Saturday, June 09, 2007

Josie's Show and Doc's Chalk Talk, Chapter the First

(A Saturday Morning Entertainment, in Two Parts)

Last night, I bopped on down to David Fairbanks Ford's White River Junction landmark and happening place the Main Street Museum for the 7pm opening of CCS graduate Josie Whitmore's new arts, crafts, and jackalopes gallery show.

A fine time was had by all, and it was also great to catch up with Antoinette Jacobson, sister of filmmaker Nora Jacobson, and the woman who worked on the construction and orchestration of the amazing fire organ (centerpiece of sister Nora's excellent feature film Nothing Like Dreaming). Broke artists all, it's my goal now to arrange a creative-economy means for Antoinette to land a couple of banjo lessons from Gabby, if the logistics can be arranged at no cost to either of 'em.

There was indeed lots of fellow CCSers and WRJ community folks, good food (vegan and otherwise), wine, lemonade, live banjo music provided by Gabby 'Ken Dahl' Schulz (playing from a huge glass case, like a live museum exhibit) and more.

Josie curated the show (those are Josie's exquisite jackalope wash drawings featured on the announcement and spot illos, here), featuring watercolors, jewelry, photography, paintings and crafts by Josie, Judith Howland, Sigrid Lium, Marion Settle, and fellow CCS graduates Elizabeth Chasalow and Colleen Frakes. Elizabeth's photos and 'dead pet' cloth creations are showcased handsomely, and Colleen Frakes -- who you met via her interview here on this blog this past week -- has several books and paintings on display, including three huge female superhero paintings ($300 for the set). I tell you, snag these now, while Colleen's work is affordable! She's going places in this world, as is every artist at this show.

Here's the official announcement:


Area craftswomen exhibit top-notch wares at the Main Street Museum,
White River Junction, VT. June, 2007.

The Main Street Museum is proud to announce "Arts, Crafts, and Jackalopes," a month-long exhibition celebrating the handiwork of some of the Upper Valley's most talented women artists. The show will feature: photography, paintings, apparel, accessories, jewelry, log cabin quilts, comics, and soft sculpture. A wine and cheese reception will be held on the the exhibit's opening night at 7pm on June 8, 2007.

Featured Artists: Elizabeth Chasalow, Colleen Frakes, Judith Howland, Sigrid Lium, Marion Settle, and Josie Whitmore

Arts, Crafts, and Jackalopes will open on June 8, 2007 at 7pm at the Main Street Museum in White River Junction.

The show runs until July 8 and items can be purchased during regular museum hours. If you're in town, be sure to drop in, savor the show, and drop some dollars for whatever catches your eye (and don't forget the Quechee Gorge Mall is just 5 miles away, on Route 4 West, where lots more CCS goodies await you in the Antique dealer venue, Booth 653).

  • Here's Josie's site, brimming with goodies, which is well worth a visit this morning, and
  • more of Josie's art for the event (along with CCS and life pix, paintings and pointers) are here -- and it's likely Josie will be posting photos from last night here at some point, too.

  • Thanks, Josie!

    Now, on to Part One (of many) of the promised interview with my ol' compadre Tim Viereck, aka Doc Ersatz.

    A little background, though the interview will provide ample backstory: Doc and I met and became fast friends when we were both at Johnson State College in upstate Johnson, Vermont back in 1974-76, and we've stayed in touch over the years. Doc is a man of the world and an incredibly creative fellow; his life and times have embraced expansive travel, sailing, hiking the Canadian tundra, music, theater, cinema (he worked on Blue Velvet!), state-of-the-art simulated realities (he worked on the miniatures for the famous Back to the Future ride at Universal City Studios) and oh so much more. Meet the man who once knew Cindy Lauper, who co-founded the Council of Edacious Souls, who picked up a shard of Dennis Hopper's shattered skull off a North Carolina floor and who bankrolled the launch of my comics career.

    Meet -- Doctor Ersatz!

    SB: Now, where did the moniker Doc Ersatz come from? You're about the least ersatz fellow I've ever met.

    TIM VIERECK aka DOC: Ah, the old Franklin Nigel Q Ersatz, DAM.

