Thomas Henry Museum

Twenty year-old Jean-François Millet went to study painting in Cherbourg, where some 70 years previously Thomas Henry was born.

Though educated in commerce, Henry had a taste for art. In his early career he went to Saint-Domingue, a lucrative French colony on the island of Hispaniola. He was a merchant there until a successful slave revolt, now known as the Haitian Revolution, put an end to the colony and created the Empire of Haiti in 1804.

The Conversion of Saint Augustin
The Conversion of Saint Augustin by Fra Angelico, ca. 1430; donated to the town of Cherbourg by Thomas Henry, 1835

Having proved himself in business, back in France Henry went to Paris and became a painting restorer, then an accomplished artist as well as a successful art dealer. From this time onward he collected paintings and sculptures from the major movements in Western European art of the previous four centuries. He became a celebrated connoisseur, his opinion of a work’s provenance and of its quality being highly regarded.

By 1831, he had lost both sons and sensed his own life’s end. He began donating—anonymously—portions of his collection to his native town.

La Justice
La Justice, original by Pierre Subleyras, ca. 1740 (left); copy by Jean-François Millet, 1837

After receiving a significant number of these artworks, the Cherbourg town council decided to open a museum. An investigation revealed the donor’s name, and the Musée Thomas Henry opened its doors in 1835. Among its first visitors was Jean-François Millet, who came to copy the works of the masters as part of his studies.

Petit génie de la peinture
Petit génie de la peinture (Little genius of painting), Jean-François Millet ca. 1842; part of the Ono donation, as was Millet’s Justice above

A later donation, that of Millet’s nephew Paul Ono in 1915, would add to the museum’s collection a large number of Millet’s early paintings. Among them were many of the student artist’s copies, which museum visitors can see beside the original.

Today, the Thomas Henry Museum holds the third largest Millet collection in the world.

Choose your own path...


Beat Generation at the Centre Pompidou

519This poster caught my eye the other day in the street. Before the hippies of the 1960s, there were the Beats of the ‘50s. In the later half of that decade, three works emerged to become the Beat manifesto: Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956), Naked Lunch by William Burroughs (1959) and On the Road, Jack Kerouac (1957).

I read the story of Kerouac’s great American road trip as a young man, when we should read such stories. When there’s so little of our own road behind us and so much of it stretched out before us in wide, wavy, criss-crossing lines. When we can go anywhere, do anything and meet anybody. When we have no clue what it is we want to do, so we just go to where our feet take us and we meet people and find out where they’ve been and what they’ve been doing. Like that, we make our way until one day we finally discover what it is we want to do, what we’ve always wanted to do. Deep down, we knew it all along. But it takes the journey to wear away the layers of our soul, to expose our true self and show us just who it is we’ve been traveling with all our lives.

So I hopped aboard a passing train and went to see the exposition.

On the Road

“I first met Neal not long after my father died. I had just gotten over a
serious illness that I won't bother to talk about except that it really had some-
thing to do with my father's death and my awful feeling that everything was
dead. With the coming of Neal there really began for me that part of my life
that you could call my life on the road.”

 — excerpt from the manuscript of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

On the Road (Viking Press, 1957) follows Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty on their mad, wild journeys back and forth across postwar America. It’s a mostly autobiographical account of Kerouac’s encounters with his overexcited friend, Neal Cassady. They hitch-hike, they jump rail cars, they sleep nights under tarps or in seedy motels and sometimes at the homes of friends or acquaintances. They stay in one place just long enough to make a little cash, working odd jobs, for the next leg of their adventure. And all along the way, they sleep with girls, smoke tea and live life as fast as it will go.

I didn’t think about what I might see at the show. I had heard the legend about Jack Kerouac bashing out his novel on a manual typewriter and one long scroll of tracing paper in a delirious stream of consciousness. But I had no idea the relic might yet exist and even be seen by mortal eyes.

056So coming through the turnstile, I was surprised by the long narrow box table stretching to the far end of the gallery. It hit me in an instant and I let out a “Wow!”

 

 

 

The Scroll

As one does with books that grab you from the start, I had memorized its opening lines a long time ago. Reading now from the top of the scroll (excerpt above) and comparing the text to my hazy memory, two things stood out. One is that in his draft the author still uses 055the real name of Neal Cassady, the real-life person who becomes Dean Moriarty in the book. The other is the cause of the serious illness. In the published version, it isn’t his father’s death but “after my wife and I split up” that his serious illness has something to do with. I remember thinking when I first read the book that “feeling that everything was dead” was unusually drastic for a break-up.

 

078I learned from the display tag on the box table that the scroll is, in fact, the second draft of the novel and, perusing the 120-foot length of the thing, I noticed that it’s actually eight shorter scrolls, taped together.

 

 

 

080

Some sections have pencil notes written at the bottom. Of which I could make out not a single word.

