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Benton Museum Of Art at Pomona College Announces Exhibition “Christina Fernandez: Under The Sun,” Curated By The Artist

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is pleased to announce the opening of Christina Fernandez: Under the Sun, an exhibition that features not only the work of the Los Angeles–based artist but also related works, selected by the artist herself, from the museum’s collection. The exhibition, which runs from August 24 to December 18, 2022, is centered on Fernandez’s photography-based installations that treat labor, land, and light. She puts her photographs in conversation with both historical and contemporary works from the Benton that examine such related topics as activism, climate justice, landscape, and migration. Related programs, including a talk by Fernandez, will begin on October 22, 2022, with an artist celebration.

“We value our projects with contemporary artists like Christina Fernandez,” said Rebecca McGrew, senior curator at the Benton. “They bring us to a different understanding of the works in our collection, and it is illuminating to see subjects, themes, and questions reverberate with one another. This is especially true of Fernandez’s work, which is informed by and speaks so eloquently to issues of the greatest relevance to those of us in Southern California. She is building an alternate history of life here that lays bare the human costs of comfort and abundance.”

In selecting works from the Benton’s collection, Fernandez re-enacted her own process of creation: extensive research that involves exploring artists and artifacts, and poring over maps, photographs, and rare books. Under the Sun revolves around Fernandez’s works Bend and Untitled Farmworkers. Bend is a highly personal narrative that describes the impending passing of Fernandez’s grandmother and the artist’s efforts to photograph Cocijo, the Zapotec god of lightning, inside a tomb at Monte Alban in Oaxaca. These two events are linked in her work by the use of light as a revelatory force that imbues both the grandly historical and the deeply intimate with beauty.

Untitled Farmworkers is a searing indictment of the hazardous working conditions of farmworkers. Updated for this exhibition and framed by a brief history of the United Farm Workers, the installation demonstrates the increasing impact of global warming on an already vulnerable population. Fernandez surrounds Untitled Farmworkers with examples from the Benton’s collection of documentary photography depicting boycotts, protests, and civil rights and labor activists, as well as a selection of José Clemente Orozco’s drawing studies for his monumental Prometheus mural.

Christina Fernandez: Under the Sun is the newest presentation in a series that invites contemporary artists to engage with the Benton’s collection. The museum is committed to the concept of art as an evolving conversation, with artists as guides who not only frame challenging issues of the present but also reflect the relevance of art of the past. By integrating artists and their creative vision with the collection, the Benton encourages insightful discussions about how we learn, how we evaluate ideas, and how to connect the visual to other forms of information.

Related Programs

An opening artist reception will be held on Saturday, October 22, 2022 from 4 to 6 pm. On Saturday, December 3, 2022, the Benton and UCR ARTS will co-host gallery tours with Fernandez, with an 11 am tour at UCR ARTS and a 2 pm tour at the Benton.

About the Exhibition

The exhibition is curated by Christina Fernandez with Rebecca McGrew, senior curator, and Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, curatorial assistant. Major support for this exhibition has been provided by the Pasadena Art Alliance. Christina Fernandez is presented concurrently with the California Museum of Photography’s survey Christina Fernandez: Multiple Exposures (September 10, 2022–February 5, 2023) and Tierra Entre Medio, also curated by Fernandez, at the Barbara and Art Culver Center of the Arts, UCR ARTS (September 11, 2022–April 2, 2023).

About the Artist

Christina Fernandez (b. 1965) lives and works in Los Angeles. Fernandez presented works from her Lavanderia series in the Benton’s Project Series 18 in 2003. She also served on the artists’ nominating panel for the Benton’s 2015 exhibition R.S.V.P. Los Angeles: The Project Series at Pomona. Fernandez holds an MFA from the California Institute of Arts and a BFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and abroad and is in the permanent collections of the Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College; the J. Paul Getty Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the San Antonio Museum of Art; the Smithsonian Museum of American Art; the USC/Fischer Gallery; and the Williams College Museum of Art. Fernandez was the artist in residence at the Centro de la Imagen, D.F., Mexico, and has received commissions from the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco.

