Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E18 | FULL EPISODE

"Ancient Nubia Now" at the MFA, "Come From Away," and more

This week the enchantment and mystery of "Ancient Nubia Now" at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The real-life story of a town in Newfoundland that took in 7000 strangers after 911 in the musical "Come From Away." Plus an artist who makes quilts... from photographs. And, public art in Reno, Nevada.

AIRED: November 15, 2019 | 0:26:46
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TRANSCRIPT

>> JARED BOWEN: Welcome toOpen Studio,

WGBH's weekly spotlight on arts and culture

from around the region and the nation.

I'm Jared Bowen, coming up onOpen Studio,

unearthing the treasures of Ancient Nubia.

>> At another level,

it's to enter a story

of another of the great adventures

in the human enterprise of civilization.

>> BOWEN: Then the true story of friendship and hope

in the musicalCome From Away.

>> I had never seen a musical.

And I'm trying to visualize in my mind

how are you going to make a musical out of sandwiches,

soup, and blankets, and pillows, and that?

And I figured that they would...

they were going to end up on welfare.

>> BOWEN: Plus, eye-catching quilts made of photographs.

>> Traditional quilts, they're made with fabric,

and so often, you know, the story is,

"This is my grandma's apron,

"and this is my Aunt Myrtle's dress

that she wore to Sunday school."

And, for me, I can capture memories through photographs.

>> BOWEN: It's all now onOpen Studio.

First up, Nubian art is as enchanting as it is mysterious.

Nubian royalty left behind vast amounts of riches--

from jewelry and sculpture to pottery and pyramids.

It's all on view now in the largest show

the Museum of Fine Arts has ever presented.

It's fitting, because the MFA literally began digging into

the ancient culture more than a hundred years ago.

In 1916, Museum of Fine Arts Egyptologist George Reisner

was among the first archaeologists

to excavate Kerma, an ancient city located in Nubia--

what is now southern Egypt and Sudan.

What he discovered was a treasure trove left by Nubians.

>> What they give us is an early lesson,

which is to be agents of ourselves,

and to realize ourselves through art, culture, politics,

through the expressive means.

>> BOWEN: What Reisner and the MFA team gathered

over the next 20 years of excavation

became the largest collection of Nubian artifacts

outside the region.

>> He in... literally invented the method

of archeological documentation.

His meticulous photography, 40,000 glass negatives.

And thanks to that we can reconstruct

what he... what he did.

>> BOWEN: Rita Freed is the curator of "Ancient Nubia Now,"

which offers more than 3,000 years worth of Nubian artifacts.

>> What we're trying to do is to, to show you

just how remarkable these objects are.

How sophisticated they are,

how advanced the technology was.

>> BOWEN: Edmund Barry Gaither is the director

of the Museum of the National Center of Afro-American Artists,

an MFA partner.

>> When you come to the end,

you have an appreciation of the beauty and aesthetics,

of the fine craftsmanship,

of the rich variety of kinds of things that were made.

>> BOWEN: They are pieces that show us

how ancient civilizations lived,

and from the artifacts discovered in tombs,

how they wanted to be remembered.

From the ceramics of Kerma,

to the spectacular jewelry of the Nubian king Piankhi,

to the mysterious sculptures of its capital, Meroe.

>> These beautiful, tulip-shaped beakers

that are a combination of black and red in the same vessel.

There's a statue that's about five feet tall.

A beautiful example of a Nubian king,

perfectly clothed, and adorned with his cap crown.

We have beautiful necklaces,

large-scale inlays from temple walls.

It's really amazing to us how they did it,

because it would be hard to reproduce that today.

>> BOWEN: But what's just as fascinating about these objects

is what we don't know about them.

>> We only wish that the Nubians had left information

in their own words for us, as the Egyptians did.

They left us no writing.

>> BOWEN: Most of what was written down

about Nubian civilizations came from neighboring Egypt.

Today, the MFA acknowledges that archaeologists,

including Reisner, looked at Nubia with racial prejudice.

>> When he saw the amazing material

that came out of these sites, he concluded--

at Kerma, for example-- that this material was too good

to have been made by black Africans.

It must be Egyptian.

>> BOWEN: One of the goals of this exhibition, Freed says,

is not only to highlight the treasures,

but also to set the record straight

on Nubia's place in history.

