Letter from the National First Vice President Sheila M. Byrnes, Winter 2022
Pen Arts Bursting with Activity
National President Wofford has asked me to share my experiences while hosting two special events at Pen Arts. Under the president’s guidance, the Pen Arts Building and the Gallery have been able to open and have hosted events under limited capacity guidelines and following all COVID-19 restrictions.
On Sept. 24, 50 young members of the Argentinian community held an educational event and reception for Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, an Argentine economist and mayor of Buenos Aires. Several attendees were architects and were very interested in hearing the history and seeing the architecture of our beautiful Pen Arts Building.
The following night, Art All Night — DC, an annual festival that celebrates visual and performing arts, showcased 16 different corridors in D.C. The festival, which took place in both indoor and outdoor public and private spaces, included painting, photography, sculpture, crafts, fashion, music, dance, theater, film, and poetry.
Pen Arts Gallery was one of 14 venues that took part in Art All Night in Dupont Circle from 6 p.m. to midnight. Local galleries, embassies, and Dupont Circle Park celebrated with visual and performing arts.
COVID protocols were strictly enforced as 333 people visited the Pen Arts Gallery. The exhibit showcased “Feelin’ His Music” watercolor by Susan Lynn Cotton, the first-place Vinnie Ream art competition award winner. Ten other finalist paintings entered into the Vinnie Ream contest were also on display.
Featured as well were the gold and silver medal winning works of art and prose from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, a nonprofit agency cooperating with Scholastic in New York City. Pen Arts Gallery was one of four national venues selected by the organization to exhibit these winning works from the 2021 Scholastic Art & Writing competition. Now in its 98th year, the awards are the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for young artists and writers in grades 7–12.
Rounding out the three-pronged exhibition was art from Olga O’Hagan, a local portrait artist, presenting her work for the first time. Attendees who lingered and studied the diverse exhibit stated that it was one of the best in Dupont Circle.
President Evelyn B. Wofford’s Postscript
Since First Vice President Byrnes was here in September, the League has hosted two other important events in its outstanding Pen Arts building.
In October, the Washington Opera Society presented a masquerade party and performance with Rachel Blaustein, soprano with the New York City Opera; and Michael Butler, tenor from Washington, D.C. The concert was well attended and the costumes and masks were extraordinary. The WOS required that all attendees present proof of vaccination so that COVID masks could be worn at the discretion of the individual and food and beverages could be easily consumed.
In November, the parlor (I still call it the living room) of Pen Arts was the setting for an invitation-only, salon-style presentation by some of the participants in “Aging with Edge,” a project highlighting a paradigm shift from looking young to being timeless. Four of the original 12 participants of the project, all between the ages of 63 and 76 and from different ethnic backgrounds, spoke to their choice of aging on their own terms and engaged in conversation with audience members. It was a lively Sunday afternoon.
How wonderful it is to finally be able to have again such wonderful events!
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Fall 2021
It is hot in Washington, D. C. — I mean Mississippi hot! It’s the kind of heat that takes your breath away when you step outside, which most people right now are reluctant to do.
Since I am from Mississippi and this kind of heat is certainly no stranger to me, I’m trying to make the best of a most uncomfortable situation. I have even been in the flower beds pulling those ever-present weeds. It seems that even intense heat doesn’t dampen their ardor.
The hearty crepe myrtles and althea bush are making a valiant effort to give life to the beds, but most of the other plantings are dull and almost lifeless. They have been sapped by the relentless heat. D.C. was just beginning to emerge from the 14-month restrictions of the pandemic when the second wave hit and restrictions began to resume. Dull and almost lifeless is currently the order of the day.
June was a happy month. Everyone was animated! At Pen Arts, we celebrated 54 new members since January; dues from all but three branches had been submitted; MALs were renewing at a steady rate. For three Saturdays, a nonprofit that supports mental health in the disadvantaged community used the parlor to record interviews with mental health professionals for online distribution.
People smiled and spoke on the sidewalk, in the grocery store. July 4th was a jubilant occasion, but by the end of July, modified COVID-19 restrictions were mandated, and spirits were sagging. The first two weeks of August have offered no relief either from the heat or the doldrums.
My hopes are pinned on September. Applications are beginning to come in for the Mature Women Grants. These grant applications are open until September 30. Such a wonderful opportunity for older women who do not belong to the League! What a wonderful opportunity for our branches to recruit.
Candidates for national office may submit their applications during September. Serving as a national officer is an important contribution to the future of NLAPW.
This edition of The Pen Woman contains calls for entries into the Biennial Competitions. This issue also contains a registration form for those members who have not yet registered for the rescheduled 50th Biennial April 29 – May 1, 2022.
The Pen Arts Gallery is planning to reopen in early September and will feature the 11 finalists from the Vinnie Ream Art Competition, as well as gold and silver medal-winning works of art and prose from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, a nonprofit agency of Scholastic in New York City. These student works are part of the Art. Write. Now. Tour, and Pen Arts is one of four venues chosen from across the country to display a select portion of the work from the 2021 Scholastic Student Art and Writing National Competition. Because of some COVID-19 related issues, the artwork will be displayed as framed prints of the winning pieces. Since expenses of the tour are underwritten by the National Endowment for the Arts, the League will not incur any cost related to this exhibition, and the public will be able to view extraordinary work from very talented young artists and writers.
Also in September, Pen Arts Gallery will again participate in the citywide Art All Night – DC. This engaging activity, which was cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, will occur on September 25 from 7 p.m. to midnight.
All of the activity in September will lead Pen Arts right into October, when the gallery is scheduled to continue its participation in Dupont Circle Main Street First Friday Art Walk and the Washington Opera Society will be hosting a fall fundraiser on October 23. Currently, everything that happens at Pen Arts conforms to COVID restrictions. All guidelines concerning masking and capacity are being followed and will be for as long as necessary.