Benton Museum Of Art At Pomona College Announces Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s “Worshipping At The Altar Of Certainty: 1985”

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is excited to announce the newest iteration of artist Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s site-specific project, Worshipping at the Altar of Certainty: 1985. For this exhibition, which runs from August 24 to December 18, 2022, Rasheed returns to Pomona College, her alma mater, to create an installation specific to the college that challenges the traditional centered approach to knowledge.

“Rasheed’s exhibition is both a homecoming and a revelation,” said Rebecca McGrew, senior curator at the Benton. “A graduate of Pomona College, Rasheed brings an insider’s eye to how educational institutions shape and promote a certain concept of knowledge. Through her sharp and creative use of a wide range of materials and alternative ideas about knowing and learning, she offers us tantalizing possibilities for reimagining the educational enterprise.”

Rasheed is a learner who engages with a range of processes, materials, and forums that include sprawling Xerox-based installations, large-scale diagrammatic prints, public art, publications, video, and practices based on chance. Through her various methods and media, she explores the poetics, politics, and pleasures of the unfinished and the uncertain.

Rasheed first presented Worshipping at the Altar of Certainty at Williams College in 2021. There, in the temple-like rotunda that was the college’s first library, Rasheed installed large- scale prints, poems, and texts as well as a free-standing sculpture. Responding to the history of the site and in conversation with the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges—who once imagined a library that holds all possible books and all possible knowledge—Rasheed questioned the ideals of comprehensiveness and familiarity that often typifies both academic and religious institutions. Through this questioning, Rasheed engages with the work of scholars Ashon Crawley and Saidiya Hartman, who, with their respective concepts of “undoneness” and “waywardness,” propose to unseat familiar ways of thinking and knowing.

Rasheed brings this approach to Pomona College, from which she graduated in 2006 as a public policy major. The installation at the Benton will include a new video work, Keeping Count, and wall drawings set in the academic context and history of Pomona. Rasheed creates constellations of fragmented texts, framed prints, and a video work, prompting visitors to wander throughout the space and find meaning via a path of their choosing.

Snippets of text and graphic motifs disrupt linear meaning but invite unexpected connections and resonances. A reflective surface below Keeping Count animates the space, further layering and refracting facets of the exhibition. Rasheed proposes the college experience as an interdisciplinary site where connecting siloed structures of learning, seeing, and knowing can become a lifelong and continuous practice.

Related Events

As a learner and educator herself, Rasheed will be engaging directly with her audience as a way to activate the installation. She and the curators will lead a mini-course titled “Lifecycles,” offering four drop-in classes from October 21-24 for the public and students. Courses will include making lumen prints at Pomona College’s Farm, learning algorithmic writing at the Hive, and artist- and curator-led office hours.

On December 8, Rasheed will lead an online discussion about her new publication and the role errors and iterations play in a book’s lifecycles, titled Algoritmic Book Composition (ABC).

About the Exhibition

The exhibition is curated by Mallory Cohen, Nidhi Gandhi, Elyse Mack, and Sinclair Spratley. The exhibition is organized at the Benton by Rebecca McGrew, senior curator, and Nicolas Orozco-Valdivia, curatorial assistant, with Sam Yin Ying Chan ’22 and Madeleine Mount-Cors ’23.

This exhibition is supported by the Eva Cole and Clyde Matson Memorial Fund and the Art Acquisitions and Programs Fund.

About the Artist

Kameelah Janan Rasheed lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Born in East Palo Alto, California, Rasheed received an MA in Secondary Social Studies Education from Stanford University (2008) and a BA in Public Policy from Pomona College (2006). She was also an Amy Biehl US Fulbright Scholar in South Africa at the University of the Witwatersrand (2006– 07). Rasheed’s work has been exhibited nationally at the Bronx Museum of the Arts; Brooklyn Historical Society (now Center for Brooklyn History); Brooklyn Museum; Brooklyn Public Library; Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia; MASS MoCA; New Museum; Portland Institute for Contemporary Art; Queens Museum; Jack Shainman Gallery; and The Studio Museum in Harlem, among other institutions. Her work has been exhibited internationally at Bétonsalon—Centre d’art et de recherche in Paris; Contemporary Art Gallery in Vancouver; Kunsthalle Wien; Artspace Peterborough; 2017 Venice Biennial; and National Gallery of Zimbabwe, among others.

