December 2014 Archives

#21 winter solstice 2014

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Warren, I and the dog pushed to get out the door before the sunset. We walked fast to stay warm and get to our turn-around point so we could walk home while there was still some light. On the return we noted native Virginian persimmons high on spindly trees backlit by a deep orange sky. The shortness of daylight and length of the indigo night have become both compass and map for how I find my work. The earth's axis is tilted at its furthest point away from the sun today. I love the image that tomorrow the earth begins to tilt back towards the sun. Image becomes impetus for the stories I remember, the pots I make and my architecture for composing photos.

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"Stories are compasses and architecture, we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice."
― Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

# 20 winter solstice 2014

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As an artist my father took Christmas seriously. His holiday cards were an important component of his communication and self expression. After Thanksgiving he would always take his camera with him on his New York City errands. He would make sure to stop in at Rockefeller Center. He tried to capture as many Santas on the street as he could. For him, a big score was catching a large group of Santas getting on the subway or in some other amusing mixed visual message or stance. With his delight in computer graphics, it was impossible to predict how the photographed street Santas would be distilled and transformed.

I have been decorating my tree with his handmade paper ornaments. I am missing Dad's love of the imperfect handmade object. I found a tiny red Santa hat in my box of ornaments and put it on one of his plaster figurative sculptures that line the bookshelf top next to our dining room table. These sculptures are 18 inches tall with skinny legs and pin heads. Warren and I have moved the hat from one figure to another wondering if Dad would have thought that was an appropriate confluence of Christmas and art.

20 winter 14.jpg"The magic of the street is the mingling of the errand and the epiphany."
― Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

19 winter solstice 2014

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My studio has turned into Santa's workshop. I am in the process of making gifts. When I am in this mode of repetitive handwork--drawing with wax, gluing, and dyeing--I listen to interviews with artists, writers, and musicians. I like having two concentrations simultaneously. One focus is on the work with my hands and the other is an involvement with my mind and imagination. I find I can be more patient in this mode and I can pay extended close visual attention, while my mind is busy with the architecture of ideas.

19  winter 14.jpgWhen you're making something, you don't know what it is for a really long time. So, you have to kind of cultivate the space around you, where you can trust the thing that you can't name. And, if you feel a little bit insecure, or somebody questions you, or you need to know what it is, then what happens is you give that thing that you're trying to listen to away, and so how do you kind of cultivate a space that allows you to dwell in that -- not knowing, really. That is actually really smart. And can become really articulate. But, you know, like the thread has to come out, and it comes out at its own pace.

--Anne Hamilton from an interview with Krista Tippet

#18 winter solstice 2014

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Each day I stumble on an image that leaves me searching.

Some way to remember or triangulate the detail
of that bale of hay, that windrow drying,

Those six swans circling, the raft of ducks diving,
the lingering branch of dried red Thai peppers,

my scribbles or the gone but not departed
handwriting that endures.

I have to teach myself over and over
that I know how to take these ordinary sights

And reorganize them into more than the sum of their shadows

18 winter 14.jpgMindful By Mary Oliver

Every day

I see or hear


that more or less

kills me

with delight,

that leaves me

like a needle

in the haystack

of light.

It was what I was born for -

to look, to listen,

to lose myself

inside this soft world -

to instruct myself

over and over

in joy,
 and acclamation.

Nor am I talking

about the exceptional,
the fearful, the dreadful,

the very extravagant -

but of the ordinary,

the common, the very drab,
the daily presentations.

Oh, good scholar,

I say to myself,

how can you help

but grow wise

with such teachings

as these -

the untrimmable light

of the world,

the ocean's shine,

the prayers that are made

out of grass?

#17 winter solstice 2014

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My mother ingrained in me the habit to turn my focus west. Our family often rushed to catch the moment of sunset at Mom's urgent and, if laggard, sometimes grumpy urging. Innately I thus know that a spoonful of silence directed west will ensure future happiness. But at this time of year, the surprise gift is that as hard as it is to rise early to a cold house, I get to see the sunrise colors. Silence and beauty have shifted to the east.

