Sunday, March 28, 2021

Three New Pieces

 I've been working through the month of March on the Arts Marathon, created to support refugees and asylum-seekers through the Central Vermont Refugee Action Network (CVRAN). I've been making small and large pieces, as usual from found materials. Here are the latest iterations of three of the larger pieces:


Hugging a Fish, wood, steel, cardboard, paper mache, rubber, 56x18x5"

Code, antique "code practice oscillator" case, wood, bottle caps, stone, annealed wire, 56x16x6"

Ship, wood, bones, goatskin, metal, antique shoe last, 45x27x16"

Thursday, March 11, 2021

March 11

So many different things in a day in the studio! 


When I arrived, SPA's executive director, Sue Higby, was ready for me to install the insects in the main gallery for the new exhibit, Up & Away: A group exhibit about flight. I brought down the six wooden insects I'd made, and we installed them hanging on monofilament. They turn and move in a pretty cool way.

We also installed my hanging bird (Athena in the background).

Sue did seem a little disappointed that I hadn't made more, smaller insects, which I had said I might do, so I went up to the studio and made ten more small ones with wood I salvaged from an older piece with wings made from mica that a friend had given me. Down to the gallery again to hang the little ones.


I've worked on a piece called Mum over the last several days, and it's now in a place where I'm pretty happy with it. One of its arms is extended, and there are also hands in the chest area, made with stuffed gloves, stiffened with polyurethane (though clearly someone else's hands, as the thumbs and hands are in a position such that they would be your hands, possibly, in the sculpture...). Are they protecting, or are they enforcing the mandate to be mum?


One of the many tasks in the studio is fixing things that have broken (I'm a terrible breaker-of-things myself, but in this case it was a piece owned by someone else). The mounted photograph (with application of black wine foil for clothing and a hat) had come unmoored, and a small perfume bottle broke off.  I had to do the gluing in two separate operations. Here it is waiting for the glue to dry on part 2, the perfume bottle. I had to have some way of stabilizing it, and a clothespin seemed to do the trick. I'll find out next time I go into the studio.

Monday, March 8, 2021

March 8

 Today I recycled the spiral bits from yesterday's failure. I have a piece that is, again, offering something -- in this case, a sailboat.

I have always been a bit obsessed by boats, though I don't know why. I grew up in New Mexico, and boats were certainly not a thing there!! I have a whole series of boats I've made recently, that I exhibited at the Visitors Center in Montpelier just as the Pandemic started. Here they are, back in the studio again:

 And today's boat, a blonde confection of sorts

The boat body is made from a segment of a seed pod, and the sail is skin from a banjo head. The head is a piece of driftwood that darkened more than I expected after I painted it with beeswax (with which I finish most of my wood pieces).

I also made a lot of progress on the Mum piece... more on this on Wednesday.

Sunday, March 7, 2021

March 7

 I went into the studio today fully intending to work on the MUM piece at the end of the previous post. I was intending a figure, a child, held by the mum, and did a piece whose arms and legs were made of segments of a dried vine, with a subtle natural spiral.

 Aargh! No! This isn't a baby! It's long and skinny; a baby is short and chubby. And that's a mess how those legs are attached to the body. Take it apart! So, several hours later, with new arms and legs and taking its place with several other recent small pieces proffering things, I got:

The object it's offering to us appears to be a church. I found it at an old house where I also got the chair leg that I cut up to make the body. Hmmmm.....

But this was all a digression. Making these Proffering or Offering figures seems to come easily these days, but the large pieces are not happening. I force myself to go back to Mum. And suddenly I realize, maybe "mum" isn't a Mother; maybe it's about being silent, or even about being silenced. Wow.

Let's see where this goes tomorrow...

Thursday, March 4, 2021

March 4

 Working on two small figures today, each about 15 inches tall. The first I had made several weeks ago -- it had a body with lots of small nails and tacks driven into it (like an African nkisi figure), long arms hanging down on each side. What were those arms doing? Were they feeling for something, should they be holding something?

