THE COLOR EVERYTHING

‘FLAG,’ acrylic on canvas/Gunther

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     The flag of the United States of America is a sacred cloth consisting of a field of 13 equal horizontal stripes of red alternating with white, with a blue rectangle or “canton” proclaiming (since 1960) 50 states. The stripes recognize the original British colonies that declared independence. The flag is a bold and dynamic statement that conjures up images of sacrifice, pride and patriotism as well as protest as inimitable to the republic as was the Boston Tea Party.

      Indeed, no American flag could have been raised on Mt. Suribachi, Iwo Jima, World War II if it did not represent both unity in cause and difference of opinion. We are all one, and we also are free to be independent, as per the rights of humankind.

As Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” It is our differences, and the tolerance of such, that grow the national family. We can walk hand-in-hand as different people.

    If you were to take the red, white and blue of our American flag heritage and add the God-given hues of the original dispersed, displaced Native Americans, the original enslaved African Americans who gave the South its economy, the original Chinese and other Asians who built our railroads, the original Sicilians and other Italians and the original Russian and other Jews who crafted the garment industry, the original Latinos who populated and grew Texas, California and elsewhere, the original people this and original people that — if we took all these and added them to the whites who landed at Plymouth Rock and those in our manifest destiny — the Germans, the Irish, the Swedes, the French, the whoever, what a flag of color that would be. And it is.

     We have long added those colors; we have been doing so every day since the beginning of a unique nation born in both dissent and union. Our flag  is that of constantly gathered humanity in the republic, a sheltering, protective cloth of many colors.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

     

THE BARNS THAT BUILT AMERICA

‘BARN IN NYACK’/gunther

February 18, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook) 

    The thing about barns is that many of us have a thing for them.

      Barns are America. Well, they are also Germany, the Netherlands, the British Isles, Spain, varieties almost anywhere in the world. In the United States, with its Yankee, English, prairie, round, Dutch, bank and other barns, you see the history of the nation, its decades and centuries, its progress toward manifest destiny and, most of all, the incredible diversity of the people.

     They built the barns with post and beam, with native timber, rough hewn. They built the nation with the learning of their foreign forebears and the acquired spirit and shared lessons of the new world. They used Native-American construction ways as well.

     Both have endured, these barns, these people because as with barn styles the purposes may be similar but perhaps not the style. All can stand proud.

     Barns are instant nostalgia, their worn red color or nature’s coat after so much time pulling us back to simpler times though we forget the before-dawn labor that lasted past dusk.

     Today, people recycle barn post and beam, the side planks, too, for houses most beautiful but perhaps way too grand for the old farmer or the dairyman. 

     Passing by in the passing parade that is America’s generations we the people momentarily drop the pulse rate, lower the blood pressure as we glance over at the barns that built us. We are home again, if only for a quick moment.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com or on Facebook Messenger.

 

 

LIGHT DEFINING LIFE

Light emerging from Edward Hopper’s childhood birthplace/room in Nyack, N.Y. (Gunther photo)

February 11, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

 

     Imagine being born into light, not necessarily spiritual though it cannot be denied. The first opening of the child’s eyes, then awakening each morning into young adulthood with strong, white/yellow luminescence bathing the room, moving along the walls, onto the bed, a life of its own as the sun rises.

     This was the daily world of Edward Hopper, the famed American realist painter born July 22, 1882, in Nyack, N.Y.

     The son of a village shop owner and a mother who was artistic, the young Hopper was uncharacteristically encouraged to be creative, to draw, his parents simply insisting that he attend an art school that would prepare him for a living in illustration.

     But the young Hopper, who would hatch himself from long gestation to give the world such classics as “Nighthawks” and “Early Sunday Morning,” did not enjoy the working world. 

     Doubtless he was always thinking back to the utter brightness of his childhood room, the magnificent Hudson River light shooting up Second Avenue through two front windows to awaken him to dreams not yet realized.

     The man who said “… what I wanted to do was paint sunlight on the side of a house” was swaddled, then reared and always infused with light. He gave us that visibility in his extraordinary paintings.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com or Facebook Messenger.

     

‘LINE, FORM, COLOR’

‘JOURNEY’/gunther

February 4, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     You do not have to be a painter to appreciate line, form and color. They are part of the staff of life — not staples like grain — but humankind does not live by bread alone.

