My Holiday Gift…

In 2011, I met a woman named Rosie Mashale in the Khayelitsha township in Cape Town, South Africa. It was a memorable meeting, so memorable that I’ve talked about it for the last six years. At the time, I was so taken by Rosie and her work that I posted a blog about her (below) and set about trying to nominate her as a CNN Hero. CNN Heroes is a program the network started in 2006 to highlight ordinary people making a positive difference in the world. I tried, but when I wasn’t able to get the documentation from South Africa to follow up I dropped the idea.

Here’s my April 26, 2011 blog, but please read to the end for an update:

Rosie is a Goddess

This is Rosie. To me and to her community she is an angel, a savior, and a goddess. She lives in Khayelitsha, a “township” in Cape Town, South Africa. Khayelitsha is one of the legacy holdovers from the apartheid-era Group Areas Act, the law that required blacks to have special permission to travel within the country. It was established when male laborers were allowed to migrate to Johannesburg and Cape Town for work and townships, like Khayelitsha, were established to house them. Soweto, in Johannesburg, with 1.3 million residents is probably the most infamous of these slums, but Khayelitsha is the largest one in Cape Town and home to roughly 500,000. With the end of the pass laws and apartheid, women began coming to the townships, families were established, and children raised there.

In 2001, Rosie decided to do something for the poorest of the poor kids in her township. She enlisted the help of friends and neighbors who brought her food supplies like cereal and potatoes so she could feed the kids. She’s famous in Cape Town now. Everybody knows Rosie and the tiny room she calls Rosie’s Diner. Every day she feeds 185 kids breakfast before they go to school and dinner when they come home. It’s simple fare – porridge for breakfast and beans, potatoes or rice for dinner, but these abandoned children, mostly AIDS orphans, get the basic nutrition they need to carry on at Rosie’s Diner.

I met Rosie through Alan Petersen, a local guide who helps with Rosie’s operation. Alan had us take sacks of potatoes and onions when we stopped by to see her. Alan has also organized a group of independent guides to help Rosie keep things going. Her reputation has spread and a couple of years ago Habitat for Humanity built a house for her in the township. She, like many of the women, is a single Mom and the house is really her dining room. Her old house burned down a few years ago and she is badly scarred from the fire, but she never stopped smiling and saying thank you the whole time we were with her.

Rosie and her helpers cook in a tiny 6’x 6′ kitchen off to the side of the house. It smelled great when we were there – onion and potatoes cooking in huge stainless pots. CNN has a project called CNN Heroes to celebrate and reward selfless individuals who are making a difference in their communities. Rosie seems like a perfect example of a CNN Hero and I’m going to do what I can to nominate her in the next round of heroes. She truly deserves the award.

I’m often reminded of how small the world is. Over the years I’ve had the miraculous and mystical experience of crossing paths with friends in unlikely places. Chance encounters in foreign places – Octoberfest in Munich, a Berlin art fair, the train station in Florence, the Amsterdam airport, on the street in London. I ran into a couple from Seattle late at night on an uncrowded street in Copenhagen and a college friend in a bookstore on the island of Rhodes–encounters in foreign places that neither of us knew the other was visiting. I’m always surprised and pleased when it happens, but none of these meetings surprised me more than seeing Rosie Mashale honored Sunday night on the 2017 CNN Heroes special.

I wasn’t surprised that Rosie was honored for her work. That was well deserved, but I was surprised at the coincidence of thinking she should be honored in this way six years ago. Seeing it happen on my TV 10,200 miles from Rosie’s Diner was just as surprising as running into friends late at night on a deserted street in Copenhagen. I don’t know who nominated Rosie. It’s not important, but it’s another example of a mystical element at work in the universe.

Rosie Mashale’s work has evolved and expanded since I met her six years ago. She started a non-profit called Baphumelele Children’s Home, a daycare center for 230 and a home for her orphan children. In addition, she offers respite and hospice care for some adult AIDS patients and Fountain of Hope for youth transitioning from her children’s’ home. From the small kitchen where she fed 185 children to this expanded community her CNN award is confirmation that goodness is still alive in this often troubling world.

Here’s actress Alfre Woodard introducing Rosie Mashale’s CNN Hero moment:

http://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2017/12/19/cnnheroes-tribute-rosie-mashale.cnn

I hope you’re as inspired as I am. At a time when it’s difficult to find good news in the daily cycle I see this as just the present I needed for this Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

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The Sale of Indulgences

In 1517, this cranky professor of moral theology was so upset by corruption within the reigning power structure that he risked everything to challenge it. Martin Luther’s complaint exposed the corrupt Papal practice of selling indulgences in exchange for the absolution of sins. When his complaint went uncorrected he nailed his objections (95 Theses) to the door of the Cathedral at Wittenberg, leading ultimately to the Protestant Reformation.

