“Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”
The newest ceramic collaboration between my husband, Michael, and I came out of the kiln this week. Last spring I wrote about painting on this piece, The Mad Hatter’s Wife teapot. She was only half baked before, so to speak, but after sitting for the summer, she’s now fully cooked and ready for the world. Michael made the piece, explained that she was the Mad Hatter’s wife, then told me he was giving it to me to paint my masterpiece. When I heard that, I knew I had to push myself to do something more than what I’d done before. I began imagining what a woman would have to be like if she were married to someone who was crazy. She already had bold features and a sassy gesture with her hand on her hip, inferring she knew how to deal with whatever she might be confronted with. She’d also need to draw on the power of nature–the sun, moon, stars, and rivers to keep herself together through whatever came her way. She’d be a free spirit, not bound by expectations of others, but instead acting out of the inner resources of herself in order to keep sane. This would mean that her inner child would be very much alive. Flowers, creativity spirals, humming birds, bees, a river of hearts, blue nazar to keep away the evil, wild colors and patterns–they all weave together in her mind, part of the fruit in the garden of her inner self.
I’ve not yet come up with her name–perhaps readers can suggest a name. Maybe it is Norma (meaning of the north) as her hair is blond, and looks windblown. She’s not a tidy woman. She is, however, alive with spontaneity and she never wears hats–even in the winter. Her hair has to move. She’s got a heart-shaped bindi on her forehead, and hearts on her finger tips. Whatever she touches is imprinted with heart. Jewels encircle her arms, and the sun explodes off her hip in a sunflower burst. Yes, she’s a force to contend with. The Mad Hatter knows this of course. Life with her scintillates with energy. Her tea always tastes good.
Barry Lopez in his children’s book, Crow and Weasel, says, “Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memories. This is how people care for themselves.” The story I invented for the Mad Hatter’s Wife, and the act of painting itself restores. I’ve painted this teapot, and like all the work of done with drawing or painting, I surprise myself each time that what I am making approaches what I am hoping for. I don’t think the teapot is my masterpiece yet, but it is compared to what I’ve done previously. I love how the subject has got me thinking of stories behind the stories we know. How is it we survive the craziness of the world? This is what painting on the Mad Hatter’s Wife got me thinking about.
People go to places like the Rothko Chapel in Houston to meditate, the dark colors bringing them into a deep interior space where in that quietness they can reconnect with the stillness that lies underneath experiences, a different story with a presence waiting to be heard. Jane Hirschfield, in her book, Ten Windows, says in her preface, “Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing of vision. Entering a good poem a person feels, tastes, hears, thinks, and sees in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged, by its presence and mysterious means… “And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share.” This is what happens to me when I sit down to paint or to write; I am transformed, and something in the act of creating compels me to return again and again. It is a spring of water that refreshes. We enter into the world of creating and we are made new. This is why tea from the Mad Hatter’s Wife teapot is so restorative. You drink it, and you take time to reconnect to that time when you were a child rolling down a hillside of grass, climbing a hillside and lazing on a granite stone for an hour, listening to the wind as it moved a dead branch, watching as birds circle overhead. You know that place inside, and making art takes you there again to rediscover the way you interconnect to the world, the way life moves through you–the gift it is to be alive.