by James Garvey April, 2014
A self-referential account by James Garvey of his schooling as an artist… Please note, persons who have lived with James have the advantage to endure the remedial grammar.
Teen Reckoning ranch of John Murphy in Granby, Colorado
A displacement from mainstream occurred on Christmas day in 1964 at the age of 14; my mom died. My father was a senior budget analyst for the Governor of Colorado. Within three months, his secretary, who was a recent divorcee with two girls in college and a teenage son, seduced him. He remarried and she rearranged my future: in the Fall, I would be going to military school in Kansas; she got me a summer job through Mr. Jim Murphy, the Commissioner from Fraser County. I would be turning 15 as a ranch hand helping John Murphy on 2,000 acres in the heart of the Rocky Mountains.
I arrived in my dad’s new white Chrysler. John was friendly. He showed me the thirty-two foot wide dump rake that I would be using; we got wrenches and, I replaced all the broken teeth. He was in his early 50’s; he was trim and moving without compromise. There was a son and a daughter. His wife had died in a car accident. The housekeeper had answered a correspondence; she was from Missouri; she would look with blinking glances through long lashes, quietly, like a week-old calf. Early on, as I followed them in to lunch, John’s hand was like static electricity clinging to her cheek through finely shaped Levis. I slept in the house, an unheated room of plain boards above the kitchen, blankets so heavy my ankles were sore, each night powering my imagination, my attention focused on that intimate surface under Marlene’s jeans. My nightly anxiety, “Will they hear me?” the escalating flurry of rustling on the thick flannel cotton sheets. Usually when I woke, the grass was frosty glistening splinters. I did milking because Marlene wanted the relief when I was there; thick yellow Jersey cream on Rice Krispy’s; homemade ice cream after dinner; there was never a TV; we did not even listen to radio.
Personal time was in the shop. There was a huge stone grinder that ran on a belt. The drill press was converted from a treadle, a stack of spinning gears with handles as old as a Model A Ford. I learned to cut with Oxy-acetylene, to bend with rose bud torch. The tanks were on 30-inch metal wagon wheels. There was the call to realize heart-whelming urges that would haunt me otherwise; I made a set of wooden tumblers from hollow aspen stems. In late July, I climbed into a derelict truck parked since 1953; it had a door-to-door seat with a rusty spring poking through horsehair. Apparently, it had a broken transmission. All that week, I was visualizing the gears inside. When Sunday came again, I took it apart; I put it back together; and, it freed up. I had learned enough with tractors to get the engine running. I drove up and back, bouncing along the washboard gravel road. I was impressed with myself; John was too. A few days later, I cleaned up the shop; John could not find anything; he got so mad that he stopped talking to me for three days. It felt like my place. When haying started, I was not looking as I took the rake through the big corral; the rear wheel slammed into the gatepost, the frame bent 30 degrees away from straight. I needed to get on with my task. The rake could not travel, I realized I could get this unit back in service right here in the corral: wheel off, bring the torch down from the shop to heat the bend, use pry bar and sledge hammer to move it back the way it came.
Whenever there was a 4-H event, I would help Steve and Jennifer; Marlene would get anxious; we would be shampooing, grooming and loading the entrees. Rodeo was fun; such a big soft oval arena, the bull rider bounces off the ground like a preschooler at recess. The calf roper waves his greeting, lariat swirling large above his crisp cuff with mother of pearl snaps. The ground was busting above his ears; the lasso was hovering just off the ground; the rascal calf steps in and hooks his haunches. One Sunday, I was watching the kids; I had a notion, “Maybe I could someday compete in bull riding.” We put a steer into a tight pin and rigged a rope. Higher powers must have been looking on. The steer ran into the milking parlor to start bucking. It was slammed up against the ceiling beams and I fell off in a heap. A few times, I went horse back riding alone to the upper meadows. My interest was on hold; I had no idea how to pay attention to the way of nature if my role did not impinge. I thought the aspen groves were a sacred place, a good place to build a church or a school. I tried to climb up where I could look down onto a hawk’s nest. One Sunday, the 4-H families met in a meadow near the tree line far up an old logging road; we were feasting on elk; I was eating so much watermelon that I got sick.
Before the start of haying, I helped with branding and irrigating; I learned to fix fence; I could set seven locust posts in an afternoon. It was mostly done with a digging bar into craggily granite soil. Eighteen inches was deep enough. Backfill stones needed to be bigger than my knee; otherwise, the snow would lean the posts. I worked fast so that I could get to the fun part: laying out new wire, devising braces and ties for the corner; and finally using the barbed wire stretcher. I recall explaining to myself, “My momentum for working is ‘rigorous and rapid’, rather than ‘steady and cautious’.”
The first time loading livestock is a crash course in brutal unpredictable trouble; we were coaxing cattle up a chute made of wooden planks into a trailer; we were yelling, slapping, tail twisting, and even electric shock. The ‘squeezer’ apparatus was the only thing that would not be regarded as abuse; it was used to hold a heifer when the vet came out to treat Pink Eye. I remember the calming effect that this provided. I recently went to a lecture by Dr. Temple Grandin; I am astonished at the genuine progress she has realized in regard for the humane treatment of animals in the livestock industry.
