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Life Arts    H4'ed 2/8/12

At 74, Welding Latest Passion for Versatile Artist, Dede Harris

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My guest today is artist and sculptor, Dede Harris. Welcome to OpEdNews, Dede! You've gone through a number of careers and passions as you have continued to evolve.  They've included being an elementary school teacher, social worker, insurance agent, docent at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, wife, mother, and grandmother as well as artist.  I'd like to talk about your most recent passion for welding. It's a surprising choice for a woman, and especially a more mature one. Where did your interest come from?

Dede wielding wire-feeder welder

[Husband] Sam and I had decided to live the winter months in Scottsdale and I decided to follow my passion to create during this time but I didn't know what media. After seeing a booth of sculptures I admired at the Scottsdale Art Fair, I asked the artist how he made these, were they welded or soldered?  He said, welded.  I turned to Sam and said "I can do that; I'm going to learn to weld."  The next day, we went to a flea market where a man was selling fences.  I recognized they, too, were made from steel.  I said, "Did you weld these?"  He answered, "Yes." "Would you teach me how to weld?"  He agreed.  Sam and I went to the worst part of Phoenix every week for lessons from Willy.    The area was so bad, helicopters hovered the area at night, patrolling.  We called our teacher Willy, the Welder.  Willy had a beard, a long braid, cowboy boots and two guns (in Arizona, it's legal to have guns as long as you wear them outside your clothing).  Two German Shepherds protected his shack.  In the back, where we welded, was a pool with filthy black water filled with scum.  We said very little while we learned. We got right to work.  I must admit I was terrified of the flames but continued fighting that fear, always, always with the goal of learning to weld.  

After several weeks in this manner, he told us he had to move to Mexico.  (We think he was a drug dealer, he was always very nervous.)  In any case, as we packed our unfinished sculptures in the trunk of our car, a small periodical ( The Jewish Star ) was next to the tool case Willy had just lifted.  He noticed it.  He exclaimed, "Are you Jewish?"  We thought he was going to take his guns and kill us.  Fear of the flames was nothing in comparison to what I now felt.   We said a nervous "Yes." Astonishing us, he said, "I'm Jewish, too." Now, Sam and I stood shocked.  "Wait here," he said and he ran in his shack and brought out his Bar Mitzvah photos.  

A few days after recovering from that shock, my determination returned to learn to weld and now my welding teacher had vanished.  So, I looked in the yellow pages under welding and low and behold I found a welding school.  Not admitting to Sam I was still afraid of the flames, Sam again agreed to go with me after I made an appointment with the director.  After touring the school with so many students and so much equipment my enthusiasm bubbled.  During the interview the director, 6' 4" Dallas, said, "You can't weld here."  I was deflated.  I asked why.  He said, "Well, this is a school for released prisoners."  I said,  "I won't hurt them."  He said, "That is not the point. They may hurt you."  However, he knew Mesa Community College in Mesa, Arizona had just opened a course for welders and I could possibly learn there. Dallas was going to be an assistant to the director.    So, determined now more than ever I made another appointment with the director, Rod Hamill.  Upon hearing of my interest, 6' 7" tough, Viet Nam veteran, Rod agreed to take me on as a student.  

Sam once again accompanied me.  The first day of class, in boots, lab coats, hoods and leather gloves Rod took the new students around the lab, showing the students the dangers of the various pieces of equipment.  Sam whispered in my ear, "Let's get out of here."  I said, "You can go, I'm staying."  That was after Rod lifted his shirt and showed us a scar across his stomach from standing in the wrong position with the sanding machine.  Rod also showed us the shower, should we catch fire and the phone which is hooked up to the emergency room at the local hospital.

Half our class walked out.  The remaining students then took their seats and Rod went around the room asking why each student wanted to learn to weld.  He got to Sam and Sam said, I don't want to be here, but I can't leave my wife here and she wants to stay.  So stay I did, eventually Sam did trust I wouldn't get hurt and stopped accompanying me and semester after semester, I continued to learn and create, eventually losing my fear of working with fire.  I remained undaunted, always following my intuition.  Trusting this intuition has led me to many serendipitous and wondrous experiences and creative souls.  I still feel a spiritual cloud around me as I go from adventure to adventure.  

Lovely! Your passion to learn was stronger than your fear. How have you incorporated welding into your artistic vision? What do you weld?

