Next Steps on the Stone Path

To Be An Artist is to Trust

When it is time to share the work, I must trust in the viewer. I must believe that he or she will approach my work with respect and curiosity. I must realize that viewers bring their life experiences to the work. They arrive with knowledge and emotions. They take whatever time they require to discern meaning. They take from the piece what they are able to and what they need. I have no influence or power. And then, I rest.

libersidejk LiberfrontJKDSC08425-S


Liber is not my first public artwork for a library. I was 9 years old when the Marada Adams School was built across the street from my house. The elementary school was a 2-story brick structure. A public library was housed on the first floor. You had to be 6 years old to obtain a card. Even though I had been reading for a year, I was only 5 and a rule is a rule. I then petitioned for special dispensation and won. I selected books by trailing my fingers along the spines until a title caught my interest. For most of my childhood, I spent my free time taking out and returning books.

My 3rd grade class was asked to create images for a concrete frieze that would be installed on the face of the new school. It would be approximately 42 feet long and 8 feet high. Everyone created a paper cut-out that depicted an outdoor activity. My ‘girl jumping rope’ image was chosen for replication in the mural.  (You ask:  How do I recall which of the images was mine? I am still upset that I removed her braids when cutting out the image.) See page 5.

After 53 years as an icon and gathering place in the neighborhood, the school/library was raised to make way for affordable housing and a small park. As a result of a “save the mural” campaign, the frieze was de-installed and a committee of architects, developers, current and former neighborhood residents and one sculptor  (me) met to determine its fate. The only decision we could agree upon was to retain and store the mural. No other plans were finalized. My jump rope girl awaits a new home – hopefully in the old ‘hood.

Oh the Places You’ll Go

June is graduation time. The current 9-month calendar was established when 85% of Americans were involved in agriculture and when schools were not air-conditioned. But the 180-day rule still applies in most states – agrarian or not. The creation of Liber took 9 months  – from the selection of the stone in Indiana to its installation at the library.

The school bus stops in front of my studio and the screeching of brakes serves as my alarm clock. The often ill-clad and frequently half-asleep students clamber aboard each morning.

My countdown week for the installation coincided with final exams and graduation. While they prepared for tests, I prepared for the installation and dedication of Liber. I am not sure who was more anxious.


I always send 2 books to the graduates in my life:   Oh, the Places You’ll Go    and    What Now?

What Now

Dr. Seuss
In 1993, upon leaving my ‘real’ job in training, group facilitation and curriculum development to   become a sculptor, I received Dr. Seuss’s book as a parting gift along with a chisel and hammer. In his inimitable way, Dr. Seuss outlines the ups and downs of life – making choices, losing one’s way, flying high, falling down, following paths, changing direction…waiting for the way to open. He ends his tome with these stanzas:
You’ll get mixed up, of course,

As you already know.

You’ll get mixed up with

many strange birds as you go.

So be sure when you step.

Step with care and great tact

And remember that

Life’s a Great Balancing Act…


And will you succeed?

Yes, you will indeed.

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid you’ll move mountains!


So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray

Or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,

You’re off to Great Places!

Today is your day!

Your mountain is waiting.

So…get on your way.

What Now? 
Liber was barely installed and the dedication complete, when the questions started:

How do you feel now that it’s done?

What would you do differently?

How much does it weigh now? (Answer: 9000 lbs.)

What are you going to work on next?

What now?

Based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, Patchett tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question, What now?

“From student to line cook to teacher to waitress and eventually to award-winning author, Patchett’s own life has taken many twists and turns that make her exploration genuine and resonant. As Patchett writes, “‘What now?’ represents our excitement and our future, the very vitality of life.”

I write thank you notes. I post my last blog entry. I clear out the temporary studio. I clean my long neglected house.  I detail the truck. I pay bills. I go to the hair stylist and acupuncturist (in that order.)  I sell off electric tools in hopes of recouping some of the out-of-pocket monies. I donate my 25 year-old pneumatic and hand tools to the Vermont Carving Studio.

Before I start a project, I get my house in order. And when I complete a project, I do the same. As a clutter buster, I reassure my clients:

“If you discard what is no longer useful to make room for what is really important, the ‘empty’ space will fill with exactly what you need. Just trust.”

In What Now? Padgett highlights the possibilities the unknown offers and reminds us that there is as much joy in the journey as there is in reaching the destination.

