Saturday, June 28, 2008

Holy Moses Crow!

As a kid I drew a lot. Cartoons and comics fascinated me.

My first interest in political cartoons came from reading the Richmond Times-Dispatch and seeing the cartoons of Fred O. Seibel. His 'toons also appeared in history books and national magazines, so, even as a kid, I gathered he was one of the better known guys in his field.

Seibel's heyday was before my time, but he stayed on the job at the RT-D until 1968. Click here to see a VCU libraries page on Seibel.

Still, I've no doubt what caught my eye first about Seibel's elegant pen and ink work on the editorial page -- it was Moses Crow.

Moses Crow was the bird that always appeared in Seibel's single frames. With his specs perched on his beak, he would react to the action that drove the cartoon's point. Pat Oliphant, my favorite political cartoonist today, would surely be the first to tell you that Seibel influenced him. Seibel drawing style, his hooks and his way of using symbols influenced everybody.

It was while reading at the site linked to above that I saw the bird's name was Moses Crow. I had forgotten that detail and it delighted me so, I had to write this post. Thanks, VCU libraries.

And, here are links to a five old Seibel 'toons from way back when -- here, here, here, here and there are two from the Massive Resistance era here.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Have gun will travail

This week's Supreme Court ruling on handguns is no different from most of its rulings, in that it is being praised and lamented as if it were a landmark decision.

Those who believe they already had the Constitutional right to pack heat liked it. Those who believe the sheer number of guns in our midst must be reduced, any way it can be, aren't so happy about the decision. Neither side is going to skip a step in their travails to have it their way.

Whether the decision will have much effect on crime statistics and the number gun-related deaths will play out in the future. What restrictions a city or state can put on the sort of guns and ammo you can possess is still open for debate. But the decision didn't seem to sanction the notion that it's OK for ordinary citizens to carry rocket launchers around with them for self protection, etc.

As far as how far right or left that decision was, I have to say that in my view the majority of Americans probably do think they ought to be able to own an ordinary handgun and keep it in their home. So, in that sense it probably reflects the will of the people in 2008. And, to be practical, I think most people familiar with the actual wording of the Second Amendment had already morphed the right of a "militia" to bear arms into the right of an individual.

Regarding that morphing, it will be interesting to see if the anti-gun forces now accuse the justices of "legislating from the bench." And, will the pro-gun crowd defend the decision by referring to a "living constitution" that must change with the times?

Obviously, in an election year this decision serves to remind us that presidents appoint the justices.

For the disgruntled Republicans and Democrats presently unhappy with their party's presumptive nominee that's something to think about. It's easy to believe that McCain and Obama would not have the same three names at the top of their lists of prospective Supreme Court appointees.

Meanwhile, there are some who are seeing much more in that decision than may be there. For more on that thought ChangeServant, published by an attorney, has some insights that may bring them back to earth.
The First Amendment and the Second Amendment are part of the bill of rights and define the limits of government relative to the citizens. Neither confers an absolute affirmative right on individuals. The government cannot ban speech under the First; the government cannot ban guns under the Second. The government can establish reasonable time, place and manner rules for the exercise of free speech; the government can establish reasonable time, place and manner rules for the use of guns...
To read the entire ChangeServant post (it's not very long), click here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The new Ross MacKenzie

Ross MacKenzie (depicted on the right) can rest easy, the same style of trash-talking, anti-liberal guff that he hurled at Democrats for so many years as a columnist/editor of the editorial page at the Richmond Times-Dispatch is still being published on that newspaper's OpEd page.

MacKenzie can kick back and enjoy his retirement. Now the hurler in residence is Bob Rayner.

On Page 11 of today's R-TD, Rayner does a MacKenzie-esque hatchet job on Sen. Barack Obama. He cites Obama's applauding of the Supreme Court decision against creating "a legal black hole at Guantanamo” as evidence of his lefty, pinko heart. Rayner compares Obama to former Sen. George McGovern.

Yes, I'm talking about the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee who opposed the Vietnam War and lost to Republican tower of virtue Richard Nixon. Yes, the same peace-loving McGovern who won a Distinguished Flying Cross as a B-24 pilot during WWII.

However, a fair-minded observer might see Obama's stand as conservative, because he, like the rather conservative Supreme Court, doesn't want to expand the powers of the executive branch of the government in that way.

Giving a president the power to kidnap and incarcerate people indefinitely, without ever having to show why -- outside of the legal system of this country -- is something a lot of thoughtful people might oppose. And, opposing torture is hardly a liberal position.

Rayner praises the Bush administration because there have been no significant terrorist attacks in the USA since 9/11. OK, 9/11 happened on Bush's watch and nothing like it has happened since. For that matter, it's fine with me to give Bush some credit for not starting any new endless wars of choice since he invaded Iraq.

Rayner chides Obama for not seeing that all the extraordinary power grabs the White House pulled off -- justified by 9/11 -- were proper, in spite of how many of them have since been shot down by various courts.

Hey, I would like to go on, but I can't find the Rayner piece at inRich, which would allow me to quote from it more extensively and offer a link to the piece, for the reader who might want to see Rayner's column in whole.

But I will say this: Being opposed to the radical policies of the Bush administration does't make one a conservative, or a liberal. Furthermore, invoking names like that of George McGovern, to try to scare today's voters, isn't going to get much traction with anyone Obama's age (47 on Aug. 4) or younger.

So, apparently, being the new Ross MacKenzie means aiming one's tortured logic and sarcastic sneers at pleasing hardcore rightwingers closer to Sen. John McCain's age (72 on Aug. 29). Hey, why not? It's easy to please readers who haven't had a new thought in 20 years.

Update: Here's the link to Rayner's "Are We Finally Ready to Elect George McGovern?"

Update: Here's the link to Rayner's reaction to this post and some comments from readers of The Board Room.

-- Words and art by F.T. Rea

Dittoheads, PUMAs and stink bombs

In spite of their differences, both obvious and subtle, Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama have some things in common. For one thing, they both have the confidence to think they ought to be our next president. And, as the presumptive nominees of their political parties, they are both being dogged by vociferous elements of their respective parties.

Among other shortcomings, McCain is seen as insufficiently “conservative” for the Rush Limbaugh wing of the Republican Party. Specifically, it's hard to tell what their beef is, except that McCain has occasionally opposed the wishes of Karl Rove and the neoconservatives in the Bush White House. That, while some from the oily bidness wing of the GOP seem to be worried that McCain won't show them the same deference as has the Bush administration.

After all, Halliburton stock holders have to feed their families, too.

Back in the winter Barack Obama was seen as insufficiently black by some, since then he's been cast as both a closet Muslim and a longtime member of the wrong Christian church. Which is to say he may be too black.

