All posts by Henry Lewis

Unconventional artist, writer, videographer and teacher. Personal Quote: It isn't easy being me ;-)

Health and Well-being

Burning Man’s Southern Roots

Fire is an incredibly unpredictable force of nature and not something to be taken lightly.

~any sane human being

Don’t EVER use gasoline (or kerosene or diesel) in an effort to burn plants, piles of brush or anything else for that matter outside your house.

~Southern advice to folks in other regions

In a recent BBC Future article, journalist David Robson explored the possibility that humanity may have reached “peak intelligence” and that “human intellectual potential may actually be declining.” According to researchers, along with our rise in manipulating more complex forms of technology, there’s been a fall in critical thinking skills. As if the American political scene wasn’t evidence enough of this phenomenon, I personally experienced such a lapse in common sense while visiting the USA in April.

Convenience vs environmental and personal safety

America’s DIY culture, along with large, intensely landscaped tracts of suburban and rural land, have opened the door to many an accident just waiting to happen. When facing a battle with tough, razor sharp foliage, many gardeners (especially in the American South) forgo the scraped arms and burn back some plants in the fall or early spring. While burning dead plants is an often faster, labor-saving method of disposal when compared to cutting and hauling brush away, the health and environmental risks far outweigh any possible benefits. Trust me. I unwittingly did the research for you on this one.

when common sense takes a vacation

So it was that on April 22 while visiting my Sisters (and yes, they are a proper noun) in North Carolina, I used gasoline in an effort to set alight a large pampas grass plant. The still-green foliage didn’t want to burn, so I did the ‘logical’ (NOT!) thing and added more gas while being too close to the plant. An unseen spark lay smoldering within the grassy mound. Instantaneously, a flaming whoosh like dragon’s breath flashed from the bottom of the plant and onto my pants.

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TravelVisual Arts

North Carolina’s Fresco Trail

The story of North Carolina’s Fresco Trail began in 1973 with the serendipitous meeting of a newly minted Episcopal priest, Father Faulton Hodge, and an ambitious young artist, Benjamin F. Long IV.

At the time, Father Hodge was working tirelessly to rebuild his parish and its two small historic churches, located in isolated areas of Ashe and Allegheny counties in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

Long, who had recently returned from a multi-year apprenticeship with the noted Italian portrait and fresco painter, Pietro Annigoni, was in search of a church in his home state that would grant him permission to produce a fresco on an interior sanctuary wall.

As relationships are often built on mutual needs, the two men quickly struck a bargain. Despite the fact that Father Hodge had no money to pay Long for materials or labor, the artist was content with simply having his first fresco commission in his home state. Long created a fresco entitled Mary, Great with Child on a panel that would hang in Saint Mary’s Church at Beaver Creek.

Detail of artist Ben Long’s Mary, Great with Child (1974), one of three frescoes which can be seen in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, just outside West Jefferson, North Carolina. The artist presents a pregnant Mary in a very human style, rather than the often idealized form seen in many religious paintings. Photo: Henry Lewis

The work was well-received by parishioners, and soon Long added two more frescoes to the main sanctuary wall inside St. Mary’s that beautifully filled the space directly behind the alter. Local and international media followed, bringing Father Hodge more parishioners and artist Ben Long quite a degree of renown as a realist painter who was also skilled in the ancient art of fresco.

Long would go on to paint his interpretation of The Last Supper in Father Hodge’s second church, Holy Trinity, in Glendale Springs. By this time, word of the painter’s frescoes had spread to the extent that Long ended up with a team of twenty student-artists from around the USA and abroad to assist him.

Ben Long’s fresco of The Last Supper (1980) which covers the wall behind the altar in Holy Trinity Episcopal Church near Glendale Springs, North Carolina. Long was the model for Thomas, who is seen sitting on Jesus’ right side. Photo: Henry Lewis

Between 1974 and 1980, Long achieved notoriety by completing the first frescoes (four) in this region of the country, while Father Hodge became famous in his own right and grew his flock many fold from its humble beginnings. The serendipity of their meeting had been sweet indeed.

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CultureTravel

Portals of Malta

Doorways are portals to other worlds, both real and imagined. J. R. R. Tolkien–speaking through one of his most enduring  characters, Bilbo Baggins–summed up the sense of mystery and adventure that lies just on the other side of such an opening.

