Here in Alaska we are still having one of the strangest winters on record, we are still ice skating for our outdoor sport (thankfully), the boxes of mystery are still arriving, and my son is still wondering why no one sends him Legos in this same manner (Please, no. That is not a hint). I've explained to him that another artist is crowdsourcing Legos already, so, sorry, you're stuck with vintage linens of unknown, known, or maybe-known origin, and when you are as famous as Ai Weiwei you can ask for Lego donations and get everybody all fired up (#legosforweiwei). Heck, you can swim in Legos if you want...but not in my living room.
In the meantime, we have our own hashtags around here: #inheritanceproject and #boxesofmystery and I don't expect a 9-year-old to be fired up about it, but the rest of us are.
Below are the next in the line-up of Boxes of Mystery to arrive in Alaska. The quotes are from the notes accompanying the items, while the headings are mine -- they are how I think of each of these shipments and makers.
Long-ago visits & a long-lasting marriage.
Thank you Liz DeVree from Michigan, who was willing to part with these family heirlooms (made by her grandmothers) for this project.
"These pillow cases were stitched by my paternal grandmother (...) she and my grandfather came to visit us when we lived in Brazil (...) I was 10-ish then (...) The cases fell apart and I didn't now what to do with them, so thank you."
"These potholders were made by my grandmother for my mom. i have no idea when, but my mom is now 84 and has been married for 60 years (...) the 'A' is for Ann."
Shells and silk.
Thank you Terry Parker from Washington for these 2 boxes of mystery.
"All of the items are unremarkable without any history except the taupe silk with embroidery I found at a flea market auction in 1980 in Denver. It was old and falling apart then, so I estimate it at least 50 years old. The shell cross stitch pillow top was a flea market find. As a 'shell' artist, I had to have it."
Dear Aunt Hattie.
This collection was sent to me from Bobbe Shapiro Nolan and Gee Gee Erickson, from Eagle Lake Texas, "on the flat coastal plain, where farmers grow rice.”
"According to her relatives at the yard sale in tiny Wallis Texas, Aunt Hattie was born in 1904. Her real name was Catherine, and nobody knowns why she was called Hattie (...) Aunt Hatties's work was being sold because they were cleaning out the house in preparation for selling it -- all the relatives had taken the items they could use, then spread a sheet on the lawn and laid out the remaining handwork (...) The entire town of Wallis had yard sales that Saturday -- over 30 sales in a town of about 300 people. The potholders were 25 cents apiece. the heart breaks, really."
I made trivets like these when I was 9 or 10 -- all lurid acrylic yarn and everything. The original 1940's pattern used canning jar rings but when I was experimenting with this I used soda can rings slipped inside (which is what Dear Aunt Hattie used). I think I gave them to my grandma, who I'm sure was thrilled with my industriousness.
This also dusted off the memory of early experiments with cans and tin snips and a hole punch. My mom wouldn't let me use the Coors cans, so I made some things out of 7-Up cans and shamrock green acrylic. I'm sure you classy folks have no clue what I'm talking about.
Please, no. That is not a hint.
If you think you'd like to send something for the Inheritance Project, you may contact me here and I will send an email outlining what I'm looking for. Please know that most of these items will not remain intact. If you are unfamiliar with my work, please view my portfolio before you part with something deep and dear. While I in no way desecrate items, one person's reverence is another person's ruin.
For more information, click on the Boxes of Mystery side bar category on this blog to scroll through past posts. You can also follow this project on Facebook and Instagram -- @amymeissnerartist, #inheritanceproject and #boxesofmystery.
All contributors receive something in return from me, by the way.
I would hate for anyone to be without a doily.
"(...) A 'romance with the fragment' begins when our childhood pockets fill with relics from the natural world -- in this case, objects found on the shores of Prince William Sound, Alaska -- and later, as adults, when we fill our most vacant spaces with the weight of the spiritual or the worry of the inevitable. The body is the ultimate reliquary for pain and loss; we are shaped and defined by what we cling to despite its apparent worthlessness."
A year ago, I finished "Reliquary #8: Scroll," which is currently exhibited at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center as part of the All-Alaska Biennial where it received a Juror's Merit Award. It has lived a short, full life as part of the Reliquary Series -- an on-going exploration of form, found object and reverence for the discarded.
