-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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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.

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 2

When you ride the Peaks Island ferry at night, the ocean sparkles with the reflection of the lights from Portland. The city skyline is vastly different from the one my Dad sketched in 1985 – when the highest points were the spire of the Cathedral and the dome of the Observatory.

Today, instead of decrepit wharves and fish processing plants sprawled along the waterfront, there are gourmet food trucks, cruise ships, oyster bars, and boutiques. Newly built hotels are located across the street from historic brick buildings constructed after the Great Fire of Portland, July 4, 1866.

 http://www.whatwasthere.com/

There is always nostalgia with regard to the past…for the history as well as the architecture. There are still cobblestone streets in Portland made from the ballast of ships that entered the harbor and stone fountains for horses that no longer walk the streets.

cobblestones

Following the demolition of Union Station to make way for a strip mall, preservationists within the community joined together to form the Greater Portland Landmarks.

The_Union_Station,_Portland,_ME

 

http://www.pressherald.com/2011/08/31/the-ugly-birth-of-preservation_2011-08-31/

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

I was raised to believe it is possible to affect change. When the Munjoy Hill East End Beach was closed due to pollution (before the construction of the sewage treatment plant), mothers (including mine) marched to City Hall to demand a pool be built so that kids would have a place to swim that summer.

Recently, a referendum was put to a vote by citizens of Portland to halt the sale of the Congress Street Park to a developer. As a result, the city is now creating a city-wide plan for open space.

http://www.pressherald.com/2013/06/14/congress-square-park-part-of-a-global-struggle-for-public-space_2013-06-14/

Prologue

It was July 4th weekend when I finally arrived in Maine. Peaks Island traditions include a participatory parade, family picnics and cookouts on Back Shore, culminating in a fireworks display over Casco Bay.

When I was in 6th grade we had to memorize the preamble to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. At that time is was a memorization exercise; now it is the blueprint for nations around the globe who are pursuing democracy.

When in the Course of Human…

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths..….

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/declaration_history.html

I am still conflicted about the concept behind the pursuit of happiness.

Is it happiness for an individual or for the greater good?

Do we pursue happiness for its own sake or to benefit others?.

Guide to Being an Aging Activist

On a holiday weekend, I paddle my kayak between 5:30 am and 9:30 am to avoid boat traffic. It is a quiet morning when I approach the osprey nests located in the bell buoys at either end of House Island.

House Island osprey nests I have never been on the island as it has been privately held for many years. The owner purchased the island to preserve it and prevent development.

The doctor’s house, the old quarantine station and a smaller structure have always been visible. The 1904 immigration building had been demolished but the remaining foundation outlined the footprint of the structure.

Fort Scammel – built in built in 1808 of blocks of granite –anchors the opposite end of House.Fort_Scammel_East_-_3

As I circumnavigated the island, the sounds of the osprey and her fledges were replaced with the sounds of machines. There was excavation equipment clearing the area near the former quarantine station.

Demo pix House IslandSomething felt wrong. Yes, the island had been sold but no plans had been announced. Yes, the island did not have “official” historic designation, but Fort Scammel has long been a companion to Fort Gorges. I wondered if there were permits for what was taking place.

 

 

How to find a reporter on a holiday weekend

The Vinograds (David and Miranda) hail from England but have been long time summer people on Peaks. They have a penchant for old buildings – going so far as to dismantle one scheduled for demolition and then reconstructing it. (Their favorite bumper sticker: Gut Fish, Not Houses.)

When I shared with them the apparent demolition, they suggested I research recent articles about House Island and it’s sale. Sally Oldham (married to Ted the photographer of the 20,000 buildings in Portland….See most recent blog.) wrote an op ed piece in June, 2014 entitled: Properties in Peril. House Island was one of two properties featured.

She concluded:

…Physical preservation of the buildings and landscapes that embody these stories, such a rich part of Portland’s history, could make them the linchpins for successful developments.

We hope that there will be easy public access for Portlanders and tourists to the Portland Co. complex buildings and House Island’s Fort Scammel and at least exterior views of the immigration station buildings so important to this city’s past.

Over the coming months, Portlanders will want to carefully watch the developments proposed for each of these key complexes.

http://www.pressherald.com/2014/06/11/maine-voices-two-portland-projects-highlight-opportunities-pitfalls-of-historical-development/

Tom Bell is a long time Press Herald writer and has covered development issues. I emailed him and he wrote back. I sent him photos of the apparent demolition work and all the documents and photographs I had collected. He called me for an interview.

How to contact city employees on a holiday weekend

Sending an email to the City of Portland permits, zoning, inspection, and historic preservation offices on July 4th felt like putting a note in a bottle, casting it into the sea and hoping it would be found quickly.

Meanwhile, the sounds of the machines continued.

I also contacted anyone who might have even a tangential interest in the island including the Audubon Society, Preservation Maine, and Greater Portland Landmarks.

I researched the Seashore Protection Act, Maine endangered species lists, and the decrease in monarch butterflies due to milkweed loss.

EVERYONE was on vacation.

I had no idea if other options were available to me to halt the work – at least temporarily. I needed a legal advisor.

And the machines continued.

How to find a lawyer (quickly) on a holiday weekend.

How would I find a lawyer on a holiday weekend and one that would be familiar with House Island?

Across from the Peaks Island library and adjoining Brad’s bikes is a window advertizing legal services and a number to call if you need a lawyer.

TwainI called. He did not have the expertise I was seeking and referred me to Tom Federle. He provided his cell number. I called and left a somewhat cryptic message. I did not expect a response until the end of the long weekend.

Within a few minutes, Tom returned my call. He was at his summer home on a nearby island.

His advice:

Let the City Offices have time to investigate the situation. Let them follow the established procedures. But, let’s create a Plan B.

But, the machines were still working.

 How to gain the public’s attention on a holiday weekend

July 9, 2014 Portland Press Herald, front page headline:

             Maine Island With Storied Past set for new chapter

http://www.pressherald.com/2014/07/09/a-rewrite-for-island-near-portland-harbor-with-storied-past/

I decide to hide out in the Maine Historical Society (following my attorney’s advice) and conduct more research on the House Island quarantine station. A volunteer historian goes into the stacks and returns with a manila folder marked “ISLANDS.”

