A Call

It is a good thing to be surprised. Be it someone appearing when you least expect it (i.e. when Rosie and I traded surprise visits to each other during our long-distance college days… I’ll never forget walking into the coffee shop in Madison as she swept up after closing, without looking up she said, “Sir, we’re closed.” I stood there, not knowing what to do, she finally looked up and seemed to rub her eyes to make sense of it).

We went to visit our friend Katie’s partner Philip in Red Wing on Saturday. He’s going to school down there to learn how to build and repair acoustic guitars and the such. The night before Katie had driven down from Minneapolis and had been talking to him on the phone while she drove and he was at the laundromat. He thought she was still a ways away and when she walked in and tried to kiss him while he was talking on the phone to her and looking the other way, he apparently nearly jumped out of his skin.

On Saturday, after wandering around quaint downtown Red Wing, as I reached my cute shop tolerance, we mercifully headed a ways out of town to the Anderson Center for Interdisciplinary Arts. It’s a cool-looking old place situated right on Highway 61. I’ve driven by it a bunch of times before, but never knew what it was, or even that it was open to the public. It is surrounded by a brick wall that gave the impression of secrecy, that perhaps only heightened my curiosity.

But it is most certainly open to the public. It is a sprawling compound of buildings surrounding a beautiful old brick water tower. In a huge field that goes from the buildings to the edge of the bluff where the land drops to the Mississippi River below, there is a sculpture park filled with eccentric creations. Similar pieces are scattered around the grounds.

There was a sense of freedom to the place. It was okay that we didn’t enter through the main entrance right away. We wandered around the back of the main building where a giant hoist had sculpture pieces in mid-construction suspended. A long-unused basketball hoop surrounded by giant scraps of copper. A yellow lab greeted us, let us pet her briefly, then went back to her sentinel position atop a hummock where she could see the door into the kitchen.

Outside the main entrance stood a piece of sculpture about five feet high. It was different shapes of ceramic stacked into disjoined columns. I said that I liked it because it had color. All the pieces were painted vibrantly. Color is far too rare in most of the modern sculpture I see.

When we finally got inside, I was blown away. The main building serves as a gallery and a studio for artists-in-residence. The front room contained a clock that was unlike anything I had ever seen. I can’t, I won’t try to describe it, except to say that it was made entirely of hickory and the lines were perfect and beautiful. Everything happened gracefully and slowly, just as times is wont to do. I studied it for a long time. Anyone have $7,400 I could borrow?

The breadth of the art that was displayed in that building was breathtaking. Though all mediums and styles were represented, there seemed to be a consistent vibrancy and whimsy, and none of the artists seemed to be afraid of bright, bold colors.

In a room in the basement was the permanent collection. Here, there were several Picassos, a de Kooning and a Warhol, amongst others. The artists I hadn’t heard of were all innovative and displayed a high, but unpretentious, aesthetic.

For one reason or another, pottery seems to be a big thing at Anderson. There were several galleries and studios. One of them, Angela Foley, had a wonderful artist statement on a printed piece of paper on a shelf by her work. I wish I could remember it better now, because she briefly described her aesthetics and the traditions she saw herself as working in, but then moved on to talking about calling and passion and the importance of pursuing what she was good at, and what was good for her.

I’m not a potter or a painter of a sculptor. I don’t know what I am. I write. But, the Anderson Center was a very timely surprise. It got me thinking about my own priorities and the things I choose to do and the things I should be doing. How we all are born with some calling, whether or not it is obvious to us or the people we are close to. I realized that my own calling isn’t hard for me to understand.

Before we left, we climbed up into the tower. Seventy-six steps winding around the inside of the tower brought us to a small circular room with a table and chairs in the middle and an observation deck going around the outside. On a shelf in the room was a paperback dictionary and there was a fan and a heater. I imagined the artists and writers who come here to work for two or four weeks coming up to watch the sun rise over the valley from this room, thinking about their calling, which they hopefully get the chance to really pursue while staying at the center.

A calling is a question, we are all born with one (or two or three or more). It is a question, the answer to which is what I believe are supposed to spend our lives trying to answer.