Posts Tagged: aryn henning nichols

Three is the Magic Number: Interview with Time for Three

By Aryn Henning Nichols

At a typical symphony orchestra concert, you don’t hear a “yeeee-awww” coming from the audience. It’s just not proper. But the trio Time For Three isn’t really all that proper, and they’re most definitely not typical. They’ve even gotten a “yeee-awww.”

Described as a “ground-breaking, category-shattering” ensemble, Time For Three (TF3) is an up-and-coming group of talented blue jeans-wearing, violin and double-bass-playing classical-with-a-twist musicians. That’s a lot of hyphens, but what TF3 does is truly a hyphenated hybrid of things.

It all began for the group at Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute for Music. Three young musicians – Nick Kendall (violin), Zach De Pue (violin), and Ranaan Meyer (double bass) – met with a mutual interest: doing things a little differently.

“We were the only ones who improvised,” says Nick during an early afternoon phone interview. “We all played classical in the beginning and practiced our butts off, so we’re extremely technically proficient, but we’re also creating music – kind of like street musicians in Europe, creating music from where they’re from. We’re making American street music. All of it has an energy that opens the door to a wide range of audiences.”

They write and arrange the majority of their music, and have produced two albums – the 2002 self-titled “Time for Three” and the 2006 “We Just Burned This For You” – and they have one on the way in January of 2010, “Three Fervent Travelers.” The upcoming album and their growing audiences have got them really looking forward to the future.

“It’s an exciting time,” Nick says. “What we think is happening it people are having to rethink the way things work. Because of that there’s a lot of acceptance for different music. In the coming years there will be a lot of times for collaborating – we’re evolving.”

And while Nick jokingly blurts out, “We play mostly strip clubs,” then laughs, “no, don’t print that,” in truth, they primarily play concert halls like Philadelphia’s Mann Music Center, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and soon Carnegie Hall. That’s even with a collection of songs that edge into bluegrass, hip-hop, funk, jazz, and country. “I like to say we’re a classically-trained garage band.”

Ensemble, yes. Band? “Hell, yes,” Nick says.

That attitude – along with the fact that they, also, are young with ages ranging from 29 to 31– is helpful in reaching a younger demographic. This is part of TF3’s mission: They’ve done almost 400 shows and presentations for youth and students.

“Young people are an unexpected breath of fresh air and a good excuse to have fun,” Nick says. “We’ve definitely garnered a lot of interest that way.”

They also garnered some attention from a novel lights-out jam session in July of 2003. While technicians attempted to get lights rolling again after a power outage at Mann Music Center, Ranaan and Zach also rolled with it, busting out tunes like “Jerusalem’s Ridge,” “Ragtime Annie,” and “Orange Blossom Special” in the dark hall. The audience loved it. Was there a “yeee-awww” that night? That came at a different show on the other side of the world.

“We were playing with the Chicago Symphony in Australia and were doing a piece with bluegrass. The bass player did some awesome licks and a few people yelled out, ‘Yeee-awwwww!’ I think the orchestra was shocked, nobody knew what to do,” Nick says, laughing.

Although people rarely dance at their shows, “in a concert hall, that’s sort of weird,” Nick does entertain its possibility. “Who knows? Maybe we’ll create that sort of atmosphere someday. We don’t just go up there and play: We’re really captivating – it’s fun.”

More info at

Aryn Henning Nichols might give a “yeee-awww” at the upcoming Time For Three concert. And she bets SOMEONE in Decorah will dance. It’s just that kind of town. 

Interview with artist Doug Eckheart

By Aryn Henning Nichols

In the middle of a gallery, with walls covered in bright memories of places and events he’s experienced over the past four decades, Decorah artist Doug Eckheart begins a sentence just as he’s probably begun many before: “Like I tell my students…” he pauses briefly, “surround yourself with what you love.”

Surrounding Doug at this moment is the bright aqua of the Venice canal, an exceptionally pink spring in Paris, the wide span of a Norwegian horizon, the geometry of Belgian houses. But more than the locations, it’s the feelings he had there that inspired Doug to paint the 20 pieces in his current show, “My Journey: Images of the Artist’s World Travels.” The vibrant watercolors aren’t entirely factual – colors are altered, scenery adjusted, lighting tweaked – but each is a personal experience of that specific locale, a record of a moment in time for Doug. These records, locked in memories, photos, and sketchbooks for quite some time, finally began to manifest on canvas late last year.

“The idea of this show has been in my head a long time. About 35 years,” he says. “These things need to percolate.”

