Category Archives: rumination

Grandpa Eben’s Fence

Though I barely remember it, Grandpa had a many-splendored front yard at his house in Lindsborg. There were many painted concrete animal statues, whirligigs and he also had the wrench fence. I recall they clanged splendidly in the great plains wind (at least to my five year old ear).

When I was scanning this photo this evening I noticed for the first time there are also two of the aforementioned Reuben Strange whirligigs mounted atop the fence.

Eben Johnson’s Fence. Lindsborg, Kansas. c. 1970.

Eben Johnson’s fence as featured on the front page of The McPherson Sentinel, July 27, 1970.

Quotation: Paulo Coelho (1947 – )

Yesterday I encountered a serious flaw in my plans to produce the Idle Angels and my mind has been frantically racing to find a solution ever since. With these artistic concerns ever-present, I nevertheless enjoyed a very happy day with my family as if this gnawing fear of failure wasn’t even there. I think the parable from Coelho’s The Alchemist nicely describes how this can be.

A merchant sent his son to learn the Secret of Happiness from the wisest of men. The young man wandered through the desert for forty days until he reached a beautiful castle at the top of a mountain. There lived the sage that the young man was looking for.

However, instead of finding a holy man, our hero entered a room and saw a great deal of activity; merchants coming and going, people chatting in the corners, a small orchestra playing sweet melodies, and there was a table laden with the most delectable dishes of that part of the world.

The wise man talked to everybody, and the young man had to wait for two hours until it was time for his audience.

With considerable patience, the Sage listened attentively to the reason for the boy’s visit, but told him that at that moment he did not have the time to explain to him the Secret of Happiness.

He suggested that the young man take a stroll around his palace and come back in two hours’ time.

“However, I want to ask you a favor,” he added, handling the boy a teaspoon, in which he poured two drops of oil. “While you walk, carry this spoon and don’t let the oil spill.”

The young man began to climb up and down the palace staircases, always keeping his eyes fixed on the spoon. At the end of two hours he returned to the presence of the wise man.

“So,” asked the sage, “did you see the Persian tapestries hanging in my dining room? Did you see the garden that the Master of Gardeners took ten years to create? Did you notice the beautiful parchments in my library?”

Embarrassed, the young man confessed that he had seen nothing. His only concern was not to spill the drops of oil that the wise man had entrusted to him.

“So, go back and see the wonders of my world,” said the wise man. “You can’t trust a man if you don’t know his house.”

Now more at ease, the young man took the spoon and strolled again through the palace, this time paying attention to all the works of art that hung from the ceiling and walls. He saw the gardens, the mountains all around the palace, the delicacy of the flowers, the taste with which each work of art was placed in its niche. Returning to the sage, he reported in detail all that he had seen.

“But where are the two drops of oil that I entrusted to you?” asked the sage.

Looking down at the spoon, the young man realized that he had spilled the oil.

“Well, that is the only advice I have to give you,” said the sage of sages. “The Secret of Happiness lies in looking at all the wonders of the world and never forgetting the two drops of oil in the spoon.”

via Paulo Coelho’s Blog

Whitney’s Slab Saw

Some years ago, I ended up in possession of my wife’s grandfather’s lapidary equipment. He died nearly four decades ago and I doubt these tools have been used since. In need of a motor for the Sink Grinder, I took a look at the Rock’s Slab-Trim saw. The motor seems to work just fine and I like the idea of putting old tools to work again.

Whitney Girouard’s slab saw and a bolo tie that he made.

What Dad did for me

Dad and me: proud in our matching suits, Grandma and Grandpa Bartel’s house, 1978.

Being a relatively new father and an unremittingly introspective sort of person, I’ve been reflecting a lot about my Dad, Jerry Johnson, and what choices he made as a father that formed who I am. Today is this great man’s birthday and here is a short list of what makes him so outstanding:

— He took me everywhere. Through most of my childhood Dad was on the road a lot driving an 18 wheeler throughout Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas picking up and delivering oil field pipe. When he could, he took me with him. Sometimes Mom came with, a lot of the time it was just me and him. Once I was old enough, I was in charge of pouring the coffee. No small task on a bad stretch of I-35. The smell of diesel fumes still unfailingly reminds me of those trips.

