but the public reaction implies … that the public understood that intention.”

Fanny Moyle’s interview is brilliant, as you might expect from the person who, in fact, “wrote the book”: Desperate Romantics: The Private Lives Of The Pre-Raphaelites. Her interview is an extra on the first of the two DVDs. I would recommend listening to her interview first. It doesn’t contain any spoilers – but it should help flesh out the story and give you background and perspective. The character Fred is a composite. Most of the rest of the characters are real historical characters. The timeline has been condensed.

subway art

“Training Days: The Subway Artists Then and Now” by Henry Chalfant and Sacha Jenkins

A must read primer on graffiti art, if you have any interest in it at all. Maybe even if you don’t. It really gets you inside the minds and motivations of the kids that put their safety – and more – on the line. First person accounts of what it was like in its heyday. Includes a glossary.

These kids were outlaws who fought to make a space and identity for themselves; sometimes (if not by definition) making wry comments on society in the doing of it.

Co-Author/Editor Henry Chalfant was one of the most important people (if not the most) to document this phenomenon with his photography.

Some of the pictures are kind of tiny. “Subway Art: 25th Anniversary Edition” by Chalfant and Martha Cooper has many of these same pictures in a big coffee table book format.

Another book I’ve seen that I like is “Freight Train Graffiti”. It’s impossible to look at these pictures for any length of time and not improve your own handwriting… These people are heroes to me. Delve beneath the surface to see the beauty, if it’s not in fact obvious to you at first. The level of courage and dedication is high…

What do I like about the graffiti in this book? I like the way it was done with a certain code; working within artistic strictures. There’s some amazing artists. I’ve seen enough on the streets and freight cars of Seattle to appreciate this.

A lot of it was done just to get one’s name up in the public eye. But it couldn’t necessarily be legible. Artistic, yes – but often legible only to the few or the knowledgeable.

Also, to be legitimate, many writers felt that you had to steal the paint. And there was so much more of a technical aspect to it than you might think.

I’m not looking to make any converts. But I think you’ll have to read and digest this book if you want to know the ‘ifs’ and ‘whats’ of the social and artistic impact this movement had.

the book

the book “Freight Train Graffiti”

Carole in July 2013

Carole in July 2013

Carole in Oct. 2006. She's holding a poem I wrote for/about her.

Carole in Oct. 2006. She’s holding a poem I wrote for/about her.

rainbow queen (you can really wear this one like a crown!)

rainbow queen (you can really wear this one like a crown!)





yellow & maroon (smaller size)

yellow & maroon (smaller size)

yellow rainbow

yellow rainbow

green & blue

green & blue

pink & lavender

pink & lavender rainbow

black & natural

black & natural

black & natural (same as previous)

black & natural (same as previous)

quite the pair maroon & pink; grey & blue

quite the pair
maroon & pink; grey & blue

yellow & orange (children's size)

yellow & orange (children’s size)

feline approved (by my cat, Luna)

feline approved (by my cat, Luna)

Carole Wlos is a 67 year old homeless woman in Seattle. She lives with her long-term companion Geraldo in an unheated RV. I’ve known her at least since 2006. She’s quite a colorful person and has had an eventful, hard life. She’s full of wonderful stories that really should be told.

She crochets these very warm, colorful, imaginative hats. There’s so many ways you can wear them! Some are smaller children’s sizes. They all vary in size.

It takes her about 8 solid hours to make one. She sells them for $20-$30 – whatever people can afford.

As you can see, she begs to help support herself and ‘would like to be more independent’ (if she could sell more of these hats.) I think she has a backlog of about a hundred of them. She can make different stuff, too – sweaters, scarves… She’s very talented. She can make stuff to order – as long as she has the yarn to make it with.

I own the red; green & blue; maroon & pink; and of course, the rainbow queen.

I’m unable to categorize my “about this blog” page, on which I also talk about one’s muse, art, writing and social commentary.


A portrait of me at 16 by Dennis Helm. Fall,1971. Oil on board with wooden frame. Visible part of painting 15 1/2″ by 19 1/2″.  I took this photo outdoors in full, direct sunlight. 40 years ago, the overall color palette probably looked more like this.


This photo was also taken outside in full sunlight, this time using my camera’s ‘white balance preset’ option. I liked how this one came out. It better shows the textures, colors and planes of the painting as you see them today. The white balance preset helped make the process less subjective.




