Down the Barrel

To attempt any kind of plan on any given day in the month of March in Ohio is to play a game of roulette.  But March 24th was the day nationwide when the youth of this country, and those of us no longer so young who support them any way we can, came together to demand something be done about the overwhelming problem of gun violence in this country.  And so it was that our city found ourselves bracing for a spring snow-storm, as well as an anti-gun-violence rally downtown.

Let me first preface this writing with a few quick words just so you’re clear where I stand…. (it’s by no means complete, but it’s a start.)

I am not anti-gun.  While not a gun enthusiast myself, I see the place of a shotgun on a farm to deal quickly with a suffering beast or an overzealous predator.  While I’d not join them per se, I appreciate the hunters who help to quell the population of deer and are careful to process, consume and share the animals they take down and who do so with a reverence to Nature.  I’d rather see an animal taken down with a well placed bullet (or arrow) than one starving to death.   I married a Navy guy who was a sharp shooter in college.  I am not anti-military.  (In fact, I truly appreciate the many veterans who are speaking out on the subject of gun violence.)  I am a former school teacher.  I am an artist who lives and speaks in symbols, story and metaphor.  I know the difference between a shot gun and an assault rifle…..

So, with that out of the way, let me share with you a bit of the past few days, as I have an interesting tale to tell about my own experiences related to this past weekend’s March For Our Lives.

My beloved flute maker and dear musical friend of many years, Dave Copley of Copley and Boegli Flutes, sent along an intriguing message about someone who wanted to commission him to craft a series of flute like instruments out of gun barrels hitherto the March for Our Lives which was to happen a couple of weeks later here in town and all across the country.  Upon reading the message, I knew this was something special and encouraged Dave to get involved if at all possible within his budget and schedule and, that I would help out along the sidelines if I could.

Pedro Reyes is an internationally renowned artist known for his capacity to tackle socio-political issues in innovative, creative and distinctly participatory ways.   He is based in Mexico City where he lives and works with his family.  Cal Cullen heads up Wave Pool Gallery which is “a dynamic place where art intersects with community. We act as a catalyst for social engagement and cultivate artistic development.”   Factored into this mix is The Welcome Project which is affiliated with Wave Pool and is helping out a lot of vulnerable new members of our community.  Somehow, these folks found flute maker Dave.  Inspired by the 17 lives lost at the Parkland, Florida mass shooting this past Valentine’s Day and the activism sparked amongst the surviving students, Dave was to craft 17 flutes from 17 gun barrels to honor those lost and to inspire those now marching for change, backed by the people and organizations I have mentioned here.

(Yes, I know these are shot gun barrels.  Please read above statement about my love of metaphor and symbol in art practice.)

Dave took on the project.  At this point I was out of the country doing my work in Guatemala but I was keeping my ear to the ground as to how it was going.  Last week upon my return, I stopped over for lunch with Dave and Marlene and got a chance to see the flutes in person.  They are heavy and cumbersome but play surprisingly well.  I make a decision on the spot that I will help to play these at the march the following weekend.

This one looks a bit like proper flute. A bit.

Did you hear that Remington has filed for bankruptcy?

These former guns are still collectively creepy.  They are heavy, cold, each a bit different from one another.  They pose a bit of a challenge to Dave as an instrument maker but he soldiers on and they eventually make their way to Wave Pool where we give them a spin.

Remarkably, they play beautifully (at least when warm)!  He crafts a few in each of a couple of keys.  The ones in E are slightly lighter in weight and we choose them to play the coming weekend at the march.  We had hoped for some local kids to help play them, but alas, no one shows to the rehearsal.  Perhaps a case of mixed signals…..

We find our way into Saturday morning.  Local music school classes are not canceled as we thought they might be and so some of our number had to go to work which left three of us to wield the new flute barrels best we can.

Wave Pool had sponsored a day of mitt making while I was away, crafting the Evil Eye onto gloves for the march.

I was prepared with my own crafting of the idea as this too was a concept I could get behind.

Those who know me well know I have an evil eye on my flute case.  The charm is from Greece and was brought back to me by my friend and mentor Pam shortly before she died.  I treasure it….

Somehow, all of the flute-related magic is coming together.

The weather is raw and unforgiving on marching day.  The mitts are necessary and perhaps not nearly enough to keep fingers challenged with steel gun barrels from freezing.

We get to City Hall and already there is a great crowd gathering.

We are put into place to begin the work of musical activism.  On the steps of City Hall, the three of us present to play remark half heartedly that we sure wish we had more flute players.  It is cold and we do not trust our fingers on gun steel.  Nor our embouchures really.  And wouldn’t you know it….two of the young people on hand for the march chime in, “We play.”  Just like that we are 5.   And stronger for it.  Thank you Lila and Kennisha.  You saved the day for us older folk.

While introducing the kids to these strange instruments, we meet Ethel Guttenberg whose grand-daughter Jaime was a victim at Parkland.  One of the 17 who sparked this rally, one of the 17 who sparked this gun barrel flute project.  I am speechless and reeling from the gravity of what we are doing here.

