The Rainbow in the Stones | Bullseye Glass Co. | Bullseye Glass Co

The Rainbow in the Stones

Act 2: The Next Track continues its run at the Museum of Northwest Art until June 12, 2011.

Els VandenEnde’s bowls and single cairn at MoNA, March 12, 2011. Photo: S. Immerman

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.

Cairn on worktable, Pilchuck, August 2010. Photo: S. Immerman

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″….

Els VandenEnde "Cairn (vanilla)" Fused, cold-worked 9" x 5" x 4". E-merge 2006 finalist.

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.

"Vanilla Cairn", a dry stone dyke, a Caithness garden.

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:

Els building a rod-bowl during her 2010 Pilchuck residency. Photo: S. Immerman

"Rasta". Fused, slumped, ground glass rod. Pilchuck, August 2010. Photo: S. Immerman

Also, thanks to Steve, this beautiful shot of Els at the Pilchuck auction in 2004, caught in a special moment among glass friends…



16 Responses to The Rainbow in the Stones

  1. Brock says:

    I’m so very sad about this . . .

  2. Doug says:

    Thanks for posting this Lani. Els was a long time friend and confidant. She would have been proud of your kind words.

  3. Although I didn’t know her, I’ve also been an admirer of Els’ work since E-merge and have been lucky enough to see this Cairn piece sitting in so beautifully with your collection in Scotland.
    I’ve never really thought about the legacy of work that is left behind after we’ve gone. Quite a wonderfully warming thought.

  4. Thank you Lani, yes Els touched many lives. I don’t think she knew a stranger. I am grateful that I got to meet her and have the few chats that we did. What a wonderful warm person and her art will live on as memories of her will live in us all.

  5. Els was an electronic friend for me, one of the online warmglass community that is largely responsible for my own persistence in glass. Funny, encouraging, and always welcoming. She always reached right through the computer to wherever I was – a rare talent. I will miss her.

  6. Tony Smith says:

    Thank you Lani. What a beautiful and thoughtful tribute to Els and her legacy. She will be missed.

  7. I had the pleasure of working with Els at Pilchuck last fall. I’ve always loved her cairns and am equally enamored with her newest creations at MoNA.

    Here’s what I said to our group, upon learning that we’d lost our friend: Since meeting her in September, I’ve often thought about my work differently and only hope that someday my pieces evolve to the point that they also say, as hers so eloquently did: “I was here.”

  8. I met Els many years ago just briefly, she sought me out so generously to comment to me that she and I shared a love for color. When I saw her last, at the opening again, she so generously commented on the “colors”. What a lovely tribute, Lani, to such a lovely person.

  9. Although we never met, Els was very kind to me in a very special way. She once offered to give away a lot of her pattern bars. Only she did not want to bother handling and shipping them. Upon reading this, I wrote to Els [thought to myself, what have I got to lose? I'll give it a try....] Wrote to Els, saying that I am so very far away, but that I like so very much to quote from others in my work. [of course giving them the credit for this] And please, if she can, will she send me some of her pattern bars ?
    Well, she sent me a BIG package of pattern bars which are still with me. I was, and am so very grateful for that gest. That was so nice of her. I sent her in return a big book about the Holy land, and thanked her from the bottom of my heart. Not only for the pattern bars, but more than this I am grateful for her kindness and will to bother sending this staff to me, here in Israel] She will always be in my pieces!

  10. Risa Prince says:

    As a glass newbie I am awed by the work I see on the Bulleye site. While I haven’t yet met most of its creators, this work give me hope that I may someday find my own voice in glass. Els’ legacy includes not only the lives she touched directly and the pieces she made but the inspiration her work continues to create.

  11. A beautiful story for a beautiful soul. Les

  12. Pam Hrycyk says:

    Beautifully written, Lani. I consider myself so lucky to have met Els so many years ago and to have reconnected recently through our love for dogs. I honestly thought I would see her again. I’m sad that it won’t be in this life.

  13. Els and I first met at the reception for that eMerge show in 2006 (funny how seminal that reception was for me–so many of those who’ve since become friends were finalists there). I was feeling lost and shy amongst all these lofty artists, about to slip quietly out the door, when she bounced up, said “You’re Morganica!” and gave me a hug. We’d tag-teamed a bunch of times on warmglass and I’d been impressed with her arguments. I’d figured she’d do some sardonic and very artistic commentary on the world. Instead, she’d made this cheerful, enchanting, whimsical thing that intrigued me on many levels. I stood carefully back and admired it, and she grabbed my hand, put it on one of the stones and said “You’re supposed to FEEL it!” So I did…and smiled…and felt welcomed…and stayed to meet a lot of future friends.

    I doubt she ever realized how much she gave me that night. I wish I’d told her.

  14. As artist we often are driven to make things -propelled by the inner voice, urge or obsession to create. One evening while sharing our slides at Pilchuck, Els stood and spoke about the cairns. She said she finally understood their meaning and why she makes them. With her personal challenges, she is still here and she is still standing. When I think of this truly personal revelation, it takes touches me deeply. When I learned Els was in a coma, I wrote this poem.

    For Els…

    Still Standing

    Fractured strata,
    tumbled smooth,
    gathered together.
    Firmly grounded,
    stacked skyward,
    still standing.

    Standing still.

  15. Lani says:

    Thank you all so very much for sharing such wonderful memories and sentiments about Els!

    Gloria, that poem needs a stone carver…and a Highland garden to live in. I love it.

  16. I did not have the pleasure to “know” Els personally, however, I was immensely inspired by her work. As an American of Scottish descent her cairns resonated deeply within me and I believe touched many souls in our beautiful community. Thankfully she has left us with these tender reminders of her time here and mark an eternal passage, one which we will all make in our own time, my condolences to those who were lucky enough to share her life…

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