Sudden Changes

It started like any other Friday morning, uneventful and quiet. The air was thick with the promise of the peace weekends are known for. The coffee that morning was strong and thick like maple syrup. Honestly, that Friday morning passed like so many others in their own placid way. But by noon, a storm had come ashore.

All morning, a flurry of rumors had been brewing on the other side of the world. Thousands of miles away an unimaginable disaster was unfolding. It was as if we had traveled back to 1918.

Throughout that morning there were rumblings — like distant thunder — of concerns. Nothing seemed certain anymore. The tension was so thick we could have cut it with a knife, but a feeling of uncertainty had blunted that knife’s edge. Amid this downpour of information the one thing that struck me as odd was this happened on Friday, March 13.

All of this came to a head — at light speed — when my employer announced at 3 p.m. that it would close to the public due to the spread of COVID-19 in America. The closure would start at 5 p.m. that day. All we could do was go home and wait to hear more. I thought I’d be back Monday morning as usual. There is no more usual.

Late that Sunday, I learned that I would be working remotely on Monday and that more information would follow. Monday came quickly. I set up at my kitchen table with only my personal laptop and cell phone. This was my new office.

So, how have I navigated these uncharted waters? Carefully, and with all the tools I can find to ease this sudden change. The last time I went to the office was Tuesday, March 17. It was like entering a cemetery, oddly quiet and certain.

Honestly, this has been great in more ways than it’s been bad. I am working from home full time now. That is something I’ve wished for like a small child wishes at Christmas. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. I don’t set an alarm as early as I did before. This means less of the buzzing, ringing, invasive mechanical steward policing my consciousness. My wife and I are also enjoying daily hot breakfasts and second cups of coffee. It’s nice, really nice.

And while there’s something to be said for not needing socks to work, this shift has required some quick thinking, moving and adjusting. Here’s a brief look at two of those things.

The first thing is space. We rent a sixth-floor one-bedroom apartment in downtown Portland. While this allots us great views of the sea-faded brickwork that is Portland, it doesn’t leave a lot of space for an office. So how do we deal with this small, yet comfortable, arrangement? Keeping my work to the kitchen table — and between the hours of 9 and 5 — helps. Headphones help keep the sounds of meetings separate. Taking an actual lunch break, and a coffee break, and snack breaks and pet-the-cats-breaks helps manage the space.

The other major requirement is technology. My work provides a laptop for my use — thankfully. But something that I never fully appreciated was the need for an actual mouse. Without one my wrist cramps as if someone crocheted my tendons into mittens. WI-FI, good lighting, comfortable furniture, pens and on and on are all helpful. The idea is to build a miniature and mobile office. One that has everything you need but can be put away for Friday night pizza.

This photo is something Nathan sees on any given day.

Overall, the past few weeks have been many things. This time has been interesting, unusual, strange, uncertain and even a little scary. Amid all of this, it’s important to remember that being safe, healthy and working from home is a fortunate way to be. We’ll continue to do what we can. We’ll get through this, together.

 

The Museum in Your Living Room

Maine winters are long, cold and snowy. They are known to keep people inside for long enough. But now, people across the state are asked to stay indoors just a little bit longer.

Spring is here in northern New England. But that’s what the calendar says. Like the rest of the country, Maine is fighting the COVID–19 pandemic in as many ways as possible. This means state orders for closing of schools, restaurants and non-essential businesses.

These closings don’t surprise anyone at this point. Everyone in Maine has been asked to stay home. Mainers must find new ways to entertain themselves. They have TV, social media, puzzles, board games or even moving furniture around. These are good options to have. But some people want more. They want to be able to look at something beautiful. Or look at challenging things. Or just bask in the presence of great art. But how can they do these things? Simple. The Portland Museum of Art’s entire collection is available online. It’s free. And it is made for times like these.

The PMA’s website, PortlandMuseum.org, clearly states that the museum is closed to the public. The website explains why it’s closed and how long this could last. The homepage has more than news. There is lots to read and watch. There are even some art activities for the whole family. These things are all new to the website. They are thanks to the communications team at the PMA. This team worked quickly to bring these things to the public.

Digging deeper, visitors find the whole PMA collection is free for their browsing. And the best part is that the collection has been digital, and free to view this way, for years.

In 2017, the PMA underwent a period known as “Your Museum Reimagined.” During early 2017, the PMA closed to remodel its spaces. It shuffled the galleries, added more space for art and improved the PMA Store. Around this time the museum also printed a book of highlights from its collection. The other major part of this work was bringing the collection online. The collection was brought online to prepare for the events of 2017. Thanks to these efforts, the collection has been accessible online since 2016.

This digital collection is a point of pride for the PMA. Robin Richardson, a painter and resident of Portland, is one of many people who appreciate this digital collection. “There’s a generosity in having the whole collection available. It’s great.”

