On the Daily: 24 Hours in the life of Ruben Natal-San Miguel

On the Daily

24 Hours in the life of Ruben Natal-San Miguel

Ruben Natal-San Miguel was in the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 came careening into the side of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Natal-San Miguel survived—but his former lifestyle didn’t. He left his finance job and summers-in-the-Hamptons routine. He ditched the high-rise and moved to Harlem. Then the former photography collector picked up the camera himself, drawn to the people he saw as the city morphed in the wake of the tragedy.

Mama (Beautiful Skin), Hunts Point, The Bronx, NYC. July 26, 2017. © Ruben Natal-San Miguel.

“I’ve walked every street in all five boroughs,” Natal-San Miguel says.

A native of Puerto Rico, Natal-San Miguel came to the U.S. to study architecture in college and graduate school—studies that inform his eye for photography. Now 51, Natal-San Miguel is the artist behind the Mint’s first online exhibition, Expanding the Pantheon: Women R Beautiful. His portrait Mama (Beautiful Skin) in the contemporary galleries of Mint Museum Uptown shows a confident woman in front of a red van. She wears a white T-shirt, with cornrows and skin marked by vitiligo. The image—one of 26 included in Women R Beautiful—speaks to the photographer’s overarching goal: introducing a new range of beauty for our consideration. Here, Natal-San Miguel walked us through his typical day.

7 AM

I’m diabetic, so the first thing I do is test my blood and feed my cat, Dante. I check my email. If it’s press, I need to respond. If something got published, I immediately go on social media. The base of my collectors is older and on Facebook. So I go do a more personal approach there before reposting on Instagram. Then I go and eat and take my meds.


8 AM

For breakfast, the first thing is coffee. It’s part of my family and culture. I was born in Puerto Rico, where my grandfather had a coffee and tobacco plantation. I recently made whole wheat cinnamon pancakes with sliced mandarin oranges cooked in slow fire. I’m daydreaming about it.


9 AM

I’m not exactly a morning person. I hate midday shadows and I love people in natural light. I photograph people exactly how I find them: the hair, the necklace, the shoes. I’m a storyteller. I have a simple, strong connection between me and the subject.


I make a sandwich or buy it at a corner bodega. My go-to sandwich—well, I’m not supposed to have it all the time—it’s chicken parmesan. In New York, I love it.

1 PM

I take a nap. My cat is next to me. He’s black with green eyes, and sweet. I found him in Harlem on a cold December day and he followed me home. I take time to think. It’s part of my process. Right now, my head is all about a book for Women R Beautiful.

With my photographs, I celebrate a life—a lot of these women may not have a voice. My grandfather wouldn’t allow my mother to look at him when she was talking to him. She had to talk to him with her head down. Even though she was highly educated, she was in the shadow of machismo culture. I was a little kid when I saw that, and I had a visceral, strong reaction. I couldn’t believe a father could treat a daughter like that. It’s what motivated me to do a show like what’s at the Mint.

Ruben Natal-San Miguel

2:30 PM

I live in a brownstone, have a yard. But I’m a creature of the street. It’s good to travel around this time because kids aren’t coming out of school and the subways aren’t crowded. I want to be in place by 3 or 3:30 PM. My encounters with subjects are no longer than five minutes, usually just a few seconds.

Sometimes I have three cameras on me. The lens caps are off. If I have to wait to take a cap off, my subject may be gone. My work is like a subway ride—very strong, very fast.

You’re passing thousands of people and that person catches your eye and you go after them.  Most New Yorkers are always in a hurry and they don’t want to talk. I feel like I’m selling Tupperware when I’m trying to get their photo. But I’m lucky. I’ll get nine out of 10. These people in the most marginalized areas of the city—they have such wisdom and can tell if you’re a bullshitter. I love and respect that. They can tell I’m not a bullshitter.

I get their email address, get their Instagram feed, and I send the file later. Sometimes I give them a signed print. I stay in touch and invite them to my shows. I want them to see themselves in museums, in galleries.

6 PM

By this time, I have my second cup of coffee. Coffee twice a day, that’s part of my culture. Then that moment before it goes dark—I call it the magic moment. It’s only a few seconds, so you better be somewhere that’s important.

6:30 PM

In the winter, I’m home by this time. In summer, I’ll be out until 8:30 or 9 PM. Dinner is usually salad and soup. Sometimes I’ll buy a rotisserie chicken and share it with my cat. He’s a Harlem cat and loves his fried chicken and rotisserie chicken. After dinner, I look at pictures I’ve taken.

