This past winter, I spent two months in Denmark, at the Guldagergaard International Ceramics Research Center. The refugee situation in Europe was forefront in the news and on everyone’s mind. As I had always drawn roots, and seen them as symbols, I started wondering what it would be like to pull up your roots, leave everything familiar behind, and move to a foreign country. It was easy to romanticize that question, and soon I came to see that this is an extremely complex issue.
Two pieces of writing served as the bookends of this investigation:
If I can find
Nowhere to live
Then let me live nowhere
In this hut of sticks
As flimsy as the world itself.
“Roots burrow into the ground, twist in the mud and thrive in darkness. They hold trees in captivity from their inception and nourish them at the price of blackmail, ‘Free yourself and you’ll die!’
Trees…need their roots. Men do not. We breathe light and covet the heavens…What matters to us are roads…Roads hold out promises, bear our weight, urge us on…”
—from the preface of Origins, by Maalouf
The Winter Dreaming Huts grew out of a desire to hibernate last winter, and were roughly modeled on a trapper’s hut I found many years ago where Pine Stream Flowage joined the West Branch and Chesuncook. It was built of birch bark, boards, old tin ceiling tiles, stove pipe; just a mishmash of materials, and was rapidly being consumed by the forest. But it spoke to me of comfort, security, shelter. It is in these dreamings that new work happens…a good reason to love the Maine winters!
The inspiration for the birch wall pieces was a visit to Maine Audubon’s lodge at Borestone Mt. Every possible surface of the Adirondack style buildings were covered with bark: walls, doors, window frames, wood box. Why not also create a blanket of birch paper, moss, leaf mold, and lie on the forest floor, dreaming of river journeys by canoe? The forest floor seemed so inviting—cool and green.
2012 was also a year focused on drawing. During February in New Mexico, and working on a table outdoors, I clocked the intense sunlight and sharp shadows moving across the white page, I drew sticks with peeling bark, and the young buds of poplar trees. When I returned to my studio in Maine, these drawings became the basis for the majolica decoration on large terra cotta bowls.
In September, I took my pencils and paper to a residency on Islesboro, ME. There, the roots of cedar trees intertwined, grabbed onto each other for support as they leaned away from each other; growing toward the light. This push/pull metaphor exactly mirrored my own feelings about family following my father’s death. We needed each other, yet sought our own sunlight, away from complicated sibling history and entanglements.
Harry’s Trout was installed at the University of Southern Maine Art Gallery for the faculty show.
An installation of 113 raku fired clay fish, 10.5 feet long. Harry’s Trout is an tribute to my father, ace fly fisherman. The 25 largest trout in this installation are made from plaster waste molds of the trophy fish my father and his friends caught in Montana. He would cast one fish in fiberglass, then discard the mold. Forever the scrounge, I have been pressing clay into these molds for years. In 2009, my 89 year old father had a serious bout of pneumonia. That spring I noticed that the detail in the soft plaster molds was wearing away. They were fading and finite. To fish with Harry was to learn an underwater landscape. The overhanging branch or undercut rock was the realm of the uncatchable patriarch, often seen, sometimes snagged, never hauled to shore. This mythic trout was accorded great respect by my father. Perhaps they had an understanding. Their legacy is of increase, and does not fade.
In 2012, Stream was installed on the stairway landing at the University of New England Art Gallery for an exhibition entitled “Critters”, curated by Nancy Davidson. It consisted of 54 white raku fired trout, in sizes ranging from the “big daddy” (26″ long,) to the small fry of 4″.
The white trout in this stream are raku fired clay, a process that involves removing the sculpture from the kiln when the glaze is molten, and smoking in a barrel of sawdust. This causes the glaze to crackle and absorb the carbon from the burnt sawdust. The 14 largest trout in this installation are made from plaster waste molds of the trophy fish my father and his friends caught in Montana. The smaller fish are pure fiction. Trout have long been symbols of regeneration. Near perfect renderings of trout engraved in the clay floor of Naiux cave in France during the Ice Age still hold their power. These symbols are still potent today.