Courtesy of R.L.


Sometimes writing flows.  Other times it’s painfully slow.  Words need to form phrases.  Phrases need to evolve into sentences.

All needs to come magically alive.

which path

I find writing similar to sculpting.  A sculptor starts with a big rough block of physical material.  A writer starts with a big rough block of thoughts. Each starts to whittle or chisel at this mass to define its form.  That seems to be the way I always begin.  Then I revise and refine over and over again.

A writer is a wordsmith.  The sculptor visualizes and sees life as three dimensional.


Ben was an insightful Dutch sculptor and ceramicist who loved to study people and cultures.  His work reflects the places he visited and the life he encountered.  I’m a Yank, who also studies people and cultures.  I also reflect on places and encounters.  Probably why Ben and I got along so well.

He became totally immersed in the landscapes and civilization on hand, wherever he was at the time.  No matter the continent, no matter the country, Ben always traveled for an extended stay.  Anywhere from two-to-seven years.  Fluent in seven languages, he spoke fragments of almost ten more –not counting dialects.

The man was equally comfortable sculpting in various medium: wood, stone, clay, plaster and even concrete.  His imaginative ceramics grew from sand, glass, plastic or paper mâché.


Ben’s good friends Peter and Evie live in an airy, contemporary home on a suburban countryside just south of Apeldoorn in central Holland. They’re proud to have several of Ben’s originals there on display.

Ben invited me to join them.  An easy trip from Amsterdam as the town of Apeldoorn is only an hour and a quarter by train.

Having just arrived from California, I’m quite jet lagged and still transitioning between time zones.  But I’m just as eager and excited to see my old friend.

on the lawn

In back of Peter and Evie’s, four of Ben’s latest creations stand on a plush green lawn.  Each of the four, unglazed, clay statues: one male, three female, displays a powerful, mesmerizing face. His subjects have full lips and wide-open eyes. Demonstrative with a piercing gaze. Each face further enhanced by the encrypted characters embedded within a decorative tattoo.

Hankering to speak out, the four frustratedly cannot. The expressionistic sculptures are contemporary and timeless. Both.  Their clothing, an animated series of spray-painted swirls: orange, yellow and green adds texture to the clay.  

Having spent four years living among the Makonde in Mozambique, Ben gained a rare acceptance by members of the tribe.  They not only accepted him but shared with him the technique and skills to their ancient crafts.

bright shadows

Light and the hue of the colors we see form a complex shadow.  Language, attitudes, music all change.

This gathering not a large one, but a private showing. Friends and potential collectors. As soon as I arrive, Ben approaches and catches me off-guard with a special request – a favor. He’d like me to introduce him. And his work.

How can I refuse?  No way.  Out of the question!


First, however, I need to regroup and refocus to recapture the relevant. Sure, everyone speaks English. Friends of the host and hostess. All receptive and supportive.

Still, I had virtually no time to prepare.

But, to be caught off-guard gives birth to an unexpected spontaneity.  This way definitely appears the way to do it.

the aegean sea

I know Ben from a trip to Greece.  Met him on the ship out of Santorini. Both of us share a craving to break free of the civilized sphere as we know it. An escape from people. Seeking the scent of solitude.  A need to convene with our thoughts. To a great degree, we each succeed.

My taxi is racing down the windy mountain road. Headed for the harbor.  On seeing the ferry already is preparing to leave port, I quickly offer the driver a bonus if we make it in time.  And, yes, somehow we do.  Hastily paying my debt, I manage to jump out and leap on board. A second later, with the gangplank now gone, we’re on our way.

Everyone dreams of visiting Santorini.  It’s such an amazing place.  Twin volcanic islands rise from the bay as we approach.  But somehow it’s not a place for me. From the moment we disembark, fought of a circus atmosphere – the island totally overrun with tourists. Solitude simply did not exist in their vocabulary.

en route

Dusk hangs like a mass cloud over an already darkening sky.  On deck, the chilly air is biting.

I need to prioritize. Where am I headed? Somewhere quiet. Scenic. Away from civilization. A destination, off the beaten path.

“A friend knows just such a place,” replies a woman, as if reading my thoughts.


That friend turns out to be Ben, headed for an island a bit north of both Crete and Rhodes. I’ve no clue. Instead, I figure “why not?” Fueled my sense of adventure. “Sure,” I conclude.  “Count me in.”

Ben heard from his friends about Karpathos. Back in ’83, it definitely was off the beaten path. Absolutely. No tourists, he assures. Well, practically none. He seems convinced. We chat a couple of minutes and agree to continue in the morning.

That night, I spend sitting up on a bench. Dozing on and off.  The boat was scheduled to stop at Heraklion on Crete during the night. At Rhodes in the morning.  And Karpathos around midday. I vaguely remember the first two coming. And traveling between dreams.


Nothing stays the same. Digital or analog. Time speeds forward much too fast. I lean back and breathe deeply. Take in the scent of the sea. The sound of waves against the bow.

Life simultaneously flashes forward and back.

Images momentarily freeze. All for an extended second. This finite window. Defrosting at will. Leaving us free to move on. Whenever the whim may strike. Must be ready to start over.


First days on Karpathos, we hang on an isolated beach.  There, each morning, I find myself a cooler spot in the shade to curl up and write.

My thoughts awaken. Words flow onto the pages of my journal. I don’t realize Ben is elsewhere.  His eyes, peering out from beneath a red bandana, are fascinated by the metamorphic rock that towers above us.  I watch his finger as it alternating traces the black-and-white layers.  His mind, all the while, races three steps ahead.

