Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Obos and stuff

I started today with a really great email from Robert Genn, who sends out a twice-weekly email to anyone that signs up for his brand of wisdom. It was about "Obos", stacks of rocks left for nature to reclaim, or the aware eye to find. Here's his email:

Dear Ren,

Some weeks ago an anonymous subscriber wrote: "The
Painter's Keys"
is not a website--it's a vision.
It's a vision of a universal brotherhood and sisterhood,
timeless and for all time. It's a vision of solitary
strugglers who are united in the obligation for quality
while serving their own individualist dreams. What we
artists do is noble and life-enhancing for others. It
requires a balance between outward learning and inward
contemplation. Thank you for providing this shrine."

I often think of these words. I'm deeply proud that there
are many who get the point. Our website is certainly one
manifestation of that shrine, and while it is not a physical
spot or a spiritual dogma, it might be a metaphor.

Years ago, I started placing small "obos" in remote places. An
obos is a Japanese term for a pile of rocks, often only three,
one on top of another. The obos merely says, "I was here."
Being an unusual configuration, it is obviously from the hand
of man. Further, if it is knocked down or desecrated, it is
easily rebuilt. There can be one at the bottom of the garden or
in a private corner of a public park. I've seen obos among
potted bonsai in a sparse apartment high above Park Avenue's
clatter. So you know what I'm talking about, I've asked Andrew
to illustrate an obos in the current clickback. See URL below.

On one of our west coast islands, I built a few obos on a rocky
foreshore just above the tide. Returning twenty years later, I
found them still intact and dressed in moss, as if spirited
there by some ancient coastal cult.

Obos is a destination, a sanctuary, a shrine and a focal point
that reminds us that we work with our hands. We are builders
and what we build is sacred. Obos may appear inconsequential
and be unnoticed by casual passersby. It's a private tribute to
something higher, something we might be striving for but find
difficult to attain. Approach obos with a relaxed, curious
mind. It can help with answers to questions not consciously
asked. Obos gives pause, a contemplative thought or a new
direction, a respite from clutter, a rededication to our
struggle and an affirmation of the value of our personal
effort. Obos is the carrier of a golden secret. Obos is like
art itself. Obos is a joy to build.

Best regards,


PS: "I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw
that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."
(Rabindranath Tagore)


I'm enchanted with the idea of "Obos" now. Four years ago, when my mother lay in the hospital dying and I was scheduled to fly home the next morning, I visited the beach with my children. In a very natural and flowing way, I sculpted a small shrine there, with the materials available: a feather, shells and driftwood. Art is available to us all, if we use the materials we have and express what is within. Obos are one way to share the joy of sculpting. Nature provides many chances for thoughtful expression.

Later, I responded to an email from a new aquaintance, the very woman that introduced me to the beautiful music of Amy Steinberg.
Susan Lachman is the person behind the voice of "women on air" that airs from Johnson City every Friday afternoon from WETS, an affiliate of NPR. I heard her interview with Amy once-upon-a-time and fell in love with the message and music. One of her songs reminds me regularly that I am "exactly where I need to be".

So anyhoo....as I sometimes do, I googled Susan's name to see what else she's up to (I hope you don't mind Susan):) and found out about the "Leaf" project. where the artist Carol Ann Newsome creates these small works of art and leaves them all over for people to find. I believe she's planted 5,000 so far! Amazing project, fab idea.

Reading about the Leaf project led to information on something called the "Good Goddess" which I thought was a yearly festival, but after researching figured out it was a traveling art exhibition that was here many years ago. Darn!

Through that piece of information, I discovered an amazing artist named Charles Vess who lives just up the road in Abingdon VA. His work is absolutely stunning! Wander around a bit and enjoy the visual and mental massage.

You know, that's one of the greatest things about technology, the ability to make very fast connections with people, places and new information. I love that I can start with a serendipitous connection to a local person and go wandering about the planet finding other artists, art, ideas and inspiration. It's all connected and I love being a traveler discovering those connections.

**Above photo is by Joanna McKasy, taken at Denali National Park Alaska


laura said...

well this clinched it for me...this is going to be our new task on flickr

ChristineKane said...

Thanks for this post! I never knew these things had a name. When I was performing at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, CO, someone had stacked about 50 different obos on the rocks in the river, and it made my heart sing. Anyway, my husband and I love them and find them in the mountains on occasion when we hike (in NC), though I'm not very good at creating them!

Ren said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ren said...

I'm honored that you stopped by Christine. Life connections are so interesting to me....just last night I heard your song "everything green" because one of my best friends emailed the link(I'm assuming that's how you found me...through the comment I left at your blog?) and told my husband what a great singer you are.

So I just went perusing your blog and website and discovered you're right down the road from here. I'm planning an art retreat up here in the mountains, hopefully for '07 but possibly '08. If you feel like teaching a songwriting workshop, drop me a line!:)

For anyone stopping by that hasn't heard Christine's music, go listen! Christine Kane

Laura said...

I'm so glad to read this post because I didn't know what Obos were! My family has a second home in northern WI and when I'm up there I take looooong walks every day. One year there were wicked storms and because of the ensuing road work, there are many bare tree stumps. During a walk one day there were obos on many of the stumps. I was fascinated and spent much time looking at them and pondering the meaning. I even made some of my own. It was like a mystery and I was so intrigued! I haven't seen them there since. So glad to finally know what they were!

Laura, another unschooling mama

Susan said...

Ren, you are so much fun-spiration! YOU showed me obos, and now I show them everywhere I go + have 'built' them for friends in need of prayer, as a sign of love in new places I visit and as a sign of support for new projects & people. AND for helping youth stay out of mischief! LEFT SOME BACK story on how I found New Leaf on F Bk page. Have know Christine Kane since mid 90's when she first came to this region as a performing singer song writer. GUESS WHERE you can still hear her music!!

Susan said...

Back story on New Leaf, just to show how far the community art drop can travel: first saw a New leaf on desk top of co-worker in 1996. She found hers in CHARLESTON, SC. I contacted artists Carol Newsome & brouhth NEW LEAF to ETSU conference site when I was director. Following year, when I initiated the Good Goddess Arts Exhibition, Carol came to town & New Leaf distributed in J'bo. TN; Abingdon VA. & Asheville, NC. (this is when Vess got involved). Ke t in touch, so when 2000 rolled around I got to help with the new years international distribution - went to Roan Mtn. to "plant" ! GREAT FUN and still going on! * BTW long before Christine Kane got so big, she was my guest on Women On Air + a performer for Good Goddess 1998 or 99 + I produced her concert in J'bo at the repertory theater. Now I can't even get a phone call with her! But you know where you can still hear her music: WOA! See the FB page for links and schedule!
I hope the other post got through - cause I want you to know how many times and many ways I have shared obos!