This morning each dark branch exhibited a single glistening drop of water. By twilight the morning's droplets were almost forgotten in the clear skies and orange hues as Warren and I drove home from choosing and cutting a Christmas tree with a great friend. Our friend and her husband had transformed the meadow on a mountain's hillside into a magnificent Christmas tree farm many years ago. As we were pulling the tree through the aisles of thousands, we were remembering the stance, the smile and the ineffable presence of her husband and our friend who had planted this particular tree. As we drove south at sunset, the back-lit horses grazing on the hilltops somehow marked the year's passing light and the many shifts of grief in our hearts were as natural as a horse's shift in weight from one leg to another.

17 winter 14.jpgI wanted, I thought, only a little,

two teaspoons of silence--

one for sugar,

one for stirring the wetness.


I wanted a Cairo of silence,

a Kyoto.

In every hanging garden

mosses and waters.

The directions of silence:

north, west, south, past, future.

It comes through any window

one inch open,

like rain driven sideways.

Grief shifts,

as a grazing horse does,

one leg to the other.

But a horse sleeping

sleeps with all legs locked.

I wanted only a little  by Jane Hirshfield

#16 winter solstice 2014

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The dreary weather began its transformation as I chose a different road to drive home from yoga. I walked the dog in the gully instead of the path. Wearing boots, I could walk in the mud looking for images twisted among the vines. The day was so wet and grey the yellow of winter fields and the fog-obscured distant view blossomed. In the still pond only the close, dark trees were reflected, the distant views lost to mystery.

16 winter 14.jpgI am an image picker.

I like the ripe ones.

                                the ones at the ends of the listing limbs.

--Charles Wright, from 23, in Littlefoot (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2007)

#15 winter solstice 2014

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I got home as the sun was setting and walked to the pond. I felt as if I had been cheated out of my allotment of daylight so I decided to light our mid-field brush pile in the still evening. As the fire ignited, the light opened our field as if it were a botanical dictionary page. The time by the fire extended my hour outside as the deepening twilight opened its vast vocabulary of dark hues to which I do not know how to assign language.

15 winter 14.jpgThe swallows and bats at their night work.

And I at mine. [...]

No voices of children, no alphabet in the wind:

Only this silence, the strict gospel of silence,

                                                                            to greet me,

Opened before me like a rare book.

I turn the first page

                               and then the next, but understand nothing.

The deepening twilight a vast vocabulary

I've never heard of.

I keep on turning, however:

                                                somewhere in here, I know, is my word.

Charles Wright, from "A Journal of the Year of the Ox," in Zone Journals (Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1988)

#14 winter solstice 2014

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In the darkness of a post-dinner drive home my job is often to keep the driver entertained and awake. Usually I just ask odd questions which get Warren talking about epistemological concepts or someone's artwork. At some point he will pause and ask how did we get on this topic. My response is that you looked sleepy so I asked a question to get you going. Last night, although he was driving, it was my turn to talk as we followed headlights down the highway. I was struck by yesterday's 12/13/14 date and sorry I didn't write or use the date as part of my photograph. Warren said, "well you can always look backwards." (So it's buried in today's image.) I began to sing an old Goon Show song that for some reason my family sang on an annual trip to New Hampshire: "I'm walking backwards for Christmas...." Warren asked me a few questions, so we got to talking about my Christmas memories and before I knew it we were back home again.

14 winter 14.jpgI'm walking backwards for Christmas
Across the Irish sea
I'm walking backwards for Christmas
It's the only thing for me

I've tried walking sideways
And walking to the front
But people just look at me
And said it's a publicity stunt

I'm walking backwards for Christmas
To prove that I love you

hear the full song here

#13 winter solstice 2014

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I was afraid of people like Gertrude Stein.
I remember scuffing my feet for the sound of the leaves.
Like blue kindling, the black sticks can be arranged in vases
or light the studio fire.
I do see the moon over our bookshelves
and discover bird nests made of moss in my bowls.
Light can be bitter, but words help me see the darkness.
Photographing garden riches made visible in clay
glues time to my memories.

