Friday, November 6, 2015

A Visit to the Barnes

Yesterday we visited the Barnes Museum in Philadelphia and I have to say it was one of the most appalling museum experiences I've ever had. First, try to find your way into the building - the place looks like Fort Knox and is about as welcoming. What initially looks like the front door is actually a loading dock. We made our way around police barricade tape and finally found a sign that said "Tickets". The ticket kiosk guy looked at us like we were nuts and pointed us to the main building to buy tickets.

Inside, we were asked if we had reservations. Reservations? Nothing on the website said anything about reservations.
::big sigh::  "Well, it's OK for today, but next time you really should make reservations." 
Uh, OK. Whatever....

We were given cryptic directions to check our coats downstairs and the gallery upstairs and also there's a mezzanine. We grabbed a couple of guide maps and thought we'd figure it out from there. Uh right. the guide maps might as well be blank squares, the information was that unhelpful.

Downstairs we were told we had to put all our stuff in lockers. No coats. No bags. No umbrellas. No Cameras. No phones.  The coat check lady was very nice and helped us figure out how the locks worked, but we were already pretty frustrated.

Back upstairs we first went to the ornamental iron exhibit. OK, that was very cool - extremely well laid out, well labeled and very interesting. We did our best to ignore the security guards pacing around (you'd think they were guarding the crown jewels) and admired the door knockers and engraved boxes.

On to the main galleries. We passed through a security checkpoint where our tickets are scanned and we're told, "No photos, No touching, Don't cross the dark line." We were offered free audio tour devices, but declined them. We should have taken them.

Because in the Barnes there are NO LABELS, except for teeney little brass plates with the artist's last name affixed to the truly hideous frames. All well and good, but if you lean over the dark line to read the microscopic label, the security guards yell at you to GET BACK, YOU ARE OVER THE DARK LINE. Never mind that some paintings simply can't be seen without crossing the force field of security summons.
Dark Lines
The galleries are small and very crowded with both art and visitors. I was also a little creeped out by everyone walking around with headphones on - Children of the Corn on a Field Trip.

It was wonderful to see the paintings, and appreciate the unusual exhibition style, but I really didn't feel like I could take my time and relax. There were so many ways the museum could make its visitors feel welcome, but it's almost as if they deliberately chose to cultivate a manner of elitism just this side of hostility. Even the bathroom fixtures were non-intuitive, Euro-design that mocked my failed attempts to flush, wash and dry. So, if you don't mind being treated like a petty criminal with no class at all, by all means visit the Barnes and check out the Picassos. I'll be at the Art Museum on Free Sundays with the rest of the fun Philly crowd.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tears. Breath. Rage. Stone.

Tears. Breath. Rage. Stone.

The perfect image clutched in my hand
I coax it to paper,
and sob as it burrows deeper into my fist.
I resort to a squall of words.

My chest rises and falls, my heart pounds
The tattoo of a life still lived.

Salt. Wind. Flame. Bone.

My friend offered to hold my anger for me
Until I could take it up again.
A lifetime later and I still gasp with the wonder
and relief
of a burden shared.

Infant. Daughter. Mother. Crone.

I offer this pebble from a shaking hand,
Secret handshake, we know who we are.
Veins racing with memory, I offer this tiny thing
For you to drop from your aching hand and stand upon.

Sarah Gowan, 10/15/2015

Saturday, October 10, 2015

2003 Martin HD-28 for Sale

I'm selling my 2003 Martin HD-28. All original hardware, some light surface scratches and dings, but no cracks or warping. Includes a brand new LR Baggs Anthem SL Acoustic Pick-up and original (also slightly worn, but structurally sound) case.

Asking $2000 +shipping
contact Sarah Gowan

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Pope-a-Potties

I had to do a video drive-by of the Pope-a-Potties. They are stacked 4
deep along this row. Thankfully I work for a guy who thinks this is as
hilarious as I do...

The Pope-a-Potties - Sapsis Rigging, Inc.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

My Great-Uncle's Recollection of the 1915 Hurricane in Texas

This is the recollection of my great-uncle Goob Newton about the hurricane of 1915. He was born Jan 3, 1898 and was 17 when it happened. Cote Plummer refers to Catish H. Plummer, a tugboat captain who received a gold medal for rescuing people from the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. By 1915 he had gotten pretty good at surviving hurricanes and his son Carlyle was also on the scene. Here is how my uncle told the story to my grandmother in 1988 or so…

I was there at the big hurricane at Sabine Pass in August 1915.

