Savannah, Georgia Savannah is a museum. I took an overnight bus from Raleigh, arriving in the October dawn. It was enchanting. Fortified by pig brains, eggs, and fresh hot biscuits at the White House, eaten while ogling a marvelous melange of locals, I started to cruise the city's historic streets.
It was too early for Ektachrome--thank God. I was reduced to my eyes. The Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences used to be the Regency house of Alexander Telfair, designed by William Jay and built in 1818.
I found the building more exciting than its paintings and sculpture, but the furniture (including rare Philadelphia chairs) in the rooms on both sides of the fairyland central court is outstanding.
But don't go to Savannah for its ashcan realists or impressionists. Go there for the Savannah. When I read a sign in the central court that said Ben Tucker's jazz trio was playing there next week, I silently cussed my bad timing and asked who Tucker was. He turned out to be the owner of WSOC, the black radio station in town, a member of Telfair's board of trustees, and--I didn't find out until I checked with Philly's resident jazz historian, Nels Nelson--one of the greatest jazz bassists ever.
I called Tucker cold, and Southern conviviality being what it is, a half hour later he picked me up in his Mercedes and we had lunch and drinks on the riverfront, at Bullfrog Springers. (Ask them where they got their name, when you visit!) I was so beguiled by this town that I rented an airplane and took sundown pictures over it an Hilton Head.
I would say that Savannah is crucial to me because it shows how much better it is to have a whole city that is a working piece of art than it is to have collected all the other works of art that are movable. Many, many other American communities have museums that give me high-class rushes; Telfair is the cerebral cortex of a city that is itself civilized. --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Rabbit Foot, Carroll Cloar Memphis, Tennessee I've traveled much into and out of Memphis because the Center for Southern Folklore abides there. Its abiding presence, Judy Peiser, is a multimedia Canute forbidding waves of modernism to submerge her native region's folklore, and she's winning. So is the Brooks Memorial Gallery, and the nearby Memphis Academy of Art.
The two of them work a lot together, and both share some city beautiful green acres that were the Chicago World's Fair's gift to many midsized American cities.
There's no telling what kind of surprise the Brooks has in store for its patrons--so I always scan its schedule to justify a fast flight to Memphis. Where else, besides its solid, comprehensive collections or in a beautifully integrated new wing, can you come upon shows as diverse as Rhodesian sculpture, the annual Mississippi Valley craft exhibition, and a circulating exhibition on Memphis historic architecture. I think it also has the largest cache of Carroll Cloar, that Wyeth of Magnolia country--a particular personal favorite.
It also has an ear out for perky tunes. One fall evening when I was waiting for a generous PR person to give me an after-hours sneak preview of the crafts show, I heard the strangest jazz coming from the outdoor bowl next door. That's how I first learned about Elbert Hubbard, Memphis mellow jazz flautist who confounds musicologist and disc jockey alike with his unique meld of Indian and jazz traditions. Red Indian, I mean.
The academy keeps the Brooks funky, with exhibitions like a Levi Strauss-originated international competition on the art of denim. The higher jeans. I love Memphis. I love its catfish. I love its river. I love its Brooks. In June, or any other old oleander.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Chrysler Building/New York City Norfolk, Virginia When I first visited the Norfolk Museum ten years ago, I recalled it as a not very appetizing collection of six hundred silver teaspoons and ten dull paintings. The Mariner's Museum at nearby Newport News had easily outcharmed it with a fine array of ship figureheads. So I almost missed the big change, a warning to snooty Phillyphiles like myself. I was flying off the last day of an Allegheny Airlines Liberty Fare.
I had been testing the parameters of that godsend for museum freaks like me, having in my two weeks flown the line's furthermost extremities--Minneapolis, Memphis, and Boston. I planned to fly down to Norfolk, turn around to D.C., and spend the day in chains at one of the many Smithsonian fiefdoms. Waiting for a flight, I picked up some Norfolk brochures.
Wait a minute! It was now the Chrysler Museum, in a brand new and very interesting building. Whoops. I took the limo into town and have never been sorry since. It seems that Chrysler's sister Bernice married Edgar Garbisch, and they became that epochal couple who practically invented American folk art as they filled their estate on the Eastern Shore of Maryland with indigenous goodies. Oi vey. Did they ever! And didn't some of these riches end up at Chrysler? You can bet your Shaker scoop they did.
And another thing. What architectural style do you associate with Bernice's bro Walter? Art deco, indeed. And the patron of that (to me) grandest structure after Louis Sullivan's bank at Owatonna and John Portman's Plaza at Ren Cen in Detroit, is the Chrysler Building.
So why shouldn't he have collected all sorts of deco, large and small, and given it to Norfolk? He did. It's there. Folk art and deco. Two good reasons to get on the next flight to Norfolk, and stay there. There are many other good reasons, you'll see. (Chrysler, bless him, collected everything.)
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Raleigh, North Carolina Starting from scratch in 1949, in a recycled state office building, the North Carolina Museum has a collection and a presentation of it that really pleased me. O.K., so the legislature gave them a million dollars; sounds like a lot of scratch to start with until you look at inflation.
Reading a new biography of Dr. William Valentiner, the inspired director of the Detroit Institute of Arts whose friend Edsel Ford commissioned the Diego Rivera murals, I finally understood the quality of Raleigh. Valentiner went on to Raleigh after mandatory retirement in Detroit.
What he did for North Carolina (and Interstate 95 travelers with the wit to stop) is astonishing. I can name no "great work" (maybe the small O'Keeffe church is an exception) from the State Museum's collection.
But the greatness lies in the genius of juxtaposition. Valentiner puts his choice little works in genre alcoves that are truly instructive--four still lifes here spanning several hundred years, five portraits there over an even longer span--and even the casual gallery goer gets it!
There is also a "Braille" gallery which begins with a Harry Bertoia that makes inviting sounds even to sighted people. You really must stop at Raleigh. There's a fine Victorian section of town a few minutes walk away in a high state of retrieval.
And the architecture students of North Carolina State (that's where Matthew Nowicki of the famous State Arena taught) have compiled a fine guide to the local architecture.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
El Paso, Texas My first visit to this city and its museum was an unhappy one: I was killing time waiting for a plane to San Francisco after having (I hope!) picked up a Spanish-language divorce in Juarez across the Rio Grande.
Never has architecture been so welcome an anodyne to pain. A certain Henry P. Trost put up a lot of buildings there between the world wars, including the stately old home of the late State Senator W.W. Turney which is the museum's current home.
El Pasoans know what a hidden treasure their Trost is. They've prepared an exemplary walking tour of his innovative buildings, especially in downtown El Paso--precast concrete department stores, decorative elements that would make Louis Sullivan do a double take.
In fact, I urge visitors to begin at the tourist information center in the architecturally fine new civic center just across from an equally impressive Greyhound terminal. Get the museum's Trost Street guide. Wander around and savor it before taking a bus at the Center Square out to the museum.
Unless my name is Walt Disney, you are going to notice one remarkable art-deco dime store down among the Trosts: the S.H. Kress store, a bursting rocket of polychrome ceramic. Yes, that's the same Samuel H. Kress, one of our nation's great art benefactors.
And Kress had a thing about his benefactions that I find very praiseworthy: he gave his best markets the best collection. And his El Paso is a choice array of classic European paintings, mainly Renaissance and baroque. There's Americana also--Remington and Inness, some pre-Columbian, and Mexican colonial. But the cream is their Kress.
Final hint: Cross the Rio Grande by foot. The Mexican government has set up in each of the border towns of any size--Matamoros, Juarez, Tijuana--shop/museums where the highest-quality folk crafts are sold. Many refined people are so put off by stories of the scrofulous side of these sailor service centers that they miss the incredibly rich (and relatively inexpensive) folk-art centers.
Note: The museum is closed until 1982 because of an expansion program. The one in Juarez is the best of the four I have visited along the border from East Texas to Baja, California.
It begins as a museum leading you through several areas of Mexican crafts, beginning with pre-Columbian and ending with a shop where you can purchase contemporary work. That place is one of my very favorite places in the world--a paradigm of how to blend commerce with culture to the disservice of neither. --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
La Casa Cordova, Tucson Museum of Art Tucson, Arizona Visually, this museum is a sleeper. Set in the exhilarating new civic-center campus in downtown Tucson, it looks good but ordinary--until you step inside. Then you thrill to a rectangular, inverted Guggenheim. The ramps don't swirl down like the ones at the New York showplace, but they ramp gradually, making an ideal viewing gallery for the Rauschenberg space series that was hanging when I visited.
The deep basement was full of Robert Indiana and Jasper Johns. The interior well, formed by this sequence of slanted right turns, is the venue for concerts and film showings, I was told by a University of Arizona art major guarding the ramp exit.
On the "top floor," a solid thematic exhibit of "Beasts and the Human Imagination," pieced together from Phoenix and other state collections, showed how mediocre art (I mean just to say there were few masterpieces) plus a lot of anthropological savvy can mount an exhibition with a lasting impression.
A high point is this museum's solid support of Tucson craftspeople. I can't remember when I've seen such a fine standard of crafts. If I hadn't been on my way to Fiji at the time, I would have carted home box loads of ceramics and textiles. Airline weighing stations being as tightwad as they are, I contented myself with quirky greeting cards put out by a local feminist collective.
