I have written about dealing with imperfection in the past, but I think it can always stand revisiting. For myself, I have spent a good part of my life pursuing perfection—in myself and in my art. It’s exhausting. When I was a teen, I had to deal with the awful fact that I was never going to look like Natalie Wood. Big disappointment! However, we did have something in common. I can honestly say that we were the same height. Unfortunately, Natalie is gone and imperfect me is, thankfully, still here.
I will never write the great American novel, especially since I specialize in memoir, short story, poetry and picture books for children. Another youthful dream laid to rest. I’ve also come to grips with the fact that none of my paintings are likely to hang in a really prestigious museum. I’m OK with that. I am content to be a medium size fish in a rather small pond. It’s a lovely pond. Sonoma County is chock full of creative people and I get to swim around with them. My writing and painting endeavors have attracted a few admirers. Best of all, I enjoy what I’m doing. I haven’t given up on perfecting my craft, but I have learned to lighten up. So, I thought I’d share a few pieces of my art that were transformed by their imperfections.
Many years ago, I took an art class for teachers. I made a great wolf puppet out of paper mâché and fabric that still makes an appearance in my classroom whenever I do my Little Red Riding Hood unit. I also sculpted a small clay nude. She was never intended to grace my classroom, but I was rather proud of her. The instructor promised to do a first firing of all the student pieces. At the next class, we would be able to glaze our work. Then everything would go back into the kiln for a second firing. I was very excited at the prospect of experimenting with glazes. Alas, it was not to be. I returned to class to find my little nude sitting with a large hole in her chest. Sitting next to her on the counter were her breasts. They could be re-attached with glue, but that would preclude any possibility of her going back into the kiln. What to do? I could have tossed her away, but I didn’t. I reattached those perky breasts and I painted her. When I put on a clear gloss topcoat, she looked like porcelain. The crack didn’t even show. A bird’s nest went on top of her head, a butterfly on one hand, and her other arm now sprouts a tree branch complete with small leaves. I formed them out of florist tape. Without her little accident she probably would have been quite boring—not nearly as much fun.
When my sons were boys, they used to beg me to take her off the dining table when their friends came to dinner. They are quite fond of her now. She has been a part of our family for more than thirty years. I decorate her with a tiny string of faux lights at Christmas. She holds a sprig of red berries in the fall, flowers in the spring.
Is she perfect? No. One arm is a little longer than the other and, if you really look closely, you might be able to see the crack. But, after all these years, she still makes me smile.
At one time I was a gourd artist. I loved working with gourds. I’m not sure why I stopped. I have boxes of gourds in my storage shed waiting for the day when I rediscover my passion. To tell the truth, I sold a lot of my creations. However, there is one I will never sell. I found that gourd, at The Caning Shop in Berkeley. I was there doing a workshop when I spied it in a back room—the largest gourd I had ever seen. It was the perfect shape for a figure. There was only one problem. The gourd sported a large crack and a small hole. It was not perfect. Still, I looked at it longingly.
“Do you want it?” the proprietor asked me. “I can’t sell it. It’s damaged.”
Indeed, I did! I took it home, repaired the crack and enlarged the hole. I attached a life mask of myself, added paint, fabric, and paper mâché. A figure emerged—me, pensive and in symbolic blue. I had just ended a relationship with a man I loved. I called the piece A Hole Where Her Heart Used to Be. It was cathartic.
If that gourd had been perfect, I might never have even seen it. Someone else would probably have purchased it. And it was the crack and that hole that inspired me.
I’m so grateful for that imperfect gourd. It has been shown in several galleries, juried into a rather prestigious show, and won a blue ribbon. Today, she occupies a special place in my living room, a gentle reminder of a past love. She is still blue, but I am not.