L’Epee, Deaf-Mute Banquet and the Power of Films

Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart ~ Massieu

RADSCC hosted a Deaf-Mute Banquet and “Count of Solar” Screening

On November 9, 2012 RIT ASL & Deaf Studies Community Center hosted a Deaf-Mute Banquet in commemoration of the birth of the Abbe de l’Epee’s 300th birthday.  L’Epee was a Catholic priest who dedicated his life to educating Deaf children using sign language.  He was instrumental to creating a place and a space where Deaf minds and hearts could flourish.  (see this RIT library link for vlogs about L’Epee http://infoguides.rit.edu/lepee) There was already a very vibrant French Sign Language and a Deaf community but it was L’Epee who founded the FIRST public school for Deaf children in the world – Institution Nationale des sourds-muets de Paris.  Note that the term Mute was not deemed to be an offensive term until Oralism’s hand of steel had fully clasped down upon Deaf education stigmatizing the term mute.  So even though in English the mute has been severed from Deaf-mute, Deaf folks never rejected the “mute” part in their sign for Deaf (ear-mouth) signifying to them that there is nothing wrong with being Deaf or mute or Deaf-mute as long as one has the sign in which to signify who they are and a language in which to be equal.

The NTID Deaf-Mute Banquet was the brain child of Jeanne Behm, the coordinator of the RADSCC.  Kudos and thank you to Jeanne for undertaking this.  I know she will quickly say – it was a team effort.  And she will cast off the praise onto all the other folks she got involved in making the event possible and so successful but without Jeanne’s dedication and steadfastness L’Epee’s birthday and the rich legacy of Deaf-Mute banquets and heroes from our history would have probably gone unnoticed here.

Guillaume Chastel, A French Deaf professor from the University of Rochester, gave a beautiful presentation explaining the origins of the Deaf-Mute Banquets which were started in 1835 by a French Deaf teacher from the Deaf school in Paris named Ferdinand Berthier.  I really adore Berthier.  He was a scholar, educator, artist and activist.  The banquets ran annually for decades and always had a component of recognizing L’Epee and the origins of the emancipation of the Deaf via natural Sign Language, education, and a communal space.  Over time they spread to other cities in France to become annual fixtures in those communities alongside the Paris Deaf-Mute Banquet.  Knowledge of this annual thanksgiving and coming together for a communal remembrance and revitalization and the upcoming big 300th L’Epee birthday celebration in Paris inspired Jeanne and the others to give us a taste of how good it is to be Deaf, have education & ASL, and have places and spaces that allow folks to be… Deaf.

The Paris Deaf-Mute banquets included Hearing politicians, journalists and authors so that the Deaf community and their beautiful Sign Language could be seen and heard.  The speeches given at the banquet were written down and some of them are now being translated into English thanks to Mike Gulliver.
1st Deaf-Mute Banquet 1935 http://mikegulliver.wordpress.com/?s=1835&searchbutton=go!

In addition to Professor Chastel being dressed as Berthier and explaining the history and origins of the Deaf-Mute Banquets, even including images of past banquet menus in his presentation, there were several people dressed in character, who rotated from table to table to introduce themselves & share their backgrounds (Twin sisters and L’Epee, Jean Massieu, Laurent Clerc, Madam Forestier, and Emile Mercier).  All of the actors that I was able to see playing these roles did great (Joan Naturale, Stacy Lawrence, Richard Smith, Nicholas Shaw, Scott Cohen, Leisa Boling, and Cory Behm).

