“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.” - Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
It was quite the week-ending in New Hampshire for Andrew's bachelor party. It brought me great joy to make endless pots of coffee, cook our final meal together, and carpool back to Maine as a unit.
As I drove up the coast, on Route 1, I couldn't help but to notice how deep the turquoise water looked; how verdant and lush the greenery became; patches and fields of stone; and peppered throughout were perfectly-Maine farmhouses.
Of the first magnificent - and unexpected images - is the Deer Isle - Sedgwick bridge. A beautiful, green, cable suspended bridge. The bridge was erected in 1939, a contemporary of our darling Golden Gate Bridge, by Joseph Strauss in 1937. Interestingly, one chief designers and engineers of the Deer Isle bridge, David B. Steinman, was a poet, and often was cited for the similarities between his bridges and poetry.
"A bridge is a poem stretched across a river, a symphony of stone and steel." -David Steinman, "Brooklyn Bridge - Nightfall"
More about the the bridge here.
My body was tired, I was not yet anxious for this exciting and new experience upcoming, at Haystack. You know, for all the flack I may give to camp culture, this draws water from the same well.
I arrive to Deer Isle, and it is clear to me the grounds are nothing short of spectacular. People move through the property in a very particular way. One can ascertain a sense of peace. It feels like belonging, but also like potential that is in somewhat of a crouched position - awaiting her first chance to leap.
Architect Edward Larrabee Barnes designed the Haystack campus with several intentions. One notable intention remained that the grand staircase cleaving the property in half would force people to interact with one another. Almost every dorm or studio facility lived on an off-shoot from the main staircase, and everyone had to use it to exist there. Additionally, this place was meant to blend seamlessly into the natural landscape, and be a low-impact, environmentally friendly place.
Paul Sacaridiz, the new director of the school, spoke to us on the evening of arrival, and I couldn't help but notice that he spoke with such intention, great elocution, smart and colloquial diction - all to be admired. He read a fantastic passage about "loss":
“Lost really has two disparate meanings. Losing things is about the familiar falling away, getting lost is about the unfamiliar appearing. There are objects and people that disappear from your sight or knowledge or possession; you lose a bracelet, a friend, the key. You still know where you are. Everything is familiar except that there is one item less, one missing element. Or you get lost, in which case the world has become larger than your knowledge of it. Either way, there is a loss of control. Imagine yourself streaming through time shedding gloves, umbrellas, wrenches, books, friends, homes, names. This is what the view looks like if you take a rear-facing seat on the train. Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience. It peels off like skin from a molting snake. Of course to forget the past is to lose the sense of loss that is also memory of an absent richness and a set of clues to navigate the present by; the art is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss.”
― Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost
I love this line, "the art is not one of forgetting but letting go." This stuck with me because of the environment that Haystack creates. They want every person in attendance to nearly lose themselves in the work. They keep a tight meal, studio, and evening program schedule in order to remove all accountability from one's day, save making. To let go of everyone on the outside, all sorts of preconceived notions of your own work, as well as expectation of a final project at two-weeks'-end: these are the tenets I think Sacaridiz inspired by reading this wonderful excerpt.
It is on this first Sunday evening in Deer Isle in which I find exciting an abundance of opportunity. On one hand, there is great chance to explore and immerse in multiple disciplines at once. Everyone becomes surrounded by nearly 100 new faces and conversations, all stemming from art and studio work. On another hand, we were afforded the opportunity to dive into the written word with visiting artist and poet, Lia Purpura. For her participation at Haystack, she held an open-ended workshop every day to read poetry, write, and talk about writing.
The quote from Heinlein, at the top of this article, serves as inspiration and corroboration of a point that I've discovered has become core to my values. "Specialization is for insects" is rather funny and somewhat poignant. I believe that society is moving further away from the principle of being "generalists," and not in a good way.
During a late night discussion with MaJo Keleshian, the Drawing faculty for this session, we spoke of "living simply" (especially in direct relation to my t-shirt, a Geoff McFetridge-designed-for-Patagonia from 2009 that bears the same phrase). We also spoke of something that her friend suggested to her, that there is going on an "Extinction of Experience." Immediately, I relate this idea to life as I often hear it told to me: "find one thing and stick to it."
Many laugh - sounding deflated - when I introduce a new idea, experience, or interest to them. I can only guess they become less sure of my future successes without a hard-and-fast line to follow. But I think it is just as important - if not, more important- to be good at many things, especially as they relate to a wellness and mindfulness - not merely one's job.
Somewhere amidst interest in fermentation, farming, woodworking, and a new eye towards permaculture, I find myself a freelance photographer at a craft school in Maine.
I am rapt by the interdisciplinary structure and artists within them. On our first Saturday afternoon, Greg Wilbur, our resident Metal Raising expert, stopped through the wood studio. By this point in the session, Greg had presented his lifetime (more or less) of work in a slideshow, ambled several times into the woodshop, and exhibited the most patient of attitudes throughout. For this reason - and my new interest in his rare type of work - I asked for a brief demonstration on how to raise a scrap piece of copper I had brought with me. He invites me to the studio and spends but 15 minutes showing me the basics of this specific metalsmithing technique. He proves to be as patient as I suspected, an honest man with engaging and instructive ways of teaching. Anyone would be lucky to have this man as a teacher.
After this, the T.A. in the Blacksmithing studio, Nick Bruno - a bunkmate in the 11 man, shared dorm - offers to show me around the "Hot Shop." Bruno attends to explaining the studio's workings at this point, and demonstrates a simple gas-fueled steel forge. After a few hits, he hands me the hammer and lets me take a few novice whacks. What an amazing and exhilarating feeling to create different contours, lines, and changes in the steel with few applications of heat!
