We recently moved onto 10 acres in the beautiful high desert of Central Oregon. The square plot of land is framed by large outcroppings of volcanic rock, providing magical protected spaces to gather, and high perches for viewing the entire Cascade Mountain Range. Old growth junipers, rabbitbrush, and sagebrush dominate this near pristine desert landscape. Mulch paths meander throughout the property to protect the fragile, dusty earth.
For the last several weeks, my family has been moving, sorting, purging, and arranging; exploring, observing, learning, planning and dreaming. This is our forever home, and over the next few years we will develop a master plan which will include a new home and outdoor spaces for gathering. Have I been creative lately? Am I making anything? My answer is Yes, absolutely. I am making our little piece of this Earth into a home.
Fall is a time for gathering in; nesting and preparing for winter. The temperature is crisp and chilly at the beginning and end of each day. The days become shorter and darkness is postponed by turning on the lights, or better yet, by burning candles.
To celebrate the seasonal changes, I created a simple centerpiece based on the concepts of an earth medicine altar. Incorporating representations of the four elements – earth, sky, fire, water – the centerpiece is a simple collection of natural and found items. A long irregular piece of leftover felt from a sewing project stretches along the length of the table. Aspen twigs, gathered from around my yard and tied with twine into a sort of effigy, serve as a frame to hold leaves, seeds, and feathers (air) picked up on a walk through the neighborhood. Some rocks (earth) that hold special memories are arranged at one end of the felt. Oil burning candles (fire) are placed at the other end. A few seashells (water) lay near the twigs.
I’d like to say we’ve enjoyed candlelit dinners for the past several nights, but sometimes the best intentions are forgotten in my family’s daily routine.
What treasures can you gather around your home and neighborhood to create a centerpiece altar to celebrate fall?
I first came across the art of spirit dolls as a child, using corn husks, bits of fabric, yarn, and beads to create a spirit of the fall harvest. Spirit Dolls can be elaborate works of art, imbued with intention and inspiration of the maker. They are made as expressions of Peace, Hope, Healing, Wisdom, Mother Earth, the Wild Woman, a Goddess, a particular ancestor, etc. Created intuitively using found materials, these Spirit Dolls can serve as messengers to us, from ourselves about a quality or virtue we would like to increase or explore.
I gathered aspen twigs from around my home, took a nature walk with my 5 year old to collect seeds, leaves and other interesting bits, and gathered other various materials from my craft bins. Most challenging for me was sculpting the face out of clay, inspired by the terra cotta faces made by artist Lyn Belisle. I wanted my spirit’s face to express a calm happiness, but I am not experienced with sculpting, so I struggled to get the expression and proportions to be ‘good enough.’ Although not perfect (as most of my making is beautifully flawed) my Golden Light Fire Spirit is a work of art. She reminds me to stay alert to the creative spirit and joy – that bright light – within myself.
You may have noticed that I am a big proponent of the unexpected; like the centaur who shoots an arrow afar just to follow it into the unknown. It is not that I lack vision when beginning a project. I always have a clear target. I just often miss the mark and have to shift my vision to accept the unexpected.
During my week in the woods of the Sierra Mountains, I found a beautiful, dark sienna rock with a small dimple near one end. It seemed the perfect size and weight for an experiment with weaving. Using hemp twine, I tied larks head knots around the girth of the rock, then knotted several rows of square knots. Never having done this before, I quickly realized that I had used too many larks head knots. So, what was meant to be a snug, knotted wrap for the rock, expanded with each row of square knots to become a pouch to carry the rock; an unexpected, yet satisfying outcome.
Part of my creative process is being witness to everything around me. Being witness means looking and listening with care and attention, moving slowly, noticing as much as possible. Colors are more vivid; objects have more texture and detail; light and shadow are in strong contrast. Being witness always leads me to new creative ideas and inspiration.
While walking along a creek in the Sierra Mountains, I came across two perfect branch pieces – one became a walking stick and the other a talking stick. Aside from removing some remnants of bark, both sticks were left natural. I simply used hemp twine to create a wrapped handhold on each and added a pair of tassels as a minimal decoration.
As a maker, I spend a fair amount of time searching for and collecting (purchasing) materials. In the last few years I have developed a love for thrifting; buying someone’s cast off’s for a bargain price (hopefully.) I have collected enough stuff that I am probably all set for a few months of making – if I didn’t change my mind all the time and follow a new creative whim.
But recently I have been interested in a creative process that involves hunting and gathering rather than purchasing. My own existing stash of materials certainly now qualifies as hunting and gathering. Many times I am going through a bin looking for a particular thing when I come across a long forgotten material. “Oh yea! I wanted to make something with this!”
My own resources aside, I like the idea of seek and find, hunt and gather, in a way that does not COST anything. And by “cost” I mean not only monetary exchange, but any cost to the the safety and well-being of life on this planet.
The image above depicts a nature drawing; just some arranged twigs, juniper berries, bark, and dirt that lay around me as I sat in the shade on a local ranch. Once I leave, the drawing will be erased by wind, rain, and the movements of all the creatures living there. It was a simple exercise in hunting, gathering, and creating with a pure, artistic vision.
As I head out at the end of this week to camp with family in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I will be exploring these creative ideas further. I will make things with my hands in, on, and of the earth. Pure. Simple.
Every Christmas, I alter our holiday decor a bit. This year I created a “chandelier” by suspending a juniper branch over our dining table and decorating it with handmade felted balls, Froebel stars, and crystal ornaments. The benefit of using a natural object for decor is that I can return it to nature when I am finished with it. And if I am lucky, this particular branch can be “found” again next holiday season.