Oh please… Martin Luther, please come back. We need you.

We are in desperate need of a secular Luther to challenge the White House’s current sale of indulgences. This looks a lot like the Catholic hierarchy of the 16th Century where Popes and Cardinals accepted bribes, lived like kings, took advantage of the poor, and fathered numberless children while claiming the moral high ground.

We need a reformer who can actually drain the stench-ridden swamp in and around the White House. Is he out there – our American Martin Luther? Right now, I hear a Babel-like chorus of unhappy Americans but no obvious leadership pulling them together.

One year into the Trump’s death spiral, he and his cabinet (above) have already done serious harm to America, its citizens, and its alliances. Internationally, he has withdrawn from the Paris Climate Accords, a coalition of 119 nations working collaboratively to reverse the effects of global warming. Further, in the face of unanimous international opposition, he is backing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as the rightful capital of Israel and planning to relocate the US Embassy while instituting a thinly veiled racist travel ban prohibiting immigration from seven predominantly Muslim countries.

Back at home, his administration has hardened its stand on undocumented immigrants, encouraging ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to aggressively round up and deport “illegals” while phasing out DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), the Obama-era law that protected undocumented children who entered the country as minors.

On other fronts, he’s reversed a law barring mentally ill people from purchasing guns and another obligating financial advisors to put the interest of clients ahead of their own. Environmentally, he is targeting National Parks and monuments by taking steps to downsize and open them up to resource extraction while more than doubling the cost of entry fees.

It’s difficult to explain why these changes are occurring. He, unlike Obama, inherited a sound economy with near full employment. What, other than personal animus and greed, would motivate him to put a woman who never attended a public school in charge of public education or a man who denies climate change in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency. What is the rationale for appointing a man who made billions foreclosing on distressed homeowners (left) to be Secretary of the Treasury or a neurologist with no experience in housing or managing people to be Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Did he think a self-dealing doctor who didn’t believe in health insurance was the best choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services or the co-chairman of a Cypriot bank known for money laundering to serve as Secretary of Commerce. These appointments are unconscionable.

Drip, drip, drip… We have watched four of Trump’s campaign aides, including his campaign chairman and the former National Security Advisor, come under criminal indictment. The Office of the Special Counsel is closing in on Trump’s connection to the Russians and their attempts to undermine America’s democratic institutions. Americans need to update and modernize Luther’s 95 Theses to deal with this collection of bottom feeding swamp creatures. The sale of indulgences is ongoing, but Congress is silently holding its nose trying to pass a hopelessly flawed tax bill and avoid a government shutdown by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Trump and his family continue to enrich themselves in a vast criminal enterprise that includes money laundered from drugs, arms, and human trafficking operations in Russia, the “Stans,” Central and South America, Turkey, and even New York. Much of the considerable debt incurred by the Trump/Kushner posse is money that passed through Germany’s Deutsche Bank, a bank that recently paid a $630 million dollar fine for laundering as much as $10 billion for unidentified Russian “customers.” In addition, a recent investigative report by Richard Engel of NBC documented the abuses and details of a money laundering pass-through at Trump’s Ocean Club Hotel and Tower in Panama City, Panama. The building is virtually uninhabited but most of its condo units were sold to mysteriously named, almost untraceable, shell-companies fueled with money from organized crime – much of it Russian – and the Trumps got a piece of every sale.

The dominos are falling on both sides. Claims of fake news emanate from the White House on a daily basis as journalists follow the facts and pursue the truth in what has become a golden age of investigative journalism. At the same time, the Department of Justice is monitoring Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team as it digs into the relationship between Trump and the Russians in the 2016 presidential campaign. The dominos are falling inexorably toward a reckoning on Trump’s Russian gambit, but while that is slowly unfolding American institutions are being dismantled from within.

Special interests have taken advantage of the moral vacuum. Two-thirds of Americans think the President is on the wrong track but Congress remains silent. The State Department has been gutted. Environmental regulations have been rolled back. Health care is on the chopping block. The Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) wants to shut it down, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) lapsed in September leaving millions of poor children uninsured.