My adolescence

In 1971, I was 16 and living with my mother and two siblings in Lawrence, Kansas. My mom had my portrait painted by her friend, Dennis Helm.

I was uncomfortable sitting for the portrait, self conscious. I felt that way a lot, back then.

This painting has always been, and continues to be for me, charged with emotion. I didn’t think much of it, at one point, and was going to throw it away.

Some of the impressions I’ve had when I look at this painting have been: cynicism, hurt, resentment, worry, fear – maybe even a bit of a pout. Is that the way I looked, back then; how I felt? Is that what Dennis saw in me; or were they his own projections? Is it simply my subjective experience, looking at the painting? I thought it would make an interesting departure point for a blog piece.

Fear, hurt, resentment, alienation, confusion, self-identity – they’re common enough adolescent themes. My own memories of that time are fraught with them. They were volatile, druggy times.


Then again, like some that I know, I can be my own worst critic. It can color my critical, objective thinking.

Looked at another way, through kinder eyes, I see: awareness, maturity; innocence; sensitivity; intelligence; even beauty.

Yes, call it what you will – the beauty of youth, male beauty, transgender beauty… At that age, place and time, I rejected the very notion of myself as having any beauty. It simply wasn’t an option. It wasn’t something I ever tried to cultivate.

I sometimes wonder – if I could’ve seen the ‘beauty’ in myself, how would it have changed me? It can still be hard to ‘look at myself’ kindly, see the strengths that got me through that difficult time. Mostly, I just shut down any part of that side of myself.

Someone commented to me that perhaps I was uncomfortable with the androgynous quality of the painting. Too true, too true. The gender binary seems to be rooted deeply within me. Not that it’s necessarily a bad thing. I think it can  also be a choice or preference. For me, it’s rooted in sensuality.

I know I had issues with androgyny back then; but I thought that I had outgrown them by now.

What do you see in the painting?


Okay – I have to admit it. I was uncomfortable sitting for Dennis, partly because of these issues with my own sexuality and/or gender. Dennis’ way of speaking was kind of  ‘identifiably gay’. Or as we’d say today, he was perhaps more ‘out’ in that regard. Heavens only knows all the indignities he must’ve suffered. What courage and wisdom! Back then, you really had to believe in yourself, have a lot of self-knowledge, to show up like that. I can see why my mom liked him.

Things were so different back then. I wish I could know him as a friend, today. What a fascinating person he seems to have been.


Doing research

I decided to photograph the painting so that I could write about it on my blog. I Google’d the artist and was thrilled to find some of his artwork on the Spencer Museum of Art’s website; though I felt grieved when I learned that he had passed so young. Some of his later work was gay-themed and erotic. There were no oil paintings. And nothing like this – a simple portrait, done on commission for a friend. I felt pleased and honored.

You can see the works in the museum’s collection by going to this page on the Spencer Museum of Art website  and scrolling down to his works. (Click on the name of individual works to see details; then click on image to see enlargement.)

My friend Abby encouraged me to do some further research. Other information about Dennis and examples of his artwork were, at least initially, elusive. As I researched him further on the web, I learned a lot and thought it would be nice to compile some of the artwork and information that I found. The Lawrence Journal-World online proved to be an excellent source. I appreciated their scholarly coverage of the Lawrence art scene over the years.

Judy Geer Kellas – a close friend and colleague of Dennis’ – was also very helpful. She generously shared her experiences and perceptions; and contributed several beautiful photos of  Dennis’ works, which gave a considerably wider overview. Learning of their friendship and relationship was inspiring.


About Dennis Helm & his art

It turned out that Dennis is well known for his portraits – readers sent me photos of some others that he did.

He’s also well known for his landscapes, still lifes and murals. He studied under and worked closely with his friend Robert Sudlow, a noted Kansas landscape painter and art professor.

Of his later work, Lawrence Journal-World arts editor Mason King wrote in 1995, quoting Robert Sudlow: “In the mid-1980’s, his work took an expressionistic turn that mirrored serious changes in his life.

‘He knew he was HIV-positive. He knew he would probably die… I think anyone in that situation would do a lot of soul searching. And changes in the way you look at life influence what you do with your work.’ “

Arts editor Richard LeComte wrote in 1991:

“…his work over the past 10 years has changed drastically from these landscapes. He showed some abstract work in 1988 that was influenced by the artist Albert Bloch. If Sudlow was a father in his creative life, then Bloch was the grandfather. Helm said he painted a whole series of portraits of his friends and others on commission.

