Terschelling fungi, moss, buzzard and merlin


This 2016 video from the USA is called 10 Fantastic Fungi Superpowers.

After 25 September 2019 on Terschelling island came 26 September.

A walk in the sand dunes north of West-Terschelling.

Fly agaric and other Amanita fungi.

Shaggy mane fungi. And blusher mushrooms.

At the horses’ meadow, five grey herons.

We walk back.

Moss, 26 September 2019

Later that day, these two lensbaby photos of wet moss.

Moss, on 26 September 2019

High above the moss, a buzzard and a merlin flying.

Governmental persecution of scientists


This 14 February 2017 video says about itself:

As Donald Trump Denies Climate Change, These Kids Die Of It | The New York Times

The incoming U.S. president, Donald Trump, has denied manmade climate change. The Times’s Nicholas Kristof travels to drought-stricken Madagascar to see the unfolding crisis for himself.

By Sujata Gupta, December 6, 2019 at 6:00 am:

What happens when governments crack down on scientists just doing their jobs?

Human rights take a back seat when state leaders try to control the narrative

On a sunny day in March 2016, Turkish forensic physician Şebnem Korur Fincanci drove into Cizre, a town in southeastern Turkey. The government had just lifted a 79-day curfew meant to help the Turkish military rout out members of the separatist PKK, or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Turkey has long fought to keep insurgents from creating a separate Kurdish country, and has designated the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Like most people outside of Cizre, Fincanci had no idea what had transpired during the lockdown. She arrived to a devastated city.

The air, she says, smelled of burnt flesh. Houses were riddled with bullet holes, the furniture inside burned or bashed with sledgehammers. Residents led her to three bombed-out buildings. Fincanci entered one and saw within the basement rubble a jawbone and a pair of eyeglasses. She could immediately tell that the jawbone was a child’s.

Fincanci had not brought her forensic tools. She had assumed that this visit was preliminary, a time to talk with Cizre residents about their medical needs. So, she snapped pictures of the bone, the glasses and the surrounding debris with her cell phone. Residents later confirmed that the building had been home to a young family.

After a 79-day curfew was lifted in Cizre, Turkey, in March 2016, forensic physician Şebnem Korur Fincanci found demolished buildings (left) and walls filled with bullet holes (center). In one residential building’s basement, she found a burnt jaw (right) from a child thought to have died there. All: Ş. Fincanci

After a 79-day curfew was lifted in Cizre, Turkey, in March 2016, forensic physician Şebnem Korur Fincanci found demolished buildings (left) and walls filled with bullet holes (center). In one residential building’s basement, she found a burnt jaw (right) from a child thought to have died there.

A few days later, Fincanci wrote a report and posted it on the website of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, a volunteer organization she helped found in 1990. She also sent the report to Turkey’s internal affairs office. Fincanci wrote that the military had committed atrocities against innocent civilians. She demanded a full investigation. Instead, in June 2016, the government charged her with spreading terrorist propaganda. “I was arrested and sent to prison,” Fincanci says.

Weak regimes

Across the ages, scientists have come under fire for all manner of offense, often tied to the work they do. Chinese astronomers Hi and Ho were executed over 4,000 years ago, according to lore, for failing to predict a solar eclipse. In 1633, the Roman Catholic Church convicted astronomer Galileo Galilei of heresy for stating that the Earth revolves around the sun — a concept antithetical to the church doctrine that put the Earth at the center of the universe. He spent the remaining nine years of his life under house arrest.

In the United States, during the Red Scare of the 1940s and 1950s, government officials monitored and interrogated academics seen as Communist sympathizers. Princeton University physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, a leader of the Manhattan Project, was accused of being a national security risk and lost his security clearance.

In the aftermath of World War II, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so that atrocities of the Holocaust would never be replayed. The document stated that every person everywhere has the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, the right to work and education, and the freedom of opinion and expression.

The declaration provided a blueprint for how people around the world ought to be treated, yet human rights abuses, against scientists and others, have continued.

The Cold War’s end in 1991 led to a shift from clearly totalitarian regimes where citizens had few personal and political freedoms to countries that appear democratic but exhibit varying levels of authoritarian control, says Andrew Anderson, executive director of Front Line Defenders, a human rights organization based in Dublin.

The blurred line between authoritarianism and democracy in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is a case in point, Anderson says. Scientists almost anywhere can find themselves under fire as even [supposedly] staunch democracies, including Greece and the United States, struggle to balance state interests and academic freedoms. Some scientists are attacked for sharing their research and others stumble into dangerous situations while doing their jobs, such as doctors accused of providing medical care to protesters or rebels. Others feel compelled to use their standing as public figures to resist and expose wrongdoing.

Quantifying the number of scientists whose human rights are under threat is challenging, but a November 19 report from Scholars at Risk, a nonprofit organization that helps persecuted academics, provides some context. From September 1, 2018, to August 31, 2019, the organization documented 324 attacks on students and academics, including scientists, from 56 countries, says Scholars at Risk advocacy director Clare Robinson. The report also points to countries with increasing restrictions on academics, including India, China, Sudan, Brazil and for the fourth year in a row, Turkey, where thousands of academics have been charged with disloyalty, treason and terrorism.

Scientists, professional organizations and human rights groups have been mounting international campaigns to help persecuted colleagues. Numerous groups agitated on Fincanci’s behalf, circulating petitions, sending letters and holding demonstrations. But even when advocacy helps free scientists from detention, the accused can find their professional and personal lives upended. Some must live in exile, cut off from their support systems and their work. Others wind up unemployed.

