new work…

November 3rd, 2019

timeline Frances, 98

For the past several months I have eluded to new work coming from yours truly. I have now finished the first piece in what I hope will be a long series with a wonderful cast of characters! After telling so many of my own stories, I decided to tell stories of elder women.

When I was in my thirties, I began to really consider my grandmother as my wise elder. I thought a lot about the wisdom of all elder women, and how each one had a story. At that time I considered going to rest homes and speaking to elder women.

Life intervened, marriage, motherhood, worker bee, volunteerism, retirement, art-making. And still the elders called to me. What I had learned since my 30’s was many of the women residing in ‘rest homes’ or assisted living or memory care units or skilled nursing facilities were not lucid. Many of these stories are locked away for good. So I began to look elsewhere for women who might talk to me.

As an elder myself, I chose women 80 plus as my starting point. To date, I have ‘interviewed’ six women, two in their 80’s and four in their 90’s. Many more are on my list. When I hear about an elder woman, usually someone’s mother, I query, is she lucid? Would she talk to me? Recently a friend said of her mother, she won’t talk to me about her life, maybe she will talk to you!

I have had only one refuse. We had quite a lengthy face to face conversation about it. She really does not want her story told, nor her photo displayed. She even asked what would become of the quilt with her face when I am no longer here? Many of her friends and family told her to do it, but she simply is not comfortable with it, and I completely honor that. Ironically she has had a noteworthy life, but we all face decisions in life, some that make us squirrelly. Sometimes facing the fear is just not the right choice for that person in that moment.

I also have been torn about the title for the series. Marion actually told me it would come to me in its own time! At first it was the Women’s Wisdom Project, then it was Aging & Resiliency, the Resiliency Project and Resilience in several other  combinations. It is pretty rare I believe for a woman to live a life; full of aspirations, challenges, successes, defeats etc without developing resilience. Just the fact that many women give birth more than once shows tremendous resilience!

As much as I loved that, I then started noticing that resilient and resiliency are the new buzzwords. Nix that. And then, just as Marion said, the other day, it came to me…The Wisdom Gatherers. Women have been gatherers since the dawn of time. They have gathered food, children, community, resilience, wisdom and so on…

So I present Frances, 98.  

gender pay inequality

Frances was born in the countryside of Cochine County, AZ. Her mother was a pioneer woman and her father a mean man; a jack of all trades. She left home at 16, as valedictorian and moved to California. Shortly after she moved to Kansas City and worked hard to put herself through 3.5 years of nursing school, graduating with honors. She worked as a nurse in the first aid clinic at Marinship during WWII, where she met her husband, who placed wells at the shipyard. He got a slag burn through his leather pants and came to the clinic for treatment. Despite her nursing degree, she made the same as the man picking up trash off the ground. Her husband bought the house where she still lives for $6500 in 1943, and then proposed. They raised their brilliant and successful children there! She went back to college at 50 to earn another degree. Her mother’s best advice was to hold your head up, and look the world in the eye. What matters most to her in life today is to get the toxins out of the creek behind her house; buy stamps to keep the post office in business; being kind to city council officials as one day one might need their help, and for people to talk to each other again instead of texting. She has a mint condition cherry red Jaguar in her garage but no longer drives. She is now 99.

I screen-printed and digitally printed her story to the background. I screen printed her handwritten portions which I used as ‘frames’ for the many photos. All of her photos I took with my cellphone camera when I went to speak with her. She is a vibrant, engaged, elder and a very wise woman!

engagement photo & wedding announcement

Frances, as elder

before and after…

October 6th, 2019

Two posts ago, I wrote about painting over two pieces of work on climate change. The gist of it was the original four had repeatedly been declined for juried exhibits. So in the spirit of adventure, I thought, why not add paint?  I really had nothing to lose. In the end I like them much better!

Underwater Garden: the ocean water looks murky and very mysterious, yet all the plastic debris is still obvious.

before

after

Plastic Ocean 4: Beyond the Glory...the paint made a big difference on the water. The plastic is still there, but  not so glaringly white. The paint also exaggerated the sunset sky.

before

after

Soon I will soon be getting a new sink in my wet/print studio. In order for that to happen all flat surfaces had to be cleared off. So I am happy to get these photographed and put away.

