String Art

Margot Stage’s voice is known to many listeners of Boston’s public radio station, WGBH. She was a producer and host there for twenty years, but these days she is devoting more of her time to her art. She is one of the artists exhibiting in the farm’s outdoor sculpture walk this year.

We had already chosen a site along the wooded high trail, before the day of her installation. Margot and her husband, David Crane, also an artist, arrived with thirty-some balls of looped twine, cloth, and rope in varying shades of natural, white, and grey, bursting out of three large garbage bags. I drove these up to her installation site in our red golf cart-like ‘mule,’ rolled the heavy bags out of the back, and went off to help her husband install his wood pyramid sculpture, Nubian

Later, when I went back up to the high road to see how Margot’s installation was progressing, she had already finished. I walked among hanging orbs suspended on invisible strands of monofilament between the trees and across the path. I felt myself choking with emotion.

In 2011, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the year that followed was filled with surgery, chemo treatments, and radiation. When it was all over, I was tired, tired from my treatments, and tired of being tired. The canyon separating me from my artistic life seemed impossible to cross.

My studio is usually a bazaar of small bronze figures, wax figures, hammers, saws, power grinders, drills, found objects, wood, branches, stones, shells, wire, and fibers. The entire space is devoted to deconstruction and construction. Given my limited strength, I knew my choice of medium had to be simple. I wasn’t going to use power tools or carve wood. I chose string.

Without much forethought, I grabbed a ball of thick twine and began to make loose loops. Following a quiet rhythm, I made a knotted loop every ten inches or so. A large pile of looped twine accumulated at my feet. When the ball was finished, I picked up the mass by gathering a few of the loops together and hung it up from the ceiling. The collected twine hung down, while the loops projected out chaotically in all directions. It was a sculpture, a hanging field of texture and energy.

Intrigued, the next day I picked up another ball of twine, this one solid black. I looped for most of the afternoon, and then hung up the pile again. This one was smaller and felt very different—the black was ominous. While I was looping, there was no sense of accomplishment: nothing complicated, no self-expression, no thoughts about the outcome. While doing this repetitive work I felt at peace and serene. My only rule was that I would finish the ball of rope or twine that I started, no matter its length, before taking another ball. The month passed, and the dangling masses of looped rope, twine, and yarn swayed like strange sea creatures from my ceiling. Some shapes were stiff and short, while others dangled almost to the floor.

Detail of looped string

Detail of looped string

At that time, I was asked to propose a sculpture for a mill building that was being developed into condominium units, I asked Margot if she wanted to collaborate. “Wow,” she said in her deep radio voice, upon seeing the jungle of organisms filling my studio. We arranged to go to the mill together the following week. Thinking of the water source that fueled the mill, we came up with the idea for Source, a fifteen-foot free-hanging waterfall of looped ropes.

We used much of my looped material and ordered more. Then, each on our own, we looped quantities of string and rope. We met at the farm and began tying all these ropes together, cascading them from a second level porch. We used the thicker ropes at the top and added in smaller diameter ropes to echo the natural fall of water.

Installing  Source  with Margot, David Crane, & Blase Provitola in the tree.

Installing Source with Margot, David Crane, & Blase Provitola in the tree.

We didn’t get that commission; the developer decided against any art. Instead, we exhibited Source at Old Frog Pond Farm’s annual sculpture walk in 2012. But Margot and I decided we loved working together. We received a commission to make a waterfall that cascaded several stories over a central staircase for the Arsenal for the Arts, an art complex in Watertown. The Source material went into Waterfall, which then traveled to Cape Cod for an exhibition on the Provincetown dunes. When that exhibit was over, all the knotted ropes went into storage under my studio.

This past spring, Margot called with a question: “Linda, would you mind if I used the bagged rope and string material?” She had an idea for a new sculpture. I said, “Go ahead! It’s yours.” With this old looped string from our previous collaboration, Margot made a piece for the Art Ramble in Concord, Black Lives Matter. Then, as she was cleaning up from that project, she started winding the remaining string into balls just like a knitter does with loose yarn. These balls, became Orbs, Margot’s installation for the 2016 sculpture exhibit—the piece I was so moved by. Recognizing the material in many of the orbs as being the original looped string, I yelled, “Margot,” as I saw her walking towards her husband’s wooden pyramid below. “Wait for me!”

I rushed down to meet her. “I got so emotional seeing your piece,” I said. And we hugged.

Working in my studio after my cancer treatments had been the beginning of my creative spirit’s recovery. Margot’s new iteration with string, Orbs, reminded me again of the healing power of both art and collaboration. Come to the farm on weekends, now through Columbus Day, 11-5 pm, and let the art touch your emotions. Or join Margot and me on Saturday, October 1 at 2pm when we lead a guided tour of the exhibit.

Orbs , Margot Stage

Orbs, Margot Stage