Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Unsung Heroes: Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement

Fannie Lou Hammer of Mississippi,
grassroots organizer for voting rights, and
symbol of the ordinary men and women who
made the March on Washington possible.
"If I had any sense I'd be a little scared but what's the point? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I can remember."    Fannie Lou Hammer, Mississippi sharecropper, voting rights organizer, founding member of the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party.

We're celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. and the 50th anniversary of the August 28, 1963, March on Washington. It's moving, these tributes and memories. I'm also thinking about unnamed pioneers, grassroots organizers, martyrs, the courageous souls who plowed the soil of discontent and injustice to make it happen. "I am here," President Obama said, "because someone marched." 

Yes, someone marched, and organized, refused to be battered down, refused to be intimidated at the ballot box, on buses, at segregated food counters and 'whites only' water fountains. 

They were ordinary men and women in small towns and cities, on farms and in rural communities across the South.  That's where the Civil Rights movement was born, fueled by everyday folks who were fed up. Other efforts arose in the North, along with the NAACP and social justice movements. They grew in tandem and overlapped with the long-simmering grassroots activism of black people in the South. Just so we remember the roots: the spirit of freedom in the souls of black folks, as W.E.B. DuBOis put it. That's where it all began.  

The "movement" of course began long before 1963, actually during the Civil War when slaves fought for their freedom, and then through the unmitigated injustices of Reconstruction and the unhindered rise of racist terrorism, Black Codes, and lynching. That's when four million former slaves had to find ways to survive under the most extreme forms of deprivation this country has ever known. Freedom to former slaves meant being your own boss, owning a plot of land and relying on no one but yourself. 40 acres and a mule.  A Jeffersonian view of freedom at a time when Capitalism took off and triumphed. 

Instead of  getting land and tools, however, the former slaves were forced into working on old plantations or sharecropping, picking cotton, working for new masters, the only jobs open to them. On top of that, black people had no rights that any white was bound to respect.  Black Codes arose to limit the kinds of work they could do, their economic opportunities, their efforts to reunite and maintain families, to control their movements, their every attempt at self-sufficiency and survival. 

Laws against hunting, fishing and foraging, outrageous and vindictive, made daily life almost impossible.  If a black man was caught fishing or foraging, the basic means of survival for generations, he was made a criminal and thrown in jail. Such laws created the enforced "criminalization" of thousands of innocent black people, a new form of slavery, those who "worked on the chain gangs" until they died, usually from overwork.  White terrorism, KKK murder, daily violence, brutal lynchings, all done with impunity, mostly with the complicity of local sheriffs and police, heightened fear and anxiety. This continued into the 20th century.  It is a wonder how black people survived, but they did.  They created schools and churches, communities and entrepreneurial opportunities, celebrations and vibrant cultural traditions--gospel, jazz and blues among them--to survive against incredible odds. 

The gathering of millions of ordinary
 Americans who created a movement.
They were ready for Dr. King's
message: "I Have a Dream."
Public domain image, Yahoo.
A friend who grew up and prospered in Florida remembered how as a young boy he found out who the head of the Klan was in his little town of Leesburg.  "It was the Sheriff," he said.  "His boots, which showed under his hooded white robe, gave him away." Blacks and whites led "parallel lives" that seldom crossed, he said, and if they did, black people ended up wounded or dead.  

 It's hard to believe that 20th century America was such an abomination, such a horror story, so far removed from its founding principles and democratic values. And that, at the same time, the very same time, we were flexing our military muscle around the world promoting "democracy."  It boggles the mind.  

Out of the cauldron of terror, injustice and despair, rose the modern grassroots civil rights movement of the 20th century; like a Phoenix it rose, out of the still-smouldering ashes of slavery and the sheer determination of the children of slave ancestors to be part of the American dream.  

