Let me say immediately that “Journeys” was not made in an effort to come up with a piece that would sell for $20. But it is the most expensive piece I have ever made. It is in the collection of the Renwick Gallery of the American Art Museum of the Smithsonian Institution. It’s existence came about under an odd and wonderful set of circumstances.Here’s the story. I was talking with Ken Trapp, who was then the director of the Renwick Gallery in Washington D.C. We had met a few times and he was familiar with my work and had said that the Renwick would like to have a piece in their collection. As we were chatting, Doug Ring, a wonderful man and generous collector, joined us and asked Ken what was coming up at the Gallery. Ken said that it would be a textile show and Doug asked if I were to be in it. No, said Ken, but they very much wanted a piece of mine in the collection to which Ken said, “Well, have her make a piece and send me the bill.” Voilà. Definitely a number 9. I was in the right place at the right time.Actually, quite a few reasons on the list came into play.
Materials, not so much. The materials for this piece probably topped out at $250 and had no apparent intrinsic value.
Size, yes. The shelf is about 7′ long. I wanted to have a physical presence in the Gallery and size is a good way to address that.
Number, yes. I suppose I could have made one big basket, but variety was important to the concept of the piece, as if each of these baskets was brought back from a separate journey.
Medium. No options here, except those within my established vocabulary of textile techniques.
Reputation. I was known to both the director of the Gallery and to the collector who owned my work. My reputation was important to both of them.
Social currency. This happened before social media. But I had been written about and was in other museum collections and so had a certain social presence.
Rarity. Time consuming construction techniques assure a certain rarity. That can be a curse or a blessing.
Representation. In this case, both men were “representatives”. Each, in his own way, was advocating for my work to the other.
Timing. Totally amazing.
Magic. Not really a player in this case since the piece didn’t even exist yet. You can neither predict nor enforce magic.
Worth, value, price. They are really different concepts but they overlap in both the maker’s mind and the viewer’s mind. Of course, the bottom line, and perhaps number 11 on the list, is “Make the best work you possibly can.” Always.The absolute best right place/right time story? When my now husband and I walked through the door of a gallery at the same time and started chatting. Ten seconds earlier or later, and we probably wouldn’t have met. That was 36 years ago.
Thursday was the last full day. Friday morning, shop all departed, reluctant to leave, eager to get home, including me. I’m sitting in the studio, having unpacked materials, books and clothes. Back to normal. But not quite. Two weeks at Haystack changes you, almost always for the better. Natural beauty, collegial support, good food and time are a potent mix, a tonic for well-being. I want to thank the beautiful women in the class for their intelligence, kindness and humor. Haystack, and in particular the merry band of basketmakers this session, are a model for how life might be. It is an antidote as well as a tonic. Thanks to Carol Rissman, Fran Dorsey, Kindle Loomis, Ellen Schiffman, Joan Freedman, Sharon Cheeseman, Cindy Simonds, Ashley Chen, Anne-Claude Cotty and Pi Benio.
We ended up with a list of bywords, nine in all. It was gratifying to see how they helped to shape our inquiries, each person responding to different ones at different times. And when folks from town came to the studio on Thursday night for the walk-through, with all the work on display, many stopped to read the list on a blackboard and to snap a picture to remember them. I know that I plan to pin them up in my studio. Here’s the list.
When the Haystack Board first discussed the addition of the fab lab on campus several years ago, I wasn’t sure it was such a good idea. I was committed to the the handling of materials to make objects in such a way that it did not allow for the intervention of a tool as abstract as a 3-D printer or a laser cutter. I wasn’t quite pulled along, kicking and screaming, but I grumbled mightily.
