Sunday, April 30, 2017

Louis de Wohl (1903-1961)

It is always surprising to me that as I get older I start to think of and remember what happened and what I learned at a very young age.  My parents spoke German at home between themselves, but never with me, yet I think I know more German now than I did then.  Obviously, we learn subliminally so why didn’t it work when I slept on my history book before a test?!

I had a wild friend at school (happily nothing illegal beyond speeding tickets) and my mother compared him to her best girl friend from Frankfurt, Ruth Lorch.  Although she later became a Lady Commander of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre (a Roman Catholic order of knighthood under the protection of the Holy See), she was still pretty crazy when I met her in the 1950’s.  She lived in England and I remember she always smoked cigarillos.  When she was told by U.S. customs that they were banned in the U.S. she said she would stop importing them when they produced them in this country, and they let her take them in … the good old days .

Her husband, Louis de Wohl, born Ludwig von Wohl, was a German Roman Catholic. He smoked large cigars and carried a stick sword, getting both into the country without problem.  I guess being before metal detectors, no one thought anything of the normal looking cane carried by this extremely large man, which came apart to reveal a very lethal long blade!



De Wohl’s parents were of Jewish ancestry so he left Germany when Hitler came to power and moved to England.   He was a prolific writer of novels in German and later on in English. Turned on to astrology at an early age, he developed a reputation as a skilled fortuneteller. 

There is still debate today whether Hitler believed in astrology or not but clearly it had an influence on his high command.  For this reason British Intelligence, MI5 Special Operations,  recruited de Wohl.  His predictions were used as a cover for the deciphering of Nazi orders after their Enigma code was cracked.  In 1941 De Wohl was sent to the U.S. to lecture to astrological societies and managed to get a great deal of publicity.  The FCC lifted a ban on astrology to air an exclusive interview of the man heralded as “The Modern Nostradamus”.  A Pathé newsreel report on his prophecies was claimed to have a viewership of 39 million.  He also had a newspaper column where he predicted Hitler’s moves.  What no one knew on our side of the pond was that many of his predictions were crafted by MI5.  They wanted to convince the Americans to join the war effort and de Wohl was a major propaganda weapon in that regard.


According to what de Wohl told my family after the war, he had advised Churchill personally as to what Hitler was going to do based on the astrological signs.  This was indirectly true since he told MI5 what he believed Hitler was being told by his astrologers.  What seems to be missing from his Wikipedia bio is that he became rather difficult to handle due to his bombastic style and desire to impress people, so he was slowly sidelined and watched by the intelligence service until 1945.


He became more religious after the war, and like his wife, whom he had married in 1953, was a Knight Commander of the order of the Holy Sepuchre.  According to Wikipedia, “In an audience with Pope Pius XII he was told to ‘write about the history and mission of the Church in the World.’  The Cardinal of Milan, Ildefonso Schuster, came to de Wohl after reading some of his writings telling him ‘Let your writings be good. For your writings you will one day be judged."   He started writing about the Saints and shortly after it was published he gave me his book on St. Joan, which I remember enjoying as a teenager, though I hadn’t expected to.   His best known work was “The Spear: A novel of the Crucifixion” which I remember my father reading.


A final remembrance, De Wohl knew how to entertain a child.  The first time he came to our house he asked my father for a pad.  Dad produced a letter size yellow pad.  I was told to put 5 dots anywhere on the page and Louis would make a picture out of them using 2 dots for the arms, 2 for the legs and one for the head.  Well, I knew how to trick him; I place 5 dots a centimeter apart.  He looked for a moment and made a tiny stick figure, which stood on a stage with an audience in front.  I know I kept it somewhere, unless of course, my mother way back when, tossed it with the newspaper I found in an abandoned Vermont house from the day after Lincoln was shot!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

I-Witness Culture

May I start out with a couple of generalizations that I will apologize for before hand.   Artistic talent tends to be passed down in Native American families from generation to generation.  As an even larger generalization, Native American artists tend to be more articulate about their art than their Anglo counterparts.  This is borne out by the painter Frank Buffalo Hyde.

My wife, Penelope Hunter-Stiebel, writes a regular column for El Palacio, the magazine of the new Mexico state museums, called “Why This?” and just finished a draft on a sculpture by Doug Hyde, called “Sharing Knowledge”,  that stands in front of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture on Santa Fe’s “Museum Hill”.  For her article she needed to measure the piece and since we were there we went into the museum for the exhibition of the paintings of the sculptor’s son, Frank Buffalo Hyde.   In fact, I had seen his work in galleries around town before and admired it.  All the pieces in the exhibition that I have illustrated are on loan from Tansey Contemporary.

Needless to say, much of Frank Buffalo Hyde’s subject matter revolves around the buffalo, but there was a lot else, and this show has little to do with that noble beast.  It is called “I-Witness Culture” and both the images and the text accompanying it left me with a lot to think about it.   In a recent issue of El Palacio the artist writes a brief article in which he thanks the museum for allowing him to co-curate the show, making this an even more personal exhibition and portrait of the artist.

