Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Hold on to Peace - Image courtesy Ira Mitchell-Kirk

Friday, 30 April 2010

Timeless Images

"Santo Benedetto e le Columbe di Pace"Some of the artists involved in this exhibition have taken the opportunity to produce work different from their usual art. Artist Susan Edge, better known for her colourful, rather whimsical and always cheerful naive art, has used a recent photo of the statue of St Benedict and an ancient painting of St Benedict as her source (below) to produce a work (above) that is both old and new.

The statue is in the entrance cloister of the Abbey, and represents St Benedict in a moment of joyous rapture as he goes to meet God. St Benedict was aware that the moment of his death was approaching, and asked to be taken to his favourite cloister where monks supported him as he awaited death.

Susan has created a younger St Benedict, sharing joy with the doves, the symbol of peace. Doves do often waddle around in this cloister, completely unphased by the thousands of visitors who pass through every year.

(The doves above really did arrive one by one... like me choosing to stay in the shade rather than go out into the sunny grassed area by the statue where they usually congregate).

Thursday, 29 April 2010

A Sense of Closure

McEwan Grave, Western Desert.

Oil on canvas, painted from the descriptions told to him by veteran soldier Watty McEwan. This painting has helped to bring a family member home, metaphorically, in the absence of wartime sketches or photographs.
Thanks to artist Merv Appleton for permission to share this work. The recipient, in his 90s, says that this has helped to bring some peace and a sense of closure to his terrible loss, after nearly 70 years of a daily sense of loneliness.

Other acts of closure are being made, with a work commissioned in New Zealand especially to be shown in Italy and then returned to the family (artist Sharlene Schmidt), and Margaret Piggott will be returning a portrait work to New Zealand after it has been shown in Italy, at the request of the owner, to honour a family member from the Maori Battalion.

Please see this previous post for more details.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A Veteran's Story

In light of my closing comments in the previous post it was wonderful to find this in my email in-box this morning.

It is never too late to make a difference in someone's life.

How does the expression go? At the end of the day, when we look back, the only things that we regret in life are the things that we didn't do.

Another maxim that I read recently claimed that when we look back on our lives we don't remember the famous, the people with money, the people with power, the people with titles. We remember the people who made us feel good about ourselves, the people who made a difference to us personally.

Are we too busy to listen, and share stories? Or do we care enough, and make a space to share?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Anzac Weekend

This year I couldn't make it to the Commonwealth cemetery on Anzac Day because of other obligations. Instead I remembered the soldiers with local people who were keen to share their memories of the friendly and helpful young men from New Zealand. "Kiwis, we called them", said one. As I heard their stories I was very proud to be a Kiwi too.

Saturday saw me talking with a friend who remembers well the war in Roccasecca. Her large home was one of three owned by the family and taken over by the Germans to house a whole troop. While they (and all around them) eventually lost all their livestock and produce to feed the troops, in the early stages when Italy was on the side of the Axis powers it was a happy occupation. The soldiers played with the children, and, while far from being a normal life, it was relatively peaceful and safe for the children.

When Italy changed sides, so did the treatment of the family change. The women and children, while not sexually violated, were treated harshly and my friend, at the age of 5, was expected to do farmwork far beyond her capabilities to provide food for the soldiers. She says it still hurts when she thinks of how the soldiers she trusted, who carried her on their shoulders and played with her every evening, became tyrants shouting orders and treating her mother and the children so badly.

That's what war does to people. The young German soldiers, just teenagers towards the end of the war, were victims too.

Other troops were commented on but the Canadians and the Kiwis were the ones held in fondest regard. They were "people just like us" she said, "they didn't think they were better than us".

Sunday lunchtime was spent talking to an exhibitor at the local exhibition, listening as he shared his memories of occupation and the good things he knew about Kiwi soldiers. New Zealanders are well known here for their generosity with food.

Many of this gentleman's stories (he is now 81) had both of us near tears. He finished with a story about a clever pig to make me laugh. His mother had eleven children, and all their food and resources had gone to the German troops except a hidden cow and a pig. Money had no worth, and a little oil that they had buried was their currency for grain until that too was taken from them, and only mountain grass and milk was left to feed the family.