>> You see a progression,

the development of the different styles

that we identify as Nubian.

In some cases, they're very similar to Egyptian.

They take what they want and mold it in their own way.

>> What an exhibition like this does is it provides

well-defined historical brick

in a wall that is itself much bigger.

>> BOWEN: Edmund Barry Gaither also says the exhibition

feels like a family reunion.

>> It is, at a personal level,

a little bit like visiting how you imagine your

great-great-great-great-great- grandfathers and mothers.

At another level, it's to enter a story

of another of the great adventures

in the human enterprise of civilization.

>> BOWEN: Here, the MFA distances itself

from the racist narrative of its forebears.

Nubia no longer lives in the shadow of Egypt,

but as an equal civilization that rose, conquered,

and created on its own terms.

>> These people, at every point,

had a sense of participation

in the world of their times.

They were not victims.

They were not bystanders.

They had interests

and they acted to realize those interests.

>> ♪ Farewell to all you pretty ladies ♪

♪ Waving from the dock

♪ Heave away, me jollies, heave away ♪

♪ And if we do return to you

♪ We'll make your cradles rock

♪ Heave away, me jolly b'ys we're all bound away ♪

>> BOWEN: That was from the hit musicalCome From Away,

now making its first stop in Boston.

It tells the true story of how the small town

of Gander, Newfoundland, became a beacon of goodness

in the hours after September 11.

That's when Gander took in and sheltered some 7,000 passengers

stranded when their planes were forced to make

emergency landings.

Kevin Carolyn, you're in the show.

Mayor Claude Elliott, you were there.

You're not in the show, but you were there in real life.

>> Yes.

>> BOWEN: So let me start with you.

This is an extraordinary story of what your town did

to these stranded passengers, thousands of people,

the town nearly doubled overnight.

Where... where did it... how did it bubble up?

How did it surface, this hospitality?

>> Something that we've always had,

this hospitality, is nothing new for us.

It's the way of life

we've been for hundreds of years.

We survived in the province by helping each other.

And on 9/11, you know, that fateful day,

there was nothing we could do to help the people in New York,

and Pennsylvania, and them places,

but there was a lot we could do for the 7,000 people

that we had in our community.

>> BOWEN: What's the scope, as you describe it,

of, of what people in Gander, Newfoundland, did

to take care of these passengers?

>> People took people into their homes.

We used every facility which we had in the community.

You know, every church, every organization, the schools,

and put people into them.

And the whole community was involved.

So we had, I think the population at that time

was around 9,300.

We knew that we had 7,000 people from 95 countries.

But the majority of the people were there

from the United States.

Their country was under attack,

they needed love and compassion as much, you know,

during that difficult time.

>> BOWEN: Well, the show is, is an amalgamation of characters

from that day-- real stories.

(laughing): You play the real story sitting right next to you

among your characters. >> Yes, indeed.

>> BOWEN: Tell us how you get there

and, and what it represents onstage.

>> I mean, at the onset,

when we had first started rehearsals in New York,

we had a treasure trove of information

in terms of interviews and written interviews,

transcripts from city council.

There was a lot of research to dive into.

And so, and I was able to, you know, get a sense

of, of who Claude was as best I can but, you know,

and just... and paint a picture.

>> BOWEN: Well, I'm curious, where's Gander

on the modesty level here?

So, so here you do this,

you don't ask for anything in return.

You definitely didn't ask for it.

I do understand that a lot of passengers sent money

to the town afterward, which was just so kind.

But when you heard that this was going to be a musical,

what did you think?

>> Well, when I was approached by David and Irene...

>> BOWEN: Who wrote, who wrote... the married couple

who wrote the show. >> Yeah, who wrote the show.

And they were told me they were going to do a musical.

I was the first to admit I had never seen a musical.

And I'm trying to visualize in my mind

how are you going to make a musical out of sandwiches,

soup, and blankets, and pillows, and that?

And I figured that they would,

they were going to end up on welfare.

I told them that personally,

I said... because I just couldn't see it happening.

And how are you going... but the difference was

they knew what they were doing.

They knew how to do it.

>> ♪ 1986

♪ The first female American captain in history ♪

♪ Suddenly I'm in the cockpit

♪ Suddenly I've got my wings

♪ Suddenly all of those pilots protested me ♪

♪ Well, they can get their own drinks ♪

Ha!

