Sunday, December 28, 2008

Asheville, Part Deux: William Christenberry


It was sunny and cool, but not cold in Asheville. We strolled through the downtown area, looking in art galleries, pausing for a coffee and something sweet at the City Cafe. We bought a few ornaments for next years Christmas tree....hey, you can't beat 50% off! My middle name should be Discount.
We wandered through the Grove Arcade, which is an old building in the center of town that has become an indoor mall, only no Starbucks, no Crate and Barrel, no JC Penney; thank god. This mall had all sorts of cool furniture stores, and mountain crafts; deli cheeses and wine......me love the wine. There was the old man playing Bach on the violin--I only repeat this because Carlos told me over breakfast this morning that he went to speak with the man, and discovered the old man was blind.
At the Four Corners Home store Carlos found a lamp he must have; he's a sucker for lamps, don't ask me why. But this one was pretty cool. It was cast of iron and the lamp shades were folded over the iron-work like sheets of paper, hiding the bulbs. It was a bit more than we wanted to spend, and Carlos did try to barter a discount of sorts. In the end, we took a business card and decided to think about it. They do free shipping, so maybe in a month we'll have his lamp.
We also visited the Asheville Art Museum. As with music, Carlos and I have distinctively different tastes. I am far more abstract and want an immediate reaction to a piece of art, while he is more reflective, and likes anything that resembles an Old Master work; he's Old World, I'm New World, I guess.

On the top floor we encountered an exhibition by William Christenberry. I'd never heard of him, but some of his ink-and-brush works were amazing. They reminded me of Chinese calligraphy, although most were of trees he saw while growing up in Alabama. He also had several sculptures, many of tall white house with two windows and a door; he called them K House. Interesting, but I didn't quite get it.

Off to the side, I noticed a dark curtain closing off a section of the gallery. They keep the room draped, warning you before you enter. It housed a piece of Christenberry's work he called the Klan Tableau. Growing up in Alabama from the 1930's he saw first-hand how the Klan worked. In 1960 he heard there was a Klan meeting at the Tuscaloosa Courthouse, and went to see what it was all about. He climbed to the third floor, looking for signs of a meeting, and turned a last corner to find a Klansman, in the robe and hood standing as sentry outside the door. The Klansman didn't speak to Christenberry; he merely looked through the slits in his hood. Christenberry saw his eyes and fled. It began a life-long fascination with the KKK.


The Klan Tableau is something I'm glad I saw, oddly enough; it's also something I never hope to see again; and something I won't ever forget. There are paintings of men in hoods, eyes ablaze; there are hoods with skulls inside; dolls dressed as Klansmen all over the room. Many of the pen-and-ink drawings are on Red, White or Blue canvasses. The instant I walked in the room I found it hard to breathe. It was so oppressive, the images so filled with hate. Paintings and cards, dolls, everywhere. White sheets. Hate. Fiery eyes. Hate. K Houses that I now saw as the shape of a hood; windowed eyes, a door for a mouth.
Christenberry doesn't display the tableau to honor the KKK, or even to dishonor them. It's on display because it's part of our history, and history is destined to repeat itself; if we don't remember what's happened before, it might certainly happen again.
Once we got home, I did a search on Christenberry, and read an article, a review actually, in the Washington Post online. The young man who reviewed the Christenberry exhibit, and the Klan Tableau, found the Klan room old-fashioned and laughable. He said he grew up, like Barack Obama, in what he calls a post-KKK world, so these images were not fearful, they were antiquated.
I disagree. The world isn't post-KKK. The klan is around, perhaps more quiet than usual. I think that's worse than having them march in the streets, having them hide in houses and meeting halls.
And I don't think fear ever gets old. Fear is fear, no matter what group uses it, or what group feels it. It won't go away; it won't get old.
I think it changes shape and continues on and on.

3 comments:

Berry Blog said...

Wow...knock out post..don't know where to begin...Love all of it.
< also a lamp freak...need more alla time
Picts are dynamite- glad you have opposite tastes because mine is diverse.
Love your stuff-
Charlie

Beth said...

ya...great post Bob. and the klan IS alive and well. and it's the quiet ones you have to watchout for. I fear the quiet people a lot more than the loud people! ;)

Joy said...

I agree! We have to remember because they are out there. Some websites I stumbled on when I googled Obama scared the hell out of me. There are some horrible people, and we need to be aware and vigilant.

Yes, Beth, those quiet ones are dangerous. It's easier when it's out in the open to know where they stand.