In the Everglades
In 2013, I took a jewelry workshop from Caroline Gore at Penland School of Crafts. The topic was, essentially, how to use narrative in your work without beating the viewer over the head with it. Since, in my work, I was kind-of an "everything but the kitchen sink" person, it seemed right up my alley. She had us read a book of short stories by Lydia Davis (The Collected Works of Lydia Davis) and select one to use in an exercise that went like this: Edit the story down to 200 words or less.... Then, edit that short version down to the 20 most essential words. I had picked, "In the Everglades," a very short piece about tourists, natives & wildlife in the Florida Everglades. It was pretty short to begin with, but it was surprisingly hard to get it down to those last 20 words (I think I ended up with 22!). This is the result:
Caged cougar; plaster lion. Shop Indians watch, sullen.
Airboat racket; sawgrass, disturbed. All day watching, as instructed, alligators.
Huddled monkey can't remember.
At the same time we were editing our stories, we were experimenting with materials we'd never before worked with (I chose colored leathers and experimented with torching them). Once we had our stripped-down stories ready, along with our new material experiences, Caroline challenged us to make work inspired by the edited story and to use a very limited palette of materials, including the new one. It was an inspiring and fruitful process, which I'll liken to an hourglass: first, strip the narrative you want to employ down to its bare essentials, then expand the body of work back out with curated material choices. It was an incredibly valuable lesson and has been an important concept in my work ever since. Thanks, Caroline!!