Art Review: Kevin Harris at the GAR by Mary McCoy

“Human Slavery,” acrylic house paint and spray paint on glass

Kevin Harris’s art comes straight from the soul. On view at the Charles Sumner Post #25 GAR through February 28, his paintings on glass are forthright and unpretentious as he explores the difficult themes of slavery, injustice and spiritual struggle, issues that have shaped his life as an African American. But far from being depressing, his work celebrates the beauty and indomitable nature of the human spirit.

As news reports remind us every day, black men face greater challenges than most people in trying to live a comfortable, fulfilling life in this culture. Now in his fifties, Harris has experienced more than his share of these challenges, including wrestling with drug addiction for many years. He has been clean for the past three years, the same three years during which he has been working on this powerful series of works painted on glass.

Painting on glass is a tricky business. Because Harris paints on the back of the glass, the image must be reversed as if in a mirror, and he must plan carefully because what’s painted first will stand out against any subsequent brushstrokes. It’s an old art dating back to the Middle Ages, and while it was popular ineastern European folk art and icons during the 19th century, it’s not a common

“Human Slavery,” acrylic house paint and spray paint on glass

“Human Slavery,” acrylic house paint and spray paint on glass

medium in contemporary art, so Harris has had to develop his own techniques of working.

Omar-Kevin Harris

“Omar,” acrylic house paint on glass

Brushing on layer upon layer of acrylic house paint, sometimes adding spray paint, and often painstakingly scraping paint away with a razor blade to open areas of the glass for a new color, he continually experiments with ways of getting the effects he’s looking for. Trained as a graphic artist, his style is clear and direct as he plays with the push-pull effects of brilliant color, variations of opacity and transparency, and eye-teasing disparities between high contrast black and white versus strongly modeled forms. But as bold as his work is, he also has a flair for nuance, especially when he is painting faces.

With just a few tiny details of shading, he conveys the open, lively sweetness of a young girl wearing a traditional African headdress in “My Queen.” In “Freedom,” his brushstrokes sketch a complex portrait of the world-weariness and loss of hope of a man with a noose around his neck.

While Harris uses an arsenal of styles to convey his messages, juxtaposing realistic images that have the urgency of newspaper photos, simple cartoons, richly modeled renderings, and fields of saturated color. While this kind of cross-fertilization of styles is often seen in contemporary art, what sets his work apart is that it is suffused with a raw passion that calls to mind the guileless, energetic fervor of untrained Outsider Artists.

Harris is painting for more than just pleasure. Whether he is making a painting about slavery and its continuing legacy of racial injustice or finding the beauty and dignity in the face of an individual, it’s not just an intellectual exercise. There is deep spiritual searching going on throughout his work.

In one of his most remarkable paintings, “Composition,” a cross appears to be hovering against a gritty, ruinous brick wall. It’s a simple, straightforward symbol of hope and redemption, but what makes it so powerful is the drama of its raw red and black surfaces. Harris worked for eight months meticulously painting and scraping the intricate scars and scorch marks on both cross and wall so that they evoke a visceral sense of history and time. This could be the brick wall of a Maryland plantation house, an inner city ghetto or a concentration camp, any place where suffering has tested, strengthened and awakened the human spirit.

Harris’s work scrutinizes many levels of slavery from the literal keeping of people in bondage to the psychological and spiritual bondage of repression, poverty, anger and temptation. It’s fascinating to observe how he constantly experiments with techniques for creating the images and effects he is seeking. Consciously welcoming mistakes and accidents (including the glass breaking partway through creating the work) much as the Abstract Expressionists did, he takes these mishaps as opportunities by adapting to them and learning from them, often creating a richer painting in the process.

The most unforgettable painting in the show is “Omar,” a spare black and white image of a black man’s face emerging from deep darkness. It’s made simply with dots of white on the glass and black painted behind, but the man’s steady, tired eyes and slightly parted lips convey an astonishing sensitivity, intelligence and depth of character. It’s as if you’re seeing into this man’s soul and finding radiance behind his suffering, patience and strength.

There’s a sense of discovery running through all of Harris’s works. In using art as a method of searching for understanding, even as a healing force, his open, experimental attitude to its possibilities parallels and supports his post-addiction choice to approach life’s challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.

