Begun January 2, 2006
This Great Sloshing Of Gravity…
I have worked to write something of a recap of my year before this mellow holiday mood gets dissipated into the maw of a voracious new calendar.
Our weather has calmed today after days of impressive winds & extraordinary tidal action, all of which has prompted consideration & a bit of research to remind how all sorts of forces, lunar & solar, mix in this dance of gravitational fields affecting our liquidly gaseous world… the bits of its crust on which we can stand seem rather more fragile than might be absolutely stable.
That was the sermon.
During this season Stephen & I often remembered the events of this time last year when we were in India, particularly the Boxing Day anniversary of the Tsunami. That example of geologic event overtakes any weather we’ve had… even that closer to my old home in Sonoma County where the Russian River is flooding now in California’s aspect of this system.
One ritual we said we wanted to bring home from New Years Eve in Kerala was the “Burning Of Santa” [see my India Journal on the “writings” page of my web site: GRBBELLS.COM], but we never quite found a meaningful way to recreate it. We spent that nocturne in a duet of quiet solitude… there was no bevy of spirited Indian boys with whom to dance around such a bon fire as we would need to build in the rain & wind! Burning a printed paper effigy, like the reproductions of Victorian Saint Nick which I have somewhere in the studio, was another possible mode, but, frankly we were nicely past needing that.
I had happily arrived in my own mind’s way at being finished with the string of variations on Solstice our culture has accumulated. To have a period now of new beginnings is deliciously rewarding for all those activities, both indulged & avoided.
The year held much of new experience to digest at its “second” beginning, when we got home from India in mid January & I gave myself most of another month to sit with those travel memories & the pages of my journal while rewriting toward better digestion of the most different version of world I had ever experienced.
Design Time In The Studio…
All that, plus our usual escape into Faeriedom at the annual Winter Breitenbush Gathering, delayed my design train. One might have safely assumed such rich stimulation would have shown up in my creative process, yet I did nothing directly from the Indian resource.
New designs grew more easily from earlier & familiar beginnings, like the Chrysler Building, long strongly requested, or the Peter bell, which I had first drawn several years ago. There also came several reductions in size of established designs, in a process of revisiting ideas to discover versions suitable for earrings or to offer as more delicate choices.
I intend to do several more of those this year, particularly the Dragonfly bell, which is quite large & does not have the delicacy I hope now to achieve, since I was experimenting with that open form to test how such a shape would ring as a bell.
That question satisfied, I am ready to attempt more naturalistic detail…
While I never expect to come to an end of ideas for bells I do not feel driven to add designs for the reason simplistically to enlarge the line… it is huge already. I have reached the stage where I am more interested in “grooming” the line, making it finer for all the wide exploration during the last twenty five years. I want to refine it for easier, more effective production. Many of the designs have quirks or flaws from the evolving nature of learning how to make such little castings sing.
This is the only production I have ever done, coming at this impulse-turned-mania from a career of making one of a kind jewelry commissions beginning early in my twenties. This becomes my life work, still in production, from first design to last. Of course there is remedial work to be done…
These still long dark nights have long been my preferred time to sit at the wax desk & carve new designs. It is my deepest ritual. Curiously I must find peace at being artist for this too short period, while then moving too soon into shepherding the molding & production toward being ready for the sales & promotion which eventually supports the cycle of this business.
Each year there is the dream to evolve more fulsome dialogue with the foundry’s capability to accomplish more of this without my close attention. Last year I began a concerted effort to facilitate that. The story of the year became quite complexly other…
There were horrible casting problems during June & July with a new, highly touted, alloy which among other difficulties did not make resonant bells. Innumerable waxes I had spent many weeks prepping were simply lost. We even lost track of the losses, while trying to figure it all out.
Then came a health crisis for Larry, one in two partners who began Outcast & Company more than a decade ago. After learning that some of his health difficulties might be resulting from accumulations of metallic residues in his body, he retired. His childhood in the great atomic desert & his working years in a foundry were taking an obvious toll. I do remember often seeing his wacky humor enhanced by a respirator, although what is sufficient protection in such environments?
Another lesson for us who work in such trades.
James had to deal with Larry’s sudden departure by taking over the casting as well as his more usual management of the business. The small crew of Outcast & Company were required to redouble efforts to get back up to speed during such a perplexing & disappointing time. James kept putting the best face on it, believing, as he had to, that the bad luck would come to an end. Plus he wants to be superman…
He recruited & accumulated skills of associates toward what seems now a fine shop. But none of them had much experience with the complexity of the bell line.
Counting On Complexity…
Even I have difficulty sometimes, looking at a particular part, knowing to which bell it might belong. In the beginning years I used the same clapper or loop for several different bells… or different parts constructing variations on a design. I often carve optional clappers, with which to experiment from the start.
We learned again the difficulties of keeping track of a line with more than 200 designs; each made up of at least two, often three, parts, perhaps as many as five or six; in all the states from molds & waxes, through the casting; finishing; & assembly processes; in three different metals; at multiple work stations in several shops; on both sides of the Sound…
Thousands of bits of data one must only hope tracks what will ultimately become bells.
All this is further daunting, if not made nearly impossible, because they may indeed actually “evaporate”when castings are incomplete or if these tiny objects flip out of hand during polishing into one of miriad hidey places extant in such working environments. Of course we expect & anticipate some such attrition, so we can usually bring through enough of each & all to eventually construct a useful stock of finished bells for me to market.
One could easily spend too much time counting & keystroking, attempting to keep track of them in computers, notoriously hungry for such input, it becomes counterproductive. Nonetheless, we obviously needed better communication systems to keep us on track.
