THEGARDAN special edition
“I want so little: another leather bound Book, a gimlet with a lavender gin, bread So good when I taste it I can tell you How it’s made. I’d like us to rethink What it is to be a nation. I’m in a mood about America Today.” — Jericho Brown, The Tradition
SPECIAL EDITION // 03
Dear Reader, In remembrance of the fall harvest and our yearly celebration of the farm, the food, and the plate, this Special Edition issue is in honor of you and a reflection of what you do to make the world a better place. We are all responding to 2020 in different ways. Painter Laura Von Rosk remarked “I really don’t want to write about this time, it is overwhelming — I just want to keep painting.” This issue nods to the differences in humble acknowledgement of where we each are now, and of the future we imagine. Issue 02 was a call for submissions, a request to respond to the environment around you and a summons to send out your artwork, your action, your short stories, your research, and your reflections. You responded with abundance. This month we diverge from our true “residency” format while keeping the section titles to remind us all that we are still united in our creativity and that this work is an important form of self-care. The Special Edition is fat and ready for winter. It is an accounting of and a reckoning with the year. It is a celebration of the fruit from the hard-fought seeds we’ve sown and a storage in preparation for the challenging winter days ahead. It’s time to gather the harvest. It’s time to celebrate. It’s time to feast.
— All of Us at Craigardan October 2020
Craigardan is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission to encourage the human imagination to interpret the world with philosophical, ecological, and artistic perspective.
The Gardan, a project of Craigardan, is an offering to our community in response to the 2020 coronavirus pandemic, with the intention to carry us forward and onward long after. Together we will be stronger and more imaginative than ever before.
To fulfill our mission, Craigardan supports artists, chefs, craftspeople, farmers, scholars, and writers through residencies, social justice initiatives, and other community programs. PROGRAMS AND PLACE Located in the heart of the Adirondacks, Craigardan’s artistin-residence program strives to cultivate a rich and collaborative place-based experience for all people working in all disciplines. Our interdisciplinary foundation encourages creative thinking and collective problem solving by welcoming diversity in all of its forms.
The Gardan is intended to foster conversations about creativity and its processes among and a c r o s s a l l d i s c i p l i n e s . We welcome contributions from artists and thinkers, activists and farmers, and environmentalists and chefs at any and all stages of creative development. Each issue is inspired by and draws from the weekly happenings during a residency session, delivering a small piece of our program — along with inspiration and ongoing support — to encourage you to self residency wherever you are. We hope that The Gardan will unite you with your extended
family of creative thinkers and bring a breath of Adirondack air to your inbox. Each issue can be found online at www.craigardan.org/gardan CONTENT SUBMISSION We invite your contributions of words, images, video, field notes, sound, and any other way you wish to connect to us, and to each other. Issues are curated by our editors. Complete guidelines for content submission can be found online at www.craigardan.org/ journalsubmission The Gardan is guided by our staff and fully supported by Craigardan’s funding and the efforts of our board and volunteers. We are actively pursuing grants and donations that would enable us to offer compensation for contributors. A l l c o n t r i b u t o r s re c e i v e a complimentary print copy of The Gardan by mail.
BOARD AND STAFF Lanse Stover, President
David Speert, Vice-President
Lorene Garrett, Treasurer
Catherine Haskins, Secretary
Brooks Thomas Townsend
Janelle A. Schwartz
CRAIGARDAN www.craigardan.org firstname.lastname@example.org 518.242.6535 9216 NYS Route 9N, Elizabethtown, NY 12932
With special thanks to editors Mary Barringer and Kate Moses.
All artwork is used with permission of the artist, who retains copyright of their work
AMY GODINE Saratoga Springs, NY
LOREN MICHAEL MORTIMER Bloomington, Indiana @lmmortimer
KEIKO NARAHASHI New York, NY @keiko_nara_hashi
JULIA DEVINE Plattsburgh, NY @famousletterwriter
CHIKA ONYENEZI Adelphi, MD @chika.onyenezi
NANDINI BHATTACHARYA Houston, TX @nandininbhattac
JULIAN BENNET HOLMES Brooklyn, NY
LAURA VON ROSK Schroon Lake, NY @lvonrosk
VERA ILIATOVA Brooklyn, NY @vera_iliatova
JEFF MERTZ Brooklyn, NY @mertzworks
AMY GUGLIELMO Plattsburgh, NY @amy_guglielmo
LUKE AYRES Keene Valley, NY @whook_ayres
IN RESIDENCE MONDAYNIGHTDINNER
Kate Moses and Catherine Ross are in conversation with painter Vera Iliatova, and we meet painter and ceramic artist Keiko Narahashi
Humble Pie; pastry chef Luke Ayres shares his favorite crust recipe and photographer Jeff Mertz captures chef Liz Flyntz mid-bake.
Amy Godine reflects on Karen Davidson’s Memorial Field For Black Lives, a short story by writer Chika Onyenezi, paintings by artist Laura Von Rosk, and an excerpt from Nandini Bhattacharya’s upcoming book.
Birds of A Feather; Julia Devine and Amy Guglielmo discuss public art and community
Making The Place-Worlds We Imagine; Loren Michael Mortimer on land acknowledgements
Julian Bennet-Holmes shares the sounds of New York
WORDS + IMAGES JERICHO BROWN AND JEFF MERTZ
COVER FRONT: KEIKO NARAHASHI
The Physiognomists, glazed stoneware, 2016
BACK: MARY BARRINGER
Craigardan Piglets, sketched during Mary’s 2018 residency
VERA ILIATOVA Artist Catherine Ross and Writer Kate Moses in Conversation with Vera Iliatova 8
The Ties That Bind, Detail. Oil on canvas, 24”x 30,” 2019
Becoming, Part 1. Oil on Linen, 16”x 20,” 2019.
This past winter Craigardan invited artist Vera Iliatova as the first artist-in-residence to explore and discover her work en plein air within our new 320-acre property. With the COVID-19 pandemic delaying our ability to host her on campus, her work feels more relevant than ever.
long dead, that allows Vera’s work to recall a lineage of classical painting. Maybe Vera remembers Corot’s paintings of females bathing in the river when she explores new compositions of girls in the landscape, or Balthus’s The Mountain when she combines figures together, yet awkwardly isolated from one another.
I was first introduced to Vera’s work when I participated in an exhibition with her in 2006 at Artists Space in Manhattan. Over the last decade and a half, Vera has defied the burden of any popular trend in painting and followed her own continuous thread in her work. Her compositions, while certainly contemporary, hint at historical paintings; they are figurative in a classical way that few painters of her generation have pursued. Perhaps it is the luxury of being an artist living in New York City, among the collections of artworks of artists
As familiar as I am with her work, I struggle to define the characters in her paintings. There is something girl-like in their clothing and appearance, and yet the persistent brooding mood in her recent work belies the expectation of the joy and silliness of youth. I was fortunate to see these paintings at the opening of her solo exhibition at Monya Rowe Gallery in New York City on February 20th. The show had only a few weeks to be seen in person before it closed down physically and opened in a virtual space due to COVID-19. The
paintings now seem prescient of the mood that soon overtook the paused world. They portray gatherings of figures who are present in the moment, yet arrested in time and space. Their tone is serious, their faces are expressionless, completely emotionless . . . not sad, not smiling. Which begs the question, aren’t we women supposed to be happy, afraid, sad, angry? Vera’s figures wear clothes in a muted palette, which is a perfect pairing with her characters’ partially articulated features. Voices are paused. They are strong together in their solitude. There is an inherent social distance in all these gatherings. Time has stopped. Just as it has now.
disappointed to have it close so early. I also think my work doesn’t reproduce very well in photographs, since the surface and the brush marks are so important and the shifts in grays are very nuanced. I am lucky that I had an opening and that the show was open for a couple of weeks so some people could actually see the work in person. That’s one of the things I'm missing particularly now. I love museums, and I love galleries, too. And just being able to see art in real life. KM: There is such a strong narrative feel to your paintings. They seem to share many of the elements of craft that writers use to evoke a story, including the idea of “showing” rather than “telling” and the careful calibration of time, tone, sensory detail, characters, actions. I’m struck by how color seems to be one of those storytellers, as is your brushwork. Do you approach a new painting with a sense of a narrative?
Vera Iliatova was born in Russia and emigrated to the U.S. in 1991. She received her BA from Brandeis University, her MFA from Yale University in 2001, and attended the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2004. Vera lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and is currently a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and New York Art Academy.
VI: I love stories and I love reading. I love the idea of “showing” rather than “telling” but I don’t know a lot about the craft of writing as English is my second language and I find writing very intimidating. But I have always been a very avid reader. I also love film, especially the type of film that gives us glimpses into the process of filmmaking while also involving us in the narrative. While I wouldn’t be able to define the narrative in my paintings in a written format, I have a definite sense of what the narrative is — it is a compilation of my own experiences, my memories of growing up in Saint Petersburg, and also the construct of my experiences of films, television, and literature.
— Catherine Ross
Kate Moses, The Gardan: We’re really disappointed that you couldn't just be here at Craigardan. But at least we get to do this for now. Vera Iliatova: Especially in this time, it's so nice to focus on something other than, you know, the current situation. Catherine Ross, The Gardan: How have you adapted your practice without being able to access your studio during the pandemic? Has this led you to any realizations about the connection between your work, a studio, and having a show? How important are those things to who you are as an artist?
KM: It seems like you’re capturing a moment in the middle of a story in the paintings. Something's about to happen or something just did happen, but we're only getting a glimpse of it. Do you have a sense of the whole narrative arc that you're capturing in just a moment?
VI: I spent about a month not going to the studio which made me very sad because I had a lot of ideas and momentum from the show. But I had to set up online teaching and homeschooling my son and the studios were shut down. But recently I started going back into the studio and those are the happiest hours of my life. It is just a great reminder of how important painting is to my sanity.
VI: I don't have the sense over the whole arc. I feel like the arc has been ongoing since I started making this type of painting. In the beginning, I really felt that I was part of the narrative, like I was one of the women, because my work started with self portraits. When I was in graduate school, I was making a lot of very straight-on self portraits. And then I started dressing up a little bit. I would put on a wig or get clothes from the thrift store and dress up in those clothes. And I didn't necessarily think of myself as painting myself, but about acting a character. When you paint a portrait of someone, it's always going to be a portrait of somebody. But using myself, I could think of myself as a blank slate. I could look at myself but imagine being a different person. My personality doesn’t matter if I
CR: Can you talk about how it felt to have your show close down? Do paintings have a life without being able to be seen in person? VI: This was a show that I felt particularly good about because I started on something that felt new to me. I have been looking for a change in my work and something new was happening in these paintings. So I was
am painting somebody else — their personality is important. And their presence is so important that I would never be able to go past it. Whereas I could be a blank canvas, and then I could reenact all these different things.
