Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jolly Snowden, 1918-1989

Crumpton Leonard "Jolly" Snowden
My son, Ross Parman, posted this photo of his grandfather, Jolly Snowden, a resident of Arch Street in the 1980s. Described accurately at his funeral as a larger-than-life figure, Jolly was the namesake of his parents, sharing their first and last names. His father, Crumpton Snowden, was the scion of a Revolutionary War land grant family, gentry, in Andalusia, Alabama. His mother, Effie May Leonard, was the daughter of dirt farmers in the same community. She turned the family around. Like the minor aristocracy in France, the Snowdens were in steep decline by the time Crum was born, although he reportedly retained an aristocrat's disdain for ordinary work. Selling the farm, he moved the family to rural Miami, where Jolly and his 14 siblings were raised. George, the oldest of the Snowden cohort, was independent enough by the time he was 10 that a bank in Andalusia made him the cosigner for his daddy's loan. (George went on to run a country store outside Miami that made him a small fortune.) These were self-made men: Jolly and his brother Charles were both All-Americans for the Miami Hurricanes, playing football to get an education. Their high-school paper routes provided the family with cash. Charles became a Florida state senator and judge, while Jolly built Ryder Trucks into a national force, first in Florida and New York, and then in California. In the early 1940s, he worked for Pan Am in the Congo. In those days, the Brazil-to-Congo route via Ascension Island was the fastest route by plane across the Atlantic. In 1941, Jolly was made an officer in the Army and put in charge of the liquor, which was constantly slipping on to the Black Market. "If you sent me to the Congo, I bet I could still find some of the Scotch I hid," he once told me. It was there that he met his wife, Betty O'Rourke, who was broadcasting in French to expat Belgians and French in Africa. She still lives on Arch Street in the building that she and Jolly bought for their daughters, Kathy and Laurie Snowden, when they couldn't find an apartment while attending UC Berkeley. Jolly had cancer in the late 1960s, for which he was treated with radiation. It bought him 20 years. A heart attack in the hospital in 1988 stopped his heart, but his doctors revived him, condemning him to six months on a respirator, a terrible ordeal. They thought they could save him, but his immune system was shot. A cautionary tale.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Afternoon with the MFAs

The scene at Richmond Field Station.

On Saturday, 12 November 2011, I went over to UC Berkeley's Richmond Field Station at the invitation of the Berkeley Art Museum to see and hear presentations by MFA students in the Art Department, some of whom have studio space there. I'd never been to RFS, which is a ramshackle, sandbox kind of place that attracts engineering students as well as artists. The buildings are of all different types and sizes, probably ex-WW II military. They have a weathered, rough-and-ready look.

Presumably this is Building 118.
The students showed a mix of work. Many of them work in several media, but there are also sculptors and photographers. What follows is a quick visual run-through of what I saw. (I'm sorry that I can't also document what I heard.)

Amy Rathbone uses an entire room as her art space.
Her hanging sculpture uses pieces of asphalt or bitumen.
Rodrigo Ojeda-Beck works in video.
He uses clips from a family's home movies from the 1950s.
Jennie Smith was next.
Her paintings address myths like the turtle carrying the world.
Brett Walker is a photographer.
He sometimes stars in his own photos.
Kari Marboe works with text and images, drawing on Roland Barthes' A Lover's Discourse.
In this work, she collaborated with a sculptor.
Kari Orvik works in photography, including tintypes, and video.
These are a series of tintypes, including portraits.
Tintypes have to be developed immediately. She has a darkroom in car.
Frank Marquez-Leonard is a sculptor.
This is the work he showed us.
A lot of the studios had beautiful light.
Some of them had interesting work by other artists, like this.
And like this.
After hearing the presentations, we gathered in yet another building at RFS for refreshments. One of the artists, Jennie Smith, gave me prints (from Kinko's, not the artist's kind) of two works that I'd admired during her presentation. I'm not sure how to describe them.
Prints of two drawings (?) by Jennie Smith.
I was invited to this event because I joined Berkeley Art Museum as a patron. BAM/PFA is an amazing benefit of living in 94708 (and elsewhere in the Bay Area), well worth joining and supporting. Meeting the MFAs, seeing their work, and hearing the ideas behind it was energizing. There will be an exhibit of their final projects at BAM in May 2012. Look for it!