Deborah J. Haynes is a Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Besides working as an artist in stone and drawing, she is the author of four books: Bakhtin and the Visual Arts (Cambridge, 1995), The Vocation of the Artist (Cambridge, 1997), Art Lessons: Meditations on the Creative Life (Westview, 2003), and Book of This Place: The Land, Art, and Spirituality (Pickwick, 2009). Haynes has also published numerous articles on philosophy of art and pedagogy.
Deborah’s art reflects a strong sense of place while also recognizing the sacred and spiritual quality of the material world. Her stone work is simple yet impressive, often consisting of a word or words carved onto a piece of stone and placed in the landscape. Her Altar stone is carved on one side with the words “This precious human life” while on the other is carved a series of shelves, resembling mushrooms growing on the trunk of a tree. The design of the stone itself reflects the connection to nature while its bright white color and the words engraved on it remind us of the sacred quality of that connection.
What is perhaps most interesting about these pieces is their deeply personal and practical nature. Most of them are placed around her perambulatory walk on her Colorado property. In her daily walks of the place, she can use these sculptures to pray and meditate. The carved stones actually become an embodiment of her spiritual practice in the place. Practice Chair, engraved on one side with the word “Emptiness” and on the seat with “Take one seat,” reflects this relationship between spiritual contemplation and practice in place. She describes it in Book of This Place as offering a counterpoint to a sense of “groundlessness,” inviting the viewer to sit so that they may ground their thoughts there. (104)
Another impressive piece is Coffin, a large stone inscribed with a long quote: “Today at least I shall not die so rash to lull myself with words like these. My dissolution & my hour of death will come upon me ineluctably. So why am I so afraid? For what escape is there for me? Death, my death will certainly come around. So how can I relax in careless ease?”
Deborah’s work serves to ground us in place while reminding us that there is more than what we immediately see. Carving words in weighty stone reminds us of how even our thoughts, hopes, dreams, and worries are embedded with us in place, and that we might just learn something from paying closer attention to being there.
Coffin, 2007, 37.5″x80″x3″, Carrara marble, photo credit: Valari Jack and Deborah J. Haynes. Text: from Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva.
Practice Chair, 2007, 20” x 29” x 16”, Colorado yule marble, photo credit: Valari Jack. Texts: lower front face—“PRACTICE CHAIR”; left side—“EMPTINESS”; right side—“NO SELF”; seat—“TAKE ONE SEAT.”
Hope, 2004, 18” x 60” x 9”, Colorado yule marble, photo credit: Valari Jack (in this photograph I am rotating the stone). Texts: “ABANDON hope” and “PRACTICE JOYFUL EXERTION & PATIENCE.”
Altar (Front), 2006-2010 (including installation), 16” x 70” x 10”, Colorado yule marble and Aztec onyx, photo credit: Deborah J. Haynes. Text: “THIS PRECIOUS HUMAN LIFE”