Mirror of Life, Mirror of Death

October 13th, 2009
Celtic Mirror Back

Also Known as the Celtic Mirror, this piece was first shown in 1994 at the show I highlighted last week.  Called “Age of Acceptance: Mirror Of Death/Mirror Of Life”  It stands 15″ tall, weighs about 10 lbs.   On one side, shown on the left, is a Celtic Design consisting of 5 triple spirals, or Triskelions.  The mirrors “handle” is a braid, which turns into a base consisting of 3 snake heads.  Lots of symbology here.

In her words from a later artist statement:

“My stories begin with the myth, the folk tale, the superstition and the stereotype hidden in our own homes.  The familiar object with the obscure story attached, the piece we are aware of, but don’t notice, the inconsistency that some of us avoid…  The relationship to women and the contradiction we live with daily…

…Similarly, the pot changes from a simple cooking implement, to a cauldron for unholy potions, our contrary roles of nurturer, healer, poisoner, witch….  The mirror becomes an object of vanity or magical sight. Mirrors gave me a gift of story about beauty,  about vanity, a view of women as perhaps less intelligent, more fragile in their beauty that draws rescue, or repels it with the contradictions of intelligent and beauty… Woman as more susceptible to “evil”, or  our powers to entice or attract “evil”, or be evil…  Contradictions in the face of beauty… ”

Mirrors are a common magical tool.  They can not only reflect the real world, they can be a window into the spiritual, the future, the invisible.  For this purpose, it does not need to be a perfect reflective surface, so Rae did not polish the mirror surface to its potential.  She had found pictures of old bronze mirrors from Greece and Rome.

Celtic Mirror Front

Celtic Mirror Front

The ‘face’ of the mirror is just reflective enough to give the impression of looking through a veil at a golden version of the room you are in, heavily distorted, and only coming into focus when you relax and look “through” it.   It is too heavy to use as a hand mirror, but stands well, and is stable on its three snake-head ‘legs’.

The mirror top was made of a circle of wax in a plate, with the decorations made by cutting out of a thin slab of wax. Details and the spirals were cut in with clay tools.  The handle was an actual braid of human hair, the snakes made by creating molds from Geltrate and plastic snakes, then pouring molten wax into the molds, and melding the wax to the hair, with a chopstick to give it rigidity to stand up long enough to place in the plaster and cast the bronze.

Handle and Base

Handle and Base

The name came last.  I am not positive about it’s exact meaning.  Like much art, the artist creates, has a vision, and the viewer (consumer? audience? ) interacts with it, their own experience informing their interpretations.  Literally, given the magical use of mirrors for scrying, the mirror of death could mean peering through the veil to communication with those who have left the world, miirror of life to view the present or future.

Women, Domesticity and Objects of Power

October 7th, 2009

So, a special treat today:  Context.

I have collected some info and images from Rae’s MFA show, titled above.  The show was November 6-23, 1994 at the Gallery of Design, 1300 Linden Drive.  At that time it was Family Resources and Consumer Sciences, now the School of Human Ecology.

Her Artist’s Statement:

Women, particularly cultural feminists, have often considered the possibility, questioned the probability, and even a romanticized the concept of a women’s culture. When I explore the concept of women’s culture, as a feminist, a storyteller, and an artist, I am drawn again and again to the concept of common objects. Common objects fascinate me — the careful consideration to function (its domestic roots) mars our perception of its grace and beauty, for, to be special something must be rare.

In a women’s culture, what might be different in the perception and the value of common objects?

I began to envision what common objects would be like from an intact, continuous women’s culture. If such a culture existd through the ages, what would those ages have been called? We have the “Golden Age” for mainstream culture, and the Renaissance, and the “Middle Ages”. Would it be different if there had been a dominant Women’s culture or even a valuation of women? I know they would be different for me. Using as my starting point stories such as the magic mirror of Snow White’s evil stepmother, or myths such as Cerridwen’s Cauldron of regeneration ( how did a cooking pot becomes a source of reincarnation and knowledge )?, I began to construct any exhibition of found objects from this “mythical” women’s culture.

