Preserving the Stories of Our Lives by capturing the voices, words, and meanderings of artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, and eyewitnesses to history. Listen, learn, and be amazed! WEB: www.storypreservation.org
Story Preservation wishes to thank playwright Tom Anastasi for allowing us to use and share with Learning Lab partner schools his script for the play Surviving Evil. The play is a theatrical depiction of the life of holocaust survivor Stephan Lewy, whose oral history is part of Story Preservation’s collection.
What better way to teach young people about the holocaust than to have them listen to the stories of those who survived it and then, as we are now able to offer, have them take on the roles of victims, witnesses, and perpetrators.
From Stephan’s Story Preservation oral history relative to Kristallnacht:
“What they did, the Germans, they took the kids. We were about roughly fifty girls and fifty boys. They put us into the synagogue, and they couldn’t torch it, because we had Gentile people living on either side. So, above the arc, there is an eternal light burning in every synagogue, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Ours was a gas-fired light. It could be electric; it could be a large candle that burns for seven days, and so on. But ours was a gas-fired light. What they did, they cut the gas line to this eternal light and let the gas escape. We were all sitting in
these seats —one hundred kids. They walked out, locked the doors on us, and walked away, hoping that we would suffocate in the process. So, fortunately, one of the boys, who probably was about fourteen years old, had enough sense to take a chair and break some windows, figuring he would be punished for breaking the window, but that’s what saved our lives that night. There were 279 synagogues that were either burned or demolished that night.”
The children of the Baruch Auerbach orphanage; Stephan Lewy, third row, far left. Photo courtesy of Stephan Lewy
This is a Learning Lab project and play well suited as a way to observe the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which took place on November 9 and 10, 1938, and to observe Genocide Awareness Month, which in many states is observed during the month of April.
Susan with Louis Psihoyos, Director of The Cove and Racing Extinction
As taken from Susan’s website: Environmental activist and landscape painter Susan Swartz explores the landscape through potent colors and richly layered abstract paintings. With her evocation of coastal splendor and mountain drama, Swartz follows in the tradition of the great German painters, 19th century Romantic sage Caspar David Friedrich, and 20th century icon Gerhard Richter. She is inspired by the intersection of art, nature and spirituality.
In 2005, Swartz was published in the Gibbs Smith collectors book Painters of the Wasatch Mountains alongside Wasatch Mountain School artists Maynard Dixon, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran. The same year she was honored by the Harvard Divinity School for a career that continues to blend artistry and faith. Swartz was the Official Olympic Environmental Artist for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
The underlying energy and tension to Swartz’s work hints of her complex relationship with the natural world. Her decade long struggle with mercury poisoning and Lyme disease transformed her as an artist and as a citizen. She now works from a place of impassioned reverence for the earth, and of fierce determination to inform and educate.
Partnering with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Louie Psihoyos and Dr. Jane Goodall on a number of their environmental campaigns, Swartz also supports the vision and production of documentary films that seek to shed light on social and environmental injustice.
Films touched by her include Academy Award-winners and nominees, as well as Sundance Film Festival award winners.
Swartz serves on the National Advisory Board of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Dean’s Council of the Harvard Divinity School and is the co-founder of charity-based The Christian Center of Park City She is on the board of the Utah Film Center and a founding member of the documentary film organization Impact Partners.
Click on the links below to hear him talk about his childhood in Germany and England, his immigration to America, his years studying under Hans Hofmann, and the evolution of his art. *I’ve included Wolf’s transcript. See below.
And here’s ONE example of the project-base based learning part (so many different jumping off points for learning):
This makes for a long post but here’s the transcript:
TRACK 01 – FROM GERMANY TO THE US
My father was the conductor of the Stuttgart Philharmonic. He married – my mother was a strange lady, from what I hear. I think my father – because I am the youngest of my siblings by six years, people have told me that my father made my mother pregnant, because he thought she was moving out of his purviews, you know, and becoming stranger. He thought that if she had a baby that would get her back to reality, and I was the reality. Well, I think a year after I was born, she just moved out. She moved out with a guy – he was an anthroposophist, which is a sect that developed out of Rudolf [correct name, Steiner], whose schools are still around. The Waldorf Schools, they’re all Rudolf [Steiner] based. When she left our house, she told my father to marry a young singer that he was either having an affair with or was interested in, and she left. I was a baby; I think I was three years old at the biggest, when she left the house. My father very quickly married this new wife. She didn’t like me.
I remember one of the earliest stories from my life. We lived in Stuttgart, and Stuttgart is set as a city that is set in a basin. In order to get to the city, you have to walk down interminable steps. I mean, they’ve got roads, naturally, going like this, you know, but for pedestrians, you go down interminable steps. I remember it was before Christmas and my stepmother said to me, “We’re going to go down now to buy you a Christmas present.” And I had no idea what that was all about, but then we got down to the town and she took me to a store where they sold canes. And she bought a cane and said, “If you don’t behave, that’s what you’ll get, and that’s your Christmas present.”
