Renewing a legend

In my last post, I described the giant rope, or snake, that appeared unexpectedly at Boudhanath. Hundreds of people carried a 1336 meter long knitted community construction. If you’re not used to thinking in meters, just imagine a tube sock that when stretched gently is a mile long.

A good friend, Rachel, says, “It’s nice the way the participants are all actually bound together by it, a great village umbilicus.”

A Tibetan Buddhist legend about the building of Boudhanath fits with the idea of this knitted rope:

After the death of an ancient Buddha, an old woman wanted to inter his remains. Before starting, she petitioned the King for land the size of a buffalo skin. He granted permission for her to bury the body and build a tower, wondering how she could do so in such a small area.

She cut the skin in small strips and made a long, leather string to encircle the area, which become the present Boudhanath. There is now not only the huge stupa, but a thriving small town around it.

Project 1336 at Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Project 1336 is a community-based art project, designed by Manish Lal Shrestha, and named after the altitude of Kathmandu in meters. It works with the diverse community of Kathmandu, especially women and youth.

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

The project involves knitting a huge wool rope or snake. The knitting signifies warmth, inclusiveness, and nostalgia about motherhood. The process of the installation is itself a work of art which links creators and viewers in a community activity. The work is “spontaneous, performative, interactive and playful.” Manish writes:

Life is never straight; it is like the lane of the Kathmandu Valley. I see women gathering in small courtyard knitting along with their neighbors’ interaction with joy about life and values. They knit with the stories, and knitting becomes the story of seconds. Knitting is like making things happen, intricate connection between threads and journey of life, which is yet full of struggle, hope, and chaos like the lanes in the city.

Today happened to be a beautiful, sunny day at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. This stupa is located on an ancient trade route from Tibet to Lalitpur. At 118 feet tall, it is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

We had a lovely lunch at Flavours restaurant across from the stupa. Then, while strolling around the stupa we happened upon an amazing sight.

A public procession of a 1336 meter long, knitted snake was being enacted. It appeared to require 1336 people to carry it along with their big smiles.

We were fortunate to be standing next to a friend of Manish, the designer. She provided an explanation of what we were experiencing, but we still couldn’t quite believe it.

The Children’s Room

Cape Cod Modern, by Peter McMahon & Christine Cipriani

Cape Cod Modern, by Peter McMahon & Christine Cipriani

Each age tries to form its own conception of the past. Each age writes the history of the past anew with reference to the conditions uppermost in its own time. –Frederick Jackson Turner, “The significance of history”, 1893

Tiny Wellfleet has been a significant home for histories of all stripes. These include psychohistory (Robert Jay Lifton, Erik Erikson, etc.), history employed to support social justice and civil rights (Howard Zinn, William McFeely, etc.), histories of colonial settlements, pirates, and whaling, and accounts of the daily lives of artists, shellfishers, and innumerable interesting characters. Wellfleet historical writing has for a long time been a vital participant in the story of Wellfleet, not simply a spectator.

A recent example is the winner of the 2015 Historic New England Book Prize, co-authored by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani: Cape Cod Modern: Mid-century Architecture and Community on the Outer Cape.The book uses architectural and personal photos, and interviews with designers, their families, and their clients to document the experimental homes designed by a cosmopolitan group of designers who settled in Wellfleet and Truro in the mid-20th century. The book has stimulated renewed interest in Bauhaus, in the so-called modernist houses, and in the community around them.

Preparatory drawing for playroom mural in Kepes House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Julia Kepes

Preparatory drawing for playroom mural in Kepes House, Cambridge, Massachusetts, by Julia Kepes

A complementary project can now be seen with the summer opening of the Wellfleet Historical Society and Museum today. The Children’s Room, Art and Design of Wellfleet’s Mid-century Children’s Books is a collaboration of WHSM with the Cape Cod Modern House Trust and the Wellfleet Public Library. Here’s a description from the WHSM site:

During the 1930s Wellfleet’s population was just barely 800 people, and yet over 1,000 books have been published by, or about, the town’s mid-century denizens, around 200 being inventive books for children. Many of these books were designed and illustrated by some of the most acclaimed graphic artists of the era. This exhibit includes a selection of books, artifacts and original artwork.

Dwellers of the Tundra, by Aylette Jenness & Jonathan Jenness

Dwellers of the Tundra, by Aylette Jenness & Jonathan Jenness

Many of the artists and authors of the children’s books were connected with Bauhaus, and its emphasis on learning, science, experimentalism, and progressive politics. That can be seen in the wide variety of nature topics and in sympathetic depictions of diverse cultures.

As with Bauhaus, the exhibit invites participation. Visitors can observe blown-up versions of artwork from the children’s books, and peruse the books themselves. There are specially designed benches on which to sit or to spread out the objects. There are also crayons and paper to create your own artworks.

