March 5, 2012

Hunting & Gathering

Despite the calamitous weather (thunderstorms, tornadoes, snow), I managed a few safe & relatively dry hours out in the meadows the other day. Inspired by Woodland Style by Marlene Hurley Marshall, I gathered a large bag of dried thistles. Why? Because they are beautiful, have interesting growth structure, could be used to make something, are the national symbol of Scotland, and mostly because I enjoy gathering stuff when I'm wandering around.
I have bags upon bags of various pinecones and seed pods in my studio that have yet to be made into anything. And don't forget that box of rocks. (Yes, THAT box of rocks that I have dragged to 4 different states over the years.) Like a two year old, I love to pick things up and look at them. I simply can't resist. Unlike a two year old, I don't put things in my mouth to learn more about them, but I do collect them to look at more closely later.

In a freshman year 3-dimensional design class our instructor, whose name I don't remember, had each of us chose an object from the Nature Lab* that we could check out. We returned to the classroom/garage/studio with our objects and were told to meditate on our object for an hour. I didn't understand this at the time, but tried my dogged best. Then, for the next several weeks, we had to recreate our object as a sculpture. We were not to simply reproduce the appearance of the object, but build our sculpture following the growth pattern of the object itself, in essence, mimic nature. I chose a pinecone. I recall using wood, vast amounts of thin crochet cotton, cheesecloth, and wax to build my model. I loved the process. This is when I discovered my inclination to time-intensive, detail oriented, repetitive motion work.

Lately I've come to realize that it doesn't matter if I ever make anything with my collections of nature objects. What's most important to me is the process of gathering them; walking in the meadows, hiking in the woods, looking at my surroundings, delighting in discovery, hunting for specific objects, gathering items of interest, learning to identify flora and fauna, quieting my mind, refocusing my energy, preserving and sorting my treasures.

*The Nature Lab is a library of objects at RISD. It's a true Wunderkammer or cabinet of wonders. It houses everything from seed pods and bird feathers to human skeletons and taxidermied animals. If you find yourself in Providence, RI, you should visit. The Nature Lab is right around the corner from the RISD Museum, 13 Waterman St.

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