There are times without intention that I find I'm reading, seeing and noticing all things that fit into a theme or category. For the last few months, I've been drawn to stories of generations and immigrants. This journey started with Mary Morris' historical novel of Chicago and key immigrant and migrant characters in the years following World War I, The Jazz Palace. Next I embarked on a tour of Italy via the Lower East Side with Di Palo's Guide to Essential Foods of Italy by Lou Di Palo.
Along the way, I picked up Anne Tyler's latest novel A Spool of Blue Thread. I was unaware of the plot line, which features three generations of a Baltimore family -- moving backward. A Spool of Blue Thread is about the hidden dimensions of our parents and grandparents and the impossibility of knowing them as separate beings unto ourselves. These generations evoke the time they live in--the move from the country to the city, city to suburb, home to a apartment requiring less upkeep. The story like all the migration and immigration stories is really one of ancestry.
In the past two weeks, I have had the privilege of attending a fundraiser for The Tenement Museum, which was held at it's sister organization Ellis Island -- two remarkable sites that document the flow of immigrants into New York City.
In what I suspect is the final piece of this subject matter for now is the exhibit "One Way Ticket - Jacob Lawrence's Migration Series" at MoMA. In 1941, Harlem artist Jacob Lawrence created a series of 60 paintings that depicted the African-American migration from South to North beginning during World War 1 and continuing for decades.
The series, which is deceptively simple in its portraitures, is a historical chronicle that takes a sociologic and economic look at the impact of such a shift in population. The exhibit is centered on the paintings. Adjacent rooms feature artists of the time including musicians, novelists and painters that typify the Harlem Renaissance and the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement that would come decades later.
The MoMA website features a thorough companion to the exhibit, including up close viewings of the series, a walking tour of Harlem and a playlist (featured below) created by NPR's Jonathan Schwartz.
All of these ventures and stories of those who embarked on a journey are interesting and rewarding ways to spend time. All are entertaining with the bonus of learning.