“How is the birdhouse coming along, Charlie Brown?”
“Well, I’m a lousy carpenter, I can’t nail straight, I can’t saw straight and I always split the wood… I’m nervous, I lack confidence, I’m stupid, I have poor taste and absolutely no sense of design… So, all things considered, it’s coming along okay!”
—- Charles M. Schulz, The Complete Peanuts
“And what, O Queen, are those things that are dear to a man? Are they not bubbles? Is not ambition but an endless ladder by which no height is ever climbed till the last unreachable rung is mounted? For height leads on to height, and there is not resting-place among them, and rung doth grow upon rung, and there is no limit to the number.”
― H. Rider Haggard, She
“Tell him to seek the stars and he will kill himself with climbing.”
― Charles Bukowski, The Roominghouse Madrigals: Early Selected Poems, 1946-1966
“It’s not what I’d want for at my funeral. When I die, I just want them to plant me somewhere warm. And then when the pretty women walk over my grave I would grab their ankles, like in that movie.”
― Neil Gaiman, American Gods
Dallas Museum of Art
Funerary figure (tau-tau)
Indonesia: South Sluawesi, Sa’dan Toraja People
19th century or earlier
The Eugene and Margaret McDermott Art Fund, Inc. 1980.2 McD
The Toraja carve tau-tau, smaller than life-size funerary figures, to commemorate the deceased when a high-ranking funeral is held. Only members of the highest-ranking aristocracy are permitted to have permanent tau-tau. This unusually small funerary figure appears to be archaic in style and probably predates even the oldest effigies seen beside Toraja tombs today.
The bun or hair knot at the back of the head of this tau-tau indicates that it represents a female. Her mouth is open and may remind one of The Scream, a modern painting by Edvard Munch. The expression is not precisely understood, but it may have been meant to capture bearing of an authoritative aristocratic woman accustomed during her lifetime to public speaking and giving orders, as this tau-tau appears to be doing
There are a handful of modern sculptures scattered across the various quads on the Tulane campus in New Orleans. One I noticed the first time, more than four years ago, that we took Lee there for a visit was a construction of wood and a stack of handmade multi-colored glass blocks that stands in front of the Architecture building.
I always like to take a look at it when I visit.
Glass, Steel, and Wood, 1982
Gene Koss, American
He had some beautiful bent wood work in progress – large pieces that had been bent around forms and were in the process of being finished. I took a close look, expecting to see laminations and was surprised to see that the wood was solid. I asked the sculptor about his technique and he explained that these were done with a special product, compressed wood.
A process takes wood and compresses it lengthwise under extreme force. This will reduce a ten foot board down to about eight feet – but more importantly, disturb the fibers in such a way as to make the wood extremely flexible.
It can be used for extreme wood bending.
He said it comes wrapped in plastic and that once the wrapping is removed the piece is bent using forms and clamps. Then it is allowed to dry and the wood takes the shape in a permanent basis.
I was fascinated by this process and impressed by his sculptures – it was really cool to visit his studio and talk with him.
He uses large pieces to make the big sculptures and then makes small ones out of the leftover trimmings (you can see those hanging on the wall behind the bent wood). Scrap left over from the small sculptures is burned to charcoal and he uses those for drawings, like the one on the left. He said, “I used to be cheap, but now I’m sustainable.”
This piece has been dyed and coated with polyurethane – almost ready to go. The artist said he has a recent piece hanging in the Omni – I need to stop by and see it.
I am now to the point where everything brings back memories… not even a single memory but a chain of them… separated by great space and greater time – yet linked by a single thing, the inside of my head.
Something as simple as a wooden canoe lying on a grassy bank:
I found a small dugout wooden canoe upside down in a tropical lake, abandoned and rotting in a bank of watery weeds along the shore. I came up under it with a scuba tank on my back, the bubbles catching in its concave interior and I, looking at the long oblong shape against the sun, wondered what it was. There was nobody in miles so I took it for my own.
The wood was soft and I could scrape out the rotten part with a hunting knife. The bow was broken but I fixed it with a piece of plywood and some marine glue. I found some half empty used cans of bilious old paint in a garage closet so I painted it black and gray. I cut a plastic Clorox bottle into a bailer and I was good to go.
I learned to paddle there on that humid lake. Learned to fish from a canoe, learned to navigate in the darkness, saw creatures I never thought existed in fresh water – they had followed ships in through the Gatun locks and most were slowly dying from the lack of salt.
Then I learned to maneuver a rented dented aluminum canoe through the spring flash flowing Ozark rivers on college weekends – the rocky adrenaline thrill of white water and the relaxing lazy languid sluggishness of deep dark green. I learned that a foot of water can be dangerous when it is moving fast under a fallen tree. Also, be careful when you stop in the middle of a ten mile stretch of isolated river for a quick refreshing swim on a gravel bank… don’t leave your car keys behind.
I paddled into the netherworld of Spanish Moss and Bald Cyprus in East Texas Caddo lake. A place out of time where you can find an abandoned church in a place where God has forgotten. I learned to always check the flow of the water before setting out. You are never as strong as you think you are – sometimes it is hard to get back.
Paddling on a lake with two little kids in the boat I learned that you not only have to check the flow of the water, but the strength of the wind. A damned up prairie lake can throw air fast enough to grab the bow and turn it the way you don’t want to go.
There is the sound of small waves banging against aluminum. The feeling of an ill-fitting life jacket while you are trying to work the paddle. The smell of old fish bait. The heat of the sun on the back of your neck. The sight of the little vortexes that spin off your paddle, the little drops of water when you swing it to the other side. There is the ache in your shoulders at the end of a long day and the anticipation when rounding a curve in the river.
Most of all the rhythm of boat, paddle, and water when you get moving across a lake. When it’s all working together and you feel sorry for the folks roaring by spewing oil out of their big outboards (though you do look jealously at that nice little sailboat).