KPLU's weekly feature about art in the Pacific Northwest.  Available online every Sunday and played on-air on Monday mornings and afternoons.

Photo by John Ulman

Frank Boyd admits he is neither a jazzhead nor a jazznerd. He’s a newcomer to appreciating the music — music that he says has a public perception problem.

Jennifer Wing

At Peter Miller Books in Seattle, 'tis the season of tomato cans.

For the last 20 years, Miller has been giving away cans of quality tomatoes to his regular customers. What makes these tomatoes unique is Miller’s original poetry glued to the front.

Mark Kitaoka

Seattle actors Jessica Skerritt and Dane Stokinger have played opposite one another before. There was the time last year in Arizona, when they were in a production of “Xanadu, the Musical.” He played some roller-skating guy and she played some sort of Greek goddess.

They actually met in a production at Village Theater; he played Elvis and she his girlfriend. But for the first time, the two are playing what they are in real life: husband and wife.

Photo by Florangela Davila

One of the stars in the latest production of Seattle Children’s Theatre is the perfect example of how theater can be something magical. The performer’s name is “Trueheart.” She has a carved head, a sweet personality and by the show’s end, everyone wants to nuzzle her.

Trueheart is one of the title characters in the current production, “Dick Whittington and His Cat.” And he’s a scrawny but amiable creation of puppet master Annett Mateo.

Kelly O

Ahamefule J. Oluo was not doing well. After seven years of marriage, he was divorced, a single father and living in a basement apartment. He had a day job he hated. And though his night job of trying to make it as a musician and as a stand-up comedian was much better, all the juggling was wearing him down.

Tacoma Art Museum, Haub Family Collection

Images of the American West line the walls of a brand new addition to the Tacoma Art Museum. The collection, a gift from a German family with ties to the Northwest, is a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition that is raising the museum’s profile.

Timothy Aguero Photography

After a seven-year hiatus, 4Culture has resurrected the “Poetry on Buses” program. The public art project, funded through Percent-for-Art funds, aims to elevate the ordinary bus commute.

Four buses in King County Metro Transit’s RapidRide fleet will be outfitted entirely with homegrown poetry and no ads. Another 109 buses will feature one poem each. Poems will be featured on select bus shelters. And there’s also a website that offers a new poem every day for the next year.

Michelle Bates

When you signed up for band in middle school, you probably didn’t have the option of playing the rumitone, the stamenphone or the violcano. These are the names of some of the one-of-a-kind instruments dreamed up and forged out of metal by Ela Lamblin.   

Lamblin is the musical genius behind the performance group Lelavision. His wife, dancer and choreographer Leah Mann, animates Lamblin’s instruments on stage. When you see one of their shows, you are witnessing the best of the couple’s talents working together.

Photo: Jenny Graham

Editor's note: A previous version of this story erroneously said Lyndon B. Johnson was forced to resign in 1969. LBJ chose not to run for re-election in 1968. 

Leave it to a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright to find something epic about a controversial figure in U.S. history.

“When we say somebody is ‘Shakespearean,’ he really was that,” says Robert Schenkkan about President Lyndon B. Johnson. “Outsized, not just physically but in his virtues, his vices, his ambition, his hunger, his success, his failures, in his flaws and ultimately, in his tragedy."

Courtesy of Jason Tang

When Scott Teske, a classically trained upright bass player, was in his early 20s, he stepped away from the regimented world of classical music to see what playing in a rock and roll band would be like. Teske picked up the electric bass guitar and joined his first band. It didn’t go so well.

“It was really jarring at first,” recalled Teske. “I really loved it. But just the way the rock-'n-roll world operates is really almost challenging in a way. People are late for rehearsal. They’re not prepared. After that experience I thought, 'Hmm, I really like this rock-'n-roll thing but how can we take these classical values and apply those values to the rock world?”'

Sometimes when the club you want to belong to doesn’t exist, you have to be the person to invent it. This is what Teske did in 2008. The end result is Seattle Rock Orchestra. It’s a laid-back world where the free spirit of rock mixes with the discipline of a symphony.

