Lately, several people have asked to see what I as doing before I moved to Mexico and started making retablos and writing this blog. When I searched for the word “study,” today’s prompt word, in my blog files, this blog published four years ago was one of the posts that came up and since it fulfills both purposes, I’m going to run it again.
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. Bob did the wood and stone work. I made the paper from mulberry bark and applied it and in some cases designed and constructed the entire lamp of liana, bamboo, my handmade paper and various natural materials. 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.
Bob died in 2001, 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 Forgottenman, 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—retreating 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.
The prompt word today is study.