    This can be traced back to a Firesign Theater routine, an advertisement for "Ersatz Brothers' Coffee - It's got zest-appeal!" My best friend growing up, who shall remain nameless (hey, he's in a government job) and I collaborated on an art project after our freshmen year of college. He'd taken a silversmithing class at UVM [University of Vermont]; I had gotten hold of some slabs of black soapstone from an old soapstone sink, which I was carving into pipes (hey, it was 1972!). We made a sculpted stone pipe in the image of a snarling, eye-patched pirate, which came out pretty damn nice. His head-scarf was carved in the stone, but his eye-patch and the cord for it was inlaid in silver. His remaining eye was bone with an ebony pupil, and he had bone, ebony and silver teeth. We put it on consignment at a shop in Bennington, but first we needed a case for it. I found some kind of nice tin box with a hinged lid, but it needed a label. Ersatz Bros. was a natural for us, and though I ended up with that tin as my stash-box for many years (yes, you saw it many times Bissette, don't lie now), the pipe was shop-lifted. This quelled what little enthusiasm I might have had for capitalism and free enterprise right there, mate. But I have attached the working drawings of old Cap'n Crunch, can you believe? Just went out to the shop, pulled the sketch-books off the shelf, and there it was. Sometimes I amaze myself. Sometimes not.

    State's Evidence, Fig. 1: The original Cap'n Crunch drawings, circa 1972

    Oh, what was the question? Right, Dr. Ersatz... I made a linoleum block business card for Ersatz Bros., with our motto "De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum", which I stuck on my dorm room door upon my return to academia. Martinetti Hall, Johnson State College, January, 1974. I wrote my real name on it, but Dr. Ersatz is what took. One guy actually called me "Zatz", but everybody else, and I mean even my professors, called me "Doc" or Doctor Ersatz. The DAM is for Doctor of Applied Miracles, the term for Physicists in some nightmare Sci-Fi novel where the Christians have taken over the world: you'd probably know which one it was, Steve.

    SB: I ain't telling, but some joker will undoubtably post the info in the comments and that'll be that. Your family has a palatial spread outside of Bennington, VT. Sticking to what you're willing to share in this public arena, what's the Viereck family story and legacy, as experienced in your lifetime?

    DOC: My parents bought that place in 1954. They were New Englanders of the coastal persuasion, but had ended up in Alaska after the war and college. I was born in Cordova, AK, but they figured it was a little grim up there for raising a bunch of kids, what with the isolation, the cold, and the 220 inches of precipitation. They applied for teaching jobs in a couple of places they knew from their college days (they met through the Dartmouth/Vassar Outing Club - what can I say?). The train between Poughkeepsie and Hanover went through Bennington in those days, and they got a job offer there they liked. The Superintendent wrote them, apologizing that the salary was only a fraction of what they made in Alaska; they wrote back explaining how much a single egg cost in Cordova!

    We moved into the old farmhouse, built circa 1785, right around my first birthday, after the big Husky had given birth to a litter of eight in the back of the car. They paid $12,500 for the place, with around 56 acres, a couple of barns and various outbuildings, a nice brook, a sugar-woods (now Ye Olde Feasting Woode), hay fields, a swamp, a pine woods, and a separate parcel just for firewood. The neighbors thought they were totally nuts paying that kind of money for a beat old farm. God damn flat-landers!

    As to the future of the spread, I don't know. My folks are getting on, as they say, and no consensus has formed. My youngest sister, who lives across the road in a tiny little house, would love to get the farm back on its feet and do a goat operation of some kind, but family dynamics being what they are (does "dysfunctional" mean anything to you, Steve?), it'll be hard to make that work. La Madre is still into total control, naturally, though I think we siblings would back the goat plan to the hilt. (The hilt... now, that makes one wonder where to place the blade up to it... Oops, sorry)

    For better or worse, the farm has held the family together over the years, and without it the Feast would probably never have happened, and certainly wouldn't have continued. What's next? I wish I knew...

    "The Naughty Shepard" by Doc; hmmm, is that lamb on a spit or German Shepard? (see bogus witness account of the Feast, below)

    What got you into art, Doc? Just the bit I've seen over the years covers a lot of ground, in many media. What are your earliest memories that led to your making -- stuff?

    DOC: My mother's family was into art. My mother painted, and also illustrated my dad's books; her mother painted and was an architect. I was always encouraged in my art, whatever it was, from drawing to making Da Vinci-esque glider models or miniature crossbows. I can't believe some of the shit I was indulged in. For example, stuffiness (and I refer here to the actual non-movement of air, not the cultural aspect) in classrooms always bothered me, especially in the spring when it got hot. In 7th grade I made this contraption, mostly out of balsa wood and tissue paper, which clamped to my desk and used a foot pedal to operate a simple fan. They actually let me use this thing in class! Go figure. By the end of the following year, I had moved to a compact battery operated design with a propeller from a wind-up plane mounted on a little motor... and again, they allowed it in class. Fun.

