I’m a storyteller. Most of my friends are storytellers; playwrights, poets, novelist, singers, songwriters, and artists of all mediums. We all tell stories for different reasons, and yet for the same purpose, storytelling aids us in understanding the world around us.
Storytelling predates writing. The most primitive forms of storytelling were usually oral expressions. Storytellers come in many forms, with many voices and tools, from poetry and literature to graffiti and fine art. We need storytellers, artist and writers, to elicit passion and emotions, especially in dark times when we can so easily avert our eyes from troubling events like a cultural revolution, rebellion, social injustice, corrupt politicians, police brutality, the imprisonment or genocide of an entire people.
Though the ancient origins of storytelling have vanished into the mist of time, the importance of storytelling and those who tell stories has not. From cave dwellings to the recontours of Native Indian lore, families and cultures with strong narratives and passionate tellers, thrive in their collective story.
Think about times spent sitting around the kitchen table with your family – your witnesses on this journey – as they tell and retell all the often cringe-worthy memories of you as a child, or their experiences during the Great Depression, or whatever the family stories are. Think how bonding that is/was, how it informed your sense of who you are and where you come from. At my grandma’s house, all of us crowded into the yellow-vinyl kitchen booth, drank weak Folgers coffee, my aunts’ chain-smoked Salem cigarettes, and talked like ‘mag-pies’ grandma always said. And at that jam-packed table every story started with “I remember that time you….”
Capturing and retelling the stories of our collective history is vital to understanding our existence on this planet – trust me, when grandma is gone, you’re gonna wish you took notes, and you’re gonna remember with heartache and joy, every story she ever told you. Our stories are important.
Storytelling is vital to the human experience. It allows us to digest information with greater ease by more effectively linking that information to our feelings and then our thoughts. Generally, once we’ve felt something, we don’t forget it. I recall years ago, seeing the movie, Dead Man Walking, and how when my friends and I left the theater we talked about the death penalty, I recall feeling very differently about that controversial topic after seeing one man’s poignant story.
One of the reasons I wrote my novel, Return to Sender was to reiterate the history (lest we are doomed to repeat it), and the stories I grew up with as the child of a Korean War veteran, about the atrocities of the brutal North Koreans against their own people, and most especially against their own orphans. A topic as timely today (sadly) as it was in the 1950s. In my novel I paid tribute to the most haunting aspect of the Korean War for both my father and my father-in-law; the slaughter of innocent children by their own people. Having these precious photographs of many of these children made their stories personal to me.
There are certain aspects of history that resonate deeply with all of us. For example, my talented neighbors, Jan and Chris Hopkins, who make a great mead (home-made wine), but who are also internationally recognized, multi-award-winning artists, illustrators and storytellers. Their most recent creative endeavor of depicting the WWII internment of the Japanese in America, was motivated by Jan’s desire to learn more about her cultural identity. As a child of detained Japanese Americans, there was a lack of information about her family legacy and the ordeal of internment that they endured. Jan needed to know her story, so she and Chris have set out on a mission to share their stories through visual arts. Their joint exhibit at Everett’s Shack Center for the Arts starts June 21st thru September 2018.
Chris is a historian through his art. His paintings tell very specific aspects of the American story that resonate with
him on a soulful level. He captures moments that harken back to moments like this young Japanese-American woman who is pregnant, alone and just ‘relocated’ to an internment camp – what does the future hold for her and her unborn child now that her country (America) has turned on her? It is important to humankind to keep those stories alive so they never happen again.
Chris also painted an entire series of over 60 paintings of the Tuskegee Airmen which travels the country in art shows, like locally at the Shack Center in Everett. The Tuskegee Airmen series portrays the adventures of the first African American fighter pilots, their crews, families and legacy.
As an illustrative historian Chris has captured this pivotal moment in time; At the onset of World War II, the segregated US armed forces declined to train African Americans as pilots until a lawsuit opened the door. The Army Air Corps acquiesced to an experiment training pilots at Tuskegee University, Alabama. In March 1942 the first class of African-American aviation cadets earned their silver wings and became the nation’s
first black military pilots. Between 1941 and 1945, Tuskegee trained over 1,000 black aviators for the war effort. Chris started his Tuskegee Airmen series as part of his work for the Northwest chapter of the Air Force Art program. Over the years, the series evolved beyond the Air Force Art program to become a personal mission and passion for him. Every one of these paintings tells us a vital part of our history; who we were, who we are now, how far we’ve come, and sadly how far we have to go.
Or below, this modern-day image, social commentary, where a homeless mother and her child sit starving on the steps of the land of plenty, a posh bakery, where inside, too busy to notice, are two girls on their phones. Just as I tell stories with words, Chris uses images, and is a perceptive storyteller of our times, the good and the bad.
