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Photo: Denis Y Suspitsyn/Anthony Barboza
Members
of the Kamoinge in 1973. The coalition of black photographers gave one another support and advice — and gave their subjects empathy.

A new exhibit at the Whitney in New York City highlights the art of some outstanding black photographers, a group that worked not just in New York but around the world.

Nadja Sayej reports at the Guardian, “In 1973, a group of 14 New York photographers huddled into a photo studio on West 18th Street in Manhattan, posing in front of a Hasselblad camera for a group shot authored by Anthony Barboza, who stands smiling in the picture.

“ ‘I remember arranging the lighting and then my assistant took the photo,’ said Barboza to the Guardian. ‘It’s a photo of a family. That’s what it is. A family photo.’

“It shows the members of the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of black photographers who formed in 1963 to document black culture in Harlem, and beyond, from live jazz concerts to portraits of Malcolm X, Miles Davis and Grace Jones, as well as the civil rights movement and anti-war protests.

“A selection of over 100 photos by the group are on view in a survey at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York called Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, which runs until 28 March. …

“The Kamoinge (pronounced kom-wean-yeh) collective all started in 1963, when a group of 14 black New York photographers came together to form a group, to trade skills and offer critiques to one another. They chose ‘Kamoinge,’ as it means ‘a group of people acting together’ in Kenya’s Gikuyu language. They worked to tell black stories by depicting black communities, from local neighbors to superstars, and saw their rise around the same time as the Black Arts Movement. Kamoinge photographer Adger Cowans, who is 84, always believed the group could show the truth of black lives, more so than an outsider. …

“ ‘When I wasn’t shooting commercial work in the studio, I was shooting out in the streets,’ … said Barboza. ‘We all learned from each other. They were my greatest mentors.’ …

” ‘I did a lot of portraits of black artists and musicians in my spare time,’ said Barboza who photographed Michael Jackson at 21, as well as James Baldwin and Gordon Parks. Nine of the 14 original artists are alive today, working and living in New York, including Beuford Smith, Ming Smith and Herb Randall. …

“As one of the group’s members Ray Francis said in 1982: ‘We were a group that stars fell on,’ and credit observational photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange as influences. Another member, Ming Smith, calls it: ‘Making something out of nothing. I think that’s like jazz.’

“The Whitney exhibition is organized into five sections, including one community-focused section, which details the day to day life of people in the city, at work, play and travel. Another section is focused on music, as jazz has been a prime influence in the group. …

“There are also sections devoted to abstraction and surrealism, civil rights, depicting figures in the movement, and one global section, focusing on African diasporic communities, as the photographers traveled to Cuba, Senegal and Jamaica to shoot, as well as the South. …

“Harlem-born photographer, Shawn Walker, one of the group’s founding members, is showing a photo depicting two dapper men in white suits and hats on Easter Sunday in Harlem, dated 1972. ‘I would go to the churches and after everyone came out of mass, I’d go to 125th Street to lurk at everyone hawking off all their new wares,’ he said. …

“ ‘I would hang out around Hotel Theresa, even now if you’re not doing anything and you hang out in that area, you’re bound to come home with some photos. Even if I’m coming home from shopping and I have an extra 30 minutes, I’ll grab a seat and watch people come by and start shooting.’

“It has been a tough year for Walker. ‘I caught the virus and lost a leg, but I’m alive,’ he says. …

“Ming Smith was the group’s first female member. She recently said in an interview: ‘Being a black woman photographer was like being nobody,’ explaining that: ‘It was just my camera and me. I worked to capture black culture, the richness, the love. That was my incentive. It wasn’t like I was going to make money from it, or fame – not even love, because there were no shows.’ …

“As Barboza says, the key to a good portrait is not necessarily technical savviness, but to convey emotion, a feeling. It isn’t about over-thinking anything. .. ‘There’s a quiet, spiritual feeling from the photographs,’ said Barboza. ‘It’s beauty. I call it “the eye dreaming.” ‘ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

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Photo: CNN “The Good Stuff”
Guy Stanley Philoche, seen here with his own work, has helped fellow artists survive the pandemic by buying their art.

No one can solve all the problems of the world, but if we each try to address a problem we see in our particular corner of the world, we can move civilization forward. In today’s story, an artist saw other artists struggling in lockdown and knew what he could do to help.

Alaa Elassar, writes at CNN’s “The Good Stuff,” “Painter Guy Stanley Philoche, a New Yorker known for his colorful textured abstract artworks, has spent more than $65,000 buying work from struggling artists affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Philoche, 43, has dedicated himself to seeking out artists from around the world who are unable to make ends meet and has so far purchased more than 150 artworks for up to $500 each. His own pieces sell for up to $120,000, according to Cavalier Galleries.

