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There’s a biography about self-taught artist Horace Pippin that my grandchildren and I really love. I’m posting the image from Amazon, but you don’t have to to buy it there. You could support your local independent bookstore, which is what I did.

Recently, friend and artist Meredith Fife Day posted an interesting Hyperallergic link about the Pippin exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

John Yau wrote, “Horace Pippin (1888–1946) was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania, less than 25 years after the Civil War ended. He grew up in the village of Goshen, New York, 50 miles northwest of Manhattan, and attended segregated schools. For this reason, the seemingly neutral description of Pippin as a self-taught artist should be seen through the lens of America’s policy of segregation and government-maintained racial discrimination. The chances of Pippin attending a White-run art school were practically nonexistent during his lifetime. He was self-taught out of necessity, as the society in which he lived had shut most of its doors on him.

“Before Pippin enlisted in the segregated Black and Puerto Rican 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed by the Germans the ‘Harlem Hellfighters,’ he worked in a coal yard, as a hotel porter, and as a used-clothing peddler. The 369th Infantry Regiment became a distinct unit within the French army because White American army units would not fight alongside them; while in the unit, Pippin was seriously wounded in combat and received France’s Croix de Guerre. Shot in his right arm by a German sniper, he left the army and returned to West Chester, where he took up art as a therapy.

“Due to his injury, Pippin had to move his right arm with his left arm, while holding the brush in his right hand. Through this method, he learned to paint. In 1931, after working in various mediums, including pyrography, he completed his first oil painting. Between 1931 and his death in 1946, he completed around 140 paintings. Many dealt with his experience as a soldier in World War I and the racism and segregation he encountered after returning to America, which — despite the contributions of Black soldiers — did not change.

“Within a short period of time, Pippin’s oil paintings gained attention. Among his fans were the painter and illustrator N. C. Wyeth and the art critic and collector Christian Brinton. In 1939, the Robert Carlen Galleries of Philadelphia began to represent him.

“These are just some of the reasons why you should see the ongoing exhibition Horace Pippin: From War to Peace at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. …

“Pippin was a remarkably inventive artist. ‘The Ending of the War, Starting Home’ (1930-33), is a frontal view of German soldiers behind barriers and barbed wire. One soldier’s arms are raised, as if he is about to surrender. A burning biplane — technically too big in scale but right for this scene — is diving headfirst toward the ground, while a row of aerial explosions hovers just above the horizon. Pippin, who fought in brutal trench warfare, painted the scene from memory.

“What makes this painting into more than a view of war is the artist’s wide handmade frame. The frame is blistered, as if he went over it with a flame that caused the paint to crack and separate. The hand-carved objects protruding, relief-like, from it include various kinds of ordinance (shells and hand grenades, which were nicknamed ‘potato mashers’ and ‘pineapples’ because of their shapes), a tank, rifles, and helmets. There are neither heroes nor leaders in this painting, and the scene is not meant to inspire patriotism. Rather than offering a message, it tries to transport the viewer to the front lines of trench warfare.

“In ‘Mr. Prejudice’ (1943), Pippin groups 13 figures around a giant V, which dominates the upper part of the painting. … A hooded Klansmen stands behind the right side of the V, while just below him is a man in a red shirt, holding a noose. Below the V are various members of the armed figures, segregated into Black and White groups. Pippin has included himself as a soldier with the other Black soldiers, his right arm dangling at his side. …

“At no point in these two works does Pippin present himself as a victim of segregation, and yet he was affected by its strictures throughout his life, even after he gained acceptance as an artist. I thought about this when looking at ‘The Getaway’ (1939), which depicts a fox running through the snow, carrying a black-feathered fowl in its mouth. In the distance are farm buildings, sheds, and a gray, frozen stream or path.

“I kept thinking that Pippin must identify with the fox. As a successful artist, he might have felt he had gotten away with something, because he was a Black man living a White world. What he got away with was survival — being able to live and experience the joy of painting what he knew to be true.

