This the largest quilt I’ve done so far. Nine feet by nine feet. Eight-one square feet of hand-dyed Indonesian batiks and colorful Hawaiian prints (162 square feet if you count the back). I pieced together strips to create the beach landscape, moving from sunset sky colors down to ocean colors and finally the sand. I love the way the long horizontal strips create a feeling of vastness and make you feel like you’re just catching a glimpse of one small part of a much broader picture. The border is mixture of more of the batiks and Hawaiian prints and gives it a finished look without harshly cutting off the beach scene.
After stretching the background out onto the frame, I free-formed the designs on top of the beach scene, cutting each piece out of paper first to make sure proportions were correct. Once I had everything laid out correctly, I cut the pieces out of fabric. Each appliqué has the edges turned under and ironed down, making it a very useable, washable art piece. It is a king-sized quilt, however that isn’t completely why I called it
“The King”. One of the Hawaiian prints shows a King Kamehameha style character surfing in an old helmet. There are old structures and lush foliage that hint at ancient Hawaii. He’s not a prominent part of the quilt, but he seems to be there watching over it. It’s one of the many little subtle details you will find as you explore all the images in the batiks and prints.
After I lay out all the fabrics and get the design just right, then it’s time to take the entire piece off the frame and add the finishing detail work with lots of freehand quilting. I always compare it to drawing, except I am moving the paper instead of the pen. All the thread work is my own design and is created as I go along. No computerized stitches, no pre-programmed patterns and I don’t draw patterns out ahead of time onto the fabric. It’s just me moving the quilt around under the needle, drawing with the thread. Not only does it add beautiful lines and textures, but it is another layer of subtle details to be explored.
The backs of my quilts are always a favorite part. The front has all the variety of colors, but the back is just the thread work on one large batik. That allows for a graphic line drawing version of what’s on the front. It makes it visually beautiful from both sides, which is important for a quilt that will be used and scene from both sides. In this case, it is a dark blue batik with a multi-colored tropical foliage. I used a variegated thread for the back that is the same tones as the batik design.
My quilting business started with a surfboard quilt very similar to this one. It was a twin-size quilt that I made for my son eight years ago. But, despite the fact that I’ve been making these surfboard quilts ever since, no two are ever exactly alike. Or even too close. I don’t reuse patterns, and although the theme of the surfboards in the sand recurs quite frequently, the sizes, shapes, colors and fabrics are never the same. Each piece I create is always a complete original. This quilt represents about 70 hours of work from conceptualization to construction and all the finishing touches. Stop by and visit Studio 19 to see it in person. It’s too big to hang on the wall for display, but that means it will be on my table and you can touch it and inspect it close up.
“There is hope at the bottom of the biggest waterfall.” -Patrick Ness
I always love a good challenge, and my scenic artist heart still loves to do very large scale art. This project provided opportunities for both, and to also contemplate deeper meanings, not just in the symbolism but in our lives. Our lives are filled with contrast. Contrast and conflict within ourselves to do what is right but also do what we want and not feel constrained by rules and social norms. They are certainly filled with the contrast of the good and bad things we face daily, and all the grey areas in between. Ironically, my father passed away during the making of this banner, so the symbolism runs even deeper for me. The highs and lows of my relationship with him, his death coming right after the Christmas season with my two young sons, the joy and sadness of being with all of my siblings at the funeral, and so many other emotions I have yet to explore. It was a blessing and a curse to have this project to finish when I returned home. Life rolls on…it flows, like the water depicted in this quilt.
If you know anything of Christianity, then you probably recognize the nod to the body of Christ on the cross in this waterfall image. And, since it was commissioned by a church, you can be sure all of the design elements were deliberate. The design is mine, although the pastor did say he wanted a waterfall image with red and purple flowers and he wanted the construction technique to be similar to a different piece I had created a few months ago. From there, I designed a piece that would not only be beautiful, but also thought provoking. And since you’re supposed to have your thoughts provoked, I hate to spoon feed you all the answers! But, since this blog is about process, I’m going to do that anyway. At least I’ll give you my thoughts and hope that yours are further inspired on your own.
