Quaker Artists 3

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


Annot, formal name Anna Ottilie Krigar-Menzel Jacobi, (1894-1981), was a German-American painter, teacher, interior designer and pacifist. She painted portraits, landscapes and, especially, flower art, employing oils and gouache. She was influenced by the French Impressionists, though she always retained a certain German realism. Growing up in academic and artistic circles in Berlin -her godfather was Johannes Brahms -she studied painting at the Verein der Berliner Künstlerinnen and with the teachers Fritz Rhein, Karl Bennewitz von Loefen der Jüngere and Lovis Corinth. Annot was a member of the Berliner Succession, an avant-garde artists association. She exhibited in Berlin, Munich, New York City and Chicago, and her paintings were purchased for the National Gallery in Berlin. With her husband she ran the painting schools Malschule Annot in Berlin and the Annot Art School and Gallery in New York City. She also worked as an interior designer in New York City.

Annot remained a committed activist throughout her life. In 1916, during World War One, in Berlin, she was jailed for distributing pacifist leaflets and then moved to Oslo and continued to advocate for peace. In 1920, returning to Berlin, she was active with the anti-war groups Deutsche Liga für Menschenrechte, Bund Neues Vaterland and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and she was a friend of the pacifists Annette Kolb and Carl von Ossietzky. In 1933 the Nazis closed the Malschule Annot because Annot and her husband refused to dismiss their Jewish students. Her paintings were classified as degenerate and destroyed or stolen. She and her family fled into exile in the United States, and she remained active in the peace movement. In 1956, attracted by the integration movement in Puerto Rico, they began to live part-time there, and she helped form a Puerto Rican Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy.

Annot became a member of Westbury Monthly Meeting and worshiped at Matinecock Preparative Meeting in 1941, both groups part of New York Yearly Meeting. After World War Two, she chaired NYYM’s Food Parcels for Europe Subcommittee, which worked in coordination with the American Friends Service Committee.

I had not heard of Annot before coming across a reference to her online. I was moved by her courageous life and charmed by her lovely paintings.

Gary Sandman

November 2019

Henry Cadbury

Henry Cadbury (1883-1974) was an American teacher, writer and organizer.  He taught religious studies at Westtown School, Haverford College, Harvard University, Bryn Mawr College and Pendle Hill.  A foremost Biblical scholar, he was the acknowledged authority on the Gospel of Luke.  His works included The Style and Literary Method of Luke; National Ideals in the Old Testament; The Making of Luke-Acts; The Peril of Modernizing Jesus; and Jesus: What Manner of Man.  He also worked with other scholars to create the Revised Standard Version of the Bible. With Rufus Jones, Cadbury founded the American Friends Service Committee, and he was twice its chairman.  In 1947 he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, on behalf of AFSC and the British Friends Service Council. 

Cadbury came from an old Philadelphia Quaker family.  As a child, he worshipped at Twelfth Street Meeting (PYM) and attended William Penn Charter School. For writing a letter-to-the-editor to the Philadelphia Public Ledger, criticizing the war fever during World War One, he was suspended from his position at Haverford College and summoned to the U.S. District Attorney’s office to respond to charges of treason.  (None were brought).  At Harvard, he declined employment at first because he refused to swear a patriotic oath.  Allowed to affirm his loyalty, he finally accepted a position.  Cadbury called on Jews to respond with good will to the Nazis during the 1930’s, even to the extent of not staging boycotts.  (This was in line with many Friends of the time who considered any resistance coercion).  He was widely criticized for this belief.  During the Cold War he encouraged Quakers to refuse to pay war taxes.  Cadbury was a president of both the Friends Historical Society and the Friends Historical Association.  He wrote widely on Quakerism, including John Woolman in England: A Documentary Supplement; George Fox’s Book of Miracles; Narrative Papers of George Fox; Quakerism and Early Christianity; and A Quaker Approach to the Bible. 

