Recycled Puppets

Susan Bass Marcus

Puppet artist, fiction writer, and former museum professional Susan Bass Marcus has made more than 100 puppets, most for performance. She incorporates found material, she says, because ‘paint, canvas, and other art supplies cost a lot. Besides, it’s more fun to re-purpose stuff.’

Like an alchemist, or a magical character in a fairy tale, Ms. Marcus makes gold from straw, jewels from stones, treasures from trash. She recycles.

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Susan Bass Marcus is a native Chicagoan who makes her home in the city’s South Loop. In 2015, she published her fantasy novel Malevir: Dragons Return. Her stories have been published in After Hours Magazine (print), Bewildering Stories (bewilderingstories.com), Horrorseek (http://www.horrorseek.com/home/horror/darkfire/ficarch.html), and Fictitious http://www.fictitiousthejournal.org/).

Featured Image by Edward Gorey

Lightning

Sam Florsheim

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The image is a section of a plate glass sliding door after it was struck by lightning.

Sam Florsheim is a writer and photographer. He lives in Wisconsin.

©Sam Florsheim, 2014

Landfill Harmonic

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Kids living in a slum built on a landfill in Paraguay create The Recycled Orchestra. Unable to afford traditional instruments they instead create all of their instruments from trash. When their story goes viral they tour the world, finally realizing their wildest dream: to play with the heavy metal band, Megadeth. The film is a […]

via Doing More With Less — Ohm Sweet Ohm

Little Martha

Recycled: Found Narratives

The story is disputed, as stories often are. And a song without lyrics…well, the story will rush in and, with the help of its listener, tell itself, and it will be both different and the same to everyone who hears it. It can’t be bothered with the facts.

Or, rather, it will take facts and make with them whatever it pleases. Stories want to be told, and heard, and passed along and told and sung and heard again, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to ensure that, seeking out those who have the craft and skill to get them out into the world and nagging away at them until they surrender, sit down, hammer it out, set it loose. And as often as not, even as they take a circuitous and often ‘unfactual’ path, even as we might never get back to the strict truths underlying their origins or inspiration…

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Little Martha

The story is disputed, as stories often are. And a song without lyrics…well, the story will rush in and, with the help of its listener, tell itself, and it will be both different and the same to everyone who hears it. It can’t be bothered with the facts.

Or, rather, it will take facts and make with them whatever it pleases. Stories want to be told, and heard, and passed along and told and sung and heard again, and they’ll do whatever they have to do to ensure that, seeking out those who have the craft and skill to get them out into the world and nagging away at them until they surrender, sit down, hammer it out, set it loose. And as often as not, even as they take a circuitous and often ‘unfactual’ path, even as we might never get back to the strict truths underlying their origins or inspiration, stories arrive, eventually, at something greater than the sum of their parts.

Here are some facts: Martha Ellis was a little girl who died of peritonitis, just shy of her 13th birthday, in 1836. She was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia. Duane Allman was a young man, a founding member of the Allman Brothers Band, who died in a motorcycle accident in 1971, at the age of 24. He was buried at Rose Hill Cemetery in Macon, Georgia. The Allman Brothers’ best-known album, Eat A Peach, was released soon afterward and dedicated to his memory. Little Martha, a short instrumental piece that guitarist Leo Kottke has called “possibly the most perfect guitar song ever written,” was written by Allman and recorded for the album in October of 1971, only weeks before his death.

Duane Allman and his bandmates (one of them his brother, Gregg; another, bassist Berry Oakley, who would also die in a motorcycle accident not long after Duane did; he, too, is buried at Rose Hill), often wandered through Rose Hill Cemetery. What were they doing there? What a weird place to hang out.  Because stories hate a vacuum, possible explanations rush in: it was a quiet place to think, compose, arrange, escape the crush of new fame, get wasted, be alone with a woman, any or all of the above. And maybe the dead exerted a pull on them they’d have been at a loss to explain: one of the band’s other best-known songs, In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed, written by guitarist Dickey Betts, also took its name from a woman buried at Rose Hill.

It’s an arresting image: a group of most likely scruffy, most likely stoned, assuredly brilliant young musicians stepping over the threshold between the ’60’s and 70’s, riding the first giddy wave of success (their first couple of albums had tanked but their most recent, the live release At Fillmore East, had put them on the map, and Eat a Peach would assure they remained there) wandering separately or together through a graveyard. They stop occasionally to kneel and squint at names carved into headstones: women’s names that maybe conjure melodies or lines of lyrics. A young man, fingers numb and calloused from constant playing, gazes up at a little stone girl, reads the poignant epitaph, and the notes come floating up, fingers to brain, brain back down to fingers by way of the heart and gut. Music has sprung from stranger sources.

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Our Baby
She was love personified and her memory is a sweet solace by day,
and pleasant dreams by night to Mamma, Papa,
brothers and sisters. We will meet again
in the sweet bye and bye.

But the story is disputed, as stories often are. It is said that Betts and Allman insisted the songs ‘were named for one person, while actually being about someone else,’  written for, to, and about women with whom they were involved, women fortunate enough to have survived childhood, fortunate enough to still be living and in love with *musicians*. Duane is said to have nicknamed his girlfriend Martha, a riff on Martha Washington, because of the old-fashioned clothing she favored; Dickey Betts gave Elizabeth’s name to the woman he loved who had another boyfriend, one of Dickey’s closest friends, to protect everyone involved.

Okay; fair enough.

It is also said that Duane Allman claimed that he received Little Martha‘s melody whole in a dream, a gift from Jimi Hendrix. He visited Allman as he slept, plucked it out for him on a hotel bathroom sink-in that peculiar reality common to dreams where what is absurd is utterly ordinary-using the faucet as a fretboard.  Hendrix had died only a year earlier, and it stands to some sort of reason that he might not have been finished making music yet, that visiting the dreams of another gifted musician was his way of passing that gift along, making sure the story didn’t end with him.

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©Gered Mankowitz

Which of these stories is true?  Which a lie?  Is it maybe just a little too narratively perfect, a little too symmetrically sentimental, to find the song’s origins in a young man’s wistful gaze at the grave of a dead child, a man who would be sharing the ground with her only a short while later?  Does the welter of conflicting accounts muddy up the picture a little, and is that a good or a bad thing, story- and life-wise?  Some assert, others deny, and on and on it goes. Does that make the account more plausible, or less?  Does the fact that Allman’s real ‘little Martha’, after his death, sued for control of his estate curdle the purity of the song that bears her name? Is it futile to try to square faulty reality with perfectly crafted art, or to make private creation publicly understood, to explain how and why we tell a story, sing a song, paint a picture? Maybe it was none of these stories; maybe it was all of them.

In the end, though, who cares? We have the song, and the song, once we’ve heard it, is ours to sing (or hear again and again in our heads, often to the point of distraction) in our turn. We can hear its melody any way we like. The dead speak amongst themselves, they speak to the living; the living speak to the dead and to one another. The story is the conversation, picked up and told and retold by those who follow. And we’re all trying to figure out the same thing.

A little girl died in 1836, of an illness easily treated today by the antibiotics that didn’t arrive on the scene until 1928 (the year my father was born), far too late to save her.  My third son fell gravely ill with a similar illness in 2007; he was promptly cured and released from the hospital after the most harrowing week of his and his parents’ life. A young man who had only begun to express his brilliance (he and the band were best known for their skill at onstage improvisation, which often carried their live performances, to the delight of their fans, into wee hours that rang with extended instrumental solos) died after crashing his motorcycle, which he of course was driving too fast, into a lumber truck.  He’d assumed he was more indestructible than anyone is, or maybe it’s only that death is something that no one, particularly a young man, can imagine. My middle son, at one time an ardent guitarist and with, on many occasions, a similar tendency to skate along the edges of profound risk, once texted me a YouTube video of one of the Allman Brothers’ epic performances, dazzled by their talent and endurance.  I wish I could tell you that he was 24; the little shiver that might run through my reader is worth a lie or two. But he wasn’t.  He was 16.

Did the fact that there are stories, and music, help me as I faced down horrible days when I feared I might lose my children? Maybe. I don’t know. But what else did I have?

Lorrie Moore once said, of the fact that we will all, someday, lose the people we love and with them their gifts and loving presence, ‘this is not acceptable. This is a design flaw.’  We are left to do with this what we can. So we tell stories with words and music and paintings and sculpture and film, and we visit others in their dreams, passing them along. It’s all we have. It’s the best we can do.

Duane Epitaph

Duane Allman, November 20, 1946-October 29, 1971

©Melinda Rooney, 2017

Comme un Enfant

‘Quand j’étais enfant, je dessinais comme Raphaël, mais il m’a fallu toute en vie pour apprendre à dessiner comme un enfant.’
(‘When I was a child, I drew like Raphael, but it took me a whole lifetime to learn how to draw like a child.’)

He is perhaps our best-known modern artist, a master of nearly every medium, the founder, with fellow artist Georges Braque, of Cubism*, and in addition to never having been called an asshole,  it appears he was also an inveterate recycler.

*early-20th-century avant-garde art movement that revolutionized European painting and sculpture…considered the most influential art movement of the 20th century. Thanks, Wikipedia! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cubism

« Picasso en est le roi et le roi des chiffonniers. Il fouille des poubelles et fait de ses trouvailles une admirable statue de chèvre. »
-Jean Cocteau
(‘Picasso is king there [at Vallauris, a commune in Côte d’Azur in southeastern France] and the king of scavengers.  He rummages in rubbish bins, and out of his finds he makes a wonderful sculpture of a goat.’)

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Pablo Picasso, The She-Goat, 1950 

… a wicker basket body, a palm leaf back, two ceramic flowerpots for the udder, and other metal elements:…[the] objects were found in fields near Picasso’s Vallauris studio.
-http://www.pablopicasso.org

He used everything: cardboard, sheet metal, clay pots, chicken wire, nails, screws, discarded tools, wood scraps, plaster.

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Pablo Picasso, Little Owl, 1951-52

“I only like objects without value, waste, and if the things that cost nothing were expensive, I would have been ruined long ago.”

Who knew? Well, probably a lot of people who know more art history than I do. I know Guernica, of course, and the guitar player of his Blue Period, and of course the larger genre of Cubism, which I have to sheepishly admit never did much for me. Its essential motive and method are fascinating: the systematic dismantling of the familiar-a woman, a guitar-into moving constituent parts, essential elements and shapes that are then placed in a multi-dimensional universe, reassembled in such a way that it is viewable from every perspective…at the same time. I have to confess I found the idea more compelling than the resulting work; it resonated in my brain but not in my gut.

But I’d never seen any of his ‘recycled’ pieces.  I saw them a few months ago at the Picasso Museum in Paris (http://www.museepicassoparis.fr/en/). These three-dimensional scrap collages filled an entire gallery:

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L’Arroisoir fleuri, Paris, date unknown

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Figure, Boisgeloup-Paris, 1935

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Violon et bouteille sur une table, Paris, 1915

These spoke to me in a way his later sculptures and paintings didn’t. I guess they’d have come as no surprise to me had I thought more carefully about the kind of artist he was, and how he was drawn to every material and medium he came across: clay, string, bronze, canvas, paint, wood, even beams of light. I stood in front of them for a long time, trying to hear; it was like eavesdropping on people saying something important in another room: urgent and out of earshot at the same time.

And then I saw these two images, a photograph and a painting of Jacqueline Roque, his second wife, to whom he was married for the last 20 years of his life, and ‘the muse of Picasso’s old age…for 17 of those years she was the only woman he painted.’ (Richard Dormenthttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3610082/Picassos-saddest-love.html) They were not side by side in the galleries (in fact they were in two separate rooms) but I placed them that way in my own little mental gallery, and something clicked:

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Jacqueline Roque

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Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline aux mains croisées, 1954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(In the gallery in which the painted portrait hangs, there are also dozens of scribbled studies of Jacqueline’s ‘mains croisées’ [crossed hands]; he was not going to quit until he got them exactly right. My few lame attempts at drawing taught me that the single most difficult thing to draw is, ironically, the instrument with which we draw: the hand.)

Fascinated with the elements of things, the origins, the essential and basic shapes that add up to a single piece, found or made, Picasso assembled complete objects out of found things, discarded trash, fashioning a coherent whole out of scattered parts. In his recycled art he found and added and accrued and assembled, created things of the world much as we might imagine an Artist-God would.  And yet, at the same time, from one piece to the next he’d flip the process, confronting an assembled whole-in this case the person of his breathtaking wife, all of her parts in seamless harmony (their personal life, I gather, looked somewhat different)-and setting about dismantling her, reducing the whole back to an assemblage of primitive shapes, reordering them, and pinning them to a canvas, a kind of artistic dissection followed by the assembly of something entirely new, yet eerily familiar (take a close look at the face in the photograph, then the face in the portrait).

He played with everything as a child would, or, rather, like an adult aged backward to childhood, bringing the wisdom and perception and skill of an aging man along with him: building a tower, knocking it down again, the result in each case an image of the essences of tower, blocks, building and destroying.  Simple to complex, complex back to simple; from disorder to order and back again, to arrive at a new order, a new way of seeing.

I’ve never been able to articulate with a precision that satisfies me what exactly an artist is, or does. But seeing the work of an artist I had, until now, never been dazzled or deeply moved by struck me silent; I stood before it and marveled in much the same way I did when I’d sneak into my young sons’ rooms to spy on them as they played.  It felt like I’d come maybe one little step closer to understanding that the finished piece is not where the art lies; it is in the artist and his or her process and play: the marriage of craft to wisdom, thing to idea, unknown to known; experience to wonder, whimsy, inquiry and kinetic movement (these little objects practically vibrated), the re-purposing of scattered things and abstract forms.  Artists are children and adults at once, and feel a pure and full engagement with the things of the world.  They get their hands on those things and make  something that didn’t exist before: a new thing  born of the playful and deadly serious bond between people and the pieces of their world.