THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter #7
With the forced discipline years between 1968 and1970 behind me, sculpture began in earnest in the summer of 1970. Now sculpture was always on tap, encompassing music, art, ballet and babies. Where life's lessons now blended ponies past, painters, sculptors, dancers, teachers and musicians with choreographers, composers and too.... with the most marvelous directors of fine art films such as "Amadeus," "Turning Point" and "To Kill A Mockingbird." My sculpture would come from this acquired library of sounds and images, which scrambled themselves into my head, and then found their way to my hands. I was determined to try to capture movement in my work and somehow, make it sing.
I do not think that we are aware of the building of a library for our very own personal use, but that is exactly what we are doing, whether we think about it or not. Everyone has such a library... a library of thoughts, ideas and experience. Sometimes, the volumes are just thrown at you in the form of life, and imprinted on your character, and sometimes, if you are lucky, you have a chance to select your own books. A fascination with movement and body articulations has pursued me throughout my career. It has chased me and I have tried to catch it.
Just as a photographer tries to catch his subject and hold it still, the sculptor takes something that is standing still and tries to make it move. It is this special certain something, which kisses each sculpture to life, so that ultimately, the work can live on it's own, quite independently of its creator. The experiences of life become the classroom for this endeavor, a classroom, which is open twenty-four, seven. Yes, "Movement is the tongue of life." Could I capture life's movements in bronze? I didn't know. What I did know was this: that life's movements captured in bronze would become the challenge. I sought to fuse this illusive quality of implied movements right into the soul of each piece.
Water based clays, all have their special needs and require constant attention. Wood and stone want their own rooms and welding with "kidd-letts" around the house was absolutely out of the question. So Wax and Plasticine became my weapons of choice in Sunshine, because they are safe and easy to use around the children.. You can put these materials away for any length of time and then pick them up again, whenever you choose, and continue on at any time, between the measles, mumps, and chicken pox.
After the "long sleep," I was seldom with out a ball of wax in my pocket. This kept the sculptures fresh and immediate. Whenever there was a spare moment between the house and the children, I could just pull out the old ball of wax and churn out another piece. And "churning them out" was a pretty good description. The remarkable thing was, that apparently no effort was needed to make these little wax sketches. Whatever was in my mind, now flowed outward through my hands. No "times of complete silence to foster concentration," were needed to create them, nor was a "private room away from the family activities" required. Sculpture just seemed to happen...and it happened right smack in the middle of breakfast, while watching the children play or in the middle of a telephone conversation with a friend...The stuff just happened. I could watch my hands, almost like watching someone else's hands do all the work, or so it seemed.
In just a few weeks, I had a number of finished figures, which I stored in the freezer compartment of the refrigerator, between the frozen meats and vegetables. Getting these little wax gems, cast into bronze would be the next step.
My husband had a few days off and volunteered to care for the little ones. Early, in the coolest part of the day, ( because I didn't want the waxes to melt) I drove to Noroton, Connecticut to work with Ron Cavalier, who owned and operated the Renaissance Fine Art Foundry. This was the beginning of a working relationship that was to last for many years to come. "Cast as much original work as you can and as soon as you can," Ron advised. "The costs are rising rapidly. Once you have your originals in bronze, you can use them immediately, or perhaps years later, but the important part is that you will have them. You can make editions from them or use them for enlargements and create new editions, in any size, based on this work and you can take these little fellows and make them grow up to life or even heroic-sized works for future commissions."
Life-sized? Wow! Now that, was a totally new idea to me! "Never forget that these little maquettes are your most valuable work," said Ron, "so take good care of them, and if you can...Hold on to them. These pieces are just wonderful and they will help you to secure new work, and new clients. You see, the customer is not always able to envision what a larger work will look like, otherwise he would be the artist, so it is up to you, to use these little bronze sketches to demonstrate to your client, just how the finished work will look. Now, come out back to the parking lot with me. I want to show you how to do this."