As punishment for my last non-heroic feat as a Marine Corps fighter pilot, I received a 40 page Letter of Reprimand. My crime was flying too close to the ground – down 17th Street in Santa Ana “at car top level” according to the Santa Ana Register. That official letter of reprimand cited my “reckless and willful disregard for government property and the public’s health and safety.”  I deserved the letter on top of being grounded for one year.

That language, “reckless and willful disregard for government property and the public’s health and safety” resonates with me as I observe the Trump administration’s dismantling institutions that are the foundation of our democracy – its free press, its separate judicial branch, its independent legislative branch, its equal protection of the laws, its due process, and its principle of “one man, one vote.”

Trump and his minions deserve a great deal more than a Letter of Reprimand, and I think they will get it. Their punishment may be judicial or electoral but it will come. Remember this language – “reckless and willful disregard”. Martin Luther might have used the same language in describing the corrupt self-serving actions of the Papal aristocracy. We’re still looking for our Martin Luther, but I have faith that he or she will emerge. Keep the faith.

Semper Fidelis

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Traveling with George Sand and Chopin…

This is the Serra de Tramuntana, Mallorca’s* spiky ridge of mountains, running from its southwestern edge near Andratx to its northernmost tip at Port de Pollensa. Razor-like peaks, limestone cliffs, centuries old terraces, hidden coves, and eye-catching villages mark the route, but they are only part of what brings visitors to this World Heritage site. There is more to Mallorca than its arresting landscape, and one of the benefits of travel is discovering its little-known secrets and the local color embedded in its history.

This fall I discovered that in the winter of 1838, Frederic Chopin, suffering from tuberculosis, sought refuge and solace in the village of Valdemossa thinking that Mallorca’s island air would aid his recovery. Accompanied by his lover, French novelist George Sand, and her two children he established himself in a former monastery in the village. They stayed only 3 months as the cold damp winter air failed to produce the relief he needed. Both Chopin and Sand were unhappy in Valdemossa. It was not what either one of them pictured when they planned the stay. Nevertheless, he produced some of his most memorable piano compositions and she began a novel, A Winter in Majorca, based on the experience. Today the “cell” where they took up residence is a small museum with memorabilia from that time including his piano, their desk, some letters, photographs and sheet music.

Outside their monastic living quarters, overlooking the valley, is a beautiful garden, though I imagine his condition and the cold damp air made it difficult for them to appreciate either one at the time.

Though Chopin and Sand were not happy in Valdemossa, Robert Graves, the British poet, was very happy a few miles up the road in Deia when he made it his permanent home in 1929. Deia is even more picturesque than Valdemossa as is spills down the steep hillside toward the unspoiled Cala at Cas Patro March below.

Except for a brief period during WWII, Robert Graves lived in Deia for almost 60 years and produced his most famous work, I Claudius, while living there. As an adopted Mallorquin, Graves was intrigued by Chopin’s tenure just down the road in Valdemossa, and the Chopin exhibit includes the hand-edited foreword he wrote to Luis Ripoll’s 1955 biographical account of Chopin’s Winter in Majorca.

In addition to his foreword to Ripoll’s book, Graves wrote extensively about the Chopin tenure in his own memoir, Majorca Observed. Writing about George Sand, he notes that the Mallorquin islanders were not ready for a man-dressing woman who smoked cigars and she. in turn, was not ready for the “barbarians, thieves, monkeys, and Polynesian savages” who could not “shake themselves free from their intellectual and moral shackles, and become modern men and women.” Oil and water – George Sand and the Mallorquin locals.

Tapping into this local history is what brings it alive. I had no idea Chopin was connected to Mallorca, but I was reminded as I visited the small museum in Valdemossa of another travel experience involving Chopin.

Before the fall of the Soviet Union, Poland was one of its most progressive satellites. Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement were stirring the pot in Eastern Europe as the Soviet empire began to weaken. I was flying for Pan Am out of our base in Berlin at the time and had frequent layovers in Warsaw.

Chopin is Poland’s most celebrated historical figure. He was only 39 when he died in 1849, but in 1927 an international piano competition was established in his name. Every 5 years, with the exception of 1942, contestants gather in Warsaw to perform his work, one of the few competitions devoted to a single composer, and vie for the prize. In 1980 I had a layover in Warsaw during the competition and attended one of the evening performances. It would have been a highlight under any circumstances, but that year a young Serbian pianist named Ivo Pogorelic’ stunned the audience and caused an uproar with his unorthodox interpretations. One of the judges called him a genius and resigned in protest when he was eliminated in the third round. I didn’t get to hear Pogorelic’ the night I attended, but I knew he was something special, a provocateur, and began to follow his career. The wider world also took notice and Pogorelic’ became a star then suddenly stopped performing. In the early 2000’s following the death of his wife/teacher Aliza Kezeradze (20 years his senior) he began performing again.

