Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Wham | Modern Hanging Art Mobile in France by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Big Wham (42” x 22”) in Paris hanging with Rothko
On the scientific method
“Is hope a hypothesis or a fact?” asked red fox.
“There’s only one way to find out,” replied bear.
And the experiment began.

Thoughts while making
Celery. Water. Red dye. 

Yep, the almighty celery experiment. Just about all of us have done it. Dunk that celery stick in colored water and watch what happens.

Depending on the teacher and your age, you’re learning about osmosis and selectively permeable membranes or transpiration and xylems or capillary action and the circulatory system.

Often the experiment is used to introduce the scientific method. You know, the process by which we come up with an idea of what’s going to happen in a certain situation; where we form, test, and tweak our theories – systematically observing and measuring, assessing outcomes and making conclusions about what we’ve seen.

I was in kindergarten when I first saw it. Celery leaves turning a tie-dyed red. I remember being totally unimpressed, thinking “Of course, if you plunge anything into a glass of water with dye and let it soak for days, it’s going to change colors.”

The scientific nuances were lost on me. The obvious, well, seemed obvious: We soak up that which surrounds us.

When a dear client of mine sent this photo of The Wham spinning in his Paris flat, I was mesmerized by the Rothko; immediately seeing a stick of celery (sorry Mark) soaking up red dye.

It got me thinking about the times in life when we are celery, and the times we are dye.

It got me thinking about hypotheses + conclusions.

It got me thinking about the choices we have as to where we dunk ourselves, what we soak up, what we sprout, as well as how the colors of our thoughts and words and actions dye those around us.

What would you like to soak up this week? For me, it’s silence and quiet and stillness.

On Limits | Perspect Midcentury Modern Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Perspect

On limits
“Yes, dust *does* settle,” explained bear. “But you don’t have to.”

Thoughts while making
I see cobwebs. It’s a curse, I think. I walk into someone’s house and I see cobwebs. And I wonder if they see them, too. And if they do, why don’t they get rid of them.

Today, as I was taking photos for my daily Home Art Walkabout in my IG stories, I picked up my Haniwa Boar. I commissioned it years ago from a superb Oregon artist, Wataru Sugiyama. I love it. And it brings me joy every single day.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered it was covered in cobwebs.

I immediately got out a brush and went to work cleaning it. I was amazed at how much dust and gunk came off it. However, as I thought about it, there was no reason why I should’ve been surprised.

See, although I admire it every day, I’ve never thoroughly cleaned it.

From a distance, it looks the very same as it did on the day it arrived 15+ years ago. Even when I sit at my table – which is just a couple feet away from it – it still looks fine.

But when I got up close. Really inspected it. Put my hands on it. Got out the brush and got into it, that’s when the illusion disappeared. Cobwebs and dust in the ears. The eyes. Across the mouth. Tied up in the tail. Everywhere.

And so it with our thoughts, our beliefs, and our relationships, isn’t it?

If you don’t get up close to what you take for granted, a lot of gunk can build up without you ever realizing it. Dust in the eyes that blinds. Cobwebs in the ears to deafen.

At a time when we’re asking the tough and necessary questions of society, I’d invite you to ask them of the people and things you take for granted in your life. Especially the ones you know are a little dusty, but you ignore because you “don’t want to have to get into it.”

I recently did this and discovered I have a racist in my own family. While the discovery is uncomfortable to say the least, the ability to see it for what it is – hiding under all that dust – offers me great perspective and clarity on the path forward.

What’s one thing or relation you could “pick up” today to inspect a little more closely?

On Pausing | Swan + Black Beauty Modern Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs


Mobiles: Black Beauty + Swan

On pausing
“But if I hit the brakes,” asked bear, “won’t I slow down?”
Crow smiled, knowing bear would figure it out if he set with it for a while.

Thoughts while making
He flew right into my mouth. I saw him coming. But it felt like there was nothing I could do. He stung me on the way in, slapped me twice, and bit me once again before I pulled him out. I think I heard him swearing, too.

South Fork is fast descent. The trail drops 1100 feet in just about 3 miles. Gnarly root bombs, hairpin turns, and rocks for days, it’s a super fun singletrack trail that follows – go figure – the South Fork of Tumalo Creek just outside of Bend.

I knew I was going too fast, but my new Trek bikes Fuel EX was eating up the terrain like cotton candy and I was literally saying, “This is amazzzzziinnnggggg” right before it happened.

That bug was big and a metallic greenish black. Even though I only had a split second to make a decision, I knew I didn’t choose well. Because once I’d taken my hand off the brake (poor decision No. 1) to pull that guy out of my mouth (poor decision No. 2), it didn’t feel like I was left with many good options: either hit the tree in front of me with my body or my brand new bike.

I chose my body … which eventually landed about 10 feet from my bike. After I checked to make sure everything was attached, I started laughing. I’d hit my head pretty hard, but that’s not why.

It only occurred to me then that I could’ve kept my hands on the handlebars and use those magical things called “brakes.”

That happened years ago, but earlier this week I was riding my bike when I had unfortunate run-in with a trashcan. After flipping over my handlebars and getting intimately familiar with the street, I started laughing again as the word “BRAKES” flashed in my concussed head.

Sometimes when life is moving fast, the first or even second options that present themselves aren’t the best. If only we could learn to apply the brakes, to slow down just enough, to get a better lay of the land, a better sense of how to make our way ahead. Alas!

Where’s one place you can slow down, in thought or action, this week to look around before moving forward?


Sunday, June 7, 2020

On Revelation | Modern Hanging Art Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: The Juggler + Blue Moon Rising (alt colors)

On revelation
“But how can I see,” asked sparrow, “when all around me is dark?”
“Sometimes,” explained fox, “darkness *is* the light.”
Thoughts while making
Monster. Robbers. Demons. On a nightly basis, these and a whole host of other unseemly characters kept me up at night.

