Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hewett Collection of African American Art

The collection, put together by a African-American couple of modest means, was built over a lifetime of collecting. Vivian and John Hewitt were married in 1949 and began collecting immediately. They used wedding gift money to buy art on their honeymoon and never stopped throughout their married life.

"Art enriches life, enlarges life, expands life," says Vivian Hewlett and this somewhat small but comprehensive exhibit is an eloquent testament to that belief. Located on the third floor of the museum, the exhibit features 54 works assembled over a half-century, from 1949 to 1998, and offers not only important twentieth-century art but also a survey of African-American culture and society.

The exhibit includes works by Romare Bearden, regarded as one of the greatest American artists of his generation, and Henry Ossawa Tanner, one of the first African-American artists to achieve acclaim in both America and Europe. Contemporary artists are also represented, among them Jonathan Green, a 1980s graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The works by Tanner are not first rate, in my opinion. There are three pieces and while they round off the collection in a historical sense, they don't add much artistically.

Romare Beaden is represented by several juicy color lithographs and collages. It was a real pleasure to be able to get up close and see how his collages fitted together like the most intricate puzzle. "Jamming at the Savoy" (1988) sings like a jazz riff with light and dark shimmering in the piece. The sole Jacob Lawrence piece, "Playing Records" captures the essence of hipster cool.

Ann Tanksley (b. 1934) was one of the artists that I was completely unfamiliar with and I found her work completely captivating. Her palate glows with color. Her simplified forms are influenced by the Mexican Muralists but her palate is pure Matisse.

This is an intimate collection of small- to medium-size pieces that could be displayed in an average size house. Taken as a whole, they show a wide range of artistic responses to African American life in the last 50 years. There are some pieces which reflect the grimmer aspects of that experience but the but the emphasis is on joy and the resilience of the human spirit. I couldn't help thinking of Timothy Buckwalter's recent comment when he was able to see the Fisher Collection. According to him, the collection could have come out of any art magazine of the 70's and didn't have much of a personal focus beyond testosterone. The Hewett's collection is the antithesis of that - the life time's labor of love for two people who loved art and were intimately involved in the vibrant African-American artistic culture of the last 50 years.

There has been a series of gallery talks on Wednesday; the remaining ones are:
Nov. 26: Classical African Sculpture and Cubism
Dec. 3: The Voice of Jazz as Artistic Muse
Jan. 7: African American Art Not Mainstream? Don't Hold Your Breath Waiting!

The Museum of the African Diaspora is located at 685 Mission Street at Third Street in San Francisco. Museum hours are 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday (closed Monday & Tuesday) and Noon – 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults and $5 for students and seniors. For more information, details on gallery talks and a map of the area, visit or call (415) 358-7200.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thomas Ingmire at SFCB: What to get for Christmas

If you live close enough to attend this event at the San Francisco Center for the Book, then this is a must see! Thomas will be presenting original work, discussing his methods and tools, demonstrating some calligraphy and will have prints and small originals for sale. Thomas Ingmire is one of the foremost masters of modern calligraphy and a leader in the current revival of that most ancient art form. He was the first American elected to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators. His work has been in galleries all over the world and his hand made books are exquisite examples of the art. If you want to see more of his work, the Harrison Collection at the SF Public Library has a wonderful collection of his (mostly) older pieces.

The uniqueness of Thomas Ingmire’s art work lies in its relationship to the traditions of calligraphy. Elected in 1977 to the English Society of Scribes and Illuminators, Ingmire was the first American and first person outside of the United Kingdom to receive this honor. Teaching since l978, he has conducted workshops throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, and several countries in Europe as well as in Japan and Hong Kong. The recently published Codici 1, edited by Ingmire, reveals insights into his teaching and working philosophies on modern calligraphy. Please check the following websites:,,

San Francisco Center for the Book, Tuesday, December 2nd, 7 - 9 pm, Book Arts Salon, free.
SFCB, 300 De Haro Street, SF, 415-565-0545,

Monday, November 24, 2008

For the Birds

"Language of the Birds" is a permanent installation by San Francisco artists Brian Goggin and Dorka Keehn. Etched into the concrete below the books, strung among two stoplight poles and one streetlight stanchion, are words that appear to have fallen from their pages. Located on a small traffic island at Columbus and Broadway, the project was unveiled on Sunday, complete with performance art, marching bands and many speeches by SF's famous (and maybe infamous) literati and politicians.

