First Place, Award for Excellence in Personal Essay
2017 American Jewish Press Association
37th Annual Simon Rockower Awards
New Mexico Jewish Link
President-elect Trump has selected a group of people around him at the White House who are determined to dismantle health, education and welfare, economic and environmental controls, to boost security spending in this country, and to focus attention on fighting enemies. This will be tantamount to an orchestrated-by-government massive agent provocateur effort, that is designed to create maximal social unrest, and which will then require a military crackdown. All the pieces are being put in place for such a scenario.
I am reminded of how Hitler came to power in 1933. Today most don’t know how it happened – On February 27, 1933, less than one month after Hitler was named Chancellor of Germany, the Reichstag (German Parliament) was set on fire.No one knows who really set the fire. The Communists were blamed immediately and 4,000 of their leaders were arrested overnight.
Hitler authorized President Hindenburg to sign emergency legislation which suspended basic civil rights and authorized arbitrary arrest, imprisonment and death. Less than a week later, for the upcoming general elections of March 5, 1933, the Nazis used their claim of Communists having set fire to the Reichstag as a propaganda ploy not only against the Communists, but against all left forces. One of their election posters called upon the general population to “smash the Communists” and to “crush the Social Democrats.”
Always good to know a little history.
-Written on December 2, 2016, 3 weeks after the November 9 electoral college election of Donald Trump as POTUS.
Story and photos by Diane Joy Schmidt
Winner, Personal Columns, Society Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies, 2017 2nd place.
The forces of light and darkness are fighting for control of the soul of Donald Trump. Suddenly overnight, Trump seems to have turned into a beacon of light to Jews, after getting Egypt to withdraw their UN resolution on Thursday, after his condemnation of the U.S. abstention Friday, and the very pro-Israel policies that he is signaling. It is as if the scales have fallen from our eyes and the seeming enormous dark shadowy monster has turned out to be a normal person after all. But I believe that the dramatically oversimplified, heavy-handed approach we have to expect Trump will favor will not, in the long run, serve Israel. So, I returned to reading the very critical words I wrote earlier this month, if only to remind myself that while he may do things now and then that are redemptive, most of what he has set in motion is not. I believe we must actively pray for his very mercurial soul to seek the light, as we increase the light for the next eight days of Hanukkah. No, we don’t want it darker.
The first shall be last – One for the money.
At 27, I was a young photojournalist on my first foreign assignment, covering the civil war in El Salvador. It was 1981. I had joined the ABC-TV crew, and we learned there had been a massacre of a family in San Jose Primero, a mountain village. After a tortuous sharp climb on dirt packed roads that cut through narrow passes we encountered a man in a straw hat carrying a machete who waved to us to follow him. He was a relative of the family that had been killed during the night. He took us to the hut and acted out how the men had come shooting through the door, kicking it open and finishing off everyone inside. There were fresh bullet holes in the door of the adobe hut and pools of blood still coagulated on the floor inside and outside in the dirt.
The man was tall, and very thin and bony, and as his hand arched into the air and pointed into the hut it seemed to take on a separate existence, horrified itself by the words of his retelling. As he talked, a man dressed in city clothes, wearing black sunglasses and a watch, sauntered up and stood watching with his arms crossed, the local paramilitary informer. With the TV camera trained on him and this other man watching, the campesino told us it must have been leftist guerrillas who had done the shooting. Two of those killed had been little girls, aged five and seven. He told us there was one survivor, his brother, who lay dying in the charity hospital in San Salvador.
We hurried back to the capital to the hospital, and found the dying man, who said that it was not leftist guerrillas, that it was the soldiers from the local cuartel who had come in the middle of the night.
Later I was having dinner in the palace with Carlos, press attaché to the president appointed to head the military junta. I said, “The only person I believe is a man who is dying.”
He smiled. “You are learning, gringita.”
This and other experiences like it shaped my approach to journalism; to drill down, to find out the truth behind what may be politically expedient or distorted. I believe most journalists are driven by a passion for and dedication to finding out the truth.
Most of the newspapers in the U.S. did not endorse Trump for president. This had little influence. Belatedly, we have come to realize, people are no longer getting their news from reading newspapers. Instead, they get the news now from what their friends share on social media, and that much of that will continue to be completely fake news. Opinions are formed and swayed by taunts and slogans and simplistic promises.
The first shall be last – Two for the show.
Leonard Cohen, the great poet-bard, grandson of an orthodox rabbi, wrote his greatest album “You Want It Darker” at age 82 while dying of cancer. The album was released on his birthday, October 21 and then he passed away, the result of a fall, sometime during the night of November 7th, making his exit like a staged pratfall just a quick step ahead of the triumph of Trump, Election Day, Nov. 8th. The title song is his parting gift to us, and lays bare what we are facing today in the way that only truly great poetry can.
The wisdom of his years only added strength and clarity and sharpness to his lyrics. In an interview shortly before he died, he said that when he writes, “that if I write enough verses, and keep discarding the slogans, even the hip ones, even the subtle ones, that something will emerge that represents.” (represents, I took to mean, a higher spiritual reality.)
When I first heard “You Want It Darker” in late October, the central stanza in the lyrics spoke directly to me, about the crowds of people who were flocking to the Trump rallies and who were unashamedly kicking and beating anti-Trump protestors.
“They’re lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn’t know I had permission to murder and to maim
You want it darker”
People don’t want to believe that Trump is going to do what he promised he would, but every day that goes by, every cabinet pick, every tweet, shows that he will.
Next Cohen intones, “Hineni, hineni, I’m ready, my lord.” It sounds as much like a dirge as a profession of faith and willingness to do what God asks of us. Hineni, “Here I am” is the Hebrew word in the Bible that Abraham, and then later Moses, spoke to God, an offer of willingness to serve even to sacrifice.
Then the second stanza repeats:
“Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame”
The song ends with a repetition of the word Hineni, sung with a holy quaver by the cantor of the synagogue in Montreal where Cohen grew up and was bar mitzvahed. Hearing it following Cohen’s words, my mind suddenly coalesced and understood the eternal sacrifices, the anguish of the sublime, made by the Jewish people over the centuries to seek the light.
The first shall be last – three to get ready.
The ferocious bombing by Russia that targeted all the hospitals of Aleppo came green-lighted by Trump’s election. I was reminded of how a month after Reagan was elected in 1980, and just after his advance team made a visit to El Salvador, on December 4th, four American churchwomen were kidnapped, raped and murdered by six National Guardsmen.
George Orwell wrote an essay in 1944 called “What is Fascism?” He noted a survey that found that most people really didn’t know what Fascism was. He said, “It is usually assumed, for instance, that Fascism is inherently warlike, that it thrives in an atmosphere of war hysteria and can only solve its economic problems by means of war preparation or foreign conquests.” He concluded by saying that a fascist regime may take different forms, but that in all cases, it is not a democracy, and a fascist is always a bully.