So I could see that she certainly didn’t love me and didn’t even like me; wanted to get rid of me. Fortunately, my father’s mother lived in Frankfurt, which is, you know, a town that’s a couple of hours away, and she wanted to have me live with her. Or else – I don’t know how that worked. But anyway, she got me, much to the envy of my siblings, you know, because they were having a tough time with her, too. Later on, she turned out to be a Nazi.
I certainly wasn’t, at that point, a very happy child. But then, as soon as I was with my grandma, she was a wonderful woman, very strong, experienced in bringing up children, because she had three of her own. We also had in the household — we had Mim, who was a family retainer from England. Her name really was Miss Wilkins, you know, but we all called her Mim. She was very lovely with me too, and taught me English, because she didn’t like to speak German. As soon as I was with my grandmother, I had drawing materials and encouragement, you know. I didn’t have any lessons. I didn’t have them until a good deal later. But I certainly felt like a happy child at that point, you know. We were living right at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens in Frankfurt, and after a heavy rain, my grandmother would take me out and went looking around carefully. She’d tell me to get into the beds where the dahlias were growing and where some huge dahlia had broken off, she told me to take it out, put my raincoat over it, and walk it out of the Botanical Gardens. Then she’d meet her friends, and her friends made a fuss over me, and she didn’t like that, because if they started to say, what a pretty boy – because I was a pretty boy – she’d say, “Shhhh, Ich spreche English.” So she tried to keep me from becoming conceited and arrogant. Of course, she was a total failure at that.
The next very serious thing that happened is that World War II was about to begin. I was 11 years old. People were already being taken to concentration camps, so my grandmother took me to the American Consulate to have me rejoin my family, and they gave me a number, a quota number, because they had in those days the McCarran Act, which gave each nation a quota. The Germans, at that point, had 10,000 a year, and I think they had 300,000 Jews that were still living in Germany at that point. So the English or, in this case, my aunt in London, who had already emigrated much earlier, got me into this program where volunteer families would take these children. So I arrived in England with a tag around my neck. If that hadn’t happened, I’d be a pile of ashes. So that’s my part of history, so to speak.
At a certain point, it looked – you know, they had the Blitzkrieg, and it looked like England was going to be bombed. I lived in Cambridge, which was a target town, because they had factories around there, and laboratories, and the university. So everybody tried to get out who could. And then they also sent people from London to Cambridge, because London was of course the prime target. So my aunt in London arranged that I would be part of a kindertransport. She was successful in getting this family in the suburbs of Cambridge to sign an affidavit that I would never become a charge of the state. That’s what the English were most worried about, with these refugee kids. So I went to stay with them, and they turned out to be terrible people. In advance of my arrival a bicycle, a stamp collection, and a huge trunk arrived, and they didn’t understand that at all for a refugee. You know, you’re supposed to have scurvy and dark around the eyes, and here was this little arrogant kid, who spoke English well and didn’t look like a refugee at all. I was fat, fat-ish anyway. So this professor Wade, as soon as we got home, he said, “Now you speak English and I want you to listen carefully to what I have to say. I want you to come into my study and I’ll tell you what I think.” He says, “I think that your family perpetrated a fraud upon us, and you’re not a refugee at all. And the only way I can protect myself is to make you into a servant in the family. So this is what you’re going to do, you’re going to get up at 5:00 in the morning and shine everybody’s shoes, and collect their laundry, and just generally help the maids.”
They were quite well off, these people. I right away understood that I was not very welcome in that household. Then he put me in the garden to help weed. Of course once you know, as a child, that you’re not being loved, and not being welcomed, you do everything wrong. I was constantly in trouble. So then the war began and Wade became an officer in the Territorial Forces, and he just let the authorities that were in charge of me, the Joint Distribution Committee, a Jewish Organization, know that he wanted to get rid of me. They found a lower-middle class family, the Purvises, who treated me very differently. They put me in school right away, where incidentally I became number one boy in English, in the class, because when I was still in Frankfurt, I was attending a gymnasium, which had all – all the teachers were professors from the university, Jewish professors who lost their jobs. The Jewish community put them in charge of kids in the gymnasium. I learned English grammar to the point of being able to parse any kind of sentence and so forth. Of course the English kids who grew up speaking English didn’t have to do any of these things. So as soon as I got into a class, I started talking about grammar. I was way ahead of everybody. So, in Cambridge, living with the Purvises, I had really quite a good time. I made friends with the English kids. They were interested in me.
