The House That Joyce Built
Interview with Joyce Johnson, Sculptor, Who has Built Her Own "House" in Truro
Question: How did you happen to build your own house… in fact, feel you were able to build your own house?
Answer: I guess it was a set of circumstances, plus the fact that I think since I was young it has been hovering in the back of my mind. I was fascinated as a kid with Robinson Crusoe… That in order to survive they managed to create a shelter and everything they really needed… food, clothing, etc. When I was in my late teens I found an old book in a second-hand store entitled "How to Build Your Dream House for Under $2500." I bought it and tucked it away on a shelf and did not remember it till nearly 20 years later. That book is so simple that anyone can understand how to do the basic things. Another factor involved having one's own place, from which you didn't have to move every season!
With this in mind, I bought a piece of land in 1965. Then in 1967 I bid on a shell offered by the National Seashore and got it. Had it moved to the property and because the mason never showed up to pour the footing, a friend and I started mixing cement and found out that although it was hard work, it certainly wasn't impossible. In fact, I've come to enjoy cement and brick work. It is very relaxing and therapeutic!
Question: How did you finance the house?
Answer: Well, first of all, my little place in not at all fancy. Just simple. There is no electricity… everything's on gas. And it's been done a little at a time, as I had money, time and energy. In fact, I have a feeling it will never be finished! I've found a lot of things for it in the dump… One ten-by-ten room is entirely from the dump except for the two-by-fours and nails. Finding odd windows and doors and working them into the design is great fun… and makes you feel closer to the house… It really becomes a part of you. It may not be square and level but it's cozy!
Question: How do people react when they hear you're working on your own house?
Answer: Well, people who have heard about it before they have met me are surprised. I'm only five-foot-four-inches and don't have bulging muscles! It isn't physical strength that makes it possible… it's a form of perseverance.
Like when you're mixing cement and it's a cold, damp spring day and your back aches and you drop a heavy tool on your foot and wonder why you aren't renting a house somewhere like normal people! The fact that you keep going and lay a certain number of bricks that day anyway… that's what finally gets things done. Another problem has been living in the middle of the unfinished area. If you need some sort of order in your life, as I do, at times you're ready for the nut house. But again, those days pass and it gets better as time goes by.
Question: Would you recommend that other women build their own places?
Answer: Yes. "Be it ever so humble," it is a very meaningful experience. We are getting so far away from what is meaningful in this world. The beautiful facades that hide the structure and core! Pretty soon the structure and core don't even exist! The junk that is being made and sold today… it is made with only one thing in mind… to make the most money possible. Service, durability, craftsmanship… if they don't come back into our world of consciousness, the world isn't going to be much of a place to be in.
It is frightening to me to see countries intrigued with our plastic gadgets and setting their goals by them… leaving behind the simple beauties of their own cultures. Women… by realizing that they are not restricted from such basic efforts as building their own home may help to bring the meaning of life back to where it belongs… not in acquiring objects, but in causing them to exist with their own hands and minds.
Question: Does it bother you that after five years the house isn't finished?
Answer: We are all in such a rush! For what? Some of the problems of my house have sat there for a year… like some of my sculptures do too… And then one day, you find something, or you realize something, and you know what you have do next. If you aren't in a rush and force something, it will happen in its own time. This philosophy is more akin to the nature of woman. I think, and therefore maybe women will help to let up on pushing themselves too much and too fast. By giving projects gestation, we give the life.
Question: If you were to do it again, would you do it the same way?
Answer: Probably. The major governing factor has always been economic. As teacher/artist my income is limited. In order to have time to sculpt, I can only be part-time employed, which means living frugally and not getting trapped by heavy mortgages and installment plans. I have just added to the house as money was available. As I have also had neither excess of time or energy, this has worked out OK. Working on the house has now become a part of my routine, same as sculpting and taking the dogs for a run on the beach! There are mistakes in construction, but that makes the house more "human." It is a reflection of me … and my frailties. [The End]
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Reprint from IT'S HIGH TIME, A Column For And About Women, written by The Media Committee and published by The Provincetown Advocate in the '70s and '80s.
The Committee was a project set up by Cape Cod Women's Liberation, a coalition active here since 1971. CCWL carried out projects involving health issues, the schools, women's literature, local media, abortion and job discrimination. Members of the Committee have included Florence Adams, Carol Baldwin, Margie Bicking, Ronni Farrell, Pamela Hardt, Joyce Johnson, Nina Luisi, Betty Foss-Mayo, Marcha Nagy, Jacqueline Park, Penny Pendleton, Margie Piercy, Kay Pepitone, Melissa Riley, Karen Starr, Gloria Watts, Uta West and Gwen Worley.
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© 2002 SPRING issue of IamProvincetown printed "little" magazine
| Represented by Addison Art Gallery in Orleans, MA