There are countless inspirational photos plastered all over the internet right now that urge people to bounce negativity from their lives to make them happier people. They pop up on social media feeds literally every single day. If you’re on any network, you’ve probably seen more of them than you realize. They range from uplifting and thought-provoking to mega-stupid and clumsily worded (much like the majority of what I’ve written below).

A selection of social media fodder supporting the removal of negativity from one's life (with bonus Will Smith cameo).

A selection of social media fodder supporting the removal of negativity from one's life (with bonus Will Smith cameo).

And several authors, while writing about every day organization, emphasize similar points about “decluttering” life. Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, focuses on removing things from one’s home if the owner concludes the objects fail to “spark joy” when thinking about them. There’s another bit about actually thanking the object before giving it to Goodwill, but that’s an entirely different subject.

The point is, everyone is always trying to get others to dump the stuff and people making them unhappy so they can become happier people. I wholly agree that bailing on a bummer of a person is an excellent exercise and will often bring it up when someone needs advice about an emotional situation. It’s hard in practice, but worth doing nonetheless.

So when someone ridicules another for erasing an ex from their past, it’s puzzling, especially considering how often we urge others to rid themselves of negativity. Then again, it’s the internet, so hypocrisy shouldn’t actually be surprising at all.

“But what’s done is done! The past is no longer your life!”

Yes, it is. My past is still a part of my life. While it’s not the active part, it’s still a chapter of the story I’ve written and it continues to influence who I am today. That’s why it’s so meaningful and always will be.

With the exception of one person with whom I still maintain a passing acquaintanceship (she’s a good person), I’ve deleted every photo, thrown away every physical item, erased every trace of correspondence, and expunged every record of my past with them because it makes me happier. That’s what all the inspirational social media photos and published authors are preaching we do, right? 

There is nothing unhealthy about removing from life those people who are negative influences. There is nothing immature about discarding mementos of past relationships that do not “spark joy.” The conscious decision to improve life by acknowledging the relationships happened without providing to anyone digital/physical proof and moving onto the next great thing in life isn’t sad.

It’s liberating.

Reducing the relationships to personal timeline footnotes and discarding the proof it happened is, for me, empowering. The negativity associated with them is minimized to such a degree that it’s hard to remember why I even felt bad about them in the first place. That’s downhill inertia toward becoming a happier person all around.

The thing I take away from those relationships is what was learned while with them; mainly what I want and don’t want (SPOILER: didn’t want what they offered). That doesn’t require a lingering photo in a social media profile or a gift given to me during the relationship. Knowledge is intangible.

Getting rid of those artifacts helps position me for my future as a happier individual. As an inspirational social media post would clumsily say, “Some persons are a cloud because when they disappear, it’s a brighter day when they disappear from the sky.”

Top of the World

July 15th, 2016: an expedition to the top of the south tower of the Roebling Bridge.  I set the tripod and started a timer.  I'll treasure that night forever.

July 15th, 2016: an expedition to the top of the south tower of the Roebling Bridge.  I set the tripod and started a timer.  I'll treasure that night forever.

Refining My Career

I’ve landed my dream job.

After 6 years of working in multiple high rises doing pharmaceutical-based pricing for forty hours a week, I’m moving on.  No longer will I need to pay attention to Medicaid rates, how to set up pricing for IV drugs within a proprietary dispensing system, or how to interpret a facility’s many legal facets within a seventy-page contract.  Basically, I’m shirking my Chandler Bing job for one the public understands which ultimately affords me the opportunity to keep a conversation going after someone politely asks “what do you do?”  You’d think I was an anesthetist the way they fall asleep when I try to explain what I do for work.  But, despite my inability to describe it in a compelling way, my corporate job has been very good to me and I’m eternally grateful to have worked it for as long as I did with the people I met in the spaces we were given.  It was an invaluable experience that furthered my personal growth and taught me what I want out of a career.  I wouldn’t change a thing about the last 6 years, especially not how many gallons of free break room coffee I drank because that stuff was really good.

But I’ve learned I don’t want to do a seventh year in this position.  My enthusiasm for it peaked years ago, and getting motivated to do my best is nigh impossible at this point.  As such, my hardest work has been done outside of my day job; videos, photography, paintings, drawings, art shows, printing and selling my work, networking with other artists, researching the area, and being a non-stop content generator has become a full-fledged second job.  And that’s not hyperbole.  I honestly spend over thirty hours a week post-work day doing some sort of project to keep the creative momentum going.  The thirst to create and share is unquenchable, but I can’t keep this lifestyle up and also be social.  I came to the realization that people are this important factor in life and spending time with them is, like, worthwhile and stuff.  When you generally don’t have time to just sit and relax, it starts to take a mental toll, and to be honest, I don’t have much grey matter left to pay it.  While I genuinely enjoy writing about the city and photographing it, along with other analog and digital projects I’ve done, the ultimate goal of all this content creation and constant desire to do art has always had an ulterior motive: get noticed by the right people and land a full time job where I can exercise my creativity for a living.

And that’s exactly what two years of work has granted me.  My vision for the future has finally been realized (albeit without the high-speed hover trains I’d hoped for).

I’m moving into the world of lighthearted journalism to do what I love.  Cincinnati Refined, a wonderful publication focused on enthusiastically uncovering the coolest things in Cincinnati, has hired me on as their Assistant Editor.  I’ll be working with Leah, the hard-working managing editor whose passion project evolved into Cincinnati Refined years ago, and the many freelancers who run the site while producing interesting, fun stories for the readers.  Clay, the former Assistant Editor, moved onto another career endeavor after establishing a voice for the site and contributing excellently to it for years.  Honestly, I will never fill his shoes (we don’t wear the same size), but my goal is to do as well as I can in the coveted second place role.  It’s like the new Star Wars: it’s not as amazing as the original trilogy, but it’s the best sequel it could possibly be, and that’s more than fine by me.

The main reason I’m so excited to contribute to Cincinnati Refined is simple: those years I spent doing what I love is exactly the kind of thing they’ve been doing for years.  The transition into this job will be relatively seamless because it’s what I’ve been doing this entire time.  While there will be many things to learn, I feel like I’ve never been more prepared to do a job in my life.  I can reallocate those forty hours a week to creativity and my passion while using the other hours for whatever I want, like watching Animal Planet’s Too Cute on Netflix over and over again.  I mean, have you SEEN those Aussie Shepherd puppies meeting those ducklings?  I feel like Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity with his kite; by deliberately experimenting with my hobby for so long, I've discovered an opportunity that will change my entire life.

My last day at my current job will be August 4th and I begin at Cincinnati Refined August 5th.  No rest for the eager.  I’ll be covering a major local event that’s literally less than five hundred feet from my apartment.  To say I’m excited about my first day on the job is a gross understatement; if starting your new life on a Friday isn’t the perfect introduction to your dream job, I have no idea what is.

