A sense of place is intrinsic to who I am. One of the ways I claim a sense of place and hold it close over time is through creating box constructions. They are responses to the places where I feel I belong.
I grew up in upstate New York, went to school in the Midwest and on the East Coast, lived in the Washington, D.C. area for over 25 years, and traveled extensively in Europe and Japan. But where I find myself most at home is on the downeast coast of Maine where I continue to spend summers, and Interior Alaska where I live with my writer husband and frequent collaborator, Frank Soos.
These two places feed my sense of self, offer deep reflection, and ultimately define “home.” It is no wonder that they also inspire the imagery of my mixed media box constructions.
I go to Maine to be near water. The ocean’s rugged coast, its massive rocks and iconic islands, the rhythm of the tides and unforgiving weather, all become part of living on the water. There the sense of space within my box constructions focuses on water and sky.
In Alaska the focus shifts to land imagery. The boreal forest and its dominant birch and spruce trees provide endless inspiration—the way they change with light and seasonally throughout the year—as does living in the northwoods at times when its climate is the harshest.
As an observer of my own work I ask myself if creating box constructions is how I make sense of claiming these two seemingly disparate places as “home.” Is it a way to capture each—the monumental expansive landscapes of Interior Alaska and the open ocean of Maine—in a manageable scale? A way to get a hold on it, and ultimately to claim it?
I make the boxes one at a time, always with the intent to create an image that I describe as “distilled” rather than abstract, an image composed of nothing more and nothing less than necessary to express the impetus from which it came. In each case I compose the objects first and then create an architectural space around them, including skylights and windows through which light enters to play its part in the overall composition.
The genesis of the box-constructed form of my work is two-pronged. Most importantly it grows out of my graduate school study of Northern Renaissance altarpieces whose panels open and close according to the liturgical season and whose individual images invite personal prayer and meditation. It is because of this art historical connection that the box constructions that have doors opening to multiple views are called altarpieces. Secondarily, the box-constructed form grew out of my travels in Japan where small niche-like sculptures are erected in garden settings to mark particular places at which one is invited to pause, rest, and reflect. The Japanese examples also inspired my aesthetic preference for spare images in which objects, negative space, and light play equal roles.
In “Corea Fog,” for example, the lumbering movement of thick fog over a calm ocean in Maine is evoked by solid pieces of beach wood and metal. This blanket-like fog is common on downeast Maine shores even while thin streams of light break through and reflect on the distant horizon.
In “Spring Run” I recall how Alaskans celebrate the coming of spring by tapping their boreal birch trees and collect their precious clear-running sap to make syrup. A vintage hand drill penetrating a birch log represents this annual ritual while skylights lead the viewer to a pool of clear marbles embedded in the box-floor.
While memories tied to place inspire my box constructions, they are more than snapshots of experiences. I would hope for them to be contemplative spaces into which viewers are drawn, to be alone and to discover their own responses.