Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The White Room

Brandy Danu Madison, WI One comment - "accepting one's station in life." I recall my mother's friend & her "white room." It was a museum type "living room." On the occasions we went there I stood at the doorway wondering about it. We were never "entertained" in there. I asked my mother about it and she said it was for special guests. My family, tho comfortable didn't have a room just for show or an occasional cocktail party. My mother would comment on her more affluent friends having a - beautiful home - with a kind of longing for an upgraded existence. We had a spill-proof Naugahyde couch. I recall going to a friend's new condo. Her young nephew was there and he said - this place feels like a hotel. Yesterday I was at an acquaintance's home. It was suburban and all the homes had the exact same type of grass, which was long and luscious. There were no fences so the backyards seemed more spacious than just me and mine. Of course the lawns were maintained with pesticides and commercial fertilizers. This kills all the natural microorganisms in the soil. I live in what was described as a "dusty old house" on the phone by the landlord, sight unseen I said "I'll take it" and I did. Built in 1908 with few recent upgrades in the kitchen or bath and not one closet on the first floor, I enjoy the house a lot with its big (dusty) Midwestern porch & swing and "wild" back yard. My furniture is "piecemeal," the overall effect is shabby, tho I like to think of it as some kind of chic. A humble Bohemian world, but mine.

Why I Couldn't Vote for Angela Davis

In 1983 I moved to the very conservative Iowa County for a teaching job in Mazomanie, a bedroom community of the very liberal Madison, WI, Dane Co. and rented a farm house out in the country. 1984 was a presidential election year and I had to go to the home of the local county clerk's home to register. It was an old farmhouse that hadn't seen a lick of paint in years. The dining room was cluttered with craft supplies. The clerk was a friendly grey haired woman. We chatted and I filled out my voter registration form. I think she offered me some tea. On voting day I arrived at the polling place, registration postcard in hand. It was in a little wooden building about 12 feet square, staffed by 3 people who undoubtedly personally knew all of the other voters from this rural area. The voting booth had a gingham curtain for privacy, the ballot was on paper and was to be marked by an X and slipped into the little slotted ballot box. Angela Davis was on the ballot running for vice president (of the Communist Party) that year and I was going to vote for her as a protest vote. (Just for the record, I am not now and never have been a member of the Communist Party). I'm a Social Democrat. Of course in all of Iowa County I doubt that there was one other person who was voting for Angela Davis. They had my registration card with all my information on it. The word redneck pretty much sums up the orientation of that area. My guess is the minority population of the whole county was minuscule. It occurred to me that there might be some kind of repercussions from my - private ballot. I had visions of a drive-by in the night, shot guns firing away, hunting is very big in Iowa, Co. I doubted they would go to the extent of burning a cross in my front yard, but I didn't want to find out. I bit the bullet and voted for Mondale. Iowa Co. most likely went for Reagan as did the rest of the country...it was Morning in America

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Uninvited Guest

The Uninvited Guest I felt just like the uninvited fairy, but my rejection soon turned to curiosity. There must be a way to find out what was going on at the all female new moon party that had not included me. Maybe lurking outside an open window, the usual way, could succeed. I headed in the direction of the gathering as the last hint of day disappeared into the sea. Stars peeked out in the velveteen sky as I blended in with the shadows. No sign of the ghost of the new moon yet. Pierced tin lanterns decked the veranda. The door was open and a filmy curtain veiled a view of the activity inside. There was music, laughter and the rise and fall of feminine voices. A tail of mist was creeping from the slight depression near. I crouched outside the walled yard noticing scent denser than the usual evening floral bouquet. Feeling a little light headed, I suddenly sat down hard onto the ground... I was startled when I looked up to see a hint of the dark side of the moon already well up into the sky. I stretched my neck from side to side to see a slim, faintly glimmering tail attached to my hind legs! I was low to the ground but unconcerned as I put two feet in front of two more and slipped through the gate, leaping up the stairs to the threshold. I was slipping unnoticed along the wall toward the dark of a couch when I heard a shriek and everything went black. Then a crescent of light appeared at the rim of my trap. Two slim hands swooped down, scooped me up and I was swiftly plopped into a bird cage. "I just love these little sugar lizards," someone said. A dozen pair of eyes were on me. "It's pretty hard to catch one," said another. "They are actually geckos," said a third. Someone slipped a nugget of cake into my enclosure and a jar lid of - what else - Champagne. The party continued and I was slide-lined on a counter in the kitchen, so couldn't succeed in my snooping. No conversations could be made out from here. I sized up the door to my small prison. I figured I could easily escape much later in the night and and slip out a window to a spot where I was praying I could resume my original form.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Extremes of Style - A Too Brief History

