Recent Paintings

We were invited to create a self portrait for our final assignment in my painting class. This was my response: Self Portrait as Simona Kossak.

The source image for this painting is a photograph of SK with her resident boar. You can read more about this amazing woman at

This self portrait is the first oil painting in my Errant Animals series. The next is a work in progress based on the story and image of this “wayward” llama in Seattle: Llama Drama in King County.

The Habitorium

The Habitorium was established in 2013 as a platform for researching habitual behavior. It is an archive for evidence of habits and holds more than 12,000 analog images (snapshots, film, slides), and a modest library of books and printed matter on the subject. The archive is open to the public by appointment, chance and contrivance. The Habitorium has devised several surveys asking questions about habits. It has conducted interviews at weddings, during festivals, and in art galleries and bookstores.

The Habitorium’s most recent research is The Survey of Urban Habits which closes October 31, 2023. Results from the survey will be part of the forthcoming Volume 31 of Street Notes Journal, a publication of Ethnography, Poetry and the Documentary Experience. Jo is co-editor of the themed issue.

The Survey of Bookish Habits was devised to learn about how people use, store, share and engage with their books. Responses came from the many readers who frequent City Books, the oldest used bookstore in Pittsburgh PA, located around the corner from Gertrude Stein’s childhood home. The paintings titles are profiles of individual replies to the survey including: He reads for democracy, empathy and liberation. She travels with a gun, a dog and, always, a book. and She is happy to be surrounded by books. I continue to gather responses, most recently at the Eric Fischl Gallery of Phoenix Community College where the Book of Bookish Habits was juried into the Vanguard Exhibition (2023).

Survey of a Johnstown Habitus occurred at the Venue of Merging Arts during the Ethnic Festival in Johnstown PA. (2019) My hometown is the fastest shrinking town in Pennsylvania. Many former residents return for the annual Ethnic Festival which happens in one of the oldest parts of town: Cambria City. I devised this survey to understand more about what makes a place a home, how we are tethered to spaces from far away, and what it means to return? I interviewed nearly 200 individuals who came to be together in an historic neighborhood to celebrate the once thriving mill town’s diverse heritage.

The Survey Under a Blue Moon was commissioned to engage guests at a small wedding reception on October 31, 2020. The instrument gathered best wishes for the newly weds.

The Survey of Gallery Going Habits was included in the Art of Science exhibit at First Studio in Phoenix AZ (2018). I interviewed gallery visitors during First and Third Fridays and surveys were available to complete during open gallery hours. Read the survey here: Survey of Gallery Going Habits

One List of Urban Habits

In preparing the CFP for Volume 31 of StreetNotes, my editors and I each prepared an alphabetical listing of all the Urban Habits we could imagine. Below is the list I prepared, with an opening statement about how this list happened for me. If I put myself to the task today, I think my list would be different!


(Feb 2023) As I worked this list I thought of the many habits I had when living in New York City. Then I turned my memory to the amazing circumstance of living in Oakland California, before the tech boom in the bay area, and finally to my experience of living in Phoenix. Reviewing it, I see that many of the habits are not exclusive to city living, of course. They manifest differently in different cities of course. Laundry for instance is very different in Oakland than it was in New York City and Phoenix – The first happening in a laundromat arrived to on motorcycle, The second occurring on foot around the corner and the third in the laundry room of my own home. The differences invite a critique of access to resources in city habits.

A  –  All the habits that can’t be listed under one of the other letters.