The teachers didn’t know how to pronounce my name, because England at that point was a very isolated country. Nobody knew what to do with a name that started with a “K” and had an “h” in it. I mean, these things just don’t occur in England. So they all didn’t quite know what to do with me, but they could see that I was smart and knew my way around the world already. Then, the Americans changed the law, whereby families, Jewish families, could be reunited. When the Blitzkrieg began, and bombs started to drop, it was thought wise to get me out of the country. My father started proceedings with the consulate and so on, in New York, to get me. And my aunt put me on board the Volendam, which is a Dutch boat, where I was put into the charge of the First Mate, who actually liked me a lot and treated me as one should a little 12-year-old kid. He put me up on the bridge part of the day, with binoculars, to look for U-boats. We were traveling in a convoy. It was very slow. I think it took 20 days to get across the ocean. I, of course, felt very important up there with my binoculars. Then we got to Hoboken, which is where the Holland America Line had its dock, and there was nobody there to greet me. I guess the mail that announced that I was coming must have been sunk or something, so the Immigration Service – I guess they got together with the First Mate and he put me in the First Class dining room, where I proceeded to eat ham sandwiches like crazy. Finally, at a certain point, they did contact my father and he came and fetched me.
TRACK 02 – THE HOFMANN YEARS
What happened is that my brother, Peter, also was a good draftsman and very interested in being an artist. He and I sort of became competitors almost. He went into the Army, you know, it was World War II, and I was going to the High School of Music & Art, here in New York. By that time, my father had moved to New York. In the High School of Music & Art, I found out, yeah, I was a bit of a hotshot, even there. What I’d do was I’d make caricatures of the teachers in chalk on the blackboard, before the teacher came in, while the class was waiting for him or her. I was good at caricatures. I would get a lot of resemblance very easily. So that made me quite popular.
I wanted to enlist. It was toward the end of the war, but there was still a whole other year, before the peace with Japan was signed. Germany was still in the war. So I joined the Navy, and I passed the Eddy test. The Eddy test is something where they try and find out whether you’re smart enough to study radar, which was a brand new thing at that moment. I passed the Eddy test, and I found myself in the company of MIT students. I’d never even had physics in high school, so I had a hard time there, in addition to which I was not used to standing watch at night and go to school in the daytime. But I learned how to stand and sleep at the same time, which is a useful thing to know how to do. Then I finally flunked out, especially since the war was – they were becoming more and more selective. I had been doing, while in the RT program, drawings of my friends and also some of the recreation officers and people like that, in the style of Artzybasheff, who was the guy who did the covers for Time Magazine. I was pretty good at faking Artzybasheff and making people look like they should be on the cover of Time Magazine. I had a good time in the Navy, when it comes right down to it. I got out, and then it came time to be on the GI Bill.
I wanted to go to Columbia, but it was too late in the year to enroll there, so I went to New School in New York. I studied with Stuart Davis, who is a very well known painter and the world’s worst teacher, a terrible teacher. We met once a week, in the evening, and once at the end of the class he said, “All right children, let’s close the magic portals. We’ve conjured up enough art atmosphere for one evening.” You know, for an idealistic kid – by that time I think I was about eighteen or nineteen — that’s not what you want to hear. So, I heard from my brother Peter about The Hofmann School. That’s where everybody went in those days, anybody who was anybody. He was known to give you a foothold in modern art, and a valid one. My brother was there already, and I joined him in The Hofmann School. Since I spoke German, and Hofmann hardly spoke English – he’d say things like, “This picture is too bunt.” People would look at him and they’d look at me, and they’d say, “What does he mean?” I would say that “bunt” is a word that doesn’t exist in American, because it just means disorganized color, like circus colors, or something like that. If he says your picture is too “bunt,” it means that it’s disorganized chromatically.
Through that, people started to understand what he meant, and I became his assistant in the school, and then I became the monitor. When the GI Bill almost ran out and I could see that I’d better hold on to what I had left of it – I think eight months I still had going – I quit the school and I became Hofmann’s studio assistant. While working for Hans Hofmann, I got to known him much better and having more and more respect. It was exaggerated respect of him, because he was a very, very fascinating personality. He was born knowing more about life than most people learned their whole lifetime long. Exaggeration, but nevertheless, I had really an extraordinary respect for the man. Then I started going out into nature and making drawings, because I was trying – I was influenced at that time by Rembrandt drawings that he made in Holland from nature. I showed these to Hofmann, and he said, “Maybe you’d better stop doing art for a while, because you’re suffering from mental indigestion.”