Of course, the basis for the entire imagery is that Christ is often compared to life-giving water. So, like the outstretched arms of Christ on the cross, the water on the quilt spills in from both directions and flows down to earth, curving and turning like the shape of His body. Where his head would be, there
is a rising sun. Or, perhaps, this is a rising Son. A Son who’s life is being sacrificed in that very moment in a type of setting sun, but one that will rise again soon. The image captures both the rising and the setting. There is green all around, symbolizing the Earth and newness and life that is nourished by the water…life that wouldn’t even exist without this water. The purple and red flowers scattered along the banks are also only in existence because of this living water. Purple is one of the colors of Lent. It was the color worn by kings and was the color of the robe draped on Christ to mock his proclaimed role as a king and savior. Because of these connections, it can symbolize both mourning and joy. The bubbles, though perhaps not really Biblical, are a continuation of the water. I love to capture motion in my work because it makes a static thing like a piece of art feel alive and exciting. When I look at these bubbles, I see water in motion, that flowing heavily and crashing with enough power to cause bubbles to rise back into the air. It is life moving forward. It is the downward movement of the waterfall, the rising of the sun, the flowers growing and popping up daily along the banks and the bubbles rising up. Everything is in motion. And that is part of the message here. It’s not only the crucifixion and the resurrection, but the beauty and joy and active life that this water brings to everyone and every thing. He is the biggest waterfall, and there is definitely hope there. That is the message in this piece.
As for the construction of this beast….well, let’s just say there was a giant
19’x5′ pattern I printed out and went piece by piece, curve by curve, point by point…you get the idea! I assembled as I went along to lessen the chance for confusion, though there still was some until I started labeling everything more particularly. There were TONS of Indonesian batiks, lots of bold beautiful patterns meticulously stitched together to create a beautiful flow and smooth transitions that feel like silky ribbons of water twisting and turning on their way down. There were lots of flowers and bubbles appliquéd on top and lots of sewing. I stitched the sun in metallic gold, the flowers in purple and the rest in a vibrant teal blue. LOTS of fabric through my little Juki! Many, many hours but with a truly amazing result. I’m to typically one to make patterns and do finite piecing, so I’m very proud of how it turned out. It was a wonderful, difficult, learning experience in many ways and gave me hope for new ventures and many, many new ideas to realize.
A week ago this morning I was waking up from yet another sleepless night in East Texas to attend, and speak at my father’s funeral. My dad was a complicated man, and if you only want to know the good, then I suggest you skip this part and scan on down to the eulogy I gave that day. If you want to know the truth, read both.
I have struggled deeply with my feelings this week. My father was a lesson in contrast. I have some wonderful memories of his amazing sense of humor and his playful side, certainly his wealth of knowledge and his love of music, and I also have very painful memories of being abandoned emotionally and physical many, many times, and of walking on eggshells my entire life to make sure I didn’t upset him because then I wouldn’t hear from him for weeks or months or years. It is hard to have a true bonded loving relationship with another human being when anxiety is at the core of your relationship. When I was eighteen I got married. My dad was so angry with my decision, he called me all the way from Africa to yell at me and hang up, hardly giving me the chance to say two words. That would be the last I would hear from him for five years. Despite many letters asking for forgiveness and trying to prove to him that I hadn’t screwed up my life and that I was a good person, nothing. Well, except for the one time I found out he was in Arkansas on home leave and I called to see if perhaps two years had been a long enough penance and maybe if I just broke the ice he would respond. He responded alright…”How did you know I was here? I have nothing to say to you.” And he hung up. I was a mess. Sobbing and pleading for him to want a relationship with me. I sat on the floor, a grown married woman, and sobbed. He eventually contacted me three years later and we moved on, never discussing those five years. It wasn’t the last time he cut me out of his life, but usually for only a couple of years at a time after that.
I realized a long time ago that if I was going to have a relationship with him, it would be on his terms and I made the decision to have it, knowing it would always be me that apologized and sought him out, whether it was my fault or not.
My parents split when I was eleven, and the next six years weren’t much better than those years of no contact. There were occasional phone calls and some letters. Though, when my sister and I visited him five years later in Africa, we found a drawer full of letters from us that had not even been opened. Letters full of things we had been doing in our daily lives as a young child and a struggling teenager. Letters asking how he was and wanting to see him and sharing personal things. I understand that my dad had great difficulty with the divorce from my mother, and I will never know what pain he endured for that. But, that was such a kick in the gut to my seventeen-year-old self, for him to never have even read my heartfelt words to him during those difficult years. Years spent with a destructive stepfather. Years where acknowledgement and a kind word from a father would have meant the world. Instead, there was great loneliness.