After 10 days in jail, Fincanci and two detained journalists were released to await trial. “Thanks to international solidarity and support, they couldn’t hold us for a long time,” she says. “They had to release us.” The propaganda charges were dropped in July. Fincanci now faces 2.5 years in prison for signing a petition along with more than 1,000 scholars to demand an end to the fighting between Turkish forces and the PKK. …

The list goes on. In August, Ricardo Galvão was fired as director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who had begun to open more Amazon rainforest to mining and other commercial activities, disagreed with an institute report showing that deforestation from April to June 2019 was almost 25 percent higher than during the same period the year before. …

In Sudan last December, when protestors demonstrated against the government of then-President Omar al-Bashir, the military responded with force against both the protestors and those rushing to their aid. Physicians for Human Rights reported in April that it found support for allegations that police and security forces intentionally attacked at least seven Sudanese medical facilities. The group’s independent assessment of postmortem records supports claims that police shot physician Babiker Abdul Hamid in the chest in January as he tried to explain that doctors were simply treating the injured. “He said he was a doctor, and he was shot point blank,” reported one eyewitness. Sudan has claimed that he was shot by “infiltrators.”

How a government treats people who offer medical care can serve as a litmus test for academic freedom, Sirkin says. “It’s never a crime for a doctor to treat a sick person.” …

Scrutiny of Chinese scientists

Sharing findings with colleagues around the world is central to science. For years, U.S. funding agencies and research universities have encouraged collaboration between Chinese and U.S. scientists, says Xiaoxing Xi, a physicist at Temple University in Philadelphia. But collaborating has become riskier.

Xi, who earned his doctorate in China before emigrating to the United States in 1989, has traveled frequently to China and worked with partners at Peking University, Tsinghua University and Shanghai Jiaotong University. His research involves fabricating pure materials for studying their intrinsic properties. Those materials eventually could wind up in devices such as cell phones. “I do fundamental research,” Xi says. “I do not do research which is classified or restricted.”

In May 2015, Xi was named chair of Temple’s physics department. Two days later, FBI agents burst into his home, pulling Xi, his wife and two daughters from their bedrooms at gunpoint. Xi describes it as a scene out of a movie.

Xi says FBI agents interrogated him for two hours. The agents thought he had shared sensitive information with China, particularly about a device called a pocket heater. Xi quickly realized that the agents had gotten the science wrong. The information he had shared was not sensitive; it was about a different device, not a pocket heater. But clearing his name took months, by which point his reputation was in tatters.

In 2015, the FBI detained physicist Xiaoxing Xi for allegedly sharing sensitive information with China. Courtesy of X. Xi

On the same day that Xi was arrested, the Committee of 100, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that supports Chinese Americans in U.S. society, held a news conference to discuss a similar case. Sherry Chen, a hydrologist at the National Weather Service, had been arrested in October 2014 on espionage charges related to allegedly sharing information about the nation’s dams with China. Her case was dropped one week before trial. In December 2014, charges against two Chinese biologists working at Eli Lilly and Company in Indiana were dismissed.

“So you have … four individuals accused of very serious crimes and yet all have their cases dropped. That’s just very unusual,” says Jeremy Wu, a retired U.S. Census Bureau statistician who is on the Committee of 100 board.

To find out what was going on, Wu contacted Andrew Chongseh Kim, a lawyer at Greenberg Traurig LLP in Houston with some statistics expertise. Kim looked at a random sample of 136 cases involving 187 individuals charged under the Economic Espionage Act between 1997 and 2015. Kim recognized that focusing on that one act would not cover all the cases — Xi was charged under a separate statute, for instance — but it was the most straightforward means of quantifying the problem.

Charges against people with Chinese names grew from 17 percent of more than 100 defendants from 1997 to 2008, an 11-year span, to 52 percent of the 80 or so who were charged over the next six years, Kim reported December 2018 in Cardozo Law Review. Concerns about economic espionage have been growing in recent years and seem to be centered on Chinese Americans suspected of sharing trade secrets with businesses in China, Kim says. …

In Xi’s case, the charges were dropped in September 2015, and he returned to work. But his professional career has not recovered. He never did get to serve as chair of his department, his federal grants and contracts have dwindled from nine before his arrest to two today and his lab has shrunk from 15 members to three. Xi says his family remains in a state of perpetual vigilance. “We have to be sure that everything we say cannot be twisted by the government to charge us,” he says.

Rising up in Turkey

While some scientists unwittingly stumble into bad situations, others act as whistle-blowers. A decade ago, hope was mounting that Turkey could emerge as a democratic stronghold in the troubled Middle East. And Erdoğan, who served as prime minister for over a decade before he became president in 2014, appeared moderate. As president, though, Erdoğan has turned toward authoritarianism.

Turkey’s academics have been pushing back. In January 2016, 1,128 Turkish scholars, including Fincanci, signed the Peace Petition. Accusing Erdoğan’s government of the “deliberate massacre and deportation” of civilians, the petitioners demanded an end to the fighting. Turkey responded by suing over 800 signatories and pressuring universities to retaliate against those employees. Almost 500 scholars lost their jobs.

Fincanci was forced to retire from her job at Istanbul University and is appealing the 2.5-year prison sentence she received for signing the document. “I have been banned from public service,” she says.

Food engineer Bülent Şik was already caught up in the country’s criminal justice system when he signed the petition and subsequently lost his job. In 2011, Turkey’s Ministry of Health sought to find out why cancer rates were so high in the country’s northwestern industrial cities. Şik, who served as a team leader for one of the 16 resulting projects, was tasked with looking for contaminants in water and produce in four industrial provinces. His home city of Antalya, where industries are rare, served as a control. Şik ’s team studied 1,440 locations encompassing about 7 million people, including 1.3 million children.

Between 2013 and 2015, the team found that in 52 locations, people’s drinking water was dangerously high in lead, aluminum and arsenic, which have been linked to cancer. Almost a fifth of the food sampled contained pesticides above the legal limit. Şik’s team identified 66 types of pesticide residues, 26 of which are known to disrupt the endocrine systems of infants and children.

The cumulative effect of ingesting those pesticides throughout childhood could be catastrophic, says Şik, speaking through a translator. “I felt that this was my scientific responsibility to explain those results and share [them] with the public.”

In 2015, representatives from all 16 projects and the health ministry pledged to make the findings public. But the Ministry of Health never released the information. So, in April 2018, Şik published a four-part series about his findings in the national newspaper Cumhuriyet. Government officials sued Şik for distributing confidential information. At one of several trials, he defiantly spent an hour and a half describing his findings.

