Entries tagged with “True stories”.

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…)

When I first discovered Ian Brownlee, I found his images to be penetrating – much like a song you wake up singing the next day. The images from Brownlee’s “American Myths” series seem to remain fixed in my mind. These sometimes Darger-esque images have a sweet and gentle surface that appears to hide a deeper, stranger, perhaps darker evocation.

“Elisha Mitchell’s Funeral” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on canvas, 60×48, 2009

Brownlee uses the term “myth” in it’s widest sense. I had an opportunity to ask Brownlee about his work. He explained “I’ve spent a lot of time in in southeast and the west, studying the land and its history. Mythology refers not just to stories but to whole mindsets and outlooks full of unquestioned assumptions. Some of the works reference well-known myths, others point out and make fun of those unquestioned assumptions. Others are just strange and funny, but you find that in mythology too.”

“The works on paper from the American Myths series were definitely inspired by Henry Darger. I began the series as large paintings on canvas, painted somewhat realistically. But then looking back at my sketches, they seemed to have a freshness that was missing in the larger pieces. So I decided to do something Darger-esque with them. Those pieces are smaller, they’re on paper, and they rely on outline. I’m now in the process of painting larger versions of some of them.”

“Elisha Mitchell‘s Funeral” (pictured above) relates to an interesting historical figure. Professor Elisha Mitchell, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was one of the first white men to discover the great and mysterious “Black Mountains” of North Carolina rich with dark balsam forests, reminiscent of the last ice age. Though native feet had tread these mountains for 15,000 years, the region was still considered “undiscovered” by the “new world”.

The brave yet tragic tale involves a great dispute between two men over which peaks were highest and who discovered them first. Mitchell made daring journeys often climbing on his hands and knees through miles of tunnel like, 3 foot high black bear trails through dense thickets up steep and slippery slopes in order to reach and measure the peaks. Ultimately, Elisha Mitchell lost his life in the effort to prove his claims. On June 27, 1857 at approximately 8:19 PM Elisha Mitchell slipped on a rocky ledge above a 20 ft waterfall (now called Mitchell Falls) and fell to his death. He hit his head as he fell and drowned in the deep cold pool below. But, Mitchell had successfully measured the highest peak east of the Rockies, and the mountain now bares his name.

Brownlee’s clean and simple imagery evokes for us the not so clean, and not so simple landscape of “American Myths”.

special-delivery-ian-brownlee“Special Delivery” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on paper, 8×10, 2007

dying-words-ian-brownlee“Dying Words” Ian Brownlee, acrylic on paper, 22×30, 2007

Slideshow of images from the “American Myth” Series by Ian Brownlee


Artist Ian Brownlee, Asheville, NC

WNC Magazine article on Ian Brownlee
Gallery Minerva – Ian Brownlee

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

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.”

I was the only swimmer from my team who was either dedicated enough, or stupid enough to attend morning practice at 5AM.

5AM at the YMCA is a feeling difficult to describe to another.  To be alone, silent and still in a usually bustling, busy, smelly, loud place can be like taking time away from time.  I’d turn on the pool lights.  When you flip the switch, you hear a hum, but the orange halogen of the ceiling lamps would remain dark at first and their light would rise slowly.  But the pool lights would come on instantly.  The water glowed and its surface was absolutely still, like glass.  To dive in seemed violative.  I would always hesitate for a moment to listen and watch.  I didn’t even want to start the ripples with my toe.  But I had to dive in .

"Swimmer in Quarters" terra cotta with silk screened images by Michael Pfleghaar

"Swimmer in Quarters" terra cotta with silk screened images by Michael Pfleghaar

The crash of breaking that stillness seemed louder to me than at any other time of day.  Fingers first, I’d rip that quiet plane, pulling down with me, the hovering air.  I would watch silvery streams of bubbles from my fingernails under the water, so mundane, yet appearing mysterious, like mercury.  The stillness was broken for the day, never to rest until the next night.

Invariably, as I ascended to the surface to begin my first stroke of that cold water, my imagination would reflect on an imaginary singular moment just prior to entry in which my then athletic form was still hovering above the glass like a muscular arrow.

In some ways, beginning this blog is reminiscent of diving nearly naked into the cold YMCA pool.  A week ago I completed my WordPress registration and since then I have been suspended in the air without posting.  So here I come, and here comes the noise, the cold rush, the…


Artwork by Michael Pfleghaar, used with permission.

aavowWelcome friends!

I am a basically a guy who loves work and family, loves life and thinks too much.   Life is a full palate.  I take the good with the bad and the tears with the joy.  I’d have it no other way.

I have a prominent profession in my area and live in a small town.  Since I’d rather not have to spend my time discussing my blog posts with my family, friends, and colleagues, I choose to blog under a pseudonym (Abram).

SpillSpace.com is my place to share the things that I love and to explore my thoughts and ideas and bounce them off the sounding board of the world.  You might say, this is my space to spill.  My primary focus is on art, spirituality and cool stuff.

If something really makes me think, inspires me, changes me or challenges me, I post it here.  If something is just really delicious eye candy or just makes me laugh, I post it here.  Occasionally I publish posts written by friends.  I generally post once a week since SpillSpace is not my “real” job.

I suppose my insane fantasy is that the site will one day have enough traffic to justify charging outrageous fees to advertisers which would then allow me to focus more of my time on SpillSpace 😉 There is so much to say and so much worth sharing, but the confines of responsibility do limit me.  But, the site has grown rapidly in a short period of time, so, you never know, miracles happen!

Well, really, that is about it.

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