-ING Part 2

Newton’s Second Law: Acceleration is produced when a force acts on a mass. The greater the mass (of the object being accelerated) the greater the amount of force needed (to accelerate the object).

Travel – INGIMG_1967

This is the itinerary from March through October. This is not an exhaustive list and does not include all the #weavethetent events. I would say, however, it is an “exhaust-ING list.”

From the Firehouse Studio in Maryland to Colby College in Waterville, Maine (intermittent stop to eat some hot out of the oven bread prepared by Cheryl Hobart – a weaver and owner of Nomad Breads) http://www.nhmagazine.com/January-2015/The-International-Breads-of-Nomad-Bakery/ )

IMG_1897From Waterville to Portland, Maine (intermittent stop – Biddeford to see Mom – coffee at Elements)

From Portland to Peaks Island and back for 5 months on the ferry (DAILY stop for coffee at the Peaks Cafe) IMG_2401

From Peaks Island back to Waterville (intermittent stop – Maine Sheep and Wool Festival  http://www.fiberfrolic.com/  ( Coffee at Dunkin Donuts http://www.dunkindonuts.com/)

From Peaks Island to Union Bridge, Maryland (intermittent stop – Northfield Conference http://northfieldconference.org)  Not sure where I will find coffee…

From Union Bridge to Kennebunkport for a Kayak Self Rescue refresher class at Coastal Maine Kayak  http://www.coastalmainekayak.com  (Usually drink tea there due to being near frozen after the class.)

Kennebunkport to Peaks Island in time for July 4th!!  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQUq9p7pgkc

Keeping a community-based art project that involves many people and many events moving forward requires lots of energy and of course, lots of coffee.

Consum – ING

Global consumption of caffeine has been estimated at 120,000 tons per year, making it the world’s most popular psychoactive substance. (This amounts to one serving of a caffeinated beverage for every person every day. YIKES)

‘The first coffeehouses established in Oxford, England were known as penny universities. The coffeehouses would charge a penny admission, which would include access to newspapers and conversation. In a society that placed such a high importance on class and economic status, the coffeehouses were unique because the patrons were people from all levels of society. ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffeehouse

Following the Boston Tea Party, Congress passed a resolution against tea consumption and coffee became part of the economic development of the country. Some historians believe that the introduction of coffee contributed to the overall advancement of Western society – since caffeine is a stimulant vs the consumption of alcohol – a depressant. https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/p/pendergrast-grounds.html

It seems that most of my discussions and meetings about Welcoming the Stranger (not to mention caffeine consumption) have taken place in coffee shops. It seems appropriate since the journey that coffee beans take to the U.S. often mirrors the countries represented by many of the new immigrants arriving in Maine including El Salvador, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Peru, Honduras, Guatamala, Colombia, Brazil , Ethiopia , Zimbabwe, Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda Sumatra, Sulawesi, Papua New Guinea, Timor, Java.

Like the early ‘penny universities’, my coffee shop conversations were educational – political – and critical to creating my artwork. (Tho’ no longer costing a penny for a cup.) Over a cup of coffee, I discussed with Alain Nahimana the issues confronting the Maine Immigrant Rights Coalition. http://www.aclumaine.org/meet-alain-nahimana.

Our conversation was the first of many in which I became more educated about the ongoing needs of New Mainers and the politics of changing minds and hearts of Old Mainers. http://www.ilapmaine.org/advocacy.html.

I learned about how the arrival of Somali refugees (some from villages in which she had worked in 1987-8) transformed the cities of Lewiston and Auburn when I met with Catherine Besteman, Colby College Professor of Anthropology.

In a meeting held at Arabica, http://www.arabicacoffeeportland.com/ Jen Hutchins and Jess Lauren Lipton, Creative Portland invited me to hold the first Weave the Tent event as part of their series: “Integrating New Mainers into the Art Community.” https://www.facebook.com/LiveWorkPortland

IMG_1912The event took place on First Friday at the Portland Public Library where I learned of ethnic-based places of worship in Portland from a Serbian security guard who learned to weave from his grandmother.

