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James Weldon Johnson and Aaron Douglas

James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) and Aaron Douglas (1899-1979)

Originally published in 1927, James Weldon Johnson’s book, God’s Trombones, is a slim volume composed of a prayer and seven poems: Listen, Lord–A Prayer, The Creation, The Prodigal Son, Go Down Death, Noah Built the Ark, The Crucifixion, Let My People Go, and The Judgement Day. The verses were inspired by his experiences attending black churches throughout the American south. The preachers’ oratory inspired Johnson to write these poems and, in the book’s preface, to reflect upon the nature of oration and folk traditions. His poems, I assume, inspired his artistic collaborators, Aaron Douglas and Charles B. Falls. The signature styles of two very different artists were brought together to complement Johnson’s words.

lettering by Charles Buckley Falls

Lettering by Charles Buckley Falls (1874-1960)

A publication was produced that is really quite distinctive with regard to words, images and overall concept. Johnson as scholar as well as poet produced a tome that captured in a unique way the power and importance of religion in the African American experience. He makes real even for those not having attended black churches how the preachers – God’s trombones – used word, rhyme and rhythm to give voice to the stories in the bible even when no bible was present.

Illustration

It would be easy to pick up this book, to skip the preface and go straight to the poems. But don’t. Johnson’s preface is critical, for his brief and cohesive insights into religion and the American experience, and for his guidance in how to truly appreciate what he was attempting to do with this book.

I claim no more for these poems than that I have written them after the manner of the primitive sermons. In the writing of them I have, naturally, felt the influence of the Spirituals. There is, of course, no way of recreating the atmosphere — the fervor of the congregation, the amens and hallelujahs, the undertone of singing which was often a soft accompaniment to parts of the sermon; nor the personality of the preacher — his physical magnetism, his gestures and gesticulations, his changes of tempo, his pauses for effect, and, more than all, his tones of voice. These poems would better be intoned than read; especially does this apply to “Listen, Lord,” “The Crucifixion,” and “The Judgment Day.” But the intoning practiced by the old-time preacher is a thing next to impossible to describe; it must be heard, and it is extremely difficult to imitate even when heard. …

“… The tempos of the preacher I have endeavored to indicate by the line arrangement of the poems, and a certain sort of pause that is marked by a quick intaking and an audible expulsion of the breath I have indicated by dashes. There is a decided syncopation of speech — the crowding in of many syllables or the lengthening out of a few to fill one metrical foot, the sensing of which must be left to the reader’s ear. The rhythmical stress of this syncopation is partly obtained by a marked silent fraction of a beat; frequently this silent fraction is filled in by a hand clap. …

The ensuing poems do read like song and the power of the words are echoed and strengthened by the complementary visusals.

Illustrations by Douglas for the poems, The Creation, The Prodigal Son, and Go Down Death.

Illustrations by Douglas for the poems, The Creation, The Prodigal Son, and Go Down Death.

Noah Built the Ark

Illustration and complementary chapter head for Noah Built the Ark

Illustration for The Crucifixion

Illustration for The Crucifixion

Illustration for Let My People Go

Illustration for Let My People Go

     

Both Johnson and Aaron Douglas are considered key figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Charles B. Falls was a noted illustrator and designer especially remembered for the posters he created during World War I and II as part of the Victory Books Campaign.

Over time the book has been reprinted numerous times including an edition by Penguin Classics, edited by Henry Louis Gates and with an introduction by Maya Angelou. As Johnson wrote in his preface the poems are really meant to be performed and over the years many individuals and institutions have done just that. Recordings can be found online.  You can also find the book fully digitized and viewable online thanks to the Documenting the American South project at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, my primary source for this post. I hope you have the opportunity to view the book in-hand or online: http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/johnson/johnson.html

 

Sources & Additional Readings

God’s Trombones (digitized) – http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/johnson/johnson.html

James Weldon Johnson – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Weldon_Johnson

Aaron Douglas – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Douglas

Charles Buckles Falls – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Buckles_Falls

The New Negro Renaissance – http://exhibitions.nypl.org/africanaage/essay-renaissance.html

More about the Victory Books Campaign – http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/pages/exhibits/ww2/services/books.htm

