December 2017 Archives

#21 decembrance 2017

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I often feel as if I am chanting encouragement to myself as I accomplish my outdoor chores and unfurl new ideas in the studio. The new work feels as if roots in darkness are growing in unknown directions. I accomplished my winter rituals today, putting up our tree and lights, then walking the dog before sunset and lighting a bonfire to extend my outdoor hours. I huddled close to the fire as the temperature dropped, the light faded and icy stars leaned in with a moon sliver for company.

21 decembrance 2017.jpgWinter Solstice Chant
By Annie Finch
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.

# 20 decembrance 2017

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Tonight driving home through traffic towards the Blueridge Mountains my heart lifted at the sight of the new moon. I have come to love the waxing crescent as a sign of hope. I have learned to carry both sorrow and have faith in change like the phases of the moon. On my drive I listened to a new to me band called Ranky Tanky. The song Watch That Star caught my imagination. Part of the lyrics go, "If the star run down on the western hills, you ought to watch that star. See how it runs." I drove west, watching the star, the moon, the sky, and cataloging the different shades of darkness in the landscape as a means of coping with the season.

20 decembrance 2017.jpgNew Moon - Ted Kooser

How much it must bear on its back,
a great ball of blue shadow,
yet somehow it shines, keeps up
an appearance. For hours tonight,
I walked beneath it, learning.
I want to be better at carrying sorrow.
If my face is a mask, formed over
the shadows that fill me,
may I smile on the world like the moon. 

#19 decembrance 2017

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This afternoon seizing the moment of warm temps and calm winds we set out to get a Christmas tree. We drove to Culpeper County to a small farm. After chatting we walked past a distant, veiled view of the Blue Ridge Mountains into gentle woods and soft hills in search of a tall, lanky, natural tree. On the way back to our car Warren led the way carrying the base of the tree and I held the dog's leash, the saw, and the tip of the tree. The light was bright illuminating the tree trunk over Warren's shoulder and the path flanked by tall rhododendron. It was one of these moments that would have been fun to capture with a snapshot, but my hands were full so I opened the shutter of my memory and my heart, letting the light imprint itself on my soul.

19 decembrance 2017.jpgBut there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go. When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied. The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera. When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter. When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment's light prints on my own silver gut. When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer.
--Anni Dillard,
from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

#18 decembrance 2017

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In the afternoon my studio gets dark way too fast. In the summer time I blame it on the trees that we have let grow up to close to the building, but in the winter the fault can only fall on the short days. Warren and I have been working on our 2018 calendar. I have been looking back through our photographs aiming to balance the spare aesthetic I feel in December with the memory of the lush summer. I look back to navigate future images, contemplating how to carry light forward, reminding me to stare more closely at material and its potential for expression.

18-decembrance-2017-small.jpg"You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant for our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.

--Rebecca Solnit - from Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

#17 decembrance 2017

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This morning, walking before breakfast, I put one foot in front of the other studying leaf littler and seed pods. Something on the horizon caught my eye and I looked up to see a bald eagle soar above the trees in front of me, then over my head, back down our driveway past the house and finally towards the stream that feeds the pond. The soaring eagle lacked confines and lifted both my gaze and mood. My idiosyncratic path through the morning light was both our well trodden driveway and grass but also a metaphor for looking up and moving beyond merely putting one foot in front of the other.

17 decembrance 2017.jpgThis history of walking is an amateur history, just as walking is an amateur act. To use a walking metaphor, it trespasses through everybody else's field -- through anatomy, anthropology, architecture, gardening, geography, political and cultural history, literature, sexuality, religious studies -- and doesn't stop in any of them on its long route. For if a field of expertise can be imagined as a real field -- a nice rectangular confine carefully tilled and yielding a specific crop -- then the subject of walking resembles walking itself in its lack of confines. And though the history of walking is, as part of all these fields and everyone's experience, virtually infinite, this history of walking I am writing can only be partial, an idiosyncratic path traced through them by one walker, with much doubling back and looking around... The history of walking is everyone's history, and any written version can only hope to indicate some of the more well-trodden paths in the author's vicinity -- which is to say, the paths I trace are not the only paths.

--Wanderlust: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit

#16 decembrance 2017

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After a lovely dinner talking pots, memories and looking to the future the candles burned low.  There were few pauses because there was so much interchange between friends, food and pots.

16 decembrace 2017.jpgJeanette Winterson writes of the relationship between light and conversation:

I have noticed that when all the lights are on, people tend to talk about what they are doing--their outer lives. Sitting round in candlelight or firelight, people start to talk about how they are feeling--their inner lives. They speak subjectively, they argue less. There are longer pauses.

