Monday, February 3, 2014

Uncle Paulie's World to Be Replaced by Tombolo Art Media

Uncle Paulie's World and
Tombolo Art Media Founder
Paul Niemi
A colleague of mine and I recently made the joke that "Tombolo" sounds likes someone's hot, Italian boyfriend. In actuality, a tombolo is a piece of land that connects a sandbar with the mainland. 

There are millions of sites on the Internet.  Many provide the latest in entertainment news that everyone is covering.  Some do art and design. Some do theatre. Many do books. Only a handful blend them all, but they forget to cover the underdog with the assumption there is no audience for them. I'm not certain how most people feel about flipping the TV channel, turning the magazine page, and scrolling to the next post on Facebook only to find unoriginal content that everyone has already shared.  I find it boring and it leaves me wanting to read something more meaningful.

As a highly creative person,  I'm interested in offering up stories that are thoughtful, informative and focus on subjects that you might not find in top media outlets because commerce dictates their content. That means if I don't write them, no one will.  My goal is to build awareness of that emerging Native American fine artist, that well-known regional contemporary mixed media artist, that street muralist from Brooklyn, that new author, or that fabulous performer who is someone everyone needs to meet.

That's why I created TomboloArt Media. Tombolo Art Media will connect people with art, design, music, theatre and literature in a way that's not intimidating.  My audience will be my favorite person--the average one!  Tombolo Art Media is a place for you to enrich your life by learning something you didn't know and hopefully, you'll pass it on.  This is a site for people to come closer to the arts and to explore who we all are, together.  (PLEASE NOTE:  Tombolo Art Media is available at as well as at

So, here's a big shout out to all those people around the world who have helped give Uncle Paulie's World arts and culture blog life.  When it started in 2008, I had no idea what it would become. My life was so blessed when I found my voice, art and the audience that believed in me.  Well, nearly 6 years later, my niece (who inspired the name) is all grown up.  I have grown up, too, in my own way.  It's time to change the name, get a true URL, and move forward keeping the same Uncle Paulie's World heart, but adding a sharp new look on a cleaner, more user-friendly platform.   Tombolo Art Media will be launching this month, and I'm hopeful that you will stay strapped in with me and embark on this new but familiar journey. There is still so much bridge-building to do in the arts, so let's 'Tombolo!'

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Haida Fashion Designer Makes it Her Business to Share Cultural Identity

Couture clothing appliqued with original
Haida designs by Dorothy Grant
Photo: Paul Niemi
Haida artists have been in the forefront in the indigenous fine art scene for decades.  Their art and cultural icons, along with those of many of their First Nations counterparts, who live along the Northwest Coast of North America, are highly visible.  We see Northwest Coast art every time we turn on the television or laptop to watch ABC's "Grey's Anatomy."  If you spend time in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, or Vancouver, B.C., these varied styles of art are part of our cultural Lexicon. We might not even realize it that the Seattle Seahawks logo is Coast Salish design.  Many products and services have logos appropriated from these Northwest indigenous designs.  The point is, these designs are part of the cultural landscape of the Northwest region, just as the Zia symbol or Kokopelli can be found in almost every corner of  the Southwest.

There is a very simple reason for the strong visibility of Haida iconography.  It has a lot to do with cultural pride and owning who you are. They are, in fact, a group that is extremely happy to be themselves.  They also love to share the beauty of their culture with others.  An icon herself, Haida artist and fashion designer Dorothy Grant  finds satisfaction in educating the public about Haida art and culture.  She says there are very specific rules about how everything should look in what is called "formline." It's a visual language with its own brand of grammar, and Grant says no one is certain when it really began.  Regardless, its beauty and appeal has held up over time and continues to permeate contemporary society. 
High-quality tailored and embroidered
men's shirt by Dorothy Grant
Photo: Paul Niemi

Grant, originally a traditional spruce root basket weaver, ensures that these images live on in her contemporary fashion designs that have become popular with fashionistas the world over. She has been designing since the late 1980s and has developed one of the most successful indigenous fashion design companies in North America. Her applique designs are clean, fashion-forward, elegant and allow those who wear them to feel a personal sense of empowerment, no matter their cultural background.  Grant creates a number of product lines from couture fashion to pret a porter and sportswear to satisfy the needs of a varied clientele.  Visit her online at

