Archive for the ‘tall girl’ Category

with gratitude…

Thursday, April 25th, 2019

Tall Girlfriends, 36″ x 29″, 2017, by Marion Coleman

Yesterday my dear friend Marion Coleman died. While I have known the end was near for months, I have been unable to articulate my sorrow until now. Marion was my fourth close friend to fight and lose the vicious battle, that is cancer. The one thing I have learned, other than cancer sucks, is how important it is to gather the goodness each one brought into my life, and to cherish it. By carrying their richness, they live on, in my heart.

I met Marion in 2003 at a SAQA regional meeting. It was the first meeting for both of us, and in Sacramento which means we both had made an effort to be there. I thought to myself, who is that exquisite tall black woman?! She shared later she had spotted me that same day. I continued my observation for about a year, until I asked her to mentor me on my Tall Girl project. I knew it was going to be a difficult story to tell, and that I might need someone to prod me, and had witnessed her to be an articulate, smart, gifted, get-things-done woman!

She asked me to write a business plan to define my goals for the project. She was the calm voice of reason when I needed it; and instrumental in my finding the way through the jungle of my repressed stories. She encouraged me by saying how much my story would help others, and challenging me to always aim higher. As a result I was able to secure six venues for the exhibit, including the National Quilt Museum. We talked then about doing a collaborative project of our own. We, women of two very different worlds had a lot of similarities which needed airing and sharing. It is our job as elders to tell these stories she would say.

In 2014 we met over lunch in Berkeley to discuss the particulars of that project we had spoken of years earlier. The time was ripe to finally start. It was to be an autobiographical project examining the contrasts and parallels of our lives as two tall aging women; one African American, one Caucasian. She had grown up in the Jim Crow south and I, in her words, in an affluent white suburb of San Francisco. One would think we had nothing in common, and yet we shared an incredible number of similarities, both as kids and as adults. Meaty subject matter, this one!

We were both approaching our 7th decade, which brought its own unique set of challenges. Since she was a year older than I, we set my 70thas the deadline, which bought us another year! She chose our working title for the series, Defining Moments: Stitched Perspectives on Becoming A Woman. She said we needed to each design a solid 25 museum-size pieces. Sure, twenty-five large pieces in three years’ time… I can do that! (what? are you nuts?!) And so, we began.

Early on, I learned that we had very individual ways of working. I, of the spreadsheet tribe, mapped out all my ideas and designed the work in chronological order. She was deadline driven, and made the work as it came to her, in between other projects, designing public art, solo exhibits, curating Neighborhoods Coming Together, and mentoring youth. Some of her work went in and out of the series, and yet it all came together in the end. Because all of her work was narrative, it fit together like pieces of a puzzle.

People kept asking me…¬†how many has she completed? Is she going to finish? What if she doesn‚Äôt get them done? And so on. I never lost faith. I just recognized she had a different style of working than I did, and that it would all sort out, as it did.

Defining Moments 25: Homage

Our 25th piece was to be a true collaboration and we tossed out all sorts of ideas via Skype. (We both disliked the 90 minute drive in traffic which stood between us.) When it became too painful for her to work, she was unable to finish the project, let alone our grand finale, #25. I designed my own #25 Homage, in honor of her, my friend, my mentor, my project partner. She told me the piece made her cry.

In the end she had stitched thirteen pieces and we still have a robust exhibit, which makes its debut in July at Visions Art Museum in San Diego for a 3-month run.  Even as she lay gravely ill, she graciously allowed me to take possession of her work so that our committed exhibits will still be seen.

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

In the last month I have been designing the catalog for our exhibit. I called her frequently with questions: details that if one were dying would not seem terribly important. Yet she was always so kind and patient, even thanking me for pulling it all together for our exhibit. How does one even wrap their head around that? It is just who she was, the epitome of grace and kindness. I just feel it so important that her work continues to be shown.

