The Art of the Art Community

Saturday our  writing group met at my house.  We had all been looking forward to this for weeks and even months, and there was no way I was going to miss seeing these people.  But when an invitation to a friend’s Origami Days celebration appeared on my Facebook page, I felt more than a tiny bit of conflict.

Leyla Torres, a gifted illustrator had recently revealed on her long-time interest in Origami on her Facebook page, and she joined the community of Origami users in their global, on- and off-line celebration of the art last weekend.  But writing group is now sacred to me, and I contented myself with the hope that I would see the results on Facebook on Sunday.  Fate and my family had other plans, however.

The Big Guy took command of the kids for the afternoon so that grownup talk could happen at our house.  I expected them to return about the time the group ended, but it was getting dark by the time they bounded in the door.  The Big Guy usually finds something fun for them to do – hardware stores, Lego exhibitions, and welding shops – and today was no exception.

This man who has avoided Facebook like crazy had discovered Origami Days as he was driving by our friend’s studio in Arlington, VT.  He took a chance and dragged the kids into the tiny gallery, and they emerged an hour later brimming with a different kind of energy.  Their excitement still showed by the time they glided in the door, pockets full of Origami swans and toys.  In two minutes, Thing 2 apprised me of their day, of the entire history of origami, and of the generosity of their hostess.  The Big Guy then told me that she was holding the gallery open just a little longer, so I grabbed my keys and out the door I went.

The gallery was in an old carriage house behind the big stone Church in Arlington. Petite with a sometimes soft-spoken demeanor but a feisty spirit, Leyla shares gallery and studio space with her husband, John Sutton, a multi-talented artist and gifted photographer. Heated by an old wood stove, the simple rustic gallery was decorated with John’s black-and-white photos (in frames he built himself).  But it was the riot of color on the table at the center of the small space that grabbed my attention and held it.

Strewn across the table were dragons and roses and butterflies and intricate boxes made of folded, interwoven pieces of paper. Some of them seemed (deceptively, I’m sure) simple; others clearly had taken hours and years of practice to learn how to construct.  Leyla cheerfully shared the history of her interest in this craft and in a community of paper artists dedicated to sharing peace through art.  But it was the colors that caught my heart as they reminded me of a gift/prize I had received from another artist earlier in the day.

Maria Wulf, a fiber artist and the wife of our group leader has been joining our sessions, and she serves as a gentle sounding board and resident joyful spirit.  That spirit is evident everywhere in her art.  She designs quilts that are colorful and somehow contemporary and traditional.  She had created a giveaway contest on her website, and I was the lucky winner of two colorful potholders.

My prizes were, like Leyla’s origami, a marvelous combination of connecting shapes and colors.  But they were each reflections of their creators, spreading happiness and peace.  I knew the two of them should meet at some point, and I told Leyla about our group and about my potholders.  I asked if I could link to her site (I’ve linked to Maria’s site since I’ve had this blog), and I could see her excitement rising. We talked about art and writing and encouragement, and, suddenly, she stood up and went to the basket full of origami art at the end of the table.  She started rummaging and pulled out seven or eight flat pieces that could be easily carried home and said, “Here take this to your writing group as a gift from me.”

I thought about the other gifts she’d already given my kids this afternoon. They were bits of paper, and they were art, but they were also trophies of a world made just a little wider in the space of an afternoon.  And when our group next meets to widen it’s world, I’ll bring these trophies, and, with them, (I hope) the encouragement that feeds not just the artists but the communities they nurture.

The One I Feed

The kids each got their own snow/storm day this week as an elementary school closed one day at the beginning of and a middle school at the tail end of Tropical Storm Sandy.  It’s always a challenge trying to get work done when either kid is home, but when I have one or other of them alone, I try to take advantage of the situation and get some quality time.  That was how we ended up enjoying an impromptu breakfast at the infamous Round Table that occupies the back area of our local country store.  It was also how I had an unwanted encounter with an inner critic I’ve been trying to silence the last few months.

The Round Table is infamous because everyone in Arlington and Sandgate Vermont knows that on any given morning that table will be surrounded by it’s ‘Knights’.  Mostly male and often around retirement age, these loyal patrons are keen on sharing and hearing the latest opinions on everything from climate change to who’s doing what in local and federal government to the deer population.  Often loud but always good natured, the conversations are as popular as they are passionate, and I wasn’t sure if we would find an open seat.  However, the normal crowd seemed to be occupied with storm preparations, and we got lucky.

Thing2 and I grabbed a couple of breakfast sandwiches and sat down to eat and to listen.  There were only a few other visitors, and when they tired of storm speculations, one of our companions absently started thumbing through one of the Norman Rockwell calendars on the table (they are ubiquitous around this town) and the conversation turned to the life and work of this illustrator who once lived here.

