The most bizarre Quaker art I have ever encountered appeared on Comedy Central’s Drunk History.
In the Drunk History episode “Mary Dyer”, a weeping, drunken woman told the story of Mary Dyer’s hanging in Boston in 1660. She recounted it in a slangy, obscenity-laced rant. The screen shifted back and forth between the woman and an actor playing Dyer. When the camera was focused on Dyer, she lip-synched the woman’s words. Her response to an on-looker horrified at her execution, for example: “That’s your problem, being a sick (blank)”.
Drunk History was created by Derek Waters and Jeremy Konner. It first appeared as a web series. People who are actually intoxicated tell little-known stories from history. In “Mary Dyer” Jen Kirkman, a comedian, is the drunken narrator; Winona Ryder is Dyer.
Initially I was appalled by “Mary Dyer”. The narrator seemed to be acting drunk and making fun of Dyer. After I learned she really was inebriated, I was mystified. I felt oddly moved by Kirkman’s genuine emotion and pain at Dyer’s death, finally. A strange little film. Very dark humor.
Mary Vaux Walcott (1860-1940) was a painter and photographer. As a young woman, she fell in love with the mountains of western Canada. She became a remarkable figure: climbing glaciers; exploring caves; riding on top of boxcars through mountains.
Walcott focused on the Selkirk Mountains and the Canadian Rockies. She painted watercolors of their wild flowers and photographed their mountainscapes and glaciers. Four hundred of her watercolors were published in the five volume North American Wild Flowers. The books resulted in her being dubbed the “Audubon of Botany”. One of the first people to explore those mountains, she surveyed and photographed them extensively, and her research is still used to study climate change and land-shaping processes. (Mount Mary Vaux in Jasper National Park, near Alberta, was named for her). She was elected to the Academy of the Natural Sciences and belonged to the Photographic Society of Philadelphia and the Photo-Succession.
Walcott came from a wealthy Philadelphia family. Married to Charles Walcott, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, she became deeply involved in the Smithsonian and was also known as a prominent Washington DC hostess. She served on the Board of Indian Commissioners, which oversaw the Bureau of Indian Affairs, too. Because of her work in the mountains, she was called “the society woman in hobnailed boots”.
Walcott was descended from a long line of Philadelphia Quakers. She attended the Friends Select School and had planned to study at Bryn Mawr. She was a close friend of Lou Hoover, President Hoover’s wife. To provide the President and the First Lady with a place to worship, she helped found Florida Avenue Meeting and raised money to build the Meetinghouse. As well, she used the plain language throughout her life.
Walcott’s paintings of wild flowers were detailed and exquisite. Her photographs, especially of glaciers, were sometimes breathtaking.
Emmylou Harris (b. 1947) is a country musician known for her clear, poignant soprano. She has ranged widely, however, also playing rock-and-roll, folk, gospel and blues. Among others, her albums include Elite Hotel, Blue Kentucky Girl, Trio and Wrecking Ball. She has collaborated with and interpreted the songs of many musicians, such as Rodney Crowell, Ricky Skaggs, Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and, most notably, Gram Parsons. She has been the recipient of 13 Grammys, seven #1 singles and 14 Top Ten albums as well as membership in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Harris attends Nashville Friends Meeting, along with Eugenia, her mother. She is active in the campaigns for landmine removal and for animal rights. She was instrumental in helping save the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.
I have always loved Emmylou Harris’ music, Live at the Ryman being a special favorite. It was delightful to discover her connection with Friends.
With the publication of the second edition of Quaker Artists, I have resumed writing monthly columns on Quaker art and artists. Here you will find pieces on Emmylou Harris, Mary Vaux Walcott, Drunk History, Harold Loukes, Willem Sewel, Quaker Dream Writings, Josiah Coale, Cecily Wood, Douglas Steere and John Perkin, Ann Docwra and Path to War. In May I will feature a piece on Sally Campbell, a New York City songwriter and musician.