“Next of Kin” Art Show

On Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, the Art League of Ocean City’s opening reception for the art show, “Next of Kin,” will feature the sculptures of Paul Lockhart, and the paintings of Lynne Lockhart and Kirk McBride. Award winning author, Barbara Lockhart, will be there signing books, including her most recent novel, “Elizabeth’s Field.” Two of her children’s books were written in collaboration with Lynne. The reception will be from 5-7 pm. The league is located at 94th Street in OC.

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Review by Dr. Kathryn Barrett-Gaines, Director of African American Studies, UMES

Barbara Lockhart has written a most astonishing historical novel.  Elizabeth’s Field is full of fascinating fact, from the popular early belief that tomatoes were deadly, to the case of Preacher Sam Green, sentenced in Cambridge in 1857 to ten years imprisonment for possess of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to the fact that in the middle of that century, there were more free black people on the Eastern Shore than enslaved.  Yes, the novel is full of under-known history, but it is Lockhart’s prose that leaves me breathless, rereading again and again more than one poetic insight captured in a sentence.  Barbara Lockhart studied history for nine years to become Sam Green, Harriet Tubman, and Elizabeth, the remarkable East New Market farmer who managed to become the owner of a parcel of land.  Through oral history research, Lockhart renders the voice of her recently deceased neighbor, sharecropper Mattie, whose comic and tragic view of the twentieth century punctuates this Eastern Shore story.  All of this fiction is based on fact.  I talk to this treasure of a local author, Barbara Lockhart, in studio Tuesday at noon EST in the US.  Gaines on Gains airs on WCEM 1240 AM radio.

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Reading at Salisbury University

In honor of African-American History month (Feb.) and Women’s History Month (March) I will be reading from Elizabeth’s Field tomorrow evening, March 4, at Salisbury University, The Commons, the Montgomery Room at 6:30 pm.  A celebration for me on a personal level since I began writing through creative writing courses at Salisbury U. many years ago, and I’m grateful for all the help I received in the beginning of serious writing.

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It was a dark and stormy night….

The ride to Chincoteague from my farm is about 80 miles.  The Island Book Club was meeting this December night and had invited me to join them in a discussion of my latest book, Elizabeth’s Field.  In the driving rain, I was questioning my sanity in accepting the invitation.  But as in most decisions of mine that I continually question, the adventure side usually wins, wise or not.  Any chance to get the novel “out there” is tempting.

The directions said something about parking in the back of a seafood restaurant called “Don’s” and the  library entrance was off the parking lot.  Turning into the lot, I was aware of boats and waterfront to the right, and to the left, the indiscriminate back of restaurant, and before me, a hexagon shaped structure lighted as brilliantly as a lighthouse, from base to cupola.  That couldn’t be the library, could it?

I can’t tell you how startlingly the stage was set from that moment on and I’m sure now this was the architect’s intention, but if one could not be drawn to such a place on a rainy night or any other night, one would have to be temperature and pulse challenged.  To the Lighthouse, Virginia Wolfe’s masterpiece, came to my mind and despite the rain, I stood for a moment and took it in.  I remembered the feeling–it was similar to the one I’d had as a kid when our Christmas tree was first lighted.

Inside, the circle of chairs in the center and the high ceiling drew my eyes upward beyond the first floor and the mezzanine and made me pay attention–maybe even immediate devotion–to the hexagon positioned walls filled with books–the white railing on the mezzanine and more books behind it–around and around.  Computers are not the center of life here as in most libraries now, but discreetly placed inside the railing of the second floor.  Lightness and brightness and books surround.  This night, there was also a small crowd of welcoming faces, people who take books seriously.