In fact, I was quite unhappy in those days, because I could see I wasn’t getting anywhere. So, I applied to the University of Chicago, and I got accepted, which in those days was much easier, especially for GIs, than it would be now. I went to Chicago and attended for one academic year and graduated after eight months. So, right at the end of my GI Bill, I also got a degree. The funny thing is just recently I got a letter from Chicago saying that I was going elected as the outstanding graduate for my year, at the next commencement in Chicago, and they invited me to come out there. Of course, I felt this was quite something, so I may go to Chicago next May. But, after eight months, what do they know? Then I got this scholarship to go to School of Humanities, because this art history professor got an interest in me. In addition to a scholarship, I even got a stipend, $2,000 a year, which in those days you could live on. Also, I researched where you could make the most money as an unskilled worker. I found out, if you went to Alaska to do road work, or if you went in the woods in the Northwest – so I heard that the mosquitoes in Alaska were dive-bombing people, and it was uncomfortable, so I decided to go to work in the woods, which I did. While there, I regained all my confidence, and I decided I’m not going to go to any school, I’m going to go back to being an artist. I was making drawings in the woods and so on. Then I came back to New York and, at that point, the Hofmann people found a space to rent to start a cooperative gallery, of which I was one of the founders – the Hansa Gallery. That’s how I had my first show. I guess my first show elicited some attention from critics, including Fairfield Porter, who was at that point already quite a well known painter, and Bill de Kooning. He was a friend of mine in those days too, when I first got started back in the art game.
Then I became part of the scene, the second generation New York School. After that, nothing more very exciting happened, except I got married and I went Italy. Everything sort of happened naturally. I never believed in trying to forge a style or anything like that. In fact, my early paintings and drawings were very influenced by Van Gogh and by Bernard. I never cared about that, because I figured if I have any kind of thing to say or a personality of my own, it would come out anyway, whether I tried for it or not.
TRACK 03 – ART / COLOR / PROCESS
In my own work, I was still holding onto sort of Van Gogh-y kind of involvements. But then, living in Venice and looking out at the Maritima, the big body of water with the tour boats coming up, I just – it affected me and changed my whole style, my whole way of getting involved in art. And I ended up painting mostly all white paintings because I thought the light of Venice was sort of milky. I mean, it ended up being milky and white for me. The way I was painting then, which was all in grays and whites, was so difficult that it took some of the joy out of doing it. Then one summer we went to Maine, and we lived on the southwest harbor of Deer Isle, Maine. In the evening I looked right into the sunset, down this cove into a sunset. And the idea of painting that in all gray would have been unnatural, so I started becoming involved in color again.
What I really believe in is the eye. I think you’ve got to get the mind sort of out of the way and trust that the eye will do things far more comprehensively and more interestingly, certainly, than what you can think about. So I always try to get my painting to the point where the painting speaks to me, rather than me speaking to the painting. I have a feeling at that point, you get in touch with things that are truly interesting and truly mean something, because you’re beyond convention, what have you, you know, and normalcy. I’m against normalcy. I try to get beyond intention. There, of course, the person who most influences me in that search would be Pollock, because he really wanted to get beyond intention, as soon as he started, practically. That’s really his revolutionary influence. The thing is that people don’t realize how important that was, but that connected him and me, and whole lot of other people, including the abstract expressionists. He connected them with surrealism and automatism, and all these tendencies, which I think most people don’t even understand, but which guide me in my work all the time; because I want to be able to see what the picture needs, rather than to start thinking about it. I think it’s pretty close to what happens, that you try and get beyond where you’ve been, because to do over again what you’ve done before – I mean, if you’re a scientist that would be a sin. You don’t do experiments over again that other people have already done. As a painter, I think you shouldn’t expose the public to things they already know, almost as an obligation. You have to take them beyond where things are easily explained.
Of course, being as I am, I think of myself as a very conventional person, very ordinary person, but I do believe that one of the obligations of an artist is to go toward transcendence, and not necessarily to have that as an obligation that weighs upon you, but to have a prospect in your work, or a natural development in your work, that leads you there. In that sense, I’m quite different from most of the landscape painters I know. I think I’m quite different, certainly, from the conceptual artists and people like that. So, even though painting appears not to have reached some kind of a high point right now, still I have a feeling it’s worth doing, because you’re in touch with some kind of natural process. And that seems valuable to me, you know. That’s good enough for me to keep going.
Copyright Story Preservation Initiative. All rights reserved.
Lawrence Siegel is a composer, theater artist, traditional musician, and creator of a wide range of music through collaboration and innovation. For over 25 years, leading his own unique Verbatim Project, he has facilitated and empowered groups to create original music-theater performances with their own voice: from the quirks of life in small New England towns, to the painful telling of the Holocaust story through his acclaimed oratorio, Kaddish.
Larry’s Verbatim project began with simple conversations – snippets picked up at the Village Store in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. There’s wisdom to be found in the everyday dialogs of people as they go about their lives. What fun it might be to put these conversations into a musical context, to create a theatrical experience which would enrich both the participants in the project, and the community they represented.
Village Store Verbatim turned out to be the beginning of a series of projects, each one unique, but each one based on a common process: using the words that people have spoken, the stories they have told, setting them to music, and presenting them to the public.
