Saturday, May 28, 2016

Olympic Philatelists Seek Stamp of Approval in NYC

It's a big week for stamp collecting thanks to an army of volunteers putting on the biggest postage-centric event in years.

Anyone can learn the hobby enjoyed by astronauts, famous musicians, presidents and even Olympic silver medalists in tennis (my personal favorite).

Stamp collecting is a solitary pastime. But many philatelists find a social side to the hobby by networking at local collector club events or special shows and exhibitions. 

Growing up in Oklahoma, this blogger attended the annual OKPEX from 1986 to 1990, exhibiting my stamps of the Olympics, U.S. presidents/monuments, Caribbean islands and the Republic of South Moluccas in youth competitions. Once settled in Atlanta years later, I made my way to a few Georgia stamp collector events almost annually since 2000.

The "Olympics" of major exhibitions arrives every 10 years rather than four. And May 28 marks the opening of this decade's World Stamp Show, welcoming the public (tickets are free) at the Javits Convention Center on Manhattan's west side. 

The big event continues through June 4, and later this holiday weekend I'll be attending for a day while taking in a theater show near Broadway.

According to the schedule of guest presenters and exhibitors, World Stamp Show includes many direct connections to the Olympic world, including:
  • Sports Philatelists International (SPI) Sports and Olympics Collectors Meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on May 30
  • Presentation by SPI member and two-time U.S. Olympian (1976, 1980 rowing) John Everett titled "Pulling Your Weight - A Philatelic Story of Rowing and the Olympics"
  • Atlanta Cultural Olympiad's president of Olymphilex 1996, Nancy Clark, presenting "Not Just Stamps - A Philatelic Story of the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games"
  • Numerous Olympic stamp exhibits (some in competition) with the titles/themes "Commemorative Issue of the First Olympic Games - Athens 1896" (frames 1625-1632), "History of the Olympics Through Philately" (literature), "Olympic Games" (frames 4874-4877 from India and frames 4385-4392 from Thailand), "Poland Olympic Chronicle" (frames 4826-4828), "Olympic Games Beijing 2008" (frames 4907-4908), "The Summer Olympic Games" (frames 4406-4413) and "The 1944 Gross Born POW Olympics" (frame 2809).
Last year in Atlanta, that POW Olympic display appeared in a Georgia stamp show. 

As it turns out, from July 23 to August 13, 1944, prisoners in one of the Polish Nazi concentration camps in German-occupied Poland got permission to stage an Olympic competition, including elements of a Cultural Olympiad (specifically, in-camp engraved postage stamps). 

I am eager to reexamine frame 2809 as my photos of the exhibition were lost with a dropped mobile phone earlier this year, and it fascinated me the Olympic spirit shined through very dark times of WWII. A black and white PDF of the exhibition is available online here.

Other World Stamp Show items that enticed me to book last-minute travel include the most expensive stamp in the world -- the British Guiana One Cent Magenta of 1856 -- as well as an Inverted Jenny (as reported by The New York Times, which also wrote about the publication's short-lived mail plane and service) and other extremely rare early U.S. commemorative stamps, many of which I've only seen as photographs in books. 

I would love to find a set of the 1934 National Stamp Exhibition cinderella stamps (image posted below) during my treasure hunt in the dealer area.

It would be fun to also stumble upon my favorite Olympic stamp designs by Robert Peak in 1984 and Bart Forbes from 1988 to 1992 (the image at right is a Forbes painting that was not selected by the USPS as they instead opted for a portrait of Jesse Owens running, also painted by Forbes). 

Also looking forward to learning more about SPI and International Association of Olympic Collectors (AICO) sharing booth 778, according to the show guide

Had to smile for the World Stamp Show media relations team members who landed a preview story about the event in Rolling Stone Magazine. Turns out John Lennon's stamp collection will be on view all week. 

Imagine all the postage!

Image of FDR via Discovering Topical Stamp Collecting; World Stamp Show logo via the event home page; 1944 POW Olympic stamp image via; Image of 1934 National Stamp Exhibition cinderella stamps via Ebay.

