Tag Archive | Art

Woman Testing a Balance

National  Gallery of Art

National Gallery of Art

2015 was a rough and tumble year. Too many meetings. Too many projects, Too many expectations and opportunities. Life no longer was a matter of putting on foot in front of the other and slogging through but had twisted into running two marathons in opposite directions simultaneously.

At the end of the year I had a business trip to Washington. The trip did not begin well. Lost luggage led to a hotel with no room ready. All I wanted to do was crash. The hotel lobby–hard sterile white marble walls, glass and chrome furnishings, black and white photographs, very uncomfortable chairs–propelled me out of the hotel and to the museum.

A brisk walk through crisp winter air brought me to the echoing limestone lobby. I was feeling a bit more like myself when the docent stopped me as I tried to brush past. Even though I had been to the museum many times common courtesy kicked in when she caught me at the information desk. And that’s when I heard that four Vermeers were in a small gallery on the first floor.

I made my way to the small gallery where visitors were taking selfies with the main attraction, a Vermeer from Amsterdam. Somewhat overlooked on an adjacent wall hung Woman Holding a Balance. At first glance, I was puzzled since it seemed like the woman was contemplating something unseen. It was only after reading the caption that I took a closer look and saw the delicate whisper-thin balance at perfect equilibrium, held by a woman ignoring the pearls and jewels tumbling out of the chest on the table.

I spent a few hours in the museum that afternoon and revisited the Woman Holding a Balance several times interspersed with intervals of reflection on benches in the neighboring galleries.

  • How do I find balance in my life?
  • What distractions should I look past?
  • Can I learn to pull back?
  • When will I achieve equilibrium?

I learned later that the painting is sometimes called Woman Testing a Balance.

That I understand.

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The Mission Is Within

photo by Grant Gillard

photo by Grant Gillard

The primary nectar flow is in full swing and my bees are single-mindedly going about their work. Some guard the hive, others fetch water from the pond, forage for nectar, alert their comrades to new blooms by dancing on the doorstep. They and their mission are one. The mission is within.

And I think of Sr. Alice.

I first met Sr. Alice when she was leading a spirituality and arts center in the congregation’s old dairy barn. Alice is a white-haired wise woman, her features sharp, her eyes kind and laughing. She is a tai chi practitioner, tall and angular, moving effortlessly through the world of spiritual traditions.

Alice’s white barn housed vibrant art and quiet music where the dairy stalls had been. The soaring beams of the hayloft framed a contemplative sacred space. I loved walking past the tall rosemary bushes into the barn, reflecting upon artists’ visions, listening to Alice as she shared her latest spiritual journey. But then it was gone.

The sisters’ retirement complex was next door and needed more space. The barn gave way for senior apartments to expand the sisters’ ministry to serve older adults.

The loss touched my heart. I thought of Alice, the scent of the rosemary and heat bouncing off the Texas sandstone that bordered the barn path, the light coming through the square dairy stall windows. The white barn gave way for a high-rise. I couldn’t imagine how terrible Alice felt about losing that beautiful space.

A few months later I was in San Antonio on the motherhouse grounds walking behind the retirement center. Suddenly, I saw Alice striding toward me, tall and slender in a red shirt and denim skirt. I hurried toward her and blurted out my concern for her and the loss of the barn.

She just smiled. Then she said that she was fine.

The barn was just a place, albeit a beautiful place, but a place all the same. She had been given an office in the retirement center and was carrying out the mission in a new way that she called Chispas, or sparks, for the sparks of the divine that are in each of us.

Alice explained that the mission is within her. The place is unimportant because she carries the mission within wherever she is. The mission manifests itself in whatever she is doing.

I have thought about that conversation with Alice many times. So often we get caught up in the need to possess something, whether it be a place, a project, our job or another person. To varying degrees these things are necessary for us, but they do not define us.

Each of us has a mission.

The bees currently live in a hive box in my yard, but they could swarm and move to a hollow sycamore tree or rotted building eaves. The bees would construct new comb, rebuild the honey stores.

We carry the mission within.

Coneflower Creativity: Life after the Pinterest Black Hole

Coneflowers

Creativity implies creating something. This, however, is the age of Pinterest and virtual creativity. We create vicariously by scrolling through an endless array of elegantly executed creative concepts. Instead of following our own path we settle for pinning the ideas of others to boards stored in the cloud, saving the instructions for projects that will never be ours or become real. We lose our creative vision.

I started sewing when I was about ten and my mother sent me to the Singer Store on Cherokee Street for lessons. I made a delicate yellow voile dress, lined and with covered buttons, an overly ambitious project that I approached with great enthusiasm until I had to rip out a dart seventeen times. My mother was experienced and knew it was a recipe for disaster. I should have made an apron. But she realized that the dress was my vision.

Those scraps were the beginning of a fabric stash that could take over a small room. Snippets of cotton, wool and silk in bins and baskets. So many possibilities. Perhaps a tablecloth, a throw pillow, or a crazy quilt. Pinterest opened up an ever-expanding universe of projects and the clicks of the keyboard drew me further into the black hole. So many plans and ideas to pin and share.

And then one day, the realization that pinning is not creating.

Time to head up to the sewing room.

I pulled out the batik fabric scraps thinking I would create a table runner that captured the simmering waterlily pond in the yard but a drippy striped sunrise of yellow orange caught my eye. Coneflowers at dawn.

Magenta pinks and shadowy purples for petals, aggressive spotted orange for the bristly center, Chartreuse and retiring forest green leaves. No need to sketch, take a Pinterest break or wait until tomorrow. Pull out the scissors, needle and glass-headed pins.

Coneflower creativity.

Shells Cast at Our Feet: Imperfect Beauty

Walking on the beach in St. Petersburg I couldn’t help but look for shells at the tideline.

When I was younger I would search for shells that matched those in book illustrations. Trumpeting conch shells with carnation lips whispering secrets, the whorl of the whelk, sunsets captured in the inner concave of cockle shells. I sought perfection, discarding those that were chipped, broken, barnacled.

Now I scrutinize the broken bits of shells pushed to shore by sea foam. The retreating froth lays down a mosaic of frail pinks, white ivory, faint gull grays on gritty taupe sand.

When did beauty become synonymous with perfection?

What causes us to look past fragments of beauty in search of an ideal defined for us?

Why do we ignore beauty every day without sparing even a quick glance?

I stop–caught by a fragment of a quill shell as its Tiffany iridescence transforms a blade of navy blue into captured lightning. Imperfect beauty.

Blue Hole Collage: The Courage to Be Creative

Blue Hole Collage, 2013

Blue Hole Collage, 2013

Most people that know me would say that I am creative and I would agree. I am a potter, a seamstress, and a writer. I knit every day. But even with all of that, there are times when creativity is stifled by fear.

I remember taking a sculpture class at the museum. At first, I fell right into it. We were using clay–my primary medium–an old friend. My teacher was very complimentary; who doesn’t respond to that? I basked in a sense of accomplishment.

And then one day we went up to the gallery to do some sketches prior to sculpting. I sat before a pensive 10th century Buddha. Nothing–I was paralyzed. How could I draw anything? That wasn’t what I knew how to do. How could I meet the expectations, when compared to my work in clay this would be nothing? What was the right way?

Finally the teacher came over and said, “Why haven’t you started? What’s wrong?” And I told him I didn’t know how. He laughed and said, “Of course you do. Let go and just put what you are thinking on the paper.” And I did. It wasn’t a masterpiece, but it didn’t have to be. It was the opening to the creative pathway.

This came to mind a few months ago when I was at the PeerSpirit writer’s workshop on Whidbey Island. One evening early on we were given the option of doing a collage. I was skeptical. How would this help my writing? I am a potter, not a collage artist.

But all of those thoughts were just rationalizations. It really boiled down to fear. How could I create a collage that would pass muster? I didn’t know how to do this. What would people think?

I almost didn’t go that night but the alternative was sitting in my room twisting with recrimination.

I walked over the boardwalk to Marsh House and found a table. We didn’t have hours to do the collage and there was no time for self-doubt.

Within a few minutes, I plotted my course. My writing project centered around the Blue Hole, the headwaters of the San Antonio River, and so would the collage. I shifted through National Geographics and old calendars, at first focusing on anything blue for the water, then beige and taupe for the stone rim. Then came birds, leaves, and branches on the edge and a filmy blue whale’s eye at the vortex. I was caught up in the creativity of the moment.

The Blue Hole Collage opened my mind for the writing that was to come that week. Creativity overcame fear and I was in a new invigorating space.