Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Wall of Heroes

This week we celebrated Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. Though he has become one of my honored heroes, I did not know much about him while he was alive. I was 14 when he gave his moving "I Have a Dream" speech in August 1963, and twenty when he was assassinated in April, 1968. Much of what I had heard about him at that time was negative propaganda. There was no civil rights movement where I lived. I don't remember seeing an African American at any time in Huntington Beach, CA, in the 60s when I lived there. There were no African American students at my high school. I was insulated from racial problems by the society in which I lived. The "black" neighborhoods were in Los Angeles, thirty-five miles north. I had my first association with African Americans when I was a seventeen-year-old freshman at Long beach State College in 1965, one month after the Watts Riots in Los Angeles. That association was one English professor and one fellow student in an anthropology class. My associations and friendships with people of races other than my own greatly expanded when I worked at Disneyland from 1966 to 1970. As I have progressed though my life, I have had numerous, close and satisfying associations with fine people of many ethnic backgrounds.
Over the last forty years, I have listened many times to recordings of the dream speech, and I am emotionally involved each time I hear it. I think of myself as being "color-blind" when it comes to race, that I truly judge men and women by the content of their characters and not the color of their skin. I long for the day when there are no hyphenated Americans, just Americans.
On the wall above the circulation desk in my school library, I have a collection of black framed photographs and paintings of men and women whom I admire and reverence as my heroes. Also on the wall is a framed quotation from Elizabeth Brown Pryor, a biographer of Robert E. Lee, which I often ponder when I hear people trying to "clean up" characters of the past, or worse, condemn them by today's politically correct "standards." Ms Pryor says, "If we are going to embrace heroes, it is important that we accept their human frailty as well as admire their achievements. If we do not, we create empty icons, whose hollowness undermines any ability to inspire."
The twenty heroes on my wall of heroes are George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Banneker, Phillis Wheatley, Abraham Lincoln, Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Marian Anderson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Mohandas K.Gandhi, Harry S. Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nelson Mandela and Ronald Reagan. They are on this wall because they inspire me by their courage and intellect and wisdom and the content of their characters. There are some other heroes of mine that are politically incorrect for the school venue, religious figures that are my spiritual anchor: Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young among others.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Artists' Books at the University of Utah

I was very blessed this week. I am able to take Art 4090, Artists' Books, at the University of Utah on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It is a class run through the Book Arts Program at the Marriott Library. I have taken numerous book arts workshops and one university class for non-credit during the last ten years. I teach origami books, art books across the curriculum, and a history of the book for honors language arts classes at my school. I have also taught basic book arts for several libraries in the Salt Lake County Library System, at professional conferences, and at the Barnes & Noble in Sandy, Utah. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning about books, making books, and teaching others to make books. I am now of an age where I am able to audit university classes as a "senior" citizen (I don't feel like a senior citizen). It is a state mandated program administered through the continuing education departments of state universities and colleges. You pay a small audit tuition for the term and any class materials fees required for the classes you want to audit. Of course, you also have to hope there is room in the class and that the instructor will give you an add number to complete the registration.

This is the opening page of a book I made for my grandson.
I saw the class listed in the Book Arts schedule on line and thought and pondered much about how I could organize my overly busy life and take the class. After investigating the senior audit possibilities and learning how the program works, I decided to throw caution, and a few of my too many school and out of school activities, to the wind and try it. Tuesday after school, I went to the first class to see if there were any room left for an old man to take the class as an audit, and if so, procure the add number I needed to complete my registration through continuing education. The class was almost full with three university students needing to add the class. The instructors, Marnie Powers-Torrey and Chris McAffee, from whom I have taken many workshops and classes in the past, said the university students should have the slots, and I agreed without hesitation or reservation.  Marnie said I could stay until the end of class to see if any one would drop out and leave room for me. I stoically hid my disappointment behind a nodding smile as I listened to Chris cover the syllabus and demonstrate the Guillotine paper and board cutters. Of course, no one dropped out.

Before the end of class, after they had given the three students add numbers, Marnie talked to me and said that she and Chris wanted me to be able to take the class even though it was full (to the top and over flowing). I told her that I didn't want to be a problem for them. She said I wasn't a problem, and if I would come to class and not take a seat, maybe sit on the side where the aides sit, unless someone was absent they would let me in. I said I would be happy to sit on the floor in the corner if need be. She gave me a class add number, and Wednesday morning I completed the registration. I am very grateful to Marnie and Chris and am extremely happy that I have had a past association and history with them such that they know I am not going to disappoint them. On Thursday when I arrived, Chris told me that a student had dropped the class so everything was fine. I wouldn't have to be a sideline sitter or sit on the floor in the corner!

I finished the first assignment, a class sketchbook/journal, before class on Thursday and have been deeply pondering how I am going to create the first artist book, Sequencing a Single Image, which is due on January 25. My only problem is sifting through all the flashes of ideas to settle on just the "right' one. As Mark Twain said, " The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." So it is with Artists' Books!

