When my husband, Blase, and I were in Italy a month ago, we went to the Fortuny Palazzo in Venice to see the exhibit, Intuition – five floors of paintings, sculpture, and objects reflecting the theme. The exhibit began in a darkened room. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting, Versus Medici, 1982, hung on one end wall. Occupying his monumental canvas was a figure painted with exuberant colors, the body compressed as if the painter had to bend the limbs to fit all of it into the frame. Having just been to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, it reminded me of the trio of great Pre-Renaissance Madonna paintings by Cimabue, Duccio, and Giotto. However, instead of angels, alchemical symbols and his own unique graffiti glyphs surrounded Basquiat’s figure.

Like a priest facing their congregation, Basquiat's figure, one arm raised, gazed over the room. In this crypt-like space were raised beds of dark, rich earth. Planted in the soil were Neolithic sculptures — male and female figures found in Northern Italy and Southern France. These sculptures, standing four to five feet high, were astonishing in their purity and simplicity.

 'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

'Dame de Saint-Sernin', Statue-Menhir of a Female Figure, Saint-Sernin,Aveyron, Southern France, Late 4th-3rd millennium BC, Photo:LH

We didn’t want to leave the room, but what followed was equally inspiring. Juxtapositions of Anish Kapoor, Man Ray, Marina Abramovic, Odilon Redon, Ana Mendieta, Giacometti, and always in the background, informing the mystery of great art, an infusion of intuition.

Where does art come from? How do we know its truth? How can centuries of time separate two objects and yet we recognize that two similar psyches conceived them? The answers lie in our intuition.

Today, we are programmed by a glut of advertising. There is very little time in a day when the inputs of the contemporary world don’t influence us. As artists, and I use this word in its broadest context, as creative beings, it takes time away from these stimuli to hear the inner voice of intuition. And then, it’s not enough to hear a whisper. We need to remain with it, to be at the listen, if we are to have this ancient wisdom manifest in our lives.

Recently I heard a Zen teacher, Hojin Kimmel Sensei, give a talk in which she mentioned three words that have helped on her spiritual path — perseverance, wonder, and kindness. Actually “being kindness,” she explained, “not loving-kindness.” When I heard her speak these words, I knew they would also hold meaning for me. I also realized that they were good tools for accessing one’s intuition.

We need to persevere: we must be strong and dedicated in our intention. We need wonder — curiosity and openness. We can’t think we already know the answer. It is important to open our hearts to the wonder that exists at each moment. And we need kindness: in this clashing world of battering egos, we can find softness and solace when we act kindly toward everything we encounter — the earth, other beings, and ourselves.

These three directives are like the marble sculptor having a hammer, chisel, and polishing tool. I now, in turn, offer them to you. May they help you get through the density of the holiday season! And may intuition be your friend as you travel from the darkness into the light — whether she arrives in the style of a Renaissance Madonna, a Basquiat painting, or books made of bread, sculpted by the Italian artist, Maria Lai (1919-2013).

 Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH

Enciclopedia Pane / Bread in 17 parts, Collection Archivio Maria Lai, Photo:LH




East Fork Pottery

The canvas tote bag says, “East Fork is a vessel.”  But I know East Fork is the little itty bitty stream that moves through the property at the end of Ras Grooms Road, in Marshall, North Carolina. I remember sitting with my oldest son, Alex, on the concrete stoop of a rundown house at the end of rural road, far from anything, a barren bit of land where the sun doesn’t crest the ridge until 11 am. A simple shed, an old tobacco barn, a field plowed by a neighbor, and a mailbox on a crooked post occupied the flatland; the rest of the 40 some acres were steep and covered with gnarly dense rhododendrons and forest trees. Alex was feeling, “What have I done?” I was feeling the same, but didn’t dare say. It was a shocking beginning; the kind that forms a knot in your chest that can take a long time to unravel.

Alex had spent three years as an apprentice with two North Carolina potters, Matt Jones in Big Sandy Mush outside Asheville, and Matt’s teacher, Mark Hewitt in Pittsboro. Then it was time for him to go out on his own. Alex found this little ‘holler’ where the East Fork stream flows and, pressured by a real estate agent who assured him there would never be anything else available for a price he could manage, bought it.

I was visiting with Alex the day after he had signed papers. I would soon leave him alone in his little, dark house. It would take time and effort to set up a rudimentary pottery so he could begin making his own pots. Two men from down the street appeared, carrying a couple of six packs of beer. I feared that they would arrive daily to drink with him. I felt the fragility of my first born son at that moment; still young, not yet a man — finding out how to become one. I reflected that in some way he was doing what I had done when I left our family home, moved to a farm with an abandoned apple orchard, and began a new life. I knew personally the feeling of isolation and fear that comes after plunging into the unknown. But I was older and had more support. The changes at Old Frog Pond Farm took many years. I was worried for him.