” ‘The art world is my community and I needed to help my community,’ Philoche told CNN. ‘People say New York is dead, but it’s far from that. There’s an artist somewhere writing the next greatest album. There’s a kid right now in his studio painting the next Mona Lisa. There’s probably a dancer right now choreographing the next epic ballet.’ …

“When the pandemic began to affect families across the country, many people found themselves unable to pay rent, afford WiFi for their kids’ distance learning, or even put food on the table.

“As the ability to afford the basic necessities slowly diminished, art became a luxury not many could splurge on. In turn, hundreds of thousands of artists and independent creators were left without an income stream in the midst of the chaos.

“One of these artists was Philoche’s own friend, who just had a baby and had lost his job because of the pandemic.

‘I told him, “Don’t worry, we’re New Yorkers. We’ve been through 9/11, the blackout, the market crash, we’ve got this,” ‘ Philoche said. ‘But he was scared, so I bought a painting from him to help him get through it.’

” ‘It was such a big deal for him at that moment, and that’s when I realized if he’s panicking like this, other artists are too.’ … So, Philoche took matters into his own hands.

“On March 20, he posted on Instagram a video asking artists who were feeling the effects of the pandemic to direct message him their work. Whenever he saw a piece he fell in love with, Philoche bought it and paid for it to be shipped to his East Harlem studio.

“Within months, artists from Los Angeles and Chicago to London and New Zealand — and even artists who were in prison — reached out to him with their stories and their creations. … ‘It meant a lot to me. I want to help as many artists as possible, to make sure they are able to buy groceries, or pay their rent, or get their kids diapers or formula.’

“For Tara Blackwell, an artist from Stamford, Connecticut, art is her sole source of income. The only way she can survive off her art is through showing her work to collectors at exhibits, galleries, and studio visits — all which stopped because of the pandemic. …

” ‘The struggle to make a living as an artist is something I’ve known from a young age. I’m used to the ups and downs, but this felt different. There were so many unknowns.’ …

“Philoche purchased ‘Free Speech’ for $500 from Blackwell’s ‘Corner Store’ series, in which she uses retro pop culture imagery from her childhood with graffiti influences and the incorporation of subtle social-political commentary. ‘His support meant the world to me at a time when things seemed really bleak.’ …

“When Philoche was 3 years old, his family immigrated to the US from Haiti with nothing to their name. ‘Leaving one country to come to another was difficult. I didn’t speak the language, I was awkward and weird and trying to find myself in a new country,’ Philoche said. ‘I learned the language by watching cartoons and reading comics, and found my voice by drawing Disney characters. It’s how it all started.’ …

“Philoche started off by sliding business cards under apartment doors and hopping from art gallery to art gallery in hopes of meeting interested collectors. ‘Fast forward twenty years, I’m in the game,’ he said. ‘But throughout those years, I had no one open a door for me. It was me going through the back door, the window, until I found a way in the room by myself. Now that I have a seat at the table and I actually have a voice, I vowed to myself to open that door for other artists.’

“After struggling for years to make a name for himself, the artist now has a philosophy: ‘Sell a painting, buy a painting.’ ”

More at CNN, here.

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Photo: Soul Fire Farm
Run by a collective of black, brown, and Jewish people, Soul Fire Farm works to end injustice within the food system and offers trainings for people of color to learn essential agricultural skills,

I’ve been reading a sad book by Sarah Smarsh called Heartland. It’s about generations of her family on a small Kansas farm, and the subtitle tells it all : “A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth.” So far she hasn’t said anything about today’s young people returning to the land with enthusiasm, which blog followers know is one of my interests. I’m into the chapter about giant agribusiness taking everything over.

But I know there are more stories out there offering hope for small, sustainable farming. Today’s story is about an upstate New York farm that focuses on helping black and brown people learn agricultural skills and fight food injustice.

From the radio show Living on Earth: “Leah Penniman is the co-founder of Soul Fire Farm and joins host Steve Curwood to discuss her new book, Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land, and her journey as a woman of color reclaiming her space in the agricultural world. …

“CURWOOD: Tell me a little bit about your journey falling in love with nature and farming, and how it has led you to create your book, Farming While Black.