Spy Reconnaissance: Trinity Forum Academy and Board Chair Bob Kramer

BobKramer

Any large estate on the Eastern Shore that is as remote and beautiful as Royal Oak’s Osprey Point can always count on local rumors about what goes on behind closed doors there. With the comings and goings of people like former Attnory General Ed Meese or former Vice President Dick Cheney, the 16-acre center has conjured up its fair share of gossip, ranging from being a secret conservative think tank to other, less original conspiratorial operations.

But the reality of the goals and objectives of the Trinity Forum Academy at Osprey Point turns out to be far more interesting  and far more complex than those kinds of wild guesses.

For thirteen years, the Academy has used this remote campus for what might be the most intensive one-year leadership program in the United States.  Each year, the the TFA selects only twelve fellows, whose qualifications would be on par with the likes of a Rhodes scholar, to take a very early sabbatical from their professional lives for personal, spiritual, and intellectual development. And while the foundation of the Academy has been based on faith-based problem-solving, the transformational experience of its graduates does not translate into political or religious ideology, but rather unique skills for creative thinking.

One of the founders of the Academy, Annapolis businessman, and former Democratic State Delegate, Bob Kramer, sat down with the Spy last week to talk about the program and what actually goes on behind the doors at Osprey Point.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length

Out and About (Sort Of): Struggling by Howard Freedlander

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After a few weeks of reading, including commentary in the Talbot Spy, and several conversations and emails with friends in Talbot County, Annapolis and Baltimore, I still feel deeply torn about the deadly accident in which a drunk and texting Bishop Heather Cook hit a cyclist in Baltimore, leaving the victim suffering and dying on the street.

What prompted more than a casual interest in this terrible accident involving the second-ranking clergyperson in the Diocese of Maryland, besides an occasion in 2010 when the Rev. Cook was stopped for drunk driving in Caroline County, was a sermon sent me the past week. A priest at the Church of the Redeemer in Baltimore spoke about “a grace of which we may not yet be aware…the invitation becomes, can we, will we listen more intently, more prayerfully in this darkness.”

The priest, I think, was referring to our personal darkness—our anger and disgust with Bishop Cook’s behavior and actions that resulted in the death of a 41-year-old biker, our questioning of the judgment of the diocese for elevating a person with an addiction, our sorrow for the biker’s family—as opposed to light created by better understanding of, and sympathy toward Bishop Cook.

Perhaps, the priest was calling for forgiveness at a time when many feel unforgiving of a person responsible for another person’s death through alcohol-induced behavior.

I sent the sermon to a friend in Annapolis. She responded that the sermon was a bunch of  ‘hooey.’ “She further wrote, “Addiction has nothing to do with forgiveness. High-level institutional appointments have nothing to do with forgiveness.”

I suspect my friend’s viewpoint is shared by others.

I entitled this commentary, “Struggling, “ because the word characterizes my reaction to an accident in Baltimore that easily evokes emotions such as compassion for the biker’s family and Heather Cook, anger that Bishop Cook’s addiction brought death to a 41-year-old man and anguish to his family and friends, understanding about the destructive effect of addiction, disappointment in Bishop Cook and perhaps the Diocese of Maryland—and an as-yet incomplete search for a glimmer of grace that balances my thoughts about a family struck by a terrible tragedy, and a church leader whose addiction led her to a hit-and-run accident punishable both legally and morally.

Justice has a two-edged meaning in this awful story. The legal process will work its will. Bishop Cook must understand the injustice done to the Palermo family, the Diocese of Maryland and herself.

In response to the sermon, another priest, who identifies himself as “a clergy person openly in long-term recovery,” said this about the decision by the diocese to elect Heather Cook as Bishop Suffragan so soon after her incident in Caroline County and three months of rehab:

“But Bishop Cook alone is not at fault. Church communities are often too quick to push those who have had major falls back into the spotlight. They are not doing the one who is recovering any favors by pushing a false rhetoric of “forgiveness” or “grace.” Sometimes grace means saying ‘“you need to work on yourself for a while.” ‘

This priest calls for healthy, energetic discussion within the church about alcohol and addiction among the clergy. He believes such honesty will encourage recovery. He states that personal weaknesses among clergy should be discussed and confronted.