Hopefully, in the months ahead the restrictions will lessen. In the meantime, Pen Arts will anticipate life beyond the doldrums.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Summer 2021
On May 22, the Hayward (California) Arts Council hosted an online reception to support the fifth annual “Celebrate Women!” NorCal multimedia exhibition, which runs virtually until July 17. The National president of NLAPW was privileged to attend and was reminded once again of the tremendous talent that exists in this phenomenal organization. Following the reception, Pat Doyne of the Diablo-Alameda Branch, one of the five Northern California branches that make up the NorCal Association, wrote to Branch President Winnie Thompson:
“This afternoon’s reception showed the cooperation among five NLAPW branches and among all those Pen Women facilitating videos, speaking, performing, and hosting. It was a benchmark event and will be referenced as an example of what partnership can look like. Cheers!”
Indeed, it was a prime example of the way in which our membership has adapted to the ever-changing landscape of the pandemic and embraced the use of technology, whether it wanted to or not. This president is extremely grateful for all the invitations to join Zoom meetings and to be a participating member of many branches.
It has been heartening to see Pen Women from one coast to the other attending presentations by Pen Women that they may never have otherwise been able to hear. I have no doubt that this sharing will continue even after the pandemic frees us from its social constraints.
Increasing membership continues to be one area of concern among most of the branches. Recently, I have attended several branch meetings that have highlighted activities that can be used to increase awareness of the League and to generate an interest in joining. The national chair for membership development has appointed several subcommittees to address areas of concern. In the past three years, there have been at least 12 articles in our Pen Woman magazines relative to membership.
I wish to highlight some ideas (there were many more than these few) shared at two Zoom meetings that I have attended recently. Wilma Davidson and Diana de Avila of the Sarasota Branch (Florida) shared the following:
- Be sure that your current membership is actively engaged in your branch activities. Energized and active members generate interest in the organization.
- Arm your members with materials that they can distribute about the League and the branch, such as brochures and business cards that include the NLAPW logo.
- Train your membership chair to be a scout in the community and to follow through with member suggestions from other branch members.
- Train your membership to cultivate potential members who can benefit the organization and contribute to the community. Personal contact is still the best means of garnering new members.
- Branches that can afford to give student or community awards have found this to be a very good means of recruitment.
Julie Cohn and Mary Fineman of the Diablo-Alameda Branch shared these ideas:
- Target an age group that may have a particular interest in NLAPW, such as established professionals in the middle-aged and older group, or up-and-coming professionals in the 18-to-35-years age group. This younger group may wish to have mentors or guidance for growing in their field. The established professionals may wish to have an association with like-minded individuals.
- Research sources for potential members — colleges and universities, social media, other organizations.
- Contact potential members by phone or in person. Briefly share what NLAPW is and why you belong.
- Invite potential members to events such as concerts, workshops, exhibits, and certainly to branch meetings. Currently, these may be online.
- Assign branch members in the same or a similar field to follow up with a recruit, explaining the benefits of belonging to the League, offering mentorship if that seems appropriate, and connecting them with opportunities to enhance their career.
Branches across the United States are regularly recruiting new members. I know this to be true because the League has gained 74 new members during the COVID year of 2020. This number is more than in 2019 and certainly shows that “creatives” can be creative regardless of the circumstances.
For the branches that appear to have lost some of their enthusiasm during these COVID months, perhaps some of these suggestions will be an encouragement to begin anew the effort to help our branches grow.
The mission of this organization is “to encourage the production of creative work of professional standard in art, letters, and music; and through outreach activities, provide educational, creative, and professional support to members and nonmembers in these disciplines.” Our purpose is to encourage and support the arts in our communities.
The essence and the heart of the organization reside in the branches and in the individual members-at-large who promote the arts wherever they may be. The National office is an administrative entity that allows the membership across the United States to function. Executive Assistant Lisa DesRochers-Short and I are here to help individual members and branches in any way that we can. Please do not hesitate to contact us with questions, concerns, suggestions, or just to talk.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Spring 2021
Food for Thought
As stated in the League’s bylaws, one of the three responsibilities of the Ethics Board is “to review and evaluate the code of ethics, approve as written or recommend amendments, and publish the adopted document for the membership.”
Recently, the chair of the Ethics Board submitted the following report to the national president:
“Your Ethics Board met in early February, discussed, and approved the code of ethics as written. Although it may not be in the Ethics Committee’s area of responsibility, there were two suggestions that came out of the meeting. One is that there should be an orientation for new members that includes going over the code of ethics. It was suggested also that an annual review of the code of ethics be held during a branch meeting as a reminder of our professionalism. The code of ethics may be found under ‘member resources’ on the national NLAPW website.
—Alice Ann Glenn, chair, Santa Clara Branch
—Barbara Chamberlain and Pat Fisher, Santa Clara Branch
—Jill Adler and Louise Kantro, Modesto Branch”
This report has reminded me of how infrequently the membership of the League reacquaints itself with the League’s governing documents. Many members are unaware that like the code of ethics, the bylaws and standing rules are available to them through the League’s website. There is even an explanation of the difference between bylaws and standing rules, and the bylaws itself explains how the document may be amended.
In recent months, branch presidents have become reacquainted with one such method, thanks to an effort by the presidents of the Hawaii and Des Moines branches to ascertain the degree of support for an amendment that they wished to present.
Hardly a week goes by that the national office does not receive a question about a procedure or process that is addressed in the bylaws. The suggestion by the Ethics Board about reviewing the code of ethics is relevant to the bylaws and standing rules as well. The process may be tedious (we are, after all, creatives with right-brained dominance), but it is a necessary task if members are to understand fully the mission and scope of the League and how it functions as an organization.
It behooves us all to turn on our left brain from time to time and study the principles that govern us. It may be that in these changing times, changes need to be made. It may also be that even in these changing times, our guidelines continue to be viable.
