Sunday, February 24, 2008


This is Twerp.

Here's the cover of the Byberry book. I'm the little white dot at the far right corner. Robert is walking behind me.

Check out that Grandma hair!

This is a picture of Mabel, sleeping on my office chair, and my new desk that Robert built for me. But mostly, it is a picture of how messy my office is.

Happy birthday, all you Februaries! Lindy, Colleen, Dawn, Susie, Susan, Lucas, Margaret, Jane and Norma!

This is a quiet, snowy Sunday afternoon. Robert has ventured out for a walk but I am too paralyzed by lists of things I must get done to do that. ARGH!

I am enjoying my new "job" very much, but I still feel so much at sea about it. I put the word job in quotes there, because having a job usually means that you get paid for the work you do. But my poor boss is having a terrible time. She has to wait for final approval on some sculptures in order to get paid for them, all the while trying to pay employees, make improvements to the foundry building, and buy materials. I have been working full time, but she is only able to pay me for a few hours a week. I expect the situation to get better eventually, and I feel I am getting some useful training, as well as being in a better state of mind doing something that gets me out of the house. I am not in financial difficulty yet, but that may come. For the time being, I have the supplement of unemployment insurance, but that isn't going to last forever, and working for free for someone arguably makes it difficult to work for someone else for money. That may run contrary to the unemployment rules, but I am still applying for regular lawyer jobs, and I swear, if ANYBODY calls me back, I'll jump on it! I figure whatever ends up happening will be a sign from God. I just wish that God would stop speaking to me in mysterious ways, and just pick up the phone and tell me what to do!

This artistic life -- made up of of periods of panic about money interspersed with periods of panic about looming deadlines, smoothed out with moments of creative zen -- is something I know well, as I lived it with my parents for decades. I suppose it is not such a prudent choice for someone like me, who really ought to be thinking about retirement and the need to squirrel some bucks away, but it sure has been interesting! For the past few weeks I have been working on a sculpture of an American WWII soldier for a war memorial. He looks like a giant version of those green plastic "army guy" toys, as my brothers called them. I spent a week on a wax rifle, smoothing joins and filling in tiny air bubbles, and rebuilding a gunsight and other parts that didn't get filled in the mold correctly, or got 'smooshed' in the molding process. I spent another week or so on the soldier's backpack and shirt collar. All the while Insun (my boss) has been putting the finishing touches on a beautiful sculpture of two cranes perched on a tall pillar, caught in barbed wire. It is so gorgeous and sad, and the ironic thing is, it is also a WWII memorial. This one for Japanese soldiers, and will eventually stand somewhere in Japan. It is stunning to contemplate that in the same rooms we are creating symbols to express heroism and loss for people on opposite sides of the world, on opposite sides of the same terrible conflict.

I have been doing the wax re-work while I look around for other ways to be helpful. I answer the phone and I've tried to take over mundane stuff from Insun, like dealing with suppliers and making sure there's enough coffee and toilet paper to make it through the week. I have yet to tackle the bookkeeping work I originally told her I'd do for her, as the computer I need is still in John and Insun's bedroom at their home.

Robert and I did something different last night. Our neighbors invited us to go to a '50s dance with them at a local Knights of Columbus hall. It was fun. I even danced a little, but most of the music was what they call "mixes"--little snippets of old songs connected together--and I didn't like that too much. I guess I'd also prefer to dance to the REAL dance music of my generation--"Born to be Wild" and "Sympathy for the Devil" come to mind. It was funny to watch all those old, silver-haired people gyrating around on the dance floor, then to look at MY husband, who is MY age, and realize, "Oh no! Am I the only YOUTHFUL person here?" Then, with a shudder, I remember that I've got silver hair, too. I'VE GOT GRANDMA HOGG HAIR! I'M GRANDMA HOGG! ARGH!!!! (But I also inherited Grandma Hogg lovely skin, so I'm not complining that much.)

It did not help to learn that some symposium of radio stations has recently decided to add songs from the 1980's to their "Golden Oldies" collections.

Speaking of my wild hippie youth, I have recently been contacted by my first big heart-throb, John a/k/a "Fuzzy" Backus. He lives in Florida now, and seems to have come back to his senses after years of following one cultish (is that a word?) group after another. I told him I'd critique a book he's writing. This is a stupid promise, as I have a grant proposal to write for the cat shelter, an arts grant proposal for the foundry, my own books to work on, my Mom's book to promote, my friend Herman's book to edit, and MY CHRISTMAS LETTER to write! Oh well. It's so hard to write or even to concentrate when I feel so adrift with this job stuff. NERVES!!!!

What else? I told you all a long time ago that a story I wrote for a series of books called "Tales From The Sanitarium" was supposed to be published. This was connected with the photo shoot Robert and I did at the Byberry Mental Institution in Philadelphia a few years ago. I kept being told and told again that it was coming out "next month," and then nothing. We have just received notice that there will be a special publication party and an exhibition about making the book (a movie/slide show) in New York City in March, and we are invited. Sounds like fun, except the announcement/invitation lists the stories in the first book, and mine is NOT one of them! Oh well. I will try to attach a photo of the cover of the book. I am the TEENSY-WEENSY little white dot in the far right corner of the uppermost photo. I think Robert is behind me, but you probably won't be able to make him out.