While the travel took decades, the painting process took less than half a year. And each piece comes with a story.

“I intended for the paintings to inform and educate people about the place, event, cultural and historical significance,” he says. “I wanted it to be like a tour for people.”

Like this show, Doug’s career as a Luther College art professor spanned 40 years.

He retired in May 2009 with more than 60 one-person and 40 group shows under his belt in cities such as New York City, Chicago, Des Moines, Malta and Norway. He has held the title of artist-in-residence, keynote speaker, juror, department head, gallery director, and curator. He has been featured in print and on television, and has served internationally as a visiting artist. Not bad for a guy who never thought this was going to be his thing.

“I didn’t start out to do art,” he says. “I was always outside building forts and bow and arrows. But my friends and I would get together to draw. We were always listening to the radio and drawing.”

In Moorhead, Minnesota, a young Doug Eckheart also began to watch a TV show, “Come, Draw With Me,” with his friends. It featured artist Jon Gnagy, who was, essentially, Doug’s very first art teacher. From this time on, Doug always had a sketchbook handy. Art become his first love. His second was basketball. The third and most life changing: Georgiann, his high school sweetheart and now wife. The two went on to get married, begin a family, and start a life together. He earned his bachelor’s on a full scholarship for basketball at Concordia College in Moorhead, his master’s at Bowling Green University in Ohio, and then had a brief, albeit incredibly busy, stint teaching at Waldorf College before finding himself in Decorah, Iowa. Famed Decorah artist Orville Running, one of the “Brothers Running” who had helped Doug at various points in his life, asked Doug if he’d like to come teach at Luther College.

“I knew when I drove down the hill on Highway 9 that this was the place for me,” he says. “The interview consisted of a three-hour tour of Decorah – everything he showed me had to do with landscapes, all places he knew I’d want to paint.”

Decorah had him at Dunning’s Spring. And it was this lush landscape that Doug first set out to paint in his brand new home.

“Really, I found the perfect place – no. It found me,” Doug says of Decorah. “Life led me right where I was supposed to be.”

Faith, he says, has directed him in virtually every aspect of life. Now, looking back on more than four decades of teaching, a 48-year marriage to his childhood sweetheart, four grown children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild, life has definitely taken him on a sweet ride. Turning his sights on retirement, Doug sees painting, teaching workshops, and finding patience for golf just as he’s found patience for watercolors. Looking over his art, too, Doug can definitely see the years passed.

“My early work has a different energy,” he says. “I like it. It has a spontaneity you lose with age. Of course I’ve improved in some ways too. I like my age. I like where I’m at and what I’m doing.”

And this, Doug says, is paramount.

“Like I tell my students: find out what it is you like. Then do it.”

Aryn Henning Nichols likes to read, which led to writing, which led to journalism, which led to travel, which led to this magazine, which led to design. She likes all of these things. Which is nice.

 Learn more about Doug’s workshops – drawing, watercolor, ink – and Eckheart Gallery (107 W. Water Street) at

The Borlaug Bounty: Feeding a Billion

Painting of Borlaug’s boyhood home by Decorah artist Doug Eckheart

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Growing up a member of the Clean Plate Club, “There are starving children in Africa,” seemed merely a parental guilt tactic to get us to eat the one thing on our plates dubbed “loser” – generally the most nutritious of the sides, like lima beans or spinach. While begrudgingly eating another painful bite, we thought to ourselves, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Starving children. Who are they and what do they mean to me?”

At the same time, there was a man who also thought about starving children – plus men and women – in Africa. And India. And Mexico. Pakistan. Everywhere. He dug in the fields with them, worked in the research center for them, and developed a strain of wheat that would eventually help feed one billion people. This man’s name – like Kellogg or General Mills – should be associated with daily trips to the pantry, but even in his boyhood region of Northeast Iowa, the name Norman Borlaug is often met with a puzzled “who?”

A rural Cresco native, Norman Borlaug is debatably one of the most influential people of the 20th century. The father of the “Green Revolution,” he developed a disease-resistant, high-yield variety of dwarf wheat in an effort to fight world hunger. He is one of only five people in history to have won a specific trio of honors: the Nobel Peace Prize (1970), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1977), and the Congressional Gold Medal (2007). The other four? Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa, Elie Wiesel, and Nelson Mandela. But despite the numerous accolades, Borlaug somehow manages to maintain his simple Iowa demeanor.

“I have always been impressed with how common and down-to-earth he is, even though he is an international hero and has met with and negotiated with presidents and dictators,” says Larry Stevenson, Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation board president. “He is very likely better known in some countries than he is in his own home state.”