Hyde’s thesis is that we miss viewing reality because there is always a recording device, most often the I-Phone, between the viewer and the subject matter.  He wrote “We don’t witness anything first hand any longer.  Our first reaction to anything that happens in real life is to record it.”  I must admit that I felt a pang of guilt at that moment because as soon as I saw the first painting in the show I photographed it and then its label.  So much easier that copying the label onto a pad and then having to ask the museum department for images which I may or may not receive in time for publication.   I had to admit that Hyde had a point, but, in my defense, I did always look at the image first because I would have to make the editorial decision later of which images would fit the story that I would write.


Hyde painted the picture above called The New New, 2017 as an introduction to his show in order to guide the viewer.  What is reality?  The dancers?  The viewer holding the I-Phone or the image in the phone?   He believes it is the new way of seeing.

Zombie Nation, 2016 is interesting to me since our son, Hunter, an actor and screen-writer has always been into this subject which I am still not sure I understand.  Clearly, however, it has been absorbed into the Native American culture as well.  Maybe it is our fascination with what comes next.


Just the Fax, 2017 seems to sum up the exhibition very nicely.  Before the iPhone and before we could send images by email, there was the fax machine.  I remember very well working on catalogs with our publisher in the early 1990’s when we were in Santa Fe and she was in New York.  Back then we relied on FedEx and the fax.


To end on a point of humor, which I choose to believe the artist meant, I am illustrating his Buffalo Burger Study, 2014 for which I will include the artist’s whole label, “Like Native Americans, the buffalo are often relegated to mythology of America’s past.  They have made a comeback in the last two decades, but only as a low-fat beef alternative”.  Sometimes the most poignant statements are couched in humor.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Ideal Board Member

Both the boards of directors that I currently serve on, a private foundation that revolves around a private collection of indigenous art and that of a theater and performance company are looking for new board members.  Of course, the question comes up all the time, who is our ideal board member.

Unfortunately, that person does not exist but every company with a board of directors continues the search with the desire to come as close as possible.  I have been on the boards and even an officer of various art dealer associations both domestic and international.  I have been on the boards of a couple of companies that made films about the arts and they all had the same question. 

Of course, all have slightly different goals but they all want energetic young people-- which I was when I was on my first board at 27 and am not now at 72!  The vast majority of these were looking to the dues from the entire membership and not board donations to keep them going.  The other day I had a discussion with a woman who had been on many boards of directors who said she was never on a board that did not ask their members to contribute.

Interestingly enough and not surprisingly the ones that did not ask for funds always ran into financial difficulties, but the ones that did also needed additional financial backing.  There has always been this strange attitude that the arts should have nothing to do with “filthy lucre”.  As the song from Cabaret goes, “Money makes the world go around”.   We have to remind ourselves that the shows need to be paid for.   So the ideal board member is one with funds to spare.


Though it changes from time to time we look for demographic balance on the board.  Still being in the age of feminism which started half a century ago we want to make sure there are enough women,. Though you might say that the fight for equality for the black population started 150 years ago in certain parts of the country we should have more blacks on our boards.  Where I live now in Santa Fe, New Mexico the same challenge exists but here it is to include Hispanics and Native Americans.  

The look of a board has not changed that much.  Here is and image of a meeting of a board of directors of the Leipzig-Dresden Railway Company Board of 1852.


A board of directors is chosen to establish corporate management related policies and to make decisions on major company issues. Most of the boards I have served on were not for profits.  They act similarly and the board also oversees the financial operations and maintains the legal and ethical standing of the organization and its staff.  I would further add that the board has to make decisions on the direction of the entity and offer expertise in various fields.  Therefore, one wants individuals who are specialists in certain areas such as law, finance and in many other areas as well.


There can be specific goals for a board.  It is not difficult to understand why the Museum of Modern Art’s board is formed mostly by major art collectors who are de facto wealthy and may some day donate their collections or parts thereof to the museum.

I often look around the room during a board meeting and say to myself why is there no one in the room who has more expertise in this field or that, or lament that the genius on the board is dead broke!

I am sure that I have missed many reasons for selecting or electing a board member but you can see the impossibility of finding an individual who can fit all the hoped for requirements.
This being the case, we need to seek out the best individual available at the time and place, then work on a wish list for the next member.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

Lensic Performing Arts Intern Program

The Lensic Intern Program was started in 2002 in order to offer the high school students in Santa Fe the opportunity to learn what goes into working back stage in a theater.  The current head of that program is Matt Sanford who joined as a student in its second year.  At the time he was in his junior year of high school, majoring in theater with the goal of becoming an actor. This program began to lure him away from the front of the stage to the back.  Every child must dream at one point or another of becoming an actor.  It looks so easy, and the fantasy is always attractive even after we grow up and call it dreaming!

Matt has now been working back stage for over 16 years.  At the Lensic he was recently promoted from Master Electrician to Stage Manager, all the while being director of the Intern Program.  He was kind enough to let me interview him and sit in on one of his classes.  He explained that he reaches out to all high schools within the Santa Fe school system, public, private and charter. He often has over 30 applications but only accepts somewhere between 8 and 12 students. This makes for a teachable class size, particularly when working in smaller spaces and in potentially dangerous situations.


The students come to the Lensic after school once a week at about 4:30 pm and stay until about 6:30. They do not get class credit.  Obviously, the course will look good on their CV and application for college and it is not something you would apply for if you did not think you were interested in the subject.  Sometimes, however, a student will find out the program is not what he or she thought it was and drop out.  For one thing, as I learned, it is not easy, mentally or physically. 

 The amount they learn is incredible.  In the syllabus that Matt sent me he introduced each subject with the words “Basic training/understanding”.  The meaning being that you should not expect to be expert and able to do everything after 2 hours training.  At the beginning of the program they are issued a pair of thick gloves, a multi-purpose tool and a lanyard on which to hang it.  Matt runs a tight ship and explains why, which is so much better than the teacher who says, “because I told you so”. Each class starts in front of a white board with an explanation of what will be reviewed.




The session I sat in on was about the fly rail high above the stage from where one works the Fly System. Ropes must be weighted and balanced to make back-drops, screens and the curtain go up and down. Matt was very careful to stress how dangerous it can be when one is not paying attention.  Each person manning these ropes needs to not only make sure nothing drops, but announce clearly to those below what they are doing.  This is particularly true when visiting troupes come through that are not acquainted with the Lensic stage.  When Matt showed his students damage done by a falling “brick” the weights that hold the rigs up, that made an impression!



At another session the students study the lighting board including proper installation, application of light fixtures and lighting design for different types of programing such as theater, dance and orchestra.  I quipped that if one mastered that ,one could probably maneuver a 747 plane.  The sound console is another piece of complicated equipment.  The students need to learn about microphones, cabling and speakers.  To learn all this there needs to be a basic understanding of electricity, which can also be very dangerous so they are taught safety procedures.



The students also get the opportunity to follow professional crew members for the larger shows.  If they stick with the program they can apply for a paid summer internship where they will actually assist on a show under the supervision of a professional.  A few come back for a second year.  I met one young woman, a second year student, who came in to reset the marquee for coming programs, a process that is still done manually.   Since the Lensic is a 1930’s land marked movie theater it seemed appropriate.

I asked Matt if he tracks the interns after they leave and he said he does.  He has their phone numbers and emails and, though Face Book is not his favorite place to spend his time, he does interact there as well.  In fact the Intern Program has its own Facebook page.

One of his students that he is particularly proud of has had his lighting design accepted at Carnegie Hall in New York as well as a number of Off Broadway shows.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Taiko - Kodo: Dadan 2017

I have given myself a new challenge.  How do you write about a visceral experience, one that vibrates through your whole body even after it is over.  This was the case the other evening when we heard the Kodo Taiko drummers’ troupe from Japan performing at the Lensic Theater in Santa Fe on their National tour.

In Japanese the word Taiko means any kind of drum.  In the U.S. we understand it to mean not just the Japanese drum but an art form of an  ensemble of Japanese drummers which is known in Japan as kumi-daiko.  The Kodo ensemble debuted at the Berlin Festival in 1981 and have been traveling throughout parts of Asia, Europe and North America ever since.

They started working on their Dadan  performance in 2007.  It was such a complicated piece that they were not sure that they could ever finish.   They did, however, and Dadan had its first performance in Paris in 2009.  This particular Taiko performance, which only uses the young men from the company, is incredibly powerful in every sense.


The word Kodo has two meanings in Japanese both "heartbeat," the primal source of all rhythm.   The great Taiko is thought to be reminiscent of a mother's heartbeat as felt from the womb, and babies are often lulled to sleep by its thunderous vibrations… In a different context it can mean, “children of the drum.”  If I counted correctly there were 14 drummer/dancers who would rotate and move across the stage with their drums no matter how large as if they were holding a child’s toy.

Heartbeat was definitely what I was feeling that night.  As a matter of fact I have an arrhythmia and I was thinking, why did I bother with my pills that evening. This was getting directly to me.   It is impossible to know the feeling without hearing the drums themselves and it is difficult to explain something one feels.  As they say an illustration is worth a 1,000 words so at least I can give you a small taste if not the actual experience with part of the performance from YouTube

Unfortunately, your computer or cell phone probably doesn’t give you any better audio than mine does, so you have to imagine yourself in an auditorium.  The Lensic has a capacity of 820 seats but I have been told it sounds just as incredible, if less intimate, in an auditorium of 2,500 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Amazingly, as loud, as it was it was not a jarring cacophony.

The Lensic is more than just a theater for film, shows, music and spectacles.  It is also a teaching institution and soon I will write about their training program.  They also bring in many school children for their first theater experience and the beams on the kids faces is worth the price of admission.  In the case of Kodo, however, the Lensic brought Kodo to the students at the Santa Fe Indian School.  I am guessing that the Native American kids were relating what they heard to the drums they might hear at a dance on their pueblos, thinking how different this was, but on some level the same.  Unfortunately, we could not get permission to show the students with the Kodo drummers but here are a few of the performers themselves at the school.