KM: I’m a writer, and I think about my characters all the time. But it never occurred to me that as a painter, you might actually think about the people in your paintings. Related to that, there's a real sense of time in the interactions you’re depicting. It seems to me, as I look at the paintings, that sometimes there seem to be different scenes going on. They might even be on different planes of time in the same painting, like this is happening on Tuesday, and this is happening on Wednesday morning. A lot of things that you're doing add to that sense to me. It goes back to that “showing and telling” idea -- the way your brushstrokes change and the level of detail in one face versus another one. Do the stories take place at a certain time in history for you, or are they taking place in the moment that you're painting them?
If there was a route to my narrative, I think it's my personal map. You know, I came here from Russia when I was almost 16 years old. I grew up in St. Petersburg, and I really loved the city. I love my friends. I was very excited to come to the United States, but I thought it was going to be exactly like my life in Russia in terms of all my friendships, translated to American style. I was very surprised when I landed at JFK and I didn't have a new American boyfriend pull up in his convertible, just as I was told it would happen in the movies, you know? So I think my experiences of my American life were not at all what I imagined. I really, really missed my friends in Russia, the kind of friendship we started making with each other. And that kind of nostalgia became the subject matter in the work. It's not that the work is necessarily depicting what has been happening, but I think it’s kind of trying to depict what would have happened if I stayed; if we became a little bit older together.
VI: They don't necessarily make a specific story all the time. The story kind of unfolds as I am painting. CR: Your characters embody solitude despite the compositions representing gathering— can you talk about the inherent social distance in your work pre-Covid-19 and post Covid-19? VI: I think of the space between the characters in my painting almost as a defining aspect of their relationship and their characteristics. I think of the characters as two magnets that, turned in a certain position, can’t overcome the force of separation. The space is also the pause before any interaction occurs. I am influenced by the filmmaker Robert Bresson and his followers, who believed in space between the scenes as crucial for the narrative. I arrange my paintings as mise-en-scene where the space between the characters gives the opportunity for the viewers to bring their own presence and experiences into the narrative.
A lot of my ideas of narrative and how narrative is constructed in film have influenced me in the work. I'm particularly interested in that idea of narrative happening between the scenes. It's not described in the scenes, it’s that kind of enigmatic space that happens between the scenes in a way that the viewer is allowed to project their own narrative into that emptiness and enrich their experience of seeing what's going on. To me that also has been very important to the paintings. A lot of the gestures are taken from very specific sources. They're taken from films, they're taken from photography, they're taken from television. I'm a big fan of coming-ofage American television drama, like American teen drama, and they get reenacted in the paintings.
As far as post-COVID-19 experience of space, I think it brings a more enhanced interpretation to the paintings that I have already completed. The process of painting itself currently feels like a true luxury as it allows me to escape the COVID world and focus on the world that I am imagining.
CR: Are you in your paintings? If so, what is your role in the work? VI: I am always in the paintings as I model for all the figures. I have this mirror, so I pose. I do that so I can understand the way that the light falls, to make the characters feel specific, to make them feel like they are actual people. I have a collection of clothes for dress up but my role has changed over the years. I used to think of the work as casting myself in different roles but still remaining myself somewhere behind the disguise. Now I am using myself more and more as a prop, and the characters are more fictional.
CR: Have you ever painted one of these scenes with actual models set up in the room? I'm so curious now because I'm sensing, suddenly, that maybe all the disconnected feeling — it's that they're never together. KM: You’re just one person, one person at a time. VI: Right, right, right, right. There was a time right after I gave birth that I felt like I did not want to look at myself, right into the year after. I didn't really feel like looking at myself in the mirror. I think it was a kind of transitional
time for me. I found a model, she was a former student. I had a really great rapport with her. You know, her presence. I usually don't like having other people in my studio. I feel too self conscious. But with her, she was perfect. She would come in and she would reenact all the people in my paintings. So there was a moment where it was her, but it was just one of her.
glazes. That's really important for me both in the process of making the paintings and also in the experience of time that the paintings reveal.
CR: So there's never actually been the gathering, youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve always created distanced paintings.
KM: â&#x20AC;Śthat idea that something happened in this place. Almost like the ghost of it lives over the place, even though it might be 20 years ago or 100 years ago. Maybe that's part of what I see when I'm looking at the paintings. The sense that maybe something has already happened here.
KM: I think this goes back to that idea about time, feeling like there are different times happening. Like you were saying, Catherine, those characters are never existing at the same moment. So that might be part of why they feel different, but it also gives a quality that reminds me of ex voto paintings, say the Mexican ex votos where there's a picture of a guy getting hit by a car, and then in another corner there's a picture of him in the hospital. And then there's another picture of him before the accident. And it's all on the same canvas or piece of tin or whatever itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s painted on, and then another one of him praying in a church, and it's all existing in the same painting, but they're different times. There's a quality in some of your paintings that's like that too.
VI: I left in 1990 and the fall of the Soviet Union happened that summer. A lot of changes had already been happening. So you had these women at school, all of my friends. You had to be very cool, but also really well read and very smart at the same time. The idea of being cool and getting good grades came together. And they had to navigate this very scary landscape because the 90s in Russia were a free-for-all. There was a lot of vandalism, there was a lot of assault, it was just dangerous for men and women. And also half of the men in Russia had drinking problems. So not to have a man on your side was very, very difficult. You would be judged by other people. Like, oh, what's wrong with you, you know, you were single.
VI: Absolutely. Ex votos, I came across them later. But as a student I loved early Renaissance paintings. I love early Renaissance paintings in general, because they didn't have the perspective tools yet. I'm not talking about Raphael, you know, b u t b e f o re t h at , w h e n t h e y h a d t h i s k i n d o f experimentation and desire to create the believable space, but not the mathematical formula to do it. And a lot of times I remember seeing the same character in those paintings.
And also just to get things done was difficult, because people would not listen to a woman as much if she was by herself. So I think about these classmates of mine who were left behind when I moved to the U n i t e d St at e s . Th e y s t a y e d i n St . Petersburg and they had to navigate those places that were physically very dark and dilapidated. The women had to fight for themselves while also wearing high heels and preserving their beauty and appearing helpless. The way to get a man was to feel like you're helpless. That, to me, is fascinating. It's a fascinating character.
The process of painting itself currently feels like a true luxury as it allows me to escape the COVID world and focus on the world that I am imagining.
When I make the paintings, I'm the viewer. Once the paintings are made and moved out into the world, somebody else becomes the viewer. It's important for me to give that space for the viewer to find and interpret the narrative for themselves as well. So that's why I am so anxious when I have to just paint a flat plane like a wall or a floor board, because it's so definite, it's just like one color. And I feel like it's not giving me enough ambiguity for it to be wall or shadow of the wall or exterior space at the same time, it's too definite, too locked in. I try to melt layers of time, as well as layers of paint and layers of
KM: How did that feel? You were right in the throes of being a teenager when you came to the United States. Did you feel like there was a different expectation? VI: Always. We first moved to Brooklyn and I went to Yeshiva of Flatbush, which was huge, it was a religious school. It was kind of, I don't know if it was progressive, but reformed, so it wasn't orthodox. But there was a skirt police. So when you were entering the school, you had to make sure that your skirt was just covering your knees. So we all inhale and pull our skirts down a little bit.
Once More, With Feeling. Oil on linen, 18â&#x20AC;?x 24,â&#x20AC;? 2020
In Russia, I was very cool. I knew my music. I knew my books. I knew my fashion, which was very limited because we didn't have any anything. But I came to the American school and I immediately memorized everybody by what they were wearing, because when you're a teenager you're too afraid to look people in the face. In Russia you wear the same thing. I used to wear the same thing. And the next day I came to school and I couldn't find my class because they all changed their clothes. There was a whole semester when there was one girl who never appeared in the same outfit twice.
could possibly have. So I think it was really hard for me because I was very immediately a girl off the boat. Now my paintings change drastically. At times the figures just get completely exed out and painted over, given haircuts. In the painting I'm working on right now the outfit kept changing. I remember she was wearing a maroon t-shirt and black pants and then I changed her into a pink shirt and black pants. Every week she had to wear a different outfit until I felt like the associations were just right. She ended up wearing a white shirt with a white skirt.
I think about that now when I watch these television shows and a lot of them take place over like eight seasons, right? So imagine eight seasons, 26 episodes a season, and a change of outfits in the episode so how many? Where do all these clothes come from? I just cannot even understand the amount of clothes that one
KM: I love that it actually reminds me of being a teenage girl and having to try on 17 different outfits before you say okay, this is the right one, right? Even your brush strokes are changing the story. I never realized that painting could do that.
VI: That idea that desire ultimately can never be fulfilled. It's something that once it's fulfilled, it can no longer be a desire.
you continued to have a relationship with them over these last three decades or not. I've always felt that they're gathered, but they're not connected. Now that I understand that the process is that these women are never together, and now that you've explained to me this feeling that you've been struggling with for three decades, of displacement and not feeling connected to any culture or group, trying to search for a place where you could feel comfortable — to me the work is all a selfportrait. The work is a portrait of yourself trying to find this ultimate connection like any one of these women — they’re all you. So I don't know if it really is about the nostalgia of the place where you were.
I think I'm always feeling like there's going to be something around the corner that I finally get, you know, and I'm never there. I’m constantly failing and I kind of go, but going back to the self portraits, I think staring at myself in the mirror and making a self portrait felt very comforting. And I remember this in the times of crisis with my students. After Trump got elected a lot of my students were very depressed. And I said, "let's paint self portraits” and for them to be able to just look at themselves in the mirror and just get a sense that they were who they were, was very comforting. I think that's how the self-portraiture came about.
VI: That's a really good point. I don't remember the definition of the word nostalgia, I guess it is about the sense of loss. But then, if the paintings are a way to avoid the loss, because at least in the paintings they're all together, they are no longer nostalgic because there's no loss. That's a great point.
And I think I look at my paintings, the ones that have already been made, through a different lens, like social isolation of figures or distances. But I think everybody's work is now going to be interpreted that way. We all are looking at things so differently because of this particular reality.
CR: Women are led to believe that they are emotional creatures. Can you talk about why your females have no sadness, joy, or fear?
KM: Yeah, that's a really interesting way to see it. It's sort of like the thing that we can't unsee, you know, you can’t unexperience this. And now it's going to be something we carry into every experience.
VI: I think that they have all of that, but in my mind they are one short step away from spilling all these emotions out, which would probably destroy them. So we see them on the brink of all that.
There’s an Albert Camus quote I thought of while looking at your paintings: “A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.” What do you think those indelible early images might have been for you?