The next event (1985), five years after the Pogorelic’ dust up, was much less controversial, but I was in Warsaw again and able to attend the International Chopin Piano Competition for a second time.

I’ve always been grateful for the opportunities I had as an international airline pilot. The world has changed since 9/11 and I doubt that the opportunities are as plentiful today as they were earlier. Still, a night in London or Paris is a remarkable fringe benefit. Travel is part my DNA  and this fall I was able to spend two months visiting old friends and making new ones in Berlin and Mallorca. I was able to stand within three feet of the 3400-year-old bust of Nefertiti in Berlin and peer into the case to see Robert Graves handwritten foreword to Chopin’s biography on Mallorca. I love what’s available in Seattle when I’m home, but I have a particular fondness for seeing things up close and personal in far off places – Graves and Chopin on Mallorca, Chopin’s legacy in Warsaw, and the friends I’ve made in all these places.

*Authors note: Mallorca and Majorca are both accepted English spellings for the largest of the Balearic islands. Mallorquin and Mallorcan are names given to the culture and used as adjectives attached to objects or residents.

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Is Your Luck Holding?

If you’re here, reading this article, your luck is probably holding, but not everyone is so fortunate. Have you met or do you know a refugee?

Sure, the guy who mows your lawn or the woman who changes your sheets may be an undocumented worker – an “illegal” – but they’re probably not refugees. Neither are the guys who hang out in the Home Depot parking lot looking for odd jobs or the dishwasher at your local Mexican restaurant, but there are real refugees among us; Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who helped America fight its Middle Eastern wars, people from Honduras who fled murderous death squads, and girls from Asia or Central America who escaped their human traffickers. I count several Vietnamese who fled their country after the fall of Saigon as friends. These are all people who meet or met the definition of “refugee,” but today I’m thinking about the fresh-in-their-skins variety like those fleeing Myanmar, Syria, or Afghanistan–people on the run without homes to go back to. Up to the minute refugees. 

Here’s where the question of luck comes in; with these people in mind it’s heartbreaking to reflect on the importance of luck in personal destiny. Accidents of birth. Genetic roulette. Geography. Tribal conflict. Racism. Sexism. Privilege. Despotism. War. Gun violence. Mental illness. Luck plays a role in everything from the micro to the macro – for refugees.

In September I had a miraculous experience. As Marilynn and I were descending a stairway leaving an art exhibition in East Berlin, I ran into a German friend I hadn’t seen in thirty years. Of the 3.7 million people who live in Berlin I happened to cross paths with her. An instance of the good kind of luck. Thirty years ago, when we lived and worked in West Berlin, we wouldn’t have been able to attend an art event in East Berlin, but in 2017 I was there and so was she.

Perhaps more miraculous than the unexpected encounter with Claudia was the fact that she was with a young Syrian refugee named Mohammad (aka Med). She introduced us. She and I talked briefly and agreed to catch up with each other the following week.

Thirty years ago, Med hadn’t been born. Thirty years ago, Syria was at peace. Today, Syria is a bombed-out shell and 26-year-old Mohammad “Med” Malandi, is a displaced refugee struggling to make a life for himself in Berlin. Bad luck as personal destiny.

The year 2011 changed everything in the Middle East. The “Arab Spring” swept across countries bordering the eastern Mediterranean – Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain, and Syria. Revolution was in the air. Oppressed populations rose up to confront their oppressors. The hope that drove those uprisings has evaporated and countries that fell under their spell are, for the most part, worse off than they were before. That’s how Med Malandi became a haunting presence in my life.

This is Med’s self-portrait. He was always interested in art, but the onset of Syrian civil war turned him into a political cartoonist?

I need to tell you Med’s story, because remarkable as it is it transcends the personal and highlights what may be the biggest problem the world will face in the next decade. Bigger than the nuclear standoffs with North Korea and Iran. Certainly bigger than Russian interference in American elections. Even bigger than climate change.

