Sunday, April 17, 2016

Indisputably Uncertain

I have launched into a new series, conceived when I felt I could no longer stand the stridency of today's rhetoric. Reasoned argumentation and thoughtful questioning have given way to name-calling and belittling. Our genetic desire for certainty and our tendency to follow someone who simply asserts he has found the Truth works against the reality of the uncertainty of our lives. And so I decided I could either hide under a pile of blankets until things got better or I could work out my frustrations by creating pieces that celebrated uncertainty, reminding myself of the need to question, of the fact that I can never be absolutely sure that the next step I am taking on the path is in the right direction. It's always a judgement call, but take that next step anyway.

So here is a piece I have named "I Dwell in Possibility":
I also got the opportunity to try out a new technique. (Does this make me an opportunist?--an equally annoying type these days.) I had experimented with dyeing some cheese cloth and I loved how it soaked up the color and this seemed an ideal piece to use it on. I wanted to attach it to the background so that it would maintain its freeform shape and texture and felt that fusing it would reduce this effect. So I handstitched the cheescloth to the top layer with a fine matching thread making sure the stitches were invisible but the shapes were securely attached.

I do admit that any abstract piece could potentially fit this series since abstraction by its very nature, a nature I have grown to love, opens itself to many interpretations. And while I was nearing the finishing of this piece I came across a review of an abstract art show at FiveMyles in Brooklyn by Alexis Clements, who says all this much more eloquently than I have done: "The paring down, the removal of a prescriptive dogma or interpretation, allows the viewer to explore on their own. It is a highly personal experience. . . . And at a time when haranguing proclamations and categorical insistence seem to be everywhere, stepping however briefly into a space of not knowing, into an acknowledgment of uncertainty or at least curious exploration, feels like a cool drink of water."

I may have explained away this piece--which is just 16 x 21 inches. Perhaps you should just ignore my strident rhetoric and make of it what you will--something a viewer of abstract art does as a matter of course. Anyway, thanks for the company!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Experimenting with Tradition

I don't remember how the tradition began but for years I have made my husband a small quilt for Valentine's Day. It's an opportunity to connect with something memorable from the year, as in 2014 with our new experience of frequent walks on the beach, or to try out a new technique. This year I found myself with a pile of Thermofaxes I had created and had not yet tried out. Several of the screens had text on them not because I wanted to make little samplers of wise words but I thought I could play with making text a design element.  So here is my 2016 Valentine (you can click on it to make it bigger):

It's a quote that resonates with many conversations we have been having, and layering echoes the text. I am not sure how successful it is--the text is still a bit more central than I would like-- but I got to play with three different screens as well as photoshopping and printing the three repetitions of "Emerson," the source of the quotation. I also attached the raw edge applique with large French knots, a kind of short cut way to use hand stitching that works better than I thought. It's 16 x 11", not as small as my more recent Valentine creations.

For some reason last year I did not post the tiny Valentine I made for Tom--perhaps we were too busy shoveling whatever part of our seven feet of snow had by mid-February. So here is Cardinal in the Snow in honor of the blizzards of 2015:

It is only 4 x 6" and was an experiment of sorts since the background was a lighter paint printed on a bit darker fabric.

And now I must return to the real snow that must be shoveled once again.

Saturday, January 30, 2016


Okay. So I have to admit that I, like so many other people, am reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly. I am not sure why I feel a bit guilty about admitting that, other than I was worried when I put it on hold at the library that it was yet another overpopularized and underresearched rah-rah self-help book, telling you that you are wonderful just the way you are if only you would believe in yourself. While there are a few echoes of that attitude in the book, it does say a number of things that I need to hear, particularly about perfectionism and how it is different from striving for excellence.

And I discovered another aha! moment. I had been getting frustrated that I was not spending enough time in my studio and had always been impressed with those artists/quilters who start working at the crack of dawn before breakfast, perhaps break for a piece of toast and then keep on going. These are the people who seem to have the great blogs, the full teaching schedules, the prize-winning work.

But I, slug that I am, often don't get to my studio until 10 am and my plan had been to sit down with my husband at dinner that night and talk about how I could get to my studio earlier. Then I read Brown's description of the two alternatives to handling anxiety and stress: those who tried to assuage the anxiety by, for example, wedging more work into the day (making phone calls while waiting at red lights or while checking out at a store) or those who addressed anxiety "at the root by aligning their lives with their values and setting boundaries."

So I began to look at what I valued. Aside from getting work done, whether that is stitching, planning, or dyeing, I do value sleep but I am usually up before 7 (sorry, 5 AM is not going to work for me), and I also value healthy food, time with my husband and my crazy Goldendoodle, and yoga stretches that keep my joints moving and my shoulders and hands able to do hand stitching. Getting to my studio earlier would mean giving up a long walk with Terra, some fruit-filled hot oatmeal shared with Tom, and those vital stretches. I was beginning to think this was not worth it but decided to give it a try, shifting the walk to the afternoon, the stretches to before lunch,and the breakfast eaten after I had worked for a while.

The afternoon walk was fine on this day but there would have been time for only a short walk, and I realized as I got ready for bed that I had gotten so involved in my work that I never took time for the stretches. This morning I went back to the old schedule, but I did not begin working  (at 10:30 am! because of an extra long walk) berating myself about getting to work so late. I felt energized by my morning tasks--and actually got more work done by lunchtime than I had with the extra hour or so on my experimental morning. Just as my work doesn't need to look like all those big name quilters, my schedule doesn't need to either.

