Sunday, May 30, 2010

Homage to My Teachers

Four years old, my first graduation, Mrs. Stone's Nursery School in Farmingdale, Maine (1973)

Alice Carroll-Bair
Sculptor/Jewelry Designer, shown here with her metal wall sculptures
My mentor in the MFA program at Heartwood College of Art

Natasha Mayers (left) and Karen Adrienne (right), during Lubec Arts Alive 2009
Natasha has been my inspiration and model for community arts and activism
Karen was one of my university drawing professors
Photo by Goodman/Van-Riper Photography ©2009

This afternoon Chris and I will go to school to watch a group of teens pomp and circumstance down the aisle to receive their high school diplomas. At age eighteen, I imagine that they feel this is the grand finale after a long and often turbulent or exhilarating ride on the rollercoaster of life. It probably has not occurred to most of them that this is only the mere beginning.

As a teacher, I wonder what impact I have on my students. Teachers are in their classrooms day in and day out, lecturing, demonstrating, leading, and testing. We throw out our bits of wisdom here and there and think that most times those words fall on deaf ears. I try to choose my words carefully, though, knowing that my own experiences as a student have impacted my life more than my teachers may ever fully understand.

I can name most every teacher I have had since I was four years old, starting in nursery school with Mrs. Stone. I remember her beehive hairdo and her little pink house with a yard that felt like a page out of a fairytale, with droopy willow branches and lots of magical, secret hiding places. Kindergarten at Helen Thompson School in West Gardiner was equally as fun with Mrs. Bernstein on piano leading us in a round of "On Top of Spaghetti" and plaster-casting our handprints. I still have the yellow saddle-stitched "See Spot Run" booklets in my memory box in the attic.

I'll admit, much of my school years are a blur. I have blips of images and conversations but as I get older, I find that I can't remember most of my 250 high school graduating classmates. But I do remember key moments that have helped to shape me into the person that I am today.

Once a week between the ages of eight and ten, I would take the bus to Mrs. Rommel's house. She was an eccentric older German woman who had a ceramics studio. We would begin our afternoon class ritual with a cup of Russian tea, then into the work space we went to create. These were the poured-mold ceramics. For a young budding artist, this was as good as going to the corner store with twenty five cents for penny candy. My eyes would peruse the shelves for the mold that caught my fancy. Then I would sand the edges and paint. My proudest moment was winning a blue ribbon at the Litchfield Fair for my hand-painted Eskimo girl. Other little treasures from my time with Mrs. Rommel are still on display, thirty years later, in my parents' home.

Chemistry Class, Grade 10, Gardiner Area High School, Mr. Waters. During a final lab we worked in groups to discover the material in our test tubes through trial and error. While Mr. Waters was out of the room, a student noticed the answers to all our labs in the rank book, sitting open on the teacher's desk. Most students ran up to the desk and jotted down their answers. I was one of four who did not. Because of my highly developed morals? Doubtful. I probably was afraid I'd get caught. Whatever reason, I didn't cheat as most students did. As you might guess, someone in the class fessed-up to the teacher. We were called to his room one-by-one and interrogated. He asked each one of us what happened. I told him my story. he already knew that I didn't cheat,'s the kicker....I still got a 2 in deportment. Full-on cheaters got a 4 and had to re-do the lab. But why did I, who quietly went about my business in an honest fashion, get a 2? Because when I saw that an injustice was being done I did not go to the teacher to tell him. Boy was I ripped. But, years later, I understand the lesson. It was only high school, and it was only a chem lab, but in the larger scope, I learned that keeping silent when there is an injustice does not move a people forward.

Philosophy 101, Joe Grange: A Professor that I had for only one semester that I will probably never cross paths with again. Still, it was in this class where my spiritual and philosophical beliefs started to take solid shape. I remember Prof. Grange standing by the window and discussing Spinoza. The line "God is Nature" struck a chord with me. I never looked at a cloud or tree the same way again.