313 W. Fifth Street

I was given permission by the owner of 313 W. Fifth Street to enter the premises and photograph the inside of the building last Friday.  Myself and my friend who runs the @decayofpastglory account went in and scoured all four floors as best we could in the limited amount of time we had.  Over creaky floorboards and under sweltering summer conditions, we poured over most every corner trying to get as many shots as we could from every possible angle.  The building is in bad shape, but construction crews are working to resolve those issues; massive holes in the floors and an entire missing portion of the side of the building make for a treacherous walkthrough.  Back in January, the building suffered a partial collapse and an emergency demolition order was sought to prevent further catastrophe.  Luckily, the building was stabilized and efforts to save it are under way.

Below is a gallery of images of the building and its interior.

Ledge Gallery

Final Fridays are, in Cincinnati, a big deal.  The massive Pendleton Art Gallery features a ton of art studios that open to the public for viewing, the gigantic Cincinnati Art Museum up on the hill hosts Art After Dark to scores of people ready to enjoy their multi-level offerings, and the Art Academy and many of the shops along Main Street OTR feature thousands of combined square feet of content for interested Final Friday participants.  But even though Cincinnati prides itself on having a huge art scene by having myriad venues to enjoy all of it, there’s one tiny gallery making a delicate and deliberate ripple in lieu of giant waves.  Instead of a 2000 square foot street-level gallery with high ceilings and refurbished wooden floors, Ledge Gallery opts for, you guessed it, a single 60 by 3.25-inch ledge halfway up a spiral metal staircase inside a 400 square foot loft.

Ledge Gallery is the creation of Maya Drozdz, the resident living in the loft Ledge Gallery exists within.  A former New Yorker comfortable with a conservative amount of living space, Maya started Ledge Gallery as a way to showcase tiny art within a self-aware realm.  Ledge Gallery is one half playful commentary on understood art gallery standards and one half serious way to showcase miniature art with a large amount of detail.  It’s a perfectly scaled version of other Final Friday offerings without sacrificing quality and while enhancing the fun.  Petite wine bottles and Sprite cans wait to be poured into 1 ounce cups and the tiniest olives, crackers, candy and slices of cheese are laid out perfectly on a small table next to the narrow spiral staircase leading to up to Ledge.  Along with those things, complimentary 3 inch multicolored magnifying glasses fill a bowl next to the refreshments waiting for gallery-goers.  Little signs adorn prominent parts of the loft, indicating the exit (front door), smoking patio (fire escape), and even ADA-compliant signage to remind people to wash their hands in the tiny bathroom.  A huge amount of attention was paid to such little details that the effort beyond Ledge Gallery is a work of art itself.

The gallery’s first show, #tinytownaf, was this past Friday and featured the work of Maya herself; miniature photographs of tiny things accompanied by extremely small didactic panels with text I can only assume is .0001 point font.  Along with the photography were tiny objects, such as a pint-sized salt spoon and snail shell, each with their own descriptions. The gallery was packed with people and laughter the whole time I was there.  To say I’ve been to something like this before would be an outright lie; Ledge Gallery is a wholly unique experience that separates itself from other venues in a distinct, brilliant way.  Maya’s embracing of a small space and transforming it into something that exists within the purgatory of private residence and public art sphere is simultaneously fun, brave, weird, and exotic.  It’s masterfully organized and executed and one of the strangest art projects I’ve witnessed in a while.

I have no idea what Ledge Gallery will do from here, but I’m going to be visiting it every Final Friday from now on.  It’s just too unique to pass up.  Follow it on social media (Facebook and Instagram) to keep up with what’s going on that month, and if you did go to #tinytownaf, be a human and tell Maya how great it was.

Below is a collection of photos of Ledge Gallery from its opening night.  All photos were taken by Maya (my personal set of photos got wiped by accident).


Today marks the first time I’ve been officially published.

Cincinnati Refined gave me the opportunity to combine my love of architecture and history to come up with an article about something Cincy-centric for their website.  I chose to look at the myriad styles of architecture built within the last 150 years in the urban core, illustrating the change we’ve seen from the 1860s all the way to the 2010s.  Each decade was represented with a building that was constructed within it and a (no-more-than) 200 word historical description was given for each building.  I actually originally wrote more for several of the buildings, but had to scale it down to fit established parameters.  Some were easier than others to write about and the whole process of finishing the written portion took roughly a week.  We’ve been having horrible weather lately, so shooting each one with the level of quality I’ve set for myself was more of a challenge than I originally thought it would be.  I finished and submitted it for review two days before my art show and it finally went live this morning.  I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.  A year ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I’d be contributing to their website in this capacity, so it’s extremely uplifting to be in this position now.

Go check it out and click through the rest of the website; Leah and Clay do a tremendous job of highlighting fun, beautiful, interesting things around town.

Derrick Braziel

My good friend, Derrick, is co-founder and managing director of MORTAR, a local non-profit that helps people of all socioeconomic levels achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.  He asked me if I could film and edit a video for a grant proposal that would help finance MORTAR and I agreed to do so.  I took off work and we spent the day together in order to film him doing what he does best.  After 14 hours of rigorous filming and a late night editing, a 3 minute video, of which I'm very proud, emerged and made its way to his inbox.  Derrick loved the final product and I put it on YouTube so he could share it (even though he's extremely humble and hates to self-promote).

I'm proud to call him my friend and I think what he and his organization are doing is history in the making.  Cincinnati and the people within it are better for it.  By helping the poor and giving chances to those who are routinely shunned by society, we are a better city deserving of their hidden talents.

This is Derrick's story.  Visit wearemortar.com to learn more about his organization.


I'm having an art show this weekend.  Here are the details:

Where: Crazy Fox Saloon (901 Washington Ave, Newport)
When: May 6
Time: 7 PM to 10 PM
What: Sixteen pieces of art that collectively tell the tale of twilight transition in Cincinnati, emphasizing the inherent emotion therein and the importance of our history that has been memorialized by our ancestor’s beautiful lasting architectural endeavors.


I've spent a long time and a lot of dollars to produce it, so I'm hoping people come out to see the collection and purchase pieces of it.  It'll stay at the Crazy Fox for several months after opening night, so interested parties can still go see it at their leisure.  I will be at the opening night celebration.  Oh, and hors d'oeuvres will be served.  Please come and watch me squirm as I struggle with social anxiety and the fear of everyone thinking I'm a pretentious a-hole the entire night.