Henry Cadbury gave so much to Friends.  And he touched my life.  I first encountered Friends through a photo of an American Friends Service Committee peace vigil in front of the White House during the Vietnam War in 1969.  I also read his wonderful Friendly Heritage: Letters from the Quaker Past in the early 1970’s.  This was a collection of columns in Friends Journal exploring various aspects of Quaker history, signed with the pen name, “Now and Then”.  When I began collecting information for my Quaker Artists series, I was aware of a parallel with Friendly Heritage.                                                                               

Gary Sandman

October 2019

Richard Reed Parry

Richard Reed Parry (b. 1977) is a Canadian musician. He is best-known as a member of the alternative rock band Arcade Fire. A multi-instrumentalist, he plays guitar, double bass, drums, keyboards and accordion. He has co-written many of Arcade Fire’s songs. Parry has released solo albums, including Quiet River of Dust, Volumes I and II. He has also composed numerous classical pieces for Kronos Quartet, yMusic and Bryce Dessner.

Parry comes from a long line of Pennsylvania Quakers. He grew up attending Toronto Meeting. Toronto Friends, in fact, bought him his first double bass, for which, he noted, “I shall be eternally grateful”. The Quiet River of Dust albums were inspired by voices he heard singing in the forest near Mount Koya in Japan. The voices were disembodied, that is, there was no one there to sing. Citing his Quaker background’s mysticism, though, he simply accepted the experience. Parry regards the act of artistic creation, in an unconscious parallel with Friends worship, as: “It’s about turning your attention to it in a certain way and staying there for a moment, being silent and absorbing this magical feeling of the thing that you might pass by otherwise”. He states, however, that he not currently active with Friends.

I had been unfamiliar with Richard Reed Parry’s work. Researching for this piece, I was delighted with Arcade Fire’s music. And I was very moved by a song Parry wrote: “Their Passing in Time”. It is a stunning work. Though I don’t plan to die any time soon, this is what I want played at my funeral.

A link to “Their Passing in Time”, as performed by the Brooklyn Youth Chorus:


Gary Sandman

September 2019

Twyla Tharp

Twyla Tharp (b. 1941) is an American dancer, choreographer and writer.  She is best-known for her crossover dances, a blend of ballet, modern dance and popular dance.  Among the over 160 pieces she has choreographed are The Fugue, Eight Jelly Rolls, Deuce Coupe, the Bix Pieces and Push Comes to Shove.  She created the dances for the Broadway shows The Catherine Wheel, Singin’ in the Rain, Movin’ Out and the Times They are A-Changin’.   She provided the choreography for the films Hair, Ragtime, Amadeus, and White Nights.  Tharp wrote Push Comes to Shove, an autobiography, and The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life and The Collaborative Habit, two books on creativity.  Her numerous awards include two Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, a National Medal of the Arts and a MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a Kennedy Center Honoree.

Tharp comes from five generations of Indiana Quakers.  As a child, she attended Bluff Point Friends Church (New Association of Friends).  She noted, “I learned that there is a right and a wrong way in human relations from the Quaker church at Bluff Point”.  She also remembered, “….the Quaker meetings on Sundays and on Wednesday nights, when the community of Friends set about reconciling all life’s events through love”.  As an adult, however, Tharp seems to have little to do with Friends.  Her Quakerism appears to be cultural, something that appears in families who have been Friends for a long time.  Repeatedly she mentions family traits of modesty, simplicity, service and community.  She also feels that she learned from her mother that women could do anything to which they set their minds, a common belief among Friends.

Tharp looks on dancing as a religious calling.  While rehearsing at Judson Church in 1967, a janitor complained to her that her troupe was dancing on a Sunday.  She responded, “How dare (you) disturb a bunch of broads doing God’s work?”  Her dance Sweet Fields was inspired by her Quaker background and was originally titled Bluff Point.  At one time Tharp used Friends worship to create dance: “My family is Quaker, and the idea of Wednesday meetings was everyone went to the church, and if no one had something to say, everyone sat silently; if someone had something to say, they got up to do it. So I assigned the task of, okay, you’re not going anywhere, you’re not doing anything until you get your mind clear and you stop telling yourself what to do, and if you move, you move. If you don’t, you don’t. And I said to myself, okay, can you carry through on that, and start a new move? And I said, okay, we’ll call that one. Now, how many of those can you generate?” 

