March 19, 2009

The Solitary Chair

There was a solitary, rusted chair on the porch of an abandoned house on Treadwell Street. Sunlight pierced the holes on its back and illuminated them like stars in a night sky. There was a mysterious package to the side of the chair, unopened, resting where it lay when someone walked away from it years earlier.
I painted this scene on a heavy walnut panel some years ago. I had wheeled the coated panel to the site with a makeshift easel on a small cart. While I painted the bitter-sweet scene of time gone by, a car pulled up by the curb. A rather spry-looking old woman beamed out at me from the driver’s seat and inquired why I was painting this particular place. I responded that I liked the stark black and white forms and that I was painting a number of abandoned homes like this.
The woman who asked introduced herself as Clemmie Weber and proceeded to give me an impromptu history of Treadwell Street. The street was populated by adults at the time I painted it but it used to be a place for African American professionals and their families, she explained. Dr. Weber had many found memories of growing up on Treadwell Street, including the games children played. The children’s "parade of the houses," was one which caught my interest. This was a contest of sorts, to see who could design the best house from cardboard, papers and fabrics. The embellished houses were placed on roller skates with strings attached to them and rolled down the street. (The image comes back to be now as I am finishing my own parade of painted houses on wood and masonite panels).
The idea of a parade of hand-crafted fun intrigued me. I was reminded of my own youth, when I made makeshift houses out of rocks and tree stumps - with carpets cut from moss. Bowls of food were made from acorn shells. It was an age before videos, PC’s, and I-pods. I have often wondered about how much these items give, yet take away. When entertainment is downloaded rather than self generated does it soften and erode an ability to create one’s own amusement? I posited this question to one of my art teacher colleagues this week . She had noted that children at her school didn’t quite know what to do with themselves at recess without the usual accouterments of youthful entertainment technologies and thus were made to exercise by a forced walk, single file, around the grounds. Hardly entertaining.
So while I enjoy the benefits of an information age, I still find solace in tempering that with my low tech pencils, papers, inks, paints, brushes and wood. Because although it is my profession, it is also not forgetting how to play.


Anonymous said...

I listened to a story on NPR yesterday about a program that teaches kids playground games - hopscotch, dodgeball, jumping rope. Seems the oral tradition of passing down these games has died out and now requires artificial respiration.

I remember those early building games! And playing horses with Linda Reed. Hugs, Patricia P

harriett said...

I think "jacks" was my favorite - the kind with the metal jacks that were small, and a rubber ball that didn't bounce very high, not one of those high bounce things that went to the treetops! My crew played so much between class that we would have raw spots on our fingertips!