When I started making mosaics, I felt an intrusive guilt that I wasn’t making collages anymore. Collage was my first step into art, my first furtive kindness to myself in allowing myself to make art. When I started making collages, I felt anxiety because I believed I should be writing poems instead. I had been a poet since I was 12. I was good at writing poems. I won awards; I had poems in magazines; I was a Poet and had no room for any other self.
There is a fierceness in kindness, protecting the unfurling heart.
The stepping stones were practical. Stratoz and I had bought a rowhouse with a long narrow backyard, and I decided to make pebble mosaic stepping stones for our garden. A stepping stone allows a firm footing for walking through mud, and can define a space, guide a path.
As a child, stepping stones were magical, jumping from one to the next, each a self-contained world. Stepping stones are human scale. I had an anxious mind demanding superhuman scale, a speedway, a leap through time, tessering. When I took a small step, there were large repercussions in my fearfulness: what if I am choosing the wrong thing? What if I am meant to write poetry and I displease God, and vanish from the earth? What if I am moving too slowly? Or too fast?
I had given myself a year to explore different mediums of artmaking, and it took all my grit to continue exploring. When mosaics spoke to my heart, I felt both joy and fear, because to enjoy making mosaics stirred up the the thoughts of doing the wrong thing at the wrong time, and the fear of never ridding myself of the fear. That I continued on, one pebble at a time, is grace.
There is a fierceness in kindness, protecting the unfurling heart.
I made it through the 2014 A to Z blogging challenge and this is a good time to take care of my blog. There exists in me a desire to do things on my own, by myself, but also the desire to make art, and the art wins out. I went searching for someone to maintain my margaretalmon.com blog as well as the nutmegdesignsart.com site. Wordpress has made it possible for me to create the Nutmeg Designs site, but the nuances of keeping it in good technical shape is an art in itself. I admit I was swayed by a goat. When I finally formulated the phrase, “WordPress Maintenance Services,” GoatCloud came up and I had to check it out. Cliff Rohde, Chief Executive Goat, donates a portion of his net profits to those who provide goats to those in need of, as he puts it, these remarkably sturdy animals. GoatCloud is moving my sites about and consolidating them with hopefully minimal downtime. Goats have an unfettered sense of play and exploration, and I am swayed into my studio.
The AIC chose the Spring Equinox to celebrate color because of the equal balance of light and dark, day and night. Color draws me into the studio, and is the fuel for my art. I watch how people respond to my work, how color can draw them like a magnet. The blue-green people are particularly sensitive to those tones, lit up from within, as are the lovers of the spectrum of visible light.
The day after Christmas is Boxing Day in Canada. The 26th of December was the day of let-down after the fervor of Christmas, but I did like the sound of the phrase Boxing Day. The origin of the holiday was murky in my mind as a child, though I remember the part about British gentlefolk giving their servants the day off and boxes of gifts. Cats understand Boxing Day instinctively, and only require the box, with nothing but themselves in it.
I didn’t realize that the 26th is also the feast day of St. Stephen, who gave alms to the poor, and makes Boxing Day part of a much older tradition. I wonder about the history embedded in our lives that we do not notice, a deep well of unheard stories. The carol Good King Wenceslas is also connected to this day, and I never noticed that Christmas is not mentioned. My favorite lines:
Good King Wenceslas looked out, on the Feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even
The rhythm in these words pleased me as a child, the emphasis for each of deep, crisp, even. That king Wenceslas was actually a Duke, retroactively named a King by Emperor Otto is another bit of history buried in the snow. The Good King sees a poor man out in the snow, and gives him food and fuel. Fr. James Martin talks of the version by The Roches, and the pause they take before the final line, “Ye who now shall bless the poor shall yourself find blessing.”
The word “alms” intrigued me because it reminds me of my last name, Almon. Alms comes in part from the Greek “eleemon” meaning compassionate.
For an unusual version of the carol, I found this one sung by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, illustrated by DC comics. Look for the shadow of Batman at the end. http://youtu.be/A47qu7deSyY
We tell beginnings: for the flesh and the answer,
or the look, the lake in the eye that knows,
for the despair that flows down in widest rivers,
cloud of home; and also the green tree of grace,
all in the leaf, in the love that gives us ourselves.
The word of nourishment passes through the women,
soldiers and orchards rooted in constellations,
white towers, eyes of children:
saying in time of war What shall we feed?
I cannot say the end.
Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.
This moment, this seed, this wave of the sea, this look, this instant of love.
Years over wars and an imagining of peace. Or the expiation journey
toward peace which is many wishes flaming together,
fierce pure life, the many-living home.
Love that gives us ourselves, in the world known to all
new techniques for the healing of the wound,
and the unknown world. One life, or the faring stars.
Looking through my poems from another lifetime ago, I found Cherry Tree Sonnet, which would have slid easily into the 40 Below Anthology. My poems often came to me in an image, and my mosaics spring from the same source. H.D. and her Imagist poetry made wonderful sense to me.
Cherry Tree Sonnet
My mother made jam from Nanking cherries.
The tree was wedged in by the garage,
gasoline smell of this half-shelter which ferried
the car to rest and the warmth of wattage
coursing through the planked walls to run
the block heater, so the engine would start at 40 below.
My mother stood by the window, knowing the sun
through jam jars on our table could show
Jesus’ heart. Mary bore him in the half-shelter of a stable—
I knew making Nanking jam was keeping
a tree that was rare, lone, delectable,
that these preserves woke a tongue that had been sleeping,
and took on its witness of bright true red,
first fruit growing out of my mouth, that birthing shed.
