Open Studio with Jared Bowen

S8 E26 | FULL EPISODE

"Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle" and "Gloria: A Life"

The Peabody Essex Museum brings together Jacob Lawrence's Struggle Series for the first time in more than 60 years. See American history in a new light with "Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle." Then, director Diane Paulus and actor Patricia Kalember sit down to discuss "Gloria: A Life," a new play about Gloria Steinem at the American Repertory Theater. Plus, forced perspective photography.

AIRED: January 31, 2020 | 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,

an ambitious series of paintings by Jacob Lawrence

is reassembled for the first time in 60 years.

It's calledStruggle.

When there's issues of unrest or struggle,

it's a story that is an effect of a whole society,

not a small group within a society.

>> BOWEN: Then the visionary Gloria Steinem

is brought to the stage by visionary director Diane Paulus.

>> She says in the beginning of the show,

"I've never seen as much activism

as I'm seeing right now."

>> BOWEN: Plus, relishing old age.

>> We're time-traveling, and we want people

to kind of travel back to that time with us,

and remember what it used to be like.

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

First up, we look at theStruggle

of painter Jacob Lawrence.

In the 1950s, amid the McCarthy hearings

and the launch of the Civil Rights Movement,

he decided to frame early American history as he saw it.

Now his sprawling series, calledStruggle,

has been reassembled at the Peabody Essex Museum,

the first stop on what will be a national tour.

In 1954, the late painter Jacob Lawrence began a series

he calledStruggle: From the History of the American People.

The most famous black artist of his time,

he originally thought he might depict

African-American struggle.

He soon reconsidered.

>> When there's issues of unrest or struggle,

it's a story that is an effect of a whole society,

not a small group within a society.

>> BOWEN: Over two years, Lawrence painted

a series of 30 panels, from Patrick Henry's struggle

to reconcile the co-existence of liberty and slavery

to the harrowing push for westward expansion.

Artist Derrick Adams has been taking the panels in

one at a time,

including this depiction of a slave revolt in 1810.

>> In this particular piece,

it's some type of torture in this work,

and you can see the way the body is kind of, like, stretched

across the plane of the, of the painting.

When you look at the work,

there's no space to not acknowledge the scene.

>> BOWEN: Here at the Peabody Essex Museum,

these panels are together for the first time

in more than 60 years.

>> We have assembled, and tracked, and researched,

and investigated.

It's been a little bit like being a detective.

>> BOWEN: Austen Barron Bailly is one of the show's curators.

Six years in the making,

the exhibition features most of the original works.

>> There are panels that remain completely unlocated.

And those are either in private hands or lost.

>> BOWEN: The whereabouts of five paintings is unknown,

although the hunt is on.

This one, Panel 19, turned up at a New York auction

as Bailly was working on the show.

That must have been ridiculously exciting.

>> It was incredibly exciting.

These are the accidents of history

that have informed this show,

that even informed Lawrence's work.

>> BOWEN: A darling of the modern art world,

Lawrence was 37 when he beganStruggle.

Almost 15 years earlier, he createdTheMigrationSeries,

a critically acclaimed effort

featuring the move of black Americans from the rural South

to the urban North.

>> The artist Steve Locke, who contributed to our catalogue,

likes to describe TheMigration Series

as kind of his greatest hit,

but theStruggle series as the better record.

>> BOWEN: By the time he put paint to canvas,

Lawrence had spent more than five years

researching American history,

combing through historical records

and teasing out quotations that would serve as his prompt.

>> He looked for the voices of founding fathers.

He looked for these actions that people took in the struggle

to build our democracy.

And he offers it up as a way

through these incredible paintings to draw you in.

>> BOWEN: Lawrence's take on history is an intimate one.

Where Paul Revere gave us the Boston Massacre

in full-blown battle,

Lawrence delivered us straight to its first victim.

Where Emmanuel Leutze gave us

a valiant George Washington crossing the Delaware,

Lawrence delivers despair.

>> Cold, suffering.

Choppy weather, hints of blood.

Robed men trying to stay warm.

Hands-- emphasizing these hands trying to row across,

silently, steadfastly.

And there's no sense of who, if any, of these people

would be George Washington.

