-ING Part 1

– ing suffix: -ing

1. 
denoting a verbal action, an instance of this, or its result. “welcoming

Mov – ING

An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

I seem to be in a perpetual state of motion as I prepare to move to Maine temporarily. Over the next several months, I will be living the life of a nomad. (It does not seem accidental that a Bedouin tent features prominently in my artwork.)

WeaveTheTent_Logo

Leaving my Maryland studio, job and friends to create         Welcoming the Stranger feels both overwhelming and exhilarating (and sometimes terrifying…)

It took more than a year to plan the 2-month long exhibit – to conduct the research, locate an exhibition space, find employment, procure housing, create relationships in the community, identify resources – all this before making the art.

Three months from today, I begin the installation of the exhibit. It will take 10 days.

How could the time have gone by so fast?

Think-ING

I never studied physics. I struggled with math and was convinced I would not be able to comprehend physics. For those who did take the course, here is an animated refresher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ttZCKAMpcAo

I thought I would never have a use for the information. (I thought the same about algebra but revised my opinion as a result of tiling a bathroom floor.)

Stone carvers – especially – need to understand the basic principles of physics. If you neglect to pay attention to those ‘rules,’ you risk injury and sometimes, death.

Mark Di Suvero http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424053111904006104576500170627655498

In Einstein’s Dreams, the author Alan Lightman …”fictionalizes Albert Einstein as a young scientist who is troubled by dreams as he works on his theory of relativity in 1905. The book consists of 30 chapters, each exploring one dream about time that Einstein had during this period. “

Because it is a series of dreams, I can enter or leave each chapter at will. And in the moment, I understand the principles. But their application in the real world eludes me.

The author of Art and Physics, Leonard Shlain, believes art is precognitive: “artists conjure up revolutionary images and metaphors comprising preverbal expressions of the novel concepts later formulated by physicists….”

(He) proposes that the visionary artist is the first member of a culture to see the world in a new way. Then, nearly simultaneously, a revolutionary physicist discovers a new way to think about the world. Escorting the reader through the classical, medieval, Renaissance and modern eras, Shlain shows how the artists’ images when superimposed on the physicists’ concepts create a compelling fit. http://www.artandphysics.com  images

When I read about the application of theoretical physics to various breakthrough moments in art history,  I understand at an intuitive level some other event may evolve from my artwork – one I could not have predicted. It is really the only hope an artist has – to create change.

Yet, none of this explains why time seems to contract rapidly when you are preparing for 5 months on the road.

Pack – ING:

I feel like someone embarking on a round the world trip – attempting to plan for multiple seasons, multiple settings, multiple scenarios …

  1. Packing clothing for 5 months in Maine – March to October*
  2. Packing to live in a suburban ranch home and then a loft in a boat house
  3. Packing supplies to make art
  4. Packing materials to teach
  5. Packing technology for everything else I will have to do
  6. Packing for contingencies. (I have to remind myself that I will still be in America and there is always Goodwill nearby.)

*I did consult the Farmer’s Almanac. It was not comforting. http://www.almanac.com/weather/longrange/ME

When I was a child, my friends carried their patent leather Easter shoes to wear in church and walked to church in their boots.

Mainers always say: If you don’t like the weather in Maine, wait a minute and it will change.

Mark Twain is credited with saying: There are 2 seasons in Maine – winter and the 4th of July.

My upcountry friends say: Spring isn’t here til the snow comes off the mountain. https://vimeo.com/125583476

My island friends warn: Don’t plant anything until Memorial Day.

IMG_1901

Teach-ING

Colby College is a liberal arts college of about 1800 students located at the northern edge of the City of Waterville. It is the home of the Colby Art Museum http://www.colby.edu/museum. IMG_1902The Lunder and Alfond families are representative of the Waterville philanthropic Jewish community. The former founders and long time owners of Dexter Shoes donated to both secular and religious causes. The “glass box” museum houses the Lunder Art Collection – more than 500 works.

IMG_2238_2

Teachers can arrange for artworks to be available for classroom instruction. I had requested a display of Artist Books. http://wgbhnews.org/post/100-million-art-collection-donated-colby-college-museum-art

As a result of a random telephone call to David Freidenreich, Colby’s Maine Jewish History Project, http://web.colby.edu/dfreiden/ I was given a tour of the sculpture classroom, 6 weeks as an artist in residence, a set of keys, a studio space and instructions for the staff room coffee maker (Only hazelnut goes in the green rimmed carafe).

Collaborating on anything is difficult for most of us. (Try coordinating window washing with a stranger for proof of my premise.) Over the past year, Bradley Borthwick, Assistant Professor of Art and I have had an ongoing dialogue about expectations for an artist in residence in the Sculpture Department. http://bradleyborthwick.com

When I learned that the 2015 theme for the Colby Arts and Humanities Department was Migrations, I proposed the following:

Create teams composed of a Jewish Studies student and a Sculpture 3 student. They would collaborate on the design and production of Artist Books to be shown at the Maine Jewish Museum as part of the Welcoming the Stranger exhibit.

The Jewish Studies students would conduct research on a variety of topics related to the history of Jewish migration to Maine. The Art students would learn book arts techniques and create Artist Books based on their partner’s research.

There were 6 males and 1 female in the Artist Book class.

There were 6 females and 1 male in the Jewish Studies class.

“Speed Dating” seemed the most efficacious approach to pairing up. (Interestingly, speed dating was a modern day Jewish approach to replace the matchmaker of old. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/29/magazine/who-made-speed-dating.html?_r=0

Every 2 minutes, the students shared the answers to these questions with a different potential partner:

Who is your favorite artist?IMG_1907

What is your work style (early bird vs procrastinator?)

What are your skills as a team member ?

What are your deficits as a team member ?

**Coincidentally, everyone was paired with their first choice.

Six weeks later, their books and papers are close to completion and we were preparing for the Migrations Conference. IMG_2262_2http://web.colby.edu/mainemigrations/

Learn – ING

As part of my Artist Residency, I attended the Jewish Studies seminar facilitated by David Friedenreich. I learned a great deal about the history and lives of the earliest Jews in Maine. His students researched the following topics:

  • The first Jewish community in Maine (Bangor, 1849-1856)
  • 19th-century German-Jewish peddlers and merchants
  • Why Maine attracted Eastern European Jews in the early 20th century, and how it shaped their Jewishness
  • Anti Semitic discrimination against Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century
  • The children of Holocaust survivors raised in Maine

More importantly, I learned that my own struggle – to define myself as either a Mainer first or as a Jew first – has been a struggle for other Maine Jews. I wonder still whether it was the cultural, ancestral or religious aspects of my upbringing that define me as Jewish.

This struggle of “definition” continues for the most recent immigrants to Maine. They are currently referred to as: “New Mainers.” They also struggle to maintain their heritage, their religion and their ancestry while integrating into a new culture.

At the Colby Migrations Conference, one woman told this story:

She immigrated from Somalia almost 10 years ago. Her children were born here. Yet, she wanted to be sure they had a sense of their heritage and culture. So they attended the annual Somali Day parade.