Well, I was wrong. The fab lab has been an extraordinary addition to the classes here. It is seen as an auxiliary service. There are no fab lab stand-alone classes. Any student is welcome to take a problem to the lab and work with the technicians to see if there is a solution possible. Kindle took a form she had created from two pieces of paper stitched together and Helga and Margaret interpreted it through software for the laser cutter to understand. The technicians love the challenge and the students are opened up to new possibilities for their work. It is an effective link to the future of craft and fits into the commitment Haystack has to being a research facility in craft as well as an educational institution. Very cool. The byword today was “persevere “. One of the most impressive qualities shown by every one of these students is her commitment to keep pushing, refining and reworking. They keep going. That’s something you can’t really teach because no one truly believes you. There is a tendency to think that there is a secret or a magic formula that makes an admired artwork look easy or inevitable. Every excellent artist I know has worked with discipline and commitment over time, sometimes kicking and screaming, but persevering nonetheless.
We had a heatwave today. Hottest and most humid day in a very warm session. We were all moving slowly. Even the lobster hood ornament on the campus truck was slow. But the studios hummed along nonetheless.
The byword for today is actually the byword for the entire session. “Trust the process.” If nothing else changes for the students when they leave, if they learn to trust what they are doing, there they will be transformed. If they begin and continue…it sounds so simple…they will succeed. Perhaps not immediately or even very soon, but the process will take them somewhere. One has to believe that. It is the natural thing to try to think our way through. We sit at the desk, looking at the materials in front of us, trying to decide which to use, using which techniques. Thinking tells us very little. But handling the materials, manipulating them into a form, adding and subtracting and selecting and continuing tells us much. It makes all the difference. Tomorrow is the last full day in the studios. I’m excited about what the students in the class are doing because they really do exhibit a commitment to beginning and continuing, to trusting the process. I’ll try to post some images.
Byword for Monday: “What if…? ” What if I make this larger? What if I use seaweed instead of raffia? What if I made this structure as if it had been made by zombies? It’s a wonderful way to look at one’s work and life in general, don’t you think? Here is where I am and, by considering what if, this is where I might go. What if necessitates a beginner mind, as they say in meditation, allowing each moment to be inhabited as if it were the first time you have encountered the particular situation you’re in. (Of course, this is impossible…except for the times you go into another room to get something and forget why you’re there. Come on, you know you’ve done it.) But being open to possibilities as if you were a beginner is a great strategy for being “present “, for being ready to encounter experiences with all of the possibilities intact.
But beyond being present and being ready, asking what if gives form to the inquiry. In our class, we have been talking about using materials, techniques and ideas to form our objects. Last week, many materials and techniques were covered in various combinations and with varying results. Today each student started thinking what if in order to carry those experiments in a more personal and expressive direction. Now if we only had two more weeks…
Saturday. Work day or play day. Go to the dump day. Laundry day. For me, chat with friends day. I was fortunate to have several friends stop by for a visit. Two architects (Carol Wilson and Becca whose last name I don’t know) and a former arts administrator from New Brunswick (Edward Leger) certainly appreciated seeing the buildings themselves and also the work going on in the studio. Carol and Edward are good friends and Becca a new one.
And then, a longtime Haystack friend, Lynn Duryea, wonderful ceramic artist, stopped by to catch up. We sat outside the ceramics studio and covered a lot of territory in a short time. I was reminded of how much of my professional and social life has been affected by my relationship with Haystack. Lucky me.
Tonight dinner was served picnic style on the rocks at the water’s edge. Beautiful evening. These pictures were taken by shooting left and straight ahead and right from one point on the rocks. It is indescribably beautiful in each direction. All we had to do was look around.
Friday of the first week at Haystack, as I’m sure I’ve said before, is an odd day. Generally there is a sense of transition, from the experimentation and learning phase to the more individually directed project phase. I like this part because there is more of the real person and artist involved. The students are bringing their own ideas and practice into play. Some will work over the weekend, some will do some sightseeing, some will have guests, some will…well, I don’t know. There are no classes, no scheduled events.
