The Force of Nature

The Force of Nature

From the Editor - Illustration

Illustration: Erica Harris

If there’s a press conference in the afterlife, I’ll be there, with my hand raised high. I’ve got questions for the Powers That Be.

For example: Why are there hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and tsunamis? What’s up with the food chain and one species preying on another? And why isn’t the world kinder, gentler, and easier all around?

These are arrogant questions, of course. They’re the questions of somebody whose experience with nature – even given a few dozen hikes, ocean swims, and camping trips over the years – has been largely mediated by Gore-Tex, antibiotics, and internal combustion engines. They’re the questions of somebody who’s generally been able to keep nature at a comfortable distance, whose curiosity about it tends toward complaint rather than gratitude: When is it going to warm up? What’s the point of mosquitoes? (See food chain, above.) Why must people age?

Like a lot of people today, I can go weeks without looking at the stars, appreciating a sunset, or really feeling the wind on my skin. I can go months oblivious to the fact that I’m actually a part of the cosmos. As Glenn Adamson points out, most of us are removed from nature in its raw form – and much of our experience of it is filtered through television, the internet, and other technology.

Yet it’s also clear how powerful a force nature is in the lives of many artists. Sienna Shields is based in New York City but carries with her the rhythms and cycles of Alaska, where she grew up. The collage artist recalls long summer days “just tearing through the woods,” followed by months of cold and dark. “I actually loved the winter in Alaska,” she says.

“You’d hole up, put on extra sweaters, and get to work crafting, making things. It was an internal, reflective time. I take that with me, where I have bursts of activity that are very outward and then times where I need months of holing up and working nonstop, kind of a womblike situation.”

Wood artist Michael Peterson and his wife, Jean, dreamed of living on the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington state, where he now has a lovely hilltop property with a view of the Olympic Mountains. “My work has been shaped by daily trips to the beach and through the woods,” he says. Peterson works outside, without protection from the elements, which is added inspiration. “If an eagle flies over,” he says, “I see it.”

Even Russel Wright, the celebrated industrial designer, was captivated by the outdoors. He is known for his American Modern dinnerware and other goods for the home, of course; but Wright was determined to bring American culture closer to nature. According to Dianne Pierce, curator of a new Wright exhibition, he spent many moonlit nights outdoors, observing the way the light fell on the raw land where he would build his vacation home. “It was always the land before [the] architecture for him,” she says.

What these artists suggest to me is this: You can’t nitpick nature. It’s an implacable whole. It’s a beautiful ombré sunrise and spiders the size of dinner plates. It’s a serene, white-sand beach and Hurricane Sandy. It’s terror, and it’s wonder. And we have to make our peace with that.

Monica Moses is editor in chief of American Craft.