I live in an artists’ colony.
Actually, I live in an ordinary middle class neighborhood, but I like to think of it as a collection of artists’ studios, and I’m not exaggerating much. I’m an actor; my next-door neighbor is an artist and yoga instructor; another neighbor does graphic design, builds fine furniture and plays in a band; his wife is a retired ballerina . . . the list goes on.
We also collect artist friends from other neighborhoods. Besides the usual suspects (my theater friends), we know dancers, musicians, glass blowers, and painters. My sixteen-year-old daughter has introduced me to the worlds of leather craft, blacksmithing, and fiber arts. (She is the proud owner of a spinning wheel. When she needs beautiful yarn, she rolls her own.)
So I should not have been surprised when one of our friends showed up at the door with a Ziploc bag and asked if she could harvest our lichen.
Paula is a brilliant hand-spinner and natural fiber artist who teaches workshops all over the country. She had spied lichen growing on our old wood pile by the driveway and broken off a few pieces to try in a dye mixture. She liked the results so much she wanted to make more batches, with different acid and base contents, just to see what she could create.
I was fascinated. Paula is the kind of person who comes up with a way to spin fiber from kudzu, which ought to win her a Nobel prize for land reclamation. I was game for any project of hers. I found myself out in the yard plucking handfuls of lichen from old firewood and looking around the yard for more. I became captivated by the beauty of the lichen itself, so I brought out the camera and took some shots. The artistic possibilities were endless.
People often talk about “the arts” and “arts education” as if they were separate from real life, as if they were an afterthought: a bonus, perhaps, but not essential. I think we forget that art is everywhere, that beauty is inextricable from life, that nature is showing us her finery and inviting us to create something exquisite in response.
Singing back to the birds, spinning yarn from the sheep’s wool, telling stories by the fire: these are arts as old as human civilization. They are what bring us together and change us from lonely individuals into lively communities.
Like my neighborhood.