Now Obama is under attack from some supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton for being a usurper and misogynist. This group, every bit as strident as Limbaugh's Dittoheads, has come to be known by the acronym PUMA – standing for Party Unity My Ass.

The problem for the PUMAs seems to be that Obama is not sufficiently female.

With the conventions still several weeks away there's plenty of time for the ruffled feathers in both parties to be smoothed out. But that's no guarantee they will be.

That's because so much of what is driving the Republican McCain bashers and the Democratic Obama bashers has little to do with the two winners of the primary season. Their actual stands on current issues and their qualifications aren't really what is wrong with them, either.

However, what it does have a lot to do with for the bandwagon tire slashers in both parties is not having it their way. That's it -- they just didn't get their way.

Since the terms “liberal” and “conservative” have been beaten to death by post-Cold War hidden agendas, they no longer apply to politics in 2008 the way they did decades ago. For instance, who, other than someone in the Bush administration, really sees our sitting president's record as being particularly conservative?

So, are the Dittoheads, who dutifully voted for Hillary in primaries, really to the right of McCain? What about supporters of Mitt Romney, or Mike Huckabee, are they right or left of McCain? Are the PUMAs to the left of Obama, or to the right?

No, pure ideology hasn't got much to do with most of the carping about the results of the primaries, or the coverage of politics by the media. What the Dittoheads and the PUMAs have in common today is their screeching spoiled child, foot-stomping attitudes. Since they weren't chosen as homecoming queens they have chosen to throw stink bombs at the pep rallies that precede the big game.

While there's nothing new about this phenomenon, there is something new about how much attention the bitter homecoming queen losers are getting from the press. Bloggers are playing a role, too.

Here in Virginia, there are anti-McCain Republicans and anti-Obama Democrats lobbing stink bombs into the political blogosphere with dogged regularity. (A cursory look at Waldo's VA Political Blogs aggregating site will confirm this.) Yet, other than being an odoriferous annoyance, it's hard to see what they are accomplishing.

Then again, being extremely annoying is frequently the chief goal of spoiled foot-stompers ... and, so it goes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Chuck Wrenn to Richmond's Imaginary Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame

The Valentine Richmond History Center is calling for nominations as local "history makers."
Yet sometimes even the most powerful success stories and hard-working individuals in our community go unnoticed. The Valentine Richmond History Center annually recognizes everyday citizens and outstanding organizations that are making significant contributions to the greater Richmond region. Honorees are announced in September and celebrated at a gala event in October.
Click here to visit the Valentine's web site and read more about this worthwhile undertaking.

While I applaud this effort to appreciate "everyday citizens," when I read about the five categories I was a little disappointed. The five were restricted to education, innovative solutions (whatever that means), regional cooperation, social justice and building stronger communities. There was no category for cultural contributions. Zero to do with art or music.

You see, when I heard about this History Makers promotion, I thought I'd like to nominate my old pal, Chuck Wrenn (depicted in the illustration), for his outstanding contribution to Richmond's live music scene over the last 40 years.

No name rises above Wrenn's in an informed discussion of Richmond's rock 'n' roll music scene. Click here for some background in a magazine feature I wrote about Chuck in 2002.

Here's an excerpt from that piece:
Twenty-two years ago, when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor Rock ‘n’ Roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond, Chuck Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands, including the impeccably authentic Memphis Rockabilly Band, on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard. It was the fourth edition of High on the Hog, Libby Hill’s live music and pork-worshiping festival.
The 1980 event featured a serendipitous, career-defining moment for Wrenn: it began raining. Rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and waiting out the downpour, host/emcee Wrenn broke out rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. Soon, with the help of many happy hands, he had improvised a canopy to protect the stage and cover a good part of the yard. In effect, he wrapped the whole shebang.
Yes, the show went on. With electric guitars wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by one and all was remarkable.
Chuck's contributions to local popular culture go back to his role in promoting the "first psychedelic dance" in Virginia (according to the Richmond News Leader) in August of 1967 at Tantilla. His silkscreen poster for a local Child concert (early Bruce Springsteen band) is a sought-after collector's item. Wrenn, a VCU-trained artist, has displayed his talent for graphics with hundreds of handbills and posters that have been seen by too many live music aficionados to count.

While employed at two trend-setting Fan District businesses in the 1970s, the Biograph Theatre and J.W. Rayle, his influence had significant impact on the popularity of those places. Then he spent plenty of time in the late-'70s/early-'80s on stage as a performer in his two bands, Faded Rose and the Megatonz. He booked the talent at several clubs throughout the '80s and '90s, perhaps most notably Bird in Hand and his own Moondance Saloon.

Younger readers may know Chuck best as the emcee at High on the Hog parties, and for his bartender stint at Poe's Pub, where he booked the bands.

Ask around, there are musicians of all ages who owe Chuck a favor. In a business realm that isn't known for promises kept, Wrenn's handshake deals were as good as gold.

Yes, I could go on, but for now I'll wind it up by nominating Chuck Wrenn, 63, as the first member of The Richmond Imaginary Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. No one is more deserving to be the first.
Perhaps this post will draw a few comments from musicians willing to pay some of their debt to Chuck by seconding his nomination.

-- Words and art (1985) by F.T. Rea

Pantele leads Grey at inRich poll

A return visit to the totally unscientific mayoral preference poll up at inRich (click here to play), revealed that at 11:20 a.m. on Tuesday 934 votes had been tallied. At that point the candidates stacked up this way:

Pantele 35%
Grey 31%
Jones 18%
Goldman 10%
Williams 3%

How much Bill Pantele's and Robert Grey's numbers reflect widespread support is not known. It could be a few followers gaming the poll. But that's still support, in a way. If this poll is any indication of the true sentiment of the electorate, perhaps this affair will soon be seen a two-man race.

Still, one must ask: Are those who prefer candidates Pantele or Grey any more likely to be reading the Richmond Times-Dispatch, in the first place, than those who might prefer one of the other three? That factor could certainly tilt the poll's results.

Nonetheless, Rev. Dwight Jones supporters have to be somewhat disappointed. They are probably going to try to cast the contest to replace Doug Wilder as a three-man race. The problem is, who can remember anything Jones has ever done in the General Assembly?

Paul Goldman has some work to do. His publicity-seeking proposal to rid Carytown of all wheels made tongues wag over the weekend, but did it really help raise his standing among undecideds?

And, speaking of undecideds, my guess is most voters in Richmond are yet to make up their minds. So, this year's campaign is likely to be quite entertaining.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kass 333

An explanation of the video above follows:

Carole Kass, longtime movie critic at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, died at the age of 73 in 2000. To read the obituary I wrote then for, click here.

