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What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 15

This is the fifteenth installment of the series. The following links will take you to the last episode before this one, and the very first episode of the series:

Read Part 14 ………………………………………………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1

Previously:

Having extended her time at Beit Bat Ya’anah to try to learn more about Szeringka’s elusive protégé, Einer Wayfarer also continues to gather info about the site itself. “Beit Bat Ya’anah means House of the Ostrich’s Daughter,” Amit Chayes had told her. “There used to be an ostrich farm on the site. Ask Moshe sometime – he loves to tell that story.” Since the professor now finds herself dreaming about herds of strong-toed ostriches wandering freely among the jumbled rocks of the Upper Wadi, she resolves to ask Moshe about this part of the site’s history.

Moshe’s tale part 1: hai bar and hospitality

“And so you must imagine the greening of the Wilderness!” Moshe declared to his audience of one. The dim light strings edging the dining tarp barely lit the tables, making the dark only slightly brighter than actual starlight. Equipped with rough but expressive English, Moshe struck Wayfarer as an enthusiastic storyteller, and his usual short temper was nowhere in evidence. The professor supposed it was because he was momentarily playing camp host and not manager. She made a scholarly mental note: the guest-host relationship, well-documented from antiquity, was still thriving in this part of the world. She filed the thought, and caught up with his tale.

“Such heroic years back then, when the Negev was tamed by man’s hand, made fruitful for all the people.” Moshe gestured grandly towards the dark, vacant land wrapped all around the camp. Wayfarer assumed it was a symbolic gesture, meaning other parts of the southern desert: the barren stony flats below the ridge at Beit Bat Ya’anah seemed never to have received the benefits of human efforts, or shown results if they had.

“Kibbutzim like the oasis Yotvata at Ein Radian; Sde Boker, Ben Gurion’s last home,” Moshe continued with his bold pioneer theme. “Revivim raised from the sand – these places and more had sprouted with hope and irrigation and hard work, so that there were vines and olives and lemons, fields and schools and houses, where before there were just barren stones, wild beasts, and serpents.”

And fellaheen villages, and Bedouin tents and herds. Wayfarer’s adamantly impartial brain – the one she applied to her student’s papers, colleagues’ talks at meetings, and her own research – supplied this thought silently. She was interested in facts, complexity, cause and effect, and had no patience for a sanitized one-sided story, whatever the historical setting.  Unaware, Moshe went on.

“But some people saw that though the land was filling with men, their farms, and factories, in another way it was empty. Long before the State, and after rifles became common, hunters shot everything that moved and no one cared. Oryx, ostrich, crocodile, wild ass, cheetah, ibex – they all were gone from the wild places. Many of the places were gone, too: not gone, but improved, no longer wild enough for the animals. So began Hai Bar, the “wildlife” project to put back wild creatures of the Bible into the land, and make national parks and nature preserves for them to live in, like Noah’s Ark on land. At this time the government was paying big money for animals to put back in the desert. It was an expensive project.” He paused, then jabbed one finger decisively into the air.  “And that is where the Greenboim brothers come in.”

“Ah, the Greenboim brothers,” said a voice from the dark. At the edge of the circle of light, Wayfarer could see Wilson Rankle heading toward the mess tent. “Just getting a cola,” he explained.

“The Greenboim brothers?” Wayfarer asked Moshe.

From the tent: “They must have been one slick pair of…”

“Businessmen,” Moshe stated, raising his voice over the unsolicited commentary. “The Greenboims: Danny and Avidor, brothers from Jerusalem, looking for a way to help the country and to make money at the same time. All these wild animals had to be bought from other desert countries then brought here at great expense – do you know how much the Shah of Iran wanted for a fallow deer, or the Saudis for an oryx? Danny and Avidor hated the thought of so many Israeli lirot flying out of the country. They asked why couldn’t the money stay here, why couldn’t some of the animals be raised here? Cheetahs, hyenas, leopards, no thank you, Danny didn’t want to get involved with sharp teeth and claws. But an ostrich, that was another story – just a very big chicken, yes? The eggs and young birds could be sold to the government for the nature preserves, yes? And Avidor had experience – he’d worked in a South African ostrich farm as a young man. So, they decided ostriches. The Greenboims would be rich, and the desert full of big birds again: a solid plan. Now all they needed was land, and after a lot of searching, this dry ridge was where they came, holding a lease from the government. They put up fencing to hold in the birds and keep out the leopards and hyenas…”

Wayfarer’s pale blue eyes opened a little, an eaglish, sharpening look that any of her students would have recognized with unease. “Hold on,” she said, “I thought you said there were no wild animals left.”

