“Everything I do, I do because I love nature, because I want to be connected to nature. That guides every decision in my life,” says Rich Blundell. He has come to the Truro Center for the Arts at Castle Hill to work on his handmade wooden surfboard sculptures, using local cedar wood. It’s part of a journey he’s making to introduce artists to the principles of “ecological intelligence.”
Blundell’s deep connection to the Earth and the environment was born in the woods, sand, and waters of Cape Cod. Though he grew up across the bay, in Duxbury, he spent his childhood summers here, swimming and surfing in the ocean and exploring hidden paths between the ponds, pines, and cedars. After traveling the world to study and teach science — Blundell has a geology and biology degree, a master’s in the history and philosophy of science, and a Ph.D. in “big history,” a field that explores humanity’s relationship to the evolution of the cosmos — he chose this residency as a way of returning to the place he calls his natural home.
“I’m very connected to the diverse ecosystems here — the grit of this soil, the way pine needles dry, and the mixing of salt and fresh water,” he says. “There is something about the particular chemistry of this place that is unique.”
To Blundell, both art and surfing are ecstatic practices. As an artist, he creates two distinct types of surfboards: the first are meticulously crafted wooden boards intended for surfing, and are built using his own “retro-designs.” They are shaped differently and are heavier than modern high-performance boards, and they teach surfers to be attuned to the subtle cues of each wave as it moves from the horizon toward the shore. These functional surfboards “provide a special kind of living glide, and Cape Cod trees seem to glide best down Cape Cod waves,” he says. “There is just something spiritual that happens when local wood, water, and waves come together.”
Blundell also makes simpler surfboards that are explicitly artworks — a canvas onto which he and, possibly, other artists in collaboration “manifest or express ecological intelligence.” The piece titled You Are Home, for example, was created in collaboration with Chelsea Arruda, who had taken one of the classes for artists in Blundell’s education program, Oika. Named after the Greek word oikos, meaning “house” or “home,” the root of the prefix “eco-,” Blundell’s program “aims to re-establish the link between economy and ecology” and a “feeling of belonging that can inspire creativity in artists.”
Blundell believes that artists often have a heightened sensitivity, even though they may not be aware of it, that uniquely positions them to bring an understanding of nature back into the culture. By teaching artists to recognize this, he feels they can achieve a shift in “the climate of our minds” that will save us from destroying the planet.
“Artists have forgotten that they are the essential meaning-makers,” Blundell says. “That’s what we need in order to heal the many intertwined traumas we are currently facing. If you look at the history of humans, our species is 150,000 to 300,000 years old, and for 99.9 percent of that timTruro Art Projecte we lived in relationship with nature. But we have lost that connection, and now we’re starting to notice that we can’t live without it. It’s intrinsic to all human beings, because we emerge from nature — not just our bodies, but also our creative minds.” In other words, he says, “What artists do is simply an extension of nature’s creativity.”
Blundell is currently working on two projects in his studio on Castle Hill’s Edgewood Farm campus. One is a triptych of three surfboard sculptures that tells the history of the land here. “I’m focusing on the cedar tree and its different manifestations in this habitat,” he says. “Cedars are naturally stained with the minerals of glacial sediments, and the wood grain is guided by living with other trees.”
He points to pieces of wood covered in bark laid out in the shape of a surfboard. “This tree was growing here two days ago,” Blundell says. “Here it is, rough and raw. I’m going to make one surfboard out of this texture, and another using the same wood’s refined and finished texture showing its grain pattern. The third board panel is going to be covered in weathered barn shingles that tell the cultural part of this Cape Cod story.”
Blundell’s second project is based on a Cosmic Duo of surfboards, which explores “how celestial ecologies impinge on the familiar biological ecologies here on Earth.” He says that “not many people know, much less feel, how cosmic-scale events such as colliding galaxies and the supernovae they trigger, or the convergences of neutron stars 144 million light years away, lead to the creation of the atoms in trees and our own bodies. About one tenth of a gram of each human being is made of neutrons that escaped annihilation in a black hole by surfing on gravitational waves to get here. That reality puts current politics into a different perspective.”
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It is with great gratitude, profound pleasure, and a bit of personal pride, that I introduce “Pelagic Pulses;” a hand-made wooden surfboard sculpture with an original painting by Imogene Drummond.
Proceeds from the sale of this artwork will support the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe. Your support will help fund this exciting worthwhile environmental educational project.
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The Concept of “Pelagic Pulses” (deep ocean waves)
It is fundamental that patterns, people, and even ideas are natural emergent properties of the cosmic chaos. Our deepest thoughts and the creations they propagate are, in fact, embodiments of the universe. We are in the cosmos. That much is clear. But the cosmos is also in us: in our heads, our hands, and our hearts. “Pelagic Pulses” captures this reality and the many essences of surfing through the diverse and colorful world we call Nature.
This four-dimensional sculpture is the culmination of over two decades of wooden surfboard design, ride, creation and evolution, now in collaboration with striking artistic expressions in paint. While the warm wood-tones and gentle curves arching across one side invoke a sense of control and refinement, the abstract splashes of color on the other side provoke feelings commensurate with the exuberant complexity of the cosmos.