During my nearly 12-year stint as the manager of the Biograph Theatre I spoke with Carole every week, often more than once. She came to the theater regularly to review first run pictures and to see movies she liked on her own time. Plus she was there for various social occasions and occasional publicity stunts. In the process, over the years, we learned to trust one another.

Truth be told, Carole was the best friend the Biograph had in the mainstream media.

About a year-and-a-half before she died, I delivered a video tape to her at her home. It was a tape I had shot of her appearance at the Carpenter Center with Joan Rivers, which was part of the local Jewish Community Center’s forum series (there's more on this in the obit). At the time it was generally known that Carole was battling cancer. After her retirement she had even written about it for the newspaper.

The tape included Rivers’ talk to the audience and what followed, which included a Q and A session in which Carole asked Joan questions from cards from the audience. At the end of the tape there was a surprise tribute to Carole that I had staged, shot and edited without her knowledge.

The R-TD’s then-executive editor Bill Millsaps helped me with the stunt by asking all the writers to come outside for about 20 minutes. Others from the local film buff community, including former staff members at the Biograph, were also asked to be on hand. The cast was directed to walk around, then stand applauding in front of 333 W. Grace St., an entrance to the newspaper’s building that no longer exists. I had help shooting the scene from Jerry Williams and Ted Salins.

Later I edited the three tapes' footage into a short piece, using music from the movie “8½” for sound; the imagery also imitated it, somewhat. That particular Fellini flick was one of her favorites. No one told Carole anything about it; it was beautiful teamwork.

When she saw the tribute footage, watching it with pain as her only companion, Carole couldn’t believe all those people has been assembled just to give her a standing ovation. She thought I had somehow found the footage, somewhere, and spliced it onto the tape. She recognized the music, of course. She thanked me warmly but added a gentle scolding for trying to trick her about the scene in front of the old entrance to 333.

Carole called television critic Douglas Durden, only to hear from her old friend (their desks were next to one another) that it all had been just as I said. After talking with others at the newspaper, Carole called me back to laugh and apologize for not believing me. She went on to say that what had started out as a “bad day” for her -- coping with her ordeal -- had been changed into a “good day.”

As my mother died of cancer in 1984, I could grasp what Carole might have meant by good days and bad days.

Ten years ago it began with an idea for a gesture to let an old friend know how much her colleagues and the rest of us appreciated her. The finished product and Carole's reaction actually turned out better than I had envisioned, which is rather unusual for my bright ideas.

Back in the summer of 1998, I gave a print of the tape to Saps, to say, "Thanks." Naturally, the JCC (the original client) got a tape. No one else has seen any of it, as far as I know. What is shown in the YouTube video above is just the tape‘s last two minutes and 39 seconds. And, dear reader, a good day is wished to you.

Free Short Subjects

Stemming from the generosity of a friend, with some possibility of us making a buck one day, I have transferred some of my video archives to digital.

Here are YouTube links to some of what was happening in another time, regarding alternative media:

"Matinee Madcap": Shot in 16mm at Richmond's Biograph Theatre in 1974, it is a chase-scene-driven, Black & White comedy -- click here.

"Biograph 10":
News coverage of the Biograph Theatre's 10th anniversary party with the premiere of Malle's "My Dinner with Andre" in 1982 -- click here.

"Larry Rohr 50" (1998): Shot in video, it's a series of stills of Larry Rohr, who is a bona fide wizard, etc., to celebrate his 50th (1998) -- click here.

"Mondo City: GWAR": An air-check clip from a live interview with Mark Holmberg and GWAR members, Oderus Urungus and Beefcake the Mighty (1990) -- click here.

"Mondo City: House of Freaks": An air-check clip from a live interview with Johnny Hott and Bryan Harvey in 1990 -- click here.

"HOTH 9: I Don't Care Tonight":
Shot in video, it is a clip of Memphis Rockabilly Band at High on the Hog 9 (1985) -- click here.

"Freznell": Shot originally in Super 8 it's a collage of g
raffiti, movement and females (1983) -- click here.

"Mondo City: Bopcats":
A clip from a live television interview with members of the Bopcats in 1990 -- click here.

To Carol Wolf


Update: Click here to read Don Harrison's comments at Save Richmond.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

House of Freaks live interview

To see/hear a short video clip of an interview I conducted with Bryan Harvey and Johnny Hott -- as the House of Freaks -- in 1990, please click here to view it at YouTube.

At the time, Bryan and Johnny were kind enough to come on a low-budget local cable television program that I produced and hosted, to sit for questions. Naturally, we worked nothing out in advance. As always, we took phone calls from viewers ... it was all live.

This clip is part of a half-hour segment of the interview on what was known as Mondo City. In other weeks the guests included the Bopcats, Page Wilson, Chuck Wrenn and GWAR. It didn't last long.

Goldman wants to do WHAT?

Paul Goldman is an idea man. He was Mayor Doug Wilder’s idea man for a long time. Now Goldman wants to be Richmond’s next mayor, the man who will replace his old boss. Candidate Goldman’s newest scheme for Richmond would take Carytown and turn it into a “street fair,” whatever that is. Basically, he wants to ban wheels from the retail strip from the Boulevard to Thompson St.

Click here to read about Goldman’s less-than-bright idea for Carytown in today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Paul Goldman has seen the future of Carytown, and it's green with no wheels.

Goldman, a Carytown regular and a candidate for Richmond mayor, is proposing to revamp the eclectic West End shopping district into a pedestrian mall to complement its mix of shops, boutiques and restaurants.

Some merchants, however, were skeptical of the idea.

Under Goldman's proposal, West Cary Street would be closed to cars, bicycles and anything else with wheels from Thompson Street to the Boulevard.

Cary then would be turned into a "street fair," with trees and gardens, that would be unrivaled in Virginia and on the East Coast, he said.

OK, other cities have turned certain districts into a no-motor-vehicles area on weekend days and some people seemed to like it. Even Carytown gets closed to motor traffic on special occasions, such as the Watermelon Festival. But I can’t say that I’ve heard of banning bicycles before. Maybe I need to get around more.

If Goldman wanted to keep motor vehicles out of Carytown on Sundays, say from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. -- strictly as an experiment -- for a few months and study the way it works out, then I’d be in favor of such a test. It would be a reasonable step that would cost little, and if folks didn’t like it then it wouldn’t take much to undo it.

But banning bicycles is silly. What needs to be done in Carytown, to do with bikes, is to enforce the law that forbids riding them on the sidewalk. Of course, the problem with that is the cops on patrol on bikes in Carytown routinely break that law, themselves.

Moreover, going to the expense of implementing Goldman's radical no wheels in Carytown plan, without the slightest idea of how well it would work, is crazy. Goldman’s idea amounts to making Carytown into an urban shopping mall of a sort. It reminds me of the blue-sky talk about the Sixth Street Marketplace ... before it opened. Uh, oh!

