Read to the end for some very good news!
With half my readers being in the US, I feel the need, or perhaps the pressure, to say Happy Thanksgiving. While there are many things I am deeply grateful for, such as all of you very dear followers of my work(!), I have to admit this is my least favorite holiday. I’ve always thought of it as having all the stress and expectations of Christmas but without the cool presents. The best and most redeeming things about Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas falling in a row was getting to watch the holiday Peanuts specials on TV back before VCRs had been invented.
Unlike Peppermint Patty, my eight year old self would have been thrilled to be with my friends around a ping pong table, eating a feast of popcorn and toast, prepared by Snoopy and Woodstock for Charlie Brown and his friends. I could never quite understand why Charlie Brown was so relieved and happy to take everyone to his grandmother’s house when they could have basked in the freedom of his back yard sans adults.
Oh, I got it in theory, Charlie Brown’s grandmother was warm and generous and offered turkey and dressing with all the trimmings. In my reality, however, I had two bickering grandmothers who spent all our time with them bitching and fussing that we had been or were headed to the other one’s house. I just wanted to stuff my face with dressing and mashed potatoes in peace. Never happened.
At some point near adulthood, I learned that many hundreds of thousands of people performed the Thanksgiving ritual as revolutionaries: they ate around 4:00 PM or, gasp, even as late as 7:00 PM. Thanksgiving Dinner was actually dinner.
Not in our family. Both sides fought for the crucial territory of serving lunch that we would eat come hell or high water. This had nothing to do with kick off times. No one was really into football. Lunch was just the established norm “because they said so.” One set complained we had to eat at 11:30 so my parents and I could be at the other set by 1:00 to do it all over again. The second set complained we couldn’t be there at noon. I spent more time watching people carrying serving dishes to dining room tables than I spent eating.
Perhaps that’s why I’m known around our house as “Madeleine Albright.” No, not because of the insight of her brooches but because I’m really good at finding alternative solutions that no one else had thought of. Call it my functionally problem-solving my way out of a very dysfunctional childhood. Somewhere, somehow, if you ponder the problems long and carefully enough, there is always a third option, an answer that creates less sacrifice and icky compromise and provides more solutions for everyone or, as in the case of art, everything. Ask my immediate family or anyone with whom I’ve worked closely, and they will tell you my motto is “There is always a way that is probably an even better option.”
If I’m working on a small scale, I turn the pieces over and over in my hands, sometimes for an hour, but I figure out a way to form or join things even when I’ve hit a road block and worry that a complicated piece in progress is destined for the refiner. Soul Cloud was designed to be a long spiral of 18 and 22 karat gold filigree. I began bending the finished filigree without looking at my drawing and so formed it intuitively but not as I’d planned (upside down and backwards as a matter of fact). When I realized my expensive, time consuming mistake, I tossed it in the safe then packed to go teach in North Carolina. During the workshop, the piece kept popping up in my thoughts, which I would shove aside to keep teaching.
When I got home, I dug around in the safe to find different stones from the one I’d originally planned on using. There was this utterly amazing opal I’d been saving. The formed filigree hugged the opal’s unusual shape as if I had designed them to go together all along. Jewelers always start with stones, but I’m not merely a jeweler. As a fine artist and metalsmith, I’m perfectly happy to start with the proverbial chicken or the egg. This is what happens after 30+ years of expertise. The intuition-designed art is as good, or sometimes even better, than what was planned.
When I was working on the Turtle Doors, or as we liked to call them, “The Turtles from Hell” because of how many hours they could eat in a day, one of the corners warped and bulged badly after I’d wrapped the nearly finished copper sheet around the frame. Not ok. My amazing assistant De Pastel kept verbally troubleshooting it with me but everything we did only made the problem worse. It was like that old slapstick routine with comedic undertakers trying to make a corpse’s arm not point up in the air, but when they push it down, the leg shoots to the ceiling. The cause and effect were instant and highly undesireable.
When you make a problem worse in metal, you’re also work hardening it. We weren’t just running out of time, we were running out of the precious intersticial spaces between molecules in the 61” tall doors. Those incredibly small spaces are the magic of physics that make metal malleable.
Finally, I asked to be left alone with the problem. De didn’t want to abandon me, but I insisted. I know how metal behaves, what makes it do what it does in all conceivable circumstances. I just needed to concentrate in order to see that third option lurking in the bulging warp. I sat and stared at the corner, imagining how the metal would behave if I hit it there, or there, or there. Suddenly, I knew where to hammer to smooth out the bulge without creating one somewhere else. When De came back outside, I’d fixed it. All eight corners of the two doors matched.
You might rightly guess that if I were to make the obligatory gratitude list, it would include the freedom to be an artist and the opportunity to work on new and highly original projects of all sizes and many media. It would likely also include that we finished The Turtles from Hell and their sister project on time back in 2017 (though I still have nightmares) and that that boat (a 69 meter superyacht) has long since, literally set sail. My list would certainly include my son and husband, new puppies, close friends and family, customers, and collectors that like what I do enough to keep me living indoors to do it.
At the moment, I’m particularly grateful that my husband has decided to skip the Kitchen Olympics. We’re having pizza for Thanksgiving, and we’re eating in front of the TV to watch endless episodes of Loony Toons, Snoopy, and 2 Stupid Dogs (the cartoon…ours are terrifyingly smart). Despite all that matriarchal insanity of my childhood, I still miss my grandmothers. These were the women who slipped me chocolate when my mother wouldn’t let me have any. Nothing was ever right, or good enough…or drama free in their world, but I remember their occasional laughter when they’d venture out of the kitchen, and I can still taste their turkey and dressing.
RIP, Johnnie Jo and Margaret. You wouldn’t believe what I get up to these days, and you likely wouldn’t approve, but I’d bet you’d nonetheless crack a smile at your torch wielding granddaughter. You’d certainly hook me up with cake and cookies. And to everyone far and wide, may your Thursday be filled with whatever makes you happy.
*For those who aren’t Douglas Adams fans, “I never could get the hang of Thursdays” is the line Arther Dent utters when he learns the Earth is about to be blown up to make way for an intergalactic super highway, and Arther’s friend Ford Prefect is whisking him off as a stowaway on a Volgon spaceship. You don’t need to like sci-fi to enjoy The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but an appreciation of absurd British humor is good. Around here, we utter Arthur’s response at least once a week.
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