Note: Based on reader feedback in the comments section, the paragraph concerning the Gross-Born POW Olympics was amended on June 4, 2016, to correct my erroneous description of the camp. A strikethrough indicates the error in the original post, with the words "Nazi" and "German-occupied Poland" added to correct my error. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Saying Goodbye to a Guinness World Record Client

Jane Little/ASO
On a weekend that started on a musical high -- attending a Jane's Addiction concert at the Shaky Knees Music Festival in Centennial Olympic Park -- Sunday brought sad news of the passing of a Guinness World Record candidate named Jane Little.

I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Little through an ongoing client project for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. It was an honor and privilege to share her story with media.

Last summer the ASO asked me to help with some press release writing, and when news of Little reaching her 71st consecutive Atlanta season crossed my desk, the wheels got to turning -- could she set a Guinness World Record?

Inspired by attending a November 2014 Guinness World Record-setting event with another client, the International Association of Amusement Parks And Attractions (a record for "most participants launching a hand-held model glider" was set during IAAPA Attractions Expo 2014), with the ASO we submitted the necessary paperwork to establish Little's candidacy for "longest career in a symphony orchestra."

Though the application remains in review pending confirmation later this month, we've been spreading the good cheer of Little's remarkable achievement since February.

Little performed with the ASO from Feb. 4, 1945, to yesterday, May 15, 2016 -- about 71 years and two months. Unfortunately, she collapsed during Sunday's afternoon performance. Though emergency responders and a medically-trained chorus member briefly revived Little, she died later at Grady Memorial Hospital.

I met Jane on stage following her Feb. 4 performance. Her double bass is the orchestra's largest instrument, and it was remarkable to see Little playing and later carrying her the bass several inches taller than her 4'11" stature. I could hardly believe Little turned 87 only two days earlier!

Officially, Little was assistant principal bass emeritus in the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. She started her musical career at ASO during WWII following two years of high school bass study. In the decades since, she played under all four of the ASO's directors: Henry Sopkin, Robert Shaw, Yoel Levi and Robert Spano, according to the press release my ASO contacts and I wrote earlier this year.

She also performed with guest conductors Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, James Levine and many others.

Most impressive to me was Little's work with "Olympic Fanfare and Theme" composer/conductor John Williams -- both performed "Summon The Heroes" (Williams' 1996 Olympic composition) with the ASO during the Atlanta Olympic opening and closing ceremony. You can catch a glimpse of Williams and Little in the stadium via this video:

"Performing with John Williams is one of my favorite experiences with ASO," said Little when we met at her locker backstage.

She added the Olympic symphony practiced extensively and performed in both a dress rehearsal on July 18, 1996, and at the main event the following evening for a crowd of more than 80,000 at what is now Turner Field.

Little played using a rare bass built by Carlo Giuseppi Testore in 1705, one of the few elements of the ASO older than Jane. In 1953, she met and married fellow ASO musician Warren Little, a 6'4" flute player who carried her bass during 49 years until his death in 2002.

Signed Sheet Music on view
at Atlanta History Center
Also remarkable about Little was her perseverance over illness. In addition to battling a form of cancer, she returned to the ASO early this year after suffering a fall and cracked vertebrae in autumn 2015.

During the media interviews booked for Little locally and nationally, she was fond of stating her retirement plans included taking up bass guitar and starting a jazz group she named "The Grannies." A Washington Post reporter wrote and extensive story and later tribute, and The Violin Channel published a first person report Jane verbalized for me to type and submit on her behalf -- she was a great storyteller. She died doing something she loved dearly.

Listening to WABE's tribute and early 2016 interview made me smile as it is clear Jane was one lively woman!

I will miss listening to Little at future ASO performances, and certainly will cherish working with this Guinness World Record holder among my favorite public relations client projects. She was a positive inspiration for many, and she set a very high bar for future generations of musicians.

ASO performance photos by Nicholas Wolaver. Atlanta Olympic opening ceremony photos via Eileen Langsley. Photo below via Washington Post/Dustin Thomas Chambers

Photo via Dustin Thomas Chambers/Washington Post

Friday, May 6, 2016

Cirque du Soleil KURIOS Includes Athens 2004 Olympic Trampoline Influences and Other Surprises

This post is overdue, as time flies when you're having fun.

At the start to March -- on the eve of travels to Los Angeles for the Team USA Olympic Media Summit previewing Rio 2016 -- the folks at Cirque du Soleil kindly treated me to a media ticket to the Atlanta premiere of "KURIOS: Cabinet of Curiosities" at Atlantic Station. 

