A close friend here in town asked me to write about “how we can preserve what is really good about our country.” Over the years he has voted Republican at least as much as Democratic; so I guess that makes him one of the many now who classify themselves as unaffiliated.
There are enough of the latter around here these days that it’s interesting to note that the library and historical society’s joint annual American history series for each of the past two years has had series sponsorship jointly by the Democratic Town Committee and the Republican Town Committee and also by certain self-described unaffiliated voters. However, does the answer to my friend’s question lie in political affiliation? I think not because across the whole political spectrum everyone recognizes the need for more unity, and some truths, I believe, are generally understood by the great preponderance of America’s people to be ones that are transcendent.
For example, at the very moving installation service a month ago for the Rev. Dr. Anne Coffman as the senior minister of Wilton Congregational Church (a role in which she has been serving for some time already), the church’s former Senior Minister Brigitta Remole, who is now serving a Seattle congregation, offered the concluding “charge” to both Anne and her congregation. In it, she reminded her listeners to be “a beacon, not a bunker” and to shine forth with “mercy, humility, forgiveness and respect” to be transformers of lives, recognizing always that “what we do matters.”
And right after that installation, on the very same afternoon, if you had headed over to the second of the five sessions in this year’s library and historical society’s series, you would have heard a fascinating presentation by Connecticut River Museum Curator Amy Trout. She spoke about American idealism and identity with special focus on the Great Depression era and the Federal Art Project as carried out right here in Connecticut (as well as elsewhere all across the country).
The project was part of the WPA, and its objective was not only to provide employment to destitute artists during the 1930s but also to uplift our national spirit in those tremendously challenging times with 25% unemployment, farm prices falling by 60%, and homeless people everywhere. In fact, in just the first three years of the Great Depression with newly erected and highly restrictive tariff barriers in the U.S. and among its major trading partners and a general hunkering down in a nation-by-nation bunker mentality across the Western world, worldwide GDP fell 15% (as compared with a 1% decline in the first two years of the recent Great Recession).
Curator Trout showed slides offering many striking examples of artwork generated through this Federal Arts Project as carried out in Connecticut. Whether done on the wood from the bottom of a dresser drawer, on a thin sheet of masonite, or on the huge walls of a public building, the works’ ability creatively to capture keys vignettes of the age is dramatic, often stark, and draws us into a vision of life that is plainly real in a troubling world and yet hopeful nonetheless.
Trout underscored that the Federal Art Project depended not just on federal employment payments to the artists but also on state and local provision of materials and space for the work to be painted, sculpted, or molded and for the finished product to be housed and displayed. The resulting collaboration reflected a local and national cooperation aimed not just at supporting struggling artists but also and especially at underscoring the good and uplifting in life to inspire everyone.
I’m certainly not suggesting a new Federal Art Project, but we do need a spirit that uplifts. That spirit finds its realization in reaching out to others, the “beacon not bunker” of which Pastor Remole spoke so eloquently. The reaching out is in dialogue, even (or perhaps especially) on difficult subjects, and one venue for doing that began this week and continues next Tuesday, March 20, at 7 p.m. at the library in a three-session series on being — and building — community jointly sponsored by the library, Wilton Clergy Association, and Wi-ACT.
Reaching out is also realized in the doing of good for others, something in which Wilton has always excelled and continues to. Our town is filled with examples of that, as this newspaper regularly reports, and the more that we focus on that as our objective, the more other things naturally fall into perspective and into place.