One of his most acclaimed works, Kaddish, is an oratorio with a libretto drawn from the testimonies of survivors of the Holocaust. Kaddish was commissioned by the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire, where it debuted in 2008. Following its world premiere by VocalEssence in Minnesota in 2008, Kaddish was performed by the Houston Symphony in 2010, and by the Jerusalem Symphony at Yad Vashem, on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem in 2011, as well as on college campuses nationally. His musical works have won awards from the McKnight Foundation, the New England Foundation for the Arts, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and many others. A three-time recipient of a Performing Arts Fellowship from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, he was inducted as a Lifetime Fellow in 2013.
Siegel was a fellow in composition at the Tanglewood Music Center and three times a fellow at the MacDowell Colony. From 1999-2010, he was composer-in-residence at the Eugene O’Neill National Puppetry Conference in Waterford, Connecticut. In 2000, he was Millennium Artist in the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation’s Artists and Communities Program, working with the community of Harts, West Virginia. A musician at heart, Larry has performed nationally with several traditional bands.
Guess what? They’re as much about math as they are about art and science!
The art created by natural history diorama painters is so good, you may never even notice it. In 2013 Story recorded Ruth Morrill who worked with master diorama painter James Perry Wilson at the Peabody Museum at Yale. Few would argue that the highest standard in the creation of natural history dioramas was achieved by James Perry Wilson.
Those that I record are wonderfully generous to share personal family photos with Story for inclusion in the Learning Lab.
These images (and I receive many, these are just two that I chose to share) support the audio narrative. The photographs are one-of-a-kind, personal treasures.
Used with permission of the Family. Restrictions apply.
Some of the “Hidden Children of the Holocaust” who were separated from their parents, took on false identities, and lived in seminaries. This photograph was taken in Jamoigne in the Ardennes, Belgium. Henry Weinstock, who we recorded, is top row, far right.
Used with permission of the family. Restrictions apply
This of Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum in his studio with his son, Lincoln. After Gutzon died, Lincoln continued work on Rushmore.
As part of Story Preservation’s Preserving a Legacy series, we met with and recorded Gutzon Borglum’s granddaughter, Robin Borglum Kennedy.
Robin’s account of her grandfather’s life differs in ways significant from the PBS write up that follows. Her’s is more a personal history, centering on the man, his family, his life, and his art as a whole.
This recording is made possible through the generosity of Deborah L. Coffin.
To listen click on the links below.
John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum liked to tinker with his own legend, subtracting a few years from his age, changing the story of his parentage. The best archival research has revealed that he was born in 1867 to one of the wives of a Danish Mormon bigamist. When his father decided to conform to societal norms that were pressing westward with the pioneers, he abandoned Gutzon’s mother, and remained married to his first wife, her sister.
In 1884, when Gutzon was sixteen, the family moved to Los Angeles. His father, unhappy in California, soon returned to Nebraska, but Gutzon stayed behind. He studied art and met Elizabeth Jaynes Putnam, a painter and divorcee eighteen years his senior. Lisa Putnam became a teacher and mentor to Gutzon, helping manage his career and advising his education. They were married in 1889. While in California, Gutzon painted a portrait of General John C. Fremont and learned the value of having a wealthy and socially connected patron. Although the general died a few years after sitting for his painting, his widow provided Borglum with contacts to men such as Leland Stanford and Theodore Roosevelt.
The Borglums traveled to Paris to work and study, and there Gutzon met sculptor Auguste Rodin. As much as he admired Rodin, more than one historian has suggested that the reason Gutzon gave up painting was to compete with his brother Solon, who had been making his name as a sculptor. Gutzon’s talent was immediately apparent and he found a few commissions (certainly the fact that Solon had already associated the name Borglum with fine sculpture didn’t hurt). At the same time, Gutzon’s marriage was falling apart. He left Paris alone in 1901 and aboard ship met Mary Montgomery, an American who had just completed her doctorate at the University of Berlin. He and Mary wed as soon as Lisa granted him a divorce. They bought a house and farm in Connecticut and named it “Borgland.”
Borglum’s major work back in America included a bust of Abraham Lincoln, which he was able to exhibit in Theodore Roosevelt’s White House. The Lincoln portrait and other much admired works gave Borglum a national reputation, and he was invited by Helen Plane of the United Daughters of the Confederacy to carve a bust of Robert E. Lee on Stone Mountain in Georgia. Borglum’s conception was bigger than Plane’s and Stone Mountain became his first mountain carving project, and where Borglum developed some of the techniques that would later be used on Rushmore.
While at Stone Mountain, Borglum became associated with the newly reborn Ku Klux Klan. Whether this accorded with a racist world view, or if it was simply one way to bond with some of his patrons on the Stone Mountain project, is unclear. Frankly, Borglum had little time for anyone, white or black, who was not a Congressman or millionaire, or happened to be in his way. There is no indication, for example, that he treated his long-suffering black chauffeur Charlie Johnson any differently than any white employee — he owed him back pay just like everyone else. Stone Mountain was not finished by Borglum, but it inspired his next job: Mount Rushmore.
