Crypt(ic) Creativity

Picture

Jack-o-lanterns and, um, dismemberment. Winged skulls on gravestones and scones on strings. My October Creativity has been much focused on writing spooky history fun facts and trivia questions for this virtual event.

As sorry as I am that the historic site’s candlelit crypt tours could not happen this year, the first trivia night was a real hoot. Hoot…owl…Halloween…RIGHT? It was so good, I was sorry you all missed it.

The second and final event is tonight. If you’re looking for a new Halloween activity please join us. Play to win, or just enjoy the fun facts and scary stuff in good company. You will be supporting one of the many non-profit cultural institutions knocked hard by this murder hornet of a year. And it’s a piece of Creativity I’m proud of!

http://www.kings-chapel.org/history-events.html

Sticks and Stones: Stones

KC stone 1KC stone 2

When I took these photos, I was doing an exercise in Looking at the familiar objects in the historic site where I work. There was a quiet 30 minutes one day last winter, and I decided to pay closer attention to the sculptures and memorials on the walls. Not to the people they remembered, but to perfect stone ivy leaves or rich abstract designs. Each pointing to someone’s artistry, time, and focus.

That experience is a cliché you could read in a thousand blogs, right? So I’m not going to write about slowing down, being mindful, observing the present world, feeling appreciation, or any of that.

I’m also not going to offer this stone only as rarefied beauty in an historic church. I do find this work beautiful, and I miss being near it this spring.  My heart does find Creativity sacred.  But like much art, this art exists because of past financial privilege and white privilege, and sometimes that privilege existed because of the organized kidnapping and labor of enslaved people. It’s information the site shares with visitors as part of its History Program.

This is one of the longest periods the building has remained empty since 1754, and right now it might seem to have its own closed-off existence. But it doesn’t exist outside the world, and it holds a lot to Look At. Beautiful and otherwise, sometimes at the same time.

 

By the way, please visit King’s Chapel in Boston, with its fascinating, difficult history and remarkable building, at the History Program’s pandemic-expanded web site.  We’ve worked hard on it and hope you will explore. When the building is open again, please visit in person. We have a lot to share.

 

Sticks and Stones, Part I: Sticks

Sticks 1For many years I thought I enjoyed and was thankful for Boston’s chain of green spaces, called the Emerald Necklace. I had no real idea what those emotions were. Now those spaces are where I spend the two hours out of 24 that I’m not in my studio apartment. And they have water and woods and birds and turtles and flowers and sky. Yeah.

The parks are Creative acts themselves, mostly by Frederick Law Olmsted, my personal superhero these days. They also contain other people’s Creativity. The Fens, for example, where I took these photos, have small stone buildings by the architect H.H. Richardson, a formal rose garden, a 17th-century Japanese temple bell found by WWII soldiers in a dump and later gifted by Japan to Boston, and the huge community gardens full of veggies, gnomes, goldfish, flowers, trees, pinwheels, etc.

Even in the awfulness of now, the parks folks are clearing brush and keeping things together, as they always do. The Fens has a comfortable, shabby quality: if it were an old stuffed animal, you would call it “well-loved”. It is that, and it is beautiful just as it is, and more so since some recent landscape renovations. It is also carefully tended and refreshed by people whose work I appreciate even more right now. Piles of sticks and branches, especially after storms, bear witness to their work.

Some visitors, and I’ve said Hello to a couple of them at work along the way, are using those piles for this Creativity, a growing structure under one of Olmsted’s great trees. It began as a much smaller hut and has stretched since, with more doorways, longer halls, and extra skylights. I mean, obviously, a lot of skylights! It’s to smile at, crawl into, add to, play with. And the tree that shelters it will soon have its leaves, and those leaves will catch the pinks and yellows of the sunrise, as I feel sure Olmsted knew they eventually would. And we walk on.

Be safe and well. Be kind.

 

Sticks 2

Chance Creativity

AGW

At the risk of a blog overrun by shadows and cemeteries, let us proceed. I am a happy collector of Chance Creativity wherever it’s found, whether in Nature or in human effort. I collect moments of connection between what’s around us and what we perceive. (Oh, right, yeah, that’s…Creativity.) But sometimes you come across something surprising that uplifts.

I love the extra layer of creativity in this tomb door plaque in the Hancock Cemetery, Quincy Center, MA, observed by my ever-curious and history-minded colleague. There’s a wonderful variety of materials and surfaces, an attractive font, and fine stone artistry. Certainly it makes sense to have the names in alphabetical order.  But look at the Chance Creativity in Appleton, Greenleaf, and Woodward: “wood” rises into “green leaf” rises into “apple.” I’m going to believe that, after all the time and attention, the stone carvers saw it, too.

