Monthly Archives: November 2013

Freedom from wondering if I did something wrong

My painting, Freedom From Wondering If I Did Something Wrong, won Best of Show in the 10th Indiana County Open Arts Exhibit, Nov. 22, 2013-Jan. 11, 2014, at the Indiana County Historical Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

Click here to see the Indiana Gazette announcement and photo of my painting being judged by sculptor Norman Ed, from Johnstown, PA.

What I get a giggle out of, though, is thinking about all the people who read my painting title in the newspaper and had just that one little moment when they pictured what it meant to have freedom from wondering if they did something wrong.

Art residency with future K-4 teachers

This fall I was immersed in doing an artist residency at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, with two classes of Creative Experiences and Play for Pre-K through Grade 4 Learners sophomores.

Having spent my adult life among artists and creative people (known for showing up whenever, dressing however, arguing for their rebellious beliefs, and thinking out of the box), I’d never seen the likes of these education students: always on time, neat and trim, quite concerned about doing it “right” and meeting requirements, polite, dispassionate and analytical. Frankly, just what you might want in a teacher.

But they were uncomfortable with art. Most remembered being criticized for their art, and they were especially skeptical about the value of abstract art. The professors warned me that all but one thought abstract art was basically a bunch of paint thrown on a canvas.

Starting with my demo, I moved them through many paint-intensive experiences: color mixing, paint-squishing, feeling drawings, partner drawings, body-tracing paintings, a collaborative body-shadow painting, poured paintings, and the final project, two-sided mask-puppets based on tribal fables. The residency culminated in a final exhibit with the students interviewing each other and presenting their work to the faculty and dean.

Color mixing


Body Tracing Art

Collaborative Body Shadow Art

Binding Mask Puppets

Mask Puppets

Final Exhibit

Final Exhibit

Along the way, one by one the education majors caught the joy of expression. They began to release control of the outcome and value the process. They experienced firsthand the fact that creative art is inclusive and therapeutic; it increases self-esteem and self-ownership; and everyone’s art is unique, not right or wrong. They learned that art connects us with others–others who are similar and different–in our classroom, in our culture, and in cultures of the past.

They came to appreciate abstract art and, more importantly, free expression. They understood that opportunities for creativity and alternate ways of learning are vital for their students and for laying the foundation for the contributions their students will make throughout their lives.

Each future teacher felt newly confident about including art in their classroom and integrating it into their curriculum. One said, “Art used to be a dreaded time; now I may use it for leisure time.”

For me, the residency renewed my passion for getting the empowerment of art into the lives of young people.

Who is this infinite being?

I had gotten a couple boxes of 20″x24″ canvases to make paintings that I could bring on an airplane. It was freeing to have so many canvases to experiment on, do demos, and, in a way, use them as sketchbook pages.

Here’s one that made it into the Associated Artists of Pittsburgh Juried Group Art Exhibition, Nov. 15, 2013-Jan. 11, 2014 at The FrameHouse Gallery in Ice House Studios, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA.

Who Is This Infinite Being

Who Is This Infinite Being, by Julie Bernstein Engelmann, 20″H x 24″W, Latex and acrylic on canvas, 2013

This was a case of it takes a community to name a painting. I started out with the title, “Am I really still with this man?”

Have you ever looked in awe at your spouse like: who is this person? How odd that after all this time–I’m changing every day, he’s changing every day–we are still together as if it is the same relationship? How is it possible that two beings could evolve so dramatically, in two different minds and world views, yet still enjoy each other, pretend to know each other, work around each other’s life plans, and laugh often? It is beautiful and weird.

So I used that title for the demo painting I did in my residency at IUP. (I’ll write about the residency next.) While my fellow teachers were nodding their heads, I think it alarmed the students, who still had their tender lives ahead of them and might not have felt comfortable attaining this extraneous piece of wisdom from their elders.

So I changed the title to, “Am I really still here?” and posted it on my Facebook page to ask whether this new title still sounded negative (which was the opposite of my intention). It came back with a lot of nodding and suggestions for positive ways to convey my meaning.

Thanks to all the good ideas and some playing around with them, I came up with the right title that suits my painting perfectly: “Who Is This Infinite Being?” Ahh.