Painting Presidentially

Simmie Knox is the first African-American artist to paint a presidential portrait. Knox is 68, and “describes his professional journey as a series of fortuitous setbacks and discoveries. ‘It has happened many times for me. Things that I thought were liabilities turned out to be assets’.”

Knox: Attention Deficit

As his official portrait of Bill Clinton was unveiled last week, painter Simmie Knox was amused by the blaze of media attention. “I mean, I’ve been here all this time. I’ve just been ‘under the radar,’ so to speak, some sort of a secret — that’s what my friends say.”

Pondering Balanchine In St. Petersburg

“To see program after program of Balanchine at the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg is to be exposed to every kind of nostalgia and fantasy. This is the theater where, at the age of ten in 1914, he made his debut as a tiny cupid in The Sleeping Beauty. It’s also a theater where, through most of the 20th century, his work went unseen.”

Keeping Art In The Family

Donald and Mera Rubell have been collecting art for four decades, with their two children assisting them for much of that time, and the family has 5,000 works, 27,000 art books, and a 40,000-square-foot museum to show for their efforts. And the Rubells don’t plan to abandon the all-in-the-family approach anytime soon: according to the family patriarch, “we’re training our two grandkids, too. The 3-year-old, Samuel, can already recognize a Jeff Koons or a Maurizio Cattelan. Ella, who is a year-and-a-half, isn’t independent yet. She tends to follow and look at what he looks at. You have to train them.”

First-Time Author Wins BBC Book Prize

“Debut author Anna Funder has won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for her book about the hardships endured by people from the former East Germany. The book, titled Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall, earned Funder £30,000 in prize money.” The Samuel Johnson Prize is now in its sixth year of recognizing non-fiction works of all varieties, from travel writing to biography to the arts.

Screenwriter Brutally Murdered; Suspect In Custody

Hollywood screenwriter Robert Lees, 91, was found decapitated in the backyard of his Los Angeles home this past weekend. His neighbor, a retired doctor, was stabbed to death as well. A homeless man is in custody and will be charged in the killings. Lees wrote dozens of films in his career, and may be best known for the comedy classic Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.

MTT Does It Again

Michael Tilson Thomas could accurately be said to be the populist heir to Leonard Bernstein, a conductor of a major American orchestra who is as determined to make music accessible to the general public as he is to please the usual concertgoing crowd. His latest project with the San Francisco Symphony is a multi-part PBS documentary exploring how music is created, what it means, and who exactly those tuxedo-clad individuals frowning from the stage really are. An extensive web site and a companion radio documentary produced by Minnesota Public Radio will make Keeping Score the largest music/media project ever undertaken by a symphony orchestra.

Grand Jury Impaneled In Kurtz Case

The case of the chemical-hoarding art professor gets serious today, as a grand jury begins hearing testimony to determine whether charges should be brought against Steven Kurtz under the U.S. Biological Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act. Kurtz’s friends and colleagues remain incredulous that the government is even remotely suspicious of him, since he has a long history of using agricultural chemicals in his work.