The backbone of the movement, historian David Garrow reminds us, "was a cadre of crucial grassroots blacks, ordinary people, who nurtured and sustained the movement." (http://ww.davidgarrow.com)

For doing so, hundreds were murdered, bombed, terrorized and lynched, the vicious mechanisms of social control in the hands of white racists full of hate. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a venerable civil justice organization, maintains a Memorial inscribed with the names of martyrs killed between 1954 and 1968 due to their grassroots civil rights work.  These names include Rev. George Lee and Lamar Smith of Mississippi; Emmet Till of Chicago, killed in Florida, and Harry T. Moore, an NAACP organizer there.  The four black children killed by a bomb planted at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, and the young civil rights workers, James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, killed by Klansmen.  Herbert Lee of Louisiana who worked with Bob Moses to register black voters. Jimmy Lee Jackson, killed trying to protect his parents from a trooper attack on marchers in Selma, which led to the much-larger Selma-Montgomery march and eventual passage of the Voting Rights Act. (see http://www.splcenter.org/CivilRights)

The list goes on, of people killed simply for trying to obtain the right to vote in a democracy.  Think of it. 1954 to 1968. That was the time many of us were in high school and going to college, living in an all-white world of privilege, unaware of the brutality imposed on African-Americans, their daily struggle, unaware of the scope and profound impact of American apartheid, as bad here as anywhere in the world. We got it eventually, we the children of the World War II generation and the Boomers, but so much had happened in the meantime.

I think of the hundreds of voting rights organizers like Fannie Lou Hammer in Mississippi, who could tell us all about it.  Hammer, dirt poor, from a sharecropping family on old cotton plantations, went from door to door, house to house, spreading the message, trying to register voters, way before Martin Luther King arose to lead a national movement.  She was threatened at every turn.  It was a dangerous mission, asserting your right as an American citizen to vote.  In spite of it, thousands of ordinary folks like Hammer, foot soldiers, devoted their lives to the cause. Some paid with their lives.

Hammer went on to become a founding member of the Mississippi  Democratic Freedom Party, carried her dogged determination into America's Democratic party, and helped put freedom on the national political agenda.  I like to remember as well, as my brother Loren never ceased to remind us, that Hammer found a willing ear in Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota, a civil rights pioneer ahead of his time. Progressives everywhere soon jumped on the bandwagon; it takes a nation to achieve the American dream.   

But first, it takes years of discontent and fomenting from the bottom up to create change from the top down. By the time national leaders emerge to lead a movement, the ground for change has been tilled, with blood, sweat and tears.

It's the story of every reform movement in America.  Our leaders stand on the shoulders of thousands of unsung heroes who laid the foundations, helped change public opinion, moved people's minds and hearts, and slowly created the conditions required for real change. We remember them, too.  



   



 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Fort Meigs: History in Action



My daughter and four grandsons at Fort Meigs in Perryburg, Ohio on the Maumee River.  The history of  the War of 1812 and early Ohio come alive through re-enactments,educational programs, and hands-on activities for kids  Here my grandsons enjoy musket and cannon demonstrations, tomahawk throwing, candle-dipping and rope-making, and running in and out of the seven block houses and 5 cannon batteries around the wooden fort. The white obelisk (far-right) that looks like a smaller version of the Washington  Monument is a tribute to Fort Meigs.
 
Life's an adventure around Toledo, Ohio.  On Sunday, a bright blue-sky day, my daughter Elissa, her grandson Philip (my great-grandson), and three other grandsons, drove out to Fort Meigs, the War of 1812 fort in Perrysburg on the Maumee River.

The Fort, built in 1813 to protect the Northwest Territory of a young and expanding nation, is packed with history, 200 years of history this year.  It tells the story not only of the War itself, but also of  westward migration and the conflicting interests of Native peoples and European settlements; early 19th-century military strategies and weapons (the musket and the cannon chief among them); and agriculture and early Ohio crafts and artisanship, including hand-made tools, that are now pretty much lost to us.   

The boys led the way, running up and down the barricades, block houses and cannon batteries, past the obelisk monument to Fort Meigs, a replica of the Washington Monument, and going from one craftsperson's tent to another.  They loved the demonstrations of soldiers loading up muskets and firing them (not an easy task it turns out, and I couldn't help but observe they were nothing like our modern-day assault weapons either) and shooting the cannons, which took six men, I think it was.  The cannons boomed.  All that was missing for me was Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  

The boys also participated in candle-dipping and rope making (taking home souvenirs they made), and tomahawk throwing (harder than it looked, they found out). Tinsmithing, woodworking, leather-making, coopering, textile making and weaving, and blacksmithing also fascinated young and old alike.

