Fuller Craft Museum Worth a Visit



Brockton, MA



Words that are both nouns and verbs can cause confusion. Take the word fashion. As a noun it can mean something that's au courant, a stylish outfit, or a very silly costume created by a designer that no actual human being who has ever eaten a sandwich could or would ever wear. As a verb, it can mean to form, make, or assemble in a particular order.


Why the grammar lesson? Because “craft” is another such word. Consider its various uses. Among other things, it's a boat or airplane, a fashioned object, a skill, or a verb that means to make. The latter is where things get complicated. If you attend a craft fair, you'll see everything from wooden commodities and homespun sweaters to paper flowers, inexpensive jewelry, and dolls made from dried apples. I've not done exhaustive research (or any at all in this case!) but I venture to say that for most people, crafts are a synonym for folk art. It can also imply that the objects are (relatively) affordable because they have been made by hobbyists or unknown specialists. Some of it falls into what some have called “primitive art,” implying that they are more charming than precisely rendered, kind of like an adult version of a child's drawing.




If that's what craft means to you, the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton will jar you. If you found work from its various crafters for sale you probably couldn't afford it! It is strictly high-end stuff made by highly skilled artisans whose work is more likely to be seen in a museum or gallery than in a retail outlet. Even woven poppets and dolls are of the kind one would display in a glass case rather than handing to a rambunctious four-year-old.





I don't know if this is commonplace or not, but when I was at the Fuller early last month, there was a display or what I imagine was a juried challenge: croquet mallets. The submissions are decidedly not your-mother's-mallet. Whimsy is the one similarity between Fuller Museum crafts and folk art. Once you get past the giggles induced by strikers fashioned from all manner of things—upside down flamingos, plumbing fixtures, other sporting goods—you begin to notice the skill involved in designing and rendering the unorthodox mallets.




Another exhibit focused on what increasing numbers of environmentalists have identified as a planetary anathema: plastic. Instead of landfilling materials with a degradable half-life comparable to uranium, plastic was repurposed as art. It's nothing I'd want to devote a wall to showcase, but it sure does beat having it end up in the gullets of marine life.








Another intriguing exhibit used plastic, shells, found materials, and/or stained glass to give a modern twist to the tesserae used in ancient mosaics. There was a red wave from Nancy Maloney, a curled figure by Ellen Aiken, a triptych from Lisa Houck, and a totem group m
ade by Cassie Doyon. One of my favorites was Eugenia Mezhirova's Crows in the Dark, which rendered the birds in over-sized form vis-a-vis the human world below. It reminded me of how nature began to take over during the worst days of COVID when people stayed indoors a lot and animals roamed free and unbothered.



There are even “conventional” museum items such as sculpture and painting. The Fuller is a small facility that sits on the shore of a pond. It is located near the Easton line, an important consideration as much of Brockton is so dire that by comparison, it makes Holyoke seem like a leafy suburb. You can avoid all of that when you travel to the Fuller. If you ever find yourself tooling around Boston's South Shore in Plymouth County, the Fuller Craft Museum is worth a peek.




 Rob Weir



The Courier: When the Cold War Was Hot


 THE COURIER (2020) 

Directed by Dominic Cooke

Lionsgate, 111 minutes, PG13 (language, partial nudity) 




Unless you were there, it's hard to imagine just how close the West came to a nuclear war with the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. That wasn't just heated US politics; it was also the view of Lieutenant Colonel Oleg Penkovsky, the GRU officer in charge of Soviet military defense. The folly of this situation led him to do the unthinkable: commit treason. The Courier is based on Penkovsky's contacts with British courier Greenville Wynne.


Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) was a nebbish electrical engineer and businessman content to be a classic post World War II suburban guy. He did his job, returned home each night to his homemaker wife Sheila (Jesse Buckley) and son Andrew, put his feet up, and relaxed. He was about as far from any sort of intelligence officer as could be imagined, which is exactly why British MI6 recruited him and the CIA approved. All they had to do was convince the recalcitrant Wynne to do the job.


For all his bluster that the Soviet economy was superior to that of the West, Nikita Khrushchev (Vladimir Chuprikov) knew better. The allure of forging a trade with the British electrical firm outweighed rhetorical positions and Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze) was allowed to pursue a potential deal. Soon, Wynne was making trips to Moscow to booze and schmooze with Penkovsky. Those trips ended with a furtive passing of documents to Wynne. That information was probably the first inkling that the Soviets intended to place nuclear weapons in Cuba.


Wynne had little desire to play spy. He was assured by MI6 contact Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) and CIA officer Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) that all precautions would be taken and that both he and Penkovsky would be evacuated at the first signs of trouble. Another thing you wouldn't know if you've not studied the Cold War era is that such assurances were as hollow as a chocolate Easter Bunny. MI6, the CIA, the GGU, and the KGB only wanted information and didn't care much who they used to get it. The West relied on the patriotism and sense of duty of its contacts; the Russians resorted to fear, gulags, and extensive use of capital punishment.


A funny thing happened as Wynne and Penkovsky pursued their dangerous London-Moscow/Moscow-London business “negotiations; the two men became friends. After Sheila overcame her belief that Grenville had a Russian mistress, there was even personal contact between the respective families.


Given that all of this is historical, I give away nothing by saying that both men were used by their respective governments. How often can a Brit attend Russian ballets and late-night walks with a GRU officer before chumminess arouses suspicion? Wynne returned to Moscow one time more to arrange the Penkovsky family's defection to the West, but Big Brother was listening. As we've learned in the Brittney Griner case, a Russian prison is not a place you want to be.


