– ING Part 3 (b)

2nd Law of Thermodynanics – Law of Entropy

aka Murphy’s Law

In particular, Murphy’s Law is often cited as a form of the second law of thermodynamics (the law of entropy) because both are predicting a tendency to a more disorganized state.

It is impossible to delineate all the tasks that need to be accomplished in a multi-media installation nor to predict all the problems that will need to be addressed. To-do lists and post-its are often inadequate. So for the most critical of needs, my hand becomes a bulletin board.

IMG_2305

In her one-woman show, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, Lily Tomlin portrays a homeless woman who was once an executive and leads her life via the post-its attached to her clothing. http://www.amazon.com/Search-Signs-Intelligent-Life-Universe/dp/B001O9CFCC

Count-ING Down

Murphy Challenge #1: Weather

Temperatures would be in the upper 80’s during the entire installation. (Maine in September!! Who knew?)

The Maine Jewish Museum is not air-conditioned.

TEN: Prepping Walls

Maine Hardware is the go-to place for most Peaks Islanders. http://mainehardware.com The employees are knowledgeable AND they provide FREE popcorn.

IMG_3233

Ladders, tarps, paint, coffee, blue tape, levels, sand paper, spackle, scrapers, coffee, buckets, paint trays, rubber gloves, coffee… a seemingly endless list but the multiple trips enable us to replenish, not only supplies, but popcorn. (Which is important if, in addition to the coffee and donuts, it becomes another source of nutrition during the 10-day installation.)

NINE: Painting Walls

Etz Chaim sealEtz Chaim synagogue was built in 1921.  After several incarnations and years of disuse, it was restored and became the Maine Jewish Museum. http://mainejewishmuseum.org The 1920’s construction and previous renovations meant locating studs was an ongoing struggle.

Murphy Challenge #2: Construction

The spackling, sanding and painting of the museum gallery walls took place the same week that construction began on the new bathrooms …There were moments of dueling drills and lurching ladders but we were able to share the space as well as extension cords – and of course, the donuts.IMG_2897

 IMG_2899EIGHT: Stenciling walls

Working around the daily operations of the museum, as well as respecting religious tenets, resulted in a type of shift work. The key to progress was FLEXIBILITY. (And a willingness to ‘couch surf’ after missing the last ferry.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CouchSurfing

While attempting to wrestle a Journey Loom through a door way that was a smidgeon too small…. I noticed a helmet clad bicyclist chalking arrows on the road.

IMG_2905Noticing my plight, she helped maneuver the loom into the building. A painter in her own right, Ebyn Moss volunteers – at arts centers, community organizations and non profits. She is a Board member of the Hour Exchange. http://www.hourexchangeportland.org and lives her life adhering to its tenets.IMG_2925

The settling of the foundation of the building during the past 94 years created uneven walls. There was a 1” drop over 50’ making it difficult to determine level. Ebyn was undaunted. She had worked for MacKenzie Childs. Doing what? Stenciling. http://www.mackenzie-childs.com

(Another beshart moment – Bookmark this link https://thestonepath.wordpress.com/2014/05/ for more beshart moments.

IMG_2921The word begat is sometimes interpreted as ‘to bring forth.” The stenciled ‘walls’ of Abraham’s tent are intended to remind us that we are all part of the same ‘family.’ http://www.enterthebible.org/blog.aspx?post=2646

Over 3 days, Ebyn stencilled the word ‘begat’ 2000+ times.

Murphy Challenge #3: Colliding Events

Stenciling the word begat on 2 – 50’ x 10’ walls while beautifully appointed young women and their families attend a previously scheduled Bat Mitzvah proved to be challenging – but not insurmountable. And, the work on the new bathrooms continued…

SEVEN: Engaging Press

For years, artists just sent their press releases to the local newspaper. They would include the 5 – W’s and a few photos. Today, vying for the attention of the press requires more than just notifying the newspaper. There are free papers, community papers, magazines, and social media to notify and continually update. Maintaining a presence in the public eye requires time and energy – both in short supply when installing a multi media exhibit.

