Vachel comes alive!

Artists and musicians collaborate to embody the spirit of the late poet

click to enlarge “Green Gaze” by Patricia Myers, part of “The Golden Age.” - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE PHARMACY GALLERY AND ART SPACE
Photo courtesy of The Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space
“Green Gaze” by Patricia Myers, part of “The Golden Age.”
In his 1920 novel, The Golden Book of Springfield, Vachel Lindsay conjured up mystical, utopian images of what his hometown of Springfield, Illinois, might look like in the “golden year” of 2018.

Now that time has caught up with Lindsay’s visionary book, the city and its artists have been paying tribute to Lindsay’s vision, none more elaborately than The Pharmacy Gallery and Art Space, which collaborated with the Vachel Lindsay Association on Friday, June 8, for a multimedia art opening / concert / dance party entitled “The Golden Age.”

Like a beacon facing the corner of Fifth and Cook streets, five large panels of colorful, multidimensional work created by artists Delinda Chapman and Marco Mulder fill the windows of the triangular building on the outer edge of the Pharmacy parking lot. These panels are worth studying both up close – where quotes from The Golden Book are visible – and at a distance, where larger images reveal themselves.

Inside the gallery, pride of place was given to William Crook Jr.’s “Golden City,” a three-dimensional miniature representation of several of Springfield’s iconic buildings, including the Old State Capitol and the Dana-Thomas House, rendered in gold-painted cardboard, with a winged orb, also golden, suspended above on a wire. At one point in the evening, actor Ted Keylon – a longtime performer at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum – appeared in a shroud and recited Lindsay’s poetry in an incantatory style, followed by the lowering of the orb into Crook’s diorama, signaling the advent of the “golden age.”

Much of the work in the show directly referenced Lindsay’s work and ideas, including Diane DeLeonardo’s “The Prognosticator’s Dream,” depicting an otherworldly parade toward the Old State Capitol, and Felicia Olin’s macabre “Vachel Lindsay Rises From the Dead.” Not every piece related directly to Lindsay’s vision, but taken together, all cohered into a varied and high-energy exhibit.

Also energetic was the free-jazz of End Times Trio, which performed after Keylon’s incantation. A poem composed especially for the event by former Sangamon State University professor Ron Sakolsky (who also wrote the introduction to the 1999 edition of The Golden Book) including such exhortations as “Springfieldians, / Imagine / a Stateless Fair!” was interpolated into the music via short readings by End Times percussionist and UIS professor of political philosophy Richard Gilman-Opalsky. Next, a dance party dubbed “Club Vachel” was kicked off with Timothy Donavan Russell’s electronic music – including samples of Lindsay’s real voice – and kept going by world dance music DJ Lisa.

A block away at the Vachel Lindsay Home, a somewhat more subdued party was in progress throughout the evening, featuring more live music and additional art from Pharmacy members alongside reproductions of Lindsay’s original art and tours of the home, which were conducted by father and son Lindsay experts John and Ian Winterbauer. As part of her set near the home’s entrance, Springfield-based singer-songwriter Kate Laine played a pair of songs by contemporary visionary artist and musician Daniel Johnston, which resonated movingly in the environment which had once housed a kindred spirit.

With all the evocation, invocation, visualization and literal sampling of Lindsay’s ideas, spirit and voice happening on Fifth Street Friday night, it was hard not to wonder how the late, great poet would have reacted had he successfully projected himself into these festivities. In truth, Lindsay was probably as present here as he has been anywhere since his death in 1931.

Onward to 2118!

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