Two other Tucson attractions make a day-long stay advisable. The state's first (and so far only) Mexican museum, La Casa Cordova, adjoins the grounds of the art museum. Its folk art is fey and fun. And the local history, admirably posted near its displays, is very illuminating.
The other must is a ten-minute cab ride away at the University of Arizona--the anthropology department's museum which specializes in Southwest history and prehistory. The university's art gallery is good, but the anthro is superb. --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Little Rock, Arkansas This place will always be close to my heart because ten years ago I bought my first quilt there, a kinky Ozarkian Dresden Fan. (How was I to know that this would lead to helpless quiltoholism?) Well, they don't sell quilts any more in the new and improved shop--scarcity and inflation; but damn near everything else has changed--and for the better.
The first thing to catch my nitpicking Northerner's eye in Faubusland were handsome, new, black art acquisitions--Charles White and Romare Bearden. And the school children milling into and out of the center seemed benignly integrated--a far cry from the Telenews of the 1950s.
They all have plenty to be satisfied with. For adults there was a solid, packaged touring show from Daum Freres, the French glass magicians. For kids (of all ages, as they say) were the idiosyncratic toys culled from across these playful United States for the center's specialty, new concepts in fun and games.
Some were fey, and some were foolish; some were goofy, and some even too gamey--for the kid I was anyway. I wish more Americans could see these arty facts. And I wish a few could have shared my delight watching a can-of-worms-ful of elementary school children delving into the funkitude of it all.
As I grinned my way back to the Greyhound terminal, I observed that Little Rock is getting into history as well, in a big way. There's an entire village of structures exemplifying the stages in the history of Arkansas.
And an Arkansas Heritage Center as well, orienting visitors and locals to the glories and the grimaces that were Little Rock.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Georgia O’Keeffe 1953/Photo by Laura Gilpin Santa Fe, New Mexico If I could found a graduate school of tourism administration dedicated to taking the tacky t out of tourism, I'd found it in Santa Fe. It's not a poor man's town, but there are clean hotels near the bus station for less than two figures a night, off season. Still, it doesn't cost anything to look at great art in its museums or ogle first-class crafts in the shops, for that matter.
I almost landed myself in debtor's prison there when I impulsed for a $200 Navajo rug--black-and-white stripes--still the premier throw in my international rug collection. And I met Laura Gilpin's work for the first time in Santa Fe; that age and soul mate of Georgia O'Keeffe was a one-person crusade against geriatric despair. She took up where Edward T. Curtis left off with the local Indians.
The Museum of Fine Arts, part of the complex that makes up the Museum of New Mexico (the 1610 Palace of Governors, the Museum of International Folk Art, the State Monuments, and the Laboratory of Anthropology), was created in 1907 primarily to save the palace. But the Taos connection (D.H. Lawrence, the ash canners like Henri, Sloan, and Bellows, et al.) ensured that art activities would be massive and first class in the area.
The Museum of Fine Arts is currently undergoing a massive renovation, and will reopen in early 1982. But open and lively is the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, just a few miles from the Museum of New Mexico complex. The Wheelwright's collection--like that of its cross-town neighbor--is strong in Native American art. Along with archives of unpublished Indian myths, see the sandpaintings and textile collections. --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Watch, Gerald Murphy/1925 Dallas, Texas I confess that Dallas has long filled me with bad vibes--Dealey Plaza and its School Book Depository rifle roost, the Cowboys and their high-stepping Cowgirl cheerleaders, and billionaire bluster. So I was making a duty trip to cover every museum when I hailed a cab for the ten-minute (off-peak) ride to Fair Park.
Talk about prejudice evaporation. The whole park is a fairyland of art deco. I could walk up and down its esplanades for hours, never enter a door and be blissful. But enter the DMFA I did, and thereby hangs a tale of total and unconditional surrender.
True, I had to grit my teeth before the newest coup, Frederic Church's ode to a deep freeze, the $2.5 million Icebergs (which was given to the museum, some say, by H.L. Hunt). But the Nora and John Wise collection of ancient South American art is not only a pupil-boggling parade of Peruvian textile, gold, pottery, and sculpture, it also sets the highest standard of museology I've seen anywhere in the world. It explains things with an aesthetic flair that is a joy in itself. If Cairo's museum is the bottom in this respect, then Dallas is the tops.
And it was there that I first gazed upon that minor painter, Gerald Murphy, expatriate friend of the Scott Fitzgeralds. I regard it as a major loss to American painting that he just up and walked away from his easel. Dallas has most of his works, and a damn good catalogue by William Rubin, with an illuminating reminiscence by friend Archibald MacLeish.
I feared the museum shop in Neiman-Marcus land would exceed my Visa limits. Surprise, the stock is a laid-back blend of Korvettes and Cartier's. There are good restaurants in the Fair Park, but I recommend a Casa something or other (I forgot the name but not the hot taste-haaaaaaahh!!) kittycorner from the bus stop to downtown at the main gate.
For dessert, visit the Texas Hall of History; really gargantuan, tall-tale murals--with a splendid photo gallery in the basement, next to a library full of helpful librarians. (They love art deco too!)
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Newark, New Jersey
The old saw about an institution's being the lengthened shadow of a single, strong individual is nowhere better exemplified than in Newark's John Cotton Dana. In 1979 they praised his memory with several shows illustrating his presence as well as theirs. Dana was a big-city librarian (Denver and Springfield, Massachusetts) with that breed's passion for luring everybody, I mean everybody, into the transactions of learning. That perhaps explains his zeal in touting "everyday art," what we would now refer to as a mix of industrial design and crafts.
He used to reiterate--at the top of his voice, loud enough, I suspect, so that the brass at New York's Met could not fail to hear him--that goodness in art had nothing to do with age, price, or rarity. To drive his point home, he staged shows with objects selling for under a dollar; this a decade before the Museum of Modern Art organized its industrial design department. He staged a German industrial design show before World War I and got into a nasty spat with the Met because they were too snooty to cosponsor!
He teased, shamed, and cajoled Newark's business community into supporting the museum he founded in 1909 as an expansion of library services. The department store Bambergers came up with money for the present splendid building on Washington Square in 1924. Its naturally lit central court is just right as an exhibition space, not too Louvrey large, but commodious enough to show things to an eye's advantage--like the six Joseph Stellas in a recent "Urban Scene" exhibition, a Baedeker for all the bridges the laureate of Brooklyn has painted. Its eighteenth- to twentieth-century Americana is first class, and it has notable African and Tibetan collections.
But Newark is by no means coasting on Dana's oars. Its latest additions are a "fool the finger" magic realist canvas of the museum's Victorian adjunct, the Ballantine House, by Adolf Konrad, a German-born, WPA-in-Newark-weaned painter, and George Segal's Toll Booth (1980).
It is typical of the spritz of the regime of current director Samuel C. Miller that he served in situ, swathed in Segal's wet industrial plaster, to become the ticket taker in the 3,000 pound, solid-bronze art deco toll booth which the Port of New York Authority gave the museum in 1977. (Greater love than this no director hath, than that he would give up his lunches to become a Segal!) --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
London, Ontario, Canada I was shunpiking back home to Michigan this summer and decided to test the wares of Ontario's museums, from Saint Catherine west to Sarnia. (Yes, West Virginia, Sarnia has a museum, a honey, on the second floor of its public library.) Canada's so damn quiet about itself, it's either got the biggest diffidence complex on historical record--or, more likely, it doesn't want too many of those rowdies south of the border to catch on to what a good thing it's got going.
And what a Regional Art Gallery they're just got going in London. In May 1980, overlooking the city park on the Thames River, London treated itself to a really exhilarating gallery, reminiscent of Louis Kahn's Kimball in Fort Worth, Texas. But the similarity ends with the barrel vaults.
A local Maecenas and his missus, Mr. and Mrs. John H. Moore, have given the results of their almost forty years of collecting Canadian art to the community which has been so generous to give generations of Moores. Talk about bread above the waters. Almost four hundred Canadian works--the well-known (in name if not in canvas in America) Seven, the playfully entitled post-Seven Eleven abstractionists, and painters entirely new to me--and entirely captivating, the Wyeth-like Ken Danby, the Magritte-mysterious Christopher Pratt, the positively spooky Jack Chambers with his Olga sequence, and the austerely majestic Alex Colville.
London is suddenly a big asterisk on the map of any serious North American student of art or architecture. Don't get the mistaken impression it's nothing but Canuckland. The Moores knew their Matisse, Picasso, Albers, Calder, and sixty-five other non-Canadians in their gift. And a collection of Ensor's etchings graced one of their circulating galleries.
London itself is full of other interesting things, not the least of which is the Cookery, a not-so-fast-food oasis next to the old Talbott Inn, a two-minute hike from the main attraction. (There's also the outstanding gallery of the University of Western Ontario hard by; unfortunately those lazy academics don't keep it open on summer weekends!)
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Allentown, Pennsylvania What first tempted me up the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike was the rumor that a whole room of a Frank Lloyd Wright house was part and parcel of the museum's new wing. Wrightiana is scarce enough in these parts to make such a trip mandatory. And there it is, the library from the Francis W. Little House, Wayzata, Minnesota (1912-1914).