Tiptoeing through the house. Looking in through my bedroom window. Appearing out of thin air.

To taunt. To tease. To wreak havoc on my 7-year-old self.

In the dark, they’d lay in wait. Under the covers. In the closet. Hanging from the ceiling.

In the dark, they’d grow. Uglier. Scarier. More menacing.

I would lie in bed, paralyzed by fear. Heart pounding so loud, I couldn’t hear myself think. Unable to speak. To call out. To ask for help.

When I could actually make my way to the switch by the door and flip on the light, there would – of course – be nothing there. I’d check down the hallway, look behind clothes in the closet, dip under the bed. Nothing.
But the SECOND I turned that light off, BOOM, they all crowded me again; pushing in twice as hard.
The funny thing about lights is that it’s easy to (think you) see when they’re on. As a kid, however, I learned it’s a mistake to confuse light for sight. Because what you see, what you feel, what you think – and how you act – when the light is off, well, that’s another story altogether, isn’t it? That’s where the monsters, demons, and bad guys live.
My hope is, at a time when the collective switch is flipped on, that we’re each figuring out what’s needed – and, importantly, what unique gifts you already have and are using – to create light to illuminate the dark places when that switch is turned off again.
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you close your eyes right now?

Monday, June 1, 2020

On Inequality

On inequality
“I’m sad,” said bear.
“Me too,” said fox.

Thoughts while making

I was living in Oakland when the Rodney King riots / uprising erupted in May 1992. One night, I went down to the protests in Berkeley, right along Telegraph Avenue. “No justice, no peace” was the refrain as it is now. Then, as we see again and again, glass shatters, fires burn.

I remember standing there watching these drunk frat guys from Cal throw a rock through the window of the Gap store, casually stroll in, and grab handfuls of jeans. What did this have to do with a man getting beaten to an inch of his life? What did this have to do with justice? With racism? With systemic inequality?

I yelled at this cop as those guys came out of the Gap, “Aren’t you going to do anything?” And he just stared at me, another dumb white kid who didn’t understand. Or maybe I did on some level, but just didn’t have the term “white privilege” to make sense of why these guys were walking down a street loaded with cops with no repercussion ... or why I could yell at a police officer in full riot gear without fear.

I wonder what has changed in the nearly three decades that has attained between now and then? What had changed from the years before in Miami, Detroit, Watts, Newark, and on and on.

I’m heartened to see my nieces active and vocal about inequality, and I’m hopeful that this collective upswelling of voices is more than just some social media-induced virtue signaling from those with privilege, and that the conversations and actions of today will shift on cellular-to-institutional levels. What happens next matters.

In a “one person, one vote” democracy, we each still have this tool available to us. It’s just one tool, but it can be powerful; to cut out cancers in our system from the top down and remove those whose agenda against people of color, gender, women – civil and human rights – is not something we are willing to accept any longer.

I usually end my posts with a question for you. I don’t know the right question to ask, so that’s my question: What is the question you’re asking yourself or others right now?

Blue Viola for the Milwaukee Museum Art Shop by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Blue Viola, one of a series of mobiles commissioned by the Milwaukee Art Museum shop for their 2014 Kandinsky exhibition

On self-acceptance
“It doesn’t matter how hard you try,” said crow. “You can’t improve what you don’t first accept.”

Thoughts while making
When I was a kid, I had a yellow Schwinn bike. It had cereal box stickers stuck all over it, and heavy steel tires. Literally, they were just rubber wrapped around metal. No tubes. No air.

When you went off the sidewalk, you’d land with a jarring thump on the asphalt. But those tires were bombproof, and rolled true for years.

Every day when I rode it, I would attempt to pedal right along the edge of the sidewalk. And no matter how hard I tried, I would always fall off the curb and thump down onto the street. If I went slow, I’d thump. If I went fast, I’d thump.

I remember focusing so intently on that edge. “Don’t go over it,” I’d repeat to myself, my handlebars nervously twitching. Then, almost as if pulled by a magnet, I’d thump down. Defeated by those 6 inches of concrete. And I would feel like I failed. Again.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I was pedaling up Rocky Butte here in Portland. A white painted line winds its way up the hill. It’s a sorry excuse for a shoulder as there’s no space between it and the traffic.

I heard a car coming up fast behind me. So I focused on keeping my wheel on that line. “Don’t go over it,” I repeated to myself. But wouldn’t you know it: the closer the car came, the more difficult it was. Right as it passed, my handlebars twitched and I nearly ran myself into the car.

Interesting, isn’t it? how when we focus on what we don’t want to happen, it often does? Or when our field of vision is so narrowed – on the sidewalk in front of us, for example – how easy it is to run into things. Hard things. Tough things. Things that land with a jarring thump.

Can you imagine what might unfold if you looked up from that which you were trying to avoid and just rolled with it and appreciated what was?

You might still go off that curb. But how different would it feel?

What was your favorite way to get around as a kid (e.g., bike, skates, Big Wheel, pogo stick)?

The Caldairemeiro Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Variations on a theme

On sight
“But when I look *that* closely,” explained bird, “I feel everything.”
“That’s good,” replied wolf, “feeling lets you see things as they really are.”

Thoughts while making
Not many years ago, I remember laughing as I watched my mom attempt to thread a sewing needle. I didn’t want to laugh. But I couldn’t help myself.

Her hand steady, the needle firmly between her fingers and lifted to the light. One eye squinted closed, as she lined up thread and needle … and proceeded to miss. By football fields. By oceans and eons. By light years and galaxies. Again and again.

I remember thinking that if she couldn’t see something that was – literally – right in front of her face, how could she see anything?