Perhaps there are some things the City of Richmond could to do to help Carytown, but Goldman’s idea to ban wheels is not one of them. The merchants of Carytown should do everything they can to reject it. Their thriving retail area isn’t broken and it doesn’t need to be fixed.

Carytown was not created by a government program. The merchants, themselves, did it with little or no help form the City of Richmond. The main mover for that early-’80s transformation was local coffee queen Tammy Rostov's father, Jay Rostov, who then operated Carytown Coffee & Tea.

Richmond has lots of problems that do need fixing. Carytown isn’t one of them.

Friday, June 20, 2008


The footage for "Freznell" was shot in Super 8, mostly in the early 1980s. Then I cobbled it together and titled it in the summer of 1983. It was screened for the first time at Rockitz, a club on Laurel Street then run by Bill Kitchen, 25 years ago.

The film's imagery married random short clips of graffiti (shot mostly in New York and Richmond), eye-catching females and motion itself. I went into the project trying to learn more about film editing. What sort of edits worked best, even if there was no story to carry the action, was what I was playing around with in this exercise. So, in a way it's an abstract film that uses literal images.

The original soundtrack was music I made for it on a sound-on-sound, reel-to-reel tape recorder. It had a droning, repetitive sort of sound, inspired by Philip Glass and other minimalists, with some spooky/goofy chanting voices mixed in. At best it gave it a dreamlike effect. At worst it was mush.

But what I really wanted was something like what Joy Division had already done. Later I added/borrowed part of a Joy Division song for a soundtrack (with credit given) and, instantly! it made the film better. Much better.

No one has seen this little film (three-and-a-half minutes) in a long time. In the past, each time it's been shown to an audience, it's been fascinating to note the reactions certain scenes get. Believe it or not, the chuckles always came at the same points.

Click here to see "Freznell" at YouTube.

Anyway, in the last week I transferred it to a digital format ... enjoy.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Handicapping the mayoral race, updated

Now there are five mayoral candidates. The City Registrar knocked two off the ballot with that office's scrutiny of the petitions with voters' signatures that were filed by the candidates.

What's that about?

There is a list of reasons that a particular signature can be disqualified, which means candidates are always advised to turn in a stack of petitions with at least double the minimum number required by statue. So, if you need 50 from each district, you better get 100.

This week's update on the handicapping game has the five would-be Richmond mayors ranked accordingly, based on what I think is the likelihood of them winning:

SLANTblog’s Five

1. Grey
2. Jones
3. Pantele
4. Goldman
5. Williams

Update: Astute observer of matters political John Sarvay at Buttermilk & Molasses has his take on the current pecking order posted: Jones; Grey; Goldman; Pantele; Williams.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has an online poll underway. Click here to participate. As of noon on Wednesday, with 637 votes in, here is how it looks: Grey 32%; Pantele 28%; Jones 22%; Goldman 13%; Williams 3%.

Hey! Who do you think is ahead now? Why not publish your own view of the mayoral race? It's free.

Sudden reminders of what matters

Reading about extreme weather, I was reminded of the twister I saw/endured 40 years ago. It had been heading straight for where I was standing, struck still with awe, before it slammed into a low-rise storage building, maybe 500 yards away in an open field. After a slight pause, to chew up and spit out half of the building, the skittering blue-black funnel turned hard right and your narrator is here to tell the story.

The mysterious role chance plays in life was palpable that day. Although it’s hard to say exactly how that tornado experience changed me, it surely did.

A year or so before the tornado, by chance, I stopped by my mother’s apartment on the Boulevard to find it in flames. She was asleep. After I carried her to safety, I went back in to fight the blaze in two rooms with an old foam fire extinguisher I had liberated a year earlier from an ancient apartment building that was being demolished.

Soon I passed out in the thick smoke. I don’t even remember feeling dizzy or falling down.

When I woke up I was flat on the floor with flames around me on two-and-a-half sides. I came to hearing a far away voice calling my name, but no one was there. No comment on what that voice could have been.

Anyway, I scrambled reflexively away from the heat -- seven times hotter, hotter than it ought to be -- jumped up in a coughing/drooling panic, and escaped without even being scorched. The fire department was there in another five minutes, maybe less. The professional firefighters scolded me for trying to put out the fire. I didn’t tell them about how close I came to being roasted.

In my travels as a young man, I once had a switchblade suddenly at my throat in an after-hours shot house. A couple of other times guns were pointed at me. One time I got beaten up by a group of cops, while being held. No doubt, I learned something from those incidents. Each must have changed me in some way. After all, our experiences carve us into whatever we are.

In the last week I’ve been transferring a bunch of old VHS and S-VHS video tape to DVD. It is footage of all sorts of things. Included in that mix is about an hour of the last days of the Texas-Wisconsin Border Cafe. I’ve got the last Burnt Taters appearance, the bagpiper who played "Amazing Grace" there the last night, and the auctioning off of the art and memorabilia from the walls.

The money went to the Jim Bradford Scholarship fund. With Bradford in mind (he died in 1997), it was impossible not to notice the other guys caught on that tape who are also no longer among the living.

Other tapes are from a couple of weekly television programs I produced 18 years ago. The air-check of the Sept. 18, 1990 Mondo City show was easily the most striking. It features a half-hour live interview I did with a two-man band that was popular at the time -- House of Freaks. Watching Johnny Hott and Bryan Harvey joke around was a strange treat.

If the reader doesn’t know it, Harvey -- along with his wife and two daughters -- was murdered the morning of Jan. 1, 2006. (Click here for background.) Seeing and hearing him speak from all those years ago, so long before his name became forever linked to a bone-numbing tragedy, was like discovering a lost artifact.

Of course, the interview, itself, was hardly an in-depth expose, or anything like that. It was all quite lighthearted and won‘t win any awards. Yet, watching that tape of how quick-witted and urbane Bryan could be in a situation like that -- the show really was on live -- was both compelling and uplifting.

The senseless deaths of the Harveys tore threw elements of Richmond’s arts community like a tornado. Whatever their killers have said, or ever will say, will never really explain why that family had to die. Perhaps they were chosen by the grim reaper just as randomly as the poor folks who have died in recent tornadoes and floods.

Not only were many in Richmond changed by the bitter loss, we were changed by the reaction to that loss ... the sense of being part of a community we felt as we attended ceremonies for the Harveys, clinging together in the terrible days immediately after their deaths.

During the ceremony at the Byrd Theatre (Jan. 7, 2006) those in attendance were asked to remember the Harveys, as they were. Not at saints, but as four generous people who loved their friends and enjoyed life. We were told to remember to laugh.

As a reminder of that, it sure was good to watch Bryan wisecracking with Johnny and me on that tape.