Well, the first pieces I welded were called The Bernard Street Series.  They were four to five foot whimsical sculptures, each representing a friend I had grown up with on Bernard Street in Chicago.  One jumped rope, one was hopping.  They were made of found objects and all very colorful.  I remember when I had completed them all, the night before I took them by truck to Pieces in Highland Park, I lined them up in my living room and thought [that] I would have to part with them, should anyone purchase them. I had always been nostalgic about my friends on Bernard Street.  I had loved my friends dearly and these sculptures had grown to represent that time in my childhood.  When I brought them to Pieces in Highland Park, the owner was so excited.  She exclaimed,  "This is exactly what I have a store for!"  Her excitement confirmed to me that someone else "got it".  Several days later, I went to Highland Park to see the annual Highland Park Art Fair and you can imagine the thrill of seeing Bernard Street lined up in her windows.  I had skipped the easier method of marketing, which is street fairs, and went directly into a store.  All these artists, so many of them so much more professional than I, working at their craft so much longer than I, were sitting in the heat displaying their work while I felt an unworthy satisfaction of knowing my first pieces were being displayed in the windows down the street.  It was surreal for me.

Surreal but satisfying! Let's talk about your materials. You use many found objects. Why? And does that make it easier or more difficult to execute your art? What comes first? The idea or the found object?  

Sometimes I look at an object and see the image it could become by adding other materials to it.   Very often I hang an unfinished piece of work on the wall across from my bed and it is the last thing I see at night and the first thing I see in the morning.  I meditate on the artwork...adding imaginary shapes, materials, colors to it until I get my inspiration.

I love to go to steel yards, junkyards, old barns etc. just wandering around, thinking of ideas.   Just today I was at Sam Asch Music Store and asked if they ever throw away old cymbals or old instruments made of any materials.    I have an idea for using them.  If I get an old instrument I would probably take it apart and hang it on the wall across from my bed and study it for days or even weeks.

Other times, I am inspired by another artist and spin off of her work.  I very much admire Lee Bontecou's work.  In fact, I have made what I call pilgrimages to the Art Institute of Chicago where they display one of her amazing pieces.  Her artwork is in their new gallery.  I often visit her website just to admire her workmanship and creativity.  I have a dream to visit her studio one day.  I love her use of materials and the professional way she connects them.  In fact, I have often thought what I do is all about connecting.  Connecting materials thru welding, gluing, nailing, stapling, sewing, etc., connecting with leaders of workshops so I can increase my knowledge and learn new skills, connecting with other artists with whom I collaborate and/or share ideas, connecting with gallery owners and art fair proprietors and buyers.  Some of the "people" connections I've made have become lifelong friends.

Once, wandering through a gallery, I came across a fiber artwork I admired tremendously.  I wrote the artist's name, Jane Herrick, on a piece of scratch paper, googled her, found she taught at art at the University of Wisconsin, called her and asked her to do a workshop with two of my friends and myself.  We all went to her workshop and she actually taught us many basics of fiber art, which we are still using.  Jane and I became very good friends and supporters of each other's work.  A true connection, which propelled me into another art form and a good friend.

Because working at Mesa Community College welding lab one day a week didn't offer me enough opportunity to hone my skills, I began wondering where I could weld more often.  The need to weld more frequently opened up fascinating opportunities to weld and develop new friendships, albeit connections.

Through meeting another student welder in Mesa Community College, I was invited to weld on her horse farm in Arizona, which I gladly accepted.  The wide open spaces and fresh country air provided me an opportunity to quickly get in the creative mode.  Eventually, this fellow student welder moved and sold her farm.  What was I to do?  Serendipity took over.

One day, Sam took a ride by himself into the mountains of Tonto Forest.  He came back excited and told me he had been to the top of a mountain where there was an abandoned gold mine and a gem shop and a teepee.  The manager, a former priest turned Buddhist monk, was very friendly and invited Sam back. Sam said, "Dede, this would be a perfect place for you to weld."  I had no idea what he was talking about.  I couldn't picture myself welding on the top of an isolated mountain.   So, Sam and I took a ride up this steep, winding, unpaved, potholed road where I met the manager, Ron Koczak.  Sam asked him about the possibility of welding there and Ron immediately said sure I could weld.  He gave me a table and a shed to store my equipment. All the travelers who made their way up this steep mountain for a cold drink or a piece of quartz became my audience, as I welded my heart out.   For many years, Sam and I went into the Tonto Forest mountain range and I welded looking down on tumbling weed and lovely desert flowers. (As an aside, Ron became a dear friend and has been our guide to many Indian reservations all over Arizona).  

