Events, People, Photos

ACAC Artist-in-Residence Plarn Art Project

The soft rustle of plastic newspaper bags fills the basement of the Fox Library. A half-dozen people are sorting them into piles by color. This is the Plarning Brigade, a group of volunteers participating in Arlington Commission for Arts and Culture’s (ACAC) artist-in-residence Michelle Lougee‘s collaborative project.

Brucie Moulton from Sustainable Arlington (L) chats with Lougee (R) as they prep bags for plarn.

Lougee, a sculptor and fiber artist who works in a variety of media, is teaching Arlington residents how to make plastic yarn, or “plarn,” out of newspaper and produce bags, and how to crochet that plarn into three-dimensional, organic-looking shapes. She’s been using post-consumer waste, including plastic bags, as an art material for a decade. Her work explores the tension between nature and humanity, addressing pollution and consumption’s affect on the environment by juxtaposing organic shapes and synthetic materials. Now she’s bringing her skills and perspective to Arlington, where, with her guidance, the Plarning Brigade will produce a large-scale installation.

Sonya pierces the closed ends of yellow newspaper bags so she can crochet them into plarn.

The ACAC has set up plastic bag collection boxes at the Fox Library and the Department of Public Works to gather supplies for the project. The Fox is hosting monthly meetups for the Brigade to work on the installation, and the ACAC is offering a series of workshops around town for those interested to learn the basics and join the Brigade.

“Micro,” an element from Lougee’s installation Ubiquitous (2015) perches in the display case in the Fox Library lobby.
A member of the plarn brigade sorts plastic newspaper bags to turn into plarn.

Arlington Public Art will exhibit the plarn installation on the Minuteman Bikeway as part of its ongoing Pathways initiative, which it started in 2017 to add more creative works to Arlington’s cultural district. Some contributors to Pathways project Ripple, a knitted and crocheted “yarn bomb” installation spearheaded by local artist/activist Adria Arch, are now turning their fiber art skills to plarn for this new project.

Holly crochets plarn.
Lougee (R) shows a volunteer how to crochet plarn.

In addition to adding another exhibit to Pathways, the project contributes to Arlington’s ongoing push for its residents to live more sustainability and reduce plastic waste. With Lougee’s guidance, the Plarning Brigade will keep trash out of the environment and use it to make something beautiful and thought-provoking.

More information about how to join the Plarning Brigade is available on the ACAC’s Arts Arlington website.

Different-sized knobs of blue plarn take shape during the workshop on January 25, 2020.
A “larva” from Lougee’s installation Timber! (2018) rests on the floor.
The colorful ends of newspaper bags litter the floor in the Fox Library community meeting room.
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Events, People, Photos

Everything is Free and Zero Waste Arlington

On a crisp, sunny day in early November, Arlingtonians gathered in Thompson Elementary School in East Arlington. Some walked in empty-handed or toting shopping bags, while others brought in broken bicycles, torn clothing, or dysfunctional toasters.

Everyone was there for a joint event put on by Zero Waste Arlington (ZWA) and Sustainable Arlington in conjunction with other local waste-reduction organizations. The school gym was stacked with donated clothes for a clothing swap organized by Everything is Free Arlington (EIF Arlington). Across the hallway in the cafeteria, Fixit Clinic had set up a space for people to repair their broken belongings.

EIF Arlington is a Facebook group, one of a set of Everything is Free groups originally started by Medford resident Amanda Sulham to make it easier for Medford moms to swap items and parenting information. A post by Veronika McDonald King, one of the moderators, describes EIF Arlington’s goal: “[T]o build a better Arlington with a stronger community through giving, sharing, and caring.”

EIF Arlington primarily operates through individual listings, where a group member will make a post saying they have items to give away or that they’re looking for a specific item. But the group has also collected donations of clothes, shoes, and accessories to host several clothing swaps where anyone, group member or not, can come by and take things for free. It’s a great way to get rid of unwanted clutter without throwing things way and to update one’s wardrobe without the stress of sticking to a budget or the guilt of buying new.

