By Barbara Tam
Look up. Our Adirondack winter night skies are full of many stars, all so unconcerned with me, with you. But there they are, above us. They bewilder. As a young child, I thought snowflakes were stars falling. It seemed a truth to me then. And no one corrected me. At five, it was okay to frame a reality that might not be truly factual, scientific. I sensed there were other truths, but it felt wonderful then just to Wonder. To stand beneath and gaze up, awestruck, and without a need to know the prevailing whys and hows.
But day begins and stars go away. At seven, I pondered this, feeling an emptiness, as if my best friends had left town, as if it was all up to me to go about my day without my celestial companions. I knew better, of course, and trusted that the stars still hung overhead even though I could not see them. I realized then, with a bit of shock, that something could exist right in front of me and not be seen, invisible but wholly present. Perhaps hiding, perhaps not yet revealed. This was enlightening. It felt like a gift, a boundless freedom. As if a door opened onto endless possibilities here on Earth to imagine. To see other things in things. To urge form from the formless. To art.
The world can be a simple place: a ball of clay spins into plate, a slab of wood is planed into table, bread dough rises in a yellow-ware bowl and baked into bread. People can create that which was not previously there. We can imagine a non-existent thing and look around, gather materials to try, work awhile, and...... there it is!
Recently in a ceramics class with kids, I watched them with their lumps of clay. At first, most just pounded it, picked it up, poked holes in it. Watched what the lump did. Thought about it. Then one child would begin to shape it, then another would discover possibilities too. Having learned clay’s properties to a degree, the young clay enthusiasts began to craft objects of their imaginations - pots, tigers, rockets, a flower, all this newness being formed right there on the table. They could see what was not yet there and make it. And this was their real discovery: that they could hitch their intention to a lump of clay and make something else. But then, they are young, when all the world looks like an open door and art is a verb not a noun.
The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”
Barbara Tam has taught visual arts to students from kindergarten through high school in both private and public schools for more than 35 years. She loves being with young artists dreaming big about their creative ideas and working to make those ideas real.
The natural world and its mysteries and intrigues is the focus of Barbara’s own explorative work, primarily in clay, paper, and fiber. She is the co-founder and board chair of Craigardan.