Chona Kasinger

A new show at Seattle's Henry Art Gallery invites you to do something museums usually forbid: Touch the art and take it home.

Four galleries are filled with photographic images printed on tablets of newsprint. Visitors are invited to tear off the images. That means the galleries are in constant flux, and, at some point, they could be entirely left void.

TM & © Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC. All Rights Reserved

As someone whose job it is to pay attention to the history and legacy of Asian Americans, Cassie Chinn, deputy director of the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, had, of course, heard about Bruce Lee and knew some basic things.

She knew he had been a groundbreaking star in Hollywood: a Chinese face cast in the 1966-1967 TV series “The Green Hornet.” She knew he was a legend in martial arts circles. She knew that following his death at age 32 from a swelling of fluid in the brain, he was buried in Seattle at Lake View Cemetery.

Photo: Florangela Davila

For the first time in 30 years, Seattle Opera is beginning its season with a new person in charge. Taking the place of Speight Jenkins, who retired, is Aidan Lang, an Englishman by way of New Zealand.

Lang is 56 years old. After a long history of freelance directing, leading music festivals in England and serving seven years as the general director of New Zealand Opera, he’s ready to forge ahead on what he says are Seattle Opera’s two big priorities: financing for both new administrative offices as well as a new Ring cycle.

If you spend enough time in Drew Christie’s world, you’ll learn about everything from an invasive rodent living in Lake Washington to “holiday demons” that scare children in Europe. Christie digs deep into various subjects through short animated films that are packed with well-researched information and a heavy dose of dry humor.

Courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery

A trio of Seattle artists has taken a unique approach in an attempt to “undo three-quarters of a century’s worth of polluting”: canning and selling dirt.

The “premium-quality hand-canned dirt,” which are available for $25 a can, are a commentary on how a community can share in the responsibility of cleaning up a contaminated urban site.

The artists’ work focuses on one specific site, a brownfield in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood. Once home to a gas station, it is now choked with blackberries, littered with drug baggies and covered in contaminated soil.

Read the full story on our companion site, >>>

Courtesy of Jan Johnson, the third owner of the Panama Hotel

The muse behind Steve Grigg’s musical project is a brick, six-story, century-old building that stands in what used to be Seattle’s Japantown.

The Panama Hotel, on the corner of Sixth and Main, remains a working hotel. But the historic building is also a time capsule. It features belongings left behind by Japanese Americans who were forced into internment camps during World War II.

Griggs’ project, called “Panama Hotel Jazz,” weaves in music with narration to tell the story about the incarceration of Japanese and Japanese Americans in 1942.

Courtesy of Stephanie Mallard Couch.

What if Don Quixote, the famous character from 17th century Spanish literature, was reimagined as a homeless man living in Seattle? That’s the premise behind a new bilingual play being premiered by eSe Teatro, a local Latino theater company at ACT Theatre.

Jennifer Wing

The clouds hang low over the water along a quiet stretch of gravelly beach in the Strait of Juan de Fuca near Sequim, Washington. A sailboat silently glides past and a clear creek runs into the strait. A gang of seagulls stands at the watery crossroads, preening their feathers.

Perched on a grassy overlook capturing this on a small canvas of balsa wood is plein air artist Sandy Byers. Painting en plein air is the French term that simply means painting outside — something artists have been doing for hundreds of years.

Courtesy of Michael July.

One of the first things you notice about someone is the hair. How people wear the hair can say a lot about their politics, religion and even their health.

A photo exhibit currently on display in Seattle focuses entirely on individuals who choose to wear their hair in one type of hairstyle: the afro. This halo of high hair has gone from a symbol of black power to a fashion choice that challenges conventional ideas of beauty.

Courtesy of Christopher Monsos / Intiman Theatre


Twenty years ago, Seattle’s Intiman Theater was the first regional company in the country to produce “Angels in America.” The 1993 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is a sweeping tale about the deadly AIDS epidemic from the 1980s.