Fort Meigs is part of the Ohio Historical Association and works with other organizations, such as the Old Northwest Military History Association, various re-enacters, and crafts associations, to present these educational programs and events at the Fort year-round.  It's a great way to learn about Ohio's past, get kids interested in history, and preserve old stories and craft traditions for  the digital age and beyond.   

For more information:
http://www.fortmeigs.org
http://www.perrysburghistory.org/fortmeigs
 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fr. Jim Bacik on Religious Liberty: Intellectual Feats and Magic Moments

From the light of the setting sun to the rise of a full moon,  a lecture
   by Fr. Jim Bacik at Lourdes and a reunion of old friends creates a magic moment.
Upper right, Dick and Pat Hanusz with circus priest Fr. Richard Notter. That
was fun. A story in itself.   
In a pluralistic democracy, under the mandates of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, religious liberty foremost among them, is it possible to reconcile the doctrines of institutionalized religions and the Rule of Law, the interests and roles of the church, state, and society? Is it possible to adhere to religious doctrine, maintain religious liberty, and at the same time serve the common good?

These were the fundamental questions that Fr. Jim Bacik, retired campus priest and humanities professor at the University of Toledo, and a founder of Corpus Christi church, addressed at his recent lecture at Lourdes University.  More than 100 Toledoans came together to hear him speak about the Affordable Care Act, church doctrine, and religious liberty. Who else could put all these topics together like Fr. Bacik?  A fearless thinker, he is willing to take on any subject, the more controversial the better, from healthcare and teen pregnancy, to abortion and gay marriage.

His approach is to examine contemporary hot-button issues in the historical context of great theologians and philosophers through the ages. He pushes the issues through the perspectives of different philosophical and religious traditions, and then links them, seamlessly and with great clarity, to American democratic traditions, social concerns, and public policy.  It's an intellectual feat, good for the mind and the soul.

His recent lecture dealt with controversial aspects of the Affordable Care Act (called "Obamacare" by friend and foes alike), which raises the issue of government funding for contraception and abortion.  To talk about it, Fr. Bacik placed the issue in the context of the theology and writings of a great Jesuit scholar, John Courtney Murray (1904 - 1967).  The astute members of the audience probably knew of Murray, but it was a first for me, and I was glad for the opportunity.

Murray, I learned, was a noted scholar who addressed the anti-Catholicism of the 1950s and 1960s, when questions swirled around the issue of whether you could be a good American citizen and a good Catholic.  Now that took me back a few years, and evoked some memories: It was the era of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic to run for president of the United States. The campaign overflowed with  arguments, some hysterical, about whether a Catholic could become president without the Pope running the country.  JKF had to talk about his religious beliefs, his views of American democracy, and his commitment to the separation of church and state at every turn, as in his Houston talk in October 1960, Bacik reminded us.

Time Magazine Photo on Yahoo
And who was around to counsel JFK on these issues? John Courtney Murray, who "through the sheer force of his intellect" turned the Church around in its "fear of modernism" and addressed the role it could play in public life.   Fr. Murray, Bacik said, reinterpreted the Church's position on religious liberty through a series of pragmatic arguments.  His views were powerful and influential. He made the cover of TIME magazine on December 12, 1960.

I had some questions as I walked out of the lecture hall with my friend Teddy Wilson. Lots of us did. But time ran out. "What did you want to ask Fr. Bacik," my friend Teddy asked me later.  "I wondered what he had to say about Pope Francis' recent remark surrounding the issue of personal choice and gay marriage: "Who am I to judge?"  Did that view take the arguments of John Murray to another level?   