Update: To see a short clip from the interview on YouTube click here.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A handicapping the mayoral candidates game

Now there are seven would-be mayors in Richmond.

By the deadline, Tues., June 10, seven candidates had filed their petitions full of signatures to get on the ballot in the upcoming mayoral race in Richmond. The City Registrar’s office will look those papers over and no one should be surprised if one of the seven gets disqualified by that process.

Still, at this point there are seven and it’s probably too soon to say for sure who the front-runner is. Some of them aren't all that well known in every neighborhood and this is a citywide contest. With important endorsements yet to come, most voters are likely to be “undecided” for a while. So, measuring support is difficult this early in the game.

Another way of looking at the problem of deciding who’s out front is probabilities. Like setting the odds a bookie would put on a horse race or a boxing match. Which candidate is most likely at this time to win in November? Which is least likely?

Below is my list of seven, in order of their likelihood of winning. It’s an off-the-top-of-my-head product. Today I see Grey as most likely and Barnes as the least likely. Next week I may see it differently.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m having fun with this year’s political season. I’m on the Barack Obama bandwagon and I am happy to support Mark Warner. I'm glad that with only 10 minutes to spare, Carol A.O. Wolf still got her petitions in on time. She's running for re-election to the School Board from the 3rd District. I've always gotten a kick out of Carol, ever since her days as a journalist.

But in the local mayor contest I’m totally undecided. So, my picks below aren't being made to help or hurt any of them. Moreover, I have no idea how accurate my perception of the relative strengths of these candidates is.

When I change my mind, due to developments, I’ll post updates.

Mostly, I’m hoping to spark others who read blogs like this one to make a list and post it in the comments here, or on their blogs, etc. And, if bloggers and blog-readers do play along by publishing their sevens, the cumulative effect will be that the blogosphere will establish the first perception of how the race is going to shake out. Maybe we can add them all up and make it semi-scientific.

And, perhaps most important -- it’s free to play!

SLANTblog’s Seven

1. Grey
2. Jones
3. Pantele
4. Goldman
5. Harvey
6. Williams
7. Barnes

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Fan District's Goddess of Democracy (1989)

With the 2008 Olympics soon to take place in China, the world is watching to see how much has changed in 19 years.


Built by art students, on May 30, 1989, the Goddess of Democracy was erected in Tiananmen Square as a symbol of their call for democratic reforms in China. The gathering protest in Tiananmen Square had begun in mid-April; tension was mounting.

Subsequently, on June 4, 1989, following orders, the People’s Liberation Army put an end to the demonstration. Mayhem ensued.

Although reports varied widely, hundreds, if not thousands, were killed. Made of chicken wire and plaster the Goddess was destroyed during the brutal routing of the protestors that had remained to the end, in defiance. As the drama played out on television, via satellite, the events shocked the world.

As their art student counterparts in China had been murdered in the shadow of their 33-foot-tall sculpture, in Richmond a group of VCU-affiliated artists heard the call of inspiration to stand with those who had fallen. They knew they had to build a replica of the lost Goddess.

The impromptu team of the willing and able worked around the clock for the next couple of days to give form to their tribute to the courage of those who had perished for freedom of expression. While the project was not sponsored by the school, wisely, VCU did nothing to discourage the gesture.

Richmond’s Goddess of Democracy (pictured above and below) stood the same height and was made of the same basic materials as the one in China had been. Nineteen years ago, facing Main Street, it stood as a memorial for about a month in front of the student center. CNN had a report on it, as did many other news agencies. Its image was on front pages of newspapers all over the world.

Art-wise, it was one of the coolest things ever to happen in the Fan District. And, nobody made a penny out of it. It was constructed and maintained entirely by volunteers.

It was also a wonderful illustration of how traditional right and left, liberal and conservative, characterizations of all things political don’t always do justice to the truth of a situation. Nineteen years ago, the Cold War was in its last throes and artists -- maybe even liberals! -- in the Richmond, Virginia were supporting those in China who were standing against the communist-but-conservative regime.


This week, 19 years ago, the new-fangled 24-hour news media made the world aware of the amazing pictures of the art that stood on VCU's campus in the Fan District. Easily, it was the most dignified and successful piece of street art this scribbler can remember.

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

Gilmore on dangers of the deep

Republican senatorial hopeful James S. “Jaws” Gilmore III is back in the news today, having likened his opponent, Democrat Mark Warner, to a “hungry piranha” -- a toothy fish with an appetite for “other people’s tax dollars.”

But if there’s a fishy guy in the race to win the seat of Sen. John Warner, who is retiring after five six-year terms, it is most certainly Jim Gilmore, himself. Almost seven years ago, when his own dismal disapproval ratings as governor were below sea level, he launched a commission, a Shark Task Force, to study the peril of shark attacks on Virginians.

With the news of a pair of shark attacks off the nearby coast, Gilmore must have thought he heard opportunity knocking on the door. Immediately, the semi-savvy player donned an imaginary pith helmet and khaki shark-hunting outfit to strike a pose. Standing in defiance of an enemy that no one could possibly defend, Gilmore must have imagined his popularity would soon soar again.

Washington Business Journal (SEPT. 5, 2001):
“In response to the recent shark attacks at Virginia Beach and in North Carolina, Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has convened a task force to examine the issue. The shark task force will be headed by Secretary of Natural Resources John Paul Woodley, State Del. Terrie Suit (R-Virginia Beach) and several marine experts ... Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently said that the media attention to the recent spate of attacks is overblown.”
Blithely ignoring the sitting president’s brother, Gilmore might have cocked his pith helmet to one side, to listen to what sounded like, “Knock, knock...”

In 1997 Gilmore had galloped to triumph with his No-More-Car-Tax mantra. Virginians seemed to like his blue collar style. Then, as governor, he stubbornly stayed on that same tired workhorse issue through his four-year term, until it collapsed in a heap in the spring of 2001.

Meanwhile, Gilmore’s handling of the Hugh Finn right-to-die-with-dignity case was diabolically clumsy; his handling of the Sally Mann censorship flap at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts was bull-in-a-china-shop clumsy.

So, with some justification the former Gov. Gilmore is remembered by many Virginians for his stubbornness and his awkwardness. Still, his boldest move of all -- the Shark Task Force -- should not be forgotten.

“Knock, knock....”

“Who’s there?” Gilmore may have whispered, thinking he heard the shark musical theme from the movie “Jaws” playing in the background. Maybe a good omen?

Two months after the launching of Gilmore’s Shark Task Force, Republican candidate Mark Earley lost in Virginia, handing the keys to the Governor’s Mansion to Mark Warner. Gilmore wasn’t National Chairman of the Grand Old Party long enough to do much more than be remembered for being fired, and, of course, denying that he was fired.