The cow was hidden in a dark underground space below the kitchen. The only way down to it was through hidden stairs from the kitchen itself. How they got the cow down there in the first place I simply couldn't imagine. The milk was all that the family had, and this was mixed with a coarse red maize crushed to make a meal that fed the family, or boiled for the babies. The mother had lost her own milk for feeding the babies because of the lack of food. Sometimes the maize that the oil was exchanged for was mouldy and inedible.

The pig was walled in, in a crumbling barn away from the house. Manure from the precious cow was mixed with water and painted on to the new wall to make it look old. The ruse worked. The smelly wall was never discovered or breached. There was no door into the space. There was what I think might have been a grate to allow air and light, and to drop food in, and this was covered when soldiers came. Apparently every time the family members came out to feed the pig it snorted and grunted as soon as it heard them, impatient for it's tucker. When German soldiers with their noisy boots approached the covered feeding hole the family collectively held it's breath. So, apparently, did the pig. In this case German searches were unsuccessful. The pig was never discovered.

Here there are so many stories that need to be told. Not to re-write history books, but to allow the people to express the grief and loss that still wells up inside them as they look at the past. It is the same in New Zealand. Let's listen well, and try to understand what makes us the people we are. New Zealanders. The "passionless people?" I think not. Or if we are, as Gordon McLaughlin suggested in 1979, the passionless people, maybe that is how we became, after the war. Perhaps there was a reason to be so, and now is the time to reverse that shutting down of emotions and remove the mask that says "Leave me alone, I'm OK".

Friday, 23 April 2010

Returning to a Different Society

Among my incoming emails is this comment: "...and those who fought so bravely and returned to a different society. A different kind of battle". (See below for context).

I have heard veterans speak with a little bitterness about returning home to a changed society, expected to fit in, and having to be taught by younger men who were at school while the soldiers were in the battlefield. Those at "home" had work, earned salaries, and had moved ahead while the returned soldiers came home without work, having been paid only a small allowance while they were away, and had to find their way back into a society that did not understand what they had been through. For some, having experienced trauma, and seen sights that no young person should ever have to see, they then had to take instruction and correction from "school kids".

One veteran said "We couldn't talk about it. You don't want your wife and children to know how terrible it was. Only the returned soldiers from the First World War had any idea of what we had been through. And you felt guilty that you had survived. When you saw someone who had lost their sons, you couldn't look at them. You didn't want to be there. It wasn't easy, coming home".

That there is still a huge legacy from this war in New Zealand is evidenced by the requests artists have had. Margaret Piggott writes:
".The Maori connection... I painted the transition of the soul after death, announced by fantails and passing through the Pohutakawa tree and along the land to Cape Reinga where it then goes through the roots of the Pohutakawa to the legendary "Hawaiki" I painted a portrait of Teresa with her whakapapa down the side. This work is not for sale. When she heard about this exhibition she insisted that this painting be shown as a tribute to her late father, who fought in Cassino and was a sniper in the Maori Battalion. He stands behind her. He was one of the youngest, having lied about his age and was so quick on his feet that he returned. Most snipers didn't. ... Teresa has many relatives who are watching this exhibition with interest and see it as an ideal way to remember fallen loved ones and those who fought so bravely and returned to a different society. A different kind of battle."

Artists, by sharing your stories, and talking with family and veterans, you are providing a much needed service in our country. We remember those who fell, but too often we forget that those who survived have been carrying a huge amount of grief, dreaming horrific images, and left alone to deal with a past that needs to be faced and put to rest, not buried inside them where it remains a sorrowful burden.

Merv Appleton's painting for Wattie McEwen (presentation recorded by TV3) must surely be one of the treasures that has come from this exhibition. I understand that the painting below is the one that moved the veteran to share with Merv the story of finding his brother's grave.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Futility of it All

During a pause on our path along the Gustav Line researchers shared with us photographs which highlighted both the futility and the human aspects of war. In this photograph (below) German and Allied combatants share cigarettes, conversation and pose for a photograph. On the back of the photograph it tells that this was taken during a pause requested by the Germans to retrieve their dead.
The numbers were so great that the Allies lent the Germans stretchers, which were duly returned to them at the end of the operation. Then, all this done in friendly and respectful fashion, both sides continued to shoot to kill.


