Silo of Memory

When I move to a new place, I find myself sketching different things. When I was in Wyoming, I became enthralled with dramatic landscapes. When I was in Dallas, I frequented zoos. In Vermont, I sketched the picturesque scenery of Shelburne Farms and Shelburne Museum.

In Roswell, I've noticed that I've become more interested in architecture. Take, for instance, this silo:

I first saw this building when I visited Roswell in May for my job interview. I was taking a walk downtown one evening, trying to mentally process all I had seen and learned about the Museum during the day, when I glanced up and saw the silo in the golden light of the approaching dusk. I was intrigued by its weathered surfaces and conical form, and would have drawn it right then if I'd had a sketchbook, but I only had my camera at the time.

Since moving here, however, I have been drawing the silo from various perspectives:

As I've been drawing this silo, I've been asking myself why I've become so fascinated with this rusted, graffiti-laden structure. Fenced off with barbed wire and surrounded by other crumbling, weathered buildings, it's a more derelict subject than my typical sketching fare. What would attract me to it?

One reason is that it's different. After sketching pretty landscapes and quirky trees in Vermont for two years, I needed a to sever myself from these scenes in order to transition to my new life out West.

Cherry trees and lawn furniture from Shelburne Museum.

But is it so different after all? As I mulled over my fascination with this structure during a sketching session one morning, I suddenly remembered that this was not the first time I'd become interested in decrepit structures. On the contrary, I had drawn abandoned barns during my time in Vermont, and was planning to do a series with them before I moved to Roswell. That initial project evaporated, but has since manifested itself again in these new drawings.

What is it, then, that I like about old buildings?

I've always been a student of history, and I can't help but be attracted to the wear and tear that reflects "the life of the object," so to speak. On a more personal level, however, these buildings are also a metaphor for my own memories. I'm not a nostalgic person, but like many people, I live within my memories. The sensation of a warm breeze on my face may invoke a summer's afternoon spent at my aunt's lakeside camp, for instance, while the smell of wet earth conjures up Arizona monsoons. In a sense we are all time travelers, with our present and past intermingling.

Yet these memories of mine are not stagnant or eternal, but are constantly recreated and reconstructed. When we remember something, we are in a sense recreating it, but, being imperfectly human, we do so a little differently each time. Take that warm summer afternoon at my aunt's camp, for example. One day my memory might emphasize the sunshine, while on another occasion it may be the crisp, cool water of the lake that gets more attention. Still I might begin blurring different sojourns up there together, and meld different events and people into a single impression. We rely on our memories for so much of our identities and experiences, but they are as subjective as the rest of our perceptions.

Old buildings for me seem to be an ideal metaphor for the subjectivity of memory. Both are constructions that change over time. As buildings age, surfaces become tarnished, decorations crumble, and paint peels away. Likewise, the clarity of memories fade; the specific colors and faces become indistinct. Eventually only the essence, the core, of the memory remains, like the supporting framework of a building.

The conundrum of memory has become a core theme in my recent prints, specifically my layered, mixed media works. I find myself trying to render memory as archaeology, with overlapping layers of pigment and line suggesting the multifaceted nature of recollection.

Two prints from my Shelburne Farms series.

Yet up until now I've visually kept my memories separate from one another. A print using Wyoming imagery, for instance, never includes Vermont scenes, while a work incorporating Maine scenes never includes material from Dallas.

Visually, I've compartmentalized my memories, but my recent drawings of the silo have reminded me that this is not how my memories behave at all. When I walk down the street, I could just as easily be reliving Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming simultaneously, and that is a truly magical experience.

With the help of an old silo, I've decided that, while I'll continue to make pieces dedicated exclusively to Roswell or Shelburne, I'll also strive to make pieces that incorporate all these different places and recollections into a single visual experience. It will take a lot of thought and experimentation, but then again, that is the point of artistic exploration.

Who knew that an old silo could be so stimulating?