Sunday, February 28, 2010

One Clump of Clay at a Time

From this.....

to this.

When my students are working on a project in class, and they start to grumble that something is taking too long, I explain to them that there is a reason that it is called "artWORK". Often, artists will trudge through tedious tasks to get to the final result. There may be disappointment, boredom, and disasters along the way, but maybe, just is accurate to say that the harder we work for something, the sweeter the reward.

I am able to empathize with my students, more than they realize. I am currently working on a project that involves duplicating the same object twenty-six times. I was pleased to finally narrow my focus down to one object that I feel passionate about, and the sketches I rendered seemed like they could work for the final sculpture.

I was off and running.

What I didn't think about was the actual technical component of the sculpting and how I would meet that final goal. I could clearly see in my mind's eye the finished product....I just skipped over, well.....a few, important steps!

Now I find myself with a deadline and a brain that is working overtime all hours of the night (yes, when I should be sleeping) to hash out the finer details. Though at times it can be discouraging (and tiring!) I love that this is partly what being an artist is all about: solving problems in a creative and interesting manner.

It amazes me, this thought, that any piece of artwork, be it a song, painting, or poem, would never have existed, in this particular, exact, manner by anyone other than its creator.

We, as artists, bring something into this world that could never have existed without us.

It's sort of like birthing a child with its own unique set of genes.

So, I have this idea, and I think it is a good one. I haven't seen any other artist render it in such a way (or even close, though admittedly, there is a lot of artwork out there). Having a bit of a problem (obsession?) with perfectionism, but at the same time realizing that things just AREN'T perfect, I am working through the steps with moments of excitement, disappoinment, pride, frustration, relief, and that question that so many often ask themselves when it feels like all has gone awry...."what the hell was I thinking?!"

Each time I begin a new phase of this project, I thoroughly enjoy the process. Honest, I do! But after, say, five of the twenty-six objects are complete in a particular step, I am thinking...."twenty-one more to go.....twenty more to go....nineteen more to go....." You get the picture. Sort of like being stuck in the proverbial purgatory singing "Ninety-nine bottles of beer on the wall."

Hours and hours of work go into each phase, preceeded, of course, by hours and hours of a mind-numbing cerebral workout.

For example, one morning I debated the best way to make twenty-six hollow, rounded shapes all the same. I could travel down, in my mind, a few different paths. I could ....

1) hand form each one, cut them in half, and hollow them out then piece back together (how accurate could this be?)

2) throw them on the wheel (after weighing each piece of clay on a cheap kitchen scale then measuring each one as it is thrown, and trimming them all the next day)

3) make a mold and slip cast (but have never done this before, lacked all materials needed, and knowledge! Plus, it would elimate my favorite reason for working with clay - the meditative sensation of the material in the hands)


4) create a plaster slump mold (which I have done before, AND, I could get my hands easily on - or so I thought - the necessary materials).

So, Plaster slump mold it was. The local hardware store would have dry plaster for me to mix. They are open on Saturdays. Excellent.

Now all I needed was a round form that was the size of a baseball. Not being the sporty type, per say, I had no baseballs in the house. I emailed a few local people that I thought, since they had dogs, might have a spare tennis ball, perhaps? No luck! Replies came to me "I have a ping pong ball....a raquet about calling the gym teacher?"

Keep in mind, I live in a remote area where it is not as simple as driving to the local department store to purchase a tennis or baseball. Desperation. I debated borrowing a wooden croquet ball from my mother-in-laws antique set. Plastic saran wrap would protect it, right?

Panic started to set in. I had a deadline to meet and weekends with uninterrupted chunks of time are precious to me. I didn't want to waste a minute of this one.

After two hours of searching, calling and emailing, I decided to go to the harware store and just "wing-it". And you know worked! I walked in, was greeted with a smile and a "can I help you?" My odd request for a baseball size/shape object from which I could dunk into plaster to make a mold produced, literally, a lightbulb moment! Cal suggested....a lightbulb.