Save the Dennison Hotel (Updated)

“The Dennison Hotel”
Acrylic on canvas
16 in x 20 in

UPDATED STORY 4/25/2016: The CPC ended up adopting the painting as their primary source of imagery for the campaign to save the Dennison. I made posters at the Cincinnati Public Library and we spread them around town to local business including the Drinkery, MOTR, Ohio Bookstore, Indigo Hippo, Gray & Pape, Plaza Art Supplies, City Beat, Coffee Emporium and others.  Shirts with a monochrome version of the painting were also made and sold at Park+Vine and Acme Lock for $10 a piece.  I was extremely happy that it was able to be used as a way to bolster public awareness for the building's survival.


ORIGINAL STORY 3/13/2016:  I painted a historic building to help save it from the wrecking ball.  The story about why this painting exists, however, requires some explaining.

I don’t know everything about the Dennison Hotel.  The biggest source of compiled information I can find online is from Digging Cincinnati History (a must read), and scouring Enquirer archives bears little information beyond that.  Sanborns list a two story structure on its current site in 1887 and the current 8-story structure is there by 1904.  Beyond these clues, the Dennison remains a bit of a ghost on Main Street.  To summarize the DCH article (but I suggest you go read it), this 124 year old structure was built in 1892 for an ironworks company, and by the 1930s, the upper floors had become a hotel known as “the New Dennison Hotel”, eventually becoming a hotel in its entirety and low income housing after that.

It’s a beautiful historic building with modest features separating the windows and with prominent arches below layers of stone banding.  Its height is disproportionate to it’s width which makes it seem taller than it actually is.  The iconic, weathered fading ad boasting 105 rooms and 60 baths on its southern side distinguishes it from every other maroon-brick building in the city.  Despite its unique beauty, however, the story of the inside of the building is pretty ugly.  Combing newspaper archives yields a wide breadth of distressing activity that occurred within New Dennison; constant robberies, regular assaults, frequent fraudulent checks, suicides, a bomb threat, and even straight up murders.  A serial killer claimed one of his victims there in 1991 and was later caught by authorities.  Needless to say, its 105 rooms have witnessed the deepest, darkest depths of human depravity during its time.

Today it sits empty, its future uncertain, and it’s listed as one of the Cincinnati Preservation Collective’s 2015 Impact Buildings (buildings which are at risk and being monitored closely by the Collective in an effort to make a positive impact to improve their outcome).  As a result of this demolition threat, I decided to paint the Dennison and create a poster in order to raise awareness of its existence.  It's the only real thing I think I can do to help the cause.  It couldn’t hurt it, after all.  My friend Matt is part of the CPC, so with his guidance and encouragement, I put brush to canvas to try to assist the effort to save the Dennison.

Buildings are difficult to paint, however; I’ve never been a fan of trying to get perspectives right and lines straight with acrylics.  Attempting endeavors such as these has always ended in non-starters and trashed canvases.  I’ve never completed a single painting of a building because I always give up at some point, opting to discard the piece altogether rather than invest more time and energy into it.  Because of these failures, I haven't attempted painting buildings until sitting down to work on the Dennison, and believe me, this canvas almost found the dumpster itself at several points in the process.  Thankfully, determination kept it on the easel and the Dennison prevailed.

I started with a rough sketch of the proposed final product.

Then I took a photo of the building and placed a grid over it in photoshop.  I blew it up to 16”x20”, the actual size of the canvas I would end up using, and drew the same grid on the blank canvas.  Getting perspective right is tricky without a grid, so this helped me sketch out the building before actually starting painting.  Honestly, this proved to be the most important part of the process because it locked down the dimensions early on and I could free hand it much easier which made adding color and detail easier.  I know some painters don’t like drawing on the canvas prior to painting, but I find it to be an invaluable tool.

After the canvas sketch was complete, I started painting.  Hours passed, many podcasts were listened to, and days of revisiting an unfinished product threatened to discourage me from proceeding.  Mixing the same colors all over again is very difficult, after all.  At one point, I was so disgusted by how it was turning out that I considered throwing it out entirely and telling Matt I couldn’t do it. 

Instead, I took a picture and sent it to him and he promptly gave me positive feedback which encouraged me to just stick it out.  Eventually, once the base colors were all down and open spots of canvas were covered, I started adding detail.  Detailing is my favorite part of painting, a theme I realized mirrors the type of photography I prefer doing only after I started adding the detail.  As detail was added, I started to appreciate the piece.  Once the building was properly dirtied up, I was rather pleased with the end result.

I photographed it and loaded it back into Photoshop to add text to it.  Below is the final version of the poster, barring any future text-based edits.

I’m hoping with this imagery now complete, and with Matt’s connection to organized preservationists, the Dennison Hotel can garner interest with the public and something can be done to stay the wrecking ball and save this piece of Cincinnati history.  If you want this poster to display in your window (personal or business) free of charge, email me: philarmstrong2@gmail.com.  The next time you’re on Main Street on the 700 block, take a moment and look up at the Dennison Hotel; it deserves a second chance in our wonderful city and the more people appreciate and talk about it, the better chance it has at sticking around for another hundred years.

The Spirit of Anna Sinton Taft

“The Spirit of Anna Sinton Taft”
Digital illustration
14 in x 17.5 in

This is an illustration I did in Photoshop using a Waucom Intuos tablet.  While the process took roughly 21 hours, I feel like I learned a lot during the process and I’ll be able to do something like this in the future in less time.  The reason I chose to do this piece requires some explanation, though.

Anna Sinton Taft, wife of Charles Phelps Taft, was left with the Times-Star business after her husband died in 1929.  Construction of their new building, the Art Deco monument that stands today at 8th and Broadway, had only just begun.  However, she died of a heart attack in 1931 at her home, the present day Taft Museum, and never lived to see the new building’s completion.  The firm of Samuel Hannaford & Sons finished the building and it opened for business on January 1st, 1933, just 30 days shy of the second anniversary of Anna’s passing.

Anna Sinton Taft never stepped foot in the building that was dedicated to her and Charles and their legacy.  She never witnessed with her own eyes the artistry we can so easily walk up and appreciate today.  On the Hamilton County official website, it purports to list a complete history of the Times-Star building and mentions that it is rumored that Anna had “taken residence on the 16th floor, a huge penthouse suite, with a spectacular view, designed for her comfort.” This is obviously untrue given the timeline of events, but it conjured a mental image I couldn’t get out of my head: Anna, alone at one of the windows in her tower under the light of a full moon, looking up at the stars toward where she felt Charles would be, and feeling young and restored despite her old age. She’d let down her hair to settle in for the night and shared a quiet introspective moment with herself, the stars, and the room she was in.  The drawing is a collage of those elements.