Extremes of Style - A Too Brief History, by Brandy Larson There is a love/hate relationship with Extremes of Style. It's a condition of the - times. Old School - "don't go to extremes." The Roaring Twenties, my first example of the past 100 years, was an era of extremes. WWI rearranged a society reeling from the carnage and terrible new technologies of the day. The traditional values of moderation in all things morphed into the "new extreme styles" - the era of jazz, booze and maybe even cocaine. Hemlines shrank, women apologetically wore make-up in public, even Great Aunt Iris, the product of a Seventh Day Adventist home, became a jazz trumpeter. Her sister, my Grandma Gladys probably became a flapper! But what goes up, must come down. With the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing grind of The Depression, for most people in America, extremes of desperation, not style, marked the daily struggle for survival. Then WWII bent people's minds in new and extreme ways, but also lifted the US out of the economic pit. Americans were hunkering down, coping with the horrors of an ever more powerful war machine and national rationing of gas, sugar and meat. One extreme was women wearing pants and entering industrial production in the factories of the war economy. Once the smoke cleared, The Fifties were born. A new optimism prevailed, along with the Baby Boom. Women were whisked back to the home. A more mobile society, suburban "don't rock the boat," the nuclear family, aprons, Doris Day and Pat Boone were the spirits (?) of the day. Extremes, it seems had gone out of style. Once Elvis hit the airwaves and the Ed Sullivan Show (I remember seeing him on our tiny black and white TV as a young kid), and teenagers got behind the wheel of the family car, things would never be the same. In The Sixties Rock n' Roll morphed into the British Invasion, then Hard Rock and the Rolling Stones, and "the mini-skirt's the current thing - unn-ha" (Nancy Sinatra. Panty hose were born. And "the pill." The Civil Rights Movement can't be called a style, but long overdue - shook things up. There was widespread teenage rebellion born of affluence of the new middle class and the daily tragedies of the Viet Nam War morphed into mass political protests of the "Anti War Movement," the Hippie Era and mind expanding drugs. Seen as EXTREME, and certainly a Style. Huge sectors of society were turned upside-down with the" turn on, tune in and drop out" frame of mind. And the reinventions of Feminism (former wave of the Suffragettes of the early 20th Century and finally voting rights in1920). Bras were burned, there were women's consciousness groups (what are they talking about in there?. Women got college degrees and "good jobs," they were elected to office and started their own businesses, they waited to get married. And the Black Power Movement, a part of Power to the People. Modern Extreme Style became ever more the norm, rather than the "other form." We are the product of our times. Somewhere along the line my youthful freedom and optimism got lost, as well as my ability to keep up with the happening trends; the Yuppies, the New Wave, the Punks, Gen X/Y, Millennials and Helicopter Parents, etc, which sometimes seem like Extreme Styles in every way. Extreme Style is an attractor of the affluent, the arty, and as ever - the young. It is a challenge to the creative and the entrepreneurial classes that feed the desire for something NEW, fresh and exciting (did I say profitable?) Old School will NOT do. But, once again, what goes up, must come down. The Extremes of digital technology have totally altered our world and our attention spans. What Andy Warhol once described as our little corner of "fifteen minutes of [individual] fame," has become 15 seconds - about twice the current average attention span - and a new selfie every twenty minutes - Style. A recent trend was to get "unplugged," which is how I spend my vacations. Parents of young children are advised to avoid "screens" for the kids until age 3. (I never saw a TV until I was 5!) There are still things that transcend the ever-present hunger for Extreme Style, like last night's Super Moon / Blood Moon / Full Lunar Eclipse (9/27/2015). The cloudy sky cleared at the very last moment to reveal this wonder to Madison, WI. The last time this occurred was 1982 and the next time will be 2033. I loved to see the moon slowly changing back from red to silver, peering cooly down our frantic world. On this finally clear night the eclipsing moon appears the same to me as it did the the pre-Celts of Stonehenge and to homo sapiens wandering out of Africa. For a shining hour or two, I'll escape - Extremes of Style

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Bonfire, Summer Solstice 2015

Dusk was arriving in the North Country on the longest day of the year. The crescent moon rose in the southwest sky. Venus, her bright companion, close by. I heard the drumming from a distance. A crowd of over a hundred blocked the view of the fire from afar. Closer an inner ring of dancers moved this way and that. A slim tall man in a blue mask did a low, angular dance engaging the fire. A pretty girl in a belly dancing outfit shimmied and glimmered in the flickering light. The many drums changed their cadence from time to time and cheers and whoops came up from the crowd. A chant was started by a small group up front, but the words weren't clear, so no one joined in. The moon peeked in and out of the wispy clouds. The fire was low and very hot. Fire keepers held their posts holding shovels and rakes. Three skinny teenaged girls tried to get a circle dance going, but were discouraged by them. In any case, the circle was too tight and the fire too hot for that. I was dancing and toasting. I shed a layer and turned my back to the flames. I remembered a Native American sweat lodge I'd attended. Soon I dropped back to the outer rings into the cool night air. I'd just finished reading "The Druids" by Peter Berresford Ellis this very day. The solstice festivals were the major events of the Celtic Europe. I envisioned Stonehenge and an Arc-Druid in long robes, his staff in his hand, young girls dancing hypnotically with flowers in their long hair, their bare legs flashing in the firelight. Drenched in sweat I decided it was time to go. The youngish crowd would continue into the night. I'd had my moment honoring the path of the Earth around the sun and my Scottish ancestors.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Not the Aurora Borealis

