The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston

I had a very eventful summer.

One event I want to speak about is my trip to Massachusetts.

I took Amtrack to Deerfield, MA for an education conference. After completing my work in Deerfield,- which I must tell you about- I caught a ride to Boston, with my friend, Erin, who kept asking me if I was sure MFA was going to have what I was looking for.

I didn’t know what MFA had but I had high hopes. She described to me a particular painting.

When you enter the museum, one of the first paintings you may see is one of a white man about to be eaten by a shark. That painting is in relation to what we spoke about at the conference. I’m not going to tell you more, just let me know what you think.

She dropped me off at the train station and after we parted, I found a pizza shop took a bite, then took the train. It just so happened that I arrived during rush hour and Boston’s MTA sucks….it’s worse than NY! We stood in the station for over 15 minutes listening to the conductor scream at us.

“Somebody is standing too close to the door! Move in! Push in!”

After that very unpleasant train ride, I was really happy to get out and explore. So, while I waited for my friend, Josh, to meet me, I walked around Savin Hill looking for something to photograph and came across this wall mural, showing how Savin Hill looked 500 years ago.

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After studying the mural, Josh called to say he was near.

Hey Lilly, where did you say you wanted to go?

Boston’s Fine Art Museum. I want to see what African American artist they have up.

Josh chuckled. Lilly, this is Massachusetts.

The way he said this is Massachusetts sounded like it wasn’t America.

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Are you sure you want to visit BMA?

Of course. They should have at least an artist or something that will inspire me.

Okiee.

When we arrived, we stopped at the desk hoping to get in for free. Which really did happen after telling the receptionist who we were and what we did.

Because Josh is located in Boston and basically knew the museum like the back of his hand, I first depended on his knowledge to locate black art and know exactly where to go. But, after going through the first gallery, everything begin to look different to him as they were doing a lot of renovations, so we went to the desk and asked for a map.

Excuse me, can you please tell us where to go to check out any African American artist?

African American artist?

Yes.

Oh, well….I’m not sure…humm, Let me see.

Josh and I spent over 15 minutes stopping at desks. It was daunting, watching each young receptionist study the map and search in the museum’s database for a roster of African American artist . All of them came up with one painting by Kehinde Wiley,  John, 1st Baron Byron

I couldn’t believe that out of the entire museum collection, at that time, there was only one piece of work done by an African- American or black American! One?

Each receptionist apologized and said it was because the museum was in the middle of making renovations.

I am not the best person when it comes down to directions so Josh lead us to the gallery and after going up and down steps and stepping on and off the elevator we were at peace.

When we entered the wing, Josh walked right and I turned left.

There it goes Josh! Kehinde Wiley!

Oh my gosh Lilly! Look at this!

We stood watching it for a while.

We were so happy when we found Wiley’s piece that we took several pictures in front of it. Josh had more to say concerning the art- the strokes, the vibrant colors, the model. I simply was glad to see it and also unsatisfied with the museum.

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Josh, who is an aesthete, was like a child. After Wiley, I was ready to go, but Josh kept stopping to read and ponder. I think he may have enjoyed the museum more than me. He definitely made our visit fun.

 

Sculptor Francis Miller

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When I met sculptor Francis Miller, he was finishing  up a days work on Deerfield’s Civil war monument. He was putting his tools in his truck and probably about to drive off but then I came…and two more people after that. 

I had always wanted to hear a sculpture’s opinion about historic monuments being taken down and after introducing myself he very kindly, answered my questions. 

What you think about historic monuments being taken down?

… I think about the reason it was put up and how it functions today…if something is causing harm, it is a problem…however, there’s a flip side. I understand why so many people- white people  in the south predominantly-  are tying to hold on to these Civil War icons… icons to them [anyway].

I did some work in Arkansas at the national cemetery on the Minnesota monument. After the war they brought down grand from Minnesota- beautiful grand plant- they built a really tall, a 10 foot tall Union Solider on top… then from here to the flag pole there’s a little obelisk about yay high built out of marble leaning to the side and it reads: here are buried 540 confederate deaths.