Two of our companions, more interested in subjects of the paintings, discussed which local citizen had modeled for which painting and how some of the magazine covers captured the essence of Arlington, Vermont so well.  I’m of fan of his work on many levels, and though I tended to agree with them, I also tend to listen more when I eat at the Round Table.  Listening turned out to be the better part of valor as the visitor who had sparked the conversation, launched into a fairly unfavorable critiques of the artist’s subject matter.  His opinion of Rockwell’s technique was even less favorable, and as he dissected one of the illustrations in the calendar, I gleaned that the critic was a working artist himself.  Now I was even more determined to hold my tongue.

As Thing 2 and I ate, I silently thought of all the reasons I felt my companion was wrong, but knowing that he was a working artist, while I had only recently begun reviving my doodling skills made me doubt all those reasons.  That doubt began feeding a weakened inner critic, and as I gnawed at my sandwich, it began to gnaw at me.

“Maybe the reason you like this artist or that one is that you don’t know any better,” it whispered.  “Maybe your ham-fisted illustrations are the result of a sophomoric sense of art.  Maybe you should learn how to make iPhone apps instead of wasting your time on a blog that’s going to fizzle anyway.”

Thing2 and I finished our sandwiches, and I was relieved to get up from the table.  I hadn’t written all weekend, and guilt was making the inner critic stronger.  I knew my schedule would prevent any writing for a day or so, but where those lapses usually produce annoyance at my lack of organization, for a brief moment I wondered if it was just an admission that I wasn’t any good at my avocation.

As we stepped out into the bluster that was heralding the storm, it hit me.  It didn’t matter if I was good or not or if Rockwell was good or not.  Sticking to my guns and the doodling and the disclosing that is the heart of a blog is about feeding the soul.  And good or not, the more the soul is fed, the harder it is for the inner critic to feed off of my doubts or the comments of others.

The Hubbard Hall Effect

UPDATE – Any local fans of the Hubbard Hall magic will be seeing the Genie on this year’s playbill.  Word on the street is this year’s roster is going to be a good one.  Check out the fall schedule and find season tickets here:  2012-2013 Season

Signed prints, matted to fit an 11 x 14 are available on archival paper for $20 + $3 shipping, with 10% of each purchase going to Hubbard Hall.  I can take checks or send a paypal invoice.  Email me at rachel@www.pickingmybattles.com for  more information. 

Original Post:There’s something magical in Cambridge, and while this post may seem like a shameless plug for the place that’s making it happen, I’m actually hoping that the writing will be like the rubbing of a genie’s lamp.

 

My husband was lured to the Hubbard Hall’s Theatre Company by another actor from Arlington. The invitation came at just the right time – he had engaged in a protracted battle with partial blindness that ended in stalemate – and at first he thought they had found the wrong man for the part. It turned out that the part – playing a slow-witted monk in a medieval monastary – was exactly what he needed and at exactly the right time.

Working, as many Vermonters do, at a job that sees little change or opportunity for growth (but for very nice people) and depressed from numerous healthcare battles that seemed to pop out of nowhere, he suddenly found himself under the spell of a company of players who had more faith in his acting potential than he did. And, while the play was important, it was the company that was the thing. This seemingly diverse tightly-knit group opened the seams long enough to let him in, and there he has stayed. And then the magic grew, and he invited our son in.

Thing 1 is not a huge fan of art museums, so we knew taking him to something with word Shakespeare in it could end badly, but my husband was enjoying the theatre so much that he decided to drag someone along, and Thing 1 happened to be handy (Thing 2 wasn’t theatre-trained yet). I watched him ride away, slumped in the front seat, determined to show Dad how wrong he was about Shakespeare and theatre. Three hours later they were charging back down the driveway, laughing and chatting, and Thing 1 was hooked. He hasn’t missed any of Dad’s performances since.

But the Hubbard Hall effect had just begun. As our family became friendlier with members of the theatre company, I began searching for writing classes. My harrassment of Hubbard Hall’s artistic director paid off, when he announced that he had convinced Jon Katz to lead a writing workshop. The discovery that there was a screening process was a worry, but I got lucky and got in.

We kicked off the first session with nervous but friendly introductions, and I think all of us were nursing a few insecurities at the beginning of the evening. But it was clear that our esteemed (I still say fearless) leader was not willing to feed those demons or to foster any competition or back-biting. When we left, the spell was taking effect, and within the week, we were reaching out to each other from our respective corners, marveling at the impact the group and the Project was having on our psyches.

Both boys are now fully under the spell at summer workshops offered by Hubbard Hall, and my mornings are spent working at a picnic table under a tree on their green. From my vantage point I see Cambridge residents flow in and out of morning fitness and music classes and, as they stop to commune with each other, I realize that the magic in this place isn’t just about theater or art or music or writing or any of the other educational opportunities it provides. It is about the connections it creates far beyond its borders. So as I rub my lamp, my wish is for all of us who are lucky enough to be touched by this magic to take a little piece of it out into the world and let it grow again.

 

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