Kaplan and Kehlmann: Carrying the Torch of George R. Stewart Onward, I: Robert Kehlmann

Although George R. Stewart is not as well-known as other authors of his day, there is a distinguished band of people who know, value, and carry on his work.  Other authors, including Stephen King, Larry McMurtry, Christopher Priest, Wallace Stegner, William Least Heat Moon, Kim Stanley Robinson, and others, acknowledge GRS either openly through essays or quietly through references in their work. Walt Disney filmed two of Stewart’s books for the Disney TV show.   Stewart’s millions of fans, of course, keep his books alive; several, like Earth Abides,  are still good sellers.  And there are those who actively memorialize and share Stewart’s work.  Two of these are Robert Kehlmann of the Berkeley Plaque Project and Naturalist Emeritus Alan Kaplan.  This post focuses on Robert Kehlmann.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York, now living in Berkeley, California, Robert Kehlmann is a distinguished glass artist, a “painter with glass.” Initially trained in Literature, Kehlmann began to see paintings as similar to poems in their effects on the viewer; and he decided to produce new works of painterly glass “paintings” that would encourage that response.  He helped found a movement taking artistic glass from its traditional use in architecture to a more painterly use, in which glass becomes the “paint” of an artist’s work.  Kehlmann’s work is found in many collections, including the Oakland Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Corning Museum of Glass, New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, and others.

Kehlmann is active in historic preservation in Berkeley.  Former Director of the Landmark’s Preservation Commission in Berkeley, Kehlmann founded the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project in 1997.  On its elegantly designed site, the Plaque Project lists Berkeley historic sites and people with physical or online plaques.  One of those honored by Kehlmann’s project, byan ePlaque,  is  George R. Stewart.

(Also honored with an ePlaque is Wilder Bentley the Elder, and his family.   Bentley, an exceptional poet and printer, was a regular visitor at the former Thornton State Beach in the days Stewart and his family visited.  The Bentleys’ Archive Press published the first book of Ansel Adams’ photographs – a work which led to the establishment of Kings Canyon National Park.)

Kehlmann is one of several fine partners we work with in this tiny but determined project to honor the work of George R. Stewart and educate others about Stewart’s work.  He joins Bill Oudegeest of the Donner Summit Historical Society, who spearheaded the George R. Stewart Interpretive Plaque on Historic US 40 at Donner Summit, Phil and Patty Aaberg at Sweetgrass Music, who published Phil’s Earth Abides sheet music, Baiba Strads and the others of the Bancroft Library, and the select group of people who’ve dug into their pockets to fund or develop these works:  Steve Williams, Doug Raybeck, Junlin Pan, Joyce Colbath-Stewart, Dee and Barney Barney, Bob Lyon,  Beth Lapachet, Brian Byrne, Ross and Charlene Bogert, John and Angela Lucia, Willie Stewart, Paul F. Starrs.

And Alan Kaplan, subject of the next post.

GRS in a “Third Space”: Sharing ‘Stewart Gold’ with the Native Sons of the Golden West

(Thanks to the kindly efforts of WordPress Happiness Engineer, the missing post has been found!)

The Native Sons of the Golden West is a fraternal lodge like the Elks, and does community service like the Lions.  It comes from a noble old tradition of men’s lodges and women’s clubs which did much good work in their communities before government had the resources or the inclination.  Part social, part uplifting, part hard work and fund-raising.  These are community groups in some ways similar to Christian churches, since the meetings usually include a meal – a “communion,” one might call that – followed by shared exhortations and fundraising to fulfill community needs. Service/fraternal clubs often emphasize one or two areas of need.  Shriners built a hospital for crippled children; the Lions Club builds parks and helps the blind; the Grange supports farmers.

George and Ted (Theodosia) Stewart played an important role in the service/fraternal club movement during their years at the University of California, Berkeley.  In 1927, Ted helped found the University Section Club – so named because it had sections for members with different interests.  The Drama Section was the one in which George and Ted were active, writing and performing plays in a reader’s theatre style.  The socialization was a highlight for the Stewarts and the other members; and in the best tradition of such clubs, money raised by the Drama Section Club was used to buy milk for poor children.  The Section Club’s motto, “Friendship and Philanthropy,” is a fine statement of the character of all such groups, including the Native Sons of the Golden West.

In such friendship and philanthropy, the service/fraternal groups are an excellent example of what Robert Putnam, in his classic work Bowling Alone, calls “high social capital.”  According to Wikipedia, social capital was first defined in the way Putnam uses it by a West Virginia Educator, Supervisor of Rural Schools L.J. Hanifan.  Hanifan wrote:

I do not refer to real estate, or to personal property or to cold cash, but rather to that in life which tends to make these tangible substances count for most in the daily lives of people, namely, goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy and social intercourse among a group of individuals and families who make up a social unit… If he may come into contact with his neighbour, and they with other neighbours, there will be an accumulation of social capital, which may immediately satisfy his social needs and which may bear a social potentiality sufficient to the substantial improvement of living conditions in the whole community. The community as a whole will benefit by the cooperation of all its parts, while the individual will find in his associations the advantages of the help, the sympathy, and the fellowship of his neighbours.

