Creative Echoes

Photo by me!

One of my favorite things about being an 18th-century geek who works in an 18th-century building is the time there alone my job requires. I love to share King’s Chapel’s history with visitors, and to write about it, but doing my opening/closing tasks in a meditative state of mind is also wonderful. The building gets a chance to show me the small, quiet things about itself, its little pockets of Creativity.

Here are two examples sourced in the beautiful work that craftspeople did long ago.

The huge original beams that cross the crypt ceiling were trees that sprouted in the early 1600s, perhaps the 1500s. Those who shaped these beams straddled them and took steps backwards as they worked with their blades. The visible marks show a lovely wave pattern that still evokes their hands and bodies at work.

Many of the small panes in the fairly majestic windows are original to the building. Being hand-made glass, they have inconsistencies in texture that make each a piece of craft. At certain times of day in certain seasons, the light coming through onto the pew walls (beautiful pieces of woodworking in their own right) collects and displays the character of the panes in bright patches of pattern.

Photo by me!

Decorrrrrrrr

You know, I literally have five more days of Poetry and Decorating Month, so don’t rush me.

I have seen segments of the British Antiques Roadshow with a host, three similar objects, and an expert in those particular objects. The host and surrounding onlookers try to figure out which object has the highest monetary value. All the objects are aesthetic delights.

I told my friend Sandy (link to her blog post about my blog) that I would post during Decorating Month about the bone we pick with the Boston Globe Sunday magazine “home” features. The theme of our rants is simple: How to Decorate Big Space with Big Money is of little use to a lot of us.

Frankly, I love looking at “real estate porn”, and most simple/edgy/boho/unusual home design fascinates me. I am also a fan of Marni Elyse Katz, who writes these features now. She’s good!

My own object/decor jam is more thrift, gift, and foraging. People write about that, too. I have six books on the topic and counting, and they’re mostly second-hand. And I practice. My glass square that came from an old job when they closed contains a highly curated collection of park tree branches, pond driftwood, and a stick I grabbed out of a community garden compost area. I mean, this thing is curated. It’s an arrrrrrangement.

I have framed book covers, book pages, and postcards on the wall. The pleasing display above my desk contains a thrift-store glass cylinder of stones and shells in colorful layers, a birch log, two ocean stones, a framed collage I made from a beat-up book, and the fired clay figure I made in Sunday School crafts class, who vaguely resembles Buddha in a beret. This is how I roll, and a lot of interesting authors have encouraged my roll.

So let’s play the Roadshow game and decide what is my most valuable work of art in the photo. If the Ansel Adams were the real deal, then yeah. But it’s posterboard in a frame, and someone left it in the building when they moved out. So it cost me nothing, but it is full of value. First thing I hung in this apartment, it connects me to the tree outside, and my gaze often wanders into its deepness when my gaze needs to wander.

The one on the right is a print of King’s Chapel, the wonderful 18th-century historic site where I used to work and hope to work again. It’s likely from a re-issue the artist’s son did in the 1970s. I know this because artist Jas Murray did a lot of local scenes and still seems to be very popular. I found it in a charity shop, hanging there waiting for me, which I’m sure is what it was doing. It fills my heart up every day, like a lover’s portrait.

The piece on the left is by artist and parfumier John Biebel. The pensive woman carries a long-stemmed flower and has a lovely old home growing out of her head. It was gift to me from my friend John. I find it exquisite and inspiring, and it represents the generous kindness of a friend I love.

Cost winner? King’s Chapel at $6. Value winner? Nope. Each one is beautiful to me, makes me happy when I look at it, surrounds me with Creativity. The Creative finding of Creative things is decor my way.

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.

 

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.

 

Hello. My Name Is…

Hello

I’ve been thinking about Names this week.

The textbook my students use has tips for Vivid Descriptions that begins with naming, which it says helps readers “visualize…and understand.” We recently compared “a vase of flowers” to “a vase of dandelions,” the latter not only more vivid, but an image that can generate meaning on its own. My students suggested: insulting, broke-but-still-in-love, spontaneous, and others.

A colleague at the historic site showed me a photo of blazing, tomato-paste-red leaves, and asked me sheepishly if they were in fact maple. I thought they were; there are some that ignite like this in early fall. She wanted to post Creatively with them and to be sure of their Name.  Reading Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge’s lively book poemcrazy: freeing your life with words has put back into simple focus how beautiful and rich words are:  Leaf. Flame. Fall. Float. Color. Earth. And names: Oak. Paperbark Maple. Linden. Pagoda Tree. Hawthorne. Elm. (And big thanks to the Boston Public Garden for all the little signs on the trunks!)

