Ty Smith – The Dolphin

Jacques Yves Cousteau

“When I see a dolphin, I know it’s just as smart as I am. …If I could get any animal it would be a dolphin. I want one so bad. Me and my mom went swimming with dolphins and I was like, ‘How do we get one of those?’ and she was like, ‘You can’t get a dolphin.”

“The happiness of the bee and the dolphin is to exist. For man it is to know that and wonder at it.”

You reminded us to dig deeper. Not to be the person who guys to the gym and does nothing. Be a part of the workout!

In looking at my life-line, I recall breaking it down into 3 major things from how I was feeling in that moment; 1) coming home from work, 2) my experiences in the military and down range, 3) my childhood.

For this project I focused on my childhood and the connection/relationship I had with my grandfather, whom was a Korean and Vietnam veteran who would serve in the Marines first and then the Army. He was Mescalero (Apache) and ran away from the reservation at 13 and had been on his own ever since. He would later be one of the 1st underwater swim school instructors for Special Forces, spending much of his time while he was an instructor in Key West, Fl.

It was there were he fell in love with Dolphins – and I knew of his interest in them from an early age. He was drawn to their intelligence, grace, and power. He would often tell me how a few dolphins could take down the mightiest of sharks but also be gentle other animals. Reminds me of a story that I read about a suicidal person that jumped off of the Golden Gate Bridge. The man shattered many of the bones in his body and could barely swim but was still alive after his body smacked the water. He’s still alive today because dolphins surrounded him, swimming in circles around his body, keeping him afloat. Interestingly enough, Dolphins can also commit suicide if they are depressed by sinking to ocean floor and not coming up from air. The original trainer for Flipper verified this in his experiences with dolphins on that show.

As an adult, I recommended a great documentary to my grandfather about dolphins. I warned that it was sad, graphic at times, but the ending was a resilient one.  We watched the first 15 minutes together until he got choked up and said, “I can’t watch this, shit.” In many ways my grandfather’s traits reminded me of a dolphin. He was peaceful, strong, inquisitive, and savvy and he was a survivalist, also playful. The dolphin has since come to resemble him…that and the star, “Beatle juice” in the Orion constellation. We all have these signs or symbols that remind us of our loved ones. These just don’t remind me of him, but there is a real presence and energy in them – when I see them. It’s not every day I see dolphins, but the representations of them are there. I can’t see a dolphin without thinking of him.

 I wanted to combine the second, wavy lines, in my Line to the third set of childlike scribble in a way that was expressive but also made sense to me. I told the class about how I used to scribble on spine Jacques Cousteau books (he had the whole set of sea life on his bookshelf). There are several lines on every binding, one of which is his Dolphins volume.

Here are the details and thought processes’ behind The Dolphin:

  • I chose clay because I wanted to work with a material that I’ve never worked with – but could play with without ruining.
  • Used three colors (turquoise, red and yellow)  – these are the colors are my grandfather’s choosing. He painted everything he wanted to identify as his, with these colors – including luggage at the airport. I’ve since adopted these colors in crafts that I make, like furniture.
  • The Dolphin is turquoise with red wavy stripes, inlaid. It represents the waves in my lifeline. The up and down of a deployment. The back and forth of home life. And the birth, life and death of people around you. Very aware that life is a cyclical process. The dolphin is emblematic of the ups and downs of life (the wave on my lifeline) by it’s movement through the ocean
  • The Dolphin was chosen because I wanted to draw on my connection to it as a child (including my scribble on the Cousteau book) but also seeing the parallels between my life and my grandfathers. We both experienced homelessness, military and deployment life, and had shared interests with wood crafting, jewelry making and working with our hands. We both appreciated art and other members of the family would also describe our temperament as similar.
  • The tail powers it all (life) and I wanted to include that portion from my lifeline into this expressive art. It’s the life force, everlasting.
  • His contact is one that I miss greatly. We’d have many a good conversations about life. He was always there for me to seek advice. The Dolphin merges my experiences as a child and the ups and down of military life with my grandfathers and the experiences we had together. It’s an attempt to bridge the gap created by his death. But I still feel his presence today, especially when I seek guidance. When I started with the clay, I could here him say something he always used to tell me when I needed guidance, ‘You’ll know what to do.”