A is for Art

“A work of art is not a piece of fruit lifted from a tree branch: it is a ripening collaboration of artist, receiver, and world.”
                                                         —Jane Hirshfield

Outdoor sculpture is always collaborative. The placement of the work, the ripples of water, the sunlight, tree bark, wind, and moss, all interact with the art. One Sunday morning in early August, a few weeks before the farm’s outdoor sculpture exhibit opened, I found myself alone — a rare event. I walked down to the studio. Warmed by the sun I decided I would ‘do some art’ outdoors. Working with dried branches from a Harry Lauder Walking Stick plant, a sculpture came together easily and spontaneously, making me doubt its worth. But as I walked past it in the week that followed, experimenting a little more and making a few changes, I decided there was something to it and included it in our outdoor sculpture exhibit.

Sitting in Limbo, Linda Hoffman

Sitting in Limbo, Linda Hoffman

Last week, a visitor to the exhibit wrote, “My favorite was Sitting in Limbo. I was looking at it, then the wind began turning it around, and I received the beautiful surprise of the meditator sculpture.” 

Sitting in Limbo, Detail

Sitting in Limbo, Detail

Inside, at the very center of this labyrinth of branches, sits a small meditating bronze figure. Inside the cacophony of the world, there is quiet. This viewer had her own collaborative experience with the wind and the sculpture. It surprised her — and we all delight when nature reveals something previously unseen. Her note to me was also a sweet surprise. Often artists don’t have any idea how their work is received.

Growing apples is also a collaborative endeavor. Soil, weather, the unique characteristics of a particular tree and the orchardist are all part of the cooperative effort of growing fruit. But applepicking is different than growing apples, and this is where I get into trouble. People come to the orchard to take home organic apples, not to have a transformational experience. In my truest of hearts, I am not an orchardist, but an artist; and I don’t particularly enjoy when people come to the orchard as if it was a supermarket with a commodity to grab and pay for. In fact, it’s best that I am not at the farmstand greeting and selling bags. Most problematic for me is that people have their own ideas about reality. Apples should look a certain way, and they should not have any blemishes. As an orchardist, I know that I could do better at growing our fruit, and I could focus on the varieties that the public most desires. But the work of artists is to show that there are other realities. Something lives behind appearances that the artist struggles to reveal. There are complex tastes inside apples such as Blue Permain, Caville Blanc, and Lyscom. Not all apples need have the delightful crunch and sweetness of a Honey Crisp, though there is no denying it’s a delicious apple.

As apple season closes, I realize how much I miss the epiphanies of the creative process. I miss the opportunity to be transformed by art. Especially when I look under the trees at all the apples knocked off, or tossed down with disdain because of some blemish, Jane Hirshfield’s words articulating the distinction between the collaborative nature of art and the casual singularity of picking an apple tugs at me. It’s something I have struggled with, yet failed to acknowledge. It is tied up with whether I am an artist or an orchardist — because it is hard to do both well.

Right now, however, as I try to make sense sitting inside my labyrinth of thoughts, I dream of the possibility that our small orchard can become a place where there is a ripening collaboration between the picker, the grower, and fruit — Applepicking as Art

A String Workshop


Pick up a ball of string or rope at the hardware store. Choose one that appeals to you, that resonates with you. It could be nylon and yellow, or natural jute, clothesline, or cotton.

Session One: Introduction

We'll take a seat around the work table with chosen material and begin by asking why we chose this string and not the fifty or so other options.

For example, some strings are quite thin; others are smooth. The one I have in my hand is nylon braided – I can see the tufts at the cut end have frayed, with the outer nylon opening outwards and the finer strands from inside standing up. I didn’t realize at first how many strands there were inside and how the wrapper holds them so tightly together. I wonder if I take it apart further what I will discover.  

There are manila ropes, cotton ropes, polypropylene ropes. Some are twisted; others are braided. What does yours look like? 

Session Two: Finding Your Way

Unravel some of it, play with it, tie it, untie it, loop it, braid it. Then recall that this is the thread of your life. There have been slack times, tightly stretched periods, twisted times, and knots. Sometimes there’s a knot that is so tight you can’t find a way to loosen one of the strands. You give up, leave the knot there, and go on.


Can you call to mind one of these times? A change in your life, the death of someone you love, or even a small knot, such as when you answered too quickly. Can you see that every event is connected to everything else? My own knots are like rosary beads: I know my way by touching them.

Session Three: The Way it is

Read the following poem by William Stafford:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it, you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

What has been the dominant thread that you see weaves through your life? How has it supported you? Have you lost it and then found it again? The golden thread throughout my life has always been art. What is yours? What are some of the other strands?

Filling the Vessel, Linda Hoffman,  in process 1999 

Filling the Vessel, Linda Hoffman,  in process 1999 

Session Four: Your Golden Thread

Share some of your string with another participant. Find a way to weave the two strings together. Do this without speaking. Then talk about what you created with each other.

Source, Linda Hoffman & Margot stage, installed in Worcester

Source, Linda Hoffman & Margot stage, installed in Worcester

Session Five: Creating a Sculpture

Make loops with your mass of string. Let it fall to the ground. Then pick it up and hang it from the ceiling. We’ll look at everyone’s unique creation.

Then we will clip some of everyone’s string and tie it to our own string mobile.

Notice how in your sculpture your string is still dominant, but the other strings add color and texture, accents, and interest. Your string is the support and your creation is unique.

Session Six: Letting Go

Bring a few objects to our next session to add to your string. Words in wire, sticks, a nail, a shell. Nothing that you are attached to and wouldn't mind losing. Put out on the table all but one of your objects. Walk around and choose a few objects and then add these collected objects to your string mobile. We’ll walk around together noticing how we feel about our chosen items distributed on the other mobiles.

Look at your own piece and share your reaction to it. Does “I don’t like mine” or “I like mine” occur to you? Now, recall that this is your life. Grab and hold and love it. Form it some more. Keep shaping it. You can’t discard it. Keep using it.