In late August, we were a couple of weeks into haying; I did the raking and loading; I became over-confident with the hydraulic loader that John commissioned from the local steel fabrication shop. It was a converted truck; the transmission was altered so the gears would drive backwards. It had a ready-made loader frame with fabricated gates that could squeeze and lift twelve bales. I could pick up a load and use it to push previous loads forward into the big transport truck without coming to a full stop. I could even do another layer on top of the first layer, 120 bales to a load. Late one afternoon, I was moving fast; I snagged the gate and drove it into the ground; it racked the frame of the loader. There was the painfully bitter taste in my psyche, the gallant one suffering the pang of vulnerability when his ultra high performance faculty has been exhausted. I asked John to dock my pay to cover the repair.
One summer, I brought my friend, Jeff Creager, to work during hay season. I was bewildered at the look of terror I saw in his eyes … chased by me at the controls of my reverse running truck with gnashing jaws. One evening after haying, I challenged John’s nephew, Dean, to a wrestling match on the grass behind the house. He was three years older than me; he was heavier, stronger, and had ten years experience with the dominance that was needed to brand and neuter calves. I still think about a rematch.
During my third summer, I became committed to the vain compulsive chronic vacancy that teenagers must endure. I had reached drinking age in Colorado for 3.2 beer. On Friday nights, we cleaned up and Dean had me packing winter mint Skoal into my lower lip. We dropped in at the whirlpool of sons and daughters of the ranchers: the tunes, the talking, the tight jeans, the turbulence just below the surface; I compared it to the urban gathering back in Littleton; local guitars would be stroking “Louie, Louie”; a throbbing insect cluster for 25 minutes. There was more dignity here in Granby. On our way back to the Ranch, we had to stop to pee; they were impatient; I am standing with the cool breeze, studying the stars. I danced up the road bank to keep from falling in my cowboy heels. “You need to understand that my bladder is much bigger than you guys.”
One weekend a girl from Denver invited me to the Dude Ranch where she worked. I dropped off Dean and found her place, four miles off the main highway. I was rushing back; I jumped the curb on the flat top bridge just before going onto the highway. I was air-born for an instant; I was certain I could pull hard enough on the steering wheel and press with my feet and I could get the vehicle to land on its wheels. But, no… I hit the bottom of the creek head on. John Murphy was upset about his new Bronco. The next day I wanted to run away; but I listened to big Jim Murphy, I waited.
The last days of the summer when the hay crew had been dismissed, the two of us put up Pole Fence to surround the twenty foot high mounds of hay that had been ‘stacked loose’. We laid out “A” frame timber structures to serve as vertical members. Then we laid out the horizontals: four long poles for each panel, and twelve panels. John was on the other end; we positioned each rail and hammered the spike deep into the upright. As we went along, we had to straighten ¼ inch thick nails. I expected myself to keep pace.
St John’s Military School in Salina, Kansas:
“You cut your nose off to spite your face”, said my dad. In 1968, I declined my appointment that Catherine had worked to acquire for me at USMA.
I was a well fueled arrogant sent to St. John’s Military School to be slammed into the wall as a new boy. In a short time, it was me doing the hazing, delinquents rescuing delinquents. I stood up fast; I never let anyone get higher grades. I wrote essays, poems, and proposals in my journal, in the margin of my math book, in the blank pages of a hymnal in the chapel every night before evening mess. St. John’s is the place where I learned to have attention for myself. I didn’t accept the appointment to go on with military scholarship; my English teacher, Katie Weckel, she was the only person with the nerve to refuse to write a letter of recommendation. She told me I would not fit. I like to think it was based on my innate discretion and not because my mom died one year before, I hated my new step-mom, and I was not going to be manipulated. I continue today to be motivated to compensate for my father’s disappointment; I believe the rigor of St. John’s and the ranch is my advantage as an artist. I was always making things: toys, furniture, bags, carving soap, painting, drawing, writing poems, stories, tree houses, carts, experiments with helium balloons, flying model planes, solar sail plans, and linear motor launching systems. The role model was my mom; she had a degree in music composition. When I was ten she was forbidden to take me to any more art classes; she was not sober and we sideswiped a car as we were driving across town to my second class at the Colorado Springs Academy of Art.
Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, Colorado:
During the Spring of 1968, I was dismissed from spit shined full battalion parade inspection. My psyche was wound up, primed for self-destruction; CSU opened the lid of the Jack in the Box. It was an homogenized liberal slide into dorm life with 5,000 future baby boomers at the release of the White Album. I was slightly afraid to embrace the dissipating indulgence that everyone around me seemed to handle with no apparent repercussion: music, beer, marijuana, LSD, girls, music. I was surrounded by chronically self-centered mass passivity. I joined this risk welcoming school of arrogance. We took almost everything for granted; the irreverence, our homogeneous mainstream culture devised a sort of secular generic form of concern. We got bored and dabbled in validation our existence with the instructions received from the advertising agencies: consuming new stuff, bigger places, and cars. We became hypnotized by published statements and credentials. We were an easy mark being shepherded by a set of ethics melded to our essence by the prosperous national recovery that had been realized by our folks.