Sometimes it is a matter of timing. For weeks prior to the exhibit opening, the plight of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants occupied local, national and world news. Amidst the spackling, sanding, stenciling, Press Herald and Portland Magazine reporters appeared with their photographers for an interview and pictures of the exhibit. (And some of my closest photographer friends did the same.)

IMG_2967

Murphy Challenge # 4: No there there

We had ‘begats.’ There was no tent; there was no carpet; there were no community weavings. The exhibit was still in process – I had words and ideas but was STILL short on visible objects.

It is easier to talk on the radio where words and ideas ARE the medium. WMPG is a community radio station that broadcasts from a small house located on the campus of the University of Southern Maine (my alma mater.)IMG_2280

I arrived paint spattered, harried and sleep deprived. Chris White is the host of Tuesday Night Talk Radio Club. His interview framed Welcoming the Stranger within the context of the Portland community and the New Mainers. Articulating the thought and history behind my vision clarified for me – and hopefully the listeners – my hopes for the exhibition.

http://media.usm.maine.edu/~wmpg/archivefiles/Toosday/TNTRC_150901.mp3

SIX: Creating QRs

For each aspect of the exhibit, there is a sound collage. I combined real life interviews with scripted histories, sound effects, ambient noise, and music to create a kind of sound track — but without pictures.

The sounds of children practicing Hebrew formed the basis of the sound collage for Abraham’s Tent. Laura Boenisch is the principal and director of B’nai Portland, an Independent Hebrew School. With a degree in music education, Laura taught herself to chant Torah tropes so that she could help prepare her son for Bar Mitzvah. https://www.facebook.com/bnai.portland/info?tab=page_info.

We met in the Sanctuary. When I attended synagogue as a young girl, I was excluded from the first floor and relegated to the balcony. Standing at the bimah, Laura chanted the story of Abraham and Sarah from Genesis. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bema.

 

FIVE:             Supporting History

I almost missed the meeting…I flew out of the Museum covered in paint. In a packed hearing room in Portland’s City Hall, I raised my hand to testify in support of the designation of India Street as a historic district:

(In my neighborhood…) there were those fortunate enough to have grandparents or great aunts and uncles to tell stories of how their families ended up in Portland, Maine.

There might have been photos of family members posed in of local stores and houses and churches and synagogues. There may have been photos taken on holidays, family events – graduations, weddings, funerals. You could take a walk. around the India St. neighborhood – past the old synagogues, St Peter’s, Micucci’s, Amato’s, Abysinnian Church http://www.abyme.org, and North School – and experience history as seen through their eyes and the architecture that was still in existence.

Map 1914

And for those not so fortunate, the buildings, businesses, streets must remain. It is easier to imagine when waves of immigrants settled in what is comparable to the lower East Side of NYC when you can walk by historic structures that greeted those new arrivals. …when you can walk from the docks, along India Street, and experience the immigrant history of Portland.

In that moment, I was focused on immigrants of the past and how their story mirrored the underpinnings of my exhibit. http://portlandlandmarks.org/blog/event/a-neighborhood-in-transition-immigration-and-the-india-street-neighborhood/

FOUR: Retrieving the ‘Carpet’

A 50’ x 8’ ‘Persian carpet’ made of roofing rubber and stenciled with images of seaweed and compass roses requires a 50’ floor on which to design, paint and polyurethane. This 200+ lb. piece of art needs a space in which to reside until delivered to the museum. The Colby College Art Department  https://www.colby.edu provided a space in which to work until the carpet was completed. (The room measured only 40’ long so requiring continuous rolling, folding, unrolling.)

IMG_2767The maintenance staff monitored my progress and occasionally conducted a critique. They were mostly favorable. (Although they did wonder why the room smelled like the ocean. It was the bucket of seaweed I was using to make stencils.  I commuted back and forth to Waterville applying the final coat of polyurethane the night before the pick up.IMG_2957

Murphy Challenge #5: Elevator

The rolled carpet was too long to fit in the elevator. 200+ lbs. is very heavy. Two of us could not heft it. We tried. Several times. I set out to find some students. There were none to be found. I returned to find the maintenance women carrying the rolled carpet down 2 flights of stairs to the delivery truck. (I hope you are both reading this. Thank you, again.)