The other entities at the event were also promoting ways to cut down on waste and give potential trash a new life. Zero Waste Arlington, a town government committee that, as the name suggests, is seeking to shift Arlington’s waste production closer to zero, had a table set up with information about how Arlingtonians can reduce, reuse, and recycle…as well as refuse (buy fewer items in disposable packaging), and rot (compost food scraps).

ZWA coordinated with Fixit Clinic, an organization that stages “pop-ups” where volunteers known as Fixit Coaches help people fix stuff they would otherwise throw away.

Ray Pfau reattaches a toaster’s cover with the help of its owner.

Ray Pfau, who organizes events through Fixit Clinic and Repair Cafe (a similar organization) out of Bolton, Massachusetts, was there with a small squad of these coaches. They set up stations at Thompson’s cafeteria tables, with supplies for everything from woodworking and soldering to jewelry repair and bicycle tune-ups.

Amos, one of the Fixit Coaches, said that specialized technical knowledge is not a requirement to volunteer, hence “coaches” rather than “repairpeople”.

“It’s more about the willingness to try taking something apart,” Amos said. After all, what’s the worst that could happen? If the item was destined for the trash anyway, failing to fix it isn’t such a big deal.

This event saved hundreds of clothing items and dozens of household items from winding up in a landfill. Locals interested in attending similar events in the future can look for updates on ZWA’s Facebook page and Bolton Local’s website.

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Events, People, Photos

Arlington Astronomy Nights

The year was 2003. Jeffrey Alexander stood in line to look through a telescope on the roof of the garage of the Museum of Science. Mars was passing particularly close to earth. He, along with many others, wanted to see it. It tickled his fancy, he says, that so many people were excited to gather for this celestial event.

In 2005, Earth and Mars were due to be close to each other again. Alexander, who had recently moved to Arlington, decided to have a viewing party at Robbins Farm Park. He teamed up with Friends of Robbins Farm Park, the Arlington Recreation Department, and some locals with telescopes to make it happen. Over the next 2 years, he threw a couple more stargazing parties. Leslie Mayer, a member of the Park & Recreation Commission, suggested that Alexander should start a regular series of stargazing events so it would be easier to get permits from the town. And so Arlington Astronomy Nights was born.

For 11 years now, Alexander has hosted 4 or 5 Arlington Astronomy Nights every summer. At its busiest, 70 to 80 people might show up. Astronomy Night is popular with parents and their kids, but amateur astronomers and passersby of all ages come to look through Alexander’s telescope.

“Plenty of teens in the park want nothing to do with us, but some take a peek and will allow themselves a little sense of wonder at the world that they’ve been socially molded to pretend doesn’t move them. If they’re like me, they can’t help but feel a brief sense of the smallness and insignificance when gazing at objects vastly, incomprehensibly larger than themselves,” Alexander says.

This past Saturday was the last Astronomy Night planned for this summer. Clouds covered up the moon and Jupiter, the night’s main features, but Alexander entertained the crowd by sharing a map of the moon with them, showing them Zakim Bridge in Boston and the stars Mizar and Alcor in the constellation Ursa Major through the telescope, and handing out glow sticks.

There’lll be more Astronomy Nights next summer. Those interested in attending future stargazing events can sign up for Astronomy Nights emails online. Mars will be having another close approach with Earth next fall, too.

Jeffrey Alexander breaks down his telescope at the end of this September’s Astronomy Night.

Alexander, who studied computer science in college, now leads a software team at Oracle Labs. Astronomy may be a hobby for him, but it’s easy to tell from the way he talks about it that it’s close to his heart and he loves to share it with others.

“There’s really nothing better than the exclamations I hear and expressions I see on peoples’ faces the first time they look through the telescope,” he says. “Sharing the passion that I have for observing the night sky, even if just for a moment at a time, makes it worth doing year after year.”

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History, People, Photos

Menotomy Indian Hunter

At the center of the garden between Town Hall and the Robbins Library, on a crest above a long, shallow reflecting pool, kneels a statue of a Native American man. He’s equipped for a hunt. His catch for the day, a goose, rests by his foot.