Born in 1914, Borlaug grew up like many other boys at that time: he worked the field with his father and planned to attend his one-room schoolhouse until eighth grade, then get back to the family farm indefinitely. But it was a time filled with innovation and determination, and enough people saw a spark in Borlaug that they encouraged him to imagine another direction, starting with high school. Education, Borlaug’s Norwegian grandfather Nels said, was key.

“He was always a very curious boy,” says Borlaug’s sister, Charlotte Culbert, one sunny afternoon at the Borlaug homestead. “My sister Palma and I figured he would do something great. I remember he would say, ‘If you can’t do something, tackle it another way. Try and reach for the stars.’”

The stars were in Borlaug’s sights all the while. Through a Depression-era program called the National Youth Administration, Borlaug was fortunate enough to be able to attend college at the University of Minnesota. He graduated with a degree in forestry, years of wrestling under his belt (he even helped introduce the sport to Minnesota high schools), and an interest in food crops and plant breeding. His forest service job was cut after just a couple of years, so Borlaug headed back to the U of M to study plant pathology. He received a Master of Science in 1939 and a Doctorate in 1942.

After two years as a microbiologist on the staff of the du Pont de Nemours Foundation in Delaware, Borlaug accepted a position in rural Mexico organizing and directing the Cooperative Wheat Research and Production Program. Over the next two decades he developed his best-known achievement: a strain of dwarf wheat that tripled grain production there. This eventually led to the “Green Revolution,” the development of high-yielding crops in conjunction with technologies like hybrids, fertilizers, and pesticides. He worked in the fields as much as possible, right alongside Mexican farmers the research was to benefit. Some new varieties of grains produced yields two to four times that of traditional strains, shortened the time required for growth, and produced a plant that could handle diseases and extreme climates.

The Green Revolution spread across the world. With help from the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and additional government agencies, funding was increased, and in 1963 the Mexico research institution called The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center was founded. The resulting research benefited millions worldwide. Starting in India and Pakistan, the revolution continued on to Southeast Asia, China and beyond. It was “a temporary success in man’s war against hunger and deprivation,” Borlaug has said, not an answer to the real problem. It would merely allow more time to figure out a long-term solution.

“I think Norm brought the technology to needy countries at a critical time,” Stevenson says. “I’m certain it would have happened eventually, but I think the work ethic, passion, and value system that Norm brought with him was unique and critical to the success of the effort. Norm focused on helping individual farmers improve their production capacity, making them self sufficient and capable of making a living for themselves and their families.”

Borlaug, who passed away September 12, 2009, had put enough work in for five men’s lifetimes by the mid 1980s. 70 years old, he was semi-retired and ready to take it a little easier. But Japanese businessman and philanthropist Ryoichi Sasakawa had other plans. Why wasn’t anyone doing anything about all the starving people in Africa? After decades of research and fieldwork, Borlaug thought he was “too old” to go to a place like Africa to continue the battle against world hunger. To that Sasakawa responded: “I’m 15 years older than you. We should have started yesterday.” Although Sasakawa has since passed away, his and Borlaug’s work continues in Africa. Hunger is not something Borlaug will ever consider beaten, at least not in his lifetime.

“He thinks about world hunger all the time,” says Borlaug Heritage Foundation board member Don Arendt. “No matter when you speak with him, he eventually talks about hungry people.”

Borlaug is and was so entrenched in advancing efforts to challenge poverty and world hunger that after winning the Nobel Peace Prize, with the help of Carleton Smith and General Food Corporation, he created a new award to recognize exceptional achievement in agriculture: the World Food Prize.

Gifted at the annual Laureate Award Ceremony, the $250,000 prize is now endowed by philanthropist, businessman, and fellow Iowan John Ruan. Ruan “saved” the prize from defunct status in 1989 when General Foods withdrew its sponsorship. He moved headquarters to Des Moines, Iowa, and put together a foundation with a bi-partisan Council of Advisors including names such as former Philippine President Corazon Aquino; former U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and George Bush; and H.E. Joaquim Chissano, former President of Mozambique. Chairman until 2003, Ruan supported the prize because he feels a second Green Revolution is necessary to prevent the possibility of future food crises. Today his son, John Ruan III, serves as chairman.