#15 decembrance 2017

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My friend Mikio who owns and runs the restaurant Omen Azen for whom we make pots published a book called Talk To A Stone. It is a beautiful object about Mikio's father, Yoji and his calligraphy. The book was designed by Stefan Sagmeister, an extremely well-known graphic designer. The driving design theme of the book was to print the calligraphy on translucent paper  which was then folded with reversed text printed on the opposite side of the sheet so that when folded the now readable text showed through the paper as if through a thin veil. For Mikio creating Talk To A Stone exhibited the Buddhist virtues of patience and perseverance. His restaurant is also a reflection of his commitment and approach. There are a few stones in a glass case as you enter the space. We gave him a few more last week as a reminder of long friendship, our joint trips to Maine, our fathers' love of making art and telling stories, and our daughter's future journeys. All are reflected through a veil of love and light.

15 decembrance 2017.jpg
Go inside a stone
That would be my way.

Let somebody else become a dove
Or gnash with a tiger's tooth.
I am happy to be a stone.

From the outside the stone is a riddle:
No one knows how to answer it.
Yet within, it must be cool and quiet
Even though a cow steps on it full weight,
Even though a child throws it in a river,
The stone sinks, slow, unperturbed
To the river bottom
Where the fishes come to knock on it
And listen.

I have seen sparks fly out
When two stones are rubbed.
So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;
Perhaps there is a moon shining
From somewhere, as though behind a hill--
Just enough light to make out
The strange writings, the star charts
On the inner walls.

--From Selected Early Poems by Charles Simic. Copyright © 1999,

Charles Simic

#14 decembrance 2017

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After my father died I ended up with the boxes that hold my mother's archives of poems. When I am working on an new series of plates I often have a look in one of the boxes. I sift through the folders of handwritten and typed and xeroxed pages and am always touched by how vibrant her poems are. When she was alive the poems seems too obvious, but now in retrospect I see how she captured the atmosphere and her thoughts--the nuances of her Greenwich Village walks, her Maine boat rides, her fears for her children, or her love of tulips and mint. I am glad to mine these collections of words to find that she captured so much as I embed them in my plates. Printed backwards they further emphasize my inherited illegible handwriting.

14 decembrance 2017.jpg"The poetry of the earth is never dead."
-  John Keats

#13 decembrance 2017

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13 decembrance 2017.jpgWhy Are Your Poems So Dark?

Isn't the moon dark too,

most of the time?

And doesn't the white page

seem unfinished

without the dark stain

of alphabets?

When God demanded light,

he didn't banish darkness.

Instead he invented

ebony and crows

and that small mole

on your left cheekbone.

Or did you mean to ask

"Why are you sad so often?"

Ask the moon.

Ask what it has witnessed.

--Linda Pastan, from Poetry (August 2001)

#12 decembrance 2017

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I opted to watch the sunset from an upstairs window rather than do my dog walk in the windy cold dusk. Afterwards I headed to the studio to retrieve a few things, walking in the dark without a light. Walking without a light allows my eyes adjust to the subtle differences between tree and sky, my feet feel for the difference between gravel and grass, and my memory searches for the fabric of specifics and generalizations.
After my dad died we had a lovely, emotion-filled dinner at Omen Azen in NYC. One of the things we did was to spread white chrysanthemum petals on the dark table in his memory. Last week our emotions sang in a different direction at Omen when we had a dinner to celebrate our daughter Zoë and her new husband Mike. This time we spread beach rose petals that I had gathered each day on my island summer walks, meditations on the daily nature of love.
12 decembrance 2017.jpgTo Know the Dark
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without light,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

--Wendell Berry

#11 decembrance 2017

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Over the weekend we had various students stop by, mainly women all in the early stages of ceramic experiments and clay education. They asked about how we physically make things as well as the conceptual pursuits. While working towards my decembrance series I have been imagining a series of panels that looked as if I found them on the street. But to create them I had to layer pages of paintings, add more paint and sand back down through the surfaces chasing an image glimpsed on the periphery of my imagination. I could not make my panels without the pots or the intent of making photographs.  All of this attention and inattention is part of finding my way through this dark point in the year.

11 decembrance 2017.jpgThe painter Willem de Kooning famously called himself a slipping glimpser, slipping into the glimpse--slipping toward the image--that he would then arrest in paint. I spend much of my time trying to write poems about what I can single out from my own slipping, which is difficult because when you're slipping you tend to keep your eyes trained on your feet to keep from crashing; it's hard to lift your eyes so that the world can be attended to. Easy to forget, the world is still occurring outside the drama of the self, and the poem of the self is going to be limited unless the world can enter in.

--Lucia Perillo, from "The Glimpse," in I've Heard the Vultures Singing: Field Notes on Poetry, Illness, and Nature (Trinity University Press, 2007)

#10 decembrance 2017

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We had so many lovely conversations today with old friends and new acquaintances about aspects of working as artists and potters and the spiciness of homegrown peppers. The topics often touched on creativity and the nature of imagination with a dash of clear memory and fuzzy remembrances.