More magic name-glitter got sprinkled onto my workday at the site when I met a descendant of someone in the Burial Ground, Dr. Comfort Starr, whose name has always been a Favorite of mine. Having met this woman, I looked him up, and it turns out he was, in fact, a medical man, a “chirgeon.” Not, as I had wondered, a clergyman.  He had the perfect name for either profession, no?

Of course, once one foot is in the Research Rabbit Hole, down you go. I spent part of the afternoon reveling in the names of his many siblings. Puritan names are often wonderfully strange and creative. No offense to William or Judith or even Jehosophat, but some of their names read like a poem-fruit growing on the family tree: Moregifte Starr, Mercy Starr, Suretrust Starr, TruthShallPrevayl Starr, Standwell Starr, Beloved Starr, Joyfull Starr.

They seem to have felt the power of words as names, to witness or even to make real their Values and Aspirations.

On that note, this newly-returned-once-more-and-who-knows-maybe-again-later blog has been renamed. It is now The Creative (Almost) Full-Timer: Finding and Being Creativity in a Brimming-Over World.  My favorite name in the Boston burial grounds has always been Hopestill. Yes. Yes, indeed.

 

Thanks to Jenni, because this began when I said the words, “Yes. Maple.”

 

 

 

Subversive Writing and Rambling

Subversive documents

We historic site colleagues were picking words to describe our presentation styles with the public. We like words: They’re artists and grad students who love communicating about history, and I do, too, and I’m, you know, CPT Me.

I suggested I’m “Intellectual but Funny.” They nodded agreeably, and one said, “The word we chose for you was Subversive.” Really??? Explanation: Because I had dismantled and rearranged our Revolutionary Personages talk to add in colonial poet Sarah Wentworth Morton, and to connect the subjects of the talk in my own chain of meaning.

My colleagues are young and in Master’s programs, blissfully unaware that in the Academia where I used to dwell, that’s not Subversive. That’s Required. That is called “intervening in the conversation,” and You’d Better have a new twist on things if you want to live in EnglishPhDland. Theoryguay. LitReviewistan. Jonestown.

OK, OK, a little dark humor isn’t going to leave a stain. I am proud of some of my work, deeply impressed by some scholars I know and read, and full of stuff to say about the 18th century. But I gloriously failed to be an academic many times while acting like I was trying to become one. That’s OK, though. Let’s all live our best lives.

Of course, there’s plenty of evidence that Scholarly and Creative can harmonize. But often they don’t, and I still don’t quite get it. For example, the author of an important book in my field said to me over cocktails that, although nearing retirement, she was discovering a whole new way to approach theater history. She was now attending actual rehearsals at her university for the first time in her career. Yeah. From her tone, she felt subversive. I felt a little sick. I can laugh about it now.

My Revolutionary talk at work is a good, coherent little talk, a star shape nicely squeezed out of the Play Doh Fun Factory of my Intellect. But it was prompted by real, personal interest and Creative Sisterhood with Mrs. Sarah, and those things aren’t too academic. Do I get to call the talk Creativity? I don’t know, yet oddly, I care. I hope someday to have more Intellectual/Creative harmony.

Am I subversive? I don’t write in a bare garret, rejecting everything but Art; I have an AC. I read mysteries and watch Antiques Roadshow. I like vanilla ice cream a great deal.

The writer and queer/feminist activist Michelle Tea described “Sister Spit, the all-girl performance tour that tore up the United States at the end of the last century” as, among other things, “the my-poetry-can-beat-up-your-theory menace.” I like that. That’s funny. I value poetry a lot more than academic writing. I’ve been dealing with some things and been pretty sub-versive lately (get it?), but I still see a poet in the mirror. And will even if I do finish that book about 18th-century theater history.

I don’t know if I can reach Tea’s subversive heights, but I was busy writing this today instead of writing for money. Taking an actual day off work to prioritize whatever creativity showed up. Not wearing pants. Reading literature in the current administration. You do what you can.  I could murder some ice cream right now. Chocolate? I like eating it with a fork.

 

The portrait of John Adams by J.S. Copley belongs to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. I quoted from Michelle Tea’s piece “Sister Spit Feminism,” in her new book Against Memoir, published by Feminist Press. I highly recommend it. My talk and other good ones are available at King’s Chapel on the Freedom Trail, Boston.