Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I have been making small books and wall pieces that include favorite poems sporadically for about twenty years now. They are almost always conceived of as a gift for a particular person. I am working on one now and it has given me time to reflect about how deep and intimate the process of making something for someone is. The time of making is also time to think about the other person, remember shared moments and hold that other person in a tangible but ethereal way. We do it when we cook or sew or burn a cd - we take our time and fill it with connection.

One of my many majors during my first year at RISD was illustration. I never ended up pursuing it though my pieces are often illustrations of my personal, unwritten narratives. I have always found the best illustrations are ones that expand upon the writer's words and capture a something however simple that can't be expressed in words. The visualization exists in the space between the words which makes poetry especially satisfying to work with since the spaces are larger.

I make my objects as containers for the writers' voices, a material place for the words to rest. I make them as containers for my love, a material place for it to rest as well. I hold the words - often hand lettering the poem so the shaping of the letters become part of my hand memory.

I never sell these pieces and rarely photograph them. For one thing I borrow the poetry without obtaining permission from the poets. And the impulse to make a piece is not only about creating my own images but also about expressing the bond between me and the recipient. I like to think of them like little boats floating away - delicate threads connecting them to me and creating a web.

Friday, March 13, 2009


This winter I've taken a break from my usual studio work and have been playing around with some fabrics that my friend Katy Helman has printed with imagery generated from her students' drawings. I've been stitching the fabrics together, creating vignettes and then combining them with other fabrics to create clothing - children's clothing, women's clothing - overalls, skirts, prom dresses.

Now it is time to exhibit these pieces and of course that means finding bodies to put them on. Which brings up the thorny issue of body shapes and sizes and the difficult reality that clothes show better on some than others. And bodies move in many directions which is a good thing but . . .

The last time I did this much sewing and fitting, it was for costumes for a production with nine women at the Opera House. Nine very different female bodies, young, old, curvy, broad it was such a relief to get to the one NYC actress - a "perfect" size 8. As a designer, my job was easier on a standardized form but . . .

Growing up with my share of media-inspired ideas about the female body and beauty, I worked hard to love of my non-standardized body in my feminist 20s and enjoy its strength and health since then but . . .

I still think a few more inches in height, a few fewer pounds in weight would make clothes look better. And now I layer on the struggles of my beautiful, short, curvy daughter to find teen fashions that fit and I rail once again against industrial stereotyping.

Barbie and I both turn fifty this year - along with two favorite cousins. I think those of us who aren't made of plastic are glad that our bodies reflect our lives, the bearing of children, the joy of movement, the power of age . . . and very glad that our feet can stand flat against the earth as well as bend into sexy heels.

And I am so ready to return to inanimate forms- preferably rectangles!

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I had the pleasure of finishing two closets recently - not nearly as large, messy or photogenic as the one above. Closets must often be one of the last things finished on any home renovation or construction - well maybe baseboards are the last but closets are a close second.

Yet having new closets is a deep pleasure - beyond the joy of having a place to put shoes where the puppy can't chew them - making me wonder why it is so enjoyable to create spaces for hiding things. Do I have this psychological need to conceal or just the desire to create visual space by banishing clutter?

I am an American - culturally predisposed to airing my dirty laundry - so what is this obsession with closets? Stories are made to be told, clothes to be worn, food to be eaten, books to be read - not all tucked away in specialty holding places. So how come I love journals, closets, pantries and libraries?

In my more benign moments, I think my squirrel habits are not a way to hide but a way to make sure that when I need something it is there. How much more positive to think of our storage places as repositories of our treasures, holding them at the ready for when we need extra layers, canned goods or reminding of our special histories.

Stuffing something into a closet can be good but taking out just the right thing at just the right time may be the greater pleasure. In these cold, raw, gray days of November, I need to delve into well-filled closets and cupboards and bookshelves to find my gloves and rice and perhaps some prizes I forgot I collected for just this moment.

Thursday, October 30, 2008


Today is my 49th birthday. I really like the number 49. My favorite mathematical operation is multiplication probably because of its relationship to pattern making. I still remember learning the tables up to 12. I especially liked squaring numbers. 36 and 64 are such round numbers but 49 is a great square of a lucky angled prime number and only obtainable that way. There is something unique and crisp about 49.

Nine is a a good number for me. I have individual memories of earlier ages but the first age I really remember being is nine. When I was nine, I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Turgeon was my teacher and I read every Nancy Drew mystery. It was such a touchstone that for years I could tell what grade I had been at particular age by comparing it to nine - I must have been 12 in seventh grade because I was nine in fourth, I was in second grade when I was seven because I was in fourth when I was nine.

