Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Resolution

Sculptures completed over the past three months by Shanna Wheelock....

U.S. Totem Pole
approx. 22" tall
Wheelthrown and slab construction
Stoneware, acrylic paint

Approx. 26" tall
Slab and wheelthrown construction
Stoneware, acrylic paint, wood, metal
with interior light source

Pomegrenade, sequential series
Total 6' wide. Individual sculptures approx. 8"x8"
Slab and press mold construction, fuze toppers each individually carved
Earthenware with acrylic paint and encaustic medium, metal, wood

Well, the New Year is upon us. Folks all around the world are making their ritual New Year's resolutions: Lose weight, exercise, get to work on time, spend more time with family, pay off debt....The list goes on and on. Some people will accomplish what they set out to do, but most will probably fail miserably. Sure, we all get off to a good start. It's the New Year afterall. We certaily have gorged ourselves so much over Christmas and other celebrations this past month that we think we might vomit if someone so much as mentions another glass of eggnog or piece of cake.

Add me to the list of those who have failed miserably in the past. I can't count the times I have made the same resolution over and over year after year. I finally gave up on making resolutions. Still, people ask, what New Year's resolution have you made this year? I have come to the conclusion, after years of failed attempts, that if you think you should do something for your overall betterment, then why wait another month, week, or five days to begin?

So, I planned to begin 2011 with no resolutions.

But, I have been pondering this thought....

What if....

We were all (yes, the entire world, every last one of us, child or adult, no different what country we are from, the color of our skin, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, etc. etc.) were to.... make the exact same resolution?

What if....

We all proclaimed enthusiastically to ourselves that we would make 2011 the year that we...

Make a vow for Peace.

Yes, I really do think it is that simple.

If every person in the world would vow to not say or do another hurtful thing to another being.


Just like other resolutions - it may take while to catch-on. But eventually, with enough people on board, vowing year after year to be kind, empathetic, forgiving beings ...change is destined to come about.

Power in numbers.

Why wait until January 1?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Spreading the Holiday Spirit to Those Less Fortunate

"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before! "Maybe Christmas," he thought, "doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!" And what happened then...? Who-ville they say that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!
-Dr. Seuss "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas"

I just returned from my end-of-semester presentation at Heartwood College of Art and am now full swing into holiday mode. I love this time of year: time with family and friends, a few days of "down-time", and spreading a bit of goodwill. It is late and I still have lots to do before I turn-in for the night, so thought that I would re-post part of last year's Yule entry. It is equally relevant today as it was last year.

Blessings to all for a magical Yule and a peace-filled New Year!

Blog post from December 2009:

Thanksgiving has come and gone. People sat around tables stuffing their faces with all kinds of epicurean delights, sharing stories, giving the occasional thanks for blessings in their lives. Eventually some members of the gathering made their way to the couch for a snooze or to watch a few plays of football. As soon as night passed, it was on to the next holiday and hordes of cell-phone-carrying crazed bargain hunters flooding the streets and stores to find the best deal on this year's hottest toys and gadgets.

Yes indeed, I was part of that mix. Not so much to find the latest deal, but living in a remote area I grab at the opportunity when in "the city" to seek what items we need "back at the ranch" that just aren't available locally. I had been dreading this day, knowing that I would have to skirt around crazily-driven cars at backed-up intersections only to find myself standing in line for what would seem an eternity for one or two items in my hand while others in front of me flaunt their overflowing carts while listening to "The Little Drummer Boy" play over the speaker system for a fourth time that morning.

Okay, maybe I am sounding a bit like the Grinch now.

But in reality, I am not Grinch-like. I love this season. I love (almost) everything about it. Christmas time conjures up all kinds of nostalgia for me. To this day, our family, friends, and neighbors still gather at Mom and Dad's for the Christmas Eve buffet: an enormous spread of food and cheer, gift-exchanging, music, and festive decorations. As a young child, my sister, brother, and I would perform little skits for everyone, or play music or sing. I can still recite the corresponding organ key numbers for "Dreaming of a White Christmas" and "Auld Lange Syne". We don't perform anymore, but the younger of the clan like to belt out a few holiday tunes on the paino or guitar, and the occasional AC/DC song.