“It is our freedom to say whatever we want during our defense. I used this freedom to explain the rest of the findings,” Şik says. At his latest hearing on September 26, he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, a decision he is appealing.

While the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays out the fundamental rights of all people, it lacks enforcement teeth. More people need to come to the aid of persecuted scientists, Anderson says. “If we want to secure democracy and human rights, we need to mobilize. We need to support the people that are willing to stick their necks out.”

More than four decades ago, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine established an advocacy arm for scientists experiencing persecution worldwide. The National Academies’ Committee on Human Rights works behind the scenes to research allegations of persecution against scientists and to advocate on their behalf. …

In October, the American Physical Society awarded Xi a 2020 Andrei Sakharov Prize for his “articulate and steadfast advocacy in support of the U.S. scientific community and open scientific exchange, and especially his efforts to clarify the nature of international scientific collaboration in cases involving allegations of scientific espionage.” And in September, members of 60 scientific societies wrote a letter calling on the U.S. government to find “the appropriate balance between our nation’s security and an open, collaborative scientific environment.”

In Turkey, where most universities are state-run, sustained international pressure has yielded limited success, says Robinson, of Scholars at Risk. “A lot of academics are now being acquitted in Turkey but then they’re being reassigned to [remote] universities or regions where they will be forgotten.”

Antarctic penguins, Robert Falcon Scott till today


This 13 January 2018 video is called Antarctica Ross Sea. Part 21. Cape Adare. Adélie Penguins mating.

By Carolyn Gramling, December 6, 2019 at 10:00 am:

‘A Polar Affair’ delves into a centurylong cover-up of penguin sex

A new book surveys penguin biology and Antarctic exploration history

A Polar Affair
Lloyd Spencer Davis
Pegasus Books, $29.95

On March 29, 1912, British explorer Robert Falcon Scott wrote the final diary entry of his ill-fated quest to reach the South Pole. That same day, more than 350 kilometers away, naval surgeon and zoologist George Murray Levick was hunkered down within a snowbank at Cape Adare, observing Adélie penguins.

Levick had accompanied Scott to Antarctica, but was not one of the five expedition members on the final trek to the pole. The return journey claimed the lives of all five. Levick survived the expedition, however, and in 1914, published a manuscript summarizing his observations — the first scientific descriptions of Antarctic penguins.

But he left something out.

During his months observing Adélie penguins, which included an entire breeding cycle, Levick witnessed the birds engaging in same-sex mating rituals. He also saw the birds engage in a variety of other sexual behaviors that in humans we might call promiscuity, infidelity, even prostitution. Levick recorded these scandalous details in a second manuscript, “The sexual habits of the Adélie penguin”, in 1915. But the manuscript was stamped “Not for Publication” and remained unpublished for nearly a century.

In 2012, the manuscript resurfaced in a scientific journal. Penguin biologist and author Lloyd Spencer Davis, who had thought he was the first to record same-sex behavior in Antarctic penguins in 1996, was dismayed and intrigued. So Davis embarked on a personal quest to understand how and why Levick’s observations had been buried in the first place — seemingly by his own wishes.

The result of that quest is Davis’ book A Polar Affair, an entertaining, chatty and sometimes salacious romp through polar exploration history, penguin biology and Victorian mores.

Each of the book’s five sections opens with a brief essay — Homosexuality, Divorce, Infidelity, Rape, Prostitution — that highlights how tempting it can be, whether in Victorian or modern times, to view penguin sexual behaviors through an anthropomorphic lens.

But the driving force of A Polar Affair isn’t really to understand these sexual behaviors, Davis writes. Instead, what he really wants to understand is “why Murray Levick would discover the dirty side of penguins and then try to cover it up.”

Davis delves into Levick’s personal history, hunting down his field notes and retracing his long, frostbitten months studying Cape Adare’s penguin colony.

Davis’ investigations are interspersed with a sweeping history of polar exploration that is by turns fascinating and frustrating. He also includes stories from his own penguin studies. The narrative meanders through the exploits of a wide-ranging cast of explorers who have since lent their names to bits of Antarctica’s geography, from James Clark Ross to Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen.

Early expeditions led to key innovations to manage challenges such as the bitter cold and ever-present nutrient deprivation. And many of those innovations, we learn, came to bear in the 1911–1912 race to the South Pole between Robert Falcon Scott and Norwegian Roald Amundsen. (Amundsen got there first, beating Scott by about one month.) This rich and often intimate history can be riveting stuff. But much of it is also well-trodden ground, and at times, I found myself flipping ahead, wanting to get back to Levick and his penguins.

Other digressions, though, particularly Davis’ discussions of whether there are evolutionary benefits to penguins’ same-sex mating or nonmonogamous behaviors, are fascinating. Is same-sex mating a case of mistaken identity, in that male and female penguins are monomorphic, looking much alike? Is promiscuity among penguins related to the female’s inclination to build a stronger nest, one that is shored up by stones earned through offering sex?

These are questions with which Davis and other penguin biologists still wrestle. And A Polar Affair doesn’t come to a tidy answer for why Levick suppressed his most startling findings. But the book’s unique approach to polar exploration history makes for an engaging read. And by the end, Davis does come to terms with his need to understand his predecessor and with his own dismay at being scooped a century ago. The journey in discovery, he suggests, was satisfying. “It doesn’t really matter who was the first to see a bit of male-on-male action in penguins,” he writes, “any more than it probably matters who was first to stand on an arbitrary piece of ice and drive a flagpole into it.”

Greek police brutality against murdered student´s commemoration


This video from Grece is called Athens 6th December 2019/ 11th anniversary of the assassination of teenager boy Alexis Grigoropoulos.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Investigations after police brutality in Athens demo

GREEK police face investigations after being accused of brutality and forcibly stripping at least two people after a march marking the 11th anniversary of the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos.

The ombudsman will examine files and video footage of the clashes that took place after Friday’s rally in Athens, handed in by the Hellenic Police today.