I have always adored Twyla Tharp’s work.  I saw Deuce Coupe and Short Stories on television in the mid-1970’s, and Movin’ Out at the Roanoke Civic Center in the late 00’s.  She is a national treasure.

A link to Movin’ Out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hgzw5spUxc

Gary Sandman

August 2019

Bradley Whitford

Bradley Whitford (b. 1959) is an American actor, writer and political activist. He is best-known for his role as Josh Lyman in the NBC series The West Wing. Among his many other plays, television shows and films are A Few Good Men, Transparent, The Handmaid’s Tale, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Scent of a Woman, Philadelphia, The Post, and Get Out. He has won two Primetime Emmy Awards, a Critics’ Choice Television Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. He wrote two episodes of The West Wing as well as occasional columns for The Huffington Post.

Whitford was raised a Friend at Madison (NYM) Meeting. He has said repeatedly that his concern for peace and justice comes from the religious education that he received at First Day School as a child. (He notes, “….the Quaker version of Sunday school was basically social action. There was this idea of being a little kid and talking about prison reform and stuff like that”).  He has worked on many issues, like climate change, women’s reproductive choice and the death penalty. Currently he serves on the board of Let America Vote, an organization aiming to end voter suppression. As an adult, he became an Episcopalian.

Recently I subscribed to Netflix. Watching Bradley Whitford’s portrayal of Josh Lyman, the brilliant, driven Deputy Chief of Staff, on The West Wing has been a real joy. A solid, working actor.

Gary Sandman

July 2019

The Phoenix Trip: Notes on a Quaker Mission to Haiphong

The Phoenix Trip: Notes on a Quaker Mission to Haiphong (Celo Press, 1985) recounts the story of the Quaker project to deliver medical supplies to North and South Vietnamese civilians during the Indochina War. It was written by Betty Boardman, one of the participants.

In March 1967 the Phoenix of Hiroshima set sail from Hong Kong with a ton of medical supplies. When it neared the North Vietnamese coast, it was buzzed by U.S. jets and helicopters. Later, in Haiphong harbor, five SAM missiles roared overhead and, as the crew learned later, shot down an American plane. At Haiphong the North Vietnamese Red Cross accepted the supplies. The North Vietnamese government gave the crew a tour of hospitals and villages and held a dinner in their honor. (Subsequently, in November 1967, the Phoenix sailed to South Vietnam, and the crew attempted to land medical supplies at Da Nang but were refused. Back in Hong Kong, they shipped the supplies to the Unified Buddhists of South Vietnam. In January 1968 the Phoenix returned to North Vietnam with more medical supplies but the crew had to depart early. The Tet Offensive had begun, and the North Vietnamese were expecting American bombing).

A Quaker Action Group organized the Phoenix voyage. AQAG was formed in the summer of 1966 as a loose association of Friends activists. Its mission was to renew Quaker commitment to peace and, more specifically, to “apply nonviolent direct action as a witness against the war in Vietnam”. In 1971 it morphed into the Movement for a New Society. As MNS, it greatly influenced other progressive movements. It still exists as the New Society Publishers, which releases publications on analysis and training for social change.

Betty Boardman (1917-2008) was a member of Madison (NYM) Meeting and later an attender at State College (BYM) Meeting. A life-long activist, she worked against nuclear weapons, opposed the Indochina War and helped found the Clamshell Alliance, an anti-nuclear power group.

In the early 1970’s, when I first started attending Friends Meeting, I heard about the Phoenix voyage. Later, in the mid-1980’s, I learned that Illinois Yearly Meeting had contributed money to the project, and I met Betty Boardman at Northern Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions.