The brightest star in the sky is directly in her line of vision, which represents Charles.  I chose to make him a star because of the namesake of the newspaper.  The moon is enlarged because I imagined the scene set within one of those nights where everyone has a faint shadow because the moon is so bright and it’s low on the horizon which makes it seem extra large.  Anna is rendered based on an image I found online of a nameless woman at the turn of the 20th century in clothing similar to the type Anna is wearing in old photos, and I added the necklace with the teardrop pearl (which is prominently featured in a painting of her at the Taft Museum).  The building has a stylized, dramatic lighting scheme to amplify the emotion present within the idea behind the image.  1930s searchlights were added on either side of the tower to represent Anna’s search for Charles.  They’re placed at the bottom of the image because that’s where the luminosity of the city actually is.  It symbolically bridges the gap between Anna and the city below by combining use for both parties.  The “TS” on the dark side of the building is a design taken from the street level windows bounding either side of the main door; I put it on the darkened side of the tower because if you draw a line from the “Charles star” to it, it passes through Anna’s heart, linking all three things together.

What Good Water's Worth

“The city of Cincinnati was one of the pioneers, in these United States, in securing ‘pure water’ for its inhabitants.”
     -Bert L. Baldwin, The Rotarian (Nov. 1914)


It was March, 1930.  A special report filed to the City Manager by the General Superintendent of the Cincinnati Waterworks stated the Western Hills pumping station on Queen City Avenue was in dire need of increasing capacity due to the large growth in population of the surrounding area. [1]  Built in 1907, the station was operating at max capacity and needed to expand.  For the next five years, those in charge planned for a new set of pumps, arguing about whether they should be steam or electric, in a new building to take over operation of the old station.  The Cincinnati Enquirer constantly changed their headlines when reporting management’s decision about installing steam or electric pumps. [2]  Finally, by 1934, the new station was decided to be built next door to the old one and management settled on using electric pumps after years of financial analysis was done. [3]  By November of that same year, Joseph G. Steinkamp was locked down as architect. [4]  Fifty men making fifty five cents an hour were planned for a year of construction to build the new station. [5]

The old Western Hills pump station, 1907.  It was located on Queen City Avenue. [6]

The new Western Hills Pump Station being constructed in the mid-1930s. [6]

A comparison of where the old pump station was located in relation to the newly built station.  Current day image courtesy of Google Maps. [6]

A comparison of where the old pump station was located in relation to the newly built station.  Current day image courtesy of Google Maps. [6]

Apparently it took longer than a year to build.  Upon completion in 1937, the new Western Hills Pumping Station at 1650 Queen City Avenue was dubbed “the most modern in the United States” and was built at a cost of $312,000.  The station featured considerably smaller pumps than its predecessor.  According to the Cincinnati Enquirer from December, 1937, “much of the credit for the construction of the plant…goes to Charles H. Anderson of the Waterworks Department, who drew all plans and specifications for the pumping and control equipment.”  Anderson was held on as a consultant by city officials to assist with the construction project even though he had retired two years prior at the age of seventy. [7]

Headline (with photos) from the Cincinnati Enquirer. Click the headline to see the full article. [7]

Two years and eight months later, after seemingly being forgotten for a bit, the building was finally dedicated by Mayor James G. Stewart in a all-too-brief ceremony.  After only five minutes into the mayor’s speech, rain started pouring down on the masses who were standing on the lawn, scattering everyone to nearby shelter.  Ironically, the waterworks pumping station dedication was foiled by copious amounts of water it couldn't control despite its thousands of dollars of machinery. [8]

"No snogging by the water pump allowed!"
-City Manager

In the coming years, news of the new Western Hills Pumping Station grows more infrequent.  One story involved an effort by the city manager to make a private drive next to the pump station a public street so police officers could patrol it.  His reason?  “Indiscriminate petting” by people parking and committing “other nuisances detrimental to public interest.”  Apparently the city manager wasn’t a fan of teenagers making out in their cars. [9]

News of the old pumping station made obsolete by the new one started appearing in the Enquirer again in early 1942.  The city manager began raising the issue of demolishing the old station so scrap could be salvaged and donated to the war effort. [10]  A petition numbering 1,320 people protesting the destruction of the old pumping station made its way to City Council.  Their idea was to turn the old station into a recreation center, but their pleas fell on deaf ears. [11]  By August of 1942, a contract for $7,525 was awarded to Gus Goldman and James A. Dray of the Globe Wrecking Company to demo and salvage scrap from the old station.  Preservation efforts had failed. [12]

Occasionally news about the new station would appear in the paper, but it was generally forgotten as pump stations normally are, left to do their work without further celebration.  Fast forward to 2016, and my own personal adventure to rediscover this nearly eighty year old Art Deco gem began on a chilly Saturday morning in February.

Matt Deininger and I met up on the Square beside the currently-dry Tyler Davidson fountain, known colloquially as the Genius of Water.  It was a symbolic gesture, one that escaped my comprehension until reflecting on our morning later that day.  Our plan was to walk to the Western Hills Pumping Station to get a tour from Larry Moster, the Greater Cincinnati assistant treatment superintendent.  Matt had orchestrated the meeting and was kind enough to invite me along to see it with him, so with a camera bag on my shoulder and a tripod in hand, we made our way up Central Parkway to Harrison and crossed the viaduct into South Fairmount.  It was about three and a half miles and the walk was pleasurably sunny.

When we arrived, we checked out the station from the hill behind it.  Its jaded copper roof beamed brilliantly under the morning sun from behind a chain link barbed wire fence keeping us at a distance.  We moved toward the front and took some establishing shots while marveling at the work architects Joseph Steinkamp and his brother, Benjamin, had done eighty years ago.  Steinkamp designed a plethora of iconic Cincinnati structures in the basin, including The Waldo and The American Building, and he certainly didn't regard the pump station as any less of a project.  For a utilitarian construct, it’s absolutely incredible what government funded money would buy you during the WPA years.

A single-story limestone Art Deco building, the Steinkamps went out of their way to make sure both the generation of their day and future generations would flock to marvel at its artistry for years to come.  Metal paneled Egyptian water carriers cap off elongated vertical glass block windows on the front and either side of the building; directly above the front door, a muscular, posed figure pouring a vase of water is beautifully etched into the limestone along with stylized lightning bolts and concave vertical lines that are commonly associated with that era’s Art Deco design.  There’s a miniature parapet surrounding the façade that splits at the stairs leading up to the front entrance.  The entrance is a series of double doors encased in brown metal punctuated with lime highlights and dark, translucent windows embedded between vertical etched metal floral strips on either side.  It sticks out like a bay window both outside and in.

But the inside is why we were there.

