Frozen in Time, for dad

“Would you please donate a piece of art to our benefit auction?” I had skipped the past two years, and so just said yes, inwardly wondering how on earth I was going to squeeze it in. But the creation of this artist book became a rock in my life. I looked forward to the hours spent working on it. It was not a burden, or yet another thing on the list. It was my lover, my illicit escape from making dinner and stacking wood. It absorbed me and consumed me, and it gave my father back to me.

This work on this artist book flowed, speeding in some places, slowing, taking detours, then gathering momentum. It carried me along with it. The idea was already surfacing to my consciousness as I hung up the phone. Museum, fossils, my unstrung amber necklace, wood, it just emerged, developed, led me, as I sketched it out and set to work. And my dad was at my side every step of the way.

I Dremelled out cavities in the surface of the wooden pages, with the thick board clamped firmly in a borrowed vise. And I remember being 10 years old in my dad’s shop, helping him, so he let me believe. “Tighten this way,” he demonstrated, “feel resistance, but don’t tighten too fast or hard or it will crack.” I heard him as I tested how secure my board for this book was. “Put your goggles on.” says dad. And 40 years later I do.

I remember the care he took to be neat. I look at the little table I have set up in the living room for this project, and get out boxes, one for the tools, one for the watercolors, another for the ammonites and amber. The glues are lined up to the left, and my stack of reference books are on the floor to my right. “Always work in stages” I remember him saying when we made a wooden chuckwagon style kitchen for our camping trips. I was anxious to see the whole thing, but we made sections at a time, and then put them together, and then there it was, done, without my even noticing we were nearing the end.
And so I approach this book, not thinking about the whole project, which was unquestionably larger than I should have made it. First I do the watercolors for the jewelry. That, and nothing more.

“Mistakes happen” I hear dad saying when as a little girl the chisel I am using peels off more than I wanted it to. He takes it from me and chisels off the other side of the pattern. It is different than we planned, but perfectly fine. And so I finish the watercolors, not what I had in mind, less technical, looser, but somehow more appropriate.

He always loved details, miniatures. He had tiny finger planes for smoothing in small spaces. I use a file, it doesn’t work as well, but as I file back and forth I am content, dad is at my side.

I work peacefully into the night. The family is asleep, not even dad in my ear, and I paint ammonites and amber, and am immersed in soft resin and my head spins in perfect spirals.

I begin to put the parts together, using the book press dad made for me from an old cider press. I cut leather hinges, and remember resoling my huraches. Dad had gotten my sisters and I Mexican sandals when he was on a business trip. I had worn mine out, the soles were showing skin. So down to the workshop we went. We found some old leather, and big heavy scissors to cut the soles out. We punched holes with an awl, the shoe firmly (but not too tightly,) clamped in a vise. And I stitched the new sole on.

As I work on the necklace for this book, I punch holes into copper, and feel my dad guiding my hand as he did when I used his awls on my hurachas. I tighten the press on the book and leather, and turn my attention to another piece of this book. How to make the copper covers of the accordion fold book of the necklace close. I look at mini copper hinges online. Too ornate and out-of-character. I consider punching more holes, having wire wrap all the way around, twist together and wrap back. Too complicated. Then I think I have it. Punching a hole in the back and wrapping wire through it, and gluing a small brass bead (a BB from my Red Ryder) to the front for the wire to hook over.

“Walk away if you can’t figure it out. Come back in a day or two,” Dad says in my head, as he said to me many years ago. And I come back with a simple solution, a bendable wire closure attached with leather.

“Now you’re thinking.” I hear dad exclaim. “that’s really using your head.” And at ten years old, fourteen years old, forty and fifty-four, those words always made me proud.

I don’t have dad’s awls or vises or pliers or leather needles or mini planes. But I have something better. The book is finished now. I want to do more, make more. I want to keep on creating.

Thank you, dad.


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