Monday, September 16, 2013

Quiet pleasures

When back in 1979 I first moved to Seattle, my number-one favorite destination in the Pacific Northwest was the Washington coast, especially the La Push area, and after that, the San Juan Islands. I've spent a lot of time in those places over the decades, but a couple of other places have been edging their way into my heart, particularly the Columbia Gorge, which straddles a good stretch of the Washington-Oregon border. The Gorge possesses a stark beauty that the many dams that have been foisted onto the river haven't begun to diminish. Its pleasures, for me, are of the quiet sort. And interestingly, as one moves away from the Columbia River (north or south, back into the Cascades), the climate quickly shifts and the land moves from scrubby chaparral to lush Pacific Northwest forest. I think I intuitively understand why such pleasures failed to draw me when I was younger, but I can't easily put that understanding into words. If I were a poet, I think I'd give it a shot. Seems like that's the sort of thing poetry can address without rendering the subject dull and labored-- which I suspect my attempt to write about it in prose would inevitably be.

When I spend time in the Columbian Gorge, I almost always visit the museum at Maryhill (which has a winery associated with it-- wineries being as thick on the ground in the Columbian Gorge as they are in Sonoma, California). During my visit the week before last, I found, in the museum's sculpture park, a sculpture of a horse that evoked, for me, a sort of Wild West Steampunk aesthetic.

Dixie Jewett's sculpture, titled Merriweather (2011), was constructed from scrap metal-- specifically welded metal, wheels, and gears. According to the placard accompanying the sculpture, the artist specializes in larger-than-lifesize horses. I generally think of Steampunk aesthetic as all shiny brass and polished wood powered by steam and lubricated by springs and gears, but the materials in Jewett's horse evoke mechanized locomotion shaped to look like a horse. Hmm. Maybe this is more an 18th- rather than 19th-Century conceit-- pre-steam rather than steampunk, when mechanized creatures in Enlightenment circles were all the rage. (I don't know that anyone other than E.T.A. Hoffman ever wrote about those.) Was such an evocation the artist's intention? Probably not. The materials she used were probably chosen for their aesthetic rather than associational qualities. But the image she has created engages my imagination, and I delight in that evocation nonetheless.

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