By a nice bit of preservationist timing, a student of Wright, Edgar Tafel, was designing a new wing when the Met's Thomas Hoving managed to save the entire Wright house from the wrecker's bulldozer, installing some of it in the Met's American Wing, and selling off parts to other interested institutions. The former Taliesin Fellow has designed, by way of prologue to the room, a stunning photomural explaining the Wright heritage. And the library itself peeks out onto a lovely sculpture court.
But that is merely the top gem in the Allentown diadem. On the fringe of Pennsylvania Dutch country, it has a tasty room full of their folk art, in which, among other magical gestures, the butter-pat print approaches the finest of arts. Like most smaller museums, Allentown's finest art is getting the biggest possible bang out of its limited bucks. It's most memorable achievement in this area still gives memory pleasure.
Henry McIlhenny, a pillar of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, has the summer habit of putting his first-rate collection in storage while he's away from the city. A few seasons back Director Richard N. Gregg had the luminous notion of "storing" the McIlhenny swag for a summer. But not content to simply flash the stuff, Gregg devised a pedagogical entry room where Allentowners could avoid the "bends" when suddenly confronted with such an unaccustomed load of treasure.
It explored brilliantly illuminating byways of the context of French impressionism, such as the connections (heretofore unknown to me) between, say, Degas and Zola. It was a superb example of how a small museum can do more than tug its forelock before a great collector. The museology behind that show is a permanent benchmark about how less can become more if an energized sensibility presents a show. A catalog is on sale in a very good gallery shop.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Binghamton, New York I got to know the Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences because it was a congenial breather on the tense interstates between Philadelphia and a girl from Syracuse. The romance waned, but the Binghamton connection remains stronger than ever. (It is increased, in fact, by a later discovery that SUNY Binghamton, three miles out in the country also, has an excellent teaching collection augmented by outstanding contemporary shows.)
Roberson is another example of American curatorial ingenuity. When it opened twenty-six years ago, it was a stately house in flight from a deficit. Its collections were quirky, uncomprehensive. No matter. The first director had the still bright and viable idea of combing the attics of his well-established sister museums for a show unabashedly entitled "Treasures of the Empire State."
And to show that is knows a good idea when it has had one, the Roberson celebrated its silver anniversary in 1979 by cutting a bigger and better swath through the cupboards of twice as many New York State museums. But moving vans don't make an exhibition either; taste and flair do. So Duane Truax, a ball of fire newly from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his chief curator--who began (take note, you aspiring junior leaguers) as an unpaid docent--clustered its temporary booty around genres or themes.
Do you know that six so-so chairs individually look dull, but grouped together they shine, as we infer the ingenuity expended in dealing diversely with the gluteus maximus and related attachments? One Shaker piece by itself cries out for "Hancock"; but five together dazzle us by their austere grace. That's what I learned from the Roberson's alchemists.
In an adjoining gingerbread Gothic house, a full-fledged regional crafts center adds to the temptations luring the weary off the intersecting interstates nearby. And the local Indians have their say in the backyard of the museum. Not the least joy of a visit is that you approach the museum through streets rife with kinky high Victoriana. I hope they don't become too successful before their Golden Jubilee in 2004, else they may have lost the knack of turning their near losses to our rich gains. --from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Worcester, Massachusetts "Wooster" is off most Northeast corridor troopers' regular art itineraries. But for lovers of American painting of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, it is a must stop. All this talk about lemminglike drifts to the sun belt tends to ignore the fact that snow belters have been doing their cultural duties for much longer, and even the collections of a museum like the Worcester illustrate that abundantly.
I'm not implying that the Worcester is moored in some safe past. Far from it. It has a new wing, chock full of the notable painters and sculptors of the recent past. But as an Americanist, I relish continuity, and sometimes prefer century-old classics to ninety-day Wunderkinder. I noticed that to assert its contemporaneity, the museum's Summergarden restaurant had place mats derived from a Frank Stella.
And for four-season visitors, there's a funky old house "Across the Street" (the restaurant's name) with arch menu items like Poisson Poussin--luckily the taste of the fish was untouched, i.e., very good. The Worcester also has a good designer loose in its works, for in its above-average gallery shop there was a fine original scarf which mopped up a big swatch of my Christmas shopping early. WAM, indeed.
And don't forget the sister historical society, a two-minute walk down the street. First of all, it's housed in one of those delectable red, rusticated sandstone houses of the late nineteenth century.
But inside I found a new history of fashion from Puritan to Puckettes, with a marvelous mirror/table set-up where you were inveigled into trying on a historical array of chapeaux that really tickled the kids I watched shopping for personae.
I love this kick in museology where there is at least one hands-on gig to counter the antiseptic "PLEASE DON'T TOUCH" tradition.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Benny Bufano's Bears Oakland, California I used to josh my black friends in the Bay Area that they should really name Kevin Roche's jewel of a museum the Huey B. Newton Underground Center for Underhanded Activities because the structure is a kind of inverted hanging gardens. Its class is evident from the first time you ascend the steps and see Benny Bufano's Bears, symbolic of the state of California and (nobly) saved from earlier WPA abandonment.
I have spent so many hours on natural highs in this museum that I don't know where to start ticking off its interior achievements. I say without fear of rebuttal that it is the single most satisfying "exterior" in American museum architecture. Only the Museo' Anthropologico in Mexico City, or the Miro' Foundation in Barcelona have given me more intrinsic joy.
I like its contents as well because they are crossover exhibitions. Oakland, having more than a PR problem with its abused minorities, has had to make outreach more than an annual report bromide. So I have seen black art, Mexican art, and Indian art in abundance there. But I have also seen natural history and plain California history, photography (will they ever cease "discovering" yet another lost photographer of the West?), advertising art, design art--as well as your first, run-of-the-mill painting and sculpture retrospectives.
Oakland is the Newark of the West, eclipsed by its better-known peers in San Francisco or New York. It is a kind of Camden of the Bay Area, always cowering before an insolent Philly. Try a day on Oakland, your next trip west. BART is unbeatable in getting there.
There's more to Oakland than where the A's play. There's the great art-deco Oakland Paramount, and Jack London Square. If you want to finally know what the word "cocktail" means, try one at sundown at the Sea Wolf restaurant there. The whole complex of waterside shops and restaurants is delectable, but a cool one at sunset in the Sea Wolf makes Venice look like a run-down Lagoonarama.
Santa Rosa, California Santa Rosa is not a very well kept secret of 60,000 smug souls 60 miles north of San Francisco. But it's a very well kept town. Even Big Mac had to pull in his golden arches before the basilisk eyes of its planning board. One of my finest times was helping dedicate a new Texaco gas station with a wine and cheese party plus jazz combo.
It's all a civilized conspiracy to live up to the green thumb of Luther Burbank, a New Englander who sought his fortune there in 1875. The local community college (1918) is surpassed in age only by Fresno's. And its small but superb gallery outshines even the closest four-year college, Sonoma State.
Its secret is a shrewd management of local resources--baskets from local Indians or African masks from a friendly San Francisco gallery, benign ballyhooing through the college's art and lit teachers (who tease their sometimes reluctant scholars into looking at something different just for the hell of it), and the community services department which will leave no medium unturned when touting the gallery's joys.
Not surprisingly, the college's art department has one of the best poster-designing traditions in the country. If you visit Santa Rosa's museum during the school year, step twenty paces to the northeast, knock on the art department's door and ask for Max. Tell them Patrick sent you.
The ten years of posters lining his atelier's walls make that tacky-looking (from the outside) "temporary" structure a veritable museum annex. I don't say this lightly; I warn against hyperbole: the California junior college at its best, as represented here, is the least wasteful, most vigorous sector of American education, full of the most promise for the quickened demotic sensibility.
Billings, Montana During the Bicentennial I vowed to visit all the contiguous continental states I had missed in my first half-century. North and South Dakota I can wait until the Tricentennial to see again! But Montana now haunts the Big Sky of my memory's eye. It took me only five minutes off the bus to understand why city smartie Leslie Fiedler could ever stand Missoula after growing up in Newark, New Jersey.
And Helena has the grace and charm of an aging belle dame. I even grew to love the disgracefully wasteful grittiness of Butte. But my heart belongs to Billings and its Richardsonian recycled two blocks south of where the main drags cross. I found it during a Greyhound pitstop while searching for wine, sausage, and cheese as an alternative to Post House fast foolishness.
The Heritage Center is no Field Museum. But it is a microcosm of local lore at its best: cowboys, Indians, ranching, railroads, minerals, and Montaniana to the left, right, and center. I warn you that if you stop and visit it on your way east, it will nail you to Montana for at least a week. Whenever I get a spasm of Montana fever, I reach for the Joseph's multicolored coat of an afghan I bought in their shop for $17.50. (I felt like a burglar slinking back to my bus.)
