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Fairyland to unveil Fairy Music Farm

Oakland Tribune , Aug 22, 2008 by Martin Snapp

THIS WEEKEND, Children's Fairyland will unveil its first new attraction in four years -- Fairy Music Farm, a brightly lighted, 118-foot-long tunnel featuring one-of-a-kind musical instruments on the wall that children can play as they pass by.

The instruments include chimes, gongs, a wall harp and a 3-foot- diameter "rain wheel" that the kids can turn in either direction, causing tiny ball bearings to ride to the top and drop down, making pleasing sounds as they fall.

"Our challenge was how to keep the kids moving through the tunnel," said Daniel Schmidt of El Sobrante, who designed the instruments. "So we created instruments that are activated by the kids stroking them as they pass, just as they do naturally with a stick when they walk past a fence."

Though each instrument is unique, all of them can be inexpensively repaired with readily available materials.

"The wall harp uses regular guitar strings, and the chimes are made from standard metal tubing that you can get at any hardware store," Schmidt said.

Adorning the tunnel's walls are murals depicting fairies from a diversity of cultures and ethnicities, working together as they use music to nurture giant fruits and vegetables.

"Fairies usually have a reputation for being mischievous," said muralist Biliana Stremska of Oakland. "But our fairies are very cooperative and helpful."

The fairies are modeled on real kids, some on Stremska's son's pre-school playmates, others on pint-sized park visitors. "With their parents' permission, of course," she said.

Fairy Music Farm was created by an interdisciplinary team of four local artists --

Schmidt, Stremska and two Berkeleyans: composer Richard Jennings and artist Lynne-Rachel Altman, the team's leader.

"We started with 24 competing proposals, including a really impressive presentation from some folks at Pixar, but this one floated to the top," said C.J. Hirschfield, Fairyland's executive director. " It was only later that I found out why: They consulted the experts -- their own kids."

"The children are our collaborative partners," said Altman. "From the very start of this project we ran our ideas past them, and they told us what would work and what wouldn't."

Altman's 10-year-old daughter, Raffi, suggested making the fruits and veggies in the murals as big as a kid.

"She said they should be big so when you walk through the tunnel you'd feel like one of the fairies," Altman said.

Outside the tunnel's entrance is one of Fairyland's storybook boxes, featuring a song with music by Jennings, lyrics by Altman:

"Fairy farm, grow my little song/Plant it in the ground, tend it all day long/Hear the beat of fairy wings /As we help all growing things."

The song is performed by Jennings' 10-year-old twins, Zoe and Max, and he credits their feedback for its composition too.

"Whenever I heard Max walking around the house whistling a phrase or Zoe singing it, I knew I've got something that works."

It was through their children that the team met each other in the first place.

"I know Lynne-Rachel because our children were in the same pre- school co-op," said Stremska. "And she knew Richard because their children go to the same elementary school. He brought in Daniel, and now Daniel's daughter, Pilar, baby-sits our children."

They also inspired each other.

"I was singing Richard's song as I was designing the courtyard in front of the mural," Altman said. "That's how I got the idea of reproducing the music in terrazzo, which is glass letters set in concrete.

"Biliana helped me a lot in the design, too," she added. "It's been very collaborative. In fact, this is much bigger than the four of us. We've gotten input from a lot of directions."

Fairy Music Farm is located between the Pirate Ship and Play Island. It's a total re-imagining of the old Thumbelina's Tunnel, which had been closed for the last 30 years because it was too dark and scary.

"As a child, I was scared of that tunnel because kids would run through it screaming, and I had a visceral reaction for years," said Altman. "So taking a space that was loud and scary and transforming it into a place where people have a positive auditory experience was very important to me."

Fairy Music Farm was funded in large part by the city's Public Art Program, with money from Oakland Measure DD.

Hirschfield said she was floored when she went hat-in-hand to Public Art Coordinator Steve Huss and project manager Christin Hablewitz, and they gave her more than twice the money she had asked for.

"How often does that happen?" she said.

"It was an easy decision," explained Hablewitz. "This is a model for what public art can be."

Most of the money went for materials. For the artists, it's been a labor of love.

"We did this for our kids -- and the kids of Oakland," said Jennings. "Maybe Max and Zoe can bring their own kids here someday and say, 'Hey, that's me singing!' "

Reach Martin Snapp at

The wonders and possibilities of glass

Jan 29, 2007 by Sasha Vasilyuk, The Examiner

Altman’s “Empty Heads” are made out of crushed glass and poignantly describe the fragility of man.


The sparkle and variety at the excellent new exhibit at the Museum of Craft + Design reminds one of Murano, the famed Venetian island that teems with multicolored creations of blown glass.

