Snow has settled in on us, and cold. The winter world’s only colors here in the north are evergreen and red berries. When I walk roads near our house or drive through the countryside, hemlocks, spruce, and pines are the only greens, contrasting with gray and black deciduous trunks and browned leaves that cling to their branches. Bright red holly and wild winterberry stand out against a neutral-toned landscape. It’s not surprising that green and red have come to symbolize Christmas, which has roots in ancient mid-winter festivals.
During Saturnalia, December 17-25, Romans exchanged greenery such as holly and ivy to wish one another long life, peace, and good fortune. Christians reinterpreted the festival as Christ’s Mass. For them winter greenery represented hope and eternal life, with red signifying Christ’s sacrificial blood. As the celebration of Christmas spread around the world, diverse cultures added more red and green symbols: evergreen trees, garlands, and wreaths (the circle also representing eternity); red apples (reminders of the Garden of Eden) and red-and-white candy canes (shepherd’s staffs) to hang in Christmas trees, and red Santa suits (for the jolly old elf who descended from St Nicholas and his scarlet bishop’s robe).
When Jay and I exhibit in fall and winter, red and green glass always attracts attention. People choose to buy something to decorate their own homes for the holidays or they are attracted to the red and green color scheme as a seasonal gift. At the start of our last exhibit of this year, at Skytop Lodge near Cresco, Pennsylvania, our daughter and grand-daughter were visiting from Wisconsin. They agreed to help us set up our booth the day after Thanksgiving. We asked twelve-year-old Maggie to arrange a Christmas table while our daughter, Jay, and I set up shelves of other glass. Maggie created a fine arrangement of all the red and green dishes, candle-bridges, and coasters and a few pieces with red-and-gold stars.
Before the show opened, Maggie added pine cones and fresh-cut holly to our seasonal display. And that brings to mind an old carol that tells about a particular red and green symbol of the season. Want to sing along?
The Holly and the Ivy
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. The rising of the sun
And the running of the deer,
The playing of the merry organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
The holly bears a blossom,
As white as the lily flower,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,
To be our sweet Savior. The rising of the sun, etc.
The holly bears a berry,
As red as any blood,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to do us sinners good. The rising of the sun, etc.
The holly bears a prickle,
As sharp as any thorn,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
On Christmas Day in the morn. The rising of the sun, etc.
The holly bears a bark,
As bitter as any gall,
And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ
For to redeem us all. The rising of the sun, etc.
The holly and the ivy,
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly bears the crown. The rising of the sun, etc.
From northwest-facing windows beyond my computer monitor, only one tree remains totally green. An orange maple is flanked by other yellow-tipped maples and shrubs, and a couple leafless locusts. There is some yellow and orange visible through the windows to my right, but most of those trees shed their vivid leaves when beaten by rain or wind in the past week. Autumn color is so briefly brilliant.
One afternoon a month ago today, when leaves were just beginning to turn, I altered the direction of my usual daily walk in order to check apple trees about a half mile from our house. The old trees remain from what must have been an orchard covering many acres in our rural area. The man who owns several acres across the road from his house isn’t interested in picking the fruit and lets us take as much as we want from a half dozen trees near a pond. Since the trees haven’t been pruned or otherwise cared for in decades, they are tall and tangled and we harvest mostly from the ground. Usually the fruit is knobby but some years the apples are virtually unblemished, and plentiful, too.
Hanging over a driveway is a tree with small bright red fruits that we find broken on the crushed rock. If we manage to reach a few ripe apples before they fall, they are worth the stretch. The rest of the apple trees are on the other side of a storage building. The earliest-producing tree yields large, juicy, early soft apples that are not only good eating but also make delicious sauce and baked goods. From mid-August through September, apples sprawl all over the ground near the tree. I stop by every day or two and pick up a bag full of the best. If I wait too long between stops, deer or geese have bit into most of the fruit. On the southerly, pond, side of that tree is a crab apple that has yielded snack-size fruit only a few years of the eight we’ve been gathering apples. To the east are a couple fall-producing trees with yellow apples that are usually afflicted with one problem or another. To the north and closest to the road is a very late variety that drops green fruit while we’re picking up the early apples. Further up the road about 200 feet is a tree with long-keeping apples that turn deep red in October. When we can collect early apples, some yellow apples, and late fruits during their over-lapping seasons, the combination makes delicious apple juice.
