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Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Watching the video the other day of the Rose Garden hullabaloo with the faces of the wealthy and predominantly white men all gleefully gloating the mere passage of a House bill that has the potential to do far more harm than good made me angry and ashamed for this country.  To see them so wildly exulting something that does nothing to address the very real problems that exist in the availability and delivery of healthcare to our citizens is an abomination. They shift around some money to the advantage of those already well endowed and they celebrate like they personally defeated an alien force hellbent on overthrowing the Earth.

What drives these people? I am sure that if asked, they would spew the requisite “they’re there to serve the people“nonsense. But they seem to believe, if their actions are evidence of any sort, that the people they must serve the most are the people who need their assistance the least.

Do these men in congress really know the true extent and face of poverty or is it just an abstract notion, anonymous and in the distance? Personally, I believe they should be speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, that they should be acting in order to lift those in need. Instead, they seem quite content in enriching their own bank accounts and those of their cronies while they do little, if anything, for the greater good.

Maybe they should take a few minutes and look at some of the photos of Lewis Hine, the photo-journalist and social activist.  His powerful photos taken around the turn of the century brought to light the plight of working children and spurred on the union movement that brought about great reforms for workers across the nation. Perhaps if they studied the faces of the children in these photos, they would get a better understanding of what should be their own purpose in their positions of responsibility. Those faces can still be found today, if they would only take the time to look.

Here’s a nice slideshow of some of Hine’s photos set to the Gary Jules version of the Tears For Fears song, Mad World.

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Tonight, the West End Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary of selling art on Corning’s lovely Market Street. There is a coinciding opening for a retrospective show of the paintings of the gallery’s co-founder, Tom Gardner. The festivities begin at 4:30 this afternoon with a ribbon cutting and following that there will be music from guitarist Bill Groome, plenty to eat and drink and a few surprises.

I’ve said and written this many times before, but without the West End Gallery I have no idea what or where I would be. The chance to show my work given to me by then gallery owners Lin and Tom Gardner forever changed the direction of my life, opening new doors of opportunity that I couldn’t even imagine in my former life. Ultimately, it changed how I viewed the world and myself.

It’s rare that you can pinpoint a moment in time that alters your life in such a drastic manner that you can see the results that extend from that moment a la It’s a Wonderful Life. But I have such a moment from a day in early 1995 when Tom critiqued my work and Lin asked me to show a few pieces in their next show. Without that moment with them, every good thing that has come to me via my work most likely would have never happened. The numerous paintings that have found their way around the world, the 50 or so solo shows and the many, many wonderful people I have been fortunate to encounter through my work– all of it would probably have never occurred.

I don’t want to even consider what would be without that moment.

In my own way, I say “Thank You” to them every day I enter my studio and take part in the life and work that I so enjoy now. It is all due to that moment and I will never forget that.  Nor will I ever be able to thank them enough.

For forty years, the West End Gallery has given me and so many other artists an opportunity to take a chance on a different life.  It has persisted through the ups and downs of the economy, through booms and busts.  Now under the capable hands of Tom and Lin’s daughter Jesse and her husband, John, it is looking forward even as it celebrates its past tonight. They are working hard every day to make the gallery better in every way.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s another 40 years in the cards for the West End Gallery.

So, if you’re in the area tonight, make your way to the West End Gallery for a celebratory drink, a little bite, some great conversation and some wonderful art and music. If you’ve never been, they’ll make you feel right at home.

I can tell you that from first-hand experience.

Thank you for everything, Lin and Tom and Jesse and John.

I mean that literally.

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Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, Pennsylvania Coal Co. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Noon hour in the Ewen Breaker, South Pittston, Pennsylvania- Lewis Hines

The labor movement was the principal force that transformed misery and despair into hope and progress. Out of its bold struggles, economic and social reform gave birth to unemployment insurance, old-age pensions, government relief for the destitute and, above all, new wage levels that meant not mere survival but a tolerable life. The captains of industry did not lead this transformation; they resisted it until they were overcome. When in the thirties the wave of union organization crested over the nation, it carried to secure shores not only itself but the whole society.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Another Labor Day.