In my recently changed focus from writing to marketing my book online, through a blog, a website, facebook announcements, and store-based book signings where people mostly walk on by, this night was to remind me that while I don’t think of an audience when I’m trying to get sentences to come out right, and the unaccustomed search for audience becomes so time and energy consuming after publication of the work, the bottom line and much appreciated welcome experienced here is what it’s all about once a work is finished, and I found it especially heartwarming.  It would  be to any writer.  We work in isolation.  Naively, especially as self-published authors, we enter the unknowns of the world of marketing.  But here, sitting in this circle of chairs surrounded by books housed in this building that says we care about the written word, is the Island Book Club, the true reward, if reward is what you’re looking for.  We write because we must.  The rest is on the periphery.  But the live audience who has taken not only this kind of work but the work of many, many writers seriously, keeps our civilization going.  Sometimes, I think it is only quiet contemplation that will save us, the place we go to when we read a book or are drawn to a painting or sculpture or a piece of music–the place that goes way beyond ourselves and our current wants and distractions and daily diet of news.

I must tell you how much the members and volunteers of the Chincoteague Island Public Library care.  It is impressive.

The hexagon shaped building is an addition to a storefront that was a drug store back in 1887, and a barber shop for 75 years from 1908 on.  When the building needed to be saved, it was moved to its present location in 1990.  It was the Citizens’ League that raised the funds to save the building, and when it was renovated, it was opened as the Chincoteague Island Library in 1995.  Expansion began in 2008, an architect hired, and generous donations by the island inhabitants made the present structure possible, doubling the size of the library, and creating the beautiful treasure that it is.

I shall think of this lighthouse, as I’ve come to call it in my own mind, from time to time.  A painting by Barbara Schmitz on the face of a note card from the library hangs above my desk now–a fond memory that balances things out and helps me keep priorities in line.  Thank you, Chincoteague Island Book Club, for your warm welcome.  I was also delighted to see the painting by my daughter, Lynne, on the wall by the Christmas tree, evidence of the fact that she had discovered the library a while ago.  The painting is of the front and street side of the library, the long ago barber shop, and is a reminder of the library’s humble beginnings.

For those of you who may visit Chincoteague Island in future, especially in the summer months when the famous Pony Penning takes place, be sure to visit the library.  It’s right there on Main Street at 4077.  It’s at the heart of everything.

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We are thankful for the things that sustain us, for family and friends, for the surrounding fields and woods, for more than enough on our tables and in our homes, and for our freedom.

We know we are the fortunate of this earth, and may that knowledge enable us to see beyond ourselves, keep us humble, and our hearts open.

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Their Name is Today

Their Name is Today, by Johann Christoph Arnold

A friend sent me this wonderful book and I would like to recommend it to you. It may reaffirm your beliefs about children as it did for me, and it may set you thinking about priorities. In any case, it is good to be reminded of worthwhile considerations as we journey through the turmoil in the world around us. This book is so full of truth (as I see it) that I immediately sprang to attention. The undercurrent in all our political and educational discussions seem to leave out the child, the fairly simple act of looking into a child’s eyes, talking and listening. We have to consider and reconsider lest we become so out of tune with what is important because of the persistence of technological distractions, the barrage of sexual content and violence in our media, the focus on academic testing, the lack of respect for family and child care, and the leaving of our children’s emotional growth and development to others that comprise the world we are now living in.

My objections to all of it has been tempered by age, and the fact that I have been retired for 18 years, out of the classroom and away from young children for quite a long time. I miss all of it, and have only kept a small part of that whole genre and occupation in the writing of a few children’s books. I am out of sync with what is going on in education. I admit it. Yet some things are timeless. The importance of play in children’s lives, the need for security, and the great need for conversation and one on one affirmation that comes with sharing on a personal level. Children’s needs are always the same and if we are to raise generations of caring, respectful adults, we better be paying attention to those needs. I see a world of adults who are terribly busy, too busy trying to make ends meet and who are barely surviving in a financially troubled society, one that doesn’t care about families and children as much as it should. Driving through neighborhoods, I look for the children. Where are they? It is an ominous sign. Our children are increasingly becoming disconnected from nature, from the world of play, from exploring the outdoors, and solving problems that have to do with relationships and being human.

