The Holidays celebrated at this time of year find nearly everyone tapping into her/ his inner artist. No matter the tradition, creativity flows:
But I have seen the creative spirit alive many-fold this year in efforts to compensate for our quarantine. The ever-fun, “Ugly-Christmas-Sweater”party to raise funds for a good cause was replaced in one instance with cookies decorated to rival Ugly-Christmas-Sweaters.
Some families have revived the age-old craft of cutting paper snowflakes. It seems there are multiple places to visit online to get you started. Someone suggested this to be an especially good one.
I personally delight in being part of the creative swirl as soon as the Calendar flips to December. Much of what the Studio presents at this time of year is very different from my usual focus and allows my work to add to the treasured traditions for many families.
Which is why I found it so wonderful that Papillion was willing to host Earthsongs’ Winter Market Faire, my annual Open Studio. To be able to actively participate in the season in a safe way was a real stroke of luck for which I continue to be grateful…a new, creative solution!
So while I miss terribly all of the many gatherings, performances, and events that have come to mark this season for us, I invite all to join me in this festive time of heightened creativity to apply that creative spirit in a new way to the season’s celebrations during this very unique ‘time out of time’ year.
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.
Someone cleverly remarked that the Pandemic has reduced us to the same lot as Peasants living in the Middle Ages:
“Bake Bread, Avoid the Plague, Revolt Against Tyranny.”
How true! I laughed.
…but it brought me to think about the inherent connection all of us have with all those humans who have gone before. And specifically for me, my connection with all those craftspeople, sculptors, potters, those whose skill adorned public and religious structures, even those who painted murals on the rock walls of the caves of Altamira and Lascaux.
Every day in the studio pushes me deeper into an understanding of what art is and what it is all about. The Dutch artist Frederick Franck describes it this way,
“Art is neither a luxury nor merchandise, and far from a hobby. Art must arise from regions fathoms deeper from the deepest recesses of the human Spirit. It springs from the maker’s core, as if it is to touch the core and the very truth of the one who confronts it.”
So while I toil away at 242, creating functional sculpture hopefully to bring beauty to individual residences, my real effort is to infuse the core of life into each work. And while I have a prominent piece of wall sculpture for sale in Papillon, it is there with the express purpose that someone will recognize something of their own spirit in that work and allow it to resonate in their home.
Kafka tells us, “Art is a nothing that is everything,”
I think most of us have a sense of that. Art distinctly changes the energy of a place. I tell my clients who commission work that they are “my Medici;” they make it possible for me to create. To commission a piece of art is inherently different from simply purchasing any other object, a pair of shoes, a kitchen appliance. Those may well make life more comfortable, easier, but they do not deal with a matter of ‘soul.’
It was a comfort to remember that while many were doing the “bread baking” thing, there were also…even back then…many others who were engaged in creating art, that “nothing” which is everything.
With Junebug behind us, life at the studio settles into the gentler rhythm of the summer months. While quite counter-intuitive, I do not offer any classes or workshops, but I reserve the summer for developing new work for autumn and Holiday sales and as a time for recouping and renewing.
Creative activity necessitates a degree of solitude and quiet interiority, and though visitors are always warmly welcome, the whole property becomes a quiet hub of creativity, with new ideas growing: Michelle developing work from earlier molds, Nino doing an amazing re-design this summer of our kitchen, and I developing designs for new commissions and other projects.
As I worked in that environment, I began to reflect on the effect other local artists continue to have on my art, both through their work and their personalities. Full-time professional artists are an interesting lot, and one of the benefits of living in Metuchen has been to get to know a number of them.
All of these are people with BRIGHT SPIRITS! Yes, they have a care and fierce dedication to their art that often calls them to spend lots of time alone in their studios; and still they delight in the creative process. This summer, I realized how much their viewpoints, their “eyes” have helped inform my own way of looking.
But even more, their attitudes continue to be a source of inspiration. The generosity of these artists…each and every one…continues to be a great encouragement to me.
These are people who by their very life and work create an environment of community. I have found them ever willing to assist, share ideas, help solve technical problems, generally lend a hand. They willingly share equipment and enthusiasm.
From David Glasofer, owner/artist/photographer of Image Up Studio, to the married artist teams of Kim and Danny Adlerman and Janice Fried and Bruce Donnola, to the photographers Judy Weinberg, Mark Harris, and Michael Martin, and Kyo and Jana Morishima; the sculptors and art educators Duffy Dillinger and Roy Chambers, Lauren Rabinowitz, our local web guru and, of course, my sister artisan Amy Brooks.
The summer song the Earth sings at the studio is one of awareness and gratitude for all those people; all those creative connections that help keep my own creativity flowing…
I believe working with clay does put me uniquely in touch with the earth. It gives insight into many aspects of what it means to be human. It’s no wonder so many cultures, and religions have seen the first humans a “made from clay”. We have connections to the material that I find fascinating.
Currently, I have been working on a series of whimsical, sculptural signs for a local florist. The intent is to create Garden Elements that remind all that the area around the store is for ‘Flower Shop Parking Only’. Thus, the words are critical to the project, and those dimensional elements need to be not only clearly readable, but attached to the work with great care.
A dozen years ago, I approached my first studio sign, another outdoor project that included raised letters, much more casually. As a result, after ten years or so of braving the freeze-thaw of our environment, some letters popped off , and I was back to creating a new sign! Lesson learned!
If two pieces of clay are going to retain a strong relationship, really stick together, both need to be made aware of their need for each other. Scoring the area…in short, ‘messing it up’, roughing the surface OF BOTH PIECES is important. To create beauty, BOTH need to recognize their own incompleteness. The addition of lots of slip…clay that is water-softened to the consistency of thick cream…assures the bind. Allowing the slip to mush out between the letters and set up a bit is a healthy idea and secures the elements. Cleaning and firming the edges further tightens the letters.
Married for twenty years this June, those actions in the studio call me to reflect on the intimate ‘clay to clay’ relationship of married life. The need we each have had to recognize our own ‘messiness’ and areas of weakness, to the addition of great fun and times of lovely delight as the creamy slip that has helped assure our bind. If human relationships are to endure the extremes of our interpersonal environments, the clay softly sings to me about how to make that happen.