Friday, August 24, 2007

Dear Grace Paley Has Died

On the way to Bread and Puppet we stopped by Grace Paley and Bob Nichols' place. Grace wasn't feeling well so I didn't take any pictures. This is a picture from last year when we visited.Last year we were there with my daughter Molly and her friend Shawheen. Grace was so happy and proud to see Molly so grown up. You can see the way she looks at Molly. She knew Molly when she was little and played with Grace's granddaughter Laura who is the same age. Bob has wild hair. He saved Washington Square the first time there were attempts to gentrify and privatize it-- back in the 1960s. His daughter is helping with the current law suit against the "redesign" plans of NYU. You can see Bob speaking about Washington Square on Liza Bear's blog:
Grace's Uncle Grisha was a radical in Russia. He was arrested. Grace said that this is a picture of when he got his leg irons taken off. The blacksmith had to do it. Grisha came to the United States, where he was active with the workers' movements. Grace talks about it in a story called "My Father Addresses Me on the Facts of Old Age":
"Heart, heart, do you remember my brother Grisha, how he made work for you that day when he came to the store and he said, Your boss's money, Zenya, right now? He put a gun in my face and I said, Grisha, are you crazy? Why don't you ask me at home? I would give you. We were in this America not more than two years. He was only a kid. And he said, he said, Who needs your worker's money? For the movement--only from your boss. ... These days I think often, especially after telling you the story...about my brother Grisha. I want to know what happened to him. I guess we know he was deported around 1922, right? Yes, yes, but why did they go after him? The last ten years before that, he calmed down quite a bit, had a nice job, I think. But that's what they did--did you know? Even after the Palmer raids--that was maybe 1919-- they kept deporting people. They picked them up at home, at the Russian Artists' Club, at meetings...They thought that these kids had in mind a big revolution--like in Russia. Some joke. Ignorance. Grisha and his friends didn't like Lenin from the beginning. More Bakunin. Emma Goldman, her boyfriend, I forgot his name.
Right. They were shipped, I believe, to Vladivostok. There must be a file somewhere. Archives salted away. Why did they go after him? Maybe they were mostly Jews. Anti Semitism in the American blood from Europe--a little thinner, I suppose. But why didn't we talk? All the years not talking. Me seeing sick people day and night. Strangers. And not talking to my brother till all of a sudden he's on a ship. Gone...
A very interesting thing, would be to find out what happened to our Grisha. You're smart. You can do it. Also, you'll see, you'll be lucky in this life to have something you must do to take your mind off all the things you didn't do.
Then he said, I suppose that is something like a joke. But, my dear girl, very serious.

(Excerpted from HERE AND SOMEWHERE ELSE: Stories and Poems by Grace Paley and Robert Nichols, Feminist Press, 2007.

Grace Paley was the original inspiration for the Washerwomen Cantata, a Bread and Puppet show from the 1980s. Peter Schumann was inspired by the organizing against war that women were doing in those years. Grace was one of the leaders of the Women's Pentagon Action `Bread and Puppet was there with the Birds.From the War Resisters' Web Site: Women's Pentagon Action
(November 16, 1981) Connecting the oppression of women with the violence of militarism, more than 3,500 women marched from Washington across the Arlington Memorial Bridge and past the national cemetery to the River Entrance of the Pentagon. The action proceeded in four stages—mourning, rage, empowerment (when the Pentagon was encircled), and defiance (when affinity groups began blocking entrances and weaving brightly colored yarn across the doorways)—each signaled by the appearance of a larger-than-life puppet. Sixty-five women were arrested, mostly for obstruction of entrances (although three were charged with defacement for throwing blood). Refusing to post bail, 43 women were sent to the Arlington County Jail to serve 10 days. The rest, who posted bail and returned for trial, were sentenced to 10 or 30 days.This is the giant washerwoman puppet at Lincoln Center last week.This is the display of the IUWW (The International Union of Washer Women) in the Museum/Barn at Bread and Puppet in Glover, Vermont.

