The memory is a quirky thing, allowing you to remember bits and pieces of the past at the most unexpected time. A recent visit to Texas took us to Baskin Robbins for an evening ice cream break, and just by holding a small, pink spoon I was transported back to the days of my childhood. There I was under the large elm tree scraping at the red earth, adding water from my glass jar, mixing it all together in my shiny aluminum pie tins and making mud pie after mud pie with the help of that tiny pink spoon. At that moment in Texas I realized that those materials – the jar, the dirt, and mud pies – were elements that had just emerged in my recent artwork. This seemingly strange departure in my work wasn’t really a departure at all; it was a return to what I was familiar with and had already experienced. As my ice cream melted into a chocolate mint puddle, I reminisced about those afternoons I spent outside traipsing around my grandparents’ yard and garden, playing fruit ball, moving snow in my red wagon, making my sister eat worms, collecting acorns and magnolia blossoms, picking up pine cones, and running through the sprinkler.After that jolt at the Baskin Robbins, a bizarre chain of events quickly unfolded and each day brought alive old memories and a desire to capture them in three-dimensions. The very next morning we traveled to my sister’s house where I found her cleaning out her closet. Clothes and shoes were piled everywhere, but something red and worn caught my eye. There before me lay a 75 year-old weeding bench that my grandfather had faithfully used every day. The aged wood, cracked vinyl and crooked upholstery pins added up to more than a bench. It embodied my grandfather and spoke of his obsession with his lush, green lawn and tomato and rose gardens. His meticulous care of the grass and tomatoes stretched into other aspects of his life. Even his tool closet reflected a sense of order that seemed mysterious and unreal. Walnut shelves hung on the closet doors and glass jars full of nails and screws dangled from them like magic. The way in which he had managed to suspend those breakable jars in space had always perplexed and excited me.
But how does it all connect? I couldn’t figure it out so the long drive back to Iowa was frustrating as something in the back of my mind nagged at me. Instead of going immediately home, I drove straight to school and found my old, rusted Red Flyer wagon. It was full of junk in a studio corner so I emptied it and cleaned off the grime and spider webs. I loaded it into the minivan without knowing why or what I was going to do with it. The next day I was standing in the checkout line at Dollar General and bumped into a stack of Mason jars. I bought all they had – 40 dozen glass jars. The wagon was still in the van and since I had a lot of jars to carry home, the jars went right into the wagon.
When I picked up my 3 year-old daughter from pre-school, she thought the wagon and the boxes were for her to play with. Why not? So off we went, with Skye and me pulling the full wagon together. The clinking and rattling of the jars made our new adventure dangerous and thrilling. When we had made it only half a block, Skye pointed to a tree with seed pods hanging down from it. She asked me to pick one, and she examined it so intently. She thought it would be good to keep and give to her daddy so she asked for a jar to save it for him. Soon one seed pod became a jar full. Skye’s fascination in the world around her gave me pause to look again at what I had so easily passed by. We were surrounded by beautiful, colorful and unique objects and it suddenly became important to collect them. I wanted my daughter to appreciate and embrace where we lived so I joined in the search. Two hours later and only a hundred feet further, we turned back for home with 24 jars filled with nature items from our neighborhood.
To think, all I needed was one small pink spoon, a weeding bench, and a little girl to bring the past and present together.