"Listen In, Michigan" is an audio storytelling feature brought to you by the online alumni magazine, Michigan Today. From historical features and alumni dispatches to campus news and provocative opinions, "Listen In, Michigan" will entertain and inform, helping to keep you connected to the University of Michigan — today.
Episode 46: Scents and sensibilities, featuring Michelle Krell Kydd
In the realm of pedagogy, education experts often tout the benefits of hands-on learning. But for Michelle Krell Kydd, that simplistic term falls short. If she had her way, the experts also would be pushing "nose-on learning."
Kydd contends that getting students interested in smell is like getting them interested in music. It opens them to nonvisual experiences that are just as valuable, if not more valuable sometimes, than visual ones.
"Smell brings concepts to life," she says. "As a kindergartener or sophomore in college, if you put cinnamon in front of me when talking about the spice trade, I'm going to put that picture of a smell in my mind with an experience, versus being taught something."
Kydd received her training as a professional nose at Givaudan, a Swiss multinational manufacturer of flavors, fragrances, and active cosmetic ingredients. She also attended New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. After years working as a marketing consultant in the beauty and fragrance industry, she turned her focus toward the role of smell in education and began presenting interactive "Smell and Tell" events at the Ann Arbor District Library, 826 Michigan, the University of Michigan, and elsewhere.
She's written the blog "Glass, Petal, Smoke" since 2007, hoping to inspire readers to explore "this magnificent world" with every tool at their disposal. (One can learn a lot by following her lively and informative Twitter account). In 2015, Kydd presented the TedxUofM Talk, "Secrets from a Trained Nose."
If you're an anthropologist or an archaeologist, you're always digging," she says. "But we've lost that ability. We've become a culture of gazers due to our cell phones and the Internet.
That said, the Internet does play a role in Kydd's evolving educational scentscape.
In June, she presented her third U-M Zoom class, "Rite Smells," and was surprised how effectively the online format supported her interactive program for teachers. She created the workshop for the University's MENA-SEA Teacher Program, supported by a Title VI Grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The workshop targeted Michigan teachers working with students in grades 6-12. Attendees received a pre-course flight of eight anonymized scents by mail that represented a sensory exploration of the historic routes of trade from the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Arabian Sea.
Teachers shared their impressions, memories, and feelings with one another about the various scents they experienced and how they planned to use them in their lesson plans. By the end of the day, participants had tools to integrate sensory experiences in the classroom into articulated lived experiences.
"It's fascinating to witness group behavior and how participants' responses evolve when they're talking about something that is sensed rather than seen," Kydd says. "But it's more fascinating when they discuss their scent memories. Boundaries dissolve because participants are immersed in each other's sensory evaluations. They are fully present for what an anonymized scent evokes and experience the joy of discovery in their common humanity."
Imagine Kydd's despair when COVID-19 hit the globe. The virus kills by literally taking your breath away. Many survivors experience a loss of smell, a fate Kydd cannot fathom.
"This is like the ultimate irony," she says. "I've spent the last 10 years in Ann Arbor telling people to value their sense of smell and then there's a pandemic that includes smell loss [anosmia] as a short- and long-term symptom."
Sometimes she receives calls from people who fear they've suffered permanent loss of smell. She points them to the work of Dr. Thomas Hummel, of the Smell & Taste Clinic in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Germany's Dresden University.
Hummel's smell training techniques are supported by research and similar to the professional sensor
Episode 45: Wisdom and whimsy, featuring David Zinn
David Zinn has more friends than anyone can count. It’s a rare condition for someone so “pathologically shy,” so anxious, and so naturally prone to gloom. Granted, many of his friends have yet to materialize, but it’s certain they will appear when he needs them most. He just requires a weather-beaten sidewalk and his wooden box of chalk.
Zinn’s imaginary posse includes countless whimsical creatures emerging from cracks and stumps, sprouting weeds as hair, and teaching life lessons amid their pock-marked surroundings. So what appears to be a three-dimensional flying pig with a balloon (Philomena, for instance) may be Zinn working through an existential crisis on a cracked piece of pavement.
“I am very comfortable using the obstacles of a non-blank canvas to avoid the much more terrifying prospect of a blank canvas,” the artist says. “And it's something I hope I can carry over to the rest of my life. Because I'm sometimes shocked with how much I am still prone to seeing an obstacle in life as an obstacle.
In his art, the obstacles represent freedom from the onslaught of myriad choices a blank page presents. Working with found objects sets the stage for Zinn to make his imaginary friends visible to everyone else. You might catch Sluggo, the stalk-eyed green dude emerging from a snowdrift before it melts. Look closely at an abandoned umbrella and you’ll notice an ideal shelter for Nadine the tiny book-reading mouse. (She’s bit of a mentor to Zinn, the one who helps him figure out why he’s here, and what he’s doing.)
“Since I often don't know the fate of my own drawings, I don't know who is going to see them or what effect it might have,” he says. “So there's a faith aspect of just assuming the best, and that we're living in the best possible circumstances that were available at the time.”
Philosopher Zinn actually graduated with a creative writing degree from U-M’s Residential College and spent much of his career as a commercial artist and designer. Ann Arbor residents may recognize the posters, signage, advertising, and other promotional work he has produced for clients ranging from U-M’s Gilbert & Sullivan society to the shops at Kerrytown. And since 1987, locals have grown accustomed to spotting his colorful critters underfoot, only to lose them again as soon as the elements erase them into the ether.