The piece took 67.75 hours to complete, not including the work on the old metal dock bollards, which I took up again this fall, concerned about rust bloom and corrosive contact with fragile fabrics. When polishing by hand proved thankless, I burned through fine wire grinders, then white felt polishing wheels now permeated with rusty froth and beeswax.
These objects now have the luster and heft of cast bronze. The weight of hours. I love them.
Like the other components of this work, they were found in a heap, in some sense rescued.
In another sense, simply seen and considered and pocketed.
Artists submitting to the All-Alaska Biennial were asked to explore the theme of "the authentic North, its people, materials and landscapes, through a variety of interpretations." And while there could be a literalness to this -- all glaciers and arctic foxes and and the sharp sheen of ice -- I feel like I've been in Alaska long enough to present my own authentic relationship to this place.
I feel closest to it in Prince William Sound.
Picking up trash.
To be clear, I don't use garbage in my artwork, but I use the time handling and hauling it to observe and collect my thoughts on how I fit into this vastness, this depth and solitude, this never-ending work my young family has taken up, not because we are paid or want recognition, but because we love this place and its wildlife.
In our bumbling earnestness, we have been known to foul debris collection data on certain documented (yet, unmarked) beaches. That's been embarrassing to learn, but not enough of an excuse to stop.
We are just one small boat with children and some trash bags.
Besides, to stop this kind of work is to force oneself to stop seeing. Once your eyes are open to the potential of a thing or a place, how do you close them again?
I've been thrilled to see this piece, my thoughts, going out into the world.
And since the work doesn't look like much coiled in a cardboard box, I owe a lot of its showmanship to the willingness of my photographer, Brian Adams, who foremost shoots blow-your-mind contemporary portraits of people and place, not objects. But it's probably for this reason he's able to capture the soul of some thing.
In some place.
For as remote as I sometimes feel, it's this exact quality that grants me clarity.
I've been in Alaska 15 years, the longest I've lived anywhere.
* * *
If you are curious about the work we sometimes do on Alaskan beaches, check out the post What we found, 2 and for work on other, warmer, beaches, there's always the first What we found post.
And, if you wonder about the impetus and/or influences behind my work, please visit the Histories category in the side bar where I share stories and process images.
The All-Alaska Biennial is on exhibit in Anchorage until April 10, 2016.
That Anchorage Press Article is here. Dawnell Smith is a talented writer and a good friend.
You can follow me on Instagram: @amymeissnerartist or on my Facebook Page Amy Meissner, Artist
Twenty women have presented me with textiles now. Some I've shared correspondence with in advance, others have popped things in the mail without notice or slipped me doilies at parties while I madly scribbled notes, "...and where did you say your grandmother is from again...? ...uh huh, so you think she made this when?"
I have a spreadsheet. I'm tagging items. I'm sending teeny tiny gifts and thank you cards. And while much of this makes NO SENSE in terms of what the final outcome will or may be, it feels like a vital part of this process. It's about mark-making, acknowledging, listening, communicating and naming what I can, even if much of it is "Unknown."
The items that arrived a few weeks ago from Helen Geglio are ladened with details. She took the time to sit with each object, to remember and document the life around each item as best she could. The notes are beautiful to look at and I've gone back a number of times to re-read her thoughts while holding each object.
I've never met Helen, but I first discovered her work through the video series Quilt National produced this year*. I watched her speak eloquently about her inspiration, her use of clothing and old fabrics and the conceptual quality of her work. She is a seer and a noticer, and from this -- most wonderful of all -- she is a producer. All qualities I admire.
Part of this kind of mark-making speaks to my own fragile memory and need for written reminders. A friend in undergraduate school said, "See, I know I'm taking enough notes in class if I look over and see I've got exactly half of what you wrote." I still don't know how I feel about that comment 2 decades later. Here are Helen's contributions to the Inheritance Project (yes, it now has a name...fitting, yes?), the headings are mine -- they're how I think of each of these items -- but the excerpts are from her writings.
The Bathing Beauty.
Maybe Grandma LeVett.
*This is Helen Geglio speaking about her work exhibited at Quilt National 2015.
If you are new to this blog and aren't sure what's going on but would like to learn more, please check out the category Boxes Of Mystery there on the side bar. You could start with the first Box of Mystery, or a post called Splitting open the idea. That'll get you up to speed.
You can also now follow the #InheritanceProject on Instagram: @amymeissnerartist.
It's kind of fun.
And lastly, a year ago, I wrote this.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.