Travels of One M/Sergeant Roy Sper

It’s coincidental that I finished scanning my dad’s photos and papers from WWII a few days before the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the official surrender of Nazi Germany to Allied forces, but the timing was perfect. The originals will be going to the the Air Mobility Command Museum.

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Relizane, Algeria, March, 1943
1st CG 4A Glider, Relizane, Algeria, 1943
Licata, Sicily, Italy, September, 1943
Licata, Sicily, Italy, September, 1943
“Patton and Sonken, The Glider Guyder”
Licata, Sicily, Italy, October, 1943
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Castelvetrano, Sicily, Italy, December, 1943
Palermo, Sicily, Italy, February, 1944
Palermo, Sicily, Italy, February, 1944
Palermo, Sicily, Italy, February, 1944
Eastcote Mansion, England, 1944
Ipswich, England, 1944
Normandy, France, June 7, 1944
(the day after the landings)
Holland, 1944
My dad designed the Airborne Troop Carrier patch!

In case it doesn’t look like he had any fun, my dad managed to get leave on his 27th birthday to go to Egypt.

He also got in a few good meals…

And some culture…

And, last but not least, this what my dad did during WWII…

France: Life Along the Canals, Summer of 1973

Looking for a shot of Notre Dame from L’Adour, the barge on which I spent the summer of 1973, I went through contact prints from 13 rolls of film. Many photos I’d never printed. Even the boring shots capture life along the canals, from Toulouse to Paris.

One of the few photos I printed.

Our barge—péniche—was a working boat, its cargo, grain. Pierre, the captain, and his family lived on the barge all year long. Bunk beds took the place of cargo, along with a makeshift bathroom and kitchen.

While the barge moved slowly towards our day’s destination, our group of American and French students cycled through the countryside and towns along the canals on one-speed bicycles.

Sometimes, we  helped lockkeepers open and shut hand-powered locks.
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In Carcassonne on Bastille Day, we had front row seats to the greased pole event.

Some days, we spent on board.

In the middle of the trip, we detoured to the Alps for a hike, catching up with the barge a few days later.

Somehow we got to Versailles!

After about five weeks, we arrived in Paris where we docked along the Left Bank of the Seine facing Notre Dame. As Bateaux Mouches passed by, tour guides pointed out the “French students,” meaning us.

As soon as I heard about the fire at Notre Dame, I started looking for a photo of the cathedral. Before adjusting the color, scans of black-and-white negatives have a sepia-toned look. This seemed perfect for my photo of Notre Dame taken 46 years ago.

New Photo Web Site and Other News

I finally revamped emilysperphoto and have linked it to this site. When I redesign one of my sites, I have to refresh my memory of Bootstrap and responsive web design. Then, I revise as much as I can before I forget again. That’s how I ended up with a new “About” page. The old one seemed rather boring.

I’m gearing up for Newton Open Studios on April 6 & 7. This will be my second year showing at the New Art Center, 61 Washington Park, Newton. Last year was a lot of fun with so many visitors each day, and successful, too.

Artwork hanging
Newton Open Studios, 2019

My photo “Icy Cambridge Bus Stop Shelter” was selected for a Newton FenceART banner and is now at the #newtonfreelibrary. The banners rotate every 10 or so weeks.

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Earlier this month I photographed the Israel Folkdance Festival. I’ve been trying to remember how I managed to change rolls during the show back in the days I shot film. It’s been many years since I started doing the graphics (flyers, posters, t-shirts) and photography for the Festival!

Leakat Kadima Dancing at Israel Folkdance Festivaldancer and text on t-shirt

I’m looking forward to the warmer weather when I can take photos without my fingers freezing!

2018: A Year of Art

I’ve been experimenting with assorted materials that have been sitting in my closet, some of which go back to my RISD days. The price for 25 sticks of Winsor Charcoal was $2.75 at Pearl Paint! Here’s a sampling of the resulting work. I’m wondering if my anxiety about the current state of the country and world is reflected in the drawings (most recent first).

Abstract, string colorAbstract, Mixed MediaAbstract, watercolor

My photos seem a bit calmer, no?