If you ask someone what the holiday represents they will no doubt say that it is symbolic end of summer.  A last picnic.  One last real summer weekend at the lake or shore. If you push them they might finally say that it honors the workers of this country.

But it really was created to celebrate the American Labor Movement, those unions and organizers that brought about all of the changes that Dr. King pointed out in the quote above from his 1965 speech before the AFL-CIO.

Fair wages, a shorter workday, a safer workplace, pensions, unemployment insurance– all of these things came from the hard and dangerous efforts of union organizers.  As King points out, the owners– the captains of industry—  did not agree willingly to these changes.  No, they fought with every resource at their disposal including the influence they bought from politicians and the use of violence.  The history of the labor movement is littered with bodies of workers killed in skirmishes with the forces of the owners.

Every step of progress throughout our history has been opposed by those in power.  But progress and change has always come thanks to the efforts of  people like those in the labor movement.

The use of children in the workforce was another thing that was ultimately changed by the labor movement.  It’s hard to believe that the scenes shown here in the famed photos of  photographer and social reformer Lewis Hine took place just over a hundred years ago in the coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania.  Harder yet to believe is that federal labor laws for child labor were not fully enacted until 1938.  Earlier attempts at legislation by congress in 1916 and 1922 had been challenged in court by industry and were deemed unconstitutional.

Lewis Hine -Penn Coal Co Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911Imagine your child (or your nephew or grandchild) at age 12.  Imagine them spending 10 or 12 or even 14 hours a day, six days a week in one of the breaker rooms of a coal mine like the one shown here on the right.  Hunched over in the gritty dust of the coal, they picked the coal for differing sizes and to sort out impurities.  Imagine the men who are shown in the photo with sticks poking your child, perhaps kicking him to speed him up.  Imagine all of this for  seven and a half cents per hour.

There was no school books for these kids.  No soccer.  No violin practices.  Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung.  Imagine that.  And think that it was all taking place less than a hundred years ago and it ended because of the labor unions and the brave people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time.  They are not perfect by any means.  But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that they provided for our nation’s worker.  Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago.

So celebrate the day at the shore or in a picnic.  Have a great day.  But take one single moment and think of those kids in that Pennsylvania mine and the people who set them free.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co. For some of their names see labels 1927 to 1930. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Breaker boys working in Ewen Breaker of Pennsylvania Coal Co.Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania. Photo: Lewis Hine

Group of Breaker boys. Smallest is Sam Belloma, Pine Street. (See label #1949). Location: Pittston, Pennsylvania.

Group of Breaker boys, Pennsylvania 1911  Photo: Lewis Hine

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Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Woody Guthrie -This Machine Kills Fascists

Since we’re in the midst of the Fourth of July weekend, I thought this Sunday’s musical selection should be something with a definite American flavor.   The song is This Land Is Your Land from the great Woody Guthrie.

You are no doubt familiar with this song, probably thinking of it as a cheery, upbeat song about the beauty and breadth of our democracy, sung often by smiling church and school choruses.  It’s become a kind of populist national anthem which is sort of ironic given its beginnings and the words of the song.  You see, there are verses that are seldom sung by the choruses and flag waving nationalists, verses that very much change the tone and meaning of the song.

Guthrie wrote the song in the late 1930’s in response to the immense popularity at that time of  the Kate Smith version of God Bless America, written by Irving Berlin.  Guthrie saw the world coming apart due to the nationalistic extremism that had spread through Europe, producing fascist leaders such as Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain.

The original intro to God Bless America had the lines: While the storm clouds gather far across the sea / Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free / Let us all be grateful that we’re far from there, / As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer.  That phrase that we’re far from there was later changed to for a land so fair.  Guthrie saw it as a call to an isolated form of nationalism, one that cast a blind eye to the perils lurking abroad that were beginning to spread here as well as our own problems at home.  Problems like poverty and inequality.

