Friday, November 28, 2014

Time, Form, and Energy

It takes some imagination or memory to see scattered leaves as the canopy of a tree, to recall my grandfather with a rake, to hear voices in old letters.  

Transformation specialists often have occupations ending in '-ologist.' When they report back to the rest of us about how things are they inevitably wind up telling us how things change. 

The leaves, the rake, the voices came into being from mass and energy that are on their way to something else. I correspond with you as a Halibut Point-ologist.

States of water
Hydrogen and oxygen, independent gasses, combine to make water. Water composes clouds and plants and ice according to its energy level. It mediates life in the air and within stone, changing state relentlessly, creating and altering substances over time. 

Sunlight provides energy for these compositions and makes them visible to us. When we sense them grandly it is breathtaking. We might invest our own energies into story-making or art to treasure a moment forever, to preserve it in time.
Preserving a moment
People have had a great deal to do with transforming the landscape of Halibut Point. Stone excavated from the quarry makes up the promontory where the artist stands. Beneath her feet processes continue the changes that mark the inexorable nature of time.
Lichen colony around drill hole
Lichens mine granite for substances useful to themselves. If we could be tiny enough to walk within lichen-dom such that they towered over our heads we'd see lichen forests producing carbonic acids that dissolve the rock. By trapping rain water the plants also hold to the rock surface carbonic acid formed in the atmosphere from hydrogen and carbon dioxide, as well as much stronger acids sent aloft through human enterprise.

Decomposing granite
Any mountain exposed to water and sunlight has a short life expectancy. The steady work of forces in the atmosphere and biosphere will flatten it in a few tens of millions of years.  

Weather is a global effort to even out the distribution of the sun's energies as our planet goes through its own rotation and orbital revolution. Weather is the dramatic script enacted by water, air, and light.
Flowing water
The processes of weather never tire, never stop. When they're emphatic enough we're more likely to take notice. They give and take life.

Breaking water, breaking stone
Cumulatively weather makes climate. Significant changes of energy in the system make climate change. When glaciers covered Halibut Point with ice half a mile thick, a few thousand years ago, they scoured the earth. Their weight alone made the land rise and sink, fracturing the rocky crust. They reshaped the continent, even granite, but especially the softer stones.

Glacial scouring
As it happens energies in the core of the Earth intense enough to keep it a molten cauldron, keep shifting the features of the crust we inhabit. The crust gives way into plates, on which the continents ride like rafts in geologic time. * Hundreds of millions of years ago Halibut Point was thousands of miles to the south and far below the surface. The oceans tilt around the globe in response to shifts of the "solid surface."  

Erosion and weathering have leveled all topographic features repeatedly, contributing sediment that is eventually squeezed into metamorphic rock that eventually is consumed back into the core as the plates collide and are subducted. Continents becomes available for igneous recycling.
In time everything is "geo-degradable."
New soil, new life
Biological life, our comfort zone, rides astride the lithosphere in a nimble network of organisms, as easily as breath.

Coreopsis flowers, Halibut Point grout pile

"Of course," I say at times, and, "What a miracle." 


* See Chet and Maureen Raymo. Written in Stone: A Geological History of the Northeastern United States, 2001.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Why is there brown?

November is the time of year to reconsider your attitude toward brown. The more popular colors have departed from the landscape or are subsiding into a brown phase.

Rembrandt van Rijn reveled in brown. I recall hearing that John Ruskin declared Goya found more colors in brown than most artists find in their entire palette.
Impressionist painters, on the other hand, avoided brown almost entirely. Today it is the least favorite color in the Western World.

Seaside goldenrod going to seed at Halibut Point
In the painterly photograph above we can appreciate the diversity of brown although admittedly the brilliance of the scene relies on companionable colors and highlights. But brown is the anchor -  earthy, substantial, and varied.

Cherry tree trunk, rising
Brown does the heavy lifting in the landscape, a scaffold for multi-hued drapery. It lifts foliage to the sky and sets off the flashier colors. In the end it gathers those colors back.
Cherry tree trunk, subsiding
Leaves generally turn brown when they expire and fall to the ground.  We witness their demise with some apprehension, aware of our own mortality. On the ground the leaves decompose into humus to become a life-giving component of soil.

Out of that brown matter comes new growth. Modern humans wish to exempt themselves from the cycle.
Soil formation
If you live there on the ground, brown is the color of safety. It's a good way to dress.
It's the smart way of avoiding notice. Of course a bit of flair helps in connecting with your kin. You can do a lot with a little.

White-throated sparrow
If you're actually going to take the chance of sunning right out in the open your camouflage had better be excellent. Start with brown.

Young bullfrog
You can see the subtle choices in the photo above where some of the browns are developing out of the green portion of the spectrum, olive-like. To replicate them in paint means starting with two primaries - various proportions of yellow and blue to make various green secondaries - then adding a touch of red (the third primary) from the opposite side of the color wheel. 

The resulting browns are therefore tertiary. They contains infinite riches, an amalgam of all the variety in the spectrum.
Grasses on granite
You can approach brown from orange, the liaison of primaries red and yellow. Go across the color wheel for a touch of its complement within the blues (the third primary.) Work out the pigment solutions for the wealth of browns pictured above.
Burdock seeds
The third track to brown begins with violet, a cross of red and blue. Add the complementary yellow. Then explore the coppery colors in these burdock seeds.

There are very few brown flowers. On the other hand there are few green flowers. But flowers exist entirely to be noticed, so brown or green tints would not help them stand out from the verdure. The limitation of brown amongst flowers perhaps limits our notions of its prettiness.
Shagbark hickory leaf, autumn
When you really want to admire life as Rembrandt did, abstractions into brown simplify the pathways of vitality and aesthetics.

Emergent mushrooms
In the organic world - that is, discounting black and white - brown is the color of convergence. Artists are wary of it because over-mixing turns to mud, as does soggy compost. Delicately handled it is the color of many confections and earthy intricacies that sustain life as we know it.

Thursday, November 13, 2014


There's nothing more interesting to people than the human figure. Another person, or a sculpted figure in the landscape, gets first and sustained notice.

Ron Rudnicki, 1990
Boston Globe photo/David Ryan 
In the summer of 1990 the Department of Environmental Management's Arts-in-the-Parks program sponsored a two-week granite carving residency for Ron Rudnicki at Halibut Point. Working by direct carving - without first making a model  - Ron brought forth what he called a "medieval figure" from the stone. He used pneumatic as well as hand tools. 
Granite sculpture, Halibut Point
In the back-and-forth between carving and contemplation Ron sought areas "to look like a blend of rough, knocked-off chips and the folds of a robe, with the gesture of anatomy underneath." The piece retains a prominent and brooding presence to this day. Over the years it has developed a weathered and lichened patina that contribute to its venerable air.

Fitting clay maquette of "Prometheus"
to aperture in granite
I wanted to bring a life-giving story to some of my own granite pieces. Working in metal offered finer detail than was possible in stone. I envisioned Prometheus appearing triumphantly with stolen fire to present the Olympic torch to mankind.
Furnace at Mystic Valley Forge
Since I intended to make only one bronze copy, a sand casting was the practical and economical method of fabrication. Mystic Valley Forge in Somerville accepted "my baby" reassuringly and in a couple of weeks returned the final figure ready for inclusion in the stone.

The "Victory Garden," 2008
I had an opportunity to display "Prometheus" at the 2008 Gloucester Home and Garden Show. The exhibit honored community contributors on Trophies in "The Victory Garden."

Clay maquette for "Exuberance"
Making life-like figures can be addictive. As you work the clay, deepening your appreciation of the beautiful whole, you sense the path of the Creator. 

What could be lovelier than a female figure? I searched for how exactly the limbs should be proportioned and oriented. It began to clarify as I got closer to the simplest energy flow, the perfect economy of mass and motion that generates a natural gesture.  

Pouring molten bronze
New England Sculpture Service, Chelsea
The potential for multiple bronze copies is best approached through the lost-wax method, which involves (1) making a latex mold of your model that can be used repeatedly to create (2) wax replicas of the figure, each of which can be encased within a (3) ceramic mold for the casting, into which (4) the molten bronze is poured, displacing the wax which exits through a vent. After cooling the ceramic mold is broken away to reveal your treasure. A patina can be induced chemically or allowed to develop over years of exposure to weathering.

Crane Estate, 2011
In adding this vital spirit to the stone I sought to recognize not just a contrast but a relationship of elements. Organic and inorganic forms have vastly different time cycles but substantiate a cosmos of One.

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Something glittering and colorful draws attention from just about anyone. Our brainier associates in the natural world such as crows and rats like to bring shiny pebbles home to the nest.

Little wonder then that aqua-colored crystals in a pegmatite at Halibut Point piqued my curiosity and possessiveness. They spark the imaginations of children. They are delightful.

In pursuit of some factual information I contacted Professor Ross of Northeastern University who suggested a test to support his hunch that the photo and circumstances pointed to fluorite, a mineral with a hardness rating of 4 (H=4.) If so, a penny (H=3) shouldn't scratch it but window glass (H=5) should. I was pleased to assemble a geology field kit so easily, and proceeded with the test. The aqua crystals withstood the penny but not the glass. The evidence affirmed fluorite (CaF2) as the spark among the granite grays.

Several years ago I began to consider how color and light might enhance my stone carvings. I came across a heavy-duty stained glass whose thickness produced rich colors and combined well with the architecture of granite.

Kokomo Opalescent Glass
 One of the few producers of this glass in America operates in Kokomo, Indiana, less than an hour from where one of my sons resides. We organized a family outing to investigate what turned out to be a family business run by the Elliots.

Glass recipes involve melting ground-up mineral combinations that look like sand. Wagon-loads of mixtures waited in the store room of the plant.
The heart of the operation is the furnace, paralleling the igneous core of the earth. The time and expense necessary to get it hot enough to melt the glass silicates means that the furnace runs twenty-four hours a day. The business originally started in Kokomo because nearby gas fields at that time could supply abundant fuel.
At just the right consistency workers put the molten glass into molds where a twenty-four hour period of gradual cooling allows it to anneal, or organize its molecules for strength. The ability to produce inch-thick glass that anneals without shrinking or cracking requires rare skill. Different colors, made from different chemical compositions, vary in their annealing success rates.
Dalles de verre
I couldn't wait to get started when the first shipment of slabs (dalles de verre) arrived from Kokomo. It launched a series of adventures and challenges with glass and stone.
I wanted to explore the sense of glass emerging from stone, transparency from solidity, variegation from gray. Interestingly both the granite and the glass 'began life' as molten silicates.
Then it was time to move inside the stone itself, to devise techniques that could lead to internally illuminated lanterns.
The fiery origins of both granite and glass reminded me of a brilliant celestial object. "Comet" glows both night and day.
"Owl's" eyes pierce the dark. I commissioned the blue discs from Kokomo to fulfill the destiny of this four-foot high stone collected years before.
"Lighthouse," six feet tall, ornaments a shoreline residence along the Ipswich Bay with illuminated panels on each of its four faces.
The emergence of light and color from these massive stones suggests a mysterious interior life, a curious trick, an improbability made believable. It's a hard-won playful pursuit of objects of delight.