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“What On Earth Can We Do?” Making an Impact

Teachers in the Boston Public Schools are using What On Earth Can We Do? in grades K through 2.

Boston Public Schools classroom
Boston Public Schools classroom

Look what’s on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater’s information table! The Instagram post reads: Clearwater had a great time celebrating the beauty of our planet at Kingston’s #earthday celebration. #everydayisearthday

What On Earth Can We Do? on Sloop Clearwater's info table
Kingston, NY Earth Day celebration

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And thanks to a generous donation, elementary schools in Ashland, Ohio are giving out free copies of What On Earth Can We Do?.

I hope my book inspires kids and their parents to make a difference!

Winter Photographs 2018

I’m getting ready for Newton Open Studios where I’ll be showing photography and pastels (a few) at the New Art Center. You’re invited to a special opening reception on Friday, April 6 from 6-8 pm.

A series is emerging from recent work. Something to do with the weather?

Black Snow

Curbside Ice 1

Curbside Ice 2

Curbside Ice 3

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Icy Bus Stop 1

Crystal Lake

Icy Bus Stop 2

Snowy Doormat

Skin Deep — What We See or Don’t

I’ve been thinking about color, no doubt influenced by books and articles read recently, including Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Accidental Asian: Notes of a Native Speaker by Eric Liu, The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander, and the NY Times editorial, “Why Do You Say You’re Black?” by Morgan Jerkins. I hope my musings make sense.

Camp Trywoodie, 1966
From my photo album. Camp Trywoodie, 1966

Growing up, I spent summers at interracial camps where my counselors were white and black, from the U.S. and around the world. It took me, a white woman, longer than a black friend to understand his mother’s words, “The world isn’t Trywoodie.” At camp, we were equal, but in the real world, I was the one to stop the taxi. Later in life, browsing at a tony craft shop with my black boyfriend, the sales clerk followed us around as if we were criminals. The commonplace for my boyfriend was new to me.

Pastel drawing, 2017. Lily white isn’t lily white.

Drawing with pastels, I avoid using pure white or black. It’s far more interesting visually to build up light and dark areas with an assortment of colors. In physics, white and black aren’t even considered colors — white being all wavelengths of visible light and black is its absence. While our flesh may appear more white or black, it is never pure.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Two Moors, 1661
Rembrandt, Two Moors, 1661

Some flesh tones have more red, others more yellow or blue. And as the color of daylight changes throughout the day, we appear more blue or yellow. Under the florescent lights of a fitting room, I suspect we all look half dead!

Friends have paid to find out which colors look best next to their skin. “Are you spring, summer, autumn, or winter?” they ask. Trial and error has shown me that I look sick wearing a bright yellow or green sweater, yet when I see the same colors next to dark brown skin, I want to run and get my camera.

The color of flesh doesn’t tell me anything about the person within other than adversity faced or unspoken privilege. I assume cultural differences, but there isn’t a single black or white culture or experience. Even the artist, who looks closely at eyes, facial expression, and stance, using clothes and scenic placement as clues, can only attempt to show the viewer how smart or kind the subject is.

Rembrandt, Self-portrait, Vienna c. 1655
Rembrandt, Self-portrait, c. 1655

It seems to me that diverse flesh tones make the world a more beautiful place. I’m not an art appraiser, but suspect the value of a Rembrandt painting isn’t assessed by the flesh tone of his model.
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We reflect light in different ways. Calling people on one end of the spectrum, “white,” and on the other end, “black,” makes no sense. A system that places greater value on one over the other makes even less sense. That said, until the world is Trywoodie, I’m going to look for all the colors, keeping in mind the world is rife with prejudice and discrimination. It’s on me, and all of us, to repair what’s broken.

From the 1965 Camp Trywoodie yearbook:

“Our 1965 summer’s themes: The Great Society, and Futurama, are based on these words of President Lyndon B. Johnson.”

Dancing at Camp Trywoodie,1965
Dancing at Camp Trywoodie, 1965

The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning.

The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.

Camp Trywoodie, 1965
Camp Trywoodie, 1965

It is a place where man can renew contact with nature. It is a place which honors creation for its own sake and for what it adds to the understanding of the race. —President Lyndon B. Johnson

“My Hero Brother” — Siblings Caring for One Another

Brothers on the trek.
“My Hero Brother” founder Enosh Cassel with his brother.

