Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I've made nests on and off for years, unruly wild-crafted webs of willow, grapevine, and seaweed, among other materials. They became home to some of the little things I can't help picking up and keeping.

Seaweed Nest and Sand Dollars JS '97?

Making a particular place for things, an appropriate container, feels like a fundamental domestic satisfaction. I remember meeting a woman with alzheimer's. Her favorite activity was sorting and arranging beads and buttons in a little grid of boxes. Her daughter said she still recognized her mother, who had been a scientist, in this kind of play. There was something essential to it.

I don't tend to live in an orderly fashion. Plenty of times I cross over from creative chaos into squalid mess. Things are definitely not in their places. And contrarily, sometimes I use housework as a procrasto-gizmo to avoid creative work. (There's a cartoon about people who have to do the dishes before they can art at the end of this Art First post).

At least I don't have all my eggs in one basket.

But maybe everything is really in its rightful place even when it seems out of order. Every place and every thing is impermanent, after all. Form is a giant game of musical chairs.

One-Egg Basket crocheted yarns and threads, JS '07

This past year I moved out of my own little nest in the sky. I had lived there for 18 years, hidden away in a small attic apartment. It had become an exoskeleton, an extension of myself that I felt alarmed and exhilarated to molt out of.

Before taking apart my studio, I found myself making a little house-shrine. It felt like a meditation on mortality as a change of address--a visual response to the koan, "What was your face before your parents were born?"

Our mother's body is our first nest. Then we live in the temporary container of our own body, sheltered in changeable clothing and houses, held by gravity to our place on the round mother planet, within the moving, living universe. Who or what is contained here?

Before Mother House
shrine with vases and candles, fabrics, paint, mirrors Jude Spacks '08

Interior of Before Mother House, showing mirrors

The front of the piece has curved openings, some of which are covered with sheer fabric. This is participatory art: it needs you to complete it, to bring presence to it. As you look through the semi-veiled openings to the mirror and colorful wall in the rear of the little house, you see only a foggy, mysterious suggestion of a face looking back at you. Who is that?

The flowers offered in the little vases, fresh only a few days, and the hand setting them there, a hazy suggestion of its movement doubling in the curved mirror shapes and disappearing: all the same essence, held so fleetingly.


Packing meant seeing freshly the hoard of ordinary treasures I chronically save. Some things still held memories of when they appeared in my world. But with most I had no idea how they came to be here. There were some startling encounters with beauty that had been hidden, overlooked, taken for granted, forgotten.

Equally mysterious was the knowing that chose what to let go of, what got thrown back into the ocean, literally or metaphorically, and what got packed to come along.

One day shortly after I began living in my new house, I happened upon a citrine crystal of a very deep burnt orange, set into the top hole of a sea urchin skeleton of cool filigreed silver-green. The citrine glowed with gold flecks inside, like a wise, wild eye.

I used to collect crystals, and knew some of their magical properties. Citrine supports cleansing and ordering, as I remember the lore.

The urchin shell fit around the crystal with perfectly symmetrical grace: curved radiating rows of light dots increasing in size towards its periphery--a divine artifact of astonishing intricacy. In my palm the combination felt potent as a wand. I had to make a Place for it.

The feeling I had was of a grounded mystery, of tangled order, an organic, spontaneous, stillness-in-motion, a secret cave. It took more than a month of working with those colors, deep orange and light grey-green, not an easy combination, looking for the energetic harmonies in 3D that could house them.

Oracle Cave, mixed media with mirror JS '09 (available)

detail, Oracle Cave: Citrine Urchin's padded throne

In the fall, my sweetheart was getting ready to drive off on a long trip. There were acorns all over the yard. I painted one with a heart in pearlescent pigments, and adapted a matchboxto house it and her other car-blessing talisman.

There is a cherishing involved in this tiny nest-making.

A week or so later, I saw my neighbor sitting on a big rock with his beloved granddaughter cuddled up in his lap. They were both curved around something she held cupped in her little hands.
"We like to pick up chestnuts," he said.

So then I had to make a chestnut nest. A celebration of the love of mundane treasures. There's a whole potential chestnut tree in there! Miracles abound.

Self-Treasuring Nest, fabrics, shells, chestnut, composition gold leaf, JS'09

I thought also of how common mussel shells are where I live, but how glorious. What's common can be overlooked. There's royalty in the humblest things.

The chestnut is removable--another found treasure could go there, or the gold leaf center of the soft encircling throne (inspired by granddaughter hands) could be left empty and open.

I found myself reflecting (heh!) that there was no mirror in this piece--they'd been showing up pretty much in every other shrine I'd been making. Then I wondered, what if the chestnut's beauty, dignity, humility, simplicity reflects the viewer's--the miracle of a chestnut, is it a mirror? Or, the Place where a chestnut once was... can you see your Self there?

We pick up treasures here and there, and keep them a while,
every one temporary, the memory of gathering them fleeting too.
Is it for the sake of treasuring?
What's precious? The touching, the cherishing itself? The impermanence?
The little girl's hands, the old man's hands,
the chestnut, the fresh fall breeze around them,
the ground that the tree could grow out of,
the light, the colors, the whole world holding us all?
Including You, precious, fleeting you,
life loving itself just this way, just now. 


Wilda in Wildanest