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  • David

Updated: Sep 20

While much of the country has been frying, or perhaps broiling, (I’m nobody’s chef), here in Eastern Oregon we have had a cool summer with more rain and later tomatoes than normal. We've waited patiently with both feet on the floor, our hands folded politely on our desks and our mouths mostly shut, for ripe tomatoes, and our patience is finally paying off. We now officially have too many tomatoes to eat! I picked 63 pounds of them in one day. That usually means canning, which will be determined by my bride, who knows about such things. It’s about time!

Nothin' de Mata wit these

It has been a strange season for most humanoids on this particular planet, with distance being the most descriptive noun, as well as the most descriptive verb of our times. (As Calvin, of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame once put it, “verbing” weirds words.) “Social distancing” was not even a thing in any social group I’ve inhabited, until March 2020. Nobody said, “Hey, let’s socially distance from Darrel.” “Yea, Darrelict you mean!”

We just didn’t do that sort of thing, or at least we didn’t call it that. Now we all do! “Excuse me, sir. Would you mind social distancing your covid be-dripping carcass to at least six feet? Please!? Thank you. How about making it twelve? Come on, Marcie, he looks like a person who spits his p’s and b’s”.

We all grew up climbing on top of one another like herds of puppies. We don't really know how to handle such insociability. But summer happened, and many things were more or less as per usual around here. We folks in this latitude look forward to summer like perhaps all creatures hereabouts because our lives change dramatically. Winter clothes fall off, chores stack up, fresh foods abound, and the cat makes himself scarce. All pretty good stuff. (Sorry Zippo.)

One of our most anticipated activities of summer, lots of folks wouldn’t even acknowledge as an activity. (Drumroll, please) It is our outdoor bathing ritual! People don’t understand when we tell them that this is a big deal. I can show you the eye roll, if you need a visual. But it is a very big deal, and if you are reading this you are my captive audience, like having to listen to the best man speak at your wedding. Of course, I know you can roll your eyes and click away at any second and I'll never be the wiser.

spring tank made of 24" diameter pipe

The thing is, we have a spring on our hillside, and it is 900 feet away from our house. I wanted that water to use around the yard. It is sparkling clear water, and cold, but 900 feet of plastic pipe full of water, and laying on the ground in the full sun, gets hot! I didn’t take any 300 level college courses to figure that out. I instead scalded myself as I was rinsing foundry-work filth from my bald head to gain that knowledge. Since that initial, highly scientific discovery, we have made great strides at capturing this resource to our advantage. The first thing I did was to add a bunch of excess pipe to the already lengthy meander of the supply as it comes down the hill. I increased the diameter of the pipe to increase the amount of hot water that it stored. Then I built a scaffold upon which I mounted black plastic pipe in orientation to the sun, such that it would heat up faster.

Hillbilly solar collector

Pretty soon, it became imperative that I make a way of storing hot water during the sunny

daytime, so that a bath could be taken later in the evening. So I plumbed in an old hot water tank that I picked up (just for picking it up), and arranged it such that the water from my solar collector scaffold would cycle in a convection loop, heating more and more over the day, until I had fifty gallons of very hot water in the tank.

We took the cold water supply from where the water enters the solar collector, and as you can imagine, from my early scalp-scalding experience, it can be too hot to call cold, in the heat of the day, if the grass in my field has been grazed recently. So on a very hot day, taking a bath in the middle of the day is not practical without running the water for long enough to replace the water column in the 900 feet of pipe from the spring with cold spring water. But, we don’t often want to bathe in midday, so it is just a small wrinkle in the grand scheme of things, a little like that line between where my balding started and where it has stopped.

Getting wet on the cheap

We already had a nice stainless steel tub that I’d fashioned from an industrial double boiler and an old iron wagon tire, and so outdoor bathing became commonplace. Before long, we set to making a bathing grotto, such that our bare parts would be less bared to the world at large, in the case of a passerby getting in position to witness more of us than intended. Most of one summer was consumed in constructing our grotto, and most of our evenings since are spent there, at least long enough for a nice soak!