Well, maybe still a few,” Moshe acceded. “This part of the Negev is far: now, and more far back then, sof ha’olam smola – at the end of the world go left, yes? That was why the land was available.” Having cleared up the point, and received no further interruption, he continued. “There was water at the old spring house back in those days, and they built the lab building to hold incubators for the eggs and a place to make food for the chicks, and the ostriches multiplied…”

“Just a minute,” the professor broke in again, valuing accuracy even above formulaic narration. “You skipped something. Where did their breeding stock come from, if ostriches were extinct in the wild?”

Moshe didn’t have a chance to answer. Wilson Rankle erupted from the mess tent wielding an opened bottle of cold cola, and stepped into the light. Hat-free, the director’s combover was neatly in place. Below it his forehead was pale and his nose was pink. “Where the hell is Dario?” he demanded.  As usual the question went unanswered. Rankle sputtered, “That idiot forgot to padlock the refrigerator!”

“You padlock the refrigerator?” Wayfarer exclaimed. She recalled having that thought about him her first afternoon in camp, without suspecting its literal truth.

“And the pantry,” grumbled the archæologist. “Only at night, for the same reason we padlock the tool shed. Otherwise the Bedouin boys – natural thieves, the little thugs – will sneak over in the dark and help themselves.”

“More likely the Aussies will,” joked Moshe, winking at Wayfarer. “But really, it’s only to make sure the door stays shut to hold in the cold all night when the generator is off. You can’t lock a tent.” He winked again.

The winks surprised her. To Wayfarer’s further surprise Rankle crossed to their table, swigged his cola, and settled as if he meant to socialize. “I can’t believe Chayes entrusted that pain in the ass with a key… he’s flakier than the girl. And I wouldn’t put it past him to help himself to a midnight snack, either.” He seemed to expect support from Moshe on the topic, but only received a shrug.

“That pain in the ass keeps kashrut okay,” Moshe said pragmatically, “which saves time and water. And saves me from more gray hairs.”

And his cooking is a noticeable improvement,” Wayfarer commented. “Go on, Moshe; you were about to explain where the ostriches came from.”

Rankle said, “From what I’ve heard, they stole them.”

“There was no stealing.” Moshe waved a hand. “And who’s telling this story, I ask you?”

Rankle looked at him, then at Wayfarer, then back at Moshe.  “Pardon me for interrupting this… private party.” He stood. “Just make sure the refrigerator is locked up tight before you go to bed, will you?”

Ken betach, sure okay, if I remember so long,” the camp manager replied, knocking his gray head with weather-beaten knuckles as Rankle headed back towards the lab, still clucking about “natural thieves”.  Once he was out of earshot, Moshe said to Wayfarer, “I hate to spoil his big bad mood, so I didn’t say – it’s me who unlocked the refrigerator. I thought a cold drink would be nice for our desert story.”

He disappeared into the mess tent, then came out, the host once more, carrying a plastic pitcher of mits and a bowl of something that looked like a beige version of the horrible puffy snacks Wayfarer had banned from the computer room for depositing an orange residue on terminal keyboards. Moshe placed the bowl near her, and held out his palm in invitation. This soon after dinner, the professor was neither hungry nor thirsty, but she dutifully accepted her role as guest. She took the plastic cup of reconstituted fruit juice Moshe offered – there were ice cubes in it, the first she’d seen since arriving – and tried one of the starchy puffs.

“Is this… peanut butter?”

Ken, yes; Bamba snacks – zeh tov, zeh tov, it’s good for you, all natural. More, please.” He pushed the bowl closer. “They put vitamins in.”

“What an extraordinary flavor.” Wayfarer intended this response to be imprecise enough to pass for approval.

But Moshe didn’t seem to notice her lack of enthusiasm: he was shaking his head again, staring after Rankle. “All season he’s like this with me… How do you steal ostriches?” he demanded. “Feh!” He swiped his palm through the air dismissively. “There was no stealing,” he said.  “They did not steal ostriches,” Moshe raised his shoulders. “Well, at least not exactly…”

To read the next episode, “Smuggling Eggs” click here.