I got into Colorado State University. Six years later, I completed a Fine Art degree. The pattern seems to be, ‘manage my way forward, and remain hopelessly idiosyncratic’. Ken Hendry from ‘Pottery Department, was my mentor, friend, and ongoing liaison to embrace the art world. Sherri Smith, the head of Weaving, was my archetype for righteous arrogance, an uncompromised Artist’ mentality. Elizabeth Leigh, who would eventually let me become her spouse, was the vehicle and catalyst to relieve me from the mainstream route. I audited every vocational education class at Colorado State University: foundry, welding, brazing, and more. I eventually changed majors from engineering to fine art and concentrated on pottery. (There was no course for blacksmithing.) Sherri Smith had used the osmosis effect, I was implanted with her example; every career, other than the creative, was in service to the artist philosopher. We are responsible for our community; we are at the pinnacle of the social hierarchy. She is now the head of the fibers program at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan.
Rochester Folk Art Guild in Middlesex, New York:
I believe I have an active imagination. I finished Military School; I did not resent the severity of the place; I was glad; I learned that I should be creating things. I had completed my BFA at Colorado State University. I had gone unchecked, with 40 extra credits in drawing, design, power trains, creative writing poetry, welding, pottery, weaving, fabric design, and physics. I relocated to a school of crafts in Upstate New York. The craftwork was a “vehicle” for an esoteric teaching directed by Mrs. Louise March. The Guild was prosperous; the program was rigorous; membership was exclusive; the work was anonymous. Once, she told us, “My craft is people.”
I began as an opportunist; I had no idea what she spoke of, “listening to silence”. I carry humbling reminders; my ambition when I arrived was like a live target on a firing range. There was exploding glass shrapnel as I directed the glass blower to increase the pressure with the air gun; my face was inches away as the molten bubble was pillowing out through the forged armature cage. There was ten pounds of molten lead being poured into a cavity in the stump for the anvil; it was moist; it exploded. There are many fumes: epoxy primers, urethane paint, vaporized coatings on miles of welding electrodes, the subtle wisps of cadmium bearing flux, and heat treatment with cyanide. Through all of this, I managed to stay on my feet until I encountered grief. I barely survived a broken heart as my children’s mom, Elizabeth, abandoned her “muti-vice-aholic”, dangerously jealous husband. After five years at the Guild, she remarried and left for Maine. Mrs. March said, “It must be, that James is being saved for something special.“
One day at a meal, when I was away, she asked everyone at the place to focus on a technical problem that, if it were solved, then it would help with his or her work. They were told to engage me to create this; I was carrying a list with twenty projects. She stopped me one day and asked, “Why are you never in your workshop.” I learned to say, “No”. I went to blacksmithing and she looked in on me whenever the season changed. After three years I started developing forms without drawings: 'touch' began to tell me more than my mind; a low yodeling song began to come out at the forge; the fire heats the bar and that goes into my hand. I worked eighty hours a week and my progress was idiosyncratic. Fellow members copied the Shakers, the Japanese, and the Steuben Glass designers; I argued with the heads of department, I was convinced that we should only make original designs. I was told with a glint to stop confronting others and to stop reading; this was a relief because I would not need to sort out the integrity of my ideas; I came to understand that persons who are authors, sometimes, they stop reading; I recall explaining to myself, “There are either writers or readers… I’d rather be a writer.” When clients began to request a signature on the Ironwork, Mrs. March announced that, “It is time to individualize yourself.”
Rambling flash backs - 1976 - I was 26 with two years full-time at the forge. I was visualizing the piece I wanted to make every morning as I woke up? I was working with really, trashy coal, a hood that does not draw, an abrasive cutoff saw, a pint size bench mounted drill press, and gloves with holes in the web between the thumb and forefinger. --- It is really loud; flying in a six-seat puddle jumper from St. Louis to Carbondale; two guys are rolling Bugler; no one is saying much. On the evening of second day, I return to the dorm space after viewing the video of Al Paley’s architectural ironwork for NY State Senate Chambers. A parent tries to engage with me as an inspirational influence; he brought his 16 year old to the second national conference being held for the “artist blacksmiths” association. This well-meaning father was probably disappointed; I told them I had come back to sip on a bottle of Jack Daniels from my suitcase. I felt slightly guilty, I confessed, “I am having arrogant projections of grandeur at every demo. I can’t focus; my attitude is hijacked by envy. Rather than listening, I start imagining amazingly original forged artwork that is certain to be my ticket to become a star in the blacksmith artist world.“
That night, a mixed-bag group was hammering away at an open session with several forges and whoever wished to try. There is a non-stop, veteran blacksmith named Joe Volz from Mahopac, NY who is having a lively time. Joe set about to inspire one or two of us with one-on-one attention. He was forging with a sense of joy; he was so overwhelmingly sure of his moves, turning out tapers as efficiently as a Singer sewing machine. He grabbed the hammer out of my hand.
He insisted that I learn how to do a proper taper. “Use the soft corner of the shoulder of the anvil to breakdown the section when you start a taper.” He held the rod diagonal to the face; the corner of the anvil becomes a fuller - hit on top of the rod stating at the tip - hit four strong, evenly spaced notches; turn one quarter and hit four new notches on this side of the forging - then, start again at the tip and hit three notches; turn, and repeat - then two notches; turn, and repeat- then, hit the tip; turn, and hit the tip; turn, and hit the tip; turn and hit again - continue until the point is almost sharp. The forging was still dull red; it almost had enough heat for me to proceed to hammer on the face and flatten the notches into a symmetrical four sided taper. Hey! I learned how to taper the end of ¾ square bar with one heat.