>> BOWEN: Well, it's struggle,

it's not heroism as we might know it here.

>> Exactly.

And I think from Lawrence's perspective,

the heroism is the collective endeavor.

>> BOWEN: Each panel is relatively small,

just 12 by 16 inches,

and Lawrence routinely wrote notes about his process

on the backs of the works, all as it related toStruggle.

>> I think about someone like Jacob at a time

where artists, like him, had very little opportunity

to experience themselves as an artist.

I'm sure it came with a lot of challenges and obstacles,

beyond his ability to create what he created.

>> BOWEN: A widely exhibited artist himself,

Derrick Adams says Lawrence, who died in 2000,

has influenced his career more than any other painter.

He points out the two bear a strikingly similar resemblance.

And he even once escorted Lawrence

around New York's Pratt Institute,

where Adams was a student.

>> I felt like he was a "Jacob" to me than a "Mr. Lawrence."

I don't know, it just seemed like he was very, like, um,

approachable and very, um, modest in personality.

I felt like we were more, um...

Just more in kinship.

>> BOWEN: Despite Lawrence's wishes

to keep the series together at an institution,

the paintings were ultimately sold off in the late 1950s.

But Lawrence later considered the work a turning point,

where he found a way to depict humanity.

>> And he offers it up as a way

through these incredible paintings to draw you in,

and examine, and think about your proximity to those stories

and your relationship to them.

>> BOWEN: The exhibition closes with an installation

Derrick Adams created after sifting

through Lawrence's archives.

It's an imaginary studio, filled with photographs

never before shown publicly.

The chair is Lawrence's,

oriented, it seems, for quiet contemplation,

and facing a ladder perhaps lifting Lawrence

out of struggle.

>> You know, the ladder, I think, has to do

with just the idea of the plight,

his career,

the plight of humanity.

Jacob, you know, starting from this very familiar place

of being seated, and thinking,

and then that part of kind of ascending.

He's no longer with us.

But there's things that kind of give us

a bigger picture of who Jacob was.

>> BOWEN: Which is of an artist defined, in part, by struggle.

Gloria Steinem is revered today as a feminist icon,

but her road to founding Ms. magazine

was paved with ridicule.

>> You know how every year there's a pretty girl

who comes to New York and pretends to be a writer?

>> Sure.

>> Well, Gloria is this year's pretty girl.

>> BOWEN: That's a scene from a new play calledGloria: A Life

at the American Repertory Theater.

I recently sat down

with Tony-winning director Diane Paulus

and the actress who plays Steinem, Patricia Kalember,

to talk about the play and Steinem's profound impact

on women's lives.

Diane Paulus, Patricia Kalember,

thank you so much for being here.

So, Diane, I'll start with you.

Gloria Steinem, she's sort of in this, this moment

where she's still very much part of our lives

and leading our lives,

but she's also tending toward monument at this point.

So how do you pull that person out of that stratosphere

for this play?

>> The whole purpose of the play, in a way,

is to demystify Gloria Steinem

and, and let audiences into her journey

of becoming Gloria.

She wasn't born a feminist.

>> All I knew was I wanted to be a writer,

a political journalist.

I soon found out

that the men got all the political assignments.

My high point was writing a long, detailed article

forThe New York Times

on textured stockings.

(laughter)

>> And I think, you know, a lot of people can feel like,

"I could never be as amazing as Gloria Steinem."

She has this line in the middle of play

that Patricia says, that is, you know,

"I'm... finally come to this radical notion

"that women are equal human beings.

And guess what? I'm 35 years old."

And that's such a important part of this story,

I think, is to, to...

For people to understand that you're not born an activist.

>> BOWEN: How does that sit with both of you,

to be telling this story where a woman had to go

that far into her life before realizing

she could say something like out loud, or realize it for herself?

>> She's so glamorous,

and people were-- not envious,

but they thought that she had all the answers.

And what you also discover in this is

that she had a very difficult upbringing,

and not an easy path.

And it, it humanizes her in a way.

>> I am grateful when TheNew York Times assigns me

a celebrity profile.

When I deliver the article, the editor gives me a choice...

>> You can discuss this with me in a hotel room this afternoon

or you can mail my letters on the way out.