Progress!

revisiting…

September 26th, 2019

sculpted moose,
National Museum of Wildlife Art, Jackson, WY

Nearly two weeks ago, we took a quick trip through four states (UT, WY, MT, ID) in 6 days! It was a fly-drive revisit of two national parks, a creamery at the college I attended (priorities!) and to see five ex-pat Californians.

We’d visited both Yellowstone and Grand Tetons National Park as young marrieds. The past few years I had seen so many spectacular images online from artist friends; and wanted to return with my own artist’s eye, to see it again, but did not want to drive from home, as we had before….because once you are there, you have to drive home!

We flew into Salt Lake City and out of Boise, seeing ex-pat friends in both places. We went after Labor Day to avoid big crowds, and it was perfect, other than a whole lotta miles in 6 days. I did not anticipate driving all 1159 miles in a lowrider Chevy but after hubs doc scheduled eye surgery just days before we left, blurry was the best he could muster. The car had great go-power, but getting in and out, eh- was not pretty.

So we flew into Salt Lake City, which is always stunning for landings and departures.

SLC salt ponds

I had fried catfish for a late breakfast, and missed seeing Marion’s sister for said meal, due to a work project on her end.

fried catfish, Pig & A Jelly Jar

We spent the rest of that day visiting and dining with good friends, former Sonoma residents. Second day, we journeyed up to Logan, where I went to college, not for homecoming, but to indulge at the Aggie Creamery. The ice cream was divine and 5 cents a scoop, way back when. Now $1.99 scoop, it did not disappoint! I took a lactaid and was in pure lemon custard heaven for about 30 minutes!

Onward. I’d forgotten how spectacular Logan Canyon is, which we took on our way to Jackson. We visited the much ballyhooed National Museum of Wildlife Art which was stunning both in structure, location and art collections. It did not disappoint!

lemon custard from the Aggie Creamery

Spirit Totems by Herb Alpert @ National Museum of Wildlife Art

We stayed overnight at Teton Village, having cocktails with another friend/former Bay Area resident. When we rose it was raining and foggy so we did not actually see the Tetons but enjoyed the ride just the same.

We arrived in Yellowstone just in time for checkin to our restored historic hotel, only to learn we should have made dinner reservations six months in advance!  So we ate sandwiches for dinner three nights, in the deli, which were btw fabulous! You can keep your snooty dining room!

We spent two full days criss-crossing the park. We got up and at ’em early to see a lot of the sights before the crowds emerged. We got lots of exercise, saw many stunning features, all of which would make a great quilt. This is something people always tell the artist, for every photo she takes. That would make a great quilt! When in reality sometimes the photo is art enough, in of itself.

hello comrade!

I wasn’t much interested in taking a selfie with a buffalo, bear or moose. In fact we did not see the latter two. But the buffalo quickly decided I was theirs in spirit and turned up in the most unlikely of places, like jumping across the road 30′ in front of the trusty lowrider. Explain that to your rental car company! Well I was just driving along minding my own business and this buffalo landed on my windshield. Yea, ok lady.

This one ambled down a one-way road, as I drove by with my window open. Oh hello there! The last morning another was bidding us adieu as it grazed nearby as we checked out of our hotel. People who could not read the warning instructions in 12 languages were standing too close trying to get a photograph of themselves just before being gored by the buffalo.

Pedal to the metal I drove over 8 hours to leave the park and over to Boise ID. Funny how it looked like a short drive online!  We got there and it was well into the 90’s. Just two mornings before we had cleaned ice off our windshield! We checked into our hotel, returned the rental car and enjoyed our last two nights with former Petaluma friends, now in ID. Then we flew home.

Six days, 1159 miles, two flights, 4 climate zones, 3 buffalo encounters, 1 catfish, 1 ice cream cone, hundreds of photos, visits with five treasured friends…priceless!

It has taken me a week to recover, but alas I’m back to art-making.

 

 

restarting the engines…

August 22nd, 2019

after and before step one in the makeover

As many of you know my creative mojo aka the muse went south just before Marion died in April. It has gotten progressively docile this summer, and brought the realization that this is likely the first summer of my entire life that I have relaxed! What a concept.

Lately I have had several days where I thought TODAY would be the day when I start in again, but alas I spent that day hand-stitching, reading or too much time ‘researching’ on the computer.

