When my upstate cousin (you remember her - the Gravel-Pit-Gurl) and I were children, we were often brought together because of our common age. Most of our enormous clan lived in Westchester, before it was fashionable to do so, while my immediate family lived in the Hudson River Valley - an hour north. Our mothers-who-are-sisters, would sit in the kitchen at Mamie's house, catching up over cups of coffee while we ran off together in pursuit of all things wild.
We would ford untamed Yorktown streams near the Croton Reservoir, searching for crawdads. We knew which dark wet crevices to quietly approach, where the water flowed over flat rocks and emptied into still shallow pools. We learned to turn these rocks over swiftly, holding our rusty coffee cans in the path of the speedy crustaceans who faithfully scooted in reverse, right smack into our traps. After we collected and compared our captives, we released them, arguing over whose crawfish were bigger and faster. On the way back to Mamie's house we would snap off tender sassafras branches that grew wild and chew them for that root-beery flavor - better than any soda pop.
Growing bored, we might press ourselves into the crotch of a pear tree and snack on the hard green fruit, pelting our younger and unsuspecting cousins as they passed under us with the spent cores. Life was good. My memories of my cousin are always like playing hookey - stolen and treasured moments. Most people spend their lives trying to leave home. Then they spend the rest of their lives trying to get home. When I am with my cousin, I always feel as though I have come home.
She is, as I have mentioned, an artist and a rebel. She's been using her art to question authority and promote reform for as long as I can remember. Like that time she carved a 14 foot totem out of a log, using a chain saw. She strategically placed this painted behemoth to straddle the curb of the road where motorists were endangering her child with their massively inappropriate speeds. It got their attention, that's for certain. They. Slowed. Down.
When I am asked to define my cousin's work the term 'outsider art' comes to mind. Not that she's ever been incarcerated! Just that hers is not mainstream anything - comprised as it is of found objects, childhood dreams, passionate views and the belief in everything. Like elves and fairies. Heaven and hell. Mermaids and unicorns and certainly Santa Claus.
So I share this piece of holiday magic that she made for me several years ago. It is partly carved, partly sculpted, purely magical. One half is covered in an organic moss, the other in tacky silk flowers (SORRY cuz, you know how I feel about artificial flowers!) If you look closely you will see that the carved Santa is blowing a Christmas bubble. She's something else, that cousin of mine.
And then this ...
Is this a riot, or what? My daughter finds it frightening! She refuses to look at it.