As we walked out into the sunset and a full moon rising,  however, another magical moment took the place of these questions for the time being: a wonderful run-in with old friends from the Old West End that I hadn't seen in over 20 years or since I returned to Toledo two years ago after serving with the Peace Corps in Ukraine.  The Boezi's, Dick and Pat Hanusz,  Barb McKinney, Paul Sullivan, Diane Pribor, Teddy Wilson.  Dear friends one and all, who had once shared a special time and place, whose kids played together and are still in touch via facebook (we smiled about that); friends who have grown older but remain critical thinkers, compassionate citizens, and as engaged in life as I remember them.   

It's the Fr. Bacik lecture series, we could all agree, that makes these magic moments possible.  These wide-ranging talks create the perfect atmosphere for reflection and reunion. We left each other with grateful hearts and hopes for more get-togethers.  For sure, Fr. Jim Bacik's lectures will bring us together again.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cruising down the Maumee River with Steve Pollick: Outdoors Advocate Forever

Steve Pollick with a few slides at Lourdes' Lifelong Learning program.
Steve Pollick may be retired from the Toledo Blade, where he was Outdoors Editor for over 30 years, but he's not retired from public life, including public education about the natural environment of Northwest Ohio and Southeastern Michigan. He knows this environment intimately; has written thousands of columns about it; and continues to explore it.

Pollick shared his love of the Maumee River Watershed on Lake Erie, at 6,600 square mile the largest of all the Great Lakes watersheds, at a talk to Lourdes University's ever-popular Lifelong Learning program on August 16, the inaugural program of the 2013/14 season.

Pollick took us along on his June 2011 canoe trip down the Maumee River from Fort Wayne to Toledo, with a slide show and talk about the natural habitat, the exuberant wildlife, the dangers, the beauty. What an adventure!

"When you're down on the river, way down from the land, the highways, farmland and bridges, you feel the wilderness."

He helped us feel it, too!  He called his talk "Beauty and the Beast."  He started with the "beasts," the current dangers to the river, mostly the spread of green algae, a thick, slimy mess, and proliferation of Asian carp, which can grow into huge feeders especially in western Lake Erie.  He followed with slides of the beauty of the river. He ended by reminding us we have a choice: Beauty, or the Beasts?

Steve Pollick photo, Sunset over the Maumee. Its beauty is in our hands,
he reminds us.

 





   

Friday, August 16, 2013

Islamist Extremists: Hindering Egypt's Arab Spring


ramyabdeljabbar.wordpress.com on yahoo
Frankly, I don't see what options the Egyptian military and interim government have in dealing with Islamist extremists who prefer violence to peace, chaos to order. Return Morsi to power or else?  I don't think so.  If there's no room for compromise on Egyptian streets, no room for civic discourse, how can a new democratic government emerge?

If these were legitimate peaceful protests, why aren't they focused on the real issues facing the country as a whole? The urgent need for jobs, economic opportunity, strengthening the middle class, improving infrastructure?  Why not join together around a common agenda that addresses the real needs of the people, with the common good in mind, not returning Morsi to power for heaven's sake. 

Sen. Paul Rand, other Republicans, and so-called "democratic" critics say stop all US aid, the $1.6 billion.  But I think this shows a shallow understanding of the geopolitical situation.  A knee-jerk reaction, oversimplified and mostly without substance.   It would probably be a disaster, to Egyptian, Middle Eastern, and US interests.

Many scholars, experts. and ordinary Egyptians on the ground, as well as former Egyptian government officials, like the ambassador to the US, and most media spokespeople, have made three important points for our consideration:
1st, the removal of Morsi, who tried forcing Islamist extremism on the majority, was not a coup. It
was a continuation of the Arab Spring and its hopes for a transition to democracy. Morsi and his ruling Muslim Brotherhood demonstrated no adherence to democratic principles and values; just the opposite.  Why don't people see this? They were elected, okay, by a tiny majority, with high hopes, and then proved to be stumbling blocks to democracy, imposing Islamist rule on a majority who did not want it. The military stepped in on behalf of the people.

2nd, the conflict is not about religion.  The majority of Egyptians are practicing Muslims. But they  not extremists.  Egyptians are by nature moderate and tolerant.  They do not burn Christian churches; they are not anti-Coptic; they are not against everyone who disagrees with them. Only after the Morsi regime forced an Islamist constitution and moved toward extreme intolerance did the people come to favor removing what by then had become a roadblock to democracy. Not a path to democracy; a roadblock.  The majority of Egyptians do not like violence, but they understand why the military is trying to contain the protests calling for the return of Morsi to power.  Restoring the Morsi regime? That's not going to happen. Find a common economic and social agenda, and the violence will stop.

