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.
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,
ended 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.
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.
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.
As we’ve stated in the past, we are inspired by the boat shape as a sculptural form because of the deep meaning associated with boats as the symbol for the spiritual journey. Each of us takes our own path through life and into the next. As our paths are so very different, then our attraction to a specific boat’s shape, size, details and color also varies. We see that in the spirit of each boat we design and make. Here’s a sampling of our latest. See the details on each boat on our web-site, under collaborative work: www.WolfCreekStudio.com
“Amber Ark” She’s sleek, chic & a world traveler
“Yellow Dugout Canoe” Vessel for the loner’s journey
When it comes to making art, not all pieces are equal. No matter how long you’ve been creating, the process is never the same, the results are not predictable. Copying something is one thing, creating something new is entirely different. So Robin and I have been working on a series of sculptures around the theme of books. Books and art are full of meaning and it seems natural to us to combine the two to play off of each other. Back in June I made a backplate in a crackled finish that I painted to resemble a gaseous star galaxy, not unexpected from me since much of my work the past 15 years or so has been inspired at least partially by our place in the cosmos. Resting on it I placed three “tablets” with copper books on them. As soon as Robin saw the finished piece he immediately said, “Oh, it’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!” I loved it and thus it was signed an named so.
We took it to Ann Arbor and it was well received, but it didn’t find a home. However, on Labor Day weekend in Chicago a lady asked permission to take a photo to show her husband. She later called and asked us to bring it by. The house was full of people celebrating a birthday. There were oohs and ahs over the piece, not only because it is beautiful, but the home it found was perfect in every way. The lines, the colors and the materials meshed with and complimented those in the beautiful room it now resides in. We couldn’t be happier with the results. But people make a story and this couple is very special. He is in hospice, and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” is his metaphorical roadmap.
I’ve a penchant for symbolism and “The Crow’s Nest” is full of it. Aside from the boat being a symbol of the journey of the soul and the nest symbolizing the home and security, this sculpture has a more personal story. Robin is fond of telling the story of how I proposed to him on our first date when I found out he had a 17′ Old Town canoe. We’re also very aware of the significance in the adage “don’t miss the boat”. This sculpture is a marriage of our lives. The shape of this boat is entirely Robin’s design and I love the sleek lines. He carved it and gave it to me to texture and paint. Together we designed the pedestal upon which the boat rests. It’s structure is a pleasing arc but massive enough to create a stable foundation. On the boat rests a copper crow’s nest–a metaphor for not only a sailing ship’s lookout, but the home for Robin’s old crow, namely me. And when the nest came to rest there, is when the boat became a vessel.