Those of us who live in Reading, Berkshire either love the town or hate it, people escape to Reading and many escape from it.
We moved here in the early 1980s from north London; we were pleased to escape from semi-detached suburbia to somewhere where we might find work and affordable rent and a subsequent mortgage.
Little did we know that we had moved to the home of the Reading Rock Festival. To where every teenager in the UK and further escape to; very August Bank Holiday; when all the locals escape from, to avoid the noise and violation.( this in my opinion is unfounded)
However, it was Reading Prison that came t mind when I read this week’s Photo Challenge; It is not the most visually pleasing of buildings. It does have at least one ‘romantic’ connection; it was the ‘home’ of Oscar Wilde for a time and where he wrote the Ballad of Reading Gaol.
I understand from a recent visitor (not an inmate I hasten to add) that the cell where he was imprisoned is marked accordingly. But, It does beg the question, does anyone actually care about this ridiculous fact?
The prison is relatively new, built in 1840 and described in the Illustrated London News as
‘Standing, as it does on the rising ground at the entrance of Reading, and close to the site of the venerable abbey, this new prison is from every side the most conspicuous building, and, architecturally, by far the greatest ornament to the town’
It is the largest of the town’s public buildings and before the other buildings had encroached the surrounding walls then it would have looked very imposing. It is built of red Tilehurst brick with decorative quoins of Bath stone, the turrets and crenulations give an impression of a 15th century castle. Nonetheless I am sure each prisoner would plan to escape such a vile environment.
I was very pleased that last week I picked up my Sanskrit translation. When I went to Brazil I took a break from my weekly sessions and it has taken me far too long to back into the routine again
I translate a few verses each week and then I meet up with another student and over a cup of tea we compare notes and come up with fair translation … I am not sure that that Professor Deshpande would agree but it gives me a lot of joy and pleased I am back on the road of reading Sanskrit.
We are reading the Bhagavad Gita which is one of the most studied and translated texts in the history of world literature. Coming from the post-Vedic India and considered to be the standard and universal work of the Hindu tradition and renowned as the jewel of India’s spiritual wisdom.
Aesop’s Fables are a collection of stories credited to Aesop; a slave and story teller who lived in Greece in 5th Century BCE. It was at the time of the first enlightenment when scholars, slaves and singing bards where beginning to question their existence and the notion of good and evil. Long before the words were recorded so the tales and songs were memorised and passed down through the ages.
The fables have been compared with Buddhist Jataka Tales and the Hindu Panchatantra; as some of the tales are similar. There is some debate over who actually began the tradition. Although Buddha and Aesop were contemporaries; the stories would have not been written down until centuries later and no scholar is interested enough to take a stand either way. This particular book was reprinted (1926) from a 1692 edition translated by Sir Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704) and the wood engravings are by Celia Fiennes.
Since I did not study mathematics beyond ‘O” level in 1966; I think I can be forgiven for not knowing too much about the relatively new mathematical sign ‘0.’
Zero did not appear in the European understanding until it became necessary in the 14th century. According to Brian Rotman in Signifying nothing : the semiotics of Zero; the sign for nothing originated in Central India and was established by the 10th century as the ‘distinguishing element’ in the now familiar Hindu system of numerals. By the 1300s the Arab merchants had adopted it readily in their culture. Meanwhile the Christians of Europe dismissed its use as it was incomprehensible and unnecessary.
Numbers, were until then were bound to the confines of the church; the educated clerks remained devoted to the holy Latin orders. While the merchants, artisans and architects; speakers of the local languages needed to become familiar with the arithmetic of trade and technology. It was important for them to understand the Arab mathematics and in particular Hindu numerals
It was the need for accuracy and the zero balance for double entry book-keeping that broke down any barriers to the ‘infidel symbol’ of zero. By the end of the 17th century the Hindu numerals had completely replaced the holy Roman ones and became the dominant mode for recording and manipulating numbers throughout Europe.
Images from:- Elizabeth Catlett ; an American artist in Mexico by Melanie Anne Herzog and Lift every voice and sing by James Weldon Johnson ; illustrations by Elizabeth Catlett.
I came across Elizabeth Catlett, the sculptor and print -maker when I was researching Angela Davis and learned that she was involved in the international movement to free the Black Nationalist activist when she was in prison. Catlette with other African American women in Mexico City organised the Comte Mexicano Provisional de Solidaridad con Angela Davis, she produced leaflets and posters to publicise the cause. So when I came across this book some months later with my ‘illustration and printmaking hat on I was really pleased.
Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012) was born in Washington DC; her parents were teachers. Her grandparents were slaves and their parents were brought from Africa to the United States on slaves ships. Elizabeth began her education at the Lucretia Mott Elementary School and Dunbar High School; then the Howard University where she studied design. printmaking and drawing. Elizabeth was best known for her black, expressionistic sculptures, that she produced in the 1960s and 70s. She was described by Anne Herzog as a ‘politically and socially engaged artist.’
She worked as a teacher in North Carolina for two years but Elizabeth was actively discouraged by the low salary for black teachers.
In 1940 Elizabeth became the first student to receive a Master of Fine Arts in sculpture at the University of Iowa School of Art and Art History. While she was there she was influenced by Grant Wood the American landscape artist, who encouraged his students to work with subjects they knew best. For Elizabeth this meant black people and particularly black women.
This transition in 1939 was marked by her piece the Mother and Child sculpted in lime stone for her thesis that won first prize in the American Negro Exposition in Chicago in 1940.
Elizabeth studied ceramics at the Art Institute (1941) and Lithography at the Art Students League in 1942-1943 and with the sculptor Ossip Zadkine in New York.
She became the ‘promotional director’ of the George Washington Carver School in Harlem. In 1946 Elizabeth received a Rosenwald Fund Fellowship that allow her to travel to Mexico; where she studied wood carving and ceramic sculpture. Later she moved there and married the Mexican artist Francisco Moro and had three sons. In Mexico she worked with the Taller de Gracita Popular People’s Graphic Arts Workshop, a group of printmakers who formed in 1937 and were dedicated to using their art to promote social change. They created a series of linocuts featuring black heros; tat were made into posters, leaflets, textbooks and illustrations to promote the building of schools and to eradicate illiteracy in Mexico.
Elizabeth became the first female professor of sculpture and head of the sculpture department at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, School of Fine Arts, San Carlos in Mexico City in 1958. and taught there until retiring in 1975. She remained active in the art community and died in 2012 aged 96.