A nightmare of antitheticals…

A nightmare of antitheticals…

As humans I believe we live in a mosh of inconsistencies, incongruities, incompatibilities. We are born into them. They surround us always. We learn to cope with them. But they are most often manageable, often purely personal annoyances, small on the scale of life.

Today in Central New Jersey, in our small town of Metuchen, we are enveloped in the gentle images of early Spring: hyacinths and hellebores, daffodils and crocuses, redbuds and cherry blossoms dot lawns and gardens everywhere.  Bright, exquisite, signs of such hope that uplift our spirits. Beyond that, our small conversations here center on properties being reclaimed for the common good, new large tracts being set aside as wildlife preserves…all so positive and optimistic.

And yet…

Living today in our wired, media-drenched world, we are faced with words and images of horror, not from another age, not out of history books.  But at this same moment that the hellebore stands before me in her delicate beauty, violent nightmares are taking place. Bombs are ripping through neighborhoods, neighborhoods with their own daffodils blooming; millions of ordinary people are fleeing for their lives; a whole civilization is being laid waste…while our crocuses spread color and we speak of preserving our land. This is antithetical on a grand scale.

The writer Kayla Craig, has written: “O God of peace…our brains can barely keep up with the breaking news…we don’t know the words to pray…we know that you are a God of peace and we cannot bomb our way to shalom…”

As humans, we are born to manage inconsistencies. But for me, this stretches my own ability to a breaking point…I, too, “don’t know what words to pray” and so sit in silent pleading to our God of peace.

A Contemporary “Canticle of the Creatures”

A Contemporary “Canticle of the Creatures”

This is my contemporary version of the Medieval “Canticle of the Creatures”

With joy we greet you Brother Sun and Blue Sky! 

You brighten and enliven all.

Ah, Sister Moon, such a comfort, 

your soft glow companions us, and with the stars twinkling by your side,

you give us hope when life is darkest.

While the Weathers, fierce creatures that you are, 

swirling rain and snow, winds and heat, 

swaddle us in your wild caresses.

Ah, Sister Water, so soothing, refreshing, invigorating, playful,

and Brother Fire, cozy, bright, enlightening, ardent,

both of you so useful.

You teach us how to be truly helpful

singing and dancing and making merry even as you serve.

O dear Earth, you are surely our Mother, 

nourishing us with every good and delicious thing, 

surrounding us with beautiful and engaging things, 

providing us with furred and finned and feathered ones,  

friends to enrich and enchant us.

But you are also most surely our Sister, 

created by the hand of the same Mother/Father God; 

we are born of the same with destinies linked.

Having been cared for all this time by you, our older Sister,

we now recognize that to go forward, we must walk hand-in-hand, conscious of each other’s needs.

And most fondly of all, we embrace the humanity of all humanity…the whole of what it means to be a human creature, spirit-embodied, both beautiful and disfigured, both charming and crude, both creatively  boundless and yet utterly limited,  

And we rejoice most especially when we can clasp the reality of all of that, and become a source of forgiveness and pardon and love to ourselves and others.

Finally, deeply encoded in our humanity, our continuing companion, Death, we call you Sister as well

…even as we name the nurturing creatures of Earth herself and Water and the Moon… 

who, in your way, completes each of our bodily lives as we know them and frees our spirit from those confines.

Ruminating about Tools…

Ruminating about Tools…

You know the saying, “to do a job well, you need the right tool.” 

After searching for a number of years for just that ‘right tool’ for one specific studio process, something unique to my way of hanging my tiles and moveable sculpture, I ordered one that looked very different from the one I have just about worn out.  I only had half a hope it would fill the bill. It looked quite different on line from the one I always used.  

It came the other day…and Wow! it is not only ‘perfect’ but better than the one I’ve been using for decades. The tip is angled to make the work easier; the handle is thicker to make it more comfortable for my somewhat arthritic hands to hold and manipulate.  What a delight!

I didn’t realize how improved my process would be until I had the courage to purchase that rather expensive, new, seemingly different object. But now I rejoice in the way the designer of that tool has improved my life in the studio.

It’s the little things, right?

