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.
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.
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.
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.