American Art – Part I of VI: Eric Hesse
Artist Statement: “The act of building is generally considered synonymous with growth and progress. In the cities I’ve called home, construction more often seems the imposition of one will upon another. Visually, the result is a sort of competition; angles wedge their way into vegetation and undaunted, the foliage always pushes back. All it takes is a look out of an airplane window and it becomes abundantly clear; human lines are the simple ones, the un-nuanced ones, the only forms that have somewhere immediate to go. Underneath, the natural landscape undulates and meanders, oblivious though scarred. In Los Angeles, the distinction between the created and the natural is most pointed, and the struggle between them most beguiling.”
A Poem for Today
“The Night of the Snowfall,”
By Mo H. Saidi
Snow falls gently in the Hill Country
covering the meadows and the valleys.
The sluggish streaks of smoke climb quietly
from the roofs but fail to reach the lazy clouds.
On Alamo Plaza in the heart of the night
and under the flood of lights, the flakes float
like frozen moths and glow like fireflies.
They drop on the blades of dormant grass.
They alight on the cobblestones and live awhile
in silence, they dissolve before dawn.
The wet limestone walls of the mission
glow proudly after the night of snowfall.
From the Music Archives – Part I of II: Duke Ellington
12 May 1934 – “Cocktails For Two,” by Duke Ellington, reaches number one on American popular music charts.
Fancies in Springtime: Vladimir Nabokov
American Art – Part II of VI: Angela Bentley Fife
Artist Statement: “Much of my work is created out of my own confusion of stereotypes, roles, and expectations that surround us and shift with time. I question our cultural ideals, why we place emphasis on certain characteristics both male and female, and I express my own weaknesses and insecurities through painting. In grouping symbols that are similar or contrasting, I can present an idea as concretely as I choose, while allowing space for interpretation. The underlying drive is that I have an urge to paint because of the physical process as well as the emotional development of an idea.”
A Second Poem for Today
“I Hear America Singing”
By Walt Whitman
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics–each one singing his, as it should be, blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work;
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat–the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench–the hatter singing as he stands;
The wood-cutter’s song–the ploughboy’s, on his way in the morning, or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother–or of the young wife at work–or of the girl sewing or washing–Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day–At night, the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing, with open mouths, their strong melodious songs.
From the Music Archives – Part II of II: Will Parnell
Born 12 May 1945 – William Parnell, an American singer and member of Archie Bell & the Drells.
In the words of one historian, “‘Tighten Up’ is a 1968 song by Houston, Texas–based R&B vocal group Archie Bell & the Drells. It reached #1 on both the Billboard R&B and pop charts in the spring of 1968. It is ranked #265 on ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and is one of the earliest funk hits in music history.”
Fancies in Springtime: Carl Sagan
“Ethnocentrism, xenophobia and nationalism are these days rife in many parts of the world. Government repression of unpopular views is still widespread. False or misleading memories are inculcated. For the defenders of such attitudes, science is disturbing. It claims access to truths that are largely independent of ethnic or cultural biases. By its very nature, science transcends national boundaries. Put scientists working in the same field of study together in a room and even if they share no common spoken language, they will find a way to communicate. Science itself is a transnational language. Scientists are naturally cosmopolitan in attitude and are more likely to see through efforts to divide the human family into many small and warring factions. ‘There is no national science,’ said the Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, ‘just as there is no national multiplication table.’ (Likewise, for many, there is no such thing as a national religion, although the religion of nationalism has millions of adherents.)”
American Art – Part III of VI: Saul Steinberg
“People who see a drawing in ‘The New Yorker’ will think automatically that it’s funny because it is a cartoon. If they see it in a museum, they think it is artistic; and if they find it in a fortune cookie they think it is a prediction.” – Saul Steinberg, Romanian-born American cartoonist and illustrator best known for his work for “The New Yorker,” who died 12 May 1999.
Some quotes from the work of Harry A. Blackmun, who served on the Supreme Court until 1994:
“By placing discretion in the hands of an official to grant or deny a license, such a statute creates a threat of censorship that by its very existence chills free speech.”
“Disapproval of homosexuality cannot justify invading the houses, hearts and minds of citizens who choose to live their lives differently.”
“It is precisely because the issue raised by this case touches the heart of what makes individuals what they are that we should be especially sensitive to the rights of those whose choices upset the majority.”
“The right of an individual to conduct intimate relationships in the intimacy of his or her own home seems to me to be the heart of the Constitution’s protection of privacy.”
“The states are not free, under the guise of protecting maternal health or potential life, to intimidate women into continuing pregnancies.”
“What the Court really has refused to recognize is the fundamental interest all individuals have in controlling the nature of their intimate associations.”
Fancies in Springtime: William Kittredge
“We need to inhabit stories that encourage us to pay close attention, we need stories that will encourage us toward acts of the imagination that will in turn drive to the arts of empathy, for each other and the world. We need stories that will encourage us to understand that we are part of everything, the world exists under our skins, and destroying it is a way of killing ourselves. We need stories that will drive us to care for one another and the world. We need stories that will drive us to action.”
A Third Poem for Today
By Richard Newman
My change: a nickel caked with finger grime;
two nicked quarters not long for this life, worth
more for keeping dead eyes shut than bus fare;
a dime, shining in sunshine like a new dime;
grubby pennies, one stamped the year of my birth,
no brighter than I from 40 years of wear.
What purses, piggy banks, and window sills
have these coins known, their presidential heads
pinched into what beggar’s chalky palm–
they circulate like tarnished red blood cells,
all of us exchanging the merest film
of our lives, and the lives of those long dead.
And now my turn in the convenience store,
I hand over my fist of change, still warm,
to the bored, lip-pierced check-out girl, once more
to be spun down cigarette machines, hurled
in fountains, flipped for luck–these dirty charms
chiming in the dark pockets of the world.
From the Movie Archives: Katharine Hepburn
“If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” – Katharine Hepburn, American actress of film, stage, and television, who was born 12 May 1907.
Katharine Hepburn won four Academy Awards, the record number for an actor or actress. She received the Best Actress Oscar for her performances in “Morning Glory,” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” “The Lion in Winter,” and “On Golden Pond.” In the words of one historian, “In 1999, Hepburn was named by the American Film Institute as the greatest female star in Hollywood history.”
Fancies in Springtime: Alan Watts
“We do not ‘come into’ this world; we come out of it, as leaves from a tree. As the ocean ‘waves,’ the universe ‘peoples.’ Every individual is an expression of the whole realm of nature, a unique action of the total universe.”
Pulitzer Prize – Part I of II: Julia Peterkin
12 May 1929 – The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded to Julia Peterkin for “Scarlet Sister Mary.”
“Everything has its way of speaking and telling things worth knowing. Even the little grass-blades have their way of saying things as plain as words when human lips let them fall…the choice bits of wisdom…were never written down in any books.” – From “Scarlet Sister Mary”
Fancies in Springtime: Robinson Jeffers
Italian artist Ademaro Bardelli was born in Florence in 1934, attended the Art Institute of Florence from 1949-1953, and then, after a stint traveling and working abroad, returned to Tuscany, where he lived and painted from 1956 until his death in 2010.
Pulitzer Prize – Part II of II: John Updike
12 May 1982 – The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded to John Updike for “Rabbit Is Rich.”
“You have a life and there are these volumes on either side that go unvisited; some day soon as the world winds he will lie beneath what he now stands on, dead as those insects whose sound he no longer hears, and the grass will go on growing, wild and blind.” – From “Rabbit Is Rich”
In the words of one critic, Polish painter Andrzej Borowski (born 1969) “focuses on traveling, and not only to different places in Europe, but to study the work of classic artists who are the sources of European art.”
Fancies in Springtime: Carl Sagan
“The key point of the Tunguska Event is that there was a tremendous explosion, a great shock wave, an enormous forest fire, and yet there is no impact crater at the site. There seems to be only one explanation consistent with all the facts: In 1908 a piece of a comet hit the Earth.”
British Art – Part I of III: Edward Lear
“There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, ‘It is just as I feared!
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!’” – Edward Lear, English artist, illustrator, author, and poet, who was born 12 May 1812.
Edward Lear is best known as a writer of witty limericks, but he was also an accomplished and widely traveled landscape painter.
“In this life he laughs longest who laughs last.” – John Masefield, English poet, writer, and Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom from 1930 until his death on 12 May 1967.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.
I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
British Art – Part II of III: Dante Gabriel Rossetti
“Love is the last relay and ultimate outposts of eternity.” – Dante Gabriel Rossetti, English poet, illustrator, translator, painter, and one of the founders of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, who was born 12 May 1828.
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?
“I am tired, Beloved,
of chafing my heart against
the want of you;
of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.” – Amy Lowell, American poet and posthumous recipient of the 1926 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for “What’s O’Clock”), who died 12 May 1925.
British Art – Part III of III: Andrew Hemingway
Here is one critic describing the artistry of Andrew Hemingway: “Born in Yorkshire, where he still lives, Andrew Hemingway works in pastel and egg tempera, producing images, particularly in pastel, of remarkable precision and depth. He is probably one of the most important still life artists in pastel working today.
He attended the Barnsley School of Art and took a degree in Fine Art and the History of Art at Camberwell. He studied in Italy and Norway and visits Holland regularly; the Dutch Old Masters, he freely acknowledges, have been an influence on his own painting.”
A Fourth Poem for Today
“A Promise to California”
By Walt Whitman
A promise to California,
Or inland to the great pastoral Plains, and on to Puget sound and Oregon;
Sojourning east a while longer, soon I travel toward you, to remain,
to teach robust American love,
For I know very well that I and robust love belong among you,
inland, and along the Western sea;
For these States tend inland and toward the Western sea, and I will also.
Fancies in Springtime: Robert Pirsig
“Mountains like these and travelers in the mountains and events that happen to them here are found not only in Zen literature but in the tales of every major religion. This allegory of a physical mountain for the spiritual one that stands between each soul and its goal is an easy and natural one to make.”
From the American History Archives: The Battle of Palmito Ranch
12 May 1865 – The Battle of Palmito Ranch begins. In the words of one historian, “The Battle of Palmito Ranch, also known as the Battle of Palmito Hill and the Battle of Palmetto Ranch, was fought between Union Army and Confederate States Army forces on May 12–13, 1865 near Brownsville, Texas. It was the last land battle of any size or significance of the American Civil War. The battle was fought on the banks of the Rio Grande about 12 miles (19 km) east of Brownsville, Texas, and a few miles from the seaport of Los Brazos de Santiago, which was located on the present-day ship channel of the Port of Brownsville.”
The battle concluded the next day. Private John J. Williams of the 34th Indiana was the last man killed.
Below – A map showing the location of the battle; John J. Williams, the presumed last soldier to die in the American Civil War; diorama depicting the battle in the Texas Military Forces Museum, Camp Mabry, Austin; the site of the battle today.
American Art – Part IV of VI: Katie Wilson
Artist Statement (partial): “Working with collage pushes me to be more innovative. It allows me to put down color, pattern and texture where I wouldn’t have otherwise with any other medium. I am intrigued by the imagined drama or peace of a past moment. My desire is to translate that moment through my own interpretation of the subject’s inner person by creating the drama and mood with color, texture and facial expression.”
“If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.” – George Carlin, American stand-up comedian, social critic, satirist, and author, who was born on 12 May 1937.
If you have watched any of Carlin’s HBO specials, you have witnessed a character type that our culture produces in sad abundance: The disappointed idealist. In measuring the yawning disparity between America’s lofty view of itself and the often fatuous and grubby actualities that attend life in our Republic, George Carlin is in the ranks of such luminaries as Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., and Hunter S. Thompson. In his brilliant and savagely witty indictments of our collective follies, he is perhaps closest in spirit to Mark Twain, and it is therefore decidedly appropriate that George Carlin was the recipient of the 2008 Mark Twain Prize for American Humor.
Some quotes from George Carlin:
“Atheism is a non-prophet organization.”
“Fighting for peace is like screwing for virginity.”
“‘I am’ is reportedly the shortest sentence in the English language. Could it be that ‘I do’ is the longest sentence?”
“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.”
“The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”
“If it’s true that our species is alone in the universe, then I’d have to say the universe aimed rather low and settled for very little.”
“Religion is just mind control.”
“Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
“People who say they don’t care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don’t care what people think.”
“When you’re born you get a ticket to the freak show. When you’re born in America, you get a front row seat.”
American Art – Part V of VI: Caroline Douglas
Artist Statement: “I became enchanted with clay when I spent summers as a teen at Penland School of Crafts in the mountains of North Carolina. Then, for many years, I had a business called Cerantics, and I traveled all around doing shows with my clay jungle gyms and fish bowls. Family life took over and I taught children for years as my children were growing up.
I received a BFA in ceramics at the University of North Carolina and have worked with clay for 30 years. Currently, my figurative sculptures are evocations of a dream world. Inspiration comes from mythology, fairy tales, and dreams, as well as the antics of animals and children.”
Fancies in Springtime: Alan Watts
A Fifth Poem for Today
“At the Edge of Town”
By Don Welch
Hard to know which is more gnarled,
the posts he hammers staples into
or the blue hummocks which run
across his hands like molehills.
Work has reduced his wrists
to bones, cut out of him
the easy flesh and brought him
down to this, the crowbar’s teeth
caught just behind a barb.
Again this morning
the crowbar’s neck will make
its blue slip into wood,
there will be that moment
when too much strength
will cause the wire to break.
But even at 70, he says,
Fancies in Springtime: Robert Pirsig
“I talked yesterday about caring, I care about these moldy old riding gloves. I smile at them flying through the breeze beside me because they have been there for so many years and are so old and so tired and so rotten there is something kind of humorous about them. They have become filled with oil and sweat and dirt and spattered bugs and now when I set them down flat on a table, even when they are not cold, they won’t stay flat. They’ve got a memory of their own. They cost only three dollars and have been restitched so many times it is getting impossible to repair them, yet I take a lot of time and pains to do it anyway because I can’t imagine any new pair taking their place. That is impractical, but practicality isn’t the whole thing with gloves or with anything else.”
“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be –the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.” – Farley Mowat, Canadian writer, naturalist, environmentalist, and author of “Never Cry Wolf,” “A Whale for the Killing,” and “People of the Deer,” who was born 12 May 1921.
Farley Mowat’s “And No Birds Sang” and “My Father’s Son: Memories of War and Peace” are among the finest memoirs written by a combatant in World War II.
A few quotes from the work of Farley Mowat:
“Whenever and wherever men have engaged in the mindless slaughter of animals (including other men), they have often attempted to justify their acts by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they would destroy; and the less reason there is for the slaughter, the greater the campaign for vilification. ”
“It is to this new-found resolution to reassert our indivisibility with life, to recognize the obligations incumbent upon us as the most powerful and deadly species ever to exist, and to begin making amends for the havoc we have wrought, that my own hopes for a revival and continuance of life on earth now turn. If we persevere in this new way we may succeed in making man humane … at last.”
“I wonder now… were my tears for Alex and Al and all the others who had gone and who were yet to go? Or was I weeping for myself…and those who would remain?”
“Whenever and wherever men have engaged in the mindless slaughter of animals (including other men), they have often attempted to justify their acts by attributing the most vicious or revolting qualities to those they would destroy; and the less reason there is for the slaughter, the greater the campaign for vilification.”
Fancies in Springtime: William Kittredge
“Too much order and artificiality makes us crazy.
The feel of mud where the leeches breed, as it oozes around my ankles, and osprey fishing with their killing clarity of purpose, rot on the evening breeze, all the stink and predatory swiftness of things, they are part of what I understand as most valuable. We are born to messes.”
Back from the Territory – Art: Brenda Schwartz (Part III)
In the words of one writer, “Brenda tells us that her novel method of painting watercolors on marine charts began when she was a child and used her parent’s charts for her sketches. She has come a long way from those roots, and is now one of Southeast Alaska’s most famous and admired artists.”
Back from the Territory, I share this with you, before I light out again.
A Sixth Poem for Today
“There Is Another Way”
By Pat Schneider
There is another way to enter an apple:
a worm’s way.
The small, round door
closes behind her. The world
and all its necessities
ripen around her like a room.
In the sweet marrow of a bone,
the maggot does not remember
of the mother, the green
shine of her body, nor even
the last breath of the dying deer.
Fancies in Springtime: Robinson Jeffers
“Nature knows that people are a tide that swells and in time will ebb, and all their works dissolve … As for us: We must uncenter our minds from ourselves. We must unhumanize our views a little and become confident as the rock and ocean that we are made from.”
American Art – Part VI of VI: Danny Heller
Artist Statement: “I paint the reality of the Southern California environment: how structures once revered for their groundbreaking ideas in design and social planning have been perpetuated and how they have been forgotten.
Primarily focusing on the area’s mid-century identity, I play with lighting, dramatic angles, and specific colors to form engaging paintings that also capture architectural elements. I use a realistic style to paint those moments where design and environment come together harmoniously in order to showcase the compelling characteristics of these spaces. In some ways, I act as a type of documentarian of an endangered architectural culture in California. However, these paintings are a bit more personal, as they tend to focus on locations from my childhood or at least slices of an era recounted to me from my parents’ and grandparents’ times.
By painting these historically and personally significant scenes, I hope to reconnect with a presumably by-gone time period whose remnants actually still exist. Because especially in Los Angeles, where the past is demolished to make way for the brand new, we are at risk of losing our cultural history. Without which, we leave ourselves devoid of a foundation to build our future on.”