return to homepage

La Guilde de la Blanchepierre

(The Guild of the White Stone)

In 1997 the painter and sculptor Van Nielsen and I shared a studio in Austin, Texas. It was a white stone house from the 1920's surrounded by ancient oaks in the oldest part of town. I had several pieces of Carrara marble that I had shipped over from Italy in 1994, and one of these sat on the front porch for a couple of years, waiting for me to take chisel to it. Van finally tackled it, covering the porch and yard with shiny white chips. I also loaned him a small block of Yule marble from Colorado, which he also peppered the front yard with, finally discovering a nice torso within.

At about the same time, I was reading a biography of Lewis Carroll. Carroll distinguished very special days in his journal by giving them a white stone. His boating party with Alice was one of these days, of course.


drawing by Arthur Rackham

In the 1990's I also had an Alice. Her name was Tess, and I did some 50 drawings, paintings and sculptures of her in that decade. She was seven when her mother, one of my agents, brought her over to the studio by chance, and I understood that I had been sent a gift by the Muse. You can see her all over my portfolio.

At any rate, I realized what a lovely image the white stone was in Carroll's biography, and also saw how the motif was repeating itself in the environs of our studio. When Van and I decided to form a guild and to start a small school in 1998, we tossed around several ideas for a name. We liked the idea of a Brotherhood, but decided it was a bit too Pre-Raphaelite, not to say unencouraging to any women who might be up for Master status in the future. We also played with some synonyms of "renaissance" and "rebirth" (like everyone else). The best was probably
The Recurrence, giving a nod to Nietzsche. But this was not memorable enough. A bit vague. The term I had used for my first book on counter-criticism, Zeitgeber, was dismissed as too hard to pronounce. It was already stretching it to use it as a non-German book title; as the name for a movement it was a little too arcane. We needed something just odd enough to catch in the mind and in the eye of the intellectual, but not so odd that it just ricocheted off the mind of the public. Spanning this bridge is not as easy as one would think, and many will think we still haven't managed to cross the water without getting a dunking. I suppose only time will tell. Who would have thought that fairly normal people would get used to saying "Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood"?

I have remained adamant about keeping the French title, rather than just the translation (although both are nice), because I feel that French is somehow less intimidating than German, even to Americans who don't know a word of either. Some will recognize the "zeit" from
zeitgeist, and so Zeitgeber will not be totally unfamiliar. But Blanchepierre is even more familiar, since most know that blanche means white. Pierre is equally familiar as a guy's name. Beyond this, blanchepierre is just one of those words, so common in French but uncommon in German, that rolls off the tongue. You get a feeling that it is an artistic word even if you don't know what it means. It is like blanchefleur (white flower): a word just made for Troubadours. In fact, blanchepierre didn't occur to me until I was researching Tristan and Isolde and ran across the name Blanchefleur in the knightly tales.

Van and I finally settled on the name after a trip to Bruges, Belgium (where I now live). Bruges is actually Flemish, not French, but it is the Medieval city nonpareil, the stones still exhaling the ghostly breath of Jan van Eyck and Hans Memling, and of pale maidens draped and hooded. These ghosts haunt the foggy canals at night in the forms of white swans, shining dully in the gloom.

Even now, the imprint of the French is strong in Bruges. The College of Europe in Bruges teaches in French and English, not in Dutch or Flemish. So if we have chosen French for our guild, you will have to forgive us. Besides, the Flemish does not have quite the same poetic appeal:
De Gilde van de Witsteen.

Addendum: Several readers have written in asking about a manifesto for the guild. This is my answer to one of them.

I feel it is almost redundant to publish a manifesto since everything I have written (and that is lot) could be seen as a manifesto of sorts. No one with any curiosity can be confused about how I stand on just about any issue related to art. Besides, I have a kind of aversion to manifestoes. There is something unforgiveably claustrophobic about them. I don't know why. An art guild is always little more than a name and a group of works anyway. If the works don't express the movement, nothing will. Besides, all my writing is not really a manifesto, it is a defense. My writing is not the creation of a theory, but the destroying of all theory that gets in my way as an artist.

Those who really need a manifesto can use my introduction on my homepage as one. There I throw down the gauntlet as well as anywhere.

Click here to read an article on the precursor to the Guild of the White Stone, the Pre-Picassan Brotherhood. This was the working name of the guild in 1999, when Laura Alport wrote this article for a local paper. She was told the language was too "avant garde" and it was never published. Ironic that.