Although the prompt today is to describe my best friend, my best friend encouraged me to write this story instead, so I will honor his exquisite taste in potential stories and do as he says rather than describe who he is. It all begins with a picture. Well, no, it all begins with a movie, actually. But, no, I guess that’s more how it ends, so let’s just begin at the beginning.
My story begins in 1985 when I went to a coffee house in Santa Monica, CA for a poetry reading. It was an interesting situation–a dual reading between a local poet I’d never heard read before and his ex-girlfriend who also happened to be pregnant with his child. Although they had broken up and she had gone back to her estranged husband, the two of them were reading love poetry they had written to each other!!! Need I mention that it was a packed house? At any rate, if you’ve read my book, you know that it was love at first sight on my part. I not only thought he was gorgeous,but his poetry was smart and funny and real and I felt I knew him from the first time I saw him.
A year and a few months later, we were married and moved to northern California where the living was cheaper and where I intended to get a teaching job to augment his early retirement (from teaching) income so he could finally become the full time artist he’d always wanted to be. Prior to moving northwards and actually prior to our marriage, when I experienced writer’s block, the man whose poetry workshop we both attended had suggested that my problem was that I “knew” too much about writing. (I had been teaching literature and writing for 10 years prior to moving to CA to write myself.) He said the cure would be to try an artistic discipline other than writing that I knew nothing about–in my case, art. But I couldn’t draw or paint, I protested. So, he suggested I go to the dime store and buy a bunch of “stuff” and just play around with collage.
So, this is what I did, assembling a half dozen or so collages out the the most unlikely of materials–rubber mice, cut up thin metal jam and butter lids I’d collected on a European vacation, confetti, paper sculptures I’d cut out of pages of old poems. I know. Weird. I remember one of the titles was, “Party mouse wants to come out to play, but can’t.”
Jack, our writing guru, had said to bring my results to show him at the next workshop, but I was embarrassed and so left my collages in the car when I came up to class. When it was my turn to present, he asked if I’d done as he instructed and I admitted I’d left them into the car. “Go and get them,” he directed and because he was our God and because no one ever didn’t mind Jack, I went to get them. They were well-received, to my great surprise, and one woman who worked in a downtown L.A. gallery even offered to exhibit them. No, way, I protested, but I have continued to do art of one sort or another ever since.
After we moved to the Santa Cruz area, Bob did art full time until his death 14 years later. I never did get that teaching job. Instead I studied metal smithing and became a jewelry maker and paper maker. We made our living doing arts and crafts shows for the next 13 years, each doing our own thing–me, jewelry and him sculpture and ikebana vases–but in addition, we collaborated on art lamps that were constructed from river stones, bamboo, willow, basket making materials and my handmade washi paper. Some of those lamps are pictured below:
We sold hundreds of these lamps, each one totally unique and although we sold every one we ever made, they were extremely time-consuming and hard to transport. We were not becoming rich, but we were doing exactly what we wanted to and making art exactly according to our own esthetic, not catering to fashion or what would sell. Eventually, I started to make my own lamps as well as doing all of the paper and application of paper for his and continuing to design and make jewelry.
At one show, a man actually came in and bought our entire booth. Every lamp, ikebana vase and every piece of jewelry!! That, I must say, was the highlight of our joint careers.
When Bob died and I moved to Mexico, it was the end of my lamp building career. I let each of his kids choose a lamp and sculpture, I saved two lamps for myself, sold the rest, and went on to the next stage of my life. But, since we did so many shows in Los Angeles and San Francisco, I developed this very strange compulsion which consisted of looking for our lamps in every TV show and movie that I’ve watched since then. I had this feeling that one day I would see one of our lamps as part of the set for a movie.
It’s been fourteen years now since Bob died, but, still, my eyes sweep the background of each movie scene. I must admit I do the same with magazines, and actually, thirteen years ago when I thumbed through an issue of House and Garden that had a friend’s garden on the cover, I suddenly had an overwhelming sense that one of our lamps was inside. I looked and looked. Nothing. Then, I concentrated on a many-page spread of the gardens surrounding a house outside of Santa Fe and when I looked closer, I realized it was the house of the man who had bought out our entire booth in Tucson–so although they didn’t show, the house pictured as the backdrop of the gardens actually was filled with our lamps!!! I know. Stretching it, but still.
Anyway, we are about to come to the end of this very wandering tale. Last night I watched a movie I’ve been putting off seeing for years. My friend and I had just spent two hours trying unsuccessfully to link my MacBook Air and my Samsung Smart TV. I was exhausted and decided to just watch Netflix on my computer. Not feeling like scrolling through a hundred different films, I clicked on “Life of Crime” with Jennifer Aniston. The movie was actually rather engaging and not the slapstick comedy I had envisioned, and I stayed the course. And it was in the very last scene that it happened. As the antagonist female was heading for the bathroom, there on the back wall was what looked like –ONE OF MY LAMPS!!! Four different times, I got glimpses of it. When the movie ended (great ending by the way) I replayed the last 5 minutes. Tried to freeze frame. Scrunched my eyes up. Yes! I was so sure it was one of my own small lamps–not one we’d collaborated on, but one of the first I’d done where I’d done my own design, execution and even the wiring.
Of course, I told my best friend, who happens to live 1500 miles away but whom I talk to at length via Skype each day. A few minutes later, he Skyped, “Is it this one?” with a perfect screen shot of the lamp. Yes, indeed it was. I remembered thinking I should cover the cord up with something. I remembered hand drying the paper with a hairdryer so it would shrink over the willow branches. I remembered binding it tightly with wax linen and spraying it with fire retardant. I remember making the handmade label and where I tied it on–at the bottom where the willow branches joined.