>> BOWEN: Well, then there's the sensitivity quotient.

You have September 11, which was...

still carries a great scar in this country

and around the world.

And then to know that this is going to be treated

in musical form-- again, not the actual events,

but something related to it--

how was that dealt with?

>> Early on in rehearsals we were...

I was feeling very emotional

of some of the, some of the moments that we're portraying.

And you can't really lay it out like that.

It's, it's, it seems it could be seen as very, you know,

a little self-indulgent, you know.

And what Chris had said is that every audience member

that steps into that theater has a connection to that day

in some form or fashion.

And they will do the heavy lifting for you.

There's this great moment that I have

where that you mention about

after the five days, you know, everybody went home,

Claude sits down and he turns on the television,

and he just starts crying.

I mean, he hadn't let himself cry the whole time.

>> BOWEN: So and that happened to you?

That was your story.

>> Well, I... you know, for five days I never went home.

Only go home long enough probably get a shower,

and come back.

And if I got a few little winks, it was at the office,

you know, in my office.

But we were just going on pure adrenaline.

But in them dark days, there was a silver lining.

And I always say that in the midst of a storm,

there will always be something good come.

And hopefully that this musical is touching people

from all around the world.

And to show us that we can love each other,

we can be kind to people.

>> BOWEN: Well, I guess a lot of people wonder how that happens.

Was it just magic that happened there?

>> That's just the way we are.

If you, if you come to Gander

and if you were stopped in Gander,

and you couldn't get a hotel room,

somebody would bring you into their home and keep you.

You know, we also realize that in downtown New York,

you may not get in somebody's home,

but that's our culture.

That's the way that we live there.

>> BOWEN: Well, I have to ask, I do know something about you,

which is that you, you walked away from performing marriages

in Canada because you don't believe in same sex marriage.

>> Right.

>> BOWEN: How do you reconcile everything you just talked about

with that decision that you've made?

>> Well, you can disagree,

with, with something, you don't have to agree,

but you still love people.

You know, because you don't agree with marriage

doesn't mean that I don't love the people.

Because, you know, that's their way of life

and I'll love anybody regardless of their sexual orientation.

I may disagree with you

on something that you may do, but I'll always love you,

and I'll always respect you and do that.

So disagreeing with someone,

it's, it's... that's different than pure hatred.

And I don't think that there's anybody

in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador that hates anybody

regardless of their sexual orientation or what it is.

May disagree, but we'll bring them into our homes

and we'll treat them like our own family.

>> BOWEN: Tell me about the music of this show,

which I know is so ingrained in Canadian music

and culture and heritage itself. >> Sure.

>> ♪ Farewell you Newfoundlander boys ♪

♪ You're leaving us alone

♪ Heave away, me jollies, heave away... ♪

>> This music is very reminiscent

and holds a lot of qualities of-of Irish music,

certainly in terms of the instruments, you know,

and-and the baron and the, and the pipes that were playing

and the fiddle.

But it's... there is,

there is such a great sense of belonging and fun.

I mean, it's, it's, like, our show,

but it's that... it's the musical feel of that show,

of-of compassion, of warmth

and welcome and fun. >> BOWEN: Mr. Mayor,

you said this was the first musical

you saw. >> Yes.

>> BOWEN: So what-what was your reaction

when you finally saw it?

First of all, what...

to be actually, you know,

"What are these people singing instead of talking?"

>> When the show was over, I knew they had hit a home run.

Everything was accurate.

You know, the wording might be changed,

but everything you see in that musical happened.

>> BOWEN: Mayor Claude Elliott, thank you so much.

Kevin Carolan... >> Thank you.

>> BOWEN: ...it's a pleasure to have you here.

>> Thank you. >> Thank you, pleasure.

>> BOWEN: From musicals to murder-- Agatha Christie-style--

it's time now to take a look at Arts This Week.

Start your week Sunday with Sir Simon Rattle.

The famed conductor offers Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms

in a Jordan Hall concert.

Head to the M.I.T. List Visual Arts Center Tuesday

to see the mind- and time-altering sculptures

of Berlin-based artist

Alicja Kwade: In Between Glances.

Wednesday, Tony-Award-winning actor Dennis O'Hare

appears in the one-man show, An Iliad,

wondering what's changed since the Trojan War.

It's presented by ArtsEmerson.

SeeSomething Rotten! Thursday.

To be clear, that's the name of the show,

a cheeky piece about the fictional first musical.

It plays at Cape Rep Theatre through early December.

Theater can be a killer,

especially when Agatha Christie is involved.

HerMurder on the Orient Express starts a monthlong run

at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston Friday.

Saturday, Open Studios season continues

at Brickbottom Studios in Somerville.

All weekend long, artists spring open their doors

for public perusal.

Next, Ohio-based artist Chris Mercerhill

has turned quilting into a new artform.

Instead of using traditional fabric,

he uses photographs sewn together

to create a kaleidoscope of color and patterns.

>> I am originally from Toronto, Canada.

I came to the United States to go to graduate school.

I met my wife there in South Carolina.

We moved to Illinois and then back to Ohio

'cause it's closer to home.

So, kind of a classic story, really.

I've always been interested in patterns,

you know, shapes, squares, triangles.

So, when I set out to make a photo quilt,

a quilt made of photos sewn together,

I-I start with an image.

So, this, this is an image of, um, the North Market.

So, I'm going to use this photo,

and I'm going to make its mirror image.

For the bottom half of the quilt,

I'll cut these two inches off.

And then the next layer, I'll cut

one-and-a... one-and-three-quarters

and a little bit off of here,

and then I march it down like this,

so by the end, by the top row,

I'm using these... this, this is my four-inch square.

So, the effect this creates is from the top to the bottom,

the-the source image shifts slightly and changes.

And these lines, which are at, you know, odd angles,

really lend this dynamism.

They-they intersect in really interesting ways

that create diamond shapes

and points, and spikes.

Traditional quilts, they're made with fabric,

and so often, you know, the story is,

uh, "This is my grandma's apron,

"and this is my Aunt Myrtle's dress

that she wore to Sunday school."

And, for me, I can capture memories through photographs.

I can, I can identify patterns or places or things

and then use them in much the same way,

make a quilt out of those, instead of out of fabric.

And so, it's all about, you know, exploring the city,

finding interesting viewpoints,

finding things that-that reach out to me

as a, as a really dynamic image.

And then I cut them up and sew them together

and see what happens.

When I was in Illinois,

I started working on a pattern called "Log Cabin,"

which is sort of a square with these strips all the way around

that just repeat and repeat and repeat,

which kind of gives the effect of a log cabin.

And I was in the Land of Lincoln.

When I came to Ohio a little over ten years ago,

you know, I was thinking and exploring,

and I found this Ohio star pattern.

And so, the-the Ohio star pattern,

it's called a nine-patch quilt.

There's a group of patterns called that

because they're three squares by three squares.

And so, this one, four of the squares

have triangles that sort of form an X.

And so the thing I like about these is

you get these... where these four triangles come together,

you get these sort of kaleidoscopic-y,

diamond-y spots.

And then there's this pattern that sort of repeats,

uh, square, triangle, square,

but when you put it next to another block,

it's square, triangle, square.

So, right when you think you've discovered the pattern--

square, triangle, square--

that's not a triangle, that's another square.

And it, it's, it... to my eye,

it's complicated enough

that you have to sort of look twice

to really figure it out.

And I don't always feel like

when I'm looking at it that I've figured it out.

One thing I really try to do with my work

is-is to create objects that you can appreciate

both up close and from a distance.

So, from a distance it almost looks like a carpet or wallpaper

or interesting shapes.

And then you get up close, and you go,

"Hey, there's a person there,

they're walking down an aisle, is that the North Market?"

And you kind of look and go, "That's the North Market!"

I love fabric quilts.

I make fabric quilts.

Uh, my wife and I make fabric quilts together.

But for me, there's something

about photographs and sewing them together,

and I guess maybe it's the-the resolution,

the clarity you can get with a photograph

that really sets it apart from fabric.

I think my work is sort of about noticing the beauty around us,

and, you know, sort of stopping and pausing

and appreciating it in-in a way maybe we haven't before.

>> BOWEN: Finally, now,

a look at an art initiative in Reno, Nevada,

bringing together artists, community groups, and neighbors.

It's the very definition of public art.

>> The Art Belongs Here grants initiative

is a neighborhood creative place-making project

for public art.

