Someone online left this comment recently: "But, what IS the Inheritance Project?" Which means a.) this person never opened the link, b.) didn't read deeply or, my worst fear, c.) I'm not being a clear writer. And it's probably all three, because a.) social media is a lousy form of distillation and b.) it's been difficult to be clear while I've been rolling around in The Not Knowing for a number of months. And while The Not Knowing is an integral part of my process, as it is and should be, for many other writers/artists, it is boring for onlookers to see, let alone read about, and could be misread as flakiness. However, now is the time for clarity -- right here, right now -- because after several weeks of writing, then even more weeks of waiting, I can finally announce that my proposal for the 2017/18 Patricia B. Wolf Solo Exhibition Series at the Anchorage Museum was accepted.
"Inheritance: makers. memory. myth." will be a solo exhibition of contemporary mixed media work created from donated/abandoned/rescued/crowdsourced domestic linens, which I've been willing to inherit if no one else will. It is an exploration of my own literal inheritance and relationship to materials and makers. It is a vessel for emerging themes such as valuing the valueless, honoring the hand and revering the fragility of memory. It is an interpretation of the narrative of inherited cloth, and because so much of this history is unknown, much of it is myth.
"Project" indicates that it involves other people, and it does, all of whom will be accounted for in some way beyond the thanks they've already received. When the small exploration of my personal collection of domestic textiles started running down the road without me, a "project" framework helped define its boundaries without shackling it to the post. I already use old linens for my work, but I didn't predict the power of the relationships that would emerge from this act of inheriting and corresponding.
The Inheritance Project is the gathering and documenting of narratives, objects, materials, with the most unexpected gathering being that of (mostly) women from all over the world, who feel they have no one to pass these items on to. Can I take something unwanted and make meaningful, contemporary work from it? The effort is the Project. The journey is the Project. The questioning is the Project. The act of inheriting is the Project. The Not Knowing is the Project. And now an exhibition will be the culmination of all this.
Here's an update on the 11th Boxes of Mystery -- the name I attribute to the items I've inherited. If you are curious about the other 10 posts, check out the Boxes of Mystery blog sidebar category. The shipments are mysterious in that I never know what each parcel will contain, who has made them, or why. Sometimes they are mysteries to the contributors, but sometimes the only mystery is what they will become.
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Grandmother and granddaughter.
When I lived in Canada, my husband, his brother and I spent several years renovating a 1927 bungalow in East Vancouver, British Columbia. We almost didn't buy that sad little house because it was a tear-down, but many others hadn't bought the house because they were superstitious: the address was 2666 Trinity Street. But we figured we'd have both Heaven and Hell supporting us if we started that project, and obviously that's some serious back up.
Our Swedish neighbors at the time, The Grebergs, were renting a basement suite one house over and their little girl, Rebecka, then 5, was allowed to walk down the back lane and visit when I was in the yard, often appearing with no warning, a halo of white-blonde hair and rapid-fire Swedish, hands gesturing, eyes sparkling. "Rebecka," I'd say, looking over the fence towards her house,"does your mother know you've come visiting?" We'd point and name the colors of flowers, compare the sizes of birds, describe all the good things cooking for dinner. My Swedish still exists within the realm of home and childhood; hers was the taut line that slowly pulled the language from the depths of my memory.
Rebecka visited us in Alaska last summer, at age 20. Her parents and I have kept in sporadic touch over the last 15 years with Christmas cards, Facebook and a visit in 2003. These Swedish grytlappar were made by her great grandmother, Alfhild Brogren. Rebecka and her grandmother, Marianne -- who knew about the Inheritance Project from Instagram (!) -- were going through old things and wanted to contribute. I am deeply grateful for their thoughtfulness.
Rebecka and I still hold a taut line to the past, to memory, and now one that extends into the future. In 10 or 15 years, I'll be sending my children, alone, to visit her in Sweden.
Lunch and a green tub.
A large number of contributors to this project are artists, specifically fiber artists, and Anchorage-based Susan Schapira is no exception.
"It is fascinating to me how even a fragment of cloth can evoke the soul of a culture; the way in which, in the midst of their struggle to survive, a people can produce utilitarian objects of a beauty that transcends their function. It is a testament to the universal need to create beauty in one’s life and to the spiritual connection that comes from making art."
Susan invited me over for lunch -- a visit that could have (and should have) lasted about 5 hours because we had so much to discuss and learn about one another. We've had pieces in in shows together, but I was unfamiliar with her full body of work, which is rich, exotic, layered, reverent and meaningful. She has shown extensively, with pieces in the permanent collections of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska State Museum and the Alaska State Council on the Arts. She has taught fiber technique in Anchorage and Australia, and she also makes a damned good quiche.
Before I left to pick up kids from school that afternoon, she slid an enormous green Rubbermaid tub my way, filled with mysteries. I later hired a Studio Assistant for a dollar an hour to sort its contents, and over a weekend that 7-year-old girl cleared 5 bucks.
My thanks to you, Susan. I owe you lunch and a visit here.
Beer lover's dinner.
Why yes, I did met Nancy Gehm at a Beer Lover's Dinner, while a very friendly cat was draped over my neck and several samples of local beer were lined up in front of me. Before the night was over, Nancy was offering to drop off a box of embroidered pillow cases made by her paternal grandmother. Beer. I love it.
Many thanks to Nancy, for the conversation, the linens and for taking the floppy cat from me at one point (I think ... I think it was Nancy who took the floppy cat. I'm a little hazy on that).
Don't take Your Love to town.
Also, you might suggest that Your Love steer clear of that antique shop on the main drag in Wickenburg, Arizona, where she'll not only find an array of woozy taxidermy staring at her from the shelf and a ROOM filled with floor-to-ceiling vintage cowboy boots -- sting ray! ostrich! python! -- but she'll find a few pot holders too, and she can't resist because someone named "Ruby" made them (or is at least trying to off-load them for 4 bucks a piece). Your Love's Studio Assistant, who is accompanying and is happiest looking for small horses in antique stores, will offer full support, so you cannot win.
The resulting conversation might go something like this:
You, waiting in the hot car with the boy: "You bought potholders? On vacation?
Your Love, with Studio Assistant, each carrying a small bag out to the shade-less parking lot: "Hey man, give me a break, it could have been a mule deer or a Little Bo Peep lamp."
Studio Assistant: "...and her calves were too fat for the red snake boots, so you should be happy, Papa, because they were made from real snakes!"
If you are interested in being a part of the Inheritance Project, you can contact me here and I'll send you further information. I'm also interested in your stories. Please leave a comment about your connection to old cloth, the makers in your life, and your memory -- even if it is myth. I'm sure you'll find many kindred spirits among readers here.
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Thank you, everyone, for your effort, your Boxes of Mystery, stories, emotional downloads and support. This is one of those "started-out-small-and-got-big" kinds of things and wouldn't have happened in the same way without you.
Artist in Anchorage, Alaska, sometimes blogging about the collision of history, family & art, with the understanding that none exists without the other.