Guthrie wanted to address these problems in his retort to Berlin’s song.  At first, Guthrie sarcastically called his song God Blessed America For Me before naming it This Land Is Your Land.

Below are the two verses in the original version of This Land Is Your Land that are always omitted from those cheery civic versions speak to the ills of this country as Guthrie saw them, most noticeably  the greed which led to the great chasm of inequality between the wealthy and the poor of this land.  He questioned how a land with so much wealth and beauty, one based on the equality of man, could tolerate the extreme poverty and injustice he saw in his travels across this land.

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me.
The sign was painted, said ‘Private Property.’
But on the backside, it didn’t say nothing.
This land was made for you and me.

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple,
by the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry,
I stood there wondering if God blessed America for me.

It’s an interesting song that speaks to this crazy time in the world as blind nationalism rises abroad and here in the USA.  Give a listen to this wonderful version of the song from Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and pay special attention to the words.  Have a great Sunday and a great 4th.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ78uDio_ao

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GC Myers- Ascending BirdI’ve been looking for a title for this new painting, an 18″ by 18″ canvas, for a week or so now.  A lot of things come to mind and I thought I had it for a while.  Then I was listening to some music and one of the songs just hit me.

It was Ascending Bird, a traditional Persian folk melody, played by the Silk Road Ensemble which is a large and loosely knit group ofmusicians, including the great Yo-Yo Ma, who hail from along that fabled route and play many of the traditional instruments. The Silk Road was the network of  ancient routes that traders used in linking the East and West over the centuries, from China through the Middle East to the Mediterranean. Both goods and ideas moved along the Silk Road.

This song is the Persian version of the Phoenix myth, of a bird who flies higher and higher toward the sun until it is engulfed in flames.  It then rises from the ashes as a new creature.

And that’s kind of how I see this painting.  The paths moving from dark to light signify a transformative journey and the Red Tree appears as a Phoenix-like figure emerging from a hillock bursting from a treed hillside.  The Red Tree almost seems to ready to take flight.  I see it as a moment of realization and redefinition.

Here is the Silk Road Ensemble with Y0-Yo Ma performing Ascending Bird.  The version here is a shorter one but has the dynamic punch that struck me.  You can hear a longer version here. Give a listen and have a great Sunday.

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Hilma af Klint - Painting the UnseenJust a few days ago, a new exhibit opened at the Serpentine Galleries in London.  It features a group of abstract and symbolic paintings from a Swedish painter by the name of Hilma af Klint who lived from 1862 until 1944.  The images of her work on display are quite captivating and intrigued me enough to look further into her work.  It’s an interesting case.

She was trained in the 1880’s in Sweden as a traditional artist and for most of her life supported herself with naturalistic landscapes and portraits.  This work is well done and attractive but unremarkable.  She considered this conventional work as a means of supporting her “life’s work” which were the many spiritually inspired abstract pieces produced from the 1890’s up to the time of her death in 1944.

Hilma af Klint YouthInterested in spirituality and theosophy, Hilma formed a group of women who met on a regular basis to hold seances to attempt to contact and channel the spirits from other dimensions.  She claimed to have been “commissioned” by one of these spirits to create a series of large paintings which occupied her for a number of years.  These paintings consisted of geometric and organic forms and a distinct visual vocabulary expressing a deeply spiritual element.

At the time of her death, there was a huge group of work, over 1200 paintings of varying.  Some are epic in their size, measuring over 10′ in height.  However, none were ever displayed publicly in her lifetime and she stipulated that it not be allowed to be exhibited until twenty years after her death. for fear that it would not be understood in that present time.  Little did she know that it would actually be more than forty years before it came to light in an exhibit in 1986.  In recent years there have been two major exhibits of her work, including this current show at the Serpentine Galleries, which have really pushed her work into the spotlight.

