The world has changed completely since my last post. When the Coronavirus first made the news, it was compelling and it threatened my planned trip to France and Italy, but it seemed pretty far from home. Then it hit the US. Hard. Within a month, everything changed. Not only no trips to France and Italy but no trips anywhere. Everything stopped.
At first, it began to feel like it did right after 9/11. The bad news, analysis, uncertainty about what it all meant and what was to come next bombarded us 24 hours a day. I found myself compelled to watch the endless cable news reports about the virus. It was like a train wreck. I didn’t want to look, but couldn’t look away. I was mesmerized by the constant parade of staggering statistics regarding the number of cases. I was horrified to see the parade of body bags with very little mention of the human beings who were in those bags and the grieving families and friends they left behind. And it kept coming. Every day, the numbers leapt higher at an astonishing pace. It completely knocked the wind out of my sails. I felt hopeless, impotent, and deeply sad. Still grieving the death of my husband, approaching the 4th anniversary of his passing just one week after what would have been his 73rd birthday (last week and this week), I felt myself descending into the numbing paralysis of grief and hopelessness I felt 4 years ago. I was unable to concentrate on anything. I tried painting but my heart wasn’t in it and it showed in my art. I tried writing but couldn’t find the words.
After a particularly bad night, I remembered a book by M.C. Richards called “Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person”. (Wesleyan University Press, 1989 (2nd edition). I was a potter for 20 years before I started painting. I met M.C. Richards at a talk she was giving in Blacksburg, VA that I attended with my late husd in 1997. We had a wonderful conversation and she signed my book with “special wishes”. I hadn’t thought of her much since then other than to put the book on a shelf when I moved to my new house. As I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t shake this feeling, I realized that I had really lost my center. I was thrown off balance by the onslaught of grief, fear and bad news. I needed to find it again. I went to my bookshelf, picked up the book and started to read. I won’t go into detail but I have loved this book for the way Ms. Richards looks at finding the center in pottery as a metaphor for living.
“As you go out, you come in, you always come to center, bring the clay into center; you press down, squeeze up, press one hand into the other, bringing your material into center…We bring our self into a centering function, which brings it into union with all other elements. This is love…Then the miracle happens: When on center, the self feels different: one feels warm, on rayonne [silky], in touch, the power of life a substance like an air in which one lives and has one’s being with all other things, drinking it in and giving it off, at the same time quiet and at rest within it.” (p. 56)
So as I read her words, I reflect upon how it feels to throw a piece of clay on a wheel and bring it to center as opposed to wrestling with it, getting frustrated and having it go flying across the room (ok, I experienced this more than once in the early days). The feeling you get when the lump of clay becomes smooth and your hands are no longer wobbling, but feeling the silky smoothness of the wet clay going around, perfectly centered, is a feeling of peacefulness. We can all probably think of times when we have felt that feeling of peace and centeredness. When my daughter, who has significant disabilities, plays with the puzzles she loves so much and she gets a piece in the right place, although she has very little language, I can see her body relax and hear the little satisfied sigh she breathes. Think of a time when your universe felt just right for a moment and you felt a deep inner peace. What were you doing when you felt that?
For me, whether it’s pottery, music or art, that feeling comes when I am able to find my center and become engrossed in the flow of the activity, no matter what it is. Centering that clay is much harder when you don’t feel centered yourself. So how do we make art in an atmosphere that is, at every turn, trying to make us crazy? How do we find that center? For me, first it was turning off the TV and getting out of the house for walks through my neighborhood. It was looking at flowers and trees beginning to bloom, bringing color back into the grey world that was winter. As I was walking, I began to really look at the little gifts that we see but take for granted every spring. Tiny violas blooming in someone’s lawn. Little white, yellow, red, blue, magenta, and purple flashes everywhere. I decided to begin taking close-up photos of those things I usually just observe with a smile and move on without looking really closely. As I started realizing the joy and peace those walks were bringing to me, I resolved to get back into the studio and make tiny paintings of the things that bring me joy. So I have a made about 20 paintings so far. I don’t have them all because my second decision was to start sending them to people like my niece and her husband, a nurse and doctor who are working on the front lines in one of their local hospitals.
I will continue to make larger paintings as well, but those tiny ones of the gifts of spring are the ones that, along with M.C. Richards, helped me find my center again. I am grateful for my health and that of the people I love. I am grateful to have the ability to just go into my studio and make art whenever I want to. I am thankful to all of the people who have to go out and work to make my life easier by delivering my groceries, providing me with take-out food, picking up my garbage and recycling and bringing my mail and packages. Life will return to a new normal eventually-hopefully soon. I will continue to stay home, wear masks, wash my hands, enjoy virtual happy hours with my friends and calls with my family. And I will continue to make art and share it with anyone who finds joy in my paintings. Because we are indeed sharing this crazy time, I want to make my paintings accessible to anyone who would like to experience a little bit of spring beauty from my walks. I am reducing the price of my tiny 4 x 6” paintings to $30.00 and will mail them to you postage-free. Of course, if you want to buy larger ones, I’m ok with that too. Just go to the contact page and let me know if you want to buy any of my paintings. The pottery is no longer for sale. I might get back into it but now I am focused on painting.
I hope you all stay safe and healthy at home until we can be together again in galleries, concerts, stores, parks and restaurants. I hope you can all find your center again in this very unbalanced time. Below are some pictures of my pottery and some of my tiny paintings. The tiny paintings are all listed in my gallery on this site.