Ancient Artistry, Modern Times

When I was a little girl I used to watch my mother knit sweaters for my dad and for each of her children. Some of them were pretty simple, but there was one I remember, that I think was based on an Irish Fisherman’s pattern, that was more complicated and looked really beautiful in its better days. My dad wore it as a ski sweater for many years, and at some point it got hijacked by one of my sisters. Many years later, it was handed to me, with holes, almost as if it was a holy object, and I put it away in my closet.

I think most people know, or can remember a woman in their life who they picture in their mind holding knitting needles, an embroidery needle, a crochet hook, or even sitting at a loom. If you’re lucky, they made something beautiful and useful for you. With the birth of my youngest son, I received two handmade baby blankets from elderly women here in Vallejo. One was knitted by Lilian Rivera, who had a long career in fashion design and especially with knits. She is the mother of my daycare provider, and when I come to pick up my kids, she will often grab a hook, sit me down, and fix the little snags on my sweater before allowing me to leave, a service for which I am very grateful! The other blanket was crocheted by Sammi Nobles. It has a bold geometric design, with tight little stitches and garnered many compliments while wrapped around my little boy.

Sammi’s gift made me curious about this woman and her skills, and prompted me to meditate a bit on the whole story of women and textiles, bringing me to write this editorial during March, which is Women’s History Month. Textile production goes back to ancient times. Considering that clothing and textiles are integral to the survival of the human race, weaving is perhaps one of the most miraculous skills people have managed to acquire all over the world. The design of looms, and the mechanization of the industry in more modern times may have been dominated by men, but the original technology almost certainly originated in the hands of women as they labored to but clothes on the backs of their husbands and children. They were all engaged in a constant search for better, more efficient, and also more beautiful ways to weave, crochet, knit and sew together the fabric of their clothes and communities.

From the Andean mountains, home of Vicu?a, Alpaca Wool and Pima Cotton, to the Burnt City where women living 5,000 years ago wore outfits similar to the sari worn by Indian and Pakistani women of today, beautiful fabrics were part of every day life. All ancient Egyptians, rich or poor, male or female, wore linen clothing, and of course the weavings of Native Americans are prized possessions among collectors. Quilts made in Europe and America that were once looked at as folk art, are now highly prized works of art worth thousands and sometimes millions of dollars.

If you look around you a bit, there is probably a woman in your life right now with skills. Here are short profiles on three women I know with skills and how they put them to use.

According to Sammi Nobles, indigenous Guatemalans are the best weavers, crocheters and embroiderers in the world. She showed me with absolute admiration a crocheted bag that her sister brought back from Guatemala, and told me that she will “never be able to crochet like that.” The bags crocheted by Guatemalan women are meant for carrying produce and even water, and are made with very tiny, very tight stitches. Sammi’s enthusiasm for textile arts is infectious, and it is apparent that she has read quite a bit about the subject. She started knitting at the age of thirteen with a “Learn How” book. She was corrected one day by Ms. Elma Bollman, a former White House maid, who told her that she was “twisting her stitches,” and proceeded to show her how not to twist them. Since then it has been “a steady progression of learning and more fine points.” At 21, a co-worker of hers named Ita Noone, who was Irish, told her that the Irish would say “she was a bad knitter” because she was doing a single stitch at a time. Ita showed her a faster, more efficient way to knit. She also shared with Sammi that Irish fishermen who washed up to shore from the sea could be recognized by their sweaters. According to Sammi, “things that were essential are now hobbies, so the supplies have gotten more expensive.” She has stuck with it because “it’s something to do,” and her friends have benefitted from her activities with the gifts of socks and sweaters and blankets and such. Her mother and sisters were “1920’s ladies who embroidered. Mom did acres of needlepoint. I still can’t touch the quality. It takes practice.”

