The Cold War has its moment

Right now, it seems like the creative culture, in all its forms, is about the Cold War.

There are the two Oscar contenders: Stephen Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” and “Pawn Sacrific”e about Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky when chess mattered.  Both films are gray-washed, cold things, as if we need some kind of visual reinforcement of the plots.  Both are very fine films, the former marginally warmed by Tom Hanks; the latter not at all.

The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor tells the woeful story of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg from the viewpoint of a neighbor.  It’s a harrowing piece of fiction based on the facts.  I dare you to put it down.

I just finished the novel when surprise, the new play with Linda Lavin has a doozy of a plot twist.  Spoiler alert ahead.  Absolutely stop reading now if you’re going to see “Our Mother’s Brief Affair.


Lavin’s character had a long-ago affair, to the shock and discomfort of her adult children.  Turns out, she had that affair with David Greenglass, Ethel’s brother, who named names all the way to the electric chair.

Or did she?  That’s the question we’re left with, as she states she has a moment–a moment when she was really seen.  So what if he was a spy responsible for the gruesome deaths of his family?  She and he had a moment.  Or did they?

The play is clearly the weakest of all these works.  But I was affected by the idea of the importance of moments, in it and them all, and the ramifications those moments can have.

Now, emerging, I hope, from this Cold War moment, I’m really ready for some color and warmth!


P.S. I initially forgot to mention the very fine “Trumbo” in the listings of Cold War movies this season.



Today marked one of my best Christmases in many years.  Why?  Because it was all about the Jews!

Di Goldene Kale

Good thing we got our tickets to “The Golden Bride” of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene many weeks ago.  Our noon performance of this Yiddish operetta was completely sold out.  The New York Times raved about it, and the Jews all headed downtown.

2015-12-25 11.26.04First, we went for our ‘Instant Yiddish’ lesson. “If you’re not fluent after this 15-minute class, you’ll get your money back.”  A little Jewish humor, since, of course, the lesson was free.  And my friend Helen is already fluent.

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During our mini class, the teacher pantomimed his way through the history of Yiddish theater in New York.  From 1880 to the 1949s, Yiddish theater helped immigrants adjust to life in The Golden Medina–the golden land of America–and deal with homesickness and provide some much needed escape from daily hardships.  Broadway as we know it grew out of the musicals of and the immigrants producing shows for the 2nd Avenue theaters.

“The Golden Bride” was first performed in 1923, one of 18 Yiddish shows live in New York at the time.  It toured the country and was continually revived in New York until its last production in 1948.  Until now.

Adam Shapiro (Kalmen) and Company in the National Yiddish Theatre production of 'The Golden Bride (Di Goldene Kale'). Photo by Ben MoodyI can see why the show was so enormously popular.  It’s full of family drama, silly and entangled romances, Shakespearean plot mix-ups, and wonderfully catchy songs.  We were all singing along with the ovation.  Most touching was the reuniting of a divided family, which no doubt the audience could relate to.  And most familiar was the matchmaking scene, which maybe Sheldon Harnick saw before writing his song for “Fiddler.”

Al loved the appropriation of Over There and other patriotic music with plot-driven lyrics in Yiddish.  The American Dream is all over this piece from the Old Country on Act 1 and the realization of that dream in the U.S. In Act 2.

Cameron Johnson in rehearsal

Curiously, the two young-lover leads are not Actor’s Equity, the only in the cast, but they had powerful operatic voices.  We laughed that the tenor looked like a Sean O’Malley, really named Cameron Johnson.  Not terribly Yiddishkeit.

The comedy was great fun and clearly sparked the tropes we see in the Golden Age of musicals, with the serious romantic leads and the comedic secondary couple.

I really felt like an audience member from the 1920s, reveling in a sense of belonging, nostalgia for the Old Country, and pleasure and pride in the new.  Actually quite healing during an often-alienating Christmasmaniacalism season and painful world conditions.

How did we cap this experience?  With Chinese food, of course!

Celebration of Love and Joy

Time for a pause-and-refresh during this busy, busy season.  Here are some eye-treats from contemporary artist books of “The Song of Songs”–that lyrical book of wisdom in the Bible that centers on love, ecstasy, and joy.  These are now on display downstairs in the Yale Art Library.

Zeev Raban, 1923, Art Nouveau style

Look at the beauty of the script and border illustrations…

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…and the elegance of this script.  It looks Arabic and comes from Jerusalem.

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Typeface: Yits’hak Pludwinski, 1999-2001

“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.”

Ronald King, 1968

The bold, inky lines.

Hanns H. Heidenheim

Hanns H. Heidenheim

A linear style that adds up to a powerful woman.

Mordechai Beck, 1999-2001

Mordechai Beck, 1999-2001

…and here, too.

Tamar Messer, 2006

Tamar Messer, 2006

Simple, pleasing lines that are nonetheless fresh.

Angelo Valenti, 1935

Angelo Valenti, 1935

Contemporary, sweet.

Rita Galle, 1990

Rita Galle, 1990

A more graphic approach.

