Fleabag

Fleabag (2016-2019) is a British comedy-drama television series about an anonymous young woman in London. The show refers to the young woman as “Fleabag” and depicts her as free-spirited but angry.  It explores her relationships with her family, friends and lovers, especially the death of her best friend and her unrequited love for a Catholic priest.  (Also anonymous, the latter is called “The Priest”).  A signature effect of the show is Fleabag’s frequent turn to the camera to address the viewer, during which she shares funny, if cynical comments, or offers ironic glances.  Phoebe Waller-Bridge wrote and starred in the show.  Fleabag won a British Television Academy Award, six Primetime Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe Award. Currently the show appears on Prime Video.

In Season Two, Episode Four, The Priest and Fleabag stroll down a London street.  The Priest informs her that he wants to show her something special and leads her into a nearby building.  Fleabag discovers that they have entered a Quaker meetinghouse.  She explains that one is supposed to speak when moved by the Spirit.  She adds that it is very intense.  She also notes, “It’s very erotic”.  After stating that she is not really feeling anything, she begins to shake and then rise, murmuring, “Oh, no, what am I going to say, what am I going to say?”  Finally, she says loudly, “I sometimes worry I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger (breasts)”.  Across the room The Priest stifles giggles.  Afterward, back on the street, Fleabag appears embarrassed.  The Priest says at least something moved her.  She responds that she isn’t sure she needed to be moved to realize that about her feminism.

Andrew Scott, who portrayed The Priest, inspired the Quaker scene.  When Waller-Bridge was trying to recruit him to play the role, he took her to Westminister Friends Meeting in central London, so they could talk.  It turned out that he often goes there as it is a quiet space in London.  The scene was filmed at the Westminster Meetinghouse.

Fleabag is a graphic, if hilarious show.  At first, I was taken aback at Fleabag’s ministry, but now I find it rather funny.

Gary Sandman

Rustin

Rustin (2023) is a film depicting the life of Bayard Rustin, the political activist.  It focuses on his organization of the 1963 March on Washington, one of the high points of the Civil Rights movement.  Colman Domingo plays Rustin, with a cast that includes Chris Rock, Glynn Turman,  CCH Pounder, Jeffrey Wright, and Audra McDonald.  Julian Breece wrote the story, and Breece and Dustin Lance Black wrote the screenplay.  The song “Road to Freedom” was composed by Lenny Kravitz for the film.  George C. Wolfe directed, and Barack and Michelle Obama produced.

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a life-long activist.  Inspired by Gandhi, he was the person responsible for bringing non-violence into the Civil Rights movement.  For the rest of his life, Rustin continued to struggle for the oppressed on every conceivable issue, especially advocating for economic justice.  An openly gay man, he never concealed his sexual orientation.

Rustin was born a Pennsylvania Friend and raised by his Quaker grandmother.  His first experience with politics came through the American Friends Service Committee programs he attended as a teen.  After he moved to New York City, he joined Fifteenth Street Meeting.  He was a co-founder of the Mary McDowell Friends School and a board member for the New York office of the American Friends Service Committee.

Rustin stated, “My activism did not spring from being black.  Rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values instilled in me by the grandparents who reared me”.  Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner, noted: “When he had to really consider a question or a problem, he would go into a long period of silence and just kind of sit quietly and mull over the issue before he would speak about it.  And I think that was pretty much true throughout his life.”

I was a member of Fifteenth Street Meeting once.  By the time I got there, Bayard had passed away.  Older Friends still remembered him fondly, though.  One of them, smiling, recalled, “He always felt Quakers should be doing more”.

Rustin is a remarkable and moving film.  Colman Domingo offers a powerful portrayal.  Don’t miss this film.  It’s streaming now on Netflix.

                                                                                                Gary Sandman

February 2024

Endeavour

Endeavour (2012-2022) is the prequel to the Inspector Morse television series.  The years covered are 1965 to 1972.  Shaun Evans plays the young Endeavour Morse, early in his career with the Oxford City Police, first as a detective constable, then as a detective sergeant.  Russell Lewis wrote the Endeavour series, based on the character created by Colin Dexter in the Inspector Morse books.  Barrington Pheloung scored the music.  ITV commissioned the series, and Amazon Prime streams it currently. 

