MESSAGES WE CANNOT READ

One of the memes in my artwork is best explained by a quote from one of my favorite books about Ice Age art, called Painters of the Caves by Patricia Lauber. She discusses the many theories about the purpose of ancient paintings in caves like Lascaux and Chauvet, most of which say more about our times and culture rather than theirs. She says the cave paintings and art are messages that were not addressed to us.

This concept says so much about our humanity. When presented with something we don’t understand fully, we create a story that explains it to our satisfaction.

But sometimes the story is wrong, or outdated, or simply cruel. I’m learning it takes great courage, and a willingness to be humble, to learn the true story. (Or perhaps I should say, the truest story.)

While I make my work, I’m constantly working in sets of numbers, colors, patterns–how many dots on this horse? How many lines? What is my favorite pattern of dots this month? How many beads in this color on this necklace, or on this decorative ‘drape’ on the sides of a wall hanging? I love odd numbers. Four is good, and five. Fourteen bothers me.

Afterwards, when I look at the finished piece, I see echoes of other patterns, some ancient and still unknown. The number of knots I put in a length of waxed linen remind me of the knotted cord language of the Incas.

When I see the dot pattern I’ve etched onto an artifact, I can almost remember what was inspiring me at that moment. When people ask me what the dots and markings mean, I ask them what they think. And their answers are always thoughtful, beautiful, wistful. “I think they’re constellations”, from a child. “Musical notation”, from a musician. “A map, a journey”, says another.

I use sticks from beaver dams to hang my fiber work. I’m fascinated by the patterns of their teeth marks. The pattern suggests a written message, a message we cannot read.

Beaver-chewed sticks, bug-chewed sticks, and lichen-etched sticks.

Beaver-chewed sticks, bug-chewed sticks, and lichen-etched sticks.

Today I came across videos of birds in flight. This haunting video of starlings in flight, for example. And this equally intriguing video of of birds’ flight ‘tracked’ in time.

So, two memes, or motifs, in my work:

So many hidden, mysterious messages around us, some random, to be sure. But others full of meaning to the creatures who make them, though certainly not made for us. Something that seems ordinary, that upon closer examination, is an exercise in wonder. An opportunity to see ourselves as just a small part of a world of daily miracles.

And the power of the stories we tell to make sense of our actions, our choices, our lives, the lives of others, and the world around us.

BURNING DOWN THE HOUSE

True story: A year or so ago, I was working on a stack of ‘fragments’–smaller, raw-edged fiber pieces with my handmade artifacts. I left the stack near a window for a few days.

When I came back, there were funny burn marks on some of them. I realized a magnifying glass had focused the sun’s rays and scorched them. Yes. I nearly burned down my studio!

Now, after months of purging, packing, traveling, settling, unpacking, setting up, and moving my studio again two weeks ago….

I’m finally able to pick up where I left off with these two fragments. I had all the layers done, individually stitched in different colors of thread. I’ve attached the artifacts. Nothing left to do but….

Invest hours more of work into these!

I WANT them to look repaired, and so I was a little obvious about it. So I patched both of these pieces, using not-matching fabrics and threads. Hand-stiched them, because I haven’t quite figured out how to free-style quilt with the old sewing machine I picked up for my studio.

Can you see the repair? It's the tiny blue square above, to the right. I patched over the black base, and the blue square, and stitched periwinkle blue around the rust square.

Can you see the repair? It’s the tiny blue square above, to the right. I patched over the black base, and the blue square, and stitched periwinkle blue around the rust square.

I also repaired another square. Then I spent almost an hour just adding the right color of blue seed beads, and a few extra buttons. I never thought of this before, but I actually have to switch back and forth between hand sewing needles for each task, too. One needle for embroidery, another for handquilting, yet another for attaching seed beads–because a needle eye that is big enough to accommodate embroidery floss is usually way to big to go through a size 9o or 10o seed bead.

Can you find the repair in this piece?? The scorch mark again was about an inch long. It's just below the upper right hand corner of the yellow square, and extends into the rust colored square.

Can you find the repair in this piece?? The scorch mark again was about an inch long. It’s just below the upper right hand corner of the yellow square, and extends into the rust colored square.

Tomorrow I’ll add a few more handmade polymer buttons (which are in the oven right now!) I just ordered new shadow box frames for these, too.

Sometimes I’m overwhelmed with how much time and work goes into even these ‘simpler’ pieces. It’s so hard to price them afterwards. Usually I end up making $5 to $10 an hour, or less. Not including my supplies and materials.

Sometimes I think it would have been so much easier to just paint. But then I would miss the fabrics, the beads, the polymer work, the displays and the old wood boxes, the shadow boxes…. I love almost every step that goes into making these pieces, and I never stop tweaking them, perfecting them, adding yet another element of interest, until I actually sell them.

I’ll show the finished pieces later next week, I hope!

P.S. I ran out of little bones, so this morning I made more. They’re in the oven now.
I bet that’s a sentence you don’t see every day.

KEEPING UP APPEARANCES

One of the reasons we picked Santa Rosa, CA to settle in, is its diversity. There are all makes and models of people who live here, a variety of race, color, creed, sex, and socio-economic class. All very new and different to us after living 27 years in a college town in lily-white New Hampshire.