“People often want to know why I'm not sad that these drawings are destroyed by rain and wind,” Zinn says. “And some people are very uncomfortable with my not-being-uncomfortable about this. But I have found that holding on to things is rarely a source of comfort and ease. That's pretty much where anxiety comes from: holding on to things. Letting go is where you find your ease and comfort, not holding on.”
Long ago, Zinn “let go” of his identity as “Artist” with a capital A. He much prefers the lower-case version, the kind of art that is temporary, outside, and inspired by an existing image. He likens it to pareidolia, the concept of seeing faces in the clouds. He describes his method as “augmented pareidolia,” in which he catches a glimpse of something and “connects the dots.” Pretty soon that big flat weed spreading across the cement is a snaggle-toothed fish accepting a piece of cake from an unflappable mouse. In a boat, no less.
Zinn shares his wisdom with lower-case artists of all ages through Ted Talks, tutorials, and his books, The Chalk Art Handbook, Underfoot Menagerie, and Temporary Preserves. He photographs his work and delights followers on social media with his deceptively cute drawings.
Throughout the pandemic of 2020-21, he challenged himself to draw only on the block surrounding his house. It was a boast he’d been making for years: that he’d never run out of options. And while it turned out to be true, “I’ve been thinking about venturing
Episode 44: The (commencement) song remains the same
Mark Twain is credited with saying, ‘History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ The same could be said for commencement speeches. Listen in, as we revisit the most inspiring lines from past University of Michigan commencement speakers like filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan, cartoonist Cathy Guisewite, author Joyce Carol Oates, poet/essayist Joseph Brodsky, novelist Charlie Baxter, and writer Toni Morrison.
Episode 43: Art'sTangible Effect, feat. Wendell Pierce
Actor Wendell Pierce discovered his affinity for the arts in trigonometry class. That discovery has taken him to such productions as “The Wire,” “Treme,” “Selma,” and more. It also has taken him to "Death of a Salesman" and more recently "Some Old Black Man," a digital performance with U-M's University Musical Society.
“In trigonometry, I figured out someone could use the same toolbox and come up with a different proof,” says the actor. “But the authenticity of the truth within that proof doesn’t change. There’s an absolute truth, no matter how you get there.”
That’s when Pierce first understood Shakespeare. And that’s how he understood Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman, a performance that earned him an Olivier Award nomination during a West End run of “Salesman” in London.
“In every generation, a great actor can illuminate something that hasn't been seen before,” Pierce says of writers like Miller. “And that’s artistry. That’s what makes a classic.”
What Pierce hopes to illuminate by making digital art with UMS, during the quarantine, is another undeniable truth. The actor recently completed a digital artist residency at UMS where he starred in the digital production of the 2015 play “Some Old Black Man” by James Anthony Tyler. The two-man show about a father and son co-stars Pierce as Calvin and Charlie Robinson as Donald, his father. The cast and crew lived and worked together under quarantine to rehearse and ultimately film the play at Detroit’s Jam Handy.
Despite the heavy reliance on technology to rehearse, produce, and film the play, Pierce declares the humanity shines through.
“I learned that the human element cannot be eliminated, even when there's a predominance of technology in the equation of how you work,” he says.
Read more at michigantoday.umich.edu
Episode 42: The interior life of Albert Kahn, featuring Claire Zimmerman
Albert Kahn (1869-1942) is a familiar name to most Michigan alumni, especially the ones who paid attention to their campus tour guides. Angell Hall, Burton Memorial Tower, and the Hatcher Graduate Library are just a few of Kahn's contributions to Ann Arbor. Detroit’s long-abandoned Packard Automotive Plant, the Willow Run Bomber Plant, and the Ford River Rouge Complex are just a few of Kahn’s most impressive industrial systems.
But the architect has yet to receive the industry recognition he truly deserves, says Claire Zimmerman, associate professor of architectural history and theory. In fact, he was nearly written out of the 1958 publication of Henry Russell Hitchcock's survey of 19th and 20th century architecture.
It's ironic, she says, because some Kahn buildings were credited with helping win World War II. After 1945, though, sentiment changed.
“The architecture world turned its back completely on the development of industrial architecture before 1941 or ’42,” says Zimmerman. “The supposition was that these kinds of buildings were responsible for threatened nuclear holocaust. The [profession] began to see industrialized architecture as a very mixed bag -- useful for 'bread and butter,’ but highly controversial politically and historically. It was safer to focus on skyscrapers.”
Kahn pressed on, though he didn’t build many skyscrapers. Much of his work is characterized by the patented Kahn Method -- reinforced concrete, poured concrete, and steel -- to frame and reinforce massive structures. Kahn’s brother, Julius, a Michigan grad, engineered and patented the novel method.
“It’s a great system,” Zimmerman says, “reinforced concrete has never become obsolete.”
Neither has Kahn’s firm, despite Hitchcock’s survey. Albert Kahn Associates, helmed by CEO Alan Cobb, recently marked 125 years in business and some 45,000 projects to its collective credit. Learn more at michigantoday.umich,edu.
Episode 41: The conquering heroines of Title IX, featuring Sara Fitzgerald, BA '73
Former 'Washington Post' editor Sara Fitzgerald was the first female editor-in-chief at the ‘Michigan Daily’ covering a pivotal time in the women’s movement. Her new book celebrates the activists who fought sex bias at U-M and paved the way for breakthrough legislation. Read more at michigantoday.umich.edu.