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On Sunday, I got to the Peabody Essex Museum early and decided to walk around Salem before going in to see the Thomas Hart Bentons. I thought I might take a look at the hotel where I stayed when DeAnna and Mairtin got married.

I hadn’t gone very far when what should I spy but some very strange constructions made of sticks. Turns out the sculptures, by Patrick Dougherty, were also a PEM exhibition: “Stickwork.”

From Dougherty’s website: “Born in Oklahoma in 1945, Dougherty was raised in North Carolina. He earned a B.A. in English from the University of North Carolina in 1967 and an M.A. in Hospital and Health Administration from the University of Iowa in 1969. Later, he returned to the University of North Carolina to study art history and sculpture.

“Combining his carpentry skills with his love of nature, Patrick began to learn more about primitive techniques of building and to experiment with tree saplings as construction material. In 1982 his first work, Maple Body Wrap, was included in the North Carolina Biennial Artists’ Exhibition, sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Art. In the following year, he had his first one-person show entitled, ‘Waitin’ It Out,’ in Maple at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

“His work quickly evolved from single pieces on conventional pedestals to monumental scale environmental works, which required saplings by the truckloads. Over the last thirty years, he has built over 250 of these works, and become internationally acclaimed. His sculpture has been seen worldwide—from Scotland to Japan to Brussels, and all over the United States.” More at http://www.stickwork.net.

Aren’t artists something? They just follow where it leads. Nobody gets them into windowless rooms to discuss strategy, goals, subgoals, benchmarks, measures, or evaluation.

Although, I suppose, if Dougherty started out in hospital management, he was subjected to lots of that sort of thing.

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Art: Thomas Hart Benton
One of my favorites: Spring on the Missouri, 1945, oil and tempera on Masonite panel. On loan to the PEM from the North Carolina Museum of Art.

 

 

When I was moonlighting as a theater reviewer, I always liked to “sleep on it” before writing anything, just in case my unconscious had anything useful to add.

Well, I slept on the big Thomas Hart Benton exhibition I saw yesterday, and sleep confirmed that certain lesser-known aspects of his work are troubling. I still adore the wavy energy of his landscapes, people, horses, trains, clouds, smoke, even fence posts. I still love the way Benton honors ordinary people and ordinary jobs and the way his paintings comment on social injustice.

But I really did not like the gruesome murals of invading armies that Benton created to jolt overly complacent Americans after Pearl Harbor. There was something cheap about them.

Of course, there was a lot more than that to the exhibition “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood,” a sweeping retrospective of most of the artist’s work: murals showing Indians or slaves being mistreated, paintings of the the vibrant life of the West and Midwest, detailed depictions of the inner workings of Hollywood sets, designs for the Henry Fonda version of The Grapes of Wrath, illustrations for an edition of Huckleberry Finn, posters touting the contributions of African Americans to the war effort.

The day before, I had been hearing about Irving Berlin’s dedication to the war effort, and I think these two different artists conveyed, more viscerally than I had previously experienced, the underlying fear prevalent at that time. Since I grew up after it was all over, I probably unconsciously assumed that everyone always knew the Allies would win.

Do go to the show at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. You have until September 7. An enormous array of Benton’s work has been gathered from near and far — and there are some intriguing movie clips. (I was moved by a character’s tears to put The Grapes of Wrath on my Netflix list.)

Details of the exhibition here, at the PEM website.

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While we’re on the subject, here are two more poetry events scheduled for spring.

Nancy writes, “Some of your readers may also be interested in the Massachusetts Poetry Festival, in Salem, May 1 – 3. Marge Piercy and Richard Blanco will be among the many well-known poets reading.”

She also notes that if you are near Providence in March, you may want to attend the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition for high school students. The statewide competition will be held at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, with 15 students from schools across Rhode Island reciting poems (by such people as Shakespeare, Mary Oliver, Robert Frost, etc.) in hopes of qualifying for nationals. Info here.