My husband lives in second-hand t-shirts–or even third-hand, who can tell? He wears them until the edges fray and the stitching unravels. (Remind me someday to tell you about our very first date.) Some mornings he takes a mini-sabbatical and heads off to a local coffee shop to research and write. He typically walks, and schleps around a worn-out backpack filled with his phone, laptop, and other necessities. And sometimes he puts off getting a haircut for a few weeks.

Nothing notable about that in Keene, NH. But one day, he caught a glimpse of himself in a store window, and realized that in Santa Rosa, he looks like a homeless person.

That population is as diverse and unique as any other group of people. There are many ways people become homeless, especially in a city that’s seeing another spike in housing prices, and rents that are unimaginably high. Some folks have cars, and sleep in them. Some have dogs, and struggle to keep them fed, as well as themselves. Some push old grocery carts filled with their possessions, or stuff they can recycle. Some carry all their possessions in an assortment of garbage bags. Some stay in small groups, others range far and wide. Some are reserved and cautious, others can be in-your-face with their issues, although the latter is actually rare. Many more are invisible to us. Most stay close to available social services. Range too far, and they won’t get back in time to get a bed for the night.

The other thing we love about Santa Rosa is how the city government, and the communities it services, strive to work WITH this population, with compassion and respect.

Last week I spent hours in my studio, getting my new space set up and my work on display. I inherited an airconditioner and a microwave. Which means I can stop by my favorite neighborhood mini-mart store in the morning, pick up a delicious entree of pesto tortellini, or a tri-tip sandwich, or an enchilada, and heat it up and eat later in the day.

I made a such food stop there last week. While waiting in line, I saw a man carrying several trash bags, wandering around the store. He left before I got in line, or I would have offered to buy him lunch, too. I felt bad that I’d essentially done that ‘I-can’t-see-you-so-you’re-not-my-problem’ gaze we get when confronted by social issues we don’t think we can do anything about.

But I got a second chance to do the right thing. I saw him again on my way out of the parking lot. I had no cash, but I realized I had quite a stash of parking meter coins. I grabbed a small handful of quarters and rolled the window down.

I pulled up alongside him. “Hey, good morning! I don’t have much cash, but I have my parking money, if that will help…?” I held my handful of coins out to him.

He stopped and looked at me, and said, “What?”

I thought, oh no, I’ve embarrassed him. But I repeated my offer.

He was still confused, so I said, “I thought maybe you’d like to get something to eat? I saw you in the store a minute ago. All I have on my are these quarters.”

He started laughing.

“I WORK there!” he said. “I’m just taking the recycling out!”

Boy, was my face red. I apologized.

“No, that was really kind of you,” he said. “REALLY kind. You have a good day now.”

Sometimes even the appearance of a good deed can bring laughter to a dark and dreary world.

OPEN STUDIO for SOFA ART WALK

My brand new studio door. The studio is new, the door sign is new, and the door is freshly painted. So...new studio door!

My brand new studio door. The studio is new, the door sign is new, and the door is freshly painted. So…new studio door!

There are so many reasons why artists and other creative types should have open studios. You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t about the money.

Our big move to California last September upended a lot of things for both my husband and I. For me, I missed the League of NH Craftsmen’s Fair, which generates almost half my annual income for me. I’m also missing the FFAST open studio tour, and the Keene Art Tour, which I co-founded a few years ago.

I left without saying goodby to many lovely, loyal friends, collectors and patrons of my art.

And arrived in Santa Rosa where nobody knows my name. (OK, you folks in the back row saying, “Oh, WE know who you are, you smart aleck…”)

Today is the SOFA Art Walk, and my first really truly open studio, in my brand new space, filled to the brim with artwork, displays, and supplies.

I’ve been worried about the lack of traffic that usually happens down my little alley. I was worried about the massive construction project going on in the cafe around the corner from me, and the fact that Atlas Coffee won’t even be open this weekend. I’m worried my new visitors will suffer sticker shock. I’m worried about…..

Luann. STOP.

Finally, my right brain kicks in. Just as reasonable as my left brain, too.

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter how many passers-by I attract to my studio today. Walk-ins were not how I grew my audience in Keene, NH.

It doesn’t matter that Atlas Coffee is closed. The owner has his own dreams, and his own audience. This is when the work had to be done (and you can already see how beautiful the improvements will be.) If anything, people will be just as interested to see the work-in-progress there, though we all miss their coffee. Depending on another small business nearby is not how I grew my audience in Keene.

It doesn’t matter that my prices may seem high. They’ve always been “high”, especially compared to big box stores and other small producers. Low prices and appealing to the masses is not how I grew my audience in Keene.

I think people grew to love my work for many reasons.

I’ve always wanted them to feel comfortable in my studio and in my booth. From the start, I’ve encouraged people to actually touch my work, pick up a little bear, or horse, or fish, and hold it.

I’ve always shared my stories, and my passion for my art. I did learn not to overwhelm people with my yakking (somewhat.) I let them browse, read, ponder. I let them really sink into the work, and wait for them to let me know they want to hear more.

I’ve (mostly) handled even rude and difficult customers (few and far between, thank, goodness!) with courtesy and patience.

I grew my customer base slowly, over the years, with these principles in mind.

And the same will happen here.

In my heart, I know it. As surely as I know, in my heart, that my work has a place in the world.

(And it helps that I also have a really great layaway plan!)