A Return to the Tradition of Grand Master Portraits

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Travis Simpkins



Okay, so maybe “return” isn't the right word to use in all cases. Some Grand Lodges, like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have kept up the tradition of commissioning oil portraits of Grand Masters from the beginning. Other jurisdictions have always simply relied on photographs to commemorate and honor their leaders. Others still began with paintings and, for any variety of reasons, gradually let the practice fade away.

Over the past couple years, I've been happy to work with the Grand Lodge of New Jersey to help renew the tradition there. In early 2018, Roger B. Quintana was serving as Deputy Grand Master and was planning ahead for his upcoming term in the Grand East. He contacted me about the possibility of having an original oil painting made for his Grand Master portrait. He said that New Jersey had commissioned some oil paintings in the past, but that now the portraits were mostly just large photos. He wanted to return to displaying handmade artwork. We agreed on the details and I presented the completed painting to M.W. Quintana in April of 2018, on the day of his installation as Grand Master of Masons in New Jersey at the Grand Lodge's Annual Communication in Atlantic City. The portrait was well received and I was invited back again this year to present the oil painting I made of his successor, M.W. Gregory J. Scott. And if all goes according to plan, I hope to return to New Jersey for a third time in 2020.

Not all budgets are the same and some buildings just don't have the space to display large artwork. Beyond oil paintings, I've also had the pleasure of creating smaller charcoal drawings of Grand Masters for many jurisdictions. Some have gone to Grand Lodges for display, others now hang in the Mother Lodges of various Grand Masters, some are in private homes. Commemorating our leaders for posterity in an interesting and appropriate way is the important thing, regardless of artistic medium or ultimate destination.

Handmade portraits, conceived by a skilled artist, contain a humanness and a spark of life that can't quite be captured in any other way. Both timely and timeless, they offer a sense of history and tradition: a connection to the past, a vision of the present and a record for the future.

If any Grand Lodge officials, or anyone else for that matter, is looking to return to or begin a tradition of Grand Master portraits, please feel free to reach out to me.

-TS


Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ in Washington, DC. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32°  Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of  Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.

Contemplative Cornerstones: Trees

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Bro. Erik Marks


The tall cedars of Lebanon, The Acacia in its many forms, the Kabalistic tree of life connecting the ten sephirot sometimes thought of as archetypes, Yggdrasil the everlasting green Ash reaching to the nine realms: trees convert CO2 to oxygen, filter water, provide sustenance of wide varieties, offer the weary traveler shade and a place to lean—backpacking, I hang my shelter, a hammock and tarp between two. 

Symbolically, spiritually, they serve as links between sky or Heaven and Earth; Esoterically, as emblematic metaphors embodying the same in the human experience. Trees are captivating, majestic, sturdy, useful, necessary in our world. Crosscut its trunk, tree has many concentric circles around a center point. The fruit of the apple tree severed in a like manner displays the physical manifestation of its symbolic nature: the pentagram, evidence of the knowledge imparted by one of the two pillar trees in The Garden.

For many, using visualizations can help bring and keep the mind present in the moment, in the here and now. When feeling adrift emotionally, psychologically, practically, a meditation embodying aspects of trees can help calm and center the mind and body.

Sit in a chair, near the front of the seat. Don’t lean back, sit with body erect. Place your hands, palms down on your thighs. Take three long, slow, deep, breaths, or more if you wish. Bring your mind to the image of a tall tree. Hold the image for a few moments. Then imagine yourself as that tree. Your legs its roots, your trunk, its trunk, your arms and head its branches and leaves. Feel your feet firmly planted on the floor. As you focus on self as tree, imagine your roots growing down through the floor. If you are on a floor higher than ground level, imagine your roots growing down through the structural elements of the building, reinforcing, being the strength as well as lending to it, solidly. Imagine your roots breaking through the earth below. Growing downward through gravel, rock, finding your way around boulders and through fissures. Deeper you grow through nourishing earth filled with nitrogen rich loam, peat, centuries of sediment until your roots contact a pure and cool underground aquifer. Drawing up the quenching water, cooling and calming, hydrating and adding to your ability to remain flexible and emotionally grounded in every way.