Meanwhile, I decided to take water aerobics and joined a gym.  I had never taken water aerobics and why I decided to do this, I have no idea.  In the pool, the first woman I started a conversation with went something like this.  "What is your name?"  "Shirlee Schneider," she answered.  "Do you live in Arizona permanently?" I asked.  Shirlee answered,  "Yes, we moved recently."  "Where did you live before?" I asked.    My new friend, Shirlee answered, "Northbrook." I said, "That's funny; we live in Northbrook.  What do you do for fun?"  She answered, " I weld." I almost swallowed a big mouthful of chlorinated pool water.  We decided to collaborate.  Now for 12 years, we have been collaborating and showing our work in galleries all over Scottsdale, Carefree and Cave Creek.  We weld in her studio and have become dear friends.  What an amazing connection that was!

So you can see, a spiritual cloud has guided me through my entire welding experience, as if the universe has blessed my new hobby over and over and over again, telling me to ignore my self doubt and move forward.  All this and more blessings came through so many wondrous connections.

Speaking of found objects, you did a series using steel oil drums in an unusual way. Can you tell us about that?

So much of what I do is serendipity or happenstance.  I adore and embrace the absurd.  So, when my friend, Ingrid Brown, suggested she had a friend who owned a steel factory and perhaps we could weld there I jumped at the opportunity.  Soon, Ingrid and I were welding in the back room of this factory that made metal grates. We had the freedom to use many of their scrap pieces of steel.  We were in another world, so excited by all the possibilities.  First, I must tell you about the factory.  It was in a very bad, industrial neighborhood on the southwest side of Chicago.  It was large and noisy and filled with the smell of steel burning with heavy, trapped, steel dust in the air.  Large bins, eight feet high, were placed all over the factory.  Often, Ingrid or I would climb into one of these bins and go "treasure hunting" for ideal shapes and sizes of steel.  

Once, Ingrid got stuck in one of the bins and I had to go hunt a good- natured laborer to help her climb out.  I have to admit we added laughter to these hard-working men's lives, these laborers became our friends and helpers.  The factory was so large in fact we had to take a golf cart to get to the welding corner, passing all kinds of industrial equipment.  One of the employees ran a forklift truck.  Ingrid and I spied four-foot tall oil drums about to be thrown away.  We glanced at each other knowingly.  We asked the forklift driver if he would smash one.  He did.  We stepped back and studied the shape.  

Voila!  Soon, it became apparent to us we had a face in the folds of the smashed oil can.  So, we started to work.  Our patient friend-fork lift driver smashed many oil drums and soon we had many faces.  We embellished the faces adding whatever was necessary to complete the unfolding character.  We often used other materials to add detail, such as a thin face veil to provoke mystery for Scheherzade or thick, yellow rope found in a marine shop, which we braided for pigtails for Dutch Girl.   Eventually we made about 12 such faces and called them Loft Art because only a loft would be big enough to display such work.  Some of the faces we created were Scherazade, Proud Red Man, Dutch Girl, Old Russian Woman, Football Player etc.  Many of them were sold, but I have kept three and have them displayed in front of my orchard on the top of six foot high wooden poles.  At night, they are lit.  They remind me of a time when fun and absurdity gave rise to my creativity. 

Scheherazade and Proud Chief Smoking Peace Pipe (oil drum art)

I've seen that threesome in your yard and they're really something, whimsical and very very large. Most recently, you've begun to do pieces of a more serious nature. Would you tell us about that, Dede?

Going from the process of overcoming my strong fear of flames to  welding whimsical creatures with fun and delight, I now faced a new challenge.  My friend, Sara Akerlund, listened solemnly as I told her about my visit to the Austrian concentration camp, Ebensee.  I had visited other concentration camps.  They are all places of destruction and death.  All shameful and appalling.  All vile.  Ebensee was in a class by itself.  Shocked and overwhelmed, I told Sara about Ebensee.  Several months later, Sara visited Ebensee and found a fragment of filthy rust and sent it to me with the challenge to create an art piece using this fragment.   This fragment sat in its envelope for months.  From time to time, I would look at it and return it to the envelope.  To me, it was a piece of sacred energy--- energy of the victims who were tortured to death in this abominable place.  I honored this shard and touched it only tentatively.  Subconsciously, I was preparing to work with it.  This was a difficult shift. I had always worked on pieces that were easy to access for me emotionally. Now I had to represent raw, painful experiences.   I never willingly put myself into an unpleasant emotional place.  I knew I "owed it." I felt an obligation to the victims of this atrocity.  I began to work, not knowing the outcome.  I forced myself!  I worked!  

