i've written about what the mummers meant to me as a child, now i'd like to write a little about what they mean to me now. (by the way this picture is taken from the cover of Patricia Anne Masters' book, "The Philadelphia Mummers, Creating Community Through Play" )
i find them inspiring because they represent ordinary working-class people expressing their spiritual creativity in a free and exuberant manner. these folks allow their spirit and zest for living to spill out creatively filling space and air with color and sound. against the backdrop of an often grim and always gritty-gray environment they project an alternative. due to their circumstances in life, they aren't a part of the mainstream culture of art or performance, don't have much money, haven't gone to art school, or studied choreography (until very recently), and no one is paying them to perform the way they do. They are just doing it! and have been doing it for hundreds of years, and for over one hundred years in the present form as a parade on Broad Street. This is a grass-roots phenomenon, a manifestation of the creative surge that comes up from the ground, fills the body and spills out in an arciform design, not unlike the shape of the back-boards pictured above in these Handsome and Handsome-Trim suits, or in the shape created by nature in the white peacock, pictured below, which reminds me of some of the old Handsome Suits and Handsome Trim suits that featured a white snowflake motif.
since reconnecting with this aspect of my childhood - the mummers day parade - i can recognize where i got the idea that ordinary people, working class people, had some sort of inalienable right to create art. that the rich and privileged do not have sole domain over creativity. (this has really been an issue for me, due to the fact that when i was young i was unable to swing the necessaries to attend art school myself - long story of 'lack of support' around preparing myself to study art in any kind of formal way. another time.) of course, we see and acknowledge that truth in the areas of african-american music, for example, or in appalachian blue-grass music. perhaps in music, more than elsewhere. and i'm certainly not saying that study doesn't add grace, refinement, complexity and many other features to the various art forms. i simply mean that the impulse to create something beautiful, uplifting, fun and self-expressive was demonstrated for me by the mummers year after year from an early age. even the forms of their costumes, such as the Handsome Trim suits, express the impulse of creativity and expression, and is it any wonder i picked that message up? yes, we were working class folks, for sure, and thanks to our times a number of us moved up in terms of income and even class, but not everyone. i have an abiding appreciation for what we had and still have, and i see the joy of that treasure expressed in the mummers day parade.