Sunday, February 28, 2016

When We Are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future

"Today, we stand at the very edge of a vast, uncharted digital landscape, where our collective memory is stored in ephemeral bits and bytes and lives in air-conditioned server rooms. What sources will historians turn to in 100, let alone 1,000 years to understand our own time if all of our memory lives in digital codes that may longer be decipherable?" from the publisher's website

After seeing When We Are No More by Abbey Smith Rumsey on NetGalley I couldn't stop thinking about it--the topic was too fascinating. I was thrilled to be granted the book.

Rumsey carefully builds her story, considerings how humans have remembered since Adam and Eve, through the revolutionary development of writing cuneiform on clay tablets, to the proliferation of books via the printing press, the establishment of libraries, to the digitalization of knowledge. She shows how each advancement brought change and challenges as humanity coped with how to store, access, and control the ever growing data bank of human knowledge. Then she presents the challenges presented by the digitalization of knowledge and the precariousness of a digital cultural memory.

Humanity must find the thin line between the distraction of novelty and amnesia and loss of past wisdom which we may need when facing future challenges. Issues of privacy and copyright law vs. the ideal of an open Internet, and the commercialization of data are also issues needing to be addressed. With the overwhelming amount of digital data, deciding what we can 'afford' to lose, and what must be preserved, becomes a major concern.

The book is written in three parts.
Part One: Where We Come From looks at human memory, the development of writing, the printing press, and the library.
Part Two: Where We Are considers Materialism, Science, how we remember, imagination, and mastering memory in the digital age.
Part Three: Where We Are Going considers the questions that we must answer that will ensure a continuation of cultural memory into the future.

Rumsey had created a beautifully written, important book.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

When We Are No More: How Digital Memory is Shaping Our Future
Abbey Smith Rumsey
Bloomsbury Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2016
$28.00 hard cover

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Hell I Dare Hardly Imagine: Ernest Greenwood and the Death March to Ranau

Sjt Ernest Greenwood, about 1939
My first cousin 2x removed, my great-grandfather's sister's boy, was a Japanese prisoner of war at the Sandakan prison camp in Borneo. In 1945, knowing the Allies would soon land on Borneo, the Japanese moved the starving prisoners inland to the small village of Ranau. The Death March from Sandakan to Ranau is one of the most notorious and horrific war crimes. All 900 British soldiers died. The only survivors were eight Australian men who escaped into the jungle to be helped by the local natives. Sjt. Ernest Greenwood of the Royal Artillery, at age 29, died on June 11, 1945 having gone though a hell I can't bear to imagine.

Ernest was the only child of Alice Jane Greenwood born June 11, 1893 to William and Elizabeth Greenwood of Bacup, Lancashire, England. Read more about my Lancashire Greenwood family here. The Greenwoods worked in the cotton mills. The 1911 census shows Alice as Elise Jane, age 17, working as a machinist making underclothing.

Ernest was born June, 1916 to Alice, who was not married. I have found little else about Alice or Ernest. Until military records of Ernest's death. The information in the records is brief:

Sjt. Ernest Greenwood of the 7 Coast Regt. of the Royal Artillery died on June 11, 1945 on Borneo, was born June, 1916, son of Alice Jane Greenwood of Waterfoot, Rossendale, Lancashire. He is buried in the Labuan War Cemetery on Borneo.

Waterfoot was a mill town on the road between Bacup, where Alice was born, and Rawtenstall.

After the fall of Singapore about 3,500 British and Australian prisoners were taken to three POW camps in Sandakan, Borneo. They were to build an airstrip. At first they were treated humanely. When it was discovered the POWs had a radio and were in communication with locals there were repercussions with executions and the removal of all officers to another POW camp. Formosan guards were brought in; there began a regime of beatings, torture, and starvation.

In the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai the character played by Alec Guinness is shut in a cage in the blinding sun and left without water. That also happened at Sandakan. I am also reminded of Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides about the Bataan Death March in 1942 where 7,000 to 10,000 POWs died in 1942. What Ernest endured was like that.