Monday, January 10, 2011

It Is Impossible to Clean As You Read

I have been cleaning my office/studio for the last month with little success. I thought that with school out for two weeks during the holidays I would accomplish so much. Alas, it is impossible to clean as you read. I have a collection of close to a hundred LIFE magazines from 1937 to 1947 that I am putting into ziplock polypropylene sleeves to protect them and hopefully extend their "life." If I had a full set there would be over 500 issues. There were at least a hundred issues that I had to throw out over the years, because they were destroyed by mildew and water damage. I acquired the magazines in 1960 from my eighth grade English/history teacher, Mr. Carmichael, at Johnson Intermediate School in Westminster, California. He hired a couple of us boys to come and help his wife and him do garden work, garage cleaning, and general work around their house. The LIFE magazines were stored in boxes in his garage. He was throwing them away, so he let me have them. My mother wasn't happy about it; more junk to clutter things up. To this day, I can hear her saying, "What do you want those dusty, old things for, anyway?" But I saw her looking through them at times when she thought I wasn't watching. I have saved them for fifty years.
Of course, as I pick up each one to slip into its new, zip locked sealed home, I have to thumb through it looking at the pictures and reading an article or two. They are "on the spot" history as it happened in the ten years before I arrived on the scene. When I finish handling them, my fingers are gray from the ink that sloughs off the thick black and white pages. Unfortunately, I am missing some issues that I know I had, and I know were not ruined with mildew. I have/had one of the 380,000 first issues of the magazine after Henry Luce bought the name from the original Life Magazine and launced it as a photojournalistic magazine. It hit news stands the week of 23 November 1936, and featured Margaret Bourke-White's photograph of the Fort Peck Dam in Montana on the cover. I must have stored the missing issues in another place for safe keeping. They are so safe I can't find them.

Henry Luce's first issue

LIFE was famous for its photography and short, pithy articles. There were a lot of graphic war photos of dead soldiers and civilians that probably would not be published in a magazine today, and a lot of "tasteful" nude photos as well, which seems strange for the 1930s and '40s. Perhaps they weren't as shocking in black and white. I puppose the graphic blood and guts and nude photos, whether tasteful or not, all in living color, are all now found in abundance on the internet.
As I read some of the articles in my collection, I find that many of the topics of seventy years ago are strangely current. The July 12, 1937, issue has a photo spread on striking WPA workers angry over cuts to the WPA budget. One striker's sign proclaims: "THE RICH CAN PAY FOR THE WPA." The title of the piece was "WPA Cuts Bring Strickes, Riots, Protest Parades: Relief jobs now seen as careers." The text says: "To support and give jobs to the unemployed (exclusive of CCC, subsistence homesteads, etc.) the U. S. Government has spent some $7,000,000,000 since the spring of 1933, $1,800,000,000 of it in the fiscal year which ended June 30. Over the protests of hardheaded Congressmen who felt that the time had come to stop such prodigious spending, President Roosevelt and Relief Administrator Harry Hopkins secured for the new fiscal year an appropriation of $1,500,000,000. Even that much meant that Administrator Hopkins faced the hard task of lopping 315,000 persons off relief rolls, getting them down to 1,600,000 by July 15. The cuts fell hardest on artists and white-collar workers, chiefly in New York City where 11,800 WPAers were let out June 30. The result, which you see on these pages, was a fresh burst of angry parades, strikes, coercion and riots for bigger and better Relief."
Would it not be nice to have only a seven billion dollar problem instead of a fourteen trillion dollar problem?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

New York Times Debates the Need for Books

I was reading the Times blog "Do School Libraries Need Books?" and, as a bibliophile and school librarian, I pulled out a couple of the quotes that jumped out at me, and the emphasis within the quotes are mine.  The first is from Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, professor of English at the University of Maryland:
Do schools need libraries and do students need books? Of course they do. There are the predictable brickbats: Not everything is digitized yet, nor soon will be. A screen is less conducive to deep concentration than the stillness of the page. Bits are brittle.
I am among those who believe that in time, and maybe soon, these arguments will seem less damning than they do now. But I’m also aware of how deeply books, and metaphors of books, have penetrated our design of digital documents and digital reading — whether we’re talking about Alan Kay’s vision of a “DynaBook” in the early 1970s, a Web “page” (with its scroll bar), or the latest tablet device to hit the market.
Books and libraries are working (or living) models of knowledge formation. We need them for the same reason we need models of atoms and airplanes. They are hands-on. They are immersive. Holding a book in our hands, we orient ourselves within a larger system.
Walking the stacks, following a footnote or checking out what’s on the shelf above P96.T42K567 2007 is a bit like getting a glimpse at the ducts and plumbing behind the drywall. Or the Web site’s source code.
The second quote is from William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age. Again, the emphasis in the quote is mine:
The idea that books are outdated is based on a common misconception: the belief that new technologies automatically render existing ones obsolete, as the automobile did with the buggy whip. However, this isn’t always the case. Old technologies often handily survive the introduction of new ones, and sometimes become useful in entirely new ways.
Seventy years ago, many believed the advent of television spelled the end of radio. Wrong. Likewise, the automobile didn’t kill off the passenger train. On this crowded, environmentally troubled planet, it turns out pulling up all those old rail lines was short-sighted and dumb.
So it goes with books. What are often considered the weaknesses of the old-fashioned book are in some ways its strengths. For instance, a physical book works with the body and mind in ways that more readily produce the deep-dive experience that is reading at its best. When you read on a two-dimensional screen, your mind spends a lot of energy just navigating, keeping track of where you are on the page and in the text. The tangibility of a traditional book allows the hands and fingers to take over much of the navigational burden: you feel where you are, and this frees up the mind to think.
Moreover, I believe that in a hyper-connected age, the fact that books are not connected to the electronic grid is becoming their greatest asset. They’re a space apart, a private place away from the inbox where we can go to quiet our minds and reflect. Isn’t that the state in which the best kind of learning occurs?
The comments of all five contributers can be read here:

