(Life or) Death by Plastic


Use it up, wear it out

make it do

or do without.

New England proverb



Yesterday, I made an exception to my rule of never wearing black (when nobody has died) to join a pretend funeral procession on Fifth Avenue in New York City. “Death by Plastic” is a performance art call-to-action by artist, Anne Katrin Spiess, who aims to continue touring the world with this event to raise global awareness on the inevitable consequence of our indiscriminate use of disposable plastics. 

In “Death by Plastic,” Anne Katrin embodies Mother Earth in a casket, suffocated by single use plastics we often stuff into even larger plastic bags before sending them off with the garbage collector, as if this were all it took to magically make plastics disappear off the face of the earth. But plastics are virtually indestructible and ubiquitous for being cheap so, though we’ve been led to believe in the fairytale of recycling, it is essential we open our eyes to the reality that 91% of plastics canNOT be reprocessed. Even China, the world’s designated garbage dump, has recently declared Not here… No More!

Anne Katrin Spiess first performed “Death by Plastic” the Summer of 2019 in Moab, Utah– a community that has been among her favorite destinations as an artist who works with the natural environment. On her annual visits to Moab over a couple of decades, she witnessed how the seasonal deluge of tourists left behind large quantities of plastic trash in their wake, littering the expansive land that once sat proudly pristine.  Haunted by this insidious environmental degradation, she suffered sleepless nights feeling alone with her concerns until she resolved to channel her feelings of helplessness to create a statement project that might call attention to this global cancer. She commissioned a plexiglass casket where her body could lay in to symbolize Mother Earth inundated by non-recyclable plastics.

In November 2019, Anne Katrin arranged for a gondola to perform “Death by Plastic” across the canals of Venice, a veritable Sleeping Beauty covered by a sampling of the water bottles and food containers dumped by its 36 million tourists each year–a major cause of pollution in Venice, as it is in the rest of the world.  

While plastics are unarguably useful, their use requires more thoughtful consideration beyond our customary nonchalance. Every elder who remembers the time before plastics (Was there ever?!) needs to share their wisdom on how to live a more earth-attuned existence. Corporations can look beyond navel gazing over quarterly profits to make more responsible choices in materials for packaging and the products they peddle. Social media influencers can wield their power to endorse something natural and earth-friendly for every sponsored product they hype. Policy makers, entrepreneurs and philanthropists can orchestrate a global push that we can all contribute to and help reduce and re-use.  This concerted effort, though Herculean, has got to be easier than convincing Mars to become human friendly when it’s decidedly not.

Great hope also lies in engaging our young in the conversation, empowering them with the confidence that they, too, are capable of thinking of ways to make a difference.  In encouraging them to think outside the box we’ve nailed ourselves in with our ingrained plastics habits, we can sow new seeds of possibility and they may surprise us yet with ideas we’ve never thought of or forgotten. May their identity revolve around protecting precious Mother Earth. May their priorities be about memorable shared experiences with people, instead of the endless accumulation of things. May their lifestyle choices be about co-existing in harmony with nature, built upon a conscious desire to minimize waste altogether.

Before “Death by Plastic” becomes the reality for our generation, how can each one of us make a difference with our daily choices to say No or, at least, repurpose single use plastics?  As mothers and guardians of this planet, let us gather quickly for a pre-mortem, rub off the sleep of ignorance and blind indifference, acknowledge that when we are not part of the solution, we are slowly killing ourselves and our children. Margaret Mead did say Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has.

Thank you, Anne Katrin, for leading the parade, reminding us that if human determination landed us on the moon and Mars, we, too, must be capable of saving this wondrous planet that has given us so much and so selflessly. May we bravely keep stepping forward, toward life affirming choices no matter how small. Every day. Right here. On Earth.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share how you choose to re-use and be kind for all of humankind.








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The Hands of Michelangelo


Carving is easy.

You just go down to the skin

and stop.




Classical sculptures greatly inspire the portraits I create and it’s exciting to look forward to the NYC Metropolitan Museum‘s new exhibit featuring Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475–1564).

Despite, or maybe because of Michelangelo’s quirky personality, Italians adored this towering genius in the history of Western art.  He was celebrated for the excellence of his disegno, the power of illustration and invention that provided the foundation for all the arts. He mastered drawing, design, sculpture, painting, and architecture with dazzling imagery and technical virtuosity. Sometimes cranky yet always prolific, they referred to him as “Il Divino” or the Divine. His works, not his moods, attest to how he lived up to the moniker.