More than 1,000 people took part in the march in memory of the teenager, who was shot dead in 2008 by an off-duty police officer, Epaminondas Korkoneas. He was released earlier this year following the introduction of a new penal code in June.

Footage of police brutality and humiliation began circulating on social media shortly after the demonstration. This included a man being stripped of his shirt before officers were seen to put their hand down his trousers, yanking at his underwear. He was taken to the police station and, according to Eurokinissi photographer Tatiana Bolari, was released without being charged.

A woman was seen having her clothing pulled up to her neck, while another appeared to be roughed up while yelling that she had nothing to do with the demonstration.

“These are photographs of remands, not arrests. Being remanded means being held until proven to have done something. Being remanded, or being arrested, does not mean being humiliated,” Ms Bolari said.

Protesters marched to parliament, before some made their way to the spot in the Exarcheia district of the capital where the 15-year-old was murdered.

They were confronted by riot police and clashes followed, … after the demonstration was fired on with tear gas.

At least 50 people were detained by police, with 10 of them arrested.

Last Friday evening’s demonstration in Athens

TENS of thousands of school and university students demonstrated last Friday in Athens and in all Greek major cities against the oppression and violence campaign carried out by the riot-police of the right-wing government: here.

Dinosaur age mammals´ ears, new discovery


Origolestes lii, shown in the foreground in this artist’s rendition, was a shrew-sized mammal that lived about 123 million years ago in an ecosystem known as the Jehol Biota in what’s now China. By Chuang Zhao

By Carolyn Gramling, December 6, 2019:

An ancient critter may shed light on when mammals’ middle ear evolved

How early the hammer, anvil and stirrup arose has been hard to pin down

Exceptionally preserved skulls of a mammal that lived alongside the dinosaurs may be offering scientists a glimpse into the evolution of the middle ear.

The separation of the three tiny middle ear bones — known popularly as the hammer, anvil and stirrup — from the jaw is a defining characteristic of mammals. The evolutionary shift of those tiny bones, which started out as joints in ancient reptilian jaws and ultimately split from the jaw completely, gave mammals greater sensitivity to sound, particularly at higher frequencies (SN: 3/20/07). But finding well-preserved skulls from ancient mammals that can help reveal the timing of this separation is a challenge.

Now, scientists have six specimens — four nearly complete skeletons and two fragmented specimens — of a newly described, shrew-sized critter dubbed Origolestes lii that lived about 123 million years ago. O. lii was part of the Jehol Biota, an ecosystem of ancient wetlands-dwellers that thrived between 133 million and 120 million years ago in what’s now northeastern China.

The skulls on the nearly complete skeletons were so well-preserved that they were able to be examined in 3-D, say paleontologist Fangyuan Mao of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and colleagues. That analysis suggests that O. lii’s middle ear bones were fully separated from its jaw, the team reports online December 5 in Science.

Fossils from an older, extinct line of mammals have shown separated middle ear bones, but this newfound species would be the first of a more recent lineage to exhibit this evolutionary advance.

O. lii apparently moved its jaw both in side-to-side and in rolling motions as it chewed. Such chewing ability, the team says, may have played a role in the evolutionary separation of the jaw and middle ear bones.

“This paper describes a spectacular fossil,” says vertebrate paleontologist Zhe-Xi Luo of the University of Chicago, who was not involved in the new study. But he’s not convinced that O. lii represents an evolutionary leap forward in mammalian ear evolution.

Luo notes that O. lii is closely related to the mammal genus Maotherium, which lived around the same time and in roughly the same location. In Science in July, Luo and colleagues reported that a new analysis of Maotherium revealed that its middle ear bones were still connected to its jawbones by a strip of cartilage (SN: 7/18/19).

That finding, Luo says, was expected. Maotherium is well-known as a transitional organism, in which the middle ear bones had begun to rotate away from the jaw but were still loosely connected by that cartilage. There are numerous branches and twigs on the mammal family tree, Luo says, and evolution occurred at a different pace on them. But, he says, it’s unlikely that O. lii would have had separated ear bones when Maotherium didn’t, given the pair’s close positioning on the tree.

Luo says he also doesn’t find the study’s evidence that the separation was complete in O. lii convincing. Three of the four skulls in the study were missing all or part of the middle ear, and the gap between the middle ear bones and jaw in the fourth skull may have been a break that occurred during fossilization, he adds.

However, the new study’s researchers reject this idea. “It’s common that different interpretations may exist for a discovery in paleontology,” says vertebrate paleontologist Jin Meng of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, a co-author of the study.

But, Meng says, none of the ear bones or the cartilage in any of the skulls show fractured or broken edges. That, he says, suggests that these features were already separated in the animals before their demise.

German pro-peace artist Kollwitz and the USA


This 13 December 2019 video from Los Angeles in the USA is called KÄTHE KOLLWITZ: PRINTS, PROCESS, POLITICS AT THE GETTY.

By Allan M. Jalon in the USA, 1 December 2019, with photos by the author:

All Roads Lead Back To Käthe Kollwitz

This is the third in a series of stories about the work of Käthe Kollwitz and how it influenced artists, activists and collectors like Dr. Richard Simms, part of whose collection is being exhibited by the Getty Center in Los Angeles. You may find the previous articles here and here.

In 1971, as America churned with the social movements of the Vietnam era, a 26-year-old activist named Martha Kearns, living in a politically-committed urban commune in Philadelphia, wrote a proposal to a press newly formed to publish books about women by women. Kearns wrote what she refers to as Movement Poetry, but had never attempted a book before. She planned a biography of Käthe Kollwitz (1867-1945), a German artist whose life of social engagement, existential ups and downs and creative ability, she said recently, offered a natural mirror to “the movements of the time, anti-war, civil rights, also the Women’s Movement.”

She’d seen only a few of Kollwitz’s works, but had been “moved very deeply,” by the artist who was counted by connoisseurs, especially of works on paper and sculpture, among the leading artists in history. Activists and college students in the 1960s honored her for her anti-war images and art about the urban poor. Florence Rosenfeld Howe, a rabbi’s granddaughter whose Feminist Press became a beacon for its time, took the book “instantly”, said Kearns.