Fast forward to today and now I’m the guy pushing his glasses down the tip of his nose to see what that recipe calls for, grumbling about needing better light, moving the cookbook back and forth … and finally (reluctantly) grabbing the magnifying glass to see.

Sight is a funny thing, isn’t it? I know that when I take the time to put my glasses on or pull out that magnifying glass, I see things in a way I never would’ve before. Yes, practical things like 1/2 cup of sugar versus 12; but also subtle things like the font used, the saturation of ink, the kerning between letters.

And so it is in life, isn’t it? Where when we take the time to focus on the details, shining a light on the kerning that connects this and that, we realize how many of the stories we’ve been telling ourselves – the narratives upon which we build our truths – are constructed from blurry bits and shadowy pieces we simply have come to accept over time, even when they don’t serve us well, and often without much thought … although they are – literally – right in front of our faces.

My mom always finds a way to thread that needle. It may take a bit of time, greater attention, and a willingness to try and try again, but she gets it threaded; giving her what she needs to stitch together memories and moments in her beautiful patchwork quilts.

Where can you apply your focus this week? Where can you shine a light to better understand how you’ve stitched your story together?

Pivot II Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Pivot II

On kapow
“I’m me.” said fox. “That’s my superpower.”
And although bear wanted to laugh, she knew fox was on to something big.

Thoughts while making
 I didn’t see a cape. But I’m pretty sure it was there. He was definitely wearing a mask. And although he drove a Prius, I think it’s safe to assume he was no ordinary man.

He said his name was Floyd. And who was I to argue? He wore a dark blue cardigan sweater and carried a black briefcase. When he began to unzip it, I took a quick step back. Because, you know: kryptonite. But it ended up just having papers inside.

A notary. That’s what the title on his business card said. And he *was* here for me to sign my home loan refi papers. But I was sure there was some other reason for his visit. Something nefarious? I needed to stay on my guard.

But he laughed a lot, and – although I couldn’t see his mouth – he had such warm, smiling eyes. They literally twinkled. He praised me for small things over which I had little control, like locking in such a good rate, yet he sounded so genuine. He also used my name often, and each time he did my heart felt hugged in the softest way.

As time passed, I found it difficult to keep my defenses up. Soon I was laughing with him. Feeling the tension leaving my body. His superpowers working their comforting magic on me.

Floyd is 67. He’d been a child therapist in Santa Barbara for 23 years before becoming a notary. He said he loved his job because of people like me. And the money.

Whether it was because he was the very first human I’ve had any in person contact with since the beginning of March or because he truly was a superhero, I’m not sure. All I do know is that for a few minutes on a Thursday night in May, I laughed with a stranger and I went to sleep with a smile.

Thinking back over these past months, who would you say has been your biggest hero?

Black Beauty Modern Hanging Art Mobile from Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: Black Beauty and The Classic
On (in)sight
“It’s true,” said bear, “some things must be seen to be believed.”
“But other things, my dear, must be believed if you ever hope to see them.”

Thoughts while making
“Your eyes will never adjust.” That’s what the guide said. So I waved my hands in front of my face. I squinted. I opened and closed them. But all was black.

Black like night, like pain, like endless space. Black like ash after fire, and fear. Black like ink, like curiosity, like possibility.

It took my breath, and held it; an uneasy feeling it is to so completely lose one’s orientation, to be unable to tell what is and is not, where one begins, and ends.

I found myself there quite by accident, pulling off the side of the road the night before, and camping next to an airfield. I woke at the base of the Guadalupe Mountains of southeast New Mexico, my bare feet digging into the already-warm sands of the Chihuahuan Desert.

I remember lying there in that early morning, watching two crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos, lifting and dipping just above me on unseen currents of air. They were circling one another endlessly, painting the sky ancient and happy on whispered feathers black and sun sparked.

The Carlsbad Caverns are a magnificent testament to time and persistence; the power of great tectonic upheavals as well as the might of small, yet consistent actions over the millennia – no matter what was happening on the surface.

When the guide turned off the lights, he told us that – since we were in belly of a cave where no light could penetrate – our eyes would never adjust. “With even the hint of light, you can eventually see; but here where there is total darkness never.”

Being in the dark can be disorienting. And sometimes we wonder if there will ever be light. Yet as I stood there uneasy, those two black birds flew gently into my thoughts. And I could see them as clearly as I saw the sun rise that morning. And I felt light and giddy as they lifted me on their wings, my body left behind, soaring on golden currents.

Light is a funny thing, isn’t it? Often found by quieting ourselves in the dark. Where will you allow even a hint of it to penetrate today?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Ironwood Road | Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Ironwood Road

On asking for help
“Would it make it easier if you knew I’d always say yes?”
Fox smiled because crow always knew what she needed to hear.

Thoughts while making
I was seven. The asphalt wasn’t much older. But it was harder than me. Most things were.

It was also hot. Heat waves taunting like the laughter I heard as I ran up the street, head down, knees bloodied.

My neighbor’s dad, Ben, was the lead cameraman at Channel 8 News in San Diego. He was also Vietnam vet, and he made me nervous. I don’t think the two were connected.

The neighborhood kids often got pulled into local news stories. There was footage of us playing in the pool. Spinning on the tire swing. Watching a laserdisc movie.

And then there was that kite-flying competition. Right around the corner from my house on Ironwood Road.

Ben was there with the whole news crew. The street was all decked out. Picnic tables. Streamers. It was the real deal.

One by one, the neighborhood kids and their parents set their kites in flight. Triangles + diamonds, reds + golds, a light breeze tugging invisible threads, stitching clouds in an endless blue sky.

Then, there was me. By myself. And my pink puffer kite. With its slogan, “A puff of breeze is all it needs.” Which was, of course, bullshit.

I needed more than a puff of breeze. I needed someone to help me. I know I should’ve asked. But I didn’t like to.

“Maybe,” I nervously thought, “if I just run I’ll be able to get it up.” And so I did. Nothing. “Maybe,” getting more nervous, “if I just run faster.”

And so I ran as fast I could down that street. My puffer kite giving me the middle finger as it bounced off the asphalt behind me. And that’s when it happened. That’s when I tripped. At full speed. A cartoon cartwheel of a kid, blonde hair and arms and legs akimbo, as I rolled to a slow stop. I should have asked for help.

I ran home, bloodied + embarrassed, tears held back as that night’s news ended with “this little feller had a little trouble getting his kite up,” the newscasters laughing.

How many times do we go akimbo in life just because we don’t ask for help? What can you ask for today to make your world a little easier or better?

New North | Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: New North

On grief
“I’m sorry,” cried fox.
“Please don’t ever apologize,” replied bear, “for how you really feel.”

Thoughts while making
A single tear. My mom said that’s all she saw. Her little boy in the emergency room with another broken arm. “Does this hurt,” the doctor asked, moving my wrist. A single tear.

To say I was accident prone as a kid would be an understatement. Bruises, broken bones, stitches, and too many pokey things – usually rusty and jagged – finding their way into my little body.

But I didn’t cry.

My grampa who lived a hundred lives and cried heavy tears when my gramma died, read Louis L’Amour westerns. He kept them in the trunk of his yellow Cadillac, right next to a stack of Playboys. They smelled like smoke, and I’ve loved them for decades.

I’ve retreated into those yellowed pages more times than I can remember. In good times + bad times, to hide + to find.

His are simple fairy tales of a west that never was, but that make me want to believe. The same story told 100 different ways, good always triumphing over evil despite impossible odds.

This past week, I was tucked into one of those tales, at home in my safe place somewhere between his high desert + the sun. I was sitting in the backyard, turning pages, when I unexpectedly started crying, thick tears, this deep grief washing over me.

And I couldn’t stop.

This past week, I kept hearing people apologize for “having a hard time,” a litany of “I’m sorrys” and “really I’m fines” and “I have no reason to complains” while simultaneously being shot full of a thousand pokey things – rusty + jagged.

The heroes of Louis L’Amour’s books, men and women, often find themselves shot full of lead. I find it interesting that they always acknowledge when they’ve been “hard hit” – even when they’re not sure how badly – and that they know what they need is to rest, to recover, to allow themselves to be cared for, and to regain their strength, before continuing on.

Imagine that: even just acknowledging – honoring – that you’ve been hard hit. Not apologizing for it. Not pushing it away. Not belittling it. Just acknowledging it.

Can you do that for yourself or help make it easier for another do

The Classic | Midcentury Modern Kinetic Art by Mark Leary

Mobile: The Classic in blues and browns

On secrets
“Distance begins,” said rabbit, “when these are kept.” 

Thoughts while making
Many years ago, I stayed in the small town of Fawnskin, CA. Once home to miners, loggers, and hunters, it’s nestled quietly on the shores of Big Bear Lake. At 6,827 feet, the air is clear, the water blue, trees brown and thick of trunk.

Ponderosa, Jeffrey, sugar, and lodgepole. Pinyon, knobcone, and Coulter. It’s no wonder the Serrano knew this land as "Yuhaviat," or "Pine Place," or that their relationship with the grizzly would one day name it so.

The cabin was a mishmash décor of thrift store finds, knickknacks, and mismatcheds. But there was one thing.

A black and white photo. Maybe 12” x 16”. Framed and hanging a little askew. It featured a stand of darkened trees, super saturated, pointing skyward, a tease of light, omens of something that was or was to come.

I don’t recall why, but on the morning I left I found a bit of stationery, sat down, and wrote a message. I also don’t remember the specifics, just that the note contained two things: 1) my hopes for the future, and 2) truths that I knew about myself right then, right there, that I couldn’t admit to myself.

I folded the paper in fourths, took the back off to the frame, tucked the note behind the photo, closed it up, and rehung it on the wall.

As I was packing up this mobile of blues and browns like the water and trees of Big Bear, I wondered about the secrets we hold from ourselves, from others? Secrets we know, secrets that if brought into the light, said out loud, could set you free? Who you really are, who you really want to be, what you really feel, your fears, and doubts, and places of shame. Secrets that have become substance, rails on a life guarded.

What’s one secret you can whisper to yourself today, unburdening yourself, freeing light to shine in dark places?

Ohana | Midcentury Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Ohana

 On sharing
“Let me get this right,” asked bear, “the more I give away, the happier I’ll be?”

Thoughts while making
Her name is Lynn, although we knew her as Mrs. Scherer, our 8th grade teacher at St. Didacus. She wore Birkenstocks and asked us questions that made us want to think. In a recent interview, she shared her philosophy on life and teaching, “draw them in with beauty, and then hold them with truth."

One day when we were digging into the “loaves and fishes” Bible story. You know the one, thousands of folks follow some dude in a dusty robe out into the middle of nowhere, supposedly without any food. Apparently, meal planning wasn’t a strength of the early Israelites. “No problem,” says the bearded one. “We got this covered,” he states with a wink.

Somehow – “miraculously” – a few fish and some bread multiplies to feed the multitudes. I remember Mrs. Scherer inviting conversation around the story. “What do you think is going on, Mark?”

Oh, I had thoughts, believe you me. But I didn’t know if I should say them or not. But Mrs. Scherer created these beautiful safe places to share. She was honest in a way that I hadn’t known from adults. Real, respectful, intentional.

