Cannon Hersey, John Hersey, 2016, Silkscreen on handmade banana leaf and cotton pulp paper, 12 x 18 in. Photo courtesy of Lisa Volmer
Cannon Hersey can hardly finish introducing himself before he engages in an impassioned monologue about the accomplishments of his father and grandfather, artist John R. Hersey Jr. and journalist/author John Hersey, whose seminal article on the dark truths of the bombing on Hiroshima picked up an entire edition of the New Yorker in 1946. These three men, united by the blood and narrative threads of their diverse portfolios, appear together in a spectacularly intimate new show at the Carrie Chen Gallery on Railroad Street in Great Barrington, running August 6th through September 25th.
When Carrie and her husband, Stanley Cohen, moved to the Berkshires in 2016, “I had no intention of owning a gallery. We just loved Great Barrington’s vibrant, lively scene and the people it attracts. I saw that the Railroad Street camera shop was for sale and bought it without knowing what to do with it.” Carrie recalls with a mixture of delight and disbelief. A prolific visual artist himself, Cannon is friends with Carrie and her husband and has sold some of his own pieces to Carrie. Together they developed the idea for this intergenerational exhibition after the death of Cannon’s father. “He was one of the first 6 artists in SoHo. He has over 4,400 works consisting of paintings, etchings, abstract and figurative pieces… I didn’t realize the full extent until he died. My father was very private.”
In addition to his own solid life in commercial art, in 2015 Cannon was commissioned by NHK World, a subsidiary of Japan’s national television, to direct a series of documentaries that would focus on the issues surrounding Hiroshima and the nuclear atrocity, but not itself exclusively refer to it. Perhaps nowhere is his grandfather John Hersey’s legacy more cherished than in Japan, for which sympathy was decidedly scant even long after Hirohito’s surrender and certainly in 1946, less than a year after the bombing. On behalf of a murdered, poisoned and maimed population, Hersey’s words were international cri de coeur against apathy and tribalism, forcing the world to examine the raw, unavoidable truth of the use of nuclear weapons against a civilian population. “It is said that 8 percent of people changed their minds about the morality of the bombing immediately after the article was first published,” recalls Cannon, after making 28 trips to Hiroshima over the past seven years and noting that President Truman “had forbidden journalists from writing about such things. It was extraordinarily brave, and my grandfather received threats. He had to go into hiding with his family.” Despite opposition from the military-industrial complex and its lackeys, ABC News ran the article, as did the BBC. Slowly word got around and opinions changed.
In preparation for his documentaries and for The meaning of memoryCannon has spent countless laps of the hourglass at Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the archive that houses alumnus John Hersey’s many documents and artifacts, some of which will appear in The meaning of memory. “One part of this show that we think is very important is that it honors Cannon for his archival work,” Carrie points out. Cannon will be celebrated on August 5 by the Scone Foundation, which will receive its Annual Archivist Award, which recognizes an archivist or activist who has made a significant contribution in areas such as opposing censorship, preserving historical memory, or supporting scholars who conduct historical and biographical research. “Some elements of this show, certain fabrics and materials, were woven and crafted by artisans from Hiroshima, like the kimono gifted to us by survivors. There is great beauty in the resilience of survival. I think we can all relate to it a bit after the Covid years,” Cannon said with sincere optimism.
Carrie excitedly adds, “This is where all of that work comes together. John, John R. Jr. and Cannon all “report the truth of our world” so to speak, but with different imageries.” “I’m very inspired by my father’s work,” agrees Cannon, “because it’s about freedom of expression and joy, about the energy that moves through the art and through the viewer.” In his own work, Cannon has increasingly sought to incorporate principles of liberal idealism and social justice. “When I started this transition about seven years ago, I noticed a slowdown in business. Sometimes you have to take a financial hit to work on something really important.”
if The meaning of memory represents a reunion of sorts for the Hersey family, it’s also part of a seismic shift that may be happening across the country. Carrie reflects on the pandemic and how it has changed perspectives on the region: “Great Barrington was an intellectual hub and home of the arts before it all, but since the pandemic, many people have rediscovered just how much the Berkshires have to offer. ” Essentially, as cities’ populations doubled and sometimes tripled during lockdown, people were forced to try a different way of life and found they liked it more. Cannon saw this very clearly from his front-row seat in Manhattan: “City people are starting to go there once a week instead of just coming to the country for the weekend. It’s a big shift.” Cannon mentions that Carrie and her husband are opening a gallery in Shanghai “to bring artists from Berkshire to the world and vice versa. All art has a global aspect.”
As the world shrinks, the weapons that launched us into the nuclear age pose a villain of increasing menace. With Putin rattling his plutonium saber and US Presidents in recent administrations backing down blank power of attorney For nuclear weapons manufacturers, the menu of options can be uncomfortable for those working against the forces of death and destruction. Cannon remembers his early childhood, during which he spent some time living in the legendary Dakota apartment building in Manhattan. “I played with John Lennon and his son all the time. I was four years old when he was shot dead on our doorstep. Later I asked myself: what happens to people who work for peace?” fearlessthe Herseys have played their part and won’t be stopping any time soon. The meaning of memoryOpening night is this August 6th, exactly 77 years ago since more than 100,000 citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were wiped from the face of the earth.