Good Medicine

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.

  1. It’s not a competition.
  2. Don’t compare.  Relate.
  3. Ask.
  4. All art is learning.
  5. Sometimes you just have to walk away.
  6. What if…?
  7. Trust the process.
  8. Persevere.
  9. Be kind.

Kicking and Screaming

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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. IMG_2017

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.

Trusting the Process: First, Last and Always

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.

What if…?

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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.

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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…

 

Look Around

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.

www.carolwilsonarchitect.com, www.lynnduryea.com

Only a Metaphorical Storm

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.

Good Stuff

How do you understand a man who speaks only Chinese?  You look at his work.  Bai Ming, a master Chinese ceramist and painter, is teaching the ceramics class this session.  He made a presentation this evening in Gateway.  His daughter, Jessica, translated for him as he spoke of his home and his influences and then there was a video which had subtitles.  It was in looking at his work that you could get to know him.  He is of a generation that bridges the enormous past of Chinese art and the emerging contemporary scene.  I especially respond to his paintings.  It’s not often that you are in a place where you can chat with a modern master.

The day flew by.  The class has covered many techniques and experimented with many materials.  Of course, there are many more that we could cover if we had the time and inventory.  Beginning today, we are approaching the design of an object from the point of view of an idea, of influences and content.  After this week of quick and sketchy assignments, each person will come up with a direction that she wishes to pursue.  That’s when the good stuff begins.

The byword for today was, “All art is learning.”  It started as “All my art is learning”, which a student expressed when she was talking about an assignment, but it seemed that it could be simplified to include all art.  The artist is learning through her pursuit of her practice and with any luck the viewer of the art is learning something about him or herself and the world.  Lofty ideals but worth pursuing.

Asked and Answered

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.

www.aimeelee.net

There’s Always Tomorrow

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.

It’s Not a Competition

IMG_1965First morning in a class is always high-energy, getting to know expectations and experience levels, learning names, trying to understand the dynamics presented by these particular ten people.  Within the first five minutes someone said, “It’s not a competition,” in a funny exchange.  It became the byword for the day.  It’s a good thing to remember in a class.  It’s a good thing to remember in life, actually.

Tonight were presentations by Mo Kelman, a sculptor working with textiles and Elizabeth Spiers, poet and visiting writer.  It is always inspiring to see how other artists work with materials, either tangible or abstract, to respond to the world.  Another good byword comes to mind.  “Don’t compare.  Relate.”  Our work is so different on first glance that it would be difficult to compare.  On the other hand, our interest in materials, the limitations we put on ourselves, the physicality and scale of our work and the interest in words and ideas are evident in both.  Though different, our work is related in many ways.

And now, in a dark landscape, with the lights of the studio shining through, I walk back to my cabin.

www.mokelman.com