When South Dakota state historian Doane Robinson read about Stone Mountain, he invited Borglum out to the Black Hills of South Dakota to create a monument there. Borglum, perhaps realizing that Stone Mountain had only regional support, immediately suggested a national subject for Rushmore: Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Jefferson were added to the program soon afterward.
Borglum had met and campaigned for Roosevelt, and by invoking that president’s acquisition of the Panama Canal and Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, the Rushmore monument became a story of the expansion of the United States, the embodiment of Manifest Destiny.
Work on the mountain was not constantly supervised by Borglum. When he was at Rushmore, Borglum would be climbing all over the mountain and all over the hills, to determine the best angle for each feature, and advising the carvers on how to create the nuanced details that might not even be visible from below. But after creating the models, siting the sculpture, and developing methods for transferring the image to the mountain and carving the rock, there were long periods during which Borglum’s presence was not required. He would often leave his assistants, including his son Lincoln, to supervise the work and then travel. He would go to Washington, D.C. to lobby for more money, and he also traveled around the world, finding and completing other commissions, sculpting a Thomas Paine for Paris and a Woodrow Wilson for Poland, and meeting politicians and celebrities such as Helen Keller. (Helping her feel pieces by his old friend Rodin, he recalled her comment: “Meeting you is like a visit from the gods.” He sometimes felt the same way about himself, writing in his journal: “I must see, think, feel and draw in Thor’s dimension.”) When he returned to the Dakotas, a rock might have been roughly blasted into an egg shape and he would be back to looking over every detail.
Borglum’s stubborn insistence on having things done his way led to numerous confrontations with John Boland, who chaired the executive committee of the Mount Rushmore Commission. His temper and perfectionism caused him to fire his best workmen (who then had to be hired back by Borglum’s son Lincoln). Borglum’s ambition and hubris motivated him to recreate a landscape in his image (a tableau of prominent white men) rather than for the Native Americans who held the Black Hills sacred. Borglum was stubborn, insistent, temperamental, perfectionist, high-reaching, and proud — but these were also the characteristics that were required to carve a mountain. Big, brash, almost larger than life, only a man like Gutzon Borglum could have conceived of and created the monument on Mount Rushmore.
On March 6, 1941, Borglum died, following complications after surgery. His son finished another season at Rushmore, but left the monument largely in the state of completion it had reached under his father’s direction.
A story of courage, ethnicity, generosity, and inspiration.
Renowned for the extraordinary range and depth of his talent, Ashley Bryan is an artist, a writer, a poet, an anthologist, a storyteller, and a noted scholar of African and African American folklore.
His children’s books are full of love – all embracing, inspiring, warm, colorful, joyous, and bursting with song. He works largely with Black African-American poetry and spirituals.
Ashley hopes that his work with African tales will be like “a tender bridge” connecting past to present, reaching across distances of time and space. Ashley’s numerous awards and honors include the Coretta Scott King Award for Illustration; six Coretta Scott King Honors; the Arbuthnot Prize, one of the highest honors in children’s literature; and a Fulbright Scholarship.
His poetry and paintings have and continue to influence a whole generation of children.
Born in 1923 in Harlem to West Indies immigrants, Bryan’s childhood was filled with books, music, and art, even though resources tended to be scarce during the Great Depression. Second of six children, Bryan cannot remember a time when he was not drawing or painting.
One of Ashley Bryan’s Sea Glass windows.
His first memories were of his parents sending him to Government run WPA classes which were free, and where he learned to draw, paint and play musical instruments. Ashley’s mother sang and his father played the piano.
After graduating from high school, he applied for a scholarship at a prominent art institution, but was essentially told that a scholarship would not be wasted on a colored person. Under the guidance of his high school teachers, Bryan then applied and was accepted into New York’s prestigious Cooper Union Art School. Two years at Cooper Union and Ashley was drafted into the army to serve in World War II. At the age of nineteen, as a part of the fleet that sailed to Normandy for the surprise invasion, Bryan drew whenever he could, keeping a sketch pad and art supplies in his gas mask.
From there, Bryan went on to study philosophy at Columbia University to, as he says, “understand war.” He received a Fulbright scholarship to study art in Europe, and became the head of the art department at Dartmouth College.
Ashley’s home, where the door is always open.
Ashley Bryan lives on Little Cranberry Island off the coast of Maine.
The above copy is taken from numerous sources, including Wikipedia, Reading Rockets, and Simon and Schuster author profiles.
The transcription from the first section of our interview follows:
Growing Up in the Bronx / Discovering the Importance of Community
I was born in New York City on July 13, 1923 of immigrant parents who had come from Antigua in the West Indies. They had six children; I was the second. I was raised in the Bronx during the Depression years. My parents provided food, clothes, and shelter but they couldn’t afford other things.