A review of this outstanding production remained on my to do list for too many weeks since. 

Now the tent is about to pack up and leave Georgia for Boston and D.C. before New York and Miami later this year -- hopefully this critique will encourage ticket sales for many destinations on the tour map.

Atlanta was the latest stop for this new tour by the Montreal-based enterprise and P.R. client I enjoyed working with from 2004 to 2012. As noted with previous reviews, my teams enjoyed several productions under the Grand Chapiteau.  

For this writer and longtime friends also in attendance, "KURIOS" proved to be a simpler yet more endearing fantasy journey than other recent productions. 

By tapping into reality-based mechanics of the Industrial Revolution -- akin to the London 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies segment featuring Kenneth Branagh and the villainous inventions the actor's character unleashed in the 1999 film "Wild, Wild West" -- Cirque du Soleil "KURIOS" provides entertainment that at once feels "back to basics" yet anything but basic.

Borrowing from the official site for the show, audience members "Step into the curio cabinet of an ambitious inventor who defies the laws of time, space and dimension in order to reinvent everything around him" and "Suddenly, the visible becomes invisible, perspectives are transformed, and the world is literally turned upside down."

Things indeed get topsy-turvy many times and many ways during "KURIOS."

For instance, in the back-to-back Russian Cradle Duo, Aerial Bike and Contortion segments of the first act, a handful of performers deliver incredible gravity-defying feats including plenty of air-time soaring high above the audience. The strongman in the duo seems to fling his gymnast waif partner like the men of pairs figure skating or ice dancing, but all his intense tossing leads to a loving bear-hug embrace that left many in the audience swooning (or perhaps sighing with relief he did not drop her!).

On a smaller scale, audiences also meet performers of the little people persuasion, a fully-grounded yo-yo master, and a videographer with the coolest hand-puppet theater act -- ever seen fingers start to break dance before magically appearing atop an audience member's head and shoulders? 

The costumes -- including a pot belly stove-inspired passenger compartment and mobile phone booth, an accordion body suit, and tutus that transform acrobats into fresh catch fish also dazzle. 

Lots of industrialism dark hues give way to brilliantly colors and Dayglow trim at many turns. 

That fish-inclusive act, titled Acronet, brings us to a "KURIOS" Olympic connection. 

According to this video interview describing the segments's inspiration, the Cirque du Soleil coach involved with the tour is an Athens 2004 Olympic trampoline competitor. 

More specifically, the tour's coach and team GB Olympian Gary Smith placed seventh in the 2004 Olympic trampoline final, just 1.5 points behind the gold medalist from Ukraine, Yuri Nikitin. Other gymnasts in the Acronet segment include AcroSports or trampoline World Cup or World Championship gymnasts including Jack Helm (England), Karl L'Ecuyer (Canada), Roman Polishchuk and Sergei Okhai (Ukraine) and Igor Strizhanov (Russia). 

More about "KURIOS" -- best ... Cirque ... soundtrack ... ever. The live musicians and vocalists bring this show to life more than I recall in previous tours. My personal favorite is the piano and vocalist duet "Departure" that perfectly scores the aforementioned hand puppet segment in the second act. The song is reminiscent of the Thomas Newman piano tunes of "American Beauty" and its dancing plastic bag scene, with as much soft/quiet contemplative effect.

There's plenty to love in this Cirque du Soleil cabinet. You'll be amazed how time, and many a performer, flies during an evening at this show. Enjoy!

Most photos via Cirque du Soleil copyright Martin Girard with costume credit to Philippe Guillotel. Logo via this link. Grand Chapiteau photo by Nicholas Wolaver.

LA's Museum The Broad = Modern Art Mother Lode

The phrase "mother lode" is a mining term tethered to the California gold rush.

Thanks to a family of progressive Los Angeles collectors, contemporary art lovers may now strike it rich with a visit to the state's newest museum, The Broad

Just reading about The Broad in 2014 and last year made me state aloud, "I wish Atlanta had its own art loving billionaire supercouple" like Eli and Edythe Broad (rhymes with "road").