Stone bathing grotto

That anyone wonders, “Okay, but why?”, I can’t comprehend. Maybe it has to do with what one does for a living. My living is riven with a copious exposure to the dust and sweat of foundry work, so maybe I'm in a special category of "needing a bath". But even if I were a banker, or an insurance salesman, I think I would see the beauty of this outdoor bathing thing. Whatever the case, the water is free, and is going to come down the hill, as water will do, the sun is free and will shine as the sun does, the water will heat, the day will end, and in my particular case I will be covered in filth, and I will need a bath! There is no indoor bath or shower that compares to bathing and showering in the fresh outdoors, and air drying against a sun-heated rock, or looking up at the stars as they brighten and the sky darkens. It isn’t that it is cheap hot water. Yes, that is a thing, but what it really is, is (as Bill Clinton once put it) that a ritual that had always (in our house) marked the end of the day, a chore to be done before being allowed to climb into bed with my bride, becomes a thing in itself, a rejuvenating thing, like I suppose a jolt of espresso is to those who drink of such things. Bathing outdoors gives one a sense of wellbeing, and a spring in one’s step, and another hour or two of feeling like doing something useful, as opposed to a chore completed before going to bed.

As someone who has bathed daily for most all of my life, due in part to my dusty dirty work, I never liked to shower, or even take a tub bath. That has all changed. In the summer, I am a bath lounging animal, like the Snow Monkeys of Mt. Fugi.

But then summer ends. Of course it does. The water will freeze and break my pipes, so my system must be drained. After five months of transcendent outdoor bathing, (if we are lucky with the spring and fall weather), our ritual comes to a whimpering halt. And then, for seven months, (one of which is the always the dreaded February) I drag my soiled body up the stairs, every night at about 9:30, like a well-trained dog being sent to bed. I get into the fake shower stall, turn on the fake hot water, and wait against the corner of the stall until the mist of freezing fog as one might expect from a December storm on the Oregon coast, slowly gives over to a scalding steam. I delicately dial in a suitable temperature, all the while, paying Idaho Power to do the lifting and the heating of the water from our well, dug deep into the private bowels of the earth. I scour behind my ears as I’ve been taught. I get clean, in a sense, but I don’t feel renewed.

I can show up at a party, back when we had such things, and appear about as respectable as I can present myself after a summer bath, but I’m dull and boring, and pretty much ready for bed. It just isn’t the same.

If you haven’t tried our outdoor tub, you don’t know. I know you don’t know, like I know you don’t know where I lost my favorite Case XX Muskrat pocket knife in 1980. My bride and I agree that our outdoor bathing grotto has changed our lives in a way we did not imagine it could, more than any other thing we have done to our home. Yes, a roof and doors and indoor plumbing are important, but they are known far and wide to be necessities. When it comes to the simple amenities that we like to cobble together to make our lives more pleasant, you never know how some little thing can be a big thing, however small it might look to others.

Not to be rude, but you need a bath!

“Oh, you need a deck! You need a gazebo! You need a BBQ grill with 900 special features!”

Bullshit! As my mother often said, “You need a bath!”

An outdoor bath! “

  • David

Updated: Sep 16

One question I’m sure to get whenever I make a new piece is, “What is it called?” But I am a sculptor. Am I supposed to know what a thing is called? I work with lines and shapes and textures. Does a sculptor owe his audience titles for his work? Does a mime owe a verbal explanation for his performance? But I'll not be called a contrarian, I’ll go along. I just want to know why we can’t just call anything and everything Larry!

Larry? 1990; walnut and maple. (by the way, Larry owns this!)

I struggle to name my works. I know people like a title, but a sculpture is not a thing of words. It is a visual thing, and a tactile thing, and naming something appropriately is a different art form. Sometimes I luck out and come up with a title that I feel sounds about right, but about as often, someone else answers that call for me.

But I know it when I hear a good title for a piece. It's clear to me that a flippant title can debase a serious and contemplative image. A grandiose title can come across as pretentious. A title that is seen as trite can make peoples’ eyes roll almost before they even look at the form. But the title isn’t the piece, and whether words should be allowed to bestow gravity or baggage to an image is a good question. It seems to me that a name shouldn’t have this power, and when I rule the thought-police, it won’t! But until such time, I’ll have to contend with this fact: We give things names, and in general, when naming a piece of art, “Larry” just doesn’t cut it. Not that “Larry” isn’t a perfectly fine name! I like Larry! He is my friend!

Of course, in the real world, a sculpture is almost always seen before its title can be read. A title cannot make or break the intrinsic qualities of the work. The image speaks as the image does, in its own visual language. But for many people, names can lend reference, set the stage, or affirm an understanding of the intent of the artist, or in what sort of mood the image was born. And depending on the words used in that title, the effect can be for good or bad in what sort of impression is formed.

I have named things, only to come along weeks or months later to name them something else. (But then again, we did that with one or two of our two kids.) And sometimes a name that is wholly inappropriate has a way of sticking. In polite company, most people call me David, but when I look in the mirror, I see something more feral, more like a Jack, (as in Jack Nicholson). It is serious business, this whole naming of things.

Winter, 1955, #3.

Or not. Sometimes a name can be entirely neutral, lending nothing, nor taking anything away from an image. Say, for instance, “Winter, 1955, #3”. (which I don’t think my parents ever strongly considered naming me). But for whatever reason, people generally protest at such a trivial effort on the part of the artist to come up with a fitting title for a sculpture. A painter might get away with that, because they might paint three, or even a couple of dozen paintings in one winter, but a sculptor will not likely be completing three works in that sort of time frame. We sculptors are more sloth-like in our habits. And there are real reasons. Unlike painters, sculptors don’t get to say to our audience, “Hey, that is not my angle! Don’t look at it from over there!” It’s that damned third dimension that gums up the works.

I am every bit as bad as the next person to find myself influenced by a name. If I see a piece with a name like “Jubilant spring”, or “Sarah’s Serenity”, or “A Touching Grace”, I immediately feel like the artist is trying to give me too much, like an advance directive, trying to lead me to think what they want me to think. It is like being groomed on what one is supposed to see in a blind date. But that is a call I want to make for myself. A piece bearing a name like “Beauty, Untold” will have to clear a very high bar for my experience to match the hype of the title. I prefer to make my own measure of a work, and let the title lend only a quiet influence.

Deadbolt, the Security Dog (Melisa Kroening photo)

Back to our friend Larry, it’s like this; he can name his son Lieutenant Colonel, but until the lad has gained some respect as my commanding officer, I’m likely to call the kid PFC Larry #2. A name doesn’t make the man, or the artwork. But it can sort of break it.

Artworks deal in all sorts of emotions, and a good title should reflect appropriately on the work. A title like “9th Life Pajama Cat” or “Deadbolt, the Security Dog” could accompany a relatively light hearted or playful image, but not so much a majestic or solemn piece. A more sober piece should bear a more sober title.

I once named a piece “The Fifth Amendment”, only to later change its name. While the title lent the piece the gravitas I believed I was aiming for, it wasn’t the right title. The Fifth Amendment of the Constitution is a specific document regarding specific rights on self-incrimination, the taking of life, liberty or property, and the rights of due process under the law. My piece was more of a general reflection on the human and animal suffering that has accompanied the creation of so many of our world’s renown religious heritage sites, from the Sistine Chapel, the immense Buddha figure at Leshan to the Great Pyramids at Giza. After considerable puzzling, I renamed my piece “Offerings”. It was a less specific sort of title, and yet more to the point of how historically our rulers have shown a lack of concern for the sacrifice of laborers, both human and beast, in the making of what often amounts to a tribute to themselves.

Offerings (Jerome Hart photo)

Titles are traps, or they are our friends, and we neglect to deal with them at our peril. Back before I built my own foundry, I took a new piece to a commercial facility to be molded. The piece depicted a stylized female form, borrowing some elements from the wood-carving art of the West Coast of Africa. I had structured the breasts of the woman to elicit the idea of vessels of nourishment, more or less in the shape of bananas, fastened around her neck like pendulous jewelry. The image was tasteful in my mind, solemn, and appropriately reverent towards the real-life hardship and sacrifice many women endure to provide for their young. But when I went to the foundry a few days later, a friend working there said, “So I saw we got the mold done for “Old Banana-Tits”.

I heard that name forever after, when the piece came up in conversation, both in and outside of the foundry. When I got around to giving the piece its real name, it came from my oldest son, (Barry, not Larry) who was trying to tell my bride and myself when something in particular had happened. As he struggled to get us to understand, he finally said, “It was the night that made this day.” Tori and I looked at one another, and thought, how poetic! Our son, a poet, at three and a half! And so the piece was named, “The Night that Made this Day”. It fit the mood, and the selfless giving of a life, or a day, or just a meal, that my figure of a woman was meant to celebrate.

Pecking Orders (Melisa Kroening photo)

Another piece I made and neglected to name before someone at the foundry got to it first, became known by another name not of my choosing. The theme of the piece centered on the idea that woodpeckers are very skilled with their beaks, not unlike a person with a sharp chisel. Why don’t they use that talent to a purpose, instead of beating mercilessly for hours on end on my tin roof, or on the gable vents of my house. It seemed to me, if they have that sort of time on their hands, or beaks, why not start chipping out a great cat-like figure from an old log, as a good defensive strategy for a secure nesting site. Anyway, when I went back to the foundry to check up on how my new molds came out, I saw clearly written, with black Magic Marker on each of the mold segments, “Cat with Two Peckers”! I was mildly successful in renaming the piece “Pecking Orders”, though in private, we still call it the “Cat with Two Peckers”.

Everything gets called something. It often depends on who gets there firstest with the mostest. And that is usually fine by me. In regards to my works, as long as I like how the title relates to the piece, I am happy! Of my most recent pieces, I have named one, (Aardvark in Plaid). Two have been very nicely and aptly titled by people who help support whatever it is I do, (“Making Ends Meet,” and “A Darwinian Conundrum”) and one piece has no name at all.

So, my sincere thanks to these fine and thoughtful people, Melisa Kroening, and Kai Hahn, who’ve recently helped me find the right words for my titles. Your ideas are so appreciated, and right on! (Not exactly in the casual hippy sense of the words “right on”, like hey, groovy dude, as wisps of smoke drift across sleepy eyelids, but in that you nailed these names!)

But this new and unnamed piece, (Larry 2020) is a sitting duck, until it has a real name! Do I defend it with vigor, keeping it out of sight until I can christen it with all due gravity, or do I let it find its own name in due course, from whatever source happens by. It’s hard to know. It could find a most marvelous and appropriate title, or it could suffer an indignity the likes of which Booger Hole, West Virginia could only imagine.

  • David

Updated: Jul 10

Something occurred to me recently while discussing with a friend, the progress I was, (or was not) making on my newest sculpture. I realized that I quite often refer to various elements of the work as the creation of unknown laborers, or maybe the results of mutation, driven by the evil tinkering of some rogue geneticist with nothing better to do. It’s as if I am looking for someone else to cradle the blame (or credit) for what it is that I’m making. And it's true that I often see the work as something that comes to be, in part, independent of me. In my most recent bird piece, I find myself feeling like I'm working alongside a crew of shoddy and well soiled engineers, straight out of the sepia-tone days of the industrial revolution. These guys don’t talk. They don’t confer. It's not quite chaos, but they just do whatever it is they do, along with my evil part-time geneticist, who knows a bit about birds, but not so much as to be able to make one that works.

Greater Bat-winged Dory Stork (a working title)

At first I thought that maybe I was just unwittingly referring to myself in the third person, but that doesn’t really describe what is going on. As I went back over my emails and other conversations I’ve had, I see that the process of design, for me anyway, is more a process of discovery. I’m discovering my works as I work on them, almost as an archeologist might discover a buried urn. Finding things that someone else must have left behind.

I work from crude drawings, and interpreting a drawing is just that: interpretation. 2D and 3D are different mental tasks. My drawings are usually vague in detail, dimensions, depth, and textural complexity. They could be interpreted in many different ways, and would be so by different artists, tasked to make the same drawing into a three dimensional form. It is that interpretation that offers a second opportunity of discovery, after the drawing itself. I first draw an idea, and then, should I decide to make it into an object, I discover the dimensional reality of that object through the process.

Is this splitting hairs? Maybe, but split hairs are a real thing. I saw them talked about on TV in 1970. (I think I recall that somebody had “the frizzies”, which must have been terribly traumatic.) But the ways we approach our creative lives are likely as individual as we humans are, one from another. I know some artists work from models as much as possible, and some work up very elaborate plans for what they are making. Some make a maquette, or in the case of a former clown-smith like myself, a bozzetto. (Gotta use the word bozzetto whenever you get a chance!) I make one drawing from one point of view, and then wing it from there. No bozzetto. (Look it up. It’s a word.)

Zippopotamus El Gato Castrato

If one is tasked to sculpt a life-like cat, it makes sense that a model would be important. Hair patterns would be a large part of any interpretation of a life-like cat, as would the musculature and skeletal structure. If tasked to make a cat-like form, then interpretation takes on a different and dramatically more variable meaning. In the case of the life-like cat, I suppose I would grant creative credits to the animal itself, or the animal’s lineage, while any shortcomings to that goal would be credited to me. In the case of a cat-like image, I, as the creator, would become the interpreter, would become the discoverer. The credits for the creation are no longer so specific. My interpretation of a cat-like image might owe but a small amount to the actual cat, while the bulk of the credits might more deservedly be divvied up amongst the many influences that led me, as the artist, to create something other than a lifelike cat. The art isn't the cat. The art is the interpretation. (Though it is true that our cat Zippo is certainly a work of art!)

9TH LIFE PAJAMA CAT Photo by Melisa Kroening

In my work, these outside influences simply become “others”. Other beings, other things, other gestures that conjure up the subject, “cat”. They could be any little thing that has crashed the party going on inside my skull, from a bit of theatre work I may have seen, a depiction in a children’s book by Dr. Seuss, or even a bit of wall texture or a pile of burnt debris from a house fire, that from a certain angle, screamed “CAT”! When I draw a cat, I might draw on what my experiences have been that fall roughly in the category of “cat”. Finding out what the elements of that drawing really are is a process of discovery. Invention, certainly, but discovery is the real meat of invention. We find ways. We find shapes. We find textures as we fiddle with things. And often as not, these “finds” are repurposed relics of things around us. Creations around us. Mutations around us. At some point, these influences acquire personalities, and then they become like little creators in our employ, (or us in theirs) somewhere in the sweat-shops of our cranium. They aren’t really us. They were given to us. We have plenty of things that we need to be without our becoming everything we see or hear. No, these busybodies, in the recesses of our brains, are not fully under our control. They flip us off on a regular basis, any time we try and discipline them, and they comingle like rabbits, such that we hardly can know from whence they came, one influence from another. They are the “other” that we have to work around, and they are often a recalcitrant bunch.

Here I go again. Them and me…and I guess together, we. I suppose it is at least good that we are all dressed more or less the same.

I don’t mind the company. Life would be much the sadder without it, but it isn’t me that runs the show when it comes to what I make. I just get to operate the hands, clean up the messes, (or learn to live with them), perhaps select some of the parts, and pay the bills when things don’t work out just right. If there’s a problem, I have to take it up with the guys in the pilot house. And they will either do something about it or not.

I think, in my way, what I’m trying to say is that anybody and anything might take center stage, or at least make the credits in the art of another. We don’t get to know what all will make its way across the threshold of our subconscious mind, and then into our art. It is how art speaks to us. To us and from us, through often random, but common threads and subtle influences from our ordinary mingling with the universe. Okay, that sounds a bit grandiose. Maybe our mingling with the neighbor’s cows. But our interconnectedness is as inevitable as is our uniqueness, and when art speaks to us, it might be because we are kin to its source.

These “other guys”, these interlopers, as I think about them, are wide awake while we are sound asleep, doing whatever the hell they feel like doing! It brings to mind a precious story shared to me long ago. I’m not sure how these things are related: Second cousins perhaps. But they are related. You see, as the story goes, this friend of mine went to bed one night, sometime in about his fourteenth year of life, in certain regards, as pure as the driven snow, and then he woke up the next morning in the climactic throws of his first, and for all I know, his last ‘wet dream’. As exciting as it was, it was also deeply disturbing. Nothing in his education, to that point, had addressed this phenomenon, but he knew deep in the terrified pit of his stomach that it could mean but one thing. He had never had any sexual relations of any sort, but after gaining some composure, he went into the kitchen and sat down to breakfast with his mother. He knew it was time for the reckoning. He didn’t know any discreet way of telling her of his predicament, so he just blurted it out. “Mother,” he said, “I have VD.”

His mother sat silently for a moment as the tears welled in her eyes, and then she sobbed, “Honey, I don’t know what you do when you go to town!”

This is the bird I was trying to make.

So, there it is. I don’t know what all is going on in my head. Anything can happen at any time in something as strange and conniving as a human mind. And is it anybody's fault? I don’t really know. But it is sometimes kind of a nice feeling, while at the same time, a bit concerning, the sorts of goings on in your synapses that you just don't see coming!

All Rights Reserved, David Crawford; 2019