Recently my garden-enthusiast cousin Rachel visited from California. As conversations go between the garden-obsessed, the topics flew between us easily and limitlessly. She recently “discovered” salvia, specifically subgenus Perovskia — commonly referred to as Russian sage. This plant, which grows 3- to 5-feet tall has silver gray stems and tiny purple flowers that burst with an airiness that is mystical and quite beautiful. She thought it was rare and unusual when she planted it.
Now, as if her rare gem was just broken glass, everywhere she looks she sees salvia. Her reality is filled with pop-up ads — in Chicagoland front lawns, at strip malls, in roadway planters, just everywhere. The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, or the impression that something is happening frequently, though it is just an illusion, as perceptions and awareness change, has overtaken her garden-minded consciousness. I have experienced a similar phenomenon with chicory and litter.
Another fixation parked in my mind is the art vs. craft debate — as I mentioned in this space last month. Its origins come from 15th-century Europe, the Renaissance, when individual creativity was valued more than the shared production of a craft. While there seem to be infinite distinctions between what makes art, art & craft, or craft, each quirky definition could be discussed at length. One distinction is that art reflects an individual journey resulting in an aesthetic purpose, whereas craft is a product of a skill that has a function.
So when I was at the Kiwanis Club meeting last night, eating two scoops of Kiwanis-inspired ice cream, this debate was raging away behind the scenes in my mind. On this night a special guest, Commissioner Michelle Melin-Rogovin, made a presentation to see if the Kiwanis Club was interested in contributing to the flagpole installation project.
The flagpole dilemma has become an enchanting storyline in town. There is a pole, there is space, there are flag-flying rules, there is a system (Illinois Flag Honors Act) and there are flags. None of these are central to the specific Forest Park issue. Here it is the installation that is the protagonist in this plot.
Last week I walked past a group of men installing the fence at Popelka Park, and I wanted to cheer them on. Avoiding a scene, I carried on and reflected on how fun the world would be if we celebrated labors like we do sports. We could know if people have children, sisters, and brothers, if they are working long hours, and even know their names. Instead, we will likely have a timeless plaque dedicated to the park district board, which directed the public funds to pay for the park, which included hiring a team to install the fence.
It is the way of the world. Craftsmanship is not center stage. Which is why the installation of a flagpole delights me. It removes any sour spots of individualism, dissolves any rough patches of decisions made by the few, demands democratic input from people directly, and puts the spotlight on something that is typically invisible. When the flags are raised, those who know will feel pride about the symbolism of the base they are standing on and feel connected to the community. While we may not hold a public event to watch the pouring of the concrete (although I would love to be there), creating the foundation for the flags to perch is symbolism enough and that has the power.
Much like Rachel’s salvia, I see the craftsmanship of the landscapers who zip through town managing lawns and landscapes, the concrete I walk on block after block, the freshly painted water towers, the resurfacing of Roosevelt Road, the late-night sounds of the streetcleaner going by, the layout of products in stores — and delight, cheering silently for the craftspeople who are the champions of function. While craftsmanship might not be rare, it is magnificent and belongs in the spotlight now and again.