Vastly different books both have something to offer readers

Elizabeth Cran
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Redeemed and Jonas in Frames both published by Goose Lane

The following two books have nothing in common, except both are unusual.

Redeemed (Goose Lane and UNB Art Centre, $24.95), edited by William Forestall, is a series of essays concerning the rediscovery and reconstruction of Fred Ross’ 1948 mural, The Destruction of War & Rebuilding the World through Education.

The other book, Jonas in Frames, by Chris Hutchinson is also from Goose Lane (Icehouse Poetry, $19.95). It has been described as “... an esoteric glimpse into a fractal, clandestine, tempestuous cabinet of curiosities,” and resembles, more than anything, the surrealist works of the 1920s.

Ross was only 21 when he painted The Destruction of War. He had already won some fame with his first mural, Annual School Picnic, painted for the Saint John Vocational School, completed in 1946 when he was 18. Many painters in the United States and Canada were using this technique, inspired by the work of the Mexican Diego Rivera.

In this way the Destruction of War was a typical work of its time, as was the belief that a better world, made possible by education, was coming.

The subdued colours and somewhat stylized faces of the persons in the diptych are also typical of these murals and other paintings of this age.

Alas, the belief in peace through education has been worn away by subsequent events until only traces remain. Ross’ mural stands as a monument to the 1940s as well as a remarkable work of art.

The story of how the discovery of the original drawings made possible the recreation in paint of the mural. This book gives the fascinating details. The whole process may well be unique, as is the presence and supervision of the artist himself more than 60 years later. Altogether, it’s an outstanding tribute to an Atlantic artist.

Jonas in Frames is almost a reply in words to Ross’ mural. In its vision — of the future — education has left only small fragments, chiefly from the Classical Greek period, and the late 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.

There is no war, nor is there peace. Drugs, including coffee, are common. Children are rare. There’s a great deal of failure and little success. Even government and other authorities are hardly there.

And there is no talk of bettering the world or even a little corner of it. It’s a frightening story — except that some of it is funny, too. By no means is it for everybody. However, it expresses what some people feel, and it does that very well.

It’s worth reading.

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at her new address: 95 Orange St., Apt. 101, Saint John N.B., E2L 1M5, or call her at 506-693-5498

Organizations: UNB Art Centre, Annual School Picnic, Saint John Vocational School Mexican Diego Rivera.In The Guardian

Geographic location: United States, Canada, Saint John

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