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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.



Another Labor Day. I have ran the essay below with the historic Lewis Hine photos a couple of times on past Labor Days and thought it would be appropriate to do so again today. I added a song from Lee Dorsey that fits the subject somewhat at the bottom:

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, health insurance, vacations, maternity leave, paid holidays such as today– 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.

Hardly.

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. No college prep or videogames. Just a future filled with misery and drudgery and most likely a black lung.

Try to 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 and conscientious people who fought for them.

I know there are problems that arose in the unions over time. They are not perfect by any means. Like all things human, they are susceptible to corruption and selfishness.

But that doesn’t take away from the incredible progress that labor unions provided for our nation’s workers which gave us the most prosperous times in our history. Despite their shortcomings, the idea of workers uniting to have one strong voice is as important now as it was a century ago. Perhaps even more now that corporate world’s political power is enormous and the wealth which buys it is concentrated at the top at historic levels.

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 those Pennsylvania mines or in those southern mills and the people who fought to set them free.



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

Lewis Hine -Pennsylvania Coal Company  Ewen Breaker Pittston 1911

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

Magalenha

Sergio Mendes Brasiliero



The difference between the right word and the almost right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

– Mark Twain



For this Sunday Morning music, I decided on playing a song from Sergio Mendes, the renowned Brazilian musician who has been around for what seems like forever. His first album came out in 1961 so his work has been around for most of my life. He’s considered a Brazilian artist and his music is primarily based in the rhythms and sounds of his homeland but he has mainly recorded and toured in the States throughout his career. Kind of like a musical ambassador.

Though I know the name, I don’t know much about his music except the stuff from the 1960’s like The Look of Love. Kind of a soft bossa nova is how I’d describe it, I guess. So, coming across the track below, Magalhena, was a surprise. It felt like the polar opposite of The Look of Love or any of his other hits. Big rhythmic drum sounds that feel like they could be pulled from some sultry tropical festival.

I tried to find the lyrics and they are, of course, in Portuguese. Every translation I could find was different and felt like it was done only with a computer program and no human input. The phrasing was weird and seemed to make little sense. Like bring the password to the stove and come make frames. I checked several sites and they were all different and equally strangely worded. I take it that there is a lot of Brazilian colloquialisms that don’t register well with translation programs from the Portuguese.

But while the words don’t translate well, the music does. It’s a stirring way to get a Sunday morning kicked off. Be warned: if you want a sleepy tune this morning, do not listen to this track.



Pie in the Sky

Industrial_Workers_of_the_World


Since we’re in the midst of the Labor Day weekend, I thought I would have something labor related. It is a holiday celebrating the working classes after all, something we often forget as we rush to get in that last weekend of the summer. I am a big proponent of organized labor and have talked here before about the labor movements transformation of American life. The middle class rose out of the mighty efforts labor unions in the early 20th century.  Almost every right we now take for granted in the workplace was fought for– and I mean fought for— by workers and organizers who banded together to demand better working conditions and higher wages.

This important part of history that is not well known enough but is something to bear in mind on a weekend meant to honor it.

There were some important names in the labor movement of the early 20th century but maybe none so polarizing as that of Joe Hill, a Swedish immigrant who came to America in 1902 and soon after, as an itinerant laborer, became involved with the labor movement. He joined the Industrial Workers of the Worldthe Wobblies— and wrote some of the most memorable labor songs of the time, songs which are still played today– The Preacher and the Slave (Pie in the Sky) and There Is Power In a Union.

In 1914, Hill was working in the silver mine areas of Utah when he was accused of a double murder. Many believe that Hill was innocent , that the evidence cited did not line up with the facts of the case, yet he was found guilty. Many believed that his labor connections were the deciding factor in the guilty verdict. He was executed by firing squad in November, 1915.

Hill did little to help himself, remaining silent about a wound that the prosecution claimed was inflicted on him during the murder. Hill’s fiancee later stated that Hill had wrote her from prison, saying that an ex-lover of hers had shot him. But Hill seemed to sense that he meant more to the movement as a martyr.

In one of his final notes to Bill Haywood, an IWW leader, Hill wrote:

“Goodbye Bill. I die like a true blue rebel. Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize. Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

They honored his request, removing his body to Chicago where he was cremated. His ashes were divided into 600 small packets which were distributed around the world by the Wobblies to be cast to the winds.