3 Muslim Girls, (W. 174 St. and Jerome Avenue steps, New York, NY), Jerome Avenue Subway Bronx, NYC. Sunday, October 13, 2019. 4:55 PM (67 degrees). NYC. © Ruben Natal-San Miguel

1 AM

I do what I call my “YouTube videos and Google research.” I Google neighborhoods and notice the demographics, crime statistics, landmarks. I look at an area’s retail. It’s important for me to understand the culture of an area to reflect it in the photos. I took the photo of the three Muslim girls in Women R Beautiful because I’d seen the subway coming through in a commercial for a local newscaster. I saw it, googled the gym name on the side of a building, and went there. I sat like a fool for 90 minutes on those steps, waiting. I said, “I’m going to sit here until someone comes down who’s amazing.” And the three little Muslim girls came down. That was it.

1:30 AM

I do The New York Times crossword. It takes me only a few minutes because I’ve been doing it for years. I like to motivate my brain to think. Then I give myself time to think.

3 AM


—As told to Caroline Portillo, Senior Director of Marketing & Communications at The Mint Museum

This story was originally published in the January, 2021 issue of Inspired, the Mint’s biannual member magazine.

A Conversation with Summer Wheat, the artist behind Foragers

A Conversation with Summer Wheat

Summer Wheat, the artist behind Foragers, a monumental tribute to women workers of North Carolina installed at Mint Museum Uptown, sits down with Jen Sudul Edwards, PHD, the Mint’s Chief Curator, to discuss the inspiration and evolution of the piece. Foragers spans four stories and 3,720 square feet in Mint Museum Uptown’s Robert Haywood Morrison Atrium. A myriad of vibrant panels that give the illusion of stained glass fill the atrium’s 96 windows and weave a story of women who labor to build the communities that form the spine of modern society.

The Mint Museum From Home is Presented By Chase.

Kevin Cole studio tour with Young Affiliates of the Mint

Kevin Cole YAM’s Studio Tour

Young Affiliates of the Mint join Kevin Cole (virtually) for another studio tour. Cole was featured in the Young Affiliates juried show “Coined in the South” in 2019. His work is included in more than 3,600 public, private, and corporate collections throughout the United States and abroad (Michael Jordan owns one of his pieces!). Watch to hear about some of Kevin’s latest work and the inspiration behind some of his best known pieces.

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

Brazilian artists, and brothers, Fernando and Humberto Campana tell all about creating and executing art together

Humberto and Fernando Campana. Photo by Bob Wolfenson

“Through experimentation and our life experiences, we allow the creative chaos to take over and, eventually, we discover combinations of colors and materials”

Pioneers of disruptive design, the art of Fernando and Humberto Campana is strongly rooted in Brazilian culture and traditions, and carries universal values in its core, such as freedom and human dignity, by searching self-identity through life experiences. By incorporating the idea of transformation and reinvention, their creative process raises everyday materials to nobility, bringing not only creativity into design, but also Brazilian characteristics — the colors, the mixtures, the creative chaos — the triumph of simple solutions, in an artistic and poetic way, including the piece “Kaiman Jacare” that is part of Mint’s permanent collection and in the latest exhibition New Days, New Works.

Based in Sao Paulo, Estudio Campana is constantly investigating new possibilities within design: from furniture making to architecture, landscaping, fashion, scenography and more, and are represented throughout the world. Below the brothers share about how they work together, their creative processes and inspirations, and hope for the future.

Fernando Campana (Brazilian, 1961–). Humberto Campana (Brazilian, 1953–). Kaiman Jacaré Sofa, velvet, polyurethane. Gift of the Tony Podesta Collection. 2014.75.12

Tell me a bit about yourselves and the type of art you specialize in. 

We are storytellers, we like to bridge disciplines and try not to define ourselves by a particular type of art. Our mantra is to let materials “speak” to us, from which point we discover what shape and function it can take. Through experimentation and our life experiences, we allow the creative chaos to take over and, eventually, we discover combinations of colors and materials (many times overlooked by most designers) that tell the stories from that experience, artistically and poetically.

Where is your studio located?

Our studio is located in São Paulo, Brazil, in a neighborhood called Santa Cecília. Today it is considered a cool place, thriving with hype galleries, bars, shops and restaurants, right next to mom-and-pop shops, discount clothes stores, little hardware stores.  When we started our practice there, back in the 1990s, it was considered a “no-go” zone due to the humble buildings and working-class population, but that’s exactly why we were attracted to it, for it was genuine and grassroots.

What’s it like working together from creation to execution of your artwork?

