White mystical totems
in moist shaded woods
offered fluid folk cures
to those who understood.
Saprophytic flowers, cluster,
nodding in light
feed off decay
drying pastel brown
stand erect through winter
Nature’s totems in the ground.
-Paul J Stankard
I’ve written on this blog many times about the most magical of fairy flowers, the Indian Pipe, sometimes called, The Corpse Flower. It adorns the front cover of Emily Dickinson’s work, yet, so few people have ever seen it in real life. If you try to pick one and bring it back to the land of the living, away from the shade of the forest, it will start to turn inky black, erasing its waxy, white mystery. If you find a fellow traveler who has, by chance, come across it in their own journey, it’s like talking to someone who finally gets you…understands what you have seen….understands what you have felt. A soul-mate.
When I visited the Museum of Glass in Tacoma last week, I would never have guessed my favorite exhibit would be paper weights.
Paper weights. Really?
Not the Glimmering Gone, the enchanted glass forest that inspired so many beautiful poems?
No, for me, it was the art of Paul J. Stankard, considered the Dale Chihuly of the glass paper weight, that most inspired and most intrigued.
As my friend and I wandered in and out of one exhibit and another, we found ourselves unwittingly part of a tour group who had just entered, “Beauty Beyond Nature: The Glass Art of Paul J. Stankard.” As I gazed into the small round orbs, delighting in wildflowers and magical insects and elves, wholly brought forth from Stankard’s imagination and memories of his walks in nature, I also got to listen to the story of his life and art–his transition from industrial glass maker to artist working from his garage, his love of Walt Whitman and poetry, his love of nature, and his appreciation of transitions.
And, that is where Paul Stankard and I converged spirit to spirit, mind to mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never met or talked to him, but as the tour guide told us which piece, of all the beautiful pieces exhibited, was his favorite, and why, I couldn’t help but think I knew him. Kindred thoughts, make kindred minds.
His favorite piece was a melting ice cube: “Experimental Departure From Paperweight Form, 1979.” This is the piece where he challenged a traditional idea, drew from internal inspiration, and deviated from the standard, spherical form of paper weight. The tour guide quoted him, “The only real growth as human beings is when we think outside the box.” I would go further and say that when you’re growing it is the only time you feel like you’re really living–being 100 percent vital and authentic. The opposite of growth, in the world of flowers (and people), is decay, even if the decay seems to be put off for a while. It’s the difference between a cut flower and one still attached to its roots, like the flowers suspended in his paper weights.
Experimental Departure from Paperweight Form, was not, by any stretch, viewed by itself with no understanding of what it meant, his most beautiful work of art exhibited that day. Its beauty came from knowing that without it, none of the others would exist. It was the bridge between two levels of seeing and, a bridge between two worlds. The world of Paul Stankard is a world I have visited many times. When I looked through the first glass window I knew he was a visitor, too, come back to show the rest of the world the magic.
You see, in this exhibit, he, in a sense, defied nature. He brought back the flowers in their living form–no black ink, no decay–just vital, growing flowers suspended forever in a glass universe–inviting us to peer in and see, too.
“Did you ever know that a flower, once withered and freshened again, became an immortal flower,–that is, that it rises again?” (Emily L91)
One of my other favorite flowers and the one I’m most looking for now is the crocus. This is called Honeycomb and Crocuses.