“Pull down thy vainty, it is not man Made courage, or made order, or made grace, Pull down thy vanity, I say pull down, Learn of the green world what can be thy place. . .” Ezra Pound
For seven years I’ve lived between Portland and Peaks Island, but my exploration of coastal Maine has been sadly limited. While I consider myself a resident of Portland I don’t always feel like a resident of the state of Maine, simply because of my ignorance of the region. Until now. Over the past month I’ve been fortunate enough to spend weekend in Georgetown, Maine, a small coastal community just north of Bath. This area is unique in its mix of woodland, marsh and rocky coast. Unlike summer, this time of year the penninsula where my friend P. lives is quiet, inhabited by just a few dozen residents.
Friends back home in Mississippi ask me how I can live in such an extreme climate. But extremes in the seasons are precisely what I love. Late fall is particularly poignant. By mid-November trees reveal dark skeletal branches, opening views to water and hillsides, and exposing a raw beauty. The green foliage of summer gives way to an abundance of gray and bronze.
The back view from P’s house overlooking the Atlantic.
Walks to the nearby beaches are solitary and peaceful, unless of course P’s two boys come along. Then it’s an adventure of scrambling up rocks and through thick brush, where the ground is spongey from so much moss. A few weeks ago I went out on a frigid night with P’s boys, who are seven and eleven. The darkness was absolute. So unlike nighttime in Portland, where light spills from shops and street lamps making it impossible to see anything more than the brightest few stars, we stumbled in the dark along the road. The Milky Way was distinct overhead, its smudged glow brighter than I’d seen in years. We made our way to a nearby beach and laid on our backs in the firm sand where the tide had just slipped out, admiring the spectacle above us.
An empty beach . . . heaven.
The boys beat us to the far end of the rocks.
Just an hour away from Portland, places like Georgetown remind me why I chose to live in the northernmost state in the country, on the far side of the continent. Yes, winters can be brutal. But out here I’m relieved of the need to accomplish anything at all, so consumed by this raw, serene beauty. Even better, I fall asleep in utter darkness and wake to the sunrise over the ocean. As these visits become more frequent, the bends in the road more familiar, the darkness more essential, I become less a stranger to this place. And it in turn feels more like home.
by W.S Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions.
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
“Meaure wealth by the things we can afford to do without.” From Rev. Tim Jensen’s Oct. 12th sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, Maine.
It’s a good time to consider what I can do without. I can easily do without a T.V. I can do without buying CDs and new books; the library will suffice. I can do without my favorite bottle of Australian red, though I treat myself every couple of weeks to a glass at Blue. I can do without a car and shopping at the mall, without tanning salons and botox. I can do without fancy meals in swanky restaurants, but I do love iton the rare occasion I have them. Most of all, I can do without the news.
I’ve put a moratorium on the news. The news only reminds me of the things I can’t control, and I don’t need to be reminded of that. I’ve known it for years. Listening to the news makes me feel small and full of fear. I am none of those things. So when I hear the news, I change the channel. I listen to classical or jazz, anything but the news. I’ve even been snagged by the worst country music. Those corny lyrics make me laugh, and I can’t afford to do without that.
I measure my wealth every day, and every day I’m grateful. I have a beautiful home in a great city, work I love, wonderful friends and family, a strong body and quick mind. It’s more than enough to get through this life.
So keeping today’s sermon in mind, I biked hard around the Back Cove and Eastern Promenade, because I can’t do without the sweat and breath of physical activity. I called my parents and my brothers, because they are anchors in my life. And I cooked and cooked until the windows steamed over, because food does more than fill my stomach. It fills me with joy and pleasure, and who can do without that?
Steamed cabbage . . .
Stuffed and baked!
Everyone’s talking about the news, measuring their losses. But I say it’s time to count our blessings and remember just how wealthy we are.
Maybelline says, “What me worry?”
Keep counting . . .
