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“Muy viejo,” the man held it out to me, this black piece of clay-coated pottery. He plucked some of the earth away. “Mire, él es antiguo,” he insisted, hefting the thing mostly encased in an earthen ball. He wanted me to hold it.
BACKSTORY: Early June in 1966. We’d ridden out of Bogotá at 5 AM and by 9 the Land Rover brought us up into the Andes where, just above the tree line, we mounted ponies. By noon we passed through a place too small to be called a village… along a trail that was just a deep hoof-etched crack into the rich dark earth.
And there this man walked along beside us, showing me a piece of thing, hidden mostly within a ball of dried mud. “Ciento cincuenta pesos,” He wanted, about fifteen dollars.
“Offer him diez pesos,” a friend laughed from behind. I did, he took it, and I slid the thing into a saddle bag. Late that night as we drove back to the city, beneath the mud I found a black cup which might hold 16 ounces of liquid.
See, see the scar above the face where it probably cracked in cooling? There’s a chip out of the head where it meets that break. And there’s another chip on the base at the bottom-right just beyond where you can see in this image. Some mud still clings in there.
The crafting is primitive. Look there at the top where the handle meets the cup at how the surface is uneven. For a half century it’s held pens atop my desks. The thing’s a time capsule. I look at it and remember that day’s adventure and the things which happened within minutes of meeting the man.
None of that’s the point here. And it’s taken me a long while to get to it, eh?
What I recently began to wonder about was whether our images were art or something else. Suppose fifty or sixty years from now someone comes upon one of them. Will they pluck from it a capsule of ideas or feelings that we’d packed carefully inside? Will they find a message or will they find at most some piece of our culture? Some jagged chunk of this part of the century which echoes some of the things which we collected through our lives about what and where we are?
Will they find art or artifact in our work? A pencil holder that will get trashed with our stuff when it’s finally collected by whoever survives us, or something that contributes to a deeper reflection? Are we sending off answers to any questions?
I’m putting the pencils back now into that cup.