Getting ready for our Nutmeg Designs 2017 Open Studio and Food Drive for Manna on Main Street, I thought of this poem, Gate A-4 by Naomi Shihab Nye.
Nye tells the story of being at the airport and hearing an announcement asking if anyone spoke Arabic, and she goes to Gate A-4 where a woman in Palestinian dress is crumpled on the floor. Nye talks with her, and we are all transported to the shared sacrament of mamool cookies that the woman pulls from her bag.
Our show is an occasion to bring food for Manna on Main Street, which began with the vision, “That everyone one might be fed,” for those simply in need of a good meal and company. Our visitors brought an estimated 450 food items, and heartened me with their generosity.
Take a minute to listen to Naomi Shihab Nye read the whole poem. It is wonderful. This is the world I want to live in, the one where hearts open rather than break.
Author Shawna Lemay invited me into conversation about beauty on her blog Transactions With Beauty. I was curious where the title Transactions with Beauty originated, and then I read the quote on Shawna’s About page. The phrase comes from Rumi, the 13th Century Muslim poet from Persia.
I feel an affinity for Shawna. She is from my hometown of Edmonton, AB, a poet, art lover and photographer, and in search of beauty. You are required to make something beautiful.
I repeat, you are required to make something beautiful. Even if it’s a single line in your diary, a photograph, a row of knitting, or an arrangement of flowers on the windowsill. Clarice Lispector writes in her book, A Breath of Life, “Sometimes writing a single line is enough to save your own heart.” And what’s interesting is that reading her line has the same effect, as in, it has the power to save the reader’s heart, to save mine. For who can read what is so simple and true without feeling as though one’s own heart has been saved? (Shawna Lemay)
I started the conversation with Shawna’s questions, finding what I had written about beauty on my blog to have something on the page rather than the uncertainty of where to begin. I discovered that seeking beauty is a thread throughout my writing. As I continued to consider Shawna’s questions, I slowly eased out the copied text and into my answers. Beauty is not always immediately apparent. Sometimes it is revealed bit by bit.
Color has its own festival in India, Holi, celebrated by Hindus as the end of winter, the triumph of good over evil. One of my favorite people on Instagram is Bhavna from Just a Girl from Aamchi Mumbai. She writes the exuberance of throwing color at aunts and uncles and other children of the neighborhood, and how wanting some of that where she lives now in Australia. Go check out her blog for the recipe for pannacotta with raspberry sauce and garnished with flowers that she made to satisfy her desire for color amongst the gray days.
Dyeing eggs was a Spring tradition I loved as a girl, though it hardly felt like Spring, the bright colors in contrast to the lingering winter of my Canadian home. My mother filled mugs with hot water and white vinegar and drops of food coloring. My sister and I would dip the eggs balanced on spoons, and I was mesmerized by dipping an egg into yellow and then into red and coming out orange. I remember taking some sort of intelligence test in school, and one of the questions was how to know if an egg was rotten. I knew the answer because of watching a dozen eggs boiling for Easter, and my mother scooping out the one that floated. I was happy I knew the answer but the strangeness of this being on the test stayed with me. What if I hadn’t been there to watch the boiling eggs?
Do you plan to listen to something and then put it off? I listen to podcasts in the studio, and I have meditation teacher Tara Brach on my list, and yet don’t get around to listening. But I couldn’t resist the title of this episode, Relating Wisely with Imperfection. She describes how we react to imperfection in ourselves with anxiety and aversion, and how this creates a trance of unworthiness. I am well acquainted with this trance, and how hard it is to break free of it.
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain. ~Danna Faulds
Tara Brach read this line of poetry and it resonated. Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain. I have many years of believing that perfection is the prerequisite for everything. The talk begins with a story from Ed Brown, Buddhist and baker, about his struggle to make perfect biscuits. He realized that he was attempting to recreate biscuits from a can or a mix, that if he actually tasted his own recipe, the biscuits were delicious. What should our lives be like? I believed I needed to have a book of poems published by the time I was 30. In my 30’s I believed I should have a “real career” rather than being a part time librarian. I believed that not having children meant I was outside the human story, even though I never felt called to have children. In making mosaics in my 40’s, I realized that this was my delicious life, and it was my own.
The chunks of glass in the photo are factory seconds of gold smalti. They are hard to come by since the factory strives to produce glass with the gold evenly applied, but these are my favorite because of the variations in texture. Beauty in imperfection.
Stratoz and I went to see the Iron and Coal, Petroleum and Steel: Industrial Art from the Steidle Collection Exhibit at the James Michener Art Museum(on view until October 25, 2015). I was interested to note the context of this collection, assembled by the Edward Steidle(1887-1977) Dean of the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences at Penn State. Steidle purchased and commissioned these paintings to as a way to demonstrate the various industrial processes and the critical role of the extractive industries in Pennsylvania to his students. The Industrial Art homage at the Michener is notable for the predominance of flame, with the glowing orange of molten steel. Artists were drawn like moths to a flame, and each had a style that captured the scenes of the furnaces in a different way. The blazing colors are beautiful, and yet ominous in the power to cause injury and in their intense heat.
