Friday, January 31, 2020

Education Matters: It's National School Choice Week

Painting by Shawna Gilmore. We all want our children to soar.
It's National School Choice Week. Sadly, the government continues to insert itself into every part of our lives, restricting freedom wherever it is able. Always in the name of some higher benevolent purpose, as if bureaucrats know better how to raise our children than we do.

"School choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the K-12 educational options that best fit their children. These options include all forms of education, from traditional public schools, to public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling." (This quote came from the third article below.)

Your kids get one chance at adolescence. There is no reset button on an education. Most parents want the best for their children, and parents will better understand their children's needs than lawyers or bureaucrats ever will.

Here are a number of articles for those who have an interest in this topic.

We Chose Our Child's School. You Should Be Able To Do the Same.

School Choice Opponents Need to Stop Gaslighting Parents

What Is School Choice?

Seattle's School System Wants to Dismantle Its Gifted Programs. This Is Why School Choice Matters.

Read. Learn. Share. Grow.

Education Matters: This Week Is National School Choice Week

Painting by Shawna Gilmore. We all want our children to soar.
It's National School Choice Week. Sadly, the government continues to insert itself into every part of our lives, restricting freedom wherever it is able. Always in the name of some higher benevolent purpose, as if bureaucrats know better how to raise our children than we do.

"School choice is the process of allowing every family to choose the K-12 educational options that best fit their children. These options include all forms of education, from traditional public schools, to public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling." (This quote came from the third article below.)

Your kids get one chance at adolescence. There is no reset button on an education. Most parents want the best for their children, and parents will better understand their children's needs than lawyers or bureaucrats ever will.

Here are a number of articles for those who have an interest in this topic.

We Chose Our Child's School. You Should Be Able To Do the Same.

School Choice Opponents Need to Stop Gaslighting Parents

What Is School Choice?

Seattle's School System Wants to Dismantle Its Gifted Programs. This Is Why School Choice Matters.

Read. Learn. Share. Grow.

What Creators Want and Why They Can't Have It

A Lecture by Catalyst Executive Director Philip Gilpin

There's nothing like a good dose of reality to help sift out the serious dreamers from the halfhearted hopefuls in any field of endeavor. Whether artists or writers, inventors or entrepreneurs, you've no doubt seen a bit of that baloney known as Get Rich Quick and Be Famous. There seems to be an abundance of it on Medium right now. "How to start from scratch and get a six figure income in one year." Blahahahaha. (All you need to do is buy their book.)

All this to say, there really are careers in writing, art, invention and entrepreneurship. It involves understanding the rules of the game, a willingness to roll up your sleeves, and follow a plan.

The Catalyst Content Festival has made its new home here in Duluth with the serious aim of helping creatives understand the rules of the game. Wednesday evening was the first of a series of lectures designed to show the way.

Just before a screening at the Zinema, October 2019. 
As nearly everyone is well aware, the game has changed. Traditional television models of 22 minute and 48 minute shows with slots for commercials is being eclipsed by streaming content and episodic projects that stretch for years. How the new stories are being created is part of what Gilpin spoke about Tuesday evening in Mitchell Auditorium.

He began by stating that the process can be distilled to four steps. Pitch, Develop, Production and Post-Production. The total time from pitch to distribution is typically three years.

One of the most important lessons I gathered from Catalyst last fall was reiterated Tuesday. Television is a relationship-based business. It's not the same as selling a script to a studio and your done. Creatives and execs work together for years. Will you be easy to work with?

Agents
I have an agent joke that I will tell you some time if you ask. (Stop me if you've heard it.) It's about a screenwriter whose house has been destroyed in a fire.

Some people wonder what the purpose of an agent is. In part, it provides legal protection for networks, studios and buyers. I will give this example from the publishing industry.

At my first writers conference an exec from a publishing house told how they do not even open unsolicited game submissions any more. (This was 1983.) The reason being that in one year they received eight game concept submissions involving The Chronicles of Narnia. They already had a Chronicles of Narnia game in development and returned all eight. When their game was published, one of these eight sued, saying their idea was stolen.

It's gotta be a drag to have to deal with that stuff.

Agents are in communication with studios and producers, and know what is being sought. Therefore, they serve the function of vetting material before it is brought in for consideration.

Agents also fight on the artist's behalf to make sure they do not get bullied or taken advantage of. Most writers do not know what is the going rate for work that's been created or developed. Agents are not lawyers, though.

Gilpin noted that there are two kinds of agents: Lazy ones and Aggressive ones.

Legal Basics
Photo taken during Catalyst workshop in October.
At some point in early in their careers writers wrestle with the matter of trust regarding their original ideas and creative work. I've known a few who will not hare what they have written for fear of it getting stolen.

Copyright laws in the U.S. are designed to protect creatives. As soon as you create it, it is copyrighted. Nevertheless, proving it in court is another thing. Therefore it is important to have a "chain of title" that shows the idea is yours to begin with. This keeps someone else from selling your script to the studio.

In this business, lawyers do most of the work, including copyrights and music clearances. According to Gilpin a lot of business is conducted without agents at all but through networking with industry friends.

Expectations
As in any endeavor it's important to set realistic expectations. Much has changed since the days when theaters and three networks ruled the world. The aim was to produce a show that would gain as wide an audience as possible.

Nowadays shows are being developed for very specific demographics and narrow niches. For this reason, ask yourself:
1) How specific is your show?
2) How original?
3) Who is your audience?
You can no longer say, "This show is for the 18-45 year old demographic. That's simply not going to cut it.