I always wanted to do a regular TV show with Grace-- early in the scheming and dreaming about starting alternative TV networks, I had said that any alternative network needed a morning show (beyond Democracy Now--like what comes AFTER DN-- in the 9am slot?) and I thought it would be great to do Pancake Breakfast with Grace Paley once a week--like on Mondays. (Then it could be Oatmeal with Tuli Kupferberg on Tuesdays, Huevos Rancheros with Guillermo Gomez Peña on Wednesdays, and Croisants on Thursdays with Diana Johnstone, Grits and Greens with Amiri Baraka on Fridays-- just chatty home cooking and morning talk with smart, funny people.) At the time, the schemers liked the idea but I never got it together to do a pilot. The TV version of Democracy Now! took up all my time and energy. But thank God for Democracy Now! One of the best things Amy does is give appreciation and honor to our fallen comrades. Here is what she did today for Grace.
Over the years I have read EB White's Charlotte's Web to my four children, step daughter and at least three grandchildren. When I would come to the last lines of that book I would always think of Grace: "She was in a class by herself. It's not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." Grace was so brave and did so much in her life and was also so committed to her family. And she was a great writer.Four years ago I saw these flowers in Grace's garden and when I said they were beautiful she went and got a shovel and dug a clump up for me. I planted them at this corner of our house and every summer the patch gets bigger.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


by Tolan

Sory that
My dog died.

He was cuet

He was
cuet and Soft

like a Pillow.

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Monday, August 06, 2007


The Minneapolis I35 bridge failure reminded me of this photo which was in my great grandfather's collection. He was a surveyer for the railroad in Northern Iowa, Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. He had his team photographed in a studio. He is the man on the right with his hand on the tripod. His name was Charles Sumner Hall.This is a surveyors'camp near Winona, Michigan. The text says "My dear father Charles Sumner Hall around 1887 in Wilds of Michigan." We aren't sure, but we think he was named after Charles Sumner, who was an anti-slavery senator. This is from the web:
(Charles Sumner) opposed the annexation of Texas and criticized the institution of slavery. ... In 1851, a Democratic-Free-Soil coalition in the Massachusetts legislature chose Sumner to fill the vacated U.S. Senate seat of Daniel Webster, who had resigned to become Secretary of State. Sumner became a leader of the anti-slavery forces in the Senate. During the debates on slavery in Kansas in May 1856, he delivered a two-day oration—"The Crime against Kansas"—that vehemently condemned Southern advocacy of the expansion of slavery. I never met my great grandfather, Charles Sumner Hall. But I knew his wife, Mary Elder Hall, my great grandmother. She was a progressive woman who believed in education for all, even women. She was one of the few women in Iowa who had a college degree. She started a "Chautauqua" in her home in Mason City--a women's literary circle where each month they read philosophy and history-- Plato, Emerson, and others. This is an illustration from a book about the Chautauqua Movement which flourished at the turn of the century.

Mary Hall saw Abraham Lincoln when she was a child and had him sign her first grade school book. The book was at my grandmother's house for many years, but got lost.This is a picture of my great grandmother Mary Elder Hall with me in 1946 in her home in Mason City, Iowa. So how many degrees of seperation are there between me and Abraham Lincoln?

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Saturday, August 04, 2007


The lead story in the Sunday NYT's Arts and Leisure is about Bread and Puppet. For years the Times' reviewers (with the exception of Mel Gussow) have ridiculed the "strident politics" of the Vermont-based theater group. For whatever reason, that mood has changed and today's Times gives Holland Cotter the space and freedom to extoll the group. I made two films about Bread and Puppet: Meadows Green (co-directed by animator George Griffin) and Ah! The Hopeful Pageantry of Bread and Puppet (with co-director, Tamar Schumann). I made the latter film in response to one that was made in the late eighties by Jeff Farber, a young Vermonter who went to great expense to make "the definitive" documentary on the group. I hated that film (Brother Bread and Sister Puppet). It took the magic and spiritual qualities out of the theater and treated it as if it were just another in a long line of funny political skits. To me the theater is community and hope-- things totally left out of the Farber film. So I felt I had to make one myself. I had made Meadows Green in 1974, but that had started out as an animation film. The idea was to work with theater founder, Peter Schumann, to create an animated Bread and Puppet film. However to do that we would have to work with Peter and he never had the kind of time to give to the project that an animated work requires. So we just patched some footage together and included some of the animation tests we had done. The theater collective loved it and it became their favorite film, so they were happy when I said I would like to "up-date" it with a new film in the 90s. I teamed up with Tamar Schumann, eldest daughter of the director, and we worked for several years taping and putting together a sort of over-arching narrative of producing the huge festivals that were held in those years. The resulting film is available on VHS or DVD at recently, the theater has decided not to do one big festival, but weekly programs of a smaller scale. This is an excerpt of the 2007 Circus in Vermont.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

August in Willow