MacDowell: day 16 of 23
I hate that late in my residency there are so many good-byes. But Eleanor left yesterday. I didn’t really get to know her that well, and I am sorry for that. But she was kind of quiet and was ok letting people with stronger personalities come to the front. But you always saw her laughing at them, or perhaps, with them. She is a composer and seemed to keep her nose to the grindstone.
Eleanor had a task at MacDowell; it was her job to put the chickens in their house at night. On Monday, one of them didn’t make it back into the house for some odd reason, or perhaps she escaped. At any rate, it caught cold and had to live in a box in the laundry room this week. I think it wanted the extra attention it got. On her last night Eleanor set up a video about the history of MacDowell for us in Colony Hall. Before we watched that, she played a song on the piano that she had written about the chickens. It was called Chicken Wrangl’in, it was a great song and I am sure it would be a huge hit, if only she would record it.
I haven’t really talked much about what I am working on here. That has been a little by design as I wasn’t sure what I would be working on. I brought some ideas with me to “prime the pump”. So I promptly started working on everything I thought I needed to do while I was here. Just to come to a screeching halt as conversations developed, so did ideas. It wasn’t long and I had taken a turn and the busy work was left on the side of the road. I’m not a troubled artist and I don’t sit in my studio smoking cigarettes and drinking, trying to find the answers in a bottomless pit of romanticized artistry. However, I do search for answers to my own life’s questions, and I’m the only one that can answer them. Why am I interested in architecture and modernism and what does that mean? Why does most of that architecture focus on the home? Why do I like to make commentary on religion and politics and never expect any change? How do these things fit together? What’s my role in making them fit together? Will anyone care? The most important question of all, where do I start?
I started some work about mid century modern churches when I got here. The work has become challenging. I don’t want to simply create elevations of modern churches, it needs more. There is more there than that. I was very interested in trying to find common ground in various religions through architecture. Then I thought who cares? They all think theirs is the chosen way, go to jail, don’t collect 200 dollars.
How does this all work and why am I drawn to the subject matter. Its pretty logical, you start at the beginning, again. I was raised in the small town of Winterset, Iowa. It’s not much bigger than Peterbourgh, NH. We had 13 covered bridges in our town and John Wayne was born there, a regular ol’ cultural hotbed. Lewis and Clark came through and left a stone tower behind. I had a wonderful education with a focus on the arts that is unheard of. The only backlash to the arts was that it opened my mind and I couldn’t wait to leave that town. I would buy Interview magazine at the convenience store and that was the portal I needed to be Andy Warhol’s biggest fan.
I was raised in a Pentecostal church, which is a pretty serious pill for any kid to swallow. Basically, you can’t be a kid and make a mistake without the looming consequences. You can’t be human, if you stole cookies from the cookie jar; you’d better not get hit by a car riding your bike away from the crime scene. If you die, the price is pretty steep.
I learned at an early age that I wasn’t buying into that. It’s probably what made my teenage years so hard. Even if I could have articulated it then, my parents were not listening to it. I could see God all around me and it wasn’t just in the plants or animals, it was in everything. I think, God is entertained by us, and the mistakes we make. I think it reminds him that he is God, and we are not. It certainly reminds me. I don’t think you sin against God, you sin against your fellow man.
I can’t believe that God’s vision is so short that he doesn’t see heartbreak coming, or has skin so thin that his feelings get hurt. We’re humans, not gods, we are designed to screw up. Its like Hewlett Packard making a printer that runs out of ink, if it didn’t, you wouldn’t need them anymore. The only thing that makes us interesting is our mistakes.
So you can see, I can go on a rant, not sure where I get that. But I have been thinking about my past in an attempt to create my future. At MacDowell I have been working on a set of 4 large drawings 22” tall and 94” long each. They are elevation drawings of the town square in Winterset, Iowa.
As a kid, one of my favorite things to do on my way home from school was to stop in to see my grandmother at Ben Franklin. It’s a dime store on the square, which I guess kind of ages me right there. My grandmother loved to see my brother and I at about the same time each day, or as often as possible. We were not supposed to go up there, but I guess now that my parents are grandparents; they can understand why it would be important. Of course Grandma bribed us with candy and toys at the store. Balsa wood airplanes, gum and model cars are a huge priority to a kid. Toys help to feed the imagination and became a gateway drug to making art.
The drawings are moving about as slowly as the traffic in Winterset, the details are laborious and the scale is a tricky. If I have 2 of the 4 finished before I leave I will be happy. So much has changed in that town since I lived there. I think there are only about 8-10 business on the square that were around when I was a kid. The rest are new, or have moved from a side street. I’m thinking of adding color to the businesses that have remained all these years. But I haven’t decided yet, So much of it is like a dream to me. It’s hard to imagine ever living there. That was more than half of my life ago. Its scary what you remember and funny what you forget.
Ultimately, I see these drawings finished in simple white washed frames and hanging in a square room, to be seen in the round. The thought is similar to the Cyclorama in Atlanta, which is the scene of a great battle. Only this room is square and you would enter the room from the corners, just as you would driving down the street into town?