KM: A landscape painter told me that if he paints from a photograph or from the real subject he gets caught up in getting the details right, but if he paints from memory, what he captures on the canvas is the emotion of the place. Your paintings overall have a dreamlike quality that’s also often elegiac, while the figures themselves are, if not emotionless, then focused inward. How do you approach your own paintings? From memory, models, photographs or other sources?
VI: When I was an undergraduate painting student, I made a painting of two women facing each other in a darkened studio space. It was not a particularly good painting in my opinion. When my professor pulled it out for an exhibition in the open studios without my approval, I got very angry because I was so ashamed. I remember her telling me that she wouldn’t be surprised if I keep revisiting whatever bothered me in that painting in my future works. She was right! It is the motive that I keep working out.
VI: I use all the sources that you mentioned. I start my paintings with an abstract exploration of color and light. Often it’s just layers of transparent color activating the canvas, suggesting some type of space. There is a lot of trial and error, I paint what I see around, a corner of the studio, a plant, a view of the landscape out of the window. I bring in some gestures from films or photographs that I reenact in front of the mirror. Most often these initial attempts disappear under the subsequent layers of painting. Finally, I stumble upon some type of composition that sticks with me, contains some type of potential that is interesting to explore. That’s when the narrative crystallizes in my mind and the narrative paints itself.
CR: One thing you've said is that in essence, the work is creating a memory of a future you'd never have. You're creating this memory of what it would have been like to be with the people who you grew up connecting with, what was normal for your life. Had that continued, what would life look like? And yet the work itself is now created by making yourself into those characters. I don't know if
KM: I’m thinking of your paintings in which still lifes of flowers appear with figures in a landscape: there seem to be different planes of space going on at the same time, almost like photographs with double exposures. The still lifes are often not typical – sometimes in a vase arrangement, but often they are individual plants or flowers, as if dropped onto a plane of glass rather than “arranged” in the way we typically think of that idea. What interests you about these juxtapositions of subject and varied planes of space? VI: I love this question and although I have never thought of double exposure, it is a great idea. The abstracted space in my paintings is important as it allows for more shifts in experience of the composition. I always want there to be a way out from one scene to another, painting stable planes fills me with unexplainable anxiety. I am also interested in overlap of what comes across as reality and as artifice or memory in the paintings. KM: The one painter I can think of who sometimes used large-scale floral still lifes in her figurative paintings was Florine Stettheimer. What is your feeling about artistic predecessors or influences, particularly female painters? VI: I have always loved Florine Stettheimer’s work! I first saw her painting Music in the mid 90s at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University where I was completing my undergraduate degree. And yes, I am very influenced by the tradition of important but slightly overlooked women painters such as Isabel Bishop, Evelyn Dunbar, Biala, and Charlotte Salomon. Luckily, these painters are presently gaining more recognition. I also love the flower paintings by the Dutch Master Rachel Ruysch. There is something in her paintings that stands out from her contemporaries. My own contemporary influences are Mamma Andersson, Lisa Yuskavage, Ellen Berkenblit and Susan Lichtman. I am so excited and inspired by the work they are making. Their paintings give me courage to go on in my own studio.
All images are courtesy of Monya Rowe Gallery.
Sleep To Forget
KEIKO NARAHASHI Meet Painter and Clay artist Keiko Narahashi 17
A Tiny Lament
As a painter, I love the action of my hand and brush connected by breath, a distillation of time in a single gesture.
I believe that meaning arises primarily from emotions and that when emotions become too intense, as in trauma, they coalesce into forms that emanate directly from the subconscious. Like ghosts, it can be hard to distinguish between human and nonhuman.
With clay, I ‘throw’ thin slabs (like a pizza crust), letting the movement determine the shape. With each action, it expands. Like a brushstroke, the form is determined by the specific movement of my hands and wrists.
There exists a moral hierarchy of shapes and symbols, in standards of beauty, and in the physiognomy of the human face. These proscriptions are never far from my mind. My inability to stay within accepted virtues, my defiance of these strictures are catalysts in my artmaking.
I draw, cut, and tear directly onto these clay slabs so that the finished work is akin to a constructed drawing. I like the sense of clay being “breathed” into life in this way. In this stretched-out state, the clay retains the memory of my every move; stretching, swelling, collapsing. It becomes a skin with an inside and outside, and I feel like I am simultaneously acting on the clay and groping inside my own body.
Lately, I have been re-reading fairy tales, which strike me increasingly as literal rather than allegorical. I relate to their subversive resistance which is the defense of the powerless child or the unwelcome traveler (immigrant). I have been both. There is an undermining, seditious humor that mirrors my approach to clay. It feels both ambiguous and feminine, like a woman with a beard.*
In my piece, Sleep to Forget, the figure is sleeping, perhaps dreaming or simply exhausted, her face slack. The clay corresponds with this state, being on the verge of collapse during the entire process of making. It continued to sink in on itself as it dried; I really didn’t know what its final form would be until the final firing. Working with clay in this direct manner feels like externalizations of a pre-dawn state, of newborn body sensations and wordless impulses, a reification of my unformed thoughts.
— Keiko Narahashi
I make both figurative and abstract pieces. The abstractions are like representations of painting, rendered in clay. Figuration and landscape are newer forms for me that allow me to excavate a more emotional terrain.
(* “A Woman with a Beard is not so disgusting as a Woman who acts the Free-Thinker.” -Johann Lavatar, On the Theory of Physiognomy)
A Lull (In Blue)
HUMBLE PIE By Luke Ayres
Photograph of artist Liz Flyntz by Jeff Mertz
It’s autumn in the Adirondacks and apple pie season is upon us. If you find yourself with an overabundance, I suggest peeling, coring, and freezing the extra apples for future winter treats.
Fruit Pie Filling -4-5 cups prepared apples (or other fruit) -½ cup sugar (can be half brown, half granulated) -cinnamon -Large pinch of salt -3-4 Tbsp flour
Opportunities to pick-your-own abound, but if you must, store bought apples will also do. Store bought pie dough, however, will never do.
Preheat oven to 375. Stir filling and set aside to macerate while you roll out the pie dough. Gently flour a surface and rolling pin and roll out to fit the pan. Turning dough 90 degrees every other roll will help evenly distribute and form a circle about a ¼ inch thick or more. The dough is pretty resilient so you should be able to pick it up and set it in the bottom. Chill while rolling out the top. Fill pie with fruit and dab water around the edge to seal the top layer of dough. Trim excess dough and crimp edges all the way around to seal. Then brush top with an egg wash or milk or nothing and sprinkle with a little sugar. Cut slits on top or poke holes to vent steam.
This is the easiest method for an all-butter pie dough and it freezes well. One batch can easily make 3 covered pies or 6 uncovered. If a whole pie is too much of a commitment, a galette uses half the fruit and is a nice fall dessert for a small, outdoor gathering. Or, you could roll the dough out and cut circles for hand pies or turnovers. Pie can swing either savory or sweet, so little leftover bits and pieces of cheese, herbs, and veggies can be revived and made into a lovely quiche for brunch.
Turn oven down to 350 and place pie directly on center rack. After 20 minutes put the pie on a baking sheet as it will start to leak as it continues to bake. Check again after another 20 minutes. You want to look for consistent browning of crust as well as the bubbling of juices in the steam vents; a sign that the inside has cooked enough for the thickeners to have done their job. Let cool sufficiently before serving so it can set up.
The Best All-Purpose Pie Dough 5 cups (640 g) all purpose flour 2 cups (453 g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed 2 tsp salt 1 Tbsp, 1 tsp sugar 1 cup ice water Splash (about 2 tsp) cider vinegar
And please, this is important, serve with ice cream.
Combine the vinegar and the cold water, add an ice cube and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer* combine the dry ingredients and stir. Then with a paddle attachment mix the cubed butter on low to medium speed. Be sure to keep an eye on it, as you want to break it up and slightly mix with the flour but you certainly do not want it to be fully incorporated. It may take a minute or two but you’ll notice that the flour is no longer powdery and there are still lima bean sized chunks of butter. Slowly pour in a measured cup of the cold water mixture, careful not to add the ice. Stir until just combined. It may seem a little crumbly still but should stick together when pressed; the dough will continue to hydrate as it chills. Gather it all up and wrap in saran wrap as a large disc. (Do this part quickly as the less you handle the dough, the less butter will melt) Let chill for at least an hour before you divide to bake or freeze. I generally cut into six sections and wrap each individually. If you’re new to rolling out dough, maybe try dividing into four until you get the hang of it.
Quiche 4 eggs 2 yolks 1½ cup half & half Salt, pepper Pinch of nutmeg Quiche is uncovered and the crust does not need to be par baked. Simply roll out one portion of dough to fit your pan and crimp edges. Mix the custard and select your fillings. I like to add zucchini, parmesan and thyme. Or kale and cheddar. Or cheese and tomato and oregano. Any vegetable (with the exception of tomatoes) would ideally be drained of its water content. Zucchini needs to be squeezed and greens should be blanched and squeezed. Mushrooms and meat should be precooked. Any cheese should be shredded. Basically add whatever you have to the empty pie shell, pour custard over the top just below the crimped edge and bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until filling has a little jiggle but still seems set. It can be rewarmed a bit but I recommend letting it cool before slicing.
*a food processor would also work, but I always find that the butter gets chopped up too small, even when you pulse, which leads to slightly less flakey dough.
MEMORIAL FIELD FOR BLACK LIVES By Amy Godine
On June 19, at the John Brown Farm historic site in North Elba, an art work was installed in the turn-around near the statue of John Brown. “Memorial Field for Black Lives,” as Saranac Lake artist and activist Karen Davidson calls the piece, is at the Farm through fall. Sponsored by the John Brown Lives! social justice group, it will also travel to SUNY Albany and Paul Smith’s College, and maybe to the state capital building. But try to catch it at the John Brown farm. It’s a calming place with far deep-breathing views. You’ll need them.
intransigently racialized America gave armed public servants the authority to deem these lives dispensable. So they were killed, and are still. The sign-making goes on. Davidson’s is not the first Memorial Field in the nation. Minneapolis has one. Portland, Houston, Albuquerque, too. Oakland has a memorial mural. Chicago, a wall under the Red Line viaduct pinned with crayon-bright We Miss You memos. But Davidson’s might be the only one where the originator ropes the victims’ names to the last desperate, unsuspecting moments of their lives. The terseness of her epitaphs (each point scrupulously culled from irrefutable evidence) feels urgent – no time here for wasted words – which mirrors the urgency, the speed and unexpectedness of police violence in each case. It’s so easy, reading these, to imagine how one bad guess or snap assumption might point to something worse. “How it all escalated unnecessarily,” that’s what the artist told me she wanted us to feel.