Did you know these fun facts about this renaissance man?



He paints his face as his signature.

The Pietà was Michelangelo’s first sculptural masterpiece and it turned out so well no one believed it could have possibly come from such a young artist. He inscribed his name on a sash running diagonally across the Virgin Mary’s chest and never signed any other work of art thereafter. Though he might paint himself into them as he did in The Last Judgment fresco that covers an entire wall of the Sistine Chapel–a project that was Raphael’s dare for him to prove he couldn’t paint. Look out for St. Bartholomew holding the skin of a face that appears to be Michelangelo’s.



The David was carved from a scrap block of marble.

Of all the facts about Michelangelo and his career, this is maybe the most impressive. Though notoriously picky about the marble he used, Michelangelo chose a tall, slender piece for the David, leading many to doubt something good could come out of it.

Called the “Giant”, the marble slab had been quarried and then abandoned for over 40 years before Michelangelo claimed it. The stone had deteriorated and grown rough from the elements yet Michelangelo created a 17-foot tall masterpiece, deemed structurally perfect by the world’s best artists and sculptures.



He launched his career with a forgery.

Michelangelo probably got his start in 1496 from copying an ancient Roman sculpture called Sleeping Cupid and passing it off as the original. After completing the reproduction, he buried the statue underground then dug it up to give it a worn, scratched look then sold the piece to a cardinal for a large sum. A compliment to unstoppable genius!

The Met Museum opens its exhibit Michaelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer on November 13, 2017. This exhibition a wide range of his drawings, marble sculptures, earliest painting, wood architectural model, as well as a body of complementary works by other artists for comparison and context.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite divine work.




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201 697 1947



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Rodin At The Met


Between lovers,

a little confession 

is a dangerous thing.

Helen Rowland

The Kiss

Fun fact while touring colleges with my daughter:  Philadelphia was the first city in the United States to exhibit works by the French artist Auguste Rodin (1840-1917).  Apparently, Rodin had sent eight sculptures to the Centennial Exposition held in Fairmount Park 1876, but his work did not win awards nor impress the press. He could not have imagined that this city would one day house one of the greatest single collections of his work outside of Paris.

To contest Philly’s claim to fame, NYC’s Metropolitan Museum is currently hosting a retrospective of Rodin’s sculptures, drawings and art to celebrate his centennial.

In a career that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Auguste Rodin rebelled against the idealized forms of tradition and his discovery of Michelangelo during a visit to Italy in 1875-76 inspired him to introduce innovative techniques that paved the way for modern sculpture.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (top left) to share your favorite Rodin piece(s). Mine are on this page–including Camille Claudel’s The Waltz, Rodin’s lover and colleague who worked in his shadow, never getting the recognition she deserved.






Cupid and Psyche



Eternal Idol



Camille Claudel’s The Waltz

Photos on this page from Google Images




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201 697 1947



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China at the Met

Be not afraid of growing slowly.

Be afraid only 

of standing still.

Chinese proverb


Couture inspired by Anna May Wong’s costumes in her Hollywood classics. Among my favorite pieces is this very easy to wear hot number with seductive tassels as shoulder straps and as a dramatic train sweeping the floor.

If you’re near Manhattan this weekend, get to the Metropolitan Museum early (or very late to avoid the crowds) and catch the end of their hit exhibit China: Through The Looking Glass.  Attracting more foot traffic that the Alexander McQueen exhibit a couple of years ago and even more than their King Tut exhibit in 1979, this latest feature of the Anna Wintour Costume Institute is a collection of haute couture influences flowing East to West and vice versa.

China as a collective fantasy began when it was still beyond the reach of most Western travelers. Chinoiserie by the best artisans, creatives and film makers have since perpetuated the myth of this land as one of wealth. elegance, mystery and romance. Sample the best of the best at the Met on its last weekend of display.  Museum hours extend until midnight this Friday and Saturday (September 4 and 5, 2015) and this exhibit closes on Monday, September 7th.

Dragon dress inspired by an imperial robe, John Galliano for the House of Dior


Intricate embroidery and silk are among my favorite things!


In the China Pavilion, a collection of John Galliano pieces for the House of Dior


Haute couture in a forest reminiscent of the bamboo scene of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon


A lotus flower ballgown by a Chinese designer


Mao and Chinese calligraphy as design elements


The Weight of the Millennium artwork made of porcelain shards by Li Xiaofeng 2015


Glamour couture inspired by designs on Manchu robes


Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share what country captivates you best.


