How well do we know anyone, even people we see everyday?
And how can we possibly know people who've left us, especially if they never allowed us know them in the first place?
And then, the impossible task of knowing someone who remains unknown because history has failed to attribute her time, her marks.
We can gather our scraps.
We can pick through memory.
We can re-consider.
We can collaborate.
We can create a new mythology.
Last spring I received a Rasmuson Foundation project grant in support of the Inheritance Project. A portion of the grant allowed me to complete a special workshop series this fall at the Anchorage Museum; "Needle & Myth" was designed as five, 2-hour sessions for small work groups of artists, makers, museum members and the public, with a 6th session added at the end. The work generated in these work sessions will become a large community piece installed in May with the exhibition Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. My gratitude to the Rasmuson Foundation for the gift of time, to the Anchorage Museum for the gift of support and space.
I originally prepared 45 or 50 panels, we completed 80.
Over 70 people participated. My deepest gratitude goes to them.
I asked registrants to consider the following prompt before arriving: "She was ____." or "She is ____." This single word or short phrase was then embroidered onto a prepared panel, a linen handkerchief mounted on sheer silk organza. (I received around 85 hankies during the crowdsourcing portion of the Inheritance Project. One Contributor sent me her entire collection of 33). I also asked participants to bring a small, lightweight object, which we then mounted or embedded between the cloth layers. The sheer panels are numbered, and when hung together begin to form a more complete picture of a complex woman, of ourselves.
"...harlot, always making things beautiful, an artist mother, brave, powerful, powerless, rooted, tough as nails, sew much love, too attached, happiness, iguapaeterei, je brule, the matriarch, my only comfort, worth the time, unknown, clever, a weather pattern..."
When was the last time you spent a full two hours considering a handful of words? Hand stitching forces you to slow and consider a needle's placement to achieve a certain curve or line, but this is a small technical thing. What I hoped this project would do was create a 2-hour space to honor memory -- some of it pleasant, some of it painful.
Five men attended. And two children. Six languages are represented.
When one woman told the story of her beautiful mother's two abusive marriages, the entire room fell silent. When another woman shared her mother-in-law's journey from China to Peru to the US with 10 children in tow, the same thing happened. And again, when a woman explained how she'd created the panel for herself, her mother-in-law and the four babies they'd lost. When another woman furtively shared that her mother sometimes stole things, "maybe just a little," we laughed, but then retreated inwards to consider this. Not to judge, but consider. Because aren't we all guilty?
And aren't we -- aren't women -- all worthy of awe?
The safety of a space like this is generated when a task is on the table. No one has to make eye contact with storytellers, no one has to respond directly. There is a reason why the tradition of gathering for handwork has remained so strong for generations.
After the workshops, one of the participants sent a link to this TED Talk. It put a lot of things into perspective and gave a broader language for what I was, and am, trying to do. Perhaps it explains why so many people came, sometimes more than once, to such quiet gatherings.
I'm now in the process of finishing: taking up the stitches left undone, considering the panel order, planning their mount. I've been asked many times if this will be a quilt. It will not. I can tell you it will suspend and hope viewers will be able to journey around each piece, because the messy b-sides are just as valid as all those pretty facades.
Maybe more so.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
Three years ago on this blog:
My lovely friend from France, Aude Franjou, sent this message to me today:
Dear Amy, I have read again your Instagram post of yesterday, and you looks so sad and lonely at this moment (...) I really hope every thing are for you, yours children and husband all right...no bad news?...no trouble?...
And while I had written an off-hand comment on Instagram about feeling lonely in my studio life, what she really saw -- if there was anything to see in this photo my daughter took -- was me grimacing while I worked, the crinkle in my forehead deepening, because for the last 3 weeks I've been in horrible pain.
When I was nine, I broke my two front teeth in an accident at a friend's house, and when I say it's the gift that keeps on giving, I'm dead f-ing serious. Most recently, my beautiful 10-year-old-finally-I-was-at-a-place-in-my-life-where-I-could-afford-it veneer on one tooth exploded, leaving me with a horizontal crack millimeters away from meeting in the middle and maybe/probably sloughing off. Like, you know, while you're on vacation. Did you know there are a number of dentists in Lihue, Kauai who specialize in dental emergencies? There are. I programmed their numbers into my phone before we left Alaska, but I never had to use them.
I talked about memory in another post called A History of teeth. How it is fleeting. Reshaped again and again. But going through this at 45 -- the shots (were there 3? or 4?) having my veneer and the crown beside it pried off, cracking and splintering, filling my mouth with shards and exposing the brown nubs beneath, then wearing a one-piece-double-tooth temporary affair, much like a rabbit tooth a few shades too white for two weeks while the "real" crowns were created -- it all returned me to my 9-year-old self.
Vulnerable. Wanting to hide. Unable to sleep.
And reminded me how the body, how pain, holds memory.
We've discovered that what remains of one tooth has a fracture disappearing beneath my gum, leading into the root. I may have 10 more years with this stub, or 20, or a handful of weeks. My dentist said if I feel intense pain ("You will know..."), we can't opt for a root canal on such a fragile shard, that it would be better to take it out completely.
A dental implant is a process, involving a number of frightening steps, and time. Suffering.
But for now, I have two new crowns. Lovely, ever so slightly different from the former, flatter on the bottom, a little too perfect, with a different curve along the backside that I can't keep my tongue off of. They are an unknown maker's idea of what my teeth should look like. This hand different from the one who fashioned them 10 years ago. Different still from what my natural teeth would have been like, if given the chance.
Working along the ghosts of women, other unknown makers whose cloth I use in my own work, makes me think a lot about the luxuries I have, as a woman, which they did not. 100 years ago, I would have broken my teeth at age nine and they would have remained that way, turning brown, decaying and eventually pulled due to infection. And I would have screamed for them to please pull the teeth, because this was the place I was in just 48 hours ago, before I returned to my dentist with my molded night guard mouth piece (I'm a clencher), which didn't fit the new crowns, and a plea for pain killers to take the edge off the ice pick that had lodged in my gums and was now probing my sinuses and reaching molars.
I'm not a pussy. I have a ridiculously high pain threshold. I had two natural childbirths, the second was frank breach. That's right. I delivered a frank breach daughter, the effect of crowning twice, with no pain medication, an anesthesiologist standing by in an operating room filled with flustered nurses and about 20 other people who'd never seen an actual frank breach delivery, also my husband, my midwife, a good doctor-friend and a perinatologist who was a BAD ASS, who'd done deliveries like this before and used her entire body to corkscrew that girl out of me in one elegant movement that my husband still demonstrates for friends. Ask him. He'll do it.
Did I mention I also had an undiagnosed 12 mm herniated disk in L5 at the same time, and my foot had gone numb 2 weeks before she was born?
It's still numb because I have permanent nerve damage.
The threshold. It's high.
This is not a good thing.
But this time, I was ready to ask the dentist to pull it. Pull. It.
Within 36 hours of taking antibiotics, it's now become clear I had an infection. That exposed crack a conduit for whatever bacteria wormed its way deep inside the root.
And isn't that the way? How pain starts as something humming with each heartbeat, then a pulsing hot throb and finally a snap of unspooled threads reaching far beyond the epicenter? And when relief comes, if it comes, it settles like an animal at your feet. Blinking and sighing.
So, Dear Aude, thank you for asking. I am fine.
I am fine now.
If you are interested in a sometimes-newsletter (I just sent out my first one even though I've been talking about it for over a year), please visit the contact page. I'm kind of excited by how many people subscribed already. Okay, blown away actually.
If you have subscribed and didn't receive a newsletter last week with exhibition and Inheritance Project updates (shit's happening, some of it I can't even tell you about yet), please check your spam filter and mark me as non-spammy. Because, I'm not. Nothing makes me feel better than an empty inbox.
Well, other things make me feel pretty good, too.
“I hold with those who favor fire.
I'm going through photographs, sorting them into themes -- Fire, Ice, Blood & Bone. These images and words pull me into contemplation for the work that lies ahead. Some of it is literal, but the deeper work is personal. This far North, at this time of year, I descend into myself. Every time.
It's a seizing, clamping rhythm.
But it's seriously productive.
Most of these images are somewhere in my Instagram feed. Follow if you're hanging out there, too.
The image above was taken around the Summer Solstice. Where I am in Anchorage, Alaska, the sun rises at 4:20 am and sets around 11:40 pm -- almost 19 1/2 hours of daylight. Children ride bikes and scooters and play until 10 pm (not mine, well, not always). Gardeners push till 11 pm. Before kids, we used to pitch a tent at midnight without headlamps and manically wonder why we didn't do this more often.
And then mid-July hits.
Which in my house is called the "Cranky Season," a close second to February, which is "The Really Cranky Season." During "Cranky" we start thinking about darkness and how lovely it would be to crawl into bed at 8:30 pm without an eye mask, wrapped in a cloak of deep blackness. Overcoming "Really Cranky" requires more desperate measures, which usually involves 10,000 IUs of Vitamin D, Mexico and far less clothing.