In some ways, I hadn't the slightest idea how these various studios would help me understand the work in the wood shop. And then the moment washed over me: although I would hardly glean more than a passing fundamental in the other studios at Haystack. The benefits, here, proved to be in the community and interdisciplinary nature of the conversations between peers.
I can't recall the last time someone, unprompted, shared their motivations and driving force behind their craft. Sometimes, when conversation allowed, there would be talk of the futures, both immediate and long-term. While not entirely monumental, the gravity of these talks occurred so naturally among people who were strangers a few days prior. This creative, wooded, studio-centric environment facilitated unfettered lines of thought; the communal dining tables enforced family-style meals and feelings. And when not in the mood to talk to others, in the interest of introspection or exhaustion, all you had to do was stare wistfully out of the dining lounge walls of windows, over the studios, through the trees, and overlooking Jericho Bay.
The real highlight of this two week session was the reason for which I attended: Adam Manley's wood studio, "Re-Interpretation of the Familiar Object." Adam John Manley was trained at San Diego's graduate program, under Wendy Maruyama, in furniture and wood work. He has taught many programs, participated in residencies, and more.
Manley helped guide our class through mental exercises and physical exercises (walk in the woods, visit to the local Dump) to help us conceptualize and realize a project to undertake during the 12 day session. And although open-ended, without a specific technique under the microscope, I found the formal training in processes and general techniques very helpful throughout.
It took nearly the whole of the first week to determine a project. Back and forth I went, hovering between themes of bicycling, barbering, recreational trailers, functional sculpture, dual purposes, farming, coffee, kitchen, and too many more to name. Finally, I drew inspiration from my cache of Thoreauvian musings in Walden:
"I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society. When visitors came in larger and unexpected numbers there was but the third chair for them all, but they generally economized the room by standing up. "
And thus, the project was born: three chairs, all with a nod to traditional and socially-charged elements. Through many iterations and ideas, especially counsel from Adam, I ended up designing a modern take on the Shaker chair (to be hung on the wall), with elements of the Valet Chair (to hang a suit jacket and store belongings), and a sculpted seat supported by hand-turned and threaded legs.
The other projects, realized by my studio mates, in order of bench in the shop:
Larry - Wheelbarrow Picnic Table
Steve - Variations on a dump theme; Found Object American Flag
Sandy - Wood Books inspired by Christian Bouchard, and other artful wooden treasures, found objects.
Myself - Walden Chairs (see below)
Tim (T.A.) - Sculptural Boat
Autumn - Lathe-turned Vessel/Urn/Vase/Piggy Bank
Dave - CNC-milled shingled model of a Haystack structure
One major Manley influence I found exciting was the wooden tap and dye. His Prototype Pill Chair makes clever use of the functional element, and I loved the idea for this set of chairs.
The legs I made are maple, turned and tapered on the lathe, threaded and angled slightly for structural integrity. The seat and leg-support disk are cherry, beautifully figured and although sculpted for my own rear, was designed to accommodate the most generous of bottoms with a 15" x 17" dimension (approximately, before sculpting). The seat-back "hanger" is still in the works, but here designed by hand, with the help of a CNC router and MIT Fab Lab faculty, Prashant Patil, and made of Baltic Birch ply (for structural quality). Lastly, the singular post (not pictured) is walnut for central support between seat and legs. I longed for a dark contrasting feature, and this satisfied both structural and design qualities I had hoped to realize.
So, although a work in progress, below are images bearing some of the visual nutrition of my time at Haystack. Never having endeavored into the world of furniture, or fine finishing techniques, I now know the intensive process both involve.
And since I cannot thank everyone involved in the two weeks enough, I look forward to spotlighting the artists and people who helped move along this incredible and short journey into a new world of craft, creativity, and a future of more time away from the busy metropolitan life, in favor of a more purposeful one.
Everything at Haystack was in abundance and profusion, and truly was some of the best of its kind, and my relationship to woodwork, the Maine coast, like-minded artist collaboration, and the people along the way made it invaluable.
The only cautionary part of this tale is that diving into old relationships, forming new ones, and forming even more and interesting ones is the strain it puts on others: family and partners, alike. Architect Christopher Alexander - whose work I am more than diving into at present, regarding building and environmental design - says it best:
"A man wants to live in his work and he wants to be close to his family; but in a town where work and family are physically separate, he is forced to make impossible choices among his desires."
In order to develop and understand the relationships outlined in the past 4 weeks, it is important for me to now realize that family and companion relationship had to suffer just a little bit. You can't give yourself completely to work or new connection without being mentally and physically present. It was very difficult to be absent from loved ones for two weeks, and with the unexpected communication desert, but upon my departure, I realized how much I took for granted the work it takes to sustain these relationships, no matter how raw and inviting the Maine surroundings.
Lucky for me, I've got an understanding family and loving lady who accepts all of these things, but who would appreciate a little more response next time. I am laughing silently to myself at how silly this might read or sound, but it is all true, and I am sometimes a pain in the ass for this and other reasons.
These are some of my "back of the head thoughts" that are not always easy to comprehend - lest you can even produce them in the first place - but make for understanding this life a bit more manageable.
Linked in article:
Deer Isle - Sedgwick Bridge: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deer_Isle_Bridge
Adam John Manley: http://adamjohnmanley.com
Wendy Maruyama: http://wendymaruyama.com/home.html
MaJo Keleshian: https://umaine.edu/art/faculty/keleshian/
Greg Wilbur: http://www.waterstonegallery.com/artists/greg-wilbur/
Ann Stafford: http://www.annladson.com
Nicholas Bruno: http://nicolasbrunophotography.com/PORTFOLIO
Prashant Patil: http://www.patilprashant.com
Lia Purpura: http://liapurpura.com
Paul Sacaridiz: http://www.paulsacaridiz.com