Not the Aurora Borealis by Brandy Larson The weather guy said the aurora Borealis might be visible briefly just before sunset. Thank you solar flares. At sunset I walked over to the Tenney Park breakwater to take a look. I was the only one out there as the temperature was falling fast and the wind picked up. I got out to the end of the breakwater and sat on my mittens on the ice-cold bench. I felt a little bite of cold on my thighs. It had been a long time since I watched the sunset. There was a horizontal bank of heavy clouds to the southwest but most of the horizon was clear over the big lake - Mendota. The sky very slowly faded from orange and yellow. Two muskrats swam back and forth in the few hundred yards of newly melted water diving for food. I thought of their natural waterproofing against the frigid water and how cold their feet and tails must be. They would soon be in their borrow snugly and warm. Maybe their kits had already been born. A few dozen ducks perched on the far ice calling to each other and getting settled down for the night. The north star came out and I looked to the left to see the silvery capitol dome. It looked very small. As I waited and waited, and watched I saw a broad flash of green. I'd never seen the mythical green line, marking night from day. Someone made film with that title years ago. Hey, it was St Patrick's Day. But it was not the aurora. I looked to the north where night had already arrived. No sign there. I waited a little longer and might have seen a flash of pink, that or a good imagination. I decided to head home. As I got to the bend in the breakwater I paused for a final look AND saw a shooting star - or at least a meteorite. I guess good things come to those that wait In the reflected lights of the breakwater a film of ice was forming on the still, shallower water. Yes, it's March in Wisconsin. On my walk over I'd been looking for a crocus somewhere, peeking out to announce that the first sign of spring is actually here in the northland. Maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Book Review - "The Strike" by James M Denis

"The Strike", by James M Dennis Book Review (on Amazon) by Brandy Larson James Dennis’s book, The Strike, is unique in its inception as a fascinating “biography of a painting,”as well as of Robert Koehler, the German-American artist who painted the unprecedented canvas of industrial workers confronting a frowning factory owner in 1885-86. Widely exhibited in Europe and America, the painting was eventually lost in storage, rediscovered,restored, re-exhibited and ultimately purchased in 1990 by the Deutsches Historisches Museum in Berlin, Germany. Professor Dennis first became aware of the painting through correspondence with Lee Baxandall, a political activist and former graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Intrigued by an engraved reproduction of the painting, Baxandall tracked it down in the early 1970s, bought it, had it restored, and found venues for its exhibition with the help of a prominent labor union in New York City. En route, he gathered mostly biographical information on Koehler’s career that he eventually gave to Dennis, hoping it could be fashioned into a book. Best known for his monograph on Grant Wood and a subsequent book, Renegade Regionalists, Dennis also has had a longstanding interest in political history, especially that of the immigrant German communities of Milwaukee and Chicago. These included radical, socialist leaders of the burgeoning labor movement that was largely born in Bismarck dominated Germany during the 1870s. Robert Koehler was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1850 and his family moved to Milwaukee four years later. His father was an independent machinist while Robert was apprenticed as a lithographer. His art talent was appreciated by a patron, a brewer, who sponsored his return to Germany where he was enrolled at the Royal Academy in Munich. The Strike was his diploma painting, an unusual subject for an“academic” painting. Large scale (over six by nine feet), it was initially exhibited from 1886 to 1894:first in New York City by the May-Day beginning of the nationwide Eight-Hour-Day Strike, then in Munich, followed by the 1889 Paris Exposition, Milwaukee, and the Chicago World’s Fair. It was finally purchased by public subscription in Minneapolis where Koehler was hired to develop and direct its School of Fine Arts. A few years after his death it was stored out of sight. The book’s front cover features a color detail of The Strike with the top-hatted owner confronted by a gesturing spokesman surrounded by fellow workers, smoky factories clouding the horizon. Eight other color plates of Koehler’s work accompany fifty-seven black and white illustrations showing his development, as well as examples of other artists who depicted workers demanding better conditions. Dennis provides a brief Introduction, an Afterward, seventeen pages of notes, and an excellent eleven-page index. The 235-page book is published by the University of Wisconsin Press, which published his very first book: Karl Bitter, Architectural Sculptor, about a Viennese artist who left his mark on the state capitol building in Madison and more extensively, Manhattan,including its Plaza with its famous fountain. The Strike is one of a series of Studies in American Thought and Culture, edited by the late Paul S.Boyer. I found The Strike to be clearly written, a trove of delightful, superbly presented insights about the artist, his career, and his masterpiece painting. Its “biography” includes fascinating details of the culture and timbre of the times, especially of the decades’ struggle by working men and women against exploitation, for decent working conditions, and living wages. While this book has special appeal for those attracted to Art History, it will be enjoyed by anyone curious about a timeless painting that survived many challenges in order to serve as a window, a kind of time capsule, of the Industrial Revolution and early modern life.