University of Nebraska Press 2013

MORE THAN THINGS: Essays

, by Margaret Randall

Things

“No ideas but in things”
—William Carlos Williams

The wooden apple

If I cup my palm around this wooden apple, my flesh knows a heft just a bit too light, a texture not moist or juicy enough. Not the life of living fruit but the history of art, of making things. Who recognized the raw possibility, held the chunk of local pine, whittled the navel of its stem, the indentation of seeds and marks along the edges of the cut?
Imagined teeth bit desire along those edges, going all the way back to the Garden. One side is sliced and faintly browned, the absence of skin welcoming the tarnish of air. The outer, rounded, side is stained deep red and shows small blemishes, the fate of all picked fruit.
I can still feel Elaine de Kooning’s exuberant fingers placing this object in my hand and my own fingers curving around it, how it felt that day more than half a century ago. “Isn’t it perfect” was never a question, but recognition of another woman’s skill, the Appalachian artist from whom she’d purchased an entire bowl: orange, lemon, banana, plum. The watermelon was a wedge of course, all the better to display its range of color, succulence of pulp and seed.
“Pick one,” Elaine urged. I followed the pull of instinct, straight to the apple. I knew there was something special about that sculptured fruit, and something special in my friend’s generosity. Each its own voice.
A working artist was telling a young woman still trying to find her space and rhythm that she too could choose a life of creativity. It would be easier and harder than I knew. The wooden apple quickly took up residence everywhere I lived. It would stay with me through rejections, early publications, and the eventual discovery of my own voice, along my long journey into art.
Last night I dreamed of Cape Cod houses standing proud on broken granite cliffs, wooden shingles against a battering wind. Second-floor windowpanes set in small frames gleamed flushed blue and pale green, like those contact lenses fabricated to change the color of a person’s eyes. Elaine looks at me from wherever it is she now wields a paintbrush. She laughs.
Each time I hold this apple I am holding artistic flight dismissed as craft, what that has meant and means everywhere, for women in particular. Anonymous was a woman is still a bitter truth. Men’s philosophical treatises versus women’s diaries and recipes. Personal versus public, the body versus a world stage, tireless implication that what she does is lesser, what he does always more.
When I hold the wooden apple I am holding Elaine’s encouragement of my own life in art, my memory of her in me. I am holding a tangible object that speaks to me of creativity.
The air I breathe. A need that grows on the inside of my skin.


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