Experience the Magic of Glasstastic




Brattleboro Museum and Art Center

Through June 15, 2021


For the past ten years, the Brattleboro Museum and Art Center has housed one of the most innovative education-meets-art projects imaginable. Kids from across the country in grades K-6 draw imaginary creatures and write about them. In turn, a committee chooses a few dozen or so, and glass artists render them in 3-D. This year's exhibit spotlights 27 of these wonderfully whimsical and inventive critters. It's a toss of the coin which is more magical, the work of the professional artists or the imaginations of the kids. The works range from the silly to the scary and the touching to what might be called burgeoning political awareness.


Here's a small sample:


Rachel Cousino’s “Biwwy” is a doughnut crossed with candy corn. Biwwy has a small brain but a big heart, the latter of which is used to help people like the homeless. 




“Snoogle” by Sarah Balint-Wohl enjoys the company of others and likes to live in a field of flowers for he can hide from predators.




One of my favorites stories is the “Flower Cat “by Aliana Miller. Allow me to quote her: “One day there was a little girl whose mother was sick. She went outside to get some flowers for her mom. But then out popped a flower cat! The girl picked flowers for her mom, and the cat asked why. ‘Because,’ the girl said ‘I want my mom to feel better.’ The cat said, ‘you can give the flowers to her but I have healing powers. So I can use my healing powers to heal your mom so she's not sick anymore.’ The flower cat and the girl became best friends forever.”



Gertrude, a monster designed by Timmy, has spikes and gripping feet so he can climb. Raspberries are Gertrude’s favorite food is raspberries and he can run 63 mph. We don't know why Gertrude is a he, but who cares?




One of my favorites is “The Flying Lunchbox” from Marleigh Vose. Anyone who has ever left lunch on the counter needs one of these. All you have to do is say, “On lunch!” and it uses its wing, invisible feet, and six eyes to find you. Plus, it will make food for you.




One of the more elaborate creatures, “Swirly,” was designed by Ava. It lives in Swirly Town on Planet Swirly and likes to sit in the grass and watch the sunset, eat fruit and be happy. 




August Davis drew what looks to be a narwal named “August Junior.” that for some reason likes to play basketball.




John Max Malcovsky drew a creature called “Tigon,” which could have come from a medieval bestiary. It has wings like a dragon but the rest of him looks like a tiger. He hunts, but he also likes to explore caves. 





Olivia Sawyer drew a creature called “Drake.” According to Olivia, “Drake is creative, happy, funny, and loves to sleep all day. When not sleeping he likes to bake cookies, draw, and give hugs.” Olivia tells us, he “always likes to eat a lot of cookie dough, doesn't everybody?” And because he likes to look good, he wears a top hat.




Kudos to the glass artist whose craft is everywhere on display. Not all artists deign to enter the realms and minds of children, so glass hats off to: Mariel Bass, Josh Bernbaum, Marta Bernbaum, Jocelyn Brown, Robert Burch, Dominique Caissie, David Colton, Dan Coyle, Robert Dane, Allie Dercoli, Robert Du Grenier, Sandy Dukeshire, Alissa Faber, Nic Flavin, Westley Fleming, Zak Grace, Chris Hubbard, Claire Kelly, Jordana Korsen, Lynn Latimer, Sally Prasch, Bryan Randa, Chris Sherwin, Randi Solin Jen Violette, and Andrew Weill.


As an added bonus, another BMAC gallery has a selection of photos from past exhibits.




Mike Bond's Semi-fictional Look at the Fifties and Sixties



America, Volume I  (2021)

By Mike Bond

Big City Press, 383 pages.





Is innocence a good thing? I suppose it depends on how you measure what we choose to ignore. America, Volume I is as advertised, a fictional waltz through the decades after World War II through the late 1960s. Mike Bond’s twist is to focus his tale on two boys and two girls as they come of age in a nation quite different from that of their childhood. (It is the first of a planned multi-volume saga.)


A simplistic–and wildly inaccurate­–take is that the United States went from victory culture and world leadership in the ‘50s to a nation divided in the ‘60s by radicals, hippies, and protesters. In said view, the 1950s were a values-centered golden age, and the 1960s one in which permissiveness, disrespect, and chaos ruined the country. An alternative view is it the ‘60s tackled real problems previously swept under the rug: racism, sexism, poverty, cultural sterility, and eco-degradation – not to mention an inane Cold War.


The first part of Bond’s novel, though set in New Jersey, riffs off of Huckleberry Finn. y. Troy, whose father died in the war against Japan, hates the Catholic orphanage where he is housed. The priests are sadistic, the place is like a prison, and he's a frequent runaway. In one of his leave-taking sojourns, he meets Mick, a Tom Sawyer-like risk-taker. He and Troy hit it off, but Troy is caught and returned to the orphanage. In another attempt, he and Mick meet again and decide to run away to Florida. They have many harrowing adventures and it would have been worse had they not met two African-American tramps, Joe and Molly, who shared their food and showed them how to hop trains. Eventually though, they abandon their quixotic quest and Mick's father brings them back to New Jersey. He and his wife decide that Troy can live with them, and he becomes the brother Mick never had, though he has a sister named Tara. As part of the extended O'Brien clan, Troy is as focused and goal-driven as Mick is carefree and careless. The O'Briens live on a farm and are both down-to-earth and earthy. Dad is self-reliant and distrusts authority, Mom is kind, and various relatives pop in and out to flesh out a 1950s panorama. Despite their suspicions, the O'Briens believe in the American Dream and are deeply patriotic.


