Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Friday, October 29, 2021

Every work of art has its “provenance”

Thursday October 28, 2021 


I am awash in provenance. 

            In the art world, provenance identifies the origins of artwork. The art could be a painting, a statue, a piece of music or literature. Often, provenance enhances the value of a work of art. Mozart’s Requiem takes on special status when you know that Salieri wrote it out for a dying Mozart – at least, according to the movie Amadeus. 

            That’s why art galleries provide information about the artist, and about the history of that piece. 

            Mona Lisa is the exception that proves the rule. She’s a mystery. We don’t know who she is, why Da Vinci painted her, what he was trying to convey.

            There is no story to go with the painting. 

            In my case, I have too much provenance. My daughter and I are the only leaves left of four family trees. 


Stories galore

            Everything funnelled down to us has a story. 

            Tea trays, for example. (Does anyone still use tea trays?) I have four hand-carved wooden tea trays that my parents collected when they were missionaries in India. They’ve suffered minor damage over the generations. But I can’t junk them; they’re part of my story. 

            Also a silver tea tray, given to my Irish grandmother by her pupils when she left teaching to get married, inscribed with her name and the date. Whatever its value as silver, its value as story is greater.

            Three watercolour paintings, by Irish artist Roland Hill, hang on my living room wall. Two of them show places my grandfather took his family for vacations. The third, of the moody Mountains of Mourne, portrays gateposts just over a hill from my grandmother’s house. My cousin and I cycled past those gateposts. 

            Both my parents and my paternal grandparents were missionaries in India. Both occasionally acquired hand-carved, hand-made, furniture. 

            So I now have two coffee tables and a set of nesting tables, of Kashmir mahogany. A little sticker attests that they were hand carved by “Suffering Moses,” in Srinagar. And a rosewood end table, almost lattice-work. 

            Market value, unknown. Value to me, priceless. 

            Someday, perhaps not too long from now, I shall have to downsize. Perhaps to a smaller space. Perhaps to a room in a care facility. 

            I’m afraid these will simply become someone’s “things.” The tables will acquire coffee rings. Runaway tricycles will smash the rosewood lattice. Roland Hill’s paintings will become no more than pretty scenes on someone’s wall. 

            They will lose their provenance.


And stories about stories

            Even stories have their own provenance – though we rarely call it that. When we read books, we want to know something about the author. 

            And when we read the Bible, we call it Bible study. (Unless you read the Bible as an instruction manual divorced from time and culture.) 

            The stories behind the stories help us understand why the prophets said what they did. Why Paul wrote his many letters. How the desert shaped a wondering wandering tribe into the people of God.

            People, too. Jesus’ provenance, or Buddha’s, or Mohammed’s, is the culture they grew up in and out of. Without their provenance, what would they be?

            In that sense, we are all the creations of our provenance. We are all works of art. 


Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To comment on this column, write jimt@quixotic.ca





Last week’s dive into nostalgia brought dozens of delightful letters. 


Jim Henderschedt: “I remembered every last one of those comics, radio shows, and some you didn't mention. What a wonderful trip down memory lane. Even as I type out this thank-you note more and more ‘oldies’ surface. Talk about the firing of synapses…”


Laurna Tallman: “Ah, the memory triggers! Sgt. Preston of the RCMP and his wonder dog Yukon King: and The Lone Ranger, the introduction to which (along with the William Tell Overture) I probably still can repeat word-perfectly. Mary Granon’s ‘Just Mary’ introduced Maggie Muggins and her gardener friend Mr. McGarrity, who shared with her the lore of garden plants and critters. She eventually published some of those radio stories in two books that probably remain in my sister’s collection. 

            “There was a morning program for kids home from school or for ‘shut ins,’ i.e., invalid children, that featured the piano playing and singing of Dorothy Jane Goulding on Kindergarten of the Air, which met the exacting standards of my teacher mother, an accomplished pianist. And the noontime programs for kids who came home for lunch, such as The Small Types Club with Byng Whitteker. 

            “Those voices were almost as familiar to me as my parents’. 

            “The comic strips often were read to me by grandparents or parents, as were the Toronto Telegram’s columns about a rabbit named ‘Uncle Wiggly,’ which I think originated in the US. These programs designed for young and growing children made us part of the broadcasting world as early as possible. They also opened possibilities for our performing within that world, which paved the way for my own short career in legit theatre. 

            “Radio encouraged the imagination as TV never can. The oral traditions and folklore of storytelling remain alive in radio broadcasting, although I’m not aware of popular replacements for Garrison Keillor (in the U.S.) or for Stuart McLean (in Canada).”


“Cisco Kid and Pancho. Amos and Andy. I was a communist for the FBI,,,” Cliff Boldt wrote. “My synapses are firing like crazy.”


John Shaffer: “Yes, I am over eighty and I have a tattered book of Li’l Abner stories to help me remember some of the zany characters created by the author.  I depend on the library to bring back memories of Pogo.  And I have said, ‘The comics ain't what they used to be’, though I do enjoy Doonesbury, even if our so-called former President didn't.  Since he showed no evidence of reading, I won't even speculate how he knew the strip’s content.”


