Thank you Paul Weideman for this great article in today’s New Mexican! To see some fun photos, click on the link at end.
Many people who go to the main courtyard at Santa Fe Community College these days aren’t just sitting. They’re walking slowly around its paths, stopping every few steps to read a short poem. There are 36 “stops,” each one a domed ceramic disc, about 15 inches in diameter, bearing a printed haiku — whimsical, quizzical, punchy, or simply profound.
Haiku Pathway is a collaboration of poet Miriam Sagan and artist Christy Hengst. The permanent installation, funded in part by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, had an opening event on Oct. 5.
The haiku were curated by Sagan, founder of the Santa Fe Community College creative-writing program and a longtime SFCC instructor. “There are two other haiku pathways that I know of in North America and one in New Zealand,” Sagan said. “And in Japan, this type of haiku stone is a part of landscape architecture.”
There are two streams, intermingled, in the SFCC courtyard. “I taught a free public class in June and the students did haikus,” Sagan said. “That was site-specific here in the courtyard, but it was up to them whether they referenced the courtyard. I did not want 36 haikus about cottonwood trees.”
For the second stream, she curated works by a hefty handful of Northern New Mexico’s venerable haiku poets, among them Elizabeth Searle Lamb, William Higginson, Peggy Harter, Alvaro Cardona-Hine and Barbara McCauley, Renee Gregorio, Joan Logghe, and John Brandi.
Sagan worked with Hengst and Linda Cassell, the college’s Art on Campus Collection manager, on the editing project.
Hengst has a few fireplace surrounds and other residential projects in her portfolio, but most of her work is in the realm of fine art. She and Sagan are neighbors and have worked together before. Once the writer had it in mind to do a haiku pathway, she explored potential technologies. “At one point someone suggested cement, but a haiku is a momentary thing — not ‘written in cement,’” she quipped. “It’s done sort of out of the corner of the eye.” Stone seemed to be a good alternative.
“I read her blog,” Hengst said, “and I thought, Oh, she shouldn’t do that in carved stone. It should be clay, so I wrote her.”
“And the clay is so much more integrated with the vision of the pathway here than stone could ever be,” Sagan said. “It’s softer and it has a slightly more natural or ephemeral feeling. We thought the pieces would look like mushrooms here.”
The artist chose a material that is similar to adobe in color. The shallow domes are stoneware over concrete. “This was rolling out a slab of clay, then shaping it over an upside-down bowl, then stamping the letters. I had bought two sets and I used one for the poets’ names, but the one I used for the poems was actually from my kid’s stamp set, a Melissa and Doug set, that I used to press the letters into the clay.” After stamping, she did a bisque-firing, brushed an iron pigment into the letters, and then high-fired it.
The result is a perfect, quiet marriage of two art forms. “In Santa Fe, we think so much of the visual arts as our bread and butter and I have the strong feeling that the literary arts are part of that,” Sagan said. “They’re part of what makes Santa Fe Santa Fe.” Hengst added, “One thing about projects like this is that it’s about making places more rich and livable. It is very much about sense of place in Santa Fe. One reason it’s so nice to live here is that there are so many things like this to experience.”