War hysteria was certainly true during Hitler’s rise to power during a worldwide depression caused by the U.S. stock market collapse of 1929. In 1931 in Germany, people were starving, there were no jobs, and it took a barrel of paper money to buy a loaf of bread. It took that precarious of an economic climate, and the burning of the Reichstag, conveniently pinned on the Communists, to open the way for the house painter, Hitler, to become supreme chancellor.
Today it seems we only need the barest of excuses, any potential threat to America, to rally the troops, to point out an ‘other,’ a foreigner, an enemy. Trump’s pick for national security advisor, Lt. General Michael Flynn, said in a speech in August at a synagogue in Massachusetts, “We are facing another ‘ism,’ just like we faced Nazism, and fascism, and imperialism and communism. This is Islamism, it is a vicious cancer inside the body of 1.7 billion people on this planet and it has to be excised.” How lovely, he’s found the perfect disease that keeps on giving, a war without end.
The first shall be last – four to go.
In Orwell’s best-known book “1984,” any vestige of history, any newspaper clipping that contradicted the official party line, was incinerated. Today, the ephemeral, glittery world of social media, particularly FaceBook, has become a hive mind fed by endless and malleable propaganda that can influence real events. Not exactly the noosphere that Teilhard de Chardin posited as the next step up of human evolution.
America is not in a Great Depression – not yet anyway, and hardly in the dire straits of Germany, 1931. Yet, to convince people today to throw over democratic ideals, we’ve only needed a pervasive sense of having been lied to, an awareness that things aren’t getting better for Main Street while Wall Street is scooping up billions, and a vague uneasiness that the digital age is leaving most white collar workers behind, (while new jobs for blue collar workers require retraining, and service workers barely survive on minimum wages). Throw in the promise of a few prizes in the crackerjack box. Yet, everything is moving so much faster.
What concerns me now is that as events unfold here and reverberate around the world in the coming months, our electorate will not understand them; that having put their faith in this new president-elect they will not be able to see why the economy does not become ‘great again,’ except to blame others. They will not have the opportunity to learn the truth from the lips of a man who is dying.
Trump, the Religious By Diane Joy Schmidt
Events are moving so quickly. We all want understand what happened on November 8th when Donald Trump won the election, what to make of what is happening right now with his top staff and cabinet picks, and what is going to happen.
How concerned should we be about the future and what can happen here? Suddenly no worry seems too far-fetched. I jokingly commented to my like-minded pals on Facebook last week “Well, at least we’ll get to say ‘I told you so.’” “No, but the surviving cockroaches will,” replied my friend Eugene Finerman.
Arguments among my friends about who elected Trump revolve around these issues: it was the less educated, or the unemployed, or the white folks because they wanted a white male president who promised them jobs.
Instead, I think Michael Leeden, a very conservative writer close to Trump’s inner circle, got it right, way back in May, when he wrote that Trump would win because he is a “religious leader,” who is charismatic and appeals to the irrational. The cult of personality. But, let’s step back to examine this process.
The Pew Research Center came out with a cogent analysis the day after the election, “How the faithful voted: A preliminary 2016 analysis.” A significant voting block that Pew analysts have followed since 2004, that they call “White, born-again/evangelical Christians,” and that have for the last three elections constituted 26% of the American electorate, voted overwhelmingly for Trump. He received 81% of their vote, 3% more even than Romney did in 2012.
Why did this particular block of white voters chose Trump over Clinton?
Race – Although many assume that this group votes only by racial preference, and certainly people of color that I have spoken to hold to this view, in 2008 24%, and in 2012 21% of these white, born-again/evangelical Christians, voted for Obama, a black man. In 2016, Hillary Clinton got even less of their vote, 16%.
Some remorseful Democrats say this group voted for Trump because Clinton didn’t bother to go after their vote the way Obama had. Others argue that Trump won over the clergy because he promised he would revoke the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other non-profits with the 501c3 designation from endorsing or opposing political candidates. And then of course there was his pick for running-mate, Governor Mike Pence.
Jobs Donald Trump told them whatever they wanted to hear, and they believed him. Leeden states: “The crowd wants him, not necessarily his platform.” So, those for whom jobs and economic opportunity are most important voted for him because he said that he was for the little guy, and the little guy would rather identify himself with a winner. And what symbolizes success in America? A successful, rich, blond, white man, with a trophy wife on his arm.
Behind the other door: Belief. Nonetheless for the group that brought Trump to power, the over-arching issue is not faith but belief—a very different issue.
There was another interesting statistic from the Pew report that applied to all voters: the more often people attended worship services (of whatever faith, and with disparately prioritized values), the more likely they were to vote for Trump.
Beliefs, by definition, do not require facts. Beliefs are triggered by signs and symbols. Signs and symbols come from, reach and activate the psyche, and if they correspond to a need in the core of the person, there is an automatic response. When these messages include constant repetitive falsehoods, the recipient, by willingly suspending disbelief, is made easier to manipulate. This is not about belief in God, but belief in general, which can be put at the service of an ideology, or a strong leader. This is the cult of personality.
It may also be that belief, as opposed to faith, literally comes from an older, fight-or-flight part of our makeup, which is felt in the gut. Faith can be a more intellectual experience – still experiential, but tied to mental activity. Faith also may involve intuition – which may be felt in the heart rather than the gut. The ancients believed wisdom was in the heart.
Trump, “religious leader”
I pondered why this group voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Why were born-again Christians so willing to suspend disbelief and support Trump, despite the fact that he has shown himself to be the most patently false pretender to Christian values in the most outlandish ways possible?
After Trump won the Republican primary, a variety of commentators wrote that the Republicans had brought Trump on themselves. Some contended it was by waging a corporate-financed campaign against bleeding-heart liberals, going back practically since the New Deal. Certainly, said more, it was through the agency of Rush Limbaugh, who has been hammering an ever-growing swath of listeners since the early 1980s with paranoid ideas, and who has softened and cultivated a fertile ground for just such a leader.
But how exactly does it happen, what is the mechanism, the active ingredient? I found answers in two opposing corners for an as yet unarticulated intuition that was forming. First, I talked with a clinical psychologist who teaches in psychiatry departments in the US and Europe, and who has lectured on anxiety disorders. He cited a cognitive-behavioral theory that when emotions are inappropriate, that when danger is misperceived or exaggerated, the problem lies in “cognitive schemata where reality is continually interpreted as dangerous.” (Anxiety and Its Disorders, David H. Barlow, p. 53)
This build-up of anxiety and unease, that Limbaugh and others have stoked in his followers for so long, reflexively found in Trump a vessel to pour their emotional angst in to, in an almost uncontrollable spasm, an actual instinctual fear-based survival mechanism.
Another answer came unexpectedly out of right-field, from Michael Leeden at the powerful conservative think-tank, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, founded after 9/11. Leeden just co-authored a book, released this summer, The Field of Fight: How to Win the War against Radical Islam and its Allies, with Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s pick to be his national security advisor at the White House, a position that does not require congressional approval. General Flynn’s principal message is that we must fear, and fight, radical Islam, everywhere, and that it’s a cancer inside Muslims.
