26 September 2014

Elements of peace, Part II - In the rose garden

The wire-worded title of my modest peace "installation," Elements of peace, now encircles the trunk of the olive tree at the rose garden, and the copper leaves are finally mingling with the others on its branches.

On a beautiful late afternoon I drew the leaves, one at a time, from a small copper tray. First "respect," then "tolerance," then "justice." Silently, I wished the message of each into the breeze. As I continued, rather melancholy (but let's instead say "soulful") lyrics floated down from the nearby Piazzale Michelangelo as a musician strummed his guitar.

Next came "serenity," "understanding" & "forgiveness." Then "love," "openness," "kindness" & "equality." And others... The last leaf I picked up said "grace."

I took some pictures, then lingered as long as I could while still allowing time for a leisurely walk to the lower exit before the garden closed.

Photos in a moment, but first are some notes on how the peace leaves came to be. I nearly didn't include these thoughts I had jotted earlier in the week——there doesn't seem to be a logical place for them among all of the "installation" photos. But since I always enjoy learning some of the background on a project, I decided to go ahead with them for the sake of like-minded readers. Of course, you can just skip ahead to the rest of the images if you'd rather...

{As a way of expanding this "definition" of peace, later
in the post I invite you to send me a word of your own so
that I can add it to the olive tree. I was concerned
that my invitation might get "lost" in this long post,
so am reiterating it closer to the beginning.}




As I mentioned in the last post, this alphabet-inspired peace project came about because of the time I spent working with ideas for one of my A Letter a Week projects. As is common in my experience, the end result bears little resemblance to my original concept. On a 5:30AM bus ride from Montepulciano to Florence in May 2013 (to put in perspective how long this process can take), words inspired by how we might achieve more peace entered my head, replacing my initial plan to build my alphabet with the words for peace in twenty-six different languages. Those first foggy, early-morning words were woven around a theme of the arts——art, books, dance, music—as a way to promote peace, and large, flowing watercolored letters came to mind.


A few of the early sketches/experiments


But as I worked to develop the concept in the studio, these arts-based words started to change; "art" became "acceptance," "books" became "benevolence," "dance" became "dialogue," music became "mindfulness," and the words became more about creating a definition, or ideal, of what is necessary to instill peace...of qualities that should be part of its process.

My favorite olive tree at the rose garden had been part of my inspiration from the beginning of this project——I always feel at peace sheltered under its branches——so there were some photo sessions focused on the foliage as well as some leaf-collecting (including a few guilty snips that enabled me to study them "in context" back in the studio). Sketches of the gently curved branch snippets followed. I think this is around the time I decided to impose the words upon the leaves. I worked for a while with page spreads that included a "flowing" letter watercolored within a deckled 7x7-cm square (as per the ALaW guidelines), positioned among hand-drawn olive tree branches that each contained a peace-related word written on one of the leaves. (An experimental page for this idea appeared in my last post.)

But the idea of integrating the words & leaves not merely on paper, but with the actual olive tree, kept entering my mind. I considered paper leaves, cut from 7x7-cm squares so I could allude to the ALaW guidelines, but they weren't delicate enough. I played with leaves made of both velum and watercolor paper, and even considered writing on the leaves of the tree itself. All of these solutions would have required protection from the elements (if they were to have any lasting power), so I experimented to that effect as well.

Creating the leaves of metal would have addressed the permanence concerns, but I figured this would entail tools and techniques that I didn't possess. While considering the pros & cons of twine-versus-wire for hanging paper leaves, I got the idea to construct the words of wire. ("Abstracting" letters with wire had been the part of yet another ALaW alphabet that I worked on last year, seen in this post..don't you just love the leaps from there to here, how an idea evolves——and patinas——with time?)

I spent a string of pleasant afternoons contemplating my peace words as I "wrote" them each with copper wire. Many words had to be done more than once because it took some practice before I could get the letters consistent enough, or because I hadn't cut a long-enough piece of wire (it was too hard to work with the whole spool hanging off the end). And then there was my favorite mistake——as I admired the satisfying curves of a word I had just crafted I realized that it spelled out h-a-m-o-n-y. My daughter and I are still laughing about that one. Anyway, eventually——before completing the words——I ran out of the .9mm wire I had been using.

Well, it turned out that the only craft shop I know of in Florence, where I'd bought the lovely antiqued copper wire, no longer stocks it. As I browsed the aisles, pondering whether I should go with the .8mm or 1.0mm wire that was available, I came across a stack of copper-coated metal sheets. So, as well as packages of both sizes of wire (in the end, I couldn't decide which to choose), I also left with the metal sheet, thinking that I could test it out for a future project.

Once home, I returned to my word-making using the 1.0mm wire, but it was a bit stiff for all of the curves, so I tried the .8mm——too flimsy!! I used my continued wire-waffling as an excuse to test out a leaf on the copper sheet, and tried writing out some words with a variety of tools...an awl, the tip of a bone folder, a wooden skewer. It turned out that an empty ballpoint pen worked best, but the letters still didn't "flow" very evenly. What I really wanted was some lovely metal type that would imprint uniform, perfectly spaced letters upon the metal——i.e. I was back to my original concern about not having the right tools to work with metal. But then I remembered having read in the manual for my Olivetti Lettera 22 that there was a "blind"-typing setting. I had tried it on paper, but found that it didn't make much of an impression. But maybe on the metal sheet?