Humberto: Fernando and I complement each other very well. He starts from a bi-dimensional concept, making drawings, and often I bring that idea to life by researching materials, establishing a process, until it takes shape and comes into existence. I am interested in this process, and what happens behind the scenes, the role of the piece as it occupies a place in people’s homes. Fernando offers a distant gaze to my ideas, bringing a fresh outlook.

Fernando: It’s fair to say we have almost like a twin connection, certainly a spiritual one, although our thought process is different. When we are developing a new piece, there is an unspoken agreement between us, which is not always that smooth, but always with mutual respect. We also count with the support of our team at the studio, to help settle any standoffs.

What was your inspiration for Kaiman Jacare?

Our inspiration was the pre-historic animals, the dinosaurs. The idea was to create an oversized piece of furniture that resembles a tangle of giant scary creatures from that era. Each piece can be detached and reattached, allowing you to come up with several combinations. It’s a very comfortable, inviting, huggable composition, yet, it plays with the sense of being surrounded by these dangerous creatures, which we find quite provocative.

What is your favorite piece you’ve created?

Fernando: My favorite piece is still a very classic one, the Vermelha armchair, from 1998. We were fiddling around with different materials trying to come up with unusual upholstering when we picked up this roll of 500 meters of red rope and began to wrap it around a metal structure. It is our signature piece, produced by Italian manufacturer Edra, and part of several museums around the world.

1998, Vermelha Armchair @ Edra.

Humberto: I am very fond of our Plush Toy collection (2002) because it has a deep connection with affection. It started as an experiment to find new ways of upholstering, and soon it transformed itself into this whimsical universe reminiscent of our childhood, the memory of a favorite stuffed toy, and the sense of protection and comfort.

Cake Stool, Courtesy of Estudio Campana. Photo by Fernando Laszlo

How do people and your environment influence your art?

Fernando: These are an enormous influence for us, no doubt. We portray what we experience in our daily lives, especially in a country so culturally rich such as Brazil, with a unique viewpoint. Also, we grew up in the countryside, and nature was our main source of inspiration. Time had a different pace, giving us the chance to observe the landscape and animals in every season. That gave us the ability to pay attention to life as it unfolded. Once we moved to the city, we applied that same gaze towards people and their way of living, giving us a solid foundation for our design practice.

Humberto: Our work is like a snapshot of the world we experience. Places like the outskirts of São Paulo, Shanghai, the Amazon, the Sahara Desert, plus the people we encounter along the way. All of that fuels our imagination which is then materialized into objects.

2016, Pirarucu Armchair Pink. Courtesy of Estudio Campana. Photo by Fernando Laszlo (4)

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events in the world?

Fernando: It’s been pretty hard to find inspiration, but I had the chance to travel to the countryside and the seaside during the quarantine, keeping a distance from the industrial world and immersing myself in nature. This period will gradually percolate and eventually, something will come out of it, creatively speaking.

Humberto: At the beginning of the quarantine, I was quite upset like everyone else. Aside from the tragic loss of life, we also have terrible leadership in Brazil. After a while, I began to come to terms with the fact I had to stay at home, and suddenly my house became my universe. I discovered ways of creating with what I had at hand, in the space I had. Lately, I have been doing collages and assemblages, and it has helped me a great deal to stay creatively active.

What positive-perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?

Fernando: I would like humanity to be more respectful of the environment. And a more fraternal society, where we look out for each other. We had enough destruction, deforestation and pollution on this planet. It’s time we take responsibility for our actions and stop producing waste that keeps corroding our home.

Humberto: I think the world today is too divided. This antagonism doesn’t take us anywhere, it only leads to destruction with no clear way out. I wish people would become more united, have more respect and affection for each other, leaving their ego aside, so that we can find and follow a path to coexistence.

2018, Noah bench 2. Courtesy of Estudio Campana. Photo by Fernando Laszlo (13)

What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?

Fernando: I just finished reading Les Misérables by Victor Hugo. I am also watching a few series on TV. One is called Girls from Ipanema which takes place in the ’60s, in Rio, during the Bossa-Nova years. I like to listen to all kinds of music, but Brazilian Popular Music (MPB) is always on top of my list.

Humberto: I have been reading articles about iconic designers and architects in English. I enjoy learning more about their life trajectories while reading them aloud and practicing the language.

Who are you following on social media right now?

Fernando: I am a bit of an outcast when it comes to social media. I don’t have any accounts on any platform. I am not attracted to this type of thing. I am much more interested in the real world.

Humberto: I am currently following Design Academy Eindhoven on Instagram (@designacademyeindhoven), from The Netherlands. I admire not only their outstanding conceptual design program, but also their intrinsic concern with training students to produce work in favor of a better planet.