The thing that makes this building so amazing inside is how original everything seems.  I’m not an engineer, and my perception of what’s original versus whats been updated is obviously not the final word, but to my eyes, it looked like it hadn't been updated since it began operation.  Ivory terra cotta tile permeate the majority of the inside of the station’s main pump room giving it that old elementary school look.  Part-way up the walls, a horizontal blue stripe of tile accented by white triangles and laced together with a red zig-zag line divide the walls around the entirety of the room while underscoring metallic chrome trimming replete with a vertical design that resembles the edge of a quarter.  Where the ceiling meets the walls, shiny strips of ornamentation make a complete loop around the entire room.  This perimeter design accepts the indirect light from the floor and releases it back out over the azure machinery below.  It’s not embellishment to say that In the middle of the morning, the pump station is more than fully sated by natural light.  The decorative strips appear to bear stars above stylized potted fire and plants between instances of large leaves, all separated by scroll-shaped lines that mirror the gates to the basement below.  They’ve been painted gold and silver with a cornflower blue background to accentuate definition.  The shapes in those colors truly are magnificent, especially since they’re repeated in a loop around the room.  The quality of the pieces combined with the scope of it makes you appreciate it so much more.  This is a pump station, not a courthouse or a personal home or an office building.  The fact the Steinkamps chose to include such lustrous adornments (for what is basically a machine warehouse) is hard to believe.  Larry mentioned they’d pulled in several experts a decade ago to repaint and restore these pieces and the ceiling to their former glory.  Few people have seen the fruits of those restoration efforts which blew my mind.

The entirety of the pump room.  The entrance sits to the left and the control room (not pictured for security reasons) sits off to the right.  The Art Deco detailing is visible at the top and around the walls between glass block windows.

The room features five large pumps that constantly run, filling the room with a din that easily drowns out conversation unless you’re yelling to one another at close range.  I got used to the sound after a few minutes, but talking to Matt was labored.  In the corner of the room sat an old, partially tattered map from 1962 of the Cincinnati region that was aged to a caramel color to which Matt was transfixed for an extended period of time (the photo of it below was made black and white for clarity).  A dusty control panel sat next to it with dials and meters; I guessed it was an original piece of equipment from that era due to how stereotypically “thirties” it looked.  I was asked not to post close up photos of the machinery and select piece of equipment due to national security concerns which is why I cannot show you the full image of the control panel here.

Down narrow staircases on either side of the pump room sits a basement that’s filled to capacity with pipes and valves from over half a century ago.  Little openings in the floor between the pumps guarded by railings on the main floor look down into the basement as well, giving it access to natural light in addition to the fluorescent and incandescent lights installed between floors among spiderwebs of thin orange pipes.  Everything looks to be in prime condition despite the age of the machinery; I wondered if it's because the machinery and pipes are well-protected or because there’s an ongoing effort to keep them free of dirt and grime.  Perhaps a combination of both.  Regardless, it’s a lot cleaner than I'd originally imagined a pump station would be and it resembled an almost movie-like quality, like it was a recreation for a film set in the thirties.  Some of the photos I took weren’t approved to be posted due to national security concerns, so they’ve been omitted from the gallery below.

The basement also featured a very tiny “bomb shelter” that had been retrofitted as a bathroom.  We take for granted the ability to live in a world where we don't constantly worry about being killed by a nuclear explosion on our home soil, but people back then had that fear at the back of their minds and the architecture reflected necessary elements that made tangible their lingering anxieties.  It was odd to be inside a tiny room expressly designed to resist such malevolent deeds; it made me wonder about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how those people felt before and after their fears of being annihilated erupted into a horrible reality back in 1945.  The pump station was meant to subsist on a light staff and their well-being was taken into account by the Steinkamps’ blueprints from the beginning.  Not only did the architects have to make the building functional, they chose to lavishly decorate it and include a tiny room solely for the purpose of protecting a few men from one of the worst catastrophes they could imagine at the time.

Matt and I spent about an hour in the station, taking tons of pictures and discussing the waterworks with Larry.  As we left the station, I realized I’d probably never get to see the inside of it ever again.  It made me sad that more people can’t readily see the brilliant Art Deco features and the old machinery inside the pump room with their own eyes, but I was happy that at least we were able to get in and document it as best we could in the limited time frame we were given.  That little moment in time on February 6th at ten in the morning was something I’ll never forget because it inspired looking into the story of a relatively small building on a hill just up the street from the viaduct that has been dutifully pumping away for almost eighty years without stopping, making the lives of so many in the area better with a constant stream of fresh, clean water with little fanfare.  

The bickering between management in the early thirties about steam versus electric pumps, the visionary brothers who created the blueprints, the seventy year old waterworks retiree who helped the city one last time, the fifty men who used their own hands to put it together, the WPA money that helped pay for materials and those fifty men a half-dollar hourly wage, and the soggy five minute speech the mayor gave before the heavens opened up above them one hot August day nearly two years after the station was opened and forgotten; it’s the humble story of the Western Hills Pumping Station, the most modern in the United States in 1937 and among one of the most beautiful preserved architectural relics in Cincinnati today.

An inscription of a quote from Lord George Gordon Bryon, an English poet from the early 19th century, etched into the limestone left of the front entrance.


“Plant Needs Expansion.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 21 Mar. 1930:  14.  Print.

“Steam Power Is Said To Be Cheaper.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 5 Apr. 1932:  22.  Print.

“Electrification Is Favored.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 15 May. 1932:  10.  Print.

“Steam Pumps Show Lower Expense.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 26 May. 1932:  10.  Print.

“Electric Pumps Planned For Station.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 23 May. 1934:  10.  Print.

“Engineers Hired By City.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 23 Nov. 1934:  26.  Print.

“Root Off With Projects”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 10 Jul. 1935:  15.  Print.

"Western Hills Pumping Station." Cincinnati Triple Steam. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. <http://cincinnatitriplesteam.org/western_hills_station.htm>.

“To Accept New Pumping Station Today; Reported ‘The Most Modern in United States.’”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 4 Dec. 1937:  24.  Print.

“Western Hills Dedicates Pumping Plant, Reopens Three Newly Improved Streets.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 5 Aug. 1940:  10.  Print.

“Tough On Love Birds.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 5 Sep. 1940:  22.  Print.

“Flywheels Loaned By City.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 22 Jan. 1942:  2.  Print.

“Pump House Is Sought In Petition.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 4 Jun. 1942:  10.  Print.

“Contract Is Awarded.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 8 Aug. 1942:  22.  Print.


Brick OTR Vignette

To help raise awareness of a local non-profit, I did a short video for MORTAR about their pop up shop in Over-the-Rhine (known as Brick).  My friend, Derrick, is one of the minds behind the non-profit, so he got me in touch with his partner, Allen, and together we hashed out a plan to tackle their social media presence.  At the time of the recording, the pop up shop was occupied by an entrepreneur named Victor Morales, so I put together a little vignette about his story and what he’s trying to achieve by working with MORTAR.

