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. www.joisraelson.com

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. http://issuu.com/munjoyhill/docs/aug2011munjoyhillobserver

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.

Graduation

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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/97203147@N05/

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

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.

 

Detoured Along the Path

The shortest distance between two points is NEVER a straight line if it’s a public art project. Especially if a hurricane named Sandy decides to visit the day you are to begin working.

The stone arrived from Indiana in the middle of a rodeo – the snowplow rodeo. If you ever wondered how snowplow drivers avoid mailboxes, sidewalk curbs, and the occasional snow covered vehicle, it’s because they practice – a lot. Drivers maneuver their plows around and between cones while someone clocks their time with a stop watch. No one wears a cowboy hat. (There is a however, a real rodeo 4 miles from my firehouse in Johnsville, Maryland. They ride real bulls and wear cowboy hats. http://www.jbarwranch.com/)

In the world of stone transport, trucking companies deliver but do not off-load. When the truck finally made it’s way to the Carroll County Highway Maintenance Facility gate, the front end loader and crew were waiting.

The operator of the loader maneuvered the “forks” under the stone and lifted it off the bed of the truck.  Using hand signals, the crew guided his movements. As he placed the stone into the workspace, I once again appreciated the skills and knowledge of those whose work is often invisible in our daily lives.

Setting up a Studio

A stone sculptor’s studio is a lot like an auto repair shop: filled with large objects that need moving, littered with tools of all shapes and sizes and accompanied by the sound of a pneumatic tool.  In repair shops, there are lifts. In stone studios, there are gantrys.

A gantry is like an engine hoist – only bigger. You use it to move stone as you sculpt. When I first moved into the firehouse, I needed a custom made gantry. At the hardware store in town, I asked about a welder. “Go to Bill Lee.”  He occupied a ramshackle shop on the corner of Rt. 75 and Clemsonville Road just outside of Union Bridge. The yard was ‘littered’ with metal of various shapes and sizes, some abandoned vehicles and smoke from the wood stove. His dog “Bear” announced all visitors. Every year, Bill planted potatoes in the field behind his shop. Bill was born to weld. I often sat next to his wood stove and watched him work. He once told me that he left school early because the moment he learned to weld, he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life doing it.

On his way to the Post Office one day, he showed up at my studio, took a few measurements, and a week later, installed the gantry. It fit perfectly. Bill has since passed away. He took with him a lifetime of knowledge.   He was an artisan.

The bill of laden said my stone weighed 18000 lbs or as I explain to friends: it is equal weight to the following: 9 elephants or 9 Smart cars. It was too big to work on in the Firehouse.

So, I took my tools, compressors, hose reel, grinders, scaffolding, gloves, masks, ear and eye protection, a few big crow bars, extension cords, miscellaneous tools, a hand cart, a dolley, a chalkboard and a comfy chair to the “Studio Annex.” I would also need my gantry.

At the hardware store in town, I once again asked for a welder. “Go to Kyle.” His shop is near the intersection of 77 and 194 in Keymar. Although there was no sign, it was easy to locate. The yard was filled with metal of various shapes and sizes and a field of seemingly abandoned vehicles. There was smoke coming out of a wood stove chimney.

Before I could finish explaining what I needed, Kyle stopped me. When he was 14 years old, he had been Bill Lee’s apprentice. In fact, his wood stove had belonged to Bill. He explained the intricate process he and Bill devised to install the gantry.  He would reverse it to de-install and move it. Kyle Palumbo is the owner of Welding Contractors LLC.  Like his mentor, he was born to weld. He is another artisan in my life. 

 Artigiani

Stone carvers cannot work alone. When I went to Italy to learn stone carving, I also learned that many artists work with artigiani. In the world of stone, they are considered, not only skilled sculptors, but a national treasure. They can copy works of art and enlarge designs made by artists.  They use large drills and saws to remove excess stone. There is a long history of hiring artisans to help execute a piece. The book ‘The Art of Not Making: The New Artist/ Artisan Relationship ‘ explores the relationship between artist and artisan. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/the-art-of-not-making-michael-petry_n_1241742.html

The design of Liber is a triangular form. Therefore, the rectangular block of stone must be split.  It is hard to imagine removing 8000 lbs of stone before beginning the actual sculpture. It is do- able but the amount of time required would prevent me from meeting my deadline.