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A Morning at the Opera

My wife, Chris, and I went to see the Metropolitan Opera's HD live broadcast of La Fancuilla del West at the Jordan Landing theatre complex this morning. It is not one of Puccini's better known or widely produced operas even though he claimed it as his best work. It was based on the David Belasco play, Girl of the Golden West, who also wrote the play Madam Butterfly, which Puccini had also previously operatized. December of 2010 was the 100th anniversary of its world premier at the Met. I thoroughly enjoy these HD broadcasts of the Met because they show the stage hands changing the scenery during the intermissions as well as interesting interviews with the stars and other people involved with the productions. I have heard the complete "Fancuilla" and excerpted scenes from it before today, but have never seen a live or recorded production. There aren't really any arias except for the third act "Ch'ella mì creda libero..." (Let her believe I am far away and free). Most of the opera is "dialog" and chorus and a lot of dramatic music, but I like it. My favorite act is the second, where Minnie cheats in a game of poker with the sheriff, Jack Rance, to save the life of Dick Johnson, a.k.a. Ramirrez the bandit, with whom she is madly in love having only met him twice. This sounds rather stupid unless you have seen it and are a sucker for operatic melodrama like I am.

Scene from the world premier, act three, with Enrico Caruso, Emmy Destinn, and Pasquale Amato. (photo in public domain) Arturo Toscanini was the conductor, and Puccini was in the audience, 10 December 1910.

As an interesting note about the opera, every time I hear the end of act one where Johnson sings a climactic phrase,"Quello che tacete", I am reminded of the "Music of the Night", from Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical The Phantom of the Opera. I nudged my wife during the scene and whispered, "Always sounds like 'Music of the Night' to me." Apparently it has sounded like that to a few other people too. I looked up the opera on the internet when I returned home to gather some background and found out that after Phantom's big success, the Puccini estate filed suit against Webber accusing him of plagiarism. The suit was settled out of court and the details were not released to the public, so inquiring minds will never know. I think "borrowing" is a better term here than plagiarism. Borrowing was something that all the great composers of the past, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al., did without anyone getting upset and throwing a hissy fit over. You know, "plagiarism is the highest form of flattery." Of course, that was before copyright, "creative control" and profits. Anyway, Webber, I think must really love and admire Puccini's music. That operatic scene in Cats, "Growltiger's Last Stand," my favorite production number in the show, was totally Puccini-esque!

Another note, maybe not interesting to anyone but me, Jeanette MacDonald, and Nelson Eddy starred in a musical film version of Belasco's The Girl of the Golden West in 1938, which I have seen and like very much. I enjoy all the films they did together and have recordings of many of them. They were great together on screen, even though I have heard they had a very rocky love/hate romance off screen for thirty years. When I was in high school in the early '60s, a very good friend of mine introduced me to her aunt, the singer Gale Sherwood. She was Nelson Eddy's singing parner from 1953 until he collapsed on stage in 1967 with a cerebral hemorrage at age 65, two years after MacDonald had died of a heart attack. I met Miss Sherwood a couple of times in 1965, but, though I was promised, I never got to meet Nelson Eddy. Drat!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year, New Hobby

As if I needed another way to waste spend time, I have started doing Postal Art. This consists of decorating the envelope of the letters one mails through the US Postal Service. Yes, I still send letters by snail mail, as well as myriad others who form that long line at the post office every time I go to mail my letters. With so many customers standing in line waiting to spend their money, I am hard pressed to understand why the US Postal Service is always running in the red.
Anyway, I have had a lot of fun decorating envelopes. I do the art work mainly while watching the brainless entertainment that dominates television. (I do like NCIS, The Closer, and a few others) I decorated 52 Christmas and Hanukkah cards and had them all mailed before the respective holiday. I also decorated 40 invitations for each of the faculty and staff for my annual library "holiday munch and mingle." My wife, Chris, says it is going a bit too far when I decorate return envelopes before sending out my bills.
Here is the return envelope that I sent to Classical 89, KBYU-FM with my yearly contribution. The photos are blurry, I took them with my cell phone and I shake a lot, but one can get the basic idea. The student assigned to open the contribution letters probably threw it away with the uninteresting envelopes, but perhaps someone saved it as a curiosity.

I sent my "little" sister a card for her birthday:

Here are some more blurry photos:
   You get the idea.