There were yellowed newspaper clippings, a few brochures, photographs of a variety of island and island events. Tucked within the mix was a small, 8-page booklet entitled:

Experiences of My Early Life on House Island on Casco Bay in Portland Harbor Portland Maine

by Roberta Randall Sheaff

Self-published in 1983, it is out of print.

It begins:

I was born on House Island, a quarantine station, in 1909 in one of three houses there.

IMG_1439I looked up Roberta’s obituary. She died in Minnesota in 2004 at the age of 95. ‘She is survived by a daughter, son-in-law, grand children and many nieces and nephews.” I found her daughter’s address and telephone number in Duluth.

I called.

Benita Fuller-Fugelso talked freely about her mother and her mother’s love for House Island. Like most surviving children, Benita wished she had listened more carefully to the stories her grandparents and mother shared. She would now have a greater sense of the contribution her family made to the local history.

As we concluded our conversation she added:

“I have about 100 of my mother’s remaining books. I would be happy to give them to you to use in your efforts on my mother’s behalf to highlight the history of House. She would be thrilled to know her words will be shared with those who care about “her island.”…..

Generosity: kindness – willingness to give money, help or time freely.

How to Start a Controversy with Emails after a holiday weekend

Email #1:  Zoning and Permits – Thank you for contacting us. I searched our records of the site and have not found any demo permits.

Email #2: Inspection Services – Inspections Staff will visit the island to ascertain the situation first hand.

Email #3: Greater Portland Landmarks – we request that a representative of the historic preservation office attend the inspection as well.

Email #4: Lawyer – I made the argument that he is re-engaging in demo work and that requires a demo permit. If he is removing foundations, I would argue it is demo, not clean up as he stated.

Email #5: Me – I request that House Island be considered a historic district.

Email #6:  July 16th, the Historic Preservation Board meets to determine if they will move forward with the nomination of historic district. There is a multi phase process that culminates in 2 public meetings:

Preliminary workshop – August 6th to share report on history and significance of House Island.

Public Hearing – September 3rd

Email #7:  Following the inspection, a stop work order was issued.

The machines stopped for 7 days.

 

Epilogue 

I realize I cannot prevent the eventual development of House Island. I hope to encourage an examination and documentation of the buildings, the land, the fort, the untold history. I hope that its historical significance will be proven. Because –

When it’s gone, it’s gone.

I spent the morning, once again, kayaking across the channel from Peaks Island to House Island to observe the osprey. On this particular day, the fledglings were poking up from the nest. Mom and Dad were bringing them food and discouraging me from getting too close.

There is no reclamation of history when the physical evidence is removed.

When it’s gone; it’s gone forever.

Addendum

Please take the time to voice your opinion regarding the historic district designation of House Island, by contacting:

Deb Andrews, Historic Preservation, City of Portland

DGA@portlandmaine.gov

Or attend the public meetings.

 

I wish to thank the Joel and Linda Abromson Fund for their generous support of my research of the history of House Island and its relevance to the immigrant heritage of Portland.

 

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

You Should Have Been Here Yesterday – Part 1

If oral historians had a bumper sticker it would read:

“You should have been here yesterday.”

My hopes of interviewing Aunt Bunny were dashed – she is too ill for visitors. I had driven 10 hours to meet with her. However, her sister was willing to meet with me. So, I made a detour to Massachusetts.

A woman of a “certain age” i.e. over 90, Bobbie lives in a two-story home, bowls twice a week, plays mahjong. She had spent the day before my visit with her son pouring over a 100 years of family photos – and still able to name every person. She handed me a faded photo of Millie.

Mildred Markson. Wife of Maurice. Born 1880.Died February 10, 1966.

Millie is somewhat serious looking. Thin. She was known as the “beauty of the family.” She was a founding member of the Portland Council of Jewish women.

Aunt Bobbie has many stories, especially of her childhood at the family summer compound in Maine. Millie was alive during those years. She often slept on the porch as she had suffered from TB. No stories were told about immigrants or House Island or even the good works that Millie had done. Aunt Bobbie ended our conversation by saying:

“Millie was the most generous person I ever met. She didn’t wait to be asked. She helped everyone in the family – sent me to college, provided for widows, and never expected anything in return….”

You should have been here yesterday…Brandeis Law Library

Generosity: Kindness – willingness to give money, help or time freely.

I had hoped to Bobbie would be able to provide more information but instead, I left with one word – generosity. Millie and the other women who provided assistance to the immigrants were generous with their money, their help, and their time.

I was still in Massachusetts so I checked the map and made another detour.

“Chief Justice Louis Brandeis was born to Jewish immigrant parents. After graduating from Harvard at age 20, he established a law firm and became know as the “People’s Lawyer.” Brandeis later fought against powerful corporations, monopolies, public corruption, and mass consumerism, all of which he felt were detrimental to American values and culture.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_Brandeis

Brandeis University was named for him. I am hoping that the Brandeis Library will have a link to the case files related to Bela Gross’ habeas corpus decision. His plight might have been reported in Jewish newspapers or law related periodicals of the 1920’s.

It is summer. The campus was virtually empty. There was a smattering of students following signs to a conference center.  The library didn’t open until noon. I waited. As I entered, I looked around and noticed there were 3 of us at the research desk:  me, the research librarian, and a delivery guy trying to find out who had ordered Indian food for the library.

I handed my list of topics and questions to the librarian. He would research the Brandeis databases. I headed to the stacks.

Many universities are no longer purchasing books or are de-accessing their collections. Colby College in Maine has moved 170,000 of its books to storage. There is even a campaign to bring back the books. 

Button

http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2014/05/college_libraries_should_keep_their_books_in_the_stacks.html

However, the stacks are often where I find what I am seeking — even when I have no idea what I am looking for.

The shelves at Brandeis hold treasures. There are large leather bound books whose content I cannot understand – books written in Hebrew, Islamic texts, Yiddish newspapers. There are Jewish periodicals, Jewish newspapers. Titles refer to Jewish history, Jewish politics, Jewish film.