3rd) the extreme Islamists do not want democratic reform; they want tyrannical rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, who had the chance to demonstrate their allegiance to democracy, and blew it.  The Generals know it. The interim government is not, in this view, viciously trying to silence critics; they are at the end of the line with the provocation, lack of compromise, the rabid intolerance, the total lack of respect for the wants and needs of the vast majority, the millions who demonstrated, peacefully, against Morsi's anti-democratic government.

Egyptians know that the truth will, in time, prevail. 

Monday, August 12, 2013

Art Walk and Memory Lane


Walking past restaurants, glass art, outdoor sculpture, historic buildings, and art that popped. 
Toledo is full of art.  The latest Thursday "Art Walk" in downtown Toledo's "Warehouse District" embodied the talent. Kudos to the Arts Commission and sponsors!

It  also brought back memories of my brother Loren,who struggled with Asperger's Syndrome all his life. He died suddenly of  a heart attack at age 63 while on a hike in northern Florida. His autobiography, An Asperger Journey, came out a few months later. That was three years ago; it seems like yesterday.

The Art Walk morphed into a stroll down Memory Lane when we got to Shared Life Studio and Gallery, a nonprofit that brings together people with disabilities and the arts.  It was the first time for me, a Toledo returnee after many years away.

The historic buildings of the old downtown, some beautifully restored and painted in detail, are an architectural feast.  I've always loved Toledo's downtown for this reason, and it's gotten even better along St. Clair and the blocks around it.  It's the perfect backdrop for an art walk. We strolled along restaurants, cafes, the Ballpark (also new to me), art galleries, sculpture, and outdoor displays of glass, ceramics, jewelry, textile art, paintings and other mediums that defy labels.

Philip taking photos at Shared Lives. That's him and me top left
The art pops.  Great-grandson Philip, along with his Gran E and Uncle, thought so, too. Philip had his camera ready and took lots of photos. Then we got to Shared Lives Studio and Gallery, which beautifully displays the art of adults with developmental disabilities. Philip was in color heaven. "Nana look at this....look at that! WOW! I'll get a picture for you."

Shared Lives. What a neat place. It's a Lott Industries program, I learned. The great gallery space, alive with all kinds of art, demonstrates the wisdom that art transforms and the word "disabilities" does not describe a whole person.  A person with a "developmental disability" in one area means talent and creativity in another.

I learned that from my brother Loren. And that's how Art Walk morphed into Memory Lane, how art and memories merged.

Some things got away from Loren, but he was a genius in the way he looked at the world, in the contributions he made to preserving the environment, in his compassion, in the vast knowledge of history he shared. He looked at life from a different lens, a profoundly moving perspective. Truth be told, he changed me and how I see. And that's what Shared Lives is all about.

Art Walk pressed all our culture buttons, and then some. I felt Loren walking with us as we followed Philip the photographer from the Ballpark to Shared Lives, from one awesome display to another, from artist to artist, from the ordinary to the extraordinary.

For more information:
Arts Commission at http://theartscommission.org/
Shared Lives at http://shop.lottindustries.com/studio.html
Loren L. Curro, An Asperger Journey, email fcurrocary@yahoo.com





Friday, August 9, 2013

A Wasp's Tale

Cicada Killer Wasps in my daughter's front garden.
Cicada Killer Wasps are large and impossible to get rid of once they burrow into your lawn or garden. My daughter has them all over her front lawn. My grandson Josh enjoys telling how the wasps search out and kill cicadas, bring them to their nests, then birth more wasps, which is an ugly story. The infestation prevents him from mowing the front lawn, which is not a bad thing, he says with a smile. He knows they seldom sting, but they are annoying.