Finding the collection online is easy. Visitors first go to the museum’s website, PortlandMusuem.org. Then, they select “Things to See” from the menu in the upper right corner. Then they select “Collections” from the drop-down menu. This brings users to the collections’ homepage. Users find it directly at Collections.PortlandMuseum.org.

Once on the collections’ homepage, visitors learn that, “It would take nearly 10 years of constant gallery rotations to see everything in the museum…” And that the collection has “…over 18,000 artworks, ranging from Andy Warhol and Winslow Homer to Louise Nevelson and Claude Monet.”

Visitors to the online collection can view groups of artworks. Some of the groups include new art, highlights or art on view. If selecting one of these galleries doesn’t satisfy, visitors can also search the entire 18,000 piece collection.

Robin Richardson enjoys this search function. She says, “I like that I can search by artist. It’s how I learned that the PMA has art from one of my favorite artists, Helen Frankenthaler.” This function allows users to search by artist, medium, period or title. Browsing this way provides countless options for visitors to curate their own art exhibition from the comfort of their own home.

The current state of social distancing and mandatory isolation gives an uncertain feeling that touches every part of society. But in this time, the PMA’s online collection is a beacon of peace and a welcome break from these trying times.

Reporting That Changed the Country

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” These are the words of philosopher George Santayana. They are the lesson from the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. The Watergate scandal gave politicians valuable lessons. But, the most important teachings came from the reporters who exposed political fraud.

Journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward worked without rest, guided by their editor, Benjamin Bradlee. They uncovered one of the biggest political scandals in history.

In 1972 five men broke into the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., and attempted to steal files and install wire taps. These men wanted to influence the reelection of then President Richard Nixon. They were caught and brought to court. Woodward was assigned to cover their court case. This case started it all as Bradlee asked Bernstein to work with Woodward. The pair of journalists balanced each other both as reporters and as people.

Over the next two years they stayed true to their duty as journalists. Bradlee trusted his journalists. But he also made sure their sources were reliable. All three men were faithful to reporting facts and the truth. They only wrote things they could prove with two or more sources. All told, their actions changed the way Americans see their presidents.

Looking back at these events, it’s easy to see how different things could have been. If Woodward and Bernstein had listened to their critics and stopped exploring Watergate, this country could be a different place. Their work saved the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press. People might not trust the news without these reporters. The public could have lost trust if they had reported facts without proof. Their work also saved the role of newspapers as guardians and watchdogs. Without their work, corrupt politicians could continue to commit crimes without anyone knowing.

The gravity of their work is caught by Bradlee in the film “All the President’s Men.” Near the end of the film Bradlee says to his two reporters, “Not that there’s a lot riding on this. Only the First Amendment and Freedom of the Press and maybe the future of our democracy.” This marks the value of these journalists’ work. It’s safe to say that their promise to journalistic ethics and standards help saved American rights.

These men risked their careers — and their lives — to expose the truth. All writers can learn from their lessons of loyalty to thoughtful, ethical and factual writing. Beyond journalism, there are lessons for all professionals. These journalists showed what it means to believe in something. They held themselves to high standards and didn’t quit in the face of danger.

These lessons clearly show in “All the President’s Men.” This film stars Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. These actors give viewers an inside look at the events that changed the nation and showed Americans the power of good reporting. The film is based on the book written by Woodward and Bernstein.

Viewers know the film is true because the story comes directly from Woodward and Bernstein. With this first-hand account, the film draws viewers into the story. They feel as if they’re part of the search. They follow the clues along with Woodward and Bernstein. It’s an up-close and thrilling look at the time when journalism changed American politics for the better. The time when brave journalists changed American politics forever.

 

Scene from All the President’s Men.

Reporting the Indescribable

There are over 170,000 words in the English language. And the BBC noted in a 2018 article that most people use fewer than 20,000 words. Even with that many adjectives, it is impossible to describe the rampant atrocities and unspeakable horrors that plagued the Catholic Church for decades. There was an indescribable evil that seeped into both the church and the community. Boston fortunately had a spotlight to uncover this darkness.

This writer was born and raised in Massachusetts and is a former member of the Roman Catholic Church. This writer also clearly remembers when the Boston Globe uncovered that many priests were sexually assaulting children. The public responded to this news with anger and disgust. Many people left their faith because of this. This writer was one of those people. The church hid brutal and damaging acts. This is unforgivable. And it would have been unknown without the work of the Spotlight reporters.

The Spotlight team followed many of the same methods Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein used when they investigated the Watergate scandal. It is odd that the Catholic Church scandal and the Watergate scandal were concurrent in some ways.

Woodward and Bernstein broke the news of political fraud in the 1970s. In 2001, Walter “Robby” Robinson, Mike Rezendes, Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer of the Boston Globe Spotlight team broke the news using the same reporting tools. They did this almost 30 years later. They studied church directories. They personally interviewed victims. And they made repeated connections with people on both sides of the story.