Janet Sylvain has made a career out of quilting and interior design. Unlike Sammi, who grew up surrounded by women with needles in their hands, Janet didn’t learn to quilt at home. She met an eighty year old woman, affectionately called Grandma Dickerson, who was a friend of the family and rented out her home to skiers in Tahoe for Christmas vacations. “Every bed had two or three quilts that she had made. To me it represented her lifetime. Some were made on a machine, some by hand. She had something to show for her time.” Even as a beginner Janet couldn’t help thinking that she would have used different colors, which led her to think ?I could make a quilt.π

At the age of twenty-four she had three kids at home and one on the way, and “couldn’t go to college” because she had no time. She wanted something to practice while her kids were growing up, so she would have a skill when the kids were grown, and be able to contribute something to the economy of the family. She started out with a craft show, and at her very first show she got an order for a king size quilt. She brought that quilt around to a high-end store that had a policy not to buy “crafty, hand made goods” but broke with that policy to order one of her distinctive quilts. Still having ideas of her own, she made a sample according to their instructions, and another one the way she would make it. They loved her original sample so much that they never gave her any instructions again. They turned into “a really good customer” and launched her career in interior design as she branched out into designing pillows and other sorts of things. Her career has progressed mostly by word of mouth ever since, leading her into adventures with rich oil families in Texas, and some of the wealthiest American families, who hire her for both restoration work, and her unique and often non-traditional designs. “I have to like everything I make. I never let anything go if I think the customer doesn’t like it. I just tell them, I’ve got a thousand ideas, let’s fix this.≤ Janet’s store is called Pieced on Earth and is located at 340 Georgia Street in Vallejo. The phone number is 707-644-6768. Her advice for anyone going into the sewing business: “Be open to changes in the market. You have to keep growing and changing. Right now I’m opening up to creatively designed window treatments. Slip covers are still a large part of my income. My work now, instead of coming in pieces, is coming in rooms.”

I already knew Dawn Jacobson had some serious skills in canning, having been the recipient of some of her award winning jams and jellies. Her husband, (our staff photographer) informed me that her skills are not limited to the kitchen. A teacher at Hogan High School here in Vallejo, Dawn grew up in a family where needlework “has always been done.” Her great grandmother on her dad’s side taught her two daughters how to crochet, do tatting (sort of like lace), knit, and do fine needlework. Dawn’s mother learned to knit from Irish nuns in the orphanage where she grew up in Pennsylvania. Dawn started learning needlework at the age of five, embroidery at seven, and knitting at nine or ten. Crocheting is actually her favorite, because she “doesn’t have to think about it, and it keeps her from strangling people at meetings.” Unlike her preserves, she hasn’t entered too many contests with her needlework, although she once won a second place prize for a napkin. She is considering entering a recently completed Afghan in the next County Fair. Some of her favorite pieces of work are a large wool rug in her home with a Chinese design. Her inspiration comes from Chinese needlepoint designs and European and American weaving from the 14th to 19th centuries. She said she doesn’t have the “tremendous patience it takes to do really fine Navajo weaving.” Maybe not, but she does have the patience, sometimes, to spin her own thread. Supplies for spinning have become increasingly rare, and most practitioners of the art order them from the internet these days. For Dawn, it’s all a hobby. “I have fun with it. It’s something I’ve always done and probably always will. My mom is in her seventies and a very active quilter. I look to my mom for inspiration, but I leave the quilting for her to do.”

Do you have a story about a practitioner of the art of textiles that you would like to share? Please write a letter to the editor. We would be very happy to hear from you.

Public Access Television has Finally Arrived in Vallejo

Today is a day long awaited by those in Vallejo who have struggled for more than a decade to open the doors to a Public Access Television station for the people of Vallejo. Vallejo Community Access Television (VCAT) will begin running twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, from the new studio at Jesse Bethel High School. If you subscribe to cable television you will find VCAT on Channel 27.

Now let?s be clear, folks. This is your right. You are entitled to access to the cable channel. By law, the city is has required Comcast to make the channel available as provided for by federal law. If you subscribe to cable television, then you?ve been paying for it all this time. The reasons why you haven?t had access up until now are many. But rather than get into all that, (all over again) today is a day to celebrate.