    But I suppose most of the early "stuff" I made was for my bear. I had this little up-right humanoid bear, actually an antique Stieff, which my mother had gotten second hand when she was a kid. She had made quite a bit of stuff for him herself, but I did immediately eliminate the bi-sexual aspect of the wardrobe. She had named him after Winnie-the-Pooh's cousin (actually an alias for the Pooh himself), "Poodle". Unfortunate, but who cares when you're a kid? At some point I got a very nicely-made little monkey for his side-kick (I named him "Monkey", OK?), and I made or accumulated a lot of costumes and props.

    I figured out how to run the sowing machine when I was eight, and made a white canvas winter camouflage suit for him. I made him Roman armor with a big "P" on the front out of beaten copper, and also he fitted the original GI Joe uniforms and weapons. I made him a parachute to fit the GI Joe harness and chucked him out my bedroom window. Stieff collectors, eat your hearts out! My youngest sister had toy horses, and we used to play together, taking them all on expeditions in the yard and gardens.

    As for the rest of it, I'm a "one thing leads to another," "go with the flow" kind of guy, as opposed to "goal oriented." I didn't grow up dreaming of bending glass and making neon art, for instance, I just had a girlfriend who wanted to work in a movie studio, where I got a job building sets and hanging signs, got to know the tube-bender, a wonderful kinetic artist from the Mid-West, and when I had some time and money, went to Kansas and took his course. He and I are still great friends, but now I'm doing something different, like mainly raising kids. Now, talk about "a piece o' work", you ought to meet my kids!

    SB: What about them kids? Let's jump the chronological rails for a moment or two and let's here about your family -- how did you and Tamara meet, when did you start your family life, and how about them kids?

    DOC: Tamara was a great friend of my sister Meg's. They knew each other in Yellow Springs, Ohio, home of Antioch College, which neither of them actually attended. Meg mentioned her a few times as someone who should come to the Feast, and she gave me her address and I actually did send an invitation. She was in Med School and insanely busy, but eventually she got a little time off and came. I tell everyone that I met her at the Feast (the 21st, "Feast of the Majority", which few get; 1991), but of course I actually met her a day or two before when she showed up to help. So we took a shine, and commuted between Catskill, NY, where I was doing archeology, and Columbus where she was doing medicine, for a year or two, traveled together, and moved out to Tacoma, Washington, together, where she did a fellowship in rural medicine.

    Our daughter, Raphaela Danielle Singleton Viereck, was born there, actually in Federal Way, WA. What a name for a town! Best to leave it at "Tacoma," and hope no one is familiar with the term "Tacoma Aroma"! Our son, on the other hand, Jasper Anselmo Kingsbury Viereck, aka Pom or Palm Barrel, lucked out, being born at the Midwifery Center in Taos, New Mexico, five years later. That'll sound cool no matter where he ends up, no? Incidentally, we got married when Rapha was 3, old enough to take part and enjoy the celebration. What a party! We got married on Columbus Day, 1997, at our really nice rental house down on the San Ildefonso Pueblo reservation, under a golden cottonwood tree in a walled garden. The Ramon Bermudez Group played (if you can find their CD, I recommend it highly; this was our big splurge!), our friend Norma Naranjo of San Juan Pueblo catered (she's one of the best native cooks around; she's catered for the Smithsonian), and we spent the wedding night in a wonderful old movie tipi in the back yard (the damn Indians had chained off the canyon where we planned to camp). Eee, what a party! You should have come out, Steve.

    Say, if you read A Fair Wind, And Plenty Of It by Rigel Crockett, you'll find that in the midst of the crisis of trying to get the tall ship Picton Castle ready for her first circumnavigation under sail, with too little money and less time, the Captain suddenly declares a holiday for all and mysteriously disappears for a week. That's my cousin Dan -- I had to twist his arm a little, but I didn't want to wait two years for him to get back and I had no interest in getting married without my primo as my best man...

    As for those kids, unless they do their goddamn homework today, and without a huge fuss, I've got nothin' to say about 'em!

    SB: Hey, share that SpiderBaby Comix story with us --

    DOC: I knew what story you meant instantly, but to recall it exactly... Instead, I spent some time searching old emails and finally came up with:

    “So I came into the living room this morning, Saturday morning. Videos have been banished for two weeks, as punishment for faulty behavior patterns, and Tamara and Pom are ensconced in an easy chair, she reading aloud. How sweet, how special!

    I read an email, fill in a petition against the repeal of the estate tax, peruse some jokes sent by a friend, as the words drift into my consciousness: "... said grace, his robes moved... shifted and quivered as if hidden limbs were moving... limbs where no human being ever had limbs... "

    Arrggghh! Spider Baby Comix has found my six-year-old!