Arcadia, Season 3, Episode 2, tells the story of the attempted extortion of an Oxford supermarket, which results in murders and a kidnapping.  Set in 1967, hippie communes, Oxford University students, action painting, Green Stamps and apartheid protests also figure into the plot.  Bryan Higgins directed the episode.

Morse reveals his Quaker background in Arcadia.  Leo Richardson is the owner of the supermarket while Ivor Maddox is the manager.  The Richardsons are lapsed Friends, though Leo’s daughter still attends Meeting.  The Maddoxs remain Friends.  Morse goes to the “Friends House” to speak to Prudence Maddox about the case.  After Meeting for Worship, he explains that he was raised a Quaker but only went to Meeting because his mother would have been hurt if he had refused.  He notes, sadly, “Still your mind, Mother would say, that was the point.  (I) never had the knack”.  He is now an atheist.  The Jordans Quaker Meetinghouse served as the location for the scene.

I have always enjoyed the Inspector Morse books and television shows.  It was a delight to discover Morse’s Friendly roots.

Gary Sandman

Thomas Holme

Thomas Holme (1624-1695) was an Irish/English cartographer, surveyor, soldier and merchant.   A captain in Cromwell’s New Model Army, he seems to have learned surveying during his military service.  He was granted land in Ireland by Cromwell.  As a merchant, he carried on trade in Europe, New England and Barbados.

Holme was converted to Quakerism in Ireland, probably by George Fox.  During his time there, because he was a Friend, he was jailed, fined and beaten.  In 1682 he was invited by William Penn to become the first Surveyor General of Pennsylvania.  He laid out the plan of Philadelphia and created the first detailed map of Pennsylvania.  His “A Portraiture of the City of Philadelphia” (1683) is the earliest map of Pennsylvania and the first town plan in the British colonies.  Holme was appointed by Penn to the first Assembly of the Province and to the Provincial Council.  In the mid-1680’s he was also acting Governor.

Holme’s maps were hugely influential in town planning in the British colonies.  They helped Philadelphia develop into the largest city in colonial America.  Prompted by Penn’s goal for Philadelphia to become “a greene countrie town”, they also represented the first effort at a sustainable American city.  The maps were drawn originally on sheepskin, from which plates were engraved by John Thornton in England.

Thomas Holme and his maps were representative of the Quaker dedication to the crafts.  The crafts substituted for art among Friends in our founding period. 

Please note: this Thomas Holme should not be confused with Thomas Holme (c. 1626-1666), who was known as the Apostle of Quakerism to Wales.

Below is a detail of A mapp of ye improved part of Pensilvania in America (1687) by Thomas Holme, showing a plan of Philadelphia. At the center of the map, in Centre Square, is Centre Square Friends Meeting House, built 1685-1687 and demolished in 1702.

Gary Sandman

December 2023

The George Fox Oak Photographs

Two photographs of an oak tree beneath which George Fox preached were taken in 1860.  Together they composed a stereograph, a photograph that creates a three- dimensional effect.  The photographs were albumen prints, measuring about 3 by 6 ½ inches.  George Stacy was the photographer.  Part of the Larry Gottheim Collection, they rest now in the Library of Congress.

George Fox journeyed to America in 1671, speaking in the Caribbean and along the East Coast.  In Flushing, in New York City, he stayed at the Bowne House.  Because so many people wanted to hear him, he addressed them under two large oaks across from the building.  One of the trees fell in 1840; the other fell in 1863.  Both probably died due to a combination of old age and the construction of Bowne Street, which disturbed their roots.  The George Fox Stone, a granite marker, was installed in 1907 to commemorate the site.  Two lithographs, one by Charles Motte, the other anonymous, both from the early 19th century, depicted Fox preaching beneath the trees.  In 1841 Samuel B. Parsons wrote a poem about the oaks.

From Fox’s Autobiography:

“From Oyster Bay, we passed about thirty miles to Flushing where we had a very large meeting, many hundreds of people being there; some of whom came about thirty miles to it. A glorious and heavenly meeting it was (praised be the Lord God!), and the people were much satisfied.”

