Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Hearth & Soul

By Suzy Banks

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  Sawdust is seldom revered. Typically, we stuff it in horse stalls and hamster cages or, at best, sprinkle it on dance hall floors. There is no Sawdust Museum, nor Society for the Protection and Preservation of Sawdust. No sawdust website or poems or songs in tribute to sawdust. But things may be about to change.

Deep in an industrial park in South Austin, the curious cosmic energies which can burn the image of Christ on a tortilla, make a religious icon weep, and get dogs on the cover of Newsweek are weaving their magical spell on a box of sawdust. An apparition of grand portent has appeared on the Plexiglas side of artist Jake Gilson's sawdust collection box he built onto his tablesaw.

Jake called me several weeks ago about this miraculous phenomenon. Like any good writer, I listened to his intriguing tale and then forgot about it. Yes, I am a cynic, but my skepticism was boosted by my familiarity with Jake himself. This is a man who once worked with us, who continually joked around about sawing his fingers off, then one day walked up to me with a pneumatic gun nail sticking out of his finger, pleading "Pull it out. Pull it out." I laughed until I saw the blood gushing out and the green circles around his eyes. I pulled it out and nearly puked. I tell this story not only to humiliate Jake, but to clarify my natural suspicions of any claims made by a man who shoots himself in the thumb with a nail gun. (He most recently cut a groove in his forearm with a grinder. To the bone.)

When I failed to acknowledge Jake's miracle, he called John Kelso, who came out, and, like any good writer, listened to his tale, viewed the apparition, and then forgot about it.

But last night I traveled to Jake's studio (at a portent-filled location off SAINT Elmo!) for reasons unrelated to his outrageous assertions of divine manifestations surrounding his power tools. And with just one look, I was engulfed in monumental illumination. For there, on the Plexiglas, the whirling sawdust had formed the image of a common dog, an everyman's dog, a three-quarters profile of a yellow cur, the likes of which are epidemic south of the border. Or else it could be Hank the Cowdog.

This is no transitory idol. Tired of waiting for the expected media blitz to begin, Jake has begun to use his table saw again and yet, despite the disturbance and the additional sawdust, the dog's image has persisted, even solidified.

Unfortunately, my spiritual illumination was but a flash, and now I'm left with more questions than answers: Why a dog? Is it mere coincidence that I love dogs, Jake loves dogs, and his partner/studio mate, Trex, loves dogs? What part did Trex's art -- which is recently heavy on gold dog icons and big dog photos -- play in the appearance of the Sawdust Dog? What made Jake put Plexiglas on one side of the box, which is otherwise made of plywood? Why, despite the fact that I've lived in Austin for 20 years, had I never seen the man who rides around town with three dogs on the back of his motorcycle until I was on my way to Jake's studio last night? Is this a sign that my dog Sadie, who went to the vet this morning to have her teeth cleaned, will have a pleasant dental experience? And is it coincidence that "god" spelled backwards is "dog"? Oh, I doubt it. I doubt it now.

Hey, why don't you answer my questions for a change? Send your answers to Suzebe@aol.com.


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