Posted by Allison on Mar 20th 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah,pseudopod waltz | Comments (1)

It’s not all about owls…

… it just seems like it sometimes.

This Friday Saturday and Sunday, from 10am – 5pm March 9, 10, 11, it’s time for the spring Camelback Studio Tour, and if you visit the Sherwood Heights neighborhood of south Scottsdale, you can find lots of things besides owls, even at Three Star Owl Studio (Studio #3 on this map).  Among the exciting Non-Owlular things available are the metal south-west themed garden sculptures of Tracy Paul of Pentimento Metalwork.  Here’s a tantalizing image of the shadow of one of Tracy’s agave-like creations. >> She’s brought a large selection of delectable items and strewn them artfully around our rambling garden, where you can wander around searching them out.

And, there are three other studios to visit filled with paintings, clay, jewelry, glass, and gourds handmade by local artists Lynn Gustafson, Vickie Morrow, Pam Harrison, Jan Campbell, Chris Demma, Reg McCormick, Bernie Nienebar, Lynn Strolin and Margaret Sullivan.

Of course, Three Star Owl Clay is stocked as usual with a motley assortment of owlishness (that’s motley said with pride), some new like the Boiled Owl Sake Sets (see previous post for photos) and Napping Owl Tumblers — which exude a quaint whiff of Victoriana, pushing Retro all the way back to the Martin Brothers.  But I’ll also have on hand some non-owl favorites like Horned Lizard Bowls, a Gila Monster Effigy bowl, Frog Skeleton Mugs, and also a bit of species-faithful Wazzo-ware for the birders among us, and more.  The photo above is my studio bench tonight, with new items waiting to be photographed and priced — note the Gilded Flicker in the Saguaro vessel: definitely Not An Owl, for a change.  Oh, and a couple of Writhing Rαt Dog planter/bowls.

<< And for the first time ever, I’ll have hand-knit hats for sale by Sylvia Schoenfeld (my mother), like these.  And yes, those are owl cables with button eyes — which makes them most definitely mostly about owls.

(All photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Mar 7th 2012 | Filed in art/clay,effigy vessels,Events,three star owl,yard list | Comments (3)

Schmooey

Once again, and for the usual reason, my blog posts have dwindled to a sticky, paltry stream with occasional tart strands of zest, like marmalade that didn’t set.  It seems that when I really have to turn on the afterburners in the clay studio to meet a deadline, my brain shunts itself into non-writing mode.  This is acceptable because it results in Concentrated Clay Effort, but really making art doesn’t have to interfere with the amplitude or frequency of this space: after all, a picture’s worth a thousand words, and I can be fully entertained by one simple striking image.  Perhaps you are too, so here’s a double-duty photo for your perusal: self-promotional eye-candy, but still full of tasty chewy, glazy, custardy goodness, like a good doughnut.

You are looking into the woozy interior of a small repoussé sake cup: the swirly glaze is very sensitive to its own thickness which varies considerably because each tiny cup is owl-shaped, modeled by pushing out with the fingers and in, usually with tools, so that the inside reflects the outside.  The resulting curviness in the walls gives the glaze lots of moguls and dips to flow into and around.  (The opalescence of the rim is an artifact of light: it’s the reflection of the blue sky overhead, and if the cup were in your hand, you’d see the whole effect of the glaze was more like golden honey than sky-rimmed lava.)  The slick, glossy interior flows contrast with the hair-like scoring on the outside of the pieces like marmalade on toast.

Here’s the entire “Boiled Owl” sake set, two tiny cups and a small pitcher meant for sake but good for any potent liquid that needs judicious sipping.  >> This one and a small number of others will be debuting at the Three Star Owl open studio during the Camelback Studio Tour Friday Saturday and Sunday of this week (9,10,11 March 2012). I hope you can stop by and check them out.  More details later!

(Both photos A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Mar 4th 2012 | Filed in art/clay,close in,three star owl | Comments (5)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 14

UPDATE: I’ve just made it easier to navigate between episodes of What Happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah. Now at the beginning of each new episode there are links to previous installments: one to the immediately previous episode, and one to the very first episode.  In addition, there’s a link at the end of each episode to click on so that you can read the very next one in the series, if it’s been posted.  You can always click on the Beit Bat Y a’anah category in the left-hand sidebar, but it’s a little awkward to navigate forwards through time from the bottom up now that the series is stretching into more episodes. (My apologies to those readers whose RSS feeds may have been bombed with updates this morning as a result of the changes, although I hope it’s not many of you!)