Marion was the most generous-of-spirit woman, and particularly artist, I have ever met. There is so much professional jealousy in this field (although how professional is it to be jealous?)  She believed when one succeeds, we all succeed. There is enough for everyone. She always shared calls for entry for exhibits, public art, grants, internships, fellowships, etc. She taught me so much as an artist, as a woman. I will always reach higher and push through the fear because of her.

She made me laugh when talking about grants though. She would say I should apply for this grant or that grant. I HATED the idea and would say, no, if I need money I will just go to the bank (a white privilege response if there was ever one). She would say…Girl, they are just giving away money and you need to get you some! Finally, I relented and applied for a couple of grants and actually got one! Oh, happy day. They were just giving it away, just like she said!!!

Five years ago, I asked her about her end goal for her art, and she said she wished to be recognized as a NEA Heritage Fellow. Well, talk about manifestation! Last September she was recognized as a 2018 NEA Heritage Fellow, one of NINE in the entire country. Beyond this extraordinary achievement, was the timing, when she was so gravely ill. She gathered together her nearest and dearest and flew to DC, and on to NY to accept this great honor, bestowed on her. It gave me such joy for her end goal to be met, and for her to live to experience it.

I haven’t spoken much publicly of her illness these past 15 months, out of respect. It was her story to tell. But, now, be prepared for shameless self-promotion of Defining Moments and the ongoing exhibition of the exquisite artwork of my dear friend, Marion Coleman. She lives on through her art.

My deepest sympathies to her kids Mel, Lisa, Eric and Tina; to her sister Sharon for taking such extraordinary care of her these past four months. And to her two grand-girls, siblings and stepmother. And to all the people whose lives she touched. She was loved and admired by so many.  How blessed we all were to know her.

She and Nyls are together again. RIP dear one.







sometimes my work gets out more than i do…

Sunday, February 1st, 2015
Awakening from Tall Girl Series

Awakening from Tall Girl Series

Last year I was presented with an opportunity to submit work to an international exhibit. Ségolène Diamant-Berger  had recently returned home to France after living in Louisiana and was curating an exhibit on the theme of freedom. She had personally invited several members of African-American quilt guilds, one of whom sent me the prospectus.

At first I had reservation about sending my work abroad as shipping can be astronomical and often one has to pay duty on their own work returning home. Was it worth it? I agonized. After listening to those who had shipped work abroad with success I eventually decided to enter the exhibit. Awakening from my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work was chosen as it best fit the theme of Liberte! 

I shipped the work to France last spring. Since then this piece has been in four different exhibits throughout France. This is far more exposure than I could have hoped for and certainly more than the work would have had, had I given into the fear and not entered the exhibit initially.

Now I wish I had grabbed my passport and gone with the work!  This is where it has been:

U.S.A. Foundation, International University Campus, Paris, FR 2015
American Foundation for Arts & Sciences, Paris, FR 2015
Angers Catholic University, Angers, FR 2014
Universit√© Catholique de l’Ouest, Library, Angers, FR 2014
Saint Eloi chapel, Angers, FR 2014

everyone has something…

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

On Sunday hubs and I drove to San Jose for the opening reception of “Forming Our Lives”, a 3-woman exhibit at the San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles. My contribution to this show is five pieces from my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work¬†which¬†best conveyed the gist of my¬†story.medical-research-D

A while ago I felt I was through showing this work. It had served its purpose in allowing me to grieve my lost body parts, the barbarism and the ongoing effects on my mobility and stamina. For me, the story simply became it is what it is, something I live with daily but rarely talk about anymore. The healing aspect of this work is complete for me. And yet opportunities continue to present themselves to showcase my story. This left me torn between trotting out old news vs. making an impact through storytelling. Now I realize the former has led to the latter.

Every one of us has a story¬†which is¬†what the Tall Girl Series continues to remind me. By outing my story I am encouraging others ‘permission’ to tell theirs.

