Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Bennington, Vermont

Bennington Battle Monument
After the Hancock Shaker Village, my Dissertation Advisor (DA) and I continued driving north to Williamstown, MA, home of Williams College (a top-tanked small liberal arts school). We stopped for lunch at Papa Charlie's Sandwich Deli, where the menu consists of a dizzying array of celebrity-named sandwiches. For instance, the Neil Patrick Harris consists of grilled chicken, pickles, coleslaw, mustard, and barbeque sauce on a toasted roll. Or you can go old-school with a Columbo: hot roast beef, hot provolone, onions, and barbeque sauce. Filled up with soup and sandwiches, we continued north to our destination: the picturesque New England town of Bennington, VT, site of an important battle during the American Revolutionary War.

On 16 August 1777, American forces defeated the advancing British, who needed the supplies stored in Bennington. Mostly poorly trained volunteers from New Hampshire, the rebels scored a decisive victory against the Red Coats, thanks to a rescue from some Green Mountain Boys. Due in part to their failure at Bennington, the British forces lost the Battles of Saratoga and surrendered on 7 October. The French and Spanish came to the Americans' aid, and the tide of the war turned to victory some six years later. 16 August is still celebrated in Vermont as Bennington Battle Day.

Plans for a Bennington Battle Monument were finally realized in the 1870s and 1880s, and the imposing stone tower was opened in time for Vermont's Centennial in 1891. (It had become the 14th state in 1791.) At 306 feet, 4.5 inches, the obelisk is the tallest structure in the state! Luckily for us, the elevator was out of order. So with a guide and a couple other visitors, we hiked the stairs up to the observation deck, 200 feet above ground. There's a pretty stunning vista in all directions. After descending, we visited the gift shop for the postcards sampled here. Passing over the maple leaf and moose memorabilia, I bought a little maple syrup, because who doesn't love them some pure liquid glucose?

Fence around the Old First Church Cemetery
There was plenty of daylight left, so we walked into the center of historic Bennington, where a big old white clapboard church stands next to a very old cemetery. It was closed that day, so we visited the grave of Robert Frost, whose poetry I sampled in my Poetry of the Pacific series earlier this year. It was a quiet drive back to Stockbridge while DA napped in the backseat. After dinner, I borrowed his car to head south to the larger town of Great Barrington, MA, to visit the Guthrie Center. It's in Alice's house!!! One night a week they have a "Hootenanny." Musicians get in for free, and the public can listen for a $5 donation. They performed a mix of blues and bluegrass acoustic music, some original. We ended with a rousing round of "This Land Is Your Land," of course. Afterwards I asked for a tour of the building, which has been modified from its original purpose as the Old Trinity Church. Awesome.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Vacation FAIL

On one day of my visit, my adviser and I agreed not to work at all (!) and to just drive around and see the sights. This was, of course, the day that our camera batteries decided to die, in tandem, 45 minutes from his apartment. Naturally the gift shop at the Hancock Shaker Village could have supplied all the wooden boxes, quilts, and rock candy we could have wanted--but not a disposable camera. Vacation FAIL. So these are my photographs of the postcards he bought there. I'll paint word pictures for the rest.

We started at Hancock Shaker Village, one of the earliest and longest-running such settlement, active between 1791 and 1960. The Shakers may be most famous today for a little ditty "Tis A Gift To Be Simple," but one or two hundred years ago they were infamous for their revolutionary beliefs. The sect was founded in England in 1748 by James and Jane Wardley. In 1770 a working-class woman by the name of Ann Lee (1736-1784) became their prophetess and leader. Lee came to believe that she was the female incarnation of Jesus Christ. She had taken the deaths of her four children very hard, and after much prayer and soul-searching blamed the sexual relations in her marriage. She became increasingly independent, eventually preaching gender equality, abstinence, and ecstatic cleansing by the Holy Spirit (the dancing in their open worship services that purportedly devolved into "shaking"). Others called them "Shaking Quakers," or "Shakers." They called themselves the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing. Lee's little band of followers was heavily persecuted in Manchester, so they decided to set out for America in 1774. (Her husband came along but didn't last long.) The persecution wasn't any better there, even after they founded a secluded settlement at Niskayuna, NY. Among other things, they claimed absolute pacifism and refused to take a side during the American Revolution. Mother Ann died at age 48, probably helped along by the physical and mental stress of a beating and near-rape at the hands of unhappy colonialists in Shirley, MA.