So, I blurted it out: Come on, we know those guys all had food. They tucked it away, worried that there wouldn’t be enough, that they’d have to give it up “for the greater good.” They clung stubbornly to it. “Nothing to see here,” they said as the apostles walked by.

But then somebody, probably Josephus – because he was one chill dude – said “Hey, I’ve got a stinky fish I could share.” And then Bob threw in half a loaf stale bread. The Smiths decided they probably didn’t need that extra baguette, and Mrs. Jones realized a fish necklace wasn’t all it was made out to be, so she tossed that in the basket, too. Before you knew it, there was food everywhere.

“That,” I said, “was the real miracle; that people felt safe, opened their hearts, realized they were all in it together, and shared.” Exactly what Mrs. Scherer had allowed for by creating beautiful safe places for us. And exactly what we’re being asked to do now.

Who was your favorite teacher at any age?

Sunrise Forest | Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary

Mobile: Sunrise forest

 On hope
“Trust me,” said moon to sun, “your tomorrow is coming soon.”

Thoughts while making
They gathered then. In that small circle, an opening in thick wood. Ancient trees as old as time standing watch, towering shadows cast in the night before dawn. Silent excepting breath, wind ringing leaves, branches become barriers, hiding what lay beyond. What lay beyond?

A memory, those were the trails they’d traveled, paths obscured from where standing they now looked back, their footsteps, ghostly imprints on a time no more.

From east and south, west and north, they came, drawn. “I followed the star,” one said. “I heard a voice,” another. “I just knew,” a third. Each brought, spoken to and called, here.

At the edge, they emerged, taking but a single step into that dark clearing. You’d have marveled at the sight of them: Black crow and bear, rabbit and red fox, squirrel and sparrow, they and more, had come, from every direction.

Grey mouse was the first. On quiet feet, she moved from edge to center, taking a burlap sack from her back, placing it upon the ground before returning to the edge.

One by one, the scene repeated. Each traveler carrying identical burlap sacks. Each leaving it at the circle’s center. Each returning to join the others.

The little mouse spoke first. “I bring courage,” she said as she took as step forward, bowing to the group. “I bring hope,” said red fox, kneeling. “Heart,” whispered bear, paw on chest. “Strength” and “resilience,” the woods alive with voices, “wisdom” and “compassion,” sharing the gifts brought, “trust” and “peace,” from far and past wide.

Black crow was the last to speak. “And I bring love,” she said, her words sparking the fire that lit the sacks, stardust and magic igniting in that grassy circle. A bonfire of collective emotion, together, bringing warmth to the darkness, flames licking the sky, a new day beginning.

What’s one quality you will bring to our communal fire to help light the way forward?

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Classic Modern Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: The Classic, and The Kerf

 On lines
“But what if I don’t want to cross it,” asked crow.
And fox laughed because she knew he was in one of those moods.

Thoughts while making
Years ago, I heard the story of a famous artist living in Paris. Every morning, he would get on his bike and ride from his home to his studio. Each night, he’d make his way back again.

This artist was very busy, so as one might expect, he took the exact same path to and from his studio. It was, after all, the shortest distance between here and there.

Well, one day – and I don’t recall why – he started tracing his path with a black pen on a paper map of the city. Over and over (and over) again, every day, each night, he’d draw + re-draw that very same route on that map with that black pen.

As you can imagine, over time, the lines connecting here and there became darker and thicker and darker and thicker, and eventually they began to change the map itself; the ink covering street names, landmarks, parks, and whole blocks at a stroke.

Seeing this one night gave the artist pause. And an idea. The following day, he got on his bike and took a different route to his studio. When he later traced it on his map, he laughed out loud.

From that moment forward, he took a different path to and from his studio every day. And while his map became an art piece in itself – filled with joyful squiggles and whimsical twists + turns – something else happened, too.

See, he realized that – in his rush to get from here to there – he missed the between. It’s a cliché story, I guess, about what happens when you invest in the experience of the journey, rather than the destination alone.

I was reminded of it today as I was thinking about our “stay at home” time that invites us to rethink how we ink the lines that connect here, there, and the in between.

This mobile is normally all black. The customer asked me to pick up my pen and take another route. And what a difference one small color change has made.

As you think about the ink you’re laying down in the world – with your thoughts, your actions – is there one place today you can pick up your pen to make a change in your life or that of others?

Black Beauty Orange | Midcentury Modern Art | Large Hanging Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Black Beauty Orange

on (what) matter(s)
“Just because you can’t hold it in your hands,” said fox, “doesn’t mean it’s not real.”

Thoughts while making

Have you heard the story of the man and his overstuffed shoes? It begins like this:

"There is a legend circulating about a late distinguished scientist who, in his declining years, persisted in wearing enormous padded boots much too large for him.”

It’s a tale of our times, insight into the insides:

“He had developed a wholly irrational fear of falling through the interstices of that largely empty molecular space which common men in their folly speak of as the world."

As cautionary conjure, it’s both lens and microscope:

“A stroll across his living-room floor had become, for him, something as dizzily horrendous as the activities of a window washer on the Empire State Building. Indeed, with equal reason, he could have passed a ghostly hand through his own ribs.”

Inviting a re-consideration of who, what, how, and even why:

“The quivering network of his nerves, the awe-inspiring movement of his thought had become a vague cloud of electrons interspersed with the light-year distances that obtain between us and the further galaxies.”

A recognition that things as they actually are mightn’t have been what we believed:

“This was the natural world which he had helped to create, and in which, at last, he found himself a lonely and imprisoned occupant.”

Offering an opportunity to reflect on meaning and matter, purpose and intent:

“All around him the ignorant rushed on their way over the illusion of substantial floors, leaping, though they did not see it, from particle to particle, over a bottomless abyss.”

A chance to pause to sort this from that, essential from the dispensable:

“There was even a question as to the reality of the particles which bore them up.”

