FROM THE NOTEBOOKS: thoughts on working
by Susannah Israel
The Diviner was made at Vulcan 5 Studio for the 30 Ceramic Sculptors invitational exhibition in Davis, California. The figure is lifesize, made of clay with special engobes formulated by the artist. This begins the long series of signature landscape figures, which continue to evolve today.
The word 'diviner' has an interesting place in American history. A diviner or dowser was a person with a special ability to find water. Such people were well respected - and paid - for their work, and were regularly employed by farmers and ranchers. Holding a Y-shaped 'dowsing stick', the diviner would walk the land, sensing the presence of underground water where a well could be placed.
I find it fascinating that this mystical practice holds such a practical place in the American West, particularly in the Great Plains states.* Diviners themselves did not think they were anything special; they didn't get rich, nor did cults build up around them. For their clients, this was simply what you did when other forms of human endeavor had failed. It is also interesting that Popular Mechanics published an article about divining in 1998, suggesting that it is not a hoax, simply because it works - 96% of the time.**The respected Farmers Almanac, published since 1818, posted a thoughtful article by Amber Kanuckel in their Weather section, including instructions for doing it yourself.***
Artists know something of the mysteries of divining because we work from inspiration, that invisible wellspring of imagination and ideas that can take us by surprise. The Diviner represents the late winter hills of California. Sere and arid, the hills will soon burst into color with the coming of the spring rains. The figure's crossed arms and fused hands represent the dowser's forked stick; on the head is an empty bucket, a sign of hope that it will be filled. The underpinnings of the piece are about how we seek out unexpected, spiritual sources when our common human endeavors have failed us. We cannot explain how it works, and we don't have to.
*Grace Fairchild and Walker D. Wyman, Frontier Woman: The Life of a Woman Homesteader on the Dakota Frontier. University of Wisconsin-River Falls Press, 1972,
The Diviner. 2007. Clay with engobes. H 40 x 39 x 26 inches.
Collection of the artist