my visual childhood sense of the year Summer was at the bottom arc of the year. My older
brothers were good at making up rules that shaped my universe. According to them we could
go barefoot after mother's day and they could take off their wet suits on surf
trips after my birthday. I trust Zoë's visual image of the summer has a
different turn. Tonight Zoe and I walked to the top of the drive way at 915 pm.
There was still some color in the sky on this summer solstice, the longest day
of the year. She vaguely remembered the summer she was in third grade when we celebrated
the summer solstice by going out in the row boat on our pond where we lit floating
candles and drifted day lilies in the water. that evening Zoë read us poems she had
collected over the year. That was also the year she and her friend Shannon renamed
the boat, the butter cup, and we spent long afternoons floating, reading and
"Go up into the gaps. If you can find them; they shift and vanish too.
Stalk the gaps. Squeak into a gap in the soil, turn, and unlock a universe. This is how you spend the afternoon, and
tomorrow morning, and tomorrow afternoon." Annie Dillard Pilgrem at Tinker Creek
I spent the afternoon finishing up my last slabs for the wood kiln. I thought I'd have an early meal and go back to work after dinner. But the long daylight deceives my internal clock, when I looked up it was 7 instead of what I thought was 5pm. The sun was out which felt like a great occasion and the shadows were brilliant. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Zoe was photographing me taking my photograph of the bee balm.I wished I had photos of my mom photographing her plants.
"Spend the afternoon. You can't take it with you." Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
"We can look
around us those of us who are nibbled but unbroken, from the shimmering vantage
of the living. Here may not be the cleanest, newest place, but that clean
timeless place that vaults on either side of this one is no place at all."Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.
is my birthday and from my mother and by contrast, not my grandmother, I
have learned to be above board with my age. When I was little my
grandmother always told me she was 108. She thought I would understand that it
was a fib. I was oblivious to the concept and asked, "but grandma, by
now you must be 109." After that she never told anyone her age. As a
result my mother was always honest with her age. On her 75th birthday she told
me when she turned 50 she got terribly depressed, she thought she was over the
hill. At 75 she realized she was in the prime of her life. At 79 the night
before she died she told Ari (a friend) that she looked forward to turning
80. He sang her a song as a response. Today I am 51 and I walk the
dog feeling nibbled but unbroken. I swam in the pond when I was exhausted at
the end of the work day. It may not have been the cleanest water, but from the
vantage point of water level the world was timeless and the geologic quality of
clay seemed to vault over my momentary questions.
A few years ago while talking shop with another potter I was
surprised to find that she did not consider vases utilitarian. It seemed that
flowers were an extravagance and did not provide a function in her life. The training
ingrained from my mother's constant flow
of flora on the table made it difficult to see her point of view.
As I work on this project putting flowers in
pots each day and shooting my photo, I try not to repeat the plant material or
the form but today I could not help myself. My hope is that viewer will look at
plants differently or look at containers another way or see light, shadow and
color with renewed focus as a result of looking at the whole combination. Each day I work as purely as I can looking
hard and paying attention to intuitive insights.
"There are few live seasons. Let us live then as purely as we can, in the present." Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Rain poured like a waterfall outside and time slipped through my fingers as I assembled pots and ran out the door to a gallery talk in Rockville, Maryland.
"Not only will something come if you wait, but it pours over you like a
waterfall, like a tidal wave. You wait in all naturalness without
expectation or hope, emptied, translucent, and that which comes rocks
and topples you; it will shear, loose, launch, winnow, grind." Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
we were kids my mother was always losing her glasses. She would tell us who
ever found them would get a present. Invariably they were sitting in an obvious
place and the present we waited for empty handed was a kiss. When I went through
post cards last week I noticed that many of the cards were inspired by Mom
cleaning off her desk. She thought she should share the collections of images
that accumulated in the net of her desk.
"You don't run down the present,
pursue it with baited hooks and nets. You wait for it, empty-handed, and you
are filled. You'll have fish left over... It is by definition, Christmas, the
incarnation. This old rock planet gets the present for a present on its
birthday every day." Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I am deep in the studio making the last few things before we fire the wood kiln. This is when I am centered and following ideas as wind played over the water.
"I center down wherever I am; I find a balance and repose. I retreat--not
inside myself, but outside myself, so that I am a tissue of senses.
Whatever I see is plenty, abundant. I am the skin of water the wind
plays over; I am pearl, feather, stone." Annie Dillard Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
The structure of my life is centered
on making things weather it making pots
or the bed, the garden or a batch of clay, the disparate activates are sewn together
like a quilt. The pattern of dog walks, weeding, throwing, photographing or
cooking fit together with uneven lengths.When I walk
with the dog I set out down a mowed path. On the walks I follow where the path leads,I live for the views
where the grass and sky draw a line across the expanse of vision. Today was the
kind of June day when the humidity had been blown away with a night time storm
and every blade of grass had been washed and each view seems incredibly fresh.
"When you write, you lay out a line of words.
The line of words is a miner's pick, a woodcarver's gouge, a surgeon's probe.
You wield it, and it digs a path you follow. Soon you find yourself deep in new
territory. Is it a dead end, or have you located the real subject? You will know tomorrow or this time next year.
You make the path boldly and follow it fearfully. You go where the path leads. "
Annie Dillard The Writing Life
The first day lily bloomed today. I picked it as my Mother
would have, just the blossom so that the other buds could be left on the stem
to bloom. My desire is usually to pick the stem to have more height to relate
to a vase. My work in this solstice
project is to see the flower, pick the container,and click the photo which
turns the gears of the imagination.
work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt
in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair." Annie Dillard
I have spent it all in an extended day in the studio.
