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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Homegrown Intentions - Reflecting on my roots.

As I have been facing some changes in my studio lately, I have picked up sewing again. It is something that I did in high school and college; a little in grad school, but not in a while. I have also been reading and writing and reflecting and thinking about what is important in life. I am blessed to be an artist and I do not regret pursuing this path. I know it is my calling. However, there is something even greater than art that I think we (or myself) need to remind ourselves of often. We artists can sometimes get hung up on ourselves as the passionate beings that we are.

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.


“Homegrown Intentions”
Milburn, Kentucky – that is where I spent approximately 13 summers of my life.  My great-grandparents’ farm was my second home.  However, it is not the gathering of eggs, rummaging through old barns, or building of tree houses that surface in my mind when I think of those Kentucky summers.  Though all of those memories have made a lasting imprint on my life, it is my “Grandmommy” herself that I recall.  Yet, what I remember most about Grandmommy, other than her threadbare, floral housecoat, is her generous spirit. 
            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 Western Kentucky is the memory of gifts, influences, and intentions; for that is what Grandmommy left there. 
Grandmommy's now vacant tomato table







Sunday, October 15, 2017

River of Grace


I went down to the river to pray and fellowship with Jesus today hoping for refreshment - hoping for clarity of mind and a return to peace and joy with Him. It is typical from me to do this when I feel discouraged and lonely. When the Lord is teaching me something that is difficult for me to grasp. When He wants me to surrender and place all of my trust in Him.  Each time, He never fails to deliver and I am left realizing that I need to meet Him more often.  Meet Him in His Creation where He is always right there waiting for me.  He is always there.  I just have to be willing to go. Yes, I have quite times with Him daily, but there is something special about going to meet Him in His Creation. It is where I am away from it all; away from the phone, away from the noise, away from the distractions of this world. It is only me and His music – the sound of the river crashing gently over the rocks; even the buzzing of the mosquito in my ear. Through His Creation He speaks to me. He speaks to me when I choose to listen.

As I ate my sandwich, watching the river flow, I found myself studying the leaves – leaves of varying color. October in Gatlinburg is a beautiful sight. One leaf in particular caught my eye. A rust orange one with purple speckles – a maple leaf, I believe.  It had found itself corned between some rocks off to the side of the current.  Resting; protected from the rushing water.  I studied the surroundings of the leaf; thinking of a friend who might like to have it.  I noticed several profound things - a tree growing out of the side of the bank; its roots exposed and clinging to the rocks and soil around it. How can a living thing grow out of a rock saturated ground? Then, the soil had eroded out from under a large rock to create a small cavern-like nook which housed a multitude of various smooth stones.

In the midst of the smooth stones, I spotted a foreigner – a small piece of glass that had been worn smooth by the flowing river and passage of time.  Who knows how long it took for the water to sculpt that piece of glass.  I looked at the piece of glass and the Lord said to me, “That’s you.  Once a broken shard of glass, sharp and unrefined – dangerous to the touch – who was plunged into my flowing river of grace to soften all your sharp edges.”  That wearing away and journey to becoming smooth is a long one. Sometimes painful. Sometimes scary.  I think it must take a lifetime.  But, He said, “Do not fear because you will be made smooth. Smooth by my grace. That's a promise.” A single tear flowed down my cheek.  So very small a stream compared to His river.  That tear came from a place of gratitude, reassurance, and hope for I know that His River flows  over me daily and it will never run dry.  Praise God from whom ALL blessings flow.
Shard of Glass found in the Little Pigeon River, Gatlinburg, TN

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Grandmommy's Feather Pillows


The soft clean sheets engulfed my smooth 9 year old legs as they entered my Grandmommy’s bed after my nighttime bath with pink Dove soap on a warm summer’s night in July.  My head hit the soft feather pillow and I scooted in as close to Grandmommy as I possibly could.  I felt safe to be near her in her silky night gown.  After we were settled, she began to tell me her stories.  “These are feather pillows she would say.  They were made from the feathers in Momma’s feather bed. I wouldn’t have any other pillow but a feather pillow,” she would say.  “Whoo, there ain’t nothing like them.  When I was a little girl we didn’t have anything but feather pillows and my Momma got them from our geese.”  She would raise her head up and down and move it around as she spoke as if she had some sort of nervous habit – the pillow conforming back and forth to her head. I didn’t really think anything about it because that’s just what Grandmommy did when she was talking.  I just laid there and listened to her stories that she would tell.  It was our nightly ritual. I learned about the camp meetings that she would go to at the church when she was a little girl.  I learned about the time she burned 2 chocolate pies during the WWII sugar ration; and how she dumped them out in the woods to hide the fact that she had wasted the sugar by burning the pies.  I learned about a side of Frog Jump that I couldn’t experience, but one that I could imagine.  I could imagine it because I was familiar with the place myself.
The comfort of Grandmommy’s pillow next to my side, with her head in it is gone.  A transient moment in my life, defines a memory that remains permanently etched in my mind.  Yet, while the memory remains, the trust that was put into my Grandmommy’s presence in my life slowly begins to fade away as Grandmommy, 87, now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease.  She is no longer near me and I learn that the trust that was placed in my Grandmommy’s company will soon be gone.  The pillows in The Weight of Glory, symbolize a moment of rest; a moment of no fear and complete trust.  The pillow; cast in concrete though freezes a moment in time and captures it permanent.  I trust that the pillow will not change.  It is captured just the way it is.  To last forever.
Cast Concrete Pillows from the Installation, The Weight of Glory, 2017

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Everything that we do is more than what it is.

