Dig: Paulus Berensohn,
A Natural Life
I'd like to write a creative nonfiction fiction book about Paulus Berensohn. I'm at the very beginning of the project. In February 2019 I spent one week at the Archives of American Art. I collected 2900 reference documents. Berensohn was a prolific writer as well as maker. I was surprised and gifted by the enormous breadth of material to pour through. Thank you to the Paulus Berensohn Estate and Jon Ellenbogen for bringing the material to the Archives.
To Spring from the Hand: The life and work of Paulus Berensohn is the documentary film developed by the late Neil Lawrence.
The trailer from the film is a distilled pure taste of the power of Paulus. At this point, besides Berensohn's own classic text, Finding One's Way With Clay, I don't see the kind of book I'd want to read, so the solution seems to be to write the one
I want to find.
I went looking for the story within the story. I found hundreds, however my work will focus on the unpublished memoir The Silver Sword. These 120 handwritten pages account for the eight years Paulus lived in California. In 1974 Paulus thought he was dying. He sold all the belongings that he could not pack into his Volvo Amazon. He left the Endless Mountain Farm in Pennsylvania and drove to San Diego. Here, cut off from ceramics, friends, family or any known entity he discovers the craft of Bargello tapestry. Stitch by stitch, breath by breath Berensohn was restored to harmony and health while the first whimpers of the pending, and now full blown climate crisis could be heard. Half a century later Berensohn’s healing arcadia frames the path to ecological recovery on a global scale.
During the years I wrote essays about artists my rule was that I'd only write about people whose work I wished I had made. In the case of writing a whole book about Paulus, I will write the story about a way of life I want to know how to live. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about similar topics in conversation with Chris Anderson on Ted Interviews.