When I took my walk that lovely late-September afternoon, all my senses were engaged by the maturing natural world. If you use your imagination, you can accompany me and enjoy again the transition time of summer turning to autumn. . .
We’ve left the house and already feel the sun warm our skin. Soon we are walking past woods where leaves, bark, and hemlock needles decomposing on the ground give off a pleasant “woodsy” fragrance. Emerging fall colors catch the eye: Along the margins of the woods, goldenrod is in full bloom and the first wild purple asters are opening. Just beyond, the woods open out to an expanse of mowed grass surrounding a pond. Trees on the other side of the pond are still mostly green, although some are tinged with orange and yellow. The calm pond surface mirrors the trees, a few clouds, and blue sky.
As we walk toward the water, we can hear a gentle lapping at the shore. Walking along the shore we hear the water’s quiet movement punctuated by the soft “plop” of unseen creatures springing away from the edge. Something breaks the surface a few feet from shore and moves further out. Getting down on our haunches to inspect the water’s edge, we see tadpoles darting between masses of duckweed. Suddenly, a large red-tinged grass carp swims into the shallow water to sun-bathe or find a vegetative meal.
Now that we’ve traversed most of the length of the pond and passed the storage building, we turn and walk up the grassy slope to the cluster of apple trees. There is no fruit on the crab tree, nor on the early tree. There are no yellow apples nor any fruit on the ground. The only apples we can see are one of the late varieties. They are still green, barely blushing, high in the tree, and not plentiful. We’re disappointed but not surprised, as warm late winter weather sped up spring blossoms which were vulnerable to spring frosts.
This isn’t an autumn for harvesting apples, but it gives us lovely days to walk, doesn’t it?
In early June, after delivering a pair of custom mirrors to northern New Jersey, Jay and I drove on to Storm King Art Center near New Windsor, New York. Storm King is an outstanding sculpture park on 500 acres in the lower Hudson Valley. The sculpture park lies between its namesake Storm King Mountain, several miles to the east, and Schunnemunk Mountain to the west.
The Storm King Art Center was established in 1960 through the efforts of Ralph E. (Ted) Ogden and H. Peter Stern. Ogden’s foundation purchased a handsome stone residence built in 1935 and its surrounding 200 acres. Over a period of years, Ogden and Stern’s company, The Star Expansion Company, purchased and donated an additional 300 contiguous acres and secured 2,100 acres of Schunnemunk Mountain, now a New York State Park, to protect the art center’s view. As the art center became committed to modern sculpture, purchases were placed in a formal garden scheme surrounding the house. In 1968 Storm King purchased thirteen David Smith sculptures from his estate and installed several in the landscape. Since then all sculpture has been placed with an eye to not only immediate surroundings but also distant views.
More than 100 sculptures and installations are situated on 500 acres of fields, meadow, and woods dominated by native species. Landscape architect William A. Rutherford created the original design. As Storm King grew, modifications were made to accommodate additions to the collection, enhance views, and promote movement through the “outdoor galleries.”
By the time we arrived at Storm King, touring had to wait for lunch. Although the art center has a cafe, we had brought along a picnic, sandwiches made with Jay’s bread and a few raw vegetables from the garden. We ate under a large shade tree, with a view through Mark Di Suvero sculptures to Schunnemunk Mountain. The sun was high in the sky and the temperature about 80 degrees F by the time we put the cooler back into the car and started to walk up Museum Hill.
Under tall trees at the top of the hill we found Emilio Greco’s “Tall Bather No. I,” an elegant, modern form with classical associations. Nearby, Lynda Benglis‘ dripping bronze fountain figures (“North, South, East, West”) contrast with Ionic columns at the end of the original home’s gardens.
Sculptures near the Museum Building and their setting are somewhat intimate, inviting a close up look. David Smith sculptures are like guests on the lawn, witty abstractions, some looking humanoid. On a field below the lawn but within view of this initial sculpture garden was one of my favorite large sculptures of the day, “Black Flag” by Alexander Calder. Fascinatingly different from every angle, the black sheet metal first looked like a horse to me and the flag didn’t stand out until I had walked around it. Not far away we saw a great contrast in both shapes and material: stacked, glued, and free-hand-sawn cedar beams of two Ursula Von Rydingsvard sculptures, “Luba” and “For Paul.”
