Jan 202017
 

1984-image

Michelle Kuo in “The Shining,” Artforum, cites Siegfried Kracauer who tells us that the artist’s “tasks multiply in proportion to the world’s loss of reality.” Our sense of reality has been stretched to the limit this past year:

The power of the visual has ascended to ever-greater heights, even in a world of invisible networks of control, of flexible and tentacular streams of surveillance, biopower, and microregulation. But at the same time, the top-down dissemination of information via mass culture in the twentieth century has been hyperdiversified, splintered. Today, we confront the spectral atomization of disinformation throughout the dark reaches of the internet, the most esoteric voices flowing like microscopic particles into the lifeblood of the media apparatus. Technological networks can amplify these bits and flows—exponentially, monstrously, radically. And the most effective vehicle for these streams is the image: the appearance of truth, or of might.

Kuo accordingly offers this solution:

Just as other disciplines have, art must think the unthinkable. Art must counter image with image—constructing pictures but also precipitating their undoing, their disruption, their unmooring. Just as Trump’s image seems to usher forth a world of risk, a state of chaotic volatility, art has long fomented the contingent, the unprecedented. Like spectacle, art seduces, frightens, incites, deranges; it glows.

Her proposal needs debate. The essay, however, is a must read for anyone who wants to look ahead. The full text can be found here.

The image above, via rogerebert.com, is a still from the movie version of 1984, with Richard Burton in the role of O’Brien.

War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.

Orwell’s simple contradictions have been surpassed, his ironies shattered.

Gary Garvin

Dec 182016
 

coca-cola-selfie-bottle-designboom-02

Then in a flowry valley set him down
On a green bank, and set before him spred
A table of Celestial Food, Divine,
Ambrosial, Fruits fetcht from the tree of life,
And from the fount of life Ambrosial drink,
That soon refresh’d him wearied, and repair’d
What hunger, if aught hunger had impair’d,
Or thirst, and as he fed, Angelic Quires
Sung Heavenly Anthems of his victory
Over temptation and the Tempter proud. 

Image by the Gefen Team, via designboom:

Tel Aviv-based creative agency gefen team has come up with a series of limited-edition bottles that can snap a picture of you while you sip your soft drink … gefen team’s vision for the coca-cola selfie bottle brings the brand closer to a generation of younger buyers, who would undoubtedly enjoy selfie-taking while they sip. users were able to seamlessly upload the pictures to their phone or computer for easy social media sharing across their own, and the company’s platforms.

Text for Paradise Regained from The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth College.

See also: Paradise Lost

Gary Garvin

Nov 242016
 

boulee-centopath-low-res

The scale of Étienne-Louis Boullée’s cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton is enormous. The sphere alone has a diameter of 500 feet. Cypress trees, symbols of mourning, circle the monument on three levels, tightly spaced. A cenotaph is a monument honoring a person whose remains lie elsewhere.

Boullée was the son of an architect, a brilliant student who went on to teach and become a first-class member of Royal Academy of Architecture in Paris. It is late eighteenth century. Neoclassicism was in full bloom and ideas of the Enlightenment were in the air.

Holes are cut in the exterior to simulate inside the points of light of stars in the universe, the interior otherwise black:

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At night a central hanging light illumines:

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O Newton! With the range of your intelligence and the sublime nature of your Genius, you have defined the shape of the earth; I have conceived the idea of enveloping you with your discovery. That is as it were to envelop you in your own self.

Boullée says about his monument in a treatise.

The cenotaph rests on a solid foundation, a belief in reason and basic truths and the truth of basic forms, in an orderly fitting together of parts, the power of architecture to reform. It was never built, however, because practically it was unfeasible. Boullée was a visionary.

The French Revolution was around the corner.

Postmodernists took a liking, for a while.

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Almost no one was there the day we went, so we had it to ourselves. We climbed the broad stairs and entered through a round opening, large yet still dwarfed by the sphere. Then we walked through a long tunnel that took us to the interior, to the center, where rested the empty sarcophagus. We glanced at the sarcophagus, then looked up at the stars.

