Friday, September 25, 2009


In my first career, I conducted research and managed R&D in large corporations. Just six years after completing my doctorate, I was one of three editors for a study put together by Ford Motor Company. The other two editors were an economist who directed Ford’s Economics Office, and Frederick Hooven, a very farsighted engineer and inventor who became an important mentor to me. Fred also played piano and harpsichord.

The report on “The Future of Transportation” looked ahead more than thirty years to the year 2000. Responsible for scientific forecasts, I divided technology into three areas: materials, energy and information. I missed the importance of composite materials but my other two forecasts were substantially correct. I predicted that petroleum fuels would be dominant in our society until about 2000 but would have to be superseded by 2030. I predicted that the rapid development of electronics and software would lead to major advances in Information Technology. Advances in computation, communication and digital control would dominate our progress between 1964 and 2000.

The study led to Ford beginning research on sodium-sulfur batteries for electric cars. Believing my own forecast about IT, I shifted my attention to research on artificial intelligence, and then installed one of the first process control computers used in Ford’s manufacturing. Impatient with the slow pace of innovation in the auto industry, I then left for Xerox Corporation.

What does all this have to do with the arts in Western North Carolina? Having once been 67% correct in 35-year forecasts, I wondered if I could predict the 35-year future of the arts. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so here are my major conclusions:

1. A Western North Carolina author will win the Nobel Prize in Literature sometime before 2040.

2. Regional theater will thrive with vitality and new plays, while Broadway will continue staging revivals and dull Andrew Lloyd Weber musicals.

3. “Fusion music” will gradually become mainstream in classical concerts. This genre’s composers combine the best of classical formalism with the highest quality bluegrass, rock or other popular style.

4. A center for serious bluegrass music, Southern Appalachia will become an important source of fusion music.

5. Audiences everywhere will continue to complain about “new music,” even though many of the composers they are complaining about have been dead for more than fifty years.

6. Asheville will in good faith continue to promote a new Performing Arts space with good acoustics, but the opening concert will not occur until 2020, five years after some resident music lover volunteers a naming gift of at least $18M.

7. So long as I perambulate about our area, I will continue to discover the lasting influence of Black Mountain College on every aspect of our cultural life.

8. The importance of viewing “original art” will diminish as copying technology is refined. Three-dimensional digital scanning will allow texture and brush strokes to be recorded in their entirety. GiclĂ©e printing (or another marking technology) will be developed so that these “depth” features can be reproduced in prints.

9. Beginning about 2020, prints will replace originals at major museums. The “genuine originals” of art will be placed in vaults, and will be of value only to scholars and the same collectors who value the handwritten manuscript of a novel.

10. Decentralization of the art world will be a result of these improvements in “copying” art and of enhanced communications. The importance of the current major arts centers such as New York and Los Angeles will be reduced.

11. The availability of water will result in a rise in importance of the Great Lakes states and other water-rich locations as business and cultural centers. Water scarcity will limit the expansion of the Southwest. By 2030, visitors to New Mexico will be required to bring their own water for drinking and bathing.

12. After 2035, Santa Fe will be called “the Asheville of the West.”

Have a happy future in the land of the French Broad River and do not complain about last week's rain.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #452
September 25, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009


This column is based on one that originally appeared March 30, 2008 in the Hendersonville Times-News. With some modification, it appears here in order to introduce my broader on-line audience to Veronika Hart’s art and her revised website.

Veronika Hart is a relative newcomer to Western North Carolina. She formerly lived in the metropolitan New York City area, where she exhibited and won awards in the Connecticut suburbs of New Canaan and Greenwich, in Westchester County and in New York City proper. She has also exhibited in Washington, DC. About a dozen of her oils, including several borrowed from their current owners, were included in her first North Carolina exhibit, entitled “Africa: Portraits of Power,” at the YMI Cultural Center in Asheville in the spring of 2008.

Hart spent the first fifteen years of her life absorbing two cultures: Europe and Africa. The interior of her parents’ house in Tanganyika was furnished in a purely European fashion: European books, European art, European furniture. But the moment she went out the door, she was immersed in the sights, sounds and human interactions to be found in East Africa in the 1950’s and 1960’s. At age 15 she moved to Germany to study art. There she encountered for the first time motorcars, electric lights and - even more shocking - abstract expressionism. Feeling no kinship with abstract painting, she shifted her attention in Art School to illustration in order to continue with her realistic brush strokes.