I am drawn to the film lists. I am looking for films that re-create the sounds and feel of the 1920’s. After an hour of reading film synopses that span the years from 1920 to 1994, I return to the front desk.

The librarian looked deflated. He was an ‘on-line research wizard’ and had pursued multiple avenues to locate the information I wanted. He was stymied. After apologizing profusely he added:

“The Law Librarian just left for the summer. He’ll be back in the fall. (…You should have been here yesterday.)”

You should have been here yesterday… Portland Press Herald

           When we die, we leave behind a midden: photographs, bank accounts, letters, clothes, teeth, bones.         Whatever patterns the artifacts in these piles of rubbish carry are usually and mercifully lost as they are mixed into the compost heap of time past. Biological artifacts are especially evanescent: as fire eats wood by oxidation, so air eats paper. Librarians call this process “slow fire.**”

Without the help of research librarians, I would be lost amidst the miasma of continually expanding information. Fortunately, every library has at least one “gem.”

The Portland Room at the Portland Maine Public Library (PPL) is ‘the city’s hub to preserve and provide access to Portland history.’ The growing collections include printed books and periodicals, maps, archives, manuscripts, photographs, digital records, as well as microfilmed and digitized Portland newspapers. http://www.portlandlibrary.com/locations/main-library/portland-room/

The ‘gem’ at the PPL is Abraham Schechter, Special Collections Librarian and Archivist. http://laviegraphite.blogspot.com/search?q=living+history

Abraham

The day I arrive, Abraham was scanning glass negatives rescued from the basement of the former home of the Portland Press Herald newspaper founded in 1862. These negatives will become the Portland Press Herald Still Film Negative Collection. “….The collection measures approximately 310 linear feet, shelved. There are approximately 550,000 negatives in the collection.” It is a Herculean task.

Within the special collections are Census Books, Federal Court Records with applications for Naturalization, Tax Records, Marriage Licenses, and Obituaries. It is a virtual treasure trove chronicling human existence spanning centuries in the city of Portland, Maine.

To access the information, you must have a name, a birth date and a death date. The best place to find that information is in the obituaries. Although most city data since 1924 is digitized and on-line, the only way to read the 1923 news is via microfiche. There are no newspapers existent.

Scrolling through reel after reel of scratched, dimly-lit microfiche, I find myself reading ads and articles that reflect life today as yesterday. Corrupt politicians, murders, scandals, wars….and sales of the day.

In 1924, the City of Portland tax division took photographs of every building in existence at that time. Markson’s Clothing was one of those images. Beginning in 2011, this same process is being replicated by Ted Oldham. His goal is to photograph each of the 20,000 buildings in Portland. He has already completed 13,000.   He believes that…“Our buildings are a physical expression of what our values are.”

http://www.pressherald.com/2011/12/28/new-collection-takes-shape-man-photographing-20000-buildings_2011-12-28/

Dollar Down and a Dollar a Week.

Markson Bros. Clothing store became known throughout New England for both men and women’s clothing. Bunny/Bobby’s great aunt Millie’s husband, Maurice. – founded Markson Bros. with great aunt Jennie Markson’s husband, Elder. (Whew…family trees are confusing especially if they are someone elses.)

March 10, 1925.

Mrs. Jennie Markson , a prominent Jewish woman, died last evening of pneumonia, after an illness lasting a week….

Mrs. Markson was a prominent club woman and an interested and active worker in all community affairs. She was a member of the Council of Jewish women, a director of the United Hebrew Charities, a past president of the Etz Chaim sisterhood, a ….

Jennie died at age 46 from pneumonia on March 10, 1925. Only 2 years after starting the Portland Council of Jewish Women with her sister Millie. Only 2 years after establishing the House Island immigration assistance program.

At the end of a very long day, I had only found obituaries for 2 of the NCJW women. I did find obits for some of their husbands. (If a husband died; a wife sent in an obit. The reverse was not necessarily true.)

You should have been here yesterday…NCJW documents

Faith Rogow’s book: Gone to Another Meeting, chronicles the history of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) from 1893 – 1993. It is a fascinating read because the organization’s history mirrors the trajectory of women’s rights and roles in American society – not just the history of Jewish women.

Cover Rogow

http://www.amazon.com/Gone-Another-Meeting-National-1893-1993/dp/0817306714/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405784278&sr=1-1&keywords=gone+to+another+meeting

The Library of Congress has 48,000 items; 216 containers and 91.8 linear feet of the NCJW documents. The Portland Maine chapter documents are NOT included.

So I write letters:

National Council of Jewish Women Headquarters– DC

Nothing

National Council of Jewish Women Historian – NYC

Nothing

Mary Herman, former president of southern Maine/Portland area

Nothing

ASIDE: Angus King is her husband, Maine Senator and former Governor

Mary directed me to the current NCJW Portland president: Lynn Goldfarb.

Lynn Goldfarb

Nothing

However, Lynn remembered a story about a fire in which the records were destroyed.  MAYBE Gail Volk (several time past president) might be holding some documents “for safe keeping.”

Gail Volk

I call her. She has 2 “clipping” albums. One labeled 1920-1948; the other labeled 1948-1980. They have been in her attic for ‘safekeeping.” Although she summers at the lake and is inundated with relatives and friends, Gail is willing to drive the albums to Portland.

I contact Nina Rayer – a paper restoration and conservation expert – in case the documents need stabilizing before we review them.  We arrange to meet at the Maine Jewish Museum.

We cover a table with plastic, don gloves and masks. Nancy carefully opens the bag and removes 2 scrapbooks. They are literally falling apart.

We document each step in the process. How a document appears; how it is packaged; how it comes apart and goes back together; which items are next to each other…all this matters to an archivist and conservation specialist. It is their ‘art.’

CU album

ribbonThe most recent album is in better condition. Nina recommends we number the pages, separate them carefully and have them scanned.

The older album is held together with yellow ribbon. The front cover is detached from the pages. We carefully remove it and set it aside. We read the first entry. It is a newspaper clipping of an event that took place in 1926.  The first entry is not 1920 but 1926. The primary source materials describing the work of the NCJW on House Island would span the years from 1920-23. Those pages are missing.

First page

We reviewed both albums again, hoping the missing materials might be misfiled but to no avail. (I did, however, confirm that in 1969 I received a college scholarship of $500.00 from the NCJW of Portland.)

 

You should have been here yesterday…House Island sold!!

House Island has been sold. There is an excavator and a bulldozer visible from the deck of the ferry as you approach Peaks Island.

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Courtesy Gregg Bolton

Rumors abound. Condos. Helipad. No one has seen plans. It will not be retained as a historic site.

Once the existing structures are removed, we will have lost the opportunity to honor those who made the immigrant journey – those who were detained – and those allowed to remain….as well as those who ‘welcomed the stranger.’

We should have been here yesterday.

 

 

 

**A slow fire is a term used in library and information science to describe paper embrittlement resulting from acid decay. The term is taken from the title of Terry Sanders’ 1987 film Slow Fires: On the preservation of the human record.

 

 

 

No Coincidence – No Story (Part 2)

Bashert…meant to be.

 Who were the immigrants held in quarantine on House Island in 1923??

I am a long time mystery reader. Following in the foot steps of my favorite detectives: Detective Porfiry,Sherlock Holmes, VI Warshawski, Kinsey Millhone, and my latest Flavia de Luce (an 11-year-old amateur sleuth), I begin my ‘investigation.’ I contact everyone in Maine who might have information about the immigration history of Portland.

Many of the early immigrants coming to Portland, Maine settled in the Munjoy Hill area. Italians settled on India and Middle Streets and started businesses such as Amato’s bakery (1903.) http://www.amatos.com/

Munjoy-Hill-Map

Aside: Mystery of the Black Dahlia

One of the greatest unsolved mysteries involved a woman who had grown up on Munjoy Hill and moved to Hollywood where she was brutally murdered. http://mainetoday.com/profiles/the-black-dahlia-lived-on-munjoy-hill-an-unsolved-murder-from-the-vaults/

 The Irish immigrants congregated in two main neighborhoods and the streets connecting them along Portland’s waterfront: the west end, later known as Gorham’s Corner, with its Saint Dominic’s parish (the oldest Catholic Church in Portland, dating from 1833); and the east end, better known as Munjoy Hill, with its Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception (1866). Michael Connolly http://www.amazon.com/They-Change-Their-Sky-Irish/dp/0891011102

Book Cover

I contact the Maine Irish Heritage Center www.maineirish.com and Italian Heritage Center www.italianheritagecenter.com in Portland. They generously send out my request for anyone whose relatives were detained or were processed through the quarantine station on House Island to contact me. No positive responses to date.

 COINCIDENCE: I went to school with the Maine Irish history expert as well as the editor of the Italian American Heritage newsletter. Both are from long standing Munjoy Hill families.

The other immigrant group that may have entered Maine via House Island were Jews.

Documenting Maine Jewry is a collaborative genealogy and history of Maine’s Jewish communities. MaineJews.org is a kind of crowd source web site for gathering and posting pictures, articles, oral histories, music, etc. related to Jewish history in Maine. www.mainejews.org

As an artist, I unravel my ‘art-related mysteries’ by spending hours in library stacks. Most of my ‘clues’ are obtained in face-to-face interviews and through personal networking.

This investigation will take place in on-line archives. There is so much information to wade through. It is daunting. The study and practice of organizing, preserving, and providing access to information and materials in archives is called archival science. Science is the operative term. Finding information requires thinking like a scientist – not necessarily like an artist. Fortunately, archivists (and librarians) are incredibly helpful individuals who are generous with their time and expertise.

Harris Gleckman knows the content of the MaineJews.org site – both catalogued and still to be catalogued. He directed me to an out-of-print book published in 1954.

COINCIDENCE: My aunt babysat for the web master when he was a child living in Forest Park. (Seriously.)

 Band, Ben,  Portland Jewry: It’s Growth and Development , Jewish Historical Society, Portland , Maine, 1954

Written in celebration of 300 years of U.S. Jewish settlement, Band wrote in his preface:” Jewish communities were asked to compile a record of their development and growth.” His book was a collaborative approach – an example of early crowd sourcing. There were 17 chapters that outlined the history of Jews in Maine beginning in the 1800’s. It is only available on line.

I read.

Looking in the past

Maine’s earliest Jews came from Germany in the late 1880’s.

They learned English and established “religious services, supplies of kosher meats and a burial ground. They often earned their living peddling, the junk trade and the second hand clothing and tailoring.“

tailorASIDE:

The skill listed by most immigrants coming to Ellis Island was “tailor” due to the great need for garment workers. Most had no training. They learned through word of mouth during quarantine that it was the skill to have to gain entrance to the US.

Most of the 2 million Jews that came to America in the 1920’s were from Eastern Europe. Often less educated and less affluent than their earlier counterparts, they came to America hoping for a chance for a better life.

In the 1920’s, the City of Portland struggled to assimilate the influx of Eastern European Jews and other recent immigrants. One of the largest anti-immigrant Ku Klux Klan rallies (by some accounts, 10,000 Klansmen) gathered in Portland in 1923 to protest the presence of these new “foreigners.”

I read more.

….When immigrant ships landed in Portland in 1923 and 1924, 218 passengers were detained on House Island. The Council of Jewish Women set up kosher kitchens there under the supervision of Mrs. Lena Perry. Chapter X: New Social and Fraternal Organizations-Band

Looking in the present

The names of the original settlers of House Island also appear on the gravestones at the Peaks Island cemetery. So, I send out my request to the Peaks Island list serv. Responses were supportive of my efforts but yielded no leads. Then a photo attachment appears in an email from Kim Mac Isaac.