Newtonian physics still works well enough for us, day to day. Of course the universe is expanding, of course it is made of stuff we only somewhat understand, but we were content to see it fixed on the ceiling and we spent the rest of the day enveloping ourselves in ourselves and each other, reaching out into a space that seemed endless.

Night, when the light went on, we were blinded.

Gary Garvin

Nov 172016
 

eve

Haste hither Eve, and worth thy sight behold
Eastward among those Trees, what glorious shape
Comes this way moving

adamcloseup

Ah, why should all mankind
For one mans fault thus guiltless be condemn’d,
If guiltless?

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But from mee what can proceed,
But all corrupt, both Mind and Will deprav’d,
Not to do onely, but to will the same
With me?

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Either to disinthrone the King of Heav’n
We warr, if Warr be best, or to regain
Our own right lost: him to unthrone we then
May hope when everlasting Fate shall yeild
To fickle Chance, and Chaos judge the strife

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High in the midst exalted as a God
Th’ Apostate in his Sun-bright Chariot sate
Idol of Majesty Divine, enclos’d
With Flaming Cherubim, and golden Shields

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So under fierie Cope together rush’d
Both Battels maine, with ruinous assault
And inextinguishable rage; all Heav’n
Resounded, and had Earth bin then, all Earth
Had to her Center shook.

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The rest in imitation to like Armes
Betook them, and the neighbouring Hills uptore;
So Hills amid the Air encounterd Hills
Hurl’d to and fro with jaculation dire,
That under ground, they fought in dismal shade;
Infernal noise; Warr seem’d a civil Game
To this uproar; horrid confusion heapt
Upon confusion rose: and now all Heav’n
Had gone to wrack, with ruin overspred

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Go then thou Mightiest in thy Fathers might,
Ascend my Chariot, guide the rapid Wheeles
That shake Heav’ns basis, bring forth all my Warr,
My Bow and Thunder, my Almightie Arms
Gird on, and Sword upon thy puissant Thigh;
Pursue these sons of Darkness, drive them out
From all Heav’ns bounds into the utter Deep:
There let them learn, as likes them, to despise
God and Messiah his anointed King.

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. . . a noble stroke he lifted high,
Which hung not, but so swift with tempest fell
On the proud Crest of Satan, that no sight,
Nor motion of swift thought, less could his Shield
Such ruin intercept: ten paces huge
He back recoild; the tenth on bended knee

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Hence then, and evil go with thee along
Thy ofspring, to the place of evil, Hell,
Thou and thy wicked crew; there mingle broiles,
Ere this avenging Sword begin thy doome,
Or som more sudden vengeance wing’d from God
Precipitate thee with augmented paine.

.

(Paradise Lost text via The John Milton Reading Room, Dartmouth College. All pictures by the author from the 6th Annual Pattie’s Cruise In, a car show and street festival in the St. Johns neighborhood of Portland, Oregon. Special thanks to the guys at NWA Blue Collar Wrestling.)

(— Gary Garvin)

Nov 132016
 

Working Title/Artist: The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)Department: Am. Paintings / SculptureCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1871 Digital Photo File Name: DT86.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 06/08/15

Max Schmitt and his reflection have been with me some sixty years, almost my entire life. I first saw him as a child, browsing through the only art book we had on the shelves, Modern American Painting, by Peyton Boswell, Jr., published in 1939. My mother’s influence, but perhaps my father’s. Schmitt gazed towards but not directly at me, with a look that wasn’t recognition or identification yet which made contact and left an opening I haven’t yet closed. With the opening, a proposition that I couldn’t understand then but may have felt, or maybe just a simple statement I still don’t wish to refute. I bought a print some fifteen years ago and he has been on a wall as I’ve moved around the last years, a protracted season of dislocation.