The George Fox Oak Photographs are haunting, sepia portraits of a tree in winter.  When I lived in New York City, I spent time in Flushing and passed the oak’s location many times.

                                                                                      Gary Sandman

November 2023

Rachel Graf Evans

Rachel Graf Evans (b. 1990) is an American playwright, actor and singer.  Her plays include Respair, Randi & Roxanne, Pheromone and Cherished.  She is a member of the Dramatists Guild and a recipient of the 2022 David Shelton Award.  In addition, Graf Evans has served as the Resident Teaching Artist in the Alleghany Highlands Lighthouse Project.  She has also performed with the Sirens of Gotham, a barbershop quartet. 

Graf Evans comes from an old Quaker family, who emigrated from England to Philadelphia in the 1600’s.  She is a member of Westtown Meeting and worships currently at Roanoke Meeting.  As a teen, she attended Baltimore Yearly Meeting’s Catoctin Camp, participated in the Lobbying Weekends for Friends Committee on National Legislation and took part in Westtown School’s Quaker Leadership Program.  Graf Evan’s article “To the Heart of It: New Theatre & Quaker Clearness Committees” looks at a possible Friends contribution to dramaturgy.  She notes that her path as an artist was complicated by a Friendly suspicion of individualism and competitiveness.  She also observes, however, that her path was simplified by the Friendly values of welcoming the Light and experiencing community.

When the Lights Gets Loud, a play by Graf Evans, recounts the story of Lucretia Watts, a 12-year-old Quaker girl, who feels led to sing during Meeting for Worship.  It is 1890, and music is unacceptable during worship.  In response, Friends hold an “Exploratory Committee Meeting with a Concern for Discerning True Ministry Amidst Melodic Disruption in the Worship Space”.  The Exploratory Committee ends up deciding that Lucretia is rightly led.  An Exploratory Committee of Quaker children, called together by Lucretia, also gathers and supports her. 

Rachel Graf Evans is a gifted artist.  Her play When the Light Gets Loud is especially delightful.  I expect great things from her!

For more information on her work: www.rachelgrafevans.com.

Gary Sandman

October 2023

Six Degrees of Friends

I began writing columns about Quaker artists in 1983. They have been published monthly in Friends newsletters and on social media and in the two editions of my Quaker Artists book. I have now written 375 pieces, in addition to the introductory material for the books.

I have always tried to write about artists who have some connection with Friends, that is, Quakerism has meant something in their lives. Over the years, however, I have found many artists who have only a loose tie to Friends. (They may have a closer involvement, but I have not found it so far).

I have titled this piece “Six Degrees of Friends” to reflect those indirect links. But it also reflects an artist I want to share: Kevin Bacon. He is, of course, the inspiration for the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game.

Some artists have Quaker ancestors. Kevin Bacon is one. Among other artists with Quaker ancestors are Blythe Danner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Brad Pitt, Owen Wister, Zoey Deschanel, Emily Deschanel, Caleb Deschanel and Thomas Eakins. There are also people who are not known as artists but who wrote, including Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Edward R. Murrow and Thomas Paine.

Some artists have attended Friends schools. There are many of them: Jim Broadbent, Jon Bernthal, Dan Hedaya, Adam Rauch, Fisher Stevens, Lena Dunham, Liev Schreiber, Kyra Sedgwick, Olivia Thirlby, Lee Marvin, Caleb Carr, John Dos Passos, Gore Vidal, Francine Prose, M. Scott Peck, Sonya Clark, Oteil Burbridge, Vera Wang, Ana Gasteyer and Lee Miller. There are also people who are not known as artists but who wrote, including Julian Bond and Bill Nye.

Some artists have family ties to Friends. They are David Byrne, Cheryl Tiegs, Robert Ryan, Paul Robeson and Amanda Peet.

It is fun to collect these artists in a column. And it clears the board for many artists only peripherally associated with Quakers whom I had listed in my files for many years!

