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.

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

Some Things Are Just Meant To Be

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.

  Hitch 1Hitch 2

The Story Behind “The Crow’s Nest”

I’ve a penchant for symboliCrow's Nest e-mailsm 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.

Studio Progress

If you’ve followed our pursuits in the past year,  you know about the fast transition we made to the making of boats and books this year.  We have a working process of experimenting with materials and techniques on our art for the wall, and then these new ideas are incorporated into the boats.  With Robin  taking time once again to experiment on hammering, embossing and patina work lately, I can see already such grand statement pieces utilizing the approach in this new 12″ square.  These are hot!

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossed & hammered copper w/chemical patina

Embossing2

Embossed and hammered copper w/chemical patina