It should be said as spy films go, The Courier is no Bridge of Spies (2015). Its strength lies in showing how an ordinary guy can get sucked into something way bigger than he can control. If you've seen Cumberbatch's stage performance in Frankenstein and witnessed his transformation into the monster with minimal makeup but maximum whole-body effort, you know his frame is a supple instrument. He is fully convincing in showing the physical and emotional toll spying took on Grenville Wynne. By the time he returned to Britain after a prisoner exchange, Cumberbatch/Wynne looks cadaverous. Ninidze was also superb as in the role of the more polished/more cautious Penkovsky. He was so good that he garnered several award nominations. On the minus side, Brosnahan never made me believe she was a CIA agent. She's too modern in style and demeanor, a problem compounded by a flat performance. I also wish Buckley had a bigger role, as she's a very good actress. 


The Courier is certainly worth watching, though. We might know how things went down, but seeing it happen underscores the paranoiac tenor of the times and the reckless brinkmanship that nearly precipitated nuclear folly. Sean Bobbitt's moody cinematography greatly enhances the film. Bobbitt painted with dark tones that made it a tossup which was bleaker, London or Moscow in the years 1961-63.  Director Dominic Cooke left himself open to charges of fostering distrust of one's government. Perhaps, but was he wrong? 


Rob Weir  




The Cellist a "New Cold War" Thriller



By Daniel Silva

HarperCollins, 458 pages





Daniel Silva is a skillful writer of spy thrillers who usually situates his narratives within the ongoing struggles between Israel and their Arab and Palestinian enemies. In The Cellist though, he focuses on a different foe: Russia. It begins with the London murder of dissident Viktor Orlov. The stand-in Russian leader in the novel who ordered the hit–via packaged documents treated with a nerve agent–is clearly Vladimir Putin. British law enforcement has arrested Nina Antonova for the crime and the evidence looks airtig except that there is no logical motive. Nina writes for an anti-kleptocracy newspaper and is herself a dissident émigré.


This arouses the suspicion of Silva's hero, Gabriel Allon, a former super spy who now heads Israeli intelligence and can't fathom Antonova as a killer. It takes one to know one. Allon's the right man to investigate: erudite, a talented art restorer, an unapologetic defender of Israel, and (when need be) an efficient assassin. What he's not is a reckless cowboy; Allon operations are planned in meticulous detail. Silva's books are written with parallel care and intelligence. Not many writers would build a plot involving financial networks and Russian oligarchs with art, a cellist, and an apolitical philanthropist.


Allon touches base with Sarah Bancroft, a curator and business partner at London's Julian Isherwood Gallery. A painting, the Lute, comes to light that Bancroft thinks is a previously unknown Artemisia Gentileschi, a find that would send the art world into a frenzy. (Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter and is now recognized as the creator of works previously attributed to male artists.) Not coincidentally, Bancroft is a former CIA agent and her lover, Christopher Keller, an intelligence analyst.


 Allon also works on Martin Landesmann, a Zurich banker/philanthropist who heads an NGO, Global Alliance for Democracy. He's so pure that he has been dubbed “St. Martin” by admirers and critics alike. The final puzzle piece is the book's namesake, Isabel Brenner. Allon knows that if you want to catch a big fish you need potent bait. He's after a very big fish: Arkady Akimov, Russia's second richest man and the one who bankrolls Russia's leader. He happens to love art, classical music, and beautiful women. As one of the world's most accomplished musicians and a physical stunner, Isabel ticks the last two boxes very well. She also once worked for Rhine Bank (and with Allon).


It would be folly to try to get an agent close enough to kill Putin-not-Putin, so Allon’s plan is to send the Russian economy into a tailspin and somehow exonerate Antonova. The particulars are complex and need to be read to be appreciated, so suffice it to say things are done in steps via unwitting intermediaries. One of them is Rhine Bank, reportedly the world's most corrupt financial institution. Landesmann sets up a dummy investment group to breach Rhine Bank and its dealings with the Russian Laundromat, a pipeline for money to undermine democracy in revenge for the West’s role in the fall of the Soviet Union.


The Cellist features various intelligence networks and death-defying escapes. It is, admittedly on Silva's part, something of a revenge fantasy. If you read between the lines, in addition to the monomaniacal Putin stand-in, Rhine Bank is Deutsche Bank thinly veiled (which might actually be the world's most amoral credit/investment firm), and Arkady is a composite of numerous Russian sleazebags, one of whom is Putin's right-hand man Yevgeny Prigozhin. Silva has been outspoken in assertions that Donald Trump conspired with Putin to steal the 2016 election and that Trump and flunkies such as Q Anon, Paul Manafort, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and anti-Semite Mary Miller orchestrated the January 6, 2021 insurrection. Some of them appear in drag in the novel. Oh wait, they're already in drag! They masquerade as human.


The Cellist is a novel with many pieces. To be candid, Silva’s desire to expose real-world villains occasionally force-fits some of the pieces. Covid, for example, makes a guest appearance and is only tangentially relevant to the plot, though more so than the January 6 alt.narrative he introduces. Plus, if U.S. Intelligence was as good as Allon’s, Trump would be swaying from a gibbet by now. But give me a choice between a smart counterfactual approach and a cliché-riddled thriller and I'll go with the former.


Rob Weir