|Mystic Tree, watercolor by E. Jean Lanyon|
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Our e. jean lanyon: Still Indestructable
Our e. jean Lanyon, Delaware Poet Laureate from 1979 to 2001, Dreamstreets Magazine founder and illustrator, Pea Patch Island imager, and driving force behind the First State Writers for 50 years, will be featured in a timely retrospective of her art work April 6 through May 23 at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, Delaware.
A true plein air artist, E. Jean Lanyon (so spelled when painting) has carted her easel and brushes for half a century into the glittering undergrowth of the Diamond State bioregion from Brandywine Springs Park to Pea Patch island and brought back a treasure trove of evocative canvases. The opening reception will take place from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. April 6. There will be a Gallery Talk by Curator Ryan Grover and e. jean will read her poetry at 6:30 p.m. The Biggs Museum is located at 406 Federal Street, Dover, Delaware 19903.
I just pulled down a sample of e. jean lanyon’s literary work from my bookshelf. On top is Woman Scrapbook, a blue 1979 chapbook filled with poems and collages from the life of the mother, widow, feminist, poet, and artist. “For Flip Bannowsky,” she wrote on the title page, “in sisterhood for a fellow poet.” The book is an artifact of the era of the ERA—the Equal Rights Amendment—which flashed in the pan of American politics until it was shouted down by the traditional values claque of the day.
Our e. jean was no flash in the pan, however, and she has persevered as a Delaware institution since she first published her work in the University of Delaware’s Grover back in 1955. She began as a practicing professional fine artist in 1958. In 1970, her first volume of poetry, The Myrno Bird came out. Her People Garden appeared in 1976. She has continued to publish, edit, mentor, teach, paint, speak, garner awards and honors, and organize readings through all the vicissitudes of her productive life.
Someone once said that there would be a poetry reading in Browntown when pigs fly. Browntown is a traditional working class Polish Community on Maryland Avenue where it runs into Wilmington. She and Peg Clifford took the challenge and organized a reading in the back room of Browntown’s Cedar Tavern for several years running. They called it, appropriately, Pigs Fly. That whimsical nature is visited in the occasional pocket-sized musings of one Nezzra O’Possum of lanyon’s Possum Garage Press, now up to #12. Nezzra laments the inhumanities, insanities, and insults of an insufferable world, but just can’t bring herself to buy into the self-righteous pessimism of the professional pity-me class. The annals of e. jean Lanyon appear in her annual newsletter, illustrated and printed in her own hand to recount her many juried exhibitions, life challenges, and victories.
Of course I am prejudiced. We have been friends ever since I interviewed her for an article in the September 1980 edition of The Delaware Alternative Press. It was called “Indestructible e. jean lanyon.” She was challenging the sexist employment practices at the University of Delaware, where she had worked as a draftsperson in the Facilities Planning Office for eight years. She was living penuriously and frugally, raising funds for her case by selling signed prints of her drawings. Since then e. jean lanyon has been ubiquitous in Delaware’s artistic and literary scene. I have seen her at almost every Second Saturday reading since the Eschaton Writers, of which she was a founding member, inaugurated it over thirty years ago.
The art and poetry of e. jean lanyon is direct, accessible, honest, contemplative, and beautiful. Ever refusing to be obscure, she has portrayed her life and the natural environment of Delaware as something for everyone to experience. How she has led her life is an inspiration to every artist struggling to be seen and heard in a tiny state that can be insular and suffocating. But our e. jean remains indestructible.