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Who, What, When
I am walking down a city street with my scruffy dog Whiskers; she marches along at a good clip, making smell stops, and then abruptly veers off at a diagonal toward a new, better smell.
On good days, my creative mind works that way too. I am a sculptor working with steel to build large, site-specific public pieces. I need free-flowing creative thoughts to generate ideas for the sculptures. If I am lucky, while my mind works in one direction, a fortuitous event pushes me onto another slant, along an unexpected hypotenuse.
In 1993, this idea became Zig Zag, installed at the Colby Curtis Museum in Stanstead, Quebec—and the beginning of a series of five sun-aligned sculptures called the World Sculpture Project.
My plan was to follow a geographic triangle of sites from Stanstead, Quebec, to Oslo, Norway, to Honolulu, Hawaii. In Honolulu my archaeologist daughter led me to the ethno-astronomer Rubellite Kawena Johnson and her research on ancient Hawaiians’ sun-aligned structures. One of Johnson’s papers, documenting the two times of the year when the sun is directly overhead in Hawaii, played a central role in my piece All One, installed at the University of Hawaii’s Kapiolani campus in 2002.
Earlier, in 1996 I did Solekko (“sun’s shadow”) at the Norwegian Museum of Science and Technology in Oslo. Concerned that the museum might move my sculpture after a few years, I made it irrevocably site-specific: I designed a conical structure aligned to create no shadow when struck by the summer solstice sun at precisely Oslo’s latitude.
When I work on a proposal, I set the scene so ideas can arrive in my mind. “Be there at your desk so the muses can visit!” was the gist of Norman Mailer’s comment in a letter he sent to my writer husband. Following that advice, I work daily on drawings of shapes I see in my dreams. After a month’s worth of these drawings and ideas in my journal, I might identify a theme with which to begin. I stopped drinking alcohol more than 25 years ago, which helps me with clear early-morning thinking; after a short yoga routine and meditation, I might start by shaping cardboard into a sculptural idea. Within a few days, I have several new ideas to critique and ponder.
I walked many hypotenuses and faced many challenges before I finished the World Sculpture series. For example, how could I ask a local Hawaiian welder, whose pidgin dialect was hard to understand, to do it my way when he wouldn’t take directions from a woman? In Sendai, Japan, I realized that it was considered rude to look directly into others’ eyes; averting my eyes and slightly nodding worked better.
The most difficult challenge was finding a site and a sponsoring school or museum in New Zealand. After three years of following unfruitful leads, I put a notice on my Web site. Within weeks I received an e-mail from a Kiwi, Lew Bone: “Mapua is a perfect site for your sculpture project. Would you like our help in finding a sponsor?” After three visits and many more zigs and zags of ideas, Telling Stones was installed in 2007 at Mapua School in Nelson, New Zealand.
|© 2006 Skidmore College|