His most recent work includes several colorful paintings of male nudes and frequently positive, explosive abstract images, sometimes suggesting medieval etchings or stone figures.”

[Albert Bloch is an American artist associated with the German Expressionist movement who became a long term resident of Lawrence and a professor at the university.]

And he wrote in 1992:

 “In recent years, his painting became more abstract. In works he kept at his home, lithe, sensual figures danced across a canvas.

‘Artwork has to be pulled out by some sort of deep need or interest,’ Mr. Helm told the Journal-World in a 1988 interview. ‘You have to be caught up in it. I didn’t have any choice but to change.’ “

Dennis was a vital part of the Lawrence and Kansas artistic community. He advocated for a museum of Kansas artists, writing and testifying before Kansas legislative committees.  The love and esteem with which he’s held by his peers  is a testament to his own sense of community. His beautiful, visionary murals for the restored Lawrence opera house – Liberty Hall – have been enjoyed by countless people that have attended  and performed there. He regularly donated his work to benefit auctions.

Dennis received a Lockwood Scholarship to study in Western Europe in 1972 and a CETA grant in the 70’s – as a result of which, many of his paintings now hang in public buildings in Lawrence.

Tragically, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback this year eliminated the Arts Commission, making Kansas the first state without an arts agency; in the process losing $778,000 in matching grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (NETA). Read more: there’s an excellent quote from the chairman of the Commission here and a broader view of the economic impact here.



Checking out the guide to KU’s collection of Dennis’ writings, I was struck by: Dennis’ scholarly perceptions and understanding of art; the similarity in ‘off’ color’ tonal qualities of my portrait and those of  the paintings of Albert Bloch, whom Dennis studied, wrote about and was influenced by (as quoted above); and the playful influence of Henri Matisse on his Liberty Hall murals and some of his other work.

In researching this article, I was also struck by what a vital, important hub of art that Lawrence and Kansas University has been, over the years.

More paintings by Albert Bloch



I hung the painting on my living room wall and reflected on it.

I think Dennis felt free to experiment with some things in this portrait; to be a bit more expressive or interpretive, since it was itself done for an artist (my mother) who would have been fairly open to or appreciative of such.

The painting looks different depending on the quality and amount of light; and depending on the angle and distance from viewer. It appears muted and dark.

It seems to respond to my mood; to interact with it. It’s amazing how alive the painting is!


Photographing the painting (techno stuff)

Photographing the painting was a whole ‘nother ball of wax. I became aware of certain aspects of the painting – its colors and contrasts; their interrelationships; and their relationship to light, geometry and perspective.

At first I photographed the painting indoors.

It seemed that the photos I took were merely representations of the painting. It really changed the way I think about photography!

It was quite a challenge, trying to get the various values of a photo to correspond to the painting’s values. I’d never tried to photograph something so complex, before.

Color, contrast, brightness and focus are all possible variables for me in photo editing. I tried to make all sorts of changes in photo editing. The results still seemed to be too subjective. Was I trying to make something different through sheer willpower?

The difference in size between the photo on my computer screen and the painting itself was a factor. Digital viewing has another aspect that must be considered – lit as it is from ‘behind and within’; rather than from ‘in front of and outside’.

Finally, I took the painting outside in bright sunlight to photograph and view it. The only editing I did to the photo was to crop it and add 13% brightness.



I compared the results and looked at the painting again. Despite my best efforts to get it right, the difference when gazing at the actual painting was striking.

What I saw as I gazed at the painting was this:

My focus was not solely drawn to the features of the face; there was a softening effect. The colors appeared less bright; yet perhaps in a way, more vital. There were definite, distinct blocks of color. It broke the different sections of the painting into form. The colors themselves became rather flat and drab slabs, variations on a tone. There was a symbiotic relationship between color and shape that gave the painting life. The photo, by comparison was flat, subjective and static.


Aging of the painting; and more reflections

The painting is now 40 years old. So it may have accumulated a film of dust, dirt, grime – what have you. Like me, perhaps it’s faded a bit…

I would say that it’s altered the painting, lending a sense of  it as a bit more dark and muted. Perhaps the paint itself has aged and/or interacted with the dark board. I think the elements are yet all there. Maybe the aging process has even been beneficial; as an intrinsic part of the art. Is the aging process sometimes a test of paintings, revealing hidden qualities? It’s an interesting question. And if so, how much of that has to do with the medium (i.e. oil paint vs. acrylics?)