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The painting is Thomas Eakins’s The Champion Single Sculls, also known as Max Schmitt in a Single Scull, completed in 1871. Click the image above for full enlargement. Schmitt, a friend of the painter, was Philadelphia’s single-scull champion several years. Rowing was popular then, and he was a well-known and well-loved figure in amateur sports across the nation, forgotten now. But I did not know that until much later, nor does Eakins show crowds teeming on the shores cheering him on at the height of victory as he crosses the finish line. He doesn’t even show him demonstrating his strength and skill executing a hard pull on the oars in tense, charged exertion. Rather he presents him dressed in casual gear during a practice session on a crisp autumn day, by himself, in a nearly deserted scene made luminous by a clarifying late-afternoon sun. Schmitt has just made a turn on the Schuylkill River and now relaxes, the wakes from his scull and oars leaving broad trailing curves that take us into the painting and set its composition, giving it its energy. To me, for so many years, he was only a man named Schmitt and he was just there, resting above the still water, looking out, balancing the oars in one hand, which more and more I realize is a marvelous feat.

Working Title/Artist: The Champion Single Sculls (Max Schmitt in a Single Scull)Department: Am. Paintings / SculptureCulture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: 1871 Digital Photo File Name: DT86.tif Online Publications Edited By Steven Paneccasio for TOAH 06/08/15

The bridges are rendered in sharp, accurate perspective—Eakins was a master of the technique—but other painters had already begun to flatten space and dismantle it, taking art in rapid acceleration on an unknown path. And we see on the horizon the developing technology of the time, the train about to cross one bridge, a steam boat to pass under, this when our technology was taking off, with it, our mounting wonder.

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Nor does Eakins show influence of the Impressionists, who had already begun exploring the transience of light and stating the primacy of paint, of colors. Above, Claude Monet’s Bathers at La Grenouillère, painted in 1869.

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There is no evidence Eakins even visited the Salon des Refusés, and he had his chance. He was in Paris at the time, studying under Jean-Léon Gérôme, an academic painter who enjoyed considerable popular and critical success, for example with his Ave Caesar! Morituri te salutant (Hail Caesar! We Who Are about to Die Salute You).

Eakins has done nothing to alter the esthetic course of art or change our perceptions. He presents the world as solid, and academic rigor anchors his work. Yet the painting is alive, in the shimmering blur of brush along the shore, the erratic reach of the trees, the brisk scrape of clouds above. It succeeds at what makes any work endure, working within a form and giving it life and expression. I have never tired of looking. Each time it is fresh and vital.

He does make a break, however, and it comes from his subject matter, which was rejected by the official salons of Paris and shocked established Philadelphia. He has given us a common man not posing but relaxing in informal clothes, performing an everyday behavior without ceremony, without appropriation of past claims and pretense, in an ordinary place without hierarchy of space or institution. We have begun to look at ourselves and it is liberating.

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Perhaps Schmitt is looking at someone on the shore, perhaps he is taken in a thought, or perhaps he is deflecting one. There’s a severity in his face and he seems to scowl, but he’s only frowning in the glare of the sun. His look did not put me off as a boy and must have instilled this note back then, that whoever, wherever we are, whatever we hope to be, we need to maintain vigilance, skepticism, and a measure of reserve.

Really, Eakins doesn’t give us much to identify him as an individual, but his portrait is made in the whole landscape, of which he is a part but where he keeps his separation. There is light. And there is transcendence, but where it takes us is back to exactly what we see, the clouds, the trees, the brush, the trailing curves in the river, and Max Schmitt resting above still water, looking out, balancing oars in one hand.

I have looked at the painting several times this past week, for confirmation, or reassurance, or to restore a definition, and I realize how the painting has always stood for me, that it shows me what it means to be American, vigorous and assertive yet relaxed and open, and free of historical encumbrance; self-assured but not self-possessed and not afraid.

Failing that, it is a picture of what it means to be alive, to be oneself by oneself, and not be alone.