Everyone had small Somali flags to wave.

While they were waiting along the parade route, her youngest child looked up at her and asked:

Where is my flag?

She answered: Here it is. And gave her a miniature flag.

A few moments later, Her daughter asks again:

But, where is MY flag?

She explained the meaning of the design of the Somali flag thinking her daughter did not understand.

Again, her daughter states more insistently:

I want MY flag.

And pointed to the U.S. flag being carried in the parade.

And at that moment, she realized …

that the American flag was her daughter’s flag;

that America was her daughter’s country; and

Maine was now the place called home – for both of them.

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Threads

Help to create Abraham’s Tent: Be sure to read the Call for Handspun at the end of this blog entry. Please share the Call with friends, on Facebook, Twitter.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” Goethe (MAYBE) http://www.goethesociety.org/pages/quotescom.html

Let’s do it. –

Home Depot

Strand 1: Welcoming the Stranger

WILSON?

         – No

I repeat for the third time:   I-S-R-A-E-L-S-O-N

ISSALSON?

 – No. (Again with more vehemence and enunciation.

 I

S as in Sam

R

A before the E

E

L

S as in Stranger

O

N

Much of my life I have had to spell my name whenever I am ordering something or making an appointment. (Sometimes both first and last.)

In the 1960’s at Portland High School, names called out during attendance check were Irish and Italian, northern European with a smattering of Greek. Eastern European names frequently belonged to students of Jewish descent.

Today, students come from 41 countries and speak 26 languages. (I attended a graduation a few years ago. The principal should have received a special cophsmmendation for pronouncing all of the 300 + graduates’ names correctly.)

Strand 2: #Je Suis …

As part of the lead up to the Welcoming the Stranger exhibit, I wanted to blog about the history of Maine immigration. I wanted to compare the efforts of current day organizations serving asylum seekers, refugees, and immigrants coming to Portland, Maine with those efforts of the Portland Council of Jewish Women from the 1920’s.

Then there was Charlie Hebdo. Then other executions. Then mass kidnappings. Then other hash tags. Everyday, the news heralded more examples of ever increasing xenophobia around the world. Everyday, there were calls for revenge. I question what the impact of artwork would be in comparison to the horrors of the news.

Laura Blumenfeld’s father was shot in Jerusalem in 1986 by a member of a rebel faction of the PLO that was responsible for attacks on several tourists. Her father survived, but Blumenfeld’s ‘desire for revenge’ haunted her. Blumenthal book: Revenge a Story of Hope http://www.amazon.com/Revenge-Story-Hope-Laura-Blumenfeld/dp/0743463390

In her book, she travels the world learning about revenge in different cultures – and the dynamics of hate. I always return to her premise: that the willingness to listen to the other side helps to discover a third way [to resolve differences]- a choice beyond ‘turn the other cheek” or “an eye for an eye.”

In 1993, Seeds of Peace began as an idea of the American journalist John Wallach. At a state dinner with politicians from Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinian Authority, Wallach toasted them, then inspired them to pledge to bring 15 youngsters from each of their respective countries to a new camp he was founding in Maine. These 48, including 3 Americans, ranging in age from 13 to 18, comprised the first session of the Seeds of Peace International Camp. Over the past 20 years, the program expanded to include campers from other countries in conflict.

I attended the premiere of the Seeds of Peace documentary film. I was deeply touched by the willingness of these young people to share their personal experiences and to examine their misconceptions of each other’s cultures. They learned to listen. Wallach believed that these ‘seeds’ are the future leaders of their countries and will resolve conflict in peaceful ways. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IzqD2l2nVs

Strand 3: Year of the Sheep

2015 is the Year of the Sheep according to Chinese zodiac.

For me, it is also the year of the sheep – more specifically wool.

Welcoming the Stranger: Building Understanding through Community Based Art will be an exploration of the stories of two distinct immigrant groups: the Jews of a century ago and immigrants and asylum seekers of today. As part of the exhibit, I am creating a large weaving – a kind of Abraham’s Tent.*

After researching ancient tents generally and Bedouin tent design specifically, it became obvious that I needed to learn to weave. Mary Klotz is my go-to person for fiber-related artwork (actually anything related to making stuff.) She is owner of Forestheart Studio and an artist in her own right. http://www.forestheart.com/

Ten years ago, the sounds of her loom were the soundtrack to my film: Warp and Weft. https://vimeo.com/34484173

HeddleCrossed weaving

After my day–long weaving immersion and 3 hours of warping, here are my new vocabulary words: warping mill-umbrella-lease sticks-swords-shuttles-heddle-reed hooks-pick per inchFH Warped

FH Umbrella

 

I can’t speak weaving quite yet, but at least I know more of what I am getting into – physically, fiscally and spiritually. And what I still need to learn. And how much help I will need.

Maine has a large number of fiber artists and spinners and weavers. Even my Kayak Guide’s mom is a weaver. (Seriously…YUP it’s true. Hard to believe, huh?)

So….it’s another road trip to Maine. In the winter.

Strand 4: Warp

Kraemer Yarns, Nazareth, PA is located in a large brick structure that echoes the closed mills of Biddeford, Maine. K bldg

Kraemers is still manufacturing yarn instead of converting the space into loft apartments or offices. http://www.kraemeryarns.com 

ASIDE:

In the early 1900’s, Muslim dye workers were brought from Albania to Biddeford, Maine to the textile mills. It is believed that the first U.S. mosque was created within the walls of Pepperell Mill.

At its heyday, Kraemer employed 2000 people. Now there are around 50 employees. Dave Schmidt jr. meets and greets. He is 5th generation Kraemer and so loves his work that his family left him behind as they headed for a Disney vacation. (He will eventually join them.)

Kraemer’s is now a kind of artisanal yarn factory. It specializes in custom blended – U.S. only – wool. Their wool was used in the XXll U.S. Olympic team uniform.K Olympic

My 30-minute tour extended to 2 hours. (Did I say that Dave LOVES his job.)

We walk a kind of ‘process labyrinth.’

There are rooms filled with raw wool and rooms with cones of yarn.k cones

 

 

K woolIn    between, the work happens. Some rooms house leviathan-sized machines. (I am not sure where the spare parts come from but they do the repairs themselves.) The noise is deafening.k machines

 

He asked me questions about the yarn for the project that I could not answer – what size, gauge, ply, origin and type of wool? (If I had enough friends with sheep, Kraemer’s could spin their wool into warp.)

Strand 5: Weft

I learned of Peace Fleece http://www.peacefleece.com in a conversation with Mary Walker, a Navajo rug restoration person in Arizona. http://weavinginbeauty.com

The Peace Fleece offices are in an old barn on a sheep farm in the small, rural town of Porter in the foothills of southwestern Maine.

PF House

PL barnPF horsesPeter Hagerty and Mary Tracy operate their farm using 19c equipment, VERY large horses, and produce Peace Fleece yarn. After many twists and turns along a somewhat plowed road, I arrive at their door.