Art in a Cup

My mom is a coffee connoisseur (or maybe she just likes the ambience – conversation and news.)

Before moving to her assisted living facility, she walked from her apartment to Hilltop where she poured a ½ cup of ‘regular’ coffee and mixed in half and half and a package of sugar. She chatted with the baristas; knew their names and listened to surrounding conversations. http://www.hilltopcoffeeshop.com/

After moving her to a Biddeford assisted living facility, I discovered Elements. It is my place of respite and a go-to place of entertainment for Mom: books, music, coffee (and beer…. ) http://www.elementsbookscoffeebeer.com/

IMG_1920 Like coffee houses of old, Elements seems to be a place to learn about local happenings. Like my mom, I talk with the baristas, learn their names and listen to surrounding conversations.

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That was how I met Tammy Ackerman of Engine  http://www.feedtheengine.org, heard about Heart of Biddeford http://www.heartofbiddeford.org, and learned about the first mosque in Maine.

 

Art in Mills

To artists, empty brick buildings signify affordable studio space; to economic development officials, artists mean the introduction of the “creative economy.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_sqYD3vskc

The textile history of Maine is reflected in the abandoned mills of Biddeford. Located along the Saco River, the York and Pepperell Mills took advantage of the hydro power. By the late 1800’s, the boom in textile manufacturing required an influx of much needed workers. By 1880 almost 50% of Biddeford’s residents were foreign-born. When the mills needed fabric dye experts, they brought in Muslim Albanians. It is now believed that a room in the Pepperell Mill housed the first Mosque in America. The workers died during the 1918 flu epidemic. Their graves face east and are marked with the crescent. http://www.muslimsinamerica.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=17&Itemid=28

Walk – ING

Since returning to Portland, I walk more. Most of my forays are along the same streets that immigrants have walked since the first ships landed at the Portland docks: Map 1914 I walk from the cottage on Peaks to the ferry; from the Casco Bay Lines terminal to my studio space. On the way, I walk along India St. past the synagogue that my great grandfather built and where I will install Welcoming the Stranger.

I continue onto Smith St. past Union Bagels (organic) and down Anderson St. towards the heart of Bayside. During the 1960’s, there was an urban renewal effort to eradicate the “slums” of Portland thereby creating a need for low-income housing. (This need is once again exacerbated – due to the gentrification currently taking place.)

My mother worked on housing issues as well as civil rights issues. Many mornings we would wake up to find neighborhood activists strategizing at our kitchen table – drinking coffee. One hard hit area was Bayside. Bayside

 

 

“Most of Bayside today was in a section of Back Cove filled with debris from the Great Fire of 1866 — which burned most of the Old Port. “Over the decades, Bayside established two identities. It was an industrial center of Maine — connected to immigrant labor and a relatively large and active rail line and seaport. It was also a burgeoning melting pot of new Americans — a diversity that is still reflected there today.

Bayside, which has also become known as West Bayside, was the industrial zone, with foundries, lumber companies, soldering shops and junkyards. East Bayside was a lower middle class neighborhood where immigrants settled. It spans from Franklin Street to Washington Avenue. The Irish were among the first to settle there, followed by Scandinavians in the 1880s, Eastern Europeans in the 1890s and more recently African and Middle East refugees.” http://www.pressherald.com/2015/03/03/portland-approves-long-planned-midtown-project-in-bayside/July Blog?

 I walk pass multi-family dwellings, children waiting for school buses, men repairing cars, young girls in hajibs. The past feels very present to me and the present feels a great deal like the past.

