Tag Archives: Bob Brown

Crafted Heart

IMG_3737
As an artist who worked in wood, stone, metal, paper, glass and any other material he could find to project his mental imaginings into concrete objects, my husband had mallets of many shapes, sizes and materials, but my favorite was the one he fashioned himself as part of the first gift he ever gave to me—the musical instrument shown towards the end of this post.

Crafted Heart

He handed it to me without ceremony—a small leather bag, awl-punched and stitched together by hand. Its flap was held together by a clasp made from a two fishing line sinkers and a piece of woven wax linen. I unwound the wax linen and found inside a tiny wooden heart with his initials on one side, mine on the other. A small hole in the heart had a braided cord of wax linen strung through that was attached to the bag so that the heart could not be lost. He had woven more waxed linen into a neck cord. I was 39 years old when he gave me that incredible thing I never thought I would receive: his heart—as much of it as he could give.

It was the first handmade gift I’d ever received from a man. Inside, over the years, I have put a lock of his hair and a tiny tiny animal of indeterminate species hand-cut out of wood by his youngest son and presented to me. Twenty-eight years later, this bag is all that is left of what was once my union with the man and his eight children from three different women. When he died, we returned him to the inevitable earth and all of the children returned forever to their real mothers.

The bag lies in a box with other relics of our past together: a silver heart brooch, another carved of wood with wings attached and, strangely enough, a miniature computerized hand piano. Years after his death, it struck a chord on its own, just lying on the shelf beside my favorite picture of him. One last dying gasp from the tiny gadget I’d put in his Christmas stocking but then grown tired of hearing him play and so had hidden away, only to enter our bedroom one night to find him playing it under the covers like a guilty pleasure hidden from the adults, although he was already in his sixties.

For our first Christmas, he gave me a large sculpture that was also a musical instrument—three hand-raised copper gongs in the shape of breasts suspended over a wooden keyboard played by rawhide mallets, (ironically, they are not shown in this photo)  the gongs suspended from the long horizontal neck of a copper wind instrument with two necks and two mouthpieces, so two notes could be blown at once. When he died, it was the sculpture chosen by his youngest daughter, and I let her take it. Now, the remnants I have of him are only the leftovers that remained after eight children had chosen. I was moving to another country and could not hold onto everything he’d given.

daily life color023

Sculpture by Bob Brown,1986.  4′ X 5.5′, wood, hand forged copper, marble and hemp.

                            daily life color024

                                 Miniature hand piano, 4″ X 2″

I moved away from most of those things we had collected over the years, but somewhere hidden away in the thousand objects in my studio is the small leather bag and the tiny hand piano, now forever mute, his father’s pocket watch, his biking medals and the other assorted pieces of his life that will one day wind up in a secondhand store in Mexico. All of our gifts finally melding with the parts of all those billions of other lives that strike their brief chord before blending, inevitably, back into the cacophony of the universe.

 

Some material in this post was posted four years ago. The prompt today is mallet.

Wood, Paper, Stone

daily life color048 Version 2

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:

lamps 1

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:    

Version 2imgo (1)

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.

daily life color056 daily life color053 daily life color052 daily life color051

 

The prompt word today is study.

Carve

I’m at the beach and my friend Rachel is leaving soon so we need to go to breakfast, since I turned the fridge up too high and it froze everything–eggs, milk, butter. With no time to do a new post right now, this is a reblog of a piece from three years ago that is appropriate for the prompt today, which is carve.

Cast in Potato Salad, Carved in Stone

daily life color083 (2)
Cast in Potato Salad, Carved in Stone

The last thing I ever thought I would do would be to pose for a nude sculpture, but when I married a sculptor, I guess it was inevitable.  Since I never had children, this probably marked the longest period in my life that I ever lay nude being observed by a second party.  I remembered having no reservations about doing so, in spite of the fact that I am really rather modest–that is about revealing myself physically. Words are another matter all together.

My husband first sculpted me in plasticine clay. (No, not the ubiquitous Sculpey, but a very dense artist’s clay used to make the originals for bronze casting.) He then made a plaster mold followed by a rubber reverse mold that would enable him to make further plaster molds once he destroyed the plasticine original so he could reuse the plasticine.  After mastering the intricacies of wood carving, bronze casting, welding, clay, sandblasting, paper making and stone carving, he was in a difficult spot.  A tool junkie, he had already purchased or made every tool necessary for working in these media. How could he justify buying any more tools or building another studio addition to add to the seven studios he had already set up?

The answer came when our artist friend Diana moved to town.  Her medium was cast glass and Bob soon became fascinated with the process.  Of course, this necessitated the purchase of dozens of large jars of different colored glass casting pellets as well as books, chemicals and other supplies necessary for the process. Unfortunately, we already owned a large kiln, so he couldn’t justify buying a new pristine kiln to be used only for the melting of glass.  True, some molecules of clay might permeate the glass castings, but he decided at least for his first project, to use our existing kiln.

I can’t remember what his first few castings were, but after a few experiments, he decided that his first large glass project would be–ta da–a glass casting of his recumbent nude wife!

The thing was, this necessitated ordering a good deal more glass, and in the meantime, he had this wonderful rubber mold just sitting there unused!  He tried to busy himself with carving stone and wood, but meanwhile that mold beckoned!  Enter fate in the guise of the next show at the Santa Cruz Mountains Art Center, where we were both members.  And the next show was—Edible Art!  In addition to food-centered art themes, there was to be a cookbook of artists’ favorite recipes and the piece de resistance was an edible category, to be consumed at the reception!!!  Thus it was that I came to be cast in potato salad–first molded in “the” well-washed and disinfected rubber mold  and then fine-sculpted by Bob’s hands.

I must admit I felt some trepidation about first being viewed nude, then being consumed by my fellow artists and friends.  This smacked of the Donner party or some sort of sixties orgy, but how we suffer for our art.  I requested Bob not reveal who his model was and all went well.  Later, the judge told us that he would have won first place for edible art if I had not forgotten and used some of the water I used to boil the eggs to add moisture to the potato salad. I had forgotten that I always put a half cup of salt in the water to seal the eggs in case they cracked during the boiling process and that addition made the potato salad totally inedible.  The judges could do nothing but award his sculpture fourth place prize in place of first, right ahead of a jellybean mosaic in the Byzantine style, but behind my third place for my “Garden of Earthly delights!”

Yes, the glass grains did arrive and yes he cast the sculpture, but what happened during the further fiasco of my chain of nude effigies must be left to another time and post lest this one grow too long for certain (unnamed) friends to read.    Suffice it to say that once cast in potato salad, twice in glass, it seems only appropriate that my grave be marked by my magnificent if inedible body rendered into stone!!!  It will be the sensation of my little town, I can promise you.
daily life color084 (4)Version 2(photos and copy above taken from the Valley Press)

 

Reflected Glory

daily life  color048 Version 2

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:

lamps 1

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:    

Version 2imgo (1)

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.

daily life  color056  daily life  color053 daily life  color052 daily life  color051

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.