Category Archives: In the Studio

Insect wings : a meditation on scale and mothers

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I dream about making furniture out of insect wings. Tiny, sheer, delicate and for whom?

Upon rising, I think about size in creative endeavor. How scale matters. I wonder: am I working too small — somehow limiting the scope of my work — or perhaps, the opposite — making life difficult by bucking a natural inclination to work small?

A large wall quilt. A goddamned novel.

And then out of nowhere, I remember something my mother said to me when I was seventeen or eighteen: “You may very well be a miniaturist.” Her tone was curious detachment as if still considering the idea, not at all one of her emphatic pronouncements.

Hmmm.

For reasons both complicated and pragmatic, I spent my senior year at the school where my mother’d been teaching for almost a decade. For a span of nine months, then, she was both mother and art teacher to me and for nine months, I was her daughter and her student (and the ‘art teacher’s daughter’).

That year, I was perpetually embarrassed by my mother — what 17 year old isn’t? Her clothes. Her laugh. Her opinions. I still remember how cringe-worthy her repeated mispronunciation of the late Baroque period was — making it sound less like a hot beverage and more like a porn star’s screen name — Ro-COCK-oh. Again, Mom? Really?

But, overall it was good. For one thing, seeing her in her element enlarged my view of her. In particular, it lent credence to an assertion she’d been making for years about having this respected competence elsewhere (as opposed to the beleaguered and disputed competence at home). But more importantly, I was the beneficiary of her considerable skill as a teacher. Of course, she dispensed observations and enthusiasms throughout my childhood, but as her student, the feedback was sustained and structured and something a little different could unfold.

Even now, it’s hard to square my mother’s capacity to run rough shod over people with her perceptive skill in the art room. Imagine a woman walking into the teachers’ lounge of a small school where she’s disliked by a majority of her peers — a place where her chain smoking and a tendency toward dismissive, smug bombast put people off.

Now picture that same person entering her classroom and coming alive with the give and take with her students. Watch that same forceful delivery of opinion turn a shy student into an aspiring artist. Yes! That quiet student who formerly floated from class to class in ghost-like invisibility has become a person determined to make something beautiful and certain she can do it — because of my mother.

You know how teachers talk about ‘that one student’ that made their entire teaching career worthwhile? My mother sometimes had two a year.

My mother taught her students that they had something to say and that how they said it was both unique and discover-able.

Teenagers who’d convinced themselves by the ripe old age of 15 that they were ordinary or ‘just jocks’ found out otherwise in her classroom. For the wild kids (called ‘juvenile delinquents’ back then), she’d harness their misspent leadership energies without judgment, instilling no end of appreciation. “Give ’em a job,” she’d cackle.

Of course, she celebrated talent — what teacher doesn’t? For those students, her unique skill seemed to be in knowing when to gush effusively (but sincerely!) and when to step back and let them struggle. She ushered one outstanding student after another into their talent.

“You just might be a miniaturist.”

Is the observation as straight forward as it sounds — as in, ‘work small’? Given that my mother was right about an obnoxious number of things, I’m willing to consider this anew, but not exactly sure how to.When I removed a small section of a semi-large quilt to work on separately, I considered letting the fragment stand alone. I do this all the time.



(The fragment has been returned to the whole). Sometimes, when the prospect of finishing a first draft overwhelms, I get energized at the idea of trying to get excerpts published (and then, ironically, I can get back at it).Is scale of work as innate as our preference for certain palettes? And if it is, is it useful to step outside of that preference now and again and see what happens? What results if we don’t discover or honor our basic preference regarding scale — does it add pitch to the learning curve in a distressing manner, building in frustration that could be avoided? Or is this something else?

Before I go, I have to tell you we’ve had a string of truly beautiful summer days here. The weather was especially nice for a small birthday gathering for K yesterday — very Napa-valley with the tables in the yard and flowers cut from the garden. Of course, our new fire table was a big hit!

 

Insect drawing from RoyalSocietyPublishing.org.

Cold and cloth 

When the rhodies do this, you know it’s cold. Had to pull my scarf up over my nose in our morning walk! Tuckered Finn out, I think.


In spite of the wintry temps, I padded up and down the cellar stairs yesterday and the day before to work on this medium-sized quilt. Used the machine down there some, then returned to heat and TV upstairs to iron and sew. Also stitched some seams by hand.

When the construction starts to foreclose possibilities, I am often disappointed.  Over the years, I have wondered if there wasn’t some other way to connect up the pieces that would more reliably capture earlier design ideas (like collage the scraps to canvas with gesso?)


I take a lot of pictures these days. But maybe I didn’t refer to them enough this time. What’s missing is an energetic flow.

While sewing this morning, I catch up on Maddow. The work satisfies me with pattern, simplicity of task, color, and measurable progress.


But it is not satisfying or productive enough by half to counteract the unfolding American shitstorm. There seems to be a theme: destruction.

I don’t get it.

Later, I’ll make beef with barley soup. Good for a cold evening, almost medicinal in its meaty and grainy deliciousness.  And I’ll turn off the news.

