The “Stone Hefter”, a small wood engraving and lesser spiritual lever
Does It Matter
The question “does this matter” is part of the consistent and insistent background chatter every day of my life. The question never goes away and has a thread of doubt woven through it, but it is balanced with the choices that I’ve made as an individual, and also as part of a family and part of a community that says “yes, it does matter”. It is a faith wager to keep doing it every day. It is not unlike lifting this stone.
When I make art I am praying. I am listening and I am seeking. Please do not misunderstand, it is not a righteous act but a desperate one. When I labor to make a print like this I am asking – begging God that it will be a lever for His Kingdom and His goodness- that it might become part of His own expression. The images and the labor are connected to a mystery as a spiritual practice. Everything is more than it seems, in the same way that a single word in a poem can become a passageway into a new story or a different world that, as it turns out, is vitally interconnected to this one.
Then I have to navigate what to do with it once I’ve made it. The path (in spite of my countless attempts to take it other places) always leads to a wide river called “marketing”. I am on one bank and the rest of the world is on the other. I’m all but convinced that I will drown if I go in. It is a strange baptism.
Usually the prints I make are deeply personal illustrations of my heart, vision and journey. From the early days printmaking has been, to me, a form of prayer, offering up to the Father layers of concern and expression of things I do not often fully comprehend. Within that context is a platform to explore the visualization of spiritual concepts, revelations and principles- basically a blundering effort to make the unseen seen on some level. I wonder that I am taken up with making a “graven image” and how that settles with the second commandment (Exodus 20 verse 4 if you are interested). Hopefully, what I am making are objects that are doors or windows that might lead one into worship, certainly they are far from worshipful in themselves. I take comfort that the Merciful One will ultimately be the judge of my heart on this one.
These images here, are a divergence in a way, in that, they are the mixture of my expression and visual language with the story and purpose of two other entities. The first of those is Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic Guitars. He has been building these beautifully crafted and, by all accounts, almost magically sounding guitars for five years now. The resulting print will be the certificate of authenticity that will be presented with every instrument that he sells. Matt is passionate about story and building rich relationships with his customers, and he invests personal expression into every instrument. His sense of story has been woven together with mine here, I hope.
On a technical level, I am always in an attempt to push myself past where I was before in my work. It may only be in a way that is visible to my own eye. With printmaking I compose a design and I wonder if I will be able to pull it off- if the level of detail will translate as a small mammal, or a vine, or a bird- or just a confused tangle of ink. Many times it has resulted in the confused tangle. This print for Matt has tons of this risk built into the design, and I think his spirit has elevated me, because I somehow feel a door has been unlocked. Of course, I really won’t know until the ink hits the paper- but there is hope that these tiny branches will be able to speak.
The second entity is the musical trio Sister Sinjin. My good friend Elizabeth Duffy is part of this group of women who sing devotedly to the glory and love of God. This image from this block will become the cover art for their upcoming record. The contemplative spirit of their music really seems to offer a counterpoint to the industrious detail of the print I’m making for Matt. I’ve noticed and appreciated the contrast as I have been working back and forth between these two blocks. The quite offering of the woman and the persistent labor of the plowman. Both have offered a lot of opportunity to grow and develop and express, and I am grateful. There are many photographs of the carving process below, which is still underway in both cases, though I am nearly done with the Sister Sinjin block.
My family and our work were humbled to be featured in the most recent edition of Plough Quarterly. There is a profile by Susannah Black, and a feature on Go On: Inner Man Version, an altarpiece I made back in 2003, and also an excerpt of my responses to some questions about our lifestyle, called Farming the Universe. If you choose to take the time to read some or all of them, I sincerely hope that you enjoy them.
Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, closed position
Go On, Inner Man Version, 2003, oil on wood panel, open position
Walking Man, Jonah, and the Ancient Ocean, oil painting on a poplar panel by Jack Baumgartner, 14.5″ x 22″, 2017
Upper panel, Walking Man striding through the arch
Lower panel, Jonah, swimming, yields to the sea monster
detail of the upper panel, with barn owl, Burr oak and cliffs.
Upper panel detail with symbolic structures
Lower panel detail of Jonah
The completion of a painting generally means a decision to stop working on it, otherwise the cycle would never end. This painting, which was begun in October of 2009 reached that generally unheralded milestone of “completion” this fall, 6 years later. Technically, the work is not entirely done, as I have yet to build the frame for it, which, especially for my panel paintings, represent a significant part of the presentation and outer composition. I hope share some of the meaning behind this painting at some future date.
at the BaumWerk Etsy StoreDear friends, I thank you for all of your kind words and interest regarding this new print of the Living Tree. I am grateful that it seems to have struck a chord with many of you. A number of you have made inquiries into when and if prints would be available to purchase. As of Friday, a limited number (there will be more as I continue to print the edition) have been listed on my ETSY store. I am selling these first fifteen for $125, after that the price will increase to $150. Click here to go to the listing. Please read more below for some details about the print, and thank you again for your support!
The image itself is 12″ wide and 22 1/2″ tall and is printed on French’s 100# Butcher Off White Dur-o-tone paper, which is 18″ wide and 25″ tall. French’s paper is American made in Niles Michigan.The edition will be 1oo prints, which is the biggest edition I have ever made. Every single print is hand made by me on my Wepplo etching press in my Rose Hill, Kansas workshop. The print is made using three linoleum blocks, as a composite image. It took me over a year to design and carve the image into the blocks (although I was doing lots of other things during that year, besides carving linoleum).Many hours of painstaking carving went into creating all of the details in The Living Tree.The Tree and it’s roots are loaded with life, like this little owl. There are many spiritual and natural beliefs and dreams symbolically represented in this print. There are many things which I see and believe about who my God is, and also things which I strive to cultivate in my life and stewardship on the land. I don’t have many words as a companion for this image just yet, but perhaps in the future I may try to lay out those ideas for those who are interested.