"Yes, Mother. I can see you are flawed. You have not hidden it. That is your greatest gift to me."
In winter, in darkness, I sometimes pull my feet onto the bed swiftly. I feel the swipe of a hand just missing my heel, the blood flooding my heart despite the unfounded fear that something is lurking and hidden beneath where I sleep.
Summer is different.
We see the monsters, sharp in the light.
Sunrise, 4:24 am. Sunset, 11:41 pm. A total of 19 hours and 17 minutes of daylight. A loss of 1 minute and 11 seconds from yesterday.
The sun is persistent and we do not sleep.
A recent morning, this exhausted petty thing:
9-year-old boy, with sweeping gesture: "You aren't taking enough care with my breakfast."
Me: " ... ?"
9-year-old boy, with the gestures: "Your plate always has extra stuff on it."
Me: "Uh huh, like last night's brussels sprouts and kim-chi? Or maybe you're referring to the dietary fiber I'm sprinkling on my eggs."
9-year-old boy, with glassy eyes: "No ... you're food just looks nicer. You make it look nicer. Just for YOU."
Me: " ... "
6-year-old girl, turning to boy: "You're being mean to Mom."
6-year-old girl, turning to me: "I don't want fried eggs, I only like poached. Don't make me fried because I won't eat them."
I do not feel like defining the term "short order cook." I do not feel like cooking. I do not feel like eating. I do not feel like feeding these children. I do not feel like chasing after the stomping 9-year-old. I do not feel like resuming the school-morning breakfast schedule (M,W = oatmeal, T, Th = eggs, F = cereal). I do not feel like rinsing dishes. I do not feel that cold cereal every morning is the answer. I do not feel like being here. I do not feel like deciphering baby talk. I do not feel like being angry about this. I do not feel like being honest. I do not feel like I'm cut out to be a mother, the tipping point a god-damned plate of food. I do not feel like feeling all of this.
My creative work has stalled and I'm snapping and swiping at heels.
There is no satisfaction in my clawed-for bursts of production, in this hunt for artistic clarity, in what feels so selfish on my part. Time.
Tomorrow it could all just disappear. It has for other mothers.
I know this.
I fear this.
I lose my mind to darkness. I lose my mind to light.
Every year, twice a year.
Here, in this northern place.
I know this.
I was recently interviewed by Kari Lorenson at Knotwe: The Hub for Fiber, Textiles, Surface Design. If you have time to check out their site, it's gorgeous, really cool and I was fairly sure they'd made a mistake in contacting me because I'm so not hip. I'm like, a 43-year-old mom. In Alaska. And when the smart interview questions appeared (after Kari took the time to read my ENTIRE blog, no less) ... they were hard to answer. So because I spent a lot of time thinking about them, I wanted to share at least one of the Q & A's here.
This was question #3:
"I am so impressed with the mastery of so many techniques you incorporate into your work. The execution and compositions are complex, decisive and from reading your blog, your past experiences working in textile production and highly customized work, your family have all gave you a wide breadth of experiences to draw upon. To me the art of what you create is in part not only in the conceptual ideas you explore but the way you are able to blend these processes into a vocabulary that re-enforces the presence of the work. Do you feel like the forces behind your work and the processes you take into the fold have changed over time? Are there specific creative risks that you hope to take on in the next few projects?"
My mother’s family is in Sweden so my connection to them is limited in terms of distance and language [...]. So while I’ve had fleeting exposure, childhood memory and stories, I can only speculate about who they were and are as people, as women, as makers. Still, they’ve given me this great gift of history and skill. I’m grateful for this sensibility and this need to make, re-make, make better, make well and feel strongly that the ability to create something from nothing and the sensitivity towards any maker’s hand is a value not taught much anymore. For something so commonplace just a few generations ago, it’s slipping away [...].
The physical gift from these women is the work they’ve produced and sent to me for decades— much of it in the form of crochet and embroidery. I spent 25 years hauling it around and grumbling about the outdated form, about the quantity that just kept coming, threatening to toss it all, but then finally deciding to cut it apart and re-use it as a form of reverence. Which in some respects was the most unthinkable and disrespectful thing to do and I would still feel horrible about it if it weren’t for the incredible release I experienced.
The greater challenge with this type of material, is how to channel this buried feminine energy — this silent stabbing of hook and needle — and create something meaningful and complex from the original work. I will say right now that this isn’t easy on a number of levels, but two dichotomies immediately come to mind — first, it’s difficult to execute a contemporary idea from an outdated or vintage item. I am always teetering on the edge of nostalgia with these cloths (and please grab me if I fall off that cliff). And second, I want to revere each object as the last of its kind, but am absolutely propelled and emboldened by the seemingly endless quantity of domestic and decorative linens in the world. When it comes to making that cut, this lessens the hesitation.
Another challenge is that of the hand. Because I learned to embroider and crochet at such a young age, then spent so many years in production and design for the clothing industry (9 of 12 years in custom bridal, starting when I was 17) my hand instinctively makes marks that are even and aligned. I fight this constantly and can tell when I’ve slipped into autopilot; it is a huge effort to remain loose and chaotic in order to achieve an emotional resonance with the handwork.