This is the fourteenth installment of the series. The following links will take you to the last episode before this one, and the very first episode:

Read Part 13 ………………………………………………………………….For new readers: Read Part 1

Previously:

Having taken a brief side-trip to observe the volatile and imperious Avsa Szeringka at home in her Institute near London, we rejoin the excavation at Beit Bat Ya’anah (BBY), where Professor Wayfarer, still frustrated in her efforts to observe Szeringka’s graduate student, is once again considering whether or not to extend her stay at the remote, unpromising site in the Negev desert. To her own surprise, every fact she learns about BBY – such as its lack of ancient burials and its brief stint as an ostrich ranch – makes her more curious about the process of excavation, the many unanswered questions about the place, and its residents, both past and present.


Meanwhile back at the ranch: earthmoving

Einer Wayfarer had never been among people who knew or cared so much about dirt.

As a well-established and respected figure in her recondite field, the professor had at her disposal considerable quantities of highly specialized and well-integrated philological, linguistic, and literary knowledge. But after eight days assisting the excavation team at Beit Bat Ya’anah, the professor had acquired a range of experience which she’d never expected to accrue in her lifetime – most of it concerning dirt, the objects people lost or left in it, and the best tools for moving large amounts of it quickly but carefully.

During the past week Wayfarer had helped shift a lot of dirt. Though exempted by seniority from some of the more strenuous tasks, she’d watched the younger folk swing a pick to loosen the hard soil, then use the sturdy hoe called a turiyah to fill a guffah or a dli to pass to someone topside to push to the soil dump in a wheelbarrow.

Wayfarer herself had shake-sieved cubic feet of stony soil for infinitesimal clues to lives from distant times. She learned to use a masterina to work around an object in situ, to level surfaces, and to remove small amounts of dirt. She observed that Marshalltown was the trowel of choice among the Americans, whereas the Israelis and Aussies preferred no-name brands from local building suppliers, with the result that unfortunate young Eric took constant flak from both sides about the British-made WHS 4” pointing trowel his parents had mail-ordered specially from a posh archæological outfitter in London.

Thanks to Rory’s instruction, Wayfarer was becoming handy with a patiche and could use one to polish a balk without undercutting, to reveal a vertical stratigraphic witness to the sharp interpretive eyes of the senior staff. Zvia showed the professor the difference between a packed-dirt floor horizon and an organic-rich kitchen midden or an ashy interior hearth feature, and how it was possible to articulate a wall with acceptable statistical probability from a poor showing of three or four rough-hewn blocks or even sketchier field-cobbles. Wayfarer learned that a pisé wall was different than a mud brick wall, and that both decayed by dissolving from the bottom up between the corners, as opposed to stone walls which dilapidated from the top down. She learned that stone tools weren’t necessarily a sign of great antiquity: handy rocks were used in every era for many reasons, and ancient tools were often kept and used through centuries, their presence in a stratum providing no more than a terminus post quem. Lior had helped her construct a rudimentary but functional pottery typography in her head, and she could sort with some accuracy the local chalcolithic ceramics from Bronze Age. She was surprised to learn that there were shells from both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea found at the land-locked site, and that it was necessary not only to identify and quantify them, but also to field-screen them for signs of secondary usage by looking for signs of edge wear or drill holes. At the end of the day when the sun angled low, the professor had climbed back onto the hill to help anchor the ladder for Mikke who, with her billowing gypsy skirt tucked into her waistband shirwal-style, cantilevered riskily from upper rungs in order to shoot down onto squares with newly uncovered features or strata; and Wayfarer had held the stadium rod for Shams’s precise transit surveys of the growing length of meager, mainly Middle Bronze Age walls visible on the ridge.

The professor had quickly realized that what had at first appeared to her to be a grubby collection of callow, work-worn drones was actually a field-hardened team with specialized skills carrying out a project where success was neither guaranteed nor likely to be spectacular, and failure was irreversible: archaeology was controlled destruction – once a feature, locus, or a soil horizon was removed, it was gone beyond recovery. In an excavation so devoid of significant cultural artifacts, the soil and rocks they were uncovering were everything: even a lowly trowel-wielding novice such as herself had to pay close attention in order to avoid committing irreparable errors of excavation like digging through a foundation trench or clearing rubble that turned out to be a casually paved floor.

