Boats: Symbols of Life’s Journey

A boat once tragically altered my life and later a canoe signaled the beginning of my life with Robin, my best friend, my husband, my collaborator.  One of the important interests that Robin and I have shared from the beginning is our love of mythology, legend and symbolism.  It’s no wonder then that the boat has come front and center of our work.

We first employed the boat shape back in the 90’s, making relief sculpture for the wall.  Some of the best of these experiments was the Goddess of the Grove series which used the boat shape as a “cocoon” to house a goddess.  There were originally five of these 4′ sculptures, two of which are shown here:

We also made a sixth one which is larger and is in our personal collection and can be seen on our web-site under collaborative work.

The boats we began designing two years ago are quite different however.  The new ones are a celebration of the many varied journeys taken by humans.  As such, the shape of the boat, the materials used, the presentation and the objects accompanying it will vary.

Our preparations are in full swing now for our participation in this November’s prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Fine Craft Show.  In the past, all of our boats have been carved of wood.  Because together, we have skills in woodworking, painting, enameling, metalworking, metal patination and hand-building clay, we highly value the ability to utilize the materials we know and understand to produce the effect we’re after.  Because of this, we’ve been able to add clay flowers to the boat.  On one level that is just a wonderful aesthetic choice.  But on a deeper level, it symbolizes the importance of sheltering and caring for nature on one’s journey through life.  Saving the planet from man-made destruction to our environment is of the utmost importance.

Just as we’ve added clay objects to the wooden boats, we are now making some boats of clay.  The choice of whether to use wood or clay is made depending on what qualities we want the structure to have.  I’m using clay, when a more complex shape and surface is desired.  Wood is still our choice for the larger vessels and those with sleek shapes, such as this one, “Calla Lily Boat”.  People often mistake our wooden boats with their crackled finish for clay.  One artist commented recently that one of the most interesting aspects of our work is the air of mystery of how we do what we do and what we’re doing it with!calla-lily-vessel-detaileDetail of “Calla Lily Boat”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Another August Passing

Debra's pondAnother August is passing.  This one has been very productive in that I’ve designed a two new series of boats, The Hanging Boats and The Flying Boats.  I expect to have three Hanging Boats completed to show  at The Philadelphia Museum Show in November.  One of them is an ode to youth lost too soon.  It will hang by silk threads and butterflies.  An artist doesn’t escape from their life experience.   Our lives get intertwined with our art making and so our art, our personal life and our business is forged together.

Roses Adrift on the Sea

Trying out titles for one of the two new boats we will show at the Ann Arbor Original Art Fair in less than two weeks.  I’ve had to put aside my clay Earth Goddess work for a while–since it is not a collaborative piece we can’t show it in the shows we’ve juried into this year.  A previous blog tells more about her and she is half painted and waiting.  In the meantime I’ve been making clay roses to be placed in a long, sleek boat.  Here are some drying before firing.IMG_1606

After making 30-some roses, they must be left to dry for a considerable time–I error on the side of caution and left mine for about 3 weeks.

Loaded into the kiln along with some calla lilies and ready for firing at cone 05 (approx. 1885 degrees)IMG_1989[1]

It’s a 48 hour wait for the firing and complete cool down.  Opening the kiln before it is cooled completely can cause thermal shock, cracking and spoiling the sculpture.  In the meantime, I’ve crackled the boat that Robin carved into which I will arrange these roses after they’re painted.  Here’s the boat before I began painting it.

IMG_1991And, now that the roses and boat are painted, the double pedestal made and everything assembled, the finished sculpture is spectacular!

Roses Adrift on the Seae

Opening the Kiln

Working in clay has its own mystery and nothing about it is more exhilarating than opening the kiln.  The kiln gods have always smiled upon me thus far.  Sometimes a ceramist opens the kiln to find that something has blown up from having a trapped air bubble somewhere in the clay, or the sculpture or pottery has been fired while it was still green, a term for describing clay before it has dried out sufficiently.  I fired the ‘garden goddess’ this week along with a ceramic boat and a bunch of calla lily flowers I made for some of our wooden boats as well as the centerpiece of her garden which I’m keeping secret for the moment.  It was with much anticipation that we opened the kiln this morning to find this:

Success!  I’m anxious to begin the finishing of this goddess with acrylic paint, oil glazes and possibly prismacolor to create a reminder  of the Earth Mother Goddess, the symbol of The Gaia Theory.