THREE: Installing the Tent

A year ago, the tent installation team designed a hanging system based on an idea in my head. The actual production and installation proved to be more challenging.IMG_2783

Murphy Challenge #6: No Tentmaker

Although I had received donated yarns, collaborated with volunteer spinners, and engaged citizen weavers, there were only 275 square feet of woven tent panels. The weaving was spearheaded by Jane Herbert https://www.facebook.com/Westbrook-Fiberarts-411482502345348/     However, I needed 500 square feet. (Not to mention, that I had no idea how to make an actual tent.)

IMG_2659At the final Journey Loom weaving event,  I met Melodi Hackett. A weaver in her own right, she wove and warped looms throughout the 2 day event. and then she asked:

What kind of help do you still need?

I need a tent maker.

With a straight face, Melodi responded: I make tents. She had worked as an exhibit tent designer. (Yes – another beshart moment. I told you to bookmark that page.)

IMG_2826

A week before the installation, the tent makers began production. Measure, cut, serge, sew. Measure, cut, serge, sew.

Melodie at machine
IMG_2820

 

 

 

 

When I started kayak lessons 4 years ago, I did not ask my instructor if his mother was a weaver and if he knew the difference between warp and weft. As it turned out, the answer to both questions was ‘Yes.” (I know, I know – beshart.)

IMG_2840I envisioned the ‘tent’ as an ocean – ‘mirroring the movement of waves.’ And Gregg Bolton https://gbolton.smugmug.com was able to translate my idiosyncratic aesthetic into a physical reality. After 12+ hours of balancing on ladders and planks, occasional invectives (mine not his) and of course, donuts, the tent was installed.IMG_2931

IMG_2944 IMG_2935 IMG_2947 

 

 

 

 

TWO: Installing the Journey Loom Weavings

Respite from the heat came as a result of hanging the community weavings in the air conditioned Community Room. IMG_2909

No Murphy Here. –

Well, OK. Murphy took up residence in this room for 8 weeks. Every time a community group needed to use the room for a meeting, Murphy re-arranged the furniture.IMG_3236 IMG_3235

 

 

 

 

ONE:             Hanging Aprons

Seven women, seven aprons, seven tallit bags,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tallit seven genealogies and a series of invented postcards that highlight their efforts on behalf of the immigrants of the 1920’s comprised Sarah’s GenerosityIMG_9697

Carefully arranged and meticulously measured, the aprons were installed outside the Sanctuary.IMG_9710

 

 

ZERO:

  • Set up reception
  • Set out guestbook
  • Create Artist Binder
  • Fold 250 brochures
  • Find somewhere to shower
  • Comb hair
  • Set up sound system
  • Check toilet paper in bathrooms
  • Prepare Artist Talk
  • Hope people come (They did. More than 150 at the opening. 100 at First Friday. And more.)

Murphy Challenge #7Seriously Hot

Neither Velcro nor double-sided tape adheres to plaster walls when the temperature exceeds 85.

  • Re – hang Aprons !!! Use nails.

Where’s the Cab?IMG_2769

 My ad hoc interviews with a taxi driver from Burundi and an Iraqi prisoner-of-war were intertwined with the story of Bela Gross read by a recent Russian asylum seeker and recorded for play back on the sound system of a Crown Vic cab donated by ASAP Cab. http://www.asaptaxi.net IMG_2988

Exhibit attenders would sit in the cab and listen to their stories. Upon ‘arrival,”they received a receipt with links to the current immigration, asylum, refugee laws and stats.

