These are the penultimate Boxes of Mystery. These photos were taken in September and I hope this second-to-last group of contributors hasn't given up on me, thinking I wouldn't share the contents of the packages they took time to send all the way to Alaska. I have an excuse and it's 30 feet long, double sided. I also have 2 other excuses, they aren't nearly that big, eat a lot more and grow out of clothing faster than I can mend knee holes.
But, back to the business of Inheritance.
Possibly the Owens.
Thank you, Jill Isakson, for rescuing these hand made items and sending them my way. My daughter, age 8, has commandeered the red, green and yellow Christmas doilies after helping organize in my studio. Sometimes they are under the Christmas tree, other times under the cats. She's promised to return them to the "colorful doilies" bin, but I know her and she'll smuggle them in to the Christmas box come January's Holiday Dismantle. I hope you don't mind.
Something tells me you won't.
"... I believe they are from her mother’s side of the family, which would be the Owens. Wish I had more information...”
Continuing a Story.
Thank you, Denise Elaine Mongeau, for the heavy box of linens, wool tapestry needlepoints, the tiny hard bound needle case, the embroidered tea towels and all that pristine embroidery floss worthy of a 1940's sewing basket.
I'm sure there are very few of us who, at age 17, know what will be important to us 30 years on. It would be impossible. I'm honored to hold your mother's memory in my thoughts.
Make Mine Vanilla.
Last June, Marolyn Cook sent me an incredible collection of 33 linen handkerchiefs (these are documented in The 14th boxes of mystery). She has since sent this Clarks/J & P Coats instruction booklet, “Handkerchief Edgings” c. 1949.
There are a number of things I love about this:
First, the idea of crocheting the edging of my hankies is charming. It also bends my mind. Second, I think somebody in copyediting had a good time appealing to a certain woman at a certain point in time with those pattern titles. Third, all those stylized doodles along the tops of the pages -- an atomizer, kid gloves, a paint palette, a fan, a violin, an hourglass, a ribbon that says "dreamy" another "le billet doux" (love letter), a quiver with arrows and a heart -- tells me this isn't just the instruction book for edging your hankies, its the secret recipe for filling your hope chest.
So, that certain woman was perhaps a young woman.
Also, Iove that it cost 10 cents.
Spirit of My Heart.
Thank you, Tammy Hennessy, for sending this lovely parcel of linens from your mother's collection. I know that going through these items has been emotional and challenging.
Tammy first contacted me two years ago, after creating a painting inspired by one of my blog posts. At that time she was challenging herself to paint a portrait a day and my work inspired #70. You can see her work on her blog, The Seared Blue Hair Comment, an exploration of her artistic pursuits and all things that move her. She's also on Instagram as @myartofhearts. Her portraits are intense and have a way of burning into the viewer.
I know from our conversations it was important for Tammy to send some of her mother's things for this project, and that the relationship with her wasn't always easy. I, too, have linens made by women in my family who -- distance aside -- I rarely felt close with or understood by. But as many of us come to realize decades on, the love was there in the creating.
These items are part of Tammy's tangible inheritance, objects she spent over a year going through after her mother passed away.
"... I learned things about my mother that I never knew, really, and it was heartbreaking to me to discover how much we had in common, and how many things we both loved as much. I never knew this ... we never got to share those things together."
"... I have her entire sewing room."
This is the final post about the most recent piece of public art I completed. "Dragon Flight" was originally created in 2003 for the Samson-Dimond Branch Library in Anchorage, Alaska. At that time, it was a 15-foot long, double-sided triptych that divided a then-new computer lab and a story-time/programming room. In 2010, it was moved to the children's area of the larger Chugiak-Eagle River Library, and in 2014 I started the process of procuring funds to expand the textile work to fit this larger space and add a community art component. A team of us wrote grants, and in the end received funding through the Chugiak-Eagle River Foundation, the Anchorage Public Library and Friends of the Library. This part took time, but we were patient and gratitude filled.
And I got a little thicker skinned in the process.
The first blog post in this 3-part series, "How to wake a dragon," provides the more important history of the work, as it was originally created in memory of a young woman named Jessie Withrow, who was killed by a drunk driver while riding her bicycle on an Anchorage sidewalk.