Yet upon a closer look, “CCA: A Legacy in Studio Glass,” which celebrates 40 years of glass-making at California College of the Arts, reveals an entirely different process and results that share little with traditional glass masters of the Old World.

Unlike in Europe, where one person designs the glass piece and another crafts it in a factory setting, American glass artists go through a different method, invented in the 1960s. 

Using an inexpensive glass furnace, they can control the entire process — from designing to blowing — right in their studios.

As the exhibit’s curator Carolyn Kastner explains, this new, personalized studio glass art was the American contribution to the long tradition of glassmaking. 

Even when the artists choose similar subjects, their treatments are incomparable. While Bruce Pizzichillo’s huge glass house, called “Homestay Lombok,” looks nothing like glass, Mary Bayard White’s light blue brick house on a movable metal stand celebrates the translucency of the medium.

And although Charles Parriott and Lynne-Rachel Altman have both created glass heads, neither their use of the medium nor the subject matter bear any similarity. Altman’s “Empty Heads” are made out of crushed glass and poignantly describe the fragility of man. Parriott’s painted and lit “Urban Soldiers,” on the other hand, are anything but fragile.

In its subject matter, “CCA: A Legacy in Studio Glass” is seemingly a narrow study of a use of one medium in one place, but instead it reveals a great variety of techniques, styles, and ideas, and, most importantly, never gets monotonous.


Exhibition Review

'SubAnatomy' and Nathan Lynch at MOCA

July/August, 2005, by Colin Berry, Artweek

From the body art movement in 1970's to the piercing and tattooing that have become an integral part of contemporary youth culture, creative types have always looked to the body for inspiration. And although the days since Karen Finely smeared herself in chocolate or Chris Burden took a gunshot to the arm are long past, a strong group show and tangential installation at Santa Rosa's Museum of Contemporary Art proved the corpus–animal or other wide-continues to serve as muse for many emerging artists.

Guest -curated by Chandra Cerrito, SubAnatomy afforded each of its seven contributors a unique vision of (and connection to) the body. . . . . other takes on the topic (include) . . . Lynne-Rachel Altman's amazing cast-glass human Chrysalis. . . .


Berkeley arts district gets a mouth – and earful

Angela Hill THE OAKLAND TRIBUNE DEC 31, 2001


BERKELEY---The streets have ears. And mouths.

No eyes, as ar as we know. And definitely no noses. Noses would be too bumpy and violate the city's sidewalk safety codes. So noses are out.

But Addison Street in Berkeley's growing downtown arts district not has what it needs to listen and communicate: several cast-concrete panels embedded in the sidewalk, with carefully fashioned lips and ears by Berkeley sculptor Lynne-Rachel Altman, framed by bricks that say "make Art" in 16 languages.

"The mouths and ears are smooth enough to met all the safety requirements." Altman said last week as she and contractor Nandi Devam slid the heavy panels into a bead of mortar. "We met with all the city engineers. You can't have more than a quarter inch change in elevation. So this seems to work fine. One girl in a wheelchair came by and rolled over the mouths and loved it. She said it was a fun ride."

Altman is the first of eight Berkeley artists to install her work in the poetry and art panel project -- a walkway on both sides of Addison from Shattuck Avenue to Mivia Street with works by local artists permanently embedded in the walk, interspersed with poems form local writers.

The project was planned more than two years ago to coincide with this year's opening of new buildings for the BErkeley Repertory Theater and the Aurora Theater Company. But because of various snags with some contracting firms, the first panels just went in last week.

This is Altman's first permanent public art project into eh United States. known for her sculptural installation work, she co-created a wall mural in israel, and has installed a number of temporary public art pieces.

Altman's panels are on Addison, right at the corner of Shattuck by the historic Kress building, which is being restored.

She says she got her inspiration for the project just by standing there.

"I do a lot of site-specific work. I am very sensitive to sites," Altman said. "So I spent a lot of time on this street, standing here, getting a feel of it. I looked at the beautiful Kress building with all the brick. I thought I'd use brick and cast cement, like the components of the street.

"I wanted to help the street communicate." she said. "I see communication as a form of lubrication, keeping art moving. SO I starting thinking, "What would a street in an arts district be saying and doing? And I decided it would be telling you to 'Make art.'"

Now, it not only tells you to "Make art" but to "Haz arte," "Fanya sanaa" and "Partticipez aux arts."

Altman says she has received lots of positive comments already from passers-by as she installed the mouth panels. ANd she knows it's not just lip service.

"The thing I like best, When people walk over the mouths, I like to think of it as having your feet kissed when you walk." she said.

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