Act 2: The Next Track continues its run at the Museum of Northwest Art until June 12, 2011.
In Dutch the word for cairn is “Steenman” or “stone man”. I suspect that Els VandenEnde, born in the Netherlands, would have known this. Finding one of these jaunty little Michelin-like Men along a trail or at the summit of a hill is a signal, a marker of someone who has gone before.
That’s apparently how Els explained her Cairn series to fellow residents last year at Pilchuck. She said that they were her way of saying “I’ve been here.” Els was – here, that is – in glass, making markers that will live long after her life ended much too soon this week.
In the days since her passing on Wednesday (after a long, brave battle with cancer) her fellow residents from the Pilchuck summer session have placed a remarkable body of words and images onto her Facebook page and in private emails, building a memorial that feels so much like one of Els’ own sunny stacks.
My own stone story for the stack involves a work called “Cairn (vanilla), 2006″….
I met and fell in love with one of Els’ “stone men” when I first saw it in e-merge 2006 It was unlike any other work I’d seen her do before. Els was so very “here” in these pieces. As are we all. Which is what I think art must be about: work that lets us find ourselves in the souls of others, the glue that makes humanity humane.
That small stack of lovingly polished glass stones is different from much of the art that Dan and I own. It is considerably more colorful, brighter, with a gentle humor that I wish I possessed but likely never will. It is the soul of Els that we all admired and perhaps hoped might rub off onto our own.
When we began sending artworks over from the States to fill our home in the Scottish Highlands, Els’ cairn was at the top of the list. “Cairn” derives from a Scottish Gaelic word and the rugged stony terrain of Caithness, Scotland seemed the perfect place for Els’ colorful stack of lovingly designed, fired, and polished glass.
“Cairn (vanilla), 2006″ has lived snugly on our fireplace mantle here for the last five years – until last Wednesday when I heard that Els was in a coma.
It was a grey and drizzly day in Caithness. If anything might pull a rainbow out of the day’s darkness, I was sure that Vanilla Cairn could do it. At the end of the day, the rainbow did not arrive. But I was probably looking in the wrong place.
Els’ rainbow is in her work, in these amazing Cairn pieces that are unlike any others in contemporary kiln-glass. But more even than in the work, Els’ rainbow is in the people she touched – many of whom are her fellow artists in the MoNA show.
I know that many have posted their memories of Els on her Facebook page and elsewhere. If they/you think it appropriate, I hope you’ll re-post some of them here.
A special thanks to Steve Immerman, whose wonderful photos of Els’ work and of Els during the Pilchuck residency, I’ve swiped out of cyberspace to post above. A few more that I pass along here:
Also, thanks to Steve, this beautiful shot of Els at the Pilchuck auction in 2004, caught in a special moment among glass friends…