Art, Artifacts, and Architecture

Today of all days we needed to get out of the classroom and out into the world of art, artifacts, and architecture, if for no other reason than to return the joyous smiles to our lucky busload of students. These kiddos have hung in through the shut-down of COVID, the masked return, the uncertainty of their future, civil liberties, freedoms, and especially their lives. Even with the wind blowing at a mighty clip, or perhaps in awe of it, we stood in front of Nancy Winship Milliken’s moving sculptures and allowed the conversation to soar. Nothing like a road-trip field-trip to generate well-needed good vibes to keep spirits moving to the positive.

This yearly trip with AP English Literature and AP Art students has been put on hold the last three years, but today we finally ventured to Shelburne Museum once again. There is a substantial number of extraordinary Impressionist paintings here, as well as countless other artifacts collected by the founder Electra Havemeyer Webb. While this museum celebrates the past in all the historic buildings that were rescued and moved here, from a covered bridge to the 220-foot steamboat Ticonderoga, equally important is giving audience to new artists. We were awed by the creations of Maria Shell, who “pushes the boundaries of the traditional gridded format of the American quilt.” Vibrance in textiles.

Standing once more shoulder to shoulder with students, eyeing brushstrokes and needlework, made breathing this week possible. In fact, the experience of the day gave us one moment to defy the gravity that has hit like a gut-punch once again. For this brief fleeting second we all jumped beyond our grief and soared into hope and imagination and laughter. My colleague and I realized how for some of our students this was indeed the first day where anxiety took a backseat. For us too. The burden our youth has carried these past years is enough to break ribs. Maybe even more.

They look to us to stop these disasters, to not heap yet another trauma onto their future, not to say, oh yeah, we fucked up the planet, we created a county plagued with division, households that are stocked like arsenals, and actually there’s no chance in hell that your voices will combat those in power. They are willing to do the hard work to bring about change. To do what they must to problem-solve. But they most definitely need adults to do so as well.

Tomorrow we will be back inside the classroom but these students and all the rest from coast to coast will need nurturing to face the mounting sorrow that each new disaster brings to their doorstep. I will do what I can to muster a glimmer of light, but I sure wish the rest of this split country would consider the cost of their inaction and greed. It is no mystery why certain Senators receive massive checks from the NRA and why they will not listen to the pleas of their constituents to curtail gun violence however they can. Power is intoxicating, and they are so drunk on it, blinded by their own privilege too, but their culpability is clear to these teens. They look to us to understand why their lives matter so little by those who set policy, interpret the law, those who are paid by our tax dollars to legislate in our collective honor. Are they really that disposable, they ask?

Gifts are easy to find today. In the scent of lilacs teasing our noses to the lush green of the grass and leaves to the shock of pink and purple dancing in sunshine. For today, this is enough. Tomorrow we all must demand more.

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