I'll also try to upload some pictures of other things. Maybe some of our kitties (who wouldn't get out of our room and kept Robert up ALL NIGHT) and if they aren't too dark, a picture of the dance last night, or maybe a picture of my kitchen window or my new office, who knows?

Twerp used to be my Mom's cat and now he lives here, getting fatter and fatter every day. He is so fat and round, in fact, that when he tries to clean his little pink butt, he rolls back and just keeps on rolling, like a beach ball. He has to roll himself up against a wall or something in order to do any really effective cleaning. Without going into nauseating detail, I will tell you that this prime situation doesn't occur often enough. I have started to refer to Twerp's anatomy as "the Black Hole of Cat-butta." I tell him all the time how he should try to be more fastidious, but he doesn't care.

In the morning Twerp runs downstairs with me to the kitchen, where he falls over in a dramatic fashion and acts like Scarlet O'Hara on her lounge, dying from lack of sustenance. Then I lay out a line of four kitty treats (little brown things shaped like rabbits, about the size of my little fingernail) and he gobbles them up. This one morning, when he threw himself down like that, a crusty bit of matter from his nether regions fell off. I told him how disgusting and awful that was, but he ignored me and went after the kitty crunchies. Then he accidentally went toward his own personal "crunchy," and -- my goodness! You never saw such a dirty look from a cat! He absolutely thinks I tried to play a trick on him, and since then, he won't eat kitty treats! He just pats at them, and glowers at me.

Cats are a hoot.

Write soon. I am planning on a four-day trip to Michigan around St. Patrick's Day. I'm looking forward to seeing Mom. Maybe I'll see some of you then, too.


F and R

Sunday, February 3, 2008

My (literally) HOT job prospect...

These are life-size waxes of some sculptures, cut into pieces for casting:

This is where I work:

This is a statue (about eight feet tall) of Martin Luther King that has just been completed.

I think this is Mary Magdalene...

This is John and Cornelio, pouring a casting. Watching this is like watching a baby being born.

February 3, 2008

Robert and I have been trying to get to know more of our neighbors by throwing dinner parties. I planned a big Jamaican spread for eight people. I made fancy invitations and sent them out. I spoke to everybody to remind them. I spent a few weeks tracking down ingredients. I made pumpkin soup, callaloo, goat curry, rice and peas ("coat of arms"), and jerk chicken, as well as a tropical fruit salad for dessert. We bought Red Stripe beer and made a huge quantity of rum punch. We had Bob Marley on the stereo. I did the whole thing, dressing up the table with my blue fishy dishes and a centerpiece made out of ceramic crabs scuttling around the "coral reef" that was my soup tureen, amid little candles nestled in glass bowls of salt. I tell you, Martha Stewart would have fallen to her knees and wept tears of pride.

Our neighbors Insun Kim and John Maffucci called to say they would be happy to come, but because of another commitment, they'd have to leave early. I wasn't sure from the message whether they expected to eat dinner with us or not. I decided to play that one by ear. Early on the day of the party, Carolyn Carroll called to say she thought she might have pneumonia, and begged off. Robert and I ran around calling other pals with late invitations. Roy thought he and Anne could make it, but he had to wait until she got back from a shopping trip.

Cocktails were at six and dinner at seven. When NOBODY had showed up by 7:15, I realized it was going to be up to ME to drink a gallon of rum punch all by myself. At 7:20, right after I'd dismantled my beautiful tablescape, John and Insun knocked on our door, ravenously hungry and bearing bottles of wine.

We had a great time, and actually, I was glad not to have other people there who would have diffused the conversation. We found out that John is a professor of metal casting at a college on Long Island. He and Insun had both worked at Tallix, Beacon's world-famous art foundry, which closed its doors about a year ago. Insun is a Korean-born metal sculptor and metal-finishing expert. They explained that they had just opened a small foundry in Beacon and were in desperate need of a bookkeeper, a general office manager, and just about every other kind of employee you can imagine. I told Insun about my visit to Tallix with my brother and sister-in-law, shortly after we moved to Beacon. I had seen the women calmly scratching away at wax models, and I'd wondered then if I would enjoy doing that.

She said, "Come on!" So for about a week now I have worked at the foundry, trying it on for size. I have purchased books about how to be a bookkeeper. Those of you who know about my math skills are probably reading this with bulging eyeballs at this point. (Yeah, I don't know what 7 times 7 is. Yeah, I transpose numbers all the time and can't write a phone number down correctly to save my life. Yeah, if you show me the number five and ask me what it is, I'll tell you it's four. So what?) I'm looking at various small-business payroll software programs. I am doing this even though John and Insun will not be ready for me to even look at that stuff for about another week. In the meantime, I've been trying my hand at wax reworking.

