Quaker Artists 3

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

Graham Lewinton

In January a Friend named Graham Lewinton posted an amazing painting of his on “Quaker Artists History”, my Facebook page.  It was called “Advices and Queries”.

Graham Lewinton (b. 1954) is an English painter.  He is largely self-taught.  Many of his works are inspired by a dislike of bullying and oppression, and these focus on pollution, Israel and Gaza, Arab Spring and the Dale Farm evictions.  Some works feature portraits and landscapes.  Among other places, Graham has had exhibitions at X-Church, Tate Modern, the Bird’s Nest Gallery, Kunstkreis Kloster Brunshausen, the Box, the Usher Gallery and Doddington Hall.  He is a member of the Lincolnshire Artists Society.

Graham began attending Lincoln (BrYM) Meeting at the suggestion of a friend.  After his mother’s death, he found he had become a very angry man.  His friend felt that Quakers might be helpful with his anger.  At his first Meeting for Worship Graham sat silently and looked at the parquet floor, a floor like the one in his parent’s home.  Painful memories of his past came flooding back.  On the way home he pulled his car over to the side of the road and began to cry.  Afterward, he says, “I felt clean”.  He has been going to Friends Meeting ever since and became a member in 2013.  He sees Quakerism as an on-going practice that has allowed him to heal.

“Advices and Queries”, an acrylic painting, depicts Lincoln Friends as pictured from above.  Members and attenders sit on chairs while beneath them, on the parquet floor, are inscribed Quaker advices and queries as well as George Fox quotes.  Graham jokes that he painted it “hanging from a chandelier”.  Actually, he created it by leaning over a balustrade in the Meetinghouse and snapping a photograph of each Friend, one at a time, as a guide.  Problems arose with perspective and structure, however, and the painting took him nearly three years to complete.  The original hangs in the Lincoln Meetinghouse.  (“Quaker Advices and Queries, Numbers 42 and 44”, his paintings of those words, rest on either side).  The Meeting sells prints and postcards of it as a fundraiser.

I loved Graham Lewinton’s “Advices and Queries”.  It perfectly captures the feeling of a Friends Meeting for Worship.  The color is vibrant.  The detail is exquisite.  (At first I thought it was a photograph).  I was especially charmed by the boy in the bottom center, glancing to his left, and the nearby dog, also gazing left.  (It is pictured below).

For more works by this remarkable artist, go to www.grahamlewinton.com.

April 2019

graham lewinton pic 9-advices & queries


Quaker Oaths

Quaker Oaths (2016) is a comedy film about a Quaker divorce. In the movie Emily and Joe get married in a quaker oaths picFriends wedding. At the end of the ceremony, as is the practice of Quakers, everyone signs the wedding certificate. Six years later, after a long separation, the couple decide to divorce. Emily’s mother, upset, insists that they stay together. Finally, she tells them she will accept the divorce if they persuade everyone who signed their wedding certificate to cross off and initial their names. So what happens next? Road trip! (See the film to find out the rest of the story). Fede Rangel and Alex Dobrenko star as Emily and Joe. Louisiana Kreutz is the writer and director. The film won awards at the Breckenridge, Woods Hole, Deep in the Heart of Texas and Phoenix Film Festivals.

Quaker Oaths contains little about Friends. A Quaker wedding opens the film. The plot device of the wedding certificate is used. Friends, of course, do not get a divorce in the manner described above. The actual process is that the Ministry and Counsel Committee supports couples in conflict with each other. If no resolution to their conflicts can be found, the committee supports them through their divorce. Meeting for Business unites on a minute accepting the divorce. Louisiana Kreutz, the writer and director, is not a Friend. She attended a Quaker wedding and thought it was funny that everyone signed the wedding certificate. She joked that everyone would have to cross off and initial their names on the wedding certificate if the couple wanted a divorce. (The title, by the way, is a pun on Quaker Oats. Kreutz probably did not know Friends do not swear oaths).

Quaker Oaths is a delightful and quirky film. I enjoyed it greatly. Rangel and Dobrenko are charming. Kreutz’s writing and direction is sharply observed but with real warmth. An independent film, the production values are home-made. I recommend this film highly.

Quaker Oaths did make me wonder what a movie about contemporary Friends would be like. As I noted above, there is next to nothing about Quakers in this film. And I know of no other movie about present-day Friends. Anyone out there able and willing to do an updated Friendly Persuasion?

