Interviewsand Articles


A Selection from J. Kathleen White's Collection of Vases

by J. Kathleen White, Feb 1, 2001



VASE #4: Rejection Krater

This supposedly ancient krater has been the object of much scholarly debate:
1. Is it authentic?
2. Does it represent a notorious philosopher-queen succumbing to the effects of a federally-issued poison? Or,
3. Does it depict the last of too many rejections experienced by a therefore now unknown poetess?

The previous owner of VASE #4 (who wore glasses so thick his eyes popped at you like a desperate frog in a tank, and seemed to beseech on their own behalf, "Get us out of here!") became so exasperated by these uncertainties he donated it to a fund-raising bazaar for unemployed art historians, where I bought it.


VASE # 15 Mint Bowl

Driving in Maine where one can never escape the distraction of the infinity of garage and yard sales that line all the roads, I finally gave up and stopped at a trailer home on a hillside where three playground hobby horses danced and squeaked in the stiff wind.
     "I've got everything and its mother and father," said the woman, who turned out of her hammock and spent some time finding, turning over and getting into her rubber thongs.
     She came over to the tables and began not just to chew her fingernails, but to wrestle with them. Her elbow waved this way and that in the struggle. She pointed for a moment with that elbow at VASE #15. "Take that bowl there, that’s a beauty isn’t it?"
     Her miniature Collie kept running around and around the trailer and barking at us from a distance. Its furry, barrel-body rolled at a slower independent pace from its four furiously cantering feet.
I opened the lid to VASE #15.
     "Is there something in there?" she asked, and peered into it with me. "Oh, you can have those mints."
     White mints with green jelly centers—the same kind my Grandma used to offer us from a similarly-shaped bowl. She didn't remember where the bowl had come from—maybe from a friend in Ohio for an anniversary gift.

VASE #7: Alert Baby

There is only one inlet for the Pacific Ocean into all of the Puget Sound and that narrow channel is called Deception Pass.
     At the change of the tide, the water rushes in or out with tremendous velocity and force creating deep treacherous whirlpools that whirl in choppy vortexes with two-and three-foot differences in height. The water there is a beautiful, luminous, frothy, creme-de-menthe green—mesmerizingly clear in spots down into unplumbable depths. This is the place one’s boat always breaks down.
     However, one day, I was in an entirely different part of the Coastal Waters nowhere close to Deception Pass when the boat I was in broke down.
     I was making the crossing from mainland to an out-island with a tall, thin, long-haired, long-bearded sailor with a severe expression but a calm, benign manner in a small, open, motorless sailboat shorter than he was tall.
     A sudden squall swept down on us and blew out our main and only sail. This disaster left Bob quite unruffled although we were soon drifting broadside without power among the increasingly roily waves. He stood up, pulled the mast up, laid it lengthwise in the boat, and then got out the long sweeps and began to pull.
     The waves had gotten high enough to row up one side and slide down the other. With the working of the boards in the rough waters and the crashing of the waves around us the boat took on a lot of water. Bob’s manner was so unperturbed that I felt no fear whatsoever even though we were several miles from either shore and the seas showed no sign of diminishing.
     Fortunately there was no rain—just wind and clouds.
     I was bailing with Vase #7.
     Bob rarely spoke, ever, if at all. He lived alone in a houseboat moored off an old shack. He rebuilt old boats and sailed them around until he sold them. He had a very intense gleam in his eyes, not unlike Rasputin—a similarity increased by his long black beard.
     We had been out for nearly two hours speaking not a word to each other. He rowed and I bailed and we made decent headway and that was all that mattered.
     Unexpectedly then, he said, "I used to crew for the University of Washington."
     My mind rolled over several times as I thought of this statement and how for him to say just that one thing was like a crack opening in the long wall of silence that might be pried open bit-by-bit to reveal a glimpse of an unimaginable past.
     And yet, I never did that, and we passed the rest of the trip in resumed silence.

VASE #14: Not What I Thought It Was Going To Be

In the 1960’s when my family would travel in our pink Thunderbird to various vacation destinations, it was always a great excitement to stop at a Howard Johnson’s rest stop along the turnpike. The parking lot was crammed with cars like an amusement park. You could stand outside and watch people try to walk their dogs, or you could go inside and see again those things that were so uniquely peculiar to Howard Johnson’s: gigantic, unappealing suckers, behemoth candy bars—no individual could buy one of those—you’d have to be a whole church group. Most awe-inspiring was the roomful of inaccessibly expensive, fabulously detailed, spotlessly unhandled, stuffed animals. We would stare and stare at those until it was time to go stare at a grilled hot dog cut in half and folded into a piece of toast in a paper boat.
     When I finally got one of those stuffed animals (never certain what I had done to deserve it) it was so precious to me I didn't know what to do with it. I couldn’t accept that it was mine. (As a matter of fact, it may have been that it wasn't mine, but was actually my sister’s—which might explain the particular paranoia I remember concerning it.)
     I was afraid to take it out of its plastic bag. It was a four-inch high beaver sitting up on its hind legs. It had realistically peppered stiff and soft hairs and bright white cloth teeth. I was terrified I would get the teeth dirty. This was not like the three foot high blue rabbit I had and flung from bed to floor, from floor to chair, from chair to floor. That beaver was a problem! What to do with it except admire it and try to protect it. It was my first experience with the problem of owning treasures.
     Driving by yourself as an adult at night and stopping in at a truck stop at 3 a.m. is quite a different experience from those childhood times. Trembling with solitude, you emerge from the untrustworthy car and woodenly walk toward the overly bright building dreading the potential horrors that lie await for you within.
     I went in. The cafeteria was closed. The only section open was a souvenir counter and snack-bar combined. Behind the counter was a woman in a white waitress dress and pleasantly wakeful wide-set eyes in a wide face. In the glass case mysterious souvenirs glowed, hallucinatorily shrinking and enlarging in their separate pools of molten color.
     The benign lady behind the counter asked me with touching eagerness, just as if she was offering them to me from her own cupboard "You want some cookies, sir?"
     "Oh, I don't know."
     "That's all I got," she apologized, "Cookies and crackers and Coke."
     "Maybe I’ll get a Coke."
     "All right. Got far to go, sir?"
     "Not too far."
     I lacked understanding as to why she called me "sir." Nevertheless, there was something restful there. Pleasantly restful. No need to move. Sipped the Coke. Must go back to the car and lie down.
     "What's that vase there?" I tapped the glass counter top.
     "I don't know. Do you want it?" she asked with surprised hopefulness. Not at all avariciously—no. It was very touching. She wanted to please, and she would be grateful to have something there that someone actually wanted.
     She wrapped it in so much tissue paper I took it out into the car and could use it right away for a pillow.


About the Author

J. Kathleen White is an artist living in NYC and frequent contributer to works & conversations    


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