Hart’s fine art pieces are mostly large format oil paintings on canvas, many 50” x 72” or larger, in a style that is termed “imaginative realism.” Drawing upon her experience as a medical illustrator in Europe and her later work creating illustrations for recordings, books and advertisements in New York, she continues to paint in the representational style that she has followed since she was a child in Tanganyika and Tanzania. But her fine art depicts in realistic detail scenes that are purely in her imagination, scenes of African people and animals in symbiotic relationships and sometimes flowing into each other. Her themes primarily reflect issues of contemporary and recent East Africa, themes of peaceful accord, of wildlife conservation, and of the strength of African women.

Painted from a photograph of the three Hart children with two of their African minders, “Ela and Omari” is photographically real, as are some other paintings that we saw last spring. But most thought provoking are those that stray from reality. “Race (Two children with Leopards)” and “Zebra Children” both comment on the threat of modern industrialization to traditional African wildlife. In “Zebra Children,” the two zebras meld into each other, and the two children, protecting the zebras, share body parts with the animals in a natural organic manner. “The Spirit of Mama Simba’s Children” shows a human mother and a lioness merging, protecting a human child and a lion cub that similarly merge.

An outstanding triptych is titled “Finding Balance.” Each panel addresses an environmental concern, and the lush painting of the cheetah, the elephants, and the African buffalo (being ridden by a powerful female) is a thing of joy.

If you missed the YMI exhibit last year, you will want to go online to her website at (Veronika with a "k"), study her art and make arrangements to see it in person. If you did visit the YMI exhibit last year, the website will allow you to rekindle the joy you experienced when you first saw Veronika Hart’s stunning paintings.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #451
September 18, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009


Southern Appalachia is a vast region whose coves and bottomland were settled primarily by Scottish Protestants who chose to live on the fringes of civilization and accepted a harsh frontier life in order to have privacy and independence. These and other Celtic and English immigrants brought with them traditions of song and story telling. Only with the arrival of industry and improved transportation beginning in the 1930’s did the Appalachian culture begin to blend into a homogenized American culture. But there remain vestiges of the old Appalachian culture, including a body of unique poetry. After lecturing on “Appalachian Culture and Poetry” to a 1987 Elderhostel program in Highlands, NC, Marita Garin recognized the need for an anthology of poetry representative of our region.

Garin has spent the majority of her adult life in Appalachia. She raised her children in Johnson City, TN, and later lived in Hendersonville, NC before moving to her present home in Black Mountain in 1988. Between 1989 and 1993, she collected poetry but initial efforts to secure a publisher were unsuccessful. The project was put in storage until April 2004, when she had an epiphany. Listening to the howling wind at the Craggy Gardens Visitor’s Center on the Blue Ridge Parkway, she thought: “This is the sound of Appalachia, this is the voice of all the hardship, struggle, heartache, hard work, and determination that comes from living in these mountains.”

Thus inspired, she met success. In 2008, McFarland & Co. published
Southern Appalachian Poetry; An Anthology of Works by 27 Poets. On Sunday, September 6, Malaprop's Bookstore in Asheville had a poetry reading during which Marita Garin told the saga of her editing and five poets each read three or four poems.

Don Johnson is a native of West Virginia who has long taught at East Tennessee State University. The ongoing theme of his poetry is “finding the way home.” Representative was “1946,” a haunting evocation of untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome in a World War Two veteran from Appalachia.

Mary Kratt, now of Charlotte, NC, grew up in Beckley, WV. Much of her poetry is about Appalachian women. The audience favorite was “I’d Have Waited a Lifetime for You, Greer Garson” based on memories of a War Bond rally in Beckley during World War Two.

Gregory Dykes has East Tennessee roots that date from the 1790’s on both sides of his family. Growing up in Jonesborough, he later lived and taught in both Tennessee and Western North Carolina. His poem “It Is...” is a reflection about his grandfather. He states that “If a Southern Appalachian theme does exist ... it is the telescoping of cultural change within the region in the 20th century and the confusion, irony, and ... trauma which come with it.”

Hilda Downer would agree with that analysis. This North Carolinian who grew up in the town of Bandana read her intense poem “So much has come and gone that the Appalachians never existed.” The poem begins:
“There are people living now
fading in and out of composition classes
who have no memories
and no childhood
recorded in black and white.”

and ends with the line:
“We were too easy to kill and already extinct.”

The final poet at the reading was novelist and poet Robert Morgan, now at Cornell University where he heads the writing program. A native of Zirconia, NC, he has in recent years spent time back in Henderson County whenever he can. “Broomsedge” is a poem he wanted to write for as long as he can remember. The 21-line poem delivers a message spoken by the bright grass of worn-out fields. The vivid imagery includes lines such as:
“the broomsedge whisks and strokes bright
rumor from the air, a vowel,
a long slow ease of song below
the threshold of song, an ancient
lull almost unheard ...”