I like the fact that the museum is opening just after the summer solstice (a special one at that, coinciding with a strawberry moon). Bauhaus was very aware of new technologies, materials, and scientific discoveries. A love of nature and its meanings for humans was evident throughout its history. Wellfleetian Ati Gropius, who was the daughter of founder Walter, would gather people in late June and ask “What does the summer solstice mean to you?” Several of the Bauhaus-connected houses took advantage of solar or lunar movements in their design. So, it’s appropriate that this wonderful new exhibit welcome the summer season.

Fidelia, by Ruth Adams & Ati Forberg (Gropius)

Fidelia, by Ruth Adams & Ati Forberg (Gropius)

The new Children’s Room is filled with wonderful individual items. There are Caldecott award winners and artworks that are surprisingly fresh and striking a half century or more after they were created. But the exhibit as a whole brings the items together in a provocative way, adding new meaning to the specific items and to our understanding of that mid-century era.

As I think about how our history-making enriches life in Wellfleet, I’m reminded of William James’s comment about teaching:

You can give humanistic value to almost anything by teaching it historically. Geology, economics, mechanics, are humanities when taught with reference to the successive achievements of the geniuses to which these sciences owe their being. Not taught thus literature remains grammar, art a catalogue, history a list of dates, and natural science a sheet of formulas and weights and measures. –William James, “The social value of the college-bred,” 1907

 

Tales & Trails

Yet these sweet sounds of the early season,
And these fair sights of its sunny days,
Are only sweet when we fondly listen,
And only fair when we fondly gaze.
There is no glory in star or blossom
Till looked upon by loving eye;
There is no fragrance in April breezes
Till breathed with joy as they wander by.

Heidi Clemmer and Marisa Picariello

Heidi Clemmer and Marisa Picariello, creators of Cape Cod Eco-Tales

In his 1857 poem, An Invitation to the Country, William Cullen Bryant celebrates the joys of April. But more specifically, he invites his daughter Julia to return for a visit:

Come, Julia dear, for the sprouting willows,
The opening flowers, and the gleaming brooks,
And hollows, green in the sun, are waiting
Their dower of beauty from thy glad looks.

For Bryant, the sweetness of nature appears only when we “fondly listen” and its beauty only when we “fondly gaze.” At first glance, he contradicts Keats, who had told us that unheard melodies are sweeter. But actually not, since both call for our loving eye to be part of the beauty we see. Both poets conveniently conclude that it’s the poetic imagination that imparts real meaning to what we see or hear.

L1140375In any case, the idea of bringing our gaze to nature is central to the Tales & Trails: Nature Walks for Young Explorers program, sponsored by the Wellfleet Conservation Trust (WCT).

I was lucky enough to go along on the latest walk last Wednesday along an ephemeral pond beside the Walker Trail. It was a beautiful April day with clear skies and fresh breezes. There were no fragrances other than fresh clean air. We heard, or rather interacted with, Vernal Pool Visitors, and compared it to what we observed.

Walks through some of Wellfleet’s conservation areas are led by Heidi Clemmer, author of a new series of nature books for children called Cape Cod Eco-Tales. After 21 years as an elementary school teacher, Heidi retired and began to focus on teaching children about nature in informal, specifically, natural settings. She launched Eco-Tales with illustrator and collaborator Marisa Picariello. The target audience is children aged 6-9 and their families, but everyone from infants to those well into the their quatrième âge enjoy it.

Each walk focuses on a different ecosystem and is paired with one of the books in the series. Children explore the ecosystem, hear a corresponding nature story read by the author and illustrator, and then create their own souvenir of the experience in art, writing, or photography. The event combines fellowship, keen observation, story-telling, art, experiencing the beauty of Wellfleet’s conservation lands, speculation about science, and learning.

41Hk2UPq4FL._SX398_BO1,204,203,200_Last fall, Heidi led a trip to Hamblen Park, where she read from her book Salt Marsh Secrets. There will be five more walks this year. Next up is “Heathland Habitat” in May, followed by“Barrier Beach Bums” in June, “White Cedar Swamp Gang” in September, “Tidal Flat Friends” in October, and “Dune Dwellers” in November (more information).

Tales & Trails is funded by WCT and supported in part by a grant from the Wellfleet Cultural Council. Wellfleet Conservation Trust is a non-profit organization established in 1984 to assist and promote the preservation of natural resources and rural character of the town of Wellfleet. There is no cost to participate in Tales & Trails, but advance registration is required. To inquire about the walks, email Heidi Clemmer.


L1140437

Walker Trailhead

Walker Trailhead

Reverse silhouettes

And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S. Eliot — “Little Gidding”

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I knew the name, György Kepes, mostly because he’s one of those notable Wellfleetians, but I can’t say that I knew much about him until recently.

