Art and Life
Stupa #48 September 2013
In the month before the September 2013 flood, I had begun to paint “invisible” stupas that are based on a pilgrimage site called Siwatsal in Tibet. As I wrote about my exhibition of small stupa paintings held in Boulder during summer-fall, the stupa is an image about death, veneration, and power in nature. Stupas exist in most Buddhist cultures of Asia and have migrated around the world. Essentially, the stupa is a reliquary, not unlike medieval vessels for a saint’s relics, for it often holds the ashes and remains of a holy figure. In ancient Tibet—a land of altitude and bitter cold, snow and wind—stupas were sometimes constructed in the landscape in order to quell natural forces.
Prior to the flood, I made a small marble maquette of the 5-foot tall stupa I had planned to carve this year. Unfortunately, I never took a photograph of that sculptural model. An exquisite 600 pound block of marble for the central section of the stupa waited in my stone yard next to the meditation cabin, while the maquette graced the interior space. All of this stone went downstream, as we say in Jamestown – to date, none of it has been found in the remaining piles of debris.
I ache sometimes when I reflect about this loss. It is not uncommon for people to use the phrase “written in stone” when they mean that something is permanent. And my own stone work is inspired by carvings at the Samothracian sanctuary in Greece and other historic sites in Turkey. At Samothrace, the only reason we know that women were involved in the ancient mysteries is that their names were inscribed on stone monuments. I always thought of my own marble texts as having some kind of long-term permanence too; but that naïve belief has been replaced by a much stronger understanding of impermanence as the ground of being.
Change is afoot at our home in Jamestown. The massive excavator in the background of this photography is digging a new expensive septic field that will be out of the floodplain. The former studio is under reconstruction as a garage, and it presently holds a large cistern that will be filled with water for the house once all of the plumbing is completed. Inside the house, the floors and walls are still in pieces, but slowly this puzzle is being put back together again.
Work underway in Jamestown, January 8, 2014
I love the magic of this winter landscape: the equipment, the tire tracks, the pile of stones in the foreground that we are saving for landscaping . . . and the rays of colored light that imbue the scene with a touch of mystery. There is more to say about the mysterious invisible stupas, but I will save those reflections for another day.