This once nearly abandoned area is now considered to be thriving with co-operatives, collaborative, and creatives. Euphemistically referred to as Brewside or Yeastside, Bayside is now headquarters for Welcoming the Stranger. http://www.pressherald.com/2013/12/09/bayside_poised_for_a_project

PortFiber 

Since Casey Ryder took over PortFiber, “the focus of the shop remains the same–to support and inspire the fiberarts community with quality supplies and amazing classes taught by local instructors.  Fiberarts is in our collective blood.  It’s a connection to our past, to our ancestors, to the earth and it’s fiber producing creatures.  It is the aim of PortFiber to embrace those connections and make new ones with those who share the love of wool!  “ http://www.downeast.com/fiber/IMG_2292

Casey took less than a minute to agree to be the collection site for Welcoming the Stranger yarn donations. Her weekly spinning group is weaving a panel for the exhibit using the yarn they spin at PortFiber. http://portfiber.com/calendar/2015/2/26/portspinners

Running with Scissors http://www.rwsartstudios.com IMG_2330 …is a diverse artist studio collective thriving in the industrial and eclectic East Bayside neighborhood of Portland, ME.  A dedicated work space, it serves over 50 artists working in various mediums sharing equipment, space, community, ideas, support and tools. … It is also the home of The Bayside Clay Center, a branch of RWS dedicated to clay with 11 resident members and 12 associate members.

After my first Creative Portland #weavethetent event, Kate Aker invited me to establish a studio at RWS . Everyone there has been supportive and best of all – my Journey Looms can fit through the doorways.IMG_2336

Gathering of Stitches http://www.agatheringofstitches.org

“A Gathering of Stitches is a maker space for fiber and textile artists. Its a place for those of you who like to work with your hands, with fabric and yarn, to use shared equipment and resources, learn new skills, or hone old ones, and join in a community of folks who love fiber.”

After speaking at a 2 Degrees http://www.liveworkportland.org/connect-visit/2-degrees-portland event held at A Gathering of Stitches, I met with Samantha Hoyt Lindgren and reserved a sewing machine and a table in July and August to create the installation work.IMG_2458

Bayside is also a ‘caffeine corridor.’

Coffee By Design http://www.coffeebydesign.com Coffee By Design Headquarters is located in Bayside just off the bike trail. They purchase from more than 30 growers around the world. They give back to the local community through their Rebel Blend Fund. Tadim makes great “art in a cup.”

IMG_2515 Tandem Coffee http://www.tandemcoffee.com Tandem is not only is located between Port Fiber and Running with Scissors but shares a parking lot with a local mosque. Owner Will Platt has okayed a #weavethetent event there.

 

Creat-ING

John Adams wrote: “I am a revolutionary so my son can be a farmer so his son can be a poet.

Sometimes it takes years for the disparate pieces of an idea to weave themselves into a full-fledged cohesive work of art.

Some artists are disciplined and labor daily to practice their craft – improve their skills, develop a style, master a material.

Others are driven by deadlines, available materials or a competition. Environments influence their output – large studios, large work; etc. Alma Thomas created works all the same size due to the size of her kitchen table… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alma_Thomas

Some of us wait for the Flash – the aha moment.

Welcoming the Stranger appeared whole cloth – a conversation in a taxi cab, a tour of a former synagogue and kayaking around an island formed the nucleus of an exhibition and a community-based art work. But I have lots of work to do….

I have materials.

I have a space.

I have community.

I have a deadline.

And I have gratitude for all those helping me along the way.

I will continue on the stone path….as long as there is enough coffee.

 

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-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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Sacred Spaces – Part 1

Sacred: highly valued and important; deserving great respect

What makes a place sacred?

 Loss of life?

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

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

Brady photo

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

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

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

imagesLincoln wrote in his Gettysburg address:

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

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

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

McClellanHouse01210901_s

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

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

Is that place where she fell, sacred?

What makes a space sacred?

Acts of social change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

litlrck1

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of violence?

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

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

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

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

Chairs

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

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

What makes a place sacred?

Acts of heroism?

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

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

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

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

Flite 93-1

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

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

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

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

Hemlock grove

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

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

It has been 19 years since the Oklahoma bombing.

It has been 13 years since 9/11.

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

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

In 57 years, there is an African American President.

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

George Santayana:

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

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.

Lying Fallow

lie fallow  Lit. [for farmland] to exist unplanted for a period of time.

I am the empty cup.