A  –  Habits of Arranging 

A  –  Air Drying Laundry Habits

B  –  Bathroom Habits in Kitchen Sinks

B  –  Habits When Riding Buses

B  –  Bakery Shopping Habits

B  –  Bridge and Tunnels Habits

C  –  Habits for Carrying (See  Schlepping Habits)

C  –  Habits when Cooking for Others

C  –  Habits for Changing Big Bills

C   –  Habits in Cabs: see Tipping, Good Bye,

C   –  Habits that Cut to the Chase

C  –  Commuting Habits for train, foot, car

D  –  Habits for Delayed Trains

D  –  Dating Habits

D   –  Dog Walking Habits

D –  Day drinking Habits

D  –  Describing Routes Habit – discussing transportational approaches to destinations

D –  habits for disasters

E  –  Eating Habits – foraging, procuring, consuming, provisioning, sharing

E  –  Endearing Habits

E  –  Habits for Entering Trains/Buses/Buildings/Gatherings/

E  –  Habits forEntertaining in Studio Apartments

E  –  Habits of Engaging Strangers – in museums, parks, elevators, grocery stores, laundry mats, on transport

E  –  Habits of Exiting for Social Gatherings: see also GoodByes

F  –  Habits of Forgetting – what’s better to not remember when living in a city? Habitually forgetting things at the office/home/ele

F  –  Fretful Habits – what do we worry about in the city?

F   –  Ferry Riding Habits – POSH

F  – Habits for Foggy Days

F  –  Futile Habits 

F –   Farmers Markets Habits 

F   –  Habits for Finding Solitude, Common Ground

F –   Flexibility as habit 

G  – Giving Habits: see also Tipping

G   –  Goodbye Habits: cabside, travel, table, party, BBQ leaving

G   –  Grocery Shopping Habits

G  –  Habits for Gardening in small/unlikely spaces

G –   Habits of Guesting (never show up empty handed, etc)

H  –  Hurrying Habits: when pressed for time, shortcuts for transportation, shopping, walking, driving

H  –  Hacking Habits – the possibilities are endless

H –  Habits for Hailing cabs

H  –  Heckling Habits (see Habits of Reply)

I  –  habits of internal dialog

I  –  Image Making Habits: daily photos, pics of similar things in different places, documenting for work, etc

I –   Habits for instructing/teaching/professing (there could be an entire spectrum of career-specific habits… )

J  – Jogging Habits: 

J  –  Habits of Daily Justice

J  – Joyful Habits

K  –  Habits for Keeping a Distance: from neighbors, roommates, streets, on Public Transport, sidewalks, train platforms, at dinner tables, family gatherings, in mixed company, public parks, common living areas.

K  –   Kissing Habits: stolen, drunken, greeting, parting, etc. 

K  –   Kidding Habits (humor, joking, play, etc)

L  –  Laundry Habits

L  –  Habits for while Standing in Line: book, phone, tapping, spot holding, speaking to others, 

L   –  Lounging Habits 

L –   Listening Habits ( again… in lots of diff contexts…)

L –   Habits for the Library

M  –  Habits of Merry Making

M  –  Miscellaneous Habits – another catch all category

M –    Habits for managing stress

M   –  Museum Going Habits

M –    Habits for Mixed Company in private, in public

N  –  Next Day Habits: see also procrastination

N  –   Nature Seeking Habits

O  –   Habits of Offering Directions

O   –  Organizing Habits: protests, small spaces

O. –  habits of observation: birds, people, plants, animals, etc 

O   –  Office Habits

O   –  Offensive Habits in the workplace, of roommates, in public spaces, 

P  –  Habits for Public Parks

P   –  Parking Habits at home, work, events, nature

P   –  Pet Walking Habits

P   –  Habits of Procrastination: what can wait till tomorrow in the city?

Q – Habits of Quiet Spaces

Q  –   Habits to Quit

Q –  Questioning Habits – always asking questions 

Q  –  Quick Change Habits (see also flexibility)

R  –  Ranting Habits for neighbors, best friends, classrooms, 

R   –  Habits that Make your Heart Race 

R   –  Habits for Rarified Air

R –    Rainy day Habits

R  –  Habits of Reply (by mail, emailing, Hecklers)

S  –  Salutary Habits

S  –  Sunset Habits

S  –  Habits of Shopping in the City

S   –  Sidewalk Habits: walk to the left/right, keep moving at an intersection (cross with the light)

