My mother introduced me to the poem Desiderata by Max Ehrmann (1927), which was made popular in the 1970s. This poem came into my life years ago during a period of struggle and, as someone that grew up non-denominational, I was able to find comfort in the universality of Ehrmann's message. Communication and language have been consistent parts of my artistic practice. I desire to communicate positive and uplifting messages to my audience and found that others may benefit from Ehrmann's message, to which I feel all of humanity can relate.
I first incorporated Ehrmann's poem into my practice through the small wooden objects depicted below. The objects (2 x 3 x 1) are meant to be hand-held and kept close by the one possessing it. Meticulously sanded, the pieces are smooth like worry stones. Each oval token, made from exotic kinds of wood, has a line from the Desiderata laser etched into one face and an original, hand carved symbol on the opposite face. The symbol itself is ergonomic; an owners' thumbs fit perfectly into the shape, which acts as a physical tool in refocusing the mind. These pieces are meant to be kept close by the possessor until he or she feels equipped to keep the message within them, at which point they pass the token to someone new. The design of the symbol is based off the simple outline of a tree's roots, trunk and branches. The balance of the symbol represents the necessity for a balance between an individual's relationship with community and humanity at large and a relationship with their inner self: one must feel rooted and connected to others while at the same time feeling free to grow above and beyond any perceived limitations.
As the project grew, I made more tokens and a version of the symbol cast out of porcelain. Around the Champaign-Urbana area, I subtly left these tokens grouped underneath the symbol as an offering in hopes that those that needed a message would be drawn in visually and take a token that spoke to them. This project eventually grew into large scale, public, text installations.
"Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy."
Max Ehrmann, Desiderata