Kim, a historian and archivist herself, is the former executive director of the 5th Maine Museum. Kim’s family has been on the island for generations. She even remembers rowing over to House Island to explore the old quarantine station before its demolition. She had a photograph. (So far, it is the only one I have seen.)

quarantine-lge

COINCIDENCE: While sculpting a memorial bench for my dad and creating a native plant garden on Peaks Island in 2008 -10, I was able to support myself by cleaning the 5th Maine Museum. http://www.fifthmainemuseum.org/

 

The Maine Jewish Film Festival features films that ‘explore the Jewish experience through drama, comedy, documentary and short film formats.’ Works are screened at multiple venues and in multiple cities throughout the state.  http://www.mjff.org/

I create a postcard to hand out to each attendee. I distribute the postcards in hopes of finding anyone who had family members that were detained on House Island or allowed to immigrate into Maine after being processed there.

ASIDE:

My short film – Chorus of Stones – that chronicles the creation of the memorial on Peaks was rejected by some of the best film festivals including the Maine Jewish Film Festival. https://vimeo.com/2999812

pcback500 postcards later, I had not received one solid lead. Everyone thought it was an interesting mystery but could not provide any additional clues.

COINCIDENCE: A researcher who works at the US Holocaust Museum in DC picked up my postcard while she was at the festival. She thinks she can help find the names of the immigrants who passed through House Island quarantine station. I work a few blocks from the Museum.

Looking in the Archives

I continue to delve into the archives of the Maine Historical Society, the Memory Network, the Portland Room of the Portland Public Library, the New England Archives in Waltham, the Osher Map collection and Judaica Collection at the Glickman Library, University of Maine. I read books about immigration and U.S. immigration policies of the 1920’s including those cited in the Congressional Record. The rhetoric and debate reflects the immigration concerns of today.

As the implementation date of the 1924 Quota Act approached, passenger ship companies worried about the loss of business that would result. So, they doubled the number of ships leaving for America. When Ellis Island and Boston could not manage the deluge of immigrants, some ships were re-routed to other quarantine stations: House Island.

Immigrants allowed to remain in the U.S. could then be sent by rail to New York or Boston. Others were returned to their country of origin.

  • What I didn’t find were all the names of people who were held there.
  • What I didn’t find were the names of Portland residents whose family members came into Portland through House Island.
  • What I didn’t find were the names of those returned to their country of origin.

What I did find were the names of the women who established the Portland Council of Jewish Women (later the National Council of Jewish Women) who set up the Kosher kitchen. *

A friend once described the State of Maine as a small town. If that is true, the Jewish population of New England must be a neighborhood. I have just enough postcards to send to synagogues from Maine to Boston.

It is Passover week in which Jews commemorate the exodus of the Jews from Egypt more than 3000 years ago. It is an 8-day holiday in which you are obligated to tell the Passover story. This year, I listen with a new perspective: Passover could be thought of as a story of immigrants.

It is also a week of consuming symbolic foods. We eat matzo rather than leavened bread as a reminder of the haste in which the Israelites fled Egypt. There was not enough time for the bread to rise. http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/passoverfoods.htm

MatzohA week passes. Passover ends.

I arrive home one night and listen to the message on my answering machine:

My name is Jim Waldman. I am the Controller at the Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, Massachusetts. Our secretary was out today and I had to open the mail. http://tbewellesley.org/index.aspx

Imagine my surprise when the first 2 names on the list of the founders of the Portland Council for Jewish Women were my great grandmother Millie and her sister.

Millie’s great niece  (Bunny) lives in Maine. She is 94 years old and has a perfect memory.

Bashert?

I had just purchased a ticket to Maine to visit my Mom. I guess now I am going to visit ‘Aunt Bunny,’ too.

 

 

*Portland Council of Jewish Women, 1920

Name First Name Home Address Husband’s business
MRS. Eldar MARKSONb. 1879 –d. 3/10/1925 Portland ME) Jennie 237 State St. Markson Bros. Clothing504 Congress Street
Mrs. Maurice MARKSON(b. 1880 – d. Feb 10, 1966) Mildred S. 100 Neal St. Markson Bros. Clothing504 Congress Street
MRS. Jacob SCHIEBE(b. 1873 – d. 12/12/1964) Jennie 94 Vesper St. Tailor22 Monument Sq #402
MRS. Jacob ROSENBERGd. 5/12/1949 Helen 48 Western Promenade. Rosenberg Brothers real estate85 Exchange St. Room 305,
MRS. Benjamin PRESS Molly 224 Eastern Promenade Real Estate
MRS. Jacob SAPIROd. 3/13/1968 Anna D 93 Morning Street Husband worked9 Plum Street
Mrs. Eli PERRY Lenna 170 Cumberland Ave. E. Perry and Co Junk117 Lancaster St.

No Coincidence – No Story ( Part 1)

A recent This American Life examined the role of ‘coincidence’ in our lives. There are those who see all events in life as just random occurrences. There are those that see connections between disparate events – possibly guided by a ‘Co-incidence Coordinator’- as an indication of the existence of synchronicity. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/489/no-coincidence-no-story

Julia Cameron, in The Artist Way, writes about ‘Synchronicity and Spirituality:’

Once you accept that it is natural to create, you can begin to accept a second idea: that the Creator will hand you whatever you need for the project. Be alert: there is a second voice, a higher harmonic, adding to and augmenting your inner creative voice. This voice frequently shows itself in synchronicity.

And, there is a Chinese saying: No Coincidence, No Story.

I am a story teller. I tell stories through my art.

The Past is Prologue

I grew up in an area of Portland, Maine known as “The Hill.” Munjoy Hill was a neighborhood of immigrants – Irish, Italian, Eastern European. We were connected by our sense of place, our values, our diversity.

We filled multi-unit housing with our extended families. We could venture out into a neighborhood of grandparents, aunts, uncles who watched over all of us – relative or not. We walked to school together. We shared homework assignments. We shoveled sidewalks and coalesced on corners.

The Eastern Promenade (‘The Prom’) was our backyard: We listened to free concerts at Fort Allen Park, oo’ed and aah’ed at the July 4th Fireworks, sledded at the Monument, and watched the “submarine races” with our dates. http://easternpromenade.org/2013/10/17/our-video-is-live/

Casco Bay and its ‘calendar’ islands were our constant companions. (It was once thought there were 365 islands hence “calendar islands.” In actuality, they number between 180 and 222.)CascoBayMaps

There was alcoholism, sexual abuse, mental illness, evictions, divorce….but the close knit Hill community provided its own version of a safety net. If you needed an egg, you could borrow one; corner stores let you run a tab until payday; friends with cars drove you to hospitals, grocery stores, appointments. Overwhelmed by life, you went next door for a cup of tea with cream and sugar.