Food for thought.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Winter 2021
A Moment of ‘Thanks’giving
It hardly seems possible that another quarter has come and gone and a magazine article needs to be written. I am sitting at my desk watching a steady rain falling outside and musing on the fact that it’s Nov. 11, Veterans Day, and D.C. has had only two days of cold weather since the beginning of fall. It is 69 degrees, and temperatures have been in the 70s for the last six days. I am certainly not complaining. At Pen Arts, we have not needed heat or air conditioning since the end of August. Utility bills have been wonderfully low. I do love that!
By the time you read these thoughts, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be in the past, and we will be anticipating what the New Year will hold. I consider it a marvelous thing that we cannot see into the future. I would have hated to have known in January 2020 what lay ahead. I am very hopeful that 2021 will bring welcome relief through a vaccine for this dreadful COVID-19.
In thinking about this year that’s coming to an end, I am reminded of the resiliency of this group called Pen Women. No matter what trials have been forced upon us, we have met them head on and are experiencing newfound skills.
Do any of you not know how to attend a Zoom meeting, or more than that, conduct one? And what about virtual art shows, virtual concerts, live-streaming events? Many of you have notified me that you are holding or have held successful virtual art shows. You had to research just how to conduct one and how to sell art through one but you have done so. You have conducted workshops using different technology platforms. You had to learn how to do that.
Many of you are building branch websites. How wonderful! You are still recruiting new members. New applications tapered off for a while, but in recent months, they are being sent to credentials officers again. I am pleased to learn that you are continuing your outreach in spite of the pandemic. Your responsibilities have not stopped, and you have continued to address them.
Having said that, I trust that you will allow me a point of personal privilege. I wish to thank members of the board of directors, the editorial staff of The Pen Woman, the website manager, and the credentials officers, those who served during my first administration and those serving now, for their untiring work for the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. The board has not had an onsite meeting since October 2019 (thank goodness for Zoom) because of the pandemic, but the work of the members has continued nonetheless.
The three arts chairs have been deeply engaged in the competitions of their past term in office and those for their second term. Deadlines have had to be decided and rules tweaked. The chairs are continuing to engage with past winners so that we can honor them at the 50th Biennial, postponed until April 30-May 3, 2021. They are still involved with planning for the luncheons or receptions for 2021 while preparing for the 51st Biennial in 2022.
The publications chair has been feverishly preparing to reopen Pen Women Press while overseeing all aspects of the League’s publications. She works very closely with the editor of The Pen Woman and other members of its editorial staff, who produce the wonderful magazine each quarter.
Other board members are hosting Zoom meetings for members-at-large and other Pen Women interested in interactions across the United States. Credentials officers have in the past and continue to promptly evaluate applications and work with membership chairs when necessary to assure that new members meet the requirements for the different classifications of membership.
All of these women have active lives beyond their work at the national level. Many (most) of them hold office in their branches. All are very active in their branches, and all are engaged in their creative professions. They are very busy people, yet they make themselves available for virtual meetings or phone conversations with this president and with each other as they attend to the business of the League.
I am very grateful to all of these women who are working diligently to assure that NLAPW continues to be the wonderful organization that it is.
I could not function in my position if I did not have such capable help. Thank you all very much for everything that you do. Thank you also, readers of these musings, for indulging me in this expression of appreciation.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Fall 2020
Thoughts on the Times
In the article that I wrote for the 2020 summer issue of this magazine, I alluded to the difficult times in which we are living and indicated that my survival these past five months has depended on the ability to focus on day-to-day, month-to-month successes. I have focused on the positives because there is no point in doing otherwise. The positives that I share today have surfaced fairly randomly.
Very recently, I had the privilege of attending a joint meeting of the Diablo-Alameda and Santa Clara County, California, branches, via Zoom. Information concerning this meeting is highlighted elsewhere in the magazine, but I want to emphasize for you the daring step that these two branches took to discuss with two of their members — both women of color and one an immigrant — the subject of racism. A week after the meeting, Julie Cohn, the Zoom host and moderator, shared with me in a letter her feelings and her understanding of what had occurred. I cite for you some of what she said:
“We took a leap of faith to open an envelope that could have been shut tight with a strong, forbidding glue. The stage was set for what was to become an evening of deep soul-searching and compassionate listening. What was so revealing and so difficult to share and to hear were the heart-wrenching stories of all who witnessed and experienced prejudice firsthand in America. Not a single person raised during the time of segregation was barred from the effects, no matter the skin color. However, there was a clear understanding that those with skin color other than white have endured the biggest and most barbaric brunt of racism. We are here as sisters standing solidly, and united to show up and speak up when and where it is needed.”
This meeting was a definite positive to be celebrated.
A second positive experience was a conversation I was engaged in with a young lady who has been living at Pen Arts since just before the pandemic struck. Paula Kaufman is a teacher, writer, and painter who will at some point become a Pen Woman. We were discussing how COVID-19 and the protests that have occurred since May have converged on this city and how this convergence has affected not only those of us who are living at Pen Arts but everyone in the city. I asked her if she would write down some of what we had discussed so that I could share with the readers of our magazine exactly how she as a young person has responded to these unsettling times and her reflections on the situation.
The following is some of what she wrote:
“Pandemic means ‘pertaining to all people.’ Pan, from the word all, and demos, meaning people. For the first time, we are face-to-face with ourselves and each other over this shared calamity. Both isolated and connected at once.
“During this time I have changed in three ways:
1. Health. I am bravely facing health challenges and seeking help from others, instead of attempting the impossible alone.
2. Empathy. It took a pandemic for me to appreciate essential workers. Now, I thank them all each day. I tell every postal worker I see, ‘I appreciate you.’ Grocery store clerks. Someone in scrubs. ‘Thank you for being an essential worker.’ I carry extra unopened healthy, soft, easily chewable foods in my backpack wherever I go. I give them to houseless people I meet.