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

5 things you may not know about artist Summer Wheat, plus a virtual tour of her Brooklyn studio

5 things you may not know about artist Summer Wheat, plus a virtual tour of her Brooklyn studio

One silverlining of being quarantined at home is the opportunity to see and share experiences that we might not normally be able to experience. Enter our favorite new video pastime: artist interviews and studio tours. Mint’s Chief Curator Jen Sudul Edwards, PhD, joined Brooklyn-based artist Summer Wheat in her studio for a bit of show-and-tell on her technique and processes.

Wheat’s painting With Side With Shoulder is part of the newest New Days, New Works exhibition, and her atrium installation Foragers will be on view throughout the fall. Here are a few fun facts that we learned during Wheat’s studio tour.

  • Summer Wheat is originally from Oklahoma City, OK, attended Savannah College of Art and Design, and has been living and working in Brooklyn, NY for the past 11 years.
  • She has created in many mediums, from painting and sculpture, to even making custom salt and pepper shakers. Wheat says that she “likes the idea of taking a drawing and making it something usable.”
  • Her creative process is two-fold: First, she always starts with a drawing, which she does alone and views this as an intimate space. Then she brings the drawing to the studio where she and her team make the ideas come to life.
  • Her installation on the windows of the Mint Museum Uptown’s atrium will be her third large-scale piece using this material, and reminds her of stained glass. “I wanted to start telling stories in this format,” says Wheat, who is excited to tell impactful stories through visuals, color, and dimension.
  • When the Mint opens, you’ll get to see not only Wheat’s atrium installation, but also her painted piece With Side With Shoulder that uses mesh in our newest exhibition New Days, New Works.


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‘Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet.’

‘Comics, graphic novels, and literature in general have always been a voice and vehicle’

A longtime teacher and supporter of the Mint Museum, artist Wolly McNair creates stories through his illustrations. McNair’s “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War” illustrations were featured as part of the 2019 Never Abandon Imagination: : The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi exhibition at Mint Museum Randolph. He’s also has been an active instructor with The Mint Museum’s Grier Heights Community Youth Arts Program since 2009.

Wolly McNair is a Charlotte-based illustrator. His illustrations, “Black Hornet” and “of Peace of War,” were part of the Mint Museum Randolph exhibit, “Never Abandon Imagination: The Fantastical Art of Tony DiTerlizzi.”

McNair found a love for drawing as a child, and received ample encouragement from his family. He created a business to include character design, story-boarding, animation, writing and illustrating for local and national companies. He self-publishes through his brand GOrilla Bred Publishing and currently is working on a couple of his own “intellectual properties.”

“One is a sorta of ‘what if’ story called Super Bastard. Every aspect of the name plays into the DNA of the story. It deals with the idea of power meeting endless power. What happens when the voiceless finally gain a voice and can enact real change by any means chosen. No more asking,” McNair says. “Using super heroes allows it to be entertaining while having a message and not become preachy. I think comics, graphic novels, and literature in general has always been a voice and vehicle to that can place people from different walks of life in the shoes of those they least relate to. See the stories and life of others, be it fantasy or reality.”

If that wasn’t enough, he’s also reworking his graphic novel Fairy Tale Knights that he wrote for his daughter after realizing there weren’t many comic books featuring Black characters. He also is working on a follow-up to his single-issue comic King Supreme. “It is more of a traditional comic in aesthetic feel, but nontraditional in some of its subject matter and content.” McNair shares more about his art and how art is a catalyst for change.


An illustration from the follow-up to “King Supreme,” one of McNair’s latest projects.

Tell us about the type of art you create.

My work is normally illustration based, but I often work both digital and traditional combining paint, markers, watercolor with digital colors to add texture. On a day-to-day basis, though, I work digital. Professionally I illustrate graphic novels, create worlds for character settings, concepts for characters in film, gaming, and comics.

My more gallery-based work is often larger in scale, and I typically do work that has lots of varied symbolism in it. Some things are literal, while other elements have a reason or meaning for placement. I often do several pieces in a small series with a central, connecting theme. Because I work in a character-driven world, and the world itself is but a stage full of characters, most of my gallery work also has a heavy character-driven base to it. 

Algorithms of B3AR by Wolly McNair

What do you want your art to say to America today, and what conversations do you hope it may spark?

The same as I would have probably wanted 10 years ago, and not just to America, but to the world. That we as a people (Black people or whatever term is considered appropriate) have a varied voice, have a beautiful hidden and forgotten history, and a terrible covered-up and watered-down history, and have influenced culture since there was such a thing. I want people to stop, maybe admire, maybe question, maybe reflect, maybe actually see … then ask questions, listen. Each piece, each series of pieces, all speak to different things, and I rarely completely explain my work cause lots of it is self explanatory, but I also want people to gather their own honest thoughts and start the conversation from there. 