Today I saw this link, Ode to the Fallen, ANZAC DAY, on the Maori Battalion Facebook page. The images are a grim reminder of the realities of war.


Remember that there is open access to the Legato fan page on Facebook, where photographs are uploaded more frequently than on this blog.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

From New Zealand's History

(anche in l'italiano, vedi giù)
Painter Rachel Olsen writes:

It's difficult for me to imagine how it must have been for my father to go off to war in another country. I feel proud of his courage and bravery to fight alongside others to defend our future freedom. We are fortunate that he lived to return home and tell his stories of the contrasts of war - the best and the worst of times.

When deciding what to paint for the Cassino Exhibition and considering the destruction and heartbreak caused by war, I felt moved to explore other ways people have responded to violence and aggression in past conflicts.

Perhaps when conflict arises, if our desired outcome is for peace then we must come from a place of peace in ourselves so any action we take is in alignment with our goal of peace. Zen Master Thich Naht Hanh is a living example of this basic premise and has written of it in his many books, one of which is entitled 'Peace is Every Step'.

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi are all well known as advocates of peace, but not many people, even in New Zealand, have heard of Te Whiti, a Maori leader who practised nonviolent resistance against the British Empire in the late 1800's two generations before Gandhi. There is evidence that Gandhi was inspired by Te Whiti's philosophy and actions at Parihaka, Te Whiti’s small Maori settlement at the foot of sacred Mount Taranaki.

Te Whiti-O-Rongomai was the prophet, priest and revered chieftain of the Taranaki tribes, a man whose ethics were above all those of a peacemaker.

Taking as their symbol the white albatross feather or raukura, the chiefs Te Whiti and Tohu led Parihaka in one of the world's first recorded campaigns of passive resistance. The people of Parihaka held out against the encroachments of English settlers in a struggle that swapped the weapons of war for those of peace. They were known to wear white feathers in their hair as a sign of their desire to live in harmony.

The white feather is still displayed as a symbol of peace by the community of Parihaka which holds an international peace conference every year in memory of Te Whiti's passive resistance.

E' difficile per me immaginare come deve essere stato per mio padre andare in guerra in terra straniera. Sono fiera di immaginare il suo coraggio nel combattere a fianco di altri per difendere la nostra futura liberta'. Siamo davvero fortunati che lui sia tornato a casa sano e salvo e che ci abbia raccontato le storie ed I contrasti della guerra, dei momenti peggiori e di quelli migliori.

Al momento di decidere cosa dipingere per la mostra di Cassino e considerando la distruzione ed il dolore causati dalla guerra, sono stata mossa ad esplorare altri modi in cui le persone hanno risposto alla violenza e alla aggressione nei conflitti passati.

Forse quando nasce un conflitto, se il nostro desiderio e' per la pace, cio' vuol dire che veniamo da un luogo interiore di pace, cosi che ogni azione scegliamo di compiere e' in linea con il concetto di pace. Il maestro Zen Thich Naht Hanh e' un esempio vivente di questi presupposti di base ed ha scritto molti libri in proposito, uno di questi si intitola “La Pace e' in ogni passo”

Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King e Gandhi sono come ben sappiamo avvocati di pace, ma non molte persone, neppure in Nuova Zelanda, hanno sentito parlare di Te Whiti, un leader Maori che ha praticato la resistenza non violenta contro l'Impero britannico, alla fine dell'800, due generazioni prima di Gandhi. Ci sono prove che dimostrano come Gandhi sia stato influenzato dalla filosofia di Te Whiti e dai fatti di Parihaka, il piccolo villaggio di Te Whiti ai piedi della montagna sacra Taranaki.