Photo: Cirina Catania
Competition Among Giants
With streaming media and the crumbling of time constraints on programs, there's more variety than ever. And from the buyer's end of things a lot of competition due to the consolidation that has taken place.
AT&T / Time Warner / HBO are now one block.
Comcast / NBC and Disney / ABC / Fox are the competition.
Notice that there is no TV channel anymore that is separate from the broader universe of streaming media.

"These behemoths aren't sure what will work these days," Gilpin said.

It reminds me of the book publishing world of the Sixties. Until then every major publishing house had a religious books division. With the advent of the Jesus People movement and resurgence of grass roots Fundamentalism, the secular publishing houses produced a string of books that missed the target completely.  As a result numerous Christian publishers rose up from within this Christian sub-culture to satisfy the unsatisfied hunger in this category.

What's going to work during the upcoming decade is an unknown, but my thinking here is that if you pay attention you may see areas where there are voids that need to be filled.

Gilpin pointed out that the mergers cited above have resulted in layoffs, with the result that studios are scared to sink big bucks into riskier projects. The need for new creative work is strong though. There were 500 new shows introduced last year. These shows take time to produce, and there are bottlenecks.

Bottleneck 1: There's a shortage of "showrunners." (Executive Producers)
Bottleneck 2: There's a finite number of locations where there's enough production talent to carry out the work.

Catalyst is hoping that Minnesota can become one of these locations.

Prospects
Is it difficult or just hopeless for newcomers to break in?

It's not hopeless, but it is difficult. The more you understand the process, the more likely you will achieve success. You have to decide where you fit. Some creatives write treatments and sell their ideas whereas others stay with a project all the way from start to finish. In either case the axiom holds true: Content Is King.

We can't predict the future, but storytelling is central to all.

Truly original concepts are a difficult gamble. And yet, they happen. Focus on good stories. Stories have captured our imaginations since the beginning of time.

Postscript
For an example of a Pitch Deck that became a major program, visit
http://www.zen134237.zen.co.uk/Stranger_Things/Stranger_Things_-_Bible.pdf

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A Visit with Visionary Entrepreneur David Grandmaison of the Duluth Experience

David Grandmaison was born and raised in Duluth. Like many here, he moved away for a number of years for college and career, then returned.

Most recently, he worked as a research biologist for the Arizona Game and Fish Department. After eight years in the desert he decided to return to the Northland. His folks are still here and he wanted to be closer to them. "Plus," he adds, "there's water here."

His father was himself a very successful local entrepreneur, so it is not surprising to see David in a similar role. His title is "Experience Designer."

EN: What is The Duluth Experience and how was it conceived?

David Grandmaison: Our mission at The Duluth Experience is pretty simple, "We Connect People To Duluth." It's about crafting activities that facilitate deeper travel experiences that poke at the essence of what Duluth represents -- namely, adventure, storytelling, and a "can-do" entrepreneurial community. Back in 2012, when our idea for The Duluth Experience was being discussed, there wasn't anyone in the tourism space making these types of connections. Breweries were popping up, Duluth was being recognized as a national outdoor recreation destination, and excitement was building for what I saw (being a Duluth native) as a rebrand for the city.

So we started working on a business plan and pulled the pieces together for an experiential tourism-focused brand that incorporated craft beer brewery tours, kayak and bicycle adventures, and stories from Duluth's rich history... basically the activities and stories that we thought would make the most meaningful connections for our guests. We had no idea that it would work so well.

Here's a link to our "Who We Are" page for more info: https://www.theduluthexperience.com/who-we-are/

EN: How many different channels or opportunities do you manage? What criteria do you use for deciding what you will add next?

DG: Our overall activity calendar varies seasonally. Plus, the tours & activities sector of the travel industry is dynamic -- in the sense of crafting new experiences and continually evolving. I think that's part of the draw to this work for me. The creativity and experimentation is challenging and fun. Our greatest challenge has been finding ways to engage our guests during the "off-season." Necessity being the "mother of invention", we've developed a bunch of great fall, winter, and spring offerings.

Our Curling & Brews Experience has been a game changer for our Brewery Tour Program. Similarly, we just launched a Backstage Experience with the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra -- something we've been developing with the DSSO for years and are finally ready to implement. At our last count, we have about 28 different options throughout the year. Some of those options are workshops. We hold one wilderness medicine workshop and two photography workshops each year. We're developing a couple of new tours for this summer, too.

There are a few simple criteria for developing new ideas. First and foremost, it has to tie into our mission. Then we ask ourselves a few questions. Do we think it will be engaging and fun? Does it make sense financially? We have a formal process for new program development that has worked for us. Some ideas make the cut. Some don't.

We have a running list of nearly 100 ideas that have been developed or recommended to us over the years. Every couple of months we take a look at that list to see if anything jumps out at us. This year it's our Backstage Experience with the DSSO, a ghost tour that will replace our Dark History Bus Tour, and a tour that focuses on Bob Dylan's connection to Duluth.

EN: How do you promote The Duluth Experience?

DG: Many ways. Most importantly, we deliver on our promise to our guests. That leads to the most important means of promotion -- word of mouth recommendations.

We are also committed to doing our part in the community. This highlights our brand values -- passion, thirst, and service. As an example, we started our Collaboration Brew Program in 2019 as a way to help raise money for local non-profits. The idea is pretty simple. We leverage our relationships with our brew and cider partners to develop and craft a beer (or cider) and then take the proceeds of its sale and give them to an organization making a difference in our community. In 2019 we raised nearly $5,000 for two local non-profits: The Northland Paddlers Alliance and LifeHouse. This year we'll release a cider that will benefit the Minnesota Prison Doula Project and a beer that will raise funds for The Hartley Nature Center.

We basically stick to our mission and engage with the community. That has served us well so far.

EN: What do your typical “customers” look like?

