Whirligigs

A site-specific sculptural installation that I created for an Opening Gala at Jacob’s Pillow, a dance center in Becket, Massachusetts

In 1993 I was asked to create a site-specific sculpture installation for the Season Opening Gala at Jacob’s Pillow, a dance center in Becket, Massachusetts. I created an installation that echoed the movements of modern dance. The three kinetic sculptures, made of canvas, steel, and bicycle parts donated to the Art Foundry’s scrap heap, lilted upon the Berkshire County breezes all afternoon.

Technical details and availability

Completed and installed in 1993; welded steel, recycled bicycle parts, and canvas; private collection (not for sale).

Belly Cast

A plaster cast of a mother’s torso that I decorated with sculptural petals and a whimsical landscape scene

Belly cast, decorated

While they were pregnant with their first child, some friends of mine made a plaster cast of the mother’s belly. She was a big fan of daisies, and of the orange-and-pink color combination. After their son was born they asked me to decorate the plaster torso casting, so they could hang it on their wall as three-dimensional art.

Painting a two-dimensional image on a three-dimensional surface presented challenges, but it was fun, and the family was thrilled with the result. The petals around the edge I cut out of thin veneer wood.

Technical Details and Availability

Acrylic paint, plaster, gauze, veneer plywood. Private collection; not for sale.

Muse Shoes

A welded steel sculpture of a pair of high-heeled shoes

It is fun to work with juxtapositions where the nature of the medium contrasts with the object it represents. In the case of Muse Shoes, I forged a pair of soft, delicate shoes out of hard, cold steel, and displayed them on a walnut base.

The process I used to make these is called oxyacetylene welding. Two gases, oxygen and acetylene, are combined under regulated pressures and are ignited at the tip of the welding torch.

The welder heats the intersection of the metals to be joined. As the metals begin to melt, the flame is swirled in order to moderate the heat and control the melting. More steel is fed to the cherry-red pool via a thin rod held in the other hand.

In many cases, arc welding (which uses electricity) is more efficient for basic joining operations. But flame-based welding lends itself to organic techniques such as bending, hammering, distressing, and applying patinas. Therefore oxyacetylene welding is attractive to the sculptor.

Private collection (not for sale).

Horse

A horse sculpture made of clay

I was born in the Year of the Horse, and I view the horse as a sort of personal totem or power animal. While I was a student at the University of Massachusetts, I sculpted this piece out of low-fire red clay, fired it, glazed it, and fired it again. It’s about the size of a basketball. Private collection (not for sale).

Steel Arch Bridge and Boats

A sculptural installation involving welded steel boats carrying symbolic cargoes, and a welded steel arch bridge.

Around the end of the 20th Century, I hatched an idea to build a sculptural installation involving 33 metal boats, each filled with a symbolic cargo and arranged so as to converge on a passage through a steel arch bridge.

The idea was somewhat informed by numerology, coincidence, our collective anticipation of the new millennium, and a vague interest in the mystique and lore surrounding Freemasonry. I was nearing my 33rd birthday, 33 happened to be my favorite number at the time, and 33 is the highest degree in the Scottish Rite.

But the larger metaphor was simply one of passage. The opening in the bridge represented a rite of passage from one part of life to another, or from life to death and whatever lay beyond. It also represented an intersection between the realities of what was going on in the water under the bridge, vs. the realities that were being connected by the platform of the bridge.

Midnight Freight

I first showed the installation at the Berkshire Artisans Gallery in Pittsfield, Massachusetts in 1999, under the title of Midnight Freight. Freight in this sense represented the “baggage” that we all carry with us from our childhood throughout our lives. And the midnight aspect hinted at the subconscious, sub-rosa nature of these things. The materials that filled the boats were things that I associated in some way with my childhood: sweetgum pods, old pennies, acorns, bony-fingered twigs from a cottonwood tree, half-burned candles, red Georgia clay, etc.

Three Sisters

Later, I showed the installation again with significantly fewer boats, different cargo, and configured to speak to a different theme. Living With the River was a juried show that took place at the Canal Gallery in Holyoke, Massachusetts in 2001. Artists were asked to weigh in on the influence they felt by living in the vicinity of the mighty Connecticut River that cuts through our fertile Pioneer Valley.

Three Sisters is an expression symbolizing the corn, beans, and squash that are staples of various Native American groups, many of whom lived in this region in abundance before the appearance of European Settlers. In this installation, the boats carried dried corn kernels, dried beans, and squash seeds.

In this way, my piece spoke to the inescapable history that we shoulder in the course of our modern-day life with the river. Namely, that we must recognize and honor the other cultures that preceded us and—in their own ways—lived with the river.