What?s the big deal? Well, your freedom of speech for one thing. Where else can you go and express your opinions without censorship and without the decision of whether or not it will be aired, being left up to people who may or may not share your point of view? I could count those media outlets on one hand. Can you give your tape to ABC, CNN, Channel 5 or any other commercial outlet and feel certain that it will be aired or even considered? Sadly, that?s a rhetorical question. But your local cable access channel will only judge your tape on its technical quality, not its content. If your tape is up to broadcast standards, it will be aired.

I?m moving a little too fast though. Today will start modestly with the airing of the VCAT Bulletin Board. Local not-for-profits and community groups can post announcements by visiting the www.vcat27.org and downloading the Electronic Bulletin Request Form. Your independently produced videos will begin to be broadcast around March 16, 2006.

You needn?t consider the consumer behavior of your projected audience, or even consider who your audience will be. You might be idealistic and believe that what you produce would be appealing to a diversity of people (imagine that!). The point is that you don?t have to worry about whether or not your audience is going to run out and buy products that are being pushed in commercial breaks during your program, because there will be no commercial breaks.

OK, it?s true, no one is going to pay you to produce these programs. It?s up to you to get it done. But you can get training for practically no money. A Basic Producer membership includes receiving newsletters, the annual report, eligibility to vote in VCAT elections, basic video workshops, and access to the studio and equipment, for the cost to an individual of $40 per year. For an additional $20, a producer may attend advanced workshops and have access to advanced equipment. There are discount rates for seniors, and rates for organizations and businesses as well. Just to make sure there is no confusion, you will technically be a volunteer producer, because you are not getting paid, but any volunteer will have to become a member and get through the program before having access to the studio or equipment. Compare this to the expense of attending television production classes at a community college or private school and you will see what a great resource VCAT will be for any aspiring television producer with a limited budget.

Another aspect of non-commercial programming is that producers may push the edges of their medium. I have no doubt that in the next few years Vallejoans will be viewing computer animations, experimental comedy, political commentary and world premiers of plays and movies by local writers and producers. It is not only an opportunity to be aired, but a first step toward syndication on a host of public access stations from one coast of the United Sates to the other. Have you considered that possibility? Do your research and you will find some examples of what I?m talking about.

Some people have raised the concern that the people who are permitted access to the equipment may steal it. Most businesses have to deal with the reality that they may experience theft. But of course, none of us can even go into business these days without purchasing costly insurance. So, it seems to me that is not really a valid concern, but I checked anyway, with Clayton Leander, Executive Director of VCAT, to find out if he shares this concern. He stated that in all the years he has been involved in public access television, (and his depth of experience is impressive) ?no one has ever stolen checked out equipment.? Accidents happen, and equipment will need to be repaired, but these are issues any business must deal with to remain functional.

If by now you are ready to get started, then the first step is to attend a VCAT orientation class. The next one will be on Saturday, March 4 from 10am to 12pm. If you have never even touched a television camera don?t be intimidated. You will find that some of the people in your class will have experience and others won?t. The point is to level the playing field and give everyone a chance. You?ll find pictures of the first orientation held last weekend on page five. If you can?t make the meeting this Saturday, you can check our Community Bulletin Board for future dates, or just go to the VCAT website at www.vact27.org.

This day is made bittersweet by the sudden collapse and stroke suffered by Ursula Morgan-Kane during last week?s orientation. Ursula is one of the people who worked tirelessly in the past decade to make this day come to fruition. With her life hanging in the balance as I write this column, it is at least comforting to know that she enjoyed the applause and recognition from her colleagues at the class, for her hard work. Please keep Ursula and her family in your thoughts and prayers. I?m sure nothing would make her happier than to know that the next orientation class would be full of budding television producers ready to fill up the hours and days and weeks of programming ahead.

Where is the Vision?

