Dedicated to Annette Barbara Weiner (1933–1997)
I was recently prompted to read “Once More to the Lake,” the essay E. B. White wrote about returning to his childhood summer home, this time with his eleven-year-old son. For White, then 43, memories flooded back as he gazed at his son’s hands on the fishing rod. White no longer knew who he was—the son of his father or the father of his son. Disturbed by this unsettling dichotomy he wrote:
I looked at the boy, who was silently watching his fly, and it was my hands that held his rod, my eyes watching. I felt dizzy and didn't know which rod I was at the end of.
What is passed between parent and child, and how does this happen?
Generations is the title of the current exhibit at Hopkinton Center for the Arts, and the title refers to the relationship of the two exhibiting artists, my daughter, Ariel Matisse, and myself. Less than two years ago, Ariel decided to make an outdoor sculpture for our annual sculpture exhibit at the farm. This was the summer after she helped with the exhibit, After Apple Pruning . Taken with using wire while working on a collaborative sculpture for that exhibit, Ariel wanted to make a wire tree and asked to use a hollow log I had in the studio. I’m always fascinated with hollow logs—the form and the emptiness. The heart sutra, chanted daily in all Buddhists monasteries, says, Form is emptiness, emptiness is form. Ariel wanted to gold leaf the saw cut, the way I have done since making the six-part Inside the Ordinary Maple in 1998.
“Of course, I will show you.” First you sand it smooth, gradually using finer sand paper. Then it needs to be urethaned to seal the wood. Moisture seeping up into the gold leaf will lift it. Then you need to apply the sizing and wait for it to be the perfect tackiness to receive the leaf.
Gold leaf is between .1 and .125 millionths of a meter or micrometers. One thousand sheets will equal an ordinary piece of paper. It’s not something you can grasp with your fingers. To pick up a small fragment, you will find a soft watercolor brush is useful, rubbing it first in your hair to create some static electricity. For large areas, I use a rolled leaf that comes with a thin backing material. Once the leaf is placed down on the sizing and pressed in gently, you lift off the backing.
Ariel and I sat around the log each on our stool, our hands moving together. I watched her fingers. They knew how to hold the tools, to feel the smooth surface of wood, to lift the backing. I showed her how to shine the gold, to burnish it with a cotton ball.
Then the project was all hers. Cutting wire to length, hanging this Medusa head of tangled wires from a hook on the ceiling, bending, shaping, counting the complex pattern. Twisting the roots and drilling the ends into the trunk. Where did she learn all of this? When? What is transferred between mother and daughter? Or, father and daughter ? Ariel’s father is a gifted ‘maker of things’, as he likes to say.
When the director of the Center, Kris Waldman, needed a show to fill the slot from January 25 to March 15, my name was suggested. She came to the studio on December 24th and took photos. As she was leaving, I said I’d like to do the exhibit with my daughter. She was surprised at first, but then I pointed out two of Ariel’s pieces, Spiral, on the wall, and Willow, her first tree, the one we had gold leafed together. Ariel then sent Kris photos of her newer work.
Kris chose sculptures from each of us and suggested the title for the exhibit. One of my pieces is, Filling the Vessel, a large five-panel sculpture I made in memory of mother. In the gallery, it faces the wall of Ariel’s sculptures. I feel I am in between the two of them. I relate to E.B. White’s uncertain feeling of no longer knowing who he is.
I seemed to be living a dual existence. I would be in the middle of some simple act, I would be picking up a bait box or laying down a table fork, or I would be saying something, and suddenly it would be not I but my father who was saying the words or making the gesture.
Recently, my art no longer feels like something I own; it belongs to something more fluid, a stream, a flooding of creativity across generations. I’m playing my part, doing what is in front of me, inhabiting my life as fully as I can, yet letting it flow. E.B. White describes how, while in the boat with his son, “A school of minnows swam by, each minnow with its small, individual shadow, doubling the attendance, so clear and sharp in the sunlight.” He seems to be seeing himself as one of these minnows, insignificant, one of the schooling fish. It’s points to the conundrum of form and emptiness. The shadow and the real are inseparable. White is not father and not son; and both father and son—a beautiful rising and falling of creation. The living and the dying, and the what never dies.
We hope you will see the exhibit at the Hopkinton Center for the Arts, Hopkinton, MA, and perhaps join us at our reception on Friday, March 1; 6–7:30 p.m. The gallery is open Monday–Saturday, 9–5 p.m. and during the center’s evening events. The exhibit is up through March 15.
My mother, Annette Weiner, would be so happy to see the exhibit. If I had thought of it earlier, I would have suggested we exhibit one of her paintings along with our sculpture.
When my mother went to college, she already had two children ages six and nine. Starting out as a Fine Arts major at the University of Pennsylvania, she then changed to anthropology and went on to earn a PhD the year I graduated from high school. As in the orchard, the cycle continues from seed, to blossom, to fruit. This poem by Dawna Markova says it well.
I Will Not Die an Unlived Life
I will not die an unlived life
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance;
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.