     “Line,” for example, is how we view the world, in a vertical or horizontal or angular way. It defines our taste in clothes, houses, other people, art, how neatly we keep our penmanship in a straight row, probably whether we yearn to live in a city high-rise or the wide expanse of the countryside. Line helps us choose our cars, tools, partners.

     “Form” is related to line because it is an extension of it, the 3D of it. We unconsciously and then in learned ways choose form for taste, need, to make us purr in relationships — all that, as in painting, to give depth, substance, the yin/yang of breathing, living our lives.

   “Color” is sun itself on line and form, also as in a piece of art. It is the spotlight, even in black and white, officially not color but life is full of nuance, and there are few absolutes. Who is to say there is no blue in black, no yellow in white, no sunlight in a seemingly mundane existence? There is color to be found.

     So, line, form, color, all part of the staff — the necessity — of living.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com or Facebook Messenger.

‘All was right in his world’

‘MOONLIGHT’/Gunther

January 28, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     Amidst the world’s troubles, a reassuring sight on a train: A busy mom, returning with a three-year-old from a trip to Gotham, him jabbering away, calling for “Mommy, Mommy” as she checked her smart phone. He tugged at her jacket, too.

     As in time memorial, the young have pulled at mom, the invisible umbilical cord still connected, the nurturing of human nature. Reassurance is what the child wants as he/she calls out “Mommy.” There must always be an answer.

      And there was on this train. It was obvious that the little fellow had enjoyed his day in New York but that he was also wound-up, fidgeting and tugging a bit extra, Mom noticed, instinctively pulling from her bag of necessities and tricks a book. Down went the smartphone and out came one of many, many, many books about children and the moon. “We will read,” said mom.

      As instinctively, the little one cozied up next to her and listened as mom described another young person’s fascination with that far-off object, of which dreams are made and to which mothers across the globe shoot a string of words that come back with such soothing cadence that no three year old can resist falling asleep. Maybe some adults, too.

     And that’s just what the little boy did, his face buried in mom’s lap once again.

     All was right in his world.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo. com or thecolumnrule.com

48 RUE DE LA …

January 21, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     It is Paris, 48 rue de la … “Madeleine?” “Paix?” The street name does not matter. No. 48 does, that appartement not far from the street artists, who are ubiquitous. Umbrella left on the door handle for walks that take you everywhere, abstract paintings on the panels from the last young artist to live in hope at 48. This is Paris. This is art. This is a stirring of the soul.

     It may all be over in a year, the “artist” moving on through that tough tunnel of reality to a staid existence, earning the cash for  “adulting.”

     But for a time, dreams and the rushing of blood, each red cell telling you have the stamina to do it, to make it. 

      By day, you are at Montmarte or la tour Eiffel. By night, along the Seine. You watch people, you draw them in charcoal. You hear the street sounds, you inhale the scents, you get the rhythm. It all shows in the line, form and color of the evening palette. You paint until dawn.

     You are young. You are full of possibilities. Paris, or the metaphor of the place (so you can be elsewhere), welcomes your search for identity, fertilizes your dream with the elixir of hope.

     Few will stay long at 48 rue de la … . The gifted might buy a studio with their success, but they are not many.

    No, the return trip awaits the majority, moving on to what life does, what it brings.

    Whether you go to Paris, whether you paint or write or day dream, the hope is that for a time anyway, you tarry at 48 Rue de la … .

     

MORE THAN JUST THEM APPLES …

January 14, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     My grandmother in Spring Valley, N.Y., was a wonderful apple pie maker. In September particularly, she and my grandfather would take a country drive on meandering roads to Pomona where the Concklins offered a new crop of apples so fresh that the skin would still snap when you bit into them. If my brother or I were with them, there would also be the free apple from the bushel basket slid way back on a wooden floor trod since who knows when. Some cider, too, with your own glass jug refilled on the spot.

     The ride back to the village was always calm, serene, with nearing-fall wafts of turned-color leaves, little traffic, the 1950 Plymouth hugging turns on McNamara Road, my grandparents quietly talking as Craig and I sat in the back, swallowed up by old-fashioned big seats.

     Back home, my grandfather would take some of the apples, washed first in the old kitchen sink, out to his garage, the one with a wooden floor with its own history of long use, oil dripped from cars, planks heated by summer sun. A special smell that is recalled forever, a key to memories.

