Recently I was invited by the Don Reitz Ranch to join them in a field trip to Mission Clay. We would tour the factory, then each get a sewer pipe or two to glaze for an installation along the road leading out to the ranch. What to do with a four-foot sewer pipe?
I went back into my long-time love of Hebrew letters and the words they form. What would be appropriate to put on such a pipe? There had to be a word, or words which spoke to the occasion.
Immediately the words “Bayit Adamah” came to mind. Bayit means house, or sometimes place. Adamah in Hebrew is the word for dirt or clay. I got my pipes and immediately began to carve the Hebrew letters into the soft clay of the pipes. I gathered up all the clay I had cut away, balled it up, and stuck it back onto my pipes. The words came out of the dirt they were made of.
Although my fun project made all of us giggle, I found a spiritual side to both the words Bayit and Adamah. The “bet”, the Hebrew letter beginning Bayit served as the foundation for this house. The “yud” in the middle can be seen as evoking the name of God, since God’s name begins with a yud. ”Tav”, the final letter in the word is also the final letter in the Hebrew alphabet, signaling a full circle. And on a circular pipe, the bet and tav came together!
And then there is the word Adamah. “Adam” is the name of the first person created, and means “from the soil.” “To dust you are and to dust you will become.” And, again there are meanings behind each of the Hebrew letters in this word as well.
I have spent much time over the years studying Hebrew letters, and the words which they form. I have found a poem in every word I meet. The peace of Shalom, the expectations of truth and trust in the Hebrew word, “Emet,” the joy of the dancing “Lameds” in Halleiujah. Now I am creating wall hangings to display the poem I find in each of these words.
As this project is merely in its beginning phase, I expect to have only three or four of these hangings to display for Open Studios. It takes almost a month between the inception of any piece and the time it comes out of the glaze firing, ready to display. Each wall hanging will come with its own original poem explaining its conception.
I have scheduled a demonstration each afternoon at 2:00 during the Open Studios Weekend. I plan to talk about these words, and to demonstrate how I conceive of my method for telling the story of the letters, the words and placing them into the clay. Come, participate in my process!
This month I am marking three years since I moved into my studio in Jerome High School, signed on as an artist. For three months I had tried to contain my burgeoning passion in my garage. I crowded in a card table where I sat for hours each night under a dimming light bulb using my Dremel on the beautiful sticks I had picked up during daily forays onto riverbanks, and up arid hillsides.
I mixed glue on my stove, then carried the warm pot out into the garage before adding shreds of the weekly shopper I had picked up in front of Ace. I used the mixture as a blobby connector between two sticks, or between a rock base and the wood.
During the day I went out to my deck to pursue my new passion. That was little better than the garage. As days lengthened the time I had out there without the glare of intense sun diminished. The light at night out there was even dimmer than in the garage. And, the more I sanded down, prepared my sticks to become art, the more dirt I found everywhere in my house.
I felt invigorated, inspired by this new passion, but realized that if I wished to pursue it, I needed to find a better space in which to work. My artist friends could paint in their living rooms, or fashion jewelry in their bedrooms. Cleaning and shaping sticks was not a household hobby!
I discovered Jerome High School. On the second floor was a three-room studio. I did a bit of math. If I were to forego the cruises I had saved for before I retired, funneled most of my available money into the studio, and its costs, I could afford it. I felt so self-important. I, just like every other tenant, I was an artist! I took my work out to local establishments. Twelve pieces were taken into Firefly, a nearby gift shop and gallery. They were crammed into a lower shelf where their awkward lines jagged together. Nothing sold. I joined a co-op which required hours of work. Nothing sold there either.
I stayed in Jerome for 18 months. The steep stairs up to my space got to me. The community felt less and less friendly. Within a few days I found a studio space/gallery down in Cottonwood, and discovered the Reitz Ranch for ceramics seven miles away. This combination has carried me on ever since.
I had done one adult ed class in sculpture forty years before. I had held onto the dream of ceramic sculpture for the intervening years. For the past eighteen months I have gone through a courtship with clay. Sometimes a piece came together. The clay listened to me, did not sag, nor crack. The glaze miraculously worked. Other times my work was frustrating. Finally, now, I am beginning to understand the steps in clay’s waltz. The glazing, or lack of it, is beginning to enhance my art, not detract from it.
I am confident I have the rest of my life to really know ceramic sculpture. My pieces come out nicely more often than not now. And I am vaguely aware of how much more I can learn.
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"