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Focusing my camera on rocks and water and sand on the shores of Revere Beach. There’s a story in their interaction but I just don’t know how to read it yet. That’s why yesterday I picked up Tristan Gooley’s How to Read Water. It’s subtitle – Clues and Patterns from Puddles to the Sea – captured me. If I don’t post for a while, it’ll be because I’m lost a darn good book. Meanwhile, have a good weekend, folks. 🙂

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donald langosy in the studio

donald langosy in a studio from the early days

For the past six Thursdays it has been been my pleasure to share the words and images of painter Donald Langosy. In collaboration with his daughter, he produced a unique 14-page memoir visually chronicling his evolution as an artist. I was allowed to share that memoir on this blog interspersed with additional words and images by Langosy.

Last Thursday’s post – story of my art – shakespeare and the joy of being, revealed that Mr. Langosy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2003. Has it affected how he expresses himself as an artist? Of course. But decrease in mobility and even fine motor skills has in no way decreased his creativity or even his productivity. As he has stated he does not allow MS into his studio, but he has welcomed visitors on occasion.

donald langosy in the studio present day

donald langosy still in the studio present day

I have been lucky enough to sit in his space and at his side and see his works-in-progress upon the easel, the canvases stacked against the wall, his sculptures tucked in high nooks, and what I especially love (and I tell him each time) the books, the books, the books, on so many different subjects, collected over the years! And no matter how crammed the space becomes with paintings and books and new technologies to enable him in his work, there is always space for the grandchildren.

grandchildren in the studio

grandchildren in the studio

Below are a few more images. Please enjoy this virtual peek inside the studio, present and past, of Donald Langosy.

Photos provided by Zoe Langosy.

View The Story of My Art: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6.

View four decades of Langosy’s work at http://www.donald.langosy.net/

See what’s current on Langosy’s Facebook page.

His contact: Zoe Langosy at zlangosy@me.com.

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The Naturalist by Darrin Lunde presents yet another side of the complicated Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919). Scion of a wealthy New York family, sickly as a child, Roosevelt’s enduring image is that of a rough and tumble soldier, a politician with a big stick foreign policy and a big game hunter extraordinaire. Lunde’s book focuses on Roosevelt the naturalist.

In 1867, just a couple years before his father Theodore Roosevelt Sr invested in the creation of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, Roosevelt started his own natural history museum in the family house. Twelve specimen would soon grow to include hundreds of mice, shrews and birds. Though the museum would soon be relocated by family decree especially after “he acquired a live snapping turtle – an aggressive pond-dweller covered in algae and decorated with a gruesome frill of leeches,” a passion had been borne that would stay with Roosevelt throughout his life.

Roosevelt lived during the Victorian Age. Nature study was common and encouraged especially among his social class.  Never formally trained, he would teach himself the necessary skills, including taxidermy. The Naturalist provides unflinching accounts of how natural history museums of that era built their vast animal collections, collections that are scientific boons for researchers today but at what cost? Even then, ethical and moral questions arose around the killing of animals. Though museums in general collected far more animals than he did, Roosevelt took the brunt of criticism later in his life from animal rights advocates as the media reported graphic details of Roosevelt’s big game hunts in Africa.

Lunde is a Supervisory Museum Specialist in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. He’s clear in his affinity for Roosevelt the naturalist and also in his concern about the growing disconnect between people and nature. At the end of the book he raises questions about the changing perception of what it means to be a naturalist. He points out that “To really understand Roosevelt the naturalist, we need to locate him in the naturalists’ world that he knew  — a world that wholeheartedly embraced guns, hunting, and taxidermy as equally important to the naturalist’s craft.”

The book reads like an American Experience documentary and I mean that in the best possible way. The book is chock full of historical facts and details and yet it is not in anyway overwhelming.  The narrative flows carrying the reader along on a thought-provoking journey in the life of one of America’s great iconic figures.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.

Additional Links …

The Naturalist

Darrin Lunde

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Those were the inspirations behind the latest series of blank journals and photo book now available in my blurb bookstore. Three new blank journals, great for jotting down notes (the old-fashioned way) while traveling, plus a photo book … uhm … blooming with tulips. Yes, Mr. Mapplethorpe was the inspiration.