The menu included Chicken French -mais oui!  ( and Portobello for vegetarians) and a birthday cake for L’Epee.  A study of the Statue of L’Epee that is in front of the St. Mary’s School for the Deaf in Buffalo, by Deaf sculptor E. Elmer Hannan, was made by the students in Wendy Dannels’ engineering class using 3d photo technology.  A slideshow of various artworks honoring L’Epee ran throughout the banquet and there was a display of books about L’Epee including a VERY rare and old one of L’Epee’s teaching methods.  In addition there were posters about important French Deaf figures as well as artwork.  To close out the banquet, Jeanne announced that the Federation Nationale Des Sourds de France had honored us all by giving us each a copy of their extraordinary publication Art’Pi Special Issue 2012, which focuses on L’Epee’s 300th birthday.  You can download the English version via this dropbox – note it is slow to load because its a large file https://www.dropbox.com/s/69rkc0v2nwwjtj6/artpi.pdf (be patient ; )  and thanks to Joan for uploading it as i have trouble accessing it on their wonderful website.  And biggest thanks to this publications’ staff – im so jealous.  I want such a publication here in the U.S. and biggest thanks to the  Federation Nationale Des Sourds de France for their generosity in providing these printed copies and shipping them to arrive JUST IN TIME (Friday morning).  There are some vlogs out about this special issue of Art’Pi – it would be grand if u.s. folks could vlog our gratitude for the French Deaf folks for making this magazine and getting it into English.  U will totally love this publication folks and we should be grateful when folks create and share the good stuff.

We were then lead into the Panara Theatre to see a bit of a reenactment of how L’Epee met the twin Deaf girls and was inspired to set up a Deaf school and the screening of the BBC made film “Count of Solar.”  The film portrays the true story of the Count of Solar, a Deaf boy who was cast out of his royal family and later rescued by L’Epee.  L’Epee tried to regain the boy his title and entitlements via court but was only partially successful.  There is also a French film version of the Count of Solar that I am hoping to see as I’d like to see it in the language and country that the story takes place in.

After the film there was a lively post-film discussion.  Pat Graybill was called to the stage to share about his experiences retelling parts of Harlan Lane’s informative book “When the Mind Hears: A History of the Deaf,” in which Pat was flown to France to be filmed explaining the history of Deaf education in various location.  Pat noted that when they were filming in Clerc’s home town in La Balme Les Grottes, he was being dripped upon from the grottos’ ceiling but despite it being cold and wet, he felt as if Clerc’s spirit was inspiring his ASLizing of our important history.  This is why we need to re-discover our roots more, folks.  Ancestors and our history is everywhere – just waiting for us to care and dare enough to see.  Check your local library to see if they have the When the Mind Hears video series and the book.  If they don’t please ask them to get it.  Our history should be OUT there for all to enjoy.  Most especially us.

Jeanne concluded the remarkable evening by spontaneously performing the legend of how L’Epee met the two sisters on a dark and cold and rainy night and how the light and warmth of their fireplace and their signing drew him to them and to the cause of becoming a champion for Deaf education, Deaf rights, and sign language.  Seriously Jeanne rocked the house with that closing – i think she even surprised herself by what came forth so perfectly.  She is a remarkable quiet and humble soul – as is Joan Naturale – our most extraordinary Deaf librarian.

While L’Epee did promote an artificial signed system to teach the French, the school has always been a place where French Sign Language lived and breathed (even when banned from the classroom during the reign or error – Oralism).   Thus it is right, just, and good that we give gratitude to L’Epee, Berthier, Massieu, Clerc and all those who have come before us who did good.

Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart

~ Jean Massieu

Films and remembering are important – as this Deaf-Mute banquet & screening of the film shows us and as Veditz told us re: the importance of the medium of film in preserving Sign Language, Deaf culture, Deaf education, and Deaf rights.  So too is true with the film INGELORE.

On November 7, 2012 NTID’s WOLK and DCCS screened the film INGELORE by Frank Stiefel in commemoration of Kristallnacht.  INGELORE is a documentary about Frank’s mom, Ingelore Honigstein, a Jewish German Deaf survivor of the Holocaust.  Ingelore presented to NTID and RSD in previous years – sharing her experiences growing up as a Deaf Jewish girl in Nazi controlled Germany.  She shared the story of how she was brutally raped by two young Nazis soldiers and her exodus to the U.S.  Every time I saw Ingelore tell her story, she always became most emotional when retelling their arrival to NYC – when she first presented to our community, she broke down and cried at that point remembering the great mixture of emotions – “Freedom” and “What next?” even after all these years.  I am very grateful to Joshua Berman for having introduced NTID to Ingelore and for all she shared of herself with all of us.  Many survivors can not share their stories as it often takes an emotional toll.  Everyone who has met her, adored her so it was with great sadness that we learned of her passing on July 1, 2012.  This was my first time watching the film again since she died and I cried because its hard to imagine the world with out Ingelore in it.