I not only wanted to explore the concept of a women’s culture, I choose to layer it with the shadowed influences of existing culture – its legends, stories and processes and my own life experience and concerns. What resulted is my manifestation of Objects of Power.

This statement was posted in the show and on a brochure which was handed out.  What few people have seen is her first draft of the statement:

I am working from 3 premises:

•      There is a perceived division between art and craft, functional and non-functional, which does not exist in all cultures and in all times.  It does not exist in my reality.  I like to push this culturally oriented imaginary line around and see what I can come up with when I explore common objects, traditional and non-traditional materials and layered symbology.

•      Certain “Common Objects” fascinate me — they can be graceful and powerful, as well as functional.  We usually miss this grace and beauty, because we assume to be special something must be rare.  Many objects live with us in the mundane-but they also live with us in the world of dreams, mystery and legend.  My work seeks to delve these mysteries and reveal how common objects can become the icons of mysteries we all recognize if we care to look — if we dare to know.

•      Objects that are a common part of our culture often have rich associations with legends, histories, fables, folk-tales and folk customs.  I explore these associations by researching references to each object in mythic, poetic, and cultural literature.  I use interactive and multifaceted meshed layers that reflect this history and hidden meanings found in the research, with concepts from my own life experiences and response to the stories.

This process manifests pieces that are powerful, unique, and sophisticated.  These simultaneously simple and sophisticated pieces reflect the mundane perspectives of our society, but reveal a connection to the power of objects through their secrets, stories, mysteries, and innate grace.

Also from the brochure:

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS AND APPRECIATIONS

COMMITTEE MEMBERS:
Truman Lowe – Art Department
Leslee Nelson- Art Dapartment
Elaine Shear – Art Department
Diane Sheehan – ETD Department
And Larry Junkins–
he touched my heart & my art, Blessings.

SPECIAL THANKS TO:
Valerie Weihman – MATC
Tom Loeser – UW
Martha Glowicki – UW
Steve Feren – UW
Fred Fenster – UW
Brian Painter – UW
George Cramer – UW

SPECIAL FRIENDS
Those who helped make this show possible
Helen Klebasadel    Jini Kai
Amy Bethel    Mary Walker
Barb Westfall    Mary Bennett
Ari-Asha Castalia    Ann Schaffer
Leslee Nelson    Sara Killian
Suzann Hart    Val Weihamn
Casey Heinzel    Ethan Heinzel
Deb Trent    Bev Gordon
Betsy Tuttle and the folks of the Gallery.

And All My Love To,
MATH HEINZEL
Who suffered so gracefully for my art …

The pieces that were included in that show, some renamed:

BROOMS

From the Age of Mystery:  SWEEP OF THE MILKY WAY  Wildwood, Broom Corn
From the Age of Community: COOPERATION    Bronze, Bronze Wire
From Sweeping Changes: INSPIRATIONAL SIMPLICITY Quilted maple, Broom Corn

CAULDRONS

From the Age of Water: CONTINUITY    Bronze
From the Age of Fire: TRANSFORMATION Bronze
From the Age of Earth: REGENERATION Bronze

CHAIR

From the Age of Consideration: FAT GIRLS LIKE TO ROCK TOO Ash and Pecan

CUPBOARDS

From the Age of Confusion: ANCIENT MOTHER/MODERN LIES Walnut, fabric, mirror, bronze, clay, glass
From the Age of Consciousness: CAGED HEAT    maple, copper, cotton, silk, satin
From the Age of Control: WITH RESPECT TO THE WHORE OF BABYLON copper, lace, walnut, silk

MIRRORS

From the Age of Knowledge: CLASSICAL PROPORTIONS/NARROW PERSPECTIVES    Bronze, Wood, Mirror
From the Age of Acceptance: MIRROR OF DEATH/MIRROR OF LIFE     Bronze

——————–

I have not found any photos from that exhibition, though I will continue to look.  We do have photos of all the pieces, some in previous posts here, others yet to come.  For now, foryour gazing pleasure, the Ricking Chair that she made to fit a large woman, and which sits now in our living room.  Made of Ash and Hickory.  Fat Girls Like to Rock, Too:

Proportioned for the goddess in each of us.