At first, I put several uneven and unbalanced lengths of steel together forming an incomplete, disturbed circle.  Ahhh, I thought, this is the Jewish people's circle of life that has been permanently altered.  The steel itself represents the strength of evil.  Still having no idea of the outcome of this piece, I continued.  I wove pieces of waxed linen thread between the lengths of steel forming a screen, a barrier from which there was no escape.  I still had no idea where I was going with this piece or what the finished product would look like.  I stopped for several weeks.    Then, feeling an unknown force to continue, I resumed work.  Using old fishing net found off the coast in Florida, I attached pieces of discarded fish netting to the lengths of steel.  Old fish netting symbolized the terrified struggle and death of the captured, a perfect symbol for the Jews in Ebensee.  Then came the worn, filthy, tattered canvas boat cover found in a Minnesota barn.  I stretched the canvas beyond its endurance, caught between the rods of steel.   It was just what I needed to represent the emotional and physical stress of the victims stretched beyond human endurance.  Rips broke through the fabric illustrating total destruction.  Single waxed linen threads dispersed in the disturbed circle indicated the loneliness and isolation the prisoners endured.  And ever so small specks of brass formed gold droplets over the steel suggesting little bits of hope to which the victims clung.  A heavy steel plate covered the center, relating to the strength and courage of the human spirit and finally the shard.

Intuitively, I knew this next effort, the placement of the fragment, would be the center of the art piece, because it had been the genesis of this work and the core of its meaning. I wanted to establish a permanent place for this fragment, an everlasting safe haven to ensure whatever it had witnessed and endured would last eternally.  I positioned this shard in a more perfect circle, the womb of everlasting life. This small rusted sacred piece of energy was placed on a dynamic angle indicating the idea [that] the souls are free and still rising.    The importance of the angle, rising out of the center, the culmination of all those tortured souls, best describes the energy of the victims, which remains with us forever.  After all, this fragment had heard, witnessed and absorbed the sounds, the odor, the pain, the hopelessness of sadistic torture perpetrated on an innocent people.  It contains the horrific events and yet it has survived.

My friend, Ellen Palestrant, talented author of The World of Glimpse and many other books, was fascinated with my explanation of this artwork and suggested a booklet be written so others could understand the symbolism.  Ellen's incredible writing skills and patient insight guided me through the painful process of describing my intentions as I attempted to evoke the horrors of Ebensee.  This booklet has been published and is displayed next to the artwork, titled, "Sacred Energy".

Finishing this work gave me a terrific sense of release and relief. Although I am committed to creating more "Holocaust art", my immediate plans are to return to more lighthearted art fueled by serendipity.  I need a break. 


I bet. Let's talk about what happens after you've finished a piece. Is it hard for you to part with it? Do you end up keeping a lot of your work before you're prepared to let it go? Does it matter who takes your work home with them?

My work represents something different to me than it does to those who receive my work.  Maybe it is because of the nature of my work in which the universe often influences my wide variety of materials and skills that parting with them is made more difficult.  When I finish a piece I remember the "ah ha" experiences that have assisted  me in its creation.  The buyer sees the completed product, I see the struggles and the triumphs.

Very often, after my initial surge of vision, I lose my way.  Sometimes, I try many different styles, objects, colors, positions and still nothing happens.  I'm stuck.  Then, one day, I come back to the piece and suddenly I've "got it."  It usually is an obvious solution but it had been an elusive one.

Art is all about problem solving, whether it is balance, position, color, etc.  Even empty spaces create a challenge. All areas have to be judged singularly and as a whole, a constant shift from the particular to the entire.  I get an unsettled feeling, a visceral unease, when things aren't just right.   Then I feel a sudden relief when the problem has been solved. The memory of that struggle and the "ah ha" experiences makes the piece even more valuable to me.  This is something the potential owner can't really understand or may not even be interested in understanding.  For me, moving through this discomfort adds to the preciousness of these pieces.

Not all my experiences in creating are painful.  There are moments of immense delight when everything is working together. These moments too, make up my personal history of a particular artwork.  These experiences are also part of the memory of the piece which tends to make me more hesitant in  passing on ownership.  Knowing the other will enjoy the piece or "get it" encourages my releasing the piece.