Recently I was invited to take part in a show called “Work of the Hand” at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art in Rockport, Maine. The exhibit showcases the work of fine craftsmen from all over the state and I’m honored to be a part of it. Over this past week I was able to complete two new small panels to include in my “Leaf Series”. As I mentioned in my last post, I want to focus on emphasizing the black lines, to make them a more prominent element of the design. Much of my interest in this was sparked by my work on an early Tiffany window at the studio where I do restoration.
The studio is on the 4th floor of an old mill just outside of Portland.
Here’s a detail of the original lead used in the Tiffany window. R. and I are the first to handle it since its creation over a hundred and twenty years ago! The layering is most unusual and adds an interesting dimension to the window.
“It’s like the original craftsman is looking over our shoulder while we work,” R. said.
So inspired, I took the idea another level, layering up as well as out. Here’s the result in reflected light.
Only on close inspection do you detect this sculptural element in the window.
Here’s the same piece in transmitted light:
The result is a strong graphic quality, an effect I want to continue to explore.
In preparation for the show, I had to come up with prices for my work. I’ve struggled these past few days trying to decide on just how to do that. What is the value of my work? It’s a question every artist faces, never easy to answer but one worth returning to from time to time. I consulted friends and family, and that helped somewhat but ultimately I had to make the best decision for myself. I want my work to sell but not at the lowest possible price. As R. would say, “Underpricing is just a race to the bottom.” I can charge a good price for my materials and labor but that covers only part of its worth; there’s also the spiritual and emotional value, which may resonate with one person but not another. Yet how does one place a concrete value on an abstract experience?
The night before I had to deliver my work to Rockport, I took these pieces down from where they hung in my home. I’d been looking at some of them for nearly a year, waiting to find the right venue for display. So many evenings I’d return from work to find the 6:00 sun had thrown their colors on an adjacent wall, where they shimmered for a few short minutes before their colors vanished with the shifting light. So many days I woke to the pieces glowing against the morning sky. So many afternoons while I pondered a nagging question about my future, my eyes wandered along their lines until I forgot the question at hand. I’ve grown to love these windows. I took such care in their making, in every curve of the their lines and with such love for the color and texture of the glass. Now that I’d cut them free and packed them for delivery, the windows in my home seemed so empty. I would miss these pieces if they sold. But I certainly hoped they would. What’s more, I hoped that whomever might purchase them would find their own comfort in the designs, their own pleasure in the hidden details.
Suddenly finding the right price didn’t seem so hard. To experience the value of my work first hand, to honor the time and energy I’ve spent in its creation is key to understanding its monetary worth.
The opening for the show is this Friday. Even if nothing sells, I’m happy to have had to opportunity to display them and I feel better at having answered by own question of “What’s the value of my work?”
Three pieces in the stairwell of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art.
“The hand is the window on to the mind.” Immanuel Kant, from Richard Sennet’s book, “The Craftsman”.
“Play is the beginning of knowledge.” George Dorsey
Wanting to step back from glass after finishing my last project and needing to bring a fresh approach to the medium, I decided to dabble with the left over watercolors I used to create the many mock-ups for my Tree of Life images.
Save for childhood forays in tempera, I’ve never been a painter. Painting always seemed so unbound to me, so wild. The stuff seemed to have an oozing, dripping life of its own. Frankly, I found it intimidating. There were too many choices with painting, too much white paper to contend with, too many ways to apply the paint, too many chances for things to turn to an ugly mess. Not to mention the plethora of brushes. While stained glass can be a frustrating in its rigidity and inability to blend, I’ve learned to appreciate the restrictions it imposes and the ever-present black lines that serve to join each piece of glass. But painting?
Fortunately, the watercolors I made for my last project introduced me to the idea that I might use painting to explore design ideas for glass. So on a rainy Sunday afternoon, unable to face the mess still waiting to be expunged from my studio, I took out the paints and commenced to play.
I began with the simplest of lines using two different brush widths, the only two I had, just to get a feel for things.
I never grow tired of green.
