Untying the Bag of Winds:
19"h x 12"w x 12"d
Maple, cherry, magnet, wire, fabric, fiber, ribbon
Odysseus and his men are welcomed at Aeolia, the island of Aeolus, the King of the Winds. Trying the guest card again, Odysseus begs for a gift, in the form of help getting home. Aeolus invites Odysseus into the privacy of his chamber and proceeds to create a suitable gift. He fills a wind-cattle hide with all the winds. He then releases only the wind Odysseus will need to get home, the west wind, then he ties the bag containing the other trapped winds with a silver filigree thread. Returning to the ship, Odysseus warns his crew not to touch this tightly wrapped gift which Odysseus stores in the hull of the ship. For nine days the west wind blows, with Odysseus always at the helm. On the tenth day, when the ship is close enough to Ithaca that Odysseus and his crew can see the islanders tending fires along the shore, Odysseus relaxes and for the first time in nine days suddenly succumbs to sleep.
One of his men rouses the suspicion of inequity in the others. “We’re almost home. What do you suppose is in this bag? Gold? Why should Odysseus get all the treasure while we arrive home empty-handed?” the boldest asks, forgetting how the men caroused away their chance at a share in the booty, against Odysseus’ advice, after their first battle with the Cicones. He pushes past the sleeping Odysseus, pulls the writhing bag from the hold and cuts it open. Out rush the pent-up winds which fill the untended sails. All the ships are blown away.
Odysseus wakes to despair. Realizing what has happened, how close they came to home, and how suddenly they lost it, he considers suicide but relents, remembering his goal – to get home. By now the freed-up winds have blown the ship back to where they started, and the ships arrive again at the island of Aeolus. Still furious with his men, Odysseus goes ashore and beseeches the king to contain the winds again, but this time the king says - no deal.
As host, Aeolus has already done his part. It’s not his fault that Odysseus fell asleep within sight of home. Some powerful god must bear him a grudge, Aeolus suggests, shrugging him off. He sends Odysseus away and withholds all winds. With heavy heart and no gift, Odysseus returns to the ship. With no winds to fill their sails, the sailors get no help and for days must ply their oars, exhausting themselves with rowing.
Have you ever been close to your goal and been blown away by others who lack trust or covet your skills? If you were Odysseus, would you tell your crew what was in the bag? If you were Aeolus, the king of the winds, would you have given Odysseus a second chance? Why or why not? What is your leadership style, your mentoring approach, your line between generosity and judgment? Have you ever pulled an all-nighter only to find that the next day you performed poorly? How do you delegate? How do you pace yourself? A huge percentage of car accidents happen within a few miles of home. What do you do when you are exhausted but still have responsibilities? Have you ever fallen asleep or lost your focus at a crucial moment? Do you give up? Are you resilient? Do you perseverate or persist?
The Creative Challenges of this Sculpture
How to represent the wind? What caught my attention reading that story? Clearly we are meeting the Elements here. We recognize the power of the winds, their turbulence, their feistiness. Then their being contained by Aeolus in the bag he made from the wind-cattle hide, Aeolus releasing the one wind Odysseus would need, then binding the bag tight with the silver thread. Then the image of Odysseus hiding this writhing bag i-n the hold of his ship. How to differentiate the winds visually, and with what material?
Given that wood and wool have become my main media in this series, I had barely begun looking for something that would serve as an armature for the volatile winds when my husband presented me with yet another cracked vessel, a hollow-form cherry wood vase, the base of which had exploded while being turned on the lathe. I decided the mouth of the hollow-form would be a good-enough image to depict how Aeolus might have funneled the winds into the bag, so I drilled attachment holes for yarn in the wood, then sanded the still-rough wood to a fine finish and applied several coats of varnish, so that the funnel of wood shone out gold. Then – what of the different winds? And how to give them form individually? Threads in my hands, different colors – cooler white (north), hot red (south), the yellow of dawn (east), and with the west wind already out, I didn't have to worry about it! Wire armatures would provide anchors for the threads and support the curves and twists of the emerging winds. And the bag? What does the skin of wind-cattle look like? I had some silk curtain veil from an earlier project, and a length of silver thread.
Yet so narrow-based, light-weight and proportionally tall, the piece could easily topple from the cocktail-height table we would make for display. Within the base, a powerful magnet could attach it to a matching magnet on the exhibit table. And so the bag of winds would be secured, upright, when in the story, the jealous crew opened the forbidden bag, and the winds, each pushing out in different directions, forced their way out of the bag and again the ships were blown away.