Patt Franklin was my ceramics professor at USM. I admired her from the very start. She was somewhat of a mystery to me and I wanted to create work that made her proud. Though she didn't talk much about herself, I felt that she was a healer and quite intuitive. Clay became my "medicine" and once I experienced the meditative qualities of working with the earth, I was forever hooked. I went on to take several more courses with Patt and ceramics as my studio concentration. I received the ceramics award certificate when I graduated in 1993. Patt told me that it was a close call between myself and another student. I didn't take it for granted. That certificate was a sure boost for my fragile self-esteem and no doubt gave me the confidence to continue with my artistic dreams.

I returned to USM in 1998 for the ETEP (Extended Teacher Education Program). For years, people told me that I should be a teacher. I fought it like crazy. Eventually the teacher in me won out. I had been teaching out of my Hallowell studio and saw first-hand how art is a vehicle for healing. I worked with inmates, women's groups, and children. So many times I would hear an adult say "I don't have a creative bone in my body" then they would create something amazing and as a result, self-confidence was boosted. A friend of mine was studying to be a teacher and he encouraged me to apply to ETEP. I remember heading into my interview, three women questioning me about my goals and asking "what would you do if....?" I think there must have been a bad cop/good cop routine going on because by the end of the interview I was a bit flustered and red-faced. Trudy Wilson kinda scared me at first. She seemed tough and asked the hard questions that got me a bit bent out of shape. I honestly don't remember what those questions were, but I remember thinking I did not make it into the program and drove home that day feeling a bit peeved.

Trudy, as it turned out, became one of my mentors/professors in the ETEP program, and no doubt, has become one of my all-time favorites. She is intelligent, creative, nurturing, and has high standards. It was during ETEP that I for the first time ever thought that I was "smart". My work was judged and critiqued and it wasn't like taking a form test that questioned whether or not I could memorize basic facts, it was about finding my skills as a teacher and learning to organize those talents. Trudy made me want to be the best teacher that I could be.

During ETEP, I was honored to work under two phenomenal Maine art teachers. Jan Mellyn, at Longfellow Elementary, showed me that kids are amazing artists and to never underestimate what they are capable of. Kendra Farrell at Freeport High School taught me that teaching is fun, teachers are "hip", and that laughter can get you through most any situation. I keep in touch with Kendra through Facebook. She now heads the art department at a school in China and she still possesses that same incredible enthusiasm that inspires her students to be serious artists.

I first met Susan Merrill at a workshop in Lubec. I was immediately moved by her loving spirit and knew that I would someday again work with her. Four years later, I received a Maine Arts Teachers Fellowship from the Maine Alliance for Education and the Maine Community Foundation. I was privileged to spend a summer under Susan's tutelage learning the weaving techniques in her book "Zati: The Art of Weaving a Life." Susan is pure love. It just oozes from her. Not only did I learn new skills as a weaver, but I learned that the most important thing in this life is love. She is a gentle teacher, inspiring, healing, and nurturing. She helped me to focus in on what is important to me in this lifetime, and I am overjoyed that the foundation that was set in my work with Susan has carried me through and has been instrumental in forming who I am today, both spiritually and philosophically.

I met Natasha Mayers years ago in my family's business, but it was just last year that I got to know and befriend her on a more intimate level during Lubec Arts Alive. She is an accomplished activist and artist who has traveled the world to lead community art projects. She is a visionary with a warrior spirit and has been a model for me in my own work with community. I kind of see her like a beautiful tree that has endured all the weathers and years yet still continues to blossom every spring. I am sort of like a tiny sapling, an offshoot, trying to grow, aspiring to someday reach as close to the sun as the Mother tree. The partnership with Natasha during Lubec Arts Alive has set a foundation for my present and future development as a truth-seeking artist and activist for what I believe in.

