Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’


“After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.”

― Mark Twain, Diaries of Adam & Eve


This is another painting, 20″ by 34″ on wood panel, from my show at the West End Gallery which opens next week. This painting is titled Conubialis, which is basically Latin for marriage. Its pronunciation more or less sounds like connubial bliss which I suppose is the most desired state of marriage. As someone who has been married for eons, it sure presents a far more positive scenario than wedded rancor.

This would be considered one of my Baucis and Philemon paintings, which I first did a decade ago ( they recently celebrated their twentieth) for a couple celebrating the tenth anniversary of their own wedding. It is based on the Greek myth of the aged poor couple who welcome Zeus and Hermes into their humble home. The gods had been unceremoniously rebuffed by the wealthier residents of the village and Zeus was ready to ravage the place. But he was moved by the charity and generosity exhibited to the guests, as well as the love the elderly couple displayed for each other. After their visit, when Zeus  brought devastation to the village, he spared their home and granted them two wishes. For the first, he transformed their home into a temple where they lived out the rest of their lives. For the second wish, for which they asked that they remain together for eternity, Zeus made it so that when they died each became separate trees growing from a single trunk  that would live forever on a hill overlooking the village.

It’s a lovely story and I really enjoy painting these pieces with their interwoven trees. This one in particular was a joy. It had a richness and glow from the beginning that it maintained throughout the process which is a rarity. Usually, there are phases in the process of each painting where everything dulls and goes flat. But this painting came to life immediately and it maintains that glow on the wall now.

I came across the words from Mark Twain ( who wrote many of his books not too far from here) and they seemed to be the right gravity for this piece. Plus, they seemed to match up with the feel of the painting which has its own Garden of Eden thing working for it.

I was also thinking of using one from the ever witty P.G. Wodehouse who wrote in his story, Mostly Sally, concerning marriage : “And she’s got brains enough for two, which is the exact quantity the girl who marries you will need.”

That made me laugh but I could see, even with my pea sized brain, that there was a grain of truth in it. Ideally, a relationship that lasts becomes a true union, much like those twisting trees, where each brings to it strengths that fills in for the others weaknesses.

So, maybe both quotes work equally well for this piece. But even without the words, I am finding myself continuing to enjoy the glow from this piece.

All I could ask from it.

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Mark Twain holds great say in our area. He spent many of his summers overlooking my native city, Elmira, and the Chemung River valley at Quarry Farm, where he wrote many of his best loved books. His family plot at Woodlawn Cemetery is a tourist attraction. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt an affinity for the man and his writing.

Or maybe it was his inability to suffer fools, most notably those with great advantages and power. The current goings-on in DC, especially with the spite and greed that is accompanying the healthcare bill, have me swearing under my breath whenever I let the subject enter my mind. Keeping it out is a full-time and exhausting job.

So, today instead of venting, I thought I’d share some of my favorite Mark Twain-isms. Though some of this lines seem ornery and misanthropic, I think they reveal great compassion and empathy for the common man. I mean that in the singular sense. I like to believe that he was as leery of organizations, clubs, populist movements and, especially, those who reign over these groups as I am.

Plus they make me smile. And I need that these days, more than ever.


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GC Myers- The PauseThe right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.
Mark Twain


The painting shown here is titled The Pause and is 16″ by 16″ on paper.  It is included in my upcoming show, Contact, at the West End Gallery which opens on July 22.

I am a big believer in the pause as a form of communication.  That brief moment of silence between words said and words not yet spoken, that small period of inaction between actions, is often filled with a great and ponderous anticipation of what might come next.  In that tiny span of emptiness there is both a look backward at all that has come before and ahead at all that the future might bring.  The pause allows for contemplation of both.

Okay, now that may be putting the importance of a pause in larger than life terms.  Not every pause holds all the past and all the future.  But every pause allows consideration and thought of the immediate past and future, giving that moment a certain degree of importance.

I learned the lesson of pausing from the many gallery talks I have given over the years.  Halting for just a moment to ponder the question asked or the statement made is far more effective than simply beginning to speak.  That was a difficult thing to do at first when it sometimes seemed like every moment needs to be filled with sound and content to cover my insecurity.  But I learned that that moment of silence was not a bad thing at all.  It showed an appreciation of the question or statement, showed that I heard what was being said and showed that I wanted really consider how I would answer.

Moving back to larger terms, the pause works in much the same way.  The pause takes the past and brings it into the present and makes it part of the decision for the future.  The pause consoles us as to what has failed us in the past and what has succeeded.  It cautions us against rash and impetuous actions.

The pause is a deep breath that freshens us, allowing us to take in the world around us and to refocus, to reconsider our words and actions.  The pause allows us to see other paths leading forward.

The pause can be a potent force, if only we choose to use it.

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Mark Twain's "Eve's Diary" Title Page - by Lester Ralph

There is a slate of activities scheduled tonight at the historic Park Church in my hometown of Elmira to commemorate this city’s part in an episode that Mark Twain chronicled in a very short vignette called A Monument to Adam.  It seems that Twain had made an offhand comment at one point in the late 1870’s to the then minister of Park Church, Thomas K. Beecher, who was the  brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher and a favorite drinking buddy of the famed writer.  It was in the era when the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin were taking hold of the wider population and Twain, in speaking of Darwin with Beecher, joked that the biblical Adam had altogether been overlooked by the naturalist and that  he would surely soon be forgotten.  He then suggested, with tongue even more firmly planted in cheek, that Elmira should erect a monument to Adam that would keep his name alive as well as serve as a great boon to local tourism.

Much to his surprise, the idea took off locally and soon he was in meetings with bankers who pledged thousands of dollars to erect the monument and began to solicit designs from all over, some from Paris, as Twain notes.  Elmira was on its way to becoming a tourist mecca.  Or so the locals thought.

The Park Church, Elmira NY

Twain felt it was always a ridiculous idea and, in an effort to curtail its momentum, wrote a request to be read before the congress asking the federal government to erect the monument, knowing full well that once the idea was presented it would be ridiculed and would soon be forgotten.  But the representative wouldn’t read it because he felt that it was so seriously written and sentimental that they might just consider it in earnest. 

Of course, the idea ran out of steam and was soon set aside only to revived later as a short article by Twain.  Elmira never became a tourist destination, outside of the folks who come to see Twain’s gravesite.   But tonight the idea lives on again in that same church where Twain would periodically listen to the preaching of Beecher.

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mark twain on steps at quarry farmWhen I was younger I could remember anything, whether it happened or not.

Mark Twain

I sometimes go to quote pages on the net just to read Mark Twain quotes when I need a laugh.  Always been a big fan of his work and his humor.  It was pretty easy because he has a large presence in the area in which I live.  Twain spent many summers here after marrying Olivia Langdon, from a well-respected Elmira family and was buried here after his death in 1910.  The Twains divided their year between their home in Hartford, Connecticut and their summer home here at Quarry Farm, which sat on the side of a hill overlooking the valley in which the city sits.

quarry farm studyIn his study at Quarry Farm, which has been moved to the campus of Elmira College, Twain spent his summer days writing many of his classics.  The family of my grandfather lived at the very base of the hill on which Quarry Farm is located and as a kid I wondered if my grandfather ever saw Twain as he ambled down the hill into the city.  My grandfather at that time was a stagehand at the Majestic Theatre, one of the numerous theaters that once graced Elmira and Twain was a frequent guest to establishments in that vicinity.  Perhaps they nodded hellos on the street.  I could certainly imagine it, whether it happened or not, as Twain says above.

I know that’s a small and inconsequential bond, but it brought the person much closer to a reality when I was younger, made his words seem that much closer to my own existence rather than words in an old library book.  I am gratified that this vague connection is with someone whose words and humor still resonate with people today.

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A Return to RootsI live in a part of New York state that doesn’t normally get a lot of headlines.  We’re somewhat rural with a few smaller  cities scattered across what is called the Southern Tier  that runs along the NY/Pennsylvania border.  

We have Corning which is known for its glass industry including a world-class museum.  There’s Ithaca with  Cornell and Ithaca College.  Then there’s my hometown of Elmira where Mark Twain spent his summers, writing many of his books from his study overlooking the valley, and is buried here.  Home of the late, great Ernie Davis.  We’re also known for our prisons.  I can barely contain my pride.

Then a little east there’s Binghamton.  

It was primarily known as the birthplace of IBM but after yesterday will be known in the national mind as the location of yet another murderous rampage.

14 killed.

I don’t know much about the assailant and I really don’t need to hear a lot.  I’m sure there will be all kinds of new info today and  in the week ahead, all profiling a troubled soul.  Unfortunately, we’ve heard it all before.  Too many times.

I don’t have any answers to the scourge of mass killings.  I have sympathy for the families who lost members.   I have empathy for those who witnessed and survived, many immigrants to this country.  Their terror and bewilderment that such a thing could happen in their chosen home is palpable.

And I have a degree of sorrow and empathy for the killer.  While I can’t understand how a person could be driven to such violence , I can imagine the alienation and rage that ran through his mind.  I don’t know his circumstances or what might have possibly tripped that final switch but he obviously lived in a troubled state of mind without the necessary coping mechanisms.  

That doesn’t excuse or justify his actions.  It only brings to mind the scores of people that live among us with that same anger, that same sense of separation.  The vast majority live this side of the line but more and more cross it and we’re left watching the news, horrified.

And you hope and you pray that this time will be the last.

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Seems Like a New SunThis piece, Seems Like a New Sun, is part of the show currently hanging at the Haen Gallery in Asheville, NC.  It’s a cityscape, a genre I enjoy mainly because of the abstract quality of shape and color that is formed by building up the structures.

At the opening for the show, someone asked if this painting was of a necropolis, a city of the dead or cemetery.  They cited the lack of windows and doors and said that it reminded them of those in Paris and New Orleans, where many of the graves are housed above-ground in beautiful small mausoleums.  This kind of took me  back a little because the idea had never entered my mind at any point in the creation of this piece but when I looked again it made perfect sense, in more than the obvious way.

I have always been attracted to cemeteries of all sorts and when we travel (a rarity these days) Cheri and I generally find a cemetery and walk around it, admiring the stones and mausoleums.  I read the names and epitaphs, trying to discern what sort of life they indicate.  Some find this morbid but I find it fascinating and very peaceful and in some ways, invigorating and reinforcing of life.  There is a lot to be said in the way a culture treats its dead.

We have a beautiful cemetery in our home area, Woodlawn Cemetery, that was created in the heyday of “burial parks” in the mid-19th century.  It has a rolling landscape with beautiful old growth trees and meandering roads. Very nice.  It’s home now to Mark Twain, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis and others.  Adjoining it is a national cemetery where there are the remains of a number of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War who perished in the notorious prisoner of war camp at Elmira.  There is history everywhere if we only look.

This is Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Evita Peron is its most famous resident.  Quite a striking sight amid the sprawl of the living city.  Maybe there is some validity in the viewer’s question…Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

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