Biographer of Kollwitz: Martha Kearns, seen here with a mask at an exhibit of artwork by contemporary Nigerian painter Wole Lagunju, is the author of Kathe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist

Kearns became the first — still, strangely, the only — English-language biographer to address the whole of Kollwitz’s life. In its last pages, Kearns placed a poem by the Jewish-American poet Muriel Rukeyser titled, “Käthe Kollwitz”. With fierce clarity, Rukeyser conveyed Kollwitz’s revealing realism about the world and herself, referring to her many self-portraits, and asking: “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life?”

This fall, starting on a sunny October morning from New York’s Penn Station, I started to travel to talk with women and men who’ve been especially inspired by Kollwitz. Rukeyser is gone, but I wanted to hear the voices of other writers and artists who I felt might offer a better understanding of her through their eyes.

My final destination, as I write this, will be an exhibition at the Getty Research Institute (GRI), part of the J. Paul Getty Center above the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles. The show — “Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics” — will unveil the collection of Kollwitz works built by Dr. Richard A. Simms that the GRI acquired in 2016. The show of about 100 works (from a total of 654 Kollwitz and Kollwitz-related works Simms collected) is set to open on December 3. It will be the most comprehensive exhibit of Kollwitz’s work in this country since 1992. After Los Angeles, many of the works will travel to the Art Institute of Chicago.

The impulse to hit the road for this piece grew when I was talking with the late Hildegard Bachert, a German Hitler refugee who became a leading dealer of Kollwitz’s work at New York’s Galerie St. Etienne and a friend of Simms. Bachert, then 97, spoke to me that day of the large community of the artist’s devotees, declaring: “Kollwitz people are nice people.”

I’d studied the Kollwitz world enough to know that “nice” had a bigger meaning. Civility is part of the Kollwitz-admiring character. But the word also embraces an artist who responded to the Judeo-Christian Humanist tradition by translating it into secular values. She didn’t teach good conduct, but her skills at turning her instinctive empathy into visual reality set an example in life and art. What follows, are meetings with four such people, including a German-born master puppet-maker who told me how his sense of Kollwitz as an artistic witness connected to his having watched, at 10, a horrific attack in World War II. Another is one of America’s most outstanding print-makers, who explained that she was mindful of Kollwitz’s approaches to the art form they shared when making work inspired by the writings of Franz Kafka. I met a painter from China who revealed that Kollwitz exerted an influence in that country that gave an unintended open view to young Chinese artists under a repressive regime.

The universalist emphasis in Kollwitz’s art gained a second life in how the Kollwitz people I met skipped blithely over distinctions between themselves and others, finding a place where a specific artist’s work speaks to a wide range of people. They told of how their attachment to her was built on differences of religion, race, ethnicity and nationality — but also transcended them.

Kollwitz people tend to live with a lot of music—especially Bach. It became a repeated patch in my crazy-quilt of encounters with fervent people, a journey that started on October 15th, when I boarded Amtrak’s Northeast Regional train in New York’s Penn Station for Philadelphia.

Kearns picked me up at my hotel in the Center City section of Philadelphia. She’s an ebullient 74-year-old woman who stands just over five feet, with pale blue eyes and a propulsive energy that persisted as she drove us through a dense rain and morning traffic.

In her beige-ish (“I call it my golden chariot!”) Honda Accord, we headed off on an hour-and-a-half drive to Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, where she teaches art history, to see an exhibit of paintings by Wole Lagunju, a contemporary painter from Nigeria that she helped to curate.

As she drove, she moved from describing the “strong social overtones” of Lagunju’s art, to recounting the two experiences that led her to write her book, “Käthe Kollwitz: Woman and Artist”. The first was working with Peter Schumann, the founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater.

Schumann, who recently turned 85, arrived in this country from his native Germany in 1961, having been born a year after Hitler took power and growing up during the war. His dynamic puppet performances drew on European street theater and the Humanist tradition to protest, in startlingly imaginative ways, the traumas of war and race in 1960s America.

Between 1969 and 1971, Kearns made masks and performed with Bread and Puppet, becoming part of a tour through the American South to perform at coffee houses near military bases where soldiers were turning against the Vietnam War.

Schumann, she recalled, spoke of Kollwitz’s impact on him. Kearns said she connected her early feeling for Kollwitz to a Schumann piece called the “Grey Lady Cantata II”, and a short film of it that survives shows a haunting group of war widows — tall, grief-stricken puppets echoing grieving mothers who Kollwitz had re-imagined in various forms after her son, Peter, was killed in World War I.

Bread and Kollwitz: Bread & Puppet founder Peter Schumann holds a loaf of bread and a picture of Kollwitz’s “Brot” poster

“I found myself thinking about Kollwitz a lot in that time,” Kearns said, “after hearing of her from Peter and seeing how his work was definitely Kollwitzian.”

For her and others enveloped in social causes of the time, she said: “We were seeking positive imagery of what we were involved in. We wanted Kollwitz’s art. We were hungry for it. We were trying to create a just world.”

In 1970, she saw a Kollwitz print called “Mary and Elizabeth” in a counter-culture magazine. It showed two pregnant women talking with a closeness that transcended social contact.

“That is it,” she said, as I opened a book of Kollwitz prints, sitting in the passenger seat, trying to hold it steady. “But that’s the lithograph. I saw the woodcut. She did it three times. The woodcut was darker, and what I saw in that Movement magazine was the woodcut.”

Kollwitz people tend to bring to the artist a visceral, tactile eye for the deep contrasting blacks and white she used, and her dramatic shadings between extremes.

“What struck me was that it was very tender and very reverent,” Kearns said. “It was only later that I learned it was religious — secular but religious underneath. What I liked most about it was the blackness, even in the mimeographed reproduction of that magazine.”

Kearns writes in her book about where Kollwitz got her idea for the print: The artist was “greatly moved” by a painting she’d seen at a museum of two pregnant Biblical women, future mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist.

