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Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Art Fair’

Last weekend we went to the St. Louis Art Fair, which is held just a few miles up the road from us. We bought a pottery sculpture called “Stacked Primitive.” He’s a guy with a sort of Easter Island head, and when we spotted him he had his arms up and his tongue stuck out.  We admired his attitude, and decided to take him home.

The artists, Ken and Pam Larson of Larson ClayWorks, told us that the purpose of this little guy is to say, “Pffffftttt!” to critics. There are even hieroglyphs carved on his base that read For the Critics in Larson ClayWorksese. I expect the Larsons intended him to  razz art critics, but I bet he’ll be equally effective against literary, fashion, and food critics.

I need a visible talisman against negative criticism, because otherwise I tend to let it stick in my head and interfere with my work. This is, of course, silly.  Critics don’t know everything, after all. This fact was proven with a vengeance during the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in fiction competition. Ultimately, in spite of the jurors’ passion for the three choices they submitted to the Higher Powers, those Powers cruelly decided not to award a winner at all!  Stunned by this fecklessness, one of the jurors wrote about the experience in The New Yorker, and concluded:

Utter objectivity… is not only impossible when judging literature, it’s not exactly desirable. Fiction involves trace elements of magic; it works for reasons we can explain and also for reasons we can’t. If novels or short-story collections could be weighed strictly in terms of their components (fully developed characters, check; original voice, check; solidly crafted structure, check; serious theme, check) they might satisfy, but they would fail to enchant. A great work of fiction involves a certain frisson that occurs when its various components cohere and then ignite. The cause of the fire should, to some extent, elude the experts sent to investigate.

– Michael Cunningham, “Letter from the Pulitzer Fiction Jury: What Really Happened This Year

“Pffffftttt!” to the Pulitzer Powers.  What’s wrong with them? I don’t know, but I’m going to try to keep Cunningham’s words in mind as I continue to try to light my own fictional fires. Our cheeky little sculpture will help.

As Ken was wrapping the little fellow for surviving the drive home, he demonstrated how little we understood of its raw power. He proved to be a sort of primitive action figure:  His head comes off, and you can turn his arms so that they point down rather than up. We can even remove his little wooden tongue!  Now I can use him to reflect how I feel about how a writing project is going—hands up, tongue sticking out on a day of triumph and joy. Hands down, tongue removed and placed in a drawer for safekeeping on days of sadness or low spirits.  

To see him in action, you can visit Larson ClayWorks online and check out the video.  Don’t you agree that he, too, contains trace elements of magic?  

Of course, he needs a name….

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Artist: Jim C. Brown

The air cooled as we climbed, and the trees began to vary like goods on the ascending floors of a department store. First we passed wild cherries, then tough-looking elms… At 7,500 feet, halfway up the mountain, we found ourselves on a sudden high plateau and stepped on to a desert of pale, silver stones. A single magnificent tree stood at the shimmering center of what must once have been a glacier. It was a walnut, the finest I had ever seen, and in its deep shade lay a whole flock of some 200 sheep. ~ Roger Deakin, Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

I marked the quote above from Wildwood a week or more ago, and was reminded of it today when we went to the St. Louis Art Fair and saw the ethereal treescapes created by Jim C. Brown, an artist from Vancouver. I didn’t understand everything Brown said about his process, which involves photography and a thin layer of plaster, but I understood this: He told us that he photographs lone trees and collects them in a sort of travel journal. Later he combines them to create what he calls “imagined forests.” They appear as soft charcoal-colored images on the eggshell-white plaster. For some, he paints the surface beneath and then chips away portions of the plaster to reveal flashes of blue in a sky. They are enchanting, just like Deakin’s lone walnut tree near Jalal Abad.

Before we left his booth, Brown showed me a trio of large pieces featuring single trees. “There are three small islands that I visit regularly,” he said. “Each island has only a single tree on it. I like to go boating, and take a picnic that I eat beneath one of these trees. I try to treat them equally, and visit each in turn.”

Trees are like that; they compel us to treat them with special respect. I think this is because they serve as architectural features outdoors, like cathedral columns, while retaining their own wild magic.

The tree in our yard that I love most is the apple. It produced tons of fruit last year, and I made batch after batch of applesauce and one apple cake. Sadly, the tree did not blossom this spring. I am hoping that this is a cyclical thing, and that it will fruit again next year. We don’t have a walnut tree of our own here, but I know one is close by because I found a green-cased walnut on the ground outside this morning, half-gnawed by a squirrel. My own imagined forest would contain several apple and walnut trees, blue spruce, and the pecan tree from my grandmother’s house with the swing still in it.

Ernesto has an imagined forest, too. Some time back he struck up a conversation at the grocery store with another shopper over the fig preserves. As I walked up, I heard Ernesto say wistfully, “I have a fig tree, but it is stuck in North Carolina.” My dad rooted the fig tree for us, but we have never taken it away because we always fly to NC.  No one at either end wants to drive 15 hours for the sake of picking up or delivering a fig tree, so it grows in Ernesto’s mind and produces a fine crop of sweet figs.  He also regrets the loss of the orange tree from his back yard in Florida.

Before we left the art fair today we bought a pot from Jennifer Falter of Springfield, Missouri. We loved the simple black-and-white carved patterns and the texture of her pottery. And in keeping with our imagined forest, it is covered with ginkgo leaves.

Artist: Jennifer Falter

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