    I turned his attention to Tyrant, and read a couple, but even after one, he said, "That next one doesn't look so good - it doesn't have much blood... I like the blood!," and after two, he went back outside to play.

    To play whatever secret games he plays...
    in the shadows...
    by the ditch,
    perhaps with little helpless creatures...

    Thanks, old buddy -

    Now, to update that story, I should say that as they've aged a little, they've gone more to Tyrant, and like much of the world, want to know when the rest of the series is coming out... Yeah, yeah, I know; I'm talking about the rest of the world.

    SB: Nice try, Doc, but my “where’s Tyrant?” callouses are thick and resist such feeble prodding. Anyhoot, I love that SpiderBaby Comix story.

    DOC: As I said back then, "I knew yer cockles would be warmin'".

    SB: OK, now, what are you up to these days, Doc?

    DOC: These days, I irrigate my fields, I prune my fruit trees, I collect the money for La Acequia Del Gavilan (part of the ancient Spanish system of irrigation ditches), I take care of the local community water system as President and Certified Operator, and I do most of the ordering for Ojo Caliente Volunteer Fire & Rescue, where I also respond for fires and car wrecks. Hey, I just completed an Advanced Extrication training last week, where we cut up a school bus and a semi, and chopped up numerous wrecked vehicles piled precariously on top of each other. Fun. Also, I've been building a set of kitchen cabinets for a friend up the road. The lowers are in, and they can't say enough good about them. They brag on them to all their friends, which is heart warming of course, though I'm left thinking "Well what the hell did you think I'd make? These are the materials, the designs, the finishes you picked out, did you really think I could turn all this great material into a pile of crap?" But they seem to find it artistic, I guess. Now if I can just find time for the uppers...

    SB: The Feast -- please, explain, Doc. The Feast, St. Edacious, all of it.

    DOC: The Council of Edacious Souls Feast has been going on for several decades; this year's will be the 37th. It all started when... Actually, my cousin (or primo, as we say here in Mew Mexico) Danny, now aka Captain Daniel Dawson Moreland, commander of the three masted barque 'Picton Castle', had an idea back in 1970.

    There's a mostly uninhabited island off the cove where he (and other of our maternal line) lived in Connecticut. He and his friends (including me) loved to get out there and camp, away from all parental and otherwise authoritarian influences, and, due to the substantial rat population, mostly in nets up in the trees. There were several groups, each with their own distinct tree or grove, only rule: No Daps! (kids from Darien, poor bastards). The camps were made entirely of flotsam and jetsam - very picturesque, with furniture made of stakes driven in the ground, lashed up, netting woven in place, swings, a great flat rock suspended on an old hawser from high in the tree serving as a side-table, old spars lashed in high branches netted for sleeping platforms - you get the idea.

    Dan came up with the idea of having a Thanksgiving feast on the weekend after Thanksgiving. That first year, someone cooked a turkey in mom's oven, somebody obtained a small supply of Bali Hi wine (mmm - sweet!), Dan bought plates and silver ware at the Salvation Army store, which were then renewed each year. All vessels involved were, by tradition, unregistered, under equipped, overloaded, fun. The feasters, mostly high school juniors (I was a senior), met at the family dock and were ferried out where they were then stuck until enough people wanted to head in to convince a boatman to transport them, a nice arrangement.

    The note! The naming of the Council, circa 1970-71

    I returned to Vermont with many fine tales of this affair, and my friend Ed and I started formulating a plot. We wanted to have a spring feast, out in the woods, in a flowering orchard, somewhere isolated enough to keep things private and where we could transport our friends and hold them marooned in island fashion. We felt that a large spitted animal should be roasted on site, with nothing from our parents kitchen involved. No silverware seemed like a good idea, so did no expenses. To this end, we formed an official club at school, faculty sponsor and all. I searched my thesaurus into the wee hours for just the right name, something along the lines of "Society of Glutinous Persons". Oddly, in my archives, I still have the little piece of note paper on which I tried various combinations, finally arriving at the Council of Edacious Souls. We had thirty members, at $1 each, and we had a raffle in which we talked the winner out of his cash prize in return for an invite. Sadly, as we didn't get things together until post-graduation, we lost track and he's never made it.