 

Midsummer Shakespeare Festival Under the Stars at Pomona College Opens July 14 — Ophelia’s Jump Productions Presents “The Winter’s Tale”

WHAT: The Winter’s Tale. 

WHO: Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Caitlin Lopez. Presented by Ophelia’s Jump Productions’ Midsummer Shakespeare Festival. Co-Producer: Pomona College.

WHERE: Sontag Greek Theatre, Pomona College, Claremont, CA 91711. (Located behind Seaver Theatre).

WHEN: July 14- July 24, 2022. Thursdays through Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Green Show entertainment begins at 7:00 p.m.

ADMISSION: $30. College students with I.D. and children under 12, $20.

INFO/TICKETING: https://opheliasjump.org or 909-734-6565

Ophelia’s Jump Productions’ Midsummer Shakespeare Festival returns this July, presenting The Winter’s Tale at The Sontag Greek Theatre, the historic outdoor venue located on the grounds of Pomona College in Claremont.

The Winters Tale performance in Claremont, CA

Prior to the performance, the venue will be open early to accommodate picnickers. Concessions including craft beer, wine and snacks will be available. There will also be a nightly Green Show, a pre-show entertainment at this iconic venue. (The Green Show originated in Elizabethan times.)

The Winter’s Tale is unique in the annals of romantic comedy. It starts off like a tragedy, spins into comedy, and concludes with a fairy-tale happy ending. The play also contains the most famous stage direction in the history of theatrical literature. (Without giving away too much, it involves a bear.)

King Leontes of Sicilia and King Polixenes of Bohemia have been life-long buddies, to the benefit of both their realms. One day, Leontes decides that his Queen, Hermione, is much too friendly with Polixenes and groundlessly suspects her of infidelity. Leontes explodes into a jealous rage which will have dire consequences for his loved ones. Hermione and Leontes’ infant daughter, Perdita, is banished to Bohemia and left to die, but is saved by a passing Shepherd and his son. She grows up into a great beauty, attracting the romantic attention of Florizel, Princess of Bohemia. Meanwhile, their families’ royal houses, beset by grief and regret are still at odds. Is there any hope for the love of Perdita and Florizel? It will take an act of miraculous magic to make things right, if the lovers are ever to achieve their happily-ever-after.

Caitlin Lopez directs. She is the Founding Associate Artistic Director of Ophelia’s Jump Productions. An actor and improvisor, she was a company member at Spectacles Improv Engine where she co-created teams and forms steeped in narrative genre work such as The Mechanicals, The Blankety Blank, and The Illegitimate Stage. Directing credits with OJP include 33 Variations, Twelfth Night, The Complete Works of Shakespeare Abridged, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Much Ado About Nothing, and As You Like It. She is a graduate of California State San Bernardino with a Bachelors in Acting and will be attending Ohio University in the Fall, pursuing an MFA in Directing. 

Her cast for The Winter’s Tale includes Austin Mooney, Conrad Cecil, Courtney Brechemin, Elana Aronson, Janette Valenzo, Justin Wickman, Liana-Rose Veratudela, Michael Johnson, Ryan Herrera, Scott Robinson, Sophia Dunn-Walker, Tania Esmeralda Vazquez and William Mueller.

Stage manager: Miranda Tejeda. Lighting designer: Sheila Malone.

Founding Artistic Director: Beatrice Casagrán. 

It may be called The Winter’s Tale, but a romance with a fairy-tale ending is perfect for a summer evening.

About Ophelia’s Jump

Ophelia’s Jump is a non-profit Performing Arts Theatre producing plays, staged readings, the Midsummer Shakespeare Festival in Claremont, and hosting youth and adult improv and acting classes. Ophelia’s Jump Productions was founded by artists and educators who believe that the purpose of theatre is to create unending conversations, spark imagination, incite conscience, and elicit a visceral response. Ophelia’s Jump aims to invigorate the creativity and intellect of the community by working with local emerging artists. Ophelia’s Jump is a 501c3 non-profit organization.

