Found objects - artists' treasures / by Jeannine Cook

A short article on an upcoming exhibition, "Rachel Whitehead Drawings", at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, gave an insight into artists' habits which rang bells with me. The article, "Allegra Pesenti", (the exhibit's curator), appeared in January's issue of Art+Auction. It described how Rachel Whitehead, principally known for her resin cast sculptures, also has always had a concurrent creative activity, her drawing.

That seems hardly surprising as drawing is so often the underpinning of any creative conception - the mere act of drawing out possibilities and forms helps define what one is trying to say, in no matter what media.
The much more fascinating aspect of this curated exhibition, which travels later to the Dasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and finally to the Tate Britain, is Whiteheads's collection of found objects. She, like so many of us artists, is apparently a collector of sticks, stones and oddments that range from dental casts to shoe stretchers. She considers them sketchbooks parallel and complementary to her drawings.
I learned the joys of collecting stones and shells from the time I could walk, along the dazzlingly white - and in those days, deserted - beaches of Kenya and Tanzania. With the boom of surf beating on the distant reefs, the treasures to be found on the pristine sands were amazingly beautiful, not only for the diversity of tropical shells, but also for the reminders of long history, in the blue and white shards of early Chinese pottery and porcelain. Dhows, plying the Indian Ocean through millennia of trade winds, connected China and the Far East to India, the Middle East and East Africa: broken dishes used on the vessels would be thrown overboard.
These beautiful shards have been one of my treasures, and I found a way to include them in one silverpoint and watercolour drawing I did some while ago. "Three Generations - Braided Memories" used designs from the Chinese shards.
This was but the first of my many, many collections of found objects that I keep squirreled away. In the due and right time, they will become part of the creative process, I have learned. I know that many of my artists friends are inveterate pack rats too, but it is interesting that someone known mainly for her sculpture regards her collected objects as vital parts of her drawing activities. Good for Rachel Whitehead!