My daughter, like the persistent homeowner before her, has tried everything to get rid of them, from using environmentally safe bug spray to poisonous bug spray, motor oil and ammonia. It's vicious. Her neighbors watch her with amusement, as they watched the previous owner fruitlessly trying to destroy the nests.  It's the Cicada wasps favorite place on the whole block. My grandkids and their friends have taken to swatting them with tennis rackets, to the enjoyment of residents up and down the street. But it's only temporary.

Everything is only temporary.  As the the wasps swirl around her, Michelle stands in frustration, mumbling that there must be a way.  How can every effort to stop them fail?  She's researched the subject online. This has been going on for at least 2 summers now, the July/August infestation without end.

Quite by accident, a serendipitous moment, I think maybe I stumbled across a solution.

Michelle's neighbors, the owners of the venerable Hudson Gallery on Main Street, representing wonderful contemporary artists in all mediums, have watched her front lawn problems for a long time. Scott and his wife Barbara laughed when I went in to look at art the other day, which is so glorious, diverse and absorbing, and ended up talking about cicada killer wasps.

"We think it's the heat," Scott said.  "That side of the street faces due West and gets full afternoon sun, sun most of the day.  It's warm, and the cicada wasps love it."  They also informed me that the city at some point came through the area and took down all  the old trees.  That's probably when the problem started. It's not so bad on their side of the street, which has more shade. So that's their theory, from art lovers who are highly observant, and it's the best one I've heard yet.

"You need some good shade trees!"  Cut out the sun and warmth.  Ratchet up the shade. "Maybe a big maple," Scott suggested. Maybe one on each side of the front lawn, I thought. This approach might take a few years to stop those wasps, but it might be the only answer.

I told my daughter about this serendipitous exchange as soon as she got back from a family vacation, and was greeted by the still-swarming Cicada killer wasps.  "Worth a try," she said, as she swatted a few away, "but where do I get a large-enough shade trees to make a difference, and that won't break the bank?"

She'll figure it out, but in the meantime I think we see some light at the end of the wasp tunnel.  More suggestions welcomed!

On the Hudson Gallery:  http://www.hudsongallery.net/
     

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

5 things to think about

5 weird questions for cyper-age communications. (This image
has nothing to do with the content of this blog). 
What is it with all the articles, ads and media talk lately that always begin with a number? 10 best cities to live in, work in, raise kids in. 10 worst cities to live in,work in, etc. 8 ways to lose pounds.  12 photos about war. 5 best jobs.  5 worst jobs.  5 worst college majors.  5 money-making jobs with no education. 200 best colleges. 200 worst colleges. Top 20 sober colleges. 5 products you can't live without. 10 cars thieves love. 5 key job interview questions. 5 weird tricks for losing wrinkles. 5 weird tricks for melting away fat.

The number-titled articles and ads usually have photos attached that are totally unrelated to their content. Sometimes the photos resemble Shangra-La or dreamy places that draw you in.  Sometimes you get an image of a banana or hard-boiled egg to lure you into 5 ways to shed belly fat. An overly buxom woman will try to draw you into 5 things that up your testosterone (okay that might be related).

I guess it's the modern equivalent of communications. Like my grandson Josh who responds to  "How are you doing?" with "k.i had to be rescued by a lifeguard. mom w chase.cooking diner"

So here are 5 questions to ask about this current way of communicating:
1) Is shorter better and fewer easier in this age of internet communication and social media?
2) Do reporters, advertisers and media gurus have to organize their messages in such a way that dumbed- down audiences will read them?
3) Are 5 bullets with one sentence summaries better than a written paragraph?
4) Are kids simply not learning rules of grammar and spelling? Is it even necessary to learn them?
5) Has texting, and texting style and words, replaced sentences?  lol btw how r u im k more tmrw

I think I'd begin with 5, then go up to 1. But for the larger context, I wonder what will happen to narrative and telling stories in the Cyper-texting age.   I wonder about learning to read and write and think critically. I wonder if I'm getting to old to ask these 5 questions, and too old-fashioned to raise the subject, or expect any answers.