About Pomona College

Located in Claremont, California, Pomona College is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Established in 1887, Pomona is known for its quality academic programs, a challenging curriculum, close relationships between students and faculty, a range of student research and leadership opportunities, and a strong commitment to the arts. Additional information available at www.pomona.edu 

Calendar: Experience An All-American Summer In Claremont

May 5, 2022 — For Southern Californians looking for summer events and local staycation opportunities, the college town of Claremont beckons. Located just 30 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, Claremont offers eclectic, international dining choices; local beers and spirits; unique boutiques featuring owner-curated merchandise; and walkable trails through the San Gabriel Mountains.

Summer attractions include the 86-acre California Botanic Garden, the Folk Music Center and Museum, the Claremont Museum of Art at the Claremont Depot, the new Benton Museum at Pomona College, and public art installations on The Claremont Colleges campuses. Find specials at information at DiscoverClaremont.com.

Following are selected upcoming visitor events in Claremont:

May 20–September 25 –  Claremont Collects: Art, Creativity, Community at Claremont Museum of Art

Since the 1930s Claremont has been both magnet and haven for artists. Millard Sheets, Jean Ames, Phil Dike and their contemporaries cultivated a tight-knit community of artists, centered around The Claremont Colleges, that promoted collaboration, innovation, and experimentation. The inaugural exhibition in the newly expanded Claremont Lewis Museum of Art in the historic train depot celebrates Claremont’s rich artistic legacy, vibrant creative community, and robust support for the arts, featuring highlights from the Museum’s permanent collection. More details at clmoa.org.

May 21 – Robbie Fulks at Folk Music Center

The Grammy-nominated artist (Best Folk Album, “Upland Stories”) performs as part of the Folk Music Center Concert Series. More details at folkmusiccenter.com.

July 4 – “Red White & Blue in 2022”

A fireworks spectacular and concert at Pomona College’s Strehle Track highlights this full day of hometown-style public activities.

July 14-24 – 9th Annual Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, Presented by Ophelia’s Jump

Presented by Ophelia’s Jump Productions, in co-production with Pomona College, this year’s show features MEASURE FOR MEASURE, Thursdays to Sundays, at Sontag Greek Theatre at Pomona College. All performances begin at 8:00 p.m. The beautiful lawns surrounding the Sontag Theatre are perfect for BYOB picnicking; local restaurants will offer picnic specials in town to order and bring to the show. A “Green Show” featuring local musicians and performers begins at 7:00 p.m. each night. More details at opheliasjump.org.

California Botanic Garden Hosts (Re)place, A Site-Specific Sculptural Installation

(Re)place is a collaboration between artist Brandon Lomax and California Botanic Garden’s past, present and future. Sculptural works will be shown at various stages of completion from fully-fired clay works that are as durable as stone to unfired works that are more vulnerable to the weather and elements of the Garden. Lomax is embedding some works with native plant species. Throughout the duration of the exhibit, unfired clay works will disintegrate and rejoin the soil, their once solid forms replaced by a wildflower garden.

Referencing multiple meanings of place, the exhibit becomes the site of restoration, substitution, and belonging as it celebrates diversity in all forms: class, race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc. The show reminds us that we are here because we are vital contributors. The artist’s hope is that we humans can celebrate our own biodiversity and work together to create a more symbiotic relationship with our earth in this place, and every other.

The exhibition opens Saturday, November 13, 2021 and is free with the purchase of daily admission. Visitors may view the exhibition during the Garden’s open hours Tuesdays – Sundays from 8 AM – 5 PM.

More details about the exhibition and the artist: https://www.calbg.org/exhibitions/brandon-lomax-re-place

During the opening weekend of the (Re)place exhibition, fine artist Brandon Lomax will facilitate public sculpture workshops guiding participants in making simple sculptural clay forms. The creations will be added to Lomax’s large-scale exhibition at California Botanic Garden. Workshop participants will also take home materials to create their own works of art for their garden. The clay provided will be infused with seeds from California native plants.

 

During the seven-month tenure of the show, the elements will degrade the unfired sculptures back into soil and seeds will sprout and blossom, replacing the sculptures that once stood in their place. Participants are encouraged to return to the Garden to witness the transformation of their sculptural works into native flora.