“PENNIMAN: Well, nature was my only solace and friends growing up in a rural white town. … In absence of peer connection, I went to the forest and found a lot of support and love in nature. And so, when I became old enough to get a summer job, I [was] able to land a position at the Food Project in Boston, Massachusetts, where we grew vegetables to serve to folks without houses, to people experiencing domestic violence. And there was something so good about that elegant simplicity of planting, and harvesting, and providing for the community. That was the antidote I needed to all the confusion of the teenage years. …

“I feel connected to the whole ecosystem, but the plants are incredible. They have these secret lives that we can’t see, or even imagine. So take, for example, the trees of the forest, right? There’s a underground network of mycelium that connects their roots, and they’re able to pass messages and warnings. They pass sugars and minerals to each other through this underground network. And they collaborate across species, across family. And so, when we tune into that, I think we learn something about what it is to be a human being and how to live in community with each other in a way that if we’re not connected to nature, we sort of lose that deeper sense of who we are, who were meant to be.

“CURWOOD: Now, your book is not only a how-to guide for folks who are interested in pursuing a path similar to yours, but it also, well, it has some history, sociology, environmental lessons all wrapped up in this package. Why did you add those additional stories and information in with your guide, rather than it, well, having it be strictly a manual?

“PENNIMAN: Well, I wrote this book for my younger self. So, after a few years of farming, I would go to these organic farming conferences, and all the presenters were white. … In putting together this book, I was really thinking about myself as a 16-year-old and, all the other returning generation of black and brown farmers who need to see that we have a rightful place in the sustainable farming movement that isn’t circumscribed by slavery, sharecropping, and land-based oppression, that we have a many, many thousand-year noble history of innovation and dignity on the land. …

“The raised beds of the Ovambo and the terraces of Kenya, and the community-supported agriculture of Dr. Whatley, those are to remind us that, you know, we’ve been doing this all along, and we belong. …

“CURWOOD: You have a waiting list of people who want to come to Soul Fire Farm and learn how to do this? …

“PENNIMAN: This was something that just surprised me because I thought I was just a weirdo out here, I was going to start this farm with my family, grow food, provide it to those who need it most in the community. And that was going to be it. And I got a call our first year from this woman, Kafi Dixon in Boston who said, you know, through tears, I just needed to hear your voice to know that it was possible for a woman like me to farm, and that I wasn’t crazy, and that there’s hope. Right? And that was the first of thousands and thousands of phone calls and emails to come of folks saying, ‘I need to learn to farm, I want to do it in a culturally relevant, safe, space. I want to learn from people who look like me.’ …

“We’re living under a system that my mentor Karen Washington calls food apartheid. So, in contrast to a food desert as defined by the US Department of Agriculture, which is a high poverty zip code without supermarkets, right, a food apartheid is a human created system, not a natural system like a desert. … There are consequences to that. We see in black and brown communities a very high disproportionate incidence of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, even some learning disabilities, and poor eyesight. …

“CURWOOD: One of the most intriguing sections of your book Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land is this explanation of how you can clean up lead-contaminated soil, which you find in so many places in the urban environment. You have a very practical guide as to how you can use natural plants to chelate, that is, to remove lead from the soil, so that it’s safe to grow food there. I don’t think I’ve seen that anywhere else. …

“PENNIMAN: There’s an incredible plant, it’s an African origin plant called Pelargonium or scented geranium, and it’s a hyper accumulator. So, you can plant it, you acidify the soil, you plant it and it will suck the lead out and store the lead in its body. So, then you can dispose of that plant in a safe place. …

“CURWOOD: And what do you think people of color lost when we lost contact with the land?

“PENNIMAN: Certainly not all folks of color, right? Right now, about 85 percent of our food in this country is grown by brown skinned people who speak Spanish. And … it’s a belief in West African cosmology that our ancestors exist below the earth and below the waters, and by having contact with the earth we’ve received their wisdom and guidance. And with the layers of pavement, and steel, and glass, and the skyscrapers, it’s harder to feel that contact. … When folks come to Soul Fire and get their feet back on the earth, what I hear time and again is, I’m remembering things I didn’t know that I forgot.”

More at Living on Earth, here.

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I haven’t shared photos for a while. Some of these are from my last sad visit to New York, others are closer to home.

The first one makes me think of how hopeful I was on September 24th, when I arrived in New York and stayed with my sister’s devoted friend. I learned that my sister was doing better than the day before although she was still in the hospital. She was talking again and saying she wanted to carry on with treatment. We allowed ourselves a flutter of hope.

The bed is a Murphy Bed, made famous in old, silent movies, where someone like Charlie Chaplin might accidentally get closed up in it. This one was comfortable and not at all recalcitrant.

My hosts’ balcony had a glorious view. I sat there and had a cup of tea. I also took an early walk around their neighborhood, which features a statue of the Dutch director-general of the colony of New Netherland (now New York), “Peg Leg” Peter Stuyvesant. I couldn’t help wondering what the descendants of the Lenape natives thought of the statue.

