Summer Weather

“I am the Poem of Earth, said the voice of the rain”

— Walt Whitman

It was a wet July—record rain in many parts of Maine.

Today, the sun is out.

Other than my daughter Elisif, I rarely speak publicly about my family. This past week, celebrating another daughter’s return to the U.S. from India, I made an exception, writing about her arrival on Facebook. Nearly 400 people “liked” the post and over 100 commented—more responses than I’ve ever had before.

What is that about?

I know weather changes (you know weather changes). Fast and sudden, thunderclaps emerge; skies draped in grey, at times seemingly without end.

That’s why beams of sunlight are so universally welcome, their transience the very reason for celebration. So the wandering child returns, and 400 voices join in “hallelujah!”

As always, weather changes: now, just as COVID seemed to be waning, the delta variant rises.

New weather—a foreboding wind bringing with it fretful cries of “here we go again!” For some, the “again” is a reactivated fear of the virus, at times marked by a judgmental outlook verging on the hostile toward those resistant to masks or vaccines. And for that group, the “again” may be fear of being forced to cede personal beliefs for a purpose they have trouble rallying around.

Like shearing wind, values collide. (Planes can crash in wind shear.)

Weather comes.

When it shines, it brings us together in celebration (my wandering daughter returned). When it storms, our safety seems threatened.

But it’s not the weather we ought to concern ourselves with; that is outside our control. Rather, our challenge lies in how we manage ourselves in the elements, for preserving our humanity and compassion toward one another in battering rain or sweeping wind serves us all.

Weather is life, and it can test us. Let’s work on thriving in it together.


Ernest Shaw

This month’s Cameo features The Light, a drawing recently completed by Ernest Shaw during a residency at Mass MOCA.

On July 18, Ernest Shaw began a drawing of his son, Taj Amir Shaw.

“It’s been almost 16 years since he transitioned,” says Ernest. “I’d been carrying this image a long time. It was his birthday. I just went for it.”

And so came The Light.

The image is striking: a boy wearing a dashiki, hand outstretched toward the viewer in a gesture akin to benediction, a glow around his head. Simple, yet powerful in presence.

Ernest saw his residency at Mass MOCA as an opportunity to try new things, so in making the piece he worked with Caran d’Ache Luminance pencils, a new brand to him. He was also experimenting with black paper.

“The drawing was an exercise in light,” he says. “The physical process I used with the materials is a reversal from the usual way for me: I am building the light from darkness rather than what you do with a white piece of paper.”

An exercise in light, and more than that too.

Over the years, Ernest has made only a few works depicting his son. He has portrayed his daughter many times, and has made a vast array of figurative art replete with references to cultural identity and African-American ancestry: James Baldwin; Baltimore’s “squeegee kids”; overlays of African masks; overt symbolic clothing or poses. An accomplished muralist, Ernest has adorned neighborhoods in Baltimore and beyond with imagery of African-American people and history.

And through all of this work, only rarely has he portrayed his son.

“I’ve made less than five drawings of him, and those have been so personal I keep them close to the vest. I’ve wanted to do this one for a long time, and I’m in a place now where I can do it. It served as therapy for me to create that piece. Building from dark to light is an emotional journey, and it’s been my personal journey since my son transitioned.”

Since his son’s transition, Ernest’s attitude has shifted from believing to knowing “there’s no death in dying. I no longer allow my mind to shut down in ways I used to allow.”

The Light, he says, is his “love language”—his way of declaring eternal and living love.

“That’s my evidence—it’s the piece. Not anything I can express verbally.”

And the piece is unequivocally about presence.

While African-American heritage and pride remain core themes to his work, Ernest embraces a mission that goes beyond racial or ethnic identity.

“My most recent artist statement focuses on how I am attempting to tap into the humanity of the viewer by exhibiting the humanity of the subject. What resonates is the human element no matter the race or place in the world. It’s about one humanity.”

With The Light, we all stand in Taj’s presence and receive his blessing. We are all part of his human family. And we are reminded, perhaps, of those we love who are departed, and still with us.

I Value All These Voices

It’s an older project, and yet one germane to today’s fractious political and cultural polarities.

In 2010, I spent two weeks in Ramallah, Palestine, as a Cultural Envoy for the U.S. State Department, part of a program to encourage cross-cultural understanding and collaboration. During my time on the West Bank, I worked with youth, art students, and professional artists on a project called I Value All These Voices.

For the project I offered a prompt (“if you went to the moon for a year and could take any one thing of value with you, what would it be?”), and from that participants made art about their chosen valued thing. The results surprised me, most art-makers choosing emblems of their Palestinian identity: the Palestinian flag; their melancholy; an olive tree.

(I should not have been surprised; participant after participant had shared examples of being stripped of rights and agency under Israeli domination.)

My intention was to model celebrating each individual’s values and identity—to say in word and deed that their voices have value.

While little (if any) progress has been made in the ongoing Palestinian/Israeli conflict since that project, I remain committed to the belief we can only make advances in bridging divides if we begin from a position of mutual respect, even with (or especially with) our divergent values.

Giving space to one another to speak aloud of what matters to us—here at home as much as abroad—is the sine qua non if we are ever to have harmony.


August 2021

Watch Speaking of Grace I

The July 15 conversation with artists Phylicia Ghee and Alexy Santos and musician Daniel Anastasio talking about their work in Grace is now available for viewing here. Watch it, and let us know what you think.

This Can Be Yours

With each newsletter, we are now offering a work of art by Peter. This 8.5″x11″ drawing from Beyond Beautiful: 1,000 Love Letters, ordinarily priced at $100, can be yours for just $15 if you are the first to email Peter to claim it (see a large version of the drawing here). If you want to see more art for sale, visit the sales gallery at the Bruun Studios website.

NEW DATE Speaking of Grace II

A program of the online exhibition GraceSpeaking of Grace II has been re-scheduled for Sunday, September 26, 7pm ET. Register here for this free event featuring Peter in conversation with artists Hermine Ford and circe dunnell and playwright Alonzo LaMont.