"Over here....See?.... You must hold this little figure... up.... against the sky. Now... photograph it so that there will be no sense of scale.....like so." Ron held up one of the small bronze sketches against the summer-blue-skys of Noroton. "Try to keep your hands and fingers out of the way." With one arm around me, he steadied my hand. We both stared at the little bronze sculpture, imagining beautiful photographs in the hands of nameless, future customers. "I like this one Sterett. It's got a life of its own. When you go back to Sunshine, why don't you make her life-sized and I will cast her for you. She will make a lovely Garden piece and this one will help you to get those future commissions. This is the one, which will help you to get started as a professional in the art world. Believe me, you will learn more from making this piece life-sized, than you did in all four years of college." Ron was right too. He gave me lots of advice about the "do's" and "don'ts" in the foundry. Flattery of course will get you anywhere you want to go. This was the first time I began to think about building a sculpture in a different scale....which is sort of like moving from scribbling a one line melody, to writing a full length symphony. I was blissfully unaware of this fact and had absolutely no idea what I would be in for, should I ever make such an attempt.
Ron Cavalier and I were to cast many works together. He was the beginning of my postgraduate education. He was correct in his assessment of the value of building a life-sized figure and he was right once again about the casting costs which, have gone through the roof!
Home again, the urge to take up Ron's challenge to build a life-sized figure was irresistible. I found that the professional enlarging services were so costly, that I decided to do this part of my project on my own. Total control could be exercised over the little wax figures which, represented exactly what I had in my mind, but translating them into big sculptures was something else entirely. The physical problems were enormous. More than once, the clay figures sat down on me or tumbled over onto the floor. The solving of these engineering problems was indeed the self-education to which Ron Cavalier had alluded. Many artists can make up exquisite little sketches and in fact, much of the artist's creativity comes from these little sketches. However, at some point an Architect, for example, must be able to move from the Architect's model and actually build the house. This is the same sort of challenge for sculptors.
I found a lovely artist's model at the University of Maryland named Blee ( Barbara-Lee) Furbush, who was completing her own degree in the arts. Barbara and I set out to "build a house together." She helped me transition from three small bronze sketches to completed life-sized, works of art.
See File #23 " Elise-Gillet-Boyce-of-Bacon-Hall "
File #24 " Cadwallader-Washburn-Kelsey-of-Lake-Avenue-Greenwich "
File #41 " Barbara-Lee-Furbush-in-Sunshine "
After three months of smacking the clay around with a butcher's knife, (my weapon of choice) a figure appeared which was based on one of my little bronze sketches. ( File #23 ) Then I called my friend John Sollennee. John was a master mold maker from the fourth generation of Italian master sculptors and mold makers. He drove all the way down from Bridgeport Connecticut to help me build a rubber mold for my first life-sized figure It took several days to accomplish our mission. We built a rubber mold right over the finished clay figure which, when you pull it off of the sculpture, looks rather like the inside of a Halloween mask, excepting that it is extremely detailed. So much so, that even my fingerprints on the clay were recorded in the rubber. It is an amazing process. The mold once completed, was lugged out to my pick-up truck and readied for a trip back to the Renaissance Foundry in Connecticut where we would be casting my first big figure into bronze. (File # 23) Over the years, John Sollenne made most of my sculpture molds. We were a pretty good team! One of my sculptures, of course, bears John's name!
I was off on an adventure that would become a lifetime addiction! So this is how I became a sculptor. Today, there are 286 original sculptures. Each one bears the name of someone who is important in my life. To each and every one of them, God bless and thank you. There are other things that make you a sculptor of course, because your entire life becomes your art. I have selected a a few more vignettes in order to give you a bit of insight into the making of the particular sculptor. This process is different for every artist, but this is how it was for me.
THE ANGEL'S STORY Chapter #8
Learning to love Life in Maryland
It is funny... I mean the things you remember about childhood.. My earliest memories are of those between three and seven years of age when my twin sister and I were inseparable. I thought we were one person. That's how it is with twins. We lived with our Mum and our Grandmother on a farm in Glencoe, Maryland. Glencoe is north of Baltimore, north of Towson, north of Timonium where the state fair was held, and north of Cockeysville, off the old York Road. Our telephone number was "Cockeyesville : 1.2.4.W " and our Daddy was overseas because World War II was underway. The farm was about 350 acres of rolling fields, which were separated from one another by crystal clear streams and unexpected springs, which would appear and disappear on any given day...The streams were clay lined and if one was in the mood, you could pull the gray clay up with your hands and fashion a pot or plate. In the early forties....today was today....and up to date....and modern....I did not realize that we were living a remarkably old-fashioned life style by today's standards. Looking back on those halcyon days...I discovered the foundation for my future career as a Sculptor of Dance.