Back in July of 2004, I drove to Hiddenbrooke to conduct an interview with Curt Johansen, Executive Vice President of Triad Communities. We spoke about Triad?s plans for Vallejo?s downtown. He told a compelling story, even if some of it was merely conjecture, (like rent breaks for arts organiztions?like incubator loans to stir up economic activity.) Almost two years later, some of Triad?s plans for Vallejo?s downtown are only beginning to be implemented, and others still appear to be years away. Much of the downtown?s revitalization was pinned, in that conversation, on the revival of the Empress Theatre, part of a concept that the ?thriving? arts community would be an integral part of the downtown revitalization. Now almost a year after its original scheduled opening date of Spring 2005, there is little sign of activity. Apparently there were unforeseen structural issues that had to be addressed, and required extending the budget. Of course when the reconstruction is complete, the theatre will still have to be outfitted. It remains to be seen whether a 400 seat theatre can create enough of a stir downtown to launch a revival, and whether Vallejo Community Arts Foundation is up to the task of launching a viable Empress Theatre.

Roger Kemp, our former City Manager, was another individual who I interviewed for Listen & Be Heard Weekly about plans for the downtown. He actually stopped by to visit our offices, and dropped off a book he edited entitled Cities and the Arts. He also seemed to be sold on the idea that the arts are, or should be, an integral part of any plans for any city to revitalize its downtown. But Kemp has come and gone, and we don?t know why, or what part of the plans for Vallejo?s downtown might have died with his exit. The fact that we are returning to a former interim City Manager seems to point in the direction of going back to former attitudes which have not been conducive to the arts in this city.

Around the corner from the Empress, the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum operates on a bare minimum budget that won?t even cover the cost of maintenance, and there appears to be no commitment from anywhere to change that situation. So the idea is that the supposedly wealthier and more cultured individuals who move into the brand new condos soon to be constructed by Triad Communities, will want to endow the museum, and then the museum will have a budget. Maybe we should just wait for those people to move in, for schools for their children to appear out of nowhere, and then let them decide what should be done in Vallejo, and what artistic activity is worth supporting. OK, I?m not serious, but watch out folks, if we don?t all get on the same page about our artistic and cultural future, there will come a time when the hill will be much steeper to climb.

Those of us who are already running businesses downtown know that we face many challenges, among them the lack of much foot traffic, safety issues, and limited bus service to the downtown area. We know that if we wait on Triad Communities to solve our immediate problems we might as well go out of business. We know that the city can?t solve all these problems for us, but it can cause a woman to scratch her head in wonder about why any organization whose existence is meant to promote Vallejo?s Downtown, would hold any event in Benicia. But that is exactly what the CCRC and Vallejo Main Street did a week and a half ago, when they handed out awards to their volunteers. There are venues available right around the corner from their offices in downtown Vallejo that I am sure would have been happy to accommodate them. It goes without saying (but I guess I?ll say it), that such a choice would have brought some activity to the downtown, which might have spilled over to some of the other businesses, but that is a lost opportunity. What was the matter? Vallejo just wasn?t classy enough, or just not the right class?

Speaking of Benicia, if their downtown organization?s plans to put a Starbucks on the waterfront is a beacon for their idea of revitalizing, (when they already have several similar businesses operating on that street) then we can only hope that Vallejo will not race to erase itself in the same manner. There doesn?t appear to be much evidence that our City Council and Planning Commission will in fact refrain from selling out the People who populate this city. The People who send their kids to its schools. The People who have to be airlifted to Walnut Creek when they are run over in the streets because we surely can?t service those people here where we live.

I?m still confused. There?s the Downtown Association, the CCRC, Vallejo Main Street, Vallejo Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the Filipino Chamber of Commerce, the Latino Chamber of Commerce, (what?s up with that? Shouldn?t the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce be serving all those people?s interests?) There?s Vallejo Community Access Television finally getting their foot past the door of the studio over at Jesse Bethel High School, Vallejo Community Arts Foundation, Vallejo Arts Council, Vallejo Artists? Guild, and the Vallejo Commission on Arts and Culture. It would appear that the foremost thing these groups have in common is a lack of communication with each other about a Vision for Vallejo.

