The Needle | June 1st, 2018
I'm often asked about the origin of the sewing needle and why I use it in my work. It really is quite ironic that this object has become something I identify with so strongly. Here is a tool firmly connected with domesticity, and from my experience taking Home Economics in high school, that word encompassed many things to which I simply do not relate. Though I was brought up in a traditional household and socialized according to my gender, most of what was referred to as "women's work" just didn't interest me. Had I participated in shop class in high school (it was the 80's, girls weren't exactly encouraged to do so. Unfortunately.), or taken more interest in my Dad's work as a machinist, perhaps I would have discovered my passion for 3D objects and "garage tools" sooner. But, I'm a so-called late bloomer, and quite contrary to tradition. Fortunately.
Shortly after my husband Ross and I were married, we moved to Arizona, bought our first home, and settled in. I resumed my Art studies at Arizona State University, and, in the sculpture shop, discovered an obsession with metal working and foundry casting. After receiving my BFA, I pursued a Master's Degree at the University of Arizona and for the next 3 years divided my time, my life, between Tucson during the week and our home in Mesa on the weekends. The first year was really tough: living in an apartment again, being away from home and my support system, and feeling completely out of place. What was I doing here? I started experimenting with new materials, but hadn't really created my voice yet. So, I continued working with the familiar--cast metal-- focusing on large, singular forms-- no doubt a response to the isolation I felt. One weekend at home, Ross asked me to sew a button on his shirt. As I started stitching, I became intrigued by this everyday object, and the irony of me using it. The sewing needle: a curious, simplistic tool, that in it's reflective material is always present. It has the capacity to mend, pierce, support, and when threaded leave evidence of a journey. I began to see the needle as a figure, as myself navigating my way. Upon returning to my grad studio, I set out to create a self portrait. I designed and constructed a life size figure out of Styrofoam, wax, and twine, then cast it in bronze. The result is one of my favorite works. Needle 5' 9" symbolizes a defining moment in my growth as an artist, and as a woman. It represents personal strength, perseverance, and for me, the non traditional.
As I reflect on my graduate school years and the many times I wanted to give up and return to the comfort of "familiar", I think of the duality of experience. What was once most difficult, turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life. You hear it all the time, but it is so true. It was my path. I was meant to be there, at the time I was there, and with the people that shared that time and space. Had I not been there, I would not be here. The needle encompasses so much for me. It speaks to the quiet, repetitive, contemplative work that has become so important to my practice. It led me to Presence, my thesis installation and the impetus behind all my current work. Funny how one simple thing like sewing a button on a shirt can change the way you see and experience the world...
With fingers weary and worn, With eyelids heavy and red, A woman sat in unwomanly rags, Plying her needle and thread.
'The Song of the Shirt' (1843)
Image: Mary Meyer, Needle 5' 9", cast bronze, 2003
The Cultivation of Stillness and Movement | May 1, 2018
My journey as a student of sculpture began with a 20 lb. piece of alabaster. Trained in the direct carving method, I worked intuitively with the material, using tools that felt familiar and comfortable, as if extensions of my hands. It was an organic, quiet process that spoke to my sensitive nature. The repetitive tap tap tap of the point and mallet foster the mind to wander, and the body to explore form. I immediately connected with this method, and the artists who define it: Constantin Brancusi, Barbara Hepworh, Isamu Noguchi, to name a few.
The alabaster carving took me over 14 years to complete. I abandoned it, along with my college education, because I was lost. Years later, having gained maturity and responsibility, I resumed my studies along with my stone carving. One of my sculpture professors asked "Why would you want to work like that? It's like driving without a road map." I think this was more of a challenge of conviction rather than a critique. It is a traditional process far removed from conceptual art, and not many other students were chipping away stone at the time. Perhaps it is, and was, a road "less traveled", but not without intention. There is still a destination; one that doesn't simply appear but rather reveals and unfolds. Working intuitively takes time and patience, and cultivates a centeredness of mind, body, and material. For me, "that has made all the difference".
Carving is the foundation of my practice, and remains an essential part of my art-making. I work with clay, cast metal, wood, plaster, paper, wax, and found objects. Though my current work is more research based and somewhat mapped out, the intuitive forms, shapes, and textures still emerge through the chiseling, etching, and cutting of materials. Looking back, what I learned from my stone carving was less about volume and mass-- and more about humility, direction, and the importance of intuition. I see it as a compass; guiding me to who I am and what I do-- which, to an artist, are one in the same. My journey as a student of sculpture continues, and with any luck, always will. Through the stillness and movement of everyday life, I search for center. If I listen closely, I know what direction to take.
Carving is interrelated masses conveying an emotion; a perfect relationship between the mind and the colour, light and weight which is the stone, made by the hand which feels. It must be so essentially sculpture that it can exist in no other way, something completely the right size but which has growth, something still and yet having movement, so very quiet and yet with a real vitality.
Image: Mary Meyer, alabaster carving, 1984-1998, 6 x 14 x 10 inches