3. Antiracism. This is a term I learned this winter. I read that it is not enough to ‘not be racist.’ This is passive. Conversely, the term anti-racist is active. It is applying a true action to a thought and creating real change. It is connecting our inside thoughts with an outward vision.
“As we move forward, we must become comfortable with the uncomfortable. We must be willing to change. We must be welcoming wherever we are. Our groups must reflect the entire arts community. We must have diversity of races and ages.
“After times of trauma, there is a long healing process, and then, if we are lucky, a moment of grace. My hope is that we will rise through shared trauma with a common shared vision. We can only arrive there together.”
From Washington, D. C., to California, from the young to the not so young, the message is the same. Ironically even some of the same words have been used. The message speaks for itself. From the inception of this organization Pen Women have been in the forefront of advocacy for themselves and for others. May this heritage continue. Be safe; be strong; be united.
Letter from the National President Evelyn Wofford, Summer 2020
Two years ago, as I wrote the first article of my new administration, I was bemoaning the fact that our lives can become cluttered and overrun with impediments, just like gardens can be cluttered with debris and weeds. As I again write the first article of a new administration, I am confronted by a reality unlike any that we, as a world, have seen before, a world filled with major impediments — cluttered with societal debris of every ilk.
What to do? How to react? Where to start? I am a simple person with simple ideas. My survival depends on my ability to take one day at a time. Pull one weed, then another. At the end of the day, celebrate small successes. Successes make me feel better about unsettling circumstances, so that is where I am starting today. I am reflecting on the many successes that the League has achieved over the past two years.
Early in my past administration, a transformation began to take place in the large basement space that for many years held the office of a D.C. architect. Thanks to the hard work of local artist and handyman extraordinaire Timoteo Murphy, by September 2018 that space had opened to the public for the Dupont Circle First Friday Art Walk as the Pen Arts Gallery.
Paintings and photographs were taken from storage and from some of the walls on the second and third floors of Pen Arts and displayed in the new gallery space. In the months that followed, the gallery evolved to include art acquired from Pen Women artists and other artists in the D.C. area, as well as live musical performances and workshops on writing, art, and healthy living, to name a few.
Attendance grew with each First Friday event. During the League’s second participation in the Art All Night – DC program, the clicker counted over 650 people visiting the gallery.
The transformation of the space has continued with the replacement of the legacy lighting with professional gallery lighting, installed by Dean Griffin, husband of our national art chair, Mary Lou.
The gallery is not the only part of the building that has been an attraction. Our beautiful parlor, with its refurbished grand piano, has hosted numerous, well-attended concerts, from classical to jazz and contemporary, as well as lectures on a myriad of topics.
Even during the pandemic, Pen Arts has provided a setting for the live streaming of performances by local artists, following all the necessary and rigid COVID-19 protocols imposed by the D.C. government. By the time that you read this article, it is the hope of the national board that the Biennial art show will have been hung, judged, and opened to the public following new protocols for public viewing.
Another of the successes that has been particularly gratifying is the number of new members who have joined NLAPW during the last two years. Third vice president Bev Goldie, working as membership chair, and the League’s credential chairs have been very diligent in responding to branch questions and in processing applications. Between May 1, 2018, and May 1, 2020, 220 new members have become a part of our wonderful organization.
As I have noted earlier, branches that are active in their communities and have outreach and recruitment programs seem to be the branches that are attracting significant numbers of members to the League. We also have had a number of new members-at-large joining the organization.
It goes without saying that the McGrath Family Trust donation of $25,000 to the League, which allowed us to raise matching funds, was extremely successful. League members and nonmembers donated $25,241.98 in matching funds, resulting in a $50,241.98 addition to League income during this two-year period. As per stipulations in the board’s long-range plan, some of these funds have been used to purchase sound equipment for the Pen Arts building to enhance the quality of future performances.
Perhaps the biggest success of all is that the Council of the District of Columbia has passed D.C. Act 23-257, which became D.C. Law 23-89 on May 6, 2020, providing real property tax relief to the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. for its property located at 1300 17th Street NW for as long as the League is the owner and operator of the property, and the property is used for the purposes and activities of NLAPW. (See the Act document.)
This tax exemption is retroactive to Oct. 1, 2016. Many administrations of the League have attempted to gain this type of tax relief. This administration has worked diligently and arduously for 20 months in its attempt. I am terrifically proud of this accomplishment.
Many other successes could have been stated, but these are perhaps the most salient. In an attempt to “accentuate the positive,” I have chosen not to address the disappointments and frustrations of the last five months, not the least of which has been the postponement of our 50th Biennial for the second time due to COVID-19.
Even this impediment for our board members and Biennial Committee has been offset by a success in that we have been able to renegotiate the contract with The Darcy hotel for April 30 to May 3, 2021, and almost all of the registrants have indicated a willingness to roll over their registration fee and attend the Biennial at that time. Our speakers and workshop presenters are arranging to be present as well. What gratification for all the hard work of the Biennial Committee and its chair, Sheila Byrnes!
We all need the fellowship and renewal that our biennials afford, and I am extremely glad that we have not had to cancel this event.
How am I going to react to these extraordinarily trying times? By tackling one weed at a time and celebrating the success of the extrication.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Spring 2020
For Everything, There Is a Season
In the fall issue of this magazine, you learned of the extreme effort that was being made with the D. C. Council to obtain relief from the annual property taxes that have been imposed on the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. for its headquarters building and the land on which it is located.
It is with a heart full of gratitude for open minds and sympathetic/empathetic listeners who understood and identified with our cause that I share with you the wonderful news: The D. C. Council has passed, and Mayor Muriel Bowser has signed, a bill providing real-property tax relief for our headquarters building and grounds for as long as the League owns and operates the property in accordance with its mission.
The bill passed its final reading with a unanimous vote on March 3, and the mayor signed it on March 17. It is retroactive to October 1, 2016. It has taken 18 months of effort and determination, but with the help of a wonderful D. C. attorney, Kevin Stogner, the effort has had a positive ending. Your president is ecstatic!
By the time that you are reading this, our 50th Biennial will have been postponed from its original April 24 through 26 dates to the new dates of June 26 through 28. June is a beautiful month in D.C., and the board is hoping beyond hope that by mid June, the coronavirus mandates will have been lifted.
The Darcy has been wonderful in working with the League to accommodate the postponement. The dates work well for members of the board also, since that will be the month for its regular meeting. Thank you for your understanding of the circumstances in which we have been working. We are all going through unprecedented and very trying times, but as always, positive attitudes are key. If you have not already done so, please make your plans to attend this important 50th Biennial of our League.
On a very sad note, it is with deep regret that I must report that our very dear and longtime advocate and benefactor, James McGrath, died on March 3 from complications resulting from a massive heart attack and bypass surgery. His contributions to and on behalf of the League were many, and he is already sorely missed. It upsets me very much that he did not live long enough to know that the League has finally obtained the tax relief that he had sought on our behalf for many years. I am glad that he knew that we had exceeded the $25,000 grant match undertaken when we received the funds from the McGrath Family Trust in honor of Angeline Nanni. He was a true friend to NLAPW and to me.
On a note that iterates the lasting memorial of Jim, the director of First Friday Dupont has contacted me with a request to live stream a piano performance from our beautiful parlor on the first Friday in April. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings of more than five people and the need for social distancing, First Friday cannot take place as usual. Live streaming has become a means of ameliorating social isolation, and because of our wonderfully restored piano, we are able to connect with Jim’s beloved Dupont Circle community in a unique and most meaningful way.
Our lives today may be totally out of kilter, but we can remain positive in our attitudes and in our relationships with others. No matter our personal, political, or religious perspectives, we are all in this together. The League’s motto, “All for One and One For All,” remains relevant and strong. Stay safe.
Today is a beautiful day. I think I will go pull up a few weeds.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Winter 2020
This and That, Continued
As I am writing this, it is November and Thanksgiving is a week away. It has been very cold in D.C., but as yet it has not snowed. How grateful I am for that fact!
Mind you, I really like a nice snow event at my home in Mississippi. The landscape is covered in white, and a perfect stillness dominates the woods surrounding the house. It is beautiful and peaceful. Not so in D.C.
Activity stops because D.C. can’t handle snow any better than the state of Mississippi can but the angst caused by this shutdown is palpable. Citizens want to be out and about. Snow-covered streets rapidly become icy masses of slush as vehicles insist on plowing through the serene landscape. Sidewalks suffer a similar fate as pedestrians plow through as well with remarkable determination. But I digress. It is cold and it has not snowed — yet.
Right now, I have very pleasant memories and renewed energy from my recent visit to Daytona Beach, Florida, where I attended the biennial conference of the Florida State Association of NLAPW. The conference was beautifully organized and featured very interesting and exciting workshops and programs. At least one of the presentations is making its way to the National Biennial in April in D.C.
It was such a pleasure to renew acquaintances with Florida Pen Women whom I have met during my five years on the national board and to make acquaintances with many more enthusiastic and talented Florida Pen Women. The art show was among the best I have ever attended.
While in Florida, I shared a number of positives from National. I am very glad to report that we have exceeded our $25,000 matching fund goal. To date, we have received $25,241.98. Board of Directors members contributed more than $10,000. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this major fundraising effort. The League has already begun to address some of the targeted areas for use of these funds.
Since May 1, 2018, we have gained 210 new members and are receiving new applications regularly. We are also continuing to renew memberships that have lapsed. For the first time in a very long time, we are gaining more members than we are losing. A big shoutout to all the branches and individuals who are responsible for this increase. It seems that branches that are an integral and active part of their community are the branches that are growing.
The Pen Arts Building continues to host events for other nonprofits, community organizations, and individuals. We even had a baby shower in October. How very special that was!
First Friday Art walks are well attended, and Art All Night-DC attracted over 650 participants this year. Several musical events are on the schedule for December and January. Our national headquarters wants very much to be an active participant in our neighborhood.
There has been no word yet on the appeal for a legislative property tax abatement. It appears that it will be January before any decision is made, and more visits to the John A. Wilson Building (D.C. city hall) may be necessary. The Board of Directors is standing firm with the president in this pursuit. We are determined! It is my hope that the 50th Biennial will be a celebration not only of the League’s longevity, but its relief from an oppressive tax burden as well.
Please take note of all the information about the Biennial that is published in this issue of our magazine. The Biennial chair and her committee have been working to make this 50th a very special occasion. I encourage each of you to make every effort to attend.
I also encourage you to cast your affirmative vote for the candidates running for office in 2020-‘22 and for the important amendment to our bylaws. I thank the nominating committee for their work in selecting nominees for these elected positions.
In closing, I would like to refer again to the Florida State Conference. The theme was “Sands of Time: Preserving the Past; Moving to the Future.” Isn’t that what this League should always be about?
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Fall 2019
This and That
Well, here we go again. I can hardly believe that by the time you receive this magazine, I will have survived (hopefully) my second insufferably hot and humid D.C. summer.
To all the people who have asked, “How in the world are you handling the heat?” My response is, “I am from Mississippi, and while I dislike the heat almost as much as I dislike weeds, I certainly am no stranger to it.”
In fact, in thinking about life in Mississippi, I have realized that my experiences there have had a tremendous impact on my ability to perform all the tasks that have fallen to me this past year. I will mention one task in particular simply because it has been all consuming since February.
Last fall, I shared with you the unbelievable increase in the League’s property tax bill and mentioned that the action taken by the taxing authority was being challenged on several levels. Little did I know at the time just how challenging the challenges would become.