Before its recent reconfigurations, I remember that the Boston Public Library Copley branch had a room on the second floor filled with photography books, an area different than the Fine Arts Department. I used to love to sit in there and flip through coffee-tabled sized books about artists I’d never heard of before. That’s where I first saw Mapplethorpe’s book of tulips. Years later, during the midst of a creative slump, someone gave me tulips. As I watched those stems slump over in the vase, I remembered Mapplethorpe and I thought, “Hey, why can’t I do a tulip photo shoot?!”  And so that what’s I did. A fun spur of the moment endeavor that I think produced some lovely and maybe sensual images. See for yourself. You can view a preview here.

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In short, from front to back, each page of The Flower Workshop is a treat. Am I biased? Perhaps. This is the kind of book that I can imagine on the table in front of me as I sip sweet tea, just flipping through the pages. Strangely enough, it was my younger brother who recently reminded me that that is exactly what I used to do as a child with my mom’s gardening books. Just sit and peruse them over and over again. Well-written and beautifully photographed, the book provides step-by-step instruction for producing 45 floral arrangements. But beyond those specific projects, the reader is truly educated in how to “branch out” and experiment with how to work with flowers, foliage, fruit and more to create what I consider to be ephemeral works of art.

Will I be producing a flowering dogwood display anytime soon? No but I do have a greater appreciation for the skill as well as imagination behind such displays that I had perhaps taken for granted in churches, hotels and even the homes of friends. And I also take away a deeper understanding of everything from the rule of three to the subtle use of color to establish mood.  There’s a nice index and seasonal flower guide. Simply a lovely resource.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review. Please check out the following links for more information.

Website of Ariella Chezar

Details about the book: The Flower Workshop

Photographer Erin Kunkel

 

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My mother kept a bucket of chickens next to the back porch.  It was a big white bucket like an old stew pot.  Hens and chicks was what she called the little spiky plants growing in there. No matter how hot the summers, no matter how many other flowers and vegetables died in the baking Virginia sun, those plants survived to flourish the following year. They were easy to transplant. I remember picking up the little ones … they just popped right up out of the soil … and tossing them into another little cup of dirt. My mom told me to stop doing that because she’d specifically positioned her pot of chickens. Their singular location, next to the porch, was part of her garden design.

photo by cynthia staples

Now my mom and I did not formally speak of things like garden design and water-saving plants like her cacti. My dad did not discuss these things either though I remember he kept a barrel to collect rainwater and that he rotated crops in our little vegetable garden. He didn’t really explain the why of his actions. It was just what you did if you understood the system of which you were a part.

photo by cynthia staples

That’s what stands out for me in books like The Water-Saving Garden by Pam Penick.  Penick invites readers who are interested in gardening to deepen their understanding of how their world works.  My parents grew up in a time and place and were of a generation that knew the sources of their water and understood that those sources were not guaranteed. For all sorts of reasons that knowledge was lost as human ingenuity and engineering made water readily available in many places and seemingly endless.  Today, people are aware that engineering is not enough. We are a part of a complicated system. Water is not endlessly available for our needs. But what if you really want a garden?

It almost seems selfish but I have to admit I’m one of those people. If at all possible, for my peace of mind, I like to see something green growing around me and know I had something to do with it. And despite my fond memories of my mother’s chickens, I don’t necessarily want to grow them. What are my other choices in a water-saving garden?

photo by cynthia staples

photo by cynthia staples

Pennick’s book stretches one’s imagination about what form that garden can take. She reminds and encourages people to take the time to understand the landscape and climate particular to their region. Humor is sprinkled throughout the book (e.g. “Think of your plants as astronaut-explorers, boldly going where no plant has gone before.”) as well as lovely and informative pictures.

The Water-Saving Garden is content rich and makes a nice addition to the reference shelf. Every idea can’t be tried all at once. It’s a resource I can imagine filling the margins with notes of lessons learned as I try to garden more wisely while still having fun.

You can learn more about this book via the following links. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this honest review.

Additional Links

About Pam Penick: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/152546/pam-penick/

http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/246914/the-water-saving-garden-by-pam-penick/

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