Peter and Marty started buying wool from the Soviet Union back in 1985 in ‘ hopes that through trade they could help diffuse the threat of nuclear war. Since then, Peter has journeyed through eastern Europe, central Asia and the Middle East in search of farmers and shepherds who are willing to set aside historic enmities in exchange for opportunities leading to mutual understanding and economic interdependence.’

ASIDE:

In 1926, Eldar Markson (Jennie’s husband) to support Jewish Polish weavers, established a cooperative in which their products would be sold in the U.S.

The final design of Abraham’s Tent and its emphasis on community involvement evolved as a result of my ‘kitchen table’ conversations with Peter and Marty. They have invited me to speak about the Welcoming the Stranger project at their Spring Retreat. (They assure me that the road will be plowed.)

Strand 6: Twist

Finding volunteers is a necessity of community-based art. Although I have written more than 20 grants, WTS has (to date) received no funding.

Located in Topsham, Maine, Maine Fiberarts  www.mainefiberarts.org is a statewide arts nonprofit formed to support Maine fiber. Christine Macchi, Director, graciously hosted a meet and greet for me at their Center/Gallery. (I brought donuts from Frosty’s Donuts where I met ANOTHER person who loves their job. )

Frosty'sWhen it became painfully obvious to all that I did not speak weaving, three weavers volunteered to create samples using a variety of yarns for the weft and warps, various weaving techniques and to create various “hands.” (They definitely speak weaving.)

They are my first volunteers: http://bangordailynews.com/pressrelease/topsham-fiber-arts-center-will-focus-on-weaving/

Susan Perrine  www.susanperrine.com/

Sybil Shiland

Emi Ito

ASIDE:

A Greater Portland Landmark member bought one of Emi’s scarves after the City Council voted and passed historic districting for House Island.

Strand 7: Yarn

We have estimated that I will need 30,000 pieces of yarn (GASP!), each piece 42” in length, to create Abraham’s Tent. My neighbor and grant writer is a self-professed “knitting geek.” www.galaidacreative.com. She believes that we can “crowd source” on Ravelry to obtain the yarn.

Ravelry.com www.ravelry.com/about is an “on-line place for knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration. The content here is all user-driven; we as a community make the site what it is.” (It is rumored there are 5,000,000 members.)

There are blogs and podcasts and forums and groups. I am to be interviewed by AbbyKnitz on the west coast http://cogknitivepodcast.blogspot.com/ and Kathy and Steve Elkins, owners of WEBS – on Ready, Set, Knit – on the east coast. http://blog.yarn.com/category/ready-set-knit-podcast/.

So the Call for Handspun** has begun. Our first 4 donations arrived. Only 29,996 pieces to go. Sam2

Strand 8: Weaving Hope

How do we weave together hope and reality?

Still reeling from the reports of Charlie Hebdo, I went to talk with S____ from whom I have been learning about Islam in an ad hoc classroom known as the lobby of a building.

I asked:

It is all so terrible. It is all so frightening. What can we do? Is there any hope?

He answered:

We are safe in this lobby.  At this moment, we are safe. We talk with each other. We learn from each other. We respect each other. At this moment, we are safe.

I respond:

– Inshallah.

 

** Become part of Abraham’s tent—

Hebrews 13:2

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Abraham’s Tent will be installed on the ceiling of the entrance hallway of the Maine Jewish Museum. The tent-like form will be composed of 3 woven panels – each 50’ x 4’. The middle panel will be created by members of the community. The loom will be set up in various locations around Portland throughout the spring and summer. Members of the community will be encouraged to weave on the loom. Other panels will be created by members of the local weaving community.

I am seeking donations of hand spun yarn – any gauge, any color, something meaningful to you. Non-traditional fiber materials will be accepted. Your yarn and a tag with your family’s country of origin will be “woven” into the panels of  “Abraham’s Tent.”

When: February 14 – April 30, 2015

What: Yarn – 42” lengths of hand spun yarn – any gauge, any color, non traditional materials accepted. Other yarn also accepted but prefer wool.

Please include your name, email address and your family’s country of origin. $1.00 bill or check made to Welcoming the Stranger Fund a 501 (c)(3). Funds will used to defray costs of processing yarn and name tags. Mail to:

Welcoming the Stranger Art

PO Box 10419

Portland Maine 04104

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe…Maybe Not. Part 1.

HOLD THE DATE:

Welcoming the Stranger: hachnasat orchim

                  Maine Jewish Museum, 267 Congress St.

Portland Maine 04101

September 3 – October 25, 2015

( daily 10 am – 2 pm; closed Saturdays)

http://mainejewishmuseum.org/

HANDS:

I am staring at my hands as I type. It is 14 degrees outside (up from 10). Due to icy roads, closed schools and general winter malaise…I have been sequestered for what seems to be weeks – but it has only been 4 days.

The disadvantage of being at home during the day is the visibility of the dust bunnies under furniture, cracked plaster in the hallway, dirty fingerprints on switch plates and the ever increasing list of to do’s that grows from these observations.

I am staring at my hands as I type. With their broken nails, flaky skin, visible veins and ‘age’ spots- they look more like my grandmother’s hands than mine.

When carving stone in Italy, at the end of the day, artigiani apply olive oil to their dry skin.

Growing up in Maine, the ubiquitous tin of bag balm sat on the sill behind the kitchen sink.bag balm-lg

Aside:

Originally used on cow udders, Admiral Byrd took a tin with him to the North Pole. http://www.bagbalm.com/our-history.htm

The smell of Nivea Crème reminds me of my mother squeezing out a small amount on the top of one hand and rubbing it in and reversing the process for the other hand.

Wrinkles are also more obvious during the day.

I sit across from my 21 year old Research Assistant.* I am struck by the smoothness of the skin on her hands. I am somewhat nostalgic for the beauty that is youth – but at 21, I was too busy working two jobs and going to school full time to appreciate it. I often wish for a ‘do-over’ – to be able to pay more attention the 2nd time around.

In the 1986 Movie – Peggy Sue Got Married – Kathleen Turner faints while at her high school reunion and travels back in time. We spend the movie wondering if she will make the same decisions that led to her current state of despair.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091738/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_43

Aside:

I was in line at Whole Foods at Thanksgiving and heard a gravelly voice so distinctive – I knew it belonged to Kathleen Turner. I looked up from my magazine and there she was – placing her groceries on the conveyor belt. I apologized for bothering her but wanted to say how much I admired her work. We talked recipes for the holiday (she was cooking) and the health advantages of the Paleo diet (she has rheumatoid arthritis.) She then paid, bid farewell and carried her own bags out the door…

2015 is the year that Marty and the Professor journeyed to in the movie Back to the Future.My exhibit is scheduled for September and October of 2015.

Although we never tire of that desire to start over, to go back to right a wrong, to take another path, to change the outcomes of our choices,

the only way to travel back in time is through research: newspaper articles, documents, meeting notes, publications, letters, obituaries, ephemera and interviews.