At that time there was the WPA, the Works Progress Administration. They offered free art and free music classes for communities throughout the country. My parents sent the six of us to all the things that were free that would help us to develop ourselves creatively. We worked with whatever materials we could find to recreate them, to make something of them — things that we would find on the streets – including fabrics and things from upholstery stores. My sister and I would bring them home and rework them into quilts, into skirts and jackets. We were always working with castoff materials, recreating them, bringing them into another form of life, which is a pattern that has stayed with me through life.
The good thing about growing up in tenement apartments was that we knew everyone in the house. Everyone looked after the other. My parents took care of the elders in the house. In good weather people sat out on the streets. They would bring their instruments, their music, what they would drink in the warm weather. They always had an eye out for the children. It was a different world in the 1930’s growing up in the city, which was broken down into small communities. It was that sense of community, which I’ve carried through life, which followed me to these islands off the coast of Maine. That’s what helped me decide that this would become my year-round home, because the community that I found here reminded of my New York City tenement apartment.
Cooper Union and Columbia University
My father was a printer but when he came to the United States, being a black man, all he was offered was a mop and broom. My dad never talked about racism. He simply said, “I knew I wasn’t going to last long in a job like that.” So, he went to the British Consulate and got a certificate from them stating that I had served in His Majesty’s Army and that he had worked as an apprentice printer as a child. That gave him an entrance into a downtown printing plant and that’s where he worked. He said it gave him a chance to be expressive in his work. And he was always bringing home extra papers from work. So I had these beautiful papers to work with.
I also had the good fortune of having wonderful teachers in elementary school. I had all white teachers throughout elementary, junior high, and high school. They all encouraged me. They always recognized my talent and gave me the materials that I needed to keep growing in my love of art.
In high school I joined the Art Club and, on graduation, I had the help of my teachers to prepare a very strong portfolio. Before graduating, they gave me the list of art schools in New York City to go to. So I went from art school to art school and was told – and this is New York City – “this is the best portfolio we have seen, but it would be a waste to give a scholarship to a colored person.” When I came back to the high school and told that to my teachers, they said, “Ashley, come back and take a post-graduate course.” They knew I was black, I knew I was black, and there was no problem. It didn’t occur to them that I would need anything beyond my talents. So they said, come back, take a post-graduate course, work on your portfolio, and in the summer take the exam for the Cooper Union School of Art and Engineering. They do not see you there. So, that summer I took the exam. At that time, in 1940, there were three exercises: one in drawing, one in sculpture, and one in architecture.
When you finished those exercises, you put your work on a tray with all the information of who you are on the platform of the Great Hall. It’s a very famous hall, where all of our presidents have lectured, from the earliest time. It was founded in1850 for the working young men and women of the country, primarily for young women working in all aspects of the garment trade and for young men in engineering, as Peter Cooper was an outstanding engineer. So, I took the exams, I put it on my tray and left. Then professors looked over all of the work, and they selected those they wanted for admission to the Cooper Union. I was fortunate in being one of them. I was the only black in my class, but I had grown up in a mixed community of French, German, Italian, and Irish. I became close friends with the students there. We have followed each other through life. The very few, who at ninety, are still alive, I’m still very close to.
I was never a loner. I was always with others. I was alone in my art, creating my art. All artists and composers, in whatever form, they have to be alone in developing in what they do. But I always loved being with others and sharing my work. And I always had the respect of others, because of my real love of doing my work – and my respect for what they did. I was lousy in sports. I’d be the last one chosen on any team. But they understood that and they spoke of me as the artist of the community. I was never picked on. I don’t know why that is, other than I always had such a deep respect for what other people do that it never occurred to me that there was any kind of a hierarchy. You could be sweeping a street and I would respect what you were doing and your work in that community.
My work in the community was always open to people dropping in. I drew so much from just the informal visits and what they would have to say. You know, I think that’s why I say I don’t believe in interruptions in my life. Right now, talking with you, I am creating. I am drawing, I’m painting, I’m doing my bookwork, I’m doing my puppet work, my sea glass work. There is no interruption. Everything that is happening to me I feel is significant. There is no way you can take my time. It’s the one thing that I possess. I can only offer it to you in exchange for your precious gift of your time, so remain on a level of back and forth, you see. And that is why my door is always open and people will come and go. But they come and they say, “Oh, we’re interrupting you.” No! Look! Do you want to see my paintings, do you want to see my drawings, do you want to see my sea-glass work, do you want to see my bookwork? I am always producing.
WWII / Looking for answers
When I came back from the Second World War I was so spun around, as veterans are, it was difficult to go on. Well, I knew when I came back (I was inducted at nineteen) that I wanted to complete my studies at Cooper Union. So, I knew my direction. I was not like veterans who don’t have a direction. After the experiences of a war, they find it difficult to adjust and go one. Very often then, because they don’t have enough services to keep following them up, they fall through. And that’s why, when they say a third of the homeless are veterans, it’s very understandable, because without help of family, friends, or a direction in life, or a medical support system that will follow them closely, it’s very hard after those experiences, to say you’re normal and go on. That’s what I experienced when I came home. I knew I wanted to complete my course study, but I also knew I wanted to understand why man chooses war. So when I graduated from Cooper Union, I did undergraduate work as a philosophy major at Columbia, to see if I could find answers. And I only found more questions. But I was so intrigued by the way man thinks, in aesthetics and ethics, in logic, and these areas, which I studied, that I stayed with it. Summers I’d come up to Maine and I’d be outdoors painting the whole time. That’s what really gave me a focus and direction. When I graduated from Columbia University, I knew I would not go any further in studies.
