February 6, 2024
Luna, Tspice & Squirrel*
More February Story—Movement in Black Joy…
Luna took the sketch pad she had been drawing on the night before with her to the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum for Art and Storytelling. Her mother had signed both Luna and Baybay up for summer classes. Luna would be there all day until 3pm—her mom said, “idleness needed content and container.” For Luna the words meant “whatever”; never-the-less, she thought the museum was fun and Tspice and Squirrel were enrolled in workshops there too—workshops were what the classes were called. Today in Luna’s workshop they had a guest artist talking about how light and dark defined shape and space. There were slides showing trees, buildings, furniture, and people in different light. After the talk and the slides the students were presented with differently lit things to draw.
Luna thought about light, darkness, shadows and walking through them, how a thing, how a person could seem to appear and disappear. Someone seeing, then not seeing Great-great grandma Hattie could think sunlight was playing tricks with their eyes. Luna noticed when Tspice arrived moving quickly because the collage workshop had already started.
It was nice that the museum was both efficient and orderly, and also flexible. Tspice rushed because of being interested in the workshop content, not from being scared of chastisement for lateness. Tspice loved collage because it facilitated bringing the word pictures in her mind into realness in an alive, visual way.
“You see Luna?”
“Nature, Ms. Deena said the collage theme today is nature.”
“Yeah—garden, forest, beach. you know.”
Squirrel had already meticulously cut out several different trees from the Nature and National Geographic magazines in the pile on the table. Tspice watched as Squirrel was now cutting out a rose bush. Squirrel was careful and exact with everything. He had cut the images precisely; same care as he used cleaning the bicycle chain—not simply wiping it but brushing the cleaning solution into every joint, then wiping. Now he cut the gross outline and then the fine detailed aspects of the image. Ms. Deena returned to the art lab, quietly, saying hello, with a smile, to Tspice.
The three friends liked the museum, the people were friendly; what they liked best was that it was an inside that was like being outside. They enjoyed the feeling of freedom the thoughtfully designed high ceilings and moveable walls and changeable room dimensions next to fixed lab areas provided. Ms. Deena told them that David Adjaye, the architect that designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture, had designed the building. They didn’t know who he was but they liked the feeling of knowing he was connected to this building. They liked how the entire space was art. Exhibits were hung on the walls and sometimes the art was part of the wall. A video screen flowing images as if you were seeing the wall moving as you stood watching. And then there was an art installation composed of paper, 1000s of 2″ square pieces of red, blue, green, black, white, brown—every color—arranged and grouped in patterns that formed a picture story filling three wall surfaces around the main hall of the museum.
Tspice and Luna’s classes had been invited to visit when the installation was being mounted. They were amazed by the detailed plans and mapping that occurred. The process was as interesting as the results were awesome. Among their other favorite of favorite exhibits was Faith Ringgold. Seeing the stories they had been read as young children as pictures hung sequentially on the wall was enchanting. A blow-up of eight years old Cassie Louise Lightfoot from Tar Beach flying over their Harlem neighborhood was grand. In these moments possibilities opened wider. Tspice could be a writer, Luna an illustrator, Squirrel an art installation crew leader—maybe they would design a building, like David Adjaye who Squirrel had of course looked up and shared his findings with Luna and Tspice. It started them thinking about architecture in Tanzania, where David Adjaye was born, the Middle East, where he lived as a kid, Ghana, his birth nationality, and London where he also grew up. Tspice said David Adjaye was a geography lesson.
The morning, lunch time and afternoon passed quickly. At 3pm the three friends met at their bikes and rapidly agreed that today they would go to Marcus Garvey Park. Tearing down Saint Nicholas Ave, taking turns in lead, middle and rear position, whooping like escapees even though they hadn’t been confined. Pass 125th Street they veered leftward on 121st going east toward the park. At the park they got off their bikes and half carried, half bumped them on the steps and surfaces they descended, ascended, and curved around on the way to the Bell Tower at the apex of the park.
“You think they will open the fencing around the Bell.”
“I hope so! I want to put my face next to it.”
“Adventurist baby, adventurist.”
They all laughed, filled with energy from biking, ascending the hill to the Bell and a full day of doing. Tspice yelled, “Three ladies!” At once, in one motion, they laid their bikes down and sat on the rock mound jutting through this courtyard plaza featuring the Bell Tower and leaned on each other. They were imitating the pose of the sculpture in front of the building near the park. The three women looked happy relaxed and carefree. They no longer remembered how they started this game of imitating, becoming those larger than life figures in vibrant repose on the corner of 121 and 5th. They loved doing it, falling against each other supporting each other in raucous quiet and laughter.
The few other people wandering to and through this Bell Tower plaza paid scant attention to these young playful teens as they went about their own enjoyment of the vast 3600 vista view of the city this high ground provided. In an earlier time this huge brass bell had a job. It was used to alert the fire stations of fires.
Tspice, Luna and Squirrel watched robins, starlings and squirrels, sky and clouds as they thought about everything and nothing. How clouds formed, how cumulus clouds formed into different shapes—some anthropomorphized becoming horses, dogs, goats, or a heart or a boat. They eyed the sparrows flitting in a mound of loose dirt like it was water; then they saw a squirrel scurry up the fencing around the Bell Tower.
“That’s me scaling the fence.”
“Squirrel! You the squirrel, that’s you on the fence.”
The little shiny black-brown coated squirrel stopped in its fence ascent, seeming to look at the friends, before leaping onto a branch 6 feet or so from the bell enclosure, disappearing among the leaves.
“It’s tomorrow Luna.”
Luna replied, not in words, she took out her sketch pad opening to the drawing she’d started the night before. It showed a busy city street with all things comprising an urban metropolis densely concentrated, like in the kid’s children’s book, “Things That Go.” There were cars, trains, boats, scooters, and mopeds, drones, helicopters and trucks; blinkering signs and streaming video interspersed on and among the people and very tall buildings. At the end of a wide main street that ended at a river was a vertical cloud-like formation; there, a person, partially obscured by the cloud, could be seen.
“Grandma Pearl said Great-great grandma Hattie must of stepped into a time that was future to us even now. It was loud, fast, busy and, when a little flying machine headed towards her, she stepped backward into the place she hadn’t quite left.”
“Where was that?”
“Edenton, North Carolina, fall 1861”
“That time is at the beginning of the Civil War!”
“Yeah, and Grandma Pearl said the Tar Heel State was the last southern state to vote for secession.”
Tspice and Squirrel peered more closely into the picture. “Luna, your Great-great grandma Hattie looks like you.”
“Yeah, Grandma Pearl said I was the “spitting image.”
* Luna, Tspice & Squirrel–excerpt from novella continues; for first excerpt see February 2023 post.