I do hope to show this work some day. And, having previously had public exhibitions of my work, I feel I must be prepared for the inevitable duties such an honour requires. There will, hopefully, be reviews. The local paper may want an interview. There might even be a spot on CBC radio, or, if it's a really slow news day, TV. I have learned that, in order not to appear a complete idiot in public, one should come prepared with sound bites and easily understood capsule descriptions.
I remember my first TV interview and the host repeatedly asking me the same question: "So, what makes a quilt art?" It was all I could do to stop myself from asking him if he was understanding impaired. To avoid such frustrating conversations, it helps to be really clear going in - to be able to do an "elevator pitch" if need be.
*****The other day I woke up at five A.M. thinking that I knew what I was doing after all. By transposing Louis Nicolas's flowing ink lines into painstaking stitch, I had to look closely at each and every mark. I don't think it's a stretch to say I have looked closer at these drawings than anyone, ever. Even Nicolas probably completed one of his drawings in a hour or so. It takes me 20-30 hours to reproduce a page.
Slowing down the process of image-making to such a degree affords insight, I believe. I have commented before on the preponderance of lolling tongues, gnashing teeth, fearsome eyes, and dangerous claws in Nicolas's images, and how that may reflect his fear of the wild, threatening New World he was encountering. That seems to be a fairly reasonable assumption, but what else can his drawings tell me?
I was trained as an art therapist and spent a couple of years working with a boy who had autism. It was too intense for him to draw outdoors, so we drew inside, from photographs. He particularly liked drawing animals, so we did lots of that. He was quite a skilled copyist and was very careful to make things the right shape and to include the exact number of whiskers or spots of a particular animal. But he had trouble relating the individual elements to each other, which gave his drawings a distorted, somewhat whimsical quality.
I see something very similar in the drawings of Louis Nicolas. Considering that it is believed that he drew, as was commonly done at that time, from books of engravings, and that as a Jesuit he was well-educated, and certainly had instruction in drawing, it is surprising that his drawings in the Codex Canadensis are so inept. And I doubt that the clumsiness of his drawing is stylistic choice. Perhaps he had trouble with his eyes, but my thought is that he was somewhere on the autistism spectrum. This might explain a lot of things: his trouble with his superiors; his facility with languages (he wrote the first lexicon of Algonquin grammar); his fascination with categorizing (see this piece on Brain Pickings for an example); and the detached emotional tone of his writing.
Of course it is impossible to make a diagnosis from a drawing alone - equally important is what the artist says about it. But I do wonder.