What do the People want and Need? Let me take a guess, and then you can tell me what you think by sending a Speak Out! We the people want cultural programming available to all our school children at our local museum. We the people want arts education available to all our students, and special arts programs available to our gifted students. We the people want to celebrate and preserve the diversity in our city. We the People want a sophisticated marketing program focused on the San Francisco end of the Ferry Terminal, to attract people to Vallejo?s Arts and Cultural community, and all that it has to offer. We the people want the People?s paper (Listen & Be Heard Weekly) to be available at the Vallejo Chamber of Commerce offices, so that visitors can see everything that is going on here. (No we haven?t paid dues, but we pay our taxes and dues to some of the above mentioned organizations that are supposed to be representing us, and we are doing more than any other publication to promote arts and culture in Vallejo. It seems to me that they ought to be excited about that.) We the people want our leaders to get on the same page, and work for a collective vision of our future.

Are you the People? Or are you someone else? Please speak up and let us know for sure.

Delivering the Message

Vallejo Music Theatre is taking its turn at presenting the music of Fats Waller with their production of Aint? Misbehavin? which will run through May 4th at the Fetterly Playhouse for the Arts, 3467 Sonoma Blvd. Suite 10. You can call 707-649-2787 for more information, and check this newspaper next week for a review of the show. Perhaps the most meaningful lyrics from the original show Ain?t Misbehavin? are from the song ?What Did I Do (To Be So Black and Blue)??

??Cause you?re black, Folks think you lack
They laugh at you, And scorn you too,
What did I do, to be so Black And Blue?
When you are near, they laugh and sneer,
Set you aside and you?re denied,
What did I do, to be so Black And Blue?
How sad I am, each day I feel worse,
My mark of Ham seems to be a curse!
How will it end? Ain?t got a friend,
My only sin Is my skin.
What did I do, to be so Black And Blue?

from ?What Did I Do To Be So Black and Blue?, Words by Andy Razaf and Music by Thomas ?Fats? Waller and Harry Brooks, Copyright ?1929 Santly Brothers, Inc. and renewed by Chappell & Co., Inc.

A song made famous by Louis Armstrong, it is a counterpoint to arguments made by some that both Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller were comic entertainers pandering to a white audience. While it is true that they both excelled at projecting an exuberant quality that was responsible for catapulting them each to super stardom, they will be remembered as time goes by, as true geniuses and innovators who labored under cruel conditions.

Louis Armstrong extended the range of the trumpet beyond anything anyone had imagined up to that point. Fats Waller, in his short lifetime, created a jazz style at the organ while playing for the silent movies, (his first professional gig while still in his teens). His mature music combined blues, ragtime and stride piano, played at dizzying tempos. A student of James P. Johnson, his early concert stage was most often a Harlem rent party. He rose to stardom after he started singing while he played piano. It is unfortunate that even though he was recorded hundreds of times, he only recorded three solo piano sessions before he died in 1943, on a train near Kansas City, Missouri, at the age of 39.

It is interesting to me that Fats Waller did not read or write music. People around the world present concerts of Fats Waller?s music, but he wasn?t the one who wrote it all down. Not all of his recorded piano solos have even been transcribed. It would be a mistake, I think, to call him illiterate, and actually points to a shortcoming in the European concept that if it isn?t on paper it?s not for real. I don?t think a Fats Waller composition ever could be contained by a piece of paper the way he played it. Conversely, if he had written any of it down, I don?t think his music would have been any better for it. If he hadn?t been a natural genius, his music might have even suffered from the effort to learn to read and write music. Many of today?s professional musicians do themselves a disservice by learning first to read music with their eyes, instead of their ears.

Turn on Black Entertainment Television today, and you will find that a white owned station is still propagating an image of the black artist as slightly ridiculous, and less than genius. It is perhaps an even worse situation today, because the music presented is as bad as the image put forward. Although black American musicians have traditionally been in the vanguard, singlehandedly creating the modern music that has delighted and captured the imagination of the entire world, those days appear to be over. The real musicians out there are not getting any chance to be heard. The present situation is bemoaned by Martha Redbone. A singer from New York City, she recently dropped into Listen & Be Heard Poetry Caf? accompanied by Dennis Banks and Wounded Knee, on the morning of February 10th, before heading in to San Francisco for the kick-off concert for Sacred Run 2006.