Near the statue, in a sea of grass, Karen has planted a knee-high crop of posters. All dead black with hard white letters, these signs invoke small country headstones. This is intentional. Each poster – she started with seventeen, and now they number fifty -- bears an eight-line epitaph on either side. The epitaphs, furiously pared, elliptic as haiku, toll the names of Black Americans killed by the police, or, in some cases, by vigilantes. For the most part, these victims are young men, but women are named, too, and grandmothers, and children.
Then there’s the installation’s name. There are instructions in this, too. “Memorial Field for Black Lives” urges us to not read these names in isolation but consider them in toto, the way we might experience a battlefield where people died in the same fight. This turns out to be tough. Much easier to take these deaths singly, as they happened. (Scan the headline, shake your head, and turn the page.) Perusing these mercilessly abbreviated bios all together, bios bitten off as sharply as these lives, underscores the pattern language. And as we move from one sign to the next and the pattern stays the same, stays with us like a blinding white spot in our vision from looking too long at the sun, the heart staggers. Fifty people. It’s too much.
Why did they die? What did they do? Details are curated with stern care. UNARMED/ JOGGER/ HUNTED/ DOWN/ ARMED/ POSSE/ 3 SHOTS/ CLOSE RANGE./ AHMAUD ARBERY/ 1995-2020. Or this one, more familiar. HANDCUFFED/ FACE DOWN/ ON GROUND/ POLICE/ KNEE/ PINNED/ NECK/ “I CAN’T BREATHE.”/ GEORGE FLOYD/ 1974-2020. Other circumstances: Somebody was reaching for his wallet. A kid had a toy gun. Mistaken identity -- wrong address. The guy had on “suspicious”looking earbuds. However various the stories, they all end the same way. They end with killing. And a killing that in no case can be said to have been provoked by an incident or ‘crime,’ real or imagined, that justified the taking of a human life. Justice was not served. Black lives matter; these lives didn’t. That’s the takeaway. An
Yet when I visited, not one of the four other people in this field of loss failed to pause before each sign and take in each strangled word.
It would have been unthinkable. And none of us would dare.
Atlanta, and at once, or plan on doing hard time in a chain gang. Barber moved his family to Chicago, and from there to Philadelphia. The magazine would not survive the move.
The siting of the signs, where they stood, this lawn in particular, seemed even to reframe the monument itself. In what way did these victims of police violence belong to Brown’s story? In what way Brown’s to them? Davidson doesn’t try to answer this. It is not her main concern. But whether by intent or not, her silent pond of signage and Joseph Pollia’s much-visited John Brown in bronze amplify and extend each other. The monument reminds us that our present-day crimes of white supremacism are part of a much older struggle, that this goes back. And the signs recall Brown’s own war on w h i t e ra c i s m , a b att l e o ft e n forgotten or obscured in light of his more famous war on slavery. He hated slavery; he also loathed the white supremacism that rationalized it. This may seem obvious today, but to be antislavery before Emancipation was no stamp of anti-racist ‘wokeness.’ Name another white guy who hauled his family to the Adirondack wilderness to participate in an agrarian initiative for black New Yorkers to help them gain the right to vote. Black Lives Mattered to John Brown whether they were free lives, or enslaved.
But he remained a leading activist, and when W. E. B. DuBois, co-founder of the NAACP, invited him to join a group of black activists to fight segregation and disenfranchisement — and not quietly, with hat in hand, as Booker Washington was urging, but on the streets and at the polls, in public, and out loud — Barber stepped up. Two times in 1906 he pilgrimed to Harpers Ferry with members of the Niagara Movement to pay homage to John Brown. Was it the oratory at these gatherings that roused his interest in a Black memorial to Brown at North Elba? A speech he loved from Chicago’s esteemed Christian socialist, Bishop Reverdy Ransom, extolled Brown’s value for the present moment. “Like the ghost of Hamlet’s father,” Ransom declared, “the spirit of John Brown beckons us to arise and seek the recovery of our rights... No weak and ordinary voice can call the nation back to a sense of justice.”
“Memorial Field for Black Lives” urges us to not read these names in isolation but consider them in toto, the way we might experience a battlefield where people died in the same fight. This turns out to be tough. Much easier to take these deaths singly, as they happened. (Scan the headline, shake your head, and turn the page.)
Barber worried that Black memory had failed to do right by the legacy of Brown. A debt of gratitude had yet to be enduringly expressed. The John Brown Memorial Association, founded in 1921 by Barber and his friend, Philadelphia physician Spotus Burwell, would address this oversight in two ways. A yearly pilgrimage of Black Americans to the abolitionist’s Adirondack home and burial place on his birthday would honor Brown’s legacy with prayer, speeches, a wreath-laying. And in time, John Brown’s black friends would raise a more tangible memorial in bronze, to stand near Brown’s Adirondack home.
The Memorial Field and its callingout of police violence in our time also invokes the activist career of Jesse Max Barber, whose John Brown Memorial Association, a black group headquartered in Philadelphia, worked fifteen years to raise the money for the erection of this statue in 1935. Barber was no stranger to police brutality. In 1906, when he was living in Atlanta, editing the Voice of the Negro, the nation’s leading black magazine, a three-day race riot ripped across the city. Atlanta’s white press blamed the riots on Black lawlessness, but Barber’s eyewitness expose of white mobbism and brutality told a very different story. And for this challenge to the narrative of a white-on-black pogrom, he paid dearly. Barber published his piece in the New York World, but didn’t sign it. When leading white Atlantans learned who wrote the controversial expose, they made his options plain. He could leave
Eighty-five years have passed since the JBMA monument went up, and it’s easy to forget just what that meant when it occurred. In 1921, when Barber and Burwell first visited North Elba to introduce their plan to white locals, a mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma, put an entire black neighborhood to the torch. Scorched brick and wood ash replaced 35 city blocks. In 1924, when Barber’s pilgrimage was three years old, four million Americans belonged to the Ku Klux Klan;
chapters and informal meetings in the Adirondacks were not uncommon. Around the nation, lynching was a commonplace and Jim Crow rules about segregated public spaces (schools, libraries, beaches, parks, water fountains, stores …) were hardening to law. And while every working-class American suffered in the Great Depression, what was tough for white people — finding steady work, a living wage, good housing, fresh food, a decent education for the kids — was twice as onerous for Blacks. Discrimination, subordination, and repression were the de facto law of the land.
government. As for the statue, erect it anywhere but North Elba, it would not have stood the night. How does it stand now? Black Lives Matter has urged us all to take a second look at historic monuments with racist messaging or tacit content, and Pollia’s statue is not without its critics. His larger-than-life Brown strides confidently beside a black youth whose rags suggest his origins in slavery. Brown guides the boy with a firm hand on his shoulder; the youngster gazes gravely up. The paternalistic figuration here is plain, and in 2020, somewhat discomfiting. The anonymity of the boy suggests we consider him representative, an emblem, maybe, of all Black America. But a boy is immature, unevolved. A boy needs guidance from his betters. Was this how Pollia envisioned the role and place of Black Americans? We remind ourselves that this racialized tableau was approved by a Black activist. That Black Americans were not impervious to the internalization of systemic racist tropes. We’re uneasy. It gives us pause.
Barber’s yearly pilgrimage to North Elba never took close aim at these issues; the all-black JBMA was not the NAACP, and never tried to be (though Barber was a staunch and active member). Barber assailed white supremacism in his columns for the black paper, the Pittsburgh Courier, but in the North Country on his Spring visits, he left northern racism largely unremarked. He picked his battles, and this may have been why the pilgrimages lasted half a century on the JBMA watch. Barber knew his pilgrimages would not survive local resistance, and no pilgrims would come if they feared they’d be harassed. But they weren’t. Barber found a shrewd advisor and supporter in Harry Wade Hicks of the Lake Placid Club (a fervent admirer of John Brown), and with Hicks’ help, Barber won the interest and support of Lake Placid schools, ministers, the mayor. After a few years, Barber could promise JBMA members in Springfield, Pittsburgh, Manhattan, and Philadelphia that on this weekend anyway, the weekend of John Brown Day, this corner of the Adirondacks was safe and lovely, and that white folks not only backed the pilgrimage, they often went to it, as well.
But spurn it outright on this account? Here I balk. Yes, a racialized figuration is something to observe with dismay, but the offending part of this tableau is not the sum total of all it has to share. There is the invocation of Brown’s life and what it means to live for one’s convictions. There is the abiding relevance of those convictions for our time – hence the siting of this installation here, on his watch. There is a lineage of resistance that binds Black Lives Matter to other civil rights groups, like the Niagara Movement, the NAACP, the forgotten JBMA, and John Brown Lives!, the organization that encouraged Davidson to develop this installation for the Farm in the first place. I may wish Pollia had shown Brown conversing with a Black adult, or that the interpretive signage here unpacked more of the back story. That would be a help. But my distress on these points can’t cancel my delight this monument exists at all, and that it celebrates Brown’s legacy as a pioneer of equal rights, strolling and conversing with a young Black friend on the Plains of Abraham he loved.
And this was bold enough. Where else in the nation were black and white people paying homage side by side to a shared hero? Where commingling, period? Recall what car travel was like for Black families in white rural places in this era, and indeed, into the Sixties. What Barber managed to initiate was unprecedented. In 1935, an interracial gathering of many thousands thronged the John Brown Farm for the dedication of the JBMA monument. The press was lavish; the speeches grandiose, and, obviously, much was made of the courage of the man who Whitman called “the meteor of the war.” But there was courage, too, not much remarked, in just making the thing happen when half the nation still judged Captain Brown a terrorist, had no use for his notions about equal rights for Black people; and found wholly inexplicable the prospect of an interracial gathering honoring a guerrilla fighter who declared war on his own
Freelance writer and independent scholar Amy Godine has been writing about ethnic and Black history in the Adirondack region for over thirty years. She was the researcher-curator of the Dreaming of Timbuctoo exhibit at the John Brown Farm State Historic site in North Elba. Her most recent article for Adirondack Life takes up the long history of blackface performance in the region. She lives in Saratoga Springs. Photograph courtesy of Amy Godine.