Anderson Ranch - a place to hone one's artistic skills. In the ceramics program specifically, it is a place where one can sit down at the potter's wheel for the first time to try her attempt to throw the perfect cylinder. A place where even an expert at her craft can be exposed to new ideas and develop existing ones further by being instructed by a new teacher.  This week in the Soldner Studio, it was a place where Suze Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin, a potter couple from North Carolina, taught students from the ages of 88 to 20  how to put a lid on a pot in their course, "Put a Lid on It."  Putting a lid on a pot is not always as easy as it may seem. There are many ways that it can be done. Yet, the challenge is always the same - the fit.  Did you leave enough room for that flange to fit in the gallery after it has been glazed?  Add another level of complication - throw it in an atmospheric kiln and see if that perfect fitting lid still fits. But are these the real reasons that people come to the Ranch?

In talking to a regular Anderson Ranch student - a favorite of mine, Carol, I discovered something special about her take-away from the course.  After talking about a few new favorite discovered glazes, the most important thing that Carol took away from the class and admired most was the way that Suze and Kent interacted with one another. She said that more than technical information, she took valuable life lessons about how we relate to one another. In that moment, I agreed. I said you're right, Carol. Isn't what all of this is about?  It's not just about making pots or working with clay for that matter. It is about something greater.  We do what we do for something else.  That's when I said, "You know, everything that we do is more than what it is."

When an instructor brings an 88 year old student a cup of tea.  When a fellow classmate picks up your lunch plate.  When a fellow intern grabs the other handle of the trash can as his teammate is picking it up to load it into the Mule.  When a studio coordinator adds an extra level of organization to the studio by laying the glaze tests out in a grid by clay body and firing type for the students. When an Artistic Director of 32 years is still hosing out the studio with his interns. These are the things that make a difference. Every little detail. Everything we do from squeeging the floor to grinding a kiln shelf goes into something greater. Each are necessary to get the perfect lid on the perfect pot. The pot is the object that ultimately forms a relationship with an individual.  Yet the pot is only a remnant of what is the most important - the relationship. The relationships that we make are the entire reason that we are even on this planet.

I am describing the relationships that are formed through clay because that is my story. But each of us have our own.  The plumber. The lawn tender. The chef. The janitor. The nurse. Each field does what they do all for people.  The relationships that we form with people through what we do are why we are here. Everything that we do is way more than what that thing is.


Come join the Ranch as it celebrates its 50th Year Anniversary this summer!
For more information see www.andersonranch.org

Friday, March 4, 2016

Epiphany - MUD

The path became familiar.  I smelled the breeze.  It was familiar too.  I wanted to go back and as I turned the curve and reached the top of the hill that fixed my eyes on the bottom land that would lead me to my final destination, I went back.  The hat I wore was the same.  I recalled a bicycle wreck that I had as a child going down this hill because  of the orange hat that I wore.  The wind had caught it and as I tried to pull it back, I lost control and wrecked.  That was the same hill.  As I approached the bottom land I saw that the river was high - or had been.  Part of the road was covered with water.  I knew I would find a way to cross it.  I went as far as I could before the water had completely covered the road.  There was no where to cross.  I looked for a log to make a bridge.  There wasn't one to be found.  So I looked to the other side. 
 
Maybe I can cross over there if I go through the woods a little.  I tried. Nope.  Why didn't I wear rubber boots?  No wonder they were my favorite childhood shoe.  I had walked all that way.  I couldn't go back now.  What would I do? I looked down at my feet and decided the only thing that I could do was take off my shoes and socks and walk through the water and mud.  Fears - they were present.  What if there are snakes?  What if there are sticks that will cut my feet?  Glass? Barbed wire?? Fishing hooks?  Cuckobears?
 
STOP.  Just do it.
 
I cautiously stepped into the water that lay before me and surprisingly - it felt good.  Relief.  My senses were alive as the mud squished between my toes.  Forget the nail polish.  I am not sure what I was walking in but it didn't matter. I was going to cross.  The water was slightly warm in some spots as it was a sunny day.  I smelt the mud in the air.  The soft bed of leaves and grass that were beneath my feet felt good too!  I wadded through the water with caution; not knowing how deep the water was in places.  I looked for places where grass peaked through the water to gauge the depth.  I pressed on.  Before I knew it, I was to the other side and there it was.  The River.  The place where I wasn't supposed to go as a child.  Yet, a place that I went anyway.
 
