Come on Baby, Light my Fire

A cabin with an Albert Corn fireplace. (Cheryl Howard/

A cabin with an Albert Corn fireplace. (Cheryl Howard/

Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog

EL PASO – Show anyone, even a child, a few Picasso prints and they will be able to identify other Picasso’s from an array of artistic prints that include him. There’s something about a Picasso that makes it iconic, memorable. I would put Georgia O’Keefe in that category as well.  Art historians can identify works by almost any known artist, but it takes years of study and some memorization to acquire that skill.

If we had to pick a fiction writer who was identifiable by someone outside the field, would it be Steinbeck, James Joyce, or someone else? How many books would you have to read before you could recognize his or her passage among passages? There are also poets, sculptors, musicians, architects, jewelers, wood workers, potters and others. Who among them would we put in this category of iconic and memorable? What is it that makes some people’s work so easily identifiable, and so distinguishable from other good artists of the same genre?

A cabin with an Albert Corn fireplace. (Cheryl Howard/

A cabin with an Albert Corn fireplace. (Cheryl Howard/

It’s probably safe to assume that good artists of any type have a certain mastery of their tools and their medium (e.g. wood, metal, cloth, canvas, words). They have designs or plots or songs that are appealing, and they have a sense of their own style. Additionally, good artists and artisans make things that last and retain their value. These qualities are necessary, but not sufficient, to be iconic. I don’t think fame necessarily explains what I am trying to explain either, because the artisan I am going to talk about was never famous.

Years ago in Cloudcroft, New Mexico, the father of one of my best friends worked with stone. Albert Corn made rock walls and fireplaces in this mountain village. At 9,000 feet elevation, a fireplace or wood-burning stove is more than just an aesthetic design statement.  His fireplaces were not only beautiful, they drew well, meaning smoke didn’t get into your living room and the fires were easy to start. There were vents higher up from the hearth where more heat could come into the room, and if the fireplace was built entirely inside the house without any outside walls, both sides of the chimney had heat vents. You could build a fire in your living room, and that same fire would warm the bedroom as well. Albert Corn cut the stones in angles, leaving very few rounded shapes. Both the inside and outside surfaces of his chimneys were almost flat with no stones protruding. The hearths were perfectly smooth. On many of his chimneys, he would make a design in the stone to give his work that added touch of elegance.

As I drive around today, the evidence of his work is not that hard to find. A few houses have chimneys made of brick or cinder block, some of the block stuccoed. They are ugly in comparison to Albert Corn’s work, still beautiful and still functional. He worked with different colors of rock, but favored (either by taste or by nearness of a quarry) a gorgeous pinkish red colored rock. You could recognize one of his fireplaces anywhere, red rock or not. And I mean you, not just me. His work has stood the test of time. Albert Corn died in a tragic accident fifty years ago. His son sold stoves: more efficient, less work, the factory makes them.

Study a few of the pictures of his work and then take the test right here or drive two hours up to Cloudcroft and take the test. I am certain everyone will pass with flying colors, a pinkish red color especially. For those of you who take the test here, you can find the answer at the end of next week’s blog.

I would love to hear your thoughts about what distinguishes an iconic artist from other competent artists working in the same medium.  Do the Doors qualify?

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