Today I rummaged around the studio and found a carved wooden cone that was given to me. It isn't a chillum, because it only has a hole at one end; maybe it's for burning incense? It seems to be made of sandalwood. In any case, I began to see it as a musical instrument, and decided this figure should be playing it. I also stabilized the legs with glue and new pegs, so now it's in pretty good shape. 

Over the years, I've gotten better at "fit and finish", making things that are more well-crafted and don't fall apart. I've needed to cultivate patience. I have to drill proper pilot holes so I don't split the wood, glue properly, finish the surface, saw carefully, sand the edges, and not break things.


The second piece uses the fish on a dish from two days ago! I think of the head as a wolf, but I'm not sure it's right for this piece, so that may change. It appears to be offering the fish, which is an image I've used frequently in past work (often it's someone holding out a child).

Am I avoiding working on the larger wall-hung pieces? In some ways they are much harder, because of the scale. It's also hard finding a place to store or hang them in the studio when they're done! But I fiddled a bit with the Mother piece, thinking that the round body I was using may not be working. This is just playing. I will have to keep at it tomorrow.  It might be holding a child.

Tuesday, March 2, 2021

March 2

 I think painters love the physical experience of moving a loaded brush across a surface. Maybe for all artists there are  sensory parts of their practice that excite and engage them. For me: I love screwing screws into wood with a power drill and I also love banging on things. It just feels great, and, in both cases, makes a cool noise. Right now, I'm into using a ball-peen hammer to texture and round the surface of metal disks (in this case, the tops of tin cans that I have removed with a special can opener gifted to me by a friend that keeps the outside edge intact so that you don't cut yourself on the top you've removed).


When I made some yesterday, I thought "A silver dish!", and that transported me to a song that one of the first people I met in Vermont, Sarah Webster, used to sing, Dance to Your Daddy: "You shall have a fishie on a silver dishie, you shall have a fishie when the boat comes in". Words, lyrics, cultural references always circle around when I'm working. And then I just had to make it!

 I spent quite some time today working on a piece that I have changed substantially since I started it. It was called Play Ball, and looked like this:

I decided to remove the catcher's mask and the circular body, then it went through a few other iterations, and here's the result of today's work, with its stone nose and drawer-pull lips.


And finally, a word about materials: I use wood that I find, often outside when I'm walking or jogging. I love wood that has been modified by other animals -- beavers, wood miners, or other people, like this wonderful piece with its gorgeous vermiculations:

 Today I cut it up into 7 sections and am beginning to make some small people. It's handy to have small people around in the studio. You can always find a use for them! They will get arms and legs at some point, probably, but they're also nice just standing still.

Monday, March 1, 2021

March 1

The last time I was in my studio at Studio Place Arts (SPA) in Barre, I finished making six flying insects for the next exhibit at SPA, on Flight. They're hanging in the studio, waiting for their moment.

I figured some of them would come back to me at the end of the exhibit, and I could incorporate them into a big, wall-hung figure of an insect, so I had begun working on a head with a proboscis made of a funnel and wire, and eyes of beaten can lids.

So much of making art, at least for me, is trial and error. You think you've got a great idea, and then you start making it and it doesn't feel right. The wooden face was too flat, and the eyes too garish. So today I worked on another way of putting it together, and that may still not be what I need. I will put it aside and revisit it.

Now I wanted to make a piece, even a quick one, that wouldn't remain a work in progress, but could stand on its own (a little joke...). I had a bull's head I'd recently made, and was wandering around looking for what to use for the body and yes! An old record box that used to look like this:

but now looks like this, as of today! I often reuse and repurpose things many times over (I removed that figure awhile back). The only way to make that recycling stop is for someone to buy it and take it away!

 And finally, I'm working on a large wall piece of a mother holding a baby. I seem to make these habitually. This one was in a recent exhibit at J. Langdon in Montpelier, bought and taken away, so I can't deconstruct it any more:

and this is the one I'm working on now (with the insect eyes re-purposed as breasts) laid out on a table, with the legs leaning up against it. It's very much in progress, but I think it will come together.