Now enters three new teachers in my life. Our journey is only at the very beginning, and I look forward with great hope and excitement in our partnership. Berri Kramer and Susan Wilder are President and Dean at Heartwood College of Art where I am enrolled in the MFA program. They are down-to-earth, forward thinkers, enthusiastic and passionate artists. I admire their tenacity and vision. It is amazing what women can accomplish when teaming together their ideas and dreams. The first mentor that they chose for me is a metal sculptor, Alice Carroll-Bair. I just met Alice for the first time about a month ago, and am ecstatic to be working under her guidance. She is wise and spiritual in her work, a master of her craft, and is confident in a quiet way. She has been kind of like a "zen cheerleader" throughout my first semester, encouraging me from a very centered and sage space.

Of course, there are many non-traditional type teachers in my life, from my parents, to my grandparents, friends, husband, and even my cats, but that would be a lengthy blog chapter in and of itself.

For now, I give praise to all those teachers out there who make a difference in someone's life. Even when you don't realize it, you are leaving your footprints on an other's soul, and the lessons you teach go on for many years, handed down from you, to student, to their students, and so on and so forth.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Transformation Tapestry and Future Projects

Transformation Tapestry
2010, Shanna Wheelock, 48" x 67"
Clothing (natural fibers), alder, photographs, handmade Thai kozo paper

Transformation Book
2010, Shanna Wheelock, 4"x 126"
Paper, handmade Thai Kozo paper, linen, transfers, photographs

Pile of photos that made the second round of cuts

Tapestry in progress, adding the alder branches

At the very beginning....

Cutting the strips

Shanna weaving on the Beaver Stick Story Loom

Nana's Transformation Tapestry
2008, Shanna Wheelock, 16" x 60"
Clothing, metal, alder, handmade booklet (paper, photographs, ink)

The book in pocket with photos about Nana's life

Our lives are like artwork. We begin as a tiny dot of color. The painter's brush continues to add shapes and lines, and eventually, there is an image that tells a story. We can all recall different key moments in our own "life-painting" marked by a change in hue or direction in the brush-stroke. Every symbol that is added to the painting is essential to creating the masterpiece in its finished form. In the course of the creation, there might be times when something feels out of place or gets labeled as a mistake. But as the painting progresses, we find that some of these "mistakes" or out-of-place parts add to the character of the finished piece, might even make it better.

In a metaphysical sense, my own transformation tapestry began over forty years ago. I can recall events in my life, good and bad, that have made me who I am today. The past two years I have undergone what I consider to be monumental changes in the development of who I am as a human being: physically, spiritually, psychically, and emotionally.

In September of 2007, the two elders in our family crossed over to a new dimension in their being. Chris' Grandfather Richard Bell Jackson, and my Grandmother Glenis Delora Martin, died within five days of each other, leaving us in shock and deeply saddened.

As with many deaths, family members eventually grapple with having to sort through the deceased person's belongings. It is a difficult task and one that brings up memories as each article is passed through the hands. Every time I looked an at item of Nana's clothing, I associated it with an event or ritual. I remembered her wearing that blue-striped cotton shirt to my birthday party, or that terry cloth robe while watching TV before bedtime. It came to me that I wanted to commemorate both Nana and Richard by telling the story of them through their clothing.

About a month after Richard's passing, Chris' mom and cousin arrived to Lubec with a bag of clothing and baubles that held some sort of significance to Richard. The initial tearing of the clothes into strips was like exhaling after holding your breath underwater for hours. The grief began to disperse and memories were recalled of Richard in his purple sweatshirt or favorite pair of pants. His tapestry was colorful and outdoorsy. A carpenter's pencil was added, and other items that told the story of his love for building, art, reading, and animals. The process of this storytelling as we wove on the Earth Loom became a vehicle for healing.

Nana's clothing remained in my closet over the winter. It wasn't until springtime that I was able to open the bag and begin the sorting of articles that told her story. This time, with boxes of pictures in hand, I created a mini-scrapbook of her life. The finished piece was the essence of Nana. The colors alone reminded me of an old-handpainted photo of her, standing in a field of flowers, her hands fanning out her skirt, a kitten in each pocket. This photo always reminded me of her joyful energy. She was a survivor, a woman who was strong and independent, deeply spiritual in a quiet way, and a protectress tiger watching over her family of cubs.