By September 1944 the British bombing of the airstrip at Sandakan made the Japanese abandon it. The POW were now of no use to the Japanese. Food was getting scare. By January 1945 the prisoners were no longer given food, surviving on what rice they had hoarded and salvaging what they could, eating what they noted the jungle animals ate.

When the Japanese knew the Allies would be landing on Borneo a plan was made: the POWs would be their slave 'mule packs' as they removed deeper into the jungle, to a small village 164 miles away--Ranau. It was to be a death march. As groups of prisoners left on their march to death, the remaining POWs at Sandakan were dying, corpses piling up. The Allies did nothing.

On the march the shoe-less prisoners had to hack through the jungle, climb mountains, and cross turbid rivers during the Monsoon. With only four days food allowance they marched for weeks. Prisoners carried 44 lbs of rice they would not eat. When a prisoner died his load was added to a survivor's load.

The men suffered from beriberi, malaria, dehydration, dysentery, sores, and gangrene. There were leaches, snakes, and fire ants, cuts from the undergrowth. Prisoners were turned into 'walking larders' as the guards resorted to cannibalism to survive. Prisoners who stopped or were too ill to carry on were shot.

The prisoners that remained at Sandakan continued to starve, suffer, and die. On August 17 the Japanese shot the last 40 survivors--14 days after Japan's official surrender.

Ernest died in June, 1945, just a few months before the end of the war. Of the 2,000 Australian soldiers of the 2nd A.I.F. and 750 British soldiers who left Sandakan only 6 Australians survived the death march. None survived Sandakan.

Plans had been drawn for a rescue operation of the Sandakan camps but were never implemented.

Read a survivor's story at a 1999 New York Time article here. Read about the Australian soldiers who survived here. And here read more of the survivor's stories. Read a military historian's article on the Death March and how the Allies failed to save the Borneo POWs here.

The Japanese in charge of Sansakan faced war crimes tribunals; eight men were hung and 55 imprisoned. The overall commander of the camp evaded the tribunal--he committed suicide.

Labuan War Cemetery in Malaysia is the resting place of the men who perished on Borneo. Including Ernest, my distant cousin.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

"It is only in real life that I resort to fiction": Constance Fenimore Woolson

A successful novelist and short story writer in her lifetime, she died in fear of the poverty that awaited her golden years. Jilted by her Civil War soldier hero she found consolation in the intellectual intimacy shared with novelist Henry James. She longed for a home and spent her life as an expat wandering Europe and visiting exotic locales. She is the one of most successful and acclaimed female American novelists that you have never heard of: Constance Fenimore Woolson.

I was 'granted my wish' for Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux through NetGalley. I had never heard of Woolson (1840-1894) before.

Born in Cooperstown, NY ( which was founded by her grandfather), Woolson's great-uncle was the famed novelist James Fenimore Cooper. After the death of Woolson's three sisters the family went west to start over in Cleveland, OH. The family vacationed on Michigan's Mackinac Island, which became the setting for her first novel, Anne. It is also where she met the man she would love and lose, Zeph Spalding.

Although she wrote as a girl it was not until the death of her father, and the resulting fiscal necessity, that she began to write and publish. As a 'surplus woman' after the loss of so many men during the Civil War Woolson needed to find a way to support herself and her widowed mother. There were enough teachers and governesses.

It was a time when female writers faced a wall of prejudice; it was commonly believed that women did not have the necessary intellectual abilities to write. And when they did write they were expected to offer moral tales to educate the young.

Her middle name "Fenimore" drew attention and Harper and Row agreed to publish her stories. Seeking inspiration in the world brought Woolson to New York City, Florida, Charleston, Asheville, and finally to Europe.

Woolson faced hearing loss (as did her mother) and suffered from depression (as had her father and brother). She developed pain and loss of feeling in her arm from writing. She would not leave Harper & Row for better money but could not save enough money to buy a permanent home. She rarely allowed her loneliness, fear, or pain to show. She wrote, "In my fiction I never say anything which is not absolutely true (it is only in real life that I resort to fiction)."

