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Saturday, August 28, 2004


It's Saturday again, ...

as the hours and the days and the months and years pile on mercilously.

The meeting with the 27 young teachers went beautifully. I thoroughly enjoyed their visit, and felt a deep sense of pleasure that I'd been invited into their lives for those two hours.

They'd decided to break up their visit to the park into two parts; they would meet with me on Monday for a Q&A, and then return on Tuesday to explore the collections in the (temporary) museum.

In preparation for the visit, I dug out my own artifacts from home to share with them; photographs of Leontine Allen Breaux, my slave ancestor; pictures of relatives and events from earlier times; the marriage license of my great-great-grandmother, Celestine ("of no last name"), and Leontine's mother -- and the Cajun plantation owner, Eduoard Breaux who was her legal husband. Framed it some years ago to remind me that I'm the product of a long line of brave souls who crossed a lot of unimportant lines for the sake of love. Brought the thick sheaf of papers received from the Army that made up the service record of my great-grandfather, George Allen, Sergeant in the Civil War, having served in the Louisiana Colored Volunteers. There was a newspaper clipping of 17 year-old Betty Charbonnet (moi) that announced the winners of a beauty contest held at the World's Fair on Treasure Island in 1938. No, I didn't win, but finished as one of the top three. It was fun to share these treasures.

Tried to give them some context in which to ask their questions. It worked well. Through those two hours I hoped to convey that this living breathing elder was imprinted by slavery, Jim Crow, and the Civil Rights Revolution -- that it's embedded in my DNA. That there are no abstractions here. I could see by their faces that they got it.

Was unable to meet with them on their return tip on Tuesday since I was scheduled to attend the board meeting of the Proposition 40 Arts & Historic Preservation Board at the capitol in Sacramento, all day. Since outreach and public relations are my primary areas of responsibility, we didn't meet to follow up on Monday's work. I'd like to have done that, but will visit their charter school later this fall. They plan to create a product of some sort from their field trips, and that will fit nicely into my work. Their work will be around the topic of "what is missing in history as taught? What is not represented, and how do we retrieve those stories?"


More on Dorian's art:

Dorrie stayed home from NIAD most of this week due to the onset of some minor stomach upset that failed to fully bloom, so the promised visit from her brother, David, was postponed. Yesterday she returned to class. In the early afternoon she called on her cellphone, to say that David and a lady friend had visited the studio to see her work, that they'd brought her a bouquet of flowers. Her voice held all of the excitement that was expressed when Bob had come last week.

When I picked her up at the usual 2:30 end-of-day, I didn't just wait at the curb, but went inside to take another look at her huge "quilt day-flo piece" that I spoke of in my last NIAD report. I'm so glad that I did, because viewing it alone, without the distraction of a buzzing reception going on in the background and the need to chat politely with other guests, I saw much more:

This time Dorian explained the picture to me. "There's the two kittens (couldn't make these out but clearly she saw them), and over on this side are Speedy and Gracey (her two adult cats, recognizable from ears, whiskers, and tails, and color). And there YOU are." I looked more closely and saw beyond the blue shape that she pointed out before. My mother's eye and artist's soul had too quickly "interpreted" the blue blob as what I wanted to see as "mom." Not that is wasn't there. But there was so much more. The brilliance of the cobalt blue in the sea of scarlets and oranges and phosphorescence had masked another layer that lay just beneath. There was, indeed, a woman with hair, facial features, arms and legs, but all subdued, almost shadowed in browns, and blended in a way that obscured the woman there. The predominant feature was still that blue "core" that was located in her mid-section. It was so much richer to share her work without the distraction of others.

There remains some element of mystery for me since I know that her impairment lies in the destroyed brain cells that control visual perception. It's difficult to know how she sees, or, how her art reflects what and how she sees. What is plainly obvious, though, is that there are no limitations on her ability to express feelings in color and line (or lack thereof), and to communicate that to anyone who views her work. Everything is unstudied and free and guileless.

It dawned on me that there might be something to be gained by mainstreaming some "normal" people into the world of NIAD for the sake of freeing the muse that is so often restricted by the expectations of "the world." Looking around the studio yesterday -- after having a personal interpretation of her work by Dorrie -- I wondered if this might be an adventure in art that might be offered to others. I'd enroll myself, except that it would be an invasion into a world that is clearly Dorrie's. Might suggest such an experiment to the staff, for potential artists needing to be freed from themselves and their perceived limitations. I've always objected to mainstreaming for Dorian, but this would be in reverse, and the disabled would be in the majority and not the "different" ones.

Crazy? Maybe, but then maybe not.

Photo: A mosaic created by Dorian -- made of Mardi Gras beads, bits of glass, marbles, and whatever else she could find that met the pattern in her mind ... and quite beautiful.

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