Monday, September 28, 2009

Remembering Then When It Was Now!

The Spirit of Art: Now

The Spirit of Music: Now

The Spirit of All of Us: Then

Saturday, day two of NSCDS Class of '69 reunion, summoned real magic.
And the spell was invoked by the intertwining of Art and Music with the spirits of John Almquist and Vincent Allison

Let me try to explain.

A whole bunch of us trekked down from the North Shore and met at the doors of the spanking brand new wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. This building is dedicated to Modern Art so we were quite eager to give it a good look-see.

But the best part was that our tour guide was our friend and fellow '69er, Suzanne Folds McCullagh, who happens to be Curator of Earlier Prints and Drawings of The Art Institute of Chicago. She briskly took us on a whirlwind (but information-packed) tour of the museum. The Art Institute is looking mighty pretty these days having been renovated and reformulated quite a bit since I last had opportunity to take it all in.

Well, truth is, I spent far less time looking at the famous and important pieces and far more time watching my ol' classmates talking to each other as they looked at the famous and important pieces.

There amongst this group of ladies and gents (all now eligible for early-bird specials at the world's finest eateries) were the kids that I studied art with under the late John Almquist. Almquist taught Upper School Art at North Shore Country Day for decades and everyone who went to school there in the second half of the 20th century was influenced by him in some way.

I was influence by him in a big way.
He was an incredible teacher.
He was eccentric, kind, acerbic, caustic, witty, always generous with his time and advice, funny-as-hell, a education visionary, and a perfectly wonderful role model of what an Artist is supposed to be.

We Art Majors were a tight group.
We were supportive of each other but also deadly competitive in a sweet, good natured way.
About 20 years ago, Almquist told me that he remembered our group as the one of the "big paintings." (We did paint on some rather large canvasses. I don't think I ever painted on as large a surface ever again, even in college.)

There is no question that Almquist had an enormous influence on us as individuals and as a group. The gallery in the School is named after him and I had a Beanworld art exhibition there in the early '90s. In fact, I have a few pieces up there now in an Alumni Show.

A lot of these forks are the very same friends I explored the Art Institute with 40 plus years ago when we were kids and were first granted the freedom of movement to drive or train downtown from the 'burbs and explore the delights of the big city.

The new Modern Wing is jaw-dropper. It houses Modern Art, Contemporary Art, Architecture & Design and Photography. As Suzanne pointed out, the museum was built around the artwork and it shows. The pieces all have enough elbow room to breathe.

Do I remember most of what I breezed past?

I was so caught up in the strength of the experience of being there with old friends that the allure if the art was definitely running in second place.

Except for Duchamp, BrĂ¢ncusi, and Eve Hesse.
Not surprisingly, I had to linger a bit longer at their pieces.

I don't know about the others but memories of John Almquist were vivid and dancing in my mind as we were in the Art phase of our day together.

From there it was back up to Winnetka and our official Class of 1969 dinner gathering at Cook's Corner. The high energy summoned by the Art was still in full force.

When we sat down in smaller groups to eat about halfway through dinner someone observed that our table was comprised of the core of the Yearbook group. The handful of us spent a lot of time together over the course of our senior year creating a yearbook which at the time was considered quite cutting edge. We had 40 some pages in it that showcased drawings, paintings, poetry, photography and even some cartooning. The bonds we formed as a group were very alive as we traded stories and filled in the continuity gaps of each others' memories.

And then we started to sing.

Let me digress.
I can't recall what his official title was when we were in school and I'm not sure what it was when he retired either, but the late Vincent B. Allison was in charge of Music at North Shore Country Day School. We sang a lot at North Shore. Sometimes slides would be projected on a screen ala follow the bouncing ball and Mr. Allison would lead us in song. The slides were low tech even for then. They were typewritten directly on something like a piece of acetate or clear film. They were funky looking. Someone from the school, somewhere along the line, scanned the slides and compiled them into a song book. The songs are very eclectic. Folk songs, campfire songs, madrigals, rounds, Anglo-Saxon and Irish tunes, battle songs, spirituals, church songs. A little bit of everything.

Someone starting singing.

Then everyone was singing.
Music filled the room
Music coming from us, welling up from some deep place inside poured out and around us, through us, in a soft crackle of Magic that was both surprising and thoroughly familiar.

"These are the people I learned these songs with!"
That was the thought and feeling that was all around me.
I have no idea how long we sang but you've never seen such smiles as we were singing four part rounds.

Off the top of my head, I can't remember where I read it or who said it, (Pete Seeger? Robert Crumb? Both?) but the observation was that one of the primary human activities that is missing in Modern Life is spontaneous group singing. Gone are the work songs, the marching songs, the singing-for-the-sake-of-singing in the living room. Generally the only time people sing together nowadays is in church or at a concert.

Well, as we were singing Saturday night, we all knew that we had entered into The-Realm-Of-Something-Else.

"Remembering Then While It Is Now" was the Beanworld-ish phrase that popped into my head.

And now, I'm "Remembering There While I Am Here."

At the end of the day, someplace, somewhere, somewhen, the spirits of Mr Almquist and Mr. Allison were aglow with happiness and pride with the way Everyone-And-Everything-Turned-Out.


bluemoonpaul said...

Cool, Larry. Nice reunion, it sounds like.
You're just left of the football player, yes?

Larry Marder said...

Yes, indeed! Good eye, Paul!

Matthew Johnson said...

Pete Seeger did indeed say that, though I can't be sure he was first to.

carol said...

What a beautiful story. That has to be the best high school reunion ever. Well told!

Lucy said...

Wow! Amazing post. You captured the multiple dimensions of that day and it will forever serve as a frame for remembering the intense feelings and joy that would have otherwise been lost over time. I thank you for this and for all your words of support on the mysteries of the "second act" and the creativity that awaits discovery.
Stay tuned...

Larry Marder said...

Thanks, Lucy. Because the whirl of the day was so strong I wanted to try get something/anything down while I still remembered it. I'm glad I tried. it really was a once-in-a-lifetime string of events!