Generations

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. 

Inside the Ordinary Maple, wood and gold leaf, LH

Inside the Ordinary Maple, wood and gold leaf, LH

 “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.

Tempo V  , Ariel Matisse

Tempo V, Ariel Matisse

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.

Left: Ariel Matisse,  In the Garden,  2019, copper wire, walnut, 11" x 6" x 5½". Right: Linda Hoffman,  Long-Legged Man,  2006, bronze, branch, wood block, 65" x 16" x 16".

Left: Ariel Matisse, In the Garden, 2019, copper wire, walnut, 11" x 6" x 5½". Right: Linda Hoffman, Long-Legged Man, 2006, bronze, branch, wood block, 65" x 16" x 16".

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.

Tree  , Annette Weiner

Tree, Annette Weiner

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,
more accessible,
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.

 

All About Art

A friend of mine paints barns. That is, she makes paintings of the same barn over and over, in all seasons and at all times of day. The angle of her view may shift or the size of her canvas, the palette, or the medium, but the barn remains, a presence in the landscape. In fact, it feels inseparable from the earth, as if she was a painting a mountain or a great tree. Brenda Cirioni’s barns are rooted and alive.

But the real barn, the barn that she connects with through her painting, no longer exists:

When I was sixteen years old my family home burned to the ground. Memories of that experience – both visual and visceral – surfaced in 2012 and found expression in Barn Series.

It was years after the event that Brenda realized that she had never truly mourned that frightening loss. Painting is a way to heal our wounds, even the hidden, unarticulated ones.

The first Barn Series Painting, 2011, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

The first Barn Series Painting, 2011, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

As artists, we are fortunate when we find a subject that captivates us. Like many people, I have an attraction to the natural world, to old objects and worn tools. Growing up with an anthropologist mother and traveling with her to Mexico and Guatemala, as well as to India and Papua New Guinea, I learned to respect material culture and appreciate how it reveals information about people and their worlds. I have a natural affinity for old objects and textiles because they connect me to my childhood and early adolescence. I use them in sculpture, often combining them with small figures. I play.

I think of art as a form of play that connects our inner and outer worlds. Children play naturally. Children like to arrange things, to build towers, to line up stones on a beach, or arrange a series of stuffed animals on a shelf. Artists, when painting a landscape or making a sculpture, also arrange objects. Brush strokes form buildings or trees, people or abstract shapes. If I want to paint grasses that are dark green at the bottom and become pale above, I stroke the canvas with color in a particular pattern and with an intensity and intentionality to recreate the density of green below and the lighter colored, thinner reeds above. It’s the way I imagine Brenda paints a barn, filling her brush with color and forming the angles, the light, the textures — all with intuitively complex decision making that no one else can replicate. It’s authentic playing — the playing of an experienced artist.

When we are self-conscious and trying too hard at this art making, it feels all wrong. It’s only when we find the sweet spot that has similarities to child’s play that discoveries happen. I have a friend who has recently become obsessed with mosaics. She has a tree stump on which she hammers stones to break them down into small mosaic pieces. She then fits them in patterns, setting the stone shards in cement. She loves this work — and can’t find enough time to spend at her mosaic table. She is tapping into her true self. As she breaks these rocks from the earth into small pieces and arranges them in a specific way with colors and shapes, I feel like she is breaking down difficult places in the world and creating peace — like she is breaking down the hard places inside of herself and turning them into art.

Untilted, Shea Ikusei Settimi

Untilted, Shea Ikusei Settimi

Children play with stones, soil, sand, containers, the contents of the kitchen utensil drawer, anything that they can pick up. When we become an artist, we reconnect with that innocent and serious play. Many of the sculptors exhibiting this year at the farm’s annual sculpture exhibit play seriously in this way. Barbara Andrus strung curly willow twigs across the pond. Is this so different than lining up teddy bears? Of course it is – and there is much more work involved and commitment to her vision, but the essence is still there.

We’re fortunate when we find a medium that appeals to us and that we can work and develop. Alicia Dwyer’s Dyads are eyes that peer out from among the forest trees. They seem to be staring at us as we walk along the path; we have the uncomfortable feeling of being followed. Painted on aluminum flashing, the Dyads were made eight years ago, her first time working with aluminum. She has continued with this medium, creating armor women, and this year, a new piece in which beautiful butterflies suspended in captivity remind us of the refugee problems in many parts of the world.

My daughter, Ariel Matisse, has found that wire is her chosen medium of expression. For the sculpture exhibit, she’s making a willow tree growing out of a hollow tree stump. The willow trunk is a twisting shape made from a fistful of long wires, where one end forms the branches and the other the roots. She uses a ball peen hammer to flatten and make the branches reflect light. She grew up watching me drag tree trunks home from the woods or from a trip to Cape Cod. I can easily see my influence on my daughter and also how her own truth leads her in a new direction.

On Samantha Pasapane’s website she writes, “I love steel.” Samantha will be bringing a new sculpture in her Savaging Series to the farm.

Savaging, Smantha Pasapane

Savaging, Smantha Pasapane

Lydia Musco has already installed her sculpture, Organizing Echoes with Ash, on the concrete pier in the middle of the lower pond. The title of her sculpture suggests ‘creating order.’ Lydia’s column is made of ceramic tiles that she combines and stacks. Her sculpture, though abstract, entices the viewer to linger with its physicality. I see a figure or even two figures together, and then when I look again, it seems to be echoing the play of light on the rippling water. 

Organizing Echoes with Ash , Lydia Musco, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm, 2017 Photo:LH

Organizing Echoes with Ash, Lydia Musco, installed at Old Frog Pond Farm, 2017 Photo:LH

Art making connects us to something original inside us, to a truth about who we are and how we relate to our world as human beings from our very origin. Brenda Cirioni’s most recent paintings are what she calls Spirit Houses.

Spirit House I, 2016, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

Spirit House I, 2016, Brenda Cirioni Photo:BC

They seem a natural progression from the Barn Series. In these paintings, the landscape with identifiable trees and grasses is gone, but the body of the barn remains without the old story. In the painting above, the white shape is floating as if on a sea. It’s haunting and surreal, yet familiar, a space we have all inhabited — one where we just don’t know. That’s when there’s nothing left to do but find a medium that resonates — words, paint, wire, clay, even fruits and vegetables — and get down to some serious play.

Old Frog Pond Farm's outdoor sculpture exhibit opens on Friday, September 8 and will be open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday through Columbus Day. Hours are 11-5pm and admission is $7. Join us for an opening reception and meet the artists on Sunday, September 10 from 1-4pm. In the next few weeks I will be writing about more of the artists and fall activities. Join us at the farm!