And, speaking of climate, let’s start Med’s story today and work our way back. At this very minute, 11 pm on November 28th, 2017, it’s 41°F in Berlin. The forecast says it will be 31°F by 8 am. Med lives in an old art deco house on the outskirts of town but the house has no heating. His lease runs out in a few days and there is almost nothing available in his price range. The influx of refugees has pushed rents to unsustainable levels. Claudia will let him stay with her for a short while. She’s remarkable in her devotion to Med and the other refugee families she supports. She’s told me how much she enjoys Med’s company and what a good cook he is, but he needs a permanent place.

His journey to Berlin began two and a half years ago when he left his home and family in Idleb, a small agricultural community, 40 miles southwest of Aleppo. His parents, an educator and a housewife, chose to stay in Syria despite the fact that Idleb has been the sight of a seesaw battle between Assad’s government troops and the rebel alliance called the Army of Conquest (a loose coalition of Al-Nusra and Al Qaeda factions) mixed in with some irregular ISIS activity.

Here is how he described the journey to me in his own words (without edits or corrections) followed by a cartoon he drew of Putin, Erdogan, and Assad squaring off on the Syrian/Turkish border:

The Way to Germany was not easy, becaus the Turkish goverment was paying a siege on syria, fearing of Terrorism. People have to hit by bullets sometimes.

I traveled in the rubber boat to Greece with a group of Syrians, every one had to pay 500 $ 

Them the way in europe was open to everyone, I traveled on board a liner to Athens, all the way you have to haggle with brokers and Mafias, transporting people by paying hundreds of dollers in each country.

There was a group of smugglers who deal with human smuggling.

I went to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary to Austria then to germany.

By taking some of rented cars.

The risk factors were dealing with the Mafia. Also a lot of Thieves who were exposed to people on roads and in the woods.

As you konw, the Difficult is because the seriousness of the Situation, where you risk your life to get rid of the deadly dictatr Assad.

Med Malandi is one of the lucky ones who have asylum status in Germany. As such he is permitted to work though he doesn’t have the rights of a German citizen. He’s also been able to sell some  political cartoons. Others are less fortunate. According to DW (Deutsche Welle), Germany’s international news organization, more than 890,000 migrants found their way to Germany during the 2015 crisis. Of those, 286,000, by far the largest number, were Syrian. In 2016 immigration slowed (280,000) but continues to put pressure on government resources. To date, 62% of the asylum applicants, like Med, have been approved, but there has been a recent backlash to Chancellor Merkel’s decision to admit so many migrants.

Just as there is a vocal minority in America who want to deport undocumented workers, there is growing anti-immigration sentiment in Germany. As a result, the ultra-right wing Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) party captured 13% of the vote in the September election and Merkel, without a large majority, is finding it hard to build a governing coalition. For the first time since World War II a neo-Nazi party is establishing itself as a viable political choice.

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees reports that 65.6 million people are currently displaced from their homes worldwide. 22.5 million of these are refugees (over half of whom are under 18). 10 million are stateless. According to UNCHR figures only 189,000 refugees were resettled in 2016.

It’s important to draw a distinction between refugees and migrants. Refugees, as defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention, are entitled to basic rights under international law, including the right not to be immediately deported and sent back into harm’s way. “The practice of granting asylum to people fleeing persecution in foreign lands is one of the earliest hallmarks of civilization,” according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “References to it have been found in texts written 3,500 years ago, during the blossoming of the great early empires in the Middle East such as the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians and ancient Egyptians.”

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home country because of armed conflict or persecution. Syrians are prime examples.

The U.N.’s definition of refugee is someone who, “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”

All refugees are migrants, but not all migrants are refugees. People leave their homes for many reasons, most commonly to seek a better life in a place with more opportunity, but these migrants have no protected status unless they are refugees. Migrants are processed under the receiving country’s immigration laws and policies and though migrants may seek to escape harsh conditions in their home countries, refugees might face imprisonment, deprivation of basic rights, physical injury or worse.

Med Malandi haunts me. I know he’s safe now, but there are millions, literally millions, of people like Med who are not safe, people without a home or country to call their own. It calls for compassion, something that seems in short supply in our chaotic world. I ask you to be your best self and lend a hand if you can. As the Christmas season approaches a donation to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) might be your way to contribute toward a compassionate solution to the refugee problem. It’s more pressing than climate change or Russian interference and will be for the next decade.

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Coming Home: Miro Meets Wyeth

There is always some dissonance and disorientation when we return from an extended stay overseas. It’s not just the jet-lag. There’s a cultural acclimation that has to take place too. For two months we’ve been trying to live like locals in a foreign place. When we’re abroad everything feels new and interesting; the colors are vibrant and intense while back home they seem monochromatic. It takes time to adjust and, for me, time to find my Seattle voice.