The only thing that mitigated this destruction was meticulous record-keeping – written, quantified, measured, sketched, and photographic – since it preserved information for interpretation and, inevitably, later re-interpretation. The schedule was unvarying: digging on the Hill in the morning and recording in the lab in the evening, but the interpretation was constant. The staff spent endless hours on site, in the lab, and around the dinner table in earnest and democratic discussion of minute changes in soil, the relative stratigraphy between areas, and the chronological relationships of excavated features, levels, and loci.

Watching the senior staff at work, Wayfarer began to comprehend the blend of informed observation, technical expertise, bare-knuckled logistics and personnel management skills that a successful dig demanded. She saw that BBY’s directors Chayes and Rankle – whatever she might think of their contrasting personal styles – were each experts in their own ways, both indispensable to a smooth field campaign. Keeping a sharp eye was a question not only of archæological necessity, but sometimes of fundamental safety, as Wilson Rankle reminded them all in a harsh public scolding of young Eric. The director had discovered an undercut 2 meter balk in Area C which he proclaimed to be “an unmitigated catastrophe waiting to happen, Eric, with your damn name writ large upon it.”

In addition to the arcane secrets of managing dirt, the practical skills of desert life were now Wayfarer’s too. She’d learned the importance of drinking water before she was thirsty and of never picking up sun-heated tools by the metal parts. During breaks she learned to value even the smallest scrap of shade, and was known to take refuge in big Rory Zohn’s substantial umbra despite the olfactory risk. In camp, she knew to check her shoes each morning for scorpions and centipedes, to always carry a flashlight after dark, and to keep her distance from the flat rock at the downhill end of the communal sinks because of the yellow-jackets during the day, and at night, too, since a small viper had taken up residence underneath to ambush tiny scurrying mammals attracted by the sink’s moist outflow. Less usefully (although more likely to impress her students back in Lassiter), because of the international nature of the crew and the earthy quality of conversation in the lab in the evenings, the professor now knew how to exhort someone to go screw themselves in four new languages including – thanks to Shams – both Urdu and Strine.

But she hadn’t planned on staying more than a few extra days, and that time was up. Originally, Wayfarer had postponed her departure on Avsa’s behalf, but now, a little more than a week later, there were other reasons the professor was considering extending her stay at “Two-Bit Yod” (as Rory had semi-affectionately subverted the Hebrew letters Beit-Beit-Yod of the site-abbreviation, written on every find tag and locus card). One main reason was purely altruistic: this close to the end of the season, any assistance, even rookie, was helpful. The site was chronically short staffed due to the Lebanese conflict: the Israelis kept having to report for brief stints of discreet military service. Yael the ethnobotanist was the latest to disappear – early one morning Wayfarer saw him sling his kitbeg into the back of the site Landrover where it settled with the somber clank of gunmetal. Chayes drove him out to the highway to hitch a ride to Be’er Sheva – but later at tea, no one said anything about this departure. Wayfarer thought it likely that Aman, Israeli military intelligence, recruited as heavily among archeologists as other governments had during conflicts in Europe and the Middle East – in retrospect, she suspected that Chayes’s earlier absence had had more to do with Aman than with his son’s spider bite.

So, despite the heat, discomfort, and insect life, Wayfarer’s mind was made up. She asked Amit if an extra pair of hands would be welcome; he smiled and clapped her shoulder, saying he’d let Moshe know. Rankle she merely informed that she was staying, and received a pessimistic response doubting whether the water would last. It only remained for her to ask the Aussies, who were headed out to Eilat for weekend leave, to pick up some things for her: a bottle of Hawaii shampoo, a sack of clothes pins (her colorful plastic ones in a clever mesh bag had gone missing off of the line), a bottle of red, and she’d be good for another week, until the end of the season.

Practicalities being satisfactorily settled, the professor spared some attention to the lingering question of Avsa’s uncooperative protégé, who continued to avoid her like a student with a delinquent thesis chapter. But she didn’t give him much thought. When it came to coaxing results out of students she knew more than one way to skin a cat.