>> I'll mail your letters.

>> BOWEN: Well, you've gotten to know her to play the part.

>> Well, I met her a few times. (others laugh)

I wish I could say I knew her-- no.

>> BOWEN: But have... in those few times, have you been able

to distill kind of what, what has made her work

and what makes her such a real person...

>> Yes.

>> BOWEN: ...but also such a leader in our society?

>> Yes, generosity.

>> And what I've learned about Gloria,

and through the process of creating the show,

is that she's deeply interested in listening.

That's why she's so passionate about the talking circle

as an idea.

And for me as a theater person, that connected,

because in a way, the theater is a ritual of a talking circle.

And she's, she's a convener.

You know, she... she believes in community,

and she believes in the power

of what can happen when we look out at each other.

She has this great quote

that shared purpose is, is...

the, the eliminator of hierarchy.

And I think that starts with herself.

She doesn't want to be in a hierarchical relationship

with anybody.

>> BOWEN: Patricia, going back

to what she had to endure at the beginning,

people like Harry Reasoner and Howard K. Smith,

I don't think we remember so well...

>> Of what a target she was.

>> BOWEN: Now that we look at media...

Yes, she was a target,

and that it was okay to make her a target on the network news.

>> The first edition ofMs.,

described as a new magazine for women,

is at hand, and it's pretty sad.

>> Among the multitude of causes in this cause-ridden age,

one that has not, to me at least, made its case

is women's lib.

>> Well, it's still okay to target women.

(chuckles)

I mean, men make the same mistakes all the time

and you won't hear anything about it.

But make one mistake as a woman, boy, the media is on you.

>> BOWEN: How do you survive something like that?

>> It, it did eventually get to her.

And she had to work to build up her own self-esteem

to be able to withstand it.

>> Which is in the play. >> Which is in the play.

>> The book she wrote,

Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem.

>> BOWEN: And she didn't do it alone.

She's flanked by women in this production.

>> Gloria's life was defined by community,

and defined by the other women that she linked arms with.

This is an ensemble production that takes place

in a theater setting that is designed in the round

of which the audience becomes the partner.

>> BOWEN: Well, let's talk about that.

It's a recreation of something that happens regularly,

I understand, in her own living room.

>> Mm-hmm. >> BOWEN: The talking circles.

So, what happens there?

>> She puts all... this rug,

all these beautiful antique rugs,

and she puts cushions down.

Do you remember when she had everybody over, and...

She had a talking circle.

>> BOWEN: And what is a talking circle?

>> (sighs): Just whatever you want to share at the time.

Um, I mean, she started it just talking

about having everybody sit around,

and suddenly issues come up.

Just, things come up.

>> I would say being able to tell your story

and listening to each other's stories

is the surefire path out,

because you realize you're not crazy--

the system is crazy.

>> We've had people at the theater bring up things

that we're amazed by, because they feel safe.

>> What Gloria says is, the circle is the place

that is, again, a different paradigm.

Right? It's not a hierarchy. >> It's not a pyramid.

>> So you discover that we are linked, not ranked,

and you have a chance to listen to other people's stories

so you realize you're not crazy and you're not alone.

And I think that atmosphere

creates space for people to share.

And it's amazing how you learn from each other.

You know, we did this over six months,

eight times a week, in New York, off Broadway.

It's been done at the McCarter Theatre and now here at A.R.T.

And it happens.

It's this remarkable experience

where people respond because we've had a shared experience.

I think that's important.

It's not, put people in a room and just have a free-for-all.

>> That's a good point.

>> We come together in, like, a ritual.

We go through this shared experience,

which in this case is a...

Kind of a history of the women's movement,

and all the ups and downs and trials of what it means to,

you know, have a journey with your work, with your mother,

with your friends, with community.

So we're all connected all of a sudden.

>> BOWEN: How has it been to do this story in this time?

And I think about, since you launched this show in New York,

you've had the Kavanaugh hearings,

the Harvey Weinstein trial, the MeToo movement--

the, the many iterations of that--

all as this story is unfolding.

How do they...

How are they in conversation with one another?

>> As far as Gloria is concerned,

this whole time has been a gift.

Because it's made people wake up and become active.

So she sees it in a much more positive way.