There’s a kind of idealism in realism, or can be, a belief that the simple fact of our existence is worth stating and preserving.

Gary Garvin

Nov 032016
 

isaura

Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his. 

The cities in Italo Calvino’s novel are metaphors for cities. And for our experiences, alone and together, within the walls we construct around ourselves, walls being metaphors themselves. And are metaphors for other metaphors. And for much else our walls cannot contain, what escapes our most rigorous designs, what exists within, beneath, and above the surface of our intentions. As Marco Polo tells us,

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.”

Karina Puente, an architect and urbanist based in Lima, Peru, who has worked on plans for the Lima of the future, has also begun illustrating each of Calvino’s 55 cities. The drawings capture much from the text, but they also have a magic of their own. Her progress can be found at her site here, and you can learn more about Karina and the project in this interview at Kindle.

Above, Isaura, the city of a thousand wells, whose borders are determined by a subterranean lake beneath, its design by all that is needed to extract the water.

Consequently two forms of religion exist in Isaura. The city’s gods, according to some people, live in the depths, in the black lake that feeds the underground streams. According to others, the gods live in the buckets that rise, suspended from a cable, as they appear over the edge of the wells,

And live in all the other apparatus and construction that brings the water to the top. It is a city “that moves entirely upward.”

tamara

Tamara is a city of signs:

You penetrate it along streets thick with signboards jutting from the walls. The eye does not see things but images of things that mean other things: pincers point out the tooth-drawer’s house; a tankard, the tavern; halberds, the barracks; scales, the grocer’s. Statues and shields depict lions, dolphins, towers, stars: a sign that something—who knows what?—has as its sign a lion or a dolphin or a tower or a star.

The city explains itself in these signs. Yet:

However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it.

anastasia

Anastasia has concentric canals and much in it streets that captures our senses and feeds our desires.

The city appears to you as a whole where no desire is lost and of which you are a part, and since it enjoys everything you do not enjoy, you can do nothing but inhabit this desire and be content.

However for those who work to give shape to these desires

your labor which gives form to desire takes from desire its form

And we end being Anastasia’s slaves.

As for Kublai Khan, as for all of us, the narrator tells us,

In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them.

Gary Garvin

Oct 302016
 

princevaliant

Davidson College is a small school in Davidson, North Carolina, part of suburban Charlotte now but years ago a crossroads town that quickly trailed off into the country. You could see a French professor get his hair cut next to a farmer. All the barbers in town were black, and by convention for many years they served blacks only after hours. But they had a thriving business, which they wanted to protect. One or two years of ROTC was mandatory back then, not an uncommon practice. Also there was a war going on, so even after the requirement was dropped many students still enrolled in ROTC. They all had to get haircuts, and a haircut, like much else then, was simple. Keep it short and straight. It was students who protested the policy and finally got the barbers to change, though not without a fight.

When I attended, however, the Vietnam War was winding down. We let our hair grow. Our basketball team wasn’t very good, but they probably had the longest hair in the NCAA. At least they beat Harvard. The barbers were having a hard time and could be seen standing idly in empty shops.

One day, impossibly maned, I paused at one and debated. Christmas break was coming up and I would soon be going home. I started to turn away when a black hand grabbed me.

“Where you going?” the barber asked.

“I guess I’m going to get a haircut,” I said.

And I did.

I didn’t know what I wanted or what to tell him and he didn’t know what to do with me, but something was managed. He was a good guy, who had kids.

“You are the all-American boy,” he said when he finished and spun me around to look at myself in the mirror.

My philosophy professor said I looked like Prince Valiant, the one in the comics.

Gary Garvin

Oct 272016
 

czech

Milan Kundera begins The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by telling the story of the pictures above:

In February 1948, Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace in Prague to address the hundreds of thousands of his fellow citizens packed into Old Town Square. It was a crucial moment in Czech history—a fateful moment of the kind that occurs once or twice in a millennium.

Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing next to him. There were snow flurries, it was cold, and Gottwald was bareheaded. The solicitous Clementis took off his own fur cap and set it on Gottwald’s head.

The Party propaganda section put out hundreds of thousands of copies of a photograph of that balcony with Gottwald, a fur cap on his head and comrades at his side, speaking to the nation. On that balcony the history of Communist Czechoslovakia was born. Every child knew the photograph from posters, schoolbooks, and museums.

Four years later Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately airbrushed him out of history and, obviously, out of all the photographs as well. Ever since, Gottwald has stood on that balcony alone. Where Clementis once stood, there is only bare palace wall. All that remains of Clementis is the cap on Gottwald’s head.

I had a Czech student decades ago who told me the story of how her mother, a schoolgirl at the time, again in Prague, I think, performed this act of historical revision. Her teacher instructed the class to open their books, pull out their pencils, and erase one of the men. Except by mistake she told them to erase Gottwald, not Clementis. So they had to go back and erase Clementis as well. Then no one was on the podium. There wasn’t even a hat.

My student was bright and beautiful, as her mother must have been.

Gary Garvin

Oct 172016
 

ulysses

Fiction is a construction that arranges space and has a structure that defines spatial relationships. As such it is a kind of architecture, but its structure, especially in our more challenging, more exploratory fictions cannot be pictured as the simple pyramid Freytag gave us years ago. Matteo Pericoli, architect, author, and illustrator, has students explore these relationships and make them visible in models they build in his Laboratory of Literary Architecture, a workshop he has taught around the world. As he says:

In any real architectural project, there are ideas that need to be designed and conveyed, a supporting structure, sequences of spaces, surprises and suspensions, hierarchies of space and function, and so on. In creative writing, many of the challenges seem to be similar. For example, how should different strands of narrative be intertwined? How can chronology be rearranged in a plot sequence? How is tension expressed? What do certain narrative sequences and omissions convey or mean? How do characters connect?

And he cites Alice Munro, from her Selected Stories:

A story is not like a road to follow … it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows. And you, the visitor, the reader, are altered as well by being in this enclosed space, whether it is ample and easy or full of crooked turns, or sparsely or opulently furnished. You can go back again and again, and the house, the story, always contains more than you saw the last time. It also has a sturdy sense of itself of being built out of its own necessity, not just to shelter or beguile you.

Above, Katherine Treppendahl’s model of Joyce’s Ulysses.

This model represents my interpretation of the structural relationships within James Joyce’s Ulysses. While the novel occurs over the course of just one day, the text is lengthy, rich and exhaustive. The central story is that of salesman wandering Dublin. But revolving around and within that story are thousands of others—both internal stories developed within the novel and allusions to stories external to the text. The primary external text is, of course, Homer’s Odyssey, and the chapters and characters in Joyce’s novel reflect scenes and characters from Homer’s story. I developed an architectural language for translating multiple aspects of the structure of the novel. This language takes into account the progression from realism to abstraction in the text, the shifting roles of and intersections between key characters, the passage of time, the interior stylistic parallels, and the reader’s journey through the text.

Her full analysis of the model is extensive and can be found at her site here.

rings-of-saturn

W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, by Joss Lake in collaboration with Stephanie Jones.

The structure is a tall and narrow space, reflecting both the vast scope of the book as well as the intimacy of the reading experience. An uneven path is suspended along metal supports, and gradually rises and falls across the entire length of the structure. The path’s shape is dictated by the fragmented and surprising nature of the narrative, in which the novel leaps from subject to subject through unconventional avenues, such as the documentary playing in the narrator’s hotel room … The darkness of the tall and narrow space is broken by clusters of light bulbs. The constellations of lights are not comforting; they too are disconcerting … These light bulbs are the core of the novel, the details that Sebald, and his narrator, use to recover the past.

hempel

Amy Hempel’s essentially plotless story “The Harvest” derives its motion and containment elsewhere. Ytav Bouhsira, Barbara Clinton, Silvia Jost, Eithne Reynolds created this solution.