No; Wayfarer was definitely not yet ready to leave. By Saturday night, or Sunday morning at the latest, she should have a bottle of wine to look forward to. And ever since Amit had mentioned them, she’d been dreaming about herds of strong-toed ostriches wandering freely among the jumbled rocks of the Upper Wadi, their big liquid eyes peering deep into her resting mind.

To be continued… To read the next episode, “Hai bar and hospitality” click here.

Posted by Allison on Jan 31st 2012 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah | Comments (0)

What happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah: part 13

Note to readers: It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to advance the tale of the archæological site called Beit Bat Ya’anah and its inhabitants. The progress of Professor Einer Wayfarer’s efforts on that remote ridge in the Negev Desert to observe the seemingly out-of-place and elusive protégé of her controversial colleague Avsa Szeringka was temporarily interrupted by non-literary Three Star Owl activities: a busy fall season of pottery-making for shows, sales, and holiday shoppers kept me more in the studio than at the keyboard. Posting on my blog has suffered in general: there simply hasn’t been enough time to assemble both words and art for weeks and weeks. But things have relaxed somewhat now, and I’d like to get back to telling the tale. So far, all the action has occurred at the dig site, and only a few days have elapsed since Professor Wayfarer’s unenthusiastic arrival there.

This is the thirteenth episode in the series.  To read the twelfth episode, click here. If you wish to catch up on the entire story in full detail, click here to start at the very beginning.  At the end of each installment, there’s a link to click to continue on to the next one. If you need a less thorough reminder, or a basic intro to the fiction I post here, there’s also a brief summary of both What Happened at Beit Bat Ya’anah and its prequel The Ganskopf Incident in this post.

Now let’s take up the tale again, first by jogging the memory (caution mild spoiler alert for those who haven’t read the rest of the story yet), and then by a brief change of scene, with a look at Professor Wayfarer’s volatile European colleague Avsa Szeringka, who is the director of “the Institute” and who may be behind much of what has happened in the story so far.

Previously, we learned that Wayfarer was enticed to the remote archæological site “at the behest of her colleague and friend Avsa Szeringka (pronounced “zhə-RING-ka” with a zh like in Zsa-Zsa or French je), who had somehow herself managed to remain comfortably ensconced at the Institute near cool, gray Oxford,” by means of an imperious letter in expressive but convolute and ambiguous English, which is “not Avsa Szeringka’s second language, nor even her third.” This letter obliquely requires Wayfarer to seek out “an artefact” at the site, which she eventually realizes is actually a person: Dario, Avsa’s sleek grad student of uncertain linguistic and ethnic origins. While Wayfarer is making slow progress trying to understand who Dario is, his mentor is monitoring – if not manipulating – events from afar.

[Note: for anyone wondering about the prominence of hand-written correspondence in this story, now is a good time to remind you that the action takes place in the early 1980s, when email and cellular phones were just beginning to be used in universities and businesses. For participants in a remote desert dig, telephone access would be limited to weekend leave and payphones in town. For overseas communication, everyone would have relied on gummed stamps you had to lick, crinkly onion-skin air-mail paper, and postal delivery times measured in days, if not weeks, with letters being driven into town and mail fetched back to the site no more than once or twice a week, along with groceries and other supplies.]

Correspondence: considering two letters

Her silk-robed figure barely discernible from the rare antiques which furnished the damask-curtained, high-ceilinged room that functioned as both boudoir and office in her eponymous Institute near Oxford, Avsa Szeringka didn’t look up as her assistant placed the daily mail on the desk in front of her. It was the usual thick stack, arranged as Avsa required with the journals and manuscripts to be reviewed at the bottom, the routine business correspondence next, and any hand-addressed personal missives sorted to the top to be read immediately if they were from someone of whom she approved, or to be individually snubbed, if not. Bills she never saw; she had people for that.

This morning two envelopes interested her. She took them from the top of the stack and pushed the rest across the desk, disturbing the striped cat bunched at the corner of the Turkish leather writing pad. The tiger opened its mouth to complain, but nothing came out but a staccato fishy click, which Szeringka ignored, except to briefly bare her teeth back at the animal as she placed the two interesting letters in front of herself.

She considered them. They were both postmarked on the same date in Be’er Sheva, Israel, and they were each addressed with familiar but contrasting scripts. Unexpectedly, both packets were flimsy; neither could have more than one sheet of paper sealed inside. This was disappointing: she’d hoped to provoke heftier responses from each of her correspondents.