And, just like, that, the project finally came together. I typed each word onto the metal sheet, traced the leaf shapes around them all, trimmed & smoothed the edges with wire wool, punched a hole in the end of each and strung a length of wire through. I used the 1.0 mm copper wire to create the title (somehow it worked just fine for that!). And, finally, attached the words to the olive tree...

The title encircling the trunk of the olive tree





"Dialogue" in the foreground, with others in the background...

"Worldwide" (as in peace should be a global goal/effort)


While I enjoyed the aspect of selecting each leaf/word myself, one at a time——it felt like a private, very personal act——part of me regretted not having involved others. There could have been Prosecco, and convivial toasts in the name of peace! Later, when I was discussing my experience/impressions of "installing" the leaves, my daughter suggested we create a ritual for friends & family that's inspired by one we were invited to observe when visiting my sister-in-law's parents this summer. Before we got on the road to continue our thousand-mile journey up the west coast of the US, Gloria & Mike asked us to choose a stone for their ovoo and place it with others left by past guests (a tradition whose roots lie in the Mongolian ritual that travelers perform in hopes of a safe journey). So now I am thinking of asking our future visitors if they'd like to type up a word on a copper leaf and add it to the tree...

Words & wishes of peace scattered among the olive branches

Despite all of the thought, planning and time that went into this project, as I took in the tree once all of the leaves were in place, I couldn't help but feel that their impact was incredibly minimal. Indeed, the impression of inadequacy was similar to how I often feel about the challenge of bringing more peace into this world...

So why not cast the net even farther? If you'd like me to add a word for you, just leave a comment or send me an email and I will add your contribution to the tree when I next visit the rose garden.

On that note, I do wonder what I will find on my next visit? It's possible the gardeners, befuddled or possibly irate, will have removed the the copper leaves——or that another hail storm like the unprecedented one we had last Friday might whip them off the branches and into the wind. Or visitors may take the leaves as a memento of a pleasant hour spent under the olive tree while they enjoyed a sweeping view of Florence. I hope the latter as opposed to the former. In retrospect, perhaps I should have written the words in Italian so the project makes more sense on a local level. Maybe I will add some. In any case, I do like the idea of replenishing the leaves: just as trees regenerate, peaceful intentions should be an ongoing process.




As I descended into the lower part of the garden, I turned for a last look at the tree and was happy——and gratified——to see tiny hints of copper glittering among the branches.

Here are a last few "mementos" from my afternoon of tree-decorating...

21 September 2014

Elements of peace, Part I - In the studio


In honor of the International Day of Peace I have been putting together a modest installation of copper "peace leaves" that I will hang on my favorite olive tree at the rose garden later today: Elements of peace. It could just as easily have been called "The abc's of peace"there is a word beginning with each letter of the alphabet...words that seem necessary to promoting peace. Actually, more accurately, there are twenty-four leaves: "a" to "w" + the twenty-fourth leaf, which says "x y & z" and is meant to symbolize the viewer/reader's own words for peace.

It feels a little like a miracle that this project finally came together. When Fiona Dempster, who created A Letter a Week (ALaW), proposed "peace" as the theme alphabet for ALaW 2013, it had me experimenting with many ideas. One of them morphed into this box/sleeve project for ALaW 2014 instead, but the olive branch/leaf motif that I had wanted to use persisted...just in another vein. This excerpt from my introductory post for ALaW 2013 explains how I planned to use olive leaves as part of the design:

At the moment, I'm working on a plan to incorporate both alphabets into a single 26-box piece. Since each box's "sleeve" has two 7x7-cm faces, I'll feature capital letters on the tops, and create a separate lower-case alphabet for the bottoms. I'm experimenting with an olive branch motif as the basis for decorative letters—similar to the idea of those Renaissance initials surrounded by patterns of leaves, stems, flowers and such—and will create a variation for the lowercase letters.

My, how ideas can change! Maybe I will delve a bit more into the whole process at some point, but in the interest of getting up to the rose garden to carry through with the final incarnation of this project I will refrain for now. In the meantime, below is a selection of photos showing some of the materials, inspiration & steps toward the little copper leaves that have emerged from this search for a way to spread a little more peace in the world.

Some of the olive branches I collected from my favorite olive tree, then pressed

An experimental two-page spread from when I was considering a book (a bit of a hodgepodge!)

Various leaves attached to a random branch (copper, watercolored paper & vellum)

Some of the olive leaves I used as patterns + the copper wire words that I began making (I decided instead to use this concept for the title, which I will wrap around the trunk of the olive tree)

Practice-typing the words with my lovely Olivetti Lettera 22

The words typed on paper & the "blind"-typed words on the sheet of copper

A little of this, a little of that
The pressed olive leaves & the copper "Elements of peace" leaves


Today, most of all, I just wanted to send a wish for peace
to all of you. I will post some photos of the leaves hanging
from the olive tree some time during the coming week....

Buona domenica!


18 September 2014

Black interspersed

It's the third Thursday of the month: time for September's installment of the ROY G BIV photo challenge. Since we've already gone through the colors of the rainbow, you may recall (after last month's "pink") that we are exploring other colors for the rest of the year. This month it's "black."

Over the past few weeks I've been keeping an eye out for how black shows up in my day-to-day life. A few of these images digress somewhat from black (as does my writing), but that is still the point from which I began.

Black has cropped up in the studio quite a bit lately. Among the hodgepodge of my work space, the first photo (above) shows a recent purchase: a Moleskine address book, which I am using as a way to be more organized in documenting/collecting my ideas & thoughts. Day-to-day, I use a large sketchbook to record my notes & creative process (as well as the usual rescued grocery lists, backs of test prints, receipts, etc.), but since ideas can get lost/buried this way the Moleskine will serve as an index of sorts.




This spring I reread several of Natalie Goldberg's books, an experience that always offers much inspiration and food for thought. (Several of the books have blue covers, and I had actually meant to photograph/discuss them for ROY G BIV's "blue" month.) In Thunder and Lightening, Natalie recalls how she discovered the writing of Wallace Stenger. She had picked up his Crossing to Safely several times, but could never bring herself to buy it. She writes:
"Penguin had done a good job with the cover, a beautiful photo of golden leaves covering the ground and some still on thick-trunked trees, a stone wall through a fieldautumn at its best. And the book had good, clear print inside, made to lure a reader into sinking in. But then I'd turn to the back cover: "A grand, rich, beautifully written novel about a long, not-always-easy friendship between two couples." BORING. I imagined the smug recounting of four upper-class lives. I wasn't interested. I put it back on the shelf. This routinepicking it up, being enticed by the cover and repelled by the backprobably went on for five years."

But, finally, the right person gave her a recommendation she couldn't ignore. I figured if this book had won over Natalie Goldberg after such resistance, it must be good! And it was. I'm not one for "page-turners," and Crossing to Safety is most certainly not one. But it's just the kind of thoughtful, deep, engaging writing that I love, and I am now on my third Wallace Stegner, Angle of Reposewhich has a (mainly) black cover, seen below left, at the front.

On the right is the little slate I use to make to-do lists; I can prop it up on my desk to remind myself of what I am supposed to be working on (often, not surprisingly, I do digress). The forged, black-handled scissors in the foreground are my favorites, and follow me around the house...


Another black-covered book that's been keeping me company is Italo Calvino's Le Città Invisibili. I am using it as a punto di riferimento for my latest A Letter a Week (ALaW) project. I photocopied the English version and have arranged the brief, poem-like chapters according to the eleven themes Calvino explores in this sublime book (the themes are interspersed, but I wanted to be able to more easily consider the five stories of each theme at once). Below, on the left are the annotated photocopies; on the right are my copies of both the original Italian and the English translation. I love the cover of the translation. As some of you may know, Invisible Cities is woven around Marco Polo's recounting of his travels to Kublai Khan, but in fact all of the stories are describing Venice (and its many facets)I love how the title alludes to this Venetian connection.


And speaking of ALaW, the copper wire words seen on the Moleskine book in the photo at the top of the post have come about, belatedly, as a response to ALaW 2013's "peace"-themed letters. Though I worked on the project intermittently during the course of 2013, I never did commit to a direction for my alphabet. International Peace Day is coming up on 21 September, so I've been preparing a small installation in honor of the day, inspired by the work I did for ALaW. Incidentally, the wire words have turned out to be more of an "exercise" for the final piece, as I took yet another direction in the last few weeks—or more like returned to an earlier idea. But I liked how the words caught the light as they recede, below. (The explanation for the "x...y...z" will be forthcoming in a post dedicated to the project.)

The photo that follows it, though not black-themed, seemed to carry forward the feeling I got from the wire word one. I just love the effect of the early sun when it's beginning to warm up the roof tiles, and yesterday morning I picked up my camera to capture it (not the first September I have been inspired to do so!)...




This is another photo taken upon waking yesterdaysuch an intense light next to such a strong shadow...


And this pair came about on different days last month, when the late summer light helped to create such rich contrasts.


And this final image shows the last light glancing on Borgo La Croce, as the shadows begin to deepen...



The kids went back to school this week and though summer is not officially over, the mood is definitely autumnal. I have been reminded many times lately of how beautifully the month of September frames Florence. There's also the nostalgia factor...my first visit to Florence was eighteen Septembers ago, and it happens to be the month we moved here as well (September 2nd marked ten years). While I sometimes think that ten years is a good, long, time, and that maybejust maybeI might "be able" to live somewhere else, I realize that I actually love living here more and more as the years pass. Even after being in Florence for ten years, I don't think a day goes by that I don't feel grateful that this is where I am...


{The ROY G BIV photo challenge was created by artists Jennifer Coyne
Qudeen & Julie Booth. Each month is devoted to a different color,
and all are welcome to join in the search. Guidelines are here.}

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