Reflection, 34 years later - In respect for creditable instruction, Joe Volz had the most effective approach at the Carbondale Conference. I don’t know if he knew that I was handicapped by disappearing attention span; however, by asserting his self with the ‘one-on-one joy of hammering’ approach, I paid attention; I didn’t disappear. Now, four decades since that night, I am conscious of the skill improvement that I learned from Mr. Volz every time I draw out a taper. It is obvious, my way to learn needed to be usurped by someone.
Liberty Island in New York Harbor:
In 1986, I made my way into the crew of 35 ironworkers as a consultant artisan for Local 580. We were replicating 1,600 armature bars, the skeletal grid that follows the contours of the copper skin inside the Statue. The schedule was falling behind. Along with two other teams, we learned to reproduce the critical surface without fabricating a jig structure for every bar. We formed by eye using a simple “bumping” technique with the 120-ton hydraulic press. While the Americans rewove her corset, French artisans remade the torch.
At night, I was making pieces at Mark DiSuvero’s studio in Long Island City. I was an emerging artist in the Socrates Foundation. During the day, I was furiously replicating bars at the Statue designed and realized by Frederic Bertholdi in the 1880’s. To confirm a fit-up I would be climbing three steps at a time and spiraling back down the helix stairs gliding down the handrails like skateboarding in the Guggenheim. I was transitioning from craft fairs to public fixtures. I stared at one of Mark’s sculptures jutting out over the East River from the pier of his studio. I grasped the incentive of these artists, they were certain of this presence, the affect that would be realized for the community.
Each day at the Statue, we were seen by hundreds of people looking in along the viewing corridor with their kids and camera. They were experiencing the scale of the statue, the historical significance; the respect shared by fellow spectators, the pride shared by the artisans, the fulfillment as a contributor, and the approval of the National Park Rangers. The whole arrangement was a something of a sacred affair that proceeded on a secular level. I recall explaining to myself, “This quality affect for the viewer should be the standard of measure for a public fixture.”
At the end of each workday, we left Liberty Island by crew boat and arrived at Battery Park. A historical wrought iron fence surrounds Bowling Green since before the American Revolution. I recall my impression, it was so typical, overbuilt, and unoriginal; yet, it defined this place. The components were brought from England. Christopher Wren, the Royal Architect for King George, designed the project. It is forged of two-inch solid square bar, it has the massive presence of a masonry fixture along with the graceful durability of wrought iron. The teardrop layout is stronger than a straight run. When there is severe impact; it will flex. Imagine the incidents that challenged this structure. The Bowling Green Fence is continuing beyond ten generations. The Royal Architect’s approach continues to outlast fabrication that uses steel tubes and structural shapes because it has no interior surfaces; it cannot rust from inside to outside; it is no cast iron parts, which would be much less expensive but far more brittle than wrought Iron. Today the commercial standard for longevity is twenty years; this fixture is so over qualified because it accepted a substantial increase in cost of the handcrafted process. It is a demonstration of integrity.
One afternoon I strolled up town after work; I stood on the sidewalk staring at a window grille on the Federal Reserve Bank. In 1975, I had acquired an aspiration in a grainy photo of these grilles; during my ten years Upstate, I recalled this photo a thousand times. Each horizontal bar is split 14 times for the verticals with 210 intersections in the grid. In my mind’s eye, Samuel Yellin’s artisans had forged these grilles with three inch round bar. I had gathered a reservoir of conviction to rise up to this level of expertise. To my surprise, the bars are only one and three quarter inch diameter. I recognized that my unconscious analysis had gradually worked out the practicalities; it would be ready to get this done with three inch round bar.
“Permanent” Works of Art in NYC:
At a Landmarks presentation for the Dwight School Doors in 1996, the Commissioner said the design was more appropriate than historical pieces and he encouraged this approach for new projects. I have developed nine Lariat Street Furniture designs that have regulatory compliance. Seven have been tested as full-scale prototypes. Since the materials are solid, a blemish can be sanded down and the surface can be renewed. There are no hinges to lubricate. There is no need to replace moving parts, locks, or broken glass. The name, "Lariat", relates to the JG Bend, a knuckle-like form in which round-bar is forged back onto itself mid-bend. These soft corners are a relief to shin bones and fine clothing. The JG Bend is a ‘eureka’ idea, a ‘fine hand crafted’ approach that goes beyond function, a valid conceit in the realm of street furniture design. Presentations are made during the planning stage to obtain New York City regulatory compliance from the Departments of Transportation and Sanitation, the Arts Commission, the Central Park Conservancy, the Landmarks Conservancy, the Fire Department, and the local Community Board. This is usually a bolstering experience because the commissioners are delighted to see ‘hand made’.
When the Twin Towers fell, Coenties Slip Lunchtime Park was four years old; it was a successful public space to demonstrate streetscape changes recommended by the ‘Pedestrianization’ Project, a two million dollar study to embrace pedestrians. Three forty-story buildings surround the tiny park. I set out to interest office workers as they look down. It consisted of handcrafted benches, litter stands, gates, and bollards. The benches appear as arrowheads pointing at each other from the floors high above, they see an "X" on the pavement in the center of the Slip; they reported that they came down to see what it was. It instantly became an excellent place to refresh and mingle with others. During it’s third year, on September 12, 2001, I walked through an eerily deserted Lower Manhattan to Coenties Slip Lunchtime Park. The paving and benches carried a blanket of ash and concrete dust three-quarter inches thick. Charred letterhead and computer print outs were swirling about. For a long moment, I stood looking at the single place where someone had sat since the towers came down. My intuition told me it was a survivor of the nearby Firehouse on South Street.
It was disheartening for me as an artist. Our neighborhood was selected as the venue for the 2004 Republican National Convention. Suddenly, NYC Parks Dept. was handed 19 million and specific assignments to change the setting. Coenties Slip Lunchtime Seating Area was announced as one of 14 sites that would be redone. Even though the Community Board had unanimously rejected the removal of the Lariat Street Furniture, the Parks Department proceeded to re-create an 18th century horse trough for Coenties Slip. The directions that they had received, “Get something that has water, a fountain or something". Despite its status as a “Permanent Work of Art”, Arts Commission used a legal maneuver to remove my work. Mike O’Connor asked if I would sue the city; “No the disrespect had not come form the City, it had not come form those who had genuinely helped me realize a functional art work.” Thanks to Mike O’Conner and Ms. Ann Buttenweiser, rather than going to storage, the pieces were cleaned, and moved to a sliver of ground above the Rector Street Subway Stop. This was the attention and concern that came from the team at Alliance for Downtown New York. A new work, Coenties Ships, was commissioned for Coenties Slip, a glass pillar by an artist from Southern California. There was no selection process that involved the public. A newly appointed Arts Commission unanimously approved this new “Permanent Work of Art”. The purchase was 40 times more than the Lariat Street Furniture at Coenties Slip Lunchtime Seating Area. This cast glass was cracked at the base after one year.
In 2003, a second “Permanent Work of Art”, DeLury Plaza Art Work, was displaced by Parks Department and stored at Randal’s Island. The granite was smashed and the forged bronze fixtures were stolen. A letter of apology came to me from Ms. Snyder at the Mayor’s office; most likely, this hand forged silicon bronze went for scrap. Apparently, the theft was an ‘inside job’ by Parks Department workers in transition from Rikers Island.
In 1988, the Triangle Trash Baskets were installed for a six-month trial at Franklin and Hudson in Tribeca; these four handcrafted litter stands could contain wind blown debris. My neighbors made personal visits in order to express their appreciation for the refreshing craftsmanship. There were 2,000 hours of trials and design development to achieve regulatory approval. There are sites where the Lariat Street Furniture designs have not disappeared. In the Financial District, the Coenties Slip Lunchtime Seating Area was moved to Rector Station Park. It has the following designs: Lariat Bollard, Lariat Access Gate, Wing Surface Bench, Plank Bench and the Lariat Litter Stand. The Lariat Handrail resides is in Central Park near West 97th Street. At the 33rd Street Subway Station of the #6 subway there are fourteen bronze Lariat Seat Loops that are installed as a Percent for Art Project. At the Dwight School on the Upper West Side, the School of Spirit’s Entrance is a set of steel and glass double doors with 90 forged figures. There is another Gate of similar design on the 88th Street entrance for the Dwight Lower School. The Lariat Seating is located in the lobby of the New York City Police Substation on Washington Street. The DeLury Plaza Art work was displaced and destroyed by scrappers in 2007. There are two recent installations: the Urban Monks Bike Stands on Crosby Street between Prince and Spring Street, and the Urban Monks Gates at Lafayette Street entrance for the Crosby Hotel. The owner called the Fence and Gates “bespoke”, a great compliment. Also, I completed Nine Lariat Tapers for MTA Wall Street Station Art Work was installed in August 2011. Last year I made forged Signature using 3’ round bar for the lobby of Ogilvy on 11th Ave.
Twin Towers Trade Center in Manhattan:
Two days ago, the Trade Center is brought down when two planes filled with domestic passengers were flown into the upper stories of each tower. The country was watching the gaping hole ninety stories up on Tower One as second plane came into Tower Two; the dark plume climbed out of lower Manhattan heading east; it cast a shadow as wide as Brooklyn. From the Loft window, we saw thousands of fluttering white wings being carried across the Harbor. By afternoon, we leaned out our 3rd story window and watched the stream of people walking up Pearl Street. A glittering grey column arched overhead toward Brooklyn; the phones were still working; it was quiet; the ash was still settling, There was only the intermittent rumble of fighter jets making passes a little ways above the dark smoke. I remember we were watching for a long time and someone of us asked, "What is the glitter?" Apparently it is paper, millions of sheets of 8 ½ x 11 appearing as delicate glitter making its way to the outside surface of the arching plume. We had been prepared to evacuate if it was announced for our block.
