Tag Archives: folk art

rings of eternal strength

Friend, artist, and current Berkeley Springs neighbor* Michael Gotwald gave me two iron hoops he no longer needed for the wheels for his non-existent buggy.  I buried the bigger one in the meadow and mowed a fairy ring around it.

The smaller one is suspended at the end of the porch, creating a visual hook but not a barrier. Inside it is a small element of fired clay.

*His sweet place on Hageman Street is for sale.

What would Andy Goldsworthy do?

I get asked how I like “retirement.”*  It’s hard to explain beyond “I love it.” Several times a day I find myself doing an activity that I could not do while having a regular 9-to-5 type job.

I can take advantage of activities that happen to take place during normal working hours — like the national Sierra Club board meeting, usually in San Francisco, but this time in DC, where I sat in for a few agenda items. (I am a life member and want to make sure the club is doing as I wish. Sort of.) Some are things that fall roughly outside those hours, but if following on a work day would seem more like a nuisance, or a tacky, unsatisfying way to end the day.  I have gone to serve food or perform other menial tasks at meal center for homeless women. I don’t know how that will work out, but as of now, I head to the church basement with a spring in my step.

I’ll tell about some of these and other worthy activities another time.

But some make no sense and have little ultimate purpose but are a creative expression.  Sunday, I made a fairy circle, or a needle ring, or pine circle.  I struggle with that name, but this is what I did.

I pass the little triangle park bounded by Quincy Street, 5th Street and Rock Creek Church Road just about every time I leave the yard.  It is no one’s private property, so no one keeps it up, but the pine needles and enormous pine cones from the huge tree there have been especially untidy looking lately.  Prevailing winds toss the fallen material southward, toward the sidewalk and the street.



Detritus in disarray in Rock Creek Church triangle park. 23 February 2014

As you know from an earlier post, I love the work of Andy Goldsworthy and others who artfully rearrange Planet Earth’s componentry, even on temporary basis.  So I set out, with a rake over my shoulder and a snack and a little flask of a refreshing adult beverage in a sack, to rearrange the materials on my little public plot.

I started to rake with a little circle in mind, a halo, an aura a ring-around-the-rosy — find me the word.  A circle is a fairly primitive design idea that I cannot claim as my own.

I thought about marking the four compass points with mounds of downed pine seeds, but after bending over what must have been a hundred times to pick them up and then tote them several feet north, south, east or west, the four loci became 12; because of a counting error, the 12 became 13.

ImageAct in progress; edge of ring, one pine cone mound.

ImageLong shadows after a raking needles and rearranging pine cones, about 3 pm.

The bending, stretching and pulling were exhausting, maybe in the way that a yoga class is just sooooo tiring, but carrying the rake was way cooler than toting that incriminating silly little rubber mat. (Right?)

Later that evening I passed the park after dark.  My creative product was still in situ.


*Retirement, that is, not working at a regular job but with a pension so tiny that I need to find some income soon.


Get in line, buddy

Get in line, buddy

At Mayordomo shop in Calle Mina, 31 octubre 2013

Just about everyone is buying chocolate today for Day of the Dead tomorrow. (And mezcal and marigolds and fruit…).  Imagine the fragrance in here with armloads of lilies, bunches of marigolds and vats of freshly ground chocolate.


brilliant invention with carbon footprint of zero

brilliant invention with carbon footprint of zero

Dear Every Restaurant in the World:

Please start using these little purse/umbrella/hat stands that waiters in Oaxaca bring over to the table to keep all your crap off the floor and pretty much in your face so you won’t forget it when you go.




Peek-a-boo, I hear you

Peek-a-boo, I hear you
This guy is presumably blind. But how did he know to frame himself up like that? And when I pulled out the camera, why did he stop to tune up?

I’ve given him money in the past.

On the wheel again: hands on clay in Oaxaca

I have been missing the pottery studio while on a break in DC, and  decided to get back to it.

ImageNo, that’s not me.  This is me.


A few Thursdays back, a door on Calle Cosijopi that had been closed as I passed dozens of times was open, revealing an art studio.  I went in, found out they did clay, and waaaaaaaaaaay in the back had a wheel.  A kickwheel.

I had to ponder trying that, but in fact went back the next afternoon to start a class.  The class started with my having to haul the wheel from the back to this sunnier place right in a doorway and then smearing my own wet clay on a plaster bat to dry in the sun for 15 minutes before I peeled it up and wedged it myself.

When I told some Eastern Market potter friends about the kickwheel, they said, “It’s more meditational,” and “I liked how quiet it was — I could listen to birds and throw.”  Those are both piles of crap, Holly, Sara and Jenny.  Using a kickwheel is not for the uncoordinated.  You want your upper body stable to center the clay and pull it up, and you can’t do that when one leg is flailing about erratically, can you?  By definition you are throwing yourself off balance at 100 RPMs.

All I could manage so far were four small bowls and 10 buckets of sweat.


Since then, while those little masterpieces were drying,  I visited Atzompa, just outside Oaxaca, a town known for its green-glazed pottery (all the industries are segregated that way).  There I walked around a couple of the work yards, behind the shops, and saw the gal at the top there, the mother of a potter who seemed to be doing a lot of work for him, schlepping his pots from the drying lot up to the kiln.  He has worked all his life kicking the wheel.

This is what Oliver Sacks says about Oaxacan pottery:  The clay needs three weeks to dry.  There is not glazing, but rather a sort of polishing, with what looks like a lump of quartz, then the pottery is fired at 800°F in a closed oven, which restricts the oxygen available.  This causes the metallic oxides within the clay to convert to their metallic form, and the pottery will take on a brilliant sheen with this. The ores in the area are especially rich in iron and uranium—I will be interested, when I return home, to see if these pots are magnetic, and to test them for radioactivity with a Geiger counter.

In fact, I did “glaze” my little pots, but in a primitive way.  The studio has no kiln, so they’re off being fired at someone else’s place now.

ImageYou’ll never see these again.


wall + paintbrush

wall + paintbrush

In the central district, the old buildings are plaster over adobe or other brick. The beautiful surprises are the colors and so frequently a stunning design; bold, asymmetrical to the point of erratic. This one is created for the eyes of only a few on our tiny dead-end alley, Flavio Perez Gasga, with only eight houses.