A songwriter by trade, Redbone started singing professionally about five years ago because she wanted to ?put a positive message out there.? Of mixed Native American and Black American heritage she bemoaned the fact that her favorite music was also the favorite music of her parents. While she was growing up in New York City she listened to Sam Cooke and other R&B and Soul artists of the time, who delivered the music and the message to a generation eager to move on. ?We should have our own favorite music? she said, referring to a new generation. Certainly there is a multiplicity of messages to be delivered today, and perhaps none more immediate and pressing than the one being delivered from one end of this country to the other on the Sacred Run. Now in its 27th year, the run will go through the southern states for the first time. Included in the route will be a special stop at the United Houma Nation reservation, just outside of New Orleans, who Redbone claims were ?ignored by the Red Cross and FEMA.? Having performed a concert there just before Katrina hit, Redbone has taken a special interest in assisting the Houma Nation. She managed to convince Synthia Saint James to paint a Pow Wow drum that will be auctioned off to raise funds. (More information about the artist at http://synthiasaintjames.com.)

While entertainers of the past were regarded as less than civilized by the dominant society, today the question of what is civilized is paramount to our very existence, and those of us who might still be stuck on the words-on-paper concept of civilization, could well benefit by opening our minds and hearts to a message that is being delivered not in a document, but with direct immediacy, and a spiritual backbone. I asked Dennis Banks, one of the founding members of the American Indian Movement, what he hoped to accomplish by running a relay across the country. ?Our job is to deliver the message and move on? he responded. ?Our hope is that the message will be heard.? Certainly, after struggling for decades to improve relations between the many nations and the U. S. Government, he has familiarity with the ability of ?civilized? people to dishonor their own treaties. But the message today goes beyond any group or individual. ?We have to start looking at what we?re doing to the air. We?re not buying air yet, but we are buying water, because it?s unsafe. But if we buy water but don?t address what?s going on, then pretty soon we?ll be buying clean air.? Picture a society of people walking around with air masks and guns, stepping over those without masks and guns and walking over the graves of all of our ancestors without respect or even recognition. Will we hear the message, or are we waiting for it to be handed down from heaven and written in stone?

Listen & Be Heard Weekly will be following the progress of Sacred Run 2006 in these pages. You can learn more at http://sacredrun.org. Wishing each of you Peace and Poetry.

Some of Vallejo?s Black History

Last week I mentioned in my letter (and we featured on our cover) The Vallejo Observer, a bi-weekly newspaper that started in 1945, published by black people primarily for black people. While looking through the old yellow copies, I was struck by the similarity of our stated goals to the stated goals of the publishers of this paper more than sixty years ago. The following letter, published in their first issue on March 29, 1945, says a great deal about the people who labored to publish the paper while America was still at war.

?Open Letter to the Public?

The Editorial Staff of the ?Vallejo Observer? takes this opportunity to thank the merchants in Vallejo and our many friends for their cooperation in making it possible for this newspaper to be published.

It is our sole desire that a colored newspaper in Vallejo will occupy a vital position in the effort to establish and maintain friendly and harmonious racial relations. We feel that a newspaper can be of enormous assistance in developing a positive program of information, features and editorials designed to improve racial relations and inculcate a better living standard through our editorials and features.

We are endeavored not only to print unbiasedly the important happenings as we see it but also to encourage and perfect the gift of expression in all interested in journalism. There are so many young men and women who are talented and desire to prove their ability if only given a chance. Some do not have the initiative to go forward and others have been deprived of the opportunity.