"This is not a typical public works project," said Ed Reiskin, director of the city's Department of Public Works. "It's the first time performance art has been part of public art."

According to local artist, Goggin, "All of this text has been taken from books that were written by local authors over the last 150 years."

"North Beach-specific authors," added Keehn, 44. "We have the San Francisco Renaissance, the Beats, Chinese poets and Italians. We wanted to illuminate the culture and history that you find in this neighborhood."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Grace x 2

Eva Lake has a good piece on Grace Hartigan up at her blog as well as a post in honor of unions. I know that a lot of artists think of themselves as above the mundane business of organizing but really, our lives would be a lot better if we had an organization that spoke for our interests and gave us some security to boot. This everybody for himself or herself individualism sounds great in theory but in practice, ends up with one or two big winners (Hirst, Schnabel, Koons) and hundreds of "loosers." It should be (somehow) "all for one and one for all."

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Martin Puryear at SF MOMA

Puryear was born in 1941, the son of a postal employee and an elementary teacher. He originally wanted to be a scientist but earned a Fine Arts degree at the Catholic University of America. After graduating, he joined the Peace Corps and spent time in Sierra Leone where he taught a variety of subjects but also developed a profound respect for the craftsmen that he met. After his two years in the Peace Corps were up, he moved to Sweden and studied at the Swedish Royal Academy of Art. Eventually he returned to the US and earned a Masters of Fine Arts at Yale in 1971. All of this varied experience eventually led to his accomplished handling of natural (and some not-exactly natural materials) as well as his approach to sculpture with roots in Scandinavian Design, Minimalism and African Art.
“Though he would be the last to deny that in past years the art world, like most things American, has been disfigured by racism, Puryear does not find his own blackness an impediment. "Right from the start, I thought, No one can keep me from being an artist." He speaks of feeling the inaccessibility of Africa. "There is an incredible pain," he says, "that we black people feel at not being able to reach back and touch the country of origin the way that every other hyphenated American can and does. Being there made me realize how inescapably American I was—not African. You know you must embrace your identity as an American, not wallow in the idea that you're some kind of displaced, tribal person. Here you have responsibilities to your Americanness as well as your blackness."”
Robert Hughes wrote that Puryer is “A master of both modernism and traditional crafts, he creates sculptures that are a synthesis of beauty but free of cliché.” I couldn’t agree more (not that I’m tempted to disagree with Robert Hughes, the doyen of art criticism and my personal idol. Puryer’s work is well displayed at SF MOMA. For once, the museum has given a traveling show enough room for the pieces to breathe and claim their psychic space. Each piece shows a respect for the craft and the skill to use materials as diverse as various woods, leather, brush, carvings, tar, wire and mud.

“Puryear has always been troubled by the art/craft division in American culture. "At bottom it's a class issue really," he says. "‘Art' means thought; ‘craft' means manual work." But it's never so simple, for craft means thinking with (not just about) material. "In Japan you'll never see that kind of snobbery; potters and carpenters are honored there as living national treasures." (review by Robert Hughes, Time On Line Archive). . As one who loves science fiction and the creation of imaginary worlds, I couldn’t help but think that some of these beautiful objects could have come from alien Amish-farmer folk from one of the 28 new planets discovered outside our solar system. He combines organic, biomorphic shapes with those what hint at something more familiar but are unfamiliar enough to puzzle and engage you. I found myself looking and then, looking again at work that's serenely beautiful but not boring, exquisitely crafted but showing the hand of the maker.

Through January 25, 2009

Hugues, Robert: Time interviews on line

Monday, November 17, 2008

Grace Hartigan

This was one of those days when I started out with a laundry list of things to do - See the Puryear exhibit at SF MOMA, check out the Hewitt Collection at the AMAD, buy paint, work in the studio. This is the day when good intentions went awry. I read about Grace Hartigan in Timothy Buckwalter's blog and went off in search of information about her life.

“Now as before it is the vulgar and the vital and the possibility of its transformation into the beautiful which continues to challenge and fascinate me,” she told the reference work “World Artists: 1950-1980.” (obit: NY Times)

She burst upon the New York art scene in the 1950s, acclaimed for her brilliant, large canvases, which critics said displayed a "raw vitality, emotionally explosive color, excitement and anguish."

"What I had, what was my gift, I was a colorist," she said in 1987. "You can't learn that from anyone. I have what might be called a startling virtuosity."