She reached a long-fingered hand towards one, but picked up the other instead, opened it and read it quickly.

Avsa,” it began bluntly, “your ‘artifact’ is decorative but uncooperative and gives the distinct impression of preferring not to be handled, at least by me. This is an attempt to extend your metaphor accurately, and not prurience. Otherwise, the Negev is hot as hell, the living conditions are primitive, and the insect life is both appallingly forward and unanimously venomous: wish you were here.” Signed briefly, “E.W.

Szeringka sniffed. The gruff humor of the message was hardly worth the postage to transmit it. If Einer didn’t have more to say, then it was clear that her dear friend and colleague wasn’t paying sufficient attention. Avsa made an impatient sound with her tongue. This letter required no answer.

She let it drop and picked up the other. Its external address was tidy and elegant, much more precisely written than Einer’s hasty American scrawl. She passed the unopened envelope briefly under her nose, noting a coniferous odor, faint but still detectable: she’d given him the fountain pen with the amber-scented ink herself, ostensibly a prize for some end of term academic achievement. Unperfumed versions of these showy trophy pens were coveted by their awardees, treasured carefully and displayed prominently on desks all over the Institute, and not, she knew, generally employed to write with. How like him to think so little of the prize, or of the inconvenience, as to bring an old-fashioned reservoir pen with him into the field, and actually operate it in the desert heat and grit. Avsa slid a fingertip under the envelope flap and, unfolding the page, read what he’d inked there.

When she had read his words twice – there were only a few – she stood and moved to the window, parting the heavy draperies a hand’s width. A blade of northern sunlight slid in, not gray at all but a sharp white ray of August, showing the many lines on the pale planes of Szeringka’s face in deep relief.

The lines at the corners of her mouth deepened. Yes, each of these letters was disappointing; the first, perhaps predictably, but the second, shockingly. Uncooperative, Einer had written about her student. Avsa had thought this must be irritable exaggeration, until she had read his letter.

She turned her head from the window and called out to her assistant in heavily accented English. “Wynn, tea! The osmanthus oolong whole leaf, I think, this morning. And a sheet of the official letterhead.”

Einer had said he preferred not to be handled. Yet that was precisely what his letter — that impertinent, rebellious tone in so few words! – required her to do. He had left her no choice but to handle this, and not gently.

Avsa Szeringka abruptly pushed back the floral drape wide, flooding the walls, the carpet, her dressing gown, her slippers, herself, with light. Really, it shouldn’t be necessary to strong-arm the stubborn creature: like it or not, he was going to have to take some responsibility in the effort. She strode back to her desk, pushed the cat off with animus, and while impatiently waiting for Wynn to arrive with both tea and stationary, began to calculate postal turn-around time to that stony armpit of the desiccated south while drafting stern and irrefutable points across the offending letter’s envelope. This time, wishing to be perfectly understood, she didn’t waste time with English.

To be continued…. Click here to read Part 14 “Earthmoving”

Posted by Allison on Dec 20th 2011 | Filed in archaeology,art/clay,artefaux,Beit Bat Ya'anah | Comments (7)

Last chance to see…

“Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection” in the show Death and Rebirth at Maryville University’s Morton May Gallery in St.Louis.  The show will be up until this friday, December 2.  Click here for details about the show and about the Ossuary.

<< Detail (photo and piece, A.Shock)

Posted by Allison on Nov 28th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,effigy vessels,Events,field trips,owls,three star owl | Comments (0)

Pick of the litter

Among the sculptural vessels I’ve made recently for upcoming holiday sales, a couple things stand out.  This is one of them:

Feather Bundle Jar with Owl (13.5″ ht, stoneware 2011, photo and object A.Shock)  >>

What you can’t see in the photo is the interior glaze, a fiery glossy red that contrasts strongly with the dry, dinosaur-green outside.  The jewel-like red studs give a hint of what’s on the inside, however.

This piece will be available starting tomorrow at the Three Star Owl booth at Audubon Arizona’s Gifts from Nature event tomorrow and Sunday (12 – 13 Nov, 10am-4pm, click here for details).

I’ll also be offering functional pieces, including frog skeleton mugs, scorpion mugs, beastie pitchers, and ravenware, just for starters.  As always it bears repeating: Come early for best selection!