Her recent discovery and the depth of her work has created a quandary fo art historians who struggle to place her in the timeline of art history.   Her work was formed independently of and, in most cases, before the abstract movement pioneered by Kandinsky, Malevich and Mondrian.  They don’t know how to categorize her: Is she a pioneer or simply an outsider?

I don’t think this categorization matters.  Just take a look at some of these works on display and most likely you won’t care either.  The work definitely is in the present and alive. And that is all that matters.

Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction3 Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction 2 Hilma af Klint - Painting the Unseen2 Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction

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GC Myers- Icon- Tacy CooperThe more I read about this ancestor,the latest entry in my Icon series,  the more interesting I find her.  Her maiden name was Tacy Cooper and she is my 10th great-grandmother, born around 1609 in England.  Little is known of her parentage or when exactly  she came to America but she is known to have lived in Dorchester, near Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the early 1630’s.

At the time, the Colony was strictly ruled by the Congregational Church and its precepts.  Very puritanical, of course.  Many of the settlers who were coming into the colony sought more religious freedom than was being offered and under the influence of Roger Williams, set out  in 1634 to leave the Colony and establish a new community outside its boundaries.  They sent out a party of scouts who chose a site on the Connecticut River below present day Hartford.  Soon after, a group of about 100 people set out by foot for this location.  Among them was Tacy Cooper and her future husband, Samuel Hubbard.  They met during this journey and Samuel later wrote that Tacy was the lone bright spot in the whole undertaking.

Although the heavy goods for the community had been shipped by boats from Boston up the river, it was a harsh trek.  Many of their provisions had also been shipped and their trip was ill-timed.  By the time of their arrival, a bitter winter had set in on them and the boats had not arrived nor would they arrive in the future. Without those provisions,  a number of this group died that winter and those who remained survived on acorns, malt and grain that had brought along as seed for future crops.  To make things worse, the Pequot Indians were attacking as they tried to stem the spread of the settlers into their territory.

But they persevered  and in 1636, Tacy and Samuel were married.  However, the religious freedom they sought did not come to bear in this new community.  Samuel spoke up in protest to the role of the Church Elders in the local government and was driven from the community along with several other families who were in agreement with him.  They fled south, settling in the area now known as Springfield, Massachusetts.  They thought they were outside  the boundaries of the Massachusetts Colony but in subsequent years,  the provisions of the settlement of the Pequot Wars brought that location back into its realm.  In protest, Samuel and Tacy became Baptists.

In the following years, Baptists were banished from the Colony and, after many threats, they fled once more, this time to Rhode Island where they were reunited with Roger Williams.  They lived peacefully there for many years as members of the Baptist Church but it didn’t end there.

In the mid 1600’s, a movement had began in England– the  Seventh Day Baptists.  While they were almost exactly the same in their beliefs as traditonal Baptists, they observed their sabbath on the seventh day, Saturday.  In 1665, Stephen Mumford moved from England to Rhode Island, bringing this new sect with him.  He spoke of this beliefs to Tacy and Samuel  and a few other members of the First Baptist Church of Newport.

It was Tacy alone who first chose to join with Mumford in observing a seventh day sabbath.  Soon after Samuel and four other joined them and they formed the first Seventh Day Baptist church in America.  Tacy is considered the first American founder of the church.  The Seventh Day Baptists exist to this day and were a big part of my mother’s line for almost two hundred years and six generation, although I am pretty sure she would have not been aware of this fact.

While I am not a religious person in any organized sense of the word, I still find it fascinating in the way religion has shaped much of my( and just about everybody else’s) past.  I am pleased that Tacy was such a strong woman.  She was the one who stood and answered the Church Elders when she and the others were made to account for their desire to break from the Baptist Church.  She went before the congregation and  with “great clearness and force” outlined their reasons for departing.  I can’t help but think that this must have been a rare moment in early America– a woman speaking to power.

This may not be the best painting of the Icons but it moves me in the same way.  I always hope to find something in these stories that I can take for my own life and I can only hope to one day have Tacy’s strength and conviction.

 

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