Jim Hoffman: “Your comments regarding synapses caused me to think about those who have issues with memory loss -- dementia, Alzheimers, etc.  Their synapses apparently fire up to recall things that happened years ago, yet are not able to remember yesterday's happenings.

            “The brain is an amazing and wondrous mechanism.  I'm getting close to 80, so remember Fibber McGee well. And we just couldn't wait for Fibber to open that closet door!” [Which he always did, without fail. JT]


David Edwards: “Thanks for the memories! At 86, I know most of those names. The Edmonton Journal has recently started publishing a new version of Blondie, by a couple of new cartoonists, not Chic Young, but with the same characters.”


Isabel Gibson: The mishmash of popular culture detritus that we all carry around with us depends on our age, partly, and also whether we had older/younger siblings (or even aunts/uncles of an age to be de facto older siblings) to connect us to bits we otherwise would have missed. And the categories aren't watertight. I never listened to Fibber McGee and Molly but I did hear Green Lantern on the radio.

            “As I write my own blog and play with allusions to quotes/events that anyone my age would recognize, I sometimes wonder how much of this playfulness is lost on any younger folks who inadvertently stop by.  

            “I'm reminded of T.S. Eliot's apparent assumption that readers of his poetry had a classical education (an assumption sadly misplaced in my case) and of C.S. Lewis flatly refusing to patronize his readers by translating the Latin quotations in his books (as his publisher had requested/suggested). Yikes. I could do with some of that patronizing.”


Don Gunning: “Molly would be hurt to be overlooked! -- didn't she have to clean up after Fibber? I can still clearly hear the William Tell Overture as The Lone Ranger galloped into view.

            Figuring out what day it is, or what did I come here for, are almost daily challenges, but the haunting refrain ‘The Shadow Knows!’ still rings loud and clear!”


Steve Roney: “Thanks for making me feel young! That doesn’t happen often any more. I do not remember Fibber McGee’s closet — I do not remember a time before TV. 

            “I do, on the other hand, remember just about all of the comic strips you mention — they extended into the ‘60s and beyond. Their cultural influence has been vast. More recent strips have also had a deep influence: Dilbert, Calvin and Hobbes, Doonesbury. I expect we have seen the last of them now, because newspapers are dying.”


Doug Linzey: “Jim, are you trying to make me feel old? Heck, I'm only 75, and I know all those old comics. I especially still yearn for Pogo, Li'l  Abner, and Dick Tracy, not to mention Alley Oop. I even miss Rex Morgan, MD. Thank goodness nowadays for Sherman's Lagoon.”


Ruth Shaver: “Fibber McGee's Closet brought memories of my grandfather to mind; he was a sound effects specialist at WOR-AM radio in New York City from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s and had stories to tell about working on almost all of the shows you mentioned at one time or another. I hadn't thought of those stories in a while. The synapses that handle our memories are strange and wonderful works of evolution.”


Florence Driedger: “Recently we were the centre of attention for the service we have provided in our 67 years of married life.  As I reflected on what was being said, a number of experiences came to mind, one of which was how one of my great-grandmothers cut her long skirts shorter so that, as a farm wife, she could do her chores more efficiently.  When I told the Zoom group this story, my daughter said, ‘How come you have not told us this before?’  I don't know; it just came to mind as I was reflecting on how some significant stories in my heritage helped me become who I am today.”

            Florence also recalled, “Hockey Night in Canada, Farm Radio Forum, The Saturday afternoon opera presentation Sponsored by  the Texaco, Share the Wealth, Bert Pearl and the Happy Gang….”


Priscilla Gifford: “Oh, my synapses are snapping!  At 92, I remember all of those programs. NPR bills itself as ‘The Theater of the Mind’ -- long may it play.”




Psalm paraphrase


I set up this paraphrase of Psalm 146 for responsive reading – that is, if anyone still does responsive readings in these days of Zoom services. 


1          Who can you trust these days?
Only God. Forever and ever.

2          You can put your faith in God as long as you live.
God will never abandon you.

3          Do not put your trust in any government.
You cannot count on them. 

4          Human life is short, but governments are shorter.
With each election, their policies change;
their promises dry up faster than morning dew.

5          Put your trust in God;
For eternal confidence, count on the one who knows eternity.

6          What human agency can claim to have created the earth?
What human agency can claim to care for it?

7          Look and see the actions that God favours:
To feed the hungry; to set free the prisoners; 

8          To give sight to the blind; 
to let the lame walk;

to grant liberty to the oppressed…. 

9          Those who always take care of their own concerns are brought down by their own vaulting ambitions.
God cares for the strangers, the widows, the orphans --
God watches over those who cannot watch out for themselves. 

10        Can any human authority make that claim?
God’s stewardship includes all creation.
Trust in God forever! 


You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, info@woodlake.com.





If you want to comment on something, send a message directly to me, jimt@quixotic.ca.

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            I write a second column each Sunday called Sharp Edges, which tends to be somewhat more cutting about social and justice issues. To sign up for Sharp Edges, write to me directly, jimt@quixotic.ca, or send a note to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca

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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. Some spam filters have blocked my posts because they’re suspicious of the web links.

            Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



            I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)


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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Soft Edges

Tags: stories, Art, provenance, legacy

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