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.
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.
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.
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.
In the garden Autumn is a season of removing, of taking away. On the farm, it is a time of harvest; for the gardener, it means a cutting back so flowering plants can consolidate and renew themselves through the colder season. For the farmer, it means gathering up the produce and grain, so they can be used to nourish.
It seems most appropriate then that this month I brought to conclusion my time as a teacher, ending 25+ years in a formal classroom, teaching levels from pre-K through college (So amusing to have been called ‘Professor’) followed by 25+ years giving workshops, teaching in the studio and in varieties of informal spaces and leading arts organizations. My hope is that this new phase will produce both a harvest of renewed creative energy, even as I now give consolidated focus to what my mind and hands do directly with the the clay, to the sculpture I create.
My studio practice is now all.
While I found all that has gone before exciting and so very appealing…I loved engaging with ‘human clay’ as much as the earthy stuff…I do look forward to this new moment with great eagerness.
Earthsongs lives in the midst of a ‘handkerchief garden,’ a small plot, front back and side, that Nino and I tend with great care. So, I understand the season from the gardeners’ point of view: all quiet, just the structure, the ‘good bones’ of the space making themselves known, as well as all the physical labor it takes to bring it to this point of quiet.
With my Dad hailing from a farm in the Heartland, I claim something of the farmer in my genes as well. And so I look at this time as one that will produce a ‘harvest of fruition,’ a time that will allow me to create in new and exciting ways, that will be nourishment to not only myself, but all who will encounter my work.
September has unceremoniously arrived. Most of us can hardly believe it…I know I can’t. I thought for sure we would be ‘through the Portal’ by now, on to other things, the new taking shape…
“The Portal…calls us to tarry rather than rush through, to accept our vulnerability and not simply re-clothe ourselves in garments that no longer fit”.
I continue to sit in that doorway trying to discern which “garments I should not re-clothe myself in,” which “garments no longer fit,” looking out at the world, still very separate, visiting few friends, at best, “zooming” with family.
Knowing that offering classes and workshops are very definitely some of the “garments” that no longer fit, that organizing and administering arts groups in the community is assuredly “a wardrobe” I have definitely outgrown, I looked with uncertainty at the Studio’s relationship to the rest of the world. I agonized over whether or how I should reach out and connect with the community during the height of the Quarantine, but recognized that, too, was not vestiture that was mine. And with it all, I was concerned that my connection with others would become more limited than I would appreciate.
Shaking me into the beginnings of a new consciousness, however, is the surprising unsolicited flow of commission requests. I am in the midst of a whole series of large projects and small ones, all delightful ideas that call me to engage with the clay in both familiar ways as well as those that stretch my knowledge and relationship with the material. Interaction with individual clients around specific projects these weeks has assured me that there will continue to be lively human connection in the studio.
Every artist, and I believe to the pluperfect, the clay artist, has an element of the hermit in her personality. Thus, my alone-time working at Earthsongs is deeply welcomed. Despite that, there has continued to be a genuine flow to the life of the Studio. Because of this, I have come to know that it is the creative impulse itself, purely the energy inherent in the action of creating, that is an attraction, even as my “old garments” are cast aside.
So that even while alone, standing purely as maker, I understand myself more clearly now as a genuine part of the flow of life here in this local community and the community of the world.
Do I need to do away with other “garments”? Perhaps. But for now, I’m becoming more comfortable wearing just the ones I still have.
Beginning anew amidst a pandemic…honoring the past…embracing the
Creating a new digital face for Earthsongs…a new way to present the studio to the world…was an immense endeavor, one that has taken nearly half a year. First, it required me to review and be thoughtful about what I had done through my ceramic art for the past nearly 30 years, and if I include the work created at an earlier studio Canticles in Clay, the forerunner of Earthsongs, then more than 30.
Then to realistically look ahead to what I hope to achieve going
Collaborating with an insightful webmaster, a true ‘master,’ and
one with whom I have partnered for nearly two decades, I was given tools and
guidance to approach that task…while Kyra, of WhyKyra.com…possessed the digital
skills as well as the innate creative ability to use word and image and color
to create the spirit of what the studio is about and to design something that
would clearly say all of that.
Now this moment is one when the entire world, all of living
humanity, our fleshy beings, have been encouraged for over two months, for our
own health and the good of our neighbors, to pause, to ‘hunker down,’ to draw
in, to center, to quiet ourselves. But
today, even as we long for an end to the quarantine, “Claysongs 3.0” leaps into
being, a sign of hope and newness, allowing the fresh public face of the studio
to travel boldly through the ether and around the world, even as I continue to
create in the cloister of Earthsongs,
My hope is that Claysongs becomes a place you visit often,
beautiful and inviting, a digital destination to which you invite friends; a
place you can peruse together with those you are now ‘sheltering.’ Do stay safe…do remain well.