Give the women you love the most unique gift of elegant and timeless portraits

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 Sharon Birke

201 697 1947



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Summer Fun In The City

Deep summer is

when laziness finds respectability.

Sam Keen


When the heat is on, the fun turns up around New York City!  Here are a few things to add to your summer calendar if you’re lucky to be in town:

The 9th Annual Jazz Age Lawn Party

The Jazz Age Lawn Party was originated by Michael Arenella, the leader of the Dreamland Orchestra, steeped in the hot-dance band tradition of the 1920s and early 1930s. On Saturday, August 16, 2014 at 11:00 am (Governors Island 10 S St Slip 7, New York, NY), Governors Island steps back in time to celebrate the Jazz Age era with attendees wearing their flapper vintage best.

Shakespeare in Central Park

This is really the summer to brush up your Shakespeare. Before the endless lines begin for the Public Theater’s free Shakespeare in the Park production of “King Lear,” starring John Lithgow, observe Simon Russell Beale as directed by Sam Mendes. “King Lear” hasn’t been staged in Central Park since 1973 with James Earl Jones. Annette Bening as Goneril ups the ante (July 22-Aug. 17, publictheater.org) at the Delacorte Theater.  And when I’m in Central Park, I simply must dine at the Boathouse!

Etiquette School of New York

Make your first impression count by polishing your personal brand and mastering the do’s and don’ts of cocktail parties at the Etiquette School of New York (200 East 64th Street, Manhattan, June 26, $575, etiquette-ny.com).

Outdoors at Lincoln Center

If you missed the best outdoor dance parties of Midsummer Night Swing, Lincoln Center continues the summer celebration with a variety of shows and concerts the rest of the summer:  Dan Zanes and Peter Yarrow are among the singers for a Pete and Toshi Seeger memorial concert (July 20), Roberta Flack (July 26) and Rosanne Cash (Aug. 9), and nights of poetry and dance (July 20-Aug. 10, free, lcoutofdoors.org). The classical music heard during Mostly Mozart, of course, is not all Mozart. The monthlong extravaganza begins with the premiere of John Luther Adams’s Inuit-influenced “Sila: The Breath of the World” and makes room for a premiere work by the Mark Morris Dance Group (July 25-Aug. 23).

Queen of the Night

On Broadway until August, treat yourself to intimate encounters with the comely cast members of Queen of the Night. Every individual’s experience will be different if you happen to be chosen by any of the “butlers”–show wranglers who spirit customers away for private encounters. Your hand may be kissed, fondled or perhaps placed on a naked hip. You may find yourself  familiarly stroked as you wander the rooms of the lavishly restored Billy Rose’s Diamond Horseshoe nightclub in the basement of the Paramount Hotel on West 46th Street.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add what’s on your NYC summer calendar.  Stay cool!

xoxox _S5A4216NYC-NJ-Empire-State-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits-Sharon-Birke _S5A4092NYC-NJ-Empire-State-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits-Sharon-Birke _S5A4239NYC-Summer-Sharon-Birke-Glamour-Boudoir-Portraits   _S5A4328NYC-NJ-Empire-State-Powerful-Goddess-Portraits-Sharon-Birke

© Sharon Birke

201 697 1947



Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Beyond Fashion


You can never be overdressed

or overeducated.

Oscar Wilde


Iconic photograph by Cecil Beaton of 10 of Charles James’ designs

© Conde Nast


Charles James, the most influential couturier of the 1940’s and 50’s, is largely unknown to the general public though his revolutionary designs have graced the covers of Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Town & Country.  Recognized for his genius in the magical use of color and artistic drapery, he started out creating the legendary Gypsy Rose Lee’s breakaway striptease costumes and is best known for his gloriously sculpted ball gowns.  I share his great love for the theatrical, the grand and the magnificent!

This week, the Met’s Costume Institute launched an exhibit of his life and designs:  Charles James: Beyond Fashion. Curator Harold Koda describes James as “one of a handful of designers to have changed the métier of design. Christian Dior has credited James with inspiring his New Look. And Balenciaga said, ‘James is not America’s best couturier; he is simply the world’s best.’ When you have the two perhaps most important male designers of the mid-20th century endorsing you, you can understand that it’s something of a lack that the general public is not aware of this man’s work.” James invented the spiral-cut taxi dress, the figure eight shirt, the puffer jacket, the no cup bra, and a waistline that expanded with your meal. Koda told Style.com, “[He] was really radical. He treated the creation of clothing as an art”–combined with the exacting precision of structural engineering it seems.