Eyes:

I need new glasses. I haven’t been able to thread needles for quite a while. Whenever I visited my grandmother, she would ask me to thread her needles. It didn’t make sense to a 10 year old. It does now.

I can barely make out the words on some of the PCJW documents I have been sorting.  NCJW papers

A typewritten document has emerged with a handwritten note on its cover:

         “Only copy – do not lose.”

Written in 1955 by Selma Black, A Cavalcade: Thirty Five Years of Council in Portland “ is a summary of the history and work of the Portland National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1920 – 1955.

In the Book One Summer In America – 1927, Bill Bryson highlights the events – natural and human – that took place that year including Babe Ruth’s achievements, the Sacco and Vanzetti trial, the great Mississippi River Flood, Charles Lindberg’s Atlantic crossing.  1927 is considered to be the most extraordinary summer in American history – one that changed forever how America was viewed by the world. http://www.amazon.com/One-Summer-America-Bill-Bryson/dp/0767919416/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1421076991&sr=1-1&keywords=bill+bryson+1927

LindbergAside:

Lindbergh, while on his post Atlantic flight publicity tour, landed on the beach in Old Orchard, Maine. The Scarborough Airfield was fogged in. He may have flown over House Island as he approached the area.

Black took a similar approach – dividing the work of the PCJW according to who was the president of the organization at the time.

1922-24 Mrs. Jacob (Anna) Sapiro President

Thirty five years ago. The first World War had ended,,,the country was launched on its biggest era of prosperity. Prohibition was here… presumably to stay. Women had at last won the right to vote.… Bathtub gin and the first WCTU meeting: the promise of peace and the prospect of marvelous things to come…radio, air travel, and equal rights for women… This was the climate of Portland when a small group of civic minded and far seeing women felt the need for united action in the local Jewish community…Providing kosher food was nothing new to them, and now a group began to furnish food for immigrants arriving at House Island. The immigration committee had a busy schedule, meeting the immigrants, preventing some of them from being deported, outfitting them and sending them on to their final destination.

I have less than 9 months before the opening of Welcoming the Stranger. It will be an installation and community-based artwork that grows from my research about the House Island Quarantine and Immigration station, the role of the Portland Council of Jewish Women (PCJW) and immigration of the 1920’s reflected in the immigration issues of today.

I am determined to create a family tree for each of the women with the goal of locating living relatives. My assistant signs up for Ancestry.com and begins the journey into the past.

After many hours sitting at the computer scrolling through census records, marriage and birth certificates, obituaries, tax records, city directories, we locate Anna Sapiro’s obituary:

Abby

Obit: Portland Press Herald, March 14, 1968

Mrs Anna Dorothy Meyerson Sapiro, 82, wife of Jacob Sapiro of 59 Codman St. died Wednesday…

…resided at the Jewish Home for the Aged…

…Mrs. Sapiro was a member of Temple Beth El, a charter member of the Portland Council of Jewish Women….

Besides her husband, she is survived by a daughter, Mrs. Maurice J. Rubinoff, Portland, three sons: Dr. Howard M. Sapiro, Portland; Lester E. Sapiro, Portland and Dr. Sumner M. Sapiro, Brockton, Mass. and nine grandchildren.

There are still Rubinoffs living in Portland. One of them is living in the family home.

And I send a letter.

No response.

And I send an email.

No response.

Holidays come and go. Planning and Zoning unanimously supports historic districting for House Island.

Kenneth Thompston, the expert on harbor fortifications, testified at the House Island hearing. Because he had been instrumental in the effort, I wanted to send a hand written note.

I asked for his address.

         His home was in the Deering High School (rival high school) neighborhood.

How long have you lived there?

Since he was a child.

Did you know the Rubinoffs ?

They hung out when they were kids!

And yes, he would be willing to knock on his door and tell him I have been trying to contact him.

He did.

So it’s time to find my parka, boots, mittens and scarf and head to Maine….Maybe it will be warm. Maybe not.

Maybe…Maybe Not. Part 2

Projection:

The tendency to ascribe to another person feelings, thoughts, or attitudes present in oneself, or to regard external reality as embodying such feelings, thoughts, etc., in some way.

Projection:

The act of visualizing and regarding an idea or the like as an objective reality.

Projection:

The casting of the powder of philosophers’ stone upon metal in fusion, to transmute it into gold or silver.

Head:Jennie Markson obit

When I first saw Jennie Markson’s obituary photo, I projected an entire personality based on one grainy microfiche image.

I assumed that she was a good mother. That she was a leader in the community – supporting a wide range of issues. I assumed she was passionate yet humble. Driven but inclusive.

Based on her list of accomplishments (cut short by an early death from pneumonia at age 46) I wondered if we would have been friends.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Even after meeting with members of her family, there was no way to verify what she was really like or how she felt about what she had achieved in her life. I am only left with my projections.

There is a photograph of my grandmother in which she appears as a well made-up older woman with tight curls and a string of pearls – an archetypal image of a grandmother. She was anything but.

Widowed at an early age, she was left with 2 small children. Although encouraged to give up her children to increase her chances of re-marriage, she chose instead to find work. According to the family story, she was the first woman hired at the Social Security Administration in Maine.

She never made cookies. She didn’t pass on any recipes. She wasn’t a great cook – except for tomato rice soup – that I never have been able to duplicate – (probably because I have never ascertained what flanken is.) She worked into her early 80’s. Following a stroke in 1968, she resided at the Jewish Home for the Aged. lunchroom

Anna Sapiro also lived at the Jewish Home for the Aged before she passed away in 1968. (She was instrumental in creating the Home. http://www.jta.org/1928/09/23/archive/campaign-in-maine-for-home-for-aged) My grandmother may have passed Anna Sapiro in the hallway or sat with her in the dining room….they might have traded stories of grandchildren or early life exploits …

Maybe. Maybe not.

Between the lunch crowd and the dinner rush, I sit with Dan Rubinoff at his Back Cove Deli in Portland, Maine. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Back-Cove-BBQ-Pizzeria/225128054168382

Anna Sapiro was his grandmother. She and her husband owned the Portland Candy Company. (A cousin I interviewed remembers barrels of penny candy from which she ‘sampled.’)

Their candy store was located on Plum Street. In 1972, not only was the block demolished to make way for Canal Square, but Plum Street became a ‘ghost street.’ http://strangemaine.blogspot.com/2008/02/city-has-ghost-streets-part-2-plum.html

Dan’s reminisces about going to his grandmother’s home after school and sampling one of the myriad of baked goods she had made that day. (Maybe this is what led Dan to be in the deli business. That thought, of course, is a projection on my part.)

His brother Stephen wrote:

…She once admonished: “remember to give what you can to those in need. Manage well but worry not about your personal affairs. The bills and taxes will be with you always. What matters most is what you do for others – the quality of what you do (for the community) with what you have.”