At¬†Sunday’s reception two of those seeking permission appeared. The first was a lovely woman who asked me several questions about why I decided to tell this story and also mentioning my courage in doing so. Through¬†telling my¬†story I’ve learned that¬†those who mention my¬†courage also have it themselves. The courageous recognize it in others! When I told her that I continue to show this work to encourage others to tell their own story, her eyes welled up. And I knew in that very moment I had given her permission to¬†tell hers.

Then there was a petite Asian man who read the statements,¬†examined the work,¬†walked over and said‚Ķ”people always ask me where I am from?” ¬†And there it was again‚Ķa seeker. Some one who got it! Everyone does have something, everyone has a story. And yet so few allow themselves to feel it, to experience it, to well up over it.

The Tall Girl Series…the gift that keeps on giving!


eating the elephant…one bite at a time

Monday, March 17th, 2014

scrapsI am on the precipice of starting a new body of work which is a three year collaboration with another artist. ¬†I have been doing my R & D work on this for months and now am ready to get to work. Just as when I decided to do the Tall Girl Series, the idea of designing over two dozen large pieces of work in 2-3 years is a bit overwhelming; and yet at the same time I love those kinds of challenges. ¬†In that case I made a business plan and have done much the same here. It helps with the planning and execution of so many ideas. I’ve heard it said as if eating an elephant, one bite at a time.

The last week has been a bit frenzied with giving my retrospective lecture to a group of 150 on Saturday and finalizing choices for the kitchen renovation, meeting with various contractors etc. And yet in there I found a bit of time for elephant appetizers.  I began sorting through my bags of scraps and cutting them to sew into strips. It is the mere beginnings of what I visualize will be a running theme throughout my 24-25 pieces for this collaboration.

scrap-pileI don’t save every scrap to cross my blade. I save only to-die-for scraps, batiks and fabrics I have designed. That said I have amassed three large plastic bags full since the last time I gave scraps away, which I do from time to time.

There is something incredibly soothing and relaxing about piecing little tiny bits of fabrics together. It is as meditative as it is productive.  I have friends who sew nothing but scrap quilts and they are always beautiful. There really is something to this process.scrap-strips

By the time I finish the pile of scraps and subsequent strip building I will be ready to jump in on piece #1. ¬†I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than make art to distract me from the kitchen renovation!


tallgirl musings…

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

This week I spent ten hours sitting in a chair on the convention floor with my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work. I was fortunate to land a special exhibit within the huge Pacific International Quilt Festival on through today at the Santa Clara Convention Center. I had previously shown the exhibit with the same company’s Denver festival in 2011. I had been on the waiting list for two years for a space at ¬†this venue so I felt honored to be able to showcase this exhibit.

Yet I was ambivalent about being there in person. I am over the Tall Girl Series. It was an autobiographical healing body of work. It’s primary purpose was a vehicle for self-expression; that which had not previously been allowed or acceptable. It served its purpose in getting the story out of my bones and immensely healed my grief, sorrow, pain and anger over the whole ordeal.

Since I finished the 5-year project which included a self-published book, I’ve given over a dozen Powerpoint talks, marketed the traveling exhibit and landed four big exhibits. ¬†Other than the initial in 2010 I had not attended any of the exhibits. But this one being essentially in my backyard (two hours away) I decided I might go and sit there as often people want to meet the artist. I also knew if I stayed home I would be thinking about it all weekend. So I made a deal with myself to go for two days less driving time and lunch with friends.

It truly was an experiment in human psychology!¬†¬†The comments ranged from fabulous, gratifying, validating, to downright ridiculous and rude. Some were so honored to meet the artist, which made me grin inside. ¬†Others patted me on the back, shoulder and knee. And I really had to chuckle at the two women my mother’s generation who told me that at least I have a lovely smile! ¬†My mother often said…”so and so has such a pretty smile… if she would only lose some weight!” ¬†One gal came up and said she thought we went to the same college and we had. She figured that out from the description of the college piece.