Today I decided to just start, do something, no matter what. I decided I would paint over some quilts! I have done this before, with excellent results. So why not again?

Last year I made four quilts about plastic in the oceans. While I believed it to be a timely, relevant topic, all four were repeatedly rejected from exhibits. When four quilts are rejected at least 4 times each, there is a loud and clear message there. So I decided today to just start in and overpaint one of them! If it works, I may paint them all. I have absolutely nothing to lose!

Undoubtedly it appears to the more conservative of you that I have totally ruined this quilt. I may have and yet I feel no panic, nor remorse. It is because I know I am not done yet, with the makeover. There is more to come, once the paint dries. When I laid down the paint I was greatly surprised in how thick the coverage was. It was likely caused by the 3-dimensional pieces stitched to the quilt, so I could not get a clean screen pass directly on the cloth. I decided to keep going and work with it! What, me worry? Nah it just presented me with a new challenge. It is after all these challenges that both keep my brain young and keep me making art.

Stay tuned…

 

the Visions opening…

July 23rd, 2019

The Storyteller

As you know, I was ambivalent about the opening of our new exhibit Defining Moments in San Diego at Visions Art Museum. I was torn between anticipation and dread. I was very worried that my grief over Marion’s death would lay a cloud of darkness over the entire event. I was worried I would be tongue-tied if asked to speak, and yet totally resisted planning anything to say, deciding instead to rely on spontaneity. Apparently I aced it!

I kept my focus on being in the moment throughout the entire trip, which kept worry and grief at bay. I had been to an opening at Visions last fall when my work was in a juried exhibit, so I knew the location and the wonderful staff & volunteers, so all was good there.

the outer and inner tallgirl

Hubs and I arrived at the museum at 3 pm for an appointment to talk for an audio tour of the exhibit. It will be available to museum-goers on their cellphone.

audio tour QR code

Then I walked around and took it all in, before the galleries filled with people. Then I got it! It filled me up, from my toes to my nose! What an incredible accomplishment this body of work was! How important this work is! How sad so much of our shared history is still so relevant today. How people need to see these stories in art. And what an incredible friendship and working relationship I had with Marion. I just felt immense gratitude with not a shred of ego. It was exhilarating!

Gratitude that she asked me to create this project with her. Gratitude that she taught me our stories are important, that it is the job of the elders to tell the stories. And that we are the elders now…

The Harried Years, Maternal Grandparents, Paternal Grandparents by Larson

When I first began my Tall Girl Series, which was my first body of narrative art; someone told me no one wants to see this. No one wants to see your dirty laundry she said. Well it turns out that was one person’s opinion! People do want to see this work. People do want to talk about it. People do want to ask a myriad of process questions. It is all good.

The gifts I received from attending this reception were many. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet both of Marion’s sisters who have been entrusted with her quilt legacy. They asked me to please continue the exhibitions of Defining Moments beyond Lubbock in 2020; that Marion would want these exhibitions to continue. I could not agree more and was thrilled to hear those words. Another Defining Moment!

Tall Girlfriends by Coleman. I LOVE this quilt, and the artist who made it!

 

Most of all I felt gratification that I am on the right track. When I began this gig as a professional artist 12 years ago, more than anything I wanted to be seen. I often felt unseen in my highly educated family of overachievers, and my goal through my art was to be seen by them. Now who cares?! What matters to me most now is that my work is seen!

And I don’t mean that my work hangs in a gallery or museum and people pass by without pause. I mean people stand in front of it, look through the layers, read the story, think about their own story and how they might communicate that; and feel impacted by what they have seen. That is my greatest reward. I am on the right track. And inspired, finally, to begin again…

Immense thanks to Visions Art Museum and all who make it function so well for shining a light on our Defining Moments! This exhibit is open until October 6. Go see it, if you can!

grief and paying it forward…

July 6th, 2019

peeling back the layers…

Before we went to Ireland and very nearly after we returned I was hammered by deep grief. This is definitely one of those subjects people do not want to think about, let alone talk about; which becomes part of the problem. I remembered the ‘stages’ of grief from my hospice training twenty years ago, and yet I could not peg myself into the exact stage I was in.