In my youth, the butterflies would work overtime in my stomach on Christmas eve. I knew that the sooner I went to sleep the sooner I would wake to find all kinds of toys that Santa had tucked under the tree. There were plenty of chimneys for him to use, and my letters had been mailed to the North Pole ensuring that he would be well-prepared. I was certain I could hear the sleigh bells tinkling as he and his trusty crew of reindeer flew over, Rudolph at the helm of course.

Now that I am older, I still look forward to Christmas (and Solstice!) with great anticipation and excitement. As you age, you appreciate the holidays for different reasons than you did as a child. Now, I find more joy in giving and knowing that I will be spending time with those I love most dearly.

My mom wrote me an email yesterday reminiscing about Christmas past. Like many families, there were financial struggles, but, I never knew it as a kid. The Christmas tree was always overflowing and my sister, brother, and I didn't want for much. It always seemed we had everything we needed. Mom tells of the hours she spent making us handmade clothes and toys because times were so lean, and with tight budgeting she could supplement the handmade items with a couple of material-world toys that we had requested from Santa. I can think back and remember some of the gifts. There were certainly lots of dolls - one that peed and pooped when I fed her, one whose hair could "grow", the beauty-school head that I could I could glam-up, Little Red Riding Hood, and too many Barbies to count, all with high-end runway-type outfits. But what Mom would probably be amazed about is that the items I hold most dear from Christmas' past are the little beanie baby doll she made and the big stuffed pink turtle. I remember toting those two items to school a number of times.

I have lived a truly blessed life. I always had a roof over my head, warm clothes, food, family that loved me, beautiful holiday memories, and material items that I know many in this world don't or won't ever have an opportunity to experience.

I teach in a public school, in a remote, rural area where there are more of those who "need" than those who "have". I know my students, and I know which ones haven't been blessed as I was, or as I am. I know that children, regardless of income class, believe in Santa and expect that he will travel from the North Pole on Christmas to deliver them their dreams. And I know that some students will be more silent than others as kids return from holiday break to show-off their new toys and talk about what goodies Santa delivered to them.

I imagine that most people who read my blog are kind, nurturing souls who are already helping-out others. Given the economy of late, I know it can be a lot to ask. Some folks may not be able to extend themselves financially, but are able to help out with time and volunteering. If you are able to help out, with a toy or in some other financial capacity, a great place to start is a school. Teachers know of lots of little boys and girls who could benefit from the generosity of another. Give your local school a call and ask if there is an item(s) that you can pick-up that will make a child's Christmas morning a little bit brighter. If not a school, there are plenty of children's homes/residential facilities that could use some goodwill as well.

It is a heart-opening experience to help another family who is less-fortunate then yourself.

There are lots of ways to "give" this holiday season (and any season!). If you haven't already made your plan to help-out another, make it a goal to begin now. Whether it is a donation of time, money, or gifts, "tis the season". Perhaps you will help at a local shelter or food bank, be a secret-santa for a school-aged child, pay an out-0f-work neighbor's electric bill, or volunteer at the local hospital's children's ward. It's all beautiful - and it feels great!

Start the giving now and feel your heart grow...and grow...and GROW.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sounds of Silence

Day after the first real snowstorm of the season. Yep! It warranted a snow day!

Sometimes you just have to take a hammer to a piece and start all over.

Bello has been feeling neglected lately. He made his way onto my lap despite my continuing to weave.

Last time I blogged I was crossing my fingers for a snow day. I sent out an all points request (begging) to the Weather Gods to please, please, please, give me a free day to get some work done (ironic, isn't it? a "free day" to do work).

Well, I guess the Weather Gods heard me, because next morning at 5:30 a.m. I the phone rang. School canceled. And it should have been, too. It was a nasty frozen mess out there with a mix of sleet and snow. Definitely not good conditions for anyone to be driving in. I was ecstatic. I laid my head back down on the pillow and snoozed another 45 minutes. When I woke, thinking of all the things I could get done that day, I noticed an unusual stillness. There were no sounds of heaters, no hum of appliances: just the sound of distant blowing wind.