In All Her Glory

So my concept began with the idea of using the female torso sculpted in clay to express  the nature of our relationship to the rest of the planet.  Historically, humans have related to the creative force of the universe anthropomorphically.  It’s a concept that makes sense to us on several levels.  And in the 20th Century there was  a theory put forth by the chemist James Lovelock and the microbiologist Lynn Margulis in the 1970’s.  On its most basic level it is the idea that the Earth is a living organism, of which we are a part.  It’s a theory that’s never garnered much appreciation, however it had a big and positive impact on my world view.

Loosely interpreted, the theory can support the image of Earth as our mother, a goddess, that provides us with an idyllic world in which to thrive.  Now that we humans have the capability to destroy that world, it begs the question what are we going to do with that power?

And so for this first sculpture I chose to start in a very straightforward manner, marrying the image of the goddess’ body with a garden.  And so early last month I started hand-building the earthenware.  I use a grey clay, that fires white–the perfect base for later finish work with colored pigments.  It’s been 2 years since I last worked in clay, and I am anxious, impatient and rusty.  The result is I built the slabs a little too quickly at first, resulting in some slumping.  My philosophy is that what I lack in skill, I have to make up in creative adaptation.  What began like this,

Beginningended up looking much more voluptuous like the Venus of Willendorf, which appealed to me anyway, so I moved on to the making of the garden.

In the Beginning

She Calls to Me

The clay calls to me.  That’s how it’s always been, since I was little, playing with the mud, making pies and things.  That feel of the wet clay is powerful.  That you can make something awesome from it is the seduction.  I’ve been on a lifelong journey though I’ve not always recognized the path.  Often it looked to me as though life was just happening and that there wasn’t any meaningful way.  Like a bunch of unrelated incidents loosely clumped together called “my life”.  At other times it seemed that events were taking me on a course I didn’t want to traverse.  But I can see more clearly now.  That is the blessing of age.  I’ve followed a course that has a goal and all of the steps before have been necessary to bring together the skills and experience and philosophy and wisdom to accomplish my purpose in this life.

Though I had always had a close connection to the landscape and nature, I had little regard for environmental issues before my late 20’s.  And even then it was more a sense of the power of nature and an appreciation for her beauty.  It wasn’t until I discovered The Gaia Theory, the way of indigenous peoples, Jungian archetypes and Joseph Campbell’s theories that I began to see a connection to be made with my art and what I deemed important in this life.  As the years went by, much of my work reflected these studies.  I painted mythical landscapes and made mandala-like sculptures inspired by sacred geometry and celestial bodies.  Sprinkled throughout were anguished self-portraits, lucrative design pieces for the wall that made it possible to care for this sacred land we call home and studio, and most recently boats and nests and books wrought with symbolic imagery.

But still she calls to me.  The goddess speaks to me through the clay and it’s clear now what I can and will do.  It all comes down to the most pressing issue of our time, namely the environment.  We are destroying  the natural world at an increasing rate to fuel our consumer mentality.   To ignore the fate of the planet at this juncture in time spells disaster for life on Earth.  To act now in a responsible way is all that truly matters.  And quite simply, my purpose, the reason I was born into this life was to help awaken people to the crisis.  If I can alter the mindset of a few people, I will succeed in doing my small part, and together with other artists and teachers and scientists we can save the planet.  The Earth Goddess is the soul of our living planet, of which we are a part, and she’s calling to us.

So while I will continue to collaborate with Robin making boats and other mixed media sculpture, I’m squeezing time in here and there to play in the mud.  I began a new clay figure  recently and we’ll see where it goes.  I’ll post more as she moves along.

sideview

 

The Cable of Life

As always,  the lives of artists get’s incorporated into their creativity, often with surprising results.  Everyday and not so everyday occurrences get fed and sucked into the cabled nerve from which grows our art.  These experiences or bits of information are actually the building blocks of our creations.  But this I can tell you, the easel and the workbench is where the crafting of the painting or sculpture gets done.  The art is born outside the studio.