Adults and children are welcome to these approximately 1-hour workshops occurring at 10 AM, 12 PM, and 2 PM on Saturday, November 13. Children must be accompanied by an adult. For everyone’s safety, we ask that participants be prepared to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

Pricing:
$15 Public | $10 Member Adult | $5 Children

Register for a workshop: https://www.calbg.org/event/re-place-exhibition-workshop-10

Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College Hosts Official Claremont Community Welcome

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College is thrilled to announce its Community Welcome on Saturday, November 13 from 1:00 to 5:00 pm. The event is free and open to all, and it celebrates the transitions the museum has undergone in the past two years as well as the museum’s new home, ten years in the making.

Since January 2020, the museum has welcomed a new director, Victoria Sancho Lobis; changed its name to the Benton Museum of Art; and, importantly, completed the construction of and move into a brand-new building, designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler. The new building offers three times the space of the previous facility, allowing for more exhibitions, educational outreach, and events and programs. While the museum has been open for appointment visits since May, it has delayed its Community Welcome celebration due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The event will feature an official ribbon-cutting ceremony with elected officials and the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, art and activities for all ages, exhibition viewing, live music, and even a few celebratory surprises. Currently installed in the museum’s galleries are four exhibitions—Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe (with the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena); Helen Pashgian: Primavera; Sadie Barnette: Legacy & Legend (with the Pitzker College Art Galleries); Sahara: Acts of Memory—as well as site-specific installations and commissions such as ﺣﺐ /Love by Alia Ali and Imbue by Alison Saar. COVID-19 safety protocols will be observed.

The Benton looks forward to opening its doors at 120 West Bonita Avenue in Claremont and welcoming its friends and neighbors at its free celebration on Saturday, November 13 from 1:00 to 5:00 pm.

About the Benton Museum of Art

Now housed in the new Benton Museum of Art designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler, Pomona College’s collection of art numbers 16,000 objects, including Italian Renaissance paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation; works on paper, including a first edition print series by Francisco Goya given by Norton Simon; and works in various media produced in

Southern California in the twentieth century. In keeping with Pomona College’s reputation as a leading center of the visual arts, the collection also includes works by such esteemed alumni as Chris Burden ’69, Marcia Hafif ’51, Helen Pashgian ’56, Peter Shelton ’73, and James Turrell ’65. Recognized globally for its commitment to contemporary art, the museum is the home of The Project Series, which has featured more than 50 contemporary Southern California artists since it began in 1999. Through its collaboration with students and faculty, the museum encourages active learning and creative exploration across all disciplines of study within the liberal arts context.

About Pomona College

Located in Claremont, California, Pomona College is widely regarded as one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges. Established in 1887, Pomona is known for its quality academic programs, a challenging curriculum, close relationships between students and faculty, a range of student research and leadership opportunities, and a strong commitment to the arts.

Additional information available at www.pomona.edu. Pomona College is a proud member of the Claremont Chamber of Commerce.

New Benton Museum at Pomona College to Open for Visitors on May 18

The Benton Museum of Art at Pomona College will be opening for appointment-based viewing starting Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Benton Museum in Claremont, CA exterior
Benton Museum in Claremont, CA exterior

One year ago, the Benton was preparing for the fall opening of its new, state-of-the-art building designed by Machado Silvetti and Gensler. When the museum closed due to COVID-19 restrictions, Benton staff completed the move of the collection, installed its inaugural slate of exhibitions, debuted its new graphic identity and redesigned website, continued its robust internship and school outreach programs remotely, and hosted online events that drew hundreds of participants.

Visitors to Claremont are now invited to see the exhibitions installed over the course of this last year: Alison Saar: Of Aether and Earthe; Alia Ali: Project Series 53; Art, Object, Specimen; CrossBorder Photography: Images of the US and Mexico from the Permanent Collection; In Our Care: Institutional History in Material Form; and Helen Pashgian: Primavera.

Reservations will be accepted for groups of up to 6 people for one-hour visits on the hour at 2, 3, 4, and 5 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays. Please visit the Benton’s online reservation system to make a viewing appointment. The museum will be following the safety protocols and practices of Los Angeles County and Pomona College, including required masks, social distancing, a limited number of people in the building at one time, and an online health check to be completed the day of your visit.

 

Claremont Midsummer Shakespeare Festival Returning This July 2021

Ophelia’s Jump Productions, a critically acclaimed nine-year-old non-profit theatre company, announces a three-play season in the second half of 2021.

