Chautauqua

July 27, 2010

posted by Heather McShane

I have been feeling nostalgic lately, and the following event at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
1 PM

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
280 S. COLUMBUS DRIVE
Gather downstairs outside of the performance space, room 012
ALL WELCOME

25 participants of the three-week summer course devoted to abandoned practices and endangered uses have been engaged in research, performance, installation, and writing projects, with teachers Matthew Goulish, Lin Hixson, and Mark Jeffery, and TA James Smith. You are invited to attend presentations on Wednesday, July 28, devised in response to the form of the Chautauqua Assembly, a traveling rural adult education institution, the popularity of which peaked in the late 1800s. Sharing the theme of useful knowledge, the four presentations of 18 or 21 minutes in length each weave a series of strictly timed original responses to subjects such as “the concussion theory of rainmaking” and “the ducking-stool,” in alternating presentational modes of expert lecture, traveling exhibition, educational performance, and entertainment performance. An informal reception will follow.

—reminded me that a former professor of mine named Dr. Carrol Peterson had a great influence on me as an undergraduate at Doane College, a small liberal arts college in Nebraska.

Dr.  Peterson encouraged me to write and to teach writing from the very first English class I had with him, which was compositional writing my Freshman year. But it wasn’t until the spring semester of my junior year that I realized I hadn’t the patience to memorize scientific names and data and should therefore not be a biology major—I was more interested in the biology experience (the stuff that appeared under microscopes; the organisms floating in formaldehyde in jars as well as the cadaver in the room where I had cleaned test tubes, Erlenmeyer flasks, Petri dishes, etc., as a work/study student; the “head” room, a small wood-paneled conference room on which walls hung the heads of various ungulates)—and I became an English major, taking around six literature courses taught by Dr. Peterson and attending parties at his and his wife’s house, most notably the one given after a reading by poet Hayden Carruth, whose book Scrambled Eggs & Whiskey gives you an idea of Carruth’s predilection.

And with the announcement of the Chautauqua event at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I remembered with fondness seeing Dr. Peterson perform as Jack London and Walt Whitman in the Great Plains Chautauqua. (First he would perform as the literary character then answer questions as the character then answer any further questions as himself.) I found the below video of him as Thomas Paine:

Dr. Peterson has since retired from teaching (not from performing in Chautauquas) and lives in Maryland with his wife. I am still in contact with him and actually owe him a letter(!), which I plan to write after attending the performance event on Wednesday.

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