She offered me the chance to interview her at the 2013 National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) Holiday Native Art Market in Lower Manhattan.  At big regional art shows, Grant is an infinitely busy woman, but this more intimate market made it the perfect time to speak to her and showcase her work and charming personality.  Watch my interview with Dorothy Grant HERE:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eco-Friendly Native Artist Kathy Whitman Brings Calmness to the Chaos

Recycled aluminum buffalo sculpture by Whitman at
Winterowd Fine Art's 2013 "My Land" exhibition
Photo: Sylvester Hustito
During this year's SWAIA Indian Market, I attended an opening at Canyon Road's Winterowd Fine Art that featured works by a number of prominent Native American artists including Phoenix-based, Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara artist Kathy Whitman Elk Woman.  Her buffalo sculpture, made from recycled aluminum cans held a central spot in one of the gallery rooms.  In spite of all the fantastic art surrounding me, it was hard to keep my eyes off of it.  As I moved around the room, I heard conversation, and it became clear to me that I was standing near the artist.  She was speaking to a member of the gallery's staff, and as their conversation ended, Kathy turned, our eyes met, she smiled and we greeted each other with a "hello" as if we already knew each other.  In fact, we had never met, and in spite of the salutation, I froze as she made her way out of the gallery.   I think, perhaps, I was intimidated by her unique sense of style and the ease with which she navigated the room. 

Flash forward to about a month ago when I decided to friend Kathy on Facebook.  She was featuring some terrific feather and crystal pendants made from recycled aluminum cans on her wall, and I was drawn in by their whimsical nature.
Colorful Eco-Feather and Crystal Pendants by
Kathy Whitman Elk Woman
Photo: Kathy Whitman

Kathy immediately set me straight about the important message that these pieces send to people when they wear them--"Protect Mother Earth!"    In fact, less than a decade ago, Kathy decided she wanted to
Recycled aluminum sculpture by
Kathy Whitman Elk Woman at 

2013 Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market
Best of Show Reception
Photo: Paul Niemi

make an impact on the Earth by being part of the solution to our pollution problems.  She began making wonderful, beautiful eco-jewelry.  This led to her taking the idea to the next level to create realistic sculptures of important creatures in nature--buffalo, eagles and the like.  In March, at the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market,  I happened to snap a picture of one of her award-winning pieces.

This year, we finally had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know one another at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian annual holiday Native Art Market at One Bowling Green in Manhattan.  Since she is from North Dakota and I'm from Wisconsin, so there was an immediate connection. One would think we have known each other for years.  Kathy spoke to me about her art and what motivates her to create pieces out of recycled aluminum and plastic.  Watch my video interview HERE:

Friday, December 6, 2013

Top Native American Artists Flock to Manhattan with Art, Fashion and Jewelry for Annual NMAI Holiday Art Market

NMAI New York Art Market Preview Party
Photo:  Courtesy NMAI
It's perhaps one of New York's best kept secrets--the annual National Museum of the American Indian's (NMAI) Holiday Art Market.  This year marks my first year attending the market, and I'm particularly excited to have the opportunity to help out at tonight's preview party at the Smithsonian-run facility located at One Bowling Green across from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan on the corner of State Street and Broadway.  

The preview (tickets available at kicks off the art market that will take place Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Jemez Clay Koshari Clown by Kathleen Wall
Photo: Paul Niemi

UPDATED 12/12/13: Watch a teaser video HERE!

The 2013 show at NMAI has attracted nearly 40 of the top Native American artists from around the country to Manhattan, who will offer fanastic, high-quality gifts ranging from eco-friendly art and jewelry by Kathy Whitman Elk Woman, to paintings by Mateo Romero, pottery by Kathleen WallBrenda Hill and Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano, amazing jewelry by Veronica PoblanoLiz WallaceDarryl and Rebecca BegayJared Chavez, to fashion and fashion accessories by designers Shaax' Saani and Dorothy Grant, as well as basketry and beadwork.

The Preview Party is an exclusive way for attendees to get a special advance viewing of artworks and gifts in a festive holiday setting as well as mingle with the artists.

