Folded metal. This is how I met Thea. Making metal look like cloth mesmerized my mind. This was many years ago, and the dish still sits in a place of privilege in my home. Meeting Thea in person provided the opportunity for her to work for some of my architectural clients as well as to create some specialized cabinetry hardware for my home. It has been rewarding to follow her work and world. The current wire work shows how nimble she is with materials as well as that Thea-brand humor.
And now the page is hers.
Last summer I offered a course in wire art at Moses Brown’s RISE camp. With 8-14 year olds, I taught a few techniques and then we sat, told stories and bent wire to suit our imaginations. After the class ended, I was excited to continue this quiet, simple process on my own.
I have set up birthday challenges for myself before. Keeping a photo/written journal for the 50 days leading up to age 50 was the first. For 60, I chose a number of events during the 60 days before the birthday and invited others to join in. Last year, I decided that for 62 days before my 62nd, I would make a wire sculpture a day.
I got tired of hearing myself say, “I should make more art!” and reviewing all the familiar obstacles: giving all my time away, full time work with a demanding commute, no studio. Was I going to regret the lack of joy, frustration, connection and learning that comes with making things? Absolutely. Something snapped and a gentle voice said, “Just begin.”
The challenge had a few guidelines:
- Use things that I already have to recycle and declutter (except for a quantity of steel wire in 24, 20 and 18 gauge which I purchased)
- Rely on four hand tools: round nose, flat nose and chain nose pliers and a cutter
- Spend no more than an hour a day
- No precious materials or fear about the pieces themselves being precious. I used what I had: sea glass, bark, beads, jewelry findings, rocks, chain
- For strength, simplicity, and elegance, use only mechanical connections to hold these disparate objects together
- Do not focus on pleasing others
- Keep the daily commitment
- Post images daily to support the commitment
- Surprise yourself!
I had no idea what I was going to make and loved being in that position. My kitchen table operation began.
I told the closest people in my life about the project and asked to be excused from socializing during that daily hour. I also invited them to join me to work on parallel projects so that we could talk and work as I had with my campers. During a visit with my nephew and his wife, we talked about social media. Besides needing a “how to”, I needed a “why to”. I choose my familiar Facebook and new-to-me Instagram as my two galleries.
The pace was challenging. Some days I made 2 or 3 pieces to allow for time off. Some pieces were posted just past the stroke of midnight.
When I found myself struggling with an overly complicated creation, I simply stopped. That piece could grow at another time. It may have been interesting, but it was not for this project.
Compared to the amount of time spent alone in the studio before the turn of the century, I found the companionship of Facebook and Instagram buoying and also grounding. It wasn’t long after a posting went up before “Likes” or comments started rolling in from friends and family. On Instagram, new followers were from as far away as Bulgaria. Late at night or first thing in the morning, I caught up on reading comments and flipping through followers’ art. I didn’t name my sculptures; it left more room for others to share their impressions. But hashtags go farther if you use several and they call out specific features and themes. Hashtags drew special interest groups such as yoga practitioners, shell seekers, surfers, knife makers, male models and found object artists. Some donated materials to me: a jar of sea glass from a long ago Florida vacation, handmade glass beads which went unstrung, pieces of rock or driftwood. After seeing images of my work, a friend’s four-year-old granddaughter offered a pinecone which had been thoroughly crushed in her tiny coat pocket.
As we approached the 62nd piece, both my followers and myself professed sadness over the end of the challenge. They looked forward to a daily surprise as much as I had. People wanted to own favorites and I released them for sale once the challenge was complete. My dedication and joy inspired others to make things happen for themselves: a promise, some art, or a meaningful daily practice.
So I recommend this: surprise yourself!
Thea Ernest on Instagram