When my sixteen-year-old son took a sculpture class at the Goggleworks studio in Reading, PA, I was taken back to learn that they had no portrait model. The poor students were expected to take turns and pose for each other. “That’s ridiculous,” I said. “They paid for a class to sculpt, not model.” I had to sit somewhere and read and write and wait for the class to be over anyway, so I offered to model for all the students. After all, I had been a professional life drawing model for artists for 25 years and although I had retired, I could hold my head still for a few hours once a week.
Bryce created a clay bust which looked remarkably like his mother. I told him he should take it to college with him so I am always with him; but perhaps turn me around to face the wall when he brings his girlfriend home for the night.
More than ten years later, my husband gets a commission to carve a wooden Homeless Jesus for a church. The hunched over figure would be dressed in a hooded robe, with just a hand clutching the fabric closed and his bare feet revealing the holes where he was nailed to the cross. Todd gets a little nervous when he’s challenged to this extent so I ordered some sculpture guides on carving fabric and drapery and offered to sit for him.
Out in the carving yard, Todd brings me a thick insulated hoodie and a blanket to wrap around me. I plug in ear protectors and proceed to sit on a small pillow on a metal stool. I am very hot in a matter of minutes. It is in the 80’s. He instructs me to hunch over more radically and hang my head, putting my neck in immediate pain. The close proximity of the chainsaw fumes shooting right in my face gag me and make me fearful of asphyxiation. Sawdust and chunks fly and hit my blanket and my face. Before long I need a break and stand up. He shuts off his saw and looks aghast. “I was in the middle of carving the blanket,” he says. “So, carve it another way when you start again. That’s what an artist has to do when a model with drapery takes a break.”
When I resume my position, I watch him by shifting my eyeballs and not my head and see him running back and forth from one side of me to his sculpture. He sticks the tip of the saw under the neck to hollow out the wood and I see it kicking back. “Take your time,” I yell. You’re going to get hurt.”
“I feel like I have to rush,” he replies. “If you can’t do this, I’ll make a clay model and work from that.”
I told him that his learning curve will take weeks to learn how to sculpt clay. It’s not easy. I told him to just do his best. He’s not Michelangelo and to take some liberty with making the drapery somewhat abstract.
He comes over to his model and grabs the edge of my blanket and yanks it roughly. “Be more gentle! That’s attached to me!”
“Just forget it,” he says. “If my client doesn’t like it, I’ll cut it up for firewood.”
“You’re ridiculous,” I tell him.
I know he’s just insecure about his ability to carve a clothed figure. It’s his first. It was the same when he first carved a dog and a car!
Todd does not like any learning curve. He likes to know how to do something before he even tries. It was the same when he learned how to drive stick the first time- up hill and in reverse. Or swimming. Or how to steer a canoe. He is a fast learner but just because he is a man, that does not mean that he was born knowing innately how to do all these skills he thinks he should automatically know how to do. (I don’t really get that thinking. I think it has to do with personal expectations. Mine are quite a bit lower for myself.)
The same thing happened with his new smart phone and the Square that I bought him so he can take credit card payments at his chainsaw carving events. He didn’t want to learn. I made him practice over and over again, taking $1 from one account to the next. He got pretty good at it but when he went to his next event, no swipes took. Back home, I asked him to demonstrate for me and he pushed the edge of the credit card across slow as molasses. “You need to swipe it at the same speed as when you buy gas at the pump.” We practiced some more and the next event, he happily raked in $800 worth of sales. “See, you can be taught.”
Next skill was learning to taking a photo on his new phone so he could send it to a potential client. He had trouble and didn’t want to learn it and so accused me, “You don’t want to do anything for me anymore.”
“Oh dear God,” I said. “I am trying to teach you new skills. Of course I will help you if you can’t do something but this is something you can learn to do.”
We had a little to-do with his aversion to technology a few years back when it came to communicating with a client out in Michigan. There was some discretion on prices and the check he mailed Todd was missing a few hundred dollars. The client kept typing to my smart phone, in e-mails, text messages, and Messenger on FB. He got annoyed that he had to communicate THROUGH the wife.
He said in a huff, “Am I communicating with the carver or with his wife because I am used to communicating with the carver.”
I put him in his place and said, “If you insist on communicating through technology, you’re going to have to deal with the wife. I am an author. I am not the chainsaw carver’s perfect secretary. Call the carver ON THE LAND LINE!”
Of course, after 35 years of marriage, we both have our skills and our jobs and we help one another or we do it for each other because it is easier for that person. But I can’t be at his carving festivals, 4 hours away and no one carries an abundance of cash. No one writes checks either and everyone practically, pulls out their plastic credit card whenever they want to buy something. If Todd wants to be an artist and wants to sell his work away from home, he HAS to learn to use his Square.
I think on some level, Todd thinks that he is selling out- buying into technology and leaving behind a simplier life. But you can have one foot in each world and you need to if you want to make a living this way. He doesn’t want to but he does want to. He loves to carve and we don’t need dozens of carved wooden animals on our porch like a zoo. They need to be sold. He is hugely prolific. He carves and sells about 150 pieces a year. The last carving event he went to, the first three sales were with cards and he was very happy his wife taught him how to use his Square and he could take their money. Sometimes, in order to live the life you imagine MOST OF THE TIME, you have to dip your toe into that other more complicated life you spend most of your time avoiding. And then retreat back.
And I can sit in for Homeless Jesus and, like Jesus (hee hee) I can even take some abuse because I know he doesn’t really mean it and he’s just struggling. I do get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. I’ll take him out for dinner with his Homeless Jesus sale since I manage all the money besides do his electronic communicating for him. But perhaps those days are numbered too as he takes on more skills, albeit going down kicking and screaming.