The 1911 statue is by Cyrus Edwin Dallin, a sculptor from Utah who grew up around Native Americans before moving to the Boston area to study sculpture. After marrying a writer, Vittoria Murray, and going to art school in Paris, he moved to Arlington in 1900. The Robbins family (whose name is also on Robbins Farm Park and the library’s main branch) commissioned Dallin to make a statue for the park between Town Hall and the Robbins Library. The Menotomy Hunter was one of Dallin’s many statues of Native Americans; another famous statue of his, Appeal to the Great Spirit, stands outside the main entrance to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

The statue has become one of Arlington’s symbols. It’s on the walls of the police headquarters and the fire department, and it’s the logo of the Spy Ponders, Arlington High School’s athletic team. Yet, according to the 2010 census, 0.1% of Arlington’s population are Native American. We are using a symbol of an indigenous person to represent ourselves, though almost none of us are Native.

It’s hard to find information about the indigenous people who lived on the land we now call Arlington. Most of the historical record remaining was written by European colonists and is unlikely to reflect the perspective of the Massachusett, the people the settlers displaced. We do know they called this place Menotomy, which means “swift running water.”

When Puritan settlers arrived in Menotomy in the early 1600s, the diseases previous settlers had brought with them had already killed many of the Massachusett. The chief of the Pawtucket Confederation of Tribes, a woman whose only recorded name or title is Squaw Sachem (Woman Chief), had recently inherited leadership from her late husband Nanapashemet, and with it an ongoing war with the Abenaki tribes from what is now called Maine. With her resources spread thin and her community devastated by disease, she and her sons began selling land to English settlers to build rapport with them and survive. She sold Menotomy to the settlers in 1639 for 21 coats, 19 fathom of wampum, and 3 bushels of corn. These articles on History of American Women and Arlington Historical Society tell the story of Squaw Sachem and Menotomy in more detail.

A few Massachusett tribespeople of the Neponset band survived colonization, and some of their descendants live in Ponkapoag in Canton, MA. Their website has some Massachusett history from a Massachusett perspective.

Arlington has a responsibility to recognize its oftentimes violent and tragic colonial history. There are countless memorials to those who died in the Revolutionary War here in comparison to this lone, decontextualized statue.

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History, People, Photos, Places

Menotomy Rocks Park

content warning: this post contains non-graphic discussion of suicide

Trees rustle in the wind. The highway sighs in the distance. Small waves lap at the shore of Hill’s Pond. In the early evening on a Monday, Menotomy Rocks Park is full of dog walkers, a few kids and parents, speed-walkers and slow-walkers, occasional joggers, and one kid bouncing around on a pogo stick.

Menotomy Rocks Park is a 35.5-acre park located off Jason Street between Arlington Center and Route 2. Arlington’s largest public park, Menotomy Rocks has a playground, two fields, several unpaved trails, a stream, and a pond called Hill’s Pond.

The park has existed since 1896, according to the Menotomy Trail website, and the town established the Friends of Menotomy Rocks Park committee in 1993 to manage the park and the land it’s on. Back then, people called it The Devil’s Den. The name comes from a legend about the devil walking toward Spy Pond with boulders in his apron; the apron strings tore and the boulders spilled onto the land by Hill’s Pond.

The true story of how the boulders got there is less demonic. The Laurentide ice sheet, which formed during North America’s last ice age about 75,000 years ago, gradually melted away over thousands of years, leaving behind the rocks that Arlingtonians would eventually call Menotomy Rocks.

The Laurentide ice sheet is responsible for the existence of Hill’s Pond as well; as the glaciers retreated, pieces broke off and became buried in sediment. As they melted, they left behind depressions called kettle holes. Some of those kettle holes, including the one in Menotomy Rocks, filled with water and became lakes and ponds. Spy Pond in Arlington, Fresh Pond in Cambridge, and Walden Pond in Concord are also kettle ponds.

Hill’s Pond also has some more recent history. On April 16, 2012, police following the cell phone signal of a missing girl discovered her body floating in the pond. The girl, a 16-year-old named Shaira Ali, had committed suicide. Shaira’s friends held a candlelight vigil for her at Hill’s Pond on April 17. Those who knew her say she was kind, gentle, and artistic. In 2016, her parents donated $100,000 to the Arlington Center for the Arts, where Shaira attended summer camp and later became a camp counselor. The ACA named its new gallery and performance space after her. The town remembers her as Hill’s Pond remembers the glacier from which it came. She is part of this place forever.

