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There’s something wonderful about that moment of enchantment that shocks us out of our normal ways of seeing things and lands us in a fresh way of looking. Travel to a new city, a great poem or painting, a moment of communion during prayer or meditation, even a child’s shout of laughter can be the catalyst. It’s not necessarily a higher way of perceiving, it’s usually a lateral jump. But it gives a rebirth into the moment, an unexpected and palpable sense of the mysterious now.

I live with a classical figurative sculptor whose mind processes the world so differently than mine that those little jolts occur regularly, in our communication. If what passes between us can rightly be called communication. Because I think in words and paragraphs, in flashes of energy and leaps of feeling and intuition. Sabin thinks in concrete visual images, in form and color and volume. Sometimes I think he has to translate his thoughts into a language that I can understand, and I still have to reverse-engineer his words into my own dialect, to finally grasp what he’s trying to convey.

Which kind of works out between us, because he’s normally a quiet-spoken man of few words, and I can fill the space between us with my own loquacity. And I don’t even mind when his eyes glaze over because I figure he’s going to the happy place in his mind–best I can figure, that’s the Medici tombs in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, with Michelangelo’s breathtaking funereal monuments.

But sometimes Sabin gets a word in edgewise, and there it is, that little frisson, the world cracking to reveal itself anew. The other day he said, “The babysitter’s head is a near perfect sphere. Do you think she would model for me?”

Now, I know he’s planning to do a set of twice-life-sized heads, male and female, with an eye to the hotel and grand lobby market, when he finishes the Apollo (see the pix above). Those heads would look beautiful outdoors in gardens and near pools, also. It’s a good idea because he’s not just thinking about art but also about selling art, and, you know, artists have to eat and pay their kids’ school tuition, too.

But I had never noticed that our babysitter had an especially round head. I had seen her to be lovely, and better still from my point of view, kind to our mischievous 4 year old daughter. So I went back to look at her again, next time she was working for us. Sure enough, part of what makes her so pretty is that elegantly-shaped head.

“Sabin says your head is beautifully round,” I told her. “Would you be interested in modeling for him?”

“I’ve always been self-conscious about my head being so round,” she confessed. “I’d be honored! I can’t believe he would ask me.”

“Don’t be honored,” I warned. “As a boss, working on his sculpture, Sabin makes Attila the Hun look like a sweetie pie.” I know this because he’s working on a bust of me. I’ve experienced his exacting demands for myself.

“The forms on your face are defined and highly symmetrical,” he told me, when we started the project. It’s probably the only compliment he’s ever given me, and boy oh boy, does high symmetry make a woman’s heart palpitate. But I did check myself out in the mirror, when he grudgingly gave me permission to pee. I’m not sure I saw what he did. All I could think was that I’d better give botox a try.

But it was a new way of seeing even myself, and that’s something I seek out, too. I wanted to discuss modes of perception when I sat back down to continue modeling. Though, do you believe, he doesn’t like me to talk while he’s sculpting me? Claims it’s distracting. We put the bust on hold until I’ve finished what I have to say. It may be a few decades.

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The reality show of my life, part 1: Boob Model

Personally, I think that reality TV shows herald, and probably contribute to, the demise of civilization. Reality shows are spawned when interest in story wanes; interest in story wanes when values do not grip people. When people stop believing in sin and redemption. When the mental vacuity of moral relativism numbs us to the fact that we define ourselves by our actions, and every action matters.

(I only sound Republican. I’m a registered Democrat.)

But if they’re going to make reality TV shows, why not one of my life? From the point of view of sad, absurdist comedy, it’s pretty rich. Start with an author married to a Renaissance-obsessed sculptor, four kids from three different marriages, a melange of religions, one communist daughter attending Amherst and one studious pre-med doctor-in-training-daughter at Johns Hopkins, my wild middle child whose first rule of conduct is “No restraining orders!” and a 4 year old imp who talks and reasons like a 7 year old.

The show could debut with the time my husband decided to advertise on Craig’s List for a boob model. Now, this was not a sketchy activity; Sabin is a classical figurative sculptor (think Michelangelo) and he was hard at work on a life size Aphrodite. He’d used several women already, one for gesture, a dancer for the uplifted arms, a tango teacher for the legs, an aikido master for the goddess’ core, all in their 20’s. But he didn’t like any of their busts.

I’m pretty sure he spent a few hours one evening evaluating my humble decolletage, such as it is after nursing three children. He was squinting down my shirt with a crease between his brows, in too clinical a manner for it to be foreplay. But there was no mention of my posing topless for the goddess. My husband was smart enough to hold his tongue. The rejection came and went unsaid.

Ecco, Craig’s List. “Wanted: breast model for a life size figurative sculpture. Professional classical sculptor pays same rate as art schools. See my website before contacting me.”

There were thousands of responses. Dutifully Sabin opened every single one. About 90% of the emails came from… Heather in New Jersey, who thought a shot of herself hanging upside down off a pole best showed her watermelon-sized endowments. Also exposed her nether parts in a way that only gynecologists, and not fine art sculptors, would find professionally interesting. Or there was Lindyloo in Queens, clad only in sequins, who charged not by the hour, but by the act. She listed a whole menu. I’m a writer and I know a lot of words, but there were things I’d never heard of. I thought about emailing back for elucidation. Maybe then my husband would look down my shirt in a less detached manner.

Sabin was not amused. Not by my chortles and not by the women who could read the words “breast model” but not the words “professional classical sculptor.” He wasn’t titillated, either. This is his work and his work is his God. Sabin was looking for a specific physical attribute and he might as well have been looking at elbows or knees.