She was one of the seminal figures of Abstract Expressionism, a real breakthrough artist," said Robert Saltonstall Mattison, a professor of art history at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., who is her biographer. "She has never changed her work to be in fashion, but her work has changed. In the mid-1950s she began moving away from total abstraction, and since then, there have always been figurative elements in her paintings,." Mr. Mattison wrote. So, why isn't she a household name like Pollock, DeKooning and the other male painters of the 1950's?

Apparently, her cardinal sin was to get married and move to Baltimore. But, she never spoke against sexism in the art world. However, until 1951 she signed her work George Hartigan. She claimed this had nothing to do with subverting sex discrimination but rather with a "romantic identification with George Sand and George Eliot." In an interview, Hartigan claims, "I find that the subject of discrimination is only brought up by inferior talents to excuse their own inadequacy as artists."

In a famous essay, Nochlin explored why there aren't more famous women artists - or why this is perceived to be the case. Hartigan seems to fit in the category of one of the most common - a woman who didn't understand the forces against her and lashed out against those who pointed this out. Yet, the obit points out that she became an alcholic, partially due to the difficulties of dealing with her ailing husband and probably other issues that she refused to face. Still, she kept on painting and was an great teacher. She's earned her place in the art history books. Let's see if she gets there by the next time Janson is reprinted.,0,2146934.story

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andy at the Presidio

One of the books on the philosophy of art that I return to time and again is Suzi Gablik “The Reenchantment of Art.” Published in 1995, her attempt to outline how to restore our "to our culture its sense of aliveness, possibility and magic” remains as relevant today as ever.

One of the interesting artists Gablik posits as an example of “reconstructive postmodern practice” is Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy goes out in nature and creates artwork with found natural objects such as twigs, leaves, icicles, etc., and then photographs them before the wind, rain, sun, etc., reclaim them.

Goldsworthy’s spire on the Presidio has been written about by many SF art bloggers. I went out there last week to see for myself. The spire is not that easy to find but once you get there, the path upwards is clearly marked. A lot of people have climbed that hill and the dry bush around the site is marked with trails. Once you get to the top of the hill, you can’t get close as a large chain link fence fences off the site. The tree is in a depression and the whole area is torn up with huge chunks scooped out of the ground and large machinery obviously in place for the next day’s work.
I found it appropriate that a man who has based his life on creating art out of nature’s ephemeral material really doesn’t appear to give a damn if anybody sees it or not. In fact, in various interviews, he appears to hope that his spire will disappear from view. The art of the transitory sounds poetic on paper but in practice it’s a lot less satisfactory for the ordinary viewer. It's also ironic that all this transitory work is carefully documented by photography but then, that also may be transitory in 20 or 30 years time. We don't know how long those materials will last either.

“Over time the spires will change from an extroverted, outgoing sculpture to an internal,
quiet work within the forest” — something, he said, you may be able to spot through the trees, but maybe not. “Or maybe they’ll take it down,” he added.

In an essay on John Haber’s blog (Chelea 2007) , he quotes Danto’s essay on “The Artist as Prime Mover." While Danto is referring to Peter Fischli and David Weiss, the essay could just as easily refer to Goldsworthy:

“The prime mover makes art indiscernible from "ordinary things" and then withdraws from the creation, just as Fischli and Weiss never quite enter the frame. Like the physical world, it has components as elemental as fire and water, but also laws as elementary and impersonal as chemistry and physics. Like the real world, too, it seems senseless but always threatens to end in a catastrophe—and it surely trashes the artists' studio along the way. Not that Danto believes in a last judgment, whether in art or life. Anything can become art, he has argued, and the work's tires and old shoes might confirm that thesis as well.”

I went, expecting to be moved a great deal more than I was. I loved the movie "Rivers and Tides" and gained probably a very idealistic view of Goldsworthy. But afterwards, when I was looking at my photographs, I started questioning the value of what he was doing - making art in (mostly) obscure places, from (mostly) transitory materials and not appearing to care if it lasts or not. Except that he does care because each piece is carefully documented. Maybe I'll feel different when the piece is finished; in the meantime, I have a lot of impressions that I haven't sorted out.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.

Arthur C. Danto's The Madonna of the Future: Essays in a Pluralistic Art World was published in 2000 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The essays first appeared starting in 1993, mostly in The Nation.