…She also made the best molasses cookies, pies, lokshon and potato kugels- to say nothing of her fish chowder and baked haddock. (He did NOT open a deli. So much for projections.)

Aside:

Simon Rubinoff, the police officer who interpreted for Bela Gross after being rescued from jumping into Casco Bay, was possibly the first Jewish police officer in Portland and their uncle.

Feet:

I walk to reduce stress – but in winter, in lieu of walking, I get a pedicure in order to avail myself of their massage chair. (I go to Princess Nails – a Vietnamese family owns and operates it. They ask about Mom and I ask about their children.) http://www.princessnailsalon.com

pedichairs_313x236I walk to the shop via the Bayside Trail. http://trails.org/our-trails/bayside-trail/ Past the Whole Foods, Planet Dog and other recently opened stores that are part of the ongoing gentrification of Portland is a large fenced area that encompasses an entire city block.

I make my way past the entrance. Outside of the gate are groups of men – some carrying metal objects, some waiting to drive their trucks laden with scrap into the yard.- A sign on the front door reads:

E. PERRY IRON & METAL CO., INC.

EST. 1896.

Lena Perry was credited with setting up the kosher kitchen on House Island. Lena Perry’s husband, Eli, was a junk and scrap metal dealer.

Eli Perry 4Perry junk

As I entered the office, I was greeted by two young men.

I was sure they were descendants of the “Perrys.” After all, the sign did say ‘since 1896.’

Eli Perry was the original owner of the scrap metal business. Working alongside him was Louis Lerman – who purchased the business in 1926. The Lerman family continues the tradition. http://eperry.net

ASIDE: A childhood friend whose family lived directly across the street married into the Lerman family– and the 2 helpful young men in the office are her 2 sons. So much for that projection.

After Perry sold the business, he and Lena moved to Bethelem, N.H. and purchased a hotel. Bethlehem, known as the “ Star of the White Mountains,” was a summer destination for Jewish families beginning around 1916.

… a few Jewish families became summer visitors seeking relief from their hay fever symptoms. As a matter of fact, the National Hay Fever Relief Association was founded in Bethlehem a few years later. By the mid-1920s, the Jewish community grew significantly, helping to keep hotel rooms full. Although in much fewer numbers, Chassidic Jews can still be seen today, traditionally dressed, taking a summer stroll on Main Street. http://bethlehemwhitemtns.com/history.php

Aside: The synagogue that the Perry’s attended is closed for the winter. However, proof of their residence was provided to me from the President of the synagogue.

Perry plaque

Before relocating, Lena was listed in the 1923-5 Portland Directory as the proprietor of the Peaks Island House – a hotel-boarding house located on Peaks Island when it was still known as the Coney Island of Maine.Peaks_Island,_Maine,_Boardwalk,_postcard

Since the start of the House Island research, I have wondered how the PCJW women had the knowledge of transporting food on ships, traveling between House Island and Portland…and the vagaries of tides and wind…

Lena’s experiences on Peaks Island could have been the key to the entire endeavor.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Heart:

I possess very little memorabilia from my own life. When I moved my mom into assisted living a year ago, I retrieved my yearbooks and a few photos. I added them to my Decade Boxes. Each box is the size of a scrap book – filled with some ephemera, special cards, mementos, articles, some videos. Most everything relates to my accomplishments, my art, and my close relationships.

my boxes

Four of the 7 original women were alive when Selma Black wrote the history of the PCJW from 1920 – 1955. They were probably middle aged by that time. Maybe even grandmothers. Although the interviews of their grandchildren provided memories of recipes, anecdotes from their own childhood and a few family stories, there was no sense of the complete person – what they were like before marriage, before children – what drove them to help others – what beliefs did they possess that compelled them to ‘welcome the stranger.’

A Jungian view of projection is that we place on others that which we don’t see in ourselves – both good and bad characteristics.

My projections of the women – caring, compassionate, innovative, organized – are probably based on own desire to be seen as I see them.

And I wonder …when someone examines the contents of my Decade Boxes…what conclusions will they make about me?

Epilogue:

I sorted and organized 6 additional boxes of PCJW papers. The documents represent data – moments frozen in time – edited down to salient points, agreements and understandings. But, once again, the 1920 meeting notes establishing the House Island kosher kitchen and immigrant assistance programs were not there.

I am hoping that the papers will be archived at the University of Southern Maine (USM) Judaica Collection so others who may be interested in writing this history will have a place to start.

I am putting my search to rest. It is time to make Art.

Maybe.

And…there is still the unsolved mystery of what happened to Bela Gross…

Well. Maybe not.

House Island Update:

Following the November 25 hearing, Planning and Zoning recommended House Island for historic district designation.

On January 5, 2015 (6 months to the day of the stop work order), the vote was unanimous and the 3 remaining structures of the Immigration and Quarantine Station will be protected. Future development can only take place with approval from the Historic Preservation and Zoning divisions of the city. Thanks to everyone who supported theses efforts.

http://www.pressherald.com/?s=House+Island++city+council+meeting

*

* When I realized I wanted to find out more about the seven women who founded the Portland Council of Jewish Women, the fates delivered me a student majoring in Arabic studies, minoring in art, and a passion for genealogy research.

Going Back to Go Forward

November 1 is the Day of the Dead.

….Día de los Muertos helps us acknowledge and internalize that we will all die, so that we may live our lives with more awareness and meaning.

Día de los Muertos expresses the beauty and mystery of life and death. For many, it is a time of partying and celebration; for others, it is a time of introspection. At its most potent, it is a balanced blend of the two.http://www.celebrate-day-of-the-dead.com/

This year, several friends in Arizona donned costumes, painted their faces, and joined the parade to honor the dead.

dod cousins 2Years ago, while on the High Road to Taos Artist Tour, http://highroadnewmexico.com/about-tour  I bought a small Dia de los Muertos skeleton made of a clothes pin and felt.

 

IMG_1671The artist had started an organization to provide art classes to underprivileged children. The sale of the skeletons supported her community-based art.

http://www.centerfornonprofitexcellence.org/nonprofit-directory/art-heart

 

Going Back – Community-Based Art

“Community-engaged” or “community-based art,” refers to artistic activity based in a community setting. Works from this genre can be of any media and is characterized by interaction or dialogue with the community. Often professional artists collaborate with people who may not otherwise normally actively engage in the arts. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_arts

I came late to art. I visited my first museum in college. My introduction to art mirrored the feminist movement of the 1970’s. Artwork at that time sought to validate women’s imagery and highlight the lack of recognition of women artists. I read about the Women’s House and the Dinner Party. I attended an opening of The Birth Project and sat in the audience as the Guerilla Girls “banana-ed” MOMA and other museums. http://www.judychicago.com/gallery.php?name=The+Dinner+Party+Gallery.