DG: Our guests are folks who are looking for more personalized experiences than Duluth's typical attractions can offer. Our service is about building a relationship built on trust and friendship - two things that our guest greatly value. Many - but not all - of our guests are folks who have been to Duluth in the past. Some of them come to Duluth each year or multiple times each year and we see many repeat customers as a result.

Approximately 70% of our guests are travelers from outside of Duluth. The remaining 30% are Duluthians looking for fun activities and things to do -- for date nights, for family outings, for visiting friends. It's been amazing to see the local support and it's something we've worked hard to earn.

EN: Why is Duluth such a great city to experience?

DG: Duluth has a ton to offer. Great city culture, a rich history, and a story that combines determination, tragedy, failure, darkness, and triumph. The adventures in, and around, Duluth are nearly endless -- from fishing to mountain biking to hiking... Duluth is the gateway to the Northwoods. When you tie in the growing food and beverage scene and the stories of the entrepreneurs crafting Duluth's new identity, you've got a winning combination that defines our world-class destination.

* * * *

Related Links
The Duluth Experience
Destination Duluth
Visit Duluth


All photos on this page courtesy John Heino Photography with the exception of the Bob Dylan Way sign.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Is This True? Does Childhood Offer But One Glimpse of the Future

"There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in."--Graham Greene, The Power & the Glory

I'd been assembling Graham Green quotes for a blog post on Medium, and this one in particular gave me paws. I began howling like a dog.

No, what I meant was it gave me pause. Caused me to stop and reflect. Is this statement really true? Was there a singular moment, perhaps a singular event, that showed me the rest of my life?

There's a Borges story in which Borges sits on a park bench and realizes his younger self is at the other end of the bench. The older attempts to convey something to the younger, giving a glimpse of his future in an unusual way.

As a reflect on my own life, there are many moments that reveal myself to myself, though I have difficulty pointing to a single moment when a door opened. In my very earliest years I had no real concept of "the rest of my life."

Other scenes come to mind and in retrospect I see my characteristic weakness and vacillation. Still other moments I see a singular confidence in the face of meager odds.

Perhaps my pneumonia experience gave me some premonitions. I missed the last five weeks of the school year in seventh grade. Also did time in the hospital, five days total. I missed the Little League All Star Game and the kid from Peapack-Gladstone who took my place at shortstop hit a grand slam home run. He hit it off that big fastball pitcher from Far Hills who had struck me out last time I faced him. Privately I was grateful to not have been a goat, though I never admitted this to anyone.

I look at my early relationships with girls and see patterns that followed for a lifetime. I was oldest of four boys with no sisters, so there was always something mysterious and fascinating about the opposite sex, even before puberty.

A fairly re-defining event for me was being pallbearer at my best friend's funeral in high school. Much reflection on that experience ensued, and I never fully released my bottled up grief till more than a dozen years later, a cathartic torrent of tears.

Perhaps some of my early dreams offered glimpses as well. One recurring theme from that time--one that took a variety of forms--still haunts me.

* * * *

Alas, did you ever have a moment in childhood when you saw your future with perspicacious clarity? Yes? No? Leave a comment. We'd like to hear more.

100 Amazing Facts About The Negro by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

For an entertaining and informative kickoff to Black History Month (February 1-29), Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s book 100 Amazing Facts About The Negro is an excellent place to begin. It's a history told through the age-old catechism method of asking questions and providing answers.

Who was the first black president in North America? (It wasn't Barak Obama.)
Did black people own slaves? If so, why?
Were there any successful slavery escapes by sea?
Who was history's wealthiest person? (No, not Jeff Bezos.)
What were the largest slave rebellions in America?
Who was the first African-American fighter pilot?
Which massacre resulted in a Supreme Court decision limiting the federal government's ability to protect black Americans from racial targeting?

Every chapter is a conversation starter. Some stories are shocking, many enlightening, most surprising and all well-researched, painting a fuller portrait of a much neglected portion of our human history.

The title of this 400+ page book is borrowed, or resurrected, from Joel Augustus Rogers’s legendary 100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof. Rogers' work was purposely designed to correct a narrative obscured by neglect. Published in 1934, it was billed as “A Negro ‘Believe It or Not.'"

Gates' book uses the concept as a springboard, devoting his first chapter to the work of this black Mr. Rogers and calling his book an homage to Rogers's work.

Just as Robert Ripley began his career via the newspapers (his findings were presented in cartoon form), so did Joel S. Rogers begin as a journalist, later developing a column called "Your History" in the Pittsburgh Courier.

Rogers' research did indeed unearth some amazing facts. At times he also embellished, but for the most part he discovered and shared countless startling finds. More amazing than the facts is probably the man's dedication to his task, and the rewards it brought to his readers. It wasn't, however, for sheer entertainment. He was a man with a mission.

Joel Augustus Rogers
Gates writes, Rogers was especially devoted to debunking the false religion of racial purity then being expounded in such racist texts as Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Klansman, later adapted for the screen by DW Griffith in the 1915 Birth of a Nation. The whole legal apparatus of segregation hinged on the illusion that whites and blacks could easily be identified, then rigidly categorized, so that any advantages in life were doled out only for those free of any (obvious) "drops" of African blood.

Like all the other chapters in the book, the first is written in answer to a question. Which journalist was among the first to bring black history facts to the masses?

Joel Rogers' first book was a novel titled From "Superman" to Man. Wikipedia summarizes the book in this manner:

Rogers' first book From "Superman" to Man, self-published in 1917, attacked notions of African inferiority. From "Superman" to Man is a polemic against the ignorance that fuels racism. The central plot revolves around a debate between a Pullman porter and a white racist Southern politician. Rogers used this debate to air many of his personal philosophies and to debunk stereotypes about black people and white racial superiority.

According to the eminent anthropologist and sociologist J.G. St. Clair Drake:

“No discussion of comparative race relations would be complete without consideration of the work of the highly motivated, self-trained historian Joel A. Rogers. Endowed with unusual talent, Rogers rose to become one of the best-informed individuals in the world on Black history, writing and publishing his own books without any kind of organizational or foundation support.”

You can read more about this remarkable researcher and writer at the website of Dr. Runoko Rashidi. How is it so few of us have even heard of J. A. Rogers? Hopefully this blog post will in some small way contribute to correcting the narrative.

Thank you, Mr. Gates for this introduction.

Related Links
Courage Made Her Influential: The Ida B. Wells Story
Bruce Henry Shares His Life as an American Griot
Courage Made Her Influential: Ida B. Wells
Getting Ready for Black History Month: A Little Girl's Dream

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Wuhan and the Coronavirus--How Much Worrying Should We Be Doing?

Wuhan U of Technology. Photo by Benjamin Chris on Unsplash
The story that caught my eye was the one that said Wuhan is a city the size of London. That's a pretty good sized city. Why have we never heard of it? Well, because China has boatloads of large cities, and not just Shanghai or Beijing.

It's really hard to gauge the degree one should be worried about this new virus strain that's causing shockwaves around the globe. Are we looking at another bubonic plague that wiped out one-third or more of Europe?

Currently this particular virus has struck more than 2000 people, and killed 106. The hysteria it has engendered shows that we live in a very different world than 14th century Europe in the days of the Black Plague.

Back then we had no pharmaceutical industry. We hardly had any understanding of how disease is transmitted. There were no antibiotics, no vaccines for anything, and no comprehension of the role of cleanliness with regards to health care. And no Twitter to spread the panic immediately in all directions.

Acttually, Wuhan is a fairly important city in the grand scheme of things. This is partly why the story has made such an impact. You can read more about Wuhan here, and see a nice map showing its relationship to the rest of China's big cities.

A second reason this story has shaken people is that it is a virus transmitted from person to person. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) cholera still kills thousands of people each year, with some estimating the death toll to be 100,000 or more. That is a lot of heartbreak. Yet, for the most part the cause is bad water in specific areas remote to us, so we seldom if ever think about it, because it's not happening here.

Coronavirus Info
Artist rendition of the Wuhan coronavirus
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) coronaviruses are nothing new. They have been around for years in various strains. The CDC site states: "Human coronaviruses are common throughout the world. Seven different coronaviruses, that scientists know of, can infect people and make them sick. Some human coronaviruses were identified many years ago and some have been identified recently. Human coronaviruses commonly cause mild to moderate illness in people worldwide."

For more info about coronaviruses visit the Coronavirus page from the CDC.

What's interesting is how these different organizations present the information. The CDC and WHO strive to present facts for the purpose of keeping people informed. It's science and data. Because they know that whatever they say can trigger a panic, they try to be careful with their words.

On the other hand, the media loves hysteria. It sells papers, garners eyeballs. And so we find this inflated story now going viral: WHO Has Admitted an Error in Its Assessment of Wuhan Coronavirus Risk. If you read the story carefully, you'll see that WHO has not determined that the future of humanity is at risk.

At the end of the article we see the organization is always going to be on the hot-seat in these matters. If they react too fast, they get criticized for stirring up the hysteria. If they react too slow, well.. It's the old adage, "Damned if you do, damned if you don't."

Meantime, life goes on... 

Monday, January 27, 2020

Tribute to Borges' Garden of Forking Paths

This weekend I came across the coolest Reddit page. It showed a photo of a labyrinth dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges,  author of a story called "The Garden of Forking Paths."

Naturally, any time I see something like this I want to share it.

The Garden of Forking Paths appeared in one of his early volumes of short stories titled Ficciones. (Fictions) As I peruse the table of contents here my heart stirs with wonder at the quantity of incredible stories his imagination produced. If you're a fan of this remarkable Argentine author you'll be similarly stirred by titles like The Lottery in Babylon, The Circular Ruins, The Library at Babel and Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius.

* * * *
I'd planned to share this Borges-themed labyrinth yesterday when I unexpectedly received an article from a New York friend that included some Borges anecdotes which deserved to be shared here. The title of the article was A Visit to the Klippersonian. It's about a globetrotting photographer named Stuart Klipper who collects things, both tangible and experiential. He's not only an interesting story himself, but he has a lifetime of interesting stories to tell as well.

At one point his story intersects with Borges. Their meeting feels as spooky and unexpected as a Borges tale that feels more fate than luck. The net result is Klepper having an opportunity to host a visit by the world-renowned Borges to Minneapolis, where on the a non-forking path along Minnehaha Falls there is a stature of Longfellow. They similarly visited the Walker Museum, making memories there as well.

And if all that is not enough, Klipper shares a few Dylan anecdotes that you've probably never heard before, for those who never tire of hearing another Dylan detail.

Photo by Victor Garcia on Unsplash
Here is a link to The Garden of Forking Paths so that you may grasp why Borges has such a following.

In my youth I was fascinated with mazes and labyrinths, hence it was especially delightful and mentally stimulating to discover Borges. I've many times noted Borges has been one of my chief influences when it comes to writing fiction. In 2011 I assembled a half dozen in my first volume of short stories titled Unremembered Histories, my own attempt at Magical Realism.

The title of the book takes its name from my Unremembered History of the World, which in its own way treats the concept of time like a series of forking paths. You can read that one on Medium without purchasing anything. Feedback always welcome.

In closing, here is a very short piece by Borges, which like all his short pithy pieces is both pointed and properly rewarding: Inferno, I, 32

Have a great week.