I do not have the funds to purchase a professional video camera, so it’s shot with an iPhone 6S and a Nikon D3200.  The audio was separately recorded with a handheld Sony IC recorder.  I edited everything using a combination of iMovie, Photoshop, Audition, and (oddly enough) Keynote.  The music is an original piece composed by my dear friend, Myles Foale.  I had a really nice time putting this together for MORTAR because I think they’re doing something incredibly important for the community of Over-the-Rhine and the area in general with their pop up shop model, and I honestly cannot wait to do more work for them.

Here’s the description of the video from YouTube:

Victor Morales collects the works of brilliant artists across North and South America and sells them at 'Maya Handmade Jewelry & Crafts' in Brick OTR's pop up shop at Vine and Mercer Streets.  With the help of the pop up shop space, he's able to sell his art to interested customers with the goal of starting his own gallery here in Cincinnati.  This is his story.

Wide Apertures and Fluffy Pups

I bought a prime 50mm lens that opens up to f/1.8 with some extra money I'd saved.  I went over to both my parents' house and my sister's house last week to get a few quick shots of their dogs while there (and a friend's dog who happened to be there, too).  Even though it opens up that wide, I still had to bump up the ISO to 400 in most shots and even 1600 in others due to low light conditions.  I really hate going above 400, but its necessary at times.  The dramatic DOF was really fun to play with; getting up close on their nose totally blurs their eyes and vice versa.  While these are by no means perfect shots, it taught me something about where the focus needs to be if shooting at f/1.8 .  I figured I'd post them here because who doesn't want to see super cute pups?

A Good Egg

The internet has afforded me the pleasure of meeting a variety of wonderful people throughout the course of my life; some local, some in other states, some halfway across the world.  It provides me access to bright minds regardless of geography which enriches my own life as a result.  Social media like Instagram and Twitter continuously deliver in this regard and, quite frankly, I wouldn’t be a happier person without them.  Last week I received a gift for my 30th birthday from an artist called Laura in Bristol, England, and I was reminded of how fortunate I am to live in a world where I can have friends across an ocean and that someone as generous as Laura would be willing to send me a piece of her art.

I’d been fascinated by one particular piece she did awhile ago.  It’s a brooch made of felt in the style of a full English breakfast, replete with sausages, bacon, fried tomatoes, toast, and (of course) an egg.  I saw it on her website and told her how much I liked it.  She handmade another one and sent it to me as a result (below).  Every piece is carefully stitched together with colored thread to give it further detail, culminating in a felt plate with felt food perfectly arranged.  Guys, I cannot overstate how perfectly this little brooch is; it’s both ingenious and adorable simultaneously.  It’s a soft replica of a delicious meal I’ve only ever had a handful of times years ago, and it strikes me in a powerfully nostalgic way despite it being just breakfast.

She also sent a tremendously thoughtful, handmade card as icing on the cake.  It was very sweet of her and I appreciate the gesture immensely.  I’ve put it in my case of valuable artifacts from my life that represent my journey thus far (if you don't already have a case of valuable artifacts from your life, I suggest making one because they’re fun to go through from time to time).

So here’s the thing: Laura is a very talented artist.  When we first connected on Twitter, I didn’t realize she was so talented because I didn't see the link to her blog with her collected works.  Once I’d discovered her gallery, I was smitten with it.  I think the main reason I love her work so much is because it has a distinct quality that reminds me of something specific from my childhood, but I cannot for the life of me determine what that something is.  It’s this subconscious connection and feeling that draws me back to it over and over.  The best explanation is it reminds me a summer day with blue skies and cumulus clouds with bees and humidity all around while not having a plan for the day, and also of a carefree rainy morning when the grass looks extra green and the plants dance around under the falling rain and you can see the bees huddled and cozy in their hive and you’re just enjoying the moment you’ve been given.  I think it must be the innocence of being a child and learning about the world around you when you haven’t had long to learn from it.  Everything is new and crazy but it all makes sense and it’s familiar somehow.  Her art elicits these memories through carefully crafted visual vignettes that target that specific nerve.  It’s honestly the best way I can describe how her work connects with me and why I enjoy it so fervently.

Every piece she does is a brilliant picnic carefully laid out on a blanket in a pastel pasture of infinite grass just waiting to be populated with lovely, smiling creatures.  From cats to ghosts to hybrid beasts of her own creation, Laura infuses every shape with a proprietary cheer that cannot be found anywhere else but at the tip of her pen.  When you go to her Instagram page, the first things you’ll probably notice (as of this writing) are the adorable, anthropomorphized pastel cats in various outfits.  My favorite is the smug little king cat holding a scepter and looking pleased with himself.

Adorable felt creations cuter than a baby duckling riding the back of a fluffy border collie puppy are in her wheelhouse as well.  Like I said about the brooch she made me earlier, these are among my favorite works of hers because they add an entire new dimension to her artistry.  Just look at that smiling apple!

She also creates these quirky composites deliberately sorted to maintain interest.  When she posts a new one, I find myself spending several minutes just taking in every shape and connecting them to see how they relate, if they relate at all, and contemplating what their placement relative to the others says about the piece.  When I look at them again, I find myself discovering new characters and details I’d missed before.  Her composites are short stories I want to be told to me again and again.

Those details are one of the key reasons I keep revising her oeuvre. They’re often small and subtle, demanding extra attention in order to see and appreciate, and they reward the sharp-eyed observer with a deeper chuckle.  They’re often cheery and add layers to the focal point which adds a richer flavor to the entire piece overall.  The details are the chocolate syrup on a scoop of delicious ice cream.  My favorite details are found in the snail drawing below.  I love that the snail is looking at "bugs!" on his computer which is next to a cat book called "Meow Vol. III."

Her monochrome pieces delve into an emotional area the other drawings seemingly avoid.  These can be haunting in a way (specifically the red and white drawing below), and I like how they showcase her ability to do both whimsy as well as more serious stuff (or so I think is serious stuff).  This choice to keep certain drawings monochrome is wonderful for examining the range of emotion one can feel from her art.

Some of her work is straight up abstract and devoid of a blatant narrative like the others, sometimes ditching the whimsy altogether in lieu of something harder but worth trying to understand.  I really appreciate these drawings, much like the monochrome pieces, because they explore a related-yet-altogether-different scene.  The colors she has chosen for each one and the way the lines are arranged each beg to be understood but remain mysterious.  One can guess what they represent, but the interpretations are bound to be plentiful and varied between viewers.  Sometimes the art is simply a pattern, as well.  The bird pattern is my favorite.

