Friday, September 07, 2007

A Well Connected Story

As I began to plan this week's wordless image I was absolutely at a loss.

I thought,

and I thought,

and I thought, but nothing---absolutely nothing came to mind.

I even contemplated NOT having a wordless image.

The situation sort of reminded me of my Language Arts students when I announce that we will be doing creative writing for most of the period. There are always a few students who wail, “….but, I can’t think of anything to write about.” I remind students to check out their idea list we began at the beginning of the year---the list they keep in the front of their writing notebooks.

During the first week of school we set up the notebooks and then I show students my own personal writing binder with my own writing ideas list. When they write I write. This breaks those students who want reassurance after each sentence. The rule is if someone is writing they cannot be interrupted. I write along with students for the entire time….usually 20 minutes.

I pop my personal writing topics up on the television screen and I go through my list explaining what each and every entry refers to. As I share my writing ideas I tell students my ideas might spark some of their own, and they should list these as I speak.

Here are three of the items on my list and the explanations I provide students:

Lady-she was my dog….my one and only dog. She was with me from the third grade through my second year of college.
Riding my bike-I used to spend the majority of my day on my bike sometimes riding as many as ten miles a day though to look at me now you wouldn’t believe it. I used to make all sorts of ramps. My young men can’t believe I really had a bike with monkey handle bars, a banana seat, and a sissy bar until I show them a picture. Popping wheelies was the best.
Riding out a hurricane 6 blocks from the beach-I lived in Virginia Beach, Virginia when Gloria blew through. It was quite an experience for someone who had never heard the wind really blow or seen house parts fly down the street.

My list goes on and on, and while I talk the kids learn many things about me. and at the same time my entries act as a trigger helping them to write down some of their own.

So, back to my empty brain...I had nothing. I took a long look at my blog and looked at my resource blogroll. I saw my link to American Heritage Magazine and clicked through. I went into the archives and accessed an article from August, 1955 titled Spoiled Child of American Politics, an article concerning Henry Cabot Lodge. Here’s how it began:

When Henry Cabot Lodge was a lad of sixteen, his mother took him to the studio of a famous American sculptor named William Story. Alter examining a number of Story’s works, she decided to purchase one entitled: “Lybian Sybil.” She asked young Cabot what he thought of it. He replied that the statue was perfectly lovely, but the inscription was all wrong. “It ought to be ‘Libyan’ and ‘Sibyl’,” he announced tartly. “The letters in Greek are Upsilons.”

This tale had a happy ending, for Mrs. Lodge bought the statue anyway (with the inscription altered). But the outcome of other incidents in which Lodge displayed the aggravating, smug, and generally unlovely side of his personality was often disastrous. For Lodge was without an equal among American statesmen at the art of arousing people’s ire. Few politicians have been so cordially hated; certainly none who held office continually for more than 35 years, as he did.

In part his bad reputation today steins from the dim view most people take of his Machiavellian conduct during the fight over the League of Nations in the Senate…

While very interesting this is the point where where I stopped reading the article because my interest had not been aroused by Mr. Lodge but by the mention of the statue. “Hmmmmmm, I wonder what that looks like?”I thought.

I certainly don’t mean to dismiss Henry Cabot Lodge. He is a very interesting historial figure and certainly he was a major thorn in the side of President Woodrow Wilson, but I had been majorly distracted by a shiny object…..a statue with an interesting name that the young Lodge had pompously deigned insufficient unless the name was changed. If you haven’t guessed already Henry Cabot Lodge is the reason why I referred to the League of Nations in my teaser for the wordless puzzle. Once you are done with this post I encourage you to find out more about Mr. Lodge and his family.

I did a quick google regarding the “Libyan Sibyl” and suddenly found myself looking at the Sistene Chapel. A sibyl is a female prophet or seer, and was used by Michelangelo in contrast to the images of Old Testament prophets seen on the chapel ceiling. Sibyls were first mentioned by the Greek writer Heraclitus in the fifth century B.C. There are four sibyls depicted in the Sistene Chapel, and one is the Libyan Sibyl. You can see it here. Over the years there have been many discussions concerning sibyls in Greek literature and thought. The actual numbers of sibyls have increased from four to twelve depending on the source you are using.