I’d never seen a steel factory until I moved to Bethlehem, PA, from Canada in 1985. It rose up like a mountain from the South Side, and had produced steel for the Golden Gate bridge and much of the New York skyline. 1985 was at the tail end of the Steel, losing money, cutting workers. When I started college a few years later, I took a class in United States Labor History, and have been drawn to stories like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the poetry of Muriel Rukeyser who wrote movingly of the Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster.
We lived in Dunmore, PA in the early 1990’s. The coal mining industry left its mark with a network of tunnels beneath the town, and the threat of homes and grounds sinking. Subsidence was a new word that I learned in those years, especially when a hole opened up in a friend’s backyard in a neighboring town. I was interested to see that the Michener exhibit had a painting by a Dunmorean, John Willard Raught(1857-1931). He studied art in New York City, and returned home to paint portraits and landscapes of the area. He had an exhibit at a local club in 1915, where most of the paintings appear to be tranquil landscapes rather than the mining scenes. The Michener Museum notes that Raught felt conflicted by the coal industry which while providing jobs for those he knew, also scarred the landscape, and the forboding fears of disaster, and painted many of the anthracite breakers which he called “Black Castles.”
Our visit to Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ was on the way to deliver the Art Deco mirror to a client. Stratoz had drafted the design and cut out the black stained glass pieces, gluing them to the mirror frame. I then had the mirror in my studio for several months, waiting while I created house number commissions.
Collaborative pieces remind me of jazz improvisation ~ the listening between musicians. What I heard in the smooth black glass, was a desire for silver contrast, for textures and speckling and mottling. The focal point arch at the top spoke in white gold nails ~ offcuts that are considered seconds by the factory, but which had the right shape to fan out.
Our client had cleared a space for the mirror, got the nail ready for hanging, and she showed us the gray violet wall, and the vase of white peacock feathers adjacent, echoing the shape of the white gold. Another conversation begins.
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It was a day of spirals, with two cool ones at the sculpture park.
I have a compelling desire to create rainbows. I have made many of them in mosaic. Once a woman came into my craft show booth and was smitten with one of my rainbow panels, but said she couldn’t buy it because her husband would be affronted by the gay implications, and gave an awkward shrug. This made me both sad and angry.
With the Supreme Court ruling about marriage and gay folk in June, 2015, there is an abundance of rainbows appearing on my Facebook stream, and it’s outburst of talking my rainbow language, and to me this ruling good news, just as God’s love is good news.
My love of rainbows began at Moravian Church Camp Van Es at Cooking Lake in Alberta. The theme in 1982 was The Rainbow Connection. We each had a slice a log, and a volunteer had applied rainbows and written our names. We watched The Muppet Movie with the theme song The Rainbow Connection, and learned the to sing it. We painted a large rainbow backdrop, in an open area in the woods.
We memorized Bible verses about the rainbow as a symbol of God’s promise to never again cover the earth in a great flood, a sign of God’s love. What gave it power was the idea that this love extended to me, though I felt flawed through my core, cracked with no method of repair. True grace is a very difficult thing to accept, because the bruised soul assumes it applies to everyone else except her.
I took the idea of hope and love to heart. I bought a pewter pendant cast in the form of a rainbow and embedded with an Ichthys fish(a visual pun, an acronym of the Greek letters spelling out Jesus Son of God, which also meant fish). I wore it often, as a way to remain hopeful.
Now, some 30 years later, I look at it and wonder at the grayness of this rainbow, and no wonder I feel compelled to create them in full color. For a girl of 14, coming out of a year of depression, the colors were intense. There is power in symbols, but also the power of color itself, the incarnation of beauty.
This piece caught my eye at the Corning Museum of Glass. It was mounted in front of a lightbox and the colors of glass emerged in glowing layers. Before I started making mosaics, I made collages with magazine paper and the Gemmail technique is like having those scraps of paper turn to glass. Artist Jean Crotti wanted to incorporate light into his paintings in a new way and began working with thin glass glued and then fused, and called it Gemmail from combining the French words for gem and enamel(Gemmaux in the plural).
Crotti sought advice on the logistics of his technique with his neighbors, the Malherbe-Navarre family, physicists studying light and fluorescence. Eventually Roger Malherbe-Navarre became the primary maker of Gemmail, and artists like Braque and Picasso were enchanted, and wanted to translate their paintings into glass and light.
A reviewer of a set of Gemmail windows, Winefride Wilson from a 1964 issue of Tablet, was ambivalent, torn between the wonder of the effect and concern that it reminded her of childhood kaleidoscopes, and hard to take seriously. I have no such reservations ~ I am on the side of wonder.