THE/ARTS: When Charly Jupiter Hamilton channeled hippo hearts & Shakespeare


1) EDITORS/NOTE: It’s a character thing
2) ART/WORKS: Charly Jupiter Hamilton speaks for himself
3) ART/WORKS: The art of Public Art and artistic coffins
4) ART/WORKS: Hippo hearts & Shakespeare meet in West Virginia
5) LISTEN/IN: Michael and Carrie Nobel Kline on the Art & Craft of Listening
6) REVIEW: Considering the Life & Times of Dorothy Parker
7) THE/PAST: When Eugene Debs was locked in WV’s pen for speechifying

Photo by Chris Stenger on Unsplash

It’s a Hippopotamus Thing

By Hannah Epstein

My favorite memory of Charly is from a Footmad Fall Festival that took place at the Gandeeville 4-H Grounds. As usual, I was hanging out with a gang of kids in the basement. I think Charly had brought some art supplies and we were playing and arting in a small side room. Somehow, the subject of the meaning of 4-H came up. Now, I’m not sure whether he had prepared this story in advance or if he told it on the fly, but here is the origin story of 4-H, as I remember it, told by Charly:

CHARLY HAMILTON: “Way, way back in ancient Egypt, around the time that people were inventing agriculture — that’s farming (in case you don’t know that word yet) — people in the Nile River Delta would hunt hippopotamuses. Now, hippos are BIG animals, really big. It took all the available hunters in the tribe to catch and kill a hippo. But then once it was dead they still had to cut it up and cook it and make sure that the meat didn’t go to waste. For that part, the whole tribe would get together and work. Some people would cut up the hippo. Some people would wash the meat. Some people would cook. Some people would carry meat. The whole time people would sing and dance and laugh. And they would always sing the same song and that song contains the true meaning of 4-H. Who wants to hear the song?”

(All the kids jump around raising their hands and yelling “MEEEE!! ME! ME!” The song was set to a sort of classic Conga beat)

“Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
So the tribe won’t fall apart!

“Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
Your mama is a Cairo tart!

“Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
Help heap hippopotamus hearts,
Watch out for the poison darts.”

This song went on for a while. We eventually joined in. Then, a conga line formed, and we danced around singing for what seemed like forever. That was Charly to the kids that knew him. I see that exuberance in his work and I’m so glad I have a small piece of his art in my kitchen, to watch over me and remind me to sing, dance, make art, and laugh even when things suck.

Having traded beans and cornbread for beans and tortillas, Hannah Epstein has lived in Albuquerque, NM for the same number of years she lived in WV. After completing an MA in Philosophy at UNM, she now works for her alma mater and enjoys gardening, hiking, collage, writing, butchering, and serving on the advisory board of KUNM. You can find Hannah on Instagram @4thbasefarm and sometimes on the blog

‘We can make something of ourselves …’

Photo from excerpt of HBO movie “Our Towns.”

The mystique of Charly Jupiter Hamilton’s work and the ebullience of his artistic passions cast a spell far beyond the confines of West Virginia. Renowned journalist James Fallow included a short video profile of Charly in his and his wife Deb’s HBO movie “Our Towns.” Fallows’ blog recently noted Charly’s death at age 73, including the following memorium.

By James Fallows | from ‘Breaking the News‘ september22.2021

If you watch the 51-second clip (at this link), you will see Charly in the way I will remember him: reading a passage from Shakespeare, while standing before his mural, and talking buoyantly about what the future might bring.

This scene is the closing segment of our HBO movie “Our Towns.” It caught Deb’s and my attention as it was unfolding in real time, during the filming by Steve Ascher and Jeanne Jordan of West City Films. It had great emotional power for us when we first saw its placement in the film.

And now we watch it with the sad knowledge that Charly Hamilton has died, but with consolation that his example and influence will live on.

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