USA Today (Nov. 30, 2001):
“Gilmore resigned, effective in January, saying he wasn’t willing to commit to the extensive travel and time away from family required to prepare for the 2002 elections. He leaves after less than a year in office, a period marked by disappointing elections...”
Well, as history unfolded, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 overshadowed all else in the news for a long time. So, lame duck Gilmore and his Virginia Shark Task Force’s findings were ignored on December 14, 2001.

Furthermore, the first sentence of the VSTF report sort of made it unnecessary to read the rest of it:
“In more than 390 years since the English settlement of Virginia there had never been a fatal shark attack in Virginia waters until September 1, 2001 when a 10-year old boy named David Peltier was attacked near the Little Island Fishing Pier at Sandbridge...”
The report went on to say that sharks usually live in the ocean, and every now and then one of them bites a person who is also in the ocean.

Late one Saturday night, soon, a sleeping Jim Gilmore may hear a familiar sound. “Knock, knock...”

Putting his ear to the door, the former shark task force commander will ask, “Who’s there?”

From the other side of the door the shark music will be there, again, louder this time. But in his dream there will be more -- a voice! Does it sound a little bit like former state Sen. John Chichester?


Monday, June 09, 2008

Harrison skewers Pantele

At Save Richmond Don Harrison has turned his attention and considerable ability stir the pot to the 2008 mayoral race in Richmond by posting a scathing look at the past of candidate Bill Pantele.
And the man who stands before us now — pontificating on the city’s “poor ethics” and touting the money he’s been given from “his friends” — was right in the center of all of the sleaze. While he was never formally charged with anything in the affair (something that has confused and befuddled city reporters for years), it was clear from this caught-in-the-act money-drop that Bill Pantele was being illegally placed into office for some specific reason — and it probably wasn’t his ability to “bring all Richmonders together.”
Click here to read Harrison’s entire post.

The deadline for candidates to submit their petitions to get on the ballot is tomorrow (Tuesday). Then those petitions will be scrutinized by the City Registrar. A few of the announced candidates may disappear in that process. But even with that prospect, the field of choices for this year’s election to replace Mayor Doug Wilder is probably going to range from soup to nuts. And, I expect that blogs are going to play a key role this time around.

So, please do stay tuned....

Hosing Down Hillary’s Heated Howlers

At some point in her life, well before Jan. 20, 2007, when she announced she was a presidential candidate, Sen. Hillary Clinton knew she wanted to run for president. Was that fateful realization 30 years ago? Was it 20 years ago, or 10?

Don’t know. But we know it’s been on her mind for years.

On Sat., June 7, Clinton “suspended” her campaign. For this season, her run for the White House ended when she endorsed her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama. Given how long she had dreamed of being president -- the first female president -- her performance on Saturday must have tested her self control like few things she’s had to do before.

In order to satisfy the many agendas of those who were paying close attention to what she said, and just how she said it, Clinton had some high hurdles to clear. In general, it seems her speech was well received. On MSNBC, Olbermann and Matthews practically gushed over her performance, acting as if they were smitten adolescents mooning over a glamorous actress or chanteuse. It was kind of funny.

In my view, Hillary did fine on Saturday. She said many of the right things. Still, her speech did not raise the bar to a new level for concession speeches. For starters, remember Al Gore in 2000? Clinton made a good start in the process of turning her following toward the general election. More work needs to be done.

Now the gears have turned and the new storylines are: Who’s on the shortlist for Veep? How did Obama win? How did Clinton lose?

As for the Veep, my thoughts about the three Virginians being touted are:
  • Gov. Tim Kaine won't resign, because Virginia governors simply don't do that, especially if it hands the keys to the Governor's Mansion to the other party. Besides, Kaine is probably going to be VCU's next president.
  • While I supported Sen. Jim Webb from the start, and I love the job he is doing, Webb has only been in office 17 months. Although his military expertise would help the ticket, somewhat, he doesn't bring much to the table other than that.
  • Warner is the best fit -- with his widespread popularity and executive experience -- but unless the sky falls, he's set to defeat Gilmore in November. That works toward giving the Democrats a larger majority in the Senate. Assuming the Democrats have someone waiting in the wings who could offer the same certainty of picking up a seat in the Senate is a reach. Plus, I think Warner still doesn't want to subject his family to a national campaign, and that's why he dropped out of the presidential race when he did.
Beyond that trio, there are lots of other Democrats who should be considered. But it’s way too early to expect much to happen on this matter for several weeks.

Obama won because he was the best candidate for this year. His campaign was managed about as well as such a thing can be done. On Sunday the Chicago Tribune ran a good piece, written by John McCormick, on Obama’s campaign manager, David Plouffe (pronounced Pluff).
Marking one of the biggest upsets in U.S. political history, Obama himself saluted his behind-the-scenes general at the start of his victory speech last week in St. Paul. "Thank you to our campaign manager David Plouffe, who never gets any credit, but who has built the best political organization in the country," he said.
Click here to read the entire article.

A year ago, Clinton seemed the best candidate. In politics a year is long time. Over that year many things happened that fell Obama’s way. But when the breaks didn’t fall his way, his campaign stayed on course; it never lost its focus or its cool.

As for why Clinton was beaten in the contest for delegates, there will be no end to sorting through the debris from her precedent-setting, yet failed, run. My take on it is that her campaign staff devised a strategy that served her poorly. Once they realized it, after the early primaries, her strategists seemed unable to go to Plan B.

But Clinton’s biggest problem was that with Obama gaining momentum in January and February, she just found herself to be stale news -- her time for capturing the flag had passed. And, speaking of a politician's time passing, former superstar Bill Clinton needs to be put out to pasture.

Writing for Slate, Meghan O'Rourke has an interesting slant on Clinton’s loss.
Clinton didn't trust that the message of revolution embodied in her candidacy could animate American voters, particularly male voters. And she lacked the courage of her young, ecstasy-seeking self. And so she sent the message that gender was not a factor. Presumably, she did this based on the reasonable assumption that it was politically perilous to be a woman. But the paradox is that in taking the safe tack she thought made her more electable, she actually made herself less electable. She presented herself as a hard-bitten Washington insider, running on experience when a lot of American voters, particularly young women, were looking for transformation.
Click here to read the entire article.

Others will see in Clinton’s inability to best Obama what they want to see. What Democrats ought to see is that they will have one of the best political orators anybody has heard in a long time at the top of their ticket.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s most disappointed followers should stop howling the same angry talking points they were pushing before the concession speech. They should stop attacking Obama as a thief who stole something they thought they owned. Moreover, isn’t it preposterous to claim that millions of broken hearted Clinton supporters will actually be happier with a Republican in the White House for four more years?

It’s Hillary Clinton’s job now to hose down her most overheated howlers and pull as many of them as she can onto the Obama bandwagon. Sadly, with the triple-digit heatwave still underway, a few of them may spontaneously burst into flames, leaving behind only their smoldering running shoes.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Turn, turn, turn...

