Esteemed thinker: Lillie P. Bliss

Armory_Show_1

The past is a reservoir of names who have left behind their legacies and still continue to enrich our lives… and though they may have been well-noted during their lifespan, time has worn away their memories like the erosion of a seawall. The twenty-first century is especially hard on the past for the present barely has time to take a breath, when sudden at the next exhale the future becomes the present. The bombardment of information is a snowstorm burying facts at an unprecedented rate. So fast is this entombing of details that for those of us who wish a more leisurely promenade are saddened; often what we wish to savor unexpectedly  whizzes by without having a chance to take hold.

Today’s blog brings you a most notable woman, the esteemed thinker: Lillie P. Bliss (1864 – 1931 )American  art collector, patron, and co-founder of the Museum of Modern Art with Abby Aldrich Rockefeller and Mary Quinn Sullivan. Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a successful textile merchant who moved his family to the Murray Hill Section of New York City when she was two. Her ambitious and well-connected father became Secretary of the Interior under President McKinley where Lillie acted as hostess for him in Washington when her mother was taken ill. Llilie Bliss

Lillie became an active supporter of the arts, at first particularly of music however her interest in modern art was inspired by the Armory Show of 1913 and her friendship with the painter Arthur B. Davies. Although modern art at the time in the United States was often criticized as inferior, Bliss saw the value in the new art and collected work by, among others, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso, and Davies. In 1929 she became one of the founders of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and when she died two years later she left most of her paintings to the Museum.

And so as tribute to Ms. Bliss, who we can thank for having the foresight to embrace and preserve the arts, we dig deeply into the pile of forgotten names. As remarked by Nelson Rockefeller, “It was the perfect combination. The three women, among them, my mother, Lillie Bliss and Mary Sullivan, had the resources, the tact and the knowledge of contemporary art that the situation required. More to the point, they had the courage to advocate the cause of the modern movement in the face of widespread division, ignorance and a dark suspicion that the whole business was some sort of Bolshevik plot.”

First Image: Armory Show of 1913

Second image: 1924

 

Esteemed thinker: James Smithson

Smithsonian InstituteTo preserve the past is to save the future, and though this observation may be heard by some as a contradiction, it is the very irony of its verbiage which makes it true.  Not all of the events of the past are positive and for that very reason we must not forget them. To discover, reflect, and evaluate what came before may help humanity not repeat its mistakes and crimes.  And so, what better place is there than a museum to learn about what it was like “before”. In glass cases and plexi-glass displays, on walls and  on pedestals are the gatherings of artifacts and relics, all of which made the world we inhabit today. Setting forth newly acquired facts in the fields of anthropology, biology, history, geology, technology, and the arts…they all are set before us with the intention of simply allowing us to ponder.

And so, I encourage you to take a walk and stroll through the corridors of any museum for surely there will be a bit of the world that will amaze you.

James smithson1

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: James Smithson (1765-1829) British scientist who willed his estate to the United States for the creation of what we know today as The Smithsonian Institute. Born in Paris, France, he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson and Elizabeth Keate Hungerford Macie, a widow of royal blood. He was named James Lewis Macie at birth however, in 1800 following the death of his mother, he took his father’s name.

Because of his birth status, he was unable to pursue careers of most nobility at that time in the military or clergy, so he turned to the sciences. He went to Pembroke College at Oxford University, and there became interested in the natural sciences. He graduated as a mineralogist and chemist, devoting his life to research. He published at least 27 papers on chemistry, geology, and mineralogy in scientific journals and proved that zinc carbonates were true carbonate minerals, not zinc oxides as popularly believed.

He inherited a great deal of land from his mother and his management brought him a great deal of money. Having never married, he left a portion of his wealth to his nephew, and “Under the arrangements of his will, the whole estate went “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” As such the reasoning was most likely his resentment over the circumstances of his illegitimate birth. He had once written, “My name shall live in the memory of man when the titles of the Northumberlands and Percys are extinct and forgotten.”

Smithson died in Genoa, Italy, on June 27, 1829, however in 1904, Smithsonian Regent Alexander Graham Bell brought Smithson’s remains to the United States to rest at the Institution he had established.

(In 1865 a fire at the Smithsonian Institute destroyed most all of Jameson’s published work)

First image: Rendering of the Castle Smithsonian Institute, 1840

Second Image: Painting of James Smithson by James Roberts, 1786

 

Esteemed thinker: Herodotus and the past

 

street sign

If you think you can escape the past, think again. We are reminded, though in a subliminal way, of those events or people who came before. In any town, hamlet, and city, one has only to look up at the street signs to be reminded of those who may have made a big or little mark in history. It is a way of honoring those who contributed to a community, a well-meaning intention to give recognition to a person. However, like landmarks, airports, and cities that were named after persons of notoriety, the past today has often little meaning and has become as commonplace as the billboards we drive by each day.