He did become a martyr for labor, celebrated in word and song. The name Joe Hill when spoken still draws the attention of those who know their history.

Here’s version of his song The Preacher and the Slave, also known as Pie in the Sky from Utah Phillips, complete with a wonderful story about the song. We all get promised things that will come to us in the future and more often than not– I am thinking of trickle-down economics as much as the afterlife here– they seldom pan out. It’s all pie in the sky.

So, enjoy some real pie this Labor day weekend and ignore those promised pies in the sky.




Rabbit Hole

rabbithole1



That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.

–Aldous Huxley



I was going to write abut this quote from Aldous Huxley, the late write/philosopher who gave us the dystopian classic Brave New World. It does, after all, seem to be pertinent to much of what is happening in this country. It seems that we often fail to see or ignore the lessons of history and then go on to repeat many of those same actions. With the same result. Or worse.

I stand by these worlds from Huxley but the interesting thing this morning was that while researching this quote, I found myself running down a long and twisting rabbit hole. The quote, you see, is the first sentence Huxley wrote in a 1956 article for Esquire Magazine titled A Case of Voluntary Ignorance. The first several paragraphs discuss our willingness to ignore the lessons of history, instead believing that we will somehow produce different and better consequences.

But beyond that the article goes into a discussion of the history of mesmerism and hypnotism. and its place in the medical world of the 19th century. It’s not a subject about which I have any knowledge and I found it interesting. Huxley wrote about a British surgeon in India in the mid 1800’s who did a wide range of dangerous surgeries painlessly on patients without any sort of anesthesia — there actually was none yet available at that time– by the use of mesmerism alone. It was also called magnetism from the term animal magnetism which many early purveyors of this pseudoscience used to describe the animating life force of all living creatures.

The surgeon, James Esdaile, would bring in patients– almost all lower caste criminals from a local prison (which means he was actually doing human experimentation that would no doubt border on crimes against humanity) and without telling them would mesmerize them over the course of several hours until they were in a deep trance-like state. He would then operate on whatever ailment needed attention. This included amputation of limbs.

His patients felt no pain and most recovered. The recovery is the most amazing thing because at that time, major surgery in any place on the face of he earth meant that the patient had a very good chance of dying either during surgery or in the aftermath. Surgeons and their staff didn’t even wash their hands beforehand and the idea of antiseptics or anesthesia was still years away.

Most surgeons had fatality rates among their patients well over 25%. Esdaile had a rate of less than 5%.

The article goes on to discuss how his results were debated and denied among the medical establishment of the time. Many physicians believed that pain was necessary and that anything that diminished it was against science as they knew it. However, mesmerists became part of that establishment for a time in the 19th century.

It was an interesting article. Hypnosis and mesmerism are not subjects we discuss often, after all. To see them play so prominent a role in the medical world of that time ( and even the 1950’s as Huxley  wrote about in the article) was eye catching.

I ended up looking through the online historical newspaper to see if their were mesmerists who practiced locally in that era. I didn’t spend much time so I can’t speak definitively but found that mesmerists were mainly entertainment attractions in this area at that time. Several had large following and returned year after year for a week or two at a time at large halls and auditoriums.

One, John Reynolds, appeared throughout this region — all of New York state and much of Pennsylvania– for many years. He eventually retired and began selling magnetic bearing items which were supposed to have curative powers. These were advertised in local papers throughout the region.

The animal magnetism actually had something to do with magnets, it seems.

You probably are wondering what the heck the point is here. I guess there isn’t one. This has no bearing on anything and I have no end to this little bit of writing except that it’s odd how one thing sometimes leads us in directions we weren’t expecting.

If you’re looking for something of more consequence, you can go the Esquire article from Huxley by clicking here. The first three paragraphs certainly pertain to this and any time.

Okay, too much time spent underground in this rabbit hole. Gotta go.

Pax Omnis

2021 Imagine Artist Kites GC Myers sm



I was recently asked by our local arts organization, The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes, to take part in a public art installation, ART Lifts Us Up!, as part of their IMAGINE! Public Art in the Plaza event which begins this evening and goes through the weekend, ending Sunday evening.

