Art and Craft

Charles Lisk Piggy Bank (Top View)

Her left hand is in mine as we

Are awkward and in a

Slow-motion dodge and weave

Through what the kiln delivered

now set in loose rows

on the sparse grass lawn

under the nine-thirty a.m.

white oak trees

behind the white house.

E runs her right index finger around the mouth of a big brown pot

With four lug handles.

She can reach the rim without bending over much.

She is inspecting that one with the touch of her child elegant fingers—

Tiny, long, cartilage fingers–

While she looks over the clay piggy bank (with a 2” coin slot

cut into his back) ten feet away.

It is an 8” clay jug sideways on

Clay feet,

Listening through clay ears.

E admires his swirl tail, which is made of

A coil of clay.

He has a rough, thick cork stuck in his mouth.

“Do I have to give you my number if I get a better one than you?” she says,

Assessing her chances.

“You get to choose what you do,” I say.

“I’d give it to you, Daddy.”

“What one would you choose if you could have any one?”

“The Pig or the one you tell me you like best.”

CL, the potter,

Reaches out a 12” wide mouth

Jar full of folded slips of paper.

The crowd has been closing in on him

Since he started a move toward the center.

He has already explained the rules of the lottery.

The jar with the numbers is rich brown,

Somehow imperfect enough to have won

This practical task when all it’s more perfect kin

Will only ever sit on shelves,

or on the floor beneath side tables,

or on top of a sideboard,

or in a moving box still taped,

or catching rainwater on the patio.

 This makes me wonder about distinctions we make between

Art and craft.

I don’t know, and feel as if I should, everything about the difference.

When I was twenty I worked for a while ripping boards to make beds.

The wood was not good—it would

Kick, warp, and scream off the 12” open blade.

At night in my dreams my thumbs would get torn off,

Pulled toward the blur of sleep and that blade, but

Awake and pushing the 10’ boards,

I could feel myself forgetting

The truth of the thing—

Danger held within the high whine of the saw—

So fast that it ceased to be a thing and became only an idea.

You can’t lose your thumbs to an idea, can you?

Philosophy never really killed anyone.

Poetry never really stuck a shiv in anyone’s back—not really.

Profuse internal hemorrhaging

Never really happened as a result of memorizing a sonnet

Like “Read in my face a volume of Despairs/The

Wailing Illiads of my prevailing woe.”

(That dude might be crying a river but he hasn’t lost so much as a digit!)

The warping made my predicament deceptive—

My thumbs seemed to float on the wood

(On the waves, adrift)

As I pushed it on through.

Now I was just a minimum wage guy—a temporary worker.

That shop near TN Hwy 64

Had a couple of master carpenters—

Guys creating intricate inlayed

Tables, bookcases.

Not one bit of their jobs involved ripping anything.

They measured time by projects and in months.

Their imaginations were inflamed with

Designs and plans and wood combinations.

I would go out back with them when they took breaks for tobacco.

One man sat on a railroad tie, one leaned against a truck,

I stood scratching at the gravel with my boot.

“Be careful, my man.” I didn’t hear clearly.

“What’s that?”

“BE(!), BE, be careful with ripping them boards. Don’t get lazy with them things.

They are not PREtend.”

Said the man leaning against

The Pick-up.

He held up his hand—almost a full set…nine.

Railroad tie man, relishing good date

Copenhagen before returning to his task

(An order of church pews),

Held up his hands too.

Odd.

They both had their thumbs though.

CL is patient as E feels

Into the pot for her slip of paper.

As it turns out,

Though my number is OK,

She picks a better one–

Holding it out to show me

With those fingers.

She keeps looking to make sure it is

What she thinks

And perhaps to make sure it doesn’t change

Or disappear.

She picks the pig,

And I pick a face jug—I forget which one now.

Copyright 2012

The Reader is the Part of the Poem the Poet Cannot Write

Kim Ellington Jug–View One

The reader is the part of the poem the poet cannot write.

The poet chooses the words and places and replaces them,

hides them in the basement,

slides them between photographs in the attic,

brings them out for an

occasion.

The poet finds sequences of words—

She feels she has discovered them, as if they were

Already made and waiting to be found.

Sometimes she

Dreams them,

Hears them over cocktails.

While working into the silence of

Leaves intersecting with breeze,

She gets chilled by the fabric of memory

and presses her nails

into the soft wood

between the grains

on the armrest

of the Adirondack chair.

She sings gently to herself:

“Trying to see Truth is like trying to see

Wind—

You only know it’s there by the branches that

Bend.”

Maybe he (this poet) crafts them (these words),

Works them, throws them on the

Kick-wheel and turns them into

Ancient shapes. Maybe

At the end of the day

With some left over clay,

He attaches a face to his effort.

He wonders what colors this one will take when placed with

Other forms,

Other faces

In the transfiguration of the kiln.

And the things he thinks when he drives!

Sometimes fearing loss he struggles to keep the words whole before they slip away.

“Remember! Remember!”

He has shouted lines three times in his car on

The highway (I-40, I-85, I-95, I-26, I-90, I-20, I-81, I-64, I-75)

Late at night or early on just

To try to hold fast

To them before they fly out the back windshield or

Wedge between the seats indistinguishable from the Trident wrappers, cinnamon

Ones, still somehow sugar dusty on the paper.