The team never stopped. They were led by Marty Baron. Baron was new to Boston when this story surfaced for the second time. Baron worked with Walter Robinson, who led the Spotlight team. They saw the need to cover this story despite the influence of the church. Many people felt the church was too powerful. And there were examples of morally vacant clergy, lawyers and police hiding reports of pedophile priests. This did not stop the Spotlight team.

Nothing stopped the reporters’ pledge to finding the truth. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 slowed their progress. But it did not stop them. Michael Rezendes said he never saw his wife. And that did not stop him. The reporters met with victims who also suffered with substance abuse. They faced traumatic stories. And they confronted powerful institutions without wavering. The whole team put their careers, and their families, aside to face the truth and expose the terror.

The team grew professionally because of this story. They won a Pulitzer Prize and other honors for their work. They also grew personally. Each of them was changed forever by these events. This includes Matt Carol. He learned how close a treatment center for priests was to his own home.

These events changed history. This reporting rewrote the public opinion of the church. Something such as this happens once in a lifetime. This impact, and the people who made it possible, are captured in the film, “Spotlight.”

This award-winning 2015 film only shows the events leading up to the Boston Globe’s first story about this dark side of the church. That is all it needs to show. This film never hides the details of the trauma. And it is only through such a raw and honest lens that audiences fully learn about these events. Some viewers may be uncomfortable. But at the end of the day, this film gives audiences chances. It opens the story of both the news and the reporters who followed it. This film guides audiences out of the darkness and into a world that is well-informed and well-lit. A world where people can hopefully speak when they are hurt or when they have hurt someone. Spotlight gives a voice to the voiceless.

 

A Welcome Display of Beauty

“It couldn’t be more different, that’s right,” museum staff are overheard saying, “It couldn’t be further away from the last exhibition at the PMA—it’s fantastic” This catches the mood among Portland Museum of Art staff as, despite an ice storm earlier this month, the PMA opened “Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe: Tabernacles for Trying Times.” It’s the first major joint exhibition of Skowhegan School alum, queer activists and loving spouses Carrie Moyer and Sheila Pepe.

One step into the gallery confirms what everyone is saying. This exhibition is vibrant, colorful and engaging in a way that many exhibitions struggle with.

The PMA’s last major exhibition explored the works of N. C. Wyeth. That show was both striking and beautiful in its own right. It was also exactly what many people think a major art exhibition looks like. It held many classic paintings and illustrations of people, places and landscapes, all mounted on the wall. It was also a show dedicated to the patriarch of the Wyeth family.

In this way, “Tabernacles for Trying Times” is completely different. It’s a breath of fresh air and a welcome change.

Painter Carrie Moyer and sculptor Sheila Pepe met at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in the summer of 1995. In the most recent issue of “PMA Magazine,” Moyer tells of the first time she met her wife. Pepe casually entered Moyer’s private studio and began talking about her paintings. Moyer says of that encounter, “As offended as I was by her casual audacity, I was secretly intrigued to meet another working-class lesbian artist my age.”

Since that summer in Maine, the two artists have worked alongside each other. This, however, is their first major exhibition together. And in this exhibition, their art works so well together. They are known globally for their colorful abstract works that are informed by feminist politics and queer activism.

Moyer creates vibrant, lush and richly colored abstract paintings. They’re dazzling to see and impressive to behold. They make viewers reflect on both what is on the canvas and what is on their own minds. She sometimes mixes glitter into acrylic paint. It’s a technique best described as a way of subverting abstract art’s reputation for being dominated by hetero men.

Pepe’s abstract sculptures are equally engaging. She doesn’t just sculpt, she creates whole environments using yarns, rubber bands and nautical line to create spaces that capture the senses. Pepe’s works transform the gallery space into something most viewers have never seen before. It’s also oddly familiar. Her sculptures hang from the ceilings and the walls like spider webs in some places. In other places they play with the space in a whole new way. They are colorful and inviting in their own way. Being around them brings a sense of security.

This sense of safety is a big theme for Moyer and Pepe. It’s an idea they call “big tent.” They invite visitors to spend time, and in special cases engage directly, with the art. This is reaffirmed in the show’s title. The PMA reminds us that “tabernacles” have many meanings, but most generally involve people gathering for religious ceremonies. There’s nothing religious about this exhibition, but it does inspire people to gather.

The gathering is thanks in part to the curator behind the exhibition, Jaime DeSimone. In the most recent issue of “PMA Magazine,” DeSimone said of Moyer and Pepe, “I have long admired each artist’s dedication to and ongoing exploration of abstraction, and I was drawn to their feminist practices.…” Her appreciation for Moyer and Pepe shows throughout the exhibition. The show spills out into the PMA’s Great Hall and up into the second floor spaces where older portraits hang. DeSimone’s work as curator shows a commitment to presenting these works in a way that opens conversations and engages the community.

