December 30, 2007


Ladder for Booker T. Washington by Martin Puryear

Spontaneity is one of my most favorite qualities in a man. Jorge surprised with me with a day trip to NYC for Christmas. The financial worrier in me was quieted by the anticipation and thrill of being surrounded by tall buildings, the best museums and restaurants, and my hand securely interlocked with my other’s.

It was a little like country mouse does the big city. Neither of us had been in over 15 years (maybe 20 for me) so we wandered in awe like first timers. I was amazed my the sheer amount of people that cross the street together, it felt like we were caught in a rushing water. The energy of so many so close, all positive and negative charges of emotion and thought. My sensors were in overload, especially my spidey sense for people’s feelings. It was an unexpected rush.

I spent half the day just looking up at the height of every tower, cathedral and building. I tried so hard to take it all in, the people, the shopping, the food, …but it was the art that got me. The lines were long at MoMA but we were stellar in our planning so nothing felt too long and being alone with out 3 children made everything seem fast and easy.

I had no idea MoMA would feel so sacred. We walked into the main foyer to an exhibit of Martin Puryear’s work. There were a million reasons to love this artist. He worked in Sierra Leone with the peace corps, his organic material and views about his work, his eyes.

My favorite by far was

The Ladder for Booker T. Washington

Here is what he had to say about it:

So what do you think is the connection between what’s going on in the work and the title of the piece?
PURYEAR: I mentioned about the perspective being really what the work is about. And the idea of Booker T. Washington, the resonance with his life, and his struggle…the whole notion that his idea of progress for the race was a long slow progression of, as he said, “Putting your buckets down where you are and working with what you’ve got.” And the antithesis was W.B. DuBois who was a much more radical thinker and who had a much more pro-active way of thinking about racial struggle for equality. And Booker T. Washington was someone who made enormous contacts with people in power and had enormous influence, but he was what you would call a gradualist. And so, it really is a question of the view from where you start and the end—the goal. This is something I don’t really want to elaborate on too much because I think it’s in the work. The whole notion of where you start and where you want to get to and how far away it really is. And if it’s possible to get there given the circumstances that you’re operating within.The joining of that idea of Booker T. Washington and his notion of progress and the form of that piece—that came after the fact. But when I thought about a title for it, it just seemed absolutely fitting.

“Putting your buckets down where you are and working with what you’ve got.”

I can so relate to Washington’s views and struggles as my heart often chooses harmony, peace, and a gentle way to change. This path is slow and long. I can only imagine how frustrated DuBois was and how freedom ultimately required both men’s vision and work.

It turns out the title was an after thought so I was dreaming up my own interpretation and meanings for this amazing piece art.

I stared up at Mr. Puryear’s ladder, not wanting to leave the spot. It was so fucking inspiring. (sorry mom, but there are no other words to describe it)

It took every thing in me to not try to climb it myself. It felt hopeful, like if you wanted to reach the clouds or sky it was only up to your arms and legs to get you there. It was so tall and crooked, as if he understood my own path to becoming the me I want to be.

I am occasionally tortured by the how the ladder is curved and that the rails get smaller. My soul still doubts I can reach whatever is at the top, if there is a top or if that is even the point in the first place. Yet I still am working with what is right in front of me, slowly changing each day, inching towards something higher and greater, even if it is only a new view.*

So I imagine where is the ladder taking me today? in 2008? And what bucket is lying right around me?

Feel free to imagine the heights and destinations of your ladder in the comments.

Today for me my friends, it’s Juno. Yes, a movie. No big philosophical answer. Just this mother/friend/kindness worker sitting in the dark eating rasinets. Maybe there will be bigger ideas and enlightened answers tomorrow…

p.s. Clay– I thought about you and Mary at MoMA so much- I could just see the babies in sculpture on the 3rd floor.

Happy New Year to all!


j & p


*While I’m sure this might not be the interpretation the artist intended, I am grateful for Mr. Puryear’s gift of art today.

4 Responses to “nyc”

  1. Synge Says:

    i’m definitely more a dubois! moma is one of my fave places (and not too far from my old hood, which was 56th and 9th), and my god, that is exactly why art exists! to inspire your own interpretation and find the applicable fit to your life. its so beautiful to read someone wholeheartedly doing that. may the new year bring you ever closer on your beautiful ladder journey to wherever you need to be in each moment.

    (and the pic is adorable!)

  2. kelly Says:

    wow. now i totally get our conversation earlier! my mother’s dear friend and mentor, oliver hill (civil rights lawyer who was part of brown v. board of education w/ thurgood marshall), once told my mother, in response to a meltdown she was having about an issue related to inequality, “oh…evolution will take care of that.” my mother: what??! mr. hill: is that too slow for you?

  3. clay Says:

    Puryear used to be a personal hero of mine, in that his work both inspired and intimidated me. Glad to see you guys having fun P.S.- we’re yr new neighbors now, suckas!

  4. Melissa Says:

    I got so excited about your trip, I logged onto United’s website and checked to see whether my miles would cover a trip to NYC sometime soon. I lived there for eight years and not only have I not been back in a good long while, but I haven’t yet had the chance to take my hubs on a romantic weekend tour of the city. Thanks for the inspiration! Glad you had such a fantastic time. 🙂

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