Tag Archives: Rowayton

A secret artist in our midst

I live in a little Connecticut town called Rowayton.  We were briefly the Oyster capital of the world.  We also played midwife to the first business computer.

But nothing much has happened in the last 50 years.  

Until now.  

We have a talent in our midst. And that talent is turning our train station into an art gallery.  

Here’s what I found a couple of days ago while waiting for my train to NYC.

Here’s a closer view.

It’s corny to say so, but it made me think of this Da Vinci self portrait.

I don’t know if these photos tell the story, but this image has been placed on the platform by a process of dripping / pouring that deprives the artist of absolute control.  Its a technique that forces a loose hand working in a single session.  Virtuosity gives vivacity. The face that comes up out of concrete (of all things).  A knowing, unforgiving, bird-of-prey gaze.  

And it commandeers a handy thought bubble: “mind the gap.”  What, you mean the artistic life of little Rowayton?  Consider it minded!  Occupied and then some.  

Several months ago, when the dreadful Donald Trump was everywhere on screen and in print.  This image appeared on an ad in the station.  

The artist removed Trump’s photographed face and inserted a Dorian Gray revelation of the man within.  Porcine Donald.  And what a pig he is.  

Someone with artistic detective skills might be able to determine whether Mind the Gap comes from the same hand as Dorian Donald.  And, as you can guess, I am really hoping it does.  And not just because it would be wonderful to think that someone has turned our train station into an art gallery.  

It’s all very Culturematic so naturally I’m thrilled.  But, look, I’d be thrilled in any case.  I spend some part of the spring talking to Peter Spear and Rainer Judd about a project that would encourage the eruption of art in small town America and here someone drops this under my very nose.   

It is a Culturematic because it converts a train station into an art gallery.  Culturematics are almost always opportunistic and cunning in this way.  But it also turns our train system, Metro North, into a delivery system for art lovers everywhere.  As long as someone can find the line, they can count on effortless and precise delivery!  

Let me know you’re coming and I will put on my docent costume and meet you there. Gallery station memberships are reasonable so don’t forget your credit card!

Reenchanting the world, one green hand at a time

See the green hand? It’s there in the foreground of the photo, in the middle of an intersection in my little town.

It stopped me in my tracks this morning. It reminded me of discussions I had this summer with Peter Spear and Rainer Judd.

We were working on a project designed to stage dramatic and the counter-expectational outbreaks in a couple of towns on the eastern seaboard. (It does sound a little pretentious phrased this way, I know. Believe me when I say we were serious, sincere and not in any way carrying on or showing off.)

Our working idea: that all the creativity nurtured by and staged in the digital world in the last couple of decades is now prepared to bust out into the world. This meant specifically, that outbreaks of reckless creativity should now be able to happen anywhere, even in a small town on the eastern seaboard.

We had a measure of success. If we succeeded, we would have increased the possibility that any time a town member subsequently encountered something lingering at the edge of consciousness, something “odd, accidental, and ‘nothing, probably,’” they would be more inclined to treat it as “something, possibly,” and to attend to it.

If our project succeeded, we would have expanded the realm of the possible in this little town. This is in and off itself a good thing but we also believed that making the odd and accidental more interesting, we would also have struck a blow for what Max Weber called the “reenchantment of the world.”

It is our belief that a lot of creativity starts as a stray signal on the edge of work-a-day reality and ordinary thought. It is when we credit these stray signals and declare them worthy objects of our curiosity, that good things happen. Creativity becomes more possible. Innovation easier.

Indeed, that “box” everyone is always talking about gets easier “to get out of.” This might indeed be the very thing a small town on the eastern seaboard, especially if it finds itself captive of the rust belt and in need of recuperation.

Anyhow, you can’t work on a project like this and not remark upon a green hand when it appears in the middle of an intersection in your home town.  If it was a green hand.  
If it was a green hand, where was it pointing?  What was it saying? I thought I might be able to use the Google image search function.  And here’s what I got.  
Nothing helpful, I don’t think, unless I am failing to read one of these images as the next link in a series of images that must eventually reveal the significance of the green hand.  
Everytime I say “the green hand” I hear, in my mind’s ear, the sound of a church organ being used to exclamation effect, you know the kind of thing they do on a soap opera.  (I think these are called “suspense chords.”)  And this made me wonder if there was some connection between the green hand (suspense chord!) and the fact that the house in town once occupied by the man who wrote the Shadow was just knocked down.  I mean, like Thursday of last week.  On the other hand, there’s a remote possibility I’m over-thinking this.  
Wikipedia has three “takes” on the Green Hand.
A green hand may refer to:
  • a term for an inexperienced crew member of a 19th-century whaler on his first voyage, and who would typically have the smallest “lay”, or share, in the profits.

All of these are appealing, but being an anthropologist I am obliged to put my money on the middle one, the family of hobbits.  And this would tell us, I guess, that the hand in the intersection marks the spot where, were one to dig, there would be revealed a place containing hobbits.  And that would be great.  Because our town doesn’t have enough hobbits.  Actually, I don’t believe we have any hobbits.  

I will close with another stray signal that appeared some months ago in Rowayton. It appears to be a panda.  It is tiny, obscurely located, and repeated no where else in town.  I puzzle over it every time I pass it on Sammis Street.  Now of course I know there’s a pretty good chance it’s the work of hobbits.  But if anyone else has another explanation, please sing out.  It’s a very fine piece of work, not just a panda, but a panda descending as if from on high, luminous, with a choir singing richly.  (You know, one of those revelation chords!)  

Local history as a potluck potlatch

Thousands of communities in the US nurture a community within the community. This is all the people who care about local history.  

And there is the community within this community.  That’s all the things the community knows, or thinks it knows, about itself.

Most of these local history societies stage a speaker’s series.  They invite someone who is, say, expert in the civil war to come share their knowledge in a 40 minute talk, with drinks afterward.  It’s convivial and interesting.  If the gods are kind, the speaker knows her stuff and how to communicate it.  

There is another possibility.  Call it Potluck or Potlatch.  In this event we canvas and compile the historical knowledge of locals in a real time event.  Everyone brings what they know and shares.  

The way to run this is in the manner of a Harvard Business School classroom, drawing people into the discussion and organizing information as we go.

Naturally, we would want to begin with the declaration that we have the utmost respect for formal history and professional historians, and that we won’t ever want to challenge or diminish this kind of history.

But we also want to say that we want to see how much history we have in our community that qualities as “living history” and “informal knowledge.”

There is after all a larger trend that says our culture is moving from passive recipients of knowledge to active participants in the assembly of knowledge.

And in any case, the local historical society has always had an extra-academic purpose: a chance to meet and engage with your neighbors in shared enthusiasms.  

Community-assembled history would give me a much more vivid sense of my neighbors than the sometimes dreary process of watching them as they listen to an expert.  

There are several potential problems with this scheme.  One is that local blow hards will try to commandeer the proceedings, grasping it as an opportunity to show how very knowledgable they are. But it is up to the person is leading things to step in and gently encourage them to give way that others might participate!

The far graver problem is that the community would encourage and perpetuate local falsehoods and misconceptions.  All part of the fun.  Everyone wants to be credulous and scrupulous in equal proportions.  (This too is a trend.)  No one should come to a local history potluck / potlatch with the idea that the history will be definitive.  No one should leave with the conviction that they have certain knowledge.  

The idea is to share and to celebrate what the community believes to be true about itself. Everyone is free, indeed they are encouraged, to repair to their studies, consult the masters, and determine just how much false currency circulates in their home town.  

I propose the HBS model but of course there are lots of ways of solving the problem.  The idea is to have a facilitator who is good at drawing people out, getting historical assertions up on the board, leading the discussion as a discussion, gentling stick handling the puck away from the blow hards, making everyone feel welcome, and otherwise making this bonfire of knowledge burst into flame.  

If someone says, “Sir, how dare you trivial with something so sacred as our history,” you may reply, “History is much too important to be left to the historians.  This is a living trust, richer when shared, aerated and given voice.”