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Posts Tagged ‘world war I’

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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Early last month, an unusual tribute took place at Waterloo Station, London. How I would have liked to be there and see return to life the soldiers who died in the devastating Battle of the Somme in World War I!

Charlotte Higgins at the Guardian describes what the event was like.

There “were about 20 young men, immediately conspicuous because they were dressed in the dull-green uniforms of the first world war. They were just there: not speaking, not even moving very much. Waiting, expressionless, for who knows what.

“A small crowd gathered, taking photographs. A woman caught the eye of one of the men. She tried to speak to him. Without speaking or dropping his gaze, he pulled a small card out of his pocket and handed it to her.

 

‘Lance Corporal John Arthur Green,’ it read. ‘1st/9th Battalion, London Regiment (Queen Victoria’s Rifles). Died at the Somme on 1 July 1916. Aged 24 years.’

“There were similar scenes across the UK. … They gathered on the steps of the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow. They smoked roll-ups outside Bristol Temple Meads and marched, metal-tipped boots ringing, through Manchester Piccadilly. They stood in clumps by the entrance to Queen’s University, Belfast, and sat on the market cross in Lerwick, Shetland. …

“The event, which unfolded without advance publicity, can now be revealed as a work by Jeremy Deller, the Turner prize-winning artist …

“The participants were a volunteer army of non-professional performers, including social workers, farmers, security guards, farmers, shop assistants, students, labourers, flight attendants and schoolboys. All were sworn to secrecy, and rehearsals took place across the country over the past months. Deller worked with Rufus Norris, the artistic director of the National Theatre in London, and theatres throughout the UK to train the volunteer army.” More.

Photo: Alicia Canter for the Guardian
Soldiers at Waterloo station, London. Each represents a real person who died in the Battle of the Somme.

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OK, it’s not really a totem pole, but I was afraid the word kopjafa wouldn’t ring any bells with readers.

Today at church we dedicated a wooden pole that was carved by the minister of our sister church in Transylvania when he visited Massachusetts last year.

A translated Wikipedia entry says that, originally, two kopjafa poles were to used to carry a coffin to a cemetery. The poles were then placed at the head and foot of the mound. But according to my minister, nowadays kopjafa poles are set outside churches and, as in our case, sometimes given to a partner church.

The minister read the poem below as he spoke about our church’s connection to Transylvanians of the (almost) same religion. The subject is a little sad for what we do at Suzanne’s Mom’s Blog, but it fits with our previous discussions about the value of preserving language and customs in minority communities. (Hungarian Transylvania was handed over to Romania after World War I, and has had some challenges, starting with language challenges.)

“Leave, if you can …
“Leave, if you think,
“That somewhere, anywhere in the world beyond
“It will be easier to bear your fate.
“Leave …
“Fly like a swallow, to the south,
“Or northward, like a bird of storm,
“And from high above in the wide skies
“Search for the place
“Where you can build a nest,
“Leave, if you can.
“Leave if you hope
“Against hope that homelessness
“Is less bitter abroad than at home.
“Leave, if you think
“That out in the world
“Memory will not carve new crosses from
“Your soul, from that sensitive
“Living tree.”

Read about the poem’s author, Hungarian poet Sandor Remenyik, here.

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An Imperial Elegy
by Wilfred Owen

Not one corner of a foreign field
But a span as wide as Europe;
An appearance of a titan’s grave,
And the length thereof a thousand miles,
It crossed all Europe like a mystic road,
Or as the Spirits’ Pathway lieth on the night.
And I heard a voice crying
This is the Path of Glory.

@-> @-> @->
Born in Shropshire, England, poet Wilfred Owen is best known for telling the truth of what he saw in World War I, a war joined too lightheartedly by many of his countrymen 100 years ago. He  died at the Sambre-Oise Canal a week before the Armistice was signed.

Read more about Owen here.

Photo: Suzanne’s Mom
Azalea moving to the next phase

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We watched a lovely thing on PBS recently, an opera about the Christmas armistice in World War I. You have probably heard of it. The combatants decided to take Christmas off. A movie was made about it, taking a few liberties with the story. Then the Minnesota Opera Company commissioned  composer Kevin Puts to write an opera based on the movie.

From the composer’s website: “Silent Night is an opera in two acts by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell, based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, directed by Christian Carion and produced by Nord-Ouest Production. Commissioned by Minnesota Opera with co-producer Opera Company of Philadelphia, it opened on November 12, 2011 at the Ordway Theater, St. Paul Minnesota … The opera is sung in English, German, French, Italian and Latin.

The interplay of the five languages was charming, especially when the German officer translated English into French and French into English so the three main officers could understand one another.

Read Allan Kozinn’s comments about this Pulitzer Prize winner at the NY Times ArtsBeat blog, here.

I will say that, delightful as it is to see the soldiers put down their arms and show each other pictures of loved ones back home, it makes the misery and futility of war doubly painful as the men are ordered back to battle and the camera pans over the lifeless bodies and the very young faces.

Peace is something to think about at Christmas. Ordinary people just want to live in peace.

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Photo of Patricia McCarthy: Agenda

The editor of a small poetry journal in England was desperate for money to keep the magazine going, so she entered a poem of her own in a contest — and won.

The poem came straight from her mother’s memories of World War I. WW I poems — mostly written by young men in service who never came home — are some of the saddest ever composed.

At the Guardian, Alison Flood has the story on Agenda editor Patricia McCarthy’s win.

“McCarthy, who has published several poetry collections of her own, beat 13,040 other entries to win the anonymously-judged prize. Her winning poem, ‘Clothes that escaped the Great War,’ tells of the plodding carthorse who would take boys away to war, and then return, later, with just their clothes. ‘These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes / piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone,’ writes McCarthy. …

“McCarthy said winning the £5,000 prize was ‘just extraordinary.’ “I’ve never even won a raffle. I don’t go in for competitions – the only other time I did was decades back, when I got runner-up,’ she said. ‘But I’m really down on my finances – I edit Agenda, and was really struggling, and thought this was probably better than a gamble on the horses.’ ”

More.

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