Other poets in the anthology include Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Nancy Simpson and Ron Rash. Buy Southern Appalachian Poetry; An Anthology of Works by 27 Poets. You’ll like it.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #450
September 11, 2009

Friday, September 4, 2009


Last summer, I spent three weeks north of latitude 45 in the land of my birth, the “True North, strong and free” as Canada’s national anthem calls the country. One week of that trip was north of latitude 50, and stimulated much thought about the “Group of Seven” painters who were inspired by Tom Thomson. This year, I viewed and canoed some of the locations they painted, but also viewed and studied over 400 paintings by these eight painters at the Art Gallery of Ontario and the McMichael Canadian Collection. I could write a monograph about my reaction to their art, and perhaps I shall. In the meantime, I will provide the briefest of introductions for those unfamiliar with these very important painters.

Who were these people? They were artists in a new country who broke with the European tradition of tidy civilized landscapes (cultivated fields, tame rivers, oft-climbed Alpine mountains) to present distinctly Canadian wild landscapes. Backpacking, canoeing and using snowshoes when necessary, they went to previously unvisited locations to depict the light patterns filtered through struggling trees in the thin soil of Georgian Bay, Muskoka and Algonquin Park. They painted the grandeur of pre-Cambrian rock outcroppings in the Laurentian Plateau, the vast cliffs of formidable Lake Superior, the Algoma region, the Canadian Rockies and later the Arctic.

Tom Thomson (1877-1917) was a superb outdoorsman, a professional wilderness guide, and a self-taught painter whose bold brush strokes and use of undercolor distinguishes his painting. He inspired the others, but died in a canoeing mishap three years before the “Group of Seven” held its first exhibition, so is officially not one of them. The shed in which he lived has been moved to the grounds of the McMichael gallery. The illustration shows Thomson's "Byng Inlet, Georgian Bay."

Lawren Harris (1885-1970) was the most visionary of the Group. His paintings became more abstract and geometrical with time, particularly after his visits to the Canadian Rockies and the Arctic. In 1932, he discontinued representational painting altogether and became an abstract painter. Along with five other members of the Group of Seven, he is buried on the grounds of the McMichael Canadian Collection with (most appropriately) a triangular rock as a headstone. Harris was an heir to the Massey-Harris fortune. In 1914 he built the Studio Building on Severn Street in Toronto with six high-ceilinged north-lit studios. In this building (which still stands), some members of the Group of Seven lived and painted their large finished oils, working from field paintings that were most often on 12”x12” birch panels. Many of these panels are at the Art Gallery Ontario, where some can be compared with the resulting large final paintings. The illustration shows Harris's 1926 painting "North Shore, Lake Superior."

A.Y. Jackson (1882-1974) continued in the tradition of the Group of Seven long after the other members went separate ways. He was an inspiration to many Canadian artists and the subject of an excellent 1941 documentary film by the Canadian Film Board that shows the artist in his late fifties canoeing to his chosen site for fall colors and then painting in the Studio Building. That 18-minute film is shown at the McMichael gallery.

J.E.H. MacDonald (1873-1932) was born in England but had embraced his new country. As a senior designer at a Toronto graphic design firm, he was a shy leader who brought together several members of the Group. His death signaled the end of the period when they could be considered a group.

J.H. Varley (1881-1969) and Arthur Lismer (1885-1969) had also come to Canada from England, while Frank Carmichael (1890-1943) and Frank (Franz) Johnston (1888-1949) were born in Canada. Johnston moved to Winnipeg shortly after the 1920 show that gave the group its name, and was replaced by A.J. Casson (1898-1992). Edwin Holgate (1892-1977) and British Columbia artist Emily Carr (1871-1945) shared the inspiration of the Group, and Harris communicated extensively with Carr. "Serenity, Lake-of-the-Woods" is a 1922 painting by Johnston.

The importance of these artists cannot be overstated. Robert Blue (1946-1998) instructed his classes at the Art League of Los Angeles that to understand plein air, they must study the Group of Seven. Serious landscape painters should consider examining this large body of art in Toronto and visiting northern Ontario to paint on location as they did.

Several of the Group served as military artists in the Great War from 1914 to 1918. After their return, the Group rented a boxcar, fitted it out with living accommodation, and until 1923 positioned it on various railroad sidings in the Algoma region north of Sault Ste. Marie. From their boxcar, they would canoe or hike to the sites they wished to paint. The Algoma Central Railway now runs excursions to the Agawa Canyon, so modern artists need not live in a boxcar in order to paint where the Group of Seven painted. It may be a thousand miles from Asheville, but the trip is worthwhile.

© 2009 Edward C. McIrvine
Arts Spectrum column #449
September 4, 2009