S  –   Schlepping Habits

S  –  Sunny day habits

S –   Seasonal Habits (winter, spring, summer, fall)

T   –  Tipping Habits: cars/doors/wait staff/counter staff/housesitter/etc

T  –  Theater Going Habits 

T  –  Habits for Traffic Jams (see also Commute)

T   –  Habits for Navigating Tourist Districts

T   –  Train Riding Habits

T   –  Habits for Handling Trash

U  –  Habits for when Under the Weather

U  –  Habits with Urges

V  –  Habitual Vulnerability

V  –  Virtuous Habits 

V   –  Habits of Visitors Who Stay for Days in Your Apartment

V   –  Valorous Habits

W – Waiting Habits: line, room, train, bus, restroom, 

W   –  Waking Habits 

W  – walking Habits

W   –  Habits to Widen the Circle

X  –  Habits for living with eXes

X – Habits for living without eXes

X – Habits of eXcited speech

Y – Yesterday’s Habits (former habits:open ended category alpha sort)

Z  –  Habits for Zipping Across Town

A Book of Bookish Habits

This spring I entered a The Survey of Bookish Habits in to a juried student exhibition and the work was accepted! I offered a book of Bookish Habits, three clipboards with surveys, a double tray holding blank and completed surveys, and some Bic pens. There are instructions with the book:

Each painting in this book illustrates one individual’s reply to The Survey of Bookish Habits which asks respondents to focus on “bookishness” and how it shows up in their gestures and intentions. Read the paintings. Think about your Bookish Habits. Take the survey. Inspire a painting.

I worked with local book binder Kathie Shepherd who swiftly understood my need. The book is 2 feet square with one painting mounted on each of the 10 pages. The cover is 300 lb. watercolor paper, with black linen binding tape to finish the coptic stitch. Open flat, it is 48 inches wide. The whole set up requires a six foot table, so two people can complete surveys, while another two read through the paintings.

The Vanguard Showcase opened to the public this Monday, April 17, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. and remains on display until April 30, 2023. Twenty-eight individual responses to the Survey of Bookish Habits were received during the exhibit.

Full Moon Habit #1

I’m building a full moon habit.
Every month, for the foreseeable future, I will start a conversation about art. These conversations will happen at ArtHouse6 (126 Walnut Street, Johnstown 15901) and by Zoom.

The first conversation will be on July 23, from 6.30-8 p.m. EST when we will derive through a troubling habit of mind often evident in galleries featuring art since 1900. “MY KID CAN DO THAT” is an uninformed assertion. When I hear someone say “MY KID CAN DO THAT”, I think “HOW SILLY!” A cartoon recently published in the New Yorker (11/2/2020) hilariously illustrates the absurdity of this enduring habit of mind.

The lady on the right is saying: “My kid can do that.” Her ‘kid’ is a Jackson Pollock homunculus, and everyone knows you can’t smoke in a gallery. Hilarious!

On July 23, I will start with Pollock and other Abstract Expressionists, and then we will dabble in Dada, NeoPlasticism and Pop. Bring your stories about encounters with abstraction, eat cake and drink tea.

Yes, there will be cake. Specifically, there will be The Big Occassion Cake.
It has nuts in it. [NB: One dream for this full moon habit building experiment, is to invite Zoom participants to bake The Big Occassion Cake at home and eat a slice during the conversation. At the close of the evening we would hear from Zoom participants reporting on their experiences baking and plans to share the cake.]

There are three suggested ticket prices:
$7 for the Zoom link, or live at the gallery with tea;
$12 live at the gallery with tea and a slice of The Big Occassion Cake;
$21 live at the gallery with Prosecco and cake (Must be 21 years of age or older).

The idea of building this Full Moon Habit came from the Downtown Salon, a series of four conversations about Women Art and Activism (June 2021).

WAA Readings

The readings on this page were offered as part of the DOWNTOWN SALON, a series of four conversations about Women Art and Activism. The series was made possible by the Penn Highlands Community Engagement programming and the hospitality of ArtHouse6 in Johnstown PA.

