After winding around Lancaster County’s beautiful countryside we arrive at 1420 Little Conestoga Road, Glenmoore, Pennsylvania, where Artist James Fuhrman greets us warmly.
“This was a school house from 1867 to 1960,” he says. Forty years ago Fuhrman arrived to convert it step by step into an enchanting studio and home. “People drop by who went to school here,” he says.
Contemplating Fuhrman’s works is an exciting spiritual and ecological experience; exchanging ideas with him in his studio—a work of art which he himself molded and caressed into a warm, sensual and aesthetic space—is a trip into the unknown during which the passenger’s feet remain profoundly buried in the earth. His soft voice communicates energy and containment
--When you came here were you already involved with art?
--I started doing sculpture when my roommate and friend from college showed me a welded piece and I thought it was the cat’s meow, wonderful, and I said I’d love to do something like that and he gave me the name of a teacher to go to and I went. So I spent the third and fourth year in college learning how to weld, although I wound up with a degree in International Relations.
--I understand you also got into dance…
--Yes but that was some 15 years later. I have a master’s degree from Temple University in Early Childhood Education and I worked in teaching for a while but then I realized that what I really wanted to do was sculpture. When I started doing it I never wanted to do anything else. I love playing word games, although I hate writing, it’s a struggle for me. I discovered that putting things together with my hands was really what I wanted to do and I could combine my intellectual abilities by working with my hands. The two of them came together and the same thing happened with the Martha Graham technique. She simultaneously combines movement with intellectual concepts.
--Your work is based on a special form. Could you explain that?
--I have two or three very glib things to say about that, because it is so difficult to express it in other terms. It is an asymmetrical “J” curve. Only coincidentally my name also begins with “J.” I had a feeling for it even before I came across the Graham technique. I call it the country road theory. You look down a country road surrounded by trees that hold you. But as you go further and further along the road, it curves. It holds you in and lets you out at the same time. It is holding but perhaps more like caressing. It is not capturing. There is openness to it. Graham talks about contraction and release, a pelvic interior contraction. You release it and that gives energy to the movement.
--Have you done dance?
I took four years of dance when I was 38 years old but then my knees couldn’t do it anymore. That was pretty old to begin dance and I had never done it before. It was the first kind of physical activity that made sense to me. I had said to my mother once when I was 10 that I wanted to be a dancer and she said no.
--Can we talk about the oriental influence which appears in your work?
--In the course of my life I wound up teaching design. I had begun to look into the oriental world and discovered the 10th century Sun dynasty paintings. These monumental landscape painters painted exactly what was there, those great huge scroll paintings done on silk, in the nine hundreds. It’s amazing and there are these wonderful paintings of the mountains. When you look at those paintings from our point of view it all looks ethereal and distant. You don’t see the sense of humanness, just those monumental mountains. If you look closely, inside those mountain paintings are the large monastery buildings that look just like the pine trees. And way down below at the bottom are the figures and a lot of people don’t even know that they are figures, including me. I was looking at these landscapes and not seeing the figures. And the figures are on a path and guess what figure that path has? That curve path that continues. It represents “Dao,” the Chinese word for path. Here are these tiny little figures along a path. A very small part of the natural, a part of the natural but not imposing on the natural.
--Doesn’t this also have to do with how we relate to the objects in nature?
--Yes, it is a concept that is in sharp contrast to Judeo-Christian tradition, which separates man from nature. I have been reading a book by David Hinton who talks about the development of the characters in the Chinese alphabet, how the words are made. He says the writing comes from an experiential understanding of the nature that surrounds them. It isn’t defining and separating between nature and human beings (as occurs in the West). And that’s where I am. This sculpture we are looking at is a 21st century of those paintings..
Although his work with wood, cement, rock and other natural materials draw the viewer into a sort of quiet meditation going beyond time and creating a sense of oneness with the all, some of his works also project strong social awareness—for example “Suffering Passes, Having Suffered Never Passes,” consisting of a bench and four fragments, a metaphor referring to those who suffer loss, the wrenching loss of the disappeared in Argentina or the unending spiral of violence darkening human societies.
Yet there is a fascinating unity in Fuhrman’s work, reflecting years of dedication to creating forms that express in curves and angles what words imperfectly attempt, although he does use words with penetrating precision:
In Five Poems and Paintings etched in stainless steel mounted along a 400 foot nature walkway at the Beckwith Preserve, unfinished circles swerve off into space. He writes:
“Lines of rock and tree
Dream an Unknowable Future
Portraits of deep time.”
“Sunset climbs the hill
To become the blue-black evening.
Each one is the best.
Each one is the favorite.
Each one is itself.
“Lichen and moss,
Who lives in there?”
Circles of Time:
Reach down and touch the earth."
Circles of Time:
Reach down and touch the earth."
After viewing Fuhrman’s work, chatting, feeling the elan vital of everything he touches, embraced by the essential spirituality of his art, enhanced by the connection to the earth and to the imperceptible movement in his work and in the “natural” world, this visitor left with pregnant ideas enriching his consciousness—a profoundly artistic experience!
James Fuhrman: email: firstname.lastname@example.org