Many stone carvers pass through the doors of The Vermont Carving Studio and Sculpture Center in Vermont. http://www.carvingstudio.org/ We come to learn, to teach, to network, to support the continuation of the craft. B Amore, founder and past director, has been my mentor for 25 years. I often turn to her for advice and support. She provides it willingly and generously.  B has been carving since she was a child. She creates public works and is familiar with the challenges of working large pieces of stone. She advised seeking an artigiani.http://www.bamore.com/

Rick Rothrock is also an alum of the Carving Studio. We have never met but have spent a month emailing about the vagaries of working limestone. He collaborates with sculptors. I have asked him to work with me. He has agreed. http://www.rickrothrock.com/

My artigiani arrives today. And that hour we lost last spring will be returning this weekend…and I have a good use for it.

Practicing Patience

 Since my last blog entry in June, I’ve been practicing patience.

The good news: the stone is on the truck. The bad news: the truck is still in Indiana. The good news: I have found a space in which to work. The bad news: it has no walls or heat. The good news: I have found an assistant. The bad news: our schedules may not mesh. I am sure, however, that all will be resolved by the next posting. For now, I am taking a slight detour.

Many of the Renaissance artists had patrons. The artist only had to worry about potential coup d’etats, losing favor in the court, imprisonment, even death if they did not complete their commissions in a timely manner. Payment was only received when the work was unveiled and accepted.

When I was in Italy learning to carve stone, I visited a small chamber where Michelangelo hid from his angry patrons. (He was notorious for taking on more work than he could possibly complete in a timely manner.) The walls were covered with “cartoons” – ideas for sculptures never realized.  He was too busy trying to balance his books – buy supplies, cover the rent and pay his creditors. Artists today live a similar existence. Patronage appears to be limited to public art commissions. Payment is only received when the work is installed. Still, supplies have to be purchased, the rent covered and the creditors paid.

Because I chose to pursue a path of creativity, I accept all attending consequences of that decision. Like most artists, I work a variety of jobs to keep the roof over my head and gas in the truck. Some of the work is creative; some more prosaic. One year, I held 16 different jobs including, but not limited to, the following: dog sitter, house cleaner, landscaper, kayak tour guide, upholsterer, furniture refinisher, faux finisher, project coordinator, caterer, teacher, trainer, writer, and clutter buster http://www.jotheclutterbuster.com.

Filmmaker

On the twentieth anniversary of my father’s death, I went to Peaks Island, Maine to sculpt a granite memorial. A chronicle of the process became a film: Chorus of Stones: In Four Parts. http://vimeo.com/29998120. After working on the island for 2 years, I am known as a sculptor and filmmaker and a highly responsible house and dog sitter.

The Umbrella Cover Museum is located on the same island. It occupies a very small space in the same building as the artist cooperative. (YES, I am talking about a museum of umbrella covers – the sleeve-like fabric that covers the umbrella when you buy it.) About 16 years ago, Nancy 3 Hoffman hung her first umbrella cover on the wall of her kitchen and tacked up a note documenting its provenance. The rest, as they say, is history.

In order to be considered for the Guinness World Records, there must be a category in which to compete. It took 5 years but in her indomitable way, Nancy 3 was able to convince the Guinness folks to create an Umbrella Cover Museum category. She then applied for an official count.

The requirements for a count are very specific. You need certified judges and also a judge to oversee those judges. You need to complete lots of forms and document the count from start to finish.

I was recruited to be the official videographer of the Peaks Island Umbrella Cover Museum Count on July 7, 2012. The count lasted 2.5 hours and included the singing of the museum theme song: “Let a Smile be Your Umbrella” accompanied by members of the Maine Squeeze accordion band. (Seriously.)

Nancy has submitted the footage of the counting of 730 umbrella covers with other proof of the event to the Guinness folks. I produced a short doc entitled: Celebration of the Mundane about the UCM, Nancy 3, and the commitment required to pursue a passion. www.umbrellacovermuseum.org/UCM.org/Press_%26_Video.html

Currently, Nancy is waiting for the official word.

She is also practicing patience.

Teacher

Several years ago, I established a Movie Maker Camp at the Friends School of Portland on Macworth Island in Maine. I taught video production and animation to young filmmakers who created Public Service Announcements during the week-long camp. After completing their PSAs, we take a field trip to the public access station  for interviews and a screening.

While the arrangements for the delivery of the limestone were being made, I taught at the camp. This year’s productions were entitled Stranger Danger and Scam Security. It is a sad commentary on our culture that fear pervades the lives of our children – both inside and outside their homes. Fortunately, children are able to set aside worry to be in the moment. So we waded in the ocean and looked for crabs at the water’s edge.

We all practiced patience.

