Made me think


© Sara Schneckloth

The work of Sara Schneckloth strives to embody moments of remembering. The emotions and memories from our past experiences leave their mark on more than our minds, they affect the function of our organs, our bodies, today.  This thought informs Schneckloth’s work as she seeks to channel her painful memories into emotive lines of charcoal on paper.

© Sara Schneckloth 2005

The following are excerpts from an interview with Leslie Hinton:

I like to have a sense of a loose structure in which I can invent and explore the themes that are most relevant, but it is rarely a pre-determined event. Drawing lends itself to this kind of immediacy, in terms of both materials and how they are handled, and there is always the sense for me that I’m witnessing a thought evolve as I work. The initial phases of the process are much more visceral/intuitive than pre-conceived and intellectualized, but there is (more…)

L'Enfant Plan for Washington DCWhat follows is a tale woven from strange threads; ancient symbols, secret Masonic texts, enlightenment ideals, and the African American Hero, Benjamin Banneker…

It begins with a curious fact that most citizens have never noticed: the White House was constructed to sit at the base of a mile wide pentagram, bounded by a pentagon positioned at the center of a 100 sq mile diamond. Three points of the pentagram are traffic circles surrounding small parks, one point is the Historical Society and the Southernmost point is the White House itself. (more…)

Considering the work of Henry Darger, it strikes me that we live in a world full of secrets.  Occasionally, one gets out.

It was on the day after his birthday, and the last day of his life, that the reclusive hospital janitor’s extraordinary secret life was discovered…

Henry Darger - Realms of the UnrealIllustration from The Story of the Vivian Girls by Henry Darger (Click to enlarge)

Henry Darger was born in 1892, and after his parents died at a young age, he was raised in an “Asylum for Feeble Minded Children”.  At the asylum he was subject to harsh punishments and forced labor and ultimately escaped a year before the asylum was investigated for abuse.  Once free, he found work as a janitor, attended daily Catholic Mass and lived a quiet solitary life in which almost no one knew him or noticed him.

On April 13th, 1973, the last day of Henry Darger’s life, landlord (and accomplished photographer), Nathan Lerner opened the door to the small second story Chicago apartment where Darger had lived in solitude for 40 years.  At that time, Darger had been moved to the St. Augustine Mission because of his failing health.  Among Darger’s personal affects, Lerner uncovered several astounding works of literature and hundreds of works of art, all created in secret by Henry Darger.
Among these were:

  • a 15,000 page work of fantasy fiction called The Story of the Vivian Girls, in What is Known as the Realms of the Unreal, of the Glandeco-Angelinian War Storm Caused by the Child Slave Rebellion;
  • a 5,000 page autobiography entitled The History of my Life;
  • a 10-year daily weather journal;
  • assorted diaries;
  • a 10,000 page novel entitled Crazy House
  • Several hundred original illustrations and water color paintings depicting the plight of young children against oppressive and evil adults.


Darger’s images were often violent, even brutal, displaying the torture and murder of the children in his stories.  They can also be very colorful, playful, sincere and innocent.  Darger surely drew upon his life experiences in the asylum.  His unique style has given rise to the term “Dargerism”.  The American Folk Art Museum calls Darger “one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century”.

Nathan Lerner, Darger’s landlord, “was inextricably bound up in the history of visual culture in Chicago” (according to the New York Times), and instantly recognized the artistic merit of Darger’s compositions.  It was a truly remarkable coincidence that someone, such as Lerner, should be the first to see Darger’s secret works.  Under most other circumstances all of his artwork and stories would surely have been lost forever.  Nathan Lerner, and his wife Kiyoko, gained the rights to Darger’s estate and have brought the world’s attention to it.  Since Lerner’s discovery, Darger’s artwork has achieved wide acclaim as  “outsider art“.  His stories and paintings (and mental status) have become the subject of books and documentary films.

In The Story of The Vivian Girls, we come to learn that the Earth is actually orbiting a larger planet, much as the moon orbits the Earth.  It is upon this larger world that Darger’s story takes place.  I believe that for Darger, the inner fantasy world was larger than his reality, and his reality simply orbited this other, more important fantasy world.  In Darger’s world, abused children are avenged and innocence conquers all.

Darger’s body now rests in All Saints Cemetery in Des Plaines, Illinois, in a plot called “The Old People of the Little Sisters of the Poor Plot.” Darger’s modest headstone is inscribed “Artist” and “Protector of Children.”