10 decembrance 2017.jpgLet imagination drift and memory steer.
Aaron Anstett, from "Last Will," Please State the Nature of Your Emergency (Sagging Meniscus Press, 2017)

#9 decembrance 2017

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As our open studio approached the first snow began to fall. The snow piled on the shoulders of pots perched outside for the exhibit like I imagine ash accumulating on our pots before it melts into glaze in the wood kiln. It was cold enough and still enough to stick on each branch, pot, and the light bulbs still hanging in the sugar maple. We had a lovely steady stream of visitors to talk pots, adventures, art and culture. At the end of the day with a cup of soup we kindle friendship with a few candles to celebrate fire, pots, and light.

09-decembrance-2017-small.jpgThe wall of cold descends

Near the end of our annual solstice party

as guests were rummaging through the pile

for their coats and hugging many goodbyes

the very first snow of the year began

to eddy down in big flat flakes.

It was cold enough to stick, with the grass

poking through and then buried.

Now the ground gives it back

under the low ruddy sun that sits

on the boughs of the pine like a fox

if red foxes could climb. The cats

crowd the windows for its touch.

The Wolf Moon seemed bigger than

the sun, almost brighter as last night

it turned the snow ghostly.

Now it too wanes. The nub end

of the year when all northern

cultures celebrate fire and light.

Tonight we'll take the first two candles

to kindle one from the other.

by Marge Piercy

#8 decembrance 2017

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I always aim for spareness but find myself working in tiny clearings in the forest of messes. I have been ruthless in my editing of objects for our winter exhibit. With snow in the forecast I can let go of an anticipated crowd and can lean toward the ease of a bowl, and enjoy the simplified landscape under a blanket of snow.

08 decembrance 2017.jpg
To Spareness: An Assay
                          You lean toward non-existence
but have not yet become it entirely.
             For this reason, you can still be praised.

The tree unleafing enters your dominion.
An early snowfall shows you abide in all things.

--from To Spareness: An Assay, by Jane Hirshfield, 2005

#7 decembrance 2017

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I love the way my blueberry bushes hang on to their leaves and bits of color as if they had forgotten that the days were short and winter is on its way.

07-decembrance-2017-small.jpgWinter begins unnoticed.

The way between half-empty and half-full

                                 begins where you begin forgetting the words,

And put down your pen.

The way to whatever matters begins after that.

Charles Wright, from "Sinology," Buffalo Yoga: Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004)

#7 decembrance 2017

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I love the way my blueberry bushes hang on to their leaves and bits of color as if they had forgotten that the days were short and winter is on its way.

07-decembrance-2017-small.jpgWinter begins unnoticed.

The way between half-empty and half-full

                                 begins where you begin forgetting the words,

And put down your pen.

The way to whatever matters begins after that.

Charles Wright, from "Sinology," Buffalo Yoga: Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004)

#6 decembrance 2017

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One Sunday afternoon in November Warren and I were driving home through Washington, DC. As we drove past the Hirshhorn Museum a parking space opened up so we pulled in and headed up to the top floor to see the exhibit by Mark Bradford. Bradford's piece is huge. It takes up the whole third floor and is composed of a series of paintings or collages that are each about 45 feet long. He layers, tears, paints, and scrapes off found paper to make his images that are inspired by French artist Paul Philippoteaux's nineteenth-century cyclorama, on view in Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania. Philippoteaux's cyclorama depicts Pickett's Charge--the final charge of the Battle of Gettysburg.

I was inspired by the personal story and the depth and surface of the work. It was the detail of the torn edges and mystery of how he came to make the surfaces that inspired me to research Bradford as I didn't know much about him. He lives in Los Angeles and is inspired by his local culture, landscape and text which he uses to create his images.

In my own collage work Warren has often encouraged me to use personal material rather than found photos or text. In the Decembrance series I imagine the use of pots on abstract tables. Over old paintings and hand painted signs I began to layer paint and pages of poems and calligraphy practice sheets and other bits of papers brought home from Korea. The panels are layered and sanded to reveal striations of my history. My language of abstraction comes from my touch, personal history and specific vision.  The tensions between editing, collecting and altering become a stew referring to past experience and present use.

06-decembrance-2017-small.jpg"For me, it's always a detail--a detail that points to a larger thing. It can be text; it can be a quote. Bits of conversation. It's always a glimpse. I start to imagine what it points to, and that's when my imagination really goes. I don't really want to know what the detail points to exactly; I like the mystery."

--Mark Bradford, The Details, Art in America, September 2, 2014

"Politically and socially, we are at the edge of another precipice. I'm standing in the middle of a question about where we are as a nation." - Mark Bradford

#5 decembrance 2017

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The rain in today's forecast only fell after the sun had set. I walked in the grey dusk spending a few minutes until full dark doing garden clean up. I have saved my overgrown okra, letting it dry and split to become sculptural additions to my pots. I have needed my mistakes to become their own form in their own order. I go away for a few days only to return to admire the reflection of the tree in the pond in the last moments of the December light.