Kitchen in the Brick Dwelling (built 1830)
(the biggest building in the postcard above)
The Hancock village in western Massachusetts was founded in 1783. At its height in the 1840s, it housed over 300 men (Brethren) and women (Sisters), as well as many children, mostly orphans. The children could decide at age 21 whether they wanted to stay; only 1/4 did. With fewer and fewer new members joining, the population of the village dwindled. By the early 1900s, there were only 50 inhabitants. The property was finally sold in 1960 to a preservation society.

While the settlement was active, the sexes lived in separate dormitories, ate at different tables, and entered the church from different doorways. But it was a complementarianism they practiced, rather than a hierarchy. There was always a female Eldress to travel with the male Elder to visit the different communities. Men and women had different chores, too. The women cooked, dairied, and taught school, while the men made shoes, chairs, and brooms. The Shakers were known for the industriousness and dedication to efficiency. Although their clothing was often simple and "old-fashioned" (like the Amish), they eagerly adopted time- and labor-saving devices like dumbwaiters and electricity. Because they cared for the environment, it is not out-of-place to find solar panels at the farm. But we were surprised to discover their love of color: they painted their wooden buildings bright, cheery pastels!

This is the famous Shaker Barn, built in 1826. It was designed to obviate the need to pitch hay up and down. On the back side, an earthen ramp allows wagons to be driven up and into the second floor of the building. The horses were led around in a circle while the hay was pitched down into the large racks pictured on the left. The postcard shows the central chute and chimney added to allow heat to escape, after the original barn burnt. On the first floor, the cattle were allowed up onto a short platform. When they stuck their heads through the wooden slats to reach the hay, a bar was titled that trapped them there while they ate and were milked. The platform was just a little short, so their hind legs (and waste-producing parts!) were on the lowest level, to keep the milk pails clean. There are even trap doors in the floor to make mucking that much easier. Clever of them Shakers. In the low side barn we visited the pigs, sheep, goats, and chickens, and I learned that if my adviser hadn't become a historian, he would have become a veterinarian. Whatever your job, I'll leave you with this Shaker saying:

"Put your hands to work and your heart to God."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

How quaint! Or was it? Visiting Norman Rockwell

View from the current position of Rockwell's studio.
One morning Dear Adviser (DA) and I visited the Norman Rockwell Museum. Rockwell moved to Stockbridge in 1953 so his second wife, Mary Barstow, could be treated at the Austen Riggs Center. Here Rockwell found the small-town America that made him so famous on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post. He had trained in illustration at a couple different art schools and had even been hired at the tender age of 17 as art director of Boys' Life, the Boy Scout magazine. Rockwell was apparently so over-the-moon when he got his first commission with the Saturday Evening Post in 1916 that he proposed to his first wife, Irene O'Connor. They lived a socialite life in New Rochelle, New York, until his work made him so busy that the lack of foundation for their relationship broke up the marriage in 1930. While recuperating in California, Rockwell met Mary. They married and had three sons, Jarvis, Thomas, and Peter--all artists of various kinds now. After her early death in 1959, he married his third wife, Mary Punderson.

Rockwell prepared for a museum for his illustrations before his death. He even arranged to have his studio moved (in two pieces) from the lot next to his house down to the spot chosen for the future museum. The museum's administrative offices are located in the original dwelling on the property, the old Linwood House, a Berkshire "cottage" built in 1859 that looks like a Victorian mansion in light-colored stone with hunter-green shutters and a gray roof. That building is not open to the public. The museum built a new, two-story building set into a hillside for the rotating collection of paintings on the upper floor. On the lower floor you can watch a short film about Rockwell and see all 322 Saturday Evening Post covers he painted over 47 years.

That's Norman in the bottom row,
2nd and 3rd from the right.
DA and I were surprised to discover how much he relied on life studies, including costumes, props, and photographs (see right). I guess that makes sense, since he was an illustrator--that is, someone who illustrated or depicted what he saw in real life. We were also surprised to learn that it was Rockwell who ended his relationship with the Post: we had taken him for a conservative, a traditionalist out to preserve white small-town America, but in fact his politics were liberal and increasingly so over the late 1950s and into the 1960s. One of his unpublished Post covers, "The Marriage Counselor," depicts a (white, heterosexual) couple waiting on the couch outside the therapist's office: he has a black eye. Rockwell wanted to paint about the racial turmoil in the country, but the editors wanted him to do portraits of the famous men of the day. He probably would have been put out of business sooner or later by improved technology for publishing photographs.

One of Rockwell's most beloved pieces is his "Golden Rule" painting, which seems to sum up his worldview. Apparently he looked for models among the tourists who came through town in the summer, since Stockbridge was (and largely still is) mono-racial. I'd like to think he was hampered only by the material he had to work with and not by his ideas, that this is the world he wanted to illustrate but couldn't find.