Freezing Rain by Laura Von Rosk
CHIKA ONYENEZI LAURA VON ROSK NANDINI BHATTACHARYA 28
STORM // A Short Story By Chika Onyenezi The weather forecast said a storm was coming— I turned off the television and went to work anyway. When you work for these retail cheats, every day of the year is a workday. There isn’t any escaping. You are paid enough to only come back the next day and waste youth and spontaneity on the desirous whims of a rich capitalist dude you would never meet, always work for, bleed for, even die for, and probably go to your grave with little or nothing, and yet at the end of it all, you mean nothing to him, you only exist as a number – number of employees. When they need you to lift thirty pounds, there is no corporate policy, but when you break your hand or need help or something, these guys will find a way to get rid of you and declare you a liability. They hate liabilities, and I tried not to be one. I stood outside the store smoking and thinking about the difference between medieval and today's labor. The day-in-day-out routine constantly burned me away.
them to her house, but none of these could even get her to reply to my text messages. She accused me of dating an African student somewhere in Asia, but that wasn’t the case. The person in question was a long-time acquaintance of mine who decided to call in the middle of the night because she couldn’t tell the time difference. She also saw a message she sent and said they were outrageous. Outrageous! “How are you brother? I miss our good old days.” = Outrageous! I checked “outrageous” twice in the dictionary and googled: “What does it mean when your girlfriend says you are outrageous” twice, just to get a hint of other people’s view on it. Everything that comes out of a girl’s mouth is a kind of code, a code that must be interpreted with artificial intelligence. When I got tired of trying to figure out why she wasn’t picking up my call, I took it as fate. I guess that was the third stage of my realization, right after denying, googling, then you get fate. Fate means time to fade away, time to look beyond your ex. You can now comfortably address her as Ex. Fate could also mean eating ice-cream every day and going to parks just to help you purge the thoughts of her like food the body deemed unwanted. It could mean driving fast on the highway, for those who have felt that rush of lingering between death and life.
The sliding door automatically pushed open, and I walked in. Right by the door were glass cases protecting expensive cosmetics, perfumes, key chains, battery chargers, phone chargers, umbrellas, and sunshades. We left sales items in a big basket right before the counter so that customers could pick one or two before leaving. The manager's door was open. I saw her head bent over papers and files. I hated working with Irene, she screamed all the time if the lines weren’t going fast enough. James was fun to work with. He was a great boss, and constantly found a way to make that shit easy on me. He always came down to help me out with long lines instead of trying to teach me from a telephone. She saw me. I waved at her and she waved back at me.
The fluorescent tubes focused on my eyes and momentarily blinded me as I walked towards the computer in the pharmacy area at the back of the store to sign in for the day. The pharmacist waved at me. A good man. I heard he earned the biggest salary around here. No wonder every Nigerian I knew was in the medical field. I could have gone into the medical field a long time ago like my fellow compatriots and had a chance at a good life, but I chose to focus on my dream of becoming a painter. Assuming I could put food on the table with painting. Some dreams fester and rot in the night and stand in my living room like a Calabar masquerade, and remind me of the horrors of my own choices. The computer turned on, and I began to punch away. My good man, whom I always shared books with, whispered my name from the counter. I turned and saw him. Rodriguez, he was a student at Houston University completing his internship at the pharmaceutical store. We often talked in between breaks or anytime we could, and it was mostly about books. He had a smarter plan for himself than I. He loves to write and still went for a pharmacy degree, while all my life has been one attempt
There were few people working in the store today. Mary was on the counter. She asked me out last month, but I was already going out with someone else, and then, the someone I was going out with was very unstable, but I liked her anyway. Loved her I mean, and that was why I stayed longer in the relationship than I should have. I saw Mary talking to John recently; the Spanish boy that worked nights. His hair was always heavy with pomade and had a lot of coils. He smelled like cherry all the time. I guess it would be nice for both of them to get along fine, even though I was now considering dating her because I broke up with my girlfriend a few days ago. My girlfriend’s demons or my demons had decided to wake in the early morning of our relationship and box everything to pieces like Wreck-it-Ralph. I mean, I tried to apologize to her, but it didn’t work. I bought her flowers and cards and sent
Grassy Lake By Laura Von Rosk
or another to paint something worthy of display. Shame on me, somehow. Shame on these festering dreams. Rodriquez quickly ate a slice of apple while attending to the next customer.
“Almost there, thank you for that book. I have new ones coming in this week, I will share them with you too.” “Me too, I have some more coming in this week. All Salman Rushdie’s. I have long heard about that man, and I think it’s time to put that feeling to bed. Hey, I will send it your way after I am done.”
“Did you finish the book yet?” he asked me while punching the keyboard and scanning a customer’s items.
“No problem, I will do the same too,” I said and waved at him and walked to the front counter to take my position.
He brought out a radio, yogurt, perfumes, from his jacket and laid down on the floor.
Mary smiled at me and cuddled the strand of hair in front of her face and gently brushed it back. Then she beat the back of her head twice as if something was biting her. She smiled and asked me if I was ready to take over, and I said yes, and smiled back. I wanted to ask her what she was doing for the weekend, then I saw a customer coming and quickly logged in and began to check him out. Pepperoni, chips, wine, beer, and table tennis balls.
“Please let me go, I won’t do it again,” he said. “Do you know I can call the police for you? Do you know that if my manager sees you right now you are going to jail?” I asked. “Yes, yes,” he said, his voice broken, and the words almost meant nothing to me.
“Yea, even if they don’t close early, I will be out before it starts,” I said.
“Go,” I said and looked at the counter. I saw two customers already waiting for me. I knew the second person and hadn’t seen him in a long time. I called him Big Brother. He was my schoolmate in secondary school, a couple of classes ahead of me back then, and also a lawyer for an oil firm in downtown Houston. One of the best in what he does. He owned a house in downtown Houston and always invited me over.
He put his credit card in the slit and paid for his items.
“Brother,” I said and we shook hands.
“Alright man, have a good day. Stay warm,” he said and walked out of the door.
I rushed to counter and checked the first customer out before shaking hands with him again, like sealing our comradeship and embracing our common struggle.
“Looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day for you,” I said. “The storm is coming down, brother. There is nothing to do other than drink and play games. I hope you guys are closing early?” he asked.
“Thanks, man,” I replied.
“Men, when do you get off today?” he asked and dropped a bottle of Vodka for me to scan.
Time passed me by as people came up to my counter and walked in and out of the door. When I got tired of scanning, I leaned on the shelf beside me and watched the streets. I always kept a book underneath the counter so that when the store was less busy, I would read a couple of pages, but today I just wasn’t feeling like it. I preferred to watch the wind fluttering Margret’s restaurant’s awning and about to rip it apart. I watched a raggedy man wearing a thick winter jacket walk into the store. His hat and pants were both ripped and dirty. He walked with urgency and couldn’t keep his eyes on me for a second. I thought he was going to the pharmacy, but I noticed he didn’t even go close to the area, rather he went to the aisle with electronics and pocketed something quickly. I had seen this scene play out many times and understood exactly what it meant. I walked to the door and waited for him while pretending to be stocking phone chargers. A few seconds later, he walked close to the far end of the wall and tried to sneak out, but I was ready for him.
“Soon, brother. Like in an hour. What’s the time now?” I asked and looked at the clock while scanning his item too. It was almost six-thirty in the evening, and yes, I would be getting off in an hour’s time. “Correct, come to my end after this,” he said. “No problem brother, I am right behind you,” I said. I totally forgot about the storm and focused on hanging out with him. Well, I did think about the storm in between scanning a few items, but what good would it do me to miss a chance at hanging out with Big Brother. Moreover, I could sleep over if I wanted. I scanned a few more and talked to a few faces whom I knew visited the store often. At six on the dot, I called my manager, clocked out and left. Like always, I saw John hunched like a chimp by the electric pole at the back exit. I took out a cigarette and smoked with him. “I knew you would be here, John,” I said. We shook hands while the cigarette burned on my lips.
“Stop right there,” I said and blocked his way. “What do you mean? Why are you embarrassing me?” he asked.
“Yea, I am late today. I don’t even feel like coming in today. I have to stay through the storm in this place,” John said.
“Let me have it,” I said in a quiet voice, my eyes unwavering, my body stiff and soldier-like.
Happy Valley By Laura Von Rosk
“Well, at least it will be just you and people won’t come in that much, so all you have to do is sleep,” I said and tapped his shoulder and he laughed.
sign across his mouth as he tried to suppress staccato laughter wailing deep inside. “Alright, man. I will see you tomorrow,” I said, laughing, and walked towards the parking lot. I walked on the sidewalk and stopped, and when the light turned green, I crossed the walkway. Someone walked past me, and I
“Yes, you are right. So right. I know what to do once I clock in. Lock the door and sleep. Sleep through the storm,” John said and laughed. His left hand made an O
could tell it was Vera, Mary’s white friend. We all hung out all the time and I wondered why she didn’t recognize me. Maybe I was too dark to be seen in the dark. Vera. The girl that called me her friend many times and we laughed and drank bourbon shots in upscale bars in downtown Houston. We mostly barhopped and I tried to carry everyone along, and whenever I invited Mary, she always came with Vera. If she knew it was me, she would have stopped, though, but that’s the problem, not recognizing your friend in the dark is the problem. I sighed and continued walking. The sky squeezed its face like a child that was about to cry, and heavy dark clouds rolled past the starless sky. The wind was getting stronger and stronger, and if I wasn’t up to a hundred and eighty pounds, it would have dragged me north against my intention of going south. I got in my car and drove over to Big Brother's place. I pulled in by the trees and parked right between them. I ran across the tarmac and up the little staircase leading inside the house, stopped at his doorstep, and knocked. If I was to be rich, I would buy a place like this. Cozy looking townhouse with beautiful facades and polished wood in the interior. Everything about it gives this air of something natural, utterly peaceful. I could feel the raw energy around the house, it felt like a place I wanted to be in. I waited and gazed at the roundedness of the light above me and watched tailed insects flutter around. Margret opened the door and hugged me. She was his wife, an African-American woman from Nebraska, and they had a child together. The smell of cashew nuts filled the air and something was boiling in the kitchen.
“Hello Ayo,” I said, and the little boy smiled and ran away almost immediately. “O boy, you teach your wife how to make Egusi already?” I asked. “My man, na my mother teach her oh. Me, I get the time? The only time wey I get na to make money, everything else na las las,” he said. Naturally, we switched to pidgin English, the language of our struggles, spoken by our grandfathers in an attempt to mimic the white man, but rich in our sounds and manners. “Make I hail madam finish, I will be back,” I said, following behind Ayo, knowing that he was rushing to be with his mother. “How is work?” I asked Margret. “Thank you for asking, good so far. I got promoted last week to Attorney General’s office,” Margret said. She was also a lawyer, and they met during law school and had been together ever since. She carried Ayo in one arm and stirred the pot with another. “Congratulations, I need to come on a different day for the celebration. Today, I just came by chance. I will need a proper invitation to the promotion party. Your husband is Yoruba and you understand what that means. Plenty Party,” I said and we started laughing. “Chukwu, I can almost recall, the last time I went there, we had a party almost every day. I used to think Americans knew how to party, but I thought wrong. Partying belongs to the Yorubas, indeed,” she said.
“You will eat my egusi today,” Margret said as I settled in a chair.
“Now you know better,” I said.
“Jesus, who taught you how to cook egusi?” I asked, “I wouldn’t want to miss it at all.”
“How is your work going?”