Your president decided that she would tackle the problem by seeking a legislative tax abatement from the D.C. Council, an administrative tax abatement from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, or both. To this end, she has prepared and submitted reams of documents to both entities. Copies of the materials are 5 inches thick. She has testified at five hearings of committees central to the tax issue, met with nine council members or their staff (there are 13 council members) and with six members of the Office of Tax and Revenue, and engaged in numerous conversations with the deputy chief financial officer.
Additionally, she has met with numerous Dupont Circle neighborhood associations to solicit support for the tax abatement. She has at least two more appointments to meet with council members and one more hearing before a decision is rendered. The effort has been delayed by the two-month summer recess that the council takes from the middle of July until the middle of September, and September will mark the one-year anniversary of this undertaking.
Back to my Mississippi experience. I was alderperson-at-large and vice mayor of the City of Drew for 12 years. Drew is a very small town, but “politics” is “politics” regardless of the size of the government. I was also a school district administrator for more years than I care to admit. Politics knows no boundaries.
Without all of those years of experience in government and administration and without the aid of a very knowledgeable D.C. attorney with a background in D.C. government, I would not have been able to address this major problem for our League. No one can know how the issue will be resolved, but a valiant effort has been and is being made for a positive resolution.
In other matters, Pen Arts continues to host area artists in the Gallery and in the salon. On April 5, pianist and vocalist Amy Bormet collaborated with internationally acclaimed saxophonist Biggie Vinkeloe to please visitors at the First Friday event. D.C. violinist Kimberly Galva and pianist Anton Martinez performed the April 27 evening concert following the April Board of Directors meeting; and our wonderful composer, pianist, and vocalist Kathy Pate performed the June 22 evening board concert. The Gallery will again participate in the September Art All Night D.C. program that was so well attended last year.
Our beautiful building also has had numerous visitors during the summer months. We open Pen Arts each weekday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. for tourists and neighbors to experience our art and architecture, and all who come in are amazed and appreciative.
The Board of Directors members continue to work diligently in their respective positions and all are in regular attendance at the League’s board meetings. The art, letters, and music chairs are particularly busy right now with all the competitions that are open or soon will be. Please take advantage of the Vinnie Ream and the Biennial competitions. We have some new things happening this year.
Our third vice president has had a busy year as well, as she has shouldered the responsibility of a membership chair. In fact, board members are all performing double or triple duties this year, and we still do not have a publications chair. This crisis in leadership at the national and at the local level has not gone away. As an organization, we need to address this “weed.” We all lead busy lives. Our work and families can be all-consuming, but I firmly believe that leaders reside among the many members of NLAPW. Maybe a little soul searching is in order.
One last item relative to the fiduciary responsibilities of the Board of Directors is the matter of the amendment to the bylaws that has been proposed by the Governance Committee and approved by the board for consideration by the membership. The recommendation for approval is reasonable and fiscally responsible. It has the endorsement of the Finance and Budget Committee.
An annual audit is a tremendous expense to the League, and an audit one year with a review the next assures that every administration will undergo a full audit, but will have a lesser expense over the two-year period. Even if the cost of the review is as much as half the cost of the audit, the League will save a large amount of money. Please vote to approve this amendment. The ballot will be in the next issue of the magazine, Winter 2020.
A closing thought. Someone recently said to me, “If you really need to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.” Think about it.
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Summer 2019
The Talent Among Us
Every once in a while a person hears something or reads something that makes a particular impression because of the succinct and powerful manner in which its truth is expressed.
The Reverend Robin Johnson Moscati, the League’s fourth vice president who also holds the position of chaplain, delivers an inspiration before each Board of Directors’ meeting, and each is truly inspirational.
I have chosen in this article to share the words that were given by The Reverend Moscati before the April 27, 2019, board meeting. I trust that they will be an inspiration to each of you as they were to the board’s members.
Something that is becoming more frequent in our techno-savvy culture is the electronic signature. I need to sign for debit or credit sales on a pad or a square with a pretend pen with no ink. My check-in at the hospital for X-rays or blood work includes a hand scan machine, which is a cross between a kindergarten-type outline and an airport body scan. I am told it reads the blood vessels in my hand, meaning that my fingerprints are passe.
I, however, do not agree that my fingerprints are irrelevant. I happen to like the fact that no one has MY fingerprints. It reminds me of what I know of snowflakes: No two are alike. Not alike, but all the same, especially when creating a snow angel or a snowman, or cleaning the driveway.
Is that how our Maker sees us? Each one is special and individual, yet all are of one type. As children, many of us sang, “Red and yellow, black and white — all are special in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.”
To that, we can add the artistic variations: tan, brown, copper, almond, ebony, ecru, bronze, beige, olive, ruddy, ivory, and even freckled. The Almighty is the creative painter with the eternal pallet.
Likewise, the Spirit of a sculpture adds texture to our worldly lives. Not one of us is the same body type unless we have an identical twin. Even twins have different voice patterns and fingerprints. Imagine the meticulous attention to detail by our voice composer and skin sculptor to make sure that every single one of us has our own identity, our own specialness.
A fingerprint can now log-in to a smartphone or can link files to names and addresses. If Ancestry.com develops a fingerprint log-on, it will connect us to our cyber DNA, family trees, and ethnic genealogy.
I prefer to look for an artist’s fingerprints on statuary and within artistic expressions, rather than ponder who knows what about whom in the electronic cloud. Books have been written about “God moments,” which I prefer to call “God’s fingerprints.”
What I mean is, I marvel at evidence and glimpses of divine influence in our daily lives that appear to have been put there by the Maker. When some will credit coincidence or karma or zodiac alignments, I thank God for reminding me of God’s presence in the world and in my life.