Woolson is most known for her deep and private relationship with Henry James. Yet even James was shielded from her inner despair. Her last days were spent in deep pain, taking enough morphine to dull it but also robbing her of sleep. Woolson fell, or jumped, from her balcony and died at age 54.

Rioux's compelling presentation of Woolson's complicated personality brings the author to life.
Now I can not wait to read the companion book of Woolson's short works, Miss Grief and Other Stories edited by Rioux, author of this biography.

I received a free ARC through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist
Anne Boyd Rioux
WW Norton & Co.
$32.95 hard cover
Publication Date: February 29, 2016
ISBN: 9780393245097

"Biography at its best aims at resurrection. Anne Boyd Rioux has brought the novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson back to life for us. Hurrah!" —Robert D. Richardson, author of the Bancroft Prize–winning William James: In the Maelstrom of American Moderni

Sunday, February 21, 2016

An Alaskan Love Story: All the Winters After

Set in the majestic yet dangerous natural beauty of Alaska, "a land that does not forgive mistakes," All the Winters After is ultimately a story of the healing power of forgiveness, of love, and of place. from the publisher

The Story

Alaska offered freedom and new life to Lettie. She had the tenacity and courage to embrace this new world. Even after her son died in a plane crash with his wife and eldest son Lettie loved Alaska. But her youngest grandson Kache couldn't wait to escape. Newly orphaned, he went to Texas for college, giving up a music scholarship for mathematics, the emotion of song writing for the logical work of crunching numbers. For twenty years he left Alaska in the past. But the past persisted in haunting and tormenting Kache.

After a lucrative career Kache was let go from his job. He returned to Alaska and his grandmother Lettie and his father's sister Snag. Snag admits she never dealt with his family home, never gathered the mementos and books, all left to the elements. He races to the cabin expecting to find devastation. Instead he see smoke rising from the chimney and the cabin almost untouched by the passing of time.

A young woman is living in his family home, wearing his family's clothing, and marking the passing of days with a knife on the walls. Nadia has been squatting there for ten years, having escaped from her Old Believer's community and the abusive husband of her teenage marriage. Ten years spent in total isolation, reading Kache's family library and magazines--and the diary left by Kache's mother. Lettie had found Nadia and learned the girl had faked her death to escape a cruel life. Lettie kept Nadia's secret, bringing her food and a puppy. At 98 Lettie is in a wheelchair, trapped in the old age home, leaving Nadia without human support.

Kache tries to connect with Nadia by helping her with the cabin and slowly exposing her to the world beyond the woods. Thinking her husband has left the area, and under Kache's protection, Nadia blossoms into the kind of woman she has always dreamed of becoming. Working in the garden with Nadia, Kache discovers a love for Alaska he never knew as a boy. As they help each other come to terms with their past they fall in love, but the future lures them in different directions. What will they choose?

All the Winters After is a story of personal growth, a mystery, and a suspense story. Most of all it is a love story, the love between people and the love people have for the wild and dangerous land of Alaska.

Spoiler Alert!

The novel caught my interest when Kache returns to Alaska and is confronted by Nadia's occupation of his family cabin. I was compelled to read and find out more about Nadia's history, why she left her family of Old Believers to live in hiding. Kache's family story is revealed by his Aunt Snag and by Nadia sharing his mother's diaries. His parents had their secrets, protecting the boys from cruel or difficult realities.

I found Nadia well drawn, but her transformation too quick. Growing up in a society where women married at age thirteen, followed by ten years in isolation, Nadia has a year with Kache, visits into the modern world, and a computer. Within months, Nadia sports piercings and short hair and dreams of studying film in San Francisco. Also, her commencing on a love affair with Kache after only knowing the abuse of her husband should have included false starts and a slow gaining of trust.

