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Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

It is a bird feeder that feeds a community … black, brown and gray squirrels, mourning doves, sparrows, grackles, starlings, a mating pair of cardinals and I’ve even seen a blue jay hovering about. All bigger than this little fellow who patiently waits in the branches of the neighbor’s tall tree and waits for its moment to feed.

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Late evening zooms are wearing me down but I am going to try to watch tomorrow at 7pm, “Every Pecan Tree: Trees, Meaning and Memory in Enslaved People’s Live.” It is part of a lecture series produced by the Harvard Arnold Arboretum.

The title was provocative and made me think about trees in my life. I photograph a lot of trees and as the sun pours through the window now I know at some point, I hope at some point, I will bundle up and head out the door with my camera. The branches are all mostly bare of course but with several days in the 60s coming … I will try to get some before and after shots. Some things might accidentally bloom by week’s end. We’ll see …

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a pecan tree. I’ve got books that help me identify birds and herbs, butterflies and moths but none about trees. I think I take trees for granted. The only tree I think I ever learned to recognize by leaf and seed was the maple tree because it grew next door in my Aunt’s yard and my brother grew one from one of its helicopter seeds and my dad actually planted the resulting seedling in our backyard though he did so with a big sigh because he knew one day its shade would cover his garden but he did so for the smile on my brother’s face.

Our yard was small but for the most part you don’t need a lot of space to grow trees.

We had a green gage plum tree. It was on the fence line so that meant the neighbors could pick some plums if they wanted too. My dad made wine that was apparently very tasty. He never let me drink it though. I suspect it was rather high octane. There was an apricot tree that I think produced one apricot over the span of its long life. The next door neighbor had a huge black walnut tree but I don’t remember people eating the nuts back then.

Across the street a neighbor had a towering pear tree that bloomed so white in spring. When the wind blew it was like snow was falling. The smell was divine. The fruit was so so. Small, green, hard to eat fresh but my mother would make small jars of pear jam that we’d eat on hot biscuits. Down the street was a sprawling mulberry tree. I heard stories of people making mulberry wine but mostly people hated the mess the berries made as they fell to the ground and they squished beneath your shoes. I fixed my dad a plate of them once, using my new tea party set, and he ate them with a smile. Citrus trees that people mentioned were before my time. No apples in the neighborhood and today that seems strange.

During the lecture, Tiya Miles, Professor of History and Radcliffe Alumnae Professor, Harvard University, will explore “the importance of trees as protectors of bodies and spirits, as sites of violence, as memory keepers, and as historical witnesses in the Black experience of captivity and resistance. Ultimately, time spent with these examples will underscore the centrality of the natural world to Black, and indeed, human, survival.”

If you’re interested in the lecture, you can find out more information here: https://environment.harvard.edu/event/every-pecan-tree-trees-meaning-and-memory-enslaved-people%E2%80%99s-lives

Meanwhile, I think the air has warmed just enough for me to venture out into the world with my camera. We’ll see which trees speak to me.

Have a good day!

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When Jupiter ran away with Venus where did they go?

When they rested in a field did they look up into the night sky and try to find themselves amidst the stars?

When they sheltered beneath a tree, lips pressed tight in silence as the white man walked nearby, did Venus rest her head against Jupiter’s chest and find calm in the beat of his heart? Did he press his hand to her stomach and pray to old gods and new?

They found solace in each other but where were they to find sanctuary in New England in 1741?

Mr. Gerrish and Mr. Rawlins, of Dover, New Hampshire, wanted each of them back. They had paid for the runaway advertisement together. The child would belong to Gerrish because he owned Venus … Venus age 35 or 40 who wore rings on her fingers and gold rings in her ears and who combed her hair and usually tied it up high like an English woman.

Rawlins owned Jupiter, age 35 or so, and kept him well-dressed because as Rawlin’s property his being well-kempt was a good reflection on Rawlins.

How did they meet, Jupiter and Venus? Was one running an errand to the other’s household? Had one of them been rented into the other’s household? Maybe, just maybe, their eyes met across the market as they attended the needs of their masters’s families.

The genealogies of Gerrish and Rawlins are well-documented. As for Jupiter and Venus …their story, their lives, have been lost to time but they have not been forgotten.

Source: Boston Post Boy, June 8, 1741

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On view as you enter the front door.

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When Steve tapered the legs of the dining room table he made by hand this pandemic season … I gardened, he made furniture … these pieces of wood were left behind. Now he told me about these pieces before I actually saw them and said, “I can turn them into a fan for you to do something with. I just need to get the right bolt.” “You mean like a Japanese fan?” He shrugged. “Yeah, more or less.” And I exclaimed with glee, “Yes, make that and we’ll hang it on the wall.”

Given that I don’t work with wood yet and he can’t read my mind yet, we each merrily traveled down a mental path completely unaware that we were not on the same page. He made the fan, 9 pieces bolted together and because of the nature of the design they have to hang down and not up as I had imagined in my head. And while I thought it was a totally him piece … his creation … he seemed stuck on this idea of collaboration. Well, I do declare. “You can stain it like you did the table,” I said. He nodded slowly then said, “But I think a watercolor wash might be better. That’s just me.” And for an eternity … actually only a few moments … we went back and forth. Finally I threw up my hands in exasperation. “Okay, mister, I’ve got some watercolors somewhere. What’s your vision?” He shrugged. “I don’t have one. You’re the artist.” He walked away as I semi-glared.