The farm,"Bacon-Hall," was a child's dream world, and a place of endless fascinations. In those early years the farm was our entire world, although there would be special occasions when we would go to dancing class or drive to Baltimore to see Santa Clause in the Christmas Parade..... But mostly we lived exclusively on the farm itself.
There was a hog barn there, which sheltered any number of pigs in deep mud; a true pigpen of the classics. It was also a place to store bales of sweet clover hay and golden wheat straw. The farmer, Mr Shietz, let us stand on the over hang above the feeding troughs and help him slop the hogs....The feed for the hogs encased in one hundred pound bags, were made of gingham, calico and muslin prints. These feedbags were deftly transformed into dresses and bloomers on an old singer Sewing machine by our Mommy.
Close to the main house, was a smokehouse. A small, gray, wooden shed...rather crooked and set apart from the other buildings on the farm because that was where the hams were cured. We never went near the smokehouse. It was a scary place and always locked up...and now I know that it was locked up with good reason. There was a large chicken house, warm and friendly, with many hens and a few roosters to stir things up. And this they did on a regular basis because when the farmer's wife candled the eggs, we could pick out the eggs, which had baby chicks inside. We did not know exactly where baby chickens came from at that time in our live, but it really did'nt matter very much, because we were short and every day was magic and magic needs no explanation. Life just is....All we twins could think of was finding those eggs in their nests and bringing home as many as we could stuff in a basket.
There was another barn, far across the fields. Each barn had it's own distinctive smell and there would be no question as to which barn you were in either.
A huge barn, dazzling white in the morning sunlight and accented with red oxide paint over a tin roof, loomed up through the morning mists far across the pasture. This barn... "The Big Barn" was the one in which the "girls" lived.... and there lived ten or twelve "girls" which supplied us and those living on the farm with milk, cream and butter. At milking time the kittens, and O" there were always lots of kittens on the place, would line up against the oak walls of the horse's stalls which were opposite the cow stalls. A stanchion held each cow around her neck to keep her in one place so that the farmer could milk her. Mr. Shietz would grab hold of a teat, squeeze and spray the kittens with fresh milk, whose waiting mouths were open wide. The milk, thick and creamy would ark a path to the line up of hungry little ones.
Easy and I would try to help with the milking. Mr Shietz would let us sit on his lap while he balanced on a three-legged stool. It looked so easy, but our tiny hands were just not big enough or strong enough to get the job done. With my cheek up against the cow's warm belly, I would try so hard to make the milk stream from the udder to the kittens...but it never happened...No matter how hard we tugged and pulled on that patient old cow.
The milk was collected in silvery milk cans. Each one had a cap, which would slide snugly over the can’s long neck. It was carried down to the farmer’s house, where the milk was poured into an odd looking machine, which when cranked, would separate the cream from the milk. Milk was then poured into sparkling glass bottles and taken to the main house, which is where we lived. The extra milk was stored down in the meadow in a charming stone, Spring House. It was always cool and wet in there. I remember standing on tiptoes and pushing open the green wooden door. One would have to step over a trough of spring water which was about a foot or so deep, onto a cement square in the middle of the room. Icy cold spring water flowed through the trough. The silvery cans were placed into these troughs so that these icy waters would swirl around the bottom half of the steel cans, cooling and preserving the milk. This simple system got the job done. Milk, once it reached our house was kept in the icebox. Once chilled, some of the thick Guernsey cream was put into a churn..Churning butter was one of the farm tasks, which we could do ourselves and imagine that we were real farmers, contributing to the running of the farm...at least this was true, in a four old's mind. Churning butter was great fun. We would take turns cranking the cream and soon marvelous yellow lumps of butter would begin to float up through the cream. These floater of sun yellow butter were scooped from the churn and scraped off of the churn's wooden paddles. These soft lumps of butter were pressed together on a cutting board over the sink, where the excess milk would drain away and be saved for the hogs... and then...Voila! Butter by the bowlful!.
