The idea of creating a sculpture that represented Dickinson just seemed to come to me. I knew that I wanted to have a woman's (not necessarily Dickinson's) head, part of the skull removed, filled with flowers. The only problem with this idea is that I had never done a sculpture before, and didn't know where to start. After bugging my artist friends to give me advice, I decided to buy a Halloween mask that had human features, which I could fill with plaster. I thought it would be easy to do this, then cut out a hole in the head where I could put the flowers. I was wrong.
After trying to fill the Halloween mask with a plaster called Fast Cast, I realized that the sculpture was not going to stand up on its own, would not be able to be easily mounted, and would crack when I tried to make a hole and insert flowers. I decided to cheat, kind of, and buy a styrofoam head (the kind you put wigs on). I figured that I could cut the hole out of the styrofoam before applying two or three coats of plaster, and then I would be done. I ran into a few problems, though. Digging a hole out of the styrofoam was easy, but I couldn't get the plaster to stick to the head. I had to go to Sears and buy a bucket of drywall sealer, which I used as a base for the plaster. It took a while to get this on and dry, but it was worth it when the plaster stayed on and dried evenly. I applied one thick coat of plaster over the entire surface, and when that dried I put on a thin coat to cover up a few dips.
I let the plaster dry overnight. The next morning I started the impossible task of sanding. I started off by using a piece of relatively smooth sandpaper. This was taking too long, so I used a piece of coarse sandpaper. This worked a little better, but it was still taking a lot of time. My grandfather came down to see how the project was coming along, saw that I was struggling, and suggested that I use a little battery-operated hand-held tool (a dremel?) that had a sandpaper attachment. After he got it set up for me and I started using it I was SO excited -- it smoothed away the blemishes almost instantly! I was coming along absolutely marvelously until I accidentally pressed too hard on the plaster with the tool, which caused me to chip out a big chunk of the sculpture. I had to fill the gap, let it dry, and finish smoothing the work with good, old-fashioned sandpaper.
When I finally got the sculpture to look halfway smooth, I painted two coats of drywall sealer on it (Camilla suggested that I coat it in wax, but, alas, I could not come up with an easy way to spread hot wax uniformly over the piece). While the sealer was drying, I went to the shed and found a huge piece of wood that had a nice edge on it, and sawed it down to make a platform. I had to get out some more sandpaper to get the wood somewhat smooth, then I painted it with gold spray paint. I let this sit for a couple of hours, then I drilled some little holes in the wood where the head would be mounted. I was afraid that I was going to crack the head while I was drilling it, but it came out okay.
The final step in creating my project was adding the flowers. This sounds easy, but I had to arrange the petals a thousand times to get them how I wanted. My only problem is that I couldn't find a way to permanently attach them to the head, so they're just kind of laying there. I think they'll be okay, though.
If anyone asks, this is what I get to tell them about my piece: I was inspired by Dickinson to create a sculpture that represents her way of looking at life. The fact that the head looks rather "alien" is because Dickinson felt alienated in her society (I'm taking full credit for the coincidence that the styrofoam head looked like an alien -- great artists never tell when they really didn't intend something, right?). The sculpture is not painted because Dickinson was simple in her way of living; the complexities were not of external appearance, but of words, thoughts, and emotions. There is a hole in the head to show that modern students and scholars have dissected Dickinson, in a sense, to try to discern the meaning of her really deep thoughts. The flowers that protrude from the head represent her thoughts, not necessarily of flowers, but of beautiful, deep things in general. The piece is the visualization of poem #945 (This is a blossom of the brain), which makes many points, including that the spirit can become tangible in the form of something like a flower, only the wise can take the seed of thought and make it an art, and that creativity is something we can offer, such as to a god in worship. The title of my piece, obviously, comes from the first line of this poem.
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