December 2011 Archives

#21 winter solstice 2011

One of my techniques for dealing with short days and excessive indoor time is setting bonfires. I had hoped to do one tonight to celebrate the turning point from shorter days to longer ones. Tonight is wet, but fortunately Zoe and I spontaneously decided to light the fire last night when it was warm and still. I was the last one sitting by the fire, musing and studying the subtle shift from the flat, dark tree line to the color tinged darkness of the night sky while listening to the geese landing on the pond.

21 clementine bowl.jpg"If we didn't remember winter in spring, it wouldn't be as lovely; if we didn't think of spring in winter, or search winter to find some new emotion of its own to make up for the absent ones, half of the keyboard of life would be missing. We would be playing life with no flats or sharps, on a piano with no black keys."
--Adam Gopnick, from Winter: Five Windows on the Season, p. 179.

#20 winter solstice 2011

I remember walking the shore on Heron Island, Maine in silence early in the morning. It was the day after we spread my mother's ashes in the mouth of the Damariscotta River. I was in search of a daylily, hoping that one of the flowers we spread in the water might have washed ashore in the high tide. I wanted physical evidence of her, however the blossoms were missing,  just like my mother was no longer with the living.

After the Heron Island house burnt down two years ago most of my pots that were used in the kitchen broke in the fire. The shelves in the kitchen collapsed in the intense heat and objects fell from the attic and crushed the plates, cups and bowls. Zoë and I collected the shards and carried them to the rocky shore and tossed them in the ocean, hoping again that one day we would find them reincarnated as round-edged sea glass tossed by the tides. This summer I spent many fruitless, silent mornings walking the rocks in search of a shard as evidence of change.

At the end of August after I gave up looking for a shard Zoë found one dark glazed bit of plate. After I gave up looking for flowers in the high tide I found the blossoms in the garden again. Some days working in the studio is similar; I keep after an idea of a shape and when I let go and turn the idea on its head the solution appears as if it had always been there.

20-vase.jpgAnd there is the silence of this morning
which I have broken with my pen,
a silence that had piled up all night

like snow falling in the darkness of the house--
the silence before I wrote a word
and the poorer silence now.
--From Silence by Billy Collins

#19 winter solstice 2011

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19 axe vase.jpg"And let me talk to you with your silence
that is bright as a lamp, simple as a ring.
You are like the night, with its stillness and constellations.
Your silence is that of a star, as remote and candid."
--Pablo Neruda from I like for you to be still

#18 winter solstice 2011

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18 bolws.jpgA year ago today we left to visit our daughter in Florence Italy. Due to snow we got stuck in Paris for 24 hours. I made endless drawings of luggage, weary travelers, morning coffee and evening espresso. A year later I am happy to walk my same old circles at dusk, racing to get out before it is completely dark, content to return for warm bowls of leek and potato soup.

travel journal.jpg

#17 winter solstice 2011

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The gray day slid away quickly.  Before I knew it I caught a glimpse of the red sun slipping behind another cloud band. In the fading light I shuffled with Warren and the dog around the pond in the fading light. Shifting shadows, hundreds of diving ducks, and a biting wind trailed alongside.

17-stancills-bowl-7755.jpgThe Day Is Gray and the Lake

shifts, mercurial,
like modeling clay,

the million thumbs
of wind at work upon it,

the artist unable to come

to a single conclusion.

Just what shape should
this cold lake take

this morning?
And the trees surrounding?

The maker can't
make up his mind, always

fussing. He shuffles
the shoreline shadows

like a paint-chip deck.
The reeds.

The nervous birds.
The toads, forever lost

on mud's malleable maps.

Everything's a mess

and genius all at once,
a school for unruliness.

Even the stones second
guess themselves, eroding.

And there: a wash of sunshine,
and some people, boating.

--Todd Boss in Yellowrocket

#16 winter solstice 2011

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A dusk walk threaded through pond edge and field lightens the dark edges of memories of returning home as a student.  I remember my mother making welcome signs on paper plates. I remember sleeping on buses or being copilot in a friend's car as headlights led the way. The exhaustion of late hours finishing projects coupled with fragile hopes of comfort and happiness stand in the doorway of my childhood home.

16 espresso.jpg"And what we see is our life moving like that,
along the dark edges of everything,
headlights sweeping the blackness,
believing in a thousand fragile and unprovable things.
Looking out for sorrow,
slowing down for happiness,
making all the right turns
right down to the thumping barriers to the sea,
the swirling waves,
the narrow streets, the houses,
the past, the future,
the doorway that belongs
to you and me."