The butter was salted and gently paddled into one pound bars which were wrapped in wax paper and stored in the icebox. Every thing was cooked in butter on the farm. We never heard of the word cholesterol or diet There was no need to. There was so much activity in each day’s work, that whatever you ate, you would work off your body in jig time! And with all that butter … butter on eggs, butter on beets, butter on Lima beans, corn, and potatoes, sweet potatoes and turnips and breads and cookies and cakes .. lots of cakes and home made fudge .. My grandmother lived to be 99 years old!
Oh how we loved our grandmother... She showed us how to shuck corn and shell peas on the back porch in the late afternoon just before dinner. We baked bread and rolls and iced lemon teacakes together. We learned to use our hands.
There were wonderful days in the summertime, when all day long only corn was cooked and hacked of its ears and put up in Mason Jars. There were Beet days and Tomato days and days for Peas and days for Lima Beans … Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes, Turnips, Summer Squash and Winter Squash …O’ The earth gives us so much.
Chopping off chicken heads was also a favorite activity. I remember the farmer’s wife would catch the intended victim and clutch both of the hen’s legs in one hand. She lay the chicken’s head down on a chopping block … and then hack- whack … and it was off with its head. Released from her grasp, the chicken would run around in crazy ways with it’s wings spread out and blood spattering all over the place. Then it would flop over and be dead. The chicken’s eyes blinked a few times in its head and then … it too was dead. “Does that hurt?” I asked the farmer’s wife ….”Nope” she said … “Not a bit.” With that, we gathered up the dead chickens and started skipping to the main house …. We left the heads on the grounds for the crows to eat … at least that is what the farmer’s wife told us. Happily we tagged along …. looking forward to the next activity which was to dip the bodies of the chickens into scalding water. This process loosened the feathers, which could then be easily removed from the carcass. I loved pulling off the chicken’s feathers even though this process was a very stinky one. The smell of wet chicken feathers is a smell easily identified and one, which is not easily forgotten!
So this was farm life … You could see a direct result of all the work that went into the farm. The fields were plowed with teams of horses. “Topps” and “Gray Lady” were huge gray Percheron horses and Old “Joe Cook” was a Morgan breed, a small but agile little bay horse who was able to hold his own when he worked the fields. Riding on the backs of these gentle giants was a special treat at the end of the day. Mr. Shietz would hoist us high into the air so we could grab onto the hames. Easy and I rode double. Sometimes I rode in the front and sometimes in the back. We clung tightly to the harness. It was a long way down to the grass below.
There were occasional interruptions to farm life. Once a month a salesman would come-a-Calling to the farm. We could spot his old black car, far across the fields, as he bumbled along Gillet Road and through the old cement pillars, which bore the name of Bacon Hall. Slowly he would make his way up the quarter mile drive, lined on both sides with tall green pines. Racing toward the old car and yelling “Hi Mr. McNess”, we twins could hardly wait to see what kind of goodies he was bringing with him. Dressed in a baggy, dark flannel suit, this friendly fellow, short, round and bald, apparently had time enough to spend with us twins, as well as to catch every one in the kitchen, up on the latest “news from the front.” Easy and I would pour over his free samples which he carried in a large black suitcase. It contained all sorts of flavorings, such as pure vanilla and lemon extracts, puddings, herbs and spices, all of which were manufactured by a company named “The McNess Company”…. so quite naturally we children called him: “Mr. McNess.”
Sometimes the Fuller-Brush-Man showed up. The grown ups were always very interested in his stuff. They would slide their hands back and forth over each brush handle and scrubber, holding each one up to scrutinize its size and shape, and then imagine, how it would be a great benefit to the performance of their kitchen chores. After careful examination, a change purse appeared from my Grandmother’s pocket book. A purchase was made amid much chatter and the wire spring would smack shut the screen door in the kitchen. The Fuller Brush Man was gone.
There was a lot to do on the Farm. Every one had something to do. I do so miss my Grandmother. I was with her when we cut off puppy dog tails and cropped their ears at the vets, and with her when we pulled ticks off of the dogs and rubbed their bodies in yellow sulfur and lard … That was the best remedy of the day. I don’t know if it did any good but the dogs seemed grateful for the attention. She taught me to braid the pony's manes and tails and how to ride them, how to love them and care for them and clean them and polish their tack. I never remember an unkind word or a word of disapproval.