Another inspiring poetry competition for youth is the one depicted by the movie Louder than a Bomb, in which students compose their own poems and perform them. My husband and I were impressed by what the creative opportunity and the discipline did for some at-risk kids. You can get the movie from Netflix, which describes it thus: “Capturing the combined creative spirit of more than 600 Chicago-area teenagers who are participating in what’s billed as the world’s largest youth poetry slam, this documentary highlights the joy of language and the power of collaboration.”

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Late update 1/26/14
The Peabody Essex Museum gives only a limited number of tickets out daily to this show. It was sold out when I arrived at noon today. I think it will be great, but be sure you can get in before you go.

At the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, artist Céleste Boursier-Mougenot is working with a veterinarian and a curator, among others, to ensure that his untrained zebra finches enjoy themselves while performing on musical instruments for the public.

Geoff Edgers writes for the Boston Globe, “The French artist-musician is quiet … but his bandmates won’t shut up. They’re birds — 70 chirping, swooping zebra finches. And Céleste Boursier-Mougenot needs them.

“You see, the artist doesn’t use his fingers to play the Gibson Les Pauls mounted around a white-walled gallery at the Peabody Essex Museum. He depends on his winged collaborators to create the wash of power chords that have turned his installations into a sensation from London to New York City.

“ ‘I kind of feel a sense of amazement every time I see it,’ said Trevor Smith, a contemporary-art curator at the Peabody Essex, where Boursier-Mougenot’s sonic exhibition opens Saturday. ‘You’re hearing these extraordinary sounds, and they’re made by these birds. It’s both primal and very unexpected.’

“So do birds landing on guitars count as art? Yes indeed, according to critics around the world. Boursier-Mougenot has garnered rave reviews, particularly in London, where he staged a version of the piece at The Barbican Centre in 2010. ‘Hate Modern Art?’ a headline in the Telegraph read. ‘Guitar-playing exotic birds will change your mind.’ ”

More here.

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In case you don’t usually read blog comments and missed the ones on yesterday’s post, the owl poet sent word about two great poetry events coming up soon.

“Just a reminder to your readers that The Massachusetts Poetry Festival begins in Salem this Friday, April 20, and runs through Sunday, April 22. Go online to discover details and to register for a wide variety of sessions.

“Also, the Block Island Poetry Project is sponsoring a weekend on Getting Published, running Friday, April 27, through Sunday, April 29. For details, go to Block Island Poetry Project 2012.”

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The Boston Globe has been covering the arrival and treatment of injured Libyan fighters.

In the first installment, the Spaulding Hospital president expressed concern about making the wounded men comfortable in a new culture — especially as they were going to have to pass through Salem at Halloween. Salem, you know, is full of witches in October, and witches aren’t the half of it.

As Billy Baker wrote of the injured on October 30, “They took off from a desert and landed in a numbing rain with snow in the forecast. And then, if that weren’t strange enough, they were taken to Salem. On Halloween weekend.

“For the 22 Libyan fighters airlifted to Logan International Airport yesterday, the first of the injured to arrive in the United States for medical treatment after the overthrow of Moammar Khadafy’s government less than two weeks ago, it was a day of great joy and great culture shock.

“The injured men, who ranged in age from 17 to 46, were whisked away in ambulances shortly after landing …

“The men are here for treatment at the Spaulding Hospital North Shore facility in Salem, which has been preparing for their arrival by training staff in the customs and religious practices of the patients. A prayer room was being designed with the help of an imam; doctors and nurses will wear name tags in Arabic; and a team of translators trained in medical terms has been brought in to explain the medications and therapies.” Read more.

In a November 10 follow-up, the fighters praised their warm reception. “Lying in bed, the 37-year-old Naser said he is grateful for the opportunity to receive medical attention in the United States, and was surprised by the warm reception he has received.

“ ‘It has been a kind and very sincere welcome,’ said Naser. “It has changed completely my vision of America.’ ”

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