Soon after the deaths of Richard and Nana, my own life offered up some unexpected twists and turns. Then began a two year transformation which became the basis for my own tapestry. For two years, I gathered clothes which sat in a bag in my closet. In January of this year, I opened the bag and began the sorting and cutting of my own life's fabric. It was a psychologically demanding task and at times stopped me in my tracks. I journaled the experience and over the course of five months, my transformation story unfolded.

The process began with me, change, and collecting. Then came the cutting, the weaving, and the sewing. I thought I would attach various objects to illustrate my journey, but instead, found the peacefulness of just a few branches to represent growth and a wooden circle to symbolize the moon and cycles to be enough. The booklet, which incorporates forty photos of me, one for each year of my life progressing from birth to present day, was an enormous task. It began with Mom pulling out boxes of thousands of photos that she and Nana had collected over the years. There's nothing like boxes of photos to tear you away from all of life and capture your attention fully for hours on end. I returned to Lubec with hundreds of pictures to choose from, at the time not sure which direction I would take.

It was over sixteen hours of sorting and scanning to narrow it down to only forty. But each one of those forty represents a vivid memory or key moment in my life.

Continuing the Transformation Tapestry Series
I hope to continue with the Transformation Tapestry series. I would like to work with clothing of people who have undergone some sort of major life change, whether it be a death, birth/maternity, your child's clothing from his/her first year of life, body transformation such as weight loss or gender re-assignment, illness, graduation from high school or college, travel, wedding. etc. Some tapestries I would incorporate as part of my profession, offering a service for people to memorialize, others I would like to keep as part of my own collection for gallery exhibits. I am not sure how to approach people for the clothing though, as I know that these life transformations are emotionally charged. But, I feel that this will fall into place as it is meant to, and will be a project that is both healing and celebratory. If you are interested in having a transformation tapestry created for yourself or a loved one, contact me via email and I will forward you the information.

My email is

Body Image Project: Seeking Women's Experiences for Art Project
While working on my own Transformation Tapestry, I read the book "The Beauty Myth" by Naomi Wolf. I have created my own "survey" of questions for women about their own experiences and beliefs around body image. I plan to collect women's responses and use them to fuel an art project. At this time, I do not know what direction the project will take, as I am working intuitively. I only know so far that I need to collect women's experiences on paper. I am seeking women who would like to be a part of this project. All responses will be kept confidential and any quotes or stories used in my future art projects will be anonymous. If you are interested in participating, email me at:

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

2010, Shanna Wheelock
Clay, metal, acrylic, wood
35" x 45"

A detail of the sculpture

Close-up of the pomegranate

The initial sketch for the pomegranate

Five poms sculpted (extras in the case of a kiln disaster...good to be prepared!)

Initial sketch for the grenade

Planning for the grenade project began in December of 2009. I remember spending an entire day in the studio sketching and writing the proposal. I still have the paper with my hen-scratch scrawl and a list of about twenty things that I could visualize as a possible long-term project.

I am a student in what Heartwood College of Art refers to as their "Pioneer Pod". We are a small group of artists working toward our MFA in the state's first low-residency program of its kind. The program is a good fit for me. I am able to work independently in my own studio under the guidance of a mentor and an advisor. We gather once a semester for a "weekend intensive" and move along at the rate of two classes each term. Though it is an immense amount of work, I am able to schedule it around my full-time teaching job without interruption. As an arts educator, this is a perfect program as it complements what I do in the classroom perfectly.

So, I spent that winter day in December in the studio racking my brain for an idea that I would be willing to commit myself to for five month's time. I am not sure exactly how the image came to me, but I began to research grenades. As soon as I read the Wikipedia entry, I was solid in my idea.

"The French military term grenade probably comes from the shape of the pomegranate fruit, which is also called grenade in French."

Much of my work in the past has emphasized symbols and objects associated with women-centered mythology. The idea that the term grenade was a direct translation intrigued me. I decided to juxtapose the two objects: The pomegranate with it's warm magenta color and ancient fertility symbolism against the drab cool color of the grenade which represents the loss of life.