I do feel compelled to say that the emotions I see in it seem rather heightened or exaggerated. Is that my subjective perspective? Is it a bad thing? Comparing it to my school photo, 6 months to a year earlier, I see… trauma. Or – I see a powerful transformation. Thank you, Dennis and Mom, for leaving me this record of myself.

It’s a powerful depiction of emotion. I think that Dennis had his own point of view. I like that in a person. The emotions do seem iconic to that time of my life – it’s the reason that I felt moved to write about them.

At any rate, after so many years, I feel like I’ve finally made peace with the painting and its mysteries.


More photography

My digital camera is a Nikon Coolpix 2200. It’s rated as a novice’s camera, though it has a lot of features. I’ve had it about 7 years and am still trying to get the hang of some things.

Only a few hours after I wrote and published this article, I discovered a new function on my camera which helped a lot. It’s called ‘white balance preset’. It matches the ‘white balance’ to the light source, by using a gray object as a reference point. According to the manual, it’s used “to compensate for light sources with a strong color cast” (perhaps in this case, the painting itself.) You select that option; it takes a reading of your subject; you take the picture; and voilà! there you have it.

I took another picture under similar conditions and was pleased that the results were at least fairly representational of the painting as it is today. And since the color balance had been measured by the camera automatically, it took the subjective guesswork out of the equation.

Still, the wide discrepancies in color left me with questions.


Photography and conservation: Why two such different color palettes?

What can I say about the first, more colorful photo of the painting? During the process of 4 weeks of experimenting with photography and writing about what I was seeing (this is the umpteenth revision), I wrote that, “Paradoxically, it’s a textbook example of the limitations of photography – when it becomes flat, two dimensional – and perhaps also of its usefulness as a tool for analysis.”

I wondered if the first photo is truer to the colors that Dennis originally used, before any aging process occurred. It’s difficult, all these years later, for me to remember the painting exactly as it was.

There’s certain elements of the first photo that I think are a more accurate representation of the painting 40 years ago. I remember that shirt well – it was one of my favorites. It was diaphanous and colorful, as you see in the first example. My skin tone and hair color also look more natural.

I certainly don’t think Dennis set out to make a painting that looked like something by Albert Bloch; I think that is more a result of the painting’s aging. Also, my original impressions of the painting were never that Dennis had worked in a radically different color palette. It was the emotional content that was unsettling to me.

Then again, maybe it was the color palette that created the impression of emotion. Or some gradient between the two. I celebrate the mystery! I don’t like things too perfect, too cut-and-dried.

Could photography be an aid to art conservation? I must admit that I know little about conservation. Here are some examples of conservation from the website of Barry Bauman, a Fellow of  the American Institute for Conservation. Remarkable stuff! Based on my painting’s age and on the color differences of the two photos, it seems likely that the painting has changed over time.

If you know something about this process (color aging in paintings and photography’s use in analysis/conservation), please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts.

At any rate, I’ve been told that art conservation is not cheap. So maybe this is a useful alternative way to analyze paintings.



There is quite a debate over art “restoration” as opposed to “conservation”. In this Wikipedia article on the restoration of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, in the subsection ‘Criticism and praise’, the author states that, “Any restoration, as opposed to conservation, puts an artwork at risk. Conservation, on the other hand, aids in the preservation of the work in its present state and in prevention of further deterioration.”

Of course, fresco painting refers to a very specific method of painting on wet, fresh plaster. But in this case, restoration may have been a process that changed certain elements, leaving a result that was more two dimensional. That would certainly be counterproductive and unfortunate.

I won’t try to summarize the article and its other arguments. I’ll leave further debate to the interested reader. It’s an interesting article, though, and an interesting subject.


Do you have photos of  other works by Dennis Helm? I’d love to see them and post them here!


The art of Dennis Helm


Another portrait by Dennis Helm, sent to me by one of my readers; date and subject unknown. It was purchased at a gallery in Lawrence c. early 80′s – probably Judy Geer Kellas’. Interesting muted tones / color palette.


