Quaker Artists 3

The Buddha’s Smile

“The Buddha’s Smile”, chapter 59 of In the First Circle, a novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contains a brief mention of Friends. 

In the First Circle tells the story of the inmates at Butyrki, a prison for scientists and engineers, in Moscow in 1949.  Butyrki is an elite jail with adequate food and decent working conditions, though the threat of transfer to a harsh workcamp is always present.  The prisoners invent and perfect technology.   

In “The Buddha’s Smile”, Andrei Potapov, a prisoner, gathers with the other inmates and remembers a past incident at Butyrki: One day most of the prisoners from Cell 72 were removed.  The remaining 25 inmates were showered and reclothed, then returned to their cell.  In the meantime, the cell had been cleaned and beds and bookcases had been installed.  Then, to their astonishment, Eleanor Roosevelt, with a secretary, an interpreter and “two respectable matrons of the Quaker persuasion”, on behalf of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, entered the cell to check on prison conditions.  Satisfied with what she observed, Roosevelt and her entourage left.  The prisoners were immediately stripped of their new clothes, the beds and bookcases were taken out and the other inmates brought back to the cell. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was, of course, the Russian novelist and historian.  He was also a political prisoner and was jailed at Butyrki, among other prisons.  He became a leading opponent of the Soviet government.  The Soviet government came about, he said, because “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

Solzhenitsyn depicted Friends as naïve because of their participation in Roosevelt’s visit.  (The visit never happened, by the way).  I found this refreshing.  If Quakers are known at all, the opinions about us are usually kind.  But our faults are rarely explored.

I recommend you read “The Buddha’s Smile”.  It is wonderful -and very funny -writing.  To find the excerpt, type in “in the first circle pdf” in a search engine.  Chapter 59 begins on page 485.

Gary Sandman

George Fox’s Seal

A seal was among the possessions owned by George Fox.  It consisted of a wooden handle and a silver die.  The die featured a “GF” with several squiggles and other decorations.

George Fox gave the seal to Richard Pearce in Limerick, Ireland, in 1669.  Fox had been visiting Ireland to advise Irish Friends about structures and procedures.  As he was preparing to leave Limerick, he mounted his horse and handed the seal to Pearce, who was holding his horse’s bridle.  Apparently, this was done out of affection.  Pearce had hosted the first Friends Meeting for Worship in Limerick, and he had been imprisoned and fined for his Quaker beliefs.  Subsequently, the seal passed down through Pearce’s family.  About 1815, on his deathbed, Edward Phillips, a Pearce descendant, bequeathed the seal to Deborah Fisher.  They had planned to be married.  The seal then passed down through Fisher’s descendants.  In 1923 George Vaux, Jr., a prominent Philadelphia Quaker, purchased the seal from Fisher’s family.  Presumably it rests now with the Vaux family, though its whereabouts are not known with certainty.  Wax impressions of the seal are held in the George Vaux, Jr. papers in the Quaker collections at Haverford College and Swarthmore College.  (Another seal was left by George Fox to Thomas Lower, his stepson-in-law, in a 1688 will).

I find this an interesting story, though I am hesitant about Quaker relics!

Gary Sandman

August 2020

Broad Campden Meetinghouse Photographs

Two photographs depict Broad Campden Meetinghouse in Gloucestershire, England.  The photographers are anonymous.

Broad Campden Meetinghouse is the oldest Friends Meetinghouse in the world.  In 1655 Quakers in Gloucestershire began gathering through the work of missionaries Margaret Newby and Elizabeth Cowart.  In 1663 Friends in Broad Campden bought a cottage and began to use it as a Meetinghouse.  (The cottage itself was built c. 1500).  Facing benches for the ministers, overseers and elders and a second-floor gallery for the Women’s Meeting for Business were added in 1677.  (The Meetinghouse is so early it predated those features of Meetinghouses).  Broad Campden Meeting died out in 1874, and the Meetinghouse was sold.  The building was repurchased and renovated in 1961, and the Meeting began gathering again in 1962.  Today Broad Campden is a small but thriving Friends Meeting.  (The building doubled as “Kembleford Parish Hall” in the Father Brown mysteries).

