ALLSTON RAT CITY: WASHINGTON ALLSTON, THE ORIGINAL ALLSTON RAT
(This piece was originally published Sept. 16, 2013 and appeared on DigBoston.com)
Allston, MA is unique. You all have your reasons for believing so, but most of those are not quantifiable.
There is one thing that no one can deny makes us different than any other city or town in the United States. It is an unmitigatable fact.
Allston is the only town named after an artist. Washington Allston, to be specific.
Self-Portrait by Washington Allston
We are all taking part in a legacy that is hundreds of years old. This is a creative and special place. It is our responsibility to follow our dreams, to make something beautiful that adds to the local legacy.
Washington Allston was a pioneer. He was at the forefront of the American Romantic movement. He was also a published writer, which is the connection to Boston. His book of poetry The Sylphs of the Seasons, with Other Poems was published here, and he also wrote a book romanticizing Italian life, which I imagine would have been about the Jersey Shore had he written it now.
He was well respected for his art around the world, but he settled down here.
Allston went to Harvard, which is an interesting sentence that I never expected to write. I guess we’ve been entwined for as long as Allston has existed. He lived in and was buried in Cambridge and 15 years after he died Allston was given its name, probably in honor of his painting Fields of West Boston.
I could continue to recite you his Wikipedia entry some more, but I’m going to trust you guys to read it yourselves. Suffice it to say that we are living in a place that is named for an interesting person.
Donna Mencia in the Robber’s Cavern by Washington Allston
(Otherwise known as the first ever basement show.)
He probably would have been one of us.
He would have painted an electrical box or contributed to a mural, written for your zines and had a weekly column in the Dig.
He said some great things to help guide us, like “Never judge a work of arts by its defects.” I think we could apply that to Allston as a whole, never judge Allston by its defects, judge us by the positive output. Good stuff happens here. Maybe kids get drunk and yell and under-dress. Some of us stick around though, some of us care enough to try and make this place great in our small ways. Art shows, community events, and festivals abound and we need to continue that.
It’s an opportunity to see that Allston is more than puke on the sidewalk and beer cans in your bushes.
“The only competition of a wise man is himself” was another nugget from our very own Washington, and we should prove our wisdom by challenging ourselves to continue to contribute great art to our area. We get into these great colleges and do what, get wasted and make tweets about how Allston stinks, and you can never find parking, and you’re nervous to be out alone, and no one respects your neighborhood? Do something about it. Use those big brains of yours to find solutions.
Washington Allston by Gilbert Stuart
Ask more questions about the place you live. Be curious about your street names. Mayor Menino has announced a project where each memorial square in the city will be getting a placard telling what the honored person is being memorialized for. Let me know if you get a good one in your neighborhood.
And remember what Mr. Allston said, “Distinction is the consequence, never the object of a great mind.”