Those of you who know me personally know that for the past 12+ years I've had a special relationship with the southwestern desert despite never having been there. I grew up reading several authors' gorgeous depictions of the land, its potential magic and mythos. Some of my favorites:
When I was young I hoped and hoped this magic was true; as I got older I realized that nature and imagination are their own magic and what is truth doesn't really matter when it comes to possibility. The desert then grew into a symbol of freedom, fearlessness, and true self which I've been holding in my heart all this time. Last week I finally spent a week in Arizona that was beyond my dreams.
The land in Arizona is vast and varied: red rocks turning into pine forests, canyons turning into plains, cacti standing majestically next to mountains. It's teeming with wildlife: mule deer (a larger, softer deer than our east coast variety,) elk, raven, rabbits, jackrabbits (huge! and they move as gracefully as deer,) lizards of all sizes, quail, coyote, javalina (wild pig-like creatures,) rattlesnakes, bobcats, etc. It's hot and bright, but you only sweat a little. You have to constantly think about your basic needs: food, water, cover from the sun, or animals that could harm you and that strips away alot of the bullshit of day to day city life. I felt myself return to the beauty of land, quiet my inner dialogue, and just take in my surroundings. It was incredibly nourishing. Tucson
The last few days of my trip were spent at a space that is down a dirt driveway off of a dirt road in the Rincon Mountains of Tucson where many of my favorite writers/artists have traveled. In all honesty, I was not initially enamored with Tucson after spending the first leg of my trip on the most gorgeous land I've ever seen, but while not as breathtaking as Flagstaff, Sedona or the Grand Canyon, it started to draw me in. Part of it was to be in this space, with little bits of these artists left behind. And I felt myself wanting to leave my own little trace. I hit a craft shop for some clay, sinewy string, copper wire, and tools and that night I hunkered down in Quail House:
A cozy cedar shack removed from the main house, I was surrounded by scrub and darkness. I couldn't get the CD player to work, something that I thought would undo me, but I settled into the nightime sounds of crickets, quail, and something large bumping against the shack - I think it was javalina, it was most definitely deliciously terrifying :) I'd never used red clay before and it did not allow me to get much detail as it started to dry and crack very quickly, but the forced speed was probably good for me. I thought I'd make a mule deer head, but I was trying too hard, so eventually I just looked at a lumpy bit of clay and said, ok, what face is already there? I made these three and called it a night:
Starting left and then clockwise: mule deer/jack rabbit/snake thing, Mr. Spike Cacti Head, Grandma Stone.
The next morning I headed back to Quail House with my cup of coffee and a working CD player and began to comb the property for twigs, reeds, pods and other pieces of material I had noticed on my walks. Here is my collection:
I decided to focus on these long spiral reeds I fell in love with and the mule deer/jack rabbit/snake head and create this long, walker creature marionette. Here's the vague layout:
I had bought this faux sinew string and decided to use that to connect the joints. Starting with the arms, I cut the twigs in two at the elbow, hand drilled some holes and threaded the sinew through to create a joint. I then started to screw into what I thought was a circular piece of wood for the body and was surprised to realize it was a piece of horse hoof shaving! Which is very dense! I found some natural holes and began to joint the arms and head to the hoof. I decided to keep the head central and fairly stationary and ran a string straight through it. I found some dried cacti that looked like driftwood (natural holes, less hand drilling!) and made an "X" hand control. I started to connect the strings (which I had braided to keep cleaner and stronger) to the hand control and added a small dried cacti twig to the control for just the arms. By lunchtime, I had the basic jointing and machinism done:
After lunch, I worked on getting the tension on the strings right so the creature could move. I figured this marionette would be less functional and more decorative as I only theoretically know how to make controls and work with counter weighting. But I did want some practice, so I used little pieces of quartz to counter weight the joints. Meaning that if I want the arm to hang sticking straight out, but to lift up when I lift the control up, I need a weight to pull it back down when I return the control to its neutral position. So I wrapped some copper wire around the rocks and tied them off to parts of the legs and arms where I needed weight to keep the limbs in the correct positions.
I then started on more decorative elements. I love spirals, they are a beautiful symbol of time's passage and were a frequent symbol in The Wood Wife, and thus a nod to some of my inspiration. Plus I had those spiral reeds, so I decided to continue the spiral theme by wrapping the copper wire decoratively in the belly, on the legs and arms and as an ear piercing. I added spiraled pods as ram horns and a flowered reed tail. The spiral in the belly reminded me of those things you put on your desk that hold photos, so I decided I needed a piece of paper and a word.
But what word? What encapsulated spirals, my trip, where I was at? After losing my father this month, I've learned a great deal about acceptance. About having to accept something coming to an end whether you want it to or not, whether it's your father's life, or a magical trip, or a concept you have about yourself. So "accept" it was. Here is the finished marionette, Spiral Dream Walker:
But what happend to the other two heads!? Well they wanted to stay in Tucson in their element and keep an eye on the place:Grandma Stone likes her new hairdoo.Can you find Grandma Stone? Mr. Spike Cacti Head blends in.
Thank you to the writers that inspire me, Terri's space, Will's kindness, Paul's love and support, and Arizona's beauty. I feel open and free of blocks! I'm curious to see what happens next!