The Weather Gods giveth. The Weather Gods taketh.

My hopes and plans fizzled as I realized that the power was out. How would I get my 10 million things on the to-do list done without power? I needed heat to be comfy. I needed light to do the finer, more detailed work. No electric toys to help dry paint?

Not knowing how long we would be without power, my first instinct was to shower before the hot water cooled. Once that was accomplished I clothed in the warmest wools and layers I could get my hands on. I turned on the Jotul stove, pulled up a rocking chair, placed a camp lamp beside me, and began to weave. I sat toasty by the stove, creating, while watching snow fall briskly outside.

The silence is not something I am used to, but that morning, it felt incredibly comfortable. I worked for about three hours in that spot, thinking how this was the norm for so many not so long ago. This silence. With only my thoughts to entertain. I felt peaceful. Focused.

Chris eventually sauntered down the stairs. His camping skills came in handy as he pulled out a tiny single-burner stove and prepared us scrambled eggs and hot water for coffee and cocoa. I'm sure that our ancestors long ago didn't have it quite this easy without power, but it did make me wonder what it would be like to take ourselves "off the grid".

I'm not sure I could do it long term. I have become accustomed to modern ways and modern toys. I would miss listening to music, the convenience of a quick warm meal, or hot water for a shower. Oh yes - how could I live without hot water?

Still, the thought intrigues me.

The power returned a bit over three hours later. I missed the silence. I missed the peacefulness. Even if you turn off the music, TV, and furnace, there is still the hum of the refrigerator and other electrical devices. Even if you turn off all the lights and heaters, you can still sense the electrical flow.

I finally found my groove again and got in a long day's work. One week ago I didn't think I would be able to accomplish all that I have, but I sit here tonight in awe of the amazing amount of artwork that has been completed over the past week. I finished three tapestries and am almost done with a third sculpture. The pieces have been in progress for almost 15 weeks and it feels good to see them coming to some sort of conclusion. Right now I am listening to the hum of a fan, blowing on a wooden pedestal that I just painted with acrylic paint. I am waiting for the paint to dry so that I can move on to the next step. It feels good to look around the studio and see all that has been accomplished in such a short time.

On another note, the North Pole called today. I normally wouldn't answer the phone on a Sunday morning when in the middle of work, but when Santa phones around the time of holidays, I think it best to Pick-up. It was his top elf calling with a message from the big guy. Apparently Santa was watching us in his big snow globe (yep, checking us out in Lubec, Maine) when he saw Chris, in an ecstatic frenzy, grab a gift from his Christmas stocking and tear apart the paper while dancing frantically around the room and gloating that he opened a gift and I couldn't do a single thing about it.

Well, I don't need to do anything. Seems Santa has taken care of things and Chris is on the probationary Naughty list. If I was in charge of all things festive, I think I would have just slid him right on over to the Naughty list with no chance of gift-receiving parole. But the big guy in the red suit has the final say.

It will be interesting come Solstice and Christmas, this year, won't it Chris?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Glue and Snow

Pomegrenade: one component of a current sculpture that is almost complete.
Ceramic with encaustic, acrylic paint, and iron oxide stain.

Another sculpture in progress - hoping to finish this one up later this morning.

That's Chris in the photo on the left, cooking dinner, yet again. It's been a week like that, with him doing dinner duty several nights. The work hours that I have been keeping are insane and if it weren't for Chris cooking, I'd probably be on a steady diet of Chobani and hot cocoa. The veggie tacos and a half hour walk in the damp moonless night were a much needed break from studio tasks. A good night's sleep was welcomed as well and now I find myself taking time for a quick blog entry before hitting the studio again this morning.

This past week was a convergence of deadlines. Grades were due, budgets as well, and projects for my two MFA classes need to be presented in less than two weeks. Most people I know are well on their way to preparing for the holidays: mailing out cards, trimming the tree, wrapping gifts, and shipping goodies to far off friends and relatives. My only saving grace on that front is that my shopping is all done. Albeit, the gifts are sitting in a bag without the attention of colorful papers and bows to transform them into gift-like delights. I will get to that, eventually. First, I have three sculptures and two or three tapestries to finish by the 18th. I look forward to hopping into holiday mode on the 19th.