Te Whiti-O-Rongomai era un profeta, un sacerdote e reverendo capo della tribu' di Taranaki, un uomo la cui etica era molto al di sopra di altri portatori di pace.

Prendendo come loro simbolo la piuma bianca dell'albatross o raukura, i capi Te Whiti e Tohu guidarono Parihaka in quella che fu la prima campagna di resistenza passiva
Il villaggio tenne testa contro gli Inglesi nel loro tentativo di comprare la popolazione con le armi. Erano conosciuti come quelli che indossavano le piume bianche tra I loro capelli, come segno del loro desiderio di vivere in armonia.

La piuma bianca e' ancora in mostra come simbolo di pace nella comunita' di Parihaka, dove ogni anno si tiene una conferenza internazionale per la pace, in memoria della resistenza passiva di Te Whiti.

Monday, 19 April 2010

A Contemplative Space

Anne Fletcher: La pace e' la calma, il punto di equilibrio che sfida due poli opposti.

Io sono alla ricerca continua di questo posto e a volte mi chiedo: "e' la calma o e' la cecita'? " La differenza non e' sempre chiara con i percorsi contorti della vita vissuta e del tempo che offuscano e colorano il conosciuto. Ricordo un soldato che diceva che non andava alle feste di commemorazione perche' non passava giorno senza che lui ricordasse i compagni che persero la vita al fronte e che la guerra e' un triste atto d'accusa verso quelli chiamati leader dell'umanita'.

Ho riflettuto sulla profondita' del pensiero di quest'uomo; era impenetrabile dal mio comodo punto di vista.

Questo lavoro e' una tessitura di segni di matita. Uso migliaia di simboli positivi e negativi per calibrare i punti nel tempo. Giocando sulle variabili e lavorandoci sopra finche' "nella calma" appare una soluzione creativa.

Peace is the calm spot, the point of balance that challenges the extremes of opposing poles.

Between the Lines of Age. Artist: Ann Fletcher. (Pencil on paper)

Ann writes:
I constantly seek out that place and at times I ask myself “is it the calm spot or is it the blind spot.” The differentiation is not always clear as the twists and turns of lived life and time insistently shades and colours the knowing. I recall a returned soldier saying that he didn’t go to remembrance services because not a day went past that he didn’t remember the blokes who lost their lives on the front lines and that war was a sad indictment on the so called leaders of the human race.

I pondered the depth of this man’s knowing; it was unfathomable from my sitting down place in history.

This work is a weaving of pencil mark-making. I use thousands of positive and negative symbols to calibrate points in time. Playing the push and pull of variables and working them until a creative solution spoke to that calm spot.

Living in an occupied country 66 years on

This isn't Italy as the tourist brochures show it.

Day two of Quattro Passi Sulla Gustav 2010:

The programme: DOMENICA 18 APRILE 2010
· 8,30 appuntamento al parcheggio multipiano ingresso Via Montecassino,
· 9,00 partenza per Villa Santa Lucia con piccoli autobus riservati, sosta in località “la
· 9.30 partenza a piedi per Monte Castellone, visita a quota 702, Colle S. Angelo, Cresta del
Fantasma, quota 575 (I luoghi dell’attacco del II Corpo Polacco e la tana del 4°
· 13.00 pranzo al sacco presso la Fattoria Albaneta,
· 14,30 partenza per quota 593 “Il Calvario” attraverso il sentiero dalla “Cavendish Road”,
· 17,30 fine manifestazione al Cimitero Polacco, in autobus riservato fino al parcheggio

We were a group of about 40 people, with several children of school age amongst us. The day turned out to be a much greater adventure than anyone could have predicted.
It is not uncommon to find bombs in these hills. Mostly, they are not live. Often, however, they are. And, after 66 years out in all weather, they are unstable. That's when it is good to have sharp eyes and follow the beaten path.

Quite often someone has carefully lifted the mortar onto a flat rock in the open so that there is no risk of it being trodden on accidentally. One hopes that they are then disposed of by an expert, but...

