finding the motherlode

– mining for a vein of truth in the stuff that matters –

Tag: art


I have more dreams hanging in my closet than anywhere else. Take the teal velvet jacket with the pewter filigree buttons. Snug on first try but not unforgivably tight, its vintage feel and slashed price tag cost me a slight rise in adrenaline, while promising kindness for having rescued it from an otherwise loveless attack of thumbs at the circular rack. Plus, I needed something dressy. Those four-inch cuffs and satin floral lining confirmed this was it.

Truth is, I’ve worn it once. Second time doesn’t count. So it hangs on the rod to remind me of the nature of hopes and dreams.

Some dreams we chase, only to find out they were never meant to be. Others follow us — the ones that have no goals or direction, but stalk us and hold us hostage, reminding us that they’ve got us just one more day, if only inside the cold, locked storage unit of our minds. I’m not saying those dreams are to keep. Sometimes we need a wake up call to help us embrace reality.

But some dreams we have aren’t meant for us at all. Sure, we may carry them, give them birth even, but only to put up for adoption when time comes due. God ordains the sacrifice, as the purpose is for greater blessing.

Last week I pulled a dream out of its own form of suspended animation. Decided to give it some air, see what would give.

When I began setting up my portable French sketch box easel that had been tucked away in my closet for too many years, my youngest son instinctively knew my actions had something to do with him. “Go get some newspaper,” I said, while puzzling out the easel’s configuration. After we made an adequate floor covering, I set down two rules: “Don’t flick paint on the wall” and “Use more water than you think you’ll need.” After all, they’re water based paints. The easel drawer held my old pad of cold-pressed paper and a sizable collection of Winsor & Newton water colours: Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Antwerp Blue, Ultramarine, Permanent Sap Green, New Gamboge, Yellow Ochre, Burt Sienna, Chinese White, all pigments from a more golden age, some as yet unpierced, and a slew of high-quality brushes, largely unused.

Everything laid out before him, I said, “Go, run and fill up two cans with water!”

“And go find your smock!”

Serendipity has a way of catching people off guard. I needed a minute to dust things off.

Soothing notes of Yo-Yo Ma’s cello set the mood further. I let him be. The afternoon was both an exploration of color and an explosion of ideas. Release from the normal school day routine perhaps being my son’s greatest sense of achievement. His face beamed well into the night.

That Saturday, he attended an all-day art workshop taught by Tim Chambers to learn technique and work with acrylics. After I had picked him up, I noticed he had not only discovered the thrill of creative process but also a new dimension of himself.

Six months before he was born, my husband gave me the honor of naming him Nino Benjamin: little boy; son of my right hand — old enough now to hold a paintbrush to color in his own dreams.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Psalm 139: 13-14

“Old World Village,”  8 x 8 acrylic on paper,  Nino DeBarros

another way of knowing

I had a simple impulse to cut into the earth.

-Maya Lin


WITH NO PARAMETERS but her own sensibilities, Maya Lin’s work is born of an internal permission to use elusive, massive things — the curvature of the earth, ocean tides, and horizon lines put to scale. If lines don’t exist, she creates them. If they do, she moves them. The medium is her servile student while she works from a place somewhere deep within. Operating on the subliminal, she intuits by assigning the work as her muse.

She is artist, consultant, middleman, and architect.  Staying true to her vision, her greatest feat.

Whether it be made of water, wood, paper, wire, glass, metal, granite, or the earth itself, she creates forms that would defy all practicality if they were not so stark in beauty and understatement. As a child, she roamed and played for hours in the great outdoors, and her work, as she puts it, is the response to the beauty of the natural world. In all her works, simplicity evokes a certain silence that forces us to look hard and listen.

About herself she once said, “I feel I exist on the boundaries.”

As a Yale undergraduate student of architecture, at 21 she won the competition for the design that is her most famous: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Though aware that winning meant obtaining further approvals at different phases of development, she stepped onto fresh battlegrounds over every decision made about the funded installment. When The Washington Post referred to it as an “Asian Memorial for an Asian War,” a bomb went off between veterans and artist.  Unprepared for the level of politics to which the controversy had soared, she was brought before a Congressional panel where a firestorm broke out against her for having a vision she was unwilling to change. They felt they had a right to control it, make it their own. A flag, combat boot, statue of a soldier- these were acceptable icons. But that is not what the artist envisioned. She could not repent of what was not sin.

Her art was the offering.

The young Chinese-American held to her vision, and on May 15, 1982 took a nation to the boundaries as two polished dark gabbro walls were received into the earth to be read as an intimate book of  58,195 names; a public place of refuge where people could remember a most private grief.

“The price of human life in war should always be clearly remembered.”

Her only goal.


The purpose of art is manifold.  It soothes. It lifts. It confronts. It informs. And it tests the minds of the reasonable and disarms the proud. CIVA curator James Stambaugh once said:

“Art will always be another way of knowing and that makes it one of the last frontiers of human exploration.”

One way or another, artists suffer for their art. They are often misunderstood. Genuine artists don’t create for fame, money, or to please others. They’re not concerned about acquiring real estate on some gallery wall. They create to prevent a form of internal combustion if they don’t. Art is something they must do.

So I listen to artists who have suffered. I listen to their reasons and discoveries. So often, they are the unsung heroes of another language altogether.

Art will always be another way of knowing.

Making the Memorial, Maya Lin

USA Today article, November 8, 2012 

Maya Lin’s Systematic Landscapes

Maya Lin’s more recent work