Faultlines: James Acord

James Acord is dead.

I thought of him while sitting on the Sonoma town square.  No reason in particular, really, but I thought I’d look him up.

He committed suicide on January 8th of this year.

Acord was the subject of one of those 60 page New Yorker profiles way back a lot of years ago.  He was a sculptor who ultimately completed only a handful of works:  Monstrance for a Grey Horse, a few reliquaries, and a large portfolio of fine drawings of seedpods and nests and the like.

And yet the breadth of his mind and spirit were immense.  He was at heart an alchemist who sought to transmute base unstable material into, well, something safe and eternal, into something else.  He wanted to build a container to hold the sacrament of our age – nuclear material – and he dedicated decades of his life to the planning and carving of the Monstrance.

He spawned in me my affection for Barre granite – the hardest, most inert rock on earth.  And he gave me faith to at least contemplate the big idea – the vastness of time or the true nature of materials.  For years I’ve had a manila folder with his name on it containing information about him and his works.

I looked him up for some reason in Seattle back in 2001.  He had just returned from a teaching gig in London.  He felt gentle and doe-eyed and a bit forlorn and a bit suspicious, wondering why I wanted to talk with him.  He talked about the bus system and he needed some rides around town, I think.  Something about him felt off – he was living in Pioneer SQuare and he couldn’t quite hold his thoughts together and I realized something had happened to him between the carving of the Monstrance and now.  It was as if the power of those things he was working with was too strong, and in the face of it, unlike that Barre granite, his consciousness had begun to shatter.

Ultimately he lost the strength to carry on.  How strange to think of those hard crystals chiseled by his calloused hands, the malignant grin of the horses skull, of how it will remain yet, carrying forward for thousands of years into time a small vessel of highly radioactive uranium.  One day it will be opened by nature or by beast.  And that transformed material into this world will once again be released.