This (below) was the first or second we saw.This day we had plenty to worry about. Apparently these (below) might contain phosporous. We took turns at being "on guard" until all were safely out of harm's way. (Above) Roberto Molle, President of the Association and main organiser of the weekend, made sure that parents and children were aware of the unexpected dangers.

Some were, apparently, more volatile than others. This one (below) had the group organizer firmly planted until all had gone by; there would be no mistakes with this highly unstable American beauty. The bomb is at the central lower edge of the photo below. It would be easy to assume that it was a piece of rusty pipe, and treat it with scant regard. Soon I was losing count, and certainly keeping my eyes to the ground.

Not even our regular metal detector weekend trampers were prepared for this one! (Partially obscured between the trees, at a distance, photo below). It is the biggest anyone in the group had ever seen lying unexploded on the slopes around Cassino. I make no apology for the poor photograph; I wasn't going any closer, nor was I risking losing my balance, possibly sending rocks crashing down onto more nasty surprises, to use two hands to hold the camera and zoom in. I sent the photo to the friend who was leading us down this steep rocky slope and he replied: Dovrebbe trattarsi di un proiettile di artiglieria 205 mm americano (205 mm shell).

The descent was steep, with rocks crashing if people chose the wrong footing. My chosen path, grasping the trees and sticking to the rock face where fewer loose rocks were dislodged, was not the exact path taken by the leaders. It was raining, and slippery, and the first tracks were now too dangerous. I forged a new and less slippery track and was extremely cautious as I poked my walking stick tip in between the leaves and rocks.

It was strange, though, to realise that I felt no fear, only caution. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing!

Members of the group who live near this dangerous slope have contacted authorities, but it is highly likely that these hillsides will continue to be unsafe for a long long time.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

To Kill or Be Killed.

This morning saw the beginning of the 9th edition of Quattro Passi Sulla Gustav. This weekend in the battlefields is organised each April by Roberto Molle, President of L’Associazione onlus Battaglia di Cassino - Centro Studi e Ricerche (see the website, http://www.dalvolturnoacassino.it where you will find articles in English clearly marked).

In his opening address on the slopes of Monte Cassino Avvocato Molle reminded us of the plight of the civilian victims, one of whom was amongst us. He then proceded to talk about the the soldiers who were victims; not only those who were killed on the battlefields, but also those who had to make the choice to kill. To be put in the position where you have to take another life or die oneself is also to become a victim, no matter who, according to history, has won the battle. My translation may not be too accurate, but I was moved by his words as he painted a picture of the destroyed community and then acknowledged the young men who gave their lives, or their youth, to liberate Italy.

The civilian survivor who addressed us next was a teenager at the time of the Battle of Cassino. He will be attending the exhibition in May, and with the aid of a translator will talk with the artists. With his family he was living in a cave below the abbey for two months. They moved into the Abbey which was crammed full of people and he was there when it was bombed. He told how he went out to fill a bottle with water from the trough outside the walls, and found a leaflet advising of the bombing of the abbey. He described in detail the reaction of the people inside when the news was given. The women cried and many prayed, while the logistics of evacuating were discussed in some disbelief that this could possibly happen. That night, only the children slept. When they heard the approaching bombers he and his fifteen year old brother fled, and were on the first floor close to the door when the bombs struck. He still feels some shame at running, leaving his parents as he sought better shelter. The family survived, but many were killed. Talking with him later he said to me "I don't understand why I survived. Why did I survive?"

During his story he became emotional, and paused a few times. Later I overheard him say to another older man "After 65 years when I talk about it I still see it so clearly, I still feel it strongly. If 100 years pass I know it will be as strong".

Next on our agenda was a walk along a track behind the abbey, where we were "interrupted" by a re-enactor in full American uniform. Roberto Molle then described the participation of the US Forces, and gave a lesson on the uniform and the conditions the soldiers faced wearing little protection from the terrible wet and cold. Our next stop along the same track was to see more history, this time re-enactors in German uniforms, a paratrooper in full uniform and soldiers with communication equipment were set up below the track. It was a little disconcerting as two of the re-enactors looked very young, as the soldiers were, and made me think of the painting below. Often I am a little concerned when I see re-enactors apparently enjoying this activity as one would a sport; today it was good to see re-enactors educating us about the terrible conditions in which the battle was fought.