Erik Erikson reputedly once told Rockwell during therapy that he painted the happiness he wasn't living, and a controversial new biography using his medical records reveals that Rockwell was psychologically troubled and even suggests he may have been a repressed homosexual. Does that make his paintings more or less optimistic? At any rate, they are extraordinarily popular. (In fact, one may have just been stolen from a warehouse in New York.) Maybe his most iconic images were never attainable. They certainly aren't at the prices expected at Sotheby's auction in December, when "Saying Grace" might command $24 million dollars.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Small Town, Foliage County, USA

This week I visited one of my dissertation advisers, who has a semester-long scholarly fellowship at the Erik Erikson Institute at the Austen Riggs Center, a US News & World Report Top Ten Hospital for psychiatry that specializes in a humanistic and psychoanalytic approach to "treatment resistant cases." These institutions are located in Stockbridge, Mass., a picturesque little town (pop. 1,900) at the heart of the Berkshires, the westernmost county in Massachusetts. "The Berks" are famous for Victorian/ Edwardian "cottages" (country estates), the Boston Symphony Orchestra's summer music festival at Tanglewood, stunning foliage in the fall, and skiing during the winter at the higher elevations. Now a major tourist draw, this area was once home to Susan B. Anthony, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, Norman Rockwell, and Arlo Gurhrie, among others. So there is a surprising number of things to do for such a sparsely populated area.

Click here to see an interactive map of the places we visited, plus some of the others that are available. Later I'll post more about what we saw.

The quintessential small American town = Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
Norman Rockwell, Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas (1957-1967)
Image courtesy the Normal Rockwell Museum.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Many the Gifts

...for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.      ~ Galatians 3:26-28

Today at the traditional services at church we celebrated World Communion Sunday. This minor holiday was founded as World-wide Communion Sunday by Dr. Hugh Thomson Kerr at Shadyside Presbyterian church outside Pittsburgh in 1933. DH and I visited it with the choir director from our church during a worship arts conference in July of this year. (I keep meaning to blog about that!) Here is the large circular plaque on the floor behind the altar commemorating the event.

The creative worship committee I chair put a lot of work into this service. SO and MD designed the altar decorations in North Sanctuary to represent our connectedness with Christians through time and space through the taking of communion. There are the usual bunches of plastic grapes and loaves of preserved bread (painted with lacquer over a decade ago!). The textiles on the altar are an embroidered suzani from Tajikistan and a small quilted piece by a former member of the church. But my favorite part is the "globe" of children cut out of old maps, not least because its shape mirrors the medallions on the large cloth.

I choreographed a dance for the first hymn, "One Bread, One Body." During the Children's Message, I taught the arm movements for the chorus to the kids/ congregation. Then, the choir led the singing while the three dancers led the dancing from the chancel. There were three themes to this morning's piece:

1) We danced in a triangle to reflect the Trinity. During each verse, we moved two spots along the line of the dance, such that a different dancer was in front for each chorus.

2) Twice in the chorus the arms made a circle ("the earth"), and once we spun this globe over our shoulders, like Atlas.

3) We have a fledgling Deaf Ministry, so I like to incorporate American Sign Language into my dances. For this one we used "Lord," "cup," and the open "5-hand" from "blessing."

Big thanks to the talented dancers
who joined me: RA and JL!
One bread, one body,
one Lord of all,
one cup of blessing, which we bless.
And we though many
throughout the earth
we are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile or Jew, servant or free,
woman or man, no more!

Many the gifts,
many the works,
one in the Lord of all!

Grain for the fields, 
scattered and grown,
gathered to one, for all!

It was really wonderful to look out at the congregation and see at least a third of them dancing along from their pews! For the anthem later, the choir sang a setting of Psalm 150 by Brazilian composer Emani Aguiar. AH had the clever idea of replacing the usual communion wafers with pieces of rice-, corn-, and wheat-based breads to represent the "loaves" that are used in other parts of the world. Finally, while the congregation partook, Dear Husband played a piece entitled simply "Communion," by Lithuanian organist and composer Vidas Pinkevičius.

p.s.--The beautiful rainbow silk stole I am wearing was custom made for me by Jeff Wunrow, a liturgical artist I met at that Pittsburgh conference. I splurged on it with birthday "mad money" from my parents-in-law, so thanks to him and them as well!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Write Stuff

What, don't you recline on the floor to work?
Or have you adopted those new-fangled contraptions they call "desk" and "chair"?