Here’s another post from the Archives. (Guess I’m in reruns for the time being.) Originally posted July 12, 2011, it’s a description of what comes alive in the studio as I work and listen to a great book on CD or a radio interview and make further connections to my process and choices.
It turns out Kit Carson, the man, was next-to-nothing like Kit Carson the Legend. The man was guilelessly honest, reliable, soft-spoken – maybe even taciturn – loved Indians, his Taos ranch, wife and children.
Yet he was also a consummate wanderer for justice, showing up in history, Forrest Gump-style, to save the butts of many famous explorers and soldiers in the first half of the 19th century, that unsettled and questionable time of American nation-forming.
He was a smallish man, modest and ashamed of being illiterate (but he fluently spoke 14 languages, most of them Indian, which had to have come in handy.) A natural leader, his personal bravery in sticky situations led him to proficiency in making crunch-time choices that were nearly always right. Having removed and then misplaced his boots and canteen, he once walked 25 barefoot, un-hydrated miles (lasting over 30 hours) through the rocks, cacti and varmints of the Southern California desert in order to sneak silently past a Mexican Army siege encampment and bring reinforcements from San Diego to wrap up 1846 solidly in American favor. No wonder he fell into the League of the Legendary. He didn’t mean to, it was just what resulted as he addressed each problem in front of him.
Time. Temperament. Talent. We make our marks from the marks that make us. We might be born that way, but there are always kinks, wrinkles, simple twists of fate, and callings we might hate, but answer nonetheless.
Kit Carson, the man, became alive to me as I worked long days in the studio recently, listening to the 17 CDs of the book Blood and Thunder by Hampton Sides. It’s a masterful intertwining tale of one man and a few uncertain decades nearly two hundred years ago. For me the book’s saga also spawned associations to my own creative process.
As I fell into a studio rhythm with the sweeping story, it was not lost on me that frontiers abound in more than just the physical or temporal way. Perhaps frontiers are limnal Absolute Thresholds – as opposed to defined portals – which make it unclear when one has passed through. I’ve often compared my creative/life interests to climbing up the mesa walls in search of the tabletop which is large enough to wander around on for a lifetime. I believe I have found that with clay, but long for the specifics. Often, with no details, I just trust and show up to do my job.
I also was struck by an NPR interview with Eric Fischl, the painter and sculptor, in which he inadvertently revealed to me why listening to stories while I work is a valuable and supportive non-visual practice. He said, “…and if you’re making a sculpture, modeling a sculpture, oftentimes your hand moves away from what your eye can see, and it begins to inform the eye and inform the mind in a totally different way because the hand is full of memory, but it’s memory that only touch can unlock.” By shaping clay, as my mind roams the American West with Kit Carson, I distract my eyes and go to the place only touch knows.
The doing and the touching reveal the specifics I seek. So get in there and make art, as always, but strive to keep your eyes and mind in a safer and slower spot.
Kit Carson was idolized as a swashbuckling stallion-riding woman-saving hero in the dime novels known as “Blood and Thunders,” but the real Kit Carson preferred to ride a mule all over the West, often alone, and wanted no part of that false glory. And so shall I, in metaphoric parallel, ride the mule of my craft, slowly, intentionally, feeling my way and full of wonder.
–Liz Crain, who enjoys finding continued relevance and some newer insights from her older observations.