Who would believe me when I say the Western Heritage Center makes "barbed wire" (for God's sake) more interesting than Lewis and Clark? I was so euphoric after that visit that I missed my bus, and whiled away the hours teaching three middle-aged Billings ladies the bump in a local waterin' hole. I never enjoyed a birthday party more.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Muskegon, Michigan I know, I know. It's east of the Mississippi. Well, I'm going to cheat anyway, because I've got to tell you about Muskegon. Once upon a time Michigan was covered with virgin stands of pines. Climax forests they called them. Then the lumbermen (my Grandfather Fitzpatrick was one) buzzed and buzzed away, and before you could say 1890, Michigan was as bald as Telly Savalas.
In Muskegon, this bothered a man named Hackley, who vowed he'd stake his whole lumber-generated fortune to giving Muskegon a second chance. As you approach the L.C. Walker (the second Maecenas of Muskegon) Civic Arena area in downtown Muskegon, your eye catches what you are sure is a recycled Richardsonian city hall.
The date (1891-92) is right; the materials--rusticated bands of red and gray--are straight out of the master's quarries. But the structure is in fact the Hackley School, but his first big benefaction to give his adopted hometown another break.
Kittycorner to the northwest is an even more savory morsel of the same Stone age architecture--the Hackley Library (1889!) And north next to it is the Muskegon Museum of Art (1912) nee the Hackley Gallery.
It's beaux arts at its least flashy best, designed by Chicago's Solon Spencer Berman, perhaps better known for the Studebaker Theatre in Chicago, but renowned in Muskegon for having designed the first art gallery in the United States in a city of under 30,000, thereby pushing Hackley's haven a cubit closer to his American dream of making it "one of the most distinctive cities of its size in the country."
The city fathers imported a Nottingham man, one Raymond Wyer, to lead the Philistines out of their darkness. One of his first moves was to buy James McN. Whistler's Study in Rose and Brown from the Armory Show of 1913 for $6,750! The bottom-line watch howled in disbelief that the whole gallery cost only $43,750 to build--and purchases like that would son deplete the $150,000 Hackley had left to buy pictures with. Wyer slyly (and we must guess snidely) replied that, sure, he could buy 500 inferior canvases for the same dollars. But the name of the game was excellence.
Two years later, in 1916, Wyer got his walking papers. (Feminists might note that his replacement, Miss Lula F. Miller, became only the second woman to head a museum in the country, Buffalo's Albright having pioneered with Miss Cornelia B. Sage.) The high point of Miller's tenure was the acquisition of the considerably less controversial-and, alas, to me more lasting--Answering the Horn by Winslow Homer.
In the summer of 1980 the museum was in the throes of expansion, a new wing for offices and gallery having been designed for Hackley's heirs (viz., all of Muskegon) by John Hilberry and Associates, whose current estimable success is the new wing at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
And old Charles Hackley would be thrilled as well to know that his horrendous hodgepodge of a Victorian house (which is to say a zany marvel) has escaped the snapping jaws of Bauhaus bulldozers and is open to the public he had such an emulatable way of serving. All hail to the quirky independent American patron. May their tribe increase.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Saint Paul, Minnesota This Saint Paul center (1978) is so artful an array of science celebration that it reminds me how potentially destructive our two cultures of museology really are. Separating the lure and love of art from science encourages double-entry bookkeeping: art on Sunday in art museums, and technology as usual everywhere else the other six days of the week. A bad bargain.
As you enter the museum you see children climbing around a fey and friendly looking amphibian. Closer inspection reveals that the climbable beast is made of rail spikes. A friendly director, who was bopping around contentedly relishing an S.R.O. Thanksgiving weekend crowd when I arrived, explained that the spikes were local heirlooms from a disused Minnesota railroad. Making a new work of art for child's play from old heirlooms is an apt emblem for this recycler-of-consciousness machine.
It's more than a hands-on museum. It's a bodies-on, kinesthetic, three-ring circus of ideas. Item: To help you understandably enjoy the tradition of masks in human history, they have devised a spookily magical view box into which you look--and find your face enmasked. Mirrors! Item: You don't look at weaving. You get into the threads of it.
Item: You don't look at dioramas about the origins of the universe: you settle back into your tilted, padded chair and watch an OmniMax feature called "Genesis," which is to the old Cinerama what color Polaroids are to dingy old daguerreotypes.
The only places to compete with this emporium of enlightenment are San Francisco's Exploratorium in an abandoned warehouse and Louisville's Museum of Science and Natural History in a recycled cast-iron storefront. All three argue well for the future reintegration of art and science as flip sides of the same human coin of disciplined imagination.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Wheeling, West Virginia I love to stub my toes on my own snobbery. Before I discovered the Oglebay Institute of Art, I had an image of Wheeling as a kind of Pittsburgh with hillbillies. How benighted I was. And it all developed because I stopped for lunch at the Wheeling Inn after a pothole-filled trip up along the Ohio River from Marietta.
The motel sits perkily between the oldest suspension bridge in America and the newest interstate span. What could a bridge fancier do but slow down and look around? The Oglebay is another regrooved stately house. Its current exhibition was an exchange show between two towns at the extremities of the state. Not ultimate stuff, but authentic and shareable.
The gallery shop was another thing. Crafts are a big little business in West Virginia, and the buyer here was almost as good as the supremely talented one at the West Virginia Cultural Center at Charleston. (If I didn't love touting the unknown I'd be telling you about Charleston's brand-new building, first-class museology. But this is Wheeling's day.)
A mime troupe bewitched the Sunday strollers with foofaraw from the front steps of the Oglebay. A little engine that tries to toot as hard as that deserves a break. And the Oglebay's got its break--it discovered a steeltown Grandma Moses, one Patrick Sullivan, with a tiny oeuvre but an absolutely idiosyncratic one. Write for the catalogue. It's in the mainstream of the American quirky.
As if I weren't abashed enough by my now-squashed-down metro elitism, I had to face further amenities on that goshawful wonderful Sunday in Wheeling. Over a few hills and down a dale or two in a lush meadowland called Oglebay Park, the annual opera festival was in full aria. At first I thought I was hallucinating as I ran into droves of baritones humming baroquely to themselves.
Just warming up, I was told curtly. This day led to Hazard's First Law of Tourism: If Wheeling is that interesting, don't ever tell me you live in a dull town.
Remember Thoreau's proud boast that he had traveled much in Concord, population 1,000.
--from 20 Museums You've Never Heard Of/Horizon Magazine 1981
Last year Professor Patrick D. Hazard embarked on a marathon journey across the country to seek out unknown museums. He discovered twenty that particularly delighted him, although Hazard claims that he has never met a museum that he didn't like. He sent his story to Horizon with unabated praise for the "neglected museum, undervalued collection, unrecognized riches" he stumbled upon.
Hazard writes: "I've come to the conclusion that there's no guessing what goodies lie in store for the eye roving around America's 'minor' museums. As an English teacher, I want to extend W. H. Auden's paean of praise for minor poets to those thousands of institutions which can't mount mega shows.
"In fact this whole 'thing' I've begun to have for the under-publicized museum came to a head with King Tut. God bless the boy king so neglected in his own time, so intercontinentally trumpeted in our own. But media blitzes do present a problem to those who don't have PR power to flex. These headline-dominating barrages eclipse the reticent, or the understaffed, or the precariously financed."
Hazard concludes: "The overall story is this: There may be a hell of a lot wrong with America at its present juncture--with all our worlds in turmoil, but very little of it (except inflation) is wrong with its museums. They're booming. They're beautiful. They're what we came from."
The title of this collection appeared presumptuous to some who read the drafts of the book in mimeographed form at the 1964 Cleveland convention of the National Council of Teachers of English. These essays, in explication of significant TV programs, were commissioned by the Television Information Office for preliminary distribution at a Television Festival for English teachers organized by the former NCTE Committee on Commercial Broadcasting.
Because many English teachers define their professional role as one of keeping clear the distinction between the aesthetically first-rate and the mediocre, they feel that TV in America has been so conspicuously "average" that it deserves the epithets non-art or anti-art or, at the very best, near-art. Accordingly, to talk about TV as art to a constituency of English teachers takes some explaining (which is not apologizing but may be mistaken for it).
One tradition which makes it difficult for the humanist to accept the possibility that TV programs can at least theoretically be "works of art" is the post-romantic defection of the refined aesthete from what he calls the pseudo-world of mass culture. He defines personal integrity and aesthetic quality by his distance from the predominantly shabby and jerry-built domain of industrialization. To him, TV is an example of the intrinsic shallowness of the mass-produced artifact.
Yet this facile theory of an aesthetic Apocalypse generates more and more doubt. Walter Ong, S.J., reminds us that the printed book was, after all, the archetype of mass production, as indeed its appearance marked the beginning of mass communication. The simplistic division of human production into really fine and merely useful arts since the industrial revolution has proved ambiguous. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves that the original meaning of the word art, which is skill, makes the distinction. When men do a job well, they have worked artistically.
Sometimes the action is individual, as in the creation of a lyric; sometimes it involves greater degrees of collaboration, as in the execution of completion of a fresco by a master's helpers; sometimes it is itself a paradigm of human society or the ultimate in collaboration, as in the construction of Chartres. There is no metaphysical reason, therefore, why men working together in TV cannot create works of art.