So, though I may have flaked out and quit the actor’s studio I attended while I was in L.A. studying film production and film writing–running with my tail between my legs as soon as casting directors actually started coming to see what we were up to–there was one of my lamps, bravely rising to the occasion–hanging securely on the wall and facing up to the camera like the star I knew it would one day be. Like a proud parent, I bask in its reflected glory.
It is one of my humble little lamps, non-assuming and plain, but here it is below, for all the world to see:
As well as a few more elaborate lamps by Bob Brown & Judy Dykstra-Brown made of Stone, wood, handmade washi paper, waxed linen and willow.
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Born to Be With You.” Got a soul-mate and/or a best friend? What is it about that person that you love best? Describe them in great detail — leave no important quality out.
And it is beautiful – as is all the work you do. I am a devoted fan!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Rachel. Very generous.
Not everyone is so richly rewarded. It’s a great compliment to your past.
I love it. It looks like a cocoon. I have made a couple of lamps and I just love making functional art! I hope you find more of your work starring in future roles.
They are beautiful. I hope you kept a few for yourself. I painted for a while and sold everything, then I was sorry because I hadn’t even taken pictures of my stuff. They really are lovely.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I kept one of ours and one of mine. I even have made a lamp or two since I came to Mexico, but both sold. Not doing it anymore although I have boxes and boxes of lamp findings–the electrical and construction elements, cords, switches.
Judy, I especially enjoyed this story. Through your blog, I learn more and more about your fascinating life. While reading, I pictured you and Bob in your home and studios in the Santa Cruz mountains.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks, Margaret. I’ve always wanted to get some of Bob’s lamps online since our website was stolen and this turned out to be a good time to do that.
Oh, how marvellously serendipitous.
Beautiful life story and equally beautiful lamps! Love, friendship/s, types of career/work are something we are born to be with…destined.
These are just so wonderful. And a beautiful story. (Only in hollywood does a lamp grow up to be a star!)
PS: I got your book in the mail — such a treat compared to the usual delivery of bills, bills, bills!
Thank you so much for sharing. There was something about this post that made me feel as if I were there. It touched a part of me that goes beyond understanding. I’m a firm believer that everything we do has an effect on many different people as it ripples through the fabric of the Universe. Most of the time, we never get to know what effects we have made. Your lamp must have had so much fun traveling around and ending up on a movie set. I commend you for being a creator and sharing your gifts with the world. Your gifts are rippling through space and time, touching countless people and on many different levels. A life well done!
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thank you so much for putting my post in this perspective. Often when I sell something it feels as though I was just a part of the process in bringing this object to the person it was made for and that it has a purpose beyond me. This is why there has never been a piece that i have been unable to part with. it would be like a mother clinging on to her children. Not healthy. True, I have objects I would be loath to part with, but they are not objects I’ve made. Recently I told a friend that I feel I still have a purpose to fulfill in life but I don’t know what that purpose is. She just emailed me yesterday and said she was sure this was true and equally sure I would find it as I always had before. Your comment makes me feel as though perhaps I have. Maybe through this blog or perhaps through my next creative phase, whatever it may be. Thank you for this gift.
You’re welcome, and of course you still have a purpose to fulfill. You’re doing it day by day. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to be done. There’s a saying I once heard. Tomorrow is not real because it has not yet happened. Yesterday is not real because it has come and gone. The only thing that is real is the present moment. It is the perfect gift given to us. That’s why it’s called the present. So, just keep doing what you’re doing and know that you are fulfilling a purpose. I mean, look at today, you inspired me. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
i enjoyed this post so much judy! your meet cute with your husband is wonderfully unique and would make a great scene for any movie.
coincidentally, i have “life of crime” in my netflix queue but haven’t watched it yet. now i have an even better reason to check it out. i also have an old brass desk lamp i took apart trying to fix, that was 10 years ago so i doubt i have all the pieces but now i might just go and see what’s left.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Never have I enjoyed a story about lamps so much. Inspiring. If you can’t make it in Hollywood at least one of your creations can. 🙂
LikeLiked by 1 person
Pingback: Your Eyes | It's Mayur Remember?
Judy- I knew you and Bob through Sharon Wheat. I did the same show that you sold all your inventory at. I remember thinking that was the most epic fantasy experience with the equally epic unintended consequences . What would you show for the rest of the season? Anyway, I had the huge 100 lb 6 ft. High lamp you and bob made with the gorgeous paper sail attached to that semi Boulder. When I left Berkeley, I hired piano movers to pack it to survive a move to Wisconsin. Later it moved back to Berkeley with me .
Finally I had to relinquish it because I was moving to a very small space.
It was rehomed to my masseuse, a devotee of the piece.
I also owned a smaller lamp that is on your page here. Smaller piece with the feather on the side.
I often think of you, Thanksgiving at Sharon’s and glad to know you are well.
I’m up in Gualala now, still creating art full time.
Deann!! Of course I remember you. I still sleep under the wonderful mask quilt you traded for the lamp! And by an extreme coincidence, I spend two months a year in a house just three houses away from Alice Walker on the beach in La Manzanilla. I mentioned to her that I have a quilt by you because I remember you used to sew her quilts for her. She said she would love to have your contact information, so if I see her this year, I will give her your email if you send it to me privately. Are you still doing quilts? I’m doing lots of writing and not doing paper or jewelry but I am doing small to large mixed media retablos and other assemblage and lots of photography. I’m on Facebook. My private communication via email doesn’t work on the blog for some reason, but my hotmail address is firstname.lastname@example.org . So happy to hear from you….