It was business as usual at the Ross Parson home on this early morning in August 1915. Mrs. Nina cooking breakfast, Ross still sleeping. I was milking the cow, Friday the Mexican co-worker was feeding the 8 mules. About 5 o’clock a passenger train come racing by at full speed with bells ringing and whistle tied down. Ross came out of the house and said get on the saddle horse and go see what all the excitement was about. I got on the saddle mare and raced up town and asked Mr. Adams  what was the train there for. He said tell Ross to get his bunch and get on the train for Port Arthur as there was a storm that would hit in less than two hours that would be worse than the Galveston storm of 1900.

I went back and told the news to Ross.  He said you and Friday get on the saddle horse and mule and take the stock to Big Hill. I told Ross I was working for him, but not anymore as I didn’t know the way to Big Hill and beside those people up  town were scared to death and I was too. He told Friday to go ahead and go to Big Hill. The last we saw Friday he went west.

About daylight Captain Cote Plummer came up in a big car and told Ross to get his bunch and load in as the storm was near.  We drove to Adam’s store where we picked up 4 axes, 2 brooms, and a roll of rope. On we went to Sabine where Captain Cote lived and it was across the street from the new schoolhouse that had just been completed. As we walked upon the porch someone said look across the prairie and there was waves that looked to be 6 to 8 feet high. We ran in the house and Captain Cote told me and Ross to help him scuttle the house.  I went in one room and saw a fine rug on the floor.  By the time I went to ask what to do about the rug Captain Cote and Ross had all the rooms scuttled. I went back and chopped my hole and rug too. By this time the pressure was so great from the Gulf that it was knocking the paper from the ceiling. We immediately went upstairs as the house was two stories and built on stilts about 10 feet off the ground and said to be put together with bolts instead of nails.

We carried axe, nails, rope and broom, which came in handy later. By nightfall the water had reached the second floor level. We were all in one room upstairs and about 9 o’clock that night a big crashing noise cam in the house and Captain Cote said it probably was a floating house come against our house. As he raised a window and called out that sea yell and sure enough a man answered him from the roof top.

He tied the rope around the bedstead and rolled it out the window. He said, “Newton, you being the youngest, follow that rope and see if you can find the man.”  Out I went, Captain Cote giving that long loud scream, the man answering him. I was able to get to the man and give him my rope.  We both made it back to the house. Just as we got back, the glass front door blew out. Someone grabbed a mattress and slats. The men held it up to the door while Captain Coteput the nails into the slats to hold the mattress in place. It was said later that the wind velocity was better than 100 miles per hour.
By daylight we were standing in about one foot of water, so Captain Cote told us all to get ready, we had to swim to the school house which was about 200 yards. He said, “I’ll carry the Ross baby and Newton will carry my poodle dog.” I had never swam in anything but White Oak Creek.  Why, a one-inch wave looked like a tidal wave to me. All went well till I hit my first 6 foot wave. Me and the poodle dog liked to have drowned. By the time I got my breath I had lost the dog and was sure I would lose my life, but I began to gain confidence as I saw the rest going on. After so long I made the trip.

To my disappointment I found out that Captain Cote had located his poodle by his field glasses that he always carried on his shoulders. He said, “Boy, go get my dog.”  Off I went and after due time I came back with that poodle.

The two story building in the background is the schoolhouse.
The following day, which was Tuesday, a young man whose name was Johnson and I would go out of the schoolhouse and ride the horses and cattle to the fire escape and send them up into the auditorium. We had it full. By this time Captain Carlyle Plummer told us we had to put the cattle back out to sea as the floor was about to cave in and we all would drown. We immediately did it.  Captain Carlyle Plummer  was a son to Captain Cote Plummer and both were tugboat captains.  He had gone to the schoolhouse earlier along with about 140 other people.

Wednesday something happened that stayed with me these past 88 plus years. It made me a different person. A lady that I never saw before or afterwards came up to me and asked if I had anything to eat today. I told her I hadn’t had a bit  to eat since last Sunday. She went and got me a pork and bean sandwich and a glass of water. I inhaled that sandwich and that was all the food I had until the following Monday night when I got to Kirbyville.

Thursday Friday and Saturday was about the same, just twiddle your thumbs and watch the water recede. Sunday about noon Captain Cote said all that wanted to swim or wade to his tugboat he would try to get us to Port Arthur.  I couldn’t speak for the rest, but I was one quick volunteer. So the Parsons and myself along with many more got aboard. As we passed where Ross’ house stood, it was gone and a huge oil tanker was high and dry there. On to Port Arthur. We went only to find Procter Street knee-deep in water. We had to wade out to catch the Interurban (train) to Beaumont. To this day we don’t know who paid the fare as none of us had a red cent.

