Friday, April 06, 2012

Farewell, ArtFest...

Slowly.  Slowly now, I sink back into my old life far from the rocky beaches strewn with driftwood.  I haven't even unpacked yet.  Almost as if unzipping the suitcases will release the last bit of salty sea air and with it my memories from my time away.  I know this is foolish, but it's comforting to know that there is something that remains.  Eventually the need to retrieve the socks and underwear wrapped in a plastic bag will win out.  Then I can start.

I was once watching a show about selling houses.  The realtor with an expertly coiffed hairdo and a gleaming smile said that most people buy houses because of an emotional reaction they have.  Generally that emotional connection is either won or lost within the first few minutes.  A powerful reaction can be triggered by a familiar smell, a certain quality of light or a sense of comfort.  Some realtors will bake cookies, or place freshly cut flowers in the entryway to illicit a favorable response.

Surrounded by art supplies and the familiar banter of my sister, Cynthia, the stage was set.  We could have easily been in one of our studios, opening the doors to friends to play for the day.  It's there, in room 203W that I gave into my overwhelming emotional response and let myself "fall in love".  I am reluctant to use that phrase because it is so loaded with connotation and innuendo, but it is the best way to describe the almost immediate fondness I felt for the strangers walking into the room, taking their places and laying out their art supplies.  All of them came with the intention to make artwork, to learn and to have fun.  I admired the spirit and the willingness to become apart of a community – a creative community.    

 Once, when I was a little boy, we had two cats.  One was named Sasha.  One was named Cleo.  Soon, two cats became six.  When us kids discovered the kittens, just fluff balls with eyes barely open, we squealed with delight at our good fortune!  We ran straight to our parents and told them of the good news.  But our parents did not smile.  We didn't understand their less than enthusiastic response.  We didn't understand that the kittens would eventually turn into cats and then there would be four more mouths to feed.  But they did and they knew that we didn't have extra money for extra pets.  Our father cautioned us not to name them, because if we did... it would break our hearts when they got rid of them.  They were too little to be separated from their mother, but their days were numbered in the Thornton household.

To say that we were "willful" children would be an understatement.  Occasionally and more accurately, we might be described as "defiant" and "insubordinate".  We hid the kittens and their mother in the big red barn and constructed a play area for them from discarded cardboard boxes, a few scavenged threadbare blankets, and old stuffed animals with missing buttons eyes... and against our parents' will, we gave each of them names.

After school, we would ditch our backpacks inside and run to our secret lair.  We would play with the kittens until our father returned home from work and sneak out through the back, where there was a loose piece of corrugated tin sheeting that made up the walls.  We used this as our entrance and exit as the barn door was usually bolted shut and locked tight.

One day we returned from school and my father's gold Mitsubishi work-truck was pulled up in the driveway.  Our stomaches dropped and we ran straight to the red barn, forgetting our backpacks were still on.  There was no need to use our makeshift door that we thought was secret.  It wouldn't have been any use anyway, as we later discovered that it was nailed shut.  The barn door hung open – exposing that the play area had been removed.  And so had the kittens.

We were taught that day, the dangers of loving too easily.  It was foolish to become emotionally invested, if you already knew that it wouldn't last.  I tried to temper my heart against becoming too fond of our students.  I knew that the weekend would soon be over and that our students would disperse back where they came from at the close of ArtFest.  But like I said, we were always very willful.
 I think that one of the beautiful things about ArtFest – and teaching in general – is that everything begins with an idea.  A thought is held in the mind's eye and shared.  Words help shape this vision.  The idea travels from head to hand, passing through the heart.  An abstract idea is made manifest and with it, a little bit of the artist.
 It's easy to see why people come back, year after year.  There is such a strong sense of community.  A bonfire is a beacon that invites people to gather, to paint, to draw, and express themselves.
 I don't think I was alone in making fast friends.  No class would be complete without the occasional burst of giggles or the sharing of stories.  We didn't just talk about the work we made or artistic techniques, but we shares stories about our families, friends, and the people we surround ourselves with.  We invited them with us, the people we carry in our hearts.  Although invisible, their presence was felt.  Tokens of happy days spent combing the beach were embedded in resin.  Fragile flowers from a wedding bouquet were honored with a place in a reliquary.  A treasured pendant was strung on a chain.

 Even with the same information and the same guidance, side-by-side, the work from each student differed drastically.  The classes provided a framework for the students to fill in as they liked.  It was always a pleasure to see an idea shared in one of the classes taken in a new and different direction.  A Wonder Cabinet Butterfly, in the right hands, might transform into a flying seahorse.
 I like the idea of empowering students with new ideas and new techniques and encouraging them to keep going.  I sincerely hope that all of the students who took the classes go home and make something with these new tools in their mental toolboxes.
 Perhaps part of the magical quality of the classes stemmed from the quality of light.  It was mostly cloudy or rainy.  The light was still bright, but diffused, making colors pop more vibrantly in contrast and shadows seem cooler and darker.  The light or lack of it could be challenging at times, especially working on small detailed work, but in the end it gave the sense of another presence... the place and atmosphere.

 I delighted in the pride the students took in their creations.  I loved seeing their eyes light up when a particularly concept became clear or when they finished their projects and cradled them lovingly while posing for a picture.
 I would be remiss not mentioning the sheer beauty of Fort Worden.  Restored, renovated, but mostly intact from the days when it used to be a fully functioning training facility and outpost armed with cannons.  Some say that it's haunted.  I wouldn't disagree, but the spirits here don't feel hostile (at least none that I encountered).  Instead there was an aura of camaraderie.
 Even with the buildings and the ruins of long ago structures dotting the campus, there's a sense of wilderness and the Wild here.  Blackberry bushes and brambles swallow up what has been left unclaimed.  Dried wildflowers, survivors of the winter, mark untouched spots speaking of another season soon to come again.
Herds of deer graze up the grasses surrounding the common buildings.  They are most symbolic of the Wild at the Fort.  They show no fear of the artists who've descended upon their home, but keep enough distance for an easy and unhampered exit.  They have watched this place for generations.
 The cliffs are majestic, but are ultimately treacherous.  One false step and it could mean a rocky demise.  They form a natural protection from those who might come from sea and provide a stunning view of the Sound.
 From the cliffs you can still see barges minding the lighthouse, cautioning and warning.   The lighthouse is on a hook of land that juts out into the sea, pointing to the dividing line of sea and sky.  In the dark of night, its light is one of the few left to guide by.  Even the stars remain hidden.
Even though our time at the Fort was short – a brief and temporary stay – and this was the last ArtFest, I think we have all left a piece of ourselves here... just like the men who once called this stretch of rocky beach and jutting cliff home.

And I hope that what we've left behind, like the steady presence of camaraderie already infused in every stone and plank, captures a fraction of the power of what we did here... the spirit of Makers who came together to Create.


Cynthia Thornton said...

Wow, that was a great post Andrew! It makes me miss it, even though I was a little homesick for my babies and surroundings.

Colleen said...

So beautifully said, Andrew; you're as good a writer as you are an artist! Thank you to you and Cynthia for being such great teachers and showing me the joy of working with resin. My husband liked seeing my photo in your post, too. I hope you found lots of beach glass and driftwood at North Beach. Little bottles will be in the mail to you next week. - Colleen

dogfaeriex5 said...

You write with your heart as your pen, so beautiful and eloquent. Thank you Andrew...

Amber Dawn Inventive Soul said...

:) Such pleasant and warming sentiments.
I especially loved the story of the kittens and how you painted the scene with your words.

What is the wire dipped in, in one of the photos above? They look like the cellophane/ film dipped wire flowers from long ago. :)
I've not yet been to Art Fest- one day, maybe!
It sounds like a great place to be a part of the art scene each year.

Pam McKnight said...

I too was at Art Fest, though our paths did not cross. You captured it beautifully!