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Helyn ChrobocinskiHelyn Chrobocinski
by Anthony Henry Smith


Since 1987 the collection of activist art at the Brunnsvik Folk High School, (located in Ludvika, Sweden)  has included a beautiful batik picture of the Clearwater.

The batik was created by Helyn Chrobocinski especially as a backdrop for the performances of Walkabout Clearwater. It serves as a reminder of the Midsummer of 1987 when 14 Walkabout Clearwater participants represented Clearwater at the 75th anniversary of that school’s founding.

Brunnsviks Folkhögskola, or “Folk High School,” is located on the shore of scenic Lake Vasman. The school specializes in nontraditional, lifelong learning. In many ways it resembles our community college systems.

Helyn’s batik can be seen behind performers in the photo that appeared in the local newspaper, the “Ludvika Tidning.” It was reproduced on page 9 of the SEPT/OCT 1987 “Navigator.” Helyn is pictured on page 7 in the group photo in that same issue. This is one of the few times in her life Helyn was ever seen on the far right of anything.

Our Clearwater group had been invited by Henry Blid, an instructor at the school. He hoped we would participate in the anniversary and also assist him in developing a special text he was creating to use the English language to describe the Swedish Study Circle. For many days both before and after Midsummer, we met daily in a classroom.  We quickly became Henry’s very willing pupils. But not every day. Some days were spent on special tours provided by our Brunnsvik hosts. We ate strawberries at the top of Troll Mountain and traveled to the depths of the ancient copper mines at Falun, with any happy diversions between the two.

In 1989, Henry published “Education By The People - Study Circles.” More importantly, Henry had taken the concept one step further. As part of his explanation of study circles, he had explicated the democratic process as being a principled process by which we obtain and utilize knowledge. It’s an important work, and Helyn was among the 14 Americans who contributed to its creation.

On the night of June 14th, 1987 Helyn was in very large cabin on the shore of Lake Vasman together with me and Meg Smith, Lynne Knudsen, Max and Norma Charmaz, Moshe Rothenberg, and Bernice Silver. We were rehearsing the songs we would use for a performance on June 20th, Midsummer’s Eve. At home, we often sang “What y’ gonna do with a Drunken Sailor?” but now we hesitated. Everyone in our audience under the age of 30 would have had English in school and would absolutely know what we were singing. We knew the founders of the school had strong ties to the Temperance Movement. Perhaps a song about a drunken sailor might offend some of the audience. But then again, perhaps we would sing it anyway! There is such a thing as being too sensitive. After all, it was a good song, very easy to sing, and we enjoyed doing it. We were almost evenly divided.

Helyn had an idea that satisfied everyone. We could keep the tune. All we had to do was to write some new verses. And we could easily see she was correct, because on very short order we had a “new” song! I no longer recall who contributed what, but it was all in good fun and really didn’t matter, especially at the time. Here are some of the words:

“What will we do with a dir-ty riv-er, (3x) ear-lye in the morn-ing?

“Light it with a match and set it blazing,” (3x)

“Pave it over for a super highway,” (3x)

“Pull out the drain plug, start all over,” (3x)

“Clean it so it’s fit for swimming,” (3x)

“Clean it so it’s fit for drinking,” (3x)

“Clean it so it’s fit for living,” (3x)

As far as I know, this song was never performed anywhere else ever again, but we didn’t make it for that purpose. We had hoped to get at least some of the people in our audience singing along with the song leader (some did) and to make the rest as happy to hear us as we were to be there.

We knew the audience would include little Swedish children who hadn’t yet learned English. Bernice Silver made wonderful puppets from papers and rags especially to communicate with them. It was all done against the combined backdrops of Helyn’s batik and her beautiful voice, now leading, now supporting; doing what Helyn did best throughout her life, harmonizing with others.

In countless unseen ways Helyn continues as a presence and an inspiration within the Clearwater community! She leaves a legacy to treasure.

(In addition to Helyn Chrobocinski, the Walkabout Clearwater Group in Sweden, 1987, included: Max Charmaz, Norma Charmaz, Marguerite Culp, Shirley Keller, Lynne Knudsen, Moshe Rothenberg, John Seekamp, Gert Seekanp, Devon Seekamp, Bernice Silver, Anthony Henry Smith, Meg Smith, and Art Weslowski.)

Please visit here for more on Helyn.

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