He eventually auditioned a few women and chose someone whom I thought was too small for Aphrodite. She is the Goddess of Love, after all, shouldn’t she have a really great set of knockers, full Double-D’s that knock people over?

But of course, he of the exquisite taste was right. Aphrodite was finished and she’s gorgeous, modest bust and all. So maybe there is something elegantly appealing about the less-endowed chest, after all….


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The Art of Life: How and Why to Look at Sculpture by Traci L. Slatton & Sabin Howard

The Art of Life: How and Why to Look at Sculpture

by Traci L. Slatton & Sabin Howard

My husband Sabin Howard ( and I are writing a book about sculpture together. He is a working classical figurative sculptor–think Michelangelo–and I am NOT a PhD.

I want to write this book precisely because I am not a PhD. I want to write it for the purest reason: because I love sculpture and it enhances life and I want to share this passion, and its uplifting effect, with everyone. Sculpture is too beautiful, too innately healing, too richly resonant of what it actually means to be human, to be monopolized by a few people with advanced degrees.

I stand for the democratization of art. This is precisely why I have such a strong aversion to post-modern art, which, with its emphasis on ugliness and alienation, has begged to be rejected by the ordinary person and embraced by the few who either 1, make money off it, or 2, get a PhD out of it.

I am here to tell you: art is not dead. Neither is God, for that matter. There’s a burdgeoning movement that is rediscovering both. Beauty, too.

Why do I call this book ‘The art of life’? Simple: when you pause and breathe and take in a sculpture, it brings you back into alignment with your deepest core self. It renews your Self. It deepens your experience of this moment now, of the presence, and Presence, in this perfectly imperfect moment of space-time. And isn’t that the practice of the art of life? It is for me.

On Beauty
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On Beauty

On Beauty

I have been reading Rumi.

I do this whenever I am heartsick, soulsick. Usually it’s for something I can’t identify, though there’s always some exterior thing like a convenient hook to hang it on: my dog bit my little one and had to be surrendered; my 14-year-old told me a great big whopper; my in-laws have rejected their own grand-daughter and disinherited my husband as a means to communicating their supreme dislike of me; my husband is cranky with exhaustion and overwork and a long string of fourteen hour days; the publishing industry is in a stupid place, and largely, in my view, because publishers publish the same damn crap rather than searching out interesting work, and then they wonder why people don’t want to buy it; our financial situation is fraught, as is our situation with our two former spouses…. There’s no end to people and matters that will serve as an excuse. Rumi says, “Everyone chooses a suffering that will change him or her to a well-baked loaf.”

But I think that is preferable to avoiding the suffering, and failing to rise. That happens, too.

So there is all this stuff amenable to being blamed for my anguish, not to mention that it is that time of the month. But is the body or its relationships or its contexts really the reason for this melancholy seeking without an end?

Yesterday this poem of Rumi’s manifest itself to me, in a moment of bibliomancy, or at least I like to think that the Divine was smiling wryly at all my flailing about, and granted me this mouthful of grace.

Coleman Barks calls it THE MOST ALIVE MOMENT:

“The most living moment comes when
those who love each other meet each
other’s eyes and in what flows
between them then. To see your face
in a crowd of others, or alone on a 
frightening street, I weep for that.
Our tears improve the earth. The
time you scolded me, your gratitude,
your laughing, always your qualities
increase the soul. Seeing you is a 
wine that does not muddle or numb.
We sit inside the cypress shadow
where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.”

(THE SOUL OF RUMI, translations by Coleman Barks.)

I cried after I read it. I found excuses to cry all day. It’s something I rarely do. And then my husband showed me this photo on his iPhone of his Apollo’s outstretched arm. Even in process, it was beautiful: gesture and form, a supreme example of artistry. I cried some more, alone, in my bathroom, so no one knew I was being so silly. And I remembered why this man, this life, this set of choices that has led to this moment in all its bittersweet, empty fullness.

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My husband is selling some plaster copies of his bronze sculptures on eBay. He came home last night dressed in his usual grungy, clay-spattered jeans and ragged tee-shirt with red iron-oxide patina stains. He trudged into the kitchen where I was cooking dinner for our little one, kissed me on the crown of my head, and tread back out. I followed him to see why his hands were so dark. Sitting on our dining room table was PERSISTENCE.
I gaped: this is a powerful, stunning piece of art. His muscles bulge under the compression of gravity, his mighty thews heave with will and determination, his veins strain and pop-out. It’s anatomically plu-perfect, hyper-real in accordance with modern taste, but classically designed and conceived in its male nudeness. It is sensory exaltation. It is an experience of revealed truth.
It’s easy for me to forget, in the dailyness of our life together, that my husband Sabin Howard is a singularly talented artist. Grumbling about his messiness, his clothes left out for me to put away, and his penchant for over-peppering every plate of food he cooks, I lose sight of his extraordinary ability. No one else can sculpt like him. No other working figurative sculptor sculpts at Sabin’s level. No one has sculpted as well as Sabin since, who, Carpeaux? And there is an argument to made that, historical place aside, Sabin is a better sculptor than Carpeaux, who tended to a saccharine quality. Don’t get me wrong, I love the sweetness in Carpeaux’s figures. But for sheer mastery, Sabin’s got him beat. Michelangelo, Bernini, Cellini, Howard: these are the great master sculptors.
Even if I do have to wash out the sink after Sabin shaves.