Staged Reading of the Letters of Morris Graves with Joan Schirle

Dell’Arte International (DAI) presents Bird of the Inner Eye, a series of readings
from the letters of painter Morris Graves (1910 – 2001). The three readings are at Dell’Arte’s
Carlo Theatre (Nov. 15), Eureka’s Black Faun Gallery (Nov. 17), and the Arcata Playhouse (Nov.
25). All performances are at 7 PM, with admission by donation.

Dell’Arte’s Joan Schirle conducts the readings, sourced from Graves’ letters and
archives, with a cast of Dell’Arte Company members and local actors. This “theatre of place”
event includes dance improvisations by choreographer and DAI faculty member Laura Muñoz.
“I became fascinated by Graves as a resister,” said Schirle. “During WWII he spent 11
months in the stockade at Camp Roberts, California, for refusing to join the army. He resisted
not only war, he resisted the degradation of our planet and the deadening of our senses to
beauty. Through painting he communicated his anguish over the loss of our humanity as we
plunder the earth. He inspires me to ask myself as an artist, how I can best take part in
resistance using the gifts I have?”


Some of Graves’ most powerful paintings came out of his experience as a conscientious
objector. Many works of that early 40’s period use birds as symbols, including Bird of the Inner
Eye, Falcon of the Inner Eye, and Little-Known Bird of the Inner Eye (1941) in NY’s Museum of
Modern Art. Though symbolic, his paintings were nonetheless based on intensive observation
and love of the natural world.

“I want to say with paint that the creation is infinitely, infinitely more than meets the
eye, that a bird is vastly more than a miracle of life and form—that an eagle is not an eagle but a                                                                 God-gesture and a power, and that he is not detached and in the sky but in our souls. And I
want to say with paint that my tranquil night-lake here is not a lake but a reflection of a great
tranquil backpool within the human soul—and that we see the outer reflection, and by it can
bring the inner eye into focus within our soul…”– Morris Graves, writing in 1943, three months
after the army discharged him as ‘unfit.’

Graves spent the last 30 years of his life in Humboldt County, at the home he designed
and had built near Loleta, known as “The Lake.” Earlier this year the Morris Graves Foundation
awarded Schirle a 3-week residency at The Lake, where she had access to his studio, his
gardens, his papers, books, and many of the objects he had collected over a lifetime. During
the coming year she will be developing a chamber opera on Graves with composer Gina
Leishman. “He was a such a dramatic character… His writings reveal ongoing struggles
balancing fame with his need for privacy, between his desire to live simply and a love of
creating gorgeous, luxurious surroundings,” said Schirle. “His writings are passionate, as well as
full of humor– he was something of a trickster. There is lively correspondence not just with his
male lovers but with some amazing women who supported his work and his vision. His writing
cries out to be set to music.”

Though Graves’ paintings– mostly of birds, animals, and nature– are famous throughout
the world, his writing is lesser known. The letters in Bird of the Inner Eye are taken from
“Selected Letters of Morris Graves,” edited by Vicki Halper and Lawrence Fong (2013). Schirle
has also taken material from interviews with Graves’ contemporaries.

“. . . these letters are gems – conveying verve and passion and trains of thought possibly
more complex than we tweeting twits of the 21st century can ever hope to express or even
comprehend.” — Bellingham Herald

“A page-turner, capturing the rich and raw inner life of a sensitive, deeply serious artist
who lacked a layer of skin and yet had a toughness to forge a life in art.” –City Living
To learn about Graves’ challenges in building his Humboldt home, see writer Bob
Doran’s 2013 article in the Northcoast Journal, “On The Lake.”

Bird of the Inner Eye runs Thursday Nov. 15 at Dell’Arte’s Carlo Theatre, Saturday Nov. 17 at
Eureka’s Black Faun Gallery and Sunday Nov. 25 at the Arcata Playhouse. All performances are
at 7 PM. 

Suggested donation: $5 – $10
Tickets for Carlo Theatre at www.dellarte.com or (707) 668-5663
For further information on tickets for Black Faun Gallery and The Playhouse, email
[email protected]