Everything is gestation and birthing. To let each impression and each embryo of feeling come to completion entirely in itself, in the dark, in the unsayable unconscious, beyond the reach of one’s understanding, and with deep humility and patience to wait for the hour when a new clarity is born; this alone is what it means to live as an artist in understanding as in creation.

Rainer Maria Rilke

To see a slide show of the entire installation process photographed by Dan Stack, click here:

Additional photos provided by Joseph Knights

During the making of Liber, many people walked along the stone path with me. Each one contributed to the success of the journey.

If you don’t see your name on the list and feel it should be, I apologize for the oversight. Please know I appreciated your support.

  • Lynn Wheeler, Scott Rinehart and staff at Carroll County Public Library and members of the Sculpture Committee
  • Sandy Oxx and Susan Williamson, Carroll County Arts Council
  • Tom Rio, Bruce Lockard and all the crew at the Carroll County Roads Operations and Public Works
  • Public works cleaning crew who didn’t give me a hard time when I trailed dust (like Pig Pen in the comics) throughout the building
  • Independent Limestone
  • Stonebelt Transport
  • Digging and Rigging
  • Mathias Monuments
  • Welding Contractors LLC, Kyle Palumbo
  • Starbucks staff at Safeway (Jen, Gabby and Diane)
  • Dan Stack, Photographer and Joseph McKnight, Photography
  • Friends who provided physical, emotional, spiritual sustenance (Maggie, Eileen, Barb)
  • My Book Club (Elizabeth, Judy, Linda)
  • Members of the Pipe Creek Meeting
  • Homer Yost and Becky Laughlin for artistic feedback
  • Those who took care of my body – Dawn, Alison, staff at the YMCA
  • Mary L. Dewey Family

Bird’s Eye View

You are invited:

Dedication of Liber will take place on June 6, 2013 at 6 p.m. at the Carroll County Public Library, Westminster MD. The event is free and open to the public. Video of the installation and photographs of the completed work will be posted at following the dedication.

Bird’s Eye View

It is spring. Birds are nesting in the eaves of the studio. Their songs greet me as I arrive each morning. It can be, however, somewhat cacophonous. They flit in and out carrying twigs, bits of straw, announcing their presence. There are starlings, doves, pigeons, crows and ravens.

Ravens and crows are relatives. Both are from the genus corvus. Both are black. Both are smart. Both are nosy and noisy. You can learn to tell the difference between the two from their calls.

A raven* stops by each morning and evening to check on my progress.  The crew at the Maintenance Yard told me there is a nest in the rafters of the county’s salt dome.Salt dome

Peering into the darkness, I can barely discern the nest. Difficult to see – or photograph – is a baby raven.  To protect their fledgling, the ravens lure me out of the dome. I follow them into the yard. They call out warnings. They fly close to me then soar away – their blackness outlined against the blue sky. Perching in the nearby trees, they remained vigilant until I depart.

The Raven has a role in the mythologies of the native peoples of the Pacific Northwest Coast and the cultural hero of the Alaskan Athabaskan tribes. He is a revered and benevolent transformer god who helps the People and shapes their world for them.

In one raven tale, Raven originally lived in the land of spirits that existed before the world of humans. One day, the Raven became so bored with living in ‘bird land ‘ that he flew away, carrying a stone in his beak. When the Raven became tired of carrying the stone and dropped it, the stone fell into the ocean and expanded until it formed the land that humans now occupy.

Bird’s Eye View: Space

Sculpture both occupies space and defines space. When looking at a painting, we stand in one place and let our eyes travel throughout the surface of the piece. Looking at a sculpture requires us to move our bodies to look at the entire work. As you walk around the sculpture, each step changes your viewing experience.

Stone rootsThe mass of the piece interrupts the space. The negative or empty space around and within the sculpture also holds your attention.  Other sculptures, buildings, even the presence of humans, contribute to the perception of the work. When installed, Liber will sit between trees and among plants. It will be integrated into the landscape.

Sculptors need to continuously look at their sculpture to know how to proceed. To prevent the brain from imposing a pre-conceived vision, artists use mirrors to “see’. By looking at the work in a mirror, a visual reality is reflected back. An artist sees what must still be reworked to be resolved. They also see the errors that must remain.