“This is why his last completed painting, ‘The Park Bench’ (1946), is so touching. A Black man is sitting alone on a park bench in front of trees and grass. An white animal, maybe a dog or rabbit, is on the right side, on the grass between the trees. The man does not notice; he is gazing at the ground, but seemingly looking inward. Behind him is part of an empty red bench. A feeling of peace emanates from him. Pippin’s life, all he had to endure and the obstacles he overcame, makes the painting into a testimony to his perseverance and his belief in his audience and, ultimately, in art.”

More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: CNN
A group of service dogs attend a performance of
Billy Elliot: The Musical as part of their training.

Service dogs must learn to go everywhere with their person and be unobtrusive in settings like concert halls and theaters. That’s why trainers are getting creative about giving dogs practice. One place they get performance-attendance training is at the Stratford, Ontario, Festival, where Sandra and Pat’s great niece has been performing the last two summer to great acclaim.

Scottie Andrew explains about the dog training at CNN. “When the cast of a Canadian production of ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ took their final bow after a recent show, the audience didn’t make a single sound — not even a woof.

“A polite crowd of about a dozen future service dogs attended an August performance at Ontario’s Stratford Festival as part of their training. While a silent curtain call might disappoint actors, the dogs’ spellbound stillness is a great sign for their future handlers.

“The event was part of a two-year training program by K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, head trainer Laura MacKenzie told CNN. The future service dogs have toured zoos, subways and crowded fairs to acclimate them to the unfamiliar lights and sounds, rapid movements and bustling crowds they might encounter with their handler, she said.

“At the theater, the dogs are expected to sit under the seat or curl up at their handlers’ feet while their humans enjoy the show, she said.

“They stayed calm and quiet throughout the performance, but a few curious pups peeked their furry heads over the seats to catch a few minutes of the show, she said.

“Ann Swerdfager of the Stratford Festival told CNN that many of the theater’s patrons bring their service dogs to performances, so the company was ‘thrilled’ to host the dogs for training. The non-profit theater company hosts ‘relaxed performances’ designed for audiences sensitive to light, sound and noise — a perfect training ground for service-dog hopefuls.” More here.

Such a well-behaved audience! Nine-yeat-old Sadie Markowitz, recognized as the new Emily Post, would approve. She’s received attention on social media lately with dictums like “never sing along.” It’s just as well that my grandchildren didn’t read that advice before they went to the Lion King in October. They would not have been able to follow it.

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Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/ Christian Science Monitor
Young farmers are returning to the prairie as skilled agriculturalists and entrepreneurs —  injecting a much-needed dynamism into that world.

I can’t resist another story about young people who get interested in farming. They’re not only helping to feed us all, they’re setting an example for how people can carve new paths into an uncertain future. Do they get discouraged like the rest of us? My sense is that they don’t have time for that.

Laurent Belsie of the Christian Science Monitor talks to young farmers in Nebraska.

“Outside Unadilla, Hannah Esch walks into her cooler and pulls out packages of rib-eye, brisket, and hamburger. Over the past nine months her new company, Oak Barn Beef, sold out of meat four times and brought in $52,000 in sales. Over the next year, she expects to double those sales numbers. That will [be] when she finishes her last year of college.

“Some 150 miles northwest, the Brugger twins, Matt and Joe, show off how they’re diversifying from traditional agriculture. They directly market the beef from the cows they raise and they grow hops for local microbreweries. But the most visible sign of their commitment to the rural Plains is the two-story farmhouse they’re renovating on the family homestead. …

“It’s the place their great-grandfather bought when he moved here from Switzerland. It’s where their grandfather was born and where they played as children when the house was later rented by people who kept sheep. …

“There’s a new generation of rural entrepreneur returning to the Great Plains. … It’s not clear how big the movement is and whether it can reverse the population decline that’s gone on for a century in the rural Plains. But if energy combined with business and social media savvy can overcome demographic decline, then perhaps these youthful entrepreneurs – the first generation born after the farm crisis of the 1980s – have an opportunity to do it.

