Monday, June 8, 2009

For the Love of It

Today, in the Alice Warren Room, thirtysome person are displaying a variety of homegrown art. The artists are writers of novels and poetry; painters and other visual artists; ceramicists and potters; flower arrangers; photographers; quilters, weavers, and embroiders; jewelry makers; and more. None are professionals in the sense that the art they do is their vocation, a source of significant income. Rather it is their avocation—in many instances their passion. Though practiced over many years, in many instances, these artists are continually honing their skills with the humility of a student seeking a deeper relationship with their subject.

They are, in the best sense, amateurs. The word amateur is generally something of a pejorative in popular use. But for me amateur is a word of reformed cachet thanks to a book by Wayne Booth published in 1999 by University of Chicago Press titled For the Love of It: Amateuring and Its Rivals. Booth, now deceased, was a distinguished U of C professor who specialized in the field of rhetoric. In the book For the Love of It he chronicled his love for the cello, an instrument he began playing in his 30s.

Amateur, in its origin, literally means for the love of. Booth turned amateur into the verb and gerund amateuring.

To be an amateur is to do something, often in the broad spectrum of the arts, simply/primarily for fufilment and pleasure. In my estimation amateuring has a certain purity, free from the inevitable corruptions/corrosions of the marketplace. An amateur can be more freely responsive to a foundational love—being smitten and enthralled by an art aand motivated by the pleasure it gives when engaged in it.

Amatuering is a high calling and can result in a mythic journey.

I could use any of our thirtysome homegrown artists as an illustration of the amateuring way: Anita Jenks in Ikebana, the refined art of Japanese flower arrangement, Nancy Weill in weaving, Judy Jeske in collage, Al Fischer in photography, Carolyn Sibr in poetry, and on and on.

I’ve settled on Tim Burke and his long and dedicated passion for a small plot of remnant prairie at the nearby corner of 31st Street and Wolf Road in Westchester. Tim is a long time member of UCH. Over the span of the 26 years I’ve known him he’s kept me informed of his work and vision of prairie restoration and maintenance. He’s shown me poetry he wrote and photographs he’s taken at the Wolf Road Prairie, as he shared his conviction that prairie restoration is best accomplished by continually cutting back invasive plants. In this regard, prairie restoration is an art.

Tim is, in the best sense of the word, an amateur naturalist and photographer.

I asked Tim to write a narrative of his work as a prairie restorer. (In my estimation his story is mythic both in his dealings with nature and in his dealings with the politics/personalities of Save the Prairie Society.) And I’ve selected some of his stunning photographs of Wolf Road Prairie plants to display.

[This Introduction was followed by Tim Burke's narrative of a 26 year affair with Wolf Road Prairie.]

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