Midnight collage

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Last week on a night when I couldn’t sleep, I padded down to the cool refuge of my basement studio and assembled two rows of collage. I can’t say that making the collages meaningfully improved my mood, which seems to be tanking with abysmal frequency these days, but the intense focus did provide momentary relief. Minutes slid into hours. Collage has always had that kind of power for me.

The images can be read left to right, like a story. They overlapped as I laid them out, but obviously to photograph, I had to make selections about where to end one image and begin the next. When the collages get converted to SoulCollage cards, the edges will become permanent. A color xerox machine will be involved.

Feel free to offer your sense of what the story is about. I’d be curious.
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Some of the collages have changed since these pictures — tidied up or supplemented.

This is not a story, but here are some fairly random notes prompted by the pictures:

What do I chose to reveal and how and to whom? Where are my sources of strength? What haunts me and what haunts the ones I love? Where is succor? Love matters. Where do I run when things turn backwards? Will she jump? Is that your mask or mine? Can the old terrors keep getting at me? What will I trade for peace? She reclines in front of a young man in possession of himself. They are so far away! What does their future hold? Will they ever connect? Why is my bowl so frequently empty? Who is he? Who is she? Will the angel really bring pink roses in the final hour? What about now?

 

Jude Hill – a little look back

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This is a small gallery revealing Jude Hill‘s influence and inspiration. I am feeling nostalgic. It’s been different without her private classes. And I’ve been ‘away’ from her and others’ blogs — more consumed with writing and the ten month project for Charleston. I miss being on a learning curve that was as exciting as it was steep.

Life is all about change. And it’s hard, too. We are all constantly adapting to various burdens, impositions or difficulties — aging not the least of them. One of the things I have admired about Jude the most is her capacity for invention — not just of her cloth creations (the way she can take an idea in fifteen directions, each of them further than I could possibly have imagined), but also of how she has conducted herself online — generously, with poetry and beauty, and with unbelievable technological skill.

The reinvention of late seems to be toward greater privacy, which of course I respect, but the thought of her going away makes me panic a little.

There is so much more I want to say about this, but I haven’t done my morning pages yet and the dog will need walking soon, so it’ll have to wait.

The Spiral of Work — October 2014

polebarn-indigo-ravenel-deemallonContinuing with a one-year-backward-look as a tool to propel some completion of unfinished work, here’s a shot from last fall. This time last year, I was busy integrating my experience from the Sept. ’14 Sea Island Indigo workshop. I really can’t believe that was only last year! Was it?!!
indigo-clothhoop-weaving-deemallonAnd, here is a piece that was begun in Jude‘s Considering Weave class. Not sure what I’ll do with it, or even where to find it!

Another incomplete piece:
indigo-quilt-moon-deemallonI’m happy to say that the October 2014 folder includes a few finished things as well: two dolls that I made for my sons and the “LA Circles” quilt that I finished a couple of weeks ago.
boydolls-deemallon-ragdolls The book to finish is a memoir about the descendant of slave owners in Texas — his process of investigation and atonement. It’s called “Tomlinson Hill”.  I purchased the book after hearing the author interviewed on the radio, and within a couple of weeks (during The Slave Dwelling Project’s overnight in Medford, Mass., at the Royall House and Slave Quarters), I met two or three people who were descended from slave owners and learned about the group, “Coming to the Table“.  The group is “for all who wish to acknowledge and heal wounds from racism rooted in the United States’ history of slavery.” There was a meeting nearby recently, but I don’t seem to be in a phase of life where it is easy, natural, or right (somehow) to join a group or even attend meetings. Too much else pressing, including the need for restorative solitude.
tomlinsonhill-deemallonBut I can read. The book comes at a good time — I started and then put down “Purity” — Jonathan Franzen’s new novel (I’m a fan!). I was going like gangbusters because it’s a “speedread” from the library (7 days, no renewal), until I realized that the toxic relationships described in the story were just too close to some parts of my current reality to make the read pleasurable. I like books that challenge me and make me uncomfortable (and those that don’t, btw), but this was too much. Control what you can control, right?!

My Own Magnificent Clutter

IMG_1124Thank you for all the bed bug wisdom and sympathy! I deleted a few things here and have moved on to my own mess. The bed bug professionals are up in Salem today, taking care of business and my sister is here visiting. It’s a beautiful fall day.

You might be shocked to know that this disarray of fabric is AFTER giving away about 25 LARGE bags of fabric over the course of the last two years. Furthermore, the picture above shows only three of six shelves. Further, there are seven dressers with their drawers full and bins on the floor!!

IMG_1125This is to the right of the picture above. That glorious paper shelving was a garbage pick. Over the years I have found so many wonderful things on the curb, but this bed bug event of my sister’s may have forever changed my view on that, sad to say.
IMG_1126These shelves were thrown up the week we moved in as temporary storage. They’ve been useful for twenty plus years. But I had K remove these two so that I could move in a dresser from the garage. This killed two birds with one tiger saw — making more space in the basement AND the garage.

  All empty!!! When did less start to feel so good?
  There is the ‘after’ shot. Not a huge “TA DA!”, but something.Enjoy the day! I plan to.This book will occupy some of my morning. Pad and paper the rest. We are going back to 1744 – the year of Eliza’s marriage to Charles Pinckney. Hmmmm, I wonder what she wore…