Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Frederick Douglass and His House on Cedar Hill

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.

Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass' was a 19th century American hero, but his story still resonates with our times. He was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, husband, father, suffragist, statesman, and advisor to presidents. He was a man of his times, and at the same time, a man ahead of his times, espousing both the cause of abolition as well as women's rights and suffragism.

Douglass believed in the equality of all peoples, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He also espoused dialogue and believed in the importance of making alliances across racial and ideological divides. Most of all, he believed in the American Constitution. When radical abolitionists, under the motto "No Union With Slaveholders" criticized Douglass' willingness to dialogue with slave owners, he famously replied, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."

Douglass' study and his 2000 books.

Born into slavery in Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Talbot County, MD in probably 1818. He later chose to celebrate his birthday on February 14. When he was 7 or 8, Douglass was given to Lucretia Auld, wife of Thomas Auld, who sent him to serve Thomas' brother Hugh Auld in Baltimore.

When Douglass was about 12, Hugh Auld's wife Sophia started teaching him the alphabet. Douglass described her as a kind and tender-hearted woman, who treated him "as she supposed one human being ought to treat another." Hugh Auld quickly stopped his wife's reading lessons, feeling that literacy would encourage Frederick -- and other slaves -- to desire freedom. Even at so young an age, Douglass realized that education was imperative for escaping from slavery, and continued, secretly, to teach himself how to read and write. He later often said, "knowledge is the pathway from slavery to freedom."

A guest bedroom.

On September 3, 1838, Douglass successfully escaped by boarding a train in Baltimore dressed in a sailor's uniform provided to him by his love and future wife, Anna Murray, who was a free woman. She also gave him part of her savings to cover his travel costs, he carried identification papers that he had obtained from a free black seaman. Via the train and steam boat, he made his way to Philadelphia, and freedom before continuing to the safe house of noted abolitionist David Ruggles in New York City. Murray soon joined him, and they were married on September 15, 1838, by a black Presbyterian minister, just 11 days after his arrival in New York. Eventually the couple settled in New Bedford, MA, and then Douglass came to the attention of the abolitionists in the area. He soon started a public speaking tour, and wrote his first autobiography in 1845 which quickly became a best seller of its time.

Another guest bedroom. (With 20+ grandchildren, he needed a lot of guest rooms!)

Douglass' supporters worried that the publicity from his book would draw the attention of his ex-owner, Hugh Auld, who might try to get his "property" back, and urged Douglass to travel to England and Ireland. Douglass spent two years in Ireland and Britain, where he gave many lectures in churches and chapels. His draw was such that some facilities were "crowded to suffocation." Sales from his book and donations from his supporters raised money to purchase his freedom from Auld. Astoundingly, many years later, he would visit Auld on his deathbed, speaking gently to the dying man, and bringing closure to himself.

Douglass' bedroom.

In 1877, Douglass purchased Cedar Hill, a lovely Victorian mansion overlooking the Anacostia River, and that's where he spent most of his last years, and eventually died. On February 20, 1895, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C. During that meeting, he was brought to the platform and received a standing ovation. Shortly after he returned home, after having a luncheon, Frederick Douglass hurried out on his way to another meeting, but died of a massive heart attack or stroke, collapsing in his front hallway.

Anna's bedroom (Anna was his first wife and the one who funded Douglass' escape from slavery.)

Like many others apparently -- the tours quickly get filled to capacity -- I went in search of Frederick Douglass as a result of the president's recent comments about Douglass for Black History Month. I searched on "Frederick Douglass historic site" hoping that something nearby would pop up, and was rewarded with the discovery that his last home, Cedar Hill, is a house museum/national historic site in southeast D.C. Douglass's legacy is preserved at Cedar Hill, where he lived his last 17 years.

During the house tour, the docents reveal various aspects of Douglass' life and character. They point out his favorite chairs, how he would go out to a stone building in the back called the "Growlry" to think and write, discuss life in the late 19th century, and of course his legacy. They finally note that Douglass' second wife fought to preserve his legacy as well as Cedar Hill as a house museum dedicated to Frederick Douglass' life and incredible accomplishments.

Several years after Anna died, Douglass wed his second wife, Helene Pitts, a white abolitionist and feminist.
His family (and hers) objected , but they lived very happily for his remaining years. He responded to the
criticisms by noting that his marriage had been to someone the color of his mother and his second, to someone the
color of his father, referring to the fact that the man on whose plantation he'd  been born had probably been his father.

Know before you go: Go online to the website to reserve tickets (for which there is a $1.50 fee); tours fill up quickly since POTUS' recent comments, so don't wait until the morning of the day you want to go to reserve your spots, because they won't be there!

Getting there: 1411 W Street, SE, Washington, DC; there is off-street parking available in front of the visitor's center.

