Change is in the air. The studio that I moved into sixteen years ago with a truckload of metal, wood, and cloth is quiet. This studio that supported the work on projects such as the emotional fourteen panels of The Stations of the Heart, the outdoor sculpture exhibit A Circus Comes to Fruitlands, and the ten Zen Ox Herding sculptures, has no discernible pulse of life. It is now empty.
Before my arrival at the farm, the space had been used as an unheated garage for an old Model T. I did the cheapest and quickest redo to turn the space into my studio. I added heat, posts to support a dropped ceiling, fluorescent lights, and windows. The floor remained; its old boards spattered with oil and grease had character. In recent years, the studio has been a carnival of activity, a crowded side show with circus barkers calling out from every direction, “Finish me! Work on me! Pick me up! Use me! ”
I’ve made close to two hundred small sculptures with found objects, wood, stone, and bronze figures. Though many have sold, the studio feels cramped with surplus materials. I had hoped to extend the footprint with a construction project, but that plan was delayed and the permit lapsed. I didn’t have the heart to go back through the entire process of site plan review and other hearings. The studio is within the wetlands buffer and to enlarge it requires these approvals. But even without the enlargement, I still wanted to make a change.
With a couple of our farm workers, we carried out and stored the large items like my workbench and tables. We carried metal to one location and wood to another; the welder and tools went below the studio while paint supplies, tape and epoxy glues went to the house along with wax sculpture-making supplies. The studio emptied quickly and easily. Oddly, I was never bereft or hesitant about what was happening. I felt only a keen anticipation for the unknown ahead. If I try to think of a parallel situation, like emptying my closet and giving away most of my clothes except for the most useful items, it doesn’t feel at all related. This isn’t about clutter clearing; I gave away very few items. It has more to do with wanting to experience the blank canvas, the way a painter often prepares a fresh surface to begin a new painting. I want to experience an empty space before I begin to work again.
I remember reading that Japanese farmers used to write haiku in winter when their farms were at rest. But today agricultural production has expanded with the use of hoop houses and greenhouses to produce food for more months of the year. Farmers no longer write poetry because there is no break in the seasons. They have no time to experience the quiet, the emptiness, that inspires an expression of intimacy. There is no fallow ground. Emptying my studio feels like purposely leaving a field unplanted.
I will be making some structural changes inside the space. The ceiling will be opened to the roof over two-thirds of the room, and a new loft with dormer windows will occupy the other third. The west wall will have no windows — I can't wait to have one large wall with nothing on it. The south side will have more windows for two large camellia plants, a lemon tree, and a bird of paradise plant that live inside the studio all winter.
The improvements will be wonderful, but I know that the real improvement has already happened. I'm getting rid of things – old stories and habits. I am committed to re-entering this space in a quiet way so that I can listen to what my innermost being truly wants to do. The empty studio is an open heart where all is waiting, beautiful, possible, and vulnerable.
Fall is a good time for renewal. It’s that delicious season when the fruit is ripe for picking, yet the trees have already begun to store sugars for winter. Here, at Old Frog Pond Farm, we are only one week away from opening the orchard for pick-your-own apples, a most splendid time, yet like the trees, I too, am preparing for winter.