That they rarely do is quite another matter. For men seldom achieve excellence in any medium. And the enfranchisement of the "untutored" masses in the cultural sphere has admittedly increase the percentage of the total aesthetic output which is mean-spirited and demeaning. This is as true of books (Mickey Spillane mysteries), of music (The Groaning Bones), and of movies (How to Stuff a Wild Bikini) as it is of television. So many more people have suddenly entered the cultural marketplace that the sheer volume of materials is overwhelming to the Arnoldian fighting an invasion with his few touchstones.
Understandably, the emergence of a teenage culture designed to exploit the very immaturity a teacher is committed to exorcise has rattled us. It may be, too, that the prevalence of an "exploitative art" will be more than our schools can handle. Because America is the Land of Happy Endings, it is salutary for us to consider the possibility of failure. Some very respectable critics, Robert Brustein for one, have argued that the only defensible strategy for the humanist in mass culture is to teach his students to hate it. Trying to wheedle or cajole mass culture into maturity will only put the school at the mercy of commercialism.
This collection explores another possibility. If, to use Eliot's famous rationale, the critic's job is to put the reader in the fullest possible possession of the work of art, the TV critic's task is to make the viewer as aware as possible of what a TV program is. The method of explication, of showing how technique discovers meaning, ought to work on a significant TV work of art. It is reassuring to report that a critic like Cleanth Brooks finds such an assumption as obvious as it was to contributors to this experiment.
The cultivation of judgment about TV programs and other manifestations of cultural democracy must surely be one of the primary responsibilities of the contemporary school. Whether such cultivation best proceeds by a direct confrontation of mediocrity, a selective study of TV excellence, or indirectly from the study of literary classics is a pedagogical issue for which not enough evidence is available. This collection of essays makes it possible for teachers at every level of instruction, from elementary grades through college, to test the strategy of studying a few excellent works in the new medium.
Gifted teachers like Ned Hoopes at the Boston convention of the NCTE and thoughtful administrators like Henry Maloney in his editorship of "The Humanities Today" for The Clearing House have been suggesting the liberating potential of studying Socratically the "bad" programs our students watch instead of doing their homework. Imaginative teachers will want to try any and all of the approaches outlined, for example, in Neil Postman's Television and the Teaching of English (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1961). It is too early to know what the best ways are for raising the level of demand in the mass audience for better TV.
Granted that the English teacher accepts the challenge to raise the taste of the next TV generation, how does he keep informed about the new programs of merit before and after broadcasting? TIO prepares a monthly checklist of specials, Scholastic Magazines provide a weekly "Look and Listen" guide aimed at school needs, and local newspaper TV critics and TV stations can be persuaded to provide previews for teachers on an ad hoc basis. Most significantly of all for 1966-67, NET's Henry Alter had a $.60 Guidebook prepared for the NET Playhouse season of forty weekly dramas. (Order from him, 10 Columbus Circle, New York 10019.) These are common sense approaches teachers and curriculum planners would be foolish not to use.
But, it seems to me, an alert English profession could take many more steps to insure that television fulfill its potential as a means of civilizing mass man. Let me first list the more important of these possibilities and then explore a few of them in some detail:
1. Provision that U.S. Office of Education curriculum centers and NDEA summer institutes take TV and other popular media into account. 2. Creation of an NCTE screening committee that would audit domestic and foreign TV and film, both commercial and educational, for programs ideally suited to English instruction. 3. Design of preview circuits to close the gap between the appearance of such materials and their use in curriculum. 4. Cultural exchange of television creators at the college level to encourage [our] best students to use their talents in the TV medium.
To spell out some of these opportunities, then, one properly begins with the federal government's generous funding of curriculum design and teacher retraining. There ought to be a small but irreducible place for outstanding TV programs in the work of the curriculum centers. It is inconceivable that forward-looking curricula ignore the newest medium. These new designs will influence the shape of curricula all over the country for the next generation.
I should say that the inclusion of one program at every grade level for each element in the trivium--language, literature, and criticism--would be a way of insuring that TV not be ignored as it now is in the curriculum. Three works, carefully studied in the fashion suggested in the essays in this collection, is hardly too much to ask as a down payment on a gradually maturing medium. Similarly, one TV program bearing on each of the three components of the trivium would be a reasonable investment of time in the NDEA summer institutes.
The NCTE and the MLA might very well form such a screening committee as an outgrowth of two recent commitments. WGBH-TV, Boston, generously agreed to broadcast Robert Lowell's verse play based on Melville's novella Benito Cereno at the 1965 NCTE convention. National Educational Television made a kinescope of the one-hour-and-forty-minute play so that the Modern Language Association could show it to its members at the 1965 Chicago convention, when that organization began to alert its members formally about newer media materials.
This program is an ideal test case. It is first-rate TV adapting a brilliant verse play by a major American poet working with a neglected nineteenth century classic. Novella, stage play, LP recording, TV program. Here is the raw material for real understanding of the complex media mix we must learn to live in and teach through. Because many English teachers are skeptical of audiovisualism in general and of TV in particular, we need a fresh opportunity to recover from our prejudices. NET has cleared the rights for this program so that it can be rented from its Audiovisual Center in Indiana University.
From all reports, the first year of the institutes was not very successful at the media level. Here is a simple way to take a fresh start. A small committee composed of Melville specialists and media artists should be convened to prepare a repertory of materials about this TV program for the summer institutes. Out of their first very circumscribed task would develop more comprehensive ways of getting a few superlative TV programs into the literary curriculum.
In the course of preparing a report for the U.S. Office of Education on using newer media in the teaching of English, I have had an opportunity to see what Canadian, British, and Irish television networks are doing for their schools. The teaching profession and the television industry in this country simply must devise ways of informing the schools of what is available from domestic and foreign networks. There is too much we don't know.
The simplest way to do this is to see that no professional meeting of any consequence goes on without its showing of new TV films. Local, regional, state and national convention committees should get in the habit of allocating "prime time" for one or two worthwhile examples of TV with teaching possibilities. Weekend workshops can also be built around the screening of such materials. ETV stations could telecast samples in their early Saturday off-hours (or right after school closes) so that an English department, for instance, could view films from commercial and educational TV which have recently gone into school distribution.
Finally, if we don't like what we see on TV, what can we do to encourage a new generation of creators to make television come closer to our first expectations for a medium? I think we have at this point the right, indeed the responsibility, to create a vision for TV. As we survive from day to day, playing Sisyphus to our mountains of themes, it would be a pity if we neglected altogether the humanities' responsibility to articulate an image and vision of a larger, better world.
The anguish of transition will be too dear a price if a stable global community doesn't eventually emerge from the world's present painful chaos. The dream of a decent world community to follow the terrors and tensions of today's world is not a fatuous and unworthy hope when the only alternative is a nightmare of disaster. Television can play a major part in the efforts of good men to have humane values endure and prevail. And English teachers and professors, if they are not paralyzed by Eliot's version of a wasteland, can be crucial links in slowly building up the institutions of an international community.
In September 1965, the Commonwealth Broadcasting Union met in Lagos, Nigeria, to plan ways for people in advanced countries to help design better communication systems in the less developed one. In the same month, over a thousand artists from the same Commonwealth countries met in England for the first international Commonwealth Arts Festival.
For the American English teacher, the coincidence of these two outgrowths of British idealism has an exciting implication: suddenly, all over the world, variants of English are being used to create new literatures in English. Nigeria has several outstanding novelists (view NET's "African Writers Today"). Ghana is filming its own interpretation of Hamlet. The BBC is producing excellent documentaries on the new "English" writers of the Caribbean, the Antipodes, the Asian subcontinent. The broadcasting services of these countries, hewing to the BBC tradition of respect for indigenous writers, are making at least part of a world community a reality.
We need to inform ourselves about these new revealers of our expanding subject matter, English. We need to bring from these various emerging nations writers to be in residence here, and we need to send out best creators abroad so that TV may become a major link in the communication chain that precedes a humane world order.
My experience viewing this world television in Toronto, Dublin, London, Geneva, and Paris convinces me that English teachers would not only be exhilarated by the first artistic evidences of a global civilization, but they would also want to share in creating more English-speaking television as one medium of a slowly crystallizing world society full of marvels. Indeed, the first task of a world association of English teachers, I think, should be a gathering of the best TV being created throughout the English-speaking world.
American commercial television has a firm commitment to world TV. It could perform a service to our profession and to our collective desire for a world safe for diversity if it underwrote annual chrestomathies of world TV in English, beginning at the 1966 NCTE convention in Houston, the Space Capital of the world, and at the 1967 one in Honolulu, whose East-West Center symbolizes our desire to live with our Asian neighbors in mutual respect.
I suspect commercial TV might even, in the process, find some programming they would want to include in their own schedules. They would have the continuing gratitude of an English profession appreciative of a volume of essays like TV as Art: Some Essays in Criticism.
from TV As Art, National Council of Teachers of English (1966)
Gertrude Stein and Jo Davidson with Portrait Sculpture/photo by Man Ray
His mother's yelling him up for dinner from a Lower East Side street in the 1890's is what prompted America's best known sculptor between the World Wars to shorten his name to Jo Davidson. It was typical of this shamefully forgotten artist the centenary of whose birth we aren't properly celebrating on March 30. Joie did everything that way: he was a quick study, a spontaneous decider, and a pragmatic man whose one-day sittings astonished both sittees and fellow artists.
