down to earth happenings is a volunteer-based series of "happenings" to celebrate the connections between local food systems, artists, and community.
Happenings are unique creations happening in real-time that cannot be repeated. Functional art and local produce will be found at small, sustainable farms in barns and greenhouses across Chester County and will feature special forms paired with special activities.
In loving memory of MC Richards by Lyla Kaplan
MC Richards has carried me in her “backpack,” showing me the way since I found her book “Centering” in a high school ceramics class in Ohio. The powerful, strange, ineffable words hinted that a new way forward, with strength and courage and help from clay, was possible at a time when I had none.
Twenty years later, I had a real "light-bulb moment" went I realized how natural it would be to celebrate functional art and food, makers and growers, and eaters and seers all together in one space. At our first down to earth opening, Peggy Hartzell, an artist and activist, introduced herself by handing me a bottle of champagne saying, "Good job, this is something MC Richards would have liked.” MC had been her mentor.
Not long after, I had a job interview at Camphill Village Kimberton Hills, an intentional community that includes adults with developmental disabilities and is based on biodynamic agriculture and social therapy. I sat below a huge, beautiful MC painting with splashes of color in an urgent shout-out to life that people had just hung that very day. I learned that she had lived the last 15 years in her corporeal body there. Over the next few years, a clay sculpture with the memory of her hands kept me company at my desk and nourished me. The Sankanac CSA gardens she had loved nourished me and my family.
Agriculture weaves through the fabric of my life as vividly as the threads of pottery, art, education, and inner development. Soil care and soul care are the heartbeat of the community in which I have chosen to live... I preferred to commit myself to an active support of healthy land and healthy food. I felt honored and touched by the farmers’ request to make ceramic containers for their compost preparations: oak bark, nettle, chamomile, yarrow and dandelion...
In Kimberton I have taught art in the agriculture course, developing “The Renewal of Art Through Agriculture.” I have weeded the strawberries and gathered the basil, calendula, asparagus, sweet potatoes. It is a privilege to live in a daily healing relationship to cows, field crops, garden, orchard, vineyard, berry patch, forest, and stream. Since childhood, I have loved the feel of the earth and cherished the non-toxic arts of agriculture.
We cannot save our souls if we do not save the soil.
The wholeness I seek resonates in the clay, color, and mystery of the earth’s body.
We need more farmers!
When I asked Peggy what she thought about including the word “happenings” in the name of our 2020 revival of down to earth, she said "of course! There are no accidents, only happenings!" MC had been in the very first "happening." A multi-media experimental performance conceived by John Cage and David Tudor titled Theater Piece No. 1 was performed at Black Mountain College in 1952. "Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings (1951) were suspended from the ceiling in the shape of a cross. Cage sat on a step ladder and lectured about Buddhism, or said nothing, and M.C. Richards and Charles Olson read different poems from ladders, while Rauschenberg played Edith Piaf records, Merce Cunningham danced amidst the audience (chased by a barking dog), coffee was served by four boys dressed in white, and David Tudor played improvised notes on a prepared piano, fitted with pieces of felt and wood between the strings. Cage composed the piece such that each participant did whatever they chose during assigned intervals of time and within certain parameters, but the overarching principle of chance guided the course of events.”
Art historian Jenni Sorkin (2013) asserts that MC herself, and not Allan Kaprow, held the second-ever happening in 1958 called "Clay Things To Touch." (And by all accounts, most of the pottery sold).
And then, suddenly there, in our new logo design, appeared MC's hands from the Centering cover - loving, nurturing and centered by a plate of food [logo forthcoming]. The designer, Heidi, also a farmer, had never seen the book. And then, suddenly there again, MC speaks to us in a newly discovered 2014 publication "Backpacking in the Hereafter":
This flat plate. This ladle and bowl.
Clay whirled on a wheel, raised slowly to the table.
Straight and curved, our primal gestures
take and give—speak out about
the way we stand and breathe.
Every leaf is saucer for the bread.
Every falling drop prepares its cup.
Always we are eating and drinking earth’s body,
Making her dishes.
Potters like sun and stars
perform their art—
endowed with myth,
they make the meal holy.