When Dad finally decided to speak to me again, we continued down the rollercoaster ride that would be our relationship for the next 25 years. My siblings didn’t fare any better. My brothers both spent a least a decade each out of contact, and my sister was on and off as well. Each time for silly disagreements about how we should be living our lives. Perceived offenses which most families would just acknowledge as disagreements. Or just things teenagers and young adults do, and parents who love unconditionally talk us through. I said that to him once…”Dad, I’ve just never felt that unconditional love.” For years he joked about that. Mockingly saying “oh you want ‘unconditional’ love…”. I know his joking about it was his way of expressing that it hurt and that he cared, but at the time, it was hard to hear him make fun of my deepest desire.
We had wonderful times, too. Many, many laughs. But, I have grown up with the sense that I have disappointed him so often. He has said very cruel things to me and to all members of my family. He has also given me wonderful compliments. It’s just hard to know which was the truth. Perhaps he really felt both. All I know is that I grew up never knowing.
So, here I am. I’m almost 48 and I don’t know how to feel. Do I miss him? Did I love him? Did he ever love me? He asked me a couple of years ago if there was anything of his that I wanted when he passed, as he had been in ill health for quite some time at that point, and I told him there were things that were special to me, but the only thing I really deeply wanted was his guitar. I have such fond memories of him playing it and listening to Hank Jr., Willie and Waylon, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller and so many more. He wrote many country songs and had this dream to get one recorded. I connected with him through music and through that dream, because, for a man who spent 40 years serving his country in the military and the Foreign Service, risking his life at times, dealing with such bureaucracy, which he didn’t always love and did it because it provided a stable paycheck for his family, he had this creative side pulling at him, and this dream to run off to Nashville and be a songwriter and my gypsy artist soul connects with that desire and understands it so very much. Last week as I wandered around his house, helping to sort through things, I cleaned the dust off that guitar and prepared to bring it home. It was the only thing I took with me on the plane. Everything else is being shipped to me. And I felt good about that. I thought about it a lot on the plane ride back to California. Until I got here.
And then everything hit me. All these emotions. All the loss. After almost five decades of dealing with the losses that came with this difficult relationship, a final act of his sent me over the edge. He left all four of us out of his will. I had a curt heads up that this would be the case, but after such a difficult week, after losing my own beautiful beach house to my husband and having to move into this tiny 400 sq ft condo last year, and losing my marriage and starting completely over yet again at 47, and being so financially strained, there was something about this final slap in the face, and also being made to feel that I was not allowed to mourn his loss, that hit me hard. I guess I couldn’t be mourning because I laughed and joked with my siblings, because I wasn’t a puddle of tears before, because I didn’t have lots of contact with my father, because, because, because….whatever the perceptions are…I didn’t love him, I didn’t have the right to grieve, I didn’t feel the loss in the same way and I didn’t seem worthy of a kind word. And I questioned that. And I almost packed up that guitar and sent it back because I was so angry at him I didn’t even want to look at it. I cried a lot. A LOT. And then I finally slept more than four hours at a time for a couple of nights and regained a little composure. I talked with my mom and my siblings. I yelled a little. I yelled at my dad. I felt a little like Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump yelling at God in that lake. How can a father be so hard on his kids their entire lives, and then leave them with nothing? How can he think we weren’t worthy of something? Anything. It’s not about the money…it’s about being remembered and valued. And it’s about not explaining this final act to me before he died. Not telling us himself. Not giving us some reason.
But, I know he didn’t leave us with nothing. But, what exactly has he left me with?
I kept the guitar. I’m staring at it now. I will piece together my feelings for this man as life rolls on. I don’t want pity or an “I’m sorry” or anything from anyone. I know everyone deals with pain, and I don’t think mine is more or less than another’s. I just wanted to express both sides. I meant everything I said in the eulogy below, as I stood beside his open casket and shared these stories with an unsuspecting group of friends who only knew him in retirement in rural East Texas and had no idea what this man had done with his life. Every word is true. I claim my right to miss him and to grieve. Because I do. And nobody gets the right to give me parameters on that. My brother Jon also spoke and talked about how nobody walks with us our entire lives. We enter and exit at different times and therefore we each have our own version of who a person was to us individually. He was MY father. And for almost fifty years I walked a very personal walk with him that nobody else did. Each of my siblings walked their own walk with him filled with pain and happiness as well. I am just glad that I have them to share in this with me, because only they truly understand.