How do race, place, and your environment influence your art?

Race and environment have an influence because both are a part of who and where I am, have been, or plan to be. As the world changes or stays the same, so do the reflections in my art. But the history is always shared as I learn and grow, coming from the background I grew up in, that places a roll in detail, the way I may position elements of a piece, or what I may decide to speak on. Not only I am influenced by these things, I also try to use these elements of who I am and where I am from to influence others in a creative and positive way. 

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during these current events?

Current events are actually the same events, just a different timeline. Many of the things happening have happened so many times before. Some of the “changes” are good to see, but mirror things of the past. I have hope that it will ultimately play out differently, and we are not right back here again. I still create, but I don’t want to create only as a result of another life lost, a continued struggle, racism or classism — I have over 400 years of history to use for that type of influence. I can, and do, create from that space without needing more of it. This doesn’t mean the fight is given up, it just means these events — good and bad — shouldn’t have to keep repeating. I’d rather get inspiration from seeing and knowing my kids won’t have to go through this and can live a happy life. Seeing them smile, not cry, not be afraid, not have to be strong would be so much more inspirational.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see evolve from the protests, pandemic and social struggles of now?

I just want to see a power shift. Power to the people. We already have a positive perspective or we wouldn’t keep getting up everyday, but I understand that those in true power have to come to an understanding, or no longer hold those positions, for the change to actually come and stay intact. I have seen people who only viewed life from where they sit come to realizations from my own personal conversations, and that was good to see.

More allies. I just want to see things handled better, artists of color given fair chances to speak and be properly compensated, voices amplified, corruption called out, and the people standing for each other instead of over each other. 

lOckS by Wolly McNair.

How do you believe art can be a positive influence on kids?

Art helps kids find a voice. I teach kids to use it to express even if they don’t want to actually say the words out loud yet. Art helped me to write, and writing helped to add to my art and the stories I wanted to tell. Art allows an escape as well. It opens up the mind, and it teaches discipline for many — patience and perseverance. Most importantly, it allows expression. I simply think it is needed, maybe not for every child, but it can be a lifesaver or game changer for many. Even in simply teaching kids how art can be used daily, and the options that are out there, at an early age can help them figure out the path that works for them, and test options as they grow. 

What are you reading, watching, and listening to these days?

I’m not reading much, other than the autobiography of Malcom X. I am listening to James Baldwin a lot lately, and Fred Hampton speeches, and Malcom debates and speeches. I go back to them from time to time. I have a stack of comic books and graphic novels that I haven’t read for mixed reasons, in part due to things I’m currently working on and not wanting to have any other creative elements that aren’t mine creep in.I listen to a lot of instrumental music, including Future Garage/Wave stuff — Nipsey Hussle, Lil baby. I listen to a wide range of things as I work based on where I want my mind to be. My son also creates his own music, so I listen in on it. My daughter is learning piano, so I listen to her. She’s self-teaching at age 9. They prove to me what is possible. I guess I am creating things that hopefully will aid others in the future more than anything.If I do watch anything, it’s the TV show Goodtimes, documentaries, an anime, or Property Brothers or something about buying or renovating houses. It is a different world for a few minutes per day.

Who are you following on social media right now, and why?

I follow a few people of course, but I honestly just float through looking at random things and seeing what catches my eye. There are tons of dope artists out there doing cool things.

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

‘I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down,’ says Asheville-based artist Nava Lubelski

‘I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes.’

Asheville-based fiber artist Nava Lubelski transforms textiles with embroidery that pierces through splashes of stain and color. She fills tears and holes with delicate lace stitching that result in abstract creations. Her piece Chance of Flurries, 2011 is part of the permanent collection at The Mint Museum.

Studio location: Asheville, North Carolina


Nava Lubelski at home with her 7-year-old son.

Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Lee Bontecou, Louise Bourgeois, Rina Bannerjee, Ghada Amer, Bruce Naumann, Lee Krasner, Tom Friedman, Helen Frankenthaler, and Sarah Sze.

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I’m fond of Day Dreams, 2008. I feel like the simplified color palette highlights the juxtaposition between luscious, detailed stitching and wild, organic splatters. I also am proud of the piece in the Mint Museum collection, Chance of Flurries, 2011.  

Nava Lubelski (American, 1968–). Chance of Flurries, 2011, acrylic paint and hand stitching on canvas. Museum Purchase: Funds provided by Mike and Betsy Blair in memory of Catherine Schiff Blair. 2016.31

How does your environment influence your art?

I respond to both chaos and calm. I need time and space to make work, but my inspiration most often comes from messes and mistakes. 

The yellow is”Tidying Up, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread and manufactured trimming on canvas.

 Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I’m finding it hard to focus on my usual work right now, with a kid at home full-time, and have been playing with more immediate projects, mailing out impromptu handmade books and working on drawings. Luckily, I am an imperfectionist, so I just believe in trying hard and seeing what happens, but it doesn’t have to go a certain way.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I hope we all can learn to see the value in slowing down. I think people are already seeing clearly that things are not and have not been working well for all of us.

What does your daily routine look like now? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

My husband has closed his office, so my work space right now is filled with a lot of additional equipment and in turn I’ve sprawled out into the living room. My afternoons tend to be busy with family/dog walks in the woods. Mornings are when I can catch some alone time. I enjoy lying in the dark and seeing what comes. I’m not someone who fears insomnia. I appreciate the quiet and the dark, and the chance to feel what I’m feeling and hear my own thoughts, though they aren’t always pleasant. 

“The Deadly Ooh Business, 2020,” acrylic paint, hand-stitched thread, yarn and wire on canvas.

What’s you cooking these days?

I like cobbling together Indian-type meals. I’m not good at following recipes, but I’m pretty good at winging it.

What are you currently reading?

At the moment it’s mostly news, although I read Red Clocks not too long ago. Most of my reading stamina lately seems to be used up by reading Fablehaven to my son.

What is your favorite music choice?

My husband has been at home playing guitar all day, so that’s pretty much my soundtrack right now.

What is your favorite podcast?

For easy entertainment I like Reply All.

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

Mark Newport on knitting to relieve stress, the power of punk, and the best chocolate chip cookie ever

‘I would like us to realize we are all interconnected and interdependent, and act with empathy,’ says artist Mark Newport.

Mark Newport is the artist-in-residence and head of fiber at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. A self-described fiber artist who has worked with print, photography, video and performance art, his most recent work includes traditional European and American mending techniques on used garments. His work Batman in Barcelona is part of the Mint’s permanent collection.

Studio location: Bloomfield Hills, Michigan


Artist and educator Mark Newport. Photo by Jeff Cancelosi

Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Louise Bourgeois, Ed Paschke, Lee Bowery, Mardi Gras Indian costumes (Demond Melancon), and outsider art environments (Fred Smith Concrete Park).

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I don’t have one favorite. I am usually most interested in the piece I am working on or the piece I just finished. I think that is because the work is a step in a process of thinking and exploring, so I am involved in what I am doing in the moment. While I am interested in the work when it is finished, I also am already involved in the next thing that grows from what is finished.

“Redress 4”

How does your environment influence your art?

My work is currently small in scale and portable, so I only need a comfortable chair and good light to work. I prefer a space that is basically a white box with little on the walls beyond what I am currently working on. I also prefer to be able to control the sounds in the space—music, podcasts, movies or television, or silence.

Tell us about your new morning routine.

I wake up around 7 a.m. I usually do some exercise, then eat and read a little. I also play a game of Sudoku or two, and look at Instagram and email. I try to get to the studio by 9 a.m. or so. Between March 13 and last week, I was teaching online, so I was up a little earlier to get to Zoom meetings with colleagues and students.

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I have been working on projects that started before the stay-at-home order, so I have not really found new inspiration. I am starting to look at the work in different ways because of the virus and the idea of something we can’t see moving between and into bodies. Likewise, I think ideas around healing, mending, and repair are taking on new elements and references in this moment.

Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?

After lunch I work more in the studio for a few hours, take a walk with the dog for about an hour, and then spend some time writing songs and practicing bass and guitar. Before all of this I was in two rock bands. We were writing and developing music, and performing in the area.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I would like us to realize we are all interconnected and interdependent, and act with empathy. I would also like to see us embrace the idea that all tasks and jobs are important, and that people should be able to earn a living wage from all jobs. And how about universal healthcare?

“Amends 2”

How are you winding down your day? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

Dinner with my wife, then we watch TV, and I usually knit. Sometimes I play backgammon on my phone. Knitting is my stress reliever.

What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?

I am a purely functional cook, and the second-tier cook in my family. I did make some cookies using a recipe from Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. They were sharing their recipes on Instagram and I tried to make their chocolate chip macaroons. They were edible, but I didn’t get them right. I will try again and hopefully I can go back to Haystack someday and eat them there.

What are you currently reading?

