**All of the crocheted covered stones shown in this post are by Margaret Oomen/Resurrection Fern
This is a story about a walk at the beach, how I got lost along the way and then found exactly what I was looking for. It’s about a friendship and inspiration. About walking in someone else’s shoes and seeing through someone else’s eyes. Of realizing who I am and learning to feel brave about sharing myself with others, no matter how different I am from them. It’s about the art of juxtaposition.
Last week I drove to Providence, Rhode Island, to see Margaret Oomen’s joint exhibition with Merrilee Challis at Craftland Gallery. I went by myself, no husband, no kids. Solo adventures are rare for me, and I was a little nervous about being on my own and getting lost, but I wasn’t filled with the overwhelming anxiety that a solo winter drive would have meant for me a few years ago. My recent trip to London had reignited my long-dormant sense of adventure. I had successfully found my way from Heathrow Airport to a rented apartment after a red-eye flight and navigated the London Underground to find the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Liberty of London store all on my own, reminding me that in fact I’m a fairly competent traveler.
I count Margie as a friend, though we’ve only ever met once in person over a very special weekend. We took an amazing walk together, which I shared here. I had hoped to meet up with Margie in Providence to enjoy the exhibition’s opening, but sadly Margie’s mother’s passed away a few days before the show’s opening. So it was bittersweet for me to see Margie’s show at such a difficult time for her personally. My thoughts were with her, and waves of sadness overcame me at odd times. Her loss brought up my old feelings of grief at losing my grandmother three years ago.
Right after I checked into my hotel in Providence, I headed downtown to Craftland. An open, airy space on a street with other galleries and design-oriented stores, the gallery was filled with a nicely curated selection of crafts, set off beautifully by stark white display cases and gray concrete floors. A collection of silk-screened and digital prints lined the long wall that led to the exhibition of Margie’s crochet-covered stones and saucers, grouped with Merrilee Challis’ dreamy paintings. I photographed the pieces for Margie and spent time examining each detailed creation.
Later, during the official opening, I spoke with Faythe Levine and Merrilee Challis. I felt star-struck and tongue-tied talking to these two stars of the indie art/craft scene, but I learned so much from talking to both women. I came away with an awareness of the many parallels between the work of Margie and Merrilee: how similar their inspirations are and what a central role whimsy, fable, and the natural world play in the creation of their art.
The next morning I woke up early and had breakfast at the B&B where I was staying. I asked the innkeeper for directions to the nearest beach so that I could collect sea stones, sea glass, or driftwood for myself and to send to Margie. A beach visit hadn’t been part of my original plan, but I figured that I was too close to the ocean not to visit. I didn’t have a map of the area or GPS, just the vague directions from the innkeeper to guide me. I felt adventurous, and frankly it didn’t even occur to me to be worried about getting lost. Well, I did. Instead of going south on the highway, I mistakenly headed north out of Providence. After 45 minutes of driving, when I should have seen signs for Jamestown, I began to realize that something might be wrong. I got a little anxious and annoyed with myself for messing up. I thought of turning around and just heading back to Providence and the museum I had planned to visit. But instead I stopped at a rest area and luckily found a map that showed me an alternate route to the coast. I took the next exit for Cape Cod and crossed the bridge to the cape. At the first sign I saw for a beach, I turned off the highway and headed down a small road through a neighborhood of shingled beach houses.
I parked my car beside a narrow old train station, which had been converted to offices and sat in front of a row of homes and a playground leading to a short stretch of beach. I walked down the deserted street, and most of the homes seemed vacant for the season. It was a gorgeous sunny day, in the 40s, and I had the beach all to myself. Waves splashed against a rim of ice right at the shoreline, and pebbled snow piles covered parts of the sand. A cutting wind blew in off the sea, making my eyes water. My earlier irritation melted away as I started scouting for sea stones. The variety of sizes, shapes, and colors of the stones was amazing: sunny quartzite, speckled granite, red bricks smoothed to spheres by the waves’ caress. Quarter-inch-thick chunks of ice filigreed with holes covered one pink speckled rock, reminding me of Margie’s crocheted stones. In fact, as I looked around, I realized that I felt Margie’s presence all around me as I made connections between the patterns she had crocheted around her stones and china plates and the shapes and colors of the rocks and dormant plants around me. The grays of the shingled homes and faded stalks, the dun-colored sand, the bright white of the snow--all these echoed Margie’s palette of crochet cotton and stone bases.
When I stooped to pick up one perfectly rounded stone, I thought how fortunate I was to have found this one particular stone out of all the possible stones on all the possible beaches I could have been on. I toyed with the idea that some providential hand had led me north instead of south and guided me to this perfect place. While I do believe in kismet, what struck me in that moment was this: that in fact there is infinite beauty around me, and all it takes is openness to receiving it. I could have found such joy and peace anywhere, with anyone around me, because I was using my twin capacities of imagination and connection. They were there in me all along, and it’s taken me many decades to have confidence in them.
The trip to Providence, and the epiphany at the beach, feel like sea changes in my approach to my life, a shift in perspective that I’m still processing. It’s helped me break through some barriers that I’ve had, chiefly helping to dispel some of the feelings of inadequacy I constantly feel about my creative abilities. Some of my rigidity and fear seems to have fallen away, and I’m beginning to give free rein to my imagination.
I don’t know where I’m heading, but I’m really enjoying the ride.