“I learned it in Nigeria last year when we were there,” Margret said, and her pretty face beamed with a smile. She stood almost my height, five foot nine and I guess Big Brother was shorter than her, but their love was so strong that none of it mattered. He strolled casually into the living room with Ayo by his side, barely talking, playing with his toy like he always did. I had never seen that boy cry. He was always alright and eager to start school. Ayo walked up to me and embraced my wet pants which were drying in the air-conditioned house.
“So far so good.” “Hey beautiful, can we go to the garage?” Big Brother said. “You don’t need permission to be there! Unless you guys plan on doing something I don’t know,” Margret said and laughed. “A little of it,” Big Brother said and kissed Margret on the lips, and pecked Ayo on the cheek. I followed him to the garage. He decorated it far more than his living room with fancy cushions, painting of Fela, and an Arabian lush rug with tiny blue materials fluttering in the air-conditioned garage. His car was parked on the other side. He sat down and laughed while staring at nothing, then stopped
“Men, welcome. Ayo hasn’t seen you in a long while, na why him dey gum your body,” he said and sat down on the opposite chair.
and laughed again, and looked at me and said “I remember when you dey Junior Secondary One, men. I was in Senior Secondary Two, your brother asked me to take care of you.”
that. I got admitted to the University of Illinois to study law. When I got there, the kind of winter that I met, eh, my eyes opened. My father only paid for one semester, he called me and said ‘you are on your own, and if you can’t survive on your own, then fail.’ After that call, he never sent me a dime again. I got a job on campus, and also a part-time job outside of campus. That was how I survived. That was how I was able to pay my own school fees. I struggled from month to month. I started putting much effort into my studies and after, I decided to go to law school. I applied and got a scholarship. Somehow, coming to America changed me. I don’t know what my fate would have been if I stayed back in Nigeria, because I was already gone then. If I had gone to a Nigerian college, I probably would have been deadlier than college times. Most of my friends joined a cult in University. Shaba was shot dead at Ekpoma University, Costa Rica met his waterloo at UNILAG. These were the men I used to play with, eat with, drink with, laugh with, you know that kind of level?” he said and hissed.
Memories filled my head and flashed around my mind like shooting stars. “Men, if not for you those days, they would have eaten me raw,” I said. “That’s the language of Thomas College,” he said and this time stared at a clock and said “eat you raw” in a dreamy manner. “Senior Ochonglakwu, AkA Ekwensu. Oji Ukwu Aga Aba, men them. They would have eaten me raw indeed. I remember the day Ochonglakwu shut down the school because the principal suspended him,” I said. “I remember that day, clearly. One man squad. He stood on that front gate and declared school closed, shot two bullets in the air, and everyone ran away,” he said. “Why didn’t you guys do anything?” I asked.
“I know exactly what you are talking about,” I said and hissed.
“The game was the game, my brother. It didn’t make any sense declaring war on him at the time. Even though we were already having problems with him,” he said.
“Now the worst of all, Buhari won the election,” he said, and sighed. “Let’s see how it will go,” I said.
“I remember the day you slapped the physics teacher right by the hibiscus flowers,” I said and we started laughing.
“What can you expect from a military dictator? My people will never learn.”
“That was the last straw, man, and I later apologized. My parents heard about it, and my dad didn’t take it lightly.” He started rolling weed, “that man beat me and I had to go apologize to my teacher in his house. I give problem then now, no be now. Man don calm down,” he put the weed in his mouth, lit it and took two puffs before giving it to me, “Man, that school was rough. Men were coming to school with a machete. Who are you? Any day that blood didn’t flow wasn’t a good school day. A good school day na fight all through.”
“He might turn out to be person Nigeria needs at this time.”
“True. Very true. I still wonder how I survived that amount of violence. It changes you inside, you know?” I said.
“I have to prepare for an interview tomorrow.”
“We’ve heard that before, watch and see.” For a couple of minutes, we smoked in silence. I looked at my phone and it was almost 11pm. “Brother, I have to start going,” I said. “Men, what are going home for, atMusician this time of the night, Taylor Haskins this is your house too.”
“In this storm?” he said and pulled up the garage door. “Alright, it seems better now.”
“Yes now. You know you will never be the same. That’s for sure, but you do better,” he said.
“I promise I will come this weekend for a sleepover.”
We smoked for some time in silence and the heavy fumes circulated around the room and we coughed briefly. The room constantly changed colors in my eyes. We were high.
He walked towards the living room, and I followed him. Ayo and Margret were already sleeping. I saw my food on the table, packaged for me already. “Ah, she even packaged the food for you.”
“My father called me after secondary school and told me that he was sending me abroad. I was happy when I heard
“Men, thank you, you guys are amazing,” I said and walked into the rainy night.
my blinkers and shivered inside while the car tried to warm me. It took almost an hour before the rain receded. When I later got home, I soaked myself in a hot bath and stayed there for nearly an hour in an attempt to defrost my own soul. I knew my car was damaged when I pulled into the parking lot. I turned on the television and listened to the news on CNN, and the reporter was talking about Houston's death toll being around fourteen already. People drowned in the storm, two on one of the routes I took. I sighed. I looked at myself in the mirror and wondered if I was just a ghost of myself. Maybe I died out there in the storm. I blinked, and wiped the mirror with the back of my hand.
Water poured down lightly on the tarmac and rays from the street light made the wet leaves shiny. I got to my car and drove away. I drove down Travis Street and pulled into Main Street, drove all the way to Richmond Avenue and made a left. The water kept growing as I drove towards my house. The storm suddenly picked up again and came with a roaring wind and rain. I felt drops of water on my feet and I could tell my car engine was getting water too. I kept on driving, high as fuck and eager to get home. Soon I noticed that my car was floating on the water. It glided towards a wall. I came down and got out, and with the water around my chest, I pushed the car forward until it touched the ground again and pulled onto the tarmac. I got back in and started the engine again, and lucky for me, it heaved in. I felt the blistering cold on my wet skin as I drove down the road. I began to shiver. I turned the heater and drove towards my house. The road was still flooded and I couldn’t see a thing in the distance. I pulled into a gas station where other cars parked, waiting with their blinkers on. I put on
Storm is a short story by writer Chika Onyenezi, a Nigerian-born fiction candidate enrolled in the University of Maryland's MFA program. He is a 2018 Kimbilio Fellow, and a 2019 writer-in-residence at Craigardan. His short story was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Burrow Press. In addition to writing short stories, he has a novel in progress.
GEHENNA // Excerpt from the novel Homeland Blues By Nandini Bhattacharya Maybe it was on the third day that both toilets became clogged and started overflowing. People tried to borrow heels or platform shoes. Neena’s three-inch heels were in much demand, but they were barely an inch thick in front and soon there was nothing but sloshing in and out of toilets in yellow-brownish standing water catching a grey moldy tone here and there. The smell in the toilets couldn’t be described.
kid of her cellmates who offered them to her one time as she was waiting for a guard to unlock her so she could empty her exploding insides. His mother frowned and said something to him but he kept the high-tops held out. The boy had huge eyes in which an idea was beginning to fade. They didn’t fit her; her heels jutted out over the back, no doubt damaging the high-tops just as the mother probably feared.
The children in all the cages cried doggedly and desperately. Neena had a few power bars in her handbag and when no one was looking she’d nibble on one, slowly, then put the rest back into her handbag. She wouldn’t share. She heard an inner voice asking how she could let young kids go hungry and hoard her power bars. She had no reply and she didn’t try to find one. Those were the best power bars she’d ever had.
Some of the detained probably had a change of clothes since they’d been traveling from Mexico, South America, one group even from Yemen — invisible lianas of rumor already stretched from end to end of the space — but of course Neena didn’t. Her underwear was not only soiled but crusty. She’d started drinking as little water as possible so she didn’t have to go to the toilets and she could feel a urinary tract infection coming on.
Her clothes — her oh-so-fancy low-end Tahari pant suit of which she was using the jacket rolled up as a pillow — were streaked with unidentifiable marks, the hems at the back of the legs curling up and in and brown. To the toilets she was now wearing the high-tops of the oldest
She didn’t discover more compassion in herself because she was among the wretched in a place where she’d never thought she could be. Not at all. Was she not Neena Mathur, a middle-class South Asian woman who
used to live in a five-bedroom McMansion. And was
“Get her outta here, to hospital, or she gonna die!”
she less afraid of dirt, smells, crying and babble a lot like the festering street life of the city in India where she’d once lived? Not at all. She only discovered more rage and fear. She also found that rage, like alcohol and drugs, helped against other intolerable feelings like self-pity, self-loathing, and terror. Rage was a temporary but precious bunker. Best fucking friend.
The guard was walking away, already half-way across the space, unhurried. When he heard the sudden, solitary scream he slowed down a little. Then the same voice or another one rose even higher and said, ‘Fuck you, bastard! Fuck you and your whole United States government, and your laws and the CIA and the judges, and fuck you and the lot of ya muthafucking sonofabitches!”
One day — she’d lost count of them — someone collapsed in one of the cages and went into a seizure. From her cage she could see legs jerking, body bucking. The others in that cage crowded around the person. Someone said, “Guard, we need an ambulance! We need a doctor! Now! We need it right now!” No guard moved. A guard almost always patrolled the area, slowly walking up and down the center of the space, not even looking at the cages or the faces behind bars. The fluorescent lights hadn’t dimmed once since they’d come in. That day none of them moved.
The guard stopped and turned around. There was a loud collective gasp. Most people moved quickly toward the back wall, pushing to disappear. But one person — hard to say if a man or woman either from voice or from appearance — seemed stuck to the front bars, one arm raised into a fist, face smashed against the bars, as if trying to come out in slices. The guard walked back and stood before the cage again, legs slightly apart, arms loosely akimbo, large hands hovering on upper thighs. Neena couldn’t hear what he said but the voice rose again, louder: “Fuck you! Fuck you, hombre! Don’t you law and order me, read me rules. Whatchya doin’ is illegal! Ille-gal!”
There was more babble and scuffling inside the cage where the person had collapsed. Now people were squatting and kneeling around the body. Neena couldn’t see anything beyond them. Some were getting up and moving away to the back corners of the cage and stopping because there was nowhere further to go. Some went dazedly round and round the cage. Finally, someone began to scream. “Madre de Dios! Oh dios mio! Oh dios mio!”
The crack sounded clearly and another collective gasp followed as the guard walked away, now fast and purposeful. The person stuck against the bars wasn’t there anymore. He or she had fallen backward among a knot of people who were laying him or her down on the floor. Everyone looked. No one said or did anything. The people in the other cages slowly slid down the bars to the floor again. A baby started whimpering somewhere and a child began screaming. Just those sounds traveled through the stagnant air that was the only real connection anyone had to anyone else there, that air of hell smoky and sticky with the burnt offering called terror.