The different planes of understanding cause discomfort for the reader. So compelling was the story that reading it was likened to being on a fast train and unable to get off.

We developed models to better reflect our understanding of what the structure of the story would look like and to give the story its spatial form. What emerged were models with airy layers, corners and angles. Through discussion, we realized that we were more comfortable with a form that shows that the author tries by different planes to adjust the story again and again.

While our structure is layered, these layers to not overlap. Rather than giving the reader more information, they show a different attempt of place-making. They have connection and are built one upon the other. There are no pillars or stairs that hold the building together. The space and the structure are the same.

What makes our building inhabitable is that the ground and roof are speaking the same material language. They create a system that allows the narrative to work. The different layers connect with the roof at just one single point–which reflects the moment in the narration where the author talks to us directly in the text and disrupts the narration.

The models are interesting in their own right and take on a life of their own. They could serve as starting points for other fictions.

All text from his site, all pictures © Matteo Pericoli, with his generous permission. More pictures of these models and other models can be found there. Matteo also, along with Giuseppe Franco, has begun a series of Literary Architecture projects in The Paris Review Daily that can be found here.

I had to try my own, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.

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The first thought is to make a winding corridor into density and darkness. But really the stalled trip up the river only provides an intensification of what we see in glimpses at the beginning. The plot does not develop anything we haven’t seen before and resolves nothing. It is not a novel of action, but of Marlow’s discovery and perception.

My model, like the novel, rests on water. Marlow tells his story while on the Thames waiting for the tide, makes his trip on a river, and the novel ends with the narrator’s gaze on “the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth.” Instead of a plot line my model takes its structure from a rational grid of streets the color of blood. Rising from the grid a crystalline city, or a section of one. The novel shows us almost nothing of Africa or its people. What we most see instead, and what I show, is the western imposition and exploitation. As Marlow tells us, “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz,” and it was the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs who commissioned him to write the report on which he later scrawled “Exterminate all the brutes!”

hodcloseup

“The meaning of an episode,” the narrator tells us of Marlow’s story, “was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze.” Marlow’s encounter with Kurtz throws “a kind of light on everything about me—and into my thoughts.” My model captures this glow in reflected lights, but instead of the sought transcendence we have transparency of motive. There is no green in the model. I rejected Conrad’s notion that darkness was inherent in nature. We largely see nature in the novel as an obstruction or source for plunder. The darkness in the heart of Africa comes from ourselves, our contradictions, our corrupt projections.

Gary Garvin

Sep 222016
 

antique-store

I recently relocated to the St. Johns neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, and have been trying to get my bearings. “Gritty” St. Johns, as Portlanders say, or “up-and-coming” St. Johns, as Realtors tell us, was once an independent city built on its port and a few industries. It was incorporated into Portland a century ago. The other day I walked by a display, pictured above, in the windows of a store that had just closed. Free verse, public art—Sharon Helgerson tells her story and St. Johns’. Age 79, she is third generation St. Johns and a former Longshoreman, once a member of ILWU Local 8.

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Nolan Calisch and Nina Montenegro joined to put her words up, part of People’s Homes, a collaborative art project. The store is across the street from James John Grade School, where Sharon began attendance in 1942.

The other morning I searched online to see what I else I could find about Sharon and ran across this casual picture she took in 1968:

bobby-kennedy-st-johnsVia the St. Johns Heritage Association.

Bobby Kennedy, campaigning in Portland, made an appearance in St. Johns after their May parade, just a block away from the school, the store with the sign, and the place where I now live. Ethel and John Glenn were there as well. Two weeks later Bobby was shot.

The coming elections are in mind, and I’ve been thinking about ways to repair the break in time and the rent in our social fabric, as well as imagine what words I might put in a public window some day, without success.

Gary Garvin