So, 2018 began with me moving out of my 20-year marriage and leaving my beach house and trying to make 400 sq ft work for me and my two young boys and trying to survive with a new business as an artist. It was filled with beautiful highs and deep, deep lows, lots of tears, new adventures and a toughening up of my soul, and it ended with the death of this man that is my father on December 29. And, 2019 began with his burial. Fitting in so many ways. I want to lay him to rest. I want to lay so many things to rest. I want to lay my sadness and anger to rest, though that will take more time. He saw angels before he passed, and he wasn’t a religious man. He was ready to go and excited to see his father who passed away before I was born. I hope he has found peace. I did, and still do love him very much. I very much grieve his loss in so many deep and painful ways, and hope to remember all of it, not just the good and not just the bad. Because that is life–a complicated, beautiful contrast of highs and lows. Rest in peace, dad. I hope there is a lot of bass fishing in heaven.
Eulogy for Jerry Lee Baker, Sr.
Written by Susan Baker Scharpf
Delivered on January 5, 2019 in Pittsburg, TX
I think one of the greatest fears as we see our lives moving quickly by us, is to feel like it will not have mattered much when all is said and done. That someday, we will lie in a funeral home and a few people will gather and there may be some pleasant memories exchanged, but that in the end, it may not have mattered much whether we existed or not. It has been really difficult for me to try to figure out how to put into a few words what my father’s life was all about, and what it meant to me…what is his legacy? And I know that the sweet answer would be to say that it’s us…his four kids. But, in this case, I know that is such a pitifully small part of the story, though perhaps his favorite. Perhaps… 😉
But, somewhere in this world there is a man who got himself in trouble in Tijuana at 16 years old and wound up in a Mexican jail. Legally, as the administrative officer for the U.S. embassy, my dad was not allowed to pay any bribes to get anyone out of jail. But he did, out of his own pocket, and he drove that young boy to the border and bought him a greyhound bus ticket home, also out of his own pocket. And that boy got a second chance.
And, somewhere there is a man who had been injured in a car wreck and in Mexico, you could not be released until all “debts” had been paid. Dad worked with the doctor and smuggled this man out of the hospital and into an ambulance, took him to the border where an American ambulance was waiting, and used his authority as a U.S. diplomat get him across the border and to a hospital.
And somewhere, there is a family and descendants of a family who many years ago were serving as missionaries in Mozambique where they were captured and used as political pawns. And the Mozambiquen president told the United States that they would NOT step foot on their soil and try to negotiate their release and that it would be on their terms. But in a small office in the embassy, my dad was making plans with a military rescue and recovery team to go in and bring that family home. And when they were safely in the air, dad got the call and he then called the president of Mozambique to tell him what they had done. And that family went home to live their lives.
And somewhere in Africa, there is a group of men who were given a little more dignity and respect. Dad was looking out of the window of his office at the embassy at all of these locals scattered all over the lawn. He asked an employee what they were doing and he responded that they were using tin can lids to cut the grass. Dad asked why they didn’t have a lawnmower and the employee responded that the Africans wouldn’t know who to use it and weren’t intelligent enough to be taught. He said something like “this is the embassy of the United States of America, and this is not how we treat out employees.” He immediately went to his desk and ordered lawnmowers, which they quickly mastered. He said the grounds of the embassy were immaculate because the African employees took such pride in their work and felt valued and respected and wanted to repay that confidence.
And while Americans were enjoying the disco era and all the things the late seventies had to offer, three satellite planes were grounded during a coup in Suriname. Satellite planes that should have been circling South and Central America scanning for any threats to our national security, in particular nuclear war. And while our family was under national Surinamese orders to not leave our house, my father was gone for three straight days with no word. During that time he negotiated with the leader of the coup, to have those planes released. And during that same time, Americans in the country heard a rumor that those planes were going to evacuate us all to safety, and he had to let them all know that wasn’t the case, and to stay calm and we would work things out. Those planes were released without incident, and nobody understood the vulnerable spot we as Americans had been in until he stepped in.
In each of the incidents I mentioned, we were there when he came home for dinner and tried to put away the events of the day and be a father and a husband. Every time his own life had been threatened or he put himself in harm’s way to do his job, like the day he worked in an evacuated embassy in Ecuador trying to get communication to Washington while machine gun fire came through the window, and the day he stood on the street corner at the end of a coup in Bolivia and faced a tank coming up the street that luckily turned out to hold American soldiers, he came home to dinner to young children who didn’t know enough to be afraid and certainly had no clue about what he had experienced that day. It is no wonder that though he seemed to move mountains in his work and received many awards for his outstanding service, there was sometimes a struggle to connect with his family. There was a distance that I think can often come where there are so many details about your life that you cannot, or don’t want to share.
