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California Poster Child

Hannah Wichrowski, 2017

Posters are everybody’s art. They gained popularity in the mid-19th century and took off by the end of the 19th century. They announce events, advertise products, or provide information about matters of public interest. The most familiar are those that were designed to advertise absinthe or draw you into a cafe or encourage you to support the war effort.

Some go a little further to tell important stories, envision the future, or present exceptional artistry. Some of the best examples I found all happen to be a part of California history. Except one.

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What Naked Women Can Tell Us About Us

Reclining Nude, Jean-Frederick Bazille. Musee Fabre, France.

While I am imagining the thrill of visiting a museum again, I decided to investigate my museum-induced sense that there is a theme in paintings of female nudes. I love nudes, partly because they provide clues about the ways society has viewed women over time. Anyway, during my museum days, I noticed that some paintings of nudes reminded me of other paintings of nudes, no matter when or where they were painted — in particular, paintings of “reclining nudes.”

It turns out that a single painting inspired 500 years of artistry.

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The Burden of Truth

Berkeley demonstrators

This period of protest and national dialogue should make me feel hopeful but, so far, it makes me more despairing. It reminds me of the racism my son, Gabe, has endured over the years in our “liberal” Bay Area community. It reminds me of the anger I feel for the times I have tried to talk about racial issues and gotten the message that I should move on. It reminds me of the shame I feel for the times I could have done something and didn’t.

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Morning Adventure With Little Plastic Folder

Wood block print by Munakata Shiko

Our world is redefining the idea of adventure I think, and small things are getting more interesting by the minute. I had an adventure with a small thing this morning. It began with a search for a coaster for my coffee mug. I was starting to feel that my use of paper towels as coasters was wasteful and not very attractive. And, you know, I was trying to maintain a semblance of civility on Day 3 without a shower.  So I routed around in a bag of small odds and ends I had picked up in my travels and I found something that I could use as a coaster. It was a little plastic folder. Here it is:

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O Brave New World

“The Tempest” by John William Waterhouse depicts Miranda watching the shipwreck in Act 1 of Shakespeare’s play.

In the Bay Area, it’s a great day to stay inside, and that’s what we were going to do anyway. It’s raining with wind, like this stormy time in our history, reminding me that I have wanted to learn about Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”  So I did some research and, as always, I found much more than I expected, including a poetic reference to a bat.

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The Sky With Diamonds

Lake Merritt, Oakland, California

I used to think the title of the Beatles’ song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” meant Lucy was taking diamonds into the sky. But now I think it means Lucy is going into a sky that already has diamonds. I changed my mind about this after I realized why the air in my Bay Area home feels different. It has sparkles in it!  The natural beauty here is covered in a light that our proximity to the ocean makes glittery.

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Freedom Riders

Eastman Johnson: A Ride for Liberty- circa 1862

I recently came across a reminder of a simple act of defiance that changed history. In 1517, Martin Luther tacked a document called the 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg Castle church. The 95 Theses questioned the foundations  of the all-powerful Catholic church. Most specifically, the document challenged the church’s practice of “indulgences,” payments made by believers as a way to enter heaven. Indulgences empowered the church and enriched the church elite, mostly at the expense of the poor.

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Shelter for the Storm

Laura Sierra’s house in San Miguel de Allende, Murals painted by her and Pepe Rodriguez.

When I was 11, my mother said, apparently out of the blue, “You know, sometimes we don’t know how we are going to pay all the bills. When that happens, your dad and I write a check to the homeless shelter. It reminds us how fortunate we are.”  I am still thanking her for that expression of my parents’ sense of community and humanity. Continue reading