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Gaudí Prize of Poetry and Short Narrative 2003


Gaudi and Whitman, Fountains of My Inspiration

By the Fountain Man

          The sign read, "No Dumping."  It was a hot, steamy day in Central Florida, some time in the mid 1970ís.  From the road I could see outcroppings of Coquina rock that had always intrigued me, so I had to stop and check them out.  Lifting away debris, I discovered a most beautiful stone.  It was about three feet long and half as wide and it somewhat resembled the head of an alligator.  As I struggled to free it from the soil and roots that held it fast, it began to rain.  From the vantagepoint of a lizard, prone, head to mother earth, I experienced a moment of Epiphany.  As rainwater coursed over the roots, small lichens, and natural undulations of the rock, I was witness to a miniature waterfall that nature created before my eyes.  It was as pleasing as any larger waterfall one might see anywhere around the world.  For years thereafter, I admired that rocks beauty.  It sat in my backyard in a place of honor next to one of my fountain creations that was made of other rocks I collected on that memorable, sultry, summerís day.
          Over time, a backyard oasis can lose its ability to calm a restless soul.  Sometimes as a person sets out in new directions, he has to take that beauty and carry it around inside his heart.  But it wasn't my nature to just keep that beauty locked inside.  Rather, I set out on a career as a self taught artist, creating water fountains for others that resemble naturally eroded Coquina rock along with the elements of moving water and areas for tropical foliage.
          After a few years of struggling to establish my art, I stumbled upon my next source of inspiration, Walt Whitman and his lifeís work of Leaves of Grass.  A newspaper article led me to him.  It told about the section of poems in Leaves of Grass, which Whitman named Calamus.  Calamus is a plant that grows in marshy areas near streams.  With my love of water, I had to check out this symbolism.  I was deeply moved by what I read.   Besides rereading the book time and again, I have spent years researching Whitmanís life.  His love of nature seems to be behind his work, not just the content but itís unique style as well.  Leaves of Grass has been criticized by some for "its innovation in verse form, the use of free verse in long rhythmical lines with a natural, Ďorganicí structure."
          Whitman was a very determined man.  Driven by his love of Nature and Mankind, he persisted despite unappreciative critics, ill health, and the interruptions of war.  Time and again, Whitman and his accomplishments have served to strengthen my commitment to my chosen career.
          To make needed changes in oneís art is a scary thing.  What would it take to make a doggedly determined person veer even slightly in a new direction?
          Perhaps, another Epiphany.
          The sign read, "Parque Guell".  It was a typical day in May 2001, in beautiful Barcelona, Spain, cool and windy. Because I had taken the city subway, I soon discovered that I had entered the park through a back or side entrance.  So I had to work my way backwards down the mountain slope.  Thus, the part that proved to be the most memorable, for me, came at the end of my visit.  I walked down the entrance steps to discover a series of fountains that include the famous mosaic lizard. Having over eighteen years of experience making fountains for a living I might have expected my first impression would be a bit different than that of the usual tourist.  Actually, I had to catch my breath.  I was simply blown away by what I saw.  The fact that the fountain series begins with a natural stone waterfall was the most amazing aspect. I had read before hand that Gaudi was inspired by the beauty of Nature, which as a devout Catholic, he viewed as the work of Godís hands.  I was aware that many of the items selected for Parque Guell are symbolic in nature.  But I couldnít have prepared myself for their effect on me or on my lifeís work.  What that natural stone waterfall reminded me of was the first Epiphany I had experienced years ago: that Nature is at the base of all my creativity.  I would like to quote something that Walt Whitman said in Song of Myself, a poem in Leaves of Grass.  It was in answer to a childís question, "What is the Grass?"  "What is the Grass?" Whitman repeated and followed with "I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord, A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt, Bearing the ownerís name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark and say Whose?"
          Gaudi and Whitman shared forty overlapping years on this planet.  Gaudi was born in 1852 and Whitman died in 1892.  I wonder if they were aware of each otherís work.  If so, what did they think of each other?  So far, I have only been able to spend a fraction of the time researching Gaudiís life compared to my time learning about Whitman.  Although I sense that they were very different in many ways, still both of their overlapping life spans have been an inspiration to me. It is Gaudiís work, however, that has recently served as a remembrancer to me.  More than that, it has lead me in a new direction.  If he could have a fanciful mosaic lizard next in view as you climb the stairs at Parque Guell, perhaps mosaics would be a logical direction for me to follow in my own fountain creations.  The next part of the fountain series above the lizard confirmed this for me.  For again, at the center of the three dimensional arched mosaic fountain that comes next is a small piece of natural stone, the same natural stone that was used in the construction of the larger stone waterfall at the base of the stairs. What a mixture of fantasy, geometry, and the kernel of natural beauty at the center of it all!
          Therefore, being inspired by two 19th century artists, I have started to incorporate mosaics in my fountains.
These include things that you might expect to see near a natural waterfall: Koi, frogs, dragonflies, butterflies, birds, and the like.  Recently I accepted a commission for a baptismal fountain for a Catholic Church named Our Lady of the Lakes. A mosaic of a different sort was required for this fountain, a mosaic of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus.

          When I look at this mosaic fountain, which I have entitled, ĎOur Lady of the Lakes,í I realize how quickly and profoundly our lives can be changed.  Especially when we are open to the forces of Epiphany and have great masters like Gaudi and Whitman to emulate!