Author: vsperry

I am a sculptor working in steel, polymer clay and other materials.

perception: part one

per·cep·tion
pərˈsepSH(ə)n/
noun
noun: perception; plural noun: perceptions
  • the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something through the senses.
    • the state of being or process of becoming aware of something through the senses.
    • a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something; a mental impression.
    • intuitive understanding and insight.
    • PSYCHOLOGY/ZOOLOGY
      the neurophysiological processes, including memory, by which an organism becomes aware of and interprets external stimuli.

 

(For the purposes of this blog post, I am concentrating on the second part of this definition, the mental impressions we have of ourselves and the world around us.)

I have been pondering this term perception for quite some time. It crept into my brain during the elections, most specifically to explain the outcome. I began to realize that it didn’t matter what Hillary Clinton did or did not do, the perception that she did something wrong (or even illegal) was strong enough to stop people from voting for her.

Perception is much different than reality or truth. Perception is based on all sorts of factors, some of which have nothing to do with the truth and everything to do with our backgrounds, our experiences, our morals, our wishes and our desires. It is not quantifiable, nor is it something that can be predicted on an individual level.

There are many ways that perception has been wandering around my thoughts lately. I had actually planned several other posts about it, but I think they will have to wait. This morning there was an image on facebook that hit me squarely in the gut.

The image was of a lion lying dead among the rocks.

Considering how many images flash before my eyes as I scroll through facebook, it is fair to ask, why did this one catch my eye? I don’t have a pet lion, I don’t go to the zoo often enough to get to know the lions personally. I can’t say I have even seen this lion.

Here’s the thing. Tullamore was a part of a (now) rare group of lions. Most of the time we see lions living in the savannah, moving through the grass, showing up around waterholes and hunting the plentiful game. The lions of the west coast of Namibia are desert lions. They live in some of the harshest conditions, little water, little vegetation and little game. They have lived in this area for a very long time and once were pretty plentiful. Then came man. And cows. And other livestock.

In an area that is short on game, it makes sense that a herd of cows would be seen as a gift to a predator. It would also make sense that the owners of the cows would take great offense at having their livelihood eaten by a big cat. Here is where the perception thing comes in.

I am a rich American. I take a trip to Africa, stay in a lodge in the middle of a dessert for three days. I hear about these animals and I see the beauty of them. That is, after all, why I am there. I am a woman from the east coast of the US where there are no predators and I get to stand in front of a cheetah, or a rhinoceros, or to get close enough to practically touch an elephant and it seems like a dream. In the safety of my vehicle or standing beside the tracker with his gun, I am allowed the luxury of “being with” the animals, seeing them walk, run, play and hunt. I come home to watch countless videos of animals in the wild or Planet Earth or read books about how many species are going extinct. I view, from afar, the devastation of man around the world. And I judge. And I grieve. My perception of the death of a lion is based on my need to pet the fox when I was three (my mother nixed that idea quickly). My heartache comes from knowing that “Tullamore” was the last of a group of five male lions in the area (they were called the Five Musketeers). His four compadres were shot or poisoned over the last few years by farmers. I grieve because I met the guy who has has been studying these proud animals, a man who spends much of his life in isolation, and loves it. Unless someone kills an animal.

So what would be my perception if I were a Namibian farmer who does not see any monetary gain and many deficits with the lion population? What if I wanted to send my children to a good school, or build new fences, or dig a new well and a lion started to eat my profits? What if I am of a generation that grew up killing predators without judgement, in fact was rewarded with a pat on the back from my fellow farmers? How would I perceive lions then?

I don’t know. That is the thing about perception. You can’t always tell how you would react if you were in someone else’s shoes. I can only hope to feel compassion for this person. It is tough, it is a stretch for me, at least until I stop feeling so very angry and sad. Until I stop feeling. But right now, my perception of the person who poisoned this lion is that they are not a good person. I don’t know them, I will never meet them, but at this moment I hate them.

