American 8th Air Force Boeing Flying Fortress during a bombing raid over Germany in 1943.
At 22, Gordon Bennett Jr. in a letter thanked his parents for their sacrifices and example. It was 1940, and the ultimate sacrifice was yet to come for the Arlington, Massachusetts family.
The story can be heard in broad outline in a performance, “As Ever, Letters 1936-1943”, on Saturday evening October 16, 7-8 p.m. at the First Street Gallery, 526 West 26th Street, Suite 209, Chelsea . .
It will be part of a reception, from 6 pm to 9 pm, for artist Kathleen Bennett Bastis, and her latest solo show, “Rebound” (until October 30).
Four or five years ago she started going through the letters she inherited from Gordon. They showed him how his father’s family in New England lived his life. “Conservative, very frugal,” Bennett Bastis said. “Even the fact that my art is made from salvaged materials, I find it ironic. I see the value of things.
“The performance begins when my father is 18 and his brother is 16 in 1936,” said the artist, adding that their father, his grandfather, was an electrician, a trade that offered little work during these difficult times.
“Tangled Up In Blue”, by Kathleen Bennett Bastis, 2016, Mixed Media, 24 x 27 x 11.
“It came up like a conversation between the two brothers [read by Charles Hale of Artists Without Walls and Gregory Connors], their mother [Renata Hinrichs], and the narrator who adds a historical context [Jack O’Connell has withdrawn from that last role due to a scheduling issue].
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“It took about a year to go through them [the letters]; an emotional journey.
“We never sang our own horn, never talked about our problems,” said Bennett Bastis. “We just kind of sucked.
“To have this struggle and this journey revealed to me was absolutely wonderful. It was difficult, but it allowed me to understand my family, the paternal side of the family. And it also informed me about how I was taught and the values given to me.
“It was a very satisfying trip. “
Of the performance, she said: “It can be very emotional, especially towards the end.”
The brothers were both pilots during WWII and the youngest, the artist’s uncle Stuart, was shot down over Sicily.
“The letters are so frank, revealing and tender that when Charles [Hale] seeing the finished diary I gave to my family it encouraged me to do something more with it, I resisted.
Kathleen Bennett Bastis pictured last night at the launch of “Rebound”. [Photo by Peter McDermott]
However, over time, she came to see Bennett’s story as an American story. “How many families were suffering from exactly the same thing? And the unity and sense of community and family, and staying together, came out so clearly that I felt there was something for everyone and that’s why I wanted it. share, ”said Bennett Bastis.
The personalities of his grandmother and his father offered him no real surprises in the letters; rather simply “reaffirmation and understanding”. The revelation was Stuart, who was killed in 1943. “Here is this young man who cannot settle down. I see myself so much in him, ”said the artist. “Here is this young man who finally finds his way and is dejected.”
Bennett Bastis knew his grandmother well. She fondly remembers biking from Boston University to visit her at her Arlington home on the second floor of a two-family house.
“She was a tough cookie,” she said of former Daisy Curry, who traveled alone from Scotland around the turn of the century. “A no-nonsense person. “
Charles Hale of Artists Without Walls encouraged the artist to “do something more” with letters.
Gordon Bennett also presented his daughter with a few letters that she sent him and her mother when they were based in London and in mainland Europe (he worked for the FAA); they expressed his point of view on what was happening in the world, especially in Vietnam and Cambodia.
“Forty years later, I barely recognize myself in some of them,” the artist said, but she is certainly happy to have them.
“Letters reveal the heart of the relationship more than emails. The emails are so cold and factual.
“When you put a pen on paper, it takes time. You can think about it. You can think about it, ”Bennett Bastis said. “It is a gift that you feel very lucky to have.”
RSVP [email protected] to attend the performance on October 16. Visit the gallery website here.