The ATL has its share of billionaire couples, mind you, but sadly none of them have a passion for art on par with their love of fish and football. The "Mouth of the South" gives his money to U.N.-centric and other philanthropic projects, which leaves Anne Cox Chambers, John Wieland and a handful of others to try to keep the city's arts scene as close to world class as possible.

To their credit, these Atlanta arts patrons are indeed generous, but I don't think any of them are buying art the way the Broad family did.

A trip to The Broad yields room after room of fantastic contemporary and modern works by brand-name artists. My jaw dropped upon beholding the collection's massive Roy Lichtenstein canvas "Interior with African Mask" and, steps away, an entire room filled with other works spanning the artist's career. 

Need a dose of Andy Warhol? Then feast your eyes on another room full of his works.

And then there's the Jeff Koons sculptures -- remember those? You won't soon forget them once spotting the enormous "Balloon Dog (Blue)" and bokay of flowers titled "Tulips."

Damien Hirst? Check. Jean-Michel Basquiat? Check. Jasper Johns and Keith Haring? Check.

There's nobody in Atlanta who seems to be shopping for this stuff! Obviously, I wish they were.

New-to-my-eyes artist Mark Tansey made an impression with two large monochrome oil on canvas works titled "Achilles and the Tortoise" (a science versus nature statement) and "Forward Retreat."

A 1995 piece my Lari Pittman provided 25 minutes of study time. A case full of three-dimensional steel cutouts by Kara Walker was another fresh artist that left an impression.

Like the blood sought by vampires in "Only Lovers Left Alive," The Broad has the good stuff! They have so much good stuff, they built in a stairwell window enticing visitors to gaze into their cavernous on-site art storage room that teases of other greatness just waiting to dazzle in a future spotlight exhibition.

Hello! They did not just buy a Basquiat. They picked out several. And they are huge canvases, not the notebook leftovers

The only collector I've heard of who even comes close to the Broad family in terms of art acquisitions is Alice Walton, who continues to gather glorious works for Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Ark. (more on that collection here). 

The Broad not only presents fantastic contemporary art, but the building itself presents a masterpiece of light and shadow that can actually be seen from the street instead of from the sky like this design hidden from pedestrian view outdoors.

Just driving by or walking up to The Broad -- located in the block south of another head-turning building, the Walt Disney Symphony Hall -- gets visitors minds and hearts racing with an architectural proclamation that "this is going to be an intriguing museum."

Entering the museum from the street, guests are directed to a cavernous escalator that opens up to that Koons work "Tulips." 

I must admit to some agreement with the Washington Post's critical view of The Broad collection -- there are elements that are all over the place, or just not my cup of tea.

But for this writer, the pros far outweigh any cons of contemporary art purchases by Mr. and Mrs. Broad.

Love the room filled with edgy conversation starters by John Currin including "Anna" as well as "Old Couple" "Patch and Pearl" "Maenads" and "The Storm."
A few logistical notes for future visitors:

Tickets are (amazingly) FREE. With that said, tickets require advance reservations, with many dates and time ranges filled weeks in advance. I noticed a handful of walk-up visitors did seem to eventually get in after a patient wait, but planning ahead and playing it safe with a reservation is highly recommended to save time and consternation.

Parking is available beneath The Broad, but like other popular LA destinations, rates ain't cheap. The good news is that other museums and several places to dine are within walking distance, so one may make a day of their downtown visit and benefit from the daily versus hourly parking rate.

I highly recommend the newly reviewed on-site Otium Restaurant, which LA Times critic Jonathan Gold named the city's "most ambitious new restaurant in years."

If the Cultural Olympiad remains a component of the 2024 Olympic bid process, then the LA24 bid committee may benefit from collaboration with The Broad -- this writer can hardly wait for another opportunity to explore the collection on site.

For readers who made it this far in the post, a potential reward: Two VIP Passes to The Broad! With thanks to the museum public relations department for my ticket (and a pair of giveaway tickets) to the museum, I am giving away a free pair of General Admission "no line no waiting" VIP Passes to The Broad.

To win this pair of tickets, simply POST A COMMENT on this blog by Tuesday, May 31, 2016, at midnight Eastern Standard Time. I will put the names of comment providers into a hat and mail the passes to the person whose name is drawn. Thank you for reading about The Broad via Olympic Rings And Other Things!

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

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