Working for the Clampdown—The Clash, the Dawn of Neoliberalism and the Political Promise of Punk

What is your favorite music choice?

Punk, ska and rock. I am listening to The Clash as I answer this.

What are your favorite podcasts?

Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, Revisionist History, Beyond and Back

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

‘I’d like to see humanity place first in our decision-making process in terms of what’s best for America,’ says artist Juan Logan.

‘I’d like to see humanity place first in our decision-making process in terms of what’s best for America,’ says artist Juan Logan.

Juan Logan’s works have be showcased across the nation and worldwide in numerous solo exhibitions, including Beacon at the entrance to the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts+Culture, and the piece Some Clouds are Darker in the collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Logan’s artwork includes paintings, mixed media and sculptures. His work is abstract, and addresses the interconnections of race, place and power. He has five works in the Mint’s collection.

Studio location: Belmont, NC

Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Jack Whitten, Louise Bourgeois, Leon Golub, Adrian Piper, and Robert Colescott

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

One of my favorite works of art that I created is a piece entitled Sugar House. It was made in 2011 and measures 6-by-16 feet. The piece was made using acrylic paint, glitter and lottery tickets. I worked on this piece seven to eight months primarily because of the many layers, along with the thousands of puzzle pieces. I was able to achieve everything I had hoped to, from the complexity of ideas to the subtle and apparent layers of form, texture and meaning. But most importantly,  this piece riffs off of the historical Sugar House used in Jamaica in 1837.

“Sugar House,” 2011, Acrylic paint, glitter, lottery tickets, puzzle pieces on canvas, 6’ x 16’

How does race and place, and your environment influence your art?

I think race is always made a part of our lives as black and brown people in ways that others lack the ability to understand, as it is not a part of their lives. I’m interested in talking about my experiences without necessarily trying to make it understandable to other people. We live in a world where we watch things happen to black and brown people, not because they’ve done anything wrong, but simply because of the color of their skin.

Tell us about your new morning routine.

I usually get up for the first time between 4 and 4:30 AM. I spend time catching up on the news of the day, have a cup of water, catch up on social media and then go back to bed for a nap. After all of that, I finally get up between 8 and 8:30 AM, shower, breakfast, a double espresso, more news, and then off to the studio for the day.

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

Yes. My practice has always included a response to what is happening in the world around me.  I have recently created a few works now that are related to COVID-19. They are looking at the structure of the virus itself and the notion of contact tracing.

Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?

Afternoons into early evenings are generally spent in the studio.

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I’d like to see humanity place first in our decision-making process in terms of what’s best for America, and hope for a cleaner environment.

How are you winding down your day? Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

Relaxing at home working outside in the yard. Spending time with the family. Helping with our freedom garden, and catching up on the news of the day.

What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?

Chicken pot pie. Fried chicken (dark), grits, and collard greens.

What is your favorite music choice?

Blues and classical

What is your favorite podcast?

The PROJECT with Steve Rutherford

“Elegy LXXIII,” 2020, Acrylic on shaped canvas, 67 1/2” x 83 1/4”

The Mint Museum From Home is Sponsored by Chase.

‘I believe something really positive will emerge out of this global experience of our shared vulnerability,’ says artist Sheila Gallagher

Artist Sheila Gallagher finds inspiration for her artwork in everything she sees.

‘I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be.’

Artist, and mom to a high school senior, Sheila Gallagher is an associate professor of fine art at Boston College where she teaches courses on drawing, painting and contemporary art practice. While sheltering at home, she continues to sketch and work in her studio, is relishing a more leisurely schedule, and also tackling a few domestic projects like making curtains. Her artwork, Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, is part of the permanent collection at the Mint.

Studio location: Boston, Massachusetts


Describe the artwork you create and medium you use.

I am an interdisciplinary/hybrid artist and I use any material necessary. I make paintings out of smoke, plastic trash, live flowers … anything. I also make videos and do live drawing performances.

Who are artists that inspire you and your work?

Oh so many! My new art crush is Formafantasma that uses lidar technology to make visually riveting animations that explore life from the perspective of a forest. I am always inspired by the work of artists like Doris Salcedo, Sister Corita, Sarah Sze, and Sanford Biggers who have great minds and deep hearts and really understand form and materiality. And anyone really who knows how to draw: Leonardo, Rembrandt, and Gros. Even though he is unpopular, I think Hans Bellmar makes incredibly beautiful lines.

I also love the work of a little known self-taught Bahamian painter named Amos Ferguson. But if I could only have one piece of art to behold for the rest of my life it would be Stargazer, a small transclucent white marble statue of a female figure from approximately 4,000 BC that I saw at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and think about all the time. Cultures come and go.

