Some of you are completely new to this blog (welcome!), others have been dropping in when you have time (hello again!), and then there are ... I don't know ... three of you who are wondering when in the world I'm going to get around to blogging about the next Boxes of Mystery (hi, Mom). Thanks for your patience. Can I give a couple of excuses for being delinquent?
We did a little traveling for Spring Break:
And then I skipped off to Philadelphia for a SAQA conference where I presented a short talk, met wonderful people I'd only known from social media (they're real people, not just teeny square faces!) and had a fabulous time touring galleries, getting smart and traveling alone (did you know it is possible to sleep on an airplane? Not well, but when you aren't dispensing snacks every 10 minutes it's a distinct neck-wrenching possibility).
Now I'm back and ready to share the next set of contributions to the Inheritance Project. There are a lot of items, from a lot of contributors, so the titles I've given help keep them all straight in my head. I'm incredibly grateful to the contributors all for their generous spirits and willingness to share their time, effort and most importantly, their stories.
Even the stories with holes.
Especially the stories with holes.
The Jaunty Cock.
No, no, no. This is a family blog. I'm talking about a rooster, here people.
Thank you Nikki Senecal for sending this handsome man my way. Here's his story:
"...I started stitching this Linda Gordanier Jary design that was published in the May/June 1995 Cross Stitch & Country Crafts magazine for my mother (it matched her dining room). I made a horrendous counting mistake and the project languished. In the meantime, my mother redecorated."
I love this guy, and wherever that counting mistake is I'll never know, but cheers to the number of hours Nikki put into this stitching. Holy Moly! I guarantee Mr. Cock will receive a new life -- he won't end up in the stew pot, but he'll be dismembered nonetheless. And good for Nikki's mother for redecorating her dining room at least once since 1995. For Pete's sake, we should all do this more often.
And I also say we should be willing to abandon a project that doesn't speak deeply to us any longer, for whatever reason. I've done it, you've done it, and we've all felt some level of lousy guilt. So, I suggest you call your unfinished work something other than "Unfinished." Instead, call it throat clearing.
Lodge this rooster in your mind when you put your own work down indefinitely and move on. Those A-hole Cocks clear their throat every guilt-free morning and sometimes all damned day. So, why shouldn't we?
Clear your throat. Move on. (Okay, first climb down off the barn).
And while we're talking about barns...
The Best Name for a Farm Ever.
This coordinated group arrived in an envelope with no letter or explanation other than the tags attached and the return label. Many thanks to the folks from "Funkarella Farms" in Exeter Maine.
Can I PLEASE live on a farm called Funkarella Farm? I'll only climb on the barn roof once in a while.
My new Dutch Friend.
If you've never had hagelslag, I highly recommend it. Or, at least my children will. Because after driving for an hour to meet Lous and John Brubaker ("Come on kids! This will be an adventure! We're going to meet lovely people who have some things they'd like to give us..."), this was the Dutch treat Lous made for them. Hagelslag is bread, butter and chocolate sprinkles. A lot of chocolate sprinkles. Like, so many chocolate sprinkles you can't even see the bread beneath. My kids politely sat at her table, took one look at this, then looked at me like, "Wait, you aren't going to take this 11-am-sugar-amazingness away from us, are you?"
Spending several hours with Lous and John that day reminded me of many childhood visits with a German couple named Carl and Sue. In their home in California, we were allowed to load and operate, and load and operate. and load and operate a rickety player piano, handle gently (but not play with) an enormous collection of Hummel figurines and trolls with shocks of orange hair, ask Carl to wind up the mechanical singing bird and wind it up again and then wind up the equally-exquisite-but-not-as-cool figure-8 spinning ballerina music box, or visit Carl's woodworking shop and choose special scraps off the floor. Sue always gave us Coke in small glasses and cookies from a box.
Similarly, through story and mysterious objects, the richness of Lous and John's lives together and the stories of places they'd lived were not lost on my children. They had many questions on the drive back to Anchorage. The most important question: Will we ever see them again?
