From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Two Ripe Bananas

Take time to marvel at the wonders of life.

Gary W. Fenchuk

Pat Beck is an artist whose medium is mud. More precisely, adobe—a mixture of mud and straw, from which she sculpts enchanting figures of primordial elegance. Like many artists, she lives between a rock and a hard place, or in her case, mud and a mud-hole, occasionally supplementing her income with other work.

In 1994, she and a friend, Holly, were hired to assist in a community art project in the small town of Magdalena, New Mexico. Magdalena is a community in the Gallinas Mountains on the edge of the great plain of St. Augustine. Once a mining and railroad center, Magdalena’s population has now dwindled to about 1,000.

Pat and Holly were given a plot of land near the remnants of the cattle pens, a vestige of Magdalena’s heyday as a cattle center, to begin their project. With the help of the community, Holly created two large cows and a cowboy. They were made entirely of found objects like old wagon parts, used baling wire donated by the nearby ranchers, and even a rusted shotgun barrel dug up in someone’s yard. Pat taught the high school students how to make adobe bricks, and from these, Pat and the community created an adobe wall. The elementary-school children were invited to make a personal shape out of mud, and these were used as decorative relief.

As the wall began to take shape, many of the adults and children stopped by to check on its progress, and they were invited to put their handprints, brands and initials on the wall. As a final touch, earth colors were gathered from the Navajo reservation, a big part of the history of the area, and added to the wall. All in all, over 300 people contributed to the project.

One of Pat’s daily visitors was a retired miner, Gene. Almost every day he would bring something to help her understand the glory days of mining—a picture, samples of ore from the mine, an old newspaper article.

One day when the wall was almost finished, Gene arrived for his usual visit. In a moment of inspiration, Pat sculpted the face of a miner into the wall. Gene had given her a piece of shiny ore, and Pat made this the light in the miner’s helmet. When she was finished, she wrote Gene’s name under the head of the miner. They both stood back and admired her creation. Then without a word, Gene turned and left. Pat wasn’t sure if he had been offended in some way, but 10 minutes later he came back with two ripe bananas. Again without a word, he put them on the wall where she was working and left.

Pat has received and will continue to receive many tributes to her work. But I doubt there will ever be one as meaningful as those two ripe bananas.

Maida Rogerson

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