Thus, I watched the year devolve into a delicate confusion from all my early goals, anticipation & planning. Slowly discovering these problems & the curious complexities of failures was difficult for us all.
I began trying to work more closely with them. Teach/learn is a useful verb for me… one process. Later they worked with me to try to keep what I was needing to fill clients’ holiday orders coming through the chute, to simply dance inside what seemed our curious fate…
Fate would give us one more big jag, right in the middle of the autumnal push toward the holidays. News of Larry’s checking himself into the hospital, then of his heart attack… his death… finally brought the most intense blow.
I could now only allow whatever it took in support of James while he grieved limping & limped grieving through to the end of the season.
Annual Report… the Business of Little Silver Bells…
I had begun my design year late because of the India travel. I’d had a surprisingly successful private showing in March, while visiting Stephen’s mother Helen in Florida. In May, I again had great sales during the Spring Open Studio Tour here on the island… thus my stock was beginning to look sketchy.
The new designs would not be available in time, so I decided to forgo what used to be my largest annual show… the American Bell Association [ABA] Convention… which was this year also in Florida… late in June’s heat… & too many miles from any beach.
The ABA is certainly the first of the bells’ several larger appreciative audiences. However, because I must fly & buy five days & nights in a hotel, garnering only 9 hours of sales time, Convention becomes an expensive show. It is an involving gathering of friendly collectors who love having their leisure to schmooze with each other inside their multitudinous passions for bell collecting.
I’ve made many friends over the twenty-plus years I’ve attended these festas. They are a lively clientèle who have mostly learned not to assume that I share their passion, which I do, to the extent of my sample line… plus… a much deeper appreciation for the way they feed & teach/learn that passion in me. I may not collect more bells than my own line, but ultimately GRB Bells seems acceptable & satisfactorily anachronistic to them… so we can happily trade energies.
I concentrated on the local instead. A second year learning how much fun it was to do this outdoor show under the canopy I’d acquired for the experiment. Stephen likes to help me since the situation offers him lively potential for networking the Island. We come home to our own bed the one night between two concentrated days… while writing an equivalent value in sales.
The Bells continue to surprise me with the delight they create in various venues, but it seems improbable how many bells have been reliably consumed by our local population during ongoing cycles of these three annual events.
Sixty Turnings Of Leo… A Decade Of Love…
There was then the confluence of two big events at mid-year: Our tenth anniversary, sometime in May, plus my 60th birthday, late in July.
Stephen had arrived most visibly in my life at the costume ball I invited into my studio, the Bothy on Avalon, Sonoma County. He is my plum for that significant moment of balance on the fulcrum of my century.
What I gave myself then, I don’t need now… still we had two celebrations here, beginning with a dinner party of chosen brothers.
It was a rare treat to be feted so richly & truly. I did not lift a finger, except those filled with morsels of delish & glasses of delight! All was presented with even more care & love than I ordinarily attempt when I’m playing host to them.
That I received a retro mink coat, skilfully wrapped & wrapping, suggests something projecting my tastes in couture. meet Rita.
The next morning brought us to coffee, fruit, savories & sweets from the bakery as we roused to re-gather, preparing for an open house which lasted the entire day & evening, while bringing 4 or 5 dozen more friends… I have good excuse for my blurring of details inside such heights of social abundance!
We took a road trip into Canada… [link later]
We did Camp Parkview in August… [link later]
We did another Barnett Family gathering in September… [link later]
Diving Into Pixels…
I went digital with images this year too… buying a nice camera as a part of my birthday… although a bit later, in Denver… on our way to the family gathering.
Dwight had shown me his wonderful camera the year before & I’d decided I wanted the same model, so this year he facilitated my purchase of a barely used one, a fine bargain! Thank you, Cigale!
Its Zeiss lenses make it less than “easily portable”, so it is mostly intended for use in the studio. Stephen has great capability to travel shooting with his small camera.
I have had too little time, of course, to really yet learn all of this camera’s complex capability, but I am anxious to continue exploring it during the upcoming period of design time to practice capturing more of the studio process, & eventually to share some of that on my web site. I have long wished to be able to offer a time-lapse visual sequence showing a block of wax dissolving into a finished bell, with an audible ‘ding! at the end.
I’d stopped making film photographs for most of the last decade, so I am discovering in these forms new life for myself, at an age & stage when I might otherwise more easily have let myself slip into that evermore comfortable “old-fogy-dom”.
While I do not yet feel called to the i-pod craze, I am using i-tunes to expand my musical world in this “digital life”. I have always loved radio for my working time because it simply can take me places, especially inside my headphones, without much direction… except for finding a good guide. NPR is sadly becoming more mainstream & commercial, but “inside my box” I am finding a new universe of that lovely old form to explore… one of my current favorites features Persian Classical music.
We talk about color on our walls… while retaining, since the remodel… a quite basic Navajo White. Color seems daunting to this old painter. That dragon, “drawn” several years ago above our tub hangs increasingly as loose shreds of blue tape from the ceiling… awaiting evolution of the dream into proper paint… oh! look at those dophin!
Needing a new kitchen range, we hope to switch to gas… which would mean a propane tank… which in turn would want to be incorporated into our long postponed remodel of the shed… which needs at the very least a new roof, but which really wants to bloom into a new writing space for Stephen… with a sleeping loft to adding guest space. We are working with several contractors now to ascertain what all might be involved. Some drawings name it a “cottage”…
Oh dear, am I ready for this?!?
So, when I ended the year having written the best business ever, I could only feel grateful & very blessed. Where might the bells take me next?
Twelfth Night plus one, the calender is clucking… I’m finished!