Here on the Edge is the long-awaited story of how a World War II conscientious objectors camp on the Oregon Coast plowed the ground for the social and cultural revolutions of the 1960s. It will be published by Oregon State University Press in October 2013.
Twenty years in the making and packed with original research and more than eighty photographs, this book answers the growing interest in a long-neglected element of World War II history: the role of pacifism and conscientious objection in what is often called “The Good War.” It focuses on one camp situated on the rain-soaked Oregon coast, Civilian Public Service (CPS) Camp #56. As home to the Fine Arts Group at Waldport, the camp became a center of activity for artists and writers from across the country who chose to take a condition of penance (compulsive labor for refusing to serve in the military) and put it to constructive ends. Their focus was not so much on the current war, but on what kind of society might be possible when the shooting finally stopped. “Here on the edge,” they wrote, “we can only watch . . . and bide on the time when what we are, and that for which we have taken this stand, can be tangent again to the world.”
In the daylight hours, they worked six days a week—planting trees, crushing rock, building roads, chopping wood and fighting forest fires—for no pay, just room and board. At night, they published books, pamphlets, periodicals, and broadsides under the imprint of the Untide Press. They produced plays, art, and music—all during their limited non-work hours, with little money and resources.
Perhaps most remarkable is the amount of sheer talent gathered in this tiny group, a number of whom went on to significant achievement in their fields: poet William Everson, who became Brother Antoninus the “Beat Friar”; Broadus Erle, violinist and founder of the New Music Quartet; Adrian Wilson, fine arts printer and recipient of a MacArthur “Genius Grant”; Kermit Sheets, founder of Centaur Press and San Francisco’s Interplayers theater group; architect Kemper Nomland, Jr.; William Eshelman, president of the Scarecrow Press, and internationally renowned sculptor Clayton James.
Other notables published by or involved with the Fine Arts Group include artist Morris Graves, poet William Stafford, fiery antiwar poet Kenneth Patchen, and iconoclastic author Henry Miller.
After the war, camp members went on to participate in the San Francisco “Poetry Renaissance” of the 1950s, which heavily influenced the Beat Generation of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg—who in turn inspired the likes of Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, leading the way to the 1960s radical upheavals epitomized by San Francisco’s “Summer of Love.”
An even deeper current runs here. Not only were members of the Fine Arts Group and Camp #56 carving an unpopular path during the dark days of the 1940s, they were showing the way for the next generation, when a new set of young people, facing a war of their own in Vietnam, would populate the massive peace movements of the 1960s.
Here on the Edge places Camp #56 and the Fine Arts Group in the context of conscientious objection in America, the World War II era, and the influence camp members had on the decades that followed. It serves as an introduction, an exploration, a narrative, a history, and, ultimately, a human story. And it brings together, finally under one cover, the record of the fascinating members of Camp #56 and the Fine Arts Group, and how their legacy of art and peace resonated far beyond the borders of an isolated work camp in the far corner of the country.
I have read ‘Here on the Edge’ and was impressed. Would you be interested in giving a presentation in Newport at the Visual Arts Center in September, October or November? We have had good audiences for historical work such as yours and since the Angell Job Corps still operates and is in such close proximity, I suspect that the number of attendees would be larger than normal. I have spoken to a few friends in Portland who saw your presentation and heard you on the radio and were very positive about your work.