I will end by showing three photos. The first two are of cubs in the sand dunes. The last is of Dr. “Flip” Stander monitoring the lions. Despite the setbacks of the last couple of years, he continues to work with the growing population of lions, as well as finding ways of connecting with the surrounding human population. Looking at these pictures makes me smile. Life includes death, even if it doesn’t feel good. But for now, I want to concentrate on the living…

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late night ramblings

My dad was a writer. Not in the traditional sense. I mean, he never published a book, never had a movie made, never came up with an amazing script for the theater. No, his writings were more about his reactions to the world he lived in. They were published, but usually by the local weekly paper that came out in our small town of 3,000 people in the northwest corner of CT. And, generally, you would only find them in the letters to the editor section.

When I was growing up, we had a set of stairs that led from the kitchen to the hallway right outside my room. A typical night for me would be to fall asleep to the smell of cigarette smoke, the sound of ice cubes clinking in a glass and the tap of typewriter keys as my father collected his inebriated but highly intelligent thoughts into some kind of coherent response to any perceived attack on reason and intelligence in the community. The subjects could be anything from local politics to the Viet Nam war to local art scene…you name it, if he felt that someone was wrong, he would try to correct them.

Dad was a guy who could do the Times crossword puzzle in ink. He loved word games…especially Scrabble. In fact, it wasn’t until he was in his late eighties that I consented to play Scrabble with him, it wasn’t until then that I was mostly able to keep up with him. Words were his life. He reveled in stringing words together to create a meaning that was hidden to most. Ironically, he never graduated from college. This did not stop him from finding wonderfully creative ways of writing scathing responses to the world.

As I sit here with a glass of wine in front of my computer, I am reminded of those nights when my sense of security meant knowing he was at the bottom of the stairs, thinking and typing. I miss his presence, the knowledge that he was going to make things right with the world. That he had a voice and wasn’t afraid to use it. His presence was always larger than life, his printed word seemed larger.

These days I wonder what that voice would be saying about our world. I wonder what words he would carefully choose to describe the insanity of the world we live in right now. How many pauses in his typing would happen while he would take a drink and  deliberate on the exact right word that would so subtly and yet so blatantly show his disregard for everything that is going on in Washington. We live in a time that lacks the creative use of words. There is no time to consult a thesaurus when tweeting. There is no time to read a more than 140 characters, to really delve into a subject. We are a nation of plain speakers, where WTF and OMG and ROFL have become the new way of speaking.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times that plain speaking is necessary. But I miss the wordsmith days, the days when you had to use your brain to decipher all the different meanings, innuendos and ideas that a sentence could contain. Because that requires critical thinking and reasoning, something that is sorely lacking these days.

My dad is still alive. He will be 96 in August. Before you say “Wonderful”, please remember this: he has lost most of his words. Dementia has stolen a good portion of his ability to construct a coherent sentence. Conversations are now a struggle, not only in terms of words but in terms of attention and focus. But when he is at loss for just the right word, his brain still can pull out a treasure that makes me smile. And he still can play a pretty mean game of Scrabble. Just don’t let him keep score.

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Dad and my brother Tom on dad’s 95th birthday

 

Open Studio and Sculpture Garden

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Lucy is waiting patiently for all her visitors!

Open Studio and Sculpture Garden

May 20/21

10 to 5

415 Heath Dr. Eldersburg, MD

FREE!!!