Guerilla girlsMy introduction to community-based art was through Suzanne Lacy. Her piece In Mourning and in Rage called into question the efforts of the police to solve the case of the Hillside Strangler and gave ‘voice’ to the victims. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idK02tPdYV0

In Lacy’s Crystal Quilt (1987) …

…The performance featured 430 Minnesota women over the age of 60 seated at tables on an 82-square-foot rug designed by painter Miriam Shapiro to resemble a quilt. …An accompanying soundtrack mixed the voices of 75 women talking about aging. A loon cry or thunderclap rang through the space in ten minute intervals, signaling the women to change the position of their hands on the table, thus changing the design of the quilt. http://www.suzannelacy.com/the-crystal-quilt/

Community-based art seemed a possible answer to the loneliness of making art while at the same time, making art meaningful to the community.

Recently, I opened an email from a friend I had not seen for years:

I was cleaning out a closet and found a small jar filled with ashes along with a letter …..The label read: Samhain. 1987. Signed by you.

Jen pixIt has been 27 years since I created my first community-based artwork: Samhain.

Some people believe that the veil between the living world and the hereafter is thinnest on Halloween Eve making ‘passing’ easier for the dying. Samhain, celebrated on November 1, is considered to be a Gaelic celebration following the end of harvest. The day was seen as a liminal time, when the spirits could more easily come into our world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality

My dad died early in the morning of November 1, 1987.

To commemorate his passing, I invited others to attend a Samhain-like ceremony ‘to burn away the hurt and pain of the past.’

I set fire to the sculpture I had created during the 9 months my dad was dying. Attendees added pieces of paper – photographs – small objects to the flames. We stood in silence watching as the flames died and the ashes cooled. Each person then took a vial of ashes home.

I have no photos – just charcoal from the burning…and the memory of that shared experience with friends, artists, and members of the community.

IMG_1678Other community-based work evolved. On my long flight back from visiting the Neolithic goddess temples of Malta, I began the planning for what became a year-long project: Seeds of Change – community based art to feed the hungry.

Food for Thought: Food for the Hungry highlighted issues of rural hunger through a series of pancake breakfasts and “test your knowledge” placemats examining the misconceptions about poverty, hunger, food insecurity, food stamps, etc. The pancakes were made from buckwheat flour grown and milled locally.

As part of the focus on hunger, I conducted an “archeological dig” and created a “museum exhibit” filled with “ancient” sculptures that reflected the beliefs of the Neolithic goddess culture to care for the earth and its inhabitants.

Going Back – Site-Specific Art

 

It has been 30 years since I bought my first “real” artwork. I paid for it in installments. It was a 3-dimensional work depicting an easel, a brick wall and an arched window created by Guenther Riess. http://www.nytimes.com/1986/09/07/nyregion/westchester-journal-art-and-construction.html.

 

025 Reiss 2It has been 20 years since I moved to the Firehouse. When I walked into the building, it became clear that this would be my home.025 Studio 2 Site-specific art is artwork created to exist in a specific locale and integrated in its surroundings.

I jokingly refer to my Firehouse Studio as my largest site-specific work to date.

 

Invisible Legacy (1998)

Invisible Legacy was an installation of 1930’s furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women in my family I never knew. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but those of others like them. Each diagnosed with a mental illness;

Each institutionalized for all or part of their life; Each leaving only an invisible legacy in the form of untold stories, unactualized lives and unrealized dreams.Israelson_jo_01 IL

 

Palimpsest Series (2000 – 2003)

When the ink on vellum was scraped off in order to reuse the vellum, traces of the old lettering bled through. This was called Palimpsest.

From 2000-2003 I created a series of work in which underlying histories – public and private – at one time ‘erased” – would be brought to the surface.

 

Palimpsest: Oella Mill (2000) examined the history of the Maryland cotton and wool industries through mill worker oral histories. I used raw wool, chalkboards and drawings to describe their lives as millworkers and the impact on the local environment. I examined the politics of the cotton and wool industries from sail making to war uniform production.Oella

I also learned a great deal about the life cycle of moths when I received a substantial invoice for their extermination.

 

 

Palimpsest: Wocus (2003)

Crater Lake National Park (Oregon) is one a magical place. The lake appears as a deep blue mirror that reflects passing clouds. Crater Lake filled a volcanic depression (a caldera) that formed when the Mount Mazama volcano erupted approximately 7,700 years ago. http://www.nps.gov/crla/index.htm.

 

At one time, the land and the lake belonged to the Klamath tribe. But ranchers were allowed to drain local wetlands to provide land for grazing cattle. And the habitat for the wocus plant – the main stay of the tribe – disappeared. The U.S. government then “terminated’ the tribe.02Palimpsest3

 

During a residency at the lake, I researched the history of the termination of the Klamath tribe, interviewed members of the Klamath tribe, gathered tule grass to weave, and created a work that depicts both “versions” of the history of the land and its peoples.

 

israelson_jo_04_Palimpsest

Going Forward –

Welcoming the Stranger 2015 Exhibit Maine Jewish Museum

My artwork often focuses on a little known moment in history that reflects larger issues within a contemporary context, The Maine Jewish Museum has accepted my request to create a site-specific community based work for a September 2015 exhibit entitled: “Welcoming the Stranger.” – hachnasat orchim.

I want to weave the names of those once detained on House Island into the fabric of our history.

I want to mesh the stories of 1920’s immigrants to Maine with those arriving today.

I want to document Bela Gross’ quest to be an American citizen and compare it to the quest of current asylum seekers.

I want to learn more about each of the National Council of Jewish Women members who helped early immigrants integrate into the City of Portland.

I want to honor those who “Welcomed the Stranger” almost 100 years ago in hopes of encouraging us to do the same today.

HOUSE ISLAND IMMIGRATION AND QUARANTINE STATION UPDATE:  

quarantine-2

Planning Board Public Hearing, November 25, 7:30 pm. The City Of Portland Planning Board will hold a public hearing regarding the request for historic district designation of House Island. If you cannot attend, please send comments to Deb Andrews: dga@portlandmaine.gov.

Sacred Spaces – Part 2

It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present, over a mutual concern for the future.

William J. Murtagh, First Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

It has been 100+ years since the first immigrants stepped onto House Island to be processed at the House Island Immigration and Quarantine Station

The original correspondence between the U.S government officials, local businesses, politicians, architects, contractors are retained between planks of cedar, tied with a red ribbon and wedged into a box at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. I untie the ribbon and carefully unfold the documents – some written in the calligraphy of the time. Later letters were typed on onion skin paper.

Although the local Portland businessmen and politicians at the time supported the government request to build the Quarantine and Immigration Station, they petitioned that the building not be on any of the populated islands of Casco Bay so as not to impact the budding tourism industry.

Archive 3 Archive1 Archive2

Many of the immigrants that passed through House Island were bound for New York and Boston. They came for a better life – to escape oppression or persecution, to find religious freedom, to seek economic prosperity. They came hoping for a new life in a new land.

They left family and friends and a familiar way of life.

They traveled in steerage for up to 18 days.

They arrived not knowing where they would sleep that night or where they would obtain a meal.

Those that ‘passed inspection’ by the Inspectors and Doctors on House Island were taken to Portland, placed on trains at the Grand Trunk Station and sent on to their intended destination.

300px-Grand_Trunk_Railroad_Station,_Portland,_ME

Those detained wondered if they would eventually be allowed to stay or be returned.

The 1924 Quota Act that would restrict the number of Eastern Europeans coming into the U.S. loomed. Steamship companies, predicting the future loss of business, increased the number of ships leaving Europe. https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2014/07/22/you-should-have-been-here-yesterday-part-1/

Uss George WashWhen 23-year-old Bela Gross left France in 1923 aboard the U.S.S. George Washington, he had a passport, money, a career as a linotype operator and dreams of a better life. He left behind his heritage and his history. He was hoping to locate surviving relatives to replace those he lost in the White Terror events in Hungary. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Terror_(Hungary) 

quarantine-2

In November of 1923, 218 immigrants were detained on House Island. Coincidentally, it was the same time as the National Council of Jewish Women of Portland established the kosher kitchen at the Quarantine Station. https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/no-coincidence-no-story-part-2/

Bela Gross was one of those immigrants.

The Custom House Inspector determined – incorrectly – that the Russian quota had already been met. Allowing Bela to enter the US would exceed the quota. He denied entry.

Rather than be returned to Europe, Bela Gross jumped into the dark waters of Casco Bay. Patrolman Thomas Conley followed him into the bay. Officer Conley was born in 1883, the son of Galway emigrants and lived on Munjoy Hill. (https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/no-coincidence-no-story-part-2/) His brother was the well-known boxer Bartley Connolly. One of my closest friends growing up was Michael Connolly. (Yes, a relative.)

Bela art

Friday, November 16, 1923: Boston Herald headline:

Is Rescued After Leap Into Harbor – Immigrant Feared He Would Be Unable to Enter U.S.

…After great difficulty, customs men rescued Gross with a line and he was taken to police headquarters.

He was a billiard hall keeper before becoming the first Jewish police officer in Portland in 1912. Patrolman Simon Rubinoff, a speaker of Russian, interviewed Gross and discovered that Gross,

orphaned at an early age, had wandered from Russia to France where he obtained a Russian passport and visa…(and) feeling quite alone in the world, he was attempting to come here to live with an uncle in Detroit.

Following the rescue, it was learned that Bela had lost his passport. At that moment, he became a man without a country. (Think Tom Hanks movie: The Terminal partially inspired by the 17-year-stay of Mehran Karimi Nasseri in the Charles de Gaulle International Airport, Terminal I, Paris, France from 1988 to 2006.)

Deported from Portland and not allowed to return to France or Germany, Bela was detained on the U.S.S. America for several months. His fate would be determined by the filing of a habeas corpus suit in the Federal Court of New York by his uncle in Detroit.

Docket image

For $20.00 you can obtain a copy of the Federal Court files from the National Archives in Kansas City. The case documents includes a transcript of his interview, the filing by his ‘relator’ Eugene Reinitz against the Commissioner of Immigration, legal arguments and the rending of the decision by Judge Winslow.

From those documents, I learned that Bela Gross was a Jewish Russian. I will never know if he ate in the kosher kitchen on House Island. I will never know if any of the National Council of Jewish Women of Portland offered him sustenance before he threw himself into the icy waters of Casco Bay rather than “…live a life with a lonely heart.”

The headline of the Boston Herald dated Thursday, February 14, 1924, read:

“Without Country” Admitted to U.S. — Court Finds Error in First Deportation of Gross

 There are 217 untold stories about those held on House Island in 1923 when Bela Gross made his decision to jump overboard.

There are other stories of those held at the Quarantine and Immigration Station between 1908 and 1937 when it was closed.

We may never hear them.

Fort Scammel

It has been 200+ years since Fort Scammell was erected to protect the entrance to Portland Harbor. President Jefferson, concerned with increasing British aggression, ordered the construction of the second system forts that included Fort Scammel, Fort Preble and Fort Sumner.

Fort_Scammel

The granite for Fort Scammel was quarried on Mount Waldo and brought by stone sloops to the island. Wharves on the west side of the island were constructed for the off-loading of the stones, as was a stone cutting shed. Stones were unloaded and moved using block and tackle.

GraniteNot only were the stones for Fort Scammel prepared on House Island, but also the stones for Fort Gorges and Fort Preble. Stones were moved from the cutting area to the east bastion by way of a short narrow gauge railroad.

….The British are not coming

In June of 1812 the United States declared war on England. Fort Scammel was garrisoned during the War of 1812 (1812-1814), but the fort’s guns only fired once in August of 1813 on a British Privateer in Whitehead Passage. A month later in September 1813 a British Flag of Truce party landed at the Fort to negotiate for the release of British prisoners from the HMS Boxer captured after a battle with the USS Enterprise off Pemaquid Point on 5 September 1813.

This year is the celebration of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the Star Spangled Banner http://www.starspangled200.com/

According to Portland fort historian Kenneth Thompson, the British originally planned to invade the U.S. through the Portland Harbor.

The presence of the 3 earth and gun battery militia forts proved formidable and the British decided to attack Baltimore instead.

Maryland played a pivotal role during the War of 1812, particularly during 1814 when the British captured and burned Washington, D.C. and then made their way toward Baltimore. The British planned to attack Baltimore by land at North Point and by sea at Fort McHenry, which stood in defense of the Baltimore Harbor. It was during the bombardment of Fort McHenry that Francis Scott Key, a Maryland-born attorney brought by truce ship to negotiate the release of an American prisoner, was inspired to write the words to what became the United States’ National Anthem.

In the 1860’s, Thomas Lincoln Casey was assigned to Maine to oversee construction of Fort Knox and Forts Gorges and the redesign of Fort Scammel and Fort Preble.

After the Civil War, he was assigned to oversee construction on the Washington Monument He served as the Chief of Engineers for the US Army Corps of Engineers 1888- 1895 and was the engineer for the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building (1890-1897).

In 1954 Hilda Cushing, whose family owned House Island until recently, wanted to see the fort preserved and was quoted as saying,

“You can’t have tomorrow without today.”

Some people will look at a slab of granite and see an unused block of stone.

But I see the marks made by the hands of men who quarried the stone and constructed granite wharves and forts.

Some people will look the remnants of the Quarantine and Immigration Station – the original detention center, the doctor’s residence and the hospital – and see land for development.

But I hear the voices of those who came to America hoping for a better life for themselves and their children.

Some people will look at a fort that fired only one shot in defense of Portland and not understand its role in protecting the entire bay.

But I know that the architecture has more significance and its long history is of greater value than the firing of canon.

It has been said that, at its best, preservation engages the past in a conversation with the present, over a mutual concern for the future.

William J. Murtagh, First Keeper of the National Register of Historic Places

If you wish to be a part of the conversation regarding the possible historic district designation of House Island and Fort Scammel, PLEASE attend the Historic Preservation Board Hearing at Portland City Hall, Wednesday, October 1, 7:30 pm.

