Here we are at the final weekend of the 2014 Chautauqua season. Chautauquans have been returning to their communities for a couple of weeks now as school begins for children, college for young adults, artistic seasons resume for conservatories, theaters and symphonies; in short, life resumes.
For my final column this season, I am going to clear off the table and pour out the bag of spare parts I’ve collected.
In his 1921 history of Chautauqua Institution, The Story of Chautauqua, Methodist clergyman and Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle leader Jesse Lyman Hurlbut wrote of the “Chautauqua Idea”: “education for everybody, everywhere, and in every department of knowledge, inspired by a Christian faith.”
Jack Voelker wipes the dirt off his hands onto his already dirt-stained jeans. He cleans his glasses with his black Buffalo Beer Week T-shirt and thrusts those same soiled hands into his frayed pockets. Leaning back, he looks up at his hundreds of healthy hop bines stretching toward the sky. He removes his white Chautauqua tennis hat and takes a hand out of his pocket to comb back his hair.
It may be the end of another season for Chautauqua, but for the Institution’s senior administrative staff, it’s just the beginning of nine months spent brainstorming, planning and programming for summer 2015.
For the past three years Chautauquans have been hearing about the $33 million Amphitheater renovation project, the largest public works project ever proposed for the Institution. The Amp project is the centerpiece of Chautauqua’s six-year Promise Campaign.
After 13 years at Chautauqua Institution, accommodations manager Myra Peterson plans to retire following the 2014 season.
Edith and Steve Benson’s Chautauqua cottage sits at 19 Wiley, surrounded by an aged picket fence. Pushing open the gate, walking under the arched trellis draped in akebia and along a short curved stone walkway dripping with yellow roses, blue Russian Sage and the hardy remnant of a purple clematis up to the Benson’s porch is akin to visiting a home from a bygone era.
The 1899 Chautauqua season lasted 60 days, the most since the Assembly’s beginning in 1874. It was the end of the 19th century. In an article titled “The New Chautauqua” John Heyl Vincent, Chautauqua co-founder, reflected on the first Assembly.
Yellow is the color of Chautauqua. When I think of what’s familiar about Chautauqua, I think about yellow.