10 Reasons why I like the yearly spring open studio:
1. The gardens look fabulous. Mulching is done, weeding is, well, never done and I have planted lots of new things. There is a new moon garden (behind Lucy) due to the removal of a very old, very cool and very rotten tree in front of our house. I have spent hours at various plant nurseries around the area, perusing what’s new and what’s old and planning new designs in the gardens.
2. The grounds look great. It is the time of Green and, despite the grumbling, my husband works hard to maintain the yard in tip top shape.
3. The sculptures get some upkeep. Maintenance of the animals is an ongoing job but this is a good time of the year to make sure that they are looking gooooooooooood.
4. The studio magically gets clean. Okay, not really. I lied. Or maybe exaggerated. There are several days put aside for making this a reality. However, it is always such a good feeling to walk into the studio after the event and realize that all I have to do is PLAY!!!
5. I sense the excitement in the air. A friend of mine said today “Aren’t you excited about your open studio? I am!!!” ‘Nuff said.
6. I meet new people in the quest for ways to market this event. There are such neat people here in Carroll County and I love finding new friends who will help me promote my open studio.
7. I get excited about showing off new works. This year, I have the beginning of a really exciting project in the studio and I can’t wait for you to see it!!!
8. I get to meet such great people each day of the event. Last year I was overwhelmed at how many people showed up despite the abysmal weather. Rain and 50’s is not my idea of a perfect day but over 100 people showed up to see the sculptures. This year the weather is (so far) promising to be warmer and who knows who I will meet during the two days?
9. I often make contacts that produce more studio visits throughout the year. This year I had a visit from the high school kids from Winters Mill high school. A bus load from Carroll Lutheran stopped in on a very hot day in July. And a group of guys in Model A Fords drove in one afternoon earlier this year to spend some time with the sculptures.
10. I get to see people’s reactions to my work. Artists have egos and I am no different…I love to see the smiles and the “oohs” as people walk around the property. I am always honored when someone takes the time out of their day to come see and enjoy my creations.
I hope you can make it this year, it is such a treat to see you!
AND:
Don’t forget…you can still go to Buickster Hall in Taneytown to see some of my smaller works until June 11. See my website for more info. www.virginiasperry.com

inspiration

“Where do you get your inspiration from?”

I was asked this question this past week. It is a question I hear pretty often. My answer is usually “What doesn’t inspire me?” A bit snide perhaps. But honest.

The person who asked the question was a teenager and in some ways I feel like I dropped the ball on the answer. There was a lot going on, I had a group from one of the local high schools visiting the sculpture gardens and studio. We were on our way from one place to another and he quietly asked the question while the others were occupied with the kangaroo. It has been a while since I led a group of teens and I had forgotten how shy and quiet they can be with new experiences. If I had it to do over again, I would have talked about it differently. I might have brought the question up later when we were all gathered, and answered it seriously and at length. Because I think that it is the crux of being an artist.

Here’s what I would have answered:

“I am inspired by everything I take in sensorily. Patterns, rhythms, smells, colors, animals, plants, tastes, weather, books, music, textures, life experiences, feelings, sports, politics, psychology, philosophy, religions, interactions, how things work, how things don’t work, theater, film, dreams…okay, you get the picture. I hope. The fact is that when you are an artist, not a day goes by where nothing happens. Every day, something registers in my brain, either consciously or sub-consciously. Some artists like to take photos of these moments, others like to sketch. Journaling is a very effective way of processing these daily vignettes. I like to simply experience them. Because I know that at some point the experience will come out in my artwork. It could be days, weeks or months later. I might not even be aware of it until after it has appeared. But there will be that moment when I think ‘Oh, I know what this piece is about now.’ So my advice to you is to always look, listen, smell, hear and touch, write, draw, photograph…but most of all…live.”



DON’T FORGET!!! 

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Getting pieces ready for “Rust Redux” at Buickster Hall this week.

The exhibit at the new gallery in Taneytown, MD starts this week.  I will be exhibiting there along with an amazing photographer, Alyssha Eve Csük. You are invited to join us on this Thursday (the 20th) from 5 to 7 for an opening reception. (Address: 107 E. Baltimore St., Taneytown, MD) I am super excited about it, the guys have been bending over backwards to get the space finished and to accommodate us for this show. It promises to be a wild event! For more info, click here or go to Buickster Gallery on Facebook.



I was able to spend an entire day in the studio today, something that has not happened for a while. Spent some time just playing…and in one day I finished this study with masonry nails. I really like the shadows!

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Have a wonderful Easter/Passover/whatever and I hope to see you on Thursday!

rocks…or maybe bread.

Yesterday I spent six hours doing three different installations of the paper-cast rocks that I have been making for the past four months (see previous post). The idea was to take something that I have been working on in my studio and find a venue to place it in so that I could see a) what the reaction was and b) how the objects changed when placed within the context of a public space. There was just so much information that I could ascertain stuck in my studio so I ventured forth to the Horowitz Center at the Howard County Community College in Columbia, MD. (Thanks to Becky Bafford and Janelle Broderick for giving me the opportunity to do this.)

I arrived at the college at around 10 a.m. and started emptying the box of rocks soon after. I really had no idea what I was going to make but I immediately had some very interested people checking the whole thing out. It was quickly apparent that the best moments of the day were going to when I put a “rock” into someone’s hand. The surprise was immediate, their eyes telling them that this object should be heavy and their hand telling them that it was lighter than air. Sometime during the day I started to ask people “Which do you believe, your eyes or your hand?”

I had several wonderful conversations and met some really interesting people. The place I had chosen was one of the major throughways from the parking garage to the rest of the college. Howard Community College has an incredibly diverse student population and I was talking to people of all ethnic backgrounds. I was also intrigued by the amount of older students as well. I was not the oldest person in the building by any means.

Here are pix of the three installations that I worked on during the day.

I learned a lot during this process. Most of it was fascinating to me only, but I will share a few things that really intrigued me.

  1. This was less about an installation than about a performance art piece. The finished product was great but my interactions with the public were more important to me as an artist. Especially when I was able to start a deeper, more philosophical conversation.
  2. It is very difficult to create and record at the same time. In the future, I will look into finding someone to visually record the experience. (It also helps to have someone to go get lunch and give me time to eat it.)
  3. This experience was very different than a gallery show or a craft show. It was not about me only, but about my interactions with the surrounding environment. Because I was not looking to sell the piece, I was able to concentrate on talking to people in a more relaxed way.
  4. Some people didn’t see rocks they saw shells or even bread. This last one threw me a bit as I didn’t see that at all. But I went with it anyway. One man’s rock is another’s bread roll. Of course it meant I better understood the gentleman who thought the last installation reminded him of Hansel and Gretel. Mmmmmm…food for thought???
  5. Daylight, time of day, placement of objects is of the utmost importance. I was located in a very well,travelled corridor, although enough out of the way that no one tried to walk on them. The light changed drastically throughout the day which then changed the success of taking pictures. I need to take this into consideration.
  6. It’s better to do this when I am in good gardening shape. I hurt today.

I am sure there will be more of these experiences, I just have to figure out when and where. But with so much else going on, I don’t know when that will be.


Update on the Great Blue Heron…I was featured on the front page of the local rag…there is something to be said for social media…

Click here to read the article and watch the video…

good stuff

Yippeeeeeee!!! The Maryland State Arts Council has approved a grant given to the Carroll County Arts Council (thank you Sandy Oxx!) and the Carroll County Recreation and Parks Department to commission a sculpture from…wait for it…ME!!! I will be spending the next year making a Great Blue Heron to be installed at Piney Run Park, which is literally five miles from my house. I am so honored that all of the above people thought well enough of my work to trust me with this project. If you were looking for a reason to support the NEA, look no further. This is the trickle down effect of the federal office for the arts.

Here is what I included in my part of the grant proposal…

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I have to put the heron aside momentarily because I have a fun event happening next week that I have to prepare for. I will be experimenting with an installation of paper cast rocks at the Horowitz Center at Howard Community College. I have made dozens and dozens of these rocks over the past few months. They are super cool. I begin with rust stained paper towels. Each  has been molded around a rock while wet. After drying, the rock is taken out. The resulting form resembles a river rock, but is surprisingly light and fragile feeling.

I am hoping that during my time of installing the project, I will get some good dialogue going with the students, faculty and staff of HCC. The Horowitz Center is the college’s arts center so there is a lot of traffic that flows through each day. At the end of the day, I will pack the rocks back into a box, clean up and go home.

Here are pictures of the rock-making process:

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Paper towels are sprayed with vinegar and rubbed in steel dust
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An hour later the dust oxidizes and the towels dry
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I line them with a clean paper towel for strength then cut each sheet into four sections
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Adding water I wrap the sheets around a river rock
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I lay the rocks on a grid to air dry
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After peeling the paper off the rock, it is added to the ever-growing pile

I think this is going to be soon much fun and I can’t wait to see how it all comes out.