Because writing is generally a solitary activity, writers need to cultivate and maintain social contacts. For me the Cape Cod branch of the National League of American Pen Women serves as both a social and professional outlet. The following 1,000-word article was composed this week as the first in a series intended to deepen the connection between artists and writers who make up our organization.
A four-hour interview with photographer/writer Linda Ohlson Graham was the article's basis. I think it is a good example of how the methodical collection of information serves a writer. Other than the correct spelling of her name, her town of residence and the general impression that she led an interesting life, I had no specific knowledge about Linda prior to our interview. I've conducted countless interviews (and will write about the process in future posts!), but, regardless of length, each one requires people to trust me with something that belongs to them. A PROVINCETOWN ARTIST: LINDA OHLSON GRAHAM
by Christie Lowrance
Linda Ohlson Graham is a woman whose life and art have been defined by space and place. Her stunning photographs of sprawling, near shapeless coastal landscapes depict the glorious union of earth, sea and sky, a theme that has become the core of her writing as well as her photography. Her tiny 200-square-foot room on the ground level of a hilltop house behind Bradford Street in Provincetown seems an anomaly until one learns she lived aboard a sailboat for five years and has survived three near-death experiences.
Born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts, Graham moved to Provincetown at nineteen. Unhappy with the town’s in-season chaos, she decided to visit Detroit and stayed for six months, working in a restaurant and spending long, peaceful days in the presence of the grand frescoes of Diego Rivera in the Detroit Institution of Art. When she returned to Provincetown, she worked at several restaurants, but left again when the opportunity to go sailing arose.
She spent most of her late 20s and early 30s on several boats, exploring the Inland Waterway and covering 12,000 miles visiting ports in the Caribbean and Central and South America. Within these years she learned to meditate and chant, and cites an example of their benefit on a day the boat was becalmed and the engine “clanged and banged, then died,” says Graham. “We chanted for the wind and it came up.” In her travels she used a Canon Rebel with Fuji film to photograph people from diverse cultures and countries and has some particularly striking images of Haitians whom she describes having “joy in their hearts and a lilt in their voices.”
Graham also began developing a skyscape collection. “I always wanted the (shipboard) watches at sunrise and sunset because of the spectacularly gorgeous streams of color,’ she said. “Sunrises and sunsets are each so individual. The name “EARTH OCEAN HEAVENS came to me like a lightning bolt out on the open ocean, with the thought that I would publish a book some day by that title.”
After returning to Provincetown in the fall of 1978, she took a job cooking at the Café Edwige. She also crewed occasionally for the Hindu, a 65-foot, two-masted schooner that made cruises and day trips out of Provincetown. When she was 32, her mother encouraged her to come out to Colorado. In Denver she married Douglas Graham, twenty-three years her senior, who owned an extraordinary 1,000-piece collection of works by English Romantic landscape artist J. M. W. Turner. Together they opened his home as a Turner museum, and in it their daughter Isis was born. “I was proud of the museum and loved living in it,” Graham says. “We had popular concerts there once a month.”
She had not sought an explanation for her dizzy spells until she and her husband separated after nine years of marriage. A physician insisted she have a CAT scan immediately. It revealed a golf ball-sized cyst. She had brain surgery the next day. After surgery she began writing, a voluminous collection now titled “Notes from My Journal Immediately Following Brain Surgery.” She says that the writing simply flowed, and from it she began to pull out single lines or passages that particularly appealed to her. She has made framed work that incorporates her photography and writings.
When she returned to the Cape in 1996, there was a rainbow over the Sagamore Bridge. Coming back to Provincetown “was heaven,” she says. “It was home in my heart. I know so many people here; I have so many longtime friends here. I’ve known one since he was fourteen. “
On a recent occasion she was heading back to Provincetown from an Upper Cape meeting on global peace. Her violet wool beret, plum-colored scarf, long black skirt, socks and clogs readily identified her as artistically inclined. She stepped aside to let a visitor enter her L-shaped room which contains a bed, two large chairs, four small chairs, two tables and an inestimable number of books whose titles reveal her interests and passions: Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gnostic Bible, Pablo Neurda, Milton, Discourses on Rumi. Photographs and mementos are everywhere. Colorful rugs cover the floor and a small bowl of dried leaves and silky white milkweed seeds serve as decoration, as do a collection of necklaces, horseshoes, and her daughter Isis’ artwork.
Inches, not feet, separate the components of her home. A small refrigerator is a few steps away from her bed, table and chairs, and Graham says she does a lot of cooking on the diminutive stove nearby. Perhaps it is her Thoreauvian lack of material burdens that enables Graham to explore whatever interests her, whether Stonehenge monoliths and crop circles in England or Caribbean shores.
For a free spirit, she has quiet ways. In conversation her dark chocolate brown eyes may glance mischievously for a listener’s response to some surprising revelation or turn aside to watch a distant idea take shape. She plays with her glasses as she recites a poem, one of many she has memorized. She has a soft speaking voice, but demonstration of a chant proves to be surprisingly loud. Graham has been a member of the Salt Winds Poets in Harwich and Gulf Gate Poets in Sarasota, Florida. Her art work has been displayed in solo exhibits at the Cape Cod Museum of Fine Art, Falmouth Library, and Cape Cod 5 Bank in Orleans, among others. Out of the majesty of her photographic images and the personal urgency of her prose writing has come a purpose, a mission: global peace. She has worked on several peace initiatives and was named poet laureate of Colorado’s Department of Peace. Graham believes it is attainable through quieting the human mind. One of her favorite personal writings is “Please hold the thought with me that peace on earth and calm weather patterns can easily happen ... in a moment or two of silence in enough of the collective mind.”
This Provincetown artist continues to write and photograph in hope that her vision of peace will find universal acceptance, if not today, perhaps tomorrow.