I’m back in the saddle again, sculpting and writing. Here is why: Two women friends of mine who happen to be neighbors and with whom I spoke this past week both referred to my Chat ‘N’ Chew stories. Betty Drennan thought I would enjoy reading a book she had just finished reading. “Tender at the Bone”: stories along with recipes written by the editor of Gourmet Magazine. Maybe I could try some of them and pass them along thru the column. Jenna Graves told me she missed my writings too. Thank you ladies for thinking of me and the inspiration it gave me. So, this one is for you.
Another infusion of creativity came by way of a trip to my old home of Santa Fe, New Mexico. David and I sat outdoors under a long portal in front of the El Farol on Canyon Road. This restaurant is the oldest Cafe in Santa Fe. It was on old “watering hole” along the early Santa Fe Trail. Their menu consists of only Tapas. David and I chose this style menu for our wedding reception last year. I think it is the perfect choice for an outdoor summer event. Tapas are a Spanish tradition: assorted small servings meant to be shared. Here’s a little sample of what we selected for our lunch at El Farol.: Bonito (seared ahi tuna w/ spinach & chipotle-mustard vinaigrette), Puerco Asado (pork tenderloin w/ figs, port & idiazabel), Portabellas (sautéed mushrooms in fino sherry & garlic), Aguacate (flash fried avocado w/ salsa & lime crema) and Polenta (Grilled manchego cheese polenta w/ romesco). A creative and careful hand presented plates proven to please our palates. So much so that we hummed and savored every bite and laughed at each other after we were finished. Are you all salivating yet? Good news. You will not have to travel to Santa Fe to have them. Take a journey into your own kitchen with one of their cookbooks. The title is simply “El Farol”. Makes a great hostess gift for a holiday dinner party. You can contact them through www.elfarolsf.com.
While sitting there David looked down the row of galleries describing all the outdoor sculptures to me. He said there was a wooden horse sculpture that looked interesting. We decided to walk off lunch and tour the galleries along Canyon Road. We headed straight for the horse of course. It was so cool and we so admired it. The owner of the gallery and sculpture garden came out to welcome us. It turned out she had recognized me from when I lived there. Just out of curiosity I inquired about the price. It was twelve thousand dollars. I couldn’t get that horse out of my mind. It has been a long time since I have contemplated or been inspired to approach a sculpture project, never mind one of a horse. My works have always depicted the human figure. The ideas kept coming to me, flooding my mind with countless configurations and materials.
Later that week we took a trip north to Taos to visit an old friend and tour the Kit Carson house and the earth ship dwellings along the edge of the Rio Grande. My friend Tom Romancek lives in an enchanting small adobe home with a massive apricot tree that hangs creating a canopy over his front door. If you are taller five foot five you have to duck to enter in. There is a small creek running in the rear. The property is surrounded by a stone wall made of volcanic rock. Tom appreciates small tokens from friends and likes to trade offerings. I told him we had brought something for him from Mississippi: A piece of driftwood from the river. As soon as I handed Tom the old wood bone from the mighty Mississippi River, a light came on in my head. I would make my horse with drift wood from all the rivers and tributaries all around us back home. That horse would be truly one of a kind.
I was so excited to show David all the sights I had once seen years before I lost my sight. I had brought some ashes of my first guide dog Bella in hopes of leaving some at my home where I lived in Santa Fe and to cast off the bridge at the Rio Grande gorge. When you stand overlooking the river – only a parting of land a quarter of a mile below – you feel so insignificant, it yet on top of the world.
When planning the trip to New Mexico, I was told by a friend of a very special farm in the Rio Grande valley just outside of Albuquerque. Los Poblanos is where they hold the lavender festival every year. Lavender is my favorite herb. I add its oil to my body lotion and in my hair. Rub a few drops under your nose and you will relax and sleep well. Los Poblanos Ranch is a working farm which was established in the 1880s, then rebuilt as a dairy in 1934. In addition to the fields of lavender; the architecture, furnishings and artwork; and meals from fresh ingredients; they have a small collection of chickens, a milk cow, goats, goats, and a chocolate colored turkey named Coco. I had a good conversation with Coco, discussing Thanksgiving menus, and absolutely fell in love with a little blue eyed goat named Sunflower. She put her head on my shoulder and suddenly I wanted a goat too!
After returning from the endless fields of lavender through which I walked in a straight line, with the aid of Avatar and back again toward David waiting and watching for us I remember a feeling I once felt a long time ago in the Mississippi delta. – A peace of mind. It is when one experiences the perfection of God’s creation and the heart’s acknowledgement, where I found bliss that afternoon. On our last there, leaving the flora and fauna of the farm, we picked up our friend Charmaine Brown and took the tram up Sandia Mountain for dinner at the “High Finance Restaurant” at 10,500 feet. There we watched as the sunset stained the mountain and the entire valley. What a lovely way to end our trip! We snuggled in the featherbed surrounded with high posts made of hand forged iron, and the lavender scented candles illuminating the kiva fireplace danced in the shadows and extinguished themselves by morning.
Like anyone returning home from travel, there is often a time of reflection of where one has been as well a time of transition back from where you departed. We had a wonderful time in New Mexico. So much so that I wondered just how I was able to have left it in the first place. I recalled my family, friends and even local comedians asking me why I left there for Como, Mississippi. All with the surprising tone as if to ask how one could be so misguided. Yet, there has always been another connection of the beauty of this land, or a person or thing that touches my heart and encourages me to stay despite the occasional flares that arise with life in a small town. Now back home on Sycamore, my suitcase, which I didn’t unpack for a week, lie on the floor. Efficiently, David put his bag up the next day. All I could think of was the horse, wood and where and if we find any.
We were excited, looking forward to the adventure of hunting for it. The water level at upper Sardis Lake was low now and we would search its banks and the exposed cypress fields. The first day we spent collecting wood in Teckville and to our delight we came home with nearly a truck bed full of it but not enough for the size horse I hoped to build. We headed the following day to Hays Crossing. It was there where discovered the most beautifully shaped drift wood of cypress and cedar perfectly cured by the sun. This was the type we needed for a sculpture that would remain outdoors and continue to endure the elements. I tested the strength, felt its contour and texture, deciding if it would be a good piece. Soon David and I were shouting out to one another, “I think I found a good leg over here’! “Look”, I exclaimed, “this is definitely the beginning of a head”. Another trip to Piney Point yielded yet another truck load. What I had envisioned was that each piece would show its original shape with little or no cuts to fit. I arranged the limbs and into groups according to size- putting the really weird ones aside. My plan was to put it together like a puzzle – a three dimensional one. I thought of my mother who often has one she is working on one herself. I wish she were here to collaborate with us on this one. I use the term collaborate because in order to be safe I need assistance with technical limitations and supervision while operating power tools. Other than that, I’m taming and reining this one myself.
Now I face the plight many artists go through: The process of a project. I try to remove myself from anything that could be a distraction or obstacle keeping me from the work and in motion. You think about it all the time and try to somehow translate physically what was said to the heart and formed with the mind. I have never been able to do that. Like the challenge to find the right words to fully express what you feel. There is nothing like the feeling of being pleased or satisfied that you have done your best. The ultimate is when someone sees it; and writes you a big check for it. Well it’s time to head down the trail and see about my horse I call “Tallahatchie Gray”. Happy trails to you all till we meet again.