What is your favorite piece or artwork that you created and why?

I think it may very well be Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebulae, a large plastic painting that was commissioned by The Mint Museum and included in the Under Construction exhibition (now part of the permanent collection). I really had to wrestle it to the ground to get the composition to work, and I ended up really liking the psychedelic palette and all of the hidden images and words. I also think it might be one of my favorites because it probably has more hours of me in it than almost any other piece, and I have very fun memories of working with two saintly assistants, Claire and Rachel, who have great voices, and were always singing and willing to pull all nighters with me.

Sheila Gallagher (American). Ghost Orchid Plastic Nebula, 2018, melted plastic on armature. Museum purchase with funds provided by Wells Fargo. 2018.48

How does your environment influence your art?

Everything in my sight line influences my art. I am like a bower bird drawn to every shiny piece of trash. My house and studio are chock full of images and objects and books and small pieces of ephemera. Anything can be a material or mnemonic device. My teenage son has accused us of “drowning in meaningfulness” and likes to remind me that not everything can be special . But I wonder, why not? I don’t think I am quite a hoarder, but under the right wrong circumstances could definitely lean that way.

Tell us about your new morning routine, including when you start your day and how you spend the early hours.

I have to say, I am growing quite fond of my “shelter-in-place” mornings. Now that my son is finishing high school online, the mornings are much more leisurely. I usually wake up around 7:30 AM and listen to a book on tape for about 30 minutes. Then I go downstairs and get tea and toast and take them back to bed and read under the covers. I try not to look at the news before I meditate. At around 9 AM I start checking texts and emails and jumping all over the internet. When I feel myself going down an unproductive rabbit hole, I jump up and make the bed and a to-do list and try to get cracking.

Are you finding new inspiration for your art during this shift of perspective in the world?

I think the pandemic has really provoked me into asking serious questions about my art practice and more generally what the world needs artists to be. I am definitely going inward and trying to cultivate intuition and discernment, which I have to trust will ultimately manifest in artwork, Inshallah. For now it doesn’t feel right to plan a big exhibition, and I have put aside some large projects. Like a lot of artists I know, in this moment I feel drawn to a collective creativity while at the same time find myself more comfortable doing small and quiet solo things like sketching and making little collages in my sketchbook.

Tell us about your afternoon. Are you working from home, going to your studio?

With everyone working remotely, my house has never felt more crowded, and I feel very grateful to have a studio for escape and solitude. Most afternoons are a combo platter of studio and house. Everyday I do e-mails and draw and I try to stay connected with my art practice, teaching job and friends. Taking walks is the new going out for drinks.

I find I have a new found interest in domestic projects like making curtains, cooking soup, and organizing the laundry closet. My house has never been so clean. Now that Purell is an endangered product, we have started making artisanal hand sanitizer (called Mom’s Napalm) out of grain alcohol, witch hazel, eucalyptus oil, cloves and my secret ingredient: holy water from Saint Brigid’s Well in Ireland.

Gallagher created her own artisanal hand sanitizer while sheltering at home that her family named “Mom’s Napalm”

What positive perspective changes in society would you like to see come from the pandemic?

I believe something really positive will emerge out of this global experience of our shared vulnerability. There is a possibility for deep transformation where the world’s resources, scientific intelligence and good will are forever put at the service of the common good and protecting the most fragile amongst us. I was very moved by a An Imagined Letter from COVID-19 to Humans by Kristin Flyntz , which eloquently imagines a more earth-centeredb mindset.

Have any recommendations for stress relievers to settle after another day done?

After dinner we usually read and/or watch a show. I am really into the series the New Pope Stylin. Lately we have also been getting into making “God’s Eyes” out of yarn. Very easy and very therapeutic and a welcome break from the screen. I am also a big fan of online yoga classes.

Gallagher at her studio in front of a collection of yarn God’s eyes that she’s made for a friend’s shrine. “I highly recommend Gods eyes as excellent pandemic therapy,” she says.

What are you cooking? What’s your comfort food of choice?

Seafood soup and warm buttered toast, and hot tea with coconut cake, and red wine.

What are you currently reading?

Lots of poetry, too much news, Hyperallergic, Jerry Saltz, Richard Rohr, John Prendergast, and Akin by Emma O’Donoghue.

What is your favorite music choice?

These days I find myself drawn to chanting, and silly 80’s dance music.

What is your favorite podcast(s)?

I am more of a books -on-tape kind of gal. Right now I am listening to Kevin Barry read his new novel, Might Boat to Tangiers.