Related Link
The Mind of Borges

Klippersonian link courtesy LL

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Local Art Seen: Fascination With Faces


From my earliest days I remember being fascinated with faces. Infants, even before they can form words, respond to faces, especially their mothers and fathers. Science has shown that this face recognition is innate.

Even when we're silent, our faces say much.

Various faces by Eric Horn
The other night I was at Goin' Postal and noticed a new piece that I hadn't seen before. (The wooden carving above.) Then I looked around and saw the variety of ways in which faces are displayed and portrayed. As many already know, the blog where I've been sharing my own art is called The Many Faces of Ennyman. Faces have been a lifelong theme for me. Even as a pre-school toddler I liked to draw faces.

According to research, our ability to recognize faces comes from neuron activity in the temporal lobe of our brains. Some people who get a head injury and damage their temporal lobe can lose their ability to recognize and identify familiar faces. This is called prosopagnosia.

Here's a small sampling of the variety of ways faces can be interpreted in various mediums, interspersed with a few Bob Dylan lyrics about faces, a word that appears more than 100 times in his songs.

* * * *

"Where the executioner's face is always well hidden..."
--Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall 
* * * *
"Face Value" by Linda Glisson

"Why does he look so righteous while your face is so changed"
--Won't You Please Crawl Out Your Window
 * * * *

"While she couldn't even recognize his face!"
--John Brown 
* * * *


"Then he moved into the corner, face down like the Jack of Hearts."
--Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
* * * *

"Punched myself in the face with my fist."
--Million Dollar Bash 
* * * *

"One look at his face showed the hard road he'd come."
--Only A Hobo 
* * * *

"She studied the lines on my face."
--Tangled Up In Blue 
* * * *

"Darkness on the face of the deep"
--Spirit on the Water
 * * * *
Dylan Discovers a New Way of Seeing
* * * * 
Related Links
My art blog, The Many Faces of Ennyman
My Flickr Gallery of Dylan Portraits
Nearly all is for sale, except what is sold already. 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Local Art Seen: Julia Marshall Watercolors and Drawings @ Zeitgeist

Julia Marshall as a photographer in the
Women's Army Corps in WW2.
The following falls into the category of "I didn't know that!" And maybe you didn't either.

When I moved to Duluth in 1986 I recall hearing something about The Marshall Sisters, but I didn't really know the history of Duluth all that well, other than that there was a lot of wealth generated by the mining, logging and shipping industries.

Over time I learned of the philanthropic work Caroline and Julia Marshall undertook on behalf of Duluth. Their work including formation of the Duluth Improvement Association, purchasing land on the waterfront that is now Bayfront Park.

Julia was a founder of the Duluth League of Women Voters and the Duluth Art Institute, and in 1972 was the first woman to serve as a director of the Duluth Chamber of Commerce. She also was a director of the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center in Duluth's Union Depot. When she passed away in 1994, nearly 100 years old, she left quite a legacy.

What I never knew was that Julia Marshall not only supported the arts, she was an accomplished artist herself. This month her watercolors and drawing have been displayed in the Zeitgeist Atrium. The show shows another dimension of her life that may be surprising to many.

Patricia Lenz curated the show and sent me information about this quite remarkable woman.

Following graduation from the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, NY, she volunteered in U.S. Army mess halls during World War I. During World War II, she served in the Women’s Army Corps.

Julia was an avid traveler and art/artifact collector. She lived in New York, Chicago, India, and the Middle East and was a long-time resident of Tucson, Arizona, where she began watercolor studies at the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild.

Among her teachers was Gerry Peirce, a noted western watercolorist and printmaker, who was invited to teach watercolor at the Duluth Art Institute.

During the 50s and 60s she showed watercolors in juried exhibitions in Tucson, AZ and Duluth, MN.
In 1983 the Tweed Museum of Art here featured a portion of Julia Marshall’s work as part of a larger show.

Since her death at her Duluth home in 1994 at the age of 98, her watercolors (and photographs) have been exhibited in a number of venues including:


1998. Minnesota Masters. 7 Women Artists from the Region; Tweed Museum of Art.
1998. JNM Photographs at Tweed Museum of Art, UMD, Duluth, MN.
In 1996, watercolors removed from a storage vault in a Duluth Bank were curated for a series of exhibitions in Duluth and Tucson.
1997. JNM Watercolors at Duluth Depot.
2000. JNM Watercolors at the Lodge On the Desert Sponsored by the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild and The Duluth Art Institute.
2002. JNM watercolors at Southern Arizona Watercolor Gallery (SAWG) with work of her teacher, Gerry Peirce.
2002. JNM Watercolors, Duluth Art Institute Galleries; . . 2002. JNM Watercolors purchased by Fred and Mary Lewis and donated to the Marshall School Library.


The Julia Newell Marshall Artists fund was established with the Depot Foundation in 2000 using funds from sale of artworks.

Serious Photographer, Too
By the early 1920s, Julia Marshall was captivated by artistic photography. She studied with the former Photo-Secessionist Clarence H. White at the Clarence White School of Photography in New York in 1921-22 and 1927. Her work was exhibited in the 1924 Camera Pictures exhibition organized by the White School's Alumni Association, and in the 1922 First International Kohakai Salon of Photography in Japan.

Pictorial Photographers of America, a national organization begun by White after the demise of the Photo-Secession movement held an annual exhibit: Pictorial Photography in America. Its 1922 catalog featured Marshall's photographic image "Silhouettes—Egypt" showing figures and animals on a low horizon. The publication included only seventy-five illustrations, by the likes of Laura Gilpin, D. J. Ruzicka, Edward Weston, and White, putting her in good company.

In 1923, two of her pictures—again of foreign subjects—were juried into the Pictorial Photographers of America's first annual salon, presented at the Art Center in New York.