If you’re not already aware of Laura, hopefully you’ll head to her website, lauripopdraws.wordpress.com, and give her entire gallery a look.  She’s a nice lady whom I’m glad to have met through the internet, and I’d like the rest of my readers to befriend her as well.  Follow her on Twitter (she’s very funny), catch up with her on Instagram, check out her Tumblr, like her page on Facebook, and commission her to do art for you.  She’s a good egg.


Wilkymacky Alley Experiment

Today I researched how to take an audio file and remove the background noise in Adobe Audition.  I needed to learn how to do this so I can conduct interviews for an upcoming project I'm going to do for a local non-profit, so in order to test out what I'd learned in an interesting way, I walked up to Wilkymacky Alley and recorded the alley speaker (if you've been past the alley, you'll know what I mean).  I took it home and removed the high pitched bleating that accompanies the warning and composed the video above using the new audio, a video of TV static to replace the grey sky for a moving visual component, and a static picture of the Wilkymacky street sign I took earlier this week.  I repeated the video three times to illustrate how it can be posted to Instagram and looped infinitely.

It's not my first foray into mixed media, but it's the first time I've done anything in-depth with audio and I'm happy with the result.

Bob Schwartz, the ethos of downtown

A rough sketch of Bob Schwartz.  He's notable as both a friendly Cincinnati persona and as a key documentarian during today’s Renaissance in the Queen City.  He’s undoubtedly unique, sporting an iconic aesthetic to back up his distinctive personality, which highlights his persona among the masses in the urban core and surrounding area.  People trust and relate to him on myriad levels due to his consistent support of quality people, places, and things; from local businesses to interesting venues to significant people in the community, he highlights the best the city has to offer.  Many follow Bob on social media, read his informative blog, and meet up with him around town because he’s both approachable and genuinely interesting.  Whenever I’ve spoken to him myself, I’ve routinely come away from the conversation enlightened in some meaningful way.  He’s also an avid supporter of public transit and biking and encourages ideas to promote a more walkable Cincinnati, something about which I myself (while less vocal) am equally passionate. And he’s everywhere.  If someone is tuned into the community of the CBD, OTR, the West End, or Northside, there’s a high likelihood they know or know of Bob.  Being so plugged in as he is, he continuously documents the happenings around Cincinnati with camera and keyboard, reaching out to the community as a friend, encouraging positivity wherever possible, and questioning authority when it needs to be questioned.

It’s inconceivable that you’d be reading this blog without also sharing awareness of Bob’s, but in the event you’re unfamiliar, head over to 5chw4r7z.blogspot.com for a curated guide to the spirit of Cincinnati and the elements that make it so wonderful.

Also check out Bob’s wonderful Instagram account replete with photos of all things Cincinnati.  He’s on Twitter, too, so give him a follow.

Salvatore Scoleri's Cincy Staple

A neon sign illuminates the gateway to the best Italian cuisine one can find in the urban core.

Cincinnati is well-known for its German heritage because of the immigrants who settled in Over-the-Rhine and the surrounding area so many years ago.  But I want to take a moment to recount the story of an Italian-American entrepreneur who ventured to the Queen City in the early 20th century to open what would become a culinary staple in the city for more than a hundred years.  This is the story of Salvatore Scoleri, the founder of Scotti’s Italian Restaurant.

He was born in Gerace, southern Italy in 1882.  When Scoleri was 15 years old, he became an officer’s cook in the Italian army and travelled frequently, honing his talent as a chef.  In 1905, he immigrated to the US with a plan to set up shop in Philadelphia.  On the boat over, he befriended a man named Antonio Scotti, a baritone singer with a plan to rise to stardom in America.  Once he got to Philadelphia, Scoleri opened his first restaurant, called “The European Restaurant.”  While Scotti was making it big in the metropolitan area, Scoleri “had to leave town for some reason” and moved to Cincinnati (specifically White Oak) where he opened a new restaurant in 1912 along the Miami-Erie Canal (present day Central Parkway).  He called it “Scotti’s” to honor his friend who had finally made it big like he planned when they met on the boat.

The restaurant moved, eventually landing at 1435 Race Street (the building directly across the street from present day Taft’s Ale House).  On January 13th, 1918, Scoleri was shot in the chest by a man named John Ciullo at the Race Street restaurant during a dispute.  Ciullo, after being arrested and questioned by CPD, cited self-defense.  The argument was reported to be the result of a grudge between the two men dating back to their days within the Italian army almost two decades prior.  Scoleri narrowly survived the shooting and lived 43 more years, serving countless dishes to paying customers until his retirement shortly after WWII.  Tenerina, Scoleri’s daughter who married into the DiMarco family in October of 1930, took over the business thereafter.

Salvatore Scoleri passed away in May of 1961, only 4 months after his wife.  Scotti’s moved several more times before finally settling at the present day Vine Street location and has been run by four generations of the Scoleri-DiMarco family since it opened 103 years ago.


"La Storia." Scottis Italian Restaurant RSS. Web. 07 Jan. 2016. <http://scottiscincinnati.com/history/>.

“Grudge Born in Italy.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 14 Jan. 1918:  2.  Print.

“Salvatore Scoleri; Scotti’s Founder.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 25 May. 1961:  40.  Print.

Ashton, Judy.  “Tenerina V. DiMarco.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 13 Jun. 1992:  33.  Print.

Campbell, Polly.  “La famiglia runs Scotti’s by tradition.”  The Cincinnati Enquirer 11 Dec. 2005:  66.  Print.

The Cobblestone Year

Image from UrbanRailToday.com

Image from UrbanRailToday.com

2015 was like trying to ride a bicycle up Elm Street between 12th and 14th.  The cobblestone thoroughfare that connects the two numbered streets is a challenge to navigate on two spindly wheels as you pass the Transept, Memorial Hall, and Music Hall on your left and the massive Washington Park on your right.  If you seek a smooth ride, you can attempt to ride along one of the concrete bits on either side of the streetcar track, but doing so increases your chances of falling; anyone who’s tried to cross the streetcar track without hitting it as perpendicularly as possible knows the tire can get wedged in the groove and toss you off.  It’s a rough ride one way and a dangerous ride the other, but if you do it just right, it’s smooth and exciting and the view is brilliant.  That perfectly sums up this year for me.