It is a festival taking place in and around the skating rink at the the Corning Civic Center Plaza and features public art installations, local artists, street performers/buskers, temporary art installations, as well as dynamic open-air theatre, music and dance performances. You can get more info including a schedule of events by clicking here.

As part of ART Lifts Us Up! I was asked to create a large kite. Though I knew the dimensions, I didn’t realize how large it was until I began to actually go to work on it. It was to be 88″ tall and 66″ wide and weigh no more than 10 pounds.

It was more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I have never built a kite and didn’t have a lot of time to experiment. I tied a couple of things but just didn’t like what I was seeing. I decided in the end on basically creating an actual painting on lighter canvas stretched over a kite-shaped lightweight wooden frame. 

The criteria for what I could paint was unlimited. By that, I was told to paint whatever I wanted so long as it expressed my feelings coming out of the pandemic– or, at least, at his point in the pandemic– and going into the future.

I had a lot of concepts but was short on time to create such a large piece on such a large concept.

I mean, how do you, as an artist, sum up the experiences that have taken place in this world in the past year?

Do you focus on the pandemic? The all too many lives lost and the redemptive power of the vaccines?

Or the racial inequality and police violence that led to the widespread protests of last year?

Or do you focus on the political sphere, where fearmongering, disinformation, and misinformation has replaced policy and research for many politicians, particularly those on the far right? Do you focus on those things that divide us? The growing threat of fascism throughout the world or the violence and chaos of the insurrection of January 6 in our own capital?

Or do you put all that aside and focus on our climate which is beginning to show the awful effects—the more severe wildfires, droughts, storms, flooding, etc. –that come with its changing nature?

Without question, the world has gone through a lot in the past year or so.  Everyone has been put under great amounts of stress, more than we have experienced in generations, from all corners.

And it has revealed both our better and worse angels. The good and the bad. The beautiful and the ugly.

It has been a severe test for us all.

Through it all, I found myself desiring little more than a bit of peace, both in the reality of the wider world and in the space of my own mind.

As I considered these things, a phrase came to mind—Pax Omnis.

Peace for All.

It was that thought, that phrase, that led me in the creation of my kite. The events of the past year have shown that we that we are all connected, that none of us is an island unto ourselves. The virus and the quickly changing climate have certainly proven that. We need cooperation and a united aspiration to something greater than our own small, individual concerns, if we are to survive as a species.

Because until there is peace of mind for all, there is truly no lasting peace of any kind for any of us.

Pax Omnis.

I hope you can make it at some point to the IMAGINE! event in Corning this week. It looks to be a great way to see examples of those things that bind us together.

Imagine that…

Charles Burchfield-1916-44-autumnal-fantasy

Charles Burchfield– Autumnal Fantasy



But it’s a long, long while from May to December
And the days grow short when you reach September
And the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
And I haven’t got time for waiting game

September Song, Kurt Weill



First day of September, finally free of the drag and slog of August that often feels like an incessant headache to me. Even the air is cooler and fresher this morning. They say the temps might even get into the 40’s early Saturday morning.

Refreshing.

As I have done on every first September morning for the past twelve or thirteen years, I spent a good amount of time listening to different versions of the old standard, September Song.

Written by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Maxwell Anderson, it was first sung, surprisingly, by actor Walter Huston in the stage production of Knickerbocker Holiday back in 1938. Since then it has been covered by literally many hundreds of musicians and singers throughout the world and most of them are pretty good versions.

It’s just that good a song. It has long been one of my favorites and I might even say it is my favorite among many favorites.

Every year on this day, I scroll through YouTube, listening to versions that I know and love and new one that have escaped my notice in the past. I had several choices I could have went with  from among the new ones this year. Some surprising ones, actually.

But I think I will hold onto them for future use. I do hope to do this again next September and for a few years beyond that, after all.

So, for this year’s September Song I am going with a Latin-tinged version from late jazz musician Cal Tjader. My knowledge of jazz is fairly shallow so Tjader is new to me. But his biography and resume is impressive. He was the drummer in the earlier incarnations of Dave Brubeck’s bands, served as a medic in World War II, tap danced as child onscreen with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, among other notable accomplishments. But he is primarily known as being a vibraphone player and one of the leading proponents of Latin and Afro-Cuban Jazz.

In fact, he is known as the most famous non-Latin Latin musician. He died in 1982 at age 56.