 

Exhibit – ING

 September 3 – October 25, 2015.

http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/04/exhibition-at-maine-jewish-museum-examines-portland-immigration-then-and-now/

20150903_174123

IMG_3136IMG_9724

20150903_174050

 

ER

Abraham’s Tent, Sarah’s Generosity, Habeas Corpus QRs are posted on:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz7MUQKodiZXQUb7tcog17A

 

Connect – ING

Community Events were held during the month of October. IMG_3104

IMG_3088

Weaving Workshop – Cheryl Holbert

 

 

Color of CommunityIMG_3142

Reading and Book Signing – I’m New Here http://www.annesibleyobrien.comIMG_3160

IMG_3180World Music – Casco Bay Tummlers http://www.cascobaytummlers.com and Burundi Batimbo Beats

 

 

 

‘When Jews were New Mainers’ symposium with Colby CollegeIMG_3211IMG_3202

 

IMG_3208

 

 

 

Clos-ING

14 days to install; 7 to remove. I realize the world only took 6 days and there was a day of rest at the end – but the resting will have to wait.

For now, there will be tear-filled goodbyes, sanding, spackling and painting, crating and storing of the exhibit, more tear-filled goodbyes and then a 14 hour drive back to Maryland.

There is no way to know if this exhibit will have any lasting impact within the community. But as I prepare to leave, the following editorial appeared written by Arthur Fink: A Real Community Has No Strangers

http://www.pressherald.com/2015/09/20/maine-voices-a-real-community-has-no-stranger/

….Do see this exhibit, ask how we welcome strangers (or don’t) and let yourself be transformed…

 ..I left the exhibit asking myself, “Who are our ‘strangers’ today? And how can we welcome them with grace, acceptance, dignity and genuine openness?”

…We can open our hearts, connect with those who may appear to be “different” and forge a more inclusive, caring and compassionate community. I hope and pray that we will!

 

PS from Murphy:IMG_3237

The bathrooms are finally done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

-ING Part 3 (a)

1st Law of Motion – Law of Inertia

Every object in a state of uniform motion tends to remain in that state of motion unless an external force is applied to it.

There’s no stopping us now… Supremes

Weav – ING

I thought continuously changing designs and altering plans were endemic only to site-specific installation artists.

However, writers change their story lines, musicians re-write their compositions, dancers revise their choreography; the second mark on a canvas may change the trajectory of the work and a crack in the stone releases a new image.

Eighteen months ago, I proposed the Welcoming the Stranger exhibition. Based on the mandate in the Quran, the Bible, and the Torah to ‘welcome the stranger’ – the exhibit would compare the treatment of immigrants of the 1920’s in Portland, Maine with that of “New Mainers” today.  There would be 3 components of the show: Abraham’s Tent, Sarah’s Generosity, Habeas Corpus.

The community would participate in a dialogue about immigration – past and present. The form of that community involvement was still to be determined*.

Twelve months passed in which I conducted research into the lives of the National Council of Women who assisted immigrants arriving in the 1920’s at the House Island Quarantine and Immigration station.

I initiated the campaign to prevent the development of House Island. The City of Portland designated House Island, the “Ellis Island of the North,” as an historic district. The remaining structures from the quarantine and immigration station would be retained. http://www.pressherald.com/2015/01/05/portland-council-grants-protection-for-historic-house-island/

Six months ago, I arrived in the city of my birth – a stranger – and was welcomed and supported and encouraged by the city of today. Creating community involvement – with organizations, religious institutions, schools, artists, individuals, and businesses – became the focus of my work for 3 months.

IMG_2573Anyone and everyone can weave – over and under, under and over.

(Think paper placemats in school or potholders at camp.)IMG_2523

I loaded and unloaded the Journey Loom onto my truck, attached a banner to the tailgate, and set up weavings throughout the city.
Using donated fabric, “citizen weavers” at First Friday Art Walks, World Refugee Day, Portland High School, The Children’s Museum, Levey Day School, Anderson Street Mosque, Tandem Coffee, Running With Scissors, Peaks Island, Root Cellar, Kennedy Park, Trinity Episcopal church and others created weavings.
2 girls

IMG_2872At each event, participants recorded ideas of how to ‘welcome a stranger.’ Their responses were posted on the welcoming the stranger art Facebook page and served as a way to continue the dialogue.