Arthur W. Scott, Bus. Mgr.-Adv. Director

It is interesting to observe the patriotic attitude of the publishers reflected in headlines like Three Things To Do: 1. Stay on the job. 2. Buy war bonds regularly. 3. Read the Vallejo Observer. It?s not surprising, considering that the majority of Vallejo?s black population was employed at Mare Island?s Naval Shipyard. But, while supporting the war, and reporting on troop movements and local and national black heros in the war, they also maintained a staunchly militant attitude about the rights of black folks at home. Features about struggles for black people to get equal representation in the unionsof which they were members of, the formation of the NAACP, speeches by Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois. One poignant story about a young mixed couple in Texas points to the stark differences between then and now. A seventeen year old black boy was accused of the rape of a sixteen year old white girl, who professed to love him in court and in letters to the judge. Her pleas went unacknowledged, and the boy was sentenced to 60 years in prison.

We can and should celebrate our progress, and proclaim our desire never to return to the same sort of practices that sent a young boy to prison for the crime of falling in love. But there is a bittersweet note to all progress. I don?t actually know the answer to why the paper is no longer published today, but I suspect that it went the same way as many black organizations of the time. It probably disappeared with integration. Sure it was great that Jackie Robinson opened the door to a new day in sports, but what happened to the black baseball league and the culture and society that surrounded it? On October 31, 1945 the headline of The Vallejo Observer read ?LOCAL NAACP AWAITS HOME OFFICE?S MOVE. FEDERAL TERRACE TO REMAIN WHITE.? The Vallejo Housing Authority?s move to exclude black people from this local housing project, was one good reason for a black newspaper?s existence at the time. They were much more likely to put a story like that on the cover, and follow it through to its conclusion. But what happened? It seems ironic that Federal Terrace is now Section 8 housing that is almost exclusively populated by black people. Did the civil rights movement negate the need for a black publication?

I don?t think so, but in the race to be included, perhaps the benefits of exclusively black organizations were not appreciated as much as they might have been at the time. A letter to the editor in the first issue, written by Geo S. Walker, who I suspect was white, stated that he believed ?such a publication also will be of benefit to ALL the people of this community.? I think he was getting at the idea that the more we know about each other, the less there is to fear or hate, a sentiment that is as true today as it was then. While they proclaimed on every front page ?Dedicated to the Greatest Good of the Community? we proclaim ?Fulfilling the Promise of Diversity.? Perhaps the slight difference is a reflection of the times in which we live. We recognize that the struggle for equality continues. We recognize that integrated schools haven?t necessarily provided any of our children with better educations. We struggle not to be overwhelmed or overlooked by a ?good old boy? taking-care-of-business attitude that still excludes diversity.

If anyone reading this has more information about The Vallejo Observer or a story to tell about Vallejo?s history, we would be very happy to hear from you, and and as always to publish your Letter to the Editor in our Speak Out! section. Please join our celebration of black history at Listen & Be Heard Poetry Caf? on Saturday, February 11. It will start at 11am with a free acoustic jam hosted by Mica Lee Williams. The festivities continue from 6-8pm with a free artist?s reception for O?neal Turner. You can express yourself during our free open mic from 8-9pm, and then sit back and enjoy the comedy by local comedian D.C. Ervin and others, followed by a jazz concert with The Talons. The price of admission after 9pm will be $10.

Wishing each of you Peace and Poetry.

The Art of Living

Back in 1945, there was a newspaper published in Vallejo called The Vallejo Observer. The first issue was published on Friday, March 30, 1945. The publisher?s pledge was on the front page. The publisher was Arthur W. Scott. The editor of the first issue was Frank S. Shipp. It was a ?black? publication, thriving on Vallejo?s relationship with Mare Island and the servicemen who worked there. The Vallejo Observer featured mostly national stories and some local society type articles. A headline about a local event was featured when someone notable came to town. Some of us might be able to look back nostalgically to when the paper was delivered by a boy you knew, on a bike. Back then the newspaper did not compete with the World Wide Web as a source for the news. But even today, the newspaper remains one of the most engaging of mediums. There is nothing quite like your morning paper. It probably becomes a little greasy from the bit of butter on your fingers. Maybe you spill a little coffee on it. You can let the radio fade to the background of your subconscious mind and just get into your newspaper. You can turn the pages without getting shuffled from one link to another in search of the information you actually want, or might not even know you want yet, until you come across it on the next page, staring back at you like a surprise.