This version has a different feel than some of the others but is nonetheless effective. Let’s hope it portends a better September than the August we leave behind.



How To Be Miserable

How to Be Miserable Steven Pressfield 1



In my younger days dodging the draft, I somehow wound up in the Marine Corps. There’s a myth that Marine training turns baby-faced recruits into bloodthirsty killers. Trust me, the Marine Corps is not that efficient. What it does teach, however, is a lot more useful.

The Marine Corps teaches you how to be miserable.
This is invaluable for an artist.

Marines love to be miserable. Marines derive a perverse satisfaction in having colder chow, crappier equipment, and higher casualty rates than any outfit of dogfaces, swab jockeys, or flyboys, all of whom they despise. Why? Because these candy-asses don’t know how to be miserable.

The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

The artist must be like that Marine. He has to know how to be miserable. He has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.

― Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle



I have been feeling creatively blocked as of late. Nothing is coming easy. Just making that first mark is hard and I find myself spending most days just looking at blank surfaces and not seeing much. 

Oh, and being miserable.

It made me go looking for something that might point me in the right direction to something that could possibly break up this blockage. I’ve been doing this a long so I’ve been blocked before and have obviously overcome it. But I find that there is no one way that works all the time in getting past this. Sometimes it’s a matter of just getting away from the studio for a few days and work on something outside the world of art. Or maybe changing up what I am listening to or watching.

Or reading what others have done in this situation and trying to apply it to my own. 

This search brought me to a book, The War of Art from Steven Pressfield. He’s the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance which was made into a major motion picture as well as a number of historical novels.

In the The War of Art, Pressfield introduces a mythical concept that he calls The Resistance whose sole mission is to keep things just as they are, to prevent anyone from doing anything that affects change in any way. The Resistance achieves this mission through  the creation of distractions and by instilling fears and doubts.

By doing whatever it must to stop one from moving forward.

The passage from his book above, titled How To Be Miserable, doesn’t have anything to do with overcoming The Resistance but it made me laugh. But not because it was ha-ha funny. It was because I recognized myself in the description and the idea that my willingness to accept and tolerate my own misery should be an important aspect of my chosen career struck me in a funny way.

I mean, I am doing something that I might describe as my dream job, getting to create work from my mind and get paid for it. I work in relative solitude and on my own schedule. I have nobody to answer to but myself.

I could go on and and on with the positive attributes of doing what I do. I love what I do and at this point cannot even imagine doing anything else. But even so, I am often utterly miserable. It is like continually existing, as Pressfield puts it, on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.

That doesn’t sound like it should be funny but the irony of it– that something that makes me so happy also often makes me absolutely miserable–just makes me laugh. 

I think Pressfield is right, that anyone who chooses this life has to understand and have a tolerance for their own misery. And interestingly, just recognizing and acknowledging this helps me see the current blockage as simply part of what I do.

It’s a torment that comes with the territory. I don’t like it but I will deal with it and might even use it to my advantage. It might be there just for that purpose.

The tormenting yin to my creative yang.

I don’t know if that’s true but for coming off a time when I have been feeling especially blocked, it feels pretty darn right. I will try to run with that.

 

George Tooker- The Waiting Room

George Tooker- The Waiting Room



Painting is an attempt to come to terms with life. There are as many solutions as there are human beings.

–George Tooker



To the point. In my mind, at least.

Thought I’d share a few paintings from George Tooker (1920-2011), a painter whose works never failed to make me pause and consider it whenever I came across one. There is always an air of mystery in his scenes that I find intriguing His handling of the faces and hands in his figurative work has a quality that reminds me of some of the great Renaissance painters– Botticelli in particular. This makes it feel familiar yet not.

Plus, there was a beautiful softness to it that came from the precision and opacity of his tempera technique. This no doubt gave it the dreamlike feel that I see in it, the same that most likely led others to label his work as Magic Realism or Surrealism.

I don’t really care what label is attached to any artist, myself included. Those are just ways for others to categorize and place artists in a broader collective.

That’s not for me to worry about. Or any other artist who is too busy trying to come to terms with life.

I am not going to go into detail on Tooker’s life. I am just introducing him to those of you who might not know his work. If it intrigues you I suggest looking deeper online.

There is also a slideshow below of Tooker’s work. It is worth a few minutes on a Monday morning.