IMG_2662

 

The Journey Loom weavings – created a powerful visual symbol that captured the underlying theme of weaving together a community – a city – a country – a world. They became the 4th component of the exhibit.IMG_2659
IMG_2879

 

 

 

Journey – ING

Simultaneously, the panels for Abraham’s Tent were being woven on traditional looms using donated and hand spun yarn from around the country. Donations arrived from Ravelry.com readers.IMG_2225 The PortFiber Thursday spinning group spun, warped, wove.  http://portfiber.com IMG_2292

Between weaving events, planning with community groups, materials collection, and ‘commuting’ via the ferry from Peaks Island, I created the remaining components of the installation:

At Running with Scissors: artist studios and community http://www.rwsartstudios.com

IMG_2788

My studio space was headquarters for the project, storage for the looms and materials, apron design and genealogy research lab. I used RWS woodworking tools and the biggest light table I had ever seen for creating stencils. Kate Anker, founder, was the go to person for everything art. The resident artists provided their expertise, words of encouragement – and of course, coffee.

At Gathering of Stitches: A Making Space for Fiber and Textile People

http://agatheringofstitches.com

Samantha Hoyt Lindgren created a maker space for fiber and textile artists. You can rent a full time studio, attend classes and workshops, or arrange for time on the various machines.IMG_2801

Samantha is the most flexible person I know. I popped in weekly to revise the calendar. She would calmly erase the blocked out dates and write in the next. Eventually, we didn’t even bother writing in a date. She assured me there would be a space and place when needed.

At MECA: Maine College of Art http://www.meca.edu/

Elizabeth Jabar and I appeared on a panel at the Migrations Conference sponsored by Colby College in April. http://web.colby.edu/mainemigrations/ She is the Associate Professor of Printmaking and Foundation at MECA.IMG_2778

Her work is socially conscious and frequently community based. http://www.Futuremothers.org. Over coffee, I admitted I was terrified to print for the following reason:

I had never done ANY print making. (OK. Potato printing with my first graders.) http://www.marthastewart.com/1004012/potato-printing-craft

Elizabeth offered her studio and her expertise. On the hottest, most humid day of the summer, we mixed ink colors, printed test strips and practiced a paper lithography transfer process using gum Arabic, reversed photocopies of the 1924 map of Portland and lots of patience.IMG_2776

I now know I couldn’t be a printmaker; too many variables to analyze when it doesn’t come out the way you hoped.

 

 

At the “The Nest:” Peaks IslandIMG_0402

I have a small studio space in a boathouse called ” The Nest.”  At night, I researched Hebrew and Muslim prayers, adhesives, immigration law, transport companies, photographers, inks. I wrote scripts for audio collages, listened to hours of sound effects, conducted interviews, and produced recordings.

I photocopied and photocopied; signage; labels; brochures, letters, images.

And, I continued to meet with anyone and everyone who wanted to ‘welcome the stranger.’

Install-ING

Within the whirling dervish of my life, the underlying theme behind Welcoming the Stranger remained constant: To tell the story of the House Island Quarantine and Immigration station, the role of the National Council of Jewish Women, create an Abraham’s tent and compare the present day treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees to their welcome in the 1920’s.

The Welcoming the Stranger exhibit requires a 10-day installation. (A day defined as 14+ hours.) Lack of funding means relying on the generous spirit and labor of friends and volunteers. Everyone would be paid in donuts, lots and lots of coffee and heart felt appreciation.IMG_2930

And, naturally, ‘Murphy’ would make an appearance in ways I could never have predicted.

 

http://www.murphys-laws.com/murphy/murphy-true.html

 

*Welcoming the Stranger (WTS): building understanding through community based art is a forum for community and arts related organizations to explore the theme of immigration, belonging and “building bridges” of appreciation and understanding with people of all backgrounds. 

 Goals include:

 To promote a sense of commonality among diverse communities;

 To provide forums to discuss how the historic issues surrounding immigration are reflected in a contemporary context;

 To honor the contributions that diverse groups of immigrants provide to the American experience.

 

 

 

 

 

-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.

Like us on Facebook: welcoming the stranger art

Follow us on Instagram: #weavethetent

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.

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.