I researched the grenade online as well as read a US military issued book on grenades. An inert M67 grenade was purchased and used as the model for each of the hand-sculpted objects. The process was long, often tedious, and came with lots of challenges that I did not foresee. Ultimately, I feel that I became a better artist for having to endure the many obstacles. Perhaps, this experience could be understood as my "artistic rites of passage".

My philosophy associated with the piece runs much deeper than I am stating here, but for now, I will allow the image to ruminate within each viewer, permitting interpretation.

Life is still moving at a fast clip and the past few weeks are a blur. It is a good feeling to have the final evaluation complete, as well as my two major projects. I'll plan to post pics of my second MFA creation next week , the "Transformation Tapestry".

As a side note - it was way cool to see myself and my words in glossy magazine color. If you have access to a news-stand that carries "Artscope" (termed "New England's Culture Magazine") you can find me on page 12, in the column "Roundtable", May/June 2010 issue.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Late to post!

I've been away and without internet access for the past few days, so my usual Sunday blog will be a few days late. Check back mid-week! I plan to post some images from the sculpture project that I worked on for the past five months.


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Bitter and the Sweet

Student Reproduction of Richard Lindner's Rock-Rock
Acrylic Paint, Grade 10

Painting based on a map of Lubec, inspired by the artwork of Maine Artist Eric Hopkins.
Last year grades 5 and 6 had the pleasure of meeting Hopkins who is known for his Maine island paintings, depicted as aerial views.
Tempera paint, grade 5

View of the Art Room showcasing current projects: High School Printmaking, 7th Grade Weaving, and 4th Grade Paper Mache Maskmaking

Scratchboard drawing
Grade 11

Still-Life with fruit and flowers
Crayon and watercolor, Grade 1

Student Interpretation of Van Gogh's Starry Night
Oil pastel, Grade 7

Chalk pastel drawing
Grade 11
This same student just won first place in a regional high school art competition.

It's been one of those weeks punctuated by both extreme highs and extreme lows. I think I'll start with the good news.

The first week of May is a flurry of activity at school. Students work like mad scientists and artists, historians, and mathematicians while they prepare for the school's annual Project's night. Granted, projects are completed in every class all through the year, but this one evening is an opportunity for students to show off their talents and interests with a new project. One skill that I see being honed during the two weeks preceding Projects night is the ability to set a goal and meet a deadline. I can totally relate to these students. There is excitement, and there is frustration. And despite the mass hysteria the few hours just before doors open to the public, it all falls into place.

Projects' Night is a huge deal in the community. It draws the biggest crowd that you'll ever see here, short of the Fourth of July or Fall Festival celebrations. Parents and students, community, and school board members filter through the classrooms checking out latest creations.

The Art Show is housed in the cafeteria to accommodate the mass number of pieces. Aside from the main display in the Caf, the bulletin boards are filled with student works and the art room is set-up to showcase some of the current happenings. Two weeks prior, I ask students to sort through their art portfolios and select their favorite piece from the school year to display in the "BIG SHOW". It's interesting to see what criteria they base their decisions on. Sometimes students know right off which piece to display. Others take an entire class period to work-out their decision, asking their peers to vote. They are asked to think about which piece shows a lot of effort and skill, would stand-out on the wall amongst 150 other artworks, and which piece would make them feel most proud when their parents see it for the first time.

Portfolios are available that night, too, to be taken home. I can tell by how many portfolios are left behind how good the "turnout" was. This year, of my approximately 125 art students, twelve portfolios remained. Of those few portfolios, some were siblings so it equated to only five or fewer families that were no-shows.

It was an amazingly successful Projects' Night; a sweet occurrence that followed a very bitter and sad event the evening before.

On Wednesday Evening, May 5th, 2010, Lubec Consolidated School board members voted four out of five to close the high school. Lubec High School has been in existence since 1896. The final decision will be made by town vote on June 23rd. If the town does indeed vote to close the high school, then this year will be the last ever senior graduating class in this town. As I type this, I am welled with emotion.