>> We are in a crisis like I have never known,

and it seems to be getting worse every day.

But I haven't seen such activism as I'm seeing right now.

127 women were sworn into Congress in the midterms!

(applause) >> I think it's doing this thing

where you're looking back in time

and you're also able to relate it to the present moment.

And then what happens at the show is,

you have an intergenerational response to that.

So you have...

>> BOWEN: That must be fascinating.

>> It's fascinating! >> It's really interesting.

>> And typically, you have people who are older

who express, um...

>> Despair. >> Despair about the present.

And then, true to talking circle fashion,

and Gloria said, "Just let it happen.

"Let the talking circle respond.

You don't have to mediate."

Nine times out of ten,

a young person will take the mic and say,

"I'm in it." >> Right.

>> "We just started a feminist club in my school.

We're organizing to march on Washington."

You know, when someone says,

"Where are the Gloria Steinems today?",

a young person says, "They're in my high school."

So you, you get generations speaking to each other.

You also get a younger generation saying,

"God, I never knew..." >> Mmm.

>> "...what my mother, my grandmother had to go through."

So, it's a dialogue.

>> BOWEN: I spent two evenings with her

for the Boston Speakers Series,

and I just remembered this talking with you both.

I remember her distinctly saying

that she doesn't consider herself an icon.

How do you both look at what she...

I'm sure she said it to you both, as well.

>> Mmm. >> I, I just...

I don't know, she's so funny.

I said to her, when I met her,

"I realized in doing this, Gloria,

"it's the best thing, because as an actor, I don't...

"It doesn't have to do with my ego,

it has everything to do with you, and so I can just..."

And she went, "You're an actor, dear.

Please don't forget the ego." (laughing)

>> She's so funny. >> Okay, I get it.

>> She really understands humor and laughter.

>> She's hysterical. >> She talked about laughter

being the only emotion that can't be forced.

She also... what I love about her,

which I think is important for this production now,

she calls herself a self-proclaimed hope-aholic.

Right?

And I think right now, we need that.

Someone said that, over the weekend, um,

in the talking circle,

that, you know, thank you for the hope.

And I found, in my experience working on this show,

that it's always the people who work in social justice--

because a lot of them come to the show--

they stand up and they say, "When was social justice easy?"

If you're in the social justice world, you know it's a fight.

>> That's right. >> And you have to be

a hope-aholic, because you believe in a better future,

and you're going to dedicate your life to it.

And who said it was going to be easy?

>> BOWEN: Well, it's been wonderful

to speak with you both.

You remind me that when I spent my time with her,

it was like sitting at the feet of a tribal elder,

because she is so inspirational in that way, and so wise.

Thank you both for joining us.

>> Thank you. Thank you for having us.

>> BOWEN: There's a big birthday to celebrate.

It's part of Arts This Week.

Multi-Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo

will raise the rafters at Sanders Theatre Sunday.

The group is considered the king of South African a cappella.

Tuesday marks the Museum of Fine Arts' 150th birthday.

The institution kicks off a year of celebrations,

including opportunities for free first-year memberships.

A woman adopts a Korean boy off the internet

without clearing it with her partner first,

one of myriad conflicts inWolf Play,

at Boston Public Library Thursday.

Artist Christine Sun Kim first learned to communicate

in sign language.

Kim's exhibitionOff the Charts

explores her frustrations with hearing people.

Catch it Friday at M.I.T's. List Visual Arts Center.

What if you only had 100 days to live?

The musical memoirHundred Days

asks how do we make the most of the time we have left?

See it Saturday at Umbrella Stage Company.

Next, we meet a Denver duo--

longtime friends and collaborators

Larry Patchett and Ken Hendricks,

who use forced-perspective photography

to make everything old new again.

>> Lewis Hine said photographs never lie,

but liars can photograph.

Photographs never lie, but ours do.

(chuckles)

We like to think of ourselves as pretty good liars sometimes.

>> With integrity.

>> With integrity, yes.

Forced-perspective photography is

basically shooting models, making them look full-size,

and fooling the eye.

We're taking 24th-scale models,

bringing them out into the world,

and trying to make them look as real as possible.

One-24th-scale model--

what is it, a half-inch equals one foot in the real world?