Several told me I should write a book (I have), I should travel this exhibit (it has) and I should do something with it (?) There was a game of ‘guess who?’, a ‘you think that’s bad’, several ‘well let me tell you my life story’, dozens of ¬†‘my granddaughter is tall’, several ‘would you do it over again’ questions and one guy very interested in what is to become of the exhibit in the long run…a thought I share. Those who were speechless about the work complimented me on my beautiful stitching which I appreciated.

Perhaps the most shocking were the people who did not read the backstory (100 words) which was posted at both ends of the exhibit. Unaware that I was the artist sitting there looking resplendent, there were comments about “Surgery/Suicide/You Decide” such as ‘how did that awful piece get in?!’ The most common reaction to this piece about anger, blame and rage was laughter. Oh yeah…real hilarious topic.

medical-research-DI could tell when it was time to get up and walk around as my graciousness began to wear off. I soothed myself with hand-dyed and African batik acquisitions. Other than those I did not look at a single quilt except the work of Anna Hergert which I adore. I went back to the solace of my room and ordered room service. By the end of the second day I was depleted for any more social conversation. I even had a drink by myself which Mom always said was the road to destruction!

Mostly what I got from the experience was it not only took a lot of courage to publicly show this deeply personal work but it took additional courage to sit there with it. I also had clarity once and for all about the future of the TG Series. I’m done. The work is done. The healing is done. I have moved on. I have never been a victim and never hope to be. My goal in showing this work has been primarily to show others there are creative outlets for our stories. Every one has a story! It need not be covered up with food, booze, drugs or UPS deliveries. It can be released creatively. That is my sole reason for sharing this work.

I have had numerous conversations with mentors since I finished the series about what’s next for the Tallgirl? The idea most floated was I create a DVD and take it into the schools to educate young people about body image, self esteem and bullying. And yet I haven’t done it. The idea has come up several times and inertia has always followed. Sitting in the exhibit made me aware that the inertia is about being finished and not wanting to do more.

When I first went public with my story it was the most validating and gratifying thing ever as I had been prohibited by my father from ever talking about it. I kept that ‘secret’ for over 40 years so of course it was validating. Now four years later I am tired of repeating the story. It is part of my history but not who I am. In fact it has gotten to feel a bit like a ‘victimization’ by the continual re-telling of it.

My work here is done. In fact when the exhibit returns I may not unpack it. I may just take it to the attic and entomb for posterity in the shipping tubes!  Well probably not, but what an awesome thought.


random thoughts…

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Today I was tidying up in the studio so I could pull, press and organize fifteen of the Tall Girl Series pieces to ship next week to an exhibit. Simultaneously I was searching my stash for a vintage kimono strip which I bought in Japan in 2002.

Last Sunday as I perused the merchants at the local antique faire I stumbled across another incredible vintage kimono section which I believed could be paired with the 2002 acquisition in new work.  So as I searched through both the Japanese fabric section and the surface design & other extraordinarily gorgeous fabric stashes a random thought appeared.

I would like someday to use up every piece of this fabric! ¬†¬†It was such a delightful and innocent thought which¬†startled me in a way; as if my inner kid was quite optimistically saying someday I am going to use up all this fabric which I have long believed to be untrue. ¬† It also reaffirmed how much I love working in cloth. And it could not have come at a better time…when I have finished a long-term project and am pondering what’s next? It could be almost anything that involves cloth…beautiful cloth!


On another note I finished painting the shoes for my photographer friend. I learned so much in painting these small shoes. One of the reasons my shoes are so cool is I have a large canvas to work from. These shoes are womens 6/mens 4. There was hardly any canvas on which to paint. They ended up far more gold than I would have liked but a couple dabs of paint and the shoe was covered! ¬†It was a good experiment though as the Arts Guild is interested in having me do custom painted shoes. Could I be so bold as to request no shoes under size 9?!!! Probably not…


done, done and done…

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

It is now official. I have finished not only the two large pieces for Earth Stories, but also the smaller lead in-piece and the accompanying journal so it is soup!  I am so glad I did not wait any later to start as it took me nearly 4 months and the deadline of Nov 1 is rapidly approaching.