She also collected photographic works by many significant fine art photographers and pictorialists. Her collection was later donated to the Tweed and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Her philanthropic activities were many as well as her varied interests. One of her favorite pastimes was canoeing, and her favorite getaway for that: the Brule River.

Check out her work this week. It's just one more reason to be impressed with her life and her example.

Friday, January 24, 2020

As You Said by Cream, in response to the passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman

February 2014

Let's go down to where it's clean
To see the time that might have been.
The tides have carried off the beach.
As you said,
The sun is out of reach.
~Jack Bruce, Pete Brown

The passing of Philip Seymour Hoffman earlier this week brought to the forefront once again the dilemma of how to respond to people of exceptional talent, their subsequent fame, and their character disorders. It challenges us because all too often we look up to people who have the same feet of clay that we do. They are not gods. They are flawed. How do we separate their failures as role models from the exceptional gifts they have?

* * * *

The song As You Said by Cream bassist Jack Bruce and poet Pete Brown is from one of the great rock and roll double albums of all time, Wheels of Fire. It's psychedelic, surreal art is an attempt to convey the heady times and the remarkable music that Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker performed on stages both sides of the Atlantic. Clapton was practically still a kid when he linked in with Bruce and Baker, two very seasoned musicians with a volatile relationship.

The music they produced was remarkably sophisticated. Each of the men was a virtuoso. And the songs were poetry in motion, lyric content often hearkening back to historical literary roots. For example, the first stanza of As You Said ends with what is likely a reference to Icarus, who flew too near to the sun. The song is an exquisitely crafted lament, and perhaps serves as a warning about stretching too far or attempting to fly to high. Tales of Brave Ulysses from their Disraeli Gears album is explicitly rooted in Homer's Odyssey.

The album itself draws its title from Ezekiel's vision of wheels within wheels:

13-14 The four creatures looked like a blazing fire, or like fiery torches. Tongues of fire shot back and forth between the creatures, and out of the fire, bolts of lightning. The creatures flashed back and forth like strikes of lightning.

15-16 As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground beside each of the four-faced creatures. This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.*

The chief feature of the double album that so set it apart was the manner in which the first two sides were produced in the studio while the second two sides were recorded live at the Fillmore in March 1968. I have often felt that Side A on this second vinyl is one of the best live rock recordings of all time. The interplay between Clapton and Bruce is unmatched for virtuosity and power as they tackle those blues classics Crossroads and Spoonful. The improvisational breakouts and breathtaking bounty of sound simply soars through the senses.

The personal conflicts between Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were something to which the average teen like myself was oblivious. And maybe its this naive obliviousness that enables us to place these mortals on pedestals and treat them like gods.

Much has been written about Clapton as a god, but the real Clapton was a troubled, self-destructive man for a very long time as he wrestled with his own personal demons and pain. Fortunately, he came out the other side, clear-headed, clean and sober. He was rescued by love.

The same cannot as yet be said for Mr. Baker. A documentary has been been produced on Britain's most gifted drummer, aptly titled Beware of Mr. Baker. It's a gripping portrait of a self-centered, dysfunctional human being. As this Guardian interview shows, the great drummer is anything but a role model. Those who loved him were those whom he hurt most.

Which brings us back to Mr. Hoffman. Are we asking too much to expect our heroes to also be role models as well?  How do we respond when our heroes break the law, hurt others or self-destruct? The reality is, we live in a broken world. Disillusionments will be our lot time and again if we forget this truth.

*Ezekiel 1:13-16, The Message

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Anti-War Demonstrations: Are They Moral?

May Day 1971. Public domain.
When we lived in the Twin Cities back in the early 80s I used to read a publication called Vital Speeches of the Day, which I'd check out from the Roseville Public Library. Occasionally I would photocopy certain speeches so I could keep them as reference materials and mental fodder for freelance writing. Last week while organizing a filing cabinet I found a folder titled Sixties with photocopies of a number of these speeches, including this one here titled Anti-War Demonstrations: Are They Moral?

The speech was delivered by a student named Mark Arnold at Oberlin College on May 22, 1967. (Trivia: I did a piano recital at Oberlin four or five years earlier when I was 10 or 11.)

Several things struck me about the speech, which opens with the sentence, "I am opposed to the war in Vietnam." The first paragraph itself outlines a number of reasons why we ought not be in this war. Later in this paragraph he states, "I believe it imperative for the United States to withdraw from South Vietnam as soon as it possibly can."

What's strange, however, is the follow up to this opening. "And it is for that reason (because I believe it is wrong) that I today urge you and your fellow students to end the antiwar demonstrations. I repeat, I urge you and your fellow students to end the antiwar demonstrations."

May Day 1971. Public domain.
His argument for having the antiwar demonstration stop is based on his conviction that they won't work. Demonstrations didn't stop World War I or WWII. The only thing they will accomplish is to have the war be prolonged because it will give North Vietnam the false hope that they can win. (Emphasis mine.)

Any honest assessment of the situation in Southeast Asia shows that the war was already lost. From the vantage point of the future, it's apparent that the ones holding tight to a false hope were the American leaders prosecuting the war.

After his opening salvo Mark Arnold proceeds to essentially mimic parrot-like all the reasons why we have to finish the war and win. First, our government is good and so, by extension, are the intentions of our troops. Second, the Viet Cong are taking advantage of an unstable South Vietnam government. Third, the superiority of our air, naval and ground forces is self-evident. And fourth, most importantly, the thousands of anti-war protests in the U.S. are confirming that we do not have the resolve to win.

He then, mistakenly, asserts that "such demonstrations have not and cannot significantly alter the American policy in Vietnam."

* * * *
I've spent much of my adult life wrestling with how to write about my experience of having been part of the biggest antiwar protest in U.S. history-- and the one with the most arrests--in May 1971. After much reading and research, I've gained many insights. Here are a few.