Last week I saw an amazing film, “My Hero Brother,” about a group of Israeli siblings, one brother or sister with Down syndrome, traveling together to India for what seems like an impossible feat, to trek high into the mountains.

Watching “My Hero Brother,” I experienced the frustration of not knowing what was going on in the “special” sibling’s head, feared for the young adult with altitude sickness, and wondered if the trip itself was a smart idea. I was on the journey, from muddy, rutted roads to the summit. When everyone makes it, I celebrate along with the siblings.

A week later, I’m still thinking about siblings. In the film, an older brother with Down syndrome bristles when his younger sister tells him what to do. Siblings, younger or older, take on the responsibility of caring for their special brother or sister. For many, the trip is the first one-on-one time with their siblings. But for one young woman whose parents died, caring for her brother is already a huge part of her life and always will be.

With our friends
My family with our friends. I’m bottom left.

Siblings caring for each other after the death of a parent is huge. Close to home, I watched responsibility shift from the elderly parents of a schizophrenic daughter, diagnosed as a teen, to her younger sister. Over the years, the sister has worried about finding the right living situation, proper medications, and doing whatever possible within their means to give her sister the best life possible.

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My friend with one of her gold medals.
My friend with one of her gold medals.

And I watch the brothers of a special friend take care of their younger sister.  That she has been able to marry a special man and lead a normal life, more or less, with the supervision of family and social workers, didn’t happen in a vacuum. It began with a mother who got her daughter the help she needed to bring her to my public high school from a program for kids with special needs in another school district. While life isn’t easy, she’s a valued employee and has a closet full of Special Olympic medals. Long-distance caretaking goes on 24/7.

With my sister photo
With my older sister in England. Photo © Kay Chernush.

Two summers ago, shortly after our mother died, my sister and I traveled to England for a cousin’s wedding party and then to the Netherlands. While neither of us has special needs, it was powerful. Without partners or children, we got to know one another as adults. The story could have ended badly, but everything fell into place and seemed easy. That one of us ate more sweets and the other drank more cocktails didn’t matter.

During a Q & A with filmmaker Yonatan Nir, I learned that after the trip lasting friendships were forged and the group continues to meet. Whether it’s going to a movie or traveling to Paris, the siblings are spending time together. We can all learn something from this film.

Remembering Miriam and Edward Magdol

Miriam Sper Magdol young
Miriam Sper Magdol

The daily news brings me close to tears. I find myself looking for light, for what’s good in the world. Being active on the local level with others who refuse to accept the hate emanating from the White House, and around the world, helps, but it’s hard to shake the feeling of helplessness.

It’s at times like these that I remember my Aunt Mim, to whom I dedicated Hanukkah: A Counting Book in English, Hebrew, and Yiddish.

Hanukkah: A Counting Book
Original 2001 Edition

The dedication reads:
Dedicated in loving memory to Miriam Sper Magdol zl, whose flame will burn on long after her passing.

It’s impossible to remember my Aunt Mim without my Uncle Eddie, the love of her life. Together they fought to make the world a better place. Be it racism, economic inequality, the oppression of workers, or any other social injustice, they spoke out with words or in writing.

Edward Magdol, Navy uniform
Edward Magdol

My Uncle Eddie was an historian of the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 1970’s at SUNY Potsdam, besides teaching Black Studies, he taught labor and immigration history. If he was alive today, I’m sure he’d be involved with the sanctuary movement. I’m honored to have his books on my bookshelf.

Books by Edward Magdol
Books by Edward Magdol

The black pages of Hanukkah: A Counting Book set off the brightly colored candles as they show through die-cut pages. Some people call it “the black Hanukkah book.” Hearing this, a friend suggested “the colorful Hanukkah book” would be a better moniker. Keeping my aunt and uncle in mind, let’s not lose sight of the colors and keep the flame burning.

Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book, 2016

In 2016, when I revised Hanukkah Coloring & Activity Book, among seven new activities, I added a tzedakah — charity — page. In the spirit of my aunt and uncle, it’s my way of creating positive change in the world…one candle at time.