And an occasion to define substance and substantive, on our own terms, once and for all:

“It did not, however, keep insubstantial newspapers from being sold, or insubstantial love from being made.”

What’s one “thing” you will bring forward or leave behind?

Quotes from the genius that is Loren C. Eiseley and his book, “The Star Thrower”

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter Egg Mobiles by Mark Leary Designs

Mobiles: Pride and Daisy (like Easter eggs in the sky)

on discovering
“If they’re meant to be found,” asked fox, “why are they hidden?”
“Because growth comes in seeking,” smiled bear, “not finding.”

Thoughts on Easter morning
Interminable. That’s how long it was. Maybe even a few minutes more. Sequestered in our living room. Made to swear we wouldn’t look out the windows. Hungry. And impatient.

Our Easter Bunny wore thick, black glasses, cowboy boots with suits, had an oversized beard, and often laughed so hard to he turned bright red. Oh, and he took forever to hide the dang eggs.

Oh, but what eggs they were. Rattling together in the sauce pan as they boiled. Newspapers spread on the table wide. PAAS dyes and food colors. Little pastel stained fingers and the smell of vinegar filling the house. We did the stick ons and the peel offs, the paints and the pens, 5 sets of little hands creating mini works of art.

And why? So that an architect father with a maze for a mind could hide them in every backyard nook and cranny possible. Dozens of them. The hardboiled and the delicate. The plastic and the See’s. Oh the See’s: Chocolate Butter with walnuts, Divinity, Rocky Road, and Bordeaux – all hidden, ready to melt under a springtime sun if not found quickly enough.

We’d stand, eyes down, at the sliding glass door in the kitchen, each equipped with an empty wicker basket. Then, with a whoosh, it was on. The door open, the hunt began. Two girls. Three boys. All sharing the same DNA as we spread out across the yard in our Easter best.

And to do what? Find that which was hidden. Out of sight. Concealed. Unseen. These treasures we’d created, secreted away with only one purpose: provide a temporary challenge that was 100% intended to be solved.

We were *meant* to fill our empty baskets. We were *meant* to seek with the confidence we would find. Think about that: we were *meant* to seek with the confidence we would find.

How amazing would it be if we could approach the challenges of this extraordinary time with that same level of confidence?

What treasures would you find hidden under the heavy, behind the unknown?

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Cultiver - A Modern Hanging Art Mobile for the Garden by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Cultiver (48” x 34”)

On your garden
“Amend your soil,” said fox, “and watch the flowers grow.”

Thoughts while making
He doesn’t look at all like you might imagine. A high forehead, a long nose, pasty white skin, and *that* hair … I might’ve gone a different way, but if a whitish-gray powdered wig with curls for days is his thing, more power to him.

His name is François-Marie, but he prefers to go by Voltaire. Odd but who am I to judge, right? I asked him over for coffee this morning because I was chewing on a passage he’d written in back in 1759.

I wanted to know more about Candide, the poor chap in his story by the same name, who endures one seemingly devastating catastrophe after another (death, disease, famine, banishment, and more), but who plugs along doing the best he can with what he has; recognizing that while he can’t control the circumstances, he can his response *and* his actions.

Candide epitomizes the Jack Canfield equation: Events + Reaction = Outcome. But there’s something more, and that’s what I wanted to chat with my buddy Voltaire about.

Because if all we do is respond to circumstance and event in the moment, where are we left? Are we really in control? Who or what is guiding our path?

Candide, of course, has the answer. He realized that a life of true passion + purpose, while necessarily pressed and pressured by the outside world here and there, is made manifest when we abide in his imperative, “let us cultivate our garden."

We cannot control circumstance. Only our reaction to it. We can (and perhaps should) take pause for these are extraordinary times. But then, to remember our own way, who we are, who we want to be, how we want to be, and why.

Because the earth continues to revolve round the sun. The seasons continue to change. The soil will need tilling. Seeds planting. And, unless we are willing to let our fields lay fallow, our gardens cultivating.

Gardens grow food. Food sustains. Sustenance is life. Life a gift to share, a treasure to receive. Working together, we amend our soil, we amend our souls. The cycle repeats.

What can you throw into the compost pile today to better cultivate your garden or that of another?

Modern Hanging Art Mobile - Follow Me in Sea Blues by Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Follow Me in sea blues

On buoyancy
“Together, we rise,” said the balloon, ignoring gravity as she kissed the sun.

Thoughts while making
My mom tells stories of being a teen. Swimming out beyond the breakers near Laguna Beach. Splashing over onto her back. And floating. The ocean warm. The sun warmer. Eyes closed. Releasing care as she bobs and breathes, supported by the mighty Pacific.

Salt adds mass to water without significantly boosting its volume; giving saltwater a higher density, which allows less dense objects – like us humans – to float with more ease.

I see the image of my mom floating there, a lifetime ahead of her, a world of experiences she cannot yet compass; heartbreak + joy, miracles and the mundane—a thousand waiting moments germinating like unseen seeds in her soul.

1029 kg/m3. That’s the average density of seawater. It’ll vary based on temperature and salinity. And depth. The deeper you go, the higher the pressure. The higher the pressure, the higher the density. The higher the density, the more buoyancy.

A child of the 1940s meant my mom was surrounded by world wars, blacks to the back of the bus, women bound; atomic bombs, famine, genocide, and a fear of Other. Yet she resisted, persisted. And grew: choosing to feed truth, not fear; to birth love from hate, her faith offering buoyancy even in the hardest times.

History tells us we’ve been here before, but differently. And science tells us that as pressures intensify, we will rise. The deeper you’re taken, the more buoyant you will become. There are a thousand strengths germinating within you, all waiting to surface—if only you swim out beyond the breakers, roll over onto your back, vulnerable and exposed, to float, to breathe; defying gravity as you kiss the sun.