The first play will comprise its Midsummer Shakespeare Festival, a co-production with Pomona College. The play will be presented at the College’s Sontag Greek Theatre, an outdoor venue with plenty of space to accommodate social distancing. The play presented will be Twelfth  Night, directed by Caitlin Lopez (July 15 through 18, 22 through 25). All performances begin at 8:00 p.m.

Prior to the performance, the venue will be open early to accommodate picnickers, with booths featuring artists and artisanal vendors. There will also be a nightly Green Show (a pre- show entertainment). To make sure all participants can enjoy a fun, safe event, safety protocols will be in place. Visitors will be required to wear masks and maintain social distance, tickets will be sold in advance only, and household groups will be assigned picnicking space and seating. Concessions including craft beer, wine and snacks will be available.

For the uninitiated: Twelfth Night is a romantic comedy. The play centers on the twins Viola and Sebastian, who are    separated in a shipwreck. Viola (who is disguised as Cesario) falls in love with Duke Orsino, who in turn is in love with Countess Olivia. Upon meeting Viola, Countess Olivia falls in love with her, thinking she is a man.

The Midsummer Shakespeare Festival is sponsored by Discover Claremont. A special “Room and Bard” package from Discover Claremont will include a one-night hotel stay, $50 in gift cards for a picnic dinner from participating Claremont establishments, and two tickets to a “Twelfth Night” performance. 

This summer will be especially festive as the city and Festival both reopen. The picturesque City of Claremont with its walkable tree-lined streets, stately college campuses, Botanic Gardens, museums and quaint shops is a popular getaway for Southern Californians.

Claremont Courier: Folk Music Center’s Ellen Harper on Her New Memoir

From Claremont Courier (February 1, 2021)

“Folk music” is tough to pin down. 

Most picture a solitary singer/songwriter with a dreadnaught acoustic guitar singing earnest protest songs. The truth is it’s a panoply of styles and instrumentation. Its roots go back much further than the popular American boom of the 1950s and ’60s, to 19th century Europe, and further back still to Africa and the forebears of that big, booming acoustic guitar. 

The one commonality is folk music has always been of the people. And most all of the people who helped push the music forward in America in the 1950s and ‘60s owe a debt to the Chase family, and the institution they founded, the iconic Folk Music Center in Claremont. 

That rich history, from its 1958 creation to the present day, is chronicled in Ellen Harper’s superb new memoir, Always a Song, out January 26 on Chronicle Prism, an imprint of Chronicle Books.

Ms. Harper is the daughter of the Folk Music Center’s founders, Charles and Dorothy Chase, and the modern-day purveyor of “The Folk.” Her book brings to light the fascinating backstory behind her family’s place in the history of the music, and of course, of the 63-year-old store. 

Ellen Harper
Photo courtesy: Claremont Courier

The sweeping story traces the family’s politically and socially active East Coast roots from her parents’ courtship to Ms. Harper’s early childhood, the family’s move to California, and on through her formative years in Claremont, then motherhood, music, and above all, family.

The project began as an exercise in that most fundamental folk tradition: preservation. Ms. Harper had for several years been writing down stories about her parents and grandparents.

“Because, I know as I got older I thought, ‘Why didn’t I ask my parents these questions? Why don’t I know more?’ There are so many stories that are gone and lost,” she said. “And I thought, I’m kind of the last link between a lot of the history and my grandkids and my kids. So I started writing down stories, just little anecdotes and pieces.”

Those bits and more personal stories were transformed into a memoir of Claremont life in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, complete with much idyll, but also overt racism, cross burnings and all. 

The 1970s and the decade’s prevailing corrosive drug culture are made personal by her lived experiences, as are her moments with rock and folk royalty (not all of them flattering), and the rise of the singer/songwriter as an artist, and in Bob Dylan’s case, deity. 

One of Always a Song’s recurring themes is the intolerance of injustice. It’s there in the stories of Ms. Harper’s paternal grandmother’s work to establish the first birth control clinic in New Hampshire, being jailed for being a communist, and her three (!) failed bids for governor of the Granite State. It continues through the family’s entanglements with the McCarthy-era blacklist and anti-communist hysteria in the 1950s, down the line to Ms. Harper bristling at the veiled racism directed at her mixed-race sons Ben, Peter and Joel, while they were growing up in Claremont in the 1980s.

