Featured Image, “Frost Residence Rear Door”, photo taken by M. Munger sometime in 1988.
Sneaking out my window in the dead of night, I would pick a handful of sweet black raspberries, before jumping onto the railroad tracks that ran behind our house. As a child, so much of my time was spent balancing on those rails, waiting until the last possible moment to escape an oncoming train that would rumble past in the dark. My destination was always one of the magical ravines, hidden along the tracks, with just the treetops visible from above. Many people walk along those tracks for years, never realizing the magic hidden just below. Climbing down into the ravine, I would walk the many trails or find the tallest tree and climb high into its’ branches. Sometimes I would stay in that tree for hours, feeling at home as my body swayed with the branches in the night breeze. Even at a young age I understood that each ravine was unique. A special blend of trees, with its own mix of animals, trails and small creeks that were connected by drainage tunnels running under the railroad. I would often visit multiple ravines in a single night, climbing through the dark tunnels, usually without a light. My favorite was the ravine behind the old psychiatric hospital, where you could find old walking paths along the creek, with bridges and benches that were no longer used. I would curl up in one of the drainage tunnels and play my bamboo flute, letting the sound echo through the confined space. Some nights, I imagined the sound traveling to all the ravines, and the animals listening to me play. Thinking back, it sounds so ideal. But we all know that no life is perfect. Scratch the surface and we are all trying to escape from something.
My approach to get through life has always been to let the past be, and focus on the here and now. I spend my time trying to build a strong and beautiful world around me. But after looking away from the past for so many years, recent events were able to coax me back and I found myself accepting two invitations to celebrate with old friends and family. The first gathering allowed me to see many family members, including my father and brother, who I have not seen in many years. There were definitely some awkward and even stressful moments, but I am glad that I went. Childhood can be a very messy time, and we wrap ourselves in stories to survive. But this particular outing gave me a chance to reassess some of the stories that I tell myself. If nothing else, it gave me a chance to let go and feel better in my own skin. Honestly I think my inner child benefitted the most from that encounter.
The second invite took me way back, to see some old friends I have known since elementary school. Friends that have known you for so many years can make you feel very exposed, but not in a bad way. These are people who understand my history, perhaps even better than I do. They came from the same neighborhood, ran along the same tracks, and have become incredible people. I feel a real sense of pride knowing them, and only wish there were more at the party just so I could hear them laugh. Yes, life can be difficult. Especially for talented people who try to share their creative gifts. But it makes me feel better knowing that many of our tribe from so long ago are still thriving, and I wish them the very best.
Of course when walking down memory lane, I can not help but look back on my relationship with art. Ceramics definitely saved my life. It gave me a creative outlet when I needed it most. But there is so much more to my creative story. The few photographs that have survived my countless transformations, often giving away all my possessions in the process, highlight more than a few tragedies. Faces that are no longer with us, but still echo in my mind. Wisdom must come with age, because I now understand that creativity does not need to be a dangerous sport. And the way we abused our bodies, just to fit some cliche in the name of Art, was completely unnecessary. But like so many before us, and so many after, we too felt bulletproof.
I did find a few memories that made me smile and are worth sharing. My first solo gallery opening was called “The Living Cocoon” and included a mix of ceramic sculptures and colorful mobiles (Figure 2). At that point in my life, I had big, crazy ideas and felt sure we could change the world. I was ready to stand on every street corner and scream about re-discovered ideas to improve communication and our failing education system. But I was naive.
Looking back, some of the mobiles were interesting. They included points moving through space (Figure 1), a self portrait (Figure 2), and one of my personal favorites, though honestly not much to look at, a mobile that combined shape, color, position, and spices (Figure 3). That is right, I was trying to match food and color to explain how we communicate. I seem to recall everything from salt, oil, chamomile tea, honey and many more. It makes me laugh remembering the expressions on peoples faces. That show definitely did not change the world, but we did have a some really fascinating conversations.
And now here I am, sitting in my ceramics studio, not far from those same railroad track. In trying so hard to escape, I finally had to deal with my inner demons, and then discovered that I no longer needed to run. I still feel the urge to fight the good fight, but the battlefield has definitely changed. My art now contains contains a lot more humility, and I have definitely gained a greater appreciation for those who choose to accept my work. And late at night, when the moon is full, you can still feel a bit of magic in my studio. The same feelings of wonder mixed with excitement I felt as a child, exploring those ravines years ago.
Looking at my most recent ceramic bowls (Figures 4-7), I can feel the recent celebrations dance within the work. I am starting to really understand the power and freedom that comes with simplicity, and that experience is starting to show in my bowls. I can laugh and have fun, and still make great art.