Monthly Archives: May 2011

Capturing a Plum Blossom

Our first plum blossoms-- photo taken on April 9, 2011

Sung Po-Jen's "tilting bowl" plum blossom

In preparation for the birth of our daughter, we thought it might be fun to plant a tree.  Somehow it took four years for this plan to actually be accomplished, so I planted four trees across our front yard instead of just one.  We have two apple trees, a cherry tree, and a plum tree which have now survived their first winter, and during the first week of April I was happy to see the first blossoms appear on the apple and plum trees.  It reminded me of one of my early introductions to Chinese poetry, Sung Po-Jen’s Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom.  The book is described as what might possibly be the world’s first printed book of art and literature– it was first published in A.D. 1238, and the image above is reproduced from the edition of 1261. The poems are composed of just four lines, but are packed with complex references, implications, and shades of meaning.  Translator Red Pine was kind enough to follow each poem with a commentary through which we can gain some insight into the mind of a 13th century scholar.  I include one of my favorites, below, which relates to the blossoms in my front yard as I so recently saw them:

39    Tilting Bowl

fill it and it empties

more or less are both mistakes

all things have a balance

don’t think this one isn’t right


This “bowl-on-a-swivel” was placed next to the throne to remind the emperor that whatever was full would soon be empty.  Only when the bowl was half-full was it stable.  According to Hsun-tzu, Confucius saw a device like this in the ancestral hall of Duke Huan: “An attendant poured water into a container that hung at an angle.  As the water level approached the midpoint, the container became upright.  But when the attendant went beyond the midpoint, it tipped over, the water poured out, and only after it was empty did it resume its former position.  Seeing this, Confucius sighed, ‘Alas! Whatever becomes full becomes empty!'”

— Guide to Capturing a Plum Blossom, by Sung Po-Jen,  The Chinese Classic Translated with Commentaries by Red Pine, Introduction by Lo Ch’ing

A is for…

A is for... image by The Firecracker Press.

Here are the specifics for the upcoming show at COCA.  Please come out to support the artists and the institution!

Location: COCA, 524 Trinity Avenue, St. Louis, MO 63130

Opening reception and art auction: Friday, June 10 at 6:00pm

Exhibition Dates: Jun 10, 2011 – Aug 13, 2011

Participating artists: Gina Alvarez, Amy Alton Bautz, Brendan and Sarah Bayless, Ilene Berman, Rick Dunn, John Early, Ben Guffee, Jana Harper, Jason Hoeing, Anne Treeger Huck, Tom Huck, Jim Ibur, Matthew Jeans, Robert Longyear, Lindsay Obermeyer, John Parker, Daniel Raedeke, Dionna Raedeke, Ruth Reese, Eric Repice, Amy Firestone Rosen, Fabio Rodriguez, Christine Sarra, John Sarra, Jennifer Walker, Ken Wood.

From fiber and glass to wood and oils, these artists straddle the worlds of studio art and parenthood. Each artist tells a “story” with a different letter of the alphabet – a story that represents the impact that art-making has on children, and the impact that children have on their art.


back to basics

Junior Kindergarteners at Central Christian School get quizzed regarding recognition and the "real".

This morning I visited my daughter’s Junior Kindergarten classroom, where they are completing a unit on artists and art making.  It was an opportunity to tell them about what I do in my own studio, and to talk about some of the reasons that we make works of art.  One of the great things about art making is that it is accessible on so many levels.  It was fun to be able to discuss the same impulses and ideas that are of interest to my college and graduate students, and to see these four and five year old faces light up with an understanding of the differences between found and made things, realities and representations, and the ways that we try to hold on to things which are otherwise ephemeral and fleeting.

and another…

"F" table, 18x 35.5x 35.5, made with reclaimed materials

Christine and I were invited to participate in an exhibition called A is for… which opens in June at COCA (Center of Creative Arts), and we turned in our art work this weekend.  It is a group exhibition featuring 26 artists who have been influenced in one way or another by their children.  Each artist chose or was assigned a letter of the alphabet–we chose F and S because they are our daughter’s initials.  In this way the exhibition will end up presenting the entire alphabet.  A catalog is being produced, and the work will be auctioned off as a fundraiser for COCA.

After working my way through several designs, I settled on this low table.  On the top, the F is created out of the mosaic of reclaimed painting palettes.  Each leg is an F as well, made from yellow pine reclaimed from a shipping pallet.  The pun is both convenient and meaningful.  Palettes are a great symbol of ultimate potential, and function as a testing ground for the ideas of a painting.  Pallets are facilitators, a means of transport and protection while moving from one point to another.  In addition, Florence makes most of her own artwork at a low table like this one– a steady stream of drawings, collages, cut-outs, books, poems, and works which defy categorization.  So I see these ideas at work in my relationship with my daughter as I try to help her discover her own potential and as I try to launch her gently into her own experience of the world.