When you walk through the cemeteries it is the ages of the soldiers that affects me. And in every cemetery, no matter how many times I visit, I think "Each one of these soldiers had a mother".

I believe that a culture of peace begins in the home. I believe that it is the women who, with the help of men, will be the most prolific peace-makers. If every country sent out as many peace workers as it does soldiers into the world, how powerful a movement that would be. But when I see the interest men have in weapons and strategies (aside from history) I see again that it will be the women, the teachers and the peaceworkers educating the children who will make the difference.

We continued with various stops to learn more about what happened on Monte Cassino. At the summit of Point 593, the hill above the abbey, is the large white obelisk that is monument to 1000 Polish soldiers killed over a period of three days. On the monument, in four languages, is the following:
We Polish soldiers
For our freedom and yours
Gave our souls to God
Our lives to the soil of Italy
And our hearts to Poland.

Below: Watercolour by Sarah Scott entitled "Remember".

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Another Perspective

Susan Edge writes of her work:
I have employed artistic licence here, bringing the Peace door from inside the abbey to the outside
L'artista neozelandese Susan Edge ha iniziato la sua carriera come artista tessile a Waipu nel 1980. La sua capacita' creativa e la leggerezza dei suoi collage di tessuto le hanno procurato acquirenti in Nuova Zelanda, Australia, Canada e USA. Ha esposto le sue creazioni all'Accademy of Fine Arts, Textile and Fibre Awards, National Gallery, North Shore City Art Awards e Marina Gallery.
Nel 1999 Susan e' stata Artist in Residence alla John F.Kennedy International School a Saanen, Svizzera, dove ha insegnato a bambini di diversi gruppi d'eta' a creare il proprio "pezzo d'arte" con i tessuti.

Susan al momento dipinge in due stili, naif e surreale, usando colori acrilici su tela ma utizzando ancora gli elementi dei suoi collage spiritosi. La sua capacita' di osservazione viene applicata soprattutto nei quadri in stile naif che mettono in risalto " l'essenza" della vita in Nuova Zelanda, nei quadri surrealistici e' messo in evidenza il suo senso dell'umorismo stravagante e il pensiero sociale.
"Memories on canvas" (Memorie su tela) sono quadri su commissione che rappresentano un momento o un posto particolarmente significativo nella vita di una persona e spesso sono richiesti come idee da regalo. Susan lavora in stretta collaborazione con i suoi clienti, visitando i luoghi significativi quando possibile o utilizzando foto.

Nel 2004 il suo lavoro" Waipu Cove - Lagoon End" ha vinto il premio Telecom ed e' diventato la copertina di 111.000 guide telefoniche nell'Isola de Nord in NZ.

Susan e' stata finalista nel Premio Waiheke, nel Premio North Shore City e nel Premio New Zealand Art Guild. I suoi lavori sono stato acquistati in Nuova Zelanda, Australia, Canada, USA, Inghilterra, Indonesia, Svizzera e Italia. Espone in tutta la Nuova Zelanda ed ha avuto diverse "personali" di successo.

La prima volta che Susan e' venuta in Italia era il 1999. In quella occasione lei e il marito si sono invaghiti delle colline umbre dove hanno avuto la fortuna di trovare una famiglia che, in cambio del loro lavoro,li ha ospitati. Vi sono tornati ancora nel 2001 per sei mesi, ed e' stato quando il loro amore per la cultura, la lingua italiana e il loro affetto per il Paese si sono solidificati.

Il padre di Susan era Ufficiale di Rotta nella Royal Air Force durante la seconda Guerra Mondiale. La speranza di Susan e' che ricordando la Battaglia di Cassino attraverso l'arte si mantenga viva la memoria della guerra, delle distruzioni che provoca e quindi dell'importanza della pace.