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to–

Bilbo Baggins in Lord of the Rings

The idea that portals are gateways to other worlds filled with exotic new adventures was reinforced in popular fiction, TV programs and movies during my childhood. In the 1960s, I was enthralled by The Time Tunnel, a TV show with a thin plot that was propelled by the time traveling adventures of its two main characters. They would walk into a swirling black and white tunnel–think cheesy special effects!–which was a portal to other worlds. This was also a popular theme in other TV shows of the time such as The Twilight Zone. And I was glued to the TV when the shows aired.

Many ancient cities were protected by fortifications which had restricted gates through which all trade had to pass. Pictured here is a section of stone wall surrounding the historic city of Valletta, Malta. Photo: Henry Lewis

The doorway effect

Those of us who are fortunate enough to live in a house or apartment made up of more than one room have probably experienced the phenomenon of walking through a doorway into another room and simultaneously forgetting the reason we walked into that room. We may experience a change in temperament or thought processing simply by walking through a portal.

According to scientific research, walking through a doorway triggers our brains to be ready to learn something new, and therefore, takes us away from the thoughts that occupied our minds just seconds before. That powerful response can be either stimulating or annoying depending on the circumstances, but I prefer to focus on the possibilities such journeys offer rather than the limitations.

Passing through a portal can be the key to the process of rejuvenation, a way to unplug from the disturbing or mundane events we become bogged down in at home or work. Whether for exercise or to relieve depression, when I need a break, I remove myself from the situation at hand, walk outside, breath some fresh air (hopefully) and let my sense of curiosity about the world take control. This is where the adventure begins.

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Human RightsPolitics

I come from a “shit-hole”

For a different take on recent American history–

Koyote the Blind

I am not an American.

I was born in the continent known as “America”, yes. But somehow this United States has given itself the name of the entire continent.

Ronald Reagan demoted the rest of this magnificent continent to the mere “Backyard of America.”

That’s when I came here, to the “land of the free,” when Ronald Reagan sent billions of dollars to military dictators so they could use the money to rape, torture, and massacre my people. I didn’t want to come here. Oh, how I hated coming to this land so full of restrictions, prohibitions, and people kept so ignorant of their own history!

Once I came here, almost no one I met knew where my country was. They all assumed I was Mexican. Except for Mexicans. They knew where I was from, and knew they couldn’t trust me because if I was from where I was, I…

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CulturePolitics

Don’t Say You’re An ‘American’

We are conditioned so effectively to play artificial roles that we mistake them for our true nature. JeanJacques

John, an expat who recently relocated to Colombia, approached the desk at the Medellín immigration office. “Cómo puedo ayudarte” (how can I help you), the lady behind the glass window at the reception counter asked?

John had no idea what she was saying, so he shook his head and said, “I want to apply for a visa. Does anyone here speak English?”

The lady at reception rolled her eyes and called over her supervisor who responded in English and looked over the information John had provided in the online application. “What is your nationality,” the supervisor asked?

“I’m American,” John replied in a matter of fact manner.

“We are Americans too Señor. What is your country of origin,” the supervisor insisted, knowing the answer but refusing to let John off the hook?

John was baffled by the supervisor’s response and clearly agitated at this point. He raised his voice–so much so that everyone in the waiting area looked in his direction–and said, “I’m from the USA which means I’m an AMERICAN!”

“I’m sorry,” the supervisor said as he pointed to the choices on the application form. “That is not a category we recognize here in Colombia. If you are from the USA, you must tick the ‘Estadounidense’ box.”

“What the hell is that,” John quipped, showing his confusion and frustration at what he perceived to be the astounding ignorance of the immigration official as well as the bureaucracy which employed him?

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CultureHuman Rights

In honor of women everywhere

Quechua woman in Quito, Ecuador.

 

In honor of the IMMEASURABLE, and often unheralded, role women play in holding our fragile world together, this is not a week for a white man like me to be blogging about what’s on my mind. It’s a time when we should all be thinking carefully about how we treat the women in our lives–mothers, sisters, wives, friends, employees, co-workers, those we encounter in shops, pass on the street, sit beside on the bus, see begging on the sidewalks, all colors, all creeds, all religions, AND especially to the legions of SINGLE MOMS who raise and support the children of dead-beat fathers. They are ALL just as important, just as capable, an equal to any man (or more so!) and should be paid and treated equally.

