Eucalyptus wood, 30″, 1971. Private collection Gordon introduced me to the mystery of carving, a subtractive process quite opposite to working with the plasticity and malleability of clay. He lent or gave me hand chisels and an old mallet, showed me how to sharpen the chisels on a whetstone and machine buffer, and conveyed the essence of carving with cryptic statements such as “Go with the grain.” Eucalyptus is very dense and hard to carve. My interest in asymmetry is evident in the figure’s contrapposto—lopsided hips, breasts, arms, and especially eyes—an asymmetry that mirrors my own crooked eyes, and a theme that I have pursued in many pieces since this one.
Sawdust fired clay, 6 inches tall, 1971. Status unknown from 1971 to 1972, I was the youngest member of Gordon Newell’s Sculpture Center in Monterey California. I was also the only woman. Because I was familiar with clay, I started out making clay sculptures and firing them in a homemade kiln in the same way famous potter Maria Martinez did. Sometimes it seems to me that some of my older work is stronger, fresher, and more confident than more recent work. Certainly this little piece is more raw and gestural, beautiful in its incompleteness than some later “finished” work. That’s a good lesson to bring forward and apply.
joyous clay woman
Terra-cotta, 15 inches. 1968 to 1969. Artist’s collection. When as a teenager I showed an interest in pottery, my parents gave me a corner of the basement to put a small electric kiln, potter’s wheel, clay and glazes. They were consistently generous and open-hearted towards my pursuit of art, perhaps because they each had siblings who were artists: my aunt Priscilla on my mom’s side, and my uncle David Park and great aunt Edith Truesdell on my dad’s side. I was blessed to have their support. I remember getting questioned (perhaps by my brother) why the figure’s hands and hips were so huge compared to the rest of her body. Partly it’s a balance consideration—sculptures need strong foundations—and partly it’s my subjective sense of proportion. I’ve never been that interested in the tyranny of anatomically-correct proportions. I’m much more interested in the “felt” body.
terra cotta, 12″ tall, circa 1968, artist’s collection This sculpture is the resident goddess of fertility, abundance, and growth in our greenhouse. I was seventeen or eighteen when I made this sculpture, and despite the subject matter, I had already decided that I wouldn’t have children. I remember shocking my father when I told him, and his rebuttal: “But you, with your privilege and opportunity and education, you should be among the ones who bring babies into this world.” I got what he was saying, but I didn’t want to bring children into a world capable of destroying itself and every living creature on it, several times over. Perhaps my father, who worked on civil defense for the national academy of sciences at the time, regretted that he had shown his family films of what a nuclear bomb could do—the wind storm, the fire storm, not to mention the radiation. We had already gone through the Cuban Missile Crisis, stocking the shelves in a pitiful shelter underneath the stairwell with Campbell’s soup and water bottles. My generation has lived with fundamental uncertainty about the future our entire lives.
mournful clay woman
terra cotta, 24” tall, circa 1968, Status unknown After starting with wheel-thrown and slab-formed pottery, I turned to clay sculpture. Looking at this work from a distance of over fifty years, I feel compassion for the misery expressed in this carving—not just typical teenage misery, but also the angst of living in a family with more than its share of physical handicaps, and in full awareness that the world at that time was threatened by racism, pollution, the Cold War, and nuclear annihilation.