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ASHES TO ASHES Reviewed by Sally Anderson

DSL welcomes guest blogger/reviewer Sally Anderson, who lives within two vigorous stone throws of the Chapel at Good Shepherd Center.  Here she reviews the remains – it is up only until this coming Saturday, Nov. 15, through 9 pm – of 21 biodegradable coffins hanging from the chapel’s high ceiling.

“Ashes to Ashes”

Chapel, 4th Floor, Good Shepherd Center (climb or find elevator), Wallingford USA
Open noon to 9 pm through Sat 11/15
Wayward Girls Productions (“Lift up your skirts and fly”™)

Artists include (but not limited to):

Maisoui Barham
Alex Branch
Johnny Chalapatas
Catherine Cross
Ben Darby
Jeff Hansel
Christiana Hedlund
Robert Howells
Wendy Lawrence
Matthiu Mendieta
Joshua P. Waddell
Mary Welch
Good Shepherd caretaker Mark Willson

“Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.”

– From “The Circus of Animals,” W.B. Yeats

There are some ladder-gones, and some ladder-beginnings, in this varied take on “the first comfort after death,” to borrow a sentiment from Paul, who joined me a couple of nights ago with “Nancy Appleseed” – Nancy Merrill – perhaps Seattle’s greatest proponent of the planting of trees… for an evening romp among biodegradable caskets.

21 friends and acquaintances accepted curator/resident Mary Welch’s invitation to create coffins for the (suitably) fleeting exhibit titled “Ashes to Ashes” that ends this weekend – Saturday at roughly 9pm – at the Chapel in Wallingford’s Good Shepherd Center.

The exhibit commemorates other endings as well: it’s the last in Welch’s Chapel Trilogy (preceded by “Closet” and “Seven Chairs: Interpreting the Chakras”), the last exhibit under the name Wayward Girls, and also signals the end of visual art exhibits in this intimate space, as the Chapel is better suited acoustically and architecturally as a venue for music, which will continue under the label Wayward Music.

Criteria for showing: the coffins had to be easily biodegradable, weigh 30 pounds or less, and “not stink” for at least 3 weeks. The artists had to both “justify” their materials and be able to themselves fit within, “whether curled up, laid flat, squished out, or the knees stretched out,” per Mary.

All of which left room for the use of beeswax, bamboo, burlap, and bubblegum; newspaper, grouse feet, rice paper, feathers, metal repousse, 16 loaves of Franz whole-grain white bread, silk, antlers, porcupine quills, ink, aluminum foil, leaves, stuffed toys, sugar, and postcards… and words. Lots of words. Some are incorporated into, or inside, the coffins. One submission appears to be a hanging series of newspapers; closer observation reveals, through a tiny cut-out square, that the newspapers are in fact hollowed-out in their centers in the shape of a body.

Each is paired with a paragraph or so of the artist’s imagined obituary. Mary’s humor tends toward the dry side, her caption reflecting her disdain for euphemisms about death:

Maisoui Barham’s, whose interpretation stands out as one of the most organic and complex, begins “They fed me – Now I feed them.” Materials include bones, feathers, fur, and “lightning-struck wood,” to name a few of many.

Johnny Chalapatas also wove elements of nature, using bamboo, burlap, jute, and seeks from friends’ gardens, stating that “Energy doesn’t end; It just leaves its container.” The soft, thready fuzz and whispy fibers of his piece create an oddly crisp shadow that is alone reason enough to visit the exhibit.

The coffins float ethereally from fishing line hung from the high arched Chapel ceiling. This lends a (fittingly) subtle extra dimension of fragility, and rewards with a remarkable play of shadows throughout, on the simple wooden floor and on the waxen flower petals, folded papers, spiky metals, and other fine details atop the coffins. In a happy accident of juxtaposition, the severe shape of the “Chinese Take-Out” coffin (“Thank You / Come Again”) seemingly throws a shadow with arms and feet, which turns out to be cast by its neighbor, “Bread Woman.”

The exhibit overall has a reverential air, from the gracefully muted lighting to the “sound experiment” by Steve Peters (CDs available at the pearly gate) which emanates continuously from a mysterious source.

While several of the coffins reflect the somber mystery of death, the group marvelously avoids a sense of morbidity. A couple are notably lighthearted. The obituary accompanying Matthiu Mendieta’s “cigarette” coffin reads, in part, “Always ready for the next drink and defiantly always on the go. Creative with a very dark sense of humor. May he rest in peace.”

The legend for Catherine Cross’ “Phoenix A-Z” reads: “Instructions for Disposal: 1. Insert dead artist. 2. Keep flat until after burning. 3. Burn / Cremate and Collect / Save ashes (carbon offset investment prepaid to US Department of Education). 4. Mix ash with at least ten yards of rich, well aged compost containing at least thirty percent horse manure. 5. Depending on seasonal and regional availability, Fill manure spreader or heavy duty chalk field liner with the ash and compost mixture. 6.  In a large gently sloping meadow facing the sea and bordered by woods, write the words “I Love You” in a smooth thick cursive font as large as the site allows. Add more compost as needed.”