Leeden wrote a blog for the foundation back on May 10, 2016, entitled “Trump’s Secret? Religion,” about Trump’s charisma. He explained that Trump’s followers are entranced by him. Leeden openly describes this process which is an astonishingly bald hypocrisy for one in Trump’s inner circle.
Leeden writes, “I used to lecture about political crowds, from the fascists to contemporary Western leaders,” and he described the many different temperaments of crowds, for Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, and then on to Roosevelt, and the Kennedys. He’d also intently studied the leadership of an Italian war-hero of WWI, Gabriele D’Annunzio, whom Leeden considers the first true Italian fascist.
Leeden has dismissively rejected the idea that Trump is a fascist, but his objections to the descriptor seem largely a matter of historical asymmetries, not what new forms fascism might take under the forthcoming Trump presidency.
In his blog on May 10th, he wrote: “D’Annunzio’s exchanges with the crowd were clearly based on Catholic rituals, reminding us that political ritual owes a lot to religion. That remains true today. I think Rush (Limbaugh) is right when he tells his listeners that Trump’s popularity has little to do with political issues. Yes, immigration is an important theme, but the main thing about Trump is himself. He excites a lot of people, there’s a sort of magic at work at his rallies, and his followers are wild about him. He’s the only candidate who is really charismatic […]
“Trump’s incoherence on issue after issue matters less than it would for the others. His crowd wants him, not necessarily his platform. They want the anti-pol [ . . . ] Although I’m talking about an intensely emotional and in many ways irrational phenomenon, it is driven by real and very rational contempt for the current ruling class.
“Yes it’s funny that a man who doesn’t much care about religion is in large part a religious leader, but it’s quite a common historical phenomenon. And sometimes such leaders are triumphant.”
A few weeks ago, I received a newsletter from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Inside was a quote from the late Congressman Tom Lantos. He said: “We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians and we can never rest.” His legacy is now ours.
SWASTIKA GRAFFITI ON UNM CAMPUS: How headlines got it wrong, and why it matters. Story by Diane Joy Schmidt
ALBUQUERQUE —What happened, what really happened.
Sometime late in the night after the election, graffiti artists expressed their pleasure with Trump’s win by spraying graffiti with the words Sieg Heil (Hail, Victory!) and Trump and a swastika on a storefront in Philadelphia. Very similar graffiti appeared on the campus of the University of New Mexico. A student on his way to Zimmerman Library captured a photo of the graffiti at 7:01 a.m., before the university grounds crew had a chance to cover it. Curtison Badonie posted his single photo on Facebook and other social media. Spray-painted in purple paint in large block letters across a bare expanse of a sculpture called The Center of the Universe was SIEG HEIL, then a drawn Swastika symbol, and then TRUMP.
The Albuquerque Journal quickly came out with the story online that morning, Nov. 9, at 9:27. Their headline read “Vandals deface UNM buildings, artwork with anti-Trump graffiti,” with two photos provided by UNM, and the following morning, Nov. 10, in the print edition, ran the same headline and story with the main photo, which was almost identical to Badonie’s, shown here. The story reported that a number of buildings and public artwork had been tagged “with messages comparing President-elect Donald Trump to Nazis. A student reported the lilac-colored graffiti to UNM early Wednesday morning, said Dianne Anderson, a university spokeswoman. Someone defaced a popular piece of artwork, a sculpture called the Center of the Universe, with the words, “Sieg Heil Trump” and a swastika symbol. In another case, a vandal wrote, “I (heart image) fascism” with the word “Trump” superimposed over the heart.”
The reporter, Chris Quintana, did not say anywhere in the body of the story whether this was pro- or anti- Trump graffiti. However, there was an ambiguity left in the story, which the reporter did not explain, given the only two images presented, and the headline certainly was not.
The Associated Press very quickly picked up the Journal story, adding an even more perplexing headline, “Anti-semitic, Anti-Trump graffiti found on UNM sculpture,” and mis-spoke by erroneously reporting that “University of New Mexico officials say an unknown person has defaced several buildings on campus with anti-Donald Trump graffiti.” The AP story was picked up by thousands of news outlets and later on social media.
I reached out to Badonie on Friday, and asked what he thought about the newspaper coverage. “I don’t know if it’s anti- or pro- Trump but seeing that just worried me and [for] our society. Especially, for us people of color & queer people of color.” Badonie, an undergraduate student majoring in communications & journalism, is Diné (Navajo) from Chinle, Arizona.
On that first day after the election, and the next, and continuing into the following week, there was a great deal of confusion and anxiety among Hillel students and Jewish community leaders over the graffiti and the lack of clarity in the reporting.
The UNM campus has seen repeated efforts to pass Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions resolutions by the Students for Justice in Palestine group on campus that were fought off successfully, to date, by a tiny group of Hillel students.
Hispanic students on campus were very anxious,with many who are dreamers, here with uncertain citizenship status, and so were Muslim students. UNM President Robert Frank issued a statement Wednesday condemning the graffiti.
The Anti-Defamation League regional director here, Suki Halevi, immediately made inquiries to the university but was only able to ascertain that the matter was under investigation. She issued a statement Thursday condemning the Nazi words and symbolism and wrote that “Regardless of who the messengers are, the use of these hateful words and symbols is offensive and alarming, especially to the Jewish community.”
Later that week, a freshman student reported that a classmate wearing a Trump shirt had attempted to pull off her hijab in Zimmerman Library on Election Day and students marched across campus to the president’s office demanding a safer campus.
I emailed UNM’s Director of Media Relations Dianne Anderson, the well-known former TV news anchor here who has now been at UNM for almost five years, to clarify whether or not her office had said the graffiti was anti-Trump. I noted that reporters are usually not the ones who write the headlines.
Anderson had never characterized the graffiti as pro- or anti- Trump. She sent me a copy of a brief email she had sent out to media that Wednesday morning, in which she called the graffiti “Nazi signs and Trump references.”
She included a list of facts sent to her by a member of her maintenance crew she had sent out in a second email, which read: “We have approximately a dozen tags. Same person, same color of paint, multiple locations. Located on buildings, artwork and sidewalks. All political address at President Elect Trump. Nazi and fascist are the primary reference [. . .]”
Both emails made clear that neither she nor the grounds crew ever said the graffiti was anti-Trump. Anderson added in her email, “I don’t believe the Journal’s story ever uses the reference “anti-Trump”. It is exclusively in the headline, which as a reporter you know, is not usually written by the reporter, but by a headline writer. I did not speak to the Associated Press about this issue.”
Then, unexpectedly, she wrote to me on Nov. 14, “I have been told that other tags in the graffiti from last week included profanity such as F___ Trump.”
Three days later, I sat down with Anderson at her office in the president’s suite and with Willie West, associate director of Environmental Services. West showed me one photo of more graffiti from that night that had not been released. It had been written on a building near the art sculpture and with the same color spray paint. “F___ ME, TRUMP” was written in a cartoon balloon over a four-legged creature about to be mounted from behind by a Trump figure with a small penis.