The project as a whole, and the artwork emanating from it, explore the artists’ ongoing conversations between art and science, narrative and light, color and cosmos. While one side of “Pelagic Pulses” is defined by the science of wave-riding, the other side manifests art through bold and expressive brushstrokes. Whereas one side conveys carefully thought craftsmanship with meticulous attention to hydrodynamic function, the other is wildly free, impulsive and vibrant. Whereas one surface is polished, perfect and smooth, the other is textured, alive, and fecund.
And between these two paradigms I have placed a bold, black, border to represent the divide between science and art. It is a boundary that seems to be continually challenging me in my academic and professional work, and personal outlook. As this divide often presents struggle and risk in my own life, I have made this boundary wide and divisive to convey its significance both as a personal and cultural divide.
But upon closer examination one hopefully discovers that this border is not real. It is in fact, empty space. Thus, the perceived boundary is not a boundary at all. The rift between art and science is essentially, nothing. This purely conventional divorce between nature and mind, is simply the result of outmoded perceptions, politics, and ideologies. The dualism is merely historical and the unchallenged schisms have now led us into the uncertainty of Anthropocene. But they needn’t be permanent.
Breaking the illusory rift between art and science, I assert, also rings true for nature and spirit; heart and mind; self and other. And exercising this practice in daily life can evoke a new ecological perspective akin to that experienced by astronauts who have viewed the Earth from the surface of the moon. This is a perspective conveyed by the gradations of wood in the surfboard’s fin.
A full appreciation of the emergent properties of the melding of art and science requires an open heart, a fertile mind, and a clear 360-degree view. Mounting “Pelagic Pulses” on a wall, then, it seems, would betray this idea and miss the opportunity it contains. Thus, the artwork includes a custom-designed, freestanding, vertical mount in order to fully engage with the concept of personal-cosmic reconnection.
“Pelagic Pulses” is currently showing at The Workshop Gallery in Vineyard Haven, Martha’s Vineyard: a place owned, inspired, and run by working artists.
Provenance & Materials
The origination of “Pelagic Pulses” is the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The board was built at the renowned Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. She is made primarily out of of sustainably grown and harvested wood, glass, and adhesives. There are no metal or plastic fasteners of any type. The internal “fishbone” framework, painted panel, and rails are made from marine-grade Sapele and Meranti plywoods. The planks and fin alternate between Western Red cedar, Atlantic White Cedar, and Asian Paulownia protected by 10 coats of mineral spirits and pure Tung oil. The vertical stand is made from Baltic Birch and includes an integral fin-slot to accommodate secure, reversible display.
The auctioning of “Pelagic Pulses” is part of a fundraising campaign to support the development of an environmental education project called the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe.
About the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe
The Surfer’s Guide to the Universe is an invitation for all people, but especially the young at heart and mind, to personally engage with the awesome reality of our cosmic story. The goal is a new, personal integration of the cosmos into consciousness and the lived-experience of daily life. The Surfer’s Guide to the Universe will include a popular book, a website and broadcast digital content, in-school educational programs, a public lecture series, and a documentary film.
The core content of the “Surfer’s Guide” is the scientific and cultural narrative of humans as emergent of the cosmos. This means the Surfer’s Guide taps the most rigorous scientific knowledge and collective wisdom from all aspects of the human endeavor. So, while the Surfer’s Guide may have a rather laid-back, fun, surfer’s style, it is firmly committed to current scientific knowledge. It is from this knowledge that new wisdom and personal meaning can be found.
Living, as we are, on this small, improbable, stunningly beautiful, planet – home to a complex, and intricately interwoven web of life, the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe aims to remind us of this reality. The message is enthusiastic, encouraging, and empowering. It aims to cultivate a new relationship with the world. The Surfer’s Guide to the Universe is also meant to antidote much of our current culture of material consumption, which is seen as impoverished of personal meaning, often dissatisfying, and leading us into an unfulfilling, and ultimately unsustainable way of life.
Instead the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe proposes bigger, better, and more natural personal and cultural narratives. This is the core educational mission of Rich Blundell and the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe project.
Rich Blundell was raised on a small, family-owned, farm in Southeastern Massachusetts. He credits his experience with farm animals and work with forming his deep sensitivity toward living things and nature. For several years he was a commercial fisherman, that is, until an 800-pound Bluefin tuna which he had caught changed his path. That experience set him on two decades of marine and terrestrial adventures around the globe from East and Central Africa, South and Central America, the Caribbean and, most recently, Australia. He has committed his life to communicating the soaring central revelation of the natural sciences: our physical and spiritual oneness with the cosmos.
Rich is also an avid surfer and builder of his own hollow wooden surfboards. As the inventor of an innovative construction technique, his surfboard designs and building method are responsible for thousands of wooden surfboards now surfing the world’s oceans.
Rich Holds a B.Sc. in geology and marine science, an Ed.M. in science communication, and has recently submitted his Ph.D. in Big History (aka cosmic evolution). His doctoral research explores the personal and cultural transformative power of engaging with the scientific cosmic narrative and how that transformation can help ameliorate the Anthropocene. In short, Rich studies the phenomenology of nature.
