For Eleanor Roosevelt
Right now, I am worn out, yet feel excited. I am proud of my many accomplishments, as well as my periods of stress, during this Spring semester. Last weekend, I delivered a lecture titled “Representations of Disability in Art and the Work of Disabled Artists,” at the Disability and Philosophy Conference, held at The University of North Carolina at Asheville. I presented many of the images I have written about, juxtaposed with images of my artwork, as well as my recent artistic projects. I want to write about as much of the event and the people involved in this conference as I can. For now, Professor Eva Feder Kittay (http://evafederkittay.com) gave such a brilliant and impactful lecture (with images). She addressed issues of philosophy, personhood, racism, sexism, and ableism. At the opening of the lecture, she mentioned, in my words, the American “dynasty” (or die-nasty) and legacy of the Roosevelt Family.
In Ken Burns, dir., The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (2018), Burns presents the complicated legacy and history of the Roosevelt family, in the forms a good documentary filmmaker knows best. The series of episodes, or films, compose archival footage and photographs, to provide stimulating visuals, as Burns, Burns’ team, and others (actors) provide commentary about and the voices of the numerous, colorful characters. Meryl Streep provides the voice of Eleanor Roosevelt. Many viewers recognize timely discussions and significant themes in the episodes, which center on nineteenth-century American history, as well as what are considered “American” ideals: frailty, failure, stability, achievement, democracy, and war (or, more broadly, conflict). The political parties were changing during this time period. Many people were confused about their affiliations. I am confused about which of these ideals, or traditions, are still relevant today, because of the powerful American traditions of oppression, especially of “American” people of color, the working class, women, and disabled people, Many, in the public eye, have reminded us lately to remember history, because history can often stand for the truth. In The Roosevelts, “history” is no doubt powerful, but perhaps, even more revolutionarily, good documentaries resist convincing their audiences to take sides, allowing these audiences to attempt to decide for themselves. Successful documentaries enable viewers to feel adoration, as well as doubt and anger.
The backgrounds of many, for lack of a better term, fascinating people presented in the episodes, blow my mind. I here want to discuss the documentary’s portrayal of Eleanor Roosevelt, again, in archival footage and pieces of her writing. To chronicle briefly, Eleanor was born to an older, successful, and alcoholic Roosevelt man and a young mother. Eleanor was neglected and abandoned by her parents. She was embraced by President Theodore Roosevelt’s family, which included a few powerful women and men, as well as a few men who were kept away from Eleanor, by multiple metals locks on her bedroom door. Throughout Eleanor’s life, she feared many people. Children excluded, perhaps teased, and were cared for/loved by Eleanor. She admired her many children, and forever grieved her baby who died. Aunts and mothers could be supportive of and dismissive to Eleanor, so she struggled with feelings of both rejection andacceptance. She loved and was sometimes disappointed by her husband. She seemed to relish working with some of the medical teams, as well as the many disenfranchised people who populated the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. She flourished with the League of Women Voters. She narrated to the American public the importance of World War II.
Eleanor discovered her own rightful, distinguishable place in American history, with a little bit of help from her family. I believe her husband was the first, albeit closeted, disabled president. Eleanor was the first woman president. She was at the helm in the establishment of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights. Throughout her life (1884 – 1962), she was a powerful, global humanitarian.
Ann Millett-Gallant, Purple Impatiens, 12 x 12 in., acrylic on canvas, 2017
I wanted to paint something for Eleanor, and for all the Eleanor followers out there. I looked at many of the flowers associated with Eleanor, such as those of of New England; France, where she was sent to study, but which also made her a bit homesick; and America, many of which are dependable and beautiful. I focused my attention on flowers that symbolize the beginnings of Spring. I thought of this painting Purple Impatiens, acrylic on canvas, c. 2017. I photographed it in with my somewhat cumbersome camera phone, and I loved it (the painting). I think Eleanor deserves such a painting. I used light, medium, intense, and sparkling shades of purple. The two petals in the upper half portion of the canvas look, and I hope, feel (with emotions) like deep, purple velvet. The four other flower petals compose pansy, lavender, and eclipse hues. At the center, or the heart, of the canvas, lie three bright yellow pistils. I flanked the flower with some rich turquois, to enrich the colors and impact of this Impatiens Flower.
The name of the “Impatiens” flower always struck me. It is quite commonly referred to, in spoken and written forms, as the “Impatient” Flower, such that a plot or field of these stunning botanical beauties, are “Impatients.” I am curious about and often get impatient. And, I suspect, that Eleanor, for many justifiable reasons, was quite impatient. But these flowers, for me, are never impatient for the Spring, or, if they can botanically thrive, for water or light. These painted flowers are strong, durable, delicate, beautiful, communal, and hopeful, all at once. In my mind, so was Eleanor.