Please check back regularly. More of the transcription to follow.
Made possible with funds provided by the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation.
As part of our Preserving a Legacy series, this coming fall SPI will be recording John Dryfhout, the former curator and superintendent of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site. Dryfhout has lectured and written extensively on the work of Saint-Gaudens. His books include: The Work of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Augustus Saint-Gaudens: American Sculptor of the Gilded Age, and August Saint-Gaudens: The Portrait Reliefs.
A brief excerpt about Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ monumental sculpture “Standing Lincoln” from our recent conversation with John Dryfhout, emeritus curator of Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site in Cornish, NH.
“Saint-Gaudens had the advantage of having seen Lincoln in the funeral corteges that were held in New York. So he was able to see the body of Lincoln, which he says in his reminisces⎯that were published at the end of his life⎯that he had gone several times to see Lincoln because, as a sculptor, he wanted to keep that image fixed in his mind.
Then he had another advantage in that one of his friends, a sculptor named Volk, had made a life-cast of Lincoln’s face. Life masks were usually done at an important point in a person’s life. It is kind of a gruesome thing that an individual has to go through and it is generally not welcomed by a very important person because they had to put straws into the nostrils so that the person could breath. And they have to stay quite still when this is being done. It is made with plaster, and the plaster dries and is then removed from the face. That becomes the negative and then another plaster is made from the negative and that becomes the positive. That’s how sculpture is made. So he had that to use. And, of course, there were multitudes of photographs.
Saint-Gaudens then found a man among the people that lived in the Cornish [NH] area that was the same size as Lincoln and he was engaged to be the model. [Saint-Gaudens] had an outfit created that was exactly the costume that Lincoln wore: his suit and his vest and jacket. And he had that man walk around in the woods so that it gave a realism to the monument. So many monuments are stilted⎯and Saint-Gaudens was able to capture that realism by having all the wrinkles and all the elements that you would have with a living person.”
Augustus Saint-Gaudens was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1848. The son of a shoemaker, Saint-Gaudens moved with his family to New York before he was one. Growing up in the city, he became interested in art, and after turning thirteen he left school to apprentice with a cameo cutter. While an apprentice, Saint-Gaudens took classes at Cooper Union and the National Academy of Design. When he was nineteen he moved to Europe, where he continued his studies in both Paris and Rome. Studying classical art and architecture, Saint-Gaudens began to work as a professional sculptor.
Returning to America, Saint-Gaudens received his first major commission in New York City. Still considered one of his important works, “Admiral Farragut” (1881) stands in New York’s Madison Square Park. Combining the technical proficiency learned in Europe with a free and flowing hand, Saint-Gaudens created bronze statues that represented the complexity and grandeur of the American heroes he portrayed. Saint-Gaudens was a master of the human form, perfectly representing the physical while bringing to life the personality of his subjects.
By the late 1880s and 1890s, Saint-Gaudens had produced some of his greatest work including a copper statue of Diana and the first of his bronze monuments to President Abraham Lincoln. He had also become part of a group of rising artists and architects including H.H. Richardson, Stanford White, Charles McKim and John La Farge. Working with the McKim, Mead, and White architectural firm he produced a significant body of monuments and decorative sculpture. Throughout his career, he would continue to work closely with architects, creating most of his work specifically for the sites.
Throughout the 1890s Saint-Gaudens continued to work while engaging in the greater art world through teaching and advocacy. Often taking on many private students at once, Saint-Gaudens also taught at the Art Students League of New York, and worked in support of the American Academy in Rome. During these busy times, however, Saint-Gaudens continued to work diligently on a number of projects, many of which took him upwards of ten years or more to complete. His bronze statue of General Sherman led by Victory, which stands at the entrance to New York’s Central Park took eleven years. Probably the most famous of this time however, was the sculpture of a bent and draped figure deep in thought and grief in the Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington D.C. This sculpture uniquely brings together the monumental and the personal for which Saint-Gaudens’ work has become known.
By 1900, Saint-Gaudens moved to his summer home in Cornish, New Hampshire. Joined by other artists including Maxfield Parrish, Thomas Dewing, and his brother, the sculptor Louis Saint-Gaudens created a community of artists there that supported and inspired him throughout his final years. On August 3, 1907, Saint-Gaudens died. Today, nearly one hundred years later, the technical grace and subtle beauty of his work remains an inspiration to artists everywhere.