April 02nd, 2023
I think just a little more should have been made of William Sturgis Bigelow (1850-1926) at the MFA Boston's new exhibit of Hokusai woodblock prints and their outsized influence on the world of art. He was the one who collected most of those in the MFA's collection. They do have a 1917 charcoal sketch of him, by John Singer Sargent, in which he is wearing his medal from Japan's Order of the Rising Sun. Pictured above, "The Great Wave," of course, and, less obviously but no less brilliantly, Homer's "Breaking Wave (Prout's Neck)." They aren't side by side at the show, but they are in the same room. There is also a clever and very large rendition of "The Great Wave" made of Legos.
Would-Be Author's Photo
Bob took this photo of me c. 1979-1980, when we lived at 535 11th Street SE on Capitol Hill in D.C. I remember joking that it would make a good author photo. I wonder what book I'm leaning against. I also wonder if I thought back then that I actually would publish a book of my own. The first one, Shadow Bands, didn't come out until 1988... We rediscovered this image while Bob was getting ready to donate to the archives at George Washington University some of the photos he took in his college dorm room in the period 1969-1971. He still had the contact sheets and negatives, and remembered many of his fellow students' names. Great period posters are on the walls. Our wish is that they will make good research materials for someone studying those times, which were not routinely documented in the way that smart-phone-wielding students document themselves today.
I went to see Power & Perspective: Early Photography in China, at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, last week. It is an excellent exhibition of images of China and its people in the 19th century, mostly by visiting Europeans. And they do bring their Western colonial bias to the material (hence, the organizers' title), but they cannot distort the beauty of the landscape and of the Chinese people who posed for them. On the far left, a Queen's Road Curio Shop in Hong Kong, c. 1868-1872 by John Thomson, a Scotsman, who published books of his images. In the middle, The Island Pagoda, from Thomson's book Foochow and the River Min. (On right, husband Bob, my faithful museum companion.) Below, the tombstone of St. Francis Xavier, the sixteenth-century missionary who co-founded the Jesuits. It's by Marciano Antonio Baptista, who was born to a Portuguese Macau family and mainly was a painter. The grave is in Shangchuan; the photo dates from either 1864 or 1868. And it's certainly not one of the best images in the show, but it caught my attention, since it relates indirectly to my current project, The Missionary Factory, draft excerpts of which I used to post periodically on this website. But I've taken them down now, so as not to preempt myself if I ever do publish my final product.
The Chinese Lady
I saw the Central Square Theater's production of Lloyd Suh's The Chinese Lady on Wednesday night. It is the story of Afong May, who is brought from China to the United States at age fourteen in 1834 and put on display in a forerunner of P.T. Barnum's museum and later in the Barnum museum itself. She doesn't quite understand what is happening to her, but gradually as the years go by, she realizes her situation, especially when, at age forty-four, she is about to be replaced, since, as we told, freshly arrived is a new fourteen-year-old cultural curiosity from the Far East. Americans marvel at how Afong May walks in her bound feet, how she eats her rice and shrimp with chopsticks, and how she comports herself in general -- prissily. There is of course a language barrier, but she has a translator and attendant, a Chinese man, Atung, who, as becomes clear when he delivers his monologue, is suppressing his rage at his own situation.
The production could have used better staging, although I understand the financial straits of such a small community theater. I think, too, that Sophori Ngin, who plays Afong May, should have shown more change as the years go by. The sameness may have been the result of a directorial decision, but if so, I think it was an unfortunate one. Atung, played by Jae Woo, expresses a much wider range. Through his varied mannerisms, posture, stance, voice, and gait, I saw and felt his exasperation (at the immature and gullible teenaged Afong May), his lust (for her when she becomes a woman), his anger (at the world that treats him as "irrelevant" at best), and his grief (when Afong May's departure is imminent). Woo also conjures a perfect, cringe-worthy President Andrew Jackson when Afong meets him in Washington, D.C., while she is on a multi-city tour. It's a virtuosic set piece. I wish there were more of them. As it stands, the play is worthy of our attention. I don't think I have finished thinking about it.
When The Price is Right
On my eleventh birthday, December 19, 1962, my mother was a contestant on the TV game show The Price is Right, hosted by Bill Cullen. There was a daytime version and a nighttime version. Mom was on in the daytime, so neither my father, who was at work, nor my sister and I, at school, got to see it; and, of course, TV shows were not taped back then. For so many years I had intended to go to the Museum of Radio and Television in New York to ask about viewing an archived copy. Finally, finally, I did, a few weeks ago, although the museum has since been renamed the Paley Center for Media. Unfortunately, I did not find that show in its archives, but the helpful woman at the desk gave me the contact information for David Schwartz, who is a game-show aficionado. (See The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows, by Scwartz, director of the School of Interactive Games and Media at the Rochester Institute of Technology.) If anyone would know where that show was archived, he would, she said. Alas, yesterday, he emailed to say that the network archived only the nighttime programs. So the chance to see my mother on TV has been long lost.
When I tell people about her appearance on the show, they always ask if she won anything. The answer is no, except that she got a consolation prize of a dozen Ship N Shore blouses, which I myself eventually wore. When I was at the Paley Center, I watched one of the shows from the 1960s that they did have available, and two of the four contestants on that evening didn't win anything, either, so maybe it wasn't such an unusual outcome. I do know my mother, a competitive person (a tennis player and golfer), was a bit bummed out about it. She said she wished she had practiced beforehand. But how? She wasn't a enthusiastic shopper, much less a comparison shopper. She also said she was disappointed she didn't really get to meet Bill Cullen. For all the chumminess he expressed to his contestants, he did not interact with them except onstage.
