I know, I know. I said I was finished gathering unwanted textiles.
While I'm not "officially" accepting more contributions to the Inheritance Project, I'm not saying "no," either. If someone sees value in my work, would like me to be the final inheritor of a rescued or abandoned piece of cloth, is willing to take the time to send something to me here in Alaska, share what they know about the object, start a conversation and a relationship and maybe have a cathartic experience in the process...I'm not going to stop that person. No way, no how.
The Stripper Jacket.
I love meeting other artists online. It's been an incredible way for someone really far away (me) to gather folks around her who have the same goals, material questions and focus. Meeting Carol Larson in this ethereal way was one thing, but meeting her in person at Quilt National 2017 took it to a whole new level. Not only did Carol and I travel together, share a room and many meals in Athens, Ohio, but we also became temporarily lost driving out to Nancy Crow's studio for a visit (this was resolved with a quick call to Judy Martin, who assured us that we were off by one rural driveway). With all the driving and sometimes lost-ness, I think the two of us managed to discuss everything from children, to aging, to politics, to personal history, to clothing to business. I think we spent a total of 5 minutes talking about art, itself.
A few months ago, Carol sent me "a stripper jacket," an article of unknown origin she'd located in a drawer. It was carefully wrapped in tissue, clearly cared for at one point, by someone.
The evening jacket (it's not actually a stripper jacket...although, how would I know this?) is a frothy concoction of fragile mesh, embroidery and soutache braid. The center back is damaged and the bottom edge indicates it was separated from something at some point. I entertained the idea of wearing it to the Quilt National opening, but I settled for wearing it out on my deck instead. It doesn't really fit.
Carol's piece, "No Means No," part of her "Defining Moments" series, was selected for the 20th Quilt National Biennial. She delivered an eloquent, poised statement about the personal history embedded in this piece, with a bravery that comes from a life lived and decades of separation from a single moment, despite a smoldering anger. Those embers flared while she built this piece and followed Brock Turner's 2016 lenient rape sentence. She drove that narrative into this provocative work.
I was so happy to spend time with this lady.
About 110 years old...could be...
Ann McNeely is a family friend and part of "The Lunch Bunch," a group of women my mom has met with monthly for years. I've only attended a Lunch Bunch once, several years ago, and it was a scream. Presents arrive in tissue stuffed bags for whomever has a birthday that month, my mom always bakes for everyone during the holidays, they exchange jam or chocolate. These women were incredibly generous when I had my first baby, and continue to share their hearts with one another.
This unfinished quilt top, made by Ann's grandmother, is a continuation of this generosity.
I love that this quilt is made from fabric samples, and yes, it's possible there are portions that are over 100 years old, but there are also fabrics that have a 50's or 60's vibe. Which tells me Grandma Ruth picked this up and put it down for decades. Decades. And it's enormous, well on its way to fitting a queen-sized bed. Each of those hexagons is sewn together by hand.
I'm honored and blown away to receive such a labor of love. Thank you.
One year ago on this blog:
Two years ago on this blog:
“How to write a sex scene:
I don’t remember completing the sex scene writing assignment. And despite ripping apart my file drawers, I couldn’t find my original notes (neither could my former professor, Jo-Ann Mapson, when I asked her for them over a decade after giving that lecture and assignment — no, we cobbled this list together a few weeks ago based on what we both recalled). And I never wrote a novel, even though I started one and abandoned it after 200 pages.
Nearly every writer has to come to terms with the sex scene, because if your characters are alive, they’re having — or at least thinking about having — sex. It's true. You’ll have to describe it if you want believable characters. The point of Jo-Ann’s lecture was this: make sure the style of the scene is indicative of the type of story you are writing.
Years later, she would send me an old yellow quilt -- not particularly well put together, not loved or cared for, but obviously used hard. Maybe like the unknown woman who made it, or laid beneath.
And it -- she -- spoke to me.
"Fatigue Threshold," made from that quilt, is my sex scene.
I can’t define the style. It’s hard core, but metaphoric. It’s specific, but oblique. Like the construction of the final piece, the style is layered.
But I can tell you this much: it was terrifying to create.
Not the slicing, or the construction or the use of fragile fabrics. Not the time I knew it would take, or all the ways it could go wrong. Not the technical finessing of a sheer border element, or the handwork.
No. What terrified me was releasing the work into the world and having people assume this character, this actual narrative, was mine.