Alas, the next day my sister took a dramatic turn for the worse and died the day after that. Miraculously, our brothers arrived in time from Wisconsin and California.

On days that followed, my sister’s husband, her friend, Suzanne, and I wandered around the city trying to enjoy nature and art and focus on good memories.

Then I took a bus back to Rhode Island, where I had left my car in a hurry. The rooster is in Rhode Island.

The concluding set of photos embraces art and nature back home in Massachusetts, where a long-life sympathy plant from my niece and nephew holds pride of place in the living room.

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092619.-Geo-Washington-Bridge-from-NYP-windowJPGI have been standing at the hospital window, eating granola and looking west at the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River as the sun comes up. On the far shore is a town where my siblings and I grew up. I remember when my baby sister came home from the hospital years ago. I got off the school bus and saw this tiny creature with a very red mouth sleeping by the front door in a cradle.

Hello, New Day!

I am with my sister. For her, there will not be many new days. She is in hospice. That is where the brain cancer called glioblastoma lands its victims more often than not. I am feeling so angry at this disease. I told the physician assistant that when you go on the web, it says the cancer is rare. Huh! Everyone I mention it to knows someone who has it or had it. The PA admitted they are seeing a lot of cases now.

No one seems to know what causes glioblastoma. Radiation was mentioned. But from what? Worse, no one knows how to cure it. “Let’s try this, let’s try that.” Some of the treatments provide a little respite.

Yesterday my sister’s latest cancer-related episode was diagnosed as pneumonia, and the amount of poking and fiddling and blood taking from now-invisible veins was just too much. Her doctor explained the situation and helped my sister and her husband come to the conclusion that glioblastoma was going to win against my lovely little sister very soon and that she’d rather be comfortable than poked and prodded to no avail.

So here we are. Our brothers have flown in. John and others have called. Suzanne got my husband to babysit so she could come by train. We’ll all be saying good-bye.

The cancer diagnosis was only one year and two months ago. One year and two months.

Anyone concerned about the increase of this and other mysterious brain cancers might want to find a brain cancer research center to give to. There is actually a ton of research going on, and perhaps surprisingly, all the centers seem to be collaborating. Something is bound to break through one of these days.

 

 

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I wanted to share recent photos from New York and Massachusetts. I’m always on the lookout for scenes that are either quirky or beautiful. In New York, though, my usual delight in the city was overshadowed by my sister’s difficult fight with glioblastoma, and I took only two shots of Central Park. Fortunately, Paul’s garden in Massachusetts provided a bit of Central-Park wonder close to home.

The handsome pig in Boston’s Greenway was sculpted by Elliott Kayser. The gentleman from the movie Titanic is made of wax. Do you know him? Had me fooled for a minute there.

The giant mural of swallows is the latest for Dewey Square. Artist Stefan “Super A” Thelen calls it “Resonance.”

At Three Stones Gallery, I shot the beautiful tree for my quilting friends. The artist is Merill Comeau. The soapstone sculpture next to it is by Elisa Adams.

Next you have two of my obligatory shadow pics, plus a message from a rock. Those are followed by four shots of Paul’s amazing home garden and grounds. (His day job is as landscaper of Boston’s most beautifully landscaped building.)

The bunch of ripe grapes peeps out from the display recognizing Ephraim Bull, originator of the Concord Grape.

You may recognize the location of my two early morning photos: the North Bridge at Minuteman National Park.

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Recently, I took a couple trips to New York to see my sister, who’s been having ups and downs with the brain cancer. We had decided to have a sibling gathering when the Midwest and West Coast brothers were in town with wives and several kids.

I’m not going to show you the group photo from our delicious Maialino lunch because my poor sister, despite feeling much better, is still horrifically bruised from tripping and getting a black eye. Falling is one of the biggest worries these days.

Instead I’ll share other pictures from my trips and explain any that need explaining.

In July, I took Amtrak from Kingston, Rhode Island, where there is a cute historic train station and, across the track, some interesting graffiti.

In New York, my camera was drawn to verbal images: Biblical messages chalked on the sidewalks, a port-a-potty pun for my collection, and outreach to immigrants (I saw the electronic kiosk message in Spanish and Chinese, too).

I also shot a giant balloon version of the city mascot (just kidding, it’s not the mascot) and one of the ubiquitous mini gardens planted around street trees. I especially admired the gardens that managed to do without the “curb your dog” signs because they completely spoil the charm. But how do people protect the plantings otherwise? I wondered. Do the doormen rush out and chase away dogs? Is there a spray deterrent that dogs hate? Some successful mini gardens used higher fences.

A large and glorious volunteer-maintained series of gardens in Riverside Park proclaimed a different kind of success with its clouds of delirious, happy butterflies, like the butterfly below. Red Admiral? Not sure.