Proportioned for the Goddess in each of us.

Earth Cauldron

September 29th, 2009

Happy Autumn!

Earth Cauldron

Earth Cauldron

Available! $1000

Turning from Brooms for a while, I’d like to present one of Rae’s Cauldrons.  She did 3 while at the UW, with access to the foundry there.  The theme was the elements, and she did Fire, Water, and Earth.  This one is the Earth.  The outside is a globe, with the continents in relief.  Visible in this picture are North Africa and Europe., with one of the loops intended for a ring handle that was never installed.

All 3 cauldrons were created using the”lost wax” method.  To get the basic shape, Rae started with a beach ball.  She had an old deep-fryer, looked like a toaster with juse one very large slot.  Into this were placed hunks of foundry wax, a brown, sticky substance that dries not quite as hard or brittle as paraffin.  It can be carved with clay tools, and layers built up with melted wax in a variety of ways.  Rae used the pot of just-barely melted wax, butter knives and palette knives, and brushes.    To make the cauldron shape, she brushed layer after layer of wax onto the beach ball, 3/4 of the way up, letting it cool before adding another coat.  For the Earth Cauldron, the entire orb was fairly thin, about 1/4″.

I printed out some maps of the continents, we cut them out, and laid the patterns on a 3/8″ thick slab of foundry wax, then cut through the wax to get little pancakes of each.  These were transferred to the surface of the orb, warmed almost to melting to make them flexible, stuck by heating a thin pallette knife over an alcohol flame.  The beach ball was deflated, the top edge folded over and formed into a lip

This piece also features snakes.  Snakes had special significance to Rae.  They stood for Wisdom and knowledge.  Rather than try to carve snakes from scratch, she bought

Interior Earth Cauldron

Interior Earth Cauldron

some rubber snakes from a toy store.  Since they were burnable material, they were incorporated directly into this piece.  (I’ll describe how the Fire Cauldron’s feet were made later)  One was curled up on the bottom, and is very seldom seen, since you have to tip the cauldron over.  The others are inside, one on the inside surface of the globe, the other curling around the other feature inside the cauldron, the House.

The house is modeled after the quilt pattern called “schoolhouse”.  Again, a sheet of wax (molten wax poured into a lined cookie sheet) was cut into the 4 sides, roof, and then 2 “smokestacks”, complete with windows and doors.  Assembled and placed in the bottom of the cauldron, and then another snake out a window, curled around and into the door.  The house had a lot of significance to Rae, representing home, a sanctuary usually, but the snake moving in and out represented the invasion of that sanctuary, a reference to some unpleasant childhood memories.

Earth Cauldron inside

Earth Cauldron inside

Once the piece was complete, more wax was added as “sprues”, for the bronze to pour into the mold, nd to allow venting of gasses when everything melted.  The entire piece was suspended in a cylindrical cardboard tube, and plaster poured into and around it.  When that hardened, what was left showing was a 3″ circle of wax and a couple of small ones for vents.  The entire thing was placed into a burn-out oven for a couple of days, where all the wax was evaporated, along with the snakes and a few plastic straws, etc.

While that was still hot, the bronze was melted into a crucible, and some heat-suit wearing art students working on the semester’s projects poured it into the waiting molds, while others stood by with shovels and gloves.  The molds were placed in black foundry earth, a slightly sticky mix of sand, dirt, waste oil, and other stuff, if my memory serves me.

There was a problem.  A crack had appeared in the mold, and the molten liquid found it and widened it, and out the side of the mold appeared flames and smoke.  Rushing in with shovels, dirt was piled against the side and held in place with shovels, which turned red with the heat. As more bronze was poured in, more flowed out till George (the Instructor) said enough!

