BLOG— Raven, a reflection
- Published: December 12, 2017
My husband and I went to the open house for Raven Murie a week ago Sunday. Raven, a longtime villager, died this fall, young, breathtakingly young, at 64, and old, wise-woman old. I didn’t know her well, but I sensed she was a spirit bird — half-magic — totemic. I was always waiting for her to leap up and fly.
Raven was an accomplished paper artist, and last winter she began informally teaching my husband, Grant, the basics of her art. She had already been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and we both felt a special connection with her based on that terrible news. Grant’s mother died of the illness five years ago, and it was her diagnosis that brought us to Yellow Springs. We knew this cancer, its ravages.
Raven didn’t speak much about being sick. Instead, she brought my husband, a new friend, into her home studio. Brought out her pulps, her deckles, her tubs of finished papers — some textured, some translucent, some delicately veined like the inside of a wrist. Under her hands, he learned to make his own papers, surprisingly beautiful for a beginner. He brought them home with the pride of a child, and I treasured the glimpse of boy in him. One paper shimmered like raw silk, another was thick and stormy gray, made from encyclopedia pages. Here and there, you could spot an “e,” an “s.”
They had a few sessions, and then their work together tapered off. Illness, busyness, a certain shyness set in. I was never part of the papermaking, which seemed like something Raven and Grant needed to do together, for their own reasons. Their friendship was brief, but real.
Raven’s death was not unexpected, but still a shock. That magic, where did it go?
Grant and I decided to walk to Sunday’s gathering. It took us almost an hour each way. We didn’t hurry. It was the best of November days, cold and sunny. I’d never been to the Vale, but turning off the bike path to the gravel road, I felt at home.
And then there was Raven’s house. A blue mushroom, a sudden flower. The tulip poplar seeds in her front yard fluttered under our shoes like paper raindrops, paper tears. Inside, festive as Christmas, paper was everywhere, tacked up, hung up, stitched to sticks, stitched into tiny books, stretched and curved and softly pleated into lampshades.
I thought about the word ephemera: literally, “lasting only one day.” Go to an antique store or flea market, and you’ll find stacks of ephemera — paper “collectibles” openly acknowledged to be fragile, perishable in both substance and value.
The house was a hive of activity, warmed by bodies, talk and food. And all that paper … I kept waiting for wind, waiting for it to lift and rustle Raven’s leaves.
Making paper is a richly tactile experience. When you make new paper from existing sheets, you have to break down the paper into fibers. This is a not a gentle process. And when you work with the wet, pulpy slurry that will — with time, pressure and magic — harden into formed sheets, you are returning to the forgotten satisfactions of shaping a really gloppy mud pie.
Most of the paper we handle in our lives is the equivalent of fast food. Computer paper, copier paper: prepackaged blocks of “bright white” sheets, 500 to a block, every sheet a true blank. When was the last time you thought about the inner plant or tree?
I knew Raven well enough to say: she thought about the inner plant and tree.
And she must have thought, perhaps especially in these last months, about the fleetingness of her chosen art. Its muscular processes to create something delicate, something gorgeously unlasting.
Raven’s sisters set out samples of papers she’d made for people at the open house to take home. I chose one, soft with a rippled texture and woven with little filaments, like veins of gold. I’ll hang it in a window. The sun will shine through it, making it beautiful. Making it, almost, disappear.