Since I first moved to this community and began teaching nine years ago, I have been hearing talk of closing the school. It is an issue that divides people and I can honestly understand where folks are coming from, on both sides of the "fence." My opinions in the matter are based on my experiences within the school and my views of education in general. My husband and I have been vocal supporters of keeping the school here in our own community. We believe that a school is a heart of a town and it helps students define their identity and their belonging. Rather than closing a school and sending students to another community, we believe there is no excuse to not instead invest in your own school and children and work together to make it the incredible learning environment it has the potential to be.

The final blow to the several-year struggle to keep the high school open came just a few months ago when the state cut our annual education funding by nearly $590,000. In a larger city or school system, that number may seem minor to you, however, here, it is enormous. Our total annual school budget is only 1.2 million. Peanuts for a PK-12 school education for an entire community. The state cut ALL but $19,000 of our funding. This happened in one-year's time. The reason? The state funding formula for education is based on a few things, including 1) student enrollment, 2) property evaluations, and 3) willingness to comply with the new educational consolidation law.

Basically, the town of Lubec, being coastal, is assumed to be able to afford the school. We are the classic example of "property rich - cash poor." Many of the people here are struggling multi-generational fishing families, many of them are those of my students. We have a 75% reduced lunch population and higher than normal special education needs. But as it is with many coastal communities, there is an influx of people who have been able to buy incredibly low-priced seaside property and have been able to develop their dream retirement homes. School enrollment drops as families move away to find work after the closing of factories and lack of available jobs. I myself am what is referred to as a PFA....a.k.a. Person From Away. People here make no bones about telling you that you are just that. But after nine years here, I have a new understanding of the lifestyles and people. I'd like to think of myself as an SPFA..."Semi Person From Away", thinking my ability to adapt to such a different way of life than I had been accustomed to, and my love for the people and this area, gives me some sort of honorary new status.

So, in a nutshell, reductions in funding over the years cause cuts in school programming lessening the perceived quality of education. One big blow comes along, hits hard, stirs fear, and defeats the spirit. The saddest part of all of this for me is that despite all the blows this school has received, it has continued, under excellent administration, to improve and excel at a steady pace over the past three years. I am not one to support testing as a means of proof of accomplishment, but for those who do, our remote school's state test scores are higher than the "surrounding" schools. I put "surrounding" in quotes because the closest high school other than our own is approximately 35 miles away. The states average for "Annual Yearly Progress" (AYP) is something like 4.8%. Our school came out as 14.2%. Impressive if you ask me, that we continue to get better despite lack of state support and resources. I attribute this to several factors in our school, one being a principal who has excellent leadership skills. He saw what needed to be done, set expectations high, motivated us and praised us along the path. We implemented a weekly literacy class with an on-staff expert. Our students have become phenomenal and inspired writers and the teachers are using new methods of differentiation to be able to teach to all kinds of learners so that they may find success. The arts have grown with the inclusion of a music program and my own visual arts classes have grown to include two additional levels. We have the most advanced technology of all schools around, including the colleges in Machias and Calais. Our Aquaculture teacher was recognized as a national teacher of the year, and I have myself received awards and participated in state arts pilot programs. We have a high percentage of students go on to college who have been accepted at such venues as Northeastern, Wheaton, Maine Maritime, Husson, Farmington, and UMO.

Still, a decision was made. Ironically, for those who think that closing a high school will save our town money, it just won't happen. A community is responsible for educating its youth. The money will be invested whether it is here or at a tuitioned school with long bus rides.

We won't know for certain if the high school is closing until June 23rd. This is highly bothersome to me. How do we proceed with the remainder of the school year? Do we move forward as if nothing has changed? Or do we say our goodbyes? It is an emotional time and the last thing I want to do is give up the fight for my students, but at the same time, I need to prepare them for the "if and when". I am a planner, and I want to be ready for either scenario. I want my students to feel prepared as well and confident of their success whatever the outcome. I know that, ultimately, people are strong and adapt, and we will all get through this. The not knowing is the toughest part.