This is the first step in a multi phase process.

If you are unable to attend, please send comments to Deb Andrews, dga@portlandmaine.gov.

**

House Island Analysis of Eligibility As a Local Historic District

Report prepared by tti-architects for Greater Portland Landmarks is available on line: http://me-portland.civicplus.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/894?fileID=3899

Sacred Spaces – Part 1

Sacred: highly valued and important; deserving great respect

What makes a place sacred?

 Loss of life?

I live near the site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War that took place July 1-3, 1863 in Gettysburg. In one single day, 57,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or captured.

http://www.nps.gov/gett/index.htm

Brady photo

I always have trepidation when visiting memorial sites…frequently I find them too big or too controlled or too orchestrated or too pedantic and the emotions too difficult to access. I want to honor those who died and somehow connect to the feelings of those mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, children who suffered their loss.

From our double-decker bus, we look across fields where 8000 soldiers were buried; 3000 horse carcasses burned; where the smell of blood and death and smoke permeated the land for weeks. We drive by the monuments erected to commemorate each regiment or battalion. (The difference escapes me. At this moment in time it hardly matters.)

There are 1,300 granite, marble and bronze monuments and markers throughout the 6,000 acres. The survivors erected many of the monuments. http://celebrategettysburg.com/civil-war-journal-18.html

imagesLincoln wrote in his Gettysburg address:

But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The battlefields envelop the town of Gettsyburg with its souvenir shops, fast food places, and points of interest – like the home of Jennie Wade wedged between a Holiday Inn and a gift shop. http://www.gettysburgdaily.com/mcclellan-house-jennie-wade-house-battle-damage/

 Jennie Wade – 20 year of age – was hit by a stray bullet that passed through her kitchen door as she was making bread. She had been baking for the hungry soldiers who appeared at her door daily.

McClellanHouse01210901_s

It is said that her mother baked 15 more loaves after seeing her daughter die.

It is said Jennie was the only civilian casualty of that battle.

Is that place where she fell, sacred?

What makes a space sacred?

Acts of social change?

Heifer International Headquarters are located in Little Rock, Arkansas. Little Rock is experiencing a downtown renewal and a focus on sustainability – and the future.

imagesHeifer headquarters received a platinum LEEDS rating – fully sustainable. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program that recognizes best-in-class building strategies and practices. http://www.usgbc.org/

A year ago, I was invited to exhibit my work: Heifer Relief: Compass, Ark, Berth as part of the 70th anniversary commemorating the Seagoing Cowboys.

http://www.heifer.org/join-the-conversation/blog/2014/March/honoring-heifers-history.html

Little Rock is also home to the Clinton Library. The structure cantilevers over the Arkansas River echoing Clinton’s campaign promise of “building a bridge to the 21st century.”

clintonlib1Little Rock is also connected to the past. From the Clinton library, it is about a 30-minute walk to Daisy Bates Drive through long established neighborhoods filled with Colonial revival, craftsman bungalows, four square homes – reflecting a diversity of design that at one time reflected the diversity of the population in the early years of the city

2120 Daisy Bates Drive is the location of Central High School – a National Historic Site.

litlrck1

Daisy Bates published the Arkansas State Press – an African American advocacy publication – highlighting among other issues – violations of the Brown V Board desegregation ruling.

Bates was the adviser to 9 students, known as the Little Rock Nine, as they attempted to enroll in the all-white Central High School.litlrck2

Inside the Visitor Center the displays tell the story of the civil rights movement leading up to the events in Little Rock. There are oral histories, video, photos, timelines.

http://www.nps.gov/chsc/index.htm

Outside the Visitor Center you step back in time. The houses that existed in 1957 still stand. The trees are taller. A restored Mobil gas station anchors the corner and Central High School occupies an entire block.

Today, 2419 students attend CHS. And in the late afternoon sun on a sultry afternoon, a diverse body of students – white, Asian, African American – stream out of the building at the end of the school day.

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of violence?

In 2001, I visited the site of the Oklahoma City bombing while conducting interviews related to the WW2 McGinty – the ship on which my dad had served in WW2. I wanted to know if the ship and crew had been stationed at Nagasaki after the bomb. If so, it may have contributed to the rare cancer he had. He could have been classified as an atomic veteran and possibly qualified for benefits.02McGinty

After months of research in the National Archives, I found the name of the ship’s doctor that served with my dad. He was living in Oklahoma and invited me to visit and interview him. I learned more about his life on the McGinty and life on a destroyer escort but not the answer to my question.

It was several years after the Oklahoma City Bombings when I entered the museum doors. I had to leave midway as the displays were too graphic, too violent, too raw.

In the field next to the reflecting pool stand 168 chairs – in nine rows to represent each floor of the building. Each chair bears the name of someone killed on that floor. Nineteen smaller chairs stand for the children.

Chairs

This year, some of those pre-schoolers would be graduating from college.

http://www.oklahomacitynationalmemorial.org/secondary.php?section=2&catid=30

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of heroism?

The site of the crash of Flite 93 is spare and somber. Unlike the Oklahoma City Memorial site located within a city with its buildings, gardens, museum, Flite 93 Memorial is located off of Highway 30/Lincoln near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. http://www.nps.gov/flni/index.htm

The approach to the site and visitor center is along a winding road through wildflower fields and wetlands. At the time of the crash, the site was being restored as a wetlands park in a former coal mine.

As you crest the hill to the parking lot, nothing resembling a traditional memorial is visible—no large visitor center blocking the view; no museum buildings. (The Visitor Center Complex is under construction and scheduled for dedication, 2015)

There are several small kiosks with photos of the 40 passengers and crew who died. There is a walkway – a black walkway – lined with stone barriers into which small niches are carved to provide places for notes, mementos.

Flite 93-1

There is this ever-present insistent wind that accompanies you along the path. There are ‘listening posts’ where you hear architects explain their design.

As you stop at each numbered post, it is easy to separate yourself from the reality – the memory of the event – the sacredness of the place.

Suddenly, you realize you are following the flite path taken by the plane as it was directed by the passengers…to crash.

Midway along the path, you notice a large boulder and a grove of trees – some old, some tall—swaying in the wind. They seem to be protecting a small group of newer saplings. In 10 years time, they have grown enough to begin to eradicate the black hole punched into the grove of trees by the crashing plane. http://www.nps.gov/flni/planyourvisit/planttreesflni.htm

Hemlock grove

It has been more than 150 years since the battle of Gettysburg

It has been 57 years since the Little Rock 9 entered Central High School.

It has been 19 years since the Oklahoma bombing.

It has been 13 years since 9/11.

In 13 years, a grove of trees fills an empty landscape.

In 19 years, an entire generation of preschoolers has graduated from high school.

In 57 years, there is an African American President.

In 150 years, battles are re-enacted without shedding blood.

George Santayana:

We must welcome the future, remembering that soon it will be the past; and we must respect the past, remembering that it was once all that was humanly possible.