13 winter 14.jpgIn the Dark We Crush
By Julia Cohen

Crab apples for the sound of it. Light cannot

be bitter. The backyard licks us.
Blue like kindling, the fox we caught with

a shoebox. Your shirt is a constellation
in the tent of recovery. If you release the hand

you relax the animal. Bookshelves hold up
the moon. I sweep your fur into a feeling.

I put you into my memories on purpose.
Moss smuggles stars into your cheeks.

Inside your body's future, bravery turns to pulp.
The flashlight pendulum. Your face sounds like that

record player. Electric & spinning.
Let's grow old together. Don't be scared

of Gertrude Stein. Be brave.

#12 winter solstice 2014

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I try to vary my evening walk, but most days my dog prefers the same route. For years I have tried to train myself to see these habitual paths with the eye of a world traveler--a new, and exotic meander. We view the same pastures and I find as the sun drops low in the sky I am drawn to photograph a similar cow in silhouette. It's as if I have never seen that sky, that field, or that particular bovine stance.

12 winter 14.jpgTo the attentive eye,

each moment of the year

has its own beauty,

and in the same field,

it beholds,

every hour,

a picture which was never seen before,

and which shall never be seen again.

-- Ralph Waldon Emerson, from Nature: Addresses and Lectures (1849)

#11 winter solstice 2014

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I had a momentary transplacement today. While driving, I thinking so hard that when I looked up at the bleached corn against the raw winter sky it was like no place I had ever seen and the colors didn't spell out where I was.

11 winter 14.jpgNothing will tell you

where you are.

Each moment is a place

you've never been.
--Mark Strand, from Black Maps, Poetry (June 1970), published later in Darker (Atheneum, 1971)

#10 winter solstice 2014

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This morning's first thought as the ribbons of sunrise colored the sky was " it gets late so light!" 

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I'll tell you how the Sun rose -
A Ribbon at a time -
The steeples swam in Amethyst
The news, like Squirrels, ran -
The Hills untied their Bonnets -
The Bobolinks - begun -
Then I said softly to myself -
That must have been the Sun"!

--Emily Dickinson [from Fr204 I'll tell you how the Sun rose]

#9 winter solstice 2014

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Last winter when my siblings and I were in the midst of sorting through my parents' belongings in their New York City loft I took a break and went to the Drawing Center to see Emily Dickinson's envelope poems. In the exhibit there was a small selection of poems written on the backs of gently opened, asymmetrical envelopes. The handwriting was hard to read but I began to see her poems as visual objects sprawled across irregular scraps of sculpturally shaped paper. At the instant of seeing them I was also reading them for meaning and sound. There was a beautiful mix of serendipity in the available space and elements of the accidental exhibited by the organic spacing within these ephemeral paper slips. I returned to my job of sorting, knowing that my mother's illegible handwritten poems had a value I could not discern at that moment. Those moments of sorting followed by encounters with such visual poems has continued to contribute to how I look at text I cannot read. There are the calligraphy practice sheets that I brought home from Korea, the seed pods that remind me of brushstrokes, or even my own writing once I collage it backwards.

