That's when I reconnect with the land by driving deep into the countryside, heading for a destination like Serpent Mound.
I first met Larry Henry in 2009 when he used to help visitors to Serpent Mound. He was fascinated with art that centered on nature, and he kept a lot of it around him. He'd stand behind the counter and talk art and nature and the place was thronged with people who wanted his attention. He was showing some replicas of Hopewell effigy pipes one day when I went to the Mound.
Intrigued, I followed up at home with an internet search. We know it's art when it stris us up and grabs ahold of us and won't let go. It breaks our hearts, makes us cry. It makes us dream dreams. It shows us our humanity, in its frailty and glory. It makes our fingers itch to create. We know it's art when it has a life of its own.
When I saw the photograph of the Hopewell frog effigy pipe, I knew it was art because of the way it moved me. It's not that it's a heathen idol. It's not that it's infested with demons. It's art God can use, just like he can use anything that truly reflects nature, to break our hearts open and plant a seed there.
The artist was born several thousand years ago, but he's as important as Rodin as far as I'm concerned. He carved over a hundred effigy pipes that were preserved in Mound City in what is currently Newark, Ohio. He'd broken the code of pipistone, knew that it cleaves in spheres. He had based all of his animal figures on a sphere. He may have been training an apprentice, because there appear to be two different artists with two distinct levels of ability represented in Mound City.
That frog sang with such pure lines, showed such a true sense of nature, that I decided to answer its call. I told myself that I've done it before; making replicas of Stone Age art is not terribly hard as long as you can get your hands on the right materials. Then you learn everything you can about it and do what your hands tell you to do with it. In choosing the frog as a subject, I hoped I wouldn't need any high tech electrical tools, software programs or synthetic chemicals that 'd cost more than I had to spend.
I was hopeful; someone else was making these replicas, so perhaps I could locate the materials to attempt to make a replica myself. Back to Serpent Mound I went. I showed Larry a drawing I'd made of the frog effigy pipe. I confessed I'd fallen in love with the creature, as an artist falls in love with his subject. He understood my dilemma. Sure enough, resourceful Larry offered to find me some materials to work with.
Within a few weeks, he had not only arranged to locate a huge piece of pipestone, he actually gave it to me. He wouldn't take any payment. I was honored. The artist is moved by such a gift, especially from a man like Larry who understands the principles of propagating art. To have been given the innate talent to create art, to have been blessed with the desire to carve the pipestone, and to have a fellow artist pass the gift of rock into my hands made me feel the stone had come to life.
I knew something would come from that Scioto pipestone.
I didn't know it would be a website.
Over the next several months, the little shop at Serpent Mound was closed for the winter. I'd felt a connection with Larry, a commitment to show him the results of my efforts. I'd hoped to see him on another trip to the Mound. But when I went back in Spring, there was no sign of Larry. It was Fall before I got word of him. In a conversation about favorite places and Serpent Mound, a friend dropped the news. Larry had been fired from his job as founder and Director of the Highlands Sanctuary. I've been through so many changing circumstances in my own life that the astonishing fact barely registered--the first words that came out of my mouth were, "So what's he doing with his incredible photography?" I'd seen his photos on their brochures and on their website, and I knew they were stunning.
Life circumstances change, but art has a life of its own that will not be denied. Art without an audience represents a void that demands to be filled. Whatever else had changed, there were still hearts to be touched by Larry's work. I knew the Spirit who gives us the gift of life and creativity--the One who draws us all to himself--would fill that void, but I didn't know exactly how.
It was a mystery. Like all mysteries, it caught my mind at times, the way your tongue constantly discovers a ragged tooth.
Figuring Larry might remember the sizeable chunk of pipestone he'd gifted me with, I emailed him and offered to show him what had become of it. Actually, my carving is still incomplete. It's lots harder thanI had hoped. And for the past year I'd been busy writing a book, nearly two, building a website or three, learning goldsmithing, experimenting with natural paints, working full time, and a few other things. The pipestone frog in itself was unfinished and nothing to brag on, but it got me a meeting with Larry.
I guess I should have known what was coming when I headed out to Serpent Mound to meet Larry that day. I was on a mission. Now that he was no longer with the Arc, I wanted to know exactly what he was doing with his photography. He confessed he'd been talking to some people in the art community, but he didn't really seem to fit in with their ways. He didn't follow standard photography techniques or values; had never been trained to them, didn't like them. He didn't care to compete in a juried show. "How can you judge the beauty of Nature?" he scoffed. I saw his point.
"What about a website, Larry? Do you have a website?" He admitted he did not.
"How about I build you a website,Larry? Free of charge. Sometimes artists need to help each other out."
The light came up in his eyes. "Why, that would be fine!" he said.
So Larry's freely given gift of pipestone passed back to him in the form of a website. This is how we keep the spirit of our artistic community alive; by giving freely to artists who know how to touch hearts, without knowing or understanding how the gift may someday help others.
Professional web designers know they have nothing to fear from me, but just for the record, I build websites only when the Spirit moves me, not for money. Larry's website is enough for me to do. If you are a folk artist whose art centers on nature, whose soul is in Appalachia, and who lives the principles of giving your gift, contact Larry about being featured on his website. www reconnectingthebirdtribes.com
See you there!