So, after the war, the north clearly didn’t try economically and somewhat socially,…to  make amends for all the damage that they caused within that community….and that would be for the whites…. After that kind of devastation and poverty they were trying to hold on to something for identity and I think it became the Civil War leaders. I can’t fault them for grabbing on to something, it’s just the wrong thing.

 What about honoring the past regardless of whose past it is?….I understand, this statue is not representing you or you disagree with what he did in the past but it’s the past… When we look at history and we open up our books, if there’s something to represent that history, then we can tell our kids- this is the place where so and so happened and even though we don’t agree with what was done or said, in the past they really honored him which is why there is a statue of him here.

Right, but then the problem I had was a lot of them were put up in the Jim Crow era. So they were put up as a means of oppression right in the heart of the city… still claiming that dominance. And that was the line  I thought was crossed when I learned about the history of the monuments…[These statues] were not generated immediately after the Civil War [or during the] historical period [it seemingly represented], [the statues were built much later to keep a whole community of people under oppression]….

So, yeah, I don’t have a problem with those moments coming down.

If they…were closely aligned with the Civil War and were honoring the people who they thought were important for their community heritage and history, then I wouldn’t think they should be torn down because it would mark history.

It’s still not an easy thing to grapple with and it would be ashamed if all of the statues come down….However these newer monuments? We should put the brakes on these monuments. We should think about when they were invented and why and who funded them? What the climate was at that time- socially? I think there are some legitimate reasons to get these things removed.

I also was thinking about …communities…[particularly poor communities] with historical monuments. Instead of spending so much time [trying to figure out if a monument should be taken down or should we build a new one], there’s also other monuments that are still standing that need to be taken care of, like what you are doing here…

Exactly.

There is a wall in Brooklyn, a frieze, done by a very prominent artist during the 20’s and 30’s. Richmond Barthe. A Harlem Renaissance artist. It was done during the great depression I think.

What is it?

It’s like a wall mural but it’s not a painting, it’s like a …carving into a stone wall ….its an image of blacks dancing and slaves escaping.  The wall is cracking and it’s not being taken care of.  We spend so much time on taking something down or breaking something up, lets take care of what we have as well…the art that is meaningful. 

Yeah, I agree. The civil war monuments are so charged. They are charged emotionally. They are charged politically.

I think another issue is, when it’s taken down…Its still apart of history. It’s still saying something. Like when I go to Florida and I see the statue of Andrew Jackson, we know what he stood for but he’s there…I know he had a lot say about my people but I don’t know if today it would really mean anything if we just took it down….and then put it where? Where would we put it? I remember I went to Argentina and saw they did something similar. They took down statues…and at the back of their ‘White House’ they had so many statues there. It was an eyesore. What are you going to do with that?!

In my heart, I love preserving things. I always have and that’s my initial reaction for anything- save. And culturally I think we are much richer having these things even if there may be some controversy but I think there is a limit.   

How did you get into sculpting anyway, Mr. Miller?

In middle school, I started making a ton of stuff. My family took a trip to the grand canyon and we went to a Native American Shop. Everything was probably made in China… but I was fascinated with these little sculptures that was in this shop! And I said, Wow, that’s what I wanna do. I want to make sculpture.

What are the names of your favorite artist?

I have a pretty broad range. One of my favorite artist is, Alberto Giacometti. I love his work so much. Kiki Smith, a more contemporary sculpture…Richard Sarra….

You ever heard of Augusta Savage?

No, not by name.

She was also a sculpture and lived during the 20’s and 30’s. She graduated from Cooper Union and during the world’s fair she created a piece called Lift Every Voice and Sing or The Harp…However not much of her work was preserved…

Let me see if I can pull it up. Oh, there she is…let…Oh, yeah, there she is. Cool. Let me put on my glasses…Wow! And African American Sculpture!! That just wasn’t prominent at all!! 

We spoke until an older gentleman came by and asked Mr. Miller for help taking a photo the Civil War monument.

