One summer I rented a small farmhouse in the steep hills above Camaiore, a small village from Roman times in Tuscany. To my surprise, there was a shepherd on the property who walked his herd by my house every morning and late afternoon. That first morning, both the arrival and the strange shape of these animals startled me. But I came to welcome the sound of the bells as the herd of 50 pecore slowly processed among the twisted olive trees. Soon, my sketchbooks were filled with drawings of these thin-limbed, long-necked creatures that seemed to be from another time.
The discovery of such a foreign way of life awakened in me a yearning to explore the metaphor of the sheep and of the land of twisted olive trees. Some of the trees were hundreds of years old and although clearly parts had died, new limbs showed determined survival. The shepherd and sheep would roam the land everyday for a lifetime.
I became aware of the permanence of what I was looking at and yet there were incredible changes that took place hour-by-hour and day-by-day.
I returned often to observe that place. In summer, the sheep grazed in the burnt golden grass. In autumn, their strange forms starkly contrasted with the orange nets of the olive harvest that covered the hills. And, in the cold light and bleak dampness of winter, they would pass sometimes in the dark.
The seasons also affected the trees and revealed more deeply their strength and endurance. The feeling that they protect and remember was most apparent in their stark form in winter. There was safety and protection in their steadfast form.
This study has become the language of my work for the last ten years.
What started as paintings of the landscape has become the bare trees of winter often with simple words from Dante. Most recently these trees are presented in a moment of extreme weather that will exist for only a short time. In their silent beauty they have become a meditation on time and endurance.
The bronze pecore also exist in a specific moment that will change. They are walking, or reaching, or grazing. I envision the new life-sized sculpture as returning to the land. They, too, stand with quiet dignity as a reflection on time and endurance.
Karen Wilberding Diefenbach
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