While attending a workshop on Creating One’s Own Sabbath Experience with Tom Bassarear and Yvette Yeager, I was asked to select from a table of items the object that represented myself – in that moment. I chose the empty cup.

http://www.amazon.com/Sabbath-Finding-Renewal-Delight-Lives/dp/0553380117/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378156657&sr=1-1&keywords=muller+sabbath

Long-term projects – raising children or maintaining a house or recovering from an illness or caring for a parent or making public art – consume personal, physical and spiritual resources. Juggling 2 or more of those activities at the same time can deplete us.

 I am the empty cup.

 Nature Abhors a Vacuum

According to the ancient philosopher Aristotle, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” Aristotle based his conclusion on the observation that nature requires every space to be filled with something, even if that something is colorless, odorless air.

 I am the empty cup.

At my core, I am a maker: I make sculpture. I make movies. I make food. I make time for others. I make plans. I make decisions. In this moment, I want to make time to ” fill my cup” with whatever comes along.

What if that involves picking up a friend at the airport and then taking a 10-hour drive? What if that is living with 100+ people I have never met? What if that is honest and authentic sharing – with strangers. And what if that is a week of really good food someone else has prepared?

Indra’s Net in Massachusetts

I was invited to be a Conference Speaker at the 2013 Northfield Conference. The Northfield Conference is an annual week-long event that has taken place in western Massachusetts since 1893. http://northfieldconference.org/history/

It’s difficult to explain a place that is an intentional multi-generational community for individuals and families. It takes place on a small private school campus along the Connecticut River. The conference is all-volunteer.  The program originates from the participants and throughout the year planning meetings take place.  I was invited to speak about my art work – specifically the Invisible Legacy Series

The theme was Indra’s Net  – a metaphor that demonstrates the principles of Interdependent Origination.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indra’s_ net. Indra’s net is conceived as a net, or web.

•     at each juncture there lies a jewel;

•     each jewel reflects all the other jewels in this cosmic matrix;

•     every jewel represents an individual life form, atom, cell or unit of consciousness;

•     each jewel, in turn, is intrinsically and intimately connected to all the others;

•     thus, a change in one gem is reflected in all the others.

My friends think of me as a consummate networker. Whenever they need to find specific help, borrow something, know something, or find someone, they come to me. I am often less than 6 degrees of separation from anyone I meet – no matter where I am. I am the Kevin Bacon of my circle of friends and associates. http://oracleofbacon.org/

I decided to “disconnect” for the week- no cell phones or internet. I wanted to be fully present at the event.  (My friends took bets on how long I could stay unplugged. I lasted the week but the first 3 days of withdrawal were tough.)

We now have the ability to be connected and interconnected with friends, family, even strangers. We believe that we have more intimacy in our lives. We believe that being accessible 24/7 make us less lonely. There is a Toyota car commercial featuring a young woman sitting behind a computer worried that her parents only have 19 “friends.” Her parents are shown going off on a bicycle adventure. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TUGmcb3mhLMhave She is depicted sitting alone, inside, accompanied by her laptop.

In his article: Is Facebook Making Us Lonely, Stephen Marche writes:

Yet within this world of instant and absolute communication, unbounded by limits     of time or space, we suffer from unprecedented alienation. We have never been more detached from one another, or lonelier. In a world consumed by ever more novel modes of socializing, we have less and less actual society. We live in an accelerating contradiction: the more connected we become, the lonelier we are. We were promised a global village; instead we inhabit the drab cul-de-sacs and endless freeways of a vast suburb of information. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/is-facebook-making-us-lonely/308930/

Loneliness and being alone are not the same thing, but both are on the rise. We meet fewer people. We gather less. And when we gather, our bonds are less meaningful and less easy.

For an hour each morning at the Northfield Conference, a conference attendee is invited to give a scheduled talk that pertains to the theme. The talk is intensely personal and allows listeners a glimpse into the lives of others. Sometimes speakers reveal secrets; sometimes a life- altering event; sometimes a struggle in the moment.