All this is hard enough.

Now know that the reader is the part of the poem the poet cannot write.

The poem is not complete,

not fully possessed by its glaze,

not made into stone,

until the reader arrives

to be loaded

and to transfigure, for

The reader is the kiln for the poem.

And the reader is the part of the poem the poet cannot write.

Kim Ellington Jug–View Two
Copyright 2012

Designing a Course Around an Object: Thinking Locally as a Way to Think Globally (Part Two)

The Kline & Brown Churn

In my last post, Designing a Course About a Point on the Map: Thinking Locally as a Way to Think Globally”, I described a course centered around a specific location. The spark for that thinking was a purchase I made at an auction recently of a large pottery five gallon churn made by pottery makers Kline and Brown who very briefly in the 1880s worked together within walking distance of our home and our school in Atlanta. Today one would have to risk one’s life walking to the spot where the churn was made—the traffic does lend itself to pedestrians.

Another course possibility would be to center the work we would do in a course around the churn. Like the course centered on a single area, creating a course around a single object reverses the usual way we teach content. Most often we teach from a macro-view, and in order to support that wide-view we find specific examples. The two course ideas I am thinking about would operate from the opposite direction—we would start with a desire to learn as much as we can about specific place or object and use that knowledge to help us develop a wider perspective.

Some possible questions for the course focused on the churn:

  • What is the science relevant to understanding the creation of the churn?
  • What can the churn teach us about traditional pottery making?
  • As an artifact of Reconstruction, what can the churn teach us about building an economy out of the rubble of the Civil War?
  • What can we learn about Kline and Brown?
  • What can we learn from the Kline and Brown family geneologies? Many of the major pottery-making families operated for generations (some are still continuing a tradition going back well into the 19th Century). Such a study would reveal how these families moved in order to support themselves, and like the Kline and Brown partnership. Members of the Brown family, for instance, helped bring techniques of making pottery with them from North Carolina when they moved into North Georgia after the war.
  • What glimpse can the churn provide us of life before electricity?
  • What forces in the twentieth century doomed (or perhaps better, marginalized) the way of life represented by the churn?

Just like the course focused on a particular location, meeting the demands of the course would require:

  • Working outside the confines of any single academic department.
  • Seeking the expertise of people outside our school community. [In the case of the course about the churn, we would need to see exactly how these potters worked using kick-wheels and locally dug clay.]
  • Careful research in libraries and archives.
  • Extended time. It would be challenging and likely impossible to do this well in the confines of traditional fifty minute a day classes, particularly when our ability to be flexible and leverage off-campus resources would be so significant.

I am not proposing that everything in our curriculum be taught this way; however, I do believe there is a significant role for this type of course to play. This approach promises deeply engaging, as well as highly relevant, learning.

Kline and Brown Churn Close-up

Designing a Course About a Point on the Map: Thinking Locally as a Way to Think Globally

Nancy Creek

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about buying a five gallon Kline and Brown Churn at an auction in North Georgia. Upon doing some research I found that the churn, made in the mid-1880s, was turned at a shop very close where we live and that the clay was very likely dug out of Nancy Creek even closer to our home. To understand the milieu in which this churn was made, one must subtract I-75, which dissects the space between where the churn was made and where the clay was dug (and where we live), and one must imagine away acres and acres of parking lots, buildings, and restaurants. This is a difficult task—in order to discover the truth of the past we have to see through the layers of change that separate us from it.

We can glimpse the difficulty of our task in perceiving the more distant past when we think about the places we call “landmarks”…the OK Café, Goldberg’s Deli, Tommy’s Barber Shop, and even the Chik-fil-a (apparently the busiest one in the state). To be clear, I am a fan—a big one—of each of these places (I get a great no. 1 haircut at Tommy’s and perhaps the best grits in town at OK), but to call them landmarks is intriguing language, as it points to our relatively short cultural and historical memory.

Our students need a longer view, a more nuanced and a more detailed one. How do we give it to them?

I would love to take or to teach a course that uses this exact area as its subject. By looking at a very small area, the relatively small area around this intersection and the nearby stretches of Nancy Creek, we would develop a perspective that undoubtedly would inform our way of seeing the larger world around us.

Some topics for the course:

  • The geology of the area and the development of Nancy Creek.
  • Native American presence.
  • Pre-Civil War history.
  • Reconstruction to World War I.
  • The Period between the World Wars, including the years of World War II.
  • Post World War II.
  • Current History, which would for example include a study of the pollution and sustainability issues related to the Nancy Creek water shed.

To do this well, the course would require:

  • Working outside the confines of any single academic department.
  • Seeking the expertise of people outside our school community.
  • Careful research in libraries and archives, as well as the collection of oral histories.
  • Extended time. It would be challenging and likely impossible to do this well in the confines of traditional fifty minute a day classes.

As our school embraces “Learning For Life: A Vision for Westminster” and looks toward an ambitious strategic plan, we open the door to conversations about how we might design and support such courses.

[I have not yet read The History of the World Through 100 Objects, but it is at the top of my list. Another way to build a course that would challenge students to see the world through a different lens would be to teach a full history of the Kline and Brown churn itself. In my next post I will describe what that course might look like.]