Sunday, January 29, 2023

Murals Destroyed For Their Message

I have written about murals before as the subject is close to home here in Santa Fe where a multicultural celebration by a Hispanic artist was taken down because the Art Museum found it went against the modernist aesthetic of the new contemporary branch … though other excuses were found, of course!

With a history that can be traced back 30,000 years to cave paintings, today’s murals have often become community centerpieces bringing people together to celebrate the heritage and history of their home. At least that is the hope for the mural of Martin Luther King in Syracuse, New York, commemorating his 1961 visit to Syracuse University. Painted by local artist, London Ladd, it incorporates King’s words and is adjacent to a mural of abolitionist Frederick Douglas. Public Images like this are meant to evoke discourse and communication but many in this country want to curtail this kind of discussion under the guise of protecting children from upset about their history.

What about murals that are destroyed because of their specific content?

What prompted me to look into this was a brief article from NPR about a student who painted a mural on the wall of the Child and Adolescent Health Center at Grant Middle School in Michigan, intending it to be a sign of welcome for all. Instead, parents felt that the work was promoting Trans and Gay propaganda because of colors associated with LGBTQ flags used in the clothing of the children depicted. One objector believed he also saw the devil in a mask from a video game which he found to be “discrimination against Christian beliefs”.  You decide...

In the 1930’s a Russian Immigrant artist, Victor Arnautoff, who had been an assistant to Diego Rivera, painted a 13-panel mural of the Life of George Washington. It was created for the eponymous high school in San Francisco. Some of the panels depicted violence against Native Americans and slaves that Washington had owned. For several years there was much debate and in 2019 the school board decided to take on the estimated $845,000 project of covering up the offending panels so as not to upset the children. A segment of our society wishes to bury the idea that slavery ever existed in this country. Maybe they don’t realize that slavery existed all over the world and in certain places persists today. Those who wanted their children to learn from history and not repeat it protested, saying this was analogous to book burning. In a June 23, 2022, New York Times article, Zachary Small reported that with a new School Board the decision was reversed.

Sometimes there are discussions about what the disposition of a mural should be and sometimes people take matters into their own hands. After the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers it is estimated that around the world 2,700 pieces of street art were created to commemorate the event. Many were defaced by protesters.

Here is an example of a similar but little-known defacement motivated by discrimination and hate. In Memphis Tennessee in 2022 a year the rapper Adolph Robert Thornton better known as “Young Dolph” was slain at a local bakery by 3 men putting 22 bullets in his body. The IdaMae Family Foundation, founded by the family of the rapper distributes food and clothing to the needy. To celebrate his life for what would have been Dolph’s 37th birthday, the Foundation commissioned a black artist, Cameron Hill, to do a mural on a wall of a shopping center where Young Dolph had made his best-known music videos. The artist was harassed and even threatened on account of the mural and ultimately the mural was defaced by the haters just before it was to be officially unveiled.

When will people learn that not only is this behavior reprehensible, whether by individuals or a committee, and that it only gains sympathy for the artists and notoriety for the work. In the meantime we stand to lose works of art through which we might have learned to come together as a community.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Stop With The Selfies

As I start this Missive, I am totally conflicted on the issue I am about to discuss, and I am seriously interested in what others think.

In an article first published in Hyperallergic a museum guard, Dereck Stafford Mangus, who worked at several American museums over two decades recounted his experience of the changes in the attitude toward photography in museums. When he started out as a guard at the Harvard Art Museums you had to sign in at the reception desk to get permission to photograph and wear a sticker of some sort to show that you were legit. Now photography is even encouraged in museums, though still with instructions that protect the art such as no flash photography.

He urged people to stop with the selfies and put down their phones and look at and enjoy the art. Who can argue with that?

He wrote that taking photos of the works of art themselves makes no sense since one can find great reproductions in the museum shop. In my opinion these reproductions often make one think the painting is actually by a different artist or in a different medium according to its color tones and definition of the reproduction. If I do take a photograph of a work of art in a museum, it is to remember it better for a number of reasons. In my mind it makes me see the work, might I say, through a different lens. Then I usually look at the original again to think about it.

Selfies may well have changed the museum experience from what it used to be, but saying that selfies are a new phenomenon is in my opinion ridiculous. If you have ever looked at the family photos of anyone from 20 years ago you also see photos of them in front of a famous building, sculpture or other work of art. Someone took them. Who has not been asked whether they would take a photo of a couple in such and such a place. The concept is not new just the technology has changed for what was done before by others. In fact, today you do not need help and it can be less intrusive to others because there is not a third person taking the photo, who is a few paces away and you cannot pass between photographer and subject.

The Last Knight: The Art, Armor, and Ambition of Maximilian I (1459–1519) an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum opening in 2019 included a quote attributed to Maximilian I: “He who makes no memory of himself during his lifetime will have none after his death and will be forgotten with the tolling of the final knell. Therefore, the money that I expend on perpetuating my memory will not be lost”. The concept remains true today. We all want to leave our mark, and in our day and age it is often by being identified with something that we believe is of value.

Visitors don’t go to a museum to have their photo taken in front of a single work of art though that may be an ultimate goal. There will be much to catch their eye on the way. As I have written before when, as a child, I was first taken to see the Mona Lisa in the mid-fifties, it was in a wide corridor with no one looking at it and I thought the Raphael opposite must be the Mona Lisa because it was of a much prettier woman and so much larger and brighter.

There may also be other famous works of art in the same institution, for instance if you go to the Uffizi in Florence and want to take a selfie in front of Sandro Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.

You might also want to see works by even more famous artists’ paintings such as Michelangelo’s Roundel of the Holy Family, or Leonardo da Vinci’s Annunciation.

One last thought, artists themselves took selfies, maybe not with an iPhone but with their paint brush. Here is a self-portrait of the artist Nicolas R├ęgnier painting a portrait of Vincenzo Giustiniani painted in 1623 or 1624.


Sunday, January 15, 2023

Holy Breads

Bread is a key element in the art of cooking. What makes bread so important to so many? We think about it as a staple that has always been, and we take it for granted. We all know that most of the packaged commercial loaves that you buy in a U.S. grocery store are dry and tasteless, and basically just an excuse for butter and jam.

At holiday time particularly during religious holidays such as Kwanzaa, Channukah and Christmas special breads come out. We have all laughed about the fruit cake that is passed along from party to party until someone who likes it keeps it.

My mother loved the German version, Stollen. When I was young, she ordered from a private baker who delivered the Stollen to our apartment and others around New York City. This was my mother’s breakfast for the holiday season she never understood why I did not like this dry cake with fruit in it.

My wife, on the other hand, prefers Panettone, a wetter sweeter bread also with fruit in it and she snatches up boxes wherever she can find them, so it lasts a while past Christmas. I found the story of the origin of Panettone. It goes back to 1495. During the luxurious Christmas banquet given by the Duke of Milan, the desert got burnt. A young cook, called Toni, came up with a rich brioche bread, filled with raisins and candied fruit. The Duke loved it, and so the tradition of 'Pane di Toni' was born.

This started me thinking of the significance of bread in history and religious observance. Though I had never thought about this before, maybe because I am Jewish :), I like Challah best and have it daily when I can get it. (The egg shortage lately has made this difficult.) In biblical times the Jews made do with unleavened bread, i.e. matzoh, and this is commemorated at Passover. In the Jewish religion, however, Challah is served Friday evenings at the beginning of the Sabbath (Jewish Holidays start the evening before) as well as holidays. It is not particularly sweet but rather rich and moist.

In the Islamic, Jewish and Christian religions bread is thought of as a gift from God. When Moses fed his people in the desert with food which fell from heaven. Bread wafers are central to Catholic mass. With the parable of Jesus multiplying loaves as well as fish to feed a crowd, bread became a sign of sharing as well.

According to the web, in Islam bread may not carry the same spiritual weight as it does for Christians and Jews, but still it is regarded as a blessing from Allah, and an important symbol of almsgiving, and hospitality. Special breads are a part for Id al-Fitr, the feast that follows Ramadan, the holy month of fasting. Is that very far from religious significance? I would think not.

Anyone who has travelled abroad or to different regions of this country knows that people of all faiths, nationalities and localities have breads that are special to their community. Having worked in France I am very familiar with Croissants and Brioche. Here are two French staples that have been interpreted and copied in many countries and they are different in each if not in every bakery. And don’t forget Southern hushpuppies!

From what I have learned bread is a universally thought of as a gift from heaven … that is everybody’s heaven.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

New Year’s 2023

The last time I wrote about our New Year’s Day annual event was precisely a decade ago. I see that I started that one out about the trials and tribulations of travel during this season and I wrote about this year travel travails last week!

We bought our house 25 years ago though we have only been here full time for about 15. We loved this town since we first came 33 or 34 years ago just to visit Indian Market. At that time, we knew 2 people, a colleague from New York and a Curator,later Director, of the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.

When we did have a house to come to, we came regularly and always in summers and over New Years. How could we get to know more people? We hatched a plan. I figured that everyone does a New Year’s Eve party we would do one New Year’s Day. (I was wrong, there are lots of parties here on January 1, but we have stuck with it.)

One always meets new people over the year and we started to invite all those that we had gotten along with. Our group grew as people started to come regularly and bring friends. We learned that people loved the event because they get to see old friends that they have not seen in quite a while and they make new connections as well.

We get a particular kick out of having a younger generation join us. It helps us feel younger and relavent. Here is one of our youngest guests.

The world has certainly changed since we began this tradition, but our party is pretty much the same. We did skip one year because of Covid and a few years we had snow that kept our numbers down but this year about 60 friends joined us. It is an open house, but still people brought goodies.

We did have unusual competition this year because the inauguration of the Governor took place at the Lensic Performing Arts Center but several of our Lensic friends came after the festivities.

We have made a few minor modifications to our event. We now ask folks to sign in, do name tags and we have masks and hand sanitizer for anyone who wants them. When you have a large party and live outside of the town proper, guests park on the road. After dark, which happens early at this time of year, they have to find their way back to their cars, so I made a couple of Handicapped Parking Spaces in front of our garage, something we had not thought of in past years!!!

Rather than snow, rain was expected since the temperature went up to 48 degrees, most unusual for January 1 in Santa Fe. We were prepared for umbrellas, which as you know is the best way to have a rain free event!

Our menu has varied little over the years. Penelope selects the food and makes it look lovely on the platters. There is always plenty of wine and sodas but no hard alcohol. It is always interesting to see what goes and what remains as left overs because it is different every year.

It is shortly after 6pm the last guest has left. Eventually the table is cleared but two lovely presents look so good there as a reminder of our 23rd event.

Sunday, January 1, 2023


We spent this Christmas with my older son, Danny, and his family in Traverse City, Michigan. Being right on the Lake Michigan, the town is known to get an average snow fall of 125-145 inches per year. Adding to their normal winter weather we learned that the “Blizzard of a Generation” was on its way across the country and airports were shutting down. After much anguish we decided to go for it anyway, quite prepared that we might have to spend the holiday halfway there in an airport hotel. We regained confidence, about 12 hours before our flight, we heard sporadic reports that the storm was slowing down. In the end we made it, ahead of the storm and, amazingly, only 30 minutes late.

My son was to pick us up at the airport, but we did not see him. There was an airport Santa Claus who we waved to, and he waved back. I said out loud, “I need to find my son”. Then we spotted our step-granddaughter convulsed in laughter and at this point Santa cracked up. Our airport Santa turned out to be Danny in the costume that Penelope had given him last year as a thank you for having wrapped all the presents we had ordered online without gift wrap option. The greeting from our surprise Santa set us up for a great stay.

Of course, in time the blizzard arrived but was not nearly as bad as was expected. Also, being in snow country Traverse City has continuous snow plowing.

We were staying at a hotel not that far from Danny’s home but he picked us up every day with our suitcases in case we could not make it back again! We had to explain to the front desk that we really were not checking out!

It was great seeing immediate and extended family members. We spent our time indoors near the fire doing a lot of talking and catching up. There was a large collection of games, and we played Scrabble, Gin and Nine Man Morris. After so many years I had to relearn the latter two! Here are all four siblings and not to leave anybody out, all the family gathered on Christmas Day.

There was continuous cooking and baking. I cannot remember when I have eaten so many cookies and such a variety. I liked the Buckeyes the best, chocolate

covered peanut butter. A lot more peanut butter and better than in a Reese’s bar. Yum! Here is Eryn eyeing the cookie tray of home-made goodies.

Our daughter-in-law, Jenifer made a pulled pork dinner that rivaled and surpassed any I have had in the Southwest (and I usually eat it once a week in Santa Fe), and my grandson Aidan made a Beef Wellington. That was a special treat.

Since Chanukah coincided with Christmas this year there was candle lighting every evening and my granddaughter, Lucy and I had the honors on the seventh night.

Christmas morning was quite a scene with lots of presents, stocking stuffers and a curious cat, Rue, wanting to know what all the fuss was about.

For Chistmas Dinner Tables were moved so we could all dine beside the enormous tree that I could not figure out how they got into the house. Before every one sat down Lucy folded napkins onto the plates in the form of Christmas trees.

Here’s Jenifer, setting out the buffet.

Jenifer’s parents, her brother and sister-in- law and their 2 year old joined us that evening.

Flying home was another adventure. We had a 3-leg journey flying from Traverse City to Chicago to Denver. All our flights were delayed what with de-icing, gates that planes could not get into, a crew delayed coming in from Mexico City and finally a stewardess missing as her flight in from Newark was late. (They already had 3 flight attendants, but FAA rules required 4). From her expression when she finally arrived running with her suitcase in tow, I had the impression that this woman had been told as she got off her last flight that she had another that had not been scheduled. Thank heavens were on United not Southwest. Ours was certainly a charmed trip as the delay of each successive flight made our connections possible!

All in all, it was a wonderful, and memorably white Christmas!