We formed life-long friendships: ones easily renewed even with the passage of time. We worked; we loved; we moved away and joined other neighborhoods.

Looking to belong

I was usually the only Jewish kid in the class. As such, I was frequently called upon to explain Jewish holidays to my Christian classmates. My family struggled financially and spiritually. My parents were unable to provide me with a Jewish education. I sometimes felt like a stranger – an outsider – in my neighborhood as well as in my religious community.

As kids growing up on the Hill, we were more interested in hanging out on the Prom, playing pick up baseball, and finding beach glass. Studying history was an anathema: too many dates and too much war. Until I toured the Portland Observatory a few years ago, I did not know that the street where I grew up (Moody) was named for the man who developed the flag system for incoming ships.

Visit the Portland Observatory" Maine art Project by WPA c. 1937

The Portland Observatory is the only remaining maritime signal station in the United States. Tower operations were paid with annual fees collected from shipping merchants, who purchased the right to have their flags stored in the building and hoisted up its flagstaffs when their ships were sighted.

sanctuary21-1200x383My mother resides in an assisted living facility so we often go on ‘outings.’ The Etz Chaim Synagogue at the bottom of “The Hill” has recently been restored. Changing demographics, changing politics, changing economics led to the shuttering of its doors. It re-opened as an ‘inclusive’ synagogue and the Maine Jewish Museum that features art work by contemporary Jewish artists from Maine.  www.treeoflifemuseum.org

Around the age of 13, I stopped attending the Orthodox shul. I was tired of sitting in the balcony – detached from the Torah and relegated to a passive role of watching the men and boys participate in the service. A budding feminist before feminism was part of the national zeitgeist, one day, I just stomped out.

The tour starts.

The Guide begins to explain the history of the synagogue. Seeking participation from her audience, she poses a question alluding to the beginnings of Etz Chaim. My mother speaks up to add her 2 cents (actually more like a dollar) and says:

My grandfather  (my great grandfather) started this synagogue.

The Docent continues, expounding on the events that led up to the 1921 opening of Etz Chaim. http://mainejewishmuseum.org/history/story-of-etz-chaim/

As the tour continues, my mother leans towards me and whispers:

There was a big fight. A disagreement between the Rabbi at the Shaarey Tphiloh Synagogue and your great-grandfather. He stormed out with half the congregation and eventually established Etz Chaim.

(I guess stomping-out behavior is part of my genetic make up—It appears that in my family, we vote with our feet…)

Why don’t I know about this?

Forty-five years after I left Maine, I still struggle to resolve my sense of being a stranger in my own community.

Seeking my belongings

I am on the ferry to Peaks Island again. It is time to open up cottages for the season and to take my kayak out of storage.

Following the memorial service for a friend’s young daughter, I went on- line and bought a red 2-cup coffee maker and a red 16.5 foot long sea kayak. The brevity of her life was the impetus to act. (The coffee maker was an impulse buy; I had been thinking about buying a kayak for over a year.) I took kayak lessons while creating the memorial garden and bench for my father. https://vimeo.com/29998120

I go out early in the morning – before the sun heats the air and waves begin to form. I glide easily across the glassy surface of the water. As the air warms, the waves increase. wave

As a friend and I paddle around the tip of House Island, we see the remains of blocks of granite – used in the construction of Fort Scammel. My friend jokingly says something about ‘free’ stone for sculpting. House Island is privately held so we remain on the water.

As we give a wide berth to the osprey nest (too early to see the fledglings http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/osprey/lifehistory) she asked me:  “Did you know….House Island was known as the ‘Ellis Island of the North’ – and in 1923, 218 immigrants were detained at the quarantine station on House Island.”

I spent a great deal of my childhood traveling among the islands of Casco Bay and had never heard this story.

Why don’t I know about this?

Longings

According to the Maine State Archivist, there is no information about those held at the House Island quarantine station in existence from 1904 – 1937. Neither the Maine Historical Society or the Maine Maritime Museum or the Portland Room of the Public Library or the University of Maine has any resources pertaining to the construction, management or removal of the facility.

Even Captain Hal Cushing (the current House Island owner) has no photographs or documents relative to the history of the quarantine station.

Much of my previous artwork examined family relations, untold secrets, little known histories. I make connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information. I create artworks that focus on a moment in history that reflects larger issues within a current context.

I make an appointment to meet with the Curator and Director of the Maine Jewish Museum. I tell them I am an artist. I tell them about my great grandfather. I tell them about House Island. I broach the idea of creating a piece for the museum. (When my mom was in high school, she spent summers as an au pair. One of her charges was the Maine Jewish Museum curator: Now, why don’t I know about that?)

I am not sure if the ‘Coincidence Coordinator’ is at work here. But there is a Yiddish word to describe what I am experiencing: Bashert – loosely translated as “meant to be.”

I am a story teller. I tell stories through my art. And I believe there is a story to tell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bird’s Eye View

You are invited:

Dedication of Liber will take place on June 6, 2013 at 6 p.m. at the Carroll County Public Library, Westminster MD. The event is free and open to the public. Video of the installation and photographs of the completed work will be posted at www.thestonepath.wordpress.com following the dedication.

Bird’s Eye View

It is spring. Birds are nesting in the eaves of the studio. Their songs greet me as I arrive each morning. It can be, however, somewhat cacophonous. They flit in and out carrying twigs, bits of straw, announcing their presence. There are starlings, doves, pigeons, crows and ravens.