Another reason I feel a slight ambivalence in parting with my art are the extraordinary happenings that went into making the piece.  For instance, I was walking on a sidewalk in a small town in Minnesota (I can even tell you the time of day, the side of the street I walked on and with whom I walked.  My memory is so sharp when this serendipitous event occurs). I spotted a flattened twig that had been run over in the middle of the street, absolutely the perfect piece I needed to complete an unfinished headdress for a welded and fiber figure.  What a thrill to find this piece.  Nowhere in the world could I have found a flattened twig with just the right curve and tassel.  For several days, I had been looking for something to finish this figure.  Nothing seemed to fit.  It was magical to me to be able to find just the right piece to complete this headdress in the middle of a street in a small town in Minnesota.   When someone purchased the piece, I felt a twinge of regret remembering that wondrous experience.  Even if I mentioned this event to the buyer who obviously enjoyed the piece, the buyer still might not understand.

So, my difficulty in parting with an art piece is not so much parting with the piece itself but remembering the experiences that surround its creation. It is, in a way, the artist's birth process.

It also matters who purchases the piece.  Of course, I am flattered when anyone purchases a piece, but when I see someone really excited, really understands what work and creativity was involved, money alone cannot buy that kind of satisfaction.  I am thrilled when I've made others happy with my vision, my art.

What haven't we talked about yet, Dede?

I've been asked, "How is it possible to work with other artists?"

After I was comfortable with plasma cutters (metal laser-cutting machines), grinding wheels, punch presses, oxy-acetylene and wire-feed welding, I decided I needed to add more materials and learn more skills to make my metal art pieces more mysterious and interesting.  Enter, Barbette Loevy, a dear old friend and accomplished artist with an idea.   "Let's collaborate," she said.  Ready for new challenges and excited to add new skills, I agreed.   The collaboration certainly had some stress. I was more nervous than Barbette, with her open toed shoes, when the sparks flew.  Together, we created Kuumbas (Swahili for "creative spirits"), two-foot steel figures dressed in organic fibers and elaborate head dresses. 


While working with Barbette, I had been welding weekly in a factory with my inventive and adventurous, welding friend, Ingrid Brown, when Barbette and I started to weld together. The three of us decided to form a collaboration.  Weekly, Ingrid and Barbette (driving over 50 miles each way) and I spend a day, at  my studio.  We are all in another realm... in space, not time.  Listening to '50s and '60s music, sharing stories, we are laughing and creating.  When the music stirs our souls, we leave our work tables and dance around the studio. Weather permitting, we work at a picnic table in the woods.  At times, we search for Curly Cork Screw Willow branches in  Illinois or hunt for fallen  tree fronds from palm trees in Arizona.  On one of our hunts for tree fronds, we lost Barbette.  She had excitedly jumped into a drainage ditch, without forethought, to reach a tree frond.  She got the tree frond but getting Barbette out of the hole, as we were all convulsed in laughter, was not so easy.

We are insatiable learners.   Having attended felting workshops, branch twining workshops, gourd making, paper making and even glass blowing,  we now have a bag of "tricks" to work our special brand of magic.

Our enthusiasm flows over.  With our variety of skills, we have an amazing amount of supplies.  Supplies found in obscure places such as leather factories, flea markets, second hand stores, garage sales and scrap metal yards.

We work on individual projects, critiquing each other's work (only when asked).    Our work progresses until we feel "stuck". When stuck, we pass our project off to whoever has an inspiration to continue the work until we have crossed the impasse.  Always, when one of us wants to try something new, the other artists agree. Very often, we incorporate the new idea into future work.  We inherently know every idea is not necessarily going to be successful.  We try not to make every disagreement into a power struggle. Always conscious of the fact there could be control issues when there is a rare clash, we discuss the issue (rather heatedly) and then move on. Underlying our relationship has been a mutual respect for each other's skills and individuality and, of course, a genuine caring for each other. Pushing boundaries and experimenting has kept us growing artistically. Our fortunate collaboration we call "Synergistic Art."  We've been blessed to be in many fine galleries throughout the United States and highly thought of juried art fairs.

As much as we enjoy working together, finding one plus one plus one makes much more than three, we all continue to create alone, moving forward on our own time and in our own direction.  None of us can stop creating.  We need our art as we need air to breathe.  We are obsessed individually and collectively with the joy of creating.