And then I began to play …

… knowing that nothing would be perfect and that I was learning along the way.

There are nine leaves to the fan. I began to think of the leaves as nine opportunities to tell a story or vignette. I think that is how I will handle such an opportunity in the future.

Watercolor on wood. You can’t get much more ephemeral so who knows I may use these same thin pieces again one day. But this fan can stay as it is for a bit because a certain someone is beginning to work on a new table. A much smaller table. We’ll see what falls by the wayside this time for our next collaboration. Be well,everyone. 🙂

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“I have always wanted to paint from nature, but it is too late when my work is finished for the day, so I am confined mostly to copying. On Sundays and holidays I go out to the country and paint, but holidays are few and far between and the weather doesn’t always permit. I’ve done a few farms, and last spring I did a picture of an old New England farm which I sold to C. A. Coffin of Lynn.”

The Boston Globe, Sunday, April 30, 1911

In the spring of 1911, the Boston Globe shared the story of artist John P. Rollins. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, in 1852, he trained as a house and sign painter. While in Philadelphia practicing his trade, he began exploring painting as an art. His efforts caught the attention of African American artist David Bustill Bowser.

Bowser mentored the young artist and even encourage him to set aside his trade and focus on fine art. But Rollins was aware, despite Bowser’s success, how hard it was to make a living as an artist especially for a Black man. Curious about the world, a world he might paint one day, he took a job as a sleeping car porter on trains traveling cross country. He finally settled in Boston and worked at Young’s Hotel located in the Financial District. He worked there for 20 years, painting during his off-hours. He managed to find time to take vocal lessons at the New England Conservatory. He sang in Baptist choirs across the city and eventually served as choirmaster for several churches including Boston’s Twelfth Street Church.

After leaving Young’s Hotel, Rollins was a messenger for a large banking house. A personable man, Rollins made connections with a mercantile and social elite who began to purchase his artwork. He was able to copy the works of great masters from a simple postcard. Both his reproductions and original art caught the attention of Boston artist and teacher Walter Gilman Page.

Page allowed Rollins access to his studio. As the two men developed a relationship, Rollins introduced Page to others in the black community who were artists as well. Like Rollins they pursued their dreams of painting while working whatever jobs they could find to make a living. They worked as elevator operators, waiters and janitors. With Page’s support, in 1907, the men formed the Boston Negro Art Club. Soon thereafter they had their first exhibit showcasing many works of art. Rollins served as Vice-President of the group.

“There’s nothing like seeing other men doing good work to make one want to keep up to the standard,” said Rollins. “But the fact of being able to sell your pictures is probably the greatest help. I have always been particularly interested in painting Venice. It has been the wish of my life to go there; from the time I was a little shaver down in Virginia … Venice has been to me like a stick of candy, way up high on a Christmas tree …”

“State Street, 1801” by James Brown Marston located at the Massachusetts Historical Society

“One of the best copies I have ever made is of ‘State Street, Boston – 1801,’ the original of which is at the rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society. There are a number of people who take an interest in my work and when some of my friends go away and travel either in this country or in Europe they send me all the postcards they can of the scenery, and it gives me great pleasure to copy and enlarge them.”

After its debut in 1907 the Negro Art Club had a few more exhibitions. By the time Rollins was interviewed by the Boston Globe in 1911 the group had likely disbanded. A 1920 Census shows that Rollins was still working as a porter at the bank and one can hope that he was still painting. Whether any of his paintings survive is unknown.

Sources and Additional Reading

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Bustill_Bowser

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Artwork in the square. Deceptively simple looking and especially quite elegant when a gentle breeze blows and there’s plenty of breeze in Copley Square.

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If you only listen to the first 6 minutes, it’s illuminating. And if you pour yourself some tea and make a plate of snacks, listen to the full hour.

https://www.loc.gov/item/2015669138/

It is the Pete Seeger oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Beacon, New York, 2011 July 22. I also highly recommend: https://www.loc.gov/collections/civil-rights-history-project/articles-and-essays/music-in-the-civil-rights-movement/

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Joseph A. Horne, 1943

Joseph Anthony Horne will not be remembered as one of Roy Stryker’s greatest Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information (FSA/OWI) photographers such as Dorethea Lange, Gordon Parks and Walker Evans but there is much to be gleaned from his photographs. With his camera, Horne primarily focused on the Washington, DC area where he lived with his wife and son. My understanding is that Stryker did not give specific direction on what to shoot but, once a region or event was selected, photographers had great leeway to shoot as they pleased and he would sort through the photos later. You can read more about the background and evolution of the photography project here. The photos of these photographers, including Horne, are available at the Library of Congress. What I find increasingly interesting about Horne’s photographs is seeing where his eyes gravitated.

He took these photos in the summer of 1943 in Franklin Park, Washington, DC. It appears to be a circular park with benches around the circle and from Horne’s photos it appears that white people settled on benches on one side of the circle and black people on the other side.

But when it came to listening to the presenters, like the Catholic Evidence Guild, all could stand together. Or at least the children could stand up front.

I’ve learned that Franklin Park, DC’s largest green space, will soon be transformed. It will become a destination point for residents and visitors. Horne’s photos reminds us that the park used to be quite the destination spot for a mix of peoples in the 1940s. Hopefully in 2021 that will be true once more in the park.

Franklin Park

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