tsatsas(& the art of improvised pilgrimage)          
sewanee, tn, october-november, 2011

November 4th, 2011: Sixth day of A Sewanee Pilgrimage

Another super-concise field report from Stephen Alvarez (full text: "At proctors hall this morning / At proctors hall wide view"). Another seemingly beautiful pilgrimage-walk, this time to Proctor's Hall, which - for you non-Sewanne folk out there - is this amazing place on the Perimeter Trail where you walk through the rock, feeling (at least in my case) a little bit like Lazarus each time.


photograph by Stephen Alvarez
photograph by Stephen Alvarez

Today I also received a full transmission from Ed Carlos about tsatsa activities & personal history around IONA, his art sanctuary & studio-barn & hosting-place for readings & home for dogs down on their luck. I'll post Carlos' images when I'm back from DC on Monday, but for now, I'll leave you with his text:

The tsatsas are all placed in the location of IONA: Art Sanctuary, which
for me, Carlos, is the most sacred place in Sewanee. IONA itself has her
own history, and the tsatsas join that development.

The locations are:
Two tsatsas are at The Torii Gate, an entrance place between the physical
worlds and the spiritual worlds, symbolized by a wingspan shape
incorporated in the gate composition. The composition, too, was based,
beside the Buddhist history of the gate/s and their meaning over time, on
the flight of birds, messengers carrying thoughts and spiritual charges
between the various worlds. The weather will eventually erode these
unfired clay forms, but this is in keeping with the origin of the gate in
this site, the place for the cremation-burning of a skeleton that I used
in my art classes for about 50-some years, since teaching high school and
elementary schools (for two years)in northern New York State, located in
the 1000 Islands regions on the St. Lawrence River, from circa 1960 to
1963. I acquired the skeleton from a doctor's widow for use in my drawing
classes, and eventually brought the skeleton to Sewanee where "she"
figured as a final project in all of my beginning drawing courses for 46
years (plus the years teaching at Ohio University, and two other
universities and other high schools). I wanted to free the skeleton of any
cerebral spirits hanging on, as the death may have been violent and the
soul confused about its ascent; derived I assume from a city morgue by the
physician. The byre was of paper and wood, soaked with gasoline, and my 6
or so dogs were in attendance, but only Jane, the oldest girl of our
family pets, sat patiently the entire time as smoke swirled around us, her
constant watching matching my work at hand. Her ashes, then, were in and
near the vicinity of the gate with its eventually placement.
The photographic views include each direction, west with hidden lake and
golden-browning hickory tree (high yielding) to the west, and, too, east
toward IONA: Art Sanctuary and the eastern altar inside the nave/gallery
interior Celtic Cross shaped walls.


photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos

Enroute to the western veranda double entrance doors is a wooden patio at
the top of eleven stairs from the field to the cement floored veranda,
the post design of which corresponds with the design of the Torii Gate in
the center of the 6-7 acres field, and both designs in keeping with
Japanese gates but inspired by the 100 years plus locust tree located on
the northern side of the sanctuary, and which features, too, as a site
for the tsatsas. I have placed one tsatsa for the floor, on the brown
painted wooden patio and between (sort of) the top level of a
three-tiered lighting for the stairway. The stairs themselves are ten, in
keeping with the early Kaballah's allegorical teaching, as in the Book of
Radiance, The Zohar, ten stages of spiritual ascent (and descent in
keeping with Jacob's Ladder and the dream of the angels for Jacob).
Another tsatsa, although both of these two others in the front posts are
all traveling blessings in their lives at IONA, is placed on the
red-painted cement floor, the center of the veranda format, near a
lightning strike crack (the Lighting Strike is one allegorical notion
associated with the Seferot, the Jewish grid for Divine Consciousness);
the other step is a non-step, Da'at, or Daath (a knowledge unavailable to
human beings in their living circumstance, according to this text), which
for me, philosophically-speaking, stands for non-being, the still point
of the big bang creation mode (i.e., from the point of view of nuclear
physics in this Aquarian Era) from which all being emerges as the
physical quality/ies of the cosmic consciousness. The tsatsas therefore
encourage the continual blessing of the building from the point of the
various entrances and pathways, IONA's Tao in the sanctuary's ongoing


photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos

Associated with these symbolizations is a lone tsatsa placed at the
foot of the old Locust tree, for me symbolizing the Tree of Life
associated with many ancient religions, and which figures in The Lighting
Strike, the Seferot, The Living Tree, Jacob's Ladder...all nomenclatures
for the stairs at IONA, but degrees of separation-thematically for how
the grid of consciousness is configured and interpreted. These themes are
echoed in various paintings and drawings in the interior of the building.
Sammie is buried beneath the tsatsa placement; Sammie (Samson) is a
little blind Alaskan who I found wandering, starving, filthy, and dying
on the Georgia Crossing back road leading from the foot of Sewanee
Mountain (formerly Broad Mountain, and referred to on the weather reports
as Monteagle Mountain) to Winchester. When I realized her condition,
having passed her twice, wandering aimlessly on the road, I immediately
took him to a vet. Sammie was totally blind, and crippled. When I told
him "no" for running toward noises on our street, then in his new home,
he would roll over and cover his face with his broken leg and paw...therein
sharing part of his history with us. He lived with us for about seven
years before he lost all usage of his legs and was in constant pain,
having to be euthanized. I ended up in the hospital with heart problems
that same day, about two blocks driving from the vet. So, Sammie is
buried beneath where the tsatsa is located on the eastern side of the
tree, and outside of a form of several 15 foot high wire ladders that
build a form around the locust tree for vines to grow up; in this image,
the vines have been pulled back and cut from climbing higher and
strangling, possibly, the tree, as protection for the tree. The rest of
the vines circling the tree will be cut back in the near future
(November, 2011). Beside Sammie's gravesite is another grave in the same
location..about three feet to the north, for three puppies that were run
over on Garnertown Lane, and found one night about midnight when our son,
Adam, was returning to his home across the field from IONA. These three I
buried that night; the other six and the mother all of whom had been
dropped off by negligent owners, as had Sammie been in the valley, had
mange and were taken the next day from the bed on the porch Adam made
that night, and with feeding by the Animal Shelter of Franklin
County, to be tested and treated by a county vet.


photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos

Inside IONA are three tsatsas where they will abide for their time,
one on the Sarah Balcony railing on the western end of the building, and
is a parenthetical placement with another sitting on the small altar at
the foot of Adam's photographic montage, Lost Love, along with a piece of
white-green marble from Iona, the Inner Hebrides isle, as is the altar
stone at All Saints Chapel on The University of the South campus. The
Sarah Balcony was constructed for my wife, Sarah's, 70th birthday, to
commemorate her life and our marriage of many years. With the white marble
altar stone are two green stones, one a small pebble from St. Columba's
Bay, and another larger stone from The Bay of Seals, the first being
retrieved from the double beach where Columba (The Dove; Column Cille)
landed when leaving Ireland with twelve other monks to found another
monastic order on Iona (about twenty existed in northern Ireland, founded
by Columba). The Bay of Seals was the site of two close encounters for me
on Easter Sunday, 1990, encounters I consider spiritual in nature and at
odds with the usual stereotypical designations given encounters of this
nature. Once recognizing the altar stone in All Saints, the "reason" (or
one of them) for my own teaching situation in Sewanee was confirmed, as I
had been in my lifetime by this time (2011) four times to Iona. Sewanne
and Iona having that connection. Beside the IONA altar but not in this
photograph is an Extreme Unction family kit that has been in my family for
several generations. The three-dimensional black paintings, veiled, on
either side of Adam's photomontage represent Orion and Sirius,
configurations in the stars' constellations for the early Egyptian
culture, for Osiris and Isis, who represented death and reincarnation.

The final tsatsa, also inside IONA, is by a set of photographs and
writings (poetry, prose, and some who have written about IONA) of my wife
and I, and our children--Aaron, Adam, and Malia, and some of our family
pets like Sammie. Adam's artwork is referred to on this entrance oak
table, along with brochures from my exhibitions, and/or Adam's, and
where people sign their names and emails/addresses as visitors.

photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
photograph by Ed Carlos
Sewanee Pilgrimage project pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12