We play a few classics.  We Shall Overcome, Amazing Grace, that sort of thing. We only have a few minutes.  And it’s cold and raw to be placing bare lips and fingers to cold gun metal.  Miraculously, the crowd begins to sing along and it is magical.  This is the genius behind the vision of Pedro Reyes and his biblical notion of ploughshares from swords.  This is not a new concept really, but one brought beautifully to bear by this modern artist.  To be quite honest, I find it hard to keep my quivering lip playing the simple music at hand, especially after talking with Ethel.

Ethel speaks to the crowd on hand, which is sizable, especially when combined with like minded folk across the country and around the world.  Before her and after her are the children responsible for this amazing event. Kids like her grand-daughter Jaime.  Kids, really.  Up till now perhaps the world would have discounted these kids.  But they are the future.  In fact, I’d say they aren’t even the future.  They are the now.  They are stepping up where our leadership cannot.

“and these children that your spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.” ~David Bowie

As a parent of two young adults who weathered some serious storming in their own young lives along the way, I know what it is to be a parent witnessing the undoing of innocence in our children.  I have been thinking so much about Emma and David, and their friends,  parents and loved ones.  I’ve seen snippets of what they are grappling with off stage and out of the spotlight.  These are kids, y’all.  Children.  Children grieving the loss of their classmates.  Children grappling with their place in a limelight none of them asked for.  Their lives are altered. Taking a peek at what the interwebs has to offer in the way of feedback, a good chunk of it is negative.  But a fair amount of it is also positive.  From good people like myself wishing them well.  Hoping they might even consider running for office one day.  Sign me up.

I write to you crickets here in this echo chamber, hoping maybe my words will ring true.  Even to just one person.   Maybe two on a good day.  Hoping that this avalanche of gathering young snowflakes is embarking on change….

I share Sam Cook’s music with a nod to how these kids have made it a point to include people of color so often left out of these conversations. Something I find remarkable and a glimpse of the future…..

People like Naomi.

She’s ELEVEN.  

ELEVEN, y’all.  Let that sink in.  

These kids are our future.  They are poised and educated and can dance their way round the internet in ways I couldn’t have imagined. (Let’s face it, at their age, I couldn’t imagine the internet).  

And so, time marches on.  At this writing, over a month has passed.  More shootings have occurred.   These kids have a job ahead of them to be sure.  But I have faith in them, despite the internet throwing shite upon them at every turn.  Let’s find ways to support them as the tide turns.

“Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” ~Albus Dumbledore

 

 

 

 

Between

This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.

Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.

Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly.   For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.

It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next.  And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home.  There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them).  Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting.  And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.

All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be.  It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here.  What a time we had!

After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset.  By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay.  I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.

A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.

Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well.  Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.

When I shared this drawing with our inn keepers, they knew immediately who these guys were and were thrilled to see them!

The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed.  Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.

“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change.  There are new mountains.”

~Ursula K. LeGuin

We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving.  I was thrilled to see them!  Old and new friends alike.

Photo by Vanessa Sorensen

They turned out to be very hard workers!  Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table.  All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected.  Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.

As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….

We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day.  The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.

I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.

My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well.  Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.

There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.

Check out sketches by Christina Wald from the trip at her Instagram page!  She of course had to draw the iconic Arco!

A brief note:  Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country.  When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price.  If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible.  In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles.  Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it.  I always enjoy a visit to see her.  She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.  

And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.

photo by Vanessa Sorensen

There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn.  Santos on santos on santos.  Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America.  It’s refreshing.

she’s carrying a skull. it doesn’t get more real than that!

I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way.  Best I know how.

We drew and drew, sketched and painted.  Some just quick captures here and there.

Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.

The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on.  Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.

As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end.  I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology.  While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week.  What a difference a week makes.

Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning.  The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability.  I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day!  The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April.  I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2.  More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched.  If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April.  You can sign up for one or both days.  Send me an email at abeefrnd@gmail.com if you are interested and I’ll get you the specifics.  And, while I’m on the topic, there are still a few slots left in the annual Taos, New Mexico trip which is a week long…..

There is much I miss about Guatemala as I gaze out upon our, for the moment, snowy landscape.   I miss the color and timelessness, the quick smiles of locals one sees every day on the street on the way to breakfast.  I miss the sense that just beyond the veil there is a part of myself I lost along the way somehow and which, with every visit, I begin to recapture.

There will be more about Guatemala on this lowly blog to be sure.  I hope to bring The Hub back there in November to share with him all I have discovered since our trip there for our anniversary.  I have many more drawings to make and musings to consider as well.  Something about this place feels like it can unlock a lot of what makes me tick as a person.  This is something I seek to explore.  We all have complicated histories.  Mine includes this marvelous place.

Amidst quietude, color and beauty, I am ready to begin unpacking it all….

Til next time Antigua.