Though I have mentioned the word “grace,” realizing that it carries a different meaning for each of us depending upon our own experiences and faith, I believe I can relate to the following statement by the priest cited in the past paragraphs:

“And in the end, a story of recovery is a story of grace, and a story of the healing power of God’s love for us all. This is the story the Church should be telling because it is a Gospel story.”

Bishop Cook’s addiction and her actions resulting in the hit-and-run death of a biker in Baltimore have struck a discordant note among so many people. I too feel very sad for the victim’s family and his many friends. At the same time, I believe that we all might be more sensitive to others’ imperfections, particularly clergy whom we consider our spiritual leaders.

The priest called for honesty among the clergy about addiction and recovery. The same is true for the secular community.

 

Get Ready! Winter Storm Watch for Monday & Tuesday

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Get ready. The National Weather Service is reporting that one of the largest snowstorms of the winter have a good chance of impacting Eastern Shore Monday into Tuesday this week. While there is still uncertainty as to the track and ferocity of the developing Nor’easter late Monday, there is little doubt that snow will affect travel Monday in much of the area.Screen Shot 2015-01-25 at 8.32.27 AM

Stay tuned.

Spy Profile: Bill Peak Has a Literary Moment

BillPeak

Sometimes, but ever so infrequently, middle-aged writers, after years of rejection from book publishers, finally do get their reward of having their work in print. This kind of rare victory was most recently celebrated in the brilliant new biography of author Penelope Fitzgerald, which recounts the writer’s remarkable literary rise to fame at the unlikely age of sixty.

And perhaps that same kind of epic, against all odds, tale of authentication is starting to unfold for Talbot County Free Library’s communications manager Bill Peak. After decades of countless hours of writing and research before and after his regular job, first with the National Association of Broadcasters, and more recently as the County’s “Library Guy” for programming, Bill Peak is starting to get his own due after the publication last month of The Oblate’s Confession by Eastern Shore-based Secant Publishing. Including positive reviews in such highly regarded literary journals as the Kirkus Reviews, which has called it “spellbinding.”

In his Spy interview, Bill talks about the roots of his novel, the challenges of writing about the 7th century from his 21st century Mid-Shore home, and his unique breakthrough after a short piece of his appeared in the Delmarva Review, and coping with the sometimes surreal experience of finally becoming a published writer.

This video is approximately five minutes in length.  A humorous outtake can be found at the end of the video. 

Mr. Peak’s novel is available at the News Center in Easton and the Bookplate in Chestertown or through the decidedly non-local Amazon website

 

Profiles in Recovery: Talley Wilford

TalleyWilford

Perhaps one of the greatest misconceptions about the process of recovery is that it is reserved exclusively for only those who directly suffer from drug or alcohol addiction, that somehow only the individual afflicted needs to heal and find a way forward in the aftermath of this cruel and chronic disease.

But, in fact, those pathways are used by an entire social ecosystem of family and friends who also must find ways to recover from the disease.

That is the case for friends of Matt Schilling, who lost his life to a drug overdose last year. They have teamed up to write and produce an independent film, based in part on Matt’s experience, as part of the process to move forward. One of those friends, Talley Wilford, sat down with the Spy to talk about the process of recovering from the loss of a childhood friend and how film can be a powerful healing tool.

Those wishing to support the project through Kickstarter are asked to visit their site here for online contributions.

This video is approximately eight minutes in length. The Spy apologizes in advance for the video quality of this interview.

Out and About (Sort of): Cold Reality by Howard Freedlander

ColdReality

Thirteen days in South Florida have come to an end.

Luckily we missed the frigid temperatures and a little snow while ensconced in Lauderdale By the Sea, one of many spots along the east coast of Florida catering to part-time residents, retirees and working citizens.

Apart from the pleasant weather, A1A appealed most to me. Hugging the coast as Florida’s man-made spine, this road is alternately beautiful and ugly. A few years ago, we drove south on A1A from Jacksonville, FL to South Florida. This time we drove north 50 miles from Lauderdale By the Sea.

We saw endless condominium buildings, snatches of lovely ocean water and huge houses that make your head turn. At some points we saw the intercostal waterway and yachts that use this maritime highway.

A1A gives everyone a chance to experience the east coast of Florida as an often impressed observer. While the vistas may not compare with California’s coastline, the viewscapes still are eye-catching.