Each of us kids has a different relationship with our father, and a different way in which we connected to him. Our relationships differ not only because we differ in ages, but also because we each were older and more aware in completely different countries and sometimes continents. On top of that, our individual personalities led us connect with him in different ways. For me, it was music. I have such strong vivid memories of him playing his guitar and making large real-to-real audio mixes of songs that he loved and recorded off the radio and albums. He wrote many many country songs, a passion and hobby that I believe brought him back to his roots and a simpler life that shaped him as a child. My dad had an incredibly funny sense of humor and that came out in his songs as well. Songs like “She Wants to be a Cowgirl, but She’s Just a Cow” and sooo many others. When he asked me a couple of years ago if there was anything specific I wanted when he passed, I knew immediately what it was. I said the only thing that I really wanted was his guitar. It was emotional to clean the dust off of it this week and prepare to take it home with me.
My father was born in Cardwell, Missouri in 1945, the 7thof eight children. His parents moved to Wynne, Arkansas soon after and worked hard to provide what they could for their large family, but it was a humble uncertain existence. Fishing was a big part of his family and he grew up fishing and exploring all the rivers and lakes surrounding Wynne. When dad was 17 he joined the Air Force and became a communications officer. He wanted to get out and see the world and thought this was the best way to do it. He was sent off to boot camp in San Antonio and then off to Alaska. After four years in the Air Force, he got out and eventually got a job with the State Department. During this time he also met and married my mother, had a son and was then assigned his first overseas post…this man who had grown up in rural Arkansas was given his very post…to Tehran, Iran. The next thirty years of his life would take him from there to The Hague, Holland; La Paz, Bolivia; Bern, Switzerland; Guayaquil, Ecuador; Paramaribo, Suriname; Tijuana, Mexico; Lilongwe, Malawi; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and during a three year assignment as a rover, he worked at the embassies in every country in Africa except two.
My father picked cotton in Arkansas
He camped at the base of Mt. Kilamanjaro
He skied in the Alps
He’s been to the altiplano in the Andes mountains of Bolivia
He’s been in the deserts of the middle east
He’s been in the deep jungles of South America
He’s been in the rainforests of Suriname
He’s fished for piranha
He’s been on a boat on Lake Titicaca
And so many other adventures
I loved my father. And these are the memories that I will treasure for always.
The phoenix image is just one that keeps coming back to me. A few months ago, I sold the phoenix quilt I made last year and felt I was in a different place in my life and wouldn’t use that image again. I thought about how I felt stronger and how maybe I was ready for imagery about power and already being strong, not still rising from the ashes. And then, I was hit hard by a few things in my personal life. Really hard. I realized that this idea of rising is recurrent. We don’t rise just once. It is a constant journey. A constant battle to leave behind the things, and sometimes the people, that pull us down and make us feel like we have no where to go, and that rising is not within our capabilities. Some people make us feel that way deliberately. Others do it in much more subtle ways. One of my biggest battles this year has been fighting the fear of insignificance.
We all want to matter. I want to matter. I want to feel like I’m worth a phone call, a kind word, a quick message to ask how I am or if I’d like to grab lunch and catch up. Something. Anything. And, don’t lecture me on how a healthy self-esteem would cure me of needing that reassurance from others and how I need to just know I am valuable deep within. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all of that. Sometimes, though….sometimes I want to FEEL it from another person. And that made me realize that I am still in the process of rising. Of peeling off whatever it is that holds my spirit down. I am still that phoenix looking up and lifting my wings and flying while part of me is still dripping flames and ash and all the things I’m trying to leave behind.
And that led me to this latest phoenix design using a very different technique. My first phoenix quilt, entitled “My Unconquerable Soul”, pictured on the left, was built entirely as appliqués. Every piece was cut and the edges were turned under and stitched down on top of a base batik. In my newest design, the background is a piecing extravaganza! (which is code for nightmare…) There is no way to cut out a bunch of one shape because the same shapes and sizes rarely exist in this piece. Once I piece together the background, I will build the phoenix as I did before, through a series of appliquéd feathers and layers that make up her body. And then the whole thing will be stitched, and most likely I won’t be able to resist adding lots and lots of Swarovski Crystals, though I’m not exactly sure where they will be placed just yet. She’ll let me know, though. When she’s good and ready.
