Dedicated to Helen Zimmerle, My Friend with Delightful
I am currently putting the finishing touches on an installation of my art
at the Camp Verde library. In the main lobby, “To Preserve Their Dreams" , my display of seven women and children remind people of
the horrors of human trafficking. Upstairs we have hung over thirty
masks and other pieces representing my current work.
I walk in, look around, and am in awe. Where did this come from?
How did I get into from writing memoir and poetry into this space with
these ceramic sculptures?
Many times as I cross the threshold into some totally new venture, I
dig into my memory to pull out a mentor who led me here. How
appropriate that this time, the mentor who started me on this part of
my journey once lived across the street from this library! Helen
Zimmerle. The magic times we spent behind electrified fences, the
times we wiled away the hottest summer afternoons, those times
started me on the path to here! I dedicate this exhibit to you. Here is
I walked into the marshal’s office in Camp Verde. The library was
being rebuilt, so they used a large meeting room in the front of the
Marshal’s office for library classes. I was scheduled to teach “writing
I saw Helen sprawled across several seats in the front row. Although
not large a physically large person, her assorted papers, flying out of
books and bags, the beautiful stone she had picked up in the parking
lot and books from her childhood she had been reading and wanted
to share, meant Helen occupied a substantial piece of space in any
room where she sat.
I inwardly groaned. Although delightful, Helen was not the ideal
student in any memoir class. “Keep your writing to only three
paragraphs,” I admonished. I wanted to be sure I fit in time for
everyone who had written to share. Keeping Helen on topic, and
within the stated time limits presented a challenge for my teaching.
“I wrote my three paragraphs, “ she announced. When I called on her,
she explained her intention to write succinctly. But this paragraph
here was continued on another paper, and when mentioned the tree
house in the maple tree in New Jersey, she needed just this one
article in the Verde Bugle about tree houses to illustrate her
I have never met anyone else more creative than Helen. She turned
rocks into princess dwellings. She gathered up a bit of moss, found a
few smooth pebbles, grabbed a shell she had found at the shore in
New Jersey, and with a twist of wire she produced an enchanting
miniature palace. Her garden was lined with these fantastical
That garden, sitting smack in the center of the hottest spot in the
entire Verde Valley, was unforgettable. She set up stepping stones in
such a way I felt transported to a shady pond. Shade-loving flowers
in deep purple imbued the shade with gentle breezes, although they
actually crouched under the slim, weak shade of a mesquite tree. In
the back corner her husband, carrying fantasy even further, was
constructing model train tracks through an old English countryside.
And her pool! Bob had set up an above-ground three-foot deep pool
for her. Steps up and into it draped over one side. It was awkward to
climb in. She placed red, green and blue floating inner tubes in and
they clustered into one area of the pool. And, should you have
forgotten your swimsuit, she had three or four suits waiting for you, all
over-sized and stretched out of shape. I never took my swimsuit
down to her place, but always ended up in the holey purple one.
I went down and floated in her pool the day my brother died. The
coolness of the water, and Helen’s genuine interest in my favorite
stories of Jim’s puns pushed my tears of grief back for a few hours.
Helen was the person who shepherded me from being a creative
writer to moving into visual arts. She and I picked up all kinds of
wood around her property. We marveled over the termited section of
wood that had killed the cottonwood tree in her goat pen. The pieces
of wood we collected were filled with small, blackened tiny holes.
Such promise! We mounted them on pieces of tree stumps, using
papier mache. She took out her dremel and showed me how to use it
to smooth and shape the wood. No matter what I saw in a piece of
wood I was playing with, Helen saw it too, and encouraged me to
move further with my creation.
Helen passed two years ago. Since then I have moved beyond the
papier mache and wood assemblages she helped construct into
these ceramics. I know Helen has sat in my passenger seat frequently
as I have driven out to my ceramic studio in Sycamore Canyon. And
as I hung the 15 different abstract faces across the mantle of the
Camp Verde Library’s fireplace, I heard Helen’s stage whisper
reminding me to give each of them a bit of extra space to “talk.”
"With all the beauty surrounding me here above the Verde Valley, how could I not create more beauty?"