If you are interested in the Harlem Renaissance Frieze piece by Richmond Barthe here is a link to the article:  https://hyperallergic.com/473342/an-iconic-harlem-renaissance-frieze-is-crumbling-in-brooklyn/

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Roxbury Rhapsody

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The plaque under this intriguing art reads:

Napoleon Jones-Henderson

Roxbury Rhapsody, 2015

Roxbury Rhapsody fuses together glass, cooper, and the many cultures and peoples of Boston into a single visual presence. The rich musical history of Roxbury served as an inspiration resulting in a wide spectrum of enamel of colors intended to stimulate viewers and create a visual composition.  The vibrant enamel panels are created when powdered glass is fired onto copper sheets fusing the glass into metal.

Our Voice

Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. day weekend, I felt super cold, super bless and super special.

I was super cold because it was super cold! I went to Amherst, Massachusetts to view Our Voice: Celebrating the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Awards at the Eric Carle Museum and got caught in a terrible snow storm.

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I felt super blessed for many reasons…

  1. I missed my bus from Boston to Amherst and got to the museum after the event with Onawumi Jean Moss ended…but was just in time to see her!
  2. I really wanted to go to the museum for a while and went on the perfect weekend- (sometimes the cold and snow can be a good thing) not only did I get to view the very informative exhibit but Onawumi Jean Moss stayed at the museum almost three extra hours mentoring my sister and I! Which leads me to why I felt super special.

Okay, now I am beginning to think that  feeling blessed and feeling special are the same feelings…anyways…I felt this good feeling because my sister, April, knew how badly I wanted to visit the Eric Carle Museum and when I told her I was going that weekend, she willingly accompanied me and did everything in her power to make sure I enjoyed myself…minus her trying to keep me from exploring cold Boston alone…that’s another funny story.

I also felt special because the education coordinator  at the museum, Courtney, heard about our long trip there and while Onawumi gave me some lesson plan ideas, she went into the museum shop and got me a free copy of In Plain Sight by Richard Jackson and Jerry Pinkney, which is one of the books Onawumi suggested I use in the classroom.

While we were all conversing,  Ms. Custard, an assistant principal at Ahmerst Reginal High School, came in the room to check on Onawumi and joined the very intimate conversation about race and education in America.

After the discussion, I viewed the amazing art work on the walls (the exhibition celebrated illustrators who won the Coretta Scott King Award. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the children’s book award. ) and  I realized I either owned a copy of the books or knew of the books before hand. However, some I did not have…such as….

Ray Charles by Sharon Bell Mathis and George Ford – Most of the teachers in my school teach the children Fifty Nifty States which is a tune written by Ray Charles. This is a grand opportunity to introduce the Rhythm and Blues singer to the children.

I  purchased The Creation  by James Weldon Johnson and James E. Ransome at the museum. I did not know it was made into a children’s book. If you remember, I had read the poem at the Ritz Museum in Jacksonville, Florida. I shared it with the Little Flock (the children at my church) and the response was lovely.

I was surprised to see Jan Spivey Gilchrist and Eloise Greenfield’s Nathaniel Talking,  which is a poem my sisters and I memorized growing up, on the wall. This poem was in our school readers growing up. Our teachers skipped over the poem which made the poem even more exciting to read. We took the book home and memorized it…just so we could rap.

Most times it is very difficult to teach children about the lives of musicians without a children’s book which is why I plan to buy:

Bryan Collier and Troy Andrews Trombone Shorty, Frank Morrison and Katheryn Russell-Brown’s Little Melba and her Big Trombone and Jerry Pinkney and Bille Holiday’s God Bless the Child .

I should also purchase, Kadir Nelson’s We are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball because I was never into sports so I am really horrible when it comes to teaching the history of sports……It just so happens that I have a little boy in my class to loves to talk about baseball since he lives right next to Yankee Stadium.

I also purchased, N. Joy and Nancy Devard’s The Secret Olivia Told Me at the museum. I always thought silhouette art was the bomb and so does my students!

Lastly, I want a copy of Benny Andrews’ Poetry for Young People: Langston Hughes. I must admit that I was a bit surprised to see the same artist work in two different exhibits in two different cities for two different reasons. I learned about Benny Andrews at the Brooklyn Museum when I viewed, Soul of a Nation. When I saw his work at the Eric Carle museum, I had to double checked to see if it was the same person, which it is.