Maasai woman in Kenya preparing the fire for cooking.

As the legendary R&B singer Aretha Franklin so clearly and simply states in her 1967 anthem, women deserve and have worked for centuries for R-E-S-P-E-C-T! International Women’s Day should be celebrated 365 days per year in our hearts, minds and actions.

Venezuelan immigrant woman watching over her children on the Colombia/Venezuela border.

peace and respect~ henry

Human RightsVisual Arts

Oswaldo Guayasamín: Ecuadorian Painter, Sculptor and Humanitarian

According to Pablo ‎Guayasamín, the artist’s son, Mestizaje, is a painting that ‎represents a young woman with great strength and spirit, a mixture of Spanish and the ‎indigenous Indian races. She further represents the ‎resurrection of a new race that is more humanitarian, has a better comprehension of its times, has values different from the ones we have and that is much less confrontational. She has ‎better understanding and respects the thoughts of others.‎ Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

Oswaldo Guayasamín is an Ecuadorian painter and sculptor whose work tells the story of prejudice, abuse and the suffering of indigenous peoples all across Latin America. His personal observations of institutionalized poverty, the horrors of war and violent revolutions during the 20th century all had a profound influence on his work.

Madre y Niño, 1985. The theme of motherhood is repeated in many of Guayasamín’s paintings. He had a deep reverence for his own mother and for the major role indigenous women play within their families and communities. Photo Credit: Henry Lewis

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EnvironmentPolitics

The Geography of Climate Change

Tampa, Florida, a city where Donald Trump has held some of his most infamous rallies, will receive disproportionately negative climate change impacts if scientists’ predictions hold true.

In a recent study published in the journal Science, “Estimating economic damage from climate change in the United States,” researchers have projected which states will likely be dealing with the most harmful effects of global warming and its associated negative impacts by the end of this century. These negative impacts include coastal flooding, storm damage, agricultural losses, curtailments in job creation and lower values in production of goods and services (GDP).

What makes this study different is that the researchers involved used county-level data to predict localized impacts. As the author’s noted, “Standard approaches to valuing climate damage describe average impacts for large regions (e.g., North America) or the entire globe as a whole. Yet examining county-level impacts reveals major redistributive impacts of climate change on some sectors that are not captured by regional or global averages.”

Indeed, looking at the charts presenting this more localized data in visual form is quite an eye-opening experience. They reveal just how unevenly distributed these negative impacts will be, with states in the South and Midwest bearing the brunt of the most serious economic impacts while states in the country’s Northeast and Northwest may actually receive benefits from atmospheric warming that lead to more vibrant economies.

Based on this map, it certainly looks like some of those jobs that moved to the Sunbelt States over the last 3 decades may be moving back north. It would be very interesting to see Canadian data added here. More jobs on the northern side of the US border ‘eh! Note: Red = economic damage. Dark Green = economic benefits.

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CulturePoliticsVisual Arts

Art and Ideology in Hitler’s Third Reich

Before the Masked Ball by Max Beckmann, 1922. Photo: Henry Lewis, courtesy of Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Traditionally artists have provided a mirror image of the societies in which they lived, often being at the forefront of social change and either propagating or protesting against the dominate political ideologies of a given period. Such was the case following the rise to power of the Nazi party (Third Reich) in pre-World War II Germany when artists both fought against and worked hand in hand with the German government to influence public opinion.

Adolph Hitler and other party leaders rejected ‘modernism’ in the arts and sought to create a world of art and literature that celebrated the purity and goodness of the German people and the soil on which they lived (Blood and Soil). While lifting up the idea of German purity, the Third Reich simultaneously aimed to show the ‘sickness’ of the modern art movements of Fauvism, Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Symbolism, Post-impressionism and Germany’s own Expressionism.

Joseph Goebbels, Third Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933-1945, views the Degenerate Art exhibition in Munich in 1937. Goebbels was one of Adolph Hitler’s closest allies and sought the harshest possible punishments for Jews. He promoted and fully supported the annihilation of millions of Jews and other ‘undesirables’. Photo Credit: Wiki

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