I recently finished a couple of new hangings, to get back into practice cutting tyvek.
Once I start cutting, I have trouble stopping. This seems to have less to do with finishing a project than the sheer pleasure I get from slicing tyvek. Cutting a complicated image seems to activate my dopamine receptors. But this very same activity would surely drive some people absolutely crazy. Whether this counts as compulsive behavior, addiction, or creative “flow,” I’m not sure.
More on the mysteries of the human brain in a minute.
These papercuts are more decorative than narrative, based on drawings I made in my back yard in the western North Carolina woods. In one of them, an old woman carries an acorn with a little person inside.
This image materialized after a recent visit from my son Dylan and his wife Sara. This time of year, acorns are everywhere and they hit our metal roof like gun shots. While we sat out back waiting for the grill to heat up, Sara carved out acorns so she could put little messages in them and turn them into necklaces. Now I look at every acorn differently.
Next I started cutting a set of five Edgar Allan Poe images. These are going to be difficult, and this is the one I like the least so I started with it. I have had to do some patching and there will be a different colored sheet behind the black papercut, but I can put it aside now.
Here is the image for Edgar Allan Poe’s story “A Tale of the Ragged Mountains,” in an almost finished state (below). You can tell from looking at the white tyvek (above) that I had way too much detail in this one and decided not to cut it all. It’s reminded me to pay attention to how the cut tyvek will want to “hang.”
“A Tale of the Ragged Mountains” by Edgar Allan Poe (1844)
Imagine you are a gentleman of some means with a chronic health condition, able to afford a fashionable doctor who provides ample medication and novel treatments that you believe are helping you. You are active enough to enjoy the Great Outdoors and fortunate to have time to do so. Imagine yourself hiking along a Blue Ridge trail with your dog on a misty autumn day. Now, remind yourself that this is an Edgar Allan Poe story, so things are about to get weird.
Poe writes realistically about the “chain of wild and dreary hills” making up the Ragged Mountains southwest of Charlottesville because he visited them while a student at the University of Virginia in 1826. He probably recalled an incident that year in which rabble-rousing students fled there to avoid the local sheriff on gambling charges. Poe had also resorted to drinking and gambling in an attempt to raise money and was soon booted out.
As with stories set in Charleston, South Carolina, Poe used a familiar southern setting and memories of his troubled young adulthood as the backdrop for fantastic tales intended to give his readers pleasurable shivers. In this one, he adds exotic details about India (including an improbable resemblance between a lethal eastern dagger and a poisonous leech) and focuses on a topic of fascination and dread to readers in the 1840s: mesmerism. He leaves his reader to ponder whether the doctor in this story is an incompetent quack or a pseudo scientist who dabbles nefariously in a new and dangerous medical practice. Either way, the story does not end well for the patient. Is this a tale of unfortunate coincidences or is it a warning against tinkering, for whatever reason, with the human brain?