Olmstead’s tinkling waterfalls in Central Park make me delirious.

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For the princely sum of $10 a year, a New York senior — my sister, for example — can visit a serene rooftop flower garden any day in the week. And the public can come for free on Sundays.

We made a pilgrimage to the Lotus Garden last Thursday, and it was delightful. The only people who were there at the time were two nannies and two toddlers.

Here is some history from the website. “Once upon a time back in the 1960s, two grand old movie theaters (the Riverside and Riviera) stood on the west side of Broadway, north of 96th Street. Eventually the theaters closed, the building fell into disrepair and was demolished — leaving an empty lot. Would-be gardeners in the neighborhood took over, planting a riot of flowers in the ‘Broadway Gardens,’ while the local politicians, realtors and bankers squabbled over the future of the lot. (Would an Alexanders department store serve the community better than an apartment house?) In the face of fierce community opposition a number of development projects fizzled.

“Determined Upper West Siders organized; local block associations joined the gardeners, along with the City Planning Commission, Community Board 7, and the Trust for Public Land, among others. Out of this emerged a committee, spearheaded by community activists Carrie Maher, a horticulturist, and Mark Greenwald, an architect, which worked with would-be real estate developer William Zeckendorf Jr. on the project for more than a year, persuading him to translate this neighborhood green space into an amenity that would enhance his building’s charm and value.

“Zeckendorf built stairs to the roof from a gate on the street; a cherry picker lofted 3-1/2 feet of topsoil onto the garage roof. Then Carrie and Mark, who headed the garden, laid out winding paths, installed two fish ponds and planted fruit trees and flowering shrubs. At last in the spring of 1983, a group of local residents, including new residents of the Columbia, began to plant flowers and herbs beneath the north facing windows of the Columbia’s tower.  Today 28 families tend garden plots there.  Thus the Lotus Garden, a community garden, came to be built on the roof of the garage of the Columbia condominium, on West 97th Street in Manhattan.” See pictures of the development stages here.

The only drawback I can think of is that the space is not wheelchair accessible. But if you can climb stairs, you are in for a treat. Here are the pictures I took. The peaches on the tree had just started to ripen.

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When in New York, I like to walk from the Upper West Side to Central Park in the morning. I often walk east on the West 101 Street path that goes past the Frederick Douglass Houses. On the right is a playground and a popular little swimming pool (three feet deep, lifeguards provided), and on the left is a big field for sports and an empty lot converted to a garden.

When the garden fence was open recently, I stopped in and talked to Jae the gardener, whose passion for growing and feeding people is an inspiration.

Jae says she used to overthink food shopping, experiencing a kind of paralysis in the market as she asked herself, Where was this fruit grown? Who grew this vegetable? Were they paid a fair wage? Were pesticides used?

But she found her calling when she started growing her own food. First she helped gardeners by learning to compost, and she is still crazy about the whole idea of composting. “That’s where I come from as a gardener. I love worms!”

A full-time volunteer, Jae is eager to show visitors around the converted tennis-court farm. The garden has been built on top of the court, starting with piles of compost. Although her partner organization, Project EATS, notes the garden is not an official production farm this year, Jae sells some produce in hopes of saving up to hire a Haitian neighbor as a full-time gardener at some point. (“I don’t speak Haitian, he doesn’t speak English, but we both speak Farm.”) She gives half to the partner organization.

Jae has a completely organic approach (no pesticides or herbicides), and she expresses a feeling of awe at how nature works without such interventions. She shows how Mother Nature has let her plants flourish despite the views of “schooled farmers” that there was inadequate sun in that space.

When I told Jae I come to the city to visit my sister, who has cancer, she said my sister should come enjoy the garden’s healing aura and should bless the plants by breathing out carbon dioxide to help them grow.

I left Jae hand-removing squash borer eggs. (“Look how symmetrically they are laid! Isn’t it beautiful?) As beautifully as those eggs are laid, she knows she has to destroy them to protect the squash plants. Follow Jae on Instagram, @growwithjae .

Jae’s partner organization describes its own mission thus: “Social inequalities lead to health inequalities and ill-being in our communities. They affect our access to fresh food, life expectancy, physical and mental well-being, quality of education, employment opportunities. income, and share of public resources. They shape our behavior and expectations, and what we perceive and believe is possible for our communities, our society, and us.

“To achieve its mission of a fair society, Project EATS is a neighborhood-based project that uses art, urban agriculture, partnerships, and social enterprise to sustainably produce and equitably distribute essential resources within and between our communities. Especially those where people live on working class and low-incomes.