My exploration started with a “Picture of the Day” in New Scientist, showing one of his reverse silhouettes, and describing an exhibition of his works at Tate Liverpool. More images are shown in the slide show above, on the website of the new Kepes Institute, Museum, and Cultural Center in Eger Hungary, and at Hommage à György Kepes.

Cape Cod Modern,  Peter McMahon, Christine Cipriani

Cape Cod Modern, Peter McMahon, Christine Cipriani

I looked up Kepes in the wonderful new book by Peter McMahon and Christine Cipriani, Cape Cod modern: Midcentury architecture and community on the Outer Cape. There are interesting stories and photos there about the house that Marcel Breuer designed for the Kepes family on Long Pond, and about their interesting relationship with Wellfleet and Cambridge, Mass, including living in Wellfleet without a car. There is some about his wife, Juliet Kepes, who has had considerable accomplishments of her own, including winning the Caldecott Award for Five little monkeys. They had met in London when she was then 17-year-old Juliet Appleby.

I then started examining more of the Kepes art, writings, and history.

The Wellfleet library may be small, but it’s an excellent source for this kind of investigation. It has many books by György Kepes, including his Vision + value series. As I read through the contributors, I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Kepes (1906-2001) was a Hungarian-born painter, photographer, designer, filmmaker, educator, and art/design theorist. As a young artist, he was concerned about the relation between art and social justice, seeking to alleviate “the inhumane conditions of the Hungarian peasantry.” He followed László Moholy-Nagy to London, and later, to teach design at the New Bauhaus in Chicago and later founded the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT.

Five Little Monkeys, Juliet Kepes

Five Little Monkeys, Juliet Kepes

Kepes promoted an idealistic conception of visual communication as a universal language that could enhance communication and social relations:

Visual communication is universal and international; it knows no limits of tongue, vocabulary, or grammar, and it can be perceived by the illiterate as well as by the literate (Language of Vision, p. 13).

There are many reasons to question that bold statement, and Kepes must have done so as well. While at New Bauhaus he developed ideas about design theory, form in relation to function, and the “education of vision.” This implies that although visual communication may be universal it is not immediately apprehended. Kepes’s teaching and writing, including the anthologies he edited argue for it as something to be studied and learned. Kepes goes on to say: “Visual language must be adjusted, however, to meet its historical challenge.” This challenge is to reunite people and knowledge, to establish a more integrated being in a changing world.

What especially struck me about Kepes’s work was how much it tied together disparate threads in my own life. He saw fundamental connections between people in fields that are often considered to be far apart. In exploring his work I felt that I was getting know a new friend, but also, as Eliot suggests, getting to know myself better as well.

Kepes’s Bauhaus strand is strong in Wellfleet, including in the life and work of friends Ati Gropius and John Johansen, Marcel Breuer, Walter Gropius, Serge Chermayeff, Paul Weidlinger, and others. He worked with science educators, such as Gerard Holton and Philip Morrison. He was involved in the development of computer sciences, especially regarding data visualization, and worked with Norbert Wiener and Jerome Wiesner. He worked with psychologists, including Rudolf Arnheim and Erik Erikson, mathematicians–Stanislaw Ulam, biologists–C. H. Waddington, communications theorists–Marshall McLuhan, artists–Piet Mondrian, Mark Rothko. And he is most strongly identified with designer/theorists such as Christopher Alexander, Buckminster Fuller, and Charles Eames. Thus, the worlds of art, science, education, technology, and social justice were in the same mix. This can be seen in his exhibition/book, The new landscape in art and science, in which artwork was interlaced with images from x-rays, stroboscopes, electron microscopes, sonar, radar, telescopes, and infrared sensors.

Some more examples are his reverse silhouettes. Using a technique that has become a children’s museum staple, Kepes made “photograms” by arranging objects directly on top of light-sensitive paper and illuminating them. I wish I could see the new display in Liverpool, but in lieu of that am enjoying the art and ideas in his many books. These ideas are still fresh and have inspired many others, including the whole field of computational aesthetics (see for example, Form + code)

References

  • Kepes, György (1995/1944). Language of vision. New York: Dover.
  • Kepes, György (1949). Graphic forms: The arts as related to the book. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
  • Kepes, György (1956). The new landscape in art and science. Chicago: Paul Theobald.
  • Kepes, György (1965-66). Vision + value [series] (The education of vision; Structure in art and science; The nature and art of motion; Module, symmetry, proportion, rhythm; Sign, image, symbol; and The man-made object). New York: George Braziller.
  • Kepes, György (1966). The visual arts today. Wesleyan University Press.
  • Kepes, György (1972). Arts of environment. New York: George Braziller.
  • McMahon, Peter, & Cipriani, Christine (2104, Spring). Cape Cod modern: Midcentury architecture and community on the Outer Cape. New York: Metropolis.
  • Picture of the day (2015). Reverse silhouettes capture the beauty of nature. New Scientist.
  • Rawsthorn, Alice (2010). A master of image and information. The New York Times.
  • Reas, Casey; McWilliams,Chandler; LUST (2010). Form + code: In design, art, and architecture. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press.