Getting that tool made me realize how we are all sculpting away at our individual lives, each of us pretty much using tools that may have worked splendidly early on…but may have gotten worn down and are no longer really useful. 

COVID has and continues to bring all of us to re-assessing the way much of our lives work, but to actually make the change, that’s what takes the real courage…even in little things.  

Clay with a Conscience

Clay with a Conscience

Many Christian artists take the time of the 40 days of Lent to engage in an artistic spiritual practice. I have never felt called to do that…until this year.

Hearing that 43 US Senators had blatantly abandoned their oath to uphold the Constitution and voted to acquit Donald Trump of his involvement in the January 6 storming of the Capital, I knew I needed to respond to that with the power of art. But social commentary has never been the focus of my work. I was quite at a loss to respond and yet found it absolutely necessary to do that.

Eventually the memory of what I had seen in Olympia, Greece surfaced.

There, just outside the ancient Olympic stadium, was a WALL OF SHAME to expose those who had cheated. Each on a pedestal had a plaque that included their names, their fathers’ names, their crimes and the city-state they had represented (and embarrassed).

That seemed the perfect approach to highlighting the blatant dishonesty of those 43 Senators, only rather than include their own names…which I did not want to incorporate into anything so permanent as high-fire clay…instead included only the names of their fathers, since their crime echoes back and forth through history.

And so I began as Lent began, setting out to create 43 5”x5” 1/2 thick tiles. One side included the necessary words…the other, abstract gouges and impressions, and as the project evolved, I knew what I was creating was really “A Study in Orange,” and so glazing on the other side of the tile was settled.

My plan from the outset was to share these with the community on Good Friday: a kind of communal Way of the Cross for us as a nation. I was very uncertain that I would complete this project and, as a friend assured me, “it will take a lot out of you dealing with all that duplicity and hypocrisy,” because, not only was it necessary to focus on the betrayal of those 43, but authentically acknowledge the ways that shows itself in me. 

Remembrance is important; my hope is that recognizing this COMMUNITY DISHONESTY calls us each to action.

My intention going forward is to have the installation exhibited in more formal spaces that have a sensitivity to social consciousness; then to sell each tile and donate all of the proceeds to a national organization that works for justice.

Maturing Artist 2/2

Maturing Artist 2/2

My passion for drawing and art in general carried into my college years, when my drawings and designs became more distinctively my own.

With a Bachelors in English, I spent the next fifteen years teaching that subject, in addition to some art classes to high school students. I also enrolled in a series of college art classes in preparation for applying for a Masters’ Program. In those I explored all  media. So yes, I spent hours and all-nighters working with watercolor, in design classes, with sculpture classes…and finally… finally…my hands touched clay! It was magic. The potential of this material to transform into something useful and beautiful spoke to everything I understood art to be about. 

My first clay class in hand building introduced me to the painful reality that it is better to destroy a poorly done piece while still workable than have it fired and be part of the history of humanity forever…and we were strongly encouraged to do just that.  The following summer, I spent eight hours a day, five days a week for six weeks to develop a modicum of proficiency on the wheel. 

With acceptance into the MFA program at the Catholic University of America in D.C. came more summers exploring diverse media, but always with most of the time in the clay studio. My thesis show consisted of all sculptural ceramic wall works, one 8’x5’ destined for Neumann College which just happened to be expanding and was happy to have a work from one of their graduates to permanently install in the new building. My art trajectory was set.

All the years that followed proved tremendously productive, teaching art in formal classroom settings from pre-K to college, offering workshops from my studio, establishing community arts events and galleries, as well as creating my own sculptural work, both for commissions and personally imaginative creations. Those years were energized and energizing.

For nearly 30 years now, I have worked solely from my studio, Earthsongs. It was initially a very scary jump from the security of the formal classroom to my own enterprise, but I found it a useful springboard to create many community-based arts endeavors. At this point, with all of the experience, connections and collaborations behind me, I now feel I have come to a moment of centering both in myself and in the medium, called to explore clay as my primary communication and interaction with the world. My images and objects now are my primary engagement with society, and I delight in this new reality.