Yes. Yes, we will. And we'll bring Papa next time to meet them, too. We've already promised.
Thank you Lous and John for the invitation to visit, for the homemade fish chowder and gorgeous bread, the hagelslag, the coffee and the lovely items I've inherited from you. I have been thinking deeply about how best to incorporate them into my work. They are so very special.
Rawness and Beauty.
Lastly, I'd like to thank Lorie McCown. She has been a social media friend for quite some time. Did it start on Facebook? Pinterest? Neither of us quite remember, but we did have the chance to meet for the first time in Philadelphia recently and our suspicions were confirmed: we are kindred spirits, working with cloth in a way that is rooted in meaning, both of us a couple of fish "swimming upstream." Well, as someone from Alaska, I can attest that those fish have traveled the farthest and are the strongest. Lorie's work has shown at Quilt National, Quilts=Art=Quilts, Art Quilt Elements...plus she's a painter. I loved spending time with her.
She had a rough winter, and I knew this when these items arrived a month or so ago. I felt blessed that amid heartbreak and turmoil, she took the time to send something my way. Incredible.
"These came out of my mom's house...we buried my dad and put my mom in assisted living all in one week. So my feelings on these are this: dissolvent (of my childhood home), sadness, loss and grief. Had all the aging stuff gone down a different path i.e gracefulness, nostalgia, or whatever, I may have tender thoughts. Now I'm a raw bone."
I'm honored to have met and connected with Lorie in person. We'll do it again.
Below is Lorie talking about her piece "The Story Cloth, Vol. 1-4" at the last Quilt National. She is smart, funny and sensitive -- a maker of deeply moving work.
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For more information on the Inheritance Project, please click here. It's a doily-centric crazy crowdsourcing effort that has turned into a web of connected relationships and curiosities and narratives about loss, friendships, history and valuing the valueless.
It's kind of awesome.
If you'd like to receive a newsletter with updates, you can sign up on the sidebar above. I have yet to send a newsletter, so please know that you will in no way be bombarded by lousy newsletterly "news" in your inbox.
But it might happen someday -- the newsletter. Not the bombardment. Or the lousiness.
A year ago, I posted about a Yellow Quilt that I'm almost ready to turn toward in reality. Really. Let me just climb down off this damned barn. No, really. Wait, I think my pants are hooked on the weather vane.
This afternoon at the Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) conference in Philadelphia, 24 artists participated in 3 rounds of PechaKucha talks. No, not a Chupacabra, not a puh-chaw-kuh-chaw, not a pitchy kookie, not a picky kackie ... a PechaKucha.
(A concise way of presenting, which allows each speaker only 20 slides, shown for 20 seconds each. After your last slide, you shut up, sit down and let the next speaker speak).
The experience was moving, vibrant, inspiring and I'm thrilled to have been a part of it. Many thanks to Maria Shell for her persuasion and hard work putting it together.
My PechaKucha talk is below and clicking on an image will take you to other posts related to the work featured, its process/history or sister pieces. If you've never visited my blog before, this might be a good introduction.
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In Defense of Doilies: An Artist's Relationship to Materials.
My name is Amy Meissner. I'm an artist in Anchorage, Alaska. My work explores fear and loss, motherhood, womanhood, and the fleeting quality of memory. While I don't always work in the quilt form, I do hold intention to work within the boundaries of abandoned cloth.
I come from Scandinavian women. I am the 12th first-born daughter to a first-born daughter, a line extending to 1642. My son severed this lineage; if born a girl, that daughter would've been the 13th.
I don't know what kind of inheritance that would have been, but I know mine.
Part of my relationship to cloth comes from a heritage steeped in making. Of bent necks, rough hands and stabbing needles. Swedish women have sent me linens my entire life -- I filled a trunk with doilies, tea towels and pot holders. Unwanted -- by me-- for the most part.
But when I had children, I sensed a shift. My living questions encompassed thoughts like, "How do I escort my daughter into womanhood with grace and joy and strength?"