Kache's struggles seemed more in line with his experience. His childhood memories of his family left him with a hatred of his father. He was an exceptionally supportive friend to Nadia, almost idealized. Kache struggles with wanting to keep Nadia from the world.

The author leaves us an open ending; we can decide if love will bring them together again after Nadia sees the world, or perhaps after Kache has had enough of farming and living in an isolated cabin.

Alaska is the big success of the novel. We see the country through Lettie's loving eyes in its alluring majesty and magnificence.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

"All the Winters After is a vivid exploration of landscape and community. Sensual, insightful, and deeply affecting...I read this book quickly, compulsively, and thought about it long after I turned the last page." Jilian Medoff, author of I Couldn't Love You More.

All the Winters After
Sere Prince Halverson
Publication February 16, 2016
$24.99 hard cover

Friday, February 19, 2016

Encountering African American Quilts at the Flint Institute of Arts

detail Lone Star attributed to Mary Duncan c. 1950
The Flint Institute of Arts has an exhibit of African American quilts through April 10, 2016. The thirty quilts are beautifully presented. The highlight of the show is the display of quilts by Yvonne Wells whose pictorial quilts depict icons such as Rosa Parks, Helen Keller, Jackie Robinson and Elvis. She also has story quilts relating to Civil Rights, one of which brought me to tears.

Lone Star
From Heart to Hand includes 30 quilts on loan from the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts that showcase line, color, and pattern in traditional, improvisational, and appliqué quilts. Materials employed include clothing, feedsacks, new fabric, ties, and jeans. The quilts are hand quilted, often in the Baptist (or Methodist) Fan, concentric arcs of quilting across the surface, or following the seam lines.
Log Cabin variation, Sallie Gladney, 1989
Housetop quilt, Plummer T. Pettway, c. 1960-70
Patriotic Stars, Mary Maxtion, c. 1992
Roman Stripes, Lureca Outland,c. 1989
detail Everybody Quilt, Addie Pelt, c. 1988
African American quilts are generally identified by their color use, asymmetry, improvisation, and over-sized design patterns. 'Tweaking' a pattern is a part of their creative self-expression.  Many quiltmakers also look back to African textile roots for inspiration.

The Gees Bend quiltmakers have become identified as representative of African American quilts. But African American quilts include all kinds of quilts and you can not identify the cultural background of a quilt just by looking at it. Many fall into the realm of Folk Art, a term which today is even being stretched as quilt artists are inspired by 'folk' traditions. In the end, only provenance can identify a quilt as made by an African American, Southerner, folk artist, or quilt artist.
Nora's Necktie Flower Garden, Nora Ezell, 1994
Pig Pen Quilt, late 20th c
Log Cabin/Pig Pen variation, Catherine Somerville, c. 1950-60
Crib quilt, c. 1945
I toured the exhibit with my local quilt guild. The quilts challenge conventional wisdom about quilts, and art, what materials are 'suitable' for quilts, and if precision is better than naive improvisation.
The Lord is My Shuper, Sarah Mary Taylor, c. 1989
detail The Lord is My Shuper
Yvonne Wells was a high school teacher when she made her first quilt in 1979. She progressed from abstract quilts to free form cut appliqué pieces sewn raw edged to the quilt surface. I had a visceral reaction to her quilts. When at lunch the question was raised, "but are they art?" I quickly reacted and said, "If it changes your perception, it's art."
detail Humpty Dumpty, 1988 by Yvonne Wells
Leaving the first room of the exhibit, which included geometric and more traditional quilt patterns, and entering the second room with Well's art was a real shift. I had to LOOK at the quilt and understand the message. I heard people asking what motifs stood for, deciphering the image and the message. Here was Humpty Dumpty, there was Elvis with his sequins. Jackie Robinson's bat was huge and shiny with buttons, representing the impact of his skill and life. Helen Keller sat with her book of Braille, appliquéd cocktail napkins shining white against the dark background. The Higgenbottoms were a happy, well dressed pair. They make you smile.
Elvis, Yvonne Wells, 1991
detail Elvis
Helen Keller by Yvonne Wells
detail Helen Keller quilt
 detail Jackie Robinson by Yvonne Wells
The Higgenbottoms II, 1989, Yvonne Wells
The last quilt I looked at had a striking blood-red background with stick figures and scenic motifs scattered around the surface. I noted a grave yard, a circle of figures around a large man at a podium, a bus with white stick figures in front and a lone black stick figure sitting in the rear. Then I saw the stick figure hanging from a tree, My knees buckled, and I collapsed on a nearby bench and shuddered. And had a good cry.
Civil Rights in the South III, 1989, Yvonne Wells
I had not expected, ever, to see a lynching depicted on a quilt. Quilts were warm and cozy and pretty. Quilts showered you with love. In the hands of an artist a quilt is art that shouts to the world, "you must change your life." Or at least change your perception. Art shows us what we know and cannot bear to observe. It takes us by the throat and draws our breath and leaves us weak with realization of what has been waiting to be understood all along.