Dragonfly pin by Liz Wallace (Navajo)
Photo: Courtesy NMAI
For more information on the Preview Party or the Holiday Art Market visit


Thursday, October 17, 2013

New York Comic Con 2013: On Art, Oddities, and Decorum

A New York Comic Con Attendee
Gets His Sweet Transvestite on
Outside the Javits Center
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
I never really had the desire to attend Comic Com before.  Don't get me wrong. Pop art, graphic design, low brow and street art aren't lost on me. But, I have never been a comic book fan.  Watching cartoons was a regular habit even into my high school years, but expelling energy on reading thought bubbles to figure out the plotline of a comic book has always seemed a little silly to me. Gaming escapes me as well.

Luckily, you don't have to know anything about comic books to enjoy Comic Com.  I found that out when I had the opportunity spend two days at New York Comic Con at the Javits Center in Manhattan this past weekend.
Things that surprised me:  This is an event for the entire family. That hit home when I saw a mama Wonder Woman, a Flash daddy and infant cute were they! There was actual original art, not just comic prints and drawings, available for purchase.  In general, you could purchase high-quality copies and limited edition prints for $10 to $20.   The number of comic book artists drawing and signing in Artists' Alley in the Javits Center North was impressive.  There were so many people, it was nearly impossible to check them all out.  It was fun to see the enthusiam on the faces of people of all ages who really had a passion for and knowledge of the artists's work.
Brooklyn-based Illustrative Artist
Drew Morrison Offered Up Art Prints
Featuring Strange and Charming Characters
(Photo: Paul Niemi)
On the main floor, I connected with illustrative prints by artists Drew Morrison and Alex Kirzhner.  Kirzhner offered a wonderful signed and numbered print of Edward Scisssorhands.  Morrison has created quirky illustrative worlds with interesting characters that have a strange but alluring charm. 

With thousands and thousands of people milling about Comic Con, it was amazing how calm things were and how friendly and polite people were.  Even the people who were turned away for presenting invalid entrance badges they purchased from scalpers on the street seemed to keep their cool.  I have been to many events at the Javits Center, and walking around was such a breeze.   It was fun to snap pics of people dressed as everyone's favorite superheroes, comic book characters and film and book personalities.  While not all costumes were of the highest quality or worthy of praise, I give everyone an A+ for having the guts to show up!

To experience New York Comic Con, watch my video HERE!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Vincent Valdez's 'The Strangest Fruit' Takes on a Century of Latino Lynching in the U.S.

Vincent Valdez, Untitled
From The Strangest Fruit, 2013
Oil on canvas, 55" x 92"
In the United States, for most of us, the concept of lynching seems so far removed from our day- to-day experiences. After all, we have come so far from the barbaric days of the past, right? Wrong. That racism is merely transmitted in other ways through subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, aspects of our modern-day lifestyles. For certain, we are not a country made up of thoughtful people who like to remember the past as it was and learn from our mistakes.

Historically, we know all too well the atrocities that African-Americans have tragically endured as a matter of course in this country. And who could forget the 1915 abduction and hanging of  New York Jewish-American Leo Frank by anti-Semites in Georgia? This happened even after he was found not guilty of the rape and murder of Mary Phagan, one of the young factory girls who worked for him. Jason Robert Brown based the stirring Broadway musical Parade on his story that brought his experience to the mainstream consciousness years after the fact.  

Did you know that Latinos were hanged in the United States, more specifically Texas, up until the Mid-20th Century? This is one of our country's dirtiest secrets.  As a result of the media and mainstream American society remaining tight lipped about the lynchings that began in the mid-1800s, few people know about them. While buried, these acts became part of written Latino history by way of community leaflets as well as traditional ballads called "corridos."

Vincent Valdez, Untitled
From The Strangest Fruit, 2013
Oil on canvas, 55" x 92"
The victims of these hangings may not have a musical telling their story coming to town anytime soon,  but they are getting an art exhibition that pays somber homage to the horrors they suffered. "The Strangest Fruit," opening on October 19 at Brown University's David Winton Bell Gallery at the List Art Center is the brainchild of San Antonio-born and Rhode Island School of Design-educated painter and muralist Vincent Valdez.  Known for his metaphorical realism, Valdez has created an installation that metaphorically equates the unwritten deadly treatment of Latinos in the past with the oppression and persecution their descendants feel today in modern-day America. All of the exhibition paintings feature images of people with whom Valdez has a personal relationship. And while the ropes aren't there, he has strategically depicted his subjects in positions that hint at the throes and aftermath of a death by hanging. "Slightly larger than life-size, the figures float, decontextualized on a white background," says Valdez. "The compositions become an ambiguous scene between hanging and ascension."