The presidential primary season finally came creaking and groaning to a standstill on Tuesday. After five months of throwing kitchen sinks and answering 3 a.m. telephone calls, Sen. Hillary Clinton’s “inevitable” nomination has breathed its last gasp. Sen. Barack Obama will be at the top of Team Donkey’s ticket.

So, the breathless speculation of the press has shifted seamlessly from counting delegates to guessing who will be selected to be Obama’s running mate. Virginia’s Democrats are enjoying the attention that Sen. Jim Webb, Gov. Tim Kane and former Gov. Mark Warner are receiving at this stage, because their names seem to on the long list be considered.

Those who know who’s on the short list, or if there even is a short list, aren’t talking. So, speculation from those who are happy to talk is what we’ll get a steady diet of for the next few weeks.

Accordingly, it says here that if Obama picks Clinton it would appear that he let himself get bullied. It would run dead against his message of “change.” It would mean bringing her rather strong negatives aboard. It's just the plain truth there are a lot of people who don’t like Hillary's style; they’re not all misogynists. Perhaps, most dicey of all prospects, it would mean having Bill Clinton wandering around the landscape.

Enough said.

Other than to get the chattering pundits to talk about something other than the Veepstakes, there’s really no reason for Obama to rush to select his running mate. So, to expect an announcement before July 4th doesn’t make much sense. Judging from the impeccable sense of timing his campaign has demonstrated this year, it’s easy to believe that when it does come, it will be well-timed and will be in front of a cheering crowd.

It’s fun to see that Virginians are being mentioned as potential vice presidential candidates, but each of the three possibles -- Warner, Kaine and Jim Webb -- has solid reasons to decline the offer, should it be extended their way. Although Obama seems to have targeted Virginia as a battleground state, I find the sound of former Sen. Sam Nunn’s name on the ballot more intriguing than any I‘ve heard, so far.

Then there’s the matter of healing the differences between bruised up factions of the Democratic Party. To some, Hillary Clinton was supposed to win this year. Although she seemed a better candidate than the last two Democratic nominees, she fell short of defeating Obama. But Clinton didn’t let her supporters down. She gave it her all.

In 2008, Obama simply proved to be the better candidate. That’s due in great part to his following with the youngest Democrats. Top competitors, athletes or politicians, have their time in the sun. Then they are replaced by younger players. It isn’t necessary for any honest Democrat to see Clinton’s narrow defeat as a rejection of her. To see it as a rejection of her gender is a reach no one needs to make.

Times are changing. Obama is a phenom. This is his year.

No doubt, Sen. Clinton and many other women in political life have helped to pave the way for Obama’s remarkable success, just as pioneering black politicians did. Now, for Democrats, it’s about winning in November. Dwelling on loss and disappointment undermines the pursuit of the glorious opportunity ahead.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Smoltz's season is over

According to an AP story just released, you can stick a fork in veteran pitcher John Smoltz’s 2008 season -- it’s done. That’s because his ailing right shoulder is going under the knife. At 41, it goes without saying that coming back after such surgery will not be easy, perhaps not even likely.
His loss was a huge blow to an Atlanta team already dealing with a rash of injuries to its pitching staff. The Braves went into Wednesday's game 3 1/2 games behind Philadelphia in the NL East.

"Not having him at all for the rest of the season is devastating, flat out devastating," third baseman Chipper Jones said. "Going into this season, I said there's one guy on this club we cannot do without. That's John Smoltz."
Smoltz, a former Richmond Brave (1987-88) and Cy Young Award winner (1996), has a career record of 210 wins and 147 losses. He has recorded 3,011 strikeouts in what were 3,395 innings pitched. Although he has been a starting pitcher for most of his career, as a reliever, Smoltz also has earned 154 saves.

Click here to read what is no doubt a sad story for Atlanta Braves fans.

--Image from

Citizen Journalism: The Professor’s View

Part Two of a Geezer's View of Richmond's Buzzing Blogosphere: The Professor’s View

Jeff South is an Associate Professor in VCU’s School of Mass Communications. In April he attended a conference in Los Angeles, "Media Re:Public," convened by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Among the topics covered was citizen journalism, as practiced by community news Web sites/neighborhood blogs.

At that conference Richmond was pronounced the No. 1 city in the nation for citizen journalism Web sites. This recognition was reported as news first by local blogs (here, here, here). In May, examined the phenomenon (here and here), but for the most part the mainstream media have ignored the news of Richmond's status in the realm citizen journalism.

To shed a little more light on this developing story, South has been kind enough to respond to SLANT's questions about the direction of this new movement. What follows are those questions and his responses:

SLANT: Given that Richmond’s community blogs -- as a group -- have recently been seen by media scholars as more developed than those of other American cities, how would you account for that phenomenon? Is it a fluke being driven mostly by technology -- could have happened anywhere -- or is there something about Richmond?

South: Technology is a big factor, but so is the local media culture. People in Richmond have a lot to say, and I think they feel (rightly or wrongly) shut out of the mainstream media. Let me put something on the table at least for discussion. I don't have any data to back up what I'm going to say; it's just a hunch based on anecdotal evidence. But:

I've worked for newspapers in a lot of cities -- Dallas, Phoenix, Austin, Norfolk, Charlotte -- and I sense that people here have an exceptionally strong reaction to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. While a lot of readers no doubt like the paper, it evokes what in political polling would be called "high negatives." I think a lot of that reaction can be traced to the editorial page's historical baggage: as a cheerleader for Massive Resistance, as a strident voice of ultra conservative politics, as the scourge of progressives, as an impediment to race relations ...

Sizable segments of Richmonders historically have sought an alternative to the daily paper -- and so they've turned to the Daily Planet, the Free Press and other media that have sprung up over the years. In an analog world, the barrier to entry was high (as was the cost of staying in business). With today's technology, anybody can be a publisher -- and so online alternative publications have been growing like kudzu.

This might explain the proliferation of news blogs in Richmond: People feel more comfortable posting on the Fan District Hub or the Church Hill People's News than they would on the blogs sponsored by the RTD/

[In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I've worked part-time for the Richmond Free Press and have been a consultant for Media General and the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I have friends in both the MSM and the alt-media in town.]

SLANT: What’s your prediction for the future of this movement? Are the best of such online self-publishing endeavors likely to become viable competitors for traditional print and broadcast news sources? Or, will the mainstream media just assimilate them? Or, are they part of a new wave that will lead to something else we haven’t even seen yet? Or, what?