The Meetinghouse is constructed of coursed and squared Cotswold stone and massive oak timbers.  Its interior is a single room and has been remodeled several times over the centuries, the wall plaster removed and floor stone and mullion windows replaced in the 1960’s.  Some of the original paneling survives.  The second-floor gallery now contains a kitchen.  A garden is laid out on the original burial ground, the gravestones having disappeared by the time the building was reacquired, while a small garden building serves as the children’s room.

Early Friends gathered in marketplaces and meadows or, if weather precluded, private homes and inns.  The first Quaker Meetinghouse was in Thirsk, Yorkshire and had been bought by the Thirsk Seekers in 1647, before they became Friends.  In 1653 Meetinghouses were purchased in Wigton and Carlisle in Cumberland; in 1654 in Hullavington in Wiltshire; and in 1657 in Banbury in Oxfordshire and Nassawadox in Virginia.  All those Meetinghouses were destroyed by the Crown, collapsed from age or were replaced by other Meetinghouses.  Hertford Meetinghouse in Hertfordshire was constructed in 1670 as the first purpose-built Friends Meetinghouse.  It is the also oldest continuously occupied Meetinghouse.

The Broad Campden Meetinghouse photographs are lovely.  They show a place where strong and gentle spirits have gathered for centuries.

July 2020

Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam

The “Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam” are two engravings showing Dutch Meetings for Worship in the 18th century. The worships took place in the Amsterdam Meetinghouse at 152 Keizersgracht. In the first one a Friend stands preaching while other Quakers sit around him. They are dressed as plain Friends. Onlookers, not Friends, listen. In the second one plain Quakers sit in worship, with a few non-Friends observing.

The first engraving was made by Pieter Tanjé (1706-1761), based on a painting by Louis Fabricius Dubourg (1693-1775). It appeared in D’Hurd’s Religious Rites & Ceremonies of All Nations in 1723.

The second engraving was made by Caspar Jacobsz Philips (1732-1789), based on a painting by P. Wagenaar (active 1781). It appeared c. 1780.

Dutch Friends began gathering through the efforts of the missionaries William Ames and William Caton in 1655. Converts were made, especially from the Mennonites, and Meetings were established in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. (They were known as “Kwakers”). In 1661 Dutch Friends began helping to establish German Friends Meetings, and they supported missionaries in Turkey and Algeria. By 1710 about 500 Quaker families lived in Amsterdam. They set up “infant schools” (or kindergartens) for Amsterdam children. During the 1700’s, however, many Dutch Friends emigrated to Pennsylvania and New Jersey and, in 1851, the last of them in Holland had died. Dutch Quakers began meeting again in the 1920’s, and Netherlands Yearly Meeting was established in 1931. Nowadays Meetings gather in Amsterdam, Bennekom, Den Haag, Deventer and Groningen. Famous Dutch Friends have included Jan Smet, Willem Sewel, Jan Claus, Jan de Hartog and Kees Boeke.

The “Assembly of Quakers at Amsterdam” engravings are charming. The skylight overhead indicates that James Turrell was not the first to think of installing one in a Friends Meetinghouse. It is also interesting that fewer Quakers gather in the second engraving. This, perhaps, reflects the emigration to America. Or maybe it was an off-Sunday!

June 2020

The Quaker Meeting

“The Quaker Meeting” (c. 1720) is a painting of an Italian Meeting for Worship by Alessandro Magnasco. A woman stands preaching, on a plinth in front of an obelisk, in a dark, cavernous room. Light descends on her from above. People are gathered around her, most of them ignoring her, some even chatting with one another. Two visual jokes: only a dog is listening closely to her, and one man holds his finger to his lips in a “shh!” A pair of nude men sit left and right in the foreground. It is thought that the painting is based on Van Heemskerk’s “A Quaker Meeting” or, perhaps, Goles’s engraving of that painting. Several copies exist, one of which hangs now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Alessandro Magnasco (1667-1749) was an Italian Baroque painter. He used browns and greys, enlivened with splashes of red and blue, in quick, almost expressionistic brushstrokes. Magnasco painted scenes of everyday life in oil and with a sense of the grotesque. Among others, his subjects included military barracks, Gothic churches, town squares, jails and monasteries. He painted synagogues sometimes, and this may explain the background, which differs completely from the Van Heemskerk painting.

