Bene vixit bene latiti
Having just returned from another Haystack weekend, this one punctuated by instructional time and seeing friends and delicious food and kinetic jewelry and assemblage sculptures, I am sitting here, on a cool spring night, thinking about the hidden things and secret places.
Artists at Work – MeCA
When I was in middle school, my brother played a lot of little league baseball, and despite my lack of connection to the game, I would attend all of his games and wander around the ballparks eating purple sno-cones. (Purple was my favorite color and flavor). I remember walking through dusty patches of ground, kicking at the sprouts of bermuda grass desperately clinging to life amidst the parched nature of East Texas summertime, I remember my red All Stars, and I remember how the grape syrup would leak out and around the waxed paper cone that held the ice and cover my hand with sugary sweetness: the stickiness would linger until I could find a bathroom in which to wash my hands.
A New Machinist’s Box
One afternoon, as the baseball games played on in the background, I found myself standing and staring down into a storm drain: one of those giant square openings in the ground that are covered in a cast iron grate with many square shaped holes. At the bottom, I noticed something glimmering in the Texas sunshine. I sat, then squatted, then lay on my young belly, All Stars pointed straight out, jeans collecting dust and dirt as I gazed intently downward. At the bottom lay something golden, that I was sure of. Always the fan of a challenge, I unlaced my shoes and tied my two shoelaces together to see if they would reach the bottom. They did, but no closer to my goal was I until I went to one of the snack stands and secured a paper clip from an obliging ballpark worker. Slowly, carefully, with much focus, I hooked the golden ring onto the bottom of the paperclip and edged it up, through the grate, and into my young hand.
The Beauty in the Simple – Copper Embossed with Miscanthus
Here was a golden ring, wide, a man’s ring to be sure, with a clear stone in the center. Its surface was brushed and dinged, as if it had traveled quite a distance and been smoothed down by silt and water and the innards of pipes. I put it in my pocket, and later the drawer in the bathroom that held mysterious treasures, and occasionally I would pull it out, look at it carefully, and hide it, again.
Many years later, as a lab assistant at a biotechnology company, I became friends with a person who came to work on Halloween with a purple tshirt on. The tshirt had a black P made with electrical tape and he had blackened his eye with shoe polish. When I asked him what he was, he answered, matter of factly, “A Black-Eyed Pea”. This was the beginning of a friendship that included motorcycle rides on a thin-bodied Harley Davidson painted with iridescent flames, camping trips in Austin, Mexican restaurants in downtown Houston, swing dancing, road trips through the deep South, visits to gem and jewelry shows, and my first experiences making jewelry. My friendship with this person introduced me to city life and all its hidden places: a coffee shop in Houston named Not Su Oh, dances at the Last Concert Cafe, midnight picnics in the gardens of the Contemporary Arts Museum, hula hooping at Stubbs Cafe, following music through Pace Bend Park to find a man with an envelope full of strips of psychedelic magic, and people with patios full of pots of baby peyote cactus.
Swoon at Space Gallery in Portland, Maine
Mere months ago, I reconnected with that friend after an absence of several years; in fact, we had not spoken to each other in probably twelve years. He called me during my last few days of living in the tiny house, and as we spoke, his voice transported me back to those days when we spent so much time together. I remembered his kitchen and making pasta in his stainless steel pots, his velveteen couches, his old Mustang with the hood pins, our visit to fortune tellers in New Orleans, and him teaching me the basics of jewelry making at a small bench in the corner of his living room. I remembered us making a ring together dotted with sunstones, three in an offset row. In fact, it was he who had the ring I had found all those years before appraised, only to find that my ballpark treasure was a solid gold ring set with a large diamond. Now, after many of life’s twists and turns, and the holding on to curios and treasures that help us mark time, but mostly help us remember the hidden and secret moments, I am struck by how important those little things are, those signposts that help you remember moments in your lover’s bed when the only thing that existed was the two of you and the rain outside and the brass bell cast in sand that lay on the bedside table, or the box covered with peeling paint and filled with prisms that was given to you solely because you asked for them, or the old mirror from India your father brought to you when you were five and you have held so many times in the same place that the enamel has worn off as if to mark the place your thumb belongs. These are the hidden places, the secrets, the markers that bear no explanation except as memories for ourselves. How do we know what is valuable and what is transitory? How do we know what is treasure and what is trash? We, as the magpies that we certainly are, cherish these tiny, priceless, useless, beautiful things. They make up the palimpsest of our lives: layers and layers of love and loss and memory and change. We collect, we gather, we hold up to the light: we categorize and place, carefully. We make a puzzle picture of a life, decorating it was we go with baubles: with strange and lovely secret things.
If Not Now, When? If Not You, Who?
Found Objects, Glass, Copper, Paper, Epoxy, Beach Stone