The idea behind it is to get people in neighborhoods

to work with artists and collaborate with each other

to create art projects that exist outdoors in public space

in their neighborhood--

projects that reflect community identity, heritage,

the personality or character of a place.

One of the projects that got approved is a sculpture

titled, "Good Luck Horseshoe"

that's happening at the Reno Rodeo.

So, the Reno Rodeo partnered with artist Michael Gray

to bring this sculpture to Reno and permanently locate it.

>> We had to use the chipping hammer

to bust out the concrete so that it would sit flat.

And then we drilled holes on the outsides for concrete anchors.

>> And then we put the-the banner on the top for stability.

>> It keeps the horseshoe from separating,

because, you know, people are going to climb all over it.

>> The "Good Luck Horseshoe," to me,

is a real piece of inspiration I think that Mike had

to take something out to the Black Rock Desert

that sort of symbolized the horses of our area,

the Western culture, and things like that,

and be able to provide it to the people that were at Burning Man.

And it's just completely appropriate

that it ends up full circle back here.

Mike was able to source the materials

like the-the horseshoes that are in the "Good Luck Horseshoe"

are all repurposed horseshoes that he collected

from different farriers

and different people with horses in the area.

But a lot of those folks that are our neighbors,

they have horses that are in the drill team

and things like that.

So the likelihood that those horseshoes have been

in the actual Reno Rodeo grounds are probably pretty good.

>> There's a project happening along Fourth Street,

a artist that's working on that is actually doing bike benches.

So, he's taking bike parts and making them

into these really cool benches.

>> I'm involved with the Reno Bike Project

and the Brewery Arts District on Fourth Street.

We're putting out a series of artistic bike benches

that are also bike racks.

It provides somewhere

for cyclists to park on Fourth Street

and produces some art for the community

and promotes cycling in the area.

Today, I'm assembling the first finished version

of our latest prototype.

While working on this project,

a lot of things have affected our overall design.

We've had to take into account A.D.A. regulations,

as well as sidewalk regulations

in developing a bench that will conform to the codes,

as well as be a piece of art and be functional

as far as parking a bike,

and noticeable that it is a bike rack

and a bench and for cyclists.

>> Another project that's happening

is on Wedekind Road at the 395 overpass.

And that is a community mural project.

It's Be the Change Project working with artist Asa Kennedy.

>> The mural is going to be a Day of the Dead-themed piece.

The wall behind us is just, it's ugly,

and it's always been ugly,

and it gets tagged, and it gets painted over gray,

and it gets tagged again.

And that can easily be changed.

And as we talked to the community

and kind of got some feedback,

people were really positive about the idea,

and we just, we just went with it after that.

>> About a week or two ago,

we went to the elementary school,

kind of ran through the concept with them

about what it was going to be,

and went through some small exercises

asking them "What images,

"what elements and ideas do you kids think

represent this cultural festival?"

And from then we went from the answers being provided

to them drawing.

Part of their actual, more direct inclusion is going to be

structuring some of the panels and the work

for students' own original work,

where my job as the lead artist

is to come in and weave all that together.

>> Part of it is incorporating their own designs

and bringing their-their ideas right to the wall itself,

so that, at the end of the day,

when the mural is done,

and they're walking past it to go to school,

they can say, you know, "I did that."

>> This, I want to...

>> We see public art as being an integral part of city life.

>> A lot of times while I'm working on public art,

people, when they see it, they get so excited

and they really do feel, like, a sense of ownership

over some of the art.

>> It's good for the people, it's good for the town.

It's good for the city itself.

I mean it's... art makes people happy.

>> I want people to come here that haven't,

that aren't from here, and they're traveling and visiting.

They see it and its character.

It's our city.

>> BOWEN: And that is all for this edition ofOpen Studio.

Next week, a pilgrimage into the pages ofLittle Women.

We visit the home and desk

where Louisa May Alcott wrote her classic novel.

Then, sunny days keeping the clouds away,

becauseSesame Street original cast member Emilio Delgado

is here talking about the iconic show

and his new role as Don Quixote.

Until then, I'm Jared Bowen.

Thanks for joining us.

And, as always, you can visit us online at wgbh.org/OpenStudio.

And you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter,

@OpenStudioWGBH.

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