We learned it does rain frequently in South Florida. Movies are a good tonic for a lack of sunshine.

“Unbroken,” based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book about extreme survival for an Army Air Corps bombardier in a shark-infested ocean after a crash and in a Japanese prison camp controlled by a psychotic warden, provided a tortuous escape from life in a coastal resort.

I highly recommend this riveting, often unpleasant and violent movie. World War II history continues to fascinate me. In the case of “Unbroken,” I marvel at the ability of some to withstand ceaseless deprivation and torture to live another day.

So, home welcomes us. While Route 50 cannot compare with A1A in its beauty and connection to warmth, sunshine and a relaxed lifestyle, it does lead to Talbot County.

And that is special too.

SpyCam Moment: Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes on Martin Luther King’s Legacy

ShereeSampleHughes

At a moment when the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. is being severely tested with recent events in New York, Ferguson, and Cleveland, the Lower Shore’s Sheree Sample-Hughes’ extraordinary ascendancy to become the first African-American woman elected to serve in the Maryland House of Delegates from the Eastern Shore in November serves as is a positive counterpoint to these latest setbacks.

In her Spy interview at the Cambridge Hyatt during a break at the Maryland Associations of Counties gathering last week, delegate-elect Sample-Hughes talks frankly about the relevance of Dr. King, as well as the need to move beyond gestures of remembrance to measurements of success.

Ms. Sample-Hughes will be the guest speaker at Martin Luther King Jr. Observance and Breakfast at the Rock Hall Vol. Fire Dept on Monday, January 19t starting at 7 am. The event is sponsored by Chester Valley Ministers Association.  For tickets call 410-348-5306 or cbgerbrooks@gmail.com.

Spy Reconnaissance: The Dixon House with Linda Elben

DixonHouse

The one thing the Mid-Shore had a surplus of in the early 1900s was a disproportion number of widows. While men dying before their spouses was, and still is, a well-known fact, there were significant challenges in those days for those who had survived the death of husbands, who had made the family living as farmers or teachers, and the loss of income and assets that came with those tragedies.

Of course, these were Eastern Shore women, possessing a high degree of intelligence and common sense.  And some of these ladies, drawing from the Mid-Shore counties of Talbot, Kent and Queen Anne’s, organized an extraordinary solution – collective living in downtown Easton.

With a land donation from Talbot’s generous Dixon family, a core group of women gave up most of their worldly possessions to fund the construction of a twenty room living center on North Street. And from this new home, which opened in 1903, residents would cook together, eat together, wash clothes together, for the remainder of their years.

As Linda Elben, Dixon’s executive director,  highlights in her interview with the Spy, the nonprofit assisted living facility has changed considerably since those early years.

With a staff of twenty-seven full and part time help, and eighteen full-time residents, aging from 83 (the baby) to 105 years old, it holds its own in quality with much more expensive options in the area. Nonetheless, Dixon House remains in many ways the same, intimate community (now co-ed) when Mid-Shore women first started placing rockers out on its famous front porch and watch the world walk by.

This video is approximately six minutes in length

The Dixon House

The Delmarva Review: I Hate Rain by Faith Lord

Ihatetherain

I hate rain! I hate wet smelly dogs that bite at my heels. I hate soggy garbage that lingers in the broken sidewalks. I hate those with cars who splash dirty gutter water onto people who must wait in the rain at the crosswalk until the light turns green. I hate Mr. Brittingham’s grayed-white tee shirt that flies from the second story clothesline like a forgotten flag, and I really hate 8th grade.

“Good morning class,” says Sister as she enters the room. “Good morning Sis-ter Lor-et-ta.” I join the regurgitation as my hands fold and my body moves into its straight-back position as instinctively as I breathe–Gosh, Sister is so beautiful!

I close my eyes and envision myself painting Sister Loretta’s lips with Hazel Bishop’s red fire. I also give her softly curled shoulder-length hair; it looks best flung to one side. I spit on the dry black cake in the little red mascara case, Maybelline of course, and douse the small brush in the paste. I use it to darken the lashes around Sister’s almond shaped eyes– Sister has the straightest back, even for a nun. Her tiny waist and big breasts refuse to hide under the heavy black-wool habit, a habit designed to reveal only an angelic face and hands ready to work for the Lord—I know a Marilyn Monroe silver-lame’ gown: She’s too beautiful to be a nun.