George Tooker Cornice 1949

George Tooker- Cornice 1949

George Tooker The Government Bureau

George Tooker- The Government Bureau

George Tooker - Girl-With-Basket-1987-8

George Tooker- Girl With a Basket

George Tooker Subway

George Tooker- Subway 1950

PG GCMyers-- Comforter sm

Comforter“- At the Principle Gallery



There are so many bad things taking place in this world where you see people fleeing for their lives with sometimes minutes to decide what things they can grab and take with them. You see it with the Afghan refugees who are most likely forever leaving their homeland to the folks now evacuating before the incoming hurricane down in Louisiana and Mississippi or those who flee the wildfires out in the west. They run fearing the worst but still having hope that they might soon return to find little or no damage. My nephew and his family recently experienced such a thing with the wildfires out in California. They were spared by winds that were favorable to their location but their neighbors in the opposite direction were not so fortunate.

These scenes make me wonder what I would grab if I only had moments to choose what mattered to me. Paperwork, I guess. You know, stuff I might need to prove who I am or what I possessed before whatever I am fleeing came to bear. Perhaps some photos. A change of clothes. Our pets, of course.

But beyond that, I don’t know. I look around here in the studio and there is a wide variety of paintings, artwork, books and other things that mean a lot to me.

But would losing them or losing my home destroy me?

I doubt it. I want to say no but until something like that happens to you you can’t be absolutely sure of your reaction in the moment.

But I have been at the end of my rope before and know how quickly one can adapt to the circumstances at hand. You learn to savor simpler things and experiences that are often overlooked when things are going well. There’s even a sense of freedom that comes in such moments because you don’t feel encumbered by your responsibility to those things that you watched over and maintained before.

I’m not saying it would be a good situation. It would be awful to have to go through something like that, to be forced out of your home and your way of living by events that out of your control. No, I am saying that if it were to happen, that while it would no doubt be a struggle to move on, the fact that I knew I could persevere as I am would be enough to sustain the effort.

Like the song from Hair says: I got life.

And that, in itself, is reassuring.

So, with all hope for and best wishes going out to those before the storms or fires or to those who flee the violence and death of their homeland, here’s this week’s Sunday morning music. It’s Nina Simone‘s performance of her memorable mashup of two songs from Hair Ain’t Got No and I Got Life.

Powerful stuff and something to bear in mind if ever you have to run from oncoming disaster. Let’s hope that we don’t ever have to do such a thing.



9919197 Faces From the Wood sm

Faces From the Wood“- At the West End Gallery



I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;
And when I’m introduced to one,
I wish I thought “What Jolly Fun!

― Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh



On a morning when I am feeling more than a bit misanthropic, I thought I’d express it in the lightest manner I could muster. I guess the verse above from English poet Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh (1861-1922) might do the trick.

I don’t know much about this particular Raleigh and, feeling as I do this morning, don’t really care. Don’t know if he was descended from the more famous Walter Raleigh, the one I best knew from seeing his face on my one aunt’s cigarette packs as a kid. I would imagine so but what does it really matter?

For those of you more interested, this particular Walter Raleigh was a professor of literature at Oxford and that bit of light verse was titled Wishes of an Elderly Man, Wished at a Garden Party, June 1914.

It might be titled Wishes of a Near Elderly Man, Wished in an Art Studio, August 2021.

I thought of going with a different piece of verse this morning, like this short bit from Ape and Essence, the lesser known dystopian novel from Aldous Huxley:

The leech’s kiss, the squid’s embrace,
The prurient ape’s defiling touch:
And do you like the human race?
No, not much.

Or I guess I could have went with this simple quote from the great German painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840):

You call me a misanthrope because I avoid society. You err; I love society. Yet in order not to hate people, I must avoid their company.

It’s not verse but maybe it gets closer to the bone. Perhaps even closer is this passage from Sinclair Lewis, as laid out it in his It Can’t Happen Here:

… he loved the people just as much as he feared and detested persons…

That might best describe my misanthropic urge this morning. And every other morning.

I like and love people individually but on the whole very much dislike persons in the collective sense.

I am not talking about you guys. No, you’re okay.

Really.

I hope you will excuse my curmudgeonly behavior this morning. Now get out of here.

And stay off my lawn…

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