The larger diptych added up to 66″ long by 72″ wide with the smaller piece being the requisite 14″ x 12″ . Rather than ferret out a good resting place for it until the debut exhibit next May, I decided to simply cover the jellyroll of rolled work with cloth and let it sit on the top of the guest bedroom sofa. Out of sight, out of mind.

Transfuse, detailThe past few days I’ve been thinking I would finish the ES journal, then press, roll and pack, in a certain order in five tubes the 15 pieces of my Tall Girl Series which is shipping out on October 9th for a special exhibit at the Pacific International Quilt Festival. If you’ve been¬†anxious to see this exhibit en todo this might be your last chance!

The reason for my madness was all about not living in the present moment. My intention was to cut myself some slack after returning from a quick trip just days before the work is to be picked up. Suddenly I realized my hope of relaxing post-trip was interfering with my pre-trip sanity and that if I kept up at this pace I would be exhausted when I got there and defeat the whole purpose of ¬†going! So I’m going to leave the exhibit packing to when I get back trusting it will all work out. ¬†Hooray for 3 days of art and seeing old friends in Portland.

Meanwhile I am slapping random fabrics up on the design wall with the hopes of finding direction for my next project.


emerging as we speak…

Friday, July 5th, 2013

I really enjoyed my monthly art group this morning! Each time I learn something and as of late it has been how much I remnant sectionedit myself in my art-making. Case in point: this mammoth project for the “earth stories” project has changed in scope a couple of times as I find myself meeting exciting, interesting and ‘impractical’ design concepts with “practical” solutions.¬†Today I was reminded again to just move forward with my what if ideas and worry later about the post-photography clean-up and the shipping crates.

Of course this reminder shot me right back to a creative writing class of long ago where the challenge was to write, write, write and edit only when entirely finished writing. ¬†In the case of this ‘earth stories’ work I need to fire my internal editor. ¬†Interestingly enough in the group a couple others were struggling with the same nagging critic.

After completion of my Tall Girl Series  I thought a lot about making more narrative work. I have a lot to say, why not say it in cloth?! Yet something stopped me. I did do the Keeping Up Appearances series which is narrative but also humorous. What about narrative serious work about real meaty issues? What stopped me? Perhaps time to lose that editor again.

Related to writing, last week I came up with an awesome blog post on the eve of a short road trip and never got to the computer to write it down. So here goes from what I can remember of it! The date was the first anniversary of my father’s death and just two weeks after he would have turned 89. ¬†I was reminded of the ‘book of humor’ I drafted in the late evening of his 80th birthday.

We held his birthday party at the beach because he so loved the California coast. I had volunteered to get the cake. As a very young girl I always dreamed of being a ‘bakery lady.’ So it was only fitting that I should select and purchase the cake for Dad’s party. I went to a local gourmet bakery and ordered a chocolate ganache half sheet cake. We took the cake to the beach and it was a huge hit. After the party my sisters and I divvied up the cake and I made certain that I took home the end piece with the most amount of the super luscious chocolate ganache frosting. I had a piece of cake at the party, a piece at the beach house while divvying up, a piece when I got home that night. Fast forward to 2 am and I was wide awake flying on caffeine and full of the giggles. I got up, grabbed a legal pad and began to write. I wrote ‘the bones’ for 14 chapters for a book on humor. It was great, great writing! The next day, hungover from chocolate cake I typed the words from the pad into the computer and there they have rested ever since.

