I walked out of my studio in Jerome High School for the last time today. I grasped three baskets of beaver sticks, a package of plastic storage containers and kicked a bundle of banker boxes ahead of me. I came to the dreaded stairs. I pushed the banker boxes down first. They slid to the landing with a whoosh. Tired, I grabbed the bannister and gingerly traipsed down the 14 steep stairs, one-by-one.
As I stumbled out of the building I reflected on my 16 months in this sturdily-built edifice. I moved in only three months after discovering my love of creating art with papier mache and desert woods. Larry was still coming to my house every night for dinner, staying around for a couple of movies. It was a heady time to fall in love with art. I rapidly made one structure after another. Two or three pieces a day. I brushed away dirt, threw down a hunk of papier mache and stuck the wood onto it. The work was too dirty to do in my house, and the romance of having an actual studio called to me.
It was all about production and distribution. I moved myself quickly into three different galleries. I tried different techniques. Slathered acrylic paints. Shiny lacquers. Copper wires. I was turning 70. Only Grandma Moses could pull off entering an artist’s career when she was older than me!
Larry abruptly departed for Seattle around my birthday. Without anyone to cook for, nobody to share movies with, my home seemed empty. I spent more time in my studio. I made friends with other artists. There were brisk walks at sunset over to the state park, then up the hill into downtown Jerome. The sky’s colors, the moon coming into view. Breathtaking. One night a young man, maybe in his early twenties flirted with me, begged me to come away with him to a national park in Nevada. I felt so flattered. I remember storing the times in my memory, savoring the laughter, the camaraderie. I did not have time to miss having Larry around.
And, I moved on from cooking paleo for Larry to cooking vegetarian for Christian. Grits, lasagna, corn pudding, forbidden foods when Larry ate here, bubbled on my stove for dinner.
I learned to relish dirt. I went out into the desert two or three times a week to find woods. I sloshed through mud after a monsoon, picking up roots among the Palo Verde trees, climbed up and over gullies along the Verde River in search of interesting pieces of Cottonwood, scrambled down creek banks on Beaver Creek for knobby white-barked Sycamore. Then turning on my dremel in my studio, the dirt flew off the wood as I cleaned up each piece.
I got the idea for a collection of my poems. Since I was showing my art in studios with a lot of color, what if I wrote a colorful book that had no visual color in it, only verbal color. Christian designed a cover for the book. I love the book. It is exactly what I wanted it to be. But, because I did not devote any time to marketing it, because nobody “likes poetry” it has not been successful. I have sold maybe 20 copies of it.
Walks shortened as the evenings grew shorter. Sue came up to my studio to help me design a webpage. She stayed around, first to become my friend, then my next-door studio mate. She was young enough to be a daughter. I loved her ready laugh, her sexploits with men almost young enough to be her sons.
I learned more about art. I learned to look deeper into my work for the lines I created between the branches of wood I was bonding together. I learned to evaluate my work better, to determine what worked aesthetically and what didn’t. I put away garish colors of acrylic. I learned terms like Outsider Art. I experienced rejection from artists who had been in the field for longer than merely a year. I was rejected for “Made in Clarkdale”, a venerable show. Here I lived in Clarkdale and my work was not good enough to get in! I worked to sell my pieces in galleries where customers were looking for souvenirs of Sedona. They could not be convinced that a piece of wood from a tree that grew in Sedona red soil could be proof of a visit to Sedona.
In the winter my dear friend Judie, living in Florida was taken into hospice. Mortality felt closer, my own life became more precious. I savored every conversation she and I shared. She lived long enough to guide me through a potentially devastating visit with my sons at Passover.
March saw Don drive into Jerome. Don, the grandson of a desert survivalist, a survivor, himself, of a brutal father, a true “desert rat,” arrived at the high school in his noisy pick-up with a sweet dog and a load of Manzanita. He quickly became a mentor to my art. He moved into my studio.
He brought along with him rusty bedsprings and a myriad of ideas for improving my work. Overnight my art became more interesting, my mastery of my medium became apparent.
My idyllic Jerome studio life changed when Don arrived. Christian did not like Don’s fumes and his noise. When I did not ask Don to move out, he quit speaking to me. I have always cultivated friendships. I did not know how to live with enemies. Don clashed with the landlords. When he was unfairly attacked verbally by them, he took off and was unable to return, comfortably, to the studio again.
About the time he was made unwelcome at the high school, Don met up with my good friend, Susan Zalkind, a master Alabaster carver. He moved onto her property seven miles beyond Camp Verde, in the shadow of Squaw Peak. I went down to visit them regularly, picking up Alabaster for my art, riding up the washes on Squaw Peak to find fabulous Mesquite burls, and talking and laughing with both Susan and Don.
My “young” friend, Sue, began coming down from Jerome to take showers and do laundry at my house. I was thrilled when she began borrowing my clothes, one of the things I believed I missed most because I never had a daughter of my own.
But Sue was my only friend now up there. The onsite maintenance guy verbally attacked a friend who had come up to visit me. She would not return. Then the same guy treated me weirdly. I was uncomfortable in Jerome, too. I looked for another studio, another place where I could continue to improve my art.
I found 432 C 6th in Cottonwood. A suite in an industrial building, it is in the center of Cottonwood activities. Friends who never drove the four miles up the winding road to Jerome did drive down 6th to go to the recreation center, the library, the post office.
I gathered up my stuff. Moving day was arduous. Don was unable to help much with moving the two loads of stuff down the three flights of steep stairs and into the twelve-foot van. After climbing and descending those stairs continuously for eight hours I fell into bed, slept non-stop for another eight hours.
I adopted two darling kittens to come and live on 6th street. I feel like a mother with two families now, sneaking off from my doxies in Clarkdale to be with my kitties. And then leaving their disappointed looks to go back to the dogs.
Already three friends have dropped by 6th just because they thought I might be there. Other friends are making arrangements to come visit. It is nice to be a part of the Verde Valley again.
And I have discovered a ceramics studio in nearby Sycamore Canyon. For forty years I have been longing for an appropriate space to do clay work. And now I have it! In ten days I have gone out there three times, constructing two bases for my sculptures. Heaven!
I moved to the Verde Valley almost seven years ago, looking for life after retirement. After moving here I changed myself from a shy recluse to an author and instructor in a lifelong learner program. Now I have transformed myself again into an outgoing, happy artist. I treasure every day I have with my dogs, my kittens, my wood, my friends. And I know 6th Street is another wonderful step on this journey.
I closed the door in Jerome this morning. I drove down the hill with a load of boxes, sticks and storage containers. I opened the door into my new studio. Mannie rubbed against my leg, jumped into my lap as soon as I could sit down. Junipurr watched with interest. Friends welcomed me home! And I feel ready to meet with the jury for Made in Clarkdale this fall!
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"