“Judith” is a chapter from “Feminism and Art History: Questioning the Litany” by Broude and Garrard. In this chapter, Garrard entails the subtelties of the discussion we started last night. If you’d like to know more about the story of Artemisia Gentileschi and the heroic/monumental women in her paintings.

Seven Stepping Stones is reading for next week’s salon on June 14.

The Triple Negation of Colored Women Artists by Adrian Piper, orginally published in Next Generation: Southern Black Aesthetic, 15–22. Winston-Salem, N.C.: Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, 1990.

The Name of the Game is reading for next week’s salon on June 21.

WJT Mitchell and B Kruger is suggested reading for our next salon on Monday, June 28. please post your thoughts to the fb group, if you want to share them in advance of our meeting.

The Big Occasion Cake

A respondent asked me about the recipe I reprinted on the Survey of Cook Book Habitry. The original recipe, dated April 1968, is long lost, I think. This version of the recipe has been around for decades, since the early 1990s. I’ve been carrying this copy around since I was Patty Blasko and living in Oakland California. It has traveled thousands of miles, crammed into my first edition Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book.

You can see evidence of my mom’s kitchen on this recipe. She cut it out, like other recipes that worked for her, then imparted her own notes on the original. Her perfect cursive 8″ rounds hangs over the teaspoon of vanilla. Mom stapled the original magazine copy to a sheet of letterhead from our family store “Mary Jo’s Grocery,” then 3-hole punched it for her blue binder. Mary Jo’s 1-inch binder is what I’d call an auxiliary cook book, unpublished, unique and variable. Boxes of index cards fall into this category of cook book, too. There are often wonderful handwritten recipes in auxiliary cook books. 

Mary Jo with two of her daughters Patty and Mary Grace, in front of our family grocery store. This photo was taken in 1969, less than year after The Big Occasion Cake recipe was published by Better Homes and Gardens.

Growing up, The Big Occasion cake was as regular as April. It was my father’s favorite birthday cake, he loved anything with pecans. When they were oven toasted in butter, like for this recipe, it was decadent to him, almost sinful. 

Mom would bake The Big Occasion Cake other times, too. I can remember chopping the dusty pecans and closely monitoring them in the oven. My job was to toss them three times, making sure to cover every nut in some melted butter. Then I’d gauge when to pull them out, judging by the smell of them toasting… to just the right doneness. 

I could never understand why dad would choose nuts over chocolate or banana. But I  would enjoy eating The Big Occasion Cake and making it for him when I lived within baking proximity. Baking proximity can be hundreds of miles, by the way. I recall once baking The Big Occasion cake in my Queens New York apartment and driving through the night to deliver it in Johnstown accompanied by a surprise song. 

Of course we’re looking at a digital scan of the photocopied recipe. The actual recipe is on my dining room table. I baked the Big Occasion cake last weekend, with walnuts. Dad would have tolerated but not approve of my substitution, as ever. 

Cook Book Habitry

Cook books are not just tools in a kitchen. They are repositories of memories, evidence of meals consumed long ago, and promises to cook again. Time escapes us in an inherited cook book through the suggestion of future gatherings around our grandmother’s foods. Cook books hold tried and true recipes, while also posing the possibility of making something new. They entertain and educate through histories, geographies and substitutions. Cook books can be regional, about one food pathway, collective efforts, or of a restaurant.

The Survey of Cook Book Habitry seeks to enrich our appreciation of cook books by inviting conversations about how we use them 

Cook Book Habit: Her cook books hold recipes she’s collected from different places including ones torn from product labels, cut from magazines and written on index cards. This one is torn from a magazine, stapled to a piece of stationary from the family grocery store, then photocopied.

The Survey of Cook Book Habitry will be administered live at Classic Elements in Johnstown PA on May 28, 2021 from 10am to 2pm.  There are two other ways to take the survey if you can’t join me in the shop.

