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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Night: Gustave Doré, Francis Kinney & Kinnelon I

Gustave Doré Madonna & ChildThere's something about Kinnelon and Smoke Rise that leads to unusual coincidences and serendipitous connections. I've noticed it happening as a result of this blog. Case in point is this tale from John Connelly titled "Night." It weaves together discoveries I've shared with you here about Gustave Doré, with perspectives on Kinnelon and Francis S. Kinney. The story is in three parts.

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Night - Part I


Gustave Doré Captures Soul, Memories & Coincidence


In the end we are the sum of our choices, our memories, and coincidence.

September 1970 was my freshman year at Kinnelon High School. Kids from varied backgrounds met uneasily in the hallways, chatted outside waiting for school buses, exchanged glances in libraries and dressed together awkwardly in heavy green outfits in gym locker rooms. Some would forge strong and lasting bonds of friendship. Others would discover new and menacing enemies. My friend found both.

It would be difficult to recall the offense that started it all. But, by October of that year, a simmering rivalry had developed. Over the year, it worsened. Conversation could quickly turn to the enemy; his smug demeanor, irritating smirk or clearly intentional effrontery.

“Did you catch that?” my friend would say. “The impudence! The cad! This calls for a calculated response!” These comments often followed by a Snidely Whiplash sort of hand wringing gesture and evil grin. It was all such good fun!

Or so I thought.

By spring tempers reached a boiling point. War plans were being drawn up. The enemy would be confronted at a time and place of my friend's choosing and the score would be settled firmly and finally. As my friend was bigger and stronger than his wiry opponent, a quick and glorious victory was assured. Days passed.

Then war!

As a crowd of kids marched towards the auditorium, a quip from the enemy ignited an instant and savage response. The others and I stepped back stunned. A circle of onlookers formed. In the center my friend, still holding his books with his left arm, unleashed a ferocious volley of right-handed punches on the smaller enemy. A year’s worth of anger was spilling out in one glorious paroxysm of rage. My friend was the clear winner….until the little guy, falling back, feebly threw one lucky left hook and caught my friend’s nose, laying it quite literally over onto its side.

The little guy ran off defeated. My friend stood beaming, blood everywhere and his face, well, his face forever altered. Tell me, how does one “congratulate” such a “winner?”

It was to be the first and last violent episode of my High School years. Though just children we’d grasped in that moment the futility of violence. There were to be no further retaliations or hostilities. Participant and observer alike “laid down their arms.”

The memory of that day returned to me this summer through strange coincidence.

In June, thousands of anxious visitors were drawn to the De Young Museum in San Francisco out of a curious interest in the past. They were there to see the treasures of the boy king, King Tutankhamun. A group of friends and I were also drawn there. As we waited on line, a curious bronze sculpture caught my eye.

The Poem of the Vine” read the placard.

It rose about 20 feet high from a garden near the entrance to the museum. A massive vase littered with clashing images of soft naked bodies, rats, spiders, snakes, lizards, flies all interwoven by vines and ripe clusters of grapes, and everywhere little expressive cherubs, their faces each alive with emotion; praising, joyous, despondent, angry, naughty, pious, bored, hopeful, dejected, silly, tired, crying, singing. Each expression a new and different emotion. The range of human experience summed up with little cherubic faces. Above, a seated Bacchus his head thrown back in merry-making, drinks in all of it to the fullest.

I pressed my face to the cool bronze Bacchus and I joined, giddy-drunk with emotion.

Are you coming John?” my impatient friends asked.

Yes, of course, but this vase, this work of art. I want to….to…..dive into it!” Such is the power of great art.

While the Egyptian artifacts proved pleasant enough, it was the vase, that incredible vase, that haunted at day’s end. A simple inscription at the base identified the artist: Gustave Doré.

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Next, Part 2: Gustave Doré, His Art & His Times
After that, Part 3: Francis S. Kinney Brings Doré To Kinnelon!
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