Looking

I seem to have missed the month of January. Something happens after the holiday hoopla subsides. Maybe it’s the darkness. I feel suspended. I spend more time thinking. I wait for the sun to warm the stone. I wait for the light to return.

In the Greek myth, Persephone, while picking flowers one day, is abducted by Hades and taken to the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, depressed by the loss of her daughter, places the earth in continuous winter jeopardizing all who inhabit the earth.

In hopes of lifting Demeter’s depression, Hecate, a guide to the underground, offers to accompany Demeter to visit Persephone. While underground, they strike a deal with Hades to allow Persephone to return to the light. Unfortunately, Persephone had eaten six pomegranate seeds while below ground. For that action she must remain below ground for six months of the year – thus creating winter and spring.

Persephonedetail
Looking Inward

When you sculpt, you are alone with the stone. You are also alone with your thoughts. You can spend time going over the grocery list or complaining about the cold or planning the dinner menu. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions; they are too easy to break. I look inside – at my dreams, my hopes, my goals, my accomplishments and my failures.

There are many myths that tell the story of the hero that relinquishes his or her life on earth and all they love and possess to descend into the lower realms. There, they confront the darkness of Life. After confronting this personal darkness, the hero reemerges.

For several years, I created meditation labyrinths. A labyrinth is an archetypal symbol found in ancient cultures with mysterious origins and purposes. Although it resembles a maze, it is uni-cursal, having just one path into the center and the same path back out. There are many forms of labyrinths – Chartres, 9-circuit, 7-circuit. http://www.amazon.com/Labyrinths-Ancient-Myths-Modern- Uses/dp/0906362695

Crossroads Labyrinth

When you walk the labyrinth, it is suggested you meditate on a question to be answered or a problem to be solved. At some point  along the journey, you will receive an answer. Sometimes, it is an answer to the question asked. Sometimes, it is an answer to the question we should have asked. Sometimes, there is just silence.

Walking a labyrinth is thought of as a possible path to the self. Jean Shinoda Bolen, in her book, Crossing to Avalon, writes about the role of labyrinths in our lives.

Going into the forest requires us to let go of our old ways and identities: we shed defenses, ingrained habits, and attitudes, which opens us up to new possibilities and depth. We find what really matters to us and can reach the core or center of meaning in ourselves, which is the center of the labyrinth, and then we have the task of integrating this into what we do with our lives.

Looking Outward

Removing each layer of stone is like peeling an onion. The image is there. You just need to reveal it.  Determining where to cut requires looking. Really looking. You must hold the final image in your mind’s eye as you walk around the stone. You look for the next place to remove stone. You make marks and erase them.

I make marks on the stone with different colored crayons:

arrow

  • Yellow indicates a possible route, a movement.
  • Black signifies a direction or decision.
  • Red means STOP before you remove stone in this area. Look again.

When I am tired, I make more tentative marks.

Sometimes I am brave. I remove large pieces of stone with the hammer and chisel or make deeper cuts with the saw. Sometimes I am timid. I am more hesitant. I take away less stone. I spend more time looking.

Looking Ahead

When you are an artist, you have to be willing to change your plan. In 1961, Robert Frost wrote a poem specifically for the Kennedy inauguration. On January 20, the bright sun bounced off the snow on the ground and created a glare. Frost, then 86, could not read from the typewritten text of Dedication. Instead, he recited from memory The Gift Outright, a poem he published in 1941. He never expected the shimmering sun to be a barrier to his intention.

Manuel 2

When in Italy, I had the great privilege of visiting Manuel Neri’s workshop. Neri is an “American sculptor, painter, and printmaker and a notable member of the “second generation” of the Bay Area Figurative Movement.”

He creates stone pieces in his Carrara studio.

He maintains that at some point in the sculpting process, you need to let go of your original design. Although you work from a maquette, the stone itself, the light and shadows, the work space, the skill of the sculptor can alter the design.

You must be brave enough to relinquish your initial idea. You need to believe that choosing another path will lead to an even more extraordinary outcome. You look for the new guideposts and ignore the other ones upon which you first built .

One of the first poems I memorized in school was the Road Not Taken. As a 10 year old, it had little meaning. But to an artist, it is prescient.

We choose the road less traveled and that makes all the difference.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frostpile2

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim

Because it was grassy and wanted wear,

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I marked the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

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11 comments on “Looking

  1. Thanks Jo! Now I know who to blame for winter…I’m glad you’ll be getting more natural lighting soon. I imagine that is helpful/inspiring for an artist.

  2. margaret dowell says:

    Jo, Your insights into the mind/being of an artist are so valuable….. A printed catalog with these posts should accompany the final work! Your writing is terrific….. rich, meaningful, powerful and insightful.

  3. B. Amore says:

    Thanks, Jo, for such a reflective and sensitive exposition of the interior life of a stone carver. Loved the literary references. Good luck with the work – can’t wait to see it as it develops! B. Amore

  4. Sharon Myer says:

    Thanks for you musings! It is good to walk on the path whatever it is.

  5. Kathy ODell says:

    Great post, Jo! You write so beautifully about your process. I didn’t know you’d visited Manuel Neri’s studio in Italy! He was doing “The Remaking of Mary Julia: Sculpture in Process” piece in May of 1976 at 80 Langton Street in San Francisco when I first starting working there (before grad school). He’s utterly remarkable. Anyway, brava on the progress on your project!

  6. susan andre says:

    jo….

    once again i am inspired by your post! this season compells all of us to look inwards; but your artist’s message of also looking OUTWARD and FORWARD encourages us to move out of performance concerns and into the EXPERIENCE of channeling creativity…

    with gratitude, susan A

  7. Bob Clegg says:

    Thanks, Jo. Have you read Joseph Campbell? One of his four archtypal myth forms is the Hero’s Journey, which appears in all cultures, all times. As you imply, the Hero’s Journey tells us more about ourselves human beings than it does about our cultures or our myths. I never thoughte ooefs aPdecnilnp’ butoe Hades xample of the Hero’s Myth, but of course it is….and a particularly poignant one, given her “lapse” and the recurring punishment for it.

    I also wonder about the origins of that story in terms of natural history….Was it passed down from time immemorial (i.e., the ice ages) through story-telling? We will never know, but at the time the explanation would have been plausible.

  8. Katherine Scott says:

    OMG Did you sculpt that woman in the picture?

  9. Lynne Mason says:

    Really respect how you have taken the road less traveled over and over in your life as an authentic person. Congrats on your success and progress on this large project… Lynne

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