‘There is a spirit in these young people that is different than anything I’ve ever experienced,’ says Tom Field, director of the eight-year-old Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Of the 120 or more of its alumni, ‘90% of them say their goal is to return – or they choose to live in – a small or rural community. These are students who have had international experiences, had internships on both coasts, but they choose to live and work and play in places where they have a deep affinity with the culture, the people, and the landscape.’ …

“When the Brugger twins first started thinking about a return to the rural Plains, their initial idea was to do something in business development. Then they met with Dr. Field of the Engler program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He urged them to be role models, instead.

“ ‘He was the first one to say, … “The best thing you can do for your community is find what you love to do. Start a business around it and hire people to come back … and show other young people that you can do what you love in a rural community,” ‘ Matt recalls. …

“Now, the recent college graduates run their own company, Upstream Farms. They have 50 cows. They market the beef directly, mostly to the training table program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, which serves high-quality foods to student athletes. They raise hops for nearby craft breweries, and because the university takes only the best cuts of beef, the twins sell the rest of their meat as hamburger to the boutique beer firms. …

“ ‘We like to say that we’re twin brothers farming the Midwest, putting new ideas on old dirt and connecting our customers back to land.’ …

“When the twins proposed building a distillery, their parents responded, ‘That’s really risky, guys,’ Matt recalls. ‘They go, “You guys don’t know what it’s like to live in really, really hard times.” And they’re right. We’re privileged not to have [known] that. And so we do take more risks.’ …

“Stability is fragile on the prairie. Despite the good times, Gothenburg has lost more than 3% of its population since 2010, which puts it back to where it was in 1980, before the farm crisis. In rural Nebraska, however, that counts as a roaring success. …

“The decline in population not only crimps the number of people rural businesses can sell their wares to, but also reduces their labor pool. .. Between 2000 and 2010, the typical rural county in the state (one with no town of 2,500 or more) lost nearly half its population of 20- to 24-year-olds, according to the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. That is partially offset by a 16% net in-migration of 30- to 34-year-olds, presumably people who have worked elsewhere and are now wanting to return to the Great Plains.

“But it’s not enough to reverse the overall trend of Nebraskans settling in urban and suburban areas. In 2010, the two counties containing Omaha and Lincoln as well as the county between them represented just over half of Nebraska’s entire population; by 2050, they’re projected to account for two-thirds. The state’s rural counties are expected to lose population over that time….

“Even if the new generation of entrepreneurs succeeds in their attempts to work the soil, the question is whether they can really help revive the rural Midwest.

“ ‘In my area, I’m gonna guess more [people will move in], just because we are so close to Lincoln and Omaha that people can still live this lifestyle but have the great jobs,’ says Ms. Esch, bouncing along a rolling gravel road in her pickup. ‘How do you go live in the city after this?’

“But the rural parts of Nebraska and other states that aren’t close to a metropolitan area might be another matter. …

“ ‘I think the [communities] that continue to innovate and make it a great place for people to live will have more people,’ she says. ‘But the ones that don’t are going out of business.’ ”

More at the Christian Science Monitor, here.

2048

Photo: Erika Fish/QUT/AAP 
A pumice raft in the southwest Pacific in 2012. It is similar to the one now floating toward Australia. Pumice is a porous rock extruded by volcanoes. It can carry marine life, including coral, across the ocean and can help to replenish reefs.

Sometimes Nature works miracles that can leave a person breathless. So I feel a need to reach into Greek mythology for an explanation of the following.

The Great Barrier Reef suffered an 89% collapse in new coral after bleaching incidents in 2016 and 2017, according to the Guardian. But now from the sea bottom comes a repair kit. A message must have been sent through some mysterious channel to Poseidon, and he responded with roughly 37,000 acres of floating pumice carrying help.