At the end of the day, that is the goal of this exhibition. It aims to create a sense of togetherness. Moyer and Pepe bring much-needed color, motion and life to an otherwise gray February. There is art for everyone in this exhibition’s use of both painting and sculpture. Moyer and Pepe create spaces, share ideas and open doors while offering a visually stunning and immersive experience.

This exhibition, on view through June 7, 2020, is a must-see, if for no other reason than it’s certain that viewers have never seen anything like it before.

Carrie Moyer & Sheila Pepe, image courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

The Power of Photography

Written words are powerful. But there’s a limit to that power. Great photography picks up where words stop and raises journalism to new heights. Photojournalism creates shared experiences that stay long after the headlines are forgotten. So, what makes a Pulitzer-worthy photograph? The answer is simple. These photographs capture history as it happens. They capture life. In some intense cases these photographs immortalize life’s final moments. Pulitzer-winning photography shows the rest of the world moments of great triumph. And also times of great tragedy. There are great images of loss, disaster and chaos. There are also many great images of hope, faith and the future. As American photojournalist John White says of his craft, “It’s a front seat to history.”

These photographs are some of the most iconic images of the last century. As example, consider Joe Rosenthal’s photograph “Iwo Jima,” from 1945. This image was taken during World War II. The history here is that American Marines were raising an American flag on the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. In the image, Rosenthal shows viewers how far away from America these Marines were. They are shown on the top of a mountain. There is nothing in the background. Just fields in the distance. The Marines take up most of this black and white photograph. At their feet are debris and rubble. These show evidence of war. It’s unclear what they are raising the flag on. Could it be broken trees? Fallen soldiers? The image doesn’t make it clear. The motion of the men shows their strength and persistence. Their uniforms and helmets make it clear this is an act of victory. Most important, this image was so well-received that it became the inspiration for a memorial to the Marines.

Often Pulitzer photographs appear like works of art in black and white. This is not always true, and sometimes color makes the image even more meaningful. David Turnley’s 1990 photograph “Berlin Wall Falls” shows the power of color. In the center of the image is a young man wearing dark clothes and preparing to swing a hammer at a chisel he holds against the wall. The Berlin Wall takes up the entire left side of the image. The wall is covered in red and yellow graffiti. In the background viewers can see the green leaves of a tree. This tree gives a sense of hope as the young man works to help tear down the wall.

Some Pulitzer photographs show trouble and struggle at home. Stanley Forman’s photograph of the Boston School Busing Protest from 1976 shows this sort of struggle. This is iconic image of midcentury racial tension. There’s a lot of motion in this tragic image of a riot in Boston. In the background of the city, viewers see many people moving, fighting. Some people look confused or scared. In the front of the image there is a young black man held against his will by a man whose face we cannot see. On the left side of the photograph there is a young white man lunging toward this captive man. In the white man’s hands are the pole of an American flag. The flag drapes towards the ground helplessly. It looks like he is about to stab or jab the black man with the end of the flag pole. This image captures senseless racism at its worst. Forman shows the audience how terrible people can be to one another.

Another great Pulitzer photograph showing American struggle is Robert Jackson’s 1964 “Ruby Shoots Oswald.” The image is special because it captures the moment Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated President John Kennedy, was shot. It’s a fairly dark black and white image with lots of men at the center. On the left is one man who appears unaware of what is happening. Just to the right of the center is Oswald. He looks terrified. Viewers cannot see Ruby’s face because his back is facing the camera. The men around Oswald appear frantic and alarmed. In this image, Jackson captured a pivotal moment in American history. He also captured the sense of being in the room when it happened.

Not all Pulitzer Prize photographs are about war and loss. Skeeter Hagler’s photographs of cowboys in Texas are just that kind of image. Taken in the 1980s, Hagler’s images might have been taken in the 1880s from the way some look. There is one particular photograph, taken at night, that shows a lone cowboy in the moonlight. The look of the dim light makes the ground look like it could be the surface of the moon. It’s rough and flat and barren. There is a fence with a little fog, but little else the viewers can see. This photograph shows the audience how lonely working as a cowboy can be. The flatness makes this feeling more intense. Looking at this photograph, viewers are left with a sense of duty and hard work, but also of loss. The only cowboy in the image walks proudly toward the right edge of the image. He walks with purpose. In this image there is no tragedy, only a pause.

These five images are only a limited example of the many award-winning images captured by photojournalists. These images make viewers laugh, or cry. Some images scare audiences. Others remind viewers of what is important in life. It’s this power that makes these images so important. These images may evoke many different emotions, but they certainly all do one thing very well. They capture the human experience.

Man at the Berlin Wall, seen with a chisel and hammer.