Several examples of Darger’s larger works (click to enlarge):



Henry Darger – American Folk Art Museum
In the Realms of the Unreal – Documentary Trailer
In the Realms of the Unreal – Part 1 on PBS
Vivian Girls Tattoo on The Awesome Summer Journal

Also, take a look at these Darger-inspired works by Ian Brownlee, here on SpillSpace

To believe your own thought… that is genius.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

For Ralph Waldo Emerson, beauty, genius, and wisdom are your native state, held captive only by the ramparts of conventionality, insecurity and the insincerity that pour forth as you seek the favorable opinions of others at the expense of the true expression of your rightful self.

Like many great men before him, Emerson too earned a badge of condemnation and was called a “poisoner of young minds”. He was even banned from Harvard for 30 years following an address he gave to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School in 1838. But, Emerson exemplified the bravery of thought that he hoped you might find within yourself. His wisdom changed our world through men like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr, both inspired partly by Emerson’s transcendentalism movement.

I find it best to take Emerson in doses. I have called this “Part 1” so that from time to time I might be able to add to this. In the excerpts below I’ve added italics to emphasize important points, the emphasis is not original to the writing.

Emerson’s “Introduction”:

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchers of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also…


little-miss-sunshineOn September 18th, 2006, my wife and I saw Little Miss Sunshine.  It really absorbed me.  I wrote my wife an email from work the next day once I’d had a good night to let my thoughts “percolate”, as you might say.  That email has since gotten forwarded around a bit.  I’ve been told by several people that they’d been inspired enough to save it.  That made me think, “Hey, easy blog post, I’ll just copy and paste that old email!”  It may seem odd or untimely to post a review of a 2 year old movie, but ultimately, it is not really about the movie anyway.  As you will see it is about us; about my life and your life.  It is about something that I believe that we all came here to experience as part of the full palate of life’s blessings.  And that is suffering, and our struggle to understand its meaning in our lives.  Well, the topic is close to my heart and I hope it touches you as well.  As Friedrich Nietzsche might say, this post is dedicated to “the few”…


Hey Sweetie,

I keep thinking about that movie last night.

I am curious about the writer or director of that movie.  I felt that he did a good job of splitting the various sides of ones personality into several pieces and then bringing those pieces to life in a compelling way through the characters of the movie.  We watch the drama of  “the innocent child”, the “depressed rebellious teen”, the rejected suicidal academician, the driven, success seeking “Winner”, the regretful old man who wishes he could do it all over again, and the woman who has to hold them all together as a family…  The characters are all so wildly different from each other, and yet I could identify with them all.  It is as if the writer took each stage of his own life and created a character to represent it.

I really think that the whole movie was intended as a Nietzsche-esque morality tale.  Of course, through Dwayne’s character  Nietzsche is mentioned and his book “Thus Spake Zarathustra” was displayed.  The “Moral of the story” given near the end of the movie is similar to one of Nietzsche’s teachings, which is “to embrace suffering“.  I believe it is Frank who argues that (more…)

“The walls between art and engineering exist only in our minds” says Theo Jansen, a Dutch artist and Kinetic sculptor.  Jansen uses light weight materials to create life like inspired “animals” which collect the wind into lemonade bottles.  The animals later release their stored energy to roam alone along beaches and deserts.  There is a mystical beauty in his creations.  He has been called the modern day DiVinci.

Theo Jansen Animaris Percipiere

Bio-mechanical perfection.

Jansen’s mechanical wonders are able to sense their surroundings.  Some can detect the dry sands to change direction before they become stuck.  They can tuck their sails to protect themselves from high winds or even detect the ocean water to reverse their steps and head back towards the dunes.  All of this is achieved through purely mechanical methods.

In Holland, Jansen intends for roaming herds of his mechanical animals to carry sand from the waters edge to the dunes as a method of protecting the dunes from erosion.  These herds will wander along the beaches with no human assistance and no need for power except that which is collected from the wind.

In Jansen’s work, beauty, intelligence and creativity are indistinguishable from one another.

If you liked this story, you may also enjoy: Math to Metal: The Art of Bathsheba Grossman

More Theo Jansen:


BMW Commercial (1:06)

Strandbeest – The Spirit Within (2:58)

Animaris Rinoceros (0.19)

TED – Ideas Worth Spreading (10:10)

Munch, Death in the SickroomReligious cancer sufferers are more likely to employ extreme measures to postpone an inevitable death than are the non-religious.  This is the finding of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this month.  Journalistic reporting on this study has generally focused attention on the seemingly paradoxical finding that the most religious people appear to avoid “meeting their maker”.  So, is the finding contradictory to what one would expect from the faithful?  Let’s come back to that.

The study participants were all dying of cancer, which means they had the somewhat unique experience of knowing, at least roughly, when they would die.  That must be a psychologically stressful experience for many.  After all, death is a rather big transition (understatement).  For the devout, death is a precursor to judgment as well.  I doubt many talked much about that, but it must be on their minds.  The fact is, death is a bigger deal to the devout than to the atheist whose expecting little else than lysis of the cellular membranes followed by the spilling of intracellular contents once  their biologically sustaining functions have ceased, and then, nothing.

I relate to the devout, I was once a devout fundamentalist Christian.  My purpose in life was the avoidance of sin, the conversion of others and the constant study of scripture.  But I can also relate to the atheist because I was raised by my parents to be an atheist. I am at neither extreme now, but having spent much of my life at the extremes, I empathize with the experience of both groups and I did not find the researchers outcome to be surprising.

For an atheist, or at least for this atheist, the love of life was undermined by a deep sense of meaninglessness.   I think the full scope of this is hard for many to grasp.  The ultimate purposelessness of life and the universe is so weighty as to render all relative meaning and purpose as inconsequential.  As a result, depression becomes a natural outcome, and even seems quite rational to the atheist.  I was deeply depressed throughout my childhood. I have come to believe it was the black hole inside me, left by the absence of spirituality.  It is no wonder that the atheist does not pursue drastic end of life measures.

I converted to Christianity at 19 and the pendulum swung full arc.  Ultimately, despite my youth, I became an important leader in my church.  As such I taught bible studies and counseled other members on a weekly basis.  I came to the realization that many deeply devout practitioners had become that way, at least in part, due to an overwhelming fear of death; a fear which propelled their devotion.  Others among the most devoted were reacting to a deeply painful sense of guilt and worthlessness.  Such a negative self worth appears humble and  righteous when expressed religiously.  It is not paradoxical to imagine such people taking extraordinary measures to extend their final hours.  I left my church five years later and since that time I have never fit nicely into any religious description (you might say I am post-denominational).

Ultimately, as Shakespeare once mused, death is that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns.  It’s presence in our minds, whether ominous or victorious, gives weight to our lives.  The finite length of a lifetime imparts an immeasurable, if earthly, value to our final moments; and perhaps an infinite value to our souls.


arne_garborgFor money you can have
everything it is said.
No, that is not true.

You can buy food, but not appetite;
medicine, but not health;
soft beds, but not sleep;
knowledge but not intelligence;
glitter, but not comfort;
fun, but not joy;
acquaintances, but not friendship;
servants, but not faithfulness;
grey hair, but not honor;
quiet days, but not peace.

For money you can have the husk of all things,
But not the kernel.
That cannot be had for money.

Arne Garborg, Norwegian Writer (1851-1924)

Arnold Palmer and Tom SullivanTom Sullivan (famous blind musician) met Arnold Palmer (famous golf legend) and said “Arnold, I can beat you at golf, I know I can, it doesn’t matter that I am blind, I will bet you $1000 that I can beat you.”

Arnold says “Tom, you know I respect your accomplishments and I know you have overcome many obstacles and you pursue so many sports despite your blindness. But Tom, you can’t beat me, I am a golf legend. I would be practically stealing your money.”

But Tom was irrefutable and persistent and finally Arnold grew weary and a bit irritated and said “OK Tom, you are on. I’ll take your $1000 bet and I will beat you any time, any where, you just name it!”

Tom replied “Tonight! At midnight!

The moral of the story: Every obstacle is an opportunity when viewed from another perspective.

Mark Victor Hansen tells this great story, you may know him as the creator of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series.
Tom Sullivan also authored the book “If you could see what I hear.”


This post was inspired by a true story and the numbers are all real…

A friend of mine I will call “Mark” began suffering from moderate low back and neck pain. Occasionally the pain would shoot down an arm or leg. He went to see his doctor who ordered two MRI’s at a local hospital. “Mark” is a self-made millionaire and as such, finds health insurance to be unnecessary opting instead to pay his bills himself.  “Mark” decided to shop around for a bargain, and he found one… in Mumbai, India.  Here are the numbers.

$3700: The cost for MRI’s of the Cervical and Lumbar spine in an American hospital.

Compared to:

$100: The same MRI’s in a hospital in Mumbai, India by American trained physicians.

$1080: Round trip tickets to Mumbai, India.

$340: One week stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Mumbai.

Total Cost for an MRI vacation to India: $1520

Total savings for a patient willing to take a vacation to India and outsource their medical care vs going to the American hospital 3 blocks away: $2180