The Phoenix project, of course, was controversial, even among Friends. Quakers feared it would jeopardize the efforts of organizations like the American Friends Service Committee. War supporters charged that the medical supplies would be turned over to the North Vietnamese military. The U.S. government threatened the participants with ten year prison sentences, under the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act; revoked their passports; and froze AQAG’s bank accounts. (In the end, the U.S. government declined to prosecute).

As an experiment in practical non-violence, the Phoenix voyage was invaluable. Working with civilians during a war was a Quaker tradition, though the civilians belonged to the Friends country or nations allied with their country. After a war had concluded, working with civilians on both sides was also a tradition. But working with civilians on both sides during a war was a new tradition.

The Phoenix Trip is a frank account of A Quaker Action Group’s project. Boardman writes about the tensions between the crew and the fears about what they were facing. She admits her rage at the American government after witnessing the horrific casualties from U.S. bombing. Horace Champney, another participant, also described the voyage in an appendix.

The Phoenix of Hiroshima now rests in 25 feet of water in the Mokelumne River, just off Tyler Island, in northern California. The Phoenix of Hiroshima Project, Inc., a non-profit organization, is attempting to restore the ship for use in peace activities. More information about this can be found at https://phoenixofhiroshima.org/.

Gary Sandman

June 2019

Quaker Gravestones

Quaker gravestones, traditionally, are small and plain. Only Friends names and dates of birth and death are included. The markers reflect the Quaker testimony of equality. Friends feel that the difference between people is not outward – titles, wealth, etc. -but rather inward -the spirit. Additionally, the markers represent the testimony of simplicity. Friends feel that they must avoid what is unimportant in life –again, titles, wealth, etc. -and focus on what is important -again, the spirit. They feel both testimonies are true not only in life but also in death.

In 1661, in London, Bunhill Fields –the name a corruption of “bone hill” -was purchased, as perhaps the first Quaker cemetery. The early burials there were unmarked. When Meeting graveyards were established elsewhere in Britain and America, they followed this practice was followed. Some Friends raised concerns about unmarked graves, however, because they wanted to remember where their loved ones lay. By the late 1600’s small blank markers had appeared and then, after a time, markers with just initials were installed. They rested flat on the ground. Many kinds of stone were used, though slate was a dominant material. Uncut stones and boulders were also employed as well as wood, though the latter has usually not survived. In the 1700’s small gravestones with names and dates of death as well as sometimes dates of birth or age were used. The months were denoted by number, such as in “First Month” for “January”. They were upright. Limits on size and information on the markers were strictly enforced by Meetings. Epitaphs and ornamentation were not permitted. Variants existed: in the Camden (SC) cemetery, bricks outlining an oval were used, with no gravestones. Slaves, Indians and poor whites were also sometimes buried in Quaker graveyards. In the 1800’s Friends occasionally began to be interred in public cemeteries but plain markers were still utilized. In the 1900’s granite and marble became the common materials used for gravestones. In the 2000’s the markers are still usually small and plain. Some Friends are now cremated, and some are buried green.

The gravestone carvers are often unknown for the early period of Friends. Presumably local stone masons, who often made markers as a sideline, were used. In the later periods full-time carvers and then professional memorial companies were employed. Probably few of them were Friends.

I feel Quaker gravestones were a perfect manifestation of early Friends’ beliefs. And they still are.

I also have a great affection for Friends cemeteries, as I do for all graveyards. To me they are not a field of burials but rather a field of lives. When I have visited them, I imagine the stories of these people. A quote about this from Britain Yearly Meeting’s Faith & Practice:

“The gravestones speak of the past, of those who also served the Meeting, whose lives are woven into ours, as ours will affect those still to come.”

Gary Sandman

Pictured above (top) are gravestones from the Flushing (NYYM) Friends Cemetery and (bottom) gravestones from the Sandy Spring (BYM) Friends Cemetery.

May 2019