“To do this, we bring diverse neighbors together to take agency over the use of land in their neighborhood, provide the infrastructures and support for a community to develop their resources into productive spaces. We share knowledge and skills that support the ability of people to turn these relationships and resources into sustainable social enterprises employing community residents and stimulating local economies.”

Note the happy sunflower, one of several that Jae rejoices in, especially as she was told there was not enough sun to make gardening worthwhile in that space.

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I’m in New York for a few days to spend some time with my sister and brother-in-law. They indulged me in a trip to the Cloisters, an amazing castle that is part of the Metropolitan Museum. I hadn’t been there since childhood, when my family went to see the Medieval tapestries, especially the unicorn tapestries.

The Cloisters are way up north in the Washington Heights part of Manhattan, and it was a little challenging to get there. We decided not to take public transportation as my sister’s cancer has slowed her down somewhat. The taxi driver said that in his 35 years of driving a cab, he had never been to the Cloisters. But he seemed pleased to learn about it.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say. “The Cloisters museum in Fort Tryon Park in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York City, specializes in European medieval architecture, sculpture and decorative arts, with a focus on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Governed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it contains a large collection of medieval artworks shown in the architectural settings of French monasteries and abbeys. Its buildings are centered around four cloisters—the Cuxa, Saint-Guilhem, Bonnefont and Trie—which were purchased by American sculptor and art dealer George Grey Barnard, dismantled in Europe between 1934 and 1939, and moved to New York. They were acquired for the museum by financier and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, Jr. …

“The museum’s building was designed by the architect Charles Collens, on a site on a steep hill, with upper and lower levels. It contains medieval gardens and a series of chapels and themed galleries. …

“It holds about 5,000 works of art and architecture, all European and mostly dating from the Byzantine to the early Renaissance periods, mainly during the 12th through 15th centuries. The varied objects include stone and wood sculptures, tapestries, illuminated manuscripts and panel paintings. … Rockefeller purchased the museum site in Washington Heights in 1930, and donated it and the Bayard collection to the Metropolitan in 1931.”

We had a beautiful day and enjoyed walking around indoors and outdoors, listening in on guided tours and taking pictures. More here.

Update: I just added my brother-in-law’s photo of a beautiful Madonna, carved in wood. He was drawn to her because she looked so contemporary and because the weight of the world seemed to be on her shoulders. (The carved Baby Jesus didn’t survive intact through the centuries.)

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Photo: Matthew Perlman
“Pamplona has the running of the bulls; the Upper West Side has the running of the goats,” says New York’s West Side Rag.

I’m in need of a silly story today. The kind of silly that just makes a person feel better about things. This story concerns a nature-friendly initiative to get the grass cut in Riverside Park while entertaining the locals.

The West Side Rag reports, “Twenty-four goats from the Hudson Valley were released into the not-so-wild [recently] and ran from their truck onto a weed-choked hill in Riverside Park that will be their home for the summer.

“There were more than 1,000 people there to greet them.

“It was like the Fresh Air Fund in reverse (maybe the dirty air fund?). The goats immediately started snacking on weeds. …

“Mildred Alpern sent photos and the following account: ‘Cheering and clapping crowds and luminaries were on hand to [welcome] the 24 goats into Riverside Park at Riverside Drive and 120th Street this morning. Riverside Park Conservancy employees guided the goats as they strutted and galloped along the path to the grassy and hilly enclave where they will reside until the end of August. Beribboned and numbered, the goats behaved like New Yorkers – confident, casual, and cool.’ ” More here.

The Riverside Park goats even eat the poison ivy. I wouldn’t mind having friends who do that! You can search this blog on “goats” to find other examples of four-footed weed control. I also posted here about the Basilica of St. Patrick on New York’s Prince Street, which used sheep as lawn mowers last year. If you know of similar examples, do share the details.

Hat tip: Gloria K.

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Today I wrapped up my latest visit to New York, where I spent time with my sister and her husband. The city was great in both rain and sunshine. I loved every minute spent in Central Park — amazing at all times of year, but especially in spring. I also enjoyed an exhibit of JRR Tolkien’s art and letters at the Morgan Library (available only until May 12) and my visits with a number of my sister’s friends.

The first picture is of dawn on the Upper West Side. Next are flowering trees near the West Side Community Garden, followed by photos of the garden itself. How terrific to see that much prime real estate being used in this way!

I photographed the Tolkien poster, but no picture-taking was allowed inside the actual exhibit, alas. Tolkien was a fascinating artist as well as a writer of fantasies like The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Among the works shown at the Morgan were the illustrated letters from Father Christmas to Tolkien’s children, which I showed you in 2018, here.

