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, Photos, Places

Harvest Moon Fair

The First Parish Unitarian Universalist church has been an establishment in Arlington for nearly 300 years. And its parishioners have been hosting the annual, autumnal Harvest Moon Fair for at least a century and a half.

Little information is readily available about the fair’s early history, but the fair today has a format familiar to repeat attenders. Sections of the fair, with their hand-lettered calligraphic signs, have become institutions of the event.

A line formed along the front path two hours before the fair started, full of locals and visitors eagerly anticipating the fair’s attractions. Inside, they crowded the nave, buying tickets for the quilt raffle, and looking for deals at the blue table, the Tuck table, the Holly Shop, and “The Buttery” bake sale.

Elsewhere in the church, attendees shopped for used jewelry, electronics, and books. Each type of item had its own dedicated room.

If brownies, cornbread, and cookies from The Buttery weren’t enough to sate their hunger, they bought meal tickets for the “Hole in the Wall” cafe.

This year, a meal ticket bought them access to a Tex-Mex from a buffet. In the late morning, cafe patrons ate to the sound of fiddles from Giulia Haible and Maggie MacPhail, two of the musicians providing entertainment in a cabaret in one corner.

Part flea market, part craft fair, and part bake sale, the Unitarian Universalists make the Harvest Moon Fair possible with their donations of new and used items, homemade food, artistic skill, and time.

The fair’s proceeds support the church, making it possible for them to keep hosting popular events like this one.

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Events, Photos, Places

Arlington Open Studios

2019 marked Arlington Center for the Arts’ 20th annual Open Studios event. Open Studios is a showcase for local artists and craftspeople, many of whom live or work in Arlington, to display and sell their creations. This Open Studios is one of many — community arts organizations in nearby towns, like Somerville, Lexington, and Cambridge, have their own Open Studios events.

This year, the Arlington Center for the Arts (ACA) hosted the event in its new location at 20 Academy Street and next door on Mass Ave at Town Hall. In addition to crafts and fine art, this year’s Open Studios included art demos, performing arts including music and ballet, a poetry reading marathon, and refreshments from Butternut Bakehouse.

Links to the artists’ websites are included below images of their work where possible. Please consider taking a look and patronizing the artists if you’re able.

Photographer Janet Smith shows customers a print.
Baskets by Kimberley Harding, the author’s mother, are arrayed across a table.
Painter Dan Cianfarini poses in front of one of his watercolor landscapes.
Earrings by Lisa Heffley dangle from wire racks.
Ellen Callaway of Callaway Photo poses in front of a photo of rainbow-hued recyclables from her series “Recycled Beauty”.
Embroidery artist Anna Thai works on a huge piece. A scene like this can take weeks to complete.
A woven wire sculpture by metal and fiber artist Sharon Stafford gleams on its shelf.
Visitors look at Louise Musto-Choate‘s acrylic jewelry and cutting boards.
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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, Photos

Arlington Town Day

September 14th was Arlington’s 2019 Town Day. That’s 43 annual Town Days since 1976, put on by the town to showcase everything Arlington has to offer. This Town Day started at 9:30 in the morning with a flag-raising ceremony on the day’s main stage in front of Arlington’s town hall. Steve Katsos, of ACMi’s Steve Katsos Show, MCed the performances on the main stage, which included Arlington High School’s cheerleaders and jazz band, as well as several bands and a chorus. ACMi recorded the event to broadcast on Arlington’s public TV channel.

Arlington closed Massachusetts Avenue from the Pleasant Street to Jason Street, a stretch of about a third of a mile. Booths lined the street on either side. Restaurant and fast food booths filled the air with the scent of food and fry oil. Clowns, face painters, and carnival game hosts entertained the hundreds of children in attendance. Nonprofits, churches, and town institutions like the police department and ACMi filled some of the booths.

The rest were occupied by businesses ranging from banks and orthodontists to kombucha brewers and martial arts studios. Arlington High School sports teams held a big bake sale to raise money, decorating cupcakes onsite and walking up and down Mass Ave to sell their wares.

The Coast Guard parked a boat in the lot in front of the Robbins Library and taught passersby about water safety; behind the building were pony rides for kids and the library’s annual book sale. Animal Control officer and falconer Diane Welch showed off her birds of prey; behind Town Hall, more approachable animals could be found at the Animal Craze petting zoo.

Beyond the barricades at Pleasant Street in the yard of the Jefferson Cutter House was Arlington’s weekly summer beer garden, hosted by Somerville’s Aeronaut Brewery. Artists had booths in the yard too, selling everything from tie dyed T-shirts to ceramic sponge holders to the beer garden drinkers.

In past years, Arlington has also thrown a Town Night the Friday evening before Town Day, with more carnival games and a fireworks display. In 2018 the Arlington Town Day Committee voted not to host Town Night because it would be too expensive. That year, the Elks Lodge offered to host Town Night, and Arlington resident Katie Garrett raised money to offset the cost of the fireworks. This year, there was no Town Night.

