Has it been only six weeks since Don Jones walked into the studios at the Jerome Art Center with a pick-up truck filled with manzanita wood? What a blessing Don has become in my life! He and I have talked at some length about angels, and agree somehow angels were involved in his decision to haul the manzanita to my studio. He freely states he is an angel.
For a year now I have been making art. I never saw myself as an artist. Yes. I am definitely a very creative person and a writer, but a visual artist? I could barely draw stick figures. I had never held a hand tool. But desert woods. Their intricate lines intrigued me. Put together into assemblages, they express a certain statement of shapes and lines I’ve found with my favorite modern sculptors.
This past year I made constructions with the wood and papier mache. My overriding challenge has been giving these pieces appropriate finishes and bases. Untreated desert wood shrivels. Shiny desert wood does not look appropriate. And joining one piece of wood to another using papier mache frequently looked clunky. I knew I needed to try new techniques.
Then Don walked in. Knowing the desert as he does, he finds the most amazing sticks. But it is the other materials he brings in which really intrigue me. Silverware left behind as pioneers trekked across Arizona becomes bracelets. Thousands of beads, some very valuable have been rescued from dumpsters. An unending array of everything from hand tools to clothing in Don’s size to chunks of turquoise and a functioning flatscreen TV sits in out studio now. He has over 100 sticks of cottonwood beavers have cut down arranged by size. They have beaver toothmarks on each pointed end. The bark has been stripped off. Don uses these for making walking sticks, Navajo ladders and intriguing three-legged stools with worn-down plow blades as seats. He also makes intricate jewelry, bends wire into tiny spurs and carves Alabaster into tiny bear and buffalo fetishes.
As we have compared notes on our lives, we have discovered we lived very different lifestyles. His grandfather had him out trapping furs and trekking across the desert from his earliest days. I lived the privileged life in the academic family enclave of Berkeley where life was stained by liberal thinking with a high value placed on education. In early middle age I was a faculty wife raising two brilliant boys heading towards academic careers. At the same time Don was on the rodeo circuit, riding bulls and untamed broncos. “The longest time I have ever experienced is eight seconds on an angry bull,” Don has asserted several times.
We do have some things in common. Both of us have experienced almost debilitating low self-esteem. We both can, from time to time, find ourselves in pits of depression. We both have moved through episodes of chronic pain and challenging illness.
More germane, both of us have been blessed and cursed with large doses of creativity. We both move from project to project, being pulled by something we have picked up to move aside. We both are bombarded by the distraction of too many ideas all at once.
The miracle I am enjoying right now is the intersection of two such different lives found in the creativity desert woods hold. We both work in a single room, not speaking for long periods of time. Don will look up, show me the snake he has etched onto a tiny bear fetish. “What does this need?” "It’s gorgeous, but maybe a tiny gold eye?” I stop mid-oiling a piece of Mormon tea wood, its scallops, grains and texture coming out as I meticulously rub it with lemon oil. “What would you think of gluing a stone onto this piece to provide more color?” “Only if it fits into one of those holes, and it does not look too sparkly.”
At one time I would have already begun to think about the possibility of Don moving on. “I am so happy right now, I will be sad when he leaves.” Not that he has suggested he might leave. Right now he is enjoying feedback from all the artists in the center, and he loves being a model for the photographers and painters here. Now I am learning to enjoy each day we spend working in our studio, or going out into the desert to retrieve more materials. What a wonderful lesson for living in the moment!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"