I am a life-long artist. 1956: the ceramics department at Montana State University, where Frances Senska ďgave me legs." For years, I had no limitations of size or scope or time or endurance. I taught pottery, drawing, painting and jewelry making. I could keep five plates in the air at once and still answer the phone.
After 40 years of wedging and throwing 25-pound balls of clay into over-sized platters and colossal bowls; decorating, glazing and firing thousands of pieces of pottery, I began to notice the loss of small motor control.
Gradually and reluctantly I accepted that I had to give up clay. With the aid of an assistant, I began a short career of sculpting and welding 4X8-foot sheets of stainless steel into lyrical, life-sized lawn sculptures.
But soon my endurance and muscular ability dwindled and I could no longer participate in big or heavy work anymore. As Parkinson's disease gained ground in my muscles, I explored less physically demanding methods of pursuing my art.
After another seven years, I could not lift or move heavy objects: sometimes I could not move myself. I could not safely walk to or around my studio without the fear of "freezing" and falling.
I sat on a stool and looked out the window. What can I do now? My wife and I spent winters in Kino Bay Mexico where the seagulls noisily convened in straight lines on the beach or bobbed and rolled on the azure waves of the Sea of Cortez.
I sat on my chair and watched them move. Graceful, buoyant and free. Anton Chekhov's play, The Seagull, used that bird as a symbol of Konstantin's broken dreams. I thought about that.
My speech deteriorated to the point that I was forced to repeat every statement three times, but I overcame my insecurities and was able to communicate with two Mexican welders in their dusty, rusty, dirt-floored shop in Old Kino.
They understood my desire; my need to create the images of the seagulls. We formed the birds of bits and pieces of scrap metal and made them to fly freely over and even through obstacles.
Today: the strength in my legs is almost gone, but I am still an artist in my mind and in my soul. That is exactly what I have left and I will use my mind in the best way I am able.
Chris Isaak sings a song of The Yellow Bird, "I wish that I were a yellow bird, I'd fly away with you. But, I am not a yellow bird, So here I sit. Nothing I can do. Yellow bird, yellow bird."
Big, bold and colossal statements have been replaced in my life with the simplicity and power of symbols. For me, it has become more critical to convey essence and meaning. My yellow seagull symbolizes the freedom that eludes people with Parkinson's disease. There is an adjustable nut on the back of the yellow bird that allows for dependable and graceful movement. The color yellow symbolizes hope, courage and perseverance, all of which have been critical for me in recognizing and embracing the continuing and exciting possibilities for creation of art in my life.
I am the orange gull different from the others, but still standing. There is something I can do.