First, and this is my preference, download and print out the PDF version of the survey. Respond to the questions by hand and mail it to The Habitorium c/o Classic Elements, 345 Main St, Johnstown PA 15901. If that doesn’t work for you, reply electronically; take the Survey of Cook Book Habitry online.

The Survey of Cook Book Habitry closes on June 17, 2021 for reporting purposes. Responses received by the close date will be distilled into a Report on Cook Book Habitry. Provide your address, electronic or postal, to receive a copy of the report. Survey replies received after June 17 are very welcome, but will not be included in the report.

Swim Stories

What crosses your mind when you cross the pool?

Designed by a writer who swims, this workshop is for swimmers who write, or anyone who thinks about swimming. Participants are invited to write in a compelling way about their experiences in the water. Start a poem or song, add a scene to your screen play, develop a chapter to your memoir, or a character in a short story. Whatever your writing style or chosen form, the write from life lab is a place to experiment and deepen your practice.
Not a swimmer? Write about why.

The lab meets three Wednesdays in June at the YMCA (and by ZOOM!) when we will read, write and swim together! Read more and register for WRITE FROM LIFE: SWIM STORIES The Write From Life Lab is facilitated by Jo Novelli-Blasko ( and offered through Penn Highlands Community College’s personal enrichment program.

This Write From Life Lab convenes three Wednesdays in June 9, 16, and 23, and asks participants to write from and about their personal experience in a compelling and meaningful way. Swim Stories is an invitation to think about swimming, how we do it, where, when, and why. From the Soakzone at Idlewild Park, to the Ocean and the YMCA pool, swims happen in a variety of contexts. Consequently, swimming offers an infinite array of metaphors like testing the waters,  taking a dip, or riding a wave. Write From Life Lab is a place to experiment with how to access these metaphors and make meaning in and through writing from experience. Participants will be  challenged to write about swimming in a way that can matter to other people. Through reading, writing exercises and research prompts, participants are invited to compose a Swim Story. Participants are asked to bring a favorite writing instrument and a journal for recording their work. Register here:

Write From Life Lab: Swim Stories will meet at the Johnstown YMCA from 5:30-7:30. Local writers who pay the Materials Fee will enjoy an hour of swimming from 7:30-8:30.

Downtown Salon

For this series of conversations, I’m looking back toward a class I taught at Arizona State University. Women Art and Activism was offered on the Tempe campus in the Spring of 2009. It was a seminar with lots of reading and only a handful of students. The Downtown Salon is an opportunity for me to re-think, out loud, about content from the course.

Participants will be offered a reading in advance of each meeting to provide a platform for thinking about the work we’ll see. But the readings are entierly optional; being a part of the conversation does not rely on reading them.

Our gatherings will be loosley orgainzed around a theme. We will begin each meeting with a presentation of work and then open the floor for discussion. During the last 1/2 hour of our time together, we’ll turn our attention to the aritsts and activists in the room. Of course, contributing your work to the conversation is also optional, no pressure to perform.

June 7, 14, 21, 28
6-8 p.m. EST
This series of four talks will consider the influential presence of women artists who challenge the status quo in and through their work. Discover a range of art that expresses feminist actions explicitly or in attitude, demonstrating how women were actively in resistance through their creative work. The scope of our undertaking includes an array of art from painting and sculpture, to performance and film. Please be prepared to respectfully consider challenging (often explicit) art. Each talk will be followed by a group discussion about the work.

The Downtown Salon is a hybrid experience. It will be broadcast live and ZOOMed from ArtHouse6, an art gallery located at 126 Walnut Street. To participate in the conversation, register through the Community Education Program at Penn Highlands Community College.

Officiant Services

My interest in officiating unions is a consequence of my divorce. I was determined that the ruination of my marriage vows would not be the final word on weddedness! Now, I gleefully pronounce celebrants united, partnered, wed, mated for life, or however you come to be together till death do you part. I equally enthusiastically facilitate your apologies and forgivings, and will witness any wager you venture to make.

