More important than art is relationships. Relationships with people. As I remind myself this yet AGAIN, I remember a quote by Paul Greenhalgh that I was introduced to in graduate school in a seminar at the University of Florida taught by Linda Arbuckle. It came from the book, The Persistence of Craft. Greenhalgh said,
“Millions of visitors trail around the world’s museums and galleries each year, mutely acknowledging the importance of art without ever experiencing it, because, in reality, the art is no longer there. Works of art are not objects: works of art are relationships between people and objects. If the relationship does not exist, neither does the work of art. Context and environment are important. They should remain in consideration when any work is presented. Art is primarily an idea. Remove the idea, and only social class and economics remain.”
As I recently revisited this quote, I was reminded of a story that I wrote in undergrad. I think even then, I was getting at it - I knew relationships were more important - but I didn't fully understand it yet. Quite honestly, I still do not know if I fully understand it, but I think there are dots between these different ideas and hopefully I will figure out how to connect them one day soon. I want my work to reflect this intention.
I will now share this story that has never been shared publicly. It was written in 2010 about my undergraduate senior show - 8 years ago. I now think that my Grandmommy herself was an artist. She was a home artist. A homemaker is what we call them. That's the kind of artist that I really want to be more than anything else. I think in revisiting sewing, I am seeking to speak to that maternal desire that is within myself as a woman.
Though I despise the taste of them, unless they are fried and green, my Grandmommy had the plumpest and most attractive tomatoes in all of
Western Kentucky. I can see them now, spread out on a huge
wooden spool that, though once a house for cable, now served as a “stout” platform. Lying on this spool, under her carport was
the ideal environment for her beautiful tomatoes to appropriately ripen. I can see her standing over them, with hand
on hip, considering the plan she had intended for them. “Should this one be canned whole, juiced, or
sliced and served with salt for dinner?”
This is the scene that played as my mother pulled up in the drive. It was time for us to return to Frog Jump,
our home 100 miles away in West Tennessee. My brother and I didn’t want to leave. Yet, we must; school would be back in session
in less than a week.
As we loaded our belongings into the car, Grandmommy ushered Momma over to the makeshift spool table and prompted her to choose the best tomatoes resting on the Carlisle Weekly. Grandmommy gave my mom the grandest and reddest tomatoes. How could she just give them away? It was easy for Grandmommy, as if they were intended for my mom from the beginning, when her grandmother’s weathered hands dropped them in the ground as a seed. After we carefully packed the tomatoes in the car and hugged our last goodbye, we were on the road to Frog Jump. Grandmommy stood at the end of the driveway waving as her worn housecoat blew in the wind, and we were out of sight. A single tear rolled down my cheek. I could only think of the upcoming summer and the image of my Grandmommy giving away her future tomato harvest, which was already intended for my mother and whomever else came along Grandmommy’s path.
Now, years later, I remember Grandmommy’s famous tomatoes as I work in my studio, on my specialty, clay. Though it is not nestled in the ground as a seed or cultivated in the hot July sun, it too is labored – mixed, wedged, and molded by my hands. As I work the clay, the very Earth that nurtures all seedlings, I think about how meaningful Grandmommy’s tomatoes have been to me. However, the physical tomatoes themselves have not moved me as much as what they represent. They have challenged me to acknowledge that simple things in life, though small they seem, can sway us in significant ways. Reflecting on this self-discovered concept, I began to consider the little, yet great, influences we experience daily. I asked myself, “Can my ceramic sculptures, the very fruits of my labor, like prized tomatoes be intended for someone? Can they be given away?”
In the work I create, the people and things that have influenced me are evident. A teacher’s words, the introduction of a new art medium, and farm-spent summers are planted in what I make. Its whimsical nature gives credit to my desire to be a child again - the longing to stand on Grandmommy’s fresh-swept carport and see the importance of a simple gift of homegrown tomatoes through a child’s eyes is present. The colors, basic and bright, yet, antiqued or distressed, imply a sense of nostalgia or antiquity. In the end, the pieces will be given away. Given to the ones for whom they were intended from the time the clay was taken out of the Highwater Clay box to when they were finally pulled out of the L & L Kiln that warmed them to approximately 1950 ⁰F.
If I were to visit Milburn and Grandmommy’s farm again today, it wouldn’t be the same. Yes, the carport would still be there along with the gravel on which she walked in her worn house-slippers. There might even be remnants of the tomatoes themselves found in weathered wooden stakes that once supported the plants on which they grew. However, Grandmommy wouldn’t be there. Time has taken away her ability to garden and work the earth as she once did. Yet, the one thing that will always reside on that carport in
Kentucky is the memory of gifts, influences, and intentions; for
that is what Grandmommy left there.
|Grandmommy's now vacant tomato table|