What is that place for you?
 
You know we have been called and created to be something greater than we could ever imagine. I can't explain it because is too great to fathom. I am learning that most of us are afraid to do what we have been called to do.  We are too fearful to put our feet in mud - to experience the fullness of the life we have been given.  We stay close to home in our safety net with our shoes and socks on - crew ones at that - rather than jumping out into this life that is unknown.  Yet, I think we have been called to jump out.  We are called to GO.  We are called to embrace who it is that we have been created to be. 
 
Unfortunately we are most often too scared to figure out just exactly who we are.  We are too timid.  We stay comfortable in what is known and what is expected and we miss the excitement that is in store for us.  Faith requires action, you know?  It requires TRYING.  I am so guilty of not trying at times.  I doubt. I question. I do not trust.  I ask myself if what I am doing is valid.  Is it valued?  Well it most certainly is if it is what I have been called to do.  I want to experience the fullness of this life that I have been given.  I know I am being led. I know that even if I do fail at times, it is all part of the process.  The process that will make me.  I will just get up and continue to follow.  In my human nature I fear, but in faith, I can trust.  I pray that I will go where I am led so that I may experience the life that I have been called to live to the fullest because I am not my own.
 
If that isn't the good news, I don't know what is!
 
I think that I should put my feet in mud at least once a week.
 

 
And now I know why Mr. Benson said to go jump in the Mississippi River.  I just think that the Forked Deer is better.
 
 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Substance: Faith and Dirt.

Question:
 
If essence means "substance conceived of as an object of understanding and of definition," and substance means, "the structural constitution of a concrete thing," what does it mean when we say faith IS substance?
 
Thoughts from Umberto Eco on the Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas paired with my Sunday school lesson on "Faith." (January 16, 2016)
 
Webster's Dictionary's full definition of substance is: 
  1. 1a :  essential nature :  essence ; b :  a fundamental or characteristic part or quality; c: Christian Science :  god 1b
  2. 2a :  ultimate reality that underlies all outward manifestations and change; b :  practical importance :  meaning, usefulness <the…bill—which will be without substance in the sense that it will authorize nothing more than a set of ideas — Richard Reeves>
  3. 3a :  physical material from which something is made or which has discrete existence ; b :  matter of particular or definite chemical constitution ; c :  something (as drugs or alcoholic beverages) deemed harmful and usually subject to legal restriction <possession of a controlled substance> <substance abuse>
  4. 4 :  material possessions :  property <a family of substance>
This word, substance, carries deep meaning when I really investigate its true definition.  How often  do we use words in a very shallow way or remove them from their original meaning all together?
 
Having said that, what is the substance, the purest essence, of my home?  The land. Dirt. Or as my friend, Brandon would say, soil.  It has been there since the beginning of time.  It is the land that my great great great grandfather, James Elijah Archer trotted across when he settled in Frog Jump, TN in the late 1800s.  It is where he resided until his death in 1938.  It is were an entire community was born.  It is the land that my entire family has worked on. The dirt that was plowed and gave birth to crops that fed them.  Those people are gone.  I never knew them.  Yet, their legacy lives on in the soil where their earthly bodies now lay.  Their spirits have gone on, but their work has not. It lives on in me and in the dirt.  The dirt of Frog Jump is the substance and essence of my home.
 
With that, what if I say that faith in Christ is substance?  That is what I believe. 
 
I am currently working towards using the substance dirt which is the essence of my home to represent the substance of my faith in Christ.
 
Just the same, the land that was promised to Abraham was a token of his faith.  In my study on Faith by Ron Dunn, the author writes, "When at long last he finally reached the land of promise, the land God had given him for an everlasting possession, Abraham lived as an alien."  He lived as an alien in his own promised land? But see, that land was only a representation of the promise that God made to Abraham which was to have eternal life and dwell with him through faith. 
 
It is only through faith that I can believe in eternal security through Christ.  The author writes, "That is where faith finds its rest, its promised land; not in the transient blessings of this age, but in the very presence of God.  The faith that pleases God lives as an alien in the land of promise."
 
The physical and earthly security that land represents for us is parallel to the promise that I have from Christ through my faith in Him.
 
Dirt represents the substance and the essence of my faith.

 
 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Evidence

Evidence. This word keeps coming up in my life today.  It came up in class.  It came up in my Sunday school lesson.  God gave us evidence that He exists.  Faith is not blind.  Biblical faith is very concrete.  I am thankful for God's Word.  Without it, Christians would have no faith.  Like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:14, "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."  We have no faith without the evidence that Christ lived, died, and rose again.  We know this is true because of God's Word. It provides us with evidence that is concrete. Real life people sharing real life testimonies that paint a picture of what happened.  It is TRUE.  Absolutely true.  And if it is true, we should take God's every Word as fact.