Quakers held Meetings for Worship in Venice, Livorno, Milan, Florence and Rome in the late 17th century. Italian Jews welcomed them to gather in their synagogues. Friends began meeting again in the 1980’s through the efforts of Davide Melodia. In the 21st century small groups, known as Quaccheri or Amici del Silenzio, gather in Rome, Florence, Bologna and Milan.

“The Quaker Meeting” is gloomy and weird. The nudes are disconcerting. It is an odd picture.

A link to a website with “The Quaker Meeting”, the smaller painting of which is clickable for magnification:

https://www.canesso.art/artworkdetail/779981/17931/the-quaker-meeting.

Gary Sandman

May 2020

Quaker Mafia Cartoon

The “Quaker Mafia” cartoon was drawn by Scott Masear.  It depicts two Quaker mafiosos discussing a hit.  Masear (b. 1958) is a freelance cartoonist living in Eugene, Oregon.  His work has appeared in more than 300 publications, including Boy’s Life, Reader’s Digest, Christianity Today, the National Enquirer and the National Review.  He is not a Friend.

The “Quaker Mafia” cartoon is a hoot.  Poking fun at Friendly beliefs -in this case, peace -is something that non-Quakers have always done.  A worthy addition to the tradition.

April 2020

Quaker Meeting, The 60’s

“Quaker Meeting, The Sixties” is a poem by Robin Becker about her time as a student at Abington Friends School.  In the piece Becker remembers listening to Quaker conscientious objectors in class; attending Meeting for Worship; and performing community service.  Even with the Vietnam War raging, she recalls feeling safe at the school

Abington Friends School was founded in 1697 and is the oldest primary and secondary school operating continuously in the same location and with the same management in the United States.  It is under the care of the Abington (PYM) Meeting.  The curriculum emphasizes the arts and the humanities.  Becker first became interested in poetry there.

Robin Becker (b. 1951) is a poet and teacher.  She ranges widely in her poetry but reflects especially on her Russian-Jewish background, lesbianism and childhood; on art; and on the legacy of the 1960’s.  The poems often tell a story.  Her books of verse include Personal Effects, Backtalk, Giacometti’s Dog, All-American Girl, Tiger Heron and The Black Bear Inside Me. Among other magazines, Becker has been published in the American Poetry Review, the New Yorker and the Kenyon Review.  Her honors include a Lambda Literary Award, the Penn State Laureateship and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship.   She has taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Penn State University, the latter at which she is a Professor of English and Women’s Studies. She is not a Friend.

“Quaker Meeting, The Sixties” is a moving piece.  It contains the best description in poetry of Friends spoken ministry I have ever read:

On Wednesdays, in Meeting for Worship,/when someone rose to speak,/all the energy in the room/flew inside her mouth, empowering her to tell/what she had seen on her brief/encounter with the divine: sometimes, a parable,/a riddle, a kindness.

A link to the poem itself: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/50812/quaker-meeting-the-sixties.

(Above is a contemporary Meeting for Worship at Abington Friends School).

March 2020

Milton Mayer

Milton Mayer (1908-1986) was an American journalist, author, teacher and activist.  He was best-known for his column in the Progressive magazine.  He was also a reporter for the Associated Press, the Chicago Evening Post and the Chicago American.  His books included They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45; Man v. the State; Robert Maynard Hutchins: A Memoir; and Conscience and the Commonwealth; his articles appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, Friends Journal, Christian Century, the Nation and Life.   Mayer taught at the University of Chicago, the University of Massachusetts, the University of Louisville and William Penn College.  He was a consultant to the Center for Democratic Studies. For his journalism he won the George Polk Memorial Award and the Benjamin Franklin Citation for Journalism.

