Donald Hudson is 30 feet underwater. Smiling through the scuba bubbles, he measures an ancient wooden beam and sketches it on a Mylar-sheeted slate.
The Cincinnati resident is a member of Diving with a Purpose. The scuba program is comprised of African-American volunteers who assist with mapping the graveyard of ships dotting Florida’s Biscayne National Park.
For one week each May, Hudson, along with 17 other Diving with a Purpose helpers, gather at the park for land and water work. On shore, newcomers learn the basics of underwater archaeology. Then, scuba-buddy pairs are assigned a 10-meter segment of a wreck, looking for items of interest such as beams, pottery shards and cannon balls. They fan away sand, measure artifacts and note as much information about the vessel as possible on the slates.
Topside, a park archaeologist logs the data into a computer and starts forming a picture of the boat divers are exploring: What type was it? Where and when was it built? How long has it been down there? And, of great importance to Diving with a Purpose participants: Was it a slave ship?
The information is being used to help the park plot a maritime heritage trail that visitors will eventually be able to traverse on their own without harming the sites.
“So far,” says Hudson, 70, who’s worked on wrecks that date to the early 1800s, “we haven’t found any bells,” which, he adds, are the definitive trophies of every quest.
Like many divers, he segued from first-time snorkeling on a cruise ship to studying scuba at the Cincinnati Diving Center. In 1992, Hudson became a charter member of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. That led to his Florida assignment, which he’s participated in for three years.
“It’s a tremendous honor being [part of this project],” he says.
And never was he more proud than while standing beside Diving with a Purpose founder Ken Stewart of Nashville, Tennessee, last fall at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.: The organization received a Take Pride in America Award, administered by the U.S. Department of the Interior to promote appreciation and stewardship of the nation’s public lands.
A retired chemist with Procter & Gamble, Hudson’s now packing his gear and preparing to head back into the waves this month at Biscayne.
Who knows what treasures await? — Betsa Marsh
Best Foot Forward
A gentleman escorts his partner into the room, and the pair of fifth-graders dance and gesture dramatically to the sounds of a tango.
Yes, you read that right: fifth-graders.
The youth are participants in Dancing Classrooms Northeast Ohio, a program that teaches ballroom dance, including the foxtrot, merengue and tango, to fifth- and eighth-graders in local schools. The nonprofit group, launched in 2008, is an offshoot of the original Dancing Classrooms in New York City, featured in the films “Mad Hot Ballroom” and “Take the Lead.”
And although the benefits of being exposed to a world of cultures through movement is a key component of the program, there’s clearly more afoot here: The communication and teamwork that go into learning to dance with one another is invaluable.
“Dancing provides the perfect tool for teaching social development,” executive director Jo Jo Graham explains.
“Through that [physical] connection they actually learn to understand one another and get to know one another,” she adds. “That’s a dynamic that carries over into their classrooms and academics [in general]. It’s an understanding that just like we don’t all learn a dance step at the same time, we all don’t learn math at the same rate.”
This budding respect for classmates results in better grades and attendance for the children. And it even filters down into home life, when students enthusiastically show their families the new moves they’ve mastered.
The 10-week program culminates with the Colors of the Rainbow Team Match (held this year on May 15 at the Ohio Theatre at Cleveland’s PlayhouseSquare), where representatives from participating schools compete.
But even with a newfound appreciation of ballroom dance and a competition to prepare for, it’s the respect for one another that is important.
“It’s not about the dance,” insists Graham. “It’s about what happens between the steps.”
For more information, visit dancingclassroomsneo.org
.— Ilona Westfall
Tangerine orange, lapis blue, Saturn green. Matthew Paskiet’s palette reflects both his passion and his profession. Most Tuesdays through Saturdays, the Toledo native can be found creating works of art at Firenation, the glass studio and gallery he opened in 2002.
For Paskiet, Firenation is the culmination of a vision that began in 1993, while he was taking classes at the Toledo Museum of Art.
“It didn’t take me long to be bit by the bug,” he explains. “There’s just something about glass –– the mystery and elegance of it, the danger that’s involved in working with heat, and the beauty when the design you envision comes to life.”
In 1998, the budding artist moved to Washington in order to polish his technique at the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, founded by renowned artist Dale Chihuly. In 2000, he decided to move back home in order to bring the dream of his own studio to fruition.
Paskiet’s talent is brilliantly reflected in the colorful panorama of paperweights, sculptures, tumblers and orbs for sale in the gallery. The artist is also known for the one-of-a-kind installation pieces he creates for clients on commission.
“My dad taught me that if you’re going to do something, do it right,” he says. “My mission is to bring nice things to people, either through the items I make or by teaching them how to make their own works of art.”
It’s a job Paskiet revels in.
“What I do,” he says, “is not my work. It’s my life. It’s who I am.”
For more information, visit firenation.com
. –– Linda Feagler