The concluding pictures are from Central Park. I can’t get over what an artist the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead was to create so many diverse vistas showcasing nature, never disrupting it. There are wonderful rock formations, hills and valleys, grottoes, woodland paths, waterfalls, streams …

It’s also impressive to observe how residents and city government alike use and cherish the park these days. I remember a time when I wasn’t supposed to go near it when walking my aunt’s corgi in the morning. Nowadays, the mornings are filled with bikers, walkers, runners, dogs — and the lucky people whose work commute is on foot through all that beauty.

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Image: Green Tara Protectress from Eight Fears; Tibet; 19th century; Pigments on Cloth; Rubin Museum of Art; Gift of Shelley and Donald Rubin. The Eight Fears are 1) water, (2) lions, (3) fire, (4) snakes, (5) elephants, (6) thieves, (7) false imprisonment and (8) ghosts.

When I was in New York this week visiting my sister, she suggested we go to the Rubin Museum on West 17th St. She told me that the museum, which opened in 2004, was notable not only for the founders’ Himalayan art collection but for its peaceful aura.

It really was a treat. Here’s what the website says about the current exhibit. “Gateway to Himalayan Art introduces visitors to the main forms, concepts, and meanings of Himalayan art represented in our collection. A large multimedia map orients the visitors and highlights cultural regions of a diverse Himalayan cultural sphere that includes parts of present day India, China, Nepal, Bhutan, and Mongolia. …

“In addition to sculptures and paintings, objects such as a stupa, prayer wheel, and ritual implements demonstrate that their patrons sought the accumulation of merit and hoped for wealth, long life, and spiritual gains, all to be fulfilled through the ritual use of these objects and commissioning works of art.

“Among the featured installations are a display that explains the process of Nepalese lost-wax metal casting and a presentation of the stages of Tibetan hanging scroll painting (thangka).”

At the base of the museum’s circular stair we encountered male and female lions with fire (I think) flaming from their mouths.

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There was also an interactive table on which we were bidden to type our “intentions” (for the visit or perhaps for our lives). When we hit “enter,” our phrases whooshed up toward the ceiling, joining the flow of little star-like lights and other visitors’ “intentions” on the underside of the spiraling stairs. I typed “find light in shadow,” and my sister typed “experience peace.”

From the impressive collection we learned about the interconnection of Buddhist and Hindu culture and imagery. Among the highlights was a recreated Tibetan shrine where butter lamps were burning and visitors were enveloped in the deep, deep voices of monks chanting.

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There were also two excellent art recreations, one showing how artisans make a sculpture (the museum hired contemporary artists in Nepal to create the different stages of the process to be displayed in a glass cabinet) and the other demonstrating the steps for making a painted cloth hanging, a thangka. At first my sister was puzzled by the hanging’s label because it said “2014,” and all the other labels had ancient dates!

She, in turn, showed me an amazing thing that I had passed right by. It was a kind of virtual-reality video of what the houses of the Buddhist gods might look like, but the most amazing part came when the video swooped in on an aerial view. By George, a mandala! A mandala can be an aerial view of the houses of the gods. Probably other people know that, but I didn’t.

Here is a mandala that Melita showed me in process at MIT a few years ago. Colored sand was painstakingly dripped on a floor space by a visiting monk.

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Photos: Agata Poniatowski
Oyster shells from restaurants get taken to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor to be used in fighting erosion. Billion Oyster Project has collected more than 1 million pounds of oyster shells so far. 

I go to poetry readings at the local library, and inevitably in the question period, someone in the audience asks the poet, “How do you get your ideas?” (This is a question poets expect, and they always have a ready answer. Watch for the deer-in-the-headlights look if you ask a question they don’t expect.)

But I’m not sure any of us really know where we get our ideas. There is something mysterious about the way individual brains connect connect things heard, seen, smelled, touched, tasted with their individual experiences.

Today’s story is about shoring up an eroding harbor with recycled oyster shells. The idea to use oysters this way comes from years of research and contributions from many people. But, according to the report at National Public Radio (NPR), an idea for extending the benefits came from kids. Read on.

Andrea Strong reports, “Across New York City, more than 70 restaurants are tossing their oyster shells not into the trash or composting pile, but into the city’s eroded harbor. It’s all part of Billion Oyster Project‘s restaurant shell-collection program. …

“The shells are trucked over to Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood and once a month are brought en masse to Governors Island in the heart of the New York Harbor, just yards away from both Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. There, rolling shell hills sparkle in the sun while ‘curing’ out in the elements for one year, a process that rids them of contaminants.

“The shells then get a final cleaning and are moved to Billion Oyster Project’s hatchery at the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island that offers technical and vocational training in the marine sciences. In an aquaculture classroom’s hatchery, student-grown oysters produce larvae in an artificially induced springtime environment.