Ravens and crows are relatives. Both are from the genus corvus. Both are black. Both are smart. Both are nosy and noisy. You can learn to tell the difference between the two from their calls. http://www.allaboutbirds.org/page.aspx?pid=2501

A raven* stops by each morning and evening to check on my progress.  The crew at the Maintenance Yard told me there is a nest in the rafters of the county’s salt dome.Salt dome

Peering into the darkness, I can barely discern the nest. Difficult to see – or photograph – is a baby raven.  To protect their fledgling, the ravens lure me out of the dome. I follow them into the yard. They call out warnings. They fly close to me then soar away – their blackness outlined against the blue sky. Perching in the nearby trees, they remained vigilant until I depart.

The Raven has a role in the mythologies of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and the cultural hero of the Alaskan Athabaskan tribes. He is a revered and benevolent transformer god who helps the People and shapes their world for them.

In one raven tale, Raven originally lived in the land of spirits that existed before the world of humans. One day, the Raven became so bored with living in ‘bird land ‘ that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When the Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the land that humans now occupy.

Bird’s Eye View: Space

Sculpture both occupies space and defines space. When looking at a painting, we stand in one place and let our eyes travel throughout the surface of the piece. Looking at a sculpture requires us to move our bodies to look at the entire work. As you walk around the sculpture, each step changes your viewing experience.

Stone rootsThe mass of the piece interrupts the space. The negative or empty space around and within the sculpture also holds your attention.  Other sculptures, buildings, even the presence of humans, contribute to the perception of the work. When installed, Liber will sit between trees and among plants. It will be integrated into the landscape.

Sculptors need to continuously look at their sculpture to know how to proceed. To prevent the brain from imposing a pre-conceived vision, artists use mirrors to “see’. By looking at the work in a mirror, a visual reality is reflected back. An artist sees what must still be reworked to be resolved. They also see the errors that must remain.

Bird’s Eye View: Form

I always wanted to make art. But I grew up at a time when practicality took precedence over dreams. While serving on a ship during WW2, my dad completed the matchbook cover drawing test. He wanted to attend art school when the war was over. But war changes everything. Dreams are set aside.

MatchbookWhen he was dying, he encouraged me to take care of myself  – spiritually and physically. His legacy to my siblings and me was to follow our dreams. After his death, I decided to make art. I quit my job, enrolled in art school and created the Firehouse Studio.

(I also bought L.L. Bean flannel shirts in a variety of colors. The shirts kept me warm this winter while sculpting outside. At the end of the day, I hang them like Tibetan peace flags along with my dust infused jeans.)

ClotheslineTwenty-five years later, I am standing on scaffolding to work on the top half of Liber. I have a Bird’s Eye View of the sculpture. From where I am standing, it’s obvious I need to make changes in the angle of the back. There is a section that should be smaller so the proportions are not so distorted. All sculptors seek the highest point wherever they are. We always want to see the big picture.

Close-up #5

When I travel, I always visit the tallest building, climb the stairs of bell towers, or just hike up a hill. It’s probably why I like hot air ballooning.

For most of us, our first experience with reading is sitting on the lap of a parent – helping to turn the pages of a favorite book or being read to as we cuddle in bed before drifting off to sleep. From these chair-like forms, we branch out to sprawling on floors, leaning against trees, reading wherever we can find a comfortable space.

The basic form of Liber  (pronounced with a LONG i) suggests a chair.  The root of the word “library” is from the Latin ‘liber’ meaning peel. Bark was the basis of paper – and eventually the pages of books.  The seat is sculpted in such a way to suggest pages. The surface of the trunk-like back of the sculpture references bark, lichen, tree limbs, roots. From this ‘solid’ foundation, pages ‘grow.’

Bird’s Eye View: Surface

The experience of a sculpture is not only by sight. The tactile quality of sculpture is surely as important as the visual to cause thought.

Isamu Noguchi

Moss

Stone mossA sculptor uses the interplay of shadow and light to create the work. Specific tools are used to create surface texture – rough, smooth, polished, raw. A tooth chisel makes multiple parallel lines that dig into the stone. A bush hammer makes dimples by stippling. A flat removes extraneous marks and leaves a smooth surface. NOT making tool marks on the stone creates a different texture. These varied surfaces capture or reflect light – defining the image.

Surface imagery

stone branch

Jun ichiro Tanizaki in his book, In Praise of Shadows, wrote:…

In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house…and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.

 Shadows create dimension in a sculpture. The shapes arise from the darkness. As I finish the piece, I pay particular attention to the crevices. I work hard to clean them out in order to provide a place for the darkness to dwell. Working along each section of Liber, I realize that without the shadow, the rest of the sculpture does not exist.

As of late, I am conscious of the darkness in the world: some man made and some natural. Boston – Oklahoma – Syria and the list goes on and on. Making art seems frivolous when faced with the daily litany of events that cast a shadow over the lives of so many.

‘In another myth, the Raven was responsible for bringing light to the darkness of the world. At the beginning of the story, the world lies in darkness and Raven, who of course existed at that time because he had always existed and always would, was somewhat less satisfied with this state of affairs. It led to much blundering around and bumping into things. One day, he hears a man singing about how he keeps the light in a small box, inside another box, inside another, and so on and so forth. There are an enormous number of boxes.  Raven uses all of his considerable wiles and eventually worms his way inside the man’s house and steals the light from the man, with which he brightens the world.’

http://world-bird-sanctuary.blogspot.com/2011/12/myths-legends-and-tales-raven.html

The ancient library of Alexandria was comprised of gardens, walkways, area for shared dining, reading rooms, lecture halls and meeting spaces and of course, a collection of papyrus scrolls gathered from around the world. Legend has it that carved into the wall above the shelves was an inscription that read: The place of the cure of the soul.

Taking time to look at art – sculpture – takes us to another place.

Thich Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He offers workshops on walking meditation. He provides solace through walking meditation.  The Pebble for Your Pocket Meditation encourages us to live in the moment. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXJs9bdcnXw.

To create change in ourselves, we meditate.Stone roots

To create more light in the world , we must drop our pebbles.

We must be like a Raven.

 

 

NOTE:

For you literature fans, Edgar Allan Poe is a Baltimore native and author of the House of Usher – the poem featuring the phrase: Spoke the Raven, NEVERMORE.

For you football fans, the Baltimore Ravens are the home team.

Is Good Good Enough?