My interest in officiating also emerges from my faith in the power of language to get things done. When you speak a promise out loud and mean it, you change the terms of your relationship to another person. The same is true when you act with your heart to forgive someone, say you’re sorry, or lay a bet. I believe speaking truth into the world makes it a different place. As an officiant, I witness these spoken gestures and celebrate all the changes they create and the hope they manifest.

Ceremonial Paperwork, Scripts, Costs

My officiating services require celebrants to complete a Survey of Habits of the Heart. This instrument will outline what is important to you in preparing for your pronouncements. Respond as fully as possible; be forthcoming. Your reply will guide us in shaping a ceremony to best represent your intentions. In addition to a Survey of Habits of the Heart, wagers require a signed contract documenting what’s at stake. Marriages require a license to make it official with the state.

Each ceremonial event will have a unique script built through a conversation about your response to the Survey of Habits of the Heart. The more robust your response, the more closely aligned your intentions can be to the ceremony we design together.

Since each ceremony is as unique as its participants, my fee for service will vary. Officiating fees begin at $100 for a basic service and range to $500 or more for elaborate proceedings. Basic service includes one hour with me to plan your pronouncements, unlimited email follow up and a gathering of four celebrants (the couple and two witnesses) at a local venue. Travel costs will accrue for services performed 25 miles outside zip code 85016, they are in addition to the officiating fee. NOTAFLOF

Survey Under a Blue Moon

The Habitorium was commissioned to survey guests at a wedding on October 31, 2020. I conducted a Survey Under a Blue Moon inquiring about habits of the heart, to benefit the newly wed Caityn Antal and Brady Shriver. They tied the knot at The Bottleworks in Cambria City. I enjoyed the celebration from a quiet spot near the gift table with a lovely view of the moon. The attendants happily engaged in the process of answering the survey questions and the results show it. Paintings inspired by the results are underway in the studio.

Thanks so much to Linda Shiver and Kris Mellinger for sharing their photos of the evening with me.

Stacked Abstractions

Charlie Pfeil and I are related by marriage. His daddy’s baby sister Ruth married my daddy’s brother, Daniel. Charlie is known about town for making small versions of local landmark buildings from painted plywood. He works on them the basement of his Dale Borough homestead. It is tidy and clean and, when Charlie is in production, it’s banging! With volume set to eleven, Tool, Metallica and Korn are in frequent rotation. He finds it relaxing and therapeutic. Four years ago, Charlie was diagnosed with Parkinson’s and creating these small buildings in his workshop while blasting heavy metal steadies his shaking hands. “I put the music on and start working and it stops, almost immediately.” I am amazed and inspired by Charlie’s focus. Habits of healing and creativity are performative and generative. I think his Stacked Abstractions illustrate that performativity. They carry the vibe of Charlie’s habits, just like his replicas of building scattered around town.

You can visit a baker’s dozen of Charlie Pfeil’s little buildings, and twice as many are held privately. There are four in downtown Johnstown from the By George Inn at the Stadium Pub and Grill, to the War Memorial – a model that required 500 hours of work to complete. Six places in Dale have reproductions by Charlie including Bantly Hardware (circa 1977), TNC Lounge, and BZ Pools. Three churches display his replicas: Beulah United Methodist Church in Dale, University Park Church of God in Richland, and St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Cresson. The Habitorium is preparing a map of all the venues that house his models.

Stacked Abstractions are made from the left over wood of Charlie’s buildings. He cuts the gleaned wood, then sands and paints the pieces balancing several together, seeming ready to tumble at any moment. Each unique Stacked Abstraction is priced between $10 and $15 and can be shipped.

3 Flashlight Gallery is selling other structures created by Charlie Pfeil including Christmas decorations for your tree and table, a sweet gingerbread house, and a trio of simple crosses. Please inquire with Jo at [email protected] about an array of buildings that Charlie has on hand, and for sale, that are not located in the gallery.

Anthrax it Aint

years ago, i wrote a small review for a show happening at a local gallery.