The newspaper is really a document of the art of living. None of us really has a handle on how we are changing, but take one look at those old newspapers and it is very clear that we are indeed changing all the time. The newspaper stays in touch with the pulse of a community, making its work the documentation of how we live, and why we do the things we do over and over again.

The routines set up by deadlines contribute to the sensitivity that newspapers have to social conventions. Many of our most important events and experiences happen, for obvious reasons, after business hours. So a newspaper must become familiar with the social calendar and work within its boundaries. These are the things that make life interesting, make you want to turn the page, and see what else there is that can surprise and delight you, or inform you about something relevant to you. You didn?t know, and might have no other way of making the discovery. You can tune out the TV, keep your sticky bun fingers off your keyboard, and unfold the mystery of a fresh newspaper, one page at a time. Your friendly local reporter was there, documenting the art of living in your place and time.

The art of living in high school. The art of living with pollution. The art of living with regret. The art of living Free. The art of living for a cause. The art of living for yourself. The art of living one more day. The art of living together. The art of living single. The art of cooking for one. The art of cooking for two. The art of cooking for an extended family. The art that is your garden. The art in your garden. The art in your heart. The art of Love.

Then there is the art of living black. The art of living black has been beat into the streets of Vallejo by the heels of service men and workmen and bluesmen, and now the professionals of all sorts, and painters and sculptors and photographers and other exhibiting artists in search of the holy grail of an affordable artist?s studio.

The Richmond Arts Center has included in its Art of Living Black 2006, (now a ten year old event) two satellite exhibitions in Vallejo, at Ethnic Notions Gallery on Georgia Street, (newly transplanted from Benicia), and The Fetterly Gallery on Sonoma Boulevard in the Vallejo Shopping Plaza. You?ll find Michelle Snyder?s take on the exhibition on page five. If you venture in to the back of the shopping plaza, you?ll find the Fetterly Gallery, part of the Vallejo Community Arts Foundation, next to the Tae Kwon Do School. Take a look at the exhibition and write an old fashioned letter to the editor about your take on the art there. Then come downtown to the Ethnic Notions Gallery, across from the Georgia Street Plaza, (on your way down to the historic Vallejo/Mare Island waterfront.) Then come by Listen & Be Heard Poetry Caf?, read the paper, pen a letter to the editor about your experience while you enjoy a hot drink, and drop it in our mailbox before you leave.

The Art of Living Black 2006
GROUP EXHIBITION
Featuring artwork by over 100 artists
January 24 – March 19, 2006, Richmond Art Center
Artist?s Talks: Saturday, February 18, 2 pm
The group exhibition at RAC includes artwork by over 100 emerging and established artists, with additional work by the three Jan Hart-Schuyers Artistic Achievement Award recipients: Raymond L. Haywood, Michael Johnson and Orlonda Uffre.

SELF-GUIDED ART TOUR
Richmond Memorial Auditorium
Saturday & Sunday, March 4 & 5, 11 am – 5 pm
Richmond Center Civic Center Plaza
Macdonald Avenue and 25th Street
Various Bay Area locations
Saturday & Sunday, March 11 & 12, 11 am – 5 pm
The Art Tour will take place over two consecutive weekends. The first weekend (March 4 & 5) over 50 artists will display and sell their work at the Richmond Convention Center?s Memorial Auditorium. The second weekend (March 11 & 12) participating artists invite the public to visit their studios at locations throughout the Bay Area. Artworks for sale include paintings, sculptures, jewelry and ceramics.

SATELLITE EXHIBITIONS
Barnes & Noble Bookstore (Jack London Square, Oakland), Craft and Cultural Arts Gallery (Oakland) Ethnic Notions (Vallejo), Fetterly Gallery (Vallejo). Joyce Gordon Gallery (Oakland), San Pablo Art Gallery (San Pablo), Sargent Johnson Gallery (San Francisco), Women?s Cancer Resource Center (Oakland)