And, while I am not sure why anyone would still be reading this long post, if you are, thanks for the company.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Word Play

Last week was full of art. Well, every week is full of art, but this was other  people's art--at the Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. And both have set my mind moving is a variety of directions that I want to record--so you will be hearing about those directions as well.

Black Mountain College in North Carolina was the scene of an incredible stew of artistic talent in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s that included Rauschenberg, Twombly, the de Koonings, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. An exhibit at the ICA does an admirable job of recreating that feeling of so many people pushing the limits of their art and gaining inspiration from all the ideas and works in progress surrounding them.

I went to the exhibit expecting to see a lot of abstract paintings but didn't realize that one of the major artists there was Anni Albers, a weaver, who just happened to be married to Josef Albers. Unfortunately, her beautiful textiles were displayed under glass so that the textures were not as exposed and photos were exercises in frustration as reflections were always part of the picture. But I will share a few anyway.

Large weaving based on ancient Mexican ruins

Detail of weaving on left

Nigel's Weaving (small)
Cityscape (small)

An exquisite untitled watercolor by Ray Johnson shows how he used both Anni's weavings and the color theory taught by Josef. (The white dots are, alas, reflections of lights across the room.)

On one of the walls of the exhibit in large letters was the word "Haptic." Now this was a word I discovered a number of years ago and was planning a blog post about that must have never gotten itself completed. Here is the description the ICA provided:

      . . .If any description can encompass the whole of the Black Mountain aesthetic, it might the
      haptic, as opposed to the purely optical. Defined as "relating to the sense of touch," the
      haptic in art refers to works that appeal to touch through the selection of materials,
      the process of making, and the bodily engagement of the maker. Haptic objects
      intertwine visuality and tactility so thoroughly that they are inseparable.

And there you have a description of textile art. I like that idea of intertwining the visual and the tactile--and hope I can remember it when I am called upon to say something wise about the work I do.

And thanks for the company!

Monday, December 28, 2015

A few of my favorite things. . .

This morning--in the studio for the first time in several days--I felt a deep gleam of joy. At least that is the word that comes closest to what I was feeling. Nothing extraordinary was happening: I was just matching perle cotton thread to the strip of fabric I was about to sew down. And even the color was not awe-inspiring--just a medium value gray that would by itself excite no one. But there it was--as I laid several tones of gray thread on the fabric, looking closely at each, I felt a physical sense of . . . joy.

It has been a strange December with new issues of concern arising every day within my circle of friends and family and broadening out to national and world events and personalities. It was looking like a bleak midwinter. And so this morning I sought balance, sought more things that brought me joy even amid the worry.

I noticed the mallards swimming in the pond below our yard and again these were not the showy wood ducks that raised their babies there this summer but just this everyday kind of duck. And I remembered how surprised and delighted I was a few days ago when, as I was watching the males circle around and upend themselves in the water, I could see their bright orange legs maneuvering under the water. Again that little glow spread through me.

Above the pond the sky was graying into a snow sky, suggesting that the predictions for our first snow of the season might be right, and I remembered the hushed feeling of anticipation, of joy?, that is always there as I watch the first three or four snowflakes of a snowstorm quietly fall--a scene I will miss tonight since the storm is due to start after 1 AM. It's a feeling I tried to capture in a little quilt I made a couple of years ago, called "Verge."

And there is joy when I settle into a book and realize I am in the hands of a master craftsman who knows how to tell a lively, meaningful tale. Later in the afternoon I began reading a Christmas present from my daughter--Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and there it was again. She began with the story of the poet Jack Gilbert, who wrote, "We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world." 

Coincidences also can bring me joy.

Peace and joy to us all this holiday season!

Saturday, December 5, 2015


Yesterday Tom and I walked Salisbury Beach with our very happy Goldendoodle, but the sea was not happy. It was a cloudy 4 PM and definitely moving on toward night up here in our part of New England. And the waves were as we had never seen them, although that can be said about most of our trips to the beach. But these waves were breaking with a loud boom right at the shoreline, and there was something a bit dangerous about them, not frightening, but enough to make all those ancient instincts take notice. The fact that we three were the only ones on the beach also hinted that perhaps we should not be there, that we were in forbidden territory or at least breaking a rule or two.

And I was aware of each of the elements of this scene and my reactions to them as Terra romped in front of us as we walked. The sea was as beautiful as it was dangerous, its shadowy blue gray stretching to the horizon where it met the lighter gray of the clouds. And where did the peace I felt come from? No absolute clarity here, just a complex, paradoxical mix of emotions and thoughts and images, like life.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Another new adventure

I seem to keep having lots of new experiences since I took on the biggest new experience and moved to Massachusetts. My latest adventure was participating in the Amesbury Open Studio Tour weekend. I didn't actually open my non-handicapped accessible studio but set up, with six other artists, in the public space part of the tour at the Town Hall.

My expectations were low, since I was warned that this was not the place to make big sales, but I decided to add some of my snow-dyed cottons and then made a few ornaments, both lower priced items than my artwork. 

Saturday dawned cold and blustery and, as I walked into town, I saw the first snowflakes of the season. It was not going to be the kind of day people wander from place to place. But at the end of the day even without the crowds of people passing through I considered it a success--I had met a number of interesting people, had taken another step in settling into this community, and had had several substantive conversations about art and about my particular kind of art. By the end of Sunday I had simply added more of the above and had sold enough ornaments and snow-dyes to more than recoup my entry fee. It was a worthwhile way to spend a November weekend!