This year. Ooooo boy. There have been some incredible highs and
lows. I have become fascinated with what it means to be strong. I don’t think I’m alone in that fascination, because I’ve noticed that my biggest sellers are often images of strength. The phoenix rising from the ashes, square-jawed mermaids with hair flowing in the water or withstanding a furious wind, tough women, wolves, bears, tigers and especially lions. Lots of lions. Most of these pieces have lasted a day or two in the shop before they sold. Some were sold while I was still working on them. Why is that? Why do these strong images resonate with all kinds of people? Is it because we are strong? Or because we want to be strong? Or both? Maybe we are strong already but need to be reminded. Maybe we need to surround ourselves with these images so that on those days when we feel weak and wonder how we’re going to pay for car repairs or help our child with a learning disability or fight that ongoing battle with weight loss or rejection or abandonment, we can feel inspired. Strengthened. Emboldened. These images send us out into the world in the morning and are there for us when we return at night seeking refuge from the day, battered by life’s challenges, ready again to look at that reminder that we ourselves picked out and placed in our own home. We secretly believe in ourselves enough to feel the connection with the tiger or the phoenix or the lion, but we also know ourselves well enough to understand that we still need their inspiration in these moments. We understand, but also welcome the reminder that “The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!” — Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
Love. It’s one of those words we all throw around and claim that it conquers things and makes the world go round and is all you need. I think those statements are about as true as “time heals all wounds”. Time doesn’t heal jack. Do you know what heals? Growth, learning, paying attention to another person’s story, understanding a little better why the hurt came and why you felt it so deeply, coming to terms with the fact that life happens, accidents happens and most importantly for me, that I am sometimes the cause of another’s hurt. These revelations and so many more things come to us over time, but it’s not time itself that heals wounds. And it’s not just love that conquers all.
I will concede one thing that I believe about love and that is that loving ourselves enough that we learn how to find some peace and joy in daily life gives us the confidence to face the pain we encounter, forgive others and more importantly than forgiving, to feel empathy. It allows us to see beyond ourselves to understand that others are also fighting battles that we cannot understand, which helps us to let go of anger of being offended and judgment. But….and this is a very hard lesson…that does not mean our love itself can change circumstances, heal another from their physical or mental ailments or force others to make choices that would bring them greater happiness and so much less sorrow. And, perhaps one of the hardest lessons, it does not require us to stay in a situation in which we are being hurt in any way by a person to prevent that person from experiencing the pain of being removed from our lives. LOVE, in and of itself, is not all you need. What we need are all the the actions that love inspires us to take, the words it inspires us to say and the things it inspires us to think and believe.
So….why do I have so many pieces that are centered on love? Well….for one, they always sell! If I’m being completely honest…. 😉 And why is that? I’m sure there are a thousand answers. For me, I believe it is at the core of all we do and all we want out of life. It is the great motivator, just not the end result. When we love and respect and find peace with ourselves, it leads us to want that peace and happiness and love for others, which leads us to act on those desires and affect change and reach out in whatever ways we can. Maybe it sounds selfish to think loving ourselves is so important, but I truly believe it is. It’s hard to love our neighbor as ourself if we don’t love ourself first.
I know that in the grand scheme of life, I will only truly affect a very small number of people, and that’s okay. I hope in some way I can inspire my kids and friends and acquaintances to love themselves and do good so they will in turn affect others in a positive way, and those “others” will affect even more others, and so on. Real love inspires nothing but good. And that’s why I think people buy these love pieces, whether its a card or a pillow or a piece of art, so they can have these little reminders of something good.
You know, I’ve had better weeks. As I was packing some things up to work on at the studio today, I found this piece that I started a couple of months ago. Sometimes I create happy sea stars and fun octopuses. And then sometimes, I am inspired by life and how it changes. How it pushes and pulls you in these different directions, forcing you to either change with it or hold steady and fight it. And the best solution isn’t always the same choice. Sometimes it’s about the happy things that inspire us–cute animals, beautiful scenery, vibrant colors or a great new piece of fabric. And sometimes, it’s the not-so-happy things and in those moments of pain and struggle, I often visualize images that seem to parallel what I’m going through.