It was the perfect shape/size! But just in case, I picked up a toilet floaty-bobbing-rubber ribbed thingy as back-up. And a few more items.....gloves, metal rings, buckets. Oh, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Eyes wide, scanning the shelves for unique contraptions, wanting to grab at anything and everything.

This is how artists' homes accumulate all kinds of what others deem useless and cluttery junk. We look at the strangest things and think "I can use that....someday."

Anyway, this is where I am at at this point. The mold was made and thirty (yes, more than twenty-six..just in case a few don't survive the firing process) bodies of the object have been formed. After about twenty-five factory-type repetetive hours, the forms are now drying slowly on shelves while my mind is doing another one of those workouts to figure the best way to make the next component, which will be, by far, the most complex part of the whole.

Or so I think.

For now, I'll just take it one clump of clay at a time.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Jack of All Trades

Dad working on the door he made to fit an odd-shaped opening upstairs.

He's finished the window trim in the main studio!

The gorgeous birch and maple yarn cabinet that dad made me for Christmas a few years ago.

He used birch and walnut (from a tree at my childhood home) for this bookcase which now houses my favorite art books.

Dad made Shaker-style clocks one year as Christmas gifts for me, Mom, Kristin, Jayson, Nana, and Aunt June.

Another door, made to fit a crawl-space cubby in the eaves of the house.

Some people are just gifted that way. They seem to have an aptitude for almost anything they try. My dad is one of those people. He is a carpenter, plumber, electrician, businessman, boatsman, mathematician, and builder.

I am, in a sense, one of those Jacks-of-all-trades, but in a different way than my father. I can organize, write, sculpt, teach, cook, and weave. But don't ask me to figure out how to cut the proper angles on a closet door so that it will fit perfectly. Don't trust me to connect wires into their appropriate spots on a ceiling light. And that leaky running-water sound on the toilet....well, it will remain that way until we hire-in someone who knows what to do with it. My brain, (and my poet-philosopher husband's brain) just doesn't work that way.

But dad, he just seems to know, intuitively, how to do all those things, and more. He says that he had to learn to do it, and did so by trial and error. He did have an electrical background due to training, he says, in the military and at Bath Iron Works. (We're talking back in the 60's and 70's!). Those experiences led him to Xerox, where he was a machine technician. From there, he became his own boss and has successfully run a business for over twenty-five years.

I must admit, it has been a luxury for us to have such a talented craftsman and tradesman in the family. Living in a 160+ year-old house, there is plenty that goes awry. And with the new studio space, he does amazing work to trim it out and install doors.

He is gifted with woodworking skills. If you praise him, he'll list a dozen things he thinks he could have done better. But in reality, this just isn't so. The furniture that he made for me over the years is some of my most prized possessions. I remember squealing with delight when I saw the gorgeous yarn cabinet he made made a few Christmases back. The Shaker-style clock is a centerpiece in our living room, and the bookcase, made in part with wood from the walnut tree I played under as child, houses my favorite books. All these beautiful, lovingly-made pieces of furniture grace our home in the most distinguished of spots.

In my parents' home, his mark is everywhere. He installed every bit of trim work and doors, made much of the furniture and the post and beam barn. It wasn't until recently that I found out that he actually built the house where my grandfather lived; the one I spent much of my childhood in and still to this day dream about often. (It is no longer in the family, but my sister and I hope that someday it will be again.)

As I write this blog entry, I am listening to the hammer do its work upstairs. Dad is trimming out the door that he made for us this past Christmas. It is more beautiful than I ever anticipated, to fit an odd shaped/sized opening into a small closet space upstairs.

We are so fortunate for him to offer his skills to help us finish off our dream project. He has driven over 400 miles round trip several times since last fall to trim the space and install doors. We are so blessed, and incredibly grateful.

Thanks, Dad!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Maine-Draw-A-Thon: Envisioning a Brighter Future

Artists at the Maine Draw-A-Thon in Bath, February 13, 2010. Robert Shetterly (center of photo) was one of the organizers of the event.

Organizers of the event work to document the drawings for a "zine" that will be handed out to legislators at the State House on Thursday. Left to right: Natasha Mayers, Lisa Savage of Code Pink, and Kenny Cole.
Here I am, tucked away in a corner, working on a drawing.