This year on the anniversary of my father’s death I decided it is time to ‘flesh out’ the bones written 9 years ago. So I set a goal for myself to not only flesh it out but also publish before June 13th next year, on what would have been his 90th birthday. Ten years fermentation seems just about long enough.

hot off the press…

Thursday, March 21st, 2013



Although I have known for some time this week I received confirmation that my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work will have a special exhibit at the 2013 Pacific International Quilt Festival in Santa Clara, CA. October 17-20. This will be the second time my exhibit has been featured in one of the Mancuso shows, the first being in 2011 in Denver. It received much press and praise there so I expect that will continue.

Whenever the ‘tallgirl’ as I have come to refer to the project emerges it brings a sense of time warp with it. ¬†Since I finished the project and moved on, and have dealt with much of the debilitation by having both knees replaced and had the dreaded two MRIs my ‘tallgirl’ experience has greatly expanded. Had I not done the work I would not have been emotionally and spiritually equipped to handle the challenges that followed. And yet every time I am brought back into that time my heart heals just a wee bit more. ¬†So the exposure is a good thing.

Also I am published again!  This week I received the beautiful new Fabric Surface Design book by Cheryl Rezendes.  My work is featured on page 305 as one of a series of artist profiles: those who use paint, wax, resist, image transfer, prints etc to create color on cloth.  I started to read it last night and I am already so inspired!  The beautiful illustrations and detailed technique explanations make me  anxious to get back to making beautiful cloth again. It is always an honor to have my work featured in the books of others.

Right now I am torn between starting my big Earth Stories project, doing an altered book as homage to my parents or doing another landscape piece. So many choices!


tallgirl unchained…

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

It’s been suggested to me a couple times that I may want to continue on with my Tall Girl Series: A Body of Work. The series was a healing project in which I found my voice and released a very old harrowing tale from my body and the imprisonment of my mind.¬† It took me four years to complete the work and even when I was finished I was unsure if I was actually done!¬† As I continue to live in the body that was surgically reworked I continue to come across other adaptations I¬† might need to address as the story evolves.

The most recent of these is the two knee replacements of the past 14 months.¬† Although it didn’t seem like it at the time I skated through the rehabilitation process of my right knee in October 2011. Fast forward nine months and the left was replaced.¬† I was overjoyed as I thought these final two surgeries would change my life forever;¬† probably not unlike my parents’ hope for the original shortening surgeries.

The nearly five months since the second knee replacement has been perhaps the most challenging time since the original mid-century tall girl surgeries.  I just assumed I would be stronger and have increased mobility with no  limitation. Instead I traded one set of issues for another due to life-long weakness.

Recognizing that PT was going to take me only so far despite ongoing weakness I recently began working with a personal trainer. She is fantastic, patient and encouraging. Her background is in dance¬† and she is teaching me how to function in my body. I don’t recall that I ever have learned function. I learned only coping mechanisms. I learned to walk any way I could so to get out of the house at age 18 when stuck in a wheelchair. I learned how to fall down and get up the easiest way. Easy is not always functional.¬† So now I am learning these new ways to function with symmetry in this body. Talk about old dogs learning new tricks!

Twenty years ago when my knees began to break down the concession I made with myself was that my body is broken and I would do whatever I could to maintain mobility given the limitations.  It felt like a gift to honor myself so.  Now I am reprogramming my brain to envision a fully functioning and properly aligned body.

That which initially felt like a gift is now instead a¬† HUGE burden, a heavy pack I have been carrying for most of the past¬† two decades when the debilitation began. As a result of ‘completion’ of the¬† tallgirl series¬† I have accepted the choices made, the surgeries conceived and carried out, the long rehabilitation, the concessions of¬† ‘good enough’ and the acceptance of my physical and mobility limitations. Now I believe the time has come to let go of all of that. It is a new chapter.

The day after my first knee replacement when I was on morphine I had a dream of a jail cell being unlocked and the door left ajar. It was not lost on me even in a stupor how significant that image was.  Today I really get it. What once comforted me in my disability now is stifling.

I do believe there is a new chapter for the Tall Girl Series… on acquiring a new sense of self within this body.¬† It may always be (surgically) broken but no longer has to cripple my mind.