12/01/2014

Thoughts from the Window Seat

I orginally wrote this in October, while teaching in North Carolina. Life having spiraled wildly this fall, I'm just now posting it.


The thing I love most about teaching is when my sharing of hard earned knowledge makes the lightbulb go on over someone else's head and sparks an idea that results in the birth of a creative object. It is a frequent yet always unique moment, a collaboration between my experience and another person's fresh awareness of ancient processes, and watching it take place is one of the greatest highs of my life, often more exhilaration than finishing my own work.

For those moments to happen, however, there is a great deal of logistics and planning that goes on behind the scenes before I ever board an airplane or drive a long distance to a workshop. While travel is no longer as glamorous as it used to be, I still thrive on it, yes, even the butterflies of watching years of my life stuffed in a bag, hauled up on a conveyor belt, zapped in a machine, and hopefully meeting me intact on the other side while I await the TSA massage, known as the "opt-out" pat down. I love the combination of known and unknown quantities, the new and the familiar faces and places, the layouts of studios with their same tools in a new to me arrangement. 

This summer and fall have been a bit of a whirlwind teaching tour. I've joked that my schedule is like that old movie, If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Belgium. If it's Metalwerx, it must be Russian Filigree (unless it's Friday, then it's All Chained Up). Truthfully, joking is just my way of enjoying the rapid pace of it all and my hope that my not being a one trick pony doesn't come back to bite me.

People often ask what things I get to see when I'm traveling to which I can only usually reply, "the studio, the surrounding roads, the place where I'm staying, some nice restaurants, and the lovely people." I've crammed in my share of museums on the way to or from an airport, but I've learned the past few years to let most of the sites go and opt for rest when I can get it.

As I write this, I'm curled up in an open window seat under a blanket of stars over the glow of water, listening to tree frogs and kaddydids and the occasional faint kerplop in the lake. A few weeks ago I enjoyed the lush fall colors of the Berkshires. Here in Tryon, North Carolina the leaves are just beginning to to show golden tips. I feel like I've cheated time. When I get home I'll get to watch the leaves change yet again this fall.

I tease my mate that every time I book a workshop, it's not a vacation opportunity for him. He teases me that my freqeunt traveling alone helps keep us married. What I've always enjoyed about traveling alone is that in between the bits of solitude I'm open to meeting the most extraordinary people and stories. Dining with people I've just met but feel like I've known for years, staying in the homes of people with whom I've only emailed is sort of an upscale mature version of youthful backpacking through Europe.

Given we artsy types' tendency to gravitate towards each other, perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that I meet and often stay with so many kindred spirits on my workshop journeys, but it is always a delight. I live in a somewhat carefully constructed bubble of art and fine craft. We find each other not through our online profiles but through the images of our work and our desires to keep timeless processes alive and evolving. Fine craft being a small world, of course there are common threads between us, yet I never cease to wonder at the serendipity of it all.

Tonight I had a marvelous dinner with my hosts at Tryon Art and Craft School, who confessed that bringing me here to teach is what made them get to know each other and become close friends. At Metalwerx two students just happened to sit next to each other but bonded to the point I didn't realize until halfway through the workshop that they'd just met. They remind me of a student from Victoria and another from Raleigh, who met years ago in one of my workshops and who, last I heard, were still in touch though one now lives in Bali. Metalsmithing... It isn't just metal that gets forged.

When I become aware of these stories, I smile and laugh and say it's wonderful, that I'm honored, but my quasi introverted self kicks in and spoken words feel pathetically inadequate to express my awe at having a part in other peoples' connections. Hidden alone under the stars I confess that it's not the ragweed pollen making me tear up.

As an only child who grew up painfully shy and escaped into making things, I don't think of myself as a people person. Telling random strangers at parties what I do for a living takes all my best learned networking and marketing skills to endure. Among my fellow moms, I'm the one with her head buried in her work and not talking nearly as much as the others. I have endless patience for people who want to learn, but for closed minded know it alls I have too busy a schedule.


As a traveler in my carefully constructed bubble of art and fine craft, I feel that what I bring is knowledge, experience, and a unique way of looking and learning ancient technology, and what I carry home are people's amazing stories with which they have entrusted me, stories of joy, loss, and pain, and through them all creativity runs. In the stories I find endless endurance and strength encased in fragility much like the artwork we create.

1 comment:

John said...

Nice piece, as always, V. It's wonderful to be so engaged in something you love doing - and get paid for it, too!