"No object is mysterious. The mystery is your eye."
A woman I have never met, who I know appreciates fine cloth and good gin and is an extraordinary book binder, has sent a box from England to the darkness of Alaska, knowing that the contents will be appreciated.
How can this trust exist? Perhaps this is the biggest mystery of all.
I contacted Kate Bowles over a year ago -- I'm not even sure why, maybe just to say, "I love your work" -- and we've kindled a small relationship based on common interests and a kindred spirit of appreciation for the old linens, mending and handwork. I participated in a blog hop last year and she was one of the artists I passed the hop onto. In response to an online request I recently made, she contributed items that she doesn't need or want, has tidied up her cupboards, and inserted some excitement into a cold, dark northern afternoon.
Many of these doilies are likely Scottish in origin. I'd like a magnifying glass for some of the work because it's so fine, the gauge much smaller than the pieces that have come from my own family.
Kate said doilies make excellent kindling. She said this twice, but I'm going to assume she doesn't know about this first hand. We did find some fantastic things to do with these doilies right away and still managed to warm up the house without setting anything on fire.
Kate's work* was recently featured in Claire Wellesley-Smith's book Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art. This book highlights work by a number of textile artists I greatly admire, and if you haven't picked up a copy for yourself, you probably should (or at least have a frank conversation with Santa).
If the eye holds mystery and objects do not (as Elizabeth Bowen claims in the quote above), then my eyes hold and look for mystery everywhere. I want to know about other makers, current and past, and see evidence of their lives in the items they've created. Much of the current generation doesn't hold these items in high esteem. They are seen as garish, frilly or vestiges of a time when women's heads were bowed and their thoughts silenced, buried and stabbed into these time-consuming symbols of domesticity and uselessness; but look past this and know the great beauty is in the intent. As a contemporary maker, my own intent is to gather this energy and channel these voices into new work. To this end, I'm gathering the unwanted, the discarded and obsolete and giving them all a voice, honoring as much history as I can, even if their history is labeled "unknown."
If you are curious about this work, or have toyed with the idea of setting fire to your own mass of burdensome domestic linens, you can contact me and I'll send more information on what I'm seeking and how to cathartically contribute.
If you think this is insane and you'd rather sit back and watch all this unfold, that's super, too. Just know that while we light plenty of fires around here, none of these boxes of mystery will find themselves in the box of kindling.
“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
I recently heard/read that if you tell someone what your goals are, chances are that you are less likely to reach them. I'd love to document where I heard/read this, but I was probably burning the crap out of dinner while listening to NPR and didn't take notes. Based on this research though, the idea is that when we share goals with others, the brain is tricked into thinking we've already achieved them and are therefore less motivated to do the work it takes to actually see them through.
So you can understand why I hesitate to share something with you.
And you can also understand, perhaps, why I feel like I first need to drop some credentials here so you trust my capabilities as they relate to this project I'm about to divulge.
Like, how I used to be a pattern maker and still have some interesting tools.
And how I'm a little rusty, but those mad skills, man, they're all coming back to me.
Or that I've had the same sewing machine for 21 years and I'm a pretty good sewer. That's sewer, not sewer.
Also the part when an idea is my idea, I'm like some kind of pit bull.
I also appreciate high quality abandoned textiles and the handmade.
Right. Never mind. You knew that already.
I also love language and stories and voice, and believe old things have a lot to say, especially about the women makers who couldn't or wouldn't say what they needed to say, instead burying their pain or anger or fear with each stab of needle or hook.
I also believe in de-cluttering, re-using, mending, re-thinking and sharing knowledge so more people have the skills to do this.
Here's the goal:
An installation of up to 1,000 of these sculptural voices and a collection of the language that accompanies them, the makers, the origins, the details to give these unwanted items the voices they deserve.
Here's the reality:
I'd be happy with 50, but 1,000 is an awesome goal.
Here's another reality:
I probably currently have enough of the right vintage textiles to make 100-150.
Here's more reality:
I don't have a place to show 1,000 of these, but I'm working on that. Also, I'd love to say I have a grant to procure all of these vintage "grytlappar," "pan rests," and "lurid doilies" plus shipping costs to Alaska, but I do not right now. Also, I will be working on all of this for a very long time.
But, maybe you have these things and maybe they were given to you and you are storing them and "saving the best for never." Or maybe you saw them in a garage sale/flea market/thrift store and you recognized them as high-quality workmanship and just couldn't walk away so you've brought them home and now you're asking yourself why in the world you would have done such a thing. Maybe you've already used some for kindling as one friend has. If this sounds familiar, if you are interested in passing them on and your children/grandchildren do not want them (ask first), I'm happy to reverently and skillfully assist extending their lives within a whole chorus of voices.
Think about it for a little while. If you decide you would like to achieve Contributor Status within this project, I'm looking for the following:
1.) CLEAN (stains, ok) vintage embroidered domestic linens.
2.) Fancy clean, cotton crocheted potholders/mitts/grytlappar/pan rests. Someone offered to make new ones...such a lovely gesture, but no. This defeats the purpose of this project. I am only looking for older and unwanted.
3.) Doilies in various sizes.
4.) Unwanted/abandoned/unfinished cross-stitch, needlepoint, or embroidery.
5.) Any indication of the origins of these items. This could be as specific as "Dear Aunt Matilda from Las Vegas, 1920's", or as broad as "Alabama", or simply "Unknown." I plan to indicate at the very least where the items were found by contributors.
I will be blogging about the process and some of you are already familiar with the boxes of mystery that have already arrived here in Alaska (box 1 and box 2); they have been great catalysts for this project. Box 3 has already come and I will post about this next week. The women who have sent items to me have found joy and catharsis in the process and perhaps you will too.
Please contact me here for a shipping address or to ask other questions.
Just think about how much space you'll have. Just think about my poor husband being assaulted by a laundry room full of ... hang on -- is that lingerie? ... doilies when he comes home at the end of the day.
Then imagine a 50-foot wall of these, or some version thereof.
But I did not tell you my goal, right? Shhhh ... we're keeping it a secret from my brain so it understands that all this really hard work still lies ahead. Shhh ... see, it's listening to NPR and burning dinner and totally oblivious to us.
You can follow along on Instagram if you'd like: @amymeissnerartist, hashtag #inheritanceproject and #boxesofmystery
"Mama, your boobies are low and my boobies are high ...
I taped this quote to the mirror in my studio 5 years ago and I look at it every day. It makes me laugh.
Ask a woman what she wishes were different about her body and she will tell you: a less jiggly rear, bigger/smaller boobs, longer legs, thinner arms, a flatter stomach, pretty knees ...
Ask children this same question and they will be brutally honest about their wants. They will look you in the eye and answer:
Eyes that can see all the way to the other side of the earth.
Fingernails colored red-pink-yellow, red-pink-yellow.
A permanently attached spy kit. Right here.
Ask people what they wish were different about their lives, and many will say: More time.
And different about the world? More peace.
I'd say this, too.
Below are images* from this last month, during which I've tried to make time and tried to be peaceful.
I'll be writing soon about a maybe-big project I'm all fired up about, and will (gulp) ask for something I'd like to have, but I need to focus on that ask and get my thoughts straight first.
(Maybe you'll discover you have this something and would very much like to get rid of it -- No, no, no, it's not a jiggly rear, I already have one of those. Geez, people).
I'm looking for some specific old things, and I'll be giving them a voice. You could help if you'd like. More on that to come.
Meanwhile, it is 3 degrees Fahrenheit in Anchorage.
*If any of you are on Instagram, I'm @amymeissnerartist, where I post daily.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.