 Upholsterer

The skeleton of my sofa has haunted me for years.

One day, I dismantled my living room sofa. (I can’t recall what inspired me to do it.)

It then took seven years to find just the right fabric. Now that I had selected the stone for Liber and made the shipping arrangements, it was time to re-upholster the sofa. You might be asking yourself: How does upholstering a sofa relate to sculpting?

Re-upholstering requires holding onto the image of the finished piece as you work section by section. You take raw materials and fashion them into a discernable whole. You work with your hands. You stand on your feet for long periods. You use specific tools for each step in the process.  You are always accompanied by the sound of a compressor and an air powered tool. Sometimes you need help lifting.

You look carefully. You do not cut until you are sure. You do not rush.

You practice patience.

The stone for Liber will probably be transported with stone intended for repairs of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC.  On September 29, 1907, the foundation stone was laid in the presence of President Theodore Roosevelt and 83 years later the last finial was placed in the presence of President George H. W. Bush. The damage incurred as a result of the recent earthquake may take a decade to repair.

  • Making a film takes time.
  • Teaching children takes time.
  • Re-upholstering a sofa takes time. (Longer if you also do the chair.)
  • Building a cathedral takes time.

Creating a sculpture takes time. I can practice patience a little longer.

Beginnings: Broken Promises

My mom broke her hip. So my promise to post to this blog on a weekly basis was broken – like her hip – before my second entry. I am in Maine. And today the temperature is 0. You ask how cold is that? Well, when you try to breathe through your nose, your nostrils stick . So cold that you can’t take off your mittens to answer your cell phone. The 8 inches of snow we got crusted over  and shimmers in the morning light. I always tell folks in the DC area that Portland streets were cleared within 24 hours after the snowfall.  But due to budget issues, they are conserving sand and  salt so today the streets are one gigantic skating rink. I worry about falling for the first time in my life.  Hence YOGA.

(I promise if you read this entire blog, it WILL connect to creating a stone sculpture for the library.)

Caretakers know that you have to take care of yourself in order to be able to care for others. I decided that a good break from cooking, cajoling and caretaking would be a yoga class. Lila Yoga is located about 1/2 mile from mom’s. It is strange that the neighborhood known as The Hill – thought of as dangerous when I was growing  up (due less to danger and more to ethnicity and poverty) is now the most desired area of the city. In the past few years, there have been a spate of roof removals and glass wall installation so owners could see Casco Bay. There are several organic/local food restaurants and of course, a coffee shop that serves locally roasted coffee.  Although there is a hipper, younger crowd living here, my mom (up until now) has walked through the neighborhood to the local coffee shop daily for at least ten years since she gave up her car and they know her by name. Although most of the people I grew up with are gone, the Hill still looks out for its own.

There are many kinds of yoga practices (emphasis on practice) I am most  familiar with Iyengar….so entering an anyusara studio is a little  daunting especially when everyone seems to be below the age of 30 – including the instructors. More than 35 folks squeezed their mats into the studio space. Yes, we had to stagger  our “bums.”  The first two sessions were a lesson in humility. It has been 7 years since I was on the mat. And I have lost a great deal of flexibility and upper body strength – as well as a connection to the breath..and the ability to remain present.

Staying flexible and strong is critical to working in stone. Standing for hours at a time on a concrete floor  and striking repeatedly on a stone, creates tension and imbalance throughout the body and often carpal tunnel. Yoga helps to realign everything and to maintain focus.

There is one particular pose that I find most difficult (There are many others that I just find difficult.) It is vrksasana: the “Tree” pose. “Standing straight on the left leg, bend the right leg and place the right foot on the root of the left thigh. Stand thus like a tree on the ground.”

In an attempt to maintain my balance, I stare intently at  the wall in front of me. It is constructed of planks of chestnut …the width of which you no longer see. There is a sign on that wall signifying that it was once Longfellow’s home. For those of you who are not New Englanders, Henry Wordsworth Longfellow wrote a famous poem featuring a blacksmith standing under a chestnut tree.  A blight destroyed the American chestnut. But there are organizations attempting to reintroduce it: http://www.me-acf.org/Home.html.

The derivation of the word for LIBRARY is from the Latin word, Liber — with a long I — meaning, “to peel.” It refers to the inner bark of a tree. Early manuscripts were written on bark, and from this, we get the modern word “Library.”

And in that moment of trying to stand like a tree,  my brain made an unexpected connection. And this is how a sculpture starts to grow. And this is how a sculptor walks along the stone path.