Yesterday was a fully productive day in the studio. I have been looking at six separate pieces of work, each unfinished. The past fourteen weeks have been devoted to these specific pieces but it is difficult to get my head around the finished concept when they are in pieces rather than whole and complete. The steps for each piece have to be done in a specific order, no jumping ahead. As usual, things don't go as planned. After painting the acrylic onto the pomegrenade sculpture, I needed to attach the tops to the bodies. In the past I used "ducocement" and this time around, tried a superglue gel. Well, superglue is not so super, and the ducocement back-up did not cement the pieces even after an hour and a half of attempts. The toppers are just too heavy and awkwardly imbalanced.

When Chris returned from his Saturday morning vigil at Flatiron Corner, he offered to go to the hardware store to purchase some epoxy for me. I had already been there earlier in the morning buying all sorts of strange items which set me behind in the studio over an hour. He returned with 30 minute epoxy but mentioned that there was a 15 minute epoxy. Seeing how it is dreadfully painful for me to sit still 30 minutes while holding two ceramic pieces in the exact same position (times four!), I cried out for the quicker dry time. Back to the hardware store he went.

I had used epoxy in the past but was avoiding it. I am a messy worker and mixing the two ingredients is not the most graceful task. Extra glue spills out of the tubes, I get it on my fingers, it stinks, and on and on. But you know what - it worked perfectly. I had four tops to attach to the base sculptures. I mixed the glue, set a kitchen timer for 15 minutes, applied the glue, attached the pieces, and held them exactly 15 minutes each. Simple. Now why didn't I just do that in the first place? It was all over in a little over an hour and I was then onto the next step. Phew.

My Saturday was divided by work on three sculptures. Due to some structural issues my original plans needed to be changed. Clay is a tough medium in that you can spend hours sculpting a piece or wheelthrow your best-ever pot only to remove it from the kiln to discover a nasty huge crack. And that is what happened with each of these three sculptures, on some level. I have had issues with this particular clay, but, I like the texture and how well it takes glazes. On the sequential sculpture one component was damaged enough to have to re-sculpt. It was minor though, time wise (perhaps another three or so hours), but on the larger pieces, I needed to find a way to work with the cracks. The cracks aren't big enough to cause worries of the piece falling apart, but it did make me have to rethink the next part of the process, which originally was to glaze and fire to full temp. Ultimately, I decided that one piece would do well with paint rather than glaze and re-fire. Why risk it when I can get a similar effect with paint and a filler to disguise the small crack, which seemed inconsequential overall as far as durability. But who knows what would have happened with higher kiln temps and further shrinkage. The larger sculpture I just couldn't imagine any other way than fired to temp. I ultimately decided that it was worth the risk. Will I be happy in the end with my decision? Time will tell.

Folks who work with clay will most likely understand my dilemma. It is tough to put so much energy into a piece not knowing for sure if there will be disappointment or joy when opening the kiln lid. The anticipation is a real booger.

Enough said. I am going to shower and get rolling here.

Oh - snow coming in for tomorrow. According to the weather forecast, anyway. it's one of those quirky-type storms where the bad weather rolled off to the east only to be pushed back at us where it will swirl a bit around our downeast region before pushing its way back out. Severe weather warnings are up. Could it mean, possibly, a snow day? The first of the year? I am kinda, sorta, (alright, jump-up-and-down do a snow-dance kinda hoping) hoping that it is. I would love the extra day to be in my studio. The trade off is to make up the day at the end of the school year - a beautiful, warm, sunny spring day spent in the classroom beyond originally contracted days. But - the trade off is worth it for one or two days a year; to nab that extra hour of sleep after the phone rings, watch the wind knock around the flakes, listen to it whistle, and to be inside toasty warm, in slippers and PJ's, by the fire, drinking cocoa.

Of course, the actual version would be me in messy work clothes flitting around like a worker bee to get some work done, then outside every so often sweating it out while shoveling snow and trying to free the car for next day's travel. But I prefer to imagine the above, more romantically-stated version!