Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clay Jars and Ancient Scrolls; a contemporary version

I'm finally putting "finished" on my new series titled QumranEleven: unearthed evidence.  This has been an ongoing journey for several months but one I have thorougly enjoyed and learned from.  Though not an archaeologist I have been gathering and filing articles and reading books that have been written about the unearthing of the ancient Scriptures I cherish so highly.  This series of paintings references these hand-written pieces of parchment and papyrus scrolls that were discovered in eleven of the Qumran Caves in Israel from 1947-1957.

Hence, there are eleven pieces in this series including a hand slab-built clay jar that I just completed after taking a pottery class in hand-building last month.  I'm delighted with the way it came out and even more delighted I can add another dimension to my work.  The clay jar is 17" high and 6" wide in bisque-fired clay.  The rolled scroll is the eleventh piece in the series which is three pieces sewn together in scroll-like fashion.

My process of art-making for this series was also a discovery for me.  Unlike most of my previous works, I did not "pre-plan" these fragments as thumbnails.  After reading and researching in books and articles about the Qumran Caves and the terrain and environment as well as viewing photographs of the land and fragments of the preserved scrolls, I began by tacking 3-4 pieces of paper on the wall in my studio.  The first brush strokes were automatic drawings of line and mark representing yet not translating the beautiful languages of Hebrew and Aramaic.  Then I quickly added color in order to break up the space and obliterate any marks I didn't want.  I continued refining and adding as I saw sky, land, crevice and rock emerge.  Some pages have many layers of acrylic; others were quickly finished and left.  The pairs were unplanned until I began to see one page flow into another. Below is the opened version of the rolled-up piece sticking out of the jar.

QumranEleven: unearthed evidence XI
acrylic on paper sewn with thread
14.75"x 28.50"

When I read about these findings they shed light on and confirmed the trustworthiness of God's Word.  To me they proved the long-ago existence of real people in real places who lived real circumstances.  They made Psalm 85:11 read more than stanzas in a prayer: 
Truth shall spring out of the earth ; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

As I lived with QumranEleven: unearthed evidence I-XI for several months, I realized my interest in the old and aged carries over into my personal life.  Perhaps it's my desire for antiquity and nostalgia that keeps me cherishing old things kept from my grandparents, parents, school days, early marriage or even children's books and toys from our children's childhood and a "little something" from every place I have travelled and lived.  Or perhaps it is because they are evidence of my life lived.  These old objects have endured.  They have roots.  They have outlived the trends and fads and they bring stability.  Likewise, unearthing the Hebrew and Aramaic texts is evidence of a people who tirelessly copied the ancient yet relevant words on parchment and papyrus in order to pass on the proof and integrity of the Scripture that is eternal. 
Heaven and earth will pass away
but my words will never pass away.
Matthew 24:35.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mustard Seeds and Plants

Bountiful Harvest

A little diversion today from art-making.  Or is it?  I'm sharing my thoughts about a gardening experiment I did this year with our church.  Our theme for 2010-11 is Sustaining Faith.  We were all given tiny Florida Broadleaf Mustard seeds at the beginning of the year with reference to Matthew 17:20 where we are challenged to grow in the quality of our faith.

On January 24 the children planted some of the seeds in one big pot during our worship service.  I volunteered to take them home and be the "gardner".  I thought it would be an easy job.  The cold weather in January and February proved to be an obstacle to their growth as well as the screened porch where I put them thinking they needed some protection from the cold.  By March 14 they were still tiny!  Nonetheless, I transplanted them in small pots and brought them to church to display on the communion tables as a visual illustration of their sprouting.  I was embarrassed because another friend said hers were HUGE!

I took advice from my son who suggested I should set them outside so they would get direct sunlight and grow better.  He was right.  They began to add leaves and height and by April they were looking pretty good.

Then we traveled to CA for a week.  When we returned, these plants had faced another obstacle:  hungry caterpillers or cabbage worms.  Whichever they were, they almost destroyed them by eating holes in all the leaves.  Despite the fact they looked very bedraggled, I decided to let them grow and see what would happen.  They withstood the pests but by the time August rolled around, the temperatue was getting hotter and they produced long stems, then bloomed yellow flowers and seeded--but their leaves were still not thriving.  I came to the conclusion this had been an unsuccessful experiment and  cut off the stems and leaves with holes and ignored them, thinking I failed as the keeper of the seeds.

Then we took another trip for two weeks in September.  About a week after we returned I walked passed the pots and amazingly they had begun to flourish!  The cool weather had revived a couple original plants and there were several small seedlings growing, some not even in pots!  I perceived these were the 2nd generation sprouts produced from the seeds of the original plants.  So, I potted the seedlings in soil and started nurturing them all again.  With the cooler weather they thrived and I now had a Bountiful Harvest as shown in the photo above.  I was able to bring these mature plants to the worship service recently so the children could see the fruit of their plantings.

I learned several lessons about Sustaining Faith in this project:  These plants would have been thrown on the compost pile way before their harvest if it would have been up to me!  I almost did not give them a second chance, but after changing their environment and allowing them to keep on growing despite the eaten leaves, they continued to survive according to their seed's characteristics and God brought the harvest as a testimony to His faithfulness.  Likewise, my trust is in the LORD because He is faithful to be who He says He is and is the Sustainer who helps me maintain, endure and withstand obstacles in my life.

This lesson also transfers to my art-making because sometimes I want to throw away a painting when it is not turning out the way I want.  But, if I keep on working past the "ugly stage", oftentimes the finished piece is just what it is supposed to be!