 

 

 

 

 

 066Note the left margin. Apparently, a sheet of paper 15 feet long necessitates occasional adjustment in the typewriting machine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beat Philosophy

083Excerpt from the introductory text to the exposition (photo right):

"Rejecting consumerism, social conventions, racism and homophobia; defending a libertarian ethic and resolutely pacifist but emancipated from any doctrinal commitment; nurturing a profound attachment for big open spaces and shamanic spirituality through which man becomes an integral part of the Cosmos, the Beat Generation inspired not only the hippy way of life and the psychedelic culture, but also opposition to the Vietnam war, support for civil rights movements, and the revolts of young people during the Sixties in Berkeley, Flint, Columbia, Chicago and Watts."

Couldn't we have another go at this?

Beat Art

126

Drawings by Beats, including Gregory Corso, Philip Whalen, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac and Peter Orlovsky

What stuck me as I wandered through the sizable exposition: The Beats weren’t just writers and poets. They were also photographers and film-makers, sculptors and musicians. They made drawings, illustrations, collages and paintings. Mixing together these media, they created a wonderfully diverse body of work.

479A Thimble of Goodbye (A Film Poem), Paul Beattie, 1960 053Photographs by Fred W. McDarrah and John Cohen
057Paintings by Jack Kerouac 097Haiku by Diane di Prima, 1967
036Pull My Daisy, a film collaboration between Robert Frank, Alfred Leslie, David Amram and Jack Kerouac, 1959 135The Game for Angels (1963), Curve Book (1964) and Hand with Z (1960-65), Paul Beattie
138The Mouse’s Tale, Jess, 1951-54 145Get Rid of Government Time (Poem Machine), Liliane Lijn, 1962

 

Scroll's End

Kerouac wrote the scroll draft in April 1951, but he began writing the first draft of the novel as early as 1948. Several revisions and several rejections from publishers later, On the Road was finally published in 1957. It was his second novel.

069The end of the scroll has worn away. I could make out the words, “…ambulances merely come through at…,” which corresponds to text on page 301 in my copy of the book, nine pages from the end.

Safe under glass in the box table, Kerouac’s scroll seems out of context. I imagine dim yellow light on the peeling wallpaper of a New York apartment; a whiskey glass on the table, cigarette smoke hanging thick in the humid evening air as the author in sleeveless t-shirt bangs away on a noisy machine. Clack, clack, clack. The end of the novel and the author’s success are far off.

And between here and there... the road.

 

Beat Generation through October 3 at the Centre Pompidou, Paris.

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Choose your own path...


James A. Owen's Meditations Trilogy

Every now and again as we go through life, something comes along to change the way we look at it. It might be a book we read or something someone says to us or a mountain-top revelation that gives us a fleeting glimpse of something bigger than we might have imagined or had ever thought possible.

Those who make miracles happenThat happened to me again last month when I heard this guy's talk at a seminar. James A. Owen is a graphic artist who has had some tough breaks in his own life. By tough breaks, I mean life-threatening breaks and breaks that might have been career-ending for a normal human. Despite multiple challenges, James is still living and he's still an artist.

Among other works, he makes graphic novels for children. When his publisher sends him out to talk to kids about his books, he talks instead about some of the obstacles he has faced, how he overcame them and what lessons he learned from the experience.

Lessons like: What we really need in life is for someone to believe in us, someone who will support us, someone who will catch us when we fall.

Lessons like: If you really want to do something, no one can stop you. But if you really don't want to do something, no one can help you.

That's the talk I heard and when I heard James tell his story, I didn't get just a fleeting glimpse of something bigger; I got a panoramic view. And it wasn’t fleeting, the view is persistent. A door opened and I stepped through it.

I see now, in very real, concrete terms, that life is not a straight line that we have to go through. It's a wide open field that we get to explore. And if we really want to do that, we just have to recognize and acknowledge our fears — those fears that keep us going along the obligatory straight line — then pluck up our courage and believe in ourselves to overcome those fears and strike out on our own. We also have to believe in, encourage and support the people we choose to go exploring with. Because those people will believe in us, they'll support us, and they'll catch us when we fall.

That's what heroes do. And we can all be heroes, if we really want to.

James has been giving that talk for several years now. A few years ago he wrote it all down in a book of meditations, called Drawing out the Dragons, which is available in paperback and ebook. Since then, he has written two more books of meditations, The Barbizon Diaries and The Grand Design. These last two have previously only been available in ebook.

James is currently running a kickstarter project to put out all three books in a nice hardcover set. At different reward levels you can get one, two or all three of them for a reasonable price.

Through Monday, you can download all three ebooks for free on Amazon (links above). Have a look at them and consider supporting James's kickstarter: The Meditations Trilogy.

And if you ever get a chance to go hear James speak, do go — and take your kids. He's a great guy to go exploring with.

Choose your own path...