One of those moments reminded me of this painting I had created years ago for a primitive styled production of La Pastorela. In this little Christmas play, there is a very literal mouth of hell. For this production, the director just wanted a very simple, fantastical design and this was my rendering for that backdrop. I don’t know why I thought about it all these years later, but I pulled it out of my stash of paintings and decided I would turn it in to a textile piece. It seemed symbolic of where my life was and I wanted to create something a little less happy-beach-day and a little more true to what I was experiencing. That said, I am an optimist and I always like to feel there is hope. I’ve been contemplating a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel piece for quite some time, and thought it might be cool to combine those two ideas and have the tunnel be this demonic mouth of hell, as that’s what it felt like I was faced with at the time. I came across this Robert Frost quote that I felt fit so perfectly: “The best way out is always through.” If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the difficulties of my life these past few years, it’s that. There are no short cuts. There are no easy paths that will allow me to circumvent the pain and stress and sorrow that my situation brings me. It is only in walking through the fire that I will be able to pass my demons and step out of the darkness, over those sharp teeth and into the sunshine that awaits. I don’t know how long it will take to feel that fresh air again. Sometimes I feel the breeze and the warmth of the sunshine and know it is getting closer. Sometimes it seems to take forever. But, through it all, I know there’s only one way to go, and that’s to face it head on and walk straight through.
Here’s my second piece of “liturgical art”. I love that phrase. If feels so classy and righteous. But seriously, I really love making these pastor’s stoles. There’s something about the odd size and the fact that it’s a wearable that make these quite interesting. There
are two sides that need to sort of go together but don’t actually touch each other, and each side is only about 4″ wide and super long. It’s not a proportion I’ve ever used in painting or textile work and it presents and interesting challenge. The goal is to make it a piece of art in some way, but that can be tricky with such a long skinny surface area to work with. Well, two long skinny surface areas, that really make up one picture, but split in half, so not exactly. I feel
like I’m in a Dr. Seuss world.
My friend gave me a quick sketch of what he wanted. This is to be a special baptism stole and he wanted abstracted water swirling. He had been inspired by a design I had created for my mother’s piece (coming soon). So, I shopped for an interesting assortment of blue batiks and got to work creating this little work of art. I used a lighter batik with less pattern for the background so the river would contrast more and be the focal point. I picked one that had a little pink and yellow in it as well, to add to the contrast, since all my water batiks only had blues in them. Then it was just a matter of cutting out and layering all the swirls. That’s probably simplified just a touch, but that’s really all
I did. Layered wavy lines until it looked right. 🙂 The cool way of describing that process is to call it “organic”. Which sounds much better than “lacking a plan”. I love building designs from scratch as I go, though. There are times for patterning and there are times to just roll with it and see where the batiks take you. This was the time for that. When it was finished, it needed a few bubbles to break it up and to tie the background together with the waves. The stitching helps with that, too, but I like adding the circular shapes against the wavy lines. Five thread colors for the free motion quilting and this beautiful little river was finished! I also love the back. I’ve been using darker batiks on the backs of my quilts lately so the stitching is very noticeable and I just love how it looks. Very happy with the way it turned out.
You know that song “You Are My Sunshine”? Well, I hate it. Eleven years ago, after going through more than a decade of fertility treatments and so many difficult things, we were finally placed with a sweet baby boy with the hopes of adopting him. It was the best. Such a special time for me. But for some reason, all these years of waiting and preparing for a baby, and the only song I could think of to sing to him for months was “You Are My Sunshine”. I mean have you ever listened to all the lyrics? It’s a super depressing song but I think everything thinks it’s happy because it says the word “sunshine” except it’s not about sunshine at all. It’s about loss. And it turned out to be prophetic. Five months later, we had to give that sweet baby back to his father, and I haven’t sang it since. I have this idea in my head that if I sing it, I will lose one of my boys, and I can’t risk that again. I know it’s not rational, but it’s how I feel. Well, this week, it was featured in my son’s elementary school music program, and it brought me to tears very quickly and unexpectedly. I’ve been thinking about how often I use the sun motif in my work, because it does still represent joy and peace and warmth and beautiful Southern California days. I just can’t sing that song.
This sun textile art is still a favorite. I created each piece completely separately because I didn’t want anything to line up perfectly at all. I wanted each piece to be a quadrant, but I didn’t want them to look like they went together. I often refer to my process (and I used this term as a scenic artist also) as selective randomness. I need it to look random but if I really threw caution to the wind and didn’t check anything, then there is a big chance some parts would line up way too perfectly or the colors would match too well, and I don’t want that. So, how do I coordinate but clash? Well, clashing takes a little more skill than you might think.