     Gramps would carefully peel the apples in a manner that would make an army sergeant on KP watch proud. Very little waste, his special knife — always kept in the garage — separating the skin as he twisted the apple, one long peel dripping into a basket, the contents later fed to the birds.

     My grandmother, this nana of German heritage, would take the apples, add sugars and spice and whatever secrets from the old country that were passed on and mound the fruit in her own crust, a bit of sweetness added to make it have a slight butter-cookie taste.

     It wasn’t long before the pies baked, the fragrance so inviting and reassuring that a youngster felt very safe and happy. A window shelf for cooling awaited, and we did too. It seemed an endless one.

     Combined with ice cream and coffee for the adults, we all dug with satisfaction into the finished product on a late-summer afternoon in my old hometown.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

     

THE TREE OF OPTIMISM

 

LAKE ANTRIM/gunther

January 7, 2019

By Arthur H. Gunther III

thecolumnrule.com

(also on Facebook)

     The tree stands alone, but there is enough evidence in the fog that others are in the background. It is sturdy, seemingly well-rooted, still with leaves and in a field of  pleasing color. Of optimism, this photograph.

     A metaphor, perhaps, for durability in turbulent, uncertain times when roots cannot always be planted, when there may be no one to have your back, when color is reduced to a limited spectrum chosen by the few.

     Yet the tree survives and promises continued growth despite pessimism, for it is the opposite.

     The fog is thick and does not suggest a quick retreat. And that may be to the good, the fog a reflector for the infinite variety of color keeping the tree company.

     Cozy, too, such a scene, for the invitation is to sit a spell, to chill, to forget the commute, the to-do list, the endless appointments. 

     Sunday in the park with a tree. Optimism.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

‘BUSY USING ELECTRONS’

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‘December 31, 2018

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     The painting shows an old colonial house, still occupied and happily, I suggest. There is cozy warmth from the fireplace, as you can see from the smoke. The windows are dark, so it is daylight. Set in a green field and under a blue sky, the home appears to be thriving.

      But one thing is missing: The power line is not connected — transmission is at the pole but not to the colonial.

     Is that deliberate? Is this a “Twilight Zone” episode of old? Is the painting both of the past and of the future? Is the house to enter the modern age with electricity?

     Will the chimney then lose its smoke trail and be used for the central heating afforded by electricity? Will the dark windows light up in daytime?

     Ah, and what of the people inside? What will connecting their cozy abode to the grid do to them? It will make life easier but also more complicated. There will be a utility bill and never-ending rate hikes. Appliances will be added at cost, with future repair. Good grief, next will come a telephone line, the Internet, smartphones that do not need the utility pole.

      No one will look at the old fireplace, except as a background for a selfie. The green field surrounding the colonial might go brown because no one is cutting the grass — too busy using electrons.

     “Twilight Zone?” Could paint out the pole and start all over.

     

     The writer is a retired newspaperman. ahgunther@yahoo.com

Relevance of time

December 24, 2018

     Each Christmas, for a few decades now, my son, teacher Arthur H. Gunther IV, has taken my former newspaper column and now online space to offer a holiday story. Here it is for 2018.

 By Arthur H. Gunther IV

     It had kind of consumed him, this quest to slow down time.  Where once he might have tried to possess it, his focus had gradually shifted to simply sharpening his vision.  At least, that was what he told himself.  There were certain tricks he had learned over the years.  Time lived in places that he visited with regularity, but then again, time lived in places he hadn’t yet been.  It was hard to explain, so he really didn’t bother.  He was content to just show by example.  By how he lived his days.

     The trunk of John’s VW rabbit was nothing special.  The car was a hatchback, so opening the back caused the cloth-covered platform behind the rear seats to lift up and reveal the bucket-shaped opening.  It it, he kept an old wool blanket, jumper cables for when the battery died, a lead pipe to help loosen lug nuts, a jack, a full-sized spare tire, a scarf, a few newspapers for whenever he had to wait somewhere, and a weathered gray towel.  Inside the towel, rolled up tight to protect the lens and the metal frame, was his camera.  There was always a roll of film inside, black and white, with at least a few frames left to shoot.  He never left a completed roll inside the camera.  The minute it was finished he took it out to develop the shots.