So I did what any logical person would do, I googled it. I found It’s Ok That You Are Not OK by Megan Devine on Amazon which I quickly loaded to my Kindle. I read for days and quite quickly figured out the reason this grief was so different from past griefs. This one was deep, deeper than any before it.

Two things lifted me out of it. I know it is early, and it may return but so far, so good. The two things were: realizing this grief was so deep was because in the past three years I have experienced 19 losses. NINETEEN. Nine friends have moved out of state, two friends died, one simply walked away, our old dog died, my lil sis lost in dementia, four elders died, and my dearly beloved has descended further into Parkinson’s. Yep, that’s a few…

The other thing that worked was writing. As you know if you read this often, I love to write. It is often how I figure things out, as in self-therapy. So I pulled up a chair and began to write about these 19 losses, and how sorrowful I feel about my husband’s illness, whereas before I have only felt anger…another stage of grief. The only reason I write this down, in my blog, is to bring grief out of the closet.

A piece of my immobilizing grief was how will this affect my art practice? Will I ever make art again? Am I done? Is this it? Who am I if not an art-maker? 

I don’t believe I am done. I have a lot more I want to say. I am doing a lot of hand-stitching which is really meditative and when I sit in my studio, surrounded by cloth and colors, I know my work here is not finished. It’s funny, this muse. It can take you down as fast as it can lift you up. I trust, and do honestly believe there is more to come.

Interestingly enough, the muse, and Marion have already led me in a new direction. I have decided to mentor a good friend on her creative path. I have thought of it before, and always stopped as I know I cannot change other people’s behavior, although I have vast experience in trying to…i.e., 48 years of marriage! And yet this time it became abundantly clear that Marion had a hand in this.

Marion was not only an extraordinary friend; she was the most generous artist I have ever met. Even as her days were numbered, she was encouraging me to apply for a public art project or submit work for an art purchase. So often she pushed me out of my comfort zone, to consider my long-term & end goals for my art, and to do stuff that just plain scared me. Would I ever have applied for a grant were it not for Marion? No. Did I get a grant? Yes! 

So I have decided to pay it forward, with gratitude. I don’t need to change anyone’s behavior but rather share the generosity that was bestowed on me; to push her out of her comfort zone and encourage her to do the stuff that scares.

This person knew Marion solely through my work and respected her so very much. She called recently to wish me a happy opening to our upcoming exhibit in San Diego, which she perceived might be difficult for me, so soon after Marion’s death. She is a big fan of both Marion’s work and of my work. It just seems as though Marion is orchestrating this, from the great beyond.

I anticipate my friend’s creativity will grow, as will my own.

to Ireland and back…

June 22nd, 2019

through a bathroom window…

As part of my research for the Defining Moments series, I poked through my ancestry online. My DNA revealed all those Irish & Welsh ancestors added up to 67%, while the expected Russian came in at less than 25% (explain that to the 100% Russian great-grandparents!) So it seemed only fitting to make one more trek o’er the pond to see this glorious land from which they emigrated.

We booked our Ireland adventure last summer and decided on a Road Scholar program since we have had so many interesting trips with them stateside and in Canada. We booked Ireland at a Slower Pace, which several days in, became apparent was a misnomer! We walked nearly 42 miles in 14 days, in London and Ireland.

history through a window…

The timing could not have been more perfect. The spring death of my Defining Moments project partner, Marion Coleman, preceded by the 15 months battle for her life had left me exhausted, defeated, and grieving with a wounded muse. So many said to me, and I agreed, that there could not have been better timing for a change of scenery.

for that windblown look, visit Gougane Barra

the rock walls in Ireland just dazzled me…except really hard to sit on!

The trip was fantastic in every way. Great people, great hotels, fabulous food, interesting programs and texture galore. (some of which you see here). The first few days Marion stayed on my mind, but slowly I began to enjoy being in the moment. I came back physically exhausted, but rejuvenated by the change of scenery and pace; and a renewed connection to my ancestors.

i loved all the bright colored buildings!

Before I left I noted on my calendar to begin preparation of my Defining Moments quilts to ship to Visions Art Museum in San Diego for its inaugural exhibit. I did not want to attempt it until I felt my brain had arrived back in California. So yesterday I hauled all the quilts out and today began preparation, pressing, rolling, packaging, etc.

