Reflections of a hunter-gatherer as she makes art out of the stuff of her life

 

“…Connections slowly emerge.  Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together.  Experiences too indefinite to be recognized for themselves connect and are identified as a larger shape.  And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when a train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising still, proven now by retrospect.”
― Eudora Welty, One Writer’s Beginnings

Late one fall perhaps eight or ten years ago, I was walking down a road up in the mountains of North Carolina . I had just left Horner Hall, a dormitory at Penland School of Crafts and was on my way to meet with a group of women who were getting together up at Bonnie’s House. It was a gray damp morning, and very quiet as the school was between sessions. Though I had been enjoying good conversations and home-cooked meals with these friends old and new that weekend I was feeling low. I don’t remember what was happening personally in my larger life, but I do know this—my creative life seemed at a standstill. I was in a fallow period and like all such times feeling a lack of vision and inspiration in my work as an artist.

I had just begun my walk, the road on both side of me filled with trees and a few houses. I was startled out of my reverie by three crows in the branches of a tree on my left.  The large black birds were almost at eye level because this was a mountain road and this tree was on the downward sloping side. They were close to me, big, shiny black and noisy in a conversation of much industry. Even now I can hear their determined caws to each other as they gathered together in the bare branches of that tree.

I stood for a while watching in amazement before I continued my walk to meet my friends up at Bonnies House where we had our final gathering of the weekend.There we ate and laughed and then everyone left for home. I don’t remember exactly what form my life took in the next bit of my life.

Here is what I do know, when I look back at my life since that encounter, I understand that seeing those crows that day was like a door opening for me. At the time, I did not know this; only in retrospect do I see that chance sighting of  those large black birds was the seed of a new direction for me. A Beginning. An idea was planted. Why don’t I try and make crows like the ones I saw—so large and noisy? And within the next year I sat down and began to do just that. I loved the early crows I made. They flew out of my hands. I know the first ones were lumpy and awkward, but I didn’t see that as I was in love. I was collecting black and shiny materials and black objects and looking at pictures of crows and reading about them and seeing them and hearing them everywhere. Often I would hear a crow calling from high above me when I opened the door of my house here in Durham NC. I’m always grateful when I see or hear them as they make my heart glad. They are survivors.

Back to the door that opened. In retrospect I see that the crows led me to making other animals I saw in the world around me–rabbits, foxes, fauns and raccoons. My backyard birds—chickadees and wrens. Seeing those crows led me to a way of working, a way of seeing, a way of making animals which uses my longtime skills as a basket maker and my interest in using the scraps and castoff stuff of our society. The way ahead is full of thoughts of animals and their habitats, new techniques to explore and people to meet, teach and learn from.

Stay tuned for my travels in Australia where wallabies and kangaroos, fairy penguins and Koalas live. Have you ever seen a bandicoot? I haven’t. What encounters will I have? What new animals will I see? I do not know. What I do know is this. The door, unlatched  long ago on that mountain road is open and the road is wide.

circle of my animals

Gathering of my animals in my home right after Thanksgivng 2015