Like many American children, I was raised on the myths and fairy tales of Europe -- on stories of wolves lurking in the woods, boys who pull swords out of stones, girls who travel on the backs of bears or swans or the fierce North Wind.
I never out-grew these "children's" tales; rather, I seemed to grow into them, discovering their hidden depths as I grew older -- for just as nightly dreams reflect the realities of our waking life, the symbols to be found in folklore and myth (the collective dreams of entire cultures) provide useful metaphors for the journeys, struggles and transformations we experience throughout our lives.
Although I then spent a decade living in New York and Boston (working in the book publishing field), I found myself repeatedly drawn to the British Isles...and in the early 199os I bought a small fairy-tale cottage in a village full of artists in Devon.
Around the same time, however, a curious thing happened. One winter I visited old friends who had moved to the sun-baked Arizona desert -- a place that couldn't be more different from the American east coast (where I'd been raised), or the rain-drenched hills of Devon....
But I lost my heart to the desert too -- with its vast blue skies and sage green hills, its cactus and coyote choirs. It too was filled with ancient stories: not only Native American tales but Mexican lore and cowboy yarns and the transplanted myths of immigrant cultures from all around the world, a distinctively American "melting pot" of ancient folkways and stories.
And so I began to spend my winter months in the desert outskirts of Tucson; and for next 18 years, I divided my time between Devon and the desert like a migratory bird -- until 2008, when I married my partner (an Englishmen) and settled in Devon full-time.
The person that I am and the art that I make is formed by both places: Devon and the desert. They, more than any teacher or book, have taught me most about art, myth, and life. Through them I have come to understand how the land itself shapes mythic imagery -- and how, as an artist and writer, to let it speak through me with its own voice.
Why are so many of us enspelled by myths and folk stories in this modern age? Why do we continue to tell the same old tales, over and over again? I think it's because these stories are not just fantasy. They're about real life. We've all encountered wicked wolves, found fairy godmothers, and faced trial by fire. We've all set off into unknown woods at one point in life or another. We've all had to learn to tell friend from foe and to be kind to crones by the side of the road. . . .
Our lives are our mythic journeys, and our happy endings are still to be won.
Photography credits: James Ravilious (1939-1999) and Edward S. Curtis (1868 - 1952). Wallpaper design: Br'er Rabbit" by William Morris (1834 - 1896). The photograph of me is by Howard Gayton, Devon 2012.