Marin Arts & Culture May 2017 - Page 33

Cross Stitch Meditation Rick Banghart merges art and technology By Lily O’Brien Y ou’ll find Rick Banghart most mornings around 5:30am sitting at Peet’s at the Hamilton Marketplace in Novato, sipping coffee and in stitches— counted cross stitches, that is. He spends around two hours there every day, working tenaciously on a single piece of cloth. But these are no ordinary cross stitch pieces. Banghart, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Technology, has invented a computer program that enables him to capture the subtle colors and shading found in photographs and transform them into stitched pieces that are so realistic, people think they are computer generated.  Banghart was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, and discovered at an early age that he loved capturing things with technology. His grandfather taught him about photography, and the first thing he bought with money saved from his paper route, was a tape recorder. “Recording of both sound and images has always fascinated me,” says Banghart. He also developed a love for the theater, and worked as an actor, singer and dancer, as well as doing sound and lighting design. While attending Michigan State University, where he got an undergraduate degree in elementary education (and where he also got his doctorate), Banghart volunteered at the school’s FM radio station as a sound engineer, and This family portrait, which took Rick Banghart many months to complete, was commissioned by a friend. found it to be something he really enjoyed. Around 1976, Banghart got a job as a sound engineer at a local TV station where he stayed for the next 20 years, and had the opportunity to work with incredible artists like Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax and Joshua Bell. “My real love is as a liaison between technology and the creative sorts of people,” says Banghart. During that time, computers were just coming in, so he bought one, and taught himself programming. “I got the computers, I got the manuals and I figured out what these things do,” says Banghart. He began writing software for the TV station, as well as for freelance clients. One day in 1981, his son came home from the Vermontville Maple Syrup Festival (in Vermontville, Michigan), with a picture of himself that had been generated on a computer, revealing all the pixels. A light went off in Banghart’s brain. “I took a close look at it and I knew that by flipping a switch [on the computer], these dots that create the image could be turned into characters,” says Banghart.” A closer look at the printout revealed that only eight shades had been used to create the image. So he chose eight sepia tone embroidery floss colors, and using the computer printout as a pattern—he began stitching. Banghart says it is a mystery to him as to why he suddenly decided to start doing cross stitching, which he had never done before. But he recalled that he had seen old looms at the Henry Ford Museum as a child, and had liked them so much, he built one. “I love the technology MARIN ARTS & CULTURE 33