Today we had two bywords. From the radio weather report this morning came, “The sunnier it is today, the stormier it will be later on. ” It seems quite often to be an apt metaphor for the process of making. You start out with big ideas and grand plans, full of “Oh, I’ve got this. ” And then the storm clouds pile in with doubts and misery. “Why did I think that this was such a good idea? ” The intrepid will persevere through the storm. The rest will go to plan B.
Plan B popped up later in the afternoon as someone mentioned that she had heard it several times today, probably in response to the changing of sunshine to storm. “Sometimes you just have to walk away. ” It may be a permanent departure. Or it may be just a time for clearing the head, the metaphorical equivalent of going inside, out of the storm, for a hot toddy.
Tonight, there are no presentations, just a rousing volleyball game, conversations on the rocks and the quiet work of fighting through the metaphorical storm in the studios.
A beautiful summer day here. Sun and a light breeze made everyone smile and sent many jumping into the ocean for a cooling dip.
Aimee Lee and Damon Thompson presented their work this evening in Gateway. Both are artists, certainly, but are also, and perhaps more importantly at this point, educators. Aimee has written a book, Hangi Unfurled: One Journey Into Korean Papermaking. She documents the history of a papermaking tradition that goes back centuries and is seemingly dying out in Korea. She is articulate and passionate about her mission. It was a joy to hear her speak so beautifully about a seemingly arcane subject.
Damon teaches jewelry at Towson University and showed his work, which is exquisitely crafted and engagingly designed, but also showed his students and the kinds of projects they do with the public. He is the kind of teacher who can make any subject come alive. He is also passionate about the intersection of the digital world and craft. He uses digital technology in his own work and includes it in his teaching in a meaningful and expansive way.
Our byword for the day was “Ask”. So often we are afraid to ask the question that might clarify where to go next or that might help avoid making trouble for ourselves. An short assignment this afternoon included instructions to consult with a buddy. The ten students broke into five pairs and became advisors and guides for each other. I loved listening in on the conversations, so kind and helpful and spot on. I could have left for the afternoon and they would have done just fine! They asked each other about possible ideas and strategies and regrouped again and again as questions came up. Tomorrow we will talk about the outcomes of the assignment.
Tonight I gave a presentation in Gateway along with Cassandra Straubing, a sculptor who works in glass. (Cassandra doesn’t have a website but you can see her work if you Google her.) It’s always a pleasure to share the ideas behind work and the events that shape a career with an interested audience. A long day in the studio with a fabulous class and an evening of “song and dance” has left me pretty tired. Please forgive me for begging off writing a post tonight. We’ll catch up tomorrow.
What’s new? New year. New blog format. New studio.
Taking them in order, let’s consider the new year. I must say that I am a sucker for it. Not the wild party, stay up until midnight, watch the ball drop kind. And I don’t make resolutions anymore because I am forced to look at my shortcomings and then to feel worse because I can’t stick to the resolutions to remedy them. But there is a time of reflection and anticipation in early January that is a good calibration point. Obviously we could decide to lose weight, put more money aside for retirement, join a drawing group, and all of the other things that we should do, at any time. There is nothing magical about January 1. But most days fly by without the time or inclination to assess and resolve. Gratitude seems to have been the consistent theme in the ruminations this year.
New blog format. As with most things internet related, I don’t really know quite what I’m doing with WordPress. It is a very powerful tool for creating attractive online content and I enjoy using it but I can only do a few things. Every once in a while I try something new and it either works or it doesn’t. In the spirit of the new year (see paragraph 1), I assessed my blog and thought it to be OK but resolved to try something different. After noodling around a bit among the many templates they provide, I clicked on one and managed to “publish” it without actually previewing it. It seems to be OK so we’ll stick with it for awhile.
And…drumroll, please…new studio. It is now functional. There is much to move back in, after having provided places for storage and access but what I need right now is here. From now on, no more complaints, announcements or updates about the studio. Now that’s a resolution that you can count on.