West, who has been with UNM for 14 years, was of the opinion that both the Sieg Heil graffiti and this one were both done by the same person. He said that was based on his years of experience with graffiti on campus, that they were both done in purple spray paint, that they were on adjacent buildings, and, in his estimation, in the same handwriting. “And to give you more bearings,” said West pointing, “this is on this building here, so it’s boom, kaboom, kaboom.”
“They’re all very close in proximity,” added Anderson.
I asked West if he recognized the tagger. He said, “It doesn’t look familiar. I don’t recognize the style. You get used to the people.”
Finally, I said, “So, we don’t know what’s in the mind of this person.”
“No, replied West, “but we would like to catch him so we can charge him.”
We compared the two photos side-by-side on Anderson’s computer screen. West said that the F___ Trump and other graffiti had been done after the Sieg Heil Trump graffiti, because he said you could see where the paint had begun to run and the spray can was running out of paint. He said there was also F___ Trump graffiti on the sidewalk that they had also had to cover over, some in purple and then one that was done in yellow. He said the only one with a swastika was the one published.
Was it a supporter or a detractor? Several possible explanations.
It would seem that there are several possible explanations. To the reader must fall the test of Occam’s razor, that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.
After looking at the images, the first possibility is that the tagger was really pro-Trump, and was in sync with other pro-Trump Nazi taggers such as the one in Philadelphia, and had taken this opportunity to celebrate this victory, and then, to cover his tracks, to disguise true intentions, had added the anti-Trump graffiti.
One student had asked on social media: “Was it a supporter or a detractor?” Another responded, “That’s the beauty of Fascism. It keeps you guessing.”
The second possibility is that the tagger really was anti-Trump and wanted to make Trump look bad by making an elaborate and perhaps seemingly ironic, prominent pro-Trump Nazi salute to Trump, and then followed it up with a bunch of anti-Trump graffiti.
One student re-posted the erroneous and misleading AP story (headlined “Anti-Semitic, Anti-Trump graffiti”) to ‘prove’ that the Nazi graffiti really was done by an anti-Trump tagger, and added the (widely circulated but false news) claim that it was known that anti-Trump supporters were being paid to make Trump look bad.
There was, nevertheless, absolutely no evidence to say for certain what was in the mind of the tagger. However, the visual effect of the local newspaper account, by printing a headline with the words “anti-Trump graffiti,” directly above the photo of the graffiti with the swastika and the words Sieg Heil Trump, suggested that the tagger was somehow an anti-Trump agent provocateur, and the subsequent AP story followed their lead with their headline “Anti-Semitic, Anti-Trump graffiti on UNM campus,” and compounded this and added other errors. This legerdemain created unnecessary anguish, uncertainty and confusion for students.
The Russian chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, now writer and political activist, after hearing that NBC had finally reported that Putin had directed the hacking attacks on the American election, (something everyone in Russia had already figured out), tweeted on December 14, “The point of modern propaganda isn’t only to misinform or push an agenda. It is to exhaust your critical thinking, to annihilate truth.”
In retrospect, since the graffiti markings taken as a whole could have been done by either a pro- or anti-Trump person, one could consider it an unintentional political statement, an albeit unlikely ironic conceptual/performance art piece that shows the ugliness of hate at either extreme.
We stand on the cusp of a very different political reality. Perhaps one of the most important lessons to learn in the aftermath of this election is that careful investigation and critical analysis is crucial. We must avoid Orwellian doublespeak. What we call things, and how we name them really matters – now more than ever.
Four AS NEW copies signed by both authors, (similar shown below) opened only for signatures by Michele Fitzsimmons and Diane Joy Schmidt, are available for purchase by libraries and museums. Additionally there are five AS NEW unopened copies available, in original cellophane, completely unopened. Additional fine copies, signed. Inquire. Rare hardcover book with dustcover, limited edition, there were only 2,500 copies printed in heliogravure in Alsace Lorraine, Nancy, France by Melrose Publishing, 1985 under the direction of publisher Jeff Dunas. An additional limited edition of 1,500 was printed in soft cover by Braus, Germany.
Michele passed away December 17, 2015. The image “Looking Down on the Wrigley” was chosen to be included in “100 Classic Chicago Photos” City Files Press/Chicago, 2017, a very exclusive set of photographs of Chicago taken by its top art photographers.
Prints available for exhitibion and sale. Prints were made by photographer Diane Schmidt c. 1985 and earlier. Vintage selenium toned on Portriga Rapid Agfa Geveart paper, Vintage prints of some or all images in 7×10, 11×14 and some 16×20, some signed on front by both Michele and Diane, all with photographer’s mark on back, printed by the photographer prior to book publication in 1985. Prints are very limited edition, never made more than a few of each. Inquire to Diane Joy Schmidt, print list. (see Contact form).
A complete portfolio of the 56 images in the book in 16×20 prints is in the collection of the Chicago History Museum, purchase gift of Miriam Schmidt with documentation of value. For the 16×20 prints, only 3 numbered complete sets were made, some extra proof prints remain, and one image, The Drake Hotel Lobby, was also printed in a special edition included in the portfolio, “NAKED.”
The photos have been exhibited internationally. Copies of the book are in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Center for Creative Photography, The Museum of Contemporary Art, and other museums. Articles appeared in Japan, France PHOTO, American Photographer, Popular Photography, and tv and radio appearances, and included in the book “Das Akfoto.” First exhibited Paul Waggoner Gallery, 1981. The project was done at over 60 locations over six years, 1979-1984.
At least one roll of 36 exposures of film shot at most locations, taking up to an hour, Tri-X and later some Pan-X. Later some 35mm color slides shot in Kodachrome. Concept, modeling and text by Michele Fitzsimmons, Photography by Diane Schmidt. Top Ten best seller list, Chicago Tribune, 1985.
Once upon a time there was a rock squirrel named Jacqueline that lived in the desert and was very happy. Jacqueline collected seeds and mesquite beans and cactus fruit and before the winter came she stored Pinon nuts. She was always busy foraging and on the lookout for food. Her senses were sharp, and she jumped and skittered over the rocks all day. Still, there were times when she would go without eating for a day or two. Then, when she came upon a late blooming cactus, she would gorge on the fruit. She drank from the clear stream in the mornings. The regularity of the seasons provided for all her needs.
Then one morning she saw something glinting on the trail ahead of her. It was a collection of unusually tasty seeds inside a strange-looking contraption. She tiptoed very quietly inside to taste the seeds when suddenly the trap door shut. She had been captured by Nora, a young research scientist on her first field assignment. Nora brought her back to the trailer where her lab was set up. Nora was very gentle with Jacqueline and did her best to make her feel comfortable. She taught her to go through a maze to find her kibble and treats, and carefully fed her with great regularity twice a day on what she thought was a balanced diet. Nora gave her lots of computer games to play to keep her mind active, and she had a wheel for exercise.
Jacqueline’s rough fur became glossy and she filled out. But then Jacqueline kept filling out, and getting bigger and bigger. She was not used to eating regularly and staying inside in a box. Also, the food was too salty and very low protein. She grew and grew until she couldn’t fit on her wheel anymore and then she didn’t exercise. She just sat in her corner playing the computer games. Nora thought Jacqueline was one really smart squirrel.