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Top down view of cartons of strawberries
Events, People

Arlington Farmers’ Market

This Wednesday at 2, the Russell Commons Municipal Lot transformed from Arlington Center’s largest parking lot to a row of booths stocked with goods from fresh tomatoes to refreshing iced tea. The Arlington Farmers’ Market had opened for the season.

In addition to the usual crop of produce, this year’s vendors are offering cheese, handmade pasta, wine and cider, meat, bread, and premade food from local restaurants.

A vendor list is available on the market’s website, and the market is open every Wednesday from 2pm to 6:30pm from mid-June through late October.

Patsy Kraemer, local event organizer, keeps the market running. She took over from Oakes Plimpton, who first opened the market in 1997 and whose other contributions to Arlington and its surroundings include writings about Arlington’s history, a communal garden, and the Boston Area Gleaners.

Patsy Kraemer stands next to hanging pots of flowers at the Dick’s Market Garden booth

On opening day, Kraemer and Plimpton sat in the shade on folding lawn chairs, under a wooden sign labeled “Patsy’s Corner,” chatting amiably and watching as customers filtered in and out of the lot. The market may look different than it did 22 years ago, but the love for local agriculture and sustainable food that drove Plimpton to create it is still going strong.

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Events, People, Photos, Places

The Little Fox Shop

11 years ago, Susan Dorson and Amy Weitzman opened a nonprofit resale shop in the Edith M. Fox branch of the Arlington Library. They collected donations of toys, kids’ and maternity clothes, and childcare items like high chairs and strollers, furnished the store with any cheap or free furniture and clothing racks they could get their hands on, and recruited volunteers to help run the store.

Faith, a Little Fox Shop volunteer, organizes clothes to put out in the store.

When The Little Fox Shop first opened, it was only open one day a week, but Dorson, Weitzman, and later Stephanie Murphy (a store manager who joined about 7 years ago) were able to gradually increase the store’s operating hours until it was open 5 days a week. The Little Fox Shop raises funding for the Fox Library. According to its website, the store’s revenue has enabled the library to host more events, decorate, buy new fixtures, books, and video games, and stay open two more days a week.

Last year, the store was more popular than ever, Dorson says. The community loved it. And it came as a surprise to the store’s patrons and managers when it closed unexpectedly that August. WickedLocal Arlington reports that the Friends of the Fox board, who were in charge of dispersing funds raised to the town and approving major funding expenditures for the shop, fired Dorson and Murphy after a series of disagreements about Dorson and Murphy’s request for a raise and for the board to consider them payroll employees instead of volunteers with a stipend. Dorson says she was hurt the board was unwilling to negotiate with them; the store is very important to her and she, the store’s employees and volunteers, and the community were all disappointed to see it shut down.

Arlington’s government opened a Request for Proposal for applicants to open a resale shop in the space the shop had been. Dorson and Murphy teamed up with Weitzman to apply to reopen The Little Fox Shop. They won.

Dorson and volunteer Sandy discuss where to put a donation the shop received.

“The community support has been tremendous,” Dorson said. “People seem really excited for us to open up again.” After two hectic weeks of collecting mountains of donated goods, cleaning, and organizing, Dorson, Murphy, and their staff reopened the store on May 1st.

A parent shops for clothes during the grand re-opening.

The library threw a grand re-opening event on May 11. Dozens of parents and kids showed up to drop off even more donations, browse the newly set-up shelves, and eat donut holes. The store was noisy and crowded — at one point, a line stretched from the checkout counter to halfway through the store — but the managers and volunteers kept everything moving and organized with smiles on their faces.

Volunteer Victoria rings up a customer.

“[Running the store has been] kinda like raising a child,” Dorson says. Her kids were three and five when the store first opened. This year, her older son is a junior in high school and starting to think about college. And now that the Little Fox Shop has re-opened, she and Murphy have one more child’s future to think about again.

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