Oh God, I don’t want to be a nun. Father Mathias says if God calls me, I must submit or He will make my life miserable. I don’t want to believe Father, and I pray to God every day reminding Him that I would make one lousy nun.

It’s 10 a.m. and Sister breaks the silence of the seventy-two soldier-backed kids. They sit as ordered: hands locked in a tight embrace and feet nailed firmly to the floor. “All the girls form a paired line in the center aisle,” says Sister. “Mrs. Jenson is here to help you pick the graduation dresses.” I don’t know why all of our dresses have to be exactly alike. Brenda, Mildred, and Lois like the blue one. It’s sprinkled with those stiff white-velvet flowers. I hate it! It has a place for breasts–I don’t have breasts. I wish I had a safety pin to fix my sash. I always tie it too tight and it rips out at the seam–I want a waist like Sister’s—Brenda has a waist. I don’t have breasts for the blue dress and I don’t have a waist either.

I hate rain! Why does it have to rain? It washes away the glue that I use to hold the soles to my shoes and gushes up my newspaper inner-soles. I hate girls that huddle and whisper; they think it’s funny that my soles flop and slosh when I walk-my hair looks like Miss Elsie’s cat after Bobby Lewis dunks it in the hole in the alley. I hate rain.

I like watching Sister. It seems she has no feet. Her long black habit stops just short of the floor. The habit lifts slightly toward the back as Sister floats from one side of the room to the other. Her slender porcelain hands support the chalk that leaves behind a perfect example of the Palmer method of writing. My ink-stained hands and face gives evidence of my losing battle with my pen; I hope Sister forgets to hang up our papers today.

It’s lunchtime. We eat at our desk. There is room for two but no on wants to be my partner—I don’t have a paid lunch box. I open my grocery-size brown bag containing a baked-bean sandwich and a homemade cookie, wrapped in wax paper. Sister Mary Elizabeth pushes the candy and juice cart into our classroom. The girls with plaid lunch boxes buy Three Musketeers and orange juice in little bottles. Those of with baked-bean sandwiches in brown bags quench our thirst at the water fountain; I wish Sister Mary Elizabeth would move her cart. I need to see if anything is being dropped into the Poor Box, I hate kids who don’t eat their lunch. The cold bean sandwich sticks in my throat as I think about the afternoon reading lesson.

Its one o’clock, “Mary Nicholls, stand and read paragraph three,” says Sister. Why must we stand and read? I’m sure my mouth would obey my brain if I could sit instead and I could use a piece of paper to help me separate the words and lines. Oh God, oh God, my words are spilling out like a laundry bag full of dirty socks-nothing making sense. I hate kids who giggle.

It’s that time again, ten of three. God, be merciful and let me die now! Even with my eyes closed I can smell the unwanted lunches being dumped into the big brown paper-bag by the smartest boy in the class, David Roberts. He gives the bag to Sister Loretta. I feel sick—I hate kids who don’t eat their lunch. God, can I at least faint? “Mary Nicholls,” Sister calls, as I knew she would. It’s a hundred miles to the front of the classroom. I feel the piercing eyes of all seventy-two kids and the whispers of Brenda, Mildred, and Lois. As though I am naked, I stand before the class as Sister hands me the Poor Box. She has a soft smile; she asks about my mother, sends her love to my sisters and brother, and reminds me that God loves me. I hate kids who whisper, I hate kids who don’t eat their lunch, and I hate rain!  I want to hate sister but it’s not allowed-God forgive her she knows not what she does.

The Spy is pleased to reproduce the following from The Delmarva Review, 2014, as part of our partnership with the Eastern Shore Writers Association Education Foundation. with permission from the Review and the author, Faith Lord. The Review, website www.delmarvareview.com, is a literary journal published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association’s Education Foundation. 

Faith Lord has written for newspapers in Ocean City, MD in the 90’s, and she self-published THE WORKS AND STORIES OF FAITH LORD. She graduated from Towson University, had a ten-year association with Toastmasters, conducted workshops, and had a past career as an associate broker and auctioneer. She is also an abstract artist based in Lewes, Delaware.