It sounds fabulous, Dede. Speaking of relationships, you've been blessed with a terrific husband. What does Sam think about all of your various art adventures?

I made a commitment at the very beginning of my journey into art.  I dedicated any success I might have with my art to my husband's Sam's family, the Rzezniks.  I am so grateful to his family, the Rzezniks, for having nurtured so remarkable a man. Sadly, they didn't live to witness the full measure of their child...the Rzeznik family died in the Holocaust.  A sign hangs over the doorway to my home studio with letters burned in wood, "The Rzeznik Studio."  Early on, I felt I was more on a spiritual journey with my art than a physical one.  This has proven to be true over and over.  So much has happened in the way of "beshert", (meant to be).  There has always been something surreal about my "artistic life."  I've always experienced a certain  feeling and even belief, it is life itself that is the art not the art in and of itself.  Here are three of the many experiences, shared with Sam, that would illustrate the mystery and richness of my creative life.  Sam is intrinsically involved in each of these profound experiences.   Art has always been the catalyst.

A storm came up suddenly as we were driving through Las Cruces, New Mexico.  We were surrounded by tornadoes.  Having no choice, we had to stay in Las Cruces until the storm blew over.  With nothing to do, we decided to cruise the streets until we found something interesting to occupy ourselves.  We passed a weather beaten sign hanging off a tree on the side of the road.  "Weaving Studio," was written on the sign.  We passed it by at first.  I said, "Sam, please turn the car around."  We passed the sign again.  I said, "Sam, today we are going to learn to weave."  Sam agreed.  Our next challenge was to find this weaving studio.  We drove up and down narrow, unpaved streets lined with small, old, stucco homes.  The streets looked desolate.  

Finally, about to give up, we found a woman who looked as if she was of Mexican decent, with one thick black braid down her back, a long colorful skirt and sandals, sweeping her front yard, with sheep and chickens around her.  Calling from the car, we asked if she knew where the waving studio was.  She said, "it's here".  Enthusiastically anticipating a fun filled learning session on a rainy afternoon, we pulled the car into her driveway.  She came over to the car and said, "There is only one problem.  It's Shabbat. I have to make Shabbat."  Sam and I looked at her and couldn't believe our ears.  "What?" we asked.  She said, "I have my challah in the oven and have to make Shabbat dinner ready for my family."  How in the world could she have known we would even know what Shabbat was?  But, kindly and generously she said, "Come, I will show you my studio.  I just can't take the time to teach you to weave."  So, in we walked surrounded by large urns of dye.  Rosa explained she shears her sheep and dyes their wool and weaves garments.  Her latest creation was a shawl, which recently appeared on the cover of a national weaving magazine.  Her small studio had large vats that held vivid colors from Kool Aid and natural fibers found in her area.  Many spinning wheels placed next to each other with colorful garments in various stages of completion met my fascinated and riveted eyes.  How in the world did we ever land in this place, I thought.  What I didn't know, a truly extraordinary experience was about to unfold.

Rosa suddenly asked, "have you ever heard of the Holocaust?"  Sam said, "Wait a minute, I have a book in the car for you."  After getting Sam's book, Sammy, Child Survivor of the Holocaust , Rosa said, "Well, did you ever hear of the United States Holocaust Museum?"  Sam and I, still stunned, looked at each other.  "Sam speaks there almost every year and we were headed there in a few weeks," I said.  Rosa told us her sister, Christina, was the Director of the Spanish-speaking Education Department and she would have her meet us when we arrived.  Now, we were definitely in space, not time.  Rosa also told us her father and sister worked at the El Paso Holocaust Museum.  We were beyond curious and fascinated.

Although we had spoken by phone to Christina, Rosa's sister, and told her of our pending visit to the United States Holocaust Museum, we didn't know the specific time of our arrival and so we made no detailed plans to meet.  It was decided we would phone Christina when we got to the museum.  A few weeks later, as we went through the turn style at the museum, we heard a warm hello and someone grabbing and hugging us.  Christina, just happened to be at the door greeting a group of students, saw our name as our things were being scanned and threw her arms around us.  We had a wonderful lunch together and a special friendship with Rosa and Christina has developed.