Mayer was a life-long activist.  He sought a moral revolution, rather than a political one.  He focused especially on the threat that authority of any kind posed to the individual, calling for resistance to evil-doing the moment it was recognized.  During World War Two he considered himself a conscientious objector.  In 1963, after being denied a passport because he refused to sign a loyalty oath, he sued the U.S. government in the Supreme Court.  He won the case, receiving the passport and striking down the law.  In 1968, in response to the Vietnam War, he signed the “Writer and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge and became a war tax resister.  He was also a member of the War Resisters League. 

Mayer was raised in reform Judaism.  In 1945, in Pittsburgh, he attended his first Friends Meeting.  (He wrote an article about it called “Sit Down and Shut Up”, noting that he made himself remain seated and listen to the ministry, rather than get up and start orating).  Later he became a Friend while living in Germany.  He said he liked Friends’ acceptance of African-Americans; openness to everyone in ministry; rejection of sacraments; and work for peace.  He was troubled though, by Friends’ materialism and their failure to recognize people’s potential for evil.  He also feared that Quakers had become assimilated into society to the extent that they had no problems participating in war or racism.  In line with his belief in resistance to authority, he also questioned Quaker organizations, such as Friends Journal and the American Friends Service Committee.  He never rejected his Jewish background but rather blended it with Quakerism, calling himself “a Jewish Quaker by profession”.   Mayer was active with the American Friends Service Committee.  Along with Bayard Rustin, A.J. Muste, Clarence Pickett and others, he belonged to the committee that wrote the AFSC pamphlet Speak Truth to Power.  He is credited with coming up with the title, a phrase which is now widely used.  (Some scholars, however, attribute it to Rustin). 

Milton Mayer has perhaps been forgotten these days.  He should be better-known.  Though I do not always agree with what he had to say, he remains a valuable voice among Friends.

Gary Sandman

February 2020

Quaker Paintings of Horace Pippin

Nine Quaker paintings were created by Horace Pippin. Quaker Mother and Child depicts a plain Friend and her child in a colonial-era home. Birmingham Meeting House, three versions of which exist, show Birmingham Meetinghouse in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Holy Mountain, four versions of which were made, was a scene from the Peaceable Kingdom, probably inspired by Edward Hicks’s pictures. Major General Smedley D. Butler was a portrait of the Quaker Marine Corps Commandant.


Horace Pippin (1888-1946) was an American painter. Self-taught, he worked as a laborer. A member of the African Union Methodist Protestant Church, he lived much of his life in West Chester. Pippin worked mainly in oil, using bright colors, flat shapes and straight lines. His subjects ranged widely, including slavery, segregation, childhood, war, everyday life, landscapes, portraits, the Bible and American history. By the late 1930’s he had become a favorite of artists and critics. Among his most famous paintings were Self-Portrait, John Brown Going to His Hanging and Marian Anderson. His works hang in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Chicago Art Institute, the Corcoran Gallery of Artand the Tate Gallery. A quote: “Pictures just come to my mind and I tell my heart to go ahead.”


Horace Pippin’s Quaker paintings are exquisite. Though dubbed as “outsider art”, a patronizing term, I feel they (and Pippin’s paintings generally) are among the best of American painting.

Gary Sandman

(Below are Quaker Mother and Child, Birmingham Meeting House, Holy Mountain and Major General Smedley D. Butler).

January 2020

Levi Coffin

Levi Coffin (1798-1877) was an American abolitionist, writer, farmer and businessman.  He was one of the foremost abolitionists of his day.  Known as the “President of the Underground Railroad”, he helped slaves escape to Canada.  He also worked in the free produce movement; lobbied for the creation of the Freedman’s Bureau; assisted communities of escaped slaves in Canada; and co-founded an orphanage for black children.  After the Civil War, through the Western Freedman’s Aid Society, he continued to help African-Americans.  He collaborated closely with free blacks and other white abolitionists in all his efforts. 