What’s one thing you can give yourself today to help you stay afloat?

The Crowner Midcentury Modern Art Stabile by Mark Leary Designs

Stabile: The Crowner

On being present
“I know it’s hard,” said moon. “But if you’re always looking for the new day, you’ll never experience the night.”

Thoughts while making
When I was 21, I decided to do a solo bike trip down the coast of California. I had a crappy bike. Hadn’t trained well. Didn’t have enough money. But somehow I decided it was a good idea. It was not. For years, I have referred to this as My Failed Bike Trip.

The first few days of the trek are hilly, really hilly. And the roads are especially curvy. I remember creeping up those climbs, hoping that around every next turn was the top. I was disappointed again and again; my energy being sapped by all the effort I was putting into these unmet expectations.

I did this for days. My body gave out in a week, but my mind had given out much earlier.

I’m an avid mountain biker now, and – ironically – one of my favorite things to do is climb. Somewhere along the way, I learned that trying to see what’s coming around the bend – what’s next, as it were – is often a recipe for disappointment and frustration.

My power comes in being present to the terrain I am currently on in the actual moment and focusing my energies and abilities there.

By being present, I’m (largely) able to short circuit the unhelpful storytelling I do when I’m thinking more about what’s ahead, and normally fearfully, than where I am now. You know, those stories that you tell yourself that you’re not strong enough, that you don’t have what it takes, and so on.

A lot of what’s happening in our world makes me think about this right now, about how hard it is to be present when many of us are wanting to know where the top of this hill is. It’s stressful not knowing how tall this mountain is or what’s hidden behind the curves in the road. Asking ourselves individually, “Will I be strong enough? Will we have what it takes?”

I got on my bike trainer today inspired by the person I made this stabile for and did a virtual ride down the exact highway I rode in California. Instead of worrying about what was coming, I looked side to side, saw the flowers, the trees, the birds, the clouds. It was a good ride.

What did you learn about yourself today?

Swan Hanging Art Mobile by Mark Leary Designs

 Mobile: Swan 

On calm
“They say it’s there before,” fox explained. “But during the storm, it’s entirely up to you.”

Thoughts while making
There atop the mountain, he stood. “The world,” the boy thought, “is mine.” Then, with a nervous smile, it began. Slow at first, picking up speed, the earth moving beneath outstretched arms.

Momentum, he knew, would take him through the first turn. He’d planned for that. Faster + faster. Then the straightaway. Nothing to stop him now. Anxiousness becoming exhilaration. His blue eyes sparkling.

The second turn. That’s where he anticipated trouble. A hard right at full speed, then directly up again. He was on the other side before he knew it. He’d done it. The celebration began even as he made his way up and up and … oh shit.

When I was 7, I “learned” how to roller skate the hard way. Racing down our steep driveway, roaring down the sidewalk, and then up into our neighbor’s equally-steep driveway. All was going well until I realized I didn’t actually know how to skate uphill.

When I started rolling backward, I had a moment where I thought I might come out alright. The sprinkler head I tripped over apparently had other ideas.

My sister found me crying and jumping up + down yelling, “My ankle, my ankle!” When my mom arrived, she tried frantically to stop me from jumping, panicked that I was doing even more damage to my ankle.

When she calmed me down enough to ask where it hurt, she was surprised when I pointed at my wrist. I often mixed up the two, and in *my* frazzled state, I’d done it again—causing even more confusion.

We laugh about it now, but at the time it was kind of traumatic. Not only because I broke my arm, but because I didn’t feel like my family could “hear” me. I was screaming where it hurt and yet they were focused elsewhere. It was confusing to me and to them.

This memory came to me today as I scrolled through Instagram, seeing such pain and fear, and the desire of so many to help or to be heard or both; highlighting the importance of speaking and listening with such sweet and gentle care.

What can you do today to better hear + respond to your own needs and/or those of others?

The Stand | Midcentury Modern Tabletop Mobiles

Stabile: Part of The Stand series

 On now
“Come here, child,” she whispered, “and rest awhile.”
And snuggling in, the earth sighed relief.

Thoughts while making

Have you heard the story of a place called Here, a time called Now? It’s a tale most hard to imagine, yet anything but make-believe.

As befits a good yarn, there’s the usual cast of characters. We meet Corona, the misunderstood dragon, a biological agent just trying to evolve. Then, there’s Fear, that shameless evil giant. There are countless little elves looking to elders and each other for cues on whether to dance or to cry. And, of course, we have fairies. So many fairies appearing like fireflies at dusk.

And then there’s you. Our modern-day hero. Your super power, truth. Vulnerability, your strength. Dressed in love, armored in hope. Shielded with calm, and wrapped in care—and yet fear can be real. This dragon breathes more than fire.

Yet you, who are mother, sister, daughter. You, who are brother, son, father. You, who are friend and stranger, foreigner and foe. You stand there, open and bare and perhaps unsure, humbly lifting your sword, marveling at how it glints and gleams even as you think, “it’s only a single spark, and there is much dark.”

And then the Quiet comes, calmly and warm. One by one hundred, a million to more, seven billion raised in a truth named Together. Continents making a world, a world united, voices resounding: “We who are hero, stand apart as one.”

As with all fairy tales, some wishes will be granted, others not. Good will ultimately triumph. But costs will be high. Life and death swim together under a single sun. Take hope. Stay safe. Do what you can. Rest when needed.

Many a tale have magical elements woven throughout, like fairy dust or magic beans. What magical element can you share or do you need from others during this extraordinary time? I’m working on a potion of laughter and softness, scented of seafoam and warm like love.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Wooden Midcentury Modern Mobile | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: Rootsanwings

 On trust
“It’s an opportunity,” whispered sun, “to believe in miracles.”
Blue wasn’t convinced, but she zipped up her cocoon nonetheless.