Every day, I drive past the white ghost bicycle I believe is erected in her memory, right there near the corner of Northern Lights and Minnesota Boulevards in Anchorage.
I brush past her.
The second post in the series, "How to tend a dragon," gives insight into the process of working with this piece once it came down at the end of October (if you are interested in using fire retardant on textile works, you might want to read this), and ends with those ropes dangling in my entry way after I cut it down and loaded all 6 double-sided panels in my car for the 30-minute drive to Eagle River last week.
I'm a melancholic. And part of this personality assumes that everything that can go wrong, will. I was pretty sure my house was going to burn down during the between-time of completion and installation. I was pretty sure I'd get in a spinning, icy car accident delivering it. I could hear the twang! of a cable snapping as we hung it. But the most likely scenario involved dirt, so I wrapped it in 2mm plastic sheeting and didn't remove it until we were positive of the positioning.
In 2003, I'd enlisted my husband's mad scroll saw skills to cut out 3 different sizes of stars in 1/4" mdf, which I painted and hung all around the small room at the first branch library. I'd forgotten how many there were after all this time, but someone had saved the stack and they'd been sitting on a shelf in the storage room at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library since 2010. I was so excited to see them produced last week -- they may as well have been made of gold.
It took just under 3 hours to hang, with the help of Bill, the gruff, yet lovable library facilities manager, who brought his super ladder. I promised chocolate chip cookies for his help and made good by delivering them the next day (despite the fact I only had 1/4 cup of chocolate chips in the house and had to secretly chop up a bunch of the kids' hidden Halloween candy because there was no way I was going to the store at 9 pm).
On Saturday, Dec. 10, 50 of us gathered to celebrate and tell the story of the now 30-foot, double sided dragon while children ran between the stacks squinting and pointing as they looked for "their squares" on the reverse. Some were dismayed to not find them right away, but I promise they're all there.
I'm not the same person who made the dragon in 2003. As a mother now, I have a different sense of community and how vital it is to nurture. My children, who saw this piece for the first time in 2013, aren't the little pudgy-armed sillies who posed for this photo back then, either. They weren't at all interested in posing for photographs on Saturday, but they are the ones who helped and helped and helped with the community art part ... my daughter, now 8, must be responsible for at least 15 of those star-studded squares.
And when it comes to raising dragons, even the smallest ones, I'd say there are a few important things to pass on:
For example, I'd want a dragon to remember that everyone is always welcome at a table.
And that every one of us deserves to make a lasting mark, no matter how small or imperfect, because we all deserve to seek and live with beauty.
And yes, of course there are some things you absolutely can and should go back and change, even years later, with the intent to make better.
And you should do this every chance you get, because there are too damned many things in life we can't change, or fix, or make better, ever.
I'd also want a dragon to know that there are people you'll never meet who still have an enormous impact on your life.
And because of all this, gratitude should be the first emotion you lay on the table.
Other public art posts:
A month ago, I wrote a post about a current public art piece I've been finishing up. If you haven't read "How to wake a dragon," you could go do that right now.
Or, there's a warp-speed version here: I made a public art piece for a branch library in 2003, a double sided triptych textile dragon, 15 feet x 44". When the branch library closed in 2010, the really nice librarians rescued it and moved it to another, newer branch library. When I saw it in 2013 in the larger space, I realized it could be better. 2 years ago I wrote a proposal to refurbish it with a community art component. Wrote grants with librarians, got rejections, got funding. Spent October conducting community art workshops.
There is so much more to this project. The why of it. The fact that the original budget steered me to use thrift store clothing for the majority of the fabrics, and this decision not only made the piece so much richer and varied in the end, but set me on a course with my personal work that I adhere to today. I still look to old fabric; I would rather take something apart and make it better than it ever was. I'd rather not start with all new.
This mindset is limiting and restrictive. But in the words of my wise, once-first grader, who surprisingly mourned the loss of the confines of the kindergarten play yard at his little school: "I don't like recess anymore. I don't like first grade. I don't have any freedom, because ... because ... because there are no fences!"