Late in the morning, I invited Meg and Eric up to the third floor and made a big brunch with bacon, eggs, coffee, and toast. I thought if we have to leave, then we would have a meal to hold us for a time. Constance reaches us and is crying hysterically. She had been trying for hours. After the phone dies, there is another collapse of a building where the electricity for much of Lower Manhattan is distributed. In the Evening the streetlights are not on, the vehicles are still, and the windows are all black. In the darkness, the sorrow started to affect me. As candles burn, Meg spoke about the death that swarms around us. It is a simple matter to sense the people who are lingering near. The air is a medium for the desperation, the efforts of the rescue crews for those in the collapse. The heap is more than one hundred stories; the upper floors loaded up with debris and then they fell onto the floor below. The glow of life remains calling, the tissues have not given up because they can still recover if the nutrients they need can reach them.
We live on Peck Slip in a loft that is ½ mile East of the World Trade Center. Two days after the Trade Center is brought down there is an inch of ashes on our roofs. Down here, the power is off, the food is spoiling, and the cell phone is rationed. Barbara lined up a charger we can use by plugging into a converter that runs off Gary’s Car. As we walk about, the National Guard is around but not in any marshal fashion. We made a circle of Lower Manhattan and walked through the Coenties Slip Park. During the day, Eric's short wave radio is turned on until the broadcast starts to repeat.
That morning for the first time since the collapse, the wind had shifted direction; it blew the giant white smoldering column up along the rest of Manhattan.
The assault to breathing for so long that our tolerance has adjusted. There is slow burning, like the scorched handle of the teapot on a gas stove. The pulverized desiccant concrete dust becomes a thin layer of dried cake batter on the skin. The scent of singed flesh and hair is like a drone; it carries the numbing affect forward like a severe case of tinnitus.
Urgent readiness to serve, defend, and retaliate. The neighborhood is flooded with unrequested supplies and volunteers. Barbara and I took the train uptown. An attractive woman and her teenage daughter wanted to give us healing backrub massages wile we were riding. They came from Texas to bring Christian fellowship from their congregation for the rescue workers. Commerce is on hold and everyone is personally psyched up. Meg and Eric have been making large pans of Meg's meatloaf in our gas oven for the meals of the rescue workers who get relief at the seamen's church on Water Street. I have no interest. Eric expected me to help out. With distain, he declares "How could someone be lazy at a time like this!" In an article, Susan Sontag, reminds us to challenge the reaction to mass psychosis. She is alone… like a periscope as we are swept along in this mob mentality. Eric makes me more determined to refuse.
Then the Father at the Seaman's church asks for a memorial to be built right away for the Port Authority people who perished and I am engaged in planning for a short time and I present preliminary details and he asked to donate time and labor. I learn about the resources flowing into the Church. I decided not to be a volunteer.
A woman asks on the radio a question for the announcer, "Why is there no talk of the response that is not expected, a response that is to have no response. To go on with the Life and not give the satisfaction and continuation of the impulse to realize act of hatred." The question is coming from a scientifically informed mind that is sociologically accurate in the proposition. The answer that the veteran journalist produces is given without hesitating The USA is soundly determined to exact some justice for the violence and the suffering.
The ash and dust was settling and we watched the steady stream of people walking up Pearl Street. Except for a jet fighter, patrol there was quiet. We were prepared to evacuate. I invited Meg and Eric, our neighbors on the third floor and we made brunch with bacon and eggs, coffee and toast. As dusk is coming the phones die there is another collapse of a building where the electricity for much of Lower Manhattan is distributed. Our moods sink into a deeper quiet as the darkness comes. Eating our supper in candlelight, the horror has an affect. Meg, spoke about the air as a medium, the death and calls of those still dyeing, and the desperation of the workers just a few blocks from us. These firemen and Police are solemn and hypnotized by one hundred stories that have condensed into one heap that is too dense. We all visualize the floors giving up at the hole in the side of Tower One and the upper floors begin to load up with debris and then they fall onto the floor below.
The dust keeps me aware of the grief that has settled. Twice during the day the short wave radio that Eric has downstairs is turned on until the broadcast starts to repeat. The phones were still working for a while. At midday when the ash and dust was settling We watched steady stream of people walking up Pearl Street, strangely there was a quiet except for the rumble of fighter jets in the air above the dark column of smoke. We prepared to evacuate if it was announced. I invited Meg and Eric, our neighbors on the third floor and I made a hearty brunch with bacon and eggs coffee and toast. After the phones dies there is another collapse of a building where the electricity for much of Lower Manhattan is distributed. In the darkness of the Evening the realness of the sorrow started to affect me when Meg, spoke about death that swarms around us here on the west side of the island a few blocks from the pile. The air is a medium for the desperation of those trapped and the efforts of the rescue crews, they are like soldiers with a battle raging and it is devastating impossible task; one hundred stories has condensed into one heap that is too dense. There is visualization at the hole in the side of Tower One; a brittle membrane is giving up; debris loading the one below; and cascading collapse.
Among the persons outside the secure zone, there is talk of rooting out the element that exists in every city. The FBI and CIA working to arrest many Arabs. The State Troopers who manned the checkpoints on 14th street are obnoxious for us as we return to our lofts. Thursday morning, some uptown residents make it through the checkpoints with a newspaper of Time Magazine photos of the crash. These images are powerful to see. In my numb state of processing, I am asking, “Why didn't the planes go through the building?” We listen to visitors; we were fortunate not to have the television repeating as the days went be. It seems that our place is far removed from them. We can’t process the spectacle as media substance. We all agreed that we were fortunate not to have the television repeating as the days went by. For the first time since the attack, the wind blows the giant white column North along the rest of Manhattan. I am in favor of these people being able to smell the burning. There was an incredulous feeling as I listened to the report about uptown residents awkwardly wondering in Central Park; biding time in the sidewalk cafes inundated with news broadcasts. The work is stopped in most businesses and the leisure activity continues. I must insulate myself from my reaction. For us the media is removed; we are the ones who are the subject of disaster; but we are not able to see the broadcast. We are "Ground Zero'; we are here at the base of Manhattan with the power off, the food spoiling, and the phones out, humbly available to assist the rescue.
Why did they attack? After a period when the flock is allowed to grow fat and multiply, are we about to be harvested for the moon? The crazy extremist mentality, the hatred crystallized and the protest ignored by the authority that is the focus. The first foreign power to manage to reach the shores is motivated to wage a fight against Satan. After centuries of incubation, extremist mentality, the hatred crystallized the hatred that has been ignored by our nation’s authority The first foreign power to manage such a strike is waging a fight against Satan with determination as strong as the Firemen going in.
The horror is the genius of the tactic. This attack has opened a vulnerable place. It is Strange to realize in a moment that tall buildings in every major city are vulnerable for making a point.
The typical answer for the grief and disturbance is the reaction to retaliate and punish and do this in the name of the need to make the place safe. What are the transgressions that have been suffered, by the persons in the fields of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq and Iran and Saudi Arabia? Why does any political group like the Taliban Muslims in Afghan and Pakistan support the attack on the Trade Center? Is it greed? The attack was on the symbol of Commerce and the commerce is seen as the element of modern culture that is destroying the sacred ways of the Muslim fundamentalist.
Talking with Eric from downstairs, I realize that the Hasnamus that the world is managed and controlled by at the moment. The aspect of acquiring Hembledsoin is a sacred process that accumulates and gives a person the capacity to realize their mettle. There must be, I propose a corresponding substance that is accumulated by Hasnamusein persons that gives them the capacity to realize their diabolical power manipulation and convince the uninitiated to commit them selves to the program.
There is a question about the lack of compassion. The cell is working since Barbara lined up a charger with the use of Linda Davie's car. Barbara invites me out from the loft on Wednesday morning and we reach Fulton and Gold and the towers are missing and it isn't possible to go further. We turn south to Hanover Square and to the bottom of Wall Street, the dust and ashes are more than an inch deep. I am questioning my insincerity, what will it take to connect with the grief that has settled. We turn toward the Firehouse that faces South Street, there is a Fireman in the second story window silhouetted in darkness and staring out at the Harbor.
We walked through deserted Coenties Slip Park that I had installed two years earlier. The paving and benches now carried a blanket of ash and concrete dust three-quarter inches thick. Charred letterhead and computer print outs were swirling about. For a long moment, I stood looking at the single place where someone had sat, on the once-bustling benches, since the towers came down.
We talk of a national response and it returns to one thought, "Let's put them back." Then we set about to think of a building that would be put back in place of the Trade center. The impulse that was strong was to put them back as they were. Barbara thought to use the idea of the GW Bridge, a grid of I-beam structure that is not inhabited but rises from 40 stories up to the original height. This would be lit from inside as the GW Bridge is and it would be beautiful. There was a regular participation by our neighbors to contribute to the rescue effort by manning the water stations where the workers refreshed themselves just outside the piles of debris. See Ground Zero pictures of Barbara with her Rescue gear, bandana, hardhat and flashlight. … Three years later at the Harem Forge, I designed a memorial sculpture, a plume of three-dimensional stars; they are actually the continuous armature of a star. Each star has an empty space in the center. (See the sketch and description for this proposal in the Lariat Fixtures gallery of the Portfolio.)
Like so many concurrent changes in lower Manhattan, the park's former popularity ebbed in the coming months. This now solemn neighborhood was selected as the venue for the 2004 republican convention, dedicated to the reelection of the incumbent, G.W. Bush. Suddenly NYC Parks Dept. needed to spend 19 million dollars for improvements in Lower Manhattan prior to the RNC. Coenties Slip Lunchtime Seating Area was targeted as one of 14 sites that was inappropriate and would be (reworked? Retired?). As an artist, it is disheartening to face the most threatening demise, the prerogative of a civic entity to use the site as political currency or as vanity. Hundreds of hours of heartfelt struggle to realize hand forged public setting became a victim of administrative ambiguity.