“Well,” I thought, “that’s very interesting, but not what I’m looking for.” I changed my keywords and entered “William Wetmore Story” in the Google search box. Now, I already knew Henry Cabot Lodge was from an old, connected family, but I soon discovered Mr. Story was as well. His father was Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. William Story was born in 1819 and attended Harvard University. He eventually practiced law, wrote legal textbooks, and even wrote a biography of his father. He was interested in art, but treated it as a hobby during the early part of his life and never received formal training. I learned that many of Story’s subjects were inspired by Greek tragedy and often his subjects were idealized including the lovely statues of Cleopatria and Medea.

When viewing his work the fact that he did not have formal training as a youth is astounding. You would think he had been working with marble all of his life. I think out of all of the works I’ve seen so far I love Fallen Angel (left) the best. This sculpture rests on the grave of Mr. Story’s wife, and I find it very compelling.

After being commissioned to design a statue of his father, Story traveled to Italy and began to study sculpting earnestly. Rome became his new home where he resided in the Old Barberini Palace. He hobnobbed with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I couldn’t help but think as I learned this that Story and Lodge really had much in common. They were well connected, their families were well off, and they were both well educated, however they were born 57 years apart. They were also both very passionate concerning their beliefs. Lodge had opinions he felt worth fighting for with regards to the League of Nations and immigration. Story, even though he lived most of his later life in Italy, felt very strongly about rising tensions in the United States leading up to the War Between the States. Early in the war Story sent regular letters to the Daily Mail that were gathered up and reprinted as The American Question. The subject was mainly neutrality, and the collection of letters had significant influence in Britian.

At this point you might be thinking I had promised you a connection with abolition and women’s rights, and so far no pay off, right? I’m getting there….

After I thought I had learned as much as I could about Story in the time I had alloted myself I returned to the Google search page and scrolled down. Suddenly, I was seeing references to Harriet Beecher Stowe and Sojourner Truth. HUH?????????

I discovered in 1853 the ex-slave turned speaker and preacher, Truth, had visited Harriet Beecher Stowe in her Andover, Massachusetts home. Truth was hoping Stowe would write an introduction to Truth’s Narratives. At the time Stowe was enjoying her success with the novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which provided many Northerners with their only picture of what life was like in the South.

Stowe remembered her visit with Sojourner Truth ten years later in an Atlantic Monthly article from April, 1863, you can read here. As you read the article, and if you view it with a critical eye, you can pick up on details that tend to romanticize Sojourner Truth.

Many have argued that Harriet Beecher Stowe took creative license with her 1863 article. First, the contents can be doubted since it is certain she took no notes during her visit with Truth which leads us to the conclusion that the article is simply a recollection of events that were ten years old. Many take issue with Stowe referring to Truth as an African since the ex-slave was born in the United States. Her parents may have arrived in chains from Africa, but Sojourner Truth was born with the name Isabella as a slave in Ulster County, New York. If you really wanted to get technical she wasn’t an African or an American. She was property and as such was not a citizen of the United States. At one point Stowe refers to Truth’s passing. Of course, Sojourner Truth was very much alive in 1863 and for many years after. As I read the article I looked at the passing reference to mean she passed through Stowe’s life….not that she had passed to her great reward. Others take issue with Stowe writing Truth’s words in the style of Southern dialect. This incorrectly labels Ms. Truth as a Southern ex-slave, and she was not. She would not have spoken with the Southern dialect. In fact, until she was sold for the first time in 1806. Truth spoke only Dutch. Many state that depending on her audience Sojourner Truth could change her manner of speaking. I guess we will never truly know. I have not researched this very well, but do find it interesting.

