Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walking The Tracks

We walked a lot. Along a moonlit stream accessed from the parking lot of a mental hospital. Wooded paths discovered by motorcycle.

In late October we decided to camp out at a 'rustic' camping spot marked on a state forest map found archived on the web. We arrived at the end of the access road to find that it terminated into a heavily rutted logging road. A brief exploration on foot confirmed that the campsite was there, about a quarter mile ahead. An hour later and we were unloading firewood out the camper and lining a mud trench behind the vehicle. Backing out and leaving felt like a wonderful idea. Thanks to Paula's ingenuity of well placed logs, rocks and curtains (oh God, my original interior Westfalia curtains . . . ) The Dumpster managed to extract itself after some unseen scraping and bending. Paula began referring to the Westy as 'The Dumpster' at some point during that trip. It was actually fairly tidy inside. Pnut was referring to the exterior shape and that fact that it felt as if it would just overwhelm itself at any moment bounding downhill on country roads. As with most observations like this her gut was right. It did weigh nearly 4,500 lbs between its steel bulk and various added contents. Which isn't so bad until you consider that it sits on 14 inch wheels. Most small passenger cars use 15 or 16 inchers now. Even on mildly steep roads it handled like a wet diaper.

Following the wake of the rustic camping incident our adventures stayed closer to home. Shortly after arriving in Vermont Pnut rented an apartment in a dilapidated building about 500 feet from a set of active train tracks. A couple of times a week we would head out on long walks down the track bed to access hiking trails. Paula would take her small digital camera to snap a few close-up shots of tree stumps, roots, boulders, or freight cars along the way. Later we'd fire up the computer and look at the photos like unwrapping presents.

At some point Paula started collecting railroad fishplates or sleeper pads, er . . . these:

A year or so later we got to know a local sculptor who had lived in the area his whole life. He mentioned that he had always seen potential in the RR plates, but just never figured out what to do with them. Searching the internet at the time, I was only able to find a couple of artists that had gone beyond experimenting with them. The plates have severe limitations. They're made of 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick cast steel. That mostly means that they're shockingly heavy. And hard. What I have seen made out of them are smallish table sculptures that weigh nearly 50lbs, functional anchor points for structures and a massive multi-ton sculpture of a bull that's decided to bury itself by stubbornly sinking into the earth. Every one of these creations are welded together. Pnut doesn't know how to weld. Thankfully, neither do I. She wound hemp through their cast holes. Wired car parts to them. Eventually she started winding wire through the holes to create a hanging system. She used them as little canvases. Little 6 X 10 inch, eight pound canvases. Pnut had found her talisman. Soon an entire world would reveal itself through this medium. These little plates unlocked a flood of design instincts in Paula that continues to stun and inspired us both to this day. Just writing about it is enough to tweak my body into sweaty anticipation of what might be brewing in the concrete floored workshop humming below my feet.


self taught artist said...

I will never forget finding those plates, lugging them up to my studio apartment. In a week I had made 4 works and when I showed you, YOU were the only one who 'got it'. You encouraged me to keep working on them despite art associations not wanting to show them...despite the gallery I showed them to snubbing them.
You soon helped me find them, lug them, wash them and put up with all my 'luggage'(50 rr plates) slowly encroaching upon our living space once I moved in with you.

Nellie's Needles said...

Reading "the other side" of Paula's story is delightful. Thanks.

When I discovered Paula's art through her leaving a comment on my blog, there was an instant emotional response. It was difficult choosing just one to be a part of our environment. Her clocks impacted my son's sensibilities and he ordered two ... one as a house gift for a friend.

Karen said...

How fun to hear from this side of Paulas world! You had me laughing out loud with the Klimt post. Art can just creep up on one by surprise sometimes. You have a real art with words I enjoyed reading the blog and hope you will continue!

Tod said...

Hi Nellie, thanks for keeping up with us northern folk.

Hi Karen, yah art is sneaky that way. Thanks for stopping by.

Hey Pnut, well . . . at least the plates are all neatly filed away in a box now. More accurately a large Soviet Block weaponry crate. Kinda scary. The thing reeked of toxic machine oil when we got it.

Jesse Mendez said...

Hi, how are you? I am sending you this comment, because I am serching for blogger friends, and your site is interesting to me. I have an art blog here in San Diego, and I am curious if you would become my freind? Are you up to it?
I hope to see you soon on my art blog, and take care,

Tod said...

Hi Jesse, thanks for stopping by.

sarala said...

I too own one of Paula's railroad clocks. I truly love it although I never had the nerve to try to mount it on the wall. I wish I owned 10 but people might think I had a clock fetish.