Technical Details and Availability

While the diaspora of boats has mostly made its way out into the private collections of the world, the bridge itself remains in my private collection. The bridge is composed of brazed steel (meaning that brass—which has a lower melting point than steel—is used as the joining metal). It has rusted to a nice patina.

Steel Arch Bridge

Little Deaths, a Chapbook

Little Deaths cover

In 1995, fresh out of college, I wrote and published a chapbook called Little Deaths.

I approached this project as both a writing exercise and as serial sculpture: After I wrote the story and the haiku poems, I hand lettered, illustrated, printed, assembled, and bound all fifty copies in the edition (plus a few artist’s proofs). I did not have a computer at the time, so there was never a digital master. This production was as analog as it could be. The entire series was handmade using photocopies, blueprints, hand-carved rubber stamps, ink, and glue.

For the front cover (shown above), I used a highly-textured purple paper, which I glued to three chipboard supports (front and back covers; spine). I printed the title, by-line, and “logo” with rubber stamps that I carved by hand from rubber erasers.

Front papers

Little Deaths page spread

I developed this pattern of onions by stamping repeatedly with the aforementioned rubber stamp.

More front papers

Little Deaths page spread

Can you tell that I like onions? The left page was semi-translucent vellum, hinting at an onion skin; the right was an actual blueprint, which provides a nice velvety texture and some wonderful, accidental color bleed.

Title page

Little Deaths page spread

Another blueprint featuring an enlargement of the onion pattern.

Dedication

Little Deaths page spread

This little chapbook written and hand-bound in an edition of 50 (plus a few artist’s proofs) by Trace Meek […] U.S.A 1995. Thanks to Benjamin Ostiguy, who took the photos on pages 26 & 30. For all who would listen…

The story begins with a walk.

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Now and again Annelise would go out on walks and would collect mementos of her various visits. A pebble here, an interesting stick there. Occasionally a pine cone or a sweetgum pod. A piece of mossy bark, a small shard of brick, a snail shell. A palm full of strange-color dirt from a significant location, the dried shell of a bumblebee. An old shoe heel, a

Little Deaths page spread

butterfly wing. Quite a smattering of these little treasures had begun to collect here and there in the nooks and crannies about her apartment. Each one would forever evoke in her a little pocket of memory, a reminder of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind. On this particular day, Annelise walked in a direction that she had never taken before. Guided only by intuition and a desire to be outdoors, she proceeded without a fixed destination. Out from the bustle of the town, through the quiet neighborhoods behind the college, over the abandoned trestle, out along the paths that lead through woodlands and meadows, left muddy by an early thaw. Out along

Little Deaths page spread

a subtle ridge to a cornfield and an apple orchard, to a view of those familiar mountains in the distance. The weather was unseasonably warm, but a roaring wind blew thick, moist air in over the mountains. High above, the close-knit trees clacked their leafless branches together as though they were deer locking antlers.

Little Deaths page spread

As Annelise gazed out upon those cool grey mountains and the slightly lighter-grey sky above, she wondered to herself, “How could I possibly express this moment and the euphoria that it brings, without positively living it for someone?” She entertained the notion of bringing back sweetgum pods by the bagful and handing them out to people on the street, then had a little laugh to herself. “Everyone will find their own little memory pods,” she mused, “their own reminders of a particular place, a particular time, and a particular state of mind.” For ages Annelise would continue to try to express the inexplicable, such as she had experienced on that winter’s day, and

Little Deaths page spread

on so many occasions before and since. Now and again she would go out on walks and would collect little soulful impressions, little memories, little nuggets of folk wisdom which would swim around her and emerge into five- and seven-syllable phrases. Annelise would stash these phrases in the nooks and crannies about her heart, live with them, and savor them. To her surprise, they would eventually assemble themselves into haiku poems, some of which are shared with you here…

Haikus

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Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
The good goes away,
the bad follows right behind,
then they both come back.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Expressing our needs,
look at what our hands have done—
this is where we live.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Onions enlighten—
peel back through clear layered skins,
get to the essence.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Islands in the Sun
thinking we could be as one:
closeness in distance.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
When in a painting
you see a beckoning road,
then down it you go!

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Send a friend a gift—
when it arrives at the door
you get love supreme.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Natural logic
pays attention to within—
calm before a quake.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Fate interrupts us—
little deaths we live each day
as we approach one.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
Several apples,
passed over by suns and moons,
return to damp earth.

Little Deaths page spread

Haiku
In the wild of life
relationships come undone
and new ones are formed.

End papers

Little Deaths page spread

More end papers

Little Deaths page spread

Little Deaths cover

I sold a few copies of this chapbook on consignment through a cool but now defunct bookstore (whose name I forget) in Downtown Amherst, gave many copies away to friends, family, and muses, and kept none for myself. Thanks to an old friend, a copy made its way back to me nearly two decades after I published it, so that I could scan it and reproduce it here. Enjoy.