"5 ways to know you are growing older."  Coming up next! 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Art in the Garden: A Slice of LOCAL Artisan Heaven



Ceramics, jewelry (a tree of life necklace),  batik, glass art and more at Art in the Garden, August 4, 2013. 
Last week it was Jazz in the Garden, this weekend, Art in the Garden.  The Toledo Botanical Garden (still Crosby Gardens to some old-timers) is alive with art, music, and cultural and environmental events. The gardens are beautiful now, many adorned with glass art that looks perfect in a natural environment.

Bright blue glass flowers in garden\
next to Blair Lithophane Museum.
"Ah, this is like the Chihuly I saw in St. Pete," I said to my daughter Elissa.  "It predates Chihuly," I heard a voice say from behind a large glass flower. Aha, the voice of a glass artist, reminding me that the art glass movement began in Toledo, many years ago, with the likes of Dominic Labino.  "Thanks for the reminder, friend!"

A glass sunflower shines on a garden. 
Art in the Garden provided a perfect way to get in touch with a part of Toledo's vibrant art scene, and it was a beautiful sunny day under a clear blue sky. This art show isn't as huge as the early summer Festival of the Arts, but it's as special, featuring art by local artists and artisans who are affiliated with the Botanical Garden, the Toledo Area Glass Guild, and the Art Club of Toledo Gallery.  A range of ceramic art, painting and glass joined with the arts and crafts of making textile, creating batik, and making jewelry. "A slice of LOCAL artisan heaven," batik artist Jennifer Blakeman called it. Music followed us around, a wonderful couple singing songs like "Blueberry Hill" and later a jazz saxophonist.   My daughter Elissa and I met friends and chatted with visitors, some women in red hats, some admiring the same art we were.

 A sign outside the Gift Shop says "Enriching Life."   That's what Art in the Garden and other programs at the Botanical Garden are truly all about.
Purple-pink glass flowers in another garden. 
For more information about Toledo Botanical Garden: http://www.toledogarden.org/     

Friday, August 2, 2013

Jazz in the Garden

Jazz in the Garden with friends. Kelly Broadway sings (bottom right). 
I've heard about it since I returned to the Toledo area a few years ago: Jazz in the Garden at Crosby Gardens, now called the Toledo Botanical Garden.

My friend Sandy reminded me of it again when we had coffee at Chandler's last week.  She was going, and asked if I would like to meet her there.  Yes, absolutely. Sometimes it takes a little coaxing. And so we met, Sandy, Dan, David, Edward and I. We relaxed in colorful lawn chairs or sat on a blanket; had a picnic dinner with a glass of wine; and enjoyed an outdoor concert on a beautiful balmy night.  The park was aglow and crowded with some 500 enthusiasts. It had the feel of Renoir's "The Luncheon of the Boating Party" or Georges Seurat's "Sunday in the Park," which inspired Steven Sonheim's musical. The lanquid ambience and the light.

The artist was Kelly Broadway. She has a great voice,  robust, sexy, full of nuance and emotion.  She sang some of the old favorites.  "Girl  from Ipenema" was a standout.  Her voice carried  us back to the heyday of Jazz  in Toledo with Rusty's Cafe and Murphy's Place, and pianist Claude Black, bassist Clifford Murphy, Joan Russell, who kept it all going, and singer Glenda McFarlin, among many others.  I had lost track, after leaving Toledo in 1985, and was sad to learn about closings and passings, but Kelly Broadway brought back the music and the glory days.

We sat next to some wonderful people, a couple from Grand Rapids, another who loaned us a blanket, and a Sylvania couple hosting a young girl from Russia through the FORO program (Friends of Russian Orphans), a nonprofit Christian mission to assist orphanages and provide exchanges. I had a little chat with the lovely young girl, remembering a few words in Russian.  I was glad to learn of FORO. That's always the good thing about being out and about--meeting people, feeling connected, learning something new.

The setting sun cast a rosy haze on all of us.  The goddess of jazz was here, I thought, maybe Joan Russell herself, dear old friend, telling us "This is the place to be, with kindred spirits absorbing the great tradition of jazz in Toledo and all over the world."

Toledo Botanical Gardens:    http://www.toledogarden.org/?page_id=19
Friends of Russian Orphans  :http://fororphans.org/