Reports the Guardian, “A giant raft of pumice, which was spotted in the Pacific and is expected to make its way towards Australia, could help the recovery of the Great Barrier Reef from its bleaching episode by restocking millions of tiny marine organisms, including coral.

“The pumice raft, which is about 150 sq km, was produced by an underwater volcano near Tonga. It was first reported by Australian couple Michael Hoult and Larissa Brill, who were sailing a catamaran to Fiji, on 16 August.

” ‘We entered a total rock rubble slick made up of pumice stones from marble to basketball size,’ the couple said in a Facebook post. ‘The waves were knocked back to almost calm and the boat was slowed to 1 knot. The rubble slick went as far as we could see in the moonlight and with our spotlight.’ …

“Since then, the pair have been working with Queensland University of Technology geologist Scott Bryan by providing pictures and samples of the volcanic rock.

“Bryan said the raft will be the temporary home for billions of marine organisms. Marine life including barnacles, corals, crabs, snails and worms will tag along as it travels toward Australia and become a ‘potential mechanism for restocking the Great Barrier Reef. … Based on past pumice raft events we have studied over the last 20 years, it’s going to bring new healthy corals and other reef dwellers to the Great Barrier Reef.’ …

“Pumice forms when frothy molten rock cools rapidly and forms a lightweight bubble-rich rock that can float. The pumice raft comes from an unnamed but only recently discovered underwater volcano that satellite images reveal erupted about 7 August.

“[It] should begin to hit Australian shores in about seven months’ time, passing by New Caledonia, Vanuatu and reefs in the eastern Coral Sea along the way as coral begins to spawn. …

“Bryan said, ‘Each piece of pumice is a rafting vehicle. It’s a home and a vehicle for marine organisms to attach and hitch a ride across the deep ocean to get to Australia.’ ”

More here.

 

Happy Halloween

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There’s a blogger I enjoy reading although his posts are often sad. He is Bereaved Single Dad. Subtitle: “A Dad trying to cope with the loss of his partner and becoming a single parent.”

He lives in an isolated English village where his main goal is to make a happy life for his son, whom he describes as being on the autism spectrum. It’s a challenge partly because there is a lack of empathy at the local school and very few special needs services. The other issue is that Bereaved really doesn’t do anything to take care of himself, which to my way of thinking is bound to affect his son’s happiness.

But the two of them do seem to have some wonderful times together, and lately I’ve been enjoying a series of posts on their plans for a fun Halloween. Here is the post called “Halloween 3.”

“This Halloween has to make our son happy. Failure is not an option. Best way to achieve that simple goal was to let him choose what spooky activities we will fill our time with. At the start of the week he came up with his list. …

” * Halloween Costume. Dad I think we should try and go for a Freddie look. We don’t buy a costume, we see what we can rustle up. …

” * Watching as many Scooby Doo DVDs as we can find. Finish off with his three favourites. Boo Brothers, Kiss and Witches Ghost.

” *Watch a Hammer Horror movie. These are atmospheric but relatively tame these days.

” * Have a Lego building competition. This year it’s who can make the best haunted castle.

” * Make a spooky music playlist.

” * Make up a Halloween story. Dad, this year I think it’s a couple of kids stuck in a scary computer game. …

” * Any TV has to be spooky-related like Ghostbusters.

” * Monster knockout competition to decide the greatest ever horror character.

” * Apple Bobbing

” * Late night reading in the garden of Hound of the Baskervilles.

” * All dog walks have to be after dark.

” * Build a garden monster out of what we can find lying around. Then leave it for nature (or the dog) to dispose. …

” * Eat the cookie/biscuit game. Put a cookie on your forehead and then without using your hands try to somehow get the cookie into your mouth and it’s the first person to eat the cookie wins.

” * Jelly Bean roulette. We have stocked up on some new flavours. Cat food, Snail, Earthworm, Earwax, Squid.

