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Posts Tagged ‘beauty’

 

I was seeking not so much inspiration as simple background music to help me stay focused on my writing. In my  usual meandering way I chanced upon this video and in reading about the origins of the video I learned about an award winning movie that probably most other people already know about called Moonlight. I hope to see it one day but meanwhile here is, in just over two minutes, a film from director Anna Rose Holmer capturing a powerful collaboration between the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the movie composer Nicholas Britell. Choreography is by the theater’s artistic director Robert Battle.

 

Additional Reading – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moonlight_(2016_film)

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I heard his song before I saw red feathers bright in that old oak tree. Then maybe he heard my fiddling with knobs and so he turned to catch sight of me.

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Editorial note: This post was written in part in response to the current Presidential administration’s recent remarks this Black History Month, and its seeming lack of knowledge regarding black history in this country. It is also written to share in brief the life and work of an artist whose work I have always admired.

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Henry Ossawa Tanner 1859-1937

Henry Ossawa Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1859 and grew up in Philadelphia. Tanner’s father, who happened to be a friend of Frederick Douglass, was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church. Tanner’s mother, who had escaped slavery in Virginia via the Underground Railroad, taught private school in the home. Both staunch believers in education, they made sure their son, the eldest in a large family, was well-educated and prepared for a successful career in a conventional job.

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The Tanner Family

Tanner had a slightly alternative idea. He too wanted to be successful and he wanted to be a painter. He’d known since the age of 13 after watching an artist at work in a Philadelphia park.  Eventually, his father relented and he was allowed to pursue his artistic calling. In 1879 he was admitted into the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, the first African American student to attend full-time.

Biographers refer to the fact that Tanner would write little about his time at the academy, mostly focusing on what he learned from Thomas Eakins with whom he studied. Regardless, it was an important period in Tanner’s life, not only for what he learned about art but also about human nature.

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Already in attendance at the academy prior to Tanner’s arrival was student Joseph Pennell who would one day be recognized as a great American illustrator. In his 1925 memoir Pennell makes note of Tanner’s arrival at the school in a chapter titled, The Coming of the Nigger.

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Ship in a Storm, 1879

“There was no dissenting voice in the academy against Tanner’s presence. He came, he was young, an octoroon, very well dressed, far better than most of us. His wool, if he had any, was cropped so short you could not see it, and he had a nice mustache. … he drew very well. He was quiet and modest, and he “painted too” it seemed “among his other accomplishments.” We were interested at first but he soon passed almost unnoticed … Little by little however we were conscious of a change. I can hardly explain, but he seemed to want things; we seemed in the way, and the feeling grew.”

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Seascape – Jetty, 1876-1879

One night while out on the town with Pennell and other students, Tanner was mocked by other African Americans for being with the white students. Pennell recalls, “Then he began to assert himself and, to cut a long story short, one night his easel was carried out into the middle of Broad Street, and though not painfully crucified, he was firmly tied to it and left there. And that is my only experience of my colored brothers in a white school. Curiously there has never been a great Negro or great Jew artist in the history of the world. …” 

Tanner studied at the academy through 1885. By 1889 he moved to Atlanta. He was unsuccessful in a photography business venture. During this period he made the acquaintance of Bishop Joseph Hartzell of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Hartzel and his wife became patrons, helping Tanner secure a teaching position at Clark College, encouraging him to exhibit his work and eventually funding a trip for him to Europe. In Europe, Tanner discovered an environment where he was not a “negro painter,” he was simply an American painter. In 1891, he emigrated to Paris where he would study at the Academie Julian.

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The Banjo Lesson. 1893

After contracting typhoid fever, he returned briefly to the U.S. to recuperate. During this period he delivered a speech at The Chicago Congress on Africa at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition about negro artists and sculptors. In 1893 he would also complete one of his most iconic works, The Banjo Lesson. Tanner had originally sketched this scene in the late 1880s while traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

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The Thankful Poor, 1894

In two paintings, Tanner portrays the beauty and dignity of African Americans, and does so in  a way that is purposefully counter to the increasingly derogatory depictions of African Americans in art, newspapers and other consumer publications. Numerous prints of these paintings were made and hung in the homes of African Americans as a source of pride and inspiration.  Tanner would produce few, if any other, such paintings of African Americans. Regardless, wherever Tanner traveled in the world, he captured the vibrancy of the people he saw around him.

 

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The Young Sabot Maker

With his religious paintings, he especially played with color and light.

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Resurrection of Lazarus

After being moved by Tanner’s Resurrection of Lazarus, department store magnate and art critic Rodman Wanamaker offered to sponsor a trip to Palestine. Tanner traveled throughout North Africa and the Near East. The journey further informed Tanner’s work with religious narrative.

