As I was preparing for the recent holidays & our travel to visit Stephen’s family in Minnesota, I worked on a series of drawings for gifts. Beginning during the quiet, halcyon time around Solstice, I chose scraps of rag paper from long ago watercolor days for their intimate size & their character, with torn & decked edges. These were to be more in the style of “cards,” which in the past were presented as & along with other gifts.
My own family long ago decided to forgo prescriptions for holiday gifts & instead to celebrate & gift each other in our own ways & our own time. For years we gathered at my parents home during times of the year when we could more easily be together outdoors. Christmas in July or September was more usual. I’m happy that we let go of obligatory expectations toward wrapped gifts…
So these bon mots in pencil on these paper objects seemed suitable… they were portable & I worked on finishing several of them on the plane. They became quite personal as my pencil danced inside the mythology of my relationship with each recipient. Still, on Christmas morning, hardly wrapped with only simple bows of the red string for which I have a penchant, my gifts were initially met with understandable puzzlement amid the detritus of paper & ribbon from the pile under the tree.
Lest I be misunderstood, let me explain that Stephen’s family does rather more practical than frivolous gifting. Stephen & I have long encouraged re-gifting to share from our own collections & they grok that. Still there can only happily be room for some particularly special gifts. The spice of occasional extravagance is the blessing of the season. Such is what I gave, so I can only celebrate two other examples in their fortuitous harmony. Stephen’s sister Alice gave him his 60th birthday present early… a strikingly handsome Native American beaded box:
Helen’s gift to me is an Acoma Pueblo black pot, equally & literally handsome for being almost palm-able. The finish is so polished it’s clay must be photographed like metal…
Two fragile objects to pack for the trip home! Wonderfully, they fit each other… the pot nestled snugly inside the box, wrapped to fit in my carry-on bag.
Aesthetic gifts always transcend mundane material… like life, all is mud of our earth given breath of creation. Glass beads on a woven box; highly worked clay; graphite on cotton rag paper; poetry dancing as vibrations on air…
Back to the drawings…
Later I created bits of time with each person to explain how I came to their markings…
Brother Mark & I are both Leos, sharing back-to-back birthdays, which encourages us to growl & dance together like our own versions of such cats. This is my lion for him.
Nephew Johnny has been settling-in with Kristen for a respectable while, so my drawing to them was about the work
Niece Sarah is sweet, with spiraling curves & corners to turn as she changes careers & travels to follow her mate, while following her larger heart as well…
Nephew David is living quite a story for his 21 years. I followed some intuitive path to this creature, with a spine becoming a mortar board for the journey he’s on… surfing seahorse & daunting dragon in his brain.
Stephen’s sister Alice & her husband John parented the 3 young ones above… they are indeed close to a perfect family, as proven by their strength holding David through the trauma of his accident, now 20 months ago. That moment forever changed their family, welding them together in creative ways. Kristen was in the car with him, but avoiding the brunt of the collision became a sturdy part of his tenuous bridge back to normal life. Sarah came home from her first job to learn her role & path into some profession more directly helpful than marketing.
This couple look to me like the archetype of a good marriage… the long linear aspect of their drawing begins with a rather stylized stamp of an interweaving knot I have often used to bring in the strength of two intersecting lines which split to join in a moment of tense harmony.
They have replicated that ideal, growing together from their different roots to repeatedly learn the grace required of parents to continue. They’ve done it more than once. Now they’ve mostly finished the form & are testing tendrils toward the new of a future back to two.
One last drawing, for a most important person, required more time than I found in the flurry of the season, so I brought it home to finish it, with Helen’s playful admonition that she wanted it done well!
I could only agree to our mutual wish.
Taking lessons that the rag paper I’d chosen was rather too coarse for the effect I envisioned, I began again on paper with a smoother tooth.
This is a fantasy I have long been cogitating for my round book & I still intend to do another version there, but the moment of the turning of the year allowed me to take time meditating on details describing the imaginary history of a city or world, with Italo Calvino‘s novel Invisible Cities as inspiration. Such endeavor was so much better than beginning my year with business inventory chores! I settled into work like I’ve not done for some long time… with genuine pleasure. I do love to draw… & I wrote verse to make my explanation…
PLANTED IN A CRYSTAL BOWL
FLOATING SINCE SOME WISER TIME
GROWS A TREE SO ANCIENT
ITS LEAVES ARE NOW SCROLLS
FADING TO FORGETFUL INVISIBILITY
WHOSE ROOTS HAVE LONG SEEPED
DEEP BEYOND SUCH CONFINES…
TETHERING THIS CITY
CENTERING QUIET IN ITS HARBOR…
PORTAL TO A CHIAROSCURO WORLD