When it had cooled enough to open up, the cauldron had a large, irregular fan of bronze coming off the side, and several places wehre the bronze had not completely filled in the thinner areas, because it had cooled too qucily spreading into them.  Thus the round-edged gaps in the oceans visible in the photos.  The effect was unexpected, unplanned, but not unpleasant.

Then began the long process of cleaning up the cauldron.  The sprues had to be cut off, as well as the excess bronze that had leaked out.  A sawzall and angle-grinder did most of the work.  Hours and many blades, several grinding disks, then sand paper.  The result was a shiny, golden miracle.  Then the patina.

Rae read about, and experimented with, several types of patinas  (finishes) for the bronze.  For the Earth cauldron, she selected a fired milk/mud application.  The cauldron was taken to a friends farm, a pit dug, a fire mad, and the cauldron put into the coals.  dirt was mixed with milk and poured into the cauldron, and the pit, and the cauldron lowered into the hole and covered with more dirt, more milk.  Interesting smell.

The result is a deep brown with darker spots, and a semi-gloss finish.  So it remains to date.

Celtic Totem

September 23rd, 2009

OK, so one more Broom, then perhaps I’ll turn to some of Rae’s other  themes, especially if I start getting more feedback.  Any requests?  Cabinets, Cauldrons, Mirrors, Weavings, Copper Electroforms?  Eventually I’ll get them all.

Celtic Totem

Celtic Totem

The Celtic Totem, I think, was the first piece Rae did in Basswood.   She also used broomcorn that we grew in our garden plot at Eagle heights.  (The poor raccoons, who usually got most of the sweetcorn folks planted there, were so confused, it just kept growing taller, and never had any ears to steal!)

It was the most complex carving she did to that date, too, because it was to tell a story.  One that she related many times, unlike most of her other pieces, where if she told the story, it was to an individual or small group, and seldom repeated.

The story is a retelling of one she heard as a child, from her Irish ancestry.  As I recall it:

“Long ago, Ireland was a cold and rock island.  The cold, the poor soil, and the weather made it hard to live there.  The women cried because their children went hungry.  “

Base to Celtic Totem

Base to Celtic Totem

The base, with the homegrown broomcorn, carved to represent a rocky, mountainous island.

“Their tears fell through cracks in the earth and woke a Dragon sleeping there, who then heard their cries.   Out of compassion, she used her fiery breath to warm the land from beneath, making the island lush and green.”

“The women learned the power in their bodies,  had many children, and learned from the island.  They learned to grow food, to raise families.  They grew numerous.dragon-woman

From the wolf, they learned about community, about sharing and protecting each other.  And so they lived their lives well till they died, when the Raven took their souls back to the Earth.”

Celtic Totem top

Celtic Totem top

The broom “stick” is one large piece of basswood.  Rae drew the design on a large strip of paper, transfered it using carbon paper t the front, then flipped both wood and paper to do the same on the back, (just the outline), then sketched in the things that would be viewed on the back.  on each side she did similar sketches, then started removing large chunks of wood.

The carving process

The carving process

At some point, I remember coming up with the idea to mount the piece vertically, so we created a set of braces with “lazy-susan” bearings, and used a small pneumatic jack to tighten the whole thing up against a ceiling joist in the garage.

totem_carving

Rae was very proud of this piece.  She liked her Irish heritage, the symbols all had special power for her, and she wanted to do a Sheela-na-gig ever since she first came on them in her research.  A review of her show by a reporter from a Madison newspaper, I think, called it a “broom for a god”.

Bronze Broom

September 14th, 2009

CooperationCurrently on loan to Overture Center, Madison, WI

When Rae had a vision for a piece, it sometimes included a medium she had never worked in.  She took advantage of the opportunities afforded by a first-rate Art Department, and took classes to learn the techniques and bring the vision into reality. In this case, she wanted to make one in Bronze.

Detail of hand from Bronze Broom