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But sometimes the story is wrong, or outdated, or simply cruel.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.