The diary describes the two women as standing “facing one another” holding cloaks they wore open, so that “in their swollen abdomens you see the coming children…”

Kearns wrote of the final, 1928 woodcut as “a visual poem of caring between women.”

Soon after starting her research, Kearns reached out to Hildegard Bachert. “I was young, but Hildegard believed in me,” Kearns said. “She took out all the Kollwitz books she had, between 10 to 20 books. Most were in German. I couldn’t have done the book without her.” The book, published in 1976, was a big seller for the Feminist Press. It sold 17,741 copies, a number Kearns has memorized, even as she reports the book is out of print. It was seen on shelves in many college dorm rooms where cheap copies of Kollwitz prints hung on walls. Artists kept well-thumbed copies in their studios.

Her book, sometimes reviewed along with a shorter biographical study that appeared a year before, was generally well-received when it appeared in 1976. Feminist critics praised it, as did others with social and anti-war views that then drove much of the cultural dialogue.

One reader, Kearns told me, was the late print-maker and sculptor Elizabeth Catlett who Kearns once referred to as “The American Kollwitz.” The highly-regarded Catlett, who was African-American and spent much of her creative life in Mexico, studied Kollwitz’s work and spoke of her feeling for it to Kearns through the years they knew each other.

Kearns said Catlett had told her about the Guerilla Girls, the group of women art activists who continue to seek greater recognition for women artists and roles for women in the art world. One of the Guerilla Girls, who take on the names of women artists they believed are under-recognized, calls herself Käthe Kollwitz.

We finally reached Moravian College’s Payne Gallery, where a number of actual Yoruban tribal masks were showing together with Lagunju’s strong, deftly ironic paintings. The Nigerian-born, North Carolina-based artist paints versions of portraits that glorified the wealth and power of European aristocrats in the so-called Golden Age of Discovery — but with an understanding of the oppression and theft that fueled it. Faces from African tribal masks appear where the European faces would have been.

As we toured the show, Kearns told me the show reflects her efforts to steer students to artists from different backgrounds. Kearns, raised Presbyterian, is very active in an Episcopalian church and previously headed what she called a “faith-based arts ministry” associated with the Methodist Church.”

“Christianity has always played a part of my life but I am a charter member of a Hadassah chapter in Center City,” she said, laughing. By the time Kearns drove me to Philly’s Union Station, still as energetic as at the start of our day, I wanted to learn more about the link between Peter Schumann’s puppetry and Kollwitz. I’d admired his artistic-activist vision since college and I wanted to meet him and hear him speak about what his art gained from hers.

A few days later, I boarded another Amtrak train and took the eight-hour ride to Vermont.

The day after arriving in the Green Mountain State, I drove into its northeast corner. Outside the small town of Glover, I turned up a hill and kept climbing until I saw a red school bus that had been converted into a roadside shop for prints, drawings and posters. Big colorful letters painted on the front advertised: Cheap Art Store.

Magic Bus: This red school bus heralds your arrival to the Bread & Puppet compound, founded by Peter Schumann

I’d reached the Bread and Puppet Theater’s loosely arrayed compound.

The bus’s cheerful offer was a Kollwitz-like message. Working with mass-market printers, she made versions of her art that were inexpensively accessible to the largest number of people. Dr. Simms and other collectors spend a lot of money in pursuit of rare and process-revealing pieces, but many Kollwitz people are drawn to her populist side.

Schumann, the Prospero-like conjurer of Bread and Puppet, the man in whose presence Kearns had felt enveloped by Kollwitz thinking, also made some of the prints sold in the bus. Most are priced at under $20. He makes his group’s performances as close to public events as possible. Free bread is handed out to audience members.

After he opened the door of a sturdy old house, he told me he recalled Kearns well, then pulled out a book about the Bread and Puppet’s history by Stefan Brecht, the son of Bertolt Brecht, with photos of the “Grey Lady Cantata II” and other pieces he said Kollwitz had influenced.

It was lunchtime, and Schumann and his wife, Elka, shared a bowl of their lentil soup. He pulled out a fresh-baked loaf of sourdough rye bread so essential to the Bread and Puppet’s identity. His mother had made bread like this, he told me, in his still-clear German accent.

It was a peasant food universal among the German working classes. He said he was sure Kollwitz had just such bread in mind when she made a poster decrying Depression-era hunger.

It was, he said, the first image of hers he saw just after World War II.

“Brot!” he said. “She put that word on her poster, together with the starving family. The way she combined words with the image for that poster is something I have done in my work.”

Indeed, the combination of visual and verbal experience — also music, sometimes Bach—are as basic to Schumann’s theater pieces and the prints he makes as the bread he ate as a boy.

He described the “war-waging, war-ravaged” Germany where he was five when Hitler’s troops entered Poland in 1939. He came of age in the middle of Allied bombings and told how his family fled them. Among his most dramatic memories was how, at age 10, he watched from a bluff overlooking the Baltic harbor of Lübeck as Allied planes sank the SS Cap Arcona, a German ocean liner that carried both German soldiers and inmates of concentration camps.

The well-documented accounts of the Cap Arcona sinking in 1945, a complex attack that is not well-recalled today, describe one of the most grotesque events of the time.

“I was with my brother, and we were supposed to be inside where it was safe. But we were up on a hill above the harbor and we stayed and watched,” he said. “We were boys and we should not have been there, but we couldn’t pull ourselves away. The next day, the bloated bodies of the victims washed up on the shore. They washed up for days.“

Was his art influenced by his war-time experiences, I asked.

“Absolutely,” he said. “That’s how an artist works, I guess, all that garbage from your life ends up inside of you and it ends up in your work.”

Kollwitz’s work about war-time suffering has long exerted its power on him, he said.

Schumann, who said he first began to closely look at Kollwitz’s work in a museum in the city of Hanover toward the end of the 1940s (it had been banned during the Nazi era) seemed to grow more sharply alert to those memories when he told me about one pose he’d seen in several of her pieces.