Stowe also recounts in her article that she met with William Wetmore Story soon after her visit with Truth and told him all about it. The romanticized description given to him by Stowe, gave Story inspiration and the statue I presented as my wordless image was born. Stowe’s article states:

But though Sojourner Truth has passed away from among us as a waveof the sea, her memory still lives in one of the loftiest and mostoriginal works of modern art, the Libyan Sibyl, by Mr. Story,which attracted so much attention in the late World's Exhibition. Some years ago, when visiting Rome, I related Sojourner's historyto Mr. Story at a breakfast at his house.

The history of Sojourner Truth worked in his mind and led him intothe deeper recesses of the African nature,--those unexploreddepths of being and feeling, mighty and dark as the giganticdepths of tropical forests, mysterious as the hidden rivers andmines of that burning continent whose life-history is yet to be. A few days after, he told me that he had conceived the idea of astatue which he should call the Libyan Sibyl. Two yearssubsequently, I revisited Rome, and found the gorgeous Cleopatrafinished, a thing to marvel at, as the creation of a new style ofbeauty, a new manner of art. Mr. Story requested me to come andrepeat to him the history of Sojourner Truth, saying that theconception had never left him. I did so; and a day or two after,he showed me the clay model of the Libyan Sibyl. I have neverseen the marble statue; but am told by those who have, that it wasby far the most impressive work of art at the [London] Exposition.

As you can see from my wordless image it is most impressive, but doesn’t it have an even more interesting quality to know that Sojourner Truth was the statue’s inspiration and Harriet Beecher Stowe has something to do with it?

Eventually after some correction with the text (I left the bottom portion of the image out of my wordless post, but include it with this post) the statue became the property of the Lodge family. Years later the statue was donated to the Smithsonian where it is displayed today for everyone to see.

In her fantastic read, Sojourner Truth: A Life, A Symbol, Nelle Irvin Painter states the Atlantic Monthly article transformed Truth from a little-noted evangelist and reformer, she became a celebrity; her presence of itself, was not news. Newspapers began to refer to Ms. Truth as the “sibyl” and she introduced herself as “the well known Mrs. Stowe’s African Sibyl”.

I also referred to the Washington Monument in my wordless hints. In 1876 the construction of the Washington Monument had stood still for almost twenty years. The monument was only one-third complete, so to jump start efforts the committee in charge of the monument agreed to look at five other designs including one submitted by Mr. Story. His design was considered to be “vastly superior in artistic taste and beauty”, however, the original design was altered a bit and construction continued. The completed image is what we see today.

So, there you have it…my journey to a wordless image.

Damn….for someone who had absolutely nothing to say I ended up with quite a “Story.”

I should learn from my own teaching. :)


ms. whatsit said...

When you write with your students, do you use your computer or a notebook like your students? Do you show your students your blog?

I love that you've shared the path of your thinking for this "wordless" post. Sometimes a few words illuminate and clarify the story much more than the picture, even if it's worth a thousand words.

EHT said...

Hi! I use the notebook in class since I always have it with me to write down ideas as they come to me.

I haven't shared my blog with this year's group, but they were aware of it last year...especially after the USA Today article in September. Particular stories I've written and published here...."A Sticky Easter Memory", and my 9/11 post from last year were shared with students. I've even used stories like that to illustrate beginning, middle, and end, etc.

ms. whatsit said...

Wow! I didn't realize that you were USA Today famous! I must live under a rock....

Thanks for the clarification. I'd love to be a fly on the wall of your classroom and watch you teach.

Unknown said...

Well, you've done it again!

I was mesmerized!

The neat part is that I can add this story to my repertoire when we vist the National Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery.

And my own journey to the cemeteries of Florence and Rome will be part of it too!


Mr. Nauton said...

Thanks again for a wonderful "lost" hour or so, reading and learning... you are rapidly becoming my favorite teacher!

EHT said...

Thanks JK, I appreciate that.

Tour Marm, I'm glad you can find the story useful. I was simply amazed at the connections myself...all from one simply archives glimpse.

Thanks Ms. Whatsit. I needed to hear something like that today.