Portrait of James Sleeper, by Dennis Helm.     James was a friend of Dennis’. Photo courtesy Judi Geer Kellas


“Yellow Self Portrait with Artists Names”, by Dennis Helm, 1989, watercolor and ink on paper, photo courtesy Judi Geer Kellas


Self Portrait by Dennis Helm (at 19?), Sylvia, Kansas, 1965, pencil on paper, photo courtesy Judi Geer Kellas


A poster done by Dennis Helm for a production of the play “Woeman” by playwright, writer and professor emeritus Paul Stephen Lim, as seen on his excellent website. Photo courtesy Paul Stephen Lim

Paul Stephen Lim’s website

Reading about Professor Lim’s genesis of the play, it turns out that David Moses – one of his inspirations for the play – had been a friend of mine. It was sad to learn what had become of my gentle, amiable friend. I was moved to see how Professor Lim had used the creative process to help introduce a difficult, taboo subject into the social dialectic.


“Potter’s Lake”, by Dennis Helm, oil painting from Baker University’s collection of art of the Midwest

Baker University’s superb collection of art of the Midwest


“Pear Tree” by Dennis Helm, charcoal, 18″ X 14″ , courtesy Judi Geer Kellas


“Donald Duck Stamp” by Dennis Helm, watercolor, 16″ X 20″, courtesy Judi Geer Kellas


untitled still life by Dennis Helm, from LJWorld.com

“Dancing With the Moon In Eclipse Surrounded by Stars”, by Dennis Helm, photo courtesy Judi Geer Kellas. I love the boldness and simplicity of the lines of the figures. There’s nothing tentative there – it just flowed out.


There’s a nice black and white copy of a 1974 self portrait by Dennis, “Myself With Eggs and Pallette” in one of the articles excerpted above. Dennis is known for his paintings of eggs. How wonderfully quirky!


A portrait of Dennis

“Family Portrait #43, Native Son”, acrylic on paper, 40″ X 30″, a portrait of Dennis by Judi Geer Kellas. Photo courtesy of Judi Geer Kellas. It’s part of a series she did of family portraits.

AD ASTRA is a Latin phrase meaning “to the stars”. How nice, how appropriate. Of her painting, Judi writes:

“[This is a] painting that I did of Dennis Helm a couple years after he died. He was for many years my best friend & most insightful colleague. He understood my art work better than I did! Done from photos (of course): center image was one taken in my gallery in his prime; image to left of center is one taken only weeks before he died. Other images are of paintings that he did, including a self-portrait when he was 16 years old. Lower left is mutual friend, Jim Sleeper.”



From 1985 to 1987, Dennis worked on the renovation of Lawrence’s historic opera house, Liberty Hall, for which he created wall and ceiling murals. It seems to have been quite an ambitious undertaking and I encourage you to read the full article that I’ve excerpted below.

Quoting from “Kansas Murals: A Traveler’s Guide” by Lora Jost and Dave Loewenstein, Elliot Kort writes in his informative article on the renovation of Liberty Hall:

[“The piece, entitled “Starry Way”, depicts a celestial seascape on which two figures, muses, appear. The first, which appears to the left side of the stage, is swathed in an iridescent green dress and is playing a violin. Shooting stars and comets obscure the second figure, located on the right, as she manipulates what appear to be the hands of a giant lunar clock. The expanse above the stage and between the two figures looks as if the ceiling of the venue is falling away to reveal the heavens. The mural reaches so high to the ceiling that parts of it were painted by broom as the artists stood on massive scaffolding.

The piece is just one part of the overall grand design conceived of by muralist Dennis Helm and completed by Helm, Dalton Howard, Clare Tucker Bell, and Tamara Brown…

In his essay, “Sea Above, Sea Below”, Helm described the overall impact he had hoped for from “Starry Way”:

‘Herein,’ he writes, ‘One is invited to move through a corridor of stars, past comets and endless nebulae, into the depths of space. Surely this is the image of the greatest ocean of all.’]

Wow, muses! One of my favorite topics!