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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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Events, History, Photos, Places

Arlington Reservoir

Arlington’s second-largest body of water, the Arlington Reservoir, is a little different from the others. It was made by people instead of dug out by glaciers. According to the Arlington Reservoir Committee website, Arlington created it in 1871 by damming Munroe Brook. Arlington used the reservoir for drinking water until it joined Massachusetts Water Resources Authority in 1899. This is especially confusing because Arlington’s water tower, which is still active today, is also called the Arlington Reservoir.

The park around the Arlington Reservoir is open year-round, with a trail that leads around the entire body of water. In 2010 the town added a wildlife habitat garden on the spillway, filled with native plants. They’re also fighting an undesirable population of invasive water chestnuts.

Part of the reservoir is swimmable. The town forbids swimming in Hill’s Pond at Menotomy Rocks Park, and Spy Pond’s water quality makes it dangerous to swim in. But the Reservoir Beach, a sandy beach built off the Reservoir’s main body, has filtered water and, during the months it’s open for use, lifeguards.

The Res, as it’s commonly known, lies alongside Lowell Street in Arlington Heights, crossing over the Lexington border. The beach is open from mid-June to late August. The town charges admission, and beachgoers can buy season passes if they desire. There are changing rooms, a snack bar, a playground, and a ramp for wheelchair users to roll into the water.

Recently, at the end of the beach season, the town begun opening the beach for a single ‘Dog Day at the Res’ with Arlington Dog Owners Group. On this day, dog owners from Arlington and beyond can bring their dogs to the beach and into the water. This past Saturday was 2019’s Dog Day.

More information about the Arlington Reservoir may be found on its website here.

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History, Photos, Places

Spy Pond

On Pond Road off Mass Ave, past a narrow bridge which allows the Minuteman Bikeway to pass overhead, a corrugated concrete boat ramp opens out onto the 103-acre body of water known as Spy Pond. Spy Pond, like Hill’s Pond in Menotomy Rocks Park, is a kettle hole pond, formed in a cavity left behind by a piece of a retreating glacier.

During the 1800s, Spy Pond’s winter ice was a major commodity for Arlington, providing major income for ice shipping businesses and encouraging the development of more infrastructure, including the railroad. Business dropped off in the late 1800s after the introduction of refrigerators, but the pond remained a main recreation spot for locals. The the Arlington Boys and Girls Club has a dock on the water, and Spy Pond Park, with its playground, picnic area, and boat ramp, is open to the public. There’s a parking lot, and if visitors would rather bike, the Bikeway runs right alongside. The town recently started offering canoe and kayak rentals by Spy Pond in the summer.

As of August 2019, the playground was closed for construction. Arlington’s Vision 2020 Spy Pond Committee and the nonprofit organization Friends of Spy Pond Park (FSPP) are working on restoring and maintaining the pond’s health and making improvements to the park. Updates on Spy Pond Park’s status can be found on the Arlington Recreation website.

A privately owned park on the other side of the pond, Kelwyn Manor Park, has a beach, two sports fields, and a playground. The town has two more sports fields: Spy Pond Field by the Boys and Girls Club, and Scannell Field just past Spy Pond Park in the opposite direction.

In addition to being fun for humans, Spy Pond provides food and shelter to many species of birds and fish. It has a bit of a goose problem, and FSPP suggests that visitors should not feed the geese. Elizabeth Island, a 2-acre island in the middle of the pond, remains undeveloped under the care of Arlington Land Trust and is home to native plants and wildlife. Arlington’s cryptid Lizzy (possibly an escaped Komodo Dragon, if she exists at all) is rumored to live there too.

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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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Events, Photos

Fido Fest

A warm summer night on Spy Pond Field. A pink sunset. Popcorn. Bubbles. Lots and lots of dogs. And lots and lots of dog videos on the big screen. It can only be Fido Fest.

Arlington Community Media, Inc (ACMi), Arlington’s public access television station, and dog-focused social group and nonprofit organization Arlington Dog Owners Group (A-DOG) have now orchestrated three years of this dog-themed film festival. ACMi and A-DOG founded Fido Fest as a paean to dogs and their loving owners.

An ACMi volunteer wears a dog mascot head.
A-DOG organizers Jen (L) and Kathleen (R) sit in front of the guess-how-many-dog-treats game at the A-DOG booth.

The event is sponsored by A-DOG, by pet-sitting/dog-walking business BlueSky Dogs, and by real estate agent Judy Weinberg at Leading Edge Real Estate. The Capitol Theater provides bags of “pupcorn”. Anyone can submit a video of their dog, from an amateur home video to a polished narrative short film.

Local band Stanley and the Undercovers played 50s and 60s rock standards, including, of course, “Hound Dog.”

While waiting for the main events, Fido Fest attendees played with bubbles, hula hoops, and an oversized Jenga game.

As the sun began to set, people brought their dogs up to participate in the dog pageant, competing in categories like Smallest Dog, Most Wags, and Dog-Owner Lookalike. Every dog who entered won.

As darkness fell, the main show began: the films. Everyone settled into beach chairs or sat on the ground to watch dog-themed content ranging from home videos to short documentaries and humorous Vine-style clips. The audience laughed, sighed, and barked. And at the end of the night they went home with their friends and families, on two legs, four wheels, or four paws.

Note: This article was updated 6:30pm August 4, 2019, to add that Judy Weinberg also sponsors the event.

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