On Wednesday, the exhibit was visited by a group of seniors. Curator Mary, who also does duty as gatekeeper, couldn’t predict their reactions. The next sound she heard was waves of raucous laughter.

Go see and listen. Ends Saturday night.


(Below: Good Shepherd on the night, Nov. 11, 2008, Sally Anderson visited its chapel for this review)

From Périgord (southwest France)

Bérangère writes:

Here are three  photos in Périgord in the neighbourhood of Maison Rouge where my Uncle Claude and Aunt Yanick are living, it has been raining so much all the 4 days long, and we spent so much time around the divine table to eat so many splendorous meals that I decided the last  morning to wake up early and walk at the beginning of the day on my own, smell the wet morning country  !!!

Joe Max Emminger!

A remarkable show from Joe, one of our especial favorites around DorpatSherrardLomont. His luminous paintings, at once raucous and restrained, deliriously primitive and utterly civilized, really knock our socks off.  Joe’s work is the stuff of dreams, found on cave walls and along alleys, quaysides and memory palaces; signposts for the soulful.

In French, window shopping is leche-vitrines (literally, licking windows). Passing Joe’s bright canvases, I had the nearly irresistible urge to leche-tableaux.

A view from the galleries into the gallery.

Joe with his program writer and designer.

Admirers and fellow leche-tableauxists:

After, outside in the damp, the world seemed refreshed. I found Paul with Renko and Stu Dempster standing in the middle of the street like amazed children.

Don’t miss this show! At Grover/Thurston Gallery, 309 Occidental Ave. S., through December 13th.

STAN JAMES in practice in 2004 and now In Memoriam

You will discover if you are half fortunate that one of the curses of old age is that many of your friends pop off before you do. It is then a bittersweet duty to recall some of their admired qualities.

Stan James died in his shoes and in his Granite Falls cabin last week. The moment is not known. I talked with him by phone on Saturday Oct. 25th to confirm that he was coming to Seattle the next day to lead with his strong baritone and button accordion a singing of Ivar’s theme song The Old Settler, for a 70th birthday party “thrown” my way by Jean and other friends at the Acres of Clams (it is also Ivar’s – not Ivar Haglund’s – 70th year).

Stan and I had a good long talk on the phone, as I sort of drilled him on his folk arts related history. I wanted to give a good recounting of it to those who came to the party. Stan did not make it to the party, nor did he call to explain why. He was 72 – I think.

Stan was alone when he died probably suddenly from his heart problems. He was first seen through a window by a neighbor who was asked to seek him out. The visitor thought that Stan was perhaps sleeping. As yet, no one knows how long he sat there waiting to be discovered.

Stan James was one of the most important figures in the history of regional folk music. He had a wonderful baritone voice, with great power or energy and an often times thrilling timbre. The zest and variety of his life can now be studied and wondered at through the discussion thread found at mudcat.

I met Stan in 1970 while filming “theatrical additions” for Sky River Rock Fire. That film and now video is still a work-in-progress nearly 40 years later – a documentary on the “counter-culture” of the late 60s and especially its music festivals, like the Sky River festivals.
Stan was part of a group who put on leather rags or remainders lent by a leather worker and ran through a forest with a fisheye camera. (That film is around already digitized and when I find it Jean has promised that he will add it to the posting of the Halibut rehearsal footage he had included here.) Stan was a delight that first day “in leather” and every day thereafter that I had contact with him.
Sharing Easter morning breakfasts with Stan, his family and circle of friends at his pioneer farmhouse in Wallingford was enchanting. Stan was the first artist to appear in Jean and my video history of Bumbershoot. He performed at the first Bumbershoot and probably most of the Folklife festivals.
In the early 60s, Stan opened one of the first coffeehouses – the Corroboree – that joined a rich menu of caffeine and pastries with folk singing. You can study the menu at his friend Bob Nelson’s Historical Archives on line. (For more on the Corroboree and the Guild 45th Theatre next door, click here.)
Stan was one of the movers in booking those first Hootenanny concerts at the Mural Amphitheatre at Seattle Center following the 1962 Century 21. He was a master marine carpenter and did some of the earliest work on restoring the Wawona, the venerable but forlorn schooner that has been the needy child of Northwest Seaport. Many are the concerts of Sea Chanteys that Stan has led both on the Wawona and at the Center for Wooden Boats next door at the south end of Lake Union.
The clips of Stan practicing here are taken from footage of the Halibuts, a short-lived group assembled to revive the charming fish songs that Seattle aquarium proprietor and restaurateur Ivar Haglund wrote mostly in the 1930s. The rehearsals took place here in Seattle, on Stan’s front porch, my Wallingford study, and folksinger Alan Hirsch’s home at Interbay. Alan was another of the Halibuts along with John Pfaf. Stan was 68 at the time and still strong of voice. To hear earlier clips of his singing, visit that thread on mudcat.
A memorial is being planned, of course, although at this writing the date and place are not yet set. There’s a problem with having it at the Center for Wooden Boats. It may not be big enough to hold his friends. But such an overflow would be another memorial to and reckoning of Stan James.
Paul Dorpat 11/6/08


Right through these doors…

…in Washington State, for the last time in person. Henceforth, all ballots will be mail-in. Which saddens me to no small degree. For many years, I’ve voted alongside my neighbors in a small but significant gesture of civilization and community. But there was something precious in the walk of several blocks to St. Andrews Church. Something comforting in the (mostly) retirees who manned the precinct tables. Here then is a snap of a few of them, volunteering one more time in King County to help oversee this final bout of neighborhood voting. The good folks from 47-1313.

And immediately upon my return home, I saw an email (“Le moment est venu”) from BB containing the following image from Paris.

Along with her best wishes:

Mes chéris,
All our best french thoughts for you and the elections… We have good hope !
Je vous embrasse très fort. BB

Tiger Mountain picked clean…

…of chantrelles. I know this has been happening across the NW, but it’s alarming to wander a favorite mushroom haunt and find only two (that’s right, TWO) chantrelles where a few years back we could be assured of finding several baskets worth. Commercial pickers have taken all.

A lovely spot, though, dense with second growth.

Young Alyce, ever hopeful, helped us search with her parents, my cousin Kristin Sherrard and husband Ed Munro, both biologists. Alas, the forest floor was scoured of edible fungi.

Paul in Wonderland (from Bill Burden)

(For those who missed my reading of it, here’s Bill Burden’s eloquent and wise contribution)

For Paul, at the Biblical three-score-ten —

Kind of in the manner of a eulogy for someone who has claimed the infirmities of age for at least the 40 years I’ve known him, but still seems to be hanging on.

In any discussion of “what’s next for Paul,” I think we have to get a handle on what Paul is going to “do” in his next incarnation.

First and foremost, Paul Dorpat is the least idle person I know. I sincerely doubt that he is looking to put his harness down and kick back in some senior paradise. He’s too busy.

As I observed during the years we shared a house in the ‘70s (including the time of the famous 40thbirthday bash) everything Paul did — everything — was purposeful. Not useful, as activities that add to our Gross National Product perhaps, but always with some specific end in mind.

How else could we have had the Helix, the Northwest Film Collective, the famous Sky-River-Rock-Fire movie and the ever-green and ever-satisfying Then and Now oeuvre?

And how else would we have the massive Wallingford Photo Walk project (I don’t think I’ve heard Paul attach a formal name or even description of what he is doing, but that term is how I think of it)?

As some of you probably know, Paul has been documenting, in digital photos, an area of Wallingford. He walks (an excellent exercise for our budding septuagenarian) and takes his photos, about 600 per day. Every day.

I have no idea how he catalogues all these photos (and if you know Paul’s movie-recording history you’ll know why I am mystified) but I pretty regularly get shots that have some story to share from his walk that day.

His goal cannot be just to capture the topography and the structures. 600 shots a day for more than a year-and-a-half would be way beyond overkill, or even compulsiveness (I think). I think he has in mind a specific, if daunting objective: to capture, in exaggerated hand-held, time-lapse photography how fleeting and insubstantial the “solid world” really is.

I think the goal is to get deeper into that physical presence, down to what’s really going on in there, out there, in this burning house.

So a picture of a tree isn’t enough. You have to see the tree with leaves, snow covered, dripping rain, spring-budded — not as an image in itself, but as critical piece of a composite yet to be completed.

So I think of Paul as one of the visionary mapmakers who can’t really describe the coastline until he sees all the tides, all the waves. Does it matter how many maps like that ever get made? And that the ones that do are pretty much the same scale as the world?

Key to his walks are the chance encounters with people on the street. Some know him from his walks and pick up in the middle of continuing conversations. Others may become the subject of a photo, a way to add variety to one of his “set” shots.” (In this setting I also think of Paul as “the king of Wallingford, on his progress around the shire, checking with the citizens).

He also takes shots of people, strangers, who interest him. Some of these have stories connected to them, but in others we are compelled to build a narrative, an explanation, based only on the cues inside the frame — a subatomic particle caught in the shutter flash between two entirely unknowable states.

Like this one, that Paul labeled “Out from wonderland, or To the Hole,” which I think proves that sometimes one picture can be “enough”:

Tonight’s theme may be “Paul in Wonderland,” but at least until he finishes his project, Paul seems to be in his wonderland right here.

Of course, the project that Paul was so committed to more that 30 years ago (Sky-River…), and worked purposefully on for many years, is yet to reach its final form. Actually that’s his NEXT project — he’s planning a video edit in the new year … but he will “need some help.”

Ultimately, perhaps Paul’s real job, from which he has never wavered, is to remain busy enough that old man Death can find no idle entrance.

Don’t stop now!