I was inspired and illuminated by this blogpost from Barbara Brackman on the murals at Liberty Hall. You can see other photos of the murals, giving you a better idea of their size and context.

the “celestial fiddler muse” mural at Liberty Hall. photo by Daniel W Coburn, LJWorld.com

the “clock figure muse” mural at Liberty Hall, photo by Daniel W. Coburn, LJWorld.com



online sources for photos:

“Potter’s Lake”

“untitled still life”

“Clock figure”, Liberty Hall mural documentation 5/10/07

“Celestial fiddler”, Liberty Hall mural documentation 5/10/07

thanks to

I must thank my friend Rachel, who, more than 10 years ago, encouraged me to hold on to this painting. I was going to throw it out; such was my discomfort with it. One of the things I like about art is that it can get us to ask questions – sometimes, of ourselves.

My sincere thanks to my friend Abby, who inspired me to do some additional research on the web. She’s quite a scholar, herself!

Thanks to Professor Lim for his correspondence, encouragement and suggestions.

My special thanks to Judi Geer Kellas – gallery owner, artist, colleague and close friend of Dennis’. Her images of Dennis’ works and her story helped round out my picture of Dennis. I was moved to hear of their  friendship. See the art of Judi Geer Kellas here

more about those troubled times in Lawrence:

The student union building was badly burned in 1970, which did a million dollars worth of damage and made the national news. See a short video about it and all the political and racial turmoil of those times here

Read about the police killing of two student activists in the contemporary underground press here   (one of whom was black.)

A photo that brings memories flooding back for me, showing what the campus was like back then. The guy in the striped shirt on the bench looks like my friend Stan. I later met the very talented steel guitar player while hanging out with Stan and his wife Jeanie; I think they let him stay at their place for a day or two. A true minstrel, he was just passin’ through, sometimes sleeping in his van. He could really play that guitar! I seem to recall the four of us driving to Topeka to attend a black church with a great gospel choir that broadcast their services on the radio.

Also in the photo is renowned Lawrence artist and professor Roger Shimomura. There’s a funny and telling quote by him about those times in this excellent article about him in the LJW

History professor Rusty Hollohon wrote a book, “This Is America?  The Sixties in Lawrence, Kansas”  See article here: “Turmoil, Ideals of the Sixties led to diversity today”

Photos of Vietnam War protests in Lawrence here and here. I was in one of those marches!

Thanks for reading my blog. Comments?


“Pretty interesting artwork!”

Thanks Ellen. I wish more people would comment on my blog. Even criticism is good feedback for writers, artists – a jump-off point, a muse. I don’t really get why people don’t comment more. I value feedback from people I “friend”.
Posting this stuff, though – I take pride in everything on my blog. Reading some of what I’ve written today, I got a sense of accomplishment, a body of work, even if it is “just another blog”. Like I’ve made a contribution, somehow; I matter.
It’s one thing I have to appreciate about Facebook – you get a chance to express yourself to a wider audience. 🙂


Why do I call my blog amyeighttrack? It was a joke that came to me when I was starting my blog and I needed a name for it. I’m showing my age, I guess – I actually used to listen to music on 8 track. And I do write a bit about some of the music I like.

I attended the Seafarers’ International Union’s School of Seamanship in 1974. This school in rural Maryland has long been a model of union education. It’s approach to the training of personnel was innovative. It was founded, during the height of the Vietnam War in 1967, to meet the needs of a growing industry and provide a ready labor force. I don’t know whether working on ships back then as a merchant mariner got people an exemption from the draft – I’d be  interested in knowing.

I have some now-pleasant memories of sitting or working in the cafeteria, with “Free Bird” echoing out on the eight track, ad nauseum. It made a nice – if somewhat bluesy – soundtrack for all the young angst and passion – up, up and away!! Just pop it in the player and you’re good to go!

The sound was actually good, it reverberated nicely – especially when the cafeteria was empty; and was nice background music when the cafeteria was full and buzzing with conversation. Someone also had ZZ Top’s “Tres Hombres ” – nice; “I Can Help” by Billy Swan (mmmmm, yeah, right!) – nice; and BTO, “Blue Collar” – nice.

Later, on a ship, I went in with a friend on an 8-track stereo and some tapes. As you can imagine, 8 track tapes were a better system than a phonograph to have on a ship; though our stereo had a phonograph, too. We bought some tapes – “War Live” (which I recommend highly. The versions of the same material on “The Very Best of War” are highly truncated);  “Sally Can’t Dance” by Lou Reed; and “Bad Company”. Someone had a record of “Texas Gold” by Asleep At The Wheel, a very fine album (go to review here) with some really great Western Swing music; and some very serious drinking songs, indeed. The songs “Miss Molly”, “I’ve Been Everywhere”, “Miles and Miles of Texas”, “Choo Choo Ch’boogie” and many others by that band are also favorites of mine.

