When it comes to art, I got balls

By Laura Grimes

Mr. Scatter: What’s a dirty dog ball doing in the dishwasher?

Mrs. Scatter: Um … getting clean.

Mr. Scatter: We don’t have a dog.

Mrs. Scatter: That’s why it needs to get clean.


Points if you can find the clean dog ball.

OK, I confess. I completely took poetic license with that dialogue. In other words, it didn’t happen. Which is exactly what makes it highly unusual.

When Mr. Scatter sees a dirty dog ball in the dishwasher he doesn’t even bother to ask anymore. He just packs more cups and saucers around it, and closes the dishwasher again. He’s used to finding tile pieces and doll legs in the silverware caddy. He knows better than to toss a perfectly good broken plate when it’s sitting on the counter.

This is what you call marriage security. I have to stay married to this man because I could never find someone else who would put up with dirty dog balls in the dishwasher.

Occasionally I worry about the effect that “my disability” might have on the Large Smelly Boys. They’ve grown up with tile pieces and doll legs in the silverware caddy. Is it possible that to them this is normal?

Recently I was out walking and conveniently stopped by the Small LSB’s school just as it was getting out. Without saying much we casually started walking side by side together.

After a long while, he said, “What’s that?” nodding toward a plastic bag swinging from my fingers.

“A ball.” I didn’t bother to tell him it was a soggy mess of ripped-up string.

“Look! A pencil!” He kept walking while I stopped and picked it up. The tip was broken. The eraser was missing. The metal that holds the eraser was crimped shut. “Don’t you want a pencil?”

The Small LSB kept walking, slowing only slightly out of consideration.

“It’s ‘terrific!’ See. It says ‘terrific’ on it.”

The Small LSB paused and turned only slightly out of consideration.

“Don’t you want a pencil? It’s a ‘terrific’ pencil.”

The Small LSB turned around again. I put the pencil in the bag. It had colorful stars on it.

About an hour later, I sat on the couch with my feet up, intently reading a computer screen in my lap. The Small LSB leaned next to me reading his science book.

Mr. Scatter hollered from around the corner, “What’s a broken pencil doing on the kitchen counter?”

The Small LSB softly nudged my rib three times with a finger. After a few moments, all the signals finally registered.

“Oh! That’s mine!” I went back to reading.

“What’s it doing on the counter?”

The Small LSB softly nudged my rib three times with a finger. After a few moments, all the signals finally registered.

“Oh! I unloaded it and didn’t get it as far as where I’m going to put it yet.” I didn’t bother to mention the soggy mess of ripped-up string drying on the back porch. I went back to reading.

“You need a broken pencil?”

The Small LSB softly nudged my rib three times with a finger. After a few moments, all the signals finally registered.

“Oh! It says ‘terrific.’ ” I went back to reading.

Balls II

The Small LSB, sometimes dubbed Felix/Martha, does not like the stuff I bring home. If I’m wearing a certain sweater from Goodwill he won’t touch me. He won’t even get a few feet from me. You can imagine the devastating emotional effects that my dirty balls have on him. And yet when I start rearranging them he’s usually right at my elbow, offering advice.

Some people collect stamps. Some people collect shells. And some people like me collect all those things and pencils and rulers and postcards of schmaltzy motels … and dirty dog balls. Actually I collect all sorts of balls.

It started innocently enough with a few scuffed-up softballs. And then a good and filthy baseball. And then chewed-up dog balls, a wooden ball, a fur ball, a felt ball, a puff ball, a finial.

Pretty soon I had a bin full of wonderfully textured off-white round shapes. For a few years I thought now and then about a good way to display them. I thought about fitting them in a wooden box with a glass cover. As I thought, the bin got fuller.

Then one day I was at a friend’s cabin and as people were chatting around me I was lost in thought and staring at a candlestick on a shelf. I found one of my coveted softballs on that same shelf some time before. I started to imagine candlesticks with balls on top.

Soon after I got home I went to Goodwill — the same Goodwill where I get my glass jars. This time I looked for glass jars and candlesticks. I wasn’t sure what kind of candlestick I was looking for, but I trusted my instincts to know the right look when I found it.

I found a rather ornate silver-colored one. Perfect, I thought. That’s the look I need to stick with: antique, silver, stylish, slightly fussy but not over the top. It would add a little ceremony to a dirty softball. What a funny statement it would make. I snickered, but I was doing this no matter what.

I kept going back to Goodwill. I thought it would be easy to find more candlesticks in the same style. But I found lots of styles and colors and not many like that one.

At first I insisted I find all silver-colored ones and only ones that would fit taper candles. My narrow criteria were very important to maintain a consistent look. The balls might be dirty and the candlesticks might be old, but tone and texture and compositional shape were everything. They had to fit and work together and, dare I say, look nice. I passed up brass candlesticks. And black candlesticks. And glass candlesticks. And candlesticks that were attached like a candelabra. I passed up candlesticks with handles.

But then I found a copper-colored candlestick with a beautiful patina. I had a dilemma, but I couldn’t resist it. It had a perfect aged feel to it. So I bought it.

Then I figured, what the hell, and I bought brass candlesticks and a few small shiny silver vases. I felt a bit like a rebel. I know. What did I have to lose in just trying them? But somehow not being wasteful and hoarding them was important. (Yes, I recognize the bizarre irony in typing that. Mr. Scatter would probably say, “Welcome to my life.”)