Alex built a beautiful wood fire kiln on the site, and then set about making pots. Friends and family helped. It felt like a slow beginning, but two years after we sat on that cracked cement stoop together, East Fork Pottery was born, and hosted its first kiln sale.

 Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Alex in the Kiln, Photo: Nick Matisse (his brother)

Early on, Alex met a beauty from Los Angeles. What exactly she was doing on a goat farm nearby is hard to know. Connie’s prominent LA lawyer mother visited —  trying to understand why her Berkeley grad was now milking goats, and hoping she could delicately move Connie into the next part of her life. Connie and her mom were at the Asheville Farmers Market, when looking around for a friend for her daughter who didn’t say, “Maaa, Maaa,” Connie’s mother pointed to Alex and said: “See that boy, he looks nice. You should go talk with him.”  Eight years later, Connie and Alex have two beautiful babies, Vita and Lucia, and Connie is artistic director of East Fork.

 Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Connie and Alex in the Kiln. Photo: Nick Matisse

Alex could have followed in his mentors’ footsteps, opening Alex Matisse Pottery, but, instead, he wanted community. East Fork is a team of great potters, kiln firers, salespeople – and they're all under forty. This youthful group is creating a successful company that makes beauty and brings it to the world. Tall, thin John Viegland, another traditionally trained North Carolina potter, joined Alex early on. He is the financial manager and works at the pottery full time.

 John Vigeland in the Pottery

John Vigeland in the Pottery

One of their first hires was Amanda Hollomon-Cook. She is now production manager and potter, organizing all the numbers of plates, bowls, and mugs needed, and in what glazes. When she goes home, she works in her own studio on ceramic sculpture. Connie recently did a photo shoot with Amanda and her sculpture — a beautiful collaboration!

  Sculpture  Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

Sculpture Amanda Hollomon-Cook Photo: Connie Coady Matisse

I am proud to be Alex’s mother, and Connie's mother-in-law — and I still worry! But take a look at their website – their pottery, the other artisans’ work they promote, and the journal that Connie writes. You will want to be part of this back to the earth and into the marketplace movement! Clay dug from the hills of North Carolina, old world craftsmanship, skill, liberal politics in a not-so-liberal state. “Down with the patriarchy,” says two-year-old Vita. The only difficult family issue is that Connie is a Dodgers fan, and Blase, my husband, is ardently national league, he grew up in Malden outside of Boston. Otherwise, we all eat off plates stamped East Fork.                                             

east fork stamp.png

***While Blase and I are traveling to Florence and Venice for ten days, there will be a two-week pause in the blog.

Putting Down New Roots

My anticipation to re-enter my studio is growing. The studio has been gutted, old electrical wires stream in all directions like seaweed underwater, boards pulled from the walls lay with nails protruding. One part of the ceiling remains as a loft space with a raised roof and new windows. The other side is open to the eaves. There’s no insulation, lights, or finish, but I can taste the new space.

 Filled Studio, Empty Studio, New Construction - same view.

Filled Studio, Empty Studio, New Construction - same view.

I have always loved my studio, even at its most crowded, inefficient, and difficult to work with. It’s been my space. A space I can leave messy, where I can leave tools where I want, and only I need to know where to find them. It has always had its own organization, betraying its chaotic outward appearance. It’s been a shapeshifter — tables appearing and disappearing, floor space growing and shrinking, and hooks on the ceiling filling with nettles and mint drying.

But now all that is changing. Nothing inside hints at what has happened over the last sixteen years. What lies ahead is unknown.

When I moved in, I brought my materials with me — old tools, rusted metal, fabrics, and curious debris. I continued to make sculpture, sometimes exploring new themes, but always following a known path. Two months ago I emptied every iota of matter — the process took weeks. But, in another month or two, construction will be over and I will have an empty space, a blank canvas. I want to do something different, something that arrives not from the materials, but from inside my heart. A close friend who came in to see the progress asked about moving stuff back in, imagining the fun I would have arranging the space. I realized I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m not thinking about arranging anything, or moving anything back in. I’m only anticipating the experience of this new state of emptiness and my own creativity. I want to feel the art coming from my own body — stripped bare, and I am looking forward to sitting and feeling the empty studio in silence.

Yet, I know that this space can never be truly empty. I will carry the daily news will me: the dire situation of the unfathomable numbers of people displaced by frightening natural forces and horrendous human-caused tortures — their isolation, desperation, and need for help.

   The Way of Peace   installed in Lawrence, MA, Linda Hoffman

The Way of Peace installed in Lawrence, MA, Linda Hoffman

I am beginning to articulate new questions. What is it that I truly want to add to the world? Does art make the world more comprehensible, tolerable, sharable, beautiful? I’ve lived my life believing this. I am humbled by the enormity of the possibilities and challenges, and at the same time excited to meet this new space, share it, and see how it will influence my art. Planting new seeds in the studio, I'm hoping their tiny root hairs will find fertile ground.