Gary Sandman

September 2023

The London Quaker

The London Quaker (1688) is an engraving of a young Quaker woman.  A penciled note on the back identifies her as “Rachael of Covent Garden”.  A dreamy look on her face, she stands, hands clasped at her waist, dressed modestly, a “Quaker hood” on her head, a cloak over her left arm.  Frills decorate her sleeves, and bows ornament her shoes.  (Her costume predates the Quietist plainness that was adopted by Friends in the 18th century).  The engraving is Plate 71 in The Cryes of the City of London Drawne after the Life. Measuring about ten inches high by six inches wide, it is printed on vellum paperThe engraving was etched by John Savage; the painting upon which it is based was madeby Marcellus Laroon the Elder.

“Rachael of Covent Garden” was very likely a Friend from Westminster Meeting, the nearest Meeting to Covent Garden.  Quakers had been worshipping there since 1655, with the first Meetinghouse rented in 1666.  Gutted by bombs during the Blitz in World War Two, the current Meetinghouse was rebuilt in 1956.

The London Quaker is a charming picture.  It is also probably a faithful depiction of this Friend.  Laroon was known for his accuracy in portraits, and Savage reflected this.  Interestingly, Laroon’s style was influenced by Egbert van Heemskerk, the artist who painted the earliest pictures of Meetings for Worship.

Gary Sandman

August 2023

Peter Chapman

Peter Chapman (b. 1944) is an American woodworker. In the 1960’s, he studied architecture at Virginia Tech and then was employed by George Nakashima, a leader of the crafts movement, both of which inspired his love of wood and influenced his approach to design. In 1975 he set up his own studio in a barn on Bent Mountain in Virginia.

Chapman creates three-dimensional animal puzzles. The puzzles are interlocking and move like the animals they embody. Hidden inside them is a surprise, as below, the cat with a ball of yarn. Chapman tries to capture the spirit of each animal and to make each one unique. He has created over 100 different puzzles. Nationally known, with numerous awards for his designs, he is a member of the Southern Highlands Handcrafts Guild, the Virginia Mountain Crafts Guild and the International Wood Collectors Society.

Chapman became a conscientious objector after being drafted into the Air Force, which earned him an early discharge. After studying and trying many different religions he found Quakerism fit him the best, mainly because of its active peace and justice stand. Smiling, he says, “I like them better than anything else”. With his wife, Jenny, he worshiped with Floyd Quakers and now is with Roanoke Quakers.

I have always loved Peter Chapman’s puzzles. And I have always enjoyed his quiet humor and gentleness.

His work can be found at www.chapmanpuzzles.com.

Gary Sandman

July 2023

Anna Brinton

Anna Brinton (1887-1969) was an American administrator, teacher and writer. A dean of faculty, she was also a professor of archaeology and art history and a head of classical studies. Among her scholarly works were Maphaeus Vegius and his Thirteenth Book of the Aeneid; A Pre-Raphaelite Aeneid; and the introduction to Descensus Averno: Fourteen Woodcuts.


Brinton descended from a long line of Quakers, her grandparents the well-known Hannah and Joel Bean. She was a student at Westtown School and later a professor at Earlham College and, with her husband Howard, a co-director of Pendle Hill. In 1928 she became a minister of the Religious Society of Friends. For over thirty years, she was active with the American Friends Service Committee, serving on its board and performing postwar relief work in Germany and Japan. Brinton co-founded Pacific Yearly Meeting and worked toward the reunification of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. She was also a president of the Friends Historical Association. Her Quaker works included The Wit and Wisdom of William Bacon Evans; Toward Undiscovered Ends: Friends and Russia for 300 Years; Friends and Sacraments; and an introduction to Crisp’s A Short History of a Long Journey from Babylon to Bethel, and her editions of Penn’s No Cross, No Crown; Then & Now: Quaker Essays, Historical and Contemporary; and Quaker Profiles: Pictorial & Biographical 1750-1850. She was one of the models for Sylvia Shaw Judson’s sculpture of Mary Dyer, the Quaker martyr.


Anna Brinton was a remarkable Friend and a fine writer. I have read most of her books over the years. They are delightful, especially The Wit and Wisdom of William Bacon Evans.

Gary Sandman

June 2023