This winter I was honored to be asked to create a series of small works to be presented to four recipients of the Governor's Awards for the Arts and Humanities here in Alaska. The awards ceremony was held last week in Juneau, and while the idea of giving a recipient a piece of artwork instead of a laser-engraved object is exciting on its own, an even more exciting idea is giving textile-based artwork. And even MORE exciting than this, is presenting textile artwork from TWO different artists: myself and good friend, Maria Shell. Maria wrote about the pieces she created for the awards in a recent blog post: Memento. Her work is intricate, vibrant, lovely, intense. I've been a fan of hers for a long time and happy to say we've been friends for a long time, now too.
If you've followed this blog for a while, you'll know my family cleans beaches in Prince William Sound during the summer. This isn't a paid gig. Nor is it official. Nor is it helpful when we accidentally clean monitored beaches (sorry, it had junk on it, we didn't know you were counting exactly how much). It also isn't pleasant. But the reward is generally a pocket full of rocks. We never take anything from a beach unless we've cleaned it, and most of the time we don't find anything interesting unless we've cleaned it first, anyway. We've been known to cruise back into the harbor with a couple hundred pounds of ghost nets, rope, and too many plastic water bottles to count. We recycle what we can, dispose of the rest. Twice, my son has found the coveted Lego Piece. Once, I found a fairy tea cup.
It's a treasure hunt.
The requested dimensions for the awards commission was 12" x 12" or smaller, so I used 10" x 10" x 2" cradled board, which I pre-finished with 2 coats of polyurethane. I use an upholstery technique on the reverse, which I receive great joy from because I get to use a hammer and beautiful nails called cut tacks, plus it's a clean finish. The materials for this small series are an amalgam of the Reliquary Series and items sent to me for the Inheritance Project. The grey linen is new, but the rest is not. The materials include vintage shantung drapes and heavy taffeta, vintage unfinished needlepoint, crocheted doilies and trims (which I dyed) and beach stones from Prince William Sound and Nome, which are the oldest thing of all.
Four of the works were selected for awards, a fifth will remain in the permanent collection of the Alaska Humanities Forum. They are lovely as a collection, but strong enough to exist on their own.
I think a lot about language and titles, expecting them to work hard and be clear. "Vintage," for example, is anything over 20 years old, while "Antique" is over 100.
Some words I do not use in the lexicon of my current work: "upcycled," "recycled," "stash." These words are tired. They are a contemporary attempt to turn something that frugal women have always done into something new and exciting. These words make me feel like someone is about to sell me something I don't need.
I'm the stoic daughter of an American water well driller and a Swede raised on a farm by grandparents so "Work" is a word I use a lot. "Play" is a word I use, but never in my studio.
"If work was fun they wouldn't call it 'Work' -- they'd call it 'Fun.'
I know, I know, but "Play" is different from "Challenging."
And "Fun is different than "Pleasing" or "Satisfying."
Why does any of this matter? Because words matter. There is a difference, for example, between an "Art Quilter" and a "Quilt Artist" (something Maria Shell brought up just the other day). A person can be "crafty" like a fox or "crafty" with popsicle sticks, while the elements of "Craft" versus the "crafting" of a work all have different weights and meanings.
(And also, before it was called "Craft," it was called "Work" and everyone did it, every day, for various reasons and with varying degrees of skill. It took an Industrial Revolution before the idea of Craft was even a thing.)
This is not an argument for Art versus Craft. This is an argument for Language and using it in a way that evokes clarity, yet opens a door for further interpretation.
Are these actual fossils? No. I probably need a permit to remove fossils from an Alaskan beach. But they conjure the idea of something rare and hunted for -- or stumbled upon -- evidence of a life before our own. Titles have to work hard. They are the extra narrative layer that pushes a piece beyond what you see visually. Titles can reiterate a piece (and I've certainly got a few titles I wish I'd spent an extra week or year considering in order to avoid this), but please consider the rich narrative difference between "The Doilies and Rocks Series" versus the "Fossil Series."
I personally want nothing to do with the "Doilies and Rocks Series."
And then there is Dada.
Consider, the difference between "Dada the Cat," being named after an art movement (so cool), versus "Dada the Cat" actually being re-named when my 2-year old couldn't yell "SIMON!" at the sliding door, but he could yell "DA-DA!" (the reality). My husband is "Papa," so, zero confusion on that front.
Does this change your perception of Dada? Of course not, he's still just a Siamese on a diet. But you've got to love a double meaning. Even still, it took 8 years for us to admit to the vet that this fat animal's name isn't "Simon" and it should be updated for their files.
Sometimes weighty titles are personal. Sometimes everybody gets it.