The hibernating beast

I write this, as I sit, nestled in front of the new woodstove, looking out to a snow-blanketed Ruins Project. This winter has brought two new challenges to the homestead; wood-fired heat as our primary source of fuel. And a puppy. Both of these beasts require a near constant vigilance.

As I watch my woodsman cut, stack, organize and obsess over flues and dampers, I know that the old saying about how wood heats a person twice is spot on the mark. The puppy is less predictable. We chose the Mountain Cur breed for its loyalty, bravery and all-around good nature. Luce is proving to be very smart, very tapped into our thinking, and extremely high energy. When she is good, she is very, very good and when she is bad, she is horrid. Old nursery rhymes come popping back into my head at the strangest times.

When, you wonder will she be getting to the mosaic part? Writing about art can be a time-sensitive thing. Especially when not much art is being made. Winter asks a lot of us in this yet-to-be finished old house. Every week we do something to make our lives a bit easier but it proves to be a job unto itself; insulating, water-proofing, and the never-ending act of wood collecting. For Christmas, I bought us both a pair of the ominously named chore boots. I think Robert was a bit horrified but has since embraced their slip on and off nature and wears his every day.

Last week, I traded my chore boots for a pair of sandals and made my way to Santa Barbara, California, to film my second run of Mosaic Arts Online videos with Tami Macala. Our homestead in deep winter could be described as a polar opposite to the sunny optimism of the west coast. Picking lemons from the yard is a sweet kind of culture shock. But in the end, this humble patch of Fayette County earth pulls me back. It’s not a string that ties me to it, it’s a heavy tow rope. The kind that hold barges to the shoreline. The kind that can’t be snapped.

But back to the art; I find myself having to re-learn a lesson that I keep thinking I have already learned. My personal artistic process asks many things of me, as it does for each artist. Possibly the most heart-wrenching of these asks has been The Hibernation Phase. I love to dig deep, both into the earth itself for materials, and into myself for the conceptual, more slippery material. But several times a year, I am compelled to burrow in and let my creative self nap… hard. It is as quick and decisive as a switch that shuts off. Usually this happens after an intense time spent out in the world, or with groups of people. I am greedy with this inaction. But the truly painful part comes at a window of time when I think I am ready to be back at it but the sleeping bear does not agree.

She keeps at her hibernation, holding me trapped in that painful window of inaction until some event or feeling breaks the spell and I feel the energy pushing me towards the next project.

Writing is one of the most effective ways I have found to pull my muck boots out of the clay and begin to move again. Putting into words what is mostly a jumble of disconnected thoughts rolling in my head helps clarify and organize my path. In that spirit, I would like to share, through words, what lies ahead for The Ruins Project in 2018.  If I am a hibernating beast, the Ruins is a hibernating mountain of concrete with a mind of its own.

I continue to experience it as both a daily meditation and the challenge of my life. Its walls have the power to soothe me one day and take me to my knees the next. I can feel it breathing under the layer of snow, waiting to see what I will throw at it next.

Besides a full schedule of teaching dates during the season, I have also organized for a guest artist/teacher to lead a group project this summer. The contemporary portrait artist, Carol Shelkin, will be leading a small group of lucky students through a specialized workshop on one particular wall of The Ruins. They will work as a team to build a very special portrait that I have chosen to be the first realistic image of a coal miner. Carol is a master at bringing personalities to life in glass.

I am honored that she wants to bring her talent here to create our first official portrait. One of the miracles of The Ruins Project is the way it connects two very disparate groups of people: the 19th and 20th century coal miner and the contemporary artist. It’s a place that crosses both the time boundary and the boundary of human purpose. Ideas are explored here. Art vs Work. Creativity vs manual labor. The act of bringing a piece of your soul and leaving it behind for the next person to build upon.

This group project will be a highlight of our summer and I highly recommend becoming a part of what will be a transforming few days of work and fun. I am filled with excitement as I imagine this portrait coming to life; a rough, masculine face, expressive eyes filled with painful stories, his carbide headlamp made of 24-karat gold smalti. The Ruins Project grows stronger with each season, with each visit by creative, risk-taking people. Become a part of the story and get yourself here for Year Three. It’s gonna be a good one!

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