A guard finally went up there. “Move away, move away, people. Let ‘em get some air.” He came near, took a look, then went out the back door. He returned swinging a pail in his right hand, swishing and spilling water as he walked. He was a tall, bulky man. Neena could see the gleaming, brick-red back of his neck even from a distance. He got to the door of the cage, set down the pail and unlocked the door. There he stood barring the opening with his body, solid like a barrel. He didn’t walk in. He just swung the pail toward one of the people in the cage as if about to toss it. Then he set it down as if he’d had pity on them. He set it down and withdrew, closing the door at the same time with his left hand. The knot of people close to the door swayed toward him with it as if magnetized.
Homeland Blues is a forthcoming novel by writer Nandini Bhattacharya relating to the treatment of immigrants in deportation centers in the ICE Age of Trump. Bhattacharya was born and raised in India and has called the United States her second continent for the last thirty years. She lives outside Houston, TX with her family and two marmalade cats.
Above: July Moon
emphasized, and manipulated to create tension between the “imagined” and the real world.
These small-scale paintings depict experiences of specific places, as well as responses to other artworks, which could include a broad swath of contemporary artists, early 20th century American painters, Italian and Northern Renaissance works, or Persian and Indian manuscript paintings. This list is long, and still growing. They also come from my love of miniaturization, intricacy, the plasticity of paint, and illusion of space. Images are constructed by mixing elements of landscape and natural forms with memory and imagination. Forms are repeated,
The forms (lakes, ditches, fields, etc.) come not just from what I see, but also some deep visual memory system; what I know about constructing paintings; a sense of awe of natural phenomena; and an attempt to acknowledge other unseen forces (either psychological, physical or metaphysical) that influence my relationship to the surrounding environment – forces that exist in any day, or season, or place, wherever I may live or visit. — Laura Von Rosk
BIRDS OF A FEATHER By Julia Devine and Amy Guglielmo, Co-Founders of Outside Art: Plattsburgh Public Art Project
Reflections on Plattsburgh’s Migrations Mural
American finch, goose, nuthatch, blue bird, heron, chickadee, crow, arctic tern, cardinal, dove, kievit, owl, red winged blackbird, female mallard duck, Gallic rooster, loon, peacock, hummingbird, robin, oriole, pelican, and some others. Normally these birds would not flock together, but on this mural, they do. They all have a place.
This past September, Outside Art produced our 11th mural for downtown Plattsburgh: The Migrations Mural. Painted by local artists Gharan Burton and Outside Art’s own Amy Guglielmo along with the “Plattsbirders” (a team of 40 community members and international students), the mural depicts a life-giving tree with birds from all over the world. You can find a parrot, zebra finch, North
Outside Art dedicates this mural to the immigrants and visitors to our area. The piece signifies openness and
welcomeness. People who come to our region should know that they are welcome. The birds symbolize that. The mural turned out to be just what our community needed during these anxious times.
Amy: Now that you have nested in this region, what is your long-term dream for art and culture in our community? Julia: That it continue to grow and thrive. I’d like to see art and culture valued as integral to shaping a healthy, equitable and sustainable community. I don’t want to see it shuffled to the side as extraneous, unimportant, or an afterthought. I’d love to get beyond having to convince community leaders of the economic impact of the arts. Could you imagine Plattsburgh having a department of arts and culture that could support public art and other creative projects? I can dream, right? I’d love to see housing for artists and more sustainable and affordable cultural opportunities for the community.
When asked to reflect on our latest mural, we chose to do what we always do: work together. Amy: You migrated to the North Country in 2011. What was it about this place that made you want to get involved in the community? Julia: I can’t believe it’s been nine years since I moved from Los Angeles. Moving here was my first experience in small-town life. My sense of scale changed in a good way. In a larger place, you can remain anonymous. Here, you’re known. You can see more visibly that you’re an interdependent p a r t o f a c o m m u n i t y. Perhaps this calls you to be your best self. I felt a call to action - to contribute in some way. It seemed that everything wasn’t built up or finished here. There was room to imagine what could be - like a mural for instance! Plus, finding a great partner like you has helped me remain involved in the community.
Amy: I think there is a genuine sense of pride that comes from each of these murals. The community support is what drives me to keep making more. Besides just the beautification of the city, I’m always excited to see people taking pictures by the murals and sharing on social media. It shows me that people are actively celebrating the art that we’ve created, and that is inspiring.
Amy, You were born here in Plattsburgh, but left the “nest.” What made you migrate back and stay?
Julia, how do you think the Outside Art murals have changed or impacted our community?
Amy: I had a wonderful artsy childhood here in the North Country. As a child, I took dance classes and art classes, and went to theatre camp, so I’m really grateful that this small city nurtured me creatively. I think that the exposure to the arts made me want to leave and see and experience different cultures and places. Still, there is something about this place that stays with you and pulls you back. There is abundant access to nature, and as an artist that feeds you. Also, there are opportunities to participate and make a difference in your community. I think that’s why I chose to paint the Eastern Bluebird to represent New York State in our Migrations Mural.
Julia: The murals have become a part of our community’s fabric. They’re no longer seen as out of place but as if they should be here. I definitely think acceptance of public art has increased. I’ll never forget having to convince a building owner early on to lend his wall for a mural. It was a tough sell. He was very opposed at first but after the project was finished, he became a huge supporter of public art. What’s great about the murals is that they’re accessible to everyone. You don’t need a ticket to go see a mural! I love to see children interacting with the art and finding new things that they hadn’t seen before. I love seeing people taking pictures in front of the murals too. These murals are like
our 21st century monuments. We’re re-making this place. I think the murals have helped downtown businesses and new businesses emerge. It’s created a snowball effect of more people wanting to contribute creatively. The Migrations Mural is a perfect example of that.
We asked some Plattsbirders to reflect on the impact of the Migrations Mural. Here are their thoughts. Gharan Burton This is the second mural commissioned by artist and farmer, Gharan Burton. Born and raised on the Caribbean island of Dominica, Gharan first came to the US to attend SUNY Plattsburgh in the fall of 2002. From the spring through the fall Gharan lives in Plattsburgh and enjoys the beautiful landscapes of this area, then in the winter months he lives in the Caribbean. Gharan painted eleven birds including a sisserou parrot, a bird only found on the island of Dominica, and the tree and vines that unify the mural.
Amy, why do you think there has been such a huge response to the Migrations Mural? Amy: We have sponsored other mural projects that have had community participation, but this project was something that happened at just the right time. I think with the pandemic everyone was feeling a bit isolated and the mural was a place that could represent so many different artists’ voices. There is a message of hope and unity that has blanketed the project. The Plattsbirders is more than just a clever name for the group of artists that painted birds on the mural. Many of the people involved had been searching for a creative outlet after months of being stuck inside, and this mural was the spark that many of us needed. Right now there is so much division in our country and this was a positive and creative way for all of us to come together to celebrate diversity and unity.
Gharan: Painting this mural means a lot to me. I am not from the community and I live here now and still migrate back to Dominica. It’s a bit different working with other artists, but it was more fun painting together as a group. I hope that what people will take away from this mural is that they will recognize that not everyone who lives in the community is from here. There are a lot of people who migrated to, and are not just passing through, the community. Luis Sierra
Julia: Community involvement and the mural’s theme I think contributed to the strong positive response. Over 40 artists participated. We are always asked by artists how they can help. This project was the perfect opportunity for more artists to be involved. Our Plattsbirders included SUNY Plattsburgh international students from Vietnam, Nepal, Antigua, and Canada, international artist residents, and local artists. This mural project became a symbol of hope and togetherness during a time of unrest in our world. It was a concrete thing to do. Making change and finishing something feels good. People feel better when they have something to contribute. We all want to find our place. The Migrations Mural lets us know that we’re welcome here and that there is a place for us.
Artist and yogi Luis Sierra migrated to the North Country in 2005 and became a Plattsburgh resident in 2013. He painted a macaw guacamaya to represent Honduras and a quetzal for Guatemala. Luis: It’s beautiful. Art touches us whether we know it or not. We feel it. The Migrations Mural draws the viewer in a different way than, say, Sue Young’s beautiful mandala (in downtown Plattsburgh, NY). Birds, for me, represent freedom, grace, expansiveness, and their colors and patterns inspire joy. It’s admirable that this mural has a message of inclusion for all of us “foreign” birds who’ve come from other parts of the US and the world. It’s
welcoming and kind. And just lifts your heart when you look at it — after all, they are birds!
grateful and truly honored to have been a part of this team for a short period of time.
Housing, buildings, and parking are important for urban spaces, but they are soulless if we leave out art and culture. These community murals are important because as Jane Jacobs wrote in her book The Death and Life of Great American Cities: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” This project is a sterling example of this idea.
The best part about this whole experience was not just the mural or the opportunity to leave my mark on a place that paved a way for my future, but the amazing people and artists I had the pleasure of meeting along the way. I’ve been in Plattsburgh for just about three years now and I’ve always wanted to meet the people who grew up here along with others who call this place home. This gave me that chance; it really felt like a community.
The physician Rachel Naomi Remen wrote something that I resonate with: “At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.”
I hope that the members of this community and the people who visit Plattsburgh feel comfortable being here and accepting various cultures and ethnicities that surround Plattsburgh. I hope that we continue to take advantage of these many diverse opportunities and projects as a way to connect with each other. That’s what being a part of this project has shown me.
All the efforts towards valuing and cultivating art and culture in Plattsburgh are essential to its healing and vitality, now and in the future.
Outside Art: Plattsburgh Public Art Project is a community organization that produces and creates public art for Plattsburgh. Outside Art works with local, regional, and national artists to animate public space in order to build community and make Plattsburgh a destination for art and a place for artists to settle and create.
Winosha Steele Winosha Steele, a senior majoring in Art with a concentration in Painting and Drawing at SUNY Plattsburgh, is from the beautiful island of Antigua, located in the Caribbean. As a black woman from a small island, she wants her art to be seen and her country to be acknowledged through her work. Winosha painted a frigate bird, representing Antigua + Barbuda, a cardinal for SUNY Plattsburgh, and doctor bird for her friend from Jamaica.
Founded by Amy Guglielmo (artist, art educator, and Christopher Award winning children’s author) and Julia Devine (cultural organizer and arts educator/ practitioner) in January 2016, Outside Art has produced 11 murals in under five years for downtown Plattsburgh. They have blazed a trail for public art acceptance. Their 12th mural coming this October is of Plattsburgh astronaut Michael Anderson.
