I am visiting my dear friends Joel and Diane this week. They are artists. I love them. I come here for a few days, a couple of times a year. We have been getting together to make art for about a decade.
She is a Potter and a sculptor, and embodies a rare mix of accomplishment and humility.
He is an assemblage artist, a painter, a sculptor. He works with text and found objects, his body of work has more soul than a Himalayan Village Shoemaker.
Their home is, to put it mildly, a fertile ground for art.
I make a very different kind of art here.
On a recent coffee with my friend Sharon, herself an artist who trafficks in sacred imagery and comedy, we spoke of the profound effect of place. She will be moving her studio soon. What an undertaking. The studio makes the art as much as the artist.
Returning to Joel’s studio is worth the travel. It always crashes into me with it’s accumulation of curated materials, free to use, and lingering pointed mentality. Years of focus have rarefied the place. It is a sacred place for art making, honed over what feels like centuries. It bowls over my various anxieties with special ease, paving the way to effortless creation.
The power at play here is in evidence from before you even walk in the front door. It informs the whole house.
This post is about buttons. Buttons and people, and the generous impulse.
You know how you spend hours making work that you plan to give away freely? Me neither. Joel and Diane do that. They make buttons. To give away. Buttons made from photos of paintings, from doodles, from flowers Diane pressed.
Every week from March to late October, they are brought out to a local farmers market. There is a pop-up art place there, which Joel and his friend Mark call the Un-Gallery. Joel breaks out a small table and offers people buttons.
Yesterday was the last day of the season.
Flirting and interplay from couples choosing buttons together. A child quietly proud of the Clark Kent glasses painted on her face. A tall, elegant woman who brought a pressed flower button to her mom, who against all decency refused it.
We helped Mark take his easles to his truck. We sat just for a last minute or two. And then two young ladies walked up. Unhesitant and confident, they delighted in the choice of buttons and rifled through the box with joy. “Ooh, grandson of immigrants. Do you have granddaughter?” He did. And then this:
“We are artists too.” Not we are “trying to be” artists. Not we are “kind of” artists. We are artists. “We are singers. Can we sing you a song?” We said of course yes, and they chose to sing “We Shall Overcome.”
Their music was entirely beautiful. Of course the song choice, so appropriate to these times and to Joel’s very quiet, very radical activism, to his giving from within the heart of the raging storm of Capitalism. But the execution! The harmonies, so intricate and lovely.
It was one of those moments when not only is life showering you with blessings but also you know it. And you know you will hold it to your weary, hurting heart.
They are artists, and teach voice at a camp not far away. We were overcome with listening for a verse, and all sang together for two more verses. Then they sat, we enjoyed each other. Instant community. Eye in storm: pop-up sanctuary.