My copy of 40 Below: Edmonton’s Winter Anthology arrived this week. I was excited to see my name in the table of contents and look forward to reading many accounts of Edmonton winters. I took this photo of a snow man(as I referred to him) with my mother’s Brownie camera in 1975 when I was 8 years old. I don’t remember the actual making of this snow man, but I remember the photo. I built with snow sticky enough to mold the form, the kind you can roll a snowball on the ground into a a larger and larger sphere. I wonder what the buttons and eyes are made of. The one arm looks suspiciously like a kitchen utensil, and the perhaps a doll’s toque on top, with a pompom. His expression is stoic(perhaps he predicted his fate). He stands near my favorite weeping birch tree with the white bark that I could peel off in scrolls and imagine writing novels on.
My third grade teacher had us write a journal, and I discovered this entry when going through my old papers in the attic. Someone had knocked down my snow man. I don’t remember that either. I was comforting myself with the photo I had taken of it, and the possibility of rebuilding. My teacher was concerned whether it would be warm enough. On a whim, I looked up the weather for that date on the Government Canada climate website, and March 8th was about 14 degrees Fahrenheit. March 7th was just at freezing and it snowed. My teacher asked if I used water in my craft of snow man making, and I had an unequivocal no. Perhaps my Texan parents didn’t have the technique to pass on to me. I don’t know if I rebuilt, but looking at the data, I would say no.
Check out the 40 Below book trailer, with its own theme song.
Halloween put me in mind of my favorite pumpkin, Jack Pumpkinhead from The Marvelous Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum and illustrated by John R. Neill. My father taught a University class of Children’s Literature, and the volumes from the reading list had a magic allure. Flipping through my father’s annotated copy, the illustration of General Jinjur caught my eye. The shades of blue-green, the yellow boots and General Jinjur’s splendid skirt.
Tip was so anxious to rejoin his man Jack and the Saw-Horse that he walked a full half the distance to the Emerald City without stopping to rest. Then he discovered that he was hungry and the crackers and cheese he had provided for the Journey had all been eaten.
While wondering what he should do in this emergency he came upon a girl sitting by the roadside. She wore a costume that struck the boy as being remarkably brilliant: her silken waist being of emerald green and her skirt of four distinct colors — blue in front, yellow at the left side, red at the back and purple at the right side. Fastening the waist in front were four buttons — the top one blue, the next yellow, a third red and the last purple.
The convergence of colors in the skirt reminds me of gradating color in my mosaics, and the scene of an entire army of girls converging on the Emerald City, with difference variations of the colors in their skirts. They are an Army of Revolt, marching to overthrow the city, and Tip is baffled that they have no weapons, but then he realizes each girl has two long glittering knitting needles stuck in her hair. The Guardian of the Gate tells the girls to go home to their mothers to milk the cows and bake the bread, and queried, “Don’t you know it’s a dangerous thing to conquer a city?” They took the knitting needles out of their buns, and just enough jabbing to get the key away from the Guardian, and overthrow the city.
Dressing as General Jinjur would make a most excellent Halloween costume, and as a knitter, I would be ready to be in her army. My memories of Halloween in Edmonton involve constructing costumes that could incorporate a winter coat.
W is for Wernersville, PA and the Jesuit Center. When I was introduced to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises at the University of Scranton, little did I know that Stratoz be the one most touched by them. My spiritual director, when I told her I was moving to Lansdale, had said “Wernersville. That is where you need to go.” I did, and was entranced by the art that is an integral part of the Jesuit Center, especially the mosaics by Hildreth Meiere in the chapel.
Stratoz was intrigued by the Jesuit Center’s silent retreats, and although he hadn’t done the Spiritual Exercises in Scranton, he went on a silent retreat and was refreshed, and has kept going over the years. He has designed much artwork there.
He is well acquainted with the trees.
I discovered that my studio is my place of reflection, so I haven’t been to Wernersville in awhile, but I see the effect it has on Stratoz, and I remember how Hildreth Meiere’s mosaic sparked my love of mosaic, and it is close to my heart.
These include a sense of collaboration with God’s action in the world, spiritual discernment in decision making, generosity of response to God’s invitation, fraternity and companionship in service, and a disposition to find God in all things. Spiritual integration is a prominent theme of the Exercises: integration of contemplation and action, prayer and service, and emotions and reason.
I first saw these chemistry illustrations via Maria Popova over at Brain Pickings, How Chemistry Works: Gorgeous Vintage Science Diagrams, 1854, by Edward Youmans. My mosaic eye was immediately drawn to the modular construction of the flame in Chemistry of Combusion and Illumination.
The quilt-like arrangements of Isomerism intrigued me as well. And of course, the decomposition of light resonates with my love of color gradation.
Edward Livingston Youmans(1821-1887), went through many travails with his eyesight, and for many years, his sister Eliza Ann Youmans acted as his proxy in the chemistry lab, through her persistence in finding teachers who would take a woman student. Edward was enchanted by science, though chemistry was a challenge because of difficulty of visualizing the processes, and as his sister relates in Popular Science Monthly(the magazine he founded with his brother):
When he reflected that chemistry was fast becoming a popular branch of education, and that, so far as its processes were concerned, the youths who were studying it might be classed, along with himself, as blind, their situation naturally interested him. Occupied with this subject, there one day arose in his mind a scheme for picturing atoms and their combinations that would bring the eye of the student into more effectual service. . . Atoms of the different elements were shown by diagrams of different colors, the relative sizes of which expressed their combining ratios, and the compounds exhibited the exact numbers of the respective atoms that unite to form them. . . He thought that chemistry could be made enticing as well as intelligible to learners who had not the help of experiments in its pursuit.