Coffin spent most of his life working in the Underground Railroad.  In 1813, in North Carolina, as a teenager, he began helping escaped slaves.  In 1825, refusing to live any longer in a slave state, he and his family moved to Newport, Indiana.  (Catherine, his wife, was also very involved in aiding escapees).  He used the considerable wealth from his success as a businessman in Indiana to assist escaped slaves.  His home, for example, was built with secret rooms and a secret well.  (It was known as the “Grand Central Station” of the Underground Railroad).  In 1847 Coffin and his family moved to Cincinnati.  He purchased a home that also functioned as a boarding house, giving cover to escaped slaves who appeared to be servants or, for the more light-skinned, guests.  Sometimes he also disguised escapees as Quaker women, their gowns and bonnets hiding them.  Harriet Beecher Stowe was acquainted with the Coffins in Cincinnati and used them as models for the characters Simeon and Rachael Halliday in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  It is estimated that he helped around 3000 slaves to escape.

Coffin was raised a Quaker at New Garden Meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina.  As a Friend, he was part of a community that completely opposed slavery.  Quakers had forbidden their members to own slaves since the 1770’s.  His parents had probably heard John Woolman speak, and his cousin Vestal was one of the first Friends to help escaped slaves.  Slavecatchers threatened to kill Coffin or ruin him financially numerous times.  He never wavered, though, stating that “my life was in the hands of the Divine Master”.  Some Quakers also opposed his efforts.  While those Friends were anti-slavery, they felt only legal emancipation was acceptable.  This led to a split among Friends, with Coffin and other like-minded Quakers forming the Indiana Yearly Meeting of Anti-slavery Friends.  Because of the Peace Testimony, Coffin refused to fight in the Civil War but he nursed wounded soldiers at a military hospital and took many of them into his home.  When he died, the memorial service at the Cincinnati Meetinghouse was attended by so many people that hundreds had to stay outside.  Four freed slaves were among his pallbearers.  He was buried in Spring Grove Cemetery in an unmarked grave, as was the Quaker custom. 

In 1876 Coffin published The Reminiscences of Levi Coffin, an account of his work in the Underground Railroad.  Though he stated that he had “no literary merit”, the book is, in fact, a riveting and moving story.  Highly recommended. 

A story from The Reminiscences:

British Friends from London Yearly Meeting visited Indiana in 1847 to encourage the Anti-slavery Friends to give up their involvement in the Underground Railroad.

“William Forster said: “We will go home with thee now,” as it was on their way to their stopping place. He took me by one arm, George Stacy by the other, and the other two Friends followed us. When we arrived at our house, I seated them in the parlor, excused myself for a moment, and went into a back room where there were fourteen fugitive slaves, who had arrived the night before. An old white-haired grandmother was there, with several of her children and grandchildren; one of her daughters had a child three months old. I invited them all to follow me into the parlor to see the four English Friends, telling them the gentlemen lived on the other side of the ocean where there was no slavery, and were true friends to the slave. This seemed to remove all fear from them, and they followed me into the parlor. I had them to stand in a semicircle and introduced them to the English Friends as fugitive slaves fleeing from the land of whips and chains and seeking safety in the Queen’s dominions. The Friends all rose and shook hands with them. Taking the child in my arms, I said: “See this innocent babe, which was born a slave,” and handed it to George Stacy, who stood near me. He took it in his arms and fondled it, for it was a pleasant looking child. All the Friends seemed deeply interested and asked the fugitives many questions.

Finally Coffin said:

“For pleading the cause of innocent babes like the one thou held in thy arms, and sheltering the fugitives, such as you have seen, we have been proscribed. Now, my dear friends, if you fully understood the difference of sentiment that exists…. you could not advise the discontinuance of our organization….”

The British Friends were deeply moved.  After further talks with Coffin, they returned to England.  There were no further calls from London Yearly Meeting to cease Quaker work in the Underground Railroad.

A link to The Reminiscences:  https://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/coffin/coffin.html

Gary Sandman

December 2019