His style and his achievement were best explained in his wholly engaging Between Sittings: an informal biography (The Dial Press, 1951), a paperback reprint of which would be a befitting way to begin to memorialize one hundred years after he was born to immigrant Russian Jews, his mother "full of an unquenchable fire that brought life to everything around her" and his father "always praying and a sign of affection from him was a rarely given luxury."
His childhood memories were "vague and shadowy"--but dominated by recollections of "long, dark halls, crowded tenements, strange smells, drab unpainted walls and moving--we were always moving." But Jo's no whiner--he recalls going every Saturday and Sunday to the Metropolitan Museum with his pal Sam Halpert, the painter to be. They reveled in its glories.
But becoming an artist was the last priority on the financially beleaguered family's agenda. They regarded an artist as "a loafer, a perpetual pauper, an absolutely useless person." So Jo began a series of work experiences that would have driven Studs Terkel to euphoria: hawking newspapers at the corner of Duane Street and Broadway (he was muscled out), apprentice to a house painter and paperhanger (he prepared the paints and glue pots), Western Union messenger boy, errand boy for the publishing house of Truslow, Hanson and Combs (they peddled Madame Blavatsky and other theosophical sages), all this punctuated by obsessive reading at Rabinowitz's Bookstore, where the highlight of his burgeoning consciousness was to be able to scrape together a dime to buy Tom Paine's The Age of Reason.
His sister Rachie talked someone into sponsoring his tuition for a year at the Art Students League. There he met an artist who moonlighted in the new pop art of pyrography--burning Indian heads on leather skins. He was so good at it he was transferred to the design department, and then to a wooden box company where he burnt designs into wood.
His sister Nancy married David Bercinsky in New Haven where they opened a pharmacy to pay David's way through Yale Med. Quick-witted Jo borrowed photos of Yale's new president--and quickly had burnt the man's portrait, which was so good the college photographer displayed it in his store. That got him a patron fro entrance into Yale's Art School.
Repetitive drawing assignments over the same nude male model was grinding him down until, "wandering through the building, I found myself in the basement in a room full of plaster casts and modeling stands--and not a soul in it. I found the clay bin, put my hand in it, and I touched the beginning of my life."
He copied a mask of St. Francis so well the sculpture teacher thought he was an experienced artist. "I said that his was the very first time I had touched clay. He did not seem to believe me, which gave me the feeling I wasn't too bad." Ha. Pretty good indeed.
He signed on as a four dollar a week drudge for Herman A. MacNeil who was hard at work making the "Fountain of Liberty" for the St. Louis World's Fair of 1904. "It consisted of colossal rampant seahorses, cavorting over a cascade of waves, sea formations and variegated seashells. At the other end of the studio there was an immense group in clay of two Indians--the older Indian standing on his tiptoes with his arms folded across his chest, looking into the distance, the younger Indian with his left arm on the old man's shoulder and in his right hand waving an olive branch. The title of the group was 'The Coming of the White Man'." Jo was as good at ironic prose as he was at shaping up three dimensional poses.
His career took off so fast that during World War I he began a clay encyclopedia of the leaders of the Western World. He had a gift for gab that eased his sitters into an emphatic state as fast as you could shout, "Jo-eee!" Few newsmakers eluded his facile fingers.
Whenever I visit the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, I end my visit with a tour of the room full of his best pieces--the sitting Buddha Gertrude Stein being my favorite. But he's as fresh and perceptive about John D. Rockefeller--and Walt Whitman (an intellect idol of his)--as he is about cultural celebrities.
Jo was in fact our first--and apparently last--3-D photojournalist, the Studs Terkel of clay. The summer of 1982, when three thousand sculptors from all over America assembled in Oakland for their biennial romp, I must have asked half of them what they thought of Jo. Who? His feisty Georges Clemenceau was there at the Palace of the Legion of Honor sculpture retro for them to see and savor. But all I got was a bunch of bored "Who's?" from those Sons of Jo.
Heh, even in these United States of Amnesia, Andy Warhol pre-tem Prez, we ought to be able to do better by Jo than that.
For generations in the 18th Century, the second-born sons of French autocratic families customarily shipped out to Haiti to get rich on the sugar and coffee plantations that served the European consumers. And when Haitians liberated themselves from France in 1804, America’s great liberal slaveholder, Thomas Jefferson, feared the Haitians would become too good an example for enslaved “Americans.”
Without a tradition of self-governance, liberated Haitians broke up the plantation acreage into small plots. Boodle and corruption flourished as foreigners or native dictators strip-mined Haiti’s virgin forests to pay off government debts. It took the U.S. 58 years even to recognize that “new” country— not until 1862, when Abraham Lincoln followed his conscience.
Now that Haiti has been devastated yet again— this time by an earthquake— we Americans profess ourselves amazed at the sharp contrast between the lush forests of Santo Domingo and the denuded contiguous Haitian territory. When two countries share the same island, we ask ourselves, how can one seem so prosperous while the other seems so poor?
A day after the earthquake, the TV evangelist Pat Robertson blamed the Haitians themselves for making a pact with the devil back in 1804. “They said we will serve you if you get us free from the French,” he claimed on his Christian Broadcasting network. “True story. Ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other.”
Yet Haiti’s barren waste derived at least in part from foreign devils— from those who cashed in quickly on its lumber, as well as from local efforts to find enough small plots for Haiti’s indigènes.
As recently as World War I, Woodrow Wilson, busy “making the World safe for Democracy,” sent in the Marines to make what was left of Haiti safe for American investments. (His populist secretary of State, William Jennings Bryan, confessed his astonishment at “the perfect French of those there Niggers.”) Subsequently we preferred to prop up Haitian dictators like “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son, “Baby Doc” rather than foster democratic institutions there. Even today, the U.S. maintains similar “enslavement by trade” policies that prevent Haitians from profiting from agricultural and factory employment.
I know it may sound foolish, but the best thing Americans could do about Haiti’s plight right now is not aid, not adoptions, not marshaling pop stars to rattle televised tin cups. It’s learning how long and hard American policies over the past two centuries have damaged these poor people long before the earthquake hit them.
In the wake of the January 12th earthquake, Haiti’s last dictator, the exiled Baby Doc Duvalier, grandly offered his former countrymen $8 million in emergency aid. This faux magnanimous gesture begs a few questions that Americans, from our safer perspective, ought to be raising, to it: Where did Baby Doc get that money? If he can part with $8 million without altering his lifestyle in a French villa, how much more does he have? Above all, who helped him steal it, or at least closed our eyes when he did?
Musing disconsolately recently over the sudden dip in English Majors, I had multiple epiphanies!
It began with my astonishment at research microbiologist Patrick McGovern’s discoveries over at Penn’s Anthropology Museum. Take their discoveries at the recently discovered tumulus of King Midas. (Yes, that famous goldfingering galoot.) Now normally, tomb sleuths would carefully gather their dirty old finds and whisk them home and carefully clean them for scientific examination.
Not McGovern’s gang: they wanted to use their new high tech instruments to scrutinize “remains” of their royal partying! All of this accruing from their speculations that humans discovered “beer before bread”. Yes, I’m convinced by their careful calculations that mankind discovered the marvelous if sometimes confusing effects of intoxication by accidentally munching, say, figs that were converting their sugars into alcohol. Damn, some ancient forebear exclaimed, in ancient tongue. “Damn! This shit something! Pass me that flask!”
Baked bread came much later after they preserved, say, an accidentally composed gruel by baking it! Now if that doesn’t move you to up your annual gift to Penn, listen to what they’ve been doing at Wharton according to John Tierney in the New York Times, “Will you be E-Mailing this Column? It’s Awesome!” (February 8, 2010).
Penn researchers Jonah Berger and Katherine A. Milkman have been birdogging the most emailed articles, checking every 15 minutes for six months to see which are most emailed!” People preferred e-mailing articles with positive rather than negative themes, and they like to send long articles on intellectually challenging topics.” Hmm.
It just so coincides with my recent readings. Now I’m a traditionally ignorant humanist about science: physics and chemistry in high school, 22 months in the Navy learning how to repair aviation electronics (which gave me a residual awe flawed by incompetent repairs!) followed by chemistry in university and several years of unearned humanist disdain at Science with a capital “S” (The C.P. Snow flap coincided with my dissertation years.)
Now I find myself suddenly totally awed by Times pieces on such esoterics as microbiologists that have discovered how certain tiny bugs survive Arctic winters: they devise what I can only call anti-freeze by shifting molecules as temperatures drop. (As Spring approaches, these marvels defreeze their “anti” molecules.
And then there’s the Bronx Zoo whose director is upset by dam building on an African river because it will wipe out a species that can only thrive in the microclimate waterfall spray has “devised” for this lucky creature. Dr. Bronx flies a crew over, collects 4500 of the microscopic toads (the adult takes up a U.S. dime, its live born pollywoggy offcrawl the tip of a pin!) flies them back to the Bronx and other participating zoos to devise artificial microclimates and plot the rediffusion of this dinky endangered species back to artificially livable environments in the partly Darkened Continent (absent these momentous minis.) It reminds me of Whitman’s line, “A mouse is miracle enough to stagger sextillions of infidels” or Keats’ phrase “silent on a peak in Darien” on that astonishing first glimpse of the Pacific!
