I've received some exciting news in the last month or so -- my application for a solo show at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau has been accepted! This new museum (on the site of the previous one -- some say it "swallowed the old museum" -- but in a good way) combined with the State Archives and cut the ribbon last May. "Inheritance: makers. memory. myth" will be installed November 2018 after showing at the Anchorage Museum May - Sept. 2018. This traveling exhibition will be the body of work created from a year's worth of gathering, collecting, inheriting old cloth and domestic linens from contributors all over the world. I'm now turning my attention out of state for 2019. Maybe it will come to a location near you?
But wait. I have to make the work first. And before I do that, I have to finish a dragon.
Which is why I stopped accepting contributions to the Inheritance Project on September 30, 2016. But then why am I still blogging about them? Because I have SO MANY Boxes of Mystery still to share! This group of items below came to me around the end of August when the days were much longer in Alaska and we weren't turning our faces to the sky seeking snow.
Blue envelope of mystery.
Many of you probably already know, or at least know the work of, Kathleen Probst. If you don't, you should click on that link. Her work is immediately recognizable, arresting and beautiful in its skill and simplicity. I know she was scrambling to finish a submission to a big show the week she sent this to me (because I follow her on Instagram and we sometimes get way chatty), so I'm honored she took the time to send me an Envelope of Mystery. She's a busy woman: artist, teacher, mom.
I so get it.
Thank you Kathleen for the sweet handkerchiefs. She writes:
"My grandparents, Marian Inman (1904 - 1987) and Charles Inman (1891 - 1975) both carried handkerchiefs their entire lives. These were found in the their Cooperstown home after my grandmother died. They were both teachers in Brooklyn, NY. that is how they met. My grandmother was not one to knit or sew (or even bake for that matter). These handkerchiefs have probably found their way to countless libraries, golf courses and trips both across the country and abroad. These everyday items wear the lives of my grandparents."
Kathleen and I have spoken on the phone, but not in person. Soon, though, right? You, too, can follow Kathleen on Instagram: @mod_in_your_eye.
And THAT is a brilliant handle, right up there with "Rubber Duck." (Yes, I'm a child of the '70's)
Thank you Ann Duggan for sending such beautiful old cloth from Ireland. If I remember correctly, Ann was visiting Homer, Alaska and saw my work in the Bunnell Street Arts Center gallery and our correspondence continued when she returned home. The pieces she sent have come via the Sherwood Family (her grandfather was one of the boys at 7 Parnell Street, Wexford) and from a neighboring house's Miss Doyle (no. 3 Richmond Terrace, Spawell Road). Miss Doyle never married and when she died Ann discovered a house full of beautiful linens, china and silver all headed to the dump.
This is a common story many of us seem to share, with various levels and facets of participation -- from exasperated runs to the dump to pawing through items destined for that place.
It's complicated, isn't it?
Many thanks to LeeAnn Bartolini, who sent work (and photographs!) from her French paternal grandmother, Juliette Delaverhne Bartolini and her Mexican maternal great-grandmother, Eugenia Cabrera Ryan. What a beautiful legacy.
The piece below was also made by Juliette. Lee Ann pinned a note on it, which read, "I have no idea how she did this." Ahh, but I do. The last image is from the flip side. The cording is machine made, then manipulated and held in place with fine stitches and knot work that slips beneath the satin cord and emerges at the next point of connection. She may have had a paper template to work on. If anyone knows the name of this kind of work, I'd love to hear what it is and/or the origins of such a thing.
My deep gratitude to these contributors as well as the contributors still waiting to have their items shared here in this space. Please know that I take my time with each of these things because I know the contributors did as well. I will skip a week of posting rather than dash off a piece of writing just to get it out there.
This attitude doesn't make me a good blogger, but it does make an amazing archive. If you would like to see a list of all the contributors, makers and the full set of posts so far, please click here and scroll down.
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The summer of 2003: I was between children's book illustration jobs, doing a swell job of simultaneously fretting about and ignoring my creative writing MFA thesis ("Hey look, I should teach myself how to knit..."), hauling my husband from one fika to another while visiting as many aging family members as possible in a 3-week trip to Sweden, and somewhere in there I was commissioned to make a really big dragon.
The work hung in the Samson-Dimond Branch Library in Anchorage, Alaska for 7 years, until budget cuts closed that space. Luckily, a manager for a library 20 miles away in Eagle River knew about the dragon banner and personally relocated it to the Chugiak-Eagle River Library where it's hung for 6 years in the children's area.
This public art installation was designed as a double-sided triptych, 15 feet long, made with cotton, wool, recycled clothing and various commercial fabrics. The original location was tight -- the tail faced a small new computer lab and the head faced the program/story time area. The suspended panels fit above computer stations and between small columns.
The work honors a young woman named Jessie Withrow who was killed by a drunk driver while riding her bicycle on an Anchorage sidewalk. She loved the library and fantasy books, so we made a dragon for her. When that little library closed, a piece this large could have disappeared forever into storage.
That is the short history of a multi-layered, important story, which involves a lot of people, their support and a willingness to hang on to memory.
Sometimes the very best stories go to sleep for a while, when they have a cozy place to dream. They probably deserve that rest.
But then something wakes them up.
And here's where this piece of artwork rises, after many years, to becomes a story again.
In 2014 I approached the library with some questions -- was there any interest in re-configuring this piece to better fit this new space? If it became a 6-panel, 30-foot dragon...would the library support an expansion like this? And what if we pulled together as many library users as possible -- children, moms, dads, grandparents -- to help make the reverse panels in a multi-step community art project?
What if we unfurled this whole story so it soared over the top of the entire children's section? What if we invited people to be a part of this kind of magic? Would they come? Could we teach them a new skill they could also do at home?
It took 2 years of grant writing, but the "Dragon Flight" project took wing and this month we started a series of community art workshops to create the reverse panels. If any of you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you've probably seen some of the images from these workshops and my studio ... and not a whole lot else. Even the Inheritance Project has been put on hold.
I've never used Wonder Under before. I'm not a super star stitching with monofilament thread (but I've gotten pretty good). And releasing 200 pre-cut squares to eager hands who've never done this kind of work before has been serendipitous and fulfilling.
The third and final "Sky Full of Stars" workshop is on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 3 - 5 pm at the Chugiak Eagle-RiverLibrary. The large workspace is in the back of the children's area (you get to walk beneath the current dragon to get there). At the end of the month, the dragon banner will come down and I'll take it apart. All 6 new double-sided panels will be installed before Christmas, 2016. More on that to come in a future post.
Dragon on the front, party on the back.
My immense gratitude to the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation, Friends of the Library and the Anchorage Library Foundation and to all the hands who've made this project possible. I'd like to thank fellow SAQA regional co-representative, Maria Shell, for posting about her experience working with a community on a large-scale textile art project. I'm not going to lie, I learned a lot from her post and you will, too.
Lastly, my heart extends to the family of Jessie Withrow, lover of libraries, reader of books, vessel for deep imagination. Muse.
Other posts about public art:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.