Community Consciousness in New York City:
As a creative of public artworks, longevity is sustained by the interest of the public. When I arrived in New York, I recall driving along Harlem River Drive; a black Acura from the Bronx used the traffic as a slalom course. In midtown, I recall the adrenaline at every intersection; I remember the intimidation of a massive concrete truck coming to a sudden pendulum stop, rocking forward and back with roaring engine, huge wheels, and chrome bumper sparkling. As a pedestrian, I glanced up and resolved to remain brave and carry on. Urban traffic streams include: people, bikes, and motorized vehicles. Paths intersect, two, three, four at a time; the refinement of this turbulence, even the capability to survive mishaps by out of control vehicles, is becoming ever more manageable and reasonable to sort out with the collaboration of an engineer; stoplights are regulated with algorithms that adjust timing in accordance with congestion, weather, and special events. There is potential to resolve the crux between vehicle and pedestrian traffic if everyone keeps their mind on a reasonable set of rules. However, I suspect that the most dangerous effect for urban flow is the compromised attention of an individual. There is an unreal expectation for quality attention. Everyone’s focus is constantly shifting. There are frequent interruptions and obstructions. Deliveries, carting and construction are routine on a city block; anything on the sidewalk that won't move on its own will get bumped, leaned on, or used as a chain post. If one’s attention is fundamental for urban streetscape, how does it get compromised? There are ingenious attempts to hijack one's attention. The experienced city dweller has learned how to disregard the onslaught in the interest of well-being; however a good ad person will routinely upgrade; they can get these folks for a “look”. The most obvious compromise is the ephemeral nature of an individual to allow emotional distraction. There is mass passivity with congestion delays that leads to fumbling with various media: changing stations, texting, talking and daydreaming. There is primal hierarchy in the minds of many drivers: road rage erupting, vehicle vanity, bullying disregard for cyclists. These aspects for urban flow are important to understand. I have intention to realize a template for integrity that includes measures of protection and measures of refreshment that will enable urban fixtures to be as much as we understand that they need to be.
Instruction Please see also, Glossary and Objective Art in the writing section.
Every Saturday morning I was instructing Sculpture: forging, a course for Art Students League of New York, 2005 -20017. The opportunity fell in my lap; the rural campus was next door to our place and the new director wanted to expand the curriculum. This was new for me; I was able to step back from my typical insatiable esteem issues. Instructors could develop their own way to run the course. Rather than lectures and demos I gradually refined a syllabus using a ‘one-on-one’ approach to resolve immanent compromises with student projects. Students have ready interest; they are identified with the project and we are resolving an urgent issue. Some students were there seven years; they were even told to start their own class. The medium was exclusively hand forged artworks. I made it simple to focus on forging skills. An experienced commercial metalworker was assisting at each session; except for forging, the Fabrication Genie performed all metalworking tasks: welding, grinding, and drilling. The class earned sincere respect with their annual exhibit at ASL main campus in Manhattan.
The guidelines for this approach:
· Clarify: grasp the student’s Idea; use critical review to flesh out an original concept; insist upon sketching and firm visualization.
· Assertion: use your keenest experience to realize a profound interpretation of the idea. It is ‘Okay’ if they assist and try some of the tasks; it is important to avoid the quagmire of questions and verbal explanation. You can repeat the skill; suggest that they watch with keener attention to figure out what they need to learn to do. Then, let them try again.
· Confirmation: exhibit the work; what is the impression in the audience?
Mentor’s POV: visualize their idea and assert my experience - deliberately relieve hesitation and naïve pursuits - jump in with one-on-one attention to determine: reasonable scale, skills, sequence of forming actions - briefly demonstrate a tricky move several times to give the student a taste of the skills that are being used - proceed instantly with arc welding, torch cutting, grinding (mentor is not training session for fabrication skills) - carry out a no-fuss finish such as overall mottled silver-gray ‘forge patina’ finish; the entire piece is heated to red and left to cool. The “confirmation” step simply needs to be a serious moment with a group of fellow smiths. If necessary, pry comments from each person at the review. The session should not end until there is objective attention in regard for the work by the upcoming artist blacksmith.
As a member of the mainstream, higher powers have repeatedly needed to prop me up to keep me from vanishing, They sent a partner; Barbara Marks came into my life. Together, we have realized my ambition to have Sara, Constance, and Noah come from Maine and attend high School in NYC. With the help of these three and Barbara, I designed and made the double entrance doors at The Dwight School in exchange for their tuition. I have set up five forge studios since arriving here. It is awkward for me to sort out the overhead. Barbara is a New Yorker; she is charged with stable ethnic identity; she is blessed to be happy. My mind is often occupied with an impulse for intimacy when I am across from another person on the train… in a crowded elevator… parking our vehicles… passing on the sidewalk. I am especially proud to make something that relieves the stifled psyche of another individual. I have insight to taste the potential affect. I have insight to foresee the quality of the work in process. I have genuine laurels to delude with; however, the evolved ‘me’ is cautious and more careful in respect for the exuberance that I feel when students demonstrate an objective, unique idea.
I tend to pace unless there is another person involved: a worker, a colleague, or students. When I am only with ‘me’ there are complete days filled with random focus on the tesserae of the mosaic map folded neatly above my spine; my night time engineers have worked out amazing new ways to employ the vocabulary of forms embedded inside; these ideas keep coming all day; they are all certain to induce ‘collective bonding’. Mrs. March said, “It must be, that James is being saved for something special.” I remain hopeful.
There is objective contemporary artwork that opens a visual dialog with the viewers collective unconscious; my view comes from being in the presence of the sculptures by Marc diSuvero and Richard Serra. The ‘right’ motivation for students at the forge platform comes from the onlookers; in my planning, this idea comes from being seen by the tourists as they moved along the viewing corridor while I was working at the Statue of Liberty. My obligation as an instructor is related to the instruction I received from the renowned fabric artist, Sherri Smith, and the Potter, Kenneth Hendry. Most of all, the contribution I may bring is related to the attention that I received from the director of Rochester Folk Art Guild Crafts Community, Mrs. Louise March.