I met many interesting people at the school. There were a lot of guys from the East Coast and some from the South.  Shipping out of a few different US ports – Houston, San Francisco and Seattle, I met lots more people. There were new crews on every ship; and people who’d join the ship from whatever port that someone else got off in. I developed an abiding love for the many different peoples and regions of the US, each with their own unique character. It broadened my musical tastes and brings back some nice memories.

I worked on ships from 1975 through 1986. It wasn’t an easy lifestyle. It was pretty tough, at times. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.

The industry in the U.S. has changed a lot since then. The little tankers I was on and most of the ships had a crew of about 42. Since then the ships have gotten bigger and the crews smaller, to maybe 23 or less.

Instead of there being what I would call a “merchant marine”, a lot of the jobs now are in support of the huge-and-growing military-industrial complex – one of the growth industries of the past decade or so. How regrettable that our society and values have come down to this – militarism. Then again, how many options are there for – especially poor – youth today? The merchant marine might still make an attractive alternative to the military.

I mostly worked in the steward department. They assigned me that, because of my glasses. I worked on freighters – mostly container ships, by then – and tankers – hauling fuel or grain. I worked on a ship that laid telephone cable on the ocean floor between Guam and Okinawa. I also worked on a Navy ship.

I sailed to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Indonesia, The Philippines; Leningrad in the then-USSR; Italy, Spain; down the Pacific coast of Central America and through the Panama Canal; Jamaica and other Caribbean ports; Brazil and The Ivory Coast. I feel fortunate and believe that travel or living abroad is a valuable, enriching human experience.

It’s been interesting seeing some of the people I met through the Union’s educational program and political work rise through the ranks of Labor and the industry. It puts a human face on Labor, for me. I have a lot to be grateful for.

My god, how the school has changed. The way it’s grown, I hardly recognize it. The school curriculum and program has grown, too. We never had ‘Small Arms Training’, ‘Anti-Terrorism’ or ‘Chemical, Biological and Radiological Defense’; courses now required for employment on some government vessels, where so many of the jobs are. I hate guns. Marching in formation was bad enough.

Back then, there wasn’t a mandatory 3 month apprenticeship period ship-board after the 3 months of school training. Today this apprenticeship period includes 4 weeks in each of the shipboard departments (engine, deck & steward), followed by more courses and upgrading. We didn’t have as good a firefighting course, either. It sounds fairly challenging – but it’s a good skill to have, on a ship!

I see that they no longer have an academic course for art. That’s a real shame! Some of the favorite art that I’ve ever done was a result of assignments for the little 3-credit course I took. However, it looks like they have some other very good courses.

The Seafarers International Union has an excellent and interesting website. View website here They have many beautiful pictures of ships and the seafaring life. You can check out their monthly publication ‘The Seafarers Log’; read more about the school; and even download the school’s 90 page catalog under the subheading, ‘Paul Hall Center’.

All of the wood carvings were purchased by me at the Daybreak Star Pow-wow in Seattle, circa 1995.

black jaguar with friendly, placid demeanor

yellow jaguar with black spots, as seen through a child’s eyes in a dream

señor red squirrel

blue pig

She-wolf – it looked to me like a Northwest Native American piece. A collector of African art said it looks African.

Zopilotes, Turkey Vultures © Cheryl Renee Long. This is a fantastic print. It’s actually quite large – in frame, 37″ X 19″. It took my breath away when I first saw it. It was dark, powerful and mysterious. Then, one day, I “saw” it on my wall and subsequently bartered with Cheryl for it. I had found its beauty and spirituality. It depicts some turkey vultures spreading their wings to catch the morning sun’s warmth. Click twice to see detail.


“Woman with butterfly robe”, hand-painted floor to ceiling scroll. Given to me by a friend; it was painted by their father. Image is 43″ by 16″; entire scroll dimensions are 71″ by 21″


From 1984. It was Malle week at the Neptune Theatre in Seattle. I really liked “The Thief of Paris” (French, 1967) . It starred Jean-Paul Belmondo, and somehow I wound up making some doodles that looked like him. Unfortunately the film is difficult to find with English subtitles. The movie is very stylish and well done. Drawings by amyeighttrack

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