Reworking is part of the process of making bronze statues. The artists usually make their originals out of clay or wax (or wood, or recycled popsicle sticks) and have a rubber mold made of it. If the sculpture is very complicated or very large, there will be several molds. The molds come to the foundry where a copy of the piece is made out of a brittle red wax. It is the reworker's job to reassemble the original work out of wax. All of the joins have to be smoothed away, and any distortion corrected. This is done with tools that have been heated over a torch. The reworker has to be able to gauge the temperature of the wax and choose the right tool (from a chisel or a saw down to a dental pick) to recreate the artist's intent and the original texture of the area that has to be repaired.

When the reworking is completed, the artists come in to check the reproduction and make sure it is exactly what they want, making marks where they want the reworkers to change things. Then, when it is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, the reworkers cut the whole thing up again with saws! They have to do this because there are limits on the amount of hot bronze can be poured at one time. There are about forty other steps that have to be taken to make a ceramic mold of the wax copy, with supports and channels (called gating) for the molten bronze to flow through, before the metal is poured into the mold. When the bronze castings are made the metal finishers, like Insun, do to the metal the same thing the reworkers did with the wax, except they do it with grinders and welding torches.

It is ungodly expensive to cast a statue--it can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars--but if you saw all these steps in the process, you would understand why. Both Insun and John are very well known in the artistic community and are up to their ears in work offers. But the foundry has only been operational since November, and it's very much still in the start-up stage. There are painful gaps between the time a mold comes in and the finished project goes out (and the payment comes in). Unfortunately, as artists who have been completely focused on the operational aspects of this new business, John and Insun are at sea about things like what documents have to be handed over to the accountant. I am at sea about all these things also, but I have been advised that my IQ is above-average. I OUGHT to be able to figure out numbers and IRS forms--don't you think? I grew up in a family of artists who are terrible business people. I should be able to handle this rollercoaster better than other people, don't you think?

In the meantime, I've been doing wax reworking. I have been working on a set of plaques by a New York artist who has a thing for octopi and gigantic penises (give me a break--who doesn't?). I have been working on cute little robots by the artist Tom Otterness. I have been making little softball-playing girls by some famous artist whose name I've forgotten but if you saw her stuff, you'd recognize it, and a beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary. I have been doing the rework (and enjoying it!--it is the most zen job I've ever had) but I assumed I was just marking time while the Mafuccis get ready for me to do the office job. But Insun told me I am really talented as a sculptor--much better than most people--and she is thrilled with the quality of my work! This is stunning to me.

So the question is, what should I do? I constantly make lists of pros and cons in my head. The cons are: The longer I am away from a law-related job, the harder it will be to get one again, and law jobs pay better. Art money stinks like rotten potatoes. With this particular job, there is a great possibility of unpaid paydays occurring from time to time, at least for a while. The hours are long--7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., plus all the weekend hours I can handle. On the other hand, these are the same hours Robert spends at his job, plus his commute. My commute is a whopping 1.8 miles each way; I could easily walk it in the summer.

Other cons are that this is a DANGEROUS place to work. Fire and horrible burns are a constant threat. Wax smoke is lethal (Did you know that? Even candle wax), as is about every other fume caused by, and chemical used during, the foundry process. The ex-Tallix workers tell the most hair-raising stories. "Remember when that guy knocked over his wax pot and the whole floor was on fire, and everybody jumped on top of their tables, screaming?" "Remember when that guy accidentally poured molten bronze into his boot and burned all his toes off?" And then they laugh!

The pros are that it is a privilege to be a part of someone's grand artistic vision, making something that may inspire thousands if not millions of people and last hundreds of years. (Of course, during the Civil War they had to melt down all the monuments to make cannonballs, but really, in ten months, how many more wars can Our Exalted Ruler start?) It is also interesting to use a process that has been used since the Egyptians, and inspiring to work with such talented people. In addition, it's nice to know that I'm actually GOOD at doing something that's challenging and FUN!

Damn!!! It's a real dilemma!

So that's the deal. That's where I am. I'll post some pictures I took this weekend. I'll show you where I work and some pictures of John and Cornelio and Doug pouring a cast. I'll show you some of the sculptures (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and a madonna that will end up in a church in Colorado) AND MAYBE YOU CAN TELL ME WHAT TO DO!!!!!! ARGH!!!!

Other than that, Robert and I are groovy. I am hoping I'll be able to make a trip to Michigan again soon, to see my mother. I miss her so much, and it is so frustrating for me not to be able to just pick up the phone and talk to her. I am hoping our friends Colleen and Brian will make a visit this winter and that they will be able to bring me more boxes of papers from Mom's house to sort through, and also a gigantic dollhouse that my folks made. God knows where I'll put it. (But truly, God does know these things, so I'm not going to worry about it.)

We're going to see Robert's mom and sister this next weekend. I miss them! I am looking forward to it!

Be groovy!

F and R