Something to think about.
Meanwhile ... dragon tending.
Step 1: Bring your dragon home.
Step 2: Mend your dragon's wounds.
After vacuuming each panel, I took them apart and added stitching over top of several tulle sections that should have had this before. When the work was handled at some point, there were a number of snags in the more delicate fabric, so I covered the damage with more stars.
The snags probably happened during transport and re-installation in 2010. Frayed cable ends were the culprit, so I finished these with small shrink wrapped sleeves so it wouldn't happen again. The shrinkwrapping looked so nice I wanted to shrink wrap everything all around me. Mainly I just wanted to use the heat gun.
These cables drop the piece 18" below the sprinkler heads. This is code. If you are engaged in public art, you will need to know building code. Or consult with someone who does. Or marry an architect.
When dismantled, the six panels are 2 different sizes: 2 are 90" x 44" and 4 are 44" x 44". This is a function of the original installation. The biggest panels were a nightmare to get under my machine with all the 3-D scales and padded dragon forms, but my 22-year-old PFAFF -- as usual -- was a champ.
Step 3: Control your dragon's flame.
The other thing I needed to address at this point was fire retardant. The original piece hadn't ever been treated with anything other than Scotch Guard (which is why it was unbelievably clean), and this had started bothering me a few years after it was originally installed. I used a Fire Tect product purchased through Dharma called "Fire-poof," and used the sprayer they recommended. The product safety guidelines recommend ventilation, eye protection, and gloves.
I worked in my heated garage, but this fire retardant is corrosive when it comes into contact with metal, so I draped cabinets with plastic to protect everything from overspray. If you use this product, test a series of fabric swatches first. It beads on some fabrics so I back brushed and swabbed those areas to force the liquid to penetrate. Because it leaves white specks if the product does bead, I swabbed the entire thing until dragon and I were fully soaked.
Then I freaked out because it looked like a sopping mess and I was pretty sure I'd ruined the whole damned thing.
Step 4: Support your dragon.
The reverse panels are comprised of over 200 community-created, star-themed squares, either 5 1/2" x 5 1/2" or 11" x 11". Much of this fabric came from cotton or linen clothing and required interlining for each square and a full cotton backing for each large section. I invisibly back-stitched along each seam by hand to stabilize, so the panels are heavy and structural without being "quilted."
Just an aside: this is not a "quilt." It never was intended to be and it felt important to adhere to the banner-like intention it's always had, hence no visible "quilty" hand stitching. I don't know why I think it's important to say this, but, well, there it is.
Step 5: Wrangle your dragon.
The banner's edges were originally bound, which had a tricky maneuver at the top to allow for a slat with eyelets punching through button holes. The technique made it easy to square when first made in 2003, and despite the fact I still had plenty of unused blue cotton duck to do this again, I didn't want to. The binding would have broken up the community art and I wanted a cleaner finish overall.
I stabilized the inside edges with twill tape following exact measurements so nothing would stretch, then I matched panels and sewed them together. This sounds easy. It was not. The layered fabric was heavy, the original dragon had stretched after hanging for 13 years and wasn't square, my iron was dying. I was pretty sure I was going to match the wrong panels together, so the inside is covered with Sharpie arrows and notes and descriptions of what goes where.
Step 6: Suspend & protect your dragon.
I hung the finished panels in my entryway for about a week, then the night before delivery, we lowered the ropes and wrapped each panel in plastic (a brilliant move, which I'll share in the next post). This multi-day suspension allowed all the fibers to breathe and move and relax, while the weight of the inner slats encased at the bottom edge straightened everything.
Step 7: Cut your dragon's bonds.
Yesterday morning Brian helped me cut all the suspension ropes and load the car for the transport back the the Chugiak-Eagle River Library.
I was nervous.
Also, it was -2 degrees F outside.
* * *
I'll post soon about the installation and upcoming celebration, which is this Saturday, December 10 from 3-5 pm at the Chugiak-Eagle River Library. You're all invited, of course.
I hear there will be cookies.
Other posts about public art:
For related posts on this dragon, please see:
For other public art, please see:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.