“When I talk about the good things that were imparted to me, particularly by my father, it would be that you stand up for under-represented people, you don’t buckle, you don’t give names, you stand up for what you believe in,” she said. “That was a very clear message.”

Ms. Harper’s parents were literally part of the “don’t give names” generation. Always politically active, her father joined the American Communist Party in 1933, when it promised dignity and work in the midst of the Depression.

“Some of it is the kind of optimism of the left,” Ms. Harper said. “The socialist and old communist parties were truly optimists. They truly did believe that people could be their best selves, and of course were bitterly disappointed for the most part. But my father, he always believed in people, that people would come through and would do the right thing.”

Though he had been deemed an “inadequate member” by the American Communist Party in 1946, McCarthyism was in its destructive, paranoid zenith in 1954, and anyone with a history of past affiliation became a target.

The Massachusetts version of McCarthy’s House Committee on Unamerican Activities harassed  Mr. Chase. He lost his job, and his young children endured taunts from schoolmates. And it wasn’t just “red baiting.” Ms. Harper’s mother Dorothy was Jewish, and the epithets were anti-Semitic as well as anti-communist. 

The family persisted for a time, but in 1957 her father became convinced California offered a fresh start, and they headed west. 

The Folk Music Center opened its doors at its first location on Harvard Avenue in August 1958. 

From the very beginning the store was a countercultural hub. All manner of folk musicians, many of them now revered as giants of the genre, passed through the doors. They also bunked at the rambling Chase family home on Seventh Street in between performances at the store, and later The Golden Ring coffee house at 111 Harvard Place (home since 1969 to Village Dance Arts), which her parents opened in 1964. 

“Music for them, I think why they were so attracted to it, my mother in particular, was because of the folk music movement that it represented,” Ms. Harper said. “It represented integration, financial equity for peoples of the world, fairness and all the things that music brought to the union movement, the civil rights movement and anti-war movement. They were there for all of that. And I think the power they got from music was the community and building social bridges. And I absorbed that and believed in it.”

Always a Song also gets into the slow-motion disintegration of Ms. Harper’s 1969 marriage to the father of her three sons, Leonard Harper. (She and second husband Jan Verdries have been married since 1984). 

“I think I realized the information doesn’t have to be just family secrets,” she said. “I think being able to talk about these things is really important, addiction and the outcomes. I don’t know that I’m right. Maybe secrets are better, for all I know. I’m not credentialed to make that decision.”

Leonard Harper died at 55 in 1984 from complications of alcoholism.  

“Also, I don’t think these things stop with us,” Ms. Harper said. “I think we hand some of these things down to our kids who then hand them down to our grandkids. To me it seems like if we can show it and we can talk about it and deal with it generationally, it’s not going to be something that just keeps running through families like a leitmotif” [a short, recurring musical phrase] because it seems like some of the anti-communism, and the effects it had on my family at large, were devastating in a lot of ways. And I think that doesn’t go away. You raise your children with the feeling of caution, if you will, of ‘This could always happen again.’

“At least if you talk about it you know it. You know why you have that feeling of fear, instead of letting it run your life. And also I guess family, the kids and the grandkids, they ought to know about it.”

Always a Song is a must-read for Claremonters. It gives valuable context to the 63 years of memories contained inside The Folk, a store that on closer inspection is actually a life-sized diorama that tells the story of one family’s contribution to a community, to music and the world.

“When we used to be able to travel, you might be in Paris and see someone wearing a Folk Music Center T-shirt,” Ms. Harper said. “I’ve had people who have come back, all those hundreds and hundreds of people my mother taught, who went out and taught the same way. I hear from them at the store, and it’s a wonderful feeling that know that her influence, her banjo classes, have had practically a worldwide influence on people who have played and learned from her.”

Always a Song can be ordered on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com, at www.ellenharper.net, or at https://www.chroniclebooks.com/products/always-a-song

—by Mick Rhodes

Clayfornia Sculpture Exhibit Extended

NEWS from Folk Music Center

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