” * Make Pumpkin Chilli Soup. Even I can manage that.”

You can read this devoted dad’s blog here.

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Photo: Charlie Burrell/ Knepp Estate Castle
Longhorn cattle were chosen for a UK “rewilding” project as stand-ins for their extinct ancestor, the auroch.

Here’s a concept that was new to me: “rewilding” the countryside — that is, bringing the land back to an earlier and less developed state.

At the radio show Living on Earth, we learn that a UK couple was able to turn a large, unprofitable farm into a profitable one by letting the land go back to nature.

“BOBBY BASCOMB: When writer Isabella Tree and her husband, Charlie Burrell, inherited an estate in West Sussex, England, they assumed they would continue to farm as generations of family had before them. But the intensive agriculture of their predecessors grew increasingly difficult, and they decided that farming was no longer a viable option. So they began to mull over another idea: Give the land back to nature and let it take its course. Isabella Tree’s recent book is titled Wilding, and its the story of what happened to the land when they gave up farming and let nature take the reins. …

“ISABELLA TREE: We inherited this piece of land from my husband’s grandparents [in] the 1980s. And it had been intensively farmed for ever since pretty much the Second World War. [But] the farm was losing money hand over fist. [We] kept buying … bigger machines, throwing more pesticide, more fertilizer, more nitrates, built bigger dairies and changed our types of cows to more higher-milk-yielding cows. …

“We tried contract farming [and] sold all our farm equipment. It was a very, very black day. … Charlie’s ancestors have been here since the Nash castle was built two hundred and twenty or so years ago. It really isn’t for us an option to sell. [We’re] stewards of this land, and we can’t just sell up and move out. …

“BASCOMB: Well, how did you even come up with that alternative? I mean, for most farmers, I think it’s probably pretty counterintuitive to just let the land go. I mean, that’s not what you do as a farmer.

“TREE: It is a very, very difficult thing to do, you’re absolutely right. …

“BASCOMB: You talk a lot in your book about the importance of introducing herbivores. What animals did you introduce and why? …

“TREE: We had to introduce animals that we knew would be able to survive outside all year round without supplementary feeding, that would be able to fend for themselves even in a harsh or wet winter. So, we chose old breeds, we chose Old English Longhorn, wonderful cows with great white finching stripe down their backs and great big horns. And then Exmoor ponies, one of our oldest breeds of horse, they are fantastic at surviving, out in any landscape. Very, very hardy, indeed. And Tamworth pigs, another old breed that’s very closely related to Iberian swine. So, they’re the closest we felt that we could get with an English variety of pig to the wild boar. And then we had roe deer here already in low numbers. And then we introduced fallow deer and red deer. …

“BASCOMB: What does it look like? What does it smell like, even sound like, and how is that different from what you started with? …

TREE: When you walk around Knepp today is the sound of insects, for a start. On a day like this, it’s a hot, sunny day, you’ve just got the sound of crickets and grasshoppers, you’ve got bees, you’ve got hover flies, you’ve got every sort of insect out there. It’s thick with insects. If you go out there on a bicycle, you have to wear sunglasses or, you know, because you’re getting insects in your eyes. …

“This used to be the norm 50 years ago. But in the era of pesticides, we just don’t see insects anymore. So the sound of insects is astonishing. And then, of course you’ve got the bird song, surround sound bird song. Go out into the thickets, it’s sort of like the African scrub. … It’s a wonderful thing to be sitting in the middle of.