South: I think the genie is out of the bottle and will never go back. Online self-publishing -- by individuals and communities -- is here to stay. In many cases, it will be a labor of love; in some cases, it may have commercial aspects (ads, sponsorships, an NPR-type support base). At the hyperlocal, neighborhood level, I think these publications will not just compete with but supplant MSM: The daily paper and metro TV stations don't have the resources to do micro news. (They've tried: The RTD and many papers I've worked for instituted zoned editions or inserts targeting specific geographic communities. That strategy has largely been abandoned.) News blogs' competitors will likely be other news blogs. At some point, people in a particular neighborhood will become alienated by the "established" hyperlocal Web site and break away to create a rival site. Call it alt-alt-media!

The traditional media will never go away. There will continue to be a need and a market for the kind of "professional" news reporting that is difficult for bloggers to sustain: coverage of government meetings, crime and courts, and intricate investigative journalism, for example. It would be interesting to do a content analysis of news blogs and see how many items play off or link to MSM news stories. If you took away the MSM, what would be left on the hyperlocal news sites? (A lot, I'm sure; but a lot would disappear, too.)

At some point, I think the online alt-media and the MSM outlets will reach an accommodation. Some in Big Media are hoping for micropayments (don't hold your breath!). More likely, in my opinion, will be traffic generation and at least an ethic of giving credit where credit is due. Maybe local daily newspapers' Web sites will serve as aggregators for both MSM and community news-blog content. They would drive traffic to the news blogs, and the news blogs in turn would link to the daily paper.

Note: Click here to read Part One of this series. Stay tuned for Part Three.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Murry DePillars (1938-2008)


The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is honoring Murry DePillars, the retired dean of the School of the Arts at Virginia Commonwealth University who died Saturday, with a special showing of his 1997 painting “From the Mississippi Delta” (as seen above).

The acrylic-on-canvas work, measuring 42-1/2 by 32-1/2 inches, was a gift to the museum from VMFA’s Friends of African and African-American Art in 2006.

The painting will go on view when the museum opens Wednesday morning at 11.

“From the Mississippi Delta” reflects DePillars’ maternal roots in Gunnison in the Mississippi Delta.

DePillars, who was born in Chicago in 1938, was an artist-scholar of international renown who had lived in Richmond since 1971.

“Virginia has lost an important figure in the world of art, a man who was both an artist and an educator and who will be remembered and valued for his important contributions to both fields,” says Alex Nyerges, VMFA’s director.

“From the Mississippi Delta” is an important work that addresses racial turmoil in Mississippi and throughout the South, says John Ravenal, VMFA’s Sydney and Frances Lewis Family Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. The work was inspired by a play by Endesha Ida Mae Holland of Mississippi, a scholar and dramatist. One of her plays (also titled “From the Mississippi Delta”) reflected her move from poverty and prostitution in the segregated South to civil rights activism and an academic career. She died in 2006 at age 61.

DePillars embedded his composition with layers of symbolic and protective imagery. The central figure, a little girl, is waving goodbye to the unsafe place of her birth. The girl’s white dress is a metaphor for the act of removing children from unsafe environments, particularly from Mississippi, which many families fled to escape racial hostility, Ravenal says.

Delta quilt patterns known as “windmills” or “cartwheels” in each corner of the painting are metaphors for moving quickly through life’s underbelly. Other images – silhouetted nudes, serpents, the dress with a purple hem – symbolize and encapsulate the playwright Holland’s own dramatic evolution.

“DePillars’ sensitive treatment of these themes incorporates a palette alternating between vibrant and deep colors, thoughtful use of geometry, and fine brushwork honed over the course of his career,” Ravenal says.

DePillars taught at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where he was dean of the School of Arts for two decades before his retirement in 1996. He was an academic specialist for the United States Information Agency in 1985 and was the USIA’s university affiliate in Zimbabwe in 1994. After he left VCU, he was executive vice president of Chicago State University for three years.

DePillars was a member of the arts collective AfriCobra. His work has been exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is on the Boulevard at Grove Avenue. The galleries are open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. VMFA is an educational institution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and in 2008 celebrates 70 years as a leader in statewide arts education. Admission to the museum is free. For additional information about exhibitions and programs, telephone (804) 340-1400 or click here to visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Web site.

-- The copy and image above were provided by Suzanne Hall at the VMFA. The photograph of the DePillars painting is by Katherine Wetzel (2006).


Writing for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Jeremy Slayton looks at the impact DePillars has had on VCU, since his 1971 arrival:

Under two decades of leadership by Dr. Murry N. DePillars, Virginia Commonwealth University's School of the Arts developed and grew into one of the largest such programs in the country, colleagues said yesterday. Dr. DePillars, who retired from VCU in 1995, died at his Richmond home Saturday after a period of declining health. He was 69...

Click here to read the entire article

Monday, June 02, 2008

Richmond’s Buzzing Blogosphere

Part One of a Geezer's View of Richmond's Buzzing Blogosphere: The Intro

Bloggers generally use an informal writing style that suggests spontaneity. This seems to put some experienced writers at an advantage, while proving quite awkward to others. A good many blogs allow, even encourage, comments. So it might be said of the blogging style of writing that it is more like conversation between writer and reader.

Generally, longwinded essays usually don’t play as well in the blogosphere as do catchy blurbs; especially one with a barb in it. To bolster a point, bloggers tend to just put a link to the outside source in their copy and move on, which eliminates the need for footnotes or lengthy quotes.

Political bloggers tend to be partisan and assume the reader is familiar with the subject matter and doesn’t need a lot of background to set the stage. Although such bloggers seem to crave attention from the mainstream media, they usually write their copy as if it will be read by a regular roster of readers ... regulars, who are familiar with the views of the blog's publisher.

A visit to RVABlogs shows 288 local blogs’ posts are being grabbed out of the ether, so a reader can see the first couple of sentences of each and follow links to read any that seem worthwhile. Thus, RVABlogs, invented and maintained by Ross Catrow, is what’s known as an “aggregator.”

Of course, there are many blogs that are basically online diaries, written to be read by a small circle of friends. But this look at the blogosphere is more concerned with the aspects of it that are more ambitious and may be in the process of becoming an alternative to the mainstream media in some ways.

Any look over the listed posts at RVABlogs, these days, reveals that Richmond has become home to lots of food and drink-oriented blogs, some of which have a following. There are also blogs about refurbishing houses, comic books, music, having babies, and you-name-it. Which is all good, if you dig the esoteric.

Still, the most interesting development in this town over the last year has been the number of community news sites/neighborhood blogs that have popped up. The movement began with John Murden’s pioneering Church Hill People’s News in 2004; it became a network with the advent of RVANews, another aggregator, in 2007.

Two sources for background: Click here and here for a rear-view mirror look at this development in spreading the news by; click here to read John Sarvay’s comments at Buttermilk & Molasses.

Update: Click here to read Part Two in this series.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea