Today, by the river I saw the Cottonwood.
They held aloft their golden offerings,
under a sky of frost-tinged blue.
They allowed the gentle winds
to strip away their finest garb,
leaf by leaf, as if they yielded
their richest legacies: Lessons
learned in months of quiet
contemplation, toil from life
under ruthless sun-baked skies.
These fluttered to the ground.
I manage spring. I know how to accept
the gifts I am offered, the rich loamy soil,
the gentle rain and each seed, filled
with promise. I can take those bequests,
insert a song of praise, and transform
each into stuff of seeming beauty.
It is fall when I stumble. I am a hoarder.
I fear letting go of all I harvest.
Is this sacrifice sufficient? Couldn’t I,
with just another day, a bit more effort,
produce a more bountiful crop to share?
And, must I, like the trees give everything away?
Will I ever have enough, then? How can I be enough?
And, if I shed these golden leaves,
where will I find the comforts
I will need in the chilly blasts
of harsh wind still to come?
Today, the calendar marks the passing
of yet another month, another season.
Fall leaves impel me to yield my own donations.
I ask for the courage, the faith
to blow into the upcoming winter,
dressed in only this life-toughened bark.
I do not move on naked! See?
I’m adorned with the memories
of summers past, and the certitude
of next spring’s seed.
A visit to Ann Metlay Art, her small gallery and studio tucked into a strip of a few businesses just off 89A in Cottonwood, is to enter a world of whimsical creativity. Ann, the artist, exudes enthusiasm and spirit.
“I have been a writer all my life,” Ann explains. “When, as I aged a bit, words became more difficult to find, I discovered a long-hidden passion for ceramic sculpture. The words and thoughts I do not have immediate access to show up when I mold and shape the clay.”
Ann’s facility with words jumps off her art. Some pieces sport poems on their sides, or on the bottom. Small pieces, ready to hang near a door or in an alcove, display a blessing or a word. On their backs is the poetry. Bowls holding sprouting pinecones are inscribed with a few words of gratitude for the seedling.
“I am exploring the confluence of written thought, and the lines and shapes which accent those thoughts,” Ann affirms.
Colorful wall hangings, abstractions of the scenery found in the Verde Valley hang on her walls. One side of her gallery displays whimsical figures. The other side holds what Ann calls “scenery.”
“Look.” She points to a twelve-inch square vase, “This ‘quatric’ depicts this photo here, the broken tree. See how I carved the lines from this tree into the clay.”
I could see its relationship to Ann’s photo on the wall. A landscape photo became a four-layered sculpture with a poem on its back. A green-peaked abstract shape was clearly local hills and trees.
“I do my ceramics at the Reitz Ranch for Ceramics out in Sycamore Canyon. I drive over there regularly. Each day, as the panorama of trees, brush, water and dirt unfolds, I feel awe. I then set an intention to reproduce the patterns of erosion of a hill or the silhouette of distant mountains against the sky in the studio.
“Here.” Ann points to a photograph of a broad-branched Cottonwood. “This is my ‘Tree-Ego.’ She sits right beside the road. I greet her daily.” And, the photos of her appear over and over in Ann’s art.
Ann leads me to a stand with three chunky pots. “These are wedding pots. See how they have two spouts leading into a large single vessel?” She gestures. “They are for weddings, or maybe anniversaries. They each have a theme and a poem celebrating the commitment it takes to be married.
“See. This one features two hands, and the poem says, ‘We walk together hand-in hand. And this one has stars and a poem about sharing stars’ sparkle.”
A number of Ann’s unique pieces are priced well under $50, suitable for small gifts.
“Oh, yes.” Ann exclaims. “Each piece is different. I can never make the same thing twice. See these angels. I have made more than 50, and not one is a copy of another. “
Ann then points to a congregation of small blue forms. “These are my angels. Like everything else I create, I never set an intention before creating one of these forms. Disconnecting my brain from the process, I simply bend and twist the clay into a shape that somehow, to me, resembles as angel. Like the rest of my art, I never make the same angel twice.
“These, I believe, are my prayer for peace and civility. I do not like the place where our country has evolved, everyone mistrusting everyone else, hearing, believing, even fighting for “facts” nobody else believes. When I get disturbed by the events of the day, I grab a few pieces of clay and infuse my prayers into each of them.”
“I am a local artist. My drive to my gallery on 6th in Cottonwood and then out to the studio in Sycamore Canyon, then back home to Clarkdale, is a 25-mile circle. I rarely veer from that path. Everything I create is inspired from some location on that circuit. Look around, as you acclimate yourself to my vision, you will discover the beauty around us!”
Welcome to Ann Metlay Art!
Creativity as a Prayer
For many years I have written both prose and poetry. As I write, I have noted how I my voice is coming from somewhere beyond the words I have placed on the page. I feel transformed for the duration. I almost hate to end, to polish off the writing. The words I have written come from beyond me. I always regret leaving that space, moving back to the Ann.
In the past few years, as I have reached the age of 70 and beyond, I have found this outlet of creativity more difficult to get into. My word-finding ability has diminished a bit. Where I used to be able to let words flow through me and onto the page, I now find if I stop for anything, interrupt my flow of inspiration, the words are more difficult to locate when I move back to recording them. They do come, and I continue to write poetry I find to be divinely inspired. But this inspiration does not flow as easily.
But, as my words begin to flow a bit more slowly, I have found other, non-verbal ways to express that which dwells in my soul. Where I have always been able to use my hands to write down words, those hands now move through clay, create a visual impression for my expressions.
As I mold a lump of clay, the clay seems to form itself into a pleasing shape. Every piece I create is one-of-a-kind. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make the same piece twice. My soul has moved on. My fingers turn the clay into a different-looking object.
I go through phases in my sculpting. At one point I am forming Hebrew words on a clay slab. At another, my hands make mug jugs or textured vases. One of my favorite pieces is a diorama of the Verde Valley. It has four layers—the sky, the mountains, the grasslands and the river. I inscribed a poem on the back of this creation. I have tried on several other occasions to reproduce this concept. Every time it becomes into something else.
At this time I have been sculpting Madonnas and angels. Pretty timely, since the holidays are coming and I hope people looking for seasonal pieces will appreciate them. The clay will not lie down, let me form a word on it! But both the angels and the diorama have their source in the recesses of my soul.
I believe that when I sit down to create I open that pathway into my soul. When I allow this path to open, I can share my inspiration with others. This happens for me both with words and with clay.
Recently I have been aware of other creative modalities. I listen to a lot of classical music. In symphonies by Beethoven, nocturnes by Chopin, sonatas of Mozart and Bach’s cello suites I have discovered these genius’ souls revealed (not that I could ever put my own adventures in creativity onto their plane).
I watched a You-tube video of Martha Graham. In the dance “Lamentations” she is enrobed in black fabric with only her hands, feet and face exposed. Within these constrictions, with minimal accompaniment and simple lighting, her body becomes a holy conduit to prayer.
Perhaps that is what all of us who risk exposing our deepest cores, our holy souls, are trying to accomplish; becoming conduits of prayer.
I am deeply troubled by the world around us at this time. It is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction. Opinions are so convoluted they are easily mistaken for gospel truths. And, as we each try to distinguish that which we believe, it becomes harder and harder to communicate with those who hold other truths. We have lost a common ground for communication.
But, I hold out hope for creativity. Maybe, within our individual conduits to prayer we can meet up with others’ conduits. Maybe these passageways can bypass some of the deep divisions we are mired in. Maybe we can meet in the the shadows of a Rodin sculpture. Or dance together to a lively polka.
And, let me invite you to come, experience my sculpting. Come, meet up with my holy, inner soul.
I must have been asleep during that conversation with my Guide. I do not remember exactly when it occurred. But, as I move forward with this life, snippets of it come back to me.
This is September, a time I find myself yielding to circles.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"