“…the seed for your next art work lies embedded in the imperfections of your  current piece.”                                                                                                                                                                       Art and Fear

Lavora, Lavora

Sixty work days have passed since the stone arrived from Indiana. During that time, I have worked in a variety of elements. There was a hurricane, a flood and a snow storm in which I was so mesmerized by the beautiful, big flakes I did not pay attention to  the accumulation. It took 2 hours to drive the 16 miles home.

snow

IMG_0540

From November to mid February, temperatures hovered around freezing. As the humidity drops,   the metal head on the sculpture hammer loosens on its wooden handle. To re-tighten the head, you soak the hammer in water so the wood will swell. One night, I left my hammer soaking in the bucket. The next morning, it was embedded in ice.

The rumble of thunder has also been a daily occurrence. The metal roof under which I work reverberates in the wind. The Beaufort Scale relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land.  It describes near gale force winds as –“ Whole trees in motion. Effort needed to walk against the wind. Cars veer off road “… and blows limestone dust – everywhere (my note).

Fare una passeggiata

Everyday, I walk around the work space trying to get reception on my radio. If the clouds are heavy, I listen to Country Music. It’s Oldies if the wind is coming from the west. On clear days, it’s NPR. Because I never understood the magic of radio waves (nor how planes stay in the sky), I fare una passagiata using my radio like a divining rod, dowsing for a radio station.

Diane Rehm’s guest this week was Sheryl Sandberg. Sandberg is the chief operating officer of Facebook and is ranked on Fortune’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and as one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World. Her book Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead outlines issues that need to be addressed for women to be leaders. http://www.amazon.com/Lean-In-Women-Work-Will/dp/0385349947

In between intermittent grinding and hammering noises, I listen to their conversation. While describing her leadership style, Sandberg said:  Done is better than Perfect.

Paura

“Fears about art making fall into two families: fears about yourself and fears about your reception by others. Fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.” Art and Fear

The image of Liber has emerged but there are still more layers of stone to peel back. Every time I think I am done, another unresolved section appears. And that process spirals around itself – like the proverbial onion – until the deadline arrives.

 Self

My art journey began when someone asked me during a workshop icebreaker: Who are you? I responded: a woman, a daughter, a sister, a sculptor. But I had never sculpted. So I started.

For the past 20 years, my identity has been determined by what I create. After years of questioning my talent, doubting my commitment, and feeling like a pretender, I still have a hard time answering – ‘an artist’ – when asked who am I.

My license plate reads: Isculpt. The plate is like wearing a very big nametag. My truck registration is up for renewal. The cost of a vanity plate has increased. And I wonder: if I don’t renew the plate, will I still answer – a sculptor – when asked who I am?

Others

Artists are their own worst critics. The voices  we carry from our past – from our families, our community and our experiences – color our current perceptions. The difference between acceptance and approval is subtle. Acceptance means having the artwork seen as “real art.”; approval means having people like it.

Once installed, Liber will be on view for at least 100 years. It will be my legacy. I want both approval and acceptance.  I want it to be perfect.

Abbastanza buono?

I am learning to kayak. In preparation for this summer’s adventure, I decided to make my own Greenland Paddle. A Greenland paddle is a paddle in the style of those traditionally used by the Inuit of Greenland. It is made from wood and its form is more like a stick than a conventional looking paddle. I sculpt. It didn’t seem that it would be that difficult to ‘sculpt’ a paddle.  http://www.bealepaddles.com/paddles.html

I signed up for an 8-hour workshop with the Hudson River Greenland Paddlers after which (as promised in the brochure) I’d have a custom paddle by the end of the day.

Using a straight edge, measuring tape, a draw knife, a plane, and some elbow grease, I proceeded to create my custom paddle from a 7 foot x 4 inch piece of Oregon cedar.

Just as I completed “carving” the loom, the draw knife slipped. There was now a gouge in my heretofore “perfect” paddle. I wanted to stop. The instructor told us he had made more than 600 paddles – each one an improvement on the previous. My beautiful paddle – with one small imperfection – was no longer good enough to me.

Why isn’t Good – Good Enough?

Advertizing is based on the notion that good isn’t good enough. There is always a new and improved version of something that currently works fine as it is. But we are all susceptible to the lure of the better version of a product, our homes, our relationships and ourselves.

Schools, in an attempt to make children feel better about report cards, changed the A – E system (C being good) to one that required teacher comments. Overtime a ‘C’ was always followed by the comment: Needs Improvement. C became unacceptable and equivalent to a failing grade. Good wasn’t good enough.

Culture of Discontent

We apply this same principle to our relationships. Most of the habits or traits that my friends complain about in their partners are the same characteristics that initially attracted them.

  • Free spirited becomes irresponsible
  • Steadfast becomes boring
  • Self assured becomes close minded

There is even a book titled: Loving an Imperfect Man (Woman). Perfectionism seems to be deeply rooted in the expectations we have of, not only others, but of ourselves. Amazon lists 106 paperback books with the word ‘Perfectionism’ in the title. There is even one entitled: The Gifts of Imperfection. There are no books entitled: Good is Good Enough.

Ben Fatto

I finished carving the paddle, filled the small gouge with a little epoxy, and applied linseed oil liberally. My paddle is now a topic of conversation. And I have bragging rights. It works just fine (actually it works great; I need more practice.) The ‘mistake’ is a reminder of my journey – learning that ‘good’ is good enough. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The weavers of Oriental carpets create intentional imperfections as do Navaho rug makers. Each culture believes perfection can only be achieved by the Great Creator. It is hubris for an artist to believe they can create a perfect work.

The “Done is better than perfect” interview between Diane Rehm and Sandberg continued. The author then added:  “At Facebook, we put products up and we try to learn and do better….we have a very iterative style …the process of not trying to do things til they are absolutely perfect but putting them out there and getting feedback, has served us well.” http://www.thedianerehmshow.org/shows

I have 20 more work days before Liber is to be installed. The members of the CCPL Sculpture Garden committee are coming to review the progress and provide input for changes.  It is a challenge to be both an innovator and an interpreter and create a vision for the community –  but that is my work.

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes, without emotional expectations.  Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen…

Art and Fear