My process is definitely evolving. I’ve been drawn to the quilt form for a long time, probably because I have very little history with quilts; the women in my family were/are crocheters, knitters, embroiderers and weavers. The only quilt I inherited was a brittle crazy quilt top that came from a great, great aunt who made it after emigrating to Boston, then sent it to Sweden where it was ridiculed and put in a trunk for 50 years (this, according to my mother, who was a child at the time of its arrival). So I am drawn to the quilt form as a vessel for narrative, language, history, effort, thoughts, materials and the domestic role. Recently, however, I’ve been exploring other forms such as upholstery, felting and embroidery all as an attempt to house found objects that are completely unrelated to textiles such as bone, stone, hair and shell.
I’m so interested in narrative, and the next few larger works waiting in the wings are exploring the narrative of others, some of it fictional. I don’t want to sound like a lunatic when I say I hear voices,
but … I do.
This is our sixth year of boating in Prince William Sound, Alaska. For my youngest, this is all she's ever known. My son's Scandinavian name, Pelle, is our variation on the word "pelagic."
We are terrible fishermen and never catch a thing.
But we've found some things.
We found that when an eight-year-old boy stands at the terminus of a glacial stream surveying the styrofoam situation and tells you his "heart is breaking for all the animals," you'd better believe him.
And you'd better rise to the occasion -- as an adult with an industrial grade Hefty sack -- to help him do something about it.
Even though you didn't make that mess,
even though it isn't fair that you're cleaning it up,
we've found that somebody still needs to do the work.
And small hands count.
We found the insurmountable,
and reluctantly agreed to abandon it for someone else.
And found that there would be another seemingly insurmountable task yet to come,
and that the bigger stronger person was in fact, in our midst.
We found consensus in the term "seal killer"
and "poison meal."
And we're all in agreement that the styrofoam packing peanut is the worst thing ever invented. Ever.
Some of us sought and found risk,
We found new things, dammit, that we now have to be afraid of finding,
and things that weren't so interesting before, but suddenly are now.
We found that one could speculate all day,
but in the end,
it's best to just believe in the presence of fairies
and in aliens who need to be obliterated by laser beams.
We found that we can leave a place better than the way we discovered it.
And if we pour enough of our hearts into something, the most humble of gifts will feel like a great reward.
On this particular weekend, we hauled nearly 400 pounds of net, rope, garbage and beach-sorted recycling out of the Sound. If we did this every weekend for our entire lives, it still wouldn't make a dent in the thousands of miles of exposed Alaskan shoreline ... much of it remote and inaccessible. And it keeps coming -- the Pacific Gyre keeps spitting debris our way, Tsunami detritus is slowly entering these waters. But the thing that is changing is the way my children see the world -- I hear them screaming up and down the beach and into the shoreline woods: "Mama! Wait till you see what I FOUND!"
They are lookers, seekers, doers. Askers of the painful questions.
The living questions, like, "Wait ... don't we burn diesel to get out here?"
Crap. Yes, yes we do.
And while I don't have the solution to the larger problem, I do have a garbage sack ready for the one right in front of us.
* * *
I've never had a solo show before.
I've never seen all my work together in one space.
I've never had friends say, "I'll just fly down."
(You know, for, like, the day).
I didn't expect my family to take such ownership of the work.
I didn't realize how much they understood.
I didn't know if I could find the right words to give a talk to a roomful of people.
Or the grace to offer everything I had to all the solitary conversations.
What I do know is my sense of place -- as a woman, a mother, a maker, an Alaskan of 15 years -- and how it affects the way I see the world.
And I know that I am not alone in this phenomenon.
Some of it is the quality of Alaska, itself.
Some of it is because of the people I'm lucky enough to be surrounded by -- artists, thinkers, writers, creators, parents, people who value the built object and the vision to make it so. People with will. People who ask questions. People who will look you in the eye.
Many of them Pioneers in their own way,
who aren't afraid of the work of the work.
The following are portions of the Bunnell Street Arts Center's mission (the space, once an old trading post), which is excerpted from their website:
This gallery strives to help foster the arts and community by drawing the public in for celebrations of local and visiting talent and by showcasing the arts as a natural resource that grows through sharing. The vision of Bunnell Street Gallery is that by exposing the arts we can promote awareness of and questioning about what qualities are unique to Alaskan art and artists. This should be a dialogue between Alaskans, artists and visitors alike. We as individuals are not here to escape culture or live in the past, rather it is our vision that through the arts we manifest the dream of the pioneer in own lives. Journey, invention and discovery should be available to all through the arts. Alaska’s aesthetic beauty challenges us not to reproduce its image in our artwork but to match it with imagination and ambition of our own.
Once a hub of commerce for fisherfolk and homesteaders, a gathering place where one might sip coffee around the coal stove, the Old Inlet Trading Post lay derelict in the late 1980’s as Homer grew and new and larger specialty stores outpaced the Trading Post of the past. But, as the community of Homer has grown and changed, so has our commerce. Artists and art supporters here see that our current frontier is not these mountains and woods we admire daily, but the imagination this landscape provokes. Culture is the commerce of this day. The sense of community is maintained in a site for salvaging the creative outpourings of local folk. This is perhaps an innovate concept, a way in which Homer outpaces the fractured metropolis Outside. We have found our center.
We can all find our center.
We can redefine the commerce of this day.
And no matter where in the world we are, we can, and should, continue manifesting the dreams of Pioneers.
This work was made possible, in part, by a 2014 Artist Fellowship Award for Visual Arts from the Rasmuson Foundation. If you're interested in the history behind any of these textile pieces you could check out the Histories, Process or Embroidery headings on the side bar.
And if you're interested in Alaska, well, what are you waiting for?
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.