"How have my own experiences shaped me as a mother?"
"How do I gather the tools I still need -- to get it right?"
To have a relationship with one's materials is to be open to the narrative power of voice. Not just your own echo, but in my case, open to the ghosts of prior generations, who still have something to say.
Whether or not you want to hear it.
Whether or not you think it pertains to you.
Whether or not it is "contemporary."
Or even beautiful.
Because an artist's job isn't to make people feel good, it's to make people think.
Materials are persistent, demanding you question their use if you are to find the heart of a piece. Have you questioned your materials lately? Can you say what you need to in another medium? Why use cloth when paint or wood or paper may be the better entryway? I ask this all the time.
In Mary Karr's book, "The Art of Memoir," she writes: "One can't mount a stripper pole wearing a metal diving suit." That visual is worth remembering, so I'll repeat it: "One can't mount a stripper pole wearing a metal diving suit."
So, what does she mean?
Don't wear armor for a job that requires one to be naked, raw and vulnerable in order to seduce an audience. Also, you're going to need all your muscle strength to hang upside down from a pole so get rid of all the extra shit you're hauling around.
Or, figure out how it can support you.
For me, this meant embracing a heritage I often found confusing and foreign in ways beyond language and custom.
I spent a lifetime shoving linens in a trunk, so turning to them with joy hasn't been easy or even visually interesting at times.
In my defense, the 12-year old me didn't want a table runner for her birthday, or embroidered tea towels for Christmas ... again. I associated these items with disappointment, with a family's unwillingness or even failure to really know me.
These were the outpourings of distant Nordic women on the other side of the world, whose warmth towards me I questioned the few times we'd met. I didn't understand that their love was held in the physical act of making. That this was a vital way to nurture.
Perhaps they thought filling my trunk would prepare me. But, for what?
Early mornings at a stove?
Late nights hand washing, starching, ironing and mending?
I'd been taught to navigate the domestic realm, but I didn't want to then and don't want to now.
Ironically, this is exactly what I'm doing. Laundering these items late night, slithering around my stripper pole, confronting questions of mortality and fear and disappointment and loss. Circling and circling until I find the entryway. Until I find the voice.
Another irony, is that I am being sent more domestic linens now than ever before. Through my recent crowdsourcing effort called the Inheritance Project, I've received packages from all over the world -- England, Canada, Sweden, Australia, the US -- people are considering the history of cloth, judging its weight, then letting it go.
Sending it to Alaska. To me.
And I am accepting and shaping it. I'm holding the time, the material, the work it took someone to create something from nothing. For every maker I can name, there are 20 or 30 items that come labeled "Unknown." Same with origin, same with circa.
Inheritance. It's a weighty thing.
And it's forced me into a correspondence and documentation effort that far surpasses the time I have available, but this is an integral part of the work I'm compelled to do right now. The handwork of the past and the lingering hum of history simply become another material.
And I know it's the right material, because I continue to ask myself if so. And also because of its persistent nature. The raw material continues to arrive at my door, along with stories from strangers, about strangers. And I keep circling, looking for the entryway, considering the living questions.
I'd always thought it was funny to force a man -- in from the field and starving -- to wade through a sea of doilies to get to his hot dinner. But here's that last irony. At 6:00 I hear the side door open, the scrape of shoes and my husband say, "Ugh, what's all this laundry stuff hanging everywhere? --Wait -- is that lingerie?"*
To breathe new life into the discarded is to hold a deep relationship with materials. Even if it means confronting vulnerability, questioning beauty and becoming a vessel for the work and time of others.
Even if it means defending your past, defending memory, defending doilies.
Thank you for listening.
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*Now, a quick note--my husband would actually never say this...although he did admit to thinking briefly that a certain red batch of doilies looked an awful lot like some really sexy stuff hanging there. No, what he always says, without fail, is this:
(Insert his version of a Swedish accent) "Oh. So many beautiful things."
What a guy.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.