I’ve achieved more on a creative and social level in one year than I have in the last half decade altogether.  The foundation I paved in 2014 allowed me to build what I wanted in 2015 while I was able to remove the parts of my life that were holding me back from reaching my full potential.  Firstly, and on an interpersonal level, I met a ton of interesting, positive people this year and forged relationships I hope will last for many more years to come as well as continued to nurture the relationships I made last year.  Cincinnati is filled with all of these locals that blow my mind on a daily basis with how thoughtful and creative they all are.  The fact that I can leave my apartment and most likely run into someone I know and exchange pleasantries with them on the street fills me with that warm home town feeling within the urban “big city” sphere.  It’s the best of both worlds which makes living in the core so much more fun than I dreamed it could be.  Secondly, and on a more personal/creative level, I bought a better camera and discovered the joys of shooting in low light, I learned more about painting, I sketched more, I practiced digital art, I tried some mixed media, I honed my video editing skills, and I started actually selling my work.  I shot for LG at the ballpark, I designed a logo for myself because I started shooting for the American Marketing Association on a monthly basis, I designed a t-shirt and mug for a local coffee shop, and I did a little engagement photo work for friends as well as delved deeper into portrait photography with friends.  All of these things are still in the beginning stages of mastery and I still have much to learn, but all of it is extremely fulfilling and genuinely fun to practice.  That productive part of the year felt like I’d found the sweet spot between the streetcar track and the cobblestone in retrospect.

History has been a large part of 2015 for me as well.  I really doubled down on figuring out what happened in the past to the city and specific buildings around town.  This is where I rode the cobblestone because not all of it was easy to find, but it was worth it in the end.  Samuel Hannaford and his body of architectural achievements consumed my summer while I poured over his original sketches at the library.  Past community fixtures like Weilert’s Beer Garden, Wesley Chapel, the E.F. Albee Theatre, Old Main Library, Royal Theatre as well as current ones like the Lafayette Bloom School, Crosley’s factory and personal estate, the Peter’s Cartridge Company, Rhinegeist’s old brewery from 1895, the Sorg House in Middletown (thank you, Emily), Hughes Highschool, Spring Grove Cemetery, the old Marburg Hotel in Clifton, Union Terminal’s Pierre Bourdelle murals, and countless others all called out to me to learn more about them.  It’s crazy how much invisible history we have nestled in every alley and on every corner of this city; discovering something interesting about existing structures or discovering the ghosts of what once was is exhilarating to say the least.  With all the new information I’ve absorbed this year about Cincinnati and its history, I feel like I’m better equipped to understand it and appreciate all it has been through since 1790.

But not everything was productive.  I lost several months of research and creativity due to a low point in the spring and the summer where I rode the smooth concrete next to the streetcar track carelessly and hit it at an odd angle, hurting myself in the process.  I got myself riding again over the cobblestone and eventually I got back onto the smooth concrete bit again.  I needed that fall to knock some sense into me, and even though I emerged from that season bruised and beaten, I feel so much better now that I had the experience.  I’ve never been more free to be productive both socially and creatively and that’s important to me.

Overall, 2015 had it’s ups and downs, but I climbed greater heights than I ever fell.  I gained ground this year.  Problems were solved, art was made, skills were honed, knowledge was gained, and I generated a life I want to live and will continue to live into next year.  After reaching the end of Elm between 12th and 14th, the street is perfectly paved with renovations and revitalization efforts underway to the north.  The road is smooth and everything is still exciting, but you have room to move around and the pleasant ride isn’t limited to a small strip of concrete hugging the side of a streetcar track any longer.  That increased room to move around without falling is a perfect metaphor for what I have planned for 2016.

Happy New Year.


A 2015 recap video of some of the photography I did this year that was shared to Instagram.

Painting Jokes, a Gift for Folks

Two weeks ago it was a Tuesday.  I’m sitting at my desk at work and coworkers begin inquiring about my participation in the white elephant gift exchange that was scheduled to take place the following day.  I tell them I’m not doing it this year and offer my myriad reasons for this decision.  They scoff and refuse to accept the decision then suggest I paint a white elephant for the exchange.  In their words “it’ll be funny.”  To be fair, it is amusing and in line with my own stupid sense of humor, so I reluctantly agree despite the fact that I have less than twenty four hours to complete it.  I planned on selecting a small canvas from the plethora of blanks beneath my bed and throw something together with the time I had, hoping it was satisfactory after the consumable materials were used and my time was spent on it.  It didn’t have to be great, it just had to be meta.

I spent around two hours painting this piece.  It’s acrylic on an 11x13” stretched canvas.  I chose to work in monochrome because I didn’t feel like I had enough time to properly mix colors and because it was something I’d never done before.  This was a rush job and I needed to cut corners where I could, but I also wanted the process to be interesting.  I’d planned for it to have an abstract look about it but it slowly demanded more detail and ended up becoming something entirely different in the end.  The reason for the solid black background is a testament to this original vision.  Elephants are surprisingly fun to paint because they have such varied textures between their face and trunk and their forehead and body.  Some sections of skin are smooth and require single brush strokes to create them whereas all the parts which actively stretch and move are craggy with wrinkles.  It makes for an interesting process because no two parts feel the same.  To my surprise, I enjoyed doing this piece more than any other piece I’ve done recently, so I think I’ll continue to paint without color just to see if I can experience that again.  The relatively short amount of time it took to make coupled with the general satisfaction I feel toward the final product makes for a pleasurable experience overall.  “White Elephant” currently hangs in an apartment in Crescent Springs, KY.

A Weilert Happy Hour, 1893


The day was done. 

A man crossed the canal onto Vine Street after a long day’s work, a powerful thirst ready to be quenched with a stein of cold beer at the end of a four block walk on a warm July evening.  Upon entering Weilert’s beer garden, the scent of wiener schnitzel and fried potatoes demanded his immediate attention.  Brand’s orchestra, which was getting better every week, delicately threaded songs between the throngs of people gathered beneath rows of hanging plants; two men in black top hats on their zweite lager laughing together through pipe smoke, a lavishly-dressed woman introducing her daughter to a smiling man politely doffing his cap, the regular Boss Cox and his entourage lounging comfortably at a table covered in sticky rings of old beer, a contemplative man sitting alone with a thousand-yard stare and four and a half full steins ahead of him, a young barkeep holding position behind the counter waiting to pass another round to another eager customer, and a quiet man in the middle of the room surveying the scene while sketching it into a notebook.  

Weilert’s was the largest and most popular beer garden in the city and it was brimming with life as usual.  It’d been open twenty years since the owner, that gallant Union veteran soldier of the Civil War, turned the block between Vine and Walnut at 14th into a covered gathering place for new Germans and native Cincinnatians alike.  Nary a sour face beneath beard nor bonnet could be witnessed among the crowd; only high spirits and a familiar energy punctuated the collective heartbeat of the garden’s inhabitants.  And as the bar poured amber drink into heavy glass, and as the band played golden melody to the contented mass, the man knew he belonged nowhere else but at Weilert’s this perfect summer evening.

It was 1893.  It was OTR.



Original narrative inspired by Henry Farny's illustration "Weilert's Saloon" as seen on CincinnatiViews.net.  Read more about Weilert's beer garden here.