The zero birthdays always get big celebrations and signify change but there is something special too about nine birthdays. The last year you are in a particular decade. Maybe they seem special to me because I was born late in the month, late in the year, in the last year of a decade. I get an extra click as I pass that certain point in the circle of the seasons.

Monday, October 20, 2008


This entry was started more than a month ago. Now we regularly wake to widespread frosts . . .

A few weeks ago on an early morning walk I came across a patch of frosted ferns and grasses. It was a cool morning – too cool for mid-September – but I hadn’t seen any other frost. The spot was lovely with the light making each crystal glow and a bit eerie highlighted by its differences – a textbook microclimate – a spot that differs from the surrounding area. Now I have been thinking about how we each create our own microclimates - sometimes purposely and sometimes in a less examined way. We create the conditions, the metaphorical south facing slope or low valley, which in turn nurture or constrict our growth.

I recently read two articles, one on parenting and one on politics, that stated how little people’s opinions are influenced by science or other objective data. Once set, we are reluctant to let in anything that does not support our existing beliefs. In the case of politics, the author mentioned how data that refutes a thesis can even be used to support that thesis through denial of the validity of the evidence or disparagement of its source.

So now the question is how Art – definitely in this case with a capital A – can moderate these tendencies. Is expressing ourselves creatively a way to share our microclimate with others – a way to cross the boundaries of difference through communication? Can the artist’s willingness to delve into her own microclimate, study it, question it and reconfigure it in dialogue with an audience be a catalyst for others to step outside their own boundaries?

Specifically, as a visual artist, can I effectively interrupt the viewers’ status quo long and deeply enough to breach the divide. And if so, how best to do this, through shock, through beauty, through subtle effects that stay with the viewer and influence gently?

The purpose of art is not the same as the purpose of propaganda or persuasion. I have no desire to dictate or mold a viewer’s response. The goal is not unity of thought. But I do have a wish to elicit a response strong enough create change . Change - a word used in this season every year but this year a word we can not escape.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Fallow - left unseeded for a period of time after plowing in order to recover natural fertility - is a word I have a distinct memory of learning the meaning of - an elementary school classroom, a vocabulary list from a unit on agriculture, a new concept, newly named. It wasn't until later that I heard it applied to personal times of rest and now that is way I most often use it. My cycle of creativity doesn't always align with seasonal cycles but often a time of productivity and harvest or exhibit will be followed by a pause in studio work to regroup.

My mother remembers me spending days creating worlds in my closet - leading her to think I would be a creative genius - followed by a day of watching four Elvis Presley movies back-to-back - leading her to think my brain was turning to jello! Now my fallow times are full enough of house and land tending, reading, walks and cooking. Activities that function as cover crops for me - enhancing the soil, providing depleted nutrients.

This fallow time I am writing more, trying to quiet my mind so I can glimpse something I perceive to be there - around some psychic corner. I am making a conscious effort to remain unseeded, waiting for natural fertility and growth, knowing it will come if not in what form. I am courting clarity of direction from the fog of possibility not directly by working but indirectly by clearing space and waiting.

Friday, August 8, 2008


I've had a long break from blogging which is its own story but I thought I would start back with some writing I did for my exhibit called Stories up through August 14 at Isalos Fine Arts in Stonington. The image above is of a new piece from the show titled Tattered Messages.

These are my stories on the walls of this gallery, on the pages of this catalog, told in the manner that suits me best, a blend of ways of making learned through education and experience and melded to create my own vocabulary.

I first turned to textiles after a childhood in suburbia with a working mom, one who didn’t sew. Off to a sophisticated east coast art school and feeling lost among my more mature fellow students, I slowly taught myself the secrets of fabric and fiber and chose needle and thread rather than the pencil or brush or camera to start to tell my stories. Traditional media for my gender but new to me, the lines came easier, the shapes revealed themselves and the particular joys of layers and textures were mine to work with.

Another shift, a random evening watching someone make paper from scraps pulverized in a blender and the recognition of connection. Handmade paper opened up more possibilities of translucence, of softness and stability. A more formal course followed along with the acquisition of equipment and skills. Growing up in my family bookstore made the choice natural, from stories written on paper to stories written with paper.

More time, more materials I could call my own, more embedded stories. Building a house brought wood and nails and structure. Having a baby created smaller units, pieces fashioned over many days in smaller bits of time. Loss and letting go led me to incorporate found objects with their own histories, rusted, broken and burnt.

How can we not tell stories every moment? The stories may be uncomfortable, complicated, best left half-told but they come out again and again in what we make, the way we move, the words we choose, the clothes we wear and our simplest gestures towards others. Forgotten, flawed, coded, layered, embellished, personal, universal, straight or with a twist, they wrap us with comfort as we take each plain or fancy piece and weave them into an ever-shifting whole.