Are you stealing bird eggs from nests for the Keepers series?

No.

I will collect eggs that have clearly been abandoned. This was long a practice of my mother, a self-made naturalist who knew and loved birds and would collect any abandoned eggs. When she died there were several bird nests and dozens of eggs in her china cabinet (along with turtle shells, rocks, and pods). Oddly enough, I did not have to squabble with my siblings over this portion of our inheritance.

The shells are thin and about every other one crumbles before I can use it. Also, because they are so fragile, I have to fill them with white glue before using them; unless they are completely covered in resin, they could break later. I tap a tiny hole into the egg and drop in a little glue and let that dry, then repeat several times until there’s a good inside layer of glue strengthening the shell so it won’t break.

 

Where do you get the bones used in your work?

There are three sources for the bones I use: martyrs for art, natural deaths, and those paying for their crimes.

Martyrs for art
are exclusively birds. I hear that familiar thwack! from across the house and, sure enough, when I go outside to inspect, another bird has hit the glass and bit the dust. In order to salvage the bones, I put the bird in a wire fish keep hung in the woods and let nature do most of the heavy lifting.  Most bird bones are too small and fragile to use, but the skulls are perfect. Some may think these deaths accidental, but I like to think the birds spy my work through the windows and are inspired to donate their bodies to art.

I prefer birds to be flying around outside but if they hit the window I don’t see any reason they should go to waste. I will admit, guiltily, to wishing that something a bit more substantial, like a crow or grackle, would take a sail into a window so I could repurpose a larger and heavier skull, but alas, itty-brained  songbirds seem to be the most frequent victims.

Natural death
is just that: I happen upon a dead critter in the woods or along the river and take it home to salvage the bones. This requires setting up a wire cage outside – far outside the olfactory range – and again, letting nature do much of the work. Still, once a raccoon is “good and dried up,” it means boiling and scraping the meat and fur away, a process not for the faint of heart or stomach.

Those paying for their crimes
refers to the nuisance critters that my husband, no fan of hunting or shooting, kills for the sole sake of protecting our property. One reason we live in the country is because we enjoy the wildlife, but we start taking sides when squirrels eat the wiring in our attic and beavers cause thousands of dollars worth of road damage.

Oops, there is one more category of bone procurement: Thanksgiving. I love to use wishbones and will occasionally get a contribution of a turkey wishbone from a friend or relative. Most people I know want to break the wishbone in the time-honored tradition of vying to see whose wish will be granted by the… I don’t know, I guess the great wish-granting turkey in the sky? But, for anyone who can resist the lure of superstition, send me your turkey wishbone and I’ll put it to good use!

 

Are the bones naturally that white?

No.

It takes a lot of time drying in the sun for a bone to go from oily-marrow yellow to bright white. Being impatient, I speed up the process by cleaning them thoroughly, sometimes boiling them to release the fat in the marrow, and then bleaching in salon-quality peroxide lightener and developer. If it’s hot enough outside, and in South Carolina it often is, then I’ll let them sit in the sun.  Otherwise, they go under a lamp for the requisite heat.

Sometimes I take the bones out short of becoming white-white and they still have a nice, antique yellow-ish tinge.

 

Where do you get the beetles you use?

I was a little too young to have a thing for the Beatles in their heyday but I did have a thing for beetles. Once, when my sister – eight years my senior – and I shared a room and a bed, she had a friend spend the night, which meant I was discharged to sleep on the couch. In the middle of the night I was jolted awake by a furious sister who, along with her friend, had been awakened by a scrunching sound under the bed, which happened to be wood beetles I had collected and put in a large plastic bin. I didn’t see what the big deal was but evidently teenage girls are not tickled with the idea of snoozing with hundreds of large, shiny, black beetles masticating beneath the bed. Who knew.

The beetles I use in Keepers and Altar Boxes are typically found around my home. However, recently my husband and I discovered the mother lode of dead woodland carabid outside our local Food Lion. These are often called caterpillar beetles, as they perform the beneficial service of eating caterpillars that devour fruit trees and vegetable gardens. It’s a mystery why so many of them were dead in that very spot. Was it a Jonestown thing? Could the General Tsao’s Chicken fumes from the nearby Chinese restaurant have done them in? Who knows.

I’ll be checking the Food Lion sidewalk again soon, you can be sure of that!

 

What is the origin of the quote in TEXTure: I am one of you forever?

This is the first of the TEXTure series. The goal was to almost cover the figure with text and for the passage to be a meaningful, readable selection, though a good portion of it would later be obscured, and I never expect anyone to actually attempt to read it. Though nobody would ever read it, they should know it isn’t gibberish. Staring at my bookshelf (with all those pre-Kindle bundles of bound paper) my eyes fell upon Fred Chapell’s I am One of You Forever, and I cannot think of this book without remembering the chapter in which grief is so powerfully, magically portrayed.

Having absolutely no clue as to how much surface the text would cover, I began at the top of the head with the last paragraph in that brief chapter. It only took me about a third of the way down the head so I continued again from the beginning of the chapter until the piece was covered in text.

It took over 7 hours to impress all 927 words into the clay.

Nine hundred, twenty-seven beautiful words. Thank you, Fred.

 

What the Lobster is Weaving? Um, I don't get it.

The TEXTure piece: What the Lobster is Weaving draws from Pablo Neruda’s poem Enigmas,in which the first line reads, “You’ve asked me what the lobster is weaving/ there with his golden feet?”

The entire poem is based on sea images and so this sculpture incorporates the swirling of the waters and the greens and blues of the ocean.  It looks great in front of a mirror so you can see the tie-dye waves effect on the back.

 

 

 

What’s the story behind Word Stories: Truth/Hope?

Marjorie Williams was a journalist who, three years after being diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, wrote an article about the discovery of and early stages of dealing with her disease.  It’s a beautifully written article, and touching largely because she addresses all of the things we most want to know and are usually too polite to ask: what were the first signs? how could you not know your abdomen was full of tumors? what do you fear most for your children? what do people with cancer want us to say to them when we learn of their illness? what’s the worst thing anyone has said to you?

I highly recommend you read it.

At one point Williams talks about how she and her husband had a division of labor, so to speak, in coping with her cancer in which, “In this way, we divided the work of assimilating our nightmare: I addressed myself to death; he held a practical insistence on life.”  Later she says, “Forced into a corner, I’ll choose truth over hope any day.” Because I consider myself a truth -over- hope kind of person, this resonated with me.  It was years later when I was working on the piece Truth/Hope – before I had any idea of the text I would use – and thought of that quote. They were just the words I wanted.

Williams died in 2005. Her article can be found at Vanity Fair.

 

 

What’s the story behind Word Stories: Sweet?

In 2008 I had the great luck to take a week-long class with Janis Mars-Wunderlich at Odyssey Center for the Ceramic Arts in Asheville, NC .  Janis (see how I refer to her as Janis now!) is a superb teacher and incredibly approachable artist; I am still realizing today how much I learned from her. During that week I also learned about the decline in the local honey bee population and the various efforts (from scientific studies to singing honey bee goddesses) to sustain and rebuild it. Being a psychologist, I admit that Colony Collapse Disorder sounded a bit specious at the time, but, it’s a world-wide issue and my hat is off to all working to solve the problem.

Years later I found myself feasting upon sweet potato pancakes at the Tupelo Honey restaurant in Asheville and I was reminded of the plight of the honey bee. Somehow this all resulted in the ceramic piece Sweet, which has a honeycomb texture, a golden honey color, and the simple word sweet embossed in her hand, at an angle which cannot be seen from a head-on view. It seemed important that the word was held close, like a secret or a precious thing, not to be seen right away but to be sought.

 

What's an example of a ceramic project you wish you had more time to work on?

On a Sunday afternoon as my husband and I drove home from lunch we saw a thick column of smoke rising far into the bright blue sky from the direction of our house… and my mother’s house… and my sister’s house. Luckily, our homes were spared and no one was hurt but my father’s 1200 square foot shop was leveled. Thus began the insurance inventory of the charred and twisted remains of planers, band saws, table saws, sanders, welders, anvils, routers, lathes, drill presses, and thousands of small tools including 42 shovels.

That’s 42 shovels in the shop – not counting shovels in the garage and under the sheds. Who knew one man needed so many shovels?

I took several of the burned, rusted shovels home, having some vague notions about what they might be made into. So far, they remain stored in the kiln shed.

But, the shovels did inspire a ceramic project which I am working on ever so slowly. I am using the shovel heads as molds and then I add partial handles. Once the shovels are leather hard I carve them and then they are fired and glazed. At this point only one is completely finished. It is carved with trumpet vine flowers and foliage, known here as cow itch.  Real vine and pods extend from the open end of the shovel to complete the line of the handle.

 

 

 

Do your sculptures play well with others?

I like to think so.

Here are two Nesting Men below a painting by Ian Hornak. The tall blue vase on the right is by David Stuart of North August, SC. The large vase on the left is initialed: TAG, and I wish I had a name to go with those initials. I regret having no information on the two small pieces. The one on the right has a horsehair rope around the top and it was one on the first clay pieces I ever bought when I was in college.

 

 

 

Have you really been asked these questions frequently?

Hmmm. Define frequently.