“In one to two weeks, each larvae grows a ‘foot’ — a little limb covered in a kind of natural glue — and then is moved to a tank full of the ‘cured’ restaurant shells, which serve as anchors for all of those sticky feet. This phase is critical: If larvae can’t find a place to attach, they die. One reclaimed shell can house 10 to 20 new live oysters, depending on shell size. …

“If the water is warm enough, mature oysters are moved to a reef structure — a cage or shellfish bag — that provides a stable area for oysters to fuse together and create a healthy reef in the New York Harbor.

“Then, the oysters begin doing what oysters do — which, it turns out, is quite a lot. Oysters are natural water filters; each one cleans 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. They also provide food and shelter for all sorts of marine creatures, supporting biodiversity. …

“Oyster reefs can protect against a hurricane’s wave velocity, which can destroy a city’s infrastructure. The New York Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery has partnered with Billion Oyster Project to install oysters on its $74 million Living Breakwaters Project, which aims to reduce and reverse erosion and damage from storm waves, improve the ecosystem health of Raritan Bay and encourage environmentally conscious stewardship of nearshore waters. …

“Brian Owens, who goes through about 20,000 oysters a week at his restaurant, Crave Fishbar, … says the project is not just smart for sustainability; it’s also good for business. Recycling shells significantly reduces carting expenses, something all NYC restaurants must pay for by the bag. ‘Recycling them into the reef is a huge savings,’ he says.

“In addition to saving on garbage collection, restaurants may soon be eligible for a tax credit thanks to New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. The credit is a much needed balm for restaurants that have been hit with escalating costs and increasing regulatory burdens over the past few years. …

“The idea came from neither restaurants nor Rosenthal, but from students at one of Billion Oyster Project’s partner schools, West End Secondary on the Upper West Side.

“Rosenthal championed their idea, building support for the bill and bringing the students to Albany to learn about lawmaking and to participate in a press conference.

“Education of the next generation of environmental stewards has been at the heart of Billion Oyster Project since its inception in 2008, when [Billion Oyster Project Executive Director Pete] Malinowski was teaching aquaculture at the Harbor School. …

“Fifteen years later … that classroom program has grown into Billion Oyster Project and now includes programming in more than 80 middle and high schools. That works out to about 1,215 high school students and more than 6,500 middle school students. …

” Through this work, students develop awareness and affinity for the resource and the confidence that comes from knowing their actions can make a difference. With young people who care, the harbor has a real fighting chance,’ ” says Malinowski.

More.

Sending 422 oyster reef structures into the Hudson River to protect and purify New York Harbor.

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Photo: CBSLocal
New York City hopes that donating reusable water bottles to high school students will make some advocates for reducing waste. The campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.

After reading an inspiring book called Climate Justice, I signed up at the website 1 Million Women to get ideas for reducing my carbon footprint. One thing the site suggests is to boycott fruits and vegetables that have unnecessary packaging. You know, like those Japanese pears in plastic foam holders. Such gestures are small, but they add up if a lot of people pursue them.

In New York, meanwhile, schools are trying to wean students from plastic water bottles by giving them nice reusable ones.

CBSLocal reports, “After a recent push to ban plastic bags, straws, and bottles in New York, some local leaders are working to get the city’s high school students involved. …

” ‘When you think about it, you’re not gonna be wasting all that plastic,’ [student] Daisy Palaguachi said.

“More than 320,000 bottles made by S’well were donated to all New York City high schools throughout all five boroughs [in September].

” ‘The goal is really to extend our mission to rid the world of plastic bottles and we couldn’t help but think the best way to do that is to tap into the city’s future leaders,’ S’well Vice President Kendra Peavy said.

“The company partnered with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Office of Sustainability for the new ‘Bring It’ campaign. They’re asking students to ditch the plastic and spread the word to their families and friends.

“ ‘To empower them with actual tools that they can bring and take to make better and more informed decisions,’ Mark Chambers, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said.

“The city says its goal in doing this is to try and get rid of 54 million single-use plastic bottles.

“ ‘About 167 water bottles are used by the average American every year, and so it’s important to say by using a reusable water bottle we could displace that many from going into the waste stream every year,’ Chambers said. …

“ ‘Knowing that you’re making a small change can turn into something bigger in the future,’ student Alexandra Capistran said. ‘You don’t have to spend all your money buying water bottles every day.’

“Sunset Park High School now also has a newly installed water bottle filler for that very purpose. … The bottles donated [would have cost] $19 to $35, and the campaign is part of the city’s ultimate goal of sending zero waste to landfills by the year 2030.”

More at CBS, here.

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