One of the drawings that I completed during the Draw-A-Thon.

This will be a memorable Valentine’s Weekend for sure. Not only did my husband take me out for a romantic brunch at my favorite Hallowell restaurant, Slates, but we also spent yesterday with kindred spirits united in effort to work toward a better world. We couldn’t feel more loved than we did around hordes of peace-loving activists whose depths of care for humanity are boundless.

The first ever “Maine Draw-A-Thon” kicked off at 9:30 a.m. at the United Church of Christ in Bath, Maine. Organized by artists Natasha Mayers, Kenny Cole, Robert Shetterly, and Lisa Savage of Code Pink, this event was community action art at its finest.

With the idea to “Bring our War $$ Home”, the 90-day campaign began with artists brainstorming ways that they felt would be humane and practical uses of our tax monies. Since 2001, Maine taxpayers have spent an estimated 2.5 billion dollars on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yesterday’s gathering of artists, musicians, and Poets rallied their imaginations to put down on paper, sing out in song, and recite in prose their visions for our state.

While artists drew, painted, and collaged, artwork was posted to the walls around us. Artists captured on paper the essence of a Maine with equality for all, healthcare reform, a clean environment, bio-fuels, affordable housing, childcare, and better educational opportunities.

Late in the afternoon, as artists packed up their supplies, a second round of community members began to congregate, carrying armfuls of delicious potluck foods. All settled in to a warm dinner followed by music and poetry. It was a powerful opening to the evening when performer Hannah Maris, accompanied by her son on djembe, walked around the tables chanting for peace. Natasha, Kenny, Robert, and Lisa all gave moving speeches about how the event came about and why it is so important that our voices be heard now.

Intermingled throughout the speeches, accomplished Maine poets, including Maine’s poet laureate Betsy Scholl, Henry Braun, and Jim Mello, read their works. Perhaps the most moving part of the evening for myself was the reading of a poem by an Iraq war veteran. She was introduced as having been deployed in 2003 at the beginning of the war, during the “shock and awe” phase, on a military ship made right there at Bath Iron Works. So young even now, she must have been in her early 20’s at most when deployed. Hands shaking, voice trembling, she read from a handwritten sheet of paper the words she had formed only earlier that day on a walk with her dog, in a moment of peace. She then said that those moments of walking with her dog are the only moments of peace that she feels, ever.

It was impossible to not sense her deep pain and fear as she recited the word darkness over and over in her poem about being on a ship, in the middle of the ocean, in the darkness, seeing a flash of light, hearing loud explosions, and “knowing what is out there”, but being in the darkness, and, not knowing.

The evening came to a close with my favorite North American poet, Chris Crittenden, reading two poems. Before his reading, he spoke about choices, in a very simple way. He said that he would read two poems, one being about something simple, beautiful, life affirming, and the other poem about something destructive, sad, horrific. He said that we have a choice, and we can choose to live in beauty, or we can choose the other. The two poems, “Apple” and “Monk with Gasoline” juxtaposed against each other made strongly his point.

Last night’s event continues on Thursday, February 18th, at the State House in Augusta at the “Draw-In” where Natasha, Kenny, Rob, Lisa, and Bruce Gagnon of will speak for a press conference. Artwork that was created at the “Draw-A-Thon” will be made into a booklet and handed out that day to legislators. Poets will again perform, musicians will sing.

The energy is infectious. I urge you to join in and let your voice be heard!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Arts and Healing a Catalyst for Small Town Renaissance

McGinley Jones, of Twilight Therapeutics, with one of her crystal bowls

McGinley surrounded by crystal bowls

Clay work in progress in the new studio.

Living in Lubec has been an experience like no other. It has presented some of the greatest challenges of my life, but also brought to me some of the most beautiful gifts.

The first few years that we lived here, I was eager to make the great escape. It wasn't at all like the Maine that I was accustomed to.

The word "downeast" conjures images of the idealistic coastal life. Tourists think of Bar Harbor and make the assumption that all of Maine's "beautiful rugged coast" is accompanied by an upper class arts-enriched culture. Even growing up in Maine, I thought no different.