Anthrax it Ain’t (c. 2007)
Lets face it: $1.98 will send 8 ounces of just about anything through the US Postal Service. In The Post Card, Jacques Derrida put it this way: “Whether you put one word or one hundred in a letter, a word of one hundred letters or one hundred words of seven letters, the price is the same, this is incomprehensible, but this principle has the capacity to account for everything.” A good mail art show exploits the depth of Derrida’s principle by testing the limits of the USPS and challenging the rarified notion of what can be hung on the gallery wall. This is the story of three accountings happening here in Phoenix: an accounting of emerging gallerists; an historical accounting of mail art as a genre; a humanitarian accounting of American deaths in Iraq; an accounting of one postal worker’s paranoia.
The Trunk Space opened its Mail Art Show on the first Friday of August. JRC and Stephanie Carrico, the former coffee compatriots at The Paper Heart, and owners of the gallery, displayed all 53 submissions they received from places as distant as Italy. Each piece of art in the show was on sale for five bucks with all proceeds going to benefit Arts Link. The exhibit included works by several local artists including Lisa Takata, Dain Gore and the Bledsoe duo: Richard and Michelle. The most intriguing submission to the show came from A. Polk: a scrap book, wrapped around its width with a wide band of vellum and bound closed by fine, strong twine. This fastening, a practical measure to secure the book during its postal passage, became a part of the object. It coaxes the observer to peek between the book pages but defies being undone. The substance of the scrap book was changed when Polk bound it; to snip the brown twine, to slice through that foggy outer slip would be to change it, and that would be a shame.
Like all Mail Art shows, this one was a populist endeavor: if you could go to the post office you could submit work to the show and it would be displayed. The inclusiveness of The Trunk Space show conforms with one of the conventions for mail art exhibition set forward by the New York Correspondance (sic) School. While an exhaustive historical accounting of this aesthetic could probably be traced back to the inception of postal exchange, it was Ray Johnson who formalized the practice by establishing the school in the late 1960’s. NYCS participants deployed their methodology as a medium: if an object passed through the postal system it was considered mail art. Johnson further complicated this practice with the nascent collages he sent through the mail to other artists. These correspondences with instructions to “Add to and Return to…” passed through the mail boxes of Robert Rauchenberg, Jasper Johns and Chuck Close, among many others. Letters that have been preserved are terrific examples of collaboration and a pop sensibility that was sanctioned by the postal systems of several countries.
Johnson committed suicide in 1995, but his “Add to and Return to” instruction has found another life in practices that couple snail mail correspondence with web-based networking. Baghdad Diaries ( is one Phoenix-based project that thrives on this dual circulatory system. Steve Salik, under the nom de plume “A Concerned Citizen,” was inspired by his participation in and to begin his latest project. Subscribers to Baghdad Diaries sign up to receive, by book rate U.S. postal mail, a handmade journal. Each diary is dedicated to individual American soldiers who died in the Iraq war. This is no small task given the difficulty of discerning an accurate and timely list of the deceased military personnel. Issued in sets of ten, each set with a different cover design, these journals start out blank and each subscriber adds to the book and sends it to the next recipient on the list. Visitors to the site who choose not to subscribe can peruse scans of journal pagess, read Salik’s comments about the project or track the progress of each journal as it travels around the globe.
Salik asks registrants to participate in an “interactive dialog about the war in Iraq, the ‘War on Terror’ and the way that these events are impacting our daily lives at a personal level”. I have recorded the story of my participation in the Trunk Space Mail Art Show in Diary #7.
“It was flat piece of wood with bark around its edge, on one side was a picture of a clown wearing a monocle, on the other I wrote: The Trunk Space, 1506 NW Grand Ave, Phoenix AZ 85007. I handed my parcel to the postal officer and asked him to hand cancel it and send it via first class mail. He looked at me like I was out of my mind. ‘I can’t accept that’ he said, ‘Ever since the anthrax scare we don’t hand cancel anything and we aren’t allowed to send objects without envelopes.’ He wouldn’t touch it. As I studied his face I thought about asking him: ‘Wouldn’t it make more sense to put a tainted log slice in an envelope?’ In the end, I decided it made no sense to try to rationalize his reaction to my request. We are fighting a War On Terror after all.”