Whatever is shared during this special hour is held in deep respect and provides the topic for small group discussions following the presentation.  Invisible Legacy examined the lives of my great grandmother and grandmother who lived most of their lives in the Augusta Mental Health Institute in Maine. (AMHI)

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI never had a conversation or a connection with either. I learned about their lives in the papers of the AMHI archives. I learned my grandmother was an entrepreneur, consummate salesperson and seamstress. My great grandmother was self-reliant. She raised 9 children while her husband sold surplus goods from a wagon.  I learned about how their lives were reflected in mine in ways I could not have predicted.

pcfront Invisible Legacy is an installation of antique furniture reupholstered in canvas upon which images, stories, medical reports, interviews, photographs, drawings related to the lives of women I never knew are printed. The work creates a conversation about, not only their lives, but the lives of others like them. http://www.joisraelson.com/Sculpture_Invisible%20Legacy.html

The invisible legacy continues even in death. It is estimated that there are 300,000 unmarked graves on the grounds of former and even current psychiatric hospitals throughout the US. http://www.pressherald.com/news/forgotten_2012-05-27.html?pagenum=full

In shutting down an upstate New York institution thousands of empty suitcases from patients were discovered in the attic. Each suitcase was a testament to a life restrained – disconnected.

For several days after my talk, many Northfield participants would talk to me about a mother – a father – a sibling – who suffered from mental illness. More often, they would reveal their personal struggles with this ‘invisible’ disease.

These were conversations about anger and sadness – loss and change – hope and survival. Each conversation was a reflection of another. “A change in one gem creates a change in another…”  I was changed – by the depth of interactions – and the forging of new connections.

Indra’s Net in Maine

I walk across the island to the ferry, take the 20-minute boat ride across Casco Bay and then walk the mile+ to my mom’s apartment on Munjoy Hill.

There have been many changes along the street that leads to the ‘Hill.’ Dark bars have given way to upscale coffee shops and organic bakeries; used furniture stores to high end yarn shops and strip dives to a pizza place with so many topping options it makes decision making almost impossible. http://www.ottoportland.com/

At the corner of North and Congress – in the window of a former bakery – hangs a very large stained glass mosaic made of jewels and silver wire. It is a physical manifestation of an Indra’s Net.

I opened the door to the shop and felt genuinely welcomed from the moment I entered. Laura Fuller has been working with glass for seventeen years. She began putting three-dimensional objects in her stained glass panels while still in school. Although discouraged by her instructors from pursuing this innovative technique, she continued to incorporate found objects into her complex glass reliefs.DSC_0005

There is a pixie-like gentleness combined with a deep intensity that emanates from Laura when you are in conversation. That combination of lightness and strength belies, or maybe reflects, the loss of her child to a rare disease. http://laurafullerglass.blogspot.com/

Each unique piece expresses not only her story, but also that of the objects incorporated within. For Laura, each object is a reflection of the complex narrative of life — past, present and future:

Objects are our representatives. ‘Living’ solid, fruitful, domestic, useful lives: independently functional. These objects, having given 2 to 200 years of faithful service, became hidden. In drawers, closets, dumps, underground, and in the ocean – waiting.

I will send Laura objects to use in a piece that will reflect my interconnectedness with others and myself. I am the empty cup that is now being filled with intimate and heartfelt conversations with strangers.

I am part of Indra’s Net.

Practicing Patience

 Since my last blog entry in June, I’ve been practicing patience.

The good news: the stone is on the truck. The bad news: the truck is still in Indiana. The good news: I have found a space in which to work. The bad news: it has no walls or heat. The good news: I have found an assistant. The bad news: our schedules may not mesh. I am sure, however, that all will be resolved by the next posting. For now, I am taking a slight detour.

Many of the Renaissance artists had patrons. The artist only had to worry about potential coup d’etats, losing favor in the court, imprisonment, even death if they did not complete their commissions in a timely manner. Payment was only received when the work was unveiled and accepted.

When I was in Italy learning to carve stone, I visited a small chamber where Michelangelo hid from his angry patrons. (He was notorious for taking on more work than he could possibly complete in a timely manner.) The walls were covered with “cartoons” – ideas for sculptures never realized.  He was too busy trying to balance his books – buy supplies, cover the rent and pay his creditors. Artists today live a similar existence. Patronage appears to be limited to public art commissions. Payment is only received when the work is installed. Still, supplies have to be purchased, the rent covered and the creditors paid.