But then one day Nora checked on her and was surprised to find that Jacqueline, the sturdy little rock squirrel, now had really high blood pressure. She also was exhibiting symptoms of diabetes, including fatigue, constant urination, and constant hunger. Then came a day when she noticed that Jacqueline had stopped even playing her computer games and was just watching soap operas. Soon she was having a hard time even following the maze to her kibble and was crying and angry about it because she was so hungry, and even bit Nora.
Nora realized that Jacqueline’s high blood pressure was causing inflammation in her brain, that she was developing vascular dementia.
Nora felt very bad. She said, “If I had known better, I would never have allowed this to happen to you.”
Nora learned there was a neurologist in Albuquerque who for many years has been studying hypertensive rats and has found a drug that stops the inflammation. She was very glad that he has developed a drug to stop the progression of dementia in hypertensive rats and would be able to help her squirrel. And, Nora was very relieved to learn that this was not just a fairy tale, and that in time, there might also be drugs that could help people too.
Gary Rosenberg, MD, is one of the leading researchers in vascular dementia. With his primary research focused on hypertension as a cause of dementia, Dr. Rosenberg says that treating hypertension early on is very important. His research has also focused on early identification of different types of dementia.
Rosenberg, former chair of the neurology department at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, at the request of UNM Chancellor for Health Sciences Paul Roth, MD, is now heading up the new UNM Memory and Aging Center. The center will work to serve the growing population, currently estimated to be 43,000, of people in New Mexico who have some form of dementia. The center has Dr. Rosenberg, Dr. Janice Knoepfel, who is an expert on Alzheimer’s disease, and Dr. John Adair, trained in behavioral neurology, to see patients.
Rosenberg is also looking in New Mexico for those people—referred by their doctors—who might be good candidates for his continuing research, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where they will receive free MRIs and other tests and possibly be enrolled future drug trials.
And that is good news for Jacqueline the squirrel – and for people too.
The natural foods that we gather on Sukkot may serve to remind us that our diets have changed radically in a very short time over the last century and that we are wise to be eating more unprocessed foods.
A special nod also to ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, author of “The Desert Smells Like Rain,” and to historian and Franciscan friar Kiernan F. McCarthy, for their dedicated work with the Tohono O’odham, Native Americans who reside in the Sonoran Desert near Tucson, Arizona and who suffer some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world since adopting Western foods and discontinuing their practices of food gathering in the desert.
“A Story for a happier ending,” was first published in the Gallup Independent Oct. 15, 2016, and is based on an article Diane Joy Schmidt wrote for the Fall 2016 New Mexico Jewish Link, “Studies in Dementia Q&A with Dr. Gary Rosenberg,” with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Retirement Research Foundation.
Story and illustration by Diane Joy Schmidt. Winner, Personal Columns (3), Society Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies, 2nd Place, 2017 and Single Poem, NM Press Women, 2nd place, 2017.
The first time I realized that I wasn’t giving myself permission to be here I was 12. I read a line in a poem and practically burst into tears of relief: “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.” It’s from “Desiderata,” a prose poem written by Max Ehrmann in 1927.
It also feels a little bit like what I recently was instructed is said in Navajo prayers: “I am your child, I am your grandchild, I am one that you made sacrosanct,” said in morning prayers as white corn is being offered to everything that is sacred and divine within the dawn light.
Almost daily I seem to forget to receive unconditional love from the universe — and tense up again. So, this week I was taken aback when a raft of papers fell down from the back of the bookcase I was cleaning. When I bent to pick them up, I found a poem I had written almost a decade ago.
The poem, about a woman who can’t stop apologizing, reminded me that if as children we don’t develop strong self-esteem, we will blame ourselves overmuch for things, and in order not to be punished, or to get a jump on agreeing that we’re wrong, we may apologize too much. Both men and women have these feelings, though studies have shown women tend to feel them more, and verbalize them more often, and then of course apologize for doing so.
In the Jewish tradition we have to feel remorse and find ways to make real heart-felt, satisfying apologies to those we have wronged. During the High Holidays that mark the beginning of the New Year, on Yom Kippur we are required to apologize to God for our sins, and to say “I’m sorry” to those we have hurt and to ask for their forgiveness.
I asked Albuquerque Rabbi Paul Citrin if this was an accurate statement about Jewish tradition, he said yes and added, “There are times we need to make amends and to repair relationships. Then, apologizing makes us better.”
Here is the poem I had written, forgotten about, and found again, which tells me what I can do to find a clearer, more genuine, and more powerful place from which to act in the coming New Year.
There Once Was A Woman Who Was Apologetic
There once was a woman who was apologetic.
She apologized to herself.
She apologized to her husband.
She apologized to her two dogs and to her three cats.
When she went to the market she apologized.
She apologized to the grocer.
She apologized to the baker.
She apologized to the butcher.
When the Sun rose before she did, she tried to apologize to it but it didn’t hear her, while it warmed her face.
When the tide rose and the waves rushed in, she apologized for allowing them to wet her sandals, while her toes delighted in the bubbling froth.
When the moon rose high in the sky, she apologized for not noticing it sooner, but it ignored her, while its beams entered her dreams. And when the stars came out, she tried to apologize to them.
Suddenly a star figure appeared before her, it was Diana, the warrior woman.
“Stop apologizing!” shouted the Star Woman. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re doing everything right.”
The woman tried to apologize for apologizing.
“Stop apologizing!” shouted the Star Woman again, and then beside her appeared Orion, the male warrior constellation, who shouted alongside the Star Woman warrior.
The woman once again tried to apologize, for apologizing for apologizing.
Next the constellation Leo the Lion roared alongside them, and then the Big Dipper joined in, who danced joy and wisdom. The woman finally heard them, and,
giving a short slightly sheepish apologetic smile, closed her mouth, didn’t apologize,
didn’t thank them,
didn’t bow, and walked home.
The next day she didn’t apologize to her husband, to her two dogs or to her three cats.
The second day she didn’t apologize to the grocer, the butcher, or the baker,
And at dawn on the third morning she didn’t apologize to the Sun,
At noon she didn’t apologize to the waves,
That evening she didn’t apologize to the moon,
And on the fourth night she certainly didn’t apologize to the stars, and then she finally realized
The Sun still came up, the waves rolled in, the moon came out, and the stars rose and set, whether or not she said anything.
And, as she had nothing left to apologize for, she finally gave a deep sigh, for she was at peace,
and went home and went to bed, as she was quite exhausted,
and she apologized to no one on the way home,
nor when she climbed into bed,
and not even when she went to sleep.
This poem was written Publication record:
Poem written and first published, 1997 The Crystal Cave/International Womens’ Writing Guild, Saratoga Springs, NY, during a workshop, “Writing in the Mythological Voice: Elevating the Mundane into Myth,” led by Natalie Reid, author of The Spiritual Alchemist
Poem Matter and Light, Grant County Beat, Aug. 20, 2016 (Illus. “Breeze” photo.