We arrived in Beaumont about 5 o’clock Sunday and registered at the Gowling Hotel. Ross said he would go to the bank Monday and get some money and pay me my wages. Monday morning Ross came by and gave me my monthly salary. That was the last time I ever saw the Parson family.

I checked out of the hotel, went across the street to [Bowser’s] Store and bought myself pants, shirt, socks, shoes – a complete set of clothing as I only had on a pair of short pants. Later that day I went to the Santa Fe Depot and caught the train to Kirbyville. After detouring to Kountze due to a washed out bridge, we got into Kirbyville at 9 o’clock that night.

Miss Woods, of whom I had lived with for the past three years, and said she had me some chicken and dumplings, my favorite dish. I went home with her and ate so much that they had to get the doctor to pump my stomach out. Remember I had nothing to eat the week before but a pork and bean sandwich. The next day I was O.K.

Thirty-six years later I took my wife Audie to show her the place I spent that horrible week.  I’ve never been back since. I like the high hill country of Newton County.

  --L.M. “Goob” Newton

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Software for Sarah - GoFundMe

Volunteering for community activities is incredibly rewarding and I love being able to donate my skills to my favorite groups. Occasionally, though, we have to ask those groups to support the volunteers, so that the burden of  expense is shared around. I'm in the nail-bitey position of asking for help with the purchase of some rather expensive software so I can continue doing some of the volunteer publishing work I've been doing. It's scary asking for help, but I clearly belong to a generous and giving community because I raised almost a quarter of what I need in just one day. 

Here is my first highlighted project:

Tuneadelphia! was one of my favorite editing, layout and design  projects. I compiled original tunes, illustrations and stories by  members of our open band SPUDs as a fundraiser for the group. I was also able to make T-Shirts featuring the cover illustration that were as popular than the book itself. We cleared over $1500 that went directly to supporting workshops and resources for our local musicians. Having  access to great software made this project manageable and fun.

Software for Sarah by Sarah Gowan - GoFundMe

Monday, December 15, 2014

Magic In the Dance Hall

This is the preface to the tune collection I compiled and edited in 2008 called Tuneadelphia. This week our Philadelphia area open band SPUDS will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. I've played with the band for 15 years and look forward to many more! Tuneadelphia is now out of print, but can be purchased as a PDF file here.  All proceeds benefit SPUDS and the development of traditional musicians in the Philadelphia dance community.

From the moment I first stepped into the dance hall I was enchanted. I loved the music and was delighted to find the dancing came easily to me. It quickly became apparent, though, that this wasn’t simply a fun way to pass an evening. I felt something inside had changed and knew that this place and experience would alter who I was and how I saw the world.

I’m not especially surprised to find that very often people talk about their first encounter with traditional music and dance as being magical. Magic, for me, is simply another way to describe transformation. In fairy tales the toad becomes a prince, and in a staged show the magician’s assistant is transported from a box to a tiger cage. Maybe the first passes the limitations of what we’re willing to believe. The second is an illusion where we could figure out the trick given enough time and the proper perspective. But spend enough time in a dance hall and witness how it transforms the folks who frequent it, and you can’t help but become a believer in real magic.

 Over the course of an evening, work-weary dancers discover a lightness and enthusiasm they didn’t know they possessed. New dancers arrive clumsy and confused and we see that gradually their bodies take on grace and confidence. The news on the car radio on the drive to the hall may have been the worst ever, and yet musicians never fail to pull joy and energy from their instruments. The callers shape the evening; cajoling, encouraging, singing us into moving and playing as one. Well, dang, if that ain’t magic, I don’t know what is.

For many musicians the open band is at the heart of their transformation within the traditional music and dance community. Many of us had our first experiences playing for dances in our community band, SPUDS. We were welcomed by experienced musicians and honed our developing musical skills in a safe and fun environment. Just as dancers are drawn onto the dance floor by the more experienced dancers, musicians often find their new musical home through the open bands.

They are encouraged by another musician to give playing a try and, once there, find themselves under the spell of the dance. Just like the clumsy dancer who learns to move with ease, the new musician often stumbles a bit in learning the skills needed for playing for dancers. The open band becomes a safety net with more experienced musicians acting as both guides and steadying framework. Some folks play quite happily in the open band for years, others branch out with their own, smaller, bands or other projects. The open band becomes a springboard for learning new styles of music, trying new instruments or, as is evidenced by this book, musical composition.