Because I chose to pursue a path of creativity, I accept all attending consequences of that decision. Like most artists, I work a variety of jobs to keep the roof over my head and gas in the truck. Some of the work is creative; some more prosaic. One year, I held 16 different jobs including, but not limited to, the following: dog sitter, house cleaner, landscaper, kayak tour guide, upholsterer, furniture refinisher, faux finisher, project coordinator, caterer, teacher, trainer, writer, and clutter buster http://www.jotheclutterbuster.com.

Filmmaker

On the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, I went to Peaks Island, Maine to sculpt a granite memorial. A chronicle of the process became a film: Chorus of Stones: In Four Parts. http://vimeo.com/29998120. After working on the island for 2 years, I am known as a sculptor and filmmaker and a highly responsible house and dog sitter.

The Umbrella Cover Museum is located on the same island. It occupies a very small space in the same building as the artist cooperative. (YES, I am talking about a museum of umbrella covers – the sleeve-like fabric that covers the umbrella when you buy it.) About 16 years ago, Nancy 3 Hoffman hung her first umbrella cover on the wall of her kitchen and tacked up a note documenting its provenance. The rest, as they say, is history.

In order to be considered for the Guinness World Records, there must be a category in which to compete. It took 5 years but in her indomitable way, Nancy 3 was able to convince the Guinness folks to create an Umbrella Cover Museum category. She then applied for an official count.

The requirements for a count are very specific. You need certified judges and also a judge to oversee those judges. You need to complete lots of forms and document the count from start to finish.

I was recruited to be the official videographer of the Peaks Island Umbrella Cover Museum Count on July 7, 2012. The count lasted 2.5 hours and included the singing of the museum theme song: “Let a Smile be Your Umbrella” accompanied by members of the Maine Squeeze accordion band. (Seriously.)

Nancy has submitted the footage of the counting of 730 umbrella covers with other proof of the event to the Guinness folks. I produced a short doc entitled: Celebration of the Mundane about the UCM, Nancy 3, and the commitment required to pursue a passion. www.umbrellacovermuseum.org/UCM.org/Press_%26_Video.html

Currently, Nancy is waiting for the official word.

She is also practicing patience.

Teacher

Several years ago, I established a Movie Maker Camp at the Friends School of Portland on Macworth Island in Maine. I taught video production and animation to young filmmakers who created Public Service Announcements during the week-long camp. After completing their PSAs, we take a field trip to the public access station  for interviews and a screening.

While the arrangements for the delivery of the limestone were being made, I taught at the camp. This year’s productions were entitled Stranger Danger and Scam Security. It is a sad commentary on our culture that fear pervades the lives of our children – both inside and outside their homes. Fortunately, children are able to set aside worry to be in the moment. So we waded in the ocean and looked for crabs at the water’s edge.

We all practiced patience.

 Upholsterer

The skeleton of my sofa has haunted me for years.

One day, I dismantled my living room sofa. (I can’t recall what inspired me to do it.)

It then took seven years to find just the right fabric. Now that I had selected the stone for Liber and made the shipping arrangements, it was time to re-upholster the sofa. You might be asking yourself: How does upholstering a sofa relate to sculpting?

Re-upholstering requires holding onto the image of the finished piece as you work section by section. You take raw materials and fashion them into a discernable whole. You work with your hands. You stand on your feet for long periods. You use specific tools for each step in the process.  You are always accompanied by the sound of a compressor and an air powered tool. Sometimes you need help lifting.

You look carefully. You do not cut until you are sure. You do not rush.

You practice patience.

The stone for Liber will probably be transported with stone intended for repairs of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  On September 29, 1907, the foundation stone was laid in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and 83 years later the last finial was placed in the presence of President George H. W. Bush. The damage incurred as a result of the recent earthquake may take a decade to repair.

  • Making a film takes time.
  • Teaching children takes time.
  • Re-upholstering a sofa takes time. (Longer if you also do the chair.)
  • Building a cathedral takes time.

Creating a sculpture takes time. I can practice patience a little longer.