— He always had time for me. I cannot remember a single time that Dad said anything like, “I’m busy, go somewhere else.” I was his little helper for jobs large and small and he often found a task for me to do. Once when he was torching apart an old truck to make a trailer he put a garden hose in my five year old hands for fire suppression. I think I only sprayed him once. It bugs me that geography keeps me from being a more useful helper to him now.

— His praise is unconditional and copious. Mom and Dad came to all the school and church plays, all the band concerts, and always had good things to say about my artwork. There were many self-produced solo shows in my bed room and they were always happy to attend. Some parents may see their role to be a never satisfied critic; my Dad has never been anything but a loyal fan.

— As mentioned above, he always had a project going — usually adding on to our house. I watched (and helped?) him pour concrete, put up framing, sheath, and shingle a seemingly endless stream of projects. Now even though I work with wood every day the smell of pine pitch and plywood glue still takes me back to those projects.

So what did Dad do for me? I grew up in a home with perpetually busy, traveling man who could always find time and praise for me. Through his example he led me to know that, our world, this life, is good and it’s never done — it is always in the process of becoming and I am a part of it. What a gift.

Happy birthday Dad. I love you.

More a printmaker than sculptor: Himmelfarb

Blue Motive, John Himmelfarb, woodblock on stonehenge mounted to blocks of wood, edition of nine. 2011. 21 x 28 x 15 inches. Printed by Gabe Hoare and Steve Mueller.

Blue Motive, John Himmelfarb, woodblock on stonehenge mounted to blocks of wood, edition of nine. 2011. 21 x 28 x 15 inches. Printed by Gabe Hoare and Steve Mueller.

Though I have always defined my artwork as sculpture, I have come to realize that it is really much more in the tradition of printmaking. It’s just that I never get around to actually printing. I’m too enamored with the shiny plates.

Of course definitions don’t make new artwork or make artwork better but claiming an association with a particular craft tradition helps me talk about my work, which has always been a weakness of mine.

This revelation (which may have been already obvious to a casual observer) came about last month when, after viewing the Suspended After Image, I took a turn around the New Prints 2011 exhibition in the UT Visual Arts Center’s Mezzanine Gallery.

When I came around the corner and saw John Himmelfarb’s Blue Motive, I knew there was a place for me in the world of print making. For reasons that I still can’t articulate, (perhaps it is my career in technical theater, perhaps it was early exposure to pop up books) I am perpetually drawn to planar arrangements. Each plane, a separately composed image, thoughtfully assembled with more of the same — magic.

My general state of mind

James Thurber. "Destinations." The New Yorker, May 13, 1933.

I love this image, and I forgot how much. As a teenager, I stumbled upon the cartoons of James Thurber at the public library. McPherson didn’t have a very big library and I spent a lot of time there so I suppose it was inevitable.

This cartoon summed up my general state of mind at the time so succinctly that I took the time to enlarge it to poster size (with overhead projector and Sharpie — on a “snow day”, Halloween 1991 as I recall) and hung it prominently in my bedroom. It was taped and tacked to many and varied dorm room walls until I finally gave it to someone else who admired it (wish I could remember exactly who). Since then, the cartoon has more or less faded into the background of my consciousness until just a few moments ago.

I have chosen to post every day this year so as to generate a searchable list of experiences and inspirations that influence my art work — sort of an encyclopedia of my muses. In the sometimes frantic search for new posts the tiniest recollection gets jotted down for possible future use but I am especially pleased with this rediscovery.

How reassuring to observe that though many of my beliefs and tastes of those days half my lifetime ago have been rinsed away by education and experience, the basic core of what inspires me remains recognizable and seemingly immutable.

Why this is remains a mystery.

(revised 4/10/12)

Lester Raymer’s Red Barn Studio

Lester Raymer, Promotional card, lino-cut.

Lester Raymer, Promotional card, lino-cut.

One of the reasons that I have chosen to take on the moniker of New Gottland is to connect me to the artistic heritage that influences my esthetic preoccupations and motives. Perhaps the man that represents this heritage most wholly for me is Lester Raymer. Continue reading