What is in play here? The ways we memorialize, and what stone symbolizes. Space and landscape. Style, even in burial, that reflects people, regions, and eras. Human relationships and how we express them. They all came together here, our eyes joined them, and there is the image of a tree in stone, made of words.

Thank you to Christina Rewinski for her historic explorations and the photo.

The Haiku Board

Hey, remember April? Me, either. I think it was the last time I thought about this blog with any sense of fun, since I’ve been overworking at my jobs since then. These things happen. It is what it is. This, too. This too shall pass. Moving on.

April definitely happened, though, and it was definitely National Literature and Poetry Month. The historic site in Boston where I work has some share of literary fame. King’s Chapel’s location is where some of some of The Scarlet Letter takes place. Poets Sarah Wentworth Morton and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. were members. Louisa May Alcott’s grandfather has a Memorial, Herman Melville’s grandfather is buried close by, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s grandfather owned a tomb in the crypt. Mrs. Morton’s grandfather was also a member, also buried there, so we are the Champs when it comes to Writer Gramps.

Special displays of people, prose, poems, and quotations filled the chapel for the month. We also offered space and post-it notes for visitors to write Haiku about their experiences. We enjoyed and admired them. Here are some poems left by our visitors on The Haiku Board. I don’t know their names, but I thank them for their Creativity.

Some people focused on what they saw:

Some people focused on history, including the presence of the Enslaved and free People of Color:

Some just cut to the chase. Fair enough.

And some, well, I don’t know what inspired this, but we all loved it!

Hark! An Artist. Or, Winging It Some More

badass kate

So, Untold Numbers of you long ago discovered the fabulous Kate Beaton, whose art this is. It’s from her book Hark! A Vagrant, which was “on my list” forever and which I finally read in one sitting because she is fantastic. Her Mystery Solving Teens clearly know what is What when it comes to gravestone Art, and when I saw this, I grinned like a…well, you know.

Here’s the most badass Winged skull in my personal photo collection from King’s Chapel Burial Ground in Boston. At least It thinks it is.

badass wingy

Kate Beaton’s art was used without a glimmer of permission, and I hope she won’t mind.

Winging It Through History

How to describe the most common motif on Puritan burial markers: symbolic, direct, folk-artsy, charming, blank-eyed, stylized, humorous, eerie…Creative. You may not see them in your neck of the woods, as their Winged Selves flock mostly in New England. Depending on their hometown, and its proximity to colonial cities, their styles vary a lot, even to the point of becoming abstract designs. Carvers imitated one another, and also did their own thing.

My own neighbors in Boston’s first English burial ground, next to the historic site where I work, are on the “realistic” end of the spectrum: proper, Toothy skulls with feathery wings. Each has its own personality, and I imagine the artists enjoying that chance to be Creative. The Puritan lifestyle was not known for decorative opportunity.

Sheepish skull

Doesn’t the one with the winged hourglass perched on its head look Sheepish?

sassy skull

The punky one with flame wings has a Sassy smile. Some have Clark Gable grins, and some have rather spider-leg-looking wings.

muscle skull

The one with the very muscle-bound shoulders also has an egg-head, so brings the brains and the brawn. A few just look quite Stoned. (I know. Inherited the pun gene from Grampa.) They appeared slowly under the Carvers’ crafty hands hundreds of years ago and watch the changing world as they soften, chip, and fade.

When I wander through the old grounds of the city, I like giving them these moods and ‘tudes. And appreciating them, Creative Acts of the past that are part of my home’s landscape.

I also have one on a T-shirt, which I wear when I’m at work next door. The shirt is a crowd favorite and just flies off the shelves. (Sorry not sorry. Papa would be proud.) So they’re part of our wardrobes, too. Imagine Cotton Mather, that old Puritan barrel of monkeys, seeing his first name of the label of a graphic T.

The Gravestone Girls make groovy fridge magnets, isolating elements from both simple and elaborate stone art in our area. They do no rubbing and no damage, but they do a lot that is Creative and Fun. This is Smilin’ Isaac!

smiling Isaac

The “wingies” make for sweet eating at Halloween, too, thanks to the Creativity of one of my colleagues, who seems to be an Artistic in Every Way.

wingy skull treat

And most recently, I saw “wingy skull” as quaint and dramatic body art inked on the shoulder of a visitor to the chapel, who kindly showed it off.

Stacie

The thing as wonderful as still having them to love and learn from is giving them new  Life in so many creative ways. Hey, boss, tote bags…

 

These stones can all be found in King’s Chapel Burial Ground on Tremont Street in Boston. You can learn much about them from James Deetz’s interesting book In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life.  The work of the Gravestone Girls is at https://gravestonegirls.com/. THANK YOU to DeLIGHTful visitor Stacie Moore for sharing her ink and to the Brilliant Beam that is Lauren Bergnes Sell for the yummy photo of her work.