Imagine your trunk extending towards heaven. Your branches growing upward and outward, seeking the sun and the solar radiation even if seemingly obscured by clouds. You could imagine growing tall like redwoods or tallest cedars. You can grow up through clouds and stand in the full beauty of the sun at noon. The suns power transformed through the chlorophyll your leaves into fuel, food. Healing and health drawn in, from below, from above. Through your vital body, you unify heaven and earth, bringing the elements of air, fire/sun, water, and earth into balance and harmony within you. Stay in this image, reaching below and above simultaneously; try to feel all the functions happening at once as you breathe. Taking in and transforming the world, absorbing and utilizing sun, drinking up and in water, grounded in the earth absorbing all you need to grown and be at ease in your terrestrial home.

Alterations: Those so inclined could substitute a favorite tree, imagine Ratatoskr traveling the tree connecting the nine realms, or with greater focus and concentration along with knowledge or study of Kabbalah move through the ten Sefirot from Malkhut to Keter; Earth to Crown, draw back down and then return to crown in the order: Malkhut, Yesod, Hod, Netzach, Tiferet, Gevurah, Chesed, Binah, Chochmah, Keter. Finding the Tetragrammaton and also form the Adam Kadmon, (See MacNulty: The Way of the Craftsman and Kaplan’s Meditation and Kabbalah).

When working with strong emotion, imagine the earth taking back from you the emotion you wish to relinquish—to be clear, this is not denying or avoiding the emotion, its is an invitation to your non or pre-verbal self, your personal and collective unconscious, that you are willing to let this emotion move along. Or, that you feel strengthened enough to tolerate it longer. The earth can absorb the energy, the sun can transform it as fire transforms anything it touches.

~EAM

Brother Erik Marks is a clinical social worker whose usual vocation has been in the field of human services in a wide range of settings since 1990. He was raised in 2017 by his biologically younger Brother and then Worshipful Master in Alpha Lodge in Framingham, MA. You may contact brother Marks by email: erik@StrongGrip.org

The Colorado Masonic Symposium 2019

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson

Highland Masonic Temple, Denver CO.

Early this year I was asked to come to the Colorado Masonic Symposium and give a talk. I didn't realize right away it was a Grand Lodge Symposium and, I really didn't know what to expect. I know how most symposiums go--several speakers, lunch, more speakers and then a meal together.

The talk I gave was one where I speak about the symbolism and esoteric nature of what is in our ritual. I also explore some of the other organizations that have existed in the past and present that also align to many of the facets contained within our Craft. After I agreed to do this talk, Brother Wyatt Page (the guy who planned this thing), asked me to also be a part of a panel discussion on Masonic Research Methodologies with Bro. Adam Kendall (Editor of the Plumbline AASR RS.)

I jumped at the chance to do this. But I had an ace up my sleeve. Scott Dueball, an Emeritus contributor to this blog is also the State Education Officer for the Grand Lodge of Illinois and just happened to be a member of Denver Lodge No. 5, so naturally I asked Bro. Page if Scott could come with and assist in this panel. Bro Wyatt agreed and that was that.

Fast forward many months, all-the-while checking the symposium website often to see the schedule--and the countdown clock, it was getting exciting. Finally it was the day to travel. Scott and I both woke up and did our normal thing. Went to work--all day. After work I headed to Scott's house. There, he and I gorged on Taco Bell with his wife and daughter, prior to taxing to the airport for a 9:00 PM flight to Denver airport. A couple things to note. First, amid the recent Taco Bell recall for metal shavings in the beef, Scott had assured me we'd be fine since we both went through the airport metal detectors and didn't set them off 😂. Second, Denver Airport really does have some freaky stuff, the hype is real.

                                

We arrived safely and got to our hotel thanks to Bro. Patrick Dey--we did an episode of WCY with him, so he should sound familiar if you didn't already know of him. After arriving at the hotel, Scott and I crashed hard at about 1:00 AM. We woke by 6:00 AM and made our way to the host lodge, Highland Masonic Temple. I have to say the lodge building was stunning. Check these pictures out.


RWB Kevin Townley

WB Adam Kendall

I was able to kick the day off which was an amazing opportunity. There were more than 150 Brothers present, and not only that--there were still 150 people there at the end of the day. Sustained interest! All the speakers did amazing jobs. Check that link above for the website and the schedule. Of course, Scott and Adam killed it on the research panel. I, as well as everyone present learned something of value.