Zoom and Bow Ties

I’m in the habit of instigating people to do things and these are almost always joyful instigations. Sometimes it just happens, sometimes not so much. Recently I had an opportunity to instigate a classroom of little people in the name of education.

I was invited by my cousin Mark’s son Greg to crash his first grade classroom on Wednesday. Greg is a substitute teacher who now works from his home in Colorado. His students are in New York, Ohio and Colorado. I am in Pennsylvania. As soon as he asked, I imagined how charming it could be to meet on Zoom, all together, apart, online.

I should note that never have I ever imagined entertaining a room full of first graders before that moment. Eigth graders? Sure. 7th, even 6th grade classrooms were familiar to me. But, it seemed like a good idea, given the pandemic and all. Anything is possible, right?

Greg and I agreed some sort of art project would be great. I became excited about all the possibilities. Then all the possibilities freaked me out. Suffice it to say, Tuesday came around and I had no idea what I would do. When in doubt, I plunder my library. Almost immediately, I hit upon Alice in Wonderland. Fantastic! I thought, and pulled it off my shelf.

I was way off, but I had no idea until I tried to get these little humans to focus on the story. They were lost… or maybe it was just the digital platform. So I started asking them questions: What’s marmalade? How do you curtsy? What is a waist coat? Where is your waist? Oh, it was great fun. I did a lot of laughing. I was really challenged by understanding who was talking when and whether these great kids could hear me. All the seeming chaos resolved in two assignments. First, learn how to curtsy then devise a fancy curtsy. The second assignment was to make a bow tie from things from your garden. NO TAPE! I wondered if I was getting through, with all the flashing green frames and lovely little faces laughing with me… I asked if they understood the assignment to a chorus of “yes” as they sat staring at me. I yelled “Well, what are you waiting for? Get outside!”

This week, I will see how their curtsies are coming along. They are supposed to practice the standard curtsy, and perfect a fancy one. Stay tuned.

E Responses to Survey

Thanks to Linda, depicted here c. 1983, for her instant solution to the problem of getting my hands on all your completed surveys. I really wanted to rely on the USPS, I insisted on it when Arlan (the curator) at IAMB Gallery urged me to go electronic. I wanted the slowness of mail. The good sense of social distancing is the only thing that could inspire a change of heart. Here it is…

Survey of Bookish Habits
and send it to me at

As the photos roll in, I will add your contribution to the paper copies I have on hand. Your input will be counted. My hope is that I can secure images of the paper copies held by Arlan, too. Stay tuned and thank you for considering The Survey of Bookish Habits as a diversion during these times of new habits on all fronts!

The Habitorium

The Habitorium is an independent research project of Jo Novelli-Blasko. It is a platform for creative gestures that disrupt habits, slow them down and distill actions from attitudes. The Habitorium surveys participants and generates various data, ephemera, and actions toward efficacious interventions.

I am currently migrating The Habitorium website to this domain. Its a big project, I am being methodical.

Next up: building out pages documenting projects from 1997 to 2019. Stay tuned.

AD1: New Habits

AD1 is the first in a series of Appalachian Dispatches, sent from a town highly ranked for how quickly it is shrinking, the depth of our impoverishment, and the illness of our population. I mention these conditions to highlight truths, not to fetishize our destitution. In fact, Johnstown has always been known for our disasters (the floods, mills, rust, etc.) so – hold our coffee. Here is the beauty of surviving disasters, we are experts in resilience.

This blog will be a testament to what I see here, all of it. My view is from a hillside trail where I enjoy the tremendous privilege of greeting each day, to breathe in agreement with the forest and my two dogs. We are committed to our continued mission of doing no harm.