|Odyssey||Spirit Caves||Mom's Bones||Tikkun Olam||Weaving||Totems|
Attacking the Cicones:
Peace or a piece of the pie
9"h x 22"w x 18"d
Maple, holly, rhododendron buds, glycerine, plum, copper, fiber, varnish
As the story goes:
A provisioning stop on the way home proves to be a terrible mistake. Odysseus and his men arrive among the Cicones of Ismarus, allies of Troy in the war. The Greeks attack the harbor town, killing the men, dragging off the women for slaves and whatever spoils they can carry. The great and famous heroes of the war all received their booty from the sacking of Troy. Now the regulars, the 50-some men in each of the twelve ships of Odysseus's returning fleet want their piece of the pie. Odysseus can see their point of view, so agrees to the stay over. He encourages his crew to share the plunder, so enmity about who got what does not divide the crew. During the fighting, Odysseus rescues a priest of Apollo, Maros, who rewards him with twelve skins of famous Ismarian wine, "unmixed," that is not yet diluted the way Greeks tended to drink wine, and so twenty times more powerful than Greek wine.
Odysseus wants the crew to set sail immediately after choosing their booty, but the crews are determined to party. They carouse on the shore, drinking the local wine, slaughtering the herds, and feasting. A few Cicones escape. They rush inland and rouse many more who with quick chariots and stocks of weapons, arrive at dawn in great numbers, “packed together like the leaves and spears that flower forth in spring.” They fight all day, routing Odysseus and his men. Already the goals of Odysseus are compromised, for six men from each of the twelve ships are killed in the battle.
The remaining crew, still in twelve ships, sail toward home. They reach Cape Malea, in the southern Peloponnese. Home is only a day away -- until a riptide catches them and the North Wind blows them far off-course for nine days. And so an alternate reality takes over.
Have you ever thought you were on the home stretch of a journey, a job, or a course of study, only to be caught in a rip and swept away? What is your vision of home, for yourself, for your family? How do you know when you are “at home” in your work, in your life journey, in your spirit, on this Earth?
Inspiration for this piece::
As for me, the creative process that resulted in this sculpture began with me captivated by the Homeric simile, above, of the rallying Cicones "packed together like the leaves and spears that flower forth in spring," having gathered in ambush during the night to attack at dawn the drunken, post-party Greeks sprawled out sleeping near their twelve ships drawn up at the shore.
I was just finishing up the breakfast dishes, and I was thinking about what an "island of experience" of the Cicones episode might look like. Just above the sink in the kitchen is a garden window. Outside, brushing up against the window, so right up close, in our garden on Whidbey Island, is a large rhododendron bush, which at that time was preparing to bloom. The turgid shoots of the rhodie stood up straight and tight just as one might imagine the spears of the flowers in the Homeric simile – and suddenly I was outdoors, garden sheers in hand, to clip a few handfuls of those shoots, as this sculpture began to compose in my mind's eye. I dried and glycerined the shoots, hoping they would retain their straight lines, which alas many did not – but I have used them anyway, enchanted by the synchronicity!
When I came inside, I returned to my reading and with a copper "page point" in my hand, ready to mark a page, I realized that the page points, cut in half, would make perfect spear points – hence the "forest" of spears on the slope in the sculpture, some with the embryonic flower spears, some with "copper" spear points!
Parts of this sculpture, like bits of several others in this series, are composed from remnants of wood I have saved over the years. For instance, the twelve ships were cut from a thin, round slab of plum wood, that in fact looked like a pie (hence each ship for each of the twelve crews is itself "a piece of the pie"), salvaged from a neighbor's plum tree in San Diego. Sometimes I will see a piece of wood I simply like, and without yet knowing what it might become, I tuck it away for later….
Similarly the upturned broken and unfinished "bowl" becomes the enclosure and slope in this sculpture. It was on its way to becoming a bowl, but it developed a fatal crack and a piece fell out while the wood was still rough ---- just enough so that when inverted, it would allow an entryway with a natural edge to the Cicones' imagined stronghold, and with holes that I carefully drilled at the drill press, it provided "rooting ground" for the Cicones' spears! The twelve sectors of the plum piece that forms the fleet of Odysseus on the shore, here are marked with squares within representing the empty places of the six sailors lost from each ship after the skirmish with the Cicones.
The temple of Apollo, of ivory- or marble-colored holly wood, is a product of our little forest yard here on Whidbey. I imagine that temple as the place where the priest Maros is rescued and where he presents Odysseus with the wine that Odysseus will use, unmixed, to inebriate the Cyclops – and so the story leapfrogs from one episode to another, the wine from one event an element in the next – as Homer links episodes with such delicious detail.
The roof of the temple of Apollo is refashioned from a remnant from a holly turning my husband was working on. In fact, several bits of these sculptures are created from discards from his lathe projects, errors or unanticipated wood fractures which render some piece he is working on unsuitable for turning or in some other way unworkable. Or sometimes a piece my husband has turned on the lathe will become too thin, or will fly off the lathe and break, or split in process. Then, for instance, the cup-top of a delicate goblet my husband has turned, with a stem so thin it could not hold up -- becomes, on repurposing, a hut for the daughters of Helios (sculpture #11), or the bedroom of the princess Nausicaa (sculpture #13).
So some of the sculptures could be seen as sharing aspects with another series of my sculptures, the Tikkun Olam series, based on the notion of the broken, repaired. When the lathe work turns disastrous and some woodturning my husband is working on is suddenly destroyed, I first commiserate the loss of what he imagined for that wood becoming: "Oh, I'm so sorry! That's too bad!" And I really mean it ! – But then, either before or even after he has tossed it on the burn pile (not yet lit!), I think --- now what else could that be? Occasionally I will ask him to turn a particular form, like the columns of Apollo's temple in this sculpture, but often I take rough discards, like the cone on the top of the temple, refashion them into something my own imagination calls for, carve, rasp, and sand them until they are just what I want, then finish them with oil or varnish, depending on the lustre I want, set them in place, and wait to see if that place is the "right place" before gluing the complex puzzle together.
Some couples play golf, tennis, or bridge together. My husband and I hang out in the garage-studio, fragrant with wood chips from all sorts of trees, with a few cool tools at arm's length, and as many grades of sandpaper as are made. For hours at a time, he at the lathe on his side of the garage, and I at my carving table on the other side, we engage in parallel play, with mutual respect, each of us working separately, yet together, on creative projects that use us both well!