I found the activity to be surprisingly meditative and intimate, much like writing a letter.
I quickly slipped into my modus operandi and began simplifying the lines even further.
And further still . . .
Until I was left with a single line.
I found the mood of this line appealing. It struck me as somewhat calligraphic.
I was then reminded of the gorgeous nameplate on a Tiffany window from 1887 that I recently helped restore. Here’s a close-up photo of the nameplate in reflected light:
The leadwork is mindboggling. To accommodate the letters, the craftsman cut the glass in the most challenging of ways, in some cases working with pea-sized glass. Note the little scroll details in the curves of the 6’s. Astounding. This image is not far that from its actual size. Truly the work of a master. Set against natural light this delicious lavender glass becomes a phenomenal, firey wonder:
R and I have not stopped going ga-ga over this window.
It would be easy for me to go on and on about the glass, but Iet me return to the lines in this nameplate. Most interesting are how the black lines serve as an integral part of the design itself and not merely a structural element to the window. Though more compact and blockier than my watercolor lines, they too look calligraphic, not so unlike the work below:
See what I mean?
While I experiment with color and shape using paints, I’m also trying to find a way of giving the black lines more significance in my designs. I’m not sure where this exploration is going, but I plan to continue this watercolor play in hopes of bringing a new dimension into my work.
At the very least I’m producing my own line of original greeting cards . . .
The metalsmith, A, made an exquisite frame.
The steel was darkened with “gunmetal blue” patina.
After a few last minute changes (the overlays had to be removed . . . darn!) we delivered the window at 6 p.m. the evening before the hospital’s opening ceremony.
A and his wife were a great help!
There was no lack of pomp and circumstance on opening day.
A circus too?
Governor Baldacci and Barbara Bush were there!
How sweet of Barbara to come just to see my window!
The meditation room of the Infant’s and Children’s Wing.
The new home.
This has truly been the most challenging job I’ve ever attempted and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. That I’ve completed it to the best of my ability gives me a great sense of accomplishment. Despite some misgivings over particular aspects of its design, I’m thoroughly honored to have the window reside in such an important setting. To know the public may find hope and comfort in the work at a most stressful time in their lives is the most meaningful part of the whole experience.
Finally, I leave the window in its new home and turn my attention to other projects. Thanks to all the support I received from members of the committee, from R whom I work with who gave me so much good advice, from A who made the window complete with the perfect frame, from bloggers who responded so positively to my posts. And thanks to my family, who answered all my late night phone calls and cheered me on.
I’ve finished soldering the canopy and have moved onto the lower half of the window. Since I sadly had to abandon the delicous gold-pink glass that I’d planned to use in the “sky” I needed to find an alternative. I frantically searched through my stock of blues but they were jewel-tones, too dark for the window. It was too late to order more glass, so I absolutely had to find some way of using something from my inventory. After much digging, I found two fractured pieces of the palest blue glass I hadn’t used in years. I managed to alter the design to fit the odd shapes I had to work with, just enough to do the trick!
It always surprises me how the addition of the simplest lines create expression.
Before soldering, I added these copper foil overlays. I felt the larger pieces of sky and ground needed some simple embellishment. Overlays allow me to add lines without cutting the glass. The beauty of overlays is that they’re easily removed if I don’t like the results.
R. offered to fire my name on the glass, so it’s there for good. I carried the piece sandwiched in cardboard to and from my house on the bus to get to the studio where R. helped let me use her paints. That I made it home without breaking it is a small miracle.
Thankfully, my parents valued good penmanship.
The window just fits my work table. Thanks again to my dad who made the table sturdy enough so that I could crawl around on top to reach the center of the panel more easily.
And stand on top to take pictures . . .
All that’s left is my nameplate.
It’s nearly 11 p.m. I spent most of the day holed up in the studio to complete assembly, giving up a night of salsa dancing (sigh) to be sure I make the August 29 deadline. It was worth it — I’ll sleep well tonight!