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SEPTEMBER 26 Albers Foundation organizes Outward Bound journey

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The Albers Foundation organized an Outward Bound journey in September, 2001.
Cataract Canyon, near the Big Drop rapids

Albers Foundation organizes Outward Bound journey

The Albers Foundation organized an Outward Bound journey for twenty-seven people—including staff, the artist Raffi Kaiser, and invited guests—on the Colorado River from Moab to Lake Powell, Utah, in September 2001. The excursion brought together a diverse group who witnessed the beauty and power of the river, an experience that in many ways echoed the ideals of Josef and Anni Albers. Executive director Nicholas Fox Weber wrote about the experience, an excerpt of which is posted here.

In 2001, the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation organized and hosted an Outward Bound expedition down the Colorado River.

This may seem like an odd idea—an arts foundation devoting itself to a rafting trip, with all the rigors of any Outward Bound course, and to the experiences of shooting rapids and climbing rock and hiking—but there is a lot in common between the thinking of Anni Albers, Josef Albers, and Kurt Hahn, founder of Outward Bound. Anni relished the idea of "starting at zero"—doing things simply, with minimal ingredients—which anyone who has done an Outward Bound course well understands. Josef's gospel was "minimal means for maximum effect"—exactly what happens when one turns a paddle another inch to the left in order to enter a rapid at the point of the V, or when one uses the slightest protuberance on a rock face as a toe-hold. Most of all, Josef Albers believe in learning through experience—this more than in the accumulation of facts emphasized in more traditional education. And that idea of experiential education, of course, was Hahn's passion.

And so we went—some forty people in all. Imagine a group consisting of teenagers from the toughest neighborhoods of the Bronx and Brooklyn, French and American art historians, college-aged students from England and Norway, middle-aged people generally working in art museums, and Raffi Kaiser, Israeli-born, living in Paris, seventy years old at the time of the trip.

It took a day or two to break the ice. Kids used to speaking the slang of their neighborhoods were not necessarily going to feel at ease with people from such different worlds. But the teamwork was magical. The beauty of the scenery was staggering. The rapport between young and old, rich and poor, people from a range of different backgrounds, was immense. And Raffi, one of the greatest artists of our era, observed it all, and sketched. They are in part Cataract Canyon, but also from this great artist's imagination. What a use of whiteness! What dexterity of line! What a feeling of freedom and, at the same time, masterful technique. And Raffi, typically, gave them to Outward Bound so they could be reproduced and sold to raise money for scholarships, about which he felt passionately once he got to know the teenagers whose lives were transformed. They are artistic masterpieces, and their acquisition serves our society generously.

As an artist, and teaching about the making of art, Josef Albers emphasized the importance of "thinking in situations." Anni Albers loved to say, when reflecting on the course of one's life, or the weaving of a tapestry, or the making of a print, "You can go anywhere from anywhere." On various Outward Bound courses that I have taken, I have reflected on the Alberses' approach to life: respect the technical, know how to use your materials, keep your eyes wide open, and respond to the moment. At the same time, savor beauty and wonder. Working with sled dogs on luminous winter days as we zoomed across the marvelous snow of the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota and southern Canada; feeling the Prusik Hitch do its job of supporting me from the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites on a glacier in August; throwing together dinner with whatever spices there were in the steel box that were part of a waterproof kitchen pantry on a raft; deciding which way to try to reach the summit of a cliff that at first looked too smooth to climb; canoeing up the Harlem River and working the candy cart in an AIDS Ward at North General Hospital in Harlem on an urban course, I would be reminded time and again that learning in life is perpetual and depends—the words are Josef Albers's—on search more than research.

In my own case, the threads of existence have, at times, taken a wonderful, nicely knit course. I discovered Outward Bound because one September afternoon in 1991 I ran into Jodie Eastman on Madison Avenue and she asked how my kids were. I pulled out photographs of Lucy and Charlotte, ages nine and seven, rock-climbing in Switzerland, an unplanned by-product of a magazine assignment to write about the furniture designed by the sculptor Donald Judd in his house in Kussnacht-am-Rigi. Jodie, a longtime OB devotee and Board member, said, "You must go on an Outward Bound course." They had been life-changing for her, and I was not hard to convince; three weeks later, I was experiencing the thrill of rapids on the Colorado River. On that trip, I learned that a man named Eric Warburg had helped in the founding of American Outward Bound with Josh Minor. Eric's sister, Lola Hahn, was married to Kurt Hahn's brother. Since Kurt himself had no children, they were like family, and I was interested in all this in part because Eric's first cousin, James Warburg, was my wife's grandfather.

Eddie Warburg, another cousin—of both Eric and "Jimmy"—helped get Anni and Josef Albers to come to the United States after the Nazis forced the closure of the renowned Bauhaus School in 1933. I knew Eddie well, and admired his patronage of artists, and his generosity of heart. Why do I mention all of this? Because the entire cast of characters—the Alberses, Hahn, these different Warburgs, Jodie Eastman, Raffi Kaiser—are exemplars of what it means to be an adventurer. They engage with life; they take risks; and they give. Oh, how they give. That spirit—of living fully, of breathing deeply, of seeing the world in its entirety, of working together, of bridging gaps between people—pulses gracefully in these splendid images by Raffi Kaiser, and is the heart of Outward Bound.

—Nicholas Fox Weber