Admire the genius of Charles James at the Met’s Beyond Fashion until August 10, 2014.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to share how your life is an art.


Elettra Wiedeman in Charles James four clover gown at NYC Met Costume Institute

Elettra Wiedemann in James’ Clover Leaf Gown at the exhibit’s opening night

(Photo by Hannah Thomson)


Charles James haute couture gowns



Charles James Tulip Gown

The Tulip Gown


Nancy James in one of her husband’s creations

 Charles James by Cecil Beaton 1943

Charles James pinning a model

photo by Cecil Beaton © Conde Nast



Sharon Birke

201 697 1947



Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother



TEDx at the Met

I am my own experiment.

I am my own work of art.


I’m a nerd who loves a good laugh.   I keep post-its and color markers handy as I inch my way through mostly non-fiction books while my teens deride my library, rolling their eyes with “Oh, Mom!”  When it comes to videos, I love TED’s archive of overachievers who share what they know with a sprinkling of humor to cushion a serious message.  This Saturday, October 19, 2013, I’ll be watching the live stream of TEDx at the Metropolitan Museum, the first art museum to get a TED license.

Because laughter and creative expression are among my big loves, I’ll be looking out for these divinely inspiring speakers:


Photo from ColorLines.com

Negin Farsad, named one of the 50 Funniest Women by the Huffington Post and a 2013 TED Fellow, has been a comedienne and producer for over ten years.   Her off-Broadway run of The Dirty Immigrant Collective led to her nomination at the Emerging Comics of New York Awards. She wrote and performed the solo show, Bootleg Islam, and the short film Hot Bread Kitchen which won the Lifetime Women Filmmaker Award.

A video by Farsad was one of a series commissioned by Queen Rania of Jordan to combat Middle Eastern stereotypes–this series later won the first-ever YouTube Visionary Award.  Her latest film, The Muslims are Coming!, opened in September.

Lorna Simpson TEDx Met Icons

Lorna Simpson is known for her large-scale photograph-and-text works that confront and challenge conventional views of gender, identity, culture, history, and memory.  Her most recent project is an archive of photographs from the 1950s that she has been creating replicas, posing herself to mimic the originals.

Frida Kahlo by Maira Kalman

Maira Kalman is an author and illustrator for adults and children. Her work tells of her travels and personal observations.  She contributes to publications like the New Yorker and The New York Times.  Kalman’s children’s books include Next Stop, Grand CentralWhat Pete Ate; and Looking at Lincoln. She has also created an illustrated edition of Strunk and White’s Elements of Style and Michael Pollan’s Food Rules.

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add your favorites from the featured speakers of TEDxMet: Icons.


Sharon Birke

201 697 1947

Email me


Glamour Portraits of the Goddess in Every Wife & Mother

Got Summer (Birthday) Plans?

When you come to a fork in the road,

take it.

Yogi Berra

MOMA Rain Room

My birthday coincides with the 4th of July weekend and here are a few ideas I have in mind to celebrate.  Photos from Google Images:

Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park

Open air dance party with different live orchestras performing the first three weeks of summer.  No heat, no rain, no storm stops this party!  Even if you don’t dance, you’ll catch yourself smiling seeing everyone having a great time under the stars.  Polish your disco shoes and see you on the dance floor for Hustle on July 11th!

Lincoln Center Midsummer Night Swing

A Gondola Ride in Central Park

Pair dinner at the Boathouse with a reservation for the one and only gondola outside of Venice (and Vegas, of course). You’ll feel like the Queen of the World as you glide across the quiet lake banked by foliage you can’t find in Venice. Let the gondolier serenade you with his repertoire of Italian arias as you wonder if he ever asks his wife, “Honey, do these stripes make me look fat?”

Central Park gondola ride

The Ride in NYC

I’m dragging the family to pretend we’re tourists in NYC on this combination sightseeing bus and street theater–not your usual city tour.

The Ride NYC

Rain Room at the MOMA

Sing in the rain without getting soaked at this genius installation by the British design studio rAndom International.  Artificial rain pours down constantly while a dry spot follows you around.  3D sensors detect your presence creating a haven whichever way you go.  Shouldn’t we always feel this lucky?

MOMA Rain Room

Click on “Leave a Comment” (above left) to add to this list of fun summer possibilities.  xoxox

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