And as incredible as a good evening at the dance can be, I believe the greater magic comes in what we take away from the hall and carry into the rest of the world. Every evening spent in learning to dance and play together in the dance hall can empower us to move through the rest of our lives with more grace, confidence and light. Just as we learn to communicate with one another through music and dance, we can better learn how to connect creatively in all parts of our lives. I’ve watched shy, even awkward, bandmates blossom into active community members who encourage other new musicians. Folks who never thought they could write music, are suddenly turning out tunes. I am constantly in awe of just how much creativity one group can generate. What sends me right over the top is imagining how many other dances like ours exist in the world. And not just dances, but think of all the jams, community theaters, scout troops, jazz clubs, poetry readings, 4H mClubs, art galleries and any place where people gather to share in creative connection. And every time humans connect creatively, there is a moment where they are transformed for the better. Wonderful, everyday, anyone-can-do-it magic.

All of the contributors to this book have played at some point in time with SPUDS, the Philadelphia area contra dance open band. While there’s no doubt in my mind that much of this material represents the “best of the best”, more importantly it is a picture of the best of who we are right now. The artistic snapshot may look different in ten or twenty or a hundred years, but these are the stories, drawings and tunes that represent our collective creativity in this moment. As long as we continue to come together to experience the transformative power of music, dance, art and poetry, then we can believe in magic.

This book is dedicated to the magicians of the dance hall – all of you.
Sarah Gowan
January 2008

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Today I give thanks for silhouettes.
Black lace against a sunset,
Cat in the snow-framed window,
Unapologetic and still.

Today I thank my scars.
Silver skin stretch marks mapping my journey,
The gold seam in a broken vase,
Tree bark and creases in the toes of my shoes.

Today I am thankful for murmurs,
Whispered wishes and exaltations and
The skip, skip, skipping heartbeat
Singing love, loving, love.

Sarah Gowan
Thanksgiving 2014

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Tangle Faeries - Releasing an Idea to the Wild

Back in 1997 I wrote a poem with my 3 year old in mind. I shared it with my family and a couple of friends and then put it away with the thought that I might do something with it some day. Maybe a children's book or a song, I wasn't sure, but I knew I wasn't finished with it. Several years later I discovered that a guy in Atlanta had written a children's book using my idea, though not my words. Recently another person made a blog post claiming her precocious 3 year old came up with the story.

My first reaction was "How dare they steal my idea! What do I do about this!?" I knew that a lawsuit would be a waste of time and just felt too ugly to think about. I know full well how ideas get disseminated and if I really wanted to keep the idea for myself, I should have kept it to myself. (In this case I shared it with a touring musician who talked about it on one of his tours.)  I don't think anyone plagiarized my work, I think they heard the concept and had to make something with it probably forgetting the source completely. But my ego is hollering for credit and, to be perfectly honest, I like my poem best. So my blessings on the creative minds that took the concept their own way, and here is Tangle Faeries as I wrote it on February 6, 1997.

The Tangle Faeries

"Sleep", says Mama, "Sweet dreams, sleep tight,
It's sleepytime, so say goodnight."
She whispers softly, singing low,
A lullaby most soft and slow,
Singing to the darkening air,
Of faeries dancing in your hair.

Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
Faeries spin and dance and leap
Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
With dreams a-billow, to your pillow
Weave night-magic while you sleep.

Flute and bell, drum and chime,
Dancing wildly arms entwined,
With moonlight and a twisty rhyme
They spin a spiral dream sublime
Turning round the slip of time,
A feather touch. Winds. Unwinds.

Some be frightful, some be wise,
Dreams of laughter and surprise,
Some flit away with day's first rise,
Morning stretch and open eyes.
Some stay a lifetime, dreamtime treasure,
Nighttime gifts of light and pleasure
Bell and flute, chime and drum,
Something magic this way comes!

Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
Faeries spin and whirl and leap,
Jingle jangle, tingle tangle,
With dreams a-billow, to your pillow,
Weave night magic while you sleep.

"Good morning," says Mama, "Rise and shine,
The day's begun, it's wake-up time,"
Calling to the brightening air
A sparkling song, as with care,
She combs and brushes and laughs, "See there!
The Tangle Faeries danced in your hair!"

Sarah Gowan
Feb. 26, 1997