Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Charles Sheeler: Art As Precision And Personality

I favor a picture which arrives at its destination without the evidence of a trying journey rather than one which shows the marks of battle.

Charles Sheeler (quoted above) was born in Philadelphia on this day in 1883. He was trained as a draftsman and painter in that city and was self taught in photography. If we were to use one word to describe his work, it would be "precision."  By early adulthood his broad training and personal technique made him a successful artist, one who would later be recognized as a founding member of the Modernist arts in the United States.

I became familiar with Sheeler's work during several class trips to museums in Washington in the early '70's. Didn't think much of his style at the time but a career immersed in our nation's natural and cultural landscapes changed my attitude. Today, he's a favorite and here are a few of his paintings I enjoy:

American Landscape                                                              1922

Golden Gate                                                                            1955

Pertaining to Yachts and Yachting                                      1933

Yankee Clipper                                                                         1939

A version of this post first appeared in 2013. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day 2014

Whilst the last members were signing [the Constitution], Doctor Franklin, looking towards the Presidents chair, at the back of which a rising sun happened to be painted, observed to a few members near him, that painters had found it difficult to distinguish in their art, a rising, from a setting, sun.  I have, said he, often and often, in the course of the session, and the vicissitudes of my hopes and fears as to its issue, looked at that behind the President, without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting; but now at length, I have the happiness to know, that it is a rising, and not a setting sun.
James Madison quoting BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, debates in the Constitutional Convention, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 17, 1787. James Madison, Journal of the Federal Convention, ed. E. H. Scott, p. 763

The "Rising Sun" chair used by George Washington during
 the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia

We hope you and your family have a happy Independence Day. If you value your freedom to celebrate this day, do all in your power to ensure that our great American experiment brings to the world all the expectations of a rising sun.  Let freedom ring!

Independence Day postcard ca. 1905 


Quotation and chair photos, Independence National Historical Park
Liberty Bell postcard, family archives

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Paul Mazursky

Paul Mazursky in 2008

A comedy icon died on Monday but few people noticed primarily because we don't pay much attention to the past these days. Still, the passing of Paul Mazursky should matter, He was a master at making entertaining and instructive sense out of life by linking divergent characters, situations, and behaviors in his quirky films. If you're a child of the 1960's you likely know his writing and directorial work well:

I Love You, Alice B. Toklas (1968)
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969)
Harry and Tonto (1974)
An Unmarried Woman (1978)
Down and Out In Beverley Hills (1986)
Scenes From A Mall (1991)

Of course this is only part of Mazursky's filmography. He directed and/or wrote over a dozen additional films, performed in even more, and appeared in several television roles well into this century.

Mazursky's unique approach to interpreting the smiles and sorrows of the human condition deserves to be enjoyed today and I would appeal especially to younger audiences to view his work. Although the settings may change over time, the human calls and responses remain very much the same. 

Photo credit: Petr Novak, Wikimedia

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Arthur Spends The Fourth On The Coast

Well, it seems the first tropical cyclone of the season formed off the east coast of Florida early this morning. Here in Atlanta we can almost tell something's brewing in the Gulf Stream. First, a noisy derecho roared out of Tennessee yesterday bringing monsoon rains, severe storms and high winds to the region before slicing across Georgia into the Florida panhandle. Second, we awoke this morning to heat and low humidity. And third, the steady north-northeast breeze was a sure sign that the tropics were restless.  Indeed, it appears our coastal neighbors will have to contend with Tropical Storm Arthur this week.  Arthur doesn't appear like much of a threat but you can be assured there will be amazing rip currents on the barrier islands along the Southeast Bight.  Along with the clouds and rain, it may not be much of a vacation weekend from north Florida to the Chesapeake Bay. 

I doubt that Arthur will be much of a wind threat so being on a rainy beach in a cozy space with someone you love, a good book, and happy music sounds like a fine option. Families may find themselves with a bit more of challenge!