WB Dueball chatting after the panel. 

After all the education, there was the festive board. The highlight of this trip of course, was spending time with Scott and sharing fellowship with all these [new] Brothers. But when Junior Grand Warden, Ray Dunn took the podium...WOW. His speech was so full of passion, I mean-- I teared up. It was awesome. I found it to be so great, that I asked him to send me a copy and to do a reading for the WCY Podcast. That episode will come out soon.

A Panoramic of the Festive Board

"So great, Robert. You went to another Masonic Education conference."


Yes I did. And it was fantastic. The concepts, the topics, the logistics, the fellowship--all of it went off like clock-work and could not have gone better. At least to me, an outsider, that's the way it seemed. I need to thank Bro. Wyatt for his amazing job in planning this. I need to thank Bro. Dave for his dedication to Masonic Education, to the Grand Lodge of Colorado for investing in Masonic Education with an event that likely cost a lot. And I want to thank Scott and Adam Kendall for their work on the panel discussion as well.

Freemasonry is Education. 

~RHJ

RWB, Robert Johnson is the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four, works full time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry" and is currently working on a book of Masonic essays and one on Occult Anatomy to be released soon.



The Masonic Lodge in New Mexico's Old Lincoln County Courthouse

by Midnight Freemason ContributorBro. Travis Simpkins



While traveling through New Mexico, my wife and I stopped in the town of Lincoln, the most famous spot in Billy the Kid country. Growing up in Arizona, I was always fascinated with Western movies and outlaw legends. My wife isn't particularly interested in Old West history, suffice to say, but she kindly conceded to let me spend a couple hours roaming around the historic sites. The town is a state monument and everything is well organized, mapped and labeled. I just figured I'd see the jail cell where Billy the Kid was held and from which he made his violent escape, then we'd shortly be on our way. Then Masonic interests took over...

When I checked in at the visitor's center, the Park Ranger behind the desk took note of my Scottish Rite t-shirt. I was pleasantly surprised when he told me there is actually a recreated Masonic Lodge room on the upper level of the Lincoln County Courthouse. Even though the Courthouse was last on the list of buildings to visit on the map, I skipped over the other spots and made a point of walking to the far end of the Main Street to go there first.

The two-story building, now known as the Old Lincoln County Courthouse, was built in 1872 and was originally used as the store and headquarters of L.G. Murphy & Co., the faction who were on the opposing side from Billy the Kid and his friends during the 1878 Lincoln County War. The building was purchased by the County in 1880, and served as the Courthouse from 1881 – 1913. It was here on April 28, 1881 that Billy the Kid famously escaped from jail after killing J.W. Bell and Bob Olinger, the two Deputies tasked with guarding him.

However, I digress. In the early years of the building's history, L.G. Murphy, who was a Mason, had constructed a Masonic Lodge room on the second floor. The Lodge as it appears today is a replica, with various Lodges around the state donating 19th Century Masonic furniture to create the aesthetics. The Ranger had mentioned that the Grand Lodge of New Mexico holds session in the room once per year and I did note a stack of newer aprons on a table in the corner (I later saw photos on Facebook of such a meeting). They've done an admirable job of recreating the overall atmosphere of a frontier Lodge and it's easy to visualize the scene while entering the room. It was an intriguing and unexpected added historical experience.

The one really disconcerting and macabre element (but fascinating nevertheless, I suppose), was the knowledge that Billy the Kid had murdered J.W. Bell in the hallway staircase just a few steps outside the Lodge room door.

-TS

Travis Simpkins is a freelance artist with clients throughout the United States and Europe. He currently works on projects for the Supreme Council, 33°, NMJ in Lexington, Massachusetts and the Supreme Council, 33°, SJ in Washington, DC. He also serves as a portrait artist for the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Grand Lodge of New Jersey and other jurisdictions across North America. His artwork is in many esteemed collections, including the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library & Museum in Independence, Missouri and the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia.

Bro. Simpkins is a member of Morning Star Lodge A.F. & A.M. in Worcester, Massachusetts. He is a 32° Mason in the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite- Valleys of Worcester and Boston. He is also a member of Eureka Royal Arch Chapter, Hiram Council of Royal & Select Master Masons and Worcester County Commandery No. 5, Knights Templar.