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.

 

Where is Eden?

“Way to the East, at the source of four rivers” it says in the Bible. But this description doesn’t really help. The Tigris and the Euphrates are two locator rivers for Eden, but they have different sources, and there is no confluence of four rivers nearby. Medieval cartographers placed Eden on the far edge of their maps, beyond Asia, as if in unexplored territory. They often drew a walled garden and a naked little man and woman to mark the location.

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   Beatus Map, locating Garden of Eden (1109)

Beatus Map, locating Garden of Eden (1109)

For centuries, Eden was considered a real place and it belonged on any map of the world, but no one quite knew exactly where to locate it. When coordinate mapping began in the 15th century, Eden was placed at 0 degrees latitude and 180 degrees longitude — until it became apparent that the coordinates pointed to an area in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Today, we don’t try to put Eden on the map — but that doesn’t mean we don’t try to find it.

What is Eden, after all, but getting what we want, when we want it? That’s what the Buddha understood 2500 years and built the foundation of his teaching from his understanding that we all suffer because of our desires. When things go our way, we are happy, and when they don’t, we suffer. Eden is that lovely place where every desire is satisfied: the world is our oyster. The Buddha taught that the way out from this suffering was to understand that satisfying our cravings will never bring happiness, because all of life is impermanent. When we think we have it — whatever it is — something shifts — and once again we are looking for the next rosy apple.  

Eden and Paradise are often used synonymously. To the Persians, Paradise meant a walled garden, while to the Hebrews it was an orchard. Indeed, I would agree that an orchard is as close as it comes to Eden. Trees that grow and produce sweet fruit year after year are really quite miraculous. There is so much about fruit trees that is astonishing — even simple apple branches — those irregular shaped, pruned and grafted, sculpted limbs, bewitching with their freedom and artistry.

Thus we have the genesis of the exhibit, After Apple Pruning. Using apple branches pruned from dormant trees and a few grafted roots from young trees that died, and with the help of good friends, Lynn Horsky and Gabrielle White, and my daughter, Ariel Matisse, we have created an Eden of apple orchard related sculpture for The Gallery at Villageworks in Acton, Massachusetts. We populated many of the branches with bronze figures that I first sculpted in wax — Adam and Eve, serpents, people sitting, bending, kneeling, reading, mediating, resting, as well as hanging from trees, tempting a snake, or embracing.

A few days ago, in anticipation of the installation, I became almost hysterical with worry. Two large wall panels took most of one day to figure out how to hang, including three trips to the hardware store and two consultations with my neighbor, a retired engineer (No nails in the walls was a gallery restriction). I didn’t want to rent and drive a 15’ truck and the forecast was solid rain for installation day. Moving so many very delicate branches was frightening, because one never knows when reassembling a piece if it will come together the way it did before. I watched as my mind went into a tail spin. I was struggling outside the garden walls.

The installation was smoother than expected; though one small, but important branch broke and caused a small panic. Blase, my partner, helped enormously. Clearly my prior distress was for naught. Today, we no longer look for Eden on a map, but I would place it for the next three months, a little to the east, in Acton. I simply love to be in the gallery space among all of the art. My Eden has been the pleasure of working with Lynn and Gabi, and seeing my daughter fully engage a challenging project.  Eden is inside the mind, always nearby, no farther than our next thought. 

From One Seed , Linda Hoffman & Gabrielle White

From One Seed, Linda Hoffman & Gabrielle White

Please join us!
Opening Reception for the Artists
Sunday, January 15 from 3-5 pm at 525 Massachusetts Ave, Acton, MA.

Exhibition dates: January 6 – March 30, 2017
Gallery hours: M-F 9-5.

Artist Hours in the Gallery
Fridays, Feb 3, 10, 24; March 10, 24; noon to 2pm

Poetry Reading in the Gallery
Celebrating the publication of "Before We Were Birds"
By Susan Edwards Richmond
Sunday, March 12 at 3pm

Grafting a Life (Left Wall) Linda Hoffman & Ariel Matisse

Grafting a Life (Left Wall) Linda Hoffman & Ariel Matisse

 

Art Prunings

There is a heap of apple prunings outside my studio door. The size of the pile might make you think that it contains all the pruned branches that came out of the orchard this winter, but it’s only a small portion. We burned a two-story tower in an intense bonfire a month ago. All that remained was a circle of charcoal. Would that it were so easy to release the debris and the clutter that accumulates year to year in our lives. As I spread these residues throughout the orchard, I imagine how it will help the soil: carbon, in the form of biochar. The no-longer-useful provides sustenance. What if our own life prunings supported our future growth? 

The tangled heap outside my studio door waits because I committed to use apple prunings to make sculpture. There is so much wood that comes off the trees every year; it astonishes me every time. I’ve tried before, a few times, making an 8-foot hanging apple ladder and a few smaller mobiles using branches, string, and bronze figures. They are good sculptures, but the branch is still a branch; I didn’t unfasten it from its normal function.

Apple Ladder (LH)

Apple Ladder (LH)

I have in mind something else for all these twigs, but what exactly I am not sure. My own life has become so connected to apples — their seasons and needs, how to grow healthier fruit, the intricacies of bud development — I want my art to also interrelate with the apple tree cycles.

When people ask me, “Are you an artist or an orchardist?” or “What is more important the orchard or your art?” I respond that it is being an artist, because that’s what informs everything I do in the orchard. And so it follows that if my life as an artist is inextricably connected to this orchard, I want to try to use the prunings as a medium. A painter uses paint to create a world of form and space, color and movement, light and dark. I wonder how and if I can do the same with these prunings?

It doesn’t hurt that I am committed to putting up an apple-themed exhibit next January in The Gallery at Villageworks in West Acton. The challenge is that the work has to hang on the walls and not extend out. And I can’t use the floor, because the space serves for movies, concerts, and performances.  So I am limited to a slightly bushy two dimensions.

My art is often following a knotted path that leads to something unknown. There is always a challenge, and moments (many) when I don’t think I can do it. I’m not actually sure I can use these prunings. They are delicate, wispy, all irregular with little side shoots, or long side shoots, buds, or tears in the bark. There are some stronger branches, too. We will see . . . but I have begun. I recognize this gnawing feeling as if the rope I am hanging onto is fraying and I have to do it before I fall.

There is that untenable, unknowable truth in all great art, the driving impetus of the artist that the viewer senses. The artist is trying to express something that is unknown, but very real. One of my favorite paintings is by Paul Gauguin and it is on view at the Museum of Fine art in Boston. 

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Paul   Gauguin

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going? Paul Gauguin

The entire cycle of human life is in this painting — old age, youth, middle age, the sacred, the animal, the mundane and the mystery. In the center is an androgynous figure reaching for an apple. Art that inspires me asks for a dialogue. It always leaves me with questions. Maybe that is one of its secrets; while art strives to express the unknown, it can only express a brief moment of truth. There are no definitive answers, only more questions. I’m hoping that working with the apple prunings will push me to explore in ways I haven’t done before as an artist and that working with this new challenge will be yet another gift of the orchard.