05-decembrance-2017-small.jpgAll night in the dark valley

the sound of rain arriving

from another time

September when the wind

drops and to us it seems

that the days are waiting

I needed my mistakes

in their own order
to get me here

Here is the full moon

bringing us


I call that singing bird my friend

though I know nothing else about him

and he does not know I exist

What is it that I keep forgetting

now I have lost it again

right here

I have to keep telling myself

why I am going away again

I do not seem to listen

In my youth I believed in somewhere else

I put faith in travel

now I am becoming my own tree
--   W.S. Merwin, from The Moon Before Morning, published by Copper Canyon Press.

#4 decembrance 2017

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It's exciting to come home and open our kiln to examine new work. We've been away saying hi to potter friends at Demarest in New Jersey and visiting Greenwich House Pottery in New York City where I made pots in high school. It is both humbling and inspiring to see new experiments by others. We've been talking shop, eating great food, seeing famous objects in museums along with famous people on the streets and in restaurants.

By Naomi Shihab Nye

The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,  
which knew it would inherit the earth  
before anybody said so.  

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds  
watching him from the birdhouse.  

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.  

The idea you carry close to your bosom  
is famous to your bosom.  

The boot is famous to the earth,  
more famous than the dress shoe,  
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it  
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.  

I want to be famous to shuffling men  
who smile while crossing streets,  
sticky children in grocery lines,  
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,  
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,  
but because it never forgot what it could do.

#3 decembrance 2017

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We have spent a day in the city, taking a break from the quiet of our studio life and normal patterns, checking in with other potter friends and family. There was a stop at the Museum of Modern Art to see the Louise Bourgeois exhibit where we wandered alone and together gathering the raw visual material of art. Afterwards we fed our souls with an incredible meal at Omen Azen filling the circles of our life with stories and memories revisiting pots we have made from the 80's until this year.

03-decembrance-2017-small.jpgFor Bourgeois, aloneness was the raw material of art -- something she crystallized most potently half a century later, in a diary entry from the summer of 1987:

You are born alone. You die alone. The value of the space in between is trust and love. That is why geometrically speaking the circle is a one. Everything comes to you from the other. You have to be able to reach the other. If not you are alone...

#2 decembrance 2017

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When I start this project each season I have to go back to the roots of my ideas. I struggle with the short days of winter.  Looking for poems, making images and focusing on the bits of light I can find are how I move through it. My happiness depends so much on wearing the boots that make the pot, the image, the background. It is my defiant love of light and making that finds cracks where the seeds of ideas can germinate.

It would be neat if with the New Year

for Miguel

It would be neat if with the New Year
I could leave my loneliness behind with the old year.
My leathery loneliness an old pair of work boots
my dog vigorously head-shakes back and forth in its jaws,
chews on for hours every day in my front yard--
rain, sun, snow, or wind
in bare feet, pondering my poem,
I'd look out my window and see that dirty pair of boots in the yard.

But my happiness depends so much on wearing those boots.

At the end of my day
while I'm in a chair listening to a Mexican corrido
I stare at my boots appreciating:
all the wrong roads we've taken, all the drug and whiskey houses
we've visited, and as the Mexican singer wails his pain,
I smile at my boots, understanding every note in his voice,
and strangers, when they see my boots rocking back and forth on my
keeping beat to the song, see how
my boots are scuffed, tooth-marked, worn-soled.

I keep wearing them because they fit so good
and I need them, especially when I love so hard,
where I go up those boulder strewn trails,
where flowers crack rocks in their defiant love for the light.

"It would be neat if with the New Year" by Jimmy Santiago Baca, from Winter Poems Along the Río Grande. Copyright © 2004 by Jimmy Santiago Baca.

#1 decembrance 2017

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Here is the first image in my December project formerly known as the solstice project. The usual sequence is 21 images with thoughts counting down towards December 21, the shortest day of the year. I was very taken by a series called Novembrance by Nina MacLaughlin in the November Paris Review. I have been thinking about renaming my project for some time and because of my tendency to focus on memories of my childhood, parents and early defining experiences on these short days I am taking a page from her series and for now, renaming this series Decembrance.

01 decembrance 2017.jpg
By , :

The Spanish author Julio Llamazares makes a case for memory in his elegiac novel The Yellow Rain:

"Sometimes you think you have forgotten everything, that the rust and dust of the years have destroyed all the things we once entrusted to their voracious appetite. But all it takes is a noise, a smell, a sudden unexpected touch, and suddenly all the alluvium of time sweeps pitilessly over us, and our memories light up with all the brilliance and fury of a lightening flash."


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