Books by Andy Goldsworthy include A Collaboration with Nature, Stone, Wood, and others. A DVD, Rivers and Tides, is also available.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Bill Martin, RIP

Bill Martin, whose paintings combined “surrealism and 19th century American landscape painting” (Kenneth Baker, SF Chron) passed away on October 28th from complications of lymphoma. I took a class from him ages ago and wish that I could have taken more. Our styles could not have been more different but he was a gentle man and a great teacher.

Mr. Martin was a beekeeper and avid player of the Chinese game Go. He loved to paint the coastal flora of Mendocino and the dramatic landscape he saw from the window of his home on the headlands overlooking the Pacific Ocean. He usually painted on round or semicircular canvases, which he felt gave the viewer a greater depth of view. His work was shown at museums around the country and abroad, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Among other places, his paintings can be found in the collection of the Oakland Museum and at San Francisco International Airport. (From the obit at SF Gate - link below)

"There seem to be two distinct but compatible directions in my art. The first is concerned with the depiction of imagined realities. The other is the depiction of perceived realities. By observing the existing subjects I am drawn to paint, I find new underlying currents in my own subconscious. Thus in my art I explore the conscious, subconscious, and the intercommunication between."

~ from an interview in the introduction to "Lost Legends"

Mr. Martin published three books: "Paintings 1969-1979," "The Joy of Drawing" and "Lost Legends." In recent years, his son said, he concentrated on paintings based in nature but dealing with metaphysical notions of mortality and "the life after life."

Mr. Martin's life will be celebrated from 2 to 4 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Mendocino Arts Center, 45200 Little Lake St., Mendocino, CA 95460. Donations in Mr. Martin's memory can be made there.

His On Line Gallery: (images from the gallery)
Bill Marin also maintained an excellent Internet site to teach oil painting.
Full obit at the SF Chron web site:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

New Public Sculpture in SF

I had just gotten back from a walk through the Embarcadero to photograph the sculptures there when I read the article at SF Gate:

"Heads up, literally: A new plaza is premiering in downtown San Francisco with artwork that is anything but corporate and slick

The location is the open space alongside 555 Mission, a 34-story office tower developed by Tishman Speyer. The nearly complete high-rise is slick green glass, but the artwork is something else: "Moonrise Sculptures: March, October, and December" by Ugo Rondinone, an enormous trio of mottled aluminum heads that are like goofy cousins to Edvard Munch's "The Scream."

I can't resist pointing out that while one's opinion of the art work might differ from mine, this is yet ANOTHER missed opportunity for the developers to patronize a Bay Area artist. Why is it that when the "glittering prizes" of public art commissions, museum shows and patronage are passed out, eveybody looks outside the Bay Area. We must might have some good sculptures here but I guess we won't see them at this plaza.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Downturns in the art market

OH, there are times when I really want a big bank account. This stunning David Park is coming up for sale at Bonham's (image from their website). In fact, the whole auction catalogue is full of superb examples of California art. If I had the money, now would be the time to buy all sorts of art, not just the works in this catalogue. I'd stay away from Contemporary Chinese art which has been oversold (IMHO) and I would certainly stay away from the current overpriced "stars" of the art world like Koons, Hirst and Schnabel. But that sure leaves a lot of bargains to be picked up although I don't recommend stiffing any artist over price. Most of us - outside certain elite circles - already have rock-bottom prices.

Richard LeCayo of "Time On Line" blog points to an article at Bloomberg which details some of the corrections in the formerly hot art market. A recent auction at Sotheby's failed to sell a third of its Impressionist and modern art and the works that did sell, sold at lower rates than hoped. I'll be very curious to see if the art at Bonham's auction sells for the asking price or if the prices go down, how low will they go.

Unfortunately, the prices falling at the high end of the market will mean that lower-priced (and living artists) will see their prices fall as well. Given the downturn, I would not be surprised to see a lot of small galleries close too. I'm not sorry to see some of the high flyers get taken down a peg or two but they will probably survive while many, less well known artists will be hanging onto that day job for dear life.

Sale 16127 - Made in California, 18 Nov 2008
San Francisco and Los Angeles
Lot No: 1045
David Park (American, 1911-1960)
Girl with Earring, c. 1943
oil on masonite
15 x 15in (38 x 38cm)
Estimate: $50,000 - 75,000

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Visiting the Asian, #4

Naturally, I had to introduce my friend to another one of my favorite Chinese painters: Chao Shao-an (Chinese, 1905–1998). His bold and spontaneous brush strokes, inventive compositions and use of vibrant colors all raise his paintings way above the often mediocre and tepid compositions of other modern Chinese painters who have attempted what he has - to meld Chinese tradition with a more modern sensibility. We were walking through the galleries and I was beginning to be concerned that his works weren't on display after all but we turned a corner and found the little alcove there his pieces are hung (note to Asian - maybe he deserves more open space?)

