The Things We Live With – Part II

Some other things that just stay in place. On the long thick pine bench my husband made and runs along a wall that faces the front door has at one end a stoneware vase. I put the reddish sticks from some out of control willow bush with white and green leaves in it. The bush was supposed to look like the neighbors down at the end of the road, but no, it throws floppy branches out into the driveway to rub across my car. It sort of flails it arms in a sense, and a couple times a year I have to cut it back. I think this only encourages it. But the branches are a deep wine red and I bring them in to poke into this vase. Then I add Eucalyptus stems that refuse to fall apart. The fake red berries are so totally not me, but once in the vase over the holiday season, they stayed. Only two rocks were supposed to be here. They were handy to take to classes when I taught earth pigment gathering and processing. For some mysterious reason, my husband has decided to bring rocks in to join them. I said I thought there were enough there now….but he may not remember me saying that.

Above the bench hangs a collection of Aboriginal Australian art. They are pieces that could not be left behind once found in galleries or meeting the artist. And above them is a coil of barbed wire from along our road. It was my Christmas wreath for two holiday seasons. In the barbaric calf muzzle that I attached to the wire wreath I hung holly, bright green and red from a tree not far from where the wire was harvested. I wanted something different for a wreath on the front door. It was too different for a neighbor who came by. He was reading too much into it….way too much.

These are faces of apartheid from a photojournalist’s book.  He was documenting South Africa while Mandela was still imprisoned. Again, I could not put the book down once I saw it in the store. I drew the faces with paint on tapa cloth and used sticks and fabrics to capture what it was that I read about them. The eyes staring out from the page just was not enough….I wanted to see them more often. The iron animals below are part of a large collection that started with just a couple. Originally they were made from oil drums in the Caribbean, then likely, when popular, mass produced in India. I love the way the cow’s head is flat and at right angles to his neck. Each one has such character.

At right angles to them is the bowl of rocks watched over by a black bird. Hanging on the wall above are Aboriginal baskets from Indonesia and Australia. There is very little in our house that is not in this same palette of browns and golds and beiges and greys.

On a chest from Bali sits some clever sculpture pieces with rocks, basket, nest…all back dropped with an old Indian textile tied carefully onto a black framed fabric so as to show the edges and disperse the weight evenly. And when I go out onto the porch through the door just to the right of the chest, I see this.

Baskets, a face jug and a tall sculpture that I made of spare parts from local farmers and a large rusted piece of metal that looks a bit like a horse’s head…well sort of. It was bulldozed up by the man who excavated for our house. He could not believe I wanted to keep it and mount it onto blocks of wood with old springs and other bits of rust. It stands as tall as me and I think of Garland and how he knew just how to clear the land to give us the best view even when it was just him on his machine in the middle of the woods. Those baskets were made in classes taught by Grace Kabel in the late 70s. I think she single-handedly is responsible for the contemporary interest in making functional baskets. She taught us. We taught others and it went from there. Because we worked with her, we were given  “at cost prices” for materials from the only supplier in the country of packaged cane. Back then it was the by product of the rattan furniture business.

Here are others made in her classes that sit at the end of the porch.

On a bench out there are more of those Eucalyptus stems dried up in a vase behind another old basket that came from a peach farm where my father and I picked peaches not long before he died.

And to the left of this bench hangs this. A carved face from the root of a bamboo plant.

It is hard for me to pass up things with faces and yet I can’t stand dolls. Odd isn’t it. There is a collection of dolls in the guest room with that pesky cow and his story full of characters and I wonder what to do with them. Obviously I do not like living with them that much because they are in a room I hardly go into. Back to the porch and bamboo.

Bamboo and willow sticks with a clay bird hung in. It is the messy end with the only surviving zebra fern. I loved these ferns when they appeared about ten years ago. All yellowish green and mottled.

And this too at the messy end. It is the remains of an old pottery fountain that I put dirt into and hoped a plant would want to live there. I didn’t. Old bamboo bits of things that have dried and cracked covering whatever died in there. Some rocks and a blue glazed clay round thing that a friend in Australia gave me years ago because I admired it. I never should have brought it home. I tried to float it like she did in clear fresh water with just the right stones in just the right pot and look what I did….neglected it to the point of it chipping and being stuck here with other sad things that for some reason I can’t toss out. I should have said, “No, you keep it here where it will last forever.” But I didn’t and now it has become one of things I live with.

I will do more of the happy fun things later but I do like this last image. Something sadly poetic about it.

Til later.

The Things You Live With

When you walk into someone’s house you see what it is they live with. What things matter enough to see every day, all day. Hopefully this person’s house is not a package setting such as “Rooms to Go” or a section of Ikea that looked like it should come home in boxes to be assembled to look like it was in the store. Hopefully the person whose home you enter has things that have stories. And the stories are why it still sits on the shelf, hangs on the wall, crowds the floor.

Thinking of how to pare down our belongings I decided to do a blog of details of the things around the house that I take for granted. These are vignettes of a much larger space. These are things that the cleaning lady swipes a duster over twice a month with no idea of why they are there.

The reason they are there is because of their story. They tell me the story over and over again each time I look at them. They sit next to other stories and make up new ones just by rubbing elbows with each other. I am spending more time with them and will take at least two blogs to cover the ones I photographed just today.

Above is the detail of a long painting/drawing on a wood panel that hangs on the wall between upper and lower cabinets. It is above where the liquor is kept below and the dinner plates above. On it is written some of the text from a poem I wrote about the “Position of Periphery.” Being on the edge of not belonging, not getting involved frees a person from expectations. I love this piece. Here is another end of the panel.

Carolina wrens perch along a stick that comes from the mouth of a Xian warrior. I got the idea from a picture I saw in art history classes of the first attempt to put sound into artwork. A small Asian monk had a stick from his mouth with birds perched on it….at least that is how I remember it…..the book is still here not fifteen feet from this but if I look it up to be sure, there is a chance that the story would have to change. I will leave them apart and stick to memory. The wooden bowls were turned by a local wood turner whose wife also turned bowls and had jazz performances in her studio on Saturday nights after her husband passed. One of them has a wine stopper my husband made that I keep handy to plug into red wines only. Just a small pat on the man’s head and the wine is sealed. The large clay vessel is a gift from a friend in the Art Group. Pouring wine from this jug is a performance…..and it takes two hands. I like how these things look together and when I see the wooden turned bowls move further away from the jug, I bring them back and let my fingers linger on their smooth surfaces and think of quiet old Knude and his wife Lissi.

Further down the same set of cabinets is another wooden panel painting with the sugar molds holding bees wax candles and waiting for the next holiday dinner party.

The other end of the same panel has the earth pigments from here as background for a Gaston Bachalard quote about childhood and the discovery of a nest. I think his book, Poetics of Space is my most favorite “art” book. In front are some cups that hold Turkish coffee in just the right proportion with a bit of cream. They were marriage ceremony cups made by a bride and groom who did not stay married. More pottery and a bowl turned by my husband that has dried weeds that a friend and I picked to decorate the Thanksgiving table maybe four years ago. And I still taste her contribution of shredded wheat rolls when I look at these dried up stems too fragile to dust.

The long trestle table my husband made sits along the length of those cabinets. It is made of wormy chestnut salvaged from an old building we bought in town years ago. The wooden bowl on the table sits on a Mexican tapa cloth given to me by the same guy who made the jug. The wooden bowl was carved by my father and husband when they first met fifty years ago. I filled it with these strange balls someone called “monkey balls” and burned driftwood from a friend in Australia and Aboriginal carvings of goannas. The bird with burned markings like the carvings was the perfect addition when I found him in a shop filled with clever things…a shop called Sugar Boo. I think I bought it the same day I saw a woman in there wheeling her therapy pig dressed like Sherlock Holmes around in a baby carriage. Other bits and pieces in the bowl make this such a magic place to dip your hands in and remember.

Just off the end of the dining table is a pair of book cases. On top of one sits an upended packing box that held Japanese tea bowls. Now it houses gum nuts and a sharks egg in one cubby, a beaded basket from Bali in another. But the best part is the little antler family I found in a museum shop in Vancouver. I saw just one in the case and fell in love with it. She said, “We have more”. I said, “Show me.” I stopped her after four. They were so hard not to keep together. They are a family. Those little carved faces with drilled eyes and mouth. Their arms and legs swinging on strands of sinew….all that and made by an Eskimo in northern Canada.  And next to this box is this.

There are three hens or chicks (not sure which) in a soap dish from Africa. They are watched over by this wonderful stoneware bird….a bird with a smile on its face. I like this kind of pottery. The marks of the hand are all over it. The stoppered piece behind the big bird is made by an Japanese potter living and working in Asheville…..a gift from a friend. The three chicks were made by an older woman in Penland. She took a class I taught there and this was a way of bringing her home. I love how she pressed shells into the clay to look like wings.

Over on the other book case sits a collection of Indonesian bottles made from wood and horn. Very intricate designs. The head for the one has been knocked off again and is likely lodged between the book case and the wall. We put them in bamboo cups when they tip over too frequently and now it seems they belong there. A wooden Balinese mask hangs on the wall and a complex weave snuff basket stays close to these figures. A small basket made by a friend in Australia hangs off a branch. All of these things feel good in the hand and bring back the stories of being in Bali with friends from Australia. They stay away from the Eskimo family….like two different tribes that have only me in common.

More dried things are on the wall just past the window by the bookcases. They are from our lotus plants in the water garden outside the front door and are stuffed into a piece of bamboo brought home from Japan. There is an African doll and a Peruvian doll hung between two forks bought in a shop on my first trip to teach in Australia. It was a wonderful big old place in Mittigong. The basket I bought to use for serving crackers, but like most things took on a preciousness because of where it came from.

I will do another blog another day…..there are so many more pictures of things that I live with in this large room of kitchen, dining and living space.

Now I am getting ready for company and the eclipse tomorrow.  And during the past two weeks Sadie and I are still working on the shawl.


Cleaning Up and Clearing Space

Six bags of things I have no use for came out of the studio closet this week. All went to the trash. It is amazing how many things you think will be used that just end up under or behind something else. Now I can actually see everything in here.

In the main studio there are still corners left to be gone through.

And things that are hard to part with right now like favorite undergraduate pieces.

But I am getting close. There are now several boxes of books to be donated to the Fiber Arts and Book Arts studios of a local craft school. Many more to be given to a used book store.

The best part of cleaning up my space this week was finding a home for my collection of pop up books. When I went to catalog them, I found the collection had grown to over ninety. And I have not added any in at least five years.

I will likely give the same alma mater some of my artist books that have been exhibited but never sold. It is nice to think of them being appreciated by budding book artists. Lots of these are tucked into corners of shelves.

But not the many years of Australia travel journals. Those I will keep for several more years. Here is just one end of the shelf full of those and the few things I brought home from my last trip over in March.

And another group of things I find it hard to part with now are the small wooden tools and foundry molds. They feel so good in the hand and need to be used somehow.

But the studio is cleaner, neater and ready for the Art Group meeting tomorrow. I will sit at my desk/work table ready to take notes.

And they will find their usual places to do the same.

Next week I will go deeper into corners and clear out some more. Ready some things for a burn pile. And get back to the Specimen Journal. Maybe redo the linen scarves that did not seem to hold much of the earth pigments due to their gauziness. And maybe work more with the photos taken of what the driveway has to say to me about the daily trek from one end to the other and back. I am beginning to see a language in the temporary marks of shadows and patches and rain.

More next week about work and workshops.

Planning Workshops and Back to Work in the Studio

This is the journal and map I am working on as a sample of how the class in Halls Gap for Grampians Texture will start. It is a six day masters class titled, “An Expedition that Begins with One Square Metre”. I use that measurement because most of my students are lucky to get that much space to work on in class. And the funny thing is that in Australia they are usually concerned that their neighbor has enough space to work on and adjust their bits and pieces accordingly. A generous, considerate lot to say the least.

In this class we will start by making this small leather field journal to write about our excursions. The map is one I learned how to cut and fold to be used for field work. It will tuck neatly into the back of the journal.  And the rest of the journey is anything the students want it to be. They can go where they want to go and accumulate “artifacts” and “evidence” along the way. Some may go to places of memory, others into a literal square metre outside the studio, and others making it up as they go… I am.

I will be teaching a white line printmaking introductory class in Hobart, Tasmania early March. It is one of my most favorite places. Tasmania is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. My mid nineties experiences with the basket makers there have made it a place to want to return to again and again. Here is a bit of white line they might relate to.

Although the image above was colored with watercolors made from Australian soils, this might just be the first time in several years that I am not teaching that technique there. It will save on packing space, that is for sure. Not to mention examined luggage.

My third class scheduled in Australia will be in Ocean Grove, Victoria. So far it is titled, “Book, Basket, Boat – Vessel for Memory”. Students just need to show up with a memory and the materials they like working with, and together we build something that houses a memory that can be saved of dispatched, wherever it needs to go. …sort of excavating followed by expediting. Here is one of mine.

It is a page from “Ties to Home”, a book about leaving one home for another.

Speaking of home, I see these things on my walk close to the house. The first is this glorious fungus along the road that appears only in this one spot every year come summer.

And this tree, an old very tall pine that has been leaning for many years and grew to adjust. But this year with so much rain, I think it is tipping ever so slightly more towards just dropping straight down to the ground. See what I mean?

I don’t know how it manages to hang on. It is a determined tree and I remember photographing it for a book of pictures of trees for an assignment in my photography class in undergraduate school. They were all so much more impressive in black and white and many of them reminded me of old men just waiting to be asked something they knew all about. The book took an award and I still have it….another thing I need to find a home for. Don’t you just look around at times and wonder, “Where did all this stuff come from?” and “Did I really need to buy or make that?!”

And here is one of my cats. Some blogs it is the picture of their cat that makes the reading worthwhile…..

She likes to watch me read in bed at night….it only lasts ten minutes and we are both gone.

And aside from all that, I have been back at the Specimen Journal. More pages as I start on the third of eight signatures between wooden covers.

There will be some writing on these last pages. Surely he had to take notes on what he was seeing and recording.

It is a wet day here in Brasstown, NC and I will stay in the studio packing things up I need to get rid of and maybe working on this Specimen Journal. I put all of the papers I made in Claudia Lee’s class away and wondered what in the world I am supposed to do with them and all the others they are keeping company with. If I take them out and make something, then that something needs to sit on a shelf. I am trying to clear off the shelves. What was I thinking?! I keep asking myself that more and more lately. Maybe I will just sit and look out this window and write some poetry. That at least ends up on one or two pages or even better in the bin.

Til next week.