--Mary Oliver from Coming Home

#15 winter solstice 2011

Last night driving home from the north end of the county I watched the waning gibbous moon rise through horizontal bands of clouds.  The clouds reminded me of horizontal vines and acted like roots of darkness.

15-stancills-plate.jpg"Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
now you are uncurled and cover our eyes
with the edge of winter sky
leaning over us in icy stars.
Vines, leaves, roots of darkness, growing,
come with your seasons, your fullness, your end."

--Winter Solstice Chant  by Annie Finch in Calendars (Tupelo Press)

#14 winter solstice 2011

Being sensitive to the short days, they become more evident when it's a gray day. There were a few lit moments when the sun slid low in the sky and light streamed in long angles. A little brilliance does wonders for my outlook.

14 xmas cactus.jpg"the day was sliding
toward its provincial graveyard
and between the bread and the
I remember
in the window"

--Pablo Neruda, from To  Sadness, translated by Stephen Mitchell in Selected Poems

#13 winter solstice 2011

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This evening, while handing a cup to a friend, she asked, "how do you make this work?" I said I like working within tight boundaries so when I wake up most days I don't have to question which direction to go to feel fruitful once I'm in the studio. I step into my field of clay as if words were shapes waiting to be made. The goal is that they look as if they descended from nowhere, effortless and timeless.

13 cup gesture.jpg"But this morning, a kind day has descended, from nowhere,

and making coffee in the usual way, measuring grounds
with the wooden spoon, I remembered,

this is how things happen, cup by cup, familiar gesture
after gesture, what else can we know of safety

or of fruitfulness?"

--Marie Howe, from From Nowhere in The Good Thief

#12 winter solstice 2011

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Once fluttering above, the leaves are now underfoot.

12-leaf-sail-7709.jpgAbove me, wind does its best
to blow leaves off the Aspen
tree a month too soon. No use,
wind, all you succeed in doing
is making music, the noise
of failure growing beautiful.

--Bill Holm in The Music of Failure (p. 58)


#11 winter solstice 2011

Watching the moon tonight I had a moment of vertigo,
It was as if branches were fences or brush strokes,
days were years,
pots were children and vines are
veins that connect all my friends.

11 folded jars and vine.jpgKeeping Still
If late at night, when watching the moon, you still

sometimes get vertigo, it's understandable

that you wish suddenly and hard for fences, for someone

to marry you. Desiring a working knowledge,

needing to know some context by heart, you might

accept anything: the room without windows,
the far and frozen North, or the prairie.

-- Marie Howe, in The Good Thief

#10 winter solstice 2011

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The dog whined at the door and I excused myself from our last visitors of the day. She and I walked to the pond. I shivered and watched the moon come up over the tree line above the pond. Two ducks stirred the water like a wand that made the light sparkle and follow in spiraling circles.

10 spiral plate.jpg
"Sometimes the moon sat in the well at night.
And when I stirred it with a stick it broke.
If I kept stirring it swirled like white
water, as if water were light, and the stick
a wand that made the light follow, then slow
into water again, un-wobbling, until
the wind moved it."

--from Sometimes the Moon Sat in the Well at Night
by Marie Howe, in "The Kingdom of Ordinary Time"

#9 winter solstice 2011

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09 plate.jpg"How you can't move moonlight--you have to go
there and stand in it. How you can't coax it
from your bed to come and shine there. You can't
carry it in a bucket or cup it in
your hands to drink.

--from How You Can't Move Moonlight by Marie Howe

#8 winter solstice 2011

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A cold front blew in last night so this morning the puddles were frozen with long ice crystals. The brisk morning walk to retrieve some dead bamboo from a fence line allowed me to see the Blue Ridge Mountains crystal clear and covered in snow. Each semester I have a session in my introductory wheel class where we make brushes using bamboo handles with hair, fur, grass or feathers. Using handmade brushes with pigment forces me to slow down and let the mix of hand and brush make the mark.

08-bottle brush.jpg"I did know that the brush itself and the act of writing with a brush changed the content of the work immediately--suddenly I was writing an entirely different story from the one I planned to write and one I'd been trying to write for ten years on a computer. I finished the manuscript in 9 months writing it with a paintbrush. This made me start to think of the sentence, 'The slowest way is the fastest way.' "

--from an interview with  Lynda Barry discussing writing her book Cruddy with a brush

#7 winter solstice 2011

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In October I went to the memorial for my parents' wonderful friend Irene Towbin. Irene's brother spoke of how every object in Irene's life had a story--the grocery cart chair, the photo my Dad shot of her on Prince Street, and her art works that were puns on toast, cake, combs and hangers.