From a rise integral to Isamu Noguchi’s “Momo Taro,” we walked down Museum Hill, past Menashe Kadishman’s “Suspended,” Alexander Liberman‘s “Adam,” and Alice Aycock’s “Low Building with Dirt Roof (For Mary)” and up another hill. A bench under a tree provided shade from the hot sun and an excellent view of Aycock’s “Three-Fold Manifestation II.” The brilliant afternoon sun cast fascinating shadows on the spiraling white structure. About creating this 20-foot tall aluminum and steel piece Aycock said, “I would take astronomical diagrams and imagine the space that would be generated by these diagrams. These bowls or whirling, skewed spaces are tipped, so it’s as though you’re looking into disoriented worlds.”
Restored and inspired by that stop, we walked on up and into the North Woods and soon faced an imposing Barnett Newman sculpture. “Broken Obelisk” seems both ancient and new, immovably solid and perilously close to toppling. Despite the sculpture’s 25-foot height and massive weight, the pyramid and obelisk are joined at a point only two inches across. “Broken Obelisk” is the largest of only six sculptures Newman created during his career. It exists in four editions, another of which Jay and I saw in 1992 at the Rothko Chapel in Houston. That edition is currently undergoing restoration by the original fabricator in Connecticut. The first three versions of this work were fabricated in Cor Ten steel the 1960s and in 2003 the Barnett Newman Foundation gave permission for one more edition. The fourth edition was completed in 2006 and installed in front of the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin for two years before being acquired by Storm King.
The woods were lovely and dark and deep . . . with sculptures placed in clearings and among the trees. One of Josephine Halvorson’s “Measures,” a special exhibition (Outlooks: Josephine Halvorson) of three site-specific works, is metal thrusting from the earth and painted to resemble tree bark. On one side of the trompe l’oeil sculpture Halvorson painted a red line from top to bottom to ensure that the viewer considers the difference between sculpture and a living tree. Along the trail we passed a “Man With a Hat” (Kosta Alex); a “King” (Lee Tribe); and a 16′ x 13′ x 12′ cloud (“Kumo” in Japanese, by Isaac Witkin). Anthony Caro‘s Cubist “Bitter Sky” was beautiful in a clearing, under a bright sky.
Rounding a bend on more level ground, we caught sight of George Cutts’s captivating “Sea Change.” Two identical, slim, curving, stainless steel poles slowly rotate in opposite directions. The kinetic sculpture induced us to stop and study the poles–were they identical or not?–and give in to the graceful, mesmerizing movement.
Not far ahead we came to Dennis Oppenheim’s “Alternative Landscape Components: Red Rocks, Straight Trees, Small Bushes.” The colorful components are part of the Oppenheim special exhibit, “Terrestrial Studio,” the artist’s term for certain of his outdoor sites. Further on we found his “Architectural Cactus Grove,” a third of the eighteen cacti sculptures Oppenheim created. The surface of each of six different shapes in the series is designed in various colors and materials, so each sculpture is unique. The series was first produced as a public artwork for a desert location at Scottsdale, Arizona. Observing that the site was across from a police station, Oppenheim designed the cacti to fit together like puzzle pieces, a reference to detective crime-solving efforts.
Our climb back up Museum Hill was rewarded by good views of large sculptures on a long, flat field, including a site-specific commission by Robert Grosvenor. His untitled work, what appears to be an extremely long black beam, a third of which rests on a black rectangle, with both ends extending downward to the ground, is 212 feet long and only 12 inches wide. Beyond its simple silhouette, the Schunnemunk Mountain ridge stretched serenely green.
Along our rising path we paused several times to study, among other works, “Forms in Movement (Pavan)” and “Square Forms with Circles,” both by Barbara Hepworth, and “Wayside Drainpipe” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the largest of the drainpipes that the two completed. The husband-and-wife artists proposed many public drainpipe monuments and completed a few indoor versions. Oldenburg’s own words about this project: “The drainpipe has a pool at the top. The water runs down through the pipe, and then out into this waterfall at the bottom. And actually, the top is a landing strip for planes; so that you land on a hard surface over the water. People are swimming in the water, so they can look up at the planes landing on top of them and see the passengers get out.” Actually we didn’t see any tiny planes landing nor any people swimming, not even any water. We did observe what appeared to be a photo shoot taking place on the field at the foot of the hill.
It was good we had decided to hold off visiting the Museum Building until after being outdoors for a couple hours. The closer we got to its front door, the more we needed the cool interior. Even so, I was drawn first to another set of doors, Arnaldo Pomodoro‘s “The Pietrarubbia Group.” Great steel portals with bronze, fiberglass, and marble doors commemorate a village near the artist’s Italian birthplace. When I could take my eyes off the highly textural doors, the door frame framed a view of the mountain ridge.