And speaking of “awe” I pick up my New Yorker and find E.O.Wilson’s “story” about a war between two ant colonies. Jesus, what those tiny bugs are up to simply wiped me out. Yes it’s that E.O.Wilson, emeritus 50 year stellar Harvard microbiologist. And this is a “teaser” of his first novel. Why not. Humanist novelists use their knowledge of people to devise narratives of their interactions. Wilson knows ants equally well and creates narratives out of his knowledge of their natures.
I couldn’t believe my imagination his ant war was so enthralling! Now what this got to do with my gloomily musing about the decline of the English major. Just this. In the decades (1982-2010) I relished my second career as a cultural reporter, my former English fraternity freaked out with the attempted assimilation of polysyllabic French and German philosophers who relished creating new kinds of thought. Ironically the Humanists were motivated by a hunger for the same kind of status that their peers in the natural sciences were pursuing, successfully.
Curious about this contradiction, I ordered on interlibrary loan three highly regarded volumes of this to me as yet unknown discourse, even though I was an undergraduate philosophy major, with one doctoral prelim on American philosophy. It’s gibberish. Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media (Harvard, 2008) is technologically unreproducible! That he is the icon of this “deep” philosophy movement is an intellectual scandal.
He is even more obscure and rattled than his main follower, Marshall McLuhan. Marshall’s claim was that he found his first class of freshmen at Madison, Wisconsin an unintelligible mob after a youth in Winnipeg and a doctorate at Oxford. And his first book, “The Mechanical Bride: The Folklore of Industrial Man” is an anthropologist’s handbook to first generation “Boobus Americanus”. It had to be intelligible, or he couldn’t have printed the pieces in that hard-pressed lay Catholic weekly, “Commonweal”. Later, financed by Ford in the quarterly “Encounter”, he became more and more unintelligible.
The title of Mark Bauerlein’s “Literary Criticism: An Autopsy”(Penn,1997) is a 157 page critical glossary. R.I.P. The book begins at a English faculty meeting where they can’t decide what kind of appointments to make. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, “Commonwealth” (Harvard, 2009) ties to formulate how concepts like poverty and hegemony must morph to make modern sense.
Words, words, words. Instead of sedulously identifying and teaching the innocent and ignorant what is most revealing in contemporary literature, they dream of being the next Foucault or Heidegger.
And you wonder why bright-eyed freshman would prefer the freshness of McGovern or E.O. Wilson to polysyllabic rants. The “awes” win it, easily.
"The Jesuits taught me, quis nimis probat, nihil probat. Who proves too much proves nothing. That statesmen (the essayist turns "politician" into a facile sneer word, the least convincing kind of argument) who want to rescue our too wasteful "advanced" societies before they destroy their own affluence and make a decent life inaccessible to the less developed should be argued with but not summarily dismissed.
His facile pro-proletariat cheerleading is silly. More money for the proles (of which I once was one) is a reasonable goal. Smirking away binge drinking, football riots, and mindless leisure is fatuous anti-intellectualism parading as people power.
The saddest aspect of global warming is that it appears to harm the poorest people on the globe while Die Zeit readers fly their private jets to the Third World for fun. Boozway Blather."
"Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America" by Alicia Ostriker/Beacon Press
The bad news is that women are still earning 64 cents to the male American dollar, a generation after feminism got down to serious business.
The good news is that Rutgers scholar and poet Alicia Ostriker has written an absolutely convincing book affirming that, since 1960, American women have created a body of poetry of a heft comparable to Romanticism and Modernism as far as the literary canon is concerned.
Emily ("Success is counted sweetest by those who ne'er succeed") Dickinson might not roll over in the Amherst grave she departed for in 1886, but the emergence of her late-blooming sisters as a major voice in the choir of world poetry would surely have confirmed her intuition that "Much madness is divinest sense."
Ostriker begins with evidence of the appalling condescension even well-respected scholars laid down, especially when they meant to praise Emily's inscrutable quirkiness. And she gives hard-to-believe chapter and verse about the separate and highly unequal place men writers played in her own graduate training.
I add a few from my recollection for the record. Our American lit professor, a Henry James specialist, barely acknowledged the existence of Ellen Glasgow. (Needless to say, he didn't mention Kate Chopin.)
And I'm still embarrassed by the scandal of my wife's getting B's while I garnered A's in the same courses, when it was clear, even then, which cerebellum was turning out the most voltage. Sadder to say, whilst I made full professor in 1962, to this day she's still an associate.
It's no consolation to her or her sisters to remember that the full and proper text of Emily's 1875 Lyrics did not see the light of public day until Thomas Johnson pushed them through the Harvard University Press in 1955, an absurd 70 years after her death.
Still, all's well that ends better and better. We certainly have come a long way (you're not going to catch me saying "baby"!) from the "Tenth Muse Lately Sprung Up" Anne Bradstreet who made preemptive strikes like:
I am obnoxious to each carping tongue Who says my hand a needle better fits.
Needle indeed, pricking still, after three centuries, ironies or not. She further conceded:
Men have precedency and still excel . . . Men can do best and women know it well. Preeminence in each and all is yours, Yet grant some small acknowledgment of ours.
Ostriker has a gift for the jugular on such retrospectively disillusioning citations, but she also has a nose for the nerdlike among many grisly eminences, such as R.P. Blackmur's demented putdown of Emily:
"She was neither a professional poet not an amateur; she was a private poet who wrote indefatigably as some women cook or knit. Her gift for words and the cultural predicament of her time drove her to poetry instead of antimacassars."
Imagine. And he was being generous. As Ostriker nails him wriggling to his own wall of prose:
"This is to say: women do busywork. But it would be as reasonable to remark that Ezra Pound wrote the Cantos indefatigably as some men work on an assembly line, and that his gift for words and his cultural predicament drove him to poetry instead of bowling. Strike!
Ostriker divides her argument into six parts--the prehistory of the movement of achievement she celebrates, 1650-1960, appositely called "I'm Nobody"; the quest for identity; the liberation through the use of anatomical language; the release of anger that has accumulated over the patriarchy; the transcendence of anger through a poetics of intimate erotica; and he final and consummatory move--the revision of mythology that underlay the patriarchal ascendancy. Part of her counter-revolution is the inclusion of working class, lesbian and Third World poets, a congeries of mutually enriching sorties.
The first thing we learned in literary criticism, old style, was to distinguish between the poet and the personae created. Ostriker cautions, wait a minute: The "I" and the persona often merge in women's writing.
I do wish she'd drop the masculinoid tick of scientificating in her neologisms--such as "exoskeletel style," "gynocentric" and "gendered experience." But one poem like Alta's rejection of a passive Euridice is worth a thousand words of exegesis:
all the male poets write of orpheus as if they look back and expect to find me walking patiently behind them. they claim i fell into hell. Damn them, I say. i stand in my own pain & sing my own song.
Nonetheless, as a critic (or simply an informed guide in this terra incognita) Ostriker is invaluable. How illuminating, for example, to learn, however belatedly, about the male chauvinist emphasis in the Medusa myth: "Of Medusa, a perennial figure in male poetry and iconography, Ann Stafford's sequence 'Women of Perseus' and Rachel Blau DuPlessis' 'Medusa' both remind us of the key event in this female's life, though it goes unmentioned in either Bulfinch's or Edith Hamilton's Mythology: her rape by Poseidon before the snakes appeared on her head."
Talk about droits de seigneur. I really believe this nurturing spirit will enrich all of us, as the poet/critic implies in her closing words: "The subject of this book has been a collective endeavor to redefine 'woman' and 'woman poet.' From this endeavor, because the nature of poetry always is to illuminate our darkness, we should discover not only more of what it means to be a woman but more of what it means to be human."
The most touching anecdote in her book is the self-revelation of how liberating to her, a young Jewish American female, were the poems of that quirky English Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins. In the realms of literature there are no X-Y chromosomes, only human beings making greater and greater sense of our common predicament. But 64-cent dollars impede that liberation just as surely as the received "wisdom" of critics like R.P. Blackmur.
As for Emily, one hundred years later, what better revenge does she savor against the sluggards of America than a generation of women telling the truth according to their slants? And there can't be a better way to celebrate this centennial than to metabolize this fine book--unless it be popping the $9.95 to Little Brown for the complete E.D. You'll never get more value for ten bucks.
reprinted from Welcomat, After Dark, August 27, 1986
"Emily is the only woman I've been able to remain interested in for more than two weeks at a time," acknowledged Patrick D. Hazard, the mad English professor of Beaver College--not seriously and at the same time deeply serious. And then he pleaded, "Please don't lose Emily in all of this bull-----."
Emily is Emily Dickinson, the reclusive Amherst eccentric and all-time great American poet, whose 150th birthday anniversary is today. The no-less-singular Hazard, 53 going on 18--the eternal enfant terrible of the Glenside, Montgomery County, campus--has pressed her into service as the centerpiece of another of his endearing public paeans to neglected U.S. literary heroes.