Poem & intro, Spiritual Perspectives, Gallup Independent 9/10/16
Poem, revised & Intro revised, NM Jewish Link, Fall 2016 10/1/16 Poem revised, Intro & Big Dipper Star Woman illustration, Times of Israel Blog, featured for Yom Kippur, 10/8/16
Interview by Diane Joy Schmidt Published NM Jewish Link Fall, 2016 and New America Media, Oct. 10, 2016
Studies on Dementia – Q&A with Dr. Gary Rosenberg
1st place – health articles (2) New Mexico Press Women, 2017 along with “Albuquerque: Is it a place where Jews can retire?“
Gary Rosenberg, MD, one of the country’s leading researchers in vascular dementia and former chair of the neurology department at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center in Albuquerque, took time after a busy day to sit down and explain for the Link’s readers his latest research in dementia, his work in early identification of types of dementia, the important role of high blood pressure, and other risk factors in vascular disease, the promise of treatments for slowing the disease, and how, at the request of UNM Chancellor for Health Sciences Paul Roth, MD, he is now heading up the new UNM Memory and Aging Center that will work to serve the growing population, currently estimated to be 43,000, of people in New Mexico who have some form of dementia.
Link: What do you do to stay healthy? I think this is something everyone wants to know.
Dr. Rosenberg: I try to watch what I eat and to exercise regularly.
Link: First I want to ask you about your research.
Dr. R: I have been fortunate to have almost steady funding for research by the National Institutes of Health. My work has focused on diseases that damage blood vessels in the brain, such as strokes and vascular dementia. With the new Center, our group will expand into research and drug studies in Alzheimer’s disease. For the past 10 years the research has been focused on vascular dementia with the goal of developing better ways to diagnose the illness earlier when treatments would be more effective. We are following about 100 patients for multiple years. We use a number of tests to figure out their diagnosis.
Dementia is a general term, like fever, that is related to many different types of problems with thinking, and there is a lot of different things that cause it.
Our research is focused on vascular causes, such as multiple strokes, which is one large group of patients. Another group of patients has a gradual worsening, which we feel is related to reaction by the brain to the blood vessels damaged by hypertension, diabetes, and elevated lipids. We use the term “inflammation” to denote this type of reaction in the brain. The challenge has been to find the group with this gradually worsening inflammatory process.
There are no specific treatments for vascular dementia so we try to control vascular risk factors by lowering elevated blood pressure and treating diabetes, and also by encouraging people to lose weight and take up exercise. For the research studies, we rely on what some call “biomarkers” that suggest an inflammatory process. These come from MRIs, psychological testing, and cerebrospinal fluid studies. Since no one test is diagnostic, we use all of the test results for diagnosis. It takes a long time to collect all this information, by following the patients for several years to make sure the diagnosis is correct. We then can look back at the test results to predict the outcome for a new patient.
So, we can start people on treatment trials before extensive damage to the brain has occurred. Our goal is to find drugs that slow the normal course of the disease.
We are also working in the laboratory with animal models to test new drugs, particularly to block the damage done by high blood pressure. To do this we have a rat that develops hypertension, which we make progress faster by feeding it an awful diet – low protein, high salt – which causes damage to the brain’s blood vessels, and they have the same types of changes in the brain that I see in my patients. And we can give that animal anti-inflammatory drugs and block these changes.
Link: So are these drugs in the animal study ones that are readily available or are they highly specialized?
Dr. R: We don’t have a drug yet that we think we can easily translate into people. We have a drug that’s actually an old antibiotic that’s used for acne and it’s an anti-inflammatory and it works well in the animals. There are other drugs being developed at NIH and by drug companies. So although there are some things that are promising, we don’t have a treatment yet.
Link: My family is very long-lived. They probably have this longevity gene that is found among some populations including Ashkenazi Jews. One uncle lived to be 101 with no cognitive issues. Another relative however in their 90’s had strokes and then developed memory loss.
Dr. R: That’s exactly the kind of patient we’re interested in.
Link: So, there are new drugs being developed for this group?
Dr. R: Drug are being developed to block this kind of inflammation. We have a population of patients that could participate in clinical trials when there are drugs available. These gradually worsening patients have a disease called Binswanger’s disease, or sub-cortical ischemic vascular disease. We use biomarkers to select this group of patients.
Link: So how do you go about identifying these biomarkers?
Dr. R: First, we use special tests with MRIs to show that the white matter is damaged. We can visualize the regions of inflammation with a contrast agent that leaks out of the inflamed blood vessels. Then we use cerebrospinal fluid test for two purposes. One is to look for inflammatory factors – things that show the brain is having inflammation, and the other is to separate out those with Alzheimer’s disease. That is very important, because we can’t do that so well clinically. So, we can measure the Alzheimer type proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid and we can say this is an Alzheimer patient. Then we measure the inflammatory factors, and if we say this is an inflammatory process and there’s no Alzheimer factors here, then that suggests that it is a vascular process, which is the patient we are looking for.
Link: So you can separate out the Alzheimer’s patients?
Dr. R: Alzheimer’s patients have a protein called amyloid in the brain and cerebrospinal fluid. It accumulates in the brain in so-called “plaques” and another substance called phosphoTau. Patients with low amyloid and high phosphoTau are likely to have Alzheimer’s disease. To make the diagnoses, we use information from multiple sources, including clinical, cerebrospinal fluid tests, and MRI findings, in addition to neuropsychological testing. With that amount of information, and following the patient for a couple of years, we know which patients we want for different types of treatment.
Link: People whose parents are now losing their memory, they want to know, of course, am I going to be like that too, is it genetic or is it from strokes?
Dr. R: Alzheimer’s disease can be genetic in some patients with early onset of the disease. Vascular causes of dementia are not clearly genetic, but some families have a tendency for blood vessel disease of the heart and brain.
Link: What led to the development of a new center?
Dr. R: This January, Paul Roth, the medical center chancellor asked me to start a center, which we named the UNM Memory and Aging Center. The purpose was to improve care for the large number of patients in the state with thinking problems. In addition to myself, Janice Knoefel, who is an expert on Alzheimer’s disease, and John Adair, who’s trained in behavioral neurology, see patients in the Center. He is at the VA and at the university.
This is the first center for treatment of people with cognitive disorders in New Mexico. We estimate that there are almost 40,000 people with dementia and we will be the only place with dementia specialists in the state.
And it’s even worse than that when you look at it geographically; right now in the United States there are 31 Alzheimer’s centers funded by the National Institute of Aging and these centers are mainly on the coasts with none in the Rocky Mountain states. It was clear that there was a need for such a center and Chancellor Roth recognized that this was important for the state. Now we’ll be able to see a lot more patients, we’ll be able to expand our clinics and research programs and improve teaching.
Link: What about costs to the patient?
Dr. R: Medicare and Medicaid covers most of the costs. When they come into one of our studies, the MRIs, the blood tests, the spinal fluid analysis, is paid for by NIH
Link: Would somebody with Parkinson’s be a patient you would see?
