“ConneXtions”

“ConneXtions: A Collaboration of Glass and Wood” is an exhibition jointly sponsored by the American Association of Woodturners (AAW) and the International Society of Glass Beadmakers (ISGB). More than 100 woodturners and glass beadmakers are collaborating on pieces, and their creations will be exhibited June 26–December 15 at the AAW Gallery in St. Paul, MN.

Last fall, I met a glass beadmaker, Terry Bendt, a fellow Japanese-American, at the Tucson Museum of Art show. We liked each other’s work and liked each other, and when I next saw her, she told me about “ConneXtions.” Terry and I started brainstorming and decided to do two pieces inspired by the American internment of Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens in camps in the United States during World War II. One piece is focused on the so-called relocation center at Manzanar, California; the other, on the Gila River camp in Arizona.

It’s been an exciting process—for both of us, if I may speak a little for Terry. We have both challenged ourselves technically to do work beyond what either of us has done in the past. Collaboration is new to me, and I’m loving the energy and the exchange. But the best part for me has been getting to know Terry and feeling like a midwife to Terry’s process. You see, Terry’s family was in Manzanar, the best known of the camps. And it’s not a part of her family history that she knew very much about. In making these pieces she has been learning about her own heritage. And it has been my privilege to be a witness and a facilitator to that process.

I’m also delighted with how our pieces are coming out. The heart of the Manzanar piece is a turned hollow vessel of applewood (“Manzanar” is Spanish for “apple grove,” and the site of the camp was an abandoned orchard-farming town). Only the inside of the vessel is turned; the outside remains the raw, chainsawn block I began with. The block is wider than it is thick, so when I hollowed the inside, the turning pierced the front and back walls, leaving “windows” into the vessel. I offset the center slightly so that the front window is slightly larger than the back; thus, when you look through the front window, you see the frame of the rear.

After the closure of the camps, landowners near the site of the cemetery at the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming uncovered a 55-gallon drum full of small stones painted with kanji characters. We’ve borrowed from that fact for both our pieces. Terry has made beads that look like stones, and I have painted some of them with characters such as those for “perseverance” and “family” and “dream.” Both the painted beads and plain faux stone beads will lie inside the bottom of the vessel with some scattered cherry blossom murrini beads. More cherry blossom beads and glass shard beads with family photos will adorn five strands of barbed wire that will wrap the outside of the vessel.

The Gila River piece will consist of a black serving tray partially covered with dirt from the Gila River camp site. Fallen over on the tray will be a teacup, a broken and mended rice bowl, and a pair of chopsticks, all turned from mesquite, a wood native to the Gila River area. Stone beads, both plain and painted, will spill from the cup and bowl. A strand of barbed wire will lie in the dirt, punctuated with handful of cherry blossom beads.

My grandmother once showed me a treasured tea bowl that had broken and had been professionally mended. No attempt had been made to conceal the brokenness; rather, the breaks were emphasized by conspicuous seams of adhesive that had been mixed with gold. Instead of diminishing the object’s value, the repair thus underscored it. This is the idea behind the broken, mended rice bowl.

In my original conception of the piece, barbed wire was to encircled the tray, attached to posts at the corners. One fact kept coming back to me, however: At the understaffed Gila River Relocation Center, the single watch tower was torn down soon after the camp was in operation, and the barbed-wire perimeter fence was taken down after six months. What model prisoners must the camp have held.