This isn't the end of the story.  While in Rosa's studio, I purchased one of Rosa's beautiful shawls. It was agreed Rosa would send the shawl to me when completed.  Months went by, I never received the shawl.  Finally, on the morning of Rosh Hashanah, rushing around for our big dinner with many family members and friends soon to come, the doorbell rang.  It was the package with Rosa's shawl.  Of course, this special shawl would come on such a sacred holiday.  Realizing this shawl represented an ethereal experience I put it on proudly as I served our holiday meal.  As usual, all our dinner guests were asked to tell uplifting stories that occurred to them in the previous year.  I told our guests the story of Rosa.  Upon hearing this story, our quiet and shy cousin Memo, of Mexican decent, said he always wanted to take his DNA test to find out if he had Jewish heritage.  No doubt, Memo would not have had the courage to reveal this if the story of Rosa hadn't been told.  Memo's wife also ordered a shawl such as mine and every Rosh Hashanah we both wear our shawls and retell this amazing story.  None of this would have occurred if Sam hadn't been willing to "learn to weave" on that stormy day in Las Cruces.  Doesn't this story tell so much about Sam's intrinsic value to my life and my art.

[Note: Memo's DNA test revealed he IS of Jewish heritage.]

The second story of Sam's contribution to my world of art continues.  Reading an art show catalog, much to my surprise and delight, I found an advertisement which read, "Wanted: welder to apprentice with world renown sculptor John Kearney."  Excited, I phoned and much to my amazement John Kearney answered the phone.  I made an appointment for an interview.  Off to John's studio Sam and I went.  Because we had already studied welding techniques and were experienced working with a variety of equipment, John immediately decided we both could apprentice.  Once a week, Sam and I would take the long trek into Chicago.  Wearing welding boots, long work coats, heavy gloves and hoods we slaved away under the tutelage of The John Kearney, the artist who spun Irish stories as our fire heated our steel rods.  Among the Chicago sculptures John Kearney created are the elephant in Lincoln Park, all the figures in Oz Park, and the ape at the Natural History Museum. Even though the work in Mr. Kearney's studio was tedious, Sam and I considered it a privilege just to be in his inspired world.  Always under pressure to finish his commissioned work, Sam and I worked hard.  Just walking to and from his studio in the heart of the city wearing our strange garb was a hoot for us.  Then one day, Mr. Kearney announced he was going to Provincetown, MA for the summer.  Would we like to work in his studio in Provincetown? There was no decision to make.  Off to Provincetown we went, where we continued to work on his sculptures and had the pleasure of hearing so many of his stories riding his sailboat in the Atlantic Ocean.  It was in Provincetown, I found the wonders of the town dump where old clothes, used appliances and general junk were collected.  Certainly, we came home with more suitable items to weld than we had arrived with.  Buoyed up by the experience of working with Mr. Kearney I brought photos of my work into a gallery in Provincetown.  My sculptures were accepted.  This was a fitting end to a unique and wonderful experience with this generous eccentric and talented artist.

Once again, the absurdity of this experience, the utter unreality of it, is typical of all our adventures.  We have been blessed when over and over again, so many variables seem to come together to offer us rich and marvelous experiences.

The following example is the third illustration of Sam's influence in my art world.  I decided I would like to share this rather unusual art form with other women.  I had new feelings of efficacy and received great satisfaction from working with this "man's" skill, welding.  I wanted to make a film teaching the process of creating metal art so other women may consider this as a viable art form.

I asked Sam to film the teaching video.  I had written a script.  Sam followed me into scrap metal yards, filmed me climbing mountains of garbage looking for items that would be perfect elements in my design.  After I found these "treasures", Sam continued to videotape as I broke the creative process into easy and doable steps.  A friend from Carefree Arizona, generously offered her spacious ranch as a setting where we could film.  So, the video was produced on this magnificent piece of property with Saguaro Cactus in the background.

Once again, Sam encouraged this project, filmed it and enthusiastically embraced my efforts.  As Sam has entered my world, Sam has always encouraged me to enter his world.  There are many more examples of wild and rich experiences we have sharing each other's passions.  Sam's encouraging and creative nature and our very special shared relationship have contributed to the richness of these experiences.  If i have to summarize our common ability to enjoy uncommon experiences, it is to let go of any preconceptions of results, and stay in the flow of the experience.  The outcome of our experiences is always unexpected and much more than we anticipated.  Lacking in critical judgments has served us well.  It is no effort for either one of us to stay open to people and life itself.  We are blessed.

Yes, indeed. It was great fun talking with you, Dede. Thank you! I can't wait to see what next catches your fancy!

All photos by Sam Harris

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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