It is a measure of his sincerity and his depth as a gentleman in camouflage that this flaky, witty, scatological, unbuttoned, brilliant and intellectually fearless man should offer his secret life, skewered and quartered on a platter, as a shill for Emily--and yet be concerned that Emily get first billing.
Hazard's most celebrated resurrection to date was his 1974 rehab job on Walt Whitman's decrepit Camden tomb. His zeroing in on Dickinson for the current ritual event ("In this country we have our superbowls, our Miss America pageants, our Presley days--but we don't have nearly enough serious rituals") is significant, for they are soulmates under the skin.
Emily of Amherst questioned the established order as no other woman of the 19th century did. Pat of Beaver is the terminal intellectual gadfly of the expiring 20th century.
Where the parallel parts is that Dickinson rarely left the house and Hazard is just as likely to be recording English-writing Africans reading their poetry in Senegal or sailing with the cod fleet out of Labrador or laying plans for a national quilt bank in Philadelphia or clambering aboard the first planeload of legitimate Havana-bound tourists to pay personal court to Cuba's "No. 2 writer," Eliseo Diego, as he is likely to be tending his scholastic flock.
The prevailing rumor about Patrick D. Hazard is that he is a scion of great wealth dedicated to bringing his quirky fantasies to life with obscene doses of money. For the most part, the report is false. Hazard's not filthy rich. According to the subject, moreover, what special resources he has had available to support his literary notions are nearly exhausted.
The story of Hazard's folly begins 50 years ago in Battle Creek, Mich.
"My father, who was the manager of a furniture store, split when I was 3 with his secretary. He became a very successful real estate dealing in Las Vegas. He certainly put a twist in my life.
"My mother had to go to work teaching school, and my brother and I were sent off to a Catholic boarding school. I recently visited my old first-grade teacher, Sister Felicia. She, in actual fact, was probably my mother."
At the age of 12, Hazard entered Sacred Heart Seminary in Detroit ("I was really heavy on being a priest; I got kicked out of the seminary at 16 for smoking in the Gothic tower at midnight"). He graduated from a Motown public high school, second in a class of 432; won a full scholarship to the University of Detroit, took an M.A. and a Ph.D. at Cleveland's Western Reserve University and married a fellow grad student who bore him three remarkable children and from whom he was divorced in 1970.
For the next dozen years, Hazard, a specialist in mass communications as they relate to academia, swept cometlike through the academic firmament--a Ford Foundation grant here, a Carnegie post-doctoral fellowship there, a Time-Life advisorship or an Encyclopedia Britannica consultancy in between.
At Penn in the late '50s he set up curricula and recruited staff and faculty for the newly consecrated Annenberg School of Communications. Later he was situated briefly as director of international studies as the East-West Center of the University of Honolulu. In 1961 he came to Beaver as the English department's chairman, a post he relinquished after eight years ("I was just no good at the details of pleasing everybody").
Hazard some years ago experienced "a kind of epiphany" while discussing what he calls "the terror of the status system" with an old friend, sociologist David ("The Lonely Crowd") Reisman.
"I told Reisman I deeply believed that the only way to deal with the American status system is to ignore it. Once I did that, I felt tremendously free. That's really been the key point of my own personal liberation. When you depend on where you are for what you think of yourself, you're a slave. That liberation energized everything I've done since.
"Once you say, 'They can't touch me,' they can't. 'Much madness is the divinest sense,' That's the opening line of a poem by Dickinson about people who demur, who have their own thing.
"The reason American literature is so important to me is, it has shaped my character. I learned how to live by reading and reflecting on Dickinson, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville. Melville best understood the contradictions of a mass society that cons itself into illusions that threaten to destroy it. Watergate and every bit of s--- that came down from it is all adumbrated in his novella, 'The Confidence Man.'"
A not-inconsiderable factor in Hazard's liberation was his long-decamped father, who died in 1971 leaving him $100,000.
"It's almost gone. And I've enjoyed losing every bit of it. Oh, some of it I gave to my children. And they wasted it--from my point of view. I think money is manure: It either helps things grow or it stinks."
Among the lingering monuments to Hazard's largessez-faire days is his Centre for Internationalizing the Study of English (which he once described as "basically, me and a checkbook"). "My interest at this moment is all of the literatures in English which have grown up since World War II, in Africa, in the Caribbean, in Oceania."
The not-quite-impoverished Hazard goes on, meanwhile, tripping through academia with the greatest of aplomb--a Puck of the mind in a T-shirt and a backpack and utterly shorn of button-down, woven-in-Ireland-by-peasants thinking. From Philadelphia Daily News, December 10, 1980
OLIVER THOMSON. Mass Persuasion in History: An Historical Analysis of the Development of Propaganda Techniques. Pp. vi, 142. New York: Crane, Russak & Co., 1977. $13.50.
The promise of historical perspective in media studies is always welcome. The genre suffers traditionally from too little diachronicity. The credentials of the writer in this instance also raise our expectations: a multinational graduate (from the college of J. Walter Thompson) who now heads a Scottish advertising agency and lectures on mass persuasion at Glasgow University. Alas, the high cost and low quality of the illustrations make this reader question the value of the book, intellectually and financially. But it does turn over the soil for the first time (in my reading) in a way that reveals a crucial turf that needs to be plowed by deeper, more controlled minds.
The book is divided into two parts of very divergent size: The Vocabulary of Leadership deals with an introduction, discussion of sources, a typology (objectives, media, message, inhibiting factors, intensifying factors, side effects), criteria of penetration, audience analysis, response analysis, access- to media, and media development); and Historical Case Studies, including the Roman Empire, the Papacy, the Reformation, the Revolutionary Period, Nineteenth Century Propaganda, Lenin and Communism, Hitler and Fascism, Modern China, Democracy and the Western World, and Epilogue (which basically is sensible talk about how not to give into apocalyptical interpretations of what he bizarrely calls the "octopoidal media").
The second section is by far the more entertaining. The first is mainly "potted" media sociology, probably in both the British and American senses of that adjective. The second is a tasty plum pudding, cultural history seen through the narrow perspective of a movieola, as if H. G. Wells were a student of Marshall McLuhan's. One original idea of Thomson's deserves a very careful analysis. He argues very plausibly that political rhetoric, which he somewhat capriciously keeps calling "social cybernetics", must include the study of things as well as the traditional study of words.
Architecture should be included within the umbrella of graphic communication media. Traditionally, it has been given little attention from the standpoint of its use as a medium of propaganda. It is, nevertheless, of great importance. Buildings are capable of communicating awe, size, assurance, power, or dynamism, and if in a central or imposing position, can do this to a fairly large audience over a long period. Inevitably, in political terms, it tends to be a medium for the establishment, not the revolution, although a rebel hideout or catacomb can become a symbol by contrast (p. 41).
Indeed, they can-as the public demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe project in St. Louis announced the end of an era of complacency about welfare culture. But the same architect, Minoru Yamasaki, gave Manhattan the twin-towered World Trade Center. The folk here who climbed it-"because it was there"-sends us one message; more likely, it will become in history the tallest mausoleum ever-to the memory of Robert Moses. I was amused in Cairo recently to read in the Egyptian Museum that Rameses I had his name carved covertly on the unseeable bottom of his granite likeness-to discourage Rameses II from converting it to his image! And when you read line markers in the apse of St. Peter's in Rome bragging that this is as far as St. Paul's comes, you know that the Counter Reformation at least was using its buildings to bully its congregations.
Thomson is right about the rhetoric of things. We need to become sophisticated in "reading" the man-made environments-as well as its degradations. Nor-man Mailer's touting the defaced New York subway cars as great art is condescending, ignoble savagery. And the blackout looting in New York is a classic text we are only now trying to learn how to decipher.
What is missing from most of that analysis and what is missing from this book is a sense of dynamics. The media are the sum total of their contradictory messages. When Thomson says cinema proper had only a 50-year reign (p. 49), I wonder where that leaves Joan Micklin Silver, Fred Wiseman, and Judy Peiser of the Center for Southern Folk-lore-not to mention my own introduction to film course, which only a few of the students find dead! Atmospheric level generalizations about media are worse than no generalities at all, I guess.
And while I really enjoyed the anecdotes about media and propaganda over time (that Vergil's Aeneid was commissioned by the Emperor, for example), I would always want to check Thompson's stories out with standard histories, especially when I find allusions to Senator Joe McCarthy (p. 21)-does this new firm have no American proofreaders? Or see Dr. Johnson's famous aphorism come out 180 degrees from where he left it: "Patriotism may be the last refuge of a gentleman" (p. 22). No matter, maybe it is just one Scotsperson's way of getting even with another one who said mean things about the country he fled for London. Thomson has identified an important terrain, no small contribution to a field that sprawls and yawns erratically, leaving much of the past unconnected with contemporary media sociology.
Source: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 435, America in the Seventies: Some Social Indicators (Jan., 1978), pp. 334-335 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc. in association with the American Academy of Political and Social Science
How you rolled from behind your desk to my lonely bed. How you leveled student-teacher ratios with simplest hungers (one-to-one). How you arched the back of desire banking so benign a fire to better scan ourselves together!