According to curators at the David Winton Bell Art Gallery, Valdez, at the far end of the gallery "presents an adapted version of the poem 'Strange Fruit' by Abel Meeropol (aka Lewis Allan) written and performed in the mid-to-late 1930s as a protest song that exposed racism and the lynching of African Americans in the United States, capturing popular imagination through recordings by singers such as Billie Holiday. The text stands as an transcribed 'corrido'....inscribing the history of Latino lynching onto the wall of the gallery. The last line '…here is a strange and bitter crop' echoes amongst the pained and contorted figures, presenting them as subjective evidence of ongoing social and cultural oppression."

"The Strangest Fruit" runs through December 8.  The Gallery will present a symposium on Friday, October 18 from 3:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the List Art Center Auditorium, followed by an opening reception at 6:30 p.m.  For more information, visit






Monday, October 14, 2013

The Rum, Tum, Tum of a Galaxy Far, Far Away Heard Closer to Home

Millenium Falcon Drum and Beaded Death Star Drum Stick
by Artist Dallin Maybee
Maple Wood, Basswood, Elk Rawhide, Acrylic, Ink and Glass Beads
(Photo: The Artist)
I wouldn't call myself a nerd, nor would I refer to myself as "cool." Finding myself at New York Comic Con this past weekend, I realize I might just be a little bit of both.  Regardless, I know what I like.  A child of the 70s, it's hard not to love all things Science Fiction, notably Star Wars.  The series, whether in books, films, video games whatever, transcends all generations because of that whole "Good versus Evil" thematic thing. And, as people on Earth appear to get more stupid, who can resist challenging the idea that life is nonexistent beyond this little ball of water and gases?  Sitting in the dark for nearly two hours with a myriad of strange beings reminds us to dream and think of the possibilities.  That's a (pardon the pun) universal experience.  Let's not forget all the cool costumes, weaponry and gadgets that spark the imagination.


While all these scenes, space battles are happening in the proverbial galaxy far, far away, we do have the opportunity to live in a world that offers art as one of its most valuable currencies.  And while I'm not sure what that would translate to in Renminbi, I do know you can't put a price tag on its importance to humanity as a catalyst for and vessel of imagination.


It's always exciting to see aspects of other cultures converging with art and the mainstream.  Contemporary Native American art, too, is pushing its way into the limelight because Native artists are celebrating our pop art roots like no one else.  And, it isn't just Millenials either!


That's why I love this Millenium Falcon drum and Death Star drumstick made by Northern Arapaho/Seneca artist Dallin Maybee The drum is made with a maple wood frame and a carved basswood extension covered by elk rawhide.   He then painted it with a metallic base and augmented it with ink.  "Of course, it was easier to take the round hand drum and adapt it rather than to try and stretch the rawhide around the shape of the Millenium Falcon," says Maybee.   
The Death Star drumstick is a brain tan buckskin ball attached to a handle which Maybee painted with acrylic. A noted and skilled traditional Native American bead artist, he then adorned the handle with 13/0 cut glass beads.


Why did Maybee choose to create the drum as a show piece for a recent art event in Oklahoma?  He says the innate shape of the Millenium Falcon easily lends itself to being immortalized as a drum.  "I've always believed that our identity is shaped by our environment: Our languages, ceremonies and culture.  These days that environment includes many contemporary aspects of life that we share with non-native cultures."

Maybee grew up with the Star Wars saga,  and what better way to acknowledge the fan boy culture than by creating indigenized art pieces inspired by the series?  "I loved the independence and nomadic lifestyle of Han and Chewie, " he says. "I saw a lot of my culture in them--perhaps myself."   Dallin Maybee  has a whole series of Star Wars-related projects in the works and sees this drum as a successful prototype for others to follow.  For more information, visit