"One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot
it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time... Anything you do
not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe
and find ashes." Annie Dillard The Writing Life
Picking small bouquets of flowers was my mother's habit, snapping photos was her
routine, making drawings was like breathing.There are many facts of her life and there are
the stories her family loves to tell. My brother Steve and I talked about how
the further we get from the fact of her death the less we grieve and the more
we just become her. I breathe at the window by my wheel where the June light filters through the thick
leaves. I work hard to keep a view of the pond continually trimming branches and mowing
weeds. I do this because I learned from
my Mom to love the light and the view and to make time for sunsets.
"There are plenty
of ways to pile on the facts, and it is easy to overlook some things. "The fact
is," said Van Gogh, "the fact is that we
are painters in real life, and the important thing is to breathe as hard as
ever we can breathe." Annie Dillard quoting Van Goghfrom
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I spent the
morning throwing bottles and after lunch I went through a stack of postcards and
letters from the late 70s and early 80s. I am not sure what I was looking for
but I read the haiku like messages of exhibits viewed and movies seen and was
surprised by the number of images of pots mom sent on her postcards. My
favorite letter was in response to a letter of mine, I must have had an
argument at school with a teacher. Mom wrote that "its wonderful that you had a
chance to read, absorb, think, argue and express yourself." She goes on to say "Just
what Socrates would have approved of! It was he who said "the unexamined life
is not worth living." She goes on to say that Socrates was convinced that young
Athenians must learn to speak out and that it comes with practice. Also I found a typed letter from my Dad. They
are much fewer but easier to read. He closes the page of news by saying "we hope
your health and money are holding out and that you continue to avoid jail. We
all send our love."
When my Mother's
friend Irene moved out of New York she gave me a book with all the handmade
postcards Mom had ever sent Irene. At the time I thought it was sweet but odd. After
Mom died the gift gained importance as each of the cards held another trace of her life dedicated to an artistic vision and generous touch.
"The dedicated life is worth living. You must
give with your whole heart." Annie Dillard
I work well within the scaffolding of a project. I don't have to question what the next step is or where to throw my energy. I just take the next step. In 1995 I decided to give myself the assignment to put flowers in a vase and snap a photo every day for a month. I wanted to pay attention to how my pots held the flowers, to understand what my tendencies are in picking flowers. I wanted to see stems against rims and necks. Every so often I reassign myself the task as the pots change, the garden shifts, or my ideas about backgrounds transform.
Early on in the process I put an iris in a vase with a weedy piece of grass and Warren asked, "if you put the two of those together in a vase then why do you feel compelled to pull the weeds out of the garden." It was a good question and I relaxed my weeding for awhile until the grass took over the flowers. I put the photos in small books as a way to catch the days of summer and the particulars of each year.
"A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time." -- Annie Dillard
Several years ago an artist and gardener friend suggested I plant garlic so that I could paint these garlic scapes. I find them each June at the farmers market and they have become part of how I perceive June. Their looping growth unrolls my visions of the long evenings and how pots interact with what they contain.
"What I want to do is add time to the texture, paint the landscape on an unrolling scroll, and set the giant relief globe spinning on its stand." --Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
have been watching the tendrils of bittersweet creep up into the window that
faces north in the studio. Today the twinning vines caught hold of an
upper branch of mulberry and crossed the window. That was one vine too many and it was time
to take advantage of the muscular energy that was brewing now that the sun is out and mow the weeds in the rear of the studio. The
vines have been pulled down so light and views are possible from the window once again.
There is a muscular energy in sunlight corresponding to the spiritual energy of
wind. --Annie Dillard
Last night when I left the studio it was raining (as it is now). I stepped out and a powerful wave of rose fragrance washed over me. Today I went in search of some wild roses to cut for a photo and most of the flower petals had been washed to the ground by the driving rain. I found one flower in the shade of a sassafras tree. Planted as if a reminder, flagging how momentary these blossoms and fragrances can be.
In March, when my daughter was on her spring break she began to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I had pulled out my copy that my mother had given me in August of 1977. I was 19 at the time, the same age Zoe is now. In the paperback copy we found a postcard written in my mother's hand and never sent. Stuffed in as a bookmark at page sixty, it was as far as I had read. Now, as I roll out slabs for plates in the studio, I listen to the book on my ipod. Having lived in Virginia for twebty years with the habit of daily walks, the landscape and the words have a different resonance than it did as a city teenager.
"This year I want to stick a net into time and say 'now,' as men plant
flags on the ice and snow and say 'here.' --Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, 1974
(Chapter 5, Untying the Knot)
I have intense preteen memories of being embarrassed by my
mother. Mostly they center on picking up trash on our way home from Central Park or stopping by the side of the road in Long Island to pick flowers. I remember
driving down what seemed like unknown roads and stopping the car so she could
pick daylilies, phlox, daisies and clover to put on the table in a jar in our
summer rental. My parents rented renovated barns so Dad could have studio space
and we could be out of the city and near the water.
My adult life mirrors those childhood memories with odd distortions. I live by the water but it is only a pond not the Atlantic. I pick flowers to put in my vases and my studio resembles a barn. I am sure I have embarrassed both Warren and Zoe in my desire to stop and pick all the same flowers by the side of the road while they worry that some irate owner will come around the bend.
"I woke in bits, like all children, piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again. " --Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
My mother kept continuous notebooks and
sketchbooks. Every time I go home I slip into another volume. I am just
dipping into the river of perception of her travels, readings, lectures, quotes and sketches.
There are shopping bags of poems, a novel, and boxes of her snapshots.
flowers and put them in vases. The light coming in from the south across her table inspired
her to snap many pix. Her attention and commitment inspires me to pick flowers
and to photograph them with focus. Because I make pots I find the process of
putting flowers in containers sharpens my aesthetics of use and hones