The Set-up: I live and maintain my studio in an impossibly old (1933) cottage facing what has, over the decades, become a main artery street in the charming beach village of Capitola, CA. I see lots of dogwalkers, strollers, bicyclists, joggers, skateboarders. Middleschool kids. Motorcycle groups. Lots of semi-lost out-of-townies. (How do you give directions to a lovely German-only-speaking gentleman and explain there are two separate Grace Streets and he’s on the other side of the creek from both of them? Give him a highlighted AAA map. Remember those?)
We endure a panoply of perennial foot and wheeled traffic clogs related to: school/church/concerts/festivals/races/Junior Guards/Surfing Santas/car shows/construction and nearby freeway tangles. Our place, built in a time of modest one-story homes on larger chunks of land, sits way back on a deep and angled lot, buffered by a front wildlands of Redwoods, Sword Ferns, Nasturtiums and Japanese Maples. And also by my growing ceramic sculpture garden! It’s cozy and generally feels far from the madding crowd. Yet the border between us and them is a porous one. Cue the ominous music.
It happens several times daily: the dog pushes open the back door to get in and I am too pre-occupied to get up and shut it. Besides, we are having weeks upon weeks of the best Summer-in-the-Winter ever here on the Monterey Bay and there is no need to batten the hatches. The daffodils are blooming and the bugs are still asleep, a sweet time.
Last week Zorro, our sly XL Mini Schnauzer, pushed himself inside and disappeared around a corner. Shortly, I heard an emphatic crash which ended with semi-tinkling flourishes. Well, that got me up! I wasn’t sure where the sound came from and found no obvious broken dog messes anywhere in the house. Nothing jiggled off the dryer, no artwork detached from the walls, my studio remained quietly waiting for me. The dog was unconcerned. I concluded that because of the open door I must have heard one of our (nine – but that’s another story) neighbors, or the roofers three doors down. Back to my pre-occupations.
What fell is pictured above. It has been a fixture in the side yard for years and it fell over behind plants, a wooden cart and the fence so I didn’t notice it until days later. I called it the Sphinx Totem and it is still one of the most wildly complicated things I have ever pulled-off in hand-building ceramics class.
Each of its parts were soulful references to ancient and classical imagery, the entirety crafted to resonate with the sacred geometry of the Golden Mean as explored and diagrammed in the commanding book The Power of Limits by Gyorgy Doczi.
I can’t locate a photo of the completed piece in its former wholeness. Instead, I found my concept drawings:
Starting at the bottom, a ring of roots surrounding a Greek column – a column being a formalized tree as well as an axis mundi. On top of the column a sphere within a cube frame. Then a large shallow bowl windrose with symbols for the eight winds of the Mediterranean around its rim. Above the windrose, an s-ribbed wind turbine which I had designed to spin at the slightest puff, but inertia and friction have long-proved to be fearsome contenders.
Guarding the whole piece at eye level, the Sphinx, one of my first figures in clay. She’s magnificently capable of issuing a perplexing riddle. She rendered the top pieces – a fairly graceful Lamp of Learning and a lumpy Rub ‘n’ Buff-colored Chakra Tower – mere finials of denouement.
The interior support for this four foot high twelve-part affair was a metal pipe which went about half way up, with a longer wooden dowel inserted into it running the entire height. As predicted for Someday, the dowel rotted and broke at the exact top of the metal pipe, toppling everything higher than the axis mundi onto the marble, bricks, and Mexican river rocks below. Teetering Empyrean! Someday’s arrived!
Years of ceramics have left me with little resistance to the shardy reality of a broken Opus. This might be an oxymoron, but I felt rather Vulcan: it was fascinating! I photographed it, swept up the pieces and noted that my favorites survived whole: the roots ring, the column, the Sphinx.
I take this as a sign of necessary evolution and simplification, of putting away childish things, of movement and progress, crossing the bridge, fording the river, sailing to the New World. I am blessedly released from a certain kind of past and this crash reinforces it.
With a new studio, the new year, new associations and the ACGA Exhibiting Member acceptance, fresh vistas have appeared. And while a few somethings, even significant ones, are lost, Time is currently sending more fascination than lack. Gravity is just not all that grave right now.
Fall seven times, rise eight as the saying goes. But maybe it’s easier than that; maybe falling is like autumn leaves, utterly natural… and if we trust and allow, don’t mope and protest, and stay fascinated, we see that rising up and leafy renewal are already written within Fall Down Go Boom.