Filmmaker Michael Apted (from Aristotle) once said, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will you the man.” He didn't say girl and woman, but he should have. Troy, Mick, Tara, and Mick’s girl crush Daisy fall into Apted’s category. Readers may find the first part of Bond’s novel the least realistic. The O'Briens and Troy talk as if they are indeed from Twain’s Missouri; their speech is certainly not like any New Jersey dialect I’ve ever heard. I don't agree with Bond’s linguistic strategy, but he is setting us up for loss of innocence. At one point, Dad remarks, “religion causes wars." Call it folk wisdom or a political screed, but religion takes it on the chin in the book. And so does the cherished myth that hard work pays off. I don't wish to disclose too much, but I will say if there's a reason you don't hear much about small farmers in New Jersey anymore.


To return to the idea that personalities are formed early, Mick, who hates school, nonetheless does well without studying much. He remains addicted to danger, just like the kid who jumped from railroad trestles, got close to venomous copperheads, and drove fast cars. Troy, who romanticizes his dead father, wishes to enlist in the military. Tara, a rebel at early age, will go to UCal Berkeley, and if you know history, you will recognize it is a place where conformity was on the outs. Daisy will also wend her way through trials and transformations.


Bond salts the novel with the events of the day. The assassination of President Kennedy was, for many, a turning point. Mick observes, “Like a walking cadaver, America carried on in a stunned, hollow and bereaved world …. Sorrow remained but fury grew." We read of other traumas: civil rights unrest, the murder of icons, Mississippi Freedom Summer, drugs, etc. If the first part of the book is about innocence, the last part is the death thereof.


The novel is equal parts fascinating and uneven. It's a bit like Mick in that it's philosophical yet opinionated. Bond has given himself an ambitious task and there is a decided tonal change from the folksy quasi-Twain opening chapters and the historical whirlwind of the last part of the novel. It's an open question as to whether this shift is too mechanistic. I suspect, though, the crux lies in Bond’s choice quote from Nietzsche: “To the extent an ideal has been falsely worshiped, reality has been robbed of his value, its meaning and its truth."


Rob Weir


The Midnight Library too much of a Hopscotch Novel



By Matt Haig

Penguin/HarperCollins, 304 pages.




 The Midnight Library is a fantasy novel, but not of the usual sort. Not many fantasy books stray into philosophy, gestalt psychology, or quantum physics. Nor do they open with an epigraph from Sylvia Plath: “Between life and death there is a library. And within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.”


Plath’s library is the central hook of Haig’s tale. His protagonist is 35-year-old Londoner Nora Seed, the very embodiment of ennui. Nora has a flat affect, which works to anesthetize her from life’s disappointments. She cannot commit, hence her life is a series of flights. She, her brother Joe, and several friends had a band on the verge of a record contract until she, the lead singer, got cold feet. Now she works in a used record shop and is about to be fired. She was engaged to Dan, and called it off on the eve of the wedding. Now she's an introvert living alone with her cat, Voltaire. She gives a youngster piano lessons, but can't connect with him or show up on time and stands to lose that gig as well. She was once a champion swimmer with potential to go to the Olympics, but gave it up. Detect a pattern? Nora’s life is one big “what if?” trail of flops.


When Voltaire is run over, Nora sees no point anymore and decides to kill herself.

Imagine her surprise to find herself in a very different kind of Purgatory–an immense library staffed by Mrs. Elm, a school librarian who once believed in her and helped her discover things that once interested her. Mrs. Elm explains to Nora that her personal Book of Regrets gives her access to try other lives that she passed up. There is probably a finite set of chances, but Nora can pull any life from the shelf and pursue it.


Some might recognize in this the multiverse theory at work. Nora tests numerous paths; among them: rockstar, an Olympian and motivational speaker, Cambridge professor, and glaciologist. She takes lovers, including a schlock actor upon whom she once had a fan crush and Hugo Lèfevre, a “slider” like she going between alt-lives. In other tryouts she’s married, to Dan, who owns a rural tavern; to a cute-but-flaky dog lover; to a rich doctor; and even to a handsome Latin vintner. The sticking point is the butterfly effect; that is, her changes impact others. In some scenarios Voltaire is still alive; in others, he’s dead as is her beloved brother. In each, she is unknown to most of those she knew when she was “alive.” The butterfly effect also means she has no knowledge of people, events, or backstories prior to her arrival at a particular moment in time. Nora must try to piece together things to avoid seeming to be demented.


Another stipulation is that if she returns to the library, she cannot take out the same book again. This is not ideal for someone who can't commit. How long can she continue sliding? Hugo has been going back-and-forth between different lives for a long time, but Mrs. Elm reminds Nora it's different for everyone. If library collapses before she makes a final decision, she will get her first wish: death.


The Midnight Library is a high-concepts novel. Notice my use of the plural. Haig has so many irons in them the fire that he is ultimately like Nora Seed in that he can't quite make up his mind where to take his novel. This results in narrative and conceptual hopscotch in which there are intriguing surfaces, but not much depth. It's as if he stitched together a bit of Sylvia Plath with the movie Groundhog Day, and made detours into speculative physics and philosophy's greatest hits. For instance, Voltaire's resurrections and deaths are ham-handed winks to the Schrodinger's cat conundrum. An NPR review hit the nail on the head by calling The Midnight Library a tale told in a straight line with no twists that ends pretty much where you’d predict it to go. To me, Haig’s internal moralizing feels like he’s coopting Fredrik Backman’s sweetness without his folksy wisdom or his explorations into humanity’s flawed nature.


The saving grace is that this is a goes-down-easy novel with occasional insights that tempt us to see it as weightier than it is. It's a quick read with the potential to spark personal reflections. Those will be the truly profound things to come out of your reading.


Rob Weir