Remembering Marietta Moershel

Last week, my great aunt Marietta Moershel died at the incredible age of 97. She was a beloved elder on my father’s side of the family, all of whom were part of the utopian Amana Colonies (communal from 1856-1932) in Iowa. Marietta was a nearly lifelong resident of the Amana Colonies, and a devoted member of the Amana Church. She taught German and social studies at Amana High School, and was a keeper of many family stories that will be up to the rest of us to continue to tell one another.

Marietta with what could only be the coconut cream pie at Ox Yoke Inn.

She will be buried in an Amana Cemetery, which buries its members simply by order of death (no ‘family’ plots) and with simple, matching headstones. The cemeteries, wrapped in pine trees, are very peaceful and seemingly the only place in the Amanas that the tourists have not found, or taken an interest in.

The cemetery in Homestead.  May we all return to the earth somewhere so beautiful.

Marietta was Oma to my cousin, Ellie Gordon-Moershel, who has written here about Amana: “My Mom Grew Up in a Utopian Colony in Iowa.”

I used to feel some embarrassment about my family roots in a former utopian community that most people either associate with microwaves, or mistake for the Amish. Now I’m grateful for the simplicity of Amana. My favorite Amana meal is called matte (pronounced “mahda”) which uses four ingredients: boiled potatoes, butter, cottage cheese, and sour cream. And, if you’re not going on a date later, says my Oma, you can put onions on top.

I won’t be able to make it to the services this week, so today, I lit a candle, added these photos of Marietta to my special shelf, and spent time reading from my copy of Amana That Was and Amana That Is, by Bertha Shambaugh. When my Opa (Marietta’s brother) died in 2014, I became more aware of a desire to capture family stories. My Opa told the same stories (and jokes) so many times that I thought there was no way I would ever forget them. It’s more that they fade. May we all keep living in such a way that there are more stories to tell. As we approach the darkest day of the year, my thoughts are with my family gathering in Iowa to remember Marietta Moershel.


Under the Harvest Moon
by Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967

   Under the harvest moon, 
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker, 
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

   Under the summer roses 
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories, 
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

Here are a couple of photos that cousin Angela Bendorf Jamison sent along to remember Marietta by:

from A child said, what is the grass?
by Walt Whitman, 1819-1892

What do you think has become of the young and old men?
What do you think has become of the women and

They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait
	at the end to arrest it,
And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and
Creativity · Teaching

Cardboard Counterpublics and Collective Creative Pleasure


Bibliographical books are thought to transcend their bindings. I can still, in accord with standard bibliographic thinking, take any book on my shelves, rip its binding off, and have it rebound without changing its bibliographical identity.

-Joseph Dane, What is a Book? (150)

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Creativity · Social Justice

Picturing Justice: a worksheet

Taking inspiration from Andrea Pippins’ free doodle/coloring sheet “to help kids process what’s happening around us,” conversations I’ve been having on Twitter and in person, and what seems like my whole life’s work, I drew up a free worksheet designed to help all of us decolonize our imaginations and be able to picture justice and liberation.

Free to download, print, share. Work through it as a group or alone. Upload and tag it #picturingjustice, or make a copy and hang it up where you live. Let’s build our collective imagination of the world we really want, so we can usher it in.



Download as a PDF: picturing-justice.pdf



Art · Creativity · Social Justice · Teaching · Workshops

Teaching Art to All Ages

Notes from a community educator

Do you remember how free you felt drawing as a child? Having worked with both youth (ages 6-12) and seniors alike in just the last two months, I have been thinking about the differences and similarities in working with different age groups. These are some of my observations.

There are always more voices in the art workshop room than there are students. It’s the voices of everyone who has told us over the years that we can’t, shouldn’t, are no good. We each have these that we have accumulated and internalized over the years. Children have fewer of these voices, although the voices of their parents, older siblings, teachers, and friends are often present. The first thing is to identify these voices as coming from somewhere other than our own mind.

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