It’s a cathartic story about politics, sexuality, religion and forgiveness. The protagonist in the story is a young gay man who is fighting AIDS, is abandoned by his boyfriend and becomes a prophet after being visited by an Angel of God.

Considered an American masterpiece, the play has been adapted into an HBO mini-series as well as an opera.But those who have seen a live production will tell you it’s meant to be seen on stage.

Andrew Swanson

The Westerlies are a new young brass ensemble based out of New York City. They’re an all-over-the-musical-map group whose first album is already garnering critical praise.

And this first bit of success could have something to do with their Seattle roots. All four musicians, all in their 20s, grew up in Seattle where they absorbed much of the local music scene. They’re the product of two of the best high school jazz programs in the country: Garfield and Roosevelt high schools. And their debut album, recorded in a family friend’s cabin on Lopez Island, is a reinterpretation of an eclectic mix of compositions by Seattlelite Wayne Horvitz.

© Brandon Patoc

Speight Jenkins is stepping down as general director of Seattle Opera after 31 years. And among the things he’s most proud of are the productions of two successful Ring cycles, surviving the economic recession by not resorting to just producing popular operas and advancing the opportunities for African-American men.

Alison Marcotte / KPLU

Have you ever bought a pair of shoes that truly made you happy? Unlike jeans or a bathing suit, the one part of an outfit most women don’t dread putting on are shoes. According to a poll by ShopSmart magazine, 19 percent of women have purchased shoes to put them in a happier state of mind.  

If you want to see shoes that have been uplifting women’s moods and their physical stature over the last 10 decades, a treasure trove of heels, pumps, boots and stilettos is currently on display at the White River Valley Museum in Auburn. The Sole Obsession exhibit features more than 100 pairs of women’s dress shoes from 1910 to 2010 that are lit like movie stars and ready for their close-ups.

Light in the Attic Records

Back in the day — we’re talking the 1960s, '70s and ‘80s — local Seattle bands played funk and soul music in the city’s dance clubs.

The music was the soundtrack of a black-owned radio station operating out of the Central Area called KYAC.

Florangela Davila

At 6-foot-3, Garry Webberly is a towering figure with a head of white hair and a matching mustache. The 76-year-old Webberly's musical tastes run from classical to classic rock. But for the past 48 years, he’s taken to the stage to perform in volunteer productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

“It’s good music, great dialogue. I love it all,” Webberly said about the operettas that are known for their wit, their absurdly complicated plots and technically-challenging songs.

Courtesy of the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery

There are so many ways we can listen to music. Usually the easiest these days is playing tunes on a digital gadget such as a phone or laptop. It wasn’t that long ago when we had to make a trip to the local record store to stock up on the latest hits.

The current exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery, The Record: Contemporary Art And Vinyl, shows how the flat black disk and the sleeve that holds can do so much more than just play music.

Chris Bennion

After running out of money and shutting down last year, Intiman Theatre is back with a groundbreaking summer festival.

"Groundbreaking" because the theater has a new repertory format: a cast of 17 actors -- Intiman's Class of 2012 -- staffing all four summer productions.

For audiences, that means a chance to see an actor stretch in various roles: "Romeo and Juliet" one day; a drag queen take on Helen Keller the next.

Photo by Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU News

Many experts call him the greatest iconoclast of 20th-century music.

The avant-garde composer John Cage is perhaps best known for his pioneering use of silence in music. He also broke ground with the use of everyday objects as instruments, electronics and chance in composition.

He was born in California and died in New York. But some of his most formative years took place in Seattle.

Dean Wong

An old five-and dime store that helped Seattle's Japanese community rebuild itself after World War II is being celebrated in a new way: in a permanent exhibit by the Wing Luke Museum in a local gift shop/art gallery.

The exhibit features a variety of old store merchandise from a business that lasted 96 years. There's also an assortment of personal items from two generations of the Japanese-American Murakami family.