Dr. R: Approximately 50% of people with Parkinson’s have some kind of mental impairment. Some people who have Parkinson’s have behavioral problems, such as agitation and hallucinations. A new drug has been approved by the FDA to treat those symptoms. So a trial will be started with that drug to treat those sort of symptoms in Alzheimer’s patients.
Link: If I want to go online and see, well, am I losing my mind, is there a website test I can take?
Dr. R: I think more trouble is caused by the worry created by these searches. It is best if you are concerned to start with your family doctor. They can help rule out thyroid disease, B12 deficiency, congestive heart failure, and a number of other diseases that could cause memory problems. Once they have eliminated those, then we can see them for further evaluation.
Link: For the Jewish community here, many people moved here from the coasts or the Midwest.
Dr. R: It’s a price you pay for that early decision. By moving you often loss your support team.
Link: Is it measurable, having a social network?
Dr. R: Yes, there are studies that show that card playing, regular exercise, using the computer, reading, a good social network, all slow memory loss. You don’t necessarily need to have an intimate family, but a group of supportive friends can compensate. The ideal thing would be for people who live alone to build communities, to build houses close to each other, apartment complexes.
Link: What direction would you like to see the research go?
Dr. R: The focus for most of the dementia research has been Alzheimer’s disease for the last 25 years, and particularly what’s called the amyloid theory, but the recent studies have not supported that. So NIH now is looking at the connection between vascular disease and the Alzheimer-type process.
If you have vascular disease it accelerates the Alzheimer process and that’s been pretty well shown in a large number studies. So they’re focusing more on reducing vascular risk factors. We know that if you have hypertension at age 40, by the time you are 60, your brain is seven years older than someone who doesn’t have hypertension. All those years of hypertension have damaged the small blood vessels in the brain…
Link: So what about people with diabetes?
Dr. R: Diabetes is a major vascular risk factor, similar to hypertension. If you have diabetes it can interfere with kidney function, which causes blood pressure to go up, so it’s rare to have one and not the other.
Link: And a growing percentage of the population is obese.
Dr. R.: It’s an epidemic. The connection between obesity, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease is not so clear. There seems to be a connection, but it is not as straightforward as hypertension.
Link: I know doctors say one of the biggest problems they have is, how do you change people’s behaviors?
Dr. R: Treatment for hypertension has greatly improved, but not enough people are being treated.
Link: Where is the UNM Memory and Aging Center located and how can a patient be referred?
Dr. R: We are part of the Clinical Neuroscience Center at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Patients can be referred by making an appointment in the Memory and Aging Center in the Clinical Neuroscience Center. Our research center is in the Domenici Hall north of the medical school on Yale next to the golf course. We will soon have a Web site that will allow a patient to make an appointment directly.
Diane Joy Schmidt wrote this article with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Retirement Research Foundation.
Published Fall, 2016 New Mexico Jewish Link and
New America Media “The Doctor’s Word: New Mexico’s ne dementia research center on cutting edge http://newamericamedia.org/2016/10/the-doctors-word-new-mexicos-new-dementia-research-center-on-cutting-edge.php
New Mexico Jewish Link Fall, 2016 v. 46 no. 3
Interview and Photographs by Diane Joy Schmidt
First Place, 2017 Society of Professional Journalists Top of the Rockies, Arts & Entertainment Profile. Judge’s comment: “Fascinating subject, fascinating subject matter. This was an excellent interview that went down so many paths, took so many twists and turns, and ultimately led to a truly memorable profile.”
First Place, 2017 New Mexico Press Women Communications Contest, Two Arts Previews, along with “Fractured Faiths: Ground-breaking and controversial exhibit.”
Diane Joy Schmidt wrote this article with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Retirement Research Foundation. Also published at http://newamericamedia.org/2016/10/the-fine-art-of-blowing-up-art-evelyn-rosenbergs-explosive-sculptures.php
EVELYN ROSENBERG AND HER EXPLOSIVE ART
Humankind saw the power of the intricate forces of nature unleashed when scientists detonated the first atomic bomb at Trinity, New Mexico. Sometimes it takes an artist to wake us from the mundane to see this miracle of existence constantly unfolding all around us. Many of the large scale metal sculptures in public spaces in New Mexico were made by such an artist, a force of nature unto herself, internationally known Albuquerque artist Evelyn Rosenberg.
Her husband, Gary Rosenberg, MD, directs the University of New Mexico’s Memory and Aging Center. Read his Q&A, Studies on Dementia, here.
A petite woman with a beauty that radiates from an internal confidence and with looks reminiscent of Barbara Streisand, Rosenberg makes art using plastic explosives. The technique, “detonography,” which she developed in the desert at Socorro’s NM Tech lab for explosives after meeting an Israeli explosives engineer, melds the force of the detonation with the principles of print-making to bring forth, in a thunderous micro-second, works of surprisingly delicate beauty and strength.
As she explained on ABC’s Nightline series “American Originals” a while back to Cokie Roberts, she said, “The explosive is acting like a giant stamping press, and it’s stamping the metal into the mold. The metal forms over the mold, and gives it this three dimensional effect. Any object that’s laid on the top of the metal plate and between the explosive and the plate will transfer its image to the plate, so anything even as delicate as a feather will transfer its image onto the plate. That’s very magical.”
Now, in our interview, she discusses the fifty-year arc of her work, which has led to the enormous metal sculptures in Albuquerque in front of the Metro Courthouse, at the Sunport, at Valencia and Roswell university campuses, in Santa Fe at the planetarium, and at many other public spaces around the country and the world.
Approaching the studio doors, one feels about to enter a temple. The intimate self-portraits that hang in her home and spacious studio in the North Valley strongly emanate the power and intensity of this explosive process through this most personal image of the female. They sparked a discussion of mythology, feminism, Judaism and the challenges of aging as a sculptor.
Link: Was blowing things up a logical progression from what you were doing?
ER: I was studying Comparative Religion at Hebrew University. I used to like to draw when I was a kid, so I started going to drawing classes, and then I said, ‘This is all so much better than sitting in the library!’ so I decided that I wanted to study art.
I went back to the U.S., got married, went to Columbia for a year, and then to RIT, Rochester Institute of Technology, where I was doing printmaking. This was during the Vietnam war. They were drafting all the doctors, and Gary got drafted. (see companion profile of neurologist Gary Rosenberg, MD). He had just finished his internship at Rochester, and he was sent to Sandia Base here, which was tremendously lucky. So, I went to UNM to study printmaking and I got a masters in lithography.
Link: Do you think that you would have been able to have the success that you have had, if you were starting out today?
ER: When I started out, they didn’t want to let me into the graduate program in lithography here, they told me, “You’d better take some economics and business courses because you’ll never get a job as a printmaker. You’ll probably have to work in a gallery.” You wouldn’t be able to say that today.
Link: So did you go home and cry?
ER: No, I just said, “I want to do it. I’m stronger than some of those skinny boys there.” Those [lithography] stones – you pick them up on a lift, and then you push them – but everything I do is heavy – twice a week I do weightlifting.