Over the years we’ve learned to deal with re-entry by looking for local events – concerts, plays, exhibits, readings – that can help us recapture the feel of what’s new and interesting on our home turf, and I never feel truly at home until I’ve found something local to write about.

Last week, we dove back into the local scene. On Tuesday we heard New Yorker writer, Adam Gopnick, preview the one-man show he’s working on for the Public Theater in New York. On Thursday we checked out the giant exhibit of Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at the Seattle Art Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Pacific Northwest Ballet to see Her Story, three ballets by women choreographers. Finally, on Sunday, our couples book club got together to talk about John LeCarre’s new novel, A Legacy of Spies.

It was a little overwhelming but, of the four things we did, the Wyeth retrospective provided the transition material I was looking for. Just back from Mallorca where we were surrounded by the work of Joan Miro (no less than four exhibits including his personal collection at the Fundacio de Pilar y Joan Miro museum in Palma), the realism of the Wyeth work stood out in contrast to the modernism of Miro.

It’s hard to believe that these two giants of 20th century painting worked almost simultaneously but presented themselves with such wildly different technical methods and artistic visions.

Only 24 years separated their birth dates and while both lived and worked into their 90’s their lifestyles and work product stand out as extremes on the artistic continuum. Their painting styles might easily be mistaken for work done in different centuries.

Wyeth was secretive and reclusive, only leaving his birthplace and lifelong home in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania for summers at his cabin in Maine, while Miro was an international art figure moving comfortably from his birthplace in Barcelona to the south of France where he collaborated with his lifelong friend, Pablo Picasso, and in 1940, fleeing the Nazi invasion of France settling in his mother’s birthplace on the island of Mallorca.

It’s tempting to write off Andrew Wyeth as a regional painter in contrast to the worldly Miro. Home schooled by his father, the famous illustrator N.C. Wyeth, and rarely leaving his rural homestead, he found his subject matter in the people who populated that world – friends, neighbors and the spare landscapes of Pennsylvania and Maine he knew so well. Yet, by age 22 he had a sell-out exhibit of watercolors at a prestigious New York gallery and was emerging from is famous father’s shadow.

By this time, Miro was well established as a pioneer in modern art with an open contempt for conventional painting – the painting style and methods that Andrew Wyeth embraced throughout his long career. Miro was playful in his exploration of the subconscious, his bright colors and whimsical childlike iconography.

Wyeth, meanwhile, was focused on the extremely personal – his German neighbor Karl Kuerner (top), portraits of friends like Ralph Cline, Christina Olson, Siri Erickson, and later on the secretive Helga paintings. The contrast with Miro is highlighted in the 1940’s when modern American art moved deliberately and decisively into Abstract Expressionism, Color Field, and Minimalism. Wyeth noted the trends and consciously rejected them for himself, but the art establishment recognized his genius and in 1949 the Museum of Modern Art purchased his painting, Christina’s World for it’s permanent collection, thereby acknowledging his place, not as outlier, but as representative of the realist branch of modern art.

There is much to admire in both artists and I find them equally interesting. On seeing the Wyeth exhibit last week the paintings draw me in, as a viewer, in ways that Miro’s work didn’t. I want to get up close to see Wyeth’s meticulous brushwork and realistic detail in each painting. Miro, on the other hand, makes me want to stand back and imagine what he had in mind and what the meaning, if any, he wants me to take away.

In the museum shop at the train station in Soller, a small town northwest of Palma, there was a poster of Miro’s iconography for sale. I found it fascinating and saw it as a glossary of terms for deciphering his art. I was reminded of Carl Jung’s book, Man and His Symbols, an exploration of artistic symbols, their universality, and appearance various cultures over centuries.

It was a privilege to see the Miro oeuvre up close in Mallorca and a reminder of how much we love to travel. Those exhibits, with the exception of the Miro/Picasso exhibit in Soller, are permanent and will always be on display for visitors.

Seattlites have until January 2018 to see Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect at the Seattle Art Museum. With more than 100 paintings and drawings on display, it would be a mistake to miss it if you’re in the area. Here is the least controversial of Wyeth’s Helga paintings.

I’ve finally recovered from the jet lag and cultural dissonance of our homecoming, and in spite of the cold, wind, and rain gratefully finding more and more things that help me in Surviving Seattle. 

 

 

 

 

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