As my collection of candlesticks and vases grew big enough, it was finally time to see how a display might work. Pairing up the right ball with the right candlestick turned out to be very important. I had no idea a simple decorating choice would take so much thought.

I was honestly curating dirty balls and old candlesticks and marrying them up like it was a solemn mating ritual. I was taking this really seriously, knowing how utterly wacky it was. I just tried not to think about the wacky part. After all, I stick dog balls in the dishwasher.

It wasn’t hard to forget wacky, though. Bringing the two pieces together quickly transcended it and surprisingly did become a solemn mating ritual. Everything came down to that point of contact and the new overall look and shape it created. Connecting them carried an electric current. Before connecting, two pieces that were a potential pair carried interesting possibilities and questions. They had been two separate shapes and personalities and then connecting them created a potent charge and something entirely new — and something to be debated and considered. This required attention and thought and didn’t allow for wacky. A decision had to be made. A decision that carried their fate. It was important to forget wacky and plug in to what was going on to be able to do this respectfully.

It trumped me in a way. How could I laugh at that? I had to plug in to something totally unanimated, mostly homely, and give in to its vibe. And I had to pay attention to every subtle nuance.

How the ball sat on the candlestick was very important. If the candlestick bowl was too big or too little for the ball, the composition felt out of balance. It felt uncomfortable if it was swallowing the ball. It felt overwhelming if it was too little for the ball.

I tried out different balls with different candlesticks. I tried out different looks and shapes, different textures together. Smooth with smooth sometimes worked really effectively, accentuating nice clean lines. Sometimes the cruddiest ball needed to be on the shiniest vase, the strong contrast emphasizing their characters.

Some combinations really did not work together. Some I loved instantly and knew they just couldn’t be broken up ever again.

Then I had to consider how they worked as a group. The placement of tall and short and medium and what worked next to what was a whole new compelling set of decisions. Cruddy, smooth, brown, white, tiny, big. Oh, the choices! They had to be mixed up just right. All the same heights next to each other wouldn’t work. All the same textures were too much. New, old, clean, grimy all needed their own voice but needed to play off of each other in just the right harmony.

I liked mixing the brass and the silver, the shiny and the coarse, and making it all work together. I was dubious about this in the beginning because I was certain a consistent overall tone would be the only way to get a decent look. (Can you even believe I’m debating the importance of a decent look when I don’t have a problem plunking this stuff in the middle of my dining room?) I considered it a challenge to get all the different tones to work as a whole.

The different tones allow for a broad range of acceptance, but within that the criteria are very specific. Only single candlesticks or small vases, only gold or silver, only a certain vertical shape. No black. No glass. No extra fobs. Editing is crucial to this weird mishmash.

The once-dirty dog ball is new to the collection. The fact that it’s clean is a little weird, but the dirt just didn’t suit it. It married up with a weird stand. It’s not exactly a candlestick. I’m not sure what it is. It’s crystal on the bottom, so I broke my own editing rules in allowing it and I’m still fighting myself about it. But it has some brass, so I let it in.

Balls III

Many years ago, about the time when I was first old enough to vote, I started making earrings. I simply took a straight wire and threaded beads on it in a variety of shapes. I quickly learned that different shapes placed next to each other had an impact on each other. Some were more pleasing than others. Some overall vertical compositions worked better when they were heavier on the bottom. Some needed a tiny bead at the very end to give it a proper finished look. Some needed an hourglass shape. Round atop round atop round looked clumpy. Some beads needed little spacers between to allow relief. It worked well to change up the sizes, to go from small to big to small again. It worked well to change up the shapes, to go from round to flat to long to round again. The right colors and textures and tones together were very important. As I grew more adept at it, I started challenging myself to see how well I could mix different tones and textures and still make it work. Could I mix gold and silver and get away with it? I spent hours playing around with the right compositional feels. I made earring after earring. It was my Zen time.

When I change up the balls on the candlesticks looking for the right compositional feel, I am well aware I’m playing with the same lessons I learned in making earrings and taking them to a new field. Perhaps I’m pushing those lessons in a new direction. Perhaps I’m streamlining them by combining only two things, one candlestick and one ball.

In the beginning I simply wanted to display a few dirty balls. Perhaps because I was just drawn to their aged texture. It was a weird thing to pursue, I know. It was sort of a lark. But I knew my instincts were true, and necessary in a way, and I trusted them. What I’ve ended up doing is exploring different forms of composition in any number of ways. The criteria are broad but within that they’re very specific. And, perhaps more importantly and perhaps harder to do, I’ve allowed myself to get over wacky in order to be creative.

And all of it is based on chance in what I find, a serendipity I can’t resist. I have to give up a level of control and pray to the recycling gods, but then I decide the ultimate look. That treasure-hunt element feeds my overenlarged scavenger gland, which I’m certain is a primal urge from the days of hunting and gathering.

When I started this post, all I had was a funny lead that wasn’t even true and a few photos. I was slightly panicked that nothing else was going to come together. Sometimes funny can lead to interesting places.

The other night I walked into the dining room and I discovered a little surprise. Everything was dark. I couldn’t make out any candlesticks or balls or compositions whatsoever. But one single round shape stood out. The dog ball glowed in the dark.