All of a sudden, I felt a HUGE rush of excitement for this upcoming show, with a big sense of accomplishment; that all my efforts these past five years are at last coming to fruition. Such joy, and then BAM, immediate sorrow.

Listening to music, tears welled up in me as my grief returned. How sad that Marion is not here to celebrate our exhibition together. I soon realized that this opening, could be for me a really sad event. My job for the coming month, to get myself to a place where I can celebrate my own sense of accomplishment as well as celebrate who she was, as she lives on through her work. She would not want it any other way.

The trip to Ireland was exactly what I needed, but also a reminder that grieving cannot be tamped down. It may be set aside temporarily, but the healthy thing is to ride it out. So my buddy, the muse and I are doing just that.

Footnote: I posted a lot of images on Instagram, rather than FB while traveling. You may see them (with permission!) here.

 

 

 

 

the loss of civility…

May 21st, 2019

bloomin’ peony

Yesterday I was reminded why I quit the lecture circuit. I really enjoyed speaking to guilds and groups for the years I did it; until I didn’t. I remember exactly what group I spoke to when I decided to stop. I told people I was no longer giving lectures because of the wear & tear on my body. In reality it was the wear & tear on my nerves that did me in.

I was reminded yesterday as I bore witness to what happened to me, happening to another speaker. I was present to hear a 90 min lecture on trash & recycling, given by an employee of the garbage hauler. Her job is to educate communities and companies about sorting their trash, compost & recycling, to ease the demand on the public landfill, which is filling at an alarming rate.

The landfill was rapidly filling before the rash of wildfires and floods, where hundreds of homes were destroyed; and their contents dumped there. Since I have become obsessed with plastic in our oceans and on our beaches, I wanted to hear what this woman had to say.

She started by saying she would take questions after her presentation. She had not said two sentences when someone interrupted her with a question, then another, then another, then side conversations. She reminded the group of seniors that she would take questions after the presentation. She started in again. A guy interrupted asking if she really thought anyone was going to read this brochure of garbage policies? Then continued to rail her about how stupid it is for a corporation making millions of dollars to hope that educating people about garbage is just that, garbage.

And what about the Mexicans, another woman shouted. They don’t sort their trash, she said, adding she was not racist.

The speaker continued, slightly rattled. Another interruption, and another, and another. One woman pointed out that she could improve her presentation with a handout, to which the speaker told the woman she was holding the handout! It just went on and on and on.

I found myself getting upset by all the interruptions, and also by the speaker, unable to ‘control’ the room. My thoughts migrated from trash talk to anger over the lack of civility in the room. Perhaps a whip and a chair was necessary?

What really annoyed me was how do two generations (the “greatest” and the boomers) who were raised to be so friggin’ polite, courteous and considerate behave like a bunch of spoiled children in a public forum? Since when has a lecture become a public discussion group? A lot of the questions people peppered the speaker with were answered in her presentation, had they only listened.

Some might blame our current administration, which granted has done nothing to encourage public civility. But my last lecture was 7 years ago when this behavior first began to annoy me.

The last time I gave a lecture was in a college town to a group of quilters about photo editing. Everyone in the room was an expert on the subject and they interrupted me constantly. I began to question why they even came to hear me when they were all experts? I decided right there at the podium, that I was never going to do this again. And I blamed it predominantly on this being a college environment. Little did I know…

Yesterday I learned it is not just the millennials, it is pervasive in our society. Perhaps the old folks have lost their ability to communicate as much as the kids never learned it in the first place. We have lost our ability to communicate with civility. What a sad situation.

The conclusion I came to from yesterday’s meeting is I will continue to conserve, recycle and use as little plastic as possible. I will not become an activist though. It just makes me too angry. I don’t want to spend the rest of my days arguing in public with people who just don’t listen.

I’d rather go into a quiet room, turn on some music and make art.

 

catching up…

May 11th, 2019

detail, Weathered Wood

I have lost all inspiration to make new work since Marion died…well actually before then. The muse slowed down earlier this year. Immediately after her death I was occupied with returning files and quilts to her family, and then started in on my own to-do list, which had grown to mammoth proportions.