Hours: The visitor center and grounds are open daily, except for January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25: April through October - 9 am to 5 pm; November through March - 9 am to 4:30 pm. The historic house is open only at scheduled times for guided tours. Rangers guide tours every day, except for January 1, Thanksgiving, and December 25.

Website: https://www.nps.gov/frdo/index.htm

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Understanding Andy Warhol

Actually, I don't think it's entirely possible to understand Andy Warhol, but you can certainly enhance and enlarge your appreciation of this iconic American 20th century artist's work by visiting a museum dedicated to his artwork in Pittsburgh.

Nosepicker 1: Why Pick on Me (originally titled The Lord Gave Me My Face but
I Can Pick My Own Nose), 1948. tempora and ink on Masonite
When Warhol's name is mentioned, immediately his iconic pop-culture paintings come to mind: Campbell's Soup Cans and his celebrity paintings of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. It's wonderful to see them in person. But exploring the museum's collection of some 900 paintings reveals additional aspects of Warhol's career and voice, making a visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, which mission is simply to be "the global keeper of Andy Warhol's legacy" an all-but-obligatory stop during any visit to Pittsburgh --and quite possibly reason enough to visit Pittsburgh, although the city and region have many other day trip destinations well worth exploring.

Statue of Liberty, 1962. Silkscreen ink and spray paint.
In addition to his paintings and prints, the collection features wallpaper and books by Warhol, covering the entire range of his work from all periods, and includes student work from the 1940s; 1950s drawings, commercial illustrations and sketchbooks; 1960s pop paintings of consumer products (Campbell's Soup Cans), celebrities (Liz, Jackie, Marilyn, Elvis), Disasters and Electric Chairs; portrait paintings (Mao), Skull paintings and the abstract Oxidations from the 1970s; and works from the 1980s such as The Last Supper, Raphael I-6.99 and collaborative paintings made with younger artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Francesco Clemente.

Three Coke Bottles, 1962. Silkscreen ink and graphite on linen. Andy Warhol once said,
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest
consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. ... A Coke is a Coke, and no
amount of money can get you a better Coke."
I found the explanation of Warhol's early printing and coloring method -- the blotted line technique -- interesting, and particularly enjoyed seeing some of his earliest work. I loved the colorful images -- his love and use of color, some of it outrageously bright -- continued throughout his career.

High Heel Shoe, ca 1955. Ink and Dr. Martin's Aniline dye on Strathmore paper.

Andy Warhol was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928, in a two-room row house apartment in Pittsburgh. Devout Byzantine Catholics, the family attended mass regularly and observed the traditions of their Eastern European heritage. Warhol’s father, a laborer, moved his family to a brick home on Dawson Street in 1934. Warhol attended the nearby Holmes School and took free art classes at Carnegie Institute (now The Carnegie Museum of Art). Warhol later attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) from 1945 to 1949, earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Pictorial Design with the goal of becoming a commercial illustrator. Soon after graduating, Warhol moved to New York City to pursue a career as a commercial artist.

Flowers, 1970. Screen print on paper.

In the late 1950s, Warhol began to devote more energy to painting. He made his first pop-culture paintings, which he based on comics and ads, in 1961. The following year marked the beginning of Warhol’s celebrity. He debuted his famous Campbell’s Soup Can series, which caused a sensation in the art world. Shortly thereafter he began a sequence of movie star portraits.

Three Marilyns, 1962. Acrylic, silkscreen ink, and graphite on linen.

Throughout the 1970s Warhol frequently socialized with celebrities such as Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Truman Capote, both of whom had been important early subjects in his art. Celebrity portraits developed into a significant aspect of his career and a main source of income.

Ai Weiwei: Neolithic Pottery with Coca-Cola Logo, 2007. Metallic paint, earthenware jar.
There also was an exhibit of another titan of modern art in the same space. The “Andy Warhol | Ai Weiwei” exhibit in the Warhol Museum accentuates the ties between these two artists and provides a deeper and more thorough examination of the intimacy they share with pop culture. Weiwei’s work is a natural evolution of the Pop Art movement that Warhol spearheaded in the 60s and 70s. It finds the thread of democratization of art that was the dominating themes of modern art 50 years ago and updates it.

Ai Weiwei: Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn, 2015. Lego blocks (!!)

In all, you emerge from this must-see museum with a greater understanding of Warhol's genius, beyond his iconic Campbell's Soup Cans paintings, although you ultimately are left with the question, is it ever really possible to understand Andy Warhol?

Getting there: 117 Sandusky Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212-5890

Hours: Closed Mondays. Open Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday - Thursday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Friday 10 a.m. - 10 p.m. Check website for holiday schedules.

Website: http://www.warhol.org/

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Elvis 11 Times [Studio Type], 1963. (7 shown here) Silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen.