IMG_2361Every year at this time, we make our lists, the best experiences of the previous year and our hopes for the future year.  Add to those lists, the ones that are published that tell us the top ten books, movies, sports moments, songs, fashion trends, dog breeds and cities that are good for retirees and one might imagine that life could be neatly navigated by choosing all of the number ones.  We know that that isn’t true because the number ones change every year at this time.  Big surprise when you have tossed all of your tight jeans, retired to Evansville, Indiana and waited six months for a pure-bred Labradoodle.

The one subject that I do consider each year, just short of making a list, is the practice of art, mine and the state of what’s goingIMG_2243 on in the larger field of art.   For many years, I thought mostly about my own practice, what I was doing and what I needed to do to continue.  Occasionally I would think about the value of art in our lives and try to relate my own work to that perceived value.  More recently I have thought about the state of art, about what it means to be an artist in a broader context and have tried to make sense of it.  This year I think I’ll just have another martini.

I read the following quote a few days ago and I think that it will allow me to forgo the introspection this year and to just keep going.

In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little a glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. Art is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.

-Teresita Fernández, Blind Landscape

Ridiculous and irrational.  I often feel that way in the studio and I have always known that it was important in some vague way.  Now I feel reassured.  (It is also how I feel after the second martini, but that’s another issue altogether and it is not very productive.)

I wish you the very best for 2015.  I’m sure that you can make your own list of what is best for you.

Stu-juggling You have probably heard by now that Stu Kestenbaum, the director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, is leaving the position in May. After twenty-seven years, if all goes according to plan, Haystack will have a new director in the fall. For those of us who know and love Haystack, it is difficult to think of the place, the experience of being there, without simultaneously thinking of Stu. Of course, those of us who knew Fran Merritt, the founding director, still see his influence there, as well.

Change isn’t always welcome. For some of us, we will go out of our way to avoid it. But when change is inevitable, we hope to see it as an opportunity. This is definitely an opportunity. No one will “replace” Stu. He is one of a kind. He has been the best of the best during his directorship. Now we need to look for someone who will become the next best of the best. (I know that the word, best, is a superlative and that therefore there can only be one, but I’m taking poetic license here.)

IMG_1751What qualities do you look for in a potential director of a major non-academic art education and research institution? This is where it gets sticky. There really are few predictors for success in the traditional sense. No degrees, experiences or previous posts can really predict what will happen at a unique situation such as living and working on Deer Isle, Maine, at a world class school based on both tradition and the future of the work of the hand, where the faculty is all invited and the students are from 18 to 90-something years of age, coming from every state in the country and dozens of foreign countries. So what do we look for?

Here’s my short list, which is totally personal and not to be taken as official in any way.

1. Vision. A slippery word, I know. The vision thing. But it is important in an institution that essentially shuts down each winter, comes alive in the summer, changes along with the fields of craft, art and design, values communication with the other arts and serves a huge and disparate community. If there is no clear and over-arching vision, it would be easy for things to go astray or to become small and repetitive.

2. Organizational skills. As much as Haystack seems to happen as if by magic, it takes an enormous amount of work and coordination to make it seem so effortless. The staff we have now is remarkable and the new director will need to live up to that standard and be able to meet the demands of every aspect of the running of the school.

3. Authenticity. That word is way overused these days, but I guess I mean that the director will have to be comfortable in his or her own skin and comfortable with this odd entity called Haystack. Because it exists essentially because of the people who drive down that long road to be there for two weeks or four days or a weekend, it changes with every arrival. The director has to feel comfortable with the constant change.

And then we have intelligence, a sense of humor, the ability to talk to people, the ability to listen to people, kindness, a passion for making, on and on. The process of searching for this person will require exactly the same qualities, now that I think of it.  Wish us luck.  Haystack is a very big idea with a big history.  We’re at a juncture of past and future right now and we want to make sure that its success continues to enrich the lives of the people who go there and the people they touch for many many years to come.

This was actually written on October 23 and I didn’t get it posted.  Silly me.  But since I still think that it has something to say, I’m posting it today.

Tom Hall-Whitehead Passage 1, 7.5x9, 2013Home again after three weeks of excitement, foreignness and the acute awareness of differences.  I can now say that there is a lot to be said for boredom, sameness and daily habits. Not that my life at home and in the studio is boring or bland, but being able to perform the everyday tasks of life without having to translate, anticipate or navigate allows for a more calm and considered life.  I like being home.

My painter friend, Tom Hall, and I had coffee this morning.  Coffee with Tom is definitely a habit that I have come to Tom Hall-Toward Canada, 24x40, 2014enjoy and it always gives me something to think about.  His show at June Fitzpatrick Gallery in Portland is up for the month of October.  I wrote about his show a few weeks ago.  I asked him if he had a “favorite” piece in this show, not knowing what I really meant by that question.  He said that there are almost always a few pieces in a body of work that tell him something that he didn’t know before, that lead him into a new way of working.  I dare say that the “new way of working” might not be perceived by the viewer, but for him, there is something new to explore and to expand upon.

Tom Hall-Nocturne- Sebago Lake 2, 28x30, 2014I know what he means.  It only happens by working, by producing a group of pieces that seem to come from the same source.  There will be one that winks at you and says, “I’m different.”  Not, “I’m better.”  Just, “I’m different.”  There is a different sense of light or a new combination of colors or an accident of materials that was not intended.   From here you begin again with a slight change of direction.  You begin to count on this phenomenon and if it doesn’t happen, it’s time to change it up.  It’s time to change the materials you are using, the imagery, the scale, something…not much…to allow for the surprise that leads you to the next path.

The images are from Tom’s show which is now down.  More can be seen at the facebook page of June Fitzpatrick Gallery.  They are beautiful but, of course, these small imitations of the originals cannot do them justice.

 

 

photo 1Everything you think you know about Tuscany is pretty much true.  It’s beautiful and old and there are olives and cheese and wine.  And sheep and cows and pigs.  And stone walls.  And twisty, narrow roads.  It’s beautiful and odd.  The buildings, from stables and pig wallows to castles and churches are “protected” from any external alteration.  Evidently, one can do anything on the inside but not on the outside, other than maintenance and upkeep.  This means that there is a frozen-in-time quality which, while beautiful, is not exactly dynamic.  It’s dreamlike, wonderful for a vacation but I wonder what it is like to live in a place where the 16th century is still the prevailing architectural influence.  What happens when a culture looks back for its sense of value instead of to the future?  It’s the same question that Maine and other places of historic importance or natural beauty have to ask and answer.  I never really thought about it before but as there is more and more to preserve (buildings, cars, books, art…), how do we choose what to keep and what to let go to make way for the future?

We stayed for four days just south of Siena at a place called Spannocchia, an organic farm and agritourismo in a sixteenth photo 2century castle.  When we arrived around 5 in the afternoon, we were told that there was an art exhibition in the small building, which was probably a stable at some point, right next to the building in which we were staying.  We stopped by to see what was going on and began talking to an American woman who, as it turned out, was the instructor for a week-long watercolor class that was ending with this exhibition.  In chatting, we discovered that she lived on the same road in West Bath, Maine that is home to my best friend from the age of three years old.  We were in Italy, in a 16th century building, talking to a woman who lives a quarter mile from someone I have known for more than 65 years.  Time and space collapsed at that moment.  www.spannocchia.com

photo 1Leaving home is a good thing.  It allows us to see the most common of aspects of life…eating, landscape, architecture, weather, foliage, driving, music, art…in a new way.  But returning home is a good thing, too.  Not everything has to be considered.  In our own homes, we know where the glasses are.  We know how to flush the toilets and the roadsigns are recognizable and legible.  It’s just easier.  But I wouldn’t give up those interludes of strangeness for anything.  Time in another space is invaluable.

photo 1 The internet, like fresh air, is wonderful when you have it and noticeably frustrating when you don’t.  If you stay in one place, you figure it out but when on the move, it is difficult to anticipate when you might be able to find wifi for writing anything more than a text or short email.  But in a way, that’s just fine.  It allows for a more seamless experience of being there without having to stop the real life experience for the literary experience.

We left France on Saturday, flying on EasyJet to Rome.  Rented a car and drove to Orvieto, about an photo 1hour and a half out of the city.  We chose Orvieto as our goal for the night because Diego, the young Italian man who rented us the car, said that it was a nice place to spend some time.  Obviously we didn’t do a lot of research for this part of the trip.  Orvieto is a lovely old, walled city, full of history and tourists.  As we were struggling to figure out how to pay for parking in a town lot, a woman approached, asking if she could help.  Alicia, a Spaniard by birth and a resident of the area, showed us the ropes and then suggested two agriturismos when we asked about lodging for the night.

photo 2Agriturismos are small farms with accommodations including food and are very popular in Italy, as we were to learn.  Using our iPhones, we contacted the two she had suggested and found that they were full but on our third try, we made reservations.  Driving into the hills in the dark, using the GPS in the car, we found this beautiful place, Agriturismo il Poggio di Orvieto, and joined an extended Italian family of thirty to forty folks in a birthday party for a ten-year old boy.  Quite an event!  Delicious food and after, a really good night’s sleep.  This was the view from our bedroom when we awoke in the morning.  What a surprise!  www.poggiodiorvieto.it

photo 3Everywhere you see craftsmanship in daily life.  One of the scenic lookouts was being renovated and, since it was photo 4Sunday, no one was working.  But the tools and processes were apparent, just as they must have been thousands of years ago.  On Sunday we drove to Spannocchia, where we are meeting friends for their fiftieth wedding anniversary.  More on that later.  For now, a few pictures and a lot of encouragement to come to Umbria and Tuscany.  It is Art History 101 come alive!

photo 3Let me see…how do I sum up the past few days?  Food, food, wonderful friends, food, wine, food, jet lag, food.  That pretty well covers it.  They say that Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France.  I’m not arguing.  When you can have a memorable meal at noon in what we might call a diner or a greasy spoon, then you know that you are someplace special.  The Comptoir du Vin is someplace special.

Part of what makes it special is the since of neighborhood that it enhances.  The people who eat their, for the photo 4most part, know the owners and probably each other.  This fellow is the cook and he is charming and talented and fell in love with New York.  Or he fell in love in New York.  I’m not sure which but whatever it was, it made this American tourist a long-lost friend.  He is standing in the kitchen of the restaurant which is about a big as a toll booth.  Amazing.

photo 1And of course we stopped at one of the many fish shops and farmers’ markets to order sea bass for tomorrow and to buy olives for tapenade for tonight.  Everything is about food and wine.  Well, there is some art and education and music and theater and opera and high tech business and local fashion and shoes thrown in as well.  It is a vibrant city with two rivers, an ancient city includingphoto 2 Roman ruins, universities and motor scooters, all in a humanscale.  I like it.  Can you tell?  Did I mention the olives?  There are so many kinds, some different cultivars, some spiced in different ways, all delicious.  When you experience this with a friend who happens to be a patient and smart and funny French woman, c’est super!  And I have the luck of being with Françoise LeRoux, my former French teacher and friend of longstanding.  Doesn’t get much better!

 

photo 2Je suis arrivée à Lyon hier matin…oh, wait, I need to speak English!  Thank goodness.  I know just enough French to get into trouble and not enough to get out.  Once again, I am reminded of the foreignness that one feels in a different place.  It’s not just the language, though that is powerful.  They say that the most isolating malady that one can have is deafness and not understanding the language around you is a close second.  But everyone with whom I have spoken French has been wonderful.  At least I speak well enough not to offend.

In talking with Françoise who is French and Richard, her husband, who is English, it is apparent that one is pretty much the person of the first five years of life.  Everything after that is in comparison or contrast to a view of life that is developed during those early years.  Therapists understand it…you don’t change a person, you just help him or her to deal with the reality of not being able to change the essentials.  Françoise is French. Richard is English, though he has lived in France longer than he lived in England.  And I am American, through and through, even though I’m not quite sure what that is.

Actually I take heart in the fact that we can look around us and choose what we might like to change.  When you see people eating in a bouchon, a particular type of French restaurant that we might call a bistro, you know that it is a good idea to have wine at lunch and to eat really good food in leisure in the middle of the day.  It might be a good idea to give up the sweat suits and t-shirts and think of clothing as an expression of who we are and who we want to be.  On the other hand, maybe the French, at least the ones I have encountered in the last 24 hours, could smile more and smoke less.  All of this is totally surface, of course, but the brain goes to strange places when one is in strange places.

photoStopped in a couple of pottery shops today.  Both were showcases for resident potters and had lovely work, obviously made for sales.  Laurence Girard (www.laurencegirardceramique.com) has a very earthy palate and uses oxides and engobes.  The work was singular and strong and commercial.  She was very nice to explain what she does and how she works.  Beate Rönnefarth (no website but her work can be seen at http://www.lecoindesceramistes.fr/les-ceramistes/parnom/ronnefarth_beate/index.htm) makes the most delicate tableware in porcelain with simple glazes, as well as more sculptural work. It was the tableware that grabbed me.  I had seen her work on another visit here and Françoise remembered that I had liked it.  I bought two bowls and could have bought much more.  If ever in Lyon, stop by.

photo 1But it was the lunch that made me know that I am in France and that I am very very lucky.  Le Bouchon de Musée.  Incroyable!  The ambience, the lovely man who owns the place and the excellent food that is essentially Lyonais.  No website but you can google it.  I would weigh a thousand pounds if I lived here.  Here is Françoise and the lovely man and me after the meal.  Notice the Rolling Stones t-shirt!

photo 4I am writing at 30,000 feet, on a flight to Atlanta.  The past two days at Half Moon Bay are a bit of a blur, mainly because I didn’t do very much, not much of note, to be sure.  The promise to say nothing if I had nothing to say outweighed the promise to write everyday.

The Pacific shore is probably one of the most picturesque places on Earth.  At some point you just stop taking pictures, which is a good thing because you look at your surroundings with a different “lens”, not the one on your camera (or, more likely, your smartphone) but the one in your brain.  Your response becomes, “Oh, that’s a beautiful sunset, all coral and caramel!”, instead of, “If I move to my left a few feet, I can get the pelicans in the shot.”

But the instinct to grab that landscape is strong.  It’s as if I may not remember it if I don’t “take” it.  Wouldn’t it be cool to go around the entire country taking pictures of the shoreline in a continual line?  (Oh dear, this sounds like a late night, jet lag-induced idea to me.  I don’t think I’ll start the project just yet.)

These two guys were visitors on the last day at Half Moon Bay.  I walked out of the hotel room to see what I think is a hawk and then the pelican posed in profile on the beach walk above.  Wildness made tame, just for us

.photo 1photo 3

photo 3Leaving San Francisco this morning was a fairly simple affair.  Pack, pick up the rental car and drive about an hour south of the city to Half Moon Bay.  San Francisco is one of those places in which you can feel at home without having spent a lot of time in residence.  While you are there, the cable cars are your cable cars.  The many coffee shops welcome you, personally.   The sense of community in each area…North Beach, Chinatown, Hayes Valley and, yes, even Haight Ashbury…seems familiar, more from movies and having lived through the 60s than from real experience, but it all makes sense and is not jarring.  It is a city one can return to again and again and discover old and new pleasures.

On the drive to Half Moon Bay, we stopped at a beach along Route 1, the coastal route.  The beaches are photo 1big and powerful here.  Big sweeps of sand between huge points of rock, backed by sand dunes and rushed by waves populated by dozens of surfers.  Definitely not like Maine.  Sitting in the warm sand with cups of coffee in hand and the morning sun on our backs, my husband asked me about what I was thinking about in terms of work for a show scheduled at Telluride Gallery of Fine Art in June of next year.  He is used to the rhythms of my working:  long stretches of thinking and research, punctuated more and more frequently with sketches and defining and beginning the actual making.

photo 2“Transitions,” I said, and we spent the following 40 minutes talking about what that might mean, what words begin to put pins in the map to tell me in what direction I need to go.  Transitions as change or growth.  Or seasons.  Or movement.  I won’t go on about it now because the ideas aren’t developed yet and I don’t want to “spend” them or to dissipate them through familiarity.  But it was the process that we followed that might be of interest.  There are two important elements.  1.  Getting away so that there are no interruptions, either real or imagined.  And 2.  Having a trusted partner who is as invested in success as you are but has no ownership in the outcome.  I don’t give this as a surefire prescription for success in developing one’s work, but as I look back, so often my best work has come about following a period of time that puts me outside of my normal life and involves the sounding of ideas with another person, usually Kirby.  I hadn’t really thought of it before, but now I see it…in transition from San Francisco to Half Moon Bay.

 

photo 1On the road…or more precisely, in the air…again.  Over the next three weeks, I will be in San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, California, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, France and Italy.  None of these trips is at my instigation, all are because of invitations tendered by others.   The fact that they line up, cheek by jowl, is not so great but the rest is pretty swell.

Yesterday, my husband and I left Portland, Maine for an easy, two-leg flight to San Francisco.  He has a business conference in Half Moon Bay, an hour and a half south of San Francisco that begins Sunday evening.  We decided to add a couple of days in the city to see a performance of Norma at the San Francisco Opera.  We don’t often have the chance to see live, world-class opera and wanted to take advantage of being here.  This also allows for a little normalization to the three-hour time difference.

The wedding is that of the son of dear friends from Pennsylvania.  We have known this kid since he was born and so we wanted to be there for such an important day in his life.  Then we will fly out of Philadelphia to Paris, where Kirby will go on to some business meetings and I will take the TGV to Lyon to visit my French teacher and friend, Françoise.  A few days there and then Kirby and I join up again and drive to Tuscany to join other friends for their 5oth wedding anniversary.

My plan is to treat this as a trip that will give me something to say and so I plan to write every day or so.  You know that I have made such commitments before with not always the best follow-up but surely California, France and Italy can generate something of interest to chronicle.  More to come…