Thursday, September 16, 2010

Haunted by that place ONCE again...

I have a great deal of history in New Bedford. I found my head wandering there again. I find myself dwelling on the spirits of the place when my work changes. I always wonder what that means when I have a firing to be a part of. I am not sure why, but it seems that my life has managed to create this huge circle that keeps passing through New Bedford and it is overlapped by many other circles that somehow relate.

My parents were friends with this couple who had 8 kids, they moved to New Bedford when I was in grade school. We kept in touch and I spent a great deal of time hanging out in that whaling port. I loved the city life. It was so different from home. Not to mention all those different relationships in one place...but there was something else. New Bedford has a spirit about it that is hard to shake, not a spirit in the sense of a personality, but a spirit in the sense of the paranormal. You can feel its ancestry. It almost hangs in the air like a really thick blue gray fog even on the sunniest of days. This life seems to be connected to past lives like a cord that cannot be cut.

When I was 17 I ran away from home with my friend Cary. I ended up in the North End. I stayed with Denise and her husband. Cary and I had grande plans. We wanted to find work, get an apartment, have a bottle of wine in the fridge, go to art school. The most interesting thing was that the school I would have gladly attended was Swain. This was back when Swain was this tiny no name art school, not yet a part of Boston University. UMASS Dartmouth was still called Southern Mass University. The Starr store was still a place one went for clothing and handbags and the Northend was so sketchy it was hard to find a cabby that would drop the two of us off without someone answering the door of the house we were going to. I ended up going home after a week and a half stay, my mother and I reconciling to some degree. A semester later I headed out on my own adventures in New Paltz and started to hang out with a bunch of grad students who made their way there from Boston University. Now, 25 years later, I am firing with the former department head at UMass Dartmouth who came to the school from BU's school of Artistanry which took over Swain and the Starr Store where they built its studios in the early 90's. Do you see connections yet?

One time when I was working preparing for a firing I was asked to remove hundreds of nails from this creosote soaked wood that came from a 100 year old mill that had burned down. It was a mill that I had remembered as a kid and I was told it went up in a firestorm one night. I felt like I needed to take those nails and do something everlasting with them. I took a handful home and fastened them into a basket form, weaving the rustiness together with silver, gold, and black and white akoya pearls. The resulting basket has the appearance of a spider web. I called that piece Buzzard's Bay, and to this day feel a connection to that particular work that is hard to shake. I speak about this because each firing seems to have some energy or event attached to it that makes a mark in my own personal history. It was during this firing that I had an encounter with a few ghosts in a dream and that haunting lasted well into the next day of kiln loading. It has me freaked out to this day. It was also a firing where my work had made a step forward.

One day...I would like to walk the routes I used to walk with Denise, just to see what it feels like now. Start on Cottage and walk to West beach, or to the state pier, or to Buttonwood Park, or even all the way to Bishop Stang HS in Dartmouth. Heck, I would even love to take the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and walk to Edgartown. As I sit and reminisce, trying to understand why it has such a hold on me. I think about how much I used to walk while I was there, no wonder there is a connection to the past. I have seen the past written on its walls and in its streets and I have experienced things that could only have only seen on foot. When you walk you are part of the environment, not just existing in it.

My work this time is connected to a woodcarver that I met in Korea. He carves his soul in and around his Buddhist life. The past with all of its spirit rises to meet him. It inspires him to continue. It drives him. He is as much a part of that ancestry as it is a part of him. I think about my last series, which was driven by my trip to London, it was driven by my faith, or the questions about it. This new work seems to be taking hold in similar means. I spent years in New Bedford running away from my home life. It was an escape, a place to contemplate my faith in the world. Now? I am all grown up, still working on the faith questions, using my artwork along with personal locomotion to find the answers. I find it more than remarkable that New Bedford is still in that equation.

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