Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Art and women

This water tower overlooks the community pool and tennis courts where Scotty still plays at least five days a week. It will soon be replaced by a larger more modern one being build less than a mile away.
We spent most of Sunday at the Custer County Art and Heritage Center, which is located in a really interesting place--the original brick and stone building, completed in 1910, that was the water treatment plant for over 60 years. The building, now listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is on the bank of the Yellowstone River in what used to be Fort Keogh Reservation. The area is packed with cottonwood trees. (While walking outside the building I remembered that a few summers ago, when Eleanor was still alive, we all attended a Shakespeare in the Park production and the trees shed cotton like crisp snow that magically covers everything in white.) The interior space in this building is really beautiful.
So... I was thinking about art all day and when we returned home I perused Eleanor's paintings and felt really sad.

Eleanor's blue Montana hill.
I miss Eleanor; it's been four years since she died. She didn't paint much in her later years, but when George and Linda were children, and before they were born, she finished a lot of oils, water colors and pencil drawings. I like these two in particular; I like the passion in her strokes and the vibrancy in the colors she combined. They remind me of her keen ability to notice her surroundings.

Eleanor's zinnias (her favorite flowers; she planted them every summer).
One thought led to another, and I remembered that the day before we'd met David Graham at the Bucking Horse Sale. David's a young artist who lives in Bozeman. He too seems to have a sure ability to notice and capture his surroundings in fine gloriously colored details. I like this one of his paintings, "Last Ride in Snow," and the poetic words he's composed.

"Life is full of changes. Living in Montana, the seasons constantly remind a person of that truth. These riders are scanning the horizon for stray cattle as the final, waning rays of evening sun provide one last show of brilliance. The warm days of fall are nearly over and any day now, snow could blanket the ground and bring a deep sleep upon the countryside. The seasons of life are a lot like that. No season lasts forever. Seasons of warmth and contentment give way to seasons of seemingly endless cold and starkness, and then growth and new life return once again. As the seasons change, these cowboys know that they will likely never be in this spot again, witnessing such a glorious sunset. But they know that the secret of enjoying each season is taking the time to savor the moment, commit it to memory, and carry that memory along into the next season of life."

At home, I spent the last of daylight digging up some of the ramblers (a sort of progeny) of bright yellow irises that Eleanor and Scotty planted over forty years ago. I already have a garden full of them in Saratoga, but I wanted to have more, and to send some to friends. As I dug, I thought about how painful it is to miss someone you love, and how soothing it is sometimes to simply hold on to whatever beauty that person created.

Miles City as seen from the Airport Restaurant up on the hill. That night, I read about one of Montana's illustrious women, someone whose legacy is undeniable. I'll leave you with some notes about Jeannette Rankin.

Women in Montana won the vote in 1914, six years before the Nineteenth Amendment gave all American women that privilege. Just three years after that, in 1917, Montana sent the first woman to serve Congress--Jeannette Rankin. (She was also the very first woman elected to a national legislature in any western democracy.) In her inaugural vote as a member of the House of Representatives she voted against US entry into World War I: she had the courage to say "I want to stand by my country, but I cannot vote for war." That kind of commitment was not unusual for her. After being re-elected to the House (in 1940), in 1941 she cast the lone vote against declaring war with Japan. The she said, "As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else. I vote NO." In 1968, at age eighty-eight, she marched at the head of the phalanx of nearly five thousand women protesting US involvment in Vietnam. I suspect that if she were alive today she'd also be protesting the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. Ms. Rankin worked determinedly in support of peace and women's issues. Today her legacy can be seen in various places and organizations, among them the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center in Missoula. I just learned that there's a play, written by Jeanmarie Simpson, about Rankin's life; it's titled A Single Woman. There's also a film adaptation, starring Jeanmarie Simpson, that is directed by Kamala Lopez-Dawson; it too is titled A Single Woman. It should be out soon in general cinemas.

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