“This,” he said, suddenly wrapping one arm over his head and putting a hand over one eye: “This wrapping of herself and holding herself.” I’d seen Kollwitz self-portraits and other works reminiscent of this pose gesture, especially the eye-covering hand. My parents had owned a lithograph with the artist closed into herself.

“What is this wrapping, this self-wrapping, to you? What is she expressing?” I asked Schumann.

“The brain is falling out of your head and you must hold in the pieces,” he said. “One eye is closed in sorrow.”

“Because your experience has been so extreme?”

“Yes,” he said. “This gesture — it is an element of our time. I mean my time and Kollwitz’s time. It is a time you are in and you can’t get yourself out of it. It was her time, but we are impressed, when we see it, by the fact that the human situation is not resolved.

“You would have thought that, after the Nuremberg Trials, after they hung the Nazis, that it would have ended,” he added, in a mournful tone. “But then, people started war-mongering again in the Cold War, removing themselves again from what it meant to be human.”

Schumann led me down the hill from his house to a large barn that serves as a museum for puppets from his plays and pageants. Filling the cavernous interior, which is like a cross between a huge haunted house and Noah’s ark, are countless puppets made of paper maché and other materials of all sizes and shapes. Their faces express political rage, ecstatic celebration, and lamenting sensitivity.

One corridor was given to puppets and other props from Schumann’s drama about the life of Charlotte Salomon (1917-1943). The Berlin-born German-Jewish artist created her masterpiece, a sprawling work of hundreds of visual pieces, while in hiding from the Nazis.

Schumann’s work follows her from childhood through her death in Auschwitz, in 1943. Schumann, who says he grew up “Lutheran-atheist”, has also created works that are critical of Israeli state power in its treatment of Palestinians. He has been strongly criticized for these works, but he told me that, while he regrets offending people’s feelings, he has always risked controversy. “I won’t stop,” he said,

He pointed to the grieving mothers from the work from which Kearns felt gave her the first spark of Kollwitz interest. He gestured to another group of figures high on a wall, which he said appeared in a 1982 piece called, “The Thunderstorm of the Youngest Child.” They had hands wrapped around their heads, pressed to their eyes, the pose he’d enacted.

“Kollwitz?” I asked.

“Kollwitz,” he said. He pointed at other such figures: “She’s there.”

“Kollwitz, but also Rodin. And Michelangelo. There’s a lot of Michelangelo jumping out all over the place in Kollwitz.”

Kollwitz Meets Kafka

On another rainy day, I took a drive amid the mountains and lakes of Vermont to visit Claire Van Vliet.

Claire Van Vliet, Only a Doctor: A 1962 lithograph shows the influence of both Kollwitz and Kafka

The coming year will mark 65 years since Van Vliet founded Janus Press, naming it for the Roman god who could see both the past and the future. She will also celebrate three decades since she received a so-called “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The best way to understand the extent of her varied achievements is to look at a catalogue that carefully details the press’s multi-layered history, published by the University of Vermont Libraries.

It tells a story about the artists, authors, and translators who have worked with Janus since she started it. Since 1966, she’s lived in the tiny Vermont town of Newark. The press has published or co-published over 90 books, more than a dozen broadsides and other work.

The Canadian-born Van Vliet, 86, is highly regarded for what she calls her “wall art”, drawings, prints and pulp paintings, appending pigmented paper pulp onto a handmade paper underlayer to form an image. As a print-maker, she’s worked across traditional techniques that Kollwitz pursued—metal plate etchings to lithography to woodcuts.

I found, in a catalogue occasioned by an extensive 1999 show of Van Vliet’s work that traveled in New England and elsewhere, an interview in which she notes the impact of several artists. “Käthe Kollwitz was the greatest influence for me on how to approach form, particularly in the medium of woodcut,” she said.

Van Vliet lives on a high hill, beside a long, unpaved road and across from a rust-colored mailbox. Woods beyond her grey salt-box house darkly frame a wide-open field, a contemplative setting for a studio with large windows and broad tables for a printer’s work.

A grey, rainy-day light filtered into the space as we sat and spoke of Kollwitz, whose art Van Vliet said she first studied as an art history student at San Diego State University in the early 1950s.

Van Vliet leapt up and returned with a Kollwitz print— “Conspiracy”, the third image (of six) from Kollwitz’s first print cycle, “A Weavers Rebellion,” about a strike by Silesian fabric workers. In the intricately etched print, several men sit at a table in a tavern to plot against their bosses.

Van Vliet found the print in a store in Claremont, CA, in 1952, and said she was so openly moved that the owners gave it to her as a gift. What got her attention?

“Those two forms.” She pointed at the firm-looking, rectangular brightness of the table and the bright long plank of the bench on which the plotters sit. The print embodied the formal strength of how Kollwitz often built contrasts of light and dark, Van Vliet noted.

Van Vliet, raised in the Anglican Church, said she discovered Franz Kafka’s writing in 1961. Spending time in Montreal, subletting a house from a reporter for a Jewish publication who was spending time in Israel, she found his books on a shelf, and was captivated. The Jewish writer from Prague, with his sometimes terrifying, always probing search through consciousness became a catalyst for a lot of her work as both artist and publisher. Her prints and drawings of landscapes in Vermont and elsewhere distill a unique balance of power and delicacy. Still, Ruth Fine, a former curator with the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has described her 30 or so black-and-white Kafka pieces as an “essential part of her output.”

Artist And Inspiration: Claire Van Vliet poses with a Kollwitz print

“Kafka seemed to me, in a very clear way, to portray the state of mind after the Second World War”, Van Vliet said. “Of course, he was writing before that, but it was such a wake-up call for everybody—his whole approach, his sense of futility and of the unexplained world was very powerful, and he really spoke to me.”

Van Vliet showed me “Only a Doctor”, a print that was influenced by Kollwitz as she lllustrated “A Country Doctor”, Kafka’s very unsettling story about a physician who goes to cure a patient with a dramatic and ambiguous wound.

The story culminates in a scene in which the doctor proves useless at his job and stands naked in front of the uncured victim of fate as he lays still with a blanket tucked up to his still chin. The shadows stir with the bristling figures, in Van Vliet’s print, of a vengeful crowd.