Ben diligently photographs formations and textures.  He spends hours with his miniature camera before he’ll begin to sketch a fresh concept for each sculpture. He is convinced all great art comes from nature. “We can only learn from it and get better as we do.”


We rent a tiny room in the village from the local taxi driver’s wife. It has two small beds.  Each with a pillow, quilt and not much else. The place felt new, quite clean and not the least bit uncomfortable.  The recent renovation was pretty basic.  Still a sizable upgrade from its prior life as a stall in the goat barn.

“You have a girlfriend?” Ben, staring up at the ceiling, catches me by surprise.  “Not at the moment,” I respond before asking him the same.

“Did until the day my mother died.  After that, I took on a different life when I discovered my girlfriend’s brother and had an affair with him.  But she understood and we’re still friends.”

Appreciate Ben feeling comfortable enough to confess. I listen and say nothing.  Sharing thoughts, we too remain friends throughout the trip and long after.


Dimitrios the taxi driver and his wife Athena live in the main house with their three kids.  All warm, hard-working people.  All their days are long ones that start before sunrise.

Wednesday, however, is always special.  Every week, Athena heads out back first thing and fires up her stone and stucco oven.  By mid-day, she is turning out a huge wheel of the most delicious bread made from the whole grain wheat.  Wheat she grew and harvested herself.

That wheel will last the family exactly through the following Wednesday.


A few months later, back on the road, I take a train from Amsterdam and arrive shortly in Delden – a storybook of a town in East Holland. Impossible to get lost there. Immediately, I find the main walking street and follow the red brick road. Just have to keep going straight ahead. Each side is lined with a row of sparkling clean shops.

I pass a chocolate shop, a bakery and a stationary store. Leather goods, fruits and vegetables. Soon, I already am two-thirds of the way when I see a butcher shop on my left and hear a rapping on the display window to my right.

As I turn towards the sound, I see Ben there in his living room. No curtains. Right on the main street. He swings open the door and waves me in. It’s great to see each other. I toss my little overnight bag on the floor so we can give each other a huge heartfelt hug.


In no time we’re seated in a pair of upholstered armchairs next to the floor-to-ceiling window. Facing one another as we sip our tea, nibble away at a plate of cookies and begin to catch up. The street at this hour is crowded. Last minute shopping before the weekend.

Ben checks the clock on the wall and stands up, grabbing his phone. He places a call across the roadway to the butcher who answers and waves through the shop window. Ben waves back through his picture pane in the living room.

As he does, the butcher lays the phone down on the counter and holds up a couple of cuts of meat. Ben points to the one on his right. The butcher holds it higher to confirm. Giving a thumbs up, Ben waves thanks and signals he’ll be over at five to pick up his order.

2nd TIME

Looking about the house, I am impressed by his studio and his work. Hard to believe how precisely Ben has recreated the black-and-white, rock formation from Karpathos.

He deconstructed, miniaturized and then rebuilt layer by layer.  Fusing each one to the next.  Bonding the separate fragments into a whole. Each textured layer squeezed from a tube.  Each layer created, designed, shaped and colored primarily with either black or white – speckled with sandlike grains of each.

And in the garden, Ben has built a slightly smaller, functional replica of the stone oven Athena had on Olympos.  He confesses that twice he actually baked a wheel of fresh whole grain bread.  Each on a Wednesday.  He then sincerely apologizes for not having one for my arrival.


I’m even more impressed by his sketches for four authentic, unglazed, mud sculptures. A few years later, I’m standing there between them in Peter and Evie’s garden. 

“I’m genuinely honored to be here with you today,” I declare, addressing their guests. “And especially honored to have Ben as a friend. We met quite by accident three years ago. We both were on vacation in the Greek islands. I’ve learned so much from him about art.  And expressing oneself through art. Also understanding a people, a place, a culture.

“About how a culture can last for centuries. Our life spans represent such a small fragment of time. We truly must make the most of them. As Ben has done. I’ve learned from him to let go. To cast aside my preconceived notions. Build on new ideas – one brick at a time. I want to be more global in my thoughts and creativity. Now, thanks to Ben, I find myself getting a little closer each day.”

sneaker soles

I used to search for the familiar, but Thomas Wolfe was right. We can’t go home again.

Everything has changed. One hopes for the better. Only sometimes we might find something worse. It’s impossible to predict. We just have to appreciate the here and now and live each day.

Catch some exuberant energy. Grasp it. Feel it each moment. Be able to absorb. Understand just a little. As birds spontaneously take flight.

change in the weather

 Although it’s only mid-afternoon, everything suddenly is getting dark outside. Rainclouds appear out of nowhere.

“Ben, the storm’s seconds away! Your sculptures.  We have to move them! Or cover them or something! Can’t let them wash away.”

“No.  That’s their path.” Ben grabs my elbow to stop me from racing to the door. “The statues. It’s their destiny.”


“But all your hard work! Three-months-worth. You’ll have nothing to show for it.”

“Today,” insists Ben, “Everyone got to see them. What more could I ask?”

At that, we find ourselves in a sudden downpour.  The rain comes hard and heavy.  The mud washes off from the faces, erasing their features and flowing onto the chests of the statues. Their expressions shift, soften and then vanish.

in retrospect

We watch motionless from behind the glass. Still not fully accepting the phenomena.

Evie, our hostess, meanwhile, opens a fresh bottle of wine. And starts to pour.

I accept a fresh glass.  Then set it down.  It’s a time to ponder.  I want to savor my memories. 

About the Article

A comparative look at writing and sculpture, similarities and differences through the work of a Dutch sculptor.

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