You can choose your companion easily enough, but I do have suggestions for reading and listening. For summer novel reading, I recommend  Pat Conroy's Beach Music (1995). No writer captures the Southern coast quite as vividly as Conroy.  Blend that with his intense and often dark themes and you'll have a fine week's reading. And your music? Of course it's Beach Music, that R&B, cross-racial sound celebrated by white kids on the Carolina coast since the middle of the last century. If you experienced it as I did a generation ago on 

Tybee Island, Georgia. My home from 1978-88

Georgia's sea islands, the beat, tempo, and shag dancing under the stars soon became character traits. I'm pleased to report that the beach and shag sound is now moving into its third generation of popularity in the Carolinas, coastal Maryland and Virginia, and southeast Georgia. There are some great classics in this genre, but the number of new bands is a healthy sign of a long and happy future. If you don't know the sound or simply want to enjoy some happy sounds, here's a taste of music from the beach:


Tapped your foot much? 

We hope Arthur has an uneventful cruise up the Southeast coast and doesn't interfere with your Fourth of July weekend at the beach.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Downsizing House And Home

Remember the time when you could pack everything you owned into a car?

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting my sister-in-law's nephew and his wife. They were a military couple at the time, now a family of four with another addition arriving any day. With mobility a confirmed reality in a military career they decided to forgo the usual periodic investment in a house built on the ground. Instead, they elected to purchase one on wheels. But this is no ordinary house. Not only have they gone mobile, they've also chosen to go small. Very small, yet very functional. In fact, multi-functional. 

Stick-built from the wheels up, the mobile home was constructed by a general contractor in Oregon using plans developed by the firm and the buyers.

Kitchen, dining, den, shower bath and extensive well-hidden storage on the first level:

Separate master and kid's sleeping space located in the loft:

Such an arrangement will not be for everyone but I believe this family's search for practical, affordable, and mobile housing has great appeal among young adults. But the concept has not yet caught up with city planners. That raises the big question for buyers: "Where can I park my house?" Blogging at Old Urbanist, Charlie Gardner provides some answers for what he describes as:

...nearly the only type of single-family detached housing that is allowed to be both very small and built on very small lots. Much of the affordability of this housing type, it seems, is attributable not only to the efficiencies of mass production or the frequent separation of the cost of land from the cost of ownership, but the common exemption of areas zoned for mobile homes (setting aside for now the curiosity of why there should even be such zones) from the standard restrictions of single family zoning, including minimum lot sizes, front and side setbacks, parking requirements and even minimum street widths.
The prospect of mixing a variety of house types and lot sizes Gardner alludes to opens many exciting possibilities in community building.   

As for our household, twenty years ago we were five residents living in 3000 square feet. Today only two of us remain and over a third of that space goes virtually unused. While I doubt we'll become part of the Tiny House movement, the concept of divesting ourselves of 
thousands of pounds of "stuff" has great appeal. Let the cleansing begin.

Photos: Chona Wiesehan

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Centennial Of World War I Begins

The Daily Telegraph (London) reports the news of the day in 1914
The assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz-Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo, Bosnia - occupied by Austria-Hungary at the time - took place on this day one hundred years ago. Within weeks, the event exploded into war across the face of Europe. Although the United States remained neutral throughout most of the conflict Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917 brought American soldiers into the conflict. In eighteen months the U.S. suffered almost 325,000 casualties including just over 116,000 deaths. 

Europe was devastated by the war. Over 8,500,000 soldiers died. More than 21,000,000 were wounded. The conflict not only impaired a generation but it's end in the draconian provisions of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) seeded even more conflict ending in World War II two decades later.

Today's coverage by The Telegraph provides an extensive multimedia look at the assassination. Readers can expect excellent interpretation from this site over the next four years. For a bit more of an American perspective, the outstanding KCET/BBC co-production of The Great War and the Shaping of the Twentieth Century is available here.

For an in-depth history of the conflict, Power Line's Scott Johnson recommends Winston Churchill's The World Crisis as essential reading.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Summer Solstice 2014

Summer Solstice Sunrise at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England     NASA photo

For Northern Hemisphere folks the sun reaches its highest point in the sky today. It is the longest day of the year. Although the sun begins its descent tomorrow, insolation from our star will continue to raise atmospheric temperatures until late July. As this day marks the end of the season of renewal and the beginning of the season of growth and flower, I am reminded of this quote by D. H. Lawrence...

The greatest need of man is the renewal forever of the complete rhythm of life and death, the rhythm of the Sun's year, the body's year.

...and this music by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Shout with joy to God, all the earth!....  Psalm 66