BY NANCY P. WEISS
“Beavers are the Shiva of the animal world. Who knows how a beaver chooses where to make her pond?” The first line of Leila Philip’s poem “Water Rising” sets the tone for a collaborative experience between the reader and the creators of a remarkable work of art, crafted by Philip, an author and professor, and her husband, Garth Evans, a British sculptor with an international reputation. _
The couple wanted to work together to express through their art their responses to the world by using Woodstock as the jumping off point for reflections on change, nature, transcendence and permanence. They decided to push themselves to create outside their traditional media. Philip, a writer of literary nonfiction, would craft poems. Evans, a sculptor, would create watercolors.
“Garth and I wanted to do something together and push ourselves creatively. I had received a Guggenheim Fellowship to write and used some of that time to work on poems. Part of the fun of living with an artist is exploring another media,” Philip said.
We worked for twelve months on the theme of “here and now,” Philip said one late summer afternoon from the porch of the home she shares with Evans and their son. Noting with a sweep of her hand that a turtle lays eggs on their lawn every year and the wetlands near their home brought her in close contact with the beaver in the title poem.
Evans and Philip set out the rules of engagement for their project. While they were producing their work, they would not share it with each other. The poems would not be written to illustrate the watercolors or vice versa. When 12 months were over, they would bring their work together. “I didn’t go into Garth’s studio for a year,” Philip said, “I had to call to him from the top of the stairs. We had many funny moments negotiating ways to keep our distance.” At the end of the year, they invited a friend to come to their home where they laid out Evans’s watercolors and Philip’s poems on the floor of the studio. “Certain pieces went together as if by magnetism,” Philip said, “We knew we had something.”
“Water Rising” was born out of their collaboration. The watercolors next to the poems reinforce the texts. The poems, read before the watercolors, ground the images. Their idea of working in different genres on a common theme emerged as they selected twelve watercolors and eleven poems to create a book that is a work of art in itself, printed on watercolor quality paper, cloth bound and sewn on the edge. The result is a beautiful book that will connect back to the community that inspired the work.