On this gloomy Wednesday afternoon, I took the dog for a sodden walk around the pond. The ground is completely saturated and a muddy field intersecting with a rainy sky reminds me of the inspiration for the plates I made this firing. Every pot I make has a visual story, its state transformed by fire. When embedded in a meal the pot--at its heart--becomes a poem clothed in the food we serve.

07 long field plate.jpg"--a poem needs to have at its heart a transformation, a fire where whatever story within you is burned into something else."
--Marie Howe from an interview in Bomb

#6 winter solstice 2011

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"We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss -- we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you."

From 'What The Living Do' by Marie Howe

#5 winter solstice 2011

On the first day of stacking the kiln I had two helpers. At lunch time the weather was so beautiful we ate on the porch and as I planned my next step with my partner my helpers walked the field and collected big leaves from the magnolia. The leaves had been there all along but I had been so absorbed by clay and kiln I had forgotten to notice what the trees were writing.
"I couldn't tell which stars were which or how far away any of them was,
     or which were still burning or not--their light moving through space
     like a long

late train--and I've lived on this earth so long--50 winters, 50 springs and
and all this time stars in the sky--in daylight

when I couldn't see them, and at night when, most nights, I didn't look."
from the poem The World by Marie Howe

#4 winter solstice 2011

My father told me that he dreamed that Mom came back to the living. She could stay with him for the day but in the night she had to go back to the land of the dead. It made me think one version of the myth of Demeter where winter represents her sorrow for the abduction of her daughter to Hades. The dark and cold night is hard and long.

In the dark cold of my house with our heat pump humming I dreamed of my mother. I was holding her by the elbow and we were walking through the snow talking about making prints in Maine during the summer. She told me about a poem she had lost, left on the dirty dessert dishes.

In the light of the morning I talked on the phone to my daughter. We spoke of the poems she wrote, collected and printed for her class.  I am amazed by this triangular pattern of influences from daughter to mother back to daughter. My mother wrote poems, but was reluctant to share them with us. Now, years after her death, when I visit my father I find her voice again as  poems surface in her papers or drawers. Zoe is writing a poem about my parents' New York City loft and over Thanksgiving she photographed it for visual clues. I looked over her shoulder as if through her lens and learned to articulate the details of my own childhood and young adulthood with new clarity.  Recently I listened to an interview with Marie Howe on Fresh Air. She read poems about grief and the death of her brother and mother.  Howe teaches at Sarah Lawrence College where my mother went and where my daughter now goes--both with an intense connection to the education. The poems, the school, the child, the mother, are all so intertwined in my history and in my present; they shift the focus on the dawn of a winter day.

triangle bowl.jpg
"I called her name into the fold between night and day I called it without expecting to hear an answer."
--from the poem Questions by Marie Howe in The Kingdom of Ordinary Time

#3 winter solstice

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Once again  the light of the afternoon faded too quickly. Walking from house to studio with out lights I thought of the moon, even when its only a half circle it can light the path, the pond or the dog water.

moon-poem-extended7610.jpgAnd I thought of all the moons
floating in the wells and rivers, spilling
over rocks where the water broke: moons
in the sheep water, the chicken water,
Or here or there an oar bent it, or a woman
spread out her skirt and let it pool there--
the light I mean, not the moon in a circle, not
the moon itself, but the light that fell from it.
                          ("Sometimes the Moon Sat in the Well at Night")
Maire Howe

#2 winter solstice 2011

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We woke this morning to frost on the fields.   The muscular vines become clear on my dog walks and the taste for winter vistas are revived. Sunset still comes way too early as I am not fully in winter mind.

" a taste for winter, a love for winter vistas- a belief they are as beautiful and seductive in their own way, and as essential to the human spirit as any summer scene- is part of the human condition. Wallace Stevens, in his poem 'the snow man" called this new feeling" "a mind of winter" 
from Winter, Five windows on the season by Adam Gopnick

#1 winter solstice 2011

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This is the first of the 2011 winter solstice series. The first image in a series leading up to the winter solstice and the shortest day of the year on December 21.

I have recently fired my wood kiln so this series will also provide a preview of a selection of the new work.