New Zealand artist Susan Edge began work as a full time fabric artist in Waipu in 1980. Her inventive and light-hearted fabric/collage wall-hangings sold throughout New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the USA. She exhibited at the Academy of Fine Arts, Textile and Fibre Awards, National Gallery, North Shore City Art Awards and Marina Gallery. In 1999 Susan was Artist in Residence at the John F Kennedy International School in Saanen, Switzerland, where she worked with children of all ages to create their own fabric art.

Still employing the elements of her witty wallhangings, Susan now paints in two styles, naive and surreal, using acrylics on canvas. Her fine observational skills are employed in the naive paintings, showing the essence of life in New Zealand . The more surreal paintings display a quirky humour and often wry social commentary.

In 2004 her work 'Waipu Cove - Lagoon End' won the Telecom Art Award and featured on the cover of 111,000 Northland phone books.

Susan has been a finalist in the Waiheke Art Awards, North Shore City Art Awards and New Zealand Art Guild Award. Paintings are in private collections in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA, England, Indonesia, Switzerland and Italy. She supplies galleries throughout New Zealand and has held several successful solo exhibitions.

Susan's first contact with Italy began in 1999 , when she and her husband visited , fell in love with the country and were fortunate to stay at a guest house high in the Umbrian hills, carrying out a few chores in return for a room. They returned in 2001 to spend six months there , when much of Italy's culture and language were absorbed and the affection for the country deepened.

Susan's father was a navigator in the R.A.F in WW2. It is her hope that by commemorating the Battle of Cassino, through our art, we can keep alive the memories of the destruction of war, and make all efforts to work toward world peace.

Monday, 12 April 2010

As Anzac Day Approaches

This cropped image is from a British and Commonwealth service in Cassino, but could be any service, anywhere.
The German cemetery at Caira, near Cassino. The grassed area behind the iron cross is where the remains that could not be placed in a grave now lie, marked by words carved into marble.

The Commonwealth Cemetery in Cassino. The large panels are the memorial in the centre of the cemetery, each one filled with names of the missing or unidentified.
Many more still lie in the mountain ranges around Cassino, and are being located and returned to rest with their wartime companions. Time and weather changes the land cover and searchers with metal detectors locate belt buckles and other objects, and gently excavate to see if a soldier still lies buried in the hills.

Friday, 9 April 2010

From Taranaki to Lazio

(Above) The suitcase in which the works will travel to Italy.
(Below) On display in Taranaki.

Artist Statement, Frances Rookes.

L'importanza della storia di famiglia aumenta via via che la nostra capacita' di ricordare diminuisce. Purtroppo molto va perso ogni volta che perdiamo un membro della famiglia, e quelli che rimangono mettono assieme frammenti sfocati che spesso non combaciano sulla stessa storia.

Nella mia ricerca per questa mostra sulla "Pace e la memoria....", come nipote di reduci della seconda guerra mondiale ( mio nonno e mio zio), mi sono ritrovata a cercare di capire quale era la vera storia e quale era l'involucro in cui era stata messa per evitare di parlare di qualcosa di troppo doloroso o di troppo traumatico.

Sono giunta ad una conclusione, il narratore ha il diritto di raccontare e di omettere cio' che vuole, sta a me rispettare, apprezzare la sua scelta e lavorare con quello che mi e' stato raccontato come verita'. La "verita' " mi giunge sotto forma di ricordi di guerra, fotografie, cimeli ereditati e il legame di cose tramandate da mia nonna e da mia madre che hanno saputo tenere vivo il ricordo. Il mio lavoro parla di queste cose.

Spero che un giorno si possa raggiungere la pace nel mondo, credo che dei cittadini con degli alti valori morali potranno raggiungerla.

Frances Rookes 2010

Family history increases in importance as our ability to remember it diminishes. Sadly much disappears from our reach as we lose family members, and those of us who remain, share faded and differing stories about the same events.

In researching for this Peace and Remembrance exhibition as the granddaughter and niece of surviving soldiers from WWI and WWII, I am left wondering which stories are actual and which stories are the gift wrapping around events that are too sad or traumatic to talk about.