1) The war was built on a foundation of lies and an incorrect understanding of the motivations of Viet Cong. Our leaders lied to the American people in order to gain the support it needed to justify sending their children to the other side of the world.
(See: The Cold War Killing Fields by Paul Thomas Chamberlin.)

2) For several years most of the media was complicit, accepting the "party line" being doled out by the Pentagon and the president.

3) Mass movements don't "just happen." They are usually organized and orchestrated by people with agendas. The May Day demonstration in Washington D.C. 1971 had been envisioned and executed by the same cast of characters who organized the 1968 protests during the Democratic Convention in Chicago.

4) Protesting is actually written into our U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

5) The biggest mistake presidents Johnson and Nixon made was to write off these marches and sit-ins because they believed they were being directed by the Soviet Union.

6) A Lesson from the Bent Penny Brigade
There are people who looked like protestors who were agents of the government. They were fakes. At the May Day rally in 1971, 200 posers mixed in with the crowd with bent pennies in their pockets to identify them if arrested. (See story link below.)

In light of the above, this question comes to mind: Was the student who gave this speech earnest in his antiwar rhetoric? Mark Arnold lays out the very arguments that LBJ and other government officials used when denouncing the antiwar movement. Did his audience accept everything he said at face value? Was he himself a shill?

In the past half century there has been an immense decline in public trust. According to a Nick Gillespie article in Reason this week, 77% of Americans trusted "the government in Washington always or most of the time." Last year this was 17%. According to Gillespie, "When it comes to the presidency, trust has toppled from 73 percent in 1972 to 45 percent. For Congress, the drop is even worse, plummeting from 71 percent in 1972 to 38 percent in 2019. Trust in the Supreme Court has followed the same general trend."

It's possible Mark Arnold is still alive today. I'd be curious how he feels about his Oberlin speech today.

* * * *
Related Links
Two Days In October: PBS Documentary Points to Fall 1967 as the Vietnam War’s Turning Point
May Day 1971: A Lesson from the Bent Penny Brigade.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Carol Veldman Rudie Sheds Light on Soviet Era Art in Lecture at the Tweed

Dr. Veldman Rudie provides rewarding insights on Soviet art.
Tuesday evening the Tweed Museum of Art hosted the first of four lectures in conjunction with the current featured exhibition Art In Conflict. This first lectured painted a context for the work as Dr. Marsha Zaviolova outlined the themes and styles in Soviet arts. The period discussed runs from the 1953 death of Stalin till the breakup of the Soviet Union 1991.

Carol Veldman Rudie has been lead docent at the Museum of Russian Art since 2005 where she is also coordinator of outreach education. It's apparent she's been putting her minor in history to good use.

In addition to the insightful lecture, those in attendance had the privilege of meeting the newly installed director of the Tweed, Dr. Anja Chávez who introduced our guest lecturer and welcomed us.

Definitely non-Utopian, post-Stalin. 
For historical context, the Russian Revolution took place in 1917. In 1934 Josef Stalin rose to power and decreed that Socialist Realism was the only acceptable art. That is, the State approved the making of art as log as it was Realist in style and Socialist in content. This was the rigid ruling philosophy through 1953 when Stalin died.

Conventional State-approved art. 
The content of Soviet art included Utopian themes in which the greatness of the nation was portrayed, industrial progress, people being productive, etc. Women, now equal to men, were portrayed in all the various roles of men and even looked manly. Looking feminine was considered a bourgeois value of the West. It was OK to look lovely but be active digging ditches.

The lecture showed how there were competing styles in the art. A painting of a woman ironing, painted in a traditional style, was contrasted with a painting of a woman ironing in a non-literal style, an expressionist manner that was not correct even though the subject matter was the same.

After the Revolution abortion became legal and over time there was a declining population. (Also due to waves of starvation as well.) In response Stalin pushed artists to produce idyllic paintings of family life, with happy children, in an effort to encourage people to think favorably about reproduction.

Rich in symbols and code. Alexandr Gazhur's "Pilgrims" 1989. 
Even landscape artists were nudged to produce paintings with Socialist content. Hence we see a painting of a landscape in conjunction with a hydroelectric plant, landscapes with industrial sites.

After Khrushchev we see the emergence of non-conformist art. Painters like Bulotov and Rabine addressed the degradation taking place or the covering up of Reality by the State. We were shown numerous examples of conformist and non-conformist art. The non-conformists, with paintings like "No Exit" demonstrate irony and confront us with the question of what is really true. (This, at a time when the party line was laid out in Pravda, the official propaganda organ of the State.)

Traditional landscape being obliterated by red stars.
One thing you won't find are paintings of prison life, though one artist who was imprisoned did manage to do drawings and sketches of this dark system of gulags.

The Spiritual was another theme expunged under Lenin and Stalin. The Soviet Union was a Materialist culture. Spirituality was not acknowledged. There were, however, artists who incorporated the spiritual into their work. Artists like Viktor Popkov pushed the boundaries in the arena.

The art of Odessa got away with portraying Jewish life and its ways. (For what it's worth, Bob Dylan's father Abram Zimmerman's parents--Zigman and Anna--were from Odessa, emigrating to the United States during the anti-semitic pogroms of 1905.)

There's plenty to see at the Tweed if you get a chance. And with a little background like that presented last night, you will have an even greater appreciation for this Art In Conflict exhibition.