And, they’ve pretty much taken rain out of the forecast for Saturday, at least — so really, there’s no excuse!

Posted by Allison on Nov 11th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,effigy vessels,Events,owls,three star owl | Comments (0)

…more Three Star Owl news…

Deadlines, shows, and orders have been keeping me busy in the studio the past few weeks as the pre-holiday calendar winds up to year’s end.  Not complaining!  But, I have noticed that recently this space has been more full than usual of Three Star Owl news and less full of natural history, birds, and fiction (will Professor Wayfarer ever find out what kind of accent the elusive shirker Dario is sporting?)

In keeping with this trend, here is more Three Star Owl news.  My recently completed piece, The Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection, is part of a show, Death and Rebirth, currently at the May Gallery at Maryville University.  Curated by James Ibur, Death and Rebirth showcases ceramic sculpture by more than 20 artists, including the work of Mark Messenger, Arthur Gonzalez, Adrian Arleo, Susan Bostwick, Kurt Weiser, and more.  Each piece deals with the eternally cyclical nature of mortality and lifeforce, especially resonant during this season of Día de los Muertos, All Soul’s Day, and Halloween.  If you’re in St.Louis, the show will be up until 2 December 2011.

For those of you who are not in St. Louis or are unable to visit the May Gallery, a bit more information about the Ossuary is in order.  It belongs to the same corpus of work as the earlier Owl Hives.  Here are some images (be sure to click to enlarge), and a dose of scholarly commentary thanks to a friend of Three Star Owl, Darius Danneru, PhD, who has generously squandered his ample expertise on — and occasionally even loaned his person to — my creative efforts.

<< Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection (smoke-fired stoneware, 13″, A.Shock 2011)

Notes on “Ossuary: an archæology of resurrection”

… related to these [Owl-hives] is another well-preserved unprovenanced piece from a private collection (fig. 9). With tiny strigids issuing like bees from its interior, this tripod effigy vessel/ossuary is itself owl-like, large-headed and standing on two taloned legs and a tail, shrouded in a torn, priestly cloak of feathers fastened with curiously unknotted twine. Below the cloak the body is textured with bones, above it the form is both lidless vessel and roofless, columbarium-like house with windows.

Owl about to launch (detail, “Ossuary”) >>

This mix of architectural and sepulchral imagery suggests a funerary significance, but the sarcophagal feel is leavened by a swirl of rebirth: the gravid cavity shelters the proto-owls while they await release from the depths of their bone hoard (whether the owls’ conceptual matrix or simply the remains of the last meal hardly matters), and the tomb’s roof and windows are open to allow the owls to launch like souls from the Guf and be restored, winged, to the world.”

– Text excerpted from D. Danneru, “House-Owls and Owl-Houses: do model ‘owl hives’ at Beit Bat Ya’anah offer evidence of ancient strigiculture?” Obscure Histories Quarterly, v. 42:3 (Fall 2010) p. 84.

Darius Danneru, PhD, is the Wayfarer Professor of Crypto-cultural Studies at MacCormack University, a fellow of the Szeringka Institute, a member of ICER, ESSA, and currently a visiting Professor at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago.

<< peeking through the windows into the heart of the Ossuary.


Posted by Allison on Nov 4th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,artefaux,effigy vessels,Events,three star owl | Comments (6)

Happy Owl Face

The Camelback Studio Tour in the Sherwood Heights neighborhood of southern Scottsdale is over until the next one (that’s March 9, 10, 11, 2012, by the way, so mark your calendars now), and I’m tired but happy.  Thanks to all who came by to visit, shop, or both.  The sale seemed to occupy the last hot days of summer — I can’t recall ever getting a sunburn at an art sale before — and now desert autumn has set in, with sudden refreshing showers, cooler temps, and pranking breezes.

<< content horned owl (detail; A.Shock 2011)

My next event is in less than three weeks: the Audubon Arizona Gifts from Nature benefit art event, Saturday and Sunday the 12th and 13th of November.  More about that soon, when I have more details.  Hope to see you there and, the forces of clay willing, Three Star Owl will have some new work for you to take a look at.  Meanwhile, Happy Diwali!

Posted by Allison on Oct 26th 2011 | Filed in art/clay,effigy vessels,Events,owls,three star owl | Comments (0)

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