Thoughts while making
When I was in the 2nd grade, I got hit in the eye with an olive. Yes, an olive. What had started out as an innocent water gun fight quickly turned all stone fruit.

Without mentioning any names (Robbie Kraft you know who you are), the older kids in our neighborhood climbed up on a roof and started pelting us pipsqueaks with hard, unripe olives they’d picked from a front yard.

A week later, I was released from the hospital. In an effort to keep the internal bleeding to a minimum and avoid surgery, I’d been forced to lay prone, both eyes bandaged with gauze. This bought me a front-row ticket to such fun events for a 7-year-old boy as sponge baths from strangers and bedpans. I make fun of it now, but it was scary and confusing. I was just a kid.

Obvi, I didn’t want to skip a week of school, or soccer practice, or edible food. I definitely didn’t plan on missing Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special (got totally busted for peeking). And I certainly didn’t deliberately choose to put myself at risk of losing my sight.

But on the day I left, woozy from sitting up for the first time in 7 days, being rolled out in a wheelchair, my eyes unbandaged, I clearly remember seeing a line of unfamiliar faces with very familiar voices. People who had cared for me, cleaned me, fed me. Each smiling, none looking like I’d imagined, all filling me to overflowing with their love and kindness.

Life is going to throw olives. And they’ll likely be unexpected. Something we didn’t plan for. Sometimes they are going to hurt, maybe even leave you in the dark, scared, or confused. Right now could be one of those times. 

And that’s okay. Because we’re here for each other, like the olive tree that can thrive in the harshest environments, with deep roots, in unexpected ways, our hearts open, offering branches to support, rather than stones to wound. It’s a good time to trust, to believe, and to care.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

8: Midecentury Modern Mobile Heads to Merchant Modern | Mark Leary Designs

Mobile: 8 (Available soon exclusively at Merchant Modern)

On magic
“But how do you ‘prepare’?” asked bear, raising his hand.
“Okay,” replied fox, “forget preparing, just be amazed!”

Thoughts while making
As kids, we were told not to do it. That it was dangerous. But we did it anyway. And I bet you did, too.

Fact is, I still do it. I can’t help myself. Why? Because, even though the mystery is gone, the magic remains.

As a child, I was barely eye level with it. Yet I can hear my mother’s voice clearly: “Get away from there. Don’t stare at it!”

But there was that light glowing from the inside. And that hum vibrating the countertop. And, wait for it, wait for it … that metallic DING!

Most every morning, I reheat my day-old coffee (no judgments, please). I stick the mug in the microwave, and depending on my whim ++ the temperature of the mug, I may press 1 minute or 42 seconds or 1.5 minutes or sometimes 1-1-1. It varies.

What doesn’t seem to vary is the location of that mug when the microwave hits zero and beeps its electronic beep. Always front and center.

How does it do that?! How is it always exactly where I want it to be? Yes, I know it’s designed this way. And, no, I don’t really want to know “how” it works. I just want to continue to be amazed.

Amazed like I am by water coming out of a faucet. Or my car starting. Or the cursor on this screen. Sharpie markers. Vinyl records. Bar codes. A cat purring. Mouths that can speak thousands of different languages and smile smiles that melt hearts. And hearts that beat. And eyes that see. And bodies that are.

So, the larger metal disc of this mobile reminded me of the turntable inside our childhood microwave, and all the magic *it* saw over the years … even with a little toe-headed kid standing in the way watching it spin.

What’s one thing that you find magical and/or fills you with awe?

NOTE: This is a one of one mobile. It's headed to the fabulous Merchant Modern in Santa Monica, CA, today (3/4/20). If you are interested in it, please contact Merchant Modern directly ASAP as it will sell quickly). Merchant Modern will also have five additional mobiles, including special variations of Arrow, The Classic, Ironwood Road, One Orange One, and Jumble customized exclusively for Merchant Modern.

Modern Metal Stabiles from Mark Leary Designs

Stabile: The Unnamed

 On flexibility
“Don’t give up on where you want to go,” bear explained.
“Just be open to taking different roads to get there.”

Thoughts while making
“Be careful,” she said. “It’s tender.” And I could see it was. Time bruised in reds and blues. “Please be gentle.”

What do you think of when you hear the word “steel”? Perhaps strength or hardness? Or maybe a steely gaze, bracing yourself against the unpleasant or difficult?

“Where you press,” she said, “will leave a mark.” And it was true. A thousand stories etched there. “Please be kind.”

As an alloy, steel is made from carbon and iron. Iron which makes up more than 5% of earth’s crust. Iron which changed history. Iron which is essential for life.
“The harder you push,” she said, “the more it will resist.” And she spoke the truth. Distant memories bending shadows. “Please be soft.”

I use large sheets of galvanized steel for my mobiles, cut with tempered steel shearers that are heavy to the hand—nearly two pounds. Force is required.
Yet steel is a funny thing, both strong *and* malleable—its atoms able to shapeshift without breaking their metallic bonds. There’s a balance, then, as I work the metal in my hands, asking it for permission, inviting it to become.
At its best, it’s a symbiotic relationship, man and metal, idea and execution, the making infused with flow.
Some days, however, we do not see eye to eye, that metal and me. And today was such a day. I was not gentle with it. I was not soft in my approach. And I was not kind in the words I spoke to myself.
Eventually, I took a page out of metal’s malleability book. I put aside the mobile I was working on, and let the metal show me what it wanted to be. And these are what came to be. I can’t tell you how happy I am.

Where’s a place you can stop pushing so hard on how you think life is supposed to be and just appreciate what it is?