Chao Shao-an "To learn from Nature but be inspired by inner sensibility"

Visiting the Asian, #3

After lunch we decided to visit the new exhibit of Islamic arts. I'm a calligrapher as well as a painter so I'm very interested in that art form. Both the Middle Eastern and the Asian cultures have valued calligraphy as a valuable art form, something that we have lost with the advent of the printing press. The examples they have on display are priceless but (unfortunately), the website is lacking in images of the pieces that I liked the most. They had pages from 12th - 14th century Korans, where the writing must have been done with a single haired brush. Each page probably represented months of work - from the writing, the marbled paper, the gold leaf decorations. I wish that the captions had included translations of the text and maybe some explanation of how Arabic is written. Several of the pieces showed distinctive and different styles and again, I would have loved to have read more about the different styles of calligraphy. As a western calligrapher, I know the difference between medieval Blackletter, Carolingian and Chancery cursive but Arabic writing is not something that I am at all familiar with. In this case, I guess Wikipedia and Google are my friends.

The press release did mention Mohamed Zakariya (American, b. 1942)and when I Googled his name, I found his website with many beautiful examples of his calligraphy.

Muhammad, Peace and Blessings Upon Him (Arabic)
The name of the Prophet and his prayer of blessing. This piece appears in the PBS production “Muhammad, The Legacy of a Prophet.”Celi sulus script/Ebru borders and gold division rulings

Ottoman Poem 1
“Do not say ‘Who will guide me on the path of love?’ Just get on the road and God gives success.” This poem is a mulemma, an Ottoman poetic form that has Arabic features.
Sulus script

Arts of the Islamic World from Turkey to Indonesia
Through March 1, 2009

Visiting the Asian, Choosing a favorite, #2

As for me, I don't think I can choose. I can narrow it down somewhat but even that involves painful choices. Should I choose the gorgeous chunky necklace with huge gold beads separated by pieces of age-blacked ivory? The two fragments of pottery, just every day vessels used for storing olive oil but with delicate Greek writing following the curve of the jug, still bearing the personality of the writer after all these centuries? The gold cup with geometric decorations? The gold crown? How to choose? What to choose? What would you choose?

River Deity standing on a makara , 1st Century. Begram, Ivory (45.6 cm). This exquisite piece just calls to me. The beautifully carved face, the sensual body, the skillful handling of the drapery - she's both an alluring nymph and a Goddess.

This sundial called to me because of the modern feel - ancient but with simplicity that's ageless. It's a piece that would fit in Noguchi's Sculpture Garden where the ancient carver respected his materials and wedded that knowledge with an understanding of both form and function.

I love seal rings and this one is simply exquisite - I know that I'm using that word a lot but there really is no other way to describe it. This tiny seal is carved with a griffon and the stone has the most luminous shine. (Tillia Tepe, tomb V1st century, Chalcedony, 3.1 x 2.8 cm Musée National)

This is another piece of hammered gold where the ancient artisan both understood his materials and the form he wanted to create. The underside of the bowl (which you can see in the case) is as beautiful as the front side. What drew me to this piece was not only its beauty but how this form has been echoed in Islamic pottery for centuries.
Phiale, Tillia tepe, tomb IV, 1st century, Gold, Ø 23.0 cm ; Ht. 4.0 cm Musée National

Visiting the Asian: Choosing a favorite, #1

Yesterday a friend of mine and I went to visit the Asian. She writes the delightful blog Zoomie Station (link on the sidebar), and has worked at the Honolulu Academy of Art and the SFAI so, aside from food, we have a shared interest in art. Besides she's just one of the nicest people that I know and a great companion for my bubbling enthusiasm for this exhibit. After we'd gone through twice, first to just look, second to pick out all our favorite pieces, she now put me to the most difficult test of all. If I could only choose one piece, which one would I choose? Now, that's the real $65,000,000 question - price adjusted to allow for inflation. This is the one that she chose. It's difficult to tell from the photo but this exquisite piece is so small that it would fit in the palm of your hand.