Regardless of medium or craft, storytelling is significant because it can illuminate moral, ethical, spiritual lessons in non-preachy ways that people can easily contemplate. Great stories engender empathy by helping people relate to someone they may never have connected with before.
Just as important as our intimate family stories are in reminding us where our faith and courage comes from – be it strong Scottish, Jewish, Irish, or French roots – and what our ancestors overcame, it’s also vital to keep historic stories alive so we never forget what our fears and prejudices can become.
What stories matter to you? Tell them.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou
And, big kudos to my neighbor; Art Work by Chris Hopkins Selected for Inclusion in Major Traveling Exhibition Organized by Norman Rockwell Museum – Reimagining the Four Freedoms
In 2017, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, sent out a call to artists to create works that would reimagine President Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms—Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, and Freedom from Fear— or explore the meaning of freedom today, for possible inclusion in the major touring exhibition: Enduring Ideals: Rockwell, Roosevelt & the Four Freedoms. From 1000 submissions, 36 artists were accepted—including two works by local artist, Chris Hopkins—for the contemporary section of the exhibition, titled “Reimagining the Four Freedoms.”
In our time of troubling HOMELESSNESS in a country of plenty, this painting is particularly poignant.
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The most enduring Egyptian understanding of death was that it was a continuation of life on earth but lacking any displeasure, loss, or distress, in other words, paradise. And unlike what most say these days, “you can’t take it with you”, most bygone Egyptians believed the opposite, “you keep it forever.” This insight into the afterlife ebbed and flowed throughout history. Along with this belief was an understanding of otherworldly spirits – ghosts – which, more so than the view of the afterlife, remained unaffected from the earliest indication through the end of ancient Egyptian history: ghosts were as much of a reality as any other part of life.
The essential value of Egyptian culture was ma’at (harmony, balance) which the Egyptians observed in every part of their lives; among the most vital of these was the appropriate burial of the dead. A human being was considered a traveler on a narrow road from birth, through death, and on to the afterlife. We know this from tomb paintings, inscriptions, and statuaries for the soul intended to guide their return and harmless visitations on earth, but the spirit was anticipated to depart to its own realm fairly hastily. The appearance of a ghost, and especially its interaction with the living, was a certain sign that the natural order had been disturbed and the most common cause of this distress was a spirit’s displeasure with its body’s burial, the condition of the tomb, or a lack of reverential commemoration.
And this is where I begin my story, my WIP, Garden of Lies. My main protagonist, Esmée is a holocaust survivor, a clairvoyant who sees and hears the great departed. Having grown up the child of two archeologist she spent much of her childhood in Egypt in the 1930s. As a child Esmée absorbed her mother’s teachings about ancient Egyptian goddesses, and their foreign surroundings which ignited her imagination. Flash forward to after the war, after Gross Rosen Concentration camp, and we find Esmée troubled and preoccupied with not knowing the location of her parent’s bodies which did not receive proper burial, how (exactly) the Nazis murdered them, and how she can respectfully honor them.
Though Esmée is Jewish, her ma’at (harmony, balance) has been disturbed. She sinks into her adopted Egyptian rituals. This brass amulet is intended to keep evil spirits away. However, in Esmée’s case it hasn’t worked.
In doing my research I have grown even more fascinated by ancient Egyptian beliefs, practices, and lives.
More to come….
It’s commonly accepted that Nazi Germany’s concentration camps were/are the epicenter of human sorrow and suffering as a result of human against human brutality. These places stand as tributes to the human race’s capability when fear leads to either blind faith in religion or government, or when vile rhetoric becomes our prime cheerleader. They are living tombstones honoring, not just the victims, but also the sins of those who shot innocent people with wild glee, locked gas chamber doors against the screams of their victims, or, perhaps more inexcusably, closed their eyes to grievous inhumanity. Or worse yet, today in 2017, those who deny the holocaust ever happened. The politics of today have everything to do with why I’m writing my next novel, Garden of Lies, not that it’s about politics specifically, but because it puts a face on a victim of the last time people endorsed fear and anger as their guide and allowed them to justify releasing the largest gathering of sociopaths ever – in Nazi uniforms – on an entire population. That’s my two-bits, now back to storytelling…
Using imagery in storytelling means constantly looking for images, old photos that will help me make the world I am creating (WWII concentration camps, 1960 Portland Oregon, and 1930’s Egypt) come to life in my head and ultimately in a reader’s mind. I collect images and information for my research and save it on my Pinterest board. For example, this image helps me envision what my main protagonist, Esmée sees in her dreams – memories of Auschwitz – and the ghosts who haunt her. Visit my Pinterest board to see the world I’m creating. Please follow my board if interested. Though I could not find (via Google image search) the source of this photo, I have linked it to the info I did find. http://www.mindyhalleck.com
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