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Mosque in Cairo

Aside from The Banjo Lesson, Tanner is now most often remembered for the breadth and beauty of his religious themed works.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner 1896

The Anunciation, 1897

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Jesus Visiting Nicodemus, 1899

 

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The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, 1907

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Daniel in the Lion’s Den

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Flight into Egypt, 1923

In 1899, Tanner married Swedish-American opera singer Jessie Olsson. They had one child, Jesse. Tanner continued to paint, exhibiting internationally. He expanded his list of patrons.  In 1902, over the course of four months, four of his paintings – Sarah, Hagar, Rachel and Mary – were reproduced in the Ladies’ Home Journal. He became renowned though he would always struggle financially.

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As World War I broke out in Europe, Tanner became depressed. He was unable to paint. Or what he painted while respected was not being purchased.  He wanted to serve in some way but he was too old to enlist. He shared an idea with the U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom Walter Hines Page. His idea: turn the unused fields around the base hospital in Vittel, France into a vegetable garden and organize the convalescing soldiers as a work force. Provide food. Build morale. Page reached out to his counterpart in France and soon after Tanner was attached to the American Red Cross as a Lieutenant in the Farm Services Bureau. In 1919, for his efforts, Tanner received a Foreign Service certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.

Postwar, Tanner would resume painting and once more receive accolades for his work. In 1923 Tanner was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour for his work as an artist. In 1927 he became the first African American to be granted full membership in the National Academy of Design in New York.

Tanner lived during one of the most contentious periods in U.S. race relations.  While he chose to emigrate to France, he always considered himself an American. He was a mentor and adviser to artists of all races studying in Europe. He was vocal in print and in person in support of equal opportunity for artists of all backgrounds. On May 27, 1937, he died at his home in Paris.

Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937), American painter;

Today, Tanner is most often referenced as one of the great African American painters. I suspect he would simply like to be known as a great American artist. His painting, Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City was the first work of art by an African-American artist to be added to the White House Permanent Collection. It was acquired in 1996 from Dr. Rae Alexander-Minter, grandniece of the artist.

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Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City, 1886

 

Sources & Additional Reading

Treasures of the White House: Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City

Henry Ossawa Tanner Wikipedia Page

A Missing Question Mark: The Unknown Henry Ossawa Tanner by Will Smith

http://americanart.si.edu/collections/search/artist/?id=4742

Khan Academy Course on Tanner’s Banjo Lesson

The Adventures of an Illustrator by Joseph Pennell

Photograph of the Extended Tanner Family, 1890

Henry Ossawa Tanner| Realist/Symbolist painter

Henry Ossawa Tanner: Race, Religion and Visual Mysticism by Kelly J. Baker

Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist  by Marcia M. Mathews

White House Announcement of Acquisition of Tanner Painting

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pink

In the distance and in the dying of the light.

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I am honored to have my food photography appearing in the latest edition of Edge of Humanity Magazine. A wonderful online publication. Enjoy.  https://edgeofhumanity.com/2017/02/04/food-7/

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the remains of clams casino

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When I walked toward the river yesterday, I was so cold. I knew I couldn’t walk the length of the Esplanade photographing its wintry landscape but I felt compelled to try. I had not been to the river in a long time. Rivers have been on my mind of late.

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I’ve been thinking about rivers and how they branch and what you can find in those branches over time. How rivers can run deep, they can run shallow, they shape the land even as the land shapes the flow of the waters.

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Of late both a song and a poem about rivers periodically run through my mind. The song, composed by Sam Cooke, begins …

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh, and just like the river I’ve been running ever since

It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will …

The poem, as written by Langston Hughes, opens …

I’ve known rivers:

I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the

flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers. …

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My fingers already freezing, I made it to the river’s edge and began walking along an icy stretch.  I looked around waiting for something to catch my attention. I watched where the sunlight fell. Finally I came to a point, as may always be the case, when I had to decide how much further I could safely continue versus turning back.

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I paused, took a deep breath and looked around. I planted my feet and took a few photos. Right there. That was all I had. Just that given moment before I had to race into the nearest shop to warm myself. Later as I scrolled through the few pictures captured I was glad that I had decided to take action in that given moment. What to do in a given moment? That is the question I ponder as I follow rivers and as I do my best to follow the daily news.

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It is a deluge. A constant stream of information. A co-mingling of truth, lies, opinion, jargon and drama spread with too much rapidity across social media platforms, often without deep thought or editing. And not just at the Presidential level. The profound nature of the changes taking place right now in human history across this planet is quite breath-taking. It is paralyzing to some, invigorating to others, and then there is everyone in between. For me,  I am learning, as by the river, to pause and take a deep breath, and then to decide what I can do, from where I am, at a given moment.

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I’m not sure when I will be returning to the river, at least the Charles River. Too cold right now but Spring will come. The bared branches arching over the water will soon enough be green.

 

Sources & Additional Reading

The Negro Speaks of Rivers by Langston Hughes

A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke

 

 

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Seen while walking very very quickly by the Charles River today.

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