I am extremely thankful that Frank made this film and allowed us to show it at NTID so that the Night of Broken glass and the Holocaust are never forgotten.  Everyone present commented on how powerful and important the film is.  The next day when I bumped into students whom I did not previously know – they commented on how grateful they were to have seen the film.  Two students who had seen the movie and met Ingelore and Frank Stiefel at their school for the Deaf (TSD you rock!) came to see the film again and expressed how surprised they were to learn Ingelore had passed as she looked so good in May.  May she and all the victims and survivors of the Shoah live on in our memories.  To see the trailer of INGLEORE go to http://www.ingeloremovie.com/ To see Ingelore’s presentation at NTID, an in-depth interview with her and a short interview with Frank along with many other Deaf survivor interviews go to http://www.rit.edu/ntid/ccs/deafww2/ – click VIDEOS or click DEAF PEOPLE / EUROPEANS / SURVIVORS

Biggest thanks to the folks and depts and organizations for making these events possible for our students, staff, faculty and the community.  I’d love to write about Matt Daigle’s (That Deaf Guy) presentation at NTID for the Lyons’ lecture but I’ve already gone to long.  I really think Matt and Kay should set up a kids program and use his art etc – they would be CHAMP.  Something in how Matt signed – “I’m Deaf – YEAH” – i was like wow a Deaf Blues Clue guy!  Suffice to say – we have much to be thankful for.

NOTE: in re-reading the headline of this entry i thought ohh perhaps someone will ask if the Deaf-Mute banquet was filmed and YES it was ; ).  im sure RADSCC will get up pix and clips soon.  I don’t think Jeanne Behm’s beautiful spontaneous re-telling of L’Epee discovering the Deaf sisters was filmed though – its just one of those things u need to be there for folks!  ie magical moments.  U can see a write up of the legend in Padden and Humphries Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture p. 27 + see google books

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. ASLElla
    Nov 10, 2012 @ 22:20:16

    Thank you,Parti for this awesome report! Thank you, NTID ASL group for hosting this event! Thank you, French Deaf for preserving and carrying on this important history!

  2. handeyes
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 03:36:38

    Ella – me clicking the LIKE button on ur comment


  3. Chriz
    Nov 12, 2012 @ 16:00:12

    *hands waving* Bravo!!!

  4. handeyes
    Nov 14, 2012 @ 12:14:48

    Chriz – yep big hands waving to the NTID/RIT Deaf-Mute Banquet and film screening to honor L’Epee, Berthier, Deaf education, Deaf culture and Natural sign language
    ya hoo! & and thanks for all u do with the DBC to keep ASL+English out and about

  5. Sheri Farinha
    Nov 16, 2012 @ 21:53:12

    Bravo Patti! So rich in history! Will share this with NorCal staff and Board. We always continue to learn. Hands waving! xo

  6. handeyes
    Nov 17, 2012 @ 23:10:32

    thanks sheri –
    i dont really deserve any credit as all i done was give a shout out. bravo goes to jeanne and co.
    thank u for appreciating the history and event and sharing it with your team. hand waves to u too.



  7. dagrushkin
    Dec 06, 2012 @ 06:19:20

    U know leisa Bolling? Mind doing me a favor? Ever since I learned about the Bolling family of the Cobbs school, I’ve wondered whether she might be related to them. Ask her for me?

  8. handeyes
    Dec 07, 2012 @ 15:09:48

    her last name is spelled differently – Boling = not Bolling. Would be cool if she was related though

    much peace


  9. kadri13@live.com
    Dec 10, 2014 @ 15:15:31

    Algérie tlemcen deaf sourds oui

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