A link to the trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxyqFdwd07I

Gary Sandman

March 2019

Genesis Chapman

Genesis Chapman (b. 1970) is a painter of the natural world. His work focuses on Bent Mountain, Virginia, where he was raised, and his goal is to genesis4highlight the changes to that area. He depicts its rocks, air, flora and fauna and, an important element for him, water. (Bottom Creek is a particular interest). The medium he uses is India ink on Yupo paper. Because of his love for Bent Mountain, a recent concern for Genesis has been the genesis5Mountain Valley Pipeline. His work regarding the MVP and other pipelines across the United States focuses on fire and smoke and employs bright inks. He has also constructed intricate wooden puzzles of animals, real and mythical. Genesis has had exhibitions at galleries in Kansas, Virginia and New York. In 2018 he was the first winner of the Taubman Museum’s “Homeward Bound” triennial.

Genesis has attended Roanoke (BYM) Meeting as well as Floyd and Richmond Meetings. He says he identifies as being “basically Quaker”. Friendly influence is reflected with the way he sits in quiet meditation to create his work. It is present in the simplicity of his drawings. It is also mirrored by his tendency to use shades of grey, traditionally a Quaker color, in his art. Finally, he finds deep spiritual comfort and something eternally present in nature.

I loved Genesis’s work. His water drawings were exquisite, especially “Cold Tub, Kettle Holes, Bent Mountain, Va”. As an artist, I adore color, so it was a revelation for me to study these black-and-white drawings. This is a greatly-talented painter.

Below is “Cold Tub, Kettle Holes, Bent Mountain, Va” as well as a photo of the artist.

Gary Sandman

February 2019

Down to the Sea in Ships

Down to the Sea in Ships (1922) is a silent film about 19th century New Bedford whalers.  The plot centers arounddowntotheseainships Allan Dexter and Patience Morgan, who have fallen in love but are prevented from marrying by William Morgan, Patience’s father.  William Morgan objects because Allan is neither a whaler or a Quaker.  A subplot focuses on Siggs, a villain who also wants to marry Patience.  Much of the movie concerns Allan proving himself as a whaler.  Down to the Sea in Ships stars Marguerite Courtot, Raymond McKee, William Walcott, Jack Baston, James Turfler and Clara Bow.  Elmer Clifton directed, and John L.E. Pell wrote the screenplay.  A.G. Penrod and Paul H. Allen were the cameramen.

Quaker references abound in the film.  Patience and William Morgan are Friends.  Scenes were filmed at the Apponegansett Meetinghouse in Dartmouth.  The Meeting for Worship depicted there is accurate.  Women sit on the left; men sit on the right.  After a male Friend rises to give ministry, he removes his hat as do all other male Friends.  (Removing the hat while offering a message was a long Quaker tradition).  A visual joke should be noted, too.  During Meeting a Friend sits twiddling his thumbs, sign language for “Quaker”.  Title cards feature the plain language when it is used by Friends.

Down to the Sea in Ships is a well-made movie, if a bit melodramatic.  The whaling scenes are especially exciting.  (Clifton, the director, was an assistant to D.W. Griffith, and the Griffith influence is evident).  It was also Clara Bow’s second movie, and, as Dot, Patience’s younger sister, she lights up the screen.  The subplot is racist.  The villain is Chinese but is passing as Caucasian, and mention is made of his background repeatedly.  A film worth seeing.

A link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWs3zGueWDs&t=2443s

Gary Sandman

January 2019

Courageous Mr. Penn

Courageous Mr. Penn (1942) is a biographical film courageousmrpennabout William Penn. It portrays him as a vibrant, energetic leader. Scenes from Penn’s life depicted include his conversion to Quakerism; his trial for worshiping at a Friends Meeting; and his establishment of Pennsylvania. George Fox also makes a brief appearance. The movie stars Clifford Evans as Penn; Deborah Kerr as Gulielma Penn; James Harcourt as George Fox; and Dennis Arundell as King Charles II. A British National Films production, the movie was directed by Lance Comfort and produced by Richard Vernon. William Alwyn composed the soundtrack. Anatole de Grunwald wrote the screenplay, based on C.E. Vuillard’s novel William Penn.
Filmed during World War Two, Courageous Mr. Penn was made as propaganda to publicize British and American shared values. Its goal was to encourage American entry into the war. Penn’s commitment to freedom and democracy was therefore emphasized. His conversion to a non-state church was used to reflect his support of freedom of religion; his trial (and the innocent verdict) was used to confirm his belief in the right of a jury to make their own decision; and his establishment of the Pennsylvania legislature was used to show his commitment to democracy.
Courageous Mr. Penn is a mediocre film. Because the screenplay was hastily written, some of it is not accurate and its tone is melodramatic. Production values are minimal. The actors are very good, however. Clifford Evans makes a fine Penn. (Evans was a conscientious objector during the war). Deborah Kerr is radiant as Guli, his wife. And it is remarkable to see a movie about a pacifist leader in the middle of World War Two.
Gary Sandman
December 2018