A second question people often ask is how she got picked to be on the show in the first place. It happened because she was in the studio audience and chosen out of that pool for an audition-interview. In fact, she chosen out of the audience on two separate occasions. The first time, she said my father was a carpenter, which was the truth. She believed that since St. Joseph had been a carpenter, this would somehow work in her favor. When she wasn't picked to be a contestant, she wondered if the rejection had had something to do with Dad being in a union. Faulty logic, to be sure, but in any case, the second time around, she said he owned a storm-window installation business, which he did, H.L. Schinto Co., which was his side job on Saturdays for many years. My Aunt Jean, who was with Mom in the audience both times, was interviewed once, but never picked as a contestant. For the record, her husband, my Uncle Cappy, had his own radio and TV repair business in Brooklyn. Both my mother and aunt were attractive. That may have had something to do with their initial attractiveness to the game-show's staff. Who knows? What I do know is that I am sad about not having seen Mom on the show in the first place and sadder still that I won't be able to see the show now or ever. Even if she hadn't known the right price of things, she had a winning smile (she was voted wearer of the "best smile" of her high school class of 1940) and probably lost gracefully.
This was one of the best museum shows I've seen in a long time. Went on the first day of its run, October 20, as the doors opened. The paintings, the drawings, the photographs, the videos, the ephemera -- all came together so beautifully to tell the story. The artist is associated with other places, including Cape Cod, but I came away understanding his relationship with his home base so much better and, therefore, came to understand better Hopper himself and the whole body of his work, no matter what its subject. One of my favorite bits was an ephemera display: a long row of torn theater stubs; on each Jo Hopper had written the name of the show they had attended. The signage pointed out that the couple invariably took cheaper (mezzanine) seats, which helps to explain the Hopper perspective in many of his theater paintings.
My latest piles of leaves, branches, and weeds, along with a roll of ancient, rusty chainlink, ready for the town crew to pick up, as per arrangement. But do they realize that a 70-year-old, 111-lb. woman is doing the work with hand tools (rake, clippers), nothing more? Someone walking by said his sister's goat would be a good one to help me, even with the chainlink. I said, "Bring it on." But actually I like working alone here. I feel a sense of accomplishment after each session. In contrast to other long-term projects of mine, with this one I can easily see how far I have come (and, alas, how far I have yet to go).
Luigi Lucioni: Modern Light
I became familiar with Luigi Lucioni (1900-1988) while covering art auctions and shows in Boston for Maine Antique Digest, but I had never seen such great examples in person until I went to the Shelburne Museum in Shelburne, Vermont, for the Lucioni retrospective exhibit on view there through mid October. Since we were staying at the Inn at Shelburne Farms, I was naturally drawn to this rendering of the place by the Italian immigrant (he arrived here at age eleven) who is associated both with Vermont and New York. Designed by Robert H. Robertson, the Queen Anne style manse was completed in 1899 for William Seward Webb and his wife, Eliza Osgood Vanderbilt Webb. With grounds landscaped by Frederick Law Olmsted, the 3,800-acre estate was originally meant to be a "model farm" for the breeding of Hackney horses for Vermont farmers. Today it's still a working farm. In the dining room, the manager told us, about eighty percent of the foods served are sourced from the very place. That includes cheeses, which we saw being made in the dairy. You know you're in the right place when you see a guy using a scythe instead of a weed whacker to cut away tall grasses around the bases of trees. And this is no Williamsburg. He wasn't in period dress. He was just someone doing his job noiselessly in the twenty-first century.
Friend of Hussey's Pond
A few weeks ago, I decided I was tired of waiting for the town to clean up the small park across the street from my house, at Hussey's Pond. And so I have begun to clean it up myself. I alerted the Department of Public Works that I was going to make piles of dead leaves, branches, and debris that I hoped they would periodically come cart away. The DPW's Amy Salvi said she would send a crew whenever I called to tell them I was ready.
Twice now I have filled up three wire bins (one shown here) and twice a couple of guys have indeed carted it away in a town truck. So my plan is working.
While I was raking over there one day last week, a neighborhood friend came by. She was wearing a baseball cap that said "F of H P." It stands for "Friends of Harold Parker" -- Harold Parker State Park, that is, which is partly in Andover and partly in North Andover. She does volunteer work for the organization. But I realize I could wear the same hat myself, because the same initials could stand for "Friend [singular] of Hussey's Pond." That's me.
Sunday afternoon, June 5. A conversation on stage at the MFA between Art Spiegelman and Hillary Chute of Northeastern University. Spiegelman was brilliant, as was the interviewer. Together they discussed and illustrated with side by side images the affinities between Spiegelman's work and Philip Guston's, as well as the similarities between the trajectories of their personal lives. The program was in conjunction with the Guston show, still on view. Not to be missed.
The "Commentaries" portion of this website is a record of some of Ms. Schinto's cultural experiences, e.g., books read, TV series watched, movies seen, exhibits visited, plays and musical events attended, etc. She also from time to time will post short essays on various topics.