I received the shipment of catalogs for our exhibit Defining Moments: Stitched Perspectives on Becoming A Woman, and put that up on my website. The 48 pg catalog will also be available at exhibit venues.

Earlier in the year I had finished and blocked two hand-stitched pieces, so I bought gallery-wrap canvas and mounted those to the frame. I have gotten quite skilled at using the electric stapler and the Phillips screwdriver. What I found most frustrating is the available sizes of wrapped canvas.

Reflections of the Seine

The local art supply store had a generous 16″ x 16″, but no 14″ x 14″ which I really wanted for my stitched pieces of morning walks. So I went to the big box chain and they had neither 14″ nor 16″ squares but they had lots of 11″ x 14″ rectangles. So I came home and googled it and basically learned that 14″ x 14″ does not exist but if I want to custom order it, I can do so for a mere $85 each.

catalog cover, Defining Moments: Stitched Perspectives on Becoming A Woman

I suppose I could make my own, but I am at that age where time is far more important than money; but not so much so that I am going to pay $85 for a canvas gallery wrap! As if framing hand-stitched work is not straying far enough from my usual work, making frames for such is pushing it just too far, as far as I am concerned. I am trying to use up my supplies, not add a whole lot more. Just like I decided not to ferment my own veggies, I don’t need another hobby.

So I got these done, documented and up on my website. I have finished 5-6 entries for upcoming exhibits, need to prep a piece to ship this week, and continue to whittle down the list.

Then perhaps… I will be so moved (or not) as to actually start the new series, which has been researched and waiting in the wings for a year now.

 

so many stories…

April 26th, 2019

Marion Coleman, and her fabulous hair

The last time I saw Marion was on February 6. After much negotiating there finally came a day that she felt well enough for me to see her. I was also there to pick up her quilts for our Defining Moments exhibit. That had been a very tough conversation to have, asking her to loan me her work for our exhibit. I finally just summoned up the courage and asked. She agreed that I should take responsibility for the work so I would not have to bother her family after she was gone. So that was the day I picked up her work.

She greeted me from the seat of her rolling office chair. She had already discovered that the medical grade wheelchair was not as mobile as her office chair. So she scooted around in that. She showed me the “mess” that was her studio, which to me looked like a genius resided there.

We looked at the quilts as she told me the story of each one. She said she needed me to photograph two pieces, as she had not had the energy to get them over to Sibila Savage, who had photographed her other work. We talked shop about our exhibit, potential venues I had not yet applied to, questions she needed to ask Dr. Mazloomi, the catalog etc. She even gave me a check to cover my expenses. The epitome of class, that one.

We talked for about an hour, holding hands, both well aware it was the last time we would meet. Finally, she said she needed to return to her bed, which I knew was my cue to go. I stood up to hug her goodbye, one last time and damn if I did not catch my earring in her hair! My very first thought was don’t touch the hair!

Early on in my friendship with Marion, I touched her hair. She didn’t say anything at the time, but I learned a few years later, you NEVER touch an African American woman’s hair! EVER. When I heard that I equated it to the tallgirl stuff.

I knew all too well about the intrusion of people telling me I am tall. Newsflash, I already know that!  Marion and I used to joke so much about that, how we as tallgirls were often seen just for our stature; and how so many clueless people think they need to tell us! We had heard it all. We came to own it, to refer to ourselves as strong, proud, aging, tallgirls. It was our right to do so. It is not anyone else’s, unless we give permission! So I came to see the caucasian’s persistent need to touch a black woman’s hair as a similar intrusive ritual. Just don’t… touch the hair!

So here I was entangled in her luxurious & soft mane. How fitting for our final dance! I had to remove my earring while bent over, trying not to drop my weight farther onto her frail body. Then I had to disentangle the earring from her hair. We both laughed through it. What a beautiful and quirky finale to our wonderful friendship!

Some months ago she asked me how many African American women I knew as well as I knew her? I said maybe 4-5. She said, no, I mean as well as you know me; who you can talk to just like you do me? She continued that she thought she knew far more white women than I knew black women. She was right, I agreed with that and it really made me feel sad. It’s not like I was closed off to meeting people of other races. I just maybe had not taken the time.

Going forward, I plan to make the time to learn other people’s stories. And I promise I won’t touch your hair, especially if you don’t tell me I am tall. I already know.