We see an educational system that tries its darnedest to make up for what society lacks. It seems to entail a desperation in the constant changes in curriculum, new methods every other year so that a teacher barely has time to get the kinks out of the last, latest method of teaching, rules get tighter, play (the real work of children) disappears behind the focus on reading and math skills, and the constant testing to prove that yes, we are trying so very hard. We have proof! When all is said and done, do we really? How are we doing compared to the rest of the world? Hmmmm. Not that well. Great diversity is our particular circumstance. And the more we try to bring everyone to a certain level by a certain time in the early years, the more difficult the situation becomes. The truth is what education comes from the home and from parents is more important than anything else we can do. A teacher, no matter what the teaching methods are, can never fill that vacuum however hard they try, and teachers everywhere are to be applauded for the amount of love and caring they offer every day.

We need to trust that love and caring, instead of asking them to follow educational mandates coming from above from people who more than likely are disconnected from children. Teachers do know what is best for their students. They don’t need their hands tied behind their backs by people who themselves don’t teach.

On the other hand, I applaud some of the standards that have been set up. We need them. A student graduating after 12 years of school should and must know certain things. The NY Regents exams at the end of each school year in the 50s were the bottom line of what you should know. Knowledge and understanding hopefully went way beyond the Regents questions, but at least there was that, the bottom line, and you couldn’t graduate without those answers. It is part of being a good citizen to know the history and geography of your country, to have some sort of perspective on what came before.

My objection is that we begin academic instruction too soon. We have obstructed play in the early years and traded it for phonics, writing sentences and paragraphs in kindergarten and “composing and decomposing” math concepts, along with allowing too much attention to video games and other technological distractions. My objection to that is that we are chipping away at childhood. Childhood is brief and of supreme importance to human development. Our respect for it should be reflected societally, educationally and politically. And above all, personally.

The author of “Their Name is Today”, Johann Arnold, quotes Franklin Roosevelt: “We all recognize that the spirit within the home is the most important influence in the growth of a child. In family life the child should first learn confidence in his own powers, respect for the feelings and the rights of others, the feeling of security and mutual good will. Mothers and fathers, by the kind of life they build within the four walls of the home, are largely responsible for the future social and public life of the country.”

–of the country. This is serious stuff. I have to admit when I was raising my kids, I didn’t think about the country so much as surviving and teaching kids to be good people, but it truly does mean we are preparing our children to live in a civilized society, and to approach life thoughtfully.

And it is through play in early childhood that these first learnings thrive. By exploring, testing, observing, participating in give and take with others, using imagination, acknowledging the creativity within and nurturing the development of respect and wonder – these untestable, fluid, open-ended learnings are the basis for attributes that last a lifetime.

I have to say that Chapter 2 in Arnold’s book titled “Play is a Child’s Work” is my favorite. It begins with a quote from Friedrich Froebel who created the concept of kindergarten: “Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood, for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul.”

Arnold goes on to say that “True education can never be forced–a child has to want to learn. This longing is often locked deep inside, and it is the teacher’s task to discover and encourage it. But teaching has probably never been as difficult as it is now. Many children spend more hours each day with their caregivers than with their parents. Too frequently, they come from broken homes into understaffed and underfunded classrooms. But the role of the teacher is now more important than ever, and the most vital part of the work is not academic. We need to allow children to be children for as long as possible. They need time to breathe in and breathe out. They need to play.”

I am very aware that kindergarten has changed dramatically since my last hours in the classroom. I object to the emphasis on reading and math skills, the stress under which many children live, and the new “state standards” for early childhood. We risk the possibility that children will be burned out by 3rd grade and will have missed the treasured hours of a meaningful childhood.

I would encourage you to take a look at “Their Name is Today” by Johann Christoph Arnold, and published by Plough Publishing House. Your thoughts on the subject are welcome.

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Their Name is Today

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