Posts Tagged ‘A&P’

Murrine Glass by Loren StumpI came across this photo of a piece of murrine glass, which is made in long rods that contain patterns that run trough the entire length of the rod.  When the rod is cut at any point it reveals the same pattern.  It is normally done on a small scale that results in small cut discs with colorful patterns that are used in jewelry and in glass paperweights, among other things.  This masterwork of the form, done  by Sacramento-based artist Loren Stump, takes the form to a grand scale with a Renaissance-inspired scene with several full figures and a wonderful dark background that sets off the deep colors.  You can see more of his work at his website, Stumpchuck, or you can take a week long class with him at the nearby Corning Museum of Glass at the end of July.

Seeing this work reminded me of when I worked at the old A&P factory many years ago.  It was a huge building that sprawled over 37 acres that made all sorts of foods.  They claimed it had the capacity to produce enough each day to feed everyone east of the Mississippi.  In my time there,  I worked a number of jobs throughout the plant from  cleaning out the antique looking machines that bagged and sewed the teabags that were filled with tea that came from wooden crates with exotic markings and locales like Ceylon and scouring the inside of huge semolina tanks in the pasta department to making all forms of candy– jelly beans, candy corn, chocolate covered cherries, etc.

One thing I never did was make the rock candy which so reminds me of the murrine glass.   But I really enjoyed seeing them make it.

Cut-Rock-CandyI would often stop while passing through the hard candy department and watch the workers work the masses of glass-like candy on tables with mechanical arms that came in from each side to knead the candy into a ball.  They would then place the mass on heated rollers that would turn the mass into a uniform roll.  They would take these rolls of various colors and arrange them into patterns within one large roll on those same rollers.  They would then hoist the larger roll onto a machine that had telescoping rollers that fed the candy into a machine that stretched it until it was small enough to cut into bite size chinks of candy, like those shown just above.  It was fascinating to watch as were many of the processes there.

It seems like there is little in common between this candy and the work of Mr. Stump, which is shown in more detail below, but it is the same basic principle.  I wonder if you can buy cut rock candy with such an elaborate design?Murrine Glass Detail Loren Stump

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166_1934_CCI find it hard to believe that I haven’t mentioned the work of Charles Sheeler here, outside of a mention of his collaboration with Paul Strand on the film Manhatta, a landmark American art film from 1921.  Sheeler (1883-1965)  is one of my favorite artists who as  a pioneer in photography and painting in the early decades of the 20th century is often called the father of Modernism.  Oddly enough, I am particularly drawn to his industrial imagery which replaces almost all evidence of things natural in completely man-made factoryscapes.  This  might seem to be the antithesis of my own work,  which often omits all evidence of human intervention in my landscapes.

Charles Sheeler River Rouge PlantSome of his most potent work came from an assignment where Henry Ford hired Sheeler to photograph his factories, wanting him to glorify them in an almost religious manner, as though they were cathedrals for the new age.  As Ford had said at the time, “The man who builds a factory builds a temple. The man who works there, worships there.”  Sheeler was impressed with the factory complexes and felt that, indeed, they represented a modern form of religious expression.  His painted work from this time glorified the machine of industry in glowing forms and color.

Charles Sheeler Shaker BarnHe saw the factory as a continuation of the American idea of work as religion, one that was rooted in the sense of  reverence and importance of the barns and structures of the farms of the earlier pre-industrial age.  He   painted many scenes of farms and barns, abstracting the forms as he had with the factory scenes.

Charles Sheeler Classic LandscapeI don’t know that I completely agree with Sheeler on his idea of the factory as cathedral but I do have to admit to being awestruck in the presence of large factory structures.  I remember working in the old A&P factory, a huge building that was said to have the capability to produce enough product each day to feed everyone east of the Mississippi.  It no longer exists.  Some of the huge rooms in the building were amazing to stand in, as the machines hummed and throbbed while workers hustled about servicing their needs.  I particularly remember the tea room which was a huge ca cavernous space with row after row of steampunk  looking machines that bagged the tea then sewed it shut.  I cleaned these machines for several weeks and, standing in the grand space in silence after most of the workers had gone and the machines turned off, felt that feeling of awe.   I would sometime walk around from area to area, just taking it in.  I didn’t necessarily adore it in the manner of a religious zealot but there was no denying the  power in its magnitude and the power of the machine.

Maybe that’s why I’m drawn to Sheeler.  Maybe its his use of form and color.  I don’t know.  I guess it doesn’t really matter.  I just like his work. Period.

Charles Sheeler Conversation Sky and Earth

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fasanella great strike lawrence 1912

If hard work were such a wonderful thing, surely the rich would have kept it all to themselves.

——Lane Kirkland

On this day, Labor Day, I am showing a a painting from the great American folk primitive  painter Ralph Fasanella, depicting the famed Bread and Roses strike that took place at the textile plants in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912.  I thought it fitting that something be shown that is closer to the spirit of this holiday which has faded from the public’s knowledge in recent years.

I was a union member in my first job at a Loblaw’s grocery store when I was sixteen years old and a few years later I was a Teamster at the A&P factory where I was employed for several years.  I was the union steward in my department for the last few years, a position that I took because nobody else wanted the hassle of it and meant that I was protected from being laid off so long as my department was operating.  The hassle came from the fact that there was always an argument to be had, either with company supervisors who tried to twist the rules to their advantage or with co-workers who felt the union didn’t go far enough.  It was a very educational experience.

The image of labor unions over the years has crumbled, perceived now as corrupt and self-serving.  Probably a well deserved image.  But the failings of these unions are the failings of men, the same failings that the company owners possessed that the early unions organized against.  Greed and a lack of empathy for their workers.  It doesn’t take much research to discover that the work conditions of the last 130 or 140 years were deplorable.  Long hours.  Low pay.  Incredibly unsafe conditions.  Dismissal for any reason.  No rights whatsoever.

Today, many view industry as this amiable, father-like figure but don’t realize how much blood was spilled by early union organizers and members to obtain the things we now take for granted as our rights.  Industry did not willingly give up anything to the worker without being forced.  I can imagine what our world would look like without the efforts of our unions.  This very holiday would not exist to have it’s roots forgotten.  The idea of vacations would only exist for the company owners.  The pay scale would be similar to those places on the Earth where many of our jobs have migrated, places that allow the avarice of the companies to override the rights and safety of the workers.  Places where sweatshops still operate, as they once did here.  Places where unschooled children toil in dirty, dank conditions, as they once did here.  Places where the health and safety of the workers is secondary to the profit they provide, as it once was here.

You may despise the unions now for their corruption but make no mistake about it- without them our country would look much different.  And not in a good way…

I will be posting more on Ralph Fasanella in a later post but for more info, check out this book from my friend Paul D’Ambrosio, who is perhaps the foremost authority on Fasanella and his work, Ralph Fasanella’s America.

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