The title of the quilt is Civil Rights in the South.
detail Civil Rights in the South III
Detail Civil Rights in the South III
Detail Civil Rights in the South III
Then I noted that a figure in the circle was being hit by a spray. I learned it was a fire hose, held by the yellow figure. There are slaves picking cotton, a dog waiting to be unleashed for attack, George Wallace baring the door to the school. And along the left the figures of the martyred boys Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman laying behind the dam where buried after being murdered because they worked for voting rights.
detail Civil Rights in the South III

Before we left the museum we visited Jacob Lawrence's The Legend of John Brown prints based on his 1941 paintings in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art.

Before we left we visited the gallery with landscapes, including works from my favorite Hudson River and Luminist school paintings. After delving into the depths of evil humans can plumb I was glad to be reminded of our proper place in the world, in nature. We are insignificant in the large scheme of things. If only that knowledge brought the wisdom that we are all in this together, sisters and brothers for our short time, and endeavor to bring love and mercy and empathy to all our interactions.

Jasper Cropsey, Hudson River View, 1872
detail Hudson River View

Martin Heade, Sunset on the Marshes, 1863

Pierre Damoye, Flooded Meadows, 1880
Dove Descending, Yvonne Wells, 1993

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

WIP and A New Hanky

I have been motivated to get some work done.

I have been making Esther Alui's new pieced quilt Little Hazel. She is now on Facebook and we have been sharing photos of our progress. I am using reproduction fabrics in red, indigo, and ivory. I thought it would be much harder than it is! The star was done last month. This month we are doing the two concentric circles.

 The leaf vine strip fabric is better than I imagined! I love what it does!

I finished the last side of the first border on Love Entwined and am eager to get it finished! I sewed the first solid border and the top and bottom borders together. You can see how wonky my appliquéd zig zag borders turned out. I have finished the last border and just need to complete the corner blocks!

And I have been preparing appliqué blocks for the reproduction 1857 Sampler from Gay Bomer of Sentimental Stitches. Some gals are using such wonderful creative color and fabric choices. I am using colors similar to the original quilt. Interestingly, the quilt is similar to the Houseman Quilt in Florence Peto's article is shared here. Both have blocks with various appliqué' motifs and leaf shapes in the corners that make a secondary design.

My quilt guild has a challenge: a 24" x 24" quilt showing your favorite season. I used printed fabric to creative a 'typical' Michigan autumn scene. I need to quilt and bind it before May.

My Fox quilt is stopped until I find the right fabric for the fox. The trees branches and leaves part is done.

I bought a Faith Austen handkerchief of mushrooms. So cute! I organized my collection and counted over 1,000 handkerchiefs. About 200 are designer/signed hankies.

It has turned bitter cold again. Our doggies have been sleeping in. They don't want to get up in this weather. But just wait until it turns warm, and Kamikaze (White Dog) will be barking at 5:30 eager to enjoy the day!
Perfect weather to stay in and stitch.