No turning back

I had the privilege of spending a week at a Shakerag Workshop with Michael Brennand-Wood this past week. It was partially an escape from Memphis and the quilt festival that has entangled my spare moments and partially a way to peel back ossified habits and open up new space in my brain.

It worked on both accounts.

Fungi is an assemblage of quilt pieces, wire structures, wood, stitch and felt—A study in growth and emergence.

First, let me praise Shakerag Workshops. This place is a magical oasis in the hills of Tennessee that brings serious artists (both skilled and unskilled) and teachers to play with each other. The atmosphere is educated, welcoming and full of joy. And the food was from the gods. Go there. No, really, go there.

Michael’s class was called Random Precision: 3-Dimensional Line, Stitch, Structure and Light. We used drills, saws, glue, paint, thread, nails, twisty ties, wires and our thoughts to explore space, light and structure. Michael talked about building artwork physically but also conceptually. We considered the push and pull of dark and light, hard and soft, and structured and unstructured bits. It was a joy. And, it will change the way I look at my own work.

I have been eager to explore 3D qualities with my stitching. Through quilting I can build or deconstruct a flat surface that speaks to my fingers. The traveling thread becomes a narrative element that translates my thoughts. Now I will explore how that thread can build space, encapsulate ideas and stretch the boundaries.

Meek is a bundle of threads and wires.

Eek celebrates stitch and fabric by offering up samples to consider.

These figures and assemblages spoke to me. They tickle my fancy and release the prankster within. They breathe life and rhythm into my space.

Thank you Michael. One of the most generous teachers I have had.

many moons

I was not in a colorful mood. So this piece will linger on the boards for a while before I get back to it.

I came back from a number of trips last month with a swarm of images floating through my thoughts but no map to figure out how they go together. It was frustrating to feel so aimless. I looked around at the work that I had done prior to my trips and felt totally disconnected from them.

My friend Jeanne Seagle, a very talented artist here in Memphis said the following in an interview: “Make a lot of work. Put the good stuff in shows. Recognize the bad stuff, and put it in the closet. After a while maybe you can fix it. If not, you can still learn from it what not to do. Just don’t show it.“

After a few days and a number of puzzled thoughts I decided to be radical. I took out all of my older pieces lurking under the studio tables and made some judgements. Some still spoke to me about their intent and focus. Others did not. Some showed a learning curve in the stitching that no longer represents my work. Others were pieces that didn’t get done.

This piece never got done. It was an experiment with geometry and connections.

I chose a few and laid them out on the cutting board for some fun with rotary cutter.

Fun with my rotary cutter. No piece is sacred.

This piece, called Keeping up with the Dow Jones, was done in 2009. I’m over it.

Just that act of cutting up several pieces into 2.5” squares was a release from the aimlessness. I wasn’t sure where I was going to go with it but I knew it was the right step. Catharsis. Resolve…and a little panic.

After some mix and matching, twisting and turning I finally came up with a composition that seemed to hold together. I stitched the squares onto a canvas backing. All 420 of them.

And now the fun begins. My goal as an artist is to channel what is invisible into the visible. The work I do is intuitive and exploratory. I’m never quite sure what will result with a piece like this. I just know that I am channeling lots of different emotions and thoughts. Beauty, complexity, doubt, anger, worry, whimsy, calm and depth. They are all in there. The layering of stitch and fabric brings out the best (and worst) of me.

I’m going to call it Many Moons. Because that’s how long it will take to finish it and because its taken me many moons to get to this stage in my work.

I've been thinking about the pink brush

Three days of remembering. The image of a pink brush from my childhood has recurred every morning upon waking and while exercising and while preparing dinner and while unstitching a number of wrongly-stitched pieces and while gardening and now. The persistence of memory intrigues me.

This is not our pink brush.

This is not our pink brush.

When I was about 13 our family had a favorite pink brush. We brought it with us on camping trips, it was stowed in my mom's purse on shopping trips, we argued over it in the morning. It had bristles that were soft but strong, a handle that fit perfectly in everyone's hand and a full-throated tickling when you passed it through your hair. It generated static electricity that delighted my brothers.

And then we lost it. It might be at the bottom of a cold lake in the upper reaches of Ontario, or, buried in a sand dune on Lake Michigan. It might have been left at a road stop in Minnesota, a neighbors house in Illinois or a picnic table in Wisconsin. It's gone. That I know. To this day I miss that pink brush. I have looked for one like it for years.

Why does such an insignificant object hold so much real estate in my mind? It represents my mother who died 5 years ago this month. My father, who died 13 years ago. It brings up thoughts of family vacations that smelled like fish and cold water. I can remember the feeling of it through my hair and the sound of it when mom stashed it into her purse. And the way the purse clicked when she shut the little metal clasp.

Memory box, Paula Kovarik

When I stitch I try to channel these unsolicited memories into something that makes sense to me. I can't remember people's names but I do remember their faces and the way they make me feel. I don't remember algebraic formulas but I do remember the street maps of places in which I have lived. I don't remember movie plots but I do remember the tastes of my grandmother's strudel.

Pink brushes, cold water, mom and dad, strudel...these are a few of my favorite things.

I'm not 30 anymore

I have a landmark birthday this week. And it's not 30. I can't help but take stock of where I am, where I want to go and what the point of it all is. I guess I do that on a daily basis anyway but this landmark makes it a little more deep-seated. I notice things more. I wonder why I notice certain things more than others. I store up images that speak to me. And they show up in my work unsolicited.


I thought I might post some of these stored images today just to remind myself that this world is spinning and I am a part of it. Life is shorter this week. And inspirations abound.