(Read the entire book here.  Chapter VI is about social capital.)

The next leader to use the term was another famous educator, John Dewey.  It is interesting to note that educators, like Hanifan, Dewey, and Putnam understand the need for and the positive power of social capital, while some businesses and public agencies seemingly do not.  t.

George R. Stewart wrote about attacks on social capital in a brilliant chapter in his award-winning book Not So Rich As You Think. Although primarily about pollution and waste, Stewart also considers the waste of human talent that low social capital a threat to society.  As I wrote, in an earlier post about the book:

In a chapter entitled “Waste Without Weight” Stewart describes how the modern corporate state weakens social capital by constantly moving people around and thus prevents those people from ever developing a sense of community.  He suggests that the disorder caused by [such practices] may have a terrible effect on the personalities of humans, theorizing that juvenile delinquency may be one result.

In a society driven by the “bottom line,” economic capital becomes pre-eminent, and social capital is (purposefully, perhaps) weakened.  But the Native Sons, the Section Clubs, and their ilk, keep social capital alive. These organizations are “Third Spaces” – places other than home or work where people informally gather to share ideas and meals in a relaxed, informal, voluntary atmosphere, and often organize to plan improvements to their communities.

So when old friend Paul Lapachet, at his sister Beth and Brother-in-Law Brian’s annual Christmas Eve Gathering in their beautiful Twin Peaks Home,  invited me to speak to the Native Sons of the Golden West annual Discovery of Gold Celebration Banquet (which honors James Marshall’s discovery of the nugget that started the Gold Rush) I enthusiastically agreed. In the stressful time of a major move, it was good therapy to work up a presentation that would appeal to the diverse membership of the NSGW who were attending the banquet. 

The banquet was held in Rancho Cordova, close to the Gold Discovery site at Coloma. A great storm which hit the area didn’t  deter attendance.

The talk was well-received.  Several people asked for more information about GRS and his work.  Hopefully,  there’ll be some new GRS fans soon.

Old friend, John Lucia, formerly of California state parks, an avid collector of and restorer of historical objects and houses, attended the talk. Afterwards, I accepted John and Angela Lucia’s kind invitation to leave the  motel and stay in their magnificent home in an historic neighborhood of Sacramento. p1040663

John Lucia on the porch of his and Angela’s historic Sacramento home.  (Angela was cooking.)

Then the massive storm  – a GRS Maria if ever there was such – cleared, Donner Pass opened, and I headed east and south in the aged Chinook, to Carson City, Nevada.  It’s not easy to make such a major change at this stage of life; but talking about George R. Stewart, staying  with the Lucias (who knew the Stewarts), and then  moving to Stewart Country, was encouraging and uplifting.

So far, I’ve met a fine bookseller, an artist, a writer, and other residents who inform me that Carson City has decided to become a city of outdoor recreation and the arts.  GRS would be most happy – as I am. I feel  at home  here.

I’m now staying within walking distance from Stewart, Nevada, where GRS took this iconic portrait:

Author George R. Stewart in one of his favorite places, Nevada

Thanks to Paul Lapachet, I’ve learned a lot about the NSGW.  For one thing, I’d always assumed that one had to be a descendant of someone who arrived in California before 9,9, 1849.  But that’s not the case – anyone who was born here can join.

I also learned how much good work the NSGW does in the field of historic preservation and interpretation. For example:  the group places historic plaques in many locations;  saved Sutter’s Fort from demolition; and is raising the funds to restore the Pioneer Monument at Donner Lake State Historic Park (a monument they originally built and donated to the state) AND build a new interpretive center there.

I intend to join the NSGW.  I encourage all of you to consider it, too.

(Written in Stewart Country, not far from the California Trail  and Donner Pass.)

A Plaque for Ish’s House?

If you’re a follower of this weblog, you may have already read the comment from follower Greg deGiere:

I just learned about the Berkeley Historical Plaque Project and want to urge someone to submit the Stewart house (which I found once through a street directory in the Berkeley Public Library), which is where I assume George wrote. As a student of political science, it has special meaning for me because, as I understand it, it was the model for Ish’s house and living room is where the state was created, so to me it’s something like Independence Hall.

I replied, suggesting that if he wants to work on the nomination, we’ll help as we can.  The idea is a good one, and appropriate.

The house on San Luis Road is the model for Ish’s home in Earth Abides.  He disguises it by renaming the road San Lupo Drive, but the physical characteristics of the house and the neighborhood are very close to the real house, as it was in the days of Ish.

It’s been changed quite a bit now, but his idea is something we should consider. Stay tuned.

Good idea, Greg.