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Inspired by Goethe’s color theory with “The Song of Songs” text in German.

Robert Schwarz, 2012

Robert Schwarz, 2012

Your moment of joy and love.

History repeats?

In a time filled with anti-immigration sentiment and perceived threat, how important it is to remember another similar time in our recent history.  On February 9, 2015-12-16 14.46.401942, President Roosevelt singed an order to incarcerate everyone in the U.S. of Japanese ancestry.  Less than 2 months after Pearl Harbor.

President Obama has resisted temptation to act more aggressively after the recent attacks, and hopefully, he will also remember the lessons of history, to remain strong.  As they say, “act in haste,…”

Officer training program at Yale, 1942.  Photo by Samuel Kravitt.

Officer training program at Yale, 1942. Photo by Samuel Kravitt.



The Sterling Library at Yale has a small but powerful exhibit of ephemera from Japanese and Japanese-Americans who were interned during the war.  The materials tell the story, often with Yale-related interludes, of the evacuation to the assembly centers, launching points to the war relocation centers, and then the imprisonment for the rest of the war.

One student left Yale for the camps.

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Propaganda pieces were produced to keep anti-Japanese sentiment high.

Look at how the Japanese faces are portrayed in this fact sheet produced by the American Council on Race Relations for use by the media. Talk about playing one type off another.  Yikes!

According to the label, the fact sheet also included “pro-Japanese American testimonials.”  Perhaps this was meant to be a balanced perspective?


Not every white American supported the move, just as today, many plead for tolerance toward Muslims, to not blame peaceful, U.S. citizens for what extremists do.

Eugene V. Rostow, a Yale law professor, wrote “Our Worst Wartime Mistake” for Harper’s Magazine in 1945.  He suggested that incarceration had frightening legal implications broader than the immediate.

Caleb Foote produced this pamphlet in 1943, with photographs by Dorothea Lange.  You can see her style at work, really instantly recognizable.

Foote himself was imprisoned as a Quaker violating the Selective Service Act.



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And this pamphlet from the American Baptist Home Mission Society pretested internment, while also offering services in the camps.  Remember these materials were saved by people who had been interned, so it must have held deep meaning.

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Second generation Nisei were shown as productive Americans in pamphlets like this one.





Life in the camps, as remembered by children and adults, was hard work and rough living conditions (after all, the camps were thrown together in a matter of weeks from derelict out buildings).  Internees also showed an admirable resilience and adaptation.  Older adults started gardens in the dry soil.  Children went to school and played pranks, just like anywhere.  How about these boys aiming spitballs at a bobby-soxer girl?  Pretty all-American, eh?

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I love this drawing.  Note the blonde girl seated second to the left.  Apparently, children of those who worked at the camps attended school with the Japanese.  Some of the teachers were conscientious objectors and lived in the camps, too, which I had not heard before. This drawing was made in 1944 and lived on in a scrapbook.  It shows the 4th grade Citizenship class.  All part of the Americanization agenda.

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Nancy Karakane wrote and illustrated an essay in 1943 called “Into the Desert,” which tells the story of Masako’s relocation to Poston.  She gives her white best friend a ‘white trinity cord,’ her most precious possession.  Nancy’s scrapbook went to the Junior Red Cross near the camp, “as a gesture of friendship and understanding.”  From the mouths of babes.



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The entrance sign for the library.  Moments of beauty in bleakness.  The below shows the reality.  Armed guards in towers, hand drawn in a scrapbook.

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Chalres Erubu “Suiko” Mikami, watercolor of Topaz Valley, UT.   Mikami taught at the Topaz Art School.

Sketch of the barracks. by W. Ogino, 1943

Sketch of the barracks. by W. Ogino, 1943

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Not all the Japanese thought alike about the war, their imprisonment, and their choices.  The new musical “Allegiance” on Broadway addresses some of these political differences and their repercussions.

On December 6, 1942, a protest in the camp at Mazanar turned into a riot in response to a beating of Fred Tayalma by a rival faction member in the camp.  One year after Pearl Harbor, the media caught the story, and you can see how incendiary the headline was.

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Some were finally allowed to fight for the U.S. in the war, beginning in 1944.  26,000 Japanese Americans served, men and women in the Women’s Army Corps.






Published April, 1974

Published April, 1974

Finally, the exhibit shows the process of the release.  A pamphlet called “When You Leave the Relocation Center” was handed out, along with $3 a day for meals while in transit.  The pamphlet, produced by the War Relocation Authority, provided help on employment, going to school, returning home, and living as ‘aliens’ under ongoing wartime regulations.

In this pamphlet 30 years after the war, the term “concentration camp” is used.  During the 1970s, Manzanar was one camp that received pilgrimages from internees and their descendants.  A powerful book about these experiences is “A Farewell to Manzanar” by Jim Houston, a writing teacher I had about 20 years ago, and his wife Jeanne, who was interned.


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Ansel Adams, Mazanar



A Christmas card in watercolor sent from Poston camp.

Riffs on Art and Quirky Toys and Games

As you know from Artventures! Game, I’m so happy to play with the over-seriousness of art.  One thing we need more of in the world right now is laughs.  So I’m delighted to introduce you to Bjorn Okholm Skaarup’s work currently on exhibit at the Bruce.

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Riffing on Degas.






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Ingres’ Odalisque

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Sphinx cat and Nefertiti







Just what I needed after a tough day.

Being a game inventor now (really?), I was especially interested in the look at historic Connecticut toys and games today at the Connecticut Historical Society.

I know that you like me can’t wait to play these games!

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In particular, I can hardly wait to play the board game ‘Connecticut’s Great Blizzard’.  Not.  Today, temps reached into the 60s.  Global warming has given us an incredibly mild fall.  Imagine during that first big storm calling out, “honey, want to play the Great Blizzard?”

The game is about getting all your errands done before Snowmageddon.  Really.

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Maybe in the 1980s, people loved just this kind of thing, cuddling up with a big mug of tea.  Would that be more fun than, say, ‘Campaigning for Election’–a game that seems to be about fundraising, too.  Both are a little too Reality-Showish for me.  Hilarious nonetheless.

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I’m getting a sense of my age, because toys from my childhood have hit the historic ranks.  We played telephone, my brother and I.  And with the Erector Set and Silly Putty and Whiffle Ball–all Connecticut-made.

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In that era of gendered toys, I’m pretty sure my brother had a chemistry set.

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We definitely had the toys that teach about the world of work–banks, fire trucks, and peculiarly here, a delivery truck of G. Fox & Co.  Maybe to help children to grow up to aspire to work there?  Or just good ol’ fashioned promotion.


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I’ve always found dolls creepy, and this c1902 doll in its underwear is absolutely no exception.  But below may be the first Teddy Bear I have ever found off-putting, this one made by the German Steiff Company.

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Gilbert was a New Haven company

Gilbert was a New Haven company





Some toys don’t seem to go out of favor and even become timely again–the Star Wars Pez dispenser heads, Barbie Dolls, and this James Bond Action Figure, strongly resembling the young Sean Connery.

Tough enough for boys, buff enough for girls.

How do you like that ad slogan I just invented?


I’ve written before about the Frisbee game invention that started with Yalie’s tossing the Frisbee’s 2015-12-12 14.28.25Pie tins.  What I didn’t know is that the Frisbee was originally called the ‘Pluto Platter’, a tie-in to the craze from Pluto’s discovery.  Which do you think works better–Frisbee or the Pluto Platter?

These hotly-debated questions fill my mind as I curl up with my hippo odalisque.





Visual Culture of Slavery

Today’s New York Times includes an editorial calling for a Slavery Monument.  Seems overdue to me.  Is there any space left on the National Mall?  In this moment of deep racial and cross-religious tensions and anxiety, I like the way visual culture invites us to reflect and reframe without panic and distraught emotion.

The Wadsworth Atheneum, its glorious renovation completed, now has an concise and engaging exhibition Sound and Sense: Poetic Musings in American Art.  Every object can be inhaled slowly and thoroughly.

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I was taken with the first Clementine Hunter painting I had seen in years.  Hunter, born just after the Civil War to a sharecropper family, began working the fields at age 12 on a Louisiana plantation called Melrose.  As an older woman, she moved indoors to work as a cook, and that’s when she found discarded art supplies left behind by a plantation visitor.  An artist was born.  “Cotton Picking” from around 1940 tells a direct, unexaggerated story of the poor, black life Hunter knew so well.

2015-12-05 13.23.59Here’s a close up of how she created the cotton balls–a thumb smudge of paint, repeated over and over.  Or maybe she dolloped a blob from the paint tube.  The texture energizes the surface, contrasting the rest of the flatly-depicted scene.

Hunter’s paintings caught the eye of local ‘white ladies’ who paid Hunter a pittance for the works, then turned around and sold them to ‘folk art’ collectors for a healthy upcharge.  Of course, Hunter never received any of these profits.  Because collectors bought the paintings, some have landed in museums like the Wadsworth.

I first met Hunter’s works while visiting Melrose, which markets her, her story, and her paintings as a major tourist draw.  In 1955, when she was 68, Hunter painted her African House Murals on plywood.  The murals were then hung in the African House at the plantation.  She still very much lives through these visceral works.  Go see them if you can.

At the Wadsworth, I also was captivated by William Howard’s desk.  He built the desk during the Mississippi Reconstruction, about 1870, from inexpensive yellow pine and salvaged crate wood.  He hand-carved the desk front, honoring the tools associated with his own history as a slave.

You can probably make out the pistol at center and the pointing hand, as if showing how the work got done–under duress.  You can also see the tableware he created, first for plantation owners, then for freed African Americans.

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As with Hunter, Howard must have been self-taught, leaving us with this top-heavy work desk that’s completely distinctive.  The desk, just like Hunter’s painting, tells a story of slavery and freedom, through a quirky creativity and vision.

What a good reminder for us today, to think beyond the fear and foolishness, to rise above the pain of our histories and present, and to actively work to create a world of new possibilities.