Thumbnail image for 09 winter 14.jpgWe talked with each other about each other
Though neither of us spoke --
We were listening to the seconds' Races
And the Hoofs of the Clock --
Pausing in Front of our Palsied Faces
Time compassion took --
Arks of Reprieve he offered to us --
Ararats -- we took --

--Emily Dickinson
and a visual of Emily's original written version:


#8 winter solstice 2014

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I used a funny reversal of words today (a malapropism), but didn't write it down so it has vanished from memory. With our exhibit, I have had so many great conversations the last few days. People have shared the names of artists, podcasts, books, recipes, and poets. All things I want to learn more about, but my attention has been so divided very few of the thoughts or titles were recorded in my brain or better yet on a piece of paper. At dusk tonight Warren took the dog walk in the dark. I thanked him and off he went, but after they left I realized I still needed to get outside. I cleverly malapropismed  "it gets darkly so early."  I walked to the pond in that light when the trees are barely distinguishable from the field, but the white feathers of today's nine visiting swans were still brilliant against the water.

08 winter 14.jpg"Yesterday someone said,
'It gets late so early.'
 I wrote it down.
I was going to do something with it.

Maybe it is a title and this life is the poem."

--Naomi Shihab Nye from the poem Fuel

#7 winter solstice 2014

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Dinner tonight with a painter friend who has a wonderful way of putting a single piece of fruit in a pot so color, shape and bowl take on new meaning.

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"I try to apply colors like words that shape poems, like notes that shape music."
--Joan Miro

# 6 winter solstice 2014

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A rainy day full of conversations with friends about art, food, gardens and travel experiences.The pots we show served as triggers for stories, meals, flowers and hopefully more adventures.

06 winter 14.jpg"Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences... That solves a lot of problems ... Art is something that happens, a process, not a quality, and all sorts of things can make it happen ... [What] makes a work of art 'good' for you is not something that is already 'inside' it, but something that happens inside you..."
-- Brian Eno

#5 winter solstice 2014

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As I walk my property in my baggy grey sweats I have been collecting leaves and putting them in my vases as if they were gold. The bony arms of light on these short days point out the details of bare branches and the glamorous height of the trees.

05 winter 2014.jpgNo Good

Isn't it terrible in fall
how the leaves remind you
of all the money
you will never have
not ever
cool millions raining
from the hands
of those big shots
you never see in person
living up there
in the glamorous trees
so casually housing the grass
every side of flame
isn't it exhausting
recording all that's been
on fire for little
or no pay
bony arms of light
to poke your eyes
from a tricked out sky
another day in baggy
gray sweatpants
isn't each day shorter
than short
isn't it one kind of life
and not another
hearing what the dead
have to say directly
saving every receipt
picking out what doesn't
belong between your teeth
just to have it return
as expected like no other

by David Feinstein

4 winter solstce 2014

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#3 winter solstice 2014

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As a potter my focus is often on how the inside volume of a piece is expressed on the outside. The poet and potter are focused on expressing the sensibility of the weather and the season through form, surface and how  their work functions in the world of use. Tonight as I walked to the house after a rainy day, the sun had set, the sky had cleared and there was a beautiful fog illuminated by the moon beyond the trees.

03 winter 14.jpg"I think a poet's focus is not quite what a prose writer's is; it's not entirely on the world outside. It's fixed on that area where the inside meets the outside, where the poet's sensibility meets the weather, meets the street, meets other people, meets what he reads. So a poet describes that point of contact: the self, the edge of the self, and the edge of the world."

--Mark Strand, The Art of Poetry No. 77, Interview by Wallace Shawn,
The Paris review

#2 winter solstice 2014

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As always December shocks me with its early and stern sunsets. It feels even earlier as I returned in mid November from a wonderful adventure to Korea. On my trip I felt as if I was a seed carried on the pant leg of pottery that landed in the fertile soil of a potters' family. I had a wonderful intimate cultural immersion. Now that I am back in my own home I see my landscape with a clear eye. Leaves, pods and branches read like calligraphic marks. I remember reading a stark line from a letter by Emily Dickinson comparing the months to countries. One can only imagine what month she might have compared with going some place as culturally varied as Korea.

02 winter solstice 14.jpg"November always seemed to me the Norway of the year."
--Emily Dickinson from a letter to her father

# 1 winter solstice 2014

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Here is the first image in a series leading up to December 21 which is the shortest day of the year.

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