If you've been following this blog, you know about the Inheritance Project and the amazing items that have traveled to me here in Alaska from people all over the world. The generous nature of this outpouring says so much about women and memory and the making hand. These are the materials and narratives that will inform a solo exhibition called Inheritance: makers. memory. myth. slated for the fall of 2018 at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. I've been inheriting items for nearly a year.
Here are the 14th Boxes of Mystery:
33 Problems and a Hankie Ain't One.
Thank you Marolyn Cook for sending 33 delicately crochet-edged linen hankies for the Inheritance Project. These are buttery soft, apparently never used, and while it's unclear whether the same hand made them all, the edges run the gamut from butterfly to Crinoline Lady. (I know the "Crinoline Lady" is a thing because Marolyn sent a pattern book circa 1949 with just such a title).
Marolyn loves handmade items, has sewn all her life and formerly made sample pieces for a needle art company. Her gaze has since turned to rug hooking and waxed linen basket coiling. She collected these hankies over the last 20 years, like many of us, recognizing the quality yet unsure of how best to use them.
I have some ideas.
My gratitude goes to Victoria BC- and Princeton-based artist, Diana Weymar for sending her grandmother's handwork. I know Diana as a curator, artist and writer; last year she invited me to participate in a textile-based show she curated at the Arts Council of Princeton ("Every Fiber of My Being" coincided with her artist residency there). Our cyber paths crossed again when the Gynocentric Art Gallery (The GAG) asked me to write a companion essay to Diana's online show. (You can read an excerpt of that here, or the full essay and full set of images here).
Although Diana and I haven't met in person, we've spoken on the phone and maintain a yes-let's-meet-we-will-meet-when-can-we-someday-meet relationship like so many others born online through image, words and the intensity of making.
Diana recently sent several needlepoint embroideries made by her grandmother, Roxana Keller Brakeley:
I appreciate your time, Diana. And we will meet. We will.
Very Important Household Projects.
Thank you Michelle P. for sending these lovely crocheted potholders. According to my studio assistant, the little dresses have become more ubiquitous around here ("Mom, did you know you have 6 of these!?"). The other thoughtful gesture is the inclusion of a 1968 Coats & Clark's pattern book. For 35 cents, you too, could fill your home with charming decor and your closets with enviable accessories, all seemingly whipped out in an evening.
All I have to say is -- "Ring Hot Plate Mat" aside -- if you appreciate my sense of humor, you can't go wrong with the "Leper Bandage" pattern and instructions. You'll note that Coats & Clark's did not include a sample of this project on the cover of the booklet. Curious. Nor is there an address included as to where to send completed bandages.
Ha! And you thought crowdsourcing was a new thing.
* * *
If you've contacted me already regarding the Inheritance Project -- or have been meaning to -- I'm accepting items for a little while still. I plan to wrap it up around the one year mark (soon) or 20th Boxes of Mystery post, whichever works out best. To read more about this domestic linen/doily/embroidery crowdsourcing effort, you can click on the sidebar categories Boxes of Mystery or Inheritance Project and scroll down to see more.
My gratitude goes to all who've contributed and encouraged. My work is hinged on the work of other women, past and present, and this is not lost on me.
I was recently contacted by the Gynocentric Art Gallery (The GAG, "A gallery that values the brain and cuts the bias") to write a companion essay for the online exhibition of Diana Weymar's recent textile-based work. The GAG is the project of Danielle Hogan, the founding director, who is currently presenting a talk about this project in Barcelona, Spain. My thanks to her for asking me to respond to Diana's work.
I've collaborated with these two women before in the exhibition "Every Fiber of My Being" at the Paul Robeson Gallery at the Arts Council of Princeton, and while I've never met either of them, I connect with their work and writing. Collaborating again felt like a series of streams converging before splitting apart again -- natural, intense, a churn of minerals and distance traveled all melding to create a brand new moment.
Excerpts of the essay are below, and you can read the full essay plus see Diana's exhibition here. I am always considering landscape in my own work and what someone recently described as "insistent work." The idea that the two are connected has been brewing for some time and this essay was an opportunity to grow some flesh on those bones. Diana's thoughts on land and insistence are featured in italics. It's like we were having a conversation face to face, but if we had, we'd have interrupted one another too many times.
Then of course, there'd have been the wine.
The Pull of the Needle:
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.