The tautly emotional energy that Van Vliet’s work gives to Kafka’s scene owes a clear debt to a woodcut Kollwitz made to honor to Karl Liebknecht, the slain leader of the German Leftist revolution of 1918-1919. In it, Liebknecht’s working class mourning followers surround his corpse.

“The Liebknecht Memorial was very important to me for how to cut, how to approach the form with the knife,” Van Vliet said.

In Montpelier, I stayed in a hotel across from Vermont’s gold-domed statehouse, and read about the city. It was an early hub for Northern New England roads that stretched up into the hills and across dozens of river-crossing bridges. Rt 2 takes you northwest to Lake Champlain in one direction and all the way to Bangor, Maine, in the other. It’s not far to Canada.

By phone, one morning after breakfast, I traveled far across the Vermont state line. Beijing was having dinner at that point, 10 hours ahead, when I rose at 7 am to call a painter named Tian Wei. We’d met two years before at the Getty Research Institute in LA,, where he was an artist in residence. In a soft voice, the lanky artist with a grey-black ponytail had spoken a startling sentence.

With the roads of Montpelier quiet, I called him to hear it again. From across the globe, he obliged: “Käthe Kollwitz was the most significant Western artist for my generation of Chinese artists.”

‘Charge’: In this line etching, dated 1902-03, Kollwitz depicted a scene of rebellion

“We grew up in the harsh Cultural Revolution,” explained Tian Wei, 64, who lived for years in the United States before his recent return to China. “We were only allowed to appreciate certain kinds of artists. She was one of the ones they (political powers) supposed to be a Western example of Social Realism, which they approved of. Her art came out of this revolutionary kind of thing, but she was doing much more than that, and we could see it. Her art was so strong as art. If you see one of her prints, it is imprinted on your mind. It jumped out at us.

Longest Road Through Kollwitzland

Tian started out making figurative art, but became passionate, after arriving in New York in 1986, about Abstract-Expressionism. He explored how traditional Chinese calligraphy and Modernist abstraction could work together, creating his approach today. He acknowledged that, as they look now, his paintings don’t reflect Kollwitz’s stylistic influence. But he said that limiting her impact on him by focusing only on outward appearances would overlook the basic feeling he drew from her:

“Her images are very strong. We responded to this strength in her and we found we could use her influence, her art work, as an example of strength for any kind of art.”

Heading to the southern edge of Vermont, my train stopped in the town of Brattleboro and waited a while amid the fiery colors of a sunny late-October day.

When imagining my trip, I’d hoped to get off there. It was where Bachert had a country home, living among family and friends. She also had an apartment in New York, where she lived as she worked with Jane Kallier, the director of the Galerie St. Etienne during their many years as its co-directors. Last year, at 97, Bachert retired from the gallery and moved full-time to Vermont.

Brattleboro

Kollwitz’s ‘Death’: The artist used a scratch technique for this late 19th Century lithograph

I’d never been to Brattleboro and wondered about Bachert’s country life. I was checking the Amtrak schedule for an overnight stop to visit her before heading farther north into the state, when I got an email from Jane Kallir, telling me that Bachert had died there on October 17.

Her death came as the Galerie St. Etienne was showing the second of three exhibits to celebrate its 80th anniversary. It focused on dealers, like Bachert, who also formed an unusually rich scholarly grasp of artists they represented, and the gallery’s walls held some superb Kollwitzes.

At the gallery’s front desk, one can pick up a copy of Bachert’s biography published by the St. Etienne, which contains a story that follows the general outline of Jewish flight to America as a refugee from Fascism. Like so many, she found haven here but never forgot where she came from.

The memoir’s chapter about her childhood in the city of Mannheim describes her widening awareness of nature and culture (she and her family collected postcards “by artists like Kollwitz”) and then a massive blow on the anvil of history that pulled her world apart:

“The Nazis came to power in 1933, when I was hardly twelve.”

She arrived in New York in 1939 and started at the St. Etienne in November, 1940. Otto Kallir, Jane’s grandfather, had founded the gallery in 1939, the year he also arrived in New York in flight from the Nazis. She played essential roles as the St. Etienne grew into a leading place for art from German-speaking countries. It also pioneered the sale of work by Grandma Moses and other artists. When the Kollwitz collection of Dr. Simms becomes a public exhibition in a few weeks, it will have developed to a notable degree from the relationship between Dr. Simms and Bachert. The St. Etienne sold 69 of the works to Dr. Simms, and he has spoken of how much Bachert taught him about Kollwitz.

He traveled from California to Brattleboro to visit her three times for Passover, he told me. After she retired, he put in a standing order with a local florist to send her flowers once a month, wanting to brighten up her Vermont winters.

As she said, Kollwitz people are nice people. But, again, the word as it applied to her and Dr. Simms went farther.

One wall at the GRI show will include a unique drawing Kollwitz made as she developed a print called, “Das Volk,” or: “The People.” She was working on the seventh image from “War,” a Kollwitz cycle from the early 1920s.

She made several efforts to complete the work, another time the artist seemed to enter a wilderness of possibilities and fight for clarity about her destination.

The drawing, in brush and black ink with white wash and charcoal, shows a group of lost-looking souls in a dark void, wandering. An old woman stares out, directly at the viewer.

She looks much like Kollwitz herself, her eyes open and steady, with an unyielding focus on some kind of serious truth that lives both in herself and the viewer.

Beneath the picture, the wall text will read: “Gift of Dr. Richard A. Simms in honor of Hildegard Bachert.”

“Käthe Kollwitz: Prints, Process, Politics” opens at the Getty Center on December 3, 2019. It runs through March 29, 2020.*

Pufferfish inside, video


This 6 December 2018 video says about itself:

Pufferfish are best known for their ability to inflate like a balloon. But if you peer inside, you typically won’t find air. You’ll find water, not to mention an accordion-like stomach, a unique set of muscles for pumping, and a poison that’s up to 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide.