I was just reading John's response to Drury regarding the recent changes that he's made to our Archipelago monopoly board, and I got to thinking about another odd, "genuistic" (a new word, you read it here first, folks), wonderfully and often seemingly impractically creative person I've met recently.
I had Passover Sedar last night at my colleague's house, a woman who is a folklorist in our department, and whose housband, call him Chris, is a sculptor.
This sculptor Chris thinks differently from most of the rest of us. For example, his wife, taking a few of us guests on a tour through the barn where her husbands "arts" (yet another new word! Are you taking notes, Paul?), showed us a small metal sculpture of a row of Jewish stars. She said that Chris does not see this piece as a row of stars but as a double helix bisected with two parallel lines.
I sometimes wonder - as I marvel at John's star mazes and multi-dimensional puzzles, his rubick clock, and his other creations, not the least of which is this beautiful communal machine called Archipelago - how his mind is seeing "things." How is he seeing things that I'm not?
Unlike John, Chris is genuistically handy. His barn is filled with all sorts of Rube Goldberg-like devices, which he has hobbled together as his needs dictate. For example, he has made a metal foundry (is there any other type, I'm not sure) from scratch out of scrap metal. He powers the thing with an old vacuum cleaner motor, and he has custom made the special clamps he needs to lift the special metal creations he makes in and out of this foundry.
In another room of the barn, he makes plastic molds. In another room he has his own wielding shop, while another room is devoted to just sculpting marble. In this room a fine white dust covers everything.
Throughout this barn we constantly saw examples of how he has reclaimed old farm machinery that was outdated, broken, unused and unwanted, and therefore bought for essentially nothing. He uses these gizmos (such as giant fans used when dairys made milk the old fashioned, now outdated way) to get the hoists, the giant fans, the special calipers, and all the other contraptions that he uses in his little labyrinth of workshops.
Like John, however, this sculptor's creations seem ("seems" is the operative word) wonderfully impractical. His most impressive type of art are these large marble sculptures that look like giant, odd, whorlish, luminescent, sea shelled creatures. When the light shines on on one of these sculptures in a certain way, parts of it glow with a delacate, moonish radiance. It is as if the light were radiating from inside the piece itself. The other part of the sculture almost seems to disappears in shadow. You feel that this is the sort of unearthly creature that you might encounter thousands of feet under the sea at those places where tectonic plates meet and the magma that oozes up through the resulting fissures gives rise to all sorts of unique creatures.
The sculptures are around ten feet tall, weigh hundreds and hundreds of pounds, and are almost impossible to move. Only one area in the world quarries the right type of marble for these sculptures. The marble must be powdery white, no streaky veins, with the proper strength and qualities that make it receptive to light in just the right way he envisions. This one place is in Italy, and Chris is so propelled by his vision that he has taught himself Italian so that he can travel there and work with the quarrymen to select just the right slabs of marble.
Will he sell these things? Who knows. They are so heavy as to be almost immovable (I am reminded of another artist I know in New York who makes sculptures out of thin, layered, pieces of glass - the resulting pieces are extraordinarily heavy and, as they are made of glass, obscenely prone to accidents). One piece takes so much labor and care as to make any cost-benefit analysis laughable in its results.
There is no surface logic to his labors, no immediate material benefit. So why does he do it? And why does John, our dear ponarvian host, do what he does?