     No matter where John drove, the camera was always there.  Sometimes he would go for weeks without taking it out.  Before his kids were born, John would often drive just to wander, just to see where he would end up. This is when his camera would come out.  Portraits and sunsets didn’t interest him.  You wouldn’t find panoramic shots of any kind.  John preferred photos with little plan, taken quickly the second the beauty within the frame revealed itself.  A box in John’s basement held the results of his efforts.  There were shadows made by oak leaves on old brick walls, sunlight on side street shop windows, barns nestled beside weathered houses from the last century.  

     John would develop the photos in his basement, look at them for a time, and then put them in a box.  Sometimes he would go back to glance at the old photos, but more often than not the box is where they remained.  It was as if the act of taking the photos, the drive and the wandering, were what really mattered.  The photos in the box were almost beside the point.

     With his kids getting older and his life getting more complicated, John’s drives, his wandering photo excursions, were less frequent.  He would sometimes worry, when he had the time for such indulgence, that not taking the time for the photos actually had a role in accelerating time’s passage.  If he got out, if he took the time to wander and use his camera, everything would slow down and come into focus.  His memory sharpened once again.  Thoughts would form.  The unappreciated became appreciated once more.

     John woke up one December morning, a few days before Christmas, daydreaming about Thanksgiving, about the coming holiday, before realizing it was already past. Later that day he drove home only to find his house empty.  He checked the notepad always left on the kitchen counter and found three notes, all letting him know that his wife, daughter, and son had gone their separate ways for the afternoon.  Shocked at finding his house empty, John’s first inclination was to wash the pile of dirty dishes in the sink, or maybe to start a load of laundry.  As he was reaching to turn on the radio, his eyes fell upon a drawing his daughter had recently taped to the refrigerator of one of her old sneakers.  The pause this image gave him was all John needed to grab his coat and get in his car.  The dishes and laundry could wait.

     The wind was picking up as John drove down toward the river and then up the side of Tallman Mountain toward the end of the county and the New Jersey border.  He had stopped listening to weather reports a few years ago.  He couldn’t take the disappointment of the uneven forecasts:  rain in January, 50 degrees in July.  This way, snowstorms and the other beauty of the seasons came as a surprise.  At least he could dream.  For all John knew, a blizzard was imminent.  

     John’s initial plan was to maybe walk the cinder bike path once he got past Piermont, but as was his wont, he changed his mind and instead continued past the entrance before turning down into the maze of roads that made up Sneden’s Landing.  Parking at the old church near the beginning of the neighborhood, John got out, grabbed his camera from the trunk, and started walking.  John descended the hill, once again amazed at the quiet that always pervaded the hillside.  As he rounded a turn that was bordered by a giant elm tree, John came upon a young girl sitting on a bench.  John had seen this bench before.  It was really just a piece of wood balanced on two old stumps.  He assumed it was a place where children sat waiting for the school bus.

    “Hi.”  The girl offered John a smile.  “Going for a walk?”

     “Yes, I guess I am,”  John replied.  “What’s up?”

“Nothing at all,”  she replied.  “I’m just waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”  John couldn’t help but ask.

“Waiting for the snow.  It’s going to snow.  It’s almost Christmas.”

John almost replied with another question, but stopped himself.  He had asked too many already.  Instead, his eyes looked over to the old tree.  On it’s gnarled, imposing trunk was nailed a plain, metal thermometer.  He could see the mercury had settled right under the freezing point, where someone had drawn a red line with a pen.  Taking out his camera, John snapped a closeup of the thermometer with just enough of the elm tree showing in the frame.  Just as the click of the shutter had finished its reverberations, John heard the excited shout of the girl on the bench.          

Swinging his gaze in her direction, John could see that snow had suddenly started falling.  Flakes filled the air.  The girl looked absolutely delighted, but not the least bit surprised.  John stood for several seconds, or maybe even a minute, and then wished the girl a good night.

Walking back up the hill to his car, John’s thoughts settled upon a quote he had once heard by Aristotle:  To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.  John hugged his camera close to his side.  He couldn’t wait to get back home and see his family.

     The writer is a first-grade teacher at the William O. Schaefer School in Tappan, N.Y. Reach him via clausland@yahoo.com