UPCOMING Lectures in this series:
February 18: Art on the Edges: Non-Conformists and Spirituality
March 24: Women in the Soviet Union: Utopian Dreams, Reality Check
April 21: The People's Papers: The Poster Tradition in the Soviet Context

Related Links
A Farce So Dark It Will Make You Laugh: The Death of Stalin (movie review)
Local Art Seen: Tweed Spotlights the Art of Russia

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Dylan and Gates (Not Ol' Bill)

Mood Swings (installation detail)
Ever since last summer I've been intending to share some thoughts about Bob Dylan's "Absolutely Sweet Marie" from Blonde On Blonde. While reading That Thin Wild Mercury Sound this past fall the urge was re-ignited. Having now completed the book a second time I'm still not ready. Instead, this blog post will focus on one feature of the song, repeated three times on this classic album--gates.

The reason I find the prevalence of this word so intriguing may well, in part, be due to Bob's late-in-life interest in metal sculpture. His 2013-14 art exhibition titled Mood Swings filled the Halcyon Gallery with welded gates. His artist statement included these words:

Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow. They can be closed but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to enter and flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.”—Bob Dylan

And that is exactly how the word can be understood right here in the opening line of "Absolutely Sweet Marie."

Well, your railroad gate, you know I just can't jump it
Sometimes it gets so hard, you see
I'm just sitting here beating on my trumpet
With all these promises you left for me
But where are you tonight, sweet Marie?


Photo by Russ Ward on Unsplash
There's no question this song is about unrequited longing. You hear that plea even more forcefully in "Where Are You Tonight" on Street Legal, but that's a sidestreet and our focus here is gates. In "Absolutely Sweet Marie" the gate is a barricade. We're at a railroad crossing and the red lights are flashing.

Despite a lifetime of listens, I really never gave much thought to how many ways Dylan references gates in his work. In "I Want You" which is also featured on Blonde On Blonde, he this time mentions opening a gate.

And I wait for them to interrupt
Me drinkin' from my broken cup
And ask me to
Open up the gate for you.

And then again we find a gate reference in "Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands."

My warehouse eyes, my Arabian drums,
Should I leave them by your gate,
Or, sad-eyed lady, should I wait?

In this instance, he has brought something to the gate and is making a gentler appeal to the lady in waiting.

* * * *
Sometimes he may choose to use the word gate because the ease with which it rhymes with other words. For example, in "Everything's Broken" he sings,

Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates...

And in "Simple Twist of Fate"

She dropped a coin into the cup of a blind man at the gate 
And forgot about a simple twist of fate.

Is the gate significant? Maybe not, but might be, because of the numerous other gates here, it may be.

In "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" he sings...

Clouds so swift
Rain won't lift
Gate won't close
Railings froze
Get your mind off wintertime
You ain't goin' nowhere

In other words, good times, open gates. Down in the easy chair.

Photo by Hédi Benyounes on Unsplash
To be sure the word is not always loaded with sexual connotations. In "The Walls of Red Wing" he sings about the gates that hold men in.

Oh, the gates are cast iron
And the walls are barbed wire.
Stay far from the fence
With the 'lectricity sting.

There's the spiritual references, as well.

Well, your clock is gonna stop
At Saint Peter's gate.
Ya gonna ask him what time it is,
He's gonna say, "It's too late."
Hey, hey!
I'd sure hate to be you
On that dreadful day

St. Peter's gate is pretty much the same as Heaven's Door, yes? Where have we heard that name before?

And Heaven, life's endpoint, has been foreshadowed in the Edenic Paradise that Adam and Eve were banished from in the beginning. In "Gates of Eden" from Bringing It All Back Home we find the word "gates" repeated with each refrain:

No sound ever comes from the Gates of Eden

Heading for the Gates of Eden

All except inside the Gates of Eden

There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden

And there are no sins inside the Gates of Eden

It doesn't matter inside the Gates of Eden

And there are no trials inside the Gates of Eden

And there are no truths outside the Gates of Eden

Note how switching from describing what's inside Eden to what is absent outside multiplies the force of that last refrain.

The next track on this same album is the one that sank the hook into my own heart's sinews, making a profound impact on me as a youth, and countless others from my generation, "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." The word gate re-appears here as well in this most memorable stanza:

While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the president of the United States
Sometimes must have
To stand naked.

* * * *
In Dylan's poignant "North Country Blues" (from Times They Are A-Changin') the closed gates again convey a negative symbolic implication, the end of something. He sings:

So the mining gates locked 
And the red iron rotted 
And the room smelled heavy from drinking.

Songs with other applications of the word gate include All Over You, Quit Your Lowdown Ways, Long Distance Operator, Two By Two, Golden Loom, Foot of Pride, Day of the Locusts, Scarlet Town, When He Returns (Slow Train Coming) and two references to the Golden Gate Bridge in Down the Highway (Freewheelin') and Clean Cut Kid (Empire Burlesque).

2013 publicity still for "Mood Swings" opening at Halcyon Gallery

Freud famously once said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." His meaning: It is what it is. On the other hand, the meaning of words and images in Dylan's lyrics are frequently not what they appear to be. Sorting out the multi-layered allusions from the straight-up "it is what it is" meanings has been an endlessly fascinating conundrum for many long-time Dylan enthusiasts.

What comes to mind for me is a dialogue between Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) and Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) in Roman Polanski's 1974 classic Chinatown.

Jake Gittes: Maid's night off?
Evelyn Mulwray: Why?
Jake Gittes: What do you mean, why? Nobody's here, that's why.
Evelyn Mulwray: I gave everyone the night off.
Jake Gittes: Easy. It's an innocent question.
Evelyn Mulwray: No question from you is innocent, Mr. Gittes.
Jake Gittes: I guess you're right.

When is a word pregnant with meaning and when is it just a descriptor? When we dig into Blonde On Blonde, I don't believe it's a stretch to say that no word from Dylan is innocent of deeper layers of meaning. This is what makes his lyrics nothing short of scintillating.