Evelyn explained that from New Mexico they went to Israel, where she taught art at the University of Haifa, and then to New York. While Gary finished his residency in neurology at Albert Einstein School of Medicine, she taught art at Montclair University in New Jersey. They liked New Mexico and when Gary was offered a position in the neurology department at the University of New Mexico with a lab and technician, they returned and have been here ever since, since about 1979.
Link: Does your detonography work have something to do with being Jewish?
ER: I did a series of 18 prints of the story of Joseph and his brothers, and Rabbi Paul Citrin wrote a commentary for it. It was sent in a traveling show to all the Jewish museums in the country. So I did pursue Jewish themes, I did paintings with Jewish themes, because I was interested in mythology, comparative religion, and biblical stories. But, the work that I’m doing now on commission doesn’t, it has mythological content, though it probably reflects Jewish themes.
I worked for two years as an artist in the schools and I made murals. That was a great National Endowment for the Arts program they don’t have anymore, and so I got excited about making big things, but then I went back to making prints. With the money I earned from that I bought a press, I was doing etchings.
Link: Then something changed?
ER: Gideon Sivan came to New Mexico in 1985. He was an explosives engineer who worked at the explosives center in Haifa, Israel where he designed special tank armor for the Israeli army that exploded on contact. He came here to the EMRTC, the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center at New Mexico Tech, on a sabbatical and he wanted to do something fun with a phenomenon known as the “Munroe effect.”
He had this idea you could make art using explosives but he needed an artist to work with. Through what you’d call Jewish geography, he heard there was a similarity between the way the things he was doing with the explosives looked and my etching plates. He came over one night, and we started talking. He asked if I wanted to blow something up, I said ‘Sure, sounds great!’
I started to work with him. After about three months he went back to Israel, but the head of the center was a very innovative guy from the Nitro-Nobel Institute in Sweden. He asked if I wanted to keep working on this. So, I taught a class on the history of the technology of art, because it was an engineering school. It was a pretty interesting class. I taught for a couple of semesters while I was developing this process. Once I had the process developed, then I started to make pieces and I stopped teaching.
In her recently published book “Detonography, The Explosive Art of Evelyn Rosenberg” (University of New Mexico Press, 2013) Evelyn writes about that class, “I wanted them to understand that it was only the romanticism of the 19th century that had transformed the image of the artist into a kind of mad genius who works alone. [. . .] I started the class by asking the students to carve a stone with a stone. . .”
In addition to the explosion itself, is there a kind of alchemical process that happens?
ER: Yes. I think it’s a very feminine technique because it’s like having a child. You have these messy, destructive, painful, horrible things happening, and then you get these beautiful delicate objects, I think these things, they look very delicate. They don’t look like they’ve been blown up. They’re refined. So it’s like life. (she gives a light, ironic laugh)
Link: Looking at the self-portraits that are here, which came first?ER: The earliest is “Gemini”. The lion with wings came next. That was done as part of a four-part series which is now at the university campus in Roswell.
Then this one here (hanging in the studio), “The Sorceress’s Dream,” I did about three years ago. The last one (on the outside wall), which has a religious theme, is called “The Goddess Hides Herself.” It’s the goddess posing as male gods, God the father, Buddha, until she can reveal herself in the universe.
Link: “The Sorceress’s Dream” seems the most daring somehow to me, the most powerful in the way that it’s not literal, it’s not obvious. Do you see that one as different?
ER: No. I’m repeating the same themes over and over again, these mythological themes, and the search for some kind of spiritual meaning outside of nontraditional religious forms. I consider myself very Jewish in the sense that both my kids had Jewish weddings. Even though they married non-Jews, they’re bringing up their children Jewish.
Link: I see something different in “The Sorceress’s Dream.”
ER: I like this idea of disguise, hidden identities. She has a mask like a butterfly mask.
L: Rabbi Gershon Winkler once said if you look at, the commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me,” that in the early Aramaic, it was, ‘put no other face on my face, a deeper way of saying ‘don’t make a graven image of what I am.’
ER: He was very good, he was amazing, I still get his newsletters.(www.walkingstick.org).
Link: Another thing about “The Sorceress’s Dream” – you’re not making yourself beautiful, there’s an aging issue. You’re looking at yourself in a different way then you did in the lioness picture. And you are wearing some sort of dress?
ER- it’s a sequined dress that I got from a thrift shop because I’m always looking for materials.
Link: Your power is different than in the lioness one, don’t you think there’s a change?
ER: I like the idea — I have not thought about it at all. That is true that the lioness is a much more sexual creature than this sorceress. “The Goddess Hides Herself” was a kind of comment on religion. The female principle has been suppressed by the male gods of the world, but the female principle is waiting to reemerge and to be the controlling factor in the world. If the world is to survive, I think, if the earth is going to survive, we’ve got to get rid of all those male suppressors of nature [side discussion of upcoming presidential election].
Link: So you are saying the explosives part is masculine, but the result is very feminine?
ER: No, no, it’s not masculine, I don’t see it as a masculine thing. I see it as the forces of nature, which can be terrible and devastating, but can also create a flower or a butterfly, or a piece of art.
Link: Now that you been an artist as long as you have, some fifty years —
ER: What I do is physically demanding, so that who knows, maybe [eventually] I’ll have to work with watercolors. But watercolors are the hardest thing of all because you can’t make mistakes. I assume that I will always continue to be an artist and that if I have to, I will have more assistants. Louise Nevelson worked into her 80s on very large sculptural pieces.
I worked with the last assistant for 12 years, and he’s now starting to go out on his own, he’s very good. I just got a new assistant six months ago. She just graduated from CNM as a certified welder, and she’s also good.
Link: You think somebody in their 60s could decide to become an artist?
ER: You know Michaela Karni? She was a writer. Then she started painting, very late, just in the last five years or so. She wrote romance novels and some mysteries and then she just started painting. Now she’s really good, she works all day at it, and she’s very serious about her work. She’s in her mid-70s. Artists get better with age. Titian got better in his 80s, he was doing great stuff. It’s a skill, maybe your inspiration is not as fresh, but your skill level increases.
Two of Rosenberg’s works, including the lioness with wings, titled as “Ezekiel’s Vision,” will be in a special exhibit at the Albuquerque Museum of Art, “Jews in Twentieth Century Albuquerque: Building Community Along the Rio Grande,” November 19 through April 2, 2017. View more at her website www.evelynrosenberg.com, including photos of Rosenberg’s large scale public works with a map of their locations, films of her and her explosive technique, further explanation of it, and a link to her book.
Diane Joy Schmidt wrote this article with support from the Journalists in Aging Fellowships, a program of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America, sponsored by the Retirement Research Foundation.
First published Fall, 2016 New Mexico Jewish Link, Oct. 1, 2016
Online, “The Fine Art of Blowing Up Art: Evelyn Rosenberg’s Explosive Sculptures” New America Media, Elders Oct. 4, 2016
Online, “The Explosive Work of Evelyn Rosenberg,” Boomer-Living, Oct. 24, 2016