    From the first couple of feasts in my parents' wood-lot, about a mile from the house and illuminated by hissing Coleman lantern, to another decade in the Sugar Woods, to the expanded two-site ( and Sanctum Profanis and Sanctum Sanctorum) with procession all lit by torches, years of varying amounts of illegal fireworks, varying amounts of live music (also of varying quality), and always prodigious amounts of excellent food, the Feast has blundered on, in good times and weird, in sickness and in health, etc. Attendance has swollen and shrunk, from an early count of 20 to 25 up to a high of 85 or 90 in the past decade. My sister Meg took to brewing truly fine malt beverages for a while, around 160 pints of ales and porter, which we labeled anew each year and placed on planks in a pit of ice...

    Saint Edacious arose naturally from all this. I have been equated with the saint myself at times, though I can't see it myself; it started after the 6th Feast, when it rained like holy hell. It had never actually rained on the Feast up to that point (though it had sure rained before and after), and since I was off paddling in the sub-arctic, feasting on ptarmigan pegged with a wrist-rocket slingshot and staying dry, I was hailed by some upon my return as "Saint Edacious", and indeed, the Feast never did get rained on, wherever I personally was Feasting, up to I believe the 25th. That was too much pressure for me; it was a huge relief when it finally poured on me and washed that cult stigma away! The image of Saint Edacious came from the second Feast, and it led up to the Satan worship thing in your next question. I made a linoleum block print with our motto "Caveat Emptor" on it, and posted some along the jeep trail which led to the site, giving rise to rumors (as intended).

    SB: OK, let's get to that question. I recall a 'satanic cult' news item from the Bennington papers that somehow was tied in to all of this...

    DOC: It was in the Bennington and Rutland papers, but more absurdly on an Albany NY TV station. Some disgruntled parent at the elementary school where my father was principal, a self-proclaimed "Christian," tried to make trouble for him, and succeeded due to greed and America's yearning for sensationalism.

    Mid-autumn of 1987, this woman called all the papers and TV news rooms in the region to report that Phil Viereck was host to a Satan worshipping Black Sabbath of some sort every summer. One reporter, on the Rutland Herald, followed it up and got the true story. He spoke with State Police in Shaftsbury, telling them that the charges seemed groundless and that he was going to print that in the Herald. So a State cop, their "cult expert" or something, actually called the anchor-babe at a struggling Albany station, who also was looking into the story for a big lurid splash, and told her that if she wanted to scoop it, she better get it on the news that night. She called my dad, informed him of the allegations, and asked for his side. He of course said it was just a party his son and his theater-type friends had, and invited her out to the site. She said something like "Thanks, but we've already been out there and filmed -- catch the news at Eleven", and in fact it ran as an "Extra", with footage from our Feast site, footage of a "Cult expert" from Mary Rose College (!) discussing this footage ("and this is the West-facing throne where the high priest or priestess would sit", a crude chair made for our co-founder due to a crippling injury he got trying to help at a car-wreck, and "this residue on the tree appears to be candle wax!" - it was blue plastic from a fire-works pinwheel), and the news teaser: "Satan Worship in a nearby Vermont town? State Police say it's no joke!", a line still quoted to this day.

    So everything hit the fan, my dad came up with some good lines for the paper, my favorite being "I think we have a lot more to fear from irresponsible journalism than we do from things that go bump in the night!" To another quote of his "There's nothing remotely resembling Satan worship that goes on there", a fellow Edacian said "Well, remotely resembling... I don't know, that could be stretching it." The State Trooper moron was disavowed and eventually transferred away. The best allegation of the whole deal: the woman's boyfriend claimed to have watched from the bushes as we Mephistophelian revelers roasted "a German Shepard" on a spit! Boy, anybody who's ever roasted a good sized animal on a spit has to have a lot of respect for someone who could tell whether the critter was a sheep or a dog, let alone the breed. Incidentally, we usually end up with a good sized calf these days...

    SB: Speaking of Bennington weirdness, I have to ask: growing up in the area, what kind of weird lore punctuated your pre-college years (we'll get into the college lore next batch of questions)? Had you ever heard of the disappearances on Glastonbury Mountain which Joe Citro has dubbed "The Bennington Triangle"?

    DOC: Only in the sense that I do vaguely recall a Bennington College girl or something disappearing over there, but the fact is, it's a huge rough heavily-wooded remote area, so it was no surprise if some fool headed out that way and didn't come back. Lotta bears, too...

    No, the only strange, brooding local story I grew up with was from the area of the family camp, Jewel Clearing, and old sugar-house built by some distant relatives who settled back in behind Readsboro. There was an interesting unsolved mystery death which occurred back in there while the dam for the Whitingham Reservoir was being built.

    OK, enough for one day, Edacious ones.

    End of Part One -- Part Two tomorrow, paving the way for a week of CCS interviews, too!

    Have a great Saturday...

    Early Feast photo, circa 1977

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