Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros

In a few weeks fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones will embark on the second to last season of a show that redefined how we imagine new worlds on television. While we’ve long known about the different cultures in Westeros through the written word, seeing these stories on the screen has resulted in an entirely new visual experience.

A view of Cave 16 at the Ellora Caves in India. Circa 8th Century. This served as one of the artistic influences for the Hall of Faces in the House of Black and White. | Credit: Santanu Sen on Flickr via Creative Commons

One of my favorite things about the show has always been the intricate sets and staging which was the subject last week of a presentation at the National Museum of the American Indian with Game of Thrones Art Director Deborah Riley. Continue reading “Visual Storytelling: Tone, Texture, and Scale in Westeros”

Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World

Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here. —Sue Monk Kidd in the Secret Life of Bees

As a public historian and preservationist, I have always seen our work as inherently interdisciplinary, recognizing that in the increasingly digital world we live in, the need to use audio, video, and text to communicate our mission has become paramount.

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Theaster Gates, A Game of My Own, 2017, “Salvaging discarded materials found in and around his native Chicago, Gates responds to the decline of urban institutions and traditions, and resurrects them as art.”

Now, nearly, eleven years into my career at the National Trust for Historic Preservation I plan on jumping in feet first into the world of storytelling and engage with digital (and in person) storytellers across a variety of disciplines and fields. In doing so I hope to gain a sense of best practices and tools that can help connect the public to the histories of all Americans.

This project is part of a two month sabbatical from the National Trust that will take place this coming August and September (see timeline below). The hope is to not just look at storytelling in the history field – but also the wider field of humanities and beyond.  At the end I hope to have gained a sense of how to construct a story that is richer, broader, and meaningful – without creating a cacophony that overwhelms the senses. Continue reading “Beyond the Written Word: Historical Storytelling in an Interdisciplinary World”

Twenty-Seventeen

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A quotation from the walls of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

I am
afraid. Folded in by the weight
of postcards and calls
links and 140 characters.
Always thinking about the invisible scales of equality  
between the unborn, the refugee, the immigrant, and those not living in privilege.

I am
certain that I have fingers
toes, a heart with blood pumping
slowly through my veins
as do you,
and them,
and us, but those that lead find
different ways to say
You Don’t Belong.

I question
my ability
my strength for this
test.
Yet I know that one cannot expect miracles
And God cannot do all the work

And so

Although I am afraid, I am certain. Although I question, I am ready.
I can be brave. I must be brave. I will be brave.


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Pulitzer Prize winning author Anthony Doerr put up this panel during his talk for the Arlington County Library. I wrote about that talk here.

Whenever I begin writing my annual New Year’s post I take a look at what I wrote the year before. Here is what I said in January 2016:

Continue reading “Twenty-Seventeen”

Rituals: Vote 2016

Dear America

I am standing in line to vote. It is the longest voting line I have ever waited in and admittedly not the longest citizens will wait today. It is winding, not unlike our first political cartoon that shows a fragmented snake, (1754, Pennsylvania  Gazette) split into seperate colonies. Below the image a proclamation from Benjamin Franklin “Join, or die.”

At the time this was a call for unity. A call for a fragmented people to come together. Today, that snake looks awfully familiar. For the last year I have had it coiled within me, an invisible knot in my chest, twinging when I thought about today. 

Continue reading “Rituals: Vote 2016”

Summer in October: Photos from Colorado

Inside Louis Dupuy's kitchen. A view down at the (not original) stove.
Inside Louis Dupuy’s kitchen. A view down at the (not original) stove.

Who says you can’t write about summer vacations in October? At the end of July I traveled to Colorado Springs for an epic family reunion. Naturally I couldn’t make a trip to a different state and not play tourist for a little while. I wrote about one part of my trip, a visit to Hotel de Paris in Georgetown for Saving Places.  The piece, which I had a lot of fun writing, is about the hotel’s proprietor, Louis Dupuy, a man who was a fugitive, journalist, and an infamous chef.

In addition to Georgetown I also spent a few hours in Denver, checking out the state capitol, the Emerson School (home of the National Trust Denver Field Office), and the Molly Brown House. The latter site is pretty great, mostly because it does what most historic houses do, but flips the perspective, telling us about Molly Brown’s legacy rather than just the male inhabitants. Continue reading “Summer in October: Photos from Colorado”

Alex and Mike: A Love Story

A few months ago two friends of mine asked me to do a reading at thier wedding, and after I offered to write it for them they said yes. I wanted to share the piece with you along with a recording of a portion I had to cut due to time constraints (and that it didn’t quite fit in with the broader piece). 

Here is the final reading from the ceremony this weekend. 

Continue reading “Alex and Mike: A Love Story”

Creative Collaboration: We are all the same

This morning I introduced one of my nieces, a ten year old, to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time.  During a planned trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum we walked through Daniel’s Story – the exhibit directed toward children – and the Hall of Remembrance. When she didn’t feel comfortable going through the permanent exhibition with her parents, the two of us wandered around the National Mall talking about what she learned.

It was an important conversation for me and for her, and while I tread carefully on what details to share much of our talk centered around how Hitler intentionally separated people based on religion and other characteristics he felt were deviant (making a side connection to Harry Potter and Voldemort’s obsession with purebloods). Our conclusion was how ridiculous that assumption is because we are all, in the end, human beings.

This month’s Creative Collaboration looks at an image from S.Fell. Taken at the Baltimore Light City exhibition the image reflects the conversation from this morning. We are in the end all the same.

image1 Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: We are all the same”

Creative Collaboration: And The Waltz Goes On

The inspiration for this month is a waltz. Written by Sir Anthony Hopkins it was conducted by Andre Rieu and has quickly become one of my go to YouTube videos. The piece is at times melancholic and joyful all at the same time. 

For my submission (the only one) this month I thought I would try my hand at writing a very short story where the song is an invisible character. Written on my porch as the sun set (mood, it’s all about the mood) I tried to match each section of the story with one section of the composition.
Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: And The Waltz Goes On”

Creative Collaboration: Green

For March (we are running about a month behind in the posting) the creative collaboration team was inspired by this instagram from DixonBaxi, a creative company out of London (and the Baxi in the name is my cousin). I was struck by the the way the green and black took up space within the image creating shapes within shapes as they connected together. This month collaborators pulled together some poetry, another healthy dish for you to make, and a color study. Check them out below.


Continue reading “Creative Collaboration: Green”

WordPower

Words have power. Fact. We live in an age where anyone can say anything and be believed. An age where fact checking is only reliable if it aligns with your beliefs. Words. Have. Power.

But power to what? To sway, to innovate, to encourage, to bring hope – and in their absence limit important forms of expression necessary for real communication. A few weeks ago two events brought these thoughts to the surface. And while both cases are based in fiction there are real world implications.

Anthony Doerr and Me
Meeting Anthony Doerr.

Continue reading “WordPower”