Archives for December 2017

Mission Art by Nancy Hauk Mirrors Steinbeck’s History

Image of Mission San Juan Bautista painting by Nancy Hauk

An exhibition of art in the California mission town of San Juan Bautista by the late Nancy Hauk, whose home in Pacific Grove was once the residence of the man Steinbeck mythologized as “Doc,” will have special meaning for readers curious about the history behind Steinbeck’s California fiction. Thirty years before Steinbeck was born to the west, in Salinas, voters in eastern Monterey County, including the Mexican Californians of San Juan Bautista and Yankee settlers in Hollister, were promised their own county if Salinas became the seat of Monterey County instead of Monterey, the mission town that was California’s first capital. One outcome of this political decision was the emotional geography that came to define Steinbeck’s social sympathies and sense of place. Salinas boomed, Monterey languished, and in 1874 the County of San Benito was born, named for the river the Spanish called after St. Benedict when they built the mission they named for John the Baptist. Hollister, the nearby town where Steinbeck’s father’s family farmed and raised five sons, became San Benito’s county seat.

Image of Nancy HaukSteinbeck’s mother’s family lived in Salinas before the county split, and she returned to live there with her husband in 1900. He became Monterey County treasurer following a political scandal. She became the kind of local activist who took sides on civic issues like the vote of 1874. Their son’s feelings about Salinas ran in the opposite direction and eventually became material for his writing. The family’s cottage in Pacific Grove was a refuge from Salinas when Steinbeck needed one, and the Hauk house where “Doc” Ricketts once lived is nearby. So is the Monterey lab that attracted artists, misfits, and other characters celebrated by Steinbeck in his Cannery Row fiction. The conflict between Salinas and Monterey epitomized in the San Benito vote 50 years earlier was emblematic of a deeper division explored in East of Eden, the book Steinbeck wrote for his sons. Steinbeck’s art reflected his sympathies in this fight and caused controversy. Nancy Hauk’s art reminds us of the history behind the fiction.

“Paintings of the California Missions,” an exhibition of work by Nancy Hauk (in photo) includes the Mission San Juan Bautista image shown here. It opens in San Juan Bautista, California on Sunday, December 17 and runs through March 2018.

Women in John Steinbeck’s Life on Display in San Jose

Image of John Steinbeck quotation about women

Ma Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. Cathy/Kate in East of Eden. Elisa Allen in “The Chrysanthemums.” Such women from John Steinbeck’s fiction are unforgettable. So, on examination, are the women in Steinbeck’s life, as this quotation suggests. Steinbeck’s mother Olive Hamilton and first wife, Carol Henning, were both from San Jose, California, and San Jose State University is celebrating each (and the two wives who followed) in a special exhibit of documents and photographs on the 5th floor of the MLK Library, located on the San Jose State University campus, through January 20, 2018.

Image of exhibit on John Steinbeck's women at San Jose State University

MLK Library Exhibit through January 20

To paraphrase the man who bragged about failing his way to success in marrying for the third time, the success of John Steinbeck’s marriage to Elaine Scott, from 1950 until his death in 1968, was possible only because the strong willed mother and wives who preceded her prepared him for their partnership. Some say he married his mother. Steinbeck doubted Freud and disliked psychoanalysis, but he’d be happy to see the women in his life get the credit they deserve for the roles of educator (Olive), editor (Carol), and manager (Elaine) without which his writing wouldn’t be so quotable.

The exhibition may move next to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where the theme of the 2018 Steinbeck Festival (and the inspiration for the MLK Library show) is “The Women of Steinbeck’s World.” The May 4-6, 2018 festival will be held at the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, where John Steinbeck and his sister Mary studied biology when they were students at Stanford University. Susan Shillinglaw, professor of English at San Jose State University and director of the National Steinbeck Center, is the author of Carol and John Steinbeck: Portrait of a Marriage,

 

 

 

 

Canadian Of Mice and Men Clowns with John Steinbeck

Image of Morro and Jasp's Redo of Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men as feminist farce from a Canadian point of view? The November 10, 2017 Winnipeg, Canada Free Press review of Of Mice and Men and Morro and Jasp, the restaging of John Steinbeck’s novella-play by Canadian clown-duo Heather Marie Annis and Amy Lee, says the idea started in 2012, when the Canadian government reduced cultural spending and the pair got busy. In the show-within-a-show, “the clown sisters are enduring hard times due to cutbacks in arts funding” and hit on Steinbeck’s story as a vehicle for self-survival and self-expression. Morro, the Lenny sister, “hasn’t read all the way to the end and gamely proceeds without a grasp of what’s in store for her character,” and Curly’s wife is represented as a sex doll, “[layering] a feminist sensibility on the masculine-centred story.” Would John Steinbeck appreciate the purposeful appropriation? It probably helps to be Canadian, though the Winnipeg, Canada review admits the acting and humor are “a hit-and-miss proposition.”