I just released what may be one of my most cherished pieces today. The sculpture, Shattered, didn’t start out to be a particularly profound piece of art, but it took one of my most painful moments as an artist to turn it into a signature piece for me. More of that story here.
I’ve participated in the Southern Hands Artists Studio Tour (SHAST) for several years. I appreciate the space the Tour creates to connect with people on a more personal level, to tell the stories behind the artwork, and to hear people as they open up and tell their own stories, as they see themselves reflected in the artwork.
This year, a group of four friends came into the studio. They had originally made other plans for the weekend, but then decided to come to the tour and visit some of the different studios in the area. They listened intently to each story as I shared, adding their own experiences and observations.
One young woman in the group showed a particular interest when I started talking about the Shattered figure. I showed her the photo of the tiny fragments I found in the kiln, and then the sculpture which I had carefully put it back together again. When she actually saw the figure, she burst into tears. She told me that she could see herself reflected in the girl, especially in the cracks and “scars” you could still see there.
The young woman asked if she could purchase the sculpture, but I politely told her that I had already decided not to sell it. The figure had become very much a signature piece for the theme of restoration and hope which flows through so much of what I do as an artist. She completely understood, and thanked me again and again for sharing the figure’s story of restoration, and the way her brokenness had itself become the source of her deeper beauty.
After she left, I began to think about the piece, and about why I am an artist. I remembered a time when my very wise wife said something: “If you ever find yourself in a situation where you have a Bible which is so dear to you that you cannot give it away to someone who really needs it, then, chances are, you probably haven’t been reading it enough.”
Even if the situation was different, the principle still held. If I couldn’t find it in my heart to let go of the sculpture, then perhaps I was forgetting why I had created it in the first place, and Who it was that spoke though my creative process to touch the world around me. The question might be, did I own that “signature” piece of art, or did it own me? I decided that, if I could somehow get in touch with this person, I would be ready to let Shattered become a part of her personal story.
I wasn’t sure if I would be able to contact the group again, but then I remembered we had put out a sign-in sheet for people to leave their names and email addresses, in case they wanted further information. When I looked at the sheet, I recognized her unusual name. I decided to send an email to the address she had left, telling her what I had decided and why.
She immediately responded that she was so thrilled! We went back and forth, decided on a fair asking price, and arranged a time when she could come to the studio to pick it up. (Funny thing was, the date we were able to agree on turned out to be “Black Friday”, though this was a very different transaction than most people were having.)
Although I was perfectly happy with making the sale of this figure, it still felt a lot like letting one of my children go. However, I was confident that she was going to be in a place where she would continue to be a voice of hope and beauty.
What I didn’t anticipate was, when the young woman come with her best friend to the studio, that she would open up and share with me some of the deep physical, emotional, and spiritual scars which made up her own story, and specifically why she felt that this Shattered figure was such a perfect reflection of what she had endured, and more importantly, the person who she had become through that journey of pain and restoration. I was beyond words as I listened, and as I saw her tears of pain, sorrow, brokenness, transformed into hope, forgiveness, strength, and restoration.
Looking back, this was perhaps one of my art transactions which has had, and will continue to have, the greatest impact on my life and work. This is no longer me speaking through my art, but the artwork, and the Great Artist, speaking back into my life.