>> Yeah-- basically, if you're a foot away from the model,

you need to be 24 feet away from the background.

>> We shoot a wide-angle lens,

which gives you greater inherent depth of field,

and we also shoot a very small aperture, like F25, F29,

which gives you even more depth of field.

So everything is in focus,

from a foot in front of the camera to infinity,

which really helps sell the illusion.

A little over two years ago,

we started doing the forced- perspective photography.

Larry said, "Well, you've got a camera and I've got some models.

Let's do this."

And so we went out and tried it,

and our first photos came out beautifully.

We've been having so much fun ever since.

>> We're making very ephemeral dioramas

that don't last any longer than it takes us to take a few shots,

and then it all goes back into the boxes in there.

What really seems to set ours apart

is the quality of Colorado light.

>> We've gotten quite a few comments on our photos

of how beautiful the blue sky is.

>> And, in a way, the secret to this is the props.

The first one we did was an ice wagon.

And I found little bitty blocks of ice

and made a set of ice tongs out of a paper clip,

sack of potatoes, a case of Coca-Cola

in the back of a pickup truck, cobblestone street.

>> Posters. >> Fake lamps.

Some milk bottles on top of it.

It's that additional touch

that makes it time travel and helps fool your eye.

>> Every once in a while,

I'll take a few models out in the backyard and shoot 'em

just to have a, like, a catalogue

of which models we have available to us.

And I thought it would be a good idea

to shoot a behind-the-scenes shot of this

to just kind of show people

how simple it is

to get a really good shot of a model car.

So I took a cell phone photo of the setup

and put it up on Flickr, and it went gangbusters.

The first weekend it was up, it got maybe 85,000 views.

It's up to 105,000 views right now.

It's our most popular photo.

>> Yeah, we spend all the trouble on beautiful sets

and beautiful models, expensive cameras,

and our most popular shot was done with a cellphone.

>> People from all over the world are seeing our photos

and, uh, that's really quite an honor.

When I bring my models, I usually dust 'em off at home,

but Larry lets me dust off his models.

So I get out a little makeup brush and dust off all the dust,

because the dust is actually full-scale dust.

It doesn't look like 24-scale dust.

More full-scale dust I can get off of the small cars,

the less Photoshop work I have to do.

>> You got it, you got it.

>> I have spent hours kind of fixing dust on models.

(both laughing)

We're time-traveling,

and we want people to kind of travel back to that time with us

and remember what it used to be like.

And we're using models from the '30s, '40s, and '50s,

and setting up in front of buildings

that were around at that time.

We try to make everything as authentic as possible.

When I was a kid, we had a late-'40s Studebaker Champion

that we rode around in, and then we upgraded to a '54 Chevy

and thought we were living, living large.

>> I grew up with Packards in the garage,

but they were already history by the time I was old enough

to know what I was looking at.

This car is a time machine.

Like, it doesn't say DeLorean,

you won't find a flux capacitor anywhere under the hood

or the taillight.

But it's a way to travel through time,

which, in short, is what we do with the forced perspective.

We're able to go back in time to an era,

uh, that evokes nostalgia in the people looking at the pictures,

or just a sense of whimsy.

>> Some of these photos that we take just bring back memories.

And the younger people kind of get to see what,

you know, what it was like back in the day.

>> This car has four ashtrays

and not a cup holder to be found.

>> (chuckles)

>> So just in subtle little ways like that,

of the different way people viewed the world in the 1950s

than we see the world now.

And our time-travel efforts help let us highlight

little bits and pieces of both worlds.

>> That's, that's hilarious. (laughing)

We both love old cars and we both love photography,

and when you can combine a passion

with a creative outlet, that's gold.

And we're just having the most fun that we've ever had.

>> I can't improve on that.

>> (laughs)

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

Next week, they're together off-stage and now on.

Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker talk to us

about co-starring in Neil Simon's comedyPlaza Suite.

And before he was Malcolm X,

Malcolm Little came of age in Boston.

The new playDetroit Red documents those formative days.

>> Part of this piece is kind of like reclaiming him

as one of Boston's own, you know?

It's saying he was part of this,

the fabric here, too.

>> BOWEN: 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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