I don't know why this bothered me so much. It happens to fiction writers all the time — readers assume a writer’s characters are autobiographical, and sometimes they are, but most of the time they aren’t, or at least wholly aren’t. Something similar happens with film actors and the roles they portray. It’s difficult to separate the maker from the made.
For me, the distilled quality of a piece and the choice to make what I make, relies on emotional truth.
Emotional truth is the reason why some non-fiction is better represented as fiction, and why some authors will complete one narrative only to repeat it in another genre (think Alice Sebold).
Sometimes the literal truth is too close to the surface of an idea, and it’s better to poke and prod at that fire from a distance, circling from a point where you watch all the sparks disappear into the night. You sense the full scope of flame. You see how it lights up the surrounding foliage.
Stand too close to a fire, and you blister your boots.
I thought about Amelia a lot while I worked on this piece. I considered the triangular bit of crocheted tablecloth Helen sent me for the Inheritance Project, that washing-machine-bleach-ruined scrap of a once larger work Amelia had made while incarcerated. I thought about calling the piece “Amelia.” I wanted to embed her crochet into the layers. I wanted to tell her story, or it’s myth. But I did none of these things, because every time I sidled up to the flames with my purposeful stick, I singed my arm hair. Amelia’s specific story was not only not my story, but I couldn’t even see what the story was while standing right on top of it.
So I found a longer stick, and I duct taped another stick to that one, and I whacked the coals from my vantage point somewhere in the trees until I saw the moment, that spark rising and becoming the wisp of a path to the emotional truth: a woman’s breaking point.
Her fatigue threshold.
“In the study of materials — iron, steel, wood, plastic — fatigue refers to a component’s failure after repeated and excessive loads. It is the crumpled beam, the snapped lever, the bowed wall. This piece explores the landscape of women’s work through the use of abandoned cloth, the female form and traditional handwork, to portray the moment before collapse. The burdens are emotional, physical, sexual, literal. We hoard, we discard, we mend, we make do because despite our destruction, some scrap of beauty can always be salvaged.”
"Fatigue Threshold" is about sex. It’s about abuse. It’s about a moment. It’s about a lifetime. It’s about one woman. It’s about all women. It’s about the monotony of tasks and burdens and the domestic realm and exhaustion and birth and life and despair and the slow death of something once precious.
And it is, to me, incredibly beautiful.
Working with old linens is tricky, because focusing on their beauty alone feels nostalgic. The alternative is to destroy them, but that feels self-indulgent and pointless to the work I’m trying to achieve.
I will always strive to balance the beautiful and terrible. It’s hard, and it’s always on my mind.
I’m one of 85 artists accepted into Quilt National 2017. I’ve never submitted before, but I have 3 hardcover catalogs dating back to 2011, so I’ve been following the exhibition for a long time.
I recently traveled to Athens, Ohio for the exhibition’s opening. I’m incredibly honored to show with such a talented group of artists.
The work will travel until September 2019, so I won’t have this piece for my solo exhibition, which is a shame since it’s an important component to the Inheritance Project. But more people will see it this way, and hopefully they’ll be moved. Maybe they’ll contact me.
If I had to write that sex scene now, at 45 instead of 31 or 32 years old when it was originally assigned, I’d opt for balance. Some raunch, some metaphor, some matter-of-fact language.
Zero cute names.
And I'd do the assignment.
Elsewhere on this blog:
As an artist living in Alaska, I face some challenges.
But. As an Alaskan of over 16 years, I consider myself one among a resilient, capable, hearty -- sometimes a little scrappy -- population, solving problems with duct tape and slip knots and a freezer full of moose meat and last year's salmon. We're those people who, when told they can't do something, go god-damned do it anyway. Sometimes with a back hoe.
But I'll tell you right now, all scrappiness aside, what sets the tone for art and artists in Alaska is the class act support of the Rasmuson Foundation. In 2016, they awarded $14.6 million dollars in grants spread across various programs -- from environment and research, to arts, culture, humanities and organizational development.
(You can learn more about the history of the Rasmuson Foundation here.)
In your artistic search for nation-wide grant opportunities, perhaps you've noticed there aren't many individual artist awards out there, and this is a shame. Because we need them. Not because we're lazy, or don't want to work (do you know any artists who don't work their asses off?) or because we're asking for a hand out. We need support for the same reason artists for centuries have needed support -- because there is rarely a price appropriate for creativity, and it's easier to breathe when someone's hand is resting on your shoulder.
This year, 450 Alaskan artists applied for this type of individual artist award through the Rasmuson Foundation and 35 artists received them. I'm beyond honored to say I was one of those artists, receiving a $7500 Individual Artist Project Award in support of the Inheritance Project. This year's $18,000 Fellowships fell into the disciplinary categories of Choreography, Crafts, Folk & Traditional Arts, Literary Arts/Scriptworks & Performance Art. While a number of good friends received Fellowships (and Project Awards, too), I was thrilled three of us happened to also be members of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA). This trio includes Maria Shell and Beth Blankenship and me.
So, not only were we honored for our work as artists, we were honored for work as textile artists.
I'm incredibly grateful and blown away by the support I've received for the Inheritance Project -- strangers, friends, the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska State Museum, the Sustainable Arts Foundation and now the Rasmuson Foundation. That's a lot of skin in the game for something that didn't exist 2 years ago.
Elsewhere on this blog.
I sent my first newsletter in mid April and the second on May 22. If you've subscribed and didn't receive these, please check your spam/clutter folder and allow firstname.lastname@example.org so next month's news will come to your inbox. Thanks!
I don't travel alone much, but recently spent time in Lincoln, Nebraska for the SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates) "Creation to Curation" conference (I'm a regional co-representative in Alaska with Maria Shell). Despite the 3-hour time difference for me, I was still up at 4:30 or 5 am each day.
Once of the people who stumbled into that Early-Morning-Inbox-tapping-quietly-so-I-dont-wake-my-roommate space was Christine Chester.
She asked a question, which I'm sharing with her permission, and while I'm no expert, I gave her an answer I wish someone would grab me by the shoulders, look me in the eye and give to me.
Just to be up front -- this isn't an advice column, nor am I clear on what the hell I'm doing MOST of the time. I'm not a how-to guru and pretty sure I'm no teacher, but Christine had questions about work I felt I could answer since none of these concerns are new to me. I think about them all the time with regards to an artist's choice of materials, my unanswered questions and a deep respect for makers known and unknown.
So I responded with the letter I'd want to receive, and Christine graciously allowed me to share our private early morning correspondence.
In short, this lady is no slouch. I can't believe she wrote and asked me ... well ... anything. I'm totally honored to be a part of her world and her sensibility.
* Portrait photography by Sarah Gawler of Sarah Gawler Photography. Other images courtesy of the artist.
Also on this blog:
For other artist profiles, click on the sidebar category: Find Your Teachers (then scroll past this post, which will appear there, too).
One year ago: Unicorn Heart
Two years ago: Soul Fever
I sent one out mid April, and a second one especially for contributors to the Inheritance Project. If you signed up and didn't receive one, please check your spam/clutter box. If you'd like to receive a pretty newsletter with links to blog posts and upcoming news (maybe once a month ... maybe), you can sign up for it here. I promise I'm not spammy.
I know, I know. I said I wasn't accepting anymore boxes of mystery after last fall. I know.
But...how do you say no to Judy Kirpich?
Look out folks, I'm going all Fan Girl here. If you live under a rock (probably next door to me) and don't know who Judy Kirpich is, then you need to look her up. I started following her blog, Un-multi-tasking, a few years ago after her work was chosen for the cover of the 2011 Quilt National catalog. She's a seemingly fearless slicer, insert-er (except that's so not a word) and mistress of scale. I personally think she's a really great person even though I've never met her, or spoken to her in person, or know her at all ... and that just goes to show there are internet stalkers out there all posing as amazing textile artists who I consider my "friends" because I'm just that naive...
but ... Judy Kirpich's box of mystery:
Thank you, Judy, for sending me an out-of-the-blue box of mystery, filled with delightful snippets of history from unknown sources.
Like these filmy trims of netting and machine-made lace.
And the sturdier trims of crochet and tatting.
The cotton eyelet trims, inset pieces and collars.
The square doilies.
And others -- probably antimassacars -- of unusual shape.
And here's the thing -- I've had that pale pink rope (from the first image) hanging in my studio for a couple of years. My husband once made a tasteless joke about me hanging myself from it ... or that might've been my gross joke ... but I've been saving it because I knew when I salvaged it off a beach in Prince William Sound that it would someday be something.
I'll keep you posted here on serendipity as well as all the other work I'm completing for Inheritance. I have one year until my solo exhibition. Hang in there while I freak out repeatedly.
A real internet friend would hold my hair while I throw up.
* * *
For other posts about the Inheritance Project, click on the sidebar categories Boxes of Mystery or Inheritance Project (and scroll past this one, which will show up first and make someone like me think I've done something wrong).
One year ago on this blog: PechaKucha
Two years ago on this blog: Strange Beauty
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.