So, here’s to those who may have made a positive mark and those who remember the ones that came before.

Herodotos_Met_91.8

Today’s blog brings the esteemed thinker: Herodotus (c. 484 – 425/413 BCE) a writer who invented the field of study we know today as “history”. He is documented as being the world’s first historian, having authored of the first great narrative history written in the ancient world, the History of the Greco-Persian Wars. He was well traveled, going over the East, Egypt, North Africa and Greece. Acquainted with the Sophoclean circle, he joined the Athenian colony at Thurii in Southern part of Italy and died there before the end of the century. The information he gathered was derived mainly from oral sources, as he traveled through Asia Minor, down into Egypt, round the Black Sea, and into various parts of Greece and the neighboring countries.

Although there are some who claim that his narratives are all but fabrications of tales he designed, criticism of his work may have originated among Athenians who took exception to his account of the Battle of Marathon (490 BCE). While it is said that Herodotus makes some mistakes in his work, it is also believed that his Histories are moreover reliable and scholarly studies in all disciplines concerning his work continue to validate his most important observations.

And so we take time from our busy day to look back into antiquity, and read a snippet from his work, An Account of Egypt (440 BCE) Place yourself in this era, if you dare, and imagine how unbelievable his description must have sounded. I bring you the “father of history”, known only by one name, Herodotus.

“… Of the crocodile the nature is as follows: —during the four most wintry months this creature eats nothing: she has four feet and is an animal belonging to the land and the water both; for she produces and hatches eggs on the land, and the most part of the day she remains upon dry land, but the whole of the night in the river, for the water in truth is warmer than the unclouded open air and the dew. Of all the mortal creatures of which we have knowledge this grows to the greatest bulk from the smallest beginning; for the eggs which she produces are not much larger than those of geese and the newly-hatched young one is in proportion to the egg, but as he grows he becomes as much as seventeen cubits long and sometimes yet larger. He has eyes like those of a pig and teeth large and tusky, in proportion to the size of his body; but unlike all other beasts he grows no tongue, neither does he move his lower jaw, but brings the upper jaw towards the lower, being in this too unlike all other beasts…”

First Image: Street sign and houses, Yates Gardens 1920

 

Esteemed thinker: Eli Terry

Salvadore dali

The sun rises and sets, the day begins and the day ends; and then… we have night. It is nature’s way of giving us a sense of time. That is, until the onset of man and woman’s need to keep order, whereby the application of a clock becoming most of humanity’s wakeup call. A clock, a watch, an alarm are not just a visual guide to get you through the day, but the things that sends us scurrying or slows us down. The clock reminds us we are late for work, need to get to the airport, or a badgering cue to “get to bed”. A timepiece is essentially a device that nags us into doing things we rather not do. However, in spite of our unwillingness, we generally and reluctantly abide.

The clock is often blamed for things that are not its fault, such as “the alarm did not go off,” or, “it is slow.” But since time is a made-up, the clock really is not at fault; can it be wrong or is it perhaps not on our time-schedule.

So, the next time you are in London, and see Big Ben, perhaps it is really not just a time-piece hoovering above, but rather a reminder of your obligations! eli terry

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Eli Terry, American inventor and modern thinker (1772-1852) Born in East Windor, Connecticut, Terry became an apprentice to a watchmaker at the age of fourteen.  Clocks at this time were handmade luxury items and considered quite a prestigious item to own. In 1793 he opened his own clock shop.  He had heard of Eli Whitney ‘s methods of interchangeable parts and realized the potential in applying this to his clock making business. Terry adapted his machines to be powered by water and with the help of hired workmen to cut the individual wheels, cogs, and other clock parts, he was able to assemble and produced finished clocks. Such a feat would change the art of clock making into mass-production by factory process.

By 1816 Eli had changed the style from pendulum to ones that were small enough to sit on a mantel. They were sold mainly to rural buyers by travelling merchants, which significant played a role in transforming the rural North from overwhelmingly agricultural to a modern market society.

The entrepreneurship and success of manufacturing clocks in large numbers grew and by 1830, western Connecticut was home to over a hundred firms, large and small, making clocks with wooden movements. Up until his death, Eli Terry continued to improve upon his inventions and help us to “keep time!”

