Monday, January 3, 2011

The Fire of Intention

The week before New Years, an artist friend was hard at work sculpting a huge altar to set on fire. Patrick Gracewood has been making and burning his work for over 30 years now. His intention is to provide closure to the old year and energy to the new.

The sculptures have taken on many diverse shapes and themes over the years, including griffins, peacocks, wizards and tigers. This year, the sculpture was an altar shape with a large white and green cake made of a tube iced with joint compound behind it was a green and gold stenciled 7th century Buddhist flame symbol for awareness. Patrick said, “It’s a wake up for this year.”

Arriving at his studio on Friday night, the mood was cozy and inviting. But soon, the mood changed as strips of paper were passed out. There were questions to answer: What did you want to let go of from the old year? What did you want to welcome into your life in the new year?

A silence surrounded the room as one by one, adults and children chose colored paper strips and wrote out messages, wishes and prayers. Then, each person pushed them through the holes drilled into the cake sculpture or tucked them into a large fireplace pinecone that was placed on top of the altar. A little before midnight, the sculpture was wheeled out the door of Patrick’s studio and onto the concrete patio/pathway.

Talking and laughing, we all followed from the warm lit room into the dark, cold night. Somehow, it seemed fitting, leaving the light of the old and known year and stepping into the dark of the unknown new year. Everyone waited excited and anxious to see the first sparks fly from the fireworks. There was a 10 second countdown to midnight. Cheers went up. Hands clapped.

And then, it grew quiet as we all stood, huddling closer to the warmth and light of the sculpture fire. Pieces fell into the flames creating dancing lights of orange, yellow, red and blue. Other pieces crumbled into black piles of ash. The bright pieces of paper with messages from the past and wishes for the future had become like smoke signals spiraling up into the night sky.

The excitement of the fire gave way to silence and in the end a deep sense of peace. As the flames died down, the guests left slowly, shaking hands, giving hugs, blessings and wishes for the New Year to new and old friends. I can’t think of a better intention for the New Year than that.


Patrick Gracewood said...

Susan, I'm so glad you and Michael could come and be part of the evening. (It's always good to have help in getting a too large sculpture OUT the door!) Good too to see it through your eyes.

Susan Gallacher-Turner and Michael Turner said...

So glad that you do this sculpture every year and opening it up for us to have closure of one year and opening of another in such a artful, personal, symbolic way.