Bird’s Eye View: Form

I always wanted to make art. But I grew up at a time when practicality took precedence over dreams. While serving on a ship during WW2, my dad completed the matchbook cover drawing test. He wanted to attend art school when the war was over. But war changes everything. Dreams are set aside.

MatchbookWhen he was dying, he encouraged me to take care of myself  – spiritually and physically. His legacy to my siblings and me was to follow our dreams. After his death, I decided to make art. I quit my job, enrolled in art school and created the Firehouse Studio.

(I also bought L.L. Bean flannel shirts in a variety of colors. The shirts kept me warm this winter while sculpting outside. At the end of the day, I hang them like Tibetan peace flags along with my dust infused jeans.)

ClotheslineTwenty-five years later, I am standing on scaffolding to work on the top half of Liber. I have a Bird’s Eye View of the sculpture. From where I am standing, it’s obvious I need to make changes in the angle of the back. There is a section that should be smaller so the proportions are not so distorted. All sculptors seek the highest point wherever they are. We always want to see the big picture.

Close-up #5

When I travel, I always visit the tallest building, climb the stairs of bell towers, or just hike up a hill. It’s probably why I like hot air ballooning.

For most of us, our first experience with reading is sitting on the lap of a parent – helping to turn the pages of a favorite book or being read to as we cuddle in bed before drifting off to sleep. From these chair-like forms, we branch out to sprawling on floors, leaning against trees, reading wherever we can find a comfortable space.

The basic form of Liber  (pronounced with a LONG i) suggests a chair.  The root of the word “library” is from the Latin ‘liber’ meaning peel. Bark was the basis of paper – and eventually the pages of books.  The seat is sculpted in such a way to suggest pages. The surface of the trunk-like back of the sculpture references bark, lichen, tree limbs, roots. From this ‘solid’ foundation, pages ‘grow.’

Bird’s Eye View: Surface

The experience of a sculpture is not only by sight. The tactile quality of sculpture is surely as important as the visual to cause thought.

Isamu Noguchi


Stone mossA sculptor uses the interplay of shadow and light to create the work. Specific tools are used to create surface texture – rough, smooth, polished, raw. A tooth chisel makes multiple parallel lines that dig into the stone. A bush hammer makes dimples by stippling. A flat removes extraneous marks and leaves a smooth surface. NOT making tool marks on the stone creates a different texture. These varied surfaces capture or reflect light – defining the image.

Surface imagery

stone branch

Jun ichiro Tanizaki in his book, In Praise of Shadows, wrote:…

In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth, and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house…and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends.

 Shadows create dimension in a sculpture. The shapes arise from the darkness. As I finish the piece, I pay particular attention to the crevices. I work hard to clean them out in order to provide a place for the darkness to dwell. Working along each section of Liber, I realize that without the shadow, the rest of the sculpture does not exist.

As of late, I am conscious of the darkness in the world: some man made and some natural. Boston – Oklahoma – Syria and the list goes on and on. Making art seems frivolous when faced with the daily litany of events that cast a shadow over the lives of so many.

‘In another myth, the Raven was responsible for bringing light to the darkness of the world. At the beginning of the story, the world lies in darkness and Raven, who of course existed at that time because he had always existed and always would, was somewhat less satisfied with this state of affairs. It led to much blundering around and bumping into things. One day, he hears a man singing about how he keeps the light in a small box, inside another box, inside another, and so on and so forth. There are an enormous number of boxes.  Raven uses all of his considerable wiles and eventually worms his way inside the man’s house and steals the light from the man, with which he brightens the world.’

The ancient library of Alexandria was comprised of gardens, walkways, area for shared dining, reading rooms, lecture halls and meeting spaces and of course, a collection of papyrus scrolls gathered from around the world. Legend has it that carved into the wall above the shelves was an inscription that read: The place of the cure of the soul.

Taking time to look at art – sculpture – takes us to another place.

Thich Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He offers workshops on walking meditation. He provides solace through walking meditation.  The Pebble for Your Pocket Meditation encourages us to live in the moment.

To create change in ourselves, we meditate.Stone roots

To create more light in the world , we must drop our pebbles.

We must be like a Raven.




For you literature fans, Edgar Allan Poe is a Baltimore native and author of the House of Usher – the poem featuring the phrase: Spoke the Raven, NEVERMORE.

For you football fans, the Baltimore Ravens are the home team.