First image: Oil on canvas by Salvador Dali, Persistence of Memory (1931)

Esteemed thinker: Louisa May Alcott

When it comes to hearty, size is not always the defining feature. Most of us have the perception that “big” equates to strong, however that particular idea is frequently a misconception. It is often in nature where we wsnow on crocusitness “small” being just as robust as  its counterpart. A mighty oak is surely a visual spectacle of greatness however; it is the tiny crocus that often seems to defy all weather challenges put forth upon it.

The crocus is one of the first blooms appearing even as early as January; a time when most dwellers of North America are still donning winter coats. So don’t be surprised to see these flowers’ colorful little “heads” pop up out of the ground before all the others… and they will remain faithfully in bloom, with buds held high defying its covering of snow, gently unfolding towards the sun as if they were sunbathing on the beach!

Today’s blog brings you the acclaimed American author, Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888). Born in Germantown, Pennsylvania, she is best known for her novel Little Woman. Alcott’s parents were progressives for the time, taking part in the mid-19th century social reform movement, supporting the abolition of slavery and even acting as station-masters on the Underground Railroad. They were also active in the temperance and women’s rights movements.

Louisa May Alcott was educated mainly by her father, although Thoreau, Emerlouisa may alcottson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Margaret Fuller were family friends, also providing her lessons. She began writing when she was young, and she and her sisters enjoyed acting out some of her stories.

During the American Civil War, she volunteered to sew clothes and provide other supplies to soldiers. Including volunteering to be a nurse in Washington, D.C.

Her career as an author was wide spread, including stories and poems. A lesser-known part of her work are the passionate, fiery novels and stories under the pseudonym A. M. Barnard. In her later life, Alcott became an advocate of women’s suffrage, and was the first woman to register to vote in Concord, Massachusetts.

From her novel, Little Men (1871) I now bring you a quote; few in words but mighty in spirit…like the crocus.

 “Love is a flower that grows in any soil, works its sweet miracles undaunted by autumn frost or winter snow, blooming fair and fragrant all the year, and blessing those who give and those who receive.”  

 

Esteemed thinker: Anne Sullivan

LOVE_small

The alphabet is one of our most progressive inventions, a unique concept with such profound implications. The act of stringing together characters to create a word, which has the ability to change meaning by the mere manipulation of its placement in a row, is indeed extraordinary. The word “but” is a conjunction, however switch the letters and we get “tub”, a noun.  Then if we add a few letters we can have the word “cat” and with the addition of an “s”, placed before or after the word, we get two distinct words and two different definitions,  “cats” or “scat”. Put them together with a space between and we have a sentence “scat cat!”

One can all agree that the inventions of the 21st century certainly have improved our lives, but let us not forget those that came before us… the offering that has most likely contributed most universally, impacting and influencing effects on civilization to the greatest degree… the alphabet.

Today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Anne Sullivan (1866anne sullivan-1836) (Born Johanna “Anne” Mansfield Sullivan Macy). An accomplished American educator, she is best known as the teacher and companion of Helen Keller. Anne was born in Feeding Hills, Massachusetts to Irish immigrants who came to the United States to escape the notorious potato famine.  Sullivan and her surviving siblings grew up in impoverished conditions, and struggled with health problems. Anne contracted an eye disease, trachoma, at the age of five and nearly caused her to lose her sight. Her mother suffered from tuberculosis and died when Anne was eight years old.

Left with an abusive father, she and her brother were sent to live at an almshouse for the poor, however after a short time the younger brother dies and Anne is left alone.  Wanting to get an education, she convinces a prominent group of inspectors of the almshouse to allow her to leave and she is sent to the Perkins Institution for the Blind. Having never attended school, she proves that she is intelligent and quick learner, tutoring other students at the school. After undergoing surgery, she regains some of her own vision back.

sign language

Overcoming her own disabilities, in 1887, Anne Sullivan accepts a positon of teaching six-year-old Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing after a severe illness at the age of 19 months. To prepare herself, Sullivan studies the case of a former Perkins student who was also blind, deaf, and mute who had been taught to communicate through the use of raised letters and manual language.

Under Sullivan’s tutelage, including her pioneering “touch teaching” techniques, the previously difficult and defiant Helen Keller flourishes, eventually graduating from college and becoming an international lecturer and activist. Sullivan, later dubbed “the miracle worker,” remained Keller’s interpreter and constant companion until the Sullivan’s death in 1936.

 

First image: Photograph of sculpture by Robert Indiana, 1970