“But it’s a double edged sword because we now go on walks in other places in the UK, places where we always used to enjoy, you know, an hour or two to walk, and now we notice what isn’t there. And it’s that, it’s what Aldo Leopold called that sadness, that tragedy of having an ecological education. You know what isn’t there and what could be there, what should be there. …

“We literally haven’t introduced anything apart from the free-roaming animals. So, they’ve all found us on their own. [We] have 13 out of the 18 breeding species of bat in the UK. One of them called the Bechstein’s bat is so rare, it’s rare even in Europe. … We have Peregrine Falcons, we have them nesting in a tree. Usually you associate Peregrine falcons with cliffs and clifftops. They nest in steeples and cathedrals, but not in a tree. Nightingales are another species that is associated with woodland, but at Knepp they’re taking up territories our exploding hedgerows and our thorny scrub. And so they’re choosing a very different habitat because it’s suddenly available to them. So, it’s really changing the science books, we’ve forgotten that this is where nightingales love to be.

“And I think that’s one of the lessons from Knepp, is that we’re so used to seeing species in a very, very depleted landscape, that that’s where we think they want to be. But in fact, they’re often clinging on by their fingernails to habitat that just isn’t optimal for them. And where they’d much rather be is in the kind of habitat that we’re presenting for them at Knepp.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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Photo: Alight
The former American Refugee Committee, now called Alight, focuses on “doing the doable.” Alight maintains that when things seem impossible, there is always something good that can be done.

For many years, I’ve been a fan of the American Refugee Committee, now called Alight. Since the nonprofit took the new name and began to focus on “doing the doable,” I’ve enjoyed periodic news about its Changemakers.

Here is the story of a teacher who wanted to understand things firsthand. I will just point out that the term “refugee” is ordinarily applied to those who come here officially, having been screened by our State Department and accepted in advance. Now that the US is accepting so few, those of us who work with migrants are seeing more climate “refugees” and economic “refugees” — some documented, some not. This is the story of a guy who wanted to help them.

“Howdy! My name is Bill Boegeman, and I’m a high school social studies teacher in Forest Lake, Minnesota. Some of my students are from Central America – refugees now living in the U.S., many of whom made the journey to the States alone.

“Their stories are amazing – spending hours in cramped semitrailer trucks and trunks of cars, hiding from the Federales and narcotraficantes as they trekked across the Mexican desert. It’s difficult for me – and my other students – to imagine what these young people have been through, what hardships they have already endured, and the complexities they’re faced with now.

“So I wanted to go see for myself … and to try to make a difference, one day at a time.

“I traveled with Alight to the Rio Grande Valley, a vast area encompassing the southern border of Texas and parts of Mexico. In some ways, it feels a little bit like two countries living in one, cultures blended and economies interconnected. And now, Mexican-American communities are coming together with some incredible changemakers – Catholic Sisters, who Alight has recently partnered with – to serve the new waves of families who are searching for a better life.

“We began our work at La Posada Providencia, a migrant shelter just outside of San Benito, Texas. It’s a landing spot for many migrants released from detention centers with nowhere to go.

“Five years ago, Ángel was one of those migrants.

“After immigrating from Honduras and five months in detention, Ángel spent three months at La Posada where he was provided with a bed, regular meals, and mentoring services. Following a brief stint in Indianapolis, he returned to the shelter as a volunteer. Fast forward a few months and Ángel was converted into a full-fledged employee — the house cocinero — a position he still holds today.

“In addition to his cooking duties, Ángel helps to organize the shelter’s mochilas – to-go bags provided to clients who are ready to move on to their next destination. These bags include non-perishable food items, personal care products, a change of clothes, and other items that will help them along this next stage of their journey. It was here that we saw an opportunity.

“Over a lunch that Ángel prepared, La Posada’s current residents were able to provide us with ideas of items that would be useful to migrants in their mochilas as they depart the shelter for their next destinations. We landed on two primary items that we could provide: Spanish-to-English dictionaries and chapstick. While seemingly unrelated, these two things would be helpful to them in their future journeys (in the case of the chapstick, particularly those headed north). They were also absent from the supply closet on the La Posada premises.

“I asked Ángel what made La Posada Providencia such a special place. ‘It’s more than a shelter,’ he said, ‘It’s a house, a home, a family.’ ”

More at Alight, here.

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