Daniel Dejean, cartoonist extraordinaire

Daniel Dejean

Daniel Dejean

Daniel Dejean, a Wellfleet artist, is best known for his acrylic or oil paintings. These have been shown in galleries around Cape Cod and exhibited at a wide array of venues over 25 years, including recently at the Éspace Croix Baragnon in Toulouse and the Galerie Charlotte Norberg in Paris. See http://www.danieldejean.com and below.

Squash fashion

Squash fashion

Daniel’s paintings are often stunning, and always interesting. Like the best contemporary conceptual art, they invoke inversions of our usual ways of thinking. But whereas that art is sometimes thin to the point of obviousness, Daniel’s paintings are rich and generative. They invite repeated viewing and study.

One might instead think of the traditional style of art prevalent in Cape Cod galleries–seascapes and boats, wildflowers and ponds, portraits and houses. Daniel’s work then appears anarchic, conversing in some of the same language, but with an exotic dialect and a unsettling vocabulary.

New directions

Mozart on a snowy evening

Mozart on a snowy evening


Daniel’s artistry has recently expanded into what appears to be a new and growing venture, cartooning. I first became aware of this when his tromboncino cartoons, such as “Squash fashion” (above), began spreading uncontrollably across the ether. Whatever the topic, DeJean cartoons began to capture the essence of what was happening, bringing together humor, critique, and insight. I especially like his “Mozart on a snowy evening,” but also a new one about the major sport on Cape Cod this winter.

Skiing on the backside

Skiing on the backside

Some of Daniel’s graphic art has assumed a programmatic direction. For example, Women Directors: Navigating The Hollywood Boys’ Club, developed by Maria Giese and Heidi Honeycutt, is a website for people to share experiences with discrimination and explore strategies to create gender equity among directors of film, television and new media. It is “the world’s foremost website to explore, expose and remedy discrimination against women directors – because global culture depends on who tells the stories.” Daniel has created a wonderful series of graphic representations that tell the story in a succinct and memorable way.

Where are the women directors?

Where are the women directors?

Women directors: The coming tsunami

Women directors: The coming tsunami

Deborah Geithner, August 12, 2014

Duet with Deborah

Duet with Deborah

I’ve been working on a piano sonata by Beethoven (No. 31 in A♭, Opus 110) for a long time. That project may last a lifetime. But I plan to continue both for the sake of the music and for the person who had been guiding me to attempt this work at the edge of my ability.

The piece is beautiful, with contrasting moods, but overall a feeling of melancholy. When it was published, one critic said that its tonality was “emotionally as black as night” and another that it was “a key of the grave, death, the Last Judgement, eternity.” I can blame Beethoven’s music for only a part of that feeling. A larger reason is that Deborah Geithner, my teacher and friend is no longer here.

Deborah combined perceptive listening with helpful suggestions for performance and practice. But more than that, she brought wit, insight, caring, and encouragement to her teaching. I often had mixed feeling about the path of a lesson. I enjoyed talking with her about people, art, politics, travel, and life, while at the same time feeling that I should focus on learning to read music. But then she’d generously allow extra time so that my lessons extended well past the allotted time. This happened again and again, despite her amazing schedule of teaching, performing, writing, and supporting family and friends.

Deborah’s voice is still in my head, especially, of course, when I’m practicing. She would delve deeply into a piece of music, comparing editions, and trying out different interpretations. But that intensity only added, rather than supplanted, a concern for the person and enjoyment of the music.

Assignment book

Assignment book

She didn’t like talk about perfection (as in “but I played it perfectly in practice at home!”). The goal wasn’t to avoid mistakes, nor was it to strive for some fixed standard. Instead, it was to explore oneself and the music to have value in the present and nurture growth. Her students were all ages and ability levels. They included students of voice and other instruments. Always, there was an effort to expand horizons.

At one student workshop, one student might play a duet with another or with Deborah. Another might play only the right hand melody of a piece they were learning. Yet another might be tackling a difficult composition. Deborah managed to support students wherever they were, always opening doors to further development, but recognizing what they could do in the here and now.

There will be memorial services, laudatory obituaries, and other expressions of Deborah’s many contributions to communities around the world, and especially, to her recent years as a supporter of chamber music, literature, painting, and other arts on Cape Cod. Her unique energy, compassion, intelligence, and sensitivity will not be matched again. But most of all, for those who had the privilege to know her, she will be missed as a special friend.