The residence that is now the Museum Building was built in 1935 from Breakneck granite stones salvaged from Danskammer, an 1834 mansion that overlooked the Hudson River near Newburgh, New York, for almost 100 years. The Hatch residence’s formal garden also incorporated five Ionic columns from Danskammer’s front. The house is now used for gallery space. One room is filled with five of the early purchase of thirteen David Smith sculptures. Although Smith conceived of all his sculptures as outdoor installations, these pieces were too fragile to be exposed to the weather at Storm King. In another room we found Louise Nevelson and Louise Bourgeois..
At the time of our visit, several rooms, downstairs and upstairs, were devoted to portions of the Dennis Oppenheim exhibit, including many concept drawings and photographs of large-scale “terrestrial” installations. In the hall we saw “Shirt Factory,” a three-foot tall acrylic and steel construction that looks like a shirt and houses a water pump. My favorite room held “Bee Hive–Volcano,” blown glass forms suffused with sunlight from the windows. A window at the end of the second floor gave us an elevated view of Oppenheim’s “Entrance to a Garden,” an almost two-story representation of a blue suit jacket, shirt, and tie. Made of semi-transparent, perforated metal panels, the sculpture has a tunnel where a jacket would button. Later we would walk through that opening to a tiny enclosed garden laid out like a flat white shirt with a collar bench and two short, columnar buttons where one can sit to reflect on the working life.
Just as when we entered, we emerged from the house listening to an Oppenheim sound installation. The late afternoon was still very warm and we felt like we had only enough energy to walk the distance to our car. However after descending Museum Hill we were tempted into the South Fields to see a few of the monumental sculptures at close range. While walking around lyrical “Mozart’s Birthday” (Mark Di Suvero), we noticed the photo shoot crew moving into the South Fields. Perhaps some day we will notice an ad with “Mon Pere, Mon Pere” or “Jambalaya” beyond the model.
And then it was time for us to move on. One afternoon at Storm King was not enough time to see everything. We look forward to another visit.
Last spring we delivered a pair of custom mirrors to a client. The project began with an inquiry via CustomMade, a platform that connects people and their ideas with creative makers. This inquiry was for a large mirror made in the style of our irregular border mirrors. Jay creates those mirrors with hand-rolled opalescent glass, choosing some pieces for their irregular, “natural,” uncut edges. One of us selects three or more complementary glass sheets and then Jay intuitively lays out the border of the mirror. The multi-hued artisan-made glass has streaks and swirls like fudge-ripple ice cream, in color rather than black-and-white. Most colors show up well against a wall and need no back-lighting but rather stand out by reflecting light in the room.
After corresponding with the potential customer about size possibilities and deciding upon two round shapes instead of a large rectangle, we sent her a proposal that she accepted. To begin we worked out glass colors. She requested “sort of water colors and movement” and later added, “I’m thinking many shades of blue and greens with maybe just a touch of earthy browns and sunlight yellow.” She named her preferences from among a dozen or so possible sheets of glass we showed her via photographs, and we selected six that would work well together in the mirrors. Five of the sheets had been made in southwestern Pennsylvania and the sixth came from Portland, Oregon.
In the meantime Jay planned the mirror layout. He diagrammed the size of the doughnut-shaped opalescent glass border and the position of zinc channel to hold the mirror glass behind it. Although he would assemble both borders fairly spontaneously, he had to calculate how to build in strength and securely connect the border and zinc channel.
As soon as we knew which sheets of glass to use, Jay began cutting glass for the first mirror. He watched for areas of glass with interesting streaks and swirls of color, as well as undulating edges that he could leave uncut. Some edges resembled the irregular curve of the leading edge of water lapping a sandy shore. Jay moved glass around over the diagram, continually re-positioning as he sought out pleasing color juxtapositions and contiguous outer edges. He cut pieces large enough to trim down as he determined final positions. Some pieces moved repeatedly before settling. Gradually the border took shape, a montage of mostly blues and greens. After Jay had cut the last piece of opalescent glass, he had them all fitted together and held in place with horseshoe nails. He placed the flat-sided nails next to the glass, not through the glass, and tapped them into the wooden worktable to prevent the glass from moving.
The next step was to wrap every cut edge of glass with narrow copper foil. Jay used pre-cut foil with a sticky backing: 1/4″ wide foil where cut edges abutted one another and 3/8″ foil on outside edges. He did not apply foil to the “natural” (uncut) edges. A foil dispenser facilitated the work. One at a time he removed glass pieces from the assemblage on the work table, wrapped them with copper foil, and replaced them into the border.
When all the glass pieces were wrapped and refitted into the mirror border, Jay applied 60/40 (60% tin/40% lead) solid core solder to all the exposed copper foil. First he “tinned” the foil by flowing a thin layer of solder over the surface. That thin solder coating was enough to hold the pieces together so Jay could remove all horseshoe nails. Then he patiently created a bead of solder along the length of every “seam.” The solder bead strengthens the construction, ensuring that the copper will not tear and the glass pieces will not pull apart.
What was Mary Ann doing in the meantime? I photographed progress and shared pictures with our customer. Once in awhile I shared an opinion, but only when Jay asked for it.
After one mirror was soldered, Jay repeated the process to fabricate a second mirror. He used the same playing-with-the-glass method to choose and cut glass and made no attempt to duplicate the first mirror. After the second mirror was soldered, he made a frame to hold mirror glass on the back of each stained glass border. He cut three pieces of zinc channel and soldered them at the mitered corners into a U, then soldered the zinc frame to the stained glass border at strategic points where the zinc crossed the solder bead lines.
If 60/40 solder is left untreated, it will gradually turn from shiny silver to a dull gray. Most customers prefer that we apply a chemical patina and Jay decided a copper patina would complement the glass colors in this project. He chose a chemical mix of copper sulfate, nitric acid, and selenium compounds that reacts with the metals in the solder to yield a permanent coppery look. He brushed the chemical solution onto all solder that would be visible when the mirrors hang on a wall.
Just a few steps remained. Jay inserted mirror glass into the zinc frames and threaded picture wire into small holes he had drilled on the upper ends of the zinc, by which to hang the finished pieces. Finally he signed each mirror “Paulukonis Studio (copyright) 2016.” The “Lakeside Mirrors” were ready for delivery to a lake shore home in northern New Jersey.
April 21 is this year’s Poem in Your Pocket Day, for many people the highlight of National Poetry Month. Founded in 1996 and celebrated every April, National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world. In conjunction with National Poetry Month 2002, New York City’s Office of the Mayor, in partnership with the Departments of Cultural Affairs and Education, designated one special day to carry around a poem of personal choice and share it with others. The Academy of American Poets made Poem in Your Pocket Day part of National Poetry Month in 2008. National Poetry Month originated with the Academy in 1998.
If you do not yet have a poem to pull out of your pocket on Thursday and share with other parents waiting at the bus stop, co-workers in the lunch room, fellow shoppers or store clerks, or a friend you see at the library, perhaps you will want to carry one of these.
She Walks in Beauty by George Gordon, Lord Byron
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow’d to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair’d the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face,
Where thought serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o’er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St Vincent Millay
I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.
I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.
And when lights begin to show
Up from town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!
Fishing on the Susquehanna in July by Billy Collins Sailing Alone Around the Room (New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks, 2001)
I have never been fishing on the Susquehanna
or on any river for that matter
to be perfectly honest.
Not in July or any month
have I had the pleasure–if it is a pleasure–
of fishing on the Susquehanna.
I am more likely to be found
in a quiet room like this one–
a painting of a woman on the wall,
a bowl of tangerines on the table–
trying to manufacture the sensation
of fishing on the Susquehanna.
There is little doubt
that others have been fishing
on the Susquehanna,
rowing upstream in a wooden boat,
sliding the oars under the water
then raising them to drip in the light.
But the nearest I have ever come to
fishing on the Susquehanna
was one afternoon in a museum in Philadelphia
when I balanced a little egg of time
in front of a painting
in which that river curled around a bend
under a blue cloud-ruffled sky,
dense trees along the banks,
and a fellow with a red bandanna
sitting in a small, green
holding the thin whip of a pole.
That is something I am unlikely
ever to do, I remember
saying to myself and the person next to me.
Then I blinked and moved on
to other American scenes
of haystacks, water whitening over rocks,
even one of a brown hare
who seemed so wired with alertness
I imagined him springing right out of the frame.
None of these poems seem to jump into your pocket? See if you find one you like better at the National Poetry Month Poem In Your Pocket Day web page.