I did not set out to become an artist. Rather, I simply kept doing the things that really excited me. I still do.
Michael Mode - In the Beginning……..
I've followed some form of creative pursuit since high school. In college I wrote poetry, dabbled in painting, then became interested in music. I wanted a portable instrument which I could carry on my Harley, so I bought a flute at a pawn shop and more or less figured out how to play it. Then I wanted to study harmony, and began reading a book which required playing chords and intervals on a piano. Soon the piano became my instrument of choice and I taught myself musical notation and began writing keyboard music. An interest in baroque music led me to build a harpsichord from a kit, and this introduced me to the world of fine wood-working. At that point (I was 25) I supported myself doing carpentry and simple cabinetry. Then I spent a summer hitching around Europe with some friends and travel really excited me. I came home, worked hard and saved money and went off on a two year journey which took me overland through the middle east into India where I spent a winter in Kashmir. Along the way with great fascination I observed an arab craftsman using a primitive bow lathe to make mashrabiya spindles. Two years later back home in Pennsylvania I decided to try wood-turning, and remembering the arab created a foot powered lathe from an old sewing machine treadle. Six months later I sold enough of my hard-earned creations to buy a lathe with a motor. After that one thing led to another and I eventually discovered the craft show world. I applied to the ACC Baltimore show in 1981 and was accepted and that really began my professional career. Since 1983 wood-turning has been my sole source of income.
An Artist's Statement:
I draw on the forms and long history of functional objects, especially bowls and lidded vessels, but in the refinement of the surfaces and finish, the delicacy of the turning, the geometries of design and a general appeal to the eye rather than to function, intend my pieces as art objects celebrating the beauty of the material and the profoundness of every day life. When people ask me if they can put anything in a bowl, I often say "The bowl is already full".
Inspirations drive my work and me as well. Arising from an ineffable place, inspirations come with a burst of energy which will carry me over the often significant obstacles inherent in making something new, and sometimes give rise to a whole family of pieces created over a number of ensuing years.
200 years ago everything people used was either made by hand or grew on its own( horses, cattle, sheep, vegetable fibers, wood). The place of hand work in that world was ubiquitous and well understood and for the most part was not seen as an art form, even if beautifully made. Today nearly everything we use is factory made and utilitarian. The hand workers now focus on the hand end of "hand-made", recalling the beauty of direct contact with the medium and the uniqueness of each hand made piece and the ability of the artist to project his or her self into the work via eye/hand/heart/mind coordination. The melding of manufacturing and computer appears ready to spawn a whole new world of mass produced objects and possibilities, but I don't think it will replace or eliminate the truly hand made as long as humans with hands and hearts occupy this planet. I hope not.
A Story of Inspiration
As you look at my work in the image galleries you will notice a number of artworks whose title begins with the word "Akbar's". This refers to the ruler of the Mughal empire in northern India in the late 1500's. The art, and particularly the architecture, of that place and time has influenced my work a great deal, beginning in late 1992 with a sudden inspiration which caused my work to change completely in the space of a month. In an effort to explain (to myself as much as anyone) the experience of this change, I wrote a short whimsical story, which you can read below, along with two addendums:
A Source of Inspiration - by Michael D. Mode
In the land now called India in the time now referred to as the 16th century there ruled a king called Akbar, of the people known as the Mughals. Coming from central Asia they established by conquest a kingdom which blended the beliefs and culture of Islam with those of the indigent Hindus, producing a unique artistic and architectural style. Akbar, whose name means “the Great”, ruled efficiently and powerfully while erecting many substantial temples, fortresses and tombs.
In developing and actualizing his culture and leadership, Akbar befriended various artists, craftsmen, architects, designers etc. Among these stood out one man named Mikar Mirza, through whose imagination flowed the quintessential expression of Mughal style. He worked by creating models, in wood, plaster, metal and fabric, of buildings and structures that suited the emerging needs of the expanding kingdom, and Akbar studied these carefully. When he saw a model that touched his fancy, he gave it to the builders and architects who would then manifest it in the appropriate location. Mikar’s models became the seeds, as it were, for many of the Mughal edifices across the land.
One day, during the construction of the most magnificent of the fruit of his imaginings, Mikar toured the construction site, as he sometimes did, to experience that mixture of awe and astonishment, excitement and gratitude that came with seeing his dreams become real. On this day, while in the midst of these ecstatic feelings, he suddenly found himself filled with a new inspiration for an even greater structure. Possessed by the power of this impulse, he decided to return to his workshop at once and begin a new model. He hurried to leave the construction site, when tragedy struck. A stone fell from within a nearly completed dome, striking and killing him instantly. But driven by the power of unfulfilled inspiration, his spirit refused to let go, his inspiration would not die, but, bereft of a body, diffused and spread over the land, even around the planet, in search of some means of completion. Centuries later, in the place now known as the U.S.A., in the time called the late 20th century, some spark of Mikar Mirza’s inspiration is still at work.
A major inspiration in my work since 1992 derives from Mugal architecture in northern India, and it still drives my work today. Around 1995 I wrote the fable-like story above to explain the feeling of this inspiration, which includes a sense of familiarity and identification with virtually every Mugal building I’ve ever seen, in person or in print. So imagine my astonishment many years later (2008) when I learned from a book editor that there really was a man, a persian stone cutter and builder, whose name was Mirak Mirza, who worked on Humayun’s Tomb, one of the most famous of Mugal buildings, but he died before the building was completed.
In 2015 I learned from an acquaintance, a remarkable scholar and linguist, that the word "mode" means "wood" in the language of Mongolia, and from this land the Indian Mugals claim their ancestry.