The resolution I have come to is that it is the right of the teller to decide how or what is told, and what is not, and it is my business to respect and honour that and to work with what I have and know to be true. My truth comes in the form of war records, photographs, inherited memorabilia and the legacy of taught skills handed down to me by my maternal Grandmother and Mother who kept the home fires burning. My works speak of these things.

I hope for world peace someday, and I believe morally empowered citizens can achieve this.

Frances Rookes 2010

Monday, 5 April 2010

One Year Ago

The following is a post I wrote one year ago. I sat at a computer in Alabama checking the Italian newspaper updates as the horror of the tragedy in L'Aquila unfolded. I reproduce it here as it reminds me of how precious life is.

I am on line reading the unfolding news of the tragedy in Italy. Sleep seems unimportant right now. (Earthquake date in Italy 6 April). Our thoughts and prayers are with all who are affected by this earthquake.

Growing up with earthquakes in the shakey isles I have never been afraid when they strike. People I knew had survived the 1931 earthquake. Pieces of china in my home held the story of this quake. As a child I marvelled that the land we drove over or landed on at the airport was once under the sea. As an adult I enjoy the art decor buildings that the make the new Napier famous worldwide. In 1966 the Gisborne quake left a lasting impression on me, but no lives were lost. in 1968 the Inangahua quake shocked the country, as did the 1987 Edgecombe earthquake which was shallow and destructive and also rocked most of the country. Gisborne suffered again in 2007.

Now, picturing my own little village with its ancient stone houses and its own earthquake history, and remembering the day the local school was closed because of a mild tremor, I view earthquakes differently. The tragedy of 2002 is not so far away. These are not lightly framed wooden schools and houses built to earthquake specifications as our New Zealand buildings are. Italy too lives with the earthquake threats, with higher risk factors with the population and ancient buildings. The history is a long one: the Abbey on Montecassino was completely destroyed by an earthquake in 1349. The worst tragedy was as recent as 1980, with a terrible loss of life.

At times like this we are powerless to help those who have been lost. We can only support those who suffer, and take lessons from such tragedies, as nations and as individuals.

We often take life too lightly. Each day it would be great if we woke with the intention to enjoy every moment, to look on the bright side, to leave those we meet feeling better than we found them. Happiness can be contagious, positive energy can inspire.

It is sad that it often takes tragedy to remind us of the good; life is short and not to be wasted. Smile, when you look into the mirror. Dare to do something different. Live a little on the edge, but with excitement, not fear.

Coming Together

The many strands of things involved in organising an exhibition are beginning to come together. The number and variety of works coming over is exciting to say the least. When I first set out to invite New Zealand artists to join me in this project I was a little anxious about how many would accept the challenge of getting work to Italy, of completing quality works in a tight time frame, and of the cost involved for travelling artists. Now that we are 41, with a large number travelling, I am hoping that the venue will be large enough. A friend is on the look-out for an additional venue, and I know that if all else fails we will be able to put some work in the Historiale di Cassino, an interesting place which aims to give some experience of the battle - the promotional material describes it as "not a museum, not an exhibition, not a film but a physical experience". Unfortunately for our purposes it is out of the way of foot traffic. Tourists rather than locals would see any work located there. Visiting artists will be welcomed to this "museum" during their stay in the Cassino area.

The painting above is one that I didn't ever quite complete before the museum Cassino War Memorial, where I was the designated "madrina" and a volunteer docent, lost its premises. Most of the exhibits went back to the private collections from whence they came, while those donated to the museum, along with my paintings, went into storage. In the early days of the planning for Legato I reassured myself that if there were not enough works coming from New Zealand I could pull my two large works out of storage and give them an airing for the two weeks. It certainly wont be necessary!

This work (above), oil on canvas, 180cm x180cm is the destroyed campanile or bell tower, the focal point of old Cassino with the beautiful old church and piazza, the bell tower being the image representing Cassino before the war.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

New Zealand Monument, Cassino, Italy

The railway station in Cassino, Italy, is the site for this monument. This was also the site of very moving scenes in May 2004 when a special service was held here for the Maori Battalion. German veterans joined with New Zealanders to pay their respects to the fallen.