It was a shock for us as the U-Haul passed Machias, rolling down Rte. 1, bringing into view deteriorated roads, dilapitated homes, and few businesses. We arrived to our new living space, never having been here before, sat on the worn and listing deck, watched a white coyote cross the road, and marveled at the gorgeous view, smell of salt air, and sounds of gulls.

If I could have kept myself in that moment of peace and beauty, perhaps it would not have been so difficult a transition. Nonetheless, it was culture shock. Working in the local school system, I came to know the families and their struggles of living in a once-thriving industrial mecca to what was currently a near ghost-town existence with dwindling populations and lack of jobs. Fate had dealt at times an ugly hand for those who had lived and worked here for generations.

As with many small towns that once relied on factories for their livelihood, there is a time of rock-bottom despair, followed by a renaissance.

Chris and I have lived here just over eight years now, and we have been watching the changes take place. It is bittersweet on many levels. We empathize with the people who fear and don't want change, but once that door is opened, there seems to be no going back.

For me, this renaissance feels hopeful. I see an infusion of pride returning as artists begin to bring their innovative touch. It is this insurgence of the arts that makes me feel like this is home. My first few years living in Lubec, I desperately longed for camaraderie with other artists, galleries, live music, and a general eclectic way of life. I also, very deeply, longed for a healing arts community.

Long before we moved here, Chris' grandfather would often say to us, "Lubec is a wonderful place for an artist and a writer." Wooed by that, we took the plunge and moved here on three weeks' notice. The first few years, I didn't fully acknowledge Gramp Richard's wisdom and insight. I never would have thought, eight, or even five, years ago that I would have this new understanding: that this IS the perfect place for an artist and a writer.

Hindsight, I do not think that Chris would have grown as he has with his writing, and I would not have become the artist that I am becoming. All those things I missed about my former home, they are now blooming here before my eyes. I have found an incredible artist community, am blessed with an inspiring new studio space, and am surrounded with miracles of nature every day. I smell the salt air in the summer, watch the eagles soar, fox frolic in the front yard, feel the extreme stillness of winter, and create like I have never before created in my life.

The final missing component for me was the healing arts community. Like with the artists here, the true gems are often tucked away. Slowly, the emergence is beginning. It is a new concept for those who have lived here for generations, but also, on some level, part of their innate knowing of how to heal with the land and spirit.

Eight years ago, a few days before we loaded our U-Haul to embark on our journey from Knoxville, Tennessee to Lubec, Maine, I found a pamphlet about Lubec. It listed a potter named McGinley Jones. I decided to phone her and ask questions about the arts community, and to hopefully make a connection with a fellow artist. It turned out that she was no longer practicing pottery, and as life got more and more hectic, we never found the time to get to know one another until recently.

This new friendship forging gives me another level of hope: that the healing arts community is growing here, or rather, finally coming into the light. For me, this is my own personal renaissance of my spiritual self, which has at times been dormant since moving here.

McGinley is a gifted massage therapist and reiki practitioner. In the past year, she added crystal bowl sessions to her repertoire. It is exciting for me to see this new level of the healing arts enter this area. A few nights ago, I was honored to play hostess for one of McGinley's session in the new studio, which I would like to add, has amazing acoustics!

We were a small group, sprawled out on the floor, resting as we listened to McGinley "play" the nine bowls, each one a different musical note. It is a gift for me, who is normally in such high gear, to be still for an hour and to just "experience" complete peace.

I am not an expert on exactly how these bowls affect us on a cellular or energetic level, but I know one thing...Bello the cat was profoundly affected! He rolled around, flirting and begging attention, giddy and cute as I have never seen him before. So, if it made Bello feel that good, I can only imagine how continued sessions of this sort can positively affect a person.

It has been quite a fulfilling week here for me: drawing group, clay sculpting, and crystal bowls with a phenomenal healing arts practitioner.

Who'da thunk it, right here in little ol' Lubec.

To read an older post about the arts in this region, refer to this link: