Last week I had the privilege of attending sculptor, Geoffrey Gorman’s workshop, "The Soul of Forgotten Materials". It was a most powerful experience. Held on the nurturing, spacious, historic grounds of Patricia Baldwin-Seggebruch’s home and studios (aptly named, “Encausticastle”), four days evolved in the blink of an eye.
Five other women and I listened and watched as Geoffrey generously shared his techniques, insights from 20+ years’ experience in the art world prior to beginning his sculpting (with years as a furniture maker before that), and bits of his life story. His connection to animals and nature was palpable, and the stories told deepened the power of his sensitive pieces, each containing reference to something from his life. This is the kind of art that I can sit with indefinitely… I found myself just wanting to hear more about the energy in the creatures, while trying to absorb the technical aspects of their making. Art that evokes mystery and intrigue while connecting to deeper spirit calls me every time…
But it was not all seriousness—oh, no! Alongside the 5 other women, there was much humor and laughter in the midst of the thoughtful and skilled guidance. I never dreamed I would laugh so much in 4 days of a heavy-duty workshop, and think it speaks to the joy present in the making and the gathering of the creative spirits in each of us… not to mention that Geoffrey has a most wonderful sense of humor that he weaves throughout all aspects of his teaching and sharing. This exuberance and appreciation for life and making art was ever-present, and felt like a contagious energy that we all were eager to catch. It was really interesting and amusing to see how this vibe grew as the days went by, and we all came out of our shells more and more as the days passed.
This unfolding of openness is something that always reminds me of my time in the social work field, where the strengthening of bonds in a group becomes apparent. It is in this closeness that each lets out snippets of their own lives, ways of working, and viewpoints on the world, which enables us to come out of the experience far richer than when we entered into it. What a gift, indeed. Watching each other approach the work, from conception to completion, added dimension and perspective that built upon what Geoffrey was teaching, and really drove home the benefit of working in a group setting. Inspiration and emotional support was abundant...
This transition to creative work directly followed 3 days spent at Mammoth Cave with my family and a large group of homeschooling families, so I was feeling very gratefully fortified by the abundant energy of nature, a great bridge to working with natural materials and the energy they hold. I began dragging out my multitude of art supplies, found objects (boxes and boxes of them), and started to take inventory. I set up various mock-ups of ideas with the bones and objects, several of them, animal in origin. And I realized I most needed to do some figurative work, perhaps a self-portrait. It has been over 20 years since I have done representational figurative 3D work, and I felt a bit nervous, but reminded myself that workshops are all about taking a plunge into what is not familiar… stretching ourselves in ways we might not have explored on our own. I felt relieved to have a tentative plan in mind, and packed up with these notions in my head and supplies in hand, not sure what to expect as I headed up to Lexington, KY.
Having a plan was one thing, and working with these materials was something else. I had a bit of a learning curve with the tools, which gave me several laughs at myself (ie. attempting to saw off the taxidermy carving block with the factory-installed blade on backwards, and wondering why in the world I was having such a difficult time making cuts… and then there was the time I was holding my wood-into-bone joint up in the air while drilling into it, trying to hold it steady, and Geoffrey coming over with a slight twinkle of amusement in his eye, gently taking it from me and placing it on the table, bracing it before putting the drill tip back in position-- allowing me to keep my dignity, but still, I had to laugh out loud at my unsafe and less-than-effective attempt). The weather on day one was not so conducive to the carving of the foam (92 degrees, 100 percent humidity), and we were all covered with fine dust and larger chunks of the foam, that stuck to our bodies head to toe like glue… it was if we were tarred and feathered with our own materials.
Small price to pay for the fun that followed as we began figuring out how to assemble our pieces. We all had tremendous trials, tribulation, and eureka moments as we embarked on the problem-solving needed to make the sculptures come together in sound and coherent ways, and felt little victories for each other when different parts were accomplished. One thing I enjoyed very much was helping each other brainstorm ideas for composition, use of materials, and construction ideas. Again, it expanded what we were already learning from Geoffrey, and tested our application skills with each other. Way more fun than a test.
After much relief in sculpting out the head (and scaling it down for what seemed like forever) and wrapping it in canvas, I moved on to attaching it to the sacrum (?) bone that I had brought, and then attached cherry branches for arms, wired on the forearms and hands, and finally, attached the ribs for wings (imagine days passing here of furrowed brow and scrunched shoulders and neck, deep in concentration). I wanted to conjure up the energy of embracing openness, and to remind myself that this healing energy is available to us all, rejuvenating us and keeping us connected to the wider circle of life and possibility. Giving her a base that was solid and reminiscent of grounding to what I know to be good and true, it felt appropriate to use a motor part that was once an integral piece of a greater machine, movement inherent in its history. The detail work of wiring on the shells was pretty tedious, and I am thankful to the group for being patient with my continual verbal processing of how difficult that process was, and how glad I would be when that step was over. Such kindness and patience we offered each other as we struggled to push through the challenges!
The last day, I was thrilled to begin another sculpture, and made the form much simpler this time, choosing to focus on the adornment methodology this time. I carved out an abstract dove-like form, which morphed into a raven-like bird as I started wrapping it in the bike inner tubes. I cut out individual feathers, and began attaching those, which took 3 more long days to complete when I returned home. How I missed the encouragement and support of the group as I worked! But I found the slow and patient work of applying each feather with each carpet tack soothing (minus the joint discomfort), and a bit like sewing… one thoughtful stitch at a time. I reflected on how the making of art is deliberate and slow much of the time, and like life, comes together into a coherent whole.
Despite missing everyone, each morning since attending the workshop I have woken up with a leap of excitement to get to my art table and get cracking! I feel so rejuvenated, energized, and full of new ideas that I want to explore. I carry with me the energy of being surrounded by such diverse and talented people, in an environment that was teaming with fresh-baked goods, delicious and healthy lunches, history-accentuated rooms filled with comforts and lovely art. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the great fun we had in exploring the area, full of a wide spectrum of people and life on many planes of existence. We spent one evening visiting the prolific studio of one of my favorite local artists, Melissa Hall, getting a sneak preview of her upcoming exhibit, and behind the scenes sharing of both her 2D and 3D photography and encaustic work... a very moving experience, and incredibly powerful work-- an added highlight of the week. Early mornings began with walks on the train tracks, scavenging for bits of brokenness to use in our work, and we also scoured multiple thrift shops and junk shops, searching out curious treasures to be incorporated into works to come.
We fortified ourselves with a wide variety of dinners out in the area, and found much fun in a bit of respite and comradery at the end of long days (although could not resist heading back into the workshop for the evenings and early mornings, eager to eek out every available bit of time to work!). I chuckled as I found myself back at home, referring to it as time spent at the “retreat”… that really sums it up better than “workshop”, as it was truly a place to go for peace and sanctuary while expanding our creative selves. I offer huge thanks to Goeffrey and Trish for opening their hearts, genius minds and hands, and home with us all, and to each artist for taking the risk to journey here and be part of this remarkable experience-- a remembrance that I will continue to hold dear. (If you have the chance, I highly recommend attending a workshop by Geoffrey, or Trish! You will enjoy it and learn from the immersion, guaranteed!).