Yertle Was Not My Turtle

I made my first concerted effort to make a piece of 3-dimensional art in 1963. It was a more than double life-sized portrait of my pet turtle, whose name I do not recall.

For a brief period of time, I had a few pet turtles. Nevermore than one at a time though, and I don’t remember any of their names. I do know that as a second-grader my favorite color was green, and I will assume that that preference may have been due in large part to the inhabitants of my turtle bowl. The odor from that bowl that signaled it was time to change the water still stings my memory.

Even at the time, I did not feel that it was an accurate enough representation to be considered an appropriate homage to my testudinal companions, let alone a good piece of art. My mother thought otherwise as I recently found the said artifact on display in her home.

I find it interesting how a singular experience that my seven-year-old self had continues to shape my artistic decisions. Even today when the topic of sculpture comes up, I think of that turtle and remove myself from the conversation.

I have, mind you come to terms with that turtle and we get along just fine. But the trama it may have created, like the smell of that little plastic bowl that included an island with a palm tree on it, still haunts me such that I don’t believe that I have it in me to be much of a sculptor.

Do I want to be a sculptor? Not particularly. But I do wonder about how experiences I have had shaped and continue to affect how I approach my work today.

Dr. Seuss, wrote “Yertle the Turtle” about a turtle that was king of the pond. Yertle wanted to expand his kingdom and to do so he took ridiculous advantage of his subjects. A small turtle named Mack finally, out of pure exhaustion, couldn’t take it anymore. When that happened the mightly Yertle was toppled.

I could never relate to Yertle because he was so unlike me.

I was just thinking about how I piece together my thoughts as I figure out a new painting or monotype and I wonder why my process is shaped the way it is.

Can I change it? I think I could. Do I need to? Perhaps, perhaps not. I am not sure it is necessary.

This I do know, I can’t let a lump of clay dictate my course forever.

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