Each of us has God’s fingerprints upon us and we are signed works of art. The Artist stands back from time to time to admire how wonderfully and beautifully made we are. Sometimes a bit of tweaking can take place, but overall we are knitted together perfectly from the moment of creation. That signed piece of art, finely written poem, and original soundtrack is you; it is me; it is each and every one of us.
“I will put my law in their minds and will write it on their hearts, I will be their God and they will be my people.” —Jeremiah 31:33
Holy One, thank you for giving us art and words and music to express our inner specialness. We pray that our expressions will not only bring us pride, but will also give you glory for the individual gifts that we have been given. Our blessings have your glorious fingerprints and traces of the Divine are always present in our minds, in our hearts, and in our talents.
—The Reverend Robin Johnson Moscati
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Spring 2019
The Mission Continues
One of the privileges and pleasures of being the national president is being able to visit our branches. Since taking office in May, I have been a visitor at meetings of the Chevy Chase, D.C., and Alexandria branches here in the D.C. area; and, very recently, meetings of Santa Clara County and Diablo-Alameda branches in California. What a treat it has been to meet wonderfully talented women who are at work promoting the mission and values of our League!
Among the things that I have noticed consistently in my visits are emphases on outreach, membership recruitment, and exposure to the League itself. In most instances, outreach is accomplished in the form of services to community agencies, especially schools, and scholarship and award opportunities. Membership recruitment is often intertwined with outreach and exposure to a branch. I observed two wonderful examples in California.
The Santa Clara County Branch “Celebrity Luncheon,” which takes place on the first Saturday of February each year, is both a fundraising activity for scholarship monies and a recruitment tool for new members. The luncheon honors women in the county who have achieved professionalism in the arts.
Most frequently, these women are not Pen Women but because of their accomplishments, they are eligible for membership and become members of the Santa Clara County Branch. This luncheon also features a silent auction and raffle during which funds are raised for the annual student scholarship awards.
The program gives awards of $1,000 in the categories of art, music, and writing. By supporting students in the arts, the branch is laying the groundwork for lifelong involvement in the arts and future active membership in NLAPW. It also encourages student membership.
Another form of outreach and exposure to the League that I witnessed was the marvelous art show titled “Celebrate Women,” featuring works by members of the NorCal Branches of NLAPW. It ran Dec. 13 through March 1 in the John O’Lague Galleria, located in the Hayward City Hall and sponsored by the Hayward Arts Council. What a nice way to introduce our organization to a very diverse audience!
I know that branches across the United States are engaged in similar activities, and our national membership needs to be aware of them as examples to applaud and emulate. I have highlighted these branches because I saw in action the types of outreach that were outlined in Gail Speckmann’s article in the Winter 2019 issue of The Pen Woman. Please continue to let us know what is going on in your branch or area.
In other matters of national interest, Pen Arts continues to host events to expand its outreach and exposure to the community and its members.
• On Feb. 3, Swap DC attracted over 350 people interested in swapping their “stuff” for someone else’s “stuff.”
• On Feb. 10, a totally different crowd enjoyed our beautiful building when members of the Washington Opera Society hosted a pre-spring fundraising event. This gala affair featuring tenor Jesus Hernandez and pianist Barbara Wilkinson drew over 70 attendees.
• March will feature at least one jazz event.
• First Friday Art Walks continue.
• Three workshops are planned for May and early June.
Visit our website at nlapw.org/events to see some of the regular events.
We continue to make our presence felt in Washington, D.C., just as all of you are doing in your respective locations. Outreach at every level requires energy and hard work. I am extraordinarily glad that Pen Women understand what is required and continue to encourage, recognize, and promote the production of creative work of professional standard in art, letters, and music.
— Evelyn Wofford
P.S. I returned to D.C. from California totally energized by the very active Pen Women in NorCal. Would anyone else like a visit from the president?
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Winter 2019
The League Is on the Move
I am sitting in my office wondering what I can complain about this go-round. Freezing temperatures have pretty much eliminated the actual weeds that I have been fighting, so I guess I am good to go on that front. The weather? Well, it is cold. Snow, sleet, and freezing rain are in the forecast.
Mind you, my home state of Mississippi has already had snow, sleet, and freezing rain, so I can’t very well rant about this terrible northern weather happening before the middle of November. Maintenance issues and administrative tasks, while still posing challenges, are for the most part being handled routinely. So… complaints are out, positives are in.
Pen Arts is a busy place! The first Saturday of each month, the D.C. Branch hosts its meetings here and has been opening its programs to the public. The second Saturday of the month, the General Federated Women’s Club-DC meets here. The members are interested in partnering with NLAPW in some community projects.
For the past three months, our Pen Arts Gallery has been open to the public for the DuPont Circle First Friday Art Walk. Attendance is growing. On Sept. 29, the gallery participated in the D.C. Art All Night event, with 480 people visiting. Writing and art workshops conducted by young women from the D.C. area have been offered to interested community participants every other Saturday since September. Janea West, director of operations and events, is doing a fine job advertising NLAPW and Pen Arts.
Board week was particularly busy. On the Saturday before the board meeting, Pen Arts began to welcome Pen Women who were coming in to attend Smithsonian instructor Lauren Kingsland’s workshop, Design Your Day, which took place Sunday, Oct. 14. She led the participants in creating an individual quilt-for-the-hand, designed to elicit peacefulness, contemplation, and mindfulness. It was an extraordinary workshop.
During the week as board members arrived, they set about performing needed tasks at Pen Arts and participating in committee meetings. The board meeting on Saturday went extremely well, with only two members unable to attend. In the evening, board members and the public were treated to a delightful musical performance of Appalachian folk songs by National Treasurer Barbara Nunes, who sang and accompanied herself on the dulcimer.
Among actions taken by the board were the amendment of the League’s long-range plan and the decision to begin fundraising activities to match the McGrath Family Trust donation. My firm hope is that by the time members are reading this article, the League is well on its way to the $25,000 match.