The Prize recipients, hailing from locations all over the world, have contributed a range of research and advancements in agriculture and the fight against global hunger. The World Food Prize also holds an International Symposium and a Global Youth Institute each October – this year it will run from October 14 through 16 and the focus is “Food, Agriculture, and National Security in a Globalized World.” Recently renamed “The Borlaug Dialogue,” the symposium fosters a discussion on world hunger and related issues. It brings more than 700 people from 60-plus countries to Des Moines each fall for what organizers call “the most significant observance of World Food Day anywhere around the globe.” They talk about topics like the threat of agro-terrorism, the impending global water crisis, the worldwide challenges of obesity and malnutrition, and the impact of biofuels.

There is, of course, a flip side to the coin, and to tell you the truth, food and population are pretty darn political. First there are the age-old Malthusian Theorists who believe population overgrowth will perpetually get “righted” by famine and epidemics. In 1798, Thoman Malthus published “An Essay on the Principle of Population” describing his theory. He made two main points that supposedly proved his assessment: “First, that food is necessary to the existence of man. Secondly, that the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state… I say, that the power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” Basically, our population would outgrow our resources and widespread mortality was a necessary evil.

Borlaug battled this theory, and seemingly won, at least for now. According to a June 2009 National Geographic Magazine article, “The Global Food Crisis: The End of Plenty,” by Joel K. Bourne, Jr., the benefits of the Green Revolution in terms of production alone are hard to deny. “India hasn’t experienced famine since Borlaug brought his seeds to town,” it says, “while world grain production has more than doubled. Some scientists credit increased rice yields along with the existence of 700 million more people on the planet.”
Whether this is a good or bad thing is highly debated. But what could Borlaug do? Just let a nation starve?

“I have never experienced nor witnessed severe hunger or starvation, but I suspect those that have come away with a dedication to finding a way to stop it and prevent it from reoccurring,” Stevenson says. “Norm admits that it will take more than just increased food production to feed the growing population, it will also require educating people about population growth.”

Next, there are, of course, problems with the Green Revolution that – like so many things – are clearly viewed in hindsight. In the 80s Borlaug was met by a borage of criticism: pesticides, it seemed, were a probable cause of cancer, fertilizer was far from the natural, organic way that was taking the Western world by storm, and irrigation systems were expensive, impractical, and damaging to the land of these developing countries the new technologies were supposedly benefiting. And while Borlaug has been known to admit that some of these things, specifically pesticides, could be harmful, it never trumps the immediate need to eat.

“Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists,” Borlaug says in a 2000 interview with Reason Magazine. “They’ve never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the world, as I have for 50 years, they’d be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things.”

Even pesticides, he says in the same interview, get a bad rap. “All serious agronomists know that pesticides must be kept to a minimum, and besides, pesticides are expensive. But somehow the media believe the overspraying is still going on, and thus creates a bias against high-yield agriculture.”

This statement is hard for the wave of organic-lovers to swallow, no pun intended. Ironically, the term “green” today refers to organic, sustainable, eco-friendly habits (when it has long been used to refer to cash). My own clean plate last night consisted of a frittata with local eggs, a salad with greens from our CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and grass-fed bacon from our friends’ organic farm, Grass Run Farm. And it was good. Plus we enjoy supporting our neighbors and feel healthier, personally, when we eat organic and local food.

But not everyone in the world can have access to this luxury. In an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal published July 30, 2009, Borlaug writes: “Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the worlds’ hungry – 25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.”

With the population estimated to lurch upwards of 9 billion by 2030, scientists are predicting the need for another Green Revolution to meet the requirements this will produce: reportedly double the current food production. Organic, Borlaug says, is simply not practical for everyone.

But just maybe this new green revolution could be a hybrid itself. Perhaps there is room in the world to both feed the hungry and educate them on population control and healthy farming practices. We need to find solutions to get us to the next moment and solutions to get us to the next generation. The goal: Staying alive while also having a good quality of life. But no matter what, there needs to be something in the bellies of the world’s people.

“Of history, one thing is certain: Civilization as we know it could not have evolved, nor can it survive, without an adequate food supply,” Borlaug writes.

No one would have thought that one man could feed a billion people, so who knows what the next generation of thinkers, scientists and farmers will bring. A Borlaug of the new era? In an Iowa Public Television program, the determined father of the Green Revolution encourages the masses to try.
“Too many people are satisfied with mediocrity,” he says. “They never try to attain their maximum potential. They don’t reach for the stars. If they did, there would be more people with stardust on their hands.”

Aryn Henning Nichols learned a lot about food and farming in the research of this story. It honestly made her head hurt more than a little bit, and led to many an interesting conversation/debate in the Inspire(d) headquarters kitchen.

Learn more about Norman Borlaug at