The Work That Endures: In Praise of Artisans

In the early morning of dawn, I’m sitting with my tea.

Seated by the window, I hear the birds outside begin to twitter but the house is still silent, the dogs tucked under their blanket and curled up asleep on the sofa. In my usual style I am welcoming the new day quietly with a candle and smoldering stick of resinous incense. A poem. A prayer. Listening. Writing.

What will I bring to the world today… or withhold?

vase

The little Japanese bud vase, circa 1900

Teacup cradled warmly in my hands, my gaze drifts to the windowsill where a few of my humble treasures sit, resting on the tiny Japanese bud vase that belonged to my mother. Small, perhaps three inches in height, it dates probably from the mid-late 1800’s. I’ve always loved this little piece, just as my mother did. As a child at her grandmother’s house, she would sit and peer closely at the ornate, miniature scene carved into the surface, imagining herself inside its story.

The frontal aspect of this little vase has been intricately molded into a windswept pine tree, and tucked beneath the boughs, deeper into the vase itself, sits a tiny Japanese, thatched-roof farmhouse. The piece is compelling for its alluring scene, as well as the three-dimensionality and depth of the work. The tree and cottage are unglazed while the rest of the surface is finished in a glossy fashion, as if it was carved from a polished burl of wood. Turning it upside down there is no signature, just the single word ‘Japan’ stamped into the base.

Like the small, exquisitely carved hummingbird figurine that it sits near (also from Japan), this vase is a little treasure that I’ve carried as I roam the globe, ever near and dear to my heart. Like my mother, over the years I too have spent long periods simply gazing at the intimate scene, captivated by its craftsmanship and detail. It probably only has modest monetary value, its real worth being mainly sentimental. I’ve often mused on its anonymous craftsman, who masterfully sculpted an appealing shape and then delicately carved the little farmhouse and windswept pine. I imagine him inside his workroom at a rustic wooden bench and table, illuminated by candlelight, calloused hands pressing a small, handheld tool into the yielding red clay. Is it an image of his own cottage, or simply a scene that he found beautiful?

vase2

Candlelight shadows

I have wondered too, what was his life like? Was his soul lonely in quiet despair? Did he know a great, burning love that lifted his spirit to soar? More than once I have silently thanked him for what he created, and though he has long passed from the earth, his humble work endures, still appreciated. I find some comfort in this. In an age where nearly everything is mass produced by machines, where most of us ‘do’ but few of us ‘make’, where so few have a real craft as their calling, I celebrate the artisans.

The calling is never an easy one. I have struggled to bring my own work to fruition and offer it forward, hoping the book will find its feet and wings and travel widely into the world. Perhaps it will, perhaps it won’t. I’ve been feeling discouraged about this lately, my spirit touched with blue. Creativity aside, the mind is often fond of its troubles. We all have our burdens, worries and doubts, but life goes on. Chop wood, carry water.

Sitting in the quiet morning, sipping English tea from a favorite hand-thrown mug (created by another Japanese master artist, interestingly), there is solace in the thought that like the small vase on the windowsill, what I have fashioned will continue to enrich someone’s life even after I’m gone. This isn’t about ego, but simply offering what emerges from heart and soul as one’s work.

“Create simply to give it away,” a mentor of mine once told me. Make an offering of sacred reciprocity to the creative spark—the Source, the Deep Imagination—that animates us to build, paint, write, weave, sing, dance, and dream.

What are the dreams we carry? What are the ones we have laid aside in favor of something else that seemed easier to achieve, if decidedly less alluring and fulfilling. I ask, what will we make with our hands and heart—of our very lives—that will endure and add some measure of richness, delight, or beauty to the life of another? And what are we willing to risk to do so?

lapis_egg

Lapis egg in a nest with woven-in leaves

Such is the task for each of us: despite the long journey to the mountain and the difficulty of the climb, we must become an artisan in our own way and offer ourselves forward in that unique expression.

I’ve said before that Soul Artists are individuals that embody radical authenticity and self-expression, knowing that the creative process is the soul’s journey—along with appreciating beauty wherever we encounter it. It is everywhere, friend—a common field daisy; a hundred-year old tiny vase; a lapis egg tucked into a woven bird’s nest; the light in our lover’s eyes or those of a small child; a lanky green tendril of vine curling round the rusting gutter pipe; sweet fragrance of night blooming jasmine that greets us when we step outdoor into the evening; shards of white sunlight glinting and rolling on the blue sea.

Gazing at the little brown vase as the day brightens, it dawns upon me that I am often in my own little cottage beneath a great windswept evergreen on the California coast. Life embodies art. Dreams within dreams. Microcosm mirrors macrocosm.

To be a Soul Artist is to celebrate and believe in life. Create to give it away, my friend, and may the beauty endure.

spacer