Other important positives of note:
• Our webinar offerings are being accessed and are bringing in much needed revenue. If any of you would like to record a webinar to add to our library, please contact Candace Long at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Jamie Tate continues to accept proposals for workshops to be hosted at Pen Arts. Please contact her at email@example.com or 662.822.1491.
• Booz Allen Hamilton has added NLAPW to its Log Volunteer Hours Program thanks to a nomination by Carlton Reid, who is an employee of the firm, the husband of D.C. Branch President Grace Reid, and the son of former NLAPW National President Dr. Bernice Reid. This opportunity will be a major resource for the League, and plans are being formulated to effectively access this asset.
• New membership is occurring in a number of branches, and former members are renewing their membership under the new guidelines that were adopted this year.
I cannot deny that the League still faces difficulties. New membership has not yet offset the losses that have occurred over the past several years. Offices at the national level are still unfilled. Tax problems remain. Negatives to be sure, but the League is on the move.
We are making a difference in all the areas where branches and members-at-large are located. We are not, like those weeds, withering on the vine.
Did I mention that it is cold up here?
Letter from the National President Evelyn B. Wofford, Fall 2018
Cleaning the Garden — Still
Just so there is no misunderstanding, I abhor, despise, and detest weeds, and I hate all the physical activities necessary for their eradication. I began my tenure as president ridding the gardens at Pen Arts of weeds, and I am still trying to ride herd on the pesky little devils.
Many maintenance tasks befall the president of NLAPW, and having been on the board for the past four years, I was very much aware of what lay before me. Unfazed, I have tackled the issues as I would if I were handling them at my own home.
I have cleaned or replaced air conditioner filters (12 thus far); tackled drainage, plumbing, electrical, and appliance issues; made sure that the refrigerators were operating properly and were clean (all three of them); washed and folded bed linens and towels after the departure of guests; cleaned bathrooms (there are nine of them); dusted, vacuumed, swept, mopped as required (the two- or three-person cleaning crew works three hours a month, and this building has 21 rooms).
Maintenance issues I can handle — but these weeds.
Certainly, administrative tasks fall under the purview of the president. After all, administration is what the presidency is all about, isn’t it? How wonderful to be able to talk to League members, to officers of branches to address questions, to offer aid when problems arise or congratulatory remarks for achievements, to interact with board members as plans for the League are made! How important to see that policies and procedures are followed, a functioning filing system and database are in place, regular office hours are established, financial checks and balances are established, national board members understand and accept the responsibility of serving at the national level, and officers at the branch level understand and accept their responsibilities as well!
Administrative tasks I truly enjoy — but these weeds.
So why am I subjecting myself to the heat and humidity of this oppressive Washington summer? Because first appearances make a difference.
The first thing that a visitor sees when approaching the Pen Arts building is the garden area. I want a visitor to notice the deep-red blossoms of the crepe myrtles and the bright purple of the althea blooms, the sunny yellow flowers of the daylilies, which are struggling to maintain an appearance, and the purple spikes of the monkey grass border that fronts the beds. The weeds have to go so the garden can make its statement.
Pen Arts and NLAPW through its Board of Directors are making a statement as well. Numerous guests have visited these past several months, welcomed in most cases by the League’s charming Presidential Assistant and Director of Operations and Events Janea West.
The June board meeting was well attended and board members immersed themselves in the business of directing a nonprofit corporation. They studied the bylaws and standing rules of the League; familiarized themselves with policies and procedures; looked carefully at the League’s financial condition; and discussed very seriously how the League can address its mission of providing educational, creative, and professional support to members and nonmembers in the disciplines of art, letters, and music.
Among the actions that have been taken by the board are a revival of the League’s webinar and workshop initiatives for professional development and creative inspiration, opening Pen Arts for neighborhood events and tours, and promoting the fact that members and their families can stay at Pen Arts for a very reasonable fee while they visit Washington and can even stay for free if they perform assigned tasks for the League.
Webinars and workshops are already being advertised, and Pen Arts has hosted two musical events. On the evening of June 23 following the board meeting, the board and many local attendees were treated to a musical concert by pianist Grace Reid, violinist Simone Shuffet, and cellist Romain Olivier Gray. On Saturday afternoon, Aug. 4, neighbors were treated to a piano performance by Cameron Fuhrman, a doctoral student in piano performance at Eastman School of Music.
On Sept. 1, Pen Arts was the venue for a reception given by friends and relatives of centenarian and World War II code breaker Angeline Nanni, celebrating her birthday and honoring her accomplishments. On Sept. 7, our newly renovated gallery space will be open to the public as part of the Dupont Circle First Friday Art Walk.
The flower that is our organization continues its struggle against the weeds that seem determined to asphyxiate it. There is a crisis of leadership at the branch and at the national level. An issue that has been raised by branch presidents is that it is difficult for them to find members willing to serve as an officer.
At the national level, several key offices remain unfilled. While applications for new members continue to be submitted, renewals of membership continue to decline. While cost-cutting measures have been severe, expenses for goods and services continue to increase.
And then there are the big surprises. In March, the League received a property tax bill for the tax year Oct. 1, 2017, through Sept. 30, 2018, in the amount of $32,632.16 — of which half was due and paid in March and the second half to be paid in September. On Aug. 14, the League received a revised property tax bill (prompted by an earlier inspection of the premises) for the same tax year of $49,275.40 due in its entirety by Sept. 15. Of course, this action is being challenged on several levels — but a major WEED.
One final weed that I will mention is negativism. I am not a Pollyanna, but I do believe that most hardships (read “weeds”) can be overcome by hard work, courage (out of absolute necessity the Board of Directors has voted to increase dues for next year by 42 cents per month — that is $5), and a positive attitude. I trust that all of the members of the National League of American Pen Women, Inc. believe in this organization as strongly as this administration does.
— Evelyn Wofford