Winosha: Being a part of the Migrations Mural has been a somewhat life-changing opportunity. To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into as I had never painted a bird before or on a wall either! Let alone a wall with that much texture. But I was ready for it. I overcame these challenges and I am exceptionally proud of the outcome and the faith I have in myself. I’m so
MAKING THE PLACEWORLDS WE IMAGINE: A LAND ACKNOWLEDGEMENT By Loren Michael Mortimer, PhD What does it mean to make a place? Placemaking entails a collaborative, creative process where communities sculpt a region’s identity around its distinctive environments, arts, and cultural activities while also mapping its interdependent connections to the wider world. To placemakers and visitors alike, names hold immense power over our imagination. Consider the “Adirondacks,” a place name that evokes a world unto itself. By contrast with nearby English names for settled places — New York State, Essex County, or Elizabethtown — the exotic “Adirondack” sets the space apart as “forever wild.” This idea of timeless wilderness embedded in the place name is inherently tied with an idyllic Native American past, made manifest for tourists and residents alike through canoe trips on Indian Lake, hikes along the Indian Pass through the High Peaks, and great camps Right: 1775 Map of the Adirondack Region
bearing names like “Uncas” or “Sagamore.” These place
sustainable relationships with the lands and its original
names allude to a time when Native Americans dwelled in
those sublime spaces, an era seemingly consigned to
Indigenous land acknowledgements have increasingly
campfire stories and museum exhibits, without specifying
become standard practice in public gatherings in
the land’s original makers.
historically colonized places around the world. From
Indeed, place names can be misleading, erasing histories
university commencements and academic conferences to
of continuous Native American presence and care for
city council meetings and national political conventions,
their ancestral lands.
formal acknowledgments of the land’s Indigenous caretakers have played a significant role in addressing the
Neither the Indigenous peoples who have dwelled in the
painful legacies of colonialism by raising public
region for the past 11,000 years nor early European
consciousness of the societal change needed to heal
explorers used the name “Adirondack” to describe the
those intergenerational wounds. Meaningful land
9,000 square miles of uplands and wetlands within the
acknowledgments take diverse forms, such as short email
boundaries of the park. The American geologist Ebenezer
signatures or organizational mission statements, to
Emmons first applied the name “Adirondack” to the
advance social justice through supportive alliances with
region in 1837, appropriating and anglicizing the word
nearby Native communities.
“Adirondack”—a Kanienʼkehá:ka (Mohawk) slang for northern Algonquian speaking peoples—without
More than a perfunctory recitation of a region’s Native
consulting with nearby Native American communities or
histories, land acknowledgments function as powerful
recording historic Native place names in his new survey
decolonizing acts that work to reverse the intentional
erasure of Indigenous presence in their homelands. Within the Adirondack Park, land acknowledgements are
And why would he? Emmons worked for New York at a
consistent with historically documented Indigenous
time when the state government promoted racist policies
protocols that enabled ethnically and linguistically diverse
to dispossess Native peoples of their remaining lands and
peoples to maintain cooperative, interdependent, and
deport them westward. His geologic survey mapped
peaceful relationships through place-based ceremonies
mineral resources for industrial extraction, and his
and reciprocal obligations to care for the land. For
writings invented the “Adirondacks” as an uninhabited
example, visitors to a Kanienʼkehá:ka community first
wilderness ripe for economic exploitation, rather than a
participated in a Woods Edge ceremony wherein they
living Indigenous homeland.
signaled their peaceful intentions and acknowledged
Just as names make places, they also frame community
their hosts. Their gatherings still commence with the
relationships. As anthropologist and ethnographer Keith
Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen--“the words spoken before all
Basso observed, “if place-making is a way of constructing
else”--giving thanks to the people, mother earth, plants,
the past, a venerable means of doing human history, it is
animals, enlightened teachers, and sacred beings with
also a way of constructing social traditions and, in the
whom they share intimate bonds of kinship.
process, personal and social identities. We are, in a sense,
Land acknowledgements are a point of departure on a
the place-worlds we imagine.” Emmons’s map of the
process of reconciliation with our extended human and
Adirondacks represented a white man’s fantasy rather
non-human families. This journey demands research,
than a historical reality. It also invented a place-world that
reflection, and reaching out to Indigenous neighbors. It
seemingly legitimized non-Native acquisition and
opens new possibilities to remake our worlds,
development of Indigenous lands. By interrogating the
transforming our mental map of seemingly familiar
origins of the naming of the Adirondack Park and
spaces, by recentering and rooting human relationships
acknowledging the unbroken history of Native American
to the land and the biologically diverse communities it
presence within its boundaries, non-Natives take an
sustains. An effective land acknowledgement should, as
important step in reimagining, repairing, and remaking
Abenaki scholar Lisa Brooks explains, invite individuals to
where all could “eat together from one bowl” without a
“feel themselves entering a place-world” and “be
cutting utensil, to prevent bloodshed. Through wampum
compelled to use their minds interactively to try to
treaties with their Wabanaki and Anishinaabeg neighbors,
comprehend it.” Land acknowledgements serve as our
Rotinoshoni diplomats transformed their “wintering
map through these place-worlds and our instructions on
place” into a commons where former enemies became
how to care for them.
relatives through mutual ties to the land. Long before the creation of the Adirondack Park, its lands and waters have
Consider Craigardan, and its responsibilities to care for
always been spaces where diverse peoples and their
the Indigenous lands of Kohserà:ke in the territory of the
place worlds converge.
Kanienʼkehá:ka people, keepers of the Eastern Door of the Six Nations Rotinoshoni. Kanienʼkehaá:ka people still
Land acknowledgements are statements of intention for
safeguard the waters that connect their communities to
deliberate action, not a substitute for the painstaking
the mountains, valleys, rivers, and lakes of Kohserà:ke, as
labor required to honor those commitments. They run the
their ancestors had done for millennia. Open to diverse
Native peoples as a common “dish with one spoon,” the
done without attention to the unique Indigenous histories
peaks of Wawôbadenik are sacred to Wabanaki peoples
of a place, its overlapping place worlds, and living
and their Anishinaabe relatives who fished streams
descendent communities. Indeed, Indigenous
flowing through present-day Elizabethtown, New York.
communities endure in the Adirondack Park or within a
Now and forever, the original stewards of these lands
one-hour drive from its “Blue Line” boundary, including
remain intimately and inextricably connected to these
Akwesasne Mohawk Territory, Ganienkeh Territory,
Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community, Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, Mohawks of Kanesatake, Oneida Indian
While Native terminology and place-names in land
Nation, Abenaki Nation at Missisquoi, the Koasek Band of
acknowledgements may disorient at first, the patient and
the Koas Abenaki Nation, Elnu Abenaki Tribe, the
respectful work of learning to understand their encoded
Nulhegan Abenaki Tribe, and the Abenakis at Odanak.
knowledge opens possibilities to expand our mental maps of shared place-worlds.
risk of devolving into empty speeches when
Their continued presence in their homelands underscores
Kohserà:ke means the
the importance of communicating land
“wintering place” in the Kanienʼkehá:ka language, and
acknowledgements in the present tense and active voice.
early Euro-American maps of the region that would
Land acknowledgements should nourish what Akwesasne
become the Adirondack Park feature this Indigenous
historian Darren Bonaparte has described as the “living
place name. Winter hunts sustained Native communities,
history” of “living cultures” that “has come to life in the
particularly those along the St. Lawrence River that were
minds of the people, an inner reality in which our
vulnerable to crop failures from early frosts. As the
ancestors continue to guide us.” Native Americans freely
easternmost of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy or
offered this knowledge to early European settlers as
Rotinoshoni, Kanienʼkehá:ka conducted diplomacy,
“original instructions” for living on the land in beneficial
engaged in trade, and occasionally waged war against
reciprocal relationships with Native communities, what
Wabanaki and Anishinaabeg neighbors in their role as
Seneca historian John Mohawk described as the
“keepers of the Eastern Door.” With its interconnected
Indigenous “art of thriving in place.” Treaties embedded
network of rivers, lakes, and portages, the High Peaks
these instructions to facilitate peaceful and sustainable
region and Champlain Valley functioned as both a literal
coexistence in mutually made place-worlds. Land
and metaphorical door to the Six Nations. Likewise,
acknowledgements offer new generations a path to
Wabanaki stories and place names in the region testify to
restore and renew these agreements.
its significance in their sacred geography, such as the name Wawôbadenik to describe the highest peaks in the
For more than two centuries, non-Natives and their
region. The Great Law of Peace that confederated the
descendants have derived economic benefits and built
Rotinoshoni also established common hunting territory
social capital on Adirondack lands taken from Native
Americans without due compensation or legal cession.
Settlers did not hack a civilization out of a “howling
Cutcha Risling Baldy, “What Good is a Land
wilderness,” inasmuch as they built their towns on top of
Native villages, dammed fisheries, logged forests, and mined metals that had formerly been integral to
Darren Bonaparte, Creation & Confederation: The
Indigenous regional trade networks. The regional identity
Living History of the Iroquois
and tourist economy of the Adirondack Park revolve
Lisa Brooks, The Common Pot: The Recovery of Native
around the appropriation of Native American
Space in the Northeast
technologies such as canoes, snowshoes, toboggans, and
Joseph Bruchac, Roots of Survival: Native American
maple sugar. At the very least, a land acknowledgement should recognize the ways non-Natives continue to
Storytelling and the Sacred
benefit from the dispossession of Native lands. The most
Elizabeth Hoover, The River Is in Us Fighting Toxics in a
effective land acknowledgements heal those traumas,
provide fair compensation for Native consultations and
Melissa K. Nelson, ed., Original Instructions:
knowledge, and support Indigenous community
Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future
initiatives. Ultimately, the work of land acknowledgements creates networks of collaboration and creativity based on
Melissa Otis, Rural Indigenousness, A History of
respect, equity, and reciprocity through shared
Iroquoian and Algonquian Peoples of the Adirondacks
connections to beloved places.
Tehanetorens, Wampum Belts of the Iroquois
Land acknowledgments need not only be public performances or institutional protocols. As a daily
mindfulness practice for non-Native people, land acknowledgements compel individuals to recognize that
JULIAN BENNETT HOLMES
their community was built on Indigenous homelands and resources. They remind us that Native peoples never vanished from their lands; they remain present even if their homes are now farther away, and the bones of their ancestors are forever part of the land. The work of land acknowledgement comprises conscious acts of placemaking that recognize the colonial past while also disrupting its legacy of racial inequality and ecological degradation.
Ultimately, land acknowledgements raise consciousness to the needs and possibilities present in our place-worlds. They are daily calls for decolonizing action to rebuild and reimagine sustainable systems that integrate the needs of
Walking My Bicycle Past the ConEd Substation
human communities with the integrity of the natural world. They remind us that whatever places we make, we are on Indigenous land.
Click the audio links above, or listen to Julian’s postcards online at: www.craigardan.org/sundaypostcardproject
Loren Michael Mortimer, PhD, is an American Council of Learned Societies Emerging Voices Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University’s program in Race, Migration, and Indigeneity.