Statuette of a mountain goat:
Afghanistan, Tillia tepe, tomb IV
1st century. Gold 5.2 x 4.0 cm
Musée National d’Afghanistan – MK 04.40.399
All photos © Thierry Ollivier / musée Guimet

Sunday, November 2, 2008

We have only one planet..

‘We’ve got one planet and we can’t go on like this’

Nobody sent him the memo to behave like a principled human being. Bush is doing his damnedest to cause trouble, now by deregulating commercial fishing, controls on pollutant emissions that contribute to global warming, relaxing drinking-water standards and lifting a restriction on mountaintop coal mining. And there's a new technology of repression being investigated that involves filming everyday activities from aircraft. No chance of a warrant needed from there, is there?

"The new rules would be among the most controversial deregulatory steps of the Bush era and could be difficult for his successor to undo. Some would ease or lift constraints on private industry, including power plants, mines and farms.

"Those and other regulations would help clear obstacles to some commercial ocean-fishing activities, ease controls on emissions of pollutants that contribute to global warming, relax drinking-water standards and lift a key restriction on mountaintop coal mining."

In contrast to this last amoral power grab is Julie's report of a meeting with Jane Goodall, a woman of courage, a true visionary and somebody who should be getting the headlines instead of the latest bimbo-of-the-week.

Julie linked to a recent talk that Goodall gave in Hong Kong. Jane Goodall was one of my childhood heroes and she continues to hold that position now that I'm an adult. We are on the brink of destroying so much that is priceless. As she says at the end of the interview, "What will it take to melt the ice in a human heart?" Obviously Bush and Co. don't have hearts. They only have greed, amoral behavior and the impulse to destroy. If at all possible, we can't let that happen. If Bush and Co. are doing this during their last months in office, can you image the destruction McSame will wreak on our hapless planet?

HONG KONG: Clutching a stuffed monkey doll, like an overgrown child in need of an emotional prop, Dr Jane Goodall saunters into the room. She’s a tall, slender, 70-plus-year-old woman with silver hair and gentle-yet-piercing eyes, and when she speaks, her voice breezes through the room like wind rustling through a tropical forest.

“First of all,” she says, “I’d like to greet you. But since I can’t speak your language, I’ll greet you in chimpanzee language.” She then breaks out into a succession of loud hoots, yips and chattering noises, her voice rising and falling and, finally, trailing off. “Now, that,” she explains, “means ‘hello and welcome’.”

It’s an attention-grabbing entrance, of course, but today, Goodall has a rather more dramatic message to convey. The primatologist, whose work with chimpanzees in Gombe National Park in erstwhile Tanganyika (present-day Tanzania) since the 1960s has changed the way human beings view themselves, says that rapacious lifestyles today are stripping the earth of its resources and endangering everything from animal habitats to the hopes of future generations of humans.

“Given the kind of lifestyle that the average person in Hong Kong or New York leads today, we’ll need four new planets to support,” says Goodall. “But we don’t have four planets, do we? We’ve only got this one. So we can’t go on like this.” It was the shrinking habitat of the chimpanzees in Gombe — due to population pressures and extensive deforestation — that alerted Goodall to a larger problem. But the more she addressed it, she realised that Africa’s problem was linked to the unsustainable lifestyles elsewhere — and, in more recent times, China’s and India’s quest for energy resources in that continent.

Which is why Goodall has given herself over to travelling across the world and spreading her message of sustainable development. “The more I travel, the more I realise the interconnectedness of our destinies.” Detailing how the TACARE (pronounced ‘Take Care’) project, initiated by the Jane Goodall Institute in the area in 1994, had succeeded in reversing the degradation of resources around Gombe by focussing on socio-economic development of the community and educating them on sustainable natural resource management, Goodall said this offered her hope that the future could be redeemed.

Noting that her observations of violent group behaviour among male chimps had caused disquiet among scientists — because it advanced the view that given their common ancestry, humans were genetically predisposed towards violence — Goodall emphasised that “we also have the inherited tendency for love, compassion and rational thought”.

“What gives me hope,” she says, “is the amazing capacity of the human brain to come up with innovative solutions, the indomitable human spirit that fights back, and the resilience of nature.”

“It’s time to recreate the age of wisdom when elders would gather and ponder how any decision they would make would affect our future seven generations down the line,” says Goodall. Quoting the words of an Eskimo leader, she concluded: “Up in the north, the ice is melting. What will it take to melt the ice in the human heart?”