If 2010 is our final graduation at Lubec High School, then it needs to be commemorated. If my art-college bound students finish out their senior year at another school, I want a working relationship with the next art teacher to ensure that that their transition is smooth and that dreams don't go by the wayside. If students are told that they have school choice, then the school needs to provide opportunities for the students to tour the other schools during a school day when students and teachers are in full working mode. If drop-outs occur due to the change of school venue, then we need to have an excellent alternative program in place to catch them before they fall. Decisions need to be made so that teachers who may be losing their jobs can make plans. Not knowing if your school will be here in September brings up the dilemma of do you apply for other jobs to ensure you can pay the bills, or do you hold on because you don't want to abandon the students that will be here should the town decide to keep the school. It is hard to find good teachers willing to commit to living in a remote area to work for one of the lowest teaching salaries in New England with more than the usual workload because the staff is small and spread far too thin.

This blog entry has been the most emotional one for me that I have ever written. Change is always difficult, as I spoke of a few weeks ago. I hope that as a community we can all move through this gracefully and intact.

The sun is shining and I am itching to soak it up. I will head outside to find a piece of fallen birch limb for my sculpture project. Art does the soul good, even when everything around you seems to be a bit of a mess.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Turning the Earth does the Mind Good

Transformation Tapestry in progress

I am sitting in my studio, breathing easy and feeling completely at peace. Sad to admit, but this is a rare feeling lately. Life has been speeding by and if there were any roses, no, I did not stop to smell them along the way. Not in the past couple weeks anyway.

Yesterday afternoon was a turning point. After two solid days of work that was accompanied by pure frustration with techniques going bust and materials running out at critical moments, Chris and I headed outside to soak in the sun and the first real warm day here in Lubec. We planted a rose bush in honor of Chris' brother Gudger. It replaced the ancient rambling rose that met its unfortunate demise last summer due to excavation equipment and my not being here to save it.

Digging into the cool moist earth was rejuvenating. In fact, I get the same feeling turning the earth as I do when working in the studio with clay. We decided not to stop at the rose bush. We raked rocks and heaved up weeds. Hyacinths and hostas were planted as an attempt to green the dreary dirt landscape that is a remnant of recent construction.

Today I entered the studio with a new frame of mind. I felt okay. I felt like I could accomplish what I set out to do, and dare I say, maybe even finish-up a project?

At 4:45 p.m. this afternoon, I was able to call a piece "done" that I began working on back in January. Maybe I would have finished today anyway, but, I think that yesterday's shift in scenery and time away from the studio gave me a fresh perspective.

I am almost done with a clay sculpture that began in January as well. Both projects are for the MFA program that I am in at Heartwood College of Art. It is an incredible feeling to finally see the ideas, formulated nearly five months ago, come to completion. Or near completion anyway! I still have a few details to work out on the clay piece, but I'm in the homestretch. Final project evaluations are May 15th, and I suspect that I will be tweaking things right up until the last minute.

Here's the interesting thing to me. I am forty years old. I have been calling myself an artist since I was about twenty. I have created hundreds of works over the years and sold much of them. But for some reason, this current sculpture feels like my first real piece of artwork. I might be confusing this with, simply, taking a new direction. But there is more to it I feel.

This is the piece that I have labored over more than any other, with over 150 hours and hundreds of dollars invested. It has challenged me to persist even when I was completely frustrated and wanted to can the whole idea. I stuck it out. I spent hours sketching, journaling, researching. No doubt, this project that challenged and frustrated me will be a spring-board for further pieces. And silly me, I am thinking of going through some of the same processes again! You would think I had been beaten down enough already by it, but as I have said before, artwork is not all fun. An artist has a vision and will do what needs to be done to bring that idea into physical manifestation.

I know you must be wondering what is that I have actually sculpted. I have provided only bits and pieces the past few months in this blog. I plan to post the final piece after my MFA evaluations later in May. Even I have yet to see the finished piece all assembled.

In the meantime, head on outside to soak-up some warm rays, breathe-in the fresh air, plant something beautiful, and remind yourself to smell the roses.