I chose Imogene Drummond to paint the deck of “Pelagic Pulses” based on deeply resonant ideas and features that I could not help but notice in her paintings and films. As she describes, she paints with “the wonder and mystery of the life force.”
Imogene sees nature’s colors, shapes and fractal patterns and applies the colors of light, not just pigments to the canvas. In this way, I believe she captures an elemental beauty and vitality of life.
In “Pelagic Pulses,” as in all of her paintings, she has flung many layers of paint to build up a thick, textured surface. These textures, still visible on the painting’s surface, tell the story of her creative process. Like beds of fossils beneath the surface, they record an earlier life of the painting, and provide a sub-textual history of emotions and feelings.
The imagery of Imogene’s work has developed through a lifetime painting expeditions around the world. It is through such adventurous travel and painting practice that she was invited to become a member of the esteemed Society of Woman Geographers. More of Imogene’s work can be engaged on her website.
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This is the second in a series of posts documenting the Surfer’s Guide to the Universe surfboard art project (see the first post describing the project here).
Last week brought the most wonderful opportunity to preview the kind of educational work I’d like to be doing more of with a Surfer’s Guide to the Universe. One of the primary reasons I selected Imogene Drummond as my artistic partner for this board is because of her ongoing project called Divine Sparks, which includes an innovative art and creativity program for kids. With Divine Sparks (literally), Imogene has been working with a class of 10-11 year-old boys in a youth-at-risk school called San Miguel Academy in a part of Newburgh, NY that is plagued by drugs and poverty.
When Imogene raised the possibility of my giving a Surfer’s Guide presentation to her group of kids, I jumped at the opportunity. I brought one of my wooden surfboards and Imogene’s painted panel and we had a conversation about inspiration, creativity and nature. I also shared a fun little video clip that shows how nature inspires my own creativity. Imogene then shared her experience of our collaboration in Martha’s Vineyard, and how the light, water and serenity there inspired her painting. As her educational work aims to ignite empowerment using creativity, she also facilitated a fun art activity to help the boys visually express their ideas for their own personal development.
Words now fail to express how uplifting this experience was for me. It was truly inspirational because the kids were fantastic and showed so much promise. I was simply amazed by these boys and the work being done at San Miguel’s.
I have been thinking about my experience and it makes me ebullient to have witnessed the kinds of transformations being fostered by people like Imogene with Divine Sparks, and Fr. Mark Connell, and teachers Kerry DiMeo and Frank Snyder at San Miguel Academy. When I consider their work along with the transformations I have seen in my own students of Big History (not to mention the changes we currently see happening in the Catholic Church), I am truly uplifted.
This experience has refilled me with great hope. So, to Imogene, Fr. Mark and Kerry, THANK YOU! You are all doing such wonderful and important work. But most of all, thank you to the boys at San Miguel’s Academy for teaching me so much and being so inspirational!
Getting a PhD in “cosmic evolution as transformative experience” has required I spend a lot of time in a very cerebral space. Now that the dissertation is submitted, I’ve been eager to get out of my head and put my hands back into service in a more down to earth, manual sense.
After months of planning and the last two weeks of building, I am superbly pleased to introduce the first Tree to Sea Surfboard Art Project.
This special, board-building art project started in an old brewery on the banks of the Hudson River (thank you REconsider!) and ended at the historic Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway on Martha’s Vineyard (an island which I have a deep, natural history with as a commercial fisherman and surfer). Nat Benjamin was gracious enough to allow for not only me to set up my traveling wooden surfboard workshop, but also for the visionary painter Imogene Drummond, who I have teamed up with, to do her thing on the beach in front of the boatyard.
This was a truly extraordinary experience. Not only was I able to craft an original 6’2 single-fin retro design, but I was privileged to make friends with a local cadre of some of the best boat builders, sailors, and dock-hands in the world. To Abby, Angie, Alex, Brad Duncan, Chelsea, Christian, Lyle, Lynn, Max, Nat, Zolle, Starling, and Zephyr, I can’t express the deep gratitude I feel for all of your help and hospitality. Those cookouts on the beach are some of the best stuff of life.
I also had the chance to get in some summer surfing in one of my favorite secret spots on the planet on my current favorite board, a Wing 9’0 built last summer. One of the wonderful challenges of surfing in this spot is a mile-long paddle through a salty lagoon followed by a trek across a desolate beach. This little journey to the surf is another opportunity to connect with nature. One encounter with a horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) reminded me of my childhood fascination with these creatures. The meeting inspired a whole new design for the board and fin, and perhaps even a new name. As always, time in Nature provides inspiration, wisdom, and pure bliss.Surfer’s Guide to the Universe.
First (and last) SUP build.
I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story (or at least part of it). There are two pages of thumbnails…
Check out number three of the top ten
Perhaps I was a little too hurricane optimistic. It’s been flat to small for weeks. Just enough time to build a summer small-wave board. Again, I’ll let the photos tell the story.