I started by choosing four background fabrics that were very different from each other. I chose two warm colors and two cool colors. From there, I picked up one of those squares and added all the fabrics and stitching. The first one was kind of easy. But, from then on, I had to make sure things didn’t line up, and I didn’t use the same exact shapes. It may sound easy to not match, but it’s surprising how repetitive our brains can be, and how they like to go back to their go-to shapes and colors and suddenly you wind up with four very similar pieces. I often ask myself when I’m laying out fabrics “what does NOT go with this?” and then I choose that fabric. It’s a way of pushing me to step away from a routine or a tendency and instead pay attention to an instinct. It requires intention, though. It isn’t something you craft while you’re chatting with a friend. I find in those times, we often revert back to habit. It takes a conscious effort (at least for me) to push a boundary and to make a different choice.
Once I pieced all four quadrants, then I had to shift them around until I found the grouping I liked the best. Next, I photographed it from all four sides to decide what direction I liked best, and that determined how I stitched the pieces together. The individual quadrants were stitched to canvas before all the free motion quilting, to give the cotton batik fabrics some stability and to protect it when I stretched it over the frame. Lots of free motion stitching, including several gold metallics. It’s bold and abstract and full of life and so many colors. Much better than that stupid song. 🙂
My almost five-year-old has become fascinated with boobs lately. “What are those? Mine are small. When will mine get big like yours? Mommies use these to feed their babies. How do they do that? How does milk get in them?”. I’m trying to be the cool mom and take all these questions in stride, answering the questions like an intelligent, educated, forward-thinking woman because I want him to see this as biology. But, I admit, sometimes it makes me laugh and sometimes I get squirmy, a little uncomfortable with talking so bluntly about things we never discussed when I was a child. These recent conversations, and the fact that it’s Mother’s Day weekend has me, as I’m sure much of the world, contemplating what it means to be a mom. And if you aren’t a mom, you’re probably thinking about your own mother and what she has meant in your life. I mean, it’s not just about milk-producing boobs. Thankfully. As an adoptive mom, mine never did that, so I’m glad it’s not the criteria. So, what is it about?
Nothing influences my work more than relationships, and the strongest relationships I have are with my mother and as a mother myself. It is the greatest source of joy, pain, comfort, loss, self-doubt and self-confidence. It is everything. Everyone has a mom story. It might be more full of pain than joy, but everyone has a mom or is a mom or was a mom or is desperate to be a mom or maybe has no desire to be a mom. There is something so deep and tangible and transformative about motherhood, no matter how you experience it.
My boys own my soul. They came at great cost and yet a price I would have paid ten times over. Years of fertility treatments, tears, physical and emotional sacrifices in attempts to get pregnant and have a child changed me. It steeled me up and gave me perspective and empathy and strength. And then there was the choice to adopt. And that led to over a hundred hours of classes and lots of paperwork and home visits and background checks and so much scrutiny. Lots of waiting. And that gave me patience and perseverance and determination. And more strength. And that led to my sweet baby Isaac, our first adoption. But, five months into motherhood I had to hand that baby back to his father and watch him drive away forever. That broke me in a way I had never experienced. And it gave me humility and compassion and oh so many tears. And strength. And eventually, all of that led to my sweet Dylan. And four years later, another miracle came in my 12 lb baby Seth. Now, as they celebrate their 9thand 5thbirthdays this month, respectively, I find it has led to so very much more. Understanding, gratitude, so much love and acceptance. And strength. Always strength. Forever getting stronger.
This is why I am inspired by strong women. I love them and am inspired by them and I want to be one.
“It is the custom of every good mother after her children are asleep to rummage in their minds and put things straight for next morning, repacking into their proper places the many articles that have wandered during the day. If you could keep awake (but of course you can’t) you would see your own mother doing this, and you would find it very interesting to watch her. It is quite like tidying up drawers. You would see her on